Faith is nothing but a firm assent of the mind: which, if it be regulated, as is our duty, cannot be afforded to anything but upon good reason; and so cannot be opposite to it. He that believes without having any reason for believing, may be in love with his own fancies; but neither seeks truth as he ought, nor pays the obedience due to his Maker, who would have him use those discerning faculties he has given him, to keep him out of mistake and error. He that does not this to the best of his power, however he sometimes lights on truth, is in the right but by chance; and I know not whether the luckiness of the accident will excuse the irregularity of his proceeding. This at least is certain, that he must be accountable for whatever mistakes he runs into: whereas he that makes use of the light and faculties God has given him, and seeks sincerely to discover truth by those helps and abilities he has, may have this satisfaction in doing his duty as a rational creature, that, though he should miss truth, he will not miss the reward of it. For he governs his assent right, and places it as he should, who, in any case or matter whatsoever, believes or disbelieves according as reason directs him. He that doth otherwise, transgresses against his own light, and misuses those faculties which were given him to no other end, but to search and follow the clearer evidence and greater probability.
In saying, therefore, that things are not good according to any standard of goodness, but simply by the will of God, it seems to me that one destroys, without realizing it, all the love of God and all his glory; for why praise him for what he has done, if he would be equally praiseworthy in doing the contrary? Where will be his justice and his wisdom if he has only a certain despotic power, if arbitrary will takes the place of reasonableness, and if in accord with the definition of tyrants, justice consists in that which is pleasing to the most powerful?
Ink and paper can never make us Christians, can never beget a new nature, a living principle in us; can never form Christ, or any true notions of spiritual things, in our hearts. The gospel, that new law, which Christ delivered to the world, it is not merely a dead letter without us, but a quickening spirit within us. Cold theorems and maxims, dry and jejune disputes, lean syllogistical reasonings, could never yet of themselves beget the least glimpse of true heavenly light, the least sap of saving knowledge in any heart. All this is but the groping of the poor dark spirit of man after truth, to find it out with his own endeavors, and feel it with his own cold and benumbed hands. Words and syllables, which are but dead things, cannot possibly convey the living notions of heavenly truths to us. The secret mysteries of a divine life, of a new nature, of Christ formed in our hearts, they cannot be written or spoken, language and expressions cannot reach them; neither can they be ever truly understood, except the soul itself be kindled from within, and awakened into the life of them. A painter that would draw a rose, though he may flourish some likeness of it in figure and colour, yet he can never paint the scent and fragrancy; or if he would draw a flame, he cannot put a constant heat into his colours; he cannot make his pencil drop a sound, as the echo in the epigram mocks at him. All the skill of cunning artisans and mechanicks cannot put a principle of life into a statue of their own making. Neither are we able to enclose in words and letters the life, soul, and essence of any spiritual truths, and, as it were, to incorporate it in them.
Christ came not into the world to fill our heads with mere speculations, to kindle a fire of wrangling and contentious dispute amongst us, and to warm our spirits against one another with nothing but angry and peevish debates; whilst in the mean time our hearts remain all ice within towards God, and have not the least spark of true heavenly fire to melt and thaw them. Christ came not to possess our brains only with some cold opinions, that send down nothing but a freezing and benumbing influence upon our hearts. Christ was vitae magister, not scholae: and he is the best Christian, whose heart beats with the purest pulse towards heaven; not he, whose head spinneth out the finest cobwebs. ¶ He that endeavors really to mortify his lusts, and to comply with that truth in his life, which his conscience is convinced of, is nearer a Christian, though he never heard of Christ, than he, that believes all the vulgar articles of the Christian faith, and plainly denieth Christ in his life.
The great design of God in the gospel is to clear up this mist of sin and corruption, which we are here surrounded with, and to bring up his creatures out of the shadow of death to the region of light above, the land of truth and holiness. The great mystery of the gospel is to establish a godlike frame and disposition of spirit, which consists in righteousness and true holiness, in the hearts of men. And Christ, who is the great and mighty Saviour, came on purpose into the world, not only to save us from fire and brimstone, but also to save us from our sins. Christ hath therefore made an expiation of our sins by his death upon the cross, that we, being thus delivered out of the hands of these our greatest enemies, might serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life. This “grace of God, that bringeth salvation,” hath therefore “appeared unto all men, in the gospel, that it might teach us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and that we should live soberly, righteously and godlily in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” “These things I write unto you (saith our apostle a little before my text) that you sin not;” therein expressing the end of the whole gospel, which is, not only to cover sin by spreading the purple robe of Christ’s death and sufferings over it, whilst it still remaineth in us with all its filth and noisomeness unremoved; but also to convey a powerful and mighty spirit of holiness, to cleanse us and free us from it. And this is a greater grace of God to us, than the former, which still go both together in the gospel; besides the free remission and pardon of sin in the blood of Christ, the delivering of us from the power of sin, by the Spirit of Christ dwelling in our hearts.
Let us endeavour to promote the Gospel of peace, the dovelike Gospel, with a dove-like spirit. This was the way by which the Gospel at first was propagated in the world; Christ did not cry, nor lift up His voice in the streets; a bruised reed He did not break, and the smoking flax He did not quench; and yet He brought forth judgment unto victory. He whispered the Gospel to us from Mount Zion in a still voice; and yet the sound thereof went out quickly throughout all the earth. The Gospel at first came down upon the world gently and softly, like the dew upon Gideon’s fleece; and yet it quickly soaked quite through it; and doubtless this is the most effectual way to promote it further. Sweetness and ingenuity will more command men’s minds than passion, sourness, and severity; as the soft pillow sooner breaks the flint than the hardest marble. Let us follow truth in love; and of the two, indeed, be contented rather to miss of the conveying of a speculative truth than to part with love. When we would convince men of any error by the strength of truth, let us withal pour the sweet balm of love upon their heads. Truth and love are the two most powerful things in the world; and when they both go together they cannot easily be withstood. The golden beams of truth and the silken cords of love twisted together will draw men on with a sweet violence, whether they will or no. Let us take heed we do not sometimes call that zeal for God and His Gospel which is nothing else but our own tempestuous and stormy passion. True zeal is a sweet, heavenly, and gentle flame, which maketh us active for God, but always within the sphere of love. It never calls for fire from heaven to consume those who differ a little from us in their apprehensions. It is like that kind of lightning (which the philosophers speak of) that melts the sword within, but singeth not the scabbard; it strives to save the soul, but hurteth not the body. True zeal is a loving thing, and makes us always active to edification, and not to destruction.
Wherefore, we shall in the next place declare, what this idea of God is, or what is that thing, whose existence they that affirm, are called Theists, and they who deny, Atheists. In order whereunto, we must first lay down this lemma, or preparatory proposition — that as it is generally acknowledged, that all things did not exist from eternity, such as they are, unmade, but that some things were made and generated or produced; so it is not possible that all things should be made neither, but there must of necessity be something self-existent from eternity, and unmade; because if there had been once nothing, there could never have been any thing. The reason of which is so evident and irresistible, that even the Atheists confess themselves conquered by it, and readily acknowledge it for an indubitable truth, that there must be something αγεννηιον, something which was never made or produced — and which therefore is the cause of those other things that are made, something … that was self-originated and self-existing … Wherefore all the question now is, what is this … which is the cause of all other things that are made. ¶ Now there are two grand opinions opposite to one another concerning it; for, first, some contend, that the only self-existent, unmade and incorruptible thing, and first principle of all things, is senseless matter; that is, matter either perfectly dead and stupid, or at least devoid of all animalish and conscious life. But because this is really the lowest and most imperfect of all beings, others on the contrary judge it reasonable … that the only unmade thing, which was the principle, cause, and original of all other things, was not senseless matter, but a perfect conscious understanding nature, or mind. And these are they, who are strictly and properly called Theists, who affirm, that a perfectly conscious understanding being, or mind, existing of itself from eternity, was the cause of all other things; and they, on the contrary, who derive all things from senseless matter, as the first original, and deny that there is any conscious understanding being self-existent or unmade, are those that are properly called Atheists.
And to stop all Creep-holes, and leave no place for the subterfuges and evasion of confuted and caviling spirits, I shall prefix some few Axiomes, of that plainness and evidence, than no man in has wits but will be ashamed to deny them, if he will admit any thing at all to be true. But as for perfect Scepticisme, it is a disease incurable, and a thing rather to be pitied or laugh at, then seriously opposed. For when a man is so fugitive and unsettled, that he will not stand to the verdict of his own Faculties, one can no more fasten any thing upon him, then he can write in the water, or tye knots of the wind. But for those that are not in such a strange despondency, but that they think they know something already and may learn more, I do not doubt, but by a seasonable recourse to these few Rules, with others I shall set down in their due place, that they will be perswaded, if not forced, to reckon this Truth…
[T]here is a saying much usurped of late, That Wisedome is acquired, not by reading of Books, but of Men. Consequently whereunto, those persons, that for the most part can give no other proof of being wise, take great delight to shew what they think they have read in men, by uncharitable censures of one another behind their backs. But there is another saying not of late understood, by which they might learn truly to read one another, if they would take the pains; and that is, Nosce teipsum, Read thy self: which was not meant, as it is now used, to countenance, either the barbarous state of men in power, towards their inferiors ; or to encourage men of low degree, to a sawcie behaviour towards their betters; But to teach us, that for the similitude of the thoughts, and Passions of one man, to the thoughts, and Passions of another, whosoever looketh into himself, and considereth what he doth, when he does think, opine, reason, hope, feare, &c, and upon what grounds; he shall thereby read and know, what are the thoughts, and Passions of all other men, upon the like occasions.