Full Title: An Examination of the Age of Reason or an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology, by Thomas Paine. By Gilbert Wakefield. London: Printed; New York: Re-printed by G. Forman, No. 156, Front-Street, for J. Fellows, no. 131 Water-Street, 1794.
EXAMINATION OF THE AGE OF REASON, &C.
THAT the former writings of Thomas Paine abound with indications of original conception and profound thought, of comprehension and sagacity, far beyond the vigour of vulgar minds, no man, I presume, of character for intelligence and integrity will venture to deny. To the authority of venal sycophants, and all the retainers of corrupt and wicked systems, whether in politics or religion, no competency can be allowed in a decision upon this subject: but, on the contrary, the virulence of their abuse is in itself no unequivocal symptom of extraordinary merit: just as the screams and tumult of the feathered tribe prove some bird of nobler presence and more ample pinion to be approaching. The work, which I have undertaken to examine, is entitled to particular respect from the circumstances of it’s composition. It is the effusion of a pregnant intellect, sobered by the meditations of a solitary prison, not unatttended probably by some apprehensions of such a catastrophe, as a crisis of things so novel and eventful, may daily and hourly be expected to produce. The reflections therefore of such a season, from so popular a name, on a subject of such universal interest, is secure, we may presume, of considerable attention in this country, from those who are occupied in the discussion of their civil and religious creed: a number which has certainly increased of late with surprising rapidity, and will, I hope and believe, go on encreasing with an accelerated progress. On this account, I conceived myself not unlikely to serve the cause of revealed truth by an examination of a deistical pamphlet, which seemed so fair a candidate for extensive circulation: and I felt the more inclination to this task, not from an arrogant persuasion of superior knowledge and abilities, but from a clear conviction, that Christianity CANNOT be vindicated adequately and consistently against Deism by any slave of systems and establishments; well aware in the mean time, that all my zeal for Christianity will not screen me from the malice of those, who love church-emoluments better than scripture-truth; because an opportunity will arise of exposing the trumpery and nonsense of ecclesiastics.
The time is come, when all our opinions must be tried at the touchstone of severe enquiry; and, if the Jewish and Christian revelations cannot support themselves against the batteries of their assailants, in the estimation of capable and disinterested judges, the outposts must be abandoned; and a retreat secured to the fortresses of deism, already occupied by the patriarchs of old, and the illustrious philosophers of later times. The sway of creeds and councils, of hierarchies and churches, whether Protestant or Popish, over the bodies and consciences of men, is diminishing apace: and the temple of revelation, deprived of the mouldering props, which priestcraft, and tyranny, and superstition had framed for it’s support, must repose solely in it’s proper basis, the adamant TRUTH. . . .