« AnteriorContinuar »
mind of every unprejudiced and attentive reader. But though freedom from prejudice be indispensably requisite to an impartial investigation of any subject in debate, and there be no qualification of which infidels talk and boast so much, even insinuating, or boldly asserting, that they alone are possessed of it; yet there are no persons in the world more evidently under the influence of prepossession than they are, when any question relative to revelation is discussed. Their prejudices are of two kinds, and may be properly termed intellectual and moral. Certain preconceived notions concerning the divine character and administrations, and the perfection of the human understanding, which are incompatible with the revelation contained in the scriptures, and indeed, with the very idea of a revelation, determine them to reject it without taking time to ponder, with calmness and deliberation, the evidences in its favour. They think themselves authorized to treat the evidences as insufficient, without even waiting till they be laid before them; as a man may safely refuse to hear arguments against axioms, or self-evident principles, because he is sure that they must be sophistical. They do not examine whether their preconceived notions be true; but assuming their truth as incontrovertible, they pronounce the doctrine which contradicts them to be false, and by consequence, to be the offspring of ignorance or imposture. But these are not the only, nor perhaps the strongest prejudices, by which the minds of infidels are warped. Those which originate in the state of the heart, in its inclinations and affections, are the most powerful, and contribute in an effectual, though .mper
ceptible manner, to pervert the understanding. There are certain liberties in which men are naturally fond of indulging ; mortifications for which they feel the utmost aversion and horror ; pleasures on which they rush with an impetuosity, to which reason and prudence oppose their dictates in vain. If revelation restrain those liberties, enjoin those mortifications, condemn those pleasures, it is not surprising that it should meet with an unfriendly reception. When it comes to claim the love and homage of the heart, it finds it pre-occupied. That infidels are naturally or constitutionally more depraved than other men, it would be foolish to assert, nor do I even believe that they are all licentious in their manners; but while the more sober part, who are comparatively few, are misled by the prejudices of the understanding, the conduct of a great majority discovers, that their hostility to the scriptures springs from the corrupt passions of their hearts. It is not difficult to divine, why the authority of a book, which inculcates the purest lessons of virtue, is called in question by the votaries of vice.
From the source of prejudice flow all the objections against revelation, which occur in the conversation and writings of infidels. Right reason has little, or rather no concern in suggesting them. Some of these objections it will now be proper to consider, because they frequently come in our way, and it is wise to have answers to them ready for the preservation of the peace of our own minds, and the defence and honour of the truth. Living in the midst of enemies, we should have our weapons always in our hands. The objections are of two kinds. Some are intended to disprove a divine revelation in general; while the more particular aim of others is to shew, that those books, which Jews and christians receive as sacred, are falsely said to be inspired. I shall take notice only of the chief objections; and from the ease with which they are repelled, the reader will be able to judge, how insignificant the other cavils of infidelity must be.
1. The first argument against the inspiration of the scriptures, as founded in this general principle, that the light of nature is sufficient to teach us our duty, and to conduct us to happiness. Were this principle true, it is evident, that a revelation would be altogether unnecessary; and, by consequence, that, as God never interposes but for some end worthy of his wisdom, the scriptures were not dictated by his Spirit, but are the work of men, who have given to their own productions the name of his oracles. As this principle is the basis on which infidelity rests, and one of the chief causes why the authority of the scriptures is so violently contested, we shall bestow particular attention upon it.
By the light of nature, must be meant those discoveries of the perfections and the will of God, which are afforded by the works of creation and providence, in connexion with the ability or power of unassisted reason, to trace those discoveries, and draw from them the proper conclusions. It is plain, that whatever inferences are deducible from the divine works and dispensations, if our minds be too feeble to deduce them, we are precisely in the same situation, as if we were not furnished with the premises; and we stand in need of a teacher, or a book to point them out to our attention., The objection supposes that every man in the world, may, without any assistance from others, acquire, by the exercise of his own faculties, just notions of God, and his duty, and his final destination ; for if this ability be possessed only by a few, a revelation is manifestly useful, and even necessary to the rest, whom their more enlightened brethren might neglect to instruct, or who might refuse to receive instruction from them, because they were possessed of no authority to which their equals, in all other respects, were bound to submit. Nothing could be more absurd, than to assert, in general terms, the sufficiency of the light of nature, as a reason why a revelation is not needed, while it is understood to be sufficient only for some individuals, endowed with extraordinary capacity, and favoured with uncommon advantages, for the investigation of truth. But that every person in the world is possessed of the ability supposed in the objection, is so glaringly false, that no man will venture to affirm it, unless he be so grossly ignorant of the history of mankind, as to be unworthy of our notice, or so dishonest, as to advance as a fact, what he knows to be capable of an easy and complete refutation.
To prove that the boasted light of nature is not sufficient to conduct men to happiness, I might appeal to the instances of the Hottentots, and the natives of New Holland, who, in intellectual capacity and moral attainments, are but in a small degree superior to brutes. Perhaps it will be said, that the appeal is not fair, because in those tribes the powers of the human mind are almost extinguished, having never been roused and improved by civili
zation. But if the light of nature be sufficient, it is surely sufficient for nature's children; and I know of none who so well deserve this character, as those, who, in their intellectual and moral features, are just such as nature formed them, having undergone no alteration to the worse or to the better by art, or by tradition. If we wish to judge of the strength of unassisted reason, in order to ascertain whether it be sufficient for all, let us observe its operations in the rudest savages.
If, however, the objectors mean, that the light of nature is sufficient, only when men are polished by science and social institutions, they unwittingly grant, that to a great portion of mankind, it always was, and still is, insufficient, and consequently, that they need a revelation ; and besides, even with this limitation, its insufficiency may be satisfactorily demonstrated. It is a fact which cannot be disputed, that no people, ancient or modern, who had only the light of nature to guide them in their researches, have attained to the true knowledge and pure profession of the unity of God; or have formed such notions of his worship, as were suitable to his majesty, holiness, and spirituality; or have composed a complete system of morality, founded in just principles, and enforced by sanctions of such efficacy, as to ensure obedience to its precepts ; or have established by convincing, arguments, the doctrine of the future existence of the soul.. The polytheism, the idolatry, the superstitious rites, the immoralities in principle as well as in practice, the childish ideas on the subject of religion, and the doubts, with respect to a state beyond the grave, of the Greeks and Romans, without controversy the most accome