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THE HARMONY

OF

ALL THE RELIGIONS

WHICH GOD EVER PRESCRIBED TO MEN,"

AND

ALL HIS DISPENSATIONS TOWARDS THEM.

PREFACE

TO THE HARMONY OF ALL RELIGIONS."

*

RELIGION, in the most general sense of the word, signifies that veneration or

reverential regard, which man pays to God, his Maker. This veneration is diversified, according to the various perfections of the divine nature discovered to us, or the various relations in which we stand to God. All this is internal religion, so far as it is found in the heart; but, it is also to be expressed outwardly in the life, by the tongue, or the several powers of action, according to the daily occasions which are given us in the course of providence. Religion in the heart includes in it, all that adoration we pay to God, because of his transcendent Majesty, our acknowledgment of all homage and obedience due to him, as our sovereign, our fear, our love, our imitation, our trust or dependance and submission, &c. according as we conceive of him, as the first and best of beings, as wise and powerful, as holy, just and merciful, as our rightful owner, Governor and Judge.

The outward expressions of these inward sentiments of the mind, whether in voice, gesture, or action, are to be regulated by the dictates of nature or reason, so far as that reaches; as for instance, nature seems to direct the lifting up of the hands and the eyes to God, in our solemn addresses to him, bowing the knee, or standing, or prostration in prayer to God, and laying hands on the head of another, when a blessing is pronounced on him, or implored for him; the voce of joy and singing is directed by the light of nature, in speaking the praises of God, or in our holy rejoicing before him; groaning and sighing, seems to be the language of nature also in our complaints to God; laying the hand upon the heart, denotes an appeal to God concerning our sincerity, &c.

These inward and reverential sentiments of the mind, may be also expressed by, or attended with a variety of other rites and forms, which God hath prescribed by revelation, in the several ages of his church: and God, only has a right to prescribe them; for he only knows in what manner he will, or he ought to be honoured or worshipped. Sometimes he has appointed abstinence from particular food, sometimes putting off the shoes from the feet, sometimes offering sacrifice to God by fire, sometimes washing or sprinking with water or blood, sometimes eating or drinking as a holy festival, &c.

I add further, also, religion includes in it all our personal duties towards ourselves and our social duties towards our fellow-creatures, as well as our duties of piety towards God, so far as they are performed from a principle of veneration, obedience and love to our Creator: For this principle turns the common actions of life into religious actions, which otherwise would be esteemed but merely moral or virtuous. Scripture favours this representation. The apostle James seems to suppose it thus in the first chapter, last verse; pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widon's in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. These moral actions done from a supreme regard to God, that is, before his sight, and as under his authority and approbation, render them truly religious.

When man was first created, and in his state of innocence, he was bound to fulfil all his duties towards God and man in perfection; and he had power to perform them; and these performances were his justifying righteousness in the sight of God, according to the law of nature and innocence. In his fallen or sinful state, he is still bound by the light of nature and reason, to pay the same duties towards God and man; and that in a perfect manner too, for

the law of God is eternal and relaxes not its demands; and though man is continually failing in his obedience, either in thought, word, or deed, yet that conscience, within him, which teaches him the law; Rom. ii. 14, 15. accuses him when he breaks it.

The religion of a fallen creature, according to the light of nature, requires also some additions of duty more than a state of innocence, viz. confession of our faults, sincere repentance of every sin, and addresses to God for mercy, with hope in his forgiving grace, together with a return to diligence in new obedience after every fall or transgression, and a constant zeal to subdue and mortify all sinful inclinations and perseverance therein till death, This runs through every dispensation of grace. And since none of these works are so perfect in the best of men, as to fulfil the demands of the law of God, or to justify the man before God, therefore after all, if fallen man be ever justified, that is, pardoned and accepted of God, it must be by his trusting or depending upon divine grace, in whatsoever way it is or shall be manifested. This is the only thing, beside what I mentioned before, that remains for him to do in order to his acceptance.

Observe here, I do not say, that this is sufficient to procure certain pardon, or to obtain the justification of a sinner; for natural reason cannot assure us that an offended God will forgive all our past sins, upon this practice. But this I may boldly affirm, that reason directs to this practice, as the only way wherein we can reasonably hope for the favour of God, and acceptance before him. And, as this is the plain and obvious doctrine which the light of reason teaches, so this was practised, not only by Abraham and David, but by all the good men of old, in every nation who wrought righteousness, and were accepted of God; Acts x. 35. This is St. Paul's doctrine of justification by faith, or trust in the grace of God without the works of the law, which he insists upon in his epistles to Rome and Galatia, though it has most unhappily been perplexed and obscured by noisy controversies. In these papers, among other things, I have endeavoured to scatter those clouds, and set this divine truth in a most natural and easy light.

Since the blessed God saw the light of nature after the fall, insufficient to give the sinful creature any solid assurance of pardon and acceptance, he condescended to make some special revelations of his mercy and his will, to poor perishing mankind; and this he has done in several ages of the world, and in particular nations. Therein he has been pleased to reveal some further doctrines for men to believe, and some further duties for them to practise, which are not written in the book of nature: And they are such as these, viz. That God is ready to forgive all those sinners who return to him by sincere repentance, and who trust in his mercy, according to the different discoveries of it: That he will assist humble creatures in their return to God, and in their hearty endeavours to practise their duty: That he has appointed a Mediator, by whom sinners are to be restored to his favours. That this Mediator is the Son of God: That he was to be born of a woman, to spring from the house of Abraham, and the family of David: That he should be the great peace-maker between God and man, to reconcile sinners to God, and to restore them to the image of his holiness; that to this end he should not only fulfil the law of God, but also endure many sufferings, and die for sinners, as an atoning sacrifice, in order to free them from guilt, and deliver them from deserved de

struction.

Again, he has made known to men also, that this Jesus Christ the Mediator is raised from the dead, is ascended to heaven, and there governs all things, till he shall return to judge the world; and that the dead shall be raised by him, to receive their final sentence from him, either a sentence of eternal misery, or everlasting happiness.

It is amongst these discoveries of grace and duty, that we must rank the several sacrifices, which God has appointed men to offer, and that not only of

the flesh of sheep, and bulls, and goats, but also of corn and wine, &c. Sometimes he appointed particular places, wherein he would have worship paid to him, and sometimes particular seasons set apart for public worship: Amongst these also, he ordained various ceremonies of washing and sprinkling persons and things, to denote purification from sinful defilements, and finally that we must worship or honour God in his latest and best institution, by washing or baptizing with water, by eating bread and drinking wine, according to his special directions and appointments.

The belief of these truths, and the practice of these duties, when or wheresoever they were revealed and required, became a proper part of the religion of men in those places, and in that time: For their inward veneration to God, was to be expressed by these outward transactions in obedience to him. The chief design of these things in the various ages and places, was but to teach mankind, by degrees, in a way of emblem or figure, that God is reconciling a sinful world to himself, that he is recovering men from the sin and misery of their fall, by the mediation of Jesus Christ, his Son, and by the influences of his grace or his blessed Spirit, and to engage them to comply with, and pursue this reconciliation and recovery.

It

This general design of God to recover sinners, as manifested in these divine revelations, may be called the covenant of grace proposed to men. was not published all at once, in its various and complete glory and beauty, but in many succesive ages, and that to particular persons, and by them to the rest of men, so far as the great God appointed; viz. by Adam to his posterity, by Noah to his posterity, by Abraham to his family, by Moses and the prophets to the Jews, and by Christ and his apostles both to the Jews and Gentiles. These transactions of God with men, and his appointments manifested to them, are usually distinguished into the several corresponding dispensations, which is the substance of the discourses in this book, and I think they are each of them, distinguished from the other, by one or more special sign or emblem of grace or duty.

As the discovery of this gospel, or covenant of grace, was not made all at once, but by slow degrees, to answer some evident, and some unscarchable purposes of God, so it was four thousand years, before it was fully revealed by the blessed apostles of Christ, and that under several dis, ensations of increasing light. Since the days of the apostles there has been no new dispensation, nor any new divine religion. Every former dispensation of the gospel, was sufficient to save all those to whom it was made or proposed; and it was that very religion by which all who were under it, were actually bound to seek their salvation, till the next dispensation was revealed to them. This is so evident that it needs no argument for the proof of it.

And yet we must add also, that almost every following dispensation of the covenant of grace does, in some measure, help to explain the scriptural account of those which went before. As for instance, the dispensation of Abraham added some light to the patriarchal darkness: The dispensation of Christ casts numerous rays of illumination on the types and shadows of Judaism, and St. Paul, in his epistles, has taught us to understand many of them, by pointing to those graces and blessings of the Messiah and the gospel, which were signified by them.

Nor can we have a complete view of this covenant of grace, as it is held forth in scripture, if we contine our thought merely to the short representation of the sacred writers, in their first discoveries of each dispensation. It is only a full survey of all the successive editions of this covenant, which can give us the most comprehensive, and the justest idea of it, in any one edition, or under any one dispensation. Each of them casts a signal and sensible light upon the other, and whatsoever was truly glorious in the whole of them, is, as it were, summed up and united in the last dispensation, that is, christianity, which answers the predictions and emblems of former ages, and reveals and unfolds many things, that seemed then to be veiled in darkness.

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