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their divine rights. Aware of this, whenever any attempt is made to instruct the ignorant, and rend the veil from truth, the priesthood are in arms:- it is then they doom to perdition the unfortunate individual who has ventured to disturb them.
Notwithstanding this intolerant conduct, which stamps with indelible disgrace the age in which we live, it is some consolation to the liberal mind, that the late prosecutions, under the pretence of protecting religion, have given birth to a more extensive spirit of free enquiry on religious topics, than existed at any former period of our history. The same causes, as pointed out in the following work, which at first operated so powerfully to spread Christianity, must produce the same effects when employed to arrest the progress of knowledge. "Let us not then despair that Truth will one day force its way even to thrones."
London, July 1st, 1813.
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.