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CHAPTER XX.

Miscellaneous Objections answered.

THE system of revealed religion contained in the Old and New Testaments, being opposed to the natural corrupt inclinations, and often to the actual practice of men; laying them under rules to which they are averse; threatening them with a result which they dread; holding out to them no pleasures but such as they distaste, and no advantages but those which they would gladly exchange for a perpetual life of sinful indulgence on earth; will be regarded by many of the most reflecting among them as a system of restraint; and must therefore often excite either direct hostility, or a disposition to encourage and admit suggestions tending to weaken its authority. It may be added, that, as the Scriptures cannot be known without careful examination, which implies a serious habit not to be found in the majority, objections have been often raised by ingenious men in great ignorance of the volume itself against which they are directed; and being sometimes urged on the ground of some popular view of a fact or doctrine, they have been received as carelessly as they were uttered. Philosophers too have sometimes constructed hasty theo ries on various subjects, which have either contradicted or been thought to contradict some parts of the Scriptures; and the array of science, and the fascination of novelty, have equally de ceived and misled the theorist himself and his disciples. Since the revival of letters, and in countries where freedom of discussion has been allowed, objectors have arisen, and numerous attempts have been made to shake the faith of mankind. That specious kind of infidelity known by the name of " Deism," made its appearance in Italy and France about the middle of the sixteenth century, and in England early in the seventeenth. Under this appellation, and that of "The Religion of Nature,” each adopted to deceive the unwary, the attack upon Christianity was at first cautious, and accompanied with many professions of regard for its manifold excellencies. Lord HERBERT of Cherbury was the first who in this country advocated this system. He lays down five primary articles of religion, as containing every thing

necessary to be believed; and as he contends they are all discoverable by our natural faculties, they supersede, he informs us, the necessity of a revelation. They are-that there is a Supreme God-that he is chiefly to be worshipped-that piety and virtue are the principal part of his worship-that repentance expiates offences and that there is a state of future rewards and punishments. The history of infidelity from this time is a striking comment upon the words of St. Paul," But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived ;” for in the progress of this deadly error all Lord Herbert's five articles of Natural Religion have been questioned or given up by those who followed him in his fundamental principle, that nothing can be admitted which is not discoverable by our natural faculties. HOBBES, who succeeded next in this warfare against the Bible, if he acknowledges that there is a God, represents him as corporeal, and our duty to him as a chimera, the civil magistrate being supreme in all things both civil and sacred. SHAFTESBURY insists that the doctrine of rewards and punishments is degrading to the understanding and detrimental to moral virtue. HUME denies the relation between cause and effect, and thus attempts to overthrow the argument for the existence of God from the frame of the universe. By others the worship of God, which Lord Herbert advocates, has been rejected as unreasonable, because He needs not our praises, and is not to be turned from his purposes by our prayers. As all law, of Divine authority, is on this system renounced, so "piety and virtue" must be understood to be what every man chooses to consider it, which amounts to their annihilation; and as for future reward and punishment, philosophy since Lord Herbert's days has discovered that the soul of man is material; or rather, being a mere result of the organization of the body, that it dies with it. The great principle of the English proto-infidel, the sufficiency of our natural faculties to form a religion for ourselves, and to decide upon the merits of revealed truth, is however the principle of all; and this being once conceded, the instances just given are sufficiently in proof that the cable is slipped, and that every one is left to take his course wherever the winds and the currents may impel his unpiloted, uncharted, and uncompassed bark. This grand principle of error, between which and absolute Atheism there are but a few steps, has been largely refuted in the foregoing pages, and the claims of the Holy Scriptures to be considered as a Revelation from God, established by arguments the force of which in all other cases are felt, and acknowledged, and acted upon even by

unbelievers themselves. If this has been done satisfactorily, the objections which remain are of little weight, were they even less capable of being repelled; and if no answer can be found to some of the difficulties which may be urged, this circumstance is much more in accordance with the truth of a revelation, than it would be with its falsehood. "We do not deny," says an excellent writer on the Evidences of Christianity, (6) "that the scheme of revelation has its difficulties; for if the things of nature are often difficult to comprehend, it would be strange indeed if supernatural matters were so simple, and obvious, and suited to finite capacities, as never to startle and puzzle us at all.-He who denies the Bible to have come from God because of these difficulties, may for exactly the same reason deny that the world was formed by Him."

The mere cavils of infidel writers may be hastily dismissed; the most plausible objections shall be considered more at large. As to the former, few of them could have been urged if those who have adduced them had consulted the works of commentators, and biblical critics, writings with which it is evident they have little acquaintance; and thus they have shewn how illdisposed they have been to become fully acquainted with the subjects which they have subjected to their criticism. To this may be added their ignorance of the idiom of the Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament; their inattention to the ancient manners and customs of the countries where the sacred writers lived, to occasional errors in the transcription of numerous copies which may be rectified by collation, and to the different readings, which, to a candid criticism, would generally furnish the solution of the difficulty.

The Bible has been vehemently assaulted because it represents God as giving command to the Israelites to exterminate the nations of Canaan; but a few remarks will be sufficient to prove how little weight there is in the charges which, on this account, have been made against the author of the Pentateuch. The objection cannot be argued upon the mere ground that it is contrary to the Divine Justice or Mercy to cut off a people indiscrimi nately, from the eldest to the youngest, since this is done in earthquakes, pestilences, &c. The cholera morbus, which has been for four years past wasting various parts of Asia, has probably destroyed half a million of persons of all ages. The character of the God of nature is not therefore contradicted by that ascribed

(6) Dr. Olinthus Gregory.

to the God of the Bible. The whole objection resolves itself into this question: Was it consistent with the character of God, to employ human agents in this work of destruction? Who can prove that it was not? No one; and yet here lies the whole stress of the objection. The Jews were not rendered more cruel by their being so commissioned, for we find them much more merciful in their institutions than other ancient nations;-nor can this instance be pleaded in favour of exterminating wars, for there was in the case a special commission for a special purpose, and by that it was limited. Other considerations are also to be included. The sins of the Canaanites were of so gross a nature, that it was necessary to mark them with signal punishments for the benefit of surrounding nations; the employing of the Israelites as instruments under a special and publicly proclaimed commission connected the punishment more visibly with the offence, than if it had been inflicted by the array of warring elements, whilst the Israelites themselves would be more deeply impressed with the guilt of idolatry, and its ever accompanying polluted and sanguinary rites; and finally the Canaanites had been long spared, and in the mean time both warned by partial judgments, and reproved by the remaining adherents of the patriarchal religion who resided among them.

Thus the objection rests upon no foundation. The destruction of infants, so often dwelt upon, takes place in nature and providence; the objection to the employment of human agents, arising from habits of inhumanity being thereby induced, assumes what is false in fact, for this effect upon the Jews was prevented by the circumstance of their knowing that they acted as ministers of the Divine displeasure, and under his commission; and some important reasons may be discovered for executing the judgment by men, and especially this, that it might exhibit the evil of a sanguinary and obscene idolatry.

That law in Deuteronomy which authorizes parents, the father and the mother, to bring "a stubborn and rebellious son," who was also "a glutton and a drunkard," before the elders of the city, that, if guilty, he might be stoned, has been called inhuman and brutal. In point of fact, it was, however, a merciful regulation. In almost all ancient nations, parents had the power of taking away the lives of their children. This was a branch of the old patriarchal authority which did not all at once merge into the kingly governments which were afterwards established. There is reason therefore to believe, that it was possessed by the heads of families among the Israelites, and that this was the first attempt

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to control it by obliging the crimes alleged against their children to be proved before regular magistrates, and thus preventing the effects of unbridled passions.

The intentional offering of Isaac by Abraham has also had its share of censure. The answer is, 1, That Abraham, who was in the habit of sensible communication with God, could have no doubt of the Divine command, and of the right of God to take away the life he had given. 2, That he proceeded to execute the command of God, in faith, as the Apostle Paul has stated, that God would raise his son from the dead. The whole transaction was extraordinary, and cannot therefore be judged by common rules; and it could only be fairly objected to, if it had been so stated as to encourage human sacrifices. Here, however, are sufficient guards. An indubitable Divine command was given; the sacrifice was prevented by the same authority; and the history stands in a book which represents human sacrifices as an abomination to God.

Indelicacy and immodesty have been charged upon some parts of the Scriptures. This objection has something in it which indicates malignity rather than an honest and principled exception: For in no instance are any statements made in order to incite impurity; and nothing, throughout the whole Scripture, is represented as more offensive to God, or as more certainly excluding persons from the kingdom of heaven, than the unlawful gratification of the senses. It is also to be noted, that many of the passages objected to are in the laws and prohibitions of both Testaments, and as well might the statute and common law of this country be the subject of reprehension, and be held up as tending to encourage vices of various kinds because they must, with more or less of circumstantiality, describe them. We are further to take into account the simplicity of manners and language in early times. We observe, even among the peasantry of modern States, a language, on the subjects referred to, which is more direct, and what refined society would call gross; but greater real indelicacy does not necessarily follow. Countries and classes of people might be pointed out, where the language which expresses sensual indulgence has more of caution and of periphrasis, whilst the known facts shew that their morals are exceedingly polluted. Several objections which have been raised against characters and transactions in the books of Judges, Samuel and Kings, are dissipated by the single consideration, that where they are obviously immoral or unjustifiable, they are never approved; and are

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