« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
by the Dairo, the Mufti, and the Pope, if these letters were submitted to ecclefiaftical censure ; for, furely, my lord, the clergy have a better title than the sons of Apollo to be called genus irritabile vatum. What would it be if I went about to fhew, how many of the christian clergy abufe, by misrepresentation and false quotation, the history they can no longer corrupt ? and yet this task would not be, even to me, an hard one. But as I mean to speak in this place of christian divines alone, so I mean to speak of such of them particularly, as may be called divines without any sneer; of such of them, for some such I think there are, as believe themselves, and would have mankind believe; not for temporal, but spiritual intereft, not for the sake of the clergy, but for the sake of mankind. Now it has been tong matter of astonishment to me, how such persons as these could take so much filly pains to establish mystery on metaphysics, revelation on philosophy, and matters of fact on abstract reasoning. A religion founded on the authority of a divine mission, confirmed by prophecies and miracles, appeals to facts : and the facts must be proved, as all other facts that pafs for authentic are proved; for faith, so reasonable after this proof, is absurd before it. If they are thus proved, the religion will prevail without the affiftance of so much profound reasoning: if they are not thus proved, the authority of it will sink in the world even with this affitance. The divines object, in their disputes with atheists, and they object very justly, that these men require improper proofs ; proofs that are not suited to the nature of the Tubject, and then cavil that such proofs are not furnished. But what then do they mean, to fall into the fame abfurdity themselves in their disputes with theists, and to din improper proofs in ears that are open to proper proofs ? The matter is of great moment, my lord, and I make no ex-. cule for the zeal which obliges me to dwell a little on it. A serious and honest application to the study of ecclesiastical history, and every part of prophane history and chronology relative to it, is incumbent on such reverend persons as are here spoken of, on a double account: because history alone can furnish the proper proofs, that the religion they teach is of God; and becaufe the unfair manner in which these proofs have been and are daily furnished, creates prejudices, and gives advantages against christianity that require to be removed. No fcholar will dare to deny, that false history, as well as fham miracles, has been employed to propagate christianity formerly: and whoever examines
the writers of our own age will find the same abuse of history continued. Many and many instances of this abuse might be produced. It is grown into custom, writers copy one another, and the mistake that was committed, or the falsehood that was invented by one, is adopted by hundreds.
Abbadie says, in his famous book, that the gospel of St. Matthew is cited by Clemens bishop of Rome, disciple
of the apostles ; that Barnabas cites it in his epistle ; that Ignatius and Polycarp receive it; and that the same fathers that give testimony for Matthew, give it likewise for Mark. Nay your lordship will find, I believe, that the present bishop of London in his third paftoral letter speaks to the same effect. I will not trouble you nor myself with any more instances of the same kind. Let this which occurred to me as I was writing fuffice. It may well suffice; for I presume the fact advanced by the minister ar.d the bishop is a mistake. If the fathers of the first century do mention fome passages that are agreeable to what we read in our evangelists, will it follow that these fathers had the same gorpels before them? To say so is a manifest abuse of history, and quite inexcusable in writers that knew or should have known,
that these fathers made use of other gospels, wherein such passages might be contained, or they might be preserved in unwritten tradition. Belides which I could almost venture, to affirm, that these fathers of the first century do not expreilly name the gospels we have of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. To the two reasons that have been given why those who make divinity their profession thould study history, with an honest and serious application, in order to support christianity against the attacks of unbelievers, and to remove the doubts and prejudices that the unfair proceedings of men of their own order have raised in minds candid but not implicit, willing to be informed but curious to examine; to these I lay we may add another confideration that seems to me of no smal importance. Writers of the Roman religion have attempted to Thew, that the text of the holy wrių is on many accounts insufficient to be the fole criterion of orthodoxy: I apprehend too that they have shewn
Sure I am that experience, from the first promulgation of christianity to this hour, shews abundantly with how much care and success the most opposite, the most extravagant, nay the most impious opinions, and the most contradictory faiths, may be founded on the same text; and plausibly defended by the same authority. Writers of the reformed religion have erected their batteries against tradition; and the
only difficulty they had to encounter in this enterprise lay in levelling and pointing their cannon so as to avoid demolishing, in one common ruin, the traditions they retain, and those they reject. Each side has been employed to weaken the cause and explode the system of his adversary: and whilst they have been so employed, they have jointly laid their axes to the root of christianity: for thus men will be apt to reason upon what they have advanced, if the text has not that authenticity, clearness, and precision, which are neceffary to establish it as a divine and certain rule of faith and practice; and if the tradition of the church, from the firft ages of it till the days of Luther and Calvin, has been corrupted itself, and has served to corrupt the faith and practice of christians; there remains at this time no standard at all of christianity. By consequence, either this religion was not originally of divine institution, or else God has not provided effectually for preserving the genuine purity of it, and the gates of hell have actually prevailed, in contradiction to his promise, against the church. The best effect of this reasoning that can be hoped for is, that men hould fall into theism, and subscribe to the first propofition; he must be worse than an atheist who can affirm the last. The dilemma is terrible, my lord. Party zeal and private intereft have formed it: the common interest of christianity is deeply concerned to solve it. Now I presume it can never be solved without a more accurate examination, not only of the christian but of the Jewish fyftem, than learned men have been hitherto impartial enough and sagacious enough to take, or honest enough to communicate. Whilst the authenticity and sense of the text of the bible remain as disputable, and whilst the tradition of the church remains as problematical, to say no worse, as the immense labours of the christian divines in several communions have made them appear to be ; christianity may lean on the civil and ecclesiastical power, and be supported by the forcible influence of education: but the proper force of religion, that force which subdues the mind, and awes the conscience by conviction, will be wanting.
• I had reason therefore to produce divinity, as one instance of those professions that require a particular application to the study of some particular parts of history : and fince I have said so much on the subject in my zeal for christianity, I will add this further. The resurrection of letters was a fatal period : the christian system has been attacked and wounded too, very feverely, since that time.
The defence has been better made indeed by modern divines, than it had been by ancient fathers and apologists. The moderns have invented new methods of defence, and have as bandoned some posts that were not tenible: bụt still there are others, in defending which they lie under great disadvantages. Such are various facts pioufly believed in former times, but on which the truth of christianity has been rested very imprudently in more enlightened ages! because the falsity of fome, and the grofs improbability of others are so evident, that instead of answering the purpose for which they were invented, they have rendered the whole tenor of ecclefiaftical history and tradition precarious, ever since a ftrict but just application of the rules of criticism has been made to them. I touch these things lightly ; but if your lordihip reflects upon them, you will find reason, perhaps, to think as I do, that it is high time the clergy in all chriftian communions should join their forces, and establisha those historical facts which are the foundations of the whole fyftem, on clear and unquestionable historical authority, such as they require in all cases of moment from others; reject candidly what cannot be thus established ; and purfue their enquiries in the same spirit of truth through all the ages of the church, without any regard to historians, fathers or councils, more than they are strictly intitled to on the face of what they have transmitted to us on their own conutency, and on the concurrence of other authority. Our pastors would be thus, I prelume, much better employed than they generally are. Those of the clergy who make religion merely a trade, who regard nothing more than the subsistence it affords them, or in higher life the wealth and power they enjoy by the means of it, may say to themselves that it will last their time, or that policy and reasons of state will preserve the form of a church when the fpirit of religion is extinct. But those whom I mentioned above, those who act for spiritual not temporal ends, and are desirous that men Ihould believe and practice the dactrines of christianity, as well as go to church and рау.
tithes, will feel and own the weight of such confiderations as these ; and agree that however the people have been and may be fill amused, yet christianity has been in decay ever since the resurrection of letters : and that it cannot be supported as it was supported before that æra, nor by any other way than that which I propose, and which a due application to the
study of history, chronology, and criticism, yould enable our divines to pursue, no doubt with success.'
His lordship now comes to speak of the study of history, as a necessary mean to prepare men for the discharge of that duty which they owe to their country, and which is common to all the members of every society that is constituted according to the rules of right reason, and with a due regard to the common good. The sum of what he says is, that in free governments it is incumbent on every man to instruct himself, as well as the means and opportunities he has permit, concerning the nature and interests of the government, and those rights and duties that belong to him, or to his su-. periors, or to his inferiors ; and that the obligations under which we lie to serve our country, increase in proportion to the ranks we hold, and the other circumstances of birth, fortune, and situation that call us to this service, and above all to the talents which God has given us to perform it.
In the sixth letter his lordship considers such history as has immediate relation to the great duty and business of those who are, by birth, by the nature of our government, and by the talents God has given them, attached for life to the service of their country, aud the method to be observed in the study of it. He introduces what he has to say on this head with observing, that however closely affairs are linked together in the progreffion of governments, and how much soever events that follow are dependant on those that precede, the whole connexion diminishes to fight as the chain lengthens, till at last it seems to be broken, and the links that are continued from that point bear no proportion nor any fimilitude to the former. I would not be understood, says he, to speak only of those great changes, that are wrought by a concurrence of extraordinary events; for instance, the expulsion of one nation, the destruction of one government, and the establishment of another: but even of those that are wrought in the same governments and among the same people, flowly, and almost imperceptibly, by the necessary effects of time, and flux condition of human affairs. When such changes as these happen in several states about the same time, and consequently affect other states by their vicinity, and by many differentrelations which they frequenta ly bear to one another; then is one of those periods formed, at which the chain spoken of is so broken as to have little or no real or visible connexion with that which we fee continue. A new situation, different from the former, begets new interests in the same proportion of difference, not in this or that particular state alone, but in all those that are concerned by vicinity or any other relations, as I said just