« AnteriorContinuar »
want them. Judge upon these views, whether a revelation be an unnecessary thing.
2. There is, from the light of nature, considerable encouragement to hope, that God would favour his creatures with so needful a blessing as a revelation appears. That a revelation is in itself a possible thing, is evident beyond all shadow of a doubt. Shall not He that made man's mouth, who has given us this wonderful faculty of discovering our sentiments, and communicating our ideas to each other, shall not He be able to converse with his rational creatures, and by sensible manifestations, or by inward impressions, to convey the knowledge of things which lie beyond the ken of their natural faculties, and yet may be highly conducive to their advantage ? To own a God, and to deny him such a power, would be a notorious contradiction.-But it may appear much more dubious, whether he will please to confer such a favour on sinful creatures.
Now I acknowledge, that we could not certainly conclude he would ever do it: considering on the one hand, how justly they stood exposed to his final displeasure; and on the other, what provision he had made by the frame of the human mind, and of nature around us, for giving us such notices of himself as would leave us inexcusable, if we either failed to know him, or to glorify him as God, as the apostle argues at large. Nevertheless methinks, we should have had something of this kind to hope, from considering God as the indulgent Father of his creatures; from observing the tender care which he takes of us, and the liberal supply which he grants for the support of the animal life; especially, from the provision
which he has made for man, considered as a guilty and calamitous creature, by the medicinal and healing virtues which he has given to many of the productions of nature, which in a state of perfect rectitude and happiness man would never have needed. This is a circumstance, which seemed strongly to intimate, that he would some time or another graciously provide some remedy to heal men's minds; and that he would interpose to instruct them, in his own nature, in the manner in which he is to be served, and in the final treatment which they may expect from him. And I think, such an apprehension seems very congruous to the sentiments of the generality of mankind; as appears from the many pretences to divine revelation which have often been made, and the readiness of multitudes to receive them on very slender proofs. This shows how naturally men expect some such kind interposition of the Deity: a thought which might farther be confirmed by some remarkable passages of heathen writers, which I have not now time particularly to mention.
3. We may easily conclude, that if a revelation were given, it would be introduced and transmitted in such a manner, as Christianity is said to bave been.-It is exceedingly probable, for instance, that it should be taught, either by some illustrious person sent down from a superior world, or at least by a man of eminent wisdom and piety, who should himself have been, not only a teacher, but an example, of universal goodness. In order to this, it seems probable that he should be led through a series of calamity and distress; since otherwise he would not have been a pattern of the virtues which adorn adversity, and are peculiar to it. And it might also have been expected, that in the extremity of his distress, the blessed God, whose messenger he was, should in some extraordinary manner, have interposed, either to preserve, or to recover him from death.
It is moreover exceedingly probable, that such a person, and perhaps also they who were at first employed as his messengers to the world, should be endowed with a power of working miracles; both to awaken men's attention, and to prove a divine mission, and the consequent truth of their doctrines; some of which might perhaps not be capable of any other kind of proof; or if they were, it is certain that no method of arguing is so short, so plain and so forcible, and on the whole, so well suited to the conviction, and probably the reformation of mankind, as a course of evident, repeated, and uncontrolled miracles. And such a method of proof is especially adapted to the populace, who are incomparably the greater part of mankind, and for whose benefit, we may assure ourselves, a revelation would chiefly be designed.--I might add, it was no way improbable, though not in itself certain, that a dispensation should open gradually on the world; and that the most illustrious messenger of God to men should be ushered in by some predictions, which should raise a great expectation of his appearance, and have an evident accomplishment in him.
As for the propagation of a religion so introduced, it seems no way improbable, that having been thus established in its first age, it should be transmitted to future generations by credible testimony, as other
important facts are. It is certain, that affairs of the utmost moment, which are transacted amongst men, depend on testimony: On this voyages are undertaken, settlements made, and controversies decided, on which not only the estates, but the lives of men depend. And though it must be owned, that such an historical evidence is not equally convincing with miracles which are wrought before our own eyes; yet it is certain, it may rise to such a degree as to exclude all reasonable doubt. And I know not why we should expect, that the evidence of a revelation should be such, as universally to compel the immediate assent of all to whom it is offered. To me it seems much more likely, that it should be so adjusted, as to be a kind of touchstone to the tempers and characters of men; capable indeed of giving ample satisfaction to the diligent and candid inquirer, yet attended with some circumstances, from whence the captious and perverse might take occasion to cavil and object. Such might we suppose the evidence of a revelation would be, and such it is maintained that of Christianity is. The teachers of it say, and undertake to prove, that it was thus introduced, thus established, and thus transmitted; and ive trust, that this is a strong presumption in its favour: Especially as we can add,
4. That the main doctrines contained in the gospel, are of such a nature as we might in general suppose those of a divine revelation would be, rational, practical, and sublime.
One would imagine, that in a revelation of a religion from God, the great principles of natural religion should be clearly asserted, and strongly maintained ;-such I mean, as the existence, the
unity, the perfection, and the providence of God; the essential and immutable difference between moral good and evil; the obligation we are under to the various branches of virtue, whether human, social, or divine--the value and immortality of the soul; and the rewards and punishments of a future state. One would easily conclude, that all these particulars must be contained in it; and that, upon the whole, it should appear calculated to form men's minds to a proper temper, rather than to amuse them with curious speculations.
It might indeed be farther supposed, and probably concluded, that such a revelation would contain some things, which could not have been learned from the highest improvements of natural light: and, considering the infinite and unfathomable nature of the blessed God, it would be more than probable, that many things might be hinted at, and referred to, which our feeble faculties should not be able fully to comprehend. Yet we should expect to find these introduced in a practical view, as directing us to duties before unknown, or suggesting powerful motives to make us resolute and constant in the discharge of the rest. Particularly on what terms, and to what degree, pardon and happiness might be expected by sinful creatures. As for ceremonial and positive institutions, we should imagine, at least in the most perfect state of the revelation, that they should be but few, and those few plainly subservient to the great purposes of practical religion.
I shall only add, that for as much as pride appears to be the most reigning corruption of the human mind, and the source of numberless irregularities;