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nature; while the passions and affections have acquired, from the same cause, as great an addition of strength. Men so circumstanced are generally first moved by something which they love or hate, and then judge as they are affected. Hence they unavoidably will, and experience shews us, they actually do, explain the Scriptures in quite opposite senses, especially when they read under the influence of opposite principles, previously espoused; nay, and read with no other view, than either to rivet themselves in those principles, or to accommodate the Scriptures to them in their own imaginations. Thus two men shall have two creeds, contradictory from beginning to end; and each shall have a right to call his own he true creed, and father it on the word of God, which tells us, there is but one faith.'
God, no doubt, intended we should make a free use of our reason in reading his word; which, did we make, we could never materially differ about the articles of our faith, which is there set forth as one, and that with sufficient plain
But let not every man, call that his reason, which is nothing else but his imagination, or at best his understanding, working under the guidance of his own favourite opinions and prejudices, perhaps even his unruly passions and affections.
Neither let him dare, even supposing his reason wholly unprejudiced and unbiassed, to say, this doctrine of Scripture I will not receive, because it appears unaccountable; nor that, because it seems unreasonable, for that is the same as to say, the God of truth is not to be believed on his word, unless the poor short-sigthed wretch he speaks to, can demonstrate the consistency of what his Maker utters; or that the Almighty is not to be obeyed, but when his creature and servant can see sufficient rectitude in his command to make the matter of it obligatory, though it had never been enjoined. Nay, it is the same as to say, I do believe the Scriptures to be the word of God, but I will only believe such parts of that word, as square with my own judgment. That is, you believe what God says in general, but deliberate on what he says in particular, and sometimes doubt of it or deny it. But know you not, that your reason, as well as your will, is to obey when God speaks? Does not God command believe? And what can the obedience of reason consist in,
but in its submission to the infinitely higher wisdom of God? Or how can this obediencé be ever proved or shewn, if you will believe nothing he declares to you, but so far only as you can account for its consistency, or demonstrate its truth? Know, vain man, that faith is obedience, and that, as Christ tells you, this is the work of God, that you believe on him whom he hath sent. You profess yourself a Christian, but argue here as a Deist. You cannot be both. However, as a Deist, tell us, is there nothing too high for your reason in that natural religion, which you plainly prefer to revelation? Can you tell us, why infinitely communicative goodness suffered one half of eternity (for every moment equally divides it into two) to pass ere any creature was brought into being? Can you, without revelation, shew how infinite justice consists in the Divine mind with infinite mercy? Are you able to shew, how God certainly foresaw what every man freely does? The Scriptures apart, are you able to tell us, how it came to pass, that all mankind are corrupt, wicked, and mortal, although so universally and violently attached to happiness and life? Are you able to prove yourself, either a free, or a necessary agent? Till the difficulties of natural religion are cleared up by your reason, do not too hastily bring it for a test of the revealed.
Is it not enough for faith, that God asserts ? Is it not enough for duty, that God commands ? Is not this enough for the faith of a creature, utterly incapable of accounting
any thing? Is it not enough for the duty of a creature, altogether incapable of subsisting a single moment in a state of independence? What God says, is sufficiently accounted for by his saying it, and whatsoever he commands, is sufficiently authorized by his commanding it. He does not speak to puzzle, nor command merely to shew his power; and . therefore all that the understanding and will of the most enlightened man on earth hath to do, when God either asserts or commands, is to believe and obey.
Thus thought the patriarch Abraham. He was a hundred years old, and his wife ninety, when God told him, she should bear him a son. On this most amazing declaration, he did not desire God to account either for the possibility, or the means, of performing the promise, which, in those respects, was perfectly mysterious and unintelligible to him.
All he understood, and this he did understand perfectly well, was, that God had promised him a son by Sarah; that from that son'a great nation should descend ;' and that in his seed,' by that son, all the nations of the earth should be blessed.' This was all God intended he should apprehend. This he did apprehend, and this he firmly believed, his reason not in the least presuming to interfere any farther, than fully to persuade him, that astonishing as the promise appeared to be, God was able to perform it, and that he would certainly perform it he did most firmly believe, and his faith was counted to him for righteousness.'
On an infinitely more trying occasion, more shocking to his understanding, and more grating to his most tender affections, when God, after all the promises of a numerous posterity by his son Isaac, commanded him to slay that very son with his own hands; he neither doubted concerning the performance of those promises, nor disputed the justice of the command. He never thought of asking, how God's performance and his obedience could be reconciled. If his reason intermeddled at all with the inscrutable mystery, it was only to satisfy him, that God 'could raise up his son from the dead,' as St. Paul observes, and fulfil the promises in him after his resurrection. The hope of a resurrection was all the relief his faith could possibly afford itself on the bewildering occasion. Yet what sort of a relief was this? To believe that his son should come to life again! a thing most incredible in itself! that had never get happened! that had not (for aught that appears) been ever yet promised ! or if promised, to be performed too late for the hope of posterity!
What now should our libertine Christian, our subtle artist at interpretations, have done, supposing him in Abraham's place ? On his principles, he must at first have denied, that God had given him any such command, because truly he could have had no proof of this so strong, as he hath, that the eternal law of nature is indispensable even by the Deity himself; or that this palpable impossibility, Isaac shall immediately die, and yet Isaac shall have a numerous posterity, could ever be effected. No, he must say, God hath given me reason to judge in all things within the verge of my capacity, and my reason tells me, that if my son, now
childless, is put to death, he never can have any issue, and therefore I must be excused, if I do not believe it is. God who promises the issue, and yet commands the death. Such absurdities my reason cannot digest, nor could God ever require it should. Much less can I suppose, the just God should order me to imbrue my hands in the blood of my own innocent son. By the indispensable law, he hath impressed on my nature, he hath obliged me to cherish and preserve the life of my child. He cannot, therefore, bid me kill him. He cannot give law against law, nor by any revelation order me to violate that law which binds himself as well as me. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? And can it be right to command any one to do that which is wrong? From all this, I conclude, that either I am deceived in fancying any one hath given me this cruel command, or, that thou who hast given it art the true God indeed.
But as God could easily refute this conclusion, and prove that he had a right to dispense with the laws imposed on his creatures, and that he himself had actually given the command, what then must the libertine Christian do? Will he obey? No, his eternal law is not to be dispensed with. He must not even will the deed. All the relief he hath left, is to screw some other meaning out of the words, which, what it shall be, or how he will manage the matter, he only can tell, who hath often performed exploits as extraordinary of the same kind; hath, for instance, demonstrated from Scripture, directly against the express words of Scripture, that there are more gods than one; and that we may pray to, and worship the creature, even as the Creator.
Should he, however, utterly disclaim all shifts of this kind, and declare, that did God appear to him, and actually give him the command in the same words he is said to have given it to Abraham, he would instantly believe and obey; we then ask him, does he not firmly believe the command was really given? If he does, what comes of the office be assigns to his reason, whereby, under pretence of only interpreting, he gives her authority to control and dictate to, the word of God? Is the supremacy he invests her with, more justifiable in any case, for instance, in that of the Trinity, or the incarnation of Christ, than in this? If in this it is
perfectly absurd and impious, how can he maintain it in other doctrines, wherein his principles will be much less distressed for want of it?
Is it at all so difficult, or so seemingly contrary to reason, to believe, that in God, who is infinitely more incomprehensible in his nature than in his promises or commands, there may be three
persons, as it is to believe, that a man who is instantly to die childless, shall have a numerous issue; or that the sacrifice of an innocent son by the hands of his own father, can be most highly pleasing in the sight of infinite goodness ? Surely it is not. Yet we see the faith of Abraham, founded on the promises of God, and his obedience rendered against nature, are repeatedly approved of in the strongest terms by the Holy Ghost, in a case where reason is utterly lost, and where the natural law is directly violated; and why approved ? but because it was God who promised and can perform against all appearances of impossibility; and God who commanded, and ought to be obeyed against every tie of nature, if he requires it. Abraham believed that which to common sense is incredible; trusted in an event which mere reason pronounces impossible; performed an action, or willed it, which is naturally unlawful; and his faith was counted to him for righteousness, because he believed in and obeyed God, which rendered his faith rational, and his obedience dutiful.
Attend to this, you who call yourself a Christian, and take the Bible for the rule both of your faith and practice, but ‘lean, nevertheless, to your own understanding,' as often as that sacred book appears to oppose it. Instead of endeavouring to warp the Bible to your reason, submit your reason to the Bible, if you really believe it to be the word of God. Strain not for interpretations. Take plain assertions or declarations in their obvious sense. Consider what you read as a revelation, made by God, who knows all things, to you
who know but few things, and those perhaps imperfectly, that you may bring your mind to this short infallible conclusion, if God and I differ, I must be in the wrong. Prepare your ear and your understanding for him who made, and may be safely trusted with both.
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the Lord hath spoken;' and what he hath spoken, who shall disbe