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HE following discourses were originally
part of a larger design, tending to fhew that arts and sciences, natural and revealed religion, have upon the whole been progressive, from the creation of the world to the present time; as also that they have been suited to each other, as well as to the circumstances of mankind, during each eminent period of this their progression. A theory, which, when fairly represented, might be supposed to give some fatisfaction to many thoughtful persons; who being convinced of the existence and attributes of one supreme first cause, yet are so unhappy as to entertain strong prejudices against every kind of Revelation from him; chiefly on account of the circumstances, under which it seems to have been communicated; which they are unable to reconcile with the course and order of Divine Providence in other respects: as well as to assist some serious enquirers, who are perhaps equally at a loss in their search after
any settled order, in either of these Establishments : but yet, if they could once persuade themselves in general, that one of these proceeded in some fort of uniform ratio, and analogy with the other; and that both were in a state of progresion; would probably have patience to wait a while, in hopes of seeing their particular objections gradually removed in each, by the same rules.
Having formerly attempted to clear up some of the chief difficulties that occur in our concepa 4
tions of the Deity, and his Providence, in a commentary on Archbishop King's Essay on the Origin of Evil; I have since had the pleasure of seeing those principles which were originally advanc’d there, adopted by a late celebrated writer; and adorned with all the graces of poetry. This is a continuation of the same design, of justifying the ways of God to man: and from the very nature of that design, however imperfectly executed, there is some ground for hoping that it may still find the same favourable regard, without any more particular apology.
The notes are chiefly calculated for a commonplace, or Index; to direct the industrious reader to such authors, more especially among the moderns, as might furnish him with as just and proper observations or hints on each head, as I could think myself capable of producing; what character soever fome of them may bear among
the learned. And indeed, provided the notions were but good and seasonable, I have not been very solicitous under whose name, or in what place, and manner, they appeared. It must be confessed, that even some of the lowest class sometimes have several useful things not to be met with elsewhere; though few would think it worth their while to seek there for them ; which tends (according to the observation of an eminent writer) to shew the benefit of general reading: neither would it be quite fair to borrow any thing from such, without a due acknowledgement; nor can we be understood to answer for any of them,
farther than the point reaches, for which they were expressly cited, or referred to. Where
any thing seemed necessary to be added or supplied, it will be found either introducing these; or intermixed among them, as occasion offered: and in pursuance of this humble plan, the inserting all new writers as they came forth, or fell in my way, since the first impression, must occasion most of those alterations and additions that have hitherto been made. For whenever any new observations, relative to the main subject occurred to me; and it is hardly to be supposed, but that in a course of years some such should occur; the setting them down seemed a debt due to the publick, and will prove so, if they are really of consequence; if not, the doing it must be deemed less prejudicial to those persons who are possessed of any
former edition. As for the two Discourses annexed; the former ought to be considered as consisting only of a few loose traites, or general reflections, on a subject which can never be too much attended to; and if it contain any valuable observations, either fpeculative, or practical, or of a mixed kind; however obvious they may appear, 'tis hoped they will be no less acceptable for their general use: part of the latter pretends to nothing more, than a brief representation of the Scripture-Doctrine, on a point not yet sufficiently understood ; and from the reception that and some other points of the like kind seem lately to have met with, it may be perhaps a part of Christian pru
dence not to deliver such more explicitly; till men appear more willing to submit their vain philosophy to the authority of God's word, and are disposed to examine things with greater impartiality.
The Fourth Edition was in the Press at a distance, when Mr. Peters’s new Preface came to hand; which hindered me from acknowledging, in due time and place, the justice he has done in fome measure to the memory of Le Clerc, by correcting a gross error of the press in that learned Author's comment on Job xix. 25. and thereby setting the whole passage in a proper light. I am sorry that what was hinted on the subject, should have given this worthy Gentleman any disturbance; which therefore, after his own example, I have struck out; and heartily wish, that we could come to as good an agreement on another point, viz. the future condition of the generality of beathens; whom he still supposes to be left for ever in the state of death, so as never more to rife, to happiness at least, p. 31. Whereas, I would have them left indeed to the uncovenanted mercies of our common Father, without any certain title to immortality; (which I had been endeavouring to prove from several such passages as he there mentions, viz. Ps. cxv. 17. and Eph. ii. 12. which prove mankind to be naturally subject to a temporary state of filence, or insensibility by Death, and consequently destitute of all hope founded on their original frame; and which is all, I think, that can be well concluded from these, and the