The Practice of Religion Enforced by Reason
Proverbs 10:9
He that walks uprightly walks surely: but he that perverts his ways shall be known.

Walking represents an active principle in an active posture. As the nature of man carries him out to action, the same nature renders him solicitous about the issue and event of his actions. A man must take care not to be deceived in the rule which he proposes for the measure of his actions. This he may be —

1. By laying false and deceitful principles.

2. In case he lays right principles, yet by mistaking in the consequences which he draws from them. He who guides his actions by the rules of piety and religion lays these two principles as the great ground of all that he does.

(1) That there is an infinite, eternal, all-wise mind governing the affairs of the world, and taking such an account of the actions of men as, according to the quality of them, to punish or reward them.

(2) That there is an estate of happiness or misery after this life, allotted to every man, according to the quality of his actions here. Consider these principles under a threefold supposition.

I. AS CERTAINLY TRUE. It is necessary that there should be some first mover; and if so, a first being; and the first being must infer an infinite, unlimited perfection in the said being. All other perfection must be derived from it, and so we infer the creation of the world. If God created the world, He must govern it, and this by means suitable to the natures of the things He governs, and to the attainment of the proper ends of government. As man is a moral agent, he must be governed by laws, and these sustained by sanctions. While a man steers his course by these principles he acts prudentially and safely. The presuming sinner can have only two excuses.

1. That God is merciful, and will not be so severe as His word.

2. That a future repentance is possible. But, upon supposition of the certain truth of the principles of religion, he who walks not uprightly has neither from the presumption of God's mercy reversing the decree of His justice, nor from his own purposes of a future repentance, any sure ground to set his foot upon, but in this whole course acts as directly in contradiction of nature, as he does in defiance of grace.

II. AS PROBABLE. Probability does not properly make any alteration, either in the truth or falsity of things; but only imports a different degree of their clearness or appearance to the understanding. The first rudiments and general notions of religion, natural religion, are universal. These consist in the acknowledgment of a Deity, and of the common principles of morality, and a future estate of souls after death. But if there were really no such things, how could this persuasion come to be universal? Can we conceive that the whole world has been brought to conspire in the belief of a lie? It is sufficient to render unbelief inexcusable, even upon the account of bare reason, if so be the truth of religion carry in it a much greater probability than any of those ratiocinations that pretend the contrary. Proved by two considerations.

1. That no man, in matters of this life, requires an assurance either of the good he designs or of the evil which he avoids from arguments demonstratively certain, but judges himself to have sufficient ground to act upon, from a probable persuasion of the event of things.

2. Bare reason will oblige a man voluntarily and by choice to undergo any less evil, to secure himself from the probability of an evil incomparably greater. Since probability, in the nature of it, supposes that a thing may or may not be so, for anything that yet appears, or is certainly determined on either side, we will here consider both sides of this probability.

(1) It is one way possible, that there be no such thing as a future state of happiness or misery for those who have lived well or ill here. Then he who, upon the strength of a contrary belief, abridged, himself in the gratification of his appetites, sustains only this evil — if it be evil — that he did not please his senses as he might have done.

(2) But, on the other side, it is probable that there will be such a future estate, and then how miserably is the voluptuous, sensual unbeliever left in the lurch!

III. AS FALSE. Even on this account he who walks uprightly walks more surely than the wicked and profane liver.

1. In reputation or credit.

2. In respect of the case, peace, and quietness which he enjoys in this world.

3. In the health of his body. Virtue is a friend and help to nature. It may be said that many sinners escape the calamities of life. But this may be due to their luck, or benign chance. Many more sinners are plunged into calamities by their sins than escape them. And sin has in itself a natural tendency to bring men under all evils, and if persisted in, will infallibly end in them.

(R. South.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: He that walketh uprightly walketh surely: but he that perverteth his ways shall be known.

WEB: He who walks blamelessly walks surely, but he who perverts his ways will be found out.

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