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bottom common sense might not fathom, there were no urgent cause why we should derive it from heaven, or why we should not rather deem it the invention of some witty or subtile man. But such a doctrine as this, which as it telleth us nothing about divine things, that contradicteth reason, so it informeth us many things, which no understanding of man had ever conceived, none can penetrate, we may justly presume to come from a superior wisdom, we must at least avow it worthy of God; in the contrivances of man's wit or fancy about things of this nature, as in divers instances it hath happened, most probably many flaws and incongruities presently would have appeared; they would have clashed with themselves, or with the dictates of common reason : that, for instance, God should out of his own bosom send down his eternal son to partake of our nature, and appear in our flesh, that with utmost advantage he might discover God's will and merciful intentions toward us, that he might set before us an exact pattern of good life; that by his obedience and patience he might expiate our sin, and reconcile God to mankind; that he might raise in us a hope of, and lead us in the way to happiness; this indeed is a mystery, and a depth of wisdom, which we should never have thought of, nor can yet thoroughly sound by thinking, which we better may admire than we can understand: but neither doth good reason disallow it, nor can disprove it; yea, good reason so far confirmeth it, as it cannot but admit it to import nothing but that which is plainly true and most credible, the immense goodness and justice of God; concerning which nothing ought to seem strange or uncouth to us, since even by the care expressed in matters of ordinary providence divine goodness appeareth so unaccountably vast and high, that upon consideration thereof worthily might Job and the Psalmist exclaim ; “ What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? and that thou shouldest set thy heart upon him? Lord, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him? or the son of man, that thou makest such account of him ?”
Now thus to instil into the minds of men a right and worthy notion of God, is palpably a great excellency of any doctrine or religion: for beside that a true knowledge of God, even barely considered as in way of theory most perfective of our understanding, it being conversant upon the noblest object of contemplation, is in itself very desirable ; and upon the same ground error in divine things is no small evil or defect; both these, such knowledge and such error respectively, are very considerable, as having a powerful influence upon action ; for according to men's conceptions about God is their practice, religious and moral, very much regulated ; if men conceive well of God, they will be guided and moved thereby to render him a worship and an obedience worthy of him, and acceptable to him ; if they are ignorant of him, or mistake about him, they will accordingly perform services to him, or pretences of service, which shall neither become him nor please him ; God by such misconceptions being transformed into an idol, their religion will become vile or vain superstition. And since all men apprehend the example of God a perfect rule of action, that they cannot do better than to resemble and imitate him, such as they conceive God to be, such in good measure they will endeavour to be themselves, both in their disposition and demeanour; whence infallibly the virtues and defects which lie in their notion, will exert and diffuse themselves into their life.
2. A second great excellency peculiar to the Christian institution is this, that it faithfully informeth us concerning ourselves, concerning our nature, our original, our end, all our state, past, present, and final; points about which otherwise by no reason, no history, no experience we could be well resolved or satisfied : it teacheth us that we consist of a frail mortal body, taken from the earth and fashioned by God's hand, and of an immortal spirit, derived from heaven, and breathed out of God's mouth ; whereby we understand the dignity of our nature and nobleness of our descent, our near alliance and our great obligation to God; and
consequently how it concerneth us to behave ourselves, both in regard to God and toward ourselves, in a manner answerable to such a relation, worthy of such an high birth and quality : it sheweth us that we were originally designed by a voluntary obedience to glorify our maker, and in so doing to partake of joy and felicity from him ; that accordingly we were created in a state agreeable to those purposes, wherein we were fit to serve God, and capable thereby ever to continue happy: but that by our unworthy distrust and wilful disobedience we cast ourselves from thence, and lapsed into this wretched state of inward blindness, error, and disorder, of outward frailty, sorrow, and trouble : it acquainteth us farther, how being thus estranged from God, and exposed to the effects of his just displeasure, we are yet again, by his exceeding mercy and favour, put into a capacity of recovering ourselves, of being reinstated in a condition happy far beyond that from which we fell, by returning unto God and complying with his will declared unto us; as also how continuing obstinately in our degeneracy and disobedience we shall assuredly plunge ourselves deeper into an abyss of endless misery : it fully representeth unto us what shall be our future state and final doom, how it shall be suited to our demeanours and deserts in this life; what a strict trial, what a severe judgment, all our actions, even our passant words and our secret thoughts, must hereafter undergo ; and how, upon the result, we shall become either exceedingly happy or extremely miserable for ever. It is indeed this doctrine only, which fully resolveth us about this weighty inquiry, which hath so much perplexed all men, and with so much irresolution exercised philosophers, wherein the final end and happiness of man consisteth, and what is the
way of attaining it; assuring us that it consisteth not in
any of these transitory things, nor in a confluence of them all, but in the favour and the enjoyment of God, with the blessings flowing thence; that this happiness is only by a sincere and constant obedience to God's holy laws, or by the practice of such a piety and such a virtue which this doctrine prescribeth, to
be obtained. These most important truths, so useful both for the satisfaction of our minds, and the direction of our lives, this doctrine unfoldeth : I call them truths, and that really they are such, even their harmony and consistence between themselves, their consonancy with inferences from all sorts of principles which we can apply for learning of truth, with what about these matters reason collecteth, tradition reporteth, experience doth imply, may well persuade us : for that man was first made and constituted in a happy state; that he was for his misbehaviour detruded thence; that hence he is become so very prone to vice, and so much subject to pain ; that our souls do abide after death ; that after this life there shall be a reckoning and judgment, according to which good men, who here are often much afflicted, shall be rewarded with joy, and bad men, who commonly prosper here, shall be requited with pain, the wisest men, upon these grounds, also have surmised; and their rational conjectures our religion with a positive and express assertion doth establish. So great a light doth it afford, which is no small perfection thereof, to the knowledge of ourselves and our chief concernments, the objects, next to God and what concerneth him, best deserving our inquiry and information.
3. It is a peculiar excellency of our religion, that it prescribeth an accurate rule of life, most congruous to reason, and suitable to our nature; most conducible to our welfare and our content; most apt to procure each man's private good, and to promote the public benefit of all; by the strict observance whereof we shall do what is worthy of ourselves and most becoming us; yea, shall advance our nature above itself into a resemblance of the divine nature; we shall do God right, and obtain his favour ; we shall oblige and benefit men, acquiring withal good will and good respect from them ; we shall purchase to ourselves all the conveniences of a sober life, and all the comforts of a good conscience. For, if we first examine the precepts directive of our practice in relation to God, what can be more just, or comely, or pleasant, or beneficial to us, than are those duties of piety, which our religion doth enjoin? What can be more fit than that we should most highly esteem and honour him, who is most excellent ? that we should bear most hearty affection to him, who is in himself most good, and most beneficial to us ? that we should have a most awful dread of him, who is so infinitely powerful, holy, and just ? that we should be very grateful unto him from whom we have received our being, with all the comforts and conveniences thereof? that we should entirely trust and hope in him, who can do what he will, and will do whatever in reason we can expect from his goodness, and can never fail to perform what he hath promised ? that we should render all obedience and observance to him, whose children, whose servants, whose subjects we are born; by whose protection and provision we enjoy our life and livelihood? Can there be a higher privilege than liberty of access, with assurance of being favourably received in our needs, to him who is thoroughly able to supply them? Can we desire upon easier terms to receive benefits, than by acknowledging our wants, and asking for them? Can there be required a more gentle satisfaction from us for our offences, than confession of them, accompanied with repentance and effectual resolution to amend ? Is it not, in fine, most equal and fair, that we should be obliged to promote his glory, who hath obliged himself to further our good? The practice of such a piety as it is apparently loyekh latpala, a reasonable service, so it cannot but produce excellent fruits of advantage to ourselves, a joyful peace of conscience, and a comfortable hope, a freedom from all superstitious terrors and scruples, from all tormenting cares and anxieties; it cannot but draw down from God's bountiful hands showers of blessings upon our heads, and of joys into our hearts ; whence our obligation to these duties is not only reasonable, but very