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and punishment-and of the nature and necessity of the atonement required for the sins of man-will be each subjected to his revision and scrutiny; and the truth and falsehood, and the mischievous or salutary tendency of all, discussed with patient, distinctive, and dispassionate impartiality.
But he will not confine his inquiry to the precepts, the doctrines, and the institutions, which he may be thus required to examine. He will recollect that, if the Deity have been pleased to select any persons, at any time, for the communication of his laws to mankind, those persons will be impressed with especial marks of their divine vocation, and exhibit, in their wisdom and their virtues, the evidences of their adaptation to the purposes of heaven. He will, therefore, candidly and calmly advert to the founders of the religions which he reviews; and he will consider the character of their lives, and of their moral and intellectual qualities, as a further criterion by which the claims of their respective systems may be rejected or sustained.
In this manner, then, I have here considered the infidel objection to the necessity and credibility of the Gospel. Nor let it be affirmed, that I have uncandidly selected, for the purpose of comparison, the four great religions which have prevailed in the East and in the West. Those religions were framed and published under the most favourable circumstances, and were the product, in various ages, of minds, equal or superior, in genius and sagacity, to the most distinguished philosophers of modern times. The Greek, the Hindu, and the Roman Polytheism, were the boast and the reverence of the most polished and cultivated nations; the Koran was the work of a man, whose admitted talents were aided
by his intimacy with the Jewish and Christian scriptures; and on the Koran and on the Polytheism, poets, legislators, and statesmen, have repeatedly lavished the vindication of argument, the illumina tion of comment, and the zeal of eulogy.
The elegant mythology" of the Greeks and Romans has not been denied the applause of the "Historian of the Roman Empire," and his taste and genius have thrown a veil over its defects. The Pere Thomassin has toiled in the same service, and collected, in his Lectures on the Poets, every testimony which erudition could supply, of the excellence and beauty of that singular system. The absurdities which could not endure a literal intelpretation, were converted, by the learned ingenuity of Dacier, and of others of the same school, into profound and philosophical allegories. Our ownCudworth, whose penetration could explore the darkest recesses of religious metaphysics, has discovered various perfections in the same mass of mythological fable. The erudite mysticism of Ramsay has pursued a similar course, and detected, in the multiplicity of heathen deities, a celestial triad of wisdom, of goodness, and of power. The subtle and reflecting Hume, while he rejected the Gospel, has admitted the probability of a religion of twenty thousand gods*. And even the plain and not unlearned Spence seems willing to deny the polytheism of the Greek mythology; and, while he asserts the
"The whole mythological system (of Greece") is so natural, that, in the variety of planets and worlds contained in this universe, it seems more than probable that some where or other it is really carried into execution. Hist. of Rel. sect. XI. Hume was not often to be intimidated by the hazard of adventurous speculation.
supreme or sole divinity of the polyonomous Jupiter, he degrades the rest of the deities into subordinate and ministring deputies of his providence and of his power.
The religions of the Bramin and of the Mahometan have not been denied their portions of favour and applause. The first was embraced and adopted by the zeal of Egypt, and the taste and elegance of Greece*, and has been defended, in modern times, by the report of the historian and the commentary of the critics. Of the Koran the justification has been equally ardent and eloquent. The enthusiasm and fancy of Boulenvilier, the erudition and pertinacity of Sale, and, occasionally, the ingenuity and refinement of Gannier, have celebrated the wisdom and sagacity of Mahomet, with almost the zeal and the talent of the orthodox Abúlfeda; and, if assent were to be proportioned to the fervor or the temerity with which these writers and others of the same class, have extolled the Sura of the angelic Gabriel, the institution of Islem would not be thought unworthy of the celestial origin to which it is ascribed.
In contrasting these religions with the Gospel, I have placed no reliance on theories and systems; and I have regarded with suspicion the ingenuity of fanciful or enthusiastic commentators, which is exercised as often for the maintenance of an ambiguous dogma, as for the illustration or diffusion of truth. No mystic reverie, therefore, will be found to darken
• Sir William Jones, on the gods of Asia, of Egypt, and of Greece.
+ Dow, Holwell, and others of their school, have displayed perseverance and talent in their report of the antiquity and excellence of the Braminical religion. See Appendix, note B.
these pages. The dreams of rabbi of every school are equally disclaimed; and the creeds surveyed, instead of being sought for in the doubtful glosses of theologists, are deduced only from their origin in the doctrines of their founders.
Nor have I ever intentionally devoted my page to sects or sectaries. The discussion of polemic subtleties, which has contributed to divide the Christian world into so many schisms, was as little consistent with my inclination as with my design. Instead of entering, then, into the arena of combat, and labour-" ing for the maintenance or justification of mysterious or ambiguous dogmas, I have sought only to resolve a question interesting to every professor and every opponent of the Gospel; and, following the path marked out by the wisdom of Boyle, I have endeavoured to sustain the evidence of "the necessity and the divine origin of the Christian dispensation, without descending to the controversies which exist among Christians themselves."
Though I have not been anticipated, as I believe, in the plan of my work, I have yet received assistance from preceding writers which I would neither disparage nor deny. By some of them, the obstructions, which might otherwise have retarded my progress have been, in several instances, diminished or removed; and some of them I have followed, as far as they led, with that deference which is due to superior talents, and that respect which is merited by useful, honourable, and successful diligence.
Among these, I have been indebted to Leland for
• Mr. Boyle directs, that the lectures founded by his will, should be conducted in this manner. Codicil to Boyle's will, July 18, 1691.
occasional aid. He has discussed the "Advantage and Necessity of the Christian Revelation," with much patience and erudition. His plan, indeed, did not permit him to take an ample or a satisfactory view of the subject; and he has been condemned, perhaps justly, by the critic, for the wearisome minuteness of his details, the ostentatious quotation and needless prolixity with which he has bloated his work, the tedious, sluggish, and yet imperfect expansion of his argument, and the very defective statement which he affords of the internal evidences of the Christian Religion*. But he is prudent, circumspect, and learned, careless to amuse, anxious to convince, contemptuous of subtilty and of paradox, and laborious to adduce whatever proofs might be gleaned from the volumes of antiquity, for the confirmation of his opinions. The testimony which he produces, of the wild and wanton absurdity of the Greek mythology, is cogent and convincing. He leads us into the interior of the temple of Polytheism, and discloses the polluted altars, the monstrous worship, and the disgusting or ludicrous institutions of Paganism; and his whole discussion, though too much limited in its topics for the inference which he is anxious to deduce, and sometimes too much dilated in its wordiness for the patience of his reader, is
• He almost wholly devotes two quarto volumes, including nearly one thousand pages, to the discussion of the errors and absurdities of the polytheism of the Greeks; and yet the discussion is limited, in a great degree, to three topics, "the knowledge and worship of the one true God, the rule of moral duty, and the state of future reward and punishment," as they are disclosed or announced by the religion of Greece. The internal evidence of the gospel occupies, comparatively, but a few pages of the work, and is very imperfectly deduced.