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afs may perhaps rest upon slender and dubious authority. 4thly, It is objected, “ that probable evidence only is or can be offered by the advocates of Christianity in its behalf. Now it might, say these objectors, be reasonably presumed, that a divine revelation would be attended with demonstrative and irresistible evidence of its divine authority ; such as should flash conviction on the most obstinate and obdurate hearts ; nor has this religion been in fact productive of those beneficial effects which might be expected from a genuine revelation of the Divine will.” That Christianity might have been accompanied by such irresistible evidence as would have compelled conviction, cannot be doubted; but that such an high degree of evidence was reasonably to be expected, I utterly deny; according to the obvious analogy of nature, nothing more than probability could be hoped for, or perhaps rationally desired. Man is so formed as to act on probabilities in all cases which concern his present or future happiness : to ascertain the comparative importance of these probabilities, and to frame our conduct agreably to the views we entertain of that importance, is the perfection of human wisdom. He who waits for demonstration where probability only is attainable, is chargeable with the absurdity attributed to the countryman waiting on the river's banks : He remains for ever inactive, in expectation of that which will never be; the tide of time shall roll on, but never shall any one in this state of trial and probation be indulged on any subject relative to man's duty or happiness, with evidence of such kind or degree as shall preclude him from the full exercise of his rational and intellectual powers; and by an impartial and diligent exertion of these powers, the evidence attending Christianity will quickly appear to be fufficiently probable to {atisfy the understanding and to influence the conduct; and though we should be ultimately mis. taken, we may in this case, if in any, adopt the expression of the Poet, and say, in our vindication,

relative becomes

" It had been vicious to have mistrusted.” As to the plea that Christianity has not been productive of those signal benefits which might have been expected from a divine revelation, it is enough to reply, that expectation is vague and indefinite. The fact is, that the Christian religion, greatly as it has been corrupted, has produced a mighty reformation of morals in the world. We see plainly that it is in a state of progression, and in proportion as it is better understood, and more generally diffused, its effects will be more happy and beneficial. In this enlightened age and country a Christian of very moderate attainments in virtue would be shocked at the recital of the enormous vices which were almost universally prevalent in the ages of antiquity. The heathens, as is well known, attributed the groisest crimes and immoralities even to their deities ; how then could it be expected that they themselves should abstain from the practice of them. Our Saviour compares the Gospel to a {mall feed, which being cast into the earth, at length

becomes a tall and spreading tree, fo that birds seek for shelter in the branches of it; this prophetical defcription will no doubt in due time be realized : « The leaves of the tree are destined for the healing of the națions :" In the mean time we have no right to complain of the flow and gradual progress of this grand fcheme of reformation, nor have we any more reason to expect a clear solution of this difficulty, Why does not Christianity afford an immediate and complete remedy for moral evil? than of the still greater difficulty, Why was evil itself introduced into the universe ?

5thly, It is faid, “ that if the miracles of Christ were real miracles, it is not possible that any degree of incredulity or prejudice could have refifted the force of them, but an immediate conversion of the Jewish nation, and in a short time of the whole Gentile world, must have been the inevitable consequence of such an astonishing exertion of divine power.”

But I cannot help thinking that this objection argues either great ignorance of human nature, or of the actual state of things at the time of Christ's appear

It is not eafy for us to form an idea of the prodigious fhock which the principles of the Christian religion gave to all the preconceived opinions and prejudices of the Jews. That the Messiah, their long expected prince and Saviour, should at last appear in circumstances so mean, obscure, and indigent; that the great Deliverer, so magnificently described by the prophets of old, should be



no other than Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenters fon; that the kingdom he came to establish should be not of this world, but of a wholly spiritual nature; that thebenefits and privileges of it, should not be confined to God's peculiar people, but ex. tended to the Gentile nations; that a few illiterate fishermen should be selected as the friends and followers of the Messiah, and employed as the great instruments of diffusing his religion, to the exclufion of the learned, the noble, and the mighty of the land ; that after being exposed to every species of indignity and perfecution in the short course of his life, he should suffer a painful and ignominious death upon the cross; these were things utterly irreconcileable with the opinions which were most deeply rooted in their minds. They were a rock of offence, which even the evidence of miracles themselves was unable to remove.

“ He pretended to save others, but himself he cannot save;" this was in their apprehension an argument of the most clear and convincing nature.

They rather chose to ascribe those supernatural works, the reality of which they could not deny, to the agency of Beelzebub, than to that of the Spirit of God; and let any one duly reflect upon the astonishing and invincible force of human prejudices, and he will, I think, be convinced, that at this very day miracles, fimilar to those of Christ, would be found equally insufficient to break the shackles of Mahometan delusion and Popish superstition. I make not the least question, but that a man who should openly maintain at Constantinople that Mahomet was a blasphemous impostor, would be impaled; or at Madrid, that transubstantiation was an impious abfurdity, would be brought to the stake, though they were able to establish their assertions even by an appeal to miracles; whatever amazement might be excited, such a man would certainly upon the whole be regarded by the bulk of the people as a false prophet. It appears that for a time the miracles pretended to be wrought at the tomb of the Abbé Paris gained considerable credit in so enlightened a country as France, but I never heard of a single Molinist who was converted to Janfenism in consequence of them. What I have said respecting the Jews may easily be seen to apply with still greater force to the Gentiles, whose prejudices, though totally different, were doubtless equally strong; and if the Jews were not to be convinced though one rose from the dead, it cannot be supposed that the Gentiles would be more inclined to listen to evidence which came to them with diminished force; and as it is well known that the Jews were regarded with contempt by the Greeks and Romans as a credulous and bigotted nation, it may reasonably be presumed, that the first account of a new religion, supported by miracles, which obtained so little credit in Judea itself, would be treated with the highest. disdain and derision by the learned heathens, and would be rejected without hesitation or examination.



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