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require of them. This great truth, which we ought ever to bear in mind, is clearly expressed in my text, What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do juftly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God; i. e. to entertain just sentiments, and observe a right conduct, with respect to God and man: and every thing that God has shewed us, whether by the light of nature, or by occasional interpositions, has no other object than this. He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good, what tends to make him virtuous and happy.
Let no person, therefore, value himself on his religion, as such, be the principles of it ever so true, his knowledge of it ever fo exact, and his faith in it ever so firm. He is thereby only possessed of a means to a certain end ; and if that end be not attained, he is so far from being a gainer by being poffuffed of the means, that he is highly culpable for having such an instrument, and making no proper use of it. For better, as the apostle says (2 Peter ii. 21), would it be never to have known the way of righteousness than, after having known it, to depart from it, i. e. by living a vicious life. Also, according to
our our Saviour's most folemn declarations, whatever may have been a man's relation to himself, even though he may have worked miracles in his name, if he be a worker of iniquity, he will at the last day disclaim all knowledge of him, and order him to depart from him.
As the improvement of the human character in virtuous principles and habits is the end of all religion, we must judge of the preferableness of natural, or revealed religion, by their superior tendency to effect this great end. But, indeed, so little of religion, properly so called, have men ever derived from the light of nature, and so little are those who reject revelation really influenced by any religious principle, that the true state of the question, in fact, is, whether it be better for man to have the religion that is taught in the scriptures, or none at all. They who reject revelation may not absolutely, and in words reject the belief of a God, and of a providence (though we see, in the example of the French philosophers, and many others, that this is generally the case) they are not influenced by that belief. Nor can we wonder at this, when they certainly have not, in fact, any
expectation of a future state, which, as I shall Thew, was never taught to any useful purpose but by revelation.
Religion implies the belief of the being and providence of God, and such a respect for the will of God, as will effectually control a man's natural inclinations, and direct his conduct, restraining him from irregularities to which he is naturally prone, and exciting him to actions to which he is naturally averse. But as men in general are governed either by strong natural appetites, or a view to their interest, it cannot be expected that virtue alone, without any hope of future reward or punishment, can have such charms for them, that they will abandon their pleature, their ease, or their advantage, for the pure love of it. Supposing that men might arrive at a knowledge of the will of God, with respect to their conduct in life, they would not feel any fufficient obligation to conform to it, without the great sanction of future rewards and punishments. Mere authority, as that of a parent, or of a magistrate, is little or nothing without the power of rewarding and punishing. Nothing, therefore, but a firm belief in a future state of retribution, can be expected to restrain men from giving into those indulgences to which they have a Itrong propensity.
1. With respect to every article of religion, the light of nature is far from being sufficiently clear and distinct, so as to be inferred with certainty by the most intelligent of men.
With respect to what is most effential to human happiness, the wisest of men do not appear to have been, in fact, superior to the bulk, having, in a variety of respects, laid down the most erroneous rules for the conduct of men. Plain as the most important maxims of morality are, there is not one of them but what the most enlightened, not only of the ancient philosophers, but of modern unbelievers, have controverted. What we call conscience, and which we might expect to be a better guide in this respect than even reason, is by no means the same uniform principle in all men. It is formed by various associatious of ideas, depending on the circumstances of our education ; fo that things which absolutely shock some persons, are not felt as at all improper by others. There is, therefore, something wanted fuperior to the dictates of reason, or natural conscience, and
this can only be revealed religion, or the authority of our Maker, which must be obeyed without reasoning. Man will, no doubt, dispute even about the will of God, when it is most clearly revealed, as they do concerning the most express laws that are ever made by men; but if this be done with respect to the articulate voice of God, it will be done to a much greater extent, and with much more plausibility, to the inarticulate voice of nature, which every person will interpret as he is previously inclined.
If when men are hurried on by passion, or swayed by interest, they will transgress such positive and acknowledged commands as thou Jhalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal, &c. as we see that, in fact, they do, it will not, however, be without reluctance and remorse; and therefore transgressions will be less frequent, and less flagrant, and repentance and amendment may be more reasonably expected to follow. But where no such
pofitive command is acknowledged to exist, and the voice of nature alone is to be consulted about the proper conduct of life, most men will mistake their own inclination for the voice of nature, and consequently sin without