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N° 3. SATURDAY, MARCH 14, 1713.
Quicquid est illud, quod sentit, quod sapit, quod vult, quod viget,
cæleste et divinum est, ob eamque rem æternum sit necesse est.
Whatever that be, which thinks, which understands, which
wills, which acts, it is something celestial and divine, and,
upon that account, must necessarily be eternal. I am diverted from the account I was giving the town of my particular concerns, by casting my eye upon a treatise, which I could not overlook without an inexcusable negligence, and want of concern for all the civil, as well as religious interests of mankind. This piece has for its title A Discourse of Free-thinking, occasioned by the rise and growth of a Sect called Free-thinkers *. The author very methodically enters upon his argument, and says, • By free-thinking, I mean the use of the understanding in endeavouring to find out the meaning of any proposition whatsoever, in considering the nature of the evidence for, or against, and in judging of it according to the seeming force or weakness of the evidence. As soon as has delivered this definition, from which one would expect he did not design to shew a particular inclination for or against any thing before he had considered it, he gives up all title to the character of a free-thinker, with the most apparent prejudice against a body of men, whom of all other a good
* By Anthony Collins,
man would be most careful not to violate, I mean men in holy orders. Persons who have devoted themselves to the service of God, are venerable to all who fear him; and it is a certain characteristic of a dissolute and ungoverned mind, to rail or speak disrespectfully of them in general. It is certain, that in so great a crowd of men some will intrude, who are of tempers very unbecoming their function : but because ambition and avarice are sometimes lodged in that bosom, which ought to be the dwelling of sanctity and devotion, must this unreasonable author vilify the whole order? He has not taken the least care to disguise his being an enemy to the persons against whom he writes, nor any where granted that the institution of religious men to serve at the altar, and instruct such
who are not as wise as himself, is at all necessary or desirable; but proceeds, without the least apology, to undermine their credit, and frustrate their labours : whatever clergymen, in disputes against each other, have unguardedly uttered, is here recorded in such a manner as to affect religion itself, by wresting concessions to its disadvantage from its own teachers. If this be true, as sure any man that reads the discourse must allow it is; and if religion is the strongest tie of human society; in what manner are we to treat this our common enemy, who promotes the growth of such a sect as he calls free-thinkers ? He that should burn a house, and justify the action by asserting he is a free agent, would be more excusable than this author in uttering what he has from the right of a free-thinker. But there are a set of dry, joyless, dull fellows, who want capacities and talents to make a figure amongst mankind upon benevolent and generous principles, that think to surmount
their own natural meanness, by laying offences in the way of such as make it their endeavour to excel upon the received maxims and honest arts of life. If it were possible to laugh at so melancholy an affair as what hazards salvation, it would be no unpleasant inquiry to ask what satisfactions they reap, what extraordinary gratification of sense, or what delicious libertinism this sect of free-thinkers enjoy, after getting loose of the laws which confine the passions of other men ? Would it not be a matter of mirth to find, after all, that the heads of this growing sect are sober wretches, who prate whole evenings over coffee, and have not themselves fire enough to be any further debauchees, than merely in principle? These sages of iniquity are, it seems, themselves only speculatively wicked, and are contented that all the abandoned young men of the age are kept safe from reflection by dabbling in their rhapsodies, without tasting the pleasures for which their doctrines leave them unaccountable. Thus do heavy mortals, only to gratify a dry pride of heart, give up the interests of another world, without enlarging their gratifications in this : but it is certain there are a sort of men that can puzzle truth, but cannot enjoy the satisfaction of it. This same free-thinker is a creature unacquainted with the emotions which possess great minds when they are turned for religion, and it is apparent that he is untouched with any such sensation as the rapture of devotion. Whatever one of these scorners may think, they certainly want parts to be devout; and a sense of piety towards heaven, as well as the sense of any thing else, is lively and warm in proportion to the faculties of the head and heart. This gentleman may be assured he has not a taste for what he pretends to decry, and the poor man is certainly more a blockhead than an atheist. I must repeat, that he wants capacity to relish what true piety is; and he is as capable of writing an heroic poem, as making a fervent prayer. When men are thus low and narrow in their apprehensions of things, and at the same time vain, they are naturally led to think every thing they do not understand, not to be understood. Their contradiction to what is urged by others, is a necessary consequence of their incapacity to receive it. The atheistical fellows who appeared the last age did not serve the devil for nought, but revelled in excesses suitable to their principles; while in these unhappy days mischief is done for mischief's sake. These free-thinkers, who lead the lives of recluse students, for no other purpose but to disturb the sentiments of other men, put me in mind of the monstrous recreation of those late wild youths, who, without provocation, had a wantonness in stabbing and defacing those they met with. When such writers as this, who has no spirit but that of malice, pretend to inform the age, mohocks and cut-throats may well set up for wits and men of pleasure.
It will be perhaps expected, that I should produce some instances of the ill intention of this freethinker, to support the treatment I here give him. In his 52d page he says,
Secondly, The priests throughout the world differ about scriptures, and the authority of scriptures. The Bramins have a book of scripture called the shaster. The Persees have their zundavastaw. The Bonzes of China have books written by the disciples of Fo-he, whom they call the God and Saviour of the world, who was born to teach the way of salvation, and to give satisfaction for all mens sins. The Talapoins of Siam have a book
of scripture written by Sommonocodom, who, the Siamese say, was • born of a virgin, and was the God expected by the universe.' The Dervises have their alcoran.'
I believe there is no one will dispute the author's great impartiality in setting down the accounts of these different religions. And I think it is pretty evident he delivers the matter with an air which betrays that the history of one born of a virgin' has as much authority with him from St. Sommonocodom as from St. Matthew. Thus he treats revelation. Then as to philosophy, he tells you, p. 136, · Cicero produces this as an instance of a probable opinion, that they who study philosophy do not believe there are any Gods; and then, from consideration of various notions, he affirms Tully concludes, that there can be nothing after death.'
As to what he misrepresents of Tully, the short sentence on the head of this paper is enough to oppose; but who can have patience to reflect upon the assemblage of impostures among which our author places the religion of his country? As for my part, I cannot see any possible interpretation to give this work, but a design to subvert and ridicule the authority of scripture. The peace and tranquillity of the nation, and regards even above those, are so much concerned in this matter, that it is difficult to express sufficient sorrow for the offender, or indignation against him. But if ever man deserved to be denied the common benefits of air and water, it is the author of A Discourse of Free-thinking.