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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 and 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 Theson 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, as 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 exbibit 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 bath 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 therefore 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 thewselves 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 system, all pre-supposed or implied in the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.
And the rather, because it is possible, that while we live under the clear light of the Gospel, we may be blind to all its peculiar glories; and so never believe it to be true, nor reap any saying benefit from it; but be finally lost; eternally lost. For, as Saint Paul observes, if our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost; in whom the God of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. Wherefore, while we search into the nature and glory of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, let us pray, that he who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, would shine in our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. That we all with open face, beholding'as in a glass the glory of the Lord, may be changed into the same image, from glory to glory, as by the spirit of the Lord. 2 Cor. iii. 18. and iv. 3, 4, 5.
In these words of the apostle just cited, to which a special reference will be had in the following Essay, these things may be observed : That the Gospel of Christ, is a glorious Gospel-That the glory of the Gospel is seen by all who sit under it, that are not blind; and all who see its glory do believe, savingly believe-That those who are blind to the gloту. of the Gospel, do not believe it; the Gospel is hid from them, and they are lost—That the devil's grand scheme is to keep men blind to the glory of the Gospel; as knowing, that this is the direct method to prevent their ever believing it, to the saving of their souls—That spiritual illumination, whereby men are brought to see the glory of the Gospel, to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, is as immediately from God, as was natural light, when God commanded the light to shine out of darkness; saying, let there be light, and there was light—That all who behold this glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image.
These propositions are expressly declared, or plainly implied, in the words of the apostle. Wherefore let us inquire into the nature and glory of the Gospel of Christ; into the nature and consequences of spiritual blindness ; and into the nature and effects of divine illumination.
A general view of the nature of the Gospel. The word Gospel, signifies good news. The good news comes from heaven ; from God, the great king of the universe. It was first more darkly hinted to Adam immediately after the fall ; and afterwards to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, by God himself; and by Moses and all the Prophets in God's name, to Israel of old. But last of all, the whole glorious plan was fully brought to light, ard published to the world, by Jesus Christ and his apostles.
And be, who will be at the pains carefully and critically to read the bible through, and take a full view of the whole account as it there stands, will find the following particulars, among many others, implied in the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.
1. That God is considered as the moral governor of the world ; that man is considered as a proper subject of moral government; that God's law is considered as holy, just, and good; that man has broken it, is without excuse, stands guilty before God, already condemned ; and is so far from penitence, that he is dead in sin, an enemy to God, and at enmity against his law and government.
2. That God did not judge it suitable to the honour of his majesty, or agreeable to the honour of his law and government, in a sovereign way, by the influences of his holy spirit, to bring man to repentance, and then by a sovereign act of grace to pardon him, and receive him to favour, and entitle him to eternal life, without a Mediator and an atonement.
3. That God has appointed his own Son to be a Mediator, and made him a curse, to redeem us from the curse, that through him he might communicate the holy spirit: and set