« PreviousContinue »
known to us; and when we are unacquainted with what is, in the nature of the thing, practicable in the case before us ; then our ige norance is a satisfactory answer; because sonie unknown relation, or some unknown possibility, may render what is ubjected against, just and good; nay, good in the highest practicable degree."
Butler's Analogy, Part I. Chapter 7. Satisfied with the validity of this reasoning, modern defenders of Christianity have generally limited their labours to an exposition of the evidences in favour of revelation. The declared object of Mr. Burnett's bequest, made it proper that cand.dates for his prizes should pay more attention to popular objections and apparent difficulties. Of the positive arguments in favour of a revela. tion, Mr. Sumner has selected the peculiarities which distinguished the Mosaic from every other legislative system ; and has endeavoured to prove, that we cannot account, with any tolerable degree of plausibility, for the existence of the Jewish law and religion, but by conceding the truth of the history contained in the Pentateuch.
The choice does credit to Mr. Sumner's discernment, since it affords several topics well calculated to engage the attention of every class of readers; and to convince those, who need convictiou, to confirm the faith of those who already believe. By comprising Bishop Warburton's argument, and avoiding the extravagaucies of that able but frequently fanciful controversialist, he has brought it within the reach, and made it palatable to numbers who would shrink from the perusal of a work of such magnitude
" the Divine Legation," or would be too fastidious to follow with due attention and respect a writer, whose digressions and occasional errors they could not overlook. Mr. S. has not, however, confined himself to the Warburtonian argument, in his reasonings in favour of the Divine commission of Moses. His process assumes the following form.-I. It is probable, on the supposition that a Creator exists, that he would communicate to mankind some account of the creation, and of the purpose for which they were created – We have a history, professing to have been written by the leader and lawgiver of the Jews; which relates, that our globe, and the system to 'which it belongs, was created by an Almighty Agent described by the Author, as God. --All necessity for argument respecting the existence of a suPreme Creator is therefore, precluded, if this history is admitted to be true.--11. The truth of this history must be conceded;for, if not true, it is the production cither of an enthusiast or of a crafty impostor. Now, that an enthus ast could not be self deceived into a belief of many of the wonders, which the writer of this bistory declares himself to have witnessed, is too obvious to neid arguing; but Mr. Sumner proves, that a politic impostor
never would have selected for enactment such a singular code of Jaws: and, lastly, that there is no probability, that either an impostor or an enthusiast could have been found, capable of pro. malgating so pure and sublime a system of religion and morality.
A few extracts from the work will serve as an interesting specimen of the manner in which Mr. Sumner has maintained the argument, of which we have thus given the outline.
" Suppose it granted, for the present, that a Creator exists; only two suppositions can be entertained: either man was turned naked and ignorant into the world, with less power to provide for his comfort and subsistence than the lowest savage whom modern discoveries have brought to our acquaintance; or he was instructed, through the agency of his Creator, in the means of supplying his immediatc wants, and of performing the various purposes of his being,
“ If we embrace the first of these suppositions, we must believe that this world, and all it contains, was created without any definite or assignable object : that its intelligent inhabitants were summoned into life, and then immediately abandoned by their Maker, retaining no connexion with him, either during the short period of their earthly existence, or after it. If we reject this idea, as inconsistent with all reasoning as to the probable operations of Divine intelligence; then it is natural to conclude that the Creator would leave some memorial of himself in a world, which, as forming a part in the comprehensive scheme of his providence, he beholds with regard and interest. It is evident however, that as mankind alone, of all the inhabitants of the earth, are gifted with intelligence, mankind alone can hold any connexion with an intelligent Creator. To them therefore we must look as the chief objects of creation, and as the depositaries with whom the records of it, supposing such an event to have taken place, would be left, to be handed down by them from age to age.” Vol. I. P. 29.
“ The Hebrew nation, when viewed in contrast with the rest of the ancient world, presents a spectacle, not less remarkable for the pure simplicity of its theology, than for the singularity of its political constitution. 'The familiarity with their history, which we acquire in early infancy, weakens the force of the impression which the annals and civil government of the llebrews must infallibly excite in a philosophical mind, if the account of them were conveyed to us at a period of maturer judgment, and viewed in sober comparison with the other records of antiquity. From the midst of darkness, error, and dispute; from a scene of licentious worship and de, grading superstitions, we turn to an unhesitating faith, and a sublime devotion : all around is a desert, a wilderness and gloom; from the centre of which, the Hebrew polity rises before, set up like a piilar to record the creation of the world, and the God who demands the homage of his creatures.'' Vol. I. P, 53, “ Such was the design of the Hebrew polity. Whatever was its 5
origin, its professed object was undeniably to render its members living testimonies of the existence of one God, the Creator of the world. The only inquiry therefore is respecting its origin. Had Moses, its founder, any other light upon the subject than the light of reason? Did he, of his own purpose, appoint a polity, and instia tute a civil government, to honour the Creator, and commemorate the creation : or, had he divine commission to perpetuate the records of this fact among the Israelites; and had they themselves such undoubted evidence of this commission, as induced them to receive him as their legislator, and submit to the authority of his laws? That they had this evidence, I shall endeavour to prove. For, though the miracles in question, being contrary to the course of nature, cannot, we are told, be received as true, on the testimony of the Jews alone ; yet, in weighing the internal evidence of the law, we are subject to no imposition. That a commonwealth really ex. isted, of which God, the Creator of the world, was acknowledged as the founder and protector ; that it abounded in laws providing for his worship, and guarding against the idolatry of other nations; are facts, upon which there is no doubt, and there can be no dispute, Neither do I despair of showing that the existence of such a polity as that of the Hebrews, is in itself a complete proof of the fact which it professes to record.” Vol. I. P. 60.
" “ The object prevailing through the Hebrew polity, is entirely different from that which legislators have commonly proposed to themselves; and antiquity furnishes no example of a state, the prin: cipal scope of whose laws was the maintenance of the belief of a Creator, or indeed in which that belief was at all inculcated with a confidence any way comparable to that expressed by Moses. This circumstance alone, it will be owned, gives reasonable grounds for a presumption of its having a different origin from that of other civil governments. And this presumption is confirmed by the words employed to the persons who were to observe the law; words addressing them as actual witnesses of the mode in which it was conveyed to them, and by which its divine appointment was proved to their complete conviction : a confirmation, strengthened by the reflection, that no period has been, or can be, specifically assigned, when a fabrication so gross as a forged history and fabu us archives could Þe imposed upon them.” Vol. I. P. 87.
In the following section Mr. S. points out, the peculiarity of the provisional sanctions of the Hebrew polity, and ihe deviations from the ordinary course of nature on which they confidently rely.
Every lawgiver," he observes, “consults for the observance of his statutes, by such penal enactments as he has within his power ; and would be more anxious to establish a belief of the certainty, than even of the severity, of his punishments. For this reason it was that the terrors of future judgment were called in, to assist the inadequacy of human justice, by some of the
ancient lawgivers; and to assure offenders that the vengeance, which must necessarily prove often tardy and uncertain on this side the grave, will be sure and swift on the other.
“ Moses, however, relies on this vengeance as immediate ; and employs the sanction of a retributive providence as securely, as if he held the lightning in his own hands, and wielded the government of the world. All his enactments imply that sort of dependence on divine interposition, which could not be derived from any experience of the usual course of events." Vol. I. P. 90.
“ The duration of the whole civil polity is made dependent on the adherence of the people, not to the established form of govern, ment by magistrates and elders, but to the established worship; and įts dissolution is represented as consequent, not on a violation of the political ordinances, or moral code, so much as on a departure from that allegiance which was due to God, as the author of the whole, and on a dereliction of the worship which he had appointed as suited to the immateriality of his essence, and as calculated at the same time to inspire an habitual conviction of his superintending power.” -Vol. I. P. 92.
The nature of the laws to which Moses attaches such great importance, is also very remarkable.
“ The laws which common experience proves to be the safeguards of a nation, and which patriotic legislators have desired to sanction, even at the expense of their own lives, relate to the national defence, the political economy, the frugal dispensation of the revenues, or the social duties of the citizens. But in the Mosaic code, all these bulwarks of security are either totally unprovided for, or comparatively neglected. The Hebrews were preparing to take possession of a country by conquest, and might reasonably expect to be surrounded with implacable enemies; yet no pains are taken to secure or discipline a national ariny." Vol. I. P. 94.
Mr. S. farther observes, that the rewards which Moses holds out to obedience, are such temporal blessings, as it would have been absurd in any ordinary legislator to offer; and that he not only overlooks human means of securing national success and stabiliiy, but superadds enactments which must, in every human view, have directly tended to render the Israelites an easy prey to their enemies. Such are the rigid observance of the Sabbath, and of the Sabbatical year, and the command that all the men of the country should leave the frontier exposed, by attending the central place of worship in a body three times a year. From which our author draw's this conclusion.
“ That as nothing could account for the object of the polity, except the truth of the accompanying history, so the peculiar provisions can only be explained by admitting that they were really establish
ed by the command of the Creator, and supported by his power," Vol. I. P. 117. · Mr. S. next considers the consequences produced on the people themselves, by making a pure belief in God the main object of legislation.
“ From the opinions respecting the Creator prevalent among the Hebrews, and from the peculiar relation he was believed to bear towards them, resulted å species of literature almost exclusively their own in its nature, and entirely so in its excellence. The same belief accompanies and spiritualizes their national worship, and inspires their personal devotions; the same belief pervades and regulates their morality. If no account existed of thie introduction and reception of this belief, not forming the opinion of the philosophers, or a detached sect of philosophers, but the settled faith of the whole people; its singularity would offer a reasonable subject of wonder and inquiry. The account, however, given by the Hebrews themselves, is sufficient to explain, not only the existence of their peculiar belief, but its universality and effect." Vol. I. P. 173.
He proceeds to shew, that this account is the only one, which can give a probable explanation of these peculiarities--that it is incredible, that Moses could have invented so plausible an ac. count of the creation, or so pure a system of belief ; tliat it is equally incredible, that he should have learnt them from the Egyptians, or from his own countrymen, unless the Israelites had been already favoured by a Divine revelation.
The result of these exaininations, into the internal evidence in favour of the Divine commission of the Jewish legislator, shall form our last quotation from this part of Mr. Sumner's treatise.
« After this consideration of the extraordinary object professed by the Hebrew legislator, and of the peculiarities attending his
polity ; of its effect upon the people, displayed in their religious feelings, their writings, and their morals; and of the impossibility of accounting for the singular excellence of the doctrines inculcated in the law, independently of divine assistance: it is not too much to assert, that all reasoning drawn from the analogy of human manners in similar circumstances, and all historical experience as to the course of the human mind, is directly violated, if we deny that the law delivered by Moses to the Hebrews was established by divine interference, to keep up among that people the memory of the creation.
“ On a general view, it cannot certainly seem an improbable case, that the Creator of the world should maintain among a particular people the history of the original creation; that he should rescue that people from bondage by miraculous interposition, in order to furnish them with indubitable evidence of his protection and power ; that he should assign them a specific residence, and