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It has been my design, in the following discourses, to exhibit a view both of the evidences and the effects of religious belief, somewhat more simple and popular than has usually been attempted; and without fatiguing the reader with controversy, or overwhelming him with facts, to fix his attention upon those great principles, both in the constitution of man, and in the visible administration of Providence, that seem to lead most directly to a sense of the truth and the benefits of religion.
Much has been written, both recently and in older times, upon this most important of all subjects; and the grounds of our faith have been vindicated by many eminent divines and philosophers, with a force of reasoning and an extent of learning, to which nothing, it is probable, can now be added or replied. These profound and argumentative writers, however, are not always intelligible, and are but rarely attractive, to the
multitude whom they would reclaim from errot; and vainly multiply their proofs and refutations, to an audience whom they have not engaged to be attentive.
To me it has always appeared, that the greater part of those who are indifferent to the truths of religion, have been left in this state rather through an indolent misapprehension of its true nature and general foundations, than from the effect of any positive error, or false creed of philosophy. Controversy, or formal argument, , therefore, will have but little effect
upon and their cure is to be effected, not by topical applications of detailed proof, or special refutation, but by the general tonics of more enlightened and comprehensive views, as to the nature of man and of the universe,--arguments that point out the connection and consonancy between religion and all that we know or feel of existence and reflections which tend to cultivate those dispositions which lay the foundations of religious belief, not only in our understanding, but our affections.
It has sometimes appeared to me also, that many of our orthodox writers have assumed too severe and contemptuous a tone towards those whom they laboured to convert; and have employed a certain haughty sternness of manner,
which is not perhaps altogether suitable to the mildness of the gospel of peace, and which has at any rate an obvious tendency to indispose many from listening to their instructions. The antagonists. of religion, accordingly, have not failed to take advantage of these errors; and have spared no pains to render their productions smooth, easy, and agreeable. “ Fas est et ab hoste doceri ;” and there really seems to be no reason why the children of this world should always be wiser in their generation, than the children of light!
Such is the object of these discourses: of the execution the public must judge. I have ventured to give them the title of “ a series;” because, though they were written at different times, and without any precise view to their present arrangement, they seem to have such a mutual coherence and dependency, a's to be read with advantage in the order in which they now stand.
At all events, it is hoped, they will appear to possess at least that “ uniformity of thought and design which (to use the words of the admirable Butler) will always be found in the writings of the same person, when he writes with simplicity, and in earnest.”
R. M. Edinburgh, 17th December, 1808.