« EdellinenJatka »
LETTER II. On the Necessity of a Revelation of the Will of God.
WHEN you request, my dear Friend, that I will not let the letter I recently sent you, terminate the remarks I mean to transmit on the subject of Religion, but that I will allow you to consider it as the first of a series which I shall devote to the discussion of the Evidences, Doctrines, and Duties of Christianity, you propose to me a task, which, however willing I may be to undertake it on your account, will, I am aware, be attended with some difficulty, and require much time and meditation. The difficulty does not arise from the paucity and scantiness of the materials that lie before me, and the consequent necessity of exercising original or inventive powers to produce such argumentative matter as may convince a candid inquirer; but from the extreme copiousness of the subject, the abundance and variety of the means by which it has been established, confirmed, and illustrated, and the judgment requisite to draw out of an immense mass, to which men of learning and piety in all ages of the Church have contributed, those particulars which may be best calculated to impress the mind, and to call forth both a rational and practical conviction. The lively interest, however, which I feel in all that concerns you, and my extreme solicitude that you should think correctly and act wisely in relation to this most momentous of all topics, induce me to comply with your wishes, notwithstanding the embarrassment in which such compliance may sometimes involve me. I have only to premise, before I pursue the inquiry you have suggested, that as, on the one hand, I do not expect you will assent to every proposition I shall advance, but will be determined by the aggregate impression resulting from the whole; so, on the other, you must not expect to be entertained with novelties, or fascinated with beauties.
“Nullum est jam dictum, quod non dictum prius.” TER.
My objects will be to select—not to invent; to convince—not to compel; to instruct—not to delight; to persuade—not to enchant: and if I shall be so fortunate as to effect these without occupying very much of your time;—if I shall save you the fatigue of turning over many a ponderous volume, and the vexation of reading many in vain (through the want of a judicious friend at your elbow to direct your choice); —if I can compress into small compass the most essential arguments that are diffused through numerous works of various authors in different ages, and the result of my labour be beneficial to you; I shall have the satisfaction, the purest allotted to man, of having exerted myself successfully in a good cause.
Having premised this, I may venture to remark, that if the train of argumentation in my former letter be calculated to make any impression, it is, that the absurdities of Deism render a Revelation of the will of God probable. It may also be inferred further, that what we may naturally expect from the character of God renders such a revelation more probable; and we may now observe, that the state of men renders it necessary. It indeed seems extremely unlikely, that the Divine Being would suffer mankind to have fallen into such great apostasy from him as is every where manifest, without intending to render them assistance through which they may be recovered. He has made provision n the natural world for the removal of bodily disorders; can we then imagine that he will be altogether regardless of the much more dangerous diseases of the mind? It is, for example, a most deplorable degree of blindness to live utterly unconcerned about what we are ; and it is a far more tremendous thing to live wickedly, to live as “without “God in the world,” when we are surrounded with his essence, and believe in his existence: yet the greater part of mankind are under one or other of these dismal infatuations; and there can be no reason assigned why they should ever be otherwise, unless they are roused from their slumber, or checked in their irreligious courses, by the voice of Deity. Leave man to himself and to his own efforts, even when most actively inclined, and what can he accomplish P He is evidently formed for thinking; his intellectual part gives dignity to his character: to think correctly constitutes a prime duty; correct thinking is manifested in his contemplating himself, his author, and his end; and yet, how commonly does he neglect these inquiries to pursue trifling vanities, and “waste his strength in that which profiteth not?" Or suppose he directs his unassisted intellectual energies into a more suitable channel, what does he effect? He has an idea, an inward perception of truth, not to be effaced by the sophistry of the sceptic; yet, on the most important topics, he has an incapacity of argument scarcely to be rectified but by supernatural aid. He seeks virtue, and at the close of life may exclaim with Brutus that the virtue he pursued was but a shadow. He wishes for truth, and obtains nothing but uncertainty. He pants after happiness, and finds only misery in substance, or the vacuity of disappointment. He is incapable of ceasing to wish both for truth and happiness; and yet perceives that he is equally incapable of attaining either certainty or felicity. He is also subject to a perpetual war between his reason and his passions. Had he reason without passions, or passions without reason, he might enjoy something like repose; but, actuated as he is by both, he lives in perpetual disquiet; finding it impossible to yield himself to the guidance of the one, without experiencing the consequences of rebellion to the other. Hence he is always at variance with himself— always under the influence of contending principles; and how is he to emancipate himself from this thraldom? Suppose he seeks for freedom and repose, by pursuing the speculations of Natural Religion. He endeavours to lay the foundations of duty, to establish rules of conduct; he attempts to put them in practice, and fails. He is compelled to acknowledge himself a wanderer, and often doubtless a wilful wanderer from the path of rectitude. He reasons, without knowing it, upon the principles of an Apostle, who said, “if “our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our “hearts, and will condemn us also ;” and is thus led to institute inquiries relative to the pardon of sin, the nature, duration, misery, or happiness of a future state; respecting all which he finds it impossible to remove difficulties, or to be freed from the most trembling anxiety: “The wide, the unbounded prospect lies before him; “But shadows, clouds, and darkness, rest upon it.” Even of those things which such an inquirer may be able to unravel to his own satisfaction, there will be many in which it will be extremely difficult to convey a satisfactory impression to others; considering, on the one hand, how abstruse many of his arguments will be; and, on the other, that ignorance, indolence, prejudice, and secular cares, will, according to their individual or combined existence and influence, prevent the generality of persons from inquiring into the truth of what he proposes, as well as from investigating these matters for themselves. Could the doubts which envelope the subject of Natural Religion be dispelled by any one philosopher, to his own satisfaction, yet he might want the inclination, or, if he possessed that, he must want the power, to make others adopt his views, and thus taste his enjoyments. Or, could the great doctrines of religion and the rules of morality be settled, and proposed and taught, ever so plainly or frequently, yet it would be difficult, or indeed impossible, to enforce the practice of them. A system of ethics may be considered, by those who acquaint themselves with it, as extremely ingenious; but it is entirely optional whether they will or will not adopt it as a rule of conduct; and the expe