To [Jeremiah Barker?]

    Biddeford        13 January 1814

    My dear Sir

    Yesterday I recieved yours of the 8th inst., together with Mr. English’s book,1 which seems to have created considerable indignation in your mind against the author of a work you consider very wicked & even blasphemous—I read your letter through yesterday; and have read again to day half of the first page, and noting at the conclusion, (for like Girls in reading novels, I, in reading letters, often turn to see how the concluding sentence ends) that you would not be displeased at my sending you my sentiments after reading yours I shall now comply with your request—

    I shall deal pretty much in generals, because I have not leisure to look into books to enable me to be more particular—And first I will submit a general observation that has often rose in my mind when reading, or thinking on the controversy between Christians and Deists. You have often heard me observe to two Gentleman, at the bar, each contending, for the cause of his client, against his Antagonist, that it would greatly facilitate the discovery of the real justice in the cause, if they would take a retrospect of all the evidence in the cause & make reasonable deductions on both sides, such as the jury will make, & see whether there is, in fact, any ground for a difference of opinion, & what that diversity is? Now I am inclined to think if you will coolly set down & see wherein Deists & Christians differ you will remit back much of the warm animated feelings you have expressed against Mr. E. & such writers in general—I have not yet read the whole of his book; but in reading the first forty or fifty pages, I had nothing like the feelings & sentiments you seem to have on the occasion—I look upon him as an honest man contending for the truth, as much as the honest young men lately gone to India to preach down Jugonautism, & plant the religion of Jesus in its room2—I may think him in an error; and probably thousands of the worshippers of the great Idol may at first laugh at, dispise & pronounce our honest missionaries, also in an error, if not something worse—but we must bear in mind, that our opinions do not make their moral characters—I know nothing of Mr. E. but what I see of him as an author in his books; for I have lately read his reply to Mr. Cary, & Mr. Channing3—He certainly appears to have made sacrifices of interest, if the abandoning a profession, may be so denominated, for what he calls the truth. He may nevertheless be wrong, but I have no authority as a follower of Jesus to say more of him, than that I believe him to be in an error—& pray for his conversion—So far I think you will agree with me—

    But I blame him, & Mr. Cary for the censorious & bitter language they make use of in their writings;4 & permit me to say, you my friend, have suffered feelings to rise in your mind, while reading the controversy, that have a tendency to shut it against a ready perception of the truth.

    “As to the internal evidence of the divinity of Christianity, it seems to you impossible that it should be doubted, unless a better System can be offered to mankind in its stead. No Deist, you believe, from Celsus5 down to Mr. E. has ever pretended that this can be done.” You appear by this not to have an absolute conviction of the divinity of christianity, but it is only a conviction sub modo or qualified, untill some better system shall be presented to mankind; and then I suppose you will abandon the christian System & place your confidence in that better System. This is exactly the case with Mr. E. if we believe what he has written as to the progress of his own mind relative to this subject.

    I believe the principle Deists have complained of the christian morality, & attempted to point out improvements from Jewish & heathen writers or philosophers—I say I believe they have thus complained & attempted—I shall not say that I think their complaints are at all founded, or that they have succeeded in their amendments. This is a different question altogether—I believe that Tom Paine one of the least respectable of any of the Deistical writers in the English class of them made this pretention.

    Tho great reliance has been made on the internal evidence for the last forty years, since it was so elegantly stated by the Author of the Letters on the Origin of Evil,6 yet many Divines, among whom is ----- McClain, the translator of Moshime Ecclesiastical history,7 consider that but of a secondary nature & that too much stress may be laid upon it.

    “You say you are at a loss to know what mankind can gain by being undecieved, in case Christianity be really a delusion?” And so is every body but the deists themselves. I have often endeavoured to examine this question to discover, if by any data in my knowledge, how, & by what means, or process the Christian part of the world, could be ameliorated by a total disbelief & actual rejection of the Christian religion; It is an historic fact that I believe is susceptible of the fullest proof; that wherever the christian religion has been adopted the people have been better men in all senses of the word, good & better, than where it has not been recieved. Now if this be a fact—it seems to follow that there is something or other, included in the system, that tends to improve the human race; because where this system has not been adopted, that portion of the human race are not so much improved as the christian. I am sensible a further enquiry may be made, is that something or other which has operated exclusively within the christian world, & produced the assumed amelioration of man, a part of the christian system? This starts a variety of important questions which at some convenient time we, with others of our acquaintance, will talk over & endeavour mutually to assist each other in making up our minds; And for the present I will only suggest that it appears to me necessary to analize the christian religion into its various parts & note how much of what is commonly included under the common title of christianity is, has been, or might have been discovered by the natural powers of man in examining his frame of body & mind together with the other parts of the universe; also that facts that are included as parts of the system—also the morality or human duties distinguishing those clearly revealed or for the first time declared & made known by Jesus from those that were before that time known & taught more or less by nations—Also the Institutions of the Christian world, again distinguishing those that are directly from Christ or his apostles from those derived from the Jews or other nations, & from such as the christian religion as it was taught during the four or five first centuries, gave occasion to rise up in the world—For I shall be in favour of giving credit to Jesus or his religion for all the institutions that have actually sprung out of his societies, & which have been among the mass of operating causes in the amelioration of man; and this is the more just as the Deists are always for debating him or his religion or the professors of his religion with all the institutions, sentiments & persecutions that have sprung up in Christendom & have tended to darken the mind, debase the heart & barbarize the habits of his professors.

    It will be nothing to their purpose for Deists to say, that if the Christian religion had not have been embraced & taught in Christendom something else might have been taught it its room that would have advanced the countries, where christianity has been taught, to a higher state of moral & political & religious perfection than they now are. This must be the merest assumption without a single fact to support it. Nor do I think you are correct in saying “that the establishment of Deism would degrade man below the brute. Could Society remain long in mere Deism?”

    What is Deism? Here we must do justice to our opponents; And it will be as incorrect reasoning to charge the irregular lives of a few persons whom we may call deists, or who may call themselves deists, upon deism as her natural & legitimate fruits, as it would be to set the temper, agency & principles of Calvin, when he burnt Servetus,8 to the score of Christ or his religion. We must endeavour as much as possible not to charge upon a religion the conduct of men who are not influenced by its spirit & principles. Man may be educated under the profession of a religion & yet have never acquired the habits & temper which are the natural fruits of the religion they profess; As speculative men may draw inferences from facts and propositions contained & admitted as truths in their system, & endeavour to palm them on the system as parts of it, which in fact are no more than suppositions & chimeras of the brains of an enthusiast.

    But what is Deism—it is generally defined [as] that knowledge of God & our relation & duty to him which are discoverable by reason without the aid of Revelation, As morality or ethics is that system of duties we as rational creatures owe to ourselves and our fellow-creatures in the various relations of society & Government, discoverable by the mental powers & reason. To what degree of perfection Deism may be carried will be seen by reading Dr. Saml Clarks demonstration of the Atributes & being of a God9—Fosters dissertations of Natural Religion10 & many others of a like kind—I believe the Deistical writers in England of any note have laid down their systems with some clearness; & if they were made the rule of life I am far from thinking the world would become brutalized, tho it might fall short of what is now the state of society in christiandom.

    Deism may be said to consist of two parts—a negative & a possitive—The first consists in denying revelation, and while their christian opponents rail at and abuse them for this they are apt to overlook what the deists intend would be the general result to mankind if the possitive part of their system, that is, their natural religion & morality were made the subjects of general instruction, in the same manner as Christianity is now, & has been taught for eighteen hundred years—The deists content that, if this had been the case, all the good which has in fact resulted from Christianity, without any of the evils of enthusiasm & fanaticism which have been in some degree associated with it, might have been derived to that portion of the world, called christian. Now without examining how far this might or might not be the case, which tho difficult if possible to be done to any degree of satisfaction, each have gone on, like two lawyers, diverging further & further apart, the Christian abusing the deist for being an unbeliever & atheist; and the deist charging the christian with all the horrors of the Inquisition, & the yet more cruel torments of burning heritics & infidels!

    Untill we ascertain clearly what is Christianity; and what is intended by infidelity we shall not be able to say how many, & what are the blessings of life we are indebted exclusively to the one, or how many & what are the evils we may justly set down to the score of the other. Hence you will see the propriety of my general observation, and before we attempt one or the other, see & note the particulars wherein the christian & the deist agree as to the practical duties of man. And I believe I may say generally they agree in all the moral duties arising from the social relations of life—Do they not assert the same rights & assert obedience to the same duties? I know of no diversity of opinion in this part of the controversy. As to propositions which are matters of belief I am sensible there will be a wide space between them—but not a great deal wider than that between some christians—For there appears to me to be as much a scale of faith, by the degrees whereof, christians may be noted to differ from one another, as there are of latitude & Longitude by which distances are measured from a given meridian, or from the Equator. But which class of christians, or which individual of any given class shall be taken as the point & standard of truth to re[a]son from has never, since the reformation, been agreed upon. It is true the catholics have their, or rather had their pope:11 The Church of England have their thirty nine articles, the dissenters their Assemblys catechism, the Friends have their moving spirit;12 & the same may be said of every denomination, or party; for after all I have some suspicion that mere party spirit enters more into, & causes this variety in the christian world than a real love to Christianity whatever it may be—No one of any class will be willing to be judged by the christianity of another class or party—and not very often, or for any considerable length of time, by the ostensable standard of his own—Hence divisions & subdivisions, new churches, new meeting houses without number or reason, and all uncharitableness without measure: But nevertheless do they not all as to classes parties & individuals come near to each other in their ascent to the moral and social duties—those rights and obligations that have been pretty clearly delineated as well as enforced by human sanctions, even without the aid of revelation? Now if we run over the separate needs of all the religious classes, there is no one proposition or article common to all of them of more real importance than the belief of future rewards & punishments; and this appears to me to be held in nearly equal degree of respect by all classes, & all deem it a revealed truth. This article of Revelation includes or implies many others, and modifications of the general principle, that need not to be detailed; because I have never been able to discover that these varieties weakened the force of the principle, in its effects, on society. This principle then we will consider as common to all christians; and no one will deny its usefullness to Society. The simple fear of punishment, & hope & expectation of rewards as natural consequences of our good & bad conduct in this life will be left fully to operate on the minds of all believers, whatever may be their opinions as to a thousand questions that have been started about the person of Jesus; whether, as the high orthodox contend, he be God or in all the atributes of God his equal; or as the high Arians contend that he was not exactly equal to God, but created all things, or as the low Arians think him a great super-angelic being, the Angel of the Covenant spoken of in the O. Testament & who personally appeared to the patriarchs & conducted the march of the Children of Israel out of Egypt; or whether he was a simple spirit that existed before he was born of Mary; or as some begin to think, that he was a mere man born of his mother as other children are, but highly favourd by God in his public & private conduct while in this world; I say the simple belief of rewards and punishments beyond the grave for the good or bad conduct in this life, seems to me to secure to society all the beneficial consequences of revelation, whatever individuals may think as to these other articles in the creeds of some christians—Then the question returns upon us to enquire whether this single principle does not make a most important distinction in favour of Revelation & those who are believers, against Deists tho they should be allowed to agree with christians in all the moral and social duties of man? Now as all people are influenced more or less by their hopes and fears, nothing will have a more effectual tendency to deter from the commission of actions detrimental to society than a real belief that an inconvenience, or misery, such as eye hath not seen, or ear ever heard to expressed in words, will certainly befall to a man in case he does certain forbidden actions, in the deists, as well as in the christians code, denominated crimes.

    So far then as men are influenced in their conduct by a fear of punishment, & an expectation of pleasures beyond the grave, there is a probability that believers will make better members of society than unbelievers in revelation; unless it can be shewn that unbelievers are more punctual in their duties from an abstract conviction of the fitness of moral justice than believers are, or do in fact satisfy themselves of the infliction of rewards & punishments in another life by reasoning on the common course of nature, which is a position hardly to be supported. For there is nothing in the nature of things to give this advantage to infidels over the true believers—And the great book of Nature by the examination of which it is pretended the unbeliever gains his conviction, is equally open to the believer who to this source joins that of the supernatural Book. How far it is a fact as some deists pretend, that rewards & punishments are demonstrable from the nature of man, & the truths of natural religion, I leave for those to judge, who are better acquainted with the works of those deists who have exhibeted the utmost that has, or probably can be executed in that branch of moral science.

    This course of reasoning will not apply to the Jews, or Mahamitans—because they recieve the old testament, & it seems to be admitted that these doctrines are fully declared in some of those books—which I am not disposed to controvert tho it was most earnestly supported by the learned Warburton13—a real Giant in theology.

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    FC (incomplete?), TFP