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Saint Paul found himself so vigorously opposed by false teachers among the Galatians, that with all his miracles, inspirations, and elaborate reasonings, he could not keep up the credit of his scheme, no, not even among his own converts, who once were ready to pluck out their eyes for hiin; rather, in endeavouring to keep the truth up, his own credit sunk by the means. Gal. iv. 16. And a little before his death, after full experience of the nature of error and delusion, he plainly tells his son Timothy, that the case with some was really hopeless; saying, Evil men and seducers shall war worse and worse, decriving and being deceived. 2 Tim. iii. 13. And while the apostles were some of them yet living, numbers of their converts actually separated from their churches; numbers of their graceless converts, I mean. 1 John ii. 19. They went out from us, but they were not of us: for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us.
Now it cannot be pretended there was any want of external light and evidence, needful to discern and ascertain the truth, in that age; and nevertheless, matters began to work then very much as they have all along since. It is not therefore, through want of light and evidence externally held forth, that men have gone into error, in one age and another, who have had the bible in their bands; but it has been entirely owing to the vicious state of their minds. And therefore saint Paul reckons heresies among the works of the flesh, and gives them a place along with adultery, fornication, witchcraft, murder, drunkenness, &c. as being criminal in the same sense with them. Gal. v. 19, 20, 21.
And indeed the sun and substance of the Gospel may be reduced to two or three points, which must be in a manner self-evident to a mind rightly disposed; or to use our Saviour's words, to those who have a good and honest heart. For as all Christians were baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost ; so right apprehensions of the character and offices of these three, is the sum of all Christian knowledge. For he who believes God the Father, the supreme Governor of the world, to be by nature God, an absolutely perfect, an infinitely glorious and amiable
Being, iufinitely worthy of that supreme love and honour, and universal obedience, which the Divine law requires at our hands, and that consequently his law is holy, just, and good : and he who believes that God the Son, the express image of the Father, became incarnate, and died to do honour to the divine law, was set forth to be a propitiation to declare his Father's righteousness, that he might be just, and yet the justifier of the believer: and he who believes that God the Holy Ghost, is appointed to be an enlightener and sanctifier, to bring sinners to understand the truth, see it in its glory, believe, love, and obey it: he who understands and believes these points, cannot fail to understand and believe all the rest. For all doctrinal, experimental, and practical religion, natively results from these fundamental truths.---Besides,
These fundamental truths give light to each other. So that if once the glory of God, the supreme governor of the world, is seen, the reason and nature of his law will be plain. And if that is plain, the design of the incarnation and death of the Son of God will be evident. And then the whole Gospel-plan will naturally open to view, and appear to contain a complete system of religious sentiments, harmonious and consistent throughout, perfect in glory and beauty. And while we discern the opposition of this system of truths to every vicious bias in the human mind, the nature and necessity of the regenerating and sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit, to bring us rightly to understand the Gospel, see it in its glory, and love and practise it, will be easily discerned: And at the same time, every one, well acquainted with his own heart, may discern the true source of all the various errors which have been broached in the Christian world : For the root of them all is in the heart of every child of Adam.
To assist the candid inquisitive reader to look down into the bottom of truth and error, and see things in their original sources, and in their mutual connexions, that the true Scripture scheme may rise into clear view, and the first spring of all the chief errors now in vogue may be clearly discerned, is the design of the following sheets.
The reasonings are not built upon here and there a Scripture text, detached from its connexion with its context, to carry away the reader's mind with the mere sound of words ; rather all the reasonings are at bottom founded on Scripture facts, viewed in a Scripture light ; facts which cannot be denied without giving up our baptism, and overthrowing Christianity by wholesale.—And a chief design is, to lead all parties, if they will but attend to the subject, to see that the great doctrines of the Gospel are not disputable points; yea, so far from it, that there is no consistent medium between the ancient apostolic Christianity and infidelity.
The subject is noble, the design is good, the execution, far as it is from being equal to so noble a subject, is presented to the candid reader's critical perusal and mature judgment. With a becoming generosity overlook the blemishes of the manner; with the greatest eagerness attend to the matter, seek the truth, search for it as for silver, dig for it as for hid treasure, neither believe nor disbelieve but in exact proportion to evidence: To the law und to the testimony, like the noble Bareans.
N. B. The reader may be advertised, that, some time after this Essay was begun, Mr. Cudworth's further defence of Theron and Aspasio came to hand, some remarks upon which are therefore inserted here and there in the margin, so far as appears needful to clear and establish the truth.
March 11, 1762.
Containing an invitation to study the Gospel of Christ; as it
gives the most glorious display of all the divine perfections,
that ever was made. The first, and fundamental pinciple of all religion, natural and revealed, is this, viz. That there is a God, an absolutely perfect, and infinitely glorious and amiable being. And it is universally agreed to, by all who believe the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, that this God is the Creator of all things : that in the beginning he created the heavens and the earth ; and that by him were created all things that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible, and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers ; all things were created by him. And if there is a God, an absolutely perfect Being; and if he created all things, then all things are his, by an original, entire, underived, independent right. And if so, it must of course naturally belong to him to take care of his own world, to order and dispose all events according to his pleasure. And the whole of his conduct in the government of the universe must be, of necessity, like himself, perfect in wisdom, glory, and beauty : worthy to be admired and rejoiced in, by all created intelligences. And if all God's works are glorious, much more must the work of redemption by Jesus Christ, the chief, by far the chief of all his works, exceed in glory.
It is evident from the whole tenour of Scripture, that, a6 God is by nature invisible, one whom no eye hath seen or can see, and into whose essence no created intelligence can look; so one chief design of all his works is to manifest himself, to exhibit the clearest and completest representation of all his perfections; and particularly, to hold forth to the view of the intellectual system, the most lively image of his heart, of his moral perfections. That, as it is above the capacity of finite intelligences to look immediately into his heart, and discern how he views things, and is affected towards them; they might hereby be enabled to form right conceptions of his nature, and so under advantages to behold his infinite,
incomprehensible glory, so far as their finite capacities will admit.
The visible creation, the heavens and the earth, the sun, moon, and stars, with all the laws, order, and harmony, in the natural system, as they are specimens of the Almighty power, infinite wisdom and goodness ; so they may be considered as a designed manifestation of these perfections, as inanimate pictures of the invisible glories of the invisible God. But if we turn our eyes off from the material world, the meanest part of God's creation, to the view of holy intelligences, who were in a peculiar sense, made after the image of God, here we shall behold living images of the living God. But still all this is finite, the inanimate pictures and the living images are finite; but God himself is absolutely infinite. These representations, therefore, are very scanty, very deficient; and but a small portion of God can be known by them. Wherefore infinite wisdom hath laid a plan, in which he himself, as it were, may cease to be invisible, may come out to the view of the intellectual system in all his glory, in the person of Jesus Christ his Son, who is the image of the invisible God, even the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person. The vail is rent; the holy of holies is exposed to public view, and the glory of the Lord is to be seen by saints on earth, and principalities and powers in heaven, in the face of Jesus Christ. This manifestation there. fore of God, in and by Jesus Christ, which is called the Gospel, is the completest and brightest exhibition of all the divine perfections that ever was, or that, (perhaps,) ever will be made. The inspired apostle might well then call the Gospel THE GLORIOUS GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST. As beyond all doubt the glory of the work of our redemption by Christ, exceeds, far exceeds in glory, not only the glorious works of men, or more glorious works of angels; but even exceeds in glory, all the other glorious works of God himself.
While, therefore, men of the greatest genius think themselves well employed in contemplating the laws, order, and harmony, of the natural world, let us now, with the greatest attention and ardour, join with principalities and powers in heaven, in prying into the glorious mysteries of God's moral