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DIFFICULTIES OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION
1 Cor. xii. 9.
We know in part.
THE systems of pagan theology, have in then it ought still to have the preference. general affected an air of mystery; they have For example, the system of infidelity and of evaded the light of fair investigation; and, atheism, is exempt from the difficalties of favoured by I know not what charm of sanc. Christianity; but, its whole mass is a fertile tified obscurity, they have given full effect source of incomprehensible absurdities, and to error and immorality. On this subject, of difficulties which cannot be resolved. the enemies of Christianity have had the pre- The whole of these propositions, my bresumption to confound it with the pagan su- thren, claim the most carefal investigation. perstition. They have said, that it has, ac. If Heaven shall succeed our efforts, we shall cording to our own confession, impenetrable have a new class of arguments for the supmysteries ; that it is wishful to evade inves- port of our faith. We shall have a new motigation and research; and that they have tive to console ourselves within the inits but to remove the veil to discover its weak. God has prescribed to our knowledge, and ness. It is our design to expose the injus- await with ardour and patience, the happy Lice of this reproach by investigating all the period, till that which is perfect shall come ; cases, in which mysteries can excite any till that which is in part shall be done away; doubts concerning the doctrines they contain, till' we shall behold the Lord with
open face, and to demonstrate on this head, as on every and be changed into glory by his Spirit.' So other, that the religion of Jesus Christ is be it. Amen. superior to every other religion in the world. 1. Mysteries should render a religion doubt. It is solely in this point of view, that we pro- ful when we cannot examine whether that ceed to contemplate this avowal of our apos- religion proceed from the spirit of truth, or tle, and in all its principal bearings. We from the spirit of error. Mankind neither can, know in part.'
nor ought to receive any religion as divine, There are chiefly four cases in which mys- unless it bear the marks of divine authority, teries render a religion doubtful.
and produce its documents of credibility. I. When they so conceal the origin of a re- For example, if you should require Mahcligion that we cannot examine whether it has met to produce the proofs of his mission, be proceeded from the spirit of error, or from would say* that it had a peculiar character, the spirit of truth. For example, Mahomet and a singular sort of privilege ; that till his secluded himself from his followers; he af- call, all the sent of God were obliged to prove fected to hold conversations with God, con- the divinity of their mission; and the precealed from the public, and he has refused to phets gave signs by which they might be adduce the evidence. In this view, there is known that Jesus Christ gave sight to the nothing mysterious in the Christian religion ; blind, hearing to the
deaf, health to the sick, it permits you to trace its origin, and to and life to the dead : but on his part, he had weigh the authenticity of its proofs.
received authority to consign over to eternal II. Mysteries should render a religion torments every one who shall dare to doubt doubtful, when they imply an absurdity. For the truth of his doctrine; and anticipating example, the Roman Catholic religion es- the punishment, he put every one to the tablishes one doctrine which avowedly revolts sword who presumed to question the divine common sense, and annihilates every motive authority of his religion. But if you require of credibility. But the mysteries of our faith of Jesus Christ the proofs of his mission, he have nothing which originated in the human will give you evidence the most obvious and mind, and which our frail reason can in equi. satisfactory. Though ye believe not me, ty reject.
believe the works. If I had not come and Ill. Mysteries should render a religion spoken unto them; if I had not done among doubtful, when they tend to promote a prac- them the works which no other man did, they tice contrary to virtue, and to purity of mo- had not had sin. But now are they without rals. For example, the pagan theology had excuse The works that I do in my Father's inysteries of iniquity; and under the sanction name, they bear witness of me.' Jobn 1. 25. of religious concealinent, it favoured prac. 38: xv. 22 24. tices the most enormous, and the foulest of If you ask the followers of Mahomet, how vices. But the mysteries of the gospel, are they know that the Alcoran was really trans'mysteries of godliness,' 1 Tim. iii. 15. mitted by the prophet, they will confess that
IV. In a word, mysteries should render a he knew neither how to read nor write ; and religion doubtful when we find a system less encumbered with difficulties than the one we
* See the Alcoran, chap. on the lin. of Joach; attack : but wben the difficulties of the sys- thuuder ; chap. on the nocturnal journey ; chap. on
chap. on gratifications, chap. on Jonah; chap. on ten we proposo surpass those of our religion, the Creator ; chap. on the spider.
that the name of prophet is often assumed by certainty of the life to come; and thoso vamen ignorant of letters: but they will add, rious maxims, that we must not give alms that be conversed for twenty years with the in ostentation ; that God loveth a cheerful angel Gabriel ; that this celestial spirit ra- giver, that all things are possible to him;' vealed to him from time to time certain pas- and that he searches the heart.' You will sages of the Alcoran ; that Mahomet dicta find a book in many places directly opposed ted to his disciples* the subjects of his reve- to the maxims of the sacred authors, even lation ; that they carefully collected what when it extols the Deity, as in the laws it ever dropped from his lips; and that the col. prescribes respecting divorce ; in the permislectron so made constitutes the subject of the sion of a new marriage granted to repudiated Alcoran. But, if you wish to penetrate far. women; in the liberty of having as many ther, and to trace the book to its source, you wives as we please, a liberty of which Mawill find that after the death of Mahomet, his bomet availed himself; in what he recounts pretended revelations, were preserved mere- of Pharaoh s conversion; of Jesus Christ's ly on fugitive scrolls, or in the recollection speaking in the cradle with the same facility of those who had heard him; that his suc- as a man of thirty or of fifty years of age; cessor, wishful to associate the scattered in what he advances concerning a middle limbs in one body, made the collection more place between heaven and hell, where those with presumption than precision ; that this inust dwell who have done neither good nor collection was a subject of long debate among evil, and those whose good and evil are equal ; the Mahometans, some contending that the in what he says concerning Jesus Christ's prince had omitted many revelations of the escape from crucifixion, having so far deceivprophet; and others, that he had adopted ed the Jews that they crucified another in some which were doubtful and spurious. You his place, who very much resembled him.* will find, that those disputes were appeased You will find a book replete with fabuloas solely by the authority of the prince under tales. Witness what he says of God having whora they originated, and by the permanent raised a mountain, which covered the Israelinjunctions of those who succeeded him on ites with its shadow.t Witness the dialogue the throne. Consequently, it is very doubt. he imagined between God and Abraham. ful, whether the impostures of Mahomet Witness the puerile proofs he adduces of the really proceeded from himself, or were im- innocence of Joseph. Witness the history of puted to him by his followers.
the seven sleepers. Witness what he asserts Some even of Mahomet's disciples affirm, that all the devils were subject to Solomon. that of the three parts which compose the Witness the ridiculous fable of the ant that Alcoran, but one is the genuine production comınanded an army of ants, and addressed of the prophet. Hence, when you show them them with an articulate voice. Witness the any absurdity in the book, they will reply, notions he gives us of paradise and hell.llthat it ought to be classed among the two Whereas, if you require of Christians the spurious parts which they reject.t
characteristic authorities of their books, they But if you ask us how we know that the adduce sublime doctrines, a pure morality, books, containing the fundamentals of our prophecies punctually accomplished, and at faith, were composed by the holy men to the predicted period, a scheme of happiness whom they are ascribed, we readily offer to the most noble and the most assortable with sumnbit them to the severest tests of criticism. the wants of man that ever entered the mind Let them produce a book whose antiquity is of the most celebrated philosophers. the least disputed, and the most unanimously If you ask the sectarians of Mahomet what acknowledged to be the production of the signs God has wrought in favour of their reauthor whose name it bears ; let them adduce ligion, they will tell you, that his mother the evidences of its authenticity; and we bore him without pain; that the idols fell at will adduce the same evidences in favour of his birth ; that the sacred fires of Persia were the canon of our gospels.
extinguished ; that the waters in lake Sava If you ask the followers of Mahomet to diminished; that the palace of Chosroes fell show you in the Alcoran, some characteris- to the ground. They will tell you, that Matics of its divine authenticity, they will extol homet himself performed a great number of it to the skies, and tell you that it is an un- miracles, that he made water proceed from created work; the truth by way of excel- his fingers; that he cut the muon, and made lence; the miracle of miracles; superior to a part of it fall into his lap. They will tell the resurrection of the dead; proinised by you, that the stones, and the trees saluted Moses and the apostles; intelligible to God him, saying, Peace, peace be to the ambassaalone ; worthy to be received of all intelli- dor of God. ** They will tell you, that tho gent beings, and constituted their rule of sleep obeyed his voice; that an angel having conduct.'t But when you come to investi- assumed the figure of a dragon, became his gate the work of which they have spoken in guardian. They will tell you, that two men such extravagant terms, you will find a book of enormous stature grasped him in their destitute of instruction, except what its au- hands, and placed him on the top of a high thor had borrowed from the books of the old mountain, opened his bowels, and took from and New Testament; concerning the unity his heart a black drop, the only evil Satan of God; the reality of future judgment; the
* Chap. on Women. † Preface, page 14. Chap. on Ruth.
ll Chap. of orders. * Bee Maraccio on the Alcoran, page 36.
See Maraccio's Life of Mahomet, page 10. to see Joseph of St. Maria on the expedition to the Simon's Hist. Crit. of the Faith of the Nations Maraccio on the Alcoran, chap. vi.
** Maraccio, preface, page 14. col. 2.
of the Levant.
possessed in his heart: haring afterward re 1 position, that a whole is greater than a pari. stored him to his place, they affixed their Our proposition is thorefore confirmed, that seal to the fact.* l'abulous tales, adduced mysteries ought to render a religion suspectwithout proofs, and deservedly rejected bred when they imply absurdities. We wish the more enlightened followers of Mahomet you to judge of the Christian religion accord
But, if you require of the Christians mira- ing to this rule. cles in favour of their religion, they will pro- Now if there be in our gospels a doctrine duco them without number. Miracles wrought concerning which a good logician bas apin the most public places, and in presence of parent cause to exclaim, it is this; a God, the people ; miracles, the power of which was who has but one essence, and who neverthecommunicated to many of those who em- less has three persons; the Son, and the Hobraced Christianity; miracles admitted by ly Spirit who is God; and these three are Zosimen, by Porphyry, by Julian, and by the but one. The Father, who is with the Son, greatest enemies of the gospel; miracles does not become incarnate, when the Son be which demonstrate to us the truth by every comes incarnate. The Son, who is with the test of which remoto facts are susceptible"; Father, no longer maintains the rights of iniracles scaled by the blood of innuinerable justice in Gethsemane, when the Father martyrs, and rendered in some sort still visi. inaintains them. The Holy Spirit, who is ble to us by the conversion of the pagan with the Father and the Son, proceeds from world, and by the progress of the gospel, and both in a manner ineffable: and the Father which can find no parallel in the religion of and the Son, who is with the Holy Spirit, Mahomet, propagated with the sword, as is do not proceed in this manner. Are not confessed by his followers, who say, that he these ideas contradictory? No, my brethren. fought sixty battles, and called himself the If we should say, that God has but one esmilitary prophet. Whereas Christianity was sence, and that he has three essences, in the established by the prodigies of the Spirit, same sense that we maintain be bas bat and by force of argument. The mysteries one ; if we should say, that God is three of the gospel are not therefore in the first in the same sense he is one, it would be class, which render a religion suspected. a contradiction. But this is not our thesis. They do not conceal its origin. This is what We believe the faith of a divine we proposed to prove,
book, that God is one in the sense to which II. Mysteries should expose a religion to we give the confused name of essence. We suspicion, when they imply an absurdity. believe that he is three in a sense to which Yes, and if Christianity notwithstanding the we give the confused name of persons. We luminous proofs of its divine authority ; not. determine neither what is this essence, nor withstanding the miracles of its founder ; what is this personality. That surpasses reanotwithstanding the sublimity of its doctrines; son but does not revoli it. notwithstanding the sanctity of its moral If we should say, that God in the sense we code, the completion of its prophecies, the bave called Essence, is become incarnate, magnificence of its promises ; notwithstand and at the same time this notion is not incar. ing the convincing facts which prove that the nate, we should advance a contradiction. books containing this religion were written But this is not our thesis. We believe on by men divinely inspired; notwithstanding the faith of a divine book, that what is called the number and i he grandeur of its miracles; the person of the Son in the Godhead, and notwithstanding the confession of its adver- of which we confess that we have not a dissaries, and its public monuments; if it was tinct idea, is united to the humanity in 3 possible, notwithstanding all this, should the manner we cannot dete mine, because it has Christian religion include absurdities, it not pleased God to reveal it. This surpassought to be rejected. Because,
es reason, but does not revolt it Every character of the divinity here ad- If we should advance, that God (the Spirduced, is founded on argument. Whatever it) in the sense we have called Essence, prois demonstrated to a due degree of evidence ceeds from the Father and the Son, while ought to be admitted without dispute. The the Father and the Son do not proceed, we proofs of the divine authority of religion are should advance a contradiction. But this is demonstrated to that degree; therefore the not our thesis. We believe on the credit of Christian religion ought to be received with a divine book, that what is called the Holy out dispute. But were it possible that Spirit in the Godhead, and of which we cona contradiction should exist; were it fess we have no distinct idea, because it has possible that a proposition, appearing to not pleased Ciod to give it, has procession in. us evidently false, should be true, ovi- effable, while what is called the Father and dence would no longer then be the char- the Son, differing from the Holy Spirit ia acter oftruth, and ifevidence should no longer that respect, do not proceed. This surpassbe the character of truth, you would have no es reason but does not revolt it. farther marks by which you could know that a We go even farther. We maintain not onreligion is divine. Consequently,you could not ly that there is no contradiction in those doebe assured, that the gospel is divine. To trines, but that a contradiction is impossible. me, nothing is more true than this proposi. What is a contradiction in regard to us? It is tion, a whole is greater than a part. I would an evident opposition between two known reject a religion how true soever it might ap- ideas. For instance, I have an idea of this pear, if it contradicted this fact; because, pulpit, and of this wall. I see an essential how evident soever the proofs might be al difference between the two. Consequently, leged in favour of its divinity, they could I find a contradiction in the proposition, that never be more evident than the rejected pro- this wall, and this pulpit are the same being. * Ibid, page 13.
Such being the nature of a contradiction. I
say, it is impossible that any should be found escape under the plea of mystery, and of the
and entire in all the parts of the host, which
the divine authority of the Christian relirion, Were we, I allow, to seek the faith of the for the evidences of Christianity terininate church of Rome in the writings of some in on this principle, that evidence is the characdividual doctors, this doctrine would be less ter of truth. But if the doctrine of transubliable to objections. Some of them have stantiation be true, palpable absurdities expressed themselves, on this subject, in an ought to be believed by the Roman Cathoundetermined way; and have avoided det» il. lic: evidence, in regard to him being no longThey say in general, that the body of Christ er the character of truth. If evidence in reis in the sacrament of the eucharist, and that gard to him be no longer the character of they do not presume to define the manner. truth, proofs the most evident in favour of
But we must seek the faith (and it is the Christianity, can carry no conviction to him, method which all should follow who have a and he is justified in not believing them. controversy to maintain against those of I go farther still; I maintain to the most that communion); we must, I say, seek the zealjus defender of the doctrine of transubfaith of the church of Rome in the decisions stantiation, that properly speaking, he does of her general councils, and not in the works not believe the doctrine of transubstantiation. of a few individuals. And as the doctors of He may indeed verbally assert his faith, but the council of Trent lived in a dark age, in he can never satisfy his conscience: he may which philosophy had not purified the errors indeed becloud his mind by a confusion of of the schools, they had the indiscretion, not ideas, but he can never induce it to harmonoply to determino, but also to detail this doc- ize contradictory ideas: he may indeed intrine; and thereby committed themselves by advertently adhere to this proposition, a body a manifest contradiction. Hear the third haring but a limited circumfcrence, is at the canon of the third session of the council of same time in hearen, and at the same time on Trent. "If any one deny, that in the vener- eurth, with the same circumference. But no able sacrament of the eucharist, the body of man can believe this doctrine, if by believing, Christ is really present in both kinds, and in you mean the connecting of distinct ideas; such sort that the body of Christ is wholly for no man whatever can connect together present in every separate part of the host, both distinct and contradictory. let him be anathematized.'
III. We have said in the third place, that Can one fall into a more manifest contra- mysteries should render a religion suspected, diction? If you should say, that the bread is when they hide certain practices contrary tó destroyed, and that the body of Christ inter- virtue and good manners. This was a charvenes by an effort of divine omnipotence, you acteristic of paganism. The pagans for the might perhaps shelter yourself from the re- ' most part affected a great air of mystery in proach of absurdity; you might escape un. , their religious exercises. They said, ihat der the plea of mystery, and the limits of the mystery conciliated respect for the Gods. human mind. But to affirm that the sub. Hence, dividing their mysteries into two stance of the bread is destroyed, while the classes, they had their major and their mikinds of bread, which are still but the same nor mysteries. But all these were a covert bread, modified in such a manner, subsist, is for impurity! Who can read without horror is not to advance a mystery, but an absurdi- the mysterios of the god Apis. even as they ty. It is not to prescribe bounds to the hu- are recorded in pagan authors? What infaman mind, but to revolt its convictions, and mous ceremonies did they not practise in extinguish its knowledge.
honour of Venus, when initiated into the If you should say, that the body of Christ, secrets of the Goddess ? What mysterious which is in heaven, passes in an instant from precautions did they not adopt concerning the heaven to earth, you might perhaps shelter' mysteries of Ceres in the city of Eleusis ? yourself from the reproach of absurdity, and No man was admitted without mature cxre.
rience, and a long probation. It was so esta- , all those we do not avow. Join all the preblished, that those who were not initiated, texts you affect to find in the arge. ats could not participate of the secrets. Nero which nature affords of the being of a God, did not dare to gratify his curiosity on this and the reality of a providence Join there. head ;* and the wish to know secrets allow to whatever you shall find the most forcible ed to be disclosed only by gradual approach, against the authenticity of our sacred books, was regarded as a presumption. It was for- and what has been thought the most plausible bidden under the penalty of death to disclose against the marks of Divine authority exhibithose mysteries, and solely, if we may believe ted in those Scriptures. Join to these all Theodoret, and Tertullian, to hide the abo- the advantages presumed to be derived from minable ceremonies, whose detail would de- the diversity of opinions existing in the file the majesty of this place. And if the Christian world, and in all its sects which recital would so deeply defile, what must the constantly attack one another. Make a new practice be?
code of all these difficulties. Form a system The mysteries of Christianity are infinitely of your own objections. Draw the concludistant from all those infamous practices. sions from your own principles, and build an The gospel not only exhibits a most hallow- edifice of infidelity on the ruins of religion. ing morality, but whatever mysteries it may But for what system can you decide which teach, it requires that we should draw from is not infinitely less supportable than relitheir very obscurity motives to sanctity of gion? life. If we say, that there are three Persons
Do you espouse that of atheism? Do you who participate in the divine Essence, it is say, that the doctrine of the being of a God to make you conceive, that all which is in owes its origin to superstition, and the fears God, if I'may so speak, is interested for our of men ? And is this the system which has salvation, and to enkindle our efforts by the no difficulties ? Have rational men need to thought. If we say, that the Word was made be convinced, that the mysteries of religion flesh, and that the Son of God expired on are infinitely more defensible than the mysthe cross, it is to make you abhor sin by the teries of atheism. idea of what it cost him to expiate it. If we Do you espouse the part of irreligion? Do say, that grace operates in the heart, and you allow with Epicurus, that there is a God; that in the work of our salvation, grace forms but that the sublimity of his Majesty obthe design and the execution, it is with this structs his stooping to men, and the exteninference, that we should work out our own sion of his regards to our temples, and our salvation with fear and trembling. If we altars? And is this the system which has no teach even the doctrines of God's decrees, it difficulties? How do you reply to the infiniis to make our calling sure,' Phil. ii. 12; 1 ty of objections opposed to this system? How Pet. i. 10.
do you answer this argument, that God harIV. We have lastly said, that mysteries ing not disdained to create mankind, it is inshould render a religion doubtful, when we conceivable he should disdain to govern find a system, which on rejecting those mys- them? How do you reply to a second, the teries, is exempt from greater difficulties inconceivableness that a perfect being should than those we would attack. We make this form intelligences, and not prescribe their romark as a compliment to unbelievers, and") devotion to his glory? And what do you say to the impure class of brilliant wits. When to a third, that religion is completely formed, we have proved, reasoned, and demonstrated ; and fully proved in every man's conscience ? when we have placed the arguments of reli- Do you take the part of denying a divine gion in the clearest degree of evidence they revelation ? And is this the system which is can possibly attain : and when we would de- exempt from difficulties? Can you really cide in favour of religion, they invariably in prove that our books were not composed by sinuate, that religion has its mysteries; that the authors to whom they are ascribed? Can religion has its difficulties;' and they make you really prove that those men have not these the apology of their unbelief.
wrought miracles? Can you really prove that I confess, this objection would have some the Bible is not the book the most luminous, colour, if there were any system, which on and the most sublime, that ever appeared on exempting us from the difficulties of religion, earth? Can you really prove, that fishermen, did not involve in still greater. And when- publicans, and tent-makers, and whatever ever they produce that system, we are ready was lowest among the mean populace of Ju. to embrace it.
dea; can you prove, that people of this desAssociate all the difficulties of which we cription, have without divine assistance, spoallow religion to be susceptible. Associate ken of the origin of the world, and of the whatever is incomprehensible in the doctrine perfections of God; of the nature of man, of the Trinity, and in the ineffable manner in his constitution, and his duties in a manner which the three Persons subsist, who are the more grand, noble, and better supported than object of our worship. Add thereto what. Plato, than Zeno, than Epicurus, and all the ever is supernatural in the operations of the sublime geniuses, which render antiquity Holy Spirit, and in the mysterious methods venerable, and which still fill the universo he adopts to penetrate the heart. Neither with their fame? forget the depths into which we are appa- Do you espouse the cause of deism? Do rently cast by the doctrines of God's decrees, you say with the Latitudinarian, that if there and make a complete code of the whole. be a religion, it is not shut up in the narrow To these difficulties which we avow, join bounds which we prescribe? Do you main
lain that all religions are indifferent? Do *Life of Nero by Suetonius, chap. 34, you give a false gloss to the apostle's words,