Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

With these expressions we may contrast the following; in which, though the words are different, the intention is evidently the same.

'Lausanne is now full and lively ; all our native families are returned from the country; and, praised be the Lord! we are intested wilh few foreigners, either French or English.'

The object of this article being, not only to ascertain and condemn, but also to account for the infidelity of our historian; and that, not merely in order to gratify the curiosity, but to enlighten the minds, and benefit the hearts of our readers; we must now call their attention to a somewhat extended, but we trust not tedious examination into the nature of religious doubting in general.

There is a fundamental principle in all moral inquiries, with regard to which revelation and reason, or, rather, revelation and common sense, are completely agreed. The principle alluded to, is this, that man is praise-worthy or blameworthy, no farther than his conduct proceeds from the heart. That is the important region, which is to be kept with all diligence ; because out of it are the issues of life and of death. And although to give a just description of what is meant by the heart, is a problem replete with difficulty, if not utterly incapable of solution; yet, an honest appeal to individual consciousness, will enable any man, not only to decide for himself, upon all cases of conscience connected with the heart, as they occur, but likewise to discover certain general maxims, which, if judiciously managed, will apply with considerable precision to the general conduct of other men. Only, we must never forget,| that the heart is answerable, not merely for what proceeds directly out of itself, but likewise for its frequently unsuspected influence upon other departments of the soul.

What we are at present concerned with, is, that faculty, or whatever else it may be called, by which we believe. The simple act of faith would seem to be of the same nature, whatever be its object. But of faith, properly so called, the object is always some fact. In ordinary discourse, we may indeed be said to believe any kind of truth; for instance, the theory of gravitation. That act of the mind, however, which determines our assent in such cases, is rather judgement than faith, and we may with more propriety be said to understand than to believe them.

Religious faith, which is properly our present subject, agrees, in this respect, with what we have said of faith in general. It has matter of fact for its object. When our Saviour declares, • •He that believeth shall be sared; and he that believeth not, "sball be damned:" if we ask, what is the object of this saving faith; what are we to believe, that we may be saved ;— the answer is, the great fact of the incarnation and propitiatory sacrifice of the Son of God, for the redemption of the world. '• Believe in the Lord Jesus, with all thy heart, and thou shalt "be saved". That is, if thou believest, with the heart, (this expression will be elucidated in the sequel) that Jesus is the Lord, that he is Jehovah, that in his person the two natures of man and God were and are united, for the purpose of human, : n.1. consequently, of thy salvation, thou shalt partake his bliss and glory in heaven to all eternity.

And here we cannot help observing by the way, how much needless controversy might have been spared, if men had always borne in mind, that we are no where called upon to conceive, to understand, or to comprehend the subjects of religion, for our salvation, but simply to believe certain facts, or rather one fact, upon the evidence of God's own declaration, just as we believe, and frequently without understanding them, other facts, upon the strength of human testimony. "If we "receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; "for this is the witness of God, which he hath testified of "his Son." 1 John, v. 9.

The proper subject of our investigation, therefore, will be this; How comes this faith to be so praise-worthy, and its opposite so deserving of condemnation? and what constitutes the proper difference between those who have it, and those who have it not?

In this investigation, we shall begin with an examination of faith or belief, as applied to some more ordinary object; for, as the act of faith differs not, from its object being diversified, we shall thereby have the advantage of being able to speak more freely, by not having to do with an object so very solemn as that of saving faith; while still, whatever we may thus discover respecting the nature of faith in general, will apply to the subject of that faith by which we are saved, as well as to that more common instance of it, which we shall thus have analysed. Besides, by this way of proceeding, we shall be enabled to appeal more freely to common experience, than we could do, while treating a subject which falls not under the cognizance or observation of every man.

We shall make no apology for drawing our principles concerning faith in general, from the sacred Scriptures. For it follows from the very purpose for which revelation was given to ii'.-ii, that however we may judge of the expressions of the Bible, when they regard natural philosophy, or other similar sciences, which relate to external things, if that volume be indeed what it professes to be, a Divine Revelation, its moral philosophy and metaphysics must be conformable to the nature of things, and therefore philosophically true; and we may add, that the Bible must be the only source of truth on those branches of knowledge to the human race.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead, afforded him a noble opportunity of illustrating the true doctrine of human belief; and by carefully attending to what is recorded concerning the conversations of our blessed Saviour with his disetples, after he was risen, we shall be enabled to take sure steps in this most interesting inquiry.

The circumstance, to which, in the first instance, we would point the attention of our readers, is this. Our Lord had already appeared to some of his disciples, who, therefore, having ocular demonstration, could no longer doubt of the truth of his resurrection from the dead. This their conviction they endeavoured to impart to their friends and companions, through the evidence of their testimony; but in vain. Those who had not seen their Master, refused to believe upon the testimony of those who had, that he was indeed risen.

When, afterwards, our blessed Lord favoured these unbelieving disciples with a convincing appearance, he at the same time blamed them for not believing without it. Upon this occasion, he chid them rather severely; if we consider who He was, and in what relation they stood to him, we may say, very severely. He seems on this, as frequently before on similar occasions, and once or twice afterwards, to have been deeply grieved and pained by their conduct; and he states expressly, that what he blamed them for, was, that they did not believe the fact of his resurrection, upon the testimony of those who had seen him.

What Jesus himself blamed, and to blamed, must indeed have been blame-worthy in the sight of God. For his judgement was in fact the judgement of God. The disciples therefore acted seriously wrong, when they refused their assent to the testimony of their fellow-disciples, that Jesus was risen from the dead.

Let us now attend to some separate considerations, which, if we mistake not, need only be fairly stated, in order to approve themselves as truth to every reflecting mind.

The truth of a fact, and my belief of that fact, are two quite distinct things. What is true I may not believe; or inversely, I may believe what is not true. That which connects any fact with my belief, is called evidence. No fact, however true, can be believed, without evidence. Supposing any fact to be true, my evidence for it* truth may be defective, or it may be sufficient, or, it may be redundant and compelling. This latter degree of evidence, as the very term implies, is such as to compel my assent; it is impossible for me not to believe, and my belief can of course be attended with no merit. To believe upon defective, that is without sufficient evidence, is an act of credulity, which is always a blame-worthy state of mind; and to refuse my assent, because the evidence is defective, is always more or less meritorious, or, at least, it can never deserve blame. To believe when the evidence is sufficient, but not compelling, is my duty; and if I do not believe, when urged by sufficient evidence, the defect is in myself; 1 am guilty of unbelief. •

In the case before us, the disciples refused their assent to the fact of Christ's resurrection. The evidence they had, was, therefore, not compelling; for, otherwise, they must have believed the fact. But neither was it defective; for had that been the case, their refusal to believe, instead of being blameworthy, had rather been meritorious. Hence it follows, that they had sufficient evidence, and that their crime, which consisted in refusing to believe that for which they had sufficient evidence, was unbelief. By that very name our Saviour calls it:—He upbraided "them for their unbelief." Hence, unbelief, which in Scripture is always spoken of as a sin, is that state of heart and mind, which leads a man to refuse his assent to a fact, for the truth of which he has sufficient evidence. But, since whatever deserves blame, is only so far blameworthy, as it proceeds from the heart, it follows, that unbelief, by which we mean the disbelief of any fact for which there is sufficient evidence, must depend upon the heart; and therefore, that faith in general, is either altogether an act of the heart, or that, being of a mixed nature, and depending in part upon other powers of the soul, it is capable of being so influenced by the heart, as to be rendered praise-worthy. But if faith were altogether an act of the heart, it could never, in point of morality, be of an indifferent nature. Faith would always, and without exception, be praise-worthy, and its contrary always worthy of blame.

It has however appeared, that there is a case in which, on the contrary, faith is blame-worthy, and to disbelieve may be meritorious; viz. when the evidence for any supposed fact is insufficient. And there is likewise a case, in which faith being unavoidable, deserves neither blame nor praise. Hence we gather, that the act of faith does not proceed altogether from the heart, but that it is only capable of being influenced by it.

The farther prosecution of this subject will lead us to some rather curious, and very interesting results. Vol. IV. N. S. P

We have already seen, that for every fact, really such, there is a certain quantum of evidence which is just sufficient for belief, and which therefore ought to command our assent. But we have likewise seen, in a remarkable instance, that the assent which ought thus to follow, is, notwithstanding, sometimes withheld. Here, then, arises a very important and somewhat curious question: What is it that constitutes evidence sufficient? To this question the only satisfactory answer that can be given is the following: That is sufficient evidence, which would have commanded the assent of man, supposing he were still altogether the creature whom God could regard with approbation. God gave to man at his creation, a right heart, as well as a sufficient understanding. But when the heart, which is the most important part of the human frame, is no longer such as it should be, the same powers of understanding will, in certain cases, no longer produce the same effects. God, however, continues to judge of human conduct, according to his original design with him. In his righteous judgements no allowance is made for a change of heart, which God never intended, and of which therefore he cannot approve. And Jesus, who was a perfect man, having his own heart exactly right, knew well, by his own consciousness, what evidence was sufficient for belief, and could consequently clearly 'discern the most minute bias of a false heart in others.

It is easy to perceive in extreme cases, that it is self-love or self-interest, by which the heart is so biassed as not to receive the due impression from just evidence. From this obvious circumstance, some philosophers have too hastily inferred, that the proper state for the accurate discrimination of truth, is a state of absolute indifference. This, however, is a great mistake, as will be evident to every man upon mature reflection. A partial interest, we find, misleads us; and indifference, we know, is without all partiality. All this is very true: but is indifference the only state, which is free from partiality? Certainly not. A deep, but universally diffused and equable interest, is likewise devoid of partiality; and it is this equable interest, not indifference, which constitutes the proper state, for admitting the just evidence of truth. It is of the nature of indifference to be unconcerned, not only where truth lies, but whether it be discoverable or not, and even to doubt whether it exist at all. Its language is, What is truth !—that is, Who cares for it!—What philosophers call the love of truth, is, in fact, a state of heart divested of partiality, not by means of the coldness of indifference, but by means of an equably glowing ardour of interest, extending its influence in due proportion to every branch of universal being.

« ForrigeFortsett »