« AnteriorContinuar »
different Enquiry 5. Though perhaps something might be faid in favour of the present Times, in both respects. been always capable of receiving all the Light [Winder, V. 2. P-336.] from each religious Institution, which it was fitted ever to convey, just at the Time when it was first introduced into the World. It may perhaps be deem'd sufficient if they, to whom any such was given, were so far qualified to hear and profit by it, (Considerations, p.173.) as to receive somewhat of it themselves, and hand it down to others in a competent Degree of Purity, and give it such a sure Foundation in the World, as may support it till all Circumftances fhall concur which must contribute to its Fulness, and carry it on to a State of Maturity. Many of these Circumstances feem for some time to have been concurring in some parts of the World, and therefore may be look'd on as so many natural Means cooperating to produce this Effect there, in the general Theory of Religion; allowing for the Variations iffuing from that Principle of Freedom abovemention'd. And if we view the present Growth of Science in these parts of the World which we are best acquainted with, and the established Methods of preserving and perpetuating it; remembering the Connection each of these bas with the rest, and with any religious Enquiries, as well as others to which they may be apply'd; to which Application likewise we seem to be now no less disposed : -- considering this, I say, 'tis scarcely possible to think that such Improvements should either themselves be ever wholly lost among Mankind, or not become the Means of railing and refining others, and thereby of accelerating a certain Progress, and advancing it to greater Heights in that of religious, as well as every Branch of common Knowledge ; at least that this ap, pears to be on the recovering hand, (though under some degree of Struggle) and rising higher and faster by their Means, than it could ever be conceiv'd to rise without chem: which is, I humbly apprehend, as much as I am concern'd to maintain at present.
b. It does appear to me very probable, to say the least, " that Jews and Christians, notwithstanding all their Vices and Corruptions, have, upon the whole, been always bet
ter than Heathens and Unbelievers. It seems to me also, ! that as the Knowledge of true, pure, and perfea Religion is advanced and diffused more and more every day, so the
Practile First, That we exceed the wisest among ancient Heathens, who either practised, or at least permitted, and connived at the Worship of monstrous Deities, and most unnatural Rites, is readily allow'd ; and with reason attributed to the Superiority of the Christian Dispensation ; in comparison with which, former Ages are justly term'd Days of Darkness : and that we of the Reformation, as much excell the dark Times of Monkery, in rational true Piety, might perhaps be as easily granted ; and with equal Justice afcribed to the superior Knowledge that we have of our own Dispensation. We have indeed less Shew and Ceremony, now than ever ; less of the Form of Godliness in general; but ’tis hoped, not less of the real Power. Unprofitable Austerities are rather chang'd for that more reasonable Service, and refined Devotion, which renders the Deity amiable, and the Imitation of him useful to Mankind; which makes each Worshipper more happy in himself, and helpful to his Fellow
Practise of it corresponds thereto: But then this, from the • Nature of the Thing, is a Fact of a less obvious kind; howa • ever, if it be true, it will become manifest in due time:
Let us suppose a person to maintain that Civil Govern ment, the Arts of Life, Medicines, &c. have never been of use to Mankind, because it does not appear from any ! certain Calculation, that the Sum total of Health and Hap
piness is greater among the polite Nations, than among the barbarous ones. Would it not be thought a sufficient An• swer to this, to appeal to the obvious good Effects of these • Things in innumerable Instances, without entering into a
Calculation impoflible to be made? However, it does here
also appear, that, as far as we are able to judge, civilized • Countries are, upon the whole, in a more happy State;
than barbarous ones, in all these respects,' Hartley's Observations on Man, &c. V.2. p. 176.
Creatures. There seems to be much less of Superftition, and Reliance on such Things as can at best be but Means to Religion, and often hardly that:
; nay rather tend to take Men off the proper Principle, and substitute another very
different in its room ; teaching them to compound for real Goodness, the Substance of all true Religion, by that which has not so much as even its Shadow
; and leading them to contend about that, with such a Temper, as could not possibly be exereifed, or entertain'd, in any Thing that bore a near relation to the other. It seems, I say, as if there were less of all this, and that there would be less yet, would all those who perceive its Remains, unite in Opposition to it, with that Zeal and Soberness, which true Religion only can inspire.
c. They take very unprofitable pains, who endeavour to perswade Men that they așe obliged wholly to despise this · World and all that is in it, even whilst they themselves live • here. God hath not taken all that pains in forming and
framing and furnishing this World, that they who were made by him to live in it should despise it ; it will be enough if they do not love it so immoderately, as to prefer it
before him who made it: Nor shall we endeavour to ex• tend the Notions of the Stoick Philosophers, and to stretch
them farther by the help of Christian Precepts, to the ex: ' tinguishing all those Affections and Passions which are and * will always be inseparable from human Nature; and which ' it were to be wished that many Christians could govern • and suppress and regulate as well as many of those Hea
then Philosophers used to do. As long as the World lafts, and Honour and Virtue and Industry have Reputation in . the World, there will be Ambition and Emulation and • Appetite in the best and most accomplished Men who live
in it; if there should not be, more Barbarity and Vice and • Wickedness would cover every Nation of the World than . it yet suffers under. If wife and honest and virtuously disposed Men quit the Field, and leave the World to the Pillage, and the Manners of it to the Deformation of Persons dedicated to Rapine, Luxury, and Injustice, how favage • muft it grow in half an Age? Nor will the best of Princes
be able to govern and preserve their Subjects, if the best < Men be without Ambition and Desire to be employed and trufted by them.' Ld. Clarendon, Ef, Mor, & Div. p. 96. Fol,
As to that Spirit of Infidelity, which so remark. ably prevails at present, they who are confident that they understand Religion thoroughly, and profess it in its utmost Purity, must condemn this Humour of examining all parts of it, as abfolutely bad, and of pernicious Consequence: they who are not so fanguine, will conclude that there are very good Ends to be serv'd by it; whatever be the Fate, or the Intent, of such (and such it must be own'd there are) as most injuriously oppose Religion: These believe that there is the Tame Necessity for suffering this Heretical Turn in general, as for any particular Herefies; and that thereby already Truths of great Importance are made manifeft. They fee and lament the Consequences of long neglecting to review Establishments ; and suffering the publick Wisdom of past Ages to serve here, and here only, for all following ones“. They think there has been so much
a. But there are few Christian Princes who lay this to heart, and Divines have quite other things in their thoughts:
great Business is to maintain what is establish'd, and 'to dispute with those who find fault with it. On the other
hand, Knowledge or Resolution is wanting ; and there is not enough of Honesty or Greatness of Soul to confess the • Truth. Few Writers have the courage to speak so impar
tially, as the famous Author of the History of the Refor. mation in England has done, in the Preface to his second · Volume. It is thought by many Persons, that all would be ' ruin'd if the least Alteration was made. Some of these De
Wood, Hay, Stubble built on the Foundation, as must take a considerable Time to be removed ; especially when they see some got no farther yet, than to doubt whether there be occasion to have any thing at all removed; or even to deny that there is reason, either for attempting, or so much as wishing, farther Reformation. They observe Light, and Liberty at the same time advancing with an equal pace, and affording their mutual Help; as they do generally *, to separate these, from the Gold, Silver, Precious Stones ; many having taken the Fan in hand, and resolv'd thoroughly to purge the Floor ; though some be apt to throw away part of the good Seed, together with the Chaf ; which also generally has been che case, and is a very natural one.
Secondly, As to the present Morals, it may perhaps be a Question whether they grow worse upon the whole, when it is consider'd, that the
feets -- are now become inviolable Cuftoms and Laws. “Every body fancies true and pure Christianity to be that
which obtains in his Country, or in the Society he lives in; and it is not so much as put to the Question, whether or not some things should be altered. As long as Christians are possessed with these Prejudices, we must not expect to
see Christianity restored to an entire Purity.' Causes of the present Corruption of Christians, Part 2. pag. 271. How applicable these Reflections are to the present Age, and this Nation in particular, may perhaps be determin'd by the Reception which a fair, well-meant Proposal for fome farther Reformation thall meet with. See Free and candid Disquisitions, printed for A. Millar, 1749. with the Appeals and Supplements. To which add an excellent Dedication by the eminent Author of the Esay on Spirit, and Dr. Hartley, V. 2. prop. 82. p.370, &c. and Mr. Fortin, paffim.
* See Dr. Winder's Description of the Benefits of Liberty civil and religious. Hift. of Knowl. V. 2. c. 21. S.3.