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For the Month of January, 1779.
Sermons on several Subjects, by Zachary Pearce, D. D. late Lord
Bishop of Rochester. Published from the original Manufcripts, by John Derby, M. A.
8υο. . il, is. in boards. Robinson,
HE name of bishop Pearce is) respectable in the republic
of letters. His reputation as a critic and a divine is established, by his accurate editions of some of the classics, his theological tracts, and his Commentary on the four Evangelists *.
The learned world will therefore undoubtedly be anxious to see this collection of Sermons, which may be supposed to contain an excellent defence of Christianity, or at Jeast a rational illustration of some of its most important doctrines.
The reader however is informed, that none of these discourses, except those on natural and revealed religion in the first volume, and those on popery in the fourth, appear to have been designed for publication. On this account he must not expect to find in every one of them an equal degree of accuracy and precision. The ablest writer, when he is composing a sermon for a popular audience, is apt to treat the subject in a more flight and superficial manner, than he would do, were he at that time professedly addresling himself to the literati. But in these hasty compositions a learned, sensible, and experienced writer will suggest many sentiments and observations, which are worthy of notice, and much too valuable to be fuppreffed.
* See Crit. Rev. vol. xliii. p. 112. Vol. XLVII. Jan. 1779.
In his first discourse his lordship endeavours to establish thra fundamental article of all religion, the existence of a Deity: The arguments, which he produces in support of this point, are such as have indeed been repeatedly advanced ; but as they are in themselves important, and very clearly ftated, our readers will not be displeased with the following extract.--- Having observed, that there must either have been from all eternity an infinite succession of men, without any original cause ; or, that there has existed some other Being, which was the original cause of the beginning of mankind; and having shewn, that the first is abfurd, he proceeds in this manner :
• First we have the general consent of all the most ancient writers in favour of this notion, that mankind began to exist at fome period of time. Many of the heathen philofophers, especially the earlief, taught " that God made the world out of water *," a doctrine which plainly attributes a beginning to mankind. And this opinion of theirs, that the world was framed out of water, seems to be taken from what Moses says, zhat the spirit of God at the creation moved upon the face of the waters; which St. Peter expreffes almost in the words of the ancient philosophers, when he says, that by the word of God the heavens and the earth (which is the Jewish phrase for the world) were of old ftanding out of the water † (or rather made of the water) as the words more literally rendered fignify 1.'
Here our author fuppofes, that the heathen philosophers took their notion of the beginning of the world from Mofes. But this, we apprehend, invalidates his argument; by placing this notion on the authority of a Jewish writer, and not reprefenting it as the effect of universal consent.
If it should be objected, that Moses, as an infpired' writer, was the only perfon, who could give any account of the creation, we answer : that this objection takes for granted what cannot be proved. We do not know how far our first parents might be acquainted with some particulars, relative to the cosmogony. At least, which is all our argument requires, they might have certain grounds to believe, that the earth was newly created, or that they were the first inhabitants. In this case some vague traditionary accounts of the creation would naturally be transmitted from father to son, in all civilized nations. His lordship, therefore, like many other writers, pays a compliment to Mofes, which is probably groundless, as well as injurious to his argument.---He proceeds:
• * Tillotson, vol. i. fol. p. 9. Cic. de Nat. Deor. l. i. 6. 10.
+ 2 Pet. ii. 5.
We • We have a second strong argument to prove, that mankind has not existed from all eternity, because we have plain foot. steps of the peopling the world by degrees within the compass of a few thousands of years paft. Men, well versed in ancient history, can trace the arrival of almost every particulat people into that part of the earth where it now inhabits : fome nations by degrees have moved farther westward, others to the fouth, and others to the north, all setting out from the eastern coun. tries, where Mofes assures us, and we Christians believe, that mankind had its beginning in our first parents. Whereas, if men had exifted from all eternity, the whole earth must have been peopled millions of ages before the date which our historical records bear; and, no place, after fo long a series of time, could have been left uninhabited within the compass of the last fix thousand years.
• A chird circumstance to prove this, is the progress of the sea veral arts and sciences among mankind ; which we can clearly trace backwards, and find the original of, at the ditta ce of no more years than are assigned in the scriptures for the age of the world.
• But, if mankind had no beginning, all those arts and sciences must have been invented and perfected long before any remembrance of the histories which we now have : unless we will be so unreasonable as to suppose, that from eternity, will within the compass of the last fix thousand years, the inhabitants of this carth were all Atupidly ignorant, and incapable of any invention and improvement in knowlege.
• And to these proofs, I may add one more circumstance no lefs convincing, viz. that there are extant neither histories, nor records, nor even traditions of any actions of heroes, lawgivers, or other celebrated men, before that time, which we usually fix upon for the infancy of the world. And it would be very strange, that all memory should be loft, that no footsteps should remain of this supposed eternal race, if it were true that there never was a time when that race of men did not live and flourish here on earth.
• Unbelievers may suppose, if they will, that all these four circumstances have been brought about by fome universal deluge, which happened once or at several times within the compass of eternity, and swept away the whole body of mankind, except a very few, and those of the most ignorant fort; able indeed to recover the race of mankind, but unskilled to recover any of the arts or sciences, and retain any knowlege of what was pait. But an universal deluge is one of the greatest miracles : such as could not happen without the power of some superior Being to bring it on; and the supposition of this is in effect giving up the point. Has not Moses given us an account of one such deluge ? and does not he introduce God himself as the author of it? and did ever any writer attempt to solve the possibility of it, without suppoling, that the common course of nature (which we call the
laws of nature) was some, how changed, a thing to be accomplished only by a Being superior to nature? so that to talk of a geo neral deluge, is to allow the being of a God; for the consequence must be that, whether they will see it or no. Befides, of one general deluge we have an account in Mofes’s writings : and did that deluge destroy the knowledge of all that preceded it, as the objection requires ? no: for we are still acquainted with many things done before that time: many inventions then first put in practice are remembered even now, and they are ascribed to the irue original discoverers of them. So that should the fuppofition of several such universal deluges be true, yet nothing would be gained thereby, to thew, that there might have been an eternity of ages, in which mankind existed, before the present account which we have of things in the world."
In this paffage the notion of an universal deluge, or fe. veral local deluges, abolishing all the records and monuments of preceding ages, is very properly expofeci
The author proceeds to fhew, that the Deity exercises what divines call an actual providence in the world. Among other arguments in defence of this article, he infifts, that the powers of attraction and gravitation are proofs of God's confiant and immediare agency. This is a notion, we confess, which is maintained by many eminent writersbut as inconclusive, as it would be to assert, that the going of a clock is owing to the constant and immediate agency of the maker.
In the third discourse his lordfhip produces the most obvious and satisfactory arguments, which reason affords, in favour of a future ftate.. In the fourth, he points out the chief of thofe duties, to which we are directed by the light of nature, cf, in other words, the obligations of natural religion. In the fifth he confiders the necillary and unavoidable imperfections of that religion, which reason alone teaches us ; and secondły its accia dental ones.
Its neceffary defects he reduces to these three heads : that mnen, under the direction of reason only, wanted authority to commence instructors ; that this religton did not, and could not possibly, discover to men, that God would affist then 10wards the discharge of their duty with his grace and divine help; and lastly, that it did not, and could not find out for men a ny method of reconciling God to them, whenever they had offended him by their transgressions.
On the last of these topics he argues in this manner : pentance is but after-wisdom, it alters nothing of past faults, it is not the urdoing of what has been done anniss; and Itrict justice, such as naturally belongs to Goi, knows 10
other role, than that of rendering to every man according to his works.'
This is surely an injurious representation of God, and the moral constitution of the universe. Repentance, it is true,
cannot'undo what has been done amiss ;' but it may render the finner an object of mercy; and it cannot be supposed, that God is inexorable ; or, that he created a world of frail and peccable beings, with a determination to exclude repentance, and punish them with everlast ng destruction for one transa gression. This would leave no roon for the exercise of his patience, for bearance, and mercy; it would annihilate his most amiable and endearing attributes; and contradict all our ideas of his goodness and benignity, which we derive from the contemplation of his works.
The author intimates, that Christianity alone discovered the means of reconciling God to mankind. But the scripture places the matter in a very different light; informing us, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself *; or, that He was uniformly gracious, and man only estranged and alienated from virtue, and his Creator.-It is usually said, that our Sa. viour gave repentance its efficacy. But no such doctrine is any where taught in scripture. The uniform language of divine revelation is this: “When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedne's, and doth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.' And the di&tates of reason are perfe&tly agreeable to this reprefentation. We therefore can. not but conclude, that his lordship exaggerates the imperfections of natural religion.
From natural religion his lord ship proceeds to consider the excellence, and the evidences of Chriftianity.
In recounting these evidences he fhews, that the books of the New Testament were written by those persons, whose names they bear ; that their account is a faithful one; and that their writings are come down to us, not only uncorrupted, but so far unaltered, as to be the very same, in the main, with what came out of the hands of the sacred writers.
It is asked by way of objection, that if the Christian revelation came from God, why did it come so late? why was it not given to all nations ? How happens it, that Christians dif. fer so widely about the meaning of the lacred books ? and how comes it, that is has not had all its proper effect in reform.
ing the world?
See 2 Cor. v. 18, 19, 20.
Rom. v. 10.
Col. i. 20, 21.