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CHAP. I. 8vo. Edit. p. 5.
Inadequate conceptions of the importance of Christianity-Popular notions-Scripture account―Ignorance in this case criminal—–— Two false maxims exposed.
IN chapter first, under the above title of "inadequate conceptions," with which you charge us, you bring forward four proofs in support of your accusation. First, our own utter ignorance of the "peculiar characteristics" (p. 5, 6) of the religion we profess. Secondly, our negligence in instructing our children therein: (p. 6). Thirdly, our not making it a topic of general conversation: (p. 8). Fourthly, and which you seem to think the gravest charge of all—that when our conversation does take a grave turn, we talk of right and wrong, and philosophise upon their nature and principles, instead of being contented to refer verbatim to the commands and prohibitions of our Bibles: (p. 9).
Your two first assertions, in the name of the higher classes, I deny. We are not ignorant of any essential, either of faith or doctrine, of the religion of Christ; and as to our sons, to whom is their education confided? to whom was our own confided? I believe there is hardly an instance of the preceptor, whether public or private, to whom the youth of the higher classes is entrusted, being other than a clergyman of the Established Church. Your assertion then goes to accuse generally the whole body of preceptors, not only of criminal negligence, but negligence of a most extraordinary kind, that what they neglect to teach, is just the very thing that it is their peculiar profession to teach. Were this true, it would indeed be a strange anomaly, even in individual cases; as general, it is absolutely incredible. But in turning over a page or two, where you begin to support your assertion, we find it quietly resolving itself into a very different charge, namely, that the laity are not educated to be controversial theologists: (p. 12). This is certainly most true, and, in my opinion, most proper; were it otherwise, your third assertion, which I admit, might, perhaps, be no longer so true; but would Christianity be a gainer thereby? I think not! By making religion a common topic of general conversation, we should be apt, too soon, to lose our little reverence in familiarity. Every
one would fancy himself learned, be quick to speak and slow to hear, and our pious conversations would proceed with the usual charity of disputants. We should split into sects in these days of toleration, and the Church would speedily become the victim of our dissensions. Without a Church to guide and keep us united, it is to be feared Christianity itself would be refined away, even more quickly and completely than, according to your assertion, is now the case.
You appear to me, Sir, to confound proficiency in divinity with essential Christianity. Proficients in divinity we certainly cannot become without study, but proficients in useful and essential Christianity we may be. What specimens of ignorance you may have met with, it is not for me to say; but I never, to my knowledge, met with one yet who did not at least know thus much. That he was created by God, redeemed from death, the consequence of original sin, by the incarnation of the Son of God, who had commanded him to be grateful and pious towards God, just, merciful, and benevolent towards men; and moreover, this peculiarity, that he was to keep a check upon evil in the very bud, by not suffering himself to conceive it in his mind, and if conceived unawares, that he was instantly to crush it by an effort of determined resolution, accompanied by prayer to God in the
name of Christ, to give him fortitude to withstand it; and, that as he neglected or obeyed these commands, he was to expect punishment or reward in a future life. This, I may venture to say, is the least degree of Christian knowledge attained by any professed believer of the higher orders; and how with this, he can have any inadequate conception of its importance, I do not understand. It is with him as with you-salvation or condemnation: all the learning of the schools can make the matter of no greater importance than simple belief, though I will not say it might not make it less. I cannot see, even were our knowledge indeed limited to this sketch, how ignorance should make us "mistake greatly in what regards the religion we profess" (p. 14).
Of your fourth charge, your explanation is not over clear; but if I understand aright, it alludes to our habit of saying-such a thing is right or wrong, because so and so; whereas you would have us say-because it is according to, or against, the word of God! But this is really the consequence neither of our contempt for the word of God, nor of our ignorance, but more properly of our presuming upon the knowledge of those we may be addressing; we suppose them to know already every thing that directly concerns the action with regard to Scripture. We conceive our opinion of its
assent or dissent to be implied in our word Right or Wrong; and we merely proceed to explain why or how: Why, if the command is direct; How, if it might be matter of dispute. We might not, it is true, be able to quote chapter and verse, but speak from general impressions, what you term "faint traces;" but we speak truly, and if truly, both our purpose and the purpose of religion are as effectually answered as if we could recite the very words of Scripture. And the reason why we are, as you say, "recalled to the subject by the mention of some acknowledged heretic," (p. 9) is, that we instantly remember that his doctrine denies our position, and our denouncing of that doctrine goes far, in my opinion, to prove what I have asserted, that, despite our silence upon the subject, the sentiments we had been expressing had secret reference to religion; consequently, that our judgment of right and wrong is not "uninfluenced by the religion of Jesus:" (p. 9).
Another accusation against us as a proof of our indifference to religion, is the little encouragement given to missions, (p. 8); but this, though I regret to say the imputation has some truth as to fact, yet I most positively deny your assumption of its cause being indifference. Had we hope of real success, missions would not want encouragement. It is not our indifference to the result, but our