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state of nature; consequently, if natural religion be founded in the consideration of man's sin and wickedness, it follows that man was originally formed sinful and weak: supposing men originally to be what we see they are, on what grounds are we to hope for an alteration for the better ? for if it was consistent with God's goodness to put men into this state originally, it is not inconsistent with his goodness to continue them in it : hence mere reason cannot entertain hopes of being delivered from the present state of the world. Even allowing that such an order of things removed all responsibility from our actions, yet no religion could be built on it: though we might escape punishment, we could never show any plea for being put into a better state. Farther, as natural religion is only obedience to the laws of nature; if natural religion be considered as nothing else from the beginning but an expectation of pardon for sin, God must have made laws only that his subjects might break them, and he himself show his goodness in pardoning their transgressions ; which is absurd. In a view of the second consideration, two things may
be affirmed of the present state of mankind; one is, that they have a sense of their obligation to obey the laws of reason and nature; the other is, that very few do tolerably, and some perfectly, pay this obedience : it is impossible, therefore, to found the hopes of religion on innocence and obedience; for obedience is not paid : impunity cannot be claimed for all sins; much less any degree of happiness, present or future, in behalf of offenders : we have nothing but the probability of God's mercy accepting imperfect endeavors and attainments : but what security can arise out of this ? Since all our natural powers are the gift of God, and our best services but a debt, the claims of natural religion are only those of unprofitable servants, to whom nothing can be due.
With respect to the third consideration, in viewing the conditions and promises of the gospel, what reason have we to be offended? The laws which are made the conditions of happi
ness are not new impositions, but as old as reason itself, and the same which natural religion stands bound to obey. In this point we are no losers; but in all other respects we are gainers. Those hopes, which we could not have from innocence, the gospel offers to us through the mercy of God : nature had no refuge, after sin, but in repentance; yet nature could not tell us the efficacy of that repentance, which is disclosed only by the gospel : all the hopes of nature beyond the grave, that land of doubt and uncertainty, are confirmed by the gospel, which has abolished death, and redeemed us into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. Its promises extend to more than nature could ever claim; they take in all her wishes; establish all her hopes; and they are offered by a hand that is able to make them good. Conclusion: the reason we have to adore the goodness of God in these transactions.
JOHN, CHAP. III.-_VERSE 16.
God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that
whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
In this passage of Scripture, and in many others, the redemption of the world by Christ Jesus is ascribed to the love and goodness of God towards mankind. Whatever other difficulties men may find in the gospel, one would suppose that it might be admitted to be, at least, a good representation of the divine mercy towards mankind, and fully to display that tenderness and compassion to our weakness and infirmities, which we all hope for, and with some reason expect to receive, from our great Creator, whose mercy is over all his works.'
The case being so, who would expect to hear any objection against the gospel derived from the topics of divine mercy and goodness ? Yet some there are, who think the
of the gospel to be imperfect, and that nature gives far better hopes to all her children. They conceive the infirmities of human nature to be unavoidable, and the mercy of God to be infinite ; and from these considerations they raise hopes as unbounded as they conceive the mercy to be. As they derive these strong assurances from natural reason, they conceive all promises of mercy to be unnecessary, and therefore to be suspected ; and the argument is worked up not only to be an objection against the gospel revelation, but against all revelations, either past or to come.
There is nothing of more consequence to the credit and authority of revelation, than to reconcile it to the natural notions and the natural hopes and expectations of mankind;
and indeed the promises of the gospel and the hopes of nature are founded on the same common principles. Ask a Christian, why did God redeem mankind by sending his Son into the world ? He must answer, because men were sinners, weak, and miserable, and unable to rescue themselves from their wretched condition. Ask him, what moved God to express so much concern for such worthless objects ? He must resolve it into the goodness, and tenderness, and paternal affection of God, with which he embraces all the sons of men.
Ask the deist, on what grounds he has hope and confidence towards God ? He will reply, that he conceives it impossible for a beneficent being to be rigorous and severe towards the crimes and follies of such weak, foolish, and impotent creatures, as men: that their iniquities, though against the light of nature, yet flow from a defect in the powers of nature; since it is no man's fault that he is not stronger, or wiser, or better, than he was made to be; and therefore, though the light of reason renders him accountable for his actions, yet his want of power to do what his reason approves, will make his defects excusable in the sight of his equitable Judge.
You see how nearly natural religion and the gospel are allied in the foundation of their hopes and expectations. It is pity such near friends, who have one common interest, should have any disputes. But disputes there are.
Far be it from us to weaken the hopes of nature. The gospel is no enemy to these hopes; so far otherwise, that all the hopes and expectations of nature are so many preparations to the gospel of Christ, and lead us to embrace that mercy
offered by Christ, which nature so long and so earnestly has sought after.
But the question is, whether these natural hopes can give us such security of pardon, and of life and immortality, as will justify us in rejecting the light of revelation ? Now, whoever depends on the forgiveness of God, admits himself to be in a case that wants pardon; that is, admits himself to be a sinner. This being the case of mankind in general, let it be considered,
First, That natural religion could not be originally founded
in the consideration of man's being a sinner, and in the expectation of pardon.
Secondly, That the hopes which we are able to form in our present circumstances, are too weak and imperfect to give us intire satisfaction.
Thirdly, That the coming of Christ has supplied these defects, and has perfected and completed the hopes of nature.
It must be allowed that the original religion of nature was agreeable to the original state of nature; and consequently, if natural religion is founded in the consideration of man's sin and weakness, it follows that man was originally formed a sinner and weak. But farther,
Supposing men made originally to be what we see they are, on what grounds are we to hope for an alteration for the better? For if it was consistent with God's goodness to put men into this state originally, how is it inconsistent with his goodness to continue that state, which was at first his own appointment ? He could no more act inconsistently with his goodness at the beginning of the world, than he can at the end of it. If reason therefore admits the present state of the world to be of God's appointment, it must never afterwards pretend to entertain hopes of being delivered from it; and without such hopes all religion is vain and useless.
It may be thought perhaps, that, supposing the present state of things to be of God's appointment, we cannot be answerable for what we do; for why should he blame us for doing the work he has appointed ? Allow this reasoning; yet no religion can be built on it; for it can go no farther than to say that we ought not to be punished for our doings; it can never show that we have any title to be put into a better state: the utmost it can pretend to prove, is, that we are absolutely unaccountable; and, if so, there is nothing we can do to less purpose
than to trouble our heads about religion.
Farther, if the laws of nature are the precepts of natural religion, as without all doubt they are, it follows that natural religion can be nothing else but obedience to the laws of nature; and, consequently, the genuine hopes of natural religion must be founded in obedience. This must necessarily be