網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

on the one side, and a gradual extension of plan on the other: and thus, after many interruptions, and in the midst of numerous avocations of a very different kind, the work has become what it now is.

I had not however proceeded half way in the execution of my plan before it occurred to me, that what I first intended for private use might be beneficial to others in circumstances analogous to those of my friend; and I recollected that whatever I might publish on the subject of religion would at least have the advantage of appearing disinterested, as it proceeded from the pen of a layman. It is, I am aware, extremely ridiculous for those who adopt the prescriptions of their physicians, and act upon the advice of their lawyers, although they are professional, to object to defences of Christianity from the pens of Clergymen because they are professional; yet, absurd and uncandid as the objection is, it is often advanced : it is therefore proper to meet it; and at times to show that there are those who cannot on such occasions be actuated by any love of worldly applause, or any thirst after emolument, but who feel sufficiently interested about Religion, and are sufficiently convinced of its powerful tendency to improve the conduct of individuals and to augment the general stock of happiness, to step for a little while out of their more appropriate province to plead its cause. Such defenders of revealed religion there have been in all ages; yet they have not been so numerous

as to render it improper or indecorous to increase their number: especially as the old prejudice still continues to operate with unabated energy; and there are many persons from whom the claims of Christianity receive a more respectful attention, when they are urged by one who is neither “a clergyman" nor“ a methodist.”

There have long existed several valuable essays on the Evidences of Christianity; and we now possess in the English language especially, the treatise of Dr. Paley, which all Christians consider as an honour to our age and nation. Had a luminous statement of the Historical Evidences been all that was aimed at or required, I should at once have referred my friend to Dr. Paley's as a standard, and, I believe, unanswerable work; and never have troubled either him or the public with any remarks of mine on the subject of religion. But it is very possible, and indeed very common, for men to be Christians in name and theory, and infidels in practice; to profess a belief in Christ, and in heart to deny him; to acknowledge him as Messiah, and to refuse to obey him as king; to avow the warmest admiration of the New Testament, and to despise and ridicule every thing in it which is characteristic and peculiar, and which constitutes it a summary of that “ truth” which alone “ can make us free” from the dominion of sin and from the punishment due to it. This I consider as the most striking and lamentable error of the present times; and it is,

therefore, the more remarkable that such an error should not have been frequently and pointedly exposed. To adopt the language of an admirable living writer—“ While the outworks of the sanctuary have been defended with the utmost ability, its interior has been too much neglected, and the fire upon the altar suffered to languish and decay. The truths and mysteries which distinguish the Christian from all other religions, have been little attended to by some, totally denied by others; and while infinite efforts have been made, by the utmost subtlety of argumentation, to establish the truth and authenticity of revelation, few have been exerted in comparison to show what it really contains.”

Now the deficiency here adverted to is that which I have endeavoured to supply. I have attempted to exhibit in small compass a view, not merely of the Evidences, but of the distinguishing Doctrines, and principal binding Duties of the Christian Religion. I have endeavoured to show that Christianity is not so contemptible and bungling a fraud as some infidels have represented it to be; and to point out at the same time many palpable and enormous absurdities into which Infidelity precipitates its votaries. But this I reckon the least important part of my undertaking, though I humbly hope it may have its uses. The facts of Christianity are only so far momentous as the doctrines are momentous which are suspended upon them.

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ would be no more to us (I mention it with reverence) than the death of Socrates, were it not that he suffered as a sacrifice for sin; and his resurrection of no more importance to us than the emancipation of a butterfly from its crysalis, were it not for the assurance that

even as he has risenso shall all his faithful followers. I have, therefore, entered pretty much at large into the establishment and defence of the leading doctrines which distinguish Christianity from all other religious systems. In the choice of these I have kept almost entirely out of sight the higher points which separate the Arminians and Calvinists; while I have attempted to illustrate and confirm, as essential, those grand doctrines in which both Arminians and Calvinists, and indeed the great majority of Christians, differ from the Socinians. The truth is, that upon most of the questions which have long divided, and still continue to agitate, the Christian world, my mind is nearly in a state of perfect neutrality: so that I cannot bring myself to attach much importance to any question which is not obviously favourable or unfavourable in its moral tendency, or which does not appear to me fundamental, that is, which does not in some way affect the grand doctrine of man's redemption through the crucifixion of “ the Son of God.” With all Christians who in this respect “ hold the head,” and live conformably to the doctrines they profess, however they may be separated

serious one,

upon minor topics, I am anxious to maintain, and long to see universally prevail, the “unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.”

I am willing to hope, indeed, that this spirit is gaining ground among us; and that many men are beginning to act upon the persuasion that every controversy agitated in the Christian Church upon points of inferior moment, causes a deduction, and in numerous instances a very

from the regard paid to the really important objects of faith.

In attaining the objects proposed, I have not aimed at elaborate composition, or the elegancies of style: believing that if my professional employments did not tend greatly to render success in such an attempt improbable, my real inability to dazzle by splendid imagery and profuse embellishment would. I have endeavoured to reason clearly and fairly; have availed myself of every argument I have met with in other authors that has met my purpose; and have endeavoured to compress them into small space; and have, farther, had occasional recourse to some arguments which it is probable would not readily present themselves to any one who was not moderately conversant with scientific topics; these, it may be added, were frequently suggested by the consideration, that the gentleman for whose use they were originally written had successfully engaged in scientific pursuits.

I know not whether it may be necessary to apologize for the frequency and extent of my

« 上一頁繼續 »