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thinkings and actings, and to be the standard of our faith and practice; and therefore it is not possible for the real meaning of the word of God, to be in direct hostility to the native intuitions of the mind. The obvious agreement of Scripture doctrine, with the ordinary dictates of the human understanding, constitutes the internal evidence of their truth, and their primary and paramount authority; without which, the most splendid and appalling miracles would be utterly useless and vain. The opinion, therefore, that the ancient prophets do actually represent the events which they predict, as being certain in their issue, without involving a necessary and infallible causation, is nothing less than a gross and palpable contradiction; and those persons who have given such an interpretation to certain passages of the Holy Scriptures, must therefore have quite mistaken the true and real meaning of those parts of the word of God.
It has been always the practice of those persons, whether private individuals or public bodies, whose interpretations of the Scriptures have been at open variance with scientific fact, and the deductions of the human understanding, to support the authority of their interpretations by informing us, that the things which they inculcate are above human reason; and to terrify our consciences by assuring us that to reason upon them would be an act of impiety: and they have maintained that the constructions which they have thought proper to give to such passages of Scripture, are matters of pious and implicit credence, in the reception of which we have no right whatever to employ our own understandings. Now this is nothing more than a Protestant version of the old Popish doctrine of the inadequacy of private judgment, in the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures; and which, if carried forward to its ultimate consequences, would eventually produce all the intolerance of Papal tyranny. There can never be a compromise between the right and competency of private judgment in the interpretation of the word of God, and the most unlimited intolerance; and therefore the one must ultimately exterminate the other from the Christian church. If the right and competency of private judgment be acknowledged, then the human understanding must have some means of testing the truth of the Holy Scriptures, and
there must be some acknowledged principles in the human understanding, from whence we derive our competency to decide upon the true and real meaning of the word of God.
It has been a great blessing to the church of Christ, that under all the intolerance which has been exercised therein, and under all the voluntary perversions and impositions of an implicit subjection to that intolerance, a few of those noble spirits have stood forth from age to age, who have dared to dispute the plenitude of human authority; who, in matters of religious belief, would call no man master, and who would always regard with a distrustful shyness, every interpretation of the Scriptures, that would not easily quadrate with the dictates of reason, and the analogy of nature and science: and it is to the decision of such characters that we owe, under God, the blessing of Protestantism, and the light and liberty of the present age.
The claims of infallibility are sometimes preferred, under the most voluntary and specious professions of ignorance, as well as of a pretended Christian humility. We not only meet with them in the humble title of "Servant of Servants," but we meet with them in the following nambypamby twaddle: "We none of us understand the doctrine, and therefore, we must receive it as a matter of pure Revelation; on the bare authority of Divine testimony:' alias, "You must implicitly believe the interpretation which we have given to it, as a matter of paramount authority; and we charge you, on the peril of your salvation, not to give to these words any other construction than the one which we have given to them; and we charge you not to dispute, nor even to suspect the correctness of the interpretation which we have given to them, or to doubt for a moment their Divine authority." Such is the padlock that has been usually put upon the mouth of religious inquiry; such the cause of all the darkness, which has overspread the Christian world for ages and generations; and which is not entirely dispersed from the Protestant Christian churches of the present day. If ignorance be made the basis of knowledge, and the foundation of Christian faith, there will be nothing too gross to be palmed upon the credulity of the Christian world. Human credence may
rationally proceed to the utmost limits of abstract possibility, in any case, where a given fact or doctrine is supported by the testimony of God; but it can never outstep the bounds of abstract possibility, in any given fact or doctrine, even though it should pretend to a Divine authority. No man can rationally believe that the properties of Divinity can be communicated, either to an archangel, or to the Popish nostrum, the consecrated wafer; neither can any man rationally believe, that any issue which God himself has constituted contingent in re, can be certain to his own anticipations.
I have said that any given fact or doctrine, which lies within the range of abstract possibility, would become an object of a rational credence and conviction, if it were supported by the testimony of God. But such a credence could not be rationally demanded of us by any other being. If the Deity were to assure me that I should attain to the longevity of Methusela, it would be my duty to believe in the veracity of his promise, because I am assured, that such an event is within the reach of possibility; but if all the physicians in the world, were to make their affidavits to that effect, they would only be entitled to my ridicule or pity.
Of possibility and contingency.
EVERY supposable thing, the actual production of which would not involve any real contradiction, either physical, mental, or moral, must, in itself, be abstractedly possible: but, on the contrary, it is equally plain, that every supposable thing, the actual production of which would of necessity involve any real contradiction, cannot be in itself even abstractedly possible, but must be absolutely and eternally impossible.
If every supposable thing, the actual production of which would not involve any contradiction, is in itself abstractedly possible, then the Deity, who is possessed of Almighty power, may possibly bring such a supposable thing into actual existence but if every supposable thing, the actual production of which would involve a contradiction, cannot be in itself abstractedly possible, then it is not possible for the Deity to bring such a supposable thing into actual being.
That abstract possibility itself must have definable bounds and immutable limits, beyond which it can never pass and that there are supposable things which the power of an infinite Being could never be able to bring into actual existence is a clear, and palpable, and intuitive truth. And thus it will appear that the human imagination is able to produce imaginary associations, which no power in earth or heaven is able to associate in fact and actual existence.
The human fancy can associate happiness with towards God; and can disjoin personal happiness from the approbation and blessing of the Deity: it can presume on final and eternal felicity after a life of incorrigible re
bellion and final impenitence :-it can believe that this material and temporary world had no immaterial and eternal Creator; and that a future event may be the object of a certain anticipation, while the real and actual existence of that event is perfectly fortuitous:-it can believe a thousand other things that are equally supposable to the human imagination, but would be equally contradictory, equally incapable to coexistence, equally impracticable to the hand of Omnipotence, and equally irreconcilable with the perfections of the Deity.
But although all supposable things, the actual production of which would not involve any real contradiction, be in themselves abstractedly possible, yet all such possibilities could not actually exist together: partly because every one of those abstract possibilities may be predicated both negatively and positively, both alternatives of which would not be capable of a coexistence; and partly because the coexistence of all abstract possibilities would imply an exhaustion of infinite fecundity, and would be incompatible with the infinite continuation of the Divine existence.
In relation to the existence of opposite possibilities, it may be argued, that before the creation of this world had taken place, it was then abstractedly possible for such a world as this to be created, and it was equally possible that such a world as this might never have been created: but its creation and its non-creation are perfectly incapable of coexistence: and therefore since this world has been actually created, it is no longer possible that such a world as this may not be created.
In relation to the coexistence of all abstract possibilities, it may be necessary to remind my readers, that when we speak of all abstract possibilities, we mean all that are possible to an infinite being, not at any particular, or present point of time; but all that are possible to an infinite being during the everlasting continuance of his existence. So that it is not possible to suppose the actual production of all things, without supposing a termination of the Divine existence; the entire annihilation of the Deity himself: for if every thing were actually done which would ever be abstractedly possible, it would then be impossible for Omnipotence himself to produce any thing more.
I know it has been asserted that the foregoing hypothesis