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Christ asserted.” He does not doubt that there was such a person as Jesus Christ, and that he, in the main, did and taught as is recorded of him.” “ The writings of the apostles contain excellent cautions, advices and instructions, which serve for the right conducting of our affections and actions."*
Lord Bolingbroke asserts, that “the system of religion which Christ published, and his evangelists recorded, is a complete system to all the purposes of religion, natural and revealed.” Again, “Christianity, as it stands in the Gospel, contains not only a complete, but a very plain system of religion. It is, in truth, the system of nutural religion ; and such it might have continued, to the unspeakable advantage of mankind, if it had been propagated with the same simplicity with which it was originally taught by Christ himself.”—“The gospel is in all cases one continued lesson of the strictest morality, of justice, benevolence, and universal charity.”+
Hume, in the conclusion of his essay on Miracles, says that the reasoning there employed “may serve to confound those dangerous friends or disguised enemies to the Christian religion, who have undertaken to defend it by the principles of human reason. Our most holy religion is founded on faith, not on reason; and it is a sure method of exposing it to put it to such a trial as it is by no means fitted to endure.”
Gibbon does not“ deny the truth of Christianity.” So far from this, he speaks of it as “the divine revelation," and says that its success was primarily “ owing to the convincing evidence of the doctrine itself, and to the ruling providence of its Great Author.”I
The writers here mentioned are among those who, by common consent, have long been denominated Deists or Infidels. It will be understood, of course, that they frequently express sentiments which, to ordinary minds, seem very inconsistent with the declarations above quoted. It is no uncommon thing for the advocates of error, in this enlightened age, to be inconsistent with themselves. But it is evident, from what has been said, that they claimed to believe and respect the Gospel. They talked of its excellent morality, and of its divine author. Instead of regarding themselves as infidels, some among them insisted that they were the most consistent Christians. They were only clearing away the rubbish by
* Leland's Deistical writers, vol i. pp. 214, 227, 228.
Priestley's Church History, vol. vi. p. 366, and Gibbon's History vol. i. p.536. Even Byron sometimes speaks of the Bible with veneration, and of those as “thrico happy," who embrace it.
“ Within this awful volume lies,
The mystery of mysteries!
peyshe, labored, and hou a personasIeter of the Savied, if not all
which the Gospel had been obscured, and laboring to restore it to its pristine purity.* It is said expressly by Dr. Priestley, that “ before the French revolution, hardly any person in England, or on the continent, avowed himself an unbeliever in writing.”+ It is plain, therefore, that men may be infidels without avowedly and formally rejecting Christianity.
2. A person may be an infidel, and still not treat the character of the Saviour with open irreverence or disrespect. Most of the English Deists whose names have been mentioned, if not all of them, professed to admire the character of the Saviour. They believed there was such a person as Jesus Christ, and that he lived, taught, labored, and suffered, much as is represented in the Gospel. Morgan, “in many passages, speaks very honorably of Jesus Christ, and of the religion he introduced, as having brought clearer discoveries of our duty, and enforced it by stronger motives, and provided more effectual aids, than ever was done before. Accordingly, he expressly declared himself to be a Christian, on the foot of the New Testament.”I Chubb, in the conclusion of his Farewell to his readers, has the following declarations : “If any say that what I have written is out of disrespect to the person and ministry of Jesus Christ, the accusation is false.” “ As upon the Christian scheme, Jesus Christ will be the judge of quick and dead, I assure my readers that in this view, I have no disagreeable apprehensions, on account of anything that I have published to the world.”
Lord Bolingbroke “pretends that the New Testament consisteth of two Gospels, the one published by our Saviour himself, and recorded by the evangelists; the other by St. Paul ;" and while he rejects and inveighs against the latter, he professes to receive and admire the former.||
The testimony of the arch-infidel Rosseau to the character of the Saviour is probably familiar to many of my readers. “Is it possible that he, whose history the Gospel records, should be himself a mere man? Is this the style of an enthusiast, or of an ambitious sectary? What sweetness, what purity, in his manners ! What affecting grace in his instructions! What elevation in his maxims! What profound wisdom in his discourses! What presence of mind, what delicacy, what justness in his replies! What empire over his passions! When Plato paints his imaginary just man, covered with all the ignominy of guilt, and deserving all the honors of virtue, he paints Jesus Christ in every stroke of his pencil. What prejudice, what blindness must they have, who
* Tindal and Morgan honored themselves and their followers with the appellation of Christian Deists; and stigmatized all others as Christian Jews--the advocates of an “ Historical, political, clerical, mechanical faith and religion." Leland, vol. i. p. 153.
+ Church History vol. vi. p. 367.
dare to draw a comparison between the son of Sophroniscus and the son of Mary! What distance is there between the one and the other! If the life and death of Socrates are those of a philosopher, the life and death of Jesus Christ are those of a God."*
3. A person may be an infidel, and still admit that the Scriptures contain a revelation from God, and that particular portions are of divine inspiration.
“Lord Herbert did not pretend to deny the divinity of the Gospel.”+
Hobbes “ seems sometimes to acknowledge inspiration to be a supernatural gift, and the immediate hand of God.” He declares that though the laws of nature are not laws, as they proceed from nature, yet, “ as they are given by God in holy Scripture, they are properly called laws; for the holy Scripture is the voice of God, ruling all things by the greatest right.”[
Tindal, in a passage already quoted, says that all the doctrines of the Gospel “plainly speak themselves to be the will of an infinitely wise and holy God.”
Morgan often speaks of “ the light of revelation.” “He seems expressly to acknowledge the great usefulness of divine revelation in general, and of the Christian revelation in particular."||
Dodwell represents “the divine law" as "first dictated by the Holy Spirit ;'S and Chubb, in his posthumous works, acknowledges repeatedly " the divine mission of Christ.” He says that by Christianity, he means " that revelation of God's will which Christ was, in a special and particular manner, sent to acquaint the world with; and, as far as the writings of the apostles are consonant with it, they come under the denomination of Christianity."T
Lord Bolingbroke says that “ genuine Christianity was taught of God.” Again : “ Christianity, as it came out of the hands of God, if I may use the expression, was a most simple and intelligible rule of belief, worship, and manners,—which is the true notion of a religion.” “ The Christian system of faith and practice was revealed by God himself ; and it is absurd and impious to assert, that the divine Logos revealed it incompletely or imperfectly. Its simplicity and plainness showed, that it was designed to be the religion of mankind, and manifested likewise the divinity of its original.” “ Genuine Christianity is contained in the Gospel : It is the word of God. It requires, therefore, our veneration, and strict conformity to it."*
* Mr. Jefferson, who, as appears from bis works lately published, was a determined infidel, stooping even to the scurrility and vulgarity of Paine, yet strangely pretends to respect the character of Jesus, speaks of him as an illustrious “reformer," and of his precepts as constituting “ the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” vol. iv. p. 223.
+ Mosheim's Ecc. Hist., vol. v. p. 59.
|| ibid. p. 146. ý Christianity not founded on Argument, p. 112.
Vol. ii. p. 346.
Gibbon, as I have already shown, speaks of Christianity as “the divine revelation,” and of the Supreme Being as “ its great Author.”
4. A person may be an infidel, and yet be a professor of the Christian religion, and an observer of its ordinances. Hobbes “professed to be of the church of England, and used to receive the sacrament among her sons.” When Collins was made “ a justice of the peace, he received the sacrament as a qualifying test.” - Toland always prosessed himself a Christian.”+ Morgan and Woolston were originally clergymen, the one a dissenter, and the other of the established church. They were, of course, professors of religion, and never publicly renounced their profession. Lord Bolingbroke speaks in the most respectful manner of the Christian sacraments, and, without doubt, he partook of them. “No institutions can be imagined more simple, nor more void of all those pompous rites and theatrical representations that abounded in the religious worship of the heathens and Jews, than these two (baptism and the Lord's supper] were in their origin. They were not only innocent but profitable ceremonies; because they were extremely proper to keep up the spirit of true natural religion, by keeping up that of Christianity, and to promote the observance of moral duties, by maintaining a respect for the revelation which confirmed them." I
Voltaire “ always professed himself a Christian, and continued to do so upon his death-bed.”||
5. A person may be an infidel, and yet pretend much zeal for the Christian religion. This was the case in regard to Woolston. “He declares that he is the farthest of any man from being engaged in the cause of infidels or deists; and that he writes, not for the service of infidelity, which has no place in his heart, but for the honor of the holy Jesus, and in defence of Christianity.” He concludes several of his discourses by declaring, that his “design is, the advancement of the truth, and of the Messiahship of the holy Jesus, to whom be glory forever, Amen." Yet, under the pretence of exalting a supposed internal and mystical sense of Scripture by depreciating the literal sense, he asserts that the Gospels " are full of impossibilities, incredibilities, and gross absurdities; that they are like Gulliverian tales of persons and things that, out of the romance, never had a being ; that neither the fathers, the apostles, nor Jesus himself, meant that his miracles should be taken in the literal, but in the mystical and parabolical sense."*
* Works, vol. iv. pp. 349, 394, 451, 631.
Works, vol. iv. pp. 301, 302. || Hist. of Dissenters, vol. iii. p. 256. Avowed unbelievers, or deists, are now claiming admission to the churches of Unitarians in England, and their reception is warmly and publicly advocated. The following is from a letter of the Rev. Dr. Sprague of Albany, dated Manchester, (England,) April 7th, 1828 :— There is in last Saturday's paper, published here, a curious extract of a sermon, preached on the preceding Sabbaih, by one of the Unitarian ministers of this town, VINDICATING AN AMALGAMATION OF UNITARIA
and censuring, as illiberal, those who exclude a man from their charity, because he happens to differ from them on so small a point, as the divine authority of the Bible. I am credibly informed that this fact is quite in unison with the character of nearly all their congrega. tions ; and that the question in respect to the divine authority of revelation is regarded by most of them as an unimportant matter."
In 1742, Mr. Dodwell published his famous pamphlet, entitled “ Christianity not founded on Argument.” Under the appearance of great zeal for the Christian religion, he endeavors to show that this religion has no foundation in reason or argument, but rests on “a constant, particular revelation, imparted separately and supernaturally to every individual.” “ The Holy Ghost," says he, irradiates the souls of believers at once, with an irresistible light from heaven, that flashes conviction in a moment; so that their faith is completed in an instant, and the most perfect and finished creed produced, without any tedious process in deductions of their own." He quotes the Scriptures in proof of this strange doctrine, and offers up prayers for the friend to whom he writes, that “God would illuminate and irradiate his mind with a perfect and thorough conviction of the truth of his holy Gospel.”+
Lord Bolingbroke speaks also of his zeal for Christianity. “ Since I have said so much on the subject, in my zeal for Christianity, I will add this further: The resurrection of letters was a fatal period. The Christian system has been attacked, and wounded too very severely, since that time."|
The facts and testimonies adduced under the foregoing particulars, have materially narrowed the question in debate, and given it additional point and interest : For if persons may not only pretend to embrace Christianity, to revere the character of its Author, and to receive its records as, to some extent, of divine original, but may come to its ordinances, and profess a zeal for its purity and advancernent, and yet, by common consent, be denominated infidels; the question returns, with prodigious sorce, What makes a man an infidel? What constitutes infidelity? What are the characteristic marks, by which to distinguish between an infidel and a Christian ?
To these inquiries, the following, it is believed, is the only proper answer: The Christian receives the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, as coming from God-as of binding authority—as the standard of his faith, and the rule of his conduct ;—but the infidel, whatever he may prosess or pretend, never in reality does this.—The intelligent Christian is not
• Leland's Deistical Writers, vol. i. pp. 114, 115. pp. 89, 112.