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To the Rev vernon Havcount with the
PRINTED FOR G. B. WHITTAKER, AVE-MARIA LANE, T. HAMILTON,
BAYNES AND SON, PATERNOSTER ROW, AND
S. BENNETT, NOTTINGHAM.
Of every Argument brought against the Truth of Christianity by
IN THE FIRST PART OF HIS WORK, CALLED,
“The Age of Keason.”
́IT has been my intention, for several years past, to publish my thoughts upon Religion. I am well aware of the difficulties that attend the Subject; and from that consideration, had reserved it to a more advanced period of life. I intended it to be the last offering I should make to my fellow-Citizens of all Nations; and that at a time when the purity of the motive that induced me to it, could not admit of a question, even by those who might disapprove the Work."
Whether the whole of this declaration be true or not, I have little opportunity of judging. Charity inclines me to admit it. The long preparation which, Mr. Paine says, preceeded his publication, and the confession of difficulties which encumbered his labours, afford fair presumptions of the purity of his motive; much stronger than can be drawn from the "time" of its publication. The moment when the bonds of civil society are broken, and a spirit of licentiousness and cruelty, of immorality and rebellion, every where prevails, assuredly, is not the moment when men's minds are best prepared for the candid; and deliberate investigation of first principles of religion. And it was whilst France was groaning under the murder
ous zeal of an unbridled democracy; whilst her temples echoed with the voice of blasphemy, and her streets, and rivers, were stained with the blood of proscription, that Mr. Paine invited her Citizens to pronounce judgment against the Religion of Peace, of Mercy, Humility and Subordination. Where was the immaculate victim to find refuge from the fury of her adversaries? Who would dare to lift an arm to shelter her from persecution, and proclaim the Tribunal, before which they had unmercifully dragged her, to be wicked, treacherons, and despotic? It was at that moment, whilst the heart was warm with infidelity, and the regicides' hands were yet unwashed from the blood of their King, that this work of Mr. Paine came, like a consoling balm, to quiet the throbs of conscience, to disarm heaven of its indignation, and to absolve every species of guilt from punishment. It was whilst Christianity was quivering under the remorseless hands of Gobet, that Mr. Paine aimed at her, as he expected, this irretrievable blow: but she was destined, from the immortality of her nature, to survive it unhurt. Still the time, the circumstances, and the publication, most admirably harmonized. I have said thus much not to contradict the assertion of Mr. Paine concerning "the purity of his motive," but to shew, that that assertion is not, as he declares, quite free from suspicion; or, that if his motive were pure, his judgment was indiscreet.
But granting Mr. Paine's motive to have been pure, nay more, to have been even benevolent, still let me guard the unsuspecting mind from confounding the purity of his motive with the truth, or falshood of his doctrine. They are two things which are independent of each other. A man may be sincere in the promulgation of an error: of which fact History furnishes us with abundant examples. That Mr. Paine has fallen into many egregious errors, I have no doubt of being able to prove in the course of this work and they, unhappily, are not speculative, but practical errors. It is not the stability of a maxim in philosophy that depends on them, but the temporal, and
eternal welfare of mankind: and they put on so much the semblance of truth, as not easily to be detected by common observation. But since they involve an individual interest of the highest character, I earnestly hope that the readers of this volume will judge fairly and dispassionately between us; not suffering a flowing phraseology, a flash of wit, or a bold assertion, to shut out the evidence of candid argument. They have every thing at stake; and, if faithful to themselves, will read the charge and the refutation, with a disposition to discover truth.
"The circumstance that has now taken place in France of the total abolition of the whole order of priesthood, and of every thing appertaining to compulsive systems of Religion, and compulsive articles of faith, has not only precipitated my intention, but rendered a work of this kind exceedingly necessary; lest, in the general wreck of superstition, of false systems of governments, and false theology, we lose sight of morality, humanity, and of the theology that is true."
If the French revolution "precipitated" Mr. Paine's design of publishing this work, it is equally true, that such It was the inworks as this precipitated the revolution. sidious poison of infidelity that first weakened the allegiance of the people to their God, and afterwards to their King. The cottage and the workshop, the temple and the palace, were already familiar with the principles of Mr. Paine. The very air was infected with the miasma of infidelity. The vital principle of pure religion was destroyed. The civil and political body was feverish. The paroxysm had begun, and threatened annihilation; and it was, whilst it raged with its greatest virulence, that this powerful anti-religious anodyne was administered, in the hope of producing an inevitable dissolution.
Why did Mr. Paine dread that, in "the general wreck,” we should lose sight of morality and humanity, since, in very publication, he acknowledges, that "Jesus Christ was a virtuous and amiable man; and that the morality he preached and practised, was of the most benevolent kind."