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THE three admirable Discourses by Dr DODDRIDGE, which have furnished the materials for the third Tract, were, on their first publication in 1736, combined with seven others; but, at the request of one of the highest dignitaries of the Established Church, who thought it desirable that they should be thrown into the widest possible circulation, they were subsequently printed in a separate form.
Our adversaries, it has been truly observed, never trouble themselves to sift the evidences of religion, but take all their knowledge of it from a few objections casually brought forward in light conversation. The true reasoner seeks for evidence, before he listens to objections. Secure of the first, he is not easily shaken by the latter.
It gave the author, we are told, singular pleasure to learn, that those Sermons had been the means of convincing two gentlemen of a liberal education and distinguished abilities, who had been Deists, that Christianity was true and divine: and one of them, who had set himself strenuously to prejudice others against the Gospel, became afterwards a zealous preacher and ornament of the religion which he had once denied and despised.
They are, also, made the subject of study and examination in one of the two principal colleges in the University of Cambridge.
Their lamented writer died at Lisbon, whither he had gone for the recovery of his health, in 1751, in the fiftieth year of his age: but, by his works, "though dead, he yet speaketh."
THE object of this short Tract is, to give a summary view of the most considerable arguments in favour of Christianity in their proper and natural connexion, which must furnish better grounds of judgment than could possibly be supplied by any number of detached remarks, or by a more copious enlargement upon any single branch of the subject. And may God prepare the understanding of the reader to receive these things, and strengthen his memory to retain them; that he may not be like a child tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the slight of men and the cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive!
I. First, then, it must appear highly probable, if we take the matter merely in theory, that a system resembling that of the Gospel in doctrine and in precepts, should be a divine revelation: because,
1. The state of mankind, at the period of its introduction, was such as greatly to need a revelation;
2. There seems to be encouragement, from the light of nature, to hope that God would grant one; 3. And that so introduced and transmitted, as we are told Christianity was;
4. And in substance, generally, what we find Christianity to be.
These four particulars, if established, not only afford strong presumptive evidence that "the Gospel is from God;" but also open a fair way for the more direct proof, arising from external evidence, of the same proposition.
1. It is an easy thing to pronounce florid encomiums on the perfection of natural light. But if we appeal to the sure authority of facts, it cannot be denied that the whole heathen world has lain, and still lieth, in wickedness-that nothing is so wild as not to have been believed, nothing so in famous as not to have been practised by them--and that even in Christian, nay, in Protestant countries, we find a too general ignorance or forgetfulness of God, coupled with debauchery, fraud, oppression, pride, ambition, and avarice; whence we may judge, whether or not a Revelation be an unnecessary thing. And,
2. That it is in itself a possible thing with Him, with whom all things are possible, it is as idle to assert, as it would be impious to deny. But would such a Being, it may be asked, deem it proper to confer upon his creatures such a favour-gifted as they already are with faculties and opportunities to trace, and with motives to glorify, him as God?
If we consider him as an indulgent Father, watch ing tenderly over us, and liberally providing us with every thing needful for the support of animal life, especially in the medicinal virtues imparted to many