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the trade is so quick, and withal so certain, multitudes will be sure to follow it.

This is too manifestly our present case. All men see it; and wise and good men lament it and where vice, pushed on with such mighty advantages, will stop its progress, it is hard to judge; it is certainly above all human remedies to control the prevailing course of it; unless the great Governor of the world, who quells the rage and swelling of the sea, and sets bars and doors to it, beyond which the proudest of its waves cannot pass, shall, in his infinite compassion to us, do the same to that ocean of vice, which now swells, and roars, and lifts up itself above all banks and bounds of human laws; and so, by his omnipotent word, reducing its power, and abasing its pride, shall at length say to it, "Hitherto shalt thou come, and no farther." Which God in his good time effect.

To whom be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for ever more. Amen.

SERMON XIX.

NATURAL RELIGION, WITHOUT REVELATION, SUFFICIENT TO RENDER A SINNER

INEXCUSABLE.

PREACHED BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY, AT CHRISTCHURCH, OXON, NOVEMBER 2, 1690.

"So that they are without excuse."-ROM. 1. 20.

THIS excellent epistle, though in the front of it it bears a particular inscription, yet, in the drift and purpose of it, is universal; as designing to convince all mankind (whom it supposes in pursuit of true happiness) of the necessity of seeking for it in the gospel, and the impossibility of finding it elsewhere. All without the church, at that time, were comprehended under the division of Jews and Gentiles, called here by the apostle, Greeks; the nobler and more noted part being used for the whole. Accordingly, from the second chapter, down along, he addresses himself to the Jews, shewing the insufficiency of their law to justify, or make them happy, how much soever they doated upon it. But here, in this first chapter, he deals with the Greeks, or Gentiles, who sought for and promised themselves the same happiness from the dictates of right reason, which the Jews did from the Mosaic law. Where, after he had took an account of what their bare reason had taught

them in the things of God, and compared the superstructure with the foundation, their practice with their knowledge, he finds them so far from arriving at the happiness which they aspired to by this means, that upon a full survey of the whole matter, the result of all comes to this sad and deplorable issue, that they were sinful and miserable, and that without excuse. In the words, taken with the colierence of the precedent and subsequent verses, we have these four things considerable,

I. The sin here followed, upon a certain sort of men, with this so severe a judgment; namely, that "knowing God, they did not glorify him as God," (ver. 21.)

II. The persons guilty of this sin; they were "such as professed themselves wise," (ver. 22.)

III. The cause or reason of their falling into this sin; which was their “holding the truth in unrighteousness," (ver. 18.) And,

IV. and lastly. The judgment, or rather the state and condition, penally consequent upon these sinners; namely, that "they were without excuse," (ver. 20.)

Of each of which in their order: and first, for the first of them.

The sin here followed with so severe a judgment, and so highly aggravated, and condemned by the apostle, is, by the united testimony of most divines upon this place, the sin of idolatry; which the apostle affirms to consist in this, "That the Gentiles glorified not God, as God." Which general charge he also draws forth into particulars; as, that they "changed his glory into the similitude and images of men, and beasts, and birds;" where, by glory, he means God's worship, to wit, that which men glorify him, and not the essential glory of his nature; it being such a glory, as was in men's power to change and to debase; and therefore, must needs consist, either in those actions, or those means, which they performed the divine worship by. I know no place, from which we may more clearly gather what the Scripture accounts idolatry, than from this chapter. From whence, that I may represent to you what idolatry is, and wherein one sort of it, at least, does consist, you may observe, that the persons who are here charged with it are positively affirmed to have known and acknowledged the true God. For it is said of them, that they knew his "eternal power and godhead," in this twentieth verse; nay, and they worshipped him too. From whence this undeniably and invincibly follows, that they did not look upon those images, which they addressed to, as gods, nor as things in which the divine nature did or could enclose itself; nor, consequently, to which they gave, or ultimately designed their religious worship. This conclusion, therefore, I infer, and assert, that idolatry is not only an accounting or worshipping that for God

which is not God, but it is also a worshipping
the true God in a way wholly unsuitable to
his nature; and particularly by the mediation
of images and corporeal resemblances of him.
This is idolatry: for the persons here spoken
of, pretended to glorify the true God, but
"they did not glorify him as God," and upon
that account stand arraigned for idolaters.
Common sense and experience will and must
evince the truth of this. For, can any one
imagine, that men of reason, who had their
senses quick, and their wits and discourses
entire, could take that image or statue, which
they fell down before, to be a god? Could
they think that to be infinite and immense,
the ubiquity of which they could
a corner of their closet? Or, could they con-
ceive that to be eternal, which a few days
before they had seen a log, or a rude trunk,
and perhaps the other piece of it a joint-stool
in the workman's shop?

rust into

The ground and reason of all worship is, an opinion of power and will in the person worshipped to answer and supply our desires; which he cannot possibly do, unless he first apprehend them. But can any man, who is master of sense himself, believe the rational heathens so void of it, as to think that those images could fulfil the petitions which they could not hear, pity the wants they could not see, do all things when they could not stir a hand or a foot? It is impossible they should; but it is also certain, that they were idolaters.

infinitely unhappy, if they cannot perform a necessary duty without school-distinctions, nor beg their daily bread without metaphysics. And thus much for the first thing proposed, namely, the sin here spoken against by the apostle in the text, which was idolatry.

2. The second is the persons charged with this sin. And they were not the Gnosticks, as some whimsically imagine, who can never meet with the words γινώσκοντες, γινώσκειν, yuñois, or yuwordy, but presently the Gnosticks must be drawn in by the head and shoulders; but the persons here meant were plainly and manifestly the old heathen philosophers; such as not only in the apostles, but also in their own phrase, "professed themselves be wise." Their great title was ropol, and the word of applause still given to their lectures was oops. And Pythagoras was the first who abated of the invidiousness of the name, and from copos brought it down to inóropos, from a master to a lover of wisdom, from a professor to a candidate.

And therefore, it is clear that their idolatry consisted in something else, and the history of it would demonstrate so much, were it proper to turn a sermon into a history. So that we see here, that the sin condemned in the text, was the worshipping of the true God by images. For the defence of which, there is no doubt but they might have pleaded, and did plead for those images, that they used them not as objects, but only as means and instruments of divine worship, not as what they worshipped, but as that by which they directed their worship to God. Though still, methinks, it is something hard to conceive, that none of the worship should fall upon the image by the way, or that the water can be conveyed into the sea, without so much as wetting the channel through which it passes. But, however, you see it requires a very distinguishing head, and an even hand, and no small skill in directing the intention, to carry a prayer quite through to its journey's end: though, after all, the mischief of it is, that the distinction, which looks so fine in the theory, generally miscarries in the practice; especially where the ignorant vulgar are the practisers, who are the worst in the world at distinguishing, but yet make far the greatest part of mankind, and are as much concerned and obliged to pray, as the wisest and the best; but withal,

These were the men here intended by Saint Paul-men famous in their respective agesthe great favourites of nature, and the top and masterpiece of art, men, whose aspiring intellectuals had raised them above the common level, and made them higher by the head than the world round about them. Men of a polite reason, and a notion refined and enlarged by meditation. Such, as with all these advantages of parts and study, had been toiling and plodding many years, to outwit and deceive themselves; sat up many nights, and spent many days, to impose a fallacy upon their reason; and, in a word, ran the round of all the arts and sciences, to arrive, at length, at a glorious and elaborate folly,- even these, I say, these grandees and giants in knowledge, who thus looked down, as it were, upon the rest of mankind, and laughed at all besides themselves, as barbarous and insignificant, (as quick and sagacious as they were to look into the little intrigues of matter and motion, which a man might salva scientia, or at least, salva anima ignorare,) yet blundered and stumbled about their grand and principal concern, the knowledge of their duty to God, sinking into the meanest and most ridiculous instances of idolatry even so far, as to worship the great God under the form of "beasts and creeping things”—to adore eternity and immensity in a brute, or a plant, or some viler thing-bowing down, in their adoration, to such things as they would scarce otherwise have bowed down to take up. Nay, and to rear temples, and make altars to fear, lust, and revenge; there being scarce a corrupt passion of the mind, or a distemper of the body, but what they worshipped. So that it could not be expected that they should ever repent of those sins which they thought fit to deify, nor mortify those corrupt affections to which they

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ascribed a kind of divinity and immortality. By all which, they fell into a greater absurdity in matter of practice, than ever any one of them did in point of opinion, (which yet certainly was very hard,) namely, that having confessed a God, and allowed him the perfections of a God, to wit, an infinite power, and an eternal godhead, they yet denied him the worship of God,-thus reversing the great truths they had subscribed to in speculation, by a brutish, senseless devotion, managed with a greater prostration of reason than of body.

Had the poor vulgar rout only, who were held under the prejudices and prepossessions of education, been abused into such idolatrous superstitions, as to adore a marble or a golden deity, it might have been detested indeed, or pitied, but not so much to be wondered at; but for the Stoa, the Academy, or the Peripaton to own such a paradox; for an Aristotle or a Plato to think their Nous aidos, their eternal mind or universal spirit, to be found in, or served by, the images of fourfooted beasts; for the Stagyrite to recognize his gods in his own book de Animalibus,-this, as the apostle says, "was without excuse ;" and how will these men answer for their sins, who stand thus condemned for their devotions? And thus, from the persons here charged by the apostle with the sin of idolatry, pass we now to the

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2. That this God was the maker and governor of this visible world. The first of which was evident from the very order of causes, the great argument by which natural reason evinces a God. It being necessary, in such an order or chain of causes, to ascend to, and terminate in, some first, which should be the original of motion, and the cause of all other things, but itself be caused by none. And then, that God also governed the world, this followed from the other; for that a creature should not depend upon its Creator in all respects in which it is capable of depending upon him, (amongst which, to be governed

by him, is certainly one,) is contrary to the common order and nature of things, and those essential relations which (by virtue thereof) they bear to one another; and consequently, absurd and impossible. So that upon a bare principle of reason, creation must needs infer providence; and God's making the world, irrefragably prove that he governs it too; or that a being of a dependent nature remains nevertheless independent upon him in that respect. Besides all which, it is also certain that the heathens did actually acknowledge the world governed by a supreme mind; which knowledge, whether they had it from tradition, or the discourses of reason, they stood however equally accountable for upon either account.

3dly, That this God, or supreme Being, was to be worshipped. For this was founded upon his omnipotence and his providence. Since he, who could preserve or destroy as he pleased, and withal governed the world, ought surely to be depended upon by those who were thus obnoxious to his power, and subject to his government; which dependence could not manifest itself but by acts of worship, homage, and address to the person thus depended upon.

4thly, That this God was to be worshipped, or addressed to, by virtuous and pious practices. For so much his essential holiness required, and those innate notions of turpe et honestum, wrote in the consciences of all men, and joined with the apprehensions they had of the infinite purity of the divine nature, could not but suggest.

5thly, That upon any deviation from virtue and piety, it was the duty of every rational creature so deviating, to condemn, renounce, and be sorry for every such deviation,-that is, in other words, to repent of it. What, indeed, the issue or effect of such a repentance might be, bare reason could not of itself discover, but that a peccant creature should disapprove, and repent of every violation of, and declination from, the rules of just and honest, this, right reason, discoursing upon the stock of its own principles, could not but infer. And the conscience of every man, before it is debauched and hardened by habitual sin, will recoil after the doing of an evil action, and acquit him after a good.

6thly and lastly, That every such deviation from duty rendered the person so deviating liable and obnoxious to punishment. I do not say that it made punishment necessary, but that it made the person so transgressing worthy of it; so that it might justly be inflicted on him, and consequently, ought rationally to be feared and expected by him. And upon this notion, universally fixed in the minds of men, were grounded all their sacrifices, and rites of expiation and lustration. The use of which has been so general, both as to times and

places, that there is no age or nation of the world in which they have not been used as principal parts of religious worship.

Now, these six grand truths were the talent intrusted, and deposited by God in the hands of the Gentiles for them to traffic with, to his honour, and their own happiness. But what little improvement they made of this noble talent, shall now be shewn in the next particular, namely, their holding of it in unrighteousness, which they did several ways. As,

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1. By not acting up to what they knew. As in many things their knowledge was short of the truth, so, almost in all things, their practice fell short of their knowledge. The principles by which they walked, were as much below those by which they judged, as their feet were below their head. By the one they looked upwards, while they placed the other in the dirt. Their writings sufficiently shew what raised and sublime notions they had of the divine nature, while they employed their reason about that glorious object, and what excellent discourses of virtue and morality the same reason enabled them to furnish the world with. But when they came to transcribe these theories into practice, one seemed to be of no other use to them at all, but only to reproach them for the other. For they neither depended upon this God as if he were almighty, nor worshipped him as if they believed him holy; but in both prevaricated with their own principles to that degree that their practice was a direct contradiction to their speculations. For the proof of which, go over all the heathen temples, and take a survey of the absurdities and impieties of their worship, their monstrous sacrifices, their ridiculous rites and ceremonies. In all which, common sense and reason could not but tell them, that the good and gracious God could not be pleased, nor, consequently, worshipped, with any thing barbarous or cruel-nor the most holy God with any thing filthy and unclean God infinitely wise with any thing sottish or ridiculous, and yet these were the worthy qualifications of the heathen worship, even amongst their greatest and most reputed philosophers.

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And then, for the duties of morality; surely they never wanted so much knowledge as to inform and convince them of the unlawfulness of a man's being a murderer, a hater of God, a covenant-breaker, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful. These were enormities branded and condemned by the first and most natural verdict of common humanity; and so very gross and foul, that no man could pretend ignorance that they ought to be avoided by him; and yet the apostle tells us, in the last verse of this chapter, that they practised so much short of their knowledge, even as to these particulars," that though

they knew the judgment of God, that those who committed such things were worthy of death, yet not only did the same themselves, but also had pleasure in those that did them." Which certainly is the greatest demonstration of a mind wholly possessed and even besotted with the love of vice that can possibly be imagined. So notoriously did these wretches balk the judgment of their consciences, even in the plainest and most undeniable duties relating to God, their neighbour, and themselves, as if they had owned neither God nor neighbour, but themselves.

2dly, These men held the truth in unrighteousness, by not improving those known principles into the proper consequences deducible from them. For surely, had they discoursed rightly but upon this one principle, that God was a being infinitely perfect, they could never have been brought to assert or own a multiplicity of gods. For can one god include in him all perfection, and another god include in him all perfection too? Can there be any more than all? and if this all be in one, can it be also in another? Or, if they allot and parcel out several perfections to several deities, do they not, by this, assert contradictions, making a deity only to such a measure perfect; whereas, a deity, as such, implies perfection beyond all measure or limitation? Nor could they, in the next place, have slid into those brutish immoralities of life, had they duly manured those first practical notions and dictates of right reason, which the nature of man is originally furnished with; there being not any one of them, but what is naturally productive of many more. But they quickly stifled and overlaid those infant principles, those seeds of piety and virtue sown by God and nature in their own hearts; so that they brought a voluntary darkness and stupidity upon their minds; and, by not "exercising their senses to discern between good and evil," came at length to lose all sense and discernment of either; whereupon, as the apostle says of them in the 21st verse of this chapter to the Romans, "their foolish heart was darkened" and that not only by the just judg ment of God, but also by the very course of nature nothing being more evident from experience, than that the not using or employing any faculty or power, either of body or soul, does insensibly weaken and impair that faculty; as a sword, by long lying still, will contract a rust, which will not only deface its brightness, but by degrees also consume its very substance. Doing nothing, naturally ends in being nothing.

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It holds in all operative principles whatsoever, but especially in such as relate to morality; in which, not to proceed, is certainly to go backward, there being no third estate between not advancing and retreating in a virtuous course. Growth is of the very

essence and nature of some things. To be, and to thrive, is all one with them; and they know no middle season between their spring and their fall.

And, therefore, as it is said, (Matt. xiii. 12,) "that from him who hath not, shall be taken away even that which he hath ;" so he, who neglects the practice, shall, in the end, also lose the very power and faculty of doing well. That which stops a man's actual breathing very long, will, in the issue, take away his very power of breathing too. To hide one's talent in the ground is to bury it; and the burial of a thing either finds it dead, or will quickly make it so.

3dly, These men held the truth in unrighteousness, by concealing what they knew. For how rightly soever they might conceive of God and of virtue, yet the illiterate multitude, who, in such things, must see with better eyes than their own, or see not all, were never the wiser for it. Whatsoever the inward sentiments of those sophisters were, they kept them wholly to themselves; hiding all those important truths, all those useful notions, from the people, and teaching the world much otherwise from what they judged themselves. Though I think a greater truth than this cannot well be uttered; That never any thing or person was really good, which was good only to itself. But from hence it was, that, even in a literal sense, sin came to be established by a law. For amongst the Gentiles, the laws themselves were the greatest offenders. They made little or no provision for virtue, but very much for vice for the early and universal practice of sin had turned it into a custom, and custom, especially in sin, quickly passed into common law.

Socrates was the only martyr for the testimony of any truth that we read of amongst the heathens, who chose rather to be condemned, and to die, than either to renounce or conceal his judgment touching the unity of the Godhead. But as for the rest of them, even Zeno and Chrysippus, Plato and Aristotle, and generally all those heroes in philosophy, they swam with the stream, (as foul as it ran,) leaving the poor vulgar as ignorant and sottish, as vicious and idolatrous, as they first found them.

But it has been always the practice of the governing cheats of all religions, to keep the people in as gross ignorance as they possibly could; for, we see, the heathen impostors used it before the Christian impostors took it up and improved it. Si populus decipi vult, decipiatur, was ever a gold and silver rule amongst them all, though the Pope's legate first turned it into a benediction; and a very strange one it was, and enough, one would think, to have made all that heard it look about them, and begin to bless themselves. For as Demetrius, a great master in such arts,

told his fellow-artists, (Acts, xix. 25,) "it was by this craft that they got their wealth;" so loug experience has found it true of the unthinking mobile, that the closer they shut their eyes, the wider they open their hands. But this base trade the Church of England always abhorred, and for that cause, as to its temporal advantages, has fared accordingly, and, by this time, may be thought fit for another reformation.

And thus I have shewn three notable ways, by which the philosophers and learned men amongst the Gentiles held the truth in unrighteousness: as first, That they did not practise up to it; 2dly, That they did not improve it; and 3dly and lastly, That they concealed and dissembled it. And this was that which prepared and disposed them to greater enormities; for, "changing the truth of God into a lie," they became like those who, by often repeating a lie to others, came at length to believe it themselves. They owned the idolatrous worship of God so long, till, by degrees, even in spite of reason and nature, they thought that he ought so to be worshipped. But this stopped not here; for as one wickedness is naturally a step and introduction to another, so, from absurd and senseless devotions, they passed into vile affections, practising vices against nature, and that in such strange and abominable instances of sin, that nothing could equal the corruption of their manners, but the delusion of their judgments, both of them the true and proper causes of one another.

The consideration of which, one would think, should make men cautious and fearful how they suppress or debauch that spark of natural light which God has set up in their souls. When nature is in the dark, it will venture to do any thing. And God knows how far the spirit of infatuation may prevail upon the heart, when it comes once to court and love a delusion. Some men hug an error because it gratifies them in a freer enjoyment of their sensuality, and for that reason, God in judgment suffers them to be plunged into fouler and grosser errors, such as even unman and strip them of the very principles of reason and sober discourse. For surely it could be no ordinary declension of nature that could bring some men, after an ingenuous education in arts and philosophy, to place their summum bonum upon their trenchers, and their utmost felicity in wine and women, and those lusts and pleasures which a swine or a goat has as full and quick a sense of, as the greatest statesman or the best philosopher in the world.

Yet this was the custom, this the known voice of most of the Gentiles, Dum vivimus vivamus: "Let us eat and drink to-day, for to-morrow we must die." That soul which God had given them comprehensive of both worlds, and capable of looking into the great

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