Page images

The observation, which we have exemplified in the fingle inftance of the rain of heaven, may be repeated concerning moft of the phenomena of nature: and the true conclufion to which it leads is this, that to enquire what the Deity might have done, could have done, or, as we even fometimes prefume to speak, ought to have done, or, in hypothetical cases, would have done, and to build any propofitions upon fuch enquiries against evidence of facts, is wholly unwarrantable. It is a mode of reasoning which will not do in natural hiftory, which will not do in natural religion, which cannot therefore be applied with fafety to revelation. It may have fome foundation, in certain fpeculative a priori ideas of the divine attributes; but it has none in experience, or in analogy. The general character of the works of nature is, on the one hand, goodness both in design and effect; and, on the other hand, a liability to difficulty, and to objections, if such objections be allowed, by reafon of feeming incompleteness or uncertainty in attaining their end. Chriftianity participates of this character,

racter. The true fimilitude between nature and revelation confifts in this; that they each bear ftrong marks of their original; that they each alfo bear appearances of irregularity and defect. A fyftem of strict optimisin may nevertheless be the real system in both cafes. But what I contend is, that the proof is hidden from us; that we ought not to expect to perceive that in revelation, which we hardly perceive in any thing; that beneficence, of which we can judge, ought to fatisfy us, that optimism, of which we cannot judge, ought not to be fought after. We can judge of beneficence, because it depends upon effects which we experience, and upon the relation between the means which we fee acting, and the ends which we fee produced. We cannot judge of optimifm, because it neceffarily implies a comparison of that which is tried, with that which is not tried; of confequences which we fee, with others which we imagine, and concerning many of which, it is more than probable we know nothing; concerning fome, that we have no notion,

If Christianity be compared with the ftate and progrefs of natural religion, the argument of the objector will gain nothing by the comparison. I remember hearing an unbeliever say, that, if God had given a revelation, he would have written it in the fkies. Are the truths of natural religion written in the skies, or in a language which every one reads? or is this the case with the most useful arts, or the moft neceffary fciences of human life? An Otaheitean or an Esquimaux, knows nothing of Christianity; does he know more of the principles of deifm or morality? which, notwithstanding his ignorance, are neither untrue, nor unimportant, nor uncertain. The existence of the Deity is left to be collected from obfervations, which every man does not make, which every man, perhaps, is not capable of making. Can it be argued, that God does not exist, because, if he did, he would let us fee him; or discover himself to mankind by proofs (fuch as, we may think, the nature of the subject merited), which no inadvertency could mifs, no prejudice withstand?

If Christianity be regarded as a providential inftrument for the melioration of mankind, its progrefs and diffufion resembles that of other caufes by which human life is improved. The diversity is not greater, nor the advance more flow in religion, than we find it to be in learning, liberty, government, laws. The Deity hath not touched the order of nature in vain. The Jewish religion produced great and permanent effects: the Chriftian religion hath done the fame. It hath difpofed the world to amendment. It hath put things in a train. It is by no means improbable, that it may become univerfal; and that the world may continue in that ftate fo long as that the duration of its reign may bear a vaft proportion to the time of its partial influence.

When we argue concerning Christianity, that it must neceffarily be true, because it is beneficial, we go perhaps too far on one fide: and we certainly go too far on the other, when we conclude that it must be false, because it is not fo efficacious as we could have


[ocr errors]

fuppofed. The queftion of its truth is to be tried upon its proper evidence, without deferring much to this fort of argument, on either fide. "The evidence," as Bishop Butler hath rightly obferved, "depends upon the judgment we form of human conduct, under given circumftances, of which it may be prefumed that we know fomething; the objection ftands upon the fuppofed conduct of the Deity, under relations with which we are not acquainted."

What would be the real effect of that over powering evidence which our adverfaries require in a revelation, it is difficult to foretell; at least, we must speak of it as of a difpenfation of which we have no experience. Some confequences however would, it is probable, attend this ceconomy, which do not feem to befit a revelation that proceeded from God. One is, that irresistible proof would restrain the voluntary powers too much; would not anfwer the purpose of trial and probation; would call for no exercife of candour, seriousnefs, humility, enquiry; no fubmiffion

« PreviousContinue »