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we can arrive at. But this general rule should be observed, viz. to take heed that our assent be no stronger, or rise no higher in the degree of it, than the probable argument will support. » XXIII. THERE are many things even in religion, as well as in philosophy and civil life, which we believe with very different degrees of assent; and this is, or should be, always regulated according to the different degrees of evidence which we enjoy: and perhaps there are a thousand gradations in our assent to the things we believe, because there are thousands of circumstances relating to different questions, which increase or diminish the evidence we have concerning them, and that in matters both of reason and revelation.
I believe there is a God, and that obedience is due to him from every
reasonable creature : this I am most fully assured of, because I have the strongest evidence, since it is the plain dictate both of reason and revelation.
Again, I believe there is a future resurrection of the dead, because scripture tells us so in the plainest terms, though reason says nothing of it. I believe also that the same matter of our bodies which died (in part at least) shall arise ; but I am not so fully assured of this circumstance, because the revelation of it is not quite so clear and express. Yet further, I believe that the good men, who were acquainted here on earth, shall know each other in heaven; but my persuasion of it is not absolutely certain, because my assent to it arises only from circumstantial reasoning of men upon what God has told us, and therefore
evidences are not strong beyond a possibility of mistake. This direction cannot be too often repeated, that our assent ought always to keep pace with our evidence : and our belief of any proposition should never rise higher than the proof or evidence we have to support it, nor should our faith run faster than right reason can encourage it.
XXIV. Perhaps it will be objected here, Why then does our Saviour, in the histories of the Gospel, so much com
mend a strong faith, and lay out both his miraculous benefits and his praises upon some of those creatures of little reasoning, who professed an assured belief of his commission and
power to heal them? I answer, The God of nature has given every man hi own reason to be the judge of evidence to himself in particular, and to direct his assent in all things about which he is called to judge; and even the matters of revelation are to be believed by us, because our reason pronounces the revelation to be true. Therefore the great God will not, or cannot, in any instances, require us to assent to any thing without reasonable or sufficient evidence, nor to believe any proposition more strongly than what our evidence for it will support. We have therefore abundant ground to believe, that those persons of whom our Saviour requires such a strong faith, or whom he commends for their strong faith, had as strong and certain evidence of his power and commission from the credible and incontestable reports they had heard of his miracles, which were wrought on purpose to give evidence to his commission *. Now in such a case, both this strong faith, and the open profession of it, were very worthy of public encouragement and praise from our Saviour, because of the great and public opposition which the magistrates, and the priests, and the doctors of the age, made against Jesus the man of Nazareth, when he appeared as the Messiah.
And besides all this, it may be reasonably suppposed, with regard to some of those strong exercises of faith which
• When our Saviour gently reproves Thomas for his anbelief, John xx. 29. he does it in these words, " Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed: blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed,” i. e. Blessed are they who, though they have not been favoured with the evidence of their senses as thou hast been, yet have been convinced by the reasonable and sufficient moral evidence of the well-grounded report of others, and have believed in me upon that evidence. Of this moral evidence Mr Ditton writes exceedingly well in his book of the Resurrection of Christ,
are required and commended, that these believers had some further hints of inward evidence and immediate revelation from God himself; as when St Peter confesses Christ to be the Son of God, Matth. xvi. 16. 17. our blessed Saviour commends him, saying, “ Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona;" but he adds, " Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”
And the same may be said concerning the faith of miracles, the exercise whereof was sometimes required of the disciples and others, i. e. when by inward and divine influences God assured them such miracles should be wrought, their obedience to and compliance with these divine illuminations was expected and commended. Now this supernatural inspiration carried sufficient evidence with it to them, as well as to the ancient prophets, though we who never felt it are not so capable to judge and distinguish it,
XXV. What is said before concerning truth or doctrines, may be also affirmed concerning duties; the reason of both is the same; as the one are truths for our speculation, the others are truths for our practice. Duties which are expressly required in the plain language of scripture, or dictated by the most evident reasoning upon first principles, ought to bind our consciences more than those which are but dubiously inferred, and that only from occasional oceurrences, incidents, and circumstances : as for instance, I am certain that I ought to pray to God; my conscience is bound to this, because there are most evident commands for it to be found in scripture, as well as to be derived from reason. I believe also that I may pray to God either by a written form, or without one, because neither reason nor revelation expressly requires either of these modes of prayer at all times, or forbids the other. I cannot there. fore bind my conscience to practise the one so as utterly to renounce the other ; but I would practise either of them as my reason and other circumstances direct me. Again, I believe that Christians ought to remember the N4
death of Christ by the symbols of bread and wine : and I believe there ought to be pastors in a Christian church some way ordained or set a part to lead the worship, and to bless and distribute these elements ; but the last of these practices is not so expressly directed, prescribed, and required in scripture as the former; and therefore I feel my conscience evidently bound to remember the death of Christ with some society of Christians or other, since it is a most plain command, though their methods of ordaining a pastor be very different from other men, or from my own opinion ; or whether the person who distributes these elements be only an occasional or a settled administrator, since none of these things are plainly determined in scripture. I must not omit or neglect an express command, because some unnecessary
circumstances are dubious. And I trust I shall receive approbation from the God of nature, and from Jesus my Judge at the last day, if I have endeavoured in this manner to believe and practise every thing in proportion to the degree of evidence which God has given me about it, or which he has put me into a capacity to seek and obtain in age
and nation wherein I live. Query, Whether the obstinate Deists, and the Fatalists of Great Britain, will find sufficient apology from this principle ? But I leave them to venture the awful experiment.
XXVI. We may observe these three rules, in judging of probabilities which are to be determined by reason, relating either to things past or things to come.
1. That which agrees most with the constitution of nature carries the greatest probability in it, where no other circumstance appears to counterpoise it : as, if I let loose a greyhound within sight of a hare upon a large plain, there is great probability the greyhound will seizeher; that a thousand sparrows will fly away at the sight of a hawk among them.
2. That which is most conformable to the constant observations of men, or to experiments frequently repeated, is most likely to be true : as, that a winter will not pass away in England without some frost and snow; that if you
deal out great quantities of strong liquor to the mob, there will be many drunk; that a large assembly of men will be of different opinions in any doubtful point; that a thief will make his escape out of prison if the doors of it are unguarded at midnight.
3. In matters of fact, which are past or present, which neither nature, nor observation, nor custom, gives us any sufficient information on either side of the question, that we may derive a probability from the attestation of wise and honest men by word or writing, or the concurring witnesses of multitudes who have seen and known what they relate, &c. This testimony in many cases will arise to the degree of moral certainty. So we believe that the plant tea grows in China ; and that the emperor of the Turks lives at Constantinople; that Julius Cæsar conquered France, and that Jesus, our Saviour, lived and died in Judea ; that thousands were converted to the Christian faith in a century after the death of Christ; and that the books, which contain the Christian religion, are certain histories and epistles which were written above a thousand years ago. There is an infinite variety of such propositions which can admit of no reasonable doubt, though they are not matters which are directly evident to our own senses, or our mere reasoning powers.
XXVII. When a point hath been well examined, and our own judgement settled upon just arguments in our manly age, and after a large survey of the merits of the cause, it would be a weakness for us always to continue fluttering in suspense. We ought therefore to stand firm in such well-established principles, and not be tempted to change and alter for the sake of every difficulty, or every occasional objection. We are not to be carried about with every flying doctrine, like children tossed to and fro, and wavering with the wind. It is a good thing to have the heart established with grace, not with meats ; that is, in the great doctrines of the gospel of grace, and in Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever ; but it is not so necessary in the more minute matters of religion, such