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ranged, or they may have been subjected to such particular influences as cannot possibly be known, except perhaps to those who have attended them from their infancy, and have been acquainted with their whole history. But this can never be said of so many persons, of all descriptions, as are well known to have embraced Christianity in the very age of the apostles, except by persons whose own minds are deranged, and therefore whose objections it is to no purpose to consider, or reply to.
But supposing the thousands and tens of thousands who embraced Christianity in the age of the apostles, to have been properly infatuated so as to believe that they actually saw and heard things that had no existence; the next generation had sufficient leisure and sufficient opportunity to inquire into the facts, and this most extraordinary one, of the infatuation of their predecessors, among the rest; and they were sufficiently interested so to do, when, if they embraced Christianity, they had nothing before them but the fate of preceding Christians. Yet we see that the inquiries that were made in the second generation, and all the succeeding ones, after the apostles, continually added to the number of Christians; who kept uniformly increasing, among the learned and unlearned, the high and the low, the rich and the poor, till, notwithstanding all their hardships, they, or their friends, became the more powerful part of the Roman empire.
To suppose that Christianity could have propagated itself in this manner, without being founded in truth, is to suppose, as I observed before (and because it cannot be too much attended to, I mention it again) more miracles, and those of a more extraordinary nature, than are believed by Christians; miracles of which no evidence can be given, and for which no reason can be assigned. For it must be supposed that all these innumerable converts to Christianity in the early ages imagined that they had heard and seen what they never had heard or seen; or that they had inquired into the truth of recent facts, when they had made no inquiry at all, and that they sacrificed their ease, their liberty, their property, and many of them their lives, for a mere fancy, an illusion of the brain. Their minds mnst therefore have been under a proper and miraculous infatuation, and for no purpose but to subject them to the most grievous sufferings, and to delude mankind in all future ages.
Now, between this strange and incredible supposition, and and the truth of the gospel history, there is no medium. Admitting the facts which are related by the Evangelists, and the author of the Acts of the Apostles, every thing that has followed to the present times is easy and natural. The conversion of the first Christians, obstinate and reluctant as many of them were, the conversion of others by them, and all the subsequent events, have an adequate cause, so that without supposing any farther miracles, all things have come by a regular progress, each step of which is perfectly intelligible, to the state in which we see them to be at present. But on no other hypothesis can present appearances, what we ourselves now see, be accounted for. On the other supposition (which, if they reflect at all, must be that of all unbelievers) we see the most wonderful change in the history of the world, a revolution in the minds of men, of all nations and all descriptions, produced by supernatural delusion ; that is, a great effect without any cause, that a man in his sober senses would think of alleging for it.
RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE, —ADDRESSED TO THE YOUTH OF HIS CONGREGATION IN LEEDS.
It is the earnest wish of my heart, that your minds may be well established in the sound principles of religious knowledge; because I am fully persuaded, that nothing else can be a sufficient foundation of a virtuous and truly respectable conduct in life, or of good hope in death. A mind destitute of knowledge (and, comparatively speaking, no kind of knowledge besides that of religion deserves the name), is like a field on which no culture has been bestowed, which, the richer it is, the ranker weeds it will produce. If nothing good be sown in it, it will be occupied by plants that are useless or noxious.
Thus, the mind of man can never be wholly barren. Through our whole lives we are subject to successive impressions; for either new ideas are continually flowing in, or traces of the old ones are marked deeper. If, therefore, you be not acquiring good principles, be assured that you are acquiring bad ones; if you be not forming virtuous habits, you are, how insensibly soever to yourselves, forming vicious ones; and, instead of becoming those amiable objects in yourselves, and those valuable members of society, which nature and the God of nature intended that you should be, you will be at best useless cumberers of the ground, a dead weight upon the community, receiving support and advantage, but contributing nothing in return; or you will be the pests of society, growing continually more corrupt yourselves, and contributing to the corruption of others.
Finding yourselves, therefore, in such a world as this, in which nothing is at a stand, it behoves you seriously to reflect upon your situation and prospects. Form then, the generous resolution (and every thing depends upon your resolution) of being at present what you will certainly wish you had been some years hence; what your best friends now wish you to be; and what your Maker has intended, fitted, and enabled you to be.
Above all things, be careful to improve and make use of the reason which God has given you, to be the guide of your lives, to check the extravagance of your passions, and to assist you in acquiring that knowledge, without which your rational powers will be of no advantage to you. If you would distinguish yourselves as men, and attain the true dignity and proper happiness of your natures, it must be by the exercise of those faculties which are peculiar to you as men. If you have no higher objects than the gratification of your animal appetites and passions, you rank yourselves with the brute beasts; but as you will still retain that reflection which they have not, you will never have that unallayed enjoyment of a sensual life which they have. In fact, you are incapable of the happiness of brute animals. Aspire, therefore, to those superior pursuits and gratifications for which you were formed, and which are the prerogative and glory of your natures.
Let me urge you, my younger hearers, to a more than ordinary attention to regularity and propriety of behaviour, becoming men and Christians, that your conduct may be no disgrace to the rational and liberal sentiments which I trust you have imbibed. Let it be seen, that when God is considered as the proper object of reverence, love, and confidence, as the benevolent Father of all his offspring of mankind, and their righteous and impartial moral Governor, the principle of obedience is the most ingenuous and effectual. Cherish the most unfeigned gratitude to the Father of lights, that your minds are no longer bewildered with the gloom and darkness, in which our excellent religion was, for so many ages, involved; but let this consideration be a motive with you to walk as becomes so glorious a light. If your conduct be such as, instead of recommending your own generous principles, furnishes an excuse to others for acquiescing in their prejudices and errors, all the dishonor which is thereby thrown upon God, and the injury which will be done to the pure religion of Jesus Christ, by keeping it longer in a corrupted state at home and preventing its propagation abroad, will be your peculiar guilt, and greatly aggravate your condemnation.
Value the Scriptures, as a treasury of Divine knowledge, consisting of books which are eminently calculated to inspire you with just sentiments, and prompt you to right conduct; and consider them also as the only proper authority in matters of faith.
In a thing so interesting to you as the business of religion, affecting the regulation of your conduct here, so as to prepare you for immortal happiness hereafter, respect no human authority whatever. Submit to those who are invested with the supreme power in your country, as your lawful civil magistrates; but if they would prescribe to you in matters of faith, say, that you have but one Father, even God, and one Master, even Christ, and stand fast in the liberty with which he has made you free. Respect a parliamentary king, and cheerfully pay all parliamentary taxes; but have nothing to do with a parliamentary religion, or a parliamentary God.
Religious rights and religious liberty are things of inestimable value. For these have many of our ancestors suffered and died; and shall we, in the sunshine of prosperity, desert that glorious cause, from which no storms of adversity or persecution could make them swerve 1 Let us consider it as a duty of the first rank with respect to moral obligation, to transmit to our posterity, and provide, as far as we can, for transmitting, unimpaired, to the latest generations, that generous zeal for religion and liberty, which makes the memory of our forefathers so truly illustrious.