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there is no hint of it throughout, unless indeed my surmise was right about the sudden or progressive maturity of this corruption; and you have not brought forward one argument to prove it sudden.
2d Section. The next accusation brought against us is, that of having " exploded the notion of the existence of the evil spirit," (p. 34); and than this, you say, "there cannot be a stronger proof of the difference between the religious system of Scripture and our religious system." I really wish you would be so good as to explain what these two systems are, that we might compare them; for, so ignorant are we, that we are not aware of having any system, other than that of Scripture, which we imagine ourselves to have adopted. It is useless to keep rating us thus, for a difference which you will not or cannot show us! Now as to the existence of the evil spirit, you have not given us an objection even of your own manufacture: you merely assert that we deny it, and not only deny, but ridicule the idea. But are you sure that you have understood aright what it is we have exploded? What leads you to suppose the existence of such a being exploded? I can think of nothing likely to have offended you in this way, unless indeed it be the omission, in criminal indictments, of the words, "at the instigation of the devil," which, I believe, were more commonly made use of formerly than
at present: or is it, in reality, our repeal of the laws against witchcraft, which so scandalised some religionists of your, or some similar, school? But, as far as I know any thing of the opinion of my fellows upon this matter, the belief in the existence of the evil spirit is by no means exploded. Few would be found to deny the existence of such being; but we certainly also conceive, that the words, Satan, Devil, &c. are often used in Scripture to signify no more than evil; the depravity of our nature, sometimes even no more than principle liable to error; the extension of those passions, which, though given us for good purposes, will, if unchecked, in time conduce to evil;-all these things are, at different times, signified by such like terms. What we may be fairly said to doubt is, the personal ubiquity of such evil spirit, by whose actual agency, and at whose (if I may use the terms) personal and particular instigation, every single sin is committed, that is committed; and what we have exploded and ridiculed is, not the existence of the evil spirit as asserted in Scripture, but the fantasies and grossly-absurd representations of the ignorantly or knavishly superstitious, regarding the literal existence, in propriá personâ, of a monster similar to the satyr of mythology, roaming about the world, visible or invisible at pleasure, gifted with a knowledge of men's thoughts,
and the power of a Proteus, in assuming such form as shall best suit his purpose of inducing them to evil. Is this what we ought to believe? If your reason revolts equally at this, you perhaps will feel inclined to accuse me of profanely trifling in a serious controversy. But I affirm that this has been, and is even to this day, the belief of thousands. Many, especially when terrified by an evil conscience, have imagined, and positively asserted, that they have seen him, been tempted by him in person, and would have sunk under such temptation, but for having discovered their spiritual enemy by a cloven foot, a tail, a horn, or some other corporeal attribute they imagine to belong to him unchangeably. The story of St. Dunstan is no fiction of sarcastic wit, but an actual representation of the vulgar creed.
These, Sir, are the things we laugh at—such grossly literal interpretations of Scripture texts; and if you think us wrong, why we must even be content to remain under your censure.
Having excited the imaginations of your timid readers by a lecture upon the reality of an evil spirit, you next proceed, from the Old Testament, to paint God under his attribute of avenger; and then, when it may be supposed that awe would have overcome discernment in a reader of warm imagination and sensitive nerves, you talk at once
of the "fallacious confidence, which, presuming upon the Creator's knowledge of our weakness, and his disposition to allow for it, should allege, that instead of giving way to gloomy apprehensions, we might throw ourselves, in full assurance of hope, upon the infinite benevolence of the Supreme Being:" (p. 37). Alas for us, if this confidence be indeed fallacious! You have mixed this sentence up, as is your custom, with excellent preachment; and I would have it understood, that my objection is meant to apply to the sentence quoted only. You would mean, perhaps, this "fallacious confidence" to imply an absence of Christianity and its promises altogether, or an impenitent and unchecked course of sin. If so, we agree with you: but you should have explained this, as, in the form in which you have put it, it must be held to signify our fallacious confidence, in presuming that God, as he has revealed himself under his attributes of love and mercy in the Gospel, (good tidings of great joy), would deign, according to his own gracious promise, not to demand perfection from his imperfect creatures, but accept our imperfect service, unprofitable servants as we are, through the mediation of the Messiah. God himself, as we understand it, has bidden us have this confidence; one object of the incarnation was to give it; and Jesus, in his parable of the Prodigal Son, has
shewn us how, from reference to our own feelings, we may judge of the loving-kindness of God towards us. It is true that, in the next paragraph, you make Christianity "break in" to our aid, but in terms, though by no means otherwise objectionable, little calculated to do away with the impression, which the sentence objected to, and the former part of the section, might naturally be supposed to have produced. You then revert to your doctrine of human corruption, saying, (p. 40), “Slight and superficial conceptions of our degradation, &c. fall in too well with our natural inconsiderateness, and produce that insensibility to Divine threats, so generally prevailing." Please to remember, you have never defined correctly what you mean by these slight conceptions, nor proved any actually to exist in our opinions. However, I will deny this part of your assertion. Inconsiderateness certainly may and does produce insensibility; but peculiar notions upon original sin, be they what they may, our state of habitual disobedience being admitted, need not, nor have, that I can see, any tendency to produce it. I rejoice to hear "Deliverance is not forced" upon you say, us, but offered to us; we are furnished, indeed, with every help, but are plainly admonished," &c. (p. 40). As this, I think, establishes your opinion that we have free will, that grace is not