« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
1. Our consideration of the evidences offered in support of any religion, and of the Christian religion in particular, as modified by human authority.
2. Our consideration of the correctness of any Doctrine or Creed offered to our acceptance.
3. Our motives for obedience to religious bodies, or churches incorporated by the laws of any country; or for joining any religious bodies voluntarily associated, and receiving no protection from human law; or for remaining independent of all religious associations.
Every one ought to exercise reason before adopting any religion whatever; and before the process of reasoning is commenced, the propositions that have been stated must be admitted by every one endowed with moral feeling; because if they be not admitted, the Deity being, in that case, placed in respect to character on a level with ourselves, could not be worthy of adoration and love, and would necessarily be an object of hatred and fear. Unfortunately for the bulk of mankind, religious impressions are made on the mind before the reasoning powers arrive at maturity; and the consequence is, that the religion of multitudes, having no sure foundation, becomes either neglected, or entirely superstitious.
In all religions, Zealots, Bigots, and Fanatics exist; and while every one of sound mind, and constituted with a proper share of moral feeling, can have compassion on such persons on account of their mental aberrations, and even forgive them for the mischief which they operate on human nature, we cannot so easily forgive those who, for the sake of power, and the good things of this world, threaten with eternal perdition every man who dares to use his reason, as God intended it should be used, in separating truth from falsehood, and who refuses to trample it under foot, and to believe whatever they please to dictate.
Such, then, being the situation in which we are placed, we ought, in every religious inquiry, to set aside all impressions made upon us in childhood, when the mental powers are unfit to weigh truth and falsehood against each other; and to present ourselves before the God who gave us reason, accepting with perfect humility the means He has bestowed upon us for discovering truth, and using them honestly and calmly: so that to whatever conclusion we come, we may throw ourselves on His unbounded Benevolence, in the perfect confidence that, having employed our talents diligently and faithfully, we shall be accepted by Him, although our reasoning be imperfect, and our errors may be numerous. Thus prepared with the only foundation on which all reasoning on religious subjects should rest, we may now proceed to search for such particulars relating to the moral condition of man at his creation, as are furnished by the Mosaic history.
In the second chapter of Genesis, beginning at the sixteenth verse, we find the following passage: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” These words demand the most serious attention, because they are the groundwork of the doctrine into the truth of which we are to inquire, and which takes it for granted that man at his creation was a perfect being. Man could not, at his creation, have been a perfect being, because it was necessary to impose a command upon him. He must have been liable to yield to temptation, because if he had not been liable, it would not have been necessary to threaten him with punishment. The nature of the temptation had a direct reference to man's moral condition. That condition was, partly, that he was ignorant of good and evil, and, consequently, of the distinction between them. That man was so, is clearly proved by another passage of the history, which narrates the consequences of his having yielded to the temptation placed in his way. We find it written at the twenty-second verse of the third chapter, “And the Lord God said, Behold the man has become as one of us, to know good and evil.” If man had, previously to his eating of the forbidden fruit, known good and evil, God could not have expressed the consequence in this manner. Nothing can be more clear and distinct. Man, therefore, having been ignorant of good and evil, the question naturally occurs, what is good and what is evil ? On the proper understanding of these words a vast deal more depends than a superficial reader may imagine.
These terms may be defined thus : good means every thing by which our faculties are agreeably affected ; and evil every thing by which they are disagreeably affected.
We now ask, in what moral condition could a human being be considered, whose faculties could not be affected either agreeably or disagreeably? The Confession of Faith tells us that man, at his creation, “ had the law of God written in his heart, and power to fulfil it.” According to this statement, man must have known that which was right, and that which was wrong; such knowledge constituting him a responsible being. But to know that which was right, the faculty which takes cognizance of right and wrong must have been capable of being agreeably affected
by every thing right, and have esteemed every thing that was right to be good; and must have been capable of being disagreeably affected by every thing wrong, and have esteemed every thing wrong to be evil. But we are expressly informed in the Scriptures, that man was created ignorant of good and evil, and consequently he could have had no law written in his heart; and he could not have sinned against a law which he could not comprehend.
Another difficulty besets us here, of a magnitude that is very serious. We have seen that man was ignorant of good and evil, and consequently of right and wrong. A being so constituted is not held by human law to be responsible for his actions. The consciousness of what is right and of what is wrong, is held by the law of man to be necessary to constitute responsibility; and all persons void of such consciousness, who may have committed actions which would have rendered other persons having that consciousness amenable to the law, are acquitted.
Now, if, as we have seen, man was actually ignorant of good and evil at his creation, he must have been incapable of understanding a threat of punishment. Punishment is evil; and all evil connected with our present state is punishment on account of our disobeying the laws impressed on the great system of nature of which man forms a part. To a being ignorant of evilif punishment be an evil-a threat of punishment can be of no avail, because he knows not what it is that constitutes the threat -he cannot regard a threat; and consequent fear of punishment as an evil, cannot exist, as an inducement to obey a command. Privation of life is an evil, and esteemed one of great magnitude. A threat of suffering such a privation to a being who could not perceive the evil of it, must go for nothing. The difficulty therefore is, that if we believe God to possess the attributes ascribed to Him, we cannot believe Him to be capable of uttering a threat to a being who had not power to comprehend it.
We must now look into the view of the history taken by the Assembly of Divines at Westminster. We find that from the same premises they draw very different conclusions, and we shall presently see the grounds on which they deemed themselves justified. They tell us that the consequence of man having eaten of the forbidden fruit was, that he became “WHOLLY DEFILED IN ALL THE FACULTIES AND PARTS OF SOUL AND BODY."
How this can be reconciled to a fact, which by all divines must be regarded as undeniable, viz., that according to God's own declaration, man became as Himself, and those whom He addressed, to know good and evil, it is not easy to comprehend. God said, “ Man is become as one of us ;” and therefore if the conclusion of the divines be just, they must have conceived that God and those whom He addressed were “wholly defiled.”
. So far from exciting the idea that the moral condition of man became worse, the above declaration leads us to the direct conclusion that it was greatly improved. The change was evidently from a lower to a higher state of Intelligence; from a state of unconsciousness of right and wrong, to a perfect knowledge of both; from a state of irresponsibility to one of responsibility.
There is a matter connected with corruption, and on which divines insist, viz., that man at his creation was not subject to death. This opinion we may shortly examine. God said to the man, in reference to the forbidden fruit, “ In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” It may be asked, if man was not previously subject to death, how could he die ? As the history tells us that, notwithstanding the threat, he did not die, the contradiction is attempted to be got rid of by supposing it was meant the man should become subject to death. There appears nothing in the history to justify this supposition, but the contrary. Let us read the whole of the twenty-second verse of the third chapter, part of which has been already referred to. "And the Lord God said, And behold, the man has become as one of us, to know good and evil, and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever; therefore," &c. This appears to draw a clear distinction between what the condition of man was, and what it would have been had he eaten of both fruits. The one changed his mental state, and the other would have changed his corporeal state. Death was the punishment threatened; but is not announced to have been the consequence of the disobedience. The consequence is clearly announced in the words, “ Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.” And lest he should have approached still nearer to the divine nature, he was removed from the tree of life, and made to continue mortal.
There are other reasons for denying the supposition that man was not subject to death at his creation. Following the Mosaic history as our guide to matters of fact, we find it written in the twenty-eighth verse of the first chapter of Genesis, “ And God blessed them; and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.” This was said before the forbidden fruit was eaten. Now supposing that man had not been subject to death, the question arises, what time would elapse in
the progress of multiplying, before the earth was replenished ? It is obvious that, man being supposed immortal, a time would soon come when there would not be standing room for him on the earth. To get rid of this difficulty another hypothesis became necessary, but for which there is no warrant, viz., that after man had multiplied to a certain extent, a proportion would be taken away, and transferred to another region, to heaven.
That this supposition is unwarranted, appears from what we learn from the twenty-ninth verse of the first chapter, “Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree in which there is the fruit of a tree yielding seeds, to you it shall be for meat.” Why were these given for meat ? The natural answer is, to support life. But is a being not subject to death under any necessity to support life? Those who advocate the notion, that man was not subject to death, must show that an immortal being requires sustenance, else the hypothesis appears absurd.
From what has been advanced, appealing to the record itself, there does not appear to be any rational foundation for the invention of the doctrine of the corruption of man's nature, in consequence of his having eaten the forbidden fruit. On the contrary, there is good reason, supposing the history true, and not fabulous, for believing that man passed into a higher scale of being, becoming a moral being. The inventors, however, have quoted, in the Confession of Faith, all the detached texts they could find as likely to corroborate the doctrine, and some of these it is but justice to examine, lest in any of them we should find reasons more powerful in favour of it than those we have advanced against it. We find these texts appended as notes to the second article of chapter sixth. We shall take some of them in the order in which they are set down.
Genesis iii. 6.-" And when the woman saw the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave unto her husband and he did eat."
Here the facts are simply stated, and with perfect distinctness. That the first pair did eat of the fruit, is one simple fact. But one of the reasons why the woman ate of it, because “she saw the tree was to be desired to make one wise,” is too important to be slightly passed over. If she had been wise in her original condition, she could have had no desire to become so. Her desire to eat of the fruit was excited on account of her anxiety to become, what she was not before, wise. This, then, adduced as a proof of the doctrine, which assumes that man was in a more perfect state before, than after the fruit was eaten, flatly con