be necessary, in order to prevent either the delusion of His creatures, or a misconception of the Divine purposes. To expect extraordinary interpositions of Providence, where no such necessity exists, where the case may safely be left to the unperverted judgment of mankind, and where the due exercise of their own faculties may sufficiently guard them against error, is manifestly unreasonable.

Again; the measures of God's providence, whether ordinary or extraordinary, are always addressed to human beings as free and rational agents. But, however manifest such measures may be, to those who are willing to observe them ; they may be overlooked or lightly regarded by perverse or unthinking

Unless the Almighty were, in every case, absolutely to overrule this free agency, there must always be a possibility, on the one hand, of temporary and partial failures; and, on the other hand, that even falsehood and iniquity may for a while prevail against the truth. According to the present constitution of human nature, nothing less than a continual series of miraculous interposition could entirely prevent the occasional preponderance of evil over good : and such a compulsory mode of proceeding would produce, not the


deliberate and solid conviction of a well-regulated mind, but a blind and abject submission to irresistible power.

However irrefragable, therefore, may be the general truth of the maxim itself, cautions are evidently necessary in applying it to particular cases. Regard must be had to times, and persons, and other special circumstances, in judging either of the first introduction, or of the subsequent continuance and extension of

any religious system. And since, even in the clearest manifestations of His will, the Almighty usually acts through the instrumentality of human means, and operates, without compulsion, on the freedom of human actions; we may reasonably expect a diversity of results corresponding with the diversities of human character: we may expect an alternation of success and failure, arising from such combinations of occurrences as the Supreme Disposer may suffer to take place, without any impediment to the final accomplishment of His inscrutable purposes.

These few observations may suffice to shew, that Gamaliel's position, however wise and just, is capable of misapplication. It is misapplied, whenever it is urged without reference to some other criterion of truth; when it is brought forward with an intent to supersede the rational investigation of those evidences which are the direct and proper proofs of a Divine Revelation; when it is prematurely relied upon, in consequence of some local, temporary, sudden, or partial success; or, when it presumptuously magnifies the result of the busy and persevering efforts of human agents into a proof of more than human energy

These remarks I now proceed to illustrate, by reference to some striking instances in which the use or abuse of the principle in the text has been exemplified.

First, let us briefly consider it as it was applied by Gamaliel himself, to the subject of Christianity.

The mere success of the Gospel, without a due examination of its still higher pretensions to a Divine origin, will hardly be accepted by cautious inquirers as an absolute demonstration of its truth. It is a collateral, rather than a direct testimony in its favour. When produced in evidence to that effect, it is produced, not as an insulated, independent kind of proof; but as connected with the peculiar and extraordinary circumstances to which that success was owing. We state it to be inconceivable, that a religion so circumstanced as Christianity was, at the time

agency alone.

of its first promulgation, and for three centuries afterwards, should have spread and prevailed to such a prodigious extent, by human

alone. We refer to the records of its history, for proof that works far above the reach of such agency were actually wrought for its support.

We refer to the same records, for proof that all that human opposition could devise for its overthrow was carried into execution ; and that the proportion of mere human energy called into its service was comparatively as nothing. This is the ground on which the advocate for the Christian faith raises an argument in its support, from the marvellous success which attended it. But in this is comprised, or rather is presupposed, the certainty of those extraordinary facts, which render its rapid and extensive propagation worthy of being thus adduced in confirmation of its Divine pretensions; and which were matters of universal notoriety to the Christian world.

The argument, then, is, in itself, of a secondary, not of a primary kind. It springs out of another, which lies deeper, as the root, or foundation, to which it owes its main sup


therefore feel the less surprise, when it proves unavailing with those who reject the other evidences on which it virtu

port. We

ally depends. To contend for the astonishing success of Christianity as a demonstration of its truth, with persons who will discern in it neither the completion of prophecies nor the performance of miracles ; or who ascribe to its first preachers and disciples views and motives, means and qualifications, altogether at variance with that which history records of them, can be but a waste of labour. Such persons will readily imagine to themselves (or some philosophical unbeliever will readily imagine for them) other causes for its growth and

progress; nor can we expect them to feel the full force of this consideration, so long as they resist the stronger and more certain proofs of the facts, previously to be ascertained.

Gamaliel indeed, and the rest of the Jewish council, might, without incurring the imputation of credulous weakness, have ventured to anticipate the result of the issue on which he proposed to try this momentous question. He might safely have inferred, from what daily passed before him at that time, that such men as the Apostles could not have even begun thus successfully the work they had taken in hand, had not the powers

which they claimed and asserted, been too clearly verified to admit of doubt. Here lay the

« VorigeDoorgaan »