C‎ > ‎Chalmers, Thomas - 1780-1847‎ > ‎Volume 1‎ > ‎

Bk. 1. - Chap. 5. - "On the Hypothesis that the World is Eternal."

§1.

But after all it may be asked, Is the world an effect ? May it not have lasted for ever — and might not the whole train of its present sequences have gone on in perpetual and unvaried order from all eternity ? In our reasoning upon antecedents and consequents, we have presumed that the world is a consequent. Could we be sure of this, it may be thought — then on the principle of our last chapter, let the adaptation of its parts to so many thousand desirable objects be referred, and on the basis of a multiplied experience too, to a designing cause as its strict and proper antecedent. But how do we know the world to be a consequent at all ? Is there any greater absurdity in supposing it to have existed as it now is, at any specified point of time throughout the millions of ages that are past, than that it should so exist at this moment ? Does what we suppose might have been then, imply any greater absurdity, than what we actually see to be at present ? Now might not {Page No. 162.} the same question he carried back to any point or period of duration however remote — or, in other words, might not we dispense with a beginning for the world altogether ? Such a consequent as our world, if consequent it really be, would require, it might be admitted, a designing cause or its antecedent. But why recur to the imagination of its being a consequent at all ? Why not take for granted the eternity of its being, instead of supposing it the product of another, and then taking for granted the eternity of his being ? And, after all, it may be thought, that the eternity of our world is but one gratuitous imagination instead of two — and, as to the difficulty of conceiving, this is a difficulty which we are not freed from by the theory of a God. Can we any more comprehend His past eternity, than we can the past eternity of matter — the everlasting processes of thought any more than the everlasting processes of a material economy — a circulation of feeling and sentiment and purpose and effect that never had commencement in an aboriginal mind; than a circulation of planets, or that orb of revolution which is described by water through the elements of air and earth and ocean, or finally the series of animal and vegetable generations, never having had commencement in an aboriginal mundane system. At this rate, the supposition of an intelligent Creator may only be a shifting of the difficulty, from an eternal Nature to an eternal Author of Nature. If Nature is clearly made out to be a consequent, then it might be admitted, that the adaptations which abound in it point to an intelligent and {Page No. 163.} designing cause. But this remains to be proved; and till this is done, it is contended, that it is just as well to repose in the imagination of Eternal Harmonies in a Universe, as of Eternal Harmonies in the mind of One who framed it.

§2.

On this subject we have nothing to quote from Mirabaud, whose work on the System of Nature — though characterized more by its magniloquence than its magnificence, its plausibility than its power — is fitted by its gorgeous generalizations on nature and truth and the universe, to make tremendous impression on the unpractised reader. There is a certain phraseology which has on some minds the effect of a sublime and seducing eloquence, while it excites in others a sensation of utter distaste as if absolutely oversatiated with vapidity and verbiage. This work is one of the products of Germany; and for upwards of fifty years has been well known in the Continent of Europe. Its circulation has been much extended of late by the infidel press of our own country — where it is, we understand, working mischief among the half-enlightened classes of British society. We know nothing of the history of its author. In real strength and staple of thought he is a mere sentimental weakling when compared with Hume, from whose Dialogues on Natural Religion we shall give one or two extracts on the argument now in question.

§3.

“For aught we can know a priori, matter may contain the source or spring of order originally within itself as well as mind does; and there is no more difficulty in conceiving that the several {Page No. 164.} elements from an internal unknown cause may fall into the most exquisite arrangement, than to conceive that their ideas in the great universal mind from a like internal unknown cause fall into that arrangement. The equal possibility of both these suppositions is allowed.” Again — “If the material world rests upon a similar ideal world, this ideal world must rest upon some other; and so on without end. It were better therefore never to look beyond the present material world. By supposing it to contain the principle of its order within itself, we really assert it to be God; and the sooner we arrive at that divine Being so much the better. When you go one step beyond the mundane system, you only excite an inquisitive humour, which it is impossible ever to satisfy. To say that the different ideas which compose the reason of the Supreme fall into order of themselves and by their own nature, is really to talk without any precise meaning. If it has a meaning, I would fain know, why it is not as good sense to say, that the parts of the material world fall into order of themselves and by their own nature. Can the one opinion be intelligible while the other is not so ?” Lastly — “An ideal system arranged of itself without a precedent design is not a whit more explicable than a material which attains its order in like manner; nor is there any more difficulty in the latter supposition than in the former.” “A mental world or universe of ideas requires a cause as much, as does a material world or universe of objects; and if similar in its arrangement must require a similar cause.”
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§4.

This is very distinctly put; and we think admits of as distinct and decisive a reply. The Atheist does not perceive why a material economy as exemplified in the world might not fall into order of itself, as well as a mental economy as exemplified in God. The precise difference between the two is, that we have had proof, as we shall attempt to show, of a commencement to omnipresent material economy — we have had no such proof of a commencement to the mental economy which may have preceded it. There is room for the question, how came the material system of things into its present order? — because we have reason to believe that it has not subsisted in that order from eternity. There is no such room for the question, why might not the material have fallen into its present order of itself, as well as the mental that is conceived to have gone before it ? We have no reason to believe that this mental economy ever was otherwise than it now is. The latter question presumes that the mental did fall into order of itself, or which is the same thing, that the Divinity had a commencement. In the material economy we have the vestiges before our eyes of its having had an origin, or in other words of its being a consequent — and we have furthermore the experience that in every instance which comes under full observation of a similar consequent, that is of a consequent which involved as the mundane order of things does so amply, the adaptation of parts to an end, the antecedent was a purposing mind which desired the end, and devised the means for its accomplishment. We {Page No. 166.} might not have been called upon to make even a single ascent in the path of causation, had the world stood forth to view in the character or aspect of immutability. But instead of this, both history and observation tell of a definite commencement to the present order — or, in other words, they oblige us to regard this order as the posterior term of a sequence; and we, in reasoning on the prior term, just follow the lights of experience when we move upward from the world to an intelligent mind that ordained it. It is this which carries us backward one step from the world to God — and the reason why we do not continue the retrogression beyond God is, that we have not met with an indication of his having had a commencement. In the one case there is a beginning of the present material system forced upon our convictions; and we proceed on the solid ground of experience, when we infer that it begun in the devisings of an antecedent mind. In the other case, the case of the antecedent mind, there is no such beginning forced upon our convictions; and none therefore that we are called upon to account for. It is our part as far as in us lies to explain an ascertained difficulty; but not surely to explain an imagined one. We must have some reason for believing in the existence of a difficulty ere we are called upon to solve it. We have ample reason for regarding this world as a posterior term, and seeking after its antecedent. But we have no such reason for treating this antecedent as a posterior term, and seeking for its prior term in a higher antecedent. The one we see to be a changeable and {Page No. 167.} a recent world. The other for aught we know may be an unchangeable and everlasting God. So that when the question is put — Why may not the material economy fall into order of itself, as well as the mental which we affirm to have caused it? — our reply is, that so far from this mental economy falling into order of itself, we have yet to learn that it ever had to fall into order at all. The one order, the material, we know, not to have been from everlasting. The other, the mental, which by all experience and analogy must have preceded the material, bears no symptom which we can discover, of its ever having required any remoter economy to call it into being.

§5.

At the same time we must admit that on this question between the eternity of matter and the eternity of mind, there has been advanced, on the Theistical side of the controversy, a deal of speculation and argument with which our understandings do not at all coalesce. We have already stated the reasons of our having no confidence in the a priori argument — although both Sir. Isaac Newton and Dr. Samuel Clarke were employed, we believe, in the construction of it. But besides this, there is a world of not very certain metaphysique we do think, about the necessity of mind to originate motion in the universe — and that were there nought but matter all space would be alike filled with it, and all would be inert and immoveable. We have already given one specimen of this gratuitous style of arguing from Wollaston — and without offering any more from other writers of that period, we may state that in the general we feel no sympathy {Page No. 168.} of understanding with much which has been written on the side of Natural Religion. There appears for example to be nothing substantial or effective in that reasoning which is founded on the comparison between mind in the abstract and matter in the abstract — or which, on the bare existence of matter apart from its collocations, would conclude the necessity of an antecedent Intelligence to originate it into being. The palpable argument for a God as grounded on the phenomena of visible nature lies, not in the existence of matter, but in the arrangement of its parts — a firmer stepping-stone to the conclusion — than the mere entity of that which is corporeal is to the previous entity of that which is spiritual. To us it marks far more intelligibly the voice of a God, to have called forth the beauteous and beneficent order of our world from the womb of chaos, than to have called forth the substance of our world from the chambers of nonentity. We know that the voice of God called forth both. But it is one of those voices which sounds so audibly and distinctly in Reason’s ear. Of the other we have been told, and we think needed to be told by Revelation.

§6.

The question to be resolved then is — not whether the matter of the world, but whether the present order of the world had a commencement ?

§7.

Of the various reasons which might be alleged in favour of such a commencement, there are some that we would advance with much greater confidence than others. There is one by Dr. I’aley which does not appear to us satisfactory — and in his statement of which, we think that for {Page No. 169.} once he is metaphysically obscure. He, in his Natural Theology, brings it forward as a general position, that wherever we meet with an organic structure where there is the adaptation of complicated means to an end, the cause for its being must be found out of itself and apart from itself. This, at least, does not carry the instant assent of a proposition that announces at once its own evidence. Neither, although we think it a very impressive consideration, would we insist on the argument by which it is attempted to be proved, that although the existence of each organic being can be accounted for by derivation from a parent of its own likeness — yet we are not on that account to acquiesce in the imagination of an infinitude for the whole race, as if the hue of successive generations reached backward to eternity. It does seem as irrational so to conclude, as to say of an iron chain which ascends perpendicularly from the surface of our earth, and at its higher extremity was too distant for vision, that each link “was sustained by the one immediately above it, and that simply if the whole had no termination each would have a support of this kind and so the whole be supported. It seems as impossible that there should be an eternal race of men or animals, as that a chain rising infinitely upwards from our earth should hang upon nothing. If there be good reason for the belief, that there must be a suspending power for the whole chain at whatever height it may be conceived to go — there is at least the semblance of as good reason for the belief, that there must be a prime originating power for the {Page No. 170.} whole race, however remote the antiquity of its origin. But even this consideration we at present shall forego — thinking as we do that the non-eternity of our animal and vegetable races rests upon a basis of proof certainly as firm as this, and greatly more palpable.

§8.

This proof is of two kinds. The recency of the present order of things — the recency of the world, meaning by this term not the matter in respect to being, which forms its substratum; but the dispositions of matter, more especially as exemplified in the structures of the animal and vegetable kingdoms, which form its existing economy — the commencement of the world in this sense of it may be learned, either from the evidence of history or the evidence of observation. If there have been a creation, it belongs to the order of historical events, and like any other such event might become the subject of an historical testimony — the authority of which might be tried by the rules and decided by the judgment of ordinary criticism. In this respect there is no difference between these two facts — the origin of a world and the origin of a kingdom. They are alike susceptible of being made known by competent and contemporaneous witnesses, and of being transmitted downward on a pathway of oral or written tradition — the continuity of which and the credibility of which are alike cognizable, by the versant in that species of erudition. This evidence is distinct from that of direct and scientific observation, just as the {Page No. 171.} evidence of a record for some bygone event is distinct from that of our senses. We might have documentary information as to the precise year of the building of a house, or we might be satisfied by marks and appearances of which we have the immediate eyesight, that it was built within the last century. In like manner we might have evidence, if not for the precise year or century at which the present system of visible things was put together, at least for all that we are in quest of as connected with our present argument that it was put together at some time. The historical evidence for a commencement to the present order of the material world is all that we shall notice in this preliminary chapter — postponing our view of its observational evidence to the next book, when we treat of the proofs for the being of a God in the dispositions of matter.

§9.

There is one principle which should never be lost sight of, when investigating the Evidence of Religion, or indeed any evidence Which relates to questions of fact. We mean the sound and sterling quality of that evidence which is either historical or experimental. The truth is, that the historical, when good and genuine, resolves itself into the experimental. The only difference is, that instead of our own observation, it substitutes the observation of others. We receive by our ears what we are assured by the diagnostics of credible testimony, that they have seen by their eyes. Historical evidence has thus the character; and, in proportion as it is substantiated, should have the effect of the observational. Originally, it is the evidence of {Page No. 172.} sense — and no one can question the paramount authority of this evidence over all the plausibilities of speculation. It is a very obvious principle, although often forgotten in the pride and prejudice of controversy, that what has been seen by one pair of human eyes is of force to countervail,all that has been reasoned or guessed at by a thousand human understandings. This is just the Baconian principle in science — and all we want is the scrupulous and faithful application of it to religion. In this we would have religion to make common cause with philosophy — and, in the formation of our creed, we should feel as little inclined as any of philosophy’s most enlightened disciples to build an airy hypothesis on an unsubstantial foundation We no more want to devise or excogitate a system by any creative exercise of our own, than the most patient of those physical inquirers who question nature in their laboratories; and, upon a single adverse response, would dispost the theory of a whole millennium from its ascendancy over the schools. They seek for truth on the field of experiment alone; and, if not able to stand this ordeal, neither the beauty of an opinion nor the inveteracy of its long possession will save it from its overthrow. Such is the deference which they; and such also is the deference which we would render to the authority of observation. In every question of fact, it is all in all. It is so in the things of science — it is so in things of sacredness. We would look at both, not through the medium of imagination but of evidence — and that, whether we sit in judgment on a question of our own science, {Page No. 173.} or on a question of geology — whether we investigate the past history and present state of the divine administration, or investigate the past physical history and actual state of our globe. In either, we should deem the real findings of one man to be of more” value than the splendid fancies of a thousand men.

§10.

For example — in the latter science, we may have one doctrine on the degradation of the hills, and another on the encroachment or regress of the sea, and another on the relation between the position of the strata and the character of the fossil remains to be found in them. Of the last of these it is evident, that the results of theory must give way to the results of observation, should they stand opposed to each other; and in reference to the two first it is obvious, that there might be an evidence of history which should overbear the speculation. For instance had we the authentic memorials of a trigonometrical survey taken two thousand years back, and with the same securities for its correctness that we have in the surveys of the present day, who would not prefer the informations of such a document to all the plausibilities of all the speculatists ? It were in the very spirit of our modern science to learn of the height of our mountains and the line and locality of our shores, from the men who had then measured rather than from the men who were now arguing them — and it is just a recognition of the great principle that all the philosophy of actual being in the universe, to be solidly established, must rest on the basis of facts — when we affirm that the doctrines of science {Page No. 174.} want an indispensable prop, if they are not found to quadrate with the sure depositions of history.

§11.

It is thus, we think, that in the strict philosophy of the question, the geological speculations of our day should come under the tribunal, or be brought to the touchstone of authentic history. At a time when those physical characters are so confidently spoken of, which have been sculptured on rock, as it were, by the finger of nature, and wherewith she hath recorded the antiquity and revolutions of the globe; we are not to overlook those characters which have been transmitted to us from past ages on the vehicle of human testimony, deposing perhaps to the recency of our present world. We mean to affirm that if some credible and authentic memorial of history stands in the way of any theory, there is violence done to the philosophy of observation — when such an element is not disposed of, and perhaps not so much as adverted to. It is not a comprehensive view which is taken of the question, by those who run waywardly and unbridled on some track of speculation, and who blink any of the evidence that legitimately bears upon it. In questions of fact, history, when marked with the usual signatures of truth, is not only a competent, but in most instances is the best voucher that can be appealed to. If the Baconian logic require that one’s own observation should give the law to his own fancy, it equally requires that the observation or the findings of one man should give law to the fancy of another. Now history is the vehicle on which are brought to us the observations of other men, whether the path {Page No. 175.} over which it has travelled be a distance in space or a distance in time — that is, whether they whose observations it bears to us are the men of other countries, or of by-gone ages. History if not direct is at least derivative observation; and if rightly derived is only observation at a distance instead of observation on the spot. There is an end of all solid philosophy, if such evidence is set aside — and that, to make room for the mere wantonness of the human spirit, that would fain substitute its own creations in the place of all which observation distinctly points out, or which history audibly tells of the creation by God. At this rate the fair domain of science is again laid open, as in the days of the schoolmen, to the misrule, the wild vagaries of unchastened imagination. 

§12.

Hence it is that in the exceeding dimness of reason or of nature’s light, we do feel the utmost value for all those historical notices, which serve to indicate that the world had a beginning. Among the ambiguities of natural theism, and between the plausibilities which can be alleged on either side of this question — between an eternal universe whose laws and processes are now as they have ever been, and an eternal God who hath ordained these laws and still overrules these processes — there is no evidence that we should more desiderate than what may be called the observational. We should like the question to be rescued from the obscurity of metaphysique — and that the clear experimental light of authentic and credible history were shed over it. If from the documents and vestiges of other times, there could be collected even so much as the bare {Page No. 176.} fact, that, somehow or other the world had a beginning, this would make room for the argument of its having begun in the devices of a mind that had an aim and a purpose in the formation of it. Let it in this way be made out that the world really is a consequent — and then from what we observe of this consequent we might reason to an antecedent — from the adaptations which abound in it to objects that are palpable, might we reason to a mind which designed such adaptations because it desired such objects — from the beauties and the benefits of its most orderly arrangement, might we reason to an Intelligent Being who had the Taste to conceive what is lovely, and the Benevolence to institute what is useful, and both the Power and the Wisdom to frame a mechanism which moved in such exquisite harmony, and wrought off so abundant a happiness to that host of sentient creatures who are on the surface of our Earth. Let there only be evidence, whether in nature or in history, by which to get quit of the hypothesis that this world with all its present laws and harmonies must be eternal — and then, on the stepping-stone of a world so beauteously ordered and so bountifully filled, might we rise to the sound hypothesis of an Eternal Mind from whom this universe is an emanation. This would give full introduction to the reasonings a posteriori — carrying vis at once from the indications of design to a primary designer. All that is needed is satisfactory evidence that these indications are not from Eternity — that the curious mechanism, for example, of our bodies hath not always existed, {Page No. 177.} and been transmitted downwards from one generation to another by a law which hath been everlastingly in operation — in a word that things have not continued to be as they are at present, we shall not say from the beginning of the Creation, for the fact of a Creation is that which we are now in quest of — but that they have not so been from Eternity. 

§13.

But ere proceeding farther, there is still another principle which we would here interpose, in the shape of a lemma, on the general doctrine of the Evidences. Whatever strength there may be in the argument for the theology of revelation, it makes a clear addition to the argument for certain propositions in the theology of nature — such as the being of a God, and the immortality of the souL Now, there is a certain habit or order of conception among the advocates of religion, which serves to throw a disguise over the real strength of the cause. We often, in the first place, read of Christianity as being based upon natural religion, as if it was on the preliminary establishment of the one that the other was founded. But, in the second place, it is held preposterous and illogical, to discuss the theism of nature on any other reasons than those which are furnished by the light of nature. Now, this habit of viewing the one as the foundation and the other as the superstructure — and at the same time of treating their evidences as wholly distinct and independent of each other, has had the effect, we should say, of unnecessarily weakening the defences of religion. What we contend for is, that it is logically a {Page No. 178.} competent thing, to take, if we may so term it, of the cement which goes to consolidate the structure, and that for the purpose of giving firmness and solidity to the foundation. For example, whatever of evidence there might be for the authority of the Jewish Scriptures, we have a right to appropriate for the support of natural theology, in as far as its doctrines enter into the contents or informations of that volume. If, instead of a succession of Jewish, it had been an equally numerous and creditable succession of authors in any other nation, we should have made this use of them. Had there been a continuous chain of credible and well-supported testimony, passing upward through a series of approved and classical writers in Rome, and Greece, and Egypt — each reiterating from their predecessors a consistent testimony regarding a succession of patriarchs, and a flood in the early ages of the world, and a creation at the outset — their history would have been admitted to the proof, and been held as a most important witness in the question of a Deity. Now, what we contend is, that however insensible to the force and the value of it — this is a proof which we actually possess — and, by all sound criticism not the less valid or impressive, that it answers a double purpose — or that it makes at once for the leading truths of natural theology, and for the peculiarities both of the Jewish and the Christian faith. It is at all times competent for us to discuss the existence of God as a separate proposition — and to fetch from every quarter, where evidence can be found, all the {Page No. 179.} arguments, whether of reason or of testimony, which can be brought to bear upon it. Though natural religion should be indeed the basis, and Christianity but the erection which springs from it — still it may so happen, that from one and the same source there might be extracted a material for the consolidation of both — and so the whole fabric of religion may suffer by our restricting ourselves to a partial instead of a full use of that material. If the testimonies we have for the recency of our world as now constituted, would have been so eagerly seized upon, in behalf of natural theism, had they come to us through the channel of secular or profane history — then, we are not to lose the service of them even as present auxiliaries to our cause, unless it can be shown to us in what way they have become impotent or worthless, by their having descended to us through the channel of sacred history. We thus hold, that in virtue of the artificial process by which the whole argument has been conducted, there has been created what we should call an artificial scarcity of argument for the doctrines of natural religion. For there is no real scarcity. On the firm and frequent stepping-stones of a sustained history, we may rise to the observational evidence of a creation and a Creator — but, by the general practice of our guides and conductors, we are kept at the present stage of our inquiries, from entering upon this path. The fact of creation is strictly an historical one, and is therefore susceptible of being proven by historical evidence, if such is to be {Page No. 180.} found. And by all the signatures of valid or incorrupt testimony, we are directed to a place and a people, among whom the registers both of creation and providence were deposited. Yet on the existence of God, as a preliminary question, these leading credentials are kept out of sight — and we are presented instead, with but the secondary or shadowy reflections of them in the oral traditions of other places and other people, or the dying and distant echoes of nations that had been scattered abroad over the face of the world. It is thus that the fundamental demonstrations and doctrines in a course of theology are made to lack of that strength which rightfully belongs to them. We go in pursuit of dim or mythological allusions, to be found in heathen writers; and should we catch at some remote semblance of the Mosaic story, whether in the literature of Greeks or Hindoos, we rejoice over it as if a treasure more precious than all that we possess. Now, whatever semblance may be found there, the substance of this argument is to be found in the succession of Jewish and Christian writers. We ask no special indulgence for them. We should like them to be tested in the same way as all other authors; and, ere they are admitted as the chroniclers of past ages, to pass through the ordeal of the same criticism that they do. It is thus that we would trace by its successive landmarks, what may be called the great central stream of that history which stretches from the commencement of our existing world to the present day — and it is only thus that our minds can be adequately {Page No. 181.} possessed with the richness and power of the historical evidences for a God. 
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§14.

We are far from meaning to insinuate that, beside the direct testimony of the sacred volumes, there are not other memorials of the world’s recency which are worthy of our regard — such probabilities, even within the range of Nature’s discernments of a recent Creation, or at least of a first (however remote) origin of Things as might serve to demonstrate that we live in the midst of a derived and not of an everlasting system; that many of the most exquisite structures which arrest the eye and the admiration of beholders are in the only important sense of the term consequents, and that no other antecedent can be found for them than the fiat of an intelligent Creator. There have many such vestiges been collected and appealed to, such as the recency of science — the limited range of our historical traditions, mounting upwards to only a few thousand years — the vast capacity of the species for general or collective improvement contrasted with the little progress which they have yet made, and which marks it is supposed but a comparatively modern origin to the human family — the expansive force of population, and yet its shortness still from the territory and resources of a globe, that could accommodate so many hundreds more of millions upon its surface — These and several more taken chiefly from the history of nations, and the migration of tribes as indicated by the spread and the similarity of cognate languages, have been much insisted on for the purpose of building up an argument, and strengthening the barrier against the tide of a desolating Atheism. They are of some value, {Page No. 183.} we admit. It is well that, if not very great or sensible confirmations of, they are at least in coincidence with the main narrative. They shed a fainter light on the question, but they show nothing opposite to what is shown by the light of the direct testimonies. 

§15.

After all, they are the direct testimonies, handed down from one to another in the stream of Jewish and Christian Authors, which constitute the main strength and solidity of the historical argument for the historical fact of a Creation, There might be fitter occasions for entering into the detail of this Evidence — but we hold it not out of place to notice even at present the strong points of it. In tracing the course upwards from the present day, we arrive by a firm and continuous series of authors at that period, when not only the truth of the Christian story is guaranteed by thousands of dying martyrs — but when the Old Testament Scriptures, these repositories of the Jewish story, obtained a remarkable accession to their evidence which abundantly compensates for their remoteness from our present age. We allude to the split that took place between two distinct and independent or, stronger still, two bitterly adverse bodies of witnesses at the outset of the Christian economy. The publicity of the New Testament miracles — the manifest sincerity of those who attested them as evinced by their cruel sufferings in the cause, not of opinions which they held to be true, but of facts which they perceived by their senses — the silence of inveterate and impassioned enemies most willing, if they could, to {Page No. 184.} have transmitted the decisive refutation of them to modern times — these compose the main strength of the argument, for our later Scriptures. And then, beside the references in which they abound to the former Scriptures — and by which, in fact, they give the whole weight of their authority to the Old Testament — we have the superadded testimony of an entire nation, now ranged in zealous hostility against the Christian Faith, and bent upon its overthrow. They who are conversant in the practice, or who have reflected most on the Philosophy of Evidence, know well how to estimate the strength which lies in a concurrence of testimonies where collusion is impossible; and still more where one of the parties, inflamed with hatred and rivalship against the other, could almost choose to disgrace themselves for the sake of involving their adversaries in disgrace and discredit along with them. It is this which stamps a character and a credit on the archives of the Jewish history, whereof it were vain to seek another exemplification over again in the whole compass of erudition. These memorials of our race, which they had no interest in preserving — for, mainly, they were but the records of their own perversity and dishonour, had been handed down to them by uncontrolled tradition from former ages; and were now embodied in the universal faith of the people. And when the two great parties diverged however widely asunder in every other article of belief — they held a firm agreement in this, the perfect integrity of at least the historical Scriptures. Had there been a juggle here why did not an enraged priesthood stand forth {Page No. 185.} to expose it — that along with it they might expose the weakness of that alleged prophecy which formed one great pillar of the Christian argument ? How, in the fierce conflicts of this heated partizanship, did not the secret break out of an imposition on the credulity of mankind, if imposition there was ? — and out of this fell warfare among the impostors who were for palming upon the world the miracles of the present or the memorials of the past, ought not that very effervescence to have arisen which would have swept the imposture of both religions from the face of the earth? It says every thing for the truth both of the Christian story and of the Hebrew records, that they survived this hurricane; and more especially that, ere the observances of the Mosaic ritual were done away, so strong a demonstration should have been given of the national faith in those documents by which the solemnities of the Jewish religion were incorporated with the facts of the Jewish history. The virtue of an institution like the Passover to authenticate the narrative in which it took its profest origin, and of which it is the standing memorial, has been ably expounded by Leslie and others. It is thus that we are carried upwards through a medium of historic light to the times of the Patriarchs — or even though we ascend not the ladder, but abide as it were at the bottom of it, we shall find in the Jews of the present day, the characteristics of a singular race which bespeak them to be a monument of old revelations. They have maintained their separate identity, as no other nation ever did, among the tempests and the fluctuations in which {Page No. 186.} they have been cradled for two thousand years — and now stand before us as a living evidence of their past story — and an evidence along with it, that throughout the long succession of those fitful turmoils which have taken place in the wars and politics of our world for so many centuries — there has been indeed the controlling agency of a God mixed up with the history of human affairs. 

§16.

Now the truth of the continuous narrative which forms the annals of this wondrous people would demonstrate a great deal more than what we at present are in quest of — that the world had a beginnmg — or rather that many of the world’s present organizations had a beginning, and have not been perpetuated everlastingly from one generation to another by those laws of transmission which now prevail over the wide extent of the animal and vegetable kingdoms. We hold the Jewish Scriptures to be authentic memorials of this fact — and although we might afterwards find a better place for the contents both of the Jewish and Christian revelations — yet we cannot forbear, amid all that is imagined about the sufficiency of the natural argument, to offer our passing homage to these greater and lesser lights of our Moral Hemisphere, which have both of them together poured a flood of radiance over the field of Natural Religion, and so as to have manifested many objects there which Mould have been but dimly seen by the eye of Nature. Believing as we do that the surest of all philosophy is that which rests on the basis of well-accredited facts, in justice to our views on the strict science of the question, we {Page No. 187.} must state the informations even of the Old Testament to be far more satisfying to ourselves than all the vaunted theorems of academic demonstration. There is a great reigning spirit by which the varied authorship of this book is so marked and harmonized — there is such a unity of design and contemplation in writings that lie scattered over the tract of many centuries — there is such a stately and consistent march from the first dawnings of this singular history, towards that great evolution in which the whole prophecy and priesthood of the consecrated land converged and terminated — there is withal such an air of simple and venerable greatness over this earlier record — such loftiness in its poetry — such obvious characters of truth and sanctity and moral earnestness throughout all its compositions, as superadd the strongest weight of internal testimony to the outward and historical evidence by which it is supported. This may afterwards be more distinctly unfolded — but we cannot even at this stage of our inquiries withhold all reference to a Book on whose aspect there sits the expression of most unfeigned honesty, and in whose disclosures we have lessons of the sublimest Theism.
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