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I lay the greater stress on this mode of defending the Christian Religion from itself, that is, by arguments taken from its own nature and essence, because it shortens the dispute with inquirers, and secures the honour of that Religion, we undertake to defend.
First, It shortens the dispute with Inquirers, by cutting off the consideration of all those objections which men raise out of their own imaginations. The defender of Christianity is not concerned to obviate every idle fancy, that floats in the head of a visionary objector. Men have not the making of their Religion, but must take it for such as the Scriptures represent it to be. And if we defend it on the footing of such representation, we do all that can be reasonably required of us.
It is nothing to the purpose what men may imagine to themselves concerning the marks and characters of a divine Revelation: it is enough, that there are such marks and characters in the Religion of Jesus (whether more or fewer, whether the same or other, than we might previously have expected, is of no moment) as shew it, in all reasonable construction, to be divine. And thus our labour with Inquirers is much abridged, while all foreign and impertinent questions are rejected and laid aside. .
Next, this mode of defence secures the honour of that religion, we undertake to support. For, if we fail in our endeavours to unfold some parts of the Christian system, we are but in the condition of those, who would experimentally investigate and clear up some difficulties in the system of nature. Want of care, or diligence, or sagacity, may subject both the Divine and the Philosopher to some mistakes: but either system is the same still, and lies open to the pains and attention of more successful inquirers. Nobody concludes that the system of nature is not divine, because this or that Philosopher has been led by hasty experiments to misconceive of it. And nobody should conclude otherwise of the Christian. system, though the Divine should err as much in his scriptural comments and explications. Whereas, when we attempt to vindicate Christianity on principles not clearly contained in the word of God, we act like those who form physical theories on principles which have no foundation in fact. The consequence.is, That not only the labour of each is lost, but the system itself, which each would recommend, being hastily taken for what it is unskilfully represented to be, is vilified and disgraced. For thus the Christian system has in fact been reviled by such as have seen, or would only
see it, through the false medium of Popish or Calvinistical ideas : and thus the system of nature itself hath, it is said, been blasphemed by one", who judged of it from the intricacies of a certain astronomical hypothesis. The remedy for this evil, is, to solve scriptural difficulties by scriptural principles, and to account for 'natural appearances by experimental observations: and then, though the application of each may be mistaken, the system remains inviolate, and the honour both of God's WORD and Works is secured.
And let thus much suffice, at present, for the duty of him, who speaketh as to wise men. Much more indeed is required to the integrity, and still more to the success, of his defence. But he that speaketh, as the oracles of God, that is, who defends a divine Religion on its own divine principles, does that which is most essential to his office; and eminently discharges the part of a wise speaker, since he plans his defence in the best manner.
m ALPHONSUS The Wise-I go on the common supposition, that this Prince intended a reflexion on the system of nature itself; but, perhaps, his purpose was no more than, in a strong way of expression, (though it must be owned, no very decent one) to reprobate the hypothesis (the Ptolemaic], which set that system in so bad a light.
II. It now remains to consider the other part of the text, which challenges the wise men, to whom the Apostle spake, to JUDGE of what he said to them.
From the time, this challenge was given by the learned Apostle, there never have been wanting wise men, disposed and forward to accept it. And thus far, all was well: for they had a right to exercise this office of judging for themselves, if they were, indeed, capable of it. But have they considered, to what that capacity amounts ? and that much more is required to make a good JUDGE, than a good SPEAKER?
Let us briefly examine then the pretentions of those, who have at all times been so ready to sit in judgement on the Advocates for Religion, by the known qualities of a capable Judge: which, I think, are Knowledge, Patience, Impartiality, Integrity, under which last name I include Courage.
1. The first requisite in a Judge, is a competent knowledge in the subject of which he judges, without which his other qualities, how respectable soever, are rendered useless. Nor is this knowledge, in the present case, incon
siderable. For, to say nothing of sacred and prophane Antiquity, to say nothing of the Sciences, and above all, the science of Ethics, in its largest extent, the Judge of religious controversy must be well versed, because the Advocate is required to be supremely so, in the great principles and doctrines of natural and revealed Religion. To decide on the merits of Christianity, without this knowledge, would be as absurd, as to decide on the merits of the English jurisprudence, without an acquaintance with the common law, and the Statute-book.
2. The next quality, required in a Judge, is Patience, or a deliberate unwearied attention to the arguments and representations of the Advocate, pleading before him. This attention is more especially expected, when the subject in debate is important, when it is, besides, intricate, and when the Advocate is able.
But these circumstances all concur, in the case before us. If the question concerning the truth and authority of Revelation be a cause of any moment at all, it is confessedly of the greatest: Again, if the scheme of Revelation be, as it pretends to be, divine, it must require the best application of our best faculties