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On Religion in General.
Universal Importance of Religion.-The Belief of God its first Principle.-The next that of the Immortality of the Soul.--Universality of these Principles.--Arguments for them. --Faith their best support.
RELIGION is a subject which involves so much, both of the duty and interest of mankind, that there is no situation in life, which can exempt from the considerations and obligations it imposes on all men ; or render superfluous those sources of enjoyment and consolation, which it affords to its true and humble possessors.
The first principle of religion is, the belief of a Supreme Being, distinguished by the name of GOD; a Being, who is the Original Creator of all things; who hath all power in his bands; who is perfect in wisdom and
knowledge; who is just and equal in all his ways; and whose tender mercies are over all his works. He knoweth our most secret actions, words, and thoughts; for there is nothing hid from "Him, with whom we have to do."
The next principle of religion is, the belief of the immortality of the soul, and of a future state of rewards and punishments, in which the great distinction will be made between the righteous and the wicked; those inequalities which appear in this probationary state will be removed; and a recompence given to every man according to his works.
Although these principles of religion are not attended with that kind of evidence, which the objects of our external senses generally afford; yet it is not a little remarkable, that there are scarcely any other subjects, which have obtained such general belief and persuasion amongst mankind; though often mixed with many gross ideas. They are principles, so interwoven with our natures, that it seems to indicate an extraordinary debasement, or perversion of mind, not to entertain truths so universally felt and acknowledged. They
are, however, principles which may be supported by arguments, drawn from the nature of things; and, notwithstanding the general consent to them, it may be proper to bring forward a few of these arguments.
The existence of a Supreme Being, the Creator of heaven and earth, is evident from the works of creation. The magnificence of some of these works; the regularity and order with which they move in their appointed stations; the beauty and use attendant upon others, with the important purposes which are accomplished by them, particularly to the animal creation; evince so clearly both design and power, as to afford an insuperable argument in favour of a Great First Cause, perfect in wisdom and goodness, as well as unlimited in power. To these considerations may be added, the wonderful arrangement of the animal economy. The different parts adapted to their different purposes with peculiar exactness and advantage, might well induce the pious Psalmist to address his Maker in this emphatic language: "I will praise Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvellous are thy works, and that my soul
knoweth right well."* Thus also a consideration of the other works of creation, induced the same Psalmist to celebrate his Maker's praise: "The Heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard." And again: "O Lord! how manifold are thy works; in wisdom hast Thou made them all!''§
Nor are we without arguments for our immortality, and a future state of retribution, the belief of which is, as it were, the soul of religion: for, when we have entertained suitable ideas of a Supreme Being; when we feel those aspirations unto Him, and those desires to unite with Him, which frequently arise in our hearts; and particularly when we look at the state of the righteous and the wicked in this
*Psalm cxxxix. 14.
Psalm xix. 1, 2, 3.
Psalm civ. 24. If any person should think it irregular, to bring forward passages from the Scriptures, before their authority has been proved; it may be observed, that these passages are not advanced as arguments, but as elucidations, in the same manner as any other writing might be quoted.
we have sumcient reason to conclude, that there is a part in man which is immortal; and that there must be a future state, in which virtue and vice will meet with their respective rewards, in a more signal manner than they appear to receive them in this life; thus showing that God is just and equal in all his ways, and righteous in all his thoughts.
But, notwithstanding these and other arguments, which might be adduced in support of those two first principles of religion, the soul seems most fully to rest upon and enjoy them when they are felt as objects of faith, rather than of reason. They then become like selfevident truths, of which our own feelings are the best support, and which act in concert with that declaration :‡ "Without faith it is impossible to please Him; for he that cometh to God must believe that He is; and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." And we ought ever to remember, after all our reasonings on these subjects, that "Life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel."+