« AnteriorContinua »
general, men of profligate lives and characters; and surely it cannot weigh much, with reasonable and thinking men, that a thing is not believed by those who are so circumstanced, that they must necessarily be exceedingly prepossessed against the belief of it, and who are known, for that very reason, to have taken no pains to inform them. selves concerning it. I.do not think that I shall be deemed uncharitable in concluding, that a very great majority of modern unbelievers are of this class. Many, however, I readily acknowledge, are of a different character; but these, I dare say, will agree with me in my censure of the rest.
Others are men of fair and reputable characters, many of them men of taste and science, especially in Popish countries, who, taking it for granted, that what passes for christianity is really so, or who from a cursory inspection of the books of scripture, conceive that some of the things related of God
are unworthy of him, think it superfluous to attend ito any discussion of its historical evidence. They
also see that the writers of the books of scripture have fallen into some inaccuracies, that their narration is not, in all respects, perfectly coherent with itself, or that the different accounts of the same transaction are not altogether consistent with each other.
These men of genius may discover some things that are frivolous or weak in the discourses of
the the sacred writers, and some things inconclusive in their reasoning, especially in their quotations fram, and their application of the Old Testament; and taking it for granted that (as indeed the professors of christianity have too generally and incautiously boasted) the books which contain the history of our religion are as perfect as the religion itself, hastily conclude, that because the books of scripture were written by men, and bear the marks of human imperfection, therefore the scheme in which they were engaged was wholly of men, and had nothing supernatural in it; without reflecting that those very imperfections in the books of scripture, at which they are so much offended, demonstrate that the writers of them were incapable of contriving such a scheme, or of procuring credit to it; and also without reflecting that, on the very fame grounds, they might reject the whole current of antient history, no part of which has been written with perfect accuracy, uniformity, or even confistency. For here, as in the scripture history, different historians agree in their accounts of the principal things only ; but as certainly differ in their accounts of lesser circumstances.
Men of taste and science are also exceedingly apt to be struck with the idea of what appears, on the first view, to be rational and liberal in their sentiments, and remote from vulgar prejudices; and because the bulk of mankind are, in many respects,
credulous, and often think very absurdly, there gentlemen, though they will not avow it, and indeed may not be sensible of it, are secretly disposed to reject what others admit, and to pride themselves in their singularity in this respect; thinking it more great, noble, and philosophical, to err on the side of incredulity; whereas they ought to consider that the understandings of all mankind being naturally similar, even the lowest of the vulgar, when lying under no prejudice (and men of letters are subject to their peculiar prejudices as well as the illiterate) must be as capable of judging concerning truth, and especially concerning facts, as themselves; that their opinions, if they are not true, are founded upon something analogous to truth, though the analogy may be faulty ; and therefore are not to be rejected at random, but are themselves an object worthy of philosophical investigation. A true philosopher will no more satisfy himself without endeavouring to trace the rise and progress of preyailing opinions, than without understanding the cause of any other general appearance in nature.
The opinion of men of letters, however, and of speculative persons of all kinds, will always have great weight with many who do not pretend to Speculation. As they will not take the pains to think for themselves, they chufe to think with philosophers rather than with the vulgar ; not confidering that men of learning and genius, who are ever fo capable of determining juhtly, have no advantage over the rest of mankind, unless they will carefully attend to a subject, and make themselves masters of it; and that a politician might as well be expected to be an astronomer, or an astronomer a politician, as that a mere philosopher should be a competent judge of the evidence of christianity, when his attention to them has been very superficial, if he have attended to them at all.
I will not deny that some unbelievers are serious and inquisitive men; they even with to find christia anity to be true, and have some secret hope that it may be so; but they cannot fully satisfy themselves with respect to many objections which they have heard made to it; so that the arguments in favour of it do not, at least they do not always preponderate with them. Were a very great number of persons in this situation, it would be a circumstance, I readily own, that might afford .a reasonable foundation for doubt, or at least for fufpence; but considering how very few these serious and inquisitive unbelievers are, in comparison with the numbers who are profligate and thoughtless among them, I think that no conclufion can be drawn from the consideration of it, unfavourable to the evidences of christianity. For what cause is there so good and so clear, as that every person can be brought to join in it.
D 2 .
Some of the persons above-mentioned may have been much in the way of sensible and subtile unbe. lievers, to whose objections, through want of presence of mind, or of a sufficiently comprehensive acquaintance with the subject, they have not been able readily to reply; or, being persons of weak and timid dispositions, they may have been led by their extreme anxiety to give more attention to the objections which have been thrown in their way than to the plain and solid arguments in favour of · christianity; on which account only the former may have made more impression upon their minds than the latter; whereas if they had been more conversant with christians and christian writers, and less with unbelievers and their writings, they would have thought as well of the evidences of christianity as of christianity it felf; objections which have been swelled into mountains in their imaginations, would have appeared no greater than mole-hills; and doubt and anxiety would never have invaded them. Besides, it is true, I believe, in general, that the things at which well-disposed minds stumble the most, are such as ought to give them no offence, being quite foreign to christianity,
though unhappily they have been generally deemed . to belong to it. . Having considered who, and how many of the present age are unbelievers, let it likewise be con