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not more edifying, nor always so inoffensive?—To these, and to the same question under a variety of forms, and in a multitude of similar examples, we return the following answer :-That the religious observance of Sunday, if it ought to be retained at all, must be upholden by some public and visible distinctions: that, draw the line of distinction where you will, many actions which are situated on the confines of the line, will differ very little, and yet lie on the opposite sides of it: that every trespass upon that reserve which public decency has established, breaks down the fence by which the day is separated to the service of religion: that it is unsafe to trifle with scruples and habits that have a beneficial tendency, although founded merely in custom: that these liberties, however intended, will certainly be considered by those who observe them, not only as disrespectful to the day and institution, but as proceeding from a secret contempt of the Christian faith: that, consequently, they diminish a reverence for religion in others, so far as the authority of our opinion, or the efficacy of our example reaches; or rather, so far as either will serve for an excuse of negligence to those who are glad of any: that as to cards and dice, which put in their claim to be considered among the harmless occupations of a vacant hour, it may be observed that few find any difficulty in refraining from play on Sunday, except they who sit down to it with the views and eagerness of gamesters: that gaming is seldom innocent: that the anxiety and perturbations, however, which it excites, are inconsistent with the tranquillity and frame of temper in which the duties and thoughts of religion should always both find and leave us and, lastly, we shall remark, that the example of other countries, where the same or greater licence is allowed, affords no apology for irregularities in our own; because a practice which is tolerated by public usage, neither receives the same construction nor gives the same offence as where it is censured and prohibited.
OF REVERENCING THE DEITY.
In many persons, a seriousness and sense of awe overspread the imagination whenever the idea of the Supreme Being is presented to their thoughts. This effect, which forms a considerable security against vice, is the consequence not so much of reflection, as of habit; which habit being generated by the external expressions of reverence which we use ourselves, or observe in others, may be destroyed by causes opposite to these, and especially by that familiar levity with which some learn to
speak of the Deity, of his attributes, providence, revelations, or worship.
God hath been pleased (no matter for what reason, although probably for this) to forbid the vain mention of his name:'Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.' Now the mention is vain, when it is useless; and it is useless, when it is neither likely nor intended to serve any good purpose -as when it flows from the lips idle and unmeaning, or is applied on occasions inconsistent with any consideration of religion and devotion, to express our anger, our earnestness, our courage, or our mirth; or, indeed, when it is used at all, except in acts of religion, or in serious and seasonable discourse upon religious subjects.
The prohibition of the third commandment is recognised by Christ in his sermon upon the Mount; which sermon adverts to none but the moral parts of the Jewish law: 'I say unto you, Swear not at all: but let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.' The Jews probably interpreted the prohibition as restrained to the name JEHOVAH, the name which the Deity had appointed and appropriated to himself; Exod. vi. 3. The words of Christ extend the prohibition beyond the name of God, to everything associated with the idea: Swear not; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King;' Matt. v. 34, 35.
The offence of profane swearing is aggravated by the consideration, that in it duty and decency are sacrificed to the slenderest of temptations. Suppose the habit, either from affectation, or by negligence and inadvertency, to be already formed, it must always remain within the power of the most ordinary resolution to correct it; and it cannot, one would think, cost a great deal to relinquish the pleasure and honour which it confers. A concern for duty is, in fact, never strong when the exertion requisite to vanquish a habit founded in no antecedent propensity, is thought too much or too painful.
A contempt of positive duties, or rather of those duties for which the reason is not so plain as the command, indicates a disposition upon which the authority of Revelation has obtained little influence. This remark is applicable to the offence of profane swearing, and describes, perhaps, pretty exactly the general character of those who are most addicted to it.
Mockery and ridicule, when exercised upon the Scriptures, or even upon the places, persons, and forms set apart for the ministration of religion, fall within the meaning of the law which forbids the profanation of God's name; especially as that law is
extended by Christ's interpretation. They are, moreover, inconsistent with a religious frame of mind; for as no one ever either feels himself disposed to pleasantry, or capable of being diverted with the pleasantry of others, upon matters in which he is deeply interested, so a mind intent upon the acquisition of heaven, rejects with indignation every attempt to entertain it with jests, calculated to degrade or deride subjects which it never recollects but with seriousness and anxiety. Nothing but stupidity, or the most frivolous dissipation of thought, can make even the inconsiderate forget the supreme importance of everything which relates to the expectation of a future existence. Whilst the infidel mocks at the superstitions of the vulgar, insults over their credulous fears, their childish errors, or fantastic rites, it does not occur to him to observe, that the most preposterous device by which the weakest devotee ever believed he was securing the happiness of a future life, is more rational than unconcern about it. Upon this subject, nothing is so absurd as indifference-no folly so contemptible as thoughtlessness and levity.
Finally, the knowledge of what is due to the solemnity of those interests, concerning which Revelation professes to inform and direct us, may teach even those who are least inclined to respect the prejudices of mankind, to observe a decorum in the style and conduct of religious disquisitions, with the neglect of which many adversaries of Christianity are justly chargeable. Serious arguments are fair on all sides. Christianity is but ill defended by refusing audience or toleration to the objections of unbelievers. But whilst we would have freedom of inquiry restrained by no laws but those of decency, we are entitled to demand, on behalf of a religion which holds forth to mankind assurances of immortality, that its credit be assailed by no other weapons than those of sober discussion and legitimate reasoning: that the truth or falsehood of Christianity be never made a topic of raillery, a theme for the exercise of wit or eloquence, or a subject of contention for literary fame and victory: that the cause be tried upon its merits: that all applications to the fancy, passions, or prejudices of the reader, all attempts to pre-occupy, ensnare, or perplex his judgment, by any art, influence, or impression whatsoever, extrinsic to the proper grounds and evidence upon which his assent ought to proceed, be rejected from a question which involves in its determination the hopes, the virtue, and the repose of millions: that the controversy be managed on both sides with sincerity-that is, that nothing be produced, in the writings of either, contrary to, or beyond the writer's own knowledge and persuasion: that objections and difficulties be proposed, from no other motive than an honest and serious desire to obtain satisfaction, or to
communicate information which may promote the discovery and progress of truth that in conformity with this design, everything be stated with integrity, with method, precision, and simplicity; and, above all, that whatever is published in opposition to received and confessedly beneficial persuasions, be set forth under a form which is likely to invite inquiry and to meet examination. If, with these moderate and equitable conditions, be compared the manner in which hostilities have been waged against the Christian religion, not only the votaries of the prevailing faith, but every man who looks forward with anxiety to the destination of his being, will see much to blame and to complain of. By one unbeliever, all the follies which have adhered, in a long course of dark and superstitious ages, to the popular creed, are assumed as so many doctrines of Christ and his apostles, for the purpose of subverting the whole system by the absurdities which it is thus represented to contain. By another, the ignorance and vices of the sacerdotal order, their mutual dissensions and persecutions, their usurpations and encroachments upon the intellectual liberty and civil rights of mankind, have been displayed with no small triumph and invective; not so much to guard the Christian laity against a repetition of the same injuries (which is the only proper use to be made of the most flagrant examples of the past), as to prepare the way for an insinuation, that the religion itself is nothing but a profitable fable, imposed upon the fears and credulity of the multitude, and upheld by the frauds and influence of an interested and crafty priesthood. And yet, how remotely is the character of the clergy connected with the truth of Christianity! What, after all, do the most disgraceful pages of ecclesiastical history prove, but that the passions of our common nature are not altered or excluded by distinctions of name, and that the characters of men are formed much more by the temptations than the duties of their profession? A third finds delight in collecting and repeating accounts of wars and massacres, of tumults and insurrections, excited in almost every age of the Christian era by religious zeal; as though the vices of Christians were parts of Christianity; intolerance and extirpation, precepts of the Gospel; or as if its spirit could be judged of from the counsels of princes, the intrigues of statesmen, the pretences of malice and ambition, or the unauthorised cruelties of some gloomy and virulent superstition. By a fourth, the succession and variety of popular religions; the vicissitudes with which sects and tenets have flourished and decayed; the zeal with which they were once supported, the negligence with which they are now remembered; the little share which reason and argument appear to have had in framing the creed, or regulating the religious conduct of the
multitude; the indifference and submission with which the religion of the state is generally received by the common people; the caprice and vehemence with which it is sometimes opposed; the frenzy with which men have been brought to contend for opinions and ceremonies, of which they knew neither the proof, the meaning, nor the original: lastly, the equal and undoubting confidence with which we hear the doctrines of Christ or of Confucius, the law of Moses or of Mohammed, the Bible, the Koran, or the Shaster, maintained or anathematised, taught or abjured, revered or derided, according as we live on this or on that side of a river; keep within or step over the boundaries of a state; or even in the same country, and by the same people, so often as the event of a battle, or the issue of a negotiation, delivers them to the dominion of a new master; points, I say, of this sort, are exhibited to the public attention, as so many arguments against the truth of the Christian religion; and with success. For these topics being brought together, and set off with some aggravation of circumstances, and with a vivacity of style and description familiar enough to the writings and conversation of free-thinkers, insensibly lead the imagination into a habit of classing Christianity with the delusions that have taken possession, by turns, of the public belief: and of regarding it, as what the scoffers of our faith represent it to be the superstition of the day. But is this to deal honestly by the subject, or with the world? May not the same things be said, may not the same prejudices be excited by these representations, whether Christianity be true or false, or by whatever proofs its truth be attested? May not truth as well as falsehood be taken upon credit? May not a religion be founded upon evidence accessible and satisfactory to every mind competent to the inquiry, which yet, by the greatest part of its professors, is received upon authority?
But if the matter of those objections be reprehensible, as calculated to produce an effect upon the reader beyond what their real weight and place in the argument deserve, still more shall we discover of management and disingenuousness in the form under which they are dispersed among the public. Infidelity is served up in every shape that is likely to allure, surprise, or beguile the imagination in a fable, a tale, a novel, a poem; in interspersed and broken hints; remote and oblique surmises; in books of travels, of philosophy, of natural history; in a word, in any form rather than the right one, that of a professed and regular disquisition. And because the coarse buffoonery and broad laugh of the old and rude adversaries of the Christian faith would offend the taste, perhaps, rather than the virtue, of this cultivated age, a graver irony, a more skilful and delicate banter, is substituted in