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The speculative doctrines of Christianity did not originate
The speculative doctrines of Christianity, so far as our present subject leads us to examine them, may
be considered perhaps as of three different descriptions. ist. Those which reason might have discovered, or at least when discovered, may perceive to be certainly true, from their connection with self-evident principles of knowledge ;—2dly. Those which reason 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 solely on the authority of revelation, requiring only that they shall not contradict those principles of knowledge, which rest on selfevident or demonstrative certainty,
It is foreign from the object of this treatise to enter into metaphysical or abstract discussions, or compare the probability of controverted opinions. It is desira. ble, and happily it is easy, to separate such questions
from the main proofs which support the gospel of Christ; and whatever may be the particular profession or the private opinions of an author, he ought not to bring them forward to clog, with unnecessary difficulties, so important an enquiry as that which relates to the origin and foundation of the whole Christian scheme. Under this impression I shall confine myself to such brief observations as the nature of my subject seems necessarily to require.
It will not be questioned that Christianity teaches, in the most clear and express manner, all those doc, trines which reason might have discovered, or when discovered can demonstrate to be true, and which are therefore termed the principles of natural religion : the existence of one God, the first cause of all things, endowed with infinite perfeion; the dependance of man on him, and the consequent necessity of obedience to his will, so far as it is known, as the only mode of securing the greatest degree of perfection and happiness to which man can attain. But abstractedly considered, this would not prove that the teachers of Christianity were either divinely inspired, or even free from enthusiasm or imposture; these truths were expressly 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 these truths are taught, and compare
it with the national prejudices, the low rank, and the unlearned education of the first preachers of
the gospel, the comparison will, I think, afford a
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 subfervient. On this they ground the love of our neighbour as second in the rank of moral duties. All the attributes of the Divinity are represented in striking, though frequently familiar terms and images, but always so as to promote virtue and purity of heart, justice and mercy to our fellow. creatures, and an entire submission to the will, and trust in the providence of God. The personal interests or prejudices of the preachers never intermix with, or debase this sacred subject. Now, is not all this inconsistent with the character either of interested artifice or deluded fanaticism?
If in addition to this we consider the general state of religious knowledge in the world at the introduction of the gospel, the difficulty of forming such a just
& Matt. xxii. 37.
pure representation of natural religion, will appear
fo great as to render it very incredible, that the authors of such a representation should have been weak and visionary enthusiasts.
It is notorious that the most polite and learned nations of the Heathens, notwithstanding the progress 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 groffest idolatry, and corrupted mora, lity by tolerating, and even fan&tioning the foulest crimes. Their fages and philosophers made scarce any attempt at all, and never any successful attempt, to check the progress of error, idolatry and vice, amongst the multitude; they confined their instrụctions to the learned and speculative, and in general talked an obscure and technical language, calculated chiefly for the use of their respective fects; and they entertained the most perplexing doubts on the most demonstrable and fundamental truths of natural religion, such 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 instructions, and evidently none of them have borrowed any thing from their systems.
The Jews, it is true (most of them at least) maintained the existence, perfections, and providence of God; but almost every sect 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 cere. monies and sacrifices ; others denied a future life, and thus fubverted the fanctions of morality; almost all, with the narrow views of bigots, conceived Godto be exclusively 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.
Amidst this general corruption of faith and practice arofe the first teachers of the gospel ; and though obfcure and unlearned, though educated in the midst of Jewish bigotry and superstition, 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 delyded fanatics !--nay, does it not even afford a strong presumption of their being really enlightened