Imágenes de páginas

ed religion in the posterity of Noah: and our modern philosophers, nay, and some of our philosophising divines, have too much exalted the faculties of our souls, when they have maintained that by their force, mankind has been able to find out that there is one supreme agent, or intellectual being, which we call God; that praise and prayer are his due worship; and the rest of those deducements, which I am confident are the remote effects of revelation, and unattainable by our discourse, I mean as simply considered, and without the benefit of divine illumination. So that we have not lifted up ourselves to God, by the weak pinions of our reason, but he has been pleased to descend to us; and what Socrates said of him, what Plato writ, and the rest of the heathen philosophers of several nations, is all no more than the twilight of revelation, after the sun of it was set in the race of Noah. That there is something above us, some principle of motion, our reason can apprehend, though it cannot discover what it is by its own virtue. And indeed it is very improbable that we, who by the strength of our faculties cannot enter into the knowledge of any being, not so much as of our own, should be able to find out by them that supreme nature which we cannot otherwise define than by saying it is infinite; as if infinite were definable, or infinity a subject for our narrow understanding. They who would prove religion by reason, do but weaken the cause which they endeavour to support: it is to take away the pillars from our faith, and prop it only with a twig; it is to design a tower like that of Babel, which if it were

possible, as it is not, to reach heaven, would come to nothing by the confusion of the workmen. For every man is building a several way; impotently conceited of his own model, and of his own materials: reason is always striving, always at a loss; and of necessity it must so come to pass, while it is exercised about that which is not its proper object. Let us be content at last to know God by his own methods; at least, so much of him as he is pleased to reveal to us in the sacred scriptures to apprehend them to be the word of God, is all our reason has to do; for all beyond it is the work of faith, which is the seal of heaven impressed upon our human understanding.



In order to attain right conceptions of the constitution of nature, as laid before us in the volume of creation, we are not to assume hypotheses and notions of our own, and from them, as from established principles, to account for the several phenomena that occur; but we are to begin with the effects themselves, and from these, diligently collected in a variety of well chosen experiments, to investigate the causes which produce them. By such a method, directed and improved by the helps of a sublime geometry, we may reasonably hope to arrive at certainty in our physical inquiries, and on the basis of fact and demonstration, may erect a system of the world, that shall be

true, and worthy of its author. Whereas, by pur suing a contrary path, our conjectures at the best will be precarious and doubtful; nor can we ever be sure that the most ingenious theories we can frame, are any thing more than a well-invented and consistent fable.

With the same caution we are to proceed in examining the constitution of grace, as unfolded to our view in the volume of redemption. Here also we are not to excogitate conceits and fancies of our own, and then distort the expressions of holy writ, to favour our mis-shapen imaginations; but we are first to advert to what God has actually made known of himself in the declarations of his word; and from this, carefully interpreted by the rules of sound criticism and logical deduction, to elicit the genuine doctrines of revelation. By such an exertion of our intellectual powers, assisted and enlightened by the aids which human literature is capable of furnishing, we may advance with ease and safety in our knowledge of the divine dispensations, and on the rock of scripture may build a system of religion, that shall approve itself to our most enlarged understandings, and be equally secured from the injuries and insults of enthusiasts and unbelievers. On the other hand, previously to determine from our own reason what it is fit for a being of infinite wisdom to do, and from that pretended fitness to infer that he has really done it, is a mode of procedure that is little suited to the imbecility of our mental faculties, and still less calculated to lead us to an adequate comprehension of the will or works of Heaven. Halifax.


As, on the one side, it is a great errour, in all cases, to expect such evidence, as the nature of the subject renders impossible; so it is as weak, on the other side, to lay the stress of important truths on such evidence, as is in its own nature unsatisfactory and precarious: or to assert, with great assurance, what can no way be proved, even by that sort of evidence which is proper for the subject in debate. An instance of the first sort we have in Autolicus, an heathen, in his debates with Theophilus of Antioch; who appears weakly to have insisted upon seeing the God of the Christians, ere he would believe his existence; while one of the known attributes of that God is, that he is invisible. And almost equally preposterous would any philosophical sceptic now be, who should require the sight of the air in which we breathe, before he would believe that there was such an element at all. Whereas it is clear, that the air may be demonstrated to be sufficiently sensible and real, by a thousand experiments; while yet none of those experiments can render it visible to us: just as the existence of a supreme Being may be demonstrated by innumerable arguments, although none of those arguments imply even the possibility of his being properly seen by any of his creatures. But then, that we may keep a mean here, and may neither on one side, expect in our religious inquiries, overbearing, or strictly mathematic evidence, such as is impossible to be denied or doubted of by any; which would render the con

stant design of Providence, already stated, entirely ineffectual, and force both good and bad to be believers, without any regard to their qualifications and temper of mind: nor, on the other side, may we depend on such weak and precarious arguments, as are not really sufficient or satisfactory to even fair, honest, and impartial men. I intend here to consider what that degree of evidence is which ought to be insisted on; without which we are not, and with which we are obliged to acquiesce in divine matters. Now this degree, of evidence I take to be that, and no other, which upright judges are determined by in all their important affairs of estate and life, that come before. them; and according to which, they ever aim to give sentence in their courts of judicature. I choose to instance in this judicial evidence, and these judicial determinations especially, because the persons concerned in such matters are, by long use, and the nature of their employment, generally speaking, the best and most sagacious discoverers of truth, and those that judge the most unbiassedly and fairly, concerning sufficient or insufficient evidence, of all others. Such upright judges then, never expect strictly undeniable or mathematic evidence; which they know is, in human affairs, absolutely impossible to be had : they do not require that the witnesses they examine should be infallible, or impeccable, which they are sensible would be alike wild and ridiculous; yet do they expect full, sufficient, or convincing evidence; and such as is plainly superior to what is alleged on the other side: and they require that the witnesses they believe, be, so far

[blocks in formation]
« AnteriorContinuar »