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Reader, if thou hast thy religion yet to choose, which I am afraid is too common a case in this unstable age, then it is high time thou wert bethinking thyself of religion in earnest.
To-morrow thou wilt live, thou still dost say;
And if after too long a delay thou mean to avoid an unhappy choice, reason advises thee to consider well, that when the choice is made, care be taken to make it so, as to prevent the necessity of either a second choice, or a too late repentance for choosing amiss. There is a set of men, who cry up at this day natural religion, and especially commend it to such as have no religion. It is such as thou art that they desire to deal with, and among such it is that they are most successful. But if thou hast a mind not to be deceived in a matter of such moment, it imports thee not a little to consider what may be said against that, which it is likely may be offered thee, as a fine, modish, reasonable religion, meet for a gentleman, a man of wit and reason. I have here offered tu prove this all to be said without, yea against reason and experience. Well, first hear and then judge, and after that choose or refuse as thou seest cause.
As for the management of this useful inquiry, it is wholly suited to that which at first was only designed, viz. the satisfaction of the writer's own mind about the question that is here proposed. I entered not upon this inquiry with a view to oppose any man, or triumph over adversaries, and so did industriously wave those catches, subtleties, and other nicities, used frequently by writers of controversy. My only design was to find the truth, and therefore I chose clearly to state the question, which I found the Deists always avoided, and plainly propose my reasons for that side of it I took, after trial, to be the truth. As to the opposite opinion, I made it my business to make a diligent inquiry into the strongest arguments advanced for it, candidly to propose them in their utmost force, and closely to answer them; avoiding, as much as might be, such reproaches as are unworthy of a
Christian, or an inquirer after truth, though I met with frequent provocation, and found sometimes how true that is, Difficile est non scribere satyram contra satyram.*
It was not amusement I aimed at, or to please my own fancy, or tickle the reader's ears with a gingle of words, or divert and bias the judgment by a flood of rhetoric. I never designed to set up for an orator. My business lies quite another way, it is what I lay no claim to, and what I think is to be avoided in discourses of this kind. All I aimed at as to language, was to clothe my thoughts in plain and intelligible expressions. The reader is to expect no more, and if he miss this I hope it will be but rarely.
It is not to be expected, that a discourse which was begun in an inverted order, the middle part being first writ ; and that was composed in the intervals of business of a very different nature, at spare hours, by one of no great experience, and an utter stranger to writings of this sort, shall be free of blemishes that may offend nicer palates. Some few repetitions could not, at least without more pains in transcribing than I had either leisure or inclination for, well be avoided. Nor could a discourse so often interrupted by other business, and upon so very different subjects, be carried on with that equality of style that were to be wished, especially by one who was never over much an affecter of elegancy of language. In a word, the work is long, much longer than I designed ; and yet without wronging the subject, at least as I am otherwise situated and engaged, I could not easily shorten it. If he pleases to inspect the book, he may possibly find, that I had reason for insisting at the length I have done. However, every one has not the art of him, who could enclose Homer's Iliads in a nut's shell.
I am sensible, that what I have discoursed in the first chapter of the ensuing treatise, concerning the Occasions of Deism, will grate hard upon a set of men, who have for many years hygone carried all before them, and so have taken it ill to have any censures bestowedon them, though
.“ It is difficult not to write a satire against satire."
they did severely animadvert upon the real or supposed faults of others. As to this I have not much to say by way of apology. That Deism has sprung up and grows apace amongst us, is on all hands confessed. Others have offered their conjectures concerning the occasions of its increase. Why I might not offer my opinion also, I know no reason. The principal subject of the ensuing treatise suffers not, though I should herein be mistaken. In proposing my conjecture I did not pursue the interest of any party ; but have freely blamed all parties. If the sticklers for the Arminian or Socinian divinity are touched, it was because I thought they were to be blamed, and therefore I have withstood them to their face. As to the tendency of their principles I have been sparing, because that debate has been sufficiently agitated in the Low Countries betwixt the contending parties. The reader who would be satisfied as to this, may peruse those who have directly managed this charge, and the answers that have been made, and judge upon the whole matter as he finds cause.* But whatever may be as to this, the manner of their management may perhaps bé found less capable of a colourable defence. And it is upon this that I have principally insisted. To oppose, especially from the pulpit, with contempt, buffoonry, banter and satire, principles, that sober persons of the . same persuasion do own to have at least a very plausible like foundation in the word of God, and which have been, for near sixty or seventy years after the reformation, the constant doctrine of the fathers, and sons of the church of England, and have by them been inserted into her articles, and so become a part of her doctrine,f is a practice that I do not well understand how to excuse or free from the imputation of profanity, and which hath too manifest a tendency to Atheism, to admit of any tolerable defence. The scriptures, and truths, that have any countenance in them, or opinions which they seem really to persons otherwise sober, pious and judicious, not only to teach, but to inculcate as of the
* See Arcana Arminianismi, by Videlius, and Videlius Ropsodus, with Videlius's Rejoinders, &c.
+ See Bishop of Sarum on the Articles, Preface, page 7, 8.
highest importance, are not a meet subject for raillery ; nor is the pulpit a meet place for it. This is that for which principally I have blamed them, and this I cannot retract. If they take this ill, I ask them, Have not others as much reason to take it ill, that the doctrines of the . church of England taught in her articles and homilies, and professed by her learned bishops, who composed them, and by her sons for so long a tract of time, as consonant to, founded in, and grounded on the word of God, should be so petulantly traduced by wit, raillery, and declanatory invectives from the press and pulpit; and that too by those who have subscribed to these articles and homilies ? This management has been complained of by sober persons of all parties, churchmen and dissenters, contra-remonstrants and remonstrants too, as could make appear, if there were occasion for it : And why I night not also complain, I want yet to be informed. None is charged save the guilty. Others who are innocent have no reason to be angry. And perhaps, they who will be offended at this, would scarce have been pleased if I had let it alone.
In the tenth chapter of this treatise, I have opposed the opinion that asserts the Heathen world to be under a government of grace. I know it is maintained by many learned men both at home and abroad, from whose memory, if dead, or just respect, if alive, I designed not to detract. Nor did I design to list them with the Deists, whom I know to have been solidly opposed by several that were of this opinion. But yet I do think the opinion itself destitute of any solid foundation, with all deference to them, who think otherwise, either in scripture, reason or experience. And I am further of the mind, that the learned abettors of it, had never embraced an assertion, that exposes them to so many perplexing difficulties, and puts them upon a necessity of using so many, I had almost said, unintelligible distinctions for its support, if they had not been driven to it by some peculiar hypothesis in divinity which they have seen ineet to embrace. If any intend to prove what I have denied, I wish it may be done by proper arguments, directly proving it, and not by advancing an hypothesis that remotely infers it,
and which, in itself, or, at least as proposed by those whom I have met with, is so darkened by a huge multitude of subtile, mysterious and uncouth distinctions, that I can scarce ever project so much time as to understand them. However this much I must say, that so cross does this opinion seem to scripture, reason and experience, that it will go a very great way to weaken the credit of any hypothesis on which it inevitably follows. However, I hope this may be said, and different opinions about this point without any breach of charity may be retained. Diversum sentire duos de rebus üsdem incolumi licuit semper amicitia. * I know the abettors of this opinion are hearty friends in the main to the cause I here maintain.
The scheme I have in the close of that chapter offered by way of digression, of God's government of the Heathen world, is not designed as a full account of that matter, which as to many of its concernments, is of those things that are not revealed, and so belong not us; much less is it designed to be the ground of a peremptory judgment as to the eternal state of them, who are without the church : But only to shew, that any thing we certainly know as to God's dealings with them, in the common course of his providence, may, upon other suppositions and principles, beside that rejected, be accounted for. The judicious and sober reader may judge of it as he sees cause. I hope I have, in a matter of such difficulty, avoided any unbecoming curiosity, or affecting to be wise above what is written.
If any blame me for the multitude of quotations, I answer, the subject I undertook rendered this unavoidable. I have used the utmost candor in them. Sometimes out of a regard to brevity I have avoided the translation of testimonies quoted from authors who writ in a different language. T'he learned will not complain of this : And if any person of tolerable judgment, who is not learned, will be at pains to peruse the ensuing discourse, he will find as much said, without regarding
“ It was always allowed, that two persons might think differently of the same things, without breach of friendship.".