[Table of Contents]
|Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)
REVELATION POSSIBLE AND PROBABLE.
(1836, page 145.)
It yet appears to me that there is more of art than of philosophy, more of method than of necessity in any one attempting to argue gravely and formally either the absolute necessity or the obvious possibility of revelation. The true and unadorned history of every ancient and of every modern pagan tribe, nation, or people--the follies, the vanities, and crimes--the pusillanimity, the mental imbecility of man  without the knowledge of God, are all the demonstration and proof requisite to the establishment of the necessity of some certain superhuman and supernatural communication on man's relations to the universe. The simple reading of the first chapter of Paul's epistle to the Romans, regarding it in no other light than a fair and impartial view of the nations without the Bible, is enough for those who have the powers of perception, sound and healthy, on the subject of the necessity of an authoritative communication from Heaven.
One argument on the simple possibility of such a message from our Creator has to me always appeared enough. It is a very old-fashioned one, and consists of no more than a single clause affixed to one of King David's demonstrations that God could see, and hear, and know man. The divine logician reasons thus: "He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see? He that teacheth man knowledge, shall he not know?" To which I only add, He that taught man speech, can he not speak to him? Revelation is therefore possible.
Is it probable? Preparatory to one argument on this subject, I shall lay before our readers the concessions of some of the brightest names on the lists of the Sceptics of the French and English schools.1
ED. M. H.
Blount says, "It is not safe to trust Deism alone without Christianity adjoined to it." Shaftesbury says, "Christianity ought to be more highly prized." Rousseau says, "Philosophy can do nothing good which religion does not do still better; and religion does many good things which philosophy can not do at all. Modern philosophers are indebted to Christianity for their best ideas. The solid authority of modern governments, and the less frequent revolutions, are incontestably due to Christianity. It has rendered governments themselves less sanguinary; this is proved by facts, on comparing them with ancient governments. Religion better understood, excluding fanaticism, has given more mildness to Christian manners. This change is not the work of letters; for wherever they have flourished, humanity has not been more respected on their account; of which the cruelties of the Athenians, of the Egyptians, of the Roman Emperors, and of the Chinese, are so many proofs." Byron says, "Indisputably, the firm believers in the gospel have a great advantage over all others--for this simple reason, that if true, they will have their reward hereafter; and if there be no hereafter, they can be but with the infidel in his eternal sleep, having had the assistance of an  exalted hope through life, without subsequent disappointment, since (at the worst for them) out of nothing, nothing can arise, not even sorrow."
After the presentation of such a testimony as the foregoing, it is unnecessary to say another word in proof of the point, that revelation is necessary. Indeed, when the subject is fairly considered; when the condition of the heathen in all ages is taken into view; when we consider what the most enlightened heathen nations have been and still are; what even the heathen sages and philosophers have been: in short, when we look at the world in every age, and behold its spiritual darkness, and its deplorable moral condition, we can only wonder why more revelation has not been given than has been. Six hundred millions of our race still in the darkness of heathenism, still bowing down to stocks and stones, still practicing their bloody and abominable rights, and revelation unnecessary! We can not believe that any man in his sober senses can, on due consideration, believe this. We will not, therefore, insist upon it further.
Revelation, then, is necessary, and, as a consequence, it would not be a gratuitous and unnecessary act in the Deity to reveal himself to mankind. Nay, the probability is altogether in favor of the idea that he would do this; for a benevolent being, such as we have reason to suppose the Deity to be, would naturally do that for his creatures which their cases might need, so far as his wisdom would permit. And thus we come to the conclusion, a priori, that he has actually made such a revelation.
But if a revelation has been made, which of the avowed revelations is the genuine one? There have been various religious systems in different ages of the world, that have claimed a divine origin; which circumstance is of itself an argument in favor of the idea that a revelation has been made, just as counterfeit money is evidence of the true. Which, then, of the various religious systems that have at different periods been presented to mankind, is entitled to acceptance as a divine revelation?
And in the outset it may be safely remarked, that none of the religious systems of the heathen, ancient or modern, can for one moment compare with Christianity in this respect, either on account of extrinsic excellence, or weight of evidence. Surely, the gross idolatry, the bloody rites, and the filthy abominations even of the most enlightened heathen--of Greece and Rome, of China and Hindostan--are not worthy to be named in the same day with the doctrines and precepts of Christianity. And if we consider the earth-born sensuality and the groveling theology of Mahometanism, we shall find it little better in many respects than heathenism itself. Besides, if Mahometanism were a revelation, this very circumstance would establish  the claims of Christianity to a divine original, inasmuch as it acknowledges the Messiahship of Christ. If it were worth the while, a comparison could be very easily instituted between the two religions, most marvelously to the advantage of that of Christ.
"Mohammed established his religion," says Pascal, "by killing others; Jesus Christ, by making his followers lay down their own lives: Mohammed, by forbidding his law to be read; Jesus Christ, by commanding us to read. In a word, the two were so opposite, that if Mohammed took the way, in all human probability, to succeed, Jesus Christ took the way, humanly speaking, to be disappointed. And hence, instead of concluding that because Mohammed succeeded, Jesus might in like manner have succeeded, we ought to infer, that since Mohammed has succeeded, Christianity must have inevitably perished, if it had not been supported by a power altogether divine."
"Go," says Bishop Sherlock, "to your natural religion: lay before her Mahomet and his disciples, arrayed in armor and blood, riding in triumph over the spoils of thousands who fell by his victorious sword. Show her the cities which he set in flames, the countries which he ravaged and destroyed, and the miserable distress of all the inhabitants of the earth. When she has viewed him in this scene, carry her into his retirement; show her the Prophet's chamber; his concubines and his wives; and let her hear him allege revelation and a divine commission to justify his adultery and lust. When she is tired with this prospect, then show her the blessed Lord, humble and meek, doing good to all the sons of men. Let her see him in his most retired privacies: let her follow him to the mount, and hear his devotions and supplications to God. Carry her to his table, to view his poor fare, and hear his heavenly discourse. Let her attend him to the tribunal, and consider the patience with which he endured the scoffs and reproaches of his enemies. Lead her to his cross; let her view him in the agony of death, and hear his last prayer for his persecutors: 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!' When natural religion has thus viewed both, ask her which is the Prophet of God. But her answer we have already had, when she saw part of this scene, through the eyes of the centurion, who attended at the cross. By him she spoke and said, 'Truly, this man was the Son of God!'
But such comparisons are the less necessary, from the consideration that infidels themselves do readily concede, that Christianity has the best claims of any religion whatever, to be considered a divine revelation.
Herbert says, "Christianity is the best religion. It has manifestly the advantage of all other pretenders to revelation, as in respect of the intrinsic excellency of the matter, so likewise in respect of the  reasons that may be pleaded for its truth." Hobbes says, "The Scriptures are the voice of God." Shaftesbury says, "Christianity ought to be more highly prized." Collins says, "Christianity ought to be respected." Woolston says, "Jesus is worthy of glory forever." Tindal says, "Pure Christianity is a most holy religion, and all the doctrines of Christianity plainly speak themselves to be the will of an infinitely wise and holy God." Chubb says, "Christ's mission was probably divine, and he was sent into the world to communicate to mankind the will of God. The New Testament contains excellent cautions and instructions for our right conduct, and yields much clearer light than any other traditionary revelation." Bolingbroke says, "Such moral perfections are in God as Christians ascribe to him. I will not presume to deny, that there have been particular providences; that Christianity is a re-publication of the religion of nature; and that its morals are pure." Gibbon says, "Christianity contains a pure, benevolent, and universal system of ethics, adapted to every duty and condition of life." Paine says, "Jesus Christ was a virtuous and an amiable man; that the morality he preached and practiced was of the most benevolent kind; and that it has not been exceeded by any." Rousseau (again to quote him) says, "If all were perfect Christians, individuals would do their duty; the people would be obedient to the laws; the chiefs just; the magistrates incorrupt; the soldiers would despise death; and there would he neither vanity nor luxury in such a state." And finally, to conclude this species of testimony, we can not do better than to give the admirable character of Christ, as drawn by the same individual.
"I will confess to you," says he, "that the majesty of the Scriptures strikes me with admiration, as the purity of the gospel has its influence on my heart. Peruse the works of our philosophers, with all their pomp of diction: how mean, how contemptible are they, compared with the Scripture! Is it possible that a book at once so simple and sublime, should be merely the work of man? Is it possible that the sacred personage whose history it contains, should be himself a mere man? Do we find that he assumed the tone of an enthusiast or an ambitious sectary? What sweetness, what purity in his manners! What an affecting gracefulness in his delivery! What sublimity in his maxims! What profound wisdom in his discourses! What presence of mind in his replies! How great the command over his passions! Where is the man, where the philosopher, who could so live, and so die, without weakness, and without ostentation? When Plato described his imaginary good man with all the shame of guilt, yet meriting the highest rewards of virtue, he describes exactly the character of Jesus Christ: the resemblance was so striking that all the Christian fathers perceived it. What prepossession, what blindness  must it be to compare (Socrates) the son of Sophroniscus to (Jesus) the son of Mary! What an infinite disproportion is there between them! Socrates, dying without pain or ignominy, easily supported his character to the last; and if his death, however easy, had not crowned his life, it might have been doubted whether Socrates, with all his wisdom, was anything more than a vain sophist. He invented, it is said, the theory of morals. Others, however, had before put them in practice; he had only to say, therefore, what they had done, and to reduce their examples to precept. But where could Jesus learn among his competitors, that pure and sublime morality, of which he only has given us both precept and example? The death of Socrates, peaceably philosophizing with his friends, appears the most agreeable that could be wished for; that of Jesus, expiring in the midst of agonizing pains, abused, insulted, and accused by a whole nation, is the most horrible that could be feared. Socrates, in receiving the cup of poison, blessed the weeping executioner who administered it; but Jesus, in the midst of excruciating pains, prayed for his merciless tormentors. Yes: if the life and death of Socrates were those of a sage, the life and death of Jesus were those of a God. Shall we suppose the evangelical history a mere fiction? Indeed, my friend, it bears not the marks of fiction; on the contrary, the history of Socrates, which nobody presumes to doubt, is not so well attested as that of Jesus Christ. Such a supposition, in fact, only shifts the difficulty, without obviating it: it is more inconceivable, that a number of persons should write such a history, than that one should furnish the subject of it. The Jewish authors were incapable of the diction and strangers to the morality contained in the gospel, the marks of whose truth are so striking and inimitable, that the inventor would be a more astonishing character than the hero."
After the presentation of such testimony as the foregoing, from the writings of the most distinguished infidels, it can not be necessary to say more in proof of the position, that Christianity has the best claim to a divine origin of all religions whatever.
We have, then, as we conceive, established, beyond all controversy, the three following positions:--1st. That revelation is necessary. 2nd. That God would probably meet that necessity by a Revelation. 3rd. That Christianity has the best claim, among all religions, of being the revelation from God.
|1. Alexander Campbell. Introductory Note to "Evidences of the Gospel.--No. 3: Revelation Possible and Probable." The Millennial Harbinger 7 (April 1836): 145-146.|
|2. Origen Bachelor. "Evidences of the Gospel.--No. 3: Revelation Possible and Probable" (Reprinted from Religious Magazine). The Millennial Harbinger 7 (April 1836): 146-150.|
[Table of Contents]
|Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)