6. Here we might leave the subject, but we cannot forbear adding some further observations in reference to that professed revelation of God's will which is to be found in the Bible. It is not our intention to attempt a summary of the various evidences which exist to show that it is a real one; nor is it our design to reply at length to the objections which have been made to invalidate it. There are however some obvious facts which meet us on the threshold of the inquiry, and which can be estimated at their just value by any candid inquirer, to which we would direct attention.
We find for instance that the Bible contains a purer system of morality, and conveys a clearer insight into the unity and nature of God, than is to be found in any other book; and that, although it is the composition of men, many of them ignorant and unlearned, who have lived at different times, and occupied very dissimilar positions in life, there is, nevertheless, a wonderful similarity in the main outlines of religious truth, as delivered by all the writers. We know, however, still further, that the morality and precepts of the Bible, although confessedly of a pure and holy character, are, nevertheless, not of such a kind as to fall in with the wishes and passions of mankind. To believe that morality must extend to thoughts as well as actions, and that an all-seeing God notices, and will one day call all men to a strict account, is not a matter which, if we may judge from what we see around us, is agreeable to the feelings of most men. Nor, if we look to the great remedy proposed for the sin of man, such, we mean, as it is supposed to be, by the great majority of professing Christians, namely, the atoning sacrifice made by the Son of God, do we find here again a matter which either the reason or the feelings of men generally are ready to lead them to adopt. We see too, that in all ages unbelief has, more or less, existed, and objections have been, from time to time, brought forward which appeared likely to have considerable power in undermining the existing belief in the Bible. Persecution also has exercised its influence, and, it might frequently have been supposed, according to human calculations, that it would have availed to destroy all credence in it. And yet, notwithstanding all these circumstances, to which we have referred, it is an incontrovertible fact that a professed belief in the Bible, as a revelation from God, exists most widely. It is, we may add, not a little worthy of being remarked that the nomenclature of the Bible has obtained such a strong hold on the public mind, in our own day, that many who deny inspiration in any distinctive sense, still retain the use of this and other words, as if afraid to make it plain how far they differ from those opinions which are commonly received.
The present age is certainly more enlightened than any which has preceded it; but, hitherto at least, a professed belief in the orthodox doctrines of religion has increased rather than diminished. We find moreover that persons of all ranks, and every kind of mental calibre, have declared that they find something in the Bible which they do not find in any other book; something, in fact, which, when duly received, comes home to their hearts as men, and seems admirably adapted to the deepest wants of human nature. We see too that those who appear to have accepted the Bible most fully, and to hold it most firmly, have been so much impressed with a sense of its importance to the world at large, as to have endeavoured, often at considerable risk and expense, to communicate to others, both at-home and abroad, the knowledge of those things which they have received as truths -- a method of proceeding which has not been adopted, and, in fact, could not have been, without a manifest absurdity, by those who profess to believe in the inspiration of Plato, Milton, Shakespeare, and other great, but, according to common opinion, uninspired men. All these and various other considerations which might be adduced seem to mark out the Bible, as being a book at least different from all other books, and to lead to the presumption that it may contain that knowledge of God which, as has been remarked in the earlier part of these |Thoughts,| it appears most important for men to be acquainted with, and a revelation of which, in some way or other, has been very commonly believed in. Assuredly there is a strong presumption in its favour, and the onus probandi, in our own day, lies with those who deny its claims to acceptance. Whether however the Bible actually is, or contains a revelation from God is still a fair subject for reverent examination.
Without attempting to enter upon such an examination here, we may, without impropriety, offer a suggestion as to the spirit in which it should be conducted. It must be remembered that the examination of a theological, or any other subject which bears upon the interests of our daily lives, involves principles of a very different character from those which are connected with an investigation of the science of number, or any other abstract science. Mathematical and numerical investigations advance from principles which are clearly defined, and almost universally acknowledged to be self-evident; the reasoning also is of such a kind as to preclude the admission of error. In theology the case is different. There, it is difficult to define with accuracy the points from which the reasoning commences, and also to exclude, with certainty, the possibility of error in the reasoning itself. There is, too, another essential difference between abstract sciences and other subjects of inquiry. It is not only self-evident that two straight lines cannot enclose a space, but the judgment which the mind gives on the subject is not in any danger of being disturbed by the feelings. In theology, however, the matters which come under consideration are so mixed up with our nearest and dearest interests, that the feelings are called into play at every step of the investigation, and a just balance of the judgment cannot be preserved without the exercise of much care. Hence the necessity of endeavouring to preserve a candid and unruffled spirit in all enquiries connected with religion. No doubt those feelings which a beneficent God has implanted with a view to assist us in deciding, are to have their due weight; but certainly there is need of caution, lest they influence us unduly. If the judge thinks it needful to charge the jury to dismiss from their minds everything which might tend to influence their judgments in an improper manner, and attend only to the evidence, even though the matter about which they have to decide is usually one in which they have no personal interest; it certainly does not appear unnecessary to give a similar caution on a subject, with regard to which feeling has assumed so strong a form as to give rise to the name, odium theologicum. We deceive ourselves, if we imagine that we approach the subject without any danger of judging it unfairly. This caution, undoubtedly applies to all who discuss theological questions; but we think that we shall not be making an unwarranted assertion, if we say that it applies in a special manner to those who impugn the Bible revelation, when it is remembered that the doctrines contained in it, as they have generally been received by those who are called orthodox Christians, are of such a kind as very commonly to excite, in the first instance at least, a strong feeling of opposition. The Bible itself intimates this, and common experience bears witness to it as being a fact. We are not now saying that the doctrines of the purity and holiness of God, the dreadful nature of sin, the need of an atonement, the inability of man to present himself before God in merits of his own, and others of a similar kind are true; but we may properly say that, whether true or false, they are such as frequently raise a strong feeling of opposition; and therefore that those who examine them, with the view of ascertaining their character, stand in special need of the caution to preserve a calm and candid spirit.
It will not be out of place to introduce here another consideration which has a bearing upon this part of the subject, namely, the supernatural aid which the Bible offers towards the understanding and acceptance of its doctrines. It is quite conceivable that a state of things might exist in which such aid would be wholly unnecessary. We might suppose a case in which the nature of man was so entirely in harmony with itself, and so exactly attuned to the truths of a Divine revelation, as readily to accept it, when it was presented; but the question we have to decide is, whether man's nature is actually in this state or not. Observation leads us to believe that it is not. Whether we accept the scripture statement of the fall or not, we must not shut our eyes to the fact that it is difficult for virtue to force its way, while vice has many votaries. However convincing, abstractedly, the reasons may be to enforce the claims of virtue, it is evident that they possess but little power to lead the large majority of mankind. History and experience testify to this. Scarce any deny the evidence in favour of virtue, although few are content to be governed by it. Now it may be fairly presumed that any revelation which the Divine Being might make would be in the interests of virtue; it may be reasonably expected too that it would be supported by strong evidence: but, if, as actual observation makes it clear is the case, the feelings of mankind are more inclined to reject than accept the claims of virtue, the evidence, however strong, will not produce the effect which it would, if the mind were more justly balanced, and thus the revelation will be in danger of being rejected. Such rejection, be it remembered, need not result from any deficiency of evidence, but may arise from an indisposition to receive it. For our own part we believe that the evidence in favour of the orthodox views of scripture statements is far stronger than can be found in support of any other subject of a like kind: but, at the same time, taking into consideration the actual tendencies of human nature, we are not surprised that it does not produce the effect which it should do; and therefore it appears to us not unreasonable to suppose that God might exercise some such supernatural power upon the mind, as the Bible speaks of, with the view of disposing it to the reception of a revelation.
That God does at times interfere in a manner, out of the usual course of His Providence, with regard to other matters, especially in answer to prayer, is believed almost universally. We cannot enter here into a discussion as to the foundation of the belief; but, certainly so long as the records of mankind go back, and so far as the experience of the present day conducts us, the belief has been entertained, and prayer seems to be the natural expression of man's heart in all cases of difficulty. Men will believe in, and appeal to, a supernatural power, and it is hard to suppose that a tendency so universal and deeply seated, should have no solid foundation. But if prayer, for aid and direction from above, is the natural outpouring of man's heart with regard to the more ordinary affairs of life, there appears to be no reason why prayer should not be offered up for counsel and guidance with regard to a professed revelation, and that an answer should be expected. At least, it can hardly be said that those have fairly tested the claims of scripture to be received as a revelation from God, who have not complied with the conditions which it has laid down as to the manner in which it should be studied.
We now leave the subject, drawing the attention of our readers to the prayer of one of our greatest poets, and earnestly hoping that his prayer may be theirs: --
. . . What in me is dark,
Illumine; what is low, raise and support;
That to the height of this great argument
I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God to man.
LONDON: WERTHEIM, MACINTOSH, AND HUNT.
By the same Author,
THOUGHTS ON MIRACLES.