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unparticipated responsibility as creatures, on probation for the everlasting world.
R. Sir, I tell you plainly, there is a general dislike of the spirit in which you have written. You have no respect for people's feelings; you commit the most violent outrages on their religious associations; and when you pretend to deduce your consequences from our premises, you produce no conviction on people's minds; you only excite feelings of deep indignation, and a resolute determination not to be beaten off our ground with weapons like your's. I tell you, Sir, the world will not hearken to you.
A. My good friend, you do not seem to be aware that falsehood has no claims upon courtesy, and that error has no right to toleration: and yet it is a notorious fact, that the doctrine of eternal prescience is retained in the creed of most of its advocates merely by the exercise of a theological toleration, or by that of a theoretical connivance. The most glaring religious errors that have ever been expelled from the sanctuary of Christian theology, were at one time implicitly and universally received, and were handed down from generation to generation, as Christian verities of undoubted authority : at length their truth began to be suspected; but the persons who first disputed them pulled down upon their heads nothing but popular odium, and ecclesiastical anathemas. Ages elapsed before the public mind became fully enlightened to see their falsity, while thousands who suspected their truth, or were convinced of their falsity, continued to yield them a verbal acknowledgment. But when once they have been actually gibbeted in the public esteem, and the villany of their character has been fully exposed to the common sense of mankind, the indignant world has suffered them to hang up as a public warning, swinging with every breeze, and creaking with every storm, until they have dropped away piece-meal, from the gallows, and not a vestige of their carcass has been left to disturb the public tranquillity, or to operate on vulgar fears.
R. And do you mean to say that the advocates of the Christian doctrine of foreknowledge don't heartily believe in the truth of that doctrine ?
A. I can assure you, my good Sir, that you have precisely hit my meaning. And I even question whether, in the darkest ages of the Christian church, any educated and discerning man did
ever produce an analyzed and consecutive treatise in support of the doctrine of an eternal prescience. It has, indeed, been generally received in the world for many centuries past, but I question whether any person has ever written at any considerable length in its defence; and, if I am not greatly mistaken, the world will never hereafter be favoured with any analyzed and elaborate defence of the notion of eternal prescience. I thank my God, the time for such a production has long since been gone by, and I have no fear that it will ever return. The doctrine of an infinite prescience has acquired a relative sanctity by being associated for many ages with the solemn and substantial verities of our Christian faith, and by its imaginative association in the minds of religious people, with the divine realities of experimental and practical godliness. It is a species of theological vermin that has infested the sanctuary of the Christian church for many ages : the worshippers of Jesus had even learned to venerate these hoary depredators, as the hereditary and inalienable tenants of the mansion; so that when any person has begun to rid the house of God of these nocturnal enemies, by entangling them in the snares of his arguments, or by committing them at once to the faithful jaws of a logical deduction, he has thereby excited the sympathies of the whole Christian world, and drawn down upon his luckless head, a larger quantity of popular indignation, than did the cruel and sanguinary Herod when he massacred the babes of Bethlehem. But you say that the deductions which I have made from the doctrine of prescience produce no conviction on your mind, and that they only make you the more resolved not to be beaten off your ground by weapons like mine?
R. Yes, Sir, I do, and it is my settled and decided opinion, that you will only excite the disgust of the Christian public, and that people will not be convinced by any thing which you have said. Sir, I tell you that the world won't hearken to you.
A. My dear Sir, I am not very sanguine in my hopes of convincing and reclaiming many persons that have given their implicit credence to the doctrine of eternal prescience, but I do hope to check the progress of that doctrine on the minds of future generarations. Religious errors are a species of popular gangrene; its progress may be possibly arrested, but the parts that have been
much injured thereby will seldom be effectually renovated : they must generally be either lopped off from the trunk or suffered to wither away, and succeeding shoots and revolving seasons, must proclaim its renovated energies and its augmented glories. The doctrine of eternal prescience may, in like manner, be checked in its progress, or even stopped in its course, and here and there an ingenuous mind, and an enterprising spirit, may break
from its mental bondage, and rejoice in its freedom, but the great body of the advocates of that doctrine will continue in the determined belief of its divine authority.
R. What, Sir, do you mean to say that any good man would believe and defend a doctrine against the testimony of his own convictions ?
A. Sir, I will endeavour to answer you. Most pious people have got the ingredients of error and truth so mixed up and cemented together in their religious edification, that they are afraid to disturb a single stone or timber in the building, however unsound it
appears to be, lest the whole fabric should come tumbling about their ears. Yes, my good Sir, and if you will permit me to employ a very favourite simile with persons of your creed, I will add, “ The ivy has made its deepest entrenchments in the foundation of the cottage, its wild and rambling branches have entwined themselves around every angle, and indeed around every article of material in the building; its creepers and its superterrene roots have insinuated themselves into every joint and every crevice: in vain would you endeavour to disentangle the tottering mansion from their unfriendly and ruinous embraces; for the work of extirpation is now become utterly impracticable. Ivy and cottage must stand or fall together, and must therefore be left to their fate. But although they may fall together, and together moulder in the dust, yet their respective and dissimilar substances will be preserved separate and entire: and, ere long, God will renovate the fallen mansion, and he will then re-edify the building on immortal principles, and will beautify it with unfading glory; and then no entwining errors shall ever either enwrap or undermine the imperishable structure, or cover its beautiful architrave with the dark and ominous foliage of desolation and ruin.”
R. Sir, all this may be very splendid talk for any thing I know
to the contrary; but still I must tell you, it seems a very strange thing to me that you cannot maintain and inculcate your own doctrines without assailing the religious sentiments of other people with so much violence.
A. Let me tell you, my good friend, that what you appear to regard as being so exceedingly easy of practice, would require more ingenuity than most people are the masters of. For my own part, I should very much like to know how it would be possible for any person to defend the truth without committing an assault upon error, or how it would be possible to maintain and inculcate any religious doctrines, without being thought by people of opposite sentiments to attack and expose their system. Tell me how it would be possible to maintain and prove that two and two put together would make up the sum of four, without maintaining and proving at the same time that they could not possibly make up any other sum? And let me further ask you, Sir, whether such a maintenance of truth as would leave all error perfectly unmolested, would be either compatible with human integrity, or with Christian piety?
R. Now, Sir, you have asked me several questions, will you permit me to ask you whether you do not imagine that your book would have been read with much more attention and satisfaction, and would have been treated with a great deal more deference and respect, if you had but written with a little temperance?
A. My good Sir, I do most sincerely affirm that I am not conscious of any breach of courtesy in any thing which I have written, nor am I conscious that I have been guilty of any offence against the claims of Christian charity. You complain of the spirit in which I have written, but you do not produce any sentiment or phrase by which an improper spirit has been manifested : and if a man has so controlled his spirit as to repress every thing in his speech and his conduct that is exceptionable, it would seem, I think, that he has governed his spirit tolerably well. I have, it is true, pushed forward many objectionable premises to the most terrible and revolting conclusions; but I have not in any one instance imputed those consequences, either practically or in speculation, to any body of people, or to any single individual. I will freely confess to you, that I have not purposely written in a tame or obsequious style, because I have expressed my thoughts under
a full conviction of the validity of my arguments, and under a. lively impression of the great importance of the subject which I have endeavoured to investigate. But give me leave to suggest to you, my friend, that it may not be perchance the fierceness of my spirit, or the harshness of my expressions, but the hardness of my arguments that has given you so much displeasure; for you must be well aware that it is commonly the policy of a defeated disputant, rather to complain of the spirit of his opponent, than to acknowledge the force of his argumentation.
R. Well, Sir, you must expect to be answered : and remember that you yourself will have no claims on the courtesy of the public, either literary or theological.
A. If my arguments should be only fairly and fully refuted, I shall then have no real cause for complaint, although in that case, you, my good Sir, might have a just occasion of triumph : but you know very well, I presume, that it is possible for a book to be answered without being disproved.
R. What, then, do you imagine that there is no person in this kingdom who would be able to disprove your book ? and are you so vain as to fancy that you are the cleverest man in all the world?
A. Sir, I am pretty well satisfied that although a person should possess ten times the learning, and a hundred times the mental energy which I possess, he would nevertheless be utterly unable to refute the arguments which I have advanced. It will always require more learning and ingenuity to defend an error than it will to maintain the truth. A child might easily demonstrate that ten and ten put together would make up the sum of twenty, but an archangel would not be able to prove that they would amount to twenty-one. All the credit which I take to myself in the discussion, is for the courage of daring to look the question full in the face, and to demand for myself and for others, some legitimate and satisfactory evidence that the doctrine of eternal prescience is founded in truth. Before I entered upon the discussion of the subject, I was fully aware that the doctrine was propagated not by conviction but by authority, and the investigation has produced in my mind, the most decided conviction that the doctrine has no foundation whatever in truth and reason, or in the word of God. Sir, it is with the doctrine of eternal prescience, as it is with a popular ghost: walk up boldly towards him, and he will sneak