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dispositions formed in his mind, will be of great service. will perceive, that christianity wears so favourable an aspect, and opens upon him so fine a prospect, that he will not hunt after objections against it; as a man is not studious to find a flaw in writings, by which he stands intitled to the reversion of some noble estate and when they accidentally start up in his way, he will soon see, that many of them are grounded on notorious falsehood, and are in themselves despicably mean; especially when set against the great arguments for it, of which he is already possessed: and with regard to others, the assistance of ministers and other religious friends, which when pressed with real difficulties he will honestly seek, will, no doubt, furnish him with proper answers; and, indeed, his converse with the scriptures will enable him, without foreign assistance, to obviate most of them, and they will vanish like birds of night before the rising sun not now to mention these auxiliaries, which his faith will often call in, from observing and comparing the different characters of those, who are most solicitous, on the one hand to destroy it, and on the other to support it, of which I may hereafter speak.
If this, Sir, were merely an imaginary scheme, on which no parent acted, and no children were educated, yet if it were, (as, I think, every one must own it is,) agreeable to the original christian plan, it would not be foreign to our purpose; as it will prove, that if proper precautions were taken, and men were to act in character, competent rational evidence might be attained, as young people grew up to a capacity of exercising reason; which is all that could be supposed requisite. But bad as the world is, I bless God, I can confidently say, I have in the main traces copied from the life. This, to my certain knowledge, is the care of many parents and ministers, and this the felicity of many children. The success is generally answerable; and I hope, the instances in which it is so in the protestant world, are not to be numbered by scores, but by hundreds and thousands, who are to be regarded as the precious seed of the church in the next age, and who I doubt not will, in spite of all the efforts of infidelity, exert themselves so effectually in its service, that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Nevertheless, while I bless God, that this is the case of so many, I very readily acknowledge, that, through a negligence, for which I fear a multitude of parents and ministers have a terrible account to render before God, it is generally much otherwise. By far the greater part of professing christians have probably no better reason to give for their religion, than that
they were early baptized into it, and have been trained up in some of its external forms. Far from being instructed in its evidences, they are hardly taught its doctrines, or its precepts; or superficially learn them from those, who do not themselves seem to be in good earnest concerned about the one or the other. The fatal consequence is too plain. The corruptions of nature, abetted by the force of evil examples, prevail against them; and they are early plunged into such licentious practices, that if they ever reflect on the most evident and express declarations of the word of God, they must immediately see, that they are condemned by it.
Now there is no reason to wonder, if many of this sort of christians are easy proselytes to infidelity. It is no surprising thing, if a bold jest thrown upon scripture, or a confident senseless assertion of its falsehood, (perhaps from a person, on whose word hardly any thing else would be believed,) have with them all the weight of a demonstration. They will be little concerned to ask information, or consider how objections may be answered. Those magical words, priest-craft, and the prejudice of education, stun and terrify them: they submit, as you gravely express it, (p. 75.) " in the impotence and impuberty of a dutiful understanding, in the tractable simplicity of unpractised reason: with the obsequious and humble acquiescence of a babe, they sit down to learn their lesson" too; and their unbelief, after they have attained the stature of men, is just as blind and implicit, as the faith of their childhood was.
This, Sir, is undoubtedly the case with many; and you cannot but have observed, what large companies in the freethinking army are raised and enlisted from among these vagabonds. But the generality of men among us, as in every nation, go on thoughtlessly in the religion in which they were educated: hearing the truth of it often asserted, and perhaps never hearing it, contradicted, they entertain no doubts on the subject, but grow old in a mere speculative and ineffectual assent to christianity. And if their heart at any time smite them, with the contrariety of their temper and conduct to the rules which they acknowledge to be divine, they seek their shelter in the hope of making their peace with God, (as they commonly express it,) before they go out of the world; and perhaps abuse some of the noblest discoveries which the gospel makes, as an encouragement to continue in those sins and follies, from which it was expressly designed to reclaim them.
Nevertheless, it frequently happens among such as these,
that some are awakened to think deeply and seriously of religion the plain lively preaching of the gospel, or perhaps some afflictive providence, rouzes them from their lethargy. And I must reckon it among the chief felicities of my life, that I have had many opportunities of observing, what are in fact the workings of men's spirits in such a circumstance.
And here I have always found, that the moral perfections of the great Governor of the world appear to them in a very lively view the records of their own consciences are thrown open before their eyes, and they feel a load of guilt pressing on their minds, of which they were before utterly insensible. Under this anxiety, they hear of the remedy which the gospel has provided; and they hear of it with another kind of regard than formerly. It is what they now perceive, that they want; (strange, that they should have perceived it no sooner!) and it appears far more important to them, than animal life and all its enjoyments. Hearing of the love and grace of a Redeemer, concerning the reality of whose undertaking they never had any considerable doubt, their hearts are transported with a flow of most ardent and various affections; they find another kind of energy in these things, than they were ever aware, or could have imagined to be possible. He has saved their lives at the expence of his own; and under the constraints of his love they consecrate themselves to a forgiving God, with an ardour of soul which nothing but gratitude can inspire. They do now, as it were, receive the gospel anew from his hand, not as a revelation now made, but now first endeared to them, by a sense of their own concern in it; they exemplify the beauty of its precepts, and they feel the force of its consolations. A blessed effect, in which I humbly acknowledge the finger of God, and the agency of his Spirit; though I see no reason to pretend to an immediate inspiration, in the sense which you maintain.
When the first tumult of affections, raised by so interesting and important a scene, subsides, and the happy converts come more coolly to reflect on what has passed, they draw a new argument of the truth of this glorious gospel from its experienced efficacy; and, though they cannot make a stranger sensible of the force of it, will say like the blind man, as yet little instructed in many other proofs of our Lord's divine mission, If he were not of God, he could not have opened my eyes; and under the lively impression of it, the sophistry of modern infidels is as little to them, as that of the Sanhedrim was to him. At length, growing in wisdom and piety by their
acquaintance with the gospel, and in proportion to their regard for it, they likewise, who had formerly no taste and sensibility for such things, become qualified to take a more extensive survey of its internal evidence, and to judge of it; and accordingly, they see it much in the same light with those who had been formed to an earlier subjection to it, and had grown up with it in their hands and their hearts.
Of these recovered votaries to it, some who have a head turned for reasoning, perhaps from a desire to serve others, and honour God, by defending christianity, rather than from any doubt which they themselves have of its truth, set themselves to study the evidences of the gospel, as stated in some judicious treatise on the subject; which they carefully examine, and often ground so thoroughly in their understanding and memories, as to be able to silence, if not to convince gainsayers. And others, who have not leisure or inclination to search so particularly into the whole compass of the argument, are perhaps greatly confirmed in their faith, by some circumstances which powerfully impress them, though they may not be able to communicate the force of the argument to others; or though, where it is communicated, it cannot publicly be stated, without inconveniences which might overbalance the advantages arising from the discovery of such occurrences,
I am sensible, Sir, I am touching on a subject which it is difficult to handle, without the imputation of enthusiasm, and perhaps without the danger of it; and therefore I shall dismiss it in a few words. I take upon me now to assert no facts, either as my own experience, or as on the testimony of others, whom I may have reason to credit; but I would suggest the thought in hypothesis. Is it in the nature of things impossible, or is it utterly incredible, that the great Author and Governor of all should, in some rare instances, even in these later ages, deviate from the laws by which he statedly rules the natural world, for the deliverance and support of some of his faithful servants in circumstances of great extremity; especially, when thereby the interest of the moral world may remarkably be promoted? Or supposing this to be ever so rare, I would further ask, Is it impossible, that he may, on a perfect view of every minute circumstance, have constituted the course of things in such a manner, that there shall be a remarkable correspondence between a train of thoughts in a christian's mind, and an event arising from other natural, but perhaps unobserved causes, on which that train of thoughts could have no influence? Do you, Sir, thoroughly understand
the law, by which thoughts arise in our mind? or can you say, by what connection one springs up, rather than another? Can you account for it, why the mind is sometimes so much more forcibly struck, than at other times, with the same object; or why it sometimes feels itself directed strongly into a certain channel, and track of thinking, in which it is not conscious to itself of a self-determining agency? Or are you sure that there may not be a special gracious appointment (whether natural or miraculous, I do not now contend,) in certain events, the causes of which are so unobserved, that we commonly, but perhaps rashly, say, they happen by chance? That the minds of many eminently wise and good men have been greatly comforted and established by such events, I am well assured, and it seems probable to me, that to well-disposed persons, of weaker abilities, they may more frequently happen: nevertheless, as I know they are liable to a great deal of cavil, and that it is the fashion of the age to deride every thing of this nature, I will not urge this argument in the present debate, but content myself with having insinuated it. I think, I ought not entirely to have omitted it; and this seems its most proper place.
It is, I hope, at least possible, that the faith of an illiterate christian may be not only really, but rationally confirmed by such events; or, if you will admit the commonly received phrase, by such special providences as these. However, I am sure, there is another topic of argument, which is frequently of great and important service in this view, and which falls under the daily observation of the common people as well as others, and of which they are as competent judges as the most polite and learned of mankind. I mean that which arises from comparing the temper and conduct of those who profess to reject the gospel, with that of those who seem most cordially to esteem and embrace it.
If it were evident and notorious, that infidelity did generally in fact make men better; if it increased their reverence for the divine Being, and made them more diligent, constant, and devout in paying their daily homage before him; if it rendered them more sober and temperate, more mild and gentle, more upright and benevolent in their behaviour; though this would be a most unaccountable phænomenon to any one who examines the constitution of the gospel, (since that diminishes no natural motive to virtue, and adds many peculiar to itself,) I do not say, that this remark ought to balance all the evidence, on the other side; yet I will venture, Sir, to say, that I think it would shock an honest and candid mind, more than all the