We cannot say that the assertion is not true, but we can say that it is not proven. It carries in it no positive character ei. ther of truth or falsehood, and may therefore be admitted on appropriate and satisfying evidence. But till that evidence comes, the mind is in a state entirely neutral ; and such we conceive to be the neut state of the Atheist, as to what he holds to be the unproved assertion of the existence of God.

To the neutral mind of the Atheist, then, unfurnished as it is with any previous conception, we offer the historical evidence of christianity. We do not ask him to presume the existence of God. We ask him to examine the miracles of the New Tes. tament merely as recorded events, and to admit no other prin. ciple into the investigation, than those which are held to be sat. isfying and decisive, on any other subject of written testimony. The sweeping principle upon which Rosseau, filled with his own assumptions condemned the historical evidence for the truth of the Gospel narrative, can have no influence on the blank and unoccupied mind of an Atheist. He has no presumptions upon the subject; for to his eye the phenomena of nature sit so loose and unconnected with that intelligent Being, to whom they have been referred as their origin, that he does not feel himself entitled, from these phenomena, to ascribe any existence, any character, any attributes, or any method of admin. istration to such a Being. He is therefore in the best possible condition for submitting his understanding to the entire impression of the historical evidence. Those difficulties which perplex the Deist, who cannot recognize in the God of the New Testament the same features and the same principles in which they have invested the God of nature, are no difficulties to him. He has no God of nature to confront with that real though in. visible power which lay at the bottom of those astonishing mir. acles, on which history has stamped her most authentic char. acters. Though the power which presided there should be an arbitrary, an unjust or a malignant being, all this may startle a Deist, but it will not prevent a consistent Atheist from acqui. escing in any legitimate inference, to which the miracles of the Gospel, viewed in the simple light of historical facts, may chance to carry him. He cannot bring his antecedent informa. tion into play upon this question. He professes to have no ante.

cedent information on the subject; and this sense of his entire ignorance, which lies at the bottom of his Atheism, would ex. punge

from his mind all that is theoretical, and made it the passive recipient of every thing which observation offers to its no. tice, or which credible testimony has brought down to it of the history of past ages.

What then, we ask, does the Atheist make of the miracles of the New Testament? If he questions their truth, he must do it upon grounds that are purely historical; he is precluded from every other ground by the very principle on which he has rest. ed his Atheism ; and we therefore, upon the strength of that testimony which has been already exhibited, press the admission of these miracles as facts. If there be nothing then, in the ordinary phenomena of nature, to inser a God, do these extraordinary phenomena supply him with no argument ? Does a voice from heaven make no impression upon him? And we have the best evidence which history can furnish, that such a voice was uttered; “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” We have the evidence of a fact for the exis. tence of that very Being from whom the voice proceeded, and the evidence of a thousand facts, for a power superior to nature; because, on the impulse of a volition, it counteracted her laws and processes, it allayed the wind, it gave sight to the blind, health to the diseased, and, at the utterance of a voice, it gave life to the dead. The ostensible agent in all these wonderful proceedings gave not only credentials of his power, but he gave such credentials of his honesty, as dispose our understanding to receive his explanation of them. We do not avail ourselves of any other principle than what an Atheist will acknowledge. He understands as well as we do, the natural signs of veracity which lie in the tone, the manner, the countenance, the high moral expression of worth and benevolence, and, above all, in that firm and undaunted constancy, which neither contempt, nor poverty, nor death, could shift from any of its positions. All these claims upon our belief, were accumulated to an unexam. pled degree in the person of Jesus of Nazareth ; and when we couple with them his undoubted miracles, and the manner in which his own personal appearance was followed up by a host of

the eye

witnesses, who, after a catastrophe which would have proved a death-blow to any cause of imposture, offered themselves to

of the public, with the same powers, the same evidence and the same testimony, it seems impossible to resist his account of the invisible principle, which gave birth and movement to the whole of this wonderful transaction. Whatever Atheism we may have founded on the common phenomena around us, here is a new phenomenon which demands our attention,—the testimony of a man who in addition to evidences of honesty, more varied and more satisfying than were ever offered by a brother of the species, had a voice from the clouds, and the power of working miracles, to vouch for him. We do not think that the account which this man gives of himself can be viewed either with indifference or distrust, and the account is most satisfying. “I proceeded forth, and came from God.”_" He whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God.” '_" Even as the Father said unto me so I speak.” He had elsewhere said that God was his Father. The existence of God is here laid before us, by an evidence altogether distinct from the natural argument of the schools; and it may therefore be admitted in spite of the deficiency of that argument. From the same pure and unquestionable source we gather our information of his attributes. “God is true.”—“God is a spirit.” He is omnipo. tent, “ for with God all things are possible.” He is intelli. gent, “ for he knoweth what things we have need of.” He sees all things, and he directs all things, “ for the very hairs of our head are numbered," and " a sparrow falleth not to the ground without his permission.”

The evidences of the Christian religion are suited to every species of infidelity. We do not ask the Atheist to furnish him. self with any previous conception. We ask him to come as he is ; and upon the strength of his own favourite principle, view. ing it as a puré intellectual question, and abstracting from the more unmanageable tendencies of the heart and temper, we conceive his understanding to be in a high state of preparation, for taking in Christianity in a far purer and more scriptural form, than can be expected from those whose minds are tainted and pre-occupied with their former speculations.

[ocr errors]



If the New Testament be a message from God, it behooves us to make an entire and unconditional surrender of our minds, to all the duty and to all the information which it sets before us.

There is, perhaps, nothing more thoroughly beyond the cognizance of the human faculties, than the truths of religion, and the ways of that mighty and invisible Being who is the object of it; and yet nothing, we will venture to say, has been made the subject of more hardy and adventurous speculation. We make no allusion at present to Deists, who reject the authority of the New Testament, because the plan and the dispensation of the Almighty, which is recorded there, is different from that plan and that dispensation which they have chosen to ascribe to him. We speak of Christians, who profess to admit the authority of this record, but who have tainted the purity of their profession by not acting upon its exclusive authority; who have mingled their own thoughts and their own fancy with its infor. mation; who, instead of repairing in every question, and in every difficulty, to the principle of “What readest thou,” have abridged the sovereignty of this principle, by appealing to others, of which we undertake to make out the incompetency; who, in addition to the word of God, talk also of the reason of the thing, or the standard of orthodoxy; and have in fact brought down the Bible from the high place which belongs to it, as the only tribunal to which the appeal should be made, or from which the decision should be looked for.

But it is not merely among partizans or the advocates of a system, that we meet with this indifference to the authority of what is written. It lies at the bottom of a great deal of tha looseness, both in practice and speculation, which we meet with every day in society, and which we often hear expressed

VOL. I.-12

in familiar conversation. Whence that list of maxims whicli are so indolently conceived, but which, at the same time, are so faithfully proceeded upon ? “We have all our passions and infirmities; but we have honest hearts, and that will make up for them. Men are not all cast in the same mould. God will not call us to task too rigidly for our foibles ; at least this is our opinion, and God can never be so unmerciful, or so unjust, as to bring us to a severe and unforgiving tribunal for the mistakes of the understanding." Now it is not licentiousness in general, which we are speaking against. It is against that sanction which it appears to derive from the self-formed maxims of him who is guilty of it. It is against the principle, that either an error of doctrine, or an indulgence of passion, is to be exempted from condemnation, because it has an opinion of the mind to give it countenance and authority. What we complain of is, that a man no sooner sets himself forward and says, “this is my sentiment,” than he conceives that all culpability is taken away from the error, either of practice or speculation, into which he has fallen. The carelessness with which the opinion has been formed, is of no account in the estimate. It is the mere existence of the opinion, which is pleaded in vindication, and un. der the authority of our marim, and our mode of thinking, every man conceives himself to have a right to his own way and his own peculiarity.

Now this might be all very fair, were there no Bible and no revelation in existence. But it is not fair, that all this loose. ness, and all this variety, should be still floating in the world, in the face of an authoritative communication from God himself. Had no message come to us from the Fountain-head of truth, it were natural enough for every individual mind to betake itself to its own speculation. But a message has come to us, bearing on its forehead every character of authenticity; and is it right now, that the question of our faith, or of our duty, should be committed to the capricious variations of this man's taste, or of that man's fancy? Our maxim, and our sentiment ! God has put an authoritative stop to all this. He has spoken, and the right or the liberty of speculation no longer remains to

The question now is, not “What thinkest thou ?" In the


« VorigeDoorgaan »