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They cannot, therefore, be contrary to one another, but must mutually illustrate and enforce one an. other. Besides, how can we distinguish one scheme of religion from another, so as to give the preference to that which is the most deserving of it, but by the help of our reason and understanding? What would you yourselves say to a Mahometan, whom you would persuade to abandon the imposture of Mahomet, and embrace Christianity, but bid him use his reason; and judge, by the help of it, of the manifest difference between the two religions, and the great superiority of yours to his? Does not God himself appeal to the reason of man, when he condescends to ask us, “ whether his ways be not equal ?" Ezek. xviii. 29. Does not the apostle exhort us that “in understanding we be men ?” 1 Cor. xiv. 20. Are we not expressly commanded to “prove all things, and then hold fast that which is good ?” i Thess. v. 21. Also, when we are commanded to “search the Scriptures,” John v, 39. more must be meant than merely reading them, or receiving implicitly the interpretations of others. Searching must imply an earnest endeavour to find out for ourselves, and to understand, the truths contained in the Scriptures; and what faculty can we employ for this purpose, but that which is commonly called reason, whereby we are capable of thinking, reflecting, comparing, and judging of things ? Distrust, therefore, all those who decry human 6 Of the Use of Reason in Matters of Religion. reason, and who require you to abandon it, whereever religion is concerned. When once they have gained this point with you, they can lead you whither they please, and impose upon you every absurdity which their sinister views may make it expedient for them that you should embrace. A Popish priest would require nothing more than this, to make you believe the doctrine of transubstantiation, and that a man is infallible; or to persuade you to commit the most flagrant wickedness, as a means of doing God service. For the first of these articles they do not fail to urge the words of Scripture, which expressly say, concerning the bread that is used in the Lord's Supper, that it is the body of Christ,” Matt. xxvi. 6. and there is no possibility of replying to them, but by appealing to reason, as the necessary and proper judge of the sense of Scripture. The Papist, therefore, as might well be expected, is forward, on all occaşions, to vilify human reason, and to require men to abandon it; but true Protestants will not part with it. It is by the help of reason, in conjunction with the Scriptures, that we guard ourselves against the gross delusions of the Papists, who, after relinquishing reason, have been made to believe a lie ; and by the diligent and continued use of the same power, let us endeavour to combat every remaining error, and trace out and reform every corruption of Christianity, till we hold the
Of the Power of Man to do the Will of God. 7 pure truth as it is in Jesus, and obey it in the love thereof.
Do not think that, by recommending the use of reason, I am about to decry the Scriptures. My appeal shall be to both, upon every subject on which I address you; and I think you cannot but see that the plainest and most obvious sense of the Scriptures is in favour of those doctrines which are most agreeable to reason. A good man will rejoice to see them thus go hand in hand, mutually illustrating and enforcing one another.
II. OF THE POWER OF MAN TO DO THE WILL
ONE of the subjects with respect to which I earnestly wish that you would attend to the voice of reason and the Scriptures, and with respect to which, one mistake will be followed by many others, and mistakes of great consequence, is concerning the power of man to do the will of God. It is a favourite opinion with niany teachers of religion, that men have naturally (or by that constitution and fraine which God their maker hath given them) no power at all to do any thing that is good, not even to think a good thought, much less actually to obey any of the commands of God; so that, if men were left to themselves, they could do nothing but sin, and must be under a necessity of aggravating their condemnation, by every
thought, word, and action of their lives. But, my brethren, how does this doctrine agree with the Scriptures, and particularly with the manner in which the Divine Being constantly expostulates with the sinful sons of men; as when he says to the Jews, “ Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, why will ye die, O house of Israel !" Ezek. xxxiii. 11. “Wash ye, make you clean. Cease to do evil, learn to do well, &c. &c. &c.” Isa. i. 16.
Is it not plain from this, that it depends upon men themselves, whether they will repent and turn to God, or not? And how can it depend upon themselves, if they have not naturally a sufficient power to do it? You cannot think that God would command, and expect obedience, when he had not given power to obey; and much less that he would urge men to provide for their own safety and happiness, when himself had put an effectual bar in the
way of it.
Suppose that any man's children were shut up in a building that was on fire, while he himself was without, and had the key; and that, instead of opening the door to favour their escape, he should only call out to them to flee out of the place in order to avoid instant destruction; and that, as the necessary consequence of this, they should all perish in the flames before his eyes; what would you think of such a father? You would want words to express your abhorrence of
his cruelty. And yet in this very light do many Christian divines represent the conduct of that God “whose tender mercies are over all his works,” and who has solemnly declared, “that he hath no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but rather that he would turn from his way and live;" (Ezek. xxxiii.
" who would have all men to be saved.” 1 Tim. ii. 4
The conduct of our merciful God and Father is certainly far different from this, and more agree. able to reason and equity. If he designed us to be accountable creatures, and treats us as such, we must have talents given us, which we may either improve or misimprove. If we be the subjects of his moral government, we must be in a condition either to observe or to break his laws. A power to do the one necessarily supposes a power to do the other; and without this power we should not be the proper subjects of religion ; as, in that case, it would be vain to propose to us either rewards for obedience, or punishments for disobedience.
Nor is the supposition of a power in man to do the will of God, any foundation for pride. For we must still say, with the apostle, “What have we that we have not received ? and how then can we glory, as if we had not received it ? Every good and every perfect gift comes from God;" and, knowing this, the more we receive of his bounty, the more thankful, and the inore humble, we should be. I