페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

his whole work preserved towards his adversaries that calm respect which is most suitable to the spirit and dignity of a CHRISTIAN ADVOCATE.

In truth, the sceptics of the present day are men of very inferior faculties to their predecessors in the same school. They have propounded doctrines which would have shocked the understandings of the subtle and refined speculators of the last century. They have less learning and less acuteness, and are, for the most part, but poor masters of logic. The obvious conclusion is, that they are less dangerous-and, indeed, if they had only to rely on their own powers for the support and propagation of their doctrines, they would not be very formidable. But the causes of scepticism are unfortunately rooted in the dispositions of a great proportion of mankind, and these dispositions are gratified by adopting the opinions of men in any way distinguished for their learning and ingenuity. While these causes continue to operate, every new refutation of their doctrines is an essential benefit to mankind.

Mr. Rennell begins by an inquiry, first into the character, and then into the causes, of modern scepticism. Its prevailing character he states to be an affectation of respect for religion, and a disposition to treat all religious creeds as matter of private prejudice, which ought not to be questioned or disturbed. Throughout the whole work, our author makes no distinction between scepticism and avowed infidelity; and thus far he is right-that the man who doubts the truth of the Christian religion does not believe in it-and he who does not believe is an infidel. But that which he describes very truly as the prevailing character of modern scepticism, in no way applies to that class of infidels who openly blaspheme and deny the truth of the Gospel. These indeed, if they be really honest in their conduct, though they disbelieve in the Christian religion, have a creed of their own. It cannot be said that they entertain mere doubts of the truth of that religion; but that they have an undoubting belief in its utter falsehood. The professors of this creed are as intolerant in their bigotry as the most unenlightened propagators of corrupted Christianity. They are not, however, more dangerous enemies than those refined sceptics, who profess to shelter their disbelief under the specious pretence of doubting the force of that evidence on which the faith of every sincere Christian is grounded. To infidelity, therefore, in its rankest sense, Mr. Rennell's remarks do not strictly extend; and though he thus omits a sect of infidels who have been very busy in these latter days, it is only because a philosophical discussion of some doctrines on which reliance is

placed by those who withhold their belief in the gospel, could never rightly be addressed to the rash and presumptuous opinions of those illiterate and ignorant men who act upon the ridiculous mistake, that the absolute falsehood of the gospel is a thing capable of satisfactory proof.

The character given by Mr. Rennell, extends to all the other sects of infidels and sceptics-to all that vast variety of doctrines, which, though it will appear that they have long since been confuted and exposed, have, even in the nineteenth century, been adopted, for want of better, by the theists, naturalists, and sceptics, under what sect or denomination soever they may class themselves. They, for the most part, concur in denying that faith in the truth of the gospel can be founded in reason; and in assuring us, that they are the worst enemies to religion who would place its foundation on reason, and not on an act of blind belief in which reason has no part. The character and tendency of this scepticism, is to represent the true and the false in matters of religion, as all depending on the same act. If this be right, the religion of the Pagan, the Mahommedan, and the Christian, stand on the same foundation of mere belief, wholly independent on reason; and the conclusion will inevitably fol low, that whoever admits the falsehood of any one of these religions, cannot be convinced that any one of them is true. On this subject we quote the observation of Mr. Rennell:

"When under pretence of superior respect, religion is considered as a matter, not of reason, but of faith, its claims upon our understandings and hearts are fatally misrepresented. Christianity has little cause to fear that scrutinizing spirit, which will teach men to look homewards and consider;' it would only protest against those respectful insinuations, which just go far enough to awaken doubt, without promoting thought, and would hint to mankind that what they embrace without conviction, they are to reject without inquiry.”

A just examination of the true causes of scepticism will expose to the very bottom the fallacy of the opinion, that reason is not the foundation of our religion. But that which must at the first suggest itself with respect to such a proposition, is, that it involves the absurdity of assuming, that reason is excluded where faith has first taken possession,-that because a doctrine may be believed by some, without the aid of reason, it has no foundation in reason, and therefore reason forbids its belief. This most palpable mistake, a confounding of the faith with the doctrine, runs through the whole proposition, and thus leads to the absurdity, that a doctrine which some have believed in without sufficient reason for belief, must therefore be a false doctriné.

The causes of scepticism will account for these mistakes. Mr. Rennell classes them under two great heads-moral causes and

intellectual causes. Licentious habits and pride, he considers as the moral causes; and the intellectual, are ignorance, and the imperfection of all human knowledge. In general the first moral and the first intellectual cause, are those which operate on the great majority of unbelievers. Vice and ignorance combining and supporting each other, are, without doubt, the efficient causes to which scepticism on religious subjects may in general be traced. Sometimes, indeed, ignorance alone may be the cause; but without it, vice is not a sufficient cause.

It seems harsh and presumptuous to set out, by denouncing all sceptics in matters of religion as vicious or ignorant; and it is certainly very disadvantageous to the arguments in favour of the Gospel, to begin by casting such damning imputations upon its enemies. The first rules of rhetoric are violated by any thing like an attempt to overthrow the cause of an adversary by an attack upon his character. At once, therefore, and openly, we acknowledge that to proceed thus is uncandid and unfair, in a discussion undertaken to confute-whether for the first or the hundredth time-the arguments of the sceptics. Nor have those by whom they have been so often confuted proceeded by such a course. The cause of Christianity would scorn the help of any thing uncandid or unfair; and its precepts, which forbid the resort to such means, on other occasions, forbid them equally in its own defence.

It is by no means our purpose, on this occasion, to enter into a formal and elaborate refutation of all that has been advanced by the sceptics. That has been accomplished already, and often enough, by abler hands. When any thing new is advanced against the truth and reasonableness of our holy religion, we trust we shall not be found wanting in our endeavours at a formal defence. But, for the present, as nothing new has been presented by the sceptics, and, as it will appear, that the notions respecting organization and life, which are examined and refuted in this pamphlet, have been proposed and refuted long ago, it will be enough for us to examine into the causes of scepticism, as developed in the character of its most illustrious advocates, and as traced by Mr. Rennell. In this inquiry, we shall find a great deal of very curious and interesting matter; and enough will incidentally occur, to expose the fallacy of that system of materialism against which this pamphlet is chiefly directed.

Let us place before us such a man as the late Mr. David Hume, gifted with faculties more acute and powerful than ordinary men, and this natural advantage improved by an erudition, which, to say the least of it, was extensive, and which some would call profound. This man was a sceptic in matters of religion, and professed himself unable to believe in the truth of the

Gospel. What was the cause? We discard the imputation of vice as applied to him. Shall we then say, that a man of his reputation, a philosopher too, was sceptical, only because he was ignorant? It would be presumptuous, indeed, to start with a determination to prove this, and to take such measure of his learning as would shew it to be deficient in the most vulgar parts. Let us, therefore, presume nothing against the extent of his knowledge, and content ourselves with fairly taking it as he has himself laid it before us. We shall find, perhaps, enough to deserve the distinguished reputation which he has gained, without supposing that he had more than he displayed, and we shall have this advantage, that nothing shall be presumed on either side.

If we rate Hume merely by his faculties, we shall find him to take a very high place among the writers on philosophical subjects. The distinguishing characteristic of his mind was refinement even to a fault. His taste was correct and classical; his imagination powerful and brilliant to an astonishing degree. The facility and happiness of his illustrations were exceeding great; and thus, his talent for composition is perhaps altogether unrivalled among the writers of our own language. Our praise of his other faculties must be more moderate. His reasoning powers, and his judgment, we may admit to have been above those of ordinary men; though in justice they must be ranked far beneath those of most of the distinguished philosophers of the last century. We may say of him, as was well said by Bishop Warburton of the disciples of Shaftesbury, that his common sense was all run into taste. His reasoning powers were not of that masculine and vigorous kind, which seizes at once the main points of the subject to which they are applied-shaking off all minor objections-diverging into no bye-paths-but holding an onward and undeviating course to the truth. The tendency of Hume's reasoning faculty was towards the examination of minor obstacles, and the exploring of untrodden paths. The most enthusiastic of his admirers, if he have any candour, must admit that this description is strictly true. It is because we are persuaded of its truth, that we have never been able to think that Hume can be considered, even by those who admire him most, as having any pretensions to the denomination of a great man. For ourselves, we can never think of him but as of one whose intellectual powers shrunk to a very slender measure, when compared with the mighty masters of reason of the ancient and the latter times.

But we shall not detract any thing from the power of his faculties; and that we may be sure not to incur the charge of unHervaluing them, we shall admit them to have been as great as

his most devoted disciples shall choose to describe. But how shall we rate the variety and extent of his learning? It would be ridiculous to describe him as less than a most accomplished scholar. His learning in the ancient classics was such, that we are at a loss whether most to admire, its extent, or that almost innate excellence of taste, which, we are told, made him abandon the amusements of youth, to disport himself in the pages of Cicero and Virgil.

Here we must desist from these praises, because we feel honestly that we may do less than justice to his reputation in the utmost that we can say of it. Let us be content with what he has told us of himself, confidently believing that it is the truth. He said that he NEVER HAD READ THE NEW TESTAMENT FROM BEGINNING TO END!

When some one made the observation to Doctor Johnson, that the infidelity of David Hume was extraordinary, considering his abilities and attainments, Johnson thought it unnecessary to make any other reply than this, "Sir, it is not extraordinary. He acknowledges that he never read through the New Testament." The truth of the Gospel, be it remarked, is a matter of evidence, and, as such, it is impossible that a correct judgment can be formed of it, unless a connected and impartial view of the evidence be taken. But here is Hume, a man who, without troubling himself to view the connection and consistency of the evidence, took upon himself to disbelieve the fact. Philosophy is a word that has been much abused; but what shall we say of that system, which denies the truth of a matter, to be tried by the evidence of testimony, without having examined the evidence adduced? It is unnecessary to say any thing more to prove that the scepticism of Hume was founded on ignorance.

But before we turn from the character of Mr. Hume, we would say one word with respect to his reasonings against the truth of the Gospel,-it is no more indeed than what has been often enough said by those acute and powerful reasoners, who have so often exposed the miserable fallacy of his arguments that it is no wonder that this man should have reasoned himself into a disbelief of the Gospel, who found arguments, by which he professed to convince himself of the non-existence of a material world. And, after all, we must acquit Hume of the discredit attaching to the discovery of these doctrines. They were no invention of his own. He took them up at second hand, and, having wrought them out according to his own taste, he shewed them to the world in a finished shape, though it was such as would have made the inventors disown the whole. scheme.

« 이전계속 »