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not it's Laws, cannot be Javed. I am forced to suppose the Necessity of Faiths here intended by our Saviour, to be not a literal, not an hypothetical, but a figurative Necessity; implying nothing more than it's great Importance.—I am very sensible this Interpretation will appear to many Persons a most unwarrantable Violence on the plain Words of Scripture. To me it appears natural, and unavoidable. The Reasons, why it appears so, I am now to produce.
It is very usual, in common Speech, to consider Difficulties as Impossibilities: and the greater the Difficulty of which we are speakings the more natural is this Expression. Strictly speaking, nothing is impoj/ible but Contradictions i and yet it is manifest, at first Sight, that, when we pronounce a Thing impossible, we seldom intend to affirm it in this Sense; we only mean to say that it is highly improbable; we only mean a moral, that is, a figurative Impossibility.
Now we have already shewn that Unbelievers are in great Danger of soiling short of Salvation. We have shewn this, on Supposition that Reason was cultivated and improved in ,the best Manner. Both the Motives she proposes, and the Means she, offers, arc incomparably inferior to those of Revelation', and yet even these, great as they, are, are found in Fa£l, far from sufficient to reclaim the .Generality of Mankind. It would not therefore have been strange, if our Saviour had .said, That without Faith in Him no Man can he saved. We; should only have understood (himjn the same qualified Sense, as when he tells us, on another Occasion, That it is easier J.or a Camel to go through the Eye of a Needle, jhan Jos a rich Man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Every one may perceive that such general Expressions ought not to be tied ,dowti to the, literal Sense; but always interpreted with such Restrictions, as the Rea/dn £>f, the Cafe suggests to us.—But this is not all: for in the present Instance the Context itself will notallowus to understand ourSaviour without z further Limitation. Had he affirmed in ^.-.fieral, That all Unbelievers are in a doubtful and dangerous State, he had only affirmed a certain Truth. But his Words do not imply even thus much. They were certainly sjolcen with a peculiar Regard to the aflual State of the World at that Time; and to the vety Persons who received the Gospel from the Hands pf' the-/ Apostles themselves. And in this Viewjt^e-Figure is yet more natural, because the Danger was y«t greater; because the Improbability of such Men's Salvation was without Question exceeding great. If thts yi/ipematural Message, to call them-to Repen
i'" tance, tance, failed of producing it's due Effect; what other Means could ever reclaim them? Or how could it be expected that 'weaker Means should be sufficient, when stronger had been used to no Purpose ?—In this RespeB, and on this Accounts our Saviour might surely affirm, that he who believcth not, /hall be damned.
T o make this Interpretation still more easy, let it be farther considered, that these Effeftsoi Infidelity are not to be estimated by the Event, but by it's natural Tendency. To disbelieve the Christian Religion is in it/elf a Means of Ruin-, however this Ruin may by other Means be prevented. On this Account therefore we cannot wonder that Infidelity is here considered as the Ground and Reason of our Condemnation,
From what has been said, I imagine, it sufficiently appears, that this Explication is not unnatural. But that it is a true Explication, remains yet to be shewn .—-And surely it is some Presumption in it's Favour, that it is both agreeable to Reason, and to other Passages in Holy Scripture. I shall not wast Time in proving the jormer: the latter may perhaps be thought less evident. But, not to insist on the repeated Declarations, that virtuous Men, of all Ages and Nations, shall be favoured of God, and rewarded by him; that H 2 he he is no RefyeEler of Persons, but good to all; and that Heaven and Hell (hall finally be ad* judged according to Men's good or evil Doings: not to insist on all this, I desire it may be observed, that, in those Places where Infidelity is most strongly condemned, it is almost always joined with Impenitence, and Jiippojed to be inseparably connected. I shall only mention one Instance, because it is very remarkable. When our Saviour reproves the Unbelief of some of the principal Cities of judaa, and threatens them with the dire Effects of it, he particularly compares their Cafe with that of the City Nineveh, and affirms the 'at er to be greatly preferable. What now is the Reason ot this Preference? tfbey, says He, repented at the Preaching of Jonah, and behold a greater than Jonah is here. The Sentence is in some Degree Elliptical: but the h'ea ting admits of no Dispute. The yews weie more blameable than the Ninevites; because the latter repented upon the Preaching os Jonah, the former did not repent upon :he Preaching of Christ. It is not then Infidelity as such, but taken in Conjunction with it's natural Attendants, Impenitence and Immorality, to which so dreadful a Portion is allotted in the Life to come.
Still we have defended our Interpetation from Conjecture only; let us at length examine mine the War it themselves.—He that believetb% and is baptized, shall be saved: i. e. To embrace the Christian Religion is the natural Means of obtaining Salvation. Our Saviour did not, and could not intend that all Believers would be saved: hut that Faith in Him put them into the Way of Salvation; that Faith naturally tended to make them holy here, and batty hereafter. For that in the Event it would certainly and infallibly save them, this could by no Means be supposed j because our Saviour knew perfectly well, that many of his Followers would be deficient in Virtue; and without Virtue there is no Salvation,-'-Whoever maintains that this Part of the Text is to be understood universally, without any Exception, will be forced to include under the Word Faith the whole Idea of Evangelical Obedience. And if any Person chuse this Way of interpreting, it comes, in Effect, to thesame Thing. One or the other, I think, is constantly acknowleged by all rational Christians.—Now if the former Part of the Verse is to be thus understood, the latter Part, which exactly corresponds to it, is certainly to be interpreted in a like Manner. He that believetb not, shall be damned: i. e. To rejecJ the Christian Religion is the natural Means of Condemnation. Not that all Unbelievers mail be condemned; but that Infidelity