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DIVINE REVELATION, that is, a discovery by God to man of himself or his will, over and above what he has made known by the light of nature, or reason.
The objects of our knowledge are of three kinds :- Thus, some things are discernible by the light of nature, without revelation; of this kind is the knowledge of God from the creation of the world, " for his invisible things, even his eternal power and godhead, since the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” Other things are of pure and simple revelation, which cannot be known by the light of nature : such is the doctrine of the salvation of the world by Jesus Christ. Others, again, are discoverable by the light of nature, but imperfectly, and therefore stand in need of a revelation to give them further proof and evidence; of this sort are a future state and eternal rewards and punishments. But of what degree soever the revelation may be, whether partial or entire, whether a total discovery of some unknown truths, or only a fuller and clearer manifestation of them, it must be supernatural, and proceed from God.
Il. No one, who believes that there is a God, and that he is a Being of infinite power, wisdom, and knowledge, can reasonably deny, that He can, if He thinks fit, make a revelation of himself and of his will to men, in an extraordinary way, different from the discoveries made by men themselves, in the mere natural and ordinary use of their own rational faculties and powers. For, if the power of God be almighty, it must extend to whatever does not imply a contradiction, which cannot be pretended in this case. We cannot distinctly explain the origin of our ideas, or the way in which they are excited or impressed upon the human mind; but we know that these ways are very various. And can it be supposed that the author of our beings has it not in his power to communicate ideas to our minds, for informing and instructing us in those things, which we are deeply concerned to know? Our inability clearly to explain the manner in which this is done, is no just objection against it. This has been acknowledged by a late distinguished antagonist of revelation; who observes, that “an extraordinary action of God upon the human mind, which the word inspiration is now used to denote, is not more inconceivable than the ordinary action of mind on body, or body on mind ;” and “that it is impertinent to deny the existence of any phenomenon, merely because we cannot account for it."
And as it cannot reasonably be denied that God can, if he sees fit, communicate his will to men in a way of extraordinary revelation, so he can do it in such a manner as to give those, to whom this revelation is originally and immediately made, a full and certain assurance that it is a true divine revelation. This is a natural consequence; for, to suppose that God can communicate his will in a way of extraordinary revelation, and yet that he is not able to give
1 Lord Bolingbroke's Works, vol. i. p. 468. 4to edit.
a sufficient assurance to the person or persons to whom he thus reveals his will, is evidently absurd and contradictory. It is, in effect, to say, that he can reveal his will, but has no way of making men know that he does so; which is a most unreasonable limitation of the divine power and wisdom. He, who pretends to pronounce that this is impossible, is bound to pronounce where the impossibility of it lies. If men can communicate their thoughts by speech or language in such a way, as that we may certainly know who it is that speaks to us, it would be a strange thing to affirm that God, on supposition of his communicating his mind and will to any person or persons in a way of extraordinary revelation, 'has no way of causing his rational creatures to know that it is He, and no other, who makes this discovery to them. To admit the existence of a God, and to deny him such a power, is a glaring contradiction. III
. Since then it cannot reasonably be denied, that it is possible for God to reveal his will to mankind, let us in the next place consider, which is the most probable, and most agreeable to the notions we have of him, whether he should or should not make such a revelation. Now, if any credit be due to the general sense of mankind in
every age, we shall scarcely find one that believed the existence of a God, who did not likewise believe that some kind of commerce and communication subsisted between God and man. This was the foundation of all the religious rites and ceremonies, which every nation pretended to receive from their deities. Hence also the most celebrated legislators of antiquity, - as Zoroaster, Minos, Pythagoras, Solon, Lycurgus, Numa, &c. &c. all thought it necessary to profess some intercourse with heaven, in order to give the greater sanction to their laws and institutions, notwithstanding many of them were armed with secular power. And what gave birth and so much importance to the oracles, divinations, and auguries, in antient times, was the conscious sense entertained by mankind of their own ignorance, and of their need of a supernatural illumination; as well as the persuasion, that their gods held a perpetual intercourse with men, and by various means gave them intelligence of future things.
The probability of a divine revelation further appears from this eircumstance, that some of the wisest philosophers, particularly Socrates and Plato, confessed that they stood in need of such a revelation to instruct them in matters which were of the utmost consequence. With regard to the state of morals, they acknowledged that, as the state of the world then was, there were no human means
1 Leland's Advantage and Necessity of the Christian Revelation, vol. i. 15. (evo edit. Glasgow, 1819.)
This fact is remarkably confirmed by the celebrated heathen geographer Strabo, whose observation on the supposed intercourse between mankind and the Deity is too striking to be omitted : “ Whatever," says he, “becomes of the real truth of these relations, this however is certain, that men DID BELIEVE and think them true : and, for this reason, prophets were held in such honour, as to be thought worthy Hornetimes of royal dignity, as being persons who delivered precepts and admonitions from the gods, both while they lived, and also after their death. Such were Tiresias, Amphiaraus, &c. &c. Such were Moses and his successors." Strab. Geogr. lib. xvi. pp. 1084,
1085. ed. Oxon.
of reforming it. But they not only saw and acknowledged their great want of a divine revelation, to instruct them in their conduct towards God and towards man; they likewise expressed a strong hope or expectation, that God would, at some future time, make such a discovery as should dispel the cloud of darkness in which they were involved.1
IV. From the preceding remarks and considerations, we are authorised to infer, that a divine revelation is not only probable but necessary. In fact, without such revelation, the history of past ages has shewn, that mere human reason cannot attain to any certain knowledge of the will or law of God, of the true happiness of man, or of a future state. To a reflecting and observant mind, the barmony, beauty, and wisdom of all the varied works of creation are demonstrative evidence of a First Great Cause; and the continued preservation of all things in their order attests a divine and superintending Providence. But the ultimate design of God in all his works cannot be perfectly known by the mere light of nature, and consequently our knowledge of his preceptive will or law is equally uncertain, so far as his works disclose it or philosophy has discovered it. Indeed, if we examine the writings of the most celebrated antient philosophers, we shall find that they were not only ignorant of many important points in religion which revelation has discovered to us, but also that endless differences and inconsistences prevailed among them in points of the greatest moment ; while some of them taught doctrines which directly tend to promote vice and wickedness in the world ; and the influence of all, in rectifying the notions and reforming the lives of mankind was inconsiderable. A concise stateinent of facts will confirm and illustrate this observation :
1. The ideas of the antients respecting the nature and worship of God were dark, confused, and imperfect.
While some philosophers asserted the being of a God, others openly denied it; others, again, embraced, or pretended to embrace, the notion of a multiplicity of gods, celestial, aërial, terrestrial, and. infernal ; while others represented the Deity as a corporeal being united to matter by a necessary connexion, and subject to an immutable fate. As every country had its peculiar deities, the philosophers (whatever might be their private sentiments) sanctioned and defended the religion of the state; and urged a conformity to it to be the duty of every citizen. They“ diligently practised the ceremonies of their fathers; devoutly frequented the temples of the gods; and sometimes, condescending to act a part on the theatre of superstition, they concealed the sentiments of an atheist under the sacerdotal robes." It is true that insulated passages may be found in the writings of some of the philosophers, which apparently indicate the most exalted conceptions of the divine attributes and perfections. These and similar passages are sometimes regarded with a Christian eye, and thence acquire a borrowed sanctity: but, in order to discover their real value, they must be brought to their own standard, and must be interpreted upon principles strictly pagan, in which case, the context will be found, either to claim such perfections for the deified mortals and heroes of the popular theology, or to connect them with some of those physiological principles which were held by the different philosophical sects, and effectually subverted the great and fundamental doctrine of one supreme Creator. The religion of the antient Persians is said to have been originally founded on their belief in one supreme God, who made and governs the world. But a devotion founded on a principle so pure as this, if it survived the first
1 Plato, de Rep. lib. iv. & vi. and Alcibiad, ü. Dr. Samuel Clarke has exhibited these and other testimonies at length in his Discourse on the Evidences of Natural and Revealed Religion, proposition vi. (Boyle's Lectures, vol. ii. pp. 130—135. fo. Jio edit.)
2 On this subject the reader may peruse, with equal pleasure and instruction, Dr. Ellis's elaborate Treatise on the " Knowledge of Divine Things from Revelation, not from Reason or Nature," published many years since at Dublin, and reprinted at London in 1811. 8vo. Dr. E. also threw the substance of this treatise into a single discourse, which may be substituted for the preceding by those who may not be able to command the requisite leisure for reading a large volume. The discourse in question is printed in the first volnme of the well known and ex. cellent collection of tracts intitled " The Scholar Armed against the Errors of the Time;" and is intitled " An Enquiry, whence cometh Wisdom and Understanding to Man?" It shews satisfactorily, that Religion and language entered the world by divine rerelation, without the aid of which man had not been a rational or religious creature ; that nothing can oblige the conscience but the revealed will of God; and that such a thing as the law of nature never existed but in the human imagination. The same argument is also discussed in an able but anonymous tract (now of rare occurrence, and known to be written by the Rev. Dr. Findlay, a divine of the Scottish church), intitled “ An Attempt to shew that the Knowledge of God has, in all Ages, been derived from Revelation or Tradition, not from Nature." Glasgow, 1773. Evo.
ages after the flood, which cannot be proved, is known with certainty to have been early exchanged for the Sabian idolatry ; the blind and superstitious worship of the host of heaven, of the sun, the planets, and the fire," the water, the earth, and the winds.
In consequence of these discordant sentiments, the grossest polytheism and idolatry prevailed among the antient heathen nations. They believed in the existence of many co-ordinate deities, and the number of inferior deities was infinite:5 they deified dead, and some
1 Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. i. p.
50. 2. Dr. Ireland's Paganism and Christianity compared, pp. 46, 47. Frank's Essay on the Use and Necessity of Revelation, p. 44. "These ideas of the philosophers of Europe,” says Dr. Robertson, “ were precisely the same which the Brahmins had adopted in India, and according to which they regulated their conduct with respect to the great body of the people. Wherever the dominion of false religion is completely established, the body of the people gain nothing by the greatest improvements in knowledge. Their philosophers conceal from them, with the utmost solicitude, the truths which they have discovered, and labour to support that fabric of superstition which it was their duty to have overturned.” Historical Disquisition concerning Antient India, pp. 283, 284. 3 Asiat. Researches, vol. ii. p. 58.
Leland's Advant. and Necessity of the Christ. Rev. vol. i. pp. 59.79. 5 Thus, the Chaldeans had twelve principal deities, according to the number of months in the year , and Zoroaster, the great Persian reformer, taught the Medians and Persians that there were two spirits or beings subordinate to one supreme, eternal, and self-existent being, viz. Oromasdes, the angel of light and promoter of happiness and virtue, and Arimanes, the angel of darkness and author of misery and vice. - Varro makes three sorts of heathen theology ;- the fabulous, invented by the poets; the physical, or that of the philosophers; and ciril or popular, which
times living persons, the former often out of injudicious gratitude, the latter usually out of base and sordid flattery. According to the vulgar estimation, there were deities that presided over every distinct nation, every distinct city, every inconsiderable town, every grove, every river, every fountain. Athens was full of statues dedicated to different deities. Imperial Rome, from political principles, adopted all the gods which were adored by the nations who had yielded to her victorious arms, and thought to eternise her empire by crowding them all into the capital. Temples and fanes were erected to all the passions, diseases, fears, and cvils, to which mankind are subject. Suited to the various characters of the divinities were the rites of their worship. Many of them were monsters of the grossest vice and wickedness : and their rites were absurd, licentious, and cruel, and often consisted of mere unmixed crime, shameless dissipation and debauchery. Prostitution, in all its deformity, was systematically annexed to various pagan temples, was often a principal source of their revenues, and was, in some countries, even compulsory upon the female population. Other impurities were solemnly practised by them in their temples, and in public, from the very thought of which our minds revolt. Besides the numbers of men, who were killed in the bloody sports and spectacles instituted in honor of their deities, human sacrifices were offered to propitiate them. Boys were last was instituted in the several cities and countries. - The Greek theology was thus distinguished ; – 1. God, who rules over all things; -2. The gods, who were supposed to govern above the moon; 3. The demons, whose jurisdiction was in the air below it ; -- and, 4. The heroes, or souls of dead men, who were imagined to preside over terrestrial affairs. And, besides all these, the evil demons were worshipped, from fear of the mischief they might commit. These facts will account for the prodigious multitude of heathen deities, of which Hesiod computes thirty thousand to be hovering about the earth in the air, unless he is to be under: stood as meaning an indefinite number. - Orpheus reckoned only three hundred and sixty-five; Varro enumerated three hundred Jupiters ; although he himself, together with Cicero, Sencca, and some other eminent philosophers, were ashamed of the heathen deities, and believed that there is but one God.
1 The chief oracles among the heathens appointed human sacrifices; as that at Delphi, that of Dodona, and that of Jupiter Saotes. It was a custom among the Phænicians and Canaanites, in times of great calamity, for their kings to sacrifice one of their sons, whom they loved best; and it was common both with them, as well as with the Moabites and Ammonites, to sacrifice their children. Further, the Egyptians, the Athenians, and Lacedemonians, and, generally speaking, all the Greeks; -- the Romans, Carthaginians, Germans, Gauls, and Britons ; - in short, all the heathen nations throughout the world offered human sacrifices upon their altars; and this, not on certain emergencies and imminent dangers only, but con. stantly, and in some places every day. Upon extraordinary accidents, multitudes were sacrificed at once to their sanguinary deities. Thus, during the battle between the Sicilian army under Gelon and the Carthaginians under Amilcar, in Sicily, the latter remained in his camp, offering sacrifices to the deities of his country, and consuming upon one large pile the bodies of numerous victims. (Herod. lib. vii. c. 167.) When Agathocles was about to besiege Carthage, its inhabitants seeing the extremity to which they were reduced, imputed all their misfortunes to the anger of Saturn; because, instead of offering up children of noble descent (who were usually sacrificed) there had been fraudulently substituted for them the children of slaves and foreigners. Two hundred children of the best families in Carthage were therefore immolated, to propitiate the offended divinity; to whom upwards of three hundred citizens voluntarily sacrificed themselves, from a sense of their guilt of this pretended crime. (Diod. Sic. lib. xx. c. 14.) On another occasion, the Carthaginians, having obtained a victory, immolated the