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newed fertility is not to be impaired by neglect, and suspense, that waiting and equilibrium of the or destroyed by the ravages of war, serve only for judgment, which some require in religious matthe scene of a ferocious anarchy, or the supply of ters, and which some would wish to be aimed at unceasing hostilities ? Europe itself has known in the conduct of education, are impossible to be no religious wars for some centuries, yet has preserved. They are not given to the condition hardly ever been without war. Are the calami- of human life. ties, which at this day afflict it, to be imputed to It is a consequence of this institution that the Christianity ? Hath Poland fallen by a Christian doctrines of religion come to us before the proofs;, crusade ? Hath the overthrow in France of civil and come to us with that mixture of explications order and security, been effected by the votaries and inferences from which no public creed is, or of our religion, or by the foes? Amongst the can be, free. And the effect which too frequently awful lessons which the crimes and the miseries follows, from Christianity being presented to the of that country afford to mankind, this is one : understanding in this form, is, that when any that, in order to be a persecutor, it is not neces- articles, which appear as parts of it, contradict the sary to be a bigot; that in rage and cruelty, in apprehension of the persons to whom it is promischief and destruction, fanaticism itself can be posed, men of rash and confident tempers hastily outdone by infidelity.
and indiscriminately reject the whole. But is this Finally, If war, as it is now carried on between to do justice, either to themselves or to the relinations, produces less misery and ruin than for- gion? The rational way of treating a subject of merly, we are indebted perhaps to Christianity such acknowledged importance is to attend, in the for the change, more than to any other cause. first place, to the general and substantial truth of Viewed therefore even in its relation to this sub- its principles, and to that alone. When we once ject, it appears to have been of advantage to the feel a foundation; when we once perceive a ground world. It hath humanized the conduct of wars : of credibility in its history, we shall proceed with it hath ceased to excite them.
safety to inquire into the interpretation of its reThe differences of opinion, that have in all cords, and into the doctrines which have been deages prevailed amongst Christians, fall very much duced from them. Nor will it either endanger within the alternative which has been stated. If our faith, or diminish or alter our motives for obewe possessed the disposition which Christianity dience, if we should discover that these conclulabours, above all other qualities to inculcate, sions are formed with very different degrees of these differences would do little harm. If that probability, and possess very different degrees of disposition be wanting, other causes, even were importance. these absent, would continually rise up to call forth This conduct of the understanding, dictated by the malevolent passions into action. Differences every rule of right reasoning, will uphold personal of opinions, when accompanied with mutual cha- Christianity, even in those countries in which it rity, which Christianity forbids them to violate, is established under forms the most liable to diffiare for the most part innocent, and for some purculty and objection. It will also have the farther poses useful. They promote inquiry, discussion, effect of guarding us against the prejudices which and knowledge. They help to keep up an atten- are wont to arise in our minds to the disadvantion to religious subjects, and a concern about tage of religion, from observing the numerous conthem, which might be apt to die away in the calm troversies which are carried on amongst its proand silence of universal agreement. I do not fessors, and likewise of inducing a spirit of lenity know that it is in any degree true, that the influ- and moderation in our judgment, as well as in our ence of religion is the greatest, where there are treatment of those who stand, in such controverthe fewest dissenters.
sies, upon sides opposite to ours. What is clear in Christianity, we shall find to be sufficient, and to be infinitely valuable; what is dubious, unne
cessary to be decided, or of very subordinate in CHAPTER VIII.
portance; and what is most obscure, will teach
us to bear with the opinions which others may The Conclusion.
have formed upon the same subject. We shall
say to those who the most widely dissent from us, In religion, as in every other subject of human what Augustine said to the worst heretics of his reasoning, much depends upon the order in which age: "Mi in vos sæviant, qui nesciunt, cum quo we dispose our inquiries. A man who takes up labore verum inveniatur, et quàm difficilè caveantur a system of divinity with a previous opinion that errores ;-qui nesciunt, cum quantâ difficultate either every part must be true, or the whole false, sanetur oculus interioris hominis ;-qui nesciunt, approaches the discussion with great disadvantage: quibus suspiriis et gemitibus
fiat ut ex quantulaNo other system, which is founded upon moral cunque parte possit intelligi Deus."* evidence, would bear to be treated in the same A judgment, moreover, which is once pretty manner. Nevertheless, in a certain degree, we well satisfied of the general truth of the religion, are all introduced to our religious studies, under will not only thus discriminate in its doctrines, this prejudication. And it cannot be avoiled. but will possess sufficient strength to overcome The weakness of the human judgment in the the reluctance of the imagination to admit articles early part of youth, yet its extreme susceptibility of faith which are attended with difficulty of apof impression, renders it necessary to furnish it prehension, if such articles of faith appear to be with some opinions, and with some principles or truly parts of the revelation. It was to be expectother. Or indeed, without much express care, or ed beforehand, that what related to the economy, much endeavour for this purpose, the tendency of and to the persons, of the invisible world, which the mind of man to assimilate itself to the habits revelation professes to do, and which, if true, it of thinking and speaking which prevails around bim, produces the same effect. That indifferency * Aug. contra Ep. Fund. cap. ii. n. 2, 3.
actually does, should contain some points remote concur in representing these facts in this manner. from our analogies, and from the comprehension A religion, which now possesses the greatest part of a mind which hath acquired all its ideas from of the civilized world, unquestionably sprang up sense and from experience.
at Jerusalem at this time. Some account must be It hath been my care, in the preceding work, to given of its origin; some cause assigned for its preserve the separation between evidences and rise. All the accounts of this origin, all the ex. doctrines as inviolable as I could; to remove from plications of this cause, whether taken from the the primary question all considerations which writings of the early followers of the religion (in have been unnecessarily joined with it; and to which, and in which perhaps alone, it could be offer a defence to Christianity, which every Chris- expected that they should be distinctly unfolded,) tian might read, without seeing the tenets in or from occasional notices in other writings of that which he had been brought up attacked or decried : or the adjoining age, either expressly allege the and it always afforded a satisfaction to my mind facts above stated as the means by which the reto observe that this was practicable; that few or ligion was set up, or advert to its commencement none of our many controversies with one another in a manner which agrees with the supposition of affect or relate to the proofs of our religion ; that these facts being true, and which testifies their the rent never descends to the foundation. operation and effects.
The truth of Christianity depends upon its These propositions alone lay a foundation for leading facts, and upon them alone. Now of these our faith ; for they prove the existence of a transwe have evidence which ought to satisfy us, at action, which cannot even in its most general least until it appear that mankind have ever been parts be accounted for, upon any reasonable supdeceived by the same. We have some uncontest-position, except that of the truth of the mission. ed and incontestable points, to which the history But the particulars, the detail of the miracles or of the human species have nothing similar to offer. miraculous pretences (for such there necessarily A Jewish peasant changed the religion of the must have been,) upon which this unexampled world, and that, without force, without power, transaction rested, and for which these men acted without support; without one natural source, or and suffered as they did act and suffer, it is uncircumstance of attraction, influence, or success. doubtedly of great importance to us to know. We Such a thing hath not happened in any other in- hare this detail from the fountain-head, from the stance. The companions of this Person, after he persons themselves; in accounts written by eyehimself had been put to death for his attempt, as- witnesses of the scene, by contemporaries and serted his supernatural charaeter, founded upon companions of those who were so; not in one his supernatural operations: and, in testimony of book, but four, each containing enough for the the truth of their assertions, i. e. in consequence verification of the religion, all agreeing in the funof their own belief of that truth, and in order to damental parts of the history. We have the aucommunicate their knowledge of it to others, vo- thenticity of these books established, by more and luntarily entered upon lives of toil and hardship, stronger proofs than belong to almost any other and with a full experience of their danger, com- ancient book whatever, and by proofs which mitted themselves to the last extremities of perse- widely distinguish them from any others claiming cution. This hath not a parallel. More parti- a similar authority to theirs. If there were any cularly, a very few days after this person had good reason for doubt concerning the names to been publicly executed, and in the very city in which these books are ascribed, (which there is which he was buried, these his companions de not, for they were never ascribed to any other, clared with one voice that his body was restored and we have evidence not long after their publito life; that they had seen him, handled him, ate cation of their bearing the names which they now with him; conversed with him; and, in pursuance bear,) their antiquity, of which there is no question, of their persuasion of the truth of what they told, their reputation and authority amongst the early preached his religion, with this strange fact as the disciples of the religion, which there is as little, foundation of it, in the face of those who had form a valid proof that they must, in the main at killed him, who were armed with the power of the least, have agreed with what the first teachers of country, and necessarily and naturally disposed to the religion delivered. treat his followers as they had treated himself; When we open these ancient volumes, we dis. and having done this upon the spot where the cover in them marks of truth, whether we consi- ' event took place, carried the intelligence of it der each in itself, or collate them with one another. abroad, in despite of difficulties and opposition, The writers certainly knew something of what and where the nature of their errand gave them they were writing about, for they manifest an acnothing to expect but derision, insult, and outrage. quaintance with local circumstances, with the his
- This is without example. These three facts, I tory and usages of the times, which could only think, are certain, and would have been nearly so, belong to an inhabitant of that country, living in if the Gospels had never been written. The that age. In every narrative we perceive simplicity Christian story, as to these points, hath never and undesignedness; the air and the language of varied. No other hath been set up against it. reality. When we compare the different narraEvery letter, every discourse, every controversy, tives together, we find them so varying as to reamongst the followers of the religion ; every book pel all suspicion of confederacy; so agreeing under written by them, from the age of its commence- this variety, as to show that the accounts had one ment to the present time, in every part of the real transaction for their common foundation; world in which it hath been professed, and with often attributing different actions and discourses every sect into which it hath been divided (and to the person whose history, or rather memoirs of we have letters and discourses written by contem- whose history, they profess to relate, yet actions poraries, by witnesses of the transaction, by per- and discourses so similar, as very much to bespeak sons themselves hearing a share in it, and other the same character; which is a coincidence, that, writings following that age in regular succession,) in such writers as they were, could only be the
consequence of their writing from fact, and not , to insult, outrage, and persecution. How such a from imagination.
story should be false, or, if false, how under such These four narratives are confined to the his circumstances it should make its way, I think imtory of the Founder of the religion, and end with possible to be explained; yet such the Christian his ministry. Since, however, it is certain that story was, such were the circumstances under the affair went on, we cannot help being anxious which it came forth, and in opposition to such to know how it proceeded. This intelligence hath difficulties did it prevail. come cown down to us in a work purporting to be An event so connected with the religion, and written by a person, himself connected with the with the fortunes, of the Jewish people, as one of business during the first stages of its progress, their race, one born amongst them, establishing taking up the story where the former histories his authority and his law throughout a great porhad left it, carrying on the narrative, oftentimes tion of the civilized world, it was perhaps to be with great particularity, and throughout with the expected, should be noticed in the prophetic writappearance of good sense,* information, and can- ings of that nation; especially when this Person, dour; stating all along the origin, and the only pro together with his own mission, caused also to be bable origin, of effects which unquestionably were acknowledged the divine original of their instituproduced, together with the natural consequences tion, and by those who before had altogether reof situations which unquestionably did exist; and jected it. Accordingly, we perceive in these confirmed, in the substance at least of the account, writings various intimations concurring in the by the strongest possible accession of testimony person and history of Jesus, in a manner, and in which a history can receive, original letters, writ- a degree, in which passages taken from these books ten by the person who is the principal subject of could not be made to concur in any person arbithe history, written upon the business to which trarily assumed, or in any person except him who the history relates, and during the period, or soon has been the author of great changes in the affairs after the period, which the history comprises. No and opinions of mankind. Of some of these preman can say that this all together is not a body of dictions the weight depends a good deal upon strong historical evidence.
the concurrence. Others possess great separate When we reflect that some of those from whom strength: one in particular does this in an eminent the books proceeded, are related to have themselves degree. It is an entire description, manifestly diwrought miracles, to have been the subject of mi- rected to one character and to one scene of things: racles, or of supernatural assistance in propagat- it is extant in a writing, or collection of writings, ing the religion, we may perhaps be led to think, declaredly prophetic; and it applies to Christ's that more credit, or a different kind of credit, is character, and to the circumstances of his life and due to these accounts, than what can be claimed death, with considerable precision, and in a way by merely human testimony. But this is an ar- which no diversity of interpretation hath, in my gument which cannot be addressed to sceptics or opinion, been able to confound. That the advent unbelievers. A man must be a Christian before of Christ, and the consequences of it should not he can receive it. The inspiration of the histori- have been more distinctly revealed in the Jewish cal Scriptures, the nature, degree, and extent of sacred books, is, I think, in some measure accounted that inspiration, are questions undoubtedly of se- for by the consideration, that for the Jews to have rious discussion; but they are questions amongst foreseen the fall of their institution, and that it Christians themselves, and not between them and was to emerge at length into a more perfect and others. The doctrine itself is by no means neces- comprehensive dispensation, would have cooled sary to the belief of Christianity, which must, in too much, and relaxed their zeal for it, and their the tirst instance at least, depend upon the ordi- adherence to it, upon which zeal and adherence nary maxims of historical credibility.t
the preservation in the world of any remains, for In viewing the detail of miracles recorded in many ages, of religious truth might in a great these books, we find every supposition negatived, measure depend. by which they can be resolved into fraud or delu Of what a revelation discloses to mankind, one, sion. They were not secret, not momentary, not and only one, question can properly be asked, tentative, nor ambiguous; nor performed under Was it of importance to mankind to know, or to the sanction of authority, with the spectators on be better assured of? In this question, when their side, or in affirmance of tenets and practices we turn our thoughts to the great Christian docalready established. We find also the evidence trine of the resurrection of the dead, and of a fualleged for them, and which evidence was by great ture judgment, no doubt can possibly be entertainnumbers received, different from that upon which ed. He who gives me riches or honours, does other miraculous accounts rest. It was contem- nothing; he who even gives me health, does little porary, it was published upon the spot, it conti- in comparison with that which lays before me nued; it involved interests and questions of the just grounds for expecting a restoration to lise, greatest magnitude; it contradicted the most fixed and a day of account and retribution: which thing persuasions and prejudices of the persons to whom Christianity hath done for millions. it was addressed; it required from those who ac Other articles of the Christian faith, although of cepted it, not a simple, indolent assent, but a infinite importance when placed beside any other change, from thenceforward, of principles and topic of human inquiry, are only the adjuncts and conduct, a submission to consequences the most circumstances of this. They are, however, such serious and the most deterring, to loss and danger, as appear worthy of the original to which we
ascribe them. The morality of the religion, whe* See Peter's speech upon curing the cripple, (Acts iii. ther taken from the precepts or the example of its 18,) the council of the apostles, (xv,) Paul's discourse at Founder, or from ihe lessons of its primitive passages, both as fraught with good sense, and as free teachers, derived, as it should seem, from what from the smallest tincture of enthusiasm.
had been inculcated by their Master, is, in all its See Powel's Discourses, disc. xv. p. 245.
parts, wise and pure; neither adapted to vulgar
prejudices, nor flattering popular notions, nor ex- | very forcibly, will be found, I think, upon refleccusing established practices, but calculated, in the tion, to reside more in our habits of apprehension, matter of its instruction, truly to promote human than in the subject; and that the giving way to happiness, and in the form in which it was con- it, when we have any reasonable grounds for the veyed, to produce impression and effect; a morality, contrary, is rather an indulging of the imaginawhich, let it have proceeded from any person tion, than any thing else. Abstractedly considerwhatever, would have been satisfactory evidence ed, that is, considered without relation to the difof his good sense and integrity, of the soundness ference which habit, and merely habit, produces of his understanding and the probity of his designs; in our faculties and modes of apprehension, I do a morality, in every view of it, much more perfect not see any thing more in the resurrection of a than could have been expected from the natural. dead man, than in the conception of a child ; circumstances and character of the person who except it be this, that the one comes into his world delivered it; a morality, in a word, which is, and with a system of prior consciousnesses about him, hath been, most beneficial to mankind.
which the other does not: and no person will say, Upon the greatest, therefore, of all possible oc- that he knows enough of either subject to perceive, casions, and for a purpose of inestimable value, it that this circumstance makes such a difference in pleased the Deity to vouchsafe a miraculous the two cases, that the one should be easy, and attestation. Having done this for the institution, the other impossible ; the one natural, the other when this alone could fix its authority, or give to not so. To the first man, the succession of the it a beginning, he committed its future progress to species would be as incomprehensible, as the rethe natural means of human communication, and surrection of the dead is to us. to the influence of those causes by which human Thought is different from motion, perception conduct and human affairs are governed. The from impact : the individuality of a mind is hardly seed, being sown, was left to vegetate ; the leaven, consistent with the divisibility of an extended being inserted, was left to ferment; and both ac- substance; or its volition, that is, its power of cording to the laws of nature : laws, nevertheless, originating motion, with the inertness which disposed and controlled by that Providence which cleaves to every portion of matter which our obconducts the affairs of the universe, though by an servation or our experiments can reach. These influence inscrutable, and generally undistinguish distinctions lead us to an immaterial principle : able by us. And in this Christianity is analogous at least, they do this; they so negative the meto most other provisions for happiness. The chanical properties of matter, in the constitution provision is made; and, being made, is left to act of a sentient, still more of a rational being, that according to laws, which, forming a part of a more no argument drawn from these properties, can be general system, regulate this particular subject, in of any great weight in opposition to other reasons, common with many others.
when the question respects the changes of which Let the constant recurrence to our observation such a nature is capable, or the manner in which of contrivance, design, and wisdom, in the works these changes are effected. Whatever thought of nature, once fix upon our minds the belief of a be, or whatever it depend upon, the regular expeGod, and after that all is easy. In the counsels rience of sleep makes one thing concerning it cerof a being possessed of the power and disposition tain, that it can be completely suspended, and which the Creator of the universe must possess, it completely restored. is not improbable that there should be a future If any one find it too great a strain upon his state ; it is not improbable that we should be ac- thoughts, to admit the notion of a substance quainted with it. "A future state rectifies every strictly immaterial, that is, from which extension thing: because, if moral agents be made, in the and solidity are excluded, he can find no difficulty last event, happy or miserable, according to their in allowing that a particle as small as a particle conduct in the stations and under the circum- of light, minuter than all conceivable dimensions, stances in which they are placed, it seems not may just as easily be the depositary, the organ, very material by the operation of what causes, and the vehicle, of consciousness, as the congeaccording to what rules, or even if you please to ries of animal substance which forms a human call it so, by what chance or caprice, these stations body, or the human brain; that, being so, it may are assigned, or these circumstances determined. transfer a proper identity to whatever shall hereThis hypothesis, therefore, solves all that objec- after be united to it; may be safe amidst the detion to the divine care and goodness, which the struction of its integuments; may connect the promiscuous distribution of good and evil (I do natural with the spiritual, the corruptible with not mean in the doubtful advantages of riches the glorified body. "If it be said, that the mode and grandeur, but in the unquestionably import and means of all this is imperceptible by our ant distinctions of health and sickness, strength senses, it is only what is true of the most importand infirmity, bodily ease and pain, mental ala- ant agencies and operations. The great powers crity and depression) is apt on so many occasions of nature are all invisible. Gravitation, electricity, to create. This one truth changes the nature of magnetism, though constantly present, and conthings; gives order to confusion; makes the moral stantly exerting their influence; though within world of a piece with the natural.
us, near us, and about us; though diffused throughNevertheless, a higher degree of assurance than out all space, overspreading the surface, or penethat to which it is possible to advance this, or any trating the contexture, of all bodies with which argument drawn from the light of nature, was we are acquainted, depend upon substances and necessary, especially to overcome the shock which actions which are totally concealed from our the imagination and the senses receive from the senses. The Supreme Intelligence is so himself. effects and the appearances of death, and the But whether these or any other attempts to obstruction which thence arises to the expectation satisfy the imagination, bear any resemblance to of either a continued or a future existence. This the truth, or whether the imagination, which, as ditficulty, although of a nature, no doubt, to act | I have said before, is a mere slave of habit, can be
satisfied or not; when a future state, and the resuscitate extinguished consciousness ; or that revelation of a future state, is not only perfectly amidst the other wonderful contrivances with consistent with the attributes of the Being who which the universe abounds, and by some of which governs the universe; but when it is more, when we see animal life, in many instances, assuming it alone removes the appearances of contrariety improved forms of existence, acquiring new orwhich attend the operations of his will towards gans, new perceptions, and new sources of enjoycreatures capable of comparative merit and de- ment, provision is also made, though by methods merit, of reward and punishment; when a strong secret to us (as all the great processes of nature body of historical evidence, confirmed by many are,) for conducting the objects of God's moral internal tokens of truth and authenticity, gives government, through the necessary changes of us just reason to believe that such a revelation their frame; to those final distinctions of happihath actually been made; we ought to set our ness and misery, which he hath declared to be minds at rest with the assurance, that in the reserved for obedience and transgression, for virresources of Creative Wisdom, expedients can- tue and vice, for the use and the neglect, the not be wanted to carry into effect what the Deity right and the wrong employment, of the faculhath purposed : that either a new and mighty ties and opportunities with which he hath been influence will descend upon the human world to pleased, severally, to intrust, and to try us.