« הקודםהמשך »
PART THE FIRST ;
PART THE SECOND;
THE struggle between religion and irreligion has existed in the world in all ages ; and if there be two opposite interests wbich divide its inhabitants, the kingdom of Satan and the k ngdom of God, it is reasonable to expect that the contest will continue till one of them be exterminated. The peaceful nature of Christianity does not require that we should make peace with its adversaries, cease to repel their attacks, or even that we should act merely on the defensive. On the contrary, we are required to make use of those weapons of the divine warfare with which we are furnished, for the pulling down of strong holds, casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringeth into captivity every thought to the obedience of Cbrist.
The opposition of the present age has not been confined to the less important points of Christianity, nor even to its first principles : Christianity itself is treated as imposture. The same things, it is true, have been frequently advanced, and as frequently repelled, in former ages; but the adversaries of the gospel of late, encouraged it should seem by the temper of the times, have renewed the attack with redoubled vigour. One of their most popular writers, boping to avail bimself of this circum-tance, is pleased to entitle his performance The Age of Reason. This wri. ter is aware that flatterry is one of the most powerful means of gaining admission to the human mind; such a compliment, therefore, to the present age, was doubtless considered as a masterstroke of policy. Nor is Mr. Paine less obliging to himself than to his readers, but takes it for granted that the cause for which he pleads is that of reason and truth. The considerate reader, however, may remark, that those writers who are not ashamed to beg the question in the title page, are seldom the most liberal or impartial in the execution of the work.
One thing which has contributed to the advantage of Infidelity is, the height to which political disputes have arisen, and the degree in which they have interested the passions and prejudices of mankind. Those who favour the sentiments of a set of men in one thing, will be in danger of thinking favourably of them in others ; at least they will not be apt to view them in so ill a light as if they had been advanced by persons of different sentiment in other things, as well as in religion. It is true, there may be nothing
more friendly to infidelity in the nature of one political system than another; nothing that can justify professing Christians in accusing one another, merely on account of a difference of this kind, of favouring the interests of Atheism and irreligion : nevertheless it becomes those wbo think favourably of the political principles of lofidels to take heed lest they be insensibly drawn away to think lightly of religion. All the nations of the earth and all disputes on the best or worst mode of government, compared with this are less than nothing and vanity.
To this it may be added, that the eagerness with which men en gage in political disputes, take which side we may, is unfavourable to a zealous adherence to the gospel. Any mere worldly object, if it become the principal thing which occupies our thoughts and affections, will weaken our attachment to religion : and if once we become cool and indifferent to this, we are in the high-road to Infidelity. There are cases, no doubt, relating to civil government, in which it is our duty to act, and that with firmness : but to make such things the chief object of our attention, or the principal topic of our conversation, is both sinful and injurious. Many a promising character in the religious world has, by these things, been utterely ruined.
The writer of the following pages is not induced to offer them to the public eye from an apprehension that the Church of Christ is in danger. Neither the downfall of Popery, nor the triumph of infidels, as though they had hereby overturned Christianity, have ever been to him the cause of a moment's uneasiness. If Christianity be of God, as be verily believes it to to be, they cannot overthrow it. He must be possessed of but little faith who can tremble, though in a storm, for the safety of the vessel which contains his Lord and Master. There would be one argument less for the divinity of the scriptures, if the same powers which gave existence to the Anti-christian dominion had not been employed in taking it away.* But though truth has nothing to fear, it does not follow that its friends should be inactive ; if we should have no apprehensions for the safety of Christianity, we may, nevertheless, feel for the rising generation. The Lord confers an honour upon bis servants in condescending to make use of their bumble efforts in preserving and promoting his interest in the world. If the present attempt may be thus accepted and honoured by Him to whose name it is sincerely dedicated, the writer will receive a rich reward.
KETTERING, Oct. 10, 1799.
* The powers of Europe, signified by the ten horns, or kings, into which the Roman empire should be divided, were to give their kingdoms to the beast. They did so: and France particularly took the lead. The same powers, it is predictel, shall hate the whore, and burn her flesh with fire. They have beg to do so : and in this business also France has taken the lead. Rev. xvii. 12. 13. 16-18.
The controversies between believers and unbelievers are confined to a narrower ground than those of professed believers with one another. Scripture testimony, any farther than as it bears the character of truth, and approves itself to the conscience, or is produced for the purpose of explaining the nature of genuine Christianity, is here out of the question. Reason is the common ground on which they must meet to decide their contests. On this ground Christian writers have successfully closed with their antagonists : so much so, that of late ages, notwithstanding all their boast of reason, not one in ten of them can be kept to the fair and honourable use of this weapon. On the contrary, they are driven to substitute dark insinuation, low wit, profane ridicule, and gross abuse. Such were the weapons of Shaftesbury, Tindal, Morgan, Bolingbroke, Voltaire, Hume, and Gibbon: and such are the weapons of the author of the Age of Reason. Among various well-written performances, in answer to their several productions, the reader may see a concise and able refutation of the greater part of them in Leland's Review of the Deistical Writers.
It is not my design to go over the various topics usually discus. sed in this controversy, but to select a single one, which, I conceive, has not been so fully attended to, but that it may yet be considered with advantage. The internal evidence which Christianity possesses, particularly in respect of its holy nature and divine harmony, will be the subject of the present inquiry.