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communicate one suggestion to the wavering mind, which may conduce to this great purpose, my labour will not be in vain, nor my undertaking deemed rashly adventurous. I shall have accomplished my wish. To diffuse the sunshine of religious hope and confidence over the shadowy path of life; to dissipate the gloom of doubt and despair; to save a soul from death; objects so desirable, inspire an ardour which enables zeal to triumph over timidity.
That unbelief in Christ is increasing in the present age, and that the spirit of the times is rather favourable to its increase, has been asserted by high authority, and is too notorious to admit denial. The apostacy of a great nation, in the most enlightened and polished part of Europe; the public, unblushing avowal of atheism among some of its leaders; the multiplication of books on the Continent, in which Christianity is treated as a mere mode of fanaticism; all these circumstances have combined, with others, to cause not only an indifference to the religion of Christ, but contempt and aversion to his very name. It were easy to cite contumelious reproaches of his person, as well as audacious denials of his claim to divine anthority. But I will not pollute my page, which however it may be deformed by error, shall not be stained with the transfusion of blasphemy. It is to be wished that all such works could be consigned to immediate and everlasting oblivion; but, I am sorry to say that they are diffused with an industry, which, if it appeared in making proselytes to virtue, would be in the highest degree meritorious. Almost every indivi- . dual in our own country can now read; and manuals of infidelity, of infidelity, replete with plausible arguments, in language level to the lowest classes, are circulated among the people, at a price which places them within reach of the poorest reader. They are despised by the rich and neglected by the learned, but they fall into the
hands of the poor, to whom ary thing in print bears the stamp of authority. At t'same time, it must be lamented that there are treatises of a higher order, on the side of infidelity, which come recommended to the superior ranks, to men of knowledge and education, with all the charms of wit and elegance.
But it cannot be said that the apologists and defenders of Christianity, in our country, have been few, or unfurnished with abilities natural and acquired. Great have been the efforts of our profoundest scholars, both professional divines and laymen, in maintaining the cause of Christianity, and repelling by argument, by ridicule, by invective, by erudition, the assaults of the infidel. But what shall we say? Notwithstanding their stupendous labours, continued with little intermission, the great cause which they maintained, is evidently, at this moment on the decline. Though many of them, not contented with persuasion and argument, have professed to DEMONSTRATE the truth of the Christian religion, it is certain that a very great number of men in Christian countries continue unpersuaded, unconvinced, and totally blind to their demonstration. Such being the case, after all their voluminous productions, is it not to conclude that their modes of defence, however celebrated, are either erroneous or defective? Had their success been equal to their labours and pretensions, infidelity must now have been utterly exterminated.
I feel a sincere respect for the learned labours of theologists, the subtilty of schoolmen, the erudition of critics, the ingenuity of controversialists; but I cannot help thinking that their productions have contributed rather to the amusement of recluse scholars already persuaded of Christianity, than to the conversion of the infidel, the instruction of the PEOPLE. It appears to me, that some of the most elaborate of the writings in defence of-Christianity are too cold in their manner, too meta
physical or abstruse in their arguments, too little animated with the spirit of piety, to produce any great or durable effect on the heart of man, formed as he is, not only with intellectual powers, but with fine feelings and a glowing imagination. They touch not the trembling fibres of sensibility. They are insipid to the palate of the people. They have no attractions for the POOR, the great multitude to whom the gospel was particularly preached. They are scarcely intelligible but to scholars in their closets, and while they amuse, without convincing the understanding, they leave the most susceptible part of man, his bosom, unaffected. The busy world, eager in pursuit of wealth, honour, pleasure, pays them no regard; though they are the very persons whose attention to religion, which they are too apt to forget entirely, ought chiefly to be solicited. The academic recluse, the theologist by profession, may read them as a task or as an amusement; but he considers them as works of erudition and exercises of ingenuity, claiming great praise as the product of literary leisure, but little adapted to impress the heart, or convert the infidel or the profligate. The people are erring and straying like lost sheep, but in these calls they cannot recognize the voice of the shepherd. Such works indeed seldom reach the people; and while they are celebrated in academic cloisters, their very existence is unknown among the haunts of men, in the busy hum of cities; where it is most desirable that they should be known, because there the great majority of human creatures is assembled, and there also the poison of temptation chiefly requires the antidote of religion. What ayails it that defences of Christianity are very learned and very subtle, if they are so dry and unaffecting as to be confined in their effects to sequestered scholars, far removed from the active world, and probably so firmly settled in the faith, as to require no new persuasives, no additional proofs to render them faithful followers of Jesus Christ?
Apologies and attacks of this kind have very little effect in silencing infidel writers or changing their opinions. They frequently furnish fresh matter for dispute, and indeed put arms into the hands of the enemy. By provoking discussion on points that were at rest, they rouse sophistry from its slumbers, and blow the trumpet of polemical wars, which do great mischief before the re-establishment of peace. In the issue, the contending parties are silenced rather from weariness in the contest, than from conviction; and Te Deum, as is usual in other wars, is sung by those who are said to be vanquished, as well as those who claim the honour of undisputed victory. .
Thus it has happened that the writings of men, no less benevolent in their intentions than able in their exertions, have sometimes not only done no good to their cause, but great injury. They have revived old cavils and objections, or invented new, in order to display ingenuity in refuting them; cavils and objections which have frequently been answered, or which might never have occurred; but which, when once they have occurred, produce suspicion and unsettled notions on topics never doubted, and among honest men whose faith was firmly established. Such conduct is like that of a physician, who should administer doses of arsenic to his patients, in order to prove to them, at their risk, the sovereign power of his nostrum. The venom, finding a constitution favourable to its operation, triumphantly prevails, and the preventive remedy cannot rescue the sufferer from his hapless fate. . .
I am persuaded, that even a sensible, thinking, and learned man might live his whole life in piety and peace, without ever dreaming of those objections to Christianity, which some of its most celebrated defenders have
collected together from all ages and a great variety of neglected books, and then combined in a single portable volume, so as to render it a convenient SYNOPSIS of infidelity. What must be the consequence? It must at least disturb the repose of the sensible, thinking, and learned man; and if it should be read and understood. by the simple, the unlearned, the unthinking, and the ill-disposed, I am of opinion that its objections would be studied, its solutions neglected; and thus a very large number of recruits enlisted volunteers in the army of , unbelievers.
As an exemplification of what I have here advanced, I mention, in this place, Bishop Warburton's View of Lord Bolingbroke's Philosophy. There the unbeliever sees the scattered arguments of scepticism and unbelief all picked and culled for him, without any trouble of his own, and marked with inverted commas, so as to direct the eye, without loss of time, to their immediate perusal. The book becomes an anthologia of infidelity. The flowers are gathered from the stalks, and conveniently tied up in a nosegay. The essence is extracted and put into a phial commodious for the pocket, and fitted for hourly use. The late Bishop Horne, in his facetious. Letters on Infidelity, has also collected passages from obscure books and pamphlets, and sent them abroad in such a manner as must' of necessity cause them to be read and received, where they never would have found their way by their native force. These ingenious and well-meaning' divines resuscitate the dead, and give life, to the still-born and abortive offspring of dullness and malignity. I might mention many more instances of similar imprudence, in men of the deepest erudition and the sincerest piety; but I am unwilling to follow their example, in pointing out to unbelievers compendiums, abridgments, and manuals of sceptical cavil. To say in their excuse that they refute those arguments which they