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phecy is to be unfolded, shall we be induced to think we have not much actually given?
Or, to go one step further, suppose the entire argument from Prophecy were only of a doubtful kind, amounting to no more than a low degree of probability; which I put merely as a supposition for the moment: will Sceptical reasoners contend that our minds should be made up, upon that supposed deficiency in a single branch of the argument, to the exclusion or prejudice of all that is yet behind; it may be most ample evidence, sufficient, in the combined view, to a perfect conviction? Yet many of the most confident exceptions which have been taken to the validity of the evidence of religion, have nothing better to support them than this narrow principle, that some points in this or that species of evidence are not well ascertained, or that one entire ground of proof taken by itself does not reach the certainty of a complete moral demonstration: a principle of admirable use to fortify error, and furnish an excuse to any latitude of unbelief.
Had their reasoning followed the truer principle which I have suggested, of considering the inference obtained upon distinct topics of the evidence, as an article and ingredient, which it is, in an aggregate of reason, it is quite certain that their writings must have taken another shape, and been very different from what they are. Perhaps the impression on their own belief might have been
different also. But, at the least, they ought to have apprized their readers, which they have omitted to do, that no just conclusion could ever be drawn against the truth of Revealed Religion, till it had been looked at from a point of view embracing the full extent of its diversified matter of argument.
It is in the way of the same vicious manner of reasoning to represent any insufficiency of the proof, in its several branches, as so much objection; to manage the inquiry so as to make it appear that if the divided arguments be inconclusive one by one, we have a series of exceptions to the truth of religion, instead of a train of favourable presumptions, growing stronger at every step. The disciple of Scepticism is taught that he cannot fully rely on this or that motive of belief, that each of them is insecure, and the conclusion is put upon him that they ought to be discarded one after another, instead of being connected and combined.
It is to guard against the insinuation of this error, incident more or less to divided inquiry, that I have touched upon it in the opening of the following Discourses, which confine me to a single branch of the Christian Evidences. The error will soon be obviated, if there be no bad faith to support it. Candid minds will dismiss it. But whether the error come or go, it would be a waste of high words to call it an unphilosophical one, or to say of it, that it does no credit to the pretensions of those who have been indebted to it for much of
the importance of their attempts upon the truth of Christianity. It is neither more nor less than a dissimulation of the evidence existing: a disparagement of its value by suppression; a plea for infidelity, inconsistent with the ordinary rules agreed to and established for the examination of truth. And on this account, unless the advocates of unbelief will deal with the question in another manner than it has been their system and practice to do, they will not give us leave to think they are even capable of stating it.
But in conformity with the partial view which such a mistake implies, the great writers on that side have seldom made any considerable efforts, except upon single heads of the argument. Sometimes it has been a treatise against the proof from Miracles; sometimes against that from Prophecy; sometimes the honour of the Gospel Morals has been assailed, as if they had been rivalled by the wisdom of heathen and uninspired Sages; and so on. Now allowing that the remainder of the proof in favour of the Gospel Revelation, upon each of these points, after they have been fairly stated and examined, is only such a probability as any man may choose to admit ; for that there is some evidence from each of them in its favour, and not the smallest measure of disproof or actual objection, I take upon me to assert
* As by Woolston, and in another manner by Hume. ↑ By Collins.
in behalf of every unprejudiced inquirer; when these several inducements to one and the same conclusion of belief are drawn into each other, the joint amount of them, derived as they are from such different sources, is a collection of moral proof which we cannot properly describe as being less than that of a cogent and conclusive demonstration.
Before an audience, many of whom are highly exercised in the application of their minds to a complex evidence, and to the decision of great interests depending upon it, where nothing but a complete conviction will satisfy, I speak with submission to their judgment, but with no fear of that judgment making against me, when I appeal to them, whether they have not had occasion to know how conviction is improved by converging reasons, and the more so as those reasons arise from considerations differing in kind; how the succession of new matter of proof, even light in itself, reduces any supposed uncertainty left in the earlier stage of the inquiry; how the contingency of error is gradually excluded by checks upon the first conclusion, and the conspiring probabilities of a subject run together into a perfect conviction. Let this reasonable process be applied to the examination of Christianity by men who challenge it to the proof; and I will not say, It, but They, have every thing to hope from the trial.
There is one quality or condition comprehended
in these mixed and various evidences of our Reli gion, which deserves to be further considered by itself; a condition highly characteristic of its truth, and indeed replete with the strongest confirmation of it. The condition is this, that its evidences are so exceedingly dissimilar in their several descriptions. They are not necessarily connected in their origin; they are independent in their principle; they do not infer each the other; they are connected only in the subject which they conspire to attest. This independence of the component members of the argument is a material consideration. Perhaps it has not been urged in the defences of Christianity, with the force it is entitled to. It affords, however, a very decisive criterion of truth, as the following remarks may serve to shew.
If man's contrivance, or if the favour of accident, could have given to Christianity any of its apparent testimonies; either its miracles or its prophecies, its morals or its propagation, or, if I may so speak, its Founder, there could be no room to believe, nor even to imagine, that all these appearances of great credibility could be united together by any such causes. If a successful craft could have contrived its public miracles, or so much as the pretence of them, it required another reach of craft and new resources, to provide and adapt its prophecies to the same object. Further, it demanded not only a different art, but a totally opposite character, to conceive and promulgate its admirable morals.