Sidebilder
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

persons odious, who are employed in giving instruction to the public on important matters, of which he knows nothing.

Among various strictures on this pamphlet, Mr. Wakefield published, with his usual rapidity of composition, “ An Examination of the Age of Reason,”a in which he premises what few will venture to deny, that the former writings of Thomas Paine abound with indications of original conception, and pro

z “Life of Erasmus," i. 74.

* The following motto from Dr. Middleton, which Mr. Wakefield has prefixed to this work, is very apposite, and well illustrates his own practice :

“ I persuade myself that the life and faculties of man, at the best but short and limited, cannot be employed more rationally than in the search of knowledge; and especially of that sort which relates to our duty, and conduces to our happiness. In these inquiries therefore, wherever I perceive any glimmering of truth before me, I readily pursue, and endeavour to trace it to it's source, without any reserve or caution of pushing the discovery too far, or opening too great a glare of it to the public. I look upon the discovery of any thing which is true, as a valuable acquisition to society; which cannot possibly hurt or obstruct the good effect of any other truth whatsoever : for they all partake of one common essence, and necessarily coincide with each other; and like the drops of rain, which fall separately into the river, mix themselves with the stream, and strengthen the general current."

Preface to MIDDLETON'S “ Free Inquiry,” &c.

found thought, of comprehension and sagacity far beyond the vigour of ordinary minds.” He considered himself “ not unlikely to serve the cause of revealed truth, with manly and unprejudiced enquirers, by an examination of a deistical pamphlet, which seemed so fair a candidate for extensive circulation;" regretting that “ by a strange perversity, whilst natural philosophy, politics, and morals, are pursued with unremitting diligence of investigation, Revelation alone seems an object of inferior consideration: her evidences, it is conceived, may be decided upon without learning, her pretensions judged without discussion, or rather disregarded altogether, as unworthy the notice of the profound philosophers of modern

times.".

Mr. Wakefield (as is well known) was what is generally called an Unitarian Christian, rejecting “the sway of creeds and councils, of hierarchies and churches." He was not concerned in the difficult task of supporting the antiquated systems framed by fallible and interested men, or of proving every doctrine to be true which happened to have been long established. On the contrary he quotes that

br Exam. of the Age of Reason," p. 1 & 3.

c Ibid. p. 4.

[ocr errors]

part of the “ Age of Reason,” which describes “the moral mischief which mental lying has produced in society," as a “paragraph, replete with manly sense, and dignified morality, conveyed in simple but energetic language.

But he is soon at issue with Mr. Paine, and proceeds to shew that what he would degrade into a system of “ Fabulous Theology” is the most valuable source of human knowledge.

C“ It is a most shocking reflection to every lover of truth and honesty, that a requisition to acknowledge a multitudinous mass of theological and political propositions, denominated articles of religion, which many have never read, which they who read cannot understand, and which the imposers of them have never yet been able to expound with an uniformity of interpretation, should be made an indispensable condition to the privilege of preaching the truths of Christianity; nay the basis of that preaching, and the criterion of those truths."

“ Exam." p. 13. See also “Mem.” I. 121, &c.

d Ibid. p. 11.

e In answer to a remark that “ Every national church or religion has established itself by pretending some special commission from God, communicated to certain individuals," Mr. Wakefield observes, that “ what the Jews and Christians maintain in behalf of their respective systems, is simply this: That their founders delivered to mankind most rational sentiments of the divine nature, of his existence, and his providential government of the world, at a time when ignorance and depravation, with respect to these fundamental canons of religious rectitude, were almost universally predominant, even

He then offers to the ingenuity of Unbelievers that problem' which they have never yet, we apprehend, been prepared to solve;

among the superior and most enlightened portion of mankind at large.

“ With relation to the writings of the Jews,” he adds, “it is altogether undeniable, and is a truth of the utmost weight and magnitude, the force of which no sophistry can baffle, and no scepticism can elude, that our accumulated discoveries in science and philosophy, and all our progress in other parts of knowledge, have not enabled the wisest of the moderns to excel the noble sentiments conveyed in the didactic and devotional compositions of the Old Testament; compositions, many of which existed, without dispute, long before the earliest writings of heathen antiquity, and at a seriod, when even those illustrious instructors of mankind, the Greeks and Romans, were not only strangers to alphabetic characters, but wholly barbarous and unknown."

Ibid. pp. 14 & 15.

* “ It would gratify me much, I confess, to be informed by some of our philosophical literati, in what manner these contemners of the Jews, and of the Mosaic system, can account for this singular phænomenon; which indeed might be stated with abundantly more fulness and cogency, if it were necessary on this occasion. Has Thomas Paine the deist, or any of our modern atheists, the intrepidity to undertake a solution of this, surely highly interesting, problem in the history of the human mind?-Besides, let any man compare the simple morality and the noble precepts of the gospel, as they relate to the attributes of God, and the duties of humanity, with the monstrous theology, with the subtleties and the contradictory schemes of contemporary moralists among the Greeks and Romans (who nevertheless had, in all probability, profited

that "

and concludes, from those inquiries for which his extensive literature had so well fitted him,

very few philosophers indeed, in all probability, (if one) have illuminated mankind with light unborrowed from the candles of the sanctuary.” &

A similar sentiment is thus expressed in one of the allegorical Essays of a distinguished moralist: "I looked then upon the road of Reason, which was indeed, so far

reached, the same with that of Religion; nor had Reason discovered it but by her in

as

mediately or immediately by the Jewish system, which could not exist, like a light shining in a dark place, without diffusing some influence through the neighbourhood) and reflect at the same time, that a perfect manual of morality may be collected from a few pages in the Gospel, but must be picked in Pagan writers from a multitude of discordant volumes and a mass of incoherency and absurdity, and then condescend to furnish us with an explanation of what must be allowed on all hands a most surprizing fact; namely, the existence of such superior intelligence in a Jewish carpenter at Nazareth. So then, though we concede to Mr. Paine, that the way to God was open to every man alike,' we affirm of the Jewish and Christian dispensations, that they only were this way to any man desirous of entertaining rational notions of God, and human duty."

Ibid. pp. 15 & 16. Mr.Wakefield's argument has been ably supported by other writers, especially by Archdeacon Paley, “Evid.” ii. 306. 2d ed. and “ Campbell on Mir.” part ii. sect. 7.

& Ibid. p. 17.

« ForrigeFortsett »