페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

sions to be excluded, that the whole may be reduced to a matter of abstract and unfeeling intelligence. The question under consideration is, How far the experience of man can lead him to any certain conclusions, as to the character of the divine administration? If it does lead him to some certain conclusions, then, in the spirit of the Baconian philosophy, he will apply these conclusions to the information derived from other sources, and they will of course affect, or destroy, or confirm the credibility of that information. If, on the other hand, it appears that experience gives no light, no direction on the subject, then, in the very same spirit, he will submit his mind as a blank surface to all the positive information which comes to it from any other quarter. We take our lesson as it comes to us, provided we are satisfied beforehand, that it comes from a source which is authentic. We set up no presumptions, of our own against the authority of the unquestionable evidence that we have met with, and reject all the suggestions which our defective experience can furnish, as the follies of a rash and fancisul speculation.

168. Now, let it be observed, that the great strength of the Christian argument lies in the historical evidence for the truth of the gospel narrative. In discussing the light of this evidence, we walk by the light of experience. We assign the degree of weight that is dưe to the testimony of the first Christians upon the observed principles of human nature. We do not step beyond the cautious procedure of Lord Bacon's philosophy. We keep within the safe and certain limits of experimental truth. We believe the testimony of the apostles, because, from what we know of the human character, it is impossible that men in their circumstances could have persevered as they did in the assertion of a falsehood; it is impossible that they could have imposed this falsehood upon such a multitude of followers; it is impossible that they could have escaped detection, surrounded as they were by a host of enemies, so eager and so determined in their resentments. On this kind of argument we are quite at home. There is no theory, no assumption. We feel every inch of the ground we are treading upon. The degree of credit that should be annexed to the testimony of the apostles is altogether a question of experience. Every principle which we apply towards the decision of this question, is founded upon materials which lie before. us, and are every day within the reach of observation. Our be. lief in the testimony of the apostles is founded upon our experience of human nature and human affairs. In the whole process of the inquiry, we never wander from that sure, though humble path, which has been pointed out to us by the great master of philosophising. We never cast off the authority of those maxims, which have been found in every other department of knowl. edge to be sound and infallible. We never suffer assumption 10

a

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

take the precedency of observation, or abandon that safe and certain mode of investigation, which is the only one suited to the real mediocrity of our powers.

169. It appears to us, that the disciples of the infidel philosophy have reversed this process. They take a loftier flight. You seldom find them upon the ground of the historical evidence. It is not, in general, upon the weight, or the nature of human testimony, that they venture to pronounce on the credibility of the Christian revelation It is on the character of that revelation itself. It is on what they conceive to be the absurdity of its doctrines. It is because they see something in the nature or dispensation of Christianity, which they think disparaging to the attributes of God, and not agreeable to that line of proceeding which the Almighty should observe in the government of his creatures. Rousseau expresses his astonishment at the strength of the historical testimony; so strong, that the inventor of the narrative appeared to him to he more miraculous than the hero.-But the absurdities of this said revelation are sufficient in his mind to bear down the whole weight of its direct and external evidences. There was something in the doctrines of the New Testament repulsive to the taste and the imagination, and perhaps even to the convictions of this interesting enthusiast. He could not reconcile them with his pre-established conceptions of the divine character and mode of operation. To submit to these doctrines, he behoved to surrender that theism, which the powers of his ardent mind had wrought up into a most beautiful and delicious speculation. Such a sacrifice was not to be made. It was too painful. It would have taken away from him, what every mind of genius and sensibility esteems to be the bighest of all luxuries. It would destroy a system, which had all that is fair and magnificent to recommend it, and mar the gracefulness of that fine intellectual picture, on which this wonderful man had bestowed all the embellishments of feeling, and fancy, and eloquence.

170. In as far, then, as we can judge of the condact of man in given circumstances, we would pass a favourable sentence upon the testimony of the apostles. But, says the Deist, I judge of the conduct of God; and what the apostles tell me of him is so opposite to that judgment, that I discredit their testimony. The question at issue betwixt us is, shall we admit the testimony of the apostles, upon the application of principles founded on observation, and as certain as is our experience of human affairs ? Or shall we reject that testimony upon the application of principles that are altogether beyond the range of observation, and as doubtful and imperfect in their nature, as is our experience of the counsels of Heaven? In the first argument there is no assumption. We are competent to judge of the behaviour of man in given cir

cumstances. This is a subject completely accessible to observation. The second argument is founded upon assumption entirely. We are not competent to judge of the conduct of the Almighty in given circumstances. Here we are precluded, by the nature of the subject, from the benefit of observation. There is no antecedent experience to guide or to enlighten us. It is not for man to assume what is right, or proper, or natural for the Almighty to do. It is not in the mere spirit of piety that we say so; it is in the spirit of the soundest experimental philosophy. The argument of the Christian is precisely what the maxims of Lord Bacon would dispose us to acquiesce in. The argument of the infidel is precisely that argument which the same maxims would dispose us to reject; and when put by the side of the Christian argument, it appears as crude and as unphilosophical, as do the ingenious speculations of the schoolmen, when set in opposition to the rigour, and evidence, and precision, which reign in every department of modern science.

(To be continued.)

A SHORT AND CANDID VIEW OF POPERY, IN A SERMON PREACHED AT THE OLD JEWRY, NOV. 3, 1754. BY CHARLES BULKLEY.

(Concluded from Vol. 1. page 453.) If we now proceed,

II. To inquire into the foundations of it, we shall find them to be laid in human policy, in pretended infallibility, and ecclesiastical tradition. The first points out to us the ends that were aimed at by those who were the principal agents in the formation and contrivance of it, and which we have reason to believe are still kept in view by its ablest and most vigilant defenders. The latter are the means or instruments which were at first made use of, and are still employed, to inculcate and enforce whatever other artifice or invention may be thought necessary towards answering these ends. When we consider what has been already said concerning the direct, the natural, the apparent, and undeniable tendency of Popery, to corrupt the most essential principles of devotion, to weaken, and, in a manner, to dissolve the obligations of morality, it is scarce possible to imagine that it could have been originally, and in pure simplicity, designed to promote the cause of virtue and religion ; whatever candid allowances are now to be made for the apprehensions of those, who have been for so long a time blinded by its delusions. But no sooner do we begin to conceive of it, as a system of worldly policy, but it

appears to be, in all its parts, most admirably fitted and adapted for answering the ends of it. By that dreadful tyranny which it exercises over men's reason and understanding, it brings their VOL. II.

2

minds into a state of the most abject servility; and thus are they prepared, tamely and ignominiously, to submit to every encroachment that may be made upon their rights and properties, by their governing prince or supreme magistrate. And, at the same time, this prince himself is encouraged, if his disposition be arbitrary and tyrrannical, in all his most ambitious and destructive projects, and in every villainous method that he can think proper for the execution of them, by having it in his power to procure, as in many cases has been so easily done, the permission and countenance of an authority, which his unhappy subjects are taught to look upon as being in the highest degree sacred; and by those pardons, which are as casy to be purchased, without the least thought of repentance, even for his most atrocious iniquities. When we consider how much the whole business and trade of auricular confession is calculated to put the priest in possession of the most important secrets, and to give him the fairest opportunity of insinuating the most corrupt and wicked counsels, that may be thought subservient to any particular designs of worldly policy or temporal interest, can we doubt whether or not this was the very end of its institution? When we reflect upon the immense riches that are daily flowing into the treasury of the church, either ás donations to holy places, or to consecrated orders of men, or arising from the distribution of Christ's blood, of the sufferings and merits of saints, of indulgencies and dispensations from the infliction of penances, or from praying souls out of purgatory, is it possible to believe that this accumulated wealth was not the very end proposed, and aimed at by these several inventions? In speculation and theory, however, one would be apt to imagine, that the greatest difficulty had been still behind; the difficulty I mean of making these and other inventions of the like sort, to pass for the most important dictates and essential principles of religion. In vain would it have been to make the appeal to reason; reason would have rejected them with abhorrence. Equally in vain to have had recourse to the Scriptures, as the test and standard of their truth. Yet was not even this a difficulty too great for Romish policy both to encounter and to overcome. Reason was silenced; the Scriptures were locked up; infallibility was pretended, and infallibility was acknowledged. But yet, lest even this should not be sufficient for procuring a becoming reverence to be paid to the dictates and injunctions of the church, and to answer the ends of a corrupt, ambitious policy; lest disputes should arise, as in fact they have done, concerning the person or persons in whom this infallibility was lodged; or lest the minds of the deluded multitude should be at any time, or upon any extraordinary occasion, disposed to enquire whether, after all, it resided any where here below,-another expedient was devised: Tradition; holy, ecclesiastical tradition, was

brought in to aid and assist infallibility ; and because tradition is the only method by which we can possibly be made acquainted with the opinions of former times, it has been artfully and successfully perverted into a reason for our believing these opinions to be true, however absurd and extravagant; such of them, at least, as are best calculated for subserving the ends that have been already pointed out, as those which can alone, with any consistency, be thought to have been originally aimed at in the general tenor of Popish innovations. Here, then, we have the foundation of Popery, in the end it proposes, and the means it makes use of for the accomplishment of it. It will not, I presume, be necessary much to enlarge upon our

III. Head of discourse, which was to shew the insufficiency of this foundation. A religion not founded upon reason, cannot be the religion of a man. A religion not to be met with in Scripture, cannot be the religion of a Christian. Reason and Scripture, therefore, must ultimately decide, even upon the claim of infallibility itself. Some appeal must necessarily be made to the reason and judgment of every man's own mind in proof of it;

else every man might pretend to it alike, and every man, for that • reason alone, be equally possessed of it. And yet

, if such an infallibility could be supposed any where to subsist among the sons of men, the church of Rome, would, upon this state of the argument, of all other societies in the world, have the least appearance of being in possession of it. So contradictory to reason, so palpably absurd and monstrous are many of its doctrines; exceeding, in the height and extravagance of their absurdity, any principles whatsoever, that have in any part of the world evet past under the name or notion of religion. And if reason thus absolutely and peremptorily determines, by an immediate cognizance of fact itself, that the Romish church is not, and cannot be infallible in matters of religion, it does of course determine too, that no assurances of such an infallibility, to be resident in that church, were ever made by Christ or his apostles ; because this would be in effect to suppose, that they had authorized all these absurdities. And, indeed, what is the plain, and obvious sense of that declaration made by our blessed Saviour, upon which so much stress has been laid in this interesting controversy? That declaration I refer to, in which we are assured, that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against his church? What but ibis, that notwithstanding all the opposition which the gospel was to meet with from a prejudiced and unbelieving world, it should, nevertheless, be victorious and triumphant? And is there any thing in such an assurance or promise as this, that carries in it the least implication of infallibility, either in any single professor of Christianity, or in any body of men united in that profession? And, indeed, we may easily believe, that the ablest advocates of

« 이전계속 »