« AnteriorContinuar »
With the modifications contained in the preceding paragraphs, we venture to pronounce our opinion, that the Essay before us is a sketch by the hand of a master, although, as we have before intimated, a wide difference exists between some of the author's statements and conclusions, and those which we should be disposed to make from the same premises.
The first two chapters of the first book contain a brief exposition and refutation of the opinions of the metaphysicians, the materialists, and the disciples of the atomical philosophy, concerning the eternal existence and fortuitous formation of the world. Upon these we have only to remark that they present a specimen of the style of argument abridged from the writings of the most approved authors, to which we wish that Mr. Sumner had confined the first book of his Essay on the ' Existence of the Creator.' Not that we are disposed to dispute his position, that the subject is by no means exhausted;' but we certainly do think that the point is superabundantly established for all the practical purposes of the theologian, the moralist, and the politician; and that any sane man, who, after due inquiry, should still entertain doubts upon it, must possess, to use the words of the poet,' a most uncommon skull.'
But to proceed :-since the world neither had an independent, eternal existence, nor was produced by the fortuitous concurrence of atoms, it follows that it must have been created, and from the innumerable instances of design and benevolence which every where press upon our observation, that it was formed by an all wise, good, and powerful Creator. But as the world, and almost every thing in it, are capable of being abused by man, whose corrupt propensities are continually leading him to poison the sources of his own happiness, it seems to follow that such a world, created for the use of such a being, implies the necessity that some communication should bave been made to him by the Creator of the terms upon which the tenure was bestowed, of the laws under which it is to be enjoyed, and of the mode in which the possession, which is the general property of all mankind,' was originally created. This has always appeared to us to be the fundamental point (although too frequently overlooked) from which every just argument on the origin and progress of civil society must diverge, and which should be studiously kept in mind during the whole course. Man in a state of nature represents to our minds the idea of a being known by his Maker to be weak and liable to yield to temptation, surrounded nevertheless by objects continually soliciting him to sin, but amply gifted with the means and the power of resistance, if he do not wilfully set himself in opposition to those means. Man in a state of nature, then, is man in a state of probation :--a rational and
intelligent creature placed by his Creator under circumstances of trial, with the means of rising triumphantly above them. It is needless to contrast this statement with the degrading view which almost every writer on the origin of civil society has given of what they have been pleased to term the state of nature' as it refers to man. But we have the greatest pleasure in laying before our readers the following extract from Mr. Sumner's third chapter on the Historical Evidence of the Creation of the World.'
'Suppose it granted, for the present, that a Creator exists ; only two suppositions can be entertained : either man was turned naked and ignorant into the world, with less power to provide for his comfort and subsistence than the lowest savage whom modern discoveries have brought to our acquaintance; or he was instructed, through the agency of his Creator, in the means of supplying his immediate wants, and of performing the various purposes of his being.
• If we embrace the first of these suppositions, we must believe that this world, and all it contains, was created without any definite or assignable object : that its intelligent inhabitants were summoned into life, and then immediately abandoned by their Maker, retaining no connexion with him, either during the short period of their earthly existence, or after it. If we reject this idea, as inconsistent with all reasoning as to the probable operations of Divine intelligence; then it is natural to conclude that the Creator would leave some memorial of himself in a world, which, as forming a part in the comprehensive scheme of his providence, he beholds with regard and interest. It is evident, however, that as mankind alone, of all the inhabitants of the earth, are gifted with intelligence, mankind alone can hold any connexion with an intelligent Creator. To them therefore we must look as the chief objects of creation, and as the depositaries with whom the records of it, supposing such an event to have taken place, would be left, to be handed down by them from age to age.'— pp. 29, 30.
In conformity with this expectation we find that a history does exist, giving an authentic account of the dealings of God with man from the creation of the world, transmitting the records of that creation from generation to generation; and perpetuating the important truth, that its Author, seen only by his works, is to be worshipped without material or visible representation as the Creator and Governor of the World. It further appears, that this sublime object was effected through the instrumentality of a peculiar and singular race of people, set apart by God for this especial purpose, and persevering in a course of conduct calculated to attain the end proposed, although surrounded by a host of opposing elements. Superstitious polytheism persecuted, licentious rites tempted, idolatrous splendour dazzled, and many individuals were overpowered, and fell. But the ways of God endured to the end. He made the courage which he inspired to triumph over
persecution, persecution,---the purity which he imparted from his own essence to resist the allurements of desire,--and the simplicity which emanated from him rested on the men of ancient times, and gave them power to count the idolatrous splendour of the Gentile world a very little thing. Thus was his purpose effected, and the knowledge of the true God preserved by a perpetual succession of miracles and judgments. Nor was this all. The holy men of old did not only preserve the purest tradition of the true religion, and of the nature of the divine government; but they employed themselves in meditating upon the Mokal Law of God, praying to him both for themselves and others, and enuring themselves to the practice of every virtue. They instructed their disciples, explained to them the spirit and meaning of the Law, and opened to them the sublime mysteries relating to the state of the Church on earth and in heaven, which were hidden under allegories. They instructed the people concerning the Sabbath;--they reproved them for their vices, and exhorted them to repent, upon pain of God's judgments, which they foretold as visitations for impenitence. In short, what they knew and what they taught distinctly was this :That there is but one God:* that He governs all things by his Providence;t that there is no trust in any but him, nor good to be expected from any one else;ł that He sees every thing, even the secrets of the heart; that He influences the will by his inward operation, and turns it as He pleases ; || that all men are born in sin, and naturally inclined to evil;s that nevertheless they may do good, but only by divine assistance ;** that they are free, and have the choice of good or evil; +ıf that God is strictly just, and punishes or rewards men according to their works ;If that He is full of mercy and compassion for those who sincerely repent of their sins ;$$ that He judges the actions of all men after their death ;|| therefore that the soul is immortal, and that there is another life. IT
They knew besides, and taught, that God, out of bis mere loving kindness, had chosen them from among all mankind, to be his faithful people; *** that from them, of the tribe of Judah and family of David, should be born a Saviour, t tap who should deliver them from all their hardships, and bring all nations to the knowledge of the true God. All this they knew very clearly, and it was the most usual subject of their prayers and meditations. This was that exalted wisdom which distinguished them from all the people of the earth. For whereas in other nations, none but the wise men knew some of these great truths, and that but imperfectly, and were entirely ignorant of others, every Israelite was instructed in them all, and they scarcely varied the least in their notions about any of them.*
* Deut. iv. 39. vi. 4.
+ Psalın civ. cxxv. #Ps. Ixii. Js. xxxvi. vii. Jer. xvii. 5-8. Ps. cxxxix. | Prov. xxi. 1.
Ps. li. 5. Gen. vi. 5. ** Deut. xxx.6. Ezek. xxxvi. 25, 27. + Deut. xxx. 19,29. #: Ps. xvii. 1.6.-xc. 1. et passim.
$ Deut. xxxii. 1. 2. Exod. xxxiv. 7. Numb. xir. 18.
| || Eccles. viii. 11. xi. 9. xii. 14.
Although this summary is due to the industry of another writer, rather than that of Mr. Sumner, we do not think it necessary to enter more at large into the object and peculiarity of design of the Hebrew polity; -into the peculiar sanctions of their law, into their religionis opinions, national worship, the principles of their morality, or the causes to which the superiority of the Mosaic theology may be referred.
They constitute the titles of several sections in the volume now before us; but for reasons which will be obvious to those who have accompanied us through the preceding pages of this article, we decline entering into them upon the present occasion. We desire, however, to be understood, as wishing to convey a strong recommendation of these sections to the attention of students in divinity and of general readers, and to admit the learning, ingenuity and industry, which Mr. Sumner has displayed in the composition of them, as well as of the two which follow upon the questions, Whether Moses could have invented the doctrines which he taught concerning the Creation,' and 'Whether he could have derived the knowledge of it from the learning of the Egyptians, or from the popular belief of the Israelites.' Mr. Sumner has brought to bear upon these discussions a considerable portion of ancient and modern learning, and has displayed a very creditable degree of acuteness and originality in the illustrations and comparisons which he has drawn from his own sources. Upon a fair consideration of the argument, we cannot hesitate to admit, that this portion of the Essay constitutes a valuable addition to that department of theological science of which it professes to
We now proceed to what appears to us to be by far the most attractive portions of Mr. Sumner's Essay, viz. the second and third parts, in which the attributes of God, and especially his wisdom and goodness, are followed in detail into their influence over the moral and political condition of mankind.
Mr. Sumner begins the sccond part of his Essay, which treats of
See Abbé Fleury, ut supra. The heresy of the Sadducees, concerning a future state, is the strongest exception to this last assertion.
the Wisdom of God, as it is to be discovered by the observation of a reasonable mind
the structure of the world and of human society, with these remarks :
• The Creator, as being the author of all things, must possess a complete and actual acquaintance not only with the things which exist, or have existed at any definite point of time, but with whatever can possibly arise as consequences from things so existing, or be contingent upon them. Neither can He, upon whose original will it depended that certain powers should produce certain effects, be possibly ignorant of the means which best conduce to any design, or of the end which may result from any particular means. And this perfect knowledge of all that is past, and all that is present, and all that is dependent upon the past and present, is omniscience, or infinite wisdom.'
But irrefragable as this argument appears to be, man, who is ever prone to justify his own departure from the ways of God as the necessary effect of surrounding circumstances, rather than of his own wilful perverseness, requires to be continually reminded by a recurrence to visible and sensible objects, or to the results of reasonings derived from them, that God knows our several cases and circumstances much better than we are able to describe them; and that he mercifully gives whatever is needful to promote our real welfare, though we, through our ignorance, may depreciate or despise the gift.
From the thousand ways in which this truth may be illustrated, it was evidently necessary to make a selection, and we think it is made in the essay before us with great judgment. Mr. Sumner undertakes to shew by a few particular instances, that both in the constitution of the universe, and in the laws which peculiarly respect the human race, the Deity has shewn the most compreliensive and prospective wisdom.' And these instances he has selected in such a manner as to avail himself of the latest discoveries in physics and politics.
On the constitution of the universe he justly observes, that the highest aim of philosophical theory is to account for the phenomena it treats of by the fewest possible principles; and the great ambition of human art is to attain the end proposed by the least complicated means. Examine by this test the effects of the principle of gravitation which at once determines the planets in their orbits and the descent of the most trifling body to the ground.' Contemplate the single body which forms the centre of the system :-it not only gives support and stability to the whole, but furnishes it, to the remotest point, with the essential requisites of light and heat.
• In descending from the contemplation of the whole system to the examination of the globe to which we ourselves belong, we are attended by the same comprehensive wisdom. The air of ouratmosphere, which is necessary to the existence of the animal and vegetable world, is com