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Simply thus. If it were not self-active it would not be qualified for the making of a world of such things as exist. My difficulty is, to know how he found that the uncaused something did make the world; for it and the world-maker are strangely taken to be one and the same. And even then the basis of the argument is changed from the mere existence of the things to their nature and properties.
Perhaps, it will be said, there neither is nor can be more than one uncaused being. I answer, That neither is nor can be proved without revelation. For aught mere reason can do, there may be a thousand universes and a thousand gods. That there is but one maker of the universe which we inhabit is plain enough perhaps; but that that is the length of our tether, is sufficiently evinced by the abortive attempts at demonstration, of which numerous specimens are given by Mr. Watson in his second chapter, on the Attributes of God. Besides, even the position that there is but one maker of the universe which we inhabit, is proved not by the abstract necessity of the case, but by the fact that we have no evidence of more than one.
My conclusion is, that this abstract reasoning is of no value. If so, our field of argument is very much narrowed. The forces of reason have but one position to make good. That, happily, is safe and tenable. It is this: Creation is a contrivance. Being such, it must have had a contriver. The contriver must be equal to his work. If so, omniscient and omnipotent; illimitably active, boundlessly intelligent.
If, in this case, we have lost in abundance, we have gained in concentration.* And I suppose it must be admitted, that for popular conviction-for the illumination of masses-one clear, simple argument is worth a host of others which, however conclusive, are yet profound and elaborate, and require a lifetime for their comprehension. Nay, I doubt not it is in the experience of others, as in my own. One argument knocks away another. The understanding becomes at last like a beaten highway, where are left the attrition and the smoothness of a thousand wheels,--the traceable impression of none.
It would be idle to expatiate upon the various parts of the demonstration of the existence of God, drawn from the orderly frame of the universe. That argument is not only conclusive so far as it goes, but, in many of its details, obvious. Mr. Watson, however, remarks that we cannot build upon it a very settled faith respecting some of the divine attributes, though for what it does teach it is invaluable. Is it allowable for me now to specify my own method of reasoning? That on which my own conviction rests?
In a former number I endeavored to show that the BIBLE IS COMPLETE IN ITSELF-complete not only in doctrine and precept, but also in evidence; and that, too, while the evidence is external to the doctrine: a position which, it seems to me, we are bound to
* We have lost variety, i. e., in the kind of argument. We are reduced to but one class,—the induction from facts. The particular instances, however, of the proof are, as sands upon the sea-shore, innumerable.
I need not say this is precisely that state of the case which is desirable. The argument should be one, because intended for deep, abiding, and universal impression. It should be manifold, both for the sake of variety and because intended for the illumination of men in all times and places.
make good, both for the credit of God and for the credit of man; both for the honor of Him who requires our faith, and of us who render it.
But what is there said is of no avail, unless we are independent for the great doctrine before us. If we must have this doctrine before we have the Bible, if our faith in the Bible rest upon our previous faith in this doctrine, then that argument of mine is so far powerless.
But, if I mistake not, a belief in the being of God is accounted a necessary preparative to the belief of divine revelation. “In å word,” says Paley, “ once believe there is a God, and miracles are not incredible.” The venerable man upon whose lips I depended for early instruction in the formal evidences of Christianity taught to the same purpose.
Now, I go in the other direction. I do not bring the miracle out of the Godhead, but the Godhead out of the miracle. Let us try this method of educing the doctrine, and see if it lack either of the great requisites, simplicity and efficiency.
At the outset of an argument, we are to suppose ourselves, in possession of the mere Bible, ignorant of the various proofs of the divine existence, which may be gathered from external nature. The idea of God we have, for it is in the Bible. But it is the idea only. The proof we have yet to find.
In the first place, however, you are to be well assured that the want of proof that there is a God, is not proof that there is no God. Here is mistake No. I. of infidelity. An unbeliever takes into his hand a professed demonstration of the divine existence, and, upon a hasty examination, feels no force of conviction. His true position is, the point is not proved. But such men are not prone to stop there. They push on to the negative and boldly affirm, There is no God; a lapse of intellect sufficient to justify the inspired writer when he says, The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. The mind, when in a state accordant with the circumstances of the case supposed, is in equipoise between affirmative and negative.
In such a state of deliberation, the Biblical account of miracles is set before me. Is that account any the less credible because I cannot say there is a God? I think not.
You say I cannot affirm the divine existence in order to substantiate the miracle. I say, you cannot deny his existence in order to invalidate it.
All that will follow is, that the miracle must rest upon its own historic evidence, and that evidence will compel its admission. The miracle will compel an admission of the miracle-worker just as truly, and much more forcibly, than the evidences of design in the operations of nature.
It may be asked, however, Are we not more favorably situated for the belief of the miracles after an admission of the divine existence than we were before? Does not the antecedent conviction that there is a God prepare us to acquiesce more readily in the belief of supernatural events ?
I answer, that where the direct proof of any fact is dubious and weak, we very properly call in the aid of circumstantial evidence, but not otherwise. Should a child, liable to mistake, affirm that he had seen a costly and beautiful watch in the woods of Oregon, we would perhaps feel ourselves under a necessity of inquiring into the probability of there having been any person there in possession of such an article, and also into the possibility of such person's having left his watch in that exposed situation. But should a dozen men of honesty, and accustomed to the handling of watches, affirm the same thing, shall these men also be but the moiety of a hundred who were present, seeing and handling the article? I think there would be no call for any circumstantial evidence. Dubious evidence of a fact will require preliminary proof of the possibility of it ;-clear and abundant evidence of the fact is itself proof of the possibility, and requires no such extraneous support.
Now I affirm that the evidence for the miracles of Scripture is both clear and abundant;—that we have the solemn assurance of twelve honest and capable men to their reality ; and not only so, but that evidence so circumstanced as to imply the tacit concurrence of many thousands. The situation of the testimony is such as not merely to justify our saying, If there be a God these things may be so, but, These things being so, there must be a God.
This question, however, need not be discussed at length. Much, perhaps, may be said on both sides. The following considerations seem decisive to myself in favor of the mode of argument which is here recommended, not as the only one that is sound, but as the most feasible and efficient.
Whatever advantage there may be in a preliminary admission of this kind, is reciprocal. If it is an advantage to go to revelation with the previous conclusion derived from nature, that there is a God, there is the same advantage in going with that conviction from revelation to nature. The question then is, which is the simpler, the more efficient method ? Shall we first admit revelation, and, by the light of it, interpret nature, or shall we first interpret nature, and then proceed, by the aid of that interpretation, to inquire into revelation ? I affirm that the advantage is decidedly in favor of the former course. . .
Though there may seem to be some disadvantage at the outset, forasmuch as we approach revelation without an antecedent admission of the divine existence, yet, for the whole field of investigation, there is a striking advantage. By this method the whole subject is concluded at a stroke. The admission of a single one of the miraculous accounts of Scripture, determines both that there is a God and that he has revealed himself; and that, too, by the simplest process of investigation of which the mind is capable. By the other method we settle questions (and that but uncertainly) one by one. First comes an elaborate inquiry into the divine existence, pursued through a series of arguments; each of which, by becoming familiar, loses somewhat of its force. Next comes the inquiry whether God have performed works above the power of nature ; an inquiry for which we are now scarcely more prepared than we were before. For, whence arises the necessity of that preliminary demonstration that there is a God? Is it not that we find ourselves unable to admit a suspension of the laws of nature, which we are prone to think of necessity invariable? And does not that difficulty remain? Before it was, The laws of nature are invariable. Now it is, God never
varies the laws of nature. I say, if that objection stand in the way at all, it stands as much in the way now as ever.
Farther, this method of coming at the truths of Scripture implies an acquaintance with nature which most men neither have nor can have. Who of the thousands that truly pass from death unto life, and become faithful followers of the cross, ever understood the argument from design ?
Besides, the just and full interpretation of nature, without a knowledge of the Being who appointed it, is out of the question. Philosophically, these same wonderful works—the miracles of Scripture themselves—are a part of the phenomena of nature, and are to be taken into the account in our attempt at interpretation. They are not, indeed, of the phenomena of nature as being the result of natural laws, but as showing, if I may so speak, the relative position of the laws of nature-as showing that these laws do not constitute the ultimate and governing power in nature, but are themselves instruments of a still higher influence.
I will not argue these questions any farther. The reader, however, is requested to take the subject into the train of his investigations, and if this mode of argumentation be finally approved by other and abler minds than that of the writer, the order of theological inquiry will be very materially modified. For, manifestly, if this view of the subject be correct, then those reasonings which have been called demonstrations of the being of God will dwindle down into mere illustrative instances of the divine wisdom and power; which, indeed, render faith easy and steadfast, but suffice not to create it. In this there will be at least one advantage. We will turn our eyes from nature up to nature's God, and ere we reach his seat—the scene of his full and unclouded manifestation—there will be less temptation to halt by the way.
I observe of this form of the argument, 1. That it is in the Bible. God's book alone is worthy to herald God's being. If our faith in that have a foundation out of the record, we seem to me to be so far unfortunate. 2. It is simple. No one can stagger through want of apprehension. The marvellous WORK had a marvellous WORKMAN. That is palpable. 3. Because it is simple, and also single, it is efficient. Throw it out; every man will read and understand; having understood, he will never forget it; he will tell it to others, and all men will read it together.
W. M. B.
Art. VI.-EXTRACT FROM THE TWENTY-FIRST REPORT OF
THE AMERICAN BIBLE SOCIETY.
“The history of this society, from year to year, is necessarily marked by a sameness of general character; and yet its successive portions are often very different in their details and prospective plans. The book for whose diffusion this organization was made, though infinitely surpassing all other books, is ever the same. As to matter, it admits of no alteration or enlargement, and ministers nothing to a love of novelty. Yet this book is to be prepared and
Vol. IX.-January, 1838. 12
circulated in different forms and different tongues ; to be distributed in our own and foreign countries, among friends and foes; to be sold and furnished gratuitously, and this through a great variety of affiliated branches and local agencies. To effect all this, means to a large amount are to be procured, disbursed, and a careful account rendered. The field over which the society's operations are extended has now become large; embracing not only our own land, but portions of Europe, Asia, Africa, China, and several islands of the sea. The claims of the various sections of this wide field are very different at different periods. This is true both at home and abroad. For a season, some of the auxiliaries stand in needy assistance. Eventually their condition is changed, and they can lend aid to others. Some are, for a time, absorbed in the work of supplying their own destitute families with the Bible; at another time they are engaged in furnishing the same blessing to youth and children, to seamen, boatmen, and emigrants; and at another are in clined to appropriate nearly all their income toward distribution abroad. At the various foreign mission stations where the Scriptures are published, much aid is required at one period, and comparatively little at another. These circumstances, and others which might be named, require in your Board constant vigilance, and frequently a change of plan and effort; and give a diversified character to the details of their annual proceedings. The labors during the year now closed have, in some particulars, been very different from those of the preceding year. Then, there seemed to be an extensive demand for aid in publishing the Scriptures in foreign countries. Large sums were consequently sought and remitted for that purpose. During the year under review, comparatively little exertion has been made for the foreign field, but more for the supply of our own country. Many of the auxiliaries have been wholly engaged in this important work, and thus a large number of Bibles and Testaments have been put in circulation within our own bounds. The same work is to be prosecuted the ensuing year, and new claims have also to be presented from the foreign field, as subsequent details will show -"In looking over the events of the past year, one of the first to be noticed is the demise of a worthy vice-president, the late ROBERT RALSTON, Esq., of Philadelphia. This gentleman had long been known as the friend and promoter of Bible societies. From the formation of the society in his own city in 1806, to the time of his decease, he was its devoted treasurer; and that without remuneration, farther than the consciousness of having served in the best of causes. Since the death of Mr. Ralston, the managers have, with great unanimity, elected four other persons to the same office, viz. : His Excellency ROBERT P. DUNLAP, Governor of Maine; the Hon. John M'LEAN, of Ohio, Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States; the Hon. JESSE L. Holman, Judge of the United States Circuit Court in Indiana ; and the Hon. CHARLES COTESWORTH PinckNEY, of South Carolina. These distinguished individuals, though connected with four different religious denominations, are all the devoted friends of the same Bible cause, and disposed to exert their influence in furnishing its blessings to every family and nation."