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this the avowed rule of our duty and of his dealings with men, that he loves and values mercy more than sacrifice; that is, that he esteems and prefers the natural duties of morality and piety above any positive rules or rites ; and this he hathi frequently manifested in the Old Testament and the New, as well as the light of nature teaches it.
Now upon all these considerations, I think, we may be bold to say, that if these duties of true repentance, humble requests of forgiveness, and cndeavours after new obedience, be performed according to the present utmost capacity of a sinful creature, who is not acquainted with any positive duties of divine institution, God will surely sher himself well pleased with such an humble penitent : We may, I think, infer with some assurance, that God will never utterly exclude such a person, and finally bapish him from his favour merely for want of his practice of some positive duties or institutions which he himself never lieard of by any revelation, and which he could never come to the knowledge of by the best exercise of his reason.
Besides, Sir, if we consider the accounts which scripture has. given us of those who were the beloved servants of God in ancient ages, even his chief favourites, such as Noahı, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, &c. you find them indeed offering sacrifice according to the positive institutions of God, but you find very little of their own personal trust in a Mediator, or Saviour, or in the mercy of God through a Mediator : much less do we find an account of the actual exercise of their faith in any atoping sacrifice of a Messiah to come. But besides their duties of repentance, asking pardon, and new obedience, &c. their hope seems gene. rally to have been fixed on the mercy of God himself, without so particular an exercise of faith through a Mediator, so far as we can learn by their devotional writings, or the history of their own transactions with God: I do not say, they did never place their hopes in such a Messiah, or Saviour to come : for I believe some of them had such a fiducial regard to him : But I may venture to say, that we find very little of this in their own devotions, even though several of them had this future Saviour revealed to them from liea ven, and to the world by their lips or writings.
As for the doctrine of atonement for sin by the death of this Saviour, though I suppose it to be the real ground and foundation of all the pardoning grace that ever was dispensed to mankind, and though I couceive it to be a most important, if not a necessary part of the religion of Christ, where the gospel is fully published, yet St. Peter did not know it a little before Christ's death ; Mat. xvi. 22. when his fondness for the person of Christ would have forbid his sufferings : and Cornelius was accepted of God before he was taught the doctrine of Christ or his atonement : his prayers and alms, his piety and charity, came up before God and
were graciously accepted ; Acts x. 4, 25. Upon the whole view of things, I think, from scripture and reason together we may justly conclude, that where Christ and the gospel are published, all humble sincere penitents, asking pardon of God, and hoping his mercy, though they know nothing of the particular way or method wherein it is, or hath been, or shall be revealed, shall not fail of pardon and acceptance with God at last, nor miss of some
tokens of his favour. This grace liath Jesus procured, and God · will bestow it. - Pith. Your way of arguing, Sir, carries so much light and conviction in it, that I cannot well deuy your argument. And I am inclined to believe, that my excellent diocesan, the present bishop of London, in his second Pastoral Letter, was much in this sentiment when he expressed himself, p. 46. in these words. As to the heathens, though the light of reason is but dim, yet they who have no better light to walk by, and who honestly make use of that as the only guide God hath given them, cannot fuil to be mercifully dealt with by infinite justice and goodness.
Log. I am very glad the reasoning of Sophronius is so happily supported by the authority of the bishop, and both together have persuaded you to yield up this point, that God, will accept penitent sinners without their actual trust in scriüces, or any posi. tive rites of worship.
Pith. I am not ashamed to confess, Sir, that I pay great honour and deference to the sentiments of my superiors in the church ;, yet I would willingly see good reason also for what I believe : And I declare now, that I can give my assent in the main to what Sophronius hath delivered. If any little scruple remain, it will be adjusted in the course of our debate. But before you begin your argument, Sir, I entreat you to remember both the precise point of question, and the extent of it, and that is, whether human reuson, in the present state of things, be sutricient to guide all mankind to such a degree of the knowledge and practice of religion, as our friend has described, such us may intitle then to the favour of God and future happiness. Perinit me therefore, Sir, to mention four particulars, which are to be excepted or excluded from the present dispute, as not being the proper and precise subject of it.
Log. Let us liear, Pithander, what are the four things you exclude from our debate?
Pirm. In the first place, Sir, be pleased to observe, that we are not enquiring, whether the reason of man, in its original powers of innocency and perfection, could find out alle necessary parte of natural religion, viz. the koowledge of lus Maker, and his duty to hun and his fellow-creatures, as Sopluronius has described them, so far as to secure to himself the love of his Maker i that innocent state : But whether man, in his present corrupt and degenerate circumstances, who is ready to mistake error for truth, whose reason is much blinded and biassed, by the prevail. ing influences of flesh and sense, and perpetually led astray by appetites and passions, and so many thousand prejudices which arise from things both within him and without lim; I say, whether human reason, in this degenerate state of man, be sufficient to teach him such a religion, as will restore a sinner to the favour of God, secure to him everlasting felicity, and render luis immortal soul happy in the love of his Creator.
Log. Pray Pithander, let us hear no inore of this old dull story of the degenerate and corrupt state of man. It is a notion, indeed, that has prevailed for almost seventeen hundred years among christians, and even among the Jews long before then ; but I can see little foundation for it. I think man is a very excel. lent being as he was at first, and his reason, and his other faculties of soul, are noble powers, and have always been, and al. ways will be, sufficient to direct and bring him to happiness for which his nature was made, notwithstanding all your pretences of a bruise gotten by some ancient fall, which, as you say, reached all mankind in their powers, and weakened them even to
Soph. Forgive me, Logisto, if I presume to interpose a word here, when I find you speaking with such spirit and warmth against an opinion which is not peculiar to the Jews and christians ; for several of the heathen philosophers acknowledged and maintained it by the mere influence of the light of nature and reason. Antoninus, the philosophic emperor, confesses, that we are born mere slaves, that is, in the sense of the Stoics, slaves to our vicious inclinations and passions, destitute of all true knowledge and true reason. Book XI. Sect. 27. The platonists are well known to believe a pre-eristent state wherein all souls sinned, and they lost their wings whereby they were once capable of ascending upward, and so they sunk into these bodies, partly as a punishment for former follies. This was called in their form of speech w spoppunels, or a moulting of their wings. Their daily experience in themselves, and their wise observation of the world, convinced them, that all mankind come into the world with propensity to vice rather than virtue, and that man is not such a creature now as he came from his Maker's hand, but is some way or other degenerated from his primitive rectitude and glory, though they jndulged strange guesses at the cause of it, and indeed they were utterly at a loss to find how it came to pass. This is only revealed in the bible.
Log. I thank you, Sophronious, for your gentle reproof. It is not at all improper for you to interpose, when you find any thing too keen and pungent escape from either of our lips in the course of disputation. This is one part of a moderator's office,
and I beg Pithander's pardon. But without more compliments, we will pursue the point in hand. Let the heathens, Jews, and christians of elder times say what they please of this degeneracy, some of your own writers now-a-days, who are in greatest credit amongst you, if they do not suspect the reality of the story of Adam and Eve, and the serpent, yet at least ihey deny such fa : tal effects of it as you have generally ascribed to the fall of man. To say the truth, they are almost grown weary of maintaining so harsh and so reasonable a doctrine. Your learned Dr. Clarke tells us, that in Solomon's days, as well as in ours, God made man upright; and notwithstand og all thut can be said of the meanness and frailness of our nature, nothwithstanding all the disadvantages we can alledge ourselves to lie under in consequence of sin having been brought into the worlil, yet God hath made man upright; man, that is, the species or whole race of men. The uprightness therefore that Solomon speaks of in Eccles, vii. 29. cannot be the original uprightness which was forfeited by the sin of our first parents, but ihat continud uprightness with which every man comes into the world notwithstanding the fall, See Dr. Clarke's Sermon XIV. printed in his life-time.
Pitu. I am sorry to find a cliristian writer talk at the rate this learned author does in that sermon. And indeed if the corruption of human nature be so small, and its present powers so , sufficient for the purposes of religion and virtue, as he represents
them in that discourse, I wonder how he could speak of su universal a depravation amongst mankind, as he does in his excel, lent book of Revealed Religion, Prop. v. vi. vii. which made revelation so necessary. But I wave this point at present, Jest it should draw us aside too soon from our intended subject into another debate, viz., about original sin. I would therefore only take notice to you, Logisto, and I suppose you will easily grant, that man in his present condition, is liable to many niistakes in his search of truth and duty; and that he often fails in practice of the rules of duty when they are known; and there is something more that is necessary to be known and practised, that a sinful creature may recover the love and favour of his Maker when he is offended, than there was for an innocent creature in order to keep himself in the love of God; and that is, as our friend Sophronious has expressed it, the duty.of repentance on our part, and he grace of forgiveness on the part of God.
Log. This is not to be denied, Sir, and therefore I really allow it. But what then? Is it not the reason of man sufficient to find out these things,
Pitn. Give me leave, Sir, to say again, that we are not inquiring, whether human reason, in its best estale, could find out the religion of an innocent creature, whereby he inigit continue in his Maker's love; but whether, under all present disadvan
tages, prejudices, mistakes, passions, &c. his reason be sufficient to find out all things necessary for a guilty creature to obtain forgiveness of his offended Creator, and to procure to hiinself immortal happiness in a future state, notwithstanding his past otiences.
Loo. I approve of your accuracy, my friend, in this point, and I atlirin, that the reason of maa, in his present state, though he often errs, and often offends God, is yet suflicient to instruct and lead bim iuto all that is needful to obiain pardon and happiness. Well, what is the next thing you would except out of our dispute ?
Pith. In the second place then I would observe, that we are not to debate, whether we, wiso have been educated in a christian nation, and have been trained up from our infancy to hear and learn a thousand things which the ignorant heathens never hear of ; I say, whether we, by our force of reason, cad draw out a connected scheme of religion in the several truths and duties of it; which might lead a sinner to obtain the favour of God : but whether one who was born and brought up in the dark regions of heathenisin, and never any happy hints given him hy tradition or by conversation, could find out by his own reasoning powers such a scheme of virtue and gouliness, as would be sufficient to bring him to the divine favour, and the felicity of another world? We are greatly mistaken in supposing that ihe understanding of a heathen would lead hiin into all those well-connected sentiments concerning God and man, virtue and piety, which are found even among common persons educated under the bright influence of christianity. Mr. Locke, in his Reasonableness of Christianity, page 209, says, Thut if christian philosophers hare much outdone the heathens in their systems of morality; he asa cribes it to their knowledge of revelation. Every one, says he, may observe a greut many truths which he receives at first from others, and readily assents to, as consonant to reason, which he would have found it hard, or perhaps beyond his strength, to have discovered of himself. Nutive and original truth is not so easily arought out of the mine', as we who have it delivered ready dug and fashioned io our hands, are apt to imagine. Permit me to ald, Sir, with all just deference and respect to your bright genius and your happy reasoning powers, I can hardly imagine that you yourself would have been able, with utmost study, to draw up such an accurate and comprehensive scheme of natural religion, as Sophronius bas now given extempore, if you had been so untiappy as to be born and bred among none but heathens. I believe it will be granted by all, that neither Plato, nor Aristotle, nor Seneca, nor Epictetus, nor Cicero, nor the greatest names and wits of antiquity, have left us so clear, and rational and coinpendious a system of religion and virtue, as our friend Sophropious has set before us in the present conversation.