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THE character of Mr. Addison, and his writings, for justness of thought, strength of reasoning, and purity of style, is too well established to need a recommendation; but their greatest ornament, and that which gives a lustre to all the rest, is his appearing throughout a zealous advocate for virtue and religion against profaneness and infidelity. And because his excellent discourses upon those subjects lie dispersed among his other writings, and are by that means not so generally known and read as they deserve, it was judged to be no unseasonable service to religion at this time to move the Bookseller to publish them together in a distinct volume, in hopes that the politeness and beauty peculiar to Mr. Addison’s writings would make their way to persons of a superior character, and a more liberal education; and that, as they come from the hands of a layman, they may be the more readily received and considered by young gentlemen as a proper manual of religion.
Our modern sceptics and infidels are great pretenders to reason and philosophy, and are willing to have it thought that none who are really possessed of those talents, can easily assent to the truth of Christianity. But it falls out very unfortunately for them and their cause, that those persons within our own memory, who are confessed to have been the most perfect reasoners and philosophers of their time, are also known to have been firm believers, and they laymen; I mean Mr. Boyle, Mr. Locke, Sir Isaac Newton, and Mr. Addison; who, modestly speaking, were as good thinkers and reasoners as the best among the sceptics and infidels at this day. Some of them might have their particular opinions about this or that point in Christianity, which will be the case as long as men are men; but the thing here insisted on is, that they were accurate reasoners, and, at the same time, firm believers.
Mr. Boyle, the most exact searcher into the works of nature that any age has known, and who saw atheism and infidelity beginning to shew themselves in the loose and voluptuous reign of King Charles II. pursued his philosophical inquiries with religious views, to establish the minds of men in a firm belief and thorough sense of the infinite power and wisdom of the great Creator.
This account we have from one who was intimately acquainted with him, (Dr. Burnet) and preached his funeral sermon. “It appeared to those who conversed with him in his inquiries into nature, that his main design in that (on which, as he had his own eye most constantly, so he took care to put others often in mind of it,) was to raise in himself and others vaster thoughts of the greatness and glory, and of the wisdom and goodness of God. This was so deep in his thoughts, that he concludes the article of his will, which relates to that illustrious body, the Royal Society, in these words: Wishing them a happy success in their laudable attempts to discover the true nature of the works of God and praying that they, and all other searchers into physical truths, may cordially refer their attainments to the glory of the great Author of nature, and the comfort of mankind.” The same person also speaks thus of him: “He had the profoundest veneration for the great God of heaven and earth that ever I observed in any person. The very name of God was never mentioned by him without a pause, and a visible stop in his discourse.”
And of the strickness and exemplariness of the whole course of his life, he says, “I might here challenge the whole tribe of Libertines to come and view the usefulness, as well as the excellence of the Christian religion, in a life that was entirely dedicated to it.”
Against the Atheists he wrote his Free Inquiry into the received Notion of Nature, (to confute the pernicious principle of ascribing effects to nature, which are only produced by the infinite power and wisdom of God;) and also his Essay about final Causes of Things Natural, to shew that all things in nature were made and contrived with great order, and every thing for its proper end and use, by an all wise Creator.
Against the Deists he wrote a treatise of things above reason; in which he makes it appear that several things, which we judge to be contrary to reason, because above the reach of our understanding, are not therefore to be thought unreasonable because we cannot comprehend them, since they may be apparently reasonable to a greater and more comprehensive understanding. And he wrote another treatise, to show the possiblity of the resurrection of the same body.
The veneration he had for the holy scriptures, appears not only from his studying them with great exactness, and exhorting others to do the same, but more particularly from a distinct treatise, which he wrote on purpose to defend the scripture style, and to answer all the objections which profane and irreligious persons have made against it. And speaking of morality, considered as a rule of life, he says, “I have formerly taken pains to peruse books of morality, yet since they have only a power to persuade, but not to command, and sin and death do not necessarily attend the disobedience of them, they have the less influence: for since we may take the liberty to question human writers, I find that the methods they take to impose their writings upon us may serve to countenance either truth or falsehood.”
His zeal to propagate Christianity in the world appears by many and large benefactions to that end, which are enumerated in his funeral sermon: “He was at the charge of the translation and impression of the New Testament into the Malayan language, which he sent over all the East-Indies. He gave a noble reward to him that translated Grotius’s incomparable book of the Truth of the Christian Religion into Arabic; and was at the charge of a whole impression, which he took care to order to be distributed in all the countries where that language is understood. He was resolved to have carried on the impression of the New Testament in the Turkish language; but the company thought it became them to be the doers of it, and so suffered him only to give a large share towards it.—He was at seven hundred pounds charge in the edition of the Irish Bible, which he ordered to be distributed in Ireland; and he contributed largely both to the impression of the Welsh Bible, and of the Irish Bible in Scotland. He gave, during his life, three hundred pounds to advance the design of propagating the Christian religion in America; and as soon as he heard that the East-India Company were entertaining propositions for the like design in the East, he presently sent an hundred pounds for a beginning and an example, but intended to carry it much farther, when it should be set on foot to purpose. He had designed, though some accidents did, upon great considerations, divert him from settling it during his life, but not from ordering it by his will, that a liberal provision should be made for one who should, in a very few well-digested sermons, every year, set forth the truth of the Christian religion in general, without descending to the subdivisions amongst Christians; and who should be changed every third year, that so the noble study and employment might pass through many hands, by which means many might become masters of the argument.
In his younger years he had thoughts of entering into holy orders: and one reason that determined him against it was, that he believed he might in some respects be more serviceable to religion, by continuing a layman. “His having no interests with relation to religion, besides those of saving his own soul, gave him as he thought, a more unsuspected authority in writing or acting on that side. He knew the profane crew fortified themselves against all that was said by men of our profession, with this, that it was their trade, and that they were paid for it; he hoped therefore that he might have the more influence the less he shared in the patrimony of the church.”
Mr. Locke, whose accurate talent in reasoning is much celebrated, even by the sceptics and infidels of our times, showed his zeal for Christianity, first, in his middle age, by publishing a discourse on purpose to demonstrate the reasonableness of believing Jesus to be the promised Messiah; and, after that, in the last years of his life, by a very judicious commentary upon several of the epistles of St. Paul.
He speaks of the Miracles wrought by our Saviour and his apostles in the strongest manner, both as facts unexceptionably true, and as the clearest evidences of a divine mission. His words are these: “The evidences of our Saviour’s mission from heaven is so great, in the multitude of his miracles he did before all sorts of people (which the divine providence and wisdom had so ordered, that they never were nor could be denied by any of the enemies and opposers of Christianity,) that what he delivered cannot but be received as the oracles of God, and unquestionable verity.” And again, “After his resurrection, he sent his apostles amongst the nations, accompanied with miracles; which were done in all parts so frequently, and before so many witnesses of all sorts in broad daylight, that, as I have often observed, the enemies of Christianity have never dared to deny them; no not Julian himself, who neither wanted skill nor power to inquire into the truth; nor would have failed to have proclaimed and exposed it, if he could have detected any falsehood in the history of the gospel, or found the least ground to question the matter of fact published by Christ and his apostles. The number and evidence of the miracles done by our Saviour and his followers, by the power and force of truth, bore down this mighty and accomplished emperor, and all his parts in his own dominions. He durst not deny so plain matter of fact; which being granted, the truth of our Saviour’s doctrine and mission unavoidably follows, notwithstanding whatsoever artful suggestions his wit could invent, or malice should offer to the contrary.
To those who ask, “What need was there of a Saviour? what advantage have we by Jesus Christ?” Mr. Locke replies, “It is enough to justify the fitness of any thing to be done by resolving it into the wisdom of God, who has done it; whereof our narrow understandings and short views may utterly incapacitate us to judge. We know little of this visible, and nothing at all of the state of that intellectual world (wherein are infinite numbers and degrees of spirits out of the reach of our ken or guess), and therefore know not what transactions there were between God and our Saviour in reference to his kingdom. We know not what need there was to set up a Head and a Chieftain in opposition to THE PRINCE OF THIS WORLD, THE PRINCE OF THE POWER OF THE AIR, &c. whereof there are more than obscure intimations in scriptures. And we shall take too much upon us, if we should call God’s wisdom or providence to account, and pertly condemn for needless all that our weak and perhaps biased understanding cannot account for.” And then shews at large the necessity there was of the gospel revelation, to deliver the world from the miserable state of darkness and ignorance that mankind were in, 1. As to the true knowledge of God, 2. As to the worship to be paid him, 3. As to the duties to be performed to him. To which he adds the mighty aids and encouragements to the performance of our duty, 1. From the assurance the gospel gives of future rewards and punishments; and, 2. From the promise of the Spirit of God to direct and assist us.
The holy scriptures are every where mentioned by him with the greatest reverence. He calls them the Holy Books, the Sacred Text, Holy Writ, and Divine Revelation and exhorts Christians “to betake themselves in earnest to the study of the way to salvation, in those holy writings wherein God has revealed it from heaven, and proposed it to the world; seeking our religion where we are sure it is in truth to be found, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” And, in a letter written the year before his death to one who asked this question, “What is the shortest and surest way, for a young Gentleman to attain to a true knowledge of the Christian religion, in the full and just extent of it?” his answer is, “Let him study the holy scripture, especially the New Testament. Therein are contained the words of eternal life. It has God for its Author; salvation for its end; and truths without any mixture of error, for its matter.” A direction that was copied from his own practice, in the latter part of his life, and after his retirement from business; when, for fourteen or fifteen years, he applied himself especially to the study of the holy Scriptures, and employed the last years of his life hardly in any thing else. He was never weary of admiring the great views of that sacred book, and the just relation of all its parts. He every day made discoveries in it, that gave him fresh cause of admiration.”
Of St. Paul in particular, upon several of whose epistles he drew up a most useful commentary, he says, “That he was miraculously called to the ministry of the gospel, and declared to be a chosen vessel:—That he had the whole doctrine of the gospel from God by immediate revelation:—That for his information in the Christian knowledge, and the mysteries and depths of the dispensation of God by Jesus Christ, God himself had condescended to be his instructor and teacher:—That he had received the light of the gospel from the Fountain and Father of light himself:—-and, That an exact observation of his reasonings and inferences, is the only safe guide for the right understanding of him, under the Spirit of God, that directed these sacred writings.”
And the death of this great man was agreeable to his life; for we are informed by one who was with him when he died, and had lived in the same family for seven years before, that the day before his death he particularly exhorted all about him to read the holy scriptures: That he desired to be remembered by them at evening prayers; and being told, that if he would, the whole family should come and pray by him in his chamber, he answered, he should be very glad to have it so, if it would not give too much trouble: That an occasion offering to speak of the goodness of God, he especially exalted the love which God shewed to man, in justifying him by faith in Jesus Christ; and returned God thanks in particular for having called him to the knowledge of that divine Saviour.
About two months before his death he drew up a letter to a gentleman (who afterwards distinguished himself by a very different way of thinking and writing) and left this direction upon it, “To be delivered to him after my decease.” In it are these remarkable words, “This life is a scene of vanity that soon passes away, and affords no solid satisfaction, but in the consciousness of doing well, and in the hopes of another life. This is what I can say upon experience, and what you will find to be true, when you came to make up the account.”
Sir Isaac Newton, universally acknowledged to be the ablest philosopher and mathematician that this or perhaps any other nation has produced, is also well known to have been a firm believer, and a serious Christian. His discoveries concerning the frame and system of the universe were applied by him, as Mr. Boyle’s inquiries into nature had been, to demonstrate, against Atheists of all kinds, the being of a God, and illustrate his power and wisdom in the creation of the world. Of which a better account cannot be given, than in the words of an ingenious person who has been much conversant in his philosophical writings: “At the end of his mathematical principles of natural philosophy he has given us his thoughts concerning the Deity, wherein he first observes, that the similitude found in all parts of the universe, makes it undoubted that the whole is governed by one supreme Being, to whom the original is owing of the frame of nature, which evidently is the effect of choice and design. He then proceeds briefly to state the best metaphysical notions concerning God. In short, we cannot conceive either of space or time otherwise than as necessarily existing; this being therefore, on whom all others depend, must certainly exist by the same necessity of nature; consequently wherever space and time is found there God must also be. And as it appears impossible to us that space should be limited, or that time should have had a beginning, the Deity must be both immense and eternal “
This great man applied himself, with the utmost attention, to the study of the holy scriptures, and considered the several parts of them with an uncommon exactness; particularly, as to the order of time, and the series of prophecies and events relating to the Messiah. Upon which head he left behind him an elaborate discourse, to prove, that the famous prophecy of Daniel’s weeks, which has been so industriously perverted by the Deists of our times, was an express prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Mr. Addison, so deservedly celebrated for an uncommon accuracy in thinking and reasoning, has given abundant proof of his firm belief of Christianity, and his zeal against infidels of all kinds, in the writings that are here published of which it is certainly known that a great part of them were his own compositions.
I mention not these great names, nor the testimonies they have given of their firm belief of the truth of Christianity, as if the evidences of our religion were to be finally resolved into human authority, or tried in any other way than by the known and established rules of right reason; but my design in mentioning them is,
1. To shew the very great assurance of those who would make the belief of revelation inconsistent with the due use of our reason; when they have known so many eminent instances, in our own time, of the greatest masters of reason, not only believing revelation, but zealously concerned to establish and propagate the belief of it.
2. The remembrance of this will also be a means, on one hand, to hinder well meaning people from being misled by the vain boasts of our modern pretenders to reason; and, on the other hand, to check the inclination of the wicked and vicious to be misled, when both of them have before their eyes such fresh and eminent instances of sound reasoning, and a firm faith, joined together in one and the same mind.
3. Further, as these were persons generally esteemed for virtue and goodness, and notwithstanding their high attainments, remarkable for their modesty and humility; their examples shew us, that a strong and clear reason naturally leads to the belief of revelation, when it is not under the influences of vice or pride.
4. And finally, as they are all laymen, there is no room for the enemies of revealed religion, to allege that they were prejudiced by interest, or secular considerations of any kind. A suggestion that has really no weight, when urged against the writings of the clergy in defence of revelation, since they do not desire to be trusted upon their own authority, but upon the reasons they offer; lawyers and physicians are not less trusted, because they live by their professions; but it is a suggestion that easily takes hold of weak minds, and especially such as catch at objections, and are willing to be caught by them. And, considering the diligence of the adversary in making proselytes, and drawing men from the faith of Christ; equal diligence is required of those who are to maintain that faith, not only to leave men no real ground, but even no colour or pretence for their infidelity.
The following discourses, except that concerning the Evidences of Christian Religion, were all published in separate papers some years ago, and afterwards collected into volumes, with marks of distinction at the end of many of them, to point out the writers. Mr. Addison’s are there distinguished by some one of the letters of the word CLIO; and the same marks of distinction are here continued; as are also the rest, where any letter was found at the end of the discourse.
* * * Mr. Addison having left his treatise on the truth of the Christian religion unfinished, the Publisher, to make it somewhat more complete, selected, from the Spectator, several papers (mostly the author’s) on the being and perfections of God, the nature of religion, the immortality of the soul, and a future state; and printed them with it. But though the treatise and the other papers are well calculated to prove the truth of, and recommend the Christian religion to, the faith and practice of mankind; yet their influences will be but small, till men are awakened out of that insensibility into which they are fallen, and brought to believe how much they are interested in the great truths Christianity reveals. To beget thought and excite inquiry it was judged the following extract from Mons. Pascal’s Thoughts, against an atheistical indifference, would neither be an improper, nor an unacceptable introduction to the subsequent papers.
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