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THE EFFICACY, USEFULNESS, AND REASONABLENESS, OF DIVINE FAITH.
But without faith it is impossible to please God. —Heb. xi. 6.
IN discoursing on these words, I have dispatched the first thing which I proposed, viz. to give an account of the notion and nature of faith in general; under which I have largely treated of a religious or Divine faith in particular.
The second thing which I proposed, and to which I now proceed, is to confirm the truth of the proposition which I laid down from the words; viz. that faith is the great principle of religion. I told you that these words, “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” do not only imply that faith is a necessary condition, without which men cannot be religious: but, likewise, that it is a cause and principle of religion. Without faith a man cannot be religious: and where there is true faith, it will have this effect upon men—to make them religious. Therefore I shall distinctly speak to these two things:
First, That without faith there can be no religion.
Secondly, That where there is a true faith, it will have this influence upon men, to make them religious.
First, That without faith there can be no religion. And this will appear by inquiring into the nature of all human actions, whether civil or religious: and this is common to both of them, that they suppose some kind of faith or persuasion. All human actions have an order and reference to some end, and consequently suppose some knowledge of the end, and of the means whereby it may be attained. So that unless a man do believe and be persuaded that such a thing is some way or other good for him, and consequently desirable and fit to be propounded as an end, and that this end is attainable, and the means which he useth are probable and likely for the attaining of this end, he will sit still and do no thing at all about it. So that, without faith, it is impossible to do any thing: he that believes nothing will do nothing.
To instance first in civil actions, in the common affairs and concernments of life; all these are done by virtue of some faith or persuasion concerning them. For example, husbandry, or merchandize; no man will apply himself to these, but upon some belief or persuasion of the possibility and necessity, or, at least, usefulness and convenience, of these to the ends of life. No man would plough or sow if he did not believe that there were such a thing as the growing of corn, and that it is necessary for the support of our lives, and if he were not persuaded of the probability of reaping some fruit and benefit of his pains and industry. No man would traffic to Turkey or the Indies, if he did not believe there were such places, and that they afforded such commodities, and that he might have them upon such terms as might recompense the adventure of his charge and pains. And so in all other actions of life.
So it is in Divine and religious things; nothing is done without faith. No man will worship God, unless he believe there is a God; unless he be persuaded there is such a being, which, by reason of his excellency and perfection, may challenge our veneration; and unless he believe the goodness of this God, that “he will reward those that diligently serve him.” For all acts of religion being reasonable, they suppose at least an object and an end; that there is a God to be worshipped, and that it is not in vain to serve him. This faith is necessary to natural religion. And in case God do discover and reveal his will to men, no man can obey the will of God, unless he be persuaded that God hath some way or other made known his will; and be persuaded likewise as to the particular instance where in his obedience is required, that this is God’s will. For instance, no man will obey the precepts of the Bible as Divine laws and commands, unless he be persuaded that the doctrine contained in the Holy Scriptures is a Divine revelation. So likewise no man can entertain Christ as the Messias and Saviour of the world, and yield obedience to his laws, unless he believes that he was sent of God, and ordained by him to be a Prince and a Saviour. So that you see the necessity of faith to religion.
Secondly, I shall shew the influence that a Divine faith hath upon men to make them religious. A true Divine faith supposeth a man satisfied and persuaded of the reasonableness and necessity of being religious; that it is reasonable for every man to be so, and that it is necessary to his interest. Now there needs no more to be done to put a man upon any thing, but to satisfy him of these two things—that the action you persuade him to is reasonable; that is, possible and fit to be done; and that it is highly his interest to do it: that is, if he do it, it will be eminently for his advantage; if he do not do it, it will be eminently to his prejudice, and he is a lost and undone man. If you can once possess a man, that is in any degree sober and considerate, with these persuasions, you may make him do any thing of which he is thus persuaded. Now a true Divine faith supposeth a man satisfied and persuaded of all this.
1. Of the reasonableness of religion. He that verily believes there is a God, believes there is a being that hath all excellency and perfection, that is infinitely good, and wise, and just, and powerful, that made and preserves all things. Now he that believes such a being as this, cannot but think it reasonable that he should be esteemed, and honoured, and adored by all those creatures that are sensible and apprehensive of these excellences; that, seeing he is infinitely good, and the fountain of all being, and all the blessings we enjoy, we should love so great a benefactor, and thankfully acknowledge his goodness to us; not only by constant praise of him, but by an universal obedience to his will, and a cheerful submission to his pleasure. For what more reasonable than gratitude? that, seeing he is in finitely wise and powerful, as well as good, we should trust in him, and depend upon him in all conditions, and seek to him for what we want? For what more reasonable than to place our confidence in him, who is able and willing to do us good; and to sue to him who knows our wants, and is ready to supply them? And seeing he is truth itself, and hath been pleased to reveal his will to us; what can be more reasonable than to believe all those discoveries and revelations which “God, who cannot lie,” hath made to us, and to comply with the intention of them? And seeing he is the original pattern of all excellency and perfection; what can be more reasonable than to imitate the perfections of the Divine nature, and to endeavour to be as like God as we can? And these are the sum of all religion. So that whoever firmly believes a God, and that he hath revealed and made known his will to the world, cannot but be fully satisfied and persuaded of the reasonableness and equity of religion, and all those duties which religion requires of us; and consequently, of the possibility of performing all those duties which religion requires of us, by the assistance of the grace and strength which God is ready to afford us, if we beg it of him. For no man that believes the goodness of God (which every man does, that believes a God), can think that he will make it our duty to do any thing which he hath left us in an utter impossibility of doing.
2. A true Divine faith supposeth a man satisfied and persuaded of the necessity of religion; that is, that it is necessary to every man’s interest to be religious; that it will be highly for our advantage to be so, and eminently to our prejudice to be otherwise; that if we be so we shall be happy, if we be not we shall be miserable and undone for ever. And every man that believes a God, and the revelations which he hath made, cannot but be fully satisfied of this.
And this will appear upon these two accounts.
1. From the nature and reason of the thing. And,
2. From the promises and threatenings of God’s word.
1. From the nature and reason of the thing. Every, man that believes a God, must believe him to be the supreme good; and the greatest happiness to consist in the enjoyment of him; and a separation from him to be the greatest misery. Now God is not to be enjoyed, but in a way of religion. Holiness makes us like to God, and likeness will make us love him; and love will make us happy in the enjoyment of him; and without this it is impossible to be happy. There can be no happiness without pleasure and delight; and we cannot take pleasure in any thing we do not love; and there can be no love, without a likeness and suitableness of disposition. So long as God is good, and we evil; so long as he is pure, and we unholy; so long as he hates sin, and we love it; there can be no happy intercourse, no agreeable communion, and delightful society, between God and us. So that if we be holy, happiness will result from this temper: and if we be wicked, we are necessarily and unavoidably miserable. Sin separates between God and us, and hinders our happiness; and it is impossible that a wicked man should be near God, or enjoy him. God and a sinner are two such unequal matches, that it is impossible to bring them together; “for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? or what communion hath light with darkness?”
2. Every man who believes the revelations which God hath made, cannot but be satisfied, how much religion is his interest from the promises and threatenings of God’s word. God in his word hath, in plain and express terms, promised everlasting glory and happiness to them that obey him; and hath threatened wicked men with dreadful and eternal punishments; “to them that, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, and honour, and immortality,” he hath promised “eternal life: but to them that obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness,” he hath threatened “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish.” Now if we believe the gospel, which assures us of another life after this, and a future judgment, which will determine all men to a state of everlasting happiness or misery, we cannot but know it to be our interest, by all possible means, to endeavour to attain the happiness which God hath promised, and to avoid the misery which he hath threatened. All men naturally desire happiness, and dread misery and destruction; and these desires and fears are intimate to our natures, and can never be separated from them; be cause they flow immediately from those principles of self-love, and self-preservation, which are deeply rooted in every man’s heart, and are woven into the very make and frame of his nature, and will last as long as our beings. And so long as these principles remain in us, there is no man that is firmly persuaded of the promises and threatenings of the gospel, but must believe it to be his highest interest to be religious. Fear and hope are the two passions which govern us; hope is as it were the spur that quickens us to our duty, and fear is the curb that restrains us from sin; and the greater the good hoped for, or the evil that is feared, the greater power and influence these passions have upon us. Now there cannot be a greater good, than complete and everlasting happiness; nor a greater evil, than extreme and eternal misery. So that whoever believes the promises and threatenings of the gospel, hath his hope raised to the expectation of the greatest good and happiness, in case of obedience; and his fears extended to the expectation of the greatest evil and misery, in case of final impenitence and disobedience. And a true Divine faith doth contain in it both this hope and fear: for a faith in the promises of the gospel is nothing else, but the hopes of eternal life; and a belief of the threatenings of the gospel is nothing else, but the fear of hell and eternal misery. So that a firm belief of the promises and threatenings of the gospel, must needs have as great influence upon men to make them religious, as the highest hopes and greatest fears can have; and those men that are not moved by the hopes of the greatest good, nor by the fears of the greatest danger, are not to be wrought upon in human ways, no thing will prevail with them.
Thus I have shewn you what influence a Divine faith hath upon religion; forasmuch as whoever believes there is a God, and that the Scriptures are the word of God, is fully satisfied and convinced how reasonable it is, and how much it is his interest to be religious. I come in the last place to the application of this discourse.
First, This shews why there is so little of true religion in the world; it is for want of faith, without which it is impossible for men to be religions. Men are not firmly persuaded that there is a God; that there is a Being above them that is omniscient, and knows every thing that they do, and takes notice of every word, and thought, and action; that is so good and so powerful, as to make those happy that love and obey him; and so just and powerful, as to make those miserable who hate him and rebel against him. Men are not persuaded that their souls are immortal; and that there is another life after this, in which men shall be happy or miserable to all eternity, according as they demean themselves in this world. Men are not firmly persuaded that the Scriptures are the word of God, and that the precepts and prohibitions of the Bible are the laws of a great King, who will amply reward the observance of his laws, and severely vindicate the breach and violation of them. Men do not believe that the promises and threatenings of God’s word are true, and that every jot and tittle of them shall be accomplished. For did men believe these things, they would be religious; they would not dare to live in any known sin or impiety of life: unless we can presume that a man can be seriously unwilling to be happy, and have a longing desire to be miserable, and undone for ever. For whoever believes the principles of religion, and the precepts, and promises, and threatenings that are contained in this holy book, and yet after all this can continue in sin, he must not only put off the principles of a reasonable creature, but must quit the very inclinations of his nature; that is, he must knowingly refuse that which he naturally desires, which is happiness; and must embrace that, which of all things that can be imagined he most abhors, and that is misery.
So that if men were verily persuaded, that the great, and holy, and just God, looks continually upon them, and that it is impossible to hide from him any thing that we do, they would not dare to commit any sin in his sight, and under the eye of him who is their Father and Master, their Sovereign and their Judge, their Friend and Benefactor; who is invested with all these titles, and stands to us in all these relations, which may challenge reverence and respect. Did men believe the holiness and justice of God, that he hates sin, and will not let it go unpunished, would they venture to make him a witness of their wickedness, who they believe will be the avenger of it? Did men believe that they shall live for ever, and that after this short life is ended, they must enter upon eternity; that when they leave the world, there are but two ways which all men must go, either into life everlasting, or into eternal and intolerable torments; did men believe this, would they not with all possible care and diligence endeavour to attain the one, and avoid the other? Were men possessed with a belief of eternity, how would they despise temporal and transitory things! How would they neglect the concernments of this life, and overlook the little impertinences of time, and refer all their thoughts and cares and endeavours to eternity! This great and important interest would so fill their minds, and take up their thoughts, and employ their utmost cares, and endeavours, and diligence, that they would scarce regard, or speak, or think of any thing else; they would be restless and impatient, until they had secured this grand affair and concernment; they would subordinate all the interests of this world to that of the other, and make all the concernments of time to stoop to the grand concernment of eternity. Thus men would do, were they but firmly persuaded that there is another life after this, to which this bears no proportion.
Did men believe the Scripture to be the word of God, and to contain matters of the highest importance to our everlasting happiness; would they neglect it and lay it aside, and study it no more than a man would do an almanack out of date, or than a man, who believes the attaining a philosopher’s stone to be impossible, would study those books that treat of it? If men did believe that it contains plain and easy directions for the attaining of eternal happiness, and escaping eternal misery; they would converse much with it, make it their companion and their counsellor, “meditate in it day and night,” read it with all diligence, and put in practice the directions of it.
So that, whatever men pretend, it is plain, that those who neglect God and religion, and contradict the precepts of his word by their lives, they do not firmly believe there is a God, nor that this book is the word of God. If this faith and persuasion were firmly rooted in men, they could not live wickedly. For a man that desires happiness, can no more neglect those means which he is convinced are necessary for the obtaining of it, than a man that desires life can neglect the means which he knows to be necessary for the preservation of it.
Secondly, If faith have so great an influence upon religion, then the next use shall be to persuade men to believe. No man can be religious that doth not believe these two things:
First, The principles of natural religion—that there is a God; that his soul is immortal; and that there are future rewards.
Secondly, That the Scriptures are the word of God; or, which comes all to one, that the doctrine contained in them is a Divine revelation. Therefore whoever would persuade men to be religious, he must begin here; and whoever would improve men in religion and holiness, he must labour to strengthen this principle of faith. Faith is the root of all other graces: and they will flourish or decay, according to the degrees of our faith. Now he that would persuade a man or prevail with him to do any thing, must do it one of these three ways; either by entreaty, or authority, or argument; either he must entreat him as a friend, or command him as subject to him and under his power, or convince him as a man. Now he that should go about to entreat men to believe any thing, or to charge them so to do, before he hath convinced them, by sufficient arguments, that it is reasonable to do so, would, in my opinion, take a preposterous course. He that en treats or chargeth a man to do any thing, supposeth that he can do the thing if he will: but a man can not believe what he will; the nature of a human understanding is such, that it cannot assent without evidence, nor believe any thing to be true, unless it see reason so to do, any more than a man can see a thing without light. So that if the clearest friend that I have in the world should beg of me with the greatest importunity; or any man that hath the greatest authority over me, should lay his severest commands upon me to believe a thing, for which I see no reason, I could not do it; because nothing can command assent, but evidence. So that he that would persuade men to believe either the principles of natural religion, or any Divine revelation, must convince them of the truth of them; for it is unreasonable to desire a man to believe any thing, unless I give him good reason why he should.
And this being the proper course which is to be taken, there are two sorts of persons to whom I shall apply myself in this exhortation: those who do not believe these things, and those who are persuaded of them: to the former, in order to the beget ting of faith in them; to the latter, in order to the strengthening and confirming of their faith.
Those who do not believe, are of two sorts; either such as do positively disbelieve these things, and make it their business to arm themselves against them with all the arguments they can; who are so far from believing a God, or any Divine revelation, that they endeavour to persuade themselves of the contrary, that there is no such thing; or else they are such as are indifferent about these matters. They have received the principles of religion by their education, and they have nothing to say against them, nor for them; they never considered them, nor the proper consequences of them; they neither believe nor disbelieve them upon any reasonable account.
Now these are to be dealt withal in the same way: for whatever will convince the disbeliever, will much more persuade the indifferent, and confirm the weak. For faith is to be strengthened by the same arguments by which it is wrought. Therefore I shall apply myself to convince unbelievers; and every one may apply those arguments which I use to this purpose, for the strengthening of their own faith.
But before I come to those arguments I intend to offer for the conviction of those that do not believe, I think it convenient to endeavour, if possible, to remove a violent, and I think unreasonable prejudice which men have received against all those who endeavour to make religion reasonable. As if Bellarmine had been in the right when he said, “That faith was rather to be defined by ignorance than by knowledge.” The plain English of which is, that it is for want of understanding that men believe the gospel; and if the world were but a little more knowing and wise, nobody would be a Christian. I know not how it comes to pass, whether through the artifice of the popish party, who “hate the light, lest it should reprove them, and make them manifest;” or through the ignorance of too many well-meaning protestants; I say, I know not how it comes to pass, but so it is, that every one that offers to give a reasonable account of his faith, and to establish religion upon rational principles, is presently branded for a Socinian; of which we have a sad instance in that incomparable person Mr. Chillingworth, the glory of this age and nation, who, for no other cause that I know of, but his worthy and successful attempts to make the Christian religion reasonable, and to discover those firm and solid foundations upon which our faith is built, hath been requited with this black and odious character. But if this be Socinianism, for a man to inquire into the grounds and reasons of the Christian religion, and to endeavour to give a satisfactory account why he believes it, I know no way but that all considerate inquisitive men, that are above fancy and enthusiasm, must be either Socinians or atheists.
T cannot imagine how men can do greater disservice to religion, than by taking it off from the rational and solid basis upon which it stands, and bearing the world in hand, that men ought to believe without reason; for this is to turn faith into credulity, and to level Christian religion with the vilest and most groundless enthusiasms that ever were in the world. Indeed if we had only to deal with Henry Nicholas and Jacob Behmen, who fight against us in the dark, not with reasons and arguments, but with insignificant words, and obscure phrases; we might make a shift to bear up against them with this principle, and we might charge them to believe us, as they do us to believe them, with out giving them any reason for it: but if we were to deal with Celsus, or Julian, or Porphyry, or some of our modern atheists, we should soon find how vain it would be to go about to cajole them with phrases, and to gain them over to Christianity, by telling them that they must deny their reason, and lay aside their understandings, and believe they know not why. If the great pillars of Christianity, the ancient fathers, had taken this course in their apologies for Christian religion, it had never triumphed over Judaism and paganism as it did; and whoever hath read over those defences and vindications of the Christian religion against Jews and heathens, which were written in the first ages of the church, especially the books of Origen against Celsus, and Eusebius’s book De Demonst. and Præparat. Evangel. shall find that they did very solicitously endeavour to satisfy the world by all rational ways both of the truth and reasonableness of Christian religion. And if that was a good way then, it is so now; and never more necessary than in this age, which I fear hath as many atheists and infidels, that go under the name of Christians, as ever were in any age since Christian religion was first planted in the world.
But my design at present is not to persuade men particularly to the belief of Christianity (that I intend hereafter, by God’s assistance to speak to), but to persuade men to the belief of religion in general. So that all that I shall do at present shall be, as briefly as I can, to offer some arguments and considerations to persuade men to the belief of the principles of natural religion, and of the revelation which God hath made of his mind and will in the Holy Scriptures.
I. To persuade men to believe the principles of natural religion, such as the being of a God; the immortality of the soul; and future rewards after this life; I shall offer these two considerations:
First, That it is most reasonable so to do.
Secondly, That it is infinitely most prudent.
First, As to the being of God. Do but consider these two things, which are undeniable—that there is a world, however it came; and that mankind do generally consent in a confident persuasion that there is a God, whatever be the cause of it. Now these two things being certain, and not liable to any question, let us inquire whether a reasonable account can be given of these without a God.
1. Supposing there be no God, how came this vast and orderly frame of the world? There are but two ways that can be imagined. Either it was from eternity always of itself; or it began sometime to be. That it should be always of itself, though it may be imagined of the heavens, and the earth, which as to the main are permanent, and continue the same: yet in things that succeed one after another, it is altogether unimaginable. As in the generation of men, there can be no doubt, whether every one of them was from another, or some of themselves. Some of them must be of themselves: for whatever number of causes be imagined in orderly succession, some of them must have no cause, but be of themselves. Now that which is of itself, and the cause of all others, is the first. So that there must be a first man; and the age of man being finite, this first man must have a beginning. So, that an infinite succession of men should have been, is impossible; and consequently, that men were always. But I need not insist much upon this, because few or none of our modern atheists pitch upon this way. Besides that Aristotle, who is reputed the greatest assertor of the eternity of the world, doth acknowledge an infinite progress and succession of causes to be one of the greatest absurdities.
Suppose then the world began sometime to be; it must either be made by counsel and design; that is, produced by some being that knew what it did, that did contrive and frame it as it is; which, it is easy to conceive, a being that is infinitely good, and wise, and powerful, might do: but this is to own a God: or else the matter of it being supposed to have been always, and in continual motion and tumult, it at last happened to fall into this order, and the parts of matter, after various agitations, were at length entangled and knit together in this order, in which we see the world to be. But can any man think this reasonable to imagine, that in the infinite variety which is in the world, all things should happen by chance, as well and as orderly as the greatest wisdom could have contrived them? Whoever can believe this, must do it with his will, and not with his understanding.
But seeing it must be granted that something is of itself; how easy is it to grant such a Being to be of itself, as hath other perfections proportionable to necessary existence; that is infinitely good, and wise, and powerful? And there will be no difficulty in conceiving how such a Being as this should make the world.
2. This likewise is undeniable—that mankind do generally consent in a confident persuasion that there is a God, whatever be the cause of this. Now the reason of so universal a consent in all places and ages of the world, must be one and constant: but no one and constant reason of this can be given, unless it be from the frame and nature of man’s mind and understanding, which hath the notion of a Deity stamped upon it, or, which is all one, hath such an understanding, as will in its own free use and exercise find out a God. And what more reasonable than to think, that if we be God’s workmanship, he should set this mark of himself upon us, that we might know to whom we belong? And I dare say, that this account must needs be much more reasonable and satisfactory to any in different man, than to resolve this universal consent into tradition, or state policy, both which are liable to inexplicable difficulties, as88 See Sermon I. vol. i. p. 317. where the arguments here briefly named are handled at large. I have elsewhere shewn at large.
II. As to the immortality of the soul. Supposing a God, who is an infinite spirit, it is easy to imagine the possibility of a finite spirit: and supposing the goodness of God, no man can doubt, but that when he made all things, he would make some best; and the same goodness which moved him to make things, would be a reason to continue those things for the longest duration they are capable of.
III. As to future rewards. Supposing the holiness and justice of God, that “he loves righteousness, and hates iniquity;” and that he is the magistrate and governor of the world, and concerned to countenance goodness, and discourage sin; and considering the promiscuous dispensation of his providence in this world, and how “all things happen alike to all;” it is most reasonable to conclude, that after this life men shall be punished and rewarded.
Secondly, It is infinitely most prudent. In matters of great concernment a prudent man will incline to the safest side of the question. We have considered which side of these questions is most reasonable: let us now think which is safest. For it is certainly most prudent to incline to the safest side of the question. Supposing the reasons for and against the principles of religion were equal, yet the danger and hazard is so unequal, as would sway a prudent man to the affirmative. Suppose a man believe there is no God, nor life after this; and suppose he be in the right, but not certain that he is, (for that I am sure in this case is impossible;) all the advantage he hath by this opinion, relates only to this world and this present time: for he cannot be the better for it when he is not. Now what advantage will it be to him in this life? He shall have the more liberty to do what he pleaseth; that is, it furnishes him with a stronger temptation to be intemperate, and lustful, and unjust; that is, to do those things which prejudice his body and his health, which cloud his reason, and darken his understanding; which will make him enemies in the world, and will bring him into danger. So that it is no advantage to any man to be vicious: and yet this is the greatest use that is made of atheistical principles; to comfort men in their vicious courses. But if thou hast a mind to be virtuous, and temperate, and just, the belief of the principles of religion will be no obstacle, but a furtherance to thee in this course. All the advantage a man can hope for by disbelieving the principles of religion, is to escape trouble and persecution in this world, which may happen to him upon account of religion. But supposing there be a God, and a life after this; then what a vast difference is there of the consequences of these opinions! as much as between finite and infinite, time and eternity!
Secondly, To persuade men to believe the Scriptures, I only offer this to men’s consideration. If there be a God whose providence governs the world, and all the creatures in it, is it not reasonable to think that he hath a particular care of men, the noblest part of this visible world? and seeing he hath made them capable of eternal duration; that he hath provided for their eternal happiness, and sufficiently revealed to them the way to it, and the terms and conditions of it: now let any man produce any book in the world, that pretends to be from God, and to do this; that, for the matter of it, is so worthy of God, the doctrines whereof are so useful, and the precepts so reasonable, and the arguments so powerful, the truth of all which was confirmed by so many great and unquestionable miracles, the relation of which hath been transmitted to posterity, in public and authentic records, written by those who were eye and ear-witnesses of what they wrote, and free from suspicion of any worldly interest and design; let any produce a book like this, in all these respects; and which, over and be sides, hath, by the power and reasonableness of the doctrines contained in it, prevailed so miraculously in the world, by weak and inconsiderable means, in opposition to all the wit and power of the world, and under such discouragements, as no other religion was ever assaulted with; let any man bring forth such a book, and he hath my leave to believe it as soon as the Bible. But if there be none such, as I am well assured there is not, then every one that thinks God hath revealed himself to men, ought to embrace and entertain the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures, as revealed by God.
And now, having presented men with such arguments and considerations as are proper, and I think sufficient to induce belief, I think it not unreasonable to entreat and urge men diligently and impartially to consider these matters; and if there be weight in these considerations to sway reasonable men, that they would not suffer themselves to be biassed by prejudice, or passion, or interest, to a contrary persuasion. Thus much I may with reason desire of men: for though men cannot believe what they will, yet men may, if they will, consider things seriously and impartially, and yield or with hold their assent, as they shall see cause, after a thorough search and examination.
If any man will offer a serious argument against any of the principles of religion, and will debate the matter soberly, as one that considers the infinite consequences of things one way or other, and would gladly be satisfied, he deserves to be heard what he can say: but if a man will turn religion into raillery, and confute it by two or three bold jests; he doth not make religion, but himself ridiculous, in the opinion of all considerate men; because he sports with his life.
So that it concerns every man that would not trifle away his soul, and fool himself into irrecoverable misery, with the greatest seriousness to inquire into these things, whether they be so or not, and patiently to consider the arguments that are brought for them.
And when you are examining these matters, do not take into consideration any sensual or worldly interest: but deal fairly and impartially with your selves, Think with yourselves that you have not the making of things true or false; that the principles of religion are either true or false, before you think of them. The truth of things is already fixed; either there is a God, or no God; either your souls are immortal, or they are not; either the Scriptures are a Divine revelation, or an imposture; one of these is certain and necessary, and they are not now to be altered. Things will not comply with your conceits, and bend themselves to your interests. Therefore, do not think what you would have to be: but consider impartially what is.99 Of this see more in the Sermon before-mentioned, p. 275.
And if, upon inquiry, you be convinced that it is the greatest reason and prudence to believe that there is a God, and a future state, and that the Scriptures are the word of God, then meditate much of these things; attend to the proper consequences of such a persuasion; and resolve to live as becomes those who believe there is a God, and another life after this, and that it is best for you to obey the precepts of his word, being persuaded that whatever is there promised in case of obedience, or threatened in case of disobedience, will certainly be accomplished.
And labour to strengthen yourselves in this belief; because faith is the spring of all rational actions, and the root of all other graces; and according to the strength and weakness of faith, your holiness, and obedience, and graces, will flourish and decay.
And because the matters of faith do not fall under our senses, and the things of another world are in visible, and at distance, and consequently not so apt to affect us, as present and sensible things, we should take the more pains with ourselves, that by revolving frequently in our minds the thoughts of God, and representing to ourselves the happiness and misery of another world, they may have as great an effect upon us, as if they were present to us, and we saw them with our bodily eyes.
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