Imágenes de páginas

accomplish his purpose. Hence the question will finally be brought to the following point: whether it be easier to believe, that knowledge or ignorance on the part of man, respecting the purpose of his Creator, is the most efficacious in the way of securing its accomplishment. They who contend for the superior efficacy of ignorance, will adhere to the party of the deist: they on the contrary, who maintain the superior efficacy of knowledge, will join the ranks of the Christian. A difference of opinion on this subject there doubtless may be but the question in that case must ever remain, whether the deist who pleads for the efficacy of ignorance, or the Christian who pleads for the efficacy of knowledge, evinces the higher degree of credulity.

3. A third possible ground of infidelity is the position, that the evidences, upon which our reception of every system claiming to be a revelation from heaven is demanded, are so weak and unsatisfactory, that they are insufficient to command our reasonable assent.

Should this position be assumed by the unbeliever, while we disclaim the vindication of any theological system except that which is propounded in the Bible, as being a matter wholly foreign to the question at issue between us, we have a clear right to expect and demand a regular confutation of the arguments, which are advanced in our best treatises on the evidences of Judaism and Christianity; such, for instance, as the well-known and popular writings of Leslie and Paley: for it is nugatory to say, that the evidences in favour of the Bible being a divine revelation are weak and unsatisfactory; while yet no regular confutation of the arguments, upon which those evidences rest, is pretended to be brought forward. To start difficulties is one thing: to answer arguments, another. Now the mere starting of an insulated difficulty is no answer to a regular argument. The work, which we have a right to demand, is a work, in which the author shall go regularly through the treatises (we will say) of Leslie

and Paley; taking argument after argument, successively showing their utter inconclusiveness, and then bringing out the triumphant result that the evidences of a divine revelation are too weak and unsatisfactory to command our reasonable assent. Let this be done; and we may allow the present ground of infidelity to be tenable: but simply to assert that the evidences are insufficient, while not an attempt is made to give a regular answer to the various arguments which have been brought forward by writers on the evidences, is plainly an assertion without proof. If the evidences be indeed insufficient, it must doubtless be easy to answer the arguments. Why then has no reply been given to them? Why is a mere naked gratuitous assertion made, as to the insufficiency of the evidences, while the arguments yet remain unanswered? Such silence is not a little suspicious and it is difficult to refrain from conjecturing, that vague assertion is found to be more easy than regular confutation, and a starting of insulated difficulties less toilsome than a formal reply to a series of close reasoning.

4. Accordingly, a fourth ground of Infidelity is the position, that numerous objections and difficulties exist in the case of each system claiming the character of a divine revelation; which objections and difficulties cannot be answered and removed.

Here, as before, it may be remarked, that with the objections and difficulties which exist in the case of any system save that contained in the Bible we have no concern: the only point between the infidel and the Christian is, whether any such position can be reasonably taken up in regard to that scheme of religion, which is set forth in Scripture as being of divine origin and authority.

The present position, as being likely to produce a very considerable effect with but a small expense of labour and trouble, has ever been a prime favourite with the deistical school, from generation to genera

tion and, accordingly, it is upon this principle that the works of infidel writers are generally constructed. As I have already observed, no attempt is made to combat the strong and invincible arguments by which the divine authority of Judaism and Christianity is established: but various difficulties are industriously produced, more or less plausible; and on the strength of these difficulties it is contended, that our religion has no legitimate claim to the character of a revelation from heaven.

Now, even if the objections and difficulties in question could not be answered and removed, it may be doubted, whether the argument of the deist, which is founded upon them, could well be deemed logically conclusive. When honestly thrown into the form of a syllogism, the argument will run as follows:

A religion, claiming to be a revelation from heaven, is demonstrated to be such by a train of close reasoning upon its evidences; which it has been found impossible to confute through the medium of a regular answer, article by article. But, in regard to sundry matters connected with this religion, objections may be made and difficulties may be started. Therefore such religion has no legitimate claim to be deemed a revelation from heaven.

Here, when divested of much noise and smoke, we have the sum and substance of the argument, which, in the opinion of the infidel, is sufficient to overturn Christianity. A fact is established by the highest possible degree of moral evidence: but certain difficulties may be started: therefore the fact must not be credited.

In good truth, if we admit the conclusiveness of such reasoning as this, (and it is the only reasoning which occurs in the writings of most authors of the infidel school,) we shall make but short and sorry work with history. Where is the best established fact, against which objections may not be raised ?

But, if objections may be raised against it; then, according to the deistical argument before us, it is not to be believed.

By way of specimen, let us take the case of Cyrus, and reason upon it after the deistical fashion.

The fact of the existence of Cyrus, as the sovereign of the Medo-Persian and the subverter of the Babylonian Empire, is established by such strong moral evidence, that, if we reject it, we must reject all history and sink into universal skepticism. But, in regard to this fact, a serious difficulty occurs: for Herodotus and Xenophon give us two accounts of Cyrus so essentially different, that by no human ingenuity can they be reconciled together. Therefore no such person as Cyrus ever existed.

What should we think of the credulity, which could implicitly adopt this mode of reasoning as valid and conclusive? Yet such is the precise mode of reasoning, which of all others is the most commonly employed by infidel writers against Christianity. The clear evidence in favour of it they pretermit without an answer: they content themselves with starting difficulties and then, on the score of these difficulties alone, they take upon themselves to reject it, though in the face of the very strongest conceivable evidence.

A process of this description would, I apprehend, be wholly unsatisfactory on any intelligible principles of ratiocination, even if the objections could not be answered and the difficulties removed: for, if objections and difficulties are to be admitted against positive unanswered evidence; there is an end of all moral certainty, and the reign of universal skepticism is forthwith introduced. What then shall we say, when the various objections and difficulties, started by infidels in the case of divine revelation, have again and again. been met, and answered, and solved? There is nothing new under the sun. It may probably be asserted with truth, that not a single cavil is to be found in the writings

of modern deists, which has not been both adduced and answered long before they themselves were born.

The sum therefore of the present matter is, that, in direct opposition to positive unanswered evidence, the infidel calls upon us to reject Christianity on the strength of certain insulated objections; which objections have repeatedly been most fully answered.

5. A fifth ground of Infidelity is the position, that, as various theological systems have alike claimed to be revelations from heaven, and as the advocates of each system have been equally forward in maintaining their own to the exclusion of every other, the shrewd presumption with a philosophical inquirer will be, that all these systems are, without exception, mere interested impositions upon the credulity of mankind.

This is the position, which has been taken by Mr. Volney. With a considerable degree of picturesque stage-effect, all nations upon the face of the earth, accompanied by the priests of their several religions, appear before the French philosopher and his attendant hierophantic genius. Each sacerdotal college claims, for its own theological system, the character of a divine revelation. Now it is perfectly clear, that every claim of this description cannot be deemed valid. Hence Mr. Volney and his genius sagaciously conclude, that no such claim can be rationally admitted.

Such, when stripped of its gaudy plumage, is the formidable argument, by which this gentleman proposes to destroy Christianity root and branch. Less adventurous inquirers would probably have acted somewhat differently. Various theological systems are presented to them, all equally claiming the authority of a divine revelation. In this emergency what is to be done?. The most natural answer to such a question might, I presume, be given in the words of Holy Writ: Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.* Let us care


* 1 Thess. v. 21,

« AnteriorContinuar »