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Variety of RELIGIOUS SUBJECTS.
LETTER I. Wherein the DANGER of INFIDELITY is briefly reprefented.
Heartily rejoice to hear from you, that you are at laft come into a refolution, immediately to enter upon a ferious and impartial examination of the • Chriftian religion.' What you obferve is certainly true, that this is an affair of too great confequence, to be carelefly neglected, to be decided at the club, " or to be rejected by wholefale, with the too common arguments of mirth and raillery, fneer and banter.'I should therefore be inexcufable, fhould I refuse a compliance with your requeft, to maintain a correfpondence with you by letter; and affift you, what I can, in your inquiries into the truth of Christianity, the nature of the Christian inftitution, and the character and qualifications of those who are intitled to the rewards therein promifed.' But what can a gentleman. of your capacities expect from me? And has not this cause been clearly and fully handled, efpecially of late, by a variety of authors? Has it not triumphed over all oppofition? Have not its poor deluded oppofers been covered with fhame and confufion, in all their feeble attempts to fubvert our faith, and to deftroy the bleffed hope of our future happiness? And are not these books in your hands?-Read them, Sir, with that attention, which fuch an awful and important affair demands of you; and I think, you can't fail of obtaining conviction and fatisfaction,
To your inquiry, How fhall I firft enter upon
proper difquifition of this cause ?' I answer, in a few words. Confider the importance of it: confider, I intreat you, that it is an eternal concern. Were this duly confidered, it would be impoffible for you to content yourfelf in such a state, wherein there is so much as a peradventure as to the dreadful and aftonishing confequences of a disappointment.
You may perhaps have hitherto concluded all revealed religion to be but a meer cheat and impofture - You may have borne your part in the converfation at taverns or coffee-houses, against prieft-craft, cant, and enthufiafm.-You may have ridiculed all pretences to vital piety; and exploded all the Gospel-doctrines respecting future rewards and punishments, as unreasonable, or unintelligible dreams and fictions.-Well! fuppofing you were in the right, what happiness, what comfort, or fatisfaction would your infidelity afford you ?-What rational man would envy you the confolation, of imagining yourself upon a level with the beasts, and of expecting, that death will terminate all your hopes and fears! What believer would part with the glorious hope of eternal and inexpreffible happiness and joy, for the gloomy profpect of annihilation!
It is certain, upon this fuppofition, the believer can be in no danger; he has nothing to lofe, or to fear: but has every way the advantage of you.- He has the prefent fatisfaction of being a favourite of heaven.-He has a continual fource of fupport and comfort, amidst the darkeft fcenes of providence, from the gracious promifes of the Gofpel.- He can overcome the miseries of life, and the terrors of death, with the ravishing view of a bleffed immortality.-And it is certain, if mistaken, he will never lament his difappointment: but fleep as quietly in a ftate of non-existence as you can do.
But perhaps I have miftook your fentiments. You may poffibly have given into an opinion of a future exiftence, though you have called the truth of the Gospel into queftion. Be it fo. Yet upon this fuppofition alfo, the believer has vaftly the advantage of you. He has all the happiness in this life which Chriftianity affords; and this you must be a stranger to. He can live in com
fort, and die in peace. His religion deprives him of nothing, which can any way contribute to his rational happiness and delight; but every way tends to fubferve and promote them. And certainly (even upon your own principles) he may have as fair a claim to fincerity, in his endeavours to approve himself to the glorious author of our being, as you can have; and confequently as good a profpect of future blessednefs. So that, upon the whole, it is evident that he has nothing to fear from his principles, whether they be true or falfe. He has no cause for those stinging reflections; what if I am mistaken! What if my fentiments fhould prove falfe, when it comes to the decifive trial!
And now, let us turn the tables; and confider the bitter fruits of your fatal mistake, if Chriftianity fhould at laft prove true. You can't but acknowledge, that there have been great numbers of men of the best moral qualifications, whofe intellectual powers were no ways inferior to theirs on the other fide of the queftion, who have profeffed the truth, and experienced the power of that religion, which you have defpifed. How many moft excellent perfons, of the greateft integrity, learning, and fagacity, have at their peril appeared to ftand by this caufe; and have facrificed their estates, their honours, and their lives, to the despised and perfecuted doctrines of the crofs! It's certain, that you can't have a greater affurance of being in the right, than these men have had; and confequently there is at least a probability on their fide, as much as on yours. You: yourself therefore, and all the unbelieving gentlemen of your acquaintance, who have any degree of modesty left, muft neceffarily own, that the caufe poffibly may turn out against them. And what if it fhould! I am even afraid to reprefent the confequences in a proper light; it will poffibly be efteemed preachment or cant;. or be voted harfh, uncivil, or unmannerly treatment. But, Sir, I would pray you to confider this matter, without any refentment of my ruftick method of addrefs. Confider it only as it is reprefented in the fcriptures; and in that view it will appear, that the dreadful confufion, the amazing horror, and the eternal mifery,›
which will be the confequence of your infidelity, will be vaftly beyond the utmost stretch of your most exalted apprehenfion or imagination. As foon as your foul is feparated from your body, it will become the immediate object of the divine wrath; and how lightly foever you may think of these things at prefent, you will find, that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. When the great Judge of the world fhall defcend from heaven, to take vengeance on all thofe, who do not obey the Gofpel of Jefus Chrift, where will our unbelieving gentlemen appear? Won't their_mirth be quite fpoiled, their farcaftick flouts and fleers be for ever over, when they muft fland trembling at the left hand of their Judge, having no poffible refuge to betake themselves to, no plea to make for their infidelity, no place of retreat in a diffolving world to hide their heads! What comfort will it then afford them to fay, Alas! how have we been deceived! We never thought it would have come to this? Now we have found to our coft, that there is fomething more in the doctrines of a final retribution, than fable or fiction, priest-craft or fanaticism, however we have in the gaiety of our temper rejected and despised them.' Will they then be poffeffed of a fufficient bravery and prefence of mind, to out-face their glorious Judge; and to hear with intrepidity the terrible fentence, depart, ye curfed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels? Will they with their ufual frolick humour, endure the execution of this fentence; and with sport and paftime, welter in the eternal flames of that furnace of fire, that is the deftined abode of every final unbeliever?
Now, Sir, does it not infinitely concern you, to confider the cafe before you in this awful view, to compare and make a proper eftimate of the inconceivably different flates of the believer and the infidel, both with refpect to time and eternity; and to enter upon the difqui ition you propose, with a mind duly impreffed with the vaft importance of your coming to a safe conclufion?
You tell me, that you can't from the nature of things fee any neceflity of fuch a way of falvation, as the Gospel propofes. The light of nature teaches us,