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we should read, examine whether what we read be true or false, and satisfy our minds in reference to what is worthy of belief, and what is unworthy? No person of sane mind and sound judg. ment, can hesitate to pronounce the latter to be the true mean. ing of the command. But it is nevertheless certain, that those who bid us search the Scriptures, if we come to any conclusion different from their own, and leading us to doubt the accuracy of their interpretations, instantly doom us to everlasting perdition. This is rather a summary mode of rectifying error; and it has its effect on all persons who dislike the trouble of reflective research, or who are incapable of it, or whose ignorance, arising from dogmatic or imperfect education, may have rendered them timid and superstitious. It is not calculated to raise those who employ such means to establish doctrines, in the estimation of the wise and prudent; because it indicates not only pride, and the absence of Christian charity, but a conspiracy against freedom of thought and liberty of conscience. And more than that, it indicates fear, lest obedience to their own com. mand to search the Scriptures should lead to their own condemnation.
It is exceedingly unfortunate, that while the human mind is rapidly improving its powers, its efforts in a study so important as that of religion, should be disturbed by the notion, that certain ancient doctrines are unimpeachable, and the human authorities who framed them infallible. It is equally unfortunate that mankind should imagine those who have lived and are no more, to have possessed talents of superior power to those with which their posterity has been blessed; that they were more learned and able translators and commentators than any who might appear in after times. The disputes which were carried on in former times, when volumes were written of almost incredible number and bulk, about points of doctrine, as well as the differences that subsist at the present day, seem to be very inconsistent with the name given to that which contains the matter of dispute-revelation. That word strictly means an explanation, or a manifestation, of something not before understood. But as very different meanings are given to various parts of the Bible, and as the book specially called the book of revelation is the most dark and incomprehensible of all, it certainly appears very strange that the word should be applied to any thing doubtful, or unintelligible.
There is yet another thing that depresses inquiry, the kingly and legal sanction given to what is emphatically styled, the authorized version of the Bible. Kings and councils are no wiser than other men; and why the strong arm of power should
command that no meaning shall be given to the original lan. guage than that which power dictates, or that such command should be obeyed, is not easily perceived. Yet what is called established authority goes a great way with understandings that are darkened, and which blindly receive as true and faithful that which may be full of error. No inspired writer has given us the Bible in our language. We possess it on human authority alone.
Every one knows that the Roman Church, with the view to preserve uniformity of Creed, and consequently its power, not only withheld the Bible from the people altogether, but performed worship in a language which the people did not understand. Numbers of the priesthood were kept in ignorance, and many of them could neither write nor read. When, however, the Bible came to be known, disputes about its meaning arose, and various doctrines were founded upon the various interpretations and constructions which men chose to put upon its contents. Those points are not yet settled, and Christians are divided into numerous bodies, each giving particular interpretations, and condemning those of others as false.
In treating of the supposed innate corruption of human nature, it is proposed to assume the authorized translation of the Bible as correct, and to take its expressions as conveying no other meaning than that which the words are understood to convey in their ordinary and general acceptation. There is another authorized work to which it is necessary to refer, because it is the creed of the churches established in Great Britain, and which has for its title "The Westminster confession of Faith,' because the doctrines it contains were agreed upon by a convocation of Divines which assembled at Westminster for the purpose of settling a creed. In this we have the texts of Scripture quoted, on which these divines affirm the doctrines of the confession to be founded, so that every one has the means of satisfying himself whether the doctrines adopted rest on just premises and just conclusions, or otherwise.
In order to understand clearly what is meant by the doctrine which declares man's nature to be corrupted and depraved, it is necessary that we should know what his condition was before he became corrupted. We surely ought to find means for ascertaining this in the same source whence the doctrine has been derived, and therefore let us examine it.
It is there said that God created man in his own image or likeness : as it is also there said that no man hath seen God at any time, it may appear difficult to imagine on what authority the historian of creation and of the earlier ages of the world
makes the affirmation. Many suppositions have been made respecting this matter; and as God is represented as a Spirit, a condition of being about which we can form no conception, divines have affirmed the likeness to be a spiritual likeness. But unless we can conceive what Spirit really means, and which we cannot, it is impossible to have any idea of a spiritual likeness. Though divines have announced that God has no body, nor parts, they continually speak of Him as having parts. There are passages in the Bible which seem to justify the historian in affirming that man was created in the image of God. Moses, in the history attributed to him, narrates that he had expressed to God a great anxiety that He should manifest himself to him. We read in the thirty-third Chapter of Exodus, at the twentieth verse, “ And He said, thou canst not see my face; for there shall no man see me and live. And the Lord said, Behold there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock; and it shall come to pass while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by, and I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts; but my face shall not be seen.” It is said in the third chapter of Genesis, at the eighth verse, “ And they (Adam and Eve) heard the voice of the Lord, walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” From these and other passages we are led to perceive that, granting the history to have divine authority stamped upon it, God has a face, and hands, and feet. Therefore it was correct to say that man was created in the image of God, after His likeness. There is nothing so common in religious feeling and worship as giving Form to God.* The same divines who, before they are admitted to the sacred office, are under the obligation to subscribe the Confession of Faith as their belief, never hesitate to preach that Christ sitteth or standeth at the right hand of God. Nor do they ever think of denying the affirmation of Stephen, and to which he owed his martyrdom, that he actually saw Christ so standing. To labour, therefore, in any attempt to give any other than a literal meaning to any portion of the Bible, is nothing less than to cast an air of doubt over the whole of it. Because if we admit the legitimacy of any attempt to explain, and to give other than a literal meaning to one portion, it must be admitted in reference to every other portion, and thus the whole might be
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[* It is only as an “ argumentum ad hominem" we can admit the truth of the statements and reasonings in the text: as applicable to the inconsistencies of Divines they are pertinent and forcible.-ED.]
Vol. III. No. 11.—New Series.
frittered away, and completely altered and disguised so as to suit any particular purpose. The difficulty in our way here is, that we have no definition of a spirit. One notion of it is, that a spirit has not flesh and bones; a notion imbibed from what Christ uttered after his resurrection. But it may be remarked that he did not scout the idea of a spirit having Form; he only said it had not flesh and bones. It is our absolute ignorance of what we call spiritual existence that occasions our being puzzled; for we cannot imagine any thing having form that does not occupy space, and is not material. We ought, however, to consider that we have no authority whatever for imagining that a spirit is immaterial. One vulgar notion of spirits is, that they have power to become invisible, or visible at pleasure. Now, if a spirit become visible, it is evident that it is so far material as to affect that kind of matter called Light, otherwise we could not see it. There are material things so subtile as to be invisible. The cause which attracts a small body to a greater is invisible. The elective fluid is invisible until it comes into a condition to emit light, with which it is either itself compounded, or in its passage it causes light to be emitted from the medium which it traverses. From these considerations we may draw the inference that spirit does not necessarily mean any thing that cannot be seen and has no form. We can conceive what no existence is ; of empty space; but we cannot conceive an existence without the occupation of space. Now, if we admit the credibility of the Mosaic history of Creation, we must believe that if man be in the likeness of God, if God walked in the Garden, if He placed His hand upon Moses, and if Christ sits at the right hand of God, the Creator must be of a nature that admits the occupation of space, and consequently must have form. Nor is it inconsistent with the notion of form that God should possess all the attributes ascribed to Him. His intelligence may be infinite, His ears may receive sounds however remote, and distinguish each, however great the multitude and confusion. His eye may penetrate through space; and even light may not be necessary for Him to see. If He has given to light the property to move with a velocity scarcely within our comprehension, His omnipresence may be conceived; for every power and property conferred must be possessed by the Being conferring them, in a degree immeasureably higher than the one receiving them. As we know that other created beings have senses and powers which we do not possess, the Intelligence which gave existence to all things, however beyond our powers to estimate, may be conceived not to be incompatible with form, and to be embodied, though in a very different manner, from our Intelligence. The idea of form, as a property necessary to every thing that exists, is so natural to us, that when the idea of God is present to the mind, form is present at the same time.
From the foregoing considerations, as well as from the circumstance of form being ascribed to God throughout the Bible, we are justified in forming such notions, and in vindicating the historian. Yet so anxious were the Divines assembled at Westminster to contradict him and other Bible writers in this and other points, that in the Confession of Faith God is described as a Being “ without Body, Parts, or Passions.” With respect to body, they may be correct if it be meant that God's body is not composed of the same materials as our bodies : but in reference to parts, it is inconceivable to us that God Himself should be believed to have spoken without parts for speech, and to have Himself named His face and His hands, having neither. With respect to passions, it is most surprising we should be told that God has none, by Divines, who are, as Divines have always been, in the constant practice of attempting to terrify us by threatening God's wrath and His vengeance, or of soothing us by speaking of His compassion and slowness to anger. The same divines believe the truth of the histories which represent God as cruel and vindictive, and bringing judgments on men, and yet insist on our believing that He is a being without passions. If the whole Bible is to be believed, we cannot believe the whole Confession of Faith. This part of the condition of Man as originally created need not detain us longer. We need not dispute that he was created in the image of God.
The next inquiry is of greater importance, inasmuch as it relates to the moral condition of man; and we are entitled to expect that we shall find this clearly laid down in the Bible. It is necessary, however, before entering on this most interesting and indispensable inquiry, to state the admitted moral attributes of God, and to keep them constantly in view. We will state them in the form of postulates, because no one professing Christianity doubts them, and because no Deist who acknowledges there is such a thing as Morality can deny them.
I. God is a Being perfectly and infinitely Intelligent.
III. God is a Being perfectly Benevolent, tempering His Justice with Mercy.
IV. God is a Being who cannot act in contradiction to His Justice and Mercy and Intelligence; nor to His own words or acts. These propositions being admitted, ought to regulate,