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thereby make infidelity criminal; "a light, by which our faith is completed in an instant, the most perfect and finished creed produced at once, and made self-evident to the mind in which it is lodged, in a way perhaps little differing from intuition itself; such characters being stamped upon the heart, as no misrepresentations can ever possibly intervene to corrupt, no succeeding suggestions of a different style, to dispute the preference, or shake its authority in the mind." In one word, "we are" in consequence of this extraordinary operation, (if we are to take the matter as you represent it,) "brought under a monitor and guardian, which does not leave us for one moment liable to a possibility of error and imposition." These, Sir, are your own words; and if any reader, to whom I am personally a stranger, should question whether any thing so absurd as the last clause is any where in the world to be found, your 60th page will convince him how faithfully they are transcribed.
I apprehend, perhaps with you, that merely to propose this notion, is to confute it. However for the credit of the christian world, I am glad to say, it is no very common one, and may, for any thing I at present know, be quite peculiar ; whatever unguarded approaches some good men may have made towards it, or whatever airs of infallibility they may have assumed, which to do you justice, I cannot but imagine, you meant by all this gallimatia to expose. It would be an easy matter to vindicate the scriptures, which you have pressed in to support this strange representation; but every good commentary upon them may furnish the reader with an antidote against such an interpretation, if his own reflections do not (as might reasonably be expected,) immediately supersede the necessity of having recourse to any commentary at all. I shall not therefore at present pursue the matter any farther; but leave you to be confuted, I will not say by every rational christian writer on this subject, but even by every error which any good christian has fallen into, on this head, or on any other; for every such error as effectually confutes this notion, as a thousand volumes of the strictest argument could do it.
Nevertheless, Sir, if you still continue to urge the matter, and the public seem desirous of it, I may perhaps take this your third general under as particular a consideration, as your two former. In the mean time, I am well satisfied, that none who knows me will imagine, that I have declined the task from any suspicions which I entertain concerning the reality or importance of the operations of the blessed Spirit on the mind to
enlighten and renew, to sanctify and strengthen, to cheer and to guide the children of God, and the heirs of glory. I am continually bearing my testimony to this great and weighty truth in my sermons and writings; as I can never expect, that any course of preaching or writing should be useful to the souls of men, in which so glorious a doctrine of christianity is either denied or omitted.
There are many other particulars in your letter, about which I shall have no controversy with you at all, but shall willingly leave those deities to plead, whose altars you have cast down. The imputation of the faith of sureties to the baptized infant;-the necessary connection between the administration of that rite, and the communication of some extraordinary influences of the spirit;-the power of the magistrate to determine articles of faith, and to impose forms of worship by sanguinary laws, or laws in any lower degree penal;-the compelling young persons to declare their sentiments on some of the nicest theological controversies, before they can be supposed at all to have examined them, and frowning severely upon them, as soon as they appear to suspect, what they never had any convincing evidence to engage them to believe:-These, and some other particulars (which lie between the 95th and 101st page of your book,) I confess you have rallied with a just severity. And I am particularly pleased with the serious air with which the raillery on these heads is carried, even to the defence of fire and faggot in the cause of religion; from which I presume, Sir, you apprehend yourself to be in no danger. It will, no doubt, be of service to those readers, who, without such a key, might, in the simplicity of their hearts, have been led into a wrong judgment of your views, from those airs of devotion and orthodoxy, which you assume in other passages.
A design to overthrow natural religion, as well as revealed; to confound the nature of virtue and vice, and subvert, so far as a mortal can do it, the throne of God among men; to destroy all the foundations of truth, justice, and benevolence, which arise from a persuasion of his divine presence and providence, leaving us to all the absurdities, the temptations, and miseries of atheism; is so black, and so horrid an enormity, that I would by no means charge it, by any train of consequences, even on a nameless author. And indeed I will not allow myself so much as to think, that you were capable of setting yourself about it, as our law expresses it in matters of much less importance, knowingly and with malice forethought. Charity teaches me rather to hope, that it was in mere sport, and wantonness of heart, you
have thrown about these fire-brands, arrows, and death. But what the sport has been, the weapons themselves shall shew: And whatever you meant, I think it my duty, before I conclude, to shew, that you have in fact, laid the foundation of the temple of confusion, (if I may be allowed the expression,) and pointed out the way to the utter destruction of religion, in every form, and in every degree. I hope therefore, Sir, that how ungrate ful soever the subject may be, you will give me a patient hearing, while I spend a few moments in the illustration of it; partly lest some unthinking people, dazzled by the sophistry of your boasted arguments, should implicitly follow you, not knowing whither they go; and partly, as I insinuated in the entrance of my former letter, that I apprehended your pamphlet had such a tendency; for I should think I acted unworthy my character as a christian and a divine, if I left such an insinuation entirely unsupported. And indeed, Sir, if your pamphlet has those views, which (so far as I can learn) are universally imputed to it, I should hope nothing might be more likely to convince you of the weakness of those arguments, by which you attempt to shake the foundation of christianity, than to shew you, that if they prove any thing, they prove a great deal too much; prove, what I hope you would abhor, as infinitely the most pernicious of all falsehoods.
In order, if possible, to make you sensible of this, give me Icave to suppose an atheist, or if that be too great a monster to be supposed, a sceptic, who has, and will have, no fixed sentiments in religion of any kind, addressing himself to you, or to some patron of natural religion, on your own principles, and in many of your own words, to some such purpose as this.
"It is a most absurd thing, so much as to pretend to offer any defence of religion, so far as even to argue the existence of a deity from the works of nature, or to go about to prove that we lie under any obligations to sobriety, honesty, or mutual kindness. If such disputes as these be allowed, there is no ensuring conviction. (p. 5.) If the motives, even to these virtues, may be examined and considered, they may be innocently rejected; for who shall ascertain the moment when I am to become virtuous, if I am allowed to examine why I am to be so? (p. 93.). Your boasted rational evidence of these things is a false unwarranted notion, without the least ground to support it in nature. (p. 7.) You say, all men are to think alike upon these topics, all to acknowledge, there is an original, intellectual being,
*Prov, xxvi. 18, 19.
endowed with all natural and moral perfections, and that all the rules of virtue and duty are to be inviolably observed: But how should these reasons of yours, whatever they are, and which therefore I will not condescend so much as to hear, produce this unity of opinion in these important articles? I disdain to bestow a second thought on so preposterous a scheme. (p. 8.) Tell me not, that by neglecting to enquire into the existence of a God, and thereby running into an utter disregard to all that gratitude, veneration, and obedience, which, you say, I owe him, I may incur his displeasure; or that by refusing to enquire into the nature and obligations of virtue, I may incur a thousand other inconveniences;—I cannot have patience to be threatned into consequences, to be talked to of danger in decisions, and to have the rod held out with the lesson. (ibid.) It is impossible, there should be any such thing as rational religion; for if it be necessary at all, it must be equally necessary for all men, and at all times. Children must love and fear the Deity, before they could know any thing of him: and their knowledge, if built upon such principles as these you offer me, would come quite too late to regulate the practice. (p. 13.) You say, you find religion reasonable in speculation; but I tell you, in your own words, that is nothing to the purpose: The question is, Whether I, and every man, be bound to believe it? (p. 18.) And who can imagine this, who considers how few men are qualified for reasoning; (p. 17.) and how possible it is, that if the examination of these things were to be attempted, a man might not live long enough to go through with the proof? (ibid.) What if it be indeed so, that the perfections of the Deity, and the obligations of virtue, may be rationally demonstrated; yet you know, the generality of apprehensions extend not beyond a simple proposition, and are thrown out at once at the very mention of a medium: (ibid.) Nay the very ablest and best of men are (as you have taught me,) disqualified for fair reasoning, by their natural prejudices. We atheists have contracted a partiality for particular objects and notions, familiarized to us by long acquaintance: An honest and natural fondness for Hobbes, and Spinoza, and the rest of our old friends, will never permit us to exert our judgments in a disinterested manner; not to say, how many of the living may be concerned in the event." (p. 23.)
"Besides," might your atheistical or sceptical disciple say, "it is an immense task you would assign me, a task for which years will not suffice, to run through all the acute and metaphysical writers, masters in Israel, who have each of them had their
darling argument, and have many of them perhaps written whole folios to illustrate it. Or if you would lead me to quit the high priori road, (without examining which, it is nevertheless plain that I can have no full idea of the subject,) and would argue from second causes and the harmony of nature, how can I judge of this without understanding the laws of nature? and how can I attain the knowledge of those laws, but by a deep and long attention to mathematical studies? As I must take the faith of a Deity in the way to complete virtue, according to your circular argument, that he who comes to God, must believe that he is; (p. 78.) so I must also take Sir Isaac Newton's Principia, after a great many other preparatory books, in the way to that faith. And however the gentlemen of the Boylean lecture, on whom you so pleasantly exercise your talent of raillery, may confine their hearers to examine only into the evidence on one side of the question; I hope you, Sir, will give me leave to hear, what my brethren, the atheists and fatalists, have said to destroy religion, as well as what its votaries have said in its defence.
"Now," may he proceed to say, "if by some happy conjunction of circumstances, I have genius and learning, and resolution, and leisure, and fortune enough, to go through this Encyclopædia of Ethical and Physico Theological Studies, it is not the happiness of one in a thousand; and yet according to you, natural religion and morality are matters of universal concern. And which is worst of all, when I have finished this course, in some future distant period of life, if I happen to attain it, the event of this examination is quite uncertain. Perhaps all my labour may be lost, and I may find myself obliged to sit down in my present infidelity; or if I attain to any notions of these things, they may be changeable with every wind of doctrine. (p. 26.) Nay, if I continue to believe, my faith will administer no comfort in the reflection; for I shall continually forget the fundamental principles, on which I have formed my determination; (p. 29.) and even while I remember them, my faith will never influence my practice. (p. 13.) You," may this importunate echo of your philosophy and wisdom retort, you, who have studied what virtue is, tell me it will require me to deny my appetites, and to bridle my passions: But what will all these principles (even the rational apprehensions of the presence of God himself, a view to his favour, and the expectation of immortality) do, when weighed in the scale against demonstrative good, (p. 32.) i. e. the pleasures of sense, and the ties of secular interest? The most valuable reversion is but of small regard, when compared with that which is actually before us.