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Although something may be said for all Opinions and Persuasions, it is certain Reason preponderates in Favour of one; and would all Men embrace, and adhere to that System which, after a fair and full Examination, appears upon the whole to be most agreeable to Truth, notwithstanding some less material and unavoidable Points of Difference, I believe we should hardly see two Religions in the World. There can be no stronger presumptive Proof of the Truth, and Excellency of a Religion, or of any particular Doctrine thereof, than it's free and unreserved Appeal to the common Judgment and Reason of Mankind. This is the Rule by which Christianity has ever been ready to be tried with Respect to the Authority of it's Doctrines; which, if it be sufficiently evinced, no reasonable Objection can lie again the Nature of them. Our blessed Saviour frequently upbraids the Jews with their Perverseness and voluntary Blindness, which prevented them from attending with a suitable Regard to the many clear Proofs, and infallible Tokens he had given them of the Divinity of his Person and Commission. That nothing but Perverseness and Obstinacy could be the Obstacles to their Conversion he sometimes takes Occasion to observe by reminding them, that no more Sagacity, or Discernment were requisite for their Conviction, than Men usually discover in the Apprehension of Things that fall under their constant and daily Observation. Accordingly he charges them with belying their own Hearts, and resolves their Infidelity into downright Hypocrisy. a 0 ye Hypocrites ye can discern the Face of the Sky; but can ye not
discern the Signs of the Times? b Te Hypocrites,
ye can discern the Face of the Sky, and of the Earth;
but how is it that ye do not discern this Time ¥
Tea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right? This Obstinacy of the Jews is indeed a lamentable Instance of the Force of Prejudice, and may take off much from the Astonishment with which we observe the Zeal, and Violence of Adherence in some, to a Religion exploded as utterly ridiculous by others. There is a certain Pride inseparable from human Nature; and Prejudices are implanted in us for wise and good Purposes; but when they rule and govern the Mind, instead of biaffing and inclining it, they absolutely obstruct, and even supersede the Functions of Reason; they introduce Cavil and Sophistry into Disputation; they have Recourse to Disguises, and Misrepresentations; they take Refuge in Evasion; they magnify Objections; they dwell upon Plausibilities; and, in short, they amplify or omit, prevaricate or speak plain occasionally; and, instead of impartially considering the Merit of their Adversary's Cause, try all Artifices to make
a Matth. xvi. 3, &c. b Lukexii. 56, &c.
B 4 the the best of their own. And if temporal Interests are thrown into the same Scale with these, they are altogether as so many dead Weights against the opposite Force of Reason and Argument. A Man's Interest may separate him from
his Prejudices and Prepossessions; but their united Strength is, generally speaking, invincible. The Predominancy of such Principles as these, as it will account for the Zeal which Men discover for Religions differing from, and even wholly subversive of each other'; so will it also for their several Attachments to the several Notions and Tenets which different Causes and Occasions have introduced into one and the same. In Consequence of this, no religious Divisions have been aggravated and inflamed with more Violence and Animosity
than those among Chrijtians themselves. 1 am
very sensible it may be asked, Is it possible to heal and remove these Divisions now? Do not the Writers on all Sides talk the same Language? And is not the Force of Prejudice, &c. retortible upon myself? To which I can only say this, (and, I thank God, I can truly say this,) that I do not know myself to be under the undue Influence of any Prejudice whatever;—that I was first led into this Undertaking c by a hearty Wish to sec Unity
c The Substance of this Tract was delivered in'a' Co'urse of Sermons preached before the University of Qxfifdj of- which thp two first were published.
and and Peace established in the Christian World; and a Notion that nothing at least could be more likely to contribute to this good End than an Examination of the main Points of Difference both among Christians, and between' Christians and modern Unbelievers, upon: Principles of: plain Reasoning and common Sense';—and that I'desire no Regard may be paid to what is here offered, any farther than it shall be apparently conformable thereto.— I do not however pretend to obviate every Cavil, or satisfy every Scruple that may be brought from different Quarters; but shall content myself with offering some general and occasional Considerations, with an hearty Desire, and humble Attempt to reconcile Infidels to Christianity, and Christians of all Denominations to the Doctrine and Discipline of the Church of England ;—at least with a strong Hope to settle and confirm her Sons in their just Affection, and due Zeal for the same.
With this Intent then I propose,
First, to make a rational Inquiry into the most fundamental Articles of our Religion upon a Scriptural Foundation.
Secondly, to take a View of Christianity as a practical System, with an Eye especially to such Doctrines as have most perplexed the Understandings of Men, or disturbed their Consciences.
Thirdly, to examine other religious Matters relative to Church Polity, and Ecclesiastical Government.
As the Inquiries I am to make are, according to this Scheme, to be built upon a Scriptural Foundation, it will be proper in this Place to lay before my Reader the general Rules or Maxims whereby I have been directed in the Idea, and Interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, which, I trust, will readily be allowed me as so many preliminary Truths, or reasonable Poslulata.—It is first supposed then that they are in general to be read and understood as all orher writings are, /. e. that the literal Sense is always the true one, except where _ the import of the words themselves, or the nature and force of the context evidently require a figurative one. 2dly, That in the Explanation of particular Passages a proper Regard is to be had to the visible Tenor of the whole. 3dly, That obscure and difficult Places are to be illustrated and explained by such as are more obvious and intelligible. 4thly, That the scriptural Accounts of the Divine Nature, Perfections, and Attributes, are agreeable and correspondent to the Ideas and Apprehensions of the human Mind, as far as it's Capacity extends; or in other Words, that we attain to the Conception and Knowledge of sacred Truths, so far forth as they are cognisable by us,