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P R E F A C E.
Shall neither trouble the reader, nor myself, with
any apology for the publishing of these sermons. For if they be in any measure truly serviceable to the end for which they are designed, to establish men in the principles of religion, and to recommend to them the practice of it with any considerable advantage, I do not see what apology is necessary; and if they be not so, I am sure none can be sufficient. However, if there need any, the common heads of excuse in these cases are very well known; and I hope I have an equal right to them with other men,
I shall chuse rather in this preface to give a short account of the following discourses; and, as briefly as I can, to vindicate a single passage in the first of them, from the exceptions of a gentleman, who hath been pleased to honour it so far, as to write a whole book a. gainst it.
The design of these discourses is fourfold.
I. To shew the unreasonableness of Atheism, and of fcoffing at religion ; which I am sorry is so necessary to be done in this age. This I have endeavoured in the two first of these discourses.
2. To recommend religion to men from the great and manifold advantages which it brings both to public society and to particular persons. And this is the argu• ment of the third and fourth.
3. To represent the excellency, more particularly, of the Christian religion ; and to vindicate the practice of it from the suspicion of those grievous troubles and difficulties which many imagine it to be attended withal. And this is the subject of the fifth and fixth.
4. To persuade men to the practice of this holy religion, from the great obligation which the profeflion of Christianity lays upon men to that purpose, and, more
particularly, from the glorious rewards of another life ; which is the design of the two next discourses.
Having given this short account of the following difcourses, I crave leave of the reader to detain him a little longer, whilst I vindicate a passage in the first of these sermons from the assaults of a whole book purposely writ against it. The title of the book is, Faith vindicated from the possibility of Falsehood; the author, Mr J. S. the fa. mous author of Sure footing. He hath indeed, in this last book of his, to my great amazement, quitted that glorious title. Not that I dare assume to myself to have put him out of conceit with it, by having convinced him of the fantasticalness of it. No; I despair to con. vince that man of any thing, who, after so fair an ad. monition, does still persist to maintain, (Letter of Thanks, ? 24. &c.); that first and self. evident principles not onİy way, but are fit to be demonstrated; and (ibid. p. 11.) that those ridiculous identical propositions, That faith is is faith, and A rule is a rule, are first principles in this controversy of the rule of faith, without which nothing " can be folidly concluded, either about rule or faith,” But there was another reason for his quitting of that title ; and a prudent. one indeed!. He had forsaken the defence of Sure footing, and then it became convenient to lay aside that title, for fear of putting people any more in mind of that book.
I expected indeed, after his Letter of thanks, in which he tells us, p. 14. he “ intended to throw aside the rub" bifh of my book, that in his answer he might the bet
ter lay open the fabric of my discourse, and have no** thing there to do, but to speak to folid points ;" I fay, after this, I expected a full answer to the folid points (as he is pleased to call them) of my book; and that (according to his excellent method of removing the rubbish, in order to the pulling down of a building) the fa. bric of my book would long since have been demolished, and laid even with the ground. But especially when, in the conclusion of that most civil and obliging letter, he threatened " never to leave following on his blow, “ till he had either brought Dr Still. and me to lay
principles that would bear the teit, or it was made evident to all the world that we had none,” I began,
as I had reason, to be in a terrible fear of him, and to look upon myself as a dead man. And indeed who can think himself so considerable, as not to dread this mighty man of demonstration, this prince of controvertists, this great lord and professor of first principles ? But I perceive, that great minds are merciful, and do sometimes content themselves to threaten, when they could de. ftroy.
For, instead of returning a full answer to my book, he, according to their new mode of confuting books, manfully falls a-nibbling at one single paffage in it, p. 118. (vol. 3. p. 368. 9. of this edition); wherein he makes me to say, (for I say no fuch thing), that "the so rule of Christian faith, and confequently faith itself, " is possible to be false.” Nay in his Letter of thanks, p. 13. he says, “ it is an avowed position,” in that place, “ that faith is possible to be false.” And to give the more countenance to this calumny, he chargeth the same position (in equivalent terms) of the poliile falsehood of faith, and that as to the chiefesi and mali fundamental point, the tenet of a Deity, upon the fore inentioned sermon. But because he knew in his conscience, that I had avowed no such position, he durst not cite the words either of my book or sermon, left the reader should have discorered the notorious falsehood and groundlessness of this calumny: nay, he durft not so much as refer to any particular place in my sermon where fuch a passage might be found. And yet this is the man that has the face to charge others with false citations ; to which charge, before I have done, I shall say something, which, what effect foever it may have upon him, would make any other man sufficiently alhamed.
But yet I must acknowledge, that in this position which he fastens upon me, he honours me with excellent company, my Lord Faulkland, Mr Chillingworth, and Dr Stillingfleet; persons of that admirable ftrength and clearnels in their writings, that Mir S. when he reflects upon his own style, and way of reasoning, may blush to acknowledge that ever he has read them. And as to this position which he charges them withal, I do not know (nor have I the least reason upon Mr S.'s word to believe) any such thing is maintained by them.