Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

be evidence above reason. Such an error would not find admittance even into our nurseries, if a most tyrannical power, supported by the popular errors it creates and cherishes, had not transmitted, through a long series of generations, an inheritance of mental servility, of which hardly our children's children will be totally free. I wish you to imagine what would be the conduct of truly pious and unenthusiastic men, in the present day, if a case of resurrection by miracle was to appear in the public journals. In the first place, there would be an extreme reluctance to pay any serious regard to the statement. Whence, I ask, this reluctance to examine into modern miracles? Surely the evidence adduced for some of the cures of Prince Hohenlohe, is not, prima facie, contemptible. Still, the stoutest believers of the miraculous in the Bible, would, if Protestants, look with a feeling less respectful than pity, on any one, not a Roman Catholic, who should undertake a journey for the purpose of examining the evidence of the alleged miracle upon the spot. This mental fact, this reluctance to give credit to miraculous transactions, and the law of its appearance and growth, are things not to be overlooked in the present question. Bold indeed must be that ignorance which shall attribute it to individual perverseness. Few mental phenomena can be better established, as inseparably connected with our intellectual nature, than the attraction of the miraculous in the infancy of mind, and its repulsiveness for the same mind, instructed and developed. To man, in individual as well as in collective or national childhood, a miracle is evidence to itself; and the more extraordinary the miracle, the greater the certainty, which a mere narrative of it will convey. Ramahoun Roy's experience coincides here most satisfactorily with theory; he has, as I remember, stated somewhere, that Missionaries can produce no impression upon the Hindoos, by means of the Bible miracles. Accustomed to the extravagant magnitude of their own wonders, they smile upon the insignificance of ours. Nor can any one be surprised at this, considering that whatever makes a deep impression

G

upon the imaginative faculty, is in that state of the human mind taken for absolute reality; consequently the narrative of the miracle, which leaves deeper traces upon the fancy than that of a more modest and unambitious wonder, must indispose the undeveloped mind for a belief in the latter. Such then being the immutable laws of the human understanding, the Eternal Source of those laws, if he intended to guide mankind by miracles (and verbal revelation is of that class) not by reason, must have intended two things: First, that the great mass of mankind in a low state of mental development, should follow the most extravagant dreams of enthusiasm and imposture. Secondly, that in proportion as the human mind increased in knowledge, so it would reject the miraculous divine guidance. I have examined this objection to the common theological notions on Revelation and miracles, with the utmost impartiality and attention of which I am capable; I have done so for many years, under a desire of finding it fallacious; for the superstitious fears inspired by my early education, were not easily subdued; but I never could discover even a plausible answer.

"(26.) What I am about to say, is a result of the same inquiry, and by no means one of the concessions which the opponents of religious prejudices frequently make for the sake of allaying the alarm which their too unceremonious approach to the popular idols may have raised. In the course of my examination of verbal revelation and miracles, I have found no convincing reason for denying that God may have, on some occasions, put forth energies which do not belong to the system of regular and invariable forces by which he conducts the phenomena of nature. But I see no ground whatever for believing that such extraordinary instances of occasional divine activity, had human belief for their object. If God has at any time acted visibly, either against or beyond the range of the laws which he gave to his creation, he certainly must have done it for the sake of the thing thus performed; and not to give rise to historical or traditional narratives, to be believed

in distant times. Within the narrow limits of the probability which these matters admit, I believe, that, besides that immediate divine energy, attested by the recent existence of man on the face of this globe, the preservation of the parents of mankind, immediately after their formation, was an effect Hot within the reach of the existing natural laws. Admitting the immediate formation of one or more couples, especially of the lower classes of animals, endowed at once with the instincts which belong to their species, we may well conceive the manner in which they would preserve themselves and propagate their race. But man possesses no such instincts; and, if we imagine one or more couples formed at once, in a state of full ⚫development, and then left to themselves, it will not be easy to conjecture by what natural means, within the existing laws, they could be preserved. We know how long infants are in learning to see, to measure distances,―to use their hands,and to walk. It seems indeed, very probable, that the acquisition of these powers would be still more difficult to a human being, who (by supposition) should have to obtain them when his body had attained full growth. The provision of food for the grown infants, which the fact of creation forces us to admit, must have been made by an individual act of the creating power, since the wonderful means provided by the law of procreation, are totally excluded in the case before us. So far, I am willing to admit, there is a strong conjectural ground for the existence of a divine operation, which, like creation itself, may be well ranked as a miracle; yet not a miracle for show (as the etymology of that word implies), but one which might be considered as a personal act out of the reach of the laws, whose operation could not commence but subsequently to that act. In a mental point of view, that is, in relation to the human mind, this conjecture affords a valuable support to the various grounds upon which our race, after having emerged from that low state of intellect, which produces idolatry and anthropomorphism, may, in such ages as the present, preserve

itself from pantheism, or the belief of an impersonal Creator, -a necessarily constructive, but unconscious Deity.

66

(27.) In regard to what is called revelation (which to avoid ambiguity, I shall define a personal teaching of an individual man by God), I feel confident that the established notions are perfectly untenable. Those notions belong to a period of imperfect development, and as it has been already shown, arise from a gross mistake regarding the nature of belief and of evidence. This has been more or less clearly perceived, even in ages, when the belief in visions and verbal communications from an invisible world, was totally unshaken. We find common sense breaking out, and betraying its first perception of the inadequacy of visions and miracles to establish truth, in the Old Testament itself. Manoah, for instance, insists upon having his own tests applied to the heavenly vision, that he may be sure of the reality of a heavenly message. I cannot at this moment bring to my recollection other instances of the same kind, though I believe they are to be found in the Bible; but the suspicion of delusion is so natural, so thoroughly grounded in nature, that men appear to be unable to feel secure against it, except when, being cautioned to be upon their guard on that point, superstition makes them at once impenetrable to argument. Hence it is, that in appeals to nature, especially to that nature which is best known to consciousness, (I wish to speak without personal offence,) the very name of theology deprives me of confidence; for theology, as it is studied among us generally, stifles the voice of nature within, and few, even under the most sincere wish to listen to it, can perceive its still small voice, drowned as it is by the loud and harsh cries of anthority. It is fortunate indeed, in such a case, to have an attestation from nature herself, through one of her most unprejudiced and distinguished favourites. Hear it then in the following lines ;

'The spirit that I have seen May be a devil, and the devil hath power

To assume a pleasing shape, yea, and, perhaps,
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
(As he is very potent with such spirits)
Abuses me to damn me. I'll have grounds
More relative than this.'

The greatest interpreter of nature has given us here, her eternal, immutable answer to the claims of visions and miracles to be the foundations of religious truth. I will not, as I have said of miracles, (for there is no essential difference between the two things in question,) I will not assert that God has never used some extraordinary impressions on the senses, as means of drawing attention to important truths, or rather, of inclining the will of the rude and unthinking multitude to follow the dictates of those whom he had endowed with the high moral and intellectual qualities, which truly distinguish his messengers for good to man. But in matters of truth

'I'll have grounds

More relative than this.'

The only safe grounds are those essentially connected with the truth to be received. That all external phenomena, all impressions on the senses, are irrelative to spiritual truth, is proved by the crowd of impressions deemed miraculous which the successive generations which have peopled, and at this moment inhabit, this globe, make their ground for belief in the most monstrous errors. Let us, my dear friend, have grounds more relative for what we embrace as pure Christianity.

"(28.) And it is very remarkable, that all thinking men, however prepossessed in favour of miraculous evidence, look for proofs more relative to the truths in which they feel a deep interest. This appears in the unconcern with which they treat all miracles alleged against their settled belief. Now, if their reason were thoroughly satisfied that miracles are the most unquestionable stamp of divine communications, honest men would not be so inconsistent as to turn away disdainfully from

« AnteriorContinuar »