« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
glorify the God of their fathers, and to exalt among men the standard of true piety and virtue. In reference to that remarkable people, whatever allowance we may be disposed to make for them, it is impossible not to perceive that the stream of vital religion has left its old channel dry, and has now diffused itself among the many Gentile nations, which have received the Gospel of their Redeemer.
It is by no means my intention to assert that, in the various moral and religious systems with which I am now comparing Christianity, there is to be found no portion of truth or rectitude. It is to be remembered, that mankind enjoyed an original revelation from God, of which faint traces are still very generally to be observed—that the spirit of the Lord, by which his law is written on the hearts of his creatures, is not confined in its operations, and may communicate light to the souls of men, independently of any external revelation-and lastly, that where Christianity is not received, it may still have obtained an indirect influence, and may be the real source of inany correct and useful sentiments.
On these several grounds, therefore, we are not to be surprised when we trace, among some uncivilized heathen tribes, a plain recognition of the existence and unity of the Deity; nor when, among the most corrupt idolaters, we mark an acknowledgment of sin, and a pervading sense of their need of an atonement; nor when, in the pages of ancient Greek and Ro. man philosophy, we meet with some true theology, and with many moral principles which Christians approve as their own; nor when we find modern infidels proclaiming a pure theism, and Mahomet and his followers teaching the unity of God, and the doctrine of future retribution.
In all these cases, the actual moral effect produced will be found to bear an analogy to the proportions of truth and error, of good and evil, of which the several systems in question are composed. In the purest of them, such as those of the ancient Platonic philosophers, and of the untutored American Indians, there may, in my opinion, be observed no unambiguous traces of a certain measure of divine illumination ; but still there is a total absence of the grand peculiarities of the Gospel, and a corresponding incompleteness in the moral result. In Mahometanism and in modern infidelity, as well as in Judaism, as it is now maintained, there is an intentional and determined omission of those grand peculiarities; and the moral result appears to be this-that, notwithstanding the profession of a belief in one God, the heart is not mended, but generally continues in its original condition of barrenness, hardness, and
corruption. Lastly, with respect to the gross and varied idolatry which prevails over so large a portion of the globe, it appears to be productive of no other moral consequence than that of a deep and almost universal degradation.
Now, this is the strength and perfection of Christianity, that it omits every thing to be found in other moral and religious systems, which has any evil tendency; recognizes, embodies, and completes, all that is really good, and adds certain vast particulars of truth, absolutely peculiar to itself, by means of which it operates with a force altogether new on the souls of men, and obtains a moral efficacy for the production of piety, virtue, and happiness, which is impeded by no intrinsic counteraction—which is at once unrivalled and unalloyed.
In reverting to the heads of the present Essay, we are to recollect that we have been considering the effects produced in real' believers by pure Christianity, considered as a whole, consisting of both preceptive and doctrinal parts. These effects are as follows :--that unregenerate man, who is ever prone to be ungodly and immoral, and is therefore ever liable to be miserable; is so transformed, that he is brought into the pious exercise of those dispositions and duties which are required towards the Almighty—that, in his personal character, and in his conduct towards his fellow-creatures, he becomes conformed to the image of his Creator, in imitation of the perfect pattern presented to him in Christ and lastly, that he is introduced to substantial happiness, and to the hope of such a heavenly inheritance, as consists with the purity and perfection of God. We have, moreover, found occasion to remark that Christianity, regarded as a moral science, was revealed by our Lord and his apostles, in so perfect a state, as never to have received, since that period, the slightest improvement--that its characteristic features are, in various respects, novel, and such as human philosophy could not have imagined—that, however opposed and obstructed by circumstances, it is of universal applicability to mankind
and finally, that, on a fair comparison with other schemes of religion, it is found to contain all which they have of good, to reject all which they have of evil, and in point of moral efficacy, to stand unequalled and alone.
Now, what is the inference which the candid and serious. reasoner must deduce from these premises ? In my opinion, it is clearly this: that so extraordinary, so efficacious, so incomparable, a system-a system which, in its practical operation, is found to be entirely worthy of God, and exactly adapted to men, cannot be of earthly origin-that to suppose it to have
been invented by a few illiterate fishermen, is to insinuate a proposition than which nothing more monstrous has ever been palmed on human credulity--that, in point of fact, like the beautiful and perfect works of nature, it can justly be ascribed only to the power, the wisdom, and the love, of the Deity himself.
Thus do we once more arrive at the sound conclusion, that Christianity is the religion of God. And since it is impossible that the God of all truth, in effecting the moral reformation, as well as the happiness, of his reasonable creatures, should employ a mere illusion, we may rest unalterably assured that Christianity, although it may contain some mysteries which we have no capacities to fathom, is true—that its doctrines are real, its hopes substantial, its promises sure, its joys unfading and eternal.
ON THE DIVINE AUTHORITY OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES,
SATISFIED, as I trust we now are, of the divine origin of that holy religion, of which the Law was the introduction, and the Gospel the perfect revelation, it still remains for us to examine a very important question ; namely, whether the record of our religion, contained in the Old and New Testaments, is also to be regarded as of divine origin-in other words, whether the Holy Scriptures were given by inspiration of God?
It is much to be regretted that some persons, who acknowJedge the truth of Christianity, nevertheless appear to entertain unsatisfactory views, or are at least perplexed with considerable doubt and obscurity, in reference to this subject. For my own part, I have long been persuaded that the important question now proposed may safely be answered, as the generality of Christian theologians have long been accustomed to answer it, with a clear affirmative. The grounds of that persuasion I shall endeavour concisely to unfold in the present Essay.
We are, in the first place, in possession of a strong antecedent probability of the divine authority of the Scripture. The principal object of the revelations acknowledged by Christians was to unfold certain doctrines, and to promulgate certain moral principles. These doctrines and principles were, for the most part, intended for permanent and general use among men; and Scripture is the principal means appointed, in the providence of God, by which they are handed down from genoration to generation, and by which a knowledge of them is diffused over the world at large. Now, had the writers on whom it devolved to compose the various parts of this Sacred Volume been left to the unassisted exercise of their natural powers, and to the frailty of mere human memory, the revelations themselves, however certainly divine in their origin, would have become comparatively useless: the message of God could not fail to have been obscured and impaired by the infirmity and ignorance of those who delivered it; nor could we, under such circumstances, have been required to yield to it (especially in its deeper and more mysterious parts that implicit belief and obedience, without which no one can participate in the bles
sings and privileges of true religion. Since then, in order to the accomplishment of those ends to which revelation declares itself to be directed, the inspiration of the record, as one link in the chain, appears, on very obvious principles, to have been absolutely indispensable, and since, in the works of the Deity, there is no shortness and inconsistency, it must evidently be deemed in a very high degree probable, a priori, that the record was really inspired.
In considering the positive evidences, by which this antecedent probability is confirmed, and by which the divine authority of the Bible is, in my opinion, ascertained, I shall commence with the Old Testament.
I. We have already found occasion to remark, that, before the coming of the Messiah, the Hebrew Scriptures had been formed into a canon, were carefully preserved in the archives of the temple, and were publicly read in the synagogues of the Jews. Now, it is certain that the Sacred Volume, which was the object of so much care and attention among that people, was universally considered by them to be of divine origin and authority. The reverence with which the early Jews regarded the Hebrew Scriptures was evinced, not only by the titles which they applied to them, such as “the books of holiness," " the holy thing of the Lord," but also by certain practices of a ceremonial nature. It was their custom to kiss the Bible on opening and shutting it, and ever to place it at the top of all other books; nor was it considered lawful to have recourse to it with unwashen hands : see Leusden, Philol. Hebr., diss. 1, sect. 1. Philo, the Jewish Philosopher, who was cotemporary with Christ, and was deeply versed in the books of the Old Testament, styles them, in various parts of his works, the sacred writings, the oracle of God; and, in his numerous quotations from both the historical and prophetical parts of the Bible, he very generally notices the divine authority of that which he cites. Josephus also, in his work against Apion, has written on this important subject, in very decisive terms : “ These writings,” he says, in speaking of the Hebrew Scriptures, “ contain an account of all time, and are justly held to be divine. It is proved, by experience, in what degree we have faith in the writings which belong to us; for, although so long a period has now elapsed since they were composed, no one has been so daring as to add any thing to them, or to take any thing away from them. But, it is a common principle, imbibed by all the Jews from their very birth, to consider them as the doctrines of God, to abide by them, and, if need be, willingly to die for them :" lib. I, cap. 8.