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assign any reasons for his doctrines, or to hear any arguments against them.
That your late performance, sprightly and ingenious as it is, has a tendency to produce these terrible effects, (for to me they appear terrible beyond expression,) is too evident; and I may afterwards give you a more particular account of the reasons, on which I apprehend, that it must in its consequences affect the foundations of natural religion, as well as of revealed. How far any of these consequences might be intended by you, it is not my business to determine. You, Sir, are ere long to answer that to the great Judge of hearts, whose tribunal I should dread to usurp. Yet I cannot forbear observing, that the ludicrous turn you so often give to scripture, and the air of burlesque and irony which runs through your whole piece, neither suits the character of a rapturous devotee so often affected, nor discovers a becoming sense of the infinite moment of the question in debate. Pardon me, Sir, the plainness with which I speak my real apprehensions on this head, and believe me when I seriously declare, it is with no design to libel and expose you, but with a sincere desire to serve you and others, into whose hand this letter may come, that I now set myself to examine what you have advanced, and, if possible, to lead you into juster and safer sentiments.
Agreeably to these views, and that regard to the general good which has engaged me to enter on this controversy, shall decline the invidious and unnecessary task of pursuing you, with severe criticism, through every paragraph. I am not solicitous to expose every unguarded expression, to canvas every minute mistake, nor even rescue every clause of the sacred writings which I apprehend you have misrepresented or misapplied. I have not leisure for such a task as this, and there is hardly any thing against which my temper more strongly recoils. I shall examine what I apprehend most material, and most dangerous in your work, with calmness and seriousness; representing, in as few words as I can, what I take to be the strength of your cause, and telling you with the simplicity and moderation that becomes a christian, how I answer it to my own conscience. This I shall do with all possible plainness, not affecting to be witty in a case in which eternity is concerned; nor so consulting your taste and character, as to forget that I am addressing the public, and aiming not to divert, but if possible, to edify. And if any cannot relish such a design, and such a manner, I give them fair warning to throw this
letter aside, and to waste, (or shall I rather say, to kill,) no more of their precious moments about it.
It sufficiently appears, Sir, from your manner of writing, that you are well aware, the main strength of your cause lies in the first head of your discourse, to which therefore, after some gay flourishes on the two last, you return again toward the conclusion of your pamphlet. It is this therefore, which I shall here examine at large; and the rather, because I think what you urge on this topic, though it be far from any new discovery, may admit some farther illustration, than I have commonly met with; and is the point, which in proportion to its difficulty and importance, has been least discussed by the worthy apologists for christianity, in which our country is so happy. The foundations of the solution have indeed often been laid down; but I have long wished to see the matter placed in that particular point of view, in which the difficulties you propose, and which naturally arise, may be most happily obviated.
It is your professed design under your first general to shew, "That reason, or the intellectual faculty, could not possibly, both from its own nature, and that of religion, be the principle intended by God to lead us into a true faith." (p. 7.) An ambiguous proposition, the sense of which must be ascertained in a few words, before its pretended demonstration can be discussed.
You well know, Sir, that the whole body of christians as such, are, and must ever be agreed, that reason is not our only guide, but that divine Revelation is most wisely and graciously intended to supply its many deficiencies; and you know too, that they generally acknowledge the reality and importance of divine influences on the mind, to confirm our faith, and to quicken our obedience. So that if you would not encounter a puppet of your own forming, with whom we have no manner of concern, you must mean by this grand proposition, "That reason is not to be consulted, in judging either of the evidences or the sense of any supposed revelation, nor in forming any of our religious sentiments." An assertion so apparently extravagant, that one would imagine, that merely to propound it were a sufficient confutation.
Can any one indeed seriously think, that the noblest of our powers was intended only to the lowest and meanest purposes; to serve the little offices of mortal life, and not to be consulted in the greatest of concerns, those of immortality? Strange! that the only power which renders us capable of saying, Where
is God my Maker? and of forming any sentiments of religion at all, should be discharged from that province, for which it seems chiefly to have been given! But it will at least have strength and spirit enough to say, Why must I be thus discharged? And you condescend to answer at large, without seeming to be aware, that your first step towards demonstrating your point supposes it to be false; appealing to reason itself to judge, that it is not capable of judging at all. Nor is this position only inconsistent with the pertinency of any reasoning whatsoever, but particularly inconsistent with that footing on which you profess to place christianity, when its rational proofs are given up. Since, if God were, according to your strange hypothesis, to reveal to me in a moment the whole system of christianity, and were I assured, by some inward inexplicable sensation, that it was indeed a revelation from him, I could not receive it without some reasoning. I must at least have this one short syllogism in my mind, "What comes from God is to be admitted as true; but this comes from God, therefore it is to be so admitted." And the foundation of this supposes some previous reasoning, concerning the existence, and veracity of that being, whose testimony is so readily to be admitted.
A very small part of your sagacity, Sir, might serve to discover this, which, obvious as it is, supersedes all you have written. I will therefore take it for granted, that what you really intend by this general, and very unguarded proposition, is chiefly this; "That christianity is not capable of such a rational proof, as can be made intelligible to the generality of mankind, so as to oblige them to receive and obey it." This is what you seem to have at heart throughout your whole book, and I shall not farther press the advantage you have given an opponent, by asserting so much more than was necessary to your main design.
You do indeed sometimes acknowledge, I think in direct opposition to your main argument, that christianity is capable of being rationally proved to the conviction of a studious person; (however unnecessary, and however hazardous it may be, even for such a one to meddle with that kind of proof: But you always contend, that the generality of mankind cannot enter into any rational proofs of it, (though it is well known that it was intended for them ;) and that they who can, will not find them sufficient, to bear the stress which must in fact be laid upon them, if we desire to be christians to any valuable purpose. I shall therefore set myself on the contrary to prove,
That the rational evidence of christianity is so adjusted, that
the generality of its professors may, if they be not wanting to themselves, attain to some competent satisfaction with regard to And when I have offered that proof, I shall consider your objections.
I am far from asserting, that every one in common life can have a full view of all the controversies which relate to christianity; a curiosity of literature, which to multitudes would be of very small importance: nor do I maintain, that every sincere believer is capable of rendering a sufficient reason for his faith; an ability on many accounts highly desirable, yet not, so far as I can find, at all essential to salvation. A man may have reason in his own mind, which he cannot readily put into words. Nay, I apprehend it possible, that a man may feel and comply with the practical tendency of christianity, who does not himself rightly apprehend the force of its rational proofs, and perhaps lays a very great stress on arguments which are far from being conclusive. And I hope, Sir, you will allow, that when a man's temper and character is such as the gospel requires, such a speculative mistake as to the strength of an argument does not affect his salvation. Else I fear, we must condemn all those excellent persons, who have believed the great fundamental of all religion, the existence of a God, chiefly on the force of those Cartesian arguments, now generally, and I think rationally, exploded.
The question is not, what knowledge is universally necessary, nor what is in fact attained; but what satisfaction might generally be had, if there were a competent care, on the one hand, to teach, and on the other, to learn. This is all, which is absolutely essential to my argument. Nevertheless, for the farther illustration of the subject, I shall freely tell you, how I apprehend the case to stand, with regard to the generality of the common people, who are in good earnest in the profession of religion; readily acknowledging, though with great grief, that there are thousands and ten thousands, who wear the name of christians as by mere accident, without at all considering its meaning, reason, or obligation; a case very consistent with the possibility of their being better informed, and rationally convinced.
Now, here, Sir, the leading thought will be, that God has so adjusted the nature and circumstances of christianity, as represented and exhibited in the New Testament, that it is attended with a strong degree of internal evidence, of which, by an unaccountable omission, you take not the least notice; and that what is most essential to the external proof, lies within much
less compass than you seem to imagine, and is capable, if previous precautions be taken in a proper manner, of being opened to persons of an ordinary capacity, and understood by them, though they have neither ability nor leisure for the curiosities of learned disquisition.
For the illustration of this, you must give me leave to remind you, that both the Mosaic and Christian dispensations have been much misrepresented, in consequence of mens taking their notions of them, rather from the conduct of their professors, than from the institutes of their respective founders. To apply this to the present occasion, let us consider what the case of christians would be, with regard to the rational evidence of their religion, if things were to flow on in the channel, into which it was the apparent design of our Divine Master to direct them.
You will, no doubt, Sir, readily allow, that a pious education, and a standing ministry, are appointments of our blessed Redeemer, and will spare me the trouble of proving either of them in form. And as you take it for granted in the whole of your letter, that infant baptism is a christian ordinance, you will also allow me to mention it as a common principle, though little of my argument will depend upon its being so.
A parent therefore, acting upon the laws of christianity, (which is what I here all along suppose in stating the case,) having in a solemn manner devoted his child to God in its early infancy, and having ever since been affectionately recommending it to the divine blessing, watches the first dawning of reason, to instill into its tender mind, sentiments of piety to God, gratitude to the Redeemer, benevolence to men, and every other grace and virtue which the gospel recommends, and which the life of its great founder exemplified. Quickened by the obligation, which the birth and baptism of every younger child in the family renews, the father and mother concur in a wise and conscientious care, to keep their dear offspring, as far as possible, out of the sight and hearing of every thing profane, cruel and indecent; and whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are venerable, whatsoever things are righteous, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, the child will be taught, by the force of precept and daily example, to think on these things, and to pursue them. The consequence of this, under those influences of divine grace which may be cheerfully expected in the way of duty, will probably be an early sense of decency, virtue, and piety. The growth of those seeds of corrupt nature, which will in some instances discover themselves in the