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ANSWER TO THE COMMUNICATIONS OF A DEIST, ON THB
STABILITY OF THE LAWS OF NATURE, AS OPPOSED TO THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS.
To the Editor of the Freethinking Christians' Magazine. THE second letter of your correspondent, “a Deist," on the
stability of the laws of nature, is intended as an illustration of the principles advanced in the first. He supposes a case, in order to show the application of those principles (which the reader may find by turning to the number for last month page 63); but surely I am not to inform the superior understanding of this writer, that the supposition of a British consul writing over to England, to tell a foolish story about General Washington appearing in congress, and making a long speech, can bear no parallel to the testimony of the apostles in favour of the resurrection of Jesus.
If it were worth enquiring into the truth or falsehood of a story of this kind, I should not reject it on the supposition of its infringing on the laws of nature ; for not having the advantage a Deist” has, to be in the possession of those laws, I should make shift to settle the matter to the satisfaction of an ordinary mind, like my own, in a more homely manner. I should say such an event fornis part of no system-it proposes no end-Washington lived and died like other men-he pretended to no divine commission when living-he held out no hopes to his friends of rising from the grave before the rest of mankind. Here then I am called upon to give credit to a miraculous event, which must either be occasioned by a divine interposition, or emanate physically from some remarkable provision in nature, anticipated by the Deity in the original constitution of things; and yet at the same time offering no moral advantage whatever, except a speech three hours and a
These considerations would be quite sufficient to induce me to wait very patiently for the arrival of American papers, and if they contained no information of the kind, their silence would induce me to discredit the story. In the congress of the United States are men of virtue and information--their assurance would be satisfactory to me, in a point where they could
not be deceived themselves, and could have no advantage in deceiving others. If then a set of men of unimpeached integrity were to declare that Washington had appeared to them after his death, and had revealed certain truths which could in no other way be communicated to man--truths of vital importance to society,calculated to reconcile contending interests—to unite opposing nations--to close the pores of bleeding humanity to render sacred the rights of man, and secure the liberties and happiness of the world--if, I say, such men were to declare they had received such truths, and in such a manner, from Washington--if they were to propagate their system thoughout the vast continent of America, in opposition to the despotism of political institutions—and if, in this embassy of virtue and philanthropy, they were to sacrifice worldly interest and advantage, and expose themselves to poverty, misery and death-1 am credulous enough to acknowledge that I should not have the philosophy or the absurdity to treat lightly their testimony. I should enquire whether the admission of the truth or falsehood of the story would involve the greater difficulty, and make up my nind accordingly-I should not " resist such a tale as the foregoing, because we regard the settled and inflexable course of nature as furnishing motives of conviction infinitely superior to those which result from any human testimony whatever ;" for it might be a question, whether the conduct of the witnesses, on the supposition of their narrative being false, would not be as great a violation of the settled and inflexible course of nature as the miracle itself-could be suppo. sed to imply. For are not the MORAL L'Aws of nature as immutable and constant in their operations as the physical ones; and are not the laws of the human mind an essential part of the laws of nature ?
Now, as Christians, we believe (as the Deist says) that “the Deity had several important communications to disclose to his human offspring"-communications ! essential to their existence, suited to their nature, and adapted to their circumstances; and consequently “ it became necessary to resort to some stupendous inethod of conviction, and none appears to be better adapted to answer the purpose in view than a series of miraculous interpositions." But all this is reckoned fallaci. ous by 5 a Deist;" for, says he,“ a principle is assumed which has not been proved, and which, in truth, has no adequate foundation in sound reasoning of any sort." Now, I think, the principle has been proved-I think Christophilus has done it-he has introduced certain facts and effects, the existence of wbich is acknowledged-he calls for an adequate cause for their existence- no cause has or can be given but revelationhe reasons synthetically, from effect to cause--he ținds the
miraculous interposition is necessary to explain the pheno. mena, and of course such interposition must pre-suppose the intention of Deity to communicate himself to man. But, adds the writer, “ I ask (with great subinission certainly) where the advocates of revelation gained their intelligence as to the intentions of Deity, with regard to the disclosure just alluded to ?” Does he really ask for information? if he does, I answer (with great confidence certainly), from the SCRIPTURES OF THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS. It comes with rather an ill
a Deist" to accuse us with assuming principles which have not been proved, when the whole of his first paper proceeds, as I have shown, on this kind of assumption; and when in the very next breath he asserts with almost as much confidence as St. Athanasius assumes in setting forth the dogmas of his creed, that we know nothing of God or of his plans of present and future administration except from the visible works of nature." Let him prove this, and he proves his point.
Having noticed all that belongs to the argument in this letter of your correspondent, it was my intention here to have closed the subject; but my curiosity, was excited by observing a letter in the magazine of last month, bearing the signature of * a Deist,” and professing to animadvert on the Evidences of Revealed Religion, produced by “Christophilus." A superfieial perusal of that production would justify the conclusion that it is by a different hand. It is deficient in all those marks of discernment and acuteness which are so conspicuous in the writings of a Deist;" besides in the letter which we have just dismissed, the writer calls upon us (in rather an imperious manner to be sure) to “ stand forward manfully, and not meanly and dastardly evade the question by pitiful subterfuges; and telling us, that the matter has already been discussed—that satisfactory answers have been given—that the objection, in short, is stale and unworthy of notice;" whereas this Deist commences his letter by adopting the very practice which the other had concluded with censuring. In speaking of the argument of Christophilus, he tells us that he has " said nothing whichi had not been said a thousand times before ; and certainly I would add (with his permission) quite as well." In point of argument, this writer appears completely poverty-struck; nevertheless, Mr. Editor, methinks I perceive certain traits of character which must compel us to identify hiin as the author of the previous papers; for no sooner do we perceive him
touching his old string, the stability of the laws of nature," than we know the gentleman again, notwithstanding the forlora plight in which he stands before us. Thus the honest Vicar of Wakefield recognized the philosophical Mr. Jenkinson even
in a prison, the moment he began to dilate on his favourite theme the cosmogony of the world.
I confess, Mr. Editor, my expectations were raised, when I found that “ a Deist” had condescended to notice “ Christophilus” in the way of controversy, and that I was greatly though rather agreeably disappointed to find how abortive his attempts had proved, to fritter away the evidences of Christianity. It is with pleasure 1 reflect that the failure of “a Deist" cannot be attributable to his want of talent, but to this simple circumstance--the TRUTH of the system he opposes; and if Christianity be true, the most enlightened scepticism must assail it in vain !
Your correspondent informs us, he is “no enemy to the Christian religion," and I am willing to believe him, for no good man who understands it can be; but he objects to pretènsions to divinity on a general principle, and not from any fixed or rooted antipathy to the system itself.” Now it is possible “a Deist” may be mistaken in his general principleto me it seems extremely exceptionable. But, adds he, it is absolutely necessary to erect a standard against superstition somewhere, or to surrender to it at discretion." Allowed ; and to us the plain, the rational, the philosophical system of Christianity, appears the most favourable situation on which to raise this standard ; and the proof we give of this is, that priests, impostors, and enthusiasts, have combined their efforts to corrupt its truths and pervert its principles. “ For this purpose (says the writer) the stability of the laws of nature affords an elevated and commanding post ; a situation from which future philosophers will be able, if not to destroy the forces of the priesthood, at least to keep them everlastingly at bay.” In this respect I can conceive no advantage that is not comprised in the Christian system—in the perfectability of the divine intentions, and the immutability of the moral government of the universe--and the Freethinking Christian, acting on its principles, and inspired by its spirit, will be second to no man in his opposition to the priesthood—he will be the foremost in the foremost rank to press upon their furces, and proudly expose
himself to the brunt of the battle. Now let us see what "a Deist” has to oppose to the argu. ment of Christophilus (p. 123) “As to the facts which your correspondent so exultingly refers to, they are all either easily accounted for on principles common to our nature"-here let us stop the main point in dispute is, did the pretended witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus bear testimony to a known falsehood 2-If they did, let the objector account for their conduct on any principle common to our nature-if he is capable of doing this, he may yet render the cause of Deism no inconsie
derable service. But feeling the objection would return upon him, the writer attempts very dexterously to slip out of the argument by supposing that these facts are all either accounted for in this way,
or such as lose themselves in some of those rare and extraordinary combinations of events and circumstances, which the revolution of numberless ages can hardly be expected to repeat.” The gentleman may lose himself in his own dilemma, but the force of the objection must not be lost quite so easilythe argument comes into a small compass. Account for the facts if you please on any principle common to our nature-if you cannot, the facts must not be lost in any combination of events and circumstances, however' rare and extraordinary they must still have had an adequate cause. In the absence of all other causes then, we propose revelation as a cause commensurate to the effect; and agreeable to all the rules of philosophising, we insist that revelation must be considered as the real cause till some better one be assigned. The hypothesis is indisputable—the deduction is positive-to object to it is (to use the language of Mr. Burke) to elude truth and carp at conviction,
But will the gentleman really allow of facts which “ lose themselves in some of those rare and extraordinary combinations of events and circumstances, which the revolution of numberless ages can hardly be expected to repeat ?" For myself I readily admit of them, but how will it square with his own scheme? what becomes of his arguments against revelation drawn from the usual course of nature” and “the settled order of events .2"? May not all his insuperable objections to miracles lose themselves in some of those rare and extraordinary combinations of events and circumstances, which the revolution of numberless ages can hardly be expected to repeat ?"
“ Gibbon (says the writer) has most satisfactorily explained the causes by the operation of which Christianity spread with such unexampled rapidity through the vast extent of the Roman empire.
.” Willa Deist” specify a few of those causes--will he inform us how a company of illiterate fishermen were capable of propagating their system in a few years, to other nations and other tongues, when printing was unknown, and when the honest teachers of a persecuted religion had to gain a precarious livelihood by pursuing their ordinary occupations? When Christianity became corrupted, its spread is not so'much a matter of enquiry ; but in the primitive times, when its pureness and simplicity found nothing congenial with itself in the spirit and temper of the age or people among whom it was propagated, how, I ask, is its general diffusion to be accounted for?
The writer then reverts to the condition of the Jews, and