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And, to speak freely in this matter, I cannot think, till I be better informed, which I am always ready to be, that any pretence of conscience warrants any man that is not extraordinarily commislioned, as the Apostles and first publishers of the gospel were, and cannot justify that cominillion by miracles as they did, to affront the established religion of a nation, though it be false, and cpenly to draw men off from the profession of it, in contempt of the magistrate and the law. All that persons of a different religion can in such a case reasonably pretend to, is, to enjoy the private liberty and exercise of their own conscience and religion; for which they ought to be very thankful, and to forbear the open making of proselytes to their own religion, though they be never so sure that they are in the right, till they have either an extraordinary commission from God to that purpose, or the providence of God make way for it by the permission or connivance of the magistrate. Not but that cvery man hath a right to publish and propagate the true religion, and to declare it against a false one ; but there is no obligation upon any man to attempt this to no purpose, and when without a miracle it can have no other effect but the loss of his own life, unless he have an immediate command and commission from God to this purpose, and be endued with a power.of miracles, as a publick seal and testimony of that commission : which was the case of the Apostles, who, after they had received an immediate commission, were not to enter upon the execution of it, but to stay at Jerusalem till they were endued with power from on high. In this case, a man is to abide all hazards, and may reasonably expect both extraordinary allistance and success, as the Apostles had, and even a miraculous protection till his work be done; and, after that, if he be called to suffer martyrdom, a supernatural support under those sufferings.
And that they are guilty however of gross hypocrisy who pretend a further obligation of conscience in this matter, I shall give this plain demonstration, which relies upon concellions generally made on all bands, and by all parties. No Protestant, that I know of, holds himself obliged to go and preach up his religion, and make converts, in Spain or Italy : nor do either the Protestant ministers or Popish priests think themselves bound in conscience to preach the gospel in Turky, and to confute the Alcoran, to convert the Mahometans. And what is the reason ? Because of the severity of the inqui. sition in Popish countries, and of the laws in Turky. But doth the danger then alter the obligation of confcience ? No, certainly; but it makes men throw off the false pretence and disguise of it. But where there is a real obligation of conscience, danger should not deter men from their duty, as it did not the Apostles : which thews their cafe to be different from ours, and that probably this matter was stated right at first. So that whatever is pretended, this is certain, that the priests and Jesuits of the church of Rome have in truth no more obligation of conscience to make converts here in Eng. land than in Sweden or Turky; where it seems the evident danger of the attempt hath for these many years given them a perfect discharge from their duty in this particular. I shall join the
Third and Fourth observations together, That though the true religion may have several prejudices and objections against it, yet, upon examination, there will be found those real advantages on its side; that it may fafely be referred to any considerate man's choice: If it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, chuse you this day whom you will serve. If it feen evil unto you; intimating, that to some perfons, and upon some accounts, it may appear fo. But when the matter is truly represented, the choice is not difficult, nor requires any long de-liberation : Chuse you this day whom you will serve. Let but the cause be fully and impartially heard, and a wise man may determine himself
upon the spot, and give his verdict without ever going from the bar.
The true religion hath always lain under fome prejadices with partial and inconsiderate men; which commonly fpring from one of these two causés ; either the prepossessions of a contrary religion, or the contrariety of the true religion to the vitious inclinations and practices of men ; which usually lies at the bottom of all: prejudice against religion. Religion is an enemy to mens beloved lufts; and therefore they are enemies to
religion. I begin with the first, which is as much as I shall be able to compass at this time.
1. The prepossessions of a false religion ; which commonly pretends two advantages on its lide, antiquity, and universality; and is wont to object to the true religion, novelty and singularity. And both these are intimated both before and after the text : Put away the gods which your fathers
ferved on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt. And chuse you this day whom you will serve, whether ihe gods which your fathers served on the other fide of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell. Idolatry was the religion of their fathers, and had spread itself over the greatest and most ancient nations of the world, and the most famous for learning and arts, the Chaldeans and Egyptians; and was the religion of the Amorites, and the nations round about them. So that Joshua represents the Heathen religion with all its strength and advantage ; and does not dissemble its confident pretence to antiquity and universality, whereby they would also insinuate the novelty and singularity of the worship of the God of Israel. And it is very well worthy our observation, that one or both of these have always been the exceptions of false religions, especially of idolatry and superstition, against the true religion. The ancient idolaters of the world pretended their religion to be ancient and universal ; that their fathers ferved these gods, and that the worship of the God of ilrael was a plain innovation upon the ancient and catholick religion of the world, and that the very first rise and original of it was within the memory of their fathers. And no doubt they were almost perpetually upon the Jews with that pert question, Where was your religion before Abraham ? and telling them, that it was the religion of a very small part and corner of the world, confined within a little territory; but the great nations of the world, the Egyptians and Chaldeans, famous for all kind of knowledge and wisdom, and indeed all the nations round about them, worshipped other gods; and therefore it was an intolerable arrogance and singularity in them, to condemn their fathers, and all the world, to be of a religion different from all other nations, and
hereby hereby to separate themselves, and make a schism from the rest of mankind.
And when the gospel appeared in the world, which the Apostle to the Hebrews, to prevent the scandal of that word, calls the time of reformation, the Jews and Heathen still renewed the same objections against Christianity. The Jews urged against it, not the ancient fcriptures, and the true word of God; but that which they pretended to be of much greater authority, the unwritten word, the ancient and constant traditions of their church; and branded this new religion with the name of heresy: After the way (faith St. Paul) that you call berely, so worship I the God of my fathers; believing all things that are written in the law and in the prophets. By which we see, that they of the church of Rome were not the first who called it heresy, to reject human traditions, and to make the scriptures the rule of faith. This was done long before by their reverend predecessors, the scribes and Pharisees.
And the Gentiles, they pretended against it both antiquity and universality, the constant belief and practice of all ages, and alnost all places of the world. Sequimur majores nostros, qui feliciter secuti funt fuos, says Symmachus ;
We follow our forefathers, who happily followed 6. theirs;” but you bring in a new religion, never known nor heard of in the world before.
And when the Christian religion was most miserably depraved and corrupted, in that dismal night of ignorance which overspread these Western parts of the world about the ninth and tenth centuries; and many pernicious doctrines and superstitious practices were introdu. ced, to the woful defacing of the Christian religion, and making it quite another thing from what our Saviour had left it; and these corruptions and abufes had continued for several ages : no sooner was a reformation attempt. ed, but the church of Rome make the same outcry of novelty and fingularity: and though we have fubftantially answered it a thousand times, yet we cannot obtain of them to forbear that threadbare question, Where was your religion before Luther?
I shall therefore apply myself to answer these two exceptions with all the brevity and clearness I can : and I doubt not to make it appear, that as to the point of uni. verfality, (though that be no ways necessary to justify the truth of any religion), ours is not inferior to theirs, if we take in the Christians of all ages, and of all parts of the world: and as to the point of antiquity, that our faith, and the doctrines of our religion, have clearly the advantage of theirs ; all our faith being unquestionably ancient, theirs nor fo.
1. As to the point of univerfality, which they of the church of Rome, I know not for what reason, will needs make an inleparable property and mark of the true church. And they never flout at the Protestant religion with so good a grace among the ignorant people, as when they are bragging of their numbers, and despising poor Protestancy, becaufe embraced by so few. This pestilent Northern heresy, as of late they fcornfully call it, is entertained, it feems, only in this cold and cloudy corner of the world, by a company of dull ftupid people, that can neither penetrate into the proofs nor the possibility of transubstantiation; whereas, to the more refined Southern wits, all these difficult and obscure points are as clear as the fun at noon-day.
But to speak to the thing itself: If number be neceffary to prove the truth and goodness of any religion, ours, upon inquiry, will be found not so inconsiderable as our adversaries would make it; those of the Reformed religion, according to the most exact calculations that have been made by learned men, being esteemed not much unequal in number to those of the Romish persuasion. But then, if we take in the ancient Christian church, whose faith was the fame with ours, and other Christian churches at this day, which altogether are vastly greater and more numerous than the Roman church, and which agree with us, several of them in very confiderable doctrines and practices in dispute between us and the church of Rome, and all of them in disclaiming that fundamental point of the Roman religion, and sum of Christianity, as Bellarmine calls it, I mean the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome over all Christians and churches in the world; then the number on our side will be much greater than on theirs, But we will not stand upon this advantage with them.