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fully. Happy are they who, understanding the high worth of Christianity, can take any share, however slender, in its support and propagation; pitiable indeed are they who are ignorant of the blessing, and indifferent to its universal diffusion. But, how much more deplorable is the blindness of those who oppose themselves to that which has been long and variously foretold, which is manifestly approaching its accomplishment, which is man's only solid hope, and which is assuredly the will of God. Your elevated position seems to me greatly enviable, inasmuch as it makes it easy for you to watch the development of these great events, and, it may be, to aid them with counsel and power; at the same time, also, as it is impossible not to be sensible, that a lamentable want of knowledge and faith is daily to be met with at the threshold of our own doors, it is indisputably a laudable exertion to attempt to destroy the trust and confidence of the forward unbeliever; but, in putting forth a hand to so sacred a work, it is necessary to be very careful, lest the wisdom of man prove " foolishness”—lest the effort prove, not only vain, but pernicious.
I can understand that you find, as you profess, an unceasing and ever-growing delight in the knowledge of God, which you derive from the study of His works, and I am, I think, not unacquainted with the pleasure. Yet, it is my full belief, that this pleasure, so commonly gloried in by the disciples of Natural Theology, belongs, when taken alone, only to the ignorant and the selfish,—to those who are ignorant of things vastly more important to them than multiplied earthly proofs of a few of the Divine attributes, and to those whose selfishness makes them forget not only their own real errors and wants, but also those of their fellow-creatures. I differ both with you and them in setting so much value on this thing of man's invention, in taking so much delight in a science, which is "falsely so called,” in that it is exceedingly imperfect, unsettled, and erroneous; for, what are the inferences of human learning, if they do not teach us, that man is evil, as well as that God is good—that man must repent, as well as hope that God may be merciful? All this, and probably more, I believe to be within the proper scope of “Natural Religion,” that is, within the reach of rational conviction; and argumentatively, though not originally, independent of Divine Revelation.
Possibly, without the aid of Revelation, no man would ever have gone much beyond the wisdom of Socrates, and few would have surpassed in virtue some of the worthier heroes of ancient Greece; but, to me, at least, it seems easy, by the aid of the Bible, even supposing it uninspired, to arrive at a rational certainty, not only of our moral duties, and many of the Divine attributes, but also of man's deep sinfulness, his need of penitence, and even, perhaps, of a Redeemer.
Doubtless, we agree in holding precious our own souls, and the souls of those dear to us, and we must be sensible that the soul of every man is scarcely less precious. I shall, however, adduce an opinion of one whom you praise highly, in order duly to set forth the serious estimation which I entertain of the subject before us: and proceed to shew that the study of Natural Theology is not to be made a matter of casual pleasure, and that we are not to institute a long and uncertain course of scientific induction, as the only or necessary means of approaching the wisdom of Holy Writ.
“Should I suggest in some companies, that the conversion of a hundred sinners to God, is an event of more real importance than the temporal prosperity of the greatest nation upon earth, I should be charged with ignorance and arrogance; but one soul is worth more than the whole world, on account of its redemption price, its vast capacities and its duration. Should we suppose a nation to consist of forty millions, the whole and each individual to enjoy as much good as this life can afford, without abatement, for a term of fifty years each; all this good, or an equal quantity, might be exhausted by a single person in two thousand millions of years; which would be but a moment, in comparison of the eternity which would still follow. And if this good were merely temporal good, the whole aggregate of it would be evil and misery, if compared with that happiness in God, of which only
they who are made partakers of a divine life are capable. On the other hand, were a whole nation destroyed by such accumulated miseries as attended the siege of Jerusalem, the sum total would be but trifling, if set in competition with what every person who dies in sin has to expect, when the sentence of everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his power shall be executed."*
Setting out with this penetrating reflection and with the assurance that you believe in the truth of the Bible, I propose to make some examination of the uses, tendencies, and imperfections of the modern Natural Theology; and, if it may be, to determine more accurately the objects and limits of the study.
The occasion does not seem to call for any exaggerated expression of my sentiments of respect for your high attainments; nor does the manner in which I venture to address you require any of those complimentary concessions with which it is sometimes thought necessary to introduce an opposition calculated to terminate less tranquilly. It will, I hope, content you to be regarded, according to your “Discourse," as a true believer in the word of God, and I must presume to claim as much for myself. You cannot desire to be supposed above the capability of erring; and for me, I freely own a more than equal liability. In the public opinion the outward advantages will be all your own.
* MS. quotation from Sir Isaac Newton.
Men hold your character high ; your opinions, example, and influence may be said to spread far and wide; one advantage I shall retain to myself,—to remain unknown. I have nothing to write that requires the sanction of a name or the responsibility of a man; I have no name that can give force to an opinion, and I feel no responsibility, but for an honest investigation of the right, which is my foremost aim. With respect to the differences in our views, give me leave to observe, that, perfect truth will most probably be the reward of him who has the spirit to seek it most patiently and most impartially. It is right to acknowledge, that my mind may have been led to form some of the following conclusions, in consequence of remarking, among our countrymen of the present day, a too general inclination to dwell upon an imperfect Natural Theology. This opinion is, I perceive, opposed to one in the “Dedication” of the “Discourse,” but I am nowise disposed to retract it: I mean plainly, that instances of the Divine skill and benevolence may be heard adduced almost every where, while piety and the just fruits of such reflections are very rare.
This kind of cold indifference is about equally erroneous with the scientific enthusiasm of many theologians, and it is perhaps still less hopeful. The only acceptable reverence to a sovereign must be paid in attentive and willing obedience; that cannot