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be still more encumbered with the difficulties that had previously beset it; for, unhappily, the plausible arguments and strenuous efforts of the unbeliever, have, in some cases, caused doubts to harrass, and in others, scepticism to shade, the mind of many a professing Christian. Therefore do I approach the subject with the greater seriousness and apprehension.
On the other hand, it is a matter for self-gratulation to be assured that although it is probable some of those to whom this address is made, may be found amongst the doubting and the sceptical, the far greater part have a well-founded confidence in the charter of our salvation.
I take courage moreover when I reflect, that the feelings and the hopes of the wise and good, whatsoever may be the character or the degree of their faith, must generally be with the Christian advocate. For, is it not consolatory to the virtuous to be assured of the truth of the great subjects which the Christian Revelation embraces? Is it not delightful for them to know that HE in whom they
live and move and have their being,' has not left himself without witness amongst men, nor suffered them to wander in the world unaccompanied with an especial evidence of his unchanging love? Is sit not delightful and consolatory to know, that, how misrepresented or persecuted soever the friends of 'truth and virtue may be, in this life, there is a life to come, in which they shall receive their reward? Is it not a source of unspeakable comfort to the mourner, of ease to the distressed, of hope to the despairing, of triumph to the dying, that after the
pains, and the days, of their transient pilgrimage shall be at an end, there is a rest prepared for them amongst the people of God—a mansion in reserve for them in the house of their Father, eternal in the heavens? Yes, these things are dear to the heart of man-they fall in with his most cherished views and meet his most ardent wishes; and these are the things of which Christianity speaks, and which make the labours of her advocates interesting in the sight of the wise and good.
But while I endeavour to engage the attention of such persons, and, in sentiment, to keep company with the believer, I would fain strengthen the weak, confirm the wavering, recall the lapsed, and bring sinners from under the slavish dominion of vice into the light and liberty of the Saviour's kingdom. Sure I am, that what abuses or corruptions soever may have mingled themselves with the religion of Christ-whatsoever errors in belief or in practice may have been tolerated or defended by persons professing Christianity, it is, when rightly understood, the doctrine according to godliness,' promotive of peace on earth and good will towards men.
I do moreover derive much encouragement from the consideration that the cause which I have undertaken to defend is rational Christianity,― that it is a system which addresses itself to the understandings and hearts of men. Did I intend to plead for the many contrarious doctrines which are daily held forth as parts of the Christian system, but which, nevertheless, Christ never preached,— I should indeed suspect, that I had engaged in a
hopeless task. I might talk to you, earnestly, of mysteries to be adored, but not to be examined,― of opinions to be received, but not to be explained, of doctrines to be believed, but not to be understood; and you would turn away with judgments unconvinced, and expectations disappointed. Yes, the day of blind and implicit faith—if such a prostration of the understanding do, indeed, deserve the name of faith-is, with respect to a great portion of mankind, gone, for ever. They want something better than a religion which they cannot understand, doctrines which they cannot explain, and mysteries which they cannot solve. They need some more reasonable advocate than the assertor of unfounded prodigies, and the champion of antiquated and unchristian creeds. They ask some better authority for the divinity of the popular religion than the decisions of councils, the decrees of the legislature, or the 'statutes at large. They need some better and more christian mode of reclaiming the unbeliever, than the philippic of a lawyer, or the chilling damps of a prison. They want to have the judgment convinced and the reason satisfied, and to see the Spirit of Christ reign in the hearts of his followers. I hesitate not to say, therefore, that, in examining the evidences of Christianity, I have as a Unitarian Christian, an easier and a pleasanter task to perform, than my reputed orthodox brethren would
* 'Christianity is part and parcel of the law of the land.'—Legalauthority.
have, in going over the same ground, inasmuch as, I defend religion, and not mystery-practical piety, rather than modes of faith.
I request, therefore, your candid attention to what I shall advance, in the course of this discussion; and I pray the God of all grace, that the result may be, a stronger conviction of his goodness-a firmer faith in the pure doctrines of revealed religion-increased piety and love towards God, and a more diffusive charity for our fellow
It has occured to me that, previously to our entering on the consideration of the evidences of Christianity, we shall not spend our time unprofitably, nor employ it in a manner irrelevant to our main design, if we make a few prefatory remarks on religion in general, and on the means of determining, whether the precepts and doctrines that are propounded to us, really have her sanction. These, together with a brief notice of some of the leading causes of infidelity, will form the subject of our introductory lecture.
It will not be deemed necessary for me to premise much respecting what is the foundation of all religion, the existence of a Supreme Being; for Nature proclaims this fact throughout her wide domain. Day unto day, she uttereth speech, and night unto night, she showeth knowledge of him.’ In the works of creation, we perceive every where the effects of a power uncontrollable in its operations, of a wisdom infinite in its arrangements, of a goodness unbounded in its bestowments. These effects must necessarily be ascribed to some cause
equal to the production of them. So also with the things which are in the world around us; they could not have created themselves. Those which are inanimate possess neither intelligence nor power, and those which are endued with animal life are frail, dependent, and transient, incapable even of self-preservation. Both rational and irrational beings, moreover, come into the world and pass out of it again, the passive creatures of an all-controlling will. Therefore, although we have 'neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape—although our finite minds cannot comprehend him, we are constrained to acknowledge that there is an intelligent Almighty Being, by whom, all things were created, and in whom, all things subsist. This Being we call God. At no time hath he left himself without witness; but he hath continually done us good, and hath bestowed upon us whatsoever we possess of blessing and enjoyment. Hence the natural foundations of our faith in God, of our reverence and love of him, our desire to do whatsoever we may deem to be well-pleasing in his sight.
We have, moreover, many natural aids towards discovering the will of God. Seeing that he hath placed us in a world abounding with every thing necessary for our subsistence and enjoyment; and that he hath endowed us with faculties by which we are enabled, accurately, to notice the different effects which the use or the abuse of his blessings produce in us, we may, by due attention and reflection, clearly, perceive, that it is the will of God, that we should act, in all things, according