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FOR SEPTEMBER, 1835.
Art. I.—A Discourse of Natural Theology, shewing the Nature of the Evidence and the Advantages of the Study. By Henry, Lord Brougham, F.R.S., and Member of the National Institute of France. Second edition. Small 8vo., pp. 296. London, 1835. THE best definition, or description rather, of Natural The
ology, τὸ γνωστὸν του Θεου, that which may be known of God from Nature, is furnished by the pen of Inspiration. "The Invisible (attributes) of Deity, even his eternal power and selfexistence, are manifest from the creation, being discerned in his works." (Rom. i. 20.) The knowledge thus obtainable is sufficient, on the one hand, to render impiety and idolatry alike "inexcusable." On the other hand, this light of Nature, falling upon the darkened heart of man, has never proved sufficiently strong to guide him to the first and most obvious principle of Natural Religion, that "God is a spirit, and claims to be worshipped in spirit and in truth.” On the contrary, “when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful."
If, by the phrase, Natural Theology, we understand that knowledge of God which, antecedent to Revelation, or rather in the absence of revealed knowledge, human reason has proved itself competent to arrive at and to preserve ;-taken in this limited sense, little value can be attached to the science falsely so called. Even that primary truth, the Unity of God, Natural Theology has failed to teach, has been unable to prove. The immortality of the soul, also, is, in the theology of reason, only a sublime conjecture. And all the knowledge relating to the will of God, is no better than mere speculation. But, if we consider Natural Theology as comprehending that knowledge of God which the
Book of Nature supplies, when studied by the light of Revelation, reflecting its illumination upon the characters which reason is otherwise incapable of deciphering;-or, if we view the science of Natural Theology as only a mode of exhibiting revealed truths in connexion with the evidence derivable from analogy and induction, and a vindication of truths of a supernatural character on the ground of their accordance with testimony and reason; -then we must admit that Revelation does not refuse the support and homage of this branch of human science.
Lord Bacon, in a passage cited by the noble Author of the volume before us, seems to represent the evidences of Revelation as founded upon the previous demonstration of Natural Theology. 'The latter,' he says, "is the key of the former, and opens our ⚫ understanding to the genuine spirit of the Scriptures; but also ' unlocks our belief, so that we may enter upon the serious con'templation of the Divine Power, the characters of which are so 'deeply graven in the works of the creation.' He elsewhere distinguishes between Revelation and Natural Religion; that the former declares the will of God as to the worship most acceptable, while the latter teaches his existence and powers, but is silent as to a ritual. Yet, it is not less certain, that Revelation is the true key to Natural Theology, and that it furnishes the only organ of the science of true natural religion;-that is, the religion based upon the essential and immutable relations which connect all finite existences with their Creator. Further, Revelation may be considered as a part of Natural Theology thus defined, not less than the doctrine of Divine Providence; for it is not more obviously a dictate of reason, that God is, than that he governs the universe: now, in order to govern the minds of intelligent beings, laws must be made known as the rule of obedience; and they can be known with certainty only as the result of some species of Revelation. There can be no greater absurdity, than the idea of a Creator not having access to the minds he has created, and excluded by necessity of nature from all direct communication with those whom he upholds in being. There can be no greater improbability than is involved in the supposition of the Deist, that God has actually held no such communion with man; that a Being of infinite goodness has omitted to make the most necessary and precious of all communications to intelligent beings, that of the knowledge of his own will and of the immutable conditions of happiness. The probability that a revelation has been made, is infinitely great; and although this will not of itself furnish an argument in favour of a particular Revelation, yet, it tends to produce an irresistible conviction, that that which, on comparison, has the strongest marks of a Divine origin, is in fact true. Revelation, says Lord Brougham, may be untrue, though Natural Theology be ad
mitted. But, admitting the latter, that there is no true revelation becomes quite incredible.
Again, if Natural Theology be the science of which natural religion is the subject, all that enters into the latter ought to be comprised in the former. Now every religion prescribes religious rites and worship, and demands some exercise of faith: a religion without worship is a contradiction. But a theology which teaches or prescribes faith, must professedly include a knowledge derivable only from a discovery of the Divine will and intentions. Accordingly, every religion, true or false, is ostensibly derived from a revelation from Heaven, and rests its pretensions either upon the immediate inspiration of its ministers, or upon the Divine authority of its sacred books. It may be allowed, indeed, as Lord Brougham remarks, that there is a God, though it be denied that he has sent any message to man, through men or other intermediate agents; but this bare and naked acknowledgement is surely not the sum and substance of Natural Theology. If so, such theology is, for all practical purposes, worthless. But taking the phrase in its more extensive sense, as including the doctrine of the Moral Government and Providence of God, and the intimations which reason may collect from analogy and observation of his designs and will, the conclusions to which Natural Theology conducts us are such as render the denial of Revelation-which is the belief in a negation--irrational. 'Re'velation,' says his Lordship, cannot be true, if Natural Re'ligion is false.' He means, we presume, that if there were no God, there could be no revelation: a truism scarcely deserving of the dignity of an axiom. If, however, Revelation were not true, Natural Religion would be barren, meagre, and worthless. But the noble Author adds, what demands consideration as a distinct proposition; that Revelation cannot be demonstrated strictly by any argument, or established by any evidence, without proving or assuming Natural Religion. This proposition he illustrates as follows.
Suppose it were shewn by incontestible proofs, that a messenger sent immediately from heaven had appeared on the earth; suppose, to make the case more strong against our argument, that this messenger arrived in our own days, nay, appeared before our eyes, and shewed his divine title to have his message believed, by performing miracles in our presence. No one can by possibility imagine a stronger case; for it excludes all arguments upon the weight or the fallibility of testimony; it assumes all the ordinary difficulties in the way of Revelation to be got over. Now, even this strong evidence would not at all establish the truth of the doctrine promulgated by the messenger; for. it would not shew that the story he brought was worthy of belief in any one particular except his supernatural powers. These would be demonstrated by his working miracles. All the rest of his statement
would rest on his assertion. But a being capable of working miracles might very well be capable of deceiving us. The possession of power does not of necessity exclude either fraud or malice. This messenger might come from an evil as well as from a good being; he might come from more beings than one; or he might come from one being of many existing in the universe. When Christianity was first promulgated, the miracles of Jesus were not denied by the ancients; but it was asserted that they came from evil beings, and that he was a magician. Such an explanation was consistent with the kind of belief to which the votaries of polytheism were accustomed. They were habitually credulous of miracles and of divine interpositions. But their argument was not at all unphilosophical. There is nothing whatever inconsistent in the power to work miracles being conferred upon a man or a minister by a supernatural being, who is either of limited power himself, or of great malignity, or who is one of many such beings.
Yet it is certain that no means can be devised for attesting the supernatural agency of any one, except such a power of working miracles; therefore it is plain that no sufficient evidence can ever be given by direct Revelation alone in favour of the great truths of religion. The messenger in question might have power to work miracles without end, and yet it would remain unproved, either that God was omnipotent, and one, and benevolent, or that he destined his creatures to a future state, or that he had made them such as they are in their present state. All this might be true, indeed; but its truth would rest only on the messenger's assertion, and upon whatever internal evidence the nature of his communication afforded; and it might be false without the least derogation to the truth of the fact, that he came from a superior being, and possessed the power of suspending the laws of nature. But the doctrines of the existence of a Deity and of his attributes, which natural religion teaches, preclude the possibility of such ambiguities, and remove all those difficulties. We thus learn that the Creator of the world is one and the same; and we come to know his attributes, not merely of power, which alone the direct communication by miracles could convey, but of wisdom and goodness. Built upon this foundation, the message of Revelation becomes at once unimpeachable and invaluable. It converts every inference of reason into certainty; and above all, it communicates the Divine Being's intentions respecting our own lot, with a degree of precision which the inferences of natural theology very imperfectly possess. This in truth is the chief superiority of Revelation, and this is the praise justly given to the gospel in sacred writ ;-not that it teaches the being and attributes of God, but that it brings life and immortality to light. It deserves, however, to be remarked, in perfect consistency with the argument which has here been maintained, that no mere revelation, no direct message, however avouched by miraculous gifts, could prove the faithfulness of the promises held out by the messenger, excepting by the slight inference which the nature of the message might afford. The portion of his credentials which consisted of his miraculous powers could not prove it. For, unless we had first ascertained the unity and benevolence of the Being that sent him, as those miracles only prove power, he might be sent to deceive us; and thus the hopes held out by him
might be delusions. The doctrines of natural religion here come to our aid, and secure our belief to the messenger of one Being, whose goodness they have taught us to trust. pp. 205-9.
This reasoning strikes us as more ingenious than accurate. It seems to conduct us to the very unsound conclusion, that only a tribunal of philosophers could decide upon the credibility of a message from Heaven, attested by the seal of Omnipotence. The unbelief of the Jews was criminal, then, only because it was unphilosophical, or because they had not been sufficiently well instructed in the doctrines of Natural Theology. Yet, our Lord declared, that if he had not wrought among them" the works which no other man had done," works which attested that the Father was in Him and wrought with Him, those who rejected him had not had sin.
It must be admitted, that miracles are not sufficient to compel belief in the minds even of those who witness them: that is to say, there seems to be no evidence which the perverted understanding, indisposed to conviction, may not evade or resist. Those who believe not Moses and the Prophets, would not 'be persuaded even should one rise from the dead.' In the true spirit of his forefathers, Moses Mendelsohn, the Jewish Socrates', contended, (in commenting upon M. Bonnet's Inquiry into the Evidences of Christianity,*) that, according to his religious theory, miracles are not, indiscriminately, a distinctive 'mark of truth, nor do they yield a moral evidence of a prophet's 'Divine legation.' There is nothing,' he argues, 'dinary in enticers and false prophets working miracles; whether 'by magic, occult sciences, or the misapplication of a gift truly ⚫ conferred upon them for proper purposes,' he will not pretend to determine.' Miracles, therefore, cannot be taken as abso6 lute criteria of a Divine mission.' Lord Brougham, on the contrary, admits that miracles, taken in connexion with a previous knowledge of the unity and benevolence of God, form an absolute and unambiguous criterion. Although the display of supernatural powers, could not of itself demonstrate that God is one, * omnipotent, and benevolent,' yet, knowing this, which Natural Religion teaches, all possibility of ambiguity in the evidence from miracles is removed, and the message of Revelation becomes unimpeachablet. But were not the ancient Jews in full posses
* See Samuels's Memoirs of Mendelsohn, pp. 92-95. (Ecl. Rev. 2nd Series, vol. xxiii. p. 522.)
+ The argument of the Jewish Sceptic is a mere evasion, for it refuses to take account of the benevolent nature, publicity, number, and unparalleled character of Our Lord's miracles, and fallaciously assumes