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And the Times of this Ignorance God winked at, but now commandeth all men every where to repent. HESE words contain a Declaration of
God's most gracious purpose to reform Mankind by the coming of Christ, and at the same time intimate the preference due to His above any former Institution.
In the foregoing Verses the Apostle had been instructing the Athenians in the Nature of the true God, and his universal Providence. He shews them that there is one common Father and Governor of the world, who has made this Earth a fit habitation for the sons of men, and distributed them all over the face of it; who has distinguished the Seasons, and divided the Nations, and fix'd the bounds and periods of each, in so very regular and wise a manner, as might lead all diligent observers of them to a knowledge of their Author; and put them upon seeking out some method of expressing their Devotion to him. Though here in fact, (as the Apostle intimates, *.27.) they. were all but like men wandering in the dark, their notions of the Deity very imperfect and obscurc; their worship highly absurd and irrational. This their Ignorance God was pleased for some time to wink at, (um epidsev) to overlook, disregard, or as it is in a parallèl place, * He suffered them to walk in their orun ways, to wander on in the several mazes into which they had brought themdelves; the various sects of Superstition and Idolatry under which they had fallen : but now he • Acts 14. 16.
commandeth all men every where to repent; or rather publishes, (wagay leadsı) proclaims the Tidings of Salvation to all men upon the easy tems of Repentance; he offers a new Covenant to Mankind in general, from the benefits whereof none are absolutely excluded who sincerely desire them. Tidings, which ought to be received by all, as they were by the first Christians, with Joy and Thankfulness. But how strangely has the face of things been altered, or rather the nature of them inverted since! When through the degeneracy of mankind the benefits of this Divine Institution become restrained to a few People, and even these are taught to despise it, for that very reason which uses to make a benefit the more valuable, namely because it is restrained to themselves.
If, say the present Unbelievers, God has made of one blood all Nations of men, and is no respector of Persons; and if he designs this Revelation for all men, as he must, if it be of so great use and advantage to them ;- Why then is it not actually communicated to all ? - Why did he so long, why does he still, wink at the Ignorance of lo many Nations, and leave them without any means of coming to the Knowledge of his Truth? Can a God of infinite power and wisdom be difappointed in his aim? Or will the common Father of mankind confine his greatest mercies to so few of his Children? And thus every Argument of the superior excellency of our Religion is made an objection to its Divine Authority; and what Mould be a particular motive of Gratitude for having received it, is turned into the strongest reason for rejecting it.
In my following Discourse I shall consider that part of this Objection which relates to the Manner of the Christian Dispensation; the other which more immediately affects the Time of its delivery, being reserved to a more full examination afterwards.
In answer therefore to this part of the foregoing difficulty, I shall endeavour to prove in the first place,
I. That a partial Communication of Christianity can be no particular Objection to its Divine Authority, since the Religion of Nature is on the same foot with it in this respect.
II. I propose to shew the Wisdom and Goodness of the Divine Conduct in the Dispensation of them both: And
III. The great Benefit of complying with the Terms of the Gospel, and the Inexcusableness of rejecting it.
I. I am to Thew that a partial Communication of Christianity can be no particular objection to its Divine Authority, since the Religion of Nature is on the fame foot with it in this respect.
As the all-wise Creator of the Universe has been pleased to frame different Orders of intellectual Beings, so he has made a considerable difference among
those of the same order. In Mankind the case is very evident. We cannot but observe a vast disparity between both the Abilities and Advantages of some men, and those of others; their Tempers of body and Powers of mind, and Circumstances in the world; their Education, Opportunities, and Ways of Life; the Station they are
in, or the Government they live under. - Now these are so many Talents which together make up our portion of Reason, and severally contribute to the forming our Understanding, and improving our Nature. As these then are so very unequally distributed ; 'tis plain that our Religious Notions, or our Law of Nature, must be very different and unequal also. The bounds of Duty will be as various as the degrees of Knowledge in every man, and likewise be enlarged in proportion to the gradual Improvements in the same man.
To speak therefore of one fixt, immutable, and universal Law of Nature, is framing an imaginary Scheme without the least foundation in the real nature of things ; directly contrary to the present order of the whole Creation : 'Tis making the same Rule suit Beings in all. Circumstances; which is equally absurd as to prescribe the same food and phylic to all Constitutions. - To stile this Religion of Nature absolutely perfect, or its Light sufficient, can only mean, that every one may
be as perfect here as God intended him to be, and able to do all that his Maker will require of him, or as much as is sufficient to excuse him from punishment ; which is very true, but nothing to
• Chubb in his late Discourse on Miracles, p. 48, &c. endeavours to invalidate this observation, by asserting, that the two Cases are not parallel, because the one could not have been better constituted; which he thinks cannot be made appear concerning the other. But if it be fhewn that the like or greater Inconveniences would flow from any other affignable way of conveying Revelation (which will be attempted in the following part of this Discourse) then we have as much reason to affert that it could not upon the whole have been conveyed in a better way ; and consequently the objection drawn from its want of Universality, will be of
the purpose : for this kind of Perfection is far from implying an universal, unchangeable Equality in the Law of Nature, or excluding greater Light; since it may be very consistent with that diversity of Talents abovementioned, and those different degrees of Happiness and Perfection, which are founded in, and naturally consequent upon As therefore all the Gifts of Nature are distributed in this partial and unequal manner, How unreasonable is it to object against reveald Religion, for its being conveyed in the very fame manner! One who believed any thing of a God and his Providence, would naturally suppose that if any Revelation were to be made, it would be made according to the same method which is observed in the Government of the natural and moral world; at least, he that allows this method to be consistent with the Belief of a Deity in the one, cannot surely on that account reject the other." Thus much
be sufficient to shew that natural and reveald Religion are upon the same foot in point of Universality, and that the Objection holds equally against both of them. And I have been the more brief on this Head, as it has been fully discussed of late by far more able writers. *
no more force than that from Inequality is in the common Course of Nature ; and the two Cases will still be exactly parallel. Nor can I find the least proof of the contrary in Lord Bolingbroke's late Declamation (Works, vol. 4. p. 293, &c.) except what arises from the arbitrary supposition of some few Divines, and is sufficiently obviated below, p.
* See Bp. Conybeare's, Dr. Foster's, or S. Browne's Defence of Revelation, or Dr. Denne's Serm. on the Propagation of the Gospel ; or more at large in Bp. Butler's Analogy of Religion, &c. pag. 181.215, &c. 8vo.