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THE REVEREND A. ALISON,
LL. B. F. R. S. LOND. AND EDIN.
PREBENDARY OF SARUM, &c. &c. AND SENIOR MINISTER OF THE
EPISCOPAL CHAPEL, COWGATE, EDINBURGH,
MY DEAR SIR,
I HAVE preached about philosophy and philosophers, till I am tired of the very names ; and, of course, my congregation must be still more tired than myself. There are people, however, who may derive some benefit from reading upon these subjects, which are in fact better adapted for the closet than the pulpit; and a reader possesses at least one advantage over a listener,—whenever he is wearied, he can take the liberty to silence his instructor.
You were good-natured enough to give very unmerited praise to several of these discourses when they were preached ; but I do not mean to impose upon the public, by saying, that you recommended me to print them. Indeed you carry your dislike to the publication of sermons somewhat too far, otherwise the world would long ago have
been in possession of some, which probably unite the utile and the dulce, more than any others which were ever written.
Should I fail in my present attempt, it would yet afford me some consolation, if you might thence be induced to come forward in the great cause of genuine Christianity, and to disseminate that instruction in morals and religion, which you have already given with so much ability in criticism and taste. Achilles was roused from his retreat when Patroclus fell.
At all events, I am happy in this opportunity of expressing, my dear sir, the high sense which I entertain of your virtues and endowments, and of subscribing myself, your faithful colleague, and affectionate friend,
It has been my design, in the following discourses, to exhibit a view both of the evidences and the effects of religious belief, somewhat more simple and popular than has usually been attempted; and without fatiguing the reader with controversy, or overwhelming him with facts, to fix his attention upon those great principles, both in the constitution of man, and in the visible administration of Providence, that seem to lead most directly to a sense of the truth and the benefits of religion.
Much has been written, both recently and in older times, upon this most important of all subjects; and the grounds of our faith have been vindicated by many eminent divines and philosophers, with a force of reasoning and an extent of learning, to which nothing, it is probable, can now be added or replied. These profound and argumentative writers, however, are not always intelligible, and are but rarely attractive, to the
multitude whom they would reclaim from errot; and vainly multiply their proofs and refutations, to an audience whom they have not engaged to be attentive.
To me it has always appeared, that the greater part of those who are indifferent to the truths of religion, have been left in this state rather through an indolent misapprehension of its true nature and general foundations, than from the effect of any positive error, or false creed of philosophy. Controversy, or formal argument, therefore, will have but little effect upon them; and their cure is to be effected, not by topical applications of detailed proof, or special refutation, but by the general tonics of more enlightened and comprehensive views, as to the nature of man and of the universe,--arguments that point out the connection and consonancy between religion and all that we know or feel of existence,--and reflections which tend to cultivate those dispositions which lay the foundations of religious belief, not only in our understanding, but our affections.
It has sometimes appeared to me also, that many of our orthodox writers have assumed too severe and contemptuous a tone towards those whom they laboured to convert; and have employed a certain haughty sternness of manner,