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The fpeculative doctrines of Christianity did not originate in enthusiasm.
THE fpeculative doctrines of Christianity, fo far as our present subject leads us to examine them, may be confidered perhaps as of three different defcriptions. ift. Those which reafon might have difcovered, or at leaft when discovered, may perceive to be certainly true, from their connection with self-evident principles of knowledge;-2dly. Those which reafon could only perceive to be probable, not certain, and in which therefore the light of revelation may be highly important to dispel our doubts, and direct our opinions;
and 3dly. Such doctrines as are plainly above reafon, which it had no conception of antecedent to the existence of Christianity, and which, after they are discovered, it receives folely on the authority of revelation, requiring only that they shall not contradict thofe principles of knowledge, which reft on felfevident or demonstrative certainty.
It is foreign from the object of this treatise to enter. into metaphyfical or abftract difcuffions, or compare the probability of controverted opinions. It is defirable, and happily it is easy, to feparate fuch questions
from the main proofs which fupport the gofpel of Christ; and whatever may be the particular profeffion or the private opinions of an author, he ought not to bring them forward to clog, with unneceffary difficulties, so important an enquiry as that which relates to the origin and foundation of the whole Christian scheme. Under this impreffion I fhall confine myself to fuch brief obfervations as the nature of my fubject feems neceffarily to require.
It will not be questioned that Christianity teaches, in the most clear and exprefs manner, all thofe doctrines which reason might have discovered, or when discovered can demonftrate to be true, and which are therefore termed the principles of natural religion: the existence of one God, the firft caufe of all things, endowed with infinite perfection; the dependance of man on him, and the confequent neceffity of obedience to his will, fo far as it is known, as the only mode of fecuring the greatest degree of perfection and happiness to which man can attain. But abstractedly confidered, this would not prove that the teachers of Christianity were either divinely inspired, or even free from enthusiasm or imposture; these truths were exprefsly taught in the Jewish religion, and therefore may have been borrowed from it either. by deceivers or fanatics. But when we contemplate the manner in which thefe truths are taught, and compare it with the national prejudices, the low rank, and the unlearned education of the first preachers of
the gofpel, the comparison will, I think, afford a ftrong prefumptive proof of their freedom, either from the artifice of impofture or the weakness of fanaticism; they teach the truths of natural religion with much zeal and earnestnefs, and at the fame time with fuch fimplicity as feem unaccountable, if we suppose them artful, interested deceivers. To "love the Lord our God with all our heart, and foul, and mind," they represent as "the first and great commandment;" the temper of mind to exalt and perfect which, the whole discipline of this world, as well as the entire Christian scheme, is ftated to be fubfervient. On this they ground the love of our neighbour as fecond in the rank of moral duties. All the attributes of the Divinity are represented in ftriking, though frequently familiar terms and images, but always fo as to promote virtue and purity of heart, justice and mercy to our fellowcreatures, and an entire fubmiffion to the will, and trust in the providence of God. The personal interests or prejudices of the preachers never intermix with, or debase this facred fubject. Now, is not all this inconfiftent with the character either of interested artifice or deluded fanaticifm?
If in addition to this we confider the general state of religious knowledge in the world at the introduction of the gospel, the difficulty of forming fuch a just
• Matt. xxii. 37.
pure representation of natural religion, will appear fo great as to render it very incredible, that the authors of fuch a representation fhould have been weak and visionary enthusiasts.
It is notorious that the moft polite and learned nations of the Heathens, notwithstanding the progrefs of learning and civilization, had continued for a series of years to accumulate errror upon error, and profanation on profanation; they had degraded religion by the groffeft idolatry, and corrupted mora, lity by tolerating, and even fan&tioning the fouleft crimes. Their fages and philofophers made fcarce any attempt at all, and never any fuccessful attempt, to check the progrefs of error, idolatry and vice, amongst the multitude; they confined their inftructions to the learned and fpeculative, and in general talked an obfcure and technical language, calculated chiefly for the use of their respective fects; and they entertained the most perplexing doubts on the most demonftrable and fundamental truths of natural religion, fuch as the unity, the perfections, the providence, and even the existence of a God; and very rarely did they attempt to found the practice of virtue on the divine command, or teach men to expect recompence according to their works from the divine fentence. But whatever truths they may have taught, the teachers of the gospel (St. Paul perhaps excepted) had little opportunity of any access to their inftructions,
tions, and evidently none of them have borrowed any thing from their systems.
The Jews, it is true (moft of them at least) maintained the existence, perfections, and providence of God; but almost every fect of them intermixed with these truths errors and prejudices which corrupted their genuine fimplicity, and weakened their practical effect. Some conceived that God might excuse the absence of piety and virtue, if conciliated by ceremonies and facrifices; others denied a future life, and thus fubverted the fanctions of morality; almost all, with the narrow views of bigots, conceived Godto be exclufively the God of their own nation, and despised other nations, as unworthy his regard; and they advanced traditions and comments fo puerile, extravagant, and even immoral, as rendered the genuine word of God of none effect.
Amidft this general corruption of faith and practice arofe the firft teachers of the gofpel; and though obfcure and unlearned, though educated in the midst of Jewish bigotry and fuperftition, they rescued natural religion from the corruptions of both Jews. and Heathens, and taught men every where to worship the Father in spirit and in truth. Does not this render it highly improbable that they were weak deluded fanatics?-nay, does it not even afford a ftrong prefumption of their being really enlightened by