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agree that, from the first of January, 1600, there was a total darkness over all the earth for eight days; suppose the tradition of this event is still strong and lively among the people; that all travellers bring us accounts of the same tradition; it is evident that our philosophers ought to receive it for certain.” “ But,” he adds, “should this miracle be ascribed to any new system of religion, men in all ages have been so imposed upon by ridiculous stories of that kind, that the very circumstance would be full proof of a cheat, and sufficient, with all men of sense, not only to make them reject the fact, but to reject it without further examination.” On the consistency and candor of this passage I make no comment. Who, after reading it, can fail to feel that Hume was guilty of a heartless, if not a malignant trifling with the best interests of his fellow-men?
Thus, after mentioning the classes of persons whom I shall hope to benefit, I have endeavored to show, first, that you, my hearers, are responsible for the manner in which you use your understandings, and for the opinions you form on this great subject. And, second, that there is nothing in the nature or kind of evidence by which Christianity is sustained, nor in any conflict of the evidence of experience and of testimony, to prevent us from attaining that certainty upon which we may rest as upon the rock; and which shall constitute, if not "the assurance of faith,” yet the assurance of understanding.
PRELIMINARY OBSERVATIONS. PROBABILITY OF A REVE
LATION; FIRST, FROM THE NATURE OF THE CASE; SECONDLY, FROM FACTS. - PROBABILITY OF MIRACLES, ASIDE FROM THEIR EFFECT IN SUSTAINING ANY PARTICULAR REVELATION. - CONNECTION BETWEEN THE MIRACLE AND THE DOCTRINE. - THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION, OR NONE.
The Christian religion admits of certain proof; and to show this was one object of the last lecture. But, in searching for that proof, we may proceed in two different methods. We may either try the facts in question by the laws of evidence, precisely as we would any other facts, or we may judge beforehand of their probability or improbability. In the first case, we should allow nothing for what we might suppose previous probability or improbability, nothing for the nature of the facts as miraculous or common. We should hold ourselves in the position of an impartial jury, bound to decide solely according to the evidence. This course alone is in accordance with the spirit of the inductive philosophy, which decides nothing on the ground of previous hypothesis, but yields itself entirely to the guidance of facts properly authenticated, and refuses no conclusion which the existence of those facts necessarily involves. Let those who are to judge of Christianity approach it in this spirit, and we are content.
And surely, if this spirit was demanded when the processes of nature only were in question, — and the whole history of human conjecture there is but the history of weakness and folly, so that science made no progress till facts, established by proper evidence, were received without reference to hypothesis, — much more must this same spirit be demanded when the procedure of God in his moral government is concerned. On such a subject, nothing can be more contrary to that wise caution which adheres to facts, and balances evidence, and keeps the mind open to conviction, than to come to a decision under the influence of a prejudication of the case on the ground of any antecedent improbability.
But, unphilosophical as such a course plainly is, it springs directly from the spirit of the age. The human mind, in its constant oscillations between the extremes of credulity and skepticism, is now ranging somewhere on the side of skepticism. There was a time, both before and after the revival of letters, when a belief in frequent supernatural agency was common. But when many things, supposed to be owing to supernatural influence, were referred, by the light of science, to natural causes, and a large class of superstitions was thus expelled, then men passed to the other extreme, and it became weak and superstitious to believe even in the possibility of any other causes than those that were natural. It was the progress of this feeling towards the utmost limits of skepticism, that was called by many the progress of light in the world, and it was taken advantage of, and urged on, by skeptics, in every possible way. But a general tendency of the human mind is never altogether decep
tive. It is the indication of some great truth. This is so with the tendency of man, admitted even by Hume, to believe in supernatural agency. And when the reaction is over, and men settle down in the light of a large experience, it will be generally conceded, I doubt not, that, while the general course of nature is uniform, so as to lay a foundation for experience, and give it value, there is also something in the system to meet our tendency to believe in that which is supernatural ; that there are powers, higher than those of nature, connected with the natural and moral administration of the universe, that may interfere for the welfare of man. But, however this may be hereafter, it is not so
The legitimate force of the evidence for Christianity is constantly neutralized by assertions, purely hypothetical, of the improbability of the facts. Now, we admit of no such improbability. We hold that no man has a right to construct a metaphysical balance in which he shall place an hypothesis of his own as a counterpoise for one particle of valid evidence. To do it, is to go back into the dark ages. It is to apply, in religion, maxims long since discarded in physics. It is, therefore, out of a regard to the exigencies of the time, and not because I think it essential to the Christian argument, that I proceed to adduce some considerations to show the antecedent probability of a revelation from God.
To judge of the probability of any event, we must know something of its causes, or of the intentions of the agent who may produce it. If we know nothing of these, we have no right to say, of any event, that it is probable or improbable. If we know all the causes
that are at work, or all the intentions of the agents esired. we can foretell with certainty what will tase piace. It is obvious, therefore, that an event
ta nar sem higais probable to one man, or, perBars Rearly certaia, may seem to another altogether icontazie. So sensibie, bowever, are most persons asigurance of the causes, and agents, and purpues at man erst in this complex and wonderful Urrer, tsat it requires but a slight amount of wace to sustantiate events of which we should have said, barehand, that the chances against them were as a midon to one. Especially is this the case wxa de actions of a free agent are concerned, and wxa we are but siihdy acquainted with his character zis
Bitäis is precies the case before us. fe is whether it was probable, beforehand, that God agire a revelation to man. Of this we can judge
rs we are acquainted with the character of God, waithe emerney requiring his special interposition. There will give such a revelation, and confirm it bu mais evers theist must admit; and the simple CURSTÀU is whether, as a free Agent and a moral Bawerur, for I acknowledge no man as a theist who does any admit these two characters of God,) he would think it best to give a revelation.
I knew it is said, by some, that this is ground on which we ought not to tread. God, they say, is an intinite Being, and the complexity of his plans, and the range of his operations, must be so great that it would be presumption in creatures like us, creatures of a dav, dwelling in this remote corner of the universe, to judge what would, or would not, be probable under