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Prefatorp Remarks on the Remoter Sources of

Modern Unbelief.





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The following pages do not purport to be an original treatise ; but, as the title-page indicates, simply an epitome of the confirmatory arguments in favour of the authenticity and genuineness of the Evangelical narratives. The ninth chapter of Paley's Evidences, which is the portion of his work which deals with this subject, is no doubt a masterpiece of condensation and arrangement; yet the writer believes that its warmest admirers, of whom he is himself one, would admit that in some respects it requires addition, and in other and more important ones correction or qualification. He believes he is not at variance in this view with the general opinion. He wishes he could hope for the same agreement in his views on the remoter sources of modern unbelief, as expressed in the prefatory essay; but those views, though long entertained by him, and such as he has not yet seen reason to alter, he must leave to the judg. ment of those who are best qualified to weigh them.



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STATEMENT OF THE QUESTION.—ITS LIMITS.–Our subject is the remoter sources of modern unbelief, together with the most effectual means of counter-working its influence. We are not, therefore, concerned at present to inquire whether it is on the increase (the affirmative is implied in the question), or what are its immediate sources—they are excluded from the question : but admitting its increase, which few are disposed to deny, what are its remoter springs, and (these discovered) the best way of dealing with it.


CREASE OF UNBELIEF. Different opinions, no doubt, may be formed respecting it. I will state mine. I think it is to be found in the constitution of human nature itself, and a certain independent cause which has been brought, and is increasingly being brought, to bear upon it, and to which it had not been subjected, at least to the same degree, heretofore. That cause, I think, is the dif. fusion of knowledge. To many, this may appear a monstrous statement — to some illiberal — to others disbelieving - and

doubtless, it would be one or both if the import of it was that the diffusion of knowledge, by itself, was the required source. But this is not our statement. What I say is simply this— that I believe this to be its effect in connection with human nature—in other words, that which St. Paul says concerning the relations of sin and the law, that would I say concerning the relations of knowledge and disbelief. “Is the diffusion of knowledge an evil? God forbid : it is an unmixed good. Is, then, that which is good made unbelief to me? Far from it; but the weakness of our nature working disbelief in us by that which is good, that the weakness of that nature by the diffusion of light might appear exceeding weak.” This, then, is our assigned cause—it is not the diffusion of knowledge by itselfit is not the weakness of our nature alone—not the diffusion of knowledge by itself, for it is an unmixed good—not the weakness of our nature alone, for it is pretty much now what it has ever been-but the alteration of the relation of these things—the increase of the one in connection with the stationary, or at most not proportionably advanced, condition of the other. This is our proposition. To prove it it is necessary to take a survey, however short, of the workings of knowledge in this connection. In whichever aspect of our nature we view them, I contend they will be found to be adverse to faith. For method's sake, let us consider them as regards (I.) the mind, and (II.) the heart.

(I.) THE MIND—and so far as it is concerned-in the first instance.

1.-Its Infirmities. Of these the most obvious are shallowness and narrowness. Now test their effects in connexion with knowledge on faith, and they, I will venture to say, will be found to be unfavourable to it. And first with respect to the most elementary germ of it.

1st.The Belief in a God.

The natural indolence or thoughtlessness of most people leads them to ascribe that of which they see no immediate cause to their final cause—whatever it may be—the true or a false God-chance-or whatever else. The same indolence leads the same people when they have found an immediate cause to look for no higher. Thus, though an uninformed man ascribes an illness of which he knows no immediate cause to the anger of his god, and thinks this enough ; yet the most ignorant man in the world, if he receives an injury from a human being—though, if asked, he might allow it was caused in some sense, by a Divine power-also plainly thinks it has much less to do with it, since there is an apparent cause. And the same man, no doubt, if he found an apparent cause of the epidemic that was wasting his neighbourhood—though he might still allow in theory it was caused by God-will, in a practical way, not refer it to Him. The same indolence which made him look to the prime cause when he knew no other, makes him rest in the second cause without going higher. And this is shallowness—the want of a sufficient depth of mind in accounting for things. And the effect of it is, as in uninformed ages, to lead to superstition : so in better informed ones to lead to practical atheism ; for the more knowledge advances, the more is the reign of second causes extended, and here the trial of depth commences—whether one will rest in what he has, or sink lower or go higher in his inquiries ? Objection. But does not this make out the pious man to be a close reasoner, and that the inquiring mind is the most pious - both of which are contrary to fact? Answer. No; for the pious man's piety, without any formal inquisition of intermediate steps, fastens his mind still on the first cause, the same spirit of mind which, without any flaw in legitimate reasoning, prevented his ignoring God in those blessings and afflictions of which the most ignorant sees a second cause, and for that reason forgets Him; this same feeling, though all the

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