« ForrigeFortsett »
turn to our thoughts and way of reasoning, that good and ill company does to our behaviour and conversa. tion; without either loading our memories, or making us even sensible of the change. And particularly I have observed in preaching, that no men succeed better than those who trust entirely to the stock or fund of their own reason, advanced indeed, but not overlaid by commerce with books. Whoever only reads in order to transcribe wife and shining remarks, without entering into the genius and spirit of the author, as it is probable he will make no very judicious extract, so he will be apt to trust to that collection in all his compositions, and be milled out of the regular way of thinking, in order to introduce those materials which he has been at the pains to gather: and the product of all this will be found a manifeit incoherent piece of patch-work.
Some gentlemen, abounding in their university-erudition, are apt to fill their sermons with philofophical terms, and notions of the metaphysical or abstracted kind; which generally have one advantage, to be equally understood by the wise, the vulgar, and the preacher himself. I have been better entertained, and more informed, by a few pages in the Pilgrim's progress, than by a long discourse upon the will and the intellea, and simple or complex ideas. Others again are fond of dilating on matter and motion, talk of the fortuitous concourse of atoms, of theories, and phænomena ; directly against the advice of St Paul, who yet appears to have been conversant enough in chose kind of Itudies.
I do not find that you are any where directed in the canons or articles, to attempt explaining the mysteries of the Christian religion. And indeed, since Providence intended there should be mysteries, I do not see how it can be agreeable to piety, ortbodoxy, or good fenje, to go about such a work. For, to me, there seems to be a manifest dilemma in the case : if you explain them, they are mysteries no longer ; if you fail, you have laboured to no purpose. What I should think most reafonable and safe for you to do upon this occasion, is, upon solemn days to deliver the doctrine, as the church holds it, and confirm it by scripture. For my part, ha
ving considered the matter impartially, I can fee no great reason which those gentlemen you call the Freethinkers, can have for their clamour against religious myAteries; fince it is plain they were not invented by the clergy, to whom they bring no profit, nor acquire any honour; for every clergyman is ready, either to tell us the utmoft he knows, or to confess that he does not'understand them: neither is it ftrange, that there should be mysteries in divinity, as well as in the commonelt operations of nature.
And here I am at lofs what to fay upon the frequent cuftom of preaching against Atheism, Deilm, Freethinking, and the like, as young divines are particularly fond of doing, especially when they exercise their talent in churches frequented by persons of quality ; which, as it is but an ill compliment to the audience, so I am under fome doubt whether it answers the end.
BECAUSE persons under those imputations are generally no great frequenters of churches, and so the congregation is but little edified for the sake of three or four fools, who are paft grace: neither do I think it any part of prudence, to perplex the minds of well disposed people with doubts, which probably would never have otherwise come into their heads. But I am of opinion, and dare be positive in it, that not one in a hundred of those who pretend to be Freethinkers, are really so in their hearts. For there is one observation, which I ne. ver knew to fail, and I defire you will examine it in the course of your life, That no gentleman of a liberal education, and regular in his morals, did ever profess himself a Freethinker. Where then are these kind of people to be found ? Among the worst part of the soldiery, made up of pages, younger brothers of obscure families, and others of desperate fortunes; or else among idle townfops, and now and then a drunken 'squire of the country. Therefore nothing can be plainer, than that ignorance and vice are two ingredients absolutely necessary in the composition of those you generally call Freethinkers, who, in propriety of speech, are no thinkers at all. And since I am in the way of it, pray confider one thing farther. As young as you are, you cannot but have already observed, what a violent run there is among tog
many weak people against university education : be firmly affured, that the whole cry is made up by those who were either never sent to a college, or, thro' their irregularities and stupidity, never made the least improvement while they were there. I have above forty of the latter fort now in my eye ; several of them in this town, whose learning, manners, temperance, probity, good-nature, and politics, are all of a piece : others of them in the country, oppressing their tenants, tyrannifing over the neighbourhood, cheating the vicar, talking nonsense, and getting drunk at the sessions. It is from such feminaries as these, that the world is provided with the several tribes and denominations of Freethinkers ; whó, in my judgment, are not to be reformed by arguments offered to prove the truth of the Chriftian religion, because reasoning will never make a man correct an ill a pinion, which by reasoning he never acquired : for, in the course of things, men always grow vitious, before they become unbelievers. But if you could once-convince the town or country profligate, by topics drawn from the view of their own quiet, reputation, health, and advantage, their infidelity would soon drop off. This, I confess, is no easy task ; because it is, almost in a literal fense, to fight with beasts. Now, to make it clear, that we are to look for no other original of this infidelity, whereof divines so much complain, it is allowed on all hands, that the people of England are more corrupt in their morals, than any other nation at this day under the fun : and this corruption is manifestly owing to other causes, both numerous and obvious, much more than to the publication of irreligious books, which indeed are but the consequence of the former ; for all the writers against Chriftianity, fince the Revolution, have been of the lowest rank among men in regard to literature, wit, and good sense, and upon that account wholly unqualified to propagate berefies, unless among a people already abandoned.
In an age, where every thing disliked by thofe who think with
the majority, is called disaffe&tion, it may per haps be ill interpreted, when I venture to tell you, that this universal depravation of manners is owing to the perpetual bandying of factions among us for thirty years
paft; when, without weighing the motives of justice, lari, confiience, or honour, every man adjusts his principles to those of the party he hath chofen, and among whom he may beft find his own account: but, by reason of our frequent viciffitudes, men who were'impatient of being out of play, have been forced to recant, or at least to reconcile their former tenets with every new fyftem of administration. Add to this, that the old fundamen. tal custom of annual parliaments being wholly laid aside, and elections growing chargeable. fince gentlemen found that their country-seats brought them in less than a feat in the house, the voters, that is to say, the bulk of the common people, have been universally seduced into bribery, perjury, drunkennels, malice, and slander.
Not to be farther tedious, or rather invidious, these are a few, among other causes, which have contributed to the ruin of our morals, and consequently to the contempt of religion : for imagine to yourself, if you please, a landed youth, whom his mother would never fuffer to look into a book for fear of spoiling his eyes, got into parliament, and observing all enemies to the clergy heard with the utmost applause, what notions he must imbibe, how readily he will join in the cry, what an efteem he will conceive of himself, and what a contempt he must entertain, not only for his vicar at home, but for the whole order.
I therefore again conclude, that the trade of infidelity hath been taken up only for an expedient to keep in countenance that universal corruption of morals, which many other causes first contributed to introduce and to spltivate. And thus Mr Hobbes's saying upon reason may be much more properly applied to religion, That “ jf religion will be against a man a man will be against “ religion.”. Tho', after all, I have heard a profligate offer much stronger arguments against paying his debts, than ever he was known to do against Christianity. Indeed, the reason was, because in that juncture he happened to be closer prefied by the bailif than the parfon.
IGNORANCE may perhaps be the mother of superstition ; but experience hath not proved it to be so of devotion : for Christianity always made the most easy and quickest progress in civilized countries. I mention this, because it is affirmed, that the clergy are in most credit where ignorance prevails, (and surely this kingdom would be called the paradise of clergymen, if that opinion were true); for which they instance England in the times of popery. But whoever knoweth any thing of three or four cen: turies before the reformation, will find the little learn. ing then stirring was more equally divided between the English clergy and laity, than it is at present. There were several famous lawyers in that period, whose writings are still in the highest repute ; and some historians and poets, who were not of the church. Whereas nowa days our education is so corrupted, that you will hardly find a young person of quality with the least tincture of knowledge, at the same time that many of the clergy were never more learned or so scurvily treated. Here among us, at least, a man of letters, out of the three professions, is almost a prodigy. And those few who have preserved any rudiments of learning, are (except perlaps one or two smarterers) the clergy's friends to a man : and I dare appeal to any clergyman in this kingdom, whether the greatest dunce in his parish be not always the most proud, wicked, fraudulent, and intractable of his flock.
I think the clergy have almost given over perplexing themselves and their hearers with abitruse points of predestination, election, and the like ; at least, it is time they Mould; and therefore I shall not trouble you further upon this head.
I have now said all I could think convenient with relation to your conduct in the pulpit. Your behaviour in the world is another scene, upon which I shall readily offer you my thoughts, if you appear to desire them from me by your approbation of what I have here written; if not, I have already troubled you too much,
I am, Sir,
Your affectionate :
friend and ferryant. .