« PreviousContinue »
evidence which lies in the tone, the manner, the circumstantiality, the number, the agreement of the witnesses, and the consistency of all the particulars with what we already know from other sources of information. Now, it is undeniable, that all those marks which give evidence and credibility to spoken testimony, may also exist to a very impressive degree in written testimony; and the argument founded upon them, so far from being fanciful or illegitimate, has the sanction of a principle which no philosopher will refuse; the experience of the human mind on a subject on which it is much exercised, and which lies completely within the range of its observation.
2. We now enter on the consideration of the moral evidence for the truth of the New Testament, as gathered, however, not from the present character of the witnesses, but from the nature of that ethical system which they delivered; or, more generally still, not from themselves but from the subject matter of their testimony. Doubtless, we may collect from the performance itself, such marks of truth and honesty, as entitle us to conclude, that the human agents employed in the construction of this book were men of veracity and principle. But this argument has already been resorted to, and a very substantial argument it is. Our present attempt is to found an internal evidence for the divinity of scripture on the morality of its doctrines, or the purity of that moral light which
* In Chap. iii. of Book II., where we also adverted to the argument of the last chapter, but not with such particularity or fulness, as to prevent our again recurring to it. VOL. IV.
beams from its pages; and which, as distinguished from other systems of religion, whether from revengeful and licentious Paganism on the one hand, or from a corrupted Judaism on the otherseems to invest the New Testament with a sort of celestial radiance, and so to be no unambiguous token of the Heaven from whence it came.
3. But a certain preliminary question requires to be adjusted, ere it is made perfectly clear, that an internal evidence can be raised on the superior and recognized excellence of the Christian morality. For if man be capable of recognizing this excellence, does it not argue him to be alike capable of having conceived it at the first, and so of bringing it forth originally to the view and admiration of the world? The faculty, one might think, of discerning the worth or goodness of any system, would seem to bespeak the faculty of discovering or devising it. If the pure and perfect morality of the gospel be now the theme of universal acknowledgment, and that by minds of every order—why might not some mind of the highest order, at the era of its publication, have been able to originate the ethical system, that was afterwards to command the assent and acquiescence of the enlightened and the virtuous in all ages ? The same faculties, it can naturally be imagined, by which we are enabled to appreciate the inherent truth and value of any doctrine, might have also suggested that doctrine—so that not only might men have become its obedient disciples, but a man might have been the inventor of it. In short, it is not perceived, why a thing of earthly recognition, might not be a thing of earthly origination also or how if man, in virtue of his natural powers, can justly estimate the merits of any practical code or directory of human conduct, he might not, in virtue of the same powers, have been competent to frame it. It is on this ground that Christianity might be argued, notwithstanding the lustre of its moral superiority over every other faith, to be still a thing of terrestrial growth; and that therefore the hypothesis of a divine revelation is altogether uncalled for.
4. Now, in opposition to this, we hold that many are the truths, which never could have sprung up within the mind—but which, when brought to it from without, meet with the full consent and coalescence of the judgment—and that in virtue, not of any external evidence, but of their own inherent recommendations. There is
many a truth, the credibility of which does not serve. to indicate it before it is announced, but which abundantly serves to recommend it afterwards. It may have no such light as shall guide the way to it; and yet as much light, as that it may be seen and recognized as truth, on the moment of its being presented. The intellect might remain in a state of darkness and dormancy, as to many a truth which it never could have found; but awakened, as if like a candle by ignition, at the moment of contact with that truth when it is told-it, in a medium of vision thus created, might be led to discern things, and on their own intrinsic evidence too, which it never could have discovered. Of this the experience of the mind itself supplies us with many familiar illustrations. In mathematics, where every doctrine has the ground of conviction
within itself, how frequent are the discoveries which could only have been made by the few, and yet which the many can most completely and most intelligently appreciate ? There are propositions of such a particular description, that the very statement of them furnishes the cipher for their own verification ; and the mind feels itself placed on a distinct vantage-ground, when, instead of having to go forth in general quest of that which was altogether unknown, its now more limited aim is to certify that of which it has been specifically told. It is a homely, but we think an effective illustration of this—that when desirous of joining in the psalmody at church, but ignorant of the verses which have been given out, we are unable to collect from the general voice of the congregation, the articulate sounds to which they are jointly giving utterance. Yet when directed to the place, we can instantly recognize the coincidence between the notes in the music and the syllables in the lines that have been pointed out to us. It is thus also that a prophecy, respecting the fulfilment of which we are utterly in the dark before hand, might be cleared up afterwards—the coincidence between predictions and events which we could never have discovered, or perhaps even guessed at, becoming manifest as day, on the means of comparison being brought within our reach, when both are set before us. On the same principle too, we shall be able to explain that powerful and peculiar evidence of which we are told in scripture, when it speaks of the manifestation of the truth unto the conscience. But our inquiry at present, is whether the moral system of the Bible might not be the object of man's most intelligent approval, although he could neither have discovered nor devised it-or whether, though now abundantly met by the acknowledgments of an enlightened human sympathy, it did not require for its first introduction into the world a super-human revelation.
5. The apparent diversities of moral sentiment among men, have been well accounted for by those ethical writers who contend that the standard of duty is one and immutable notwithstanding ; and that, not objectively in itself alone, but subjectively, or so as that all men have the same moral nature, and would agree in all their moral perceptions of virtue, if brought under the same moral tutioninsomuch that, to be owned universally, it only needs to be promulgated universally, and in such circumstances as might ensure the serious and sustained attention of all men.*
There are seeming exceptions to this, in the state both of individuals and nations—in the one, when conscience is perverted by the sophistry of the passions, or, if not extinguished, brought to utter stupefaction, by the headlong and reckless indulgence of them-in the other, when some urgent and generally felt interest associates whole communities in some practice or sentiment that nevertheless is at war with the common sense of humanity. It is thus that we can imagine, among the families of a smuggling village, or of a piratical state, or even of a large commercial city, in civilized and enlightened Christendom, which owes its wealth and
See our Natural Theology, Book III., Chap. ii., Art. 18-23.