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EVERY one, who makes a profession of Christianity, does thereby oblige himself to use his utmost endeavours, in all possible instances, for the fupport, defence, and advancement of that excellent Religion; and if, in this matter, our zeal and diligence ought to be proportionable to the industry and numbers of those, who would subvert our Religion, perhaps there never was a time, in which our zeal and diligence should be greater. Irreligion indeed, in its practice, has been the reproach of all ages, but its open and publick defence seems to be peculiar to ours. It is but of late, that men have learnt to secure the undisturbed possession of their vices and immoralities, by a professed disbelief of the grand maxims of piety and virtue. It is but of late, that it has been reckoned a perfeétion, boldly to beat down, and level, the eternal differences of good and evil. In many companies he now makes the best figure, who gives the largest proofs of his profaneness; and he is a man of the greatest fire and wit, that dares to speak most contemptibly of God, and his providence. It is now become a fashion
able accomplishment, wittily to deride, and droll upon, sacred things, and boldly to doubt and difbelieve every thing in the sacred Scriptures, only because it is there. · How it comes to pass, that profaneness and scep
ticism should so much abound in the present age, may very well deserve a serious enquiry. Among other unhappy causes, I cannot but believe the growing disbelief and contempt of Revealed Religion, and that growth of profaneness, which necessarily follows such disbelief, are very much owing to the imprudent treatment, the sacred Scriptures have met with from many of those, who profefs to believe their inspiration. The many methods that have been taken (even by several of the Christian Clergy) to render the Canon of Scripture uncertain ; the preferring some sorry Verfions before the Originals, and consequently correcting and altering the Originals by these Versions; the great freedoms that have been taken with the sacred text, by a groundless supposition of corruptions and contradictions therein, have been the unhappy ineans of making many reject the Revelation itself. The unguarded discourses of divers learned and ingenious men on those heads, have supplied the enemies of Christianity with arguments against it, and been many ways improved by evil minds to its dishonour. These are the weapons, with which Hobbes, Spinoza“, Toland”, and the club of De
• Tractat. Theolog. Politic. c. 8,9.
b In his Amyntor.
ifts, or free-thinkers* (as they love to be called), have fought against all Revealed Religion ; and it is but too well known, how eafily weak and degenerate minds have been influenced, and imposed upon, by their fophiftry.
Among the various methods that have been taken to weaken the credit of the holy Scriptures, I cannot but reckon that which Mr. Whifton has taken, to reconcile the difference which there is between St. Matthew and the other Evangelifts, in point of time, to be one. The third proposition of his Harmony is, that the former part of St. Matthew's Gofpel, in our present copies, is very much misplaced, contrary to the method and order, originally intended by the Evangelift. He accounts for this by supposing, that the several parts or periods of this former part of St. Matthew's Gospel, were written at firft separately, and upon several diftinct papers ; which papers, or whatever they were written upon, were put together into their present order, by thoje who did not perfectly know the true series of the history. These distinct pieces of paper must have been (according to this fuppofition) about twenty in number, of very unequal fizes, fome containing several chapters, others but a few verses, and others not above one or two lines. Such a propofition, and such confequences, must needs tend to lessen the value and authority of this Gospel, and make it less to be depended upon than any common profane history.
• Discourse of Free-Thinking, p. 85, 86, &c.
Hence Spinoza and Father Simon (who have laboured above all men, to prove the uncertainty of the sacred text) suppose several parts of the writings of the Old Testament transposed and disordered. The former tells us, “ that if we will ob“ serve how little regard is had to the order of “ time, in the five books of Moses, we shall easily 6 perceive, that the several parts of it were con“ fusedly set togethera.” The latter tells us, “that " we are not to attribute to Moses, the little order “ which is to be found in some places of the Pen“ tateuch: it is (says he) more probable, that, as 6 in those times the books were written on little “ scrolls or separate sheets, that were sewed to“ gether, the order of these sheets might be
changed.” Mr. Whifton in another book, (viz. His Accomplishment of Scripture Prophecies) is of the same opinion concerning the books of the Old Teftament. “I must (says he) be so free and fair to “ confefs, I cannot every where look upon the pre“ fent order, either of the histories or prophecies “ of the Old Testament, to have been the original “ one, or that which was intended by the penmen “ of them.” How direct a tendency such an opinion as this has, to weaken the authority, and leffen the value, of these facred books, is but too evident. Mr. Whiston does himself call his propofition, a new and strange one, and is very careful to guard himself against those censuses and imputą
2 Tractat. Theolog. Polit. c. 9. b Critic. Hiftor. of the Old. Teft. B. 1. c. 5. p. 40. • Pag. 67.