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But what, I hope, attaches me to you more than any thing of this nature, are the important services you are daily rendering to the great cause which we have both at heart, viz. the training up of youth in the principles of liberal and useful knowledge, and especially of rational Christianity , and virtue. The immediate object of these Difcourses is one to which you have long given the greatest attention. No person educated under you can be ignorant either of what Christianity really is, or of the rational evidence on which its truth is founded; and the effect of your judicious 'labours is very conspicuous.
I have no where known, or heard of, such studious and orderly young men as those of the New College at Hackney, and to this your immediate inspection, as the resident tutor, and your judicious treatment, have eminently contributed. Nor have the rational Dissenters ever had ministers who, by their ability and zeal, promise to distinguish themfelves more by their labours for the good of mankind than those who have been trained by you. To them, as I am going off the ftage, I shall principally look for that rechristianizing of the world which is now become absolutely necessary, if Christianity is to subfist at all.
The wretched forms under which Christianity Iras long been generally exhibited, and its de
grading alliance with, or rather its subjection, to a power wholly heterogeneous to it, and which has employed it for the most unworthy purposes, has made it appear contemptible and odious in the eyes of all sensible' men, who are now every where casting off the very profession, and every badge, of it. Enlightened Christians must themselves, in some measure, join with unbelievers; in exposing whatever will not bear examination in or about religion. But when it shall, by this means, be divested of all its foreign incumbrances, it will be found to be something on which neither their arguments, nor their ridicule, will have any effect, It is a farther satisfaction to me to reflect, that you and I not only agree in entertaining the same views of this subject, but that from a similarkanfavourable outset, we have both gradually, and by similar means, been led to entertain them,
I think myself peculiarly happy in leaving my congregation, and especially my classes of young perlons, under your care, as I know no person whose views in these respects coincide so exactly with my own. As far as they have been fatisfied with me, I am confident they will be with you; and candour and goodwill in the hearers is a sure earnest of their improvement under any teacher, Happy thall I think myself if, in any future destination, I can find, or form, a sphere of exertion
of a similar kind; that I may be in America, what I shall leave you here ; that we may communicate our respective plans for the improvement of ourselves, and the instruction of others, . in whatever is most interesting to man; and that, by the discipline and experience that we acquire here, we may be prepared for a sphere of superior usefulness, and what will surely accompany it, superior happiness, in a better state.
With the greatest affection and esteem, I am,
CLAPTON, March 1794.
The subject of these discourses is one on which I have addressed the public several times before; as in my Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion. several parts of my History of the Chrisian Church, my Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever, chose to the Philosophers and Politicians of France, and those to the Jews; besides the first part of the Conclufion of my History of the Corruptions of Christianity's addressed to Mr. Gibbon, my Discourse on the Resurrection of Jesus, and the large Preface to my Philosophical Works in three volumes. But the subject being of the greatest importance, and especially at this time, I have thought it not superfluous to compose, and publish, these Discourses, intended more particularly to illustrate the evidence arising from the miracles that have been wrought in favour of the divine mission of Moses and of Christ; so that, though my object be ultimately the same, the ground that I have taken is consi, derably different from any that I have been upon before.
The late revolution in France, attended with the complete overthrow of the civil establishment of Christianity, and the avowed rejection of all revealed religion, by many persons of the first character in that country, and by great numbers also in this, calls the attention of persons of reflection in a very forcible manner to the subject. It now more than ever behoves all the friends of religion to shew that they are not chargeable with a blind implicit faith, believing what their fathers, mothers, or nurses, believed before them, merely because they believed it; but that their faith is the offspring of reason: that Christianity is no cunningly devised fable, but that the evidence of the facts on which it is built is the same with that of any other facts of antient date; fo that we must abandon all faith in history, and all human testimony, before we can disbelieve them.-
The great problem to be folved is, how to account for present appearances, and such facts in antient history as no person ever did, or can deny, viz. the actual existence of Christianity, and the state of it in the age immediately following that of Christ and the apostles. Unbelievers must think that they can account for the facts without admitting the truth of the gospel history. On the "other hand; the Christian says that, if this history be not admitted, the well known state of things in