Page images

it then to be accounted for, that, although they will call them fanatics, enthusiasts, and other unpleasant names, yet it is very rare that they reckon them immoral ? If, as is sometimes the case, they accuse them of unworthy motives, and insinuate that in secret they are as wicked as others, either such insinuations are not seriously believed, or, if they be, the party is considered as insincere in his profession. No man thinks that genuine Christianity consists with wicked life, open or secret. But the ideas of infidelity and immorality are associated in the public mind; and the association is clear and strong; so much so, as to become a ground of action. Whom do men ordinarily choose for umpires, trustees, guardians, and the like? Doubtless they endeavour to select persons of intelligence: but if to this be added Christian principle, is it not of weight in these cases; It is seldom known, I believe, but that a serious and intelligent Christian, whose situation in the world renders bim conversant with his concerns, will have his hands full of employment. Ask bankers, merchants, tradesmen, and others, who are frequently looking out for persons of probity to occupy situations of trust, in whose hands they would choose to confide their property? They might object, and with good reason, to persons whose religion rendered them pert, conceited, and idle ; but would they not prefer one who really makes the Bible the rule of his life, to one who professedly rejects it? The common practice in these cases affords a sufficient answer.

How is it that the principles and reasonings of Infidels, though frequently accompanied with great natural and acquired abilities, are seldom known to make any impression on sober people? Is it not because the men and their communications are known ?* How

It is said of a gentleman lately deceased, who was eminent in the lite rary world, that in early life he drank deeply into the free-thinking scheme. He and one of his companions, of the same turn of mind, often carried on their conrersations in the hearing of a religious but illiteraie countryman. This gentleman, afterwards becoming a serious Christian, was concerned for the countryman, lest his faith in the Christian religion should have been shaken. One day he took the liberty to ask him, Whether what had so frequently been advanced in his hearing had not produced this effect upon him? “By no means,” answered the countryman, “it never made the least impression

is it that so much is made of the falls of Noah, Lot, David, Jonah, Peter, and others? The same things in heathen philosophers, or modern unbelievers, would be passed over without notice. All the declamations of our adversaries on these subjects plainly prove that such instances with us are more singular than with them. With us they are occasional, and afford matter for deep repentance; with them they are habitual, and furnish employment in the work of palliation. The spots on the garments of a child attract attention ; but the filthy condition of the animal that wallows in the mire is disregarded, as being a thing of course.

The morality, such as it is, which is found among Deists, amounts to nothing more than a little exterior decorum. The criminality of intention is expressly disowned.* The great body of these writers pretend to no higher motives than a regard to their safety, interest or reputation. Actions proceeding from these principles must not only be destitute of virtue, but wretchedly defective as to their influence on the well-being of society. If the heart be towards God, a sober, righteous, and godly life, becomes a matter of choice; but that which is performed, not for its own sake, but from fear, interest, or ambition, will extend no farther than the eye of man can follow it. In domestic life it will be but little regarded, and in retirement not at all. Such, in fact, is the character of Infidels. “Will you dare to assert,” says Linguet, a French writer, in an address to Voltaire, " that it is in philosophic families we are to look for models of filial respect, conjugal love, sincerity in friendship, or fidelity among domestics? Were you disposed to do so, would not your own conscience, your own experience, suppress the falsehood, even before your lips could utter it ?

upon me." "No impression upon you !" said the gentleman, " why, you must know that we had read and thought on these things much more than you had any opportunity of doing.” “O yes,” said the other, “but I knew also your manner of living : I knew that to maintain such a course of conduct, you found it necessary to renounce Christianity.”

* Volney's Law of Nature, p. 18. + Linguet was an admirer of Voltaire; but disapproved of his opposition to. Christianity. See his Review of that author's Works, p. 264.

" Wherever society is established, there it is necessary to bave religion : for religion, which watches over the crimes that are secret, is, in fact, the only law which a man carries about with him ; the only one which places the punishment at the side of the guilt ; and which operates as forcibly in solitude and darkness as in the broad and open face of day." Would the reader have thought it? These are the words of Voltaire !

Nothing is more common than for deistical writers to level their artillery against the Christian ministry. Under the appellation of priests, they seem to think themselves at liberty to load them with every species of abuse. That there are great numbers of worldly men who have engaged in the Christian ministry, as other worldly men engage in other employments, for the sake of profit, is true ; and where this is the case, it may be expected that hunting, gaming, and such kind of amusements, will be their favourite pur. suits, while religious exercises will be performed as a piece of necessary drudgery. Where this is the case, “ their devotion must be feigned, and their seriousness mere hypocrisy and grimace.” But, that this should be represented as a general case, and that the ministry itself should be reproached on account of the hypocrisy of worldly men, who intrude themselves into it, can only be owing to malignity. Let the fullest subtraction be made of characters of the above description, and I appeal to impartial observation whether there will not still remain in only this particular order of Christians, and at almost any period, a greater number of serious, upright, disinterested, and benevolent persons, than could be found among the whole body of Deists in a succession of centuries.

It is worthy of notice, that Mr. Hume, in attempting to plunge Christian ministers into the mire of reproach, is obliged to descend himself, and to drag all mankind with him, into the same situation. He represents ministers as “ drawn from the common mass of mankind, as people are to other employments, by the views of profit;" and suggests that “therefore they are obliged, on many occasions, to feign more devotion than they possess," which is

[merged small][ocr errors]

friendly to hypocrisy.* The leading motives of all public officers, it seems is to aggrandize themselves. If Mr. Hume had accepted of a station under government, we can be at no loss, therefore, in judging what would have been his predominant principle. How weak, as well as wicked, must that man have been, who, in order to wound the reputation of one description of men, could point bis arrows against the integrity of all ! But the world must forgive him. He had no ill design against them, any more than against himself. It was for the purpose of destroying these Philistines, that he has aimed to demolish the temple of human virtue.

Nor is his antipathy, or that of his brethren, at all to be wondered at. These are the men who, in every age, have exposed the sophistry of Deists, and vindicated Christianity from their malicious aspersions. It is reasonable to suppose, therefore, that they will always be considered as their natural enemies. It is no more a matter of surprise that they should be the objects of their invective, than that the weapons of nightly depredators should be pointed against the watchmen, whose business it is to detect them, and expose their nefarious practices.

After all, Mr. Hume pretends to respect “ clergymen, who are set apart by the laws to the care of sacred matters ;” and wishes to be understood as directing his censures only against priests, or those who pretend to power and dominion, and to a superior sanctity of character, distinct from virtue and good morals. It should seem then, that they are dissenting ministers only that incur Mr. Hume's displeasure : but if, as he represents them, they be “ drawn to their employment by the views of profit,” they certainly cannot possess the common understanding of men, since they could scarcely pursue an occupation less likely to accomplish their design. The truth is, Mr. Hume did not mean to censure dissenting ministers only ; nor did he feel any respect for clergymen set apart by the laws. Those whom he meant to spare were such clergymen as were men after his own heart; and the objects

* Essay on National Characters, Note.

+ Essays Moral and Political, Essay XII. pp. 107, 108, Note.

of his dislike were truly evangelical ministers, whether churchmen or dissenters, who were not satisfied with his kind of morality, but were men of holy lives, and consequently were respected by the people. These are the men against whom the enmity of Deists has ever been directed. As to other priests, they have no other difference with them than that of rivalship, wishing to possess their wealth and influence, which the others are not always the most willing to relinquish. In professing, however, to “respect” such clergymen, Mr. Hume only means to flatter them, and draw them on to a little nearer alliance with his views. Respect is excited only by consistency of character and is frequently involuntary. A clergyman of loose morals may be preferred, and his company courted, hut repected he cannot be.

As to those ministers against whom Mr. Hume levels his artillery, and against whom the real enmity of his party has always been directed, there is not a body of men in the world, of equal talents and industry, who receive less, if so little, for their labours. If those who have so liberally accused them of interested motives gained no more by their exertions than the accused, they would not be so wealthy as many of them are.

Compare the conduct of the leading men among Deists, with that of the body of serious Christian divines. Amidst their declamamations against priestly hypocrisy, are they honest men ? Where is their ingenuousness in continually confounding Christianity and Popery? Have these workers of iniquity no knowledge! No,' say some, they do not understand the difference between genuine and corrupted Christianity. They have never had opportunity of viewing the religion of Jesus in its native dress. It is popish superstition against which their efforts are directed. If they understood Christianity they would embrace it.. Indeed? And was this the case with Shaftesbury, Bolingbroke, Hume, or Gibbon? or is this the case with Paine ? No, they have both seen and hated the light ; nor will they come to it, lest their deeds should be made manifest.

It may be thought, however, that some excuse may be made for Infidels residing in a popish country; and this I shall not dispute, as it respects the ignorant populace, who may be carried away by

« PreviousContinue »