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dence of Christianity was, originally and with design, put and left so, as that those who are desirous of evading moral obligations, should not see it, and that bonest: minded persons should; or whether it comes to pass by any other means.
Farther: The general proof of natural religion and of Christianity, does, I think, lie level to common men; even those, the greatest part of whose time, from childhood to old age, is taken up with providing, for them. selves and their families, the common conveniences, perhaps necessaries of life; those, I mean, of this rank, who ever think at all of asking after proof, or attending to it. Common men, were they as much in earnest about religion as about their temporal affairs, are capable of being convinced upon real evidence, that there is a God who governs the world; and they feel them: selves to be of a moral nature, and accountable crea: tures. And as Christianity entirely falls in with this their natural sense of things ; so they are capable, not only of being persuaded, but of being made to
that there is evidence of miracles wrought in attestation of it, and many appearing completions of prophecy. But though this proof is real and conclusive, yet it is liable to objections, and may be run up into difficulties; which, however, persons who are capable, not only of talking of, but of really seeing, are capable also of seeing through ; i.e. not of clearing up and answering them, so as to satisfy their curiosity, for of such knowledge we are not capable with respect to any one thing in nature; but capable of seeing that the proof is not lost in these difficulties, or destroyed by these objections. But then a thorough examination into religion, with regard to these objections, which cannot be the business of every-man, is a matter of pretty. large compass, and, from the nature of it, requires some knowledge, as well as time and attention, to see how the evidence comes out, upon balancing one thing with another, and what, upon the whole, is the amount of it. Now, if persons who have picked up these objections from others, and take for granted they are of weight, upon the word of those from whom they received them, or, by often retailing of
them, come to see, or fancy they see, them to be of weight, will not prepare themselves for such an examination, with a competent degree of knowledge ; or will not give that time and attention to the subject, which, from the nature of it, is necessary for attaining such information : in this case, they must remain in doubtfulness, ignorance, or crror ; in the same way as they must, with regard to common sciences, and matters of common life, if they neglect the necessary means of being informed in them.
But still, perhaps, it will be objected, that if a prince or common master were to send directions to a servant, he would take care, that they should always bear the certain marks who they came from, and that their sense should be always plain ; so as that there should be no possible doubt, if he could help it, concerning the authority or meaning of them. Now, the proper answer to all this kind of objections is, that, wherever the fallacy lies, it is even certain we cannot argue thus with respect to him who is the governor of the world; and particularly, that he does not afford us such information, with respect to our temporal affairs and interests, as. experience abundantly shews. However, there is a full answer to this objection, from the very nature of religion. For the reason why a prince would give his directions in this plain manner, is, that he absolutely desires such an external action should be done, with out concerning himself with the motive or principle upon
which it is done : i. e. he regards only the external event, or the thing's being done, and not at all, properly speaking, the doing of it, or the action. Whereas, the whole of morality and religion consisting merely in action itself, there is no sort of parallel between the cases. But if the prince be supposed to regard only the action ; i. c. only to desire to exercise, or in any sense prove, the understanding or loyalty of of a servant, he would not always give his orders in such , a plain manner. It may be proper to add, that the will of God, respecting morality and religion, may be considered, either as absolute, or as only conditional.. If it be absolute, it can only be tbus, that we should act virtuously in such given circumstances; not that we should be brought to act so, by bis changing of our circumstances. And if God's will be thus, absolute, then it is in our power, in the highest and strictest sense, to do or to contradict his will; which is a most weighty consideration. Or his will may be considered only as conditional,--that if we act so and so, we shall be rewarded ; if otherwise, punished : of which conditional will of the Author of nature, the whole constitution of it affords most certain instances.
Upon the whole : That we are in a state of religion necessarily implies, that we are in a state of probation: And the credibility of our being at all in such a state being adınitted, there seems no peculiar difficulty in supposing our probation to be, just as it is, in those respects which are above objected against. There seems no pretence from the reuson of the thing, to say, that the trial cannot equitably be any thing, but whether persons will act suitably to certain information, or such as admits no room for doubt, so as that there can be no danger of miscarriage, but either from their not attending to what they certainly know, or from over-bearing passion hurrying them on to act contrary to it, For, since ignorance and doubt afford scope for probation in all senses, as really as intuitive conviction or certainty ; and since the two former are to be put to the same account, as difficulties in practice; men's moral probation may also be, whether they will take due care to inform themselves by impartial consideration, and afterwards whether they will act as the case requires, upon the evidence which they have, however doubtful. And this, we find by experience, is frequent. ly our probation, * in our temporal capacity. For the information which we want, with regard to our worldly interests, is by no means always given us of course, without any care of our own. And we are greatly li
* Pages 39, 219, 221, 222.
able to self-deceit from inward secret prejudices, and also to the deceits of others. So that to be able to judge what is the prudent part, often requires much and difficult consideration. Then, after we have judged the very best we can, the evidence upon which we must act, if we will live and act at all, is perpetually doubtful to a very high degree. And the constitution and course of the world in fact is such, as that want of impartial consideration what we have to do, and venturing upon extravagant courses, because it is doubtful what will be the consequence, are often naturally, i. e. providentially, altogether as fatal, as misconduct occasioned by beedless inattention to what we certainly know, or disregarding it from overbearing passion.
Several of the observations here made may well seem strange, perhaps unintelligible, to many good men. But if the persons for whose sake they are made, think so; persons wbo object as above, and throw off all regard to religion under pretence of want of evidence ; I desire them to consider again, whether their thinking so, be owing to any thing unintelligible in these observations, or to their own not having such a sense of religion, and serious solicitude about it, as even their state of scepticism does in all reason require ? It ought to be forced upon the reflection of these
persons, that our nature and condition necessarily require us, in the daily course of life, to act upon evidence much lower than what is commonly called probable ; to guard not only against what we fully believe will, but also against what we think it supposable may, happen; and to engage in pursuits when the probability is greatly against success, if it be credible, that possibly we may succeed in them.
of the particular Evidence for Christianity.
The presumptions against revelation, and objections against the general scheme of Christianity, and particular things relating to it, being removed, there remains to be considered, what positive evidence we have for the truth of it: chiefly in order to see, what the analogy of nature suggests with regard to that evidence, and the objections against it; or to sec what is, and is allowed to be, the plain natural rule of judgment and of action, in our temporal concerns, in cases where we have the same kind of evidence, and the same kind of objections against it, that we have in the case before us.
Now, in the evidence of Christianity, there seem to be several things of great weight, not reducible to the head, either of miracles, or the completion of prophecy, in the common acceptation of the words. But these two are its direct and fandamental proofs ; and those other things, however considerable they are, yet ought never to be urged apart from its direct proofs, but always to be joined with them. Thus the evidence of Christianity will be a long series of things, reaching, as it seems, from the beginning of the world to the present time, of great variety and compass, taking in both the direct, and also the collateral proofs, and making up, all of them together, one argument; the conviction arising from which kind of proof may be compared to what they call the effect in architecture or other works of art; a result from a great number of things