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RELIGIOUS AND MORAL DISCUSSIONS.
OBJECTIONS TO CHRISTIANITY, ANSWERED.
MR. EDITOR, The history of the learned, able, and accurate Mosheim, pub, lished in this city, has, no doubt, been perused, with pleasure and edification, by many of your readers. Judging, however, from what has come to my knowledge, that work, so subservient to the cause of truth and religion, may, it is feared, have, in some instances, weakened the faith of feeble minds. This unhappy effect has resulted, not from any fault in the historian, but from a full and candid display of the truth.
Mosheim has, without concealment or palliation, exposed to view that corrupt and deplorable state in which the christian church existed for many centuries. His faithfulness as an historian should not be censured, but applauded. The truth ought to be told, and the event left with the great Head of the church. But still it may justly be feared, that weak and uninformed minds have, from the accounts given of the wicked lives of the clergy, and the general prevalence of vice among professors, been led to question the truth of christianity. My object is to show, that the suspicions secretly entertained, or openly avowed, by such minds, are unreasonable and unfounded.
The state of the church, during the period contemplated, was deplorable indeed. The ignorance, laziness, luxury, ambition, and wickedness of the clergy were almost incredible; and the vices and crimes of all other ranks of people abounded in proportion to those of their spiritual teachers. From this state of things in the church what conclusion shall we draw? Shall we make one derogatory to the honour and divine authority of christianity? Shall we say that a religion whose professors are so vicious and abandoned cannot claim a heavenly origin? By no means. While we weep over this period of the church, and mourn that men calling themselves by the sacred name of Christ, should by their wicked lives 80 belie their profession, and open the mouths of blasphemers, we are confident that no real dishonour attaches itself to our holy religion. The moral influence is a good criterion by which to judge of any religion. But to ascertain this you must not only look at the lives of its professors, but contemplate the natural tendency of its doctrines and precepts. If the tendency, as well as the lives of its professors, be immoral, you may at once reject its claims to divinity. But if their wickedness be unauthorized
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itself, and professes to do no more than supply the deficiency of natural religion, to answer the necessities and new relations of mankind occasioned by sin. And in the controversy between christians and deists, the dispute is, not whether man be a rational creature, and natural religion divine; but whether reason and natural religion be of themselves sufficient to conduct sinners to eternal life. Deists maintain the affirmative; christians support the negative, and say that natural religion, being given to man in a state of innocence, made no provision for his recovery from sin, because it contemplated him as an upright creature; and that a new relation being induced by his apostacy from God, a new or revealed religion became necessary; which, contemplating all the relations of man, might make effectual provision for all his necessities.
You see, then, whither your principle will carry you; that it will extinguish all religion, and prove that reason is not a gift from God. Nay, it will further evince, that mankind can be neither the subjects of his moral government, nor the creatures of his almighty power. For, can we believe that a race so wicked, vile, and depraved have derived their existence from a Being so holy, or live under his government which, like himself, must be holy? This length, I presume, you are not prepared, nor willing, to go: and I have pursued the principle in all its just consequences to their full extent, to open your eyes upon that dreadful precipice to which it leads, and convince you that it is false and deceitful.
The conclusion which should be drawn from the corruptions of the christian church, is, that mankind are so depraved that they will abuse every gift of God; that even the influence of revealed religion, unattended with a divine power on the heart, is not sufficient to restrain the corruptions of men and make them virtuous and pious; and that only, when accompanied by the all-conquering energy of the Holy Spirit, can the preaching of the gospel answer its great design. “ I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, nor he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.”
It may be further observed, that reason is more responsible for the vices of this dark period, than christianity; for it is a fact, that not only the common people, but the clergy were ignorant of the doctrines and precepts of the christian system. Very few of the teachers of religion were able to read; and those who were, instead of studying the scriptures, and deriving their ideas from this pure fountain, studied the writings of Aristotle, and made, not Jesus Christ, but this heathen, lord of their faith. So that the church, by neglecting the Holy Scriptures, was brought to a level with those who have never enjoyed their light; and the corruptions and vices of its members, as they were the natural consequence, were also a just punishment of their chusing darkness rather than light. · The ignorance and wickedness of the christian church during the dark ages, so far from being an argument against the divine authority of the Holy Scriptures, form a very strong one in favour of it. This deplorable state of things was a fulfilment of scripture prophecy. That it was clearly and distinctly foretold, is evident from the following quotations from the writings of St. Paul: “ Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.” i Tim. iv. 1–3. “ This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their ownselves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” 2 Tim. iii. 1-5. « Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day shall not come except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth, that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way; and then shall that wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming; even him whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power, and signs, and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish, because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie, that they all might be damned who believed not the truth,
but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” 2 Thes. ii. 3-12. Here you see, that the corruptions of the christian church were foretold in a manner plain, distinct, and accurate; so that no candid person can, after comparing the events with the prophecy, deny that the one is a manifest fulfilment of the other. And is not such an accomplishment of prophecy a strong and convincing evidence of the divine authority of the Holy Scriptures? Who but the omniscient God could have foreseen and predicted an event so strange as the rise and progress of the papal empire, and the vile and abominable lives of men professing the pure and holy religion of Jesus?
Instead, therefore, of being shaken in your belief of chrise tianity by the corruptions of the church in the period contemplated, you should be established in it; and you should also be convinced of the necessity of divine influence to restrain the wickedness of human nature, and to render the preaching of the gospel successful in turning men from sin to holiness.
A DISSERTATION ON THE FOLLOWING PASSAGES, TAKEN IN A CONTRASTED VIEW. Genesis ii. 17, But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,
thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day thou eatest thereof, THOU
SHALT SURELT DIE. CHAPTER ii. v. 4, And the serpent said unto the woman, re SHALL NOT SURELT DIE.
It being the object of every believer to arrive at the truth, no advantage can arise from distorting the evident import of scripture, by putting the constructions of our own fancies on the terms used, or by displaying our ingenuity in explaining away the meaning of words. As the creatures of God, and as accountable to him for our opinions and actions, we are concerned to make his word, in all cases, the standard of faith. Whatever be our wishes and feelings, there is but one path marked out, in which we may safely proceed; and that is, to learn the mind of God as expressed in the revelation which he hath put into our hands.
At an early period of the world we find, that different and contradictory sentiments have been advanced on religious subjects. Laying aside all prejudice and prepossession, we do honour to ourselves, and to the truth, by searching after the doctrine of infallible wisdom and unerring rectitude. In the passages before us, we find a most express and pointed contrariety. This contrariety is