« PreviousContinue »
ously tamper with their passions, and blind their understandings, before they can bring themselves to believe what they have a mind to believe, in contradiction to the words of an express and formal declaration of God Almighty's will, than there can be any pretence or occasion for, when they have no more than their own thoughts and ideas to manage. These are flexible things, and a man may much more easily turn and wind them as he pleases, than he can evade a plain and positive law, which determines the kinds and measures of his duty, and threatens disobedience in such terms as require long practice and experience to make handsome salvos and distinctions to get over."* And upon this account also, that it is fit in every case, when the law is made known, that also the sanctions, the rewards and punishments, should be known at the same time. But nature could never have determined these with any certainty.
§ 17. Raising the dead to life, is given in the Old Testament, as a certain proof of the authority and mission of a prophet; and that what he says is the truth. 1 Kings xvii. 24. “ And the woman said to Elijah, By this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth.” So that if the Old Testament is the word of God, Jesus was a true prophet.
$ 18. The being of God is evident by the scriptures, and the scriptures themselves are an evidence of their own divine authority, after the same manner as the existence of a human thinking being is evident by the motions, behaviour, and speech of a body animated by a rational mind. For we know this no otherwise, than by the consistency, harmony, and concurrence of the train of actions and sounds, and their agreement to all that we can suppose to be in a rational mind. These are a clear evidence of understanding and design, which are the original of these actions. There is that universal harmony, consent, and concurrence in the drift, such an universal appearance of a wonderful and glorious design, such stamps every where of exalted wisdom, majesty, and holiness, in matter, manner, contexture, and aim; ihat the evidence is the same, that the scriptures are the word and work of a divine mind-to one that is thoroughly acquainted with them-as that the words and actions of an understanding man are from a rational mind. An infant, when it first comes into the world, sees persons act, and hears their voice, before it has so much comprehension as to see something of their consistence, harmony, and concurrence. It makes no distinction between their bodies, and other things ; their motions and sounds, and the
• Ditton on the Resurrection.
motions and sounds of inanimate things. But as its comprehension increases, the understanding and design begin to appear. So it is with men that are as little acquainted with the scriptures, as infants with the actions of buman bodies. They cannot see any eyidence of a divine mind, as the original of it; because they have not comprebension enough to apprehend the barmony, wisdom, &c.
$ 19. Were it not for divine revelation, I am persuaded, that there is no one doctrine of that wbich we call natural seligion, which, notwithstanding all philosophy and learning, would not be for ever involved in darkness, doubts, endless disputes, and dreadful confusion. Many tbings, now they are revealed, seem very plain. It is one thing, to see that a truth is exceedingly agreeable to reason, after we have had it explained to us, and have been told the reasons of it; and another, to find it out, and clearly and certainly to explain it by mere reason. It is one thing, to prove a thing after we are shewn how; and another, to find it out, and prove it of ourselves.
If there never had been any revelation, I believe the world would have been full of endless disputes about the very being of a God; whether the world was from eternity or not; and whether the form and order of the world did not result from the mere nature of matter. Ten thousand different schemes there would have been about it. And if it were allowed that there was a first cause of all things, there would have been endless disputes, and abundance of uncertainty, to determine what sort of a thing that first cause was. Some, it may be, would have thought that it was properly an intelligent mind and a voluntary agent Others might say, that it was some principle of things, of which we could have no kind of ideas. Some would have called it a voluntary agent : some a principle exerting itselt by a natural necessity. There might have been many schemes contrived about this, and some would like one best, and some another; and amongst those that beld, that the original of all things was superior intelligence and will, there probably would have been everlasting doubts and disputes, whether there was one only, or more. Some perhaps would have said, there was but one; some that there were two; the one the principle of good, the other the principle of evil : others, that there was a society, or a world of them. And among those that held that there was but one mind, there would be abundance of uncertainty what sort of a being he was; whether he was good or evil; whether he was just or unjust; holy or wicked; gracious or cruel; or whether he was partly good, and partly evil; and bow far he concerned himself with the world, after he had made it; and how far things were owing to his providence, or whether at all; how far be concerned himself with mankind; what was pleasing to him in them, and what was displeasing ; or whether he cared any thing about it, whether he delighted in justice and order or not; and whether he would reward the one, and punish the other; and how, and when, and where, and to what degree. There would have been abundance of doubt and dispute con. cerning what this min.I expected from us, and how we should behave towards him; or whether he expecied we should anywise concern ourselves with him: whether we evi'r ought to apply ourselves to him any way; whether we ought to speak to bim, as expecting that he would take any notice of us : how we should shew our respect to him; whether we ought to praise and commend him in our addresses; whether we oughi to ask that of him which we need, whether or no he would forgive any, after they had offended him; when they had reason to think they were forgiven, and what they should do that they might be forgiven ; and whether it is ever worth the while for them that are so often offending, to try for it; whether there were not some sins so great, that God never would upon any terms forgive them, and how great they must be in order to that, Men would be exceedingly at a loss to know when they were in favour with him, and upon what terms they could be in his favour. They would be in a dreadful uncertainty about a fu!ure state ; whether there be any, and, if there be, whether it is a state of rewards and punishments; and if it is, what kind of state it is, and how men are to be rewarded and punished, to what degree, and how long; whether man's soul be eternal or not; and if it be, whether it is to remain in another world in a fixed state, or change often.
Every man would plead for the lawfulness of this or that practice, just as suited his fancy, and agreed with his interest and appetites; and there would be room for a great deal of uncertainty and clifference of opinion among those that were most speculative and impartial. There would be uncertainty, in a multitude of instane's, what was just, and what unjust. It would be very uncertain how far self-interest should govern men, and how far love to our neighbour; bow far revenge would be right, and whether or no a man might hate his neighbour, and for wbat causes : what degree of passion and ambition was justifiable and laudable: what sensual enjoyments were lawful, and what not : how far we ought to honour, respect, and submit to our parents, and other superiors : how far it would be lawful to dissemble and deceive. It seems to me, there would be infinite confusion in these things; and hat there would hardly be any such thing as conscience in the world.
The world has had a great deal of experience of the necessity of a revelation; we may see it in all ages, that have been without a revelation. In what gross darkness and brutal stupidity have such places, in these matters, always been overwhelmed! and how many and how great and foolish mistakes, and what endless uncertainty and differences of opinion have there been among the most learned and philosophical! Yet there never was a real trial how it would be with mankind in this respect, without having any thing from revelation. I believe that most of those parts of natural religion, that were held by the Heathens before Christ, were owing to tradition from those of their forefathers who had the light of revelation. And many of those being most evidently agreeable to reason, were more easily upheld and propagated. Many of their wise men who had influence and rule over them, saw their rectitude and agreeableness to reason better than others. Some of them travelled much, and those things which appeared most agreeable to their reason, they transplanted to their own country. Judea was a sort of light among the nations, though they did not know it. The practice and principles of that country kept the neighbouring nations in remembrance of traditions, which they had from their forefathers; and so kept them from degenerating so much as otherwise they would have done. In fact, the philosophers had the foundation of most of their truths, from the ancients, or from the Phæni. cians, or what they picked up here and there of the relics of revelation.
How came all the Heathen nations to agree in the custom of sacrificing? The light of nature did not teach it them; without doubt they had it from tradition; and therefore, it need not seem strange, that what of natural religion they had amongst them, came the same way. I am persuaded, that mankind would have been like a herd of beasts, with respect to their knowledge in all important truths, if there never had been any such thing as revelation in the world; and that they never would have risen out of their brutality. We see, that those who live at the greatest distance from revelation, are far the most brutish. The Heathens in America, and in some of the utmost parts of Asia and Africa, are far more barbarous than those who formerly lived in Roine, Greece, Egypt, Syria, and Chaldea. Their traditions are more worn out, and they are more distant from places enlightened with revelation. The Chinese, descended probably from the subjects of Noah, that holy man, have held 'more by tradition from him, than other nations, and so have been a more civilized people. The increase of learning and philosophy in the Christian world, is owing to revelation. The doctrines of revealed religion, are the foundation of all useful and excellent knowledge. The word of God leads barbarous nations into the way of using their understandings. It brings their minds into a way of
reflecting and abstracted reasoning; and delivers from uncertainty in the first principles, such as, the being of God, the dependence of all things upon him, being subject to his influence and providence, and being ordered by his wisdom. Such principles as these, are the basis of all true philosopby, as appears more and more, as philosophy improves. Revelation delivers mankind from that distraction and confusion, which discourages all attempts to improve in knowledge. Revelation actually gives men a most rational account of religion and morality, and the highest philosophy, and all the greatest things that belong to learning, concerning God, the world, human nature, spirits, providence, time, and eternity, Revelation not only gives us the foundation and first principles of all learning, but it gives us the end, the only end, that would be sufficient to move man to the pursuit.
Revelation redeems nations from a vicious, sinful, and brutish way of living, which will effectually keep out learning. It is therefore unreasonable to suppose, that philosophy might supply the defect of revelation. Knowledge is easy to us that understand by revelation; but we do not know what brutes we should have been, if there never had been any revelation.
$ 20. As Moses was so intimately conversant with God, and so continually under the divine conduct, it cannot be thought, that when he wrote the history of the creation and fall of man, and the history of the church from the creation, he should not be under the divine direction in such an affair.
$ 21. It is certainly necessary, that, in the word of God, we should have a bistory of the life of Christ, of his incarnation, bis death, his resurrection and ascension, and his actions, and of the instructions he gave the world.
If God expects that we shall receive any New Testament at all, we must suppose that God's providence would be concerned in this matter. God took this care with respect to the books of the Old Testament, that no books should be received by the Jewish church, and delivered down in the canon of the Old Testament, but what were his word, and owned by Christ. We may therefore conclude, that be would still take the same care of his church, with respect to the New Testament.
$ 22. It seems to me an unaccountable dulness, that when intelligent men read David's psalms, and other prayers and songs of the Old Testament, they are not at once convinced, that the Jews had the true worship and communion of the One great and holy God; and that no other nation upon earth had them. It seems as clear as the sun at noon-day; and so