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Edward. The want of agreement in some parts is also an objection, as well as chronological difficulties.
Mr. B. For the explanation of these, I must refer you to professed harmonists and writers on chronology, who will generally afford you satisfaction.
Edward. Is not the mode of quotation adopted by the writers of the New Testament objected to by some?
Mr. B. Upon that subject you will find a very useful treatise by Dr. H. Owen; and for others I refer you to Leland.
But with regard to all these objections, you must observe, that they by no means invalidate the proof we have considered, and in most cases throw very little doubt even on the single passages from which they are drawn. The gross ignorance of many objectors on the subject on which they profess to write is most shameful.
Edward. Has there not been an argument raised against the Mosaic dispensation, as destitute of the doctrine of a future state?
Mr. B. The consideration of this question is the subject of Warburton's most celebrated work, "The Divine Legation of Moses," &c.
Edward. In what manner is it treated?
Mr. B. I will give you his own words as to the design of it.
That a skilful lawgiver, establishing a religion and civil policy, acts with certain views, and for certain ends; and not capriciously, without purpose or design.
PROPOSITION I. "That to inculcate the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments is necessary to the well-being of civil society.
II. "That all mankind, especially the most wise and learned nations of antiquity, have concurred in believing and teaching that this doctrine was of such use to civil society.
42 How would Mr. B. have Edward settle want of agreement in some scriptures, and some chronological difficulties?-43 For what purpose does he refer to Owen and Leland?-44 But of all these objections, what does he say must be observed?-45 What is the subject of the work of Warburton, called the Divine Legation of Moses?
III. That the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments is not to be found in, nor did make part of the Mosaic dispensation.
That, therefore, the law of Moses is of divine origin. For, I. "Whatsoever religion and society have no future state for their support, must be supported by an extraordinary providence.
"The Jewish religion and society had no future state for their support.
"Therefore the Jewish religion and society were supported by an extraordinary providence.
The ancient lawgivers universally believed that such a religion could be supported only by an extraordinary providence.
"Moses, an ancient lawgiver, versed in all the wisdom of Egypt, purposely instituted such a religion. Therefore, Moses believed his religion was supported by an extraordinary providence."-Warburton's Works, vol. i. p. 50–57.
But it is only by actual perusal that a correct idea can be formed of this very extraordinary work.
Edward. Do you regard it as conclusive?
Mr. B. That the divine legation of Moses was proved by the religion and society of the Jews being supported by an extraordinary providence, I have no doubt, but not for the reason here assigned. The hypothesis itself appears to me false, and I regard the whole only as a most splendid instance of the union of genius and learning to very little purpose. It has been excessively admired,
and vehemently attacked. The controversies to which it gave birth lasted a long time, but effected very little for the interests of religion. A very short time ago the subject has been revived by Mr. Lancaster, in his work on the Harmony of the Law and the Gospel, which you will read with pleasure as well as advantage.
Maria. His arguments are drawn up very systematically.
46 What is the process by which he arrives at the conclusion that the law of Moses is of divine origin?-47 What does Mr. B. say of this work? -48 Does he regard the argument as conclusive?-49 What does he say of the controversies to which this gave rise?
Mr. B. At first: but you soon lose sight of them in the mass of learning which he brings forward, and in the continual development of new strains of thought: it is, after all, a most astonishing performance.
One of the most systematic writers on the evidences is Huet, Bishop of Avranches, who, in his Demonstratio Evangelica, has drawn them out in a regular series of definitions, postulates, axioms, and propositions. It is also a work of great learning, but of a very different character to the Divine Legation of Moses. The evidences have also been subjected to the mathematical doctrine of chances by Craig; but the book is now forgotten.
Edward. Have, then, any other remarkable defences of Christianity appeared, as founded upon omissions similar to that of a future state under the Mosaic dispensation?
Mr. B. Dr. Priestley, I believe, was the first who thought of defending Christianity by denying the immateriality of the soul.
Maria. But can this possibly be consistent with the language of Scripture?
Mr. B. I think not, and fully agree with the sentiments of Bishop Horsley. Though I admit the possibility of an inspired teacher's error of opinion in subjects which he is not sent to teach (because inspiration is not omniscience, and some things there must be which it will leave untaught); though I stand in this point for my own and every man's liberty, and protest against any obligation on the believer's conscience, to assent to a philosophical opinion, incidentally expressed by Moses, by David, or by St. Paul, upon the authority of their infallibility in divine knowledge; though I think it highly for the honour and the interest of religion, that this liberty of philosophising (except upon religious subjects) should be openly asserted, and most pertinaciously maintained; yet I confess it appears to me no very probable supposition
50 Why will one be likely to lose sight of these arguments?-51 What is said of Huet and Craig, as writers in favour of the Bible?-52 What peculiarity was there in the work of Priestley?-53 Who replied to him? -54 What is the substance of the quotation from Horsley?
(and it is, as I conceive, a mere supposition, not yet confirmed by any one clear instance), that an inspired writer should be permitted, in a religious discourse, to affirm a false proposition in any subject, or in any history to misinterpret a fact; so that I would not easily, nor indeed without the conviction of the most cogent proof, embrace any notion in philosophy, or attend to any historical relation, which should be evidently and in itself repugnant to an explicit assertion of any of the sacred writers. Horsley's Sermons, vol. iii. p. 179.
You will find the whole sermon very well worth a careful perusal; and it is upon the nature of the connexion between soul and body.
Edward. Besides these, are there any other modes of proof which have been made use of which appear inconclusive?
Mr. B. The proof used by some Romanists appears deserving of censure, as well as one held by some denominations of protestants. The former is that the books of the sacred Scriptures are canonical because the church constitutes them so, and the church has power so to do because the books are canonical.
Maria. In this the truth of each part depends upon the other, so that it is wholly inconclusive.
Mr. B. The second is an inward sensation, regarded as an attestation from God in favour of the sacred writings.
Maria. If we could be certain that a sensation, of this kind were really from him, it would be no proof to another.
Mr. B. Besides these, there may be other proofs alleged in favour of Christianity, as weak as the objections made against it; but from neither can we conclude that Christianity is a divine revelation or not. The truth of Christianity rests on facts and reasonings, which no objections, yet adduced, are of sufficient force to overthrow. We need, therefore, no additional evidence; for
55 What does Mr. B. say of this performance?-56 What question does Edward propose as to other modes of proof?-57 How does Mr. B. reply to him?-58 What does he say of an inward sensation?-59 On what does the truth of Christianity rest?
there is already much more than what would be deemed sufficient to determine the truth in all ordinary cases; and inasmuch as the greatest consequences depend upon our conduct here, it requires no great skill in logic to show that the safest course is the best.
Maria. I could not reject, if I wished; but what are we to think of those who do?
Mr. B. Leave them to Him who alone can determine how far guilt attaches to their conduct. We are, in all respects, unable to decide respecting them. Our only care must be, that we perish not through their folly, that we contribute not to their ruin. I would not judge harshly of any individual; but I have the fullest conviction on my mind, that infidelity does not arise from any reasonable cause.
60 What is the last question of Maria?-61 In what manner does Mr. B. reply to her?