Abbildungen der Seite

it, it must be made the subject of a present and a personal trial. There can be no doubt, that he who has made full application of the first of these ordeals to the book in question, and with a satisfactory result, has a much firmer ground on which to rest its canonicity, than the authority of the church. On the arena of this investigation, the learned among the Protestants have held contest with the learned among the Catholics, and made full proof of their superiority. They have vindicated the high prerogatives of reason; and, appealing to the documents of past ages soundly and critically estimated, they can give a reason for their faith.

7. But the question still remains, can any rational origin be assigned for the faith of the common people?-or, is it by a rational process at all that they have been led to it?

When they believe that the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament, or the Epistle to the Hebrews in the New is the word of God-do they not believe this at the telling of another, of the minister or of the church to which they belong? And at this rate, how can we get quit of authority and of blind assent in matters of religion ? Do we not behold it of extensive influence in all denominations—and, whether among Protestants or Catholics, has it not a principal share in upnolding the Christianity of the world ?

8. There is a principle which we have laboured to unfold in another place ;* and its application to our present question, is to us a new demonstra

See our Natural Thcology, Cook I., Chap. ii.

tion of its value. Long before the certainties of a subject have become so manifest as to compel our belief, its likelihoods may from the very first be such as to form a rightful claim upon our attention. To be convinced of the reality of this distinction, we have only to consider the state of mind at the outset of every successful inquiry issuing in full conviction, and the state of mind at the termination of it. Long anterior to the exhibition of those undoubted verities which command our faith, there might be that aspect of verisimilitude which calls for our most serious and respectful examination. Insomuch, that, with but the semblance of truth in any given proposition, with but this chance in its favour and consequent hazard of doing violence to some rightful demand on our faith or obedience by putting it away from us, we might incur the guilt of a moral unfairness by our summary rejection of it; and so the condemnation of our resulting unbelief, not because we refused our assent in opposition to the ultimate proofs but simply because we refused our attention to the incipient probabilities of the subject, might have a clear moral principle to rest upon it.

9. The church tells her people, that the book of Proverbs is an inspired composition. Whatever faith the people may give to this announcement, it is not yet faith upon evidence—nor, in this state, has it all the properties of that faith which is unto salvation. But here lies the difference between the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. The former is satisfied with this blind and unhesitating faith on the part of its members, and seeks

for no other; nay throws a barrier in the way of any other, if not by a prohibition to read the scriptures, at least by the discouragement which it casts on the exercise of private judgment. Now that reading of the sacred volume, which the Catholic church forbids or discountenances, the Protestant church inculcates. If the authority of the one church be employed, in preventing the use of the scriptures, the authority of the other is employed, in enjoining the use of the scriptures. The compliance of the people with this mandate may argue a sort of general faith, but not the saving faith of the Gospel. They may read their Bibles because they are bidden, or they may attend to them because they are bidden ; but they do not and cannot, in the full sense of the term, believe in them because they are bidden. The whole effect of the church's authority, is to bring the minds of its people into contact with the subject-matter of Christianity; but, for the proper belief of Christianity, this subject-matter must recommend itself by its own proper evidence; it must manifest its own truth to the consciences of those who are giving earnest heed unto it, and who persevere in this earnestness till the day dawn and the daystar arise in their hearts.

10. The pupillage of a well-ordered country under the influence of an efficient church, is the same, in all the essential steps of it, with the pupillage of a well-ordered family under the control of religious parents. Neither the people of the one, nor the children of the other believe at the dictation of their superiors. This is not a possible thing—nor VOL. IV.


is it in the order of the human faculties; but it is quite a possible and a frequent thing, that, in compliance with this dictation, they should make diligent use of their Bibles, and so that their minds shall be in daily converse with the doctrines and informations of the sacred record. To this length then, the natural authority of parents in a family, or the acquired authority of clergymen in the church, might bring the subjects on whom they have respectively to operate—whether they be the children of a household, or the population of a country at large. They may have been conducted to the habit both of going to church, and of reading their Bibles. In virtue of the moral suasion which is brought to bear upon them, their hearts may have been solemnized; and they may have been led to a serious, and respectful, or even reverential entertainment of the topics which are addressed to them. But, for the purpose of carrying their conviction, these topics must recommend themselves. They must give demonstration of their own reality; and this can be done by evidence alone-at length discovered by the inquirer as the fruit of his assiduous perusals, or at length brought home to him by the Spirit in answer to his prayers.

11. Now through the whole of this process, we can perceive nothing but the right and the rational in any of its footsteps; and nothing certainly, which should prevent a most legitimate and wellgrounded conviction at the last. Unless there be a glaring evil or absurdity, either in the parental or in the ecclesiastical requisition, there might be the guilt of a moral hardihood-if, either a child

in the one case, or an unlettered peasant in the other, shall bid reckless defiance to it. In their incipient state, it might be their incumbent obligation to read as they are bidden-which, for aught they know, might be their first footstep on that path which leads both to truth and to duty. There is real virtue in the docility, whether of men or children, to those superiors whom providence has set over them; and the obligation, instead of being neutralized by the obvious wrongness of the injunction, may in fact be increased and strengthened by the obvious rightness of it. When bidden, in particular, to read their Bibles— this book might not only have a verity which shall be fully manifested at the last, but a verisimilitude palpable to the eye and impressing the conscience of the observer, even on the first and earliest regards which he casts upon it. It is an example of the moral light preceding the argumentative --of that call on the attention that is justified by the probabilities of a subject, which comes before that demand on the belief that is only justified by the sufficient exhibition of its proofs. appeal to those characters of sacredness and morality and truth, which sit on the aspect of the Bible; and, with obviousness enough at least, to challenge our further examination, and most certainly to condemn our summary rejection of it. We cannot blame either the child or the peasant, if, at the outset, either shall refuse to us their faith; but both are most worthy of blame, if they refuse to us that obedience which sets them on the way that leads to faith. In short, the Christian educa

We again


« ZurückWeiter »