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or chapel in the united kingdom; and with it, as far as I understand its meaning, I most cordially
Your obedient servant,
To Mr. WILBerforce.
On the prevailing inadequate conceptions concerning the nature and strictness of practical Christianity.
WE now, Sir, come to your fourth chapter, in which you profess to treat of our inadequate conceptions of the nature and strictness of practical Christianity. You begin by affirming, that "they who hold the fundamental doctrines of Scripture in their due force, hold also, in its due degree of purity, the practical system which Scripture inculcates. But they who explain away the former, soften down the latter also, and reduce it to the level of their defective scheme." This is all very plausible as it stands ; but what is it that you mean these words to convey? You have told us what you mean by fundamental doctrines, at least in part. Your assertion, therefore, will stand thus: "It is those only who do not mistake the question of whether holiness be the cause or effect of our justification and reconcilia
tion with God, that are of opinion that Christianity inculcates perfect morality." This is positively what you assert, taking your words by the explanation you yourself have given. You next sum up our religion in the following terms: "A formal assent to Christianity in the gross, and a degree of morality in practice, little, if at all, superior to that for which we might look in a good deist, Mussulman, or Hindoo." Be so good as to remember, that your indictment professes to charge us with "inadequate conceptions." It is of opinions, not
performance, that we are arguing. Whatever may be our imperfection as practical Christians, such imperfection is not the result of erroneous opinions, as you contend it is. I shall, therefore, take the liberty of putting your charge thus, and I shall be fully justified in so doing in the progress of your work: "A formal assent to Christianity in the gross, and a system of practical morality, little, if at all, superior to that for which we might look in a good deist," &c. According to your former accusation, we contend for sincerity as all in all; consequently, our belief in what we hold to be essentials of Christianity, must, according to our scheme, be real and unaffected, therefore not merely formal. We cannot, and we do not deny, any part of the morality inculcated by that book, which we, as well as you, believe to contain a correct exposition of the com
mands of the Master we profess to serve. We, therefore, acknowledge a code superior to that of the Mussulman or Hindoo, and also to that of any, however good, deist, whose reason has not been enlightened by, what we understand in the terms, "the peculiar doctrines of Christianity," viz. all those doctrines of morality, in which Christianity is superior to Judaism, or to any thing which, before the revelation and example of our Saviour, could be claimed for natural religion by the purest philosophy. As a proof of the defectiveness of our system, you ask us whether, "if Christianity were proved to be a forgery, this would occasion any great change in our conduct?" (p. 114). We deny the inference you would draw; but we sincerely hope that our conduct would not be changed. As we trust that Christianity has thus far done its work upon us, as to enable us both to see and to feel the truth and beauty of its morality; and that apart from revelation, we should still continue to adhere to it as the best philosophy; as that which must be most conformable to the attributes and will of the God of nature, and consequently most conducive to our own happiness. That infidels themselves should have discovered the intrinsic merits of Christian morality, and conformed professedly upon the grounds of reason, envying even the philosophic fame of its founders, is, in my
opinion, one of the greatest compliments that human reason can pay to it. You next ask, in a tone of triumph, "Was it for this that the Son of God condescended to become our instructor, and that the apostles voluntarily submitted to poverty, ignominy, and death, that after all, their disciples should attain no higher strain of virtue than those who should still adhere to the old philosophy ?" (p. 115). But, begging your pardon, we presume to claim for our opinions at least, a far higher strain of virtue than that inculcated by any system of ancient philosophy. Those systems were deficient in the very essence of our morality, they began not with the heart. You have assumed our answer to your question, as to whether Christianity, being proved a forgery, would make any alteration in our conduct. You have done right: we adopt your assumption; but in adopting it, we do not necessarily say, either that Christian morality is no better than the old philosophy, nor that an infidel who adopts it has complied with the conditions of the Gospel, or even that it is to be expected that his morality will, in time of need, prove equally sound as that of a believer; thus virtually rejecting all that could give, and was designed to give, the requisite authority to the practical doctrines. Why, if we do this, have we not supplied its place by "a more simple and less costly scheme?"