Page images


ciples, by which the harmony of the spheres is preserved!

The general, if not universal, belief of mankind in respect to the divine existence, has been confidently appealed to by many as evincing, that this great truth, which lies at the foundation of all religion, is discoverable by human reason. The assertion has been broadly made, that no nation or tribe of people entirely ignorant of a Deity, can be found at present on the globe, or has ever existed. How far this assertion might be successfully combatted, we shall not now inquire, though we cannot forbear observing, that Locke, in the first book of his Essay on the Understanding, has quoted some facts, which he considered as sufficiently proving the contrary, and that a later writer of our own country has recorded a very remarkable circumstance, which we shall here state in his own words: “I was well acquainted,” says he, “ with a negro, who was a man of superior natural powers, and made a profession of religion; who told me, that he was born in the island of Madagascar, and lived there till he was above thirty years old ; and in all that time he never had a thought of the being of a God, a creator, or governor of the world, or of a future state after death.” But let us concede, for the sake of argument, that some indistinct notions relative to a supreme Divinity, are, and have always been co-extensive with the diffusion of human nature.-We ask, is it by any means certain, that such notions are the pure result of investigation and reflection on the part of those who possess them? May they not be referred to that original revelation of himself with which we know that the Deity was pleased to favour our first parent? The idea of a God once communicated to our race, would be handed down through successive generations, extending its influence to the remotest periods and regions.

We come now to exhibit what has been considered as something like a positive argument in support of the opinion which denies the possibility of arriving at a knowledge of the divine existence, independently of revelation. The benevolent attention which of late years has been devoted to the instruction of the deaf and dumb, has led to some discoveries bighly interesting to the philosophical observer of the human mind. Among other things, it has, we believe, been pretty clearly ascertained, that this unfortunate class of beings are entirely ignorant of a Deity, until they receive from their teacher particular and explicit information on this subject. And here we must not omit the mention of a circumstance which is well authenticated. It is the case of a man born deaf and dumb in France, who is reported to have been quick and sagacious in the ordinary affairs of life. He was a regular attendant of public worship, and applied for admission to the ordinance of the Lord's Supper. The bishop to whom the application was made, examined him as far as practicable, through the medium of his relatives and familiar companions, who could best converse with him. He was received as a communicant, and continued for many years, as was supposed, a devout Christian. At length, a surgical operation was performed on his ears, which enabled him to hear, and, of course, he soon bccame able to speak and to read. He then declared, that, in his previous state, he had not the most indistinct apprehension of a God, and that all the interest which he formerly appeared to take in religious exercises, resulted solely from a desire to imitate what lie saw in others. Now, there is undoubtedly a degree of force in the argument founded on the case of the deaf and dumb. Yet this argument must not be looked upon as conclusive, because the class of beings in question are in circumstances different from those in which the rest of the race are found. They have not, so to speak, the full complement of faculties pertaining to human nature. They, consequently, labour under disadvantages which render their situation so peculiar, that the inference drawn from their ignorance of a Deity, cannot be fairly relied on as decisive of the point at issue.

And after all, brethren, we confess that we are not competent to determine, whether man, independently of revelation, could have ascertained the being of God. That he has an instinctive perception of right and wrong—that his conscience often alarms and influences him by vague feelings of accountability,—we are willing to admit. But how far these moral emotions would necessarily involve a belief of the divine existence, we are at a loss to say. His Maker did not think proper to leave man without a revelation, and, therefore, we know not what it were possible for him, either immediately on his creation, or in a succession of ages, to discover of the being of a Deity.

If, however, we should admit, that the bare fact of the divine existence is discoverable by human reason, still we may venture to assert, that no correct ideas relative to the character and perfections of God, can be derived from any other source than bis own word. In support of this position, it is sufficient to appeal to the state of religion among the most enlightened and refineil nations of antiquity. Behold the learned

[ocr errors]

and polished Greeks and Romans offering their homage to thirty thousand divinities—divinities, too, whom they conceived to possess all the passions which belong to our nature in its state of degeneracy. See the inhabi- . tants of Athens—a city accounted the metropolis of the literary world,—erecting altars to unknown gods !

And here it deserves to be particularly remarked, that the opinions entertained by the ancients in reference to the divine nature, appear to have become less rational, or, rather, less consistent with the discoveries of revelation, in proportion to their advancement in literature and philosophy. The question might hence arise --if the knowledge of God which they possessed, had been acquired by the exercise of their own mental faculties, why did it not improve and enlarge in the same ratio in which those faculties were cultivated and expanded? How are we to account for the fact, that the religious sentiments of the Greeks and Romans, never exhibited the least symptom of progression towards the truth? The only change which they underwent, was to grow more absurd and more monstrous. This circumstance, however we may attempt to explain it, is a curious one.

We know it has been alleged, that while the popular religion of the ancients was a system of unmeaning and debasing superstitions, their philosophers and intelligent men of the higher classes, entertained more enlightened views respecting the divine Being, and merely professed, from motives of policy, to coincide in the vulgar notions of their countrymen. There may be some ground for this assertion, though every one must discern, that it is unsafe to pronounce positively concerning opinions which those who are conjectured to have held them, are admitted to have been most anxious to conceal. The truth of the matter we sup. pose to be about this—that reflecting men among the Greeks and Romans perceived the futility of the religious system adopted by the multitude, but having no certain information on the subject, and knowing not whither to go for such information, their minds settled into a state of general doubt and total indifference. According to the testimony of Gibbon, (their warmest admirer and eulogist,) they were, in reality, Atheists, though they thought proper, for obvious reasons, to conform externally to the religion of their country. It is Cicero, we believe, who somewhere remarks, that he never could tell, how one augur was able to look at another without laughing. And yet we are much mistaken, if his own speculations respecting the Deity, will not be contemplated with little complacency by a modern advocate for the sufficiency of human reason.

Enough, we presume, has now been said to show, that, apart from the revelation with which our Creator has kindly condescended to favour us, God is an incomprehensible being. Had it not been for the sacred scriptures, we should have remained ignorant of the divine character and perfections, even if we had been able to discover the simple fact of the divine existence.

But, brethren, we are prepared to advance farther than this, and to maintain, that, even with the light which the inspired record reflects on this sublime and glorious subject, we can learn little comparatively concerning Him who made us. Yes, we may go to the man who has the Bible in his hands, and as he diligently explores its pages, we may say to him in the language of the text, “ Canst thou by searching find

« PreviousContinue »