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which by your account she enjoys is her best comfort now; and whether she has any right to it or no, it would be cruel to torment her with arguments which she could not be expected to understand.
Euseb.-At least then you must allow that my story has proved the point which I introduced it to prove; and that there are miseries in the world, which Religion neither occasions nor increases, but, on the contrary, can alone relieve. Therefore I had some reason on my side when I affirmed, that I would not disbelieve my Bible if I could. In truth, however you may conceal it from yourself, there are a multitude of cases everywhere (I might rather say that the whole world is a collection of cases, which I should be very much puzzled to account for on your principles), or without mine; and there is a vast body of patient and meritorious sufferers, whom I should find it still more difficult to console. Have you ever considered, for instance, the necessity of labour? How does Reason enable you to explain this? Nine tenths of mankind are forced to labour, and some of them very hardly too, for their subsistence: if God had nothing else in view but our happiness when he placed us in this world, I cannot see why he should have made this necessary.
Alc.-You reckon me impious. I wonder what this is but impiety to attribute the consequences of oppression and bad government to the will of God! Observe, while we attribute much of human misery to priestcraft, we do not forget the evil of tyranny. We are well aware of the alliance between church and state; and how the governors defend the Bible, because they find many passages in it which support their usurpation. They hope it will teach men patience; but there is no saint in your Scriptures whose patience would not have been worn out, if he had worked as hard as most of our countrymen do now, and earned as little.
Euseb.-I must not proceed too far into this wide subject, whilst so much remains to settle on the other. But this is evident; that there have been all sorts of governments in the world, at different periods and in different countries, and indeed are at this time; and yet I never heard of any country, whether ruled by a despotic emperor, or by a limited monarch, or by magistrates whom the people elected, or by the people themselves, or not ruled at all;-I never yet heard or read of any where the bulk of mankind had any other chance of subsistence than by hard labour. Nor can I conjecture how corn can be grown, metals dug, tools or clothes manufactured, canals made, ships navigated, without some to work at the plough, and others in the mines, and others at the loom or forge, and so on. Therefore I argue, that if God has made these things necessary for us, and yet our necessities cannot be supplied without labour, it is his ordinance, and not man's, that keeps so many of our fellow-creatures employed in hard and wearisome exertion: which is another reason why I would not disbelieve my Bible if I could. For if I am only to keep this spirit of mine thirty, or forty, or fifty years, and then to part with life for ever, I should feel it a painful consideration that I was leading my only existence in a manner so laborious. You will remind
me, I dare say, of the proofs which we may derive from natural rea
son, without any assistance from Revelation, that the soul is immortal, and
'Will flourish in immortal youth, Unhurt amidst the war of elements,
The wreck of matter, and the crush of worlds.'
But suppose the immortality of the soul proved or granted; I am only just where I was before, or something worse. I am poor, indigent, forced to labour, full of sorrow, here: I may be equally poor, laborious, and unhappy hereafter, for any thing you can shew me to the contrary.
'But Revelation tells a very different story, and proves the abso lute insignificance of any man's earthly condition, provided he makes such use of it as to receive hereafter an immortality of happiness. If this life is but probationary, or preparatory, so far from complaining of trials or hardships we see that they become natural, nay necessary, and, as in all other cases, we must expect to labour now in order to reap the benefit in future. And should any attempts succeed, which God forbid, in robbing the poor of the faith which they derive from their Bibles, what do you leave them? not only poor but hopeless. The rich may at least find present gratification in such comforts as affluence supplies; and the learned may wrap themselves up in philosophy or science, forget the present and exclude the future; but those who in this world have received the hard lot of labour and sorrow, O may they never cease to prize the only hope which can give them comfort, or diffuse a gleam of light over the darkness of their circumstances! Wherever I turn, the world presents a scene of difficulty and perplexity; a strange mixture of error and truth, of wickedness and virtue; of ignorance and knowledge; so that I feel astonished and bewildered, and find no end in wand'ring mazes lost,' till I call in the aid of Revelation. Here I am in possession of a clue which guides me through the whole; - here I meet with a solution of all the phenomena. Would you have me wilfully extinguish this light, and plunge myself again into darkness?
Alc.-You are now wielding a double-edged argument. For if Revelation were so indispensibly necessary, to enlighten, some and console others, it would not be so partially promulgated, nor so diffi cult to understand, nor so obscure in its evidence. Indeed there is great justice in what I have lately heard, that if God had designed a revelation for mankind, he would have written it in the sun.
Euseb. You might as reasonably argue, that if God had intended to supply mankind with food we should find it in the shape of loaves, scattered on the face of the earth, like manna in the wilderness. When men cease to cultivate corn, because they cannot procure bread without labour, there may be some excuse for their neglecting Revelation, because it does not flash instantaneous conviction across their minds. If Revelation is given to man for his use and benefit, we may naturally expect it would be given on the same condition as other
benefits,-placed within his reach, but requiring that he should stretch out his own hand to obtain it. Every thing else is confessedly so given; sustenance, clothing, shelter, for the body; education, learning, and all their attendant advantages, for the mind: all these are attainable by labour, none of them to be had without it. I think, therefore, that we might have conjectured, even before experience, that God would act in a similar method with respect to Revelation
would make its evidence such as to satisfy a sincere inquirer, but not such as to force conviction upon indolence or obstinacy. Otherwise you interfere with the whole situation of mankind, and this world is no longer a state of probation.
Alc.-Whatever may be the value of Revelation, it is lost upon a person, who, like me, could not believe the Gospel if he would. For that is the difference between us; you cannot doubt, I cannot believe. You will not impute it to my fault if I cannot find the evidence in its favour so strong as the objections against it. Indeed, among an infinity of objections, this is amongst the hardest to overcome; you make it a damning crime to disbelieve. And yet who ever thought a jury criminal, because the evidence laid before them was insufficient to establish a fact? Is it not plain that persons must believe, if the evidence convinces them; and cannot believe, if the evidence fail? If the evidence adduced is sufficient to convince the mind, credence is the necessary result; if the evidence be insufficient, belief becomes impossible.' *
Euseb.-Perhaps this is not exactly the time to tell you my firm conviction, that it will hereafter prove awfully criminal to have rejected the Gospel. But this I confidently maintain, that God has not given this revelation of his will without sufficient evidence to satisfy those who examine it with such candour and impartiality as we expect in a jury. One who has believed as long as I have possesses proofs of the truth of what he believes stronger than any argument; proofs which can no more be given by mere reasoning, than they can be shaken by a sceptic's sophistry. Still evidence is the basis of all, and I have no doubt that if your mind were clear and disengaged, that evidence would appear as indisputable to you as it does to myself. We have hardly discoursed an hour, and yet I have already dislodged you from several errors. I have shewn you that instead of Revelation being the cause of misery, there is much misery which nothing else can alleviate; and I have shewn you that there is much in the situation of men in this world, which reason must be greatly at a loss to explain. Perhaps there are other matters connected with religion which you have taken for granted on as little examination. If you are conscious of this, you ought not to rest a moment without proceeding to a farther inquiry.
Alc. Why is it necessary to inquire at all?
Euseb. For a reason which is quite unanswerable. You grant that there is a Creator. Nor can you deny but it is possible that he
may have given external revelation as well as internal reason to direct you.
Alc.-It is certainly possible that he should make a revelation; but, as appears to me, most highly improbable that he should have made such a revelation as you believe in.
Euseb. Which are we most able to judge of, and least liable to be deceived in; whether any supposed revelation is suitable to the nature and attributes of God; or whether the external evidence by which it is attested is such as demands assent? The question, you see, is quite preposterous; it is the same thing as to ask, whether we are best able to judge of the councils of God, the Author of the Revelation; or of the nature of mankind, its witnesses? Therefore, since you allow it to be possible that the Creator should reveal himself to man, are you not bound first to examine the degree of evidence on which Revelation stands, before you venture to condemn it for what it contains ?
Alc.-But you have not yet shewn me why any inquiry is necessary. Euseb. I was about to point out that in common prudence you are bound to examine. For granting, as you do grant, the possibi lity of a Revelation; and seeing, as you must see, that the Christian religion is believed to be a Divine Revelation by some of the best and wisest of mankind, it cannot be displeasing to the God whom you believe to exist, and to whom you are accountable, that you should inquire into a Revelation professing to come from him, and which many believe to have come from him, even if it ultimately prove to have no such origin. But supposing, on the other hand, that it ultimately prove true, your neglect of inquiry must be of all things most displeasing to him, whose name it bears; an argument, you will observe by the way, which holds equally just with regard to belief. He who believes may possibly be mistaken, in point of fact, but cannot be wrong in respect of moral duty. But he who rejects Revelation, if he is mistaken as to fact, must hereafter find a heavy account laid up against him. When I reflect on this, I tremble at the awful responsibility which those may incur who actually pretend to pass by Christianity, as if it had no existence; as if the bare admis sion of its possible truth would be an offence against their superior light and understanding.
Alc.-No doubt it is safe to believe; but assent cannot be forced. However, I am ready to hear what you have to say.
Euseb. Few things would be more agreeable to me, than to convert you from an error in which it is lamentable to live, and still more lamentable to die. But, as I hinted before, I greatly doubt your being in a state of mind to be convinced.
Alc.-What previous state can be requisite that a man may be convinced on evidence? If a fact is proved to his satisfaction, he believes, and cannot help it; and if not, he disbelieves, and cannot help it.
Euseb.-When a man is tried on suspicion of a crime, does he not frequently challenge some of the jury?
Alc. Certainly he is right in challenging those who have a prejudice against him. I hope this privilege does not fall under your censure. Euseb.-By no means. I would only remind you, that it is a fact which they are about to examine; and I might argue, that if the fact is proved, they must find it so; if not, they must reject it according to the evidence adduced, whether they are previously prejudiced or no. So it is very possible to search the Bible, or the evidence by which it is supported, in such a manner as that it would be easy to foretel the event. Paine, for example, was very unlikely to see the beauty of Scripture, when he went through it, as he boasts, with his axe in his hand. The grace of God will not enlighten a sneerer or a caviller. I can only pretend to treat you according to my own principles, which are these: that if any man is willing to do the will of God,' he shall have assurance that the Christian doctrine is divine: in other words, that no sincere and honest inquirer shall be sent away unsatisfied. There is no promise, that if a man begin the inquiry with a heart obstinately prejudiced and shut against conviction, conviction shall be forced upon him. Alc.-How are we to attain this preliminary state of mind? Euseb.-By prayer.
Alc.-No, my friend, not before conviction. Convince me first, and prayer will be a duty: till then, it would be hypocrisy. Euseb.-I thought that you believed in God.
Euseb. And do not you pray to him whose creature you own yourself, and by whose will and power you hold your existence?
Alc. My prayers cannot affect the government of the universe. What is the amount of all prayers, but an attempt to make the Almighty change his mind, and act otherwise than he does? It is as if I were to say, thou knowest not so well as I.'*
Euseb. I told you before, that you must go on my principles. However, I shall neither compromise yours, nor endanger your sincerity, if I only insist on your praying that the God whom you revere as Creator of the world will give you the spirit of a sound mind, and take from you all hardness of heart and contempt of his word; that if the Bible be really a revelation of his will and counsels, you may be disposed to receive it as such, and follow it as the rule of your future life. I might argue on the same grounds as before. If there is a God, faith cannot be displeasing to him prayer is an act of faith, therefore it cannot be wrong to pray, though it may be extremely wrong to omit prayer.
Alc. You have gained advantages over me which you seem inclined to pursue. I am still haunted by the firm confidence of that poor old woman. I will not however be so inconsistent as to profess myself your patient, and not follow your prescription. At the same time I must warn you that you have an inveterate disease to
Age of Reason, part i, page 21.