Page images
PDF
EPUB

2

observations were not impertinent, for although none of our disputes are managed without humbling marks of human infirmity, yet, on a cool balance of accounts, it will appear, that the moral good produced by liberty of conscience is far greater than the moral evil suffered. Peevish tempers, and puerile mistakes, mix with free inquiry : but without inquiry fair and free we should have no religion at all.

Had the protestants done only that with the writings of Moses and Paul, which they did with the writings of Homer and Tacitus, had they fetched thein out of dusty holes in libraries, exposed them to public view, and left them to shift for themselves, their authenticity, we presume, would have shined with inimitable lustre ; for fewer objections have lain against the book, than against the methods, that have been used to enforce it. But that fatal notion of uniformity, this absurd dogma, unity in the faith is the test of a true church, misled those worthy men, and they adopted the spirit of persecution, that child of the mother of abominations, Rev. xvii. 5. whom folly had produced, and whom cruelty had hitherto maintained.

In order to vie with the church of Rome in point of uniformity, and to excel it in point of truth, the reformers extracted, what they supposed, the sense of scripture; not on plain, obvious, essential truths ; but on doctrines extremely perplexed, and difficult; these extracts they called confessions of faith, these they signed, and all, who refused to sign them, they disowned and persecuted out of their communities.

Having done these things, not according to the pattern shewed by their divine Master in his plain and peaceful sermon on the mount of Olives, Heb. viii. 5. but according to the arcana imperiż of the woman, who sitteth on seven mountains, and who reigneth over the kings of the earth, Rev. xvii. 9. 18. they boasted of enjoying as good an uniformity as that of which the catholic church vaunted.

If they, who first prosecuted these unrighteous measures in the protestant churches, could have foreseen the dismal consequences of thein, surely they must have lain in sackcloth and ashes to lament their anti-christian zeal, which, by importing exctics from Rome, by pianting them in reformed churches, and by flattering the magistracy into the dirty work of cultivating them, spoiled the growth of reason and religion, and cherished under their deleterous shade nothing but that unprofitable weed, implicit faith.

Let

[ocr errors]

Let a dispassionate spectator cast his eye on the christian world, and when he has seen the rigorous measures that have been used to establish, as it is called, the faith of the reformers, let him turn his eye to the church of Rome on the one hand, and to sectaries on the other, and attend to the consequences of these measures among both. Catholics laugh at protestant arguments against the infallibility of the bishop of Rome. See, say they, mutant clypeos, the reformed have destroyed one pope to create an hundred. Calvin is infallible at Geneva, Luther in Germany, in England Cranmer, and in Scotland Knox! How wise the doctrine of infallibility! how just and ne essary the practice of the inquisition ! the pretended protestants have tried in vain to govern churches without severity; they themselves, who have exclaimed the most violently against it, have been obliged to adopt it. Sectaries, on the other hand, avail themselves of these practices, and not distinguishing between christianity itself and the professors of it, chiarze that on the laws of our prince, which is chargeable on'y on the inadvertency of his subjects.

Other times, other manners! Whether the reproaches of the pa; ists, the increase of learning, piety, and experience, or whatever else have meliorated the reformed churches, the French protestants rarely persecute, and when they do, it is plain they do that as a body in a synod, which not one of them would dare to avow as a private divine. Dangerous distinction! Should an upright man vote for a measure, which he would blush to enforce? Should he not endeavour to abrogate canons, which for the soul of him he has not impiety enough to execute? Shall protestants renounce that merchandise of Rome, which consists of odours, and ointments, and chariots, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and continue that more scandalous traffic which consists of slaves, and souls of men ? Rev. xviii. 12, 13.

If a counsel, or a work, be of God, ye cannot overthrow it, Acts v. 38, 39. is one of the surest axioms in the world, and if there be such a thing in the world as dignity, that is, propriety of character, it must be in that christian, who disdaining every carnal weapon, maintains the truth of his religion by placid reasoning, and by a holy life. Other influence is unscriptural, and unnatural too. We may admire the genius of a deist, avail ourselves of his learning, and lament his abuse of both : but we may not touch his person, his property, his liberty, his character, his peace. To his own inaster he standeth or falleth, Rom. xiv. 4.

We

port it.

66

We beg leave to subjoin three observations in regard to deism. Deists are not so numerous as some have imagined. Real christians have occasioned violent prejudices against christianity. Very few deists have taken up the argument on its true grounds; and they who have, could not sup

Deists are not so numerous as some have imagined. Mons. de Voltaire has thought proper to inform his countrymen, in his Auditions to his General History, that “ Deism, “ which Charles II. seemed openly to profess, became the “ reigning religion” in England: that the sect is become

very numerous ;” and that a number of eminent writers “ have made open profession of deism." How this agreeable French writer came to know this, who can tell, if, as he affirms a little lower, “ Deists allow a diversity of opinions “ in others, and seldom discover their own;" and if “deists “ have only a private form of worship, each worshipping "God in his own house, and assisting without scruple at all

public ceremonies?” Surely Mons. Voltaire mistook, he meant to describe a hypocrite, and not a deist.

If a deist' be one, who having examined the religion of nature, and the religion of scripture, gives the preference to the former, and rejects the latter, it may be affirmned, I think that the number of deists is very small. In a comparative view, the number is too inconsiderable to be mentioned, The rank of a Herbert, the wit of a Shaftesbury, the style of a Bolingbroke, the scurrilous buffoonery of a Woolston, along with the wisdom and picty of the Lockes, and Lelands, and Lardners, who have opposed them, have given a name to deism: but the number of its professors is trifling, and of no account. If Mons. de Voltaire meant to relate an historical fact, he ought to have enumerated the numerous professors of christianity, and the eminent writers in defence of it, and the numerous professors of deism would have diminished and disappeared. If he meant to give a sanction to deisin on account of its numerous defenders, he is a fresh example of that weakness to which great philosophers are sometimes subject, the weakness of sacrificing a sound logic to a silly prejudice.

Two sorts of people are fond of multiplying deists; bigots, and deists themselves. Deists take the liberty of associating with themselves Confuscius, Zoroaster, Socrates, and all the ancient philosophers. They first suppose that these philosophers would have rejected revelation, had it

becn

been proposed to them, and then they speak of them as if they had actually rejected it. But, if the gospel be not a system of absurdity, adapted to credulity, the probability is greater that they would have received, than that they would have rejected it; and if, as Lord Bolingbroke says, “it “ must be admitted, that Plato insinuates in many places the

want, or the necessity of a divine revelation, to discover “ the external service God requires, and the expiation “ for sin, and to give stronger assurances of the rewards and * punishments, that await men in another world ;" it becomes highly probable, that Plato would have embraced the christian revelation; and were the testimony of Jesus Christ admissible, it is absolutely certain that, if the mighty works, which were done in Judea, had been done among the heathens, many heathens would have repented of paganism in sackcloth and ashes, Matt. xi. 21, &c. To the army of philosophers they add all those christians, who do not understand, or who do not practise, the dictates of christianity With this hypothetical reasoning they attack christianity and boast of numbers

, while all their votaries are so few thai a child may write them. Bigots, who inake scripture, and their sense of it, the same thing, practise the same pious fraud, and turn over all those to the deistical party, who do not allow their doctrines. Hence the popular notion of the multiplicity of deists.

From the charge of deism, first, the populace ought to be freed. Too many of them live without any religion. The religion of nature is as unknown to them as the religion of scripture. When they think of religion, their error is credulity, and their spiritual guides soon find, that the believing of too much, and not the believing of too little, is their mistake. They are wicked: but they are not deists; for the term deism, surely, stands for admitting the religion of nature, as well as for the renouncing of revelation. But of both, in general, they are alike ignorant.

They, who renounce popular doctrines, are not therefore deists. The learned and pious Dr. Bekker, one of the pastors at Amsterdam, renounced the popular opinion of the power of the devil, aad published a book against it, in 1691. He seemed to doubt also of the eternity of liell torinents. He was reputed a deist, and the consistory, the classes, and the synods proceeded against him, suspended him first from the .communion, and reposed him at last from the office of a minister. Yet Dr. Bekker was a fast friend of revelation, and all his crime lay in expounding some literal passages of reveVOL. II. В.

lation

lation allegorically. Not the book : but the received meaning of it ne denied,

The deis:s ought not to claim them, who affirm, that it is not the property of the truths of revelation to square with philosophy. Mons. Voltaire takes Pomponatius for a deist. Ponponatius denied the natural immortality of the soul; he affirmed, that it could not be proved by principles of philosophy: but he believed, and maintained, the immortality of the soul on the testimony of revelation. This learned Italian philosopher was persecuted by the monks ; his book, it is said, was burnt by the Venetians; and the modern deists have adopted him: yet Pomponatius was a believer of revelut n, and, by believing the immortality of the soul on the testimony of scripture, he discovered the most profound veneration for it, a deference exactly similar to that, which trinitarians pay to its testimony concerning the nature of God.

What Pomponatius affirmed of the immortality of the soul, Biyle affirmed of all the mysteries of the gospel : but, we do not allow, that Bayle was therefore a deist. Thus he writes : “ If one of the apostles, St. Paul for instance, when "among the Athenians, had besought the Areopagus to per“ mit him to enter the lists against all philosophers; had he “ offered to maintain a disputation upon the three persons, “ who are but one God; and if, before he began the disputa

tion, he had acknowledged the truth of rules laid down by Aristotle in his logic, whether with regard to the terms of “ opposition, or the characteristics of the premises of a demonstrative syllogism, &c. Jastly, if, after these preliminaries

were well settled, he hasi answered, that our reason is too " weak to ascend to the knowledge of the mysteries, in op“position to which objections were proposed to him ; in “ such a case, he would have suffered as much shame, as it " is possible for a defcated opponent to meet with. The Athenian philosophers must have gained a complete vic“tory; for he would have been judged and condemned

agreeably to the maxims, the truth of which he had ac

knowledged before. But had the philosophers employed " those maxims in attacking him, after he had informed " them of the foundation of his faith, he might have op

posed tne following barrier to them; that his doctrines

were not within the cognizance of reason; that they had “ been revealed by heaven; and that mankind must believe thein, though they could not comprehend them. The

“ disputation,

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »