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David Hume's last sickness,
ON RELIGIOUS CONTROVERSY.
INTRODUCTION TO THE CHRISTIAN'S MAGAZINE.
Ás one of the avowed designs of this work is to assert the truth and refute error, it has to combat in the outset a fashionable and imposing prejudice. It seems to be taken for granted, that how perfect soever the right of judging and professing for ourselves, there exists no right of inquiry into the judgment or profession of others. In religion, at least, this maxim is held to be incontrovertible by many who never think of applying it to any other subject. To disquisitions on topics in which all denominations agree, they can listen with pleasure; they can even permit the peculiarities of each to be detailed in succession; but from every thing which wears the form of controversy they turn away with spontaneous contempt. Their aver·sion is so fixed that hardly any plea of excelVOL. III.
lence will be allowed in behalf of a work which stands convicted on the charge of being controversial. The fact is sufficient to preclude every other trial, and to infer condemnation as a matter of course.
That these summary and oftentimes injurious decisions have been unprovoked on the part of disputants, I shall not affirm. On the contrary, I will freely concede that the unfairness, the heat, and the rudeness, which too frequently occur in polemical writings, are most offensive to the discreet reader, and make him shy of authors from whom he may expect such entertainment.
But while there can be no apology for conduct which offers equal violence to the rules of good breeding and the precepts of Christianity, there is ground to suspect that more is attributed to its influence in producing the prevalent dislike to controversy than it can justly claim. For as our age must not arrogate to itself the praise of all the meekness and candor which have been in the world, so it is certain that men great and good, pacific and modest, have studied the most controverted themes in an age when harshness and incivility were more common than they are now. In accounting, then, for that prejudice which we are considering, much must be deducted from the current professions of courtesy
and candor, and transferred to that indifference which will not be at the pains to examine on which side lies the right of a question concerning eternal hope! For such a morbid state of feeling we can suggest no remedy, and can only pour out our most fervent prayer that the first admonition which it shall be compelled to regard may not be that awful voice, “Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime hadst thy good things !" The prejudice itself, unlike those lessons with which truth and wisdom preoccupy the heart, will appear, upon a close inspection, to be as destitute of solidity as it is assuming in manner; for, in the
1st place, It admits not of dispute that the holy scriptures point out an opposite course. Their injunction is, to buy the truth and sell it not. To cease from the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge—earnestly to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints—to try the spirits whether they are of God. All these directions imply, not that men are to spend their lives in laying the foundations of their faith, but that they are to employ their opportunities and faculties in selecting the true from the false; that they are to prize it when selected; to enrich it with fresh acquisitions; and to defend it with their utmost skill. How this can be done without controversy, so long as there are de
ceivers in the world,” it is incumbent on themi to show who would suffer the truths of the gospel to be sacrificed, one after another, by men of “corrupt minds," rather than raise a finger or press an argument for their protection. It is indeed not more lamentable than true, that a host of candidates beset the inquirer. Every sect cries out, we are the people, and the law of the Lord is with us; every partisan enforces the pretensions of his sect. But this, though frequently urged, is the weakest of all reasons for keeping aloof from investigation. The amount
“the danger of going astray is great, the consequences fatal; therefore I will shut my eyes.” Good sense would say, “the danger of error is great, the consequences fatal; therefore I will use all my diligence that I may not be misled;' for certainly, if' straight be the gate and narrow the way which leadeth unto life," we have the strongest inducement possible to search out and embrace the "few who find it."
We are, there fore, reduced to this alternative, either that there is no truth at all, or that we are bound to seek it through every peril, to distinguish its voice amid all clamors, and to possess it at any price, If this condition seem hard, let it be remembered,
2. That it is not left to our discretion whether we shall choose or not.