Imatges de pàgina
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A reo

When the world was bewildered, the vulgar by their prejudices, and the learned by refinements, it pleased God to interpole in a manner unexpected and furprifing. A light from, heaven broke out at once upon the benighted nations. velation from God, vouched to the very feases of men, held up to view those facred truths which had been long overlooked, or grossly perverted. The dreams of philosophy, with the filions of poets, vanished; the temples of the idols were deserted; and all the nations of the then known world devoted them felves to the worship and obedience of the one true God, thro' the mediation of the only one mediator between God and man.

But, alas! the folly of the human heart broke out anew. Not many ages had passed, when neglecting the plain truths of God, men plunged into infcrutable subjects. They differed in their judgments; they disputed; they raged; and in the fury of their zeal, different sects denounced anathemas each against other, on account of their different conceptions of incompre-, hensible doctrines.'

Many ages of barbarism fucceeded.-Upon the revival of learning the facred records were consulted. But as the truth had been long disguised, and the understandings of men debased and distorted by the influence of false learning, they could not all at once attain to just ideas of religion. · They split again into fects, formed different creeds, and different plans of worship and government ; and having been much exercised in subtile and hot disputes with the Romih docors, they entered into contests of nuch the same kind, and in much the fame spirit, with one another about their peculiar tenets.

• Mean time a sect arose who called the whole in queftion ; and believing themselves equally privileged with others to fouad unfathomable depths, they employed the same subtilty of reasoning against religion, which contending divines had employed against each other. And the friends of religion, not aware of the consequence, did, partly through zeal for the truth, and partly from a habit of disputing, and a confidence of victory, admit the whole to debate.

• A controversy of course commenced about possible and ima poffible, fit and unfit, right and wrong, in the abstract; about the whole of the divine economy, what ought, and what ought not to be the measures of government with regard to free

agents, and whether indeed there were any such ; whether there is any essential difference between virtue and vice, and whence the difference arises; whether there is any occasion for 4 divine interposition in the concerns of religion ; and whether

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the Deity can be "supposed to favour any age or nation with any such interposition in preference to others.

Questions were moved, and controversies agitated, from which a pious heart would naturally shrink, and with which, common sense, if the minds of men had not been previously prepared for the entertainment, would be mightily shocked. No one had the hardiness to attempt a detection of impofture in the Christian revelation ; but innuendos, fufpicions, and surmises in abundance were thrown out; to all which, full and formal' answers, replete with erudition, philological, philosophical, and theological, were offered to the public.

Not only the Christian revelation, but the moral perfec: tions and inoral government of God, yea, and the very being of virtue, have been made a subject of disputė. Freethinkers are rot ashamed to publish their doubts concerning these realities ; divines and philosophers have not disdained to establish them by a multiplicity of arguments. What is yet more to be regretted, the preachers of the gospel, forgetting the dignity of their character, and the design of their office, have conde, fcended to plead the cause of religion in much the same manper as lawyers maintain a disputed right of property. Instead of awakening the natural sentiments of the human heart, and giving them a true direction, they have entered into reasonings about piety, justice, and benevolence, too profound to be fathomed by the multitude, and too fubtile to produce any considerable effect. Instead of setting forth the displays of divine perfection in the dispensation of the gospel, so admirably fitted to touch, to penetrate, and subdue the human mind, they have entertained their audiences with long and laboured proofs of a revelation from God, of which few have any serious doubt, and which no man can disbelieve in any consistency with common sense. May not this be called, with great propriety, a throwing cold water on religion and ought it not to'be conlidered as one of the chief causes of that insensibility to all its concerns of which we fo frequently complain? The multitude have been astonished, wise men have been ashamed, and good men grieved, at this treatment of religion, so much beneath its dignity.

This is a severe reflection on the conduct of some of our theolo gical writers'; and in their defence it can only be said, that by reasoning with sceptics, they were willing to shew, that Christianity is founded on argument. When a variety of objections has been itarted, it has not always been sufficient to refer the objector to the dictates of common sense; and sometimes when primary truths have been attacked, it has been expedient 10

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place their evidence in a clear and conspicuous point of view, that all the cavils of unbelievers might appear more notorioufly frivolous and impertinent, when brought before the bar of common fenfe.

In the second book the author proceeds to fhew, that by fetting aside the authority of common sense, modern philosophy gives great occafion to universal scepticisin.

He observes, that according to the modern hypothesis primary truths must be deduced from the testimony of sense, or the axioms of the schools, by trains of subtle reasoning ; that upon the modern hypothesis it is impoflible to arrive at full fatisfaction concerning truths the most obvious and important; and that, in consequence of the modern hypothesis, writers of distinguished character have run into the utmost licentiousness of reasoning, in contradiction to evident and important truths.

* Monsieur Descartes and Mr. Locke have, he says, done eminent service to the interest of learning, by banishing that jargon which disfigured and disgraced it; but have not done what was incumbent on them to cure and correct that intemperate love of reasoning which may be called the epidemical distemper of the human mind. They have, on the contrary, employed their authority and uncommon abilities to render it the more powerful and prevalent. One casts about for a medium to prove his own existence; the other denies all practical principles ; and both insist on the necessity of tracing the most obvious and indubitable truths to external or internal feeling, by the exercise of our discursive faculty. ...

' As matters now stand, every truth of every kind must be traced by a chain of reasoning, to the testimony of our senses, or to the axioms of the schools. Hence all pretenders to philosophy call for a proof or demonstration of all truths without exception. None are admitted as self-evident besides those authorized by the schools, under the denominations of axioms. People stare at the great truths of religion and virtue being called the objects of simple perception; and instead of being.

their owu inherent evidence, their friends have been put to the hard talk of tracing them to the standard of the schools by trains of logical deduction.

i În those sciences on which the right government of our ļives depends, one may maintain an endless wrangling without the danger of confutation. Nay many do actually maintain the wildest paradoxes on all these subjects, and in contradiction to the plainest and most important truths, without the imputation of folly or the hazard of being put to the blush ; because me fundamental truths of those sciences cannot be traced with

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absolute certainty to the testimony of fenfe. They may in: deed, with infinite labour, and manifold dangers of mistake, be traced to a few abftract principles, by those who have been trained to pursue truth through the pathless fields of metaphyfics; and they have been fo traced in different ages, but with finall fuccess, and with no probability of ever coming to a final decision.

• We have abundant proof of the impropriety of investigating primary truths by reasoning, from the unsuccessful atteinpts. of able divines and philosophers, to establish the belief of truths the most interesting and important.

• Let any man, learned or unlearned, take a view of the demonftration of the being and perfections of God made by Dr. Clarke, and he will see the insufficiency of all such inethods of reafoning to give the satisfaction expected and required. If he is unlearned, he will find himself incapable of taking a steady view, and forming a true judgment, of the principles on which thefe learned men proceed. If he is accustomed to the, language and ways of thinking common to the learned, he may admit the principles, and allow the justness of the conclusion, but will not be one whit more convinced of the truth in queftion than he was without the demonstration. There is fomething fo odd, fantastical, I had almost said nonsensiçal, in allowing a power of action to nothing, in fuppofing that a being could give itself existence, or that an incogitative being could be the source of thought and cogitation, that one is stunned and confounded with such ideas, and knows not how to reason about them. A man of fenfe will grant at once, that fuch talk is flagrant nonsense, and that the opposite truth is good fenfe ; for that he fees intuitively; and nothing but the invę. terate dregs of falfe science could have led great and good men to authorize or allow of any luch reasoning on a subject to plain and important,

· Mr. Locke, with justice, resolves the fource of moral obligation into the will of God; but, revelation apart, hath left us no criterion to be depended on for discovering the divine will, ... A divine of great fubtilty and compass of thought, taking offence at the representations of the divine will gone into by the current of theological writers, discovered reafons, relations, and fitnefles of things, eternal, immutable, and independent on the will of any being, as the rule of conduct to all intelligent agents, fupreme and subordinate. Another, of deep erudition, and manly fenfe, dissatisfied, as would seem, with the boldness of this discovery, resolves all duty into an obligation to conform to the truth of things. Another had recourse to utility; and another to fympathy. One resolves all

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inoral agency into self-love į another into benevolence. One jovents a new fenfe, to be the standard of moral action ; and another points out a multiplicity of perceptions, feelings, and inftin&tive emotions belonging to the human mind. Each con, tradi&ts, and endeavours to confute another ; but all were animated with an unfeigned zeal of discovering, if possible, a proper medium to demonstrate—what ?-that we ought to wothip God, to do justice to men, and to keep our affections and appetites within just and proper bounds.

Lay this account of things before one of true judgment, unacquainted with the way of the learned, and he will scarce believe it.' Affure him of its reality, and he will be much amazed. Try to account for this conduct of the learned to one of his way of thinking, and you shall find you have undertaken a difficult task. To what purpose, he will say, attempt to demonstratę truths' of which none but fools are ignorant, and which none but madmen will deny? Are not the obligations of morality obvious at first sight, more easily apprehended, and more readily assented to, than the subtile reafoning of philosophers ? You may tell him, that shrewd furmises had been thrown out against the reality of moral obligation, which made it fit, and in foine degree necessary, to attempt a demonftration. But he will stop you short, by asserte ing, in a high tone perhaps, that no demonstration is of equal force with common sense ; and no confutation can ferve the intereft of truth so effectually as a plain conviction of nonsense ; and therefore that it was the businefs of divines and philoso, phers to have had recourse to the simple decision of common fenfe on a subject fo plain and important.-

Doctor Berkeley, late bishop of Cloyne, hath, with plausibility enough, demonstrated, that this fystem of matter which we inhabit, is a mere non;entity; that those houses, fields, rivers, trees, which we seem to fee, and those

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bodies we are fupposed to animatę, have no existence, or no other than an ideal existence.

Mr, Hume hath, with great power of argumentation and eloquence, proved, that we cannot, by reasoning, reach the connection between cause and effect ; and from hence concludes, dogmatically, that we have no evidence at all of any such connection. The author of the Efsays upon the prin-. ciples of morality and natural religion, published at Edinburgh 1751, affirms, that the being and perfections of God are not capable of proof from reason, or not of such proof as gives, permanent conviction. The two last mentioned authors, with several others of distinguished ability, have offered a chain of ftri&t reasoning, in proof that man hath, in no case, a

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