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Now, as to the damnatory clauses, annexed to the articles of this creed; if the belief of the articles themselves is necessary, those clauses must be necessary too; for why should not the necessity of that faith be declared, as well as the faith itself? Christ saith, He that believeth not, is condemned already.' Believeth not what? What Christ himself, and what the Holy Ghost, tell us in Scripture; namely, that Jesus is Christ,' or the Messiah; that he is 'the onlybegotten Son of God;' that he is a Teacher sent from God;' that all his words are 'the words of truth, and eternal life;' that he is God himself;' that he took our nature on him,' and died a 'sacrifice for the sins of believers;' that 'he arose again from the dead,' and 'shall judge the world;' that the Holy Ghost is the very Spirit of God, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent;' that he shall guide us into all truth;' and that therefore whatsoever he communicates to us is truth, and necessary to be believed by us, if we will not give the lie to God, and thereby destroy our own souls. Such is our faith, and such the necessity of standing fast in it. Does the creed in question say more? Or ought it to say less? Surely a Christian may safely speak after Christ; and say again what the Holy Ghost hath said already.
What hath been urged is sufficient to shew, that the damnatory clauses are not of man's invention, and, consequently, no breach of Christian charity in those who pronounce them. But this will appear still more demonstrable, if we ever so little consider what are the true nature and use of those clauses, and what it is we do when we utter them as an appendage to our faith.
As to the first; these clauses were inserted in this creed, and in most of the ancient creeds, the Arian as well as others, by no means to intimate the condemnation, for want of faith, of such as had no opportunity of receiving the Christian religion; but of such only, as, having it duly preached to them, should receive it in an evil heart of unbelief,' and, holding it in unrighteousness,' should mutilate or corrupt its essentials. Accordingly, the creed in question says, not that all are damned who never heard of Christ; but, 'Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary, that he hold the catholic faith; which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish ever
lastingly.' You see here the true meaning and use of this clause; by which the other shorter, and seemingly more severe, clauses in the same creed are to be restrained and illustrated. Now, if the faith contained in the creed is necessary, thus its necessity must be expressed, in case we mean to be full and explicit.
And, that we may be so, without the smallest breach of charity on this occasion, we shall be clearly convinced, the moment we consider what that charity is. Now charity is the love of God and men. It will not, I believe, be alleged, that the pronouncing this clause hath any thing to do with the love of God; at least, I may venture to say, it is no sign of our want of love for him, that we utter that condemnation of those who deny the truth of his words, which he hath already uttered. Nor is it at all an instance of our want of love towards men, if we are so far from doing it with pleasure, that we do it with grief of heart, and a tender concern for the dangerous state of unbelievers, nay, with an earnest endeavour after their conversion. Besides, we are far from pronouncing this as our own sentence, or taking on us the authority of judges; we are far from levelling it at any particular man; but, on the contrary, include ourselves, in case we dissemble in our professions, or shall hereafter fall from the faith. There is, surely, a wide difference between condemning with severity; and believing, with sorrow and compassion, that another is condemned. A man who pronounces this sentence, because he sees it pronounced in the word of God, might die for the conversion and retrieval of those, on whom he is forced, by the conviction of his faith, to pronounce it. And surely, if this is very possible, it must be very plain, his heart was as far from want of charity towards his unbelieving neighbour, as theirs who make a difficulty of these clauses. The truth is, this whole cry of uncharitableness, on account of the use which the church makes of these clauses, is but a mere cant; and they who raise or keep it up among Protestants, with whom it is a primary principle to shew all possible kindness to such as differ with them even in fundamentals, know it to be but a cant; yet fail not to lay as much stress on it, as if they thought it a solid argument, in order to throw an odium on that particular church, which hath distinguished itself throughout
the world for its charity to all men, but more especially to these very objectors.
I have now gone through with what I had to say on this important, though controverted, subject; and have only this to add, that they, whose principles are conformable to those of our creeds, ought by no means to suffer their artful, their interested, adversaries to amuse them with their cry of, no articles, no creeds; but ought rather to consider coolly what would be the consequence, if we had none; what an anarchy of opposite principles, of horrible corruptions, of scandalous arts, and bloody dissensions, must immediately break in upon us, and throw all into confusion, both in church and state. He, who loves his religion and country, cannot without horror behold, from the rock of safety he at present stands on, this inundation of imposture, superstition, hypocrisy, cruelty, and, in the end, of universal ruin. Till, therefore, he is on good grounds convinced the principles of our articles and creeds are erroneous, let him never wish to see himself, and the flock he belongs to, committed to the tuition of a teacher, who hath not, with full conviction of mind, and with a sincere heart, subscribed the articles of our church. Let him never wish to see her communion shared by Papists, Arians, Socinians, and God knows who, enrolled in her ministry, perverting her people, undermining her foundations; and, after ruining her, tearing one another to pieces; all which, it is easy to foresee, must be the effects of either laying aside the present subscriptions, in complaisance to the plea of our adversaries, or of suffering them to be eluded by the artifices of the very worst of men. Such I must call those men, who have consciences capable of subscribing, and declaring for, the articles, as they stand, with principles directly opposite to the most essential. Good God! cannot cunning and dissimulation be satisfied to take up their abode with the viler sort of politicians; with the sharpers in gaming; with the sharks of law or trade; or with common cheats and thieves? but must the church of Christ be invaded by them? Must the house of God be polluted with them? Must the holy altar groan under the abuse of this infernal imposture, which, paying more respect to men than God, amuses them with a shew of principles they approve of, while it insults him, who cannot be amused,
with a bold and impious prevarication, in that very thing whereby he proposes to teach all men the fear of himself,
and the love of truth?
May God, of his infinite goodness, after having so far left us to the trial of our own infirmity, be graciously pleased to avert the horrible evil from us, and to give us truth and peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen.
CHRISTIANITY PROVED BY MIRACLES.
JOHN V. 36.
The works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.
OUR blessed Saviour, having every where represented himself as the Messiah, or messenger of God, sent into the world to teach and redeem mankind, here pleads the credentials of his mission, and appeals to the works which the Father had given him to finish,' as a full proof, that he came immediately from the Father, and was then employed in executing the gracious purposes of his Father. That these works were thoroughly well qualified to prove this great point to all men, and more especially to the Jews, who knew, or ought to have known, that the prophets had foretold them as the peculiar distinguishing works of Christ, I shall endeavour to shew, in this and the following Discourse. In this I shall treat of the works only.
What these were, we may see throughout the Gospels ; namely, 'miracles ;' such as, giving health to the sick, sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, life to the dead, and driving out devils.
I shall shew, in the first place, That this was a demonstrative proof of our Saviour's mission;
And, in the second, That it was actually given.
From whence we must conclude, that all he taught, or empowered others to teach, under the authority of this proof, was true, and ought to be believed, as uttered and revealed by God himself.
To clear up the first point, it will be proper to begin with stating the right notion of a miracle. A miracle then is a work so evidently superior or contrary to the known nature of things, that nothing, but the power of God, can be supposed to effect it. Although the work of creation required this power, and therefore demonstrates the being of a God, yet we do not call it properly a miracle; because from thence arose that nature of things, which we regard as ordinary and stated, and therefore do not wonder at, or, at least, do not take it for a proof of any thing more, than the existence of its own proper cause. In this I accommodate myself to the general use or acceptation of the word; although, otherwise, there is no difference between the exemplification of the Divine power in nature, or against it. They equally demonstrate the finger of God, and, to a rational mind, are equally wonderful. As none but God could make the world, we may be sure, none but God can change the natural course of things, can reverse the stated chain of causes and effects, or produce any effect without a natural cause. We must also take it for granted, that if God, in any particular instance, or for any occasional purpose, communicates such a power, it must be confined to certain bounds, and cannot be exercised otherwise, than according to the commission or license granted with it, by the fountain of all power.
If any of the miracles, wrought in attestation of our religion, may be ascribed to a less powerful agent than God; for instance, walking on the water, or causing iron to swim; we have, nevertheless, a right to insist on them as authentic proofs of a divine mission in the workers; because they are evidently contrary to the known course of nature; because they are performed in order to an end worthy of the divine intendment; and because we have sufficient reason to judge, that God, the source of all power, could not have empowered, either in the way of command or permission, any creature so to interpose in a work of this nature, as that his intelligent creatures should be deceived in the only criterion, whereby a real mission from him may be distinguished from