« הקודםהמשך »
tissue of jarring contradictions. Perplexed and distracted, he can arrive at no certainty: labour as he may, he is of necessity still tossed in endless doubtings. Yet, in such a world, the deist supposes man to be placed : not by babbling folly, careless whether an end be attained or not; but by consummate wisdom, which in every other instance carefully and effectually adapts the mean to the end.
To take up, with a full conviction of its truth, this extraordinary and paradoxical supposition, is not one of the least difficulties which attend upon deistical Infidelity : and many perhaps will think it a greater mark of credulity, to believe that an all-wise God has placed in the world his rational creature man without giving him the slightest instruction as to those points in which his welfare is immediately concerned, than to believe that an all-wise God has authoritatively communicated to his rational creature man that knowledge and information which may best and most certainly fit him to answer the moral ends of his creation.
THE DIFFICULTIES ATTENDANT UPON DEISTI
CAL INFIDELITY IN REGARD TO HISTORICAL
MATTER OF FACT.
It has been so ordered by a wise and over-ruling Providence, that, in the case of various historical matters of fact, the deist is inevitably reduced to the alternative, either of denying the fact itself, or of admitting that a revelation from God to man must have taken place. If, on the one hand, he boldly denies the fact; then he unsettles the whole rationale of historical evidence, and brings himself (would he preserve the character of consistency) into a state of universal scepticism as to all past occurrences: if, on the other hand, he admits the fact; then he will find himself compelled to admit along with it the necessary concomitant fact of a divine revelation. So that, under this aspect of the question, the point will be, whether a man evinces a higher degree of credulity, by persuading himself that a recorded fact is absolutely false, notwithstanding it rests upon the very strongest historical evidence; or by believing the fact, and thence admitting its necessary consequence a revelation from heaven.
Many matters of this description might easily be adduced and commented upon: I shall however, for the sake of brevity, confine myself to a single remarkable case, as affording an apt specimen of the present mode of reasoning.
The case, which I shall produce, is the naked historical fact of the general deluge: and my position is, that the deist must either deny this fact altogether, or admit the actual occurrence of a revelation from God to man.
It might seem, as if the school of unbelievers had anticipated the possibility of some such use being made of the fact in question: whence perhaps we may account for the zeal, with which, from time to time, they have wished wholly to set aside the fact. For, doubtless, if it could be satisfactorily shewn that the deluge never occurred, no argument of any description could be drawn from it. The proofs however of its actual occurrence are so strong and so multiplied and so decisive, that, if this fact be denied, we must forthwith close the volume both of history and of physiology: in history, we must learn to believe nothing, whether near or remote ; in physiology, we must learn to disbelieve the very evidence of our senses.
Some of these proofs shall be briefly exhibited: and, when the absolute necessity of the fact has been thus established, we may then be allowed
fairly and reasonably to draw from it the proposed inference.
1. The proofs are partly historical, partly physiological, and partly moral.
1. With respect to historical proof, I so designate the universal attestation of mankind to the alleged fact, that a general deluge once took place, and that all animated nature perished save a single family with those birds and beasts and reptiles which they were instrumental in preserving
This universal attestation I call a proof : because, if it be deemed incapable of establishing a fact, there is an end of all historical evidence.
The circumstance of a general deluge is asserted by Moses. Now, when we consider the tremendous magnitude of such an event, and when we further consider that the Hebrew legislator has ventured to ascribe to it so comparatively recent a date as the year 2349 before the Christian era according to the chronology of the Hebrew Pentateuch or the year 2939 before the same era according to the chronology of the Samaritan Pentateuch: when, I say, we consider these two points; we may be morally sure, that, if the fact stood recorded in the Israelitish annals alone while the rest of mankind were quite ignorant of its occurrence, it must have been a mere fiction and could never have really happened. For, had an event of such a nature indeed taken place at the epoch fixed by Moses, it never could have been forgotten in so comparatively short a time by the posterity of the solely preserved family. Hence the ignorance of all the rest of mankind, save the Israelites, would have been proof presumptive, that the whole Hebrew narrative of the deluge was a palpable fabrication. Or again, if some few neighbouring nations only were acquainted with the fact, while the more remote nations including the bulk of mankind had never heard of it, the obvious presumption would then be, that no general deluge had occurred, though a partial and local inundation might have taken place, which had been exaggerated into a story of an universal flood with its present concomitants.
(1.) Such, I think, would have been the natural and reasonable inferences on either of these two suppositions. But, in truth, neither of the two suppositions is well founded.
So far from all mankind being ignorant of the alleged fact, save the Israelites alone; so far from the neighbouring nations only knowing it, conjunctively with the Israelites: there is scarcely a people upon the face of the whole globe, to whom the fact is not perfectly familiar. Nor am I speaking of those modern nations, whether Pagan or Mohammedan, to whom the fact might have been circuitously conveyed through the medium of Christianity: I speak of ancient nations, who flourished long before the promulgation of the Gospel; and I speak of those modern