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Divine Revelation, or any Authority due to it.
A Christian, who believes the Gospel, is in no danger of the Philosophy of Infidels; for the Authority of God is above all Reason and Philosophy: but if we set aside Revelation, and difpute with them upon equal Terms, the Event is doubtsul: Not because I fear, that, setting aside Revelation, there are better Arguments against the Immortality of the Soul, than there are for it ; ( which I hope to convince you there are nor) but because all such Disputes are a Tryal of Skill between Man and Man, and their personal Abilities and Qualifications: and if an Infidel happen to be a wittier Man, and better Philosopher than a Christian, the Victory is like to go on that side; and the Christian who lays aside his Faith, may be baffled in his Philosophy ; and that too often endangers the renouncing his Faith.
2. To make you still more sensible of the danger of this, I observe, that one great Design of Revelation was to deliver us from the Uncertainties of Human Reason, and to give us a surer Foundation for our Faith. If any thing be certain by the Light of Nature, we must acknowledge, that the Principles of Natural Religion are so; as that there is a God, and a Providence, and a Life to come, wherein good Men shall be rewarded, and the wicked punished. But tho? the Generality of Mankind believed these things by a kind of natural Instinct and Sensation, yet we know what Work the Philosophers made, when they came to dispute them: That Men, who firmly believed the Being of a God and the Immortality of the Soul, without any of their Arguments, escaped well, if they believed as much after they had heard their wrangling B 4
Debates. This very Account St. Paul gives of it, 1 Cor. i. 20, 21. Where is the Wife? Where is the Scribe? Where is the Disputer of this World? Hath not God made foolish the Wisdom of this World ? For after that in the Wisdom of God, the World by Wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of Preaching to save them that believe. The meaning of which is, that the Disputes of Philosophers had by long Experience been found very ineffectual to instruct and confirm Mankind in the Belief and Knowledge of God, and of another World, and to direct them in the way to Happiness; and therefore God in great Compassion to our Infirmities chofe another, a more easy, a more convincing, and 'more compendious Way, to teach us ; not by the Wisdom of this World, nor by the uncertain Reasonings of Philofophers, but by the Revelation of the Gospel of Christ, by the foolishness of Preaching, which contained no curious Speculations, no new Theories, and never pretended to Natural Demonstrations. The Apostles only told a plain Story of the Life, and Death, and Resurrection of Christ, and
confirmed their Testimony by Miracles. The Doctrines which they taught, were plain Matters of Fact, and the Arguments whereby they proved them, were not drawn from the Secrets of Nature, but from a Divine Power, which visibly appear’d in those nighty Works they did.
This is the Account St. Paul gives of his Preaching, 1 Cor. ii. 1--5. And I, Brethren, when I came to you, came ‘not with Excellence of Speech, or of Wisdom, declaring unio you the Testimony of God. For I. determined not to know any thing among you save Jesus Christ, and bim crucified. And I'was with you in weakness
in fear, and in much trembling. And my Speech and my Preaching was not will enticing Words of Man's Wisdom, but in Demonstration of the Spirit and of Power, that your Faith should not stand in the Wisdom of Men, but in the Power of God. He did not preach the Gospel to them with the Excellency of Speech, or of Wisdom, not with the enticing Words of Man's Wisdom, as the Græcian Orators and Philosophers used to teach. He did not persuade them to believe in Christ with a Pomp and Flourish of Words; nor recommend Christianity to them, according to the Fashion of those Times, in a new Philosophical Dress ; and was resolved never to do fo, but only to preach to them Jesus Christ, and him Crucified, and that with all the plainness and simplicity, which such a Doctrine requires. But then he had Demonstrations, beyond all the Demonstrations of Philosophy, and beyond all the Enticing Words of Man's Wisdom, the Demonstration of the Spirit, and of Power ; God bearing them Witness, both with Signs and Wonders, and with divers Miracles, and Gifts of the Holy Ghost, - according to his own Will, Heb. ii. 4. And the Reafon the Apostle gives for this, is very considerable, that your. Faith should not stand in the Wisdom of Men, but in the Power of God; that is, that their Faith might reft upon a sure bottom, the Testimony and Authority of God, which nothing can ever shake and unsettle; and not on the uncertain Reasonings of Men, which cannot create a firm and lasting Affent; which, if they were never so true, unlearned Men cannot understand, and learned Men cannot agree about ; which might be perverted by Wit and Sophistry, by Faction and Interest; as the Example of secular Wisdom and Philosophy did abun
dantly prove. This is the Reason, why he would not mix Philosophy with Christianity; tho that would have made it the more palatable to the wife Men of the Age; because the Reasonings of Philosophy are uncertain, and if they be once received into our Faith, or allowed any Consideration in it, as much Authority as these Reasonings are allowed in Faith, so much Uncertainty they communicate to it.
Thus St. Paul preached at Athens, and thus he preached at Rome, and was not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, which is the Power of God unto Salvation to them that believe; and tho' he was skilled in Secular Learning, and was no Stranger to the Writings of the Philosophers and Poets, yet we do not find that in all his Disputes with the Philosophers, he ever above once reasoned with them from the Principles of Nature, and those the most uncontested Principles too; of which more presently.
Had he liked this way, we might reasonably have expected it from him when he made his Apology before King Agrippa, and Festus the Roman Governor; especially when he undertook to defend the Credibility of the Resurrection: W by mould it be thought a thing incredible with you that God jould raise the Dead ? Acts xxvi. 8. The Infidels of our Age, had they heard him say -fo, would certainly have expected a Philosophical Discourse of the Possibility of the Resurrection, how a dead Body which is dissolved into Dust, and it may be its Atoms scattered into the four Winds, should recover its ancient Shape and Form, and a new Life; and what an Entertainment would such a Discourse as this have been to those Great Men, who no doubt were inspired with the Curiosity and the Philosophick
Genius of the Age? But St. Paul meddles not with the Philosophy of the Resurrection, but tells them how he himself came so satisfied in the Truth of it, by the Appearance of Christ to him on his way to Damascus.
By this. Means Christianity prevailed in the World; for the Foolishness of God is wiser tban Men, and the Weakness of God is stronger than Men, But as Philosophy crept into Religion, the several Sects of Philosophers divided the Church with as many Heresies and Schisms, and this brought great Uncertainty into our Faith; and Christianity owed its Progress more to the Publick Countenance and Authority of Government, than to its own Native Force and Power.
Our own Age is a Fatal Example of this, in the prodigious Growth of Atheism and Infidelity among us; not to mention some other pestilent and prevailing Heresies; for it is all owing to resolving our Faith more into Natural Reason than into Revelation. This is not the way whereby Christianity was at first propagated, nor is it the way whereby it will ever be restored.
Some Men who have a great Opinion of their Philosophy, think presently to convert the World by some new witty Hypothesis: but the World was never converted by Philosophy yet; and after so many Ages Experience, it is time to lay aside the Thoughts now. I do not blame any Mens Labours in confuting the Principles of the Atheistick Philosophy, while they do not pawn our Faith upon it, and set aside Revelation as below a Philosopher. But we all know, that the World by Wisdom knew not God ; and I do not find that the World is much wiser now than it was in those Days, nor its Philoso