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On this view of things, if any person shall be led by providence to look into these discourses of mine, whose thoughts have been entangled, and his heart drawn away to any degrees of'apostacy, or whose faith of Christ and the gospel hath been shaken, by the cavils of inen, I would beg one favour of him, for his own sake, more than for mine, and that is, that he would not turn over these pages as a matter of mere curiosity, nor let bis wit loose upon them in wanton sport, nor toss the solemn subject about as an airy jest, or a matter of trifling dispute. This awful theme and controversy in Great Britain, lath, in my judgment, no less consequences attending it than everlasting life or everlasting death.
“Non hic levia aut ludicra petuntur
Præmia, lectoris de vitâ animæque salute certatur.” The indulgence of a sportful fancy, or a ludicrous spirit in questions so divine and important, is not the character of an honest mind which seeks the truth, nor is it a likely way to find it. The great God, the Maker and Lord of all, and the fountain of all light and knowledge, is not wont to bless such triflers with divine irradiations. His awful majesty, and his tremendous justice, many tiines, leave them to sport themselves in their own decewings, till they have woven a fatal snare for their souls, and his righteous judgment may give them up to perish for ever, in their own impious mirth and madness. If any wavering christian has a sincere desire to be established in the truth, and to save his own soul, le: him set his conscience at work in the sight of God, while he peruses the books written on this subject. Let him examine, with an honest heart, whether it be not the utmost hazard of his immortal interest to depart from the christian faith, and to forsake the holy commandments, that hare been delivered to him, in the gospel; 2 Pet. ii. 21. Let him see if he can find any other solid and substantial hope of the favour of God, of the pardon of his sins, and final happiness, such as will enable him upon just and rational grouuds, to face death with courage, and enter into the immediate presence of a holy and offended God. May the Spirit of Christ accompany this essay, to guard his own divine religion, and make these discourses happily effectual, to establish the professing christian in his holy faith, to secure thie wavering from apostacy, and to prevent the eternal rujn of souls. Amen.
London, February 4, 1728-9.
A CAVEAT AGAINST INFIDELITY.
2 Tim. ii. 5 - If a Man also strive for Masteries, yet is be not crowned,
except he strive lawfully.
INTRODUCTION. THE life of a christian is not a state of indolence and case : If we seek for salvation and eternal glory, in the way of ibe gospel, we must shake of sloth and idleness : There is some sacred skill and wisdom required in it, witi a vigorous and boy exercise of the best powers of nature : Therefore St. Paul, in my text, compares it to those games or bodily exercises which were practised at appointed scasoos hy the Greeks, wherein they exeried their utmost care and activity: He uses the same comparison in his first epistle to tlie Corinthians, chapter ix. verse 24, 25. Where he speaks of being temperate in all things, and striving to obtain a crown: And he alludes to it in several other parts of his writings. The apostle John, or rather Christ himself seems to have soine reserence to it, in his epistles to the churches, where he proposes large recompences to them that overcome, and promises a crown of life; Rev. ii. 10. and iii. 21.
These games were of various kinds, such as running a race, wrestling, fighting, &c. Now, for each of these kinds of con test, there were certain laws and rules ordained, as inracing, they must start from such a spot of ground, they must run such a road or track, they must reach such a goal, and approach it in a proper manner too: In wrestling, the law of the contest required them to be naked, that they might not take the advantage of each others clothing : In fighting, they must use only that sort of weapon which was appointed for the combat, &c. And though the crown which was given to the conquerors was but a poor corruptible one, as the apostle speaks, for it was made of the leaves of an olive, a laurei, a pine-tree, or of parsley; yet, so much honour attended it, and so strict were the overseers of it, that none obtained this prize, though he took never so much pains, and shewed never so great activity, if he did not manage himself in all things, according to the rules of the game or coutest. So a man, who seeks the prize of heavenly happiness, and aims at the crown of life and glory, must carefully conform himself to the sacred rules which God has appointed; otherwise lie may labour and strive in vain. I take this to be the precise meaning of the apostle in the text, and it gives us fuir occasivu to derive this doctrine :
Doctrine.--All our pains-to obtain tlic heavenly prize will be lost unless we seek it in the right way and manner : we shall not be crowned except we strive lawfully. "To render this doctrine useful and practical, I shall
I. Endeavour to shew what is the right way by which God has appointed us to seck eternal salvation, or what are the rules and laws of this sacred exercise, in order to obtain the heavenly crowi).-11. I shall lay down some considerations to enforce and prove this doctrive, viz. that heaven must be sought only in this appointed way.—III. I would answer several queries and objections, which are commonly raised against it in our day, chiefly by such as disbelieve the gospel.-IV. I shall offer two or three general exhortations to christians, derived from this discourse.--V. Propose some preservatives against apostacy, or a departure from the true way of salvation. Sect. I.- The Rules to obtain Salvation proposed, and the Duties reijuired in the Gospel, or the Necessary Articles of Christianity.
The first enquiry is this, viz. “ What is the right way to obtain heaven? What are the appointed rules whereby we must govern our belief and practice? The great and general rule is the divine revelation or word of God: For when man had lost his original state of innocency, and the favour of God by sin, God kuew that his feeble reason, or the light of nature was not sufficient to inform him, what was necessary to recover his favour, and to direct him in the way to happiness, and therefore he took the first opportunity to acquaint bis fallen creature man, that he would not for ever abandon him and all his race, but that there was some hope of his recovery; and he told him of a Mediator or Saviour, even the seed of the woman that should break the serpent's head ; Gen. iii. 15. that is, he should destroy the works of the devil, and repair the ruin which the temptations of Satan had brought io : And doubtless at the same time, the blessed God assisted the reason and conscience of Adam in his enquiries, wliat duties wore to be performed on his part towards his recovering an interest in the love of his Creator. Nor has God been wanting ever since that time to give various discoveries of the right way of salvation in several successive ages, that mankind might be restored to his favour and image again.
The last, the brightest and the best of all these discoveries is that which he has made in the gospel, by his Son Jesus Christ, and by the evangelists and apostles in the writings of the New Testament: This book therefore contains the rules of that sacred exercise or contest, in which we must now be engaged to obtain the crown of glory. No pretences to the light of reason, no vain fancies of new revelations, no devices of our own beart must dare to oppose, or contradict the rules given us in this
holy book ; if we reject the gospel there is nothing will serve us instead of it. I will not here enter into the question how far they shall be accepted of God, who never had the word of God revealed to them, nor the gospel of Christ published among them. I reserve this for the end of my discourse. It is sufficient to say at present, that God, the judge of all the earth, will deal in righteousness and wisdom with all mankind, and he is not wanting in mercy to his creatures, who subinit themselves to bi according to the dispensation they live under. Where he has given less, less shall be required: But this is certain, that he requires of all men a coníormity to the rules which he has made known to them; and therefore wheresoever the gospel comes with sufficient light and evidence, as it has done to us in the British Isles, he expects that we should learn the rules of our holy race from thence, and conform ourselves to them, if we would ever obtain the prize of glory. But to descend to particulars : The appointed way, to obtain heaven under the gospel
, may be comprized under the following heads, which I call the necessary requisites in order to salvation, and I have multiplied them into six particulars, that I might be more explicit and plain :
I. A knowledge and belief of the great articles of natural religion, whiether they contain doctrines or duties* : For though these, alone and in themselves, are not sufficient to save sinners, yet they are necessary in order to our salvation, and the gospel of Christ teaches and confirms them all. We must believe that there is a God, the one only true and living God, almighty, allwise, and all-good, the Creator of all things, and we must believe that he governs the world which he has made, and does not sit idle in heaven, and let his creation run at random : but that as a wise and holy Ruler, he takes notice of the beliaviour and conduct of all his reasonable creatures.
We must believe that there is a real difference between virtue and vice, between good and evil: And that this does not depend, as some have imagined, upon the mere cristoms and fashions of particular countries, or the will of princes, but apon the nature of things and the will of God. It is God, who has written it plain in our own consciences, and in the very frame of our rational souls, that it is our duty to fear and love liim, to pray to him for what blessings we want, and to praise him and give him thanks for what mercies we enjoy, and to honour, worship, and obey him according to the discoveries of bis uature and his will which he has made to us. And as it is our duty to know, and honour this God, so it is evident that atheism anı blasphemy, and the neglect or contempt of God and things sacred, are high crimes and otlences against him.
* By the articles of natural religion in this place, I chiclly intend such as Belang to mankind in general, without regard la vis falica und siuful state.
It is written also, in our consciences, with sufficient evidence, that it is our duty to love our neighbour, to be honest, and just, and faithful, and kind : And that cheating and falsehood, injustice and cruelty to our fellow-creatures are lateful vices and never to be practised. It would be endless and needless to cite texts of scripture to prove all this.
We must believe also, that this great God, the righteous Gorernor of the world, will call us to an account hereafter, how we have behaved ourselves here, and will sit us a judge upon our past conduct in this life. The light of nature tells us, there is some reasou to bope, that he will reward us gloriously, if we are faithful and diligent, perfect and persevering in our obedience to all his will; and it gives us just ground to fear, that he will puvish is severely in a future state, if we are impious and perverse, and act contrary to the known rules of our duty. But the light of scripture gives us much clearer and surer discoveries of a heaven and a hell, a state of rewar:l and punishment, according as our works shall be. It is the voice of reason, and it is the language of revelation, that there is a future state to sct all things riglit, and to account for the scenes of disorder in this present lite. “ Without" the “ faith of things unseen it is impossible to please God; for be that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those that diligently scek him:” Hleb. xi. 6. Nor was there ever any revelation of grace, that God made to fallen man for his salvation, but it prc-supposed or included this article of a future state, and all the other doctrines of natural religion in it.
II. Another thing necessary to our attainment of the heavenly happiness is a due sense of our guilt and misery by reason of sin, and a humble confession of it before God: Some conviction of sin may be derived from our own experience, if we do but converse with ourselves, and take a survey of our own hearts and lives, and compare them with the law of God written in our consciences. Where is the man who has perfectly obeyed all the dictates of his own reason, and never contradicted this inward rule of duty ? Surely if we know any thing of ourselves, we must confess we are sinners; we have offended God our Creator, and broken his laws: We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, we have lost all just hope of reward :
Every mouth must be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God; Rom. iii. 19. There is none innocent, no not one. Our own conscience accusos and condemos us, and subjects us to the just judgment of God. And not only inust we be sensible of our being exposed to divine anger, by reason of sins actually committed, but we must also be acquainted with the corruption of our natures, the body of sin which dwells within us, and be abased before God because of those in ward sinful inclinations,