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MR COLLINS'S DISCOURSE, &c.
ANTHONY COLLINS, the celebrated Deist, who, notwithstanding his sceptical opinions, retained the friendship of Locke, published, in 1713, his “ Discourse of Freethinking, occasioned by the Rise and Growth of a Sect called Freethinkers." It is believed to have been printed at the Hague, though the title-page bears London. Like Tindal, Collins pretended only to assail the encroachments of the Pagan and of the Romish priesthood, while his real drift was to undervalue and bring to contempt the established clergy of all countries and ages, to ridicule the Mosaical law, to weaken the evidences of revealed religion, and even to controvert, by insinuation at least, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. The treatise attracted much notice, and drew forth an host of answerers, among whom Whiston, Hare, Hoadley, and Bentley, were most conspicuous.
Swift also mingled in the controversy, yet rather with a political than a religious view. For, although the politics of the learned men and divines above-mentioned were opposite to his own, he has not hesitated, in his ironical defence of Collins, to assume the character of a Whig, as if to identify the deistical opinions of that author with those of the opponents of the Tory ministry. What gave a colour, though only a colour, to this charge was, that Toland, Tindal, Collins, and most of those who carried to license their abhorrence of church-government, were naturally enough enrolled among that party in politics, who professed most attachment to freedom of sentiment; and in this, as in many other cases, the vices, or scandalous opinions, of a small part of a political body were unjustly held up as its general characteristics. Swift, himself, had reason loudly to complain of similar treatment in the succeeding reign, when, because the Jacobites were the enemies of government, all who opposed the ministry were called Jacobites. Laying aside consideration of this ungenerous adyantage, the treatise is in itself most admirable.
Our party having failed, by all their political arguments, to re-establish their power, the wise leaders have determined that the last and principal remedy should be made use of for opening the eyes of this blinded nation; and that a short, but perfect system of their divinity should be published, to which we are all of us ready to subscribe, and which we lay down as a model, bearing a close analogy to our schemes in religion. Crafty designing men, that they might keep the world in awe, have, in their several forms of government, placed a supreme power on earth, to keep humankind in fear of being hanged; and a supreme power in heaven for fear of being damned. In order to cure men's apprehensions of the former, several of our learned members have written many profound treatises on anarchy; but a brief complete body of Atheology seemed yet wanting till this irrefragable discourse appeared. However, it so happens, that our ablest brethren, in their elaborate disquisitions upon this subject, have written with so much caution, that ignorant unbelievers have edified very little by them. I grant that those daring spirits, who first adventured to write against the direct rules of the gospel, the current of antiquity, the religion of the magistrate, and the laws of the land, had some measures to keep; and particularly when they railed at religion, were in the right to use little artful disguises, by which a jury could only find them guilty of abusing heathenism or popery. But the mystery is now revealed, that there is no such thing as mystery or revelation; and though our friends are out of place and power, yet we may have so much confidence in the present ministry, to be secure, that those who suffer so many free speeches against their sovereign and themselves to pass unpunished, will never resent our expressing the freest thoughts against their religion; but think with Tiberius, that, if there be a God, he is able enough to revenge any injuries done to himself, without expecting the civil power to interpose.
By these reflections I was brought to think, that the most ingenious author of the Discourse upon Freethinking, in a letter to Somebody, esq., although he has used less reserve than any of his predecessors, might yet have been more free and open. I considered, that several well-willers to infidelity, might be discouraged by a show of logic, and a multiplicity of quotations, scattered through his book; which, to understandings of that size, might carry an appearance of something like book-learning, and consequently fright them from reading for their improvement. I could see no reason why these great discoveries should be hid from our youth of quality, who frequent White's and Tom's; why they should not be adapted to the capacities of the Kit-Cat and Hanover clubs, who might then be able to read lectures on them to their several toasts: and it will be allowed on all hands, that nothing can sooner help to restore our abdicated cause, than a firm universal belief of the principles laid down by this sublime author: for I am sensible that nothing would more contribute to the continuance of the war,” and the restoration of the late ministry, than to have the doctrines delivered in this treatise well infused into the people. I have therefore compiled them into the following Abstract, wherein I have adhered to the very words of our author; only adding some few explanations of my own, where the terms happen to be too learned, and consequently a little beyond the comprehension of those for whom the work was principally intended, I mean the nobility and gentry of our party : after which, I hope, it will be impossible for the malice of a jacobite, highflying, priestridden faction, to misrepresent us. The few additions I have made are for no other use than to help the transition, which could not otherwise be kept in an abstract: but I have not presumed to advance any thing of my own; which, besides, would be needless to an author who has so fully handled and demonstrated every particular. I shall only add, that though this writer, when he speaks of priests, desires chiefly to be understood to mean the English clergy; yet he includes all priests whatsoever, except the ancient and modern heathens, the Turks, Quakers, and Socinians.