« PreviousContinue »
The Conclufion; containing an Exhortation to å Serious Confideration of these things, both from the Example of the wifest and most learned Men, and from the infinite Importance of the Things themselves.
S Wife and as Learned Men as any that ever lived in the World, have died in the Belief of the Christian Religion, when they had no Interest to engage them to it; and many of them have led their Lives under Perfecutions, and have at last been put to Death, rather than they would renounce that Faith which the Scriptures declare to us. It cannot be denied, but that there have been Men of as great Learning, and as great Numbers of them, profeffing the Christian Religion, as have been of all other Religions in the World: Indeed, all manner of Arts and Sciences have been more improved by Chriftians, than by all other forts of Men whatsoever; and all rational and folid Learning is confined, as I may fay, within Chriftendom. For, befides the Idolatrous Worship, and other Impieties notorious among them; whatsoever Learning is to be found among the Chinefe, or other Heathen Nations, their Notions of Things, fo far as they differ from what is contained in the Scriptures, are fo obfcure and confufed at the beft, and fo groundlefs, that that Chriftian muft be very weary of his Religion, who can think of changing it for fuch Uncertainties.
And no Man that profefs'd and called him felf a Chriftian, ever disbelieved the Scriptures, but there were visibly other Reafons for it than thefe, which L12
the Nature of the Chriftian Religion could afford: It was apparent in his Life, that he wished the Christian Religion were falfe, before he endeavoured to perfuade himself that it is not true. Some are poffefs'd with that intolerable Spirit of Pride and Contradi&tion, that mere Vanity and a Conceit of being wifer than others, makes them find fault with any thing that is generally received; and the greatest Fault which thefe Men can find with the Chriftian Religion, is, that they have been bred up in it, and therefore they make heavy Complaints of the prejudices of Education, and the hindrances which ingenuous Minds labour under, from the influences of it, in the purfuit of Truth: And thefe Men, perhaps, might have talk'd as much, and to as much purpofe, for Chriftianity, as they now talk againft it, if they had not been born among Chriftians, and been bred up in the Chriftian Religion; they fcorn to be the better for their Education, and are afhamed of nothing more than to believe and think like other Men; and they might almost be perfuaded to be Christians ftill, if they could but be fingular in being fo: For the mere Affectation of Singularity makes them despise and dispute against any thing which others allow and esteem. But it will be hard to find any learned Man of tolerable Modesty and Vertue, and who was not as fingular in other things, as in his Notions of Religion, but he has firmly believed the Divine Authority of the Scriptures.
It concerns all, who have any Doubts about these things, to weigh the Objections with the Answers that have been given to them by divers Authors, and withal to obferve the importance of the Objections, and how far they affect the main Cause; and still to remember, that it is at every Man's own Peril, if he make a rash and partial Judgment. If our Faith could be of no Benefit or Advantage to us, nor Infidelity any
Prejudice, we might take the fame Liberty to give Credit or no Credit to what we read in the Bible that we use in the Reading all other Books, and to receive or reject it as we think fit, or to believe only just fo much, as lies even with our own Understandings and Notions of Things, and at the worst this would be but Folly in us. But it is Madness to reject our own Happiness, and make our felves miferable, because we do not perceive the Reasons of all the Means and Methods, which God has been pleas'd to use to make us happy; or are not able to understand every Word of that Book, which contains the Terms of our Salvation.
This is as if a Son fhould choose to live miferably, rather than to enjoy a large Estate left him by his Father, because he doth not perceive the Design and full Meaning of every Particular in his Will; he fearches out for all Ways and Arts of cavilling at it, and is fond of any Pretence to caft it aside as Counterfeit, being refolv'd never to believe it to be his Father's: For his Father was a wife Man, and if it were his, fuch and fuch Claufes would not be in it, fince there is no reason, that he can fee, why they should be inferted; feveral things mention'd in it, he believes are miftimed, the Bounds of the Lands are not defcribed by fit Names; befides it is interlin'd, and he never will accept of fuch an Estate convey'd to him by fuch a Will; but chooses rather to be miferable all the days of his Life. This would be fuch Peevishness and Perverfenefs, as is not to be met withal, where our Temporal Interest is concern'd: But too many are too forward to reject the Tenders, and despise the Terms of an everlasting Inheritance in Heaven, though at the fame time they become obnoxious to all the Curfes threatned to Unbelievers, because the Old and New Teftament contain fome things which may afford matter of Exception and Cavil to captious Men.
God has fent his Prophets to call, and admonifh us, and his Son to reconcile us to himself, by his Death; and to offer us Eternal Peace and Happiness, and he has given us all the Evidence of it, that the nature of the things would admit. The Jews have afferted the Authority of the Old Teftament from the times of Mofes and the Prophets; and the Chriftians afferted the Truth of the Gospel, when it was impoffible for them not to know whether it were true or not; without any profpect of Advantage by it in this World; but with a certain Expectation of all manner of Torments and Deaths; and the greatest part of the known World, was converted to the Belief of it, and became Chriftians; when in this World, Chriftians were of all Men the most miferable, and were fupported only by the ftedfast hope and expectation of that Happiness which is promis'd to us in the Scriptures after this Life. And all things confider'd, we have as fufficient grounds for the Authority of the Scriptures, as we have, not only that any other Book was compos'd by the Author, whofe Name it bears, but as we have to believe any thing else in the World. Now what do these Men? How do they receive fo great a Bleffing? Why, they overlook all the Evidence that can be brought to prove the Divine Authority of the Scriptures, and fearch up and down for doubtful and obfcure Passages to difprove it by; not confidering, in the mean time, that nothing can overthrow their Authority, but that which can invalidate the Evidence, by which it is establish'd. It would be the highest Folly and Ingratitude thus to despise God's Mercy and Care over us, if there were no Danger in it, but it being a thing of infinite Danger, it is no less than Madness: For what milder Term can be found to exprefs the defperate Folly of them, who reject a Book, which fets before us the means of Salvation, but at the fame time forewarns us
upon pain of the fevereft effects of God's Displeasure, not to neglect them: It is Madness, I fay, if we rightly confider it, to reject fuch a Book, and at once both to affront the Mercy, and defpife the Threatnings of the infinitely Merciful, and the infinitely! Great and Powerful God.
It is a good Caution to the Atheist to forbear his Blafphemies, and Contempt of the Divine Majefty, for fear it fhould prove true, that there is a God, at laft, and then it will be a difmal thing after all his profane Talking and Arguing, to be call'd before that God, whom he has fo often deny'd. And it is as good Advice to thofe, who make it their Business to find fault with the Scriptures, to consider seriously whether they are fure that these are not God's Word, after all that can be faid against them; and if they be not abfolutely certain of this, the Name and Title, which they bear, and which Men as wife and as judicious as themselves, have ever thought to belong to them, fhould methinks keep Men within fome bounds of Modesty and Difcretion. For if they be indeed the Word of God, (and nothing is capable of being made more evident) then how dearly muft they pay for a little cavilling Wit and Subtilty! The best and most Divine things may be defpis'd and affronted by a bold and fcurrilous Wit, but can Men think it a safe or a prudent thing to ridicule and fcoff at thofe Books, which, for ought they know, may be of Divine Reyelation, when all the Reason, of which they fancy themselves fo great Mafters, can never be able to confute the Arguments brought in Vindication of them? Can they value the contemptible Reputation of a little Satyr and Drollery, at that mighty Rate, as to run the Hazard of being damn'd for it?
If Men have any real Doubts or Scruples, they must needs grant, that it is too ferious a thing to jeft and trifle withal, when no less than the Terms of our