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of feeling the force of a logical or historical demonstration, is a blind believer, or unable to give a reason of the hope that is in him. We have seen illustrious instances to the contrary: and it is these very doctrines, which, in their exact accommodation to the wants of his spiritual nature, and their perfect adaptation to the tranquillization of his fears, stamp upon his soul the impress of the Divinity which has revealed them. Again, an exclusive attention to the evidences of religion detracted from the claims of the religion which it proved. It was to little purpose to sift testimonies and confute objectors, where the very object to which the evidences were ancillary, was studiously detained in the back ground.
Meanwhile, an opposite, but equally exclusive system was producing like injury among the proselytes of Methodism. Their uneducated teachers, favoured by human corruption, readily put an Antinomian construction on the important article which Wesley had enforced in a very different sense. The exertions of the clergy were now called to oppose a new enemy. The necessity of Christian morality was every where insisted on; but the foundation was too little noticed. Hence some of the popular discourses of the middle of the last century are Addisonian essays, in which the religious character of duty is lost sight of. The necessity of a return to a free and full declaration of “the whole counsel of God" scarcely became generally admitted, before events in France again gave the subject of the evidences a new and unparalleled interest, and the pulpit again resounded with antisceptical disputation.
The fruits and the fall of the French infidelity have preached the most eloquent of sermons on its value, and the clergy now seem generally to admit, that a full and liberal developement of the whole Christian scheme is most agreeable to right reason, and the practice of the inspired teachers. The evidences of Christianity bear their proportion, but only their proportion, in the plan of popular instruction. The peasant is no longer confused with an unintelligible nomenclature, and the man of education no longer returns dissatisfied with the brevity and want of profundity which the very circumstances impose on a preacher, in treating a point of Christian evidence.
Mr. Wilson has struck out of the path which modern prudence, instructed by former failures, has pursued. He has sought popular instruction in treating the subject of evidences with no inconsiderable prolixity; and popular attention by a series, or rather several series, of argumentative propositions. How far he has succeeded in the pulpit we know not; with his printed production we are alone concerned, and our opinion upon the merits of that we shall briefly state to the reader.
Originality is not the excellence of Mr. Wilson's work; indeed it is,
of all works which we have seen on the subject, the least original: and truly, originality, in this instance, is not very easily attained, or likely to be attended with much advantage to the sum of Christian testimony. But what Mr. Wilson loses in originality he compensates in comprehensiveness ; indeed, his work, with the sole exception of the insurpassable first volume of Horne's Introduction, is the most comprehensive we ever met with. Each argument of eminent importance is canvassed: not at the length, nor with the depth and precision of demonstration which so happily characterizes the work of Horne; but still clearly, satisfactorily, and with a popularity of style which renders the book agreeable to readers of little leisure or slender learning on this subject, and also makes it accessible to the young, for whom it is, in great measure, desigred. The declamatory character of the language is not so favourable to pure argument as a less artificial manner; but allowance must be made for public discourses, and perhaps this very circumstance may be an attraction where something attractive is desirable. In one respect, indeed, the design of our author is highly praiseworthy. The nature of this we shall detail in his own words.
The real character of the gospel; its remedy for the wants and misery of man; its revelation of a stupendous scheme of redemption by the Son and Spirit of God, ought not to be concealed in such addresses. It is the author's firm opinion that much injury has been unconsciously done to the cause of Christianity, amongst the class of persons to whom he is referring, by complimenting away the peculiarities of revelation ; by debating the evidences as a merely intellectual question ; by treating as a slight matter the evil of unbelief; and by keeping out of sight the main blessings of redemption, and the temper of mind in which these should be inquired into and received. The author thinks, that secret infidelity will never be effectually checked amongst us, and pure Christianity revived, till the infinite importance of practical religion pervades more apparently the whole manner in which we endeavour to establish our people in the evidences of the gospel.
To avoid, indeed, minute details, to keep on firm and tenable ground, to shun topics really doubtful or unessential, and to connect all our practical addresses with clear historical testimonies--in short, to convince the understanding, whilst we aim at the heart—is the obvious dictate of prudence in every treatise on the Evidences—which the author hopes he has not overlooked. Pref. viii. ix.
We think he has succeeded. It is almost indifferent from which Lecture we make our selection. Each is concluded by an earnest and forcible appeal to the heart, and a direct practical application of arguments apparently the driest and most abstract. We take from Lecture II. the following excellent observations on that absurd but most current opinion that men are not accountable for their belief. After exposing the unphilosophical spirit in which infidels in general approach the Christian question, our author proceeds :
I may go further, and urge those before me who are in danger of being seduced by the scoffer, to consider what is their own temper of mind when they are most disposed to listen to such suggestions. Is it not, young man, when you
are living without prayer, without teachableness of heart, without purity of conduct, without practical concern for religion, that these objections have the greatest weight with you? Whereas when you were modest and unassuming and devout and virtuous, (that is, when you were in a right temper of mind,) you disregarded the flimsy sophistry of the ungodly.
Stop, then, in your career. You have been listening to other teachers than
son and true wisdom; you are in danger of being drawn still further aside from the paths of salvation. Stop ere you have hardened your neck and there be no remedy. Stop ere God give you up to your own devices. Let me remind you that at the last day you must give an account of the temper of heart in which you have inquired into Christianity, as well as of every other part of your conduct. There are sins of the mind, as well as of the appetites and passions. Flatter not yourselves by saying that conviction is not in your own power, that if arguments fail to persuade, you are free from any further obligation, that you are not accountable for your belief.* For the question then will be, not whether you were convinced of the truth of Christianity, but whether you might have been convinced, had you cultivated from the first a right state of mind. The question then will be, not whether you entertained doubts about the Christian religion, but whether you took the only practical way of removing them by purifying your life, and approaching the subject of revelation in a meek and lowly mind. The question at that last dread tribunal will be, whether you acted up to the light you possessed, or might have possessed; or whether, on the contrary, trifling with religion, violating conscience, and provoking the judicial anger of Almighty God, you brought on yourself that obduracy which no arguments could reach, nor persuasions move. Pp. 54–56.
In the fifth Lecture the subject of the authenticity of the Scriptures is thus naturally, beautifully, and forcibly applied :
Let me for one instant observe, in conclusion, that it was THE LOVE of CHRISTIANS TO The Bible, which has furnished us with the accumulated testimony which we have been reviewing. Can we fail, then, to admire that care of Divine Providence, which made the spontaneous dictate of the Christian's gratitude for redemption, the means of pouring down upon us a stream of proofs of the record by which it was conveyed? Had the cold and theoretical Christianity which now prevails, been all that the first converts knew, our religion would have expired at its birth. It was the holy ardour of love--it was the emotion of gratitude for the discoveries made in the authentic scriptures—it was the astonishment excited by the mysteries of redemption; by the agony of the cross, the glory of the resurrection, the consolation of the divine Comforter—it was the light and grace shed upon the miseries of mankind by the Sun of righteousness, which made the Bible what it was to the first Christians. This fixed it in their hearts, entwined it around their first principles of action, and connected it with their habitual language and doctrine. And it is to this we owe, under God, the copious testimonies on which our faith now rests.
Let the detail of these testimonies, then, bring us back to that simplicity of love from which they flowed. Let us delight in our Bibles. Let the discovery of our lost estate, and the proffers of exuberant grace in the sacrifice of Christ, which are there made to us, move and bear away our hearts. If professed Christians had any just measure of this devout temper, they would not need such courses of Lectures as I am now attempting. The obvious arguments for the authenticity of the sacred scriptures, would so fall in with their conviction of the excellency of the gospel, as at once to kindle admiration, obedience, joy.
The dangerous and most irrational and unsound dogmas which have been publicly uttered on this subject by persons, who, from their political station, have the opportunity of gaining the car of their countrymen, appear.quite lamentable to the considerate Christian.
The scoffs of unbelief would no more affect them now, than the scorn of Celsus or Porphyry did the first Christians. They would only see, in the bitterness of adversaries, whether ancient or modern, and in the admissions they are compelled to make, further reasons for adoring that mysterious providence which, after employing the love of friends, overrules also the wrath of enemies to the establishment of his own word. They would ascribe to its true cause, an indifference to holiness and truth, that perverse ingenuity which can overlook the most luminous evidence, to follow some cloudy sophism—which can adhere, amidst the blaze of evangelical light, to the darkness and uncertainty of human imaginations.
Unmoved by such fearful examples of disobedience against conscience, the sincere Christian will be only anxious to love his Bible more, to transcribe it into his heart and life with greater fidelity, and rise by the means of these proofs of authenticity, to that spiritual elevation of faith and joy in God, and of holy obedience to his will, which it is the end of all external evidences to produce. Pp. 166–168.
Mr. Wilson takes a survey of the French philosophy and its effects, and then states the following lamentable facts:
It is partly a result of this spurious philosophy, and partly the effect of other causes, that the Christian religion has been too frequently passed by and slighted in our literature, in our projects of education, in our schemes of benevolence, in our plans for diffusing useful knowledge, even where it is far from being expressly disavowed. It has come to be a received maxim with many, that the peculiarities of the Christian faith, its vital truths, its elevating hopes, its mysterious benefits are, as if by common consent, to be kept out of sight. Our piety rises no higher than natural religion. All beyond is bigotry and superstition. A temporizing policy like this blights with a deadly indifference all the bloom of Christianity, robs it of its peculiar glory, and reduces it to the cold detail of external morals. The channels of public information are poisoned. A pernicious neutrality prevails. Education is divorced from religion. Knowledge is accounted sufficient to restrain the passions and purify the heart. The hope of eternal life in Christ Jesus, the fall of man, the redemption of the cross, the grace of the Holy Spirit, are forgotten, evaded, opposed, maligned. Unless therefore heavenly wisdom utter her voice loudly in the streets, and plant the standard of Christianity, as the centre of holiness and truth, in the openings of the gates, and amidst the crowds of our youthful population, we must expect the more daring invasions of human pride, and the weakening, in the next age, of the venerable and sacred bulwarks of our common faith. Pp. 21, 22.
We are happy to state that Mr. Wilson has not fallen into a mistake very common with the party to which he belongs,- the negation of a natural religion. On the contrary, he very wisely rests the beginning of Christian evidence on such a religion; and in so doing, he is only treading the steps of the apostles.* To say that there is no religion antecedent in point of time to revelation is not to exalt tevelation, but rather to discredit it; since that very revelation gives natural religion the most express recognition. To say that no visible effects of natural religion were manifested before the promulgation of Christianity, argues not the non-existence, but simply the insufficiency
* Paul and Barnabas tell the people of Lystra that God left not himself without witness. (Acts xiv. 17.) Paul argues from natural religion to the Athenians, (ibid. xvii.) and the two first chapters of the Epistle to the Romans assume this as the basis of their argument.
of such a religion. And insufficient we must allow it to have been, or a revelation would not have been sent to supersede it. Yet there were minds before Christ which did exhibit the genuine fruits of natural religion, partially, indeed, darkened and qualified by human blindness and corruption : but the same may also be predicated of many Christians. To take natural religion for our rule after a revelation is come into the world, would be as absurd as it would be to walk by lamp-light after sun-rise ; but to deny that it ever existed or does exist, because its uses are superseded to us, would be no less absurd. It would be, in fact, to deny the existence of the lamp, because the light of day has rendered it unnecessary.
Hume's famous argument is not originally, but very clearly and energetically, demolished by Mr. Wilson as follows:
The wonderful deeds then of the New Testament really occurred. To resist such accumulated evidence, borne by such wituesses, attested by all their contemporaries, admitted by their bitterest foes, corroborated by existing monuments and public usages, and strengthened by all the marks of truth in the accounts themselves--I say, to resist such evidence, not to speculative opinions, but to distinct matters of fact, is to overthrow the very foundations of truth, and to involve men in one bewildering maze of scepticism and absurdity.
And yet this is coolly attempted by modern infidels, not by going into an examination of our arguments, or by producing counter-evidence; but by general insinuations against the fallibility of human testimony, by asserting that miracles are contradictory to experience, and by alleging that the proof of remote history is weakened and extinguished by the lapse of time.
But what has the general fallibility of human testimony to do with the strong, unshaken evidence of upright men to specific events which fell under their own notice? For we are now only considering miracles as to the facts on which they rest. What the cause of them might be, that is, whether they are properly miraculous or not, we do not now inquire; we adduce testimony to the naked facts. Were the water-pots filled with water? Did it become wine? Here are two facts. Was Lazarus dead? Did Lazarus live again after four days? Was Bartimeus blind? Did he receive his sight? Was our Lord crucified? Did he live again on the third day? These are the questions.
Now what can general insinuations against human testimony avail in a case like that before us, when every caution has been taken against this very fallibility, and the evidence of twelve unimpeached beholders, with the suffrages of a whole nation, excludes all possibility of mistake? As well might we enter a court of justice, and, when a jury of twelve men upon their oath, under the direction of a learned and impartial judge, have brought in a verdict
, upon the testimony of numerous credible witnesses to a specific fact-whisper the fallibility of human testimony.
It is further objected, that these wonderful works are contrary to experience. To what experience? To that of the objector merely? Then he will shut out all facts of which he is not himself the eye-witness; and the Indian who should refuse to believe on any testimony the fact of water being frozen, would be in the right. But does the objector mean the experience of others? Then he must come to testimony. Thus his objection does not apply. Opposite experience is not necessarily contradictory. In order to oppose experience to miraculous facts, the objector should contrast the testimony of those who professed to have seen miracles, and considered them divine; to the testimony of those who, under similar circumstances, saw the same actions, and considered them not divine, but mere impostures.—Pp. 227—230.
VOL. XI. NO. XI.