Images de page

stitution and Course of Nature.” Now as a great many of the arguments of our sceptics and unbelievers are aimed against the genius and character of our religion, so on the other hand it is proper to observe, that to some persons of the most acute discernment and most delicate sensibility, there has appeared in this same subject the character of religion, an intrinsic but irresistible evidence of its divinity. The spirit it breathes, the doctrines it teaches, the morals it inculcates, when candidly examined in the fountain, the New Testament, and not in the corrupted streams of human comments and systems, have an energy which no feeling heart can withstand, and which seems not to have been withstood by some who have even dared to combat all its other evidences. Of this the late Rousseau is an eminent example.

As to the second class of objections, which are levelled against the external proofs of revelation, they differ according to the different branches of evidence against which they are aimed. The two principal branches of. external evidence, by which the christian doctrine is recommended to our faith, are prophecy and miracles. The latter of these were strongly urged by the apostles for the conviction of the Gentiles; both were insisted on in their reasonings with the Jews. The pagans knew nothing of those books in which the prophecies were contained, and consequently arguments drawn from these would have been unintelligible to them. Now as the miracles which were wrought in support of our religion, with us stand on the evidence of testimony conveyed in history, and as the fulfilment of most of the prophecies urged in support of the same cause, are vouched to us in the same manner, the argument with regard to miracles is entirely, and with regard to prophecy is in a great measure of the historical kind. I say with regard to prophecy it is only in a great measure historical. My reason for making the distinction is plainly this. The prophetic style hath something peculiar in it. It is both more figurative, and more obscure, than that of simple narration. Whereas therefore with regard to the performance of such a miracle, there can be only one question, and a mere question of fact; with regard to the accomplishment of such a prophecy, there naturally arise two questions. First, is the meaning of the prophecy such as hath been assigned to it? This is a question of criticism; secondly, Was the event, by which it is said to be accomplished, such as is alleged? This again is a question of fact. Before I dismiss this topic of the different ways wherein the truth of revelation has been assailed by its adversaries, it is necessary to take notice of an intermediate method, by which indeed the external proofs are struck at, but in a different manner. It is not the reality of individual facts alleged, namely miracles and prophecies, but the possibility of the kind, as being supernatural, which is made the question. Again, the fitness of these, though admitted true, to serve as evidence of doctrine, hath been also questioned. Both these inquiries are of the philosophic kind. Their solution depends on a just apprehension of the nature of evidence.

Would I, now, that ye should be particularly acquainted with all the trite and all the novel topics, that have been, or are insisted on by the enemies of our religion, and that ye should read and remember exactly all the most approved answers that have been made by its defenders; I should in that case be under a necessity of assigning you a very frightful task, send. ing you to consult an innumerable multitude of volumes, written on both sides of the question. And should you happen to be blest with a tenacious memory, he might in this way at very little expense of judgment, be qualified for encountering any ordinary caviller he might meet with. But in truth, the task is in my opinion, especially for a novice in theology, both too laborious and unpleasant, and by no means sufficiently profitable to recompense the time and pains that would be bestowed upon it. And though I think that such controversial pieces may be perused occasionally as they fall in one's way, I would by no means recommend a regular prosecution of this study; a method which would tend only to form a habit of turning every thing into matter of wrangling and logomachy, those noxious weeds, those briars and thorns with which almost all the walks of theology have been so unhappily pestered. In my judgment, a habit of this kind greatly hurts the rational powers, when in appearance it only exercises them ; "it doth worse, it often greatly injures an ingenuous and candid temper ; it infects one with a rage of disputation, the cacoethes of pedants; it inclines the mind to hunt more for the specious than the solid, and in the ardour of the combat to sacrifice truth to victory. Not that I would dissuade any one, who may have doubts of his own, to consult impartially whatever authors may be of use to remove them, and to examine the question freely. It is not truth, but error, that shuns the light, and dreads to undergo an impartial trial. It is the liberal advice of an apostle“ Prove all things, hold fast that which

any of


[ocr errors]

is good,” an advice which breathes nothing of that narrow, jealous, sectarian spirit, which hath so long and so generally prevailed among christians of all denominations, and hath proved the greatest pest of the

Or in case one's situation exposes him to the attacks of wranglers, it may be necessary also on this account to furnish himself with armour where he soon

est can, that he may neither be seduced by their so. 1. phisms, nor give them the appearance of a triumph at ,

the expense of truth. But where neither of these is the case,

I am not satisfied that this summary way 'of proceeding is the best. Would you then have the theological student to neglect this most important question, concerning the truth of revelation, the foun. dation of all the rest ? By no means.

I dissuade only from his taking this hasty way of overloading his memory with the productions of others, and with all the trash that has been hatched in disputatious idle heads. I only dissuade from this, that I may indicate the method whereby he may be enabled to search the cause itself to the bottom, and if possible to produce some. thing of his own.

It was observed, that some of the arguments against revelation were of a philosophic nature, deriving, or at least pretending to derive their efficacy from the sources of pneumatology, logic, ethics, and natural theology; others of an historical nature, and others critical. Let us therefore become acquainted with these several sources, pneumatology, history, criticism, and we shall not need to see with other's eyes, and to retail by rote the answers that have been given by others. We shall be qualified to see with our own eyes, and to give answers for ourselves, arising from

[ocr errors]

our own knowledge and distinct apprehension of the subject. But this, it will be said, is assigning us by much the harder task of the two. The streams are open and at hand, the fountain is often remote and hidden from our view. True indeed, and therefore without doubt it will be longer before we reach it, but when we have reached it, our work is done ; whereas the streams are numberless, every day discovers 'some unknown before, and to examine them all severally is endless. And though the task were possible, it would not be near so satisfactory to the mind.

It has been the error of ages, and still is of the present age, that to have read much is to be very learned. There is not, I may say, a greater heresy against common sense. Reading is doubtless necessary, and it must be owned, that eminence in knowledge is not to be attained without it. But two things are ever specially to be regarded on this topic, which are these, First, that more depends on the quality of what we read, than on the quantity ; secondly, more depends on the use, which by reflection, conversation, and composition we have made, of what we read, than upon both the former. In whatever depends upon history, or the knowledge of languages, the materials indeed can only be furnished us by reading ; but if that reading be properly conducted and improved, its influence will be very extensive. Whilst therefore it is by far the too general cry, “ Read, read, commentators, systematists, paraphrasts, controvertists, demonstrations, confutations, apologies, answers, defences, replies, and ten thousand other such like;" I. should think the most important advice to be, “ Devoutly study the scriptures themselves, if you would

« PrécédentContinuer »