LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Conversations on Religion, with Lord Byron
First Conversation

‣ First Conversation
Kennedy on Scripture
Second Conversation
Third Conversation
Fourth Conversation
Fifth Conversation
Memoir of Byron
Byron’s Character
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His lordship came attended by Count Gamba and Mr. Brown; and, at the same time, two other gentlemen, influenced by curiosity, arrived, who, from their rank and office, could not be denied admittance. Thus, our meeting, which at
first was intended to be held by five persons, was now increased to ten. His lordship sat on the sofa.
Colonel N. in a chair beside him: the others formed a circle round the table at a distance from them at which I sat, being opposite to Lord B.

I began by apologizing for my boldness in undertaking such a task, and hoped that they would excuse me when they considered the circumstances which led to it. After explaining them, I said that I did hot rely on my own abilities and qualifications on the occasion, but on the nature of the subject, which was supported by such evidence, that no one who understood it could be apprehensive that its truth might be shaken or disproved by any, whatever might be his talents. I had certainly, I said, not expected such a distinguished and numerous meeting; and begged that they would acquit me of presumption if I still dared to explain and defend those truths, which I had at first simply undertaken to do to a few familiar friends.

I had some claim, I said, to be allowed to state my opinions with confidence. I had received a religious education, and had witnessed in my earliest youth many examples of genuine piety.
At college I had no opportunities of mixing with pious people. My friends there, without denying the truth of Christianity, neither regarded its doctrines nor its precepts; and some of my companions, from affection or conviction, professed themselves freethinkers.
Hume, Gibbon, Voltaire, Rousseau, and the other freethinking French authors, were held in high estimation among many of my friends, as those who chiefly merited the appellation of philosophers. My early impressions were never, however, so far effaced as to carry me the length of denying, or even doubting the truth of the Scriptures; but I lived almost in the total neglect of religious duties and studies, and frequently joined in the laugh and sneer against those whose lives were strict, as men of hypocritical character, or at least of a weak and narrow understanding. When doing these things, I often, indeed, felt a secret reproach of conscience, which was at times silenced by the resolution I formed, that some time or other, when it was more convenient, I would attend strictly to the study and practice of Christianity. I was often sensible of the inconsistency of my conduct in always talking with respect of religion,—nay, and of defending it, though very ignorantly,
the company of deists, and yet joining in the ridicule against those who were more severe in regulating their lives and conversation by its doctrines. Circumstances at last led me seriously to reflect on the subject; and after two years of almost exclusive study and investigation of religious points, I took upon me the name and profession of a Christian, determined to participate in the lot, both in this world and in the next, of the sincere and humble followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

My habits of study and reflection, I said, had led me to investigate the subject with a severe scrutiny, and I examined every book which fell in my way that seemed likely to afford any elucidation of the truth. I did not confine myself to the books written by professed Christians, but was even more eager to read those which were written by their enemies; and from the time I could read, to the present time, I had perused every work against Christianity which fell in my way, and had read a greater number of infidel productions than is usually done by most laymen. From the wide and circuitous mode in which I had investigated the subject, I had become well acquainted and familiar with the writings of
deists and infidels, knew the nature and value of their objections, and had found that I was much better acquainted with this class of writers than many of their most ardent followers whom I had known. It was this consideration that had induced me, with such confidence, to enter upon the present discussion, knowing, on the one hand, the strength of Christianity, and, on the other, the weakness of its assailants, especially of those with whom I had originally undertaken the discussion. To show you, therefore, I said, the grounds on which I demand your attention to what I may say on the nature and evidences of Christianity, I shall mention the names of some of the authors whose works I have read or consulted. When I had mentioned all their names,
Lord Byron asked me if I had read Barrow’s and Stillingfleet’s works. I said I had seen them, but that I had not read them.

The task, I said, that I had undertaken was attended with some peculiar difficulties; that I should have to talk of a change in my own mind and feelings, which I was conscious they had never felt in theirs, and that I could only convince them of this, not in the way of direct demonstration, but by testimony and analogy. The way in which this discussion was to be conducted,
required on their part so much reading and reflection, and the knowledge of so many facts, of which I believed most of them were ignorant, that no other way of overcoming the difficulty presented itself, than by their giving their undivided attention to what was said. I requested them, for the first hour, not to consider themselves as disputants in the cause, or called upon to marshal arguments and invent objections, while I was speaking; but to divest themselves, if possible, of all prejudices and prepossessions, and to conceive themselves as about to give an honest judgment in a cause, the evidence in which would be clearly laid before them. Or, if they would divest themselves of all feelings of interest, their judgment would be more impartial, could they consider the question in an abstract point of view; as one, for instance, of mere science or philosophy. After I had finished all my preliminary observations, I would pledge myself to refute every objection which could be made against the Scriptures, by showing that those objections were not founded on fact, but on assumptions, suppositions, and conjectures, or on mere propositions without proof. I said that the truth of the Scriptures was as susceptible of demonstration as any
proposition in “
Euclid,” though by a different kind of evidence, and by a different process of reasoning; and that the truth or falsehood of the Scriptures would produce the same unerring conviction, provided we would, or could, study the evidence with the same coolness, and freedom from prepossession, with which a mathematical problem can be stated, and its falsehood or truth demonstrated. The force of evidence does not depend upon the statement of the evidence itself; for a chain of evidences might be stated with the utmost conceivable precision and accuracy: yet if the hearer listen to it with inattention, forgetting, or not hearing, some of its most important points, and yet set himself to give his opinion, it is obvious, that his being right or wrong in his judgment does not depend upon the pure exercise of his reason. Besides this, if the hearer be incapable, from want of attention or capacity, to comprehend the nature and force of the evidence presented before him; if his conclusion be erroneous, as it must of necessity be, we have no right to blame the faculty of reason, or accuse the evidence of imperfection or obscurity. The power of evidence, therefore, to produce conviction, depends not merely on its own nature, but also on
the perfect attention and the perfect capacity of understating it by the hearer; and where these qualities are combined, the conclusion is exempt from error. It is difficult, if not impossible, to find men who can thus divest themselves of all bias and feeling in matters relating to the religion in which their hopes and fears are necessarily concerned; yet this proceeds not from any defect in the evidence, but from the imperfection and prejudices of the human mind. Some are so sensible of these difficulties, and of the apparent impossibility of examining the subject with perfect coolness and impartiality, that they attempt to justify themselves for the total neglect of it, by throwing the blame on the difficulty and obscurity of the subject, instead of confining it, as they should do, to themselves. The nature of religion, directed to a being like man, born and educated in imperfection, and prejudice, and error, may appear, at first sight, not to have a foundation in the nature of things so clear and demonstrable as that of the mathematical sciences; but an attentive consideration of the subject will convince any one who examines it rightly, that the evidence of the truth of Christianity rests on a foundation as certain, and produces a more permanent and internal conviction, than that of any truth whatever, whether
moral, physical, or mathematical. In fact, this should be the case, judging from the nature of all things a priori; for the Creator of the minds of men, and of all material existence, can, as he is omnipotent, and must, we should infer from his attributes, give a revelation,—if he gave one at all,—with that fulness of evidence which is perfect in its kind and degree, and capable of producing, when properly examined and understood, as perfect a conviction, as can be felt for any other abstract truth which we may please to call mathematical or scientific. To suppose that there is any imperfection in the nature of the evidence which he has given of the revelation of his will, is to suppose the Deity either imperfect in his attributes, or imperfect in the manifestations which he gives of them to his creatures.

There are two ways, I said, in which the discussion may be conducted. The first, by commencing with what is called the external evidence for the truth of the Scriptures, and then examining the internal; the second, by exactly reversing this order. The first method, which opens into a wide, varied, and no doubt interesting field of observation, and which requires or implies an extensive course of reading, is less adapted to our present meeting than the latter; and were I to
attempt it, their curiosity and patience would be exhausted before we arrived at the most important part of the inquiry, namely, the nature and tendency of the truths revealed in the Scriptures; and our discussion, I feared, might probably terminate in an increased disinclination, on their part, to examine its doctrines. The best plan, therefore, it appeared to me, was first to endeavour to convey to them a clear account of the nature of the truths revealed in the Bible,—their consistency with the attributes of the Deity,—and the state of mankind in every age and under every variety of circumstances; their tendency, when clearly comprehended and embraced, and the peculiar evidence of miracles and prophecy, by which they are supported, an evidence, which no other sort of truth possesses, and which it is in the power of no one but God to furnish. After having gone over those grounds, I should, I said, give them a summary view of all those topics which the external evidence embraces, with as much fulness as they might wish or deem necessary. This method would be attended with the additional advantage, that if they obtained a clear and correct idea of the doctrines which real and sound Christians believed and maintained, many of those objections which they would bring forward, were the
external evidence to be first investigated, would be set aside, and the prejudices which arise from ignorance be removed; and they would be prepared with more impartiality to decide upon the combination of the whole evidence, both external and internal.

I told them that I did not undertake to make them real Christians: this was far beyond my power, for they might give a firm and rational assent to the truth of the Scriptures, might view their doctrine as a whole, complete and perfect in all its relations,—might perceive the irresistible weight of their evidence, and the weakness of all objections,—and might with ability explain and defend them, and yet not be real Christians. To make a man a real Christian, was in the power of God alone, by the operation of his Holy Spirit. But there was one thing which I might undertake to do, and that was, to display to them the varied and extraordinary mass of evidence in support of the divine origin of the Scriptures, and show that no other books, facts, systems, principles, or truths, of any description, possessed evidence so great and of so peculiar a nature; and that whoever rejected it, must do so from ignorance, misapprehension, or prejudice, in violation of every rule of sound and logical reasoning.


The Christianity, I said, which in the present discussion I undertake to defend, and to which alone all my observations apply, is that which is found in the Scriptures; and I requested that this might be attentively kept in mind. It was not that view of it which is to be gathered from the decrees of councils, the creeds and confessions of churches, or the writings of divines. The doctrines of the Bible became early corrupted by an admixture of human opinions, speculations, and false philosophy, and the lives of thousands who professed it were often inconsistent with its precepts. History presents us with decrees of councils on points which have not been revealed, and which consequently no human reason can comprehend or determine; with decrees of one council opposed to those of another; and, what is more to be deplored, with decrees establishing dogmas contradictory to, or in subversion of, some of the truths which the Scriptures reveal. We acknowledge, that we cannot trace either the spirit or the precepts of the Bible, in the intrigues, dissensions, hatred, animosity, and controversy among individuals; nor in the struggles, wars, and persecutions among bodies of nominal Christians; nor in the pomp, luxury, ceremonies, and dogmas which were
gradually introduced, and almost universally prevailed. The details which
Mosheim’s history presents of the errors, follies, or vices of individuals; the extravagant and absurd notions and opinions which were broached and maintained; the divisions, dissensions, controversies, and persecutions which so frequently distracted the Christian world, afford such a sad and mournful proof of the imbecility of the human understanding, and of the depravity of the heart, as is apt to excite a prejudice, in the minds of many, against Christianity itself, as a system of belief inconsistent, in its effects, with the high pretensions of its origin. Even in the present age, when knowledge is more solid and extended, the external church still exhibits the picture of its followers divided into innumerable sects and parties, with creeds and confessions differing, though, for the most part, on points of minor importance, yet in a few instances on those which are essential. Absurd, strange, and singular opinions, are, from time to time, hazarded by individuals, and defended or controverted by others. Controversy still appears, though divested of its former bitterness and acrimony. The pride of sect and party, and their mutual jealousy, still pervades individuals, and
large bodies of Christians; and though there has been a grand step gained in the progress of improvement, there is still a great deficiency in that unanimity, love, and affection, which the Scriptures inculcate among its followers, and to which future and happier times will undoubtedly arrive.

Dark as the review of the progress of Christianity in the world may at first sight appear, the real Christian can, by patient observation and proper discrimination, see much that is cheering and consolatory. He knows, as a first principle of all reasoning, that man is an imperfect being—a creature subject to prejudice and to passion. He knows, that in every age there are thousands named Christians, who have neither understood the nature of Christianity, nor felt its power; and who, under the mask of religion, have pursued their own selfish and ambitious views. Many of this description have occupied the most eminent stations in the church, and been intrusted with the management of its concerns. It can be acknowledged also, that many who sincerely embraced the doctrines of the Bible, have mistaken, in innumerable instances, its spirit and tendency, and have been often actuated by their natural prejudices and tempers, while they imagined that they
were promoting the ends of truth. A history of the church, therefore, for so many ages, and comprehending the description of so many millions, can only exhibit those individuals, whose talents, virtues, vices, or errors, have rendered them conspicuous;—those opinions, measures, and events, which have, more or less, influenced the state and character of the church at large, either in its internal or external relations. But there is no room in such a record for an account of the many thousands of poor, humble, and sincere Christians, who passed their lives in quiet and obscurity, in whom, chiefly, the purest effects of Christianity were best exemplified. We find the truth of this observation illustrated in the
“Church History” of Milner, who has traced soundness of essential principles, and consistency of practice, or, in other words, the principles and fruits of genuine Christianity, among individuals of almost every sect, and denomination, in every age. When we carry our researches still further, we can discern, that in proportion as corruption, errors, and schisms increased, was the Bible neglected and forgotten; and we need not wonder at the darkness and ignorance, the follies, crimes, and controversies of the middle ages, when we learn
that the Scriptures had almost disappeared from among them; and when the reading of them, where they could be found, was prohibited by authority, and confined to one class of the community, and the right of private judgment and interpretation condemned, under the pains of imprisonment and death: had the belief, and the lives, of nominal Christians, been sound and pure under such circumstances, we must have concluded, that any regard and attention to the Scriptures was unnecessary. When the Reformation took place, the Scriptures were restored to their proper rank and authority as the standard of all moral and religious truth, and the test by which opinions and actions were to be tried; and since that period, we find that, in proportion as their circulation has extended, and their doctrines and precepts have been understood and followed, has the happiness of mankind increased: thus affording, as well on the dark as the pleasing side of the picture, which the history of the past displays, a striking and important proof of the divine origin of the Scriptures.

The same principle will furnish us with the means of satisfactorily accounting for the differences which still subsist among eminent and
good men, on many points directly connected with, or allied to, Christianity. In Christian countries, all are educated with prepossessions for the opinions and ceremonies, or want of ceremonies, of the sect to which they belong, and with a corresponding prejudice against the peculiar opinions and ceremonies of others. Some writers are influenced by a mixture of worldly motives, in their attempts to display powers of original observation; talents for profound speculation; their stores of erudition; their acuteness and strength of reasoning, or the charms of eloquent composition; and hence they are often led to the discussion of subjects, over which revelation has thrown a veil, and placed between us and them an impassable barrier. Some, are even destitute of the capacity requisite to elucidate the difficult subjects which their rashness prompts them to handle. Some, are formed by their peculiar education, and habits of thinking and study, to partial views of the Christian truth, and are, consequently, apt to underrate one part, and overvalue others. But whether these differences regard errors in doctrine of more or less importance, or relate to sound doctrine, elevated or depressed, out of its due proportion with others,—
whether they consist in unwarranted speculation, illogical inferences, in hostility and acrimony against others, or unreasonable boasting of themselves and their sect,—we justly ascribe them to a want of the full, and perfect understanding of the Scriptures, and of that spirit of caution, humility, and mutual love, which they so beautifully, and so frequently, inculcate.

However varied, therefore, the view may be which we take of the past and present state of Christianity in the world; we find, when we reflect well and reason justly, that the authority of the Scriptures stands on its own grounds, unimpeached and unimpaired; and while we acknowledge the errors, and follies, and imperfections of Christians themselves, we must, on all occasions, but more particularly in fair and logical discussions with Sceptics or Deists, make a distinction between Christianity, as it is found in the Scriptures, and the errors, abuses, and imperfections of Christians themselves, and impute blame to that quarter alone where it is exclusively due. Here his lordship remarked, that “he always had taken care to make this distinction, as he knew enough of Christianity to feel that it was both necessary and just.”


I said, his lordship acted right in doing so, and that it would have been fortunate if all, who have doubted or denied the truth of Christianity, had adopted the same course. But we find the contrary to be almost universally the case. We can trace in the writings of all those who have expressed doubts of its Divine authority, or who have altogether denied it, as well as among those who privately acknowledge or profess such opinions, the sources from which they have chiefly drawn their notions of Christianity. They have been formed rather from the writings of Christian authors, and from the review of the progress which Christianity has made, and the effects which it has produced on society, than from a minute and attentive examination and study of the Scriptures. We may justly conclude this to have been the case, from the scope and tendency of the writings of unbelievers. I know no sceptical writer, who, influenced by fair reasoning and candour, has made a distinction between the Scriptures themselves, and the abuses made of them by Christians; and who, dismissing the consideration of Christianity as it is held, and appears in the world, has set himself to a free, unbiassed, full and complete investigation, and refutation of
the truth or falsehood of the Scriptures. It is true that their writings show that they have looked into the Scriptures, from the quotations they make from them; but there is no evidence to prove that they have even patiently and perseveringly studied them, by carefully comparing one portion with another, and endeavouring to find out their true meaning and import. On the contrary, all the infidel works, which I have seen, are occupied in refuting, or ridiculing those partial or distorted views of Christian doctrines which different sects, or individual authors, have maintained; or some absurd and extravagant notions which, in one age or other of the church, have had their admirers and followers. They expatiate upon the errors and absurdities,—the crimes, vices, and follies,—the contradictory creeds,—the jarring decrees of councils,—the incredible tenets and monstrous opinions of individuals,—their never-ending disputes and controversies,—the tyranny, wealth, and luxury of ambitious priests,—their hostility to the progress of science, and to the happiness of society,—the bloody persecutions and wars which they have been the means of kindling,—the absurd ceremonies, and preposterous dogmas of some churches, and the jealousy,
hatred, and animosity, and the interminable war of opinions which have existed in every age of the church, and still are observable in the innumerable sects and parties into which it is at present divided. The writings of
Hume, Gibbon, Voltaire, and all others of the same class, are entirely occupied with these topics. That men of such extraordinary talents and penetrating judgment, should be so enslaved by prejudice, as not to discern, or if they did, so lost to candour, as not to acknowledge, that all they have said might, or might not, be true as applied to Christianity blended and displayed in the writings, and lives, of Christians, while the Christianity of the Scriptures remained untouched, justly excites our wonder. But we are the less surprised that their followers, and admirers, should commit the same mistake. Where is the sceptic who has not already formed in his mind some notion of the leading doctrines of Christianity, derived from one or other of the impure sources already mentioned? So that before we can engage him on clear and definite grounds, we require to remove from his mind the erroneous views which he has imbibed, and to instruct him in those sound maxims, drawn from the Scriptures, in which all, or the majority of Christians, agree.


“What I have said will, I hope, have made the distinction clear between the Christianity of the Bible, and the Christianity of men; and enable you to be on your guard against the prejudices arising from the error of blending them together in an argument on the divine origin of the Scriptures. You will also see the reason why I have enlarged so much on the subject. My desire is to limit the inquiry to its proper and legitimate object. I do not attempt to prove that any particular creed, confession, or books, or form of church discipline or government is divine. This would be impossible; as, although these are all founded on the Scriptures, or at least said to be so, yet, as they are expressed in uninspired language on the one hand, or mixed with human devices and inventions on the other, so they must partake more or less of a mixture of error, or of what cannot be clearly or unequivocally proved to be the truth.

“Still further to clear the subject, and remove all source of cavil and embarrassment, I shall assume no weight to my side of the question from the superior morality of real Christians, or their eminence, talents, and judgment. The importance of this concession will be understood if you
consider that, after separating all hypocrites, nominal Christians, the ignorant and fanatic, there is left an immense multitude in every age and nation, thousands of whom have been eminent by their rank or station, by their talents, and judgment, and by the practice of every virtue, whose testimony to the truth of Christianity has been no less unanimous, than it has been unequivocal, and decided. But if I lay this aside, partly as being collateral, and partly because it is a topic which at present you cannot properly appreciate, I have to request that you, on your side, will dismiss all prejudice against Christianity, arising from the consideration that multitudes have rejected it; among whom some have been eminently distinguished for their talents, and acquirements. Those whom the Scriptures have never reached are neutral, and belong to neither party; and I shall willingly allow the presumption in favour of Christianity, arising from the number, rank, and talents of those who have believed it, to be counterbalanced, at least in argument, by the presumption against it, arising from the number, rank, and talents of those who have rejected it. In reality, however, I must observe, that these presumptions are not strictly equivalent—that in favour of
Christianity preponderates: for, in the first place, the number of those who have embraced Christianity) is greater than that of those who have rejected it; secondly, their talents and judgment have been at least equal; thirdly, the testimony of the one class is positive, while that of the other is negative; and fourthly, the one must be better qualified to judge what Christianity is, by a longer and more attentive study of it, unless you conclude that they who reject and despise a system of precepts and doctrines are likely to study them more than those who believe and love them.

“Dismissing, therefore, from our view what Christianity is, as derived from the writings and lives of Christians, and the presumptions arising from the number and character of those who embrace or reject it, as being topics in themselves indirect and collateral, and as being liable to misconception and cavil, from the impossibility of separating real from nominal Christians, and determining how far the innumerable shades of difference in their opinions accorded with the Scriptures, and the weight which would hang like a millstone on the neck of such an investigation, from the errors and vices both of real and nominal Christians, we find that our proper subject is,
whether the Scriptures contain the genuine revelation of the will of God. This alone, divested of all its extraneous or collateral considerations, is susceptible of close reasoning and demonstration; and surely it will be admitted, that if we could lay aside all prejudice and bias, and exercise our reason with perfect, impartiality and integrity, we might arrive at a conclusion, strictly demonstrative, that the Scriptures are, or are not, of divine origin.

“If Christianity be an imposture, it is the interest of every one to have it banished from the world; for no permanent happiness can accrue to individuals or society from upholding a system of falsehood and error. If believers in Christianity are deceived, they exhibit the singular spectacle of a deception, which the more complete it is, appears the more to promote their comfort and happiness: and, if Christianity be false, it exhibits the unprecedented phenomenon of a system of opinions, which neither, power, fire, sword, reasoning, wit, learning, nor ridicule have been able to vanquish and destroy. It is not like some other systems which have been engendered in times of darkness, and nurtured by ignorance, superstition, and the arm of power. It has fixed
its roots among the most enlightened and civilized nations; and even at the present moment, when sciences and the arts are carried to a higher pitch than they have ever been, its doctrines are spreading with more rapidity, and certainty, than at any period since its promulgation. In short, it meets you, in some shape or other, at every corner. Its effects are witnessed in all ranks and classes of society; it begins to invade the province of literature, the sciences, arts, and morals; it compels your attention; and whether you be disposed to let it alone or not, its importunities are incessant;—it demands an examination;—all must form an opinion of it, whether correct or incorrect. Its origin is equally singular. Books are found in a nation, which was hated and despised by others, containing predictions of the coming of a mighty Deliverer. A man from the lowest rank in that nation proclaims himself the Son of God and the mighty Deliverer, which these books predicted; performs miracles in proof of his mission; dies and rises again to confirm its truth. His disciples,—also from the lowest rank in society,—propagate his doctrines in the face of danger and persecution, and seal their testimony with their blood. The system spreads gradually on every
side; its exclusive and encroaching character makes the whole pomp and splendour of paganism, established for ages in the most powerful empires of the world, bend and sink before it; it becomes the professed belief of emperors, kings, and nations; it affords a distinctive appellation to millions; it has thousands of secret and open foes; it has thousands of pretended friends, who care not for its doctrines nor follow its precepts; its pretensions are, in many quarters, the subject of angry discussion, yet notwithstanding these difficulties, whether persecuted, neglected, or protected, it has spread its course over every civilized empire, and is still making its way, with rapid strides, in every island, country, and nation, where hitherto barbarism and ignorance had reigned.”

I now said, that to relieve their attention by variety, and myself from the fatigue of speaking,—to which I was little accustomed,—I would read to them a brief and distinct summary of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, supported by appropriate quotations from the Scriptures. I then took a manuscript, which was, in a great degree, an abridgment of part of the works of John Newton, and chiefly of his letters to Mr. Scott. The plain, clear, and forcible manner
in which this distinguished writer explains the first truths of religion, would, I hoped, have pleased my hearers, and produced some favourable impression. I had, on a different occasion, found them productive of much utility to two persons of excellent understanding and of great candour; but on the present occasion I was disappointed. Whilst speaking, I was listened to with attention; but I had especially in
N. and his lordship. I endeavoured to obviate this, by saying that I should soon finish; but I had proceeded a short way further, when I was interrupted by his lordship asking me, “If these sentiments accorded with mine?” I said “they did, and with those of all sound Christians, except in one or two minor things, which I would point out as I went along.” He now said, “that they did not wish to hear the opinions of others, whose writings they themselves could read at any time, but my own.” I replied, “that my opinions were not peculiar; that, in the fundamental doctrines, all Christians agreed; and that I had selected from Newton an account of these essentials, as I could not convey them in words more distinct and precise; but that I would, if they
wished it, give an account of them in ray own language.” I continued to read, however, a few sentences more, in hope that, after this, they would have patience to hear the whole abstract; but coming to the expression “grace of God,” his lordship asked me, “What do you mean by grace?” “The primary and fundamental meaning of the word,” I replied, somewhat surprised at his ignorance, “is favour; though it varies, according to the context, to express that disposition of God, which leads him to grant a favour, the action of doing so, or the favour itself, or its effects on those who receive it.” I now the more readily closed the book, as I perceived that they had no distinct conception of many of the words which were used; and listened to some desultory observations made by N.,
M., and his lordship. I then said, that for the present I would leave the explanation of the Christian doctrines, as their patience was exhausted, and as they seemed unable to understand some of the terms in which these had been expressed. “What we want,” said his lordship, “is to be convinced that the Bible is true; because, if we can believe this, it will follow, as a matter of course, that we must believe all the doctrines it contains.” I said,
that his observations were partly just, though I doubted if any one of them could act on the principle he mentioned; for though the strongest evidence were produced of the Scriptures being the revealed will of God, they would still remain unbelievers, unless they knew and comprehended the doctrines which these Scriptures contained. However, I said, “I am willing to take any course you please, provided you point it out to me, and allow me to adhere to it;”—though I still believed that the plan which I had chalked out to myself, was the simplest and the best, and calculated to be the most useful. Some conversation again ensued, the result of which was, that they wished me to prove that the Scriptures were the word of God. I said that this was my object; but that if my own plan, formed according to the best of my judgment, was set aside, I should like to know from them what they deemed the simplest and clearest course to follow in pursuit of the end we had in view: for otherwise I could not, on the spot, form a plan which might meet their various views and tastes; for I might be enlarging on some subjects which they deemed unnecessary, and omitting others which they might consider of the first importance. “I was ready,” I said, “if
they wished it, to attempt to prove the subject negatively, by refuting any objection, or attempting to remove any difficulty, which they should propose; though, in my opinion, this would lead to no useful result, as, in their present state of knowledge, a discussion of individual points and difficulties, unless conducted in a way which we could not reasonably expect, would probably terminate in a scene of mere strife and confusion.”

After some further conversation, no other plan was proposed by them, and I was informed that they wished to be convinced upon the subject, and, keeping this in view, I might go on my own way, and attempt to accomplish the object as speedily as possible. This was what might be expected from them. They were, in a great degree, ignorant, as I was aware, of the nature and the extensive range of the external evidence, and they were still more ignorant of the true nature of the doctrines, except the few vague and general notions, which all born in Christian countries possess. They had violated their engagement to hear me for twelve hours, for which I had stipulated, entirely with the view of giving them, as far as the time permitted, useful and necessary instruction; and yet, under these circumstances,
they desired, and seemed to expect, that I should convince, or attempt to convince, them in a short period. Desirous, however, to be as useful to them as possible, though foreseeing, as I had done from the beginning, that no other good was likely to be effected, than that of giving them some instruction, I said, that as our present sitting would soon terminate, I should beg of them to allow me to read a summary of the reasons for believing in Christianity, which
Scott had inserted in the Preface to his “Commentary on the Bible.” I said, that as we must soon separate for the present, it would be useless for me to renew a discourse on the subject; and as Scott had, in brief terms, included the principal topics, both of the internal and external evidence, as reasons for believing, I would read them, as it would not take up much time, and as they would thus have a general idea of the ground over which I would attempt to go, vivâ voce, at our subsequent meetings. They assented to this, and I began to read; but I had not finished one paragraph, which alluded to Moses, and the miracles he performed, when his lordship asked me if I believed in miracles, and if I thought them capable of proof by human testimony? I immediately shut the book, conceiving that it was
unnecessary to go on,—that his lordship’s patience was evidently at an end,—and that he wished to be a speaker, and no longer a hearer. I answered in the affirmative; and said, “for the present we must finish the subject, that we might enter into some general conversation.” A conversation for more than an hour now followed, chiefly confined to his lordship and myself, though
N. and M. occasionally made a remark.

His lordship said, that when he was young, his mother brought him up strictly; that he had access to a great many theological works, and remembered that, among others, he was particularly pleased with Barrow’s writings, and that he also went regularly to church. He said that he was not an infidel who denied the Scriptures, and wished to remain in unbelief,—on the contrary, he was very desirous to believe, as he experienced no happiness in having his religious opinions so unsteady and unfixed. “But he could not,” he added, “understand the Scriptures.” He said,“that those people who conscientiously believe, he should always respect, and was always disposed to trust in them more than in others; but he had met with so many, whose conduct differed from the principles which they professed,
and who seemed to profess these principles, either because they were paid to do it, or from some other motive, which an intimate acquaintance with their character would enable one to detect; that he had seen few, if any, whom he could rely upon as truly and conscientiously believing the Scriptures.” I said,“it was to be regretted that there were so many who professed their conviction of the truth of Christianity, whose conduct afforded reason to suspect the reality of their belief; but that we must not judge too harshly, since we do not know how sincerely these people have repented; and how much they have struggled to preserve themselves from those errors and infirmities, which cause at once a scandal to their profession and expose them to reprehension. As an exception proves the rule, so the existence of hypocrites,—even were the people, his lordship had met with, such,—proved the existence of sincere believers: it would be unjust to entertain a general suspicion against all Christians, because one has been so unfortunate as to meet only with those whose sincerity might fairly be distrusted.”

“What do you think,” said his lordship, “of Sir William Hamilton’s work?” I replied, “that I thought very little of it. He had plunged into
all the obscurities of ancient mythology, and from what was uncertain in itself, had drawn what he deemed certain conclusions, although their absurdity and extravagance were obvious to every man of sound judgment, whatever might be his creed.” “Well,” said his lordship, “
Bellamy is going to give us a new translation of the Bible, which is to clear up many of our difficulties.”—“The public,” I replied, “has already decided upon the presumption and incapacity of Bellamy for the task which he has undertaken, judging from the specimens which he has already laid before it.”

“Do you understand” said his lordship, “the Scriptures in their original languages?” I replied, “that I understood the original language of the New, but not that of the Old Testament; that I had commenced the study of the language of the Old Testament, and should have finished it long ago, if I had any reason to doubt the accuracy of our various translations.”—“The apostles,” said his lordship, “are accused of not having written in good Greek.”—“This is an objection,” I answered, “which has been made from ignorance or malice, or from a want of due consideration of the subject. They do not write, it is true, in the style of Demosthenes or Thu-
cydides, any more than the majority of our authors write in the style of
Robertson, Gibbon, or Johnson. If we admit them to have written by inspiration, it would be absurd to expect that God would have chosen the artificial forms and turns of expression, which to our taste might appear elegant and fine, in conveying a revelation of his will, which was intended for all mankind, of whom the poor, and the simple, and the illiterate, constitute the majority. We have, in other parts of the Scriptures, innumerable examples of the grand and sublime in writing, which uninspired writers have never equalled; but even there, the grandeur and sublimity consist entirely in the sentiments and thoughts, while the language in which they are expressed is invariably plain and simple. Fine writing among uninspired authors consists chiefly in the turns of expression. Now, the whole of the New Testament consists of narration of facts; of an enunciation of precepts; of close reasoning from, or illustration of the first, and of admonitions or exhortations to the last,—language which was plain, perspicuous, and precise; neither too elevated nor vulgar, such as the most learned and the most fastidious could not despise, and the poorest could easily comprehend, was
best suited to the subject, and, consequently, was that which was adopted. The style of the Septuagint, and that of the New Testament, are precisely alike in purity and correctness; and the few Latinisms introduced in that of the latter, were names of things which were not known to the ancient Greeks. It would have been strange had the Apostles used a description of these things, instead of using the names by, which they were known and understood, merely because ancient writers knew neither the names nor the things which they signified.”

His lordship had taken up Scott during the time that some general conversation took place, and glanced over some of the pages. He now said, “Your favourite Scott does not say that it was the devil who tempted Eve, nor does the Bible say a word about the Devil. It is only said that the serpent spoke, and that it was the subtlest of all the beasts of the field.” “There is, however,” I replied, “no great difficulty or doubt on the subject. As beasts have not the faculty of speech, the just inference is, that the beast was only an instrument made use of by some invisible and superior Being. The Scriptures accordingly tell us, that the Devil is the father of lies, the lie
made by the serpent to Eve being the first we have on record; they call him also a murderer from the beginning, as he was the cause of the sentence of death which was pronounced against Adam and all his posterity; and still further, to remove all doubt, and to identify him as the agent who used the serpent as an instrument, he is called the serpent—the Devil.”

The conversation turned on the many learned and fine writers who rejected Christianity, as a proof, that men of the first capacities and endowments, and well qualified to judge, had found the evidence for it unsatisfactory. I said, “that this was a common objection, and, to a superficial observer, appeared a very strong one, but that it would vanish on a close examination. No man can be eminent in all things, and equally acquainted with all things, nor can he bestow the same attention on all subjects. The astronomer, poet, historian, or man of science, can become distinguished only in proportion to the exclusive attention which has been bestowed on the respective objects of his study and research; nor can any genius, however exalted, supersede by intuition the long and continued application which is necessary, before any one can arrive at emi-
nence in the arts and sciences. For my part, I concluded that, in proportion as a man was eminently master of one science, he was the less acquainted with others; though our prejudices led us to infer, that the same genius and sagacity which enabled him to rise to eminence in one branch of knowledge, entitled him to be deemed an authority in others; a conclusion which, it is obvious, would be true, only if these qualities had been as long exercised on all subjects as on that which had raised its possessor to distinction. We find that the writers of the highest talents who have rejected Christianity, as is apparent from their works, were deficient on many points, either of knowledge or judgment, connected with their favourite subjects; and from the nature of their objections against the Scriptures, we can discern that they were not intimately acquainted with the truths contained in them; and hence we conclude that these had never been, with them, the subject of much study or meditation. I should like much,” I said, “to know, for instance, how many years
Hume or Voltaire devoted to the study of the Bible; how many books connected with the subject of it they read; how many hours of meditation and reflection were spent by them; and how many
anxious prayers they addressed to the Creator of all, to direct their judgment, and enable them to find out the truth. Till we ascertain these facts, no one is entitled to say, how far these men were qualified to judge with regard to the Scriptures, or to hold up their opinions as of any weight or authority. But, however ignorant we may be of the length of time, and the care which these eminent men have devoted to the study of Christianity, we can judge precisely of the value of their authority on such subjects, when we find that the chief objects of their reasoning, their sarcasm and their wit, are the errors in opinion, or inconsistency in practice, of those who are called Christian; and that they never meet one doctrine of the Scriptures fairly, so as to prove its falsehood by fact or by legitimate reasoning, but give a view of it in the highest degree distorted, so as to enable them to pour out their whole force of bitter sarcasm and irony in their pretended refutation of it. I do not mean to deny that, for the most part, when they have directed themselves to a refutation of the errors and vices of real or nominal Christians, that their reasoning is just, their conclusions irresistible, and their irony and sarcasm, in a measure, excusable. But we must
never allow ourselves to fall into the mistake which they have unfortunately made, that, in refuting these errors, they have, in the least degree, shaken the truth or authority of the Scriptures themselves, which contain as severe and bitter denunciation against the errors which Christians commit in life and opinion, as are to be found in the writings of the most distinguished unbelievers. Their authority, therefore, ought to be entirely set aside; and if authority is at all to be attended to, in a case where every man is qualified, and ought to judge for himself, we can oppose to them the authority of such men as
Milton, Newton, and Pascal, whose genius and fame can suffer nothing in a competition with those of Hume, Voltaire, and Gibbon.

His lordship asked me, what I thought of the theory of Warburton, that the Jews had no distinct idea of a future state, and that a state of future rewards and punishments was not, in the slightest degree, alluded to in any of the books of Moses? I said, “that I had often seen, but had never read, his Divine Legation of Moses, although I was well acquainted with his theory, from having seen it so often stated and alluded to in other works. It is not necessary,” I said, “to read his
book to form a clear and decided opinion upon its subject, as we have the Bible and the whole history of man to guide us. No nation has ever been found without having some idea of a future state, and it would be strange to conclude, that the Jews were a solitary exception. Many passages of the Pentateuch distinctly imply it, and many events of the Jewish history, as well as the obvious import and meaning of the whole of their ceremonial law, must have rendered the idea familiar to those who were capable of reflection and observation. Had Warburton read his Bible with more simplicity and attention, and not allowed himself to be misled by the ambition of displaying his vast stores of erudition, he would have enjoyed a more solid and honourable, though perhaps less brilliant fame, than that which time has awarded to him.”

He said one of the greatest difficulties which he had met with, and which he could not overcome, was the existence of so much pure and unmixed evil in the world, as he had witnessed; and which he could not reconcile to the idea of a benevolent Creator. He added, that wherever he had been, he had found vice and misery predominant, and that real happiness and virtue were rarely, if
ever, to be seen. He had made it, he said, his business to converse with, and inquire into, the history of many wretched and deformed creatures with whom he had met, and he generally found their history a record of unvarying misery from their very birth. “How had these offended their Creator, to be thus subjected to misery? and why do they live and die in this wretched state, most of them without the Gospel being preached to them, and apart from the happiness which it is said to produce? And of what use are they in this world? Many are constantly suffering under bodily evils and pains; many are suffering from the constant pressure of poverty; many are doomed to incessant toil and labour, immersed in ignorance and superstition, and neither having time nor capacity to read the Bible, even if it were presented to them.” I said, “that the origin of evil would lead us into too wide a field for the present. I granted the extensive existence of evil in the universe, to remedy which the Gospel was proclaimed. I did not believe, however, that the marks of the benevolence of the Deity were so scantily dispensed, either in the moral or physical world, as his lordship seemed to imagine; on the contrary, that they were conspicuous and innumerable, though
mankind blindly shut their eyes to the perception of them. Moral evil was precisely in proportion to the vice and error which prevailed, and to the want of virtue and piety. I doubted if those miserable creatures, whom his lordship had met with, were so exclusively wretched as they represented themselves. They would naturally magnify their evil state, in order to obtain his lordship’s sympathy or assistance; and did we see (without being ourselves observed) the whole course of their lives, we should find as much contentment and comfort, perhaps, as among those whose condition appeared to stand in no need of our sympathy. Physical evils are far inferior to those which affect the mind. Privations that are hopeless of remedy are invariably submitted to with patience, and are often neither felt nor considered evils at all; and this is true, whether we refer to deformity, helplessness, or extreme poverty. But whatever may be the extent of these evils, it is doubtful whether they are not surpassed by the pangs of disappointed ambition, the stings of conscience, the bitings of envy, the failure of long-cherished hopes and schemes, the anxiety and care which the pursuit of wealth and distinction, and the effects of luxury and idleness, with
their resulting vices, which may be witnessed among the higher classes of society. Besides, we find that misery and privation, in this life, lead the mind to the hopes and promises of a future happiness; and the poorest in Christian countries must have heard and understood some of the leading doctrines of the Scriptures; and their situation affords them no temptation to hesitate, with that spirit of scepticism which their superiors so often exhibit. Their labour is seldom so incessant but that they have time for instruction by preaching; and if they cannot read, it is the duty of those who can, to read the Scriptures to them. The end of living, or the preparation for eternal happiness, is as well accomplished among the miserable and poor, as among the rich; and if we believe the Scriptures, with much more facility. We may suppose that the noblest virtues are cultivated in adversity and want; and the most exquisite sources of happiness arise from the exercise of sympathy and benevolence. Each class in life has its peculiar virtues to exemplify. Physical evil is neither so abundant, nor so severe, and intolerable, as moral; and, for the latter, the Gospel holds out a remedy. Wherever there is a defect of happiness,—at least
of such happiness as this state of things is intended to convey,—there is a defect of duty and benevolence, not on the part of the Creator, but on that of man.” “But how do these observations apply,” said his lordship, “to the physical and moral evil which we find among savages, where the Gospel has never been carried, and where there are no rich, to supply the means of instruction, or remedy, by their benevolence, the evils of poverty and want? Why are they deprived of this? and should not a perfectly benevolent Creator have sent the Gospel to them also?” “God has done so,” I answered; “and the fault lies with man alone. Those who have received the Bible, have not prized it as they ought. They have not felt its power, nor obeyed its precepts. If that love to our neighbour, which the Scriptures inculcate, had animated those whom the Bible has reached, they would have carried the Bible ages ago to every corner of the globe. Man is capable of doing much, when his pursuit is excited by what he deems an important object. The dangers of the sea have been encountered for the love of money, or science, or power; and for the same motives every country has been traversed and explored; but no enterprise or ex-
ertions to such an extent have been made to carry to the heathen the knowledge of the Scriptures. This defect, therefore, arises from the want of a true understanding and belief of the Scriptures, and from a positive neglect of its precepts.”

“What will become of the heathen at the last day?” asked his lordship. I said, “I might reply to him as Mr. Boyle did, when a person made a similar inquiry, ‘You can be saved without knowing that.’ I cannot give an opinion on a point on which I have no data, as the Scriptures seem to have been silent upon it. We know simply from them, that the heathen have a conscience which is capable of excusing or condemning them; that it acts as a law to them in place of a written law; that to whom much is given, from him much will be required; that if they are punished, their doom will be less severe than that of those who, having the Scriptures for their guide, neglect or deny them. The heathen are also described as perishing from the lack of knowledge. I can see that it is our duty to furnish them with the means of knowledge, but I cannot form any opinion with regard to their salvation. We know that God is just, and also a God of
love and mercy; and we may rest perfectly satisfied, that whatever he may do, will be right. I do not value the opinions, or rather conjectures, which have been formed on this subject, because there cannot be the least degree of certainty in any of them. Some think that the heathen will not be saved, since there is no other name under heaven by which man can be saved except that of Jesus Christ; and this name has never reached them.
Barclay, in his ‘Apology for the Quakers,’ believes that as the light of the sun is diffused a while after it is set,—the influence of Christ’s name may extend where it has never been heard; that God, who can work by means we know not of, and even without means, can produce in the heart of such of the heathen as may be saved, that change which the Scriptures teach as necessary; and hereafter they will then discover that they have been saved by the mercy of God, for the sake of Christ who died for all. This opinion is at least charitable and humane; but it is impossible for a fair reasoner to say more than, that he knows nothing of the subject.”

“Is there not,” said his lordship, “some part of the New Testament where it appears that the disciples were struck with the state of physical
evil, and made inquiries into its cause?” “There are two passages,” I said, to which I suppose your lordship alludes. The disciples asked Christ, when they saw a man who had been born blind, whether this was owing to his own or his parents’ sin? On another occasion his followers appear to have been asking some similar questions, in the cases of the men of Galilee, whom Pilate had killed, and in that of the men killed by the falling of the Tower of Siloam. He declares that, in the two latter cases, those who were killed were not greater sinners than others; and with respect to the blind man, that it was neither on account of his parents’ nor his own sin, that he was thus afflicted, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. Hence it appears, that moral and physical evil in individuals are not always a judgment or punishment, but are intended to answer certain ends in the government of the world, and often, directly or indirectly, are productive of benefit both to the parties themselves and to others.”

“Is there not,” said his lordship, “a prophecy in the New Testament, which, it is alleged, has not been fulfilled, although it was declared that it should happen before the end of the then genera-
tion? It was declared that the end of the world would come before the generation then existing should pass away; and it is certain that many of the Jews took it in this sense, as they expected the speedy approach of the last day.” “The prediction,” I said, “related to the destruction of Jerusalem, which certainly took place within the time assigned; and though some of the expressions descriptive of the signs of that remarkable event, are of such a nature as to appear to apply to Christ’s coming to judge the world at the end of time, yet the same interpretation, which is put on the prophetical language in the Old Testament, if used here, will limit the signification to the time of Christ’s coming with power and glory to destroy Jerusalem. Besides, we find generally, in the prophecies of the Old Testament, that a literal as well as a spiritual fulfilment is included in one prediction; and we may readily admit on this principle, that some of those strong expressions in Christ’s prediction, literally understood, apply to his coming at the last day. Having taken occasion from his stating the signs of his coming to destroy Jerusalem, to mention the signs of his coming at the last day, although the expression, ‘that these things shall be fulfilled before this generation,’ is
intended exclusively to apply to the former event, it appears that the Thessalonians mistook an expression of
Paul’s in his first epistle to them, and inferred, that the end of the world was immediately at hand; but this error of theirs was corrected by the Apostle in his second epistle. In the days of the Fathers of the Church there were many that believed the Millennium to be then approaching. These, and similar mistakes, may be made by a slight and partial consideration of particular passages or expressions in the Scripture; but a close attention to, and due comparison of the whole, will enable one clearly to discern the truth. It cannot for a moment be supposed, that any mistake could be made by Christ and his Apostles.”

His lordship asked me if I thought that there had been fewer wars and persecutions, and less slaughter, misery, and wretchedness in the world since the introduction of Christianity than before. I said, “that I did not wish at present to enter into so wide a field of discussion, though I myself had no doubt on the subject. To ascertain the point satisfactorily, it would be necessary to know how much blood had been shed before the Christian era, and how much since, and how much was
to be ascribed to those that were real Christians, and how much to those who, under its mask, sought the accomplishment of their own selfish and ambitious ends. But I said, though it were granted that Christianity had been the occasion, though not the cause of the increase of bloodshed, it would only shew that its professors had mistaken its spirit, since pure Christianity inculcates peace and good will to all men, and we must always separate pure religion from the abuses, of which its professors are guilty*.

The conversation turned on the comparative number of men and women who believed, and on the conduct of Gibbon, who always joined women and priests together, as ready to believe in the grossest superstition and follies—the one party from self-interest, the other from fear. His lordship remarked, that women were naturally devout, when the passions of youth, and the feeling of love, which is a principal object of their life, are exhausted; and that when they do love their Saviour, they are accused of retaining a mixture of their earthly love, blended with purer feelings, in their devotion. “Satirists have often said so,” I replied. “If there really were any

* See Appendix. Note on page 65.

women of this description, it was a proof that they neither knew nor felt the power of religion. Gibbon thinks he confutes Christianity by linking priests and women together, as alike in weakness and perversion of understanding; and nothing seems to afford him more pleasure, than when he has apparently good grounds to display his irony and sarcasm against them; and even when he is compelled to mention any act of generosity or munificence, he ascribes it to some selfish and sinister motive, by insinuating such a phrase, as, ‘we may readily conceive’—‘it may be supposed,’ or—‘it may be presumed.’”

There were two remarks made by his lordship during the conversation, which deserve to be recorded, though no effort of memory has enabled me to recall the circumstances of the conversation which led to them. I suppose I must have said something about the sovereignty of God, and alluded to the similitude used in Scripture of the potter and his clay; for I distinctly remember his lordship having said, that he would certainly say to the potter, if he were broken in pieces, “Why do you treat me thus?” The other observation was, that, “If the whole world were going to hell, he would prefer going with them, than go
alone to heaven.” These remarks were heard by the others with apparent approbation and applause. I remember, after his departure, conversing with
M. and S., and remarking on this topic, that it was easy to talk thus, when he was not put to the test; but that if he were tried, his decision would be different, or human nature must be changed: the observation indicating equally the selfishness of man, and an ignorance of the true nature of the Christian religion.

Before the conversation was finished, a few other remarks, of no importance in themselves, were made. His lordship at last rose, after having sat from eleven till about three o’clock. He came up to me, and said, that “these were subjects which could not be discussed in a day, but required much time and deliberation. Why do you not print your thoughts on these subjects?” “Because,” I replied, “it never occurred to me that it was necessary, as there are thousands of able men who have written on religion, and I have nothing new to offer, and am unable to put what has been already written in any clearer point of view.” “But,” said he, “everyone has a different way of representing a subject, and the view which is old and useless to some, may be
made, in other hands, new and useful to others.” He then said, that they were very much obliged to me for the trouble I had taken with them. I replied, that “I was sorry I had been able to do so little good after so long a meeting.” He smiled, and said, “We must not despair, as we can meet again.” He then departed, accompanied by his friends.