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observers of them to a knowledge of their author; and put them
upon seeking out some method of expressing their devotion to him. Though here in fact, (as the Apostle intimates, ¥. 27.) they were all but like men groping in the dark; their notions of the Deity imperfect and obfcure; their worship absurd and irrational.
This their ignorance God was pleased for some time to wink at, (uze podsuv) to overlook, disregard, or, as it is in a parallel place, * He suffered them to walk in their own ways, to wander through the various sects of superstition and idolatry into which they had fallen : but now he commandeth all men every wkere to repent; or rather publishes, (παραγγελλει) proclaims the tidings of falvation to all men upon the easy terms of repentance, or returning to a right mind; he offers a new covenant to mankind in general, from the benefits whereof none are absolutely exciuded who fincerely desire them : - Tidings, which ought to be received by all, as they were by the first Christians, with joy and thankfulness.
But how strangely has the face of things been altered, or rather the nature of them inverted since! When, through the degeneracy of mankind, the benefits of this divine institution become restrained to a few people; and even these are taught to despise it, for that very reason which uses to make a benefit the more valuable, namely, because it is restrained to themselves!
If, say the present unbelievers, God has made of one blood all nations of men, and is no respecter of
Asts xiv, 16.
persons; if he designs this revelation for all men, as he must, if it be of so great use and advantage to them; — Why then is it not actually communicated to all?— Why did he so long, -Why does he still—wink at the ignorance of so many nations, and leave them without any means of coming to the knowledge of his truth? Can a God of infinite power and wisdom be disappointed in his aim? Or will the common father of mankind confine his greatest mercies to fo few of his children?
And thus every argument of the superior excellency of our religion is made an objection to its divine authority; and what should be a particular motive of gratitude for having received it, is turned into the strongest reason for rejecting it.
In my following discourse I shall consider that part of this objection, which relates to the Manner of the Christian dispensation; the other, which more immediately affects the Time of its delivery, being reserved to a more full examination afterwards.
In answer therefore to this part of the foregoing difficulty, I shall endeavour to prove in the
1. That a partial communication of Christianity can be no particular objection to its divine authority, since the religion of nature is on the same foot with it in this respect.
II. I propose to shew the wisdom and goodness of the divine conduct in the dispensation of them both. And,
III. The great benefit of complying with the terms of the gospel, and the inexcusableness of rejecting it.
I. I am to shew that a partial communication of Christianity can be no particular objection to its divine authority, since the religion of nature is on the same foot with it in this refpect.
As the all-wife Creator of the universe has been pleased to frame different orders of intellectual beings, so he has made a considerable difference among those of the same order. In mankind the case is very evident. We cannot but observe a vast disparity between both the abilities and advantages of some men, and those of others; their tempers of body, and powers of mind, and circumstances in the world; their education, opportunities, and ways of life; the station they are in, or the
government they live under. Now these are so many talents, which together make up our portion of reason, and severally contribute to the forming our understanding, and improving our nature. As these then are so
very unequally distributed; 'tis plain that our religious notions, or our law of nature, must be very different and unequal also. The bounds of duty will be as various as the degrees of knowledge in every man, and likewise be enlarged in proportion to the gradual improvements in the same man.
To speak therefore of one fixt, immutable, and universal law of nature, is framing an imaginary scheme without the least foundation in the real nature of things; directly contrary to the present order of the whole creation : 'tis making the same rule suit beings in all circumstances; which is equally absurd, as to prescribe the same food and physic to all constitutions.
To stile this religion of nature absolutely perfeet, or its light sufficient; can only mean, that every one may be as perfect here as God intended him to be, and able to do all that his maker will require of him; or so much as is sufficient to excuse him from punishment: which is very true, but nothing to the purpose: for this kind of perfection is far from implying an universal, unchangeable equality in the law of nature, or excluding greater light; since it may be very consistent with that diversity of talents abovementioned, and those different degrees of happiness and perfection, which are founded in, and naturally consequent upon it.
As therefore all the gifts of nature are distributed in this partial and unequal manner, how unreasonable is it to object against revealed religion, for its being conveyed in the very
same manner! One who believes any thing of a God and his providence, will naturally suppose, that if any revelation were to be made, it would be made according to the same method which is observed in the government of the natural and moral world; at least, he that allows this method to be consistent with the belief of a deity in the one, cannot surely on that account reject the other.*
Thus Chubb in his discourse on Miracles, p. 48,69c. endeavours to invalidate this observation, by asserting, that the two cases are not
be sufficient to shew, that natural and revealed religion are upon the same foot in point of universality; and that the objection holds equally against both of them. And I have been the more brief on this head, as it has been fully discussed of late by abler writers. *
II. Let us proceed therefore in the second place, to point out the wisdom and goodnefs of the divine conduct in both these dispenfations.
ist. Of Natural Religion; which, as we have seen, is proportionable to the different abilities and attainments of mankind; as these are also to their different stations and conditions ; both which we shall find exquisitely suited to the wellbeing of the world.
For in the first place, society is requisite in order to supply the conveniences, the comforts, and the necessaries of life, as well as to secure the quiet use, and safe possession of them. To preserve society, among such frail fallible creatures,
there parallel, because the one could not have been better constituted ; which he thinks cannot be made appear concerning the other. But if it be shewn that the like, or greater inconveniences would flow from any other assignable way of conveying revelation (which will be attempted in the following part of this discourse;) then we have as much reason to affert, that it could not upon the whole have been conveyed in a better way; and consequently the objection drawn from its want of Universality, will be of no more force than that from Inequality is in the common course of nature; and the two cases will still be exa&tly parallel. Nor can I find the least proof of the contrary in Ld. Bolingbroke's declamation, (Works, Vol.iv. p. 293,&c.) except what arises from the arbitrary supposition of Tome few divines, and is sufficiently obviated near the end of Part II.
* See Conybeare's, Foster's, or S. Browne's Defence of Revelation; or Dinne's Sermon on the Propagation of the Gospel; or more at large in Butler's Analogy, &c. p. 181, 215, &c. 8vo. or Sykes on Miracles,
p. 204, &c.