« IndietroContinua »
shall endeavour to persuade them from common Reason, that it is their duty not to be unconeerned in the case, but to give the arguments that have been, or may be offered in behalf of the principles of Religion, a fair, and serious, and impartial hearing and examination. And in order to this, I desire that they would, without prejudice, consider the following particulars.
I. That there may be other probable causes of Infidelity often assigned besides want of evidence; even when this is pretended as an excuse for it.
II. That the principles of Religion are of that high nature, and universal concernment to mankind, that we cannot answer it to our own reason to be unconcerned about them; and therefore that we must, as rational creatures, endeavour to be satisfied about them.
III. That if we have sufficient reason to believe the great principles of Religion ; such as the Being of a God, and a Providence, and a Future state, &c. our unbelief will not excuse us from a crime in the fight of God.
IV. That it is unreasonable for any man to endeavour to persuade others out of the principles of Religion, till he himself is first evi
dently convinced that they are false, and disad: vantageous to mankind.
V. That it is still more unreasonable to make them the subject of raillery and ridicule.
I. That there may be other probable causes of Infidelity often assigned, besides want of evidence, even when this is pretended as an excuse for it. Though such as do not believe are very ready to charge all believers with unreasonable credulity, and to excuse their own unbelief with this pretence, that they have not sufficient evidence to convince them; yet this may be nothing else but a general defire which all men have to justify their own conduct, and remove the blame from themfelves. They declare indeed, that they are ready to think freely upon all subjects, and willing, as they say, to submit to reason; but then the reason ought, in their opinion, to be such as to command their assent, so plain and clear that it cannot be denied. But that the principles of Religión carry no such forcible evidence with them. For if they did, who could deny his assent to them? and if they do not, what harm can there be in refusing it ? This is their way of arguing. And indeed if there were no voluntary indisposition in any
man which could hinder him from discerning a plain reason when proposed to him, there would be some force in the argument. But if there
corrupt inclinations, passions or prejudices, which blind mens understanding, and keep them from afsenting to some truths, which appear plain and evident to those who are free and unprejudiced, then their argument has no force; and we cannot judge of the strength or weakness of that Evidence which is offered for any truth, merely from the effect which it has upon those to whom it is offered.
They that disbelieve the great Truths of Religion must needs own, that those who do believe them, believe upon insufficient arguments, or else they would be self-condemned for not believing; and therefore they must also own, that as much of the belief as has no competent argument to support it, must be founded
wrong disposition of the person þelieving; that is, he has some prejudice, passion or affection, which inclincs him to believe that argument good which in it self is not so, even though he himself is not, for the time, aware of any such undue prejudice. Now certainly if Credulity may arise from such a biass, Incredulity inay also proceed from ano
that the very
ther biass. For we see plainly in other cases,
arguments proposed in the same light to different men, even of the same natural abilities, shall have very different effects, and that which entirely convinces one, shall not in the least move another, though supposed to be of equal understanding. And yet both sides are unwilling to own any defect or prejudice in themselves, and chuse rather to blame the argument itself, or the understandings of other people who apprehend the argument differently from what themselves do.
And as it is in other cases, so it is in Religion, the arguments for the truth of it may be yery good and conclusive, but some men may be indisposed for the receiving of them. As for instance,
1. Some men are so far immersed in the things of this life, in the pursuits of riches or pleasures, or the like, that they will not be at the pains to consider whether there be any force in such arguments as relate to the Being of a God and a future state, or no; and so content themselves with being ignorant or indifferent about them. Others, þy indulging their lusts and passions, contract a stupidity towards things of an higher na. cure, or by too easily entertaining such pre
judices as favour their corrupt inclinations, appetites or humours, grow unwilling to admit of any thing that contradicts them: They would be glad to have things fo as best suits their own present vitious desires, and therefore they are not sincere in their love of Truth, but are desirous that Truth should be just what they love, and therefore they readily embrace any argument or objection which they think makes for them. They like not to retain God in their knowledge, because their practice is disagreeable to his nature. Every vitious inclination which a man is resolved to pursue, is a strong biass upon his mind, either towards Infidelity, or at least towards such corrupt notions of the nature of God as insensibly lead men to it.
We have a very plain instance of this in that old Epicurean notion of a God, as of a Being happy indeed and eternal, but whose happinefs consisted altogether in doing nothing, and being concerned for nothing. For they who placed the utmost of humane happiness in ease and indolence, and the pleasure of self-gratification, were easily drawn to believe the fame of the divine happiness; and from thence to conclude, that there could not be any Providence of God which concerned itself with