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WHATEVER account may be given, of the strange inattention and disregard, in some ages and countries, to a matter of such importance as religion, it would, before experience, be incredible, that there should be the like disregard in those, who have had the moral
system of the world laid before them, as it is by Christianity, and often inculcated upon them; because this moral system carries in it a good degree of evidence for its truth, upon its being barely proposed to our thoughts. There is no need of abstruse reasonings and distinctions to convince an unprejudiced understanding, that there is a God who made and governs the world, and will judge it in righteousness; though they may be necessary to answer abstruse difficulties, when once such are raised; when the very meaning of those words, which express most intelligibly the general doctrine of religion, is pretended to be uncertain, and the clear truth of the thing itself is obscured by the intricacies of speculation. But, to an unprejudiced mind, ten thousand thousand instances of design, cannot but prove a Designer. And it is intuitively manifest, that creatures ought to live under a dutiful sense of their Maker; and that justice and charity must be bis laws, to creatures whom he has made social, and placed in society. Indeed, the truth of revealed religion, peculiarly so called, is not self-evident, but requires external proof, in order to its being
received. Yet inattention, among us, to revealed religion, will be found to imply the same dissolute immoral temper of mind, as inattention to natural religion ; because, when both are laid before us, in the manner they are in Christian countries of liberty, our obligations to inquire into both, and to embrace both upon supposition of their truth, are obligations of the same nature. For, revelation claims to be the voice of God; and our obligation to attend to his voice, is, surely, moral in all
And as it is insisted, that its evidence is conclusive, upon thorough consideration of it, so it offers itself to us with manifest obvious appearances of having something more than human in it, and therefore in all reason requires, to have its claims most seriously examined into. It is to be added, that though light and knowledge, in what “manner soever afforded us, is equally from God; yet a miraculous revelation has a peculiar tendency, from the first principles of our nature, to awaken mankind, and inspire them with reverence and awe : and this is a peculiar obligation, to attend to what claims to be so with such appearances of truth. It is therefore most certain, that our obligations to inquire seriously into the evidence of Christianity, and, upon supposition of its truth, to embrace it, are of the utmost importance, and moral in the highest and most proper sense. Let us then suppose, that the evidence of religion in general, and of Christianity, has been seriously inquired into, by all reasonable men among us.
Yet we find many professedly to reject both, upon speculative principles of infidelity. And all of them do not content themselves with a bare neglect of religion, and enjoying their imaginary freedom from its restraints. Some go much beyond this. They deride God's moral government over the world: They renounce his protection, and defy his justice : They ridicule and vilify Christianity, and blaspheme the Author of it; and take all occasions to manifest a scorn and contempt of revelation. This amounts to an active setting themselves against religion ; to what may be considered as a positive principle of irreligion ; which they cultivate within themselves, and, whether they intend this effect or not, render habitual, as a good man does the contrary principle. And others, who are not chargeable with all this profligateness, yet are in avowed opposition to religion, as if discovered to be groundless. Now admitting, which is the supposition we go upon, that these persons act upon what they think principles of reason, and otherwise they are not to be argued with ; it is really inconceivable, that they should imagine they elearly see the whole evidence of it, considered in itselt, to be nothing at all'; nor do they pretend this. They are far indeed from having a just notion of its evidence; but they would not say its evidence was nothing, if they thought the system of it, with all its circumstances, were credible, like other matters of science or history, So that their manner of treating it must proceed, either from such kind of objections against all religion, as have been answered or obviated in the former part of this Treatise ; or else from objections and difficulties, supposed more peculiar to Christianity.. Thus, they enteri tain prejudices against the whole notion of a revelation and miraculous interpositions. They find things in Scripture, whether in incidental passages or in the general scheme of it, which appear to them unreason+ able. They take for granted, that if Christianity were true, the light of it must have been more general, and the evidence of it more satisfactory, or rather overbearing; that it must and would have been, in some way, otherwise put and left; than it is. Now, this is not in magining they see the evidence itself to be nothing, or inconsiderable; but quite another thing. It is being fortified against the evidence, in some degree acknowledged, by thinking they see the system of Christianity; or somewhat which appears to them necessarily connected with it, to be incredible or false : fortified against that evidence, which might, otherwise, make great impression upon them. Or, lastly, if any of these persons are, upon the whole, in doubt concerning the truth of Christianity; their behaviour seems owing to their taking for granted, through strange inattention, that such doubting is in a manner the same thing, as being certain against it.
To these persons, and to this state of opinion concerning religion, the foregoing Treatise is adapted. For, all the general objections against the moral system of nature having been obviated, it is shewn, that there is not any peculiar presumption at all against Christianity, either considered as not discoverable by reason, or as unlike to what is so discovered ; por any worth mentioning, against it as miraculous, if any at all; none certainly, which can render it in the least incredible. It is shewn, that apon supposition of a divine revelation, the analogy of nature renders it beforehand highly credible, I think probable, that many things in it must appear liable to great objections; and that we must be incompetent judges of it, to a great degree. This observation is, I think, unquestionably true, and of the very utmost importance : but it is urged, as I hope it will be understood, with great caution of not vilifying the faculty of reason, which is “ the candle of the Lord within us ;"" * though it can afford no light, where it does not shine ; nor judge, where it has no principles to judge upon. The objections here spoken of, being first answered in the view of objections against Christianity as a matter of fact, are in the next place cousidered as urged, more immediately, against the wisdom, justice, and goodness of the Christian dispensation. And it is fully made out, that they admit of exactly the like answer, in every respect, to what the like objections against the constitution of nature admit of: that, as partial views give the appearance of wrong to things, which, upon farther consideration and knowledge of their relations to other things, are found just and good; so it is perfectly credible, that the things objected, a. gainst the wisdom and goodness of the Christian dispensation, may
be rendered instances of wisdom and goodness by their reference to other things beyond our view: because Christianity is a scheme as much above our comprehension, as that of nature ; and, like that, a scheme in which means are made use of to accomplish ends, and which, as is most credible, may be carried on by general laws. And it ought to be attended to, that this is not an answer taken merely or chiefly from our ignorance ; but from somewhat positive, wlrich our observation shews us. For, to like objections, the like answer is experienced to be just, in numberless parallel
* Prov. XX. 27.
The objeetions against the Christian dispensation, and the method by which it is carried on, having been thus obviated, in general and together; the chief of them are considered distinctly, and the partieular things objected to are shewn credible, by their perfect analogy, each apart, to the constitution of nature. Thus, if a man be fallen from his primitive state, and to be restored, and infinite wisdom and power engages in accomplishing our recovery; it were to have been expected, it is saith, that this should have been effected at once, and not by such a long series of means, and such a various economy of persons and things ; one disa pensation preparatory to another, this to a farther one, and so on through an indefinite number of ages, before the end of the scheme proposed can be completely accomplished , a scheme conducted by infinite wisdom, and executed by almighty power, But now, on the contrary, our finding that every thing in the constitution and course of nature is thus carried on, shews such expectations concerning revelation to be highly unreasouable; and is a satisfactory answer to them, when urged as objections against the credibility, that the great scheme of : Providence in the redemption of the world! may be of this kind, and to be accomplished in this magner.. As to the particular method of our redemption, the appointment of a Mediator between God and man ; this has been shewn to be most obviously analo. gous to the general conduct of nature, i. e. the God of nature, in appointing others to be the instruments of his mercy, as we experience in the daily course of Providence. The condition of this world, which the doc