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HEN Christianity was first made known to the world,
its divine Author delivered his doctrines and exhibited the Proofs of his Mission with unaffected fimplicity. Satisfied of the intrinsic excellence of the one and of the clearness and evidence of the other, he left them to produce their own effects upon the minds of his hearers, without attempting to illustrate that excellence, or to shew that those proofs were proper and conclusive. The very intelligent and ingenious Dr. Gerard, in his Differtations on the Genius and the Evidences of Christianity has, with great propriety, termed this, Our Lord's original manner; from which it does not appear that he ever deviated, but when opposition made it neceffary. When, however, Objections were formed against his Religion, he did not think it beneath the dignity of his Character to engage in its defence and to employ the powers of reafoning, with a view to expofe the weakness of those Objections and the unreasonableness of an opposition to him. Nor does it appear that, in any one instance, he expressed the smallest displeasure at an inquisitive turn of 'mind, when under the direction of an unfeigned regard to Truth. It was only when an insidious and captious fpirit were too strongly marked in their behaviour to be mistaken, that such a conduct fell under his reprehenfion. And even then, there are not wanting instances, when the cause of truth required it, of his replying to their Objections and entering into a full vindication of his conduct. So farindeed was Our Lord from requiring an implicit.faith in his followers
that he directed them to fearrh the Scriptures and to examine for themselves, whether his doctrines were founded on truth, or were the fi&tions of an artful and peligring Impostor. The fame liberality of mind, most evidently actuated his Apostles, in general, and particularly the Apostle Peter, when he directed the Christian Converts from among the Gentiles, to give a reason of the hope that was in them and, in the Spirit of meekness, in opposition to a dogmatical and tyrannical Spirit, to instruct those who opposed the Chriftian faith. As therefore a candid and ingenuous statement of any objections to the truth of Christianity was not, and indeed could not, if their Million was from heaven and their language had any meaning in it, have been offensive to Our Saviour himself, or to his Apostles; it will necessarily and unavoidably follow, that it ought not to be displeasing to any of its friends who come after them, from whatever quarter it may arise.
The learned Author juft mentioned has well observed thať Có the excellence of Christianity could not posibly have been es attained, if Christ and his Apostles had not met with opposition,"
," and that on all the indications of truth which “ it implies, may be justly ascribed, in a great measure, to 46 the Opposition of Infidels. If none had raised objections
against the divine miffion of Jefus, he and his Apoftles must % have either confined themselves to their original manner of "fimply exhibiting evidence, or they muft have spontaneously “ illustrated and vindicated the evidence. If they had chosen " the former, their manner would have indeed contained 6 feveral presumptions of the truth of Christianity, but it * would have been in fome respects, lame and imperfect, and 66 all the advantages arising from their reasonings, would have “ been lost. If they had preferred the latter, this would have " destroyed all those proofs of their Mission, which result « from the simplicity of their original manner. It would “ have likewise rendered, their realonings of less weight " than they now are. Opposition gives the moft natural
occafion of answering the objections to which that evidence “ is liable. It enables a perfori to introduce illustrations " and defences without any appearance of design or artifice. - It, put it in the power of our Saviour to support and 6 vindicate his claim, by argument, as often as any good • purpose required; and by giving as many opportunities for 6 this, as were neceflary, it lift him at liberty, in all hig
ordinary addresses to Men, to pursue that original manner 56 which is fo. full of divinity. "It made way for a delicate. “6 union of opposite manners in opposite situations, which “ bestows on his whole manner a degree of perfection, " and consequently bestows on his religion a brightness of “ evidence, unattainable by any other means. Thus the * assaults of ancient infidels contributed greatly to the “ confirmation of Christianity, merely by the influence which
they had on the manner of its author in proposing the “ proofs of it. But this, though very considerable, is not " the only advantage resulting from them. This advantage is • peculiar to the opposition of the contemporaries of Jefus 6. but the fame prejudices and vices which produced that " opposition, moved lucceeding unbelievers in the early ages, to 6 contrive new Objections against the gofpel, or to repeat the - former ones. Thele too have been the occasion of throwing
new light upon the evidences of our religion, and of “i rendering their strength more confpicuous.
• The opposition of modern Infidels must likewise be of very 66 considerable advantage, as it has a very strong tendency to “ make all sensible Christians extremely cautious in chusing " their weapons--wary in examining the propriety of every
principle on which they build-attentive to the soundness ss and strength ofevery argument which they urge-scrupulous “ about the truth of every deduction which they make ; in a “ word, careful that the defences which they offer for their 66 religion be, in all respects beyond reasonable exception. The
Spirit of Infidelity fails not to lay hold of any weak arguments 56 which are employed in defence of Christianity. However “ sparing unbelievers are, in undertaking a regular confutatiorr “ of folid answers made to their Objections their writings “ show, that they are not backward to make all the advantage
possible of the mistakes of Christians. When Infidels are “i awake to observe these, Christians come likewise to have " a strong motive to expose and rectify the false reasonings of
one another and to banish inconclusive reasonings from the 56 defence of Christianity.”
But notwithstanding all the advantages which have arisen to Christianity from the opposition of Infidels, it is not to be denied that instead of extending its influence, it is evidently losing ground. One of the most populous and extensive * See Gerard's Dissertations, p. 309, &c.
Countries in Europe has openly abjured Christianity as an Imposture *. The seeds of Infidelity have, with incredible diligence been fown, in Germany, in Italy, in the Low Countries, and even our own more highly favored Island has not escaped the Contagion. The learned Author of a feries of Sermons preached before the University of Cambridge has asserted that “ the Objections which the celebrated Historian 66 of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire has revived “ against the divine origin of our Religion, are acutely urged “ and forcibly expressed," and that “ their pernicious influence 66. is rendered lasting and extensive, as they are not contained “ in a detached and trivial production, but are inserted in the
** The Centre from which the Mischief hath spread," says the learned Bishop of Rochester, “ is France. In that Kingdom the Mystery of iniquity ¢ began to work, somewhat earlier than the middle of the century which is “ jutt passed away:
Its machinations at first were secret, unperceived, disguised. Its instruments were persons in no conspicuous stations. But 6. by the persevering zeal of an individual, who by an affectation of a depth Si of universal learning which he never possessed ; by audacity in the s circulation of what he knew to be falsified History; by a counterfeit zeal " for toleration ; but above all, by a certain brilliancy of unprincipled “ wit, contrived to acquire a celebrity for his name and a deference to his “ opinions, far beyond the proportion of what might be justly due either to “ his talents or his attainments (though neither the one nor the other were o inconsiderable); by the perfevering zeal, say, of this miscreant, " throughout a long, though an infirm and sickly life of bold active impiety, " a conspiracy was formed of all the wit, the science, the philosophy, and " the politics, not of France only, but of many other countries, for the “ extirpation of the Christian name. The art, the industry, the disguise, “the deep laid policy with which the nefarious plot was carried on, the • numbers of all ranks and defcriptions which were drawn in to take part « in it, &c. are facts that are indeed astonishing. In this confederacy the 6 men of science and letters certainly played the principal part. And with “ so much earnestness they played it, that for many years, nothing was done “ in France for the improvement of Science, without a view to the differvice “ of Religion. To this purpose every discovery was bent, every advancement " in learning was applied.
“ From the middle of the Century to the period of the French Revolution, ' every great literary undertaking in that Kingdom, cvery considerable i publication upon whatever subject, Natural Philosophy, Natural History, “ Chemistry, Anatomy, Morals, Law and Politics, was in fome way or (i other brought to bear, directly or indirectly, upon the great object of the " conspiracy, the defamation and discredit of the Christian Religion. “ This was seldom indeed the immediate and avowed Object, but it was
a sort of under-plot, if the expression may be allowed, in every piece, to ** which what appeared to be the main action was in truth subfervient. The 6s stratagem was in this part the more certain of success, and of a wide suggestion of the leader of the band, as a work which would prove highly " conducive to the success of their plot, by the opportunities it would afford "them, in the way in which it was proposed to them to manage it, in which ** indeed they have managed it, of diffeminating their own principles, of 5 bringing darkness, doubt, and uncertainty, upon the first principles of “ Religion and Morals, and of perplexing the inquisitive mind with the “ subtlety of dismembered disquisition upon abstruse metaphysical disquisition " questions ; disquisition, not given altogether, but broken into parts, and “ scattered, as it were, in fragments through the work; care being taken, " that what seems proved in one article shall seem to be confuted under " another; while the Reader is ftudiously referred from the one to the other " of these contradictory articles ; that, if he is a studious enquirer after Truth, " he may derive nothing from the most diligent consuitation of these " omniscient Volumes, but the turment of Doubt, Mistruít, and universal so Scepticism. Floundering in that muddy ocean for a certain length of time, " it will be well with himn indeed, if its troubled waters sloat him not at last, ** when his strength is spent, to the cireary shores of Atheismi. For, if a “ Man, who has once believed in God, can but be bronght to waver and bi doubt in that belief, the end will generally be, that there will be no God “ for him. To bring mankind in general, ilily and unawares, to this state,
« body of a history, which can perish only with the language « itself. But,” he adds, “ the force of truth will oblige us to “ confess that in the attacks which have been levelled against
our Sceptical Historians, we can discover but slender traces “ of profound and exquisite erudition-of folid criticism and " accurate investigation ; but are too frequently disgusted « by vague and inconclufive reasoning,—-by unscasonable “ banter and senseless witticisms—by unlettered bigotry and " enthusiastic jargon,-by futile cavils and illiberal invectives." Having thus degraded the Advocates of Christianity ;Of the Hiftorian of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire he says, Proud and elated by the weakness of « his Antagonists, he condescends not to handle the sword 66 of controversy, but darts forth the invenomed shafts of $6 farcastic ridicule: he approaches indeed the camp and defies “s and permanent effc&t, because many of the works, which has this tendency,
were performances of great merit in their avowed subjects, and for a long “ time will be standard, books, among those who apply themselves to the * sciences of which they treat. Thus they convey the poison in the most “ unsuspicious form; they have scattered it wide over the civilized world, " and they will transinit it to remote ages.”
It may not, perhaps, be thought improper to present the Reader with one of the two instances which the learned Bishop las selected in proof of his assertion, as it may pollibly guard the Reader against the pernicious influence which might otherwise arise from the perusal of it. 6. The famous “ Encyclopedie,” says he," was undertaken by a knot of Atheists, at the
was the object of the Encyclopedie." See Bishop Horsley's Charge in the y car 1800, pages 4-9.