« VorigeDoorgaan »
stow on them whether this be so or no, the evidence of history must determine under the light we now enjoy, we are ill judges how far men could go, aided only by the mere strength of reason. A right notion of God is the foundation of all true religion; for which notion each thanks his own reason: and if so, the world has mightily improved in reason during these last ages; since it was not so until the publication of the gospel made reason see and approve the truths which were before in a great measure hid from her eyes. The case is the same with respect to the natural arguments for a future state: this point enlarged on. To remedy this evil, God has proposed a new evidence, resurrection of his Son, shown before chosen witnesses, who were sent into the world to publish it as an evidence of a future general resurrection of men, and to seal the truth of the doctrine with their blood. Such evidence requires no abstract reasoning, no refinements, to show its force: this point enlarged on. Those who pretend to be real Deists, cannot be offended by this evidence, as the main thing we prove by it they acknowlege to be true, viz. that God will judge the world. If then the Christian religion has no private design to serve by this evidence, but produces it to confirm that natural sense which all true religion admits, why should it be suspected of deceit ? Besides, the belief of a future state, supported by the evidence of Christ's resurrection, is applied only to those purposes which a wise and good man would desire. The gospel labors to assure us of the certainty of our resurrection to eternal life, and in addition to the common evidence of reason, has given us a new proof from the very hand and immediate power of God; for the establishing of which proof it shows such concern, that we may be sure it was provided to forward the design of the gospel; so that if there be any deceit in the gospel, it must lean on this article for its support: this point enlarged on; showing that the gospel requires nothing but what reason and natural religion
require also. One thing in the Scripture account of a future state is the designation of the man Christ Jesus as Judge of the quick and dead: this is however liable to no objections on the part of natural religion, which requires not that God should do every thing immediately by himself; nor is it any impeachment of his authority: the Son acts by the Father's commission, who hath given all judgment to him: it makes no change in the nature of the judgment: we shall answer for nothing to Christ but what reason tells us we are accountable for. There is this difference between the Deist and the Christian believer: the latter has not only the same hopes of futurity, and in the same degree, which reason and reflexion can furnish; but he has also the express promise and testimony of God, confirmed by his Son's resurrection. Suppose him mistaken, he stands on the same ground the other does : suppose his faith well established, he can give a better account of his hope. Thus the gospel has supplied the defect of natural religion on this momentous point: to the wisdom of this provision experience can bear witness: this point enlarged on. The resurrection indeed was a stupendous work; but the hand that performed it was greater.
He who believes that God created men, cannot doubt his power to raise them from the grave. But allowing God to be omnipotent, still you say the resurrection, as a fact, requires proof; and proved it is by the concurrent testimony of eye-witnesses, who have given not only their words, but their lives in its confirmation : surely they were in earnest, when they embraced and taught the doctrine on such hard terms; nor can any serious person disbelieve them. Did this article alter our notions of God or religion, and lay any new burden on us, then men might be careful how they admitted it : but as this is not the case, as it pretends only to establish and confirm the hopes of nature, why such scruples ? Admit it; our hopes are much improved ; our duty nothing increased : reject it,
our duty is the same, and our hopes much less. How kind a provision then has the gospel made for our weakness! and how powerfully has it supported the interest of true religion, by furnishing us with so plain and yet so strong a proof of a future state, and of a judgment to be executed in righteousness!
I THESSALONIANS, CHAP. 1.-VERSES 9. 10.
For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had
unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
In the verse before the text the Apostle tells the Thessalonians, that not only the word of the Lord had sounded out from them in Macedonia and Achaia, but their faith also towards God was spread abroad in every place; so that there is no occasion, adds the Apostle, for me to say any thing of the doctrines delivered by me, and received by you: the thing is well known, and notorious to all the world : “They themselves show of us what manner of entering in 'we had unto you.'
It is evident from hence what notion the world entertained of the Christian religion, and the principal doctrines of it, in the earliest days. All who had heard of our Apostle's teaching, knew his business to be to turn men from idols to serve the living God, to give eřidence of the resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead, and to establish a certain expectation of his coming again with power and glory to judge the world. This common report St. Paul allows to be so just and adequate an account of his doctrine, as to leave no room to enlarge or correct it : ' In every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.'
If we consider this early account of the Christian religion, so universally received, and so well approved by the Apostle, we shall find it to consist of two principal parts: the first relating to the service owing to the living God; the second to
our faith in Christ, and our hope and expectation grounded on that faith.
Religion, considered under the notion of a service we owe to God, can be no other than natural religion, or true uncorrupted Deism. This was the old original religion of mankind, but had been so corrupted and abused, that there was hardly any sign of it left when our Saviour appeared in the world. However rightly some few might think, yet they found themselves obliged to follow the world, and practise with the vulgar. Not many attempted, and none succeeded in a reformation of the public religion. No antiquity affords an instance of any people, great or small, who served God on the principles of natural religion. The only general and effectual reformation of the world was brought about by the preaching of the gospel; which revived and introduced the true ancient religion of nature, and prepared men for the reception of it; and has, by the additional supports of revelation, maintained it for many ages, and probably will maintain it to the end and consummation of all things.
These additional supports make the second great branch of Christian doctrine: they are revived on the authority of revelation, and stand on the evidence of external proofs. That we ought to turn from idols and serve the living God; that we ought to serve him in holiness and purity, in conforming ourselves to the example of his justice, equity, and goodness, are truths which every man may feel to be such, who has any reason or natural feeling about him: but that we have been delivered from the wrath to come by Jesus the Son of God; that God raised him from the dead, and hath appointed him to be judge both of the dead and of the living, are articles which no man's reason can suggest; which, when suggested, reason cannot receive on any, internal evidence, but must take them on an authority sufficiently confirmed and established on external evidence.
This distinction, constantly attended to, will go a great way in showing us the true temper and genius of the Christian religion, and the end proposed by its divine author. Consider the gospel in its precepts and morality; and is there any doctrine advanced, any duty required, but what reason must admit and