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TO“ THE STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS OF HUMAN REASON.” IN free and familiar conferences it is never required that such a just accuracy of sentiment or language should be observed, or that men should be confined to such exactness of method, as in a set or studied treatise on any appointed theme. Occasional incidents frequently arise, and turn the conversation aside into an unexpected channel: Or sometimes, perhaps, we recal the same subject, and the same sense may be repeated again. And in the warınth of discourse some freedoms of thought and expression may break out, which stand in need of the candour of those that hear them, and it is ever allowed in such cases. Let it be noted also, that when persons of different characters are introduced in a free discourse, the narrator is not bound to defend all that one or any of the parties present happen to utter: He will not pretend to snpport every thing that Pithander urges in vindication of the insufficiency of human reason in matters of religion ; nor dares he venture to make all the concessions on the side of its sufficiency, nor advance all the suppositions that Sophronius the moderator hath done in this dispute. But, upon the whole, if there be any thing suggested in these conferences which may occasion Logisto and his companions, who are under temptations to infidelity, to bethink themselves a little ; if it may awaken any of them so far as to raise some doubts about the sufficiency of their boasted reason, and lead them to see and confess the necessity of divine revelation, in order to reformn the world, and to restore mankind to true religion and the favour of God, the writer hath attained his chief design, and shall rejoice in the success.
There is no objection which the author has found in any public writing raised against this book, but such as are already expressly and in plain langaage both proposed by Logisto, and answered by Pithander or Sophronius. And he intreats such opponents to read the book over before they Write against it, before they treat it with insult, and pronounce victory and triumph on their own side. The chief objection which the author las heard of, that hath been raised in conversation against these conferences, is, that the deist does not argue so .strenuously as he might bave done, nor pursue his cause with sufficient vigor and constancy; but that be seems to be too soon and 100 easily convinced by the reasoning of his antagonist or the moderator, in several of the subjects of controversy between them ; whereas our modern infidels would have scorned to have dropt the argument, or yielded up the cause without more contest. To this the author asks lease to reply, that if he bail cited the books whence he drew Logisto’s argument, the objector perhaps, would think better of them; for they are.not borrowed from the meanest writers. Nor has be ever represented Logisto falling under conviction, but where he thinks the argunents of Pitbander or Sophronius carry sufficient weight and convincing power with them: He confesses, indeed, that if be had drawn the teazing saw of controversy further, and prolonged a wrangling dialogue beyond this point, perhaps it would set the writers on that side in a juster view, agreeable to their own practice; but still it would have been mere cavilling instead of disputing, it would have reuderd the
reading tiresome, and have swelled the volume too much. Besides, the character of Logisto is an enquiring deist, not a resolved and obstinate unbeliever; and if he had been represented and supported in all the windings and turnings of a sophistical caviller, who avoids the light, and who would never, be satisfied, this would have thrown Legisto quite out of his cbaracter. However, if any of the modern disbelievers of revelation complain that the author has represented them as too fair disputants, as feeling the force of an argument too soon, and as yielding to just conviction beyoud what they are in reality, he bopes he may obtain an easy pardon for this sort of injury, from gentlemen who make such high pretences to a sincere search after truth, and a ready submission to the power of reason. As for any improvements that are made in this second edition, they chiefly consist in some additional force given to particular arguments, some further illustratons of what might appear less evident, and other small corrections interspersed through the whole work.
THE declining sun had abated the heat of the day, when Sophronius took his customary walk through the fields which bordered on his own estate. Having roved onward in meditation, to a greater distance than he first designed, it came into his thoughts that he had not paid a visit for two months before to his neighbour Logisto : So he called in at his door, to pass away an hour with him in friendly discourse, as they were sometimes wont to do, upon any profitable theme that might offer in the vast and unlimited range of religion or learning.
Logisto was a young gentleman of much larger circumstances; and as he had a sprightly genius, so he had taken some care to cultivate it, and was a great admirer of human reason. He had often of late fallen into company with some of our modern infidels, and for want of due caution, and better acquaintance with the true grounds of cliristianity, he had unhappily imbibed too many of their opinions. Yet the man had a candid soul, and seemed to be sincerely desirous of truth: He was ever enquiring after some further evidences of the christian doctrine, and as heartily attentive to the objections that were made against it. He had now seen somewhat more than thirty years of life, and he thought it was high time to settle his belief and his practice in matters of religion, on a foundation that might justify hiş conduct to his own conscience, and to God his judge. He was willing to receive an argument from the lips of laity or clergy, and could converse freely with a christian ininister, in bopes to borrow light and instruction from him: Nor would he treat that rank of men with those disdainful airs which are become so fashionable among the pretenders to infidelity. Logisto had appointed to spend that very evening in a set conference with Pithander, the Rector of the parish where he dwelt, upon that important point of controversy, “ Whether human reason were sufficient to guide and conduct mankind to future happiness?"
Pithander was a man in years, but of vigorous parts, noe yet decliving in his reasoning powers: A person of a grave and inanly deportment, and a pious life, becoming his character: He was a warm advocate for the christian faith : He preached the gospel with zeal and diligence, to the edification of his flock, and had lately read some writings of his excelleut diocesan, drawn up in an epistolary way, upon the subject of the present desigoed debate, wherein the insufficency of human reason in matters of religion, was strongly maintained. He publicly recommended these pastoral letters to the diligent and serious perusal of all his parish; for he was charmed with these writings, as the best vindication of our holy religion, which he had ever met with in so few pages, and lighly valued it as a noble defence of christianity worthy of a christian bishop.
Pithander had just entered Logisto's house, in order to fülfil their mutual appointment, and they were gone down to an elegant summer-house at the lower end of the garden, before Sophronious knocked at the gate. When he was admitted he chose to take a turn on the grass-plot, while the servant went to give notice to his master. Logisto espied him afar off, for he was of a tall and comely stature, which, together with his grizzled hair, had rendered his person more distinguished and conspicuous." See here, saith he to Pithander, a proper moderator for our intended debate, if you please to allow Sophronius to bear a part in the conversation of the evening." "I have some knowledge of him, replied Pithander ; he is a gentleman of good reading, and generally a pretty fair reasoner: Were it not for one thing, I should like him very well for a moderator; for I think he is in the main an honest man : But he indulges such a latitude of thought on some subjects, that I expect he will too easily allow reason to be a sufficient guide to lead heathens to heaven; for he not only speaks favourably of the presbyterians, but I myself once heard him say, that be believes even the papists and the quakers may have some good things among them, and soine good men too ?"
“ Good Sir, said Logisto, when shall we have done with all these party distinctions, and this narrowness of spirit ? Must charity be always a dangerous thing? If you know Sophronius, you know a man of ingenuity and honour; he hath a certain sagacity with him, whereby he spies the force of an argument at once; and knows the vast difference there is betwixt disputing and cavilling : He can tell you immediately where an objection pinches hardest, and is so honest as to feel and confess it, even when it is urged against his own opinions. He goes generally to church, and I take bim to be a very sincere believer in his bible; and upon this account my good friend, I have more reasou to say, he is unfit for a moderator in our present dispute, thas
you can have to think him so, on account of his moderation and his generous charity. I am well assured that he is no bigot, that he never runs into any extremes, nor follows any opinion for the sake of party : I think we may safely take him for a moderator between us; and I shall be glad to have him not only shew us what he observes of strength or weakness in each of our arguments, but shall request his final sentiments on the theme of our controversy.” Upon this Pithander soon agreed to the proposal : “ Let him, then, said he, hear our present debates, if you please, and pronounce at last on the subject." By this time Logisto's servant had got down to the summer-house, and having told his master of his new come guest, he was ordered immediately to wait on him down the long myrtle walk, and let liim know how much his company was desired. When they had paid mutual salutations, Logisto informed Sophronius of the intent of their meeting, of the subject of their intended conference, and of the office to which they had both appointed him; and they joined to intreat his consent. After a few becoming excuses, Sophronius chose rather to obey their order, than to disappoint the design of the evening : And see, said he, the sun grows low, therefore let your debate commence. Upon this Logisto began:
Log. My business, Pithander, is to prove, that human reason, without any revelation from heaven, is sufficient to guide and conduct mankind in a way of religion, to the favour of God, and future blessedness. Now that we may understand one another perfectly, and keep up the same ideas of the terms we use, throughout the whole dispute, I will try whether first we cannot settle the sense of them to our mutual satisfaction.
Pith. Then let us hear, sir, your explication of the terms.
Log. I question whether I can do it better than a late writer on this subject has done: I will make use of his words therefore, which are contained in the first page of his book : I have just bought it: Here it lies by me in the summer-house, and I will read the lines to you, sir, with a very little alteration. reason, I understand that faculty or power of the mind by which men discern and judge of right and wrong, of good and evil, of truth and error, and the like. By matters of religion, I understand not merely the practices of piety toward God, but of virtue and sobriety with regard to our neighbours and ourselves, and in general all those things which men are accountable for to the Maker and Governor of the universe ; and thereby render themselves the proper objects of reward or punishment. By guidance and conduct in matters of religion, I uoderstand an ability or capacity, if carefully and faithfully exercised, to discover what are these duties of piety and virtue, or what it is which man in reason and equity is accountable for, and which will render hiin the proper object of divine favour or displeasure; and likewise a