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THOUGH the writings of the Evangelists are in the hands of every one, nothing is more common than to find the professors of Christianity, unacquainted with the history of the founder of their religion; and even among those who have perused that history, it is still more rare to find any who have ventured seriously to examine it. It must, indeed, be acknowledged, that the ignorance of the one, and the want of reflection in the other, on a subject which they, nevertheless, regard as of infinite importance, may arise from the dislike naturally occasioned by the perusal of the New Testament. In fact, there reign in that work a confusion, an obscurity, and a barbarity of stile, well adapted to confound the ignorant, and disgust enlightened minds. Scarcely is there a history, ancient or modern, which does not possess more method and perspicuity than that of Jesus Christ; neither do we perceive that the Holy Ghost, its putative author, has surpassed, or even equalled many profane historians, whose writings are not so important to mankind. The clergy confess, that the Apostles were illiterate men,
and of coarse manners; and it does not appear that the spirit of God, which inspired them, troubled itself with rectifyng their defects. On the contrary, it seems to have adopted them; to have accommodated itself to the weak understandings of its instruments; and to have inspired them with works wherein we meet not with the judgment, order, or precision, that are found in many human compositions. Hence, the gospels present us with a confused assemblage of prodigies, anachronisms, and contradictions, in which criticism loses itself, and which would make any other book be rejected with contempt.
It is by mysteries the mind is prepared to respect religion and its teachers. We are therefore warranted to suspect, that an obscurity was designedly given to these writings. In matters of religion it is prudent never to speak very distinctly. Truths, simple and easily understood, do not strike the human imagination in so lively a manner, as ambiguous oracles and impenetrable mysteries. Jesus Christ, although come on purpose to enlighten the world, was to be a stumbling block to most people. The small number of the elect, the difficulty of salvation, and the danger of exercising reason, are every where announced in the gospel. Every thing seems indeed to demonstrate, that God has sent his dear Son to the nations, on purpose only to ensnare them; and that they should not comprehend any part of the religion which he meant to promulgate.* In this the Eternal appears to have in
By the scriptures, and the fathers of the church, God is always represented as a seducer. He permitted Eve to be seduced by a serpent. He hardened the heart of Pharaoh. Christ himself was a stone of stumbling.
tended to throw mortals into darkness, perplexity, a diffidence of themselves, and a continual embarrassment, obliging them to have recourse every moment to those infallible luminaries, their priests, and to remain for ever under the tutelage of the church. Her ministers, we know, claim the exclusive privilege of understanding and explaining the holy scriptures; and no mortal can expect to obtain future felicity, if he does not pay due submission to their decisions.
Thus, it belongs not to the vulgar to examine religion. On mere inspection of the gospel every person must be convinced that the book is divine-that every word contained in it is inspired by the Holy Ghost*; and that the explanations, given by the church, of that celestial work, in like manner emanate from the Most High. In the first ages of Christianity, those who embraced the religion of Jesus were only some dregs of the people; consequently, very simple, unacquainted with letters, and disposed to believe all the wonders any one chose to announce. Jesus, in his sermons, addressed himself to the vulgar only; he would have intercourse with none but persons of that east; he constantly refused to work miracles in presence of the most clear-sighted people of the nation; ke inveighed unceasingly against the learned, the doc.
The opinion of most theologists is, that the Holy Ghost has revealed to the sacred writers even the orthography of the words they have employed, yea, even the points and commas. But supposing the reality of this inspiration, still it would not be sufficient; it would be further necessary to guarantee, that all the copyists and monks, during the ages of ignorance, who have transmitted the revealed writings, have committed no faults in transcribing them. A point or a comma, misplaced, are sufficient, we know, to alter completely the sense of s passage.
tors, and the rich; against all in whom he could not find the pliability necessary for adopting his maxims. We see him continually extolling poorness of spirit, simplicity, and faith*.
His disciples, and after them the ministers of the church, have faithfully followed his footsteps; they have always represented faith, or blind submission, as the first of virtues; as the disposition most agreeable to God, and most necessary to salvation. This principle serves for a basis to the Christian religion, and, above all, to the power of the clergy. The pastors, therefore, who succeeded the Apostles, employed the greatest care in secreting the Gospels from the inspection of all who were not initiated in the mysteries of religion. They exhibited these books to those only whose faith they had tried, and whom they found already disposed to regard them as divine. This mysterious spirit has been transmitted down even to our days. In several countries the commonalty among Christians are interdicted from perusing the Scriptures, especially in the Romish communion, whose clergy are best acquainted with the manner of governing mankind. The Council of Trent has decreed, in the most explicit manner, that "it belongs to the church alone to decide on the true meaning of the Scriptures, and give their interpretationt."
❤ We find Jesus inculcating faith in all his discourses, and espe cially in St. Matthew and St. Mark-" He who bath faith shall remove mountains."--" He who shall believe and is baptized shall be saved," &c. Several Christian sects believe, according to these passages, that faith itself, without works, is sufficient for salvation.
+ The Cardinal Pallavicini, in his History of the Council of Trent, (sess. IV.) removes every difficulty, by saying, that “all