Images de page
PDF
ePub

tures, the opinions of accomplished scholars, with whom few infidels, if any, deserve to be compared.*

It may be true, that the scriptures are not written according to the rules of art; but it would betray the most deplorable folly to account this circumstance an argument against their divinity. Must God, when he speaks, carefully observe the laws of rhetoric laid down in the schools? Does he perceive any excellence in the artificial arrangement, and musical cadence of words? Are visible marks of human art necessary to prove, that a book was written by the inspiration of God? Perhaps some objector against theism will tell us, that the world is not an effect of intelligence and design, because the landscapes of nature are not conformable to the present fashionable style of laying out pleasuregrounds; the mountains are not regular figures; and the rocks are not disposed according to the orders of architecture. This objection would be as good in favour of atheism, as that which we are at present considering is, in favour of infidelity. Besides, the rules of rhetoric, of which pedants are perpetually talking, were drawn from models, exhibited in the writings of authors, who lived in these western parts of the world. They seem to us to have a foundation in nature. But let us travel into the eastern countries, where the sacred books were written, and we shall find prevailing there,

The reader will be pleased to see the judgment of that great man, and profound scholar, the late Sir William Jones. The following words were written on the last leaf of his Bible. *"" I have regularly and attentively read these holy scriptures, and am of opinion, that this volume, independently of its divine origin, contains more sublimity and beauty, more pure morality, more important history, and finer strains of poetry and eloquence, than can be collected from all other books, in whatever age or language they may have been composed."

ideas of composition, totally different from ours. A similar diversity of taste will be observed in the distant regions of the west, the north, and the south. As it was impossible that the style of the scriptures should accord with so many different standards, and as there was no good reason, why it should be accommodated to the notions of a Greek or Roman critic, rather than of an Indian or a Chinese rhetorician, the mode of writing, which was common in the land of Judea, was adopted. He who does not consider the sacred books as the compositions of Jews, and as in the first instance addressed, for the most part, to their own countrymen, is alike regardless of the laws of sound criticism, and the dictates of common sense. Had the scriptures resembled in their composition a Greek or Roman classic, we should long since have heard from infidels, that the proof of forgery was incontrovertible.

Some of the ancients were of opinion, that if the gods should descend to the earth to converse with mortals, they would speak in the language of Plato. I differ widely from those admirers of the style of that philosopher. A style which admitted words and phrases not of vulgar use, and to the vulgar therefore unintelligible, which was too elevated, or too refined to be apprehended by uncultivated minds, would counteract the professed intention of a divine revelation. The scriptures were not designed exclusively for philosophers and scholars, for persons of discernment and taste, but likewise for the poor and illiterate; and they are written therefore in a style, which learned and unlearned can understand. If the former be displeased, that truth appears in so

plain a dress, the latter have cause to rejoice, that no paint hides her native beauty from their eyes, no meretricious ornament conceals her shape or her features.

It is a proof of the divinity of the scriptures, that they are not decorated with the tinsel of human eloquence. In respect of style, they are just such, as, laying all prejudice aside, we would expect them to be. It would be unworthy of God to speak after the manner of an orator. He speaks like himself, with majestic simplicity; he employs no arts to impose on our imaginations, and steal upon our hearts, because his naked word is able to effect its purpose, without any adventitious aid.

I have now given a view of the chief objections against the inspiration of the scriptures. To these as to general heads all the other objections of infidels may be referred. The answers which have been returned to them will, I hope, be deemed satisfactory. Before concluding this chapter, it is proper to observe, That when we are at a loss for a particular answer to any objection, which may occur in reading or in conversation, we have a general answer ready in the evidences detailed in the foregoing part of this Essay. An objection cannot disprove a fact, or a truth clearly established. If it follow from the arguments formerly advanced, that the scriptures are inspired, we may safely and confidently rest in the conclusion, though there should be some circumstances, for which we cannot account; some remaining difficulties, which we are unable to solve. It is certainly absurd and uncandid to go on disputing against luminous and decisive evidence. There is a point, at which opposition

ought to cease, and assent should be no longer withheld. Yet infidels, though the divinity of our religion, and of the books containing it, have been often proved by arguments, to which no solid answer was ever returned, continue to argue against revelation, as if nothing had been said in its defence, and are surprised when their cavils do not prevail upon others to renounce it. But as it discovers soundness of judgment not to admit a proposition, till sufficient evidence in support of it be laid before us; so to reject a proposition, which hath been fully proved, indicates no uncommon prudence and penetration, but a disease or defect in the understanding, rendering it incapable of perceiving proof and feeling its force; or the influence of some corrupt affection, prompting men to reason against their convictions. In the mean time, neither the impertinent cavils of unbelievers, nor those real difficulties, which they are too quick sighted not to observe and to object to us, should overthrow our faith, or create any hesitation and perplexity in our minds. We should convert them into excitements to greater diligence in the investigation of the truth, and more earnest prayer for the illumination of the Spirit.— Thus, we shall acquire clearer views, and a firmer persuasion of the divine authority of the scriptures; and the very means, which are industriously employed to draw us away from the faith, shall ultimately contribute to our establishment.

$

CHAP. VIII.

Conclusion.

IF the scriptures be a revelation from God, and satisfactory evidence of their inspiration have been produced, it is incumbent upon all those, to whom they are presented, to receive them as divine, and to submit to their authority. The case is not the same, as when we are called upon to embrace a system of philosophical or political opinions. We may be under no obligation either from duty or from interest, to decide for such a system or against it; it may be a matter of no consequence whether we assent to it, or deny it. But not to receive the scriptures, which are the words of eternal life, and have been announced by God himself to the world, as a revelation of his will, is at once to treat his authority with contempt, and to do the highest possible injury to ourselves.

Infidels may plead, that the evidence of their divinity is not so clear and convincing, as to be the foundation of a rational assent. Its sufficiency or insufficiency cannot be determined by their asseverations, or by ours, but must be ascertained by an attentive consideration of its nature. It is certain that far less evidence is accounted sufficient in many very important affairs, and that an unbeliever will risk his fortune, and even his life, in an undertaking, for the success of which there is not half the evidence, which we have for the inspiration of the scriptures. Why is he so easily satisfied in the one case, but so delicate and scrupulous in the other? If he

« PrécédentContinuer »