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PREFACE.

The subject of these lectures is confessedly of the first importance, and deserves the most serious and general attention; it constitutes the foundation of all religious truth, and has, therefore, not only occupied the minds, bnt employed the pens of the most profound philosophers, and the ablest divines. Till within a few months, nothing was farther from the author's thoughts, than to add another to the many volumes which have been written on this suprenely interesting topic. The circumstances in which this work originated, and which seemed scarcely to leave an alternative, must be his apology-if any apology be deemed necessary-for its publication. Something more than twelve years ago, Providence directed the author's steps to one of the most populous manufacturing districts of this kingdom; he soon observed that the character of the population in general, was marked by no small degree of activity, and energy, and enterprise, extending to every subject which engaged their attention ; that they seldom remained indifferent spectators, or silent observers of what was passing around them, but that on all questions of trade, politics, or religion, they generally took a decided part, and whether right or wrong, pursued their object with determination and spirit. While, therefore, he beheld with satisfaction the vigorous efforts which were made to support most of the benevolent institutions which distinguish the present day, he saw with deep regret vice assuming a great degree of boldness, and perceived that a daring spirit of infidelity had, to a considerable extent, not only rejected the truths of revelation, but even denied or questioned the being of a God. He found that, besides regular meetings for discussing the favourite topics of scepticism, many works of infidelity were in circulation, and that the opportunities afforded for the inculcation of its tenets, by the frequent intercourse to which manufacturing employments give rise, were by no means lost. He frequently wished that some one qualified for the undertaking would step forward in the cause of truth, and endeavour by a reference to nature, and an appeal to reason, to stop the progress of errors so pernicious.

To one or two friends of scientific attainments, a plan of this kind was suggested, but in vain; while the pressure of the author's engagements, and the sense of the importance of such an undertaking, deterred him from making the attempt, though it still continued to occupy his thoughts.

Towards the close of 1833, the following placard was posted on the walls of the town and neighbourhood :

“ On Sunday last, in the Primitive Methodist Chapel, Mr. Matfin, according to previous announcement, repeated a declamation on INFIDELITY, which he had before delivered in the surrounding villages. Its character was therefore known, and prior to its repetition last Sunday evening, he received a letter, of which the following is a copy :

“SIR, -As you have taken advantage of the protection of the pulpit to misrepresent and abuse a certain portion of your fellow-creatures, whose only peculiarity is a devotedness to truth, a refusal to profess opinions which appear to them erroneous and absurd, though the reward of their honesty be the persecutions of interested hypocrisy on the one hand, and of prejudice, bigotry, and superstition, on the other,-as you have described such as enemies to human happiness, and fit only to be hunted from society, common justice requires, that while you thus endeavour to commit them to the antipathies of your hearers, you should allow them to be heard in their own defence. You are, therefore, requested either to permit a reply at the termination of your sermon, or otherwise offer the use of your chapel for that purpose, some evening of the ensuing week. You have described infidels as the most vicious and detestable beings in nature, but if you refuse them the common justice here demanded, your conduct will belie your words, and will prove you to be much more vicious and detestable.

Bradford, November 15th, 1833.” “ At the conclusion of the sermon, and while the collection was progressing, Mr. M. stated, that he had received a very ridiculous letter from the infidels, but he must tell them that if

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any one attempted to read anything, or speak, or kick up a dust,' they would subject themselves to a penalty of forty-one pounds, and that officers were in attendance to mark them out, in order that the law might be enforced.

“Here is a pretty specimen of the liberality of parsons! They will only assert the truth of Christianity where their dogmas cannot be gainsaid! If, however, they be sincere in their declaration that such a doom as they assert, awaits those who differ from them in opinion and belief, is it not then their duty to hear and answer the reasons assigned for such difference? They must know that belief is not dependent on the will, it is the result of perception, and that therefore, declamation against, and vituperation of infidelity, are quite useless. Persuasion or threatenings can be of no avail to alter opinions and belief honestly entertained, -all such changes must be the result of conviction from reflection, reasoning, and argument. They should establish the truth of their creed, by exhibiting the force of its evidence, and the futility of all objections. Let any one competent to this task undertake it, and he may obtain the co-operation of the sceptic for the eliciting of the truth.”

“ Bradford, November 22d, 1833.”

On reading the above, the author at once felt that such an appeal should be met; and as he found that no one else was likely to take up the subject, he determined on attempting to "establish the truth" of what is generally believed, “hy exhibiting the force of its evidence, and the futility of all objections.” As soon as his intentions were known, those who had espoused the sentiments alluded to, professed themselves highly pleased, and offered to render any assistance to such an investigation. A public meeting for discussion was suggested; but that, on several accounts, was declined, as less eligible than a course of lectures. It was also requested, that permission might be given to those who held sceptical opinions, to reply in the chapel to the arguments which might be advanced; but this was not admissible. The author, however, went as far as he could with propriety; he promised them a syllabus of the lectures, and offered, when they should fix on a time and place for replying, to announce the appointment from the pulpit, and with his friends to hear what should be advanced by them; and farther, that if they should prove any statement of importance to be incorrect, or any material argument unsound, he would willingly acknowledge it. The difficulty of obtaining a suitable place was finally alleged as a reason for abandoning this plan, and the author was urged to commit his lectures to the press, that they might thus receive an answer. So urgent, indeed, was the request, that a deputation from the body offered to print the lectures at their own expense, if they should be furnished with the manuscript. As to publishing, no decided reply could then be given; but they were promised, at all events, copious notes.

In February and March the lectures were delivered in Sion Chapel, where the author officiates as pastor. The interest felt in the town and neighbourhood was far greater than the lecturer had anticipated; the place was crowded to excess, the congregation increasing as the course proceeded, and though the pressure and heat were great, a silent and unremitting attention was given to the whole of the lectures, which occupied on an average, each, about two hours and a quarter in delivery. Those who had embraced the tenets of infidelity were general and regular in their attendance, and their behaviour was marked with propriety. Indeed, it is but just to say, that in all the communications the author has had with the leaders of the sceptical party, he has been treated with the utmost respect and courtesy ; in his intercourse with them he has often expressed his deep concern for their welfare, and his sense of the pernicious nature of their principles, which they have uniformly received with kindness. It is also but just to add, that though the greater part of those who are professedly sceptical, deny, it appears, the existence of a Supreme and Intelligent Creator distinct from nature, they are not, as far as the author can learn, disgraced by licentious habits; many of them he believes to be men of upright conduct, against whom nothing can be alleged but their principles. That such men should embrace a system so contrary to the general sense of mankind, so opposed to the conclusions of most of the wisest and the best of men, a system so extravagant in its opinions, so barren of all that is good, so unfavourable in its aspect on virtue, is a cause of surprise and regret. May“ the Father of lights” mercifully convince them of their error-may they “know the truth," and may the truth “make them free.”

In addition to the frequent and urgent requests of the followers of infidelity, and the great difficulty found in furnishing, according to promise, such notes as would answer the purpose; a unanimous and affectionate request came from the author's own beloved charge, that the lectures might be published,-he could hesitate no longer. In consequence of these circumstances, they now appear before the public. The local interest cannot, of course, be expected to be widely extended, but the author could not well print for some, without publishing for all. It was felt to be a disadvantage that so many had written, and ably written on the same subject, but none have written precisely in the same way; and besides, many will probably read these lectures who have not time, or opportunity, or inclination to read other works. It was difficult to keep clear of the ground which others had occupied, but it is presumed that no candid and judicious critic will suppose that complete originality was either practicable or desirable. The author has, of course, read on the subject, but he has thought for himself; and as it has, no doubt, happened to others, trains of thought which to him were original, he has often found, subsequently, in writers already before the public. He has deemed it right to avail himself of all the information which was accessible to him that bears upon the subject; he has often quoted, but never he believes, copied. While the author was preparing the lectures, a work was put into his hands published a few years since, by a highly respectable and talented minister of the Methodist New Connexion, on the same subject ;* but, as the author found on inspection, that this gentleman referred principally to the work whose atheistic tenets he also intended to examine, he laid it aside without a perusal, lest he should be in the dilemma of either appearing to copy him, or of giving up ground which might be

* The Rev. T. Allin.

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