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The Nature of Religion.


I COR. iv. 20.

The kingdom of God is not in word,


but in power.

HEREIN religion confifts is an inquiry which hath justly challenged the attention of mankind,

in every age and in every part of the world. But so various are the opinions which have obtained upon this important fubject, that he who hath not entered into the spirit of the thing itself, would be almost VOL. I. B tempted

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tempted to judge it impoffible to ascertain the true nature of it, with any degree of clearnefs and precifion. And yet, admitting that there is fuch a thing as religion, nothing is more evident than that it must be capable of a full and clear description. And whatever difficulties may be fuppofed to attend the explanation of this point, yet if men would but foberly liften to the dictates of reason, together with the concurrent teftimony of scripture and experience, they would not find it fo hard a task as they imagine, to acquire at least some general notions about it. What I propofe therefore in this difcourfe is, to give you a brief description of what I apprehend to be the true nature of religion. And whether we are, or are not ourselves interested in this divine bleffing; yet I perfuade myself this account of it will so far approve itself to the judgment and consciences of men, as to oblige them to acknowledge, that it is an object moft deferving of their attention. This defcription then I fhall ground on the paffage now before us, which at once partakes of all the beauty and variety of a most expreffive figure, and of all the strength and perfpicuity of the plaineft language. The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.



The apoftle, you will find by looking back a few verses before the text, had propofed himself to the Corinthians as their example, offering it both as an excufe for this freedom, and as an argument to conciliate their regards, that he was their father, having in Chrift Jefus begotten them through the gospel. And left in his abfence the lively impreffion which his doctrine and manner of life had made upon their hearts, should in any degree be erafed, he tells them, he had fent Timothy to remind them of his ways in Chrift. But they were not from hence to conclude, as fome of their false teachers had infinuated, that he did not defign himself to come among them. For fays he in the verse preceding the text, I will come unto you shortly, if the Lord will. And he adds, I will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power. "I will

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judge of the pretenfions of these new apof"tles, not by their words, their confident "talk, or their infinuating manner of ad"drefs; but by the power, the miraculous

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proofs they have to bring in vindication of "their miffion. For the kingdom of God is "not in word, but in power. The Chriftian dispensation owes its existence and fup"" port,


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"port, not to human wit and eloquence, but to the exertion of divine power and grace."

But as the spirit and tendency of any one's doctrine, as well as the miraculous powers he may claim, is a very juft and natural criterion, by which to judge of the pretenfions of him who publishes it; fo I fee no reason why this may not be included in the paffage before us. And then the text, without offering any violence to it, may be understood, not only as expreffive of the extraordinary means by which the Chriftian difpenfation was first introduced and established, but as descriptive of the nature and tendency of the Christian doctrine itself. The gospel, if received in truth and love, produces effects which are substantial and important. A new kingdom is fet up in the heart of the real Chriftian. And that kingdom is not in word, it confifts not in mere notions, forms or appearances; but in power, in the commanding influence of the great principles of religion on our tempers and lives. Our Saviour to this purpofe admonishes us, to feek firft the kingdom of God and his righteousness. And the apostle himself elsewhere affirms, that the kingdom of God

a Matth. vi. 33.

is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost:

Now, before I proceed to confider this figurative description of religion, it will be neceffary to give you some general explanation of the term itself. And you hardly need be told, it is variously used, though it always conveys an idea of those concerns, which more immediately relate to God and the foul.

It is often you know put objectively for the principles we profess, or for that particular form of worship to which we are attached; fo we frequently speak of the Christian and the Pagan, the Popish and the Reformed Religion. But in these discourses I shall confider it subjectively, and that chiefly in respect to the heart of man, which is its proper refidence, and from whence proceed the natural and genuine effects of it in the life. Now in this view of it, it comprehends all those exercises of the mind, by which we are firft led into an acquaintance with God, and are afterwards gradually formed for the enjoyment of the heavenly bleffedness. In fhort, it is no other than the regards due from the creature to him

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