« AnteriorContinuar »
who, after being crucified, dead, and buried, should rise from the dead and ascend into heaven. Our prophecy. mongers supply the silence the Old Testament guards upon such things, by telling us of passages they call prophecies and that falsely so, about Joseph's dream, old clothes, broken bones, and such like trifling stuff.
In writing upon this as upon every other subject, I speak a language full and intelligible. I deal not in hints and intimations. I have several reasons for this: First, that I may be clearly understood. Secondly, that it may be seen I am in earnest: And Thirdly, because it is an affront to truth to treat falsehood with complaisance.
I will close this treatise with a subject I have already touched upon in the First Part of the Age of Reason.
The world has been amused with the term revealed religion, and the generality of priests apply this term to the books called the Old and New Testament. The Mahometans apply the same term to the Koran. There is no man that believes in revealed religion stronger than I do; but it is not the reveries of the Old and New Testament, nor the Koran, that I dignify with that sacred title. That which is revelation to me, exists in something which no human mind can invent, no human hand can counterfeit or alter.
The Word of God is the Creation we behold; and this word of God revealeth to man all that is necessary for man to know of his Creator.
Do we want to contemplate his power? We see it in the immensity of his creation.
Do we want to contemplate his wisdom? We see it in the unchangeable order by which the incomprehensible whole is governed.
Do we want to contemplate his munificence? We see it in the abundance with which he fills the earth.
Do we want to contemplate his mercy? We see it in his not withholding that abundance, even from the unthankful.
Do we want to contemplate his will, so far as it respects man? The goodness he shews to all, is a lesson for our conduct to each other.
In fine-Do we want to know what God is? Search not the book called the Scripture, which any human hand might make, or any impostor invent; but the scripture called the Creation.
When, in the First Part of the Age of Reason, I called the Creation the true revelation of God to man, I did not know that any other person had expressed the same idea. But I lately met with the writings of Doctor Conyers Middleton, published the beginning of the last century, in
which he expresses himself in the same manner, with respect to the Creation, as I have done in the Age of Rea
He was principal librarian of the University of Cam. bridge, in England, which furnished him with extensive opportunities of reading, and necessarily required he should be well acquainted with the dead as well as the living languages. He was a man of strong original mind; had the courage to think for himself, and the honesty to speak his thoughts.
He made a journey to Rome, from whence he wrote let ters to shew that the forms and ceremonies of the Romish Christian church were taken from the degenerate state of the heathen mythology, as it stood in the latter times of the Greeks and Romans. He attacked without ceremony the miracles which the church pretended to perform; and in one of his treatises, he calls the creation a revelation. The priests of England of that day, in order to defend their citadel by first defending its out-works, attacked him for attacking the Romish ceremonies; and one of them censures him for calling the creation a revelation-he thus replies to him:
"One of them," says he, "appears to be scandalized by the title of revelation, which I have given to that discovery which God inade of himself in the visible works of his creation. Yet it is no other than what the wise in all ages have given to it, who consider it as the most authentic and indisputable revelation which God has ever given of himself, from the beginning of the world to this day. It was this by which the first notice of him was revealed to the inhabitants of the earth, and by which alone it has been kept up ever since among the several nations of it. From this the reason of man was enabled to trace out his nature and attributes, and by a gradual deduction of consequences, to learn his own nature also, with all the duties belonging to it which relate either to God or to his fellow-creatures. This constitution of things was ordained by God, as an universal law or rule of conduct to man-the source of all his knowledge-the test of all truth, by which all subsequent revelations, which are supposed to have been given by God in any other manner, must be tried, and cannot be received as divine, any further than as they are found to tally and coincide with this original standard.
"It was this divine law which I referred to in the passage above recited (meaning the passage on which they had attacked him) being desirous to excite the reader's attention to it, as it would enable him to judge more freely of the argument I was handling. For by contemplating this law, he would discover the genuine way which God
himself has marked out to us for the acquisition of true. knowledge; not from the authority or reports of our fellow-creatures, but from the information of the facts and material objects which in his providential distribution of worldly things, he hath presented to the perpetual obser vation of our senses. For as it was from these that his existence and nature, the most important articles of all know. ledge, were first discovered to man, so that grand discovery furnished new light towards tracing out the rest, and made all the inferior subjects of human knowledge more. easily discoverable to us by the same method.
"I had another view likewise in the same passages, and applicable to the same end, of giving the reader a more enlarged notion of the question in dispute, who, by turning his thoughts to reflect on the works of the Creator, as they are manifested to us in this fabric of the world, could not fail to observe, that they are all of them great, noble, and suitable to the majesty of his nature, carrying with them the proofs of their origin, and shewing themselves to be the production of an all-wise and almighty being; and by accustoming his mind to these sublime reflections, he will be prepared to determine, whether those miraculous interpositions so confidently affirmed to us by the primitive fathers, can reasonably be thought to make a part in the grand scheme of the divine administration, or whether it be agreeable that God, who created all things by his will, and can give what turn to them he pleases by the same. will, should, for the particular purposes of his government and the services of the church, descend to the low expedient of visions and revelations, granted sometimes to boys for the instruction of the elders, and sometimes to women to settle. the fashion and length of their veils, and sometimes to pastors of the church, to enjoin them to ordain one man a lecturer, another a priest;-or that he should scatter a profusion of miracles around the stake of a martyr, yet all of them vain and insignificant, and without any sensible effect, either of preserving the life, or easing the sufferings of the saint; or even of mortifying his persecutors, who were al ways left to enjoy the full triumph of their cruelty, and the poor martyr to expire in a miserable death. When these things, I say, are brought to the original test, and compared with the genuine and indisputable works of the Creator, how minute, how trifling, how contemptible must they be? and how incredible must it be thought, that for the instruction of his church, God should employ ministers so precarious, unsatisfactory, and inadequate, as the extacies of women and boys, and the visions of interested priests, which were derided at the very time by men of sense to whom they were proposed.
"That this universal law (continues Middleton, mean.
ing the law revealed in the works of the Creation) was actually revealed to the heathen world long before the gospel was known, we learn from all the principle sages of antiquity, who made it the capital subject of their studies and writings.
"Cicero (says Middleton) has given us a short abstract of it in a fragment still remaining from one of his books. on government, which (says Middleton) I shall here transcribe in his own words, as they will illustrate my sense also, in the passages that appear so dark and dangerous. to my antagonist.
"The true law (it is Cicero who speaks) is right reason conformable to the nature of things, constant, eternal, diffused through all, which calls us to duty by commandingdeters us from sin by forbidding; which never loses its influence with the good, nor ever preserves it with the wicked. This law cannot be over ruled by any other, nor abrogated in whole or in part; nor can we be absolved from it either by the senate or by the people; nor are we to seek any other comment or interpreter of it but itself; nor can there be one law at Rome and another at Athens-one now and another hereafter; but the same eternal immutable law comprehends all nations at all times, under one common master and governor of all-GOD. He is the inventor, propounder, enacter of this law; and whoever will not obey it must first renounce himself and throw off the nature of man; by doing which, he will suffer the greatest punishments, though he should escape all the other torments which are commonly believed to be prepared for the wicked." Here ends the quotation from Cicero.
"Our doctors (continues Middleton) perhaps will look on all this as RANK DEISM; but let them call it what they will, I shall ever avow and defend it as the fundamental, essential, and vital part of all true religion." Here ends the quotation from Middleton.
I have here given the reader two sublime extracts from men who lived in ages of time far remote from each other, but who thought alike. Cicero lived before the time in which they tell us Christ was born. Middleton may be called a man of our own time, as he lived within the same century with ourselves.
In Cicero we see that vast superiority of mind, that sublimity of right reasoning and justness of ideas which man acquires, not by studying Bibles and Testaments, and the theology of schools built thereon, but by studying the Creator in the immensity and unchangeable order of his Creation, and the immutability of this law. "There cannot," says Cicero, "be one law now, and another hereafter; but the same eternal law comprehends all nations, at all times, under one common master and governor of all
God." But according to the doctrine of schools which priests have set up, we see one law, called the Old Testa. ment, given in one age of the world, and another law, called the New Testament, given in another age of the world. As all this is contradictory to the eternal immutable nature, and the unerring and unchangeable wisdom of God, we must be compelled to hold this doctrine to be false, and the old and the new law, called the Old and the New Testament, to be impositions, fables, and forgeries.
In Middleton, we see the manly eloquence of an enlarged mind, and the genuine sentiments of a true believer in his Creator. Instead of reposing his faith on books, by whatever name they may be called, whether Old Testaments or New, be fixes the Creation as the great original standard by which every other thing called the word, or work of God, is to be tried. In this we have an indispu table scale whereby to measure every word or work imputed to him. If the thing so imputed carries not in itself the evidence of the same Almightiness of power, of the same unerring truth and wisdom, and the same unchangeable order in all its parts, as are visibly demonstrated to our senses, and comprehensible by our reason, in the magnificent fabric of the universe, that word or that work is not of God. Let then the two books called the Old and New Testament be tried by this rule, and the result will be, that the authors of them, whoever they were, will be convicted of forgery.
The invariable principles, and unchangeable order, which regulate the movements of all the parts that compose the universe, demonstrate both to our senses and our reason that its creator is a God of unerring truth. But the Old Testament, beside the numberless absurd, and bagatelle stories it tells of God, represents him as a God of deceit, a God not to be confided in. Ezekiel makes God to say, chap. xiv. ver. 9, "And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I, the Lord have deceived that prophet." And at the 20th chap. ver 25, he makes God, in speaking of the children of Israel, to say, "Where fore I gave them statutes that were not good, and judg ments by which they could not live. This, so far from be ing the word of God,. is horrid blasphemy against him. Reader put thy confidence in thy God, and put no trust in the Bible.
The same Old Testament, after telling us that God created the heavens and the earth in six days, makes the same almighty power and eternal wisdom employ itseli in giving directions how a priest's garments should be cut, and what sort of stuff they should be made of, and what their offerings should be, gold, and silver, and brass, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, and goats'