Page images

the successive ages of its existence. Hence, instead of a condensed summary, voluminous details would be produced. But this would not answer the end which I propose, namely, to direct the attention of my readers to the principal causes of the moral corruption of Christians, notwithstanding the excellence and highly moral tendency of their religion. I shall, therefore, confine myself to such general views as may both serve to explain, in a tolerable degree, the phenomenon in question, and may lead to the discovery of the most effectual means of remedying the deplorable defect. Men of greater talents and of more extensive information may also be prompted to investigate the subject in a more comprehensive, satisfactory, and useful manner. None, I am convinced, can be more important, or more worthy of accurate and judicious research.

But, before I can enter on the principal subject which I have in view, a preliminary work seems to me to be required ; and this will be found to constitute a whole, which, if duly executed, will, of itself, be instructive and useful, at the same time that it will prepare the way for that which, if it please God, I intend shall suc. ceed it. This comparative view of Christianity, and of every other form and species of religion, especially in regard to its moral tendency, will ascertain the proper characteristics of religion, distinguish it from its counterfeits, exhibit its different aspects as they have prevailed in the world, point out their peculiar features, and lead us to discover where the consummation of true, salutary, and heavenly-instituted religion is to be found. Accordingly, the present treatise shall be divided into four principal parts. The first will endeavour to establish just conceptions of religion in general, to delineate its counterfeits—Superstition, Fanaticism, Bigotry, and Hypocrisy, and to afford a just idea of the religion of nature. The second will exhibit a rapid view of the other religions, besides Christianity, which have existed, and still exist, in the world, namely, Judaism, Paganism, and Mohammedism, and elucidate their respective moral influence on conduct. The third will display Christianity in its facts, its doctrines, its precepts, its worship, and solemn rites, and the provision which it has made for its maintenance and propagation. The fourth will illustrate the doctrine of saving faith, which embraces as its object all the parts of the Christian scheme; will evince the superior excellence of Christian morality above every other system of morals whatever; show that the moral improvement of man, or, in theological language, his sanctification, is the grand point to which the whole plan of the gospel is ultimately directed ; and consider both what have hitherto been its effects in regard to this point, and what it might have been justly expected to produce.

My great object in this undertaking is to extend, if possible, my usefulness in the sphere in which Providence has placed me. From the present state of our literature and criticism, I expect not that popularity which is appropriated to the ingenious combination of materials for amusement, nor even, in certain quarters, that impartiality of judgment which is connected with the untainted love of truth. By her unvarnished declarations, the soul of religious or political prejudice is wounded, and the virulence of the orthodox or heterodox bigot, and of all who render religion subservient to their contracted and crooked politics, civil or ecclesiastical, is roused by the Christianity of the sacred scriptures. With such persons I have no communion of sympathies. My feelings are estranged from theirs, nor can my mind live in the atmosphere that surrounds their intellectual and moral frame. I am conscious of the love and pursuit of truth. If I am so happy as to attain to it myself, to recommend it to serious, reflecting, and intelligent readers, and to contribute my portion, however small, to the best interests of my species, my object will be gained, and my reward be such as I desire it to be. May that gracious and


omnipotent Being, whom I humbly endeavour to serve, grant his blessing to my endeavours, and bestow on them that success which his freely operating influence on the human mind only can produce.










The term Religion implies those opinions, sentiments, and affections, and that conduct which relate to Deity. It presupposes the existence of a supreme Power, on whom man depends, from whom he has derived his existence, and to whom he stands in the relation of a creature and a subject. By this relation certain feelings and affections must be produced in his mind, and by these certain duties must be dictated. The

peculiar nature of these feelings and affections, and of the duties flowing from them, must be moulded by the conceptions which are entertained concerning the Being to whom they are

« PreviousContinue »