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ner possesses a degree of reputation, and especially among his friends, which is very evidently not fully warranted by any thing which he has hitherto atchieved, allowing to his productions all the excellence to which they can possibly pretend. They are written uniformly with much beauty of style; often much eloquence of manner. They display acuteness; are not deficient in learning. There is, we are free to confess, a want of terseness, and of that masculine consciousness of ability, which stamps the writings of our great divines; but still there is sufficient in them to enable us to understand the grounds of the deference which we have heard expressed for his opinions; and it is because we wish to participate in this feeling, that we are now expressing ourselves with so much frankness. We wish to see Mr. Sumner not as a competitor for fame among the fashion. able divines of the day, but as a competitor among the standard writers of his country. And it is because we are willing to believe that he is able to take this high place, that we have thought it our duty to make these remarks, which have been extorted from us by a perusal of the work before us.
We have seldom met with a book of any considerable pretension, such as is implied in the very name and title of this to which we are now directing our remarks, apparently composed with fewer marks of labour and study, or where so many topics were handled, and so few pursued to any full conclusion. Instead of carrying his reader straight onward to the point, which he sets out by proposing to prove, in the manner of a person who, having been over the ground before, knows precisely in which direction his object lies, Mr. Sumner compels his readers to accompany him round and round the field, backwards and forwards, merely following the scent of his subject, if we may be allowed so violent a metaphor; and then, as soon as he has put up his quarry, he seems to be content. As to persevering in the pursuit, until, in sportsman's phrase, he has fairly bagged his game, this is a labour which he rarely undergoes.
Now, there can be no doubt that such is partly the way in which all truths are for the most part discovered and demonstrated, in the first instance, by the author himself. Every conclusion, that is of importance, must be traced and detected in this method of analytical research. But, as is well known, the method in which truths are to be taught, is precisely the reverse method of that in which they are dis covered; and every good writer in matters of reasoning has experienced, that the great difficulty, the irksome part of
philosophical composition, consists precisely in this very task; we mean, that of reversing the original order of our ideas, and giving them that synthetical arrangement, upon the perfection of which the whole beauty of a philosophical work depends, considering it as a composition. If, indeed, a writer has any new truths to communicate, if he has made discoveries in his science, and brought to light principles that had never before been known, no doubt, in this case, he might use the freedom of dispensing with what could otherwise be considered as indispensable. But there are no pretensions to any thing of this kind in Mr. Sumner's work. It was not to be expected, upon a subject so often and so ably handled, as that of the Evidences has been, that any new truths of importance could be communicated. In the groundwork and substance of the work before us, Mr. S. has very properly followed the path which others before him had prescribed; and we may be allowed to add, that it is in those portions of his work, where he was merely going over established ground, that we think the best passages of it are to be found. In those parts of the volume in which Mr. Sumner aims at throwing new light upon the subject of the Evidences, and the value of which was doubtless the reason which engaged him to write his book, we do frankly confess, that we cannot equally trace the hand of the master; sometimes even we doubted, whether we did not miss the knowledge of the sound theologian.
The work is divided into thirteen chapters, of which the the last is chiefly a recapitulation of what had gone before. Of these, the two first chapters are very much the best, and undoubtedly display much talent. The subject of them is, the Origin of the Christian Religion,' and the Opposition of Christianity to the Opinions prevailing among the Jews." In the first of them, Mr. Sumner points out briefly, but very pointedly, the many difficult suppositions, in matter of fact, which are involved in the denial of the Evangelical History. In the second, he marks with a very nice and discriminating hand, the wonderful way in which Christianity was grafted upon the Jewish stock, at the same time that the whole conception of its doctrine, excludes even the possibility of its having been a Jewish invention. We cannot do justice to the merits of this chapter by a mere extract; but the following passage will exemplify what we consider one of the peculiar merits of Mr. Sumner's writings: we mean the clear and perspicuous manner in which he expresses himself, whenever he has to reason upon matters of fact.
There is no doubt, that at the time when Jesus appeared,
the Jews were expecting a prophet, or a king, or a deliverer, known from their ancient writings under the title of the Messiah. This expectation had even extended through other parts of the East. Such a belief is implied in the inquiry of the Magi who came to Jerusalem to pay homage, asking, Where is he that is born King of the Jews?' We read, too, of devout men,' who were waiting for the consolation of Israel.' All were desiring 'one who should come.' He was anticipated, moreover, under the very title which Jesus assumed. The Samaritan woman spoke the general opinion, when she said, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ : when he is come, he will tell us all things. And the impression produced by the appearance of Jesus is represented as this; Come, see a man which told me all that ever I did: is not this the Christ? When Christ cometh, will he do greater things than these?"
"Now, suppose the case assumed: that a person, with no divine commission, resolved to claim to himself the character of the expected Messiah. He would lay hold of the popular hope of such an appearance, as the most reasonable chance of his success. Such an expectation would be likely to go far towards accomplishing the event to which it referred.* Therefore he would ascertain what sort of deliverer his nation anticipated, and assimilate himself as nearly as possible to that character.
"But it happens very unaccountably, that the actual character of Jesus was decidedly opposed to the expected character of the Messias. They looked for a conqueror, a temporal king; and had been accustomed to interpret in this sense all the prophecies which foretold his coming. And whether we suppose Jesus to have been impostor or enthusiast, this is the character which he would naturally assume. If he were an enthusiast, his mind would have been filled with the popular belief, and his imagination fired with the national ideas of victory and glory. If he were an impostor, the general expectation would coincide with the only motive to which his conduct can be attributed, ambition, and the desire of personal aggrandizement.
"How, then, can we explain his rejecting from the first, and throughout his whole career, all the advantage which he might have derived from the previous expectation of the people, and even his turning it against himself and his cause? Why should he, as a Jew, have interpreted the prophetic Scriptures differently from all other Jews? Why should he, as an impostor, have deprived himself of all personal benefit from his design?" P. 24.
In chapter III. Mr. Sumner extends the line of reasoning which he had been following with respect to the Jews; and endeavours to show, that Christianity bears upon its face the
Volney treats this as so certain and important, that he thinks little else necessary in order to account for the origin of Chirstianity, than to be able to assert, that a mediator or deliverer was expected, who should relieve the nation from its present calamities.
same stamp of originality in its relation to other prevailing or merely probable opinions. Speaking of the Koran, he
"When I subject Christianity to a similar test, no such result appears. I cannot account for its fundamental doctrines. They are agreeable, indeed, to experience and observation: they explain appearances which are and always have been universal throughout the world: they suit the character and meet the necessities of mankind; but they are so far from being on that account as old as the creation,' that a moment's reflection on what the tenets of the Gospel really are, will show them to be in the strictest sense original. Like the theory of attraction, they explain phenomena long observed and every where observable; but like that theory, the explanation was perfectly novel. It is difficult to suppose that unauthorized men, of any rank, education, or country, could ever have undertaken to promulgate such doctrines.”
- The remark which is here made, is true and important; and the proposition which it lays down, forms, in fact, the real subject of the book itself. The argument, however, by which the proof of it is to be established, is one of extraordinary nicety and difficulty, and which would well repay the labour of any time or talents devoted to the simple object of demonstrating this one truth. But neither Mr. Sumner nor any man living can manage this argument off hand; or without long and cautious deliberation, both as to the matter of proof, and as to the manner in which that proof is to be presented. We have little doubt, but that the volume before us, originally formed the subject of some of Mr. Sumner's sermons. And had it appeared in that shape before the public, he would have avoided considerable trouble. Because a book of sermons is professedly for believers in the great doctrines of Christianity; whereas when a writer puts forth a book upon the Evidences,' it is professedly for unbelievers; and with these last to urge the difficulty and originality of any part of Christianity, as a proof of its divine authority, is a very tender ground of argument indeed. On the face of it, it would appear to involve an evident petitio principii; but it is not necessarily that, although perilously near to it. Let, however, this argument be pushed one single step beyond the true point at which it properly stops, and we at once fall into the principle of Tertullian: credo quia impossibile est. Of all the doctrines of he Gospel, what most shocks the prejudices of the philosophical unbeliever, are those of the original corruption of our nature by Adam's sin, and the remission, through the blood of Christ, of the penalty incurred. To lead mankind to a belief in these great truths, as connected with the divinity of
Christ, was the object of all the miracles of the New Testament, of all the prophecies and revelations of the Old. But to turn sharply round upon a man who, with the Greeks, thinks all this the foolishness of preaching," by telling him that you mean to show, that the very originality of these truths, and which he calls their improbability, is when properly considered a substantive part of the very Evidences themselves, on which the proof of the truths in question depends, is plainly giving a very unexpected turn to the argument; and requires very delicate and cautious management in the handling. As part of a sermon, to a congregation of pious believers, nothing can be better; but in a book of the Evidences, unless the matter is managed with extraordinary prudence, we confess that we had much rather that such ground had been left alone.
To say, that we think Mr. Sumner has managed the argument with peculiar skill or felicity, is a declaration which with all our respect for his talents, we are not prepared to make without some qualifications. It is not our business to take up the opposite part, in a question upon the Evidences of Christianity; but were we disposed to perform in the character of the Minute Philosopher,' we doubt whether we could not put some objections into the mouth of Alciphron, which Euphranor would have some difficulty in answering. Our own opinion coincides indeed with Mr. Sumner's; but that is not to the purpose. A book upon the Evidences is written for those who doubt the truths of Christianity. By these the proposition with which the fourth chapter concludes, will not be immediately admitted: and most certainly the conclusion is too broadly stated.
"But if this argument is set aside; if it is thought that the anomalies of human nature make it impossible always to determine, from any ordinary rules of conduct, what enterprise men may or may not take in hand: then I look to another test, to the religion itself, instead of the persons who introduced it. And I argue, that the main doctrines of Christianity-the condemnation of mankind as corrupt in the sight of God, and the atonement made upon the cross by Jesus as a Mediator between the offenders and their Judge,—— are doctrines which we cannot, on any rational or probable grounds, attribute to imposture. Taking them as maintained by the Apostles, with all their attending circumstances of the resurrection of the dead, the future judgment, the final punishment of the wicked, and the eternal happiness of the redeemed, we cannot trace their origin to any known or accessible source in the belief of those times and countries. Neither can we account for their reception. There was nothing in the doctrines themselves to allure or conciliate; and the minds, both of Jews and Gentiles, were utterly unprepared to em