William Nicholls.

A Conference with a Theist : containing an answer to all the most usual objections of the infidels against the Christian religion ... (Volume 1) online

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are Fancies which we Proteftants cannot agree to , for
this Opinion would allow, that Juftification would be the
proper Effect of the Sacraments, which is only in Scrip-
ture attributed to Faith and Holinefs of Life, when the
Apoftle exprefly affirms, That outward Baptijm does not
Cave PIS-, htit only the Anfiver of a good Confcience toward
'God, I Pet. iii. 21.

' But though this Opinion be erroneous, it does not fol-
low, that no Grace at all is conferred in the Sacraments.
.Tho' they do not produce this Effed of themfelves, or
by their hare facramental Inftitution, yet they may be
made a Means of it, by the Affiftance of God's holy
Soirit, co-operating with them, and the Faith of Belie-
vers, And if we credit the Holj Scriptures-^ it mufl be
■plain to us, that by thefe Sacraments^, we receive many
fjpernatural Gifts of the Holy Ghoji, Our Saviour tells
Nrcodcmtis^ difcourling to him of Baptifm, that That
-which is born of the Spirit, is Spirit, Joh. \i\,6, and joins
all along together, the being born again of Water, and the
Spirit, And fo the Apoftle, tit, iii. 5. puts together
the Waflfrng of Regetteration-, and the Renewing of the Holy
GhoJi, And fo throughout the whole fixth Chapter of
the Romans, he lliews the great Advantages, and JpiritHot
€rac€S 7Mch 7V€ recsive hj Baptifm^ that hing d^ad before^

Part IIL "With a T HE isr. 501

ky this we maj be enabled to walJ^in Ncwmfs ofLifey v. 4.
Tlvitthe Body of Sin, by this, /; d^firoycd, that henceforth
Tvefloonld not fcrve Sin, v. 6, And that by this 7ve nre
dead unto Sin, cmd dive unto God, v. 1 1 . By all which \t
is plain, that by the Sacrament of Baprifm, we do re-
ceive fuch Advantage and Ailiftance of God's Holy Spi-
rit, as may enable us to encounter wit!i the Wiles and
Malice of the Devil, with the ftrongePc Temptations
which the World or the Flefh can prefent us- with, and
with the greateft Difficulties we can meet with in our
Chriftian Warfare. This was fo confpicuous m the Pri-
mitive Times, that many of the Heathen Profeljtes found
in themfelves an incredible Alteration upon receiving this
Sacrament ; their Souls were in a manner framed a-new:,
fo that they feemed not to be the fame Men' they were
before. Which makes LaUantim to glory thus of the
Effeds of Baprifm. Gwe us (fays he) one that is mjuft',
foolij}}, and a Sinner, and in an Injiant he jhall be jf^Jl, pru^
dent, and innocent, 7mth one Lover all his Wicf^dnefs JJmU

And fo for the Sacrament of the Lord's-Snppery it is j^^^.^. ^^p_
plain, that by this v/e obtain Forgivenefs of Sms, which ^^er.
is fealed by this Sacrament. This Cup (fays St. Luke
xxii. 20.) is the fjew Tejiament or Covena'^d in my Blood,
Or, as St. Matthew cxprelfes it. This is my Blood of the
Ne^v Covenant, which is Jloed for many, for the Rermffion
of Siyis, By which it is plain, that RemilTion of Sins
is received by partaking of this Sacrament; or elfe the
Benefits of Chrift's Blood are conveyed in ir, v/hichU
the leaft that can be underftood by the Wofds,^ This is
my Blood. And many other great EfFedrs of ijjiritual
Grace, our Saviour {joh, vi. ) attributes to the eat-
ing and drinking his Body and Blood; that Men by
this l"hall never Hunger, 'z^. 35. That this is for the Life
of the World, v. 51. That without this Men have no
Life, v. 53. And again. He that eateth my Fleflh and
drinketh my Bloody dwellcth in me, and I in him, v. 56^.
By which ExprelTions many of the Ancients thouglit,
that the Elements in this Holy Sacrament were the Seed

K k :; of

Ko^ A Conference

of Eternal Life, in a proper Senfe, and which would
make the Bodies of tme Receivers fpring up again from
the Duft. But, however, the leaft that can be underftood
by thefe PalTages is, that God's Holy Spirit does, upon
the due receiving the Holy Sacrament, convey to us
extraordinary Graces and divine Affiftances. And what

. FvCafon, indeed, is there to think otherwife ? For if God
has promifed , to give his Holy Spirit to thofe that ask
it , that he will provide us of Grace fufEcient for us,
even upon Account of our ordinary Prayers, why fhould
we think he iliould not be inclined , to be more than
ordinarily Liberal to our Requefts, in that moft folemn
and intenfe Devotion, which he himfelf has particu-
larly Inftituted ?

phiL Next I except again ft your Religion, for pro-
po(ing fuch an odd unconceivable Docftrine, as th^ Rejur^
reSiion of the Body, It is contrary to all Rules of Phi-
lofophy and common Senfe, that a Body, which has
once fubmitted to natural Corruption, ihould again re-
aOume its priftine Form and Life. Nature then has neg-
lected its Ancient Work^^ and is gone on to a nev/
Draught of Operation; fo that to produce the fame Thing
again, is as abfurd as to recal Yefterday. Nay, what
jejune and operofe Labour does this impcfe upon the
Deity, not to call it an Impoffibility; to make him hunt
out, throughout all the Univerfe , the diiperfed Parti-
cles of diffolved Bodies, that are evaporated into the
Air, toffed up and down in the Winds, diiTolved in the
JVater, and rolled down Rivers? And how is it pof-
fible , that all Mens Bodies lliould arife again the fame,
when the fame Matter has, in SuccejGTion of time, com-
pofed it may be half a Scored The fame Herbage, which
grows from the Corruption of Human Bodies, is turned
into the Nourilliment of Animals, v/hich become the
Food of other Men. But what fhall Canibals do, who
live upon one another ? In this Cafe, at your Refurrec-
tion, one muft want a Leg, and another an Arm, and
fome will hardly have a Finger left to themfelves. Now
this will rriake the Refurre&ion look more like a Sur-

Part III. ri^ith a T H E I s T- ^ 50^

geon's Shop, or an Hofpital, than a Kingom of Glory.
Indeed it may not want fome Probability to fay, that
when the Soul iliall leave this Body, it may again have,
after a time, fome other Body or Vehicle to move about
in ; but that it iliould be forced, to have the old rotten
Pai tides picked up to be re-united to, is to me ground-
lefs and unconceivable Superftition.

Cred, It is the conftant Fault of Men of your Per- T'oJJ^iLilhy
fuafion, to disbelieve everything that does, any Ways, '^'^f''^^^-/^^'
contradid the ordinary Rules of Nature ; but if Na- IheRefur-
ture be not God, bur God governs Nature, I do not rea'toa.
fee any Reafon , but that God may difpofe of Nature,
and difpenfe with her ordinary Laws, as he thinks fit.
There was a Time when Nature had none of thefe
Laws, and, w4ien God pleafes, Ihe may be difpoflciTjd
of them again. The prefent ordinary Laws of Nature,
if they had been propofed to an intelligent Being, be-
fore the Creation of the World, when they did not
aftually exift, would have been altogether as lliocking,
even to an angelick Mind, as any thing in the Do-
dlrine of rhe Refurreftion is to ours. What could an
angelick Nature, that had been acquainted with no-
thing but pure Spirit, think of a material World?
What could fuch a iimple Subftance, that never knew
any thing , but as uncompounded as it felf , think of
fuch a grofs bulky Subftance as Body \ What Idea could
it have of fuch a Being, which was it felf Fmite, and
yet every Part thereof iliould be infinitely Divifible;
that all thofe fmall Somethings which compof^d the
whole Bulk of Matter, fhould be infinitely diflant from ^

N'othing? How amazing would it be to that fpirimd
Beingy to conl^derthe Nature of corporeal Motion; and,
when it had been us'd only to intuitive Knowled^^e,
how ftrange would be the Idea to it of bodily Sente ?
Or how could it imagine, that the firft'dark Lumps of
Chaotick Matter, fhould ever be framed into the beauti-
ful Mechanifm of this ordsrlj Worlds Mod: certainly, a
imty Angel, if he had the ufiial Pride of our Vnhelie^
vsrs^ could have made as many ObjcEiions againfl: the,

K k 4 Creation

504. A Conference

Creation of a material World, as they do again ft the Re-
furreUion of a fpiritptal Body; But notwithftanding thefe
Things were abovethe Compafs of the ThoughtSy perhaps
Ci^ ^t exalted Angeh^ ytt God yllmighty did make fuch a
Glorious Material Worlds and fince we Chriflians are furcj
God has pron:ii(ed to raife fuch a glorious Body out of our
dead Onesy we do {ledfaftly believe, he will make good his
Word. If the thing be not abfolutely impofTible, there can
be no Objeftion againft it; for if it can be done, G^^has
engaged his Verricity^ that he will do it. But it is not
impoflible to be done, and therefore it will be done. It
would be impollible for us, and difficulty it may be, to any
other finite underflanding, to gather together fo many
difperfed Particles of Matter, but it would be no Difficulty
or Operofenefs to the Deity-, for in their preftnt Coniuiion,
they all lie as diftindly in his Knowledge, as if they were
ranged into the moft methodical Order, God Almighty
preferves them every minute in their Being where-ever
the lie; and to be fure, he that conferves them, knows
them. So that God can, at the lafl Summons, with as
great Facility bring thofe difperfed Particles together
sgain, as he united them in their firfl ProduElion, Nay,
one may cafily imagine, that Gody if he pleafed, might
imprefs a kind of natural Force upon thefe diffolved
Parts, to move to one another as readily as homogeneous
Metals do in a Chymifl's Furnace, or the Juices of the
Earth, which are proper to nouriCh each Plant, are
drawn together by it. What tho' we do not ordina-
rily behold a Regrefs to the ancient Form after a Priva -
tiony or that- Things naturally do not return from Death
to Life; muft therefore C'o*;/ oblige himfelfi for ever, to
the little Laws of this World. Thefe Rules of Nature,
are only a Scheme drawn for a World affix or [even
Thoufand Tears Continuance; but after that, God Al-
mighty flrikes out new Lines of Providence, and pre-
fcribes to himfelfnew Methods of 0/^r^^/o;?, the which
are unknown to us now. And when you fay, it is as
impoflible to revive fuch a dead Body-, as to recal Ye-
fterday, that is a great Miftake. For the Paits of Ye-


Part III. ^Mth a T h E i s T. 505

fterday are not in Being, but the Parts of a dead hu-
man Body are. All the Parts of Matter are ftill perma^
nent^ after their Dijfohaion; whilft Time con fi lis in
Fli^x or SftcceffioK, the former Part of which muft have
perifned, before the latter has a Being. And 'tis to as
little Purpofe^ that you objed the Food of Canmbds^ and
the mterfering of one Mans Body with another ; for there is
no one ever lived altogether upon Man's Flella, and the -
very Liquids which are taken in with it? make no inpon-
Jiderahle Portion of a CannihaCs Body, Befides, v/e do
not know the Dimenfions of the fpritual Body, That
the corrupted Particles of the old one is the Foundation
of it, is plain by Revelation; but that all the grofi
Matter, which they formerly partook of, lliall be taken
in again into the angelicl^Body^ is not fo certain. And
tho' there fhould be a great deal of ic loft by Tranf^
mutation from one Body to another ; yet I am perfuaded>
there would be ftill abundantly enough remaining, to
compofe that curious IfangelickJFrame o^ iht glorified Body^
Therefore, I don*c fee any Reafon, why the Socinians^
and their Folloiversy fliould gratify the Infidels fo far, . as
to allow the RefurreElion of a Body, in general only ; when
the Scripture fpeaks only of the fame Body, and when
the firft Chriftians were reviled for believing the Refur -
region of the fame Body, For if no more was meant by
their Faith, than the RefurreElion of a Body, the Heathens
might as well have expofed the Pagan Divinity of Plato
and Pythagorasy v/.ho allow 'd, That the Soul was again
embodied after this Life; and the contumelious fcatter-
ing the Afhes of the Chriftians Bodies into Rivers, was
then no manner of Exprobration to the Chiiftian Doc-
trine. Therefore, I fay, when this is the Dodrine
of the Scripture, and the conftant Belief of the Chri-
ftian Church, and is a thing fo eafy to c nceive an in-
finite Being to do; I do not fee why Men fhould fall
into fpeculative, or fanciful Notions of a Refarredion,
only becaufe they may look a little more philofophical.

Phil. There is another Dodrine of your Religion,
which I cannot fo eafily fubfcribe to, and that is, when


5o6 ^Conference

• you teach that there is a Devil, a certain great ^ mcu
liciofii imf^d Power which is the Adverfirj of God, Now
'tis not only very grofs md irrational^ bm it is very impious
to ajfcrt^ that Almighty God being willing to do ^ood to
Aien, is hindred from it by an Adverfirj, What I Jhall the
Son of God be ivorfied by the Devill Tnefe are .ftrange con-
tradidious Tales. IF there were any Power, tho* never
fo great, that fhould liand in the Way of Omnipotence,
the Almighty Power would crulli it into Nothing ; for
what created Power can be compared to an infinite one ?
The whole united Power of Hell, and all your fancied
Legions of Devils, would not be fo conl^derable, if com-
pared with that, as a fwarm of Flies to Xerxes's Army.
Kctkn of A Cred. You cannot pretend to expofe the Chriflian 'jVo-
"^f^lL ^f, Hon of a Devil, without taxing the Opinion of perhaps
^^^^^ the whole World befides. The Ancients Cacod^monsy

Furies, A^ali Genij, &c. were but the fame Thing in o-
ther Words ; and Pinto, the Gpd of Hell, and Gover-
nour of infernal Spirits, is much the fame with the fcrip-
tural Satan J the Prince of Darknefs. The fame Notion of
a great powerful evil Spirit, was got among the old Per-
fimsy under the Name of Arimanms, and is ftill amoncr
tm Amnicans, under the Name oi' Codovangi; the like is
to be found in the Theology of tlie Chinefe, From whence
I conclude, that this is a Part of ancient traditionary Reti-
gioHy kept up among the diverfe Nations of the World,
and derived from the firft Progenitors o^ Mankind-, who,
by the Unhappinefs of their Fall, had efpeciai Occafion
very often to re-mind their Poflerity of the wicked
Caufe of it.
i^eafonethle But why is the Charaifler of a Devil fo difficult to be
there jUuld believed f I can fee no Reafon, but why there may not
sLwf/'^ be depraved or fallen Angels, as well as Men. If they
have Free-will, as Men have, then they may abufe it,
and that to the mofl: wicked and pernicious Purpofis^ becaufe
of their extraordinary Knowledge. Becaufe they know fo
much, fince they want Goodne/s, they will be but the
more arrogantly Proud ; and that Pride, when they fee
* Cclf. apud Orig. p. 303.


Part HI. "with ^ T h e i s t. 507

themfelves defpif^d by God and good Angels, will render
them fiighffitl ^nd malicious^ and put them upon mjfchief^
ing every thing which God has a liking to. Thefe Ef^
fe&s are natural, and obvious to be feen in wicked Men
of great Parts, who are flighted by their Superiors', but
in fallen Angels fuch Malice will be much more refined,
znd truly devilifli. ^

But you miflake, when you think that Chriflians j^^vil does
own, that the Devil is fuch an Adverfary of God, that yiot hindvr
God cannot eafily defend himfelffrom him. God n:light^ ^'''^'•
if he pleafed, annihilate the Prince of Darknefs, with all
his Adherents, or fink them a thoufand Times deeper in-
to Damnation than they arc ; neither do we think that
his Wiles are fo great, that he circumvcntsy or over^reaches
Cod ^mighty*

But though he cannot be too cunning for God, he may
be fo for Men ; and God is not obliged to over-power
Man's Will, when he does incline to the Suggeflions of
the Tempter ; it is fufficient that God gives him Warn-
ing of the Danger from his Adverfary, and affords him
fuiScient Portions of his Grace, but it is inconfiflent with
the Frame o^Hnman NatnYey^i^x. God iliould forcibly bend
his Will to Good, to refcue him from the Temptation, God over-

But further, there is no Doubt to be made, but that ^^j;"^ ^"
God does often make ufe of thefe little Artifices of the -^rovidmcL
Devil, to the Ruin of his own wicked Purpofes, to
further his own all-wife Defigns, which he is carrying
on for the Punifiment of Sin ^ and for the Government of
the World. He fuffers fome Men to be tempted into great
Sinsy that fometimes they may be roufed, by the Shame
or Guilt of them, into Repentance ; he makes one Man's
Wickednefs chaflife that of another, and Occafions fome
to take Warning by the heinous Crimes which he per-
mits others to fall into. And I doubt not, but in the
lafl: Winding up of Providence, it will be made appear,
that the Devil's own mifchievous Wickednefs fliall fall
upon his own Pate; and thofe Wiles, by which he
thought to defeat the Defigns of God, ihall only tend
h\xt to make himfelf the more miferable*

ThiL The

508 A Conference

ThiL The Notions you Chriftians generally have of
Hell, and everlafting Punilliments, do likewife very much
jdifguft me. For my Parr, I look upon thofe idle Stories
of Lakes of Fire and Brimftone, of a Worm that dies
not, and Mens rolling about for ever in Rivers of Flame;
to be only Bug-bear Tales of defigning Men, and which
ferve to fcare filly ones. Of thefe Stories, Lucretim has
handfomely pafTed his Judgment formerly.

Cerberus ^ Furky turn vera b' Lucis egent^s^
Tartarnsy horrificos erulians fauclhus would be unmerctfnl and tinjufl ; when you confider
S^^V^' ^^^^^ Matters aright, you will own, that the Jfifitce and
Mercy of God may be fufficiently vindicated in this Par-
ticular. For tho* Mercj be one of t\\Q Attribntes of Gods
yet his W/fdo^n and Juflice are lo too ; and his Mercy
cannot in Reafon fpare, when his Wifdom and Jufike
, dired him to pun i 111. So that the whole Oueflion de-

pends upon this, Whether it he reafonahle for God to entail
an Eternity of Torments for the Punijloment of temporary
Sinf And I anfwer that he may, for thefe Reafons:

I. Becaufe it is not requifite that the Punifhment
which is forewarned, Ihould always be proportioned to
the Guilt, For it is very juft in a Legijlator oftentimes
to make very fevere Laws againfty?/^/?? Crimes, efpecially
Ivhen the Offenders grow numerous and infolent. Now
when we fee that Sinners are fo bold and daring, that
they will venture upon Sin, when an Infinity of Punifl)-
mem is denounced againft it ; can you think it reafonahle
that God fhould have been obliged to have made the
V uniflornent lefs fevere, thereby to have given wicked Men
the Opportunity to be more impudent. Indeed the Cafe
had not been the fame, if God had not given Warning of
the Grievoufnefs of the Eunifhment ; but when Men know
beforehand .what they muft trud: to upon their Difbhedi-
ence, it is no Injuftice in God to in Aid the Severity of
his Laws when it lay in Mens Power to have avoided
it. And befides, that which makes fuch a fevere Le-
giflation the more reafonable, is, that God has annexed
an Eternity of Reward to the Ohedience of his La:iiJS, as lie
has an Etemitj of Mi fry to the Difohedience ; fo that the
Infinity on one Side, does as much exceed all Pretence
of Proportion, as ,on thi" other ; and Man has a Free-will
to take either Choice : So that upon the whole, 'tis his


Part III. 'UDith ^Theist. 511

own Follj^ and not God's Juftice^ that is to be blamed if
he takes the Wrong.

2. I fhall omit the Argument of the Schools for the
Eternity of Torments, upon account that the Sins which
they puniili, are againfi an infinite Dignity , (though there
is more in that Argument than the Socinians will allov/ :}
and lliall ground the Juftice of God, in this. Proceeding,
upon the natural Miferablenefs of Sin. God Almighty-
has fixed^ eternal Laws, that Virtue fhall naturally tend
to Happinefs, and Vice to Mifery. And whereas the
Soul is naturally Immortal, as long as it canies its Vice
with it, it will be miferable. There is no Time o^ Pur-
gation from Vice but in this World, through the Merits
of Chrifl, and the Benefits of the Gofpel; and therefore
a Soul that goes out of it unregenerate, is miferable for
ever. It would be eternally miferable, if upon no other
Account, but becaufe it will feel eternal Remorfes for
Sin, and everlaftingly Regret the Lofs of an infinite Hap-
pinefs. But yet further, fuppofe that God, upon the
Creation of the World, fixed fettled Laws of his Provi-
dence in Relation to Rewards and Pimifhments of Virtue
and Vice, wherein he has determined, that Sin fliould
carry Men as naturally to fuch Punilliments, as frequent
Debauchees into Diftempers and Indifpofition of Body ;
where would be the Injuftice of God, to \tx. Men for
ever fuffer the EfFefls which their Wickednefs had
brought them into \ If you by Intemperance had ruin'd
the Conftitution of your Body, do you think that God
Almighty's Juftice, or Mercy, is concern'd to reflify it
again by a Miracle \ God Almighty's Mercy and Good-
nefs were fignalized enough in giving you a found Con-
ftitution at firft, which it was in your Power to have
kept, if you had lived as you ought to have done ; but
it is no manner of Injuftice in God, if he then fuffer^
your Body to remain fickly as long as it does continue in

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