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The acknowledgments of Rousseau' will serve to confront the assertions of Mr. Paine: he says, will confess to you farther, that the majesty of the Scripture strikes me with admiration, as the purity of the Gospel hath its influence on my heart. Is it possible that a book at once so simple and sublime should be merely the work of man? Is it possible that the sacred personage whose history it contains should be himself a mere man? Do we find that he assumed the air of an enthusiast, or ambitious sectary? What sweetness, what purity in his manners! What an affecting What an affecting gracefulness in his delivery! What sublimity in his maxims! What profound wisdom in his discourses! What presence of mind! What subtilty! What truth in his replies! How great the command over his passions! Where is the man, where the philosopher, who could so live and so die without weakness, and without ostentation? Shall we suppose the evangelical history a mere fiction? Indeed, my friend, it bears not the mark of fiction. On the contrary, the history of Socrates, which nobody presumes to doubt, is not so well attested as that of Jesus Christ. The Jewish authors were incapable of this diction, and strangers to the morality contained in the Gospel; the marks of whose truth are so striking and invincible, that the inventor would be a more astonishing character than the hero."2
1 Works, v. 215-218.
2 See "The Gospel its own Witness," by Andrew Fuller, 166.
In the Scriptures every thing sustains itself; whether we consider the historical, the legal, or the practical part of it, the proper character appears in all.1
The principles of Diderot were, professedly, atheistical, yet he seems to have been compelled by the force of truth to pay homage to the New Testament. An acquaintance found him one day explaining a chapter of it to his daughter, with all the apparent seriousness and energy of a believer. On expressing his surprise, Diderot replied, "I understand your meaning; but, after all, where is it possible to find better lessons for her instruction?" 2
The Scriptures being an eternal foundation of truth, as immediately coming from the fountain of truth, whatever doth help us to understand their true sense doth well deserve our pains and study."
"I would recommend to every man whose faith is yet unsettled, Grotius, Dr. Pearson, and Dr. Clarke.' 114 To this should be added the most careful study of Butler's Analogy, and Lardner's Works."
"To be sure, Sir, I would have you read the Bible with a commentary; and I would recommend Lowth and Patrick on the Old Testament, and Hammond on the New."6
Origen has, with singular sagacity, observed,
1 Butler's Life of Fenelon, 177.
2 See a note, p. 317., of Lord Teignmouth's Life of Sir W. Jones.
3 Locke's Life by Lord King, 94.
4 Johnson. (Boswell, i. 38.)
that he who believes the Scripture to have proceeded from him who is the author of nature may well expect to find the same sort of difficulties in it as are found in the constitution of nature.1
I expressly recommend to you to read St. Paul's Epistles. Besides inspiring you with an aversion to false teachers and false devotees, who, under an appearance of sanctity, destroy the spirit of it, they will inspire you with universal charity, which takes in all, and which, better than all the preceptors in the world, makes us good relations, good friends, and good citizens.2
If men would come to this word of God to fetch their religious opinions from thence, and not, for the governing the sense of the Scriptures, bring their opinions with them thither, this, with an honest and good heart, would help men to understand the truths of God and of religion."
We can scarcely conceive of a plainer obligation on beings of our frail and fallible nature, who areTM instructed in the duty of candid judgment, than to abstain from condemning men of apparent conscientiousness and sincerity, who are chargeable with no crime but that of differing from us in the interpretation of the Scriptures, and differing, too, on topics of great and acknowledged obscurity.
1 See Butler, Anal., Introd. 6.
2 Ganganelli, Let. i. 142. it is supposed that these Letters were not written by Pope Clement; but the advice is good from whatever quarter.
3 Dr. Jeffrey, Discourse on 2 Tim. See Law's Theory, 182. n. d.
Perhaps in nothing have Christians so widely departed from their religion as in this particular.1
The signification of words in all languages, depending very much on the thoughts, notions, and ideas of him that uses them, must invariably be of great uncertainty to men of the same age and country. But when to this natural difficulty in every country there shall be added different countries and remote ages, wherein the speakers and writers had very different notions, tempers, customs, and figures of speech, every one of which influenced the signification of their words there, though to us now they are lost and unknown, it would become us to be charitable one to another in our interpretations of those ancient writings (the Scriptures). Since, then, the precepts of religion are plain and very intelligible to all mankind, and other revealed truths, which are conveyed to us by books and languages, are liable to the common and natural obscurities and difficulties incident to words, methinks it would become us to be more careful and diligent in observing the former, and less magisterial, positive, and imperious in imposing our own sense and interpretations of the latter."
Milton maintains the right of every believer to consult the Scriptures, and to judge of them for himself:
"I earnestly beseech all lovers of truth not to cry out that the church is thrown into confusion
1 Channing on the Ordination of the Rev. J. Sparks.
by that freedom of discussion and inquiry which is granted to the schools, and ought certainly to be refused to no believer, since we are ordered to prove all things, and since the daily progress of the light of truth is productive far less of disturbance to the church, than of illumination and edification.”1
RELIGION IN GENERAL,
Those who are against religion must needs be fools.2
Nobody can deny but religion is a comfort to the distressed, a cordial to the sick, and sometimes a restraint upon the wicked; whoever, therefore, wants to argue or laugh it out of the world, without giving an equivalent for it, ought to be treated as a common enemy.
We know, and it is our pride to know, that man is, by his constitution, a religious animal; that atheism is against not only our reason but our instinct, and that it cannot prevail long.*
I have read your MSS. with some attention. By the argument it contains against a particular providence, although you allow a general providence, you strike at the foundations of all religion; for, without the belief of a providence that takes cognisance of, guards and guides, and may favour particular persons, there is no motive to worship a Deity, to fear its displeasure, or pray for its protection.
1 See Symmons's edition of Milton's Prose Works, vol. i. 5, 6. 2 Swift. 3 Lady M. W. Montague. 4 Burke.