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EVIDENCES, DOCTRINES, AND DUTIES,
LETTER I. On the Folly and Absurdity of Deism. MY DEAR FRIEND, I was much gratified, on the arrival of your letter, to find that you had not forgotten me; and more gratified still to learn, that the important topic, on which we so often conversed when we were together, has as frequently occupied your thoughts since our separation. In this respect your conduct evinces your usual solicitude to inquire after truth of every kind, and I trust it will be followed by your accustomed success. While human existence is as much characterized by the un. certainty as by the shortness of its duration, and there is interposed between us and Heaven, or Hell, or annihilation, nothing but life, the most briitle and precarious thing imaginable ;-while there is no cause for vanity in being involved in impenetrable darkness, and none for consolation ; when we are in despair of ever finding a comforter, so long will it be the first and principal concern of a wise man, to inquire into his nature, his duties, and his expectations; to ascertain where he ought to doubt, where to be confident, and where to submit: and these inquiries necessarily com. prise the subject of Religion." Who is wise, and he
shall understand these things ? prudent, and he shall know them? For the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them; but the transgressors shall fall therein!.”
The derision with which some of your deistical companions affect to treat you, is matter of regret, but not of surprise. If their Deism be the result of supposed conviction, they are objects of pity; if, which is more likely to be the case, it be a consequence of indiffe. rence, and this deplorable indifference furnish them with a ground for boasting, they, instead of yourself, would be fit subjects for ridicule, were it proper to indulge such a propensity on so serious an occasion,
To a person of your extensive observation and contemplative turn of mind, it must appear extremely obvious, that as the vicious lives of many men make it their interest that religion in general should be “a bugbear," and the Christian Religion especially "an artful system of delusion;" so they will too commonly be found, not only ready, but eager to believe them really such. Nor can it be expected that they should stop here. For when once a certain method of treating a subject is nicely adapted to men's humours and situations, it would be strange, indeed, if they did not indulge in it; particularly when they find, as they soon will, that the majority of almost every company will cordially concur with them. If you wish to be proof against sneers and laughter, when directed against so momentous a subject, consider that the mirth and pleasure of the unthinking part of man. kind (by far the greater part) is almost as blind and mechanical as the actions of an automaton. Let them be but struck, and they will move as mere inert matter moves, until the effect of the impulse ceases. They are stirred, and often delighted; though with what, or for what cause, or to what purpose, they know not. Except, perhaps, when the string of religion is roughly touched by the hand of an enemy; for then, many
· Hosea, xiv. 9.
ignorant, and all irreligious hearts, like chords in unison, dance to the motion, and yield the same sound; just as the clank of a madman's chain, while it thrills to the soul of a man in his senses, shall collect around him all the lunatics in the same ward of his prison, and tempt them to dance with maniac delight, when every spectator shudders with horror.
I have heard of some modern free-thinkers, whose comprehension of mind has placed them on such an eminence, that they look down with contempt, not only upon Christians, but upon the shrivelled minds of other unbelievers, who have not yet taken such an adventurous flight: some who not merely deride those whom half the world calls fanatics and visionaries, but who are seated in a “scorner's chair" of such peculiar qualities as enchants them till they sneer at the narrow prejudices of Hume and Gibbon, and Voltaire and Paine, whom they fancy they have discovered to be “as superstitious as washerwomen.” Others have been impelled to still greater heights in this intellectual delirium. They contemplate with delight the prospect of a world without a Creator or a Governor; and boast of their demonstrations, by which they can convert any sensible man into an Atheist in a quarter of an hour; a transformation which, of course, would not be very difficult after they had explained to that sensible man, upon their own hypothesis, from whom he derived his sense. But the gentlemen, into whose company you are now so frequently thrown, do not, I presume, belong to either of these classes. It is more probable that some of them have embraced a kind of Semi-ATHEISM (I cannot think of a more appropriate term); a fine-spun theory, in conformity with which they persuade themselves that the Supreme Being does not govern the universe be created; but, after having covered it with living, and many of them rational beings, leaves them to console themselves with the cheering reflection that they are inhabitants of a forsaken and fatherless world—while HE, according to
this comfortable as well as philosophical notion, like a kind of Sardanapalus, sits at ease and surveys the goodly scene. If men who endeavour to disseminate such opinions ever cease to ridicule the maintainers of opposite sentiments, and condescend to argumentation, you might ask them to explain how it is possible that à derived being can be independent? You might inquire of them, whether that which is derived from another can exist necessarily in the first moment of its being? Whether that which does not exist necessarily in the first moment of its existence, can exist necessarily in the second, or in any succeeding instant? or, whether it must not owe its continued existence to the being by whom it was at first produced? If they be men of any acumen, they will at once perceive that, by supposing the existence of the being to continue when that on which it depended ceases, they would suppose it to be without the cause of its existence; and thus they would, by a kind of mental felo-de-se, support their hypothesis by destroying the superstructure on which it rests: so that, if they, to this acuteness which I have supposed them to possess, unite only common candour and openness to conviction, you would, by a very short process, make them ashamed of their fashionable Semi-atheism, and compel them to acknowledge that all the creatures of God do incessantly depend upon Him for the continuance of their existence. Thus will your opponents be forced to take the ground of pure Deism; and on that ground it is that you must meet them, if
wish to enter upon this momentous contest.
The opinions of Deists, from the time of Lord Herbert (the first and purest of the British freethinkers) to the present period, have assumed such multifarious shapes, that it is difficult to state them in such a way as to be free from objection?. Nominal
? This extreme diversity of sentiments among the pretended philosophers who reject Christianity has not escaped the pointed notice of some of their own class. The following language of Rousseau,