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THE DIFFICULTIES ATTENDANT UPON DEISTI
CAL INFIDELITY IN REGARD TO THE INTERNAL EVIDENCE OF CHRISTIANITY.
DIFFICULTIES, however, attend upon deistical Infidelity, not only in regard to the external evidence of Christianity, but also in regard to its internal evidence. This part of the subject is not a little interesting : because it distinctly shews, that truth is even constitutionally and essentially inherent in the Gospel ; being interwoven into its very texture, and forming in the very nature of things an inseparably component part of it.
Into a topic, thus copious, it is not my intention fully to enter: I rather purpose, agreeably to the plan which has been generally adopted throughout this discussion, to select and enlarge upon some of the principal and most striking particulars. As a specimen of such a mode of reasoning, I shall content myself with noticing two of these particulars: the character of Christ, and the spirit of his religion.
I. The pride and the ambition, inherent in man, lead him always to admire and affect the grand, the magnificent, the brilliant, the powerful, the daring, the energetic, the successful. He loves that, which strikes forcibly upon the senses and the imagination : he delights in that, which vehemently arrests his attention, which produces a strong theatrical effect, which wears the semblance of something splendid and heroic. The milder virtues he is apt to slight and pass over with a certain sensation of contempt: his favourite characters are the warrior, the legislator, the statesman. To these he looks up with complacent veneration: their actions are his most agreeable themes : and they themselves are his models of the sublime, the noble, the excellent, the illustrious. In paying homage to persons of such a description, he feels a sort of self-elevation : because his admiration of them is in effect an admiration of our common nature, as exhibited under what he deems its most perfect and most commanding aspect.
1. This humour we invariably find developed in works of imagination, whether they be poems or dramas or romances * The hero both of the author and of the reader is marked by courage, by activity, by address, by eloquence, by splendid talents, by an easy generosity, by a lofty
* - Honoratum si forte reponis Achillen;
Impiger, iracundus, inexorabilis, acer,
Horat. de art. poet. ver. 120-122.
magnanimity. Difficulties he may encounter ; but these he bravely surmounts: hardships he may endure ; but these he gaily faces. Graceful and spirited, he conciliates love, and ensures admiration.
Such brilliant dreams are too fascinating to be lightly relinquished. From the transactions of common or fictitious life, they are readily transferred to religion: and demi-gods and prophets are invested with the attributes, which have previously most gratified the imagination. Hence originated the characters of the Grecian Hercules and Perseus and Bacchus and Jason. Hence the Egyptian Osiris was a successful warrior and a beneficent legislator. Hence the Indian Parasu-Rama descended from heaven, to vanquish and extirpate, in twenty pitched battles, the impious children of the Sun; to consecrate a due proportion of their wealth to the Deity; to distribute the remainder, with open hand, among the poor ; to establish a new dynasty of just and beneficent sovereigns; and then, content with his successful labours, to withdraw into dignified retirement amidst the deep recesses of the Gaut mountains *. Hence the Persian Rustam, mounted on his charger Rakesh, dared the shortest and most dangerous road to the haunted
* Maurice's Anc. Hist. of Hind. vol. ii. p. 91–103. Similar remarks may be applied also to the character of Ram-Chandra. Ibid. p. 231-253.
passes of Mazenderaun ; surmounted all the multiplied perils of the seven stages ; fought and slew the Deeve Sefeed ; and restored the enthralled Cai-Caus to light and liberty *.
The predominance of these notions produced the effect, which might naturally be anticipated. He, who wished to be received as a messenger from heaven, assumed the character, which he previously knew could not fail of gaining extensive popularity and unbounded veneration. Thus the warlike son of Fridulph, the leader of the Scandinavian Asce into Europe from the wilds of Asiatic Scythia, with ready and successful policy adopted the name and character of the war-god Odin; became at once the prophet and sovereign and lawgiver and deity of his people; subdued every nation, which he encountered in his progress; established his sons, as princes and demi-gods; and finally, preferring the death of a warrior to a lingering disease, inflicted upon himself voluntary wounds, and announced, when expiring, that he was returning into Scythia to take his seat among the other gods at an eternal banquet, where he would honourably receive all who should intrepidly expose themselves in battle and die bravely with their swords in their
* Orient. Collect. vol. i. p. 359-368. vol. ii. p. 45–55. The narrative characteristically ends, as follows. Then Rustam, the dispenser of kingdoms, the hero of the world, having received from Caus a splendid dress and other magnificent presents, returned to Zablestan.
hands *. Thus the prophet of Arabia appeared as a warrior and a lawgiver and a statesman, whose courage might ensure success and admiration, and whose success might be urged as a certain proof of his divine commission. Thus too, as I have already had occasion to notice, the impostor Coziba, when under the title of BarCochab he claimed to be the promised Messiah, sought to recommend himself to his countrymen, by his courage and enterprizing spirit, by the assumption of the regal diadem, and by a promise of victory and liberation from the Roman sovereignty. Do we ask, why he selected for his model the character of a temporal prince and an intrepid warrior : the answer is obvious. The Jews, under the influence of a sentiment common to every age and to every nation, had framed to themselves an imaginary Messiah, with attributes nearly similar to those of Hercules and Rama and Odin and Rustam. Under his banner, they were to go forth to victory: he was to be a
* Mallet's Northern Antiquit. vol. i. chap. 4. The sentiment, which I am attempting to illustrate, is strongly exemplified in the conduct of one of the subjugated monarchs. Odin, says Mr. Mallet, afterwards passed into Sweden, where at that time reigned a prince named Gylfe : who, persuaded that the author of a new worship consecrated by conquests so brilliant could not be of the ordinary race of mortals, paid him great honours, and even worshipped him as a divinity. By favour of this opinion, which the ignorance of that age led men easily to embrace, Odin quickly acquired in Sweden the same authority which he had obtained in Denmark.