« AnteriorContinua »
THE EVIDENCE AND EXCELLENCE
Cupimus enim investigare quid verum fit; neque id folum, fed quod cum veritate, PIETATEM quoque præterea erga Deum habeat conjunctam. It is my object to inquire what is true; but not 10 acquiesce merely in the discovery of Speculative trutb; but to find out that doétrine whicb, togetber with truth, unites PIOUS AFFECTIONS to God.
I affected diffidence. I tread on holy ground
ENTER on the with awe. Though much of my life, devoted to letters from the earliest age, has been spent in reading the best writers on the Christian doctrine, and more in contemplation of it, yet a sense of its high importance, and of my own fallibility, has long restrained the impulse which prompted me to engage in its public discussion. Nothing but conscious rectitude of intention, co-operating with the hope of obtaining the aid of God's holy Spirit and the reader's indulgence, could animate the tremulous mind in an enterprise to which it feels and avows itself unequal. A conviction that the
subject is peculiarly seasonable, has contributed to overcome reluctance. The TIMEs indeed appear to me to call upon every professor of Chriftianity to vindicate, in the manner best adapted to his abilities and opportunities, its controverted truth,. and insulted honour; and if I shall be fortunate enough to communicate one fuggestion to the wavering mind, which may conduce to this great purpofe, my labour will not be in vain, nor my undertaking rafhly adventurous. I shall have accomplished my wish. To diffuse the sunshine of religious hope and confidence over the Thadowy path of life; to dissipate the gloom of despair; to contribute, in the smallest degree, to the falvation of a fellow creature; objects so defirable inspire an ardour which enables zeal in a good cause to triumph over timidity.
That unbelief in Christ is increasing in the present
age, and that the spirit of the times is rather favourable to its increase, has been asserted by high authority, and is too notorious to admit denial. The apostasy of a great nation, in the most enlightened and polished part of Europe; the public, unblushing avowal of atheism among some of its leaders ; the multiplication of books on the Continent, in which Christianity is treated as a mere mode of fanaticism; all these circumstances have combined, with others, to cause in many persons not only an indifference to the religion of Christ, but contempt and aversion to his very name. It were easy to cite contumelious reproaches of his person, as well as audacious denials of his claim to divine authority. But with such citations I will not pollute my page, which, however it may be deformed by error, shall not be stained with the transfusion of blasphemy. It is to be wished that all fuch works could be consigned to immediate and everlasting
oblivion ; but, I am forry to say that they are diffused with an industry, which, if it appeared in making proselytes to truth, would be in the highest degree meritorious. Almost every individual in our own country can now read ; and manuals of infidelity, replete with plausible arguments, in language level to the lowest claffes, are circulated among the people, at a price which places them within reach of the poorest member of the community. They may indeed be despised by the rich and neglected by the learned, but they fall into the hands of the poor, to many of whom any plausible opinion in print bears the stamp of authority. At the same time, it must be lamented that there are treatises of a higher order, on the fide of infidelity, which come recommended to the superior ranks, to men of knowledge and education, with all the charms of wit and elegance.
But it cannot be said that in this country the apologists and defenders of Christianity have been few, or unfurnished with abilities natural and acquired. Great have been the efforts of our profoundest scholars, both professional divines and laymen, in maintaining the cause of Christianity, and in repelling, by argument, by ridicule, by invective, by various and deep erudition, the assaults of the infidel. Yet what shall we fay? Notwithstanding their stupendous labours, continued with little intermission during many centuries, the great cause which they have maintained, is evidently, at this moment, on the decline. Though many of them, not contented with persuasion and argument, have professed to DEMONSTRATE the truth of the Christian religion, it is certain that a very great number of men in Christian countries continue unpersuaded, unconvinced, and totally blind to their demonftration. Such being the case, after all
their voluminous productions, is it not fair to conclude that their defences, however celebrated, are either erroneous in the mode, or defective in the matter? Had their success been equal to their labours and pretensions, infidelity in Europe must now have been utterly exterminated.
For the learned labours of theologists, the sub. tilty of schoolmen, the erudition of critics, the ingenuity of controversialists, I feel a fincere respect; but I cannot help thinking that their productions have contributed rather to the amusement of recluse scholars already persuaded of Christianity, than to the conversion of the infidel and the in. struction of the PEOPLE. It appears to me, that some of the most elaborate of the writings in defence of Christianity are too cold in their manner, too metaphysical or abstruse in their arguments, too little animated with the spirit of piety, to produce any great or durable effect on the heart of man, formed as he is, not only with intellectual powers, but with fine feelings and a glowing imagination. They touch not the trembling fibres of sensibility*. They are insipid to the palate of the people. They have no attractions for the poor, the great multitude to whom the gospel was particularly preached. They are scarcely intelligible. but to scholars in their closets, and while they amuse, perhaps, without convincing the understanding, they leave the most susceptible part of man, his bofom, unaffected. The busy world, eager in pursuit of wealth, honour, and pleasure, pays them no regard; though they are the very persons whose attention to religion, which they are
Lævâ in parte mamilla
No chord about the heart