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I was too much ashamed of being supposed a Roman Catholic, to disguise the character of my religious opinions; but the mildness and toleration with which my sentiments were received made me perceive, for the first time, that a Christian is not necessarily a bigot. The mere throwing away the hated mask which the Inquisition had forced me to wear, refreshed my soul; and the excellent man to whom, for the first time in my life, I acknowledged my unbelief without fear, was able to perceive that I might yet be a Christian, provided I saw religion divested of all force but that of persuasion.
An accident (if any thing which leads to results so important can be so called) made me, in an idle moment, look into Paley's Natural Theology, which lay upon a table. I was struck by the author's peculiar manner and style: I borrowed the book, and read it with great interest. Feelings of piety towards the great author of Nature began to thaw the unnatural frost which misery, inflicted in his name, had produced in a heart not formed to be ungrateful. It was in this state of
mind that, being desirous of seeing every thing worthy of observation in England, I went one Sunday to St. James's church. A foreigner, ignorant of the language, would have brought away nothing but an unpleasant recollection of the length of the service; but I had learnt English in my childhood, and could understand it, at this time, without difficulty. The prayers, though containing what I did not believe, appeared to me solemn and affecting. I had not for many years entered a church without feelings of irritation and hostility, arising from the ideas of oppressive tyranny which it called up in my mind; but here was nothing that could check sympathy, or smother the reviving sentiments of natural religion, which Paley had awakened. It happened
that, before the sermon, was given Addison's beautiful hymn,
When all thy mercies, O my God!
Transported with the view, I'm lost
At the end of the second verse my eyes were streaming with tears; and I believe that from
that day, I never passed one without some ardent aspirations towards the author of my life and existence. This was all the change that for a year or more, took place in my religious notions. Obliged to support myself chiefly by my pen, and anxious at the same time to acquire some branches of learning which Spanish education neglects, my days and nights were employed in study: yet religion had daily some share of my attention. I learnt that the author of the Natural Theology had also written a work on the Evidences of Christianity, and curiosity led me to read it. His arguments appeared to me very strong; but I found an intrinsic incredibility in the facts of revealed history, which no general evidence seemed able to remove. I was, indeed, labouring under what I believe to be a very common error in this matter— an error which I have not been able completely to correct, without a very long study of the subject and myself. I expected that general evidence would remove the natural inverisimilitude of miraculous events: that, being convinced by unanswerable arguments that Christ and his disciples
could be neither impostors nor enthusiasts, and that the narrative of their ministry is genuine and true, the imagination would not shrink from forms of things so dissimilar to its own representations of real objects, and so conformable in appearance with the tricks of jugglers and impostors. Now the fact is, that probable and likely, though used as synonimous in common language, are perfectly distinct in philosophy. The probable is that for the reality of which we can allege some reason: the likely, that which bears in its face a semblance or analogy to what is classed in our minds under the predicament of existence". This association is made early in life, among Christians, in favour of the miraculous events recorded in the
Holy Scriptures; and, if not broken by infidelity
* Likely is the adjective of the phrase like the truth, simile vero. It is strange that the English language should not possess a substantive answering to le vraisemblable of the French. The use of improbable to denote what in that language is meant by invraisemblable, is incorrect. When the French critics reject some indubitable historical facts from the stage, because they want vraisemblance (likelihood), they do not mean to say that they are improbable, or deficient in proofs of their reality; but that the imagination finds them unlike to what in the common opinion is held to be the usual course of events.
in after-life, the study of the Gospel evidence gives those events a character of reality which leaves the mind satisfied and at rest; because it finds the history of revealed religion not only probable, but likely. It is much otherwise with a man who rejects the Gospel for a considerable period, and accustoms his mind to rank the supermatural works recorded by Revelation, with falsehood and imposture. Likelihood, in this case, becomes the strongest ground of unbelief; and probability, though it may convince the understanding, has but little influence over the ima
gination. A sceptic who yields to the powerful proofs of Revelation, will, for a long time, experience a most painful discordance between his judgment and the associations which unbelief has produced. When most earnest in the contemplation of Christian truth, when endeavouring to bring home its comforts to the heart, the imagination will suddenly revolt, and cast the whole, at a sweep, among the rejected notions. This is, indeed, a natural consequence of infidelity, which mere rea