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134 TENDENCY To ATHEIsM IN MoDERN UNBELIEVERs.
done, in the situation of his primitive man. Let him have been left on the earth in ever so favorable a climate, and in ever so warm and comfortable a place, so as to want no clothing; yet, having no ideas but such as he got by the impression of the objects around him, he would have been no better than a great sprawling infant. By the stimulus of light he would have opened and shut his eyes, but would have had no idea of the relative distances of any objects. The nearest tree, the remotest hill, and even the heavenly bodies would have seemed to be in the same plane and all contiguous to him. He might have moved his arms and legs in an automatic manner, but he would not have been able to rise from the ground. He would have felt the pain of hunger; but though the most proper food should have happened to be ever so near to him, he could not have known, without experience, that eating would remove that pain. He would therefore have lain a helpless prey to the first wild beast, if there were any, that should have happened to find him. If it should have happened that a female, of the same size, had been produced at the same time, and have been dropped by another accident (the chance of which must have been very small indeed) ever so near him; being equally ignorant, they would have been equally helpless, and must soon have perished together, without any perpetuation of the species. All would have been to begin again, and to no better purpose. If M. Volney will give himself time to think a little more closely on this important subject, he will find that Divine interpositions must have been necessary at least at the formation of man, or that his formation would have been in vain; and if they were necessary then, they may have been expedient, since that time. Moses's account of the primitive state of man, though not without its difficulties, is certainly much more probable than that of M. Volney, Indeed, no hypothesis can well be more improbable than his.
THE PREWALENCE OF INFIDELITY,
ARDENTLY as the zealous Christian must wish for the extension of his religion, and the universal prevalence of those principles which he conceives calculated to enlighten his own mind, to cheer his heart under all the vicissitudes of life, and to give him hope even in death; and much as he will, consequently, lament the prevalence of principles which have an opposite tendency; yet, upon a more extensive view of the subject, he will see no reason to be disturbed or alarmed at the present aspect of things.
The prevalence of infidelity, great as it certainly is, can never be universal. Admitting revealed religion to be ever so ill-founded, no better, for example, than the heathenism of the Greeks and Romans, yet being the faith of the bulk of the common people in all countries called Christian, and they having a strong attachment to it, it may be taken for granted that they will long continue to believe it; since it is universally true that the common people, who receive their opinions and practices from their ancestors, and are little disposed to speculate, are very backward to change them, and - retain them a long time after the more thinking and inquisitive abandon them. This we see to be the case even when the new religion has something the most inviting to offer in the place of the system that is to be given up. Heathenism continued in many villages of the Roman empire six hundred years after the promulgation of Christianity. But as modern unbelievers do not pretend to have any thing to propose as an equivalent to what the Christian must abandon, it may be expected to continue much longer in the world, and independently of any rational evidence in its favor. But the rational Christian, having no doubt of the truth of his religion, is confident that it will finally prevail, and by its own evidence, when it comes to be attended to, bear down all opposition. It will be sufficient to all impartial persons, even those who have not the leisure, or the means, of entering into the historical investigation themselves, that the truly intelligent, the inquisitive, the candid, and the virtuous, will be the friends of revelation ; and that the firm belief of it tends to form a character superior to that of unbelievers, inspiring a dignity and elevation of mind incompatible with any thing mean or base. The true Christian, having a constant respect to God, a providence, and a future state, feels himself less interested in the things that excite the avarice, the ambition, and other base passions of men; and consequently his mind, elevated by devotion, more easily expands itself into universal benevolence, and all the heroic virtues that are connected with it. The Christian, believing that every thing under the government of God will have a glorious termination in universal virtue and universal happiness, easily yields himself the willing instrument in the hands of Providence, for so great a purpose; and considering himself as, with the apostle, a worker together with God, he will live a life of habitual devotion and benevolence; sentiments which are inconsistent with a propensity to sensual and irregular indulgence. On the other hand, the generality of unbelievers will appear to be persons to whom the subject of religion is on some account or other, unpleasant; who, therefore, give but little attention to it or its evidences, and therefore cannot be deemed competent judges of them, whatever be their ability or knowledge in other respects. A great proportion of them, it cannot be denied, are also profligate and licentious in their
manners; and seldom or never looking to God, or a providence, they must have their views greatly contracted, and of course shew other symptoms of a little and narrow mind. If any persons will say that the principles of Christianity tend not to elevate but to debase the human character, I cannot help, from my own very different views of things, concluding his mind is under some very improper influence, such as prevents his forming a true judgment in one of the clearest of cases. If he be capable of understanding Hartley's Theory of the Mind, he may see what I have advanced on this subject demonstrated, as far as any thing relating to the affections of the mind is capable of demonstration. He may see the pleasures of sensation, imagination, ambition, selfinterest, sympathy, theopathy, and the moral sense, rise in due gradation, and the three last-mentioned to coalesce and absorb the former, as the human character advances in excellence; the consequence of which is a capacity for higher and more durable gratifications with respect to a man's self, and superior qualifications and dispositions for communicating happiness to others. Also, the great views opened to us in revelation, and in revelation only, are necessary, as I have shewn in my “Discourses on the Evidence of Revealed Religion,” to enlarge the comprehension of the human mind, and thereby to give us the same kind of superiority over other men, that men in general have over brutes. Unbelievers in revelation and a future state will have very little inducement to think of God, or of a providence; and consequently, with very few exceptions, they become not only practical, but speculative atheists. It is impossible, therefore, that they should attain that state of habitual devotion, or that constant regard to God, that lively sense of his intimate presence with them, and government over them, which is necessary to great excellence of character, and which has an intimate connexion with the most disinterested and active benevolence,
I am far, however, from being unwilling to acknowledge, that there are many persons, of whose understandings I have the highest opinion, but whose objects of attention have been wholly different from mine, who will be so far from concurring with me in this opinion, of the superiority of the Christian character, that they will treat it with contempt; and unless all their habits of living and thinking (which go together), could be reversed, there is no prospect of leading them to entertain different ideas. In this case there is no remedy. We must continue to differ. They will make light of my opinion on the subject, and I shall consider them with compassion; hoping, however, that in a future period of their existence, even they will come to feel and think as I do, and that we shall all see reason to rejoice in reflecting on the wonderful, but eventually successful methods, by which such a glorious catastrophe will have been brought about.
Considering the many disadvantages under which the defence of Christianity now labors, especially from a prevailing aversion to the subject, and a consequent indisposition to give that attention to its evidences which the importance of it requires; seeing so many excellent defences of it pass unheeded, or without any considerable effect, except confirming the faith of those who are already Christians; I say, judging from this aspect of things, I am inclined to think that the final triumph which is destined for the Christian religion, and which is the subject of so many prophecies, will not be left to be accomplished by the slow process of argumentation (which, however, would no doubt produce the same effect in a sufficient length of time), but by another age of miracles, more illustrious than any that have yet been displayed, and which is also the subject of several prophecies; especially that of Joel, quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost, which I do not think has yet had its proper accomplishment. “It shall come to pass in the last day, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh,” &c.; and that this glorious time will