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they serve indeed only to cover nonsense with shame, when reason has first proved it to be mere nonsense.
It is therefore a silly and most unreasonable test which some of our Deists have introduced to judge of divine revelation, viz. To try if it will bear ridicule and laughter. They are effectually beaten in all their combats at the wea. pons of men, that is, reason and argument; and it would not be unjust (though it is a little uncourtly) to say, that they would now attack our religion with the talents of a vile animal, that is, grin and grimace.
I cannot think that a jester or a monkey, a droll or a puppet, can be proper judges or deciders of controversy. That which dresses up all things in disguise is not likely to lead us into any just sentiments about them. Plato or Socrates, Cæsar or Alexander, might have a fool's coat clapt upon any of them, and perhaps, in this disguise, nei. ther the wisdom of the one, nor the majesty of the other, would secure them from a sneer; this treatment would never inform us whether they were kings or slaves, whether they were fools or philosophers. The strongest reasoning, the best sense, and the politest thoughts, may be set in a most ridiculous light by this grinning faculty : the most obvious axioms of eternal truth may be dressed in a very foolish form, and wrapped up in artful absurdities by this talent, but they are truth, and reason, and good sense still. Euclid, with all his demonstrations, might be so covered and overwhelmed with banter, that a beginner in the mathematics might be tempted to doubt whether his theorems were true or not, and to imagine they could never be useful. So weaker minds might be easily prejudiced against the noblest principle of truth and goodness; and the younger part of mankind might be beat off from the belief of the most serious, the most rational and important points, even of natural religion, by the impudent jests of a profane wit. The moral duties of the civil life, as well as the articles of Christianity, may be painted over with the colours of folly, and exposed upon a stage, so as to ruin all social and personal virtue among the gay and thoughtless part of the world.
XVII. It should be observed also, that these very men cry out loudly against the use of all severe railing and reproach in debates, all penalties and persecutions of the state, in order to convince the minds and consciences of
men, and determine points of truth and error.
Now I renounce these penal and smarting methods of conviction as much as they do, and yet I think still these are every whit as wise, as just, and as good for this purpose, as banter and ridicule. Why should public mockery in print, or a merry joke upon a stage, be a better test of truth, than severe railing, sarcasms, and public persecutions and penalties? Why should more light be derived to the understanding by a song of scurrilous mirth, or a witty ballad, than there is by a rude cudgel? When a professor of any religion is set up to be laughed at, I cannot see how this should help us to judge of the truth of his faith any better than if he were scourged. The jeers of a theatre, the pillory, and the whipping post, are very near a-kin. When the person or his opinion is made the jest of the mob, or his back the shambles of the executioner, I think there is no more conviction in the one than in the other.
XVIII. BESIDES, supposing it is but barely possible that the great God should reveal his mind and will to men by miracle, vision, or inspiration, it is a piece of contempt and profane insolence to treat any tolerable or rational appearance of such a revelation with jest and laughter, in order to find whether it be divine or not. And yet if this be a proper test of revelation, it may be properly applied to the true as well as the false, in order to distinguish it. Suppose a royal proclamation were sent to a distant part of the kingdom, and some of the subjects should doubt whether it came from the king or not, is it possible that wit and ridicule should ever decide the point? Or would the prince ever think himself treated with just honour to have his proclamation canvassed in this manner on a public stage,
and become the sport of buffoons, in order to determine the question, Whether it is the word of a king or not?
Let such sort of writers go on at their dearest peril, and sport themselves in their own deceivings ; let them at their peril make a jest at the Bible, and treat the sacred articles of Christianity with scoff and merriment: but then let them lay aside all their pretences to reason as well as religion; and as they expose themselves by such writings to the neglect and contempt of men, so let them prepare to meet the majesty and indignation of God without timely Tepentance.
XIX. In reading philosophical, moral, or religious controversies, never raise your esteem of any opinion by the assurance and zcal wherewith the author asserts it, nor by the highest praises he bestows upon it: nor, on the other Iland, let your esteem of an opinion be abated, nor your aversion to it raised by the supercilious contempt cast upon it by a warm writer, nor by the sovereign airs with which he condemns it. Let the force of argument alone influence your assent or dissent. Take care that your
soul be not warped or biassed on one side or the other, by any strains of flattering or abusive language; for there is no question whatsoever but hath some such sort of defenders and opposers. Leave those writers to their own follies, who practise thus upon the weakness of their readers with. out argument: leave them to triumph in their own fancied possessions and victories : it is oftentimes found that their possessions are but a heap of errors, and their boasted victories are but overbearing noise and clamour to silence the voice of truth.
In philosophy and religion, the bigots of all parties are generally the most positive, and deal much in this sort of argument. Sometimes these are the weapons of pride ; fot a haughty man supposes all his opinions to be infallible, and imagines the contrary sentiments are ever ridiculous, and not worthy of notice. Sometimes these ways of talking are the mere arms of ignorance : the men who use them know little of the opposite side of the question, and therefore they exult in their own vain pretences to knowledge, as though no man of sense could oppose their opinion. They rail at an objection against their own sentiments, because they can find no other answer to it but railing. And men of learning, by their excessive vanity, have been sometimes tempted into the same insolent practice as well as the ignorant.
Yet let it be remembered too that there are some truths so plain and evident, that the opposition to them is strange, unaccountable, and almost monstrous : and in vindication of such truths, a writer of good sense may sometimes be allowed to use a degree of assurance, and pronounce them strongly with an air of confidence, while he defends them with reasons of convincing force.
XX. SOMETIMES a question may be proposed, which is of so large and extensive a nature, and refers to such a multitude of subjects, as ought not in justice to be determined at once by a single argument or answer : as if one, should ask
me, are you a professed disciple of the Stoics or the Platonists? Do you receive and assent to the principles of Gassendus, Descartes, or Sir Isaac Newton? Have you chosen the hypothesis of Tycho or Copernicus ? Have you devoted yourself to the sentiments of Arminius or Calvin ? Are your notions Episcopal, Presbyterian, or Independent, &c.? I think it may be very proper in such cases not to give an answer in the gross, but rather to enter into a detail of particulars, and explain one's own sentiments. Perhaps there is no man, nor set of men upon earth, whose sentiments I entirely follow. God has given me reason to judge for myself, and though I may see sufficient ground to agree to the greatest part of the opinions of one person or party, yet it does by no means follow that I should receive them all. Truth does not always go By the lump, nor does error tincture and spoil all the articles of belief that some one party professes. Since there are difficulties that attend every scheme of human
knowledge, it is enough for me in the main to incline to that side which has the fewest difficulties; and I would endeavour, as far as possible, to correct the mistakes or the harsh expressions of one party, by softening and reconciling methods, by reducing the extremes, and by borrowing some of the best principles or phrases from another. Cicero was one of the greatest men of antiquity, and gives us an account of the various opinions of philosophers in his age ; but he himself was of the Eclectic sect, and chose out of each of them such positions as in his wisest judgement came nearest to the truth.
XXI. WHEN you are called in the course of life or religion to judge and determine concerning any question, and to affirm or deny it, take a full survey of the objections against it, as well as of the arguments for it, as far as your time and circumstances admit, and see on which side the preponderation falls. If either the objections against any proposition, or the arguments for the defence of it, carry in them most undoubted evidence, and are plainly unanswerable, they will and ought to constrain the assent, though there may be many seeming probabilities on the other side, which at first sight would flatter the judgement to favour it. But where the reasons on both sides are very near of equal weight, there suspension or doubt is our duty, unless in cases wherein present determination or practice is required, and there we must act according to the present appearing preponderation of reasons.
XXII. In matters of moment and importance, it is our duty indeed to seek after certain and conclusive arguments (if they can be found), in order to determine a question : but where the matter is of little consequence, it is not worth our labour to spend much time in seeking after certainties ; it is sufficient here, if probable reasons offer themselves. And even in matters of greater importance, especially where daily practice is necessary, and where we eannot attain any sufficient or certain grounds to determine a question on either side, we must then take up with such probable arguments as