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to it's utmoft Pitch. We arc now considering the different Degrees of Virtue, which may be supposed to have actually existed, before and since the Coming of Christ. And here surely is no Room for Comparison.—I will but touch very slightly, first on 'Jewish, and then on Gentile Righteousness.—Whatever the Jews might have known, their Notions, in Fa£lt seem to have been miserably deficient. They neither understood their Maker, nor their Fellow Creatures; neither the spiritual Worship, which was acceptable to the former, nor the Universal Benevolence, which was due to the latter—Amidst this general Depravation both of religious and moral Sentiments, we can hardly suppose that particular Persons, however honest and well-disposed, would be able to procure a right Information. The Thing at least must be extremely difficult, considering the Force os Prejudice and the Contagion of Example. And so long as they continued in this Ignorance; it was little less than impossible, to make any considerable Proficience in Virtue.—But now so great is the Alteration introduced by the Gospel, that, upon these capital Points, it is scarce possible for a Christian to judge amiss. Not, I mean, without a wilful Inadvertence, or a criminal Partiality. From whence it follows that a Jew, by embracing Christianity, put himself into a Capacity of arriving at greater Perfection in Goodness; ness; and, by consequence, of obtaining a larger Share of Bliss and Glory in a Future State.
If such was the Condition of the chosen People of God, what shall we think of those, who were Strangers to the Covenant? Amidst all the Errors and Corruptions of the Jews, at the Time of our Saviour's Appearance, Idolatry however could find no Place. The Belief and Worship of the one God had been carefully and religiously preserved among them, ever since their Return from the Babylonian Captivity. Whereas the Heathens not only erred in the Kind but in the Object of their Devotions; and this too almost without Exception. The wisest as well as the weakest concurred with one Consent in the Worship of a Multitude of imaginary Deities, and the NegleSl of the True God.—Whatever then may be said of the Perfection of Natural Religion, if it be true at all, it is true only in Theory. If we form our Judgment from Fact and Experience, we shall find that simple, unassisted Nature had either left Men without any Religion at all, or engaged them, at best, in a false Religion. I do not at present recollect one Instance of a Person not utterly irreligious, who refused to join in the Idolatry of his Country. If they did this against their Conscience j they wanted the Motives of Christianity, to draw them back to their
Duty: Duty: but if, as we are supposing, Men were Idolaters upon Principle; they then wanted the Dofirines of Christianity, to remove their Errors, and set them into a right Way. In either Case they were saved by Faith; because, through Faith in Christ, they were recovered from the grossest Superstition and Follyf to the Love and Fear of Almighty God.
To pursue these Reflections through every Part of Moral Duty would perhaps be going too far. I shall content myself with observing that the Heathens in geneial seem to have had no Notion of that unlimited Benevolence, and that unspotted Purity, which are the Marks and Badges of the Christian Prosession.—Leaving this Observation to support itself, I shall now venture to conclude, from what has been said, that a Good Christian is many Degrees superior to a Good Heathen; and therefore that Faith in Christ contributes in an eminent Degree to the Improvement of our Future Happiness.
It may be of Use to reflect a little on what has been said, that the entire Force of the-Argument may be taken in at one View.—I undertook to prove that the Faith of a Christian conduces both to the Security, and the Improvement of our Happiness in a Life to come. For this Purpose it was necesiary to shew, First, that a Christian is of all Men the most likely to be sincere in the Discharge of his
Duty: Secondly, thatsupposing him sincere, he will arrive at the greatest Degree of PerfeSlion in Virtue. The former secures j the latter
improves his Reward. Each of these
Points I have considered in two different Lights: for first I have shewn the Advantage of Faiths preserably to the highest Attainments of natural Reason ; and secondly in Comparison of the aSlual State of the World before the Coming of Christ. In the former Sense Faith is a Means of Salvation to us, and to all Christians. The latter more peculiarly belongs to those Persons who were converted to Christianity in the first Ages of the Gospel. And it is most frequently in this latter Sense, that Men's Salvation is in Scripture ascribed to Faith. But these, as well as many other Declarations in the New Testament, tho' more emphatically true of the first Christians, are yet in some Sense to be extended to all the Followers of Christ in all Ages.
It is no small Confirmation os the Reasoning I have used, that Experience and History seem to be on the same Side. The great Change of Manners, which was usually effected by Men's Conversion to Christianity, is a strong Proof of the Extent of it's Influence. And for the Reality of such a Change, we have the concurrent Testimony of Friends
and and Enemies. * The very Persecutors themselves, at least in the earliest Ages, could not forbear acknowleging their Virtue, while they condemned their Religion.—But our own Writers represent a Saint and a Christian as, generally speaking, the fame Thing: and, notwithstanding a sew groundless Calumnies, they boldly assert their Freedom from the prevailing Vices of the Age, and challenge their Adversaries to find a Man among them, who was guilty of any one notorious Crime. The Passages to this Purpose in 4Justin and Tertullian are too well known to be cited.—In the New Testament itself, Faith and Repentance are always considered as Things inseparably connected, and mutually productive of each other. In short a Proselyte to the Gospel was a Proselyte to Virtue, and therefore intitled to the Reward of Virtue.
After what has been said, I shall add but a very few Words with regard to the Sufficiency of Christian Faith. If it only produce those good Effects, which it is naturally fitted to produce, it will certainly be able to save our Souls. But if these Effects are prevented by our Carelessness or Obstinacy; we cannot be said to sail of Salvation through the Insufficiency
• It would be Loss of Time to insert Passages that have been so often quoted. Let me just observe that Pliny and Lueian (de Mort. Pcregr.) arc unexceptionable Witnesses; the former being a Persecutor, the latter a DeriJer os Christianity.