motives before mentioned, are exactly consonant to the dictates of sound reason, or the unprejudiced light of nature, and most wisely perfective of it.
The proposition proved by particular instances. For what can be more agreeable to the light of nature, and more evidently perfective of it, than to have those duties, which nature hints at only in general, explained fully and largely, and urged in particular, and inculcated upon the meanest capacities with great weight and authority, and exemplified in the lives of holy persons, proposed as patterns for our imitation? What can be more perfective of the light of nature than to have those great motives of religion, the rewards and punishments of a future state, which nature only obscurely points at, described to us most plainly, affectionately, and lively? What can be more perfective of the light of nature, than to have the means of atoning for sin, which nature discovers only the want of, plainly declared and exhibited to us? What can be more perfective of the light of nature, than such a discovery of the heinousness of sin and the necessity of holiness, as the death of Christ and the purity of the gospel does make unto us? In fine, what can more effectually perfect the religion of nature, than the gathering together the worshippers of the true God into one body; the causing them to enter into solemn obligations to live suitably to their holy profession? The giving them gracious assurances that true repentance shall be accepted for what is past, and sincere renewed obedience for the future? The uniting them by a few positive rites in one religion as well as civil communion, for mutual assistance and improvement? And the establishing a certain order or perpetual succession of men, whose constant business it may be to explain the great duties of religion to persons of meaner capacities; to urge and enforce the practice of them; to set before men the reasons of their duty, and the necessity of it; to show them clearly and impartially the danger of neglecting it, and the great advantage of performing it sincerely; in a word, to instruct the ignorant, and to admonish the wicked; to reclaim those that err, to comfort the doubting, to reprove the obstinate; and to be instruments of conveying to men all proper assistances, to enable them to perform their whole duty effectually?
If these things be the ordinances of one who came to contradict the dictates of right reason, and not to perfect the law of nature, but to destroy it; then let all wise men for ever forsake the assemblies of Christians, and profess themselves again disciples of the philosophers. But if these things be perfectly agreeable to nature and right reason, and tend exceedingly to the supplying the deficiences there of; then let none, under pretence of maintaining natural religion, revile and blaspheme the Christian, lest they be found liars unto God.
An answer to the objection drawn from the division among Christians. The many contentions, indeed, about opinions of great uncertainty and little importance, which, to the very great scandal of Christianity, have in several ages of the church been, with unreasonable zeal, kept up, instead of promoting the universal interest of true practical religion and virtue, have, it must be confessed, given some occasion to the enemies of our most holy religion to blaspheme and revile both it and the teachers of it. But though such things as these have indeed afforded them too plausible an occasion, yet they have not given them any just reason so to do: For the acknowledged corruption of a doctrine or institution, in any particular part or respect, is by no means a weighty or real objection against the truth of the whole: And there has always been extant a sufficient rule to enable sincere persons, in the midst of the greatest disputes and contentions, to distinguish the doctrine which is of God from the opinions of men; the doctrine of Christ having been plainly and fully delivered in our Saviour's own discourses, and in the writings of his immediate followers the Apostles, who cannot, with any reason, be imagined either to have misrepresented it, or to have represented it imperfectly. But besides, I think it can hardly be denied, even by our adversaries themselves, but that in all times and places, wherein Christianity has been professed in any tolerable degree of purity; whatever contentions and disputes may have arisen about particular, and perhaps unnecessary doctrines; yet the great, the most necessary, and fundamental doctrines of religion, concerning God and providence; concerning the gracious method of God's reconciliation with penitent sinners; concerning the necessity of true piety, righteousness, and sobriety; concerning a judgment to come, and the final reward of the righteous, and the punishment of wicked men, in such a manner as will effectually vindicate both the justice and goodness, the wisdom and honour of God; these things (I say) have, notwithstanding all differences concerning smaller matters, been nevertheless at the same time universally and constantly taught, pressed and inculcated upon persons of all capacities, by the earnest and continual preaching of all the ministers of the gospel; with an effect infinitely more considerable and visible, both in extent and duration, than by the teaching of any heathen philosophers that ever lived: Which shows undeniably the excellency at least, if not the divine authority of the Christian institution, in this particular respect.