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But what, I hope, attaches me to you more than any thing of this nature, are the important fervices you are daily rendering to the great caufe which we have both at heart, viz. the training up of youth in the principles of liberal and useful knowledge, and especially of rational Chriftianity and virtue. The immediate object of thefe Dif courfes is one to which you have long given the greatest attention. No perfon educated under you can be ignorant either of what Chriftianity really is, or of the rational evidence on which its truth is founded; and the effect of your judicious labours is very confpicuous.
I have no where known, or heard of, fuch ftudious and orderly young men as those of the New College at Hackney, and to this your immediate infpection, as the refident tutor, and your judicious treatment, have eminently contributed. Nor have the rational Diffenters ever had minifters who, by their ability and zeal, promise to diftinguish themfelves more by their labours for the good of mankind than thofe who have been trained by you. To them, as I am going off the ftage, I fhall principally look for that rechriftianizing of the world which is now become abfolutely neceffary, if Chriftianity is to fubfift at all.
The wretched forms under which Christianity Iras long been generally exhibited, and its de
grading alliance with, or rather its fubjection, to a power wholly heterogeneous to it, and which has employed it for the moft unworthy purposes, has made it appear contemptible and odious in the eyes of all fenfible men, who are now every where cafting off the very profeffion, and every badge, of it. Enlightened Chriftians muft themfelves, in fome measure, join with unbelievers, in expofing whatever will not bear examination in or about religion. But when it fhall, by this means, be divested of all its foreign incumbrances, it will be found to be fomething on which neither their arguments, nor their ridicule, will have any effect. It is a farther fatisfaction to me to reflect, that you and I not only agree in entertaining the same views of this fubject, but that from a fimilar unfavourable outset, we have both gradually, and by fimilar means, been led to entertain them,
I think myself peculiarly happy in leaving my congregation, and especially my claffes of young perfons, under your care, as I know no person whofe views in these refpects coincide fo exactly with my own, As far as they have been satisfied with me, I am confident they will be with you; and candour and goodwill in the hearers is a fure earnest of their improvement under any teacher, Happy fhall I think myself if, in any future deftination, I can find, or form, a fphere of exertion
of a fimilar kind; that I may be in America, what I fhall leave you here; that we may communicate our refpective plans for the improvement of ourselves, and the inftruction of others, in whatever is moft interefting to man; and that, by the difcipline and experience that we acquire here, we may be prepared for a sphere of fuperior usefulness, and what will furely accompany it, fuperior happiness, in a better state.
With the greatest affection and esteem, I am,
CLOPTON, March 1794.
THE fubject of these discourses is one on which I have addressed the public several times before, as in my Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion. feveral parts of my History of the Christian Church, my Letters to a Philofophical Unbeliever, thofe to the Philofophers and Politicians of France, and thofe to the Jews; befides the first part of the Conclufion of my Hiftory of the Corruptions of Christianity, addreffed to Mr. Gibbon, my Difcourfe on the Refurrection of Jefus, and the large Preface to my Philofophical Works in three volumes. But the fubject being of the greatest importance, and efpecially at this time, I have thought it not fuperfluous to compofe, and publish, these Difcourfes, intended more particularly to illuftrate the evidence arifing from the miracles that have been wrought in favour of the divine miffion of Mofes and of Chrift; fo that, though my object be ultimately the fame, the ground that I have taken is confiderably different from any that I have been upon before.
The late revolution in France, attended with the complete overthrow of the civil establishment of Christianity, and the avowed rejection of all revealed religion, by many perfons of the first character in that country, and by great numbers also in this, calls the attention of persons of reflection in a very forcible manner to the fubject. It now more than ever behoves all the friends of religion to fhew that they are not chargeable with a blind implicit faith, believing what their fathers, mothers, or nurses, believed before them, merely because they believed it; but that their faith is the offfpring of reafon that Chriftianity is no cunningly devifed fable, but that the evidence of the facts on which it is built is the fame with that of any other facts of antient date; fo that we must abandon all faith in hiftory, and all human teftimony, before we can difbelieve them.
The great problem to be folved is, how to account for prefent appearances, and fuch facts in antient history as no perfon ever did, or can deny, viz. the actual exiftence of Christianity, and the ftate of it in the age immediately following that of Chrift and the apoftles. Unbelievers must think that they can account for the facts without admitting the truth of the gospel hiftory. On the other hand, the Chriftian fays that, if this hiftory be not admitted, the well known ftate of things in