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On the first head the utmost ingenuity of infidelity has scarcely been able to discover any plausible objection. The proofs of fincerity in the lives and writings of the first teachers of the gospel are obvious—I had almost said irresistible. Men who voluntarily abandoned every worldly interest, who deliberately encountered and steadily sustained reproach, persecution, and death, in support of the cause which they espoused-must have been sincere.--This point therefore, the advocates for infidelity have generally found it necessary to admit, and to take refuge under the pretext, that however sincere and well-meaning the apostles and evangelists may have been, they were yet deluded by the violence of religious enthusiasm, which is so frequently found to disturb reason, and to give to mere visions of a heated brain the semblance of reality.—A pretext the more plausible, because in some leading features enthusiasm must bear a strong similarity to genuine inspiration : as the latter pre-supposes fincerity and piety, the former may arise from zeal fincere but ill-directed, from devotion heart-felt but overstrained both assert their claim to attention as derived from God both are ready to sacrifice every worldly object in the execution of their purpose and therefore by mere worldly minds, both will too often be pronounced equally irrational and extravagant. But the sincere and ingenuous enquirer after religious truth will not adopt an opinion, as in. consistent with true philosophy, as it is subversive of
Christianity; he will not confound the frenzy of fanaticism with the calm and sacred voice of the Spirit of God, but, with me, endeavour to trace the plain marks which distinguish Christianity from enthusiasm, and evince that the apostles and evangelists spoke the words of truth and sobernesși
What then is enthusiasm in its true and proper sense ?-Briefly a strong but groundless persuasion of being actuated by divine inspiration, including two essential characters, the first that this opinion has been adopted, by him who believes himself inspired, without fufficient evidence b—the second, that if he requires others should also admit the reality of his inspiration, he insists on their doing so, without demanding any proof, or at least on grounds as vain and delusive as those which have satisfied himfelf.Thus blind credulity and dictatorial positiveness form the two leading and effential marks of an enthusiastic mind.
The same delusion of understanding in which these originate, will also most generally display itself in a variety of subordinate effects, and more or less influ. ence the whole conduct of life--It will not less evidently display itself in the writings d of the enthufiaft, by a peculiar turn of thought and stile, as
a This character is shewn in this chapter not to belong to the apostles and evangelists. Chap, ii.
Chap. iv. and v. B 2
« Chap. iii.
well as in the morality he inculcates, and the speculative doctrines he propounds.
Let us consider the subject in this natural order, and in the first place examine whether the apostles and evangelists believed without sufficient proof, that their Lord at first, and afterwards themselves, were commissioned and empowered by God to reveal to mankind the gospel scheme.
The great proof on which enthusiasts rely, is the internal perception of “ some supernatural light, " or some divine impulse, which they assert fhews “ itself too clearly to be mistaken, and needs no “ other proof but its self-evidence."--Now, though it is almost certain that such a perception may accompany real inspiration, and therefore to affirm that it exists, cannot alone and of necessity be pronounced enthusiastic ; yet when no other proof can be given of a fupernatural direction, than the asserted existence of such a perception, we must confess it is very suspicious and unsatisfactory:
Experience proves that men are frequently misled by the warmth of imagination and the strength of passions ; that they are prone to believe readily what they anxiously wish, and that minds long absorbed in religious contemplation are apt to wish that they
e Chap- vi. Locke's Essay on the Human Understanding, book 4, chap. xix. on enthusiasm, Ø 8, 9-11.
were fo favoured of God, as to have their opinions and actions under the immediate guidance of heaven, and to be endowed with supernatural powers, as the instruments of guiding others to heaven, that they may thus be distinguished from the human race as the oracles and lights of the world. The belief of our being thus inspired, is so flattering to spiritual pride, so grateful to fpiritual indolence, and affords so blissful a refuge to minds addicted to religious melancholy, that it cannot be wonderful a warm imagination fhould readily suggest such a belief, and a weak judgment as readily receive it. Since then a persuasion of our being actuated by divine inspiration may fo easily originate in delusion, we must admit that when. ever it cannot be vindicated by clear proofs, from the fufpicion of having thus originated, even though it may not be demonstrably false, yet it ought not to be received as infallibly true, by any man who will calmly attend to the dictates of reason.
Here then enthusiasm failss of evidence, fince it can produce no proof of inspiration but internal perception; thus, says a great master of reason, whose principles I have hadopted," He that will “ not give himself up to all the extravagancies of “ delusion and error, must bring this guide of “ his light within to the trial.- When God illu“minates the mind with supernatural light, he does
Vid. Locke, ibid. § 11.
Vid. Locke, ibid. § 14.
“ not extinguish that which is natural; if he would
It is not therefore diificult to distinguish a just claim to divine authority from mere enthusiastic delusion; the latter is founded on internal persuasion alone, probably impressed by the visions of a heated ima: gination or the presumption of fpiritual pride; it is obscure in its origin and utterly defective in its proof, since it rarely appeals to any external evidence at all, and never to any clear and decisive facts ; it claims the submission, but disdains to fatisfy the doubts of reason. The former, on the contrary, establishes itself by adducing decisive proofs of a divine interposition, it relies on miracles, on prophecy, on historical facts, which are supported by the testimony of fense, and bear the strictest investigation, uniting to internal conviction external evidence; it convinces the understanding before it attempts to controul Levocke, ibid. $s 15. .