Page images

of warfare, which then, and still prevails throughout Arabia. To such a people he accordingly accommodated his proposed religion. He flattered all their prevailing vices. He promised them the most unbounded gratification of their lustful appetites, as a reward for supporting his pretensions. He encouraged them to the conquest of the neighbouring tribes, that they also might thus be compelled to adopt his religion, and promised the highest state of eternal happiness to all who fell fighting for his cause. Though the scheme of Mahomet was prosecuted at the distance of 600 years after the age of Christ, he found the Christian faith too firmly established to be overthrown by all the artifices and allurements which were necessary to forward his undertaking. Mahomet therefore was obliged to acknowledge the divine authority of Jesus Christ, and to own that he himself was unable to work any miracles at all. While he was thus forced to confess the wonderful works of Christ, he found it impossible to counterfeit any miracles to set off his own religion, and had nothing but his own bare assertion to offer to his followers, to prove himself a prophet appointed by God, and that the Koran (the book which contained his doctrines) was sent down from Heaven. This book, when compared with the Christian Scriptures, has been found to contain numberless passages stolen from the Holy Bible, and surrounded with a multitude of absurdities which make up the remainder of the Mahomedan creed.

That this false religion should continue to hold its ground when once established is not the least wonderful, when we observe the state of those nations which profess the Mahomedan faith. The Turks, the Arabs, the Persians, and all those who believe in Mahomed as a prophet, are among the most ignorant people on earth.

The Christian religion, on the contrary, reigns over the most enlightened kingdoms of the world. Wherever learning and science have made any considerable progress, Christianity has constantly accompanied these advances in knowledge; and we are not only assured by past experience, but also by the word of prophecy, that as wisdom gains ground amongst mankind, the Christian religion will in proportion be extended over the whole world, until at length the whole human race shall acknowledge with one voice that blessed Redeemer, who died for their sins, and rose again for their everlasting salvation.

Our Saviour himself has declared this general extension of his religion, in very remarkable words, as related in the 24th chapter of St. Matthew, saying, "Many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ, and many false prophets shall arise, and shall deceive many; but this Gospel of the kingdom, shall be preached in all the world, for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come."

It may seem, perhaps, that we have taken unnecessary pains to bring together proofs so numerous and so undeniable of the truth of the Christian religion. No doubt perhaps existed in the minds of our readers, whom we wish to believe were already thoroughly persuaded of the divine authority of our faith.

But it must be observed, that this undoubting belief in revelation cannot be too frequently re-enforced by surveying the firm ground

upon which our religion is founded. These convincing proofs cannot be too often produced to our serious recollection. For, if we steadily believe the authority of Christ, we must also believe with certainty all those things that he has declared to us concerning that eternity which lies before us. If the Christian religion be true, and we are fully persuaded that all which it declares will assuredly come to pass, who amongst us can dare to trifle with those solemn promises of eternal reward, those dreadful threatenings of destruction, which Christ has thus pronounced? Who, with this belief in his mind, will venture to hazard his salvation by neglecting the commands of that God on whom alone he depends for mercy? Who would risk the eternal safety of his own soul, by wilfully yielding to the temptations of sin, and thus incurring his heavy displeasure?

Even if the service of Christ were a gloomy, burdensome, and severe duty, if we are firmly persuaded of the truth of his religion, who would not consider everlasting happiness cheaply purchased by the utmost sacrifice of his comforts and pleasures in this life? But human experience has long since proved that obedience to God is the best security to present happiness; that the pleasures of sin bring along with them certain misery even in this world; and that the practice of religion confers happiness the most exalted; enjoyments the most delightful, and comforts the most permanent, upon those who do their utmost to live according to the instructions of our blessed Lord.


Dialogue III.

Euseb.-I have one more remark still to make respecting the interference of the Creator with the laws of the natural world, which certainly took place, if the facts related in the New Testament are

You will not admit the testimony on this point, against the experience of all ages and nations. But what if this should be only one of a series of interpositions which God had constantly exercised, more or less visibly, for a particular purpose, in the affairs of a particular nation? What if this should be only the completion of a systematic plan which he had arranged, and kept in view, and been gradually bringing to its accomplishment from the creation of the world? Then the miracles which attested the divinity of Jesus were not so much a suspension of the order of nature, as a part of that order; not an alteration of the immutable will of God, but its fulfilment; a finishing stroke to the scheme which had been maturing through many ages for the purpose of enlightening mankind with regard to their highest interests. And in point of fact, either this was the case, or the Jewish people had been deceived throughout the whole course of their history. Either they were deceived, or God had actually selected their nation to be for awhile the depositaries of the knowledge of the

existence of a Creator, and of the events of the creation, declared to them by the law of Moses. Either they were deceived, or he had visibly interposed in a miraculous manner, to deliver them out of the power of the Egyptians, and to place them in the land of Canaan, and to assign them a code of civil and religious polity. Either they were deceived, or he had kept up this connexion with them by appointing governors, by rescuing them from dangers, by rewarding their obedience, by punishing their rebellion, by inspiring a succession of teachers and prophets through many ages. Either they had been deceived by a long series of writers during twelve hundred years, from Moses to Malachi; or the appearance of Jesus among them was the predicted and expected conclusion of all this connexion which the Creator had preserved with them since they had been a people. And if so, the incarnation of Jesus was but the last in a series of events, which, if they took place, prove that divine interpositions were not unknown in the order of things before that time: and if they did not take place, are you aware what incredible things must be admitted with regard to the civil laws, and religious worship, and national monuments, and ancient records, and received history, and general character of the Jewish people?

Alc. You are getting quite beyond my depth. I know nothing of the Old Testament, except a vague recollection of some of its wonders, which has remained by me from the nursery.

Euseb. And yet, with this avowed ignorance, you think yourself entitled to pass judgment upon Revelation! However, I will not at present wander from the Gospel. I have only touched upon the subject, to convince you that a great deal needs to be argued and proved before you are at liberty to affirm that divine interference is altogether contrary to past experience. You must, I think, allow thus much : that there is nothing in the notion of such interference so absurd or contradictory to our sentiments concerning the Deity, that a reasonable mind could not be brought to believe it had taken place on adequate testimony. I want no farther concession beforehand.

Alc.-No testimony can be strong enough to oppose general experience. Or, if you will persist that this is begging the question (though I confess I think that the Jewish fathers cannot furnish an exception worth regarding), I will put my view of the matter in another form. Either the persons who propagated the Christian Religion were themselves deceived, or conspired to deceive others; or the laws of nature were violated in a most extraordinary manner. Now it is by no means improbable that they were deceived; it is by no means improbable that they should conspire to deceive: but it is most improbable that the miracles which they relate should really have been performed. Either of these suppositions is far more likely than that their story should have been true.

Euseb.-That is exactly the question at issue between us. Which of the two suppositions will you abide by?


* See Principles of Nature, p. 70.


Alc.-I have a right to be satisfied upon both; for if either be true their credit is destroyed. Why should they not have been deceived? You do not believe Swedenborg; you do not believe Southcott: why should I believe your Evangelists or Apostles?

Euseb. There is no difficulty in supposing that Swedenborg or Southcott were deceived themselves, or intended to deceive others. They pretended to private communications with Heaven: this is a case in which it is not only possible but highly probable that a person may be mistaken. But the Apostles attested facts of which they had been eye-witnesses, and of which they said that the people of Jerusalem had been eye-witnesses: this was not a case to be deceived in. Besidės, though one man may lose his senses, or his senses may deceive him, this cannot happen to a multitude; and those who attested the resurrection of Jesus were a hundred and twenty from the first." The power of fancy we know (or think we know) has made some persons imagine that they have seen a vision, and others that they have heard a supernatural voice, or been favoured with a supernatural communication; but these persons have been alone, or their visions have been nocturnal. But if you remember the nature of those facts which the Apostles bore witness to, you will acknowledge it to have been impossible that they should have been mistaken with regard to the leading circumstances, whether they actually took place or no.

To bring the matter home, why should not you try to deceive me, or the first party of countrymen we meet, by pretending a miracle? You see how credulous I am: you cannot find a better subject. Persuade us that you can walk upon the sea without sinking; or cause the next tree that we pass to wither; or, what will be a nobler exercise of power, let us turn towards the cottage of the poor widow whose case I mentioned when we were last together, that you may relieve her from disease and pain.

Alc.-I thought that you were arguing seriously.

Euseb.-Why should you doubt it? What reason is there, why you should be unable to deceive me, which would not equally have prevented Jesus from deceiving his disciples or his contemporaries? I bring the matter closely and familiarly before you, that you may really see the nature of your own argument. For while you talk generally of imposture, and say that it is not extraordinary for ignorant men, or even the most scientific, to be frequently deceived, and wrap all up under the cloak of a remote age, * you are, in fact, deceived yourself, and do not fairly represent the subject to your own mind; for, although these things happened so many centuries ago, there was daylight then, and no want of common understanding; a circumstance which you sceptics are apt to overlook, when you loosely boast of the facility with which a party of ignorant men may be deceived.

Alc.-Perhaps it is more likely that they should have conspired to deceive. It is a flattering thing to attract followers, and enjoy the credit of establishing a new religion. The same attempt is often

* Palmer.

made. Probably Swedenborg and Southcott were more knaves than enthusiasts.


Euseb.-I am not obliged to settle that point, though I see nothing prove that they were not enthusiasts. They showed no evidence of their revelations; they had no miracles to appeal to-no daylight to confute them, if the appeal were not borne out by facts. The Apostles had all this, yet they were not confuted. But you seem inclined to prefer the other alternative, that they conspired together to deceive mankind into the belief of a miraculous story, in order to introduce a new religion. /

Alc.-Why may not this be admitted?

Euseb.-For two reasons at least: first, they could not have invented the religion which they taught; secondly, if they could have invented it, they could not have persuaded men to adopt it.

Alc.-If you could prove these points, I suppose I must become your convert; but I should find a good deal to urge against each of your propositions.

Euseb.-I am not sorry to hear this, because it looks as if you had examined the subject for yourself; and to own the truth, I had fancied that your disbelief of the Gospel arose in no small degree from your ignorance of it. I am sure that ignorance is the cause of the infidelity of many, and of the indifference of more; and that one great reason why actual infidelity is now so rare among persons of education, is that the Bible is every day becoming better and better understood. Then you have been wise enough to do what Hume did not profess to have done; you have studied the New Testament with care, though you acknowledge yourself very ignorant of the Old.

Alc.-No, I cannot, without hypocrisy, claim any title to your approbation on this head. Would you expect me to employ my time on what I did not profess to believe? But a man cannot live to my age in this country without knowing something of the Gospel and its doctrines; besides, I have heard them refuted, sometimes by ridicule and sometimes by argument, till I could not fail to be acquainted with their general tenor.

Euseb.-You must excuse me. I had mistaken you. I thought you had been in earnest, and disbelieved the Gospel on principle. But we can both find, as you insinuate, a more useful employment of our leisure than the prolonging this discussion.

Alc.-I am sorry to have given you offence.

Euseb.-Do not suppose that I think myself offended. But surely there may be one whom you have offended, and to whom you may well make what apology you can. The Gospel professes to be a message from God to his creatures; and it is that, if it is any thing but imposture. As such message, it has been received by multitudes for eighteen hundred years; and amongst those multitudes it has ranked most of the wisest and best of mankind: as such more especially it is publicly taught and maintained in your native country,—in that country which we may boldly say is the most inquiring, most enlightened of the world: yes, in that country it has most numerous and zealous followers; and never, perhaps, more than at the present moment, when vulgar

« PreviousContinue »