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book, in which their duty is set forth: and if they be, yet the same quickness to understand it, or leisure to study it, cannot be looked for from them, as if their minds had been improved by rules of reasoning and judging, and their time at their own disposal. A great deal they think may be required, with the utmost reason, from those of higher rank: but from such as they are, little or nothing.
But, besides this vulgar sort, there is also a learned kind of ignorance, pleaded by some, whose freedom of inquiry and superior sagacity hath given them cause, they apprehend, to be very diffident of many points, that others are firmly persuaded of. And therefore they argue, that, though it may be the duty of common people, who, for want of the means of knowledge or of abilities to use them, must believe what they are taught; though it may be right and necessary for them, in consequence of their belief, to practise virtue and piety very conscientiously ; yet it must not be expected, that those of greater genius, who are more enlightened, and perceive many doubts in these matters, should put themselves under disagreeable restraints, merely on account of uncertain speculations; and conform their lives to the rigid precepts of Christianity, when they are really not well satisfied of the authority of it; nor, it may be, even of natural religion.
Thus, you see, the lowest incapacity and the highest self-opinion can urge in effect the same argument, to evade what men have no mind to. And I shall now shew, that in both it is inconclusive; and fully confuted by our Saviour's home question, Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?
These words appear, by the parallel places in the other Evangelists, to have been originally designed
against those amongst the Jews, who, from dislike of the strictness of our blessed Lord's morality, pretended ignorance of his divine mission, after he had given abundant proofs of it; when yet, without any separate proofs of it at all, the main things which he taught, carried their own evidence along with them, and every man's heart bore witness to their truth. They had seen miracles, of various kinds, performed in attestation of his claim : yet still they were not content without more, and those of their own chusing. The Pharisees came forth, with the Sadducees also, tempting him, and sought of him a sign from heaven*. But he, with no less dignity than prudence, refused to gratify a curiosity, both ill-meaning and endless : and sighing deeply in his spirit, as St. Mark informs ust, at this perverse disposition of theirs; told them, with a kind, because needful, severity of speech, where the defect lay. A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign I: your sinful inclinations and lives, not the want or the desire of sufficient evidence, prompt you to this demand : and verily I say unto you, there shall be no sign given, no such visible manifestation of divine glory as you insolently require, vouchsafed to this generation 5: nor is it requisite. When ye sce a cloud rise out of the west, straightway ye say, there cometh a shower, and so it is. And when ye see the south wind blow, ye say, there will be heat, and it cometh to pass. Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky and of the earth: but how is it that ye do not discern this time || ? That is : on other occasions you appear-very able to judge of things by the proper indications of them. How can you then, with any colour of sincerity, pretend, that Matth. xvi. 1. Mark viii. 11. + Verse 12.
| Matth. xvi. 4. § Mark viii. 12. || Luke xii. 54, 55, 56. VOL. I.
amidst so many prophecies fulfilled, and so many miracles performed, you have not, after all, sufficient conviction, that this is the season when the Messiah should appear, and that I am He? Nay, as to the principal part of my doctrine, which is the real cause of your antipathy to the whole; as to the great precepts of pure religion and uniform virtue, and your need of repentance and faith in God's mercy; what occasion is there for any farther demonstrations of them, than your own hearts, if honestly consulted, will not fail to afford ? Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?
Now this method of reasoning is equally applicable to unbelievers and cavillers in all ages. It is in vain for them, to invent new difficulties, or magnify old ones, concerning the authority of our religion ; while the reason of things, the truth of facts, and the nature of God and man, continue to exhibit so full proof of those fundamental articles of it, the eternal obligation of moral duties, the sinfulness of every one's nature and life, the necessity of repentance, and humble application for pardon and grace. And, since the true quarrel of such persons is against these doctrines, and these cannot be shaken : they had much better reconcile themselves to the whole, than make fruitless attacks upon one part; in which if they were to succeed, (as they never will) they would, in point of argument, be almost as far from their favourite scheme of liberty, to do what they please, and think highly of themselves notwithstanding, as they were before. Suppose there are some doctrines, against which they can find more objectious, than their neighbours: there are surely others, of which they can discern more clearly the certain grounds. If not, they have employed their imagined superior faculties
to very ill purpose. Or, were they to doubt of ever so many points; yet, if they take pains for it, and force themselves to doubt, hunting every way for difficulties, asking for no solutions, and turning a deaf ear to them when offered; they have no more excuse for any part of their consequent wrong behaviour, than if they had no doubts at all. For the whole of their case is : they perplex things on purpose, in order to complain that they are not clear : walk with their eyes wilfully shut, and then insist, that they cannot be blamed, if they stumble; for it is quite dark, and they do not see a step of their way.
But let us now proceed to those, who acknowledge themselves, as many of the former would, if they had more modesty, the less knowing part of mankind. Some of these profess a second-hand sort of scepticism; built not so much on their own judgment, as that of their admired leaders just mentioned. But since the masters are indefensible, their implicit disciples must be yet more so. For, if the question is to be decided by the authority of men of letters and abilities, the greatest number and most eminent, beyond all comparison, have confessedly been always on the side of religion : even excluding the clergy, as interested in the case : which, however, is by no means thought a sufficient reason, in other professions, why men of known skill and probity should be disregarded, in what they unanimously affirm, after careful examination.
But the generality of the unlearned confess the obligation of Christianity most readily; yet daily transgress its laws: and, when they are charged with their fault, plead ignorance, as we have seen, amongst other things, especially the lower part of them, to excuse their disobedience to the clearest revelation of God's
will, that the world ever knew : and whose early distinction it was, that the
poor had the Gospel preached to them *. Why then may we not say to such, as our Saviour said to the Jews; Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky and of the earth? You can judge in all the common affairs of life. You can attain to a competent skill, many times to great perfection, in your several employments, and trades: though attended with many difficulties, and requiring much application and dexterity. You can foresee, at a distance, what will make for your worldly interest, or against it: you can lay schemes, full of cunning and long reach, for guarding against dangers, retrieving losses, securing and improving advantages. What hinders you then from arriving at the knowledge of religion ; which consists in things much easier to be understood : love and reverence to God, justice and goodness to your fellow-creatures, reasonable and virtuous government of yourselves, humble recourse to the divine mercy when you have done amiss, and faithful use of the divine assistance to amend ? If you
have instructors in the management of business, and the wisdom of this world : have you not instruction also in the precepts of a Christian life! one day in seven of your time, at least, you are not only allowed but enjoined to spend principally in learning and thinking of your duty. The word of God is read to you,
if you are not able to read it yourselves : it is explained to you, if it be not already plain enough: and the most important parts are the plainest of all. The several articles of Christian faith and practice are taught you in your earliest childhood ; and imprinted on your memory at the time, when impressions are most lasting. They are afterwards more
* Matth. xi, 5.