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the best, and the most conducive to private and to public good; proposes rewards adequate to the vast desires and capacities of the rational soul; promises mercy to infirmity, without indulgence to vice; holds out pardon to the penitent offender, in that particular way which secures to a frail imperfect race the blessings of a mild government, and secures to the majesty of the Universal Governor all the useful ends of punishment; and builds this scheme of redemption on a history of man and Providence — of man's original corruption, and the various interpositions of Providence for his gradual recovery, which clears up many perplexing questions concerning the origin of evil, the unequal distribution of present happiness and misery, and the disadvantages on the side of virtue in this constitution of things, which seem inexplicable upon any other principles..
This excellence of the Christian doctrine considered in itself, as without it no external evidence of revelation could be sufficient, so it gives to those who are qualified to perceive it that internal probability to the
whole scheme, that the external evidence, in that proportion of it in which it may be supposed to be understood by common men, may be well allowed to complete the proof. This, I am persuaded, is the consideration that chiefly weighs with those who are quite unable to collect and unite for themselves the scattered parts of that multifarious proof which history and prophecy afford.
I would not be understood to disparage the proof of revelation from historical evidence or from prophecy: When I speak of that part of it which lies within the reach of unlettered men as small, I speak of it with reference to its whole. I am satisfied, that whoever is qualified to take a view of but one half, or a much less proportion, of the proof of that kind which is now extant in the world, will be overpowered with the force of it. Some there will always be who will profit by this proof, and will be curious to seek after it; and mankind in general will be advantaged by their lights. But of those in any one age of the world who may be capable of re
ceiving the full benefit of this proof, I question whether the number be greater than of those in the apostolic age who were in a situation to receive the benefit of ocular demonstration. And I would endeavour to ascertain what common ground of conviction there may be for all men, of which the ignorant and the learned may equally take advantage; and I took this inquiry, in order to discover wherein that merit of faith consists which may entitle to the blessing pronounced in the text and in various other parts of Scripture; for whatever that may be from which true faith derives the merit, we are undoubtedly to look for it not in any thing peculiar to the faith of the learned, but in the common faith of the plain illiterate believer. Now, the ground of his conviction, that which gives force and vigour to whatever else of the evidence may come within his view, is evidently his sense and consciousness of the excellence of the gospel doctrine. This is an evidence which is felt no doubt in its full force by many a man who can hold no argument about the nature of its certainty- with him who holds the plough or tends the loom, who hath
never been sufficiently at leisure from the laborious occupations of necessitous life to speculate upon moral truth and beauty in the abstract; for a quick discernment and a truth of taste in religious subjects proceed not from that subtilty or refinement of the understanding by which men are qualified to figure in the arts of rhetoric and disputation, but from the moral qualities of the heart. A devout and honest mind refers the doctrines and precepts of religion to that exemplar of the good and the fair which it carries about within itself in its own feelings: By their agreement with this, it understands their excellence: Understanding their excellence, it is disposed to embrace them and to obey them; and in this disposition listens with candour to the external evidence. It may seem, that by reducing faith to these feelings as its first principles, we resolve the grounds of our conviction into a previous disposition of the mind to believe the thing propounded, that is, it may be said, into a prejudice. But this is a mistake: I suppose no favour of the mind for the doctrine propounded but what is founded on a sense and per
ception of its purity and excellence,-none but what is the consequence of that perception, and in no degree the cause of it. We suppose no previous disposition of the mind, but a general sense and approbation of what is good; which is never called a prejudice but by those who have it not, and by a gross abuse of language. The sense and approbation of what is good is no infirmity, but the perfection of our nature. Of our nature, did I say?—the approbation of what is good, joined with the perfect understanding of it, is the perfection of the Divine.
The reason that the authority of these internal perceptions of moral truth and good is often called in question is this,— that from the great diversity that is found in the opinions of men, and the different. judgments that they seem to pass upon the same things, it is too hastily inferred that these original perceptions in various men are various, and cannot therefore be to any the test of universal truth. A Christian, for example, imagines a natural impurity in sensual gratifications; a Mahometan is