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A PREVIOUS DETERMINATION TO CONDEMN,
A FREQUENT CAUSE OF : REJECTING CHRISTIANITY.
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Wher persons begin to examine the nature or evidenees of Christianity, if they have any inclination to discover or admit the truth, will they not divest themselves of all prejudice against finding it true?. They will surely act in this manner who have the least pretension to a fair or candid enquiry, or whose decision deserves at all to be viewed as impartial. Such as are desirous to examine with sufficient seriousness a matter of such importance as this, will surely examine fully the nature of revealed religion, that they may rightly understand it, and know what it is; and they will minutely and closely examine the evidences on which it rests. Till this be fairly done, they cannot say whether it ought to be embraced or rejected.
It is remarkable, however, that the conduct of Deists in rejecta ing the gospel, is the very reverse of this. They do not sit down diligently to examine and discover the truth, and become converts to it; but with a previous determination to find fault and condemn. They scem resolved, at all events, per fas et nefas, to get rid of it, and to give their verdict against it. This has been so frequently the case, that I may appeal to every infidel who may read these thoughts, that he has not thoroughly examined the subject of Revealed Religion ;, and that he does not understand what he has rejected. I will adduce, however, some remarkable examples of the truth of the position I have laid down, That a previous determination to condemn, has led Deists to reject. Christianity. .
Even Lord Herbert cannot be wholly freed from the charge. He wrote his book De Veritate, with a design to supersede the Scriptures, and prove them unnecessary; and he afterwards wrote his book De Religione Gentilium, to shew that his five Articles obtained universally. In this he egregiously failed. The gene, ral prevalence of Polytheism contradicted his proof of the universal prevalence of the belief of the first; and the reign of ig. norance, superstition, and idolatry, with the universal prevalence of cruelty and wickedness, contradicted all the rest. But if he bad given Christianity fair play, he would have perccived that Christianity contained all his five Articles, not resting on conjcctures, but communicated with certainty. . What it contains over and above these his articles, will be found higlily interesting and necessary for the peace and safety of man. Indeed, he took his articles from the Scriptures; and then used them to dis. credit the book he was indebted to for them. Is it not evident that he was a partial and prejudiced judge, who could prefer 264 A PREVIOUS DETERMINATION TO CONDEMN, his Natural Religion to Christianity, which contains it all, and much more? in short, every thing else that is important for man to know, as the creature of God, as a sinner before him, and as
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Voltaire is another instance of inveterate prejudice and determined malice against Christianity. This arch infidel, being in England on some design, swore (as Condorcet says) to dedicate his life to the project of overturning Christianity. But why swear to overturn it before you have enquired into the merits of the cause, and know what it is you condemn? First prove it to be wrong, then it will be the easier to overturn it. But the manner in which Voltaire opposed Christianity, shews he never intended to give it fair play. “I am weary,” he would say, “ of hearing people repeat, that twelve men have been able to establish Christianity; and I will prove, that one may suffice to overthrow it.” Poor man! the puny efforts of a worm, crawling out of the earth, may as soon overturn Lebanon, with its lofty cedars, or the Andes, with their everlasting snows. Christianity will withstand your utmost opposition, and flourish uninjured when you are become the food of worms. His conduct shewed his inclination to destroy it; so that if it remain uninjured, he can. Rot help it, -- he has done all he could to make good his empty daring boast! The methods he took to accomplish his aim, would have disgraced any cause but his. Impudently daring, whether for or against, Voltaire would quote the Scriptures, history, and the holy fathers; affirming, inventing, or traducing the passage he wanted; for to wound was his only aim. Though a hundred times defeated, he, returns to the charge; though his error be refuted, he will instantly repeat it: it is not in defeat, but in flight, that he sees disgrace; and thus, after a war of forty years, we still see him ranging on the field of battle *. Thus it seems not to have been Voltaire's object to discover the truth.' He considered it his only disgrace to acknowledge himself to have been in the wrong. Such is the pride and perversion of human reason, that Error proved such, will still be hugged by those who hate the truth, when it gratifies their ruling passions. · Gibbon wrote his History of the Decline and Fall of the Ro. man Empire, with a mind filled with prejudice against Christianity. He therefore viewed it with a jaundiced eye, and was disposed to interpret every circumstance to its disadvantage, and tried to cast all the odium of the cruelties and persecutions of those times upon it. In all this he only proves his ignorance of what he condemns, and his prejudice against it. This gentleman, after the distractions and cruelties of the French revolu. tion, was sadly affected with the idea of his performance having contributed to bring about that event, so very different froin
what he intended or looked for. He thus expressed his astonish. ment and abhorrence of the overturnings in France : 66 Christi. anity,” said he, “ at the time to which my history refers, was a new religion; it is now old : and the same motives which in. duced me to oppose it then, would have made me support it now.” The question with Gibbon seems not to have been, " Is Christianity true?" but, “ Is it old or new ?” Surely, when these men never so much as enquired what was truth about the mate ter, it was not to be expected they would find it; and it is no wonder at all that they missed it. · Mr. 'Paine also took upon him to write against the Bible ; and that with the determination to pronounce it a fable. He, like an unjust judge, manifested the most deep-rooted antipathy against it, by pronouncing sentence before hand, and condemning it without examination. He wrote his first part of the Age of Rea. son while he had no Bible ; and was evidently a stranger to the contents thereof while he was writing against it.' Afterwards he procured one, to see what it was he had been writing against, and to know what sort of a book he had been condemning. Quoting a passage from the book of Job, “ Canst thou, by searching, find out God? - canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection?” he says, " I know not how the printers have pointed this passage, for I keep no Bible *.” In his preface to the second part, he tells us, He began the former part of the Age of Reason, and he had neither Bible nor Testament to refer to, though he was writing against both (fair dealing to be sure !) yet says (trumpeting his own praise in such a manner as must shew that his fame is high and rising) “ I have produced a work that no Bible believer, tho' writing at his ease, and with a library of church-books about him, can refute." What think you, Deist, of your chief ?- does not this discover that he was determined to reject Revelation ? After such foul play, what think you of his vanity, in imagining he has produced a work which cannot be refuted !
Is it not to the honour of Christianity that it is rejected by such men, and by such only? My fellow-men, give Christianity fair play before you reject or condemn it. Do not confound it with corruptions which it disavows and condemns. Examine it for itself, and understand it thoroughly before you decide against it. How is it that many of your associates excuse them. selves from cxamining, because hone do so but who become converts to it? Does not this say, they are afraid to discover the truth? Remember, Christianity demands attention; and it is at your peril to reject the inquiry, or to refuse what shall be found to be the truth: Seek divine teaching, that you may be wise and know the truth. ......
Home Age of Reason, Part 1, p. 24.
ON PUBLIC PRAYER.
To the Editor. I have with pleasure observed in your Miscellany, at different times, various judicious and useful remarks on the subject of Preaching, well worthy the attention of the gospel ministers in general, and especially of our young divines. But there is another subject of equal moment, which I fear is less considered, and that is public prayer. As I do not recollect secing any thing in your Magazine on this subject which fully answered my wishes, will you give me leave to offer the following hints to your readers, which are the effect of much observation, and of a real concern for the honour of religion and the edification of Christian. worshipcrs. · Prayer must be considered as a most important part of public worship; and, doubtless, much depends on the manner in which it is performed. Though I do by no means condemn the use of the liturgy as unlawful, I consider extemporary prayer, when properly conducted, as having some peculiar advantages, and the best support from scripture. But I am sorry to say, that many ministers, whom I have occasionally attended, are so defective in performing this part of public service, as greatly to obstruct the edification of the worshippers, at least of the more judicious part of thein; and some conduct it in such a manner, as tends to bring extemporary prayer into contempt. I hope, Sir, that I shall not be thought inividious, if I freely mention soine of the defects and improprieties which I have heard others remark, and which I have too often observed myself.
Some ministers have so little variety, that their prayers are, in reality, forms, though not precomposed. The same sentiments perpetually occur, in nearly the same language and order. * Others, who have a greater variety of sentiment and expression, run into the opposite extreme, and, from an aversion to any thing like forms, bring out whatever comes uppermost, and sometimes, with the appearance of two great familiarity and irreverence, such as they would scarcely use in addressing any earthly superior, unmindful of such scripture admonitions as Mal. i. 8. Eccles.
* We have received several sensible papers on this subject :--.from one of .them we insert a few words on this head :
“ Cupiousness and ease in prayer, are no less engaging than variety in preaching; but when you can anticipate almost every sentence in a prayer of fifteen or twenty minutes long, and that too, fifty times in a year, it has a tendency greatly to appal the cnergies of the inind in this devotional part of worship. It is remarkable ibat the persons who fall into this practice, are geacrally possessed of good preaching gifts; 'but is it not strange that they who can expatiate with fluency and propriety on any subject in a sermon, should, from the neglect of previous thughts, constantly cupfine themselves in a set of phrases in prayer !"
v. 1, 2. Mat. vi. 7. Even some learned and able preachers, who study their sermons with care, scem as if they thought any thing good enough for prayer; and sometimes utter such expressions as, if committed to writing, they would be ashamed to sec, and could hardly believe to be their own.
Some, who have not a ready conception, or fluency of expression, often hesitate in such a manner, as to give their hearers pain ; while, on the other hand, those of a fertile imagination, and, great volubility of specch, are apt to speak with such rapidity, and to make their sentences so long and intricate, that it is almost impossible to join with them.
One very common impropriety, which I have observed in extemporary prayer, respects Method. While some offend by being too systematically, and pursuing a train of thought, or a series of particulars, as if they were preaching, others have no method at all; in consequence of which, they deal much in tautology and vain repetitions, as well as bring in many petitions quite out of place : for instance, -When the general prayer is nearly ended, they go back, and implore the divine assistance in the worship, as if it were but just begun. Indeed, I have often noticed the repetition of requests in the same prayer for divine as. sistance and manifestations to be so frequent, as if they were in. troduced merely to supply the want of words and ideas, for which the speaker was at a loss !
In this connection, I must mention another great and common impropriety, which is this: Many ministers whom I have attended, bave seemed forgetful of the nature and design of social worship, so as to fail of introducing those acts of adoration, confession, sup, plication, and thanksgiving, which constitute the principal parts of prayer, proper at all times, and suited to the circumstances of worshippers in general; and, instead of those, have confined their requests almost entirely to the present time and occasion of assembling together; and sometimes I have heard importunate peti. tions offered for such effects to be immediately produced, as could scarcely be expected without a miraculous interposition, at least, such as are not agreeable to the ordinary method of the diyine operation. I do not wonder that pious and sensible churchmen sliould be disgusted yith such prayers, and give the preference to their own liturgy.
If the mention of these defects and improprieties should induce any to guard against them, and to cultivate the gift, as well as the grace of prayer, my principal end will be answered. But I have a further wish, viz. That what'I have remarked may excito some judicious ministers, who see the justice of it, to communicate some hints of advice which may be useful to his brethren, and to young ministers and students in particular, by which they may be stirred up lo excel in this gift, to the edifying of the church. I remain, Sir, most cordially yours,
A FRIENDLY MONITOR.