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E S S A Y II.
On the importance of revealed truth; the duty of reading the Scriptures; and the manner in which they should be read.
As the Bible may be unanswerably proved to. be the word of God, we should reason from it as from self-evident principles or demonstrated truths: for “His testimony is sure, making wise “the simple.” Many parts of Scripture accord so well with the conclusions of our rational powers, when duly exercised, that either they might have been known without revelation, or else men have mistaken the capacity of perceiving truth for that of discovering it. Hence various controversies have arisen about natural religion, which many suppose to be rather taken for granted, than made known, by revelation. But the term is ambiguous: for the word natural includes the propensities of our hearts, as well as the powers of our understandings; and . the same to uths which accord to the latter, are often totally opposite to the former, The gen
tiles might have known many things concerning God and his will, if they had “liked to retain “him in their knowledge;” but their alienation of heart from him prevailed to keep them in ignorance, or entangle them in error. So that the religion of reason would express the idea much more intelligibly. . This, however, is obvious, that many truths and precepts which are found in the Bible, have been maintained by persons who were ignorant of divine revelation, or rejected it, or did not choose to own their obligations to it: and many others, who profess to receive the Scriptures as the word: of God, assent to some truths contained in them, not so much because they are revealed, as because they think that they may be proved by other arguments; whereas, they discard, neglect, or explain away, those doctrines, which are not thus evident to their reason, or level with their capacities. So that at last it comes to this, that they reject all that is thought peculiar to revelation; and refuse to believe the testimony of God, if their own reason will not vouch for the truth of what he says. . It may indeed be questioned, whether those opinions, which men so confidently magnify as the oracles of reason, were not originally, without exception, borrowed from revelation, as far as there is any truth in them; and it is evident, that they cannot possess sufficient certainty, clearness,
and authority, to render them efficacious principles of action, except as enforced by revelation and its awful sanctions. The wildest enthusiast never dreamed of a grosser absurdity than they maintain, who suppose that the only wise God hath given a revelation to man, confirmed by miracles and prophecies, and established in the world by the labours and sufferings of his servants, and the crucifixion of his well-beloved Son; and that this revelation at last is found to contain nothing, but what we might have known as well without it! Nay, that it is expressed in such language, as has given occasion to those, who have most implicitly believed and reverentially obeyed it, to maintain sentiments, and adopt practices, erroneous and evil in themselves, and of fatal consequence to mankind We might, therefore, previously have expected that a revelation from God should illustrate, confirm, and enforce such things, as seem more level to our natural powers: and that it should make known to us many important matters, which we could not have otherwise discovered; and which would be found exceedingly different from all our notions and imaginations; seeing that our contracted views and limited capacities fall infinitely short of the omniscience of God. So that it is most reasonable to conclude, that the doctrinal truths, which more immediately relate to the di
vine nature, perfections, providence, and governWol. W. P
ment; the invisible and eternal world; and the mysteries of redemption, constitute by far the most important part of revelation; as discovering to us those things “which eye hath not seen, nor “ear heard, neither have they entered into the “heart of man;” and which are at the same time essentially connected with our present hope, worship, and duty, and with our future happiness or misery. He therefore cannot, according to the common use of language, be called a believer, who only holds those doctrines which he regards as the dictates of reason as well as of revelation; whilst he rejects the testimony of God whenever he deems it unreasonable. And we may hence learn, what judgment to form of those who affirm without hesitation, that the moral precepts and sanctions, with the more evident truths of the Bible, are the only important part of it; that it is of little consequence what men believe, especially concerning those things which are in any degree mysterious; and that none but narrow bigots, and weak and ignorant people, lay any stress upon speculative opinions. “He that believeth not, maketh. God “a liar;” especially he that believeth not the testimony which God hath given of his Son, and of eternal life bestowed on sinners through him;’ this is the uniform doctrine of Scripture, and to contradict it is equivalent to a total rejection of
* John iii. 12–21, 31–36. 1 John v. 9–12.
divine revelation. Can it be supposed that the prophets and apostles were commissioned, and that the Son of God was manifested in the flesh, died on the cross, and rose from the dead, merely to inform mankind, that the Lord approved honesty, temperance, truth, and kindness, and disapproved the contrary vices? Or that the unnumbered testimonies, which the Scriptures contain, to the mysteries of the Divine Nature, the Person of the Redeemer, the work of redemption, and the influences of the Holy Spirit, may, without any criminality, be disbelieved, derided, or reviled; provided men are moral in their conduct towards one another? and that God is equally pleased with those who thus affront his veracity, as with them who implicitly submit to his teaching, and credit his testimony ? If this be the case, in what does the difference between the infidel and the believer consist? All, except avowed atheists, will allow the propriety of many precepts, and the truth of some doctrines, coinciding with those of the Scriptures: but the infidel admits them as the dictates of reason, not as the testimony of God; and the pretended believer rejects all, without hesitation, that appears not to accord with the same 'standard. Thus both of them believe their own reasonings, “lean to their own understandings,” and “make God a liar,” when his testimony contradicts their self-confident decisions. It appears, therefore, that the prevailing notion, of the