« AnteriorContinuar »
the most childish and trifling; and such, if I am not greatly mistaken, as to admit of no comparison in any other school, ancient or modern.*
Another favourite objection (and the last I shall notice), with this school is this : If, say they, we allow the Scriptures to be vested with divine authority, still they have never produced the unanimity which they seem, as such, to promise : and, therefore, whether we take them as possessing a natural, or a supernatural, claim to attention, the result arrived at is one and the same: the majority of those who know them are disobedient; and millions have never yet heard of their existence.
I answer: In the first place, the goodness or badness of any code of laws can never be argued from the disregard with which it may happen to have been treated. This would be the same thing as to affirm, that laws are to be judged of by the lawless, and the maxims of virtue extant in any country, to be estimated or condemned, according to the taste of those only who are strangers to their requirements : unless, indeed, we can suppose the existence of laws such as to force the will, control the judgment, and irresistibly to bring about an entire obedience to all their enactments. But this would be to suppose the exertion of a constant miraculous power, unsuitable to the present nature of things, such as necessarily to put an end to every moral distinction between right and wrong, and to reduce the intelligent and now accountable creatures of God, to the situation of mere machines. But, if any persons are to be appealed to on the nature of such laws, it must surely be those who have examined and tried them,- those who have marked their effects under every variety of circumstance, and who could have no earthly reason whatever for offering an untrue testimony.
In this respect, then, the evidence tendered in favour of
* On this subject, see the Second Part of the First Dissertation, following.
the efficiency of our Scriptures is in all respects complete. We have here a cloud of witnesses, continued through a period of nearly six thousand years, testifying in the face of persecutions, mockings, scourgings, destitutions, death, and with a constancy, calmness, and intrepidity, unequalled in the records of time, and never adduced in any other case,
, that the word of God is both profitable and powerful. We have an army of martyrs, as remarkable in many cases for their learning, strength of judgment, and due subjection to constituted authorities, as they were disinterested in their profession, resigned in their sufferings, or joyful in their deaths. In them we find men who had submitted, not only to the doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness, proposed in the Holy Scriptures; but who were as abundantly furnished to every good work, as the most rigid moralist, the most devoted philanthropist, the most rigorous interpreter of human laws, could desire or expect to find; and much more so than the world has ever yet seen in its almost endless list of heroes, philosophers, poets, and patriots.
But to descend to points still better known, and more widely felt. Taking the religion of the Bible at its very lowest estimate, and allowing that the sublimity and purity of its precepts have not invariably produced their due effects; still, I might ask : Did the public tone of morals in heathen countries, or in heathen times, ever present any thing comparable to what is to be found even among Rationalists themselves, where Christianity has been divested of more than half its power? Or, to descend still lower, Is it probable that civilisation would have ever smoothed the rugged path of life, or human society have exhibited any thing better than barbarism, had no such revelation been made, as that which is found in the Bible, * unequal as
From the long continuance of barbarism in the South Sea Islands and elsewhere, without the least approximation evinced towards civilisation, taken in addition to the numerous instances in which many of them, even after
it is to the miraculous power of converting every stubborn heart, or of bowing down every objector to the humility of a saint in light? But, passing over these considerations, which however lay claim to our highest regard, the charge here considered, taking as it does for granted that, because the declarations of the Scriptures are not miraculously overpowering, (the possibility, however, of which in any case the objectors deny,) they are therefore powerless, rests on the fallacy, that because they will admit of being mistaken and misrepresented, they therefore possess no influence which can justly lay claim to the title of divine; a position too absurd to stand in need of a moment's consideration. We may therefore conclude, that, as those who have known them best, and whose testimony is consequently entitled to the greatest regard, have given and ratified with their blood, a very different kind of evidence, we are bound to admit, that they really and truly possess all the properties ascribed to them in our text, and, as the same Apostle elsewhere affirms, that they are “ able to save the soul.”
witnessing the advantages of civilised life, have again willingly relapsed into savage life, it may justly be doubted, that had man been originally placed on this earth in the situation of a savage, and no means of instruction been afforded him from above, whether all the powers he possessed, or could call into action, would have been equal to the task of making him any thing better than a savage, under any circumstances. My own opinion is, and I think it will be borne out by the facts of the case, that under such circumstances he would never have felt, or wished to have felt, any motives for exertion higher than those necessary to gratify his wants, or to provide for the very lowest gratification of his senses. It is common and easy, I very well know, to say, that other things might have been brought about. I contend, however, that the testimony of fact, as far as that is hitherto known, speaks a totally different language, and affirms, that the world has never yet seen any such efforts made by unassisted nature only: and, my conclusion from these premises is, that if man had come from the hands of his Maker in a state of savage life, and received no instruction from above, he must, and would, still have remained a savage to all intents and purposes.
If I had not done among them the works which none other
man did, they had not had sin.—John, xv. 24.
When we consider the relation in which God stands with his rational but fallible creatures, we shall be at no loss to perceive, that if obedience has been called for on the one hand, there must have been proposed on the other, sufficient reason for believing that it was God who made the call; or, in other words, If revelation demand an entire acquiescence on the part of man, without at the same time exercising a violent restraint upon his reason and will, it must also propose something adequate to convince him that the claims thus made are irresistible. The reason of this is obvious enough. The human mind has, for one reason or other, something like a natural propensity to religion. We cannot help believing, that beings superior to ourselves somewhere exist; and, consequently, that these ought to be regarded. We also know (to use a very homely phrase), that whatever the market calls for will be supplied. And hence it is, that claims to superior information on the head of religion, have perhaps been more frequently made, than on any other subject whatsoever. Tales the most marvellous and interesting possible have been invented, in order to meet the credulity of the many; and visions, dreams, and apparitions, have been appealed to, for the purpose of giving currency and effect to the imposition; and, the consequence has been, that men have not so much differed as to the being and character of God, for most nations have been unanimous on these subjects,-as to what form of religion they ought to follow.
The religion, however, presented to us in the Bible, is of a character very far different from those usually proposed by these means. All we have here is simple, plain, unalluring, and in some cases actually forbidding. We have here nothing, or next to nothing, calculated to excite the imagination; and certainly nothing which pretends either to polish the manners, or to supply the arts by which the politician might thrive, or the moralist surprise and dazzle. We have here a system of the most sublime truths delivered in language the most artless possible; accompanied however by evidences which defy competition, and powers which peremptorily demand belief; and, consonant with this is the sentiment delivered in our text: “If,” says our blessed Lord, “I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin."
If, then, miraculous operations, such as to demand our acquiescence, have been afforded for the purpose of effectually recommending divine truth, our next question will be: How are these to be known to be such ; for Scripture itself informs us, that false miracles also may be advanced, and such as may possibly deceive the very elect? I answer: The words of our text will supply us with the true criterion. Works, such as no other man can do, must be truly miraculous ; — and, whenever these are publicly advanced, we may rest assured, that a just claim to belief has been made. It will be necessary here, however, to guard against misconception in the use of words. When our Lord uses the term works, we must be careful not to give too great a latitude to his meaning, for these reasons : There are works, we know, which some one man may be able to do, which no other can; or, which is the same thing in a practical point of view, to which no other man has been able to produce an equal. Such are the literary productions of some of the ancients, and of many of the moderns; feats of valour or of chivalry; works of industry or of art, which will perhaps, for ever remain matters of wonder and delight, and may probably never be equalled. Again, in the progress of science and of art, effects may hereafter be brought about, which some may be disposed at this day to pronounce