Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

TO THE READER

" It is not free and impartial inquiry we deprecate: it is hasty and arro. gant prejudgment."-Bp. of Killaloe, (Knox): Two Serm., p. 39.

If the word prejudice, as in etymological strictness it must, be interpreted to mean, a judgment formed before examination, then we must regard as prejudices his opinions, however true, who has neglected to weigh them against their opposites, however false,

It is not enough to inherit even that richest of treasures, truth, as we would a legacied fortune or a patrimony. It behoves us diligently to earn truth for ourselves, not supinely to heir it from our forefathers.

But if we are thus to earn it, we must make acquaintance with other beliefs besides our own, and be introduced to more doctrines than we have been cradled in. We must become citizens of the world of opinion; free to extend our voyage of discovery beyond the inland sea of our own sect or party, and ready to listen to the foreign language of reply and rejoinder.

Is it thine own opinions, friendly reader, or is it truth thou art in love with ? If thine own opinions, get thee some other book, where they shall be sheltered from scathe or harm: visit some literary arena, where a favourite partisan may venture an entrance unchallenged, and effect an exit unassailed; rejoicing in self-complacent security; threatened by no antagonist more deadly than the phantom-opponent he himself conjures forththe convenient scarecrow which he deftly dresses up in cast-off rags that nobody will own, and then demolishes with a comfortable ingenuity that every body admires. There shall thy pet opinions be gently nursed, unvisited by the winds of controversy, and curtained even from the sunshine of reason.

But is truth thy mistress ? Will it suit thee to hear thy infallibility questioned-to see the fortress of thy opinions besieged? Then this book of ours, perchance, may please thee. Here are no antagonist scarecrows set up. The Christian, the sceptic, each dresses out, in his own manner, his own arguments, and himself defends the legitimate offspring of his own brain, or the favourite of his own adoption. Here is no prizefighter's mock attack on an effigy. The contest is conducted, in courtesy we trust, but in earnest also.

It is in such considerations as these, that we find apology for adding another to the thousand volumes of which the prolific press of this book-loving age is daily delivered. Among these thousands, how few that imitate the impartiality of a court of justice, and give both sides a free hearing, ere judgment is recorded !

I am not over sanguine as to the effect that this volume may produce, in disseminating the opinions which I myself feel to be true and useful. The time is past with me—the early age of enthusiasm-when I dreamed of thousands of converts, and imagined that what seemed self-evident to me must therefore so also seem to all my fellow-creatures.

ROBERT Dale Owen.

(Origen Bacheler's Address to the Reader forms the Introduction to the first Volume of this Discussion.)

AUTHENTICITY OF THE BIBLE

TO ROBERT DALE OWEN.

LETTER I

Sir,

We now approach the discussion of the question which, to Christians and sceptics both, is of incalculable importance-a question in which their highest conceivable interests are involved, and upon which turn numerous other questions. A subject so momentous, and involving so many considerations, ought to be examined with the greatest possible candour, and with the most intense desire to arrive at a correct conclusion.

But before commencing this discussion, I would make a few remarks in relation to some points contained in the last reply to me, upon the divine cxistence; some of which, however, will not be irrelevant to our newly commenced subject of discussion, tending, as they will, to show the necessity of revelation.

Moral courage and mere "generosity,” are very different things. The former is the braving of opposition in the discharge of duty; the latter is the performing of a gratuitous act of excellence which strict duty does not require. These gratuitous acts may be performed or dispensed with as the individual sees fit; but duty is not a gratuitous thing, it being absolutely required; hence it can never be innocently omitted. And, should a period hereafter arrive when, as in former times, Christians shall be compelled to relinquish their religion or their lives, that same religion will again urge its claims, and hold its true disciples firm and faithful unto death. But surely 'tis no "jest" to denominate the slander, reviling, and abuse so profusely lavished by sceptics on Christians, some persecution, though less than that beforementioned—the misapplied inquisition case to the contrary notwithstanding.

My assertions respecting the superficial acquaintance of some of the most noted infidel writers with the religious subjects on which they wrote, are sustained by the best of all evidencestheir own confessions, and their own writings. Now mark :Humne owned he never read the New Testament with attention. Paine, by his numerous misquotations of scripture, showed the same ir relation to himself. The memoirs and diary of Gibbon show that he never perused any able defence or judicious expo. sition of Christianiiy. An: Voltaire, with all his genius and wit, betrays in his writing3, not only his superficiality on religious, but likewise on literary and scientific subjects. And were at not that multitudes are dazzled by wit, prejudiced by ridicule, and bewildered by, sophistry, Christians would never take the trouble of resuting the productions of men of this description.

I have no where said, that it would be proper for God to cause moral evil, or that moral evil thus produced would promote the divine glory. Waiving the consideration of that point, as properly belonging to the Hopkinsian controversy, I have merely spoken of the permission of such evil, and the causation of suffering. Nor is it to be taken for granted, that God is “able," consistently with his infinite wisdom, “ to render his creatures perfectly good and happy,” by preventing the one, or forbearing to cause the other. Neither is it a fair representation of his righteous retribution, to speak thereof as of an unrighteous auto. da-fe Nor yet is it any reason why we may not understand that a God exists, or that he requires of us the performance of duties, merely because we cannot comprehend that being himself. And the very circumstance of the brevity of human life, should serve to stimulate us to the exertion, the immediate exertion, of all our powers, in ascertaining and obeying his requisitions. I fear my opponent has not yet thus exerted his ; for, had he so done, it is hardly supposable that he would have şo little acquaintance with the Bible, as to attribute to that a long passage which it does not contain.

A word or two touching the Christian authors quoted by my opponent, respecting the existence of God, and the harmlessness of atheism.

First, Chalmers. Him I would offset by that “most famous of all natural theologians, Paley,” who, strange enough! is one of the number quoted by my opponent to sustain his position,

reason leads not to a knowledge of God,” when that very man wrote a volume, to show how clearly reason does prove a God! Nor does the quotation from him adduced at all conflict with his sentiment in this respect. But especially would I offset, not only against Chalmers, but against Pascal and all other Christian writers who take this ground, the apostle Paul, who argues, Romans, chap. i., ver. 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, that nature daes teach a God, and that the heathen are therefore without excuse for worshipping idols. As to the "erudite Arnobius," the quotation made from him merely shows that he considered God incomprehensible; and who does not so consider him ? Should it be urged, that we disagree among ourselves on this point, I answer, so do infidels. If a Watson is presented as combatting my position, I will introduce Paine to combat that of my opponent, which he does, and that most severely; and, whether a devout deist or not, he was undoubtedly a devoted worshipper of a certain divinity formerly in high repute among the heathen. Fut the harmlessness of atheism ! Had Bacon lived in the days of the former French revolution, he never would have penned

that "

[ocr errors]

such a paragraph as appears in the last Inquirer. The late Robert Hall, after having witnessed that event, expresses himself thus: “As the heathens fabled that Minerva issued full armed from the head of Jupiter; so, no sooner were the speculations of atheistical philosophy matured, than they gave birth to a ferocity which converted the most polished people in Europe into a horde of assassins; the seat of voluptuous refinement, of pleasure, and of arts, into a theatre of blood.-Settle it therefore in your minds, as a maxim never to be effaced or forgotten, that atheism is an inhuman, bloody, ferocious system, equally hostile to every restraint, and to every virtuons affection; that, leaving nothing above us to excite awe, nor around us to awaken tenderness, it wages war with heaven and with earth: its first object is, to dethrone God; its next, to destroy man.”

The aim of all the leading champions of infidelity is, to rob mankind of the benefits derived from the Christian religion, and throw them back into a state of gross and brutal sensuality. It had been the constant boast of infidels, that their system, more liberal and generous than Christianity, needed but to be tried, to produce an immense accession to human happiness. God permitted the trial to be made. In one country, and that the centre of Christendom, revelation underwent a total eclipse, while atheism, performing on a darkened theatre its strange and fearful tragedy, confounded the first elements of society, blended every age, rank, and sect in indiscriminate proscription and massacre, and convulsed all Europe to its centre. might, if necessary, adduce hosts of deistical and heathen authors who denounce atheism as a pernicious sentiment. With Chalmers, I admit, that “even in the desolate region of Atheism,” there would be patches of moral verdure; some integrity, patriotism, compassion, natural affection, and justice;" but with him too I have no doubt, that “society would suffer most painfully in its temporal interests by such an event” as the prevalence of atheism; for nothing, I think, can be more obvious, than that the disbelief in a God, and consequently of accountability to him, must have a most demoralizing influence on the mass of mankind, whatever might be its effect on the philosophical few. And 'tis this obvious truth that has induced the wise in all ages, who have even been destitute of the light of revelation, to inculcate a belief in superior powers, and in moral accountability. Josephus remarks that the Sadducees, whose tenets were, the denial of a moral government and a future state, were distinguished from the other Jewish sects by their ferocity, and that they were eminent for their inhumanity in their judicial capacity. And, again to quote Robert Hall : “It was late before the atheism of Epicurus gained footing at Rome; but its prevalence was soon followed by such scenes of proscription, confiscation, and blood, as were then unparalleled in the history of the world; from which the republic being never able to recover self, after many unsuccessful struggles, exchanged liberty for repose,

« VorigeDoorgaan »