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though the world was the worse for abusing the religion of nature, and might want to be reformed by a divine instructor, yet the religion of nature was not the worse for being abused, but still retained its first purity and simplicity. The duties of religion, considered as a rule of action, flow from the relation we bear to God and to one another; and religion must ever be the same as long as these relations continue unaltered. If our first parent was the creature of God, so are we; and whatever service and duty he owed, in virtue of this dependence, the same is due from us ; nor can this relation be ever made the ground of different duties in his case and in ours: if therefore nature rightly instructed him at first how to serve his Maker, our obligations being the same with his, our rule must be the same also. The case is the same with respect to the duties owing from man to man; and it would be as reasonable to suppose that the three angles of a triangle should be equal to two right ones in one age, and unequal in another, as to suppose that the duties of religion should differ in one age from what they were in another, the habitudes and relations from which they flow continuing always the same.
That the case is in fact what I have represented it to be, might be shown from the particular laws of the gospel, and their dependence, from the maxims and principles of natural religion : but this would be rather the work of a volume than
I will content myself therefore with one general proof, which reaches to every part of the Christian doctrine, and yet will not lead me beyond the bounds to which I am confined. Our Saviour in the 5th of St. Matthew tells us, * that he came not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfil them.' What his meaning was, he sufficiently explained in the following part of his sermon on the mount: in which, laying down first the old law, he showed in every instance wherein the true perfection of that virtue consisted which the law required. The law forbade murder and adultery; our Lord declares that not only the immoral actions, known by those names, were restrained, but even the internal corruptions of heart from which they flowed; and extends the prohibition to hatred and to lust, one the parent of murder, the other of adultery. Since then our Lord so fully declares that his
purpose was to perfect and complete the law and the prophets, it remains to be considered what notion he had of the law and of the prophets : in the 22nd of St. Matthew, the question was put to him by a lawyer: · Which is the great commandment in the law ?' Our Saviour answers, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,' &c. • This is the first and great commandment; and the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.' Having laid down these two great rules, he thus declares his sense with respect to the subject of our present inquiry; On these commandments hang all the law and the prophets. If the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments, then the doctrine of our Saviour, which is the perfection of the law and the prophets, must hang on them likewise. Now if you will allow that the love of God, and the love of your neighbor, are fundamental in the law of reason and nature (as undoubtedly they are), you must also allow that whatever may be deduced from them, by rational consequence, must be a precept of the law of nature : whatever therefore hangs on these two commandments, must necessarily be a part of natural religion ; and that all the law and the prophets do so hang, and consequently the doctrine of the gospel, which is the perfection of them, you have had our Saviour's express testimony. Since then it appears (as I think) that the religion of the gospel is the true original religion of reason and nature;
The second thing I shall observe to you is, that it has, as such, a claim to be received independent of those miracles which were wrought for its confirmation.
This consequence will be admitted by all who allow the force and obligation of natural religion, and can be denied by none who know or understand themselves. The principles of religion are interwoven in the very frame and make of our minds; and we may as well run from ourselves, as from the sense of the obligations we are under. If the law which is in our members should get the better of the law of our minds, and lead us into the forbidden paths of vice and immorality; though obedience cannot hold us, yet guilt will never forsake us; and our own consciences will not permit us to forget the law, however our corrupt passions may induce us to transgress it. This
sense will always keep a passage open to the heart, for instruction to enter in; and there needs nothing more to show that man is obliged to submit to the rules and laws of reason, than to show that he is a rational creature ; since if reason be of any use, it is for our direction; and to suppose a creature to have reason to direct him, and yet that he ought not to be directed by it, is a contradiction : so far therefore as the gospel represents to us the law of nature, it needs only to appeal to the reason of mankind for its authority, and may leave its cause to be tried in every man's own breast before the tribunal of conscience; and how far this is the case of the gospel, has been already shown at large.
But some one perhaps may have a mind to ask, may not teach the heathen the religion of the gospel, as well in his own name as in the name of Christ ; since, being the very
religion of reason, it wants no name to support it? To which I answer ;
that if the heathen are such masters of reason as to want no teaching, the question is impertinent; and if they do want instructing, there is no comparison between the masters.
But the truth is, that all the essentials of true religion are contained in that part of the gospel, of which so much has been already spoken ; but how this religion came to stand in need of being renewed by a special commission from heaven, how nature came to want that new light which the gospel has given, and those additional helps and assistances from the influence of the Spirit of God which the gospel has promised, is a matter of another consideration, and opens to us a new view, to see the reasonableness and necessity of the doctrines peculiar to Christianity, which, though not different, are yet distinct from the principles of reason and nature.
Had man continued in the purity of his first religion, he had wanted no second ; the doctrine of nature had led him to the enjoyment of the glorious hopes, to which he was born, of life and immortality. But when he fell under the power and dominion of sin, he grew both blind and impotent, had but little knowlege left to find his duty, and still less his ability to perform it. The history of the fall is preserved to us in sacred writ ; but let the Scripture be silent, and let experience only speak. Look back into the past ages of the world, as far as the clue of
history can guide you, and tell me in what place the purity of natural religion was preserved : observe the manners of men and their religious services, and when you are tired with the sad prospect of the ignorance and barbarity of some, the superstition and idolatry of all, tell me once more, did the world want an instructor or no? If it did, we have little reason to complain that it had one, still less to stumble at the dignity of the person who undertook the desperate cause of nature; or to reject his authority, because he is greater than we know how to conceive, even the only begotten Son of God.
He came into the world, not merely to restore the religion of nature, but to adapt it to the state and condition of man, and to supply the defects, not of religion, which continued in its first purity and perfection, but of nature, which was fallen from the original dignity of the creation. Man was born the heir of glory and immortality ; but our Saviour found him under the power
of sin and of death. If death came in as the penalty of disobedience to the law of nature, as we learn from the sure word of prophecy that it did, it was an evil for which natural religion could afford no remedy; for no law provides a remedy against its own penalties ; which would be to weaken and destroy the obligations to obedience, which the penalty was intended to inforce. And though the world every
where retained some notion or other of a future state, and was fond of cherishing the languishing hopes of immortality; yet these hopes seem rather to be the remains of that first state, in which nature had the full prospect of life before her, and which subsisted when the blessing itself was forfeited, than any just assurance of another life after death, to be purchased by virtue and obedience. To repair this breach, and to settle religion once more on the sure foundation of the hopes and fears of eternity, our blessed Lord brought life and immortality to light again' by the gospel; and published to the world the new doctrine of a resurrection from the grave, of the truth of which doctrine we had the first instance, and the fullest confirmation, in his own victorious triumph over the powers of death and of darkness. Hence it is that we are said to be begotten again through Christ Jesus unto a lively hope, or unto the hope of life: hence also we are told that God hath now
appointed a day, in which he will judge the world by the man Christ Jesus. Hence it is that these two, or rather this one article relating to a resurrection and a judgment to come, was the main thing which the Apostles had in commission to publish to the world ; insomuch that, when a new Apostle was to be chosen in the room of Judas, it was required, as a necessary article, that he should be qualified to be a competent witness of the resurrection of Christ, in which the authority of this great article was founded.
But to what purpose was it to restore religion from the corruptions of ignorance and superstition; to what end was this ' better hope' brought in? Since our first parents, who wanted not this hope, nor this knowlege, yet wretchedly fell from both by transgression, what security can we, their sons, still worse than they, promise ourselves from these advantages ? It is we that are weak and degenerate; it is we that most of all want to be restored : this original corruption made it necessary, in order to save the world, not only to restore religion, but nature herself. Hence it is that our admission into the gospel is attended with a new birth unto righteousness; hence it is that we are put under the conduct and direction of the Holy Spirit, who is our fellow-laborer in the gospel, and in all times and in all places ready to comfort and support the faithful. If, to strengthen our confidence in him, we are told that he is in all respects equal to the extensive charge; that, being the eternal Spirit of God, he can in all places and at all times discharge the office; this knowlege, which was communicated to make our faith and hope consistent, and to set both on a reasonable foundation, ought to be no objection against either. And since these articles of our creed, being beyond the discovery of human reason, are placed on the surer foundation of the demonstration of the Spirit, in mighty signs and wonders, they ought to be no stumbling-block to us; for the reason may teach us to embrace the remedy which she could not provide.
It is true, the gospel has taught us things which by nature we could not know; but they are all designed to confirm and strengthen our hope in God: it is true also that there are some institutions in the gospel which in their own nature are no constituent parts of religion ; but they are such only as are neces