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1 Kings xiii. 21, 22.

Forasmuch as thou hast disobeyed the mouth of the Lord, and hast not kept the commandment which the Lord thy God commanded thee; but camest back and hast eaten bread and drank water in the place of which the Lord did say to thee-eat no bread and drink no water, thy carcase shall not come unto the sepulchre of thy fathers."

Religion, intended as it is for the instruction and government of rational beings, must be fairly and directly addressed to their reason. Yet in the exercise of this faculty, it well becomes us to distinguish between the arguments which rest on limitations and defects of our knowledge, and those which are suggested by it, when it is real and clearbetween the abstruse researches of metaphysics, where we see little, and the moral fitness of actions, in which we are both interested and enabled to see much-between final causes, which in the utmost variety of their operations, and amplitude of extent are comprehended only by the being who controls them, and intelligible events, the existence of which,

* Written Sept. 1785.

implying no contradiction, may be ascertained by human testimony, and occasionally form a part of human experience.

From ignorance of the customs which prevailed in ancient nations, or from inattention to the manner which characterizes ancient composition, have arisen far the greater part of those mistakes which exercise the sophistry of the sceptic, and the raillery of the scoffer. Ideas, suggested by scenes that pass before our own eyes, are transferred to remote ages. The indefinite language which is employed to express our sentiments of relations and mixed modes, exposes us to perpetual misapprehension ; the want of correspondent terms introduces partial or perverted views of the meaning which the writer assigned to the original expression; the notions of right and wrong which have been established by the improvements of philosophy, or the precepts of Christianity, are precipitately and indiscriminately applied to moral agents, who neither cultivated the one nor were enlightened by the other. Many local and temporary circumstances have been tried by the test of general rules, to which they are professedly exceptions; and the partialities we feel in favour of national manners have checked our approbation or aroused our resentments, in contemplating those actions which were performed in different states of civilization, amidst the prevalence of different opinions, and under the influence of different laws; to these and similar causes may be ascribed the gross misconceptions into which men have fallen when they have presumed to sit in judgment upon


moral government of God, whether as it is collected from profane history, or as it is revealed in the sacred writings.

While, however, the sarcasms of the unbeliever are confined to those points of sublime speculation, which are unfolded to us by the wisdom, and supported by the authority of the Deity himself, we may be content with retaining our own belief, in humbleness of spirit and in sincerity of heart; but when his censures are levelled against the moral attributes of God—when the Judge of all the earth is represented as acting inconsistently with the plainest dictates of reason, and the essential rules of virtue—when the subjects to which those censures relate contain not the more abstract revelation of a doctrine, but the unequivocal record of a fact, the assaults of our adversaries then assume a more serious form; they are pregnant with more destructive consequences; they are no longer appeals to our ignorance, but to our knowledge; they call upon us to defend by argument the cause which we have espoused from conviction—to explain whatever has been misconceived, and to vindicate whatever has been misrepresented. I mean not, however, to affirm, that, in all cases, this defence is possible, in the extent to which we may be induced sometimes to expect from our curiosity, sometimes to demand from our rashness, and sometimes to wish from our piety.

In contemplating religion, both natural and revealed, we meet with difficulties, which no depth of learning, no diligence of inquiry, no felicity of con

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