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VOL. II.--NO. III.
Art. I.--REVIEW OF THE DIFFICULTIES OF INFIDELITY.
The Difficulties of Infulelity. By thc Rev. G. S. Faber.
The number is greater, we believe, than is generally imagined, of those who have secretly some doubts of the truth of the bible, though they do not venture openly to deny its divine origin, much less to treat it with contempt and ridicule. They keep their unbelief to themselves, out of regard to their own character and influence, or from a becoming deference to public opinion. Or they think perhaps, that, on the whole, the bible, although of human invention, contains many excellent precepts; and that no better system of religion exists, to restrain the follies, and check the vices of the great mass of mankind, who cannot be controlled by the simple principles of natural religion and philosophy, and who need the sanctions of something allied to superstition, to keep them in the paths of honesty, sobriety, and duty.
But, if the bible is a mere imposture, it surely is of importance to the great interests of society, that this should be distinctly and universally known. It cannot be, that a system of falsehood is best adapted to keep mankind in a proper state of subordination. Truth must certainly be triumphant at last ; and even the prudent men of the world have long established it as a maxim, that honesty is the best policy. No; if the bible is of mere human invention, containing some good precepts, mingled with a great mass of absurdity and superstition, let us not fear to have our families, and domestics, and society at large, understand this; and let. us resort to the eternal principles of truth, which alone is omnipotent, and will finally prevail. But there is a serious alternative. Vol. II.
The bible may be a revelation from God; and if so, we reject it at the peril of incurring the awful penalties which it threatens against those who deny its authority, and spurn its offers of mercy.
We wish therefore to address ourselves directly to those of our readers, who may have entertained doubts on this subject, and to show them, that many of the difficulties which keep them in a state of unbelief, may be urged with equal force, against the truth of what is called natural religion; and that to be consistent with themselves, they must adopt at once, (and stake their eternal interests on the choice,) the dark and cheerless doctrines of ATHEISM. For, if we should succeed in showing, that those who reject the bible, and yet believe in what is termed natural religion, derived entirely from the light of nature, have as many difficulties, and perplexities, and apparent contradictions to contend with, as those bave who receive the scriptures as a revelation from God; it is manifest, that the unbeliever must also reject natural religion, and maintain with the atheist, that there is no creator of the universe; no moral governor of the world to whom we are accountable for our actions; no existence after death; and no future state of rewards and punishments. Or rather, for atheism, too, is attended with innumerable difficulties, and perplexities, and contradictions; he must believe, that he can believe nothing; and thus abandon all hopes of ever arriving at any thing like truth, in what relates to his destiny beyond the grave. Addressing ourselves then directly to the unbeliever, we shall proceed to examine some of the objections, which he offers against the divine origin of the bible; and shall see if they do not apply, with equal, and even greater force, to those principles of religion, which he admits can be derived from the light of nature, and which he still professes to believe.
1. You object, then, that if the bible is a revelation from God, it but ill accords with his character as a benevolent being, that he should not have made it sooner to mankind; and that he should still leave so many millions of the human race entirely ignorant of of its contents. We admit, that there is something very mysterious in all this, and that we find it difficult to assign satisfactory reasons for his doing thus. We might indeed, if time would permit, suggest some things which, we think, would relieve your mind on this subject; but we choose rather to meet the objection in all the force which it has, at present, in your view, only observing that there are many things which a kind father is obliged to do in the management of his children, equally inexplicable, and apparently contradictory, to their inexperienced minds; or which a wise government is obliged to do, equally difficult to be explained by many of the more ignorant and least informed citizens.
But do you not perceive, that this same objection applies to that system of religious belief and practice which, you say, is so clearly taught us by the light of nature? You, perhaps, are endowed by the creator with a strong intellect; you have had a good education; you have been brought up in the midst of civilized society; and you have enjoyed the advantages of reading what wise and intelligent nien have written, on the subject of natural religion. Perhaps too you are indebted, and more than you are aware of, to the very bible which you reject; possibly to ibe kind instructions of a pious father or mother, for that very light which you think you derive solely from natural religion, and the dictates of your own conscience. Be this as it may, think for a moment, of the millions and millions of your fellow men, in this and the long lapse of past ages, who have been so differently situated, in these respects, from yourself; and who have been wholly unable, from the mere light of nature, to attain any where near to the comprehension and belief of those principles and precepts of natural religion, which you consider so essential to guide mankind in the way of duty and happiness. Now, why has the benevolent author of our being, who possesses infinite power to do it, if he had seen fit, why has he not extended the instructions to be derived from the light of nature, equally to all mankind in this and in the hundreds of generations that are past? It will not do to reply, that he has equally given this light to all, but that some have attended to its guidance and others have not. Why has he distributed the advantages for gaining instruction from this light, so unequally ? Suppose you had been born a Hottentot, how many of the doctrines of natural religion would you have understood, compared with what you now know? Why has God placed the Hottentots in circumstances so much more unfavorable, than those in which he has placed you, for deriving instruction from the light of nature? And since certain philosophers have risen to such elevated contemplations of the Deity, and to so correct a knowledge of his will and our duty, why has not God, in the course of his providence, devised means for the diffusion of this knowledge, so important to be known, throughout the whole mass of mankind? You certainly will not limit his power, and say, that he could not have done it, if he had deemed it best. He has not done it; and therefore if, on this account, you reject revealed religion, in order to be consistent you are bound to reject natural religion, and settle down into ATHEISM.
2. You have, you say, a still stronger objection against the truth of the bible. If it is a revelation from God, expressly intended to instruct us in the way of our duty, and if (as it teaches,) such tremendous consequences are to result from our rejecting any of its fundamental doctrines; why is it not so clear, and full, and explicit, as not to leave any possible room for doubt, or even for misapprehension? Why do the wise, and learned, and good differ
so much with regard to its meaning: and while all wlio call themselves christians, profess to bow most reverently to its authority, why do men of prayer, and piety, and of laborious research, disagree so greatly, as to separate from each other, and arrange themselves into such a multiplicity of sects and denominations ? Now to this we might answer, that there are some very obvious reasons why, in this imperfect state of being, which is also, a state of probation, affording a test of all the peculiarities of the moral character of man, God should leave some parts of the bible in such a degree of obscurity, as to afford room for a difference of opinion, among those who embrace it as the only rule of their faith. It tests, in many cases, the degree of docility with which the doctrines of scripture are received; it shows, in others, how far the judgment may be warped, by early associations and prejudices; it exhibits in some, the difficulty of making the native pride of human reason, bow to the self-denying doctrines of the cross; it furnishes scope for the exercise of candor and charity, among those who disagree; it makes even more prominent, those truths which so many wise, and learned, and pious men of varions denoininations, agree in considering fundamental; and it teaches us all, most forcibly, that the private rights of conscience are to be most scrupulously regarded, that to the great searcher of hearts alone, we are accountable for our religious opinions, and that truth is the only weapon, which the hand of benevolence should use, in endeavoring to attack what we may deem error, and to establish the plain simple and infinitely interesting doctrines of the word of God.
But let us wave these solutions of the difficulty. Let us admit this objection to stand in all its force. If the deist hopes to prove any thing by it, against the truth of christianity, he, at the same time, shows that his own boasted natural religion is also to be rejected, as unworthy of the source from which he affirms it to bave
Is the light of nature so much clearer than that of revelation, that it forces its way, through all the associations, and prejudices, and peculiar opinions of mankind, and shines into the mind and the heart, with an effulgence so bright, that no possible doubt or misapprehension can exist with regard to the eternal principles of right and wrong, and the duties which man is to perform to himself, his fellow-men, and his God?
Go to those nations, on the one hand, who enjoy this light of nature, as the deist would say, in its purest
, clearest emanations. Visit the untutored Indian, the groveling Hottentot, the wandering Arab, and thousands of other tribes of ancient and modern times, and ask them for their religious creeds. Sit down, on the other hand, at the feet of the greatest philosophers, who have never enjoyed the light of revelation, the Egyptian, the Grecian, and the Roman sages, and let them tell you all that they have believed and
taught about the soul, and virtue, and vice, and God, and a future state. Amid all this mass of opinions, do you find no jarring systems of religious faith and practice, no diversity of sects, no angry contests about “the greatest good?” Or rather, do you not find ten thousand times more of all these heterogenous elements, than among the various christian denominations who acknowledge the bible as their guide? Now, do you not see, that if it is an objection to the divine origin of the bible, that the light of revelation does not shine so clearly, as to produce a uniformity of belief among all who receive it as coming from God, it is equally so against natural religion? For the light of nature, coming as you say, from God who is the author of nature, shines so indistinctly that it has left, and still leaves, those who depend upon it for guidance, in so much darkness as to produce even a greater diversity of religious belief, than exists among different denominations of christians. And if God has wise reasons for his conduct, in the one case, he doubtless has, also, in the other. To be consistent, therefore, you ought to reject both natural and revealed religion, and abide by the appalling doctrines of atheism, or scepticism. The atheist and the sceptic can reason as forcibly against you, as you think you do against the believer in the inspiration of the scriptures.
3. You go on to say, that you cannot read the bible in the original languages in which it was written ;-that you have to rely on a translation made by fallible, and perhaps prejudiced men;—that learned men already begin to give very different interpretations of some of the most important passages of scripture ;-that, for aught you know, those texts which you are now called upon to believe, as containing truths on which your eternal salvation depends, may soon have a very different construction put upon them ;-that, thus, your faith may be constantly changing, and yourself, at length, lest in the deepest uncertainty; and that, therefore, to make short and sure work, you think the wisest course is, at once to reject the whole, as altogether unworthy of the source of unerring truth, from which it professes to come.
Let us examine these objections candidly. If the principle on which they are grounded, is correct, we cannot receive any
truth at second hand. Suppose you had a vast amount of property at stake, and the decision of a court of justice was to determine your fate. Would you refuse to give any attention or credit to some most weighty testimony in your favor, because it came from a foreigner, in a language that neither you nor the judge could understand? Would you not condemn the judge as grossly unjust, if he should decline to receive this testimony, through a credible interpreter, because there might be a possible chance that the latter was either ignorant or prejudiced?