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THE NATURE OF RELIGION.
I COR. iv. 20.
-The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.
HEREIN religion confifts, is an enquiry which hath
justly challenged the attention of mankind, in every age, and in every part of the world. But fo various are the opinions which have obtained upon this important subject, that he who hath not entered into the spirit of the thing itself, would be almost tempted to judge it impoffible to afcertain the true nature of it, with any degree of clearness and precision. And yet, admitting that there is such a thing as religion, nothing is more evident than that it must be capable of a full and clear defcription. And whatever difficulties may be fuppofed to attend the explanation of this point, yet if men would but foberly liften to the dictates of reafon, together with the concurrent teftimony of fcripture and experience, they would not find it fo hard a task as they imagine, to acquire at leaft fome general notions about it. What I propose therefore in this difcourfe is, to give you a brief defcription of what I apprehend to be the true nature of religion. And whether we are, or are not ourselves interefted in this divine bleffing; yet, I perfuade myself, this account of it will fo far approve itself to the judgment and confciences of men, as to oblige them to acknowledge, that it is an object moft deferving of their attention. This defcription then I fhall ground on the paffage now before us, A.
which at once partakes of all the beauty and variety of a moft expreffive figure, and of all the strength and perfpicuity of the plaineft language. The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.
The apoftle, you will find by looking back a few verses before the text, had proposed himself to the Corinthians as their example, offering it both as an excufe for this freedom, and as an argument to conciliate their regards, that he was their father, having in Chrift Jefus begotten them through the gospel. And left, in his absence, the lively impreffion which his doctrine and manner of life had made upon their hearts, fhould in any degree be crafed, he tells them, he had sent Timothy to remind them of his ways in Christ. But they were not from hence to conclude, as fome of their false teachers had infinuated, that he did not defign himself to come among them. For, fays he in the verse preceding the text, I will come unto you fhortly, if the Lord will. And he adds, I will know, not the fpeech of them which are puffed up, but the power. "I will judge of the "pretenfions of these new apostles, not by their words, "their confident talk, or their infinuating manner of ad"drefs; but by the power, the miraculous proofs they have "to bring in vindication of their miffion. For the kingdom "of God is not in word, but in power. The Christian dif"penfation owes its existence and fupport, not to human wit "and eloquence, but to the exertion of divine power and "grace."
But as the fpirit and tendency of any one's doctrine, as well as the miraculous powers he may claim, is a very juft and natural criterion, by which to judge of the pretensions of him who publishes it; fo I fee no reason why this may not be included in the paffage before us. And then the text, without offering any violence to it, may be understood, not only as expreffive of the extraordinary means by which the Chriftian difpenfation was first introduced and established, but as defcriptive of the nature and tendency of the
Christian doctrine itself. The gofpel, if received in truth and love, produces effects which are fubftantial and important. A new kingdom is fet up in the heart of the real Chriftian. And that kingdom is not in word, it confifts not in mere notions, forms, or appearances, but in power, in the commanding influence of the great principles of religion on our tempers and lives. Our Saviour to this purpose admonifhes us, to feek first the kingdom of God and his righteoufnefs *. And the apoftle himself elsewhere affirms, that the kin dom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost +:
Now, before I proceed to confider this figurative defcription of religion, it will be neceffary to give you fome general explanation of the term itself. And you hardly need be told, it is variously used, though it always conveys an idea of thofe concerns which more immediately relate to God and the foul..
It is often you know put objectively for the principles we profefs, or for that particular form of worship to which we are attached so we frequently speak of the Christian and the Pagan, the Popish and the Reformed religion. But in thefe difcourfes I fhall confider it fubjectively, and that chiefly in respect to the heart of man, which is its proper refidence, and from whence proceed the natural and genuine effects of it in the life. Now in this view of it, it comprehends all thofe exercifes of the mind, by which we are firft led into an acquaintance with God, and are afterwards gradually formed for the enjoyment of the heavenly bleffednefs. In fhort, it is no other than the regards due from the creature to him who made him, and which must have their origin in the heart, that being the nobleft part, and the spring of all human actions. And if it be farther enquired, what these regards are, it is easy to see that they must be determined by the fpiritual and perfect nature of that Being, who is the great object of religion; and by the particular capacities
capacities and circumstances of thofe, who are the subjects of it. God is a fpirit, poffeffed of every poffible perfection, and the conftant fource of all the good which creatures enjoy. Religion, therefore, must be a spiritual thing, confisting in the contemplation of God, a due reverence for him, an entire confidence in him, a fupreme love of him, and a cordial subjection of mind to his whole will. This must be the nature of it, with regard to all intelligent creatures, whatever be the rank they hold in the scale of beings, and whatever the capacities they are endowed with. This is the religion both of angels and of men. But then it is evident, fince man is in a fallen ftate, that his religion must differ, and that in fome very important points of it, from the religion of pure and innocent creatures. He must be recovered, at least in fome degree, from the blindness, ftupidityand mifery in which fin hath plunged him, before he can: exercife thofe fpiritual affections towards God, which were just mentioned. His heart must be formed into a subjection to that wife and gracious fcheme, which Heaven hath appointed for the redemption and falvation of finners; which fubjection will exprefs itself by an ingenuous forrow for fin, and a humble confidence in the divine mercy. And fince it is by degrees the good man grows up from his first implantation in the church of Chrift, to the likenefs of the bleffed God, he must, to this end, pass through various exercifes of mind, to all which, both the difpenfations of providence, and the means of grace, do, under a divine influence, very happily and largely contribute; till at length religion, thus begun on earth, is confummated in eternal glory
From this general view then of religion, let us now proceed to a more particular confideration of the animated defcription given us of it in the text..
I. It is the Kingdom of God; a kingdom which he hath erected in the hearts of men.
II. It confifts not in Word, but in Power. It is not a