« AnteriorContinuar »
For the Month of August, 1777.
A full Answer to a late • View of the Internal Evidence of the Cbriftian Religion.' In a Dialogue between a rational Cbrifiian and bis Friend. By the Editor of Ben Mordecai's Letters to Elisha Levi. Svo. 25, 6d. Wilkie.
Uicquid recipitur, recipitur ad modum recipientis,
things are received according to the capacity of the receiver, is an old maxim in logic, frequently exemplified. Thus, Christianity has been formed and modelled, according to the knowledge, the sentiments, "the views, the caprices of its professors. The papist has made it a system of spiritual usurpation, cruelty, and superstition; the. Calvinist has converted it into a system of absurdity, consisting of human creatures without liberty, do&rines without sense, faith without reason, and a God without mercy. ; Some have asserted, that the doctrines and precepts of revealed religion are contrary to nature, sense, and reason; and that this very circumstance is a mark of their divinity. Others have maintained such opinions, as are really contrary to reason, and all our natural notions of the divine attributes. For example : that all men are in a state of perdition for an offence, which was committed by their first parents, before they themselves existed ; that the Faiher of the Universe has laid the greater part of the human race under the sentence of reprobation, before their birth, and determined to glorify his so. vereignty and justice in their damnation ; that men have no use of their natural faculties, no liberty of will, no freedom of choice, in matters of morality and religion ; and that the Deity, in order to satisfy his justice, and save the elect, has Vol. LXIV. Augus, 1777
punished an innocent person, instead of the guilty. Others have supposed, that reason is no judge in these points, that if we would be good Christians, we must give up our understanding, and believe whatever passes under the name of ore thodoxy, with implicit faith. Others tell us, that a revelation, which comes from God, must be full of mysteries; that there is not a sufficient number of impoffibilities in religion for the exercise of an active faith * ; and that a doctrine is credible because it is foolish ; and certain, because it is impossible. The words of Tertullian upon this topic are curious and emphatical : • Crucifixus est Dei filius; non pudet, quia pudendum eft : et mortuus eft Dei filius ; prorsus credibile est, quia ineptum eft ; & fepultus refurrexit ; certum eft, quia impoffibile eit.' De Carne Christi. $ 5.
It is of the highest importance, that the defenders of Chrila tianity should form right notions of its nature and spirit, its doctrines and precepts; that they should not contend for notions, which are not revealed in scripture ; that they should not inlift upon points, which are repugnant to reason and common sense. If once they fly for shelter to mystery and im. plicit faith, they betray the cause they pretend to support, and make that religion contemptible, which they would persuade us is divine.
The author of this Answer to Mr. Jenyns has defended Christianity upon the most rational and manly principles. He gives the Deift no advantage by any weak or injudicious conceflions, but very properly intists, that the New Testamentcontains no contradictory tenets, no incredible relations, no articles of faith, which it is impoflible for a man of sense to conceive and admit; in thort, that it contains nothing, but what is perfeélly agreeable to reason, to the nature of man, and the attributes of an all.perfect Being.
He has thrown his treatise into the form of a dialogue betwveen a rational Christian and his friend; in which the latter exhibits a view of Christianity, and its internal evidence, in the words of Mr. Jenyns, and the former points out his fallacies, inconsistencies, and misrepresentations. By this admirable expedient he has preserved a clear and precise dirtinction bei ween his own sentiments, and the notions, which he endeavours to explode.
In the beginning of this conference it is observed, that the principles of Mr. Jenyns's View are dangerous'; that, accord. ing to his representation, Christianity is a heap of inconfiftencies, without any support either from reason, or divine at
* Browne's Rel. Med. s 9.
testation; that the miracles and prophecies, though they are the evidences, upon which God and Christ founded the proof of a divine revelation, are rendered wholly useless ; that the use of reason is rejected ; that the objections to Christianity are answered in an unsatisfactory manner; and that the whole edifice of revealed religion, as distinct from the religion of ture, is left without any kind of support.
After some preliminary observations, calculated to fhew, that internal evidence only proves, that a revelation may
be true, not that it is so ; that the absolute certainty of it des pends on the positive attestation of God himself by iniracles and prophecy, the author proceeds to consider Mr. Jenyas's propofitions.
The Friend, who personates Mr. Jenyos, afferts, that from the New Testament may be extracted a system of religion en. tirely new, as to its object and doctrines. Its object, he says, is to prepare men for the kingdom of heaven,
His opponent replies, that the object of the heathens was the fame; for which he appeals to the authority of Socrates and Cicero *. But, says the other, the notions of the philosophers con. cerning a future state were mixed with doubt. The Rational Christian answers; Ours must be so, if we do not found our belief upon divine attestation. Bit Chriftianity renders us fit for a heavenly state. Answer: so do the principles of the heathens. Christianity requires purity of heart, faith, resignation, and contempt of the world. Answer : so did natural religion, as appears by many passages in the writings of Cicero, and the maxims of the stoics. No other religion, says the Friend, has represented the Supreme Being in the cha. racter of three persons united in one substance ; or declared, that God is sometimes three Beings, and sometimes only one. The Rational Christian replies, Where do you find any such doctrine, that you give it as a proof of the divine origin of Christianity? The scripture uses no such language - When this point is determined, the dialogue goes on in this man.
• F. No other religion before Chriftianity ever attempted to reconcile the contingency of future events with the foreknowledge of God.
• Ch. And where have you found the folution of this difa ficulty in scripture : That God does foreknow future events iş certain ; but I never met with a text that offered to explain how this foreknowledge was consistent with our free-will i
• Plato's Phæd. $ 41. Cic. Som. Scipionis, &c,
• F. No other ever attempted to shew how the free-will of the creature was consistent with the over-ruling grace of the Creator.
• Cb. I can see no difficulty in it, except you fuppofe the will of the creature be free, at the same time that it is ovet-ruled ; which is a contradiclion in terms. But the scripture never solves these questions, nor supposes these difficulties. They are all of our own making,
• F. No other has To fully declared the necessity of wicked. ness and punishment; and yet so effectuaily instructed individuals, to relift the one and efcape the other.
ChIf you mean that there is a necellity for that wickedness, which we are effettually iniirucied to escape, it is a contradiction. For either the wickedness is not necessary, or else we cannot be effectually inflructed to escape it. And befices, if the wickedness be necessary, the punishment must be not only unnecessary, but unjust ; for no one can be juilly punished for what it is not in his power to prevent.
• F. No other man has ever preiended to give an account of the depravity of man, or pointed out any remedy for it.
• Cb. Iimagine none of the heathen moralists were insensible of the imperfect (i. e. the frail) nature of man. And I know of no actual depravity of nature' but what has arisen from our felves; for in whatever manner we account for the firt, fin, before our nature is supposed to be depraved, we may account for all that have been committed since. - The souls of most men, Cicero says, carry about them fome alloy, something naturally mean, languid, and enervate; and did this constituie the whole of our nature, man would be the most despicable creature in the world : but he has likewise reason, the mistress, the queen of all his other powers; which by her natural force fill makes advances and improvement, till ine arrives at perfect virtue, or a conformity to right reason.” And what is this but a remedy against our imperfections in. We are told indeed that there is in human nature a great propension to vice : but what is mean'd by this, except merely a propension to indulge those passions, which God has implanted in us for wise and good purposes ? There is no fin in the propension, nor in the indulgence, but only in the excess. Every virtue not governed by realon, degenerates into vice.-- But let it be fairiy examined, whether there is not a greater propension to virtue : whether any man becomes greatly wicked without many ftruggles, or conmitted his first fins without regret at the time, and remorse afterwards--- On the contrary, every virtuous action appears congenial to his nature : it is attended with unalloyed pleasure at the time, and unalloyed pleasure in the recollection And whence come thele sensacions, but from the ruling principle in our nature ? and our fin cop fifts in nothing else but in acting contrary to this ruling principle; and it is impoflible that it snould be agreeable to our nature to act contrary to the ruling princ
of our na
ture. However, the word nature, when we use it as relative to all men in respect to their moral characters, is a vague term. What one man calls a natural vice, another looks upon as unnatural: "? to hurt any one for one's own benefit, says Cicero, is more contrary to nature, than pain, than poverty, than death :" yet others
may think it so natural, that an external revelation is necessary to prove it wrong. Every man therefore muft judge of his owo nature by his own feelings ; and no man can answer for another man's nature For, as bishop Fowler asks, where fall we find universal human nature, except in the finest headpieces of metaphyficians ? However, if that word include our passions, it must likewise include our understanding; and to lay our ons upon nature, seems to be the same thing as if we laid them upon God himself, from whom we received our nature. But we may rest assured, that no man will be called to an. swer for any depravity, which cannot justly be impated to himself.
• FNo other hath ventured to declare the unpardonable nature of fin, without the infiuence of a mediatorial interpofition, and a vicarious atonement by the sufferings of a superior Being,
• Ch. The scripture declares no such thing. I informs us, in the Old Testament, that God pardons penitene finners for his own fake, and in the New, that he pardons by or through a Me. diator ; but it never says, that he could not have done it for his own sake at all times. Nor does it evt's speak of fin, as thing that is unpardonable without a vicarious a'onement: this is all an invention of men, and a reliet of paganism; and was probably brought into Christianity by the heathen philosophers of the Alexaridrian school, who had been used to such atone. ments before their conversion to Christianity.
• F. Thai Christ suffered and died as an atonement for the fins of mankind, is a doctrine strongly and conllantly enforced thro' every part of the New Testament.
• Ch. But why do you perversely understand an atonement to mean the punishment of an innocent person instead of the guilty ?
(a doctrine absolutely inconsistent with every notion of divine justice, as you yourself confess), when it may and must be understood in the Jewish law to be made sometimes without any death at all, by water or oil, or an offering of flour. In fhort, whatever puts away enmity between two persons, though the epmity be only on one fide, is in the scriptural language an atonement, as it causes a. reconciliation. And when Chritt declared the love of God to man, in offering a free pardon of fin to all, who would enter into his kingdom and obey his laws, and the gift of eternal life to his fincere subjects; it was the knowledge of this love of God to mankind, manifefted by the death of Christ for our sakes, which put an end to that enmity and fufpicion of his goou will, which had always before prevailed in the heathen world, and brought them over and recon.