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obtain what is good; bụt he often mistakes the kinds, the degrees, nay, the very reality of good, pursuing one kind of good by means proper to the attainment of another; pursuing the less in preference to the greater; and, what is worse, pursuing real evil under the appearance of good. To remedy these mischiefs, from whence all sin and misery proceed, the best way is to make a thorough inquiry after the chief good, which is God; and after the right means of arriving at that good, which is true religion. That man is truly wise, who, in order to this most useful and most important of all inquiries, banishes his prejudices, silences his passions, and, following his reason steadily, prays to God, that his reason may not mistake, nor miss of, its aim ; and who, when he thinks he hath attained his end, which, in the use of such a method, he can hardly fail of, neither so far wrongs his own judgment; or God's assistance, as to withhold his heart, and his affections, from the fruits of an inquiry so anxiously pursued.
However, that an honest inquirer of this sort may have a sure path to go in, we will lay down a few rules, which, if followed, must direct him to the great truth he seeks for ; and in so doing, shall not so much endeavour to shew him, what is the true religion, as how to find it out himself.
Let the first rule be, that as by our senses we apprehend things sensible, and by our reason come to the knowledge of things demonstrable; and have no other way, either of receiving information, or trying the truth of that information; so we must never receive a religion that contradicts sense and reason.
It is no objection to this rule, that our senses may be deceived, or that we may reason wrong, provided we fairly and freely make the utmost use of both ; for nothing more can be required of us, in order to the attainment of knowledge in any kind or degree, than a full exercise of the powers and faculties bestowed on us. But we may presume these cannot fail us in the attainment of knowledge so absolutely nécessary to us, as that of religion; because, if it is $0 necessary, the lights, whereby the true religion may be distinguished from such as are false, must be sufficiently clear and strong to be apprehended by the faculties given us for that very purpose. If, however, there is, in respect to any man, a failure either of the lights afforded, or the faculties bestowed, we know proportionable allowances will be made; for his happiness cannot possibly depend on the use of means not put within his power. • But to prevent a wrong use of this rule, it must be observed, that a point may be true and rational, which reason cannot account for; and that we may have full evidence of its truth, at the same time that we cannot shew demonstrably how it is consistent, either in itself, or with other known truths. For instance; we may have sufficient reason to think, God is both infinitely just, and infinitely merciful, although we can by no means demonstrate, how he can shew himself infinite in both, with regard to transgressors. Again, it may be matter of certainty to us, that God is infinitely good and communicative; and yet, that one half of eternity passed before any creature was brought into being; I say one half, because every moment of duration divides eternity into two equal parts. These two propositions are
evidently true, and therefore reconcilable in themselves; - although it exceeds the strength of our minds, and probably of all created minds, to shew their consistency. This caution, when duly considered, will be found necessary to prevent our running into downright Atheism ; for there is no religion, indeed no kind of knowledge which can so approve itself to reason, as to be perfectly accounted for by us, in all its parts, results, and consequences. Every thing knowable is self-evident, demonstrable, or probable, for a few steps ; beyond which if it is pursued, it becomes unaccountable, and reduces all our boasted knowledge to doubt and paradox. Hence it may be expected, that religion, whether styled natural, or revealed, may have its mysteries, as well as physics, or any other branch of knowledge ; nay, rather, because its object is infinitely more incomprehensible, and its operations more remote from buman apprehension.
These things premised, it is the business of an ingenuous inquirer to try the truth of each religion by the rule laid down; and if he finds it sets forth any thing palpably absurd or inconsistent, that is, any thing, to which his senses, or his reason, can safely give the lie, he is to reject it as unworthy of his assent. Now this will not be so difficult a matter, as may at first be apprehended; because there neither are, nor never were, any religions in the world but five; namely, Deism, Judaism, Mahometism, Christianity, and Polytheism; and because the leading principles of these, from whence they have their denominations, are easily known, and as easily tried by a truly candid and thinking mind. They cannot all be right and true; nay, none but one of them can deserve those epithets; for each is utterly inconsistent with, and contrary to, all the rest. And that some one of them is the true religion, we must conclude; or else conclude, that God hath afforded mankind no true religion. But if one of them is the truth, and the rest imposition, the truth must be glaringly evident to a candid inquirer; or otherwise God hath offered us the truth, and withheld the evidence, or means of distinguishing that truth from error, which is a flat contradiction. But as it must be owned God hath not made this most valuable of all acquisitions so easy, even to a candid inquirer, as not to ask some pains; so we must insist he hath no more reason to complain of this, than of the difficulty he finds in all other useful attainments, which almost in every thing, but religion, bears proportion to the benefits accruing from them; whereas in that, the attainment, although requiring some pains, is easy, and the benefits immense. Let him take as much pains to find out the true religion, as he does to acquire a fortune, which I think is not quite so valuable, and then it will be time enough to hear his account of the matter, both as to the difficulty and success. But as I am confident the investigation of true religion is by no means so difficult as the acquisition of a fortune, in the ordinary way of business, I will come upon easier terms with him, and only desire him to be at the same trouble on this account that he undergoes in one East-India voyage, and I will venture to promise success to a man so candid and rational. If indeed a man were blessed with ever so large a portion of abilities and candour, but not with proportionable thirst or diligence for the inquiry; he may, after all, have as fair a chance to live and die in religious ignorance, as the most stupid bigot. This most inestimable gift of God, will not drop into his mouth at every yawn. However, I must take the liberty to tell him, he hath neither abilities nor candour beyond those of a fool, if he does not think wisdom as well worth seeking for, as silver; as well worth searching for, as hid treasures ;' if he does not think the merchandise of it better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold; if he does not think it more precious than rubies, and incomparably better than all other things he can desire. I will farther venture to tell him, he hath not discernment enough to distinguish between the most evident truth, and the most palpable falsehood, if he cannot previously distinguish be. ţween this truth. The right religion is infinitely preferable to all other acquisitions; and this falsehood, wealth, or worldly honour, is better worth the labour and pains of a pursuit, than the true religion.
But as it would be a gross folly to make a long journey for what we want, before we have considered whether we may have it at home; so every man ought, in prudence, first to apply his rule to the religion of his own country, that, if he finds they tally, he may rest contented where his education placed him; and not giddily mope after that truth, which he hath left at his back. If he finds they do not, it is then more his business, than any thing else in the world can be, to look carefully about him, and try other religions by the same rule. He is never to be satisfied with himself, till he finds one that fits it exactly; for one there certainly is that will fit it, if it is really and truly reason, not passion, prejudice, conceit, or whim, tricked out in the garb of reason. But in case his rule is drawn from any of these, thus speciously disguised, he will not be far to seek for a religion that may please him; for of those I have mentioned, some one or other cannot fail to be agreeable; or, supposing none of them should, he may easily invent a new one for himself that shall, in all points, hit his humour to a tittle, and sit as easy as his heart can wish.
But, if he is a truly rational inquirer, he will embrace no religion that makes his own nature, which he would instruct and reform, the rule of his principles and actions; no religion that assigns a certain period to its own continuance, and yet pretends to subsist seventeen hundred years after that period is out; no religion that plans itself on ambition or avarice, and makes rapine and slaughter meritorious in the sight of God; no religion that sets up more gods than one, and makes a largess of its favours to the adoration of
adulterers and murderers, perhaps to devils. No, he cannot rationally close with any religion that does not,
According to my second rule, evidently prove itself to come from God, from the Almighty, the infinitely wise and good God.
As God is the sole object, so he must be the only author, of the true religion; for it can be nothing else than the manifestation of himself, and his will. It can terminate in nothing else, and therefore can be derived from nothing else, but him. Here the first rule must be brought forward, and added to this, that his sense and reason may enable the inquirer to distinguish between the genuine signs of divine original, and the counterfeit.
That religion which cannot stand the first trial, is not to be admitted to a new one, under this second rule. But if it appears to have nothing absurd, or unreasonable, in it, there is then such a presumption in its favour, as merits a farther examination, and that is all; for although it may be rational, it may nevertheless be but of human invention; and though free from absurdity, as far as it goes, may however be defective in some necessary article; which defect may not be perceived, till the whole is thoroughly examined; but, as soon as it is perceived, ought to condemn it, because that religion, which claims God for its author, must effectually subvert its own claim, if it is not, in all respects, particu.' larly in point of authority, instruction, and efficacy, perfectly well qualified to answer his end in giving it.
Now a religion that comes from God, must, I apprehend, have these signs of its original; antiquity, miracles, edification, and power. There may be others; but these will serve sufficiently to distinguish it from all religions of human invention.
First, as to antiquity; it is certain no religion can claim God for its author, if it is not near as old as the creation ; because a religion coming much later into the world, cannot be rationally regarded as necessary; for if it were, why was it not earlier communicated ? How can we suppose the infinitely gracious Being should so long have withheld from mankind the necessary means of reformation and happiness? This argument I deduce, not from any obligation lying on God to communicate religion to us at all, but from our wants,