Now, in speaking of an usurpation of the Reason at the present day, stretching over the province of Religion, and in fact over the Christian Church, no admission is made concerning the degree of cultivation which the Reason has at present reached in the territory which it has unjustly entered. A tyrant need not be strong; he keeps his ground by prescription and through fear. It is not the profound thinkers who intrude with their discussions and criticisms within the sacred limits of moral truth. A really philosophical mind, if unhappily it has ruined its own religious perceptions, will be silent; it will understand that Religion does not lie in its way: it may disbelieve its truths, it may account belief in them a weakness, or, on the other hand, a happy dream, a delightful error, which it cannot itself enjoy;—any how, it will not usurp. But men who know but a little, are for that very reason most under the power of the imagination, which fills up for them at pleasure those departments of knowledge to which they are strangers; and, as the ignorance of abject minds shrinks from the spectres which it frames there, the ignorance of the self-confident is petulant and presuming.

17. The usurpations of the Reason may be dated from the Reformation. Then, together with the tyranny, the legitimate authority of the ecclesiastical power was more or less overthrown; and in some places its ultimate basis also, the moral sense. One school of men resisted the Church; another went farther, and rejected the supreme authority of the law of Conscience. Accordingly, Revealed Religion was in a great measure stripped of its proof; for the existence of the Church had been its external evidence, and its internal had been supplied by the moral sense. Reason now undertook to repair the demolition it had made, and to render the proof of Christianity independent both of the Church and of the law of nature. From that time (if we take a general view of its operations) it has been engaged first in making difficulties by the mouth of unbelievers, and then claiming power in the Church as a reward for having, by the mouth of apologists, partially removed them.

Oxford University Sermons 4

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