Obrazy na stronie

has been well observed by Dr. Paley', that “ with us, the question is between that religion and none : for no one, with whom we have to do, will support the pretensions of any other.” Except then we are prepared to admit, that with reference to this world alone, we could live more happily without religion than with it, we must needs confess that we have great reason to rejoice in the possession of one which can be replaced by no other ; which, were its Divine original less certain than it is, is unquestionably calculated to answer all the purposes for which a revelation from heaven could be desired or accorded. It does seem, therefore, one of the most extraordinary things in the history of human folly or wickedness, that men should appear from time to time, up to the present hour, who have laboured to subvert our faith, professing at the same time a love for virtue, and a regard for the interests of mankind. Is it conceivable that they can delude themselves so far as to think, that could they succeed in their object, the world would go on better

· Evidences, vol. i. page 1.

than it does, or even that it could go on at all? If so much of vice and misery prevails in it, even under the present systems of belief, however various they may be, what bounds would be opposed to its licence and depravity, were those wholesome restraints entirely withdrawn ? Can any man in his senses believe, that the bulk of mankind can regulate themselves by principles of reason and philosophy, which is the substance and the very language of every deistical scheme that has hitherto

appeared, which professes any regard for the welfare of the human race? And it is but justice to their authors to admit, that, so far as I am acquainted with them, they all abound in such profession. But can they afford a surer test of the fallacy of their systems, and of their own incompetence to the task of reforming the morals, and improving the condition of mankind, than by ascribing as they do, and must do for their purpose, to the generality of men,

the possession of mental powers and moral excellence, which they manifestly never have possessed, nor can reasonably be expected to attain ? Did they maintain virtue to be as useless to society as religion, there might be, perhaps, some consistency in their argu


ments. But to applaud virtue, and to wish to deprive it of its highest sanction, its most powerful stimulus, and its most perfect exemplifcation, is surely an attempt not less absurd than profligate. For, supposing such a person had not only unhappily persuaded himself that Christianity was not true, but that he was even well founded in that persuasion, I should still contend, that upon his own principles he was bound to respect it, and not to endeavour to make proselytes to his opinion. For though he should deny Christianity to be true, he could not so much as pretend to prove that it is false. He must content himself with refusing to believe it, as a native of a southern climate might refuse to believe that water, in our northern latitudes, ever acquires the strength and consistency of ice. The reasons for disbelief in both cases, when fairly examined, would appear to be nearly the same; neither would have had any experience of the matters in question, and both would be unwilling to credit the testimony by which they are supported.

But, rejecting Christianity, has he any ter religion to substitute in its place ? So from it, the little that he believes, which h


and a

any truth and any value in it, is borrowed, whether he knows it or not, from Christianity; and without its assistance, would be found very difficult of proof. He professes, for instance, to believe in one God; but how can he establish that first, almost that sole article of his creed, but by the aid of the Jewish and the Christian Scriptures? He is also the advocate of virtue, and the enemy of vice. But upon what solid ground, except he advances a step farther, and believes not only that God is, but that he is a rewarder of the one, punisher of the other?--a truth of which Revelation alone can afford him a full conviction. I contend, therefore, that even he who doubts or disbelieves the evidence of Christianity should, notwithstanding, if he be a wise and good man, rejoice in its success, because much of it is, even according to him, “a republication of natural religion,” because it lays the greatest stress upon many virtues, which he professes to admire, as conducive to the welfare of society; because, in common candour he must allow, that he is as liable to error in rejecting it, as others are in receiving it; and


Tindal's Christianity as Old as the Creation.

because it is impossible for him to deny, that the consequences of error on his side may be extremely serious, whilst on the other they must be altogether harmless.

But if even infidels might find reasons to rejoice in the diffusion of that religion, which we must esteem it their misfortune at least, not to believe, how much cause have Christians of every description to exult in its progress, and to hail with the warmest feelings of devotion the return of this day, upon which they commemorate the birth of their Saviour Christ the Lord: and renew to the Almighty their solemn praise and thanksgiving for that auspicious event! However we may lament the differences of opinion which have so long divided the Christian world into separate communions, it is satisfactory to reflect, that they are still united under one common denomination. However important are the points upon which they differ, those are still more so upon which they agree.

Much as they dispute upon matters of faith, they are nearly unanimous with respect to practice. At most, they do but pursue the same end by various means and hence Christianity, in its most general sense, must be a subject of sincere joy to

[ocr errors]
« PoprzedniaDalej »