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fully examine the evidences by which these various theological systems are supported. If there be no sufficient evidence for any one of them, then let them all be equally rejected. But, if in any single case the evidence be sufficient, while in every other case it is insufficient; then let the well-attested system be received, while the ill-attested systems are rejected.
This mode of proceeding appears to be obvious and rational, notwithstanding it happens to be recommended by an apostle of the Christian faith at least we are very apt, in the common affairs of life, to resort to what is strictly analogical. Numerous persons put in their respective claims to a vacant estate. Every one of them, it is quite plain, cannot be the legitimate heir. What then is to be done? Is a calm and regular investigation to be entered upon, for the purpose of determining the validity or the invalidity of each claim; so that the lawful heir may be admitted to his just right, while every unwarranted pretender is set aside? Or is the whole body of claimants to be forthwith dismissed, without ceremony and without inquiry, on the principle adopted by Mr. Volney and luminously set forth by his attendant genius; that, because every one cannot be the lawful heir, THEREFORE no one can? Truly, if the principle of our philosophic Frenchman were to be acted upon in our courts of justice, it would occasion no small amazement and speculation: and I cannot help suspecting, that, if Mr. Volney himself were with many others the claimant of a valuable estate, and if his pretensions were to be as rapidly disposed of as he is pleased to dispose of the pretensions of Christianity, he would not be quite satisfied with the equity of the adjudication, but would be apt to move for a new decision in a higher court.
Let us, however, throw Mr. Volney's argument into a regular syllogism; which operation I have always found specially useful in dispelling the dense artificial fogs, raised at will by infidel controversialists.
Various theological systems equally and respectively claim to be a revelation from heaven. But it is impossible, that every one of these systems can be a divine revelation. Therefore no one of them is a revelation from heaven.
In this single syllogism we have the sum total of the argument, which pervades the entire celebrated work of Mr. Volney. Its validity will be readily estimated by a familiar application of its principle.
Various bank-notes equally and respectively claim to be genuine. But it is positively ascertained, that many of them are forgeries. Therefore, by every rule of sound logic, all of them must inevitably be forgeries likewise.
6. A sixth ground of infidelity is the position, that, as our unassisted reason is the sole instrument by which our duty is to be determined, so our reason when properly and honestly used is in itself quite sufficient for this purpose; consequently, a revelation from God is no less unnecessary in the abstract, than the claim of any particular theological system to be received as a revelation from God is unfounded in the concrete.
When Mr. Volney has happily rid himself of all, religions by the compendious process already noticed. he then confidently takes the position now before us.
Investigate, says the assembled multitude to his college of imaginary legislators: Investigate the laws, which nature, for our direction, has implanted in our breasts; and form from thence an authentic and immutable code. Nor let this code be calculated for one family or one nation only, but for the whole without exception. Be the legislators of the human race, as you are the interpreters of their common nature. Show us the line, that separates the world of chimeras from that of realities; and teach us, after so many religions of error and delusion, the religion of evidence and truth.
With respect to the sufficiency or the insufficiency of the light of nature, it is obviously a matter of opinion.
Mr. Volney deems it so sufficient, that he thinks nothing can be more easy than to frame.from it an authentic and immutable code, to which the whole race of mankind, without a single dissenting voice, will readily subscribe: Socrates, on the contrary, deems it so palpably insufficient, that, in the well-known and familiar record of his pupil Plato, he avows his despair of attaining to any thing like certainty, until some divine teacher shall leave his native skies for the purpose of communicating sure and tangible knowledge.*
Here, even in limine, we have a most important difference of opinion between two celebrated characters the one ancient, the other modern; the one the the pride of reasoning Greece, the other the glory of emancipated France. How then are we to decide between these two illustrious luminaries of Athens and of Paris?
All is quite clear and certain by the light of nature alone: we want no revelation to illuminate our pretended darkness. So speaks Mr. Volney to the deeply thinking philosophers of the Gallic metropolis.
All is quite dark and obscure by the unassisted light of nature: we can never attain to certain knowledge, save by a revelation from him who careth for us. So of old spake Socrates to his anxiously inquisitive pupil Alcibiades.
Now, with such an immense difference of opinion before us, what hope can we reasonably entertain of the easy formation of an authentic and immutable code, in which all mankind shall cheerfully and unanimously acquiesce or how can we build with any confidence on the infidel position, that, as the light of nature is in itself sufficient without any revelation from God, such a revelation is thence altogether useless and unne
* Σ. Αναγκαιον ουν εστι περιμένειν, εως αν τις μαθη πως δει προς θεους καὶ προς ανθρωπους διακεῖσθαι. Α. Ποτε ουν παρεσται δ χρονος δυτος, ω Σωκρατες ; και τις δ παιδευσων ; ήδιστα γαρ αν μοι δόκω ιδειν τουτον τον ανθρωπον, τις εστιν. Σ. Ουτος εστιν, ᾧ μελει περι σου. Plat. Alcib. ii. in Dial. Select. ed. Cantab. p. 255, 256.
cessary? Socrates thinks with the Christians: Mr. Volney, with the deist. Shall we symbolize with the Greek or with the Frank?
But, whatever may be thought on this point (and I shall hereafter consider, somewhat largely, the capabi lities of the light of nature*), it appears to be rather an extraordinary process to reject Christianity, on the disputed ground that human reason alone is sufficient, while the various arguments, on which is built the evidence of its claim to be received as a divine revelation, still remain unanswered. An abstract notion, itself all the while a disputed notion, Mr. Volney maintaining and Socrates denying its propriety; an abstract notion, so circumstanced, can never be rationally admitted against direct unconfuted evidence to a fact. He, therefore, who can be content to found his system upon so inse cure a basis, may, I think, be more justly charged with an easy faith or a fond credulity, than he,, who cautiously deems such a basis inadequate to support the proposed superstructure.
II. In the present stage of the argument then, the believer admits Christianity to be a revelation from God on the following several grounds.
A revelation from heaven is, in the abstract, a circumstance clearly possible.
From a consideration of the wisdom of the Creator and the ignorance of the created, the fact of a divine revelation is highly probable.
The evidence in favour of Christianity being a divine revelation is so strong, that it cannot be reasonably controverted; more especially as the arguments, upon which the evidence rests, have never yet been confuted.
Mere difficulties, even if unanswerable, cannot set aside direct and positive evidence; still less therefore
* See below Sect. ii.
can they set it aside, when they have been fully and repeatedly solved.
Numerous pretended revelations, like copious issues of base coin, are no proof of the non-existence of that which is genuine: but the false may be readily distinguished from the true by a careful and honest examination of their respective evidences.
Finally, as our unassisted reason is an insufficient teacher, a matter long since acknowledged by the wisest of the Greeks, a revelation from God is no less necessary in the abstract, than the claim of Christianity to be received as such a revelation is well founded in the concrete.
III. On the other hand, still in the present stage of the argument, the unbeliever denies Christianity to be a revelation from God on the following several grounds.
Although a revelation may perhaps in itself be possible, yet the fact of one is very highly improbable: because it is to the last degree unlikely, that an all-wise Creator should deem it necessary to give any instructions to a rational but inevitably ignorant being, whom he had created.
The evidence in favour of Christianity being a divine revelation, is insufficient; though no infidel has hitherto been able to confute the arguments, on which it rests.
Insulated objections to a fact, notwithstanding they may have been repeatedly answered, are quite sufficient with a reasonable inquirer to set aside the very strongest unanswered evidence.
As many pretended revelations are confessedly impostures, therefore all alleged revelations must clearly be impostures likewise.
Lastly, as our unassisted reason is held by some philosophers to be a sufficient teacher, while others declare it to be wholly insufficient, a revelation from God is quite unnecessary: nor ought any claim of this