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bear strong marks of their original ; that they each also bear appearances of irregularity and defect. A system of strict optimism may nevertheless be the real system in both
But what I contend is, that the proof is hidden from us ; that we ought not to expect to perceive that in revelation, which we hardly perceive in any thing; that beneficence, of which we can judge, ought to satisfy us, that optimism, of which we cannot judge, ought not to be sought after. We can judge of beneficence, because it depends upon effects which we experience, and upon the relation between the means which we see acting, and the ends which we see produced. We cannot judge of optimism, because it necessarily implies a comparison of that which is tried, with that which is not tried ; of consequences which we see, with others which we imagine, and concerning many of which, it is more than probable we know nothing; concerning some, that we have no notion.
If Christianity be compared with the state and progress of natural religion, the argument of the objector will gain nothing by the comparison. I remember hearing an unbeliever say, that, if God had given a revelation, he would have written it in the skies. Are the truths of natural religion written in the skies, or in a language which every one reads ? or is this the case with the most useful arts, or the most necessary sciences of human life ? An Otaheitean or an Esquimaux knows nothing of Christianity ; does he know more of the principles of deism or morality? which, notwithstanding his ignorance, are neither untrue, nor unimportant, nor uncertain. The existence of the Deity is left to be collected from observations, which every man does not make, which every man, perhaps, is not capable of making. Can it be argued, that God does not exist, because, if he did, he would let us see him, or discover himself to mankind by proofs (such as, we may think, the
nature of the subject merited), which no inadvertency could miss, no prejudice withstand ?
If Christianity be regarded as a providential instrument for the melioration of mankind, its progress and diffusion resembles that of other causes by which human life is improved. The diversity is not greater, nor the advance more slow in religion, than we find it to be in learning, liberty, government, laws. The Deity hath not touched the order of nature in vain. The Jewish religion produced
great and permanent effects : the Christian religion hath done the same. It hath disposed the world to amendment. It hath put things in a train. It is by no means improbable, that it may become universal ; and that the world may continue in that state so long, as that the duration of its reign may bear a vast proportion to the time of its partial influence.
When we argue concerning Christianity, that it must nenessarily be true, because it is beneficial, we go, perhaps, too far on one side : and we certainly go too far on the other, when we conclude that it must be false, because it is not so efficacious as we could have supposed. The question of its truth is to be tried upon its proper evidence, without deferring much to this sort of argument, on either side. “ The evidence," as bishop Butler hath rightly observed, “ depends upon the judgment we form of human conduct, under given circumstances, of which it may be presumed that we know something ; the objection stands upon the supposed conduct of the Deity, under relations with which we are not acquainted."
What would be the real effect of that overpowering evidence which our adversaries require in a revelation, it is difficult to foretel ; at least, we must speak of it as of a dispensation of which we have no experience. Some consequences however would, it is probable, attend this economy, which do not seem to befit a revelation that proceeded from God. One is, that irresistible proof would restrain the voluntary powers too much; would not answer the purpose of trial and probation ; would call for no exercise of candour, seriousness, humility, inquiry ; no submission of passions, interests and prejudices, to moral evidence and to probable truth; no habits of reflection ; none of that previous desire to learn, and to obey the will of God, which forms perhaps the test of the virtuous principle, and which induces men to attend, with care and reverence, to every credible intimation of that will, and to resign present advantages and present pleasures to every reasonable expectation of propitiating his favour.
“ Men's moral probation may be, whether they will take due care to inform themselves by impartial consideration ; and, afterwards, whether they will act as the case requires, upon the evidence which they have. And this, we find by experience, is often our probation in our temporal capacity*."
II. These modes of communication would leave no place for the admission of internal evidence; which ought, perhaps, to bear a considerabe part in the proof of every revelation, because it is a species of evidence, which applies itself to the knowledge, love, and practice of virtue, and which operates in proportion to the degree of those qualities which it finds in the person whom it addresses. Men of good dispositions, amongst Christians, are greatly affected by the impression which the scriptures themselves make upon
their minds. Their conviction is much strengthened by these impressions. And this perhaps was intended to be one effect to be produced by the religion. It is likewise true, to whatever cause we ascribe it (for I am not in this work at liberty to introduce the Christian doctrine of grace or assistance, or the Christian promise, that, “if any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God*,")-it is true, I say, that they who sincerely act, or sincerely cndeavour to act, according to what they believe, that is, according to the just result of the probabilities, or, if you please, the possibilities in natural and revealed religion, which they themselves perceive, and according to a rational estimate of consequences, and, above all, according to the just effect of those principles of gratitude and devotion, which even the view of nature generates in a well-ordered mind, seldom fail of proceeding farther. This also may have been exactly what was designed.
* Butler's Analogy, Part ii. e. vi.
Whereas, may it not be said, that irresistible evidence would confound all characters and all dispositions ? would subvert, rather than promote, the true purpose of the divine councils, which is not to produce obedience by a force little short of mechanical constraint, (which obedience would be regularity not virtue, and would hardly perhaps differ from that which inanimate bodies pay to the laws impressed upon their nature), but to treat moral agents agreeably to what they are; which is done, when light and motives are of such kinds, and are imparted in such measures, that the influence of them depends upon the recipients themselves? “ It is not meet to govern rational free agents in via by sight and sense. It would be no trial or thanks to the most sensual wretch to forbear sinning, if heaven and hell were open to his sight. That spiritual vision and fruition is our state in patria.” (Baxter's Reasons, p. 357.) There may be truth in this thought, though roughly expressed. Few things are more improbable than that we (the human species) should be the highest order of beings in the universe ; that animated nature should ascend from the lowest reptile to us, and all at once stop there. If there be classes above us of rational intelligences, clearer manifestations may belong to them. This may be one of the distinctions. And it may be one, to which we ourselves hereafter shall attain.
* John vii. 17.
III. But thirdly; may it not also be asked, whether the perfect display of a future state of existence would be compatible with the activity of civil life, and with the success of human affairs? I can easily conceive that this impression may be overdone ; that it may so seize and fill the thoughts, as to leave no place for the cares and offices of men's several stations, no anxiety for worldly prosperity, or even for a worldly provision, and, by consequence, no sufficient stimulus to secular industry. Of the first Christians we read, “ that all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need; and, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart*.” This was extremely natural, and just what might be expected from miraculous evidence coming with full force upon the senses of mankind: but I much doubt, whether, if this state of mind had been universal, or long continued, the business of the world could have gone on.
necessary arts of social life would have been little cultivated. The plough and the loom would have stood still. Agriculture, manufactures, trade, and navigation, would not, I think, have flourished, if they could have been exercised at all. Men would have addicted themselves to contemplative and ascetick lives, instead of lives of business and of useful industry. We observe that St. Paul found it necessary,
* Acts ii. 44.-46, 51