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all the World, to the Gentile as well as the Few, must respect some general Law, which related alike to all, and the Obligations to which were in fome Degree universally felt and acknowledged : and this can be no other than that which the Apostle to the Romans has described in Chap. ii. 14, 15. When the Gentiles, which have not the Law, do by Nature the Things contained in the Law, these baving not the Law, are a Law unto themselves : which thew the Work of the Law written in their Hearts, their Conscience' also bearing Witness, and their Thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another. However the Light of Reason and Nature was darkened and obscured by the Ignorance and Superstition of the World, yet fome Remains of it were in all Places to be found ; and the general Principles of Religion were so rivetted in human Nature, that she could not but start at any Thing that directly contradicted them : thus, for Instance, in the great Branch of natural Religion, which relates to the Worship and Service of God, though Mankind had universally erred and defiled themselves with many Pollutions and Abominations, yet Atheism was as detested a
Crime in the Heathen World, as it is in the Christian ; and some, we know, were thought worthy of Death, for being the Maintainers of so unnatural an Opinion. A Sense of the moral Duties between Man and Man was better preserved; and there are not many. Vices condemned in the Gorpel, which were not infamous before in all the civilized Parts of the World. This general Law, as the Apostle tells us, was the Ground-work of Conscience, the Testimony of the Conscience plainly shewing the Work of the Law to be written in the Heart; and this is a further Evidence, that this Law of Nature was the Foundation of that Repentance, which was to usher in the Gospel : for as the preaching of Repentance neceffa- , rily refers himself to the Consciences of Men, to point out to them the Guilt of their Actions ; so must his Doctrine necessarily relate to that Law, which is the Principle or Origin of Conscience. Since then the Doctrine of Repentance, with which the Gospel set out in the World, had Reference to the Law of Reason and Nature, against which Men had every where offended ; and since Repentance infers the Necessity of a future Reformation, and a Return to that
Duty: Duty and Obedience from which by Transgression we are fallen; the Consequence is manifestly this, that the Gospel was a Republication of the Law of Nature, and its Precepts declarative of that original Religion, which was as old as the Creation.
That this must certainly be the Case, will appear, by considering the Nature of the Thing in itself. The Notions of Good and Evil are eternally and unalterably the same; which Notions are the Rules and Measures of all moral Actions, and are consequently neceffary and constituent Parts of Religion : and therefore if the Religion of Nature, in her primitive State, was pure and uncorrupt (which will not, I presume, be denied), though there was sufficient Reason for a Republication of it, because of the great Ignorance and Superstition which had grown upon the World, yet there could be no Reason for any Alteration of it; for though the World was the worse for abasing the Religion of Nature, and might want to be reformed by a divine Instructor, yet the Religion of Nature was not the worse for being abused, but still retained its first Purity and Simplicity. The Duties of Religion, considered as a Rule of Action, flow
from the Relation we bear to God, and to one another; and Religion must ever be the same, as long as these Relations continue unaltered. If our first Parent was the Creature of God, so are we; and whatever Service and Duty he owed, in Virtue of this Dependance, the same is due from us; nor can this Relation be ever made the Ground of different Duties in his Case, and in ours: if therefore Nature rightly instructed him at first how to serve his Maker, our Obligations being the same with his, our Rule must be the same also. The Case is the fame with Respect to the Duties owing from Man to Man ; and it would be as reasonable to suppose, that the three Angles of a Triangle should be equal to two right ones in one Age, and unequal in another, as to suppose that the Duties of Religion should differ in one Age from what they were in another, the Habitudes and Relations from which they flow continuing always the fame.
That the Case is in Fact what I have represented it to be, might be shewn from the particular Laws of the Gospel, and their Dependance, from the Maxims and Princi. ples of natural Religion : but this would be rather the work of a Volume than a Ser. mon; I will content myself therefore with one general Proof, which reaches to every Part of the Christian Doctrine, and yet will not lead me beyond the Bounds to which I am confined. Our Saviour in the 5th of St. Matthew tells us, that he came not to dejtroy the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfil them. What his Meaning was, he sufficiently explained in the following Part of his Sermon on the Mount: in which, laying down first the old Law, he shewed in every Instance wherein the true Perfection of that Virtue consisted which the Law required. The Law forbad Murder and Adultery; our Lord declares, that not only the immoral Actions, known by those Names, were restrained, but even the internal Corruptions of Heart from which they flowed ; and extends the Prohibition to Hatred and to. Lust, one the Parent of Murder, the other of Adultery. Since then our Lord so fully declares that his purpose was to perfect and complete the Law and the Prophets, it remains to be considered, what Notion he had of the Law and of the Prophets : in the 22d of St. Matthew, the Question was put to him by a Lawyer ;