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THERE is a system relating to religion, and to the state of things, which is certainly true, whether we believe it or not. It greatly concerns us to have right notions about it, and to provide, as far as we can, for our future well-being, if this life should be the passage to another.
To show that there is sufficient evidence of the truth of christianity, to illustrate some parts of it, and to defend it against some objections, is the design of the following Discourses; to which be fore I dismiss the reader, I beg leave to detain him a few minutes, whilst I make an apology for this undertaking against an obvious objection.
Many are the books already extant upon the subject. Fabricius has reckoned up some hundreds, and doubtless several treatises might be added which have escaped even his diligence. What occasion is there for any more, in a country which has produced so many excellent writers in the cause, and where learned persons are continually appointed to discourse professedly upon it?
As to the number of treatises, it may be replied, that some of them are become very scarce, and others are fallen into oblivion; for which reason an author may be permitted to step in and take a place made vacant by one who is now gone to VOL. I,
rest 2. And though it be presumption to think of equalling the great men who have laboured before us, and whose reputation is established, yet since there are many who had rather peruse a new book than a good book, their humour should not be totally disregarded.
The same truths may be placed in various views; and amongst men whose taste and fancy differ so widely, an argument shall seem persuasive, and a remark pertinent, to one, which by another is slighted and rejected. It seems therefore convenient that several persons should try their skill, and propose their thoughts upon a matter of such importance, since every one may reasonably hope to gain over, or confirm, or secure some reader of a corresponding turn of mind. Even the weakest contriver of a foolish and forlorn system must be very unlucky, if he finds not a few approvers and followers: he possesses at least a quality somewhat like electricity, which attracts chaff and straws; and what the old Greek poet observed in his days is as true now;
Ὡς ἀιεῖ τὸν ὁμοῖον ἄγει Θεὸς ὡς τὸν ὁμοῖον.
Some overruling pow'r
Ever delights to couple like to like.
The understandings of men are as the chords of musical instruments: when a string sounds, the strings which are unisons to it, if within proper distance, will vibrate.
Nunc placida compostus pace quiescit.
* Τὴν γὰρ ἀοιδὴν μᾶλλον ἐπικλείουσ ̓ ἄνθρωποι,
HOMER. Odyss. A. 351.
None then ought to be discouraged, though his abilities be no more than common, from appearing in defence of truths in which all are interested. Invention, Wit, Sagacity, Eloquence, when they offer their service on this occasion, merit a kind reception. Behind these follows modest and slowpaced Industry, willing to take the lowest place, and yet sometimes more useful than some of the former, and verifying the proverb, Claudus viator omnia refert certiora,' A lame traveller brings the best intelligence.
If, amidst some imperfections, an argument, which is not new, be set in a new light; if an objection be removed; if a sentiment be so expressed as to leave a good effect upon the mind; if an ingenious, or useful, or remarkable passage, not commonly known, be produced from an antient writer; if somewhat be suggested worthy of consideration, and the reader be put upon thinking, and the author perform the humble office of an index which points out the roads to the passenger, the work ought not to be treated with contempt.
Shall I add yet further, that such persons deserve something beyond a bare permission to utter their thoughts? When the intention seems upright, and the end proposed is to make men better and wiser, what is not ill executed should be received with approbation, with good words and good wishes, and small faults and inadvertencies should be candidly excused. Much more than this it may be vanity or folly to expect.
And here I thought to have concluded; but these words of Grotius come so often into my mind, that I cannot forbear to cite them. Lap