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EDMUND LAW, D. D.
LORD BISHOP OF CARLISLE.
Had the obligations which I owe to your Lordship's kindness been much less, or much fewer, than they are ; had personal gratitude left any place in my mind for deliberation or for inquiry ; in se. lecting a name which every reader might confess to be prefixed with propriety to a work, that, in many of its parts, bears no obscure relation to the general principles of natural and revealed religion, I should have found myself directed by many considerations to that of the Bishop of Carlisle. A long life spent in the most interesting of all human pursuits, the investigation of moral and religious truth, in constant and unwearied endeavours to advance the discovery, communication, and success of both ; a life so occu. pied, and arrived at that period which renders every life venerable, commands respect by a title which no virtuous mind will dispute, which no mind sensible of the importance of these studies to the supreme concernments of mankind will not rejoice to see acknowledged. Whatever difference, or whatever opposition, some who peruse your Lordship’s writings may perceive between your conclusions and their own, the good and wise of all persuasions will revere that industry, which has for its object the illustration or defence of our common Christianity. Your Lordship’s researches have never lost sight of one purpose, namely, to recover the simplicity of the gospel from beneath that load of unauthorized additions, which the ignorance of some ages, and the learning of others, the superstition of weak, and the craft of designing men, have (unhappily for its interest) heaped upon it. And this purpose, I am convinced, was dictated by the purest motive ; by a firm, and, I think, a just opinion, by whatever renders religion more rational, renders it more credible : that he who, by a diligent and faithful examination of the original records, dismisses from the system one ar. ticle which contradicts the apprehension, the experience, or the reasoning of mankind, does more to. wards recommending the belief, and, with the belief, the influence of Christianity to the understandings and consciences of serious inquirers, and through them to universal reception and authority, than can be effected by a thousand contenders for creeds and ordinances of human establishment.
When the doctrine of transubstantiation had taken possession of the Christian world, it was not without the industry of learned men that it came at length to be discovered, that no such doctrine was contained in the New Testament. But had those excellent
persons done nothing more by their discovery, than abolished an innocent superstition, or changed some directions in the ceremonial of publick worship, they had merited little of that veneration, with which the gratitude of Protestant churches remembers their services. What they did for mankind was this : they exonerated Christianity of a weight which sunk it. If indolence or timidity had checked these ex. ertions, or suppressed the fruit and publication of these inquiries, is it too much to affirm, that infidelity would at this day have been universal ?
I do not mean, my Lord, by the mention of this example to insinuate, that any popular opinion which your Lordship may have encountered, ought to be compared with transubstantiation, or that the assurance with which we reject that extravagant absurdity is attainable in the controversies in which your Lordship has been engaged : but I mean, by calling to mind those great reformers of the publick faith, to observe, or rather to express my own persuasion, that to restore the purity, is most effectually to promote the progress of Christianity; and that the same virtuous motive which hath sanctified their labours, suggested yours. At a time when some men appear not to perceive any good, and others to suspect an evil tendency, in that spirit of examination and research which is gone forth in Christian countries, this testimony is become due, not only to the probity of your Lordship's views, but to the general cause of intellectual and religious liberty.
That your Lordship's life may be prolonged in health and honour, that it may continue to afford an instructive proof how serene and easy old age can be made by the memory of important and well-in. tended labours, by the possession of publick and deserved esteem, by the presence of many grateful rel. atives ; above all, by the resources of religion, by an unshaken confidence in the designs of a “faithful Creator,” and a settled trust in the truth and in the promises of Christianity, is the fervent prayer of,
Your Lordship’s dutiful,
And most devoted Servant,
Carlisle, Feb. 10, 1785.