THOUGH it is most my concern, that I be able to give a good account to God and my own conscience, yet, perhaps, it will be expected that I give the world also some account of this bold undertaking; which I shall endeavour to do with all plainness, and as one who believes, that if men must be reckoned with in the great day, for every vain and idle word they speak, much more for every vain and idle line they write.
And it may be of use, in the first place, to lay down those great and sacred principles which I go upon, and am governed by, in this endeavour to explain and improve these portions of holy writ; which endeavour I humbly offer to the service of those (and to those only I expect it will be acceptable) who agree with me in these six principles.
I. That religion is the one thing useful; and to know, and love, and fear God our Maker, and in all the instances both of devout affection, and of good conversation, to keep his commandments, (Eccles. 12. 13.) is, without doubt, the whole of man; it is all in all to him. This the wisest of men, after a close and copious argument in his Ecclesiastes, lays down as the conclusion of his whole matter (the Quod erat demonstrandum of his whole discourse); and therefore I may be allowed to lay it down as a postulatum, and the foundation of this whole matter.
It is necessary to mankind in general, that there should be religion in the world, absolutely necessary for the preservation of the honour of the human nature, and no less so for the preservation of the order of human societies. It is necessary to each of us in particular, that we be religious; we cannot otherwise answer the end of our creation, obtain the favour of our Creator, make ourselves easy now, or happy forever. A man that is endued with the powers of reason, by which he is capable of knowing, serving, glorifying, and enjoying his Maker, and yet lives without God in the world, is certainly the most despicable and the most miserable animal under the sun.
II. That divine revelation is necessary to true religion, to the being and support of it. That faith without which it is impossible to please God, cannot come to any perfection by seeing the works of God, but it must come by hearing the word of God, Rom. 10. 17. The rational soul, since it received that fatal shock by the fall, cannot have or maintain that just regard to the great author of its being, that observance of him, and expectation from him, which are both its duty and felicity, without some supernatural discovery made by himself of himself, and of his mind and will. Natural light, no doubt, is of excellent use, as far as it goes; but it is necessary that there be a divine revelation, to rectify its mistakes, and make up its deficiencies, to help us out where the light of nature leaves us quite at a loss, especially in the way and method of man's recovery from his lapsed state, and his restoration to his Maker's favour; which he cannot but be conscious to himself of the loss of, finding, by sad experience, his own present state to be sinful and miserable. Our own reason shows us the wound, but nothing short of a divine revelation can discover to us a remedy to be confided in.
The case and character of those nations of the earth which had no other guide in their devotions than that of natural light, with some remains of the divine institution of sacrifices received by tradition