Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

afs may perhaps reft upon flender and dubious authority. 4thly, It is objected, "that probable evidence only is or can be offered by the advocates of Christianity in its behalf. Now it might, say these objectors, be reasonably prefumed, that a divine revelation would be attended with demonstrative and irresistible evidence of its divine authority; fuch as fhould flash conviction on the most obftinate and obdurate hearts; nor has this religion been in fact productive of those beneficial effects which might be expected from a genuine revelation of the Divine will." That Chriftianity might have been accompanied by fuch irrefiftible evidence as would have compelled conviction, cannot be doubted; but that fuch an high degree of evidence was reasonably to be expected, I utterly deny; according to the obvious analogy of nature, nothing more than probability could be hoped for, or perhaps rationally defired. Man is fo formed as to act on probabilities in all cafes which concern his prefent or future happiness: to afcertain the comparative importance of these probabilities, and to frame our conduct agreably to the views we entertain of that importance, is the perfection of human wisdom. He who waits for demonftration where probability only is attainable, is chargeable with the absurdity attributed to the countryman waiting on the river's banks: He remains for ever inactive, in expectation of that which will never be; the tide of time shall roll on, but never shall any one in this state of trial and probation be indulged on any subject relative


relative to man's duty or happiness, with evidence of fuch kind or degree as fhall preclude him from the full exercife of his rational and intellectual powers; and by an impartial and diligent exertion of these powers, the evidence attending Chriftianity will quickly appear to be fufficiently probable to fatisfy the understanding and to influence the conduct; and though we fhould be ultimately mis taken, we may in this cafe, if in any, adopt the expression of the Poet, and say, in our vindication,

"It had been vicious to have miftrufted."

As to the plea that Christianity has not been productive of thofe fignal benefits which might have been expected from a divine revelation, it is enough to reply, that expectation is vague and indefinite. The fact is, that the Chriftian religion, greatly as it has been corrupted, has produced a mighty reformation of morals in the world. We fee plainly that it is in a ftate of progreffion, and in proportion as it is better understood, and more generally diffused, its effects will be more happy and beneficial. In this enlightened age and country a Christian of very moderate attainments in virtue would be fhocked at the recital of the enormous vices which were almoft univerfally prevalent in the ages of antiquity. The heathens, as is well known, attributed the groffest crimes and immoralities even to their deities; how then could it be expected that they themselves fhould abstain from the practice of them. Our Saviour compares the Gofpel to a fmall feed, which being caft into the earth, at length becomes

becomes a tall and fpreading tree, fo that birds feek for fhelter in the branches of it; this prophetical defcription will no doubt in due time be realized: "The leaves of the tree are destined for the healing of the nations :" In the mean time we have no right to complain of the flow and gradual progrefs of this grand fcheme of reformation, nor have we any more reason to expect a clear folution of this dif ficulty, Why does not Chriftianity afford an immediate and complete remedy for moral evil? than of the ftill greater difficulty, Why was evil itfelf introduced into the univerfe?

5thly, It is faid, "that if the miracles of Chrift were real miracles, it is not poffible that any degree of incredulity or prejudice could have refifted the force of them, but an immediate converfion of the Jewish nation, and in a fhort time of the whole Gentile world, must have been the inevitable confequence of fuch an astonishing exertion of divine power." But I cannot help thinking that this objection argues either great ignorance of human nature, or of the actual ftate of things at the time of Chrift's appearance. It is not eafy for us to form an idea of the prodigious fhock which the principles of the Christian religion gave to all the preconceived opinions and prejudices of the Jews. That the Meffiah, their long expected prince and Saviour, fhould at laft appear in circumftances fo mean, obfcure, and indigent; that the great Deliverer, fo magnificently defcribed by the prophets of old, fhould be


no other than Jefus of Nazareth, the carpenters
fon; that the kingdom he came to establish should
be not of this world, but of a wholly fpiritual
nature; that the benefits and privileges of it, fhould
not be confined to God's peculiar people, but ex-
tended to the Gentile nations; that a few illiterate
fifhermen fhould be felected as the friends and
followers of the Meffiah, and employed as the great
inftruments of diffufing his religion, to the exclu-
fion of the learned, the noble, and the mighty of
the land; that after being expofed to every species
of indignity and perfecution in the short course of
his life, he fhould fuffer a painful and ignominious
death upon the crofs; these were things utterly
irreconcileable with the opinions which were most
deeply rooted in their minds. They were a rock
of offence, which even the evidence of miracles
themselves was unable to remove. "He pretend-
ed to fave others, but himself he cannot fave;"
this was in their apprehenfion an argument of the
moft clear and convincing nature.
They rather
chose to ascribe thofe fupernatural works, the re-
ality of which they could not deny, to the agency of
Beelzebub, than to that of the Spirit of God; and
let any one duly reflect upon the astonishing and in-
vincible force of human prejudices, and he will, I
think, be convinced, that at this very day miracles,
fimilar to thofe of Chrift, would be found equally
infufficient to break the fhackles of Mahometan
delufion and Popish fuperftition. I make not the
least question, but that a man who fhould openly

[ocr errors]

maintain at Conftantinople that Mahomet was a blafphemous impoftor, would be impaled; or at Madrid, that tranfubftantiation was an impious abfurdity, would be brought to the stake, though they were able to establish their affertions even by an appeal to miracles; whatever amazement might be excited, fuch a man would certainly upon the whole be regarded by the bulk of the people as a falfe prophet. It appears that for a time the miracles pretended to be wrought at the tomb of the Abbé Paris gained confiderable credit in fo enlightened a country as France, but I never heard of a fingle Molinift who was converted to Janfenifm in confequence of them. What I have faid refpecting the Jews may easily be seen to apply with still greater force to the Gentiles, whofe prejudices, though totally different, were doubtless equally ftrong; and if the Jews were not to be convinced though one rofe from the dead, it cannot be fuppofed that the Gentiles would be more inclined to liften to evidence which came them with diminifhed force; and as it is well known that the Jews were regarded with contempt by the Greeks and Romans as a credulous and bigotted nation, it may reasonably be prefumed, that the firft account of a new religion, fupported by miracles, which obtained fo little credit in Judea itself, would be treated with the highest difdain and derifion by the learned heathens, and would be rejected without hesitation or examination.


« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »