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Gospel thus crown themselves with the garlands of self-applause, and thus stigmatise those who labour to arrest the plague of infidelity, it is not difficult to ascertain. Was Shaftsbury, whose politeness and elegance have been so much extolled, more liberal or learned than Tillotson or than Barrow? Did the unwearied Voltaire, in whose page are mingled so many sophistries and gibes, display a more charitable and generous spirit, than the simple, modest, and accomplished Fenelon? Was Gibbon, who enjoyed so much the luxury of a sneer, more serviceable to mankind than Boyle or Locke? Or can it be said of the cool, the paradoxical, and the sceptical Hume, that he cherished less of the spirit of a sectary, even at the moment when sectaries were the objects of his contempt*, than the classical and polished Hurd, the mild and venerable Porteus, or the learned, the liberal, and the laborious Newcome?
If we look from the bitterness and vanity of these persons to their toils and their talents, we shall scarcely permit ourselves to prize them more highly. They multiply their volumes, indeed, with a zeal and perseverance not often surpassed in a better cause; yet, after all, what advantage do we derive from their infidel disquisitions? By what additional arguments have they confirmed or illustrated the genuine precepts of piety and of virtue! Or what good, intellectual or moral, has resulted from those sullen and unholy labours in which they are en
In note I, On the Essay on National Character, Hume has spoken of the clergy with a spirit of vituperation, equally unworthy of the philosopher and the man. According to him, they are stained with the worst vices; and the spirit of their corps is little more than a vile compound of ambition, pride, insolence, rancour, and revenge.
gaged, and which, if prosecuted with success, would be fatal to the genuine welfare and happiness of mankind!
Some benefit, however, has resulted from the efforts of these hardy speculators. The zeal of infidelity seldom fails to promote the energy of resistance and of defence. The Gospel, accordingly, if it has been misrepresented by its enemies, has been vindicated by its friends; and it may be almost said, that the Christian Religion is as much indebted to the scepticism which provoked the reply, as to the victorious learning by which the reply has been produced.
But the sceptic, though refuted, is not repelled. Disdaining to confine his discussions to a few topics, he talks of various readings, contradictory doctrines, false philosophy, idle fables, and impossible miracles, with exulting flippancy and tenacious dogmatism; and, at once, meriting and despising the reproach of the illustrious Euler, he indulges his contumely, and wastes his animadversions, on subjects incomparably more elevated and sublime than those which have baffled the patient industry of the most powerful and sagacious minds t. If, in this chivalry of sceptical warfare, he experience defeat,
* Appendix, note A.
+ Euler, in combating an error of Newton, expresses himself in a manner which might convey some useful instruction to the credulous incredulity of the sceptical philosopher. "Tous les jours que je vois de ces esprits-forts, qui critique les verités de notre religion, et s'en moquent meme avec la plus impertinente suffisance, je pense, chétifs mortels, combien et combien des choses sur lequelles vous raisonnez si legerement, sont elles plus sublimes, et plus elevés, que celles sur lequelles le grand Newton s'egare si grossierement."
his vanity and his zeal speedily renew the combat ; and, however pressed by learning and by truth, he continues, with unyielding pertinacity, to affect the pride, the port, and the pomp of triumph.
On one question of paramount importance, he particularly exercises his subtilty and his strength. Anxious not only to lop the branches, but to lay his axe at once to the root of, the tree, he maintains a proposition, which, if true, would be quite sufficient for his purpose; and boldly and unhesitatingly affirms that Revelation is incredible, because unnecessary; and unnecessary, because the reason of man is sufficient for the discovery of every duty which he owes to his Maker, to mankind, and to himself.
On the presumption that the Almighty lavishes not his attributes in useless or uncalled for miracles, and that, what man is enabled to discover for himself, will scarcely be disclosed by the interposition of heaven, he presses this argument with a confidence or a temerity not easily to be repressed. But what is that reason which, by its unassisted strength, is to accomplish so sublime and salutary a purpose? Is it a thing utterly abstracted from the influences of corrupt passions, and a perverse will? Is it governed only by a love of wisdom and of truth? Is it never disturbed in its serenity, and never warped in its judgments, by the views, the claims, and the interests of the world? If so, let the sceptic consult and applaud it as a teacher and a guide. But if, on the contrary, it be perpetually liable to perversion from evil propensities within, and evil impulses without, we may be less inclined to admit that it is sufficient to supersede the necessity of a revelation, and to construct a religion, which, in the perfect purity of its
morals and motives, might justly claim the respect and acceptance of mankind.
Let it be recollected that there may be something more required in religion, than a mere system of moral and devotional wisdom. Vicarious atonement, the intercession of a mediator, the certainty and the nature of a future state, the character and economy of a ruling Providence, and the operation of grace for the aid and illumination of human infirmity, may be subjects of great and paramount importance. Yet, on these topics, unassisted reason, in its highest perfection, has little to communicate; and we look to it in vain for light and guidance, where both may be most required by the feebleness and the necessities of man.
The religion of reason, a religion merely human, would be also defective in its sanctions and its authority. Men are imperfectly to be controuled by the law which they believe to be only the injunction of a being frail and feeble as themselves. The law, to be efficient, must be authoritatively pronounced, by a lawgiver invested with authoritative power. Obedience will be easily deflected from its course, where the means to enforce it are incompetent and weak; and prohibition will be feeble in direct proportion to the facility with which it may be evaded. The priest and the statesman, who, prior to the æra of the gospel, undertook to controul by laws the perversity of the multitude, have uniformly appealed to sanctions more powerful than the authority of human wisdom. They heard, in the solitude of their mountains and their woods, the sacred voice of a divine instructor; and the cavern and the desert witnessed their holy colloquies with beings of heaven. In this.
manner they endeavoured to enforce their institutions by pious pretences to the auxiliary inspiration of the gods; and they who might have rejected with contempt the fallacious creed of the human legislator, were to be intimidated and governed by idle tales of illumination from above.
But, after all, the candid inquirer will not rest his reply to the objection of the sceptic, on suggestions like these. Admitting the appeal which the objection virtually includes to experience and to fact, he will endeavour to estimate the asserted competence of unassisted reason, by the lights which unassisted reason has hitherto afforded for the rded for the regulation of the morals and motives of men. He will, therefore, advert to the respective religions of the Greek, the Roman, the Hindu, and the Mahometan, that is, the most distinguished systems of religious polity which human wisdom has ever been able to devise; and, comparing them, in their genius and their influence, with the genius and influence of the Gospel, he will endeavour to ascertain how far the necessity of an inspired religion may be inferred from the defects of the first, and how far the reality, from the nature and excellence of the last.
In the progress of this investigation, he will be studious to extend his view to all the great and essential topics of piety and of morality. Among these, the communications of the religions which he compares, on the subject of the being and the attributes of God-of the economy of Providence-of the worship due to the divine nature-of the laws and obligations of piety and morals of the consolations required under the trials and calamities of life-of religious observances and institutions-of the immortality of the soul-of a future state of reward