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SINCE the appearance of the unbelieving fraternity among us in these latter days, they have been celebrated for many extraordinary qualities; but their characteristic virtue, I think, has been modesty. A remarkable instance of this virtue has manifested itself in their conduct respecting the publication of a certain edifying pamphlet, entitled, Doubts of the Infidels; or, Queries relative to Scriptural Inconsistencies and Contradictions-Submitted to the Consideration of the Bench of Bishops-By a weak Christian. It stole abroad in so humble and reserved a manner, without the name of printer or vender, that it was a long time before I heard there was such a pamphlet in being. Informed, however, by a friend, that there certainly was such a thing, and that he had actually seen it, I made application to several booksellers of note in town; but they declared they knew nothing of the matter. As I am one of those who love to learn what is stirring, I was not to be easily put by; and therefore rested not, till I had made myself master of a copy. Happy in my prize, with my hand upon my pocket I betook myself immediately home, and having provided the implement necessary for the purpose, began to open the leaves.
In the process of this operation, the first words that caught my eye were the following, in page v, of the epistle dedicatory to my lords the bishops: "In"ner chambers of the holy Inquisition-Whips,
cords, pullies, screws, wheels, iron-crows, and red"hot pincers." Having no predilection for good things of this particular kind, I resumed my work, determining not to peep any more, till I came to the top of page 20, where my attention was again forcibly arrested by the expressions, "Ripping women with "child, dashing infants to pieces against the rocks, "and broiling men to death with slow fires."
I now laid down the pamphlet, and considered with myself, what had happened lately among us, to occasion this lamentable yelping. Sometimes I thought the archbishop of York, in the course of his last visitation, must have wedged some northern heresiarch under the screw, and with one turn of the machine, to the great diversion of the company, cracked all the bones in his skin, like the claws of a lobster. At other times I concluded (though no mention had been made of it in the Morning Chronicle) that his grace of Canterbury had invited the bishops to dine with him upon a roasted infidel, whipped to death by his chaplains. That one of these events had taken place, there seemed to be little doubt, though it was impossible to say which.
I finished, however, my task of leaf-opening, and began to read regularly; when I found that a deed had been done still more atrocious and petrifying than either of the above; for that, by an act of parliament procured by these same bloody-minded pre
lates of ours, the infidels are now obliged, on a Sunday evening, to blaspheme in PRIVATE!
This is a falling off, to which my memory furnishes me with nothing similar, unless it be the story of a man much given to the use of the long bow, who asserted one morning to his family, that he had just seen forty couple of dogs running through the yard. It being denied that so many were kept in the country, "Nay," cried he, "I am sure there "were twenty." The audience still continuing sceptical, "Why then," said he with perfect gravity, "it 66 was our little brown cur!"
For such "cruel, barbarous, and inhuman" usage, these gentlemen are determined, it seems, to have their revenge upon the church, and really think themselves able, at this time of day, to write revelation out of the world, in a twelve-penny pamphlet! Take this whole business together, and it is enough to make the weeping philosopher laugh.
In the thirty sections of their pamphlet, they have produced a list of difficulties to be met with in reading the Old and New Testament. Had I been aware of their design, I could have enriched the collection with many more, at least as good, if not a little better. But they have compiled, I dare say, what they deemed the best, and, in their own opinion, presented us with the essence of infidelity in a thumb phial, the very fumes of which, on drawing the cork, are to strike the bench of bishops dead at
Let not the unlearned Christian be alarmed, "as though some strange thing had happened to him,"
and modern philosophy had discovered arguments to demolish religion, never heard of before. The old ornaments of deism have been "broken off,” upon the occasion, "and cast into the fire, and there "came out this calf." These same difficulties have been again and again urged and discussed in public; again and again weighed and considered by learned and sensible men, of the laity as well as of the clergy, who have by no means been induced by them to renounce their faith.
Indeed, why should they? For is any man surprised that difficulties should occur in the books of Scripture, those more especially of the Old Testament? Let him reflect upon the variety of matter on which they treat; the distance of the times to which they refer; the wide difference of ancient manners and customs from those of the age in which we live; the very imperfect knowledge we have of these, as well as of the language in which they are described; the conciseness of the narratives, sufficient for the purpose intended, but not for gratifying a restless curiosity; above all, the errors and defects of translations.
Many and painful are the researches sometimes necessary to be made for settling points of this kind. Pertness and ignorance may ask a question in three lines, which it will cost learning and ingenuity thirty pages to answer. When this is done, the same question shall be triumphantly asked again the next year, as if nothing had ever been written upon the subject. And as people in general, for one reason or another, like short objections better than long answers, in this
mode of disputation (if it can be styled such) the odds must ever be against us; and we must be content with those for our friends, who have honesty and erudition, candour and patience, to study both sides of the question. Be it so.
In the mean time, if we are called upon seriously for satisfaction on any point, it is our duty to give the best in our power. But our adversaries will permit us to observe, that the way they are pleased to take (the way, I mean, of doubts and difficulties) is the longest way about; and I much fear they will never find it the shortest way home. For if they really have determined with themselves not to become Christians till every difficulty that may be started concerning the revealed dispensations of God, or any part of them, be fully cleared up, I will fairly tell them, that, I apprehend, they must die deists. I will likewise farther tell them, that if they should resolve not to believe in the existence of God, till every objection can be solved relative to the works of creation and the course of his providence, I verily believe they must die atheists. At least, I will not undertake their conversion, in either case. For, in the first place, whether the solution be satisfactory to themselves, none but themselves can be the judges ; and their prejudices will not suffer them to judge fairly. In the second place, if they produce an hundred objections, and we can solve ninety-nine of them, that which remains unsolved will be deemed a plea sufficient to justify their continuing in incredulity. In the third place, it is impossible, in the nature of things, that we should be equal to the solu