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which in common language we say, a man is wrongheaded to resist, but which, if a man chooses to resist, he cannot be compelled to admit. only turn away from him and leave him to his paradoxes and his folly.
Now it is this kind of evidence, on which not only the conduct of life, but the truth of Christianity is left to rest. It must be carefully noted, that there are two descriptions of assent, or belief, or knowledge, call it which you will, widely different, and originating in sources clearly to be distinguished from each other—that in the sciences, for instance, it is the reason or the
senses, that are alone concerned—it is in these cases that the reception of truth can be extorted, however unwillingly, but in all ordinary cases, in all other cases, even on the subject of the truth of Christianity, no such reception of truth can be extorted, for it is not the senses and the understanding that are here alone concerned.
It must be remembered that what is called belief is a compound result of the reason and the feelings acting together; it is not the result of
the understanding alone, the feelings interfere with the reason.
Under the word feelings I include everything that can affect the mind, or rather perhaps the heart, views of self-interest, suggestions of pride, resentment, and a thousand other considerations, such as constitute what are called motives to action—these always result from the feelings. It is the province of reason to exhibit the case, and then for the feelings to decide, but even in exhibiting the case, the feelings interfere, and influence the statement.
Look around and observe the opinions of mankind—the violence of their party heats and animosities—the absurdities which they produce and patronize—in all these cases the materials subjected to the minds of different men are the same, and their faculties the same, but how different their conclusions; that is, how differently do their feelings influence their reason--and it is thus, and thus only, that we can account for all that we see around us--it is thus that the decisions of mankind, when they leave their scientific inquiries, become various and contradictory, perplexed by dispute
and involved in confusion, and finally, it is thus that different sects arise; and again, which is the point we are at present more especially considering, it is thus that arises the occasional disbelief of religion itself.
It should seem as if the Almighty Master had placed us here in a state of constant probationwhatever may be the reason of this dispensation, all the phenomena, we can observe, point to this great truth, and so indeed do all the discourses and parables of the Saviour himself—and this state of probation is extended far beyond what may have been supposed by the generality of mankind. It is not too much to say, that we are responsible, not only for our practical conduct, but for our opinions. Our opinions are the result of our feelings, as well as of our reason : they are moral, at least they are not properly and merely logical—they fall on the whole within the province of morality and therefore of duty-an awful consideration this to those who can duly estimate its extent and importance. It is common to see a sceptic or a man of the world start up in a sort of heat and triumph, and say, “My understanding tells me so and so, and this is sufficient;" this is however not sufficient, it remains to be examined, how and why his understanding has told him so.
No doubt our faculties are very limited, and grave men must consider that with a clear overbalance of evidence in behalf of the authority of the Bible, and of its most important revelations, (and this at least may be affirmed,) with such a clear moral overbalance, it may not be desirable that this evidence should be of such a nature as to necessitate conviction, for there would then be no room for the exercise of docility, candour, and faith, nor even for any anxious diligence in the study of the Scriptures; and what, it may be asked, is to become of those who would still be hurried away by their passions and for whom there would then be no excuse ?
Difficulties and obscurities in the Scriptures, and in the doctrines of religion, exercise patience, stimulate inquiry, teach humility, rebuke presumption, exercise faith, call forth many virtues of the human character, discipline the mind and the heart, and they are therefore not without their use, and may be intended for these purposes.
And now to proceed to our general subject of the scepticism and infidelity that exists in the world—I say exists; I am not going to intimate
that this prevails in the world—I am not going to say that the people of England, for instance, are not a religious people; but I am going to comment upon the situation of particular descriptions of men in the community. I mean to exhibit, as well as I can, the particular temptations of particular classes, and to show when individuals amongst them become sceptics and unbelievers, how this happens to be the case, and I hope to show hereafter, as I have already intimated, that there exists such evidence of the truth of Christianity, as I conceive ought to influence their minds as reasonable men.
In the first place, then, we will cast a glance
but of these there are two different classes—those of ordinary talents, and those of talents of a higher order; and it is of the latter that I mean now to speak.