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Preface to A Defence of Christianity

John Benjamin Jones, "Translators Preface" to A Defence of Christianity (Gilbert & Rivington: December 1835), vii-xiii.

Although to “be ready to give every one a reason of the hope that is in you,” is the absolute command of inspiration, still it is undeniable, that too many members of the Christian Church possess not that distinct knowledge of the proofs establishing the Divine origin of their religion, which could enable them to satisfy the minds of others, or even to content their own. One obvious excuse for this ignorance on the most important of all subjects, is, that throughout the long list of modern theological publications, few, devoted exclusively to the evidences, are to be found, which can be considered as likely to invite and retain the attention of an anxious but unlearned Christian. In fact, by far the greater number of our excellent apologists, pious, learned, and eloquent as they are, seem to have been tacitly consigned to the closet of the student.

It has also been urged, in opposition to the utility of works treating solely on metaphysical theology, that they may excite doubt, where doubt never before existed. But this objection is certainly as inconsiderate as it is unfounded. For if it is admitted (and admitted it must be), that the divinity of our faith maybe substantiated by proofs, which cannot fail of convincing every rational inquirer, surely the doubt which inspires and stimulates an investigation, inevitably inducing so happy a result is to be courted rather than shunned; and surely a faith which is the consequence of research and ultimate conviction, is more likely to be productive of good works, than the blindly implicit assent yielded by negligence or indifference.

We certainly may never have occasion to parry the attacks of avowed and unqualified atheism, inasmuch as it is very doubtful whether so absurd a doctrine was ever seriously and conscientiously entertained by any man, yet sceptics and scoffers we may frequently meet; and to be able to dissipate the doubts suggested by the one, and to rise superior to the sarcasms of the other, will ever prove a source of indescribable consolation to the true worshipper. Here it may be said, that the Christian should be a humble believer, and not a noisy disputant, modest and unassuming, and not bold and contradictory. But it should be remembered, that there is a wide interval between angry contention and dispassionate argument; and that the resolute yet temperate maintenance of our religious tenets, far from being repugnant to the genius of Christianity, is a duty which the inspired writers not only enjoin, but which they themselves have practised.

True it is, that the study of metaphysical theology will not render all men fitting champions in the cause of truth, or strong enough to pick up the gauntlet of the infidel challenger. True it is, that we may not all possess those talents which could ensure the overthrow or even the repulse of our adversaries, or be endued with that argumentative skill and persuasive eloquence which could effect their conversion; still we may sometimes be compelled to argue with ourselves, and to silence the dictates of rebellious reason, before conscience can testify that our own conviction is honest and our own faith sincere. The prevailing malady of the age seems, however, to be a reckless indifference rather than an absolute infidelity. To pretend that this disease may be wholly cured by a diffusion of religious books, however pious, however eloquent, or however convincing, would be as irrational as to suppose that it has been wholly induced by the perusal of works of a different tendency. To the great bulk of professing Christians, the productions of our infidel authors, from Herbert to Hume, are hardly known. Were they even in general use, I cannot help thinking that most readers of the present day would speedily discover that their conclusions are illegitimately drawn, and strikingly fallacious. For, even Voltaire’s ridicule has ever been more mischievous than his logic, and Bayle’s irony more fatal than his deductions. He who is not to be seduced by wit or put to shame by sarcasm, has little to fear from either of them. No, the grand source of all our errors is to be found in the corruption of our own hearts, and their perfect regeneration requires a medicine more potent than any which can be administered by man.

I cannot but persuade myself, however, that a perusal of the following pages must be attended with some beneficial results. My original certainly possesses many claims for a favourable reception. It has also some peculiar beauties. It is remarkable, in the first place, for the clear demonstration of the fact, that our faith need not be at variance with our reason; secondly, for the candid and unflinching manner in which the objections of our opponents are stated, this being generally done in their own words; and, thirdly, for the truly Christian spirit infused into the arguments adopted for their refutation. There is nothing savouring of controversial ambition; no bigotted intolerance, no intemperate remark. Where there is zeal and warmth, both are equally attempered by charity. There is no allusion to any one of the various sects into which Christianity is divided and subdivided, which can possibly be deemed offensive.

I have endeavoured to render my translation not only as faithful, but even as literal as idiom would permit me; thinking, that in a work so strictly and closely argumentative, any construction verging even on paraphrase, would endanger the perspicuity of the conclusion. How far I have succeeded in imparting to my copy something of the forcible eloquence and beautiful spirit of its original, must be left to the decision of others. I cannot, in conclusion, refrain from expressing my conviction, that the volumes now submitted to the public may be read, certainly, without offence, and probably with profit, by every member of every denomination of Christians; and the knowledge that my humble labours have been instrumental in promoting the conviction and confirming the faith of any one of my countrymen, who may hitherto have been ” halting between two opinions,” would ever afford me inexpressible satisfaction.