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the religion of the British empire; but christianity divided into parties, and each party employs its learning, eloquence, fortune, and influence, to prevent the incroachment of another party, to enervate its neighbour, and invigorate itself. While this is doing, ignorance and immorality, stupidity and luxury, overflow all bounds; and, to the grief of every good man, overwhelm all orders and degrees of men. A general coalition may seem a romantic notion, and the attempt would be found extravagant in the hands of inferior people; but would legislators condescend to make the trial, the case would widely differ, and there would be more than a probability of success. Mankind have a few first principles in them, the dictates of nature, and the bases of all exterior works ; in these, as in their features, they agree much more than some are aware of; and hence a common consent about a thousand things never regulated by law. Christianity is an address to these principles, and not a dispute about words and modes subversive of religion and morality.
Let any impartial inquirer take up the holy scriptures, and ask, whither do all the contents of these ancient writings tend ? History, prophecy, miracles, the ceremonies of the old, and the reasonings of the new testament; the legislation of Moses, and the mission of Jesus Christ; to what do they all tend? What is their aim ? The proper answer would be, their professed end is to give glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and benevolence among men. Grand design! Foun
ded on the surest principles, the perfections of God; painted in all the finely-coloured imagery of the prophets; sometimes reigning in all the solidity of reason; sometimes rolling in all the majesty of song: here, glimmering in a type; there, blazing in a promise; yonder, set to music by angelic spirits themselves. Now, to be a christian, is neither more nor less than to concur with this design: so much of this, so much true religion, the rest is vox præteraque nihil. * False religions are selfish, this is social; and its sociableness is at once its proof and its praise
The end, to make men beat their swords into plowshares, and their speurs into pruning-hooks, to make every man sit under his vine, and his figtree, and none make them afraid ;—this end is so desirable that all wish to obtain it; the only question is, what are the proper means of obtaining this end? One sect of Christians proposes oaths, subscriptions to creeds, fines, and imprisonments : another proceeds to execrations, corporeal punishments, and death, in various frightful shapes, itself. The present petitioners, supposing these means contrary to the nature of things, contrary also to the means prescribed by the founder of religion, and, perceiving that the prophets ascribe these happy days to the word of the Lord, which was to go forth from Jerusalem, propose the abolition of the present penal means, and the introduction of the original, mild, and placid mode of tuition. The reasonableness of the pretensions of each side is under examination.
* Nothing but a noise.
Several excellent pieces have been published on this subject; to them these letters do not pretend to add any thing: their only aim is to expose to public view the grounds and PRINCIPLES of those publications. By a strange oversight in readers, the real principles of this controversy are mistaken. A statesmán suspects civil faction; a trinitarian complains of arianism; a calvinist urges the looseness of arminianism; an arminian the intolerance of calvinism. Surprising ! Was the dispute about a DOCTRINE, the divinity of Christ ånd predestination 'might be canvassed, but the dispute is about church DISCIPLINE. For shame gentlemen, don't mistake the question; the question is not what, but why the church believes ? whether by compulsion or choice? People thought you had studied a body of divinity, and were well versed in logic, and do you confound the agenda with the credenda ? * Church-govermment with church-doctrine? Differ as much or as long as you will about doctrine, you are obliged to be of the same principles in discipline and government; unitarian and trinitarian have nothing to do here.
If the principles of the petitioners, contained in these letters, be reduced to one single axiom, it may be expressed in Aristotle's TO KATA DYEIN HAT. ---That only can please which accords with nature. The application of this principle to church
* Rules of practice with articles of belief.
government is attempted in these letters; for why NATURE should be allowed the supreme censor in all other cases, and not in legislation, cannot be easily accounted for. In justice to the subject, the reader will be so kind as to distinguish nature as created, from nature as corrupted : the latter is the luxuriance, the former the perfection and excellence of whatever exists.
As every sensible object relates to some sense of the body, and is regulated by that sense, so every intellectual object relates to some operation of the mind, and that operation is its sole and sufficient judge. Should a master of sound read or sing to an illiterate countryman the last part of the xivth, and the first of the xvth. book of Homer's diad, very likely the music of the language would as much exhilerate Hodge as an Italian opera does some of his superiors, who understand as much Italian as he does Greek. But now tell him the poet's meaning: inform him that Homer is speaking about God Almighty and his wife; that, two armies being at war upon earth, God, whom the poet calls Jupiter, favoured one, and his wife, named Juno, the other; that the subtle wife, not being able to succeed by force, tried stratagem, and, by the help of a magic girdle, and a little -under-god of all work, first inspired her husband with lust, and then laid him fast asleep; that while he slept she did a world of mischief to her husband's favourite army; that on his awaking a violent quarrel ensued; on his part high words and threatning blows, on her's a fund of treachery and
a heap of lies. What says Clumsy to this? He pities its ignorance, or blames its profaneness: he is more moved with horror at the sense, than he had been with pleasure at the sound. He is, as he ought to be, delighted with the one and disgusted with the other. But how so? He neither understands a garnut nor a creed: of mythology he never heard, and to the truth of theology he never swore. True, but NATURE judges. He has ears accessible to the power of harmony; and he has the art of associating or separating ideas in his mind, without knowing any thing about anatomy or ontology. Certain combinations of sound form a harmony which delights his sense of hearing; he calls it music: certain combinations of intellectual objects, which nature does not, cannot associate, such as God and sleep, shock that operation of his mind called reason, he instantly perceives its incongruity, is disgusted with it, and calls it wickedness.
It might be easily proved that not only arts and sciences, metaphysical and mathematical productions, as they originate in the supreme spirit, so they address themselves to the image of that supreme spirit, man : but even theology in all its branches might thus be pursued from the perfections of the infinite to the operations of a finite being : and that operation to which each addressed itself would be found the best and only judge. Nothing proves the divinity of christianity more than such a comparison; it is the only religion in the world that will bear such a trial. There is not one natural operation of the mind but has its