« VorigeDoorgaan »
are such accounts, but because they have not credible evidence to sustain them-evidence which they consider proof of other things. Why do men believe that a great conqueror lived by the name of Alexander, surnamed the Great? Not because the thing is probable in itself, but because there is rational evidence for believing it. It is very easy to test this. Just write a life of an imaginary hero, containing no intrinsic improbabilities at all, and see who will believe that such a character ever existed. But above all, write a book like the Bible, filled with signs, and wonders, and miracles, together with names, dates, and countries, and see if it will then be received. Thus we see, that there is what men consider proof of past events, by which they are induced to receive some things, and reject others. They do not absurdly require such proof as in the nature of things cannot exist. They have no doubt that Alexander the Great lived, although they did not see him, and have nothing but "recorded" testimony to that effect. Neither do they consider the probability of his existence at all weakened, on account of its having happened so long ago, or on any other account. Nor have they any belief in the heathen prodigies, not however because they are merely recorded, or because they are said to have happened so long ago, (for they would not believe living, verbal heathen testimony to this effect,) but because they do not consider the evidences themselves veracious. These are the rules which the good sense of mankind has taught them to apply in the regulation of their belief in relation to tradition and history. And were they to depart from these rules, and adopt the absurd one of scepticism, requiring a kind of proof to command their assent which nothing of this nature can have, they would at once reject all history, all evidence, and might as well shut up their tomes of ancient lore and their courts of justice at once, and settle down in the limited sphere of their own personal observation. To carry out the rule, they should read no present history, not even the daily papers, nor hear oral communication of any kind. They should believe nothing at all, either written or verbal; for who are they that write or utter declarations, but men? And how do they know but they mistake, seeing it is so difficult for them to obtain "impartial information even on the spot, and at the moment, and when no especial motive exists for misrepresentation ?" How do they know but they are swayed by a spirit of "partizanship?" Nay, a greater difficulty still. Perchance the narrator was far " removed from the scene of action." And who would think of believing any thing, unless the individual who relates it saw it himself? For example, one man tells another that Napoleon died an exile on the rock of St. Helena. Did the narrator see him die there? No. Well, then, it is
very difficult" to believe this story. But how "infinitely is the difficulty augmented, if years and centuries have passed between the deed and the record ?" Who will believe this story years and centuries hence ? Who would be so credulous as to
believe any thing which "record" says took place years and centuries ago? but the more especially, thousands of years ago, when "ancient history" says Alexander, and the Cæsars, and all those imaginary beings, flourished? For you must know, that "those ancient histories were written before the invention of printing, in consequence of which they were never generally circulated, and therefore had but a scanty opportunity of having their errors corrected." Add to this "the almost impossibility, either of obtaining or transmitting written records, unaltered by the carelessness, or the whim, or perhaps the dishonest intention, of the scribe, or perchance mutilated or suppressed by the librarian." Who, under all these circumstances, would ever think of regarding ancient history as any thing but a very entertaining novel, and present history, and all testimony, as any thing but questionable? This, sir, is scepticism carried out. And thus we see, that the rule which sceptics adopt to discredit the Bible, would overthrow all history and all testimony. We should have nothing therefore to fear for the Bible, were we to rest it on the evidences of common history; for, if they do not overthrow the former, till they shake the confidence of mankind in the latter, it will be some time before they succeed. It will be, till time shall have grown so grey, that unborn generations shall doubt the existence of Washington and Napoleon. They would do well, then, to possess their souls in patience.
But be it, for argument's sake, as sceptics desire. Be it so, that there is only "a reasonable probability" of the truth of ancient history, and that, "from its very nature," we cannot be certain of its correctness. What now have they gained? Are we to disbelieve a thing, because we do not know it to be true ? Nay, are we even to suspend judgment in such a case? No, verily otherwise we should believe nothing at all, how well soever attested. Thus we see, that a thing may be entitled to credit, although we may not be certain of its truth. Well, then, suppose we have not "infallible evidence" or a "personal revelation" of the truth of the Bible. The question of its credibility, which is the very question under consideration, depends not on this circumstance at all. The inquiry is, not the infallibility, but the probability, of the evidence of the Bible. The question is not, How strong are its evidences? but, Has it evidences? It is not, whether we should believe it strongly or weak'y, but whether we should believe it. And surely, it would be a strange rule to adopt, to disbelieve a thing because it might have only probable evidences in its favour, and thus disbelieve against probability-refuse to scamper out of a house when it should be announced as falling, merely because we might not know this to be the case. I should deem it more rational to hold a probable belief, than an improbable unbelief. Should a man disbelieve in a thing, because that thing is probable? Should he even 66 suspend judgment" in such a case? Ought
he not positively to believe? But then, in a case involving their eternal interests, sceptics tell us they want something more than probabilities. Why. If the Bible should not prove true, scepticism has no hell for them for having believed it? Where then is the danger? But how much do they better the case, by being sceptics? Are there any thing more than probabilities in the case of scepticism? Nay, if the Bible is probably true, (which is the question we are now considering,) the probabilities are against scepticism. And if scepticism should not be true, the Bible has a hell for sceptics. So that there is a fearful risk in embracing scepticism, and none at all in believing the Bible. Judge then, whether 'tis the more rational to reject the Bible, allowing it to be only probable, or to receive it-to believe in infidelity at a tremendous risk, against probability, or to believe in the Bible without risk, in accordance with probability.
But, as I have already said, I rest not the subject here. The Bible has more than probable, more than common historical evidence. I am prepared to prove, if any thing can be proved by testimony, that the miracles of the Bible are facts, and that its prophecies were written before they were fulfilled; and consequently, that it is not only authentic, but divine. I am prepared to show, that it is morally certain, yea, more, that it is absolutely certain, as a matter of our own observation, from the daily fulfilment of its prophecies before our eyes-so certain, that not only the sceptic, who has no risk to run by embracing it, but the Jew, the Mahometan, the Pagan, threatened as they are with hells of their own, if recreant to their own faith, may, with the greatest safety imaginable, embrace it notwithstanding. God, in his infinite mercy, has given us a hundred fold greater evidence of this book, than is necessary to defend his mere justice, by affording us grounds barely sufficient for rational belief. He has so overwhelmed us with proof upon proof, that it is necessary for the sceptic absolutely to shut his eyes, and stop his ears, and fight his way down to ruin, in order to get thither. And those who are unbelievers under such circumstances, do indeed deserve double damnation. Far more tolerable will it be in the day of judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah, than for them.
There were several notes and remarks in the last letter to me, which require a passing notice, before I proceed to the subject of the French revolution. That respecting the sacrifice of his daughter by Jephtha comes first in order. Now, if it be admitted that, after having made his vow, he was under obligation to fulfil it, this would not be admitting that he did right in making the vow itself. No passage of scripture in Leviticus or elsewhere directs any such vow to be made. But, in showing that no vow that is made should be broken, it does, in the fullest manner, show the sacred nature of a vow, and interpose the strongest possible barrier against making precipitate ones,
see'ng there is no chance to retract. Hence, we read of only two instances in the whole history of the Jews, where human life was sacrificed in this way, viz., that in the case of Jephtha's daughter, and that in the case of John the Baptist; and in neither of these cases did the individual making the vow intend the result that followed. This surely does not look as if the Jews understood Leviticus, chap. xxvii., ver. 28, as intending to prescribe human sacrifices. Nor do I so understand it, by any means. As to the remark respecting the sun standing still, this is too petty an objection for a first-rate sceptic to urge. No sceptical writer should descend to such paltry trifles. Why, sir, with all our knowledge of astronomy, we talk of the sun's rising and setting, &c., as readily as did Moses and Joshua. And had they known ever so much about astronomy, they would have expressed themselves just as they did, on all those points. We should say the sun stood still, if the earth were to stop in her career, even in this day of astronomy-and say right too. I apprehend my opponent is not a very thorough astronomer, or he would not say it "stands still at all times."-His assertion, that "the whole superstructure of Christianity rests on a dream," shows him to be as little of a theologian, as the other one just noticed shows him to be an astronomer. Joseph, to be sure, had a dream; but does it therefore follow, that no one besides had any thing else? How was it with Mary? How was it with the wise men of the east? How with the shepherds? How at the baptism, transfiguration, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of the Saviour? Christianity rest on a dream indeed! About as correct as the rest of his representations.-His off-hand blow at the Nicene Council I will parry, by observing, that the way in which they decided some books to be canonical, and some spurious, was just as every rational man decides between truth and falsehood, viz., by an examination of evidences, and not, like the sceptic, by jumbling all together, and rejecting them, en masse, without examination. I suspect that my opponent will not be so sceptical as to doubt that a Nicene Council was held, notwithstanding the unimportant uncertainty relative to the date when, &c., especially if he keeps in mind what I observed in my last concerning Philo and Josephus. And, during the course of this discussion, I shall tell him who wrote the 66 four gospels," so that there will be no need of his "agitating that question."-The "veracity and sanity of the Christian fathers" I will myself venture to endorse for. I conceive Tertullian meant nothing but what I should myself be ready to say, viz., that, in a religion emanating from infinite wisdom, we short-sighted creatures are to expect to find some things which to us perchance appear shameful, absurd, and impossible; and therefore that, were the Bible to contain nothing but what is consonant with our views, we should have reason to believe it to be of human invention, and far less entitled to credit than it is now.-Respecting the ability of the unlettered fisherman to write in other
tongues than their own, why not so, as well as to speak in those tongues? Miracles remove mountains. It would be somewhat difficult, however, for a man to write after he was dead; and hence we are not to believe that "Moses wrote an account of his own death." I hope friend Owen will not forget to tell us who says he did; for I should not believe such a statement, credulous as I am. Yet, as he concludes not to speak of things of which men cannot judge without resort to books, 'tis doubtful whether we get much of an answer. How unfortunate it is that books happen to be written by men! Wonder why friend Owen writes books. Better wait till some of the wingless angels which his education scheme is to produce, shall have been produced, and prepared for the work. One thing by the way. I can scarcely express my admiration of his transcendently excellent rule for detecting errors in books. It will save all the labour of searching into evidence, and would be a most expeditious mode of despatching cases in courts of justice. Mark now. It is this: Believe just as much or just as little as you please, without regard to evidence. This is what I should call settling questions by steam; and then to think how infallible a test of truth it establishes by which all would, of course, arrive at the same results. My explanation of the contradictions in the Bible, noticed in my last letter, I am willing to risk; and I still say, that they do not render the Bible itself fallible, William Penn to the contrary notwithstanding.-My questions touching the world and its origin, are indeed impossible for atheists to answer, involving, as those questions do, their scheme in a labyrinth of absurdities; and this ought to suffice to make them renounce it.
I have but little more to add to what I have already said on the subject of the French revolution. In applying one sentence of my opponent's to the whole of that revolution, which he applied merely to its commencement, I was not literally correct. Still, I consider I was virtually so, inasmuch as he made other statements of a similar character, which he applied to that revolution without qualification. Speaking of that event, he says, "Never was a more noble or more unfortunate struggle to put down tyranny," &c. And he calls Lafayette the father of it. There is no distinction made here as to its different periods; and I should certainly consider these passages equivalent to calling it "a period conspicuous for truth and justice." With regard to my confounding of dates, &c., I would observe, that I have done no such thing. I have spoken of the French revolution, without regard to particular dates. I have spoken of it as an infidel concern throughout, which it was. I do not assent to the proposition, that the first months thereof were months of justice. It was then that the church of France was robbed, Mirabeau himself being judge. Nay, even Mignet shows this, whatever he may assert to the contrary. He shows that the property of that church had been "consecrated to the altars,”