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rious yet uniform phenomena of nature, that there
is a wise Creator : we arc taught by the imperfcc-


tion and dependence of the soul, that it owes its be-
ing to some original cause ; and in its extensive fa-
culties, its liberty, and power of self-motion, we dis-
cern that cause to be essentially different from mat-
ter. The voice of nature thus proclaims to the
children of men the existence of one supreme intel-
ligent Being, and calls them with reverence to adore
the Father of their spirits.

The other great doctrine which I assume as the
ground-work of every religious system, is thus ex-
pressed by the Apostle to the Hebrews : " God is a
rewarder of them that seek Him ;" in other words,
the government of God is a moral government.

We are here confined to an inconsiderable spot in
the creation, and we are permitted to behold but a
small part of the operations of Providence. It be-
comes us therefore to proceed in our inquiries con-
cerning the Divine Government with much humili-
ty : but it does not become us to desist. The cha-
racter and the laws of that government under which
we acknowledge that we live, are matters to us of
the last importance ; and it is our duty thankfully to
avail ourselves of the light which we enjoy. The
constitution of human nature and the state of the
world are the only two subjects within the sj^here
of our observations, from which unassisted reason
can discover the character of the divine government.

When we attend to the constitution of human na-
ture, the three following particulars occiu* as traces
of a moral government.

1. The distribution of pleasure and pain in the
mind of man is a moral distribution. Those affec-
tions and that conduct which we denominate virtu-
ous are attended with immediate pleasure ; the op-


posite affections and conduct with immediate pain.
The man who acts under the influence of benevo-
lence, gratitude, a regard to justice and truth, is in
a state of enjoyment. The heart which is actuated
by resentment or malice is a stranger to joy. Here
is a striking fact of a very general kind furnishing
very numerous specimens of a moral government.

2. There is a faculty in the human mind which
approves of virtue, and condemns vice. It is not
enough to say that righteousness is prudent because
it is attended with pleasure ; that wickedness is fool-
ish because it is attended with pain. Conscience, in
judging of them, pronounces the one to be right, and
the other to be wrong. The righteous, supported by
that most delightful of all sentiments, the sense that
he is doing his duty, proceeds with self-approbation,
and reflects upon his conduct with complacence ; the
wicked not only is distracted by the conflict of vari-
ous wretched passions, but acts under the perpetual
conviction that he is doing what he ought not to do.
The huiTy of business or the tumult of passion may,
for a season, so far drown the voice of conscience, as
to leave him at liberty to accomplish his purpose.
But when his mind is cool, he perceives that in fol-
lowing blindly the impulse of appetite he has acted
beneath the dignity of his reasonable nature ; the in-
dulgence of malevolent affections is punished by the
sentiment of remorse ; and he despises himself for
every act of baseness.

3. Conscience, anticipating the future consequences
of human actions, forebodes that it shall be well with
the righteous, and ill with the wicked. The righte-
ous, although naturally modest and unassuming, not
only enjoys present serenity, but looks forward with


good hope. The prospect of future ease lightens
every burden, and the view of distant scenes of hap-
piness and joy holds up his head in the time of ad-
versity. But every crime is accompanied with a
sense of deserved punishment. To the man who has
disregarded the admonitions of conscience, she soon
begins to utter her dreadful presages ; she lays open
to his view the dismal scenes which lie beyond every
unlawful pursuit ; and sometimes awaking with in-
creased fury, she produces horrors that constitute a
degree of wretchedness, in comparison of which all
the sufferings of life do not deserve to be mentioned.
The constitution of human nature being the work
of God, the three particulars which have been men-
tioned as parts of that constitution are parts of his
government. The pleasure which accompanies one
set of affections and the pain which accompanies the
opposite afford an instance in the government of God
of virtue being rewarded, and vice being punished :
— the faculty which passes sentence upon human ac-
tions is a declaration from the Author of our nature
of that conduct which is agreeable to Him, because
it is a rule directing his creatures to pursue a certain
conduct : — and the presentiment of the future con-
sequences of our behaviour is a declaration from the
Author of our nature of the manner in which his
government is to proceed with regard to us. The
hopes and fears natural to the human mind are the
laiia-uaffe in which God foretells to man the events
in which he is deeply interested. To suppose that
the Almighty engages his creatures in a certain course
of action by delusive hopes and fears, is at once ab-
surd and impious ; and if we think worthily of the
Supreme Being, we cannot entertain a doubt that


He, who by the constitution of human nature has
declared his love of virtue and his hatred of vice,
will at length appear the righteous Governor of the

I mentioned the state of the world as another sub-
ject within the sphere of our observation, from which
unassisted reason may discover the character of the
government of God. And here also we may mark
three traces of a moral government.

1 . It occurs, in the first place, to consider the world
as the situation in which creatures, having the con-
stitution which has been described, are placed. Act-
ing in the presence of men, that is, of creatures con-
stituted as we ourselves are, and feeling a connection
with them in all the occupations of life, Ave experi-
ence, in the sentiments of those around us, a farther
reward and punishment than that which arises from
the sense of our own minds. The faculty which
passes sentence upon a man's own actions, when car-
ried forth to the actions of others becomes a princi-
ple of esteem or contempt. The sense of good or ill
desert becomes, upon the review of the conduct of
others, applause or indignation. When it referred
to a man's own conduct, it pointed only at what was
future. When it refers to the conduct of others it
becomes an active principle, and proceeds in some
measure to execute the rules which it pronounces to
be just.

Hence the righteous is rewarded by the sentiments
of his fellow-creatures. He experiences the grati-
tude of some, the friendship, at least the good- will
of all. The wicked, on the other hand, is a stranger
to esteem, and confidence, and love. His vices ex-
pose him to censure ; his deceit renders him an ob-


ject of distrust ; his malice creates him enemies ; ac-
cording to the kind and the degree of his demerit,
contempt or hatred or indignation is felt by every
one who knows his character ; and even when these
sentiments do not lead others to do him harm, they
weaken or extinguish the emotions of sympathy ; so
that his neighbours do not rejoice in his prosperity,
and hardly weep over his misfortunes.

Thus does God employ the general sense of man-
kind to encourage and reward the righteous, to cor-
rect and punish the wicked ; and thus has he consti-
tuted men in some sort the keepers of their brethren,
the guardians of one another's virtue. The natural
unperverted sentiments of the human mind M^th re-
gard to character and conduct are upon the side of
virtue and against vice ; and the course of the world,
turning in a great measure upon these sentiments,
indicates a moral government.

2. A second trace in the state of the world, of the
moral government of God, is the civil government by
which society subsists.

Those who are employed in the administration of
civil government are not supposed to act immediate-
ly from sentiment. It is expected that without re-
gard to their own private emotions they shall in every
case proceed according to certain known and estab-
lished laws. But these laws, so far as they go, are
in general consonant to the sentiments of the human
mind, and, like them, are favourable to the cause of
virtue. The happiness, the existence of human go-
vernment depends upon the protection and encour-
agement which it affords to virtue, and the punish-
ment which it inflicts upon vice. The govern-
ment of men, therefore, in its best and happiest form


is a moral government ; and being a part, an instru-
ment of tlie government of God, it serves to intimate
to us the rule according to which his Providence
operates through the general system.

3. Setting aside all consideration of the opinions
of the instrumentality of man, there appear in the
world evident traces of the moral government of God.
Many of the consequences of men's behaviour happen
without the intervention of any agent. Of this kind
are the effects which their way of life has upon their
health, and much of its influence upon their fortune
and situation. Effects of the same nature extend to
communities of men. They derive strength and sta-
bility from the truth, moderation, temjierance, and
public spirit of the members ; whereas idleness, lux-
ury, and turbulence, while they ruin the private for-
tunes of many individuals, are hurtful to the com-
munity ; and the general depravity of the members
is the disease and weakness of the state.

These effects do not arise from any civil institu-
tion. They are not a part of the political regulations
which are made with different degrees of wisdom in
different states ; but they may be observed in all
countries. They are part of what we commonly call
the course of nature ; that is, they are rewards and
punishments ordained by the Lord of nature, not af-
fected by the cajDrice of his subjects, and flowing im-
mediately from the conduct of men. There arise
indeed, from the present situation of human affairs,
many obstructions to the full operation of these re-
wards and punishments. Yet the degree in which
they actually take place is sufficient to ascertain the
character of the government of God. In those cases
where we are able to trace the causes which prevent



the exact distribution of good and evil, we perceive
that the very hindrances are wisely adapted to a pre-
sent state. Even where we do not discern the rea-
sons of their existence, we clearly perceive that these
hindrances are accidental ; that virtue, benign and
salutary in its influences, tends to produce happiness,
pure and unmixed ; that vice, in its nature mischiev-
ous tends to confusion and misery ; and we cannot
avoid considering these tendencies as the voice of
Him, who hath established the order of nature, de-
claring to those who observe and understand them,
the future condition of the righteous and the wicked.

And thus in the world, we behold upon every hand
of us openings of a kingdom of righteousness cor-
responding to what we formerly traced in the consti-
tution of human nature. By that constitution, while
reward is provided for virtue and punishment for
Aice, there arise in our breasts the forebodings of a
higher reward and a higher punishment. So in the
world, while there are manifold instances of a righte-
ous distribution of good and evil, there is a tendency
towards the completion of a scheme which is here
but begun.

This view of the government of God, which we
have collected from the constitution of human nature
and the state of the world, is brought to light by the
religion of Jesus Christ. The language of God in
his works leads us to his word in the Gospel. All
our disquisitions concerning the nature of his govern-
ment only prepare us for receiving those gracious
discoveries, which, confirming every conclusion of
right reason, resolving every doubt, and enlarging
the imperfect views which belong to this the begin-
ning of our existence, bring us perfect assurance, that,


in the course of the Divine government, unlimited
in extent, in duration, and in power, every hindrance
shall be removed, the natural consequences of action
shall be allowed to operate, virtue shall be happy,
and vice shall be miserable.

Abernetliy on the Attributes.

Cudworth's Intellectual System ; a magazine of learning, where
all the different schemes of Atheism are combated with pro-
found erudition and close argument.

Boyle's Lectures ; a collection of the ablest defences of the great
truths of religion that are to be found in any language. Hav-
ing been composed in a long succession of years by men of dif-
ferent talents and pursuits, they furnish an abundant specimen
of all the variety of argument that has ever been adduced upon
the subjects of which they treat.

Butler's Analogy, the first chapters of which should be particu-
larly studied in relation to the subjects of this discourse.

Essays on Morality and Natural Religion, by Henry Home, Lord

Paley's Natural Theology, the last and perhaps the most elabo-
rate work of this author. He had here his pioneers as well as
his forerunners. But his inimitable skill in arranging and con-
densing his matter, his peculiar turn for what may be called
" animal mechanics," the aptness and the wit of his illustra-
tions, and occasionally the warmth and the solemnity of his de-
votion, which, by a happy and becoming process, was rendered
more animated as he drew nearer to the close of life, stamp on
this work a character more valuable than originality.




The ground-work which I suppose to be laid in
an inquiry into the truth of the Christian religion, is
a belief of the two great doctrines of natural religion,
that God is, and that he is a rewarder of thein that
seek him. You consider man as led by the princi-
ples of his nature to believe that the universe is the
work of an intelligent Being, although wandering
very much in his apprehensions of that Being : you
consider him as feeling that the government of the
Creator of the world is a righteous government, al-
though conscious that he often transgresses the law
of his Maker, and very uncertain as to the method in
which the sanctions of that law are to operate with
regard to him : and you propose to examine whether
to man, in these circumstances, there was given an
extraordinary revelation by the preaching of the Son
of God, or whether Jesus Christ and his apostles
were men who spoke and wrote according to their
own measure of knowledge, and who, when they call-
ed themselves the messengers of God, assumed a cha-
racter which did not belong to them. It is manifest
at first sight, that such a revelation is extremely de-
sirable to man ; and a closer investigation of the sub-
ject may show it to be desirable in such a degree, so
necessary to the comfort and improvement of man,


as to create a presumption in favour of the proofs
that the Father of the human race has been pleased
to grant it. But the necessity of revelation is a sub-
ject upon which, in my opinion, it is better not to
enter at the outset : because, if the proofs of the truth
of Christianity be defective, the presumption arising
from this necessity will not be sufficient to help them
out ; and if they be clear and conclusive, the neces-
sity of revelation will be more manifest after you
proceed to examine its nature and its effects.

The truth of Christianity turns upon a question
-of fact ; which, like every other question of the same
kind, ought to be judged calmly and impartially —
not by the wishes which it may be natural to form
upon the subject, but by the evidence which is ad-
•duced in support of the fact. We allow the great
body of the people to retain all the early prejudices
which they happily acquire on the side of Christi-
anity. We allow its full weight to every considera-
tion which is level to their capacity, and which cor-
responds to their habits ; because, what we wish to
impress upon them is a practical belief of the truth
of religion : and this practical belief may be suffi-
cient to direct their conduct and to establish their
hope, although it be not grounded upon critical in-
quiries and logical deductions. But it is expected
that the teachers of religion should be able to defend
the citadel in Avliich they are placed, against the at-
tack of every enemy, and that they should be ac-
quainted with the quarters which are most likely to
be attacked, with the nature of the blow that is to
be aimed, and the most successful method of ward-
ing it off. With them, therefore, belief ought to be
not merely the result of early habit, but a convict


tion founded upon a close examination of evidence ;
and in this, as in every other inquiry, they ought to
take the fair and safe method of arriving at the
truth, by bringing to the search after it, a mind un-
embarrassed with any prepossession.

A person who, in this state of mind, begins to ex-
amine the question of fact upon which the deistical
controversy turns, will be struck with that support
which the truth of Christianity receives from the
whole train of history for more than 1700 years.
The impartial historians of those times, Suetonius,
Tacitus, and Pliny, in passages * which have been
often quoted and commented upon, and the exact
amount of which every student of divinity ought to
know, concur with Celsus, Porphyry, and Julian,
the learned, inveterate, and inquisitive adversaries
of the Christian faith, in establishing beyond the
possibility of doubt the following leading facts ; —
that Jesus Christ, in the reign of Tiberius, was put
to death ; that this man during his life founded,
and his followers after liis death supported a sect,
upon the reputation of performing miracles ; and
that this sect spread quickly, and became very nu-
merous in different parts of the Roman empire. A
succession of Christian writers is extant, some of
whom lived near enough the event to be witnesses
of it, and all of whom published books, which must
have appeared absurd to their contemj)oraries, if the
facts upon which these books proceeded had then
been known to be false. A chain of tradition can
be shown by which the principal facts were trans-
mitted in the Christian church. The existence of

* Sueton. Claud, cap. 25. Sucton. Nero. cap. l6. Tacit. Ann.
1. XV. 44. Plin. 1. X. ep. 97-


our religion can be traced back to the time and place
to which the beginning of it is referred ; and since
that time, by the institution of a Gospel ministry,
by the celebration of the Lord's Supper, and by the
observance of the Lord's day, there have continued,
in many parts of the world, standing memorials of
the preaching, the death, and the resurrection of

I begin with mentioning these things, because
every literary man will perceive the advantage of
taking possession of this strong ground. By plac-
ing his foot here he is furnished with a kind of ex-
trinsical evidence, the force of which none will de-
ny, which cannot be said to create any unreasonable
prepossession, and yet which prepares the mind for
the less remote proofs of a Divine revelation.

Grotius de Veritate Rel. Chris.

Macknight on the Truth of the Gospel History.

Addison's Evidences.

Lardner's Credibility of the Gospel History.


CHAP. 11.


The whole of that revelation which is peculiar
to Christians is contained in the books of the New
Testament ; and, therefore, it appears to me, that
before we begin to judge of the divine mission or in-
spiration of the persons to whom these books are
ascribed, we ought to satisfy ourselves that the books
themselves are authentic and genuine. For even
although the apostles of Jesus did really receive a
commission from the Son of God, yet if the books
which bear their names were not written by them,
or if they have been corrupted as to their substance
and import since they were written, that is, if the
books are not both authentic and genuine, we may
be very much misled by trusting to them notwith-
standing the divine mission of their supposed au-
thors. I oppose the word authentic to supposititious;
the word genuine to vitiated ; I call a book authen-
tic which was truly the work of the person whose
name it bears ; I call a book genuine which remains
in all material points the same as when it proceeded
from the author. Upon these two points, the au-
thenticity and genuineness of the books of the New
Testament, I am at present to fix your attention.
Both the subjects open a wide field, and have receiv-
ed much discussion. All that I can do is, to mark
to you the leading circumstances which have been

The dooks or the new testament. i2S

discussed, and with regard to wliich it becomes you
to inform and satisfy your minds.

1. The canon of the New Testament is the col*
lection of books written by apostles, or by persons
under their direction, and received by Christians as
of divine authority. This canon was not formed by
any General Council, who claimed a power of decid-
ing in this matter for the Christian Church ; but it
continued to grow during all the age of the apostles,
and it received frequent accessions, as the different
books came to be generally recognised. It was
many years after the ascension of Jesus before any
of the books of the New Testament were written.
The apostles were at first entirely occupied with the
labours and perils which they encountered in exe-
cuting their commission to preach the Gospel to all
nations. They found neither leisure nor occasion to
write, till Christian societies were formed ; and all
their writings were suggested b}^ particular circum-
stances which occurred in the progress of Christiani-
ty. Some of the Epistles to the Churches Vi'ere the
earliest of their writings. Every Epistle was re-
ceived upon unquestionable evidence by the Church
to which it was sent, and in whose keeping the ori-
ginal manuscript remained. Copies were circulated
first among the neighbouring churches, and went from
them to Christian societies at a greater distance, till,
by degrees, the whole Christian vv^orld, considering
the superscription of the Epistle, and the manner in
which it came to them, as a token of its authentici-
ty, and relying upon the original, which they knew
where to find, gave entire credit to its being the
work of him whose name it bore. This is the his-
tory of the thirteen Epistles which bear the name of


the apostle Paul, and of the First Epistle of Peter.
Some of the other Epistles, which had not the same
particular superscription, were not so easily authen-
ticated to the whole Church, and were, upon that
account, longer of being admitted into the canon.

The Gospels were written by different persons,
for different purposes ; and those Christian societies
upon whose account they were originally composed,
communicated them to others. The book of Acts
went along with the Gospel of Luke, as a second
part composed by the same author. The four Gos-
pels, the book of Acts, and the fourteen epistles
which I mentioned, very early after their publica-
tion, were known and received by the followers of
Jesus in every part of the world. References are
made to them by the first Christian writers ; and
they have been handed down, by an uninterrupted
tradition, from the days in which they appeared, to
our time. Polycarp was the disciple of the Apostle
John ; Irenseus was the disciple of Polycarp ; and
of the works of Irenaeus a great part is extant, in
which he quotes most of the books of the New Tes-
tament, and mentions the number of the Gospels,
and the names of many of the Epistles. Origen in
the third century, Eusebius and Jerome in the
fourth, give us, in their voluminous works, cata-
logues of the books of the New Testament which
coincide with ours, relate fully the -history of the
authors of the several books, with the occasion ujjon

Online LibraryGeorge HillLectures in divinity (Volume 1) → online text (page 2 of 32)