Page images
PDF
EPUB

with itself, or that the different accounts of the same transaction are not altogether confistent with each other.

These men of genius may discover some things that are frivolous or weak in the discourses of the sacred writers, and some things inconclusive in their reasoning, especially in their quotations from, and their application of the Old Testament; and taking it for granted that (as indeed the profeffors of christianity have too generally and incautiously boasted) the books which contain the history of our religion are as perfect as the religion itself, hastily conclude, that because the books of scripture were written by men, and bear the marks of human imperfection, therefore the scheme in which they were engaged was wholly of men, and had nothing supernatural in it; without reflecting that those very imperfections in the books of scripture, at which they are so much offended, demonstrate that the writers of them were incapable of contriving such a scheme, or of procuring credit to it; and also without reflecting that, on the very Vol. II.

same

same grounds, they might reject the whole current of antient history, no part of which has been written with perfect accuracy, uniformity, or even consistency. For here, as in the scripture history, different historians agree in their accounts of the principal things only; but as certainly differ in their accounts of lesser circumstances.

Men of taste and science are also exceedingly apt to be struck with the idea of what appears, on the first view, to be rational and liberal in their fentiinents, and remote from vulgar prejudices; and because the bulk of mankind are, in many respects, credulous, and often think very absurdly, these gentlemen, though they will not avow it, and indeed may not be sensible of it, are secretly disposed to reject what others admit, and to pride themselves in their fingularity in this respect; thinking it more great, noble, and philosophical, to err on the side of incredulity; whereas they ought to consider that the understandings of all mankind being naturally similar, even the lowest of the vulgar, when lying under no prejudice (and

men

[ocr errors]

men of letters are subject to their peculiar prejudices as well as the illiterate) must be as capable of judging concerning truth, and especially concerning faxts, as themselves; that their opinions, if they are not true, are founded

upon something analogous to truth, though the analogy may be faulty; and therefore are not to be rejected at random, but are themselves an object worthy of philosophical investigation. A true philosopher will no more satisfy himself without endeavouring to trace the rise and progress of prevailing opinions, than without understanding the cause of any other general appearance in nature.

The opinion of men of letters, however, and of speculative persons of all kinds, will always have great weight with many who do not pretend to speculation. As they will not take the pains to think for themfelves, they chuse to think with philosophers rather than with the vulgar ; not considering that men of learning and genius, who are ever so capable of determining justly, have no advantage over the rest of mankind,

unless

F2

unless they will carefully attend to a subject, and make themselves masters of it; and that a politician might as well be expected to be an astronomer, or an astronomer a politician, as that a mere philosopher should be a competent judge of the evidences of christianity, when his attention to them has been very superficial, if he have attended to them at all.

I will not deny that some unbelievers are ferious and inquisitive men; they even wish to find christianity to be true, and have some secret hope that it may be fo; but they cannot fully satisfy themselves with respect to many objections which they have heard made to it; so that the arguments in favour of it do not, at least they do not always preponderate with them. Were a very great number of persons in this situation, it would be a circumstance, I readily own, that might afford a reasonable foundation for doubt, or at least for suspence; but considering how very few these serious and inquisitive unbelievers are, in comparison with the numbers who are profligate and

thoughtless

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

thoughtless among them, I think that no conclufion can be drawn from the confideration of it, unfavourable to the evidences of christianity. For what cause is there fo good and so clear, as that every person can be brought to join in it?

Some of the persons above-mentioned may have been much in the way of sensible and subtile unbelievers, to whose objections, through want of presence of mind, or of a. sufficiently comprehensive acquaintance with the subject, they have not been able readily to reply; or, being persons of weak and timid dispositions, they may have been led by their extreme anxiety to give more attention to the objections which have been thrown in their way than to the plain and folid arguments in favour of christianity; on which account only the former may have made more impression upon their minds than the latter ; whereas if they had been more conversant with christians and christian writers, and less with unbelievers and their writings, they would have thought as well of the evidences of christianity as of

christianity

F 3

« PreviousContinue »