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expected, God would give mankind by revelation, upon supposition of his affording one; or how far, or in what way, he would interpose miraculously, to qualify them, to whom he should originally make the revelation, for communicating the knowledge given by it; and to secure their doing it to the age in which they should live; and to secure its being transmitted to posterity. We are equally ignorant, whether the evidence of it would be certain, or highly probable, or doubtful; * or whether all who should have any degree of instruction from it, and any degree of evidence of its truth, would have the same or whether the scheme would be revealed at once, or unfolded gradually. Nay, we are not in any sort able to judge, whether it were to have been expected, that the revelation should have been committed to writing; or left to be handed down, and consequently corrupted by verbal tradition, and at length sunk under it, if mankind so pleased, and during such time as they are permitted, in the degree they evidently are, to act as they will.
But it may be said, "that a revelation in some of the above-mentioned circumstances, one, for instance, which was not committed to writing, and thus secured against danger of corruption, would not have answered its purpose. ." I ask, what purpose? It would not have answered all the purposes which it has now answered, and in the same degree; but it would have answered others, or the same in different degrees. And which of these were the purposes of God, and best fell in with his general government, we could not at all have determined beforehand.
Now, since it has been shewn, that we have no principles of reason upon which to judge beforehand, how it were to be expected revelation should have been left, or what was most suitable to the divine plan of government, in any of the fore-mentioned respects; it must be quite frivolous to object afterwards as to any
* See Chap. 6.
of them, against its being left in one way rather than another; for this would be to object against things, upon account of their being different from expectations, which have been shewn to be without reason. And thus we see, that the only question concerning the truth of Christianity is, whether it be a real revelation; not whether it be attended with every circumstance which we should have looked for and concerning the authority of Scripture, whether it be what it claims to be; not whether it be a book of such sort, and so promulged, as weak men are apt to fancy a book containing a divine revelation should. And therefore, neither obscurity, nor seeming inaccuracy of style, nor various readings, nor early disputes about the authors of particular parts, nor any other things of the like kind, though they had been much more considerable in degree than they are, could overthrow the authority of the Scripture; unless the Prophets, Apostles, or our Lord, had promised, that the book, containing the divine revelation, should be secure from those things. Nor indeed can any objections overthrow such a kind of revelation as the Christian claims to be, since there are no objections against the morality of it, * but such as can shew, that there is no proof of miracles wrought originally in attestation of it; no appearance of any thing miraculous in its obtaining in the world; nor any of prophecy, that is, of events foretold, which human sagacity could not foresee. If it can be shewn, that the proof alleged for all these, is absolutely none at all, then is revelation overturned. But were it allowed, that the proof of any one, or all of them, is lower than is allowed; yet, whilst any proof of them remains, revelation will stand upon much the same foot it does at present, as to all the purposes of life and practice, and ought to have the like influence upon our behaviour.
From the foregoing observations, too, it will follow, and those who will thoroughly examine into revelation
will find it worth remarking, that there are several ways of arguing, which, though just with regard to other writings, are not applicable to Scripture; at least not to the prophetic parts of it. We cannot argue, for instance, that this cannot be the sense or intent of such a passage of Scripture, for if it had, it would have been expressed more plainly, or have been represented under a more apt figure or hieroglyphic; yet we may justly argue thus, with respect to common books. And the reason of this difference is very evident; that in Scripture we are not competent judges, as we are in common books, how plainly it were to have been expected, what is the true sense should have been expressed, or under how apt an image figured. The only question is, what appearance there is that this is the sense? and scarce at all, how much more determinately or accurately it might have been expressed or figured?
"But is it not self-evident, that internal improbabilities of all kinds, weaken external probable proof?" Doubtless. But to what practical purpose can this be alleged here, when it has been proved before, that real internal improbabilities, which rise even to moral certainty, are overcome by the most ordinary testimony? and when it now has been made appear, that we scarce know what are improbabilities, as to the matter we are here considering? as it will farther appear from what follows.
For though, from the observations above made, it is manifest, that we are not in any sort competent judges, what supernatural instruction were to have been expected; and though it is self-evident, that the objections of an incompetent judgment must be frivolous; yet it may be proper to go one step farther, and observe, that if men will be regardless of these things, and pretend to judge of the Scripture by preconceived expectations, the analogy of nature shews beforehand, not only that it is highly credible they may, but also probable that
* Page 162.
they will, imagine they have strong objections against it, however really unexceptionable: for so, prior to experience, they would think they had, against the circumstances, and degrees, and the whole manner of that instruction, which is afforded by the ordinary course of nature. Were the instruction which God affords to brute creatures by instincts and mere propensions, and to mankind by these together with reason, matter of probable proof, and not of eertain observation, it would be rejected as incredible, in many instances of it, only upon account of the means by which this instruction is given, the seeming disproportions, the limitations, necessary conditions, and circumstances of it. For instance: Would it not have been thought highly improbable, that men should have been so much more capable of discovering, even to certainty, the general laws of matter, and the magnitudes, paths, and revolutions of the heavenly bodies; than the occasions and cures of distempers, and many other things, in which human life seems so much more nearly concerned, than in astronomy? How capricious and irregular a way of information, would it be said, is that of invention, by means of which nature instructs us in matters of science, and in many things upon which the affairs of the world greatly depend; that a man should, by this faculty, be made acquainted with a thing in an instant, when, perhaps, he is thinking of somewhat else, which he has in vain been searching after, it may be, for years. So likewise the imperfections attending the only method, by which nature enables and directs us to communicate our thoughts to each other, are innumerable. Language is, in its very nature, inadequate, ambiguous,. liable to infinite abuse, even from negligence; and so liable to it from design, that every man can deceive and betray by it. And, to mention but one instance more, that brutes, without reason, should act, in many respects, with a sagacity and foresight vastly greater than what men have in those respects, would be thought impossible. Yet it is certain they do act with such superior foresight whether it be their own, indeed, is
another question. From these things it is highly credible beforehand, that upon supposition God should afford men some additional instruction by revelation, it would be with circumstances, in manners, degrees, and respects, which we should be apt to fancy we had great objections against the credibility of. Nor are the objections against the Scripture, nor against Christianity in general, at all more or greater than the analogy of nature would beforehand,-not perhaps give ground to expect; for this analogy may not be sufficient, in some cases, to ground an expectation upon;-but no more nor greater, than analogy would shew it, beforehand, to be supposable and credible, that there might seem to lie against revelation.
By applying these general observations to a particular objection, it will be more distinctly seen, how they are applicable to others of the like kind; and indeed to almost all objections against Christianity, as distinguished from objections against its evidence. It appears from Scripture, that as it was not unusual, in the apostolic age, for persons, upon their conversion to Christianity, to be endued with miraculous gifts; so, some of those persons exercised these gifts in a strangely irregular and disorderly manner: and this is made an objection against their being really miraculous. Now the foregoing observations quite remove this objection, how considerable soever it may appear at first sight. For, consider a person endued with any of these gifts, for instance, that of tongues; it is to be supposed that he had the same power over this miraculous gift, as he would have had over it, had it been the effect of habit, of study, and use, as it ordinarily is; or the same power over it, as he had over any other natural endowment, Consequently, he would use it in the same manner he did any other; either regularly and upon proper occasions only, or irregularly and upon improper ones; according to his sense of decency and his character of prudence. Where then is the objection? Why, if this miraculous power was indeed given to the world, to propagate Christianity, and attest the