« ZurückWeiter »
with candor and earnestness to the declaration of truth. This last point remains to be discussed in the following pages.
But moral truths and precepts are not the only subjects on which the mind of man needs light from above. 'l'here are certain great questions of fact concerning the relations and destiny of man, on which the human race needs to be enlightened. Now it is obvious, that our belief as to matters of fact, in every instance which has not come within the range of our own observation or experience, must rest wholly on testimony. There is a difference in this respect between a moral truth and a matter of fact. Take an illustration : “ To intend good is right”—“to intend evil is wrong.” These propositions, the moment they are comprehended, are felt to be the expressions of absolute truth. Such is not the case with a proposition concerning a mere question of fact. For instance, take the proposition, " There is such a city as London.” Every one who has not visited that city, depends for his belief of the proposition upon some form of testimony. The mind instinctively feels that the moral propositions must be true, whether ever uttered in words or not; while that which concerns a matter of fact may, without absurdity be false, though repeated a thousand times.
As our belief in matters of fact, which lie beyond the reach of our own observation, is based upon testimony, it must ultimately rest on the credibility of that testimony. Let us, therefore, look at some of those points, upon which, as matters of fact, the highest moral well-being of man requires that he should be enlightened ; and let us consider what is required to render testimony credible on these points.
More than three thousand years ago the anxious question was asked, “If a man die shall he live again ?" Age after age this agonizing inquiry went forth without meeting any satisfactory response. The human race groaned and travailed in pain with this torturing question, now racked with painful doubts and fears, and now clinging with a death-grasp to a trembling hope. Thé mind of man fuctuated between hope and fear with the changing lights and shadows that varied the aspects of nature around him. He looked upon the gathering shades of evening and shuddered at the thought of that night of death, which must soon overtake him, and perhaps forever engulf his hoping, conscious being in blank oblivion. He looked upon the decay of autumn. and saw in it the emblem of his own fate ; he wished he could see the type of his own destiny in the revival of spring. He contemplated the face of nature, and felt sure that the shadows of night would give place to a new day,—that
“ Kind Nature the embryo blossom would save," but his heart died within him as he anxiously inquired
“ When shall spring visit the mouldering urn,
“There is hope,” said he, "s of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground, yet through the scent of water, it shall bud and bring forth boughs like a plant. But man dieth and wasteth away, yea, man giveth up the ghost and where is he?" Yet even in the midst of doubt and uncertainty man contrives to kindle up a faint hope. “ It cannot be,” says he, “that I am doomed to extinction. Perhaps the power that restores verdure to the face of nature will shed the bloom of immortality over the decay of the tomb.”
“ Shall I be left abandoned to the dust,
When fate relenting lets the flower revive ?
Such is the trembling solicitude, with which the mind of man, age after age, has hung over the darkness of the grave ;-and the panting hope that had struggled into existence, serves only to reveal the agonizing interest, which the mind feels in the attainment of certainty. If we have no reliable testimony on this point, we have no certain assurance of our existence beyond the grave.
The solicitude of the human mind on the question of future existence, is enhanced by a “certain fearful looking for of judgment,” that naturally haunts the sinful mind. And this introduces another question of great interest to man: Whether there be a way of pardon for the guilty soul ? and if so, what is that way of pardon? This question has ever been one of agonizing interest to man, as is proved by the cruel tortures and bloody sacrifices, by which attempts have been made to purchase the pardon of sin. The guilty soul has ever felt, that something is due from it to violated moral order; and the great question has ever been, how can this obligation be discharged consistently with the pardon of the sinner? How shall God be just and justify the guilty?
It is obviously impossible that man should ever rise to perfection in virtue and happiness without a solution of these questions. If he were to be regarded as the mere
“ creature of a day,
or if, though destined to an eternal existence, his guilt, imperfections, and all their natural consequences, are forever to cling
* Job 14 : 7-10,
to him ; what motive can there be to arouse him to that desperate energy of purpose and action, which the struggle of virtue demands? Who would not say in such circumstances, " let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die ?” Who would not cease from a struggle, which is without object or aim ? The soul must be assured of its immortality, and of the possible pardon of its guilt, in order to give confidence, assurance and energy to virtue; and to enable it to stand firm in the midst of obloquy and scorn, danger and death. The light of nature and our own consciousness may reveal the possibility ; nay, the probability of immortality; but the history of our race shows that it can go no further with a mind darkened by sin. In a previous article we have attempted to prove, that a future life for man is essential to the great system of harmony and adaptation, which pervades the whole sentient creation. By this argument we conceive, that a strong probability, amounting almost to certainty, is made out; and yet history shows that so far as the mass of mankind is concerned, whatever of certainty has been felt on these points, has been based upon supposed reliable testimony. We may conceive of Columbus being able to convince a few scientific navigators, that a continent might be reached by sailing westward from Europe ; yet his testimony, and that of his crew, based upon actual observation, were necessary to secure universal belief on the point. The point to be decided involved a question of fact, which from its own nature could be decided in no other way. So the questions whether man lives beyond the grave; and whether there be a way of pardon for the sinner; and if so, what is that way of pardon ? are mere questions of fact, and like all' other questions of fact must be settled by actual observation, experience, or testimony. But as observation and experience on these points are out of the question in this life, we are shut up to testimony as the only means by which the mind of man can be finally settled on these great questions of human destiny. Other questions lying within the same range might be introduced; but those brought forward above will serve as specimens of the whole class.
As it is of infinite importance to mankind, that these great questions should be decided, and as their decision must rest on testimony, this testimony must be attended by such circumstances as would render it worthy of confidence. It must not only be true, but believed; otherwise all the doubts and uncertainties remain. Let us inquire then what circumstances are essential to render testimony on these points credible?
1. The testifier must be worthy of confidence. He must have an established character for integrity and benevolence. A dishonest or malignant being, even with miraculous powers, could not be trusted for a moment. Though he speak with the tongues of
men and of angels and have not charity, he is but as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. Though he be endowed with the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and have faith to remove mountains, without charity—a character for truth and benevolence-he is nothing. No one would think of trusting the word of such a person in any important interest of life.
2. The testifier must give evidence of actual knowledge on the subject on which he testifies. Good character cannot do this. It may prove, that he believes himself to be speaking from actual knowledge; but the possibility of even a good man being deceived would still leave room for doubt. The witness can only have attained to certain knowledge on these questions by miraculous communication from God. He may have such communication, and may boldly assert it. The proof that this assertion is true, is what the mind demands. The objector might say, “I know, that, if you possess certain knowledge on this point, you have received it miraculously from God. This is what I wish to know. But I see no miracle in your declarations, which you put forward as a supernatural revelation, nor in your assertion that you have received this message miraculously from God. I fear, that you may be deceived, as good men have been before
I wish for certainty before I risk the hopes of my entire being on a word. I wish to know, that you have had iniraculous intercourse with Deity, and are commissioned by him to testify on this point. For a man to assert, that he has a miraculous commission from God, and to enter upon the execution of that alledged commis*sion, is no miracle. Any knave or deluded enthusiast can do this; and such persons have done so a thousand times. I call for sensible demonstration of your miraculous intercourse with the infinite Deity. What sign showest thou?" How could the testifier meet this exigency otherwise, than by working miracles? How could he give evidence of miraculous knowledge, but by the manifestation of miraculous power? He must actually prove his miraculous union with the Deity; or his word for it is good for nothing
If we have succeeded in making out a real exigency for miracles,-if, as we have attempted to show, there are certain great wants and necessities of the human soul which can never be met without them, then we are compelled to believe, that miracles must form a ruling element in the Divine dispensations towards man. If it be a universal principle of Natural History, that every sentient existence finds its correlative object in nature, then is the Deity absolutely pledged to meet this great want of humanity. Hunger is the felt want of food. The necessity of nourishment is the exigency which the supply of this conscious want is designed to meet. We have traced a felt want of miracles in a universal anticipation of the human race. We have also shown the necessity of miracles to the solution of certain great questions of fact concerning the relations and destiny of manquestions, in the solution of which are involved the dearest interests of man. Shall He who opens His hand and satisfies the desires of every living thing, so far as mere physical wants are concerned ;-shall He leave the longing, pining soul unsatisfied-unfed ?
If our conclusions thus far are legitimate, we arrive at a strong probability, that miracles have actually been wrought;—that is, that God has actually given a miraculous revelation. We may therefore take it for granted, that a supernatural revelation forms an actual part of the history of our world ; and this conclusion must stand, unless it be proved that no one of the professed revelations is worthy to be regarded as a miraculous message from heaven. We believe, however, that one of these professed revelations is every way worthy of God,--that it meets all the wants of the soul, and opens to man a destiny transcendently sublime and glorious. Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the central object, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end of that system which we regard as God's message to sinful man. Let us look at the history, teachings, and character of Christ, and inquire how far He is to be received as a true messenger from heaven; -how far he is to be regarded as the great revealer, towards whom the universal hopes of man were for ages directed.
That such a personage as Jesus Christ existed we presume no sane person will attempt to deny. It is equally evident that . from His life and teachings originated the most remarkable train of events the world has ever witnessed. With Him it may be truly said,
Magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitus ordo. Admit, that He was a miraculous character, that the accounts given of Him in the New Testament are authentic history, and the influence which His name has exerted over the destinies of mankind seems to flow naturally from such a source.
But deny to Him His miraculous character, and His influence over the world is a greater miracle than any alleged to have been wrought by Him. Let us suppose, then, that Jesus was a miraculous personage, that He came into the world to shed light on the great questions of human destiny,that in the teachings which He left on record and in the blessings He bestows He has fully satisfied all the spiritual wants of man. This hypothesis, it seems to us, harmonizes all the facts, and presents the same beautiful system of order, running through the spiritual relations of man, that is seen to pervade all the ranks of sentient nature
THIRD SERIES, VOL. IV.NO. 4. 3