« PreviousContinue »
ncovere nuancent of 8%.
far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, the assured consequence of patient continuance in well doing by a life of faith; hcialso uncovered the bottomless pit, the blackness of darkness forever, which will be the terrible portion of all impenitent workers of iniquity. These things, I say, are seen by the light which cometh from the invisible world, which, although liable to great perversions, as apparent in all the possible forms of idolatry and superstition, their truth and reality are not less certain on these accounts, but rather established, for a false religion necessarily presupposes a true one. The object of the writer of the following sheets, is to establish this, and to obviate all reasonable objections against believing it. This he expects to do by demonstrating the necessity of supernatural instruction (from the very nature and situation of the human mind) in order that the ideas and knowledge of spiritual things should ex. ist in our world amongst men. His views, however, extend further than, (by disproving natural religion,) to shew the necessity of revelation; he desires to clear away the many ob. stacles which natural theology and its consequences, together with the misapprehensions of the powers of the human mind, and the design and use of the word of God, have ne. cessarily produced in the various systems of the christian faith, to the practical belief of the gospel; and which have compelled a resort to a plan or theory of spiritual operations which are not warranted by the doctrines taught by Christ and the apostles, and for which (if the antecedent errors are removed) there can be no necessity in order to an evangelical faith in the Redeemer.
" - In the great and bitter controversies about religion, it seems as though its real design and use amongst men were entirely overlooked, or greatly disparaged. Its use in civilizing mankind, it would appear, is rendered doubtful by the mutual consent of its friends and enemies. The minds of men are more engrossed with their own peculiar explanations of scripture, and anxiously engaged in defending them against the opinions of other men, each making their own expositions the orthodox rules of faith, and charging their adversaries with heresy, with a zeal too, contrary to the spirit of the gospel, and very often in violation of its chari
ties, than in counting the blessings which accrue to sinful and miserable world, from the gospel of Jesus Christ, and in cultivating gratitude to God, and love to mankind, as the essential parts of its practical duties. It is not sufficiently realized, that it is the religion of heaven, re, yealed in God's word, that makes the people of civilized society differ from savage man, and forms the only true başis upon which a popuiar government can stand;-mor, in other words, that it is by its principles alone, in their appropriate operations upon the minds of men, which produce that character, and degree of philanthropy, and disinterestedness; that honesty of heart, and love to mankind, without which there can be no security for the continuance of a republican government, founded in the equal rights of the members of society. The reason is very obvious: without a full view of the destiny of man, which is only developed by the revelations of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and which ascertains a ground of obligation and responsibility, otherwise unknown, his supreme interest would, of necessity, be his earthly, individual aggrandizement; restrained only, in the prosecution of avaricious, sensual, and ambitious projects by physical necessity: So far is the observation from the truth which așserts that there is no necessary connection: between the christian religion, and politics; or, as the great political sage of Virgini. * has made the legislature of that state declare, in “an act for establishing religious freedom,” , which he drafted, “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” In their laudable zeal to secure religious liberty, and the freedom of conscience, they have declared that the civil rights of men, and the administration of justice, have no dependence upon those revelations of God, without which the true character, duties, interests, and rela-, tions of men could not be known. The fruits of the christian religion, exhibited in the lives of men, are what assimilate them to their divine creator; while a course of conduct directed by other principles, is earthly, sensual, and devilish. The infuences of revealed religion, in regulating
* Mr. Jefferson.
the conduct of men, are not restricted to the professors of christianity; they produce a considerable effect upon those. who avowedly reject it. The manners and customs of society, and the opinions of mankind, which are in any degree characterized by a correct and pure morality, derive that quality from revealed religion. It was by reason of the purifying moral influences of the gospel that its first teachers were called, in the emphatic language of the Saviour, the salt of the earth; and on account of the spiritual knowledge it affords, (as a prerequisite to those influences) and the destiny it unfolds, it is justly styled the light of the world, and the light of life. Those sentiments, and that conduct, deserve the name of evangelical christianity only, which are produced by, and proceed from the truth of God's word established in the understanding by the force, and authority of divine evidence, exhibited by the spirit of God in his word. The word of God thus established in the heart of a believer, becomes the man of his council; is a light to his feet, and a lamp to his path. To his mind it makes all nature vocal; either expressive of the majesty, glory, mercy, and goodness of God; or of his hatred to sin, his will, and pow. er to punish it. The reflected light of christianity, as it influences men's conduct merely by imitation, and through the influence of public opinion, without the root of the mat. ter being in the heart, is destitute of warmth and energy, and falls as far short of its essential intrinsic purity, and excellency, as does the light of the moon in warmth, and brilliancy, of the heat and refulgency of the sun. Indeed such an imi. tative christianity does not proceed from the heart, and only throws an exterior lustre around the conduct. Although it adds, hy reflection, but little moral worth (properly speaking) to the agent, (for the want of just motives) it is productive of signal advantages to society.
Should I succeed in establishing what I believe true, (viz.) that, situated, and formed as man is, the only way by which God is known to exist is, by revelation in words, comprehending his name, and by description his attributes, and character; and that the sensible portion of the universe which falls within the sphere of our senses, is only subservi. ent, and tend's, in come degree, to illustrate, and to prepare
the mind to receive but not to originate the ideas thus revealed, I shall conclude that I have destroyed the foundation of natural religion, and that the whole superstructure must fall. In case of this result I shall feel myself authorised to erect the christian religion as true, upon the ruins of natural religion; for should it turn out that the name and idea of God could not, from a necessity of nature, exist in the mouth, or mind of man without revelation, it will fol-; low as a necessary consequence, that religion entered the world by revelation, and not by nature, or the exercises of human reason upon it. But I design not to stop here; I intend to prove from natural necessity, that language itself is so far supernatural or divine in its origin, that all those terms, used, which are not expressive of naturally sensible objects, and their properties were revealed, and are the means in our day, (as they were when first communicated,). through which the knowledge of spiritual and invisible things is acquired, of beings whose archetypes are not objects of sense, and of whose existence our present mode, and state. of being render us inconscious. Of such are God himself, his presence with us, and support of our existence; creation, the spiritual world, the immortality of the soul, the character o Jesus Christ, his mediatorial government, the resurrection of the body, the destruction of the present heavens, and earth; a future judgment, a heaven and a hell, the future abodes of men, according to their character as determined at the final judgment, &c.; all of which are objects of faith, and not of sight or human reason. Should I make this out, it will follow as a truth, that the language used for these purposes, or the words employed, are the sti. pulated or appointed signs of ideas; stipulated, and first used by God himself, in his conimunications to man; and that having been revealed for the above purpose, they have been perpetuated by written records or oral traditions. The former method of preservation would, of necessity, be less subject to adulteration, and would, by correct education, produce in the minds of succeeding generations more certainly the ideas and knowledge first communicated; while the latter would be Jiable to great corruptions, and monstrous perversions. Owing to the mind, naturally, being conversant with the objects
of sense only, unless the original revealed signs of ideas, with their explanations, and descriptions, were preserved in their pristine simplicity, and purity, and so learnt, the imagination would soon assimilate the idea of God, &c. to similitudes, or forms, and thereby produce idolatry, or image orship. This we find to have been, and still is the case amongst all the nations of the earth, who have not the Jewish, or christian scriptures; such is the strong propensity to similitudise, or to attach form to spiritual objects on account of their being supernatural, and the incapacity of the mind to think of other than natural ones, except through revelation. So far from natural religion being true, the Jewish nation (the immediate subjects of the theocratical government with the records of the old scriptures in their hands) sometimes were engaged in idola. try with the Canaanitish nations. To guard against this natural propensity, formed the chief object of Moses' valedictory address to the Israelites, in Deuteronomy; and the difficulties in learning spiritual things, and forming just conceptions of them in the mind of every person, are owing to the same causes. This is a fact of which every mind must be conscious that will make the experiment.
The previous investigation will prepare the way for just ideas on the subject of faith, which is treated of in the second chapter. The truths established by the investigation of natural religion, will form the foundation of the theory of faith; for upon them rest the supernatural character of the propositions, and the divine evidence by which alone they can with consistency, and absolute certainty be believed. 3:
It is not less, a just rule in religion, than in civil affairs, that the allegations, and proofs must agree in the establishment of truth. If a principle is asserted to be a supernatural or a divine one, the proof by which it supports itself must be so too, or it cannot in reason be believed. Tlie bare assertion, that any proposition is divine, can never produce any rational conviction that it is so; and he who makes it, however sincere, and zealous he may be, deserves not the assent of a reasonable mind. It is by proof, by divine proof, properly exhibited, that belief in such a case is, or can with propriety be produced. Upon this simple view of the subject is built the doctrine or theory of the christian faith, and the evi,