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religion, I mean the holy Bible, by which they profers to regulate and govern their lives, were full of plain and strict precepts of love and kindnefs, of charity and peace,
and did a hundred times with all imaginable severity, and under pain of forfeiting the kingdom of God, forbid malice, and envy, and evil speaking, and rash and uncharitable censures, and tell us so plainly that the Christian religion obligeth men to put of all these; and that if any man seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, that man's religion is vain : Do men read and hear these things every day, and profefs to believe them to be the truths of God, and yet live as if they were verily persuaded they were false? What can we conclude from hence, but either that this is not Christianity, or the greatest part of us are no Christians.
So that if one of the Apostles or primitive Chriftians should rise from the dead, and converse among us, how would he wonder to see the face and com. plexion of Christianity altered from what it was in their days; and, were it not for the name and title which we bear, would sooner guess us to be any thing than Chriftians.
So that upon the whole matter, there is no way to quit ourselves of this objection, and to wash away the reproach of it, but to mend and reform our lives. Till this be done, it is unavoidable, but the vicious manners of men will affect our religion with obloquy and reproach, and derive an ill conceit and opinion of it into the minds of men. And I cannot see how Christianity can ever gain much ground in the world, till it be better adorned and recommended by the professors of it. Nay, we have just cause to fear, that if God do not raise up
and eminent instruments to awaken the world out of this stupid Tethargy, that Christianity will every day decline, and the world will in a short space be over-run with atheism and infidelity. For vice, and superstition, and enthusiasm, which are the reigning diseases of Christendom, when they have run their course, and finished their circle, do all naturally end, and meet in atheism. And then it will be time for the great
Judge Judge of the world to appear, and effectually to convince men of that, which they would not be persuaded to believe by any other means. And of this our Saviour hath given us a terrible and fearful intimation, in that question of his ; When the son of man comes, shall be find faith upon earth ? Our Saviour hath not positively affirmed it, and God grant that we may not make it, and find it true.
And thus I have, by God's assistance, given the best fatisfation I could, to the most material exceptions I have met with against our blessed Saviour and his religion. The
11. Thing remains briefly to be spoken to, viz. How happy a thing it is to escape the common prejudices which men are ape to entertain against religion. Bleffed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me. And this will appear if we consider thefe three or four things:
First, That prejudice does many times fway and bias men against the plainest and clearest truths. We see in daily experience, what a false bias prejudice puts upon mens understandings. Men that are educated in the groffest errors and superstitions, how hard it is to convince them that they are in a wrong way! and with what difficulty are they persuaded of their mistake ! Nay, they have hardly the patience to be told they are in an error, much less to confi. der what may be offered against it. How do the pasfions and lufts of men blind them and lead them afide from the truth, and incline them to that side of the question which is most favourable to their lusts and interests ! How partially do men lean to that part which makes molt for their advantage, though all the reason in the world ly on the other side !
Now ignorance and mistake are a great flavery of the understanding, if there were no worfe consequences of our errors : and therefore our Saviour says excellently, that the truth makes men free re' Mall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
Secondly, Prejudice does not only bias men against the plainest truths, but in matters of greatest convernment, in things that concern the bonour of God,
and the good of others, and our own welfare and happiness. Prejudices against religion occasion mistakes of the highest nature, and may lead men to superstition and idolatry, and to all manner of impiety, nay many times to atheism and infidelity. The prejudices against the doctrine of our Saviour are of another concernment than the prejudices which men have against the writers of natural philosophy or eloquence, or any other human art or science. If a man's prejudice make him err in these matters, the thing is of no great moment: But the business of religion is a matter of the greatest and weightiest concernment to mankind.
Thirdly, The consequences of mens prejudices in these things proye many times fatal and destructive to them.
Men may upon unreasonable prejudices reject the counsel of God against themselves, as it is faid of the chief Priests and Pharisees among the Jews. Men may oppose the truth so obstinately and perversly, as to be fighters against God, and to bring certain ruin and swift destruction upon themselves, both in this world and the other; as the Jews did, who by opposing the doctrine of the gospel, and persecuting our Saviour and his disciples, filled up the measure of their fins, till wrath came upon them to the uttermost. It is easy to entertain prejudices against religion, and by considering only the wrong fide of things, to fortify our prejudices to such a degree, and entrench ourselves so strongly in our errors, that the plainest and most convincing truths shall not be able to have any access to us, impression upon us : but all this while we do in truth undermine our own happiness, and are secretly working our own ruin ; and while we think we are oppofing an enemy, we are destroying ourselves; for who hath hardened himself against God, and his truth, and prospered? The principles of religion are a firm and immoveable rock, against which the more violently we dalh ourselves, the more miserably we shall be split and shattered. Our blessed Saviour and his religion have been to many, and are to this day, a stone of stumbling, and a rock of of
fence; but he himself hath told us what shall be the fate of those who are offended at him; Whosoever Joall fall on this stone, shall be broken ; but upon whomsoever it shall fall, it shall grind him to powder. And therefore well might he say here in the text, Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in
Fourthly, There are but few in comparison, who have the happiness to escape and overcome the common prejudices which men are apt to entertain against religion. Thus to be sure it was when Christianity first appeared in the world: And'though a. mong us the great prejudice of education be remo. ved, yet there are till many, who, upon one ac. count or other, are prejudiced against religion, at least so far, as not to yield to the power of it in their lives. Few men are so impartial in considering things, as not to be swayed by the interest of their lufts and passions; as to keep the balance of their judgments even, and to suffer nothing but truth and reason to weigh with them. We generally pretend to be pilgrims and strangers in the world, and to be all travelling towards heaven: but few of us have the indifferency of travellers; who are not concerned to find out the fairest and the easiest way, but to know which is tbe right way, and to go in it. Thus it should be with us, our end should always be in our eye, and we should choose our way only with respect to that; not considering our inclination so much as our design; nor choosing those principles for the government of our lives, which are most agreeable to our present desires, but those which will most certainly bring us to happiness at the last; and that I am sure the principles of the Christian religion, firmly believed and practised by us, will do.
Let us then be persuaded by all that hath been said
upon argument, to a firm belief of the Chris ftian doctrine. I hope you are in some measure satisfied, that the objections against it are not such, as ought much to move a wise and considerate man. If we believe that God hath taken so much care of
mankind, as to make any certain revelation of his will to them, and of the way to eternal happiness; let us next consider, whether any religion in the world can come in competition with the Christian, and with half that reason pretend to be from God, that Christianity is able to produce for itself, whether we consider the things to be believed, or the duties to be pra&tised, or the motives and arguments to the practice of those duties, or the divine confirmation that is given to the whole. And if we be thus persuaded concerning it, let us resolve to live up to the laws and rules of this holy religion. Our belief of it fignifies nothing without the fruits and effects of a good life. And if this were once resolved upon, the difficulty of believing would cease; for the true reason why men are unwilling to be. lieve the truths of the gospel, is, because they are loth to put them in practice. Every one that doth evil, hateth the light. The true ground of most mens prejudice against the Chriftian doctrine, is because they have no mind to obey it; and when all is done, the great objection that lies at the bottom of mens minds against it, is, that it is an enemy to their lufts, and they cannot profess to believe it without condemning themselves, for not complying with it in their lives and practice.