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authentic and immutable code. Nor let this code be calculated for one family or one nation only, but for the whole without exception. Be the legislators of the human race, as you are the interpreters of their common nature. Shew us the line, that separates the world of chimeras from that of realities ; and teach us, after so many religions of error and delusion, the religion of evidence and truth.
With respect to the sufficiency or the insufficiency of the light of nature, it is obviously a matter of opinion. Mr. Volney deems it so sufficient, that he thinks nothing can be more easy than to frame from it an authentic and immutable code, to which the whole race of mankind, without a single dissenting voice, will readily subscribe : Socrates, on the contrary, deems it so palpably insufficient, that, in the well-known and familiar record of his pupil Plato, he avows his despair of attaining to any thing like certainty, until some divine teacher shall leave his native skies for the purpose of communicating sure and tangible knowledge *.
Here, even in limine, we have a most important difference of opinion between two celebrated characters: the one ancient, the other modern; the one the pride of reasoning Greece, the other
Σ. Αναγκαιον ουν εστι περιμενειν, έως αν τις μαθη πως δει προς θεους και προς ανθρωπους διακεισθαι. Α. Ποτε ουν παρεσται ó
χρονος ουτος, ω Σωκρατες ; και τις και παιδευσων; ήδιστα γαρ αν μοι δοκω ιδειν τουτον τον ανθρωπον, τις εστιν. Σ. Ουτος εστιν, η μελει περι σου. Plat. Alcib. ii. in Dial. Select. ed. Cantab. p 255, 256.
the glory of emancipated France. How then are we to decide between these two illustrious luminaries of Athens and of Paris ?
All is quite clear and certain by the light of nature alone : we want no revelation to illuminate our pretended darkness. So speaks Mr. Volney to the deeply thinking philosophers of the Gallic metropolis.
All is quite dark and obscure by the unassisted light of nature: we can never attain to certain knowledge, save by a revelation from him who careth for
So of old spake Socrates to his anxiously inquisitive pupil Alcibiades.
Now, with such an immense difference of opinion before us, what hope can we reasonably entertain of the easy formation of an authentic and immutable code, in which all mankind shall cheerfully and unanimously acquiesce: or how can we build with any confidence on the infidel position, that, as the light of nature is in itself sufficient without any revelation from God, such a revelation is thence altogether useless and unnecessary ? Socrates thinks with the Christian : Mr. Volney, with the deist. Shall we symbolize with the Greek or with the Frank ?
But, whatever may be thought on this point (and I shall hereafter consider, somewhat largely, the capabilities of the light of nature *), it appears to be rather an extraordinary process to
the See below Sect. ii.
reject Christianity, on the disputed ground that human reason alone is sufficient, while the various arguments, on which is built the evidence of its claim to be received as a divine revelation, still remain unanswered. An abstract notion, itself all the while a disputed notion, Mr. Volney maintaining and Socrates denying its propriety; an abstract notion, so circumstanced, can never be rationally admitted against direct unconfuted evidence to a fact. He therefore, who can be content to found his system upon so insecure a basis, may, I think, be more justly charged with an easy faith or a fond credulity, than he, who cautiously deems such a basis inadequate to support the proposed superstructure.
II. In the present stage of the argument then, the believer admits Christianity to be a revelation from God on the following several grounds.
A revelation from heaven is, in the abstract, a circumstance clearly possible.
From a consideration of the wisdom of the Creator and the ignorance of the created, the faet of a divine revelation is highly probable.
The evidence in favour of Christianity being a divine revelation is so strong, that it cannot be reasonably controverted; more especially as the arguments, upon which the evidence rests, have never yet been confuted.
Mere difficulties, even if unanswerable, cannot set aside direct and positive evidence; still less therefore can they set it aside, when they have been fully and repeatedly solved.
Numerous pretended revelations, like copious issues of base coin, are no proof of the non-existence of that which is genuine: but the false may be readily distinguished from the true by a careful and honest examination of their respective evidences.
Finally, as our unassisted reason is an insufficient teacher, a matter long since acknowledged by the wisest of the Greeks; a revelation from God is no less necessary in the abstract, than the claim of Christianity to be received as such a revelation is well-founded in the concrete.
III. On the other hand, still in the present stage of the argument, the unbeliever denies Christianity to be a revelation from God on the following several grounds.
Although a revelation may perhaps in itself be possible, yet the fact of one is very highly improbable : because it is to the last degree unlikely, that an all-wise Creator should deem it necessary to give any instructions to a rational but inevitably ignorant being, whom he had created.
The evidence, in favour of Christianity being a divine revelation, is insufficient; though no infidel has hitherto been able to confute the arguments, on which it rests. Insulated objections to a fact, notwithstanding they may have been repeatedly answered, are quite sufficient with a reasonable inquirer to set aside the very strongest unanswered evidence.
As many pretended revelations are confessedly impostures, therefore all alleged revelations must clearly be impostures likewise.
Lastly, as our unassisted reason is held by some philosophers to be a sufficient teacher, while others declare it to be wholly insufficient; a revelation from God is quite unnecessary: nor ought any claim of this character to be admitted, though it may rest on the very strongest unconfuted arguments.
IV. Such are the principles, and such the systems, of the Christian and the infidel.
Whether it argues a higher degree of credulity to receive, as a divine revelation, Christianity thus evidenced ; or, in order to the rejection of it, contentedly to bow beneath such an extraordinary mass of contradictory difficulties, as the theory of the infidel is constrained to support : let the prudent inquirer judge and determine for himself.