Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

amidst whose sublime and solemn phenomena cannot solve ; and the rather, that he sees that if science has most clearly discovered that every- he does not accept the evidence, he has equally inthing is accurately adjusted by geometrical precis- comprehensible difficulties to encounter, and two or ion of force and movement; where the chances of three stark contradictions into the bargain. His error are infinite, and the proofs of intelligence, reason, therefore, triumphs in the proofs and his therefore, equal. These proofs of design in each faith triumphs over the difficulties. fragment of the universe, and in all combined, are It is the same with the doctrine of the Divine continually further multiplied by every fresh dis-government of the world. In ordinary states of covery, whether in the minute or the vast—by the mind man counts it an absurdity to suppose that microscope or the telescope ; for every fresh law the Deity would have created a world to abandon that is discovered, being in harmony with all that it; that, having employed wisdom and power so has previously been discovered, not only yields its vast in its construction, he would leave it to be own proofs of design, but infinitely more, by all the sport of chance. He feels that the intuitions the relations in which it stands to other laws : it of right and wrong; the voice of conscience; satyields, in fact, as many as there are adjustments isfaction in well-doing; remorse for crime; the which have been effected between itself and all present tendency, at least, of the laws of the besides. Each new proof of design, therefore, is universe,—all point to the same conclusion, while not a solitary fact; but one which, entering as their imperfect fulfilment equally points to a future another element into a most complex machinery, and more accurate adjustment. Yet let the man indefinitely multiplies the combinations, in any one look exclusively for awhile on the opposite side of of which chance might have gone astray. From the tapestry ; let him brood over any of the facts this infinite array of proofs of design it seems to which seem at war with the above conclusion ; on man's reason, in ordinary moods, stark madness some signal triumph of baseness and malignity; to account for the phenomena of the universe upon on oppressed virtue, on triumphant vice ; on" the any other supposition than that which does account, wicked spreading himself like a green bay tree ;'' and can alone account, for them all—the supposi- and especially on the mournful and inscrutable tion of a Presiding Intelligence, illimitable alike mystery of the “ Origin of Evil," and he feels that in power and in wisdom.

“clouds and darkness” envelop the administration The only difficulty is justly to appreciate such of the Moral Governor, though “justice and judgan argument—to obtain a sufficiently vivid impres- ment are the habitation of his throne.” The sion of such an accumulation of probabilities. This evidences above mentioned for the last conclusion very difficulty, indeed, in some moods, may minis- are direct and positive, and such as man can apter to a temporary doubt. For let us catch man preciate ; the difficulties spring from his limited in those moods—perhaps after long meditation on capacity, or imperfect glimpses of a very small the metaphysical grounds of human belief—and he segment of the universal plan. Nor are those begins to doubt, with unusual modesty, whether difficulties less upon the opposite hypothesis ; and the child of dust is warranted to conclude anything they are there further burdened with two or three on a subject which loses itself in the infinite, and additional absurdities. The preponderant evidence, which so far transcends all his powers of appre- far from removing the difficulties, scarcely touches hension ; he begins half to doubt, with IIume, them-yet it is felt to be sufficient to justify faith, whether he can reason analogically from the petty though most abundant faith is required still. specimens of human ingenuity to phenomena so Are the evidences, then, in behalf of Christianity vast and so unique ; a misgiving which is strength- less of a nature which man can appreciate ? or can ened by reflecting on all those to him incompre- the difficulties involved in its reception be greater hensible inferences to which the admission of the than in the preeding cases ? If not, and if. argument leads him, and which seemn almost to moreover, while the evidence turns as before on involve contradictions. Let him ponder for awhile principles with which we are familiar, the more the ideas involved in the notion of Self-subsistence, formidable objections, as before, are such that we Eternity, Creation ; of Power, Wisdom, and are not competent to decide upon their absolute Knowledge, so unlimited as to embrace at once insolubility, we see how man ought to act; that is. all things, and all their relations, actual and possi- not to let his ignorance control his knowledge, but ble—this “ unlimited” expanding into a dim ap- to let his reason accept the proofs which justify prehension of the “infinite”;-of infinitude of his faith, in accepting the difficulties. In no case attributes, omnipresent in every point of space, is he, it appears, warranted to look for the certainty and yet but one and not many infinitudes ;-let which shall exclude (whatever the triumphs of his him once humbly ponder such incomprehensible reason) a gigantic exercise of his faith. Let us difficulties as these, and he will soon feel that briefly consider a few of the evidences. And in though in the argument from design, there seemed order to give the statement a little novelty, we but one vast scene of triumph for his reason, there shall indicate the principal topics of evidence, is as large a scene of exertion left for his faith. not by enumerating what the advocate of ChrisThat faith he ordinarily yields ; he sees it is jus- tianity believes in believing it to be true, but what tified by those proofs of the great truth he can ap- the infidel must believe in believing it to be false. preciate, and which he will not allow to be con- The à priori objection to Miracles we shall briefly trolled by the difficulties his conscious feebleness touch afterwards.

First, then, in relation to the Miracles of the it, and, which is more extraordinary, the inconsisNew Testament, whether they be supposed masterly tency to practise it !* frauds on men's senses committed at the time and On the second of the above-mentioned hypotheses, by the parties supposed in the records, or fictions that these miracles were either a congeries of (designed or accidental) subsequently fabricated— deeply contrived fictions, or accidental myths, subbut still, in either case, undeniably successful and sequently invented, the infidel must believe, on the triumphant beyond all else in the history whether former supposition, that, though even transient of fraud or fiction—the infidel must believe as success in literary forgery, when there are any follows: On the first hypothesis, he must believe prejudices to resist, is among the rarest of occurthat a vast number of apparent miracles-involving rences ; yet that these forgeries—the hazardous the most astounding phenomena—such as the in- work of many minds, making the most outrageous stant restoration of the sick, blind, deaf, and lame, pretensions, and necessarily challenging the oppoand the resurrection of the dead-performed in sition of Jew and Gentile, were successful, beyond open day, amidst multitudes of malignant enemies—all imagination, over the hearts of mankind ; and imposed alike on all, and triumphed at once over have continued to impose, by an exquisite appearthe strongest prejudices and the deepest enmity ;- ance of artless truth, and a most elaborate mosaic those who received them and those who rejected of feigned events artfully cemented into the ground them differing only in the certainly not very trifling of true history, on the acutest minds of different particular—as to whether they came from heaven races and different ages ; while, on the second or from hell. He must believe that those who supposition, he must believe that accident and were thus successful in this extraordinary con- chance have given to these legends their exquisite spiracy against men's senses and against common appearance of historic plausibility ; and on either sense, were Galilæan Jews, such as all history of supposition, he must believe (what is still more the period represents them; ignorant, obscure, wonderful) that the world, while the fictions were illiterate ; and, above all, previously bigoted, like being published, and in the known absence of the all their countrymen, to the very system, of which, facts they asserted to be true, suffered itself to be together with all other religions on the earth, they befooled into the belief of their truth, and out of modestly meditated the abrogation ; he must believe its belief of all the systems it did previously that, appealing to these astounding frauds in the believe to be true ; and that it acted thus notwithface both of Jews and Gentiles as an open evidence standing persecution from without, as well as of the truth of a new revelation, and demanding prejudice from within ; that, strange to say, the on the strength of them that their countrymen strictest historic investigations bring this compilashould surrender a religion which they acknowl- tion of fictions or myths—even by the admission edged to be divine, and that all other nations of Strauss himself-within thirty or forty years should abandon their scarcely less venerable sys- of the very time in which all the alleged wonders tems of superstition, they rapidly succeeded in they relate are said to have occurred; wonders both these very probable adventures ; and in a few which the perverse world knew it had not seen, years, though without arms, power, wealth, or but which it was determined to believe in spite of science, were to an enormous extent victorious over evidence, prejudice, and persecution ! In addition all prejudice, philosophy, and persecution ; and in to all this, the infidel must believe that the men three centuries took nearly undisputed possession, who were engaged in the compilation of these amongst many nations, of the temples of the monstrous fictions, chose them as the vehicle of the ejected deities. He must further believe that the purest morality; and, though the most pernicious original performers, in these prodigious frauds on deceivers of mankind, were yet the most scrupulous the world, acted not only without any assignable preachers of veracity and benevolence! Surely motive, but against all assignable motive; that of him, who can receive all these paradoxes-and they maintained this uniforni constancy in unprofit- they form but a small part of what might be able falsehoods, not only together, but separately, mentioned—we may say, “ O infidel, great is thy in different countries, before different tribunals, faith !” under all sorts of examinations and cross-exam- On the supposition that neither of these theories, inations, and in defiance of the gyves, the scourge, whether of fraud or fiction, will account, if taken the axe, the cross, the stake ; that those whom by itself for the whole of the supernatural phethey persuaded to join their enterprise, persisted nomena, which strew the pages of the New Testalike themselves in the same obstinate belief of the ment, then the objector, who relies on both, must same

cunningly devised” frauds; and though believe, in turn, both sets of the above paradoxes ; they had many accomplices in their singular con- and then, with still more reason than before, may spiracy, had the equally singular fortune to free we exclaim, “O infidel, great is thy faith!” themselves and their coadjutors from all transient Again ; he must believe that all those apparent weakness towards their cause and treachery towards coincidences, which seem to connect Prophecy with one another; and, lastly, that these men, having, amidst all their ignorance, originality enough to must have been the case ; and Gibbon fully admits and

* So far as we have any knowledge from history, this invent the most pure and sublime system of morality insists upon it. Indeed, no infidel hypothesis can afford which the world has ever listened to, had, amidst to do without the virtues of the early Christians in ac

counting for the success of the falsehoods of Christianity. all their conscious villany, the effrontery to preach Hard alternatives of a wayward hypothesis !

the facts of the origin and history of Chris- simplicity, sprang from ignorance ; that precepts tianity-some, embracing events too vast for haz- enjoining the most refined sanctity were inculcated ardous speculations, and others, incidents too by imposture ; that the first injunctions to univarminute for it—are purely fortuitous ; that all the sal love broke from the lips of bigotry! He must cases in which the event seems to tally with the further believe that these men exemplified the ideal prediction, are mere chance coincidences : and he perfection of that beautiful system in the most must believe this, amongst other events, of two of unique, original, and faultless picture of virtue the most unlikely to which human sagacity was ever conceived—a picture which has extorted the likely to pledge itself, and yet which have as un- admiration even of those who could not believe it deniably occurred, (and after the predictions,) as to be a portrait, and who have yet confessed themthey were à priori improbable and anomalous in selves unable to account for it except as such.* the world's history ; the one is that the Jews He must believe, too, that these ignorant and fraudshould exist as a distinct nation in the very bosom ulent Galilæans voluntarily aggravated the diffiof all other nations, without extinction and without culty of their task, by exhibiting their proposed amalgamation-other nations and even races having ideal, not by a bare enumeration and description so readily melted away under less than half the of qualities, but by the most arduous of all methods influences which have been at work upon them ;* of representation that of dramatic action ; and, the other, an opposite paradox—that a religion, what is more, that they succeeded ; that in that propagated by ignorant, obscure, and penniless representation they undertook to make him act vagabonds, should diffuse itself amongst the most with sublime consistency in scenes of the most exdiverse nations in spite of all opposition—it being traordinary character and the most touching pathos, the rarest of phenomena to find any religion which and utter moral truth in the most exquisite fictions is capable of transcending the limits of race, clime, in which such truth was ever embodied ; and that and the scene of its historic origin; a religion again they succeeded ; that so ineffably rich in which, if transplanted, will not die; a religion genius were these obscure wretches, that no less which is more than a local or national growth of than four of them were found equal to this intelsuperstition! That such a religion as Christianity lectual achievement; and while each has told should so easily break these barriers, and though many events, and given many traits which the supposed to be cradled in ignorance, fanaticism, others have omitted, that they have all performed and fraud, should, without force of arms, and in their task in the same unique style of invention, the face of persecution, “ ride forth conquering and the same unearthly tone of art ; that one and and to conquer,” through a long career of vic- all, while preserving each his own individuality, tories, defying the power of kings and emptying has, nevertheless, attained a certain majestic siinthe temples of deities—who, but an infidel, has plicity of style unlike anything else, (not only in faith enough to believe ?

any writings of their own nation, except their alOnce more then; if, from the external evi- leged sacred writings, and infinitely superior to dences of this religion, we pass to those which anything which their successors, Jews or Christhe only records by which we know anything of tians, though with the advantage of these models, its nature and origin supplies, the infidel must be could ever attain,) but, unlike any acknowledged lieve, amongst other paradoxes, that it is probable human writings in the world, and possessing the that a knot of obscure and despised plebeians— singular property of being capable of ready transregarded as the scum of a nation which was itself fusion without the loss of a thought or a grace, regarded as the scum of all other nations-originat- into every language spoken by man: he must beed the purest, most elevated, and most influential lieve that these fabricators of fiction, in common theory of ethics the world has ever seen ; that a sys- with the many other contributors to the New Testem of sublimest truth, expressed with unparalleled tament, most insanely added to the difficulty of

their task by delivering the whole in fragments * The case of the Gypsies, often alleged as a parallel, and in the most various kinds of composition-in is a ludicrous evasion of the argument. These few and scattered vagabonds, whose very safety has been obscurity biography, history, travels, and familiar letters ; and contempt, have never attracted towards them a thou incorporating and interfusing with the whole an part of the cruelties, which have been directed against amazing number of minute facts, historic allusions, the Jews. Had it been otherwise, they would long since and specific references to persons, places, and dates, have melted away from every country in Europe. We as if for the very purpose of supplying posterity repeat that the existence of a nation for 1800 years in the bosom of all nations, conquered and persecuted, yet never with the easy means of detecting their imposiextinguished, and the propagation of a religion amongst tions ; he must believe that, in spite of their thus diferent races without force, and even against it—are encountering what Paley calls the “ danger of both, so far as known, paradoxes in history,

7" They may say," says Butler, "that the conformity * To Christ alone, of all the characters ever portrayed between the prophecies and the event is by accident; to man, belongs that assemblage of qualities which but there are many instances in which such conformity equally attract love and veneration; to him alone belong itself cannot be denied.”. His whole remarks on the in perfection those rare traits which the Roman historian, subject, and especially those on the impression to be with affectionate flattery, attributes too absolutely to the derived from the multitude of apparent coincidences, in a merely mortal object of his eulogy: "Nec illi, quod est long series of prophecies, some vast, some minute ; and rarissimum, aut facilitas auctoritatem, aut severitas amothe improbability of their all being accidental, are worthy rem, deminuit." Still more beautiful is the Apostle's deof his comprehensive genius. It is on the effect of the scription of superiority to all human failings, with ineffawhole, not on single coincidences, that the argument ble pity for human sorrows: "He can be touched with the depends.

feeling of our infirmities, though without sin.”

66

moun

scattering names and circumstances in writings declare that, so far from having no “ faith," he where nothing but truth can preserve consistency," rather possesses the "faith" which removes they so happily succeeded, that whole volumes tains !"-only it appears that his faith, like that of have been employed in pointing out their latent, Rome or of Oxford, is a faith which excludes rea. and often most recondite congruities ; many of son. them lying so deep, and coming out after such On the other hand, to him who accepts Chriscomparison of various passages and collateral tianity, none of these paradoxes present themlights, that they could never have answered the selves. On the supposition of the truth of the purposes of fraud, even if the most prodigious miracles and the prophecies, he does not wonder at genius for fraud had been equal to the fabrication ; its origin and success; and as little does he woncongruities which, in fact, were never suspected to der at all the literary and intellectual achievenients exist till they were expressly elicited by the al- of its early chroniclers—if their elevation of sentacks of infidelity, and were evidently never thought timent was from a divine source, and if the artof by the writers; he must believe that they were lessness, harmony, and reality of their narratives profoundly sagacious enough to construct such a was the simple effect of the consistency of truth, fabric of artful harmonies, and yet such simple- and of transcription from the life. tons as, by doing infinitely more than was neces- Now, on the other hand, what are the chief sary, to encounter infinite risks of detection to no objections which reconcile the infidel to his enorpurpose ; sagacious enough to outdo all that sagac-mous burden of paradoxes, and which appear to ity has ever done, as shown by the effects, and yet the Christian far less invincible than the paradoxes not sagacious enough to be merely specious ; and, themselves ? They are, especially with all modfinally, he must believe that these illiterate impos- ern infidelity, objections to the à priori improbators had the art in all their various writings, which bility of the doctrines revealed, and of the mira. evidently proceed from different minds, to preserve cles which sustain them. Now, here we come to the same inimitable marks of reality, truth and the very distinction on which we have already innature in their narrations—the miraculous and the sisted, and which is so much insisted on by Butler. ordinary alikemand to assume and preserve, with The evidence which sustains Christianity is all infinite ease, amidst their infinite impostures, the such as man is competent 10 consider; and is pretone and air of undissembled earnestness.* cisely of the same nature as that which enters

If, on the other hand, he supposes that all the into his every-day calculations of probability ; congruities of which we have spoken were the while the objections are founded entirely on our effect not of fraudulent design, but of happy acci- ignorance and presumption. They suppose that dent—that they arranged themselves in sponta- we know more of the modes of the divine adminneous harmony-he must believe that chance has istration-of what God may have permitted, of done what even the most prodigious powers of what is possible and impossible, of the ultimate invention could not do. And, lastly, he must be development of an imperfectly developed system, lieve that these same illiterate men, who were and of its relations to the entire universe than we capable of so much, were also capable of project- do or can know.* ing a system of doctrine singularly remote from Of these objections the most widely felt and the all ordinary and previous speculation ; of discern- most specious, especially in our day, is the assumping the necessity of taking under their special pat- tion that miracles are an impossibility ;t and yet ronage those passive virtues which man least loved, we will venture to say that there is none more and found it most difficult to cultivate ; and of truly unphilosophical. That miracles are improbexhibiting, in their preference of the spiritual to able, viewed in relation to the experience of the the ceremonial, and their treatment of many of the individual or of the mass of men, is granted ; for most delicate questions of practical ethics and cas- if they were not, they would, as Paley says, be no uistry, a justness and elevation of sentiment as miracles; an every-day miracle is none. But alien as possible from the superstition and fanati- that they are either impossible or so improbable cism of their predecessors who had corrupted the that, if they were wrought, no evidence could Law—and the superstition and fanaticism of their establish them, is another matter. The first allefollowers, who very soon corrupted the Gospel ; gation involves a curious limitation of omnipoand that they, and they alone, rose above the strong tence ; and the second affirms in effect, ihat, if God tendencies to the extravagances which had been were to work a miracle, it would be our duty to so conspicuous during the past, and were soon to disbelieve him! be as conspicuous in the future ;- these and a thou

We repeat our firm conviction that this à priori sand other paradoxes (arising out of the suppo

* The possible implication of Christianity with distant sition that Christianity is the fraudulent or fictitious regions of the universe, and the dim hints which Scripproduct of such an age, country, and, above all, ture seems to throw out as to such implication, are beausuch men as the problem limits us to) must the tifully treated in the 4th, 5th, and 6th of Chalmer's “ As

tronomical Discourses ;" and we need not tell the reader infidel receive, and receive all at once ; and of of Butler how much he insists upon similar considerahim who can receive them, we can but once more

tions.

+ It is, as we shall see, the avowed aziom of Strauss ; * Was there ever in truth a man who could read the he even acknowledges, that if it be not true, he would not appeals of Paul to his converts, and doubt either that the think it worth while to discredit the history of the Evanletters were real, or that the man was in earnest ? We gelists; that is, the history must be discredited, because scarcely venture to think it.

he has resolved that a miracle is an in possibiliiy!

presumption against miracles is but a vulgar illu- | affectation of metaphysical propriety—as totally sion of one of Bacon's idola tribús. So far from incapable of convincing men of any moral truth; being disposed to admit the principle that a "mir- npon the ground that there is no natural relation acle is an impossibility,' we shall venture on what between any displays of physical power and any may seem to some a paradox, but which we are such trởth. Now without denying that the nature eonvinced is a truth--that the time will come, and of the doctrine is a criterion, and must be taken is coming, when even those who shall object to the into account in judging of the reality of any alevidence which sustains the Christian miracles leged miracle, we have but two things to reply to will acknowledge that philosophy requires them to this : first, that, as Paley says in relation to the admit that men have no ground whatever to dog- question whether any accumulation of testimony matize on the antecedent impossibility of miracles can establish a miraculous fact, we are content in general ; and that not merely because, if theists" to try the theorem upon a simple case,” and at all, they will see the absurdity of this assertion, affirm that man is so constituted that if he himself while they admit that the present order of things sees the blind restored to sight and the dead raised, had a beginning; and, if Christians at all, the under such circumstances as exclude all doubt of equal absurdity of the assertion, while they admit fraud on the part of others and all mistake on his that it will have an end ;---not only because the own, he will uniformly associate authority with geologist will have familiarized the orld with the such displays of superhuman power; and, secondidea of successive interventions, and, in fact, dis-ly, that the notion in question is in direct contratinct creative acts, having all the nature of mira- vention of the language and spirit of Christ himcles ;—not only, we say, for these special reasons, self, who expressly suspends his claims to men’s but for a more general one. The true philoso- belief and the authority of his doctrines on the fact pher will see that, with his limited experience and of his miracles. “ The works that I do in my that of all his contemporaries, he has no right to Father's name, they bear witness of me.” “If dogmatize about all that may have been permitted ye believe not me, believe my works.” “If I or will be permitted in the Divine administration had not come among them, and done the works of the universe ; he will see that those who with that none other man did, they had not had sin ; one voice denięd, about half a century ago, the ex- but now they have no cloak for their sin." istence of aerolites, and summarily dismissed all We have enumerated some of the paradoxes the alleged facts as a silly fable, because it con- which infidelity is required to believe ; and the tradicted their experience—that those who refused old-fashioned, open, intelligible infidelity of the to admit the Copernican theory because, as they last century accepted them, and rejected Christianisaid, it manifestly contradicted their experience- ty accordingly. That was a self-consistent, simple, that the schoolboy who refuses to admit the first ingenious thing, compared with those monstrous law of motion because, as he says, it gives the lie forms of credulous reason, incredulous faith, metato all his experience--that 'the Oriental prince physical mysticism, even Christian Pantheism-so (whose scepticism Hume vain!y attempts, on his many varieties of which have sprung out of the principle, to meet) who denied the possibility of incubation of German rationalism and German phiice because it contradicted his experience--and, in losophy upon the New Testament. The advocates the same manner, that the men who, with Dr. of these systems, after adopting the most formidaStrauss, lay down the dictum that a miracle is ble of the above paradoxes of infidelity, and (notimpossible and a contradiction because it contradicts withstanding the frequent boast of originality) detheir experience have all been alike contravening pending mainly on the same objections, and dethe first principles of the modest philosophy of fending them by the very same critical arguments, Bacon, and have fallen into one of the most ordi- delude themselves with the idea that they have but nary illusions against which he has warned us ; purified and embalmed Christianity; not aware that namely, that that cannot be true which seems in they have first made a mummy of it. They are contradiction to our own experience. We confi- so greedy of paradox, that they, in fact, aspire to dently predict that the day will come when the be Christians and infidels at the same time. Profavorite argument of many a so-called philosopher

* The main objection, both with the old and the new in this matter will be felt to be the philosophy forms of infidelity, is that against the miracles ; the main of the vulgar only; and that though many may, arguments with hoth, those which attempt to show their

antecedent impossibility; and criticism directed against even then, deny that the testimony which supports the credulity of the records which contain them. The the Scripture miracles is equal to the task, they principal difference is, that modern infidelity shrinks from will all alike abandon the axiom which supersedes the coarse imputation of fraud and imposture on the the necessity of at all examining such evidence, or myth to that of deliberate fraud. But with this exby asserting that no evidence can establish them. ception, which touches only the personal character of the While on this subject, we may notice a certain founders of Christianity, the case remains the same. The

same postulates and the same arguments are made to fantastical tone of depreciation of miracles as an yield substantially the same conclusion. For, all that is evidence of Christianity, which is occasionally supernatural in Christianity and all credibility in its adopted even by some who do not deny the possi- the modern mode of interpreting many of the miracles bility or probability, or even the fact, of their (as illusions or legends) unknown to the elder infidelity; occurrence. They affirm them to be of little only

, it more consistently felt that weither the one theory

nor the other could be trusted lo alone. Velis el remis moment, and represent them with an exquisite was its motto.

[ocr errors]
« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »