Page images
PDF
EPUB

verted to the purpose of establishing the kingdom of Satan. At any rate, the abuse of revelation, is no bet. ter objection against revelation, than that of reason (of which every hour presents us various instances) is againit reason; which no body ever thought of urging, as an argument that it was not of Divine original.

The disputes among the many different sects of Chriftians, which have rendered it very difficult for those, who search for the doctrines of revealed religion, any where, but in the Bible ittelf, to settle their judgment upon many points; those disputes are no just objection against revelation, any more than against every branch of human science whatever; upon every drie of which, not excepting even the pure mathematics, controversies have been raised. A revelation, upon wbich it should be impoflible for designing, fubtle men to raise disputes, is hardly conceivable; or, however, is altogether inconfiftent with the idea of a contrivance intended for the improvement of a set of free, moral agents; who must be expected to treat revelation, as well as every other kind of information, according to their respective capacities, and tempers of mind.

If it has been alleged, that for God to have recourfe to a direct message, or revelation, for reforming or improving mankind, or supplying the deficiencies of reason, looks like a defect in the make of the creature; and that reason ought alone to have been made originally equal to the purpose of enabling mankind to secure their final happiness; the answer is easy, to wit, That if human reason were suppofed more equal to the purpose for which it was given than it is, a revelation might itill be of great advantage. And that to suppose an express contrivance for mending the moral world necessary, or useful, is no more unphilosophical, or to speak properly, more unworthy of God, than one for the same purpose, in the natural world. And this latter is by our great philosopher allowed to be probable.

Suppofing it reasonable to believe that the Divine Power, either immediately, or by means of the intervention or inftrumentality of inferior agents and causes, does continually actuate the natural world, and conduct

the

the moral ; is not this a continued interposition? Why then should the thought of an extraordinary interpofition on an extraordinary occasion, in order to a great and important end, be so difficult to conceive? At any rate, what must those gentlemen, who are so startled at the notion of an extraordinary step taken by the infinitely wise and absolutely free Governor of the world ; what must they say of the creation of the universe ? Did the universe come into existence by settled laws of nature? Is there any law of nature by, which nothing becomes something? And does that law take place at such and such precise times, and no other ? Let the oppofers of extraordinary interpositions make the most of that difficulty, they must acknowledge somewhat extraordinary, as they choose to call it, to take place now and then in the universe on occasion of the creation of a world. And it does not appear to me, that the restoration, or (as it may be called) making a new a world, is of much less consequence, or less worthy of a particular interposition, than the first creation of it.

But after all, what is it those genilemen puzzle themselves with ? Are they sure, that in order, the giving a positive revelation to mankind, and the restoration of a world by means of such an institution as the Christian, there is any thing to be done out of, or contrary to, the common course of things ? Can they be positive, that there never was, or will be, any scheme, analogous to this, contrived for any other order of beings in the universe ? To affirm this, would be about as judicious as the opinion of the vulgar, that thunder is an immediate expression of the Divine displeaiure, and that comets are sent on purpose to give notice of impending judgments. Whereas a little knowledge of nature thews, that, whatever moral instructions those phænomena are in general fitted to communicate at all times to mankind, the cause of them is part of the mere constitution of nature. And who can say, that superior beings may not have such extensive views of the august plan of the Divine government, as to see the whole scheme of Revealed Religion in the same light? Ee 2

Nor

Nor are there wanting various particulars, in the Divine government of the moral world, analogous, in a lower sphere, to the grand scheme of revelation. How much are we in the present state dependent on others for various advantages fpiritual and temporal? What gift of God do we receive without the interpofition of some agent? How are parents, teachers, spiritual pastors, and guardian angels, made the channels of the Divine goodness to us? Is there not in this something similar to our receiving the inestimable advantages of the perfect knowledge of our duty, the pardon of our fins, and all the blessings which religion bestows, through the channel of a Mediator between God and us? Our Saviour's taking upon himself certain sufferings, by which we are to gain great advantages, is by no means foreign to the common course of the world, in which. we see very great hazards run, and actual, inconveniencies suffered, by friends and relations for one another, He and his apostles allow of this analogy.

In the common course of things, thoughtlessness and folly, which thougii not innocent, are yet pitiable, are the causes of very terrible misfortunes; and are therefore in many cases provided for by the goodness of the wise Governor of the world, so that they do not always prove irretrievable. A thoughtless person, by intemperance, runs himself into a quarrel, in which he is wounded. Without help, he must perish. And it is not to be expected, that he should be miraculously recovered. Is it not the Divine goodness, which has furnished the materials necessary for his cure, made provision in the formation of the human body for the accidents it might be liable to, so that every hurt should not prove fatal to it; and engaged us to be kind and helpful to one another; so that we should be fure of comfort from one or other in our distress? In the same manner, and by the same goodness, exerted in a higher degree, revelation teaches us, a remedy is provided for the recovery to the Divine mercy (in a consistency with the wisdom and rectitude of his moral government) of a fallen, offending order of beings. In the case of the unfortunate person here exemplified, his Leing convinced

of

of his folly ; his being heartily concerned for it; and his resolving never more to be guilty of the like, is not sufficient for his recovery; any more than repentance and reformation alone could be supposed sufficient to put offenders on a footing with innocent beings.

Natural ends are produced by natural means; so are moral. Natural means are many of them slow, and seemingly unpromising, if experience did not shew their fitness. It may therefore be concluded, and hoped, that the design of giving a revelation to mankind, however unpromifing of extensive success, will eventually, and upon the whole, be gained, in such a measure as it may not be wholly defeated. Natural means come short, in some particular instances, of their direct and apparent ends ; as in abortions of all kinds in the animal and vegetable world. In the same manner it is to be feared, that all the moral means used by Divine Goodness, for the reformation of mankind, and revelation among the rest, will, tbrough their perverseness, come greatly short of the direct end, the happiness of the species ; though it shall not be in the power of all created beings to prevent the secondary and more indirect intention of the Divine moral institutions.

Some opposers of revelation have run themselves into a great many difficulties, by forming to themselves a fet of groundless and arbitrary notions of what a revelation from God ought absolutely to be, which not taking place according to their theory, they have concluded against the credibility of revelation; than which nothing can be imagined more rash and unreasonable, to say the least. They have, for example, laid it down for an infallible position, that a truly divine revelation must contain all possible kinds and degrees of knowledge. But finding that the modern astronomy, and other sciences, have no place in Scripture, or that the expressions in those ancient books do not always suit the true philosophy, they conclude that Scripture is not given by inspiration. But when it is considered, that the design of revelation was not to make men philosophers, it may very well be supposed, that the spirit which conducted it did not see it necessary to inspire the facred

penmen

E e 3

penmen with any knowledge not directly necessary for improving mens hearts and lives. Finding some inconfiderable variations in the historical accounts, as of our Saviour's resurrection, and other particulars, they conclude, that the narration is not authentic ; for that inspiration must have prevented any such variation in the accounts of the different writers. But it is to be re. membered, that the measure of inspiration must be supposed to have been limited ; that every single article and syllable was not necessary to be expressly inspired; that where the human faculties of the writers were in the main sufficient, it was not to be supposed inspiration should interpose ; and that revelation was designed to be perfect (as all things with which we have to do at present) only to a certain degree.

The want of universality is an objection of the same kind. But if the confideration of the true religion's not being communicated alike to all mankind, proves any thing against it, the same objection lies against reafon. For it is given to men in such different measures, as almost to render it doubtful whether they ought not to be pronounced of different species. Nor is there any injustice in the different distribution of gifts and advantages; if we take in the due allowance made for those differences in the final judgment. If a Hottentot be hereafter judged as a Hottentot, he ought as much to own the juitice of his sentence, as a Newton, when judged as a philosopher.

Could we have formed any just notion what the measure of human reason, what the reach of human fagacity out to have been? Whether it ought to shine forth in its greatest brightness at first, or to come to its maturity by flow degrees; whether it ought in its exertion to be wholly independent on the body, or if it should be liable to be disordered with the disorder of the corporeal frame; whether it ought to be always equal, or weak in youth and in extreme old age. Who would have thought the seemingly precarious faculty of invention a proper method for improving arts and sciences! Who would have thought that writing and printing could ever have been made the means of car:

« PreviousContinue »