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tice of all those moral and social duties upon which social happiness depends. It teaches us to adore one universal sovereign, who loves virtue, has a perfect knowledge of human conduct, is wise and just to punish and reward; and who is the benevolent father of the whole human race.
In the Disquisitions to which a reference is now made, we confined our attention to the natural effects of these principles upon the mind, and their tendency to annihilate human misery! And from the above statements a very important question presents itself, "What are the evidences upon which the above desirable principles are founded? A deep and permanent conviction of their reality is necessary to give them the ascendency over inferior pursuits. Nothing enervates action so much as the prevalence of doubt; and nothing invigorates equally with hope. But hope, to be continually active, must be inspired by a conviction that has a solid basis and it is most desirable that doubts should appear to be as opposite to reason as they are inimical to inward tranquillity.
When sensible objects affect the mind, their
existence is not doubted, and we presume that their qualities are known to us; but, whatever is not the object of our senses, can alone become impressive through the medium of belief. This belief can alone be distinguished from a mere creature of the imagination, by its being founded upon competent evidence, which it is more rational to admit than to reject. The question is, Does such evidence exist? Why may we not suspect, that the most favourable sentiments of Religion are merely opinions, like those entertained by the Pagan world concerning their gods? Why ought they not to be rejected also as creatures of the imagination, which, although they may be more pleasing, are equally delusive? These questions are pertinent, and demand a serious consideration.
But, before we proceed to an immediate answer, it may be proper to ask in return, what degree of evidence will prove satisfactory? In order to be consistent with itself, ought not the mind of the inquirer to be contented with such evidences of the consonance of the above religious sentiments with truth, as are universally
allowed to be sufficient encouragements to pursue good, by any other means? No one has ever demanded absolute demonstration in what concerns his secular affairs. High degrees of probability are always sufficient to encourage the mind to the most arduous undertakings. We are incessantly forming plans and projects which cannot promise a certainty of success. luctance therefore to admit the truths of religion, without absolute demonstration, has a very sus picious appearance. The virtuous principle must be very low in the barometer of that man, who will not cultivate a contented and patient disposition of mind; who will not be temperate, diligent, frugal, chaste, without an absolute certainty of some tremendous punishment hereafter, for the neglect of these virtues; or of an immense reward for the observance of them; and he that would resolve to be unjust, oppressive, or cruel, if he were not terrified by the apprehensions of future condemnation, is a very worthless member of society. Vice has never demonstrated to her profligate votaries, that she could communicate happiness. They always
act upon trust, when they pursue her pleasures, and they are always deceived; which has never been proved to be the case with the man of true piety; and this affords a presumption, that his principles of action are founded upon a more solid basis. If therefore we can adduce arguments to prove, that the sentiments of religion stated in the preceding Disquisition, are equally certain with the most prevalent inducements, by which mankind are constantly influenced, every rational being must confess, that he relinquishes his rationality, if he do not act upon them with a similar assiduity.
When the christian philosopher attempts to prove the truth of religion, he makes a distinction between natural and revealed religion. The first is confined to such conceptions of a Deity as may be formed by contemplating the works of nature, which accord- with our reason, and which reason itself, under advantageous circumstances, might be able to discover. The knowledge of God by Revelation, is not confined
simply to the being and attributes of Deity, but extends to a supernatural communication from heaven, which has a respect to some specific commands to man, or to the manifestation of particular plans and designs of the universal governor concerning him. It is supposed to promulgate important truths, unknown to a world immersed in ignorance; and which the most enlightened minds either had not, or could not, have discovered.
The subject therefore divides itself into two parts; and in conformity to the above distinctions, we shall, in our first Disquisition, attend to those evidences of the being and perfections of deity, which are founded upon natural principles, and approve themselves to the understanding: and we shall attempt to show, that the sentiments of Religion most conducive to human happiness, and influential to the practice of every virtue, are consonant with the truest reason. We shall afterwards examine, whether they be not the immediate objects of a divine revelation.