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Letters to a Friend, on the Evidences, Doctrines, and Duties of the Christian Religion. BY OLINTHUS GREGORY, LL. D. Of the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich.
As this is a work of no ordinary merit, and written upon a subject which all must confess to be of the last importance, we shall endeavor, after being indulged with a few preliminary remarks, to give a pretty copious analysis of its contents; not doubting the greater part of our readers will be solicitous to avail themselves of the rich entertainment and instruction, which its perusal will unquestionably afford. The first volume is employed in the discussion of a subject which has engaged the powers of the wisest of men through a series of ages; and minds of every size, and of every diversity of acquisition, having contributed their quota towards its elucidation, the accumulation of materials is such, that it has become more necessary, perhaps more difficult, to arrange than to invent. In the conduct of so extensive an argument, the talents of the writer will chiefly appear, in giving the due degree of relief and prominence to the different branches of the subject, -in determining what should be placed in a strong and brilliant light, and what should be more slightly sketched, and disposing the whole in such a manner as shall give it the most impressive effect. If there is little room for the display of invention, other powers are requisite, not less rare or less useful; a nice and discriminating judgement, a true logical taste, and a talent of extensive combination. An ordinary thinker feels himself lost in so wide a field; is incapable of classifying the objects it presents; and wastes his attention on such as are trite and common, instead of directing it to those which are great and interesting. If there are subjects which it is difficult to discuss for want of data to proceed upon, and, while they allure by their appearance of abstract grandeur, are soon found to lose themselves in fruitless logomachies and unmeaning subtleties, such as the greater part of the discussions on time, space, and necessary existence; there are
others whose difficulty springs from an opposite cause,-from the immense variety of distinct topics and considerations involved in their discussion; of which the divine origination of Christianity is a striking specimen,-which it has become difficult to treat as it ought to be treated, merely in consequence of the variety and superabundance of its proofs.
On this account, we suspect that this great cause has been not a little injured by the injudicious conduct of a certain class of preachers and writers, who, in just despair of being able to handle a single topic of religion to advantage, for want of having paid a devout attention to the Scriptures, fly like harpies to the evidences of Christianity, on which they are certain of meeting with something prepared to their hands, which they can tear, and soil, and mangle at their pleasure.
Diripiuntque dapes, contactuque omnia fœdant.
The famine, also, with which their prototypes in Virgil threatened the followers of Æneas, is not more dismal than that which prevails among their hearers. The folly we are adverting to, did not escape the observation nor the ridicule of Swift, who remarked in his days, that the practice of mooting, on every occasion, the question of the origin of Christianity, was much more likely to unsettle the faith of the simple, than to counteract the progress of infidelity. It is dangerous to familiarize every promiscuous audience to look upon religion as a thing which yet remains to be proved, to acquaint them with every sophism and cavil which a perverse and petulant ingenuity has found out, unaccompanied, as is too often the case, with a satisfactory answer; thus leaving the poison to operate without the antidote, in minds which ought to be strongly imbued with the principles, and awed by the sanctions of the gospel. It is degrading to the dignity of a revelation, established through a succession of ages by indubitable proofs, to be adverting every moment to the hypothesis of its being an imposture, and to be inviting every insolent sophist to wrangle with us about the title, when we should be cultivating the possession. The practice we are now censuring is productive of another inconvenience. The argument for the truth of Christianity, being an argument of accumulation, or, in other words, of that nature that the force of it results less from any separate consideration than from an almost infinite variety of circumstances, conspiring towards one point and terminating in one conclusion; this concentration of evidence is broken to pieces, when an attempt is made to present it in superficial descants,-than which nothing can be conceived better calculated to make what is great appear little, and what is ponderous, light. The trite observation that a cause
is injured by the adoption of feeble arguments, rests on a basis not often considered, perhaps, by those who most readily assent to its truth. We never think of estimating the powers of the imagination on a given subject, by the actual performance of the poet; but if he disappoint us, we immediately ascribe his failure to the poverty of his genius, without accusing his subject or his art. The regions of fiction we naturally conceive to be boundless. But when an attempt is made to convince us of the truth of a proposition respecting a matter of fact or a branch of morals, we take it for granted, that he who proposes it has made himself perfectly master of his argument, and that, as no consideration has been neglected that would favor his opinion, we shall not err in taking our impression of the cause from the defence of its advocate. If that cause happen to be such as involves the dearest interests of mankind, we need not remark how much injury it is capable of sustaining from this quarter.
Let us not be supposed, by these remarks, to comprehend within our censure, the writer, who, amidst the multifarious proofs of revelation, selects a single topic with a view to its more elaborate discussion, provided it be of such a nature that it will support an independent train of thought,-such, for example, as Paley has pursued in his Hora Paulinæ, to which a peculiar value ought to be attached, as a clear addition to the body of Christian evidences. All we mean to assert is, that it is incomparably better to be silent on the evidences of Christianity, than to be perpetually adverting to them in a slight and superficial manner, and that a question so awful and momentous as that relating to the origin of the Christian religion, ought not to be debased into a trivial common place. Let it be formally discussed, at proper intervals, by such men, and such only, as are capable of bringing to it the time, talents, and information requisite to place it in a commanding attitude.That the author of the present performance is possessed of these qualifications to a very great degree, will sufficiently appear from the analysis we propose to give of the work, and the specimens we shall occasionally exhibit of its execution.
It is ushered in by a modest and dignified dedication to Colonel Mudge, lieutenant governor of that royal military institution, of which the author is so distinguished an ornament. The whole is cast into the form of letters to a friend; and the first volume, we are given to understand, formed the subject of an actual correspondence. As much of the epistolary style is preserved as is consistent with the nature of a serious and protracted argument, without ill-judged attempts at refreshing the attention of the reader by strokes of gaiety and humor. The mind of the writer appears to have been too deeply impressed with his theme, to admit