« PreviousContinue »
authenticity of the books of scripture, we may question the genuineness of all antient writings, and invalidate the evidence of all history.
Such known facts of other kinds have also been produced, especially respecting the reception which the pretensions to divine communications by Moses, by Christ, and his apoftles have met with, from persons who could have had no motive to admit them, except the fullest conviction of their truth, and also respecting the degrees of religious knowledge possessed by the Jews and christians, who were far from having any peculiar natural advantage for the attainment of it, as cannot be accounted for without the supposition of their having had such divine communications as they pretended to.
Lastly, not only have many remarkable events come to pass agreeable to predictions published in those books, but the present state of several considerable cities, of whole nations, and of the world in general, is such as was exactly described in them several hundred years ago; so that we cannot but have the greatest reason to expect the full accomplishinent of all the ather predictions, for which we have the same evidence that they came from God, and especially that which is the great object of the whole scheme of revelation, and to which, if we believe it, it behoves us to have constant respect, viz. that Christ will come again to raise the dead,
to judge the world, and to give unto every man according to his works.
Notwithstanding this direct and plenary evidence for the truth of the Jewish and christian religions, many persons, who have been extremely prejudiced, and consequently averse to receive them, either overlooking fone of the more essential particulars of which it consists, or not fully comprehending it, have staried several objections. I shall therefore distinctly mention, and briefly reply to the principal of thern, especially such as are thought to be the not plausible, and which have the most weight at prefent.
Varicus objections respecting the Old Testament.
OME of the most plaufible objections that have
yet been made to the system of revelation abovementioned affect the Jewish religion only It is said to represent the divine cond et in such a shape as is inconfitent with his known attributes of light, justice and goodness, particularly his express order to destroy all the inhabitants of Canaan, without fparing even innocent children, his command to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, and his direction to the children of Israel to borrow of the Egyptians
jewels, and other valuable things, without any design to return them.
Before I reply to each of these objections, I shall make a few general observations respecting them all.
To these, and all such like objections, the same general answer may be made as to fimilar objec. tions to the justice and goodness of God in the natural world, where we see many things which we are not able to reconcile to those principles, as they are rules of human conduct, and there is no reason to expect that revealed religion should be more free from these objections than natural religion. On the contrary, we might expect, that, if both the dispensations have the same author, they would be so similarly conftituted, as to be attended with similar advantages, and fimular difficulties. Now we see that, under the government of the same God, the innocent are frequently involved in the same calamities with the guilty; the laws of nature being so framed, as to be only in general favourable to virtue, without niaking exceptions on account of individuals.
If the vices and follies of a nation, or of its governors, bring war, famine, or peftilence into it, the righteous are not spared; storms, tempefts, and earthquakes make no distinction of virtuous or vicious, and innocent children suffer every day in consequence of the profligacy and debauchery of their parents. If, therefore, it be consistent with the divine attributes to permit war, pestilence, famine, or earthquakes, by which numbers of our race, of all characters, are promiscuously swept away, why might not the same being commission the Israelites utterly to extirpate a nation abandoned, without hope of recovery, to the most abominable idolatries and wickedness. With re. fpect to the divine being, there can be no material difference; and indeed there is very little, in any case, between appointment and permission, where there is a sufficient power of prevention. Also, as it is alledged, that the inequalities of common providence may be rectified in a future state, the very same may be said with respect to these special providences.
The great object of divine government is the production of happiness; and as we see, in the ordinary dispensations of his providence, that temporal evils are, in many cases, inseparably connected with, and ultimately productive of good, we may presume that every thing to which similar objections may be raised in the course of his extraordinary dispenfations, will, in the end, be seen to have the same advantages; and then they will stand perfectly clear of all objections. In the mean time, it becomes us (as we are obliged to do with respect to every thing that we have to complain of in the constitution and government of the natural world) to wait with
patience, till we can see farther into the nature and uses of things than we can do at present. The reason why the rules of stridt justice and veracity are binding upon us, is because it is the only way in which our mutual happiness, as social beings, can be promoted by ourselves. We have seen already that the most indispensible moral duties are, in fact, means to a certain end; and it is possible that, in some cases, a being of infinite wisdom may gain the same great end by what appears to us to be a deviation from any rules.
However, with respect to the case of the Canaan. ites, we may, I think, see great wisdom and pro. priety in their utter extermination, in the manner in which it was accomplished by the Israelites. It might be highly expedient, and even necessary, for the instruction of that age of mankind, that the divine being should make a signal and striking example of a nation so far sunk into idolatry, and corruptions of all kinds, as all the inhabitants of Canaan are said to have been ; and the hand of God would not have been so visible in their destruction, and consequently the moral lesson would not have been so striking, and useful, if it had been accomplished by a flood, an earthquake, or any other natural means, as had been already tried in the case of the old world, and of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah ; whereas the hand of God could not but appear when the punishment was executed by