Page images

dern fceptics are ignorant, that, without the belief of a God, and the hope of immortality, the miseries of human life would often be infupportable. But can I fuppofe them in a state of total ftupidity, utter ftrangers to the human heart, and to human affairs! Sure they would not thank me for fuch a fuppofition. Yet this I must suppose, or I must believe them to be most perfidious and cruel men.

Careffed by those who call themselves the great, ingroffed by the formalities and fopperies of life, intoxicated with vanity, pampered with adulation, diffipated in the tumult of bufinefs, or amidst the viciffitudes of folly, they perhaps have little need, and little relish, for the confolations of religion. But let them know, that, in the folitary fcenes of life, there is many an honest and tender heart pining with incurable anguish, pierced with the fharpeft fting of difappointment, bereft of friends, chilled with poverty, racked with difeafe, fcourged by the oppreffor; whom nothing but trust in Providence, and the hope of a future retribution, could preferve from the agonies of defpair. And do they, with facrilegious hands, attempt to violate this laft refuge of the miferable, and to rob them of the only comfort that had furvived the ravages of misfortune, malice, and tyranny! Did it ever happen, that the influence of their execrable tenets difturbed the tranquillity of 3 K 2


virtuous retirement, deepened the gloom of human distress, or aggravated the horrors of the grave? Is it poffible, that this may have happened in many inftances? Is it probable, that this hath happened, or may happen, in one fingle inftance?-Ye traitors to human kind, how can ye answer for it to your own hearts! Surely every spark of your generosity is extinguished for ever, if this confideration do not awaken in you the keenest remorse, and make you wish in bitternefs of foul-But I remonftrate in vain, Could I inforce the prefent topic by an appeal to your vanity, I might perhaps make fome impreffion: but to plead with you on the principles of benevolence or generofity, is to addrefs you in language ye do not, or will not, understand.

But let not the lovers of truth be difcouraged. Atheism cannot be of long continuance, nor is there any danger of its becoming univerfal. The influence of fome confpicuous characters has brought it too much into fashion; which, in a thoughtless and profligate age, it is no difficult matter to accomplish. But when men have retrieved the powers of ferious reflection, they will find it a frightful phantom; and the mind will return gladly and eagerly to its old endearments. One thing we certainly know: the fashion of fceptical fyftems foon paffeth away. Those unnatural productions, the vile effufion of a hard heart, that mistakes its

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

its own restlessness for the activity of genius, and its own captioufnefs for fagacity of understanding, may, like other monsters, please a while by their fingularity; but the charm is foon over: and the fucceeding age will be astonished to hear, that their forefathers were deluded, or amufed, with fuch fooleries. The measure of Scepticism feems indeed to be full; it is time for Truth to vindicate her rights, and we trust they shall yet be completely vindicated. Such are the hopes and the earnest wishes of one, who has feldom made controversy his study, who never took pleasure in argumentation, and who disclaims all ambition of being reputed a fubtle difputant; but who, as a friend to human nature, would account it his honour to be inftrumental in promoting, though by means unpleasant to himself, the cause of virtue and true fcience, and in bringing to contempt that fceptical fophiftry which is equally fubverfive of both.



November, 1770.


O read and criticife the modern systems of fcepticism, is fo difgreeable a task, that nothing but a regard to duty could ever have determined me to engage in it. I found in them neither instruction nor amusement; I wrote against them with all the disgust that one feels in wrangling with an unreafonable adversary; and I published what I had written, with the certain prospect of raifing enemies, and with fuch an opinion of my performance, as allowed me not to entertain any fanguine hope of fuccefs. I thought it however poffible, nay, and ргоbable too, that this book might do good. I knew that it contained fome matters of importance, which, if I was not able to fet them in the beft light, might however, by my means, be fuggefted to others more capable to do them justice.

Since thefe papers were first published, I have laid myself out to obtain information of what has been faid of them, both by their friends, and by their enemies; hoping to profit by the cenfures of the latter,


[ocr errors]

as well as by the admonitions of the former. I do not hear, that any person has accufed me of mifconceiving or mifreprefenting my adverfaries doctrine. Again and again have I requested it of those whom I know to be masters of the whole controverfy, to give me their thoughts freely on this point; and they have repeatedly told me, that, in their judgement, nothing of this kind can be laid to my charge.

Most of the objections that have been made, I had forefeen, and, as I thought, fufficiently obviated by occafional remarks in the course of the effay. But, in regard to fome of them, I find it neceffary now to be more particular. I wish to give the fulleft fatisfaction to every candid mind: and I am fure I do not, on thefe fubjects, entertain a single thought which I need be afhamed or afraid to lay before the public.

I have been blamed for entering fo warm→ ly into this controverfy. In order to prepoffefs the minds of thofe who had not read this performance, with an unfavourable opinion of it, and of its author, infinuations have been made, and carefully propagated, that it treats only of fome abstruse points of speculative metaphyfics; which, however, I am accufed of having difcuffed, or attempted to difcufs, with all the zeal of a bigot, indulging myfelf in an indecent vehemence of language, and uttering rancorous invectives against thofe who differ from

« PreviousContinue »