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A VARIETY OF RELIGIOUS SUBJECTS.
WHEREIN THE DANGER OF INFIDELITY IS BRIEFLY
you are at last come into a “ resolution, immediately to enter upon a serious and impartial examination of the christian religion.” What you observe is certainly true, that “ this is an affair of too great consequence to be carelessly neglected, to be decided at the club, or to be rejected by wholesale, with the two common arguments of mirth and raillery, sneer and banter.". I should therefore be inexcusable, should I refuse compliance with your request, to
66 maintain a correspondence with you by letter ; and assist you, what I can, in your inquiries into the truth of christianity, the nature of the christian institution, and the character and qualifications of those who are entitled to the rewards therein promised.” But what can a gentleman of your capacities expect from me? And has not this cause been clearly and fully handled, especially of late, by a variety of authors? Has it not triumphed over all opposition ? Have not its poor
deluded opposers been covered with shame and confusion, in all their feeble attempts to subvert our faith, and to destroy the blessed hope of our future happiness ? And are not these books in your hands ? Read them, sir, with that attention, which such an awful and important affair demands of you; and I think you cannot fail of obtaining conviction and satisfaction. To your inquiry,
6 How shall I first enter upon a proper disquisition of this cause?” I answer, in a few words. Consider the importance of it: consider, I entreat you, that it is an eternal concern.
Were this duly considered, it would be impossible for you to content yourself in such a state, wherein there is so much as a peradventure as to the dreadful and astonishing consequences of a disappointment.
You may perhaps have hitherto concluded all revealed religion to be but a mere cheat and imposture.
You may have borne your part in the conversation at taverns or coffee-houses, against priestcraft, cant, and enthusiasm. You may have ridiculed all pretences to vital piety; and exploded all the gospel doctrines, respecting future rewards and punishments, as unreasonable, or intelligible dreams and fictions. Well I supposing you were in the right, what happiness, what comfort or satisfaction would your infidelity afford you ?—What rational man would envy you the consolation, 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 inexpressible happiness and joy, for the gloomy prospect of annihilation ?
It is certain, upon this supposition, the believer can be in no danger; he has nothing to lose, or to
fear ; but has, every way, the advantage of you. He has the present satisfaction of being a favourite of Heaven." He has a continual source of support and comfort, amidst the darkest scenes of providence, from the gracious promises of the gospel. He can overcome the miseries of life, and the terrors of death, with the rapturous view of a blessed immortality.And it is certain, if mistaken, he will never lament his disappointment, but sleep as quietly in a state of non-existence as you can do.
But perhaps I have mistaken your sentiments. You may possibly have given in to an opinion of a future existence, though you have called the truth of the gospel into question. Be it so. Yet
supposition also, the believer has vastly the advantage of you. He has all the happiness in this life which christianity affords ; and this
must be a stranger to. He can live in comfort, 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 subserve and promote them. And certainly (even upon your own principles) he may have as fair a claim to sincerity, in his endeavours to approve himself to the glorious Author of our being, as you can have ; and consequently as good a prospect of future blessedness. So that, upon the whole, it is evident he has nothing to fear from his principles, whether they be true or false. He has no cause for those stinging reflections—What if I am mistaken! What if my sentiments should prove false, when it comes to the decisive trial!
And now, let us turn the tables; and consider the bitter fruits of your fatal mistake, if christianity should at last prove true. You cannot but acknowledge, that there have been a vast number of persons of the best moral qualifications, whose intellectual powers were no ways inferior to theirs on the other side of the question, who have professed the truth, and experienced the power of that religion, which you have despised. How many most excellent persons, of the greatest integrity, learning, and sagacity, have at their peril appeared to stand by this cause ; and have sacrificed their estates, their honours, and their lives, to the despised and persecuted doctrines of the cross ! It is certain, that you cannot have a greater assurance of being in the right, than these men have had ; and consequently there is at least a probability on their side, as much as on yours. You yourself, therefore, and all the unbelieving gentlemen of your acquaintance, who have any degree of modesty left, must necessarily own, that the cause possibly may turn out against them. And what if it should ! I am even afraid to represent the consequences in a proper light; it will possibly be esteemed harsh, uncivil, or unbecoming treatment. But, sir, I would pray you to consider this matter, without any resentment at my rustic method of address. Consider it only as it is represented in the scriptures ; and in that view it will appear, that the dreadful confusion, the amazing horror, and the eternal misery, which will be the consequence of your infidelity, will be vastly beyond the utmost stretch of your most enlarged apprehension or imagination. As soon as your soul is separated from your body, it will become the immediate object of Divine punishment; and how lightly soever you may think of these things at present, 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 shall descend from heaven, to take vengeance on all those who do not obey the gospel of Jesus Christ, where will our un
believing gentlemen appear ? Will not their mirth be quite spoiled, their sarcastic reproaches of religion be for ever over, when they must stand trembling at the left hand of their Judge, having no possible refuge to betake themselves to, no plea to make for their infidelity, no place of retreat in a dissolving world to hide their heads! What comfort will it then afford them
“ Alas ! how have we been deceived! We never thought it would have come to this ! Now we have found to our cost, that there is something more in the doctrines of a final retribution than fable or fiction, priestcraft or fanaticism, however we have, in the gaiety of our temper, rejected and despised them.” Will they then be possessed of sufficient bravery and presence of mind, to out-face their glorious Judge; and to hear with intrepidity the terrible sentence, “ Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels?” Will they, with their usual frolic humour, endure the execution of this sentence; and, with sport and pastime, welter in the eternal flames of that furnace of fire which is the destined abode of every final unbeliever?
Now, sir, does it not infinitely concern you, to consider the case before you in this awful view, to compare and make a proper estimate of the inconceivably different states of the believer and the infidel, both with respect to time and eternity; and to enter upon the disquisition you propose, with a mind duly impressed with the vast importance of your coming to a safe conclusion ?
You tell me, that you cannot, from the nature of things, see any necessity for such a way of salvation as the gospel proposes. The light of nature teaches us, that God is merciful; and consequently that he will pardon sinners, upon their repentance and