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Serm. their tendency to establish and confirm
the pursuit of real and Godlike virtue.
GoD not an arbitrary being.
Rom. ix. 20.
that repliest against God? --
S H O’religion be in itself most SERM. T e xcellent, and founded on the V. A ) highest reason, there is a great
deal of skill and judgment required in order to a rational and succeflful defence of it. We ought not only to understand it thoroughly ourselves, before we attempt to recommend it to others, but should take care to support it by none but solid arguments, that will bear being examined, and stand the test
SERM. of a strict and critical enquiry; and to V. give proper answers to the objections of
its adversaries. For by an ill management, we may injure and expose the best cause in the world; and when the opposers of religion find that our arguments for it are weak and trifing, they will easily be persuaded to triumph, as if they had gained a complete victory; and imagining, tho’ without just ground, that this is all that can be said in vindication of it, their prejudices will be more strong and invincible : This is especially true with respect to our reasonings about the providence of God, upon which all religion depends. The same way of answering objections will not do in all cases; but, on the contrary, what may be very properly urged at one time, will, at another, leave the truth quite naked and defenceless ; nay, in the opinion of the ignorant and prejudiced, strengthen the cause of infidelity.
Thus the words of the text were very pertinently applied by St. Paul, as I shall have occasion to shew in the following discourse ; but have been used by others, who overlook the particular case of which
the apostle was treating, in answer to ob-Serm. jections to which they are by no means V. adapted; objections that are really unanfwerable, being against supposed methods of conduct in the Deity, which are absolutely inconsistent with justice and goodness : And fince, besides this, such principles have been inferred froni them, as represent the supreme and most perfect being under the character of a mere arbitrary sovereign ; and render it impoffible for us to judge of, or argue from his moral perfections, which are the only foundation of amiable conceptions of him, and of the true peace and comfort of mens minds, as well as the surest rule we have to direct us in our religious enquiries; I think I cannot employ your time more profitably, than in settling the. true sense of this text, and guarding it against misconstructions: Especially if it be considered, that 'tis but too natural for unthinking people to make ill uses of it, injurious to the honour of God, and the cause of piety and virtue. I shall therefore,
1. Point out two or three things that
are not imply'd in it. II. Propose a few cases, to which, if
they could happen, and were urged as objections against the providence of God, it would not be a fufficient and rational reply. And
then, i JII. Shew to what cases these words
may be properly applied.
· I. I am to point out two or three things that are not implied in the text, but are false and groundless inferences from it. And,
Ift. We ought not to infer from it, that God is a despotic arbitrary Sovereign, whose will is the only rule of his actions. The great God, thoʻ he be supreme and accountable to none, always governs himself by the eternal and unalterable rules of wisdom, equity, and goodness : His will is not, itself, the standard and measure of right; but there is an intrinsic necessary difference, in the