« PreviousContinue »
communications of his grace and Spirit which he afforded to the first ages of Christianity.
I have insisted the longer upon this, that men may see what effects Christianity hath had upon the lives of men, by which we may see the proper nature and efficacy of it'; and withal may not wonder so much that it hath not the same effects now : Though it be matter of great shame to us, that they are so vastly disproportionable to what they were at first.
2. Though the disproportion be very great between the effects of Christianity at first, and what it hath now upon the lives of men ; yet we ought not to deny, but it harh still some good effects upon man-. kind ; and it is our great shame and fault that it hatlr no better. If we will speak justly of things, as to the general civility of life and manners, freedom from tyranny, and barbarousness, and cruelıy, and some other enormous vices ; yea and as to the exemplary piety and virtue of great numbers of particular perfons of several nations, there is no comparison be. tween the general state of Christendom, and the Pagan and Mahometan parts of the world. Next to Christianity, and the law of Moses, (which was confined to one nation) philosophy was the most like. ly instrument to reform mankind that hath been in the world ; and it had very considerable effects upon some particular persons; both as to the rectifying of their opinions, and the reforming of their lives : buc upon the generality of mankind it did very little in either of these respects, especially as to the rectifying of the absurd and impious opinions of the people concerning God, and their superstitious worship of the Deity. Whereas the Christian religion did universally, wherever it came, set men free from those gross impieries and superstitions, and taught men to worship the only true God in a right manner.
Though we must confess, to the eternal reproach of the Christian religion, that the western church hath degenerated so far, that it seems to be in a great measure relapsed into the ignorance and superstition of Paganism ; out of which degeneracy, that God hath rescued us, as we have infinite cause to adore his Ez
goadgoodness, so we have all the reason in the world to dread and detest a return into this spiritual Egypt, this house of darkness and bondage, and the bringing of our necks again under that yoke, which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear.
So that you see that there are still very considerable effects of the Christian religion in the world, yea and I doubt not but in those places where it is most corrupted and degenerated ; because they still retain the eflential doctrines of Christianity, which have not • quite lost their force, notwithstanding the many errors and corruptions that are mixed with them. And as God knows, and every man sees it, that the ge. nerality of Christians are very bad, notwithstanding all the influence of that excellent religion which they profess ; yet I think it is very evident, men would be much worse without it. For though very many who have entertained the principles of Christianity are very wicked in their lives ; yet many are otherwise : and those that are bad have this advantage by their religion, that it is in its nature apt to reduce and recover men from a wicked course, and sometimes does : whereas the case of those persons would have been desperate, were it not for those principles of religion which were implanted in them by Christian education; and though they were long supprefs'd, yet did at last awaken them to a confideration of their condition, and proved the happy means of their recovery.
3. I will not deny but there are some persons as bad, nay perhaps worse, that have been bred up ilt the Christian religion, than are commonly to be found in the darkness of Paganism; for the corruption of the best things is the worst, and those who have resisted so great a light as that of the gospel is, are like to prove the most desperately wicked of all others. There is nothing that men make worse use of, than of light and liberry, two of the best and most plea. sant things in the world. Knowledge is many times abused to the worst purpose, and liberty into licen. tiousness and sedition ; and yet no man for all that thinks ignorance desirable, or would wish a perpe
tual night and darkness to the world ; and conclade from the inconveniencies of abused liberty, that the best state of things would be, that the generality of mankind should be all saves to a few, and be perpetually chained to the oar, or condemned to the mines. · There are many times as bad confequences of good things, as of bad: but yet there is a great difference between good and bad for all that. As knowledge and liberty, so likewise the Christian religion is a great happiness to the world in general, though some are so unhappy as to be the worse for it; not because religion is bad, but because they are so
4. If religion be a matter of mens free choice, it is not to be expected that it should necessarily and constantly have its effects upon men ; for it works upon us not by way of force or natural necessity, but of moral persuasion. If religion, and the grace of God which goes along with it, did force men to be good and virtuous, and no man could be so unless he were thus violently forced, then it would be no virtue in any man to be good, nor any crime and fault to be otherwise. For then the reason why some men were good, would be because they could not help it ; and others bad, because the grace of God did not make them good whether they would or not.
But religion does not thus work upon men. It direits men to their duty by the shortest and plainest precepts of a good life; it persuades men to the obedience of these precepts, by the promises of eternal happinefs, and the threatenings of eternal misery in cale of obftinate disobedience ; it offers us the affiftance of God's Holy Spirit, to help our weakness, and enable us to that, for which we are not sufficient of ourselves : But there is nothing of violence or necefsity in all this. After all, men may disobey these precepts, and not be persuaded by these arguments, may not make use of this grace which God offers, may quench and resist the Holy Ghost, and reject the coun. Tel of God against themselves. And the care being thus, it is no wonder, if the temptations of this prefent world prevail upon the vicious inclinations of men
against against their duty, and their true interest; and confe. quently, if the motives and arguments of the Christi an religion have not a constant and certain effect upon a great part of mankind. Not but that Chriftia. nity is apt to bring men to goodness ; but some are so obftinately bad, as not to be wrought upon by the most powerful considerations it can offer to them.
5. It cannot be denied, but that Christianity is as well framed to make men good, as any religion can be imagined to be ; and therefore wherever the fault be, it cannot be in the Christian religion, that we are not good. So that the bad lives of Christians are no sufficient objection either against the truth or good ness of the Christian doctrine. Besides the confirma, rion that was given to it by miracles, the excellency of the doctrine, and its proper tendency to make meni holy and virtuous, are a plain exidence of its divine and heavenly original. And surely the goodness of any religion consists in the sufficiency of its precepts: to direct men to their duty ; in the force of its argu. ments to perfuade men to it ; and the suitableness of its aids and helps to enable us to the discharge and performance of it. And all those advantages the Christian religion hath above any religion or inftiturion that ever was in the world. The reasonable and plain rules of a good life are no where so perfeatly collected; as in the discourses of our blessed Saviour and his Apostles. No religion ever gave men so full assurance of the mighty rewards and punish ments of another world; nor such gracious promises. of divine assistance, and such evidence of it, especie ally in the piety, and virtue, and patience, and selfdenial of the primitive Christians, as the doctrine of God our Saviour hath done, which teacheth men todeny, lengodliness and worldly lusts, and to live rober. ly, and righteously, and godly in this present world, in contemplation of the blessed hope and the glorious. appearance of the great God, and our Saviour Jefus. Chriff ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purifiy to himself ar peculiar people nealous of good works,
. 6. And
6. And lastly, after all that hath'or can be said, it must be acknowledged, and ought fadly to be la. mented by us, that the wicked lives of Christians are a marvellous scandal and reproach to our holy religion, and a great obstacle to the spreading of it in the world, and a real objection against it to prejudiced persons, with whom it doth juftly bring into doubt the goods ness and efficacy of the institucion itself, to see how little effect it hath upon the hearts and lives of mena It is hard for a man to maintain the reputation of an excellent master in any kind, when all the world sees that most of his scholars prove dunces. Whata ever commendation may be given to any, art or sci. ence, men will question the truth and reality of it.. when they see the greatest part of those who profess. it, not able to do any thing answerable to it. The Chriftian religion pretends to be an art of serving God more decently and devoutly, and of living betterthan other men; but if it be fo, why do not the profer. fors of this excellent-religion shew the force and virtue of it in their lives ? And though I have sufficiently Thewn, that this is not enough to overthrow the truth. and disparage the excellency of the Chriftian doctrine: yet it will certainly go a great way with prejudiced persons, and it cannot be expected otherwise.
So that we have infinite reason to be ashamed, that there is so plain a contrariety between the laws of Christianity, and the lives of the greatest part of Chri. ftians; so notorious and palpable a difference between: the religion that is in the Bible, and that which is to: be seen and read in the conversations of men.
Who'that looks upon the manners of the present age, could believe, (if he did not know it) that the holy and pure doctrine of the Christian' religion had ever been fo much as heard, much less pretended to be entertained and believed among us! Nay among those who seem to make a more serious profession of religion, when we consider how. strangely they allow themselves in malice and envy, in passion, and anger, and uncharitable censures, and evil speak ing, in fierce contentions and animosities; who would believe that the great inftrument of these mens.