« AnkstesnisTęsti »
6thly, There is one objection more, and it is the only one I can recollect, which feems to have any confiderable claim to notice. " How can that revelation, it is faid, be of divine authority, which is not perfectly confiftent with itfelf? Now it is eafy to point out a variety of inconfiftencies, both with refpect to facts and reafonings, in those books which compose the canon of fcripture, and in which only the Chriftian religion is contained?" This objection is founded upon a very erroneous notion, which has been and ftill is too much countenanced by the profeffors of Christianity themfelves, who in general maintain that the facred writings were compofed under the immediate influence of divine infpiration; a notion highly improbable in itself, plainly contrary to the general tenor of scripture, and wholly deftitute of proof, excepting fuch as may be derived from a grofs perverfion of a few detached pasfages. The Apoftles and Evangelists never pretended, like the great impoftor Mahomet, that their writings were dictated by the Angel Gabriel, or ever urged the perfection of their own compofitions, as a decifive proof of the authenticity of the Chriftian religion. They were indeed witneffes faithful and true, men of ftrict integrity, who had the beft opportunity of being informed of the leading facts which they afferted, and who were under no conceivable temptation to wifh to impofe a vile and incredible falsehood upon the world, and men who were of all others leaft likely to fucceed in fo
abfurd an attempt; but the teftimony they gave to the truth of Chriftianity was to all intents a human testimony, established indeed by miracles and prophecies, but by no means exempt from thofe venial errors which accompany every thing human. Were I even convinced, that in a decree promulgated by the joint authority of the twelve Apoftles, convened in general council, there were contained any article which demonstrated that they were not entirely emancipated from Jewish weakness and prejudice; were it clearly proved, that the reafonings of St.Paul, or St.Peter, were sometimes inclu five, or that the facts reported by St. Luke, or St. Matthew, were in fome points inaccurately stated, I should still believe, with exactly the fame degree of confidence, that Chrift was declared to be the Son of God with power, by his refurrection from the dead, and that he will come again to judge the world in righteousness: "But if an entire and implicit dependance is not to be placed on every part of holy writ, where fhall we draw the line? If a habit of fcepticism is indulged, where fhall we ftop?" Such is the language of weakness and timidity. But it may be asked, what neceffity is there for drawing a precife line or boundary in this cafe, or what pretence is there for requiring a degree of precifion on this fubject, which moral fubjects in general and the very nature of moral evidence do not admit?-Let every man use that portion of reafon and understanding which God hath given him, for the purpose of investigating
investigating the evidence and the principles of Christianity, and let him determine for himself, after a cool and impartial deliberation, what this religion teaches, and upon what authority it stands. Let not the apprehenfion or reproach of fcepticism alarm or deter him from the most perfect freedom of enquiry; for that investigation which does not originate in doubt, can never terminate in rational conviction.
On HEREDITARY SUCCESSION.
T the first view, it must be acknowledged that the idea of hereditary fucceffion appears fo whimsical, and even abfurd, that one is tempted to wonder how it could have obtained fo decided a preference in almost all civilized countries. In an affair so important to the general interests of mankind, as the choice of those persons who are destined to hold the highest rank in civil communities, and are invested with fuch powers as the ftrongest political neceffity only could induce an enlightened people to intrust to any individuals, is it not contrary to every principle of reafon and common fenfe, to lay a greater stress upon the fingle and accidental circumstance of birth, than upon those moral and intellectual qualities which have an immediate tendency to fecure the great ends of government, the peace, happiness, and prosperity of the community? fuch as genius, wifdom, knowledge, beneficence, or valour-qualities which must ever excite the highest degree of esteem and admiration. It would, however, be easy to fhew, and it has in fact been repeatedly demonftrated, that hereditary fucceffion is attended
by advantages which infinitely overbalance the inconveniencies to which it is liable; and that a power of electing the fupreme magiftrate, in whatever hands it might be lodged, must in all probability be productive of fuch a degree of political animofity, disorder, and confufion, that the poffeffion of fuch a privilege would be a great and real misfortune. In this country, at least, this truth is fo generally acknowledged, that it would be very fuperfluous to enter into a formal difcuffion of it. Perhaps, amongst all the political zealots with which this kingdom abounds in thefe days of innovation and reformation, there is not one who would wish to extend our liberties by converting this ancient hereditary monarchy into an elective one. But there is another question relative to this fubject, of much less confequence indeed, which may not, perhaps, be fo eafily folved, or the folution of which, at least, may not afford fuch univerfal fatisfaction. It is this: Whether the order of fucceffion established in this monarchy, is that which is in itself most eligible; or, in other words, that which is most likely to preserve the public peace and tranquillity? I do not hesitate to confefs, that in my opinion it is not; and this opinion I fhall endeavour to fupport, by fuch confiderations as have occurred to me when I have chanced to turn my thoughts to this fubject.
It is well known how ftrongly the French nation is attached to their famous Salique law, which