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under the circumstances supposed, would afford strict logical evidence of the teacher's commission from some superior being.
Now, in order to this, it appears to me manifestly essential, that not only the existence of some such being should be, in the first instance, recognised, but also the power of any beings, however superior, to suspend the laws of nature, (which, to any one versed in physical inquiries, would be the most difficult point of all,) and further, that this would be done for the purpose of conveying a revelation; which again must presuppose the power and will of such a being to make disclosures of religious truth; all this must be believed on good evidence before the teacher's claim could be rationally received; in other words, it would imply a natural theology even of a very precise kind.
The case supposed is, indeed, almost an impossibility; since we can hardly conceive a people advanced enough to reason as the hypothesis requires, who had not attained to some idea of a superior power or powers; to whose influence (embodied*, perhaps, in the person of the teacher,) they would directly ascribe the miracle. But even in this case, it is very likely that the result would be far from that of convincing them by evidence of the truths propounded. The supposed working of the miracle would not, of itself, be any proof of the existence of a superior being; it would most naturally and rationally be set down as merely an extraordinary event, which, though not in the present power of the witnesses to explain, would most probably be accounted for by some future discoveries in nature; or would be, perhaps, more properly ascribed to some hidden knowledge and superior skill possessed by the teacher, who really or apparently wrought it.
* Is not this view confirmed by actually-recorded examples ? Sec Acts viii. 10; xiv. 11; and xxviii. 6.
But those who have maintained this view of the matter have gone on to contend, that, in fact, there are other sources than those of the reasonings called natural theology, from which a notion of the Deity and his attributes may be acquired. They have traced such a notion and belief up to what they consider a natural constitution and tendency of the human mind, an ultimate conviction of our souls; a principle of belief, in fact, innate; and manifested in the universal consent of mankind.
On all such views I have merely to observe, that, entirely allowing the fact of such general persuasion, and that it most commonly is nothing more than the undefined yet powerful kind of impression spoken of, yet to assume that it is therefore an innate or ultimate principle of our nature, is to beg the very question at issue; the entire object of discussion in natural theology being to ascertain whether this conclusion cannot be logically analyzed, and the grounds of this persuasion investigated by tracing the legitimate course and order of our convictions from the elements of our knowledge of the natural world, through the inferences of order and adjustment, up to that of design and intelligence, and from the universality and unity of design up to the unity of designing intelligence, from the immensity of its plan to the infinite power of its author; from those beneficial arrangements which we can recognise, to his Providence; from the inexpressible beauty and harmony of natural order, to the perfections of the great Source of it.
It seems, in fact, that to a confusion of views between the admission of the existence of certain impressions and feelings in our minds, and the process of investigating them on the grounds of exact argument and evidence, may be traced many of the singular speculations occasionally obtruded on the world as profound metaphysico-theological reasoning. Many writers on these subjects seem not to keep steadily in view which course they desire to follow, whether to appeal to feelings or to analyze them.
Rational Evidences of Faith.- Various Opinions
It is of course perfectly notorious that the great mass of those who adopt even the purest form of faith, adopt it without any rational examination of evidence, whether of natural or revealed truth. The appeal to natural impressions, however just in itself, throws no light whatever on the real question at issue, which concerns not what men are led to believe, but the rational evidence on which they believe it. Not what are the natural impressions, but how and why they should be impressed.
And this more especially with reference to the analysis of our own convictions, and the searching inquiry which we ought to make into the grounds of our own belief, with all the light and information we possess, in order that, on the most vitally important of all subjects, these convictions should be guarded by none but the most secure arguments, and repose on none but the most unassailable foundations.
But the majority of those who decry this kind of inquiry, do so upon a more specific ground of faith. They, in fact, discard all idea of reasoning upon the subject. They look to a peculiar kind of impression upon the soul, neither to be reasoned upon nor resisted. In this their whole apprehension of the Deity is made to consist. Thus all philosophical proof is useless, and even dangerous; all exercise of the intellect on such a subject is at variance with the demands of a true faith. With those who entertain such persuasions, it is of course vain to dispute. Discarding reason, they are insensible to fallacies in argument. But should any be disposed to pause before wholly delivering themselves up to such views, they might consent to be reminded, even upon an authority which they must peculiarly admit, that “ he who cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him*.”
Some, again, in an elevated spirit of religious devotion, have contended that none but the true Christian can derive any profitable evidences of the Divinity from the contemplation of his works; that he alone whose soul is enlightened, purified, and elevated to God by grace, is able to perceive or to enjoy the manifestations of his existence and presence in nature. Thus they do not altogether condemn the study of nature; but they maintain, that when the believer turns his thoughts to the proofs of the Divine perfections in his visible works, it is solely in obedience to the exhortations of Scripture; and valuable only as an exercise of the spirit of humble adoration inculcated in the Bible; and to be carried on with an entire submission to the language of Scripture relative to physical subjectst. But though it is undoubtedly true, that the spirit of Christianity does thus elevate contemplations which would otherwise be restricted to the level of mere conclusions of the understanding, and render practically fruitful what would otherwise be the barren speculations of reason; though a pure faith alone can add piety to philosophy, and irradiate with joy and hope the contemplation of God in nature; yet it is, at the same time, equally true and necessary
* Heb. xi. 6.
+ See Note M.