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DIFFICULTIES OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION
1 Cor. xii. 9. We know in part.
THE systems of pagan theology, have in general affected an air of mystery; they have evaded the light of fair investigation; and, favoured by I know not what charm of sanctified obscurity, they have given full effect to error and immorality. On this subject, the enemies of Christianity have had the presumption to confound it with the pagan superstition. They have said, that it has, according to our own confession, impenetrable mysteries; that it is wishful to evade investigation and research; and that they have but to remove the veil to discover its weakness. It is our design to expose the injustice of this reproach by investigating all the cases, in which mysteries can excite any doubts concerning the doctrines they contain, and to demonstrate on this head, as on every other, that the religion of Jesus Christ is superior to every other religion in the world. I. Mysteries should render a religion doubtIt is solely in this point of view, that we pro-ful when we cannot examine whether that ceed to contemplate this avowal of our apos-religion proceed from the spirit of truth, or tle, and in all its principal bearings. We from the spirit of error. Mankind neither can, know in part.' nor ought to receive any religion as divine, unless it bear the marks of divine authority, and produce its documents of credibility.
There are chiefly four cases in which mysteries render a religion doubtful.
For example, if you should require Mahemet to produce the proofs of his mission, be would say that it had a peculiar character, and a singular sort of privilege; that till his call, all the sent of God were obliged to prove the divinity of their mission; and the prephets gave signs by which they might be known: that Jesus Christ gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, health to the sick, and life to the dead: but on his part, he had received authority to consign over to eternal torments every one who shall dare to doubt the truth of his doctrine; and anticipating the punishment, he put every one to the sword who presumed to question the divine authority of his religion. But if you require of Jesus Christ the proofs of his mission, he will give you evidence the most obvious and satisfactory. Though ye believe not me, believe the works. If I had not come and spoken unto them; if I had not done among them the works which no other man did, they had not had sin. But now are they without excuse. The works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me.' John x. 25. 36: xv. 22 24.
then it ought still to have the preference. For example, the system of infidelity and of atheism. is exempt from the difficulties of Christianity; but, its whole mass is a fertile source of incomprehensible absurdities, and of difficulties which cannot be resolved.
I. When they so conceal the origin of a religion that we cannot examine whether it has proceeded from the spirit of error, or from the spirit of truth. For example, Mahomet secluded himself from his followers; he affected to hold conversations with God, concealed from the public, and he has refused to adduce the evidence. In this view, there is nothing mysterious in the Christian religion; it permits you to trace its origin, and to weigh the authenticity of its proofs.
II. Mysteries should render a religion doubtful, when they imply an absurdity. For example, the Roman Catholic religion establishes one doctrine which avowedly revolts common sense, and annihilates every motive of credibility. But the mysteries of our faith have nothing which originated in the human mind, and which our frail reason can in equity reject.
The whole of these propositions, my brethren, claim the most careful investigation. If Heaven shall succeed our efforts, we shall have a new class of arguments for the support of our faith. We shall have a new notive to console ourselves within the ümits God has prescribed to our knowledge, and await with ardour and patience, the happy period, till that which is perfect shall come; till that which is in part shall be done away,' till we shall behold the Lord with open face, and be changed into glory by his Spirit.' So be it. Amen.
III. Mysteries should render a religion doubtful, when they tend to promote a practice contrary to virtue, and to purity of morals. For example, the pagan theology had mysteries of iniquity; and under the sanction of religious concealment, it favoured practices the most enormous, and the foulest of vices. But the mysteries of the gospel, are 'mysteries of godliness,' 1 Tim. iii. 15.
If you ask the followers of Mahomet, how they know that the Alcoran was really transmitted by the prophet, they will confess that he knew neither how to read nor write; and
IV. In a word, mysteries should render a religion doubtful when we find a system less encumbered with difficulties than the one we attack: but when the difficulties of the system we propose surpass those of our religion,
* See the Alcoran, chap. on the lin. of Joach; thunder; chap. on the nocturnal journey; chap. on chap. on gratifications; chap. on Jonah; chap. on the Creator; chap. on the spider.
that the name of prophet is often assumed by men ignorant of letters: but they will add, that he conversed for twenty years with the angel Gabriel; that this celestial spirit revealed to him from time to time certain passages of the Alcoran; that Mahomet dictated to his disciples* the subjects of his revelation; that they carefully collected what ever dropped from his lips; and that the collectron so made constitutes the subject of the Alcoran. But, if you wish to penetrate farther, and to trace the book to its source, you will find that after the death of Mahomet, his pretended revelations, were preserved merely on fugitive scrolls, or in the recollection of those who had heard him; that his successor, wishful to associate the scattered limbs in one body, made the collection more with presumption than precision; that this collection was a subject of long debate among the Mahometans, some contending that the prince had omitted many revelations of the prophet; and others, that he had adopted some which were doubtful and spurious. You will find, that those disputes were appeased solely by the authority of the prince under whom they originated, and by the permanent injunctions of those who succeeded him on the throne. Consequently, it is very doubt ful, whether the impostures of Mahomet really proceeded from himself, or were imputed to him by his followers.
Some even of Mahomet's disciples affirm, that of the three parts which compose the Alcoran, but one is the genuine production of the prophet. Hence, when you show them any absurdity in the book, they will reply, that it ought to be classed among the two spurious parts which they reject.t
But if you ask us how we know that the books, containing the fundamentals of our faith, were composed by the holy men to whom they are ascribed, we readily offer to sumbit them to the severest tests of criticism. Let them produce a book whose antiquity is the least disputed, and the most unanimously acknowledged to be the production of the author whose name it bears; let them adduce the evidences of its authenticity; and we will adduce the same evidences in favour of the canon of our gospels.
certainty of the life to come; and those various maxims, that we must not give alms in ostentation; that God loveth a cheerful giver, that all things are possible to him;' and that he searches the heart. You will find a book in many places directly opposed to the maxims of the sacred authors, even when it extols the Deity, as in the laws it prescribes respecting divorce; in the permission of a new marriage granted to repudiated women; in the liberty of having as many wives as we please, a liberty of which Mahomet availed himself; in what he recounts of Pharaoh s conversion; of Jesus Christ's speaking in the cradle with the same facility as a man of thirty or of fifty years of age; in what he advances concerning a middle place between heaven and hell, where those inust dwell who have done neither good nor evil, and those whose good and evil are equal; in what he says concerning Jesus Christ's escape from crucifixion, having so far deceived the Jews that they crucified another in his place, who very much resembled him.*
You will find a book replete with fabulous tales. Witness what he says of God having raised a mountain, which covered the Israelites with its shadow. Witness the dialogue he imagined between God and Abraham. Witness the puerile proofs he adduces of the innocence of Joseph. Witness the history of the seven sleepers. Witness what he asserts that all the devils were subject to Solomon.‡ Witness the ridiculous fable of the ant that commanded an army of ants, and addressed them with an articulate voice. Witness the notions he gives us of paradise and hell.||Whereas, if you require of Christians the characteristic authorities of their books, they adduce sublime doctrines, a pure morality, prophecies punctually accomplished, and at the predicted period, a scheme of happiness the most noble and the most assortable with the wants of man that ever entered the mind of the most celebrated philosophers.
If you ask the sectarians of Mahomet what signs God has wrought in favour of their religion, they will tell you, that his mother bore him without pain; that the idols fell at his birth; that the sacred fires of Persia were extinguished; that the waters in lake Sava diminished; that the palace of Chosroes fell to the ground. They will tell you, that Mahomet himself performed a great number of
If you ask the followers of Mahomet to show you in the Alcoran, some characteristics of its divine authenticity, they will extol
it to the skies, and tell you that it is an un-miracles, that he made water proceed from his fingers; that he cut the moon, and made a part of it fall into his lap. They will tell you, that the stones, and the trees saluted him, saying, Peace, peace be to the ambassa dor of God.** They will tell you, that the sheep obeyed his voice; that an angel having assumed the figure of a dragon, became his guardian. They will tell you, that two men of enormous stature grasped him in their hands, and placed him on the top of a high mountain, opened his bowels, and took from his heart a black drop, the only evil Satan
created work; the truth by way of excellence; the miracle of miracles; superior to the resurrection of the dead; promised by Moses and the apostles; intelligible to God alone; worthy to be received of all intelligent beings, and constituted their rule of conduct.' But when you come to investigate the work of which they have spoken in such extravagant terms, you will find a book destitute of instruction, except what its author had borrowed from the books of the Old and New Testament; concerning the unity of God; the reality of future judgment; the
* Bee Maraccio on the Alcoran, page 36.
+ See Joseph of St. Maria on the expedition to the East Indies.
Maraccio on the Alcoran, chap. vi.
† Preface, page 14. Chap. of orders.
Chap. on Women.
See Maraccio's Life of Mahomet, page 10.
of the Levant.
** Maraccio, preface, page 14. col. 2.
possessed in his heart: having afterward re- | position, that a whole is greater than a part. stored him to his place, they affixed their Our proposition is therefore confirmed, that seal to the fact.* Fabulous tales, adduced mysteries ought to render a religion suspectwithout proofs, and deservedly rejected bed when they imply absurdities. We wish the more enlightened followers of Mahomet you to judge of the Christian religion accordBut, if you require of the Christians mira-ing to this rule. cles in favour of their religion, they will produce them without number. Miracles wrought in the most public places, and in presence of the people; miracles, the power of which was communicated to many of those who embraced Christianity; miracles admitted by Zosimen, by Porphyry, by Julian, and by the greatest enemies of the gospel; miracles which demonstrate to us the truth by every test of which remote facts are susceptible; miracles sealed by the blood of innumerable martyrs, and rendered in some sort still visible to us by the conversion of the pagan world, and by the progress of the gospel, and which can find no parallel in the religion of Mahomet, propagated with the sword, as is confessed by his followers, who say, that he fought sixty battles, and called himself the military prophet. Whereas Christianity was established by the prodigies of the Spirit, and by force of argument. The mysteries of the gospel are not therefore in the first class, which render a religion suspected. They do not conceal its origin. This is what we proposed to prove.
Now if there be in our gospels a doctrine concerning which a good logician has ap parent cause to exclaim, it is this; a God, who has but one essence, and who nevertheless has three persons; the Son, and the Holy Spirit who is God; and these three are but one. The Father, who is with the Son, does not become incarnate, when the Son bccomes incarnate. The Son, who is with the Father, no longer maintains the rights of justice in Gethsemane, when the Father maintains them. The Holy Spirit, who is with the Father and the Son, proceeds from both in a manner ineffable: and the Father and the Son, who is with the Holy Spirit, do not proceed in this manner. Are not these ideas contradictory? No, my brethren.
If we should say, that God has but one essence, and that he has three essences, in the same sense that we maintain he has but one; if we should say, that God is three in the same sense he is one, it would be a contradiction. But this is not our thesis. We believe the faith of a divine book, that God is one in the sense to which we give the confused name of essence. We believe that he is three in a sense to which we give the confused name of persons. We determine neither what is this essence, nor what is this personality. That surpasses reason but does not revolt it.
II. Mysteries should expose a religion to suspicion, when they imply an absurdity. Yes, and if Christianity notwithstanding the luminous proofs of its divine authority; notwithstanding the miracles of its founder; notwithstanding the sublimity of its doctrines; notwithstanding the sanctity of its moral code, the completion of its prophecies, the magnificence of its promises; notwithstand ing the convincing facts which prove that the books containing this religion were written by men divinely inspired; notwithstanding the number and the grandeur of its miracles; notwithstanding the confession of its adversaries, and its public monuments; if it was possible, notwithstanding all this, should the Christian religion include absurdities, it ought to be rejected. Because,
If we should say, that God in the sense we have called Essence, is become incarnate, and at the same time this notion is not incarnate, we should advance a contradiction. But this is not our thesis. We believe on the faith of a divine book, that what is called the person of the Son in the Godhead, and of which we confess that we have not a distinct idea, is united to the humanity in a manner we cannot dete mine, because it has not pleased God to reveal it. This surpasses reason, but does not revolt it
If we should advance, that God (the Spirit) in the sense we have called Essence, proceeds from the Father and the Son, while the Father and the Son do not proceed, we should advance a contradiction. But this is not our thesis. We believe on the credit of a divine book, that what is called the Holy Spirit in the Godhead, and of which we confess we have no distinct idea, because it has not pleased God to give it, has procession ineffable, while what is called the Father and the Son, differing from the Holy Spirit in that respect, do not proceed. This surpasses reason but does not revolt it.
Every character of the divinity here adduced, is founded on argument. Whatever is demonstrated to a due degree of evidence ought to be admitted without dispute. The proofs of the divine authority of religion are demonstrated to that degree; therefore the Christian religion ought to be received without dispute. But were it possible that contradiction should exist; were it possible that a proposition, appearing to us evidently false, should be true, ovidence would no longer then be the character of truth, and if evidence should no longer be the character of truth, you would have no farther marks by which you could know that a religion is divine. Consequently, you could not be assured, that the gospel is divine. To me, nothing is more true than this proposition, a whole is greater than a part. I would reject a religion how true soever it might ap-ideas. For instance, I have an idea of this pear, if it contradicted this fact; because, pulpit, and of this wall. I see an essential how evident soever the proofs might be al- difference between the two. Consequently, leged in favour of its divinity, they could I find a contradiction in the proposition, that never be more evident than the rejected pro- this wall, and this pulpit are the same being. Such being the nature of a contradiction, I
We go even farther. We maintain not only that there is no contradiction in those doctrines, but that a contradiction is impossible. What is a contradiction in regard to us? It is an evident opposition between two known
Ibid, page 13.
say, it is impossible that any should be found in this proposition, that there is one divine essence in three persons: to find a contradic tion, it is requisite to have a distinct idea of what I call essence, and of what I call person: and, as I profess to be perfectly ignorant of the one, and the other, it is impossible I should find an absurdity. When therefore I affirm, that there is a divine essence in three persons, I do not pretend to explain either the nature of the unity, or the nature of the Trinity. I pretend to advance only that there is something in God which surpasses me, and which is the basis of this proposition; viz. there is a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit.
But though the Christian religion be fully exculpated for teaching doctrines which destroy themselves, the Church of Rome cannot be justified, whatever efforts her greatest geniuses may make, in placing the doctrine of the Trinity, on the parallel with the doctrine of transubstantiation, and in defending it against us with the same argument with which we defend the other against unbelievers.
Were we, I allow, to seek the faith of the church of Rome in the writings of some individual doctors, this doctrine would be less liable to objections. Some of them have expressed themselves, on this subject, in an undetermined way; and have avoided detail. They say in general, that the body of Christ is in the sacrament of the eucharist, and that they do not presume to define the manner.
But we must seek the faith (and it is the method which all should follow who have a controversy to maintain against those of that communion); we must, I say, seek the faith of the church of Rome in the decisions of her general councils, and not in the works of a few individuals. And as the doctors of the council of Trent lived in a dark age, in which philosophy had not purified the errors of the schools, they had the indiscretion, not only to determine, but also to detail this doctrine; and thereby committed themselves by a manifest contradiction. Hear the third canon of the third session of the council of Trent. If any one deny, that in the venerable sacrament of the eucharist, the body of Christ is really present in both kinds, and in such sort that the body of Christ is wholly present in every separate part of the host, let him be anathematized.'
Can one fall into a more manifest contradiction? If you should say, that the bread is destroyed, and that the body of Christ intervenes by an effort of divine omnipotence, you might perhaps shelter yourself from the reproach of absurdity; you might escape under the plea of mystery, and the limits of the human mind. But to affirm that the substance of the bread is destroyed, while the kinds of bread, which are still but the same bread, modified in such a manner, subsist, is is not to advance a mystery, but an absurdity. It is not to prescribe bounds to the human mind, but to revolt its convictions, and extinguish its knowledge.
If you should say, that the body of Christ, which is in heaven, passes in an instant from heaven to earth, you might perhaps shelter yourself from the reproach of absurdity, and
escape under the plea of mystery, and of the limits of the human mind. But to affirm, that the body of Christ, while it is wholly in heaven, is wholly on earth, is not to advance a mystery, but to maintain a contradiction. It is to revolt allts convictions, and to extinguish all its knowledge.
If you should say, that some parts of the body of Jesus Christ are detached, and mixed with the symbols of the holy sacrament, you might perhaps avert the charge of contradiction, and escape under the plea of mystery, and the limits of the human mind. But to affirm, that the body of Christ is but one in number, and meanwhile, that it is perfect and entire in all the parts of the host, which are without number is not to advance a mystery, it is to maintain a contradiction. It is not to perscribe bounds to the human mind, but to revolt all its convictions, and to extinguish all its knowledge.
So you may indeed conclude, my brethren, from what we said at the commencement of this article. A Roman Catholic, consonant to his principles, has no right to believe the divine authority of the Christian religion, for the evidences of Christianity terminate on this principle, that evidence is the character of truth. But if the doctrine of transubstantiation be true, palpable absurdities ought to be believed by the Roman Catholic: evidence, in regard to him being no longer the character of truth. If evidence in regard to him be no longer the character of truth, proofs the most evident in favour of Christianity, can carry no conviction to him, and he is justified in not believing them.
I go farther still; I maintain to the most zealous defender of the doctrine of transubstantiation, that properly speaking, he does not believe the doctrine of transubstantiation. He may indeed verbally assert his faith, but he can never satisfy his conscience: he may indeed becloud his mind by a confusion of ideas, but he can never induce it to harmonize contradictory ideas: he may indeed inadvertently adhere to this proposition, a body having but a limited circumference, is at the same time in heaven, and at the same time on earth, with the same circumference. But no man can believe this doctrine, if by believing, you mean the connecting of distinct ideas; for no man whatever can connect together both distinct and contradictory.
III. We have said in the third place, that mysteries should render a religion suspected, when they hide certain practices contrary to virtue and good manners. This was a characteristic of paganism. The pagans for the most part affected a great air of mystery in their religious exercises. They said, that mystery conciliated respect for the Gods. Hence, dividing their mysteries into two classes, they had their major and their minor mysteries. But all these were a covert for impurity! Who can read without horror the mysteries of the god Apis, even as they are recorded in pagan authors? What infamous ceremonies did they not practise in honour of Venus, when initiated into the secrets of the Goddess? What mysterious precautions did they not adopt concerning the mysteries of Ceres in the city of Eleusis? No man was admitted without mature expe
rience, and a long probation. It was so established, that those who were not initiated, could not participate of the secrets. Nero did not dare to gratify his curiosity on this head; and the wish to know secrets allowed to be disclosed only by gradual approach, was regarded as a presumption. It was forbidden under the penalty of death to disclose those mysteries, and solely, if we may believe Theodoret, and Tertullian, to hide the abominable ceremonies, whose detail would defile the majesty of this place. And if the recital would so deeply defile, what must the practice be?
The mysteries of Christianity are infinitely distant from all those infamous practices. The gospel not only exhibits a most hallowing morality, but whatever mysteries it may teach, it requires that we should draw from their very obscurity motives to sanctity of life. If we say, that there are three Persons who participate in the divine Essence, it is to make you conceive, that all which is in God, if I may so speak, is interested for our salvation, and to enkindle our efforts by the thought. If we say, that the Word was made flesh, and that the Son of God expired on the cross, it is to make you abhor sin by the idea of what it cost him to expiate it. If we say, that grace operates in the heart, and that in the work of our salvation, grace forms the design and the execution, it is with this inference, that we should work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. If we teach even the doctrines of God's decrees, it is' to make our calling sure,' Phil. ii. 12; 1 Pet. i. 10.
IV. We have lastly said, that mysteries should render a religion doubtful, when we find a system, which on rejecting those mysteries, is exempt from greater difficulties than those we would attack. We make this remark as a compliment to unbelievers, and to the impure class of brilliant wits. When we have proved, reasoned, and demonstrated; when we have placed the arguments of religion in the clearest degree of evidence they can possibly attain; and when we would decide in favour of religion, they invariably insinuate, that' religion has its mysteries; that religion has its difficulties;' and they make these the apology of their unbelief.
I confess, this objection would have some colour, if there were any system, which on exempting us from the difficulties of religion, did not involve in still greater. And whenever they produce that system, we are ready to embrace it.
all those we do not avow. Join all the pretexts you affect to find in the arguats which nature affords of the being of a God, and the reality of a providence Join there. to whatever you shall find the most forcible against the authenticity of our sacred books, and what has been thought the most plausible against the marks of Divine authority exhibited in those Scriptures. Join to these all the advantages presumed to be derived from the diversity of opinions existing in the Christian world, and in all its sects which constantly attack one another. Make a new code of all these difficulties. Form a system of your own objections. Draw the conclusions from your own principles, and build an edifice of infidelity on the ruins of religion. But for what system can you decide which is not infinitely less supportable than religion?
Do you espouse that of atheism? Do you say, that the doctrine of the being of a God owes its origin to superstition, and the fears of men? And is this the system which has no difficulties? Have rational men need to be convinced, that the mysteries of religion are infinitely more defensible than the mysteries of atheism.
Do you espouse the part of irreligion? Do you allow with Epicurus, that there is a God; but that the sublimity of his Majesty obstructs his stooping to men, and the extension of his regards to our temples, and our altars? And is this the system which has no difficulties? How do you reply to the infinity of objections opposed to this system? How do you answer this argument, that God having not disdained to create mankind, it is inconceivable he should disdain to govern them? How do you reply to a second, the inconceivableness that a perfect being should form intelligences, and not prescribe their devotion to his glory? And what do you say to a third, that religion is completely formed, and fully proved in every man's conscience?
Do you take the part of denying a divine revelation? And is this the system which is exempt from difficulties? Can you really prove that our books were not composed by the authors to whom they are ascribed? Can you really prove that those men have not wrought miracles? Can you really prove that the Bible is not the book the most luminous, and the most sublime, that ever appeared on earth? Can you really prove, that fishermen, publicans, and tent-makers, and whatever was lowest among the mean populace of Judea; can you prove, that people of this des cription, have without divine assistance, spoken of the origin of the world; and of the perfections of God; of the nature of man, his constitution, and his duties in a manner more grand, noble, and better supported than Plato, than Zeno, than Epicurus, and all the sublime geniuses, which render antiquity venerable, and which still fill the universe with their fame?
Associate all the difficulties of which we allow religion to be susceptible. Associate whatever is incomprehensible in the doctrine of the Trinity, and in the ineffable manner in which the three Persons subsist, who are the object of our worship. Add thereto whatever is supernatural in the operations of the Holy Spirit, and in the mysterious methods he adopts to penetrate the heart. Neither forget the depths into which we are apparently cast by the doctrines of God's decrees, and make a complete code of the whole. To these difficulties which we avow, join
* Life of Nero by Suetonius, chap. 34.
Do you espouse the cause of deism? Do you say with the Latitudinarian, that if there be a religion, it is not shut up in the narrow bounds which we prescribe? Do you maintain that all religions are indifferent? Do you give a false gloss to the apostle's words,