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this reason, that they are found by experience not to deceive; then with what reason can we expect any deception in the accounts of the gospel? Why should we withhold from it that assent which, I believe, every one of us would readily give to another history in the same circumstances of credibility ?
I will now apply myself to an objection, which many seem to think enough to balance the force of the argument which arises from the actual credit which Christianity obtained in the first ages of the propagation of it; which objection, in two words, is this; If the miracles were really wrought as related, how is it possible that any one should resist them? How could those, however, who saw them, withstand the evidence they afforded? If Christ restored the blind, healed the sick, recovered the lame man who had lain for years at Jerusalem, raised Lazarus from the dead without the walls of the city; if Peter and John restored a cripple to perfect soundness, who had long begged at the gate of the Temple, and was well known to all who resorted thither; if the persons cured, and the circumstances of the cure, were there at hand to be examined, if they were actually examined by the Pharisees, and priests, and rulers, as they are related to have been, how comes it to pass that the whole nation was not converted, that the inhabitants of Jerusalem at large did not one and all fall down and confess the hand and authority of God? The answer to the objection is this ; That they did not dispute the reality of the miracles, but they did not attribute them to the finger of God, but to the agency and assistance of evil spirits. In one word, it was by Beelzebub the prince of the devils, they insinuated, that he cast out devils, and performed all other miracles. We are now sensible that every such insinuation is absurd. For once admit the truth and reality of a miracle, and nobody nowadays disputes but that it comes from God. But it was not so then. Their antipathy to Christ, owing, as before stated, to his disappointing the eager expectation of being a temporal prince, destroying their favorite hopes and opinions, reproving their vices, and exposing their hypocrisy, put them upon every imaginable device to avoid the proofs of his mission; and this was the way they did avoid it; and, according to the notion which then prevailed concerning the activity and operation of evil spirits, it was likely enough to go down with many. Hence arose their perpetually calling for a sign, or, as it is sometimes expressed, a sign from heaven, that is, some display of glory and wonderful appearance in the heavens, as they thought became the Messiah, and which they supposed was above the power of inferior spirits to produce. And the Jewish authority afterwards, down to the third century, goes upon the same foundation, imputing Christ's miracles, which they do not deny, to magic and secret arts, which he had learned in Egypt.
The candid, the humble minded and well disposed were above such foolish shifts and prejudices which gave birth to them; but these are in every age and every country a small part of the whole.
DELIVERED TO THE CLERGY OF THE DIOCESE OF
CARLISLE, IN THE YEAR 1785, ON THE DISTRIBUTION OF RELIGIOUS TRACTS.
The choice of our venerable diocesan, dictated, no doubt, by great partiality to me, but not without a hope, I trust, of providing for the care and government of his diocese, having called me to succeed your late excellent chancellor, I approach a station which hath been occupied by abilities so conspicuous, under a just conviction of my incapacity to replace, by any qualifications I possess, the loss you have sustained of the talents and services of that valuable person. His consummate professional learning, his unwearied diligence, the reputation of his writings, the accuracy, method, and perspicuity by which they are distinguished, not only conferred honor upon the office which he held in this diocese, but have rendered his name familiar to every part of these kingdoms.
There is no branch of my duty in which I regret my own deficiency more than on those occasions in which the clergy, especially the younger and less experienced part of them, were wont, upon any doubt or emergency that arose, to resort to my predecessor for counsel and advice. I can only promise, that they shall meet in me with the same attention to their
inquiries, the same readiness to communicate the information that is asked for ; whilst I lament that they cannot place upon that information a like reliance, or find in it equal satisfaction and security.
The ecclesiastical laws of the realm having undergone no alteration that I am acquainted with during the course of the last year, and being yet too recent in my office to advert with sufficient exactness to any irregularities that may prevail within the cognizance of this jurisdiction, I cannot, I conceive, employ the present opportunity better than in suggesting two recommendations, of different kinds, indeed, and of very different importance, but neither perhaps undeserving of consideration.
The first thing I take the liberty to propose relates to the registering of baptisms. It has been intimated to me, by very high legal authority, that, in the investigation of pedigrees from parish registers, great uncertainty has been found to arise from the want of the family surname of the mother appearing in the entry. It is well known, that one half of the controversies which occur upon the subject of descents, result from the confusion of whole blood and half blood, and the difficulty of tracing back genealogies in the maternal line. Doubts of this kind can seldom be ascertained by the register, in which nothing at present is found but the christian name of the mother; they are rather indeed increased by consulting the register, whenever it appears, as it frequently may happen, that an ancestor has married two wives of the same christian
and has had children by both. It is evident that this ambiguity may be completely obviated, by so easy an expedient as the addition of the maiden name of the mother to the rest of the record; it is a single question to ask, and a single word to write down. At present the entries stand thus ; • John, the Son of Richard Peters,' for instance, 'of such a place and profession, and of Mary, his wife. What I propose is, to add a parenthesis, containing the name which the mother bore before her marriage ; so that the whole entry may run in this form ; • John, the son of Richard Peters, particularizing, as before, the father's professioni and place of residence, and of Mary, his wife, late Johnson. For the better exposition of this plan, though it can hardly, I think, be mistaken, I have caused to be circulated, together with the book of articles, a printed formulary, which, mutatis mutandis, may serve as a direction where any such is wanted. I understand that this alteration has been adopted in the diocese of Norwich, and perhaps in some others, with great approbation; and if it appear likely to promote in any degree the purposes of future peace and justice, I am persuaded the little trouble it may occasion will not be grudged or declined, though the generations are yet unborn which will reap the effects of it.
The next particular to which I am desirous of inviting your attention is the distribution of religious books in our respective parishes. What I before mentioned belongs to the formal or technical part of a clergyman's duty, which, however, cannot be left undone, nor ought at any time to be done negligently ; but what I now take the liberty of suggesting, is a matter of higher character and of more serious importance, as appertaining to that which composes the substance and object of the pastoral office, the edification of the people in christian knowledge. I am apprehensive that it is not so generally known amongst us as it ought to be, that there exists in London a society for the propagation of christian knowledge, by the best method, according to my judgment, in which a society can act, by facilitating the circulation of devotional compositions and of popular treatises upon the chief subjects of practical religion. The annual subscription to this society is one guinea; in consideration of which, the subscriber is entitled to receive whatever books he may select out of a very numerous catalogue, at about half the price which the same books would cost in any other way of procuring them. The whole collection is furnished to subscribers for eighteen shillings; which, beside that it supplies a clergyman with no mean library in this species of reading, enables him to select, for the use of his parish, what he may deem best suited to the particular wants and circumstances of his parishioners. In my opinion, this expedient of subscribing to the society, and of procuring books for the use of our poorer parishioners, upon the terms of the society, admits of the strongest argument in its favor by which any mode of charity can be shown to be preferable to another, that of doing much good at a little expense. But beside its general utility, there are two descriptions of clergy to whom the recommendation I am now urging seems to be peculiarly applicable. It was in old times much the practice, and is at all times, as far as it can be attempted with probability of success, the duty, of the parochial clergy to hold personal conferences with their parishioners upon religious subjects; nevertheless, it is very true, that many clergymen of great worth and learning find themselves unapt for this exercise; they find a want of that presence of mind and promptness of thought which enable a man to say at the proper instant what he afterwards discovers ought to have been said, or to discourse freely and persuasively upon subjects of importance, and yet with truth and correctness.
Amongst many excellences, it is one defect of a retired and studious life, that it indisposes men from entering with ease and familiarity into the conversation of the mixed ranks of human society. Now the only substitute for religious conversation is religious reading. A clergyman, therefore, who believes some application to the consciences of his parishioners, more appropriate and domestic than addresses from the pulpit, to be his duty, and that some instruction is wanting more minute and circumstantial than befits the decorum of public discourses, but who finds himself embarrassed by every endeavour to introduce conferences with them upon serious topics, will receive some contentment to his thoughts from being able to supply, in a good degree, the place and effect of such conferences, by putting into the hands of his parishioners plain and affecting treatises upon the subjects to which he wishes to draw their meditations.
The next class of parochial clergy who, I think, may avail themselves of this expedient with singular propriety, is that of nonresident incumbents; it is a mode of instruction in their power, and the only one that is so. By this means, though absent in body, they may in some measure, as the apostle speaks, be present in spirit ; not entirely forgetful of their cure, or so regardless of the charge that hath been committed to them, as to consider themselves under no other relation to their parish than as having an estate in it. It is not my design to examine the legal or conscientious excuses of nonresidents ; it is enough for my present purpose to observe, that even where both exist, and under the most justifiable circumstances, something is not done by the minister for the advantage of his flock, which might be done if he was living amongst them. This deficiency a good man will desire to make up; and after due care and circumspection in the choice of a curate, I know not by what better method the incumbent of a parish can compensate for his absence than by a judicious distribution of religious books amongst his parishioners.