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THE DIFFICULTIES ATTENDANT
CAL INFIDELITY IN REGARD TO ITS POSSIBLE
In their various controversies with infidel writers, the advocates of Revelation have generally contented themselves with standing upon the defensive. Against the enemies of their faith they have rarely undertaken offensive operations. Difficulties indeed they have removed, and objections they have answered, when started by the ingenuity of a deistical opponent: but they have for the most part neglected to urge the manifold objections and the serious difficulties, which attend upon his own system. Hence, so far as I can judge, they have needlessly given him the advantage, which an assailant will always at least seem to possess over a person assailed.
With this view of the question, it is not my purpose to consider the sundry matters, which from time to time have been brought forward by deistical authors against the Holy Scriptures: such a task, in the present state of the controversy, may well be deemed superfluous; for, in
truth, it would be merely to repeat and to answer objections, which have already been made and answered again and again. rather inclined to state a few of the numerous difficulties, with which the infidel scheme itself is encumbered. Whence, unless indeed they can be satisfactorily removed, there will arise a strong presumption, that, at some time and in some place and after some manner, the supreme Being has expressly revealed himself to his creature man: and, as the Christian Dispensation, viewed as grounding itself upon the preceding Patriarchal and Levitical Dispensations, is the only form of religion, which with any reasonable shew of argument can claim to be a revelation from heaven; we may not impossibly be brought to a conclusion, that, however much has been said by infidels respecting the easy faith of those who have embraced the Gospel, there is, after all, more real credulity in the disbelief of Christianity than in the belief of it.
I. A discussion of this nature will not improperly commence with a brief examination of what we may suppose to be the possible grounds and reasons of deistical Infidelity.
Now, except the following, I am unable to discern, upon what principles an unbeliever can take his stand with even a moderate degree of plausibility.
Either a revelation from heaven is a matter in itself abstractedly impossible.
Or a revelation from heaven is so utterly improbable an occurrence, that it beggars all credibility.
Or the evidences, upon which our reception of every system claiming to be a revelation from heaven is demanded, are so weak and unsatisfactory, that they are insufficient to command our reasonable assent.
Or, in the case of every system claiming this divine character, numerous objections and difficulties exist; which objections and difficulties are so formidable, that they cannot be answered and removed.
Or, as various systems have alike claimed to be revelations from heaven, and as the advocates of each system are equally forward in maintaining their own to the exclusion of every other, the shrewd presumption with a philosophical inquirer will be, that all these systems are, without exception, mere interested impositions upon the credulity of mankind.
Or, lastly, as our unassisted reason is the sole instrument, by which our duty is to be determined; so our natural reason, when properly and honestly used, is in itself quite sufficient for this purpose consequently, a revelation from God is no less unnecessary in the abstract, than the claim of any particular theological system to be received as a revelation from God is unfounded in the concrete.
These several grounds and reasons of Infidelity shall be considered in the order wherein they stand.
1. The first possible ground is the position, that, in the very nature of things, a revelation from heaven cannot take place.
If this position has ever been seriously maintained by any writer of the deistical school, the difficulty, inseparably attendant upon it, will be found in the necessary consequence which it involves; a consequence no less formidable, than an eventual denial of God's omnipotence.
That such is indeed its necessary consequence, will appear from the following syllogism.
God can do every thing, which is not in itself a contradiction. But it can never be shewn, that a revelation from God to man implies any contradiction. Therefore a revelation from God
to man is abstractedly possible.
From the terms of this syllogism it is evident, that the abstract possibility of a revelation from God to man cannot be denied without a concomitant denial of God's omnipotence. A denial therefore of God's omnipotence is the necessary consequence of maintaining the position before
Whence it follows, that the present position, involving a denial of God's omnipotence, involves also, in the creed both of the deist and of the Christian, a gross and palpable absurdity.
2. The second possible ground of Infidelity is
the position, that a revelation from heaven is in itself so improbable an occurrence, that it beggars all credibility.
Respecting this position, the deist himself will allow, that man, a rational and intellectual being, has been placed in the present world by no other than by an all-wise Creator.
But, that he must have been placed here for some adequate purpose correspondent with the rational and intellectual character both of his Creator and of himself, cannot be controverted, without controverting at the same time the wisdom of God: for it could be no proof of wisdom, that man should have been placed in his present sphere of existence purely through unmeaning caprice and without any suitable definite end being proposed.
This point therefore being granted (as I presume it must be granted by a candid and sensible deist), the question immediately arises: whether God's purpose in creating intellectual man would more probably be accomplished, by a regular communication, or by a systematic withholding, of instruction?
Such is the question, which forthwith arises from the necessary concession before us.
Now for any one gravely to assert, that the most probable mode, in which God could accomplish his purpose, would be studiously to withhold all instruction from his rational creature, seems so very paradoxical and so entirely con