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fubftantiation itself. But so fond are they of their own innovations and errors, that rather than the dictates of their church, how groundless and absurd soever, should be called in question ; rather than not have their will of us in impofing upon us what they please, they will 0verthrow any article of the Christian faith, and shake the very foundations of our common religion : A clear evidence that the church of Rome is not the true mother, since she can be so well contented that Christianity should be destroyed, rather than the point in question should be decided against her.
S E R M ON
The Protestant religion vindicated from the
charge of singularity and novelty.
Preached before the King, at Whitehall, April 2. 1680)
JOSHUA xxiv. 15. If it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, chuse you this
day whom you will ferve.
The first sermon on this text.
\Hese are the words of Joshua'; who, after he had
brought the people of Israel through many diffi
culties and hazards, into the quiet pofTellion of the promised land, like a good prince, and father of his country, was very solicitous, before his death, to lay the firmelt foundation he could devise of the future happiness and prosperity of that people, in whose present settlement he had, by the blessing of God, been so successful an instrument.
And, because he knew no means so effectual to this end, as to confirm them in the religion and worship of
the true God, who had by so remarkable and miraculous a providence planted them in that good land; he summons the people together, and represents to them all those considerations that might engage them and their posterity for ever to continue in the true religion. He tells them what God had already done for them, and what he had promised to do more, if they would be faithful to him; and, on the other hand, what fearful calamities he had threatened, and would certainly bring upon them, in case they should transgress his covenant, and go and serve other gods. And, after many arguments to this purpose, he concludes with this earnest exhortation, at the 14th verse, Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in fincerity, and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord.
And, to give the greater weight and force to this exhortation, he does, by a very eloquent kind of insinuation, as it were once more set them at liberty, and leave them to their own election; it being the nature of man, to stick more stedfastly to that which is not violently imposed, but is our own free and deliberate choice : And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, chuse you this day whom you will serve.
Which words offer to our consideration these following observations.
1. It is here supposed, that a nation must be of some religion or other. Joshua does not put this to their choice, but takes it for granted.
2. That though religion be a matter of choice, yet it is neither a thing indifferent in itself, nor to a good governor, what religion his people are of. Joshua does not put it to them as if it were an indifferent matter whether they served God or idols: he had fufficiently declared before, which of these was to be preferred.
3. The true religion may have several prejudices and objections against it: If it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord; intimating, that, upon some accounts, and to some persons, it may appear fo.
4. That the true religion hath those real advantages on its side, that it may fafely be referred to any considerate man's choice. And this seems to be the true rea,
son why Joshua refers it to them : not that he thought the thing indifferent, but because he was fully fatis.ied, that the truth and goodness of the one above the oner was so evident, that there was no danger that any prudent man should make a wrong choice: If it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, chufe you this day whom you will serve ; intimating, that the plain difference of the things in competition would direct them what to chuse.
5. The example of princes and governors hath a very great influence upon the people in matters of religion. This I collect from the context. And Joshua was sensible of it: and therefore, tho' he firmly believed the true religion to have those advantages that would certainly recommend it to every impartial man's judgment; yet, knowing that the multitude are easily imposed upon, and led into error, he thought fit to incline and determine them by his own example, and by declaring his own peremptory resolution in the case : Chuse you this day whom you will ferve : as for me, I and my house will serve the Lord. Laws are a good security to religion ; but the example of governors is a living law, which secretly over-rules the minds of men, and bends them to a compliance with it.
Non fic inflettere fenfus Humanos edi&ta valent, ut vita regentis : « The lives and actions of princes have usually a greater
the ininds of the people than their laws.” All these observations are, I think, very natural, and very considerable. I shall not be able to speak to then all; but shall proceed so far as the time and your patience will give me leave.
First, It is here fupposed, that a nation must be of fome religion or other. Joshua does not put it to their choice, whether they would worship any Deity at all. That had been too wild and extravagant a supposition, and which it is likely in those days had never entered into any man's mind. But he takes it for granted, that all people will be of some religion ; and then offers it to their confideration which they would pitch upon : Chife you this day whom you will serve, whether the gols which your fathers served, &c.
Religion is a thing to which men are not only formed
by education and custom ; but, as Tully says, quo omnes duce naturâ vchimur; “ it is that to which we are all car“ ried by a natural inclination :” which is the true reason why some religion or other hath so universally prevailed in all ages and places of the world.
The temporal felicity of men, and the ends of government, can very hardly, if at all, be attained without religion. Take away this, and all obligations of conscience cease ; and where there is no obligation of conscience, all security of truth, and justice, and mutual confidence among men, is at an end. For why should I repose confidence in that man, why should i take his word, or believe his promise, or put any of my interests and concernments into his power, who hath no other restraint upon him but that of human laws, and is at liberty in his own mind and principles to do whatever he judgeth to be expedient for his interest, provided he can but do it without danger to himself? So that declared Atheism and infidelity doth justly bring men under a jealou- . fy and suspicion with all mankind. And every wise man hath reason to be upon his guard against those, from whom he hath no cause to expect more justice, and truth, and equity in their dealings, than he can compel them to by the mere dint and force of laws: for, by declaring themselves free from all other obligations, they give us fair warning what we are to expect at their hands, and how far we may trust them. Religion is the strongest band of human society; and God lo necessary to the welfare and happiness of mankind, as it could not have been more, if we could suppose the being of God his self to have been purposely designed and contrived for the benefit and advantage of men. So that very well may it be taken for granted, that a nation must be of some religion or other,
Secondly, Though religion be a matter of our choice, yet it is neither a thing indifferent in itself, nor to a good governor, what religion his people are of. Notwithstanding the supposition of the text, Joshua doth not leave them at liberty whether they will ferve God or idols; but, by a very rhetorical scheme of speech, endeavours
them more firmly to the worship of the true
to engage God.
To countenance and support the true religion, and to take care that the people be instructed in it, and that none be permitted to debauch and seduce men from it, properly belongs to the civil magistrate. This power the Kings of Israel always exercised, not only with allowance, but with great approbation and commendation from God himself. And the case is not altered since Christianity : the better the religion is, the better it deserves the countenance and support of the civil authority. And this power of the civil magistrate in matters of religion was never called in question, but by the enthuLialts of these latter times : and yet, among these, every father and master of a family, claims this power over his children and servants, at the same time that they deny it to the magistrate over his subjects. But I would fain know where the difference lies. Hath a master of a family more power over those under his government than the magistrate hath? No man ever pretended it : nay, so far is it from that, that the natural authority of a father may be, and often is, limited and restrained by the laws of the civil magistrate. And why then may not a magistrate exercise the fame power over his subjects in matters of religion, which every master challengeth to himself in his own famify; that is, to establish the true worship of God in such manner and with such circumstances as he thinks beft, and to permit none to affrort it, or to seduce from it those that are under his care? And, to prevent all misunderstandings in this matter, I do not hereby ascribe any thing to the magistrate, that can possibly give him any pretence of right to reject God's true religion, or to declare what he pleases to be so, and what books he pleases to be canonical and the word of God, and, confequently, to make a false religion so current, by the stanıp of his authority, as to oblige his subjects to the profession of it; because he who acknowledgeth himself to derive all his authority from God, can pretend to none against him. But if a false religion be established by law, the case here is the same as in all other laws that are sinful in the matter of them, but yet made by a lawful authority : in this case the subject is not bound to profess a false religion, but patiently to suffer for the constant profession of the true.. M 2