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having offended the infinitely great and good Creator, Preserver, and Judge of the world, your kind and bountiful Father and best Friend. Is pain a great evil? Vice is a greater; it is rebellion against the Supreme authority of the universe. Is the loss of a beloved wife like tearing limb from limb? So is falsehood, cruelty, or ingratitude, like unhinging the universe, and bringing chaos back again: for they tend to universal disorder, and the destruction of the creation of God. Do you shudder at the thought of poverty or disease? Think with what eye Infinite Purity must behold wickedness; with what abhorrence absolute Perfection must see the ruin produced in his works by irregularity and vice. Do you desire to escape misery? Fly from sin. Do you wish to avoid punishment? Above all things avoid wickedness, the cause of it.
OF REVEALED RELIGION.
THAT it is in itself agreeable to rectitude, necessary to the Dignity of Human Nature, and the requisite concurrence of moral agents with the general scheme of the Governor of the universe, that we study, above all things, to perform our whole duty, viz. Taking proper care of our bodies and of our minds, loving our fellow-creatures as ourselves, and loving and serving our Creator; that this is our indispensable duty, and that the habitual neglect, or violation of it, upon whatever pretence, will expose us to the Divine displeasure, as the conscientious observance of it is most likely to gain us his favour, and consequently final happiness; all this appears clear to human reason, separate from any consideration of the truth of revelation, and deducible from universally acknowledged principles. And if it may be supposed in the lowest degree probable, that the kind and merciful Parent of his creatures, who would have all men to be saved, and, in a consistency with eternal and immutable rectitude, to come to that happiness, of which their nature was formed capable; if it may be conceived in the lowest degree prohable, that God should from the beginning have ordered things so, that one method, among others, for promoting universal goodness and happiness, should be, the appearance of an express message, or revelation from himself, with a set of clearer and more striking instructions, than had been any other way communicated to mankind; if this be conceivable without any direct absurdity, then it
is likewise evident, from the principles of natural religion or reason, that it is the indispensable duty of all those of our species, to whom any such supposed Divine message or revelation may be offered, to bestow the utmost diligence in examining its pretensions, and, if found sufficient, to admit them with candour and sincerity of mind, and to receive the revelation itself with that veneration and submission which it becomes dependant creatures to express to Him who sent it.
That there is nothing directly absurd, or contradictory to reason, in the supposition of the possibility of a revelation given from God, for the reformation and improvement of mankind, is evident, from its having been the opinion and the hope of the wisest and best of mankind in all ages, and various nations. Socrates, Plato, Confucius, and others, the bright and burning lights of antiquity, have given their authority to the opinion of the probability of a revelation from God. They have declared, that they thought it an affair of great consequence to rekindle the light of reason, almost extinguished by vice and folly; recall a bewildered race of beings into the way of virtue, to teach mankind, with certainty and authority, how they ought to behave toward their Creator, so as to obtain his favour, and the pardon of their offences. They who were the best qualified of all uninspired men of those ancient times for instructing mankind, were ready to own themselves insufficient for the task of reforming the world. And it is notorious, that their worthy labours were in no respect adequate to the universal, or general amendment of manners, even in the countries in which they lived and taught. For that themselves greatly wanted instruction, appears plainly from what they have written upon some of the most important points of morals, as the immortality of the soul; the nature, degree, and continuance of the rewards and · punishments of the future state, and the means of obtaining the pardon of sin. And that their lessons should have any considerable or powerful influence upon the people in general, was not to be expected, as they could at best but give them as their opinions; reasonable indeed, and clear in the main to any understanding, which should take the trouble to examine; but backed with no authorita
tive sanction, or Divine attestation, to command attention and obedience.
It is evident, that as there can be, on one hand, no merit in believing what is true, even religious truth, without examination; (for nothing is virtuous, or praise-worthy, that is irrational; and it is irrational to receive for truth what one has no solid reason to think is true;) so on the other, to reject truth, especially religious truth, on any indirect or disingenuous account, or for any reason, besides some unsurmountable inconsistency in the doctrine, or deficiency in the evidence, is perverse and wicked. The faith, therefore, that is acceptable to God, who is alike the Author of both reason and revelation, is that rational reception of religious truth which arises from candid and diligent examination, and a due submission to Divine Authority and the unbelief, which is condemned in Scripture, is that rejection of the revealed will of God which is owing to prejudice, negligence, pride, or a fatal attachment to vice.
The guilt of wilfully rejecting or opposing Divine truth, must be more or less atrocious, according as the advantages for inquiry, and satisfaction upon the subject, are greater, or less. The inhabitants of the dark and barbarous parts of the world, and even of the countries which are overrun by popish superstition, will therefore be found more excusable for their deficiencies both in faith and practice, than we of this enlightened age and nation, who enjoy every imaginable advantage for free inquiry, and labour under no kind of bias either toward credulity or the contrary, but what we choose to subject ourselves to.
Besides our being indispensably obliged, in point of duty, to take the utmost care that a genuine revelation from God do not meet with neglect, much less disingenuous opposition, from us; it is also to be considered, what conduct wisdom prescribes in such a case. Were there no guilt in treating revelation with contempt, or opposing, yet no man of prudence would wilfully deprive . himself of any probable advantage for information and improvement, from whatever quarter it might come. Nor will any wise man think lightly of a scheme intended, as Divine revelation is, for the important ends of republish
ing, with a set of authoritative sanctions, the religion of nature, and fixing, beyond all dispute, the duty of mankind, and the means for attaining their greatest happiness ; and for communicating to them various important truths not known before, nor discoverable by human reason. That revelation has effectually done these things, will appear by the general view of it that will be exhibited in the second section.
A direct, explicit law, given by Divine authority, is the very thing which such a short-sighted and imperfect order of beings as mankind were peculiarly in want of. Nor is any method so fit for governing a set of creatures generally unqualified for reasoning out, with a proper clearness and certainty, the means of attaining happiness, as a distinct system of rules of conduct guarded by proper sanctions. Is not all human government constituted on that foundation? When a new state or colony is to be settled, do the founders trust to the reason of a mixed multitude for the observance of equity, the security of property, and happiness of the whole? And was it not a more effectual way to lead mankind to the love of God, and one another, to give them an express law to that purpose, than to leave it to their own reasonings, to find out their duty to their Creator, and to one another, and whether they might trifle with it, or resolve faithfully to perform it? Therefore, mankind have probably in no age been wholly left to their own reason: but a standing, positive institution has all along been kept up in one part of the world or other; and would in all probability have been more universally, as well as more conspicuously established, but for the wickedness of mankind, which rendered them unworthy of partaking universally of this blessing, and occasioned its being imparted to them in a more obscure and limited manner.
We are at present in a state of discipline; and every thing is intended as a part of our trial, and means of improvement. Revelation may be considered in the same light. A message from heaven is brought to our ears, attended with such evidence as may be sufficient to convince the unprejudiced mind of its being genuine; but at the same time not so ascertained, but that pretences for