« AnteriorContinuar »
exist together, may preserve the same Uniformity in point of Succession too; may follow upon each other, in no less regular Progress, in a growing Happiness, through all Eternity; and thus the whole Creation be every way for ever beautifying in its Maker's Eye, and drawing nearer to him by Degrees of Resemblance; as is suggested by an elegant Writer *:
To these Deductions of Reason, Revelation adds new Light, and Confirmation; (as it is in like manner itself illustrated, and established by them ;) it carries on, and compleats the Notices of Natural Religion, and improves the Prospect, by express Declarations of the unlimited Goodness of our Creator, towards all his Works; by giving us in particular, a positive Assurance, that we shall be exactly disposed of in another State, according to our respective Deserts, and Qualifications: fixing and ascertaining our Hopes of arriving at those blessed Manhons, where we shall find room for the free exercise, and full enjoyment, of each good Moral Habit, and intellectual Accomplishment: furnishing ample Motives for our Perseverance in this Course, and guarding against every Deviation from it; especially against that very dangerous Attendant on the noblest Difpositions, Pride, and Self-sufficiency: keeping us in a strict Dependence on that God who is to be both our Guide thither, and our great Reward there; in whose Hands we always are, and ought to with ourselves; and to whose Bounty alone we owe,
and should be always very sensible that we do owe, every good and every perfe&t Gift*.
Lastly, the more we trace the Ways. of Providence in the Moral World, as also the Manner of conducting every Dispensation of Revealed Religion ; (and we have had much better Means of tracing each of them ;) we see more of the Designs, and Purposes of each, than those before us could; and from the Manner in which this Profpect has already open'd, have Ground to think it will still more and more enlarge ; and though we are yet far from being able to comprehend the whole Scheme, (which is not to be wonderd at in Beings which so lately sprung from Nothing;) yet we do comprehend enough already, to convince
that there is a wife and good one, laid from the Beginning, and executed in a regular Gradation ; and from thence also can infer, that it will still be farther answering its several Ends, and still appearing more to do so: that the Manner how this is to receive its Completion will unfold itself, as we proceed in the Study of it; adding our own Observations to those of Times past, and comparing Spiritual things with Spiritual: as we do those of the Natural World with one another ; whereby we have discover'd several of its general Laws, unknown to former Ages, and probably by them judg'd undiscoverable : and from some others, just beginning to discover themselves, find more room daily to believe, that the Cafe will be the same with those who Mall come after us.
And thus it may be made appear, that the Means of Knowledge natural, mcral, and revealed, * James 1.17.
have been imparted in a 'much more ample Manner than ever to us, on whom the Ends of the World are come. Why a more proper Application of them does not follow ; why a proportional Improvement of these fame Advantages is not at all times made ; as this seems not to have a necessary Connection with the former, it must be accounted for on other Principles“. Whether by
a. The same grand Principle of Human Liberty, which renders-it morally impoflible for any thing relating to the Minds or Circumstances of Mankind, to remain long in a State of perfect Uniformity, as observ'd above (Part 1. p. 13. Note dį may go a good way towards accounting for thac partial and unequal manner of implanting, propagating, and preserving any religious Notices among Mankind, from the Beginning of the World to this Day; as well as for their various Degrees of either improving under, or neglecting and abusing these, together with all the other Gifts of Providence,
and thereby making way for farther Dispensations in fucceeding Ages, suitable thereto : And though I am senfible that what has been advanc'd with regard to the Suitableness of every Dispensation to the Exigences of the World, and so as to effect a gradual Improvement, in the most
general Sense, may seem at first sight to require a great many Qualifications, from the long Reign of Idolatry before, and during the Jewish Establishment, and from the like lamentable State of Paganism still, together with that of Popery and Mohammedism, under the Gospel : yet even granting this in its full Force, allowing both for every general Corruption of Religion through most of the Climes and Ages of the World, and the particular Degeneracy thereof in several Parts and Periods of the same : — yet if we judge of its State, [ as we use to form a Standard for Human Nature] not from the Yery worst and most brutal parts thereof, or from Places where it lies under the moft unnatural Restraints ; but rather from the best point of Light, in which it may be placed among the wiser and more fober part of its Professors in each Sect; and measure its proficiency in some of those Nations where common Sense has had room to exert itself, and common Honesty and Ingenuity been suffer’d to mix with it in any Degree: -- where the free Use of the Un
derstanding all these Means the World might, and ought to have more true Religion, and found Morals, now derstanding has been once admitted in religious Matters: [and where this is not the case with any people, Religion is quite out of the question, being no more concern'd in their Affairs than as mere Matter of Form, or some political Machine) If we take such a View of Religion, and put the beft Sense on each point which it seems capable of, and which the ableft of its Advocates admit or have advanc'd in its Defence (without which we are only going to delude ourselves] - If we allow their due Weight to those dif. ferent Gloffes, put upon some of its oddeft Points of Doctrine and Discipline, its seemingly unaccountable Rites and Ceremonies ; -and to the several specious Motives for eithbi tolerating or establishing such among a People ftupid enougu to approve them, and scarce capable of relishing better : 16 we make our Enquiry into the State and Progress of Religion through the World in this fair and free Manner, and take care to set out low enough at first, much lower I conceive than has been commonly imagin'd, (I mean not so much in respect of the Divine Revelations themselves, as Mens Capacity of reasoning upon them, and their Disposition to apply them) if we reflect on the fame flow gradual Increase of Corruptions in this and everı her point, and their as flow and gradual Remedy:- if we consider the many difficulties that attend the railing and keeping up a tolerable Spirit of Liberty and Ingenuity in any People for any time : -- the many dangerous Abuses to which Liberty itself lies constantly exposed : -- the difficulty of preserving proper Care and Industry, - a right Sense of and Attention to their Intereits; - a Purity of Morals and Integrity of Heart ; -- or of restoring these in any Country where they have begun to de cline; if we reflect upon the World's continual proneness and propensity to a decline in these respects, -- together with the Causes of all this ; -- we thall not, I believe, be much furprized at the same happening in Religion; or imagine its Course to be either unconformable to, or altogether unconnected with that of all comman Things about us. Again, as its evident Connection with some of the things above mention'd must oblige us to allow of frequent Lets, and long Retrogradations in the Courfe of religious Knowledge, in molt parts of the World; fo the Relation which it bears, and the Advantage it receives from others, may perhaps autho
than formerly, will scarcely admit a Doubt : but whether it actually has or not, becomes a very
rise us to suppose that this Course, like to that of theirs, will notwithstanding such still be in the main, and at the longrun appear to have been, really progreffive. Thus from the very Nature and Importance of the foremention'd Benefits, it feems, that when these once get footing any where, they will gain ground, and propagate themselves to other places, and draw along with them every thing of Consequence that has a near relation to them; and when Religious Knowledge ftands in this relation, as it does often unavoidably, it mult even in the common course of things (contrary to the Natore of mere Ignorance, or Matters of empty Speculation and
Pe Curiosity) it will support and spread its main and most important Branches, [such as the Supremacy and Superintendence of some one God, and a S. e of final Retribution, &c. which have been, and are eve" where preserv'd among the Heathen. See Part I. p.32. ane rot. de V.R. C. lib.4.c.12.] and thereby both promote and itself promoted by the general Advances of the World, and synchronize with most of its more valuable Improvements. (see Dr. Hartley's Observ.V.1. P.366.] That this must be the Case in some degree, we seem to have fufficient grounds fori proving à priori : and from a true State of the Falt, wlau y its Circumstances, 'tis probable, that this would not appear, even now, to be fo very repugnant to it on the whole. However, that some time or other poffibly we may discover things to stand thus, or at least have room to suppose that they appear so in the Eye of the great Governour of the Universe, who seeth not in this respect as Man Seeth. 'Tis plain, all Times and Places are not equally adapted to the introduction of Discoveries either in common Science or Religion : and it seems no less clear from what we now know of the whole Jewish Dispensation, and the frequent Revelations that accompanied it; ( which were at first all put under a carnal Cover, in order to engage the warmest of their Affections, and induce them to take that care, which otherwise they would not have taken in the keeping of them; (See Lowth's Directions, p. 161, &c.) and afterwards these were unfolded by degrees, and illustrated as the Day-Star began to arise in their Hearts ;) and from what has been observ'd of the Age wherein Christianity itself was published, (Confiderations, p.142–6.148–9. 173.) that Men have not · P