A Rebuttal to Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason” – Letter X
APOLOGY FOR THE BIBLE
SERIES OF LETTERS,
AUTHOR OF A BOOK ENTITLED, “THE AGE OF REASON, PART
THE SECOND, BEING AN INVESTIGATION OF TRUE AND OF
RIGHT REV. RICHARD WATSON, D.D.
LATE LORD OF LANDAFF.
This version ©2006 – 2009 Perry S. Marshall & Associates. All Rights Reserved.
The remaining part of your work can hardly be made the subject of animad version. It principally consists of unsupported assertions, abusive appellations, illiberal sarcasms, strifes of words, profane babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called.
I am hurt at being, in mere justice to the subject, under the necessity of using such harsh language; and am sincerely sorry that, from what cause I know not, your mind has received a wrong bias in every point respecting revealed religion.
You are capable of better things; for there is a philosophical sublimity in some of your ideas, when you speak of the Supreme Being as the creator of the universe that you may not accuse me of disrespect, in passing over any part of your work without bestowing proper attention upon it; I will wait upon you through what you call your – conclusion.
You refer your reader to the former part of the Age of Reason; in which you have spoken of what you esteem three frauds – mystery, miracle, and prophecy.
I have not at hand the book to which you refer, and know not what you have said on these subjects: they are subjects of great importance, and we, probably, should differ essentially in our opinion concerning them.
But I confess I am not sorry to be excused from examining what you have said on these points. The specimen of your reasoning, which is now before me, has taken from me every inclination to trouble either my reader or myself with any observations on your former book.
You admit to the possibility of God’s revealing his will to man, yet “the thing so revealed,” you say, “is revelation to the person only to whom it is made; his account of it to another is not revelation.” This is true. His account is simple testimony.
You add, “There is no possible criterion to judge of the truth of what he says.” This I positively deny and contend, that a real miracle, performed in attestation of a revealed truth, is a certain criterion by which we may judge of the truth of that attestation.
I am perfectly aware of the objections which may be made to this position. I have examined them with care. I acknowledge them to be of weight, but I do not speak unadvisedly or as wishing to dictate to other men, when I say, that I am persuaded the position is true.
So thought Moses, when, in the matter of Korah, he said to the Israelites, “If these men die the common death of all men, then the Lord hath not sent me.” So thought Elijah, when he said, “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be know this day, that thou art God in Israel, and that I am they servant.”
And the people, before whom he spoke, were of the same opinion. For, when the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt-sacrifice, they said, “The Lord he is the God.” So thought our Savior, when he said, “The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of Me” and, “If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not.”
What reason have we to believe Jesus speaking in the Gospel and to disbelieve Mahomet speaking in the Koran? Both of them lay claim to a divine commission and yet we receive the words of the one as a revelation from God, and we reject the words of the other, as an imposture of man.
The reason is evident; Jesus established his pretensions, not by alleging any secret communication with the Deity, but by working numerous and indubitable miracles in the presence of thousands, and which the most bitter and watchful of his enemies could not disallow.
But Mahomet wrought no miracles at all. Nor is a miracle the only criterion by which we may judge of the truth of a revelation.
If a series of prophets should, through a course of many centuries, predict the appearance of a certain person, whom God would, at a particular time, send into the world for a particular end and at length a person should appear, in whom all the predictions were minutely accomplished: such a completion of prophecy would be a criterion of the truth of that revelation, which that person should deliver to mankind.
Or if a person should now say, (as many false prophets have said, and are daily saying) that he had a commission to declare the will of God; and, as a proof of his veracity, should predict that after his death, he would rise from the dead on the third day.
The completion of such a prophecy would I presume, be sufficient criterion of the truth of what this man might have said, concerning the will of God. Now I tell you, (says Jesus to his disciples, concerning Judas, who was to betray him) before it come, that when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he.
In various parts of the Gospels, our Savior, with the utmost propriety, claims to be received as the messenger of God, not only from the miracles which he wrought, but from the prophecies which were fulfilled in his person, and from the predictions which he himself delivered.
Hence, instead of there being no criterion by which we may judge of the truth of the Christian revelation, there are clearly three. It is an easy matter to use an indecorous flippancy of language in speaking of the Christian religion, and with a supercilious negligence, to class Christ and his apostles amongst the impostors who have figured in the world. But it is not, I think, an easy matter for any man, of good sense and sound erudition, to make an impartial examination into any one of the three grounds of Christianity which I have here mentioned and to reject it.
What is it, you ask. The Bible teaches? The prophet Micah shall answer you, it teacheth us – “to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.” Justice, mercy, and piety, instead of what you contend for – rapine, cruelty, and murder.
What is it, you demand, the Testament teaches us? You answer your question – to believe that the Almighty committed debauchery with a woman. Absurd and impious assertion!
No, Sir, no; this profane doctrine, this miserable stuff, this blasphemous perversion of Scripture, is your doctrine, not that of the New Testament. I will tell you the lesson which it teaches to infidels as well as to believers; it is a lesson which philosophy never taught, which wit cannot ridicule, nor sophistry disprove.
The lesson is this, “The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live. All that are in their graves shall come forth. They that have done good, unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”
The moral precepts of the Gospel are so well fitted to promote the happiness of mankind in this world, and to prepare human nature for the future enjoyment of that blessedness, of which, in our present state, we can form no conception, that I had no expectation they would have met with your disapprobation.
You say, however, “as to the scraps of morality, that are irregularly and thinly scattered in those book, they make no part of the pretended thing, revealed religion.” “Whatsoever ye, would that men should do to you, do you even so to them.”
Is this a scrap of morality? Is it not rather the concentric essence of all ethics, the vigorous root from which every branch of moral duty towards each other may be derived? Duties you know are distinguished by moralists into duties of perfect and imperfect obligation.
Does the Bible teach you nothing, when it instructs you that this distinction is done away? When it bids you “put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing on another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any.”
These, and precepts such as these, you will in vain look for in the codes of Frederic, or Justinia. You cannot find them in our statute book; they were not taught, nor are they taught in the schools of heathen philosophy. Or, if some one or two of them should chance to be glanced at by a Plato, a Seneca, or a Cicero, they are not bound upon the consciences of mankind by any sanction.
It is in the Gospel and in the Gospel alone, that we learn their importance. Acts of benevolence and brotherly love may be to an unbeliever voluntary acts; to a Christian they are indispensable duties.
Is a new commandment no part of revealed religion? “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another” the law of Christian benevolence is enjoined us by Christ himself in the most solemn manner, as the distinguishing badge of our being his disciples.
Two precepts you particularize as inconsistent with the dignity and the nature of man – that of not resenting injuries, and that of loving enemies. Who but yourself ever interpreted literally the proverbial phrase, “If a man smite thee on they right cheek, turn to him the other also!”
Did Jesus himself turn the other cheek when the officer of the high priest smote him? It is evident, that a patient acquiescence under slight personal injuries is here enjoined; and that a proneness to revenge, which instigates men to savage acts of brutality, for every trifling offence, is forbidden.
As to loving enemies, it is explained, in another place, to mean, the doing them all the good in our power. “If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink.”
And what think you is more likely to preserve peace and to promote kind affections amongst men, than the returning good for evil? Christianity does not order us to love in proportion to the inkery – “it dost not offer a premium for a crime,” – it orders us to let our benevolence extend alike to all, that we may emulate the benignity of God himself, who maketh “his sun to rise on the evil and on the good.”
In the Law of Moses, retaliation for deliberate injuries had been ordained – an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Aristotle, in his treatise of morals, says, that some thought retaliation of personal wrongs an equitable proceeding.
Rhadamanthus is said to have given it his sanction. The decemviral laws allowed it; the common law of England did not forbid it; and it is said to be still the law of some countries even in Christendom.
But the mild spirit of Christianity absolutely prohibits not only the retention of injuries, but the indulgence of every resentful propensity.
“It has been,” you affirm, “the scheme of the Christian church to hold man in ignorance of the Creator, as it is of government to hold him in ignorance of his rights.”
I appeal to the plain sense of any honest man to judge whether this representation be true in either particular. When he attends the service of the Church, dost he discover any design in the minister to keep him in ignorance of his Creator?
Are not the public prayers in which he joins, the lessons which are read to him, the sermons which are preached to him, all calculated to impress upon his mind a strong conviction of the mercy, justice, holiness, power, and wisdom of the one adorable God, blessed for ever?
By these means which the Christian Church hath provided for our instruction, I will venture to say, that the most unlearned congregation of Christians in Great Britain have more just and sublime conceptions of the Creator, a more perfect knowledge of their duty towards him and a stronger inducement to the practice of virtue, holiness, and temperance, than all the philosophers of all the heathen countries in the world ever had, or now have.
If, indeed, your scheme should take place, and men should no longer believe their Bible, then would they soon become as ignorant of the Creator, as all the world was, when God called Abraham from his kindred? And as all the world, which has had no communication with either Jews or Christians, now is.
Then would they soon bow down to stocks and stones, kiss their hand (as they did in the time of Job, and as the poor African does now,) to the moon walking in brightness, and deny the God that is above; then would they worship Jupiter, Bracchus, and Venus, and emulate, in the transcendent flagitiousness of their lives, the impure morals of their gods.
What design has government to keep men in ignorance of their rights? None whatever.
All wise statesmen are persuaded that the more men know of their rights, the better subjects they will become. Subjects, not from necessity but choice, are the firmest friends of every government.
The people of Great Britain are well acquainted with their natural and social rights. They understand them better than the people of any other country do; they know that they have a right to be free, not only from the capricious tyranny of any one man’s will, but from the more afflicting despotism of republican factions.
And it is this very knowledge which attaches them to the constitution of their country. I have no fear that the people should know too much of their rights.
My fear is that they should not know them in all their relations and to their full extent. The government does not desire that men should remain in ignorance of their rights; but it both desires, and requires, that they should not disturb the public peace, under vain pretences.
That they should make themselves acquainted, not merely with the rights, but with the duties also of men in civil society. I am far from ridiculing (as some have done) the rights of man.
I have long ago understood, that the poor as well as the rich, and that the rich as well as the poor, have by nature some rights, which no human government can justly take from them, without their tacit or express consent and some also, which they themselves have no power to surrender to any government.
One of the principal rights of man, in a state either of nature or of society, is a right of property in the fruits of his industry, ingenuity, or good fortune. Does government hold any man in ignorance of this right?
So much the contrary that the chief care of government is to declare, ascertain, modify, and defend this right. Nay, it gives right, where nature gives none; it protects the goods of an intestate; and it allows a man at his death, to dispose of that property, which the law of nature would cause to revert into the common stock.
Sincerely as I am attached to the liberties of mankind, I cannot but profess myself an utter enemy to that spurious philosophy, that democratic insanity, which would equalize all property, and level all distinctions in civil society.
Personal distinctions, arising from superior probity, learning, eloquence, skill, courage, and from every other excellency of talents, are the very blood and nerves of the body politic. They animate the whole and invigorate every part. Without them, its bones would become reeds, and its marrow water.
It would presently sink into a fetid senseless mass of corruption. Power may be used for private ends and in opposition to the public good; rank may be improperly conferred and insolently sustained. Riches may be wickedly acquired and viciously applied: but as this is neither necessarily, nor generally the case, I cannot agree with those who, in asserting the natural equality of men, spurn the instituted distinctions attending power, rank, and riches.
But I mean not to enter into any discussion on this subject, farther than to say, that your crimination of government appears to me to be wholly unfounded and to express my hope, that no one individual will be so far misled by disquisitions on the rights of man, as to think that he has any right to do wrong, as to forget that other men have rights as well as he.
You are animated with proper sentiments of piety, when you speak of the structure of the universe.
No one, indeed, who considers it with attention, can fail of having his mind filled with the supremest veneration for its Author.
Who can contemplate, without astonishment, the motion of a comet, running far beyond the orb of Saturn, endeavoring to escape into the pathless regions of unbounded space, yet feeling, at its utmost distance, the attractive influence of the sun, hearing, as it were, the voice of God arresting its progress, and compelling it, after a lapse of ages, to reiterate its ancient course?
Who can comprehend the distance of the stars from the earth, and from each other? It is so great, that it mocks our conception; our very imagination is terrified, confounded, and lost, when we are told, that a ray of light, which moves at the rate of above ten millions of miles in a minute, will not, though emitted at this instant from the brightest star, reach the earth in less than six years.
We think this earth a great globe, and we see the sad wickedness, which individuals are often guilty of, in scraping together a little of its dirt.
We view, with still greater astonishment and horror, the mighty ruin which has, in all ages, been brought upon human kind, by the low ambition of contending powers, to acquire a temporary possession of a little portion of its surface.
But how dost the whole of this globe sink, as it were, to nothing, when we consider that a million of earths will scarcely equal the bulk of the sun. That all the stars are suns and that millions of suns constitute, probably, but a minute portion of that material world, which God hath distributed through the immensity of space.
Systems, however, of insensible matter, though arranged in exquisite order, prove only the wisdom and the power of the great Architect of nature. As percipient beings, we look for something more – for his goodness – and we cannot open our eyes without seeing it.
Every portion of the earth, sea, and air, is full of sensitive beings, capable, in their respective orders, of enjoying good things which God has prepared for their comfort.
All the orders of beings are enabled to propagate their kind and thus provision is made for a successive continuation of happiness. Individuals yield to the law of dissolution, inseparable from the material structure of their bodies, but no gap is thereby left in existence.
Their place is occupied by other individuals capable of participating in the goodness of the Almighty.
Contemplations such as these fill the mind with humility, benevolence, and piety. But why should we stop here? Why not contemplate the goodness of God in the redemption, as well as in the creation of the world?
By the death of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, he hath redeemed the whole human race from the eternal death, which the transgression of Adam had entailed on all his posterity.
You believe nothing about the transgression of Adam. The history of Eve and the serpent excites your contempt. You will not admit that it is either a real history or an allegorical representation of death entering into the world through sin, through disobedience to the command of God.
Be it so. You find, however, that death doth reign over all mankind, by whatever means it was introduced. This is not a matter of belief, but of lamentable knowledge. The New Testament tells us, that through the merciful dispensation of God, Christ hath overcome death, and restored man to that immortality which Adam had lost.
This also you refuse to believe. Why? Because, you cannot account for the propriety of this redemption. Miserable reason! Stupid objection! What is there that you can account for? Not for the germination of a blade of grass, not for the fall of a leaf of the forest – and will you refuse to eat of the fruits of the earth, because God has not given you wisdom equal to his own?
Will you refuse to lay hold on immortality, because he has not given you, because he, probably, could not give to such a being as man, a full manifestation of the end for which he designs him, nor of the means requisite for the attainment of that end?
What father of a family can make level to the apprehension of his infant children all the views of happiness which his paternal goodness is preparing for them? How can he explain to them the utility of reproof, correction, instruction, example, of all the various means by which he forms their minds to piety, temperance and probity?
We are children in the hand of God. We are in the very infancy of our existence; just separated from the womb of eternal duration.
It may not be possible for the Father of the universe to explain to us (infants in apprehension?) the goodness and the wisdom of his dealings with the sons of men.
What qualities of mind will be necessary for our well doing through all eternity, we know not. What discipline in this infancy of existence may be necessary for generating these qualities, we know not.
Whether God could, or could not, consistently with the general good, I have forgiven the transgression of Adam, without any atonement, we know not.
Whether the malignity of sin be not so great, so opposite to the general good, that it cannot be forgiven whilst it exists, that is, whilst the mind retains a propensity to it, we know not. So that, if there should be much greater difficulty in comprehending the mode of God’s moral government of mankind, than there really is, there would be no reason for doubting of its rectitude.
If the whole human race be considered as but one small member of a large community of free and intelligent beings of different orders, and if this whole community be subject to discipline and laws productive of the greatest possible good to the whole system, then may we still more reasonably suspect our capacity to comprehend the wisdom and goodness of all God’s proceedings in the moral government of the universe.
You are lavish in your praise of deism; it is so much better than atheism that I mean not to say any thing to its discredit.
It is not however, without its difficulties. What think you of an uncaused cause of every thing? Of a Being who has no relation to time, not being older today than he was yesterday, nor younger today than he will be tomorrow?
Who has no relation to space, not being a part here and a part there, or a whole anywhere? What think you of an omniscient Being, who cannot know the future actions of a man? Or, if his omniscience enables him to know them, what think you of the contingency of human actions?
And if human actions are not contingent, what think you of the morality of actions, of the distinction between vice and virtue, crime and innocence, sin and duty? What think you of the infinite goodness of a Being, who existed through eternity, without any emanation of his goodness manifested in the creation of sensitive beings?
Or, if you contend that there has been an eternal creation, what think you of an effect coeval with its cause, of matter not posterior to its Maker? What think you of the existence of evil, moral and natural, in the work of an infinite Being, powerful, wise, and good? What think you of the gift of freedom of will, when the abuse of freedom becomes the cause of general misery?
I could propose to your consideration a great many other questions of a similar tendency, the contemplation of which has driven not a few from deism to atheism, just as the difficulties in revealed religion have driven yourself, and some others, from Christianity to deism.
For my own part, I can see no reason why either revealed or natural religion should be abandoned on account of the difficulties which attend either of them. I look up to the incomprehensible Maker of Heaven and earth with unspeakable admiration and self-annihilation, and am a deist.
I contemplate, with the utmost gratitude and humility of mind, his unsearchable wisdom and goodness in the redemption of the world from eternal death, through the intervention of his Son Jesus Christ, and am a Christian. As a deist, I have little expectation; as a Christian, I have no doubt of a future state.
I speak for myself, and may be in an error, as to the ground of the first part of this opinion.
You and other men may conclude differently. From the inert nature of matter – from the faculties of the human mind – from the apparent imperfection of God’s moral government of the world from many modes of analogical reasoning, and from other sources, some of the philosophers of antiquity did collect, and modern philosophers may, perhaps, collect a strong probability of a future existence; and not only of a future existence, but (which is quite a distinct question) of a future state of retribution, proportioned to our moral conduct in this world.
Far be it from me to loosen any of the obligations to virtue; but I must confess that you cannot, from the same sources of argumentation derive any positive assurance on the subject.
Think then with what thankfulness of heart I receive the word of God, which tells me, that though “in Adam (by the condition of our nature) all die” yet “in Christ (by covenant of grace) shall all be made alive.”
I lay hold on “eternal life as the gift of God through Jesus Christ.” I consider it not as any appendage to the nature I derive from Adam, but as the free gift of the Almighty, through his Son, whom he has constituted Lord of all, the Savior, the Advocate, and the Judge of human kind.
“Deism,” you affirm, “teaches us, without the possibility of being mistaken all that is necessary or proper to be known.” There are three things, which all reasonable men admit are necessary and proper to be known – the being of God – the providence of God – a future state of retribution.
Whether these three truths are so taught us by deism, that there is no possibility of being mistaken concerning any of them, let the history of philosophy and of idolatry and superstition, in all ages and countries, determine.
A volume might be filled with an account of the mistakes into which the greatest reasoners have fallen and of the uncertainty in which they lived, with respect to every one of these points. I will advert, briefly, only to the last of them.
Notwithstanding the illustrious labours of Gassendi, Cudworth, Clarke, Baxter, and of above two hundred other modern writers on the subject, the natural mortality or immortality of the human soul is as little understood by us, as it was by the philosophers of Greece or Rome.
The opposite opinions of Plato and of Epicurus, on this subject, have their several supporters amongst the learned of the present age, in Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, in every enlightened part of the world. And they who have been most seriously occupied in the study of the question concerning a future state, as deducible from the nature of the human soul, are least disposed to give from reason a positive decision of it either way.
The importance of revelation is by nothing rendered more apparent, than by the discordant sentiments of learned and good men (for I speak not of the ignorant and immoral) on this point. They shew the insufficiency of human reason, in a course of above two thousand years to unfold the mysteries of human nature, and to furnish, from the contemplation of it, any assurance from the quality of our future condition.
If you should ever become persuaded of this insufficiency, (and you can scarce fail of becoming so, if you examine the matter deeply) you will, if you act rationally, be disposed to investigate, with seriousness and impartiality, the truth of Christianity, you will say of the Gospel, as the Nurthumbrian heathens said of Paulinus, by whom they were converted to the Christian religion – “The more we reflect on the nature of our soul, the less we know of it.
Whilst it animates our body, we may know some of its properties; but when once separated, we know not whither it goes, or from whence it came. Since then the Gospel pretends to give us clearer notions of these matters, we ought to hear it, and, laying aside all passion and prejudice, follow that which shall appear most conformable to right reason.”
What a blessing is it to beings, with such limited capacities as ours confessedly are, to have God himself for our instructor in everything which it much concerns us to know!
We are principally concerned in knowing – not the origin of arts, or the recondite depths of science – not the histories of mighty empires desolating the globe by their contentions – not the subtleties of logic, the mysteries of metaphysics, the sublimities of poetry, or the niceties of criticism.
These, and subjects such as these, properly occupy the learned leisure of a few, but the bulk of human kind have ever been, and must ever remain, ignorant of them all. They must, of necessity, remain in the same state with that which a German emperor voluntarily put himself into, when he made a resolution, bordering on barbarism, that he would never read a printed book.
We are all, of every rank and condition, equally concerned in knowing what will become of us after death. And, if we are to live again, we are interested in knowing whether it be possible for us to do anything whilst we live here, which may render that future life a happy one.
Now, “that thing called Christianity,” as you scoffingly speak – that last best gift of Almighty God, as I esteem it, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, has given us the most clear and satisfactory information on both these points. It tells us, what deism never could have told us, that we shall certainly be raised from the dead – that, whatever be the nature of the soul, we shall certainly live for ever – and that, whilst we live here, it is possible for us to do much towards the rendering that everlasting life a happy one.
These are tremendous truths to bad men. They cannot be received and reflected on with indifference by the best and they suggest to all such a cogent motive to virtuous action, as deism could not furnish even to Brutus himself.
Some men have been warped to infidelity by viciousness of life and some may have hypocritically professed Christianity from prospects of temporal advantage. But, being a stranger to your character, I neither impute the former to you, nor can admit the latter as operating on myself.
The generality of unbelievers are such, from want of information on the subject of religion, having been engaged from their youth in struggling for worldly distinction, or perplexed with the incessant intricacies of business, or bewildered in the pursuits of pleasure.
They have neither ability, inclination, nor leisure, to enter into critical disquisitions concerning the truth of Christianity. Men of this description are soon startled by objections which they are not competent to answer and the loose morality of the age (so opposite to Christian perfection) cooperating with their want of scriptural knowledge, they presently get rid of their nursery faith and are seldom sedulous in the acquisition of another , founded, not on authority, but sober investigation.
Presuming, however, that many deists are as sincere in their belief as I am in mine, and knowing that some are more able and all as much interested as myself, to make a rational inquiry in to the truth of revealed religion, I feel no propensity to judge uncharitably of any of them.
They do not think as I do, on a subject surpassing all others in importance. But they are not on that account, to be spoken of by me with asperity of language, to be thought of by me as persons alienated from the mercies of God.
The Gospel has been offered to their acceptance; and from whatever cause they reject it, I cannot but esteem their situation to be dangerous.
Under the influence of that persuasion I have been induced to write this book. I do not expect to derive from it either fame or profit. These are not improper incentives to honourable activity, but there is a time of life when they cease to direct the judgment of thinking men.
What I have written will not, I fear, make any impression on you, but I indulge a hope that it may not be without its effect on some of your readers.
Infidelity is a rank weed. It threatens to overspread the land; its root is principally fixed amongst the great and opulent, but you are endeavouring the extent d malignity of its poison through all the classes of the community.
There is a class of men, for whom I have the greatest respect, and whom I am anxious to preserve from the contamination of your irreligion – the merchants, manufacturers, and tradesmen of kingdom.
I consider the influence of the example of this class as essential to the welfare of the community. I know that they are in general given to reading, and desirous of information on all subjects.
If this little book should chance to fall into their hands after they have read yours, and they should think that any of your objections to the authority of the Bible have not been fully answered, I entreat them to attribute the omission to the brevity which I have studied; to my desire of avoiding learned disquisitions; to my inadvertency; to my inability; to anything, rather than to an impossibility of completely obviating every difficulty you have brought forward.
I address the same request to such of the youth of both sexes, as may unhappily have imbibed from your writings, the poison of infidelity; beseeching them to believe, that all their religious doubts may be removed, though it may not have been in my power to answer, to their satisfaction, all your objections.
I pray God that the rising generation of this land may be preserved from that “evil heart of unbelief,” which has brought ruin on a neighbouring nation; that neither a neglected education, nor domestic irreligion, nor evil communication, nor the fashion of a licentious world may ever induce them to forget, that religion alone ought to be their rule of life.
In the conclusion of my Apology for Christianity, I informed Mr. Gibbon of my extreme aversion to public controversy.
I am now twenty years older than I was then, and I perceive that this my aversion has increased with my age. I have, through life, abandoned my little literary productions to their fate; such of them as have been attacked, have never received any deference from me; nor will this receive any, if it should meet with your public notice, or with that of any other man.
Sincerely wishing that you may become a partaker of that faith in revealed religion, which is the foundation of my happiness in this world, and of all my hopes in another, I bid you farewell.
Jan. 20, 1796