Page images

is not so complete in his own natural resources as to be placed above the Benefit, or even the Need, of such supervening assistance.

And so it has been, that the common Belief of the world has borne witness to the intrinsic Probability of a Revelation. Supposed Revelations, or Traditions of them, there always have been ; and often they have been such, as, having nothing of merit or excellence in their matter, nor any considerable inducement of evidence to recomm them, have yet obtained credit, and been received, solely, it should seem, on this ground, of the great reason and likelihood which men have owned in the first supposal of a Revelation. And as the principle of Religion itself is proved to be natural to man, and truly conformable to his constitution and character, by the fact of his embracing it under forms exceedingly perverted; so the gift of a Revelation is shewn to be highly probable, and adapted to his expectation and sense of things, by his reception of fictitious systems of it, which in many cases have had in them every thing to create a positive disbelief, excepting the one presumption, which the judgment and feeling of Nature still cling to, that the Deity can and will somewhere reveal Himself to his creatures: a propensity of belief, which can be referred only to one or both of these two causes,—the absolute likelihood which men have seer, in the hope of a Revelation, or the traditionary impressions of One actually given; a propensity, therefore, which attests either the Probability, or the Fact.

It is true, a different view of the matter has been attempted to be given. It has been contended, that a Revelation is improbable, because unnecessary ; and unnecessary, because Natural Religion can do all that is wanted in the relation between God and man.

But this notion, besides that it is opposed to the general Sense and Belief of Mankind, which Sense and Belief I have already adverted to ; and cannot be reconciled with the History of the World, which has exhibited the hopes and principles of Natural Religion, in its best day, labouring and crying aloud for aid to their support; is, further, alleged inef fectually to the question. For were it ever so true, that man could dispense with a revelation, as not strictly necessary to him, (which is only supposed, not conceded,) yet it may be expedient for his use, and highly beneficial to him; and where is the improbability in supposing that God should improve, by confirming, or extending in any degree, the discoveries which man may be able to make of the Nature and the Will of God, and of his own Hopes and Duties under the divine Government? This is no more than to think that God may open the doors of heaven for a further communication with his rational creatures, to give them more light; and that the State of Man may, in some important respects affecting his Moral Information, and consequently his Duties and his Happiness, be progressive: neither of them very hard or revolting suppositions. And if, in some future period of his existence, it be reasonable to think, as it plainly is, from the confessed disproportion between his present attainments and his capacities, that he may come to a more enlarged knowledge, both of God and himself, than he can now attain to; and come to this by an act of the divine favour, making the adequate change in his condition ; there is the like reason to think that he may now begin to receive any intermediate accessions to his knowledge in the same way.

It appears, therefore, that neither the sense of his natural ignorance and deficiency in himself, which are seen and felt to be great, nor his future prospects, so far as he can judge of them, can have any other effect than to favour the hope of some present interposition of God for his better direction.

If this statement be a fair one, the cause of Re. vealed Religion gains so much by it, as to stand clear of any previous imputation lying against it under the idea of all Revelation being unreasonable or unlikely. It follows, that its positive Evidences will have their force entire: whatever that force may be, it is not diminished or encountered by any adverse objection striking at their root. Those Evidences are to be canvassed and applied; but, such as they are, their application is direct to the great question at issue. And it is material to bear in mind that they do apply

in this manner. For if the proof of Religion had to overcome an improbability on the first entrance into the question, as well as to vindicate the particalar system of Revelation which rests upon it, no doubt a greater body of evidence, a more commanding proof, might be necessary to satisfy both those requisitions, than is necessary for one of them alone. Whereas the claims of Revealed Religion, in respect of its Evidence, must be understood to stand on neutral ground, or rather to come before us with the presumption in their favour-a presumption arising from the reasonableness of expecting a Revelation to be given : although, in point of fact, they are abundantly sufficient to command a reasonable assent, even without that previous concession.

It will be said, The presumption operates equally in favour of all revelation, whether genuine or false. It cannot be otherwise ; for it is in the nature of things, that presumptions founded on a general view of what is likely to take place, shall be indifferent to, and equally serve, the true, and the pretended, instance of the event. But here comes in the use of the proper evidence, to ascertain directly the origin of the professed revelation, and discriminate, by decisive signatures, the True from the False. And I think it may be concluded from the whole tenour of the attestation which God has given to that which we believe to be His revealed Truth, that the intention of the evidence with

which He has surrounded it, is not so much to prove it against the improbability of any revelation at all, which improbability we have seen to be small or none, as to vindicate it from a very different kind of thing, the hazard of a mistake and confusion of its character, under the claims and pretences which lie in the way from the spurious religions set up in the world.

With respect to the sufficiency of Natural Religion, as the topic is urged by those who would discredit the expediency, or the necessity, of Revealed, we must take into the account that it is a paradox of modern invention, and the boast of it comes with an ill grace, and under great suspicions, so late in the day of trial. That the principles of Natural Religion have come to be so far understood and admitted as they are, may fairly be taken for one of the effects of the Gospel Revelation ; a proof of its actual influence, on Opinions at least, instead of any disproof of its necessity, or use. It were easy to establish this point, to the fullest conviction, by a comparison of the different success which has attended the efforts of human reason in working out the scheme of Religion, with or without the aid of those decisive notices which the introduction of the Gospel has supplied. For it is not to be imagined that men fail to profit by the light that has been shed upon them, though they have not always the integrity to own the source from which it comes ;

or may turn their back

« PreviousContinue »