« PrécédentContinuer »
understand their doctrine in singleness of heart.” Get
he is provided of a fund of his own from which he may be enabled to perceive their futility and to refute them. The only just exceptions to this rule are those already mentioned.' When objections are obtruded on * him, which tend to unsettle his own mind, or which, *if he is incapable of answering or eluding, may afford matter of triumph to infidelity, then it is proper to recur to the nearest methods of removing them.
But some perhaps will be ready to urge, Is not this method of yours rather preposterous ? Ought we not first to be satisfied of the truth of revelation, and then enter on the examination of its contents? Its divine origin therefore is doubtless the first question, its par. ticular doctrines come next. This to a superficial inquirer must appear plausible, but it is by no means just. It was observed already, that one principal source of evidence, either in favour of revelation or against it, is its own character, and this we call the intrinsic evidence. To take the most effectual methods therefore of coming at the knowledge of its character, that is, of discovering what it contains, is in fact to take the most effectual method of studying one principals fund of evidence, either for or against it. Again, in regard to the attacks that are made upon christianity, it is impossible we should judge, whether they be just or unjust, till we have gotten some notion of whạt christianity is.' This is the more necessary as we see under this identical name, things in many respects widely different, are in different places attacked. The infidel has not quite the same object in England as in Spain, nor in Sweden as in either, nor in Switzerland as in
any of the three. The case is, every assailant attaches to the name all the religious opinions generally received
in the place where he resides. But if it is the institution of Christ, of the truth of which we are anxious to be ascertained, and not the glosses of our rabbies ; if it is the commandments of God which excite our zeal, and not the traditions of the elders or the establishment of our legislators, it is necessary we should know before we enter on the controversy, how to make the distinction between the one and the other. This is not the only cause, though indeed it is the chief one, wherein
a great deal of time and pains is worse than idly wasted, which would have been spared, if the parties had
understood sufficiently the subject in debate. I shall illustrate this by a familiar example. Suppose one should undertake to prove to you, that the constitu. tion of Great Britain is a very bad constitution in every respect. Could you imagine yourselves qualified for judging of the validity of his arguments, if you were yourselves quite ignorant, what that constitution is ? You might be liable to be imposed upon by the grossest falsehoods and the vilest misrepresentations, which the bare study of that constitution itself might be sufficient to detect, and might serve abundantly to supply the place of every refutation. The method I recommend, therefore, is in fact the simplest and the most natural. It will at once, and by the same exertion on your part, instruct you in the contents and in some of the principal evidences of revelation, and thus it will both facilitate and shorten your inquiries.
To this, let me add, it is the method which I have, in my own experience, found to answer best. early endeavoured to become acquainted with the scriptures, which, from my first perusal, I saw merited a very close attention, though viewed in no higher light
than as human compositions, but much more, as claim. ing the character of divine revelation. As I became acquainted with the original languages, and with ancient oriental usages and manners, I applied my know. ledge in these, for removing obscurities and doubts, where they occurred in scripture. In some cases,
I thought I succeeded, in others not. As to the last, I was not impatient, not doubting, but as the light of * knowledge advanced, I should see farther and more distinctly. I can say with truth, I was not entirely disappointed. I soon after attempted the reading of controversial writers, and first, those which regard the general controversy, whether the scriptures contain a revelation from God, or, which amounts to the same, whether christianity be a divine communication to mankind, or a mere human figment. I began with the attacks made upon our religion, as I made it a rule to hear the plea of a party first in his own language, and not in the words of an angry and perhaps uncandid antagonist. After reading an attack, if there was any thing specious in it, I considered with myself
, how I should answer the principal arguments, if urged upon me by an adversary with a view to discredit religion, or if they were proposed as difficulties by a friend, who intended only the removal of his own doubts. If I found myself puzzled by the arguments, not being satisfied with any answer which occurred to myself, I had recourse, as soon as possible, to the best I could hear of from others. But it sometimes happened, on the contrary, that, on a little reflection, I thought myself able to refute the antagonist's arguments, in which case I never inquired about any an-, swers that might have been published. In consequence of this method I have read many more attacks upon revelation than defences of it. I carried this so far once, as to set about the publication of an answer* to a very subtle attack on the christian religion by a late celebrated metaphysician, before I had an opportunity of perusing the work of any former answerer ; a conduct which I would not recommend to any body's imitation, as it exposes one to mistakes and misrepresentations, which may be easily avoided. I shall fur. ther add on this article, that the only species of assault. made against revelation, which is totally independent of its contents and history and therefore may be previously studied and understood, is that which is aimed against the possibility of all miraculous facts. This question is purely abstract and metaphysical, and would be the same, it must be owned, whatever the history, character or genius of our religion were.
So much for the subject in general, the different kinds of proof of which it is susceptible, and the different sorts of objections to which it is exposed. So much also for the best method of preparing ourselves for understanding the subject, with its evidence, and for refuting the objections. I shall in my next discourse consider, how we may most profitably pursue our inquiries into the different parts of the subject, and examine the controversies which these have given rise to.
* The Dissertation on Miracles in answer to Mr. Hume.