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IF I be asked why I write so much as I do, on the subject of the Evidences of Christianity (for many of my publications relate to it,) I answer, that both its infinite importance and the extraordinary crisis of the times call for it from every person who conceives that he has any prospect of being heard and attended to. There is no subject whatever with respect to which I am more fully satisfied myself; and few persons, I imagine, will pretend that they have given so much attention to it as I have done. It does not, however, follow from this circumstance, that I have viewed it in every possible light, and that others may not discover what I have overlooked. I have therefore wished to promote the most free and open discussion of it, and have not failed to invite, nay, to provoke, this examination, on every proper occasion.
When, however, we have done all that we can, we must leave the event to a wise Providence, whose instruments we are, and which has, no doubt, the best ends to answer both by the promulgation of Christianity, and the present remarkable progress of infidelity. And believing this, we should not, after doing what we conceive to be our duty, make ourselves unhappy; though influenced, as we necessarily are, by the objects that are nearest to us, it must give pain to every zealous Christian to see so many persons, for whose intellectual and moral improvement he is concerned, and especially his near friends and relations, carried away by the torrent, which he sees to sweep before it every principle that he feels to be most valuable and useful to himself; leaving
them mere worldly-minded beings instead of heavenly-minded, bounding their prospects by the grave, when his own most pleasing prospects are beyond it.
When I read the Scriptures, in which I have increasing satisfaction as I advance in life, the animating accounts which there abound, of the perfections and providence of God, extending to all the affairs of individual men as well as those of states and kingdoms; and especially the glorious prospects that are there given us of the future state of things in the world, with respect to the great events which seem now to be approaching; and the light that is thrown over the state beyond the grave, so encouraging to every virtuous endeavour; I cannot help wishing that all persons might partake with me in them, and I feel the most sensible concern for those who cannot do it. Unbelievers cannot have the solid consolation that Christians have, under all the troubles of life, especially those that are endured for the sake of a good conscience, arising from the persuasion that all things are working together for their good, if not here, yet assuredly hereafter. Least of all can the unbeliever, at the approach of death, sing the triumphant song of the Christian, “O grave, where is thy victory ! O death, where is thy sting?”
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I wish it were possible for me to convey to my philosophical unbelieving friends, the feeling I have of the value of Christianity, a value which is enhanced by the experience of a pretty long and various life, in which Christian principles have been of the most substantial use to me, both in prosperity and in adversity; and, as they have supported me through life, they will, I doubt not, afford consolation in the hour of death. But it is not in the power of language to express all that I feel on this subject. Such complex feelings as I wish to communicate, have been formed by associations that have been accumulating in a long series of events and reflections; in reading, thinking, and conversation, &c.; so that a man must have lived in a great measure as I have lived, and consequently have felt what I have felt, before he can be impressed as I am, with the language appropriated to religion, and especially the language of the Scriptures. What impresses me with the deepest reverence, would be heard by many with indifference or contempt.
My reader may make an experiment, as it were, on his own feelings, by attending to the prayer of Jesus, in the seventeenth chapter of John's Gospel, and the language of Paul, in those epistles which he wrote from Rome a short time before his death.
But animating and encouraging as their language is, to those who, like Jesus and Paul, have in some measure devoted their lives and employed their best talents, to the same great purposes, it cannot be felt, and will be but imperfectly conceived, by others. Some persons, however, who have not taken their place in the seat of the scorner, if their early education has not been very unfavourable, and espeeially if they have been so happy as to have met with disappointments in life, may conceive that there is something enviable in the state of mind in which their language could be adopted.
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Young persons are apt to be dazzled with the reputation of several unbelievers, who have been greatly overrated by their friends. I feel no disposition to detract from their merit in any respect, though I think integrity the most important qualification in searching after truth. But, however brilliant may have been the talents of some unbelievers (I speak only of writers), they are not the men to whom the world is most indebted for making real advances in useful knowledge. In this respect I will venture to say, that nothing of much consequence has been done by any of them. Mr. Hume, I have shown in my “Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever,” did not advance a single step in metaphysics, in which he held himself out as having done the most. The excellence of Voltaire was that of a poet and a lively writer. D'Alembert can hardly be classed among writers in defence
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, it is for the most part true, that a wish to reject revelation precedes the actual rejection of it. The belief of it is felt 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 liatural to revealed re