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All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable
for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. — 2 Tim. iii. 16, 17.
It is not my intention here to discuss the various questions relating to the inspiration of the Scriptures, because the Apostle seems to have had in view, in the first member of our text, their divinely inspired authority, rather than any question relating to the manner or mode of their original revelation. I shall, therefore, in the first place, confine myself to the consideration of this point; and then, in the second, proceed to discuss those particulars which form the remainder of our text.
The most interesting light, perhaps, in which the Scriptures present themselves to an inquirer, is the super-human authority, and consequently, the perfect obedience, to which they every where lay claim. The Lord spake unto Abraham, Moses, or one or other of the prophets, is the constant language of the Old Testament; and in unison with this are the declarations of the New. Human authority is every where excluded in this question, and man is treated as a sinful, short-sighted, and, in respect to religion, as an ignorant being. The justness of this position will be considered in a future discourse; it will be sufficient for our present purpose to shew, that a book given as a revelation from above, and intended to be universally beneficial to mankind, must necessarily be of this character.
We know from experience that no moral truths however clearly stated, or ably recommended, can insure universal acceptance. The human intellect cannot be made to bow to any thing short of either purely mathematical demonstration or supreme authority. The former of these is incompatible with the statement of moral truths; and therefore, to make these binding on all, authority alone can be resorted to. There are, however, still other difficulties which can be overcome in no other way. One is, that of ascertaining what is or is not worthy of acceptation, in all possible cases ; and another, the impossibility of enforcing the practice of what may have once been ascertained to be thus acceptable. To the first, the powers of the human mind, assisted by all the advantages of experience, are confessedly unequal; and, to the second, the perverseness and wrongheadedness of the many, will always present an insurmountable obstacle. In these cases, then, authority alone can succeed, and indeed the same holds good in all human laws. To this, then, the Scripture has very wisely, and, as it will be shewn hereafter, very justly, laid claim.
Morality has nevertheless been, and is still, recommended on other grounds. The requirements of society, which have sometimes been termed the fitness of things, have been urged with some success both in ancient and modern times; and, the happiness usually attendant on virtue on the one hand, with the misery inseparable from vice on the other, has occasionally contributed to give a moral tone to the well informed, no less beneficial than it was admirable. On vulgar minds, however, reasoning of this sort can exert no force; and of these the majority of society consists; nor, on the well informed has it ever prevailed to any considerable extent. Authority, therefore, can alone be generally binding. Still, how rational soever and well directed the authority of the Scriptures might have been, there have never been wanting large numbers ready either to disregard this, or else to deny its real existence. With the first of these, who are habitual unbelievers, we are not, at present, concerned. Our business will be, therefore, to consider a few of the leading objections made by the second.
The class of objectors to which we now allude are those who have assumed the title of Rationalists, and are principally to be found among the Divines of modern Germany. Their numbers are large, and their learning is considerable ; and, as they propose their doctrines on what they deem to be the just principles of Scriptural interpretation, and argue that these are grounded on the deductions of sound reason, they merit the most patient, fair, and impartial, examination.
The principal objection, generally made for the purpose of impugning the absolute authority of the Holy Scriptures, is to the doctrine of miracle. This, say they, is impossible, improbable, and incapable of proof.
With reference to the first position, which is by no means new, it may be replied generally: To determine what is impossible with man, is indeed no difficult thing to effect; but the question here is with respect to the Deity; and, from what we know of his power, it should seem to be no easy task to prove what is impossible with him. For, although we possess some general knowledge of his attributes, we confessedly have not enough to determine either the extent of his power, or the manner in which it must exert itself. These are particulars which neither experience nor science can teach us; and, as the Revelation itself is silent on them, it must follow, that whatever we may think or believe, we certainly have no real knowledge.
From our knowledge, or rather ignorance, therefore, it is perfectly absurd to attempt to determine what is, or what is not, impossible with God. This is a subject manifestly above our capacities; and as such we must for ever leave it. But, it is argued, in the next place, that from what we do know of the order of nature, and the established course of things, it is as impossible as it would be injurious to the whole, that any perturbation or event not provided for, should be allowed to happen ; and this, it is added, the doctrine of miracle takes for granted. I answer : This is again, not only to set bounds both to infinite wisdom and power, but to assume a knowledge of things which no man living ever possessed.
Of the primary laws of nature we can know but little : from what we do know, however, we can positively affirm, that the common course of nature itself is liable to great perturbations : and the probability seems to be, that these are not conducive to the injury, but to the welfare of the whole; and, that for all cases of this kind occurring in the natural world, provision has actually been made. The perturbations which we can observe, and which we are compelled by our ignorance thus to designate, are probably nothing more than instances of obedience to still higher laws, of which the mind of man has yet acquired no knowledge; and which, until he has, may be classed with what we term miracles. Not, let it be remembered, that such occurrences can be miraculous with the Deity ; but only with such of his creatures as are unacquainted with the laws by which they are regulated, and the ends for which they may have been designed. In this point of view, then, such occurrences, varying it may be from the common operations of nature, can be referred to no other source than the will of the Deity, operating according to laws known only to his inscrutable wisdom, and for ends, in most cases, cognizable to him alone.
Again: to assert that such apparent anomalies cannot take place without being injurious to the whole, is to assert that which no man can prove: injurious, indeed, they may seem ; but this is a very different thing from positive knowledge that they are so; and, from the order nevertheless observed, and the happiness so impartially and so extensively spread throughout the world, there are grounds for a strong presumption that they are not so.
Now, let it be asked, What is generally contended for by those who argue for the truth of Scripture miracles ? Not that something anomalous, unnecessary, or injurious, has taken place; but, operations which can be referred to none but God as their author, - events which it is plainly declared have been provided for in the Divine counsels, which are indeed as unsearchable to us, as are many of the causes operating in the natural world, but which contribute to promote the general welfare. If, then, laws not indeed necessarily connected with those which regulate the material world, but confessedly emanating from the same Lawgiver, are stated to be in operation for the purpose of furthering ends similar to those had in view in the creation, preservation, and support of man, and not more unaccountable in their origin, operations, and effects; Who, it may be asked, can affirm that these are impossible, or offer any thing like a shadow of proof that they are so ? There may, indeed, be a presumption entertained that they are so; but even this can be held only on a contracted view of things, and that as unworthy of the unmeasurable system of mercy, wisdom, and goodness, with which we are surrounded, as it is unsuitable to the soul aspiring after the happiness, and anxious to realise all the blessedness, of which both reason and Revelation proclaim it to be capable.
But it still may be said, That it is improbable any such anomalous effects should be allowed to take place in a system emanating from the hands of infinite wisdom and power. I answer : With just as much propriety might it be objected to the probability of earthquakes, volcanoes, tempests, the flux and reflux of the tides, pain, and a thousand other such things,-all evidently brought into being and allowed to continue by infinite wisdom and power,--did not their occurrence afford us the amplest proof to the contrary. The same reasoning may be applied to both; and, as facts in the one case flatly contradict the conclusion which might be drawn, so may they in the other; and we shall hereafter shew that they actually do. No reliance, therefore, can be placed upon this kind of reasoning; and we now proceed to shew, that there is not only a strong presumption to the contrary, but an absolute moral certainty.
Let us now suppose man to have been placed on the earth such as he is --without knowledge to any useful extent on the