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to improve the friends, and conciliate the adversaries of religion. The author has been impressed with these sentiments, from having been led, while compiling the following work, to observe the earnestness with which the apostles labour to guard against division and animosity, heat and violence, in consequence of differences in religious opinions; and he shall deem himself happy, if by leading the attention of others to the same passages, he should in any degree contribute to extend the benign influence of Christian charity.
The strictness of criticism will, it is feared, too often have reason to censure the stile of the following work, as partaking much more of the language and manner of a popular address, than ought to be admitted in an argumentative essay. Some indulgence however is hoped for in this respect, when it is considered that these pages were originally composed as popular discourses, addressed to an audience of young men, and that they are now published principally for their use. They have been thrown into their present form, as it appeared beit adapted to exhibit distinctly the subdivisions of the subject, and the progress of the argument; but the original stile was retained, as it seemed best calculated to keep up the attention of that class of readers, for whom it was principally designed. But it were
? Vid. Infra, p. 200 to 203-229 to 234 and 240 to 245.
well if in this respect only the author stood in need of indulgence, he is thoroughly conscious of other defects of a far weightier kind : still however he hopes this work may serve the cause of true religion ; but conscious of its defects, he ought not to publish it, without earnestly entreating his reader, if any obu jection he had expected to be removed, appears to be answered inadequately, or not answered at all; to impute this to its true source, the insufficiency of the advocate, not the weakness of the cause. Assuredly the cause of the gospel is the cause of truth and heaven, however it may be obscured or disgraced by human folly and human error.—No, let me conclude this Preface, by conjuring my young readers, for whose use this work is particularly designed, not to fuffer themselves to be induced by sophistry, or by ridicule, to confound the found doctrines of genuine Christianity, with the extravagant abfurdities, or the fraudulent corruptions, which in different periods and countries have been substituted in its room. You, my young friends, are yet to form your religious opinions, and fix your religious principles, it infinitely imports you to judge aright, and Iteadily to adhere to that judgment; and never can you judge surely and safely of the character of the gospel, without you devoutly and humbly study the gospel itself. If you view it as represented by the enemies of our holy faith, you will assuredly find it (as you may well suppose) industriously and grossly misrepresented. You will find ridicule frequently employed to supply
the place of argument, rational piety burlesqued as madness or hypocrisy, and Christian purity and virtue derided as fanatic austerity. Is any passage or doctrine of the bible obfcure or difficult? Some writers will state it as wholly unintelligible and absurd. Has folly mistaken, or fraud corrupted, its real tenets ? Every error and every corruption is, by its enemies, blended and incorporated with the pure original, till reason turns disgusted from the foul and loathsome mass. And if it is utterly unreasonable to rely upon the representations of enemies, it may perhaps sometimes not be entirely fafe to derive your conceptions of Christianity even from the statement of its friends. In writers, whose delight is in metaphysical discusfion, and whose talent is subtilty, your attention will be diverted from the most important doctrines of the gospel, merely becaufe they are plain, and from its most decisive proofs, because they admit of no difpute. In abstract reasoners you will miss that practical instruction which every page of the New Testament conveys; and in the works of the over-bearing dogmatist, and the angry disputant, you will feek in vain for the spirit of humility, and kindness, and tenderness, and piety, which the apostles and evangelists, uniformly display. In the compositions of fome zealous and well-intentioned, but over-warm, indiscreet, or ill-informed Christians, you may fometimes meet with doctrines strained to excess, and precepts stated without those limitations and exceptions, which the fobriety of truth requires. In speaking ) thus, I do not mean that you should reject all aid from the researches of the pious and the good, far otherwise. I only wish to impress upon you, that you are not to rely on any secondary information, with: out recurring frequently and humbly to the divine original. In truth, there is much of the evidence and the instruction of the sacred volume, which can only be felt by studying that volume itself. The artlessness, the honesty, the zeal, the purity, the piety, the love of truth which shine in every page of the New Testaments cannot be transfused into any comment, or any argument which human ingenuity can frame; these are the marks of found doctrine, which will always make the deepest impression on the most virtuous hearts.
Study then the scriptures ; thus will you learn to value Christianity as you ought, as the source of ra: tional piety and joy in every situation of life, as the certain guide to truth and happiness. Are you to be come its teachers ?-thus only can you imbibe the genuine spirit, and the uncorrupted tenets of that holy religion you profess to teach ; thus only can you be enabled to deliver its doctrines free from error, and exemplify its utility by the holiness of your lives; thus only can you save yourselves, and those that hear you, and give a good account at the great and fearful day of final retribution.
The apostles and evangelists were not enthuhasts, be
cause they did not embrace the faith which they taught, till they had required and received sufficient proofs of its divine original.
The general statement and division of the subject.
IN reasoning on the evidence of Christianity, iť has been frequently remarked, that almost all direct
arguments for the certainty of the gospel history, · may be reduced to two heads; ift. that the foun
ders of the Christian scheme did not mean to deceive; 2dly, that they were not themselves deceived in those facts to which they appealed in proof of a divine interpofition.