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Theophilus gratefully accepted of his offer; upon which he read, as follows.
- Dear Sir, “When I have no news to impart, I collect what materials I can, of any other kind, to show how desirous I am to keep up a correspondence with you. An ingenious gentleman of my acquaintance, whom I will call Novatianus, was in company with the lady Aspasia, who was exclaiming bitterly against a certain preacher, whose historical name shall be Eusebius. For Eusebius had asserted something, in one of his sermons, which gave the lady great offence. Upon which she condemned him, with a warm zeal, and great fluency of speech; and declared, she would never hear him more as long as she lived.
as she lived. This occasioned the following dialogue between her and my friend.
“ Novatianus. What was it, madam, in Eusebius's sermon, which offended you so much?
Aspasia. He asserted that we are to believe nothing but what we can understand.
“ Novatianus. Was that the thing which gave you so much offence ?
Aspasia. Yes, Sir, and enough too. I wonder how
any body can venture to assert such a thing. “So far the dialogue proceeded; and then they conversed, for an hour or two, about other matters ; by which means this affair was quite forgot. Then Novatianus begged the favour of a pen and ink, and
a small piece of paper; all which a servant readily brought him. Upon the paper he wrote down the following words in Greek, ο Θεός αγάπη εστίν. and then very gravely gave them to the lady, and desired her to read them. That revived the dialogue, which proceeded as follows. Aspasia, looking first upon the paper, and then looking earnestly, and with surprise and confusion, in Novatianus's face, said, sir, I cannot read them. What do you mean by this ? It is not English, and they are strange letters to me. I cannot imagine what you design, by asking me to read what I know nothing about. Novatianus gravely said, do you believe them, madam?
6 How can I, answered Aspasia, with great quickness, unless I understand them?
“ Hold, madam, replied Novatianus, you may surely believe things, which you cannot understand.
“ Aspasia. That is impossible.
“ Novatianus. Then I find that you are, after all, of Eusebius's opinion, notwithstanding his sermon offended you so much.
“ This startled the lady, and caused her to say ; I profess, I believe I am wrong. The thing never appeared to me in this light before. I really begin to suspect that I was mistaken, and that Eusebius was in the right. I beg his pardon for condemning him before I had duly considered the reasonableness of what he said. But what is the meaning of these words? For I cannot so much as read thein.
* Novatianus said, I will assure you, madam, they are the words of holy Scripture; and that according to the original. They contain a plain truth, and a very great and important truth. I would therefore have you try once more whether you cannot believe them before you understand them. Aspasia was now impatient to have them explained; and said to Novatianus, teaze me no longer. I freely acknowledge, that I was too rash and inconsiderate; and I am now fully convinced, that I cannot tell whether I believe what you propose to me, or not, till I understand what is meant thereby. Pray tell me, therefore, what the words signify; and keep me no longer in suspense.
As soon as I understand them, I will then tell you frankly whether I believe them or not.
“Well then, said Novatianus, I will gratify you by telling you that you may find the passage, 1 John iv. 8. and the English of it is, God is love.
“ That proposition, said Aspasia, I most readily and firmly believe; but I find that I could not believe it, till I understood it. I heartily beg Eusebius's pardon, and sincerely condemn my own folly and imprudence, in censuring what I ought to have applauded. I will promise you I will go and hear him again, and shall now have a better opinion of him than ever.
6. The next time that Novatianus visited Aspasia, she continued of the same mind, and severely condemned herself, but applauded Eusebius, and thanked Novatianus for taking so kind and ingenious a method of leading her into right sentiments upon that head; but was ready to wonder that she had not, before that, seen the matter in the same light, as it appeared so very obvious, now she had attended to it and carefully considered it.
“I know, my friend Pyrrho, that you are a speculative man, and will make reflections on such a story, which would not occur to others. Instead of news therefore or business, I thought it might not be amiss to send you this story. If it can afford you any useful hints, it is at your service. If not, accept it as a testimony of my being ready to oblige you."
When Pyrrho had read this letter, Theophilus said, that Novatianus had acted like a man of sense; and that he had clearly shown that men cannot believe what they do not understand. How, said Pyrrho, is it possible that Theophilus and I should think so much alike upon such a subject? Yes, said Theophilus, and I further apprehend that, when the terms are explained, and persons of different sects and parties understand one another upon this head, they are more agreed than is at first imagined. Pyrrho could hardly be persuaded of this, and alleged, that it was the opinion of the infidels, that men must understand before they can believe ; and he observed, that they commonly charged Christians, and even divines, with being of the contrary opinion. well, Theophilus, that the author of Christianity not founded on Argument, has in a sneering manner said,
You know very
" Though men cannot be all of one opinion, they may of one faith ; which they hold, not in unity of understanding, but, as our Liturgy well expresses it, in the bond of peace and unity of spirit.”?
And again, “ I am fully persuaded, that the judging at all of religious matters is not the proper province of reason ; or, indeed, an affair where she has any concern.
I need not point you out more passages to the same purpose in an author, which you have so much studied.
The author of Christianity as old as the Creation (pp. 199, &c. 12mo, ed.] says, “ If I do not understand the terms of a proposition; or if they are inconsistent with one another; or so uncertain, that I know not what meaning to fix on them ; here is nothing told me, and consequently no room for belief. But, although designing men very well know, that it is impossible to believe, when we know not what it is we are to believe ; or to believe an absurd or contradictory proposition ; yet they, because without examination people may be brought to fancy they believe such things, and it being their interest to confound men's understandings, and prevent all inquiry, craftily invented the notion of believing things above reason. Here the ravings of an enthusiast are on a level with the dictates of infinite wisdom, and nonsense is rendered most sacred; here a contradiction is of great use to maintain a doctrine, that, when fairly stated, is