صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

cavilling at, and opposing it, may, by disingenuous men, be found. If this gives an opportunity for the exercise of honest inquiry, and exhibits in the fairest light the different characters of the sincere, but cautious, and inquisitive lover of truth; of the indolent, unthinking, and credulous, who believes with the multitude; and of the perverse and disingenuous, who rejects whatever is not suitable to his ways of thinking or living; if revelation does these things, is it not to be reckoned one of the noblest trials of the present state? And is it not promulgated in the very manner it ought to have been?

Standing oracles were probably some of the first methods which the Divine Wisdom made use of to communicate particular express information to mankind. There was an appointed place, to which worshippers resorted, and consulting, received answers, and directions. Spiritual beings were employed in revealing the Divine Will to mankind. And in visions and dreams, communications were given to men of characters eminent for virtue and piety. A race of prophets, or persons under Divine Influence, succeeding to one another, so as there should be no long period without one or more such inspired men, kept up an impression of the superintendency of God, and of the necessity of obedience to Him. But we know of no method so proper for communicating to mankind in general, a set of useful informations, so as to be of lasting, constant, and extensive advantage to them, as their being committed to writing, by which means they are easily accessible to all, to be consulted at all times, and in all places.

The revelation, therefore, with which we are blessed, has been, by the Divine Providence, directed to be penned by Moses, the Prophets, and Apostles; and has been wonderfully preserved for many ages, free, for any thing we know, or have reason to suspect, from material corruptions and alterations; and in it we have all informations necessary for our conduct here, and happiness hereafter.

Whoever chooses to enlarge the sphere of his inquiry as wide as possible, may examine the several schemes of Beligion which have pretended to a Divine Original, and

by comparing them together, he will soon find which bears the characters of being truly from heaven.

As to us, who live in these happy realms of knowledge and freedom of inquiry, the religion contained in the scripture of the Old and New Testaments, offers itself more immediately, and challenges our chief and most attentive examination; it is therefore evident, that it lies immediately upon us to inquire into its pretensions; and that we may more safely neglect all the others; none of which the Divine Providence has given us so fair an opportunity of examining, or made so clearly our duty to inquire into. But to inquire into religion in an impartial manner, a man must begin with shaking off all prejudice, from education and general opinion, and must suppose himself a mere unprincipled Indian, not biassed to any species of religion in the world. He must likewise resolve to go through the whole of what he is to examine; not contenting himself with a partial and imperfect view of things, which is the way to acquire imperfect and mistaken notions. He must also go directly to the fountain, if he would know the true virtues of the water of life; that is, he must, to know the religion of the scriptures, go directly to the scriptures, and study them more than all the systems or bodies of divinity in the world.

There is no greater hindrance to the candid examination and ready reception of so pure and strict a scheme of religion as the Christian, than a fatal attachment to vice. This was the original obstacle, which retarded its establishment in the world at its first appearance; has prevented its progress ever since; has disguised and deformed its native beauty; has almost wholly defeated its genuine intention, in one church; and raised enemies against it, even in this land of light, in an age immediately succeeding to the times in which it stood the examination of the ablest inquirers, and came out established upon a more rational foundation than ever it stood upon, from the apostolic age downwards. It will therefore be necessary, above all things, for the inquirer into the truth of christianity, to purge his mind from every corrupt affection that may prompt him to wish to find it suspicious or false; to take no counsel with flesh and blood; but to labour to work

himself up to that pitch of heavenly mindedness which it requires; that so he may not only be wholly unprejudiced against it, but may be supposed to listen to reason in its favour, and may find within himself a witness to its truth.


Previous Objections against a Revelation in general, and that of Scripture in particular, considered.

A revelation had not been given to mankind, had there been no need of it, in such a sense as that, it must prove wholly useless. But the question is, whether it is not an absurdity to talk of a genuine revelation's being needless or useless. Can any thing be said to be needless, or useless, that is calculated to improve mankind? If a set of moral instructions from one person will be of any service to me, can it be said, that more of the same kind will be useless? If I had already digested all the knowledge that is to be got in books and by conversation with the wise and learned of my own species, would the conversation of a superior being be needless and useless to me? Nay, if the archangel Gabriel had in his power to receive some new informations by revelation from God, would he neglect them, as needless and useless, because his knowledge is already immensely extensive? Those objectors to revelation, who talk of its being unnecessary, do not seem to have clear ideas to their words: for if they had, they never would think of limiting the Divine goodness to his creatures, or of alleging, that their advantages for happiness were too great. Nor would one think that revelation should ever have been looked on as superfluous by any person who knew the world; but on the contrary, that all such would readily acknowledge, that if it were possible to have yet another additional revelation, or advantage for virtue, mankind would not then be at all too good. Nor can any one help seeing the real eventual advantage of revelation, who knows any thing of the difference between the condition, as to knowledge and virtue, of those ages and nations which have, and those which have not, enjoyed the light of it. And here it is to be remembered, that in all probability it is a very small part of our knowledge that is the

genuine acquisition of mere human reason, wholly unassisted. The very use of letters seems to have pretensions to a greater author than Cadmus, or than Moses. And probably the whole of the religious knowledge we possess, is originally owing to revelation.

The deplorable darkness and ignorance, in which those of our species are found involved who have lived detached from the rest of mankind, and have never enjoyed, or have wholly lost all traces of revealed knowledge, (if that be really the case of any people, which is to be doubted,) is a proof of the advantage of revelation. And it is only from what we find to be the case of those newly discovered nations, who have undoubtedly few supernatural advantages, that we can fairly judge what the state of mankind in general would have been, if the species had been left wholly to themselves. For, as to this side of the globe, it is to be questioned, if there ever was any people upon it who could be said to be in a perfect state of nature, as will afterwards appear.

The despisers of revealed religion, on account of the all-sufficiency of human reason, are desired to consider the following proofs of its boasted sufficiency in matters of both belief and practice.

The only account we have of the antediluvian manners, is that given by Moses, viz : That all flesh corrupted their ways to such a degree as to render it necessary to purify the earth by a general deluge. Of the patriarchal times, the only accounts we have are likewise from the same venerable writer; which show the people of those ages, except a few families, to have been wholly given to polytheism and idolatry. The destruction of the five cities by fire from heaven, for the most abominable and unnatural crimes, shows the state of corruption to which the people of those times were sunk. The accounts we have from Herodotus and Didorus Siculus, of the religion of the Egyptians, the fathers of wisdom and learning, are the disgrace of human reason. Their worshipping the most contemptible and hateful animals, as crocodiles, storks, cats, monkeys, and calves; to kill which sacred animals, was death by their law, and which they carefully embalmed, and solemnly deposited in tombs; and their adoration

even of plants, as leeks and onions; these are strange instances of the sufficiency of reason for judging in religious matters! They also (according to the same author) allowed of theft; and made marriages between brothers and sisters a part of religion. What were all the popular religions of the Pagans in general, but a heap of absurdities? What can be said of their deities; whose characters were too shocking for men and women of such manners to be suffered to live among us? And lest there should be any want of such hopeful objects of worship, they multiplied them to such a number, that Varro reckons up a little army of them, and Lucian represents the heavens as in danger of being broke down with the weight of such a multitude. The horrid practice of appeasing them with human blood, and even with that of the children of the zealous votaries themselves, with the abominable impurities ascribed to them, and practised by their blind worshippers in honour of them, show what notions of the object and nature of worship, human reason, left to itself, is apt to run into. Those who had better notions of the superior powers, represent them as either quarrelling and fighting, (Homer makes his goddesses treat one another with the language of Billingsgate,) or as a set of idle, luxurious voluptuaries, spending their whole time in quaffing of nectar, wholly regardless of human affairs. In some ancient nations, every young woman was obliged to prostitute herself in the temple of Venus, as a religious ceremony. Thucydides says, that both Greeks and Barbarians thought robbery and plunder glorious. The whole ancient heroism was indeed little else: and it was chiefly by violence and brutal fury that the Macedonian, Roman, and other states, acquired such an extent of dominion. From Homer, and other writers, down to the Roman historians, we see how the manners of ancient times allowed to treat captives in war. Princes and princesses were dragged in triumph after the chariot of the conqueror; and they, and the inferior people, by thousands, butchered in cold blood, or condemned to slavery: the beautiful part of the female captives shared among the heroes, and condemned to prostitution and infamy. The laws of Lycurgus were founded in war and savage heroism, and allowed stealing, unless the

« السابقةمتابعة »