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through the Use of the same common Reason, and by the same Methods of Argumentation, by which we come to the Knowledge of any other speculative Truths whatsoever. 5thly, That as" the Scriptures were plainly designed to be the universal Rule not of Faith only, but also of Practice, to different Ages and Nations, and in many different Cases, Conditions, and Circumstances, so, many Doctrines and Precepts are of Course delivered in general Terms, and are capable either of Amplification or Restriction, according to such Differences of Places, Times, Cases, Conditions, and Circumstances.
These Rules and Principles will, I apprehend, afford a solid and sure Foundation for the Inquiries I am to make; to which therefore I shall now proceed, premising only here, that as a controversial Writer I mean not to attack Persons but Things, and therefore desire that every Expression which may possibly carry a more than ordinary Degree of Severity with it, from the Nature of the Argument before me, may be put to no other Account than that of a Zeal for the Honour of God, and the Establishment of Truth.
Containing a rational Inquiry into the mojl fundamental Articles of our Religion upon a scriptural Foundation] _ •
S E c T. I.
TH E first, and great fundamental Article of all Religion whatever is the Belief of the Being of God; and therefore it will be proper to bestow a few Words on it. For the Atheist, who will readily perhaps approve the general Methods by which we interpret the Scriptures, considered as mere human Compositions, does nevertheless impugn this grand Hypothesis on which the whole depends; and indeed the very Hypothesis of the Divine Existence in Holy Writ seems to be a material Proof of the Truth of it; and is a good Argument both against the Antiquity and Reasonableness of Atheism. Because, if Notions absolutely atheistical had been prevalent in the first, or succeeding Ages of the World, it is highly improbable that the Author of any Religion, whether true or false, of the jseivi/h, of the Chrijtian, or even of the Mahometan, should affect to look upon a controverted Point as a Truth universally received, and give themselves no Trouble to combat and defeat an Opinion directly and immediately 'subversive of their whole Design. Accordingly the
general general Consent of Mankind has ever been reasonably urged as an unanswerable Argument of the Truth of this capital Article; and though the almost total Ignorance of some Nations may have led them into very absurd Persuasions, and the Wit and Learning of Men, unacquainted with Divine Revelation, may have devised many Principles and Hypotheses prejudicial to the Honour of God; yet these Persuasions and Hypotheses are so many different Superstructures raised upon one common Foundation, and it is natural to infer the Reality, rather than the Non-existence of a Thing, from the Variety of Opinions that have been entertained about it's Attributes, Qualities, Powers, &c. For Mistakes in the Nature of them suppose some original Principle; and religious, like philosophical Error, is neither more nor less than Truth corrupted.
But, fays the Atheist, these several Principles, &c. are all instilled by Education; and even this first supposed religious Truth, the Existence of God, is taught us by others, but would not be dictated by Nature itself.—Now the very Assertion, that we are taught this Truth, supposes a natural Capacity to learn: If then there be in Man natural Capacities, Powers, or Faculties, they are no doubt to be exercised upon suitable Objects; for sure to affirm that Man is endowed by Nature with
certain certain Powers and Faculties, which he is not to exercise, would be just as reasonable as to maintain that he is not to walk with his Feet, or see with his Eyes. He who asserts, there is no God, asserts this as a Truth which he is able to evince by certain Reasons and Arguments. These he takes from the Stock which his Education and Learning have supplied him with; for a Man is no more an Atheist by Nature, than he is a Jew, or a Christian. The Point thefore is not what Sort of a Creature Man in a State of absolute Ignorance would be, but whether, if the Question, Is there a God? were proposed to him when he has attained to the proper Use of his natural Powers, and Capacities, &c. he would upon full, and deliberate Inquiry take the affirmative, or negative Side.—The Atheist believes his Inability to form an adequate Idea of the Divine Nature a sufficient Ground to deny the Divine Existence; it is therefore incumbent on him to give us a less chimerical, and more comprehensible Account of Things, than that which Religion has imposed upon Mankind. Fof it is an invariable Rule of Reason, when two or more Propositions are proposed to it, one of which must of Necessity be true, and the rest false, to yield Assent to that which upon the whole is most agreeable to our Ideas, and Apprehensions, is liable to the fewest Cavils and Objections, and founded upon the most probable Hypothesis. And surely,
that that there has been from all Eternity a self-existent, independent Being, who was the Maker of Heaven and Earth, and the first Cause of all Things, is a Theory, which, when duly proposed, and stated in it's full Force to a Mind prepared by proper Instructions for the Reception of Truth, appears at least to be as conceivable as any of those that have been invented, or substituted by Atheists in the Room of it, to account for the Original of the World: as,—that the Universe was framed by a mere fortuitous Concourse of Atoms; or,—that there has been an infinite Succession of Causes from all Eternity. According to the Tenor of all these Theories, and indeed every other that is or may be advanced upon the same Article, something is supposed to have existed from Eternity, and so far every Atheistical Hypothesis is equally inexplicable with that of the Theist: The Question is therefore; whether it be more noble, more rational, more agreeable to the general Sentiments of Mankind, and our own inward Reflections and Feelings, to suppose the eternal Existence of an intelligent, immaterial Being, or that of mere inanimate Matter: A Point sure, which it requires a very small Measure of Penetration to determine.