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very much within the alternative which has been stated. If we poffeffed the difpofition which Chriftianity labours, above all other qualities, to inculcate, thefe differences would do little harm. If that difpofition be wanting, other caufes, even were these abfent, would continually rife up, to call forth the nialevolent paffions into action. Differ ences of opinion, when accompanied with mutual charity, which Christianity forbids them to violate, are for the most part innocent, and for fome purposes useful. They promote enquiry, difcuffion, and knowledge. They help to keep up an attention to religious fubjects, and a concern about them," which might be apt to die away in the calm and filence of univerfal agreement. I do not know that it is in any degree true, that the influence of religion is the greatest, where there are the feweft diffenters.
IN IN religion, as in every other fubject of human reafoning, much depends upon the order in which we difpofe our enquiries. A man who takes up a fyftem of divinity with a previous opinion that either every part must be true, or the whole false, approaches the difcuffion with great disadvantage. No other fyftem, which is founded upon moral evidence, would bear to be treated in the fame manner. Nevertheless, in a certain degree, we are all introduced to our religious ftudies under this prejudication. And it cannot be avoided. The weakness of the human judgment in the early part of youth, yet its extreme fufceptibility of impreffion, renders it neceffary to furnish it with fome opinions, and with fome principles, or other. Or indeed, without much exprefs
] express care, or much endeavour for this purpose, the tendency of the mind of man to affimilate itself to the habits of thinking and fpeaking which prevail around him, produces the fame effect. That indifferency and fufpenfe, that waiting and equilibrium of the judgment, which fome require in religious matters, and which fome would wish to be aimed at in the conduct of education, are impoffible to be preferved. They are not given to the condition of human life.
It is a confequence of this fituation that the doctrines of religion come to us before the proofs; and come to us with that mixture of explications and inferences from which no public creed is, or can be, free. And the effect which too frequently follows, from Christianity being presented to the understanding in this form, is, that when any articles, which appear as parts of it, contradict the apprehenfion of the persons to whom it is proposed, men of rash and confident tempers haftily and indifcriminately reject the whole. But is this to do justice, Cc 4 either
either to themselves, or to the religion? The rational way of treating a subject of fuch acknowledged importance is to attend, in the first place, to the general and substan, tial truth of its principles, and to that alone, When we once feel a foundation; when we once perceive a ground of credibility in its history, we shall proceed with fafety to enquire into the interpretation of its records, and into the doctrines which have been deduced from them. Nor will it either endanger our faith, or diminish or alter our motives for obedience, if we should discover that thefe conclufions are formed with very different degrees of probability, and possess very different degrees of importance.
This conduct of the understanding, dictated by every rule of right reasoning, will uphold personal Christianity, even in those countries in which it is established under forms the moft liable to difficulty and objection. It will also have the further effect of guarding us against the prejudices which are wont to arife in our minds to the disadvan
tage of religion, from obferving the aume-
Aug. contr. Ep. Fund. cap. ii. n. 2, 3.