Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

a religious frame of mind : for, as no one ever either feels himself disposed to pleasantry, or capable of being diverted with the pleasantry of others, upon matters in which he is deeply interested, so a mind intent upon the acquisition of heaven, rejects with indignation every attempt to entertain it with jests, calculated to degrade or deride subjects, which it never recollects but with seriousness and anxiety. Nothing but stupidity, or the most frivolous diffipation of thought, can make even the inconfiderate forget the supreme importance of every thing which relates to the expectation of a future existence. Whilst the infidel mocks at the fuperftitions of the vulgar, insults over their credulous fears, their childish errors, or fantastic rites, it does not occur to him to observe, that the most preposterous device by which the weakest devotee ever believed he was securing the happiness of a future life, is more rational than unconcern about it. Upon this subject nothing is so absurd, as indifference—no folly so contemptible, as thoughtlessness and levity.

Finally, the knowledge of what is due to the folemnity of those interests,concerning which revelation professes to inform and direct us, may teach even those who are least inclined to re

spec

spect the prejudices of mankind, to observe a decorum in the style and conduct of religious disquisitions, with the neglect of which, many adversaries of Christianity are justly chargeable. Serious

arguments are fair on all sides. Christianity is but ill defended by refusing audience or toleration to the objections of unbelievers. But whilst we would have freedom of enquiry restrained by no laws, but those of decency, we are entitled to demand, on behalf of a religion which holds forth to mankind assurances of immortality, that its credit be assailed by no other weapons than those of sober discussion and legitimate reasoning—that the truth or falsehood of Christianity be never made a topic of raillery, a theme for the exercise of wit or eloquence, or a subject of contention for literary fame and victory—that the cause be tried upon its merits --that all applications to the fancy, passions, or prejudices of the reader, all attempts to preoccupy, ensnare, or perplex his judgment, by any art, influence, or impression whatsoever, extrinsic to the proper grounds and evidence upon which his affent ought to proceed, be rejected from a question, which involves in its determination, the hopes, the virtue, and the repose of millions—that the controversy be managed on both

sides

H 3

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

fides with sincerity; that is, that nothing be produced, in the writings of either, contrary to, or beyond, the writer's own knowledge and

persuasion---that objections and difficulties be proposed from no other motive, than an honest and serious desire to obtain satisfaction, or to communicate information which may promote the discovery and progress of truth —that, in conformity with this design, every thing be ftated with integrity, with method, precision and simplicity; and above all, that whatever is published in opposition to received and confefsedly beneficial persuasions, be set forth under a form which is likely to invite enquiry, and to meet examination. If with these moderate and equitable conditions be compared the manner in which hoftilities have been waged against the Christian religion, not only the votaries of the prevailing faith, but every man who looks forward with anxiety to the destination of his being; will see much to blame and to complain of, By one unbeliever, all the follies which have ad, hered, in a ļong course of dark and superstitious ages, to the popular creed, are assumed as so

many doctrines of Christ and his Apoftis, for the purpose of subverting the whole system by the absurdities which it is thus represented to con

[ocr errors]

way for an

tain. By another, the ignorance and vices of the facerdotal order, their mutual dissensions and perfecutions, their ufurpations and encroachments upon the intellectual liberty and civil rights of mankind, have been displayed with no small triumph and invective ; not so much to guard the Christian laity against a repetition of the same injuries (which is the only proper use to be made of the most flagrant examples of the past), as to prepare the insinuation, that the religion itself is nothing but a profitable fable, imposed upon the fears and credulity of the multitude, and upheld by the frauds and influence of an interested and crafty priesthood. And

yet how remotely is the character of the clergy connected with the truth of Christianity! What, after all, da the most disgraceful pages of ecclesiastical history prove, but that the passions of our common nature are not altered or excluded by distinctions of name, and that the characters of men are formed much more by the temptations than the duties of their profession? A third finds delight in collecting and repeating accounts of wars and massacres, of tumults and insurrections, excited in almost every age of the Christian æra by religious zeal as though the vices of Christians were parts of

Cirila

[ocr errors]

H4

[merged small][ocr errors]

Christianity; intolerance and extirpation precepts of the gospel ; or as if its spirit could be judged of, from the councils of princes, the intrigues of statesmen, the pretences of malice and ambition, or the unauthorized cruelties of some gloomy and virulent superstition. By a fourth, the succession and variety of popular religions; the viciffitudes with which fects and tenets have flourished and decayed; the zeal with which they were once supported, the negligence with which they are now remembered; the little share which reason and argument appear to have had in framing the creed, or regulating the religious conduct of the multitude; the indifference and submission with which the religion of the state is generally received by the common people; the caprice and vehemence with which it is sometimes opposed; the phrensy with which men have been brought to contend for opinions and ceremonies, of which they knew neither the proof, the meaning, nor the original : lastly, the equal and undoubting confidence with which we hear the doctrines of Christ or of Confucius, the law of Mofes or of Mahomet, the Bible, the Koran, or the Skaster, maintained or anathematized, taught or abjured, revered or derided, according as we live on this

or

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]
« AnteriorContinua »