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“It is not for me to judge how far your lordship's speculations reach ; but finding in myself nothing to be truer than what the wise Solomon tells me, Eccles. xi. 5. As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child; even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all things : I gratefully receive and rejoice in the light of revelation, which sets me at rest in many things, the manner of which my poor reason can by no means make out to me: Omnipotence, I know, can do any thing that contains in it no contradiction; so that I readily believe whatever God has declared, though my reason find difficulties in it which it cannot master. As in the present case, God having revealed that there shall be a day of judgment, I think that foundation enough to conclude men are free enough to be answerable for their actions, and to receive according to what they have done; though how man is a free agent surpass my explication or comprehension.”
Synesius seemed now inclined to take part in the debate; but the rest of the company proposing that the further discussion of the subject should be deferred to another opportunity, he acquiesced in their wishes.
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SYNESIUS #, who was an old common friend, and of all their parties, though in many points he differed from them ; and formerly in their conversations on Christian idolatry had endeavoured, on that account, to divert Volusian from quitting the worship of the established church, put himself forward at the next meeting, and pleasantly cried out, that he was quite tired of being such a cypher among them, but thought it became him first to make his confession, that they might admit him as a true penitent.
I must plainly tell you them, says he, I have been much hurt at the freedoms you used in calling in question what was established by authority in the church of England, as I thought it was unsettling people, and taking away the little foundation they had for their demeanour as quiet and good subjects, setting them loose from all restraints, and leaving them in possession of nothing. For I had been wont to consider the Christian religion principally as it concerned the state, and was useful to keep the people in order and subjection; and indeed, all the while I contended so earnestly for it, entertained not a few doubts about its doctrines, and even its foundations.
* For a character of this person, see Conversations on Christian Idolatry, p. 64.
But I have been for some time convinced, that serious doubts and disputes about religion do by no means lead men away from moral practice, but the contrary; as they sober the mind, bring us acquainted with ourselves and our own characters, and the principles well founded or otherwise on which we act, and thereby tend to fix us in a course of right conduct. Nor can any damage or disturbance ever result to the state, from disputes or differences of opinion in religion, if the state will only do its duty, and act as becomes it, by holding an equal hand over all its subjects, and restrain them from injuring or hurting one another for their religious differences. But that I have not been of late an indifferent hearer, though I have taken no part in your debates, you will believe, when I tell you, that I have found my mind as fully relieved by them from many doubts on important subjects with which I had been perplexed, as if I had laid them before you for the purpose. 1. I have been, at times, much disturbed, that we were creatures so framed, that there was little pure happiness to be found, and so much pain and misery of one kind or other mixed in our cup, as if we had been the work of some envious being, who had grudged us our enjoyments. But I am now persuaded, that it was the happiness of the unthinking brute animals that I coveted, and not of a rational being; which cannot be attained without labour and difficulty. 2. The first chapters of our sacred books seemed to.
be a most strange exhibition of the God and Creator of all things, and of the first origin of our species, so inveloped in figure and allegory, that with difficulty can any tolerable sense be made of it; for I expected, that the proofs of his existence, and of his love and regard for his creatures, if he had really been possessed of these qualities, would have been pointed out to us in a brief energetic manner. But I am now persuaded, that Divine Wisdom hath judged better for us in the methods which Moses has been directed to pursue. For that there is one God, and that he is good, his works of nature teach ; and have been so understood by all who have considered them, a very few persons excepted, of pitiable mental or bodily infirmities, or both. But such an authoritative historical account as is furnished us in the Bible, of a God, as I may say, really existing and acting as our creator and moral governor, makes stronger impressions, gives fuller conviction, and is better calculated to operate upon the minds of human creatures, and carry down to all ages the momentous truth, than speculative arguments, which would be liable to perpetual dispute and quibble; as we find to have been the fact in antient times, and in our OWin. 3. I had been much hurt in perusing, and strongly tempted to slight the whole account of the Deity given in the Bible, for his being represented from the first and throughout, not as a benevolent creator, and patron and encourager of virtue and goodness, but an arbitrary,
arbitrary, capricious, malevolent being *; bringing into existence a race of creatures, and soon repenting of what he had done, and destroying them ; and, upon renewing their race afterwards, conducting himself towards them in the same unsteady partial manner, selecting as the objects of his special favour, characters by no means worthy of it. But you have satisfied me, that I condemned what I did not understand : that it was not the plan and design of the Creator to bring creatures any how to happiness, but by degrees, and by suitable discipline to form them to piety and goodness, the true felicity of rational beings. This is plainly indicated in the account of the first creation of our species, and is the key with which we may open and explain many things belonging to our present state. 4. I had stumbled, with many others, at the divine command to destroy the Canaanitish nations, being persuaded that it could not come from a benevolent Creator, and that it was all the work and contrivance of priests and politicians, who had taken possession of the minds of the multitude, and presumed to represent as God's commands what was the dictate of their own in placable temper and ambition. But you have contributed to put me on further inquiry, and to
* Upon this subject I would beg leave to recommend a serious perusal of the admirable and eloquent discourses on the Providence and Government of God, by a late excellent man and highly esteemed friend, the Rev. N. Cappe, of York.
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