Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

2. That it should accord with the principles of former revelations, should any have been given.

For since it is a first principle, that God cannot err himself, nor deceive us, so far as one revelation renews or explains any truth in a preceding one, it must agree with the previous communication; and in what it adds to a preceding revelation, it cannot contradict any thing which it contains, if it be exhibited as a truth of unchangeable character and a duty of perpetual obligation.

Now whatever direct proof may be adduced in favour of the Divine Authority of the Jewish and Christian revelations, this at least may be confidently urged as evidence in their favour, that they have a substantial agreement and harmony among themselves, and with that ancient traditional system which existed in the earliest ages and the fragments of which we find scattered among all nations. As to the patriarchal system of religion, to which reference has been so often made, beside the notices of it which are every where scattered in the book of Genesis, we have ample and most satisfactory information in the ancient book of Job, of which sufficient evidence may be given that it was written not later than the time of Moses; and that Job himself lived between the flood of Noah and the call of Abraham. Of the religion of the patriarchs, as it existed just at that period when Sabianism, or the worship of the heavenly luminaries, began to make its appearance, and was restrained by the authority of the "Judges, who were the heads of tribes or families, and as it existed in the preceding ages, as we find from the reference made by Job and his friends to the authority of their "Fathers," this book contains an ample and most satisfactory record; and from this venerable relic a very copious body of doctrinal and practical theology might be collected; but the following particulars will be sufficient for the present argument:

[ocr errors]

One Supreme Being alone is recognized throughout, as the object of adoration, worship, hope, trust, and fear; who is represented as of infinite and unsearchable majesty,―eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, almighty, and of perfect wisdom, justice, goodness; governing all things, noting and judging individuals, regarding the good, punishing the wicked, placable, listening to the prayers of the penitent. The natural corruption of man's nature is also stated; and his own inability to cleanse his heart from sin. Man, we are told, cannot be just with God, and therefore needs an intercessor. Sacrifices, as of Divine appointment, and propitiatory in their nature, are also adverted to

as commonly practised. Express reference is made to a Divine Redeemer and his future incarnation, as an object of hope. The doctrine of an immortal spirit in man, and of the resurrection of the body, and a future judgment, have all a place in this system. Creation is ascribed to God; and not only the general doctrine of Providence, but that most interesting branch of it-the connection of dispensations of prosperity and affliction with moral ends. Murder, theft, oppression, injustice, adultery, intemperance, are all pointed out as violations of the laws of God; as also wrath, envy, and other evil passions. Purity of heart, kindness, compassion to the poor, &c., are spoken of as virtues of the highest obligation; and the fear and love of God are enjoined, and a calm and cheerful submission to his will, in humble trust that the darkness of present events will be ultimately cleared up, and shewn to be consistent with the wisdom, justice, holiness, and truth of God. The same points of doctrine and morals may also be collected from the book of Genesis.

Such was the comprehensive system of patriarchal theology; and it is not necessary to stop to point out that these great principles are all recognized and taken up in the successive revelations by Moses, and by Christ,-exhibiting three religious systems, varying greatly in circumstances; introduced at widely distant periods, and by agents greatly differing in their condition and circumstances; but exactly harmonizing in every leading doctrinal tenet, and agreeing in their great moral impression upon mankind-PERFECT PURITY OF HEART AND CONDUCT.

3. That it should be accompanied with an explicit and impressive external authentication of such a nature as to make its truth obvious to the mass of mankind, and to leave no reasonable doubt of its Divine Authority.

The reason of this is evident. A mere impression of truth on the understanding could not alone be distinguished from a discovery made by the human intellect, and could have no authority, as the will of a superior, with the person receiving it; and as to others, could only pass for the opinion of the individual who might promulge it. (5) An authentication of such truth, professing to be the will, the law, of him who, having made, has the right to command us, external to the matter of the doctrine itself, is therefore necessary to give it authority, and to create the obligation of obedience. And this accords with the opinion of all nations up to the earliest ages, and was so deeply wrought in

[blocks in formation]

the common sense of mankind, that all the heathen legislators of antiquity affected a Divine commission, and all false religions have leaned for support upon pretended supernatural sanction. The proofs of this are so numerous and well-known, that it is unnecessary to adduce them.

The authority of the ancient patriarchal religion rested on proof external to itself. We do not now examine the truth of its alleged authentications-they were admitted; and the force of the revelation depended upon them in the judgment of mankind. We have a most ancient book which records the opinions of the Ante-Mosaic ages. The theology of those ages has been stated, and from the history contained in that book we learn, that the received opinion was, that the Almighty Lawgiver himself conversed with our first parents and with the patriarchs, under celestial appearances; and that his mercies to men, or his judgments, failed not to follow ordinarily the observance or violation of the laws thus delivered, which was in fact an authentication of them renewed from time to time. The course of nature, displaying the eternal power and Godhead, as well as the visitations of providence, was to them a constant confirmation of several of the leading truths in the theology they had received: and to the deep impress of Divinity which this system received in the earliest ages from the attestations of singular judgments, and especially the flood, it is only rationally to be accounted for, that it was universally transmitted, and waged so long a war against religious corruptions.

Notwithstanding the authentication of the primitive religion, as a matter of Divine revelation, and the effects produced by it in the world for many ages,—and indeed still produced by it in its very broken and corrupted state, in condemning many sinful actions, so as to render the crimes of heathens without excuse, more of truth remaining among them all than they choose to regard-as that system was traditional, and liable to be altered by transmission; and as in proportion to the confounding of historical events by the lapse of time, and the migrations and political convulsions of nations, which gave rise to fabulous stories, the external authenticating evidence became weak, and a merciful interposition on the part of God was, as we have seen, rendered necessary by the general ignorance of of mankind. Indeed the primitive revelations supposed future ones, and were not in themselves regarded as complete. But if a republication only of the truth had been necessary, the old external evidence was so greatly weakened by the lapse of ages,

which as to most nations had broken the line of historical testimony on which it so greatly rested, that it required a new authentication, in a form adapted to the circumstances of the world; and if an enlarged revelation were vouchsafed, every addition to the declared will of God needed an authentication of the same kind as at first.

If we presume, therefore, that a new revelation was necessary, we must presume, that, when given, it would have an external authentication as coming from God, from which there could be no reasonable appeal; and we therefore conclude, that as the Mosaic and Christian Revelations profess both to republish and to enlarge former Revelations, the circumstance of their resting their claims on the external evidence of miracles and prophecy, is a presumption in their favour. Whether the evidence which they offer be decisive or not, is a future question; but in exhibiting such evidence, they accord with the reason of the thing, and with the common sense of all

ages.

4. It is further presumed, that should a revelation of religious truth and the will of God be made, it would provide means for its effectual communication to all classes of men.

As the revelation must be designed to restore and enlarge the communications of truth, and as from the increase and dispersion of the human race, tradition had become an imperfect medium of conveying it, it is a fair presumption, that the persons through whom the communication was made should record it in WRITING. A revelation to every individual could not maintain the force of its original authentication; because as its attestation must be of a supernatural kind, its constant recurrence would divest it of that character, or weaken its force by bringing it among common and ordinary events. A revelation on the contrary to few, properly and publicly attested by supernatural occurrences, needed not repetition; but the most natural and effectual mode of preserving the communication, once made, would be to transmit it by writing; any corruption of the record being rendered impracticable by its being publicly taught in the first instance-by a standard copy being preserved with care,-or by such a number of copies being dispersed as to defy material alteration. This presumption is realized also in the Jewish and Christian Revelations; as will be seen when the subject of the authority of the Holy Scriptures comes to be discussed. They were first publicly taught, then committed to writing, and the copies were multiplied.

Another method of preserving and diffusing the knowledge of a revelation once made, would be, the institution of public commemorative rites, at once preserving the memory of the fact and of the doctrine connected with it among great bodies of people, and leading them to such periodical enquiries as might preserve both with the greatest accuracy. These also we find in the Institutions of Moses, and of Christ; and their weight in the argument for the truth of the mission of each, will be adduced in its proper place.

Allowing it to be reasonable to presume, that a Revelation would be vouchsafed; it is equally so to presume, that it should contain some injunctions favourable to its propagation among men of all ranks. For as the compassion of God to the moral necessities of his creatures, generally, is the ground on which so great a favour rests, we cannot suppose that one class of men should be allowed to make a monopoly of this advantage, as this would be a great temptation to them to publish their own favourite or interested opinions under a pretended Divine sanction, and tend to counteract the very purpose for which a revelation was given. Such a monopoly was claimed by the priests of ancient pagan nations; and this fatal effect followed. It was claimed for a time by a branch of the Christian priesthood, contrary to the obligations of the institution itself; and the consequences were similar. Among the heathens, the effect of this species of monopoly was, that those who encouraged superstition and ignorance among the people speedily themselves lost the truth which through a wicked policy they concealed; and the case might have been the same in Christendom, but for the sacred records, and for witnesses to the truth who prophesied and suffered, more or less, throughout the darkest ages. (6)

This reasonable expectation also is realized in the Mosaic and Christian revelations ;-both provided for their general publication-both instituted an order of men, not to conceal, but to read and teach the truth committed to them-both recognized a right in the people to search the record, and by it to judge of the ministration of the priests-both made it obligatory on the people to be taught and both separated one day in seven to afford leisure for that purpose.

(6) Bishop Warburton endeavours to prove, by an elaborate argument in his "Divine Legation," that in the Greater Mysteries the Divine Unity and the errors of polytheism were constantly taught. This however is most satisfactorily disproved by Dr. Leland, in his " Advantage and Necessity of a Divine Revelation;" to both of which works the reader is referred for information as to those singular institutions-the heathen Mysteries.

« AnteriorContinuar »