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AUTHOR OF A LATE PAMPHLET,
CHRISTIANITY NOT FOUNDED ON ARGUMENT,
HEN I consider the strain and purport of your late discourse, I am heartily sorry that I was so lone a stranger to it. A month has hardly passed, since it first tell into, my hands. They who know my circumstances in life, and the variety of business in which I am continually engaged, will not wonder that I missed it so long. Nor should I have read it now, had it not been mentioned to me by some friends, for whose judgment I have a very high regard, as a performance which had a very ill aspect on christianity, and which was executed with much more spirit and address, than is to be found in most of the attacks which have been lately made upon it.
I have now, Sir, perused it with attention; and various as my cares and labours are, I think it of such importance, that I ought to lay before you, and the world, the result of my reflections upon it.
The character you have assumed of a most zealous advocate for christianity, seems so ill to agree with the purport of your reasonings, that I apprehend most of our readers will esteem it a bad compliment paid to your understanding, if I were to think of that character otherwise than as a mask worn for pleasantry, rather than the design of your pamphlet, with which I am concorned. Were you indeed the warm christian you personate, I could not behold the wounds of religion with indifference, merely because they were received in the house of a friend: nor would I consent to demolish the walls of a fortress, on the strength of which my life, and even the safety of my country, depended. though the worthiest man upon earth should, in a fit of lunacy, undertake to persuade me, that it was the most effectual method to engage the miraculous protection of an almighty arm, that those efforts, which, in the name of the Lord, you have thought fit to moke, with such solemn preparation, and such glowing ardour of spirit, do indeed tend to subvert the faith of christians, and to expose the gospel to the last degree of contempt, is so exceeding plain, that I verily believe, it would appear to every intelligent reader a solemn kind of trifling, to labour the proof of it: and the passages, which I am to take under examination, may be more than sufficient to demonstrate it to a stranger.
You have evidently represented christianity, if not religion in general, as an unreasonable thing; for you expressly tell us, not only "that it is not founded on argument," and that it is incapable of being generally proved by it ; but go so far as roundly to say, (p, 86.) "that there is an irreconcilable repugnance between reason and faith." You speak of scripture, as if all your eloquence was at a loss for words strong enough to express your contempt for it. "Manuscript authorities and paper-revelations," as they are insultingly called, are, it seems, "an empty notion:" (p. 60 )—" The suspicious repositories of human testimony, in which nothing remains that can deserve our least notice, or be thought of consequence enough to engage a moment's attention." (p. 59.) It was not, it seems, enough to represent them as superfluous, "We have no longer need Of distant records:" (ibid.) But you briskly maintain, that omnipotence itself is notable to supply their defects and insufficiency; "though a constant miracle were to interpose on the becasion, and the same almighty power that first indited it," whatever you mean by that singular expression, "were to continue hovering perpetually with a guardian hand over the sacred depositum." (p. 61.)
As for all the scripture miracles, on which we have laid so great a stress, you declare without reserve, " that they are to us no more than an uncertain hear-say," and " that the voice of God, bearing witness to his beloved Son, has long since dwindled to human tradition." (p. 52, 53.) Nay, you strongly insinuate, that these miracles were never meant as arguments of the divine authority of the gospel; (p. 46.) and, with very little complaisance to St. Paul, are pleased to tell us, by a burlesque on his words, when speaking of the resurrection of Christ, (p. 68.) "that the thing was done in a comer," without taking the least notice of the public proofs which were given of it, in the Very place where it had happened but a few days before.
It is obvious, Sir, that I might transcribe many pages of your work in illustration of these hints; and I must needs say, that the language appears so unnatural, and so monstrous, in a professed disciple of Christ, that I am sometimes ready to wonder, you were not a little more careful to save appearances. But then I recollect, that the character you assume is such, as leaves littleroom to expect consistency, and seems best supported by such kind of paradoxes and self-contradictions. By this means also you have artfully enough disarmed your adversary of the weapon called argumentum ad hominem, a whole magazine of which might otherwise have presented. Were you to be attacked that way, you would no doubt laugh very heartily, to see an adversary so fairly bit, in a grave expectation that you should be solicitous cum ratione insanire, to appear a coolheaded, consistent enthusiast. You have chosen, Sir, in these transports, whether real or fictitious, to fight with a too-edged weapon; and the blow which you give by a kind of back stroke, while avowedly defending christianity, seems to me as threatning as any of the rest. I mean, those passages of your book, in which you so grossly misrepresent that glorious and important doctrine of the New Testament, concerning the agency of the divine Spirit, in promoting the reception and efficacy of the gospel. This, according to you, is nothing less than such an immediate and instantaneous communication of the whole sum and system of the gospel, as renders every particular believer more infallible, than the church of Rome has generally asserted the Pope to be, and secures the most illiterate person, even from a possibility of error. (p. 89,90.) This plenary inspiration communicated to every private christian, you represent as the main and only support of religion ; though I think, Sir, you must needs know, that every difference of opinion in the christian church is a demonstration, that no such universal influences do in fact take lace. So that upon the whole, you have left christianity no evidence but what every one sees it has not, that is indeed you have left it no evidence at all. In one word, if your reader were to suppose you serious in what you write, and to fall in with your reasoning, I think the plain consequence must be, that all men of sober sense would immediately reject the gospel, while among the remainder, every one that was mad would make himself a prophet, and vent every wild chimera of his distempered brain as an immediate dictate of God himself; in the plenitude of inspiration and distraction, equally scorning to condescend, to assign any reasons for his doctrines, or to hear any arguments against them. That your late performance, sprightly and ingenious as it is, has a tendency to produce these terrible effects, (for to me they appear terrible beyond expression,) is too evident; and I may afterwards give you a more particular account of the reasons, on which I apprehend, that it must in its consequences affect the foundations of natural religion, as well as of revealed. How far any of these consequences might be intended by you, it is not my business to determine. You, Sir, are ere long to answer that to the great Judge of hearts, whose tribunal I should dread to usurp. Yet I cannot forbear observing, that the ludicrous turn you so often give to scripture, and the air of burlesque and irony which runs through your whole piece, neither suits the character of a rapturous devotee so often affected, nor discovers a becoming sense of the infinite moment of the question in debate. Pardon me, Sir, the plainness with which I speak my real apprehensions on this head, and believe me when I seriously declare, it is with no design to libel and expose you, but with a sincere desire to serve you and others, into whose hand this letter may come, that I now set myself to examine what you have advanced, and, if possible, to lead you into juster and safer sentiments. Agreeably to these views, and that regard to the general good which has engaged me to enter on this controversy, I shall decline the invidious and unnecessary task of pursuing you, with severe criticism, through every paragraph. I am not solicitous to expose every unguarded expression, to canvas every minute mistake, nor even rescue every clause of the sacred writings which I apprehend you have misrepresented or misapplied. I have not leisure for such a task as this, and there is hardly any thing against which my temper more strongly recoils. I shall examine what I apprehend most material, and most dangerous in your work, with calmness and seriousness; representing, in as few words as I can, what I take to be the strength of your cause, and telling you with the simplicity and moderation that becomes a christian, how I answer it to my own conscience. This I shall do with all possible plainness, not affecting to be witty in a case in which eternity is concerned; nor so consulting your taste and character, as to forget that I am addressing the public, and aiming not to divert, but if possible, to edify. And if any cannot relish such a design, and such a manner, I give them fair warning to throw this