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improvements of every kind, very little advance was made in religious knowledge: it is true, a few of the heathen philosophers and moralists attained to a comparatively just view of the subject, but mixed with much error, darkness, and uncertainty ;—but now each prating fool becomes a Socrates ; and though Plato, Tully, and Seneca were scarcely able to attain a glimpse of divine truths, it was owing it seems not to the obscurity in which those truths were involved, but to their own stupidity and dullness of apprehension ; for in these times, a pert templar, a magazine critic, or even a Grub-street garatteer, those oracles of reason, can develope these supposed mysteries with perfect ease. To be serious, as it cannot be expected that I should in the compass of a short Effay, enter fully into the discussion of an objection of this general and extensive nature, a short and general answer must suffice. I say then, I deny the fact on which the objection is founded. I say, that human reason is not capable of affording full and satisfactory evidence of the great truths of religion. I say, that the greatest geniuses, and most celebrated philosophers of antiquity, were never able to attain to any thing like a firm conviction of the truth of these fundamental doctrines; and I say, that it is in the highest degree improbable, that the world would ever have been influenced in any considerable degree by any attempts to inculcate these truths upon natural principles; because the evidence on which
they rested was in itself fo abstruse, as to be far above the comprehension of vulgar capacities; and at the fame time so ambiguous, that the few who were capable of comprehending it, could never attain to a thorough persuasion of the truth and certainty of the principles which it was the object of that evidence to estabish. But, 3dly, There are some who are perfectly sensible of the value and importance of the discoveries made by revelation, and who would willingly embrace Chriftianity, were they not deterred by an idea, that it also contains certain absurd and irrational tenets, such as are inconsistent with common sense and natural propriety; and, therefore, cannot possibly be supposed to proceed from a Being of perfect wisdom and knowledge—such as the doctrines of the Trinity and the atonement, of predestination, of original fin, &c. not to mention the strange and fabulous accounts recorded in those books which compose the Jewish Canon ; such as the Mosaic account of creation ; of the fall of man; of the general deluge, and the whole history of the Jewish nation. In answer to this, I shall beg leave to observe, that it is extremely rash and inexcusable to reject the plain and positive proofs of Christianity, on account of the absurdities which that religion may be supposed to inculcate, previous to a serious and impartial examination whether those absurdities are really included in it
For my own part, I have read the New Testament with some degree of attention, and I
never yet could discover in it the doctrine of the Trinity, or any thing resembling such a doctrine ; nor has the word so much as once occurred to me in all my examinations and researches. As to the doctrine of the atonement, I do not deny it to be the uniform doctrine of scripture, that the blood of Christ cleansetb from all fin. The death of Chris was, undoubtedly, an essential part of the divine plan of redemption; and who will stand up and venture to affirm, that a better or more eligible plan might have been adopted? Shall teach wisdom how to act ? Shall guilty man pre, sume to prescribe to infinite power and goodness the terms of his own pardon and acceptance?
Some persons, however, it must be acknow, ledged, have strangely disfigured and misrepresented this divine truth, by their weak and con, fident affertions that the death of Christ was truly and literally a compensation and equivalent for the fins of mankind. As the guilt of fin, say these profound logicians and theologists, is infinite, by being committed against an infinite Being, it was impossible that this guilt could be expiated but by the sufferings and death of Christ, whose equal participation in the divine nature gave an infinite efficacy to that sacrifice which he offered on the cross for the fins of the elect. Such tenets as these it would be a hard tatk indeed to reconcile to common sense ; but, happily, it would be just as difficult to reconcile them to the sense of scripture ; for there
we read, that “ God so loved the world, that “ he fent his only begotten Son to die for our « fakes.” This we are given to understand was the mode in which infinite goodness was determined by infinite wisdom to exert itself in our behalf. The doctrine of original fin, so far as it is a fcriptural do&rine, is perfectly agreeable to reason and experience; and it no more belongs to revealed than to natural religion to account for those evil propensities inherent in our nature, and which too frequently betray the best and wisest of the human race into actual violations of the divine law. But it has happened, I think, that the most vociferous exclamations have been raised against that doctrine, which, of all others, is least liable to exception, the doctrine of Election or Predestination : I fay not that this fublime article of the Christian faith has not been debafed, by the the Calvinistic representation of it; but it is an unquestionable truth, that happiness and misery are dispensed to every intelligent being, in such proportions as God in his fovereign wisdom thinks fit. “ He will have mercy on whom he will have “mercy.” Nevertheless, we may rest secure on this assurance, “ that without holiness no man shall see " the Lord;" and according to the different degrees of improvement to which we may attain in moral excellence shall we participate of the divine favour; and it would be as absurd and extravagant to neglect the means of moral and religious improvement, because there is an eternal purpose respecting us
subsisting in the Divine mind, as it would be to neglect our temporal interests, and all the common concerns of life, because the events which shall befall us in the present world are likewise foreknown and fore-ordained. With respect to the difficulties attending the Mofaic and Jewish histories, this general consideration may perhaps be of some use: That if the truth of Christianity is fufficently established, an independant proof of the credibility of these ancient writings, though I believe they admit of it, is not to be peremptorily demanded. Christianity undoubtedly supposes that the Jewish nation was distinguished from all others by a series of supernatural interpofitions ; but whether that series is related with accuracy by the Jewish historians ; whether any fpurious additions have in a long course of ages been made to these writings; whether the Jewish traditions related by Moses respecting the creation of the world, the fall of Adam, or the general deluge, &c. may be implicitly depended upon; whether Sampson really killed a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass; or whether Balaam's afs did or did not address his master in a rational and articulate speech ; all these things, I say, are matters of comparatively trifling import, and every one is at liberty to form the best hypothesis he can for his own satisfaction; but it must surely be a very extraordinary and preposterous species of incredulity which should reject the clear and positive evidence of Christ's resurrection, because the history of Balaam and his