« AnteriorContinuar »
of infidelity; but his merit, besides that of an elegant writer in prose, is that of a mathematician, and he did not much advance the bounds of that branch of knowledge. The rest have no claim to reputation, but as writers against revelation. And what were any or all them, compared with Newton, Locke, or Hartley, who were equally eminent as divines and as philosophers?
But what young persons entering upon life should be most influenced by (if by anything besides the mere love of truth,) is the tendency of any system to promote virtue and happiness. In this respect what can we infer concerning Voltaire and D'Alembert, from their own letters, but that they were men full of self-conceit, despising even all unbelievers besides themselves, full also of jealousy and malignity, perpetually complaining of the world, and of all things in it; and if we join to them their correspondent and admirer (but one whom it is evident they did not much admire), the late king of Prussia, we shall not add much to the mass of moral respectability or real happiness. No Christian, in the humblest and most afflicted situation in life, need to envy them. I would not exchange my own feelings, even those in situations in which they would have thought me an object of compassion, for all the satisfaction they could have enjoyed in the happiest scenes of their lives. To social beings the great balm of life is friendship, founded on real esteem and affection, and of this they evidently had very little; whereas the attachment that I feel for many of my Christian friends, though now separated from me by the ocean, and some of them by death, is, I am confident, a source of infinitely greater satisfaction to me, than all their friendships ever were, or could be of, to them.
TENDENCY TO ATHEISM IN MODERN UNBELIEVERS.
The progress of infidelity in the present age is attended with a circumstance which did not so frequently accompany it in any former period, at least in England, which is, that unbelievers in revelation generally proceed to the disbelief of the being and providence of God, so as to become properly Atheists. However, when the subject is duly considered, it will be found that the same disposition and turn of mind which leads to Deism, will naturally, in the present state of knowledge, lead to Atheism.
Whatever exceptions there may be to the observation, ii is for the most part true, that a wish to reject revelation precedes the actual rejection of it. The belief of it is fell as a restraint, which many persons are desirous of throwing off; and this is more effectually done on the atheistical than on the deistical system. I must be allowed to take it for granted, because I am confident that, with few exceptions (and I should rejoice if I could think they were more), it is a fact, that it is the too strict morals of the Scriptures that displeases the generality of unbelievers. The rule of life prescribed in those books is more definite and less easily evaded, than that which is perceived by the mere light of nature, which is too easily made to bend to men's inclinations: so that they who profess to follow that only, find no great difficulty in justifying to themselves any indulgence to which they are much inclined, and which Christians of every denomination condemn. And for the same reason that an unbeliever, viciously inclined, prefers natural to revealed re
TENDENCY TO ATHEISM IN MODERN UNBELIEVERS. 131
ligion, he will prefer no religion at all, or pure atheism, which rejects every idea of a future state, to deism which admits of it.
While the rewards of virtue and the punishments of vice are supposed to take place in this life only, and are seen to be what they really are, very various and uncertain, a regard to them will not be sufficient to control strong natural inclinations. We see every day that, though habitual intemperance occasions diseases and premature death, thousands, who yet are as far from courting disease or death as other persons, persist in sensual indulgence; thinking at the time that in each particular transgression of the rules of temperance, there is little, if any thing, criminal; that it is a thing which affects themselves only; and flatter themselves that the consequences will either not take place with respect to them, or will be inconsiderable, so as to be overbalanced by the present enjoyment. Now were all consideration of religion removed, men would have no more restraint with respect to any practice whatever, to which they were naturally inclined, than they usually have with respect to excess in eating and drinking. They would have no dread of future punishment, and would flatter themselves with the hope of escaping any temporal in;onvenience.
While the belief of the being of a God, of aprovidence, and of a future state, were articles of faith with those who rejected revelation (which was the case with all the celebrated unbelievers in England in the last and beginning of the present century), there was a considerable restraint upon men's conluct. It is true that the rule of moral duty is less accurately defined on the principles of the mere light of nature, than on those of revelation, and therefore unbelievers could without self-reproach take greater liberties in their conduct than Christians; but still there would remain a suspicion, that the Supreme Being, who would hereafter call them to account for their conduct, might judge differently from what they did; and as they would not be able at all times to secure the approbation of their own minds in their reflections on their conduct, so fully as they could wish to do it, they might dread the more impartial judgment of God. But this apprehension and restraint, to whatever it might amount, would be wholly removed on the supposition of there being no God, no providence, or future state. A vicious unbeliever in revelation would therefore naturally not be displeased on finding the evidence for this belief weaker than he had thought it to be, and rejoice when he could think it to be of no weight at all. And this shows the natural tendency of deism to atheism. If a man be an unbeliever in a future state, it is of little or no consequence with respect to his conduct, whether he believe in the being of a God or not; because on that supposition this belief would add nothing to the sanctions of virtue.
Or, supposing the disposition, or bias, that leads a man to infidelity be not a propensity to any kind of vicious indulgence, but only a wish to be considered as a person free from vulgar prejudices, and one who thinks for himself; he will be farther removed from the vulgar by rejecting the belief of a God, a providence, and a future state, than by the rejection of revelation only. If he have any thing of this disposition, which is felt in a greater or less degree by most persons of liberal education, or who have much intercourse with the fashionable world, he will feel more pride and self-complacence in proportion as he recedes farther from the ideas and sentiments of those whose education has been more confined, and who have seen less of the world than he has done. • • •
M. Volney's account of the primitive condition of man, without any known author or guide, is not a little curious. He says "it is a sufficient answer to all systems which suppose the interposition of a God, in the origin of the world, 'that man receives all his ideas by means of his senses; that 'at his origin man was formed naked, with respect to body and mind, thrown by accident upon the earth, confused and savage, an orphan abandoned by the unknown po««i lich produced him. He found no being descended from the heaven to inform him of his wants, which he learns only from his senses, or of his duties, which arise only from his wants. Like other animals, without experience of the past, foresight of the future, he wandered in the midst of the forest, guided and governed by the affections of his nature. By the pain of hunger he was led to his food, and to provide for his sustenance; by the intemperature of the air he wished to cover his body, and he made himself clothes; by the attraction pleasure he approached a being like himself, and perituated his species.'"
M. Volney did not, surely, consider that the first man, let him have had a maker or no maker; let him have dropped from the clouds, or have risen out of the earth; let him have been produced in a state of infancy or of manhood; yet that, without instruction, he must have perished before he could, by his own sensations and experience, have aclired knowledge enough to preserve his life. The pain of hunger would have come upon him long before he could have learned to walk, or have got the use of any of his limbs; and the more full grown he was at the time of his production, the more difficult would his learning to walk, or even to crawl, have been. Man, therefore, must have had a guide as well as a maker; and divine interposition was absolutely necessary at his entrance into life. M. Volney's idea was evidently that of a Robinson Crusoe, thrown upon an uninhabited island, with all the knowledge that he had acquired in the course of his former life. His primitive man must have been produced with the instinctive knowledge of a gardener at least. He must have been able to distinguish fruits that were wholesome from those that were noxious, and have got, by some means or other, the use of his limbs, his eyes, and other senses, before it would have been in his power to avail himself of that knowledge.
Let M. Volney consider what he himself, with his present strength of muscles and acuteness of intellect, could have