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We excite in the people an appetite and a curiosity after historical information and argumentative disquisitions, which, though it should not issue in the passing over of their convictions to complete Infidelity, will inevitably lodge them next door to it; and produce a sense of dissatisfaction and disgust, with that mere windy spiritualism and nothing-to-the-purposeness, which has so long been the spoon-meat of the bearded babies of Christ Jesus. There will be a want and wish, and that wish will work its way into a call upon the preachers to handle the historical evidences of Christianity, of such importunity as that their hypocrisy will no longer be able to cloak their recreancy in declining the call; they will be obliged to attempt, at least upon their own ground, and in their own way, to answer the enquiries of scepticism, and to encounter the objections of Infidelity.
This they will not be able to do, without marching so far hand in hand in the way that we are going, as to awaken attention to those enquiries, and to bring the minds of mankind into an acquaintance and familiarity with those objections.
Let the solution of enquiry be what it may, let the answer to objections be the most satisfactory and triumphant that it could be conceived to be, the mind that has once enquired, or once objected, will never again be capable of setting down into that stupid state of easy acquiescence and reposing credulity, which alone gives security and safety to the reign of priestcraft.
Suppose the most sincere, conscientious, and honest heart that ever beat in a Christian bosom : (and I suppose all who pay their money voluntary to the support of their preachers, to be sincere and conscientious)-what must be its emotions, its inferences, and its conclusions, on the great fact which the existence of our Infidel Mission, forces on its observance?
Such an honest heart must feel, and cannot but feel, that however firm and assured it had been in its convictions of the truth of Christianity, there are hearts of other men, whose honesty cannot fairly be suspected, that once professed the same convictions, and have since abjured them. The honest heart cannot but apprehend the possibility of such a change of conviction, taking place in its own persuasions, the like of which, it is forced to know has taken place in the persuasions of other men, and is continuing to take place, and to obtain, through the whole province of its observance.
It is seen that many or that some, whom it once knew or heard of as professing and calling themselves Christians, have in the full vigour of their health and talents, become Infidels. We see not,
know not, hear not of any whose sincerity we could seriously respect, who having once professed and called themselves Infidels, have under like circumstances of health and vigour, ever again come to be persuaded of the truth of Christianity. No, not one in all the world.
Give we the sentiment of such sincere Christ anity in its own
language. Nothing can be fairer than this. It cannot be misread. It cannot be strained, from its sense and purport by our quotation. It will be in vain to attempt to evade the extent of the admission, by pleading that it is the language of poetry.-It is the language also of prayer.-The Christian thus addresses his God:
"When any turn from Sion's way,
Ah Lord! with such a heart as mine,
I fear I must, I shall decline,
Must not that sincere and conscientious Christian, be conceived to have founded his faith on his conviction that his most learned, elever, and faithful spiritual pastors would be able with the greatest ease to drive away the wolves of Infidelity, to answer their objections in the most complete and satisfactory manner, and to exhibit them as the most ignorant pretenders to reason and history? And must not therefore his faith be proportionably staggered, and his mind unhitched from the pivot of its action, on finding that what must necessarily seem so easy to be done, is not done at all; not attempted; that the wolves are not driven away; that their objections are not answered: and that they are not exhibited as the most ignorant pretenders to reason and history?
An' let the shield of an affected scorn and contempt for us and our challenges, seem to serve the turn as well as it may, in the hand of those whom we would provoke to conflict, the looker-on must needs suspect its rottenness, and see through its thousand cankered spots and tune-eaten holes, that what can only be pretended when nothing else can be pretended, betrays only the desperation of the cause in which it is advanced. Reason would that, at any rate, objections should be shown to be despicable first, and despised afterwards. And Consistency would, that they who build the main argument of their faith, on the evervaunted pretence that it was first preached by men who had neither wealth, rank, or influence in society, but who wandered about "in sheeps' skins and goats' skins," and were accounted "the off scourings of all things," should for very shame, never think of disparaging the dignity of the Infidel Mission, merely on account of its great truths not being delivered with all the pride, pomp, and circumstance of priestly power, or because its Missionaries are less liberally supported, and less conveniently accommodated than themselves.
I have never forgotten, nor can forget the very pregnant and significant observation of a fellow-student of mine, now holding
guess substantial preferment in the Church, when we attended the divinity lectures together in the University. "Plague on these divinity lectures," said he, they really do one more harm than good: they suggest doubts that would never have arisen in one's own mind: and however satisfactory or clever the answers to the objections that are brought forward, seem at the time to be, there is something so much cleverer and more striking in the objections, that I find the objections haunt my remembrance, when I have quite forgotten the answers."
I have heard the sentiment of this complaint, frequently adduced as an apology for declining all treatment of the historical evidences of Christianity, from the pulpit. I have heard it most strenuously urged by a Reverend Doctor of Divinity whom, when I was a believer, I knew to be an unbeliever, but who when I became an unbeliever, turned on me, and became one of my most furibund and implacable persecutors.
But surely the sentiment is utterly incompatible with moral honesty. If the preachers of Christianity were satisfied that its pretended evidences were calculated to command the conviction of an honest mind, is it possible that they could feel any greater pleasure, or be bound by any paramount duty to that of frequently and earnestly bringing the subject before their hearers; and even seeking, courting, and making occasions to confront unbelievers, and to expose the futility of their arguments and the inaccuracies of their information? Their declining to do so, can be accounted for, on no other principle, than that of policy and management. They preach to the people what they do not believe themselves. I defy the power of imagination itself to imagine any other principle of their conduct.
On this principle one may fairly venture to give for them what they will never venture to give for themselves,
AN ANSWER TO THE CHALLENGE.
Christians, why don't your preachers go and oppose the Infidels, Taylor and Carlile?
Why! Christians?-Because your preachers are right well aware, that by such an opposition, they would have every thing to lose, and nothing to gain, while those whom you call on them to oppose, have every thing to gain and nothing to lose.
Because, your preachers are right well aware, that the evidences of Christianity really are rotten and indefensible, that any attempt to defend them, would only serve to betray to public notoriety how bad and weak they are ;-that the admissions that they themselves would be obliged to make, would make more Infidels in one discussion than Taylor and Carlile could make in a year; and because,-as in all such causes, "least said soonest mended."
Because, the reasons why your preachers should not enter into any discussions with Taylor and Carlile, nor with any other Infidels who shall at any time call on them so to do, are equally cogent and valid, whether you presume that your preachers be sincere in their professions, or hypocritical, or partly sincere and partly hypocritical: in one or other of which distinctive states of mind, every professing Christian necessarily must be.
1. If your preachers are sincere, they must sincerely believe in their right and duty to keep the means of influencing the public mind, as exclusively as possible to themselves, and that so formidable a panoply committed by a partial Providence to their hands, is not to be put in hazard, surrendered, or shared with the Ministers of Satan. They have texts of Scripture enough, and more than enough, to justify and oblige them to depart from the tents of the ungodly," to have nothing to do with us,"" to come out from among us and be separate." The very first verse of their first Psalm, is directly aimed against the principle of free discussion, and forbids the giving a hearing to any parties whose opinions square not with the rule of orthodoxy. "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners,-nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful."
Persuading themselves that they have the cure of souls, and that they are to "watch for the souls of their flocks, as they that must give account:" they cannot but upon that persuasion, sincerely apprehend that it would be a breach of ministerial fidelity, should they by their presence or example, seem to countenance the dangerous curiosity which might issue in loss of faith and consequent loss of heaven, to the souls which their example might allure into the atmosphere of Infidelity.
2. But if your preachers be insincere, and all of them together, as great hypocrites as the majority of them cannot be doubted to be ;-so much the rather, and all the stronger are the reasons, why, they should not expose themselves to the hazards of a conflict, the adverse issue of which to themselves, they must be so much the more before hand, able to anticipate.
The arguments of Infidelity can hold out no exciting attraction of novelty to them, to lure them to the lists of a controversy in which they have no laurels to win, no advantages to gain, no rewards to hope :-but contrariwise, have to fear the detection of their fallacies, the exposure of their craft, and the peril of the emoluments which that craft secures to them.
Who would be so weak and fatuate, as to put arms into the hands of an enemy: or hazard an engagement, when all the advantages that victory could give, were his, without a struggle?
3. To your preachers of the mixed state of mind, that is, to those who are partly sincere and partly hypocritical, whose faith and policy swing in equable oscillations, like a pendulum; all
the reasons and motives both of hypocrisy and of sincerity, blend their united cogency in forbiddance of their accepting the challenge they have received. The decussations of the distinctive motives of piety and policy, like the warp and woof, blend in the firmer texture of the good reason they have for avoiding all' conflict with us. And were that argument a thousand-fold more flimsy than it is; the willingness of the people to be deceived, and the indifference of those whose interference would be formidable, as to whether the people be deceived or not, serves sufficiently to wax over and fill up its gaping interstices, to sustain its consistency, and to conceal its weakness. If they doubt whether they be on the right side; they cannot doubt that they are on the safe side. The misgivings of conscience, are made up by the calculations of interest, and the hesitation as to whether it be right, to leave our challenge unnoticed, is settled by their conviction that it is certainly prudent to do so.
Never then, never at any time will the priests of any religion that is, or ever shall be on earth, whether they be supposed the best or worst of men, whether they be honest or dishonest, good, bad, or indifferent; never will they surrender the ascendancy which they have once gained over the minds of the people, never will they cease to consider the people as their property, or come down from the pedestals of their assumed infallibility, to subject themselves to the shock of the collision of mind with mind.
I had supplied those reasons for them, immediately previous to the coming to hand of the annexed report of our proceedings up to yesterday evening, which appears in the LEEDS PATRIOT of this morning June 27th. It is in a subdued spirit, and far gentler phrase than the envenomed scurrility of the Intelligencer. The admission in charity of the probability that I might be an amiable enthusiast savours of a cadence to which my ears are wholly unused, from such a quarter I have hardly ever heard it admitted, that I had any lot or part in humanity. But my friend and brother apostle St. Richard, is to pay for this. At his expence am I burthened with this approximation to civility. The oil is poured on me, to point the shaft levelled at him. According to the adage, they are for robbing Peter to pay Paul. But as our friendship is not a combination in wickedness, the hope of severing us can only be realized upon the emergence of some individual having superior claims on our mutual confidence and esteem, than we have reciprocally upon each other. When can find a better man, one more honest and more able in this cause, one who being with me at all seasons and "who in suffering all, has been as one who suffered nothing," I'll be the first to show Mr. Carlile, as I would shew the best man I ever knew or shall know that he shall never hold a place in my esteem, that a better man may challenge from him.