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ΤΟ say that mankind are not influenced by religion, is to say nothing. For the purpose of religion is, not to inquire what sort of beings mankind are, but what the light of knowledge, which is afforded them, requires they should be; to shew how in reason they ought to behave, not, in fact, how they do behave. There are, I know, those who accustom themselves to consider religion as a matter of jest. There are those, also, who indulge a ludicrous temper so far as to laugh at all sense of propriety in conduct. Levity, carelessness, passion, and preju dice, thus frequently prevent us from being rightly informed, even in regard to common affairs. How much more so, in regard to those of a more awful consideration? Yet it is to be regretted, for I fear it is a fact, that while weak minds are open to deception from others, men of brilliant abilities have often the unhappy faculty of im posing upon themselves.
The moral system of nature, or natural religion, which Christianity lays before us, approves itself almost intuitively to a reasonable mind. There may, indeed, be a medium between a full satisfaction of the truth of it, and a satisfaction to the contrary: and this state may readily be supposed capable of causing serious apprehension and doubt. But, blasphemy and profaneness, with regard to Christianity, are without excuse; for there can be no temptation to them, but wantonness. In a word, those who can persevere in traducing the system and principles of Christianity, as if they had a demonstration of its falsehood, would not, it is reasonable to presume, alter their mode of proceeding, even though they had a demonstration of its truth.
What is it that reason requires? What is it that natural religion, as it is called, would teach us to perform? Love God, love yourselves, love your fellow-creatures: this is the sum of its obligations. From the first arises piety, from the second wisdom, and from the third, the social virtues. Does not the Christian institution explain, improve, and exalt all these virtues? To virtue it directs us to add faith; to faith knowledge; to knowledge, temperance; to temperance, patience; to patience, godliness; to godliness, brotherly
brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, charity. In short, whether situated in prosperity or adversity, it teaches us to command our own passions; to encounter successfully those of others; and to place our best dependence on the prudence and firmness of our own personal, conduct.
Christianity, it may be readily believed, un dergoes the derision of the witty, because it restrains them with too much severity. Because it will not truckle to our passions, or our interests, it has lost all its hold on our consciences. Or if men still retain a few childish nursery ideas of their religion, the licentious freedom of an unrestrained commerce makes them ashamed to own them. They may chance to be their com→ panions, and, let us hope, their comforters in the day of sickness; but they are seldom admitted as counsellors in the more important scenes of public life. *
Do not mistake me; I am not desirous that the freedom of inquiry should be checked; or that the church, as in former days, should destroy every one who dissents from it. Thank the better sense of the age in which we live, no 24 arbitrary
arbitrary fiats can now overset the demonstrated masses of real knowledge, of which Europe is in possession. No heavy Marsius, perched upon a tripod, can now dare to imprison a Galileo, for modestly explaining the harmony of the universe. Yet should the restraints of religion once be taken off, what should we have to expect, but that the multitude would abandon themselves to the conduct of their own unbridled passions? Human laws and penalties would be found weak ties, where there should be no fear of God, no regard to a future state, nor any dependence on the powers of the world to
Christianity is not a mere outward form and profession; it is a living principle, of a practical nature and tendency. What then can those propose who take pains to turn the inconsiderate from such a religion, and to weaken and subvert the evidence of its divine authority? Can they pretend to introduce a more pure and sublime morality, or to enforce it with more powerful motives? Do they propose to render men more holy and virtuous; more pious and devout towards God; more just, and kind, and benevolent towards men; more temperate and careful in the due government of their appetites and pas
sions, than the gospel requires and obliges them to be? Do they intend to advance the interests of virtue, by depriving it of its most effectual encouragements and supports; to exalt the joys of good men, by weakening their hopes of everlasting happiness; or, finally, to restrain and reclaim the wicked and vicious, by freeing them from the fears of future chastisement?
All legislators have confessed religion to be essential to the good government of society. They have experienced that laws, indeed, can reach the outward man; but that the more solemn tribunal of an heavenly, and an eternal judge, is necessary for the inward man. Religion and legislation have, in consequence, at all times, been most closely united. It has, I know, on the contrary, been strenuously argued, that religion, though it be a political invention, is most injuriously connected with the general management of affairs or, inversely, supposing it to be a revelation from heaven, that no state can have a legitimate right to act in the name, and with the authority of God, while still erring under the guidance of human and fallible reason.
But instead of religion, you would have a good education, and a good morality; and thence,