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SERMON I.



i TKESS, v, 21, 22.

Prove all Things ; bold f aft that which is good:
abjlam from all Appearance of Evil.

BY the extenfive Word, all, the Apoflle
in this Place evidently means no more,
than all Things which may be right or
wrong in Point of Confcience. And by proving
them he means, not that we fhould try them
both by Experience, which would be an abfurd
and pernicious Direction : but that we fhould
examine them by our Facu^y of Judgement,
which is a wife and ufeful Exhortation. Ac-
cordingly Chriftianity recommends itfelf to us
at firfl Sight by this peculiar Prefumption of
its being the true Religion, that it makes Ap-
plication to Men as reafonable Creatures, and
claims our AiTent on Account of the Proofs,
which it offers. By thefe alone it prevailed
originally : on thefe it ilill relies j and requires
Vc*. I. A Faith



2 S E R M O N I,

Faith for the Principle of our Obedience, only
becaufe it produces Evidence for the Ground
of our Faith. Now fuch an Inftitution furely
is intitled to receive the fair Treatment which
it gives, when it afks of Mankind no more
than this ; that they mould firft confider well,
the feveral Obligations they are under ; then
adhere to whatever they find to be enjoined
them, and laftly avoid whatever they conceive
to be forbidden : which momentous Duties J
fhall endeavour to explain and enforce in three
pifcourfes on the Text.

That Beings, capable of Thought, are obliged
to think, is very obvious : that they mould
think with the greateft Care on Subjects of
the greateft Importance, is equally fo : and the
Queftion, what Obligations we are under, is,
plainly of the utmoft Importance. For our
Behaviour, and confequently our Happinefs, de-
pends on the Determination pf it. Therefore
we are juft as much bound to conduct our Unr
jderftandings well, as our Tempers or outward
Actions. And the Opportunities given us of
'fhewing, either Diligence in procuring Infor-
mation, and Fairnefs in judging upon it, or the
pontrary, are Trials, which God hath appoint-:
r ~J\ of every one's moral Character; and per-
haps



S; E R M O N I. 3

haps the chief Trials, which foine have to go
through. Every Inftance, greater or lefs, of
wilfully difregarding Truth, inflead of feek-
ing and embracing it, argues a proportionable
Depravity of Heart; whether the Diflike be
manifefted in a iludious Oppofition to it, or an
indolent Scorn of it.

There are forne who openly profefs an utter
Contempt of all Inquiry ; defpife fuch as are
felicitous either about Belief or Practice, and
even affect a Thoughtlefsnefs, which they find
to be grown fafhionable. Now really, if this
be an Accompliihment, it is one, that who-
ever will may eaiily be Mailer of. But furely
Men ought to think ferioufly once for all, be-
fore they refolve for the reft of their Days
to think no more. There are ilrong Appear-
ances, that many Things of great Confequence
are incumbent on us. No one can be /ure,
that thefe Appearances are fallacious, till he
hath examined into them. Many, who have,
are fully perfuaded of their Truth. And if
there be fuch Things in the World as Folly
and Guilt, it can never be either wife or in-
nocent to difdain giving ourfelves any Troubl$
about the Matter, and take it abfolutely for
granted, that we may live as we will : a De-
A 2 cifioa



4 S E R M O N I.

cifion of fuch a Nature, that were it madq,
on feemingly ever fo good Grounds, it would
be very fit to review them well from Time to
Time, for fear of a Miftake that muft be fatal.

Arid if a general Negleft of confidering our
Conduct be criminal, a Neglect of confidering
any Part of it muft, in its Degree, be criminal
alfo. Many Have weighed carefully, and ob-
ferve confcientioufly, fome Duties of Life;
but will not reflect a Moment, whether it
be allowable for them to behave, in other
Points, as they do. And yet, if any moral Oblir
gation deferves Regard, every fuch Obligation
deferves it equally. And when the Queftion
comes to be, what is indeed fuch, and what
not, impartial Reafon, well directed, muft be
Judge ; not Inclination or Fancy : for if thefe
can make Things lawful, nothing will be un-
lawful. And therefore, inftead of ever follow-
ing fuch Guides implicitly, we mould always
have the greater Sufpicion that we are going,
wrong, the more vehemently they prefs us to
go forward.

Some again have fearched, and obtained Sa-
tisfaction, they fay, concerning every Article of
Morals ; but will not concern themfelves about
Religion. Yet furely the Inquiry, whether there



SERMON L 5

be a wife and juft Ruler of this Univer-fe or
not j and if there be, what Homage he experts
from us ; and what we have to hope or fear
from him, according as we pay it, or refufe
it; is as material a one, as ever was made*
And on what Pretence any one can doubt whe-
ther it be worth making, and reverently too, i$
is impoiTible to fay.

Another Sort declare, that they have a fettled
Conviction of natural Religion, ( would God
they would afk their Hearts, what Feelings of
it they cultivate, what Marks of it they mew,)
but treat Revelation at the fame Time, as totally
unworthy of being confidered. Yet that our
heavenly Father can give us very ufeful Infor-
mation both of what we did not know before,
and of what we could not know elfe, is at leaft
as credible, as it is certain that w r e can give fuch
one to another. And that he may with Juftice
give fome Men greater Advantages than others
by fupernatural Difcoveries, is no lefs clear
than that he may give them fuch Advantages
by their natural Abilities and Circumftances.
If then God may do this for us, it is a mofl
interefting Queftion, whether he hath or not ;
and an indifpenfable Precept, which the Words,
immediately preceding the Text, exprefs when
A 3 joined



6 SERMON I.

joined with it. Defpife not Propbecyings: prove
all Things.

But there is yet a different Set of Perfons,
who confefs, that both our Attention, and our
AfTent, are due to Chriftianity in general, but
who are againfr. difcuffing any of its Doctrines
in particular. Provided Men know but enough
of it, to keep them well-behaved and quiet,
nothing further, they conceive, is needful :
whatever Sentiments about .(peculative Points
happen to prevail, fhould be fupported, and no
Difputes allowed to break in upon the Peace
of the World. Now it is very true, that So-
ciety mould not be disturbed by Contentions
about Opinions, as it hath often been moft
dreadfully : nor Men be perplexed about Quef-
tions of mere Curiofity, inilead of learning
better Things ; nor frightened, or eftranged
from each other by laying Strefs on Points of
mere Nicety. And the New Teftament ftrong-
ly forbids all thefe Things. But frill, if the
Chriilian Religion be from Heaven, it cannot
be a Matter of Indifference, what its real Doc-
trines are : nor can its Author have given us
the Liberty of profeffing others in their Stead.
Some of them may feem, and perhaps may
be, though that doth not follow, of fmall Con-

fequence



S E R M 6 N L 7

fequerice to the Purpofes of common Life : but
if they convey to us juft Notions of God, and
of thofe Relations of ours to him, which are
hever the lefs real for not being difcoverable by
Reafon; if they inltrudt us in the Duties, which
thofe Relations require, and form us to that
State of Mind, which he knows to be requilite
for enjoying the Happiriefs of another World, be
their Connexion with this World ever fo little,
furely they are important enough * Some of
them alfo have Doubts and Difficulties attend-
ing them; as even the Doctrines of natural Re-
ligion, and the Duties of Morality have : but
thefe were intended to furnifh us with Oppor-
tunities of fhewing Uprightnefs in judging
where we are qualified to judge ; and Humi*
lity in fubmitting our {hallow Imaginations to
unfathomable Wifdom, where we are not ; the
Exercife of which Virtues here will fit us for
a plentiful Reward hereafter. And would Men
but once prevail on themfelves to exprefs their
Thoughts on controverted Subjects with De-
cency and Candour: Society, inftead of fuf~
fering by Debates, would receive much Benefit.
Chriftianity would be better underftood ; and
therefore more juftly efteemed, and more tlii"-
creetly practifed : it would be built on firmer
A 4



8 SERMON I.

Foundations, and therefore be fecurer againft
all Aflaults.

There flill remains a large Number of Chrif-
tians, I mean the Advocates of the Church of
Rome, who are indeed by no Means indifferent
what Doctrines are held, but vehemently op-
pofe entering into any Difquifitions about them ;
and would have us, inftead of that, firft look
out for an infallible Guide, and then follow
him blindfold. But they have never been able
to mew, that fuch Infallibility exifts amongft
Men ; or even to agree with each other de-
terminately, in whom they mould place it.
And the Scripture, far from directing us to exa-
mine this one Claim, and after that never to exa-.
mine more, directs us in many Places, but par-
ticularly in the Text, by as plain Words as can
be written, to prove, that is, examine, all
things. But were this otherwife, their Pre-
tenfion will require no long Examination : for
it is in vain to argue that fuch or fuch Men can-
not miilake, when it notorioufly appears in
Fact, that they have miftaken.

Every Article therefore both of Morals and
Religion may and ought to be tried, in fuch
Manner as can be reafonably expected from
the Parts, Attainments and Circumilances of

each



S E R M O N I. 9

each Perfon : and concerning this, we fhould
both judge modeftly for ourfelves, and confult
others with Deference. For attempting too
much will be more likely to miflead, than im-
prove us.

But then the more general and important
this Duty of Inquiry is, the more Care muft
be taken to perform it aright. For many pique
themfelves on a moft unbounded Zeal for Free-
dom of Thought, and a thorough Search into
Things, who yet by no Means deferve the Cha-
racter which they afliime.

Some of them fancy they have thought very
freely upon Religion. Now this is, in one
Senfe, treating it freely indeed, but no Proof
of thinking upon it at all. For mere difbe-
lieving is no more an Evidence of having exa-
mined, than mere believing is. However, at
leaft, they fay, they have thrown off the Pre-
judices, in which they were bred up : and
throwing off Prejudices mufl be right. But
then they are many of them for extirpating,
under that odious Name, original natural Dif-
pofitions in the Heart of Man. For Inftance :
the Propenfity, that we all experience to re-
vere an invifible Power ; the Efteem that we
all feel of JufKce and Truth, of Mercy and

Good-



io SERMON L

Goodnefs, of Honour and Decency ; are as real
Constituents of our inward Frame, as any Paf-
fiori or Appetite, that belongs to it. Yet thefe
Principles, which direct us to every Thing that
is good, they would perfuade us to root out as
Prejudices j while they plead earneftly for the
Inclinations, that continually prompt us to
Vice, as Dictates of Nature. And a Part of 4
our Nature undoubtedly they are : but a Part
lamentably difordered ; and which, in its bed
Eftate, the other and higher was evidently de^
figned to govern and reftrain. At leafl, to fet
out with taking the contrary for granted ; and
condemn Things at once, as groundlefs Prepof-
ferfions, which have fo refpectable an Appear^
rmce of being the primitive Guides of Life, is
by no Means inquiring freely.

Another falfe Notion concerning Prejudices*
though at firft Sight a plauflble one, is, that
we ought to divert ourfelves of all Defire to find
Religion true, before we go about to judge of
it. Now it is impoffible, that a Perfon of a
worthy Mind mould do fo. He may indeed,
and will take Care, not to be mifled by his De<-
fire. But he neither can, nor ought to be indif-
ferent concerning a Point, on which his owri
eternal Happinefs, and that of every good Man
5 upon



SERMON I. it

upon Earth, depends. Nor is this the only
Cafe, far from it, in which we are bound to
wifh on one Side, and yet determine fairly be-
tween both. In judicial Proceedings, a benevo-
lent Magistrate will conftantly wifh, that who-
ever is accufed before him may prove innocent :
notwithstanding which, he will try his Caufe
with the moft upright Impartiality.

But if this Degree of Prepoffeffion in Favour
of Religion be right, how exceedingly wrong
muft Prepoffeflion againft it be ! What are we
to think of thofe, and what have they Caufe to
think of themfelves, who can take Pieafure in
that comfortlefs and horrid View- of Things,
which Infidelity gives ; and triumph in believ-
ing, that there is no Reward for the righteous,
no God that judgeth the Earth a / One would
hope they do not fee diflindlly, and yet it is ex-
ceedingly vifible, what Malevolence to human
Kind rejoicing in a Thought of this Nature
implies.

Or if they do not wifh againft Religion in
general, yet, if they wifh againft the Chriftian
Religion, they are Enemies to a Doctrine, which
confirms very powerfully all the great Truths
that Rcaibn teaches -, which clears up, intirely

Pialmlviii. 10. .

to



12 S E R M O N I.

to our Advantage, many tormenting Doubts,
that Reafon leaves us involved in ; and which,
however it may have been perverted, (as every
good Thing in the World hath) undeniably is
in its Nature an Inftitution the moft completely
fitted to make Men happy in themfelves and one
another, in the prefent State and the future,
that ever was. Did we then fee thofe, who
profefs themfelves unfatisfied about its Evi-
dence, afraid it was inefficient ; grieved that
the Proofs appeared no ftronger, and the Ob-
jections fo confiderable ; .this would mew a
Mind, which the Scripture calls noble b , no f far
from the Kingdom of God*. And at Times, they
moft of them affect to feem thus difpofed ; and
wiil affure fuch asprefs them upon the Subject,
that, of all Things, they wifh they could but be
fo happy as to believe. But why then were they
in fuch Hafte to difbelieve, and moft of them to
act viciouily upon their Disbelief ? Why would
they not hear and confider firft ? Why will they
not now reconiider the Subject, and acquaint
themfelves with the Defences of our Faith, as
well as the Attacks made upon it ? Why do
they delight in making Converts of all that they
can ? Why are they fo prone to ridicule, or calum-

* Afts jcvii. 2, c Mark jcii. 34.

niate



S E R M O N I, 13

mate thofe, whom they cannot ? Such Symp-
toms look very fufpicibus ; and mould induce
thofe, who are confcious of them, to put the
Queftibn home to themfelves, whether this great
good Will to Religion be really the Temper,
with which they have ever inquired into it, or
do now inwardly thitik of it ; or whether indeed
their Profeffions are only a fpecious Manner of
talking, occafionally taken up to ferve a Turn,.
If the latter be the Cafe, they muft, in order
to be fair Doubters, guard againfl another Sort
of Prejudices, than they imagined,

Some Prejudices, either right or wrong, will
take hold of us very foon . And therefore it is
fit, that, as far a.s we can, we fhould examine
the Foundation of our early Opinions; but with
Equity, with Candour, not with a Refolution
beforehand to find Fault : for as they are never
the truer for our being educated in them, they
are never the falfer either. But indeed the
Education of many hath placed them fo very
jittle in the Way, either of receiving Prejudices,
or hearing Argurnents in Favour of Religion ;
that they have Need to begin with throwing off
Prejudices to its Difadvantage ; and fhould fuf-
pect that much more may be faid for it, than the
little, which hath come to their Knowledge.

It






14 S E R M O N L

It is probable, that they might have fome Im-.
prcffions of Piety, fuch as they were, made upon
them by the Superintendants of their Childhood ;
and it is pofiible, that fomething may have been
added fince to thefe Impreilions, by their Atten-
dance, if haply they have been fuffered to attend,
on public Inftruction. But as ibon as they begin
to fee a little more of the World, and obferve
what pafles around them, what a Number of
Things will they meet with, likely to give them
a much ftronger Bias towards Infidelity, than
the Forms of a common Education have given
them towards Faith ! They will find but too
many declared Unbelievers, and even Teachers
of Unbelief: very many, who, if they do not
exprefsly deny ChrifHanity, fpeak and act as if
they defpifed it -, and few, in Comparifon^ that
vouchfafe it a ferious and uniform Regard. The
Abufes of Religion they will hear moft invidi-r
oufly magnified -, the Benefits of it moil art-
fully and malicioufly depreciated ; the public
Worfhip of God condemned, as idle Formality 5
the private, as enthufiaftic Folly j the Minifters
cf his Word reprefented as Objects only of
Contempt or Abhorrence : and the Coniequence
hath been, that, by thinking of us in a Manner,
which, with all our Faults, God forbid we

ihould



SERMON I. . i $

fhould deferve, Multitudes are come to think
of the Gofpel, that we preach ? in a Manner,
which they certainly ought not, did we deferve
ever fo ill. When Prejudices from without,
like thefe, are added to the vehement ones with-
in, which Vanity forms againfh every Thing
that would humble it, and Paffions and Appe-
tites againft every Thing that would reftram
them -, it is eafy to perceive, where the Danger
of Partiality lies -, and what PrepofTeffions
the Company they have kept, the Books they
have read, the Lives they have led, make necefr
fary to be banimed by too rnany, if they would
become fair Enquirers.

Let it therefore be examined, on what Foun-
dation the Notions, that we have learned, of
Religion and Virtue ftand. But let it be ex-
mined alfo, on what Foundation the prevailing
Notions, which contradict Religion and Virtue
ftand. For to lay it down as a Maxim, that
thefe are well grounded, and difcard the
former merely on that P resumption, is mon-
ftroufly unreafonable. We own it to be high-
ly proper, that Men (hould afk themfelves,
why they believe : but it is equally proper for
them to aik, why they di(believe. Undoubt-
edly they (liquid not he Bigots and Zealots : but

then



16 SERMON I.

then they fhould not be fo againft Religion, any
more than for it. Implicit Faith is wrong : but
implicit Infidelity is yet more fo. And whatever
Fault may be found with the Truft, which it is
faid the godly repofe in their fpiritual Guides ;
it is full as poffible, and perhaps in Proportion;
full as frequent, for the ungodly to follow one
another on to their Lives End, with their Eyes
clofe fhut, each in the moil fervile Reliance on
what his Leader tells him ; only with the ridi-
culous Addition of admiring moil immoderate*,
ly, all the Way, their own wonderful Freedom
of Thought.

By fuch Confederations as thefc, Men mould
prepare their Minds for beginning to inquire.
And when they do begin, it is an important
Rule, not to be too hafty in drawing Conclu-n
fions, efpecially bold ones. Viewing Things on
every Side, obferving how far Confequences
reach, and proceeding to collect and hear Evir-
dence, till Reafon faith there needs no more, is
grievous Labour to Indolence and Impatience,
and by no Means anfwers the Ends of Conceit
and Affectation. A fhorter Way therefore is
commonly taken. Some Objection of minute
Philofophy ftrikes their Thoughts unexpectedly,
QF comes recommended to them as highly fafhi^

onable,



SERMON I. 17

onable : and whether a folid Anfwer can be given
to it, they never afk. Some Argument, urged
in Favour of Religion, proves or feems to
be a weak one : and, without more ado, they
infer, that the reft are no ftronger. Some
Things, which have been generally received,
they find or apprehend are falfe qr doubtful ;
and therefore Nothing, they imagine, is certain.
Some Text of Scripture, poflibly tranfcribed or
tranflated amifs, is hard to defend, or to recon-
cile with fome other ; and therefore they flight
the Whole. Some Doclrine, which Revelation
is faid to teach, appears hard to underftand or
admit, or is capable of a ludicrous Turn : and
therefore immediately they reject not only
that, but others not in the leaft connected with
it ; throw afide at once the intire Syftem ; and,
it may be, plunge headlong into Vice. Yet, all
the while, Revelation perhaps doth not teach
this Doiftrine, and they are offended folely at a
Phantom of their own drefling up ; or perhaps
teaches it with great Reafon, for any Thing
which they can ever prove to the contrary.
For in a Nature fo unfearchable as that of God,
and a Scheme fo vaft as that of his univerfal
Government, there muft be many Things,
which Creatures of our limited Faculties cannot
VOL. I. L> approach



i8 SERMON I.

approach towards comprehending j and, merely
for Want of comprehending, may fancy to be
full of Incredibilities, which, could we but
know more, or would we but remember that
v/e know fo little, would inflantly vanifli. In
Matters therefore, which we underftand fo very
imperfectly, to fet up human Imagination againft
divine Authority; to rely on crude Notions, that
Things are impoffible, which proper Teftimony
{hews to be true in Fact; or that God cannot be,,
or do, what, by his own Declarations, he is, and
hath done, betrays a Difpolition widely diftant
from the Modefty which becomes us.

Befides, were the Difficulties which attend

the Syftem of Religion, more coniiderable than

they are; yet we mould take Notice, that

Difficulties attend the contrary Syftem alfo $

and confider, fince one muft be true, which

is moft likely to be fo. If there be Objections

againft a Creation and a Providence , are there

not greater againft fuppofmg, that the World

could have exifted without being created, or

continue all this Time without a Providence ?

If there be fomewhat fcarce conceivable in the

Doctrine of a future Life and Judgement : yet

upon the Whole, which of the two is moft

probable, that a wife and good God will finally

recompenfe



S E R M O N I. 19

recompenfe Men according to their Works, or
that he will not ? If there be Things in the
Gofpel-Revektion, for which it is hard to ac-
count, is it fo hard to account for any Thing
upon Earth, as how it ihould come to have
fuch aftonifhing Proofs, internal and external,
of being true, if it be really falie ? They who
think the Creed of a Chriflian fo ftrange and
myfterious, let them think a while, what the
Creed of an Infidel mufl be, if he would only
lay aiide his general Pretences of Impofture and
Enthuiiafm and Credulity and Bigotry, which
thrown out at random will difcredit all Evi-
dence of Hiftory alike; and anfwer in parti-
cular, how, on his own Hypothefis, he accounts
for all the feveral notorious Facts, on which our
Religion is built. I am perfuaded, there hath
never appeared yet amongfl Men fo incompre-
henfible a Collection of Tenets, as this would
produce. Men may indeed be too eafy of Be-
lief : but it is juft as great a Weaknefs to be
too full of Sufpicion. Reverence for Antiquity
may impofe upon us : but Fondnefs for Novelty
may do the fame Thing. Undoubtedly we ihould
be on the Watch againft pious Frauds : but
againft impious ones too. For whatever Dif-
honefty the Advocates of Religion have foea
B 2 either



20 SERMON I.

either juftly or unjuflly charged with, the Oppo- J
fers of it have given full Proof, at leaft of their
Inclination not to come mort of them. Who-
ever therefore would proceed in the right Path,
muft be attentive to the Dangers on each
Side.

Perhaps this may feern to require more Pains
than moft Perfons are capable of. But of -an
upright Difpolition every one is capable : and
With this, common Abilities and Leifure will
fuffice to judge concerning the neceilary Points
of Faith and Practice. Few indeed, or none,
can judge of any Thing without relying in fome
Meafure on the Knowledge and Veracity of
others. And what muft we think of human
Nature, or what will become of human Socie-
ty, if we can take Nothing on each other's
Word ? We fhould hearken to no one indeed,
who arTerts plain Abfurdities. And we fhould
always judge for onrfelves as far as We can.
But we mould not afFecl to do it farther.
Where we viiibly want, either Parts or Learn-
ing or Time for it, as we frequently do in
worldly Affairs of great Moment, no lefs than
in Religion, we are both allowed and obliged


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