« السابقةمتابعة »
have fuffered himfelf to have been diverted from the investigation by the pursuits of wealth, or honour, or any temporal concern; much lefs by notions taken up without attention, arguments admitted without examination, or prejudices imbibed in early youth, from the profane ridicule, or impious jeftings of fenfual and immoral men. It is from the influence of fuch prejudices that I would guard that part of the rifing generation which is committed to our care, by recommending to them a ferious perufal of the Tracts which are here prefented to them. Let them not refuse to follow this advice, because it is given to them by a churchman; he can have no poffible intereft in giving it, except what may refult to him from the consciousness of endeavouring to discharge his duty, and the hope of being ferviceable to them in this world and the next. They need not queftion his veracity, when he speaks of religion as being ferviceable to them in this world; for it is a trite objection, and grounded on a misapprehenfion of the defign of Chriftianity, which would reprefent it as an intolerable yoke, fo oppofite to the propenfities, as to be utterly deftructive of the felicity of the human mind. It is, in truth, quite the reverfe; there is not a fingle precept in the Gospel, without excepting either that which ordains the forgiveness of injuries, or that which commands every one to poffefs his vessel in fanctification and honour, which is not calculated to promote our happiness. Chriftianity regulates, but does not extinguish our affections; and in the due regulation of our affections confifts our happiness as reasonable beings. If there is one condition in this life more happy than another, it is, furely, that of him who founds all his hope of futurity on the promises of the Gospel ; who carefully endeavours to conform his actions to its precepts; looking upon the great God Almighty God Almighty as his Protector here, his Rewarder hereafter, and his everlasting Preferver. This is a frame of mind fo perfective of our nature, that if Chriftianity, from a belief of which it can only be derived, was as certainly falfe, as it is certainly true, one could not help wishing that it might be univerfally received in the world. Unbelievers attempt to make profelytes to infidelity, by preffing upon the minds of the unlearned in Scripture knowledge, the authorities of Bolingbrooke, Voltaire, Helvetius, Hume, and other Deiftical writers. It is proper that young men fhould be furnished with a ready anfwer to arguments in favour of infidelity, which are taken from the high literary character of those who profefs it; let them remember then, that Bacon, Boyle, Newton, Grotius, Locke, Euler, -that Addifon, Hartley, Haller, Weft, Jenyns- -that Lords
Nottingham, King, Barrington, Lyttelton, with an hundred other laymen, who were furely as eminent for their literary attainments in every kind of fcience as either Bolingbroke or Voltaire, were profeffed believers of Chriftianity. I am quite aware that the truth of Christianity cannot be established by authorities; but neither can its falfehood be so established. Arguments ad verecundiam have little weight with those who know how to use· any others, but they have weight with the lazy and the ignorant on both fides of the question. But though I have here fuggested to young men a ready anfwer to fuch of their profligate acquaintance as may wish to work upon their prejudices in favour of infidelity; yet I hope they will not content themselves with being prejudiced even in favour of Chriftianity: they will find in this Collection, fuch folid arguments in fupport of its truth, as cannot fail to confirm them, on the most rational grounds, in the belief of the Gospel Difpenfation. They may wonder, perhaps, if religion be so useful a thing as is here reprefented, that their parents fhould have feldom or never converfed with them on the fubject. If this should be the fact, I can only fay, that it is a neglect, of all others, the most to be regretted. And indeed our mode of education, as to religious knowledge, is very defective; the child is inftructed in its catechifm before it is able to comprehend its meaning, and that is ufually all the domeftic inftruction which it ever receives. But whatever may be the negligence of parents in teaching their children Chriftianity, or how forcibly foever the maxims and customs of the world may confpire in confirming men in infidelity, it is the duty of those to whom the Education of youth is intrufted, not to despair: their diligence will have its ufe; it will prevent a bad matter from becoming worse; and if this foolishness of preaching, into which I have been betrayed on this occafion, has but the effect of making even one young man of fortune examine into the truth of the Chriftian Religion, who would not otherwife have done it, I fhall not repent the having been inftant out of feafon.
Difcite, O Miferi, et caufas cognofcite rerum
Quid fumus, et quidnam victuri gignimur: ordo
These were questions which even the Heathen Moralifts thought it a fhame for a man never to have confidered. How much more cenfurable are thofe amongst ourselves who waste their days in
folly or vice, without ever reflecting upon the providential difpenfation under which they live, without having any fublimer piety, any purer morality, any better hopes of futurity than the Heathens had?
In recommending this Collection to the careful perufal of the younger, Clergy, I would not be understood to vouch for the truth of every opinion which is contained in it; by no means; there is no certainty of truth but in the word of God, Their Bible is the only fure foundation upon which they ought to build every article of the faith which they profess, every point of doctrine which they teach. All other foundations, whether they be the decifions of councils, the confeffions of churches, the prefcripts of popes, or the expofitions of private men, ought to be confidered by them as fandy and unfafe, as in no wife fit to be ultimately relied on. Nor, on the other hand, are they to be faftidiously rejected, as of no ufe; for though the Bible be the one infallible rule by which we must measure the truth or falsehood of every religious opinion, yet all men are not equally fitted to apply this rule; and the wifeft men want on many occafions all the helps of human learning to enable them to understand its precise nature, and to define its certain extent. These helps are great and numerous; they have been fupplied in every age, fince the death of Christ, by the united labours of learned men in every country where his religion has been received. Great Britain has not been backward in her endeavours to establish the truth, and to illuftrate the doctrines of Chriftianity: fhe has not abounded fo much in fyftematic Divines as Germany and Holland have done; yet the most difficult points of Theology have been as well difcuffed by our English Divines, as by thofe of any other nation. In proof of this, I might mention the works of Pearson, Mede, Barrow, Burnet, Chillingworth, Stillingfleet, Clarke, Tillotson, Taylor, Benson, Jortin, Secker, and an hundred others; but the fermons preached at Boyle's Lecture, and the Collection of Tracts against Popery, render every other argument in fupport of the obfervation wholly unneceffary. The freedom of inquiry too, which has fubfifted in this country during the prefent century, has eventually been of great fervice to the caufe of Chriftianity. It must be acknowledged that the works of our Deiftical writers have made fome few converts to infidelity at home, and that they have furnished the Esprits forts of France, and the Frey-Geifters of Germany, with every material objection to our religion, which they have of late years difplayed with much affectation of originality: but at the fame time, we must needs allow,
that these works have ftimulated fome diftinguished characters amongst the Laity, and many amongst the Clergy, to exert their talents in removing fuch difficulties in the Christian system, as would otherwise be likely to perplex the unlearned, to shipwreck the faith of the unftable, and to induce a reluctant fcepticism into the minds of the moft ferious and beft intentioned. Some difficulties ftill remain; and it would be a miracle greater than any we are inftructed to believe, if there remained none; if a being with but five fcanty inlets of knowledge, feparated but yesterday from his mother Earth, and to-day finking again into her bofom, could fathom the depths of the wifdom and knowledge of Him which is, which was, and which is to come, the Lord God Almighty, to whom be glory and dominion for ever and
We live in a diffolute but enlightened age; the reftraints of our Religion are ill fuited to the profligacy of our manners; and men are foon induced to believe that fyftem to be false, which we wish to find fo: that knowledge, moreover, which fpurns with contempt the illufions of fanaticifm and the tyranny of fuperftition, is often unhappily mifemployed, in magnifying every little difficulty attending the proof of the truth Chrif tianity, into an irrefragable argument of its falfehood. The Christian Religion has nothing to apprehend from the ftrictest investigation of the most learned of its adverfaries; it suffers only from the misconceptions of fciolifts, and filly pretenders to fuperior wisdom: a little learning is far more dangerous to the faith of those who poffefs it, than ignorance itself. Some, I know, affect to believe, that as the restoration of letters was ruinous to the Romish Religion, fo the further cultivation of them will be fubverfive of Christianity itself: of this there is no danger. It may be fubverfive of the Reliques of the Church of Rome by which other churches are ftill polluted; of perfecutions, of anathemas, of ecclefiaftical domination over God's heritage, of all the filly outworks which the pride, the fuperftition, the knavery of mankind have erected around the citadel of our faith; but the citadel itself is founded on a rock, the gates of hell cannot prevail against it, its mafter-builder is God; its beauty will be found ineffable, and its ftrength impregnable, when it shall be freed from the frippery of human ornaments, cleared from the rubbish of human bulwarks. It is no fmall part of the province of a teacher of Christianity, to distinguish between the word of God, and the additions which men have made to it. The objections of unbelievers are frequently levelled against what is not
Christianity, but mere human fyftem; and he will be beft able to defend the former, who is leaft ftudious to fupport the airy pretenfions of the latter. The effect of established fyftems in obftructing truth, is to the last degree deplorable: every one fees it in other churches, but fcarcely any one fufpects it in his own. Calvin, I queftion not, thought it almost impoffible that the Scriptures could ever have been fo far perverted as to afford the Romanists any handle for their doctrine of Transubstantiation, or that the understanding of any human being could have been fo far debased, or rather fo utterly annihilated, as to believe in it for a moment: yet this fame Calvin followed St. Augustine in the doctrine of abfolute perfonal reprobation and election, inculcating it as a fundamental article of faith, with nearly the fame unchriftian zeal which infatuated him when he fastened Servetus to the stake. A thousand inftances of this blind attachment to fyftem might be taken from the Ecclefiaftical Hiftory of every century; indeed the whole of it is little more than the history of the struggles of different fects to overturn the systems of others, in order to build up their own; and the great leffon which every fect, and every individual of every fect, ought to learn from its perufal, is-Moderation. Want of genuine moderation towards those who differ from us in religious opinions, feems to be the most unaccountable thing in the world. Every man, who has any religion at all, feels within himself a ftronger motive to judge right, than you can poffibly fuggeft to him; and, if he judges wrong, what is that to you? To his own master he ftandeth or falleth; his wrong judgment may affect his own salvation, it cannot affect yours; for, in the words of Tertullian--nec alii obeft aut prodeft alterius religio: this you must admit, unless you think it your duty to inftruct him; but inftruction may be given. with moderation; and confidering that the Bible is as open to him as it is to you, you ought not to be over certain that it is your duty to prefs your inftruction upon him; for what is, ordinarily fpeaking, your inftruction, but an attempt to bring him over to your opinion? This principle fhould be received with great caution, or it may do much mischief; for it is on this principle that the Roman Catholics light up the fires of the inquifition, and compass fea and land to make a profelytea profelyte! to what we Proteftants believe to be the delufion of Satan, the very canker of Chriftianity, the grand apoftafy from the Gospel foretold by St. Paul. The Catholics however in this point act confiftently; for, believing in the infallibility of their church, they have a plea for