(3) The little satisfaction and consistency that is to be found in most of the Systems of divinity I have met with, made me betake myself to the sole reading of the Scriptures (to which they all ap-peal) for the understanding the Christian Re-ligion. What from thence, by an attentive and unbiassed search, I have received, Reader, I here deliver to thee. If by this my labour thou receivest any light, or confirmation in the truth, join with me in thanks to the Father of lights, for his condescension to our understandings. If, upon a fair and unprejudiced examination, thou findest I have mistaken the sense and tenor of the Gospel, I beseech thee, as a true Christian, in the spirit of the Gospel, (which is that of charity) and in the words of sobriety, set me right, in the doctrine of salvation.
(4) It is obvious to any one, who reads the New Testa-ment, that the doctrine of redemption, and conse-quently of the Gospel, is founded upon the supposition of Adam's fall. To understand, therefore, what we are restored to by Jesus Christ, we must consider what the Scriptures show we lost by Adam. This I thought worthy of a diligent and unbiassed search: since I found the two extremes that men run into on this point, either on the one hand shook the foundations of all religion, or, on the other, made Christianity almost nothing: for while some men would have all Adam's posterity doomed to eternal, infinite punishment, for the transgression of Adam, whom millions had never heard of, and no one had authorised to transact for him, or be his representative; this seemed to others so little consistent with the justice or goodness of the great and infinite God, that they thought there was no redemption necessary, and consequently, that there was none; rather than admit of it upon a supposition so (5) derogatory to the honour and attributes of that infinite Being; and so made Jesus Christ nothing but the restorer and preacher of pure natural religion; thereby doing violence to the whole tenor of the New Testa-ment. And, indeed, both sides will be suspected to have trespassed this way against the written word of God, by any one, who does but take it to be a collection of writings, designed by God, for the instruction of the illiterate bulk of mankind, in the way to salvation; and therefore, generally, and in necessary points, to be understood in the plain direct meaning of the words and phrases: such as they may be supposed to have had in the mouths of the speakers, who used them accord-ing to the language of that time and country wherein they lived; without such learned, artificial, and forced senses of them, as are sought out, and put upon them, in most of the systems of divinity, according to the notions that each one has been bred up in.
To one that, thus unbiassed, reads the Scriptures, what Adam fell from (is visible), was the state of per-fect obedience, which is called justice in the New Testament; though the word, which in the original sig-nifies justice, be translated righteousness: and by this fall he lost paradise, wherein was tranquillity and the tree of life; i.e. he lost bliss and immortality. The penalty annexed to the breach of the law, with the sen-tence pronounced by God upon it, show this. The penalty stands thus, Gen. 11.17, "In the day, that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." How was this executed? He did eat: but, in the day he did eat, he did not actually die; but was turned out of pa-radise from the tree of life, and shut out for ever from it, lest he should take thereof, and live for ever. This shows, that the state of paradise was a state of immor-tality, of life without end; which he lost that very day that he eat: his life began from thence to shorten, and waste, and to have an end; and from thence, to his actual death, was but like the time of a prisoner, be-tween the sentence passed and the execution, which was in view and certain. Death then entered, and (6) showed his face, which before was shut out, and not known. So St. Paul Rom. v. 12 " By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin ; i.e. a state of death and mortality: and, 1 Cor. xv. 22 "In Adam all die;" i.e. by reason of his transgression, all men are mortal, and come to die.
This is so clear in these cited places, and so much the current of the New Testament, that nobody can deny, but that the doctrine of the Gospel is, that death came on all men by Adam's sin; only they differ about the signification of the word death: for some will have it to be a state of guilt, wherein not only he, but all his posterity was so involved, that every one descended of him deserved endless torment, in hell-fire. I shall say nothing more here, how far, in the apprehensions of men, this consists with the justice and goodness of God, having mentioned it above: but it seems a strange way of understanding a law, which requires the plainest and directest words, that by death should be meant eternal life in misery. Could any one be supposed, by a law, that says, " For felony thou shalt die," not that he should lose his life; but be kept alive in perpetual, exquisite torments? And would any one think himself fairly dealt with, that was so used?
To this, they would have it be also a state of necessary sinning, and provoking God in every action that men do: a yet harder sense of the word death than the other. God says, that "in the day that thou eatest of the forbidden fruit, thou shalt die;" i.e. thou and thy posterity shall be, ever after, incapable of doing anything, but what shall be sinful and provoking to me, and shall justly deserve my wrath and indignation. Could a worthy man be supposed to put such terms upon the obedience of his subjects? Much less can the righteous God be supposed, as a punishment of one sin, wherewith he is displeased, to put man under the ne-cessity of sinning continually, and so multiplying the provocation. The reason of this strange interpretation, we shall perhaps find, in some mistaken places of the New Testament. I must confess, by death here, I can (7) understand nothing but a ceasing to be, the losing of all actions of life and sense. Such a death came on Adam and all his posterity, by his first disobedience in paradise ; under which death they should have lain for ever, had it not been for the redemption by Jesus Christ. If by death, threatened to Adam, were meant the cor-ruption of human nature in his posterity, it is strange, that the new Testament should not any where take no-tice of it, and tell us that corruption seized on all, because of Adam's transgression, as well as it tells us so of death. But, as I remember, every one's sin is charged upon himself only.
Another part of the sentence was, "Cursed is the ground for thy sake: in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life ; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground: for out of it wast thou taken ; dust thou art, and to dust shalt thou return. Gen. iii. 17-19. This shows, that paradise was a place of bliss, as well as immor-tality; without drudgery, and without sorrow. But, when man was turned out, he was exposed to the toil, anxiety, and frailties of this mortal life, which should end in the dust, out of which he was made, and to which he should return; and then have no more life or sense than the dust had, out of which he was made.
As Adam was turned out of paradise so all his pos-terity were born out of it, out of the reach of the tree of life; all, like their father Adam, in a state of mor-tality, void of the tranquility and bliss of paradise. Rom. v. 12. "By one man sin entered into the world and death by sin." But here will occur the common objection that so many stumble at: "How doth it consist with the justness and goodness of God, that the posterity of Adam should suffer for his sin; the innocent be punished for the guilty?" Very well, if keeping one from what he has no right to, be called a punishment; the state of immortality, in paradise, is not due to the posterity of Adam, more than to any other creature. Nay, if God afford them a tempo-rary mortal life, it is his gift; they owe it to his bounty; they could not claim it as their right, nor does (8) he injure them when he takes it from them. Had he taken from mankind any thing that was their right, or did he put men in a state of misery, worse than not being, without any fault or demerit of their own; this, indeed, would be hard to reconcile with the notion we have of justice; and much more with the goodness, and other attributes of the Supreme Being, which he has de-clared of himself; and reason, as well as revelation, must acknowledge to be in him ; unless we will con-found good and evil, God and Satan. That such a state of extreme, irremediable torment is worse than no being at all; if every one's own sense did not determine against the vain philosophy and foolish metaphysics of some men; yet our Saviour's peremptory decision, Matt. xxvi. 24, has put it past doubt, that one may be in such an estate, that it had been better for him not to have been born. But that such a temporary life as we now have, with all its frailties and ordinary mi-series, is better than no being, is evident, by the high value we put upon it ourselves. And therefore, though all die in Adam, yet none are truly punished, but for their own deeds. Rom. ii. 6, "God will render to every one," How? "According to his deeds. To those that obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doth evil." ver. 9. 2 Cor. v.10, "We must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad." And Christ himself, who knew for what he should condemn men at the last day, assures us, in the two places, where he describes his proceeding at the great judgment, that the sentence of condemnation passes only upon the workers of iniquity, such as neglected to fulfil the law in acts of charity, Matt. vii. 23. Luke xiii. 27. Matt. xxv. 41, 42, &c. And again, John v.29, our Saviour tells the Jews, that all "shall come forth of their graves, they that have done good, to the resurrection of life ; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." But here is no condemnation of any one, for what his (9) forefather Adam had done; which it is not likely should have been omitted, if that should have been a cause, why any one was adjudged to the fire, with the devil and his angels. And he tells his disciples, that when he comes again with his angels, in the glory of his Father, that then he will render to every one ac-cording to his works, Matt. xvi. 27.
Adam being thus turned out of paradise, and all his posterity born out of it, the consequence of it was, that all men should die, and remain under death for ever, and so be utterly lost.
From this estate of death, Jesus Christ restores all mankind to life; 1 Cor. xv. 22, "As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive." How this shall be, the same apostle tells us in the foregoing verse 21, "By man death came, by man also came the resurrec-tion from the dead." Whereby it appears, that the life, which Jesus Christ restores to all men, is that life, which they receive again at the resurrection. Then they recover from death, which otherwise all mankind should have continued under, lost for ever; as appears by St. Paul's arguing, 1 Cor. xv. concerning the resurrection.
And thus men are, by the second Adam, restored to life again; that so by Adam's sin they may none of them lose any thing, which by their own righteousness they might have a title to: for righteousness, or an exact obedience to the law, seems, by the Scripture, to have a claim of right to eternal life, Rom. iv. 4, "To him that worketh," i.e. does the works of the law, "is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt." And Rev. xxii. 14, "Blessed are they who do his com-mandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God." If any of the pos-terity of Adam were just, they shall not lose the reward of it, eternal life and bliss, by being his mortal issue: Christ will bring them all to life again; and then they shall be put every one upon his own trial, and receive judgment, as he is found to be righteous, or not. And the righteous, as our Saviour says, Matt. xxv. 46, shall go into eternal life. Nor shall any one miss it, who has done what our Saviour directed the lawyer, who asked, (10) Luke x. 25, What he should do to inherit eternal life? "Do this," i.e. what is required by the law, "and thou shalt live."
On the other side, it seems the unalterable purpose of the divine justice, that no unrighteous person, no one that is guilty of any breach of the law, should be in paradise: but that the wages of sin should be to every man, as it was to Adam, an exclusion of him out of that happy state of immortality, and bring death upon him. And this is so conformable to the eternal and established law of right and wrong, that it is spoken of too, as if it could not be otherwise. St. James says, chap. i. 15, " Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death," as it were by a natural and necessary pro-duction. "Sin entered into the world, and death by sin," says St. Paul, Rom. v. 12 ; and vi. 23 , "The wages of sin is death." Death is the purchase of any, of every sin. Gal. iii. 10, "Cursed is every one, who continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." ' And of this St.' James gives a reason, chap. ii. 10, 11, "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all: for he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill:" i.e. he that offends in any one point, sins against the authority which established the law.
Here then we have the standing and fixed measures of life and death. Immortality and bliss belong to the righteous; those who have lived in an exact conformity to the law of God, are out of the reach of death; but an exclusion from paradise and loss of immortality is the portion of sinners; of all those, who have any way broke that law, and failed of a complete obedience to it, by the guilt of any one transgression. And thus man-kind by the law, are put upon the issues of life or death, as they are righteous or unrighteous, just or unjust ; i. e. exact performers or transgressors' of the law.
But yet, "All having sinned," Rom. iii. 23, "and come short of the glory of God," i.e. the kingdom of God in heaven (which is often called his glory) "both Jews and' Gentiles;" ver. 22, so that, "by the (11) deeds of the law," no one could be justified, ver. 20, it follows, that no one could then have eternal life and bliss.
Perhaps it will be demanded, "Why did God give so hard a law to mankind, that, to the apostle's time, no one of Adam's issue had kept it? As appears by Rom. iii. and Gal. iii. 21, 22."
Answ. It was such a law as the purity of God's na-ture required, and must be the law of such a creature as man; unless God would have made him a rational creature, and not required him to have lived by the law of reason; but would have countenanced in him irregularity and disobedience to that light which he had, and that rule which was suitable to his nature; which would have been to have authorised disorder, confu-sion, and wickedness in his creatures: for that this law was the law of reason, or, as it is called, of nature, we shall see by and by; and if rational creatures will not live up to the rule of their reason, who shall excuse them? If you will admit them to forsake reason in one point, why not in another? Where will you stop? To disobey God in any part of his commands (and it is he that commands what reason does) is direct rebel-lion; which, if dispensed with in any point, government and order are at an end; and there can be no bounds set to the lawless exorbitancy of unconfined man. The law therefore was, as St. Paul tells us, Rom. vii. 12, "holy, just, and good," and such as it ought and could not otherwise be.
This then being the case, that whoever is guilty of any sin should certainly die, and cease to be; the bene-fit of life, restored by Christ at the resurrection, would have been no great. advantage (for as much as, here again, death must have seized upon all mankind, be-cause all had sinned; for the wages of sin is every where death, as well after as before the resurrection) if God had not found out a way to justify some, i.e. so many as obeyed another law, which God gave; which in the New Testament is called "the law of faith," Rom. iii. 27, and is opposed to "the law of works." (12) And therefore the punishment of those, who would not follow him, was to lose their souls, i.e. their lives, Mark viii. 35-38, as is plain, considering the occasion it was spoke on.
(17) What we are now required to believe to obtain eternal life, is plainly set down in the Gospel. St. John tells us, John iii. 36, "He that believeth on the Son, bath eternal life; and he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life." What this believing on him is, we are also told in the next chapter:" The woman saith unto him, I know that the Messiah cometh: when he is come, he will tell us all things. Jesus said unto her, I that speak unto thee am he. The woman then went into the city, and saith to the men, Come see a man that hath told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Messiah? and many of the Samaritans believed on him for the saying of the woman, who testified, he told me all that ever I did. So when the Samaritans were come unto him, many more believed because of his words, and said to the woman, We believe not any longer, because of thy saying; for we have heard ourselves, and we know that this man is truly the Saviour of the world, the Messiah." John iv. 25, 26, 29, 39, 40, 41, 42.
By which place it is plain, that believing on the Son is the believing that Jesus was the Messiah; giving credit to the miracles he did, and the profession he made of himself. For those who were said to believe on him, for the saying of the woman, ver. 39, tell the woman that they now believed not any longer, because of her saying; but that having heard him themselves, they knew, i. e. believed, past doubt, that he was the Messiah.
This was the great proposition that was then con-troverted, concerning Jesus of Nazareth; "Whether he was the Messiah or no?" And the assent to that was that which distinguished believers from unbelievers. When many of his disciples had forsaken him, upon his declaring that he was the bread of life, which came down from heaven, " He said to his apostles, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of (18) eternal life. And we believe, and are sure, that thou art the Messiah, the Son of the living God." John vi. 69. This was the faith which distinguished them from apostates and unbelievers, and was sufficient to continue them in the rank of apostles: and it was upon the same proposition, "That Jesus was the Mes-siah, the Son of the living God," owned by St. Peter, that our Saviour said, he would build his church, Matt. xvi. 16-18. To convince men of this, he did his miracles: and their assent to, or not assenting to this, made them to be, or not to be, of his church; believers, or not believers: "The Jews came round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us doubt? If thou be the Messiah, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep." John x. 24-26. Conformable hereunto, St. John tells us, that "many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus, the Messiah, is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver, and an antichrist; whosoever abideth not in the doctrine of the Messiah, has not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of the Messiah," i.e. that Jesus is he, " hath both the Father and the Son." 2 John 7, 9. That this is the meaning of the place, is plain from what he says in his foregoing epistle, " Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Messiah, is born of God." I John v. 1. And therefore, drawing to a close of his Gospel, and showing the end for which he writ it, he has these words: " Many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his dis-ciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written that ye may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God; and that, believing, you might have life through his name." John xx. 30, 81. Whereby it is plain, that the Gospel was writ to induce men into a belief of this "That Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah;" which if they believed, they should have life. . . .
(19) And, if we may gather what was to be believed by all nations from what was preached unto them, we may certainly know what they were commanded, Matt. ult. to teach all nations, by what they actually did teach (20) all nations. We may observe, that the preaching of the apostles everywhere in the Acts, tended to this one point, to prove that Jesus was the Messiah. Indeed, now, after his death, his resurrection was also commonly required to be believed, as a necessary article, and sometimes solely insisted on: it being a mark and undoubted evidence of his being the Messiah, and neces-sary now to be believed by those who would receive him as the Messiah. For since the Messiah was to be a Saviour and a king, and to give life and a kingdom to those who received him, as we shall see by and by; there could have been no pretence to have given him out for the Messiah, and to require men to believe him to be so, who thought him under the power of death, and corruption of the grave. And therefore those who be-lieved him to be the Messiah, must believe that he was risen from the dead: and those who believed him to be risen from the dead, could not doubt of his being the Messiah. But of this more in another place.
(101) To this, it is likely, it will be objected by some, that to believe only that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, is but an historical, and not a justifying, or saving faith. To which I answer, That I allow to the makers of systems and their followers to invent and use what di-stinctions they please, and to call things by what names (102) they think fit. But I cannot allow to them, or to any man, an authority to make a religion for me, or to alter that which God hath revealed. And if they please to call the believing that which our Saviour and his apo-stles preached, and proposed alone to be believed, an historical faith; they have their liberty. But they must have a care, how they deny it to be a justifying or saving faith, when our Saviour and his apostles have declared it so to be; and taught no other which men should re-ceive, and whereby they should be made believers unto eternal life: unless they can so far make bold with our Saviour, for the sake of their beloved systems, as to say, that he forgot what he came into the world for; and that he and his apostles did not instruct people right in the way and mysteries of salvation. For that this is the sole doctrine pressed and required to be believed in the whole tenor of our Saviour's and his apostles' preaching, we have showed through the whole history of the evangelists and the Acts. And I challenge them to show that there was any other doctrine, upon their assent to which, or disbelief of it, men were pronounced believers or unbelievers; and accordingly received into the church of Christ, as members of his body; as far as mere believing could make them so; or else kept out of it. This was the only Gospel-article of faith which was preached to them. And if nothing else was preached every where, the apostle's argument will hold against any other articles of faith to be believed under the Gospel, Rom. x. 14, " How shall they believe that where-of they have not heard?" For to preach any other doctrines necessary to be believed, we do not find that any body was sent. Perhaps it will farther be urged, that this is not a " saving faith;" because such a faith as this the devils may have, and it was plain they had; for they believed and declared "Jesus to be the Messiah." And St. James, ch. ii. 19, tells us, "The devils believe and tremble; and yet they shall not be saved. To which I answer, 1. That they could not be saved by any faith, to whom it was not proposed as a means of salvation, nor ever pro-mised to be counted for righteousness. This was an act (103) of grace shown only to mankind. God dealt so favourably with the posterity of Adam, that if they would be-lieve Jesus to be the Messiah, the promised King and Saviour, and perform what other conditions were re-quired of them by the covenant of grace; God would justify them, because of this belief. He would account this faith to them for righteousness, and look on it as making up the defects of their obedience; which being thus supplied, by what was taken instead of it, they were looked on as just or righteous; and so inherited eternal life. But this favour shown to mankind, was never offered to the fallen angels. They had no such proposals made to them: and therefore, whatever of this kind was proposed to men, it availed not devils, what-ever they performed of it. This covenant of grace was never offered to them.
2. I answer; that though the devils believed, yet they could not be saved by the covenant of grace; be-cause they performed not the other condition required in it, altogether as necessary to be performed as this of believing: and that is repentance. Repentance is as absolute a condition of the covenant of grace as faith; and as necessary to be performed as that. John the Baptist, who was to prepare the way for the Messiah, " Preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins," Mark i. 4. As John began his preaching with "Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," Matt. iii. 2. So did our Saviour begin his, Matt. iv. 17, "From that time began Jesus to preach,. and to say, Repent ; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Or, as St. Mark has it in that parallel place, Mark i. 14', 15, "Now, after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand : repent ye, and believe the Gospel." This was not only the beginning of his preaching, but the sum of all that be did preach; viz. That men should repent, and believe the good tidings which lie brought them; that "the time was fulfilled" for the coming of the Messiah And this was what his apostles (104) preached, when he sent them out, Mark vi. 12, "And they, going out, preached that men should repent." Believing Jesus to be the Messiah, and repenting, were so necessary and fundamental parts of the covenant of grace, that one of them alone is often put for both. . . .
(105) What this repentance was which the new covenant required, as one of the conditions to be performed by all those who should receive the benefits of that cove-nant, is plain in the Scripture, to be not only a sorrow for sins past, but (what is a natural consequence of such sorrow, if it be real) a turning from them into a new and contrary life. And so they are joined together, Acts iii. 19, "Repent and turn about;" or, as we render it, "be converted." And Acts xxvi. 20, " Repent and turn to God."
These two, faith and repentance, i.e. believing Jesus to be true Messiah, and a good life, are the indispensable conditions of the new covenant, to be performed by all those who would obtain eternal life. The reason-ableness, or rather necessity of which that we may the better comprehend, we must a little look back to what was said in the beginning. . . .
(112) This is the law of that kingdom, as well as of all mankind; and that law, by which all men shall be judged at the last day. Only those who have believed Jesus to be the Messiah, and have taken him to be their King, with a sincere endeavour after righteousness, in obeying his law; shall have their past sins not imputed to them ; and shall have that faith taken instead of obe-dience, where frailty and weakness made them transgress, and sin prevailed after conversion ; in those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, (or perfect obedience) and do not allow themselves in acts of disobedience and rebellion, against the laws of that kingdom they are entered into. . . .
(128) The common objection here is, if all sinners shall be condemned, but such as have a gracious allowance made them ; and so are justified by God, for believing Jesus to be the Messiah, and so taking him for their King, whom they are resolved to obey to the utmost of their power ; "What shall become of all mankind, who lived before our Saviour's time, who never heard of his name, and consequently could not believe in him?" To this the answer is so obvious and natural, that one would wonder how any reasonable man should think it worth the urging. Nobody was, or can be required to believe, what was never proposed to him to believe. Before the fulness of time, which God from the coun-sel of his own wisdom had appointed to send his Son in, he had, at several times, and in different manners, promised to the people of Israel an extraordinary per-son to come; who, raised from amongst themselves, should be their Ruler and Deliverer. The time, and other circumstances of his birth, life, and person, he had in sundry prophecies so particularly described, and so plainly foretold, that he was well known, and expected by the Jews, under the name of the Messiah, or Anointed, given him in some of these prophecies. All then that was required, before his appearing in the world, was to believe what God had revealed, and to rely with a full assurance on God, for the performance his promises. . . .
(132) This was all that was required of them; to be persuaded of, and embrace the promises which they had. They could be "persuaded of" no more than was proposed to them; "embrace" no more than was revealed; according to the promises they had received, and the dispensations they were under. And if the faith of things "seen afar off;" if their trusting in God for the promises he then gave them; if a belief of the Messiah to come; were sufficient to render those who lived in the ages before Christ acceptable to God, and righteous before him: I desire those who tell us, that God will not (nay, some go so far as to say, cannot) accept any, who do not believe every article of their particular creeds and systems, to consider, why God, out of: his infinite mercy, cannot as well justify men now, for believing Jesus of Nazareth to be the promised Messiah, the King and Deliverer; as those heretofore, who believed only that God would, according to his promise, in due time, send the Messiah, to be a King and Deliverer?
There is another difficulty often to be met with, which seems to have something of more weight in it: and that is, that "though the faith of those before Christ, (believing that God would send the Messiah, to be a Prince and a Saviour to his people, as he had promised) and the faith of those since his time, (believing Jesus to be that Messiah, promised and sent by God) shall be accounted to them for righteousness; yet what shall become of all the rest of man-kind, who, having never heard of the promise or news of a Saviour; not a word of a Messiah to be sent, or that was come; have had no thought or belief con-cerning him?"
To this I answer, that God will require of every man, " according to what a man hath, and not accord in to what he hath not." He will not expect the im-provement of ten talents, where he gave but one; nor require any one should believe a promise of which he has never heard. The apostle's reasoning, Rom. 1.14, is very just : "How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?" But though there be many, (133) who being strangers to the commonwealth of Israel, were also strangers to the oracles of God, committed to that people; many, to whom the promise of the Mes-siah never came, and so were never inning a capacity to be-lieve or reject that revelation; yet God had, by the light of reason, revealed to all mankind, who would make use of that light, that he was good and merciful. The same spark of the divine nature and knowledge in man, which, making him a man, showed him the law he was under, as a man; showed him also the way of atoning the merciful, kind, compassionate Author and Father of him and his being, when he had transgressed that law. He that made use of this candle of the Lord, so far as to find what was his duty, could not miss to find also the way to reconciliation and forgiveness, when he had failed of his duty: though, if he used not his reason this way, if he put out or neglected this light, he might, perhaps, see neither.
The law is the eternal, immutable standard of right. And a part of that law is, that a man should forgive, not only his children, but his enemies, upon their re-pentance, asking pardon, and amendment. And there-fore he could not doubt that the author of this law, and God of patience and consolation, who is rich in mercy, would forgive his frail offspring, if they acknowledged their faults, disapproved the iniquity of their transgressions, begged his pardon, and resolved in earnest, for the future, to conform their actions to this rule, which they owned to be just and right. This way of recon-ciliation, this hope of atonement, the light of nature revealed to them: and the revelation of the Gospel, having said nothing to the contrary, leaves them to stand and fall to their own Father and Master, whose goodness and mercy is over all his works. . . .
(134) It will here possibly be asked, " Quorsum perditio haec ?" What need was there of a Saviour? What advantage have we by Jesus Christ? It is enough to justify the fitness of any thing to be done, by resolving it into the " wisdom of God," who has done it ; though our short views, and narrow un-derstandings, may utterly incapacitate us to see that wis-dom, and to judge rightly of it. We know little of this visible, and nothing at all of the state of that intellectual world, wherein are infinite numbers and degrees of spirits out of the reach of our ken, or guess ; and there-fore know not what transactions there were between God and our Saviour, in reference to his kingdom. We know not what need there was to set up a head and a chieftain, in opposition to "the prince of this world, the prince of the power of the air," &c. whereof there are more than obscure intimations in Scripture. And we shall take too much upon us, if we shall call God's wisdom or providence to account, and pertly condemn for needless, all that our weak, and perhaps biassed, understanding cannot account for.
Though this general answer be reply enough to the forementioned demand, and such as a rational man, or fair searcher after truth, will acquiesce in; yet in this particular case, the wisdom and goodness of God has shown itself so visibly to common apprehensions, that it hath furnished us abundantly wherewithal to satisfy the curious and inquisitive; who will not take a blessing, unless they be instructed what need they had of it, and why it was bestowed upon them. The great and many (135) advantages we receive by the coming of Jesus the Messiah will show, that it was not without need that he was sent into the world.
The evidence of our Saviour's mission from heaven is so great, in the multitude of miraches he did before all sorts of people, that what he delivered cannot but be re-ceived as the oracles of God, and unquestionable verity. For the miracles he did were so ordered by the divine pro-vidence and wisdom, that they never wer, nor could be denied by any of the enemies or opposers of Christianity.
Though the works of nature, in every part of them, sufficiently evidence a Deity; yet the world made so little use of their reason, that they saw him not, where, even by the impressions of himself, he was easy to be found. Sense and lust blinded their minds in some, and a careless inadvertency in others, and fearful apprehen-sions in most (who either believed there were, or could not but suspect there might be, superior unknown be-ings) gave them up into the hands of their priests, to fill their heads with false notions of the Deity, and their worship with foolish rites, as they pleased : and what dread or craft once began, devotion soon made sacred, and religion immutable. In this state of darkness and ignorance of the true God, vice and superstition held the world. Nor could any help be had or hoped for from reason which could not be heard, and was judged to have nothing to do in the case; the priests, every where, to secure their empire, having excluded reason from having any thing to do in religion. And in the crowd of wrong notions, and invented rites, the world had almost lost the sight of the one only true God. The ra-tional and thinking part of mankind, tis true, when they sought after him, they found the one supreme, invisible God; but if they acknowledged and worshipped him, it was only in their own minds. They kept this truth locked up in their own breasts as a secret nor ever durst venture it amongst the people; much less amongst the priests, those wary guardians of their own creeds and profitable inventions. Hence we see, that reason, speak-ing ever so clearly to the wise and virtuous, had never authority enough to prevail on the multitude; and to (136) persuade the societies of men, that there was but one God, that alone was to be owned and worshipped. The belief and worship of one God was the national religion of the Israelites alone: and if we will consider it, it was introduced and supported amongst the people by reve-lation. They were in Goshen, and had light, whilst the rest of the world were in almost Egyptian darkness, "without God in the world." There was no part of mankind, who had quicker parts, or improved them more; that had a greater light of reason, or followed it farther in all sorts of speculations, than the Athenians : and yet we find but one Socrates amongst them, that op-posed and laughed at their polytheism, and wrong opi-nions of the Deity; and we see how they rewarded him for it. Whatsoever Plato, and the soberest of the phi-losophers, thought of the nature and being of the one God, they were fain, in their outward professions and worship, to go with the herd, and keep to the religion established by law. . . .
(137) In this state of darkness and error, in reference to the "true God," our Saviour fo[und the world. But the clear revelation he brought with l)im dissipated this darkness ; made the "one invisible true God" known to the world: and that with such evidence and energy, that polytheism and idolatry have nowhere been able to withstand it: but wherever the preaching of the truth he delivered, and the light of the Gospel hath come, those mists have been dispelled. . . .
(156) Though all divine revelation requires the obedience of faith, yet every truth of inspired Scriptures is not one of those, that by the law of faith is required to be ex-plicitly believed to justification. What those are, we have seen by what our Saviour and his apostles proposed to, and required in those whom they converted to the faith. Those are fundamentals, which it is not enough not to disbelieve: every one is required actually to assent to them. But any other proposition contained in the Scripture, which God has not thus made a necessary part of the law of faith, (without an actual assent to which, he will not allow any one to be a believer) a man may be ignorant of, without hazarding his salvation by a defect in his faith. He believes all that God has made neces-sary for him to believe, and assent to; and as for the rest of divine truths, there is nothing more required of him, but that he receive all the parts of divine revelation, with a docility and disposition prepared to embrace and assent to all truths coming from God; and submit his mind to whatsoever shall appear to him to bear that cha-racter. Where he, upon fair endeavours, understands it not, how can he avoid being ignorant I And where (157) he cannot put several texts, and make them consist to-gether, what remedy? He must either interpret one by the other, or suspend his opinion. He that thinks that more is, or can be required of poor frail man in matters of faith, will do well to consider what absurdities he will run into. God, out of the infiniteness of his mercy, has dealt with man, as a compassionate and tender Father. He gave him reason, and with it a law: that could not be otherwise than what reason should dictate; unless we should think, that a reasonable creature should have an unreasonable law. But, considering the frailty of man, apt to run into corruption and misery, he promised a Deliverer, whom in his good time he sent; and then declared to all mankind, that whoever would be-lieve him to be the Saviour promised, and take him now raised from the dead, and constituted the Lord and Judge of all men, to be their King and Ruler, should be saved. This is a plain, intelligible proposition; and the all-merciful God seems herein to have consulted the poor of this world, and the bulk of mankind. These are articles that the labouring and illiterate man may comprehend. This is a religion suited to vulgar capa-cities; and the state of mankind in this world, destined to labour and travel. The writers and wranglers in religion fill it with niceties, and dress it up with notions, which they make necessary and fundamental parts of it; as if there were no way into the church, but through the academy or lyceum. The greatest part of mankind have not leisure for learning and logic, and superfine distinctions of the schools. Where the hand is used to the plough and the spade, the head is seldom elevated to sublime notions, or exercised in mysterious reasoning. It is well if men of that rank (to say nothing of the other sex) can comprehend plain propositions, and a short reasoning about things familiar to their minds, and nearly allied to their daily experience. Go beyond this, and you amaze the greatest part of mankind; and may as well talk Arabic to a poor day-labourer, as the notions and language that the books and disputes of re-ligion are filled with; and as soon you will be understood. The dissenting congregation are supposed by (158) their teachers to be more accurately instructed in mat-ters of faith, and better to understand the Christian religion, than the vulgar conformists, who are charged with great ignorance; how truly, I will not here determine. But I ask them to tell me seriously, "Whether half their people have leisure to study? Nay, Whether one in ten, of those who come to their meetings in the country, if they had time to study them, do or can understand the controversies at this time so warmly managed amongst them, about 'justification,' the sub-ject of this present treatise ?" I have talked with some of their teachers, who confess themselves not to under-stand the difference in debate between them. And yet the points they stand on are reckoned of so great weight, so material, so fundamental in religion, that they divide communion, and separate upon them. Had God intended that none but the learned scribe, the disputer, or wise of this world, should be Christians, or be saved, thus religion should have been prepared for them, filled with speculations and niceties, obscure terms, and abstract notions. But men of that expecta-tion, men furnished with such acquisitions, the apostle tells us, 1 Cor. 1. are rather shut out from the simplicity of the Gospel; to make way for those poor, ignorant, il-literate, who heard and believed promises of a Deliverer, and believed Jesus to be him; who could conceive a man dead and made alive again; and believe that he should, at the end of the world, come again and pass sentence on all men, according to their deeds. That the poor had the Gospel preached to them; Christ makes a mark, as well as business of his mission, Matt. xi. 5. And if the poor had the Gospel preached to them, it was, without doubt, such a Gospel as the poor could un-derstand; plain and intelligible: and so it was, as we have seen, in the preachings of Christ and his apostles.