« PreviousContinue »
v. 2) let us prove all things, and hold faft only that which shall appear to be good.
I might have given a curious counterpart to the hypothefes of the ancient philofophers in thofe of the most diftinguished of the modern unbelievers. For many of their opinions concerning the origin of the universe, its fubfequent revolutions, and other fubjects connected with religion and morals, are not lefs wild, incoherent, and abfurd; as every theory must be that excludes the belief of a God, and a superintending providence. This undertaking, however, has been executed with equal truth and ability in a French work, entitled Les Helviennes, ou Lettres Provinciales Philofophiques, in five volumes, 12mo. 1784. They are called Provincial Letters in imitation of thofe of that title by the famous Pafcal, in which he expofed the abfurdities of the principles of the Jefuits, a work of genuine humour, to which this is, in many refpects, not inferior. It is therefore adapted to afford equal entertainment and inftruction.
From this excellent work it will be evident that the rejection of revealed religion will be attended with all that diffoluteness of morals for
for which the ancient heathens were remarkable, there being no vice for which fome of the most eminent of modern philofophical un believers have not been advocates; and therefore that, in an advanced state of society, human reafon has never proved a fufficient barrier against vice. It will alfo be evident that a propensity to the unreftrained indulgence of all the paffions has been the principal cause of the prevailing difpofition to throw off the falutary restraints of religion.
Not only are the great Chriftian virtues of humility, the forgiveness of injuries, and the loving of enemies, excluded from the clafs of virtues, and a spirit of pride and revenge encouraged; not only is all virtue reduced to mere felf-love, the great end of human life reprefented to be the pursuit of pleasure in the lowest sense of the word, and fuicide recommended when this object is no longer attainable; but the very barrier between men and brutes has been thrown down by many eminent unbelievers. All the ancient legislators even among the heathens, confidered the laws of marriage as the first step towards civilization, and the conjugal and parental relations as, what no doubt they are, the chief fource of the sweets
of focial life. But many modern unbelievers openly plead not only for an unbounded liberty of divorce, but a community of women, and make very light of the vices moft contrary to nature. What is this but reducing men even lower than the ftate of brutes? And what can we expect from the natural operation of thefe principles, but the preva lence of thofe vices, which the apostle in his fecond epistle to Timothy enumerates as a fymptom of the approach of the last times, which are elsewhere defcribed as exceedingly calamitous, 2 Tim. iii. 1, This know, that in he last days perilous times fhall come. For men Thall be lovers of their ownfelves, &c. The apostle Peter also fays, 2 Pet. iii. 3, Knowing this that there fhall come in the last days fcoffers, walking after their own lufts, and faying, Where is the promife of his coming, &c. Reflecting on these things, we may well fay with the evangelifts, after they had related our Saviour's predictions concerning the destruction of Jerufalem, and the various figns of its approach, Let him that readeth underftand. Matt. xxiv. 15; Mark xiii. 14.
Unbelievers often complain of the difference of opinion among Chriftians, but their own
opinions, even on the fubject of Christianity, are as various. The celebrated Mr. D'Alembert, in his Letters to the late King of Pruffia (Œuvres Pofthumes, tom. 14, p. 105), fays, "It appears evident to me, as it does to your "majefty, that Christianity in its origin was nothing but pure deifm; that Jefus Christ, "the author of it, was only a kind of philo sopher, the enemy of fuperftition, of perse
cution, and of priests; who preached bene"volence and justice, and reduced the whole "law to the love of our neighbour, and the "worship of God in spirit and in truth; and "that afterwards, St. Paul, then the fathers " of the church, and laftly the councils, un"happily supported by the fovereigns, chang❝ed this religion. I therefore think it would "be doing great fervice to mankind to re❝duce Christianity to its primitive state, "confining it to preaching to the people the "doctrine of a God rewarding virtue, and pu"nishing vice, who abhors fuperftition, de❝tefts intolerance, and who requires of men "no other worship than that of loving and "affifting one another."
The scheme of reducing Chriftianity to its primitive ftate, is, no doubt, excellent,
and this writer's idea of that ftate is not far from the truth. But his affertion that Jefus Christ taught pure deifm, is altogether unfounded. If there be any truth in his history, he taught the doctrine of a resurrection, and fupported it by miracles, and Paul was far from making any addition to the doctrine of his master. He had too many enemies among Chriftians to have had that in his power. How Christianity was corrupted afterwards is well known, and I have fhewn the progress of it in my Hiftory of the Corruptions of Chriftianity.
Since the writing of this Preface, I have been favoured with a fight of the third volume of "Afiatic Antiquities," a work which promises to throw great light on the mythology, and early history, of several ancient nations; and one paffage in it, containing a quotation from an ancient Hindoo writer, perhaps nearly as old as Mofes, is so curious in itself, and fuch a confirmation of one part of his hiftory, that I am perfuaded my readers will be pleased with the communication of it. The work is entitled Padma-puran, and the tranflation of it is by Sir William Jones. Though the narrative is in fubftance the fame