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present age are professed unbelievers, and that the most strictly virtuous, those who are the most strenuous in their opposition to the progress of vice, are professing and zealous christians. Let it allo be considered whether any more humane and en-larged sentiments were entertained before the pro-mulgation of christianity in heathen countries. Now, whatever may be said in favour of the virtuous and humane sentinents of the heathen philosophers, it cannot be pretended that they exerted their eloquence in favour of toleration for the poor persecuted christians. On the contrary, they generally exerted their influence to make them ridi. culous and odious. The moderation of the present times is certainly owing both to the unbe: lievers and the Protestants, and both were perhaps led into it by the consideration of their own circumstances, as the weaker party.
It is plain from fact, that it was not the intention of the divine being, by means of natural or revealed religion, of any kind of knowledge, or any other advantage of which we are possessed, to establish a state of universal virtue and happiness in the present world. In all the divine dispensations we are treated as accountable or improveable creatures ; but it is evidently necessary to such a state, that we be capable of growing worse as well as better, by every species of discipline; and the very fame circumstances may produce both these different effects on the minds of different persons. The fame prosperity that excites sentiments of gratitude, ani a liberal beneficent disposition in some, infpires others with insolence, rapaciousness, and cruelty; adversity also may be the parent either of industry, or fraud ; so that neither of them has new . cessarily and invariably a good effect upon the mind. The dispensation of the gospel, therefore, may be fimilar to this, without any impeachment of its divine original.
The evidence of truth may also come under the fame rules with the means of virtue, and thus the arguments in favour of divine revelation may be fufficient to convince the candid, impartial, and well-disposed, at the same time that they may afford those who are of a different disposition handles enow for cavilling, such as, in their state of mind, will justify their rejection of it to themselves. To this our Lord might poffibly allude when he said, John ix. 39. For judgment I am come into this world: that they who see not,. might see; and that they who fee, might be made blind; and, John vii. 17. If any man will do his will, he mall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God. or whether I speak of myself. To the same purpose is the prophecy of. Simeon, Luke ji. 34. Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Ifrael.; and for a sign which mall be: Spoken against.
It is often taken for granted-that the design of revelation in general, and of christianity in parti. cular, was simply to reform the world, and that end not having been completely answered by it, it has been objected by unbelievers, that it could not have been from God, who would certainly have chosen fufficient means to gain all his ends. But, confidering that men are accountable creatures, and capable of abusing every advantage of which they are possessed, both reason and revelation do, in fact, in all cases, answer the end for which they were given, whether they be abused or improved, whether, as the apostle Paul says, they be a favour of life unto life, or of death unto death.
I shall conclude these observations on the difficulties which attend the Jewish and christian revevelations, with remarking, that the question is not whether any of the particulars I have mentioned, separately taken, be likely or unlikely to come from God, but whether the whole system, attended with such difficulties, may be divine. If it were possible that any person fhould be asked, a priori, whether it was probable that, under the government of a wise and good being, an innocent child fhould inherit the diseases, poverty, and vices of its parent, or whether no distinction would be made between the righteous and the wicked in war, peftilence, famine, or earthquakes, he would certainly answer it was not probable; though when
he should come to know, and attentively consider the whole system, of which such events make a . part, he might be satisfied that it was the result of perfect wisdom, directed by infinite goodness; and even that a scheme more favourable to happie ness or virtue could not have been formed ; and the time may come, when we shall know and acknowledge the same with respect to the extraordia. nary that we do with respect to the ordinary dispensations of the divine being.
The advantage which christianity derives from the objections of unbelievers, is various and con , siderable. This circumstance has been the means of purging it from what was foreign and indefenfible, and also of setting its evidences in a clearer and Itronger light; so that many persons who bez fore took their religion upon trust, do now adhere to it upon a rational conviction of its truth and. excellence, and hold it in greater purity than they would otherwise have done. And as the heathen philosophy contributed to discredit the popular religions of the Gentile world, which served as a preparation for the promulgation of the gospel, to the writings and discourses of unbelievers in the present age seem to be fapping the foundations of the Popish, corruptions of christianity, and preparing the way for the establishment of the pure religion of Christ in their place.
Christianity, after having stood such a trial as this, will no more be exposed to such virulent attacks as before, but will acquire such a fixed character of truth, as it could never have obtained without the opposition which it has met with. Such has been the fate of all the branches of true philo. sophy, of the Copernican fystem, the Newtonian theory of light and colours, and the Franklinian theory of electricity,