Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

guisedly before the world. Numbers have even entered the lists of controversy, asadvocates and champions of the cause they had reviled; and produced elaborate works in its defence, which have baffled the ablest of their antagonists to answer.

Some of the more generally known, and best accredited examples of these conversions, the reader of the following volumes will find, in the Lives of Eminent Individuals who have renounced libertine principles and sceptical opinions, and embraced Christianity. Such 'narratives may be regarded as interesting in themselves, but more especie ally important, as furnishing the most authentic testimonies to the truths of revealed religion; and setting forth the decided concessions in their favour, which have been extorted under circumstances so impressive, and from witnesses whose competency or credibility cannot be doubted.

Among the Converts here selected are to be found men of all ranks and professions in life, laymen and clergymen, statesmen, philosophers, historians, poets, and physicians, many of whom were not less distinguished for their extensive acquirements in

learning and science, than for the homage they paid to religion. They exhibit instances of various attainments in knowledge, and of all descriptions of intellectual vigour,-of men who cannot be charged with acting from hypocrisy, or under the influence of prejudice --who have been deeply versed in the philosophy of nature, and accustomed to the most cautious forms of scientific experiment--and who, had the evidences of Revelation been weak, or founded on error, were in every respect qualified, and from the character of their previous habits and opinions, would have been most eager to detect and expose the imposture.

Christianity, it is true, does not rest its elaims on human authority,-it does not appeal to the aid or the attestation of names, however celebrated; nor does it require its disciples to count voices in order to determine their belief. It has other supports, and more irrefragable arguments, than the proofs to be adduced from the number or extent of its conversions. But the concurring testimonies of so many individuals, who from enemies and revilers became proselytes, --who were endowed with talents

to discern, bad leisure to investigate the truth, and candour enough to confess it, may serve to confute the mistake, and it is not a very uncommon one,—of those who think to shelter their own infidelity under the supposition, that men of genius and abiKities who have had any intercourse with the world, any penetration of mind, or intrepidity of character,--are all ranged on their side, and have been sceptics or unbelievers.

Though authorities, even of the greatest names, are not arguments, and have no claim to be admitted as the standard of private opinions, yet the examples recorded in the following pages, may, with the strictest propriety, be employed to combat such prejudices as have no other support than the association of names. They may suggest, moreover, useful reflections to various classes of readers. They may inspire persons of inferior learning or discernment, to repose some degree of confidence in opinions which have been submitted to the most rigorous processes of demonstration. They may teach bold and superficial de claimers not rashly to condemn, as the off

spring of ignorance and credulity, that belief which has been cherished by men of the greatest celebrity, and embraced on the ground of rational and deliberate preference. Those who doubt or disbelieve, may perhaps be induced to weigh with impartiality, or consider with a greater degree of attention, arguments which have produced conviction, under circumstances so unfavourable, and on minds so refractory; which have been found to accord with the profoundest researches into the works of nature, with the conclusions of historical inquiry, and the deductions that have been drawn from the most enlightened observations on human Jife.

To the curious in moral speculations, it may be gratifying to observe the progress and operation of libertine principles, to see the fountains of infidelity explored and laid open, not merely by the discoveries of those who have carried the probe of examination into the hearts of others, but by the confessions of penitents themselves, when brought to a proper knowledge of their own malady. They will perceive on what hollow and dangerous ground those fabries of delusion

have been reared, when the mists that concealed them are dispersed; and how very frivolous the petulant cavils of many unbelievers are, who have owned that they had never read, even with the slightest attention, those Scriptures which they affected to deride; and knew nothing of their evidences, except the popular and common-place objections, which have been repeated at the twentieth hand, and as often confuted.

With regard to the execution of this Work, the Compiler arrogates little merit to himself, beyond that of selecting and arranging his materials. The student of biography will perhaps find little that is new; but he may not be displeased to see brought within his reach in so small a compass, what he had gathered from the wide field of general reading; or to have his attention recalled to subjects which he remembers to have perused, and may not be unwilling to reconsider.

EDINBURGH,

« ForrigeFortsett »