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I do not recommend a re-examination of the fore-mentioned doctrine, because I think that every error in judgment or practice, with regard to it, will expose men to future misery ; but because I think men ought to have just conceptions, and to att properly, whether it relates to God, their neighbour, or themselves; and especially in the present case, where an error in judgment or practice may mislead them in other parts of their conduct ; which errors men are in danger of falling into, both in their
ptions of a Deity, and in the way and manner of their addressinghim.Qur knowledge of a Deity is not born with us, nor do we suck it in with our mother's milk ; it being the produce of such ferious reflections, as in the first stages of life we are incapable of making. For though, in our childhood, we are taught to confess God with our mouths; yei, in this, like parrots, we only pronounce the words, without having any image of a Deity pictured on our minds : and when our intellectual faculties ripen, which render us more capable of such reflections; then the other parts of our constitutions ripen allo; and these introduce in us strong defires after present pleasures, which,
. 183 together with the particular vocation each one enters into, in order to make his way through the world, do strongly engage, and almost engross our attention, before we are apprised of the importance of that question, viz. whether there be a Deity, or not? And when that question is brought upon the carpet of our minds, there are many things that will divert us from it, if not powerfully over-ruled; and many things that will perplex us in the enquiry, if not carefully and cautiously considered. For though the invisible things of God are clearly perceived from his works, being understood by the things that are made ; yet they are not thus perceived, but by fober reflection and confideration ; we must carefully and closely attend to what we fee of God's works, and reflect seriously upon the operations of nature, in order to trace out the cause from it's effects; which is a work (taking all circumstances into the case) the bulk of mankind are not well prepared to undertake, nor are they likely always to succeed well in it. Besides, when once an error of this kind has taken place, (which is not unlikely to be the case) it easily gains ground, and soon obtains the advantage of having the preju
dices, arising from education and pre-conceived opinion, engaged in it's favour. And as errors of this nature usually lay a better foundation, for artful inen to build a profitatable trade upon, than truth; so there seldom want men, disposed and qualified to cultivate and improve them, for the answering such purposes ; by which means designing men make their advantages of the weakness, ignorance, superstition, and credulity of their neighbours. These reflections are sufficiently justified, not only from the nature and difficulty of the subject, but also from universal experience and fact. Whoever is acquainted with the history of mankind, cannot but know that there are, or have been few things more various and contrary than the images of a Deity, which have been pictured on men's minds. And this has been the case, not only among the barbarous and uncultivated part of our species, but also where literature and free enquiry have obtained ; amongst whom, some have conceived the Deity to be so weak and effeminate, as to be wrought upon by mere dint of sollicitation and importunity; whilst others have conceived him to be most cruel and malevolent, as one who is not only easily provoked
at the weakness and trifling miscarriages of his creatures, but also, who called multitudes of them into being, for no other purpose, than to exemplify his absolute Sovereignty and power in their destruction.
And as men's conceptions of a Deity have been both various, and contrary ; so the modes or manners of addressing him have not been lefs fo. The ways which fome men have thought most proper for paying their acknowledgments to God, those
those ways others have thought to be most impious and prophane ; and whilst some men have attempted to make the Deity more exorable and placable, by highs and groans and bitter lamentations, others have attempted to gain upon him, by the more soft and soothing means of warbling upon the harp and organ.
The use I propose to make of these reflections, is to observe to my Readers, that men are not only liable to err in their coilceptions of a Deity, and in the way and manner of addressing him ; but also, (taking mankind in general) they are in great danger of doing so. But then, if men should, in this case, unwittingly fall into error, either in judgment or practice, I think, it may fairly be presumed, the divine goodness
will be their safety; that is, it will effecta. ally prevent or secure the Deity from taking an unreasonable advantage of their weakness and ignorance to their hurt, provided they do not otherwise render themselves the proper objects of his resentment. The Pagans (as has been already observed) thought that the one God over all had committed the care and government of this world to tutelar Deities; and accordingly, each one addressed himself, and paid divine honours, to that particular God, to whom, (as he apprehended) the care of that particular nation, city, or family, to which he belonged, had been committed. And as God, when confidered abstractedly from his works, is altogether invisible ; so some of our species have used such outward symbols and visible representations of him, as they thought were most expresive of those perfections, which they apprehended take place in him. Now, admitting all this to be erroneous, greatly improper, and contrary to true piety; and that thofe who went into such opinions and practices were guilty of Idolatry,or were Idolaters; yet, if they went into this in the fimplicity of their hearts, intending rightly to understand, and rightly to worship, their great creator and benefactor,