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tions of past ages. By this we may even commence prophets, and foreknow all the events of considerable consequence that shall happen to us, from the present hour, to all eternity. An instance may make me more intelligible. The man born blind, and restored to his sight by our Saviour, haring from a full conviction of the fact, and the infinite truth, and goodness of God, proved to himself, that Christ camc from God, goes on by both, by all the credit he had with his neighbours, as a man of veracity, by the concurring testimony of his parents, and all who had known him from his infancy, and by the reasonings that had satisfied himself, not only to report the miracle every where, but by that means also to confirm the faith of some, and to bring over others who were yet unbelievers.
But in this third step of our progress towards knowledge by faith or belief, there is more room for error and imposition, than in both the former. The reporters may be deceived themselves, or wilfully mean to deceive others; and either to believe or disbelieve, may be attended with great and equal consequences, whether beneficial or mischievous.
To prevent as far as in us lies, the danger of either, we ought when the matter reported concerns us, in any respect or degree, to examine with proportionable attention, and by all the lights afforded us in primary and secondary principles, whether it is possible or probable in itself; what were the means of knowledge, both as to capacity and opportunity, in the reporter; whether he is to our own knowledge, or so vouched by others, in whom we may safely confide, a person of tried integrity; whether he apparently hath, or possibly may have, an interest in our belief of his report; whether he is able and willing to lay down a pledge of value proportionable to the risk we may run at all events in crediting what he says; whether others with equal signs of knowledge, and veracity, and under the sanction of an equal pledge, report the contrary ; and if any do, what farther reasons there may be found in the nature of the thing, or the number of additional vouchers on either side, for assenting to this or that testimony.
Here now are several things to be remarked, before we apply these rules to the trial of Christian faith ; as first, that faith is built on self-evidence, and rational proof; on
the former, inasmuch as we read or hear the report, and so have sensible evidence, that the report is made; on the latter, inasmuch as we weigh the reasons brought to support or invalidate its truth, to vouch for the credit, or prove the fallacy of the reporter; and judge for ourselves of the merits.
Secondly, it is to be remarked, that no degree of testimony can make a thing credible, as long as the mind deems it impossible ; but, that in numberless cases, as the human mind is utterly unable to fix the real limits between possible and impossible, so it should be cautious of setting up imaginary ones, especially, if the whole matter attested, with its real possibility or impossibility, lies either at, or beyond the utmost verge of our natural capacities. It is hard finding mediums, and making distinctions, by the force, I mean, of mere reason, in things we see not at all, or very dimly.
Thirdly, it is to be observed, that when the matter attested is naturally improbable, the degree of testimony must be proportionably the greater, to be rationally believed. There is nothing the mind more readily fixes for itself than its set of probabilities, and improbabilities, the greater part of the materials, tools, and furniture of that chamber in the understanding, which belongs peculiarly to opinion. Yet between what they are, and what they ought to be, there is, in most minds, an immense difference, and, of course, an inexhaustible source of error.
Fourthly, we find, that knowledge, whether self-evident, or demonstrated, or believed, may be equally, and absolutely certain, the different methods of arriving at it making no difference in the degree of assent given to the truths it consists of. It is, for instance, equally certain to me who never saw him, that there was a Sir Isaac Newton; as it is, that any one demonstration in his book of mathematical principles, is a true and real demonstration; and of the truth again of that demonstration I am as certain, as fully convinced, as I am that I see the words of the demonstration in his book.
Lastly, experience puts it beyond all rational question, that as the will, in most minds, is greatly swayed by the affections and passions, so the understanding in the same minds is equally governed by the will, apprehending, judg. ing, believing. or forbearing these acts, or performing them
with more vigour, in regard to some subjects, and with less in regard to others, as the will, biassed by pleasure, prejudice, or interest, directs. Hence it comes, that men, who have the same capacities and lights, think so very differently, and know, the one so much less than the other; and while one conceitedly erects his opinions into axioms, another, as conceitedly, reduces the axioms of all mankind into doubts, denying the certainty of every thing. This power, or rather usurpation on the prerogative of reason, seems to be carried farther in matters of faith, than in those of demonstration ; but really is not, for men believe only as they judge of the arguments for and against believing, so that every proof of arbitrary believing is an equal proof of arbitrary judging.
This is that very freethinking, which many contend for, without knowing it, who at the same time insist that judgment and belief, in all things, necessarily follow evidence. Men judge freely, say they, who cannot help in the same instance, concluding after a certain manner. Is not this a contradiction? So indeed it seems. But both sides of a contradiction must be received as true, if they do not lie too close, when there is a necessity for it; and there is nothing so good at creating such necessities, as the will, when at a pinch, and strongly stimulated.
By this view of faith in general, as distinct from our other ways of acquiring knowledge, we come prepared to conceive in a clearer manner, than otherwise we should be able to do, the nature of Christian faith; and by the rules and remarks already suggested, and presently to be applied to the particular purpose of that faith, shall be able to make our way through some difficulties, not so easy by other means to be avoided.
The Christian faith now is, a strong assent of the rational soul to the truth of God's promises, and a resolute determination of the will and heart to close with the conditions annexed to those promises, in the gospel covenant. Or Christian faith is, with a clear conviction of the understanding, and an entire resignation of the will and heart, firmly to confide in, ardently to love, and dutifully to obey the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, in whose name, and by whose co-operation, we are reformed, pardoned,
sanctioned and made the children of God in the covenant of baptism.
So far as the assent is given to, or this conviction raised by, the mere force of reason, influenced only by the evidence for Christianity, it is of the same nature with the belief, that there was such a man as Cæsar, and such a city as Babylon; and that faith which rests solely on the sufficiency of the vouchers for our religion, and the arguments brought to support it, is but human or historical faith. But human as it is, if we examine it by the rules or tests laid down for that purpose, we shall find it built on a foundation, never to be shaken in a rational and considering mind.
First, the miracles attested, which make the proofs, and in part, the very matter of this faith, are neither impossible, for God was able to perform them, and all we see and know of his creation, is at least equally miraculous.
Nor, secondly, at all improbable, since it may be rationally presumed, that he who wrought so many miracles for our temporary accommodation here, might think fit to work some, were they needful, for our reformation and eternal happiness hereafter. That a teacher, sent from God for these purposes, was necessary, Socrates and Plato, who saw that necessity before he came, are sufficient vouchers; and our own reason tells us, he could never have satisfactorily proved his mission, but by miracles. ' Miracles therefore, to be performed for that purpose, were probable before his coming into the world, and consequently when performed, proved uncontestably, that he came from God.
Thirdly, as to the means of knowledge, both in point of capacity, and opportunity, in the reporters of our Saviour's history they were unquestionably sufficient. They could hear his doctrines, and they could see his miracles, as well as men of higher education. The testimony they have given of both is ample, clear, and preserved with more care and scrupulosity by far, than any other record known to mankind.
Fourthly, the integrity of these reporters is as little to be questioned, on the footing of historical credit, as their means of knowledge. No men ever gave more or higher proofs of their honesty than they did, which appears,
Fifthly, from the impossibility of their having had any
manner of worldly interest in our belief of their testimony. So far were they from this, that poverty, persecution, and contempt, were all the rewards in this life their master promised them, or they met with, for being his witnesses; whereas had they declined the painful and terrible office, they might have followed their worldly business as profitably, and passed their days as comfortably, as other men.
Sixthly, to encourage our faith, and leave us no room for suspicion, they laid down two pledges of the greatest value to themselves, and of the most unquestionable security to us, for the truth of all they attested, namely, their lives and their souls; their lives, by dying freely and resolutely under the hands of men who had no quarrel with them, but on account of their obstinacy in preaching Christ and his resurrection to the world; and their souls, which nothing could so effectually bave destroyed for ever, as knowingly and wilfully endeavouring to pass on mankind a system of religious lies and impostures. Known fallacies have no martyrs.
Lastly, There are not any, there never could have been any witnesses to attest a report contrary to that made by the Christian witnesses, that is, to attest a whole history of negatives, such as, that there were no such persons as Christ and his apostles, or, that they wrought no such miracles, preached no such doctrines, wrote no such books, as the Scriptures. There never was one man who had any opportunity of knowing the truth or nullity of these facts, that so much as offered to lay down the smallest pledge, not to say his life or his soul, to prove any such nullity. The witnesses therefore for the truth of Christianity, who were many thousands in number (for I take in all that wrought or saw the miracles) all competent in means of knowledge, all honest, all martyrs or confessors for the truth of their report, stand unopposed by any contrary witnesses, and even backed by the testimony, in several particulars, of bitter enemies to Christ and his religion, especially the Jews of his time, who knew there were such persons, as he and his apostles, who owned them as preachers of the religion, writers of the books, and workers of the miracles, we ascribe to them. Nay, the Jews of all ages since allow the reality of our Saviour's miracles, but attribute them, as his contemporary Jews did, to the power of an evil spirit.