"The one (principle) is that the world, including both the physical and moral departments, contains within itself the elements of improvement, which time will evolve and bring to maturity ; it having been constituted by the Creator on the principle of a progressive system, like the acorn in reference to the oak. This hypothesis ascribed to the power and wisdom of the Divine Being the whole phenomena which nature, animate or inanimate, exhibits ; because in conferring on each part the specific qualities and constitution which belong to it, and in placing it in the circumstances in which it is found, he is assumed to have designed from the first, the whole results which these qualities, constitution, and circumstances are calculated in uime to produce.'"

In reference to this paragraph, the reviewer observes, “ We are of opinion that almost any jury of intelligent Christians will, on this evidence alone, convict the theory of Mr. Combe to the sull extent of deism ; since it admits the existence of a great first cause, but dis

m tincily asserts the uselessness of any Scriptural revelation, or, indeed, of any revelation at all, beyond that which is to be found in the analysis of nature's laws and operations."* Now, we question if any

" person but the reviewer himself could find in the above extract, "a distinct assertion of the uselessness of any Scriptural revelation." Mr. Combe is devoting his life to the exposition of a system of moral philosophy, which he believes to be in harmony with the moral precepts of the New Testament, and this very fact must be sufficient to prove that he cannot entertain any idea of asserting that in eighteen centuries back the exposition of such views must have been useless to mankind! The reviewer proceeds in the following way to refute the doctrines of perfectibility, which, for some reasons of his own, he is determined to fix upon Mr. Combe, although that gentleman states in his Constitution of Man, “I do not intend to predicate any thing concerning the absolute perfectibility of man, by obedience to the laws of nature."

“Of all the confutations of perfectibility, it has always been our own opinion that the one brought by Malthus (we think) against Condorcet is the happiest. The latter entertained no doubt that, by continually studying to diminish the ignorance and weakness of man, and the evils of society, we shall eventually arrive at absolute perfection.


* I do not intend to teach that the natural laws, discernible by unassisted reason, arc sufficient for the salvation of man without revelation. Human interests regard this world and the next. My object is to investigate the natural constitution of the human body and mind, their relation to external objects and beings in this 'world, and the courses of action that, in consequence, appear to be beneficial or hurtful in this life.-Constitution of Man, People's Edition, page 10.

• The desideratum,' observes the philosopher of de population, of a Leicestershire breeder of sheep, is to produce those with small leads and small legs. Ergo: when they arrive at perfection, they will have no heads and no legs at all! They will then, however, cease to be sheep; and, in the same manner, if man were to become perfect, he would cease to be a man—a consummation at which, in the present world, he never can arrive, and still retain his being.”

The reviewer has here made un unhappy use of a very good joke. He is not, we presume, prepared to deny that Adam was created perfect. What, then, does he mean, when he says that if man were to become perfect, he would cease to be a man? He seems to deny that Adam was a man, since he asserts that if the human race could regain the state that Adam lost, (and which it was the avowed object of our Saviour's mission to enable them to do,) they would cease to be men. It is vain to contend that the first of our kind could have been any thing else than a perfect man, because, as he was the model of his race, he formed the type of his perfection, and if he had been created by his Maker without arms or legs, or in any other way differently from what he now is, he must, as he was the first of his race called by his Maker man, have been perfect as a man, and upon any departure from that formation he would, strictly speaking, have ceased to be a man. It will therefore be seen that, in attempting a very finedrawn distinction, the critic has fallen into a very amusing absurdity. Adam was a perfect specimen of a being called man; his descendants, through his and their own disobedience, have fallen from the type by which he was first characterised, and we think that few persons will be prepared to give credit to the assertion of our reviewer, that it is impossible for the race by repentance (shown in a return to obedience, as cnforced in the doctrines of our Saviour) to achieve their restoration.

It will further be seen, that the attempted refutation of the doctrine of perfectibility involves a denial of the human attributes of the founder of Christianity. Christ upon earth was“ perfect man.” Our reviewer says that this is impossible, because “ if he was perfect, he ceased to be a man;" and although the Divine Teacher, in his most impressive discourse, exhorts the human race to “be perfect as their Father in heaven is perfect,” we are told, upon the strength of a witticism from the writings of Mr. Malthus, that such an injunction is useless, and that it would be vain to look for its fulfilment.

“But let us now observe," continues the reviewer, “how Mr. Combe states the opposite principle :

" The other hypothesis,' he informs us, “is that the world was perfeet at first, but fell into derangement, continues in disorder, and does not contain within itself the elements of its own rectification.''



The writer appears to be exceedingly angry at the words, "the other hypothesis,” but does not condescend to inform us of the nature of the words which he considers would be more respectful or expressive. We believe that it is, as Mr. Combe says, “ the other hypothesis ;” and as these words really present to our eye no offensive properties whatever, it appears to us that the pettish and trifling tone adopted by our reviewer with regard to them, is more characteristic of the touchy and unreasoning dignity of an offended girl, than of the style of argument which should be adopted in a philosophical dis cussion.

" The other hypothesis,” he says, “is not exactly what Mr. Combe has here been pleased to affirm. We Christians certainly believe the world, after its creation, to have fallen into derangement;' but the doctrine which Mr. Combe is pleased to term the spiritual hypothesis, is most imperfectly described in this infelicitous arrangement of words.

- The narrative of the Jewish law giver and historian, Moses, instructs us, that when the Almighty had created the world, he “saw that it was good.' This is what is meant by Mr. Combe, when he speaks of its being perfect.' But the same authority also tells us, that God having placed man in this paradise, was pleased to constitute him a responsible being. Under the position in which man was found by the tempter, there does not appear to have been any test to which he could have been subjected, excepting only that of obedience. At all events, this was the actual test by which he was tried : an express command was laid upon him; he failed in his obedience, and thus sorrow entered into the world as the punishment of sin. This, however, is a different account of the matter from that of Mr. Combe, who only tells us that the world fell into derangement.'

Now this may appear to the reviewer to be a more felicitous arrangement of words, inasmuch as it is certainly a more diffuse arrangement, but at the end of the paragraph we arrive at no other idea than that which Mr. Combe has more appropriately, because more concisely, expressed. Nevertheless, we should be quite willing to accept the more elaborate statement of the reviewer, if he had not himself placed it out of our power to do so; for, having just asserted that “he certainly believes the world, after its creation, to have fallen into derangement,” he goes on to exhibit, in his own style, a singularly " infelicitous arrangement of words” or ideas, in the following extraordinary statement:

We do not believe the world to have fallen into derangement, but we believe it to have been visited with a curse. We do not believe it to contain within itself no element of rectification, but, on the contrary, that with the curse was united the promise of an "atonement.' Let us, then, cast away the almost barbarous language of Mr. Combe, and permit the Christian hypothesis to use its own. The real distinction between us is, that Mr. Combe considers man to be capable of arriving, through the medium of philosophy, and more particularly the new branch of it, phrenology, at the perfection of wisdom in this world ; whilst the Scriptures tell us to look for no perfection until we arise from the dead, in that purer and more exalted state of being which is promised in the revelations of our God unto mankind."

It thus appears that, upon second thoughts, the reviewer - does not believe that the world fell into derangement, but that it was visited with a curse.” This will startle such of his readers as have been accustomed to entertain the common belief that the curse was not inflicted upon the world in its state of primal innocence, but that it was justly inflicted as a consequence of derangement; but waiving this point, and taking him upon his own ground, will he permit us to ask him, to what did the curse lead, even if, as he asserts, it was inflicted without a cause ? Did it effect any change in man's original condition? If so, that change was a derangement. Did it effect no change? If so, it was a curse only in imagination. Until these questions can be more satisfactorily answered, we really do not see any necessity for casting away the so-called barbarous language of Mr. Combe, to substitute the puzzling no-meanings of the reviewer. He next asserts that the Scriptures tell us to look for no perfection in this world. How then does he interpret the injunction of Christ to mankind, that they should strive after perfection? Il surely means that they should strive after it in this life, because at death our fate will be sealed, and our destiny will not be dependent then upon any efforts of our own.

It is, then, intimated that because all previous systems of moral philosophy have proved bewildering and contradictory, there can be little doubt that the system of Mr. Combe must share that fate ; and in order to deter men from inquiring after truth, by following out observations on the laws of our constitution, independently of any connection with revealed religion, the reviewer shuts the door, as he imagines, upon all philosophic induction, by the enunciation of the following dogma, “ Follow the revealed commandments of Almighty God."

It is upon this point that “religious readers” must bring against our reviewer the charge of worldly self-confidence and irreverent rashness. If he, without the key which natural philosophy affords, could tell us what the revealed commandnents of Almighty God actually are, and how they are to be carried cut, the advice which he has uttered would be all-sufficient; but it is the presumptuous error of those who make religion subservient to uncharitableness and pride, to suppose that they understand, in their entire purity, the doctrines of the Gospel. Let them remember with humility, that before men can thoroughly understand the doctrines of Christ, they must attain to his perfection. No man can thoroughly understand the duties of charity who is not himself charitable; we should not ask a felon for a disquisition upon honesty; and it is too much to require that we should accept from any man, or set of men, as the world is at present constituted, their interpretation of the principles of perfect and eternal wisdom. seems to us far better that we should entertain the belief that, with our present imperfect knowledge of our own nature, and of the nature of the external world, we can but faintly interpret or trace the beauty of those principles which have been imparted by revelation, but that every step of our moral and intellectual progress will be found to harmonise with such of them as we already appear to understand, and will advance us towards a conception of the beauty of the whole.

It has been at all times from the arrogant assumption of men that they fully understood the principles which Christ laid down, that the fearful crimes committed in the name of his religion have resulted. If we look back to an early period after the establishment of Christianity, we see the barbarous invaders of Rome following what they conceived to be the revealed commandments of God," by blending their superstitious extravagances with the dogmas and ceremonies of the Christian-producing that absurd compound of devotion and folly which marks the middle ages. At a later day, we see the Christian church following what it conceived to be the revealed commandments of God," by extending its temporal power and usurping an authority over all the crowns of Europe. Again we find “the revealed commandments of God" quoted as an unanswerable authority, when the natives of the newly discovered west were tortured and plundered by the invaders of their soil. Again we find the same text issuing from lips that were accustomed to hail with shouts the last struggles of a drowning witch; and although, at the present day, it is considered that the revealed commandments of God” do not autho. rise the burning of heretics, or the drowning of witches, they are asserted to give full sanction to the public strangling of unhappy criminals, or to the butchering of a defenceless people, for “insolently” refusing to permit the importation of a noxious drug!

But our reviewer, whose theological flights must, we think, appear by this time to some of his religious readers to be of the boldest kind, may be further convicted of denying that the advent and atonement of our Saviour is sufficient in itself to operate as a means by which man

[ocr errors]
« VorigeDoorgaan »