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and phenomena ; directly against the advice of St Paul, who yet appears to have been conversant enough in those kinds of studies.
I do not find that you are any where directed in the canons or articles, to attempt explaining the mysteries of the Christian religion. And indeed, since Providence intended there should be mysteries, I do not see how it can be agreeable to piety, orthodoxy, or good sense, to go about such a work. For, to me, there seems to be a manifest dilemma in the case;
you explain them, they are mysteries no longer; if you fail, you have laboured to no purpose. What I should think most reasonable and safe for you to do upon this occasion, is, upon solemn days, to deliver the doctrine as the church holds it; and confirm it by scripture.* For my part, having considered the matter impartially, I can see no great reason, which those gentlemen you call the freethinkers, can have for their clamour against religious mysteries; since it is plain they were not invented by the clergy, to whom they bring no profit, nor acquire any honour. For every clergyman is ready, either to tell us the utmost he knows, or to confess that he does not understand them : neither is it strange, that there should be mysteries in divinity, as well as in the commonest operations of nature.
And here I am at a loss what to say upon the frequent custom of preaching against atheism, deism, freethinking, and the like, as young divines are particularly fond of doing, especially when they exercise their talent in churches frequented by persons of quality ; which, as it is but an ill compliment to the audience, so I am under some doubt whether it answers the end.
* See, in illustration of Swift's opinion, his own excellent Ser. mon on the Trinity.
Because, persons under those imputations are generally no great frequenters of churches, and so the congregation is but little edified for the sake of three or four fools, who are past grace : neither do I think it any part of prudence to perplex the minds of well-disposed people with doubts, which probably would never have otherwise come into their heads. But I am of opinion, and dare be positive in it, that not one in a hundred of those who pretend to be freethinkers, are really so in their hearts. For there is one observation, which I never knew to fail, and I desire you will examine it in the course of your life, that no gentleman of a liberal education, and regular in his morals, did ever profess himself a freethinker: where then are these kind of people to be found ? among the worst part of the soldiery, made up of pages
, younger brothers of obscure families, and others of desperate fortunes; or else among idle town fops, and now and then a drunken 'squire of the country. Therefore nothing can be plainer, than that ignorance and vice are two ingredients absolutely necessary in the composition of those you generally call freethinkers, who, in propriety of speech, are no thinkers at all. And since I am in the way of it, pray consider one thing farther: as young as you are, you cannot but have already observed, what a violent run there is among too many weak people against university education : be firmly assured, that the whole cry is made who were either never sent to a college, or, through their irregularities and stupidity, never made the least improvement while they were
up by those,
there. I have above forty of the latter sort now in my eye; several of them in this town, whose learning, manners, temperance, probity, goodnature, and politics, are all of a piece : others of them in the country, oppressing their tenants, tyrannizing over the neighbourhood, cheating the vicar, talking nonsense, and getting drunk at the sessions. It is from such seminaries as these, that the world is provided with the several tribes and denominations of freethinkers; who, in my judgment, are not to be reformed by arguments offered to prove the truth of the Christian religion, because reasoning will never make a man correct an ill opinion, which by reasoning he never acquired : for, in the course of things, men always grow vicious before they become unbelievers; but if you would once convince the town or country profligate, by topics drawn from the view of their own quiet, reputation, health, and advantage, their infidelity would soon drop off: this, I confess, is no easy task, because it is, almost in a literal sense, to fight with beasts. Now, to make it clear, that we are to look for no other original of this infidelity, whereof divines so much complain, it is allowed on all hands, that the people of England are more corrupt in their morals, than any other nation at this day under the sun: and this corruption is manifestly owing to other causes, both numerous and obvious, much more than to the publication of irreligious books, which indeed are but the consequence of the for
For all the writers against Christianity, since the revolution, have been of the lowest rank among men in regard to literature, wit, and good sense, and upon that account wholly unqualified to propagate heresies, unless among a people already abandoned.
In an age, where every thing disliked by those who think with the majority, is called disaffection, it may perhaps be ill interpreted, when I venture to tell you, that this universal depravation of manners is owing to the perpetual bandying of factions among us for thirty years past, when, without weighing the motives of justice, law, conscience, or honour, every man adjusts his principles to those of the party he has chosen, and among whom he may best find his own account; but by reason of our frequent vicissitudes, men who were impatient of being out of play, have been forced to recant, or at least to reconcile their former tenets with every new system of administration. Add to this, that the old fundamental custom of annual parliaments being wholly laid aside, and elections growing chargeable, since gentlemen found that their country seats brought them in less than a seat in the house, the voters, that is to say, the bulk of the common people, have been universally seduced into bribery, perjury, drunkenness, malice, and slander.
Not to be farther tedious, or rather invidious, these are a few, among other causes, which have contributed to the ruin of our morals, and consequently to the contempt of religion : for, imagine to yourself, if you please, a landed youth, whom his mother would never suffer to look into a book for fear of spoiling his eyes, got into parliament, and observing all enemies to the clergy heard with the utmost applause, what notions he must imbibe, how readily he will join in the cry, what an esteem he will conceive of him, and what a contempt he must entertain, not only for his vicar at home, but for the whole order.
I therefore again conclude, that the trade of
infidelity has been taken up only for an expedient to keep in countenance that universal corruption of morals, which many other causes first contributed to introduce and to cultivate. And thus Mr Hobbes's saying upon reason may be much more properly applied to religion: that, if religion will be against a man, a man will be against religion. Though after all, I have heard a profligate offer much stronger arguments against paying his debts, than ever he was known to do against Christianity ; indeed the reason was, because in that juncture he happened to be closer pressed by the bailiff than the parson.
Ignorance may perhaps be the mother of superstition, but experience has not proved it to be so of devotion; for Christianity always made the most easy and quickest progress in civilized countries. I mention this, because it is affirmed, that the clergy are in most credit where ignorance prevails, (and surely this kingdom would be called the paradise of clergymen, if that opinion were true,) for which they instance England in the times of popery. But, whoever knows any thing of three or four centuries before the reformation, will find the little learning then stirring was more equally divided between the English clergy and laity, than it is at present. There were several famous lawyers in that period, whose writings are still in the highest repute, and some historians and poets, who were not of the church. Whereas now a-days our education is so corrupted, that you will hardly find a young person of quality with the least tincture of knowledge, at the same time that many of the clergy were never more learned, or so scurvily treated.
Here among us at least, a man of letters, out of the three professions, is almost a prodigy. And those few, who have preserved