« PreviousContinue »
to improve the friends, and conciliate the adverfaries of religion. The author has been impreffed with these fentiments, from having been led, while compiling the following work, to obferve the earneftnefs with which the apoftles labour to guard against divifion and animofity, heat and violence, in confequence of differences in religious opinions; and he fhall deem himself happy, if by leading the attention of others to the fame paffages, he fhould in any degree contribute to extend the benign influence of Chriftian charity.
The ftrictnefs of criticism will, it is feared, too often have reafon to cenfure the ftile of the following work, as partaking much more of the language and manner of a popular addrefs, than ought to be admitted in an argumentative effay. Some indulgence however is hoped for in this refpect, when it is confidered that these pages were originally compofed as popular discourses, addreffed · to an audience of young men, and that they are now published principally for their use. They have been thrown into their prefent form, as it appeared best adapted to exhibit diftinctly the fubdivifions of the fubject, and the progrefs of the argument; but the original stile was retained, as it seemed best calculated to keep up the attention of that clafs of readers, for whom it was principally defigned. But it were
• Vid. Infra, p. 200 to 203-229 to 234 and 240 to 245well
well if in this refpect only the author ftood in need of indulgence, he is thoroughly confcious of other defects of a far weightier kind: ftill however he hopes this work may ferve the cause of true religion; but confcious of its defects, he ought not to publish it, without earnestly entreating his reader, if any ob jection he had expected to be removed, appears to be anfwered inadequately, or not anfwered at all; to impute this to its true fource, the infufficiency of the advocate, not the weakness of the cause. Affuredly the cause of the gospel is the cause of truth and heaven, however it may be obfcured or difgraced by human folly and human error.-No, let me conclude this Preface, by conjuring my young readers, for whose use this work is particularly defigned, not to fuffer themselves to be induced by fophiftry, or by ridicule, to confound the found doctrines of genuine Christianity, with the extravagant abfurdities, or the fraudulent corruptions, which in different periods and countries have been substituted in its room. You, my young friends, are yet to form your religious opinions, and fix your religious principles, it infinitely imports you to judge aright, and steadily to adhere to that judgment; and never can you judge furely and fafely of the character of the gofpel, without you devoutly and humbly ftudy the gofpel itself.
you view it as represented by the enemies of our holy faith, you will affuredly find it (as you may well fuppofe) induftriously and grossly misrepresented. You will find ridicule frequently employed to fupply the
the place of argument, rational piety burlesqued as madness or hypocrify, and Christian purity and virtue derided as fanatic aufterity. Is any paffage or doctrine of the bible obfcure or difficult? Some writers will state it as wholly unintelligible and abfurd. Has folly mistaken, or fraud corrupted, its real tenets ? Every error and every corruption is, by its enemies, blended and incorporated with the pure original, till reafon turns disgufted from the foul and loathfome mafs. And if it is utterly unreasonable to rely upon the representations of enemies, it may perhaps fometimes not be entirely fafe to derive your conceptions of Christianity even from the statement of its friends. In writers, whofe delight is in metaphyfical difcuffion, and whofe talent is fubtilty, your attention will be diverted from the most important doctrines of the gofpel, merely because they are plain, and from its most decifive proofs, because they admit of no difpute. In abstract reafoners you will mifs that practical inftruction which every page of the New Teftament conveys; and in the works of the over-bearing dogmatift, and the angry difputant, you will feek in vain for the spirit of humility, and kindness, and tenderness, and piety, which the apostles and evangelifts, uniformly difplay. In the compofitions of fome zealous and well-intentioned, but over-warm, indifcreet, or ill-informed Chriftians, you may fometimes meet with doctrines ftrained to excefs, and precepts stated without those limitations and exceptions, which the fobriety of truth requires. In fpeaking thus,
thus, I do not mean that you should reject all aid from the researches of the pious and the good, far otherwise. I only wish to impress upon you, that you are not to rely on any fecondary information, without recurring frequently and humbly to the divine original. In truth, there is much of the evidence and the instruction of the facred volume, which can only be felt by studying that volume itself. The artleffness, the honesty, the zeal, the purity, the piety, the love of truth which fhine in every page of the New Testament, cannot be transfufed into any comment, or any argument which human ingenuity can frame; these are the marks of found doctrine, which will always make the deepest impreffion on the most virtuous hearts.
Study then the scriptures; thus will you learn to value Christianity as you ought, as the fource of ra tional piety and joy in every fituation of life, as the certain guide to truth and happiness. Are you to become its teachers?-thus only can you imbibe the genuine fpirit, and the uncorrupted tenets of that holy religion you profess to teach; thus only can you be enabled to deliver its doctrines free from error, and exemplify its utility by the holiness of your lives; thus only can you fave yourselves, and those that hear you, and give a good account at the great and fearful day of final retribution.
The apostles and evangelifts were not enthusiasts, becaufe they did not embrace the faith which they taught, till they had required and received fufficient proofs of its divine original.
The general statement and divifion of the subject.
reasoning on the evidence of Christianity, it has been frequently remarked, that almost all direct arguments for the certainty of the gofpel hiftory, may be reduced to two heads; 1ft. that the founders of the Christian scheme did not mean to deceive; 2dly, that they were not themselves deceived in thofe facts to which they appealed in proof of a divine interpofition.