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It is greatly favourable to christianity, and indeed almost peculiar to it, that it Thews no favour to christians as such. The bigotted Jews and the Mohammedans denounce anathemas against unbelievers as such, and suppose that the wicked among them will be more respected by God hereafter than the rest of mankind, whereas the gospel speaks quite another language. To those who say Lord, Lard, without submitting to the laws of Christ, he will reply at the last, Verily, verily, I know you not, depart from me ye workers of iniquity. It is also one of his maxims, that he who knows bis Lord's will and does it not, shall be beaten with many stripes. To the same purpose, likewise, do the apostles write,
Some persons have objected to the evidences of christianity, but certainly without sufficient reason, the differences of opinion among christians, since the very same objection may be made to natural religion, and indeed to every thing that has ever been imagined of so much importance, as to engage much of the attention of mankind,
the consequence of which has always been different conceptions concerning it. Were not the disciples of Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato, divided among themselves? Are there not as many sects among the Mohammedans, as among the christians? And are there not almost as many different opinions among the Papists, as among the Protestants, notwithstanding they profess to be poffesied of an infallible judge in all controversies of faith? Do not even our ablest lawyers give different opinions concerning the sense of acts of parliament, which were intended to convey the most determinate meaning, so as to obviate all cavils ? Nay, have we not equal reason to expect that unbelievers should agree in the same system of unbelief? If they say to us, Agree first among yourselves, and tell us what christianity is, and we will tell you what we have to object to it; we have a right to reply, Do you agree first with respect to what you suppose to be wrong in it, tell us what you object to, and we will then consider of the proper answer.
In fact, every unbeliever must read the New Testament for himself. If, when he is uninfluenced by any criminal prejudice, he really cannot give his assent to what he believes to be the religion of those books, he will be justified in his unbelief; but if he have taken up his notions of christianity from others, or from an examination of his own, inadequate to the importance of the subject, he certainly cannot be justified. I, for my own part, can only exhibit what appears to me the true idea of christianity, and the most rational defence of it. If any other person, believer or unbeliever, think it to be exceptionable, he must look out for another, that to himself shall appear less so, and I also shall think myself at liberty to relinquish my notions, and adopt his.
It is highly unreasonable to object to christianity the various mischiefs which it has indirectly occafioned in the world, since there is nothing useful or excellent that has not had similar consequences. By this method of reasoning, it might be concluded with certainty, that cur p?pions and affections were not the gift of God, for they are daily the cause of great and serious evils. In, fact, the more important any thing is, and the more extensive and happy are its consequences, the greater, in general, are the evils which it occasionally produces.
This is remarkably the case with civil government. It is certainly far preferable to a state of anarchy, and yet it gives occasion to a multitude of crimes, and such horrid excesses of all the passions as cannot be known in uncivilized countries.
The persecution of christians by christians, has not been worse than the persecution of christians by such heathen emperors as Trajan, and Marcus Aurelius, not to mention Nero or Diocletian ; and has, besides, most evidently arisen from a gross perverfion of the genuine spirit of christianity, which breathes nothing but forbearance and love. There is also a view in which all these evils may be considered as highly favourable to the evidences of christianity, fince they were distinctly foreseen and foreG 2
told by Christ and the apostles. Besides, when we consider the havock that has been made by christian persecutors, we should also consider the laudable zeal of the many who favoured and sheltered those who were persecuted.
To make a juster estimate of the moral influence of christianity, let us consider with impartiality the character of the present times. Was Europe less corrupt a century ago, when there were fewer unbelievers, than it is now, that they are more numerous ? It is plain from experience and observation, that the most vicious and abandoned of the present age are profesied unbelievers, and that the most strictly virtuous, those who are the most strenuous in their opposition to the progress of vice, are profelling and zealous christians. Let it also be considered whether any more humane and enlarged sentiments were entertained before the promulgation of christianity in heathen countries. Now, whatever may be faid in favour of the virtuous and humane sentiments of the heathen philosophers, it