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St. Peter accounts for his Confidence in the Religion which Christ taught: We know, and are sure, that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.
In this State of the Case the Necessity of Religion in general is supposed; and the only Question is, from what Fountain we mult derive it. The Dispute can only lie between Natural and Revealed Religion : If Nature be able to direct us, it will be hard to justify the Wisdom of God in giving us a Revelation, since the Revelation can only serve the same Purpose, which Nature alone could well supply.
Since the Light of the Gospel has shone throughout the World, Nature has been much improving; we see many Things clearly, many Things which Reason readily embraces, which nevertheless the World before was generally a Stranger to. The Gospel has given us true Notions of God and of ourselves, right Conceptions of his Holiness and Purity, and of the Nature of divine Worship: It has taught us a Religion, in the Practice of which our present Ease and Comfort, and our Hopes of future Happiness and Glory, consist; it has rooted out Idolatry and Superstition; and by instructing us in the Nature of God, and discovering to us his
Unity, his Omnipresence, and infinite Knowledge, it has furnished us even with Principles of Reason, by which we reject and condemn the Rites and Ceremonies of Heathenism and Idolatry, and discover wherein the Beauty and Holiness of divine Worship consist: For the Nature of divine Worship must be deduced from the Nature of God; and 'tis impossible for Men to pay a reasonable Service to God, till they have just and reafonable Notions of him. But now, it seems, this is all become pure Natural Religion ; and 'tis to our own Reason and Understanding that we are indebted for the Notion of God and of divine Worship: And whatever else in Religion is agreeable to our Reason, is reckoned to proceed entirely from it: And, had the Unbelievers of this Age heard St. Peter's piteous Complaint, Lord, to whom shall we go? they would have bid him go to himself, and consult his own Reason, and there he should find all that was worth finding in Religion.
you please, examine this Pretence, and see upon what Ground this Plea of Natural Religion can be maintained. If Nature can instruct us fufficiently in Religion, we have indeed no Reason to go any-where else; fo far we are agreed : But B 3
But let us,
whether Nature can or no, is, in truth, rather a Question of Fact, than mere Speculation; for the Way to know what Nature can do, is to take Nature by itself, and try its Strength alone. There was a Time when Men had little else but Nature to go to; and that is the proper Time to look into, to fee what mere and unaffifted Nature can do in Religion. Nay, there are still Nations under the Sun, who are, as to Religion, in a mere State of Nature: The glad Tidings of the Gospel have not reached them, nor have they been blessed, or (to speak in the modern Phrase) prejudiced with divine Revelations, which we, less worthy of them than they, so much complain of: In other Matters they are polite and civilized; they are cunning Traders, fine Artificers, and in many Arts and Sciences not unskilful. Here then we may hope to see Natural Religion in its full Perfection; for there is no Want of natural Reason, nor any Room to complain of Prejudices or Prepossession : But yet, alas ! these Nations are held in the Chains of Darkness, and given up to the blindest Superstition and Idolatry. Men wanted not Reason before the Coming of Christ, 'nor Opportunity nor Inclination to improve it: Arts and Sciences had long before obtained their just Perfection ;
the Number of the Stars had been counted, and their Motions observed and adjusted; the Philosophy, Oratory, and Poetry of those Ages are still the Delight and Entertainment of this. Religion was not the least Part of their Inquiry; they searched all the Recesses of Reason and Nature; and, had it been in the Power of Reason and Nature to furnish Men with just Notions and Principles of Religion, here we should have found them: But, instead of them, we find nothing but the groflest Superstition and Idolatry; the Creatures of the Earth advanced into Deities, and Men degenerating and making themfelves lower than the Beasts of the Field. Time would fail me to tell of the Corruptions and Extravagancies of the politest Nations. Their Religion was their Reproach, and the Service they paid their Gods was a Dishonour to them and to themselves : The most facred Part of their Devotion was the most impure; and the only Thing that was commendable in it, is, that it was kept as a great Mystery and Secret, and hid under the Darkness of the Night; and, was Reason now to judge, it would approve of nothing in this Religion, but the Modesty of withdrawing itself from the Eyes of the World.
This being the Cafe wherever Men have been left to mere Reason and Nature to direct them ; what Security have the great Patrons of Natural Religion now, that, were they left only to Reason and Nature, they should not run into the same Errors and Absurdities? Have they more Reason than those who have gone before them? In all other Instances Nature is the same now that ever it was, and we are but acting over again the same Part that our Ancestors acted before us : Wisdom and Prudence and Cunning are now what they formerly were ; nor can this Age shew human Nature in any one Character exalted beyond the Examples which Antiquity has left us. Can we shew greater Instances of civil and political Wisdom, than are to be found in the Governments of Greece and Rome? Are not the civil Laws of Rome still had in Admiration ? and have they not a Place allowed them still in almost all Kingdoms? Since then in nothing else we are grown wiser than the Heathen World, what Probability is there, that we should have grown wiser in Religion, if we had been left, as they were, to mere Reason and Nature ? To this Day there is no Alteration for the better, except only in the Countries where the Gospel has been preached. What