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on THE EVIDENCES, DOCTRINES, AND DUTIES,
MY DEAR FRIEND,
I was much gratified, on the arrival of your letter, to find that you had not forgotten me; and more gratified still to learn, that the important topic, on which we so often conversed when we were together, has as frequently occupied your thoughts since our separation. In this respect your conduct evinces your usual solicitude to inquire after truth of every kind, and I trust it will be followed by your accustomed success. While human existence is as much characterized by the uncertainty as by the shortness of its duration, and there is interposed between us and Heaven, or Hell, or annihilation, nothing, but life, the most brittle and precarious thing imaginable;— while there is no cause for vanity in being involved in
VOL. I B
impenetrable darkness, and none for consolation; when we are in despair of ever finding a comforter, so long will it be the first and principal concern of a wise man, to inquire into his nature, his duties, and his expectations; to ascertain where he ought to doubt, where to be confident, and where to submit: and these inquiries necessarily comprise the subject of Religion. “Who “ is wise, and he shall understand these things & “ prudent, and he shall know them? For the ways “ of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in “ them; but the transgressors shall fall therein.” (a) The derision with which some of your deistical companions affect to treat you, is matter of regret, but not of surprise. If their Deism be the result of supposed conviction, they are objects of pity; if, which is more likely to be the case, it be a consequence of indifference, and this deplorable indifference furnish them with a ground for boasting, they, instead of yourself, would be fit subjects for ridicule, were it proper to indulge such a propensity on so serious an occasion. To a person of your extensive observation and contemplative turn of mind, it must appear extremely obvious, that as the vicious lives of many men make it their interest that religion in general should be “a bug“bear,” and the Christian Religion especially “an “artful system of delusion;” so they will too commonly be found, not only ready, but eager to believe them really such. Nor can it be expected that they should stop here. For when once a certain method of treating a subject is nicely adapted to men's humours and (a) Hosea, xiv. 9.
situations, it would be strange, indeed, if they did not indulge in it; particularly when they find, as they soon will, that the majority of almost every company will cordially concur with them. If you wish to be proof against sneers and laughter, when directed against so momentous a subject, consider that the mirth and pleasure of the unthinking part of mankind (by far the greater part) is almost as blind and mechanical as the actions of an automaton. Let them be but struck, and they will move as mere inert matter moves, until the effect of the impulse ceases. They are stirred, and often delighted ; though with what, or for what cause, or to what purpose, they know not. Except, perhaps, when the string of religion is roughly touched by the hand of an enemy; for then, many ignorant, and all irreligious hearts, like chords in unison, dance to the motion, and yield the same sound; just as the clank of a madman's chain, while it thrills to the soul of a man in his senses, shall collect around him all the lunatics in the same ward of his prison, and tempt them to dance with maniac delight, when every spectator shudders with horror. I have heard of some modern free-thinkers, whose comprehension of mind has placed them on such an eminence, that they look down with contempt, not only upon Christians, but upon the shrivelled minds of other unbelievers, who have not yet taken such an adventurous flight: some, who not merely deride those whom half the world calls fanatics and visionaries, but who are seated in a “scorner's chair” of such peculiar qualities as enchants them till they sneer at the narrow