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It should be remembered here, this short scheme of the dispensations of God, or the various religions of men, does not pretend to argue or debate much on any point, nor to trace out, and answer the objections that might be raised against these several religions; that would have required a large volume; these arguments are therefore to be sought in other writings. This is only a compendious arrangement of the discoveries of the grace of God and the duty of man, in such an order as God has prescribed them, and such as may best shew their consistence, their reasonableness and equity; and this may go a great way towards the evidence and proof of these representations, without long argument and dispute; for there is nothing but truth, which, in every part and view of it, is constantly consistent with itself, whether we consider as contained in scripture or represented by right reason.
THE HARMONY OF ALL THE RELIGIONS
Which God ever prescribed to Men, and all his Dispensations towards them.
1. THE public dispensations of God towards men, are those wise and holy constitutions of his will and government, revealed or some way manifested to them, in the several successive periods or ages of the world, wherein are contained the duties which he expects from men, and the blessings which he promises, or encourages them to expect from him, here or hereafter; together with the sins which he forbids, and the punishments which he threatens to inflict on such sinners: Or, the dispensations of God may be described more briefly, as the appointed moral rules of God's dealing with mankind, considered as reasonable creatures, and as accountable to him for their behaviour, both in this world and that which is to come. Each of these dispensations of God may be represented as different religions, or, at least, as different forms of religion, appointed for men in the several successive ages of the world.
II. Hence it comes to pass, that in describing the several religions of men, or the public dispensations of God, we do not so much enter into his eternal designs, or the secret and inward transactions of his grace, either with, or concerning the children of men, in order to bring them into his covenant of grace, nor do we search into his early and divine transactions with Christ Jesus, his Son, in the covenant of redemption, in order to the salvation of men: But it is sufficient, here, to set forth the outward discoveries of God's mind and will to men, in his public government of the universe, or those several constitutions by which he will either justify and reward, or condemn and punish mankind, as he is their supreme Lord and Judge. These are the things most properly signified by his dispensations towards men, and which I propose as my present theme.
III. We must here take notice, in the first place, that natural religion, or that religion which arises from the nature of God and men, and from their relations to God and one another, runs through every one of these dispensations, whether in a state of innocency, or after the fall. And wheresoever divine revelation or the scripture hath not given man positive, express and particular notice of his duty, there the light of nature or reason must be supposed to come in both before and after the fall of man,
to clear up what is doubtful, and to supply what iswanting; even as revelation is to supply us, where the light of reason is defective or dabions.
Therefore, though our natural duties to God, viz. fear and love, trust and obedience, prayer and praise, together with the duties of justice, truth and love to our neighbour, must be supposed to belong to every dispensation; yet there was no necessity of repeating them continually under every dispensation, since the law and light of nature plainly dictate and require them ; I desire this may be always kept in view.
IV. And under every dispensation, whether in innocency, or since the fall, there has been some further revelation of the mind, and will of God to men, some new doctrine or duty, precept or prohibition given for men to believe or obey, beside or beyond the mere dictates of the light of reason, or mere natural religion; and these are called positive laws or commands, as the others are called natural or moral. Among these I am ready to suppose, the observation of the sabbath, that is, some appointed day for rest from labour, and for public worship, holds a considerable place, for it seems to me to have been instituted in paradise during the state of man's innocency; Gen. ii. 3. and I think it has run through all the dispensations of God to man, though not with equal evidence. And perhaps this appointment may have always carried in it some type or figurative promise of a state of rest and glorious worship, after all the labours of our state of trial are finished.
V. In each of these constitutions or dispensations, there is also generally some outward visible emblem appointed of God, to be a sign, seal or pledge of these blessings to be bestowed on man by God himself; and there is some visible ceremony, some outward action or abstinence enjoined on men, as a seal or pledge of their acceptance of, and compliance with this constitution of God.
VI. These two things have been often joined in one and the same emblem, when it is considered on one side as appointed by God, and on the other as to be performed by man. Such a double use had all the sacrifices of atonement in the dispensations of grace before Christ. The divine appointment of them sufficiently denotes the mercy of God, and the actual performance of them, testifies that those men accepted of God's covenant, and consented to it, that is in a way of outward profession.
Now let us proceed to describe the several particular dipensations of God and the religions which have been prescribed to men. CHAP. I.-The Dispensation of Innocency, or, the Religion of Adam at first.
I. As soon as God had created man upon the earth, he
placed him under the first dispensation, that is, that of innocency: wherein Adam, considered as the father and common head of mankind, being formed in the image of God innocent and holy, and standing in his favour, was bound to a perfect performance of all the duties of the moral, or law of nature which related to God, or to himself or to his fellow-creatures; and he had powers given him by the God of nature, sufficient for the performance of them*.
. II. This dispensation is commonly called the covenant of works, because the work done by man would have fully answered the demands of the law of God, it would have been his justifying righteousness, and have entitled him to the reward, Do this and thou shalt live, are the terms of that covenant; Rom. x. 5. This was his religion.
III. And God seems to have engaged himself to bestow immortality or eternal life on Adam, upon condition of his persevering in the perfect obedience, by the emblem, sign or seal of this covenant, which was the tree of life planted in the garden of Eden, of which if man eat he should live for ever; Gen. iii. 22. There was a virtual promise in this emblem, sign or pledge. But, besides this intimation of a reward by the tree of life, it may be almost inferred by the light of reason, that where God is a commander of any self-denying virtue, or of any difficult duty, he will also be a rewarder of it; for he will make it appear, he is good as well as just, in all his commands, and designs the happiness of his creatures in case of their obedience. And, in this view of things, it is most highly probable, that if mankind had stood innocent, and there had been no death through all generations, they would have been after some state of trial and obediencet, translated by degrees to some advanced state of happiness, in some heavenly paradise; for earth itself could not have contained them in all their increase and multiplications under the prolific blessing of heaven.
IV. There was also a threatening of death upon man's disobedience in express words; and the emblem or sign of it, was the tree of knowledge of good and evil; and innocent man was commanded to abstain from eating of the fruit of this tree, as a special pledge and test of his obedience to God. Gen. ii. 17.
*Note here. Whatsoever particular precepts or prohibitions the great God might give to his creature in a way of special revelation, man was bound to obey them all, by that general law of nature, which requires the creature to obey its Creator in all things.
+ It is not certain that the posterity of Adam, if their father had stood innocent, and passed his trial well, would have had any dangerous state of trial, in their own persons, whether they should be happy or miserable: One would ra ther suppose they would only have had a proper state of probation, as to greater or lesser happiness, according to their degrees of labour and duty. But thi matter is not plainly revealed.
In the day thou eatest thereof, in dying, thou shalt die, that is, thou shalt be subject to many afflictions and diseases, and at last to death itself.
V. Now, that this constitution or covenant was made with Adam, not for himself only, but for his posterity also, so as to interest them in the blessings or the curses of it, according to his obedience or disobedience, will appear from the effects of his actual disobedience or fall.
For when this covenant of works was broken by the sin of man, he and all his posterity with him, lost their holy and happy state, and were subject to sin, misery and death. Rom. v. 19. By one man's disobedience many were made sinners, or guilty and subject to death. Rom. v. 12. As by one man, sin entered into the world, and death by sin, so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. Is is plain that sin is imputed to them by death's passing upon them. The words following seem to imply it, viz. sin is not imputed where there is no law, but death reigned, that is, but sin was imputed, therefore there was a law or constitution which imputed it, and from this spring of iniquity and guilt, all men are become sinners, and come short of the glory of God, that is, that glory and happiness which they had at first, and that further glory which God had promised if they had not sinned. All mankind are born encompassed with sorrows and troubles, and with an inclination to evil, more than to any thing that is good: Aud even infants before actual sin are subject to death, as well as those who are actual sinners: For in Adam all die; 1 Cor. xv. 22. and Jews and gentiles, that is, all mankind are by nature children of wrath; Eph. ii. 3. As there is none righte ous or holy, so there is none happy; no, not one; Rom. iii. 10.
VI. Now, since this is the scriptural account of the effects or consequence of Adam's sin on all his posterity, it is but rea. sonable and equitable to suppose, that if Adam had continued in nocent and happy, all his posterity had at least come into the world innocent and happy also; and perhaps, been confirmed in their innocence and happiness by the same righteous constitution. A God whose name is love, and his nature justice and goodness, would be supposed reasonably to deal thus with his creatures.
VII. But Adam and his race are fallen and sinful creatures now: And though we cannot with perspicuity and full assurance, determine so well what sort of circumstances might have attended us, if our first parents had continued obedient; yet this we know by the word of God, by experience in ourselves, and by observation of others, that we are now in a sinful and unhappy state, prone to sin from our childhood, and liable to acute pains, suffer ings and death, even in our infant age, before any actual transgressions as well as afterwards.
VIII. This was the dispensation of God towards man, or