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improvements of every kind, very little advance was made in religious knowledge: it is true, a few of the heathen philofophers 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 obfcurity in which thofe truths were involved, but to their own ftupidity and dullness of apprehenfion; for in these times, a pert templar, a magazine critic, or even a Grub-street garatteer, thofe oracles of reason, can develope thefe fuppofed my. fteries with perfect ease. To be ferious, as it cannot be expected that I should in the compass of a fhort Effay, enter fully into the difcuffion of an objection of this general and extensive nature, a fhort and general answer muft fuffice I fay then, I deny the fact on which the objection is founded. I fay, that human reafon is not capable of affording full and fatisfactory evidence of the great truths of religion. I fay, that the greatest geniufes, and most celebrated philofophers of antiquity, were never able to attain to any thing like a firm conviction of the truth of these fundamental doctrines; and I fay, that it is in the highest degree improbable, that the world would ever have been influenced in any confiderable degree by any attempts to inculcate these truths upon natural principles; because the evidence on which they
they rested was in itself so abftrufe, as to be far above the comprehenfion of vulgar capacities; and at the fame time fo ambiguous, that the few who were capable of comprehending it, could never attain to a thorough perfuafion of the truth and certainty of the principles which it was the object of that evidence to estabish. But, 3dly, There are fome who are perfectly fenfible of the value and importance of the difcoveries made by revelation, and who would willingly embrace Chriftianity, were they not deterred by an idea, that it alfo contains certain abfurd and irrational tenets, fuch as are inconfiftent with common sense and natural propriety; and, therefore, cannot poffibly be fuppofed to proceed from a Being of perfect wisdom and knowledge-fuch 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; fuch as the Mofaic 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 fhall beg leave to observe, that it is extremely rash and inexcufable to reject the plain and positive proofs of Chriftianity, on account of the abfurdities. which that religion may be fuppofed to inculcate, previous to a serious and impartial examination whether thofe abfurdities are really included in it or not. For my own part, I have read the New Teftament with fome degree of attention, and I H 3
never yet could difcover in it the doctrine of the Trinity, or any thing refembling fuch a doctrine; nor has the word fo 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 fcripture, that the blood of Christ cleanfeth from all fin. The death of Chrift was, undoubtedly, an effential 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 folly teach wisdom how to act? Shall guilty man pre, fume to prescribe to infinite power and goodness the terms of his own pardon and acceptance?
Some perfons, however, it must be acknow, ledged, have ftrangely disfigured and mifreprefented this divine truth, by their weak and con, fident affertions that the death of Chrift was truly and literally a compenfation and equivalent for the fins of mankind. As the guilt of fin, fay thefe profound logicians and theologifts, is infinite, by being committed against an infinite. Being, it was impoffible that this guilt could be expiated but by the fufferings and death of Chrift, whofe equal participation in the divine nature gave an infinite efficacy to that facrifice which he offered on the crofs for the fins of the elect. Such tenets as thefe it would be a hard task indeed to reconcile to common fenfe; but, happily, it would be just as difficult to reconcile them to the fenfe of fcripture; for there
we read, that "GOD fo 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 goodnefs was determined by infinite wisdom to exert itself in our behalf. The doctrine of original fin, fo far as it is a fcriptural doctrine, is perfectly agreeable to reafon and experience; and it no more belongs to revealed than to natural religion to account for those evil propenfities inherent in our nature, and which too frequently betray the beft and wifeft of the human race into actual violations of the divine law. But it has happened, I think, that the most vociferous exclamations have been raifed 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 Chriftian faith has not been debafed, by the the Calvinistic reprefentation of it; but it is an unquestionable truth, that happiness and mifery are difpenfed to every intelligent being, in fuch proportions as GoD in his fovereign wifdom thinks fit. "He will have mercy on whom he will have 46 mercy." Nevertheless, we may reft fecure on this affurance," that without holiness no man fhall fee "the LORD;" and according to the different degrees of improvement to which we may attain in moral excellence fhall we participate of the divine favour; and it would be as abfurd and extravagant to neglect the means of moral and religious improvement, because there is an eternal purpose refpecting us H 4 fubfifting
fubfifting in the Divine mind, as it would be to neglect our temporal interefts, and all the common concerns of life, because the events which fhall befall us in the prefent world are likewise foreknown and fore-ordained. With refpect to the difficulties attending the Mofaic and Jewish histories, this general confideration may perhaps be of fome 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 fuppofes that the Jewish nation was diftinguished from all others by a series of fupernatural interpofitions; but whether that feries 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 Mofes refpecting the creation of the world, the fall of Adam, or the general deluge, &c. may be impli citly depended upon; whether Sampfon really killed a thousand men with the jawbone of an afs; or whether Balaam's afs did or did not address his master in a rational and articulate speech; all these things, I fay, are matters of comparatively trifling import, and every one is at liberty to form the best hypothefis he can for his own fatisfaction; but it must surely be a very extraordinary and pre. pofterous fpecies of incredulity which fhould reject the clear and positive evidence of Christ's refurrection, because the hiftory of Balaam and his afs