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cannot be pretended that they exerted their eloquence in favour of toleration for the poor persecuted christians. On the contrary, they generally exerted their influence to make them ridiculous and odious. The moderation of the present times is certainly owing both to the unbelievers and the protestants, and both were perhaps led into it by the consideration of their own circumstances, as the weaker party.
It is plain from fact, that it was not the intention of the divine being, by means of natural or revealed religion, of any kind of knowledge, or any other advantage of which we are possessed, to establish a state of universal virtue and happiness in the present world. In all the divine dispensations we are treated as accountable or improveable creatures ; but it is evidently necessary to fuch a state, that we be capable of growing worfe as well as better, by every species of discipline; and the very same circumstances may produce both these different effects on the minds of different persons. The same prosperity that excites sentiments of grati
tude, and a liberal beneficent disposition in some, inspires others with insolence, rap2ciousness, and cruelty ; adversity also may be the parent either of industry, or fraud; so that neither of them has necessarily and invariably a good eff:& upon the mind. The dispensation of the gospel, therefore, may be similar to this, without any impeachment of its divine original.
The evidence of truth may also come under the same rules with the means of virtue, and thus the arguments in favour of divine revelation may be sufficient to convince the candid, impartial, and well-disposed, at the fame time that they may afford those who are of a different disposition handles enow for cavilling, such as, in their state of mind, will justify their rejection of it to themselves. To this our Lord might possibly allude when he said, John ix. 39. For judgment I a?n come into this world, that they who fee not, might fee; and that they who fee, might be made blind; and, John vii. 17. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doétrine, whetker it be of God, or whether
I speak of myself. To the same purpose is the prophecy of Simeon, Luke ii. 34. Bebold, this child is set for the full and rising again of many in Ifrael; and for a lion which fall le spoken against.
It is often taken for granted that the defign of revelation in general, and of christianity in particular, was simply to riform the world, and that end not having been com-' pletely answered by it, it has been objected by unbelievers, that it could not have been from God, who would certainly have chosen sufficient means to gain all his ends. But, considering that men are accountable creatures, and capable of abusing every advantage of which they are poslessed, both reason and revelation do, in fact, in all cases, answer the end for which they were given, whether they be abused or improved, whether, as the apostle Paul says, they be a favor of life unto life, or of death unto death.
I shall conclude these observations on the difficulties which attend the Jewish and G4
christian revelations, with remarking, that the question is not whether any of the particulars I have mentioned, separately taken, be likely or unlikely to come from God, but whether the whole fysiem, attended with such difficulties, may be divine. If it were possible that any person should be asked, a priori, whether it was probable that, under the government of a wise and good being, an innocent child should inherit the diseases, poverty, and vices of its parent; or whether no distinction would be made between the righteous and the wicked in war, pestilence, famine, or earthquakes, he would certainly answer it was not probable; though when he should come to know, and attentively consider the whole system, of which such events make a part, he might be satisfied that it was the result of perfect wisdom, directed by infinite goodness; and even that a scheme more favourable to happiness or virtue could not have been formed; and the time may come, when we shall know and acknowledge the same with respect to the extraordinary,
that we do with respect to the ordinary difpensations of the divine being.
The advantage which christianity derives from the objections of unbelievers, is various and considerable. This circumstance has been the means of purging it from what was foreign and indefensible, and also of setting its evidences in a clearer and stronger light; so that many persons who before took their religion upon trust, do now adhere to it upon a rational conviction of its truth and excellence, and hold it in greater purity than they would otherwise have done. And as the heathen philosophy contributed to discredit the popular religions of the Gentile world, which served as a preparation for the promulgation of the gospel, so the writings and discourses of unbelievers in the present age seem to be fapping the foundations of the Popish corruptions of christianity, and preparing the way for the establishment of the pure religion of Christ in their place,