Page images
PDF
EPUB

p. 7.

sublimes, et plus élevées que celles sur lesquelles le grand Newton s'egare si grossièrement !"--Euler's Letters.

What can be a more just and rational application of those sentiments which true philosophy inculcates to the question of religious belief? But I have now to draw the reader's attention to a declaration still stronger, and which is extremely valuable, as coming from a philosopher who, perhaps, more than any other, was addicted to theorize upon all subjects - the celebrated Des Cartes.

“ Credenda esse omnia quæ a Deo revelata sunt, quamvis captum nostrum excedant.”. á Ita si forte nobis Deus de seipso, vel aliis aliquid revelet, quod naturales ingenii nostri vires excedant, qualia jam sunt mysteria Incarnationis et Trinitatis, non recusabimus illa credere quamvis non clare intelligamus. Nec ullo modo mirabimur multa esse, tum in immensà ejus naturâ, tum etiam in rebus ab eo creatis, quæ captum nostrum excedant."--Cartesius, Princip. Philos.

After considering the testimonies thus given in favour of a submissive reception of scripture truth, we cannot but perceive that such truly philosophical spirits were well instructed in that most difficult lesson of philosophy- to learn their own deficiencies. They could justly appreciate their own weakness in attempting to go beyond the confines of demonstration; and, therefore, it was not to metaphysical research, on topics which no metaphysics could reach, that they were inclined to trust; it was to the candid examination of the claims and of the contents of that book, which came in the character of a guide, that they directed their inquiries, and finding those claims established upon the most complete evidence, they saw that a reception of whatever was taught in those records must be the

necessary consequence. If the subjects be such as are far removed from 'our research, the propriety of taking the statement of them in its plain import is so much the more obvious. These distinguished men accordingly saw that no injury to their philosophic reputation could ensue from acquiescing in truths which the accumulated wisdom of past ages had never discredited ; and which were consigned in records of the most venerable antiquity, and the most complete authenticity. They perceived, that no good could arise, no adequate object be attained, by attempting to explain away these doctrines. They did not like to reject what they could not disprove. They perceived, that to form a peremptory decision on the unreasonableness of mysteries, but ill agreed with the caution of inductive science ; and that to frame a theory, in consistency with which all doctrines were to be explained, was not the course which sober philosophy could warrant, even if it could be followed without doing violence to the sense and expressions of Scripture : still less, if, in order to conform to that theory, a considerable part of the sacred writings was to be rejected; and what could not be rejected, to be wrested into the most forced and unnatural construction.

Having considered the cases of several eminent philosophers, who were decided and strenuous upholders of scriptural Christianity, I cannot forbear offering one or two extracts from the opinions of an individual of unquestionable intellectual powers, but whose religious opinions were, in many respects, unquestionably hostile to religion. I allude to the instance of Hobbes. His life, compiled in Latin by the joint labour of several of his friends, has not, I believe, ever been accused of material inaccuracy, or giving an incorrect account of his opinions; and though the following statements appear very inconsistent with other parts of his known conduct and opinions, I cannot but regard this very inconsistency as favourable to the fidelity of the narrators,

[I quote from his life as extracted in Bayle's Historical and Critical Dictionary Improved.- Art. Hobbes, p. 108, noté.]

“ Deum agnovit eumque rerum omnium originem intra angustos tamen humanæ rationis cancellos nullatenus circumscribendum."Vita Hobbesii, p. 105.

“Religionem Christianam quatenus in ecclesia Anglicana, resectis superstitionibus et ineptiis, regni legibus stabilitur, ex animo amplexus est." (p. 106.)

His attachment to the Church of England was shewn in his joining a private congregation of its members during the civil war, with whom he received the communion. (p. 29.)

" Quicquid autem ad pietatis exercitia aut bonos mores conferret plurimi fecit. Sanctius illi et reverentius, de Deo credere, quam scire. Sacerdotes interim inculpare solitus est, qui Christianam religionem absolutam ac simplicem, vel superstitione macularent, vel inanibus interdum profanis speculationibus implicarent." (p. 107.)

“Quare fortiter calumniati sunt qui ipsum Atheismi reum delulerunt: quod inde forsitan profectum quia scholasticorum aliorumque iste de grege morem rejecerat, qui otiosi in musæis suis sedentes, juxta imbecillem ingenii sui captum, Naturæ Divinæ incomperta affingunt attributa.” (ibid.)

A remarkable instance of his devotion is recorded in the note;

p. 189.

From his work, entitled “Humane Nature," copious extracts are given in the notes to the same article. Among these (note, p. 191) his opinions on religion are very fully stated. He maintains the absolute incomprehensibility of the Deity; whilst his existence is certain. He insists, with great particularity, on that fundamental truth of the gospel, that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. (1 Cor. iii. 11.)

And again, “Seeing our faith, that the Scriptures are the word of God, began from the confidence and trust we repose in the Church, there can be no doubt, but that their interpretation of the same Scriptures, when any doubt or controversy shall arise, by which this fundamental truth, that · Jesus Christ is come in the flesh,' may be called in question, is safer for any man to trust to than his own, whether reasoning or spirit,—that is to say, his own opinion." (note,

These extracts afford specimens, which must be regarded as curious, of the religious opinions of one, who, in many respects, is justly ranked among the enemies of Christianity.

But it is not less curious to inquire into the conclusions which some of the friends of religion' have deduced in favour of its truths, upon

p. 192.)

the ground of philosophical considerations : that these have sometimes been carried to an unwarrantable excess, will only serve to shew, that there is no real hostility or incompatibility between the principles of faith and reason.

The well-known attempts of this kind in the writings of Leibnitz and Wolf, produced some few followers in our own country. Among these one remarkable instance is a work of a curious character, and, perhaps, but little known, published by Dr. Cheyne, a physician of some celebrity, in 1736. It is entitled, “ The Philosophical Principles of Religion, Natural and Revealed.” It is divided into two parts; the first is not in any way remarkable, but contains a developement of the ordinary arguments of natural religion for the being and providence of God, and the immortality of the human soul; the second part comprises an argument of a very unusual description in favour of a belief in the mysteries of revelation. It is deduced on an examination of the mathematical doctrine of infinites. It is carried to a considerable extent, and exhibits a great degree of ingenuity in reasoning, as well as a profound reverence for religion. Of the truth of the general principle, that conclusions which are true, and contradictions which are manifest, in respect to things finite, will not be so in respect to things infinite, there can be no doubt; but this principle, it must be recollected, being derived solely from the consideration of quantity, it will only be by a very loose sort of analogy that we can apply it to the consideration of beings or their attributes.

In reference to this view of the subject, the reader will find some forcible arguments in Mr. John Norris's Treatise on Reason and Faith. The author's principal conclusion is, that the incomprehensibility of a thing is no just objection against the belief of it. He then proceeds to shew, that the Cartesian maxim, “ that we are to assent to nothing but what is clear and evident,” is perfectly consistent with the doctrine he is maintaining. This leads to some excellent observations on the supposed tendency of philosophical enquiry to produce a Socinian spirit in matters of religion, more particularly in reference to the Cartesian system then generally adopted. He concludes by maintaining that no good Cartesian can possibly be a Socinian. (See Chap. 7.)

The application of the argument, which it is the drift of all the former part of the work to establish, is made expressly to the Christian mysteries. The concluding address to the Socinians is particularly deserving attention. In it the author adverts to the higher truths of mathematics, which involve ideas incapable of being comprehended. These are brought forward with reference to a similar argument to that just considered: this reasoning is urged upon the philosophical Socinian, as leaving him without excuse, or the shadow of consistency, in denying the mysteries of revelation, upon the ground that they are incomprehensible ; or thence inferring that they are contradictory to reason.

Principles, not very dissimilar to those of Dr. Cheyne, are advocated in several parts of the writings of that extraordinary genius, Bishop Berkeley. The controversy in which he took so distinguished a part, respecting the principles of the fluxionary calculus, shewed his talents to more advantage, as an ingenious and specious disputant,

VOL. VIII. NO. II.

Q

than as a sound philosopher or mathematician. In the course of this discussion, he introduces frequent comparisons between the mysteries of religion, and, what he terms, the mysteries of the new geometry. But it appears very questionable, whether the cause of revelation is likely to gain much from arguments of a nature so remotely connected with it, when pushed beyond the bounds of the most general sort of illustration. The sort of analogy, which writers like those alluded to would make out, must very often be of an extremely remote description"; too often also a fancied resemblance will be made to appear where none really exists. But thus much, I think, may fairly be admitted,- that the study of mathematical truths, as it ought to tend in an especial degree to produce clearness and consistency in the student's views, so, as a necessary part of this effect, it ought to guard him against narrow conceptions, and a fondness for preconceived ideas, in the examination of religious truth.

The only real and useful effects of science on the mind, are those of inducing correct habits of reasoning and of viewing things : little is to be gained by the actual application of mathematical truths. This, I conceive, is the only point of view, in which the sort of illustration just alluded to can be usefully admitted. From a careful study of those parts of mathematics where infinites are the subjects of an investigation, the mind should acquire a habit of similar discrimination, in framing its conclusions on other subjects of investigation in which ideas of infinity may

be involved. The application of this principle should appear, in not attempting to judge of the nature, attributes, and designs of an infinite being from the conclusions which belong essentially to the nature and operations of finite beings. But to proceed to any more particular application, to attempt to make out any close analogy, is a method of explanation, at the best very uncertain, and wbich has a tendency to introduce every species of error. It does, in fact, counteract the very object to which we have just seen the influence of this sort of reflection should tend, and would make us fancy we understood that, which it should teach us to acknowledge we cannot expect to understand.

It is not here, as in the physical sciences, that we advance the cause of truth, by clearing away the false systems of former times, as the work of an ignorant age. If there be any thing in the force of that evidence, by which the truth of revelation is attested, --in the character of the revelation itself,- in the authority from whence the Christian religion derives its origin,-it must be evident that the purity of its truth is not to be sought, in the conceptions of modern philosophy, but by going back to the fountain head. If, as in many instances has undeniably been the case, the simplicity of revealed truth has been grossly corrupted, the removal of those corruptions is to be effected, not by substituting any new system, the offspring of a theorizing philosophy, but by ascertaining from the authentic and original documents of that revelation, what its primary character was. It has been a favourite idea with some, who pretend to very liberal views, that, during a succession of ignorant and semi-barbarous ages, the Christian religion was involved in so entire a corruption, that the very substance of it was nearly lost: the reformation, it is said, commenced a partial restoration and simplification of the truth ; but the completion of the

great work was to be reserved to a more enlightened and philosophic age. Reason was now to assert her empire. The extension of science had given mankind juster ideas of their intellectual superiority, and enabled them to perceive, that religion wanted still further remodelling, to make it suitable to the extended license which the mind now claimed.

But if we look into history, what is the view we obtain of the real progress of these rational improvements in religion? In the very earliest times of Christianity, and before any of its alleged corruptions had taken place, we find a host of sectarists, under different titles, and with various pretensions, setting themselves up as the philosophical simplifiers of religious truth. Long before reason had made one step towards investigating the phenomena of nature, or analysing the laws of the material universe, à spirit, usurping the name of reason, had assumed an authority over faith, and made pretensions to a more correct and enlightened system of religion. In an age, when the light of discovery was too feeble to display any glimpse of the system of nature, it was thought by many powerful enough to penetrate far and wide into the regions beyond nature. The Gnostic, and other kindred heresies in religion, were derived from the wildest flights of the Platonic and Pythagorean reveries in philosophy. The progress of these rational views in religion, so far from accompanying the advance of inductive science, has always closely followed the aberrations of mysticism and extravagance : instead of being the result of intellectual illumination in modern times, these extraordinary discoveries are only the offspring of the darkness, caprice, and error of ancient scholastic conceit.

The more the real nature of the Socinian system is examined, the more evident will appear the emptiness of its pretensions. That it can be associated only with the most extravagant and superficial sort of philosophy is, I trust, made sufficiently to appear in what has been here, advanced. And if its fallacious claims to the distinction of a rational religion should be thus found placed in their true light, to the satisfaction of any who may have been misled by their specious appearance, my intention, in offering these remarks through the medium of your Journal, will be fully answered.

I remain, dear Sir, yours truly,

B. P.

MONTHLY REGISTER. SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE.

ANTIGUA DISTRICT COMMITTEE. Ara Meeting of the Members of the ment being made by his Lordship of Society for Promoting Christian Know- the objects of District Committees, ledge, and others of the Clergy and Laity residing in the Island of An- Resolved, - That the sanction of tigua, in the Diocese of Barbadoes the Lord Bishop of the Diocese having and the Leeward Islands, held June been given, by his presence in the 17, 1825, at the Court-House, in the Chair, a District Committee of the Town of Saint John--the Lord Bishop Society for Promoting Christian Knowof the Diocese in the Chair,-a state- ledge be now established for the said

it was

« EelmineJätka »