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Art. XI. The Miscellaneous Works of Edward Gibbon, Esq. with Me. moirs of his Life and Writings; composed by Himself; illustrated from his Letters, with occasional Notes and Narrative. By the Right Hon. John Lord Sheffield. A new Edition, with considerable Additions, 5 vols, Svo. pp. xlviii, 2928. Price 31. 55. London. Murray. 1815.
( Concluded from Page 20, of the present Volume.) W E have already hinted, that, while Mr. Gibbon's History
may, notwithstanding some blemishes, be pronounced, upon the whole a most noble work, and one which reflects honour, through its Author, upon the whole British Nation ; it exhibits two very exceptionable features, both deriving their origin from the character of the man, and both of a nature so serious, that they ought not to be passed over without marked reprobation. These are religious scepticism, and indelicacy of allusion. It will be seen in the sequel, that these two spots, with which the face of a work, otherwise of extraordinary beauty, is so miserably disfigured, are more closely connected with each other in their origin, than is generally supposed. Notwithstanding this connexion, however, we shall, for the sake of distinctness, consider each of these two points separately; and if, in the course of our discussions, we should be led into investigations of some length, we trust, the extreme importance of the subject to the best interests of mankind, will be admitted as a sufficient apology.
To begin then with religious scepticism. In entering upon this part of his duty, the writer of the present article may put in a claim to more than ordinary attention on the part of the reader, by virtue of a confession, which he is led to make, with deep contrition for his former fault, and fervent gratitude to God for his recovery, that he was himself once a determined and systematic infidel, and indeed not får removed from absolute atheism. For, without supposing the state of mind which gives rise to infidelity, to be in every instance exactly the same, some resemblance must necessarily exist in the cause, where there appears so striking a similarity in the effect. And surely, one, who has himself experienced the state of mind which he examines, though perhaps under some diversity of circumstances, must possess an advantage over those, who know it only from the observation of others, or from what they bave heard or read on the subject.
We should have thought it quite superfluous, to prove that Gibbon was 'a sceptic in religion, had we not ourselves been acquainted with a person of strong sense, though of some singularity of manners, and one too, who had bimself gone through a school of doubt on the subject of religion, by whom we were
dangerous to has publisherefully and reument, that
gravely assured, that he had perused the two noted chapters of the “ Decline and Fall,” the fifteenth and sixteenth, with much edification; and that he should never have detected scepticism in them, had it not been pointed out to him by others. Few readers, we believe, will be similarly deceivel, since the traces of scepticism in Gibbon, are not confined to those chapters, but run through the whole of his work. Yet, as there may be others, besides our friend, who, blinded by that charity which thinketh no evil, are not convinced that our historian was really an unbeliever, we shall produce only one passage from the present publication, which we think is fully sufficient to substantiate the charge. And let it be remembered, for the corroboration of our argument, that the Noble Editor seems to have carefully and laudably expunged from the pieces he has published, whatever he thought might prove dangerous to the interests either of morals or of religion.
In a letter of Mr. Gibbon to his bosom--friend, the Editor of his posthumous works, written at a moment when the death of Lady Sheffield inust have solemnized both their minds, so as to produce, one might imagine, a temporary religious belief, even where it did not generally exist;-in a letter too, written upon that very subject, and written in the true spirit of condoling friendship; he could afford no more decided expressions of faith, than the following:
But she is now at rest; and if there be a future life, her mild virtues have surely entitled her to the reward of pure and perfect felicity."
In the opening of this sentence, we have, from his own pen, a declaration of religious scepticism; and in the conclusion of it, there is, to say the least, more of friendship than of Christianity. In another letter of condolence, written on the same 'occasion, we read these similar expressions. ... If there be any invisible guardians, may they watch over you and yours.
With these clear declarations, the reader may combine the following pleasantries, and we think no doubt will remain in the mind of the most charitable judge, respecting the decided and confirmed scepticism of the writer, on every question connected with religion. They all occur in his correspondence with Lord Sheffield.
"I have as little to say on the subject of my worldly matters, which seem now, Jupiter be praised! to be drawing towards a final conclusion.'
Shall I be with you by the first of May? The Gods only know.”
With these expressions we may contrast the following ; in 'which, though the words are different, the intention is evis dently the same.
Lausanne is now full and lively; all our native families are returned from the country; and, praised be the Lord! we are in- fested with few foreigners, either French or English.'
The object of this article being, not only to ascertain and condemn, but also to account for the infidelity of our historian; and that, not merely in order to gratify the curiosity, but to enlighten the minds, and benefit the hearts of our readers.; we must now call their attention to a somewhat extended, but we trust not tedious examination into the nature of religious doubting in general.
There is a fundamental principle in all moral inquiries, with regard to which revelation and reason, or, rather, revelation and common sense, are completely agreed. The principle alluded to, is this, that man is praise-worthy or blameworthy, no farther than his conduct proceeds from the heart.
That is the important region, which is to be kept with all diligence; because out of it are the issues of life and of death. And although to give a just description of what is meant by the heart, is a problem replete with difficulty, if not utterly incapable of solution; yet, an honest appeal to individual consciousness, will enable any man, not only to decide for himself, upon all cases of conscience connected with the heart, as they occur, but likewise to discover certain general maxims, which, if judiciously managed, will apply with considerable precision to the general conduct of other men. Only, we must never forget, that the heart is answerable, not merely for what proceeds directly out of itself, but likewise for its frequently unsuspected influence upon other departments of the soul.
What we are at present concerned with, is, that faculty, or whatever else it may be called, by which we believe. The simple act of faith would seem to be of the same nature, whatever be its object. But of faith, properly so called, the object is always some fact. In ordinary discourse, we may indeed be said to believe any kind of truth; for instance, the theory of gravitation. That act of the mind, however, which determines our assent in such cases, is rather judgement than faith, and we may with more propriety be said to understand than to believe them. · Religious faith, which is properly our present subject, agrees, in this respect, with wbat we have said of faith in general. It has matter of fact for its object. When our Saviour declares, “ He that believeth shall be sayed; and he that believeth not,
others we belicet, uportion but sinapprehend
“ shall be damned :" if we ask, what is the object of this saving faith; what are we to believe, that we may be saved ; the answer is, the great fact of the incarnation and propitiatory sacrifice of the Son of God, for the redemption of the world. « Believe in the Lord Jesus, with all thy heart, and thou shalt
be saved”. That is, if thou believest, with the heart, (this expression will be elucidated in the sequel) that Jesus is the Lord, that he is Jehovah, that in his person the two natures of man and God were and are united, for the purpose of human, and, consequently, of thy salvation, thou shalt partake his bliss and glory in heaven to all eternity.
- And here we cannot help observing by the way, how much needless controversy might have been spared, if men had always borne in mind, that we are no where called upon to conceive, to understand, or to comprehend the subjects of religion, for our salvation, but simply to believe certain facts, or rather one fact, upon the evidence of God's own declaration, just as we believe, and frequently without understanding them, other facts, upon the strength of human testimony. If we « receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; s for this is the witness of God, which he hath testified of *« his Son." 1 John, v. 9.
The proper subject of our investigation, therefore, will be this; How comes this faith to be so praise-worthy, and its opposite so deserving of condemnation ? and what constitutes the proper difference between those who have it, and those who have it not?
In this investigation, we shall begin with an examination of faith or belief, as applied to some more ordinary object; for, as the act of faith differs not, from its object being diversified, we shall thereby have the advantage of being able to speak more freely, by not having to do with an object so very solemn as that of saving faith; while still, whatever we may thus discover respecting the nature of faith in general, will apply to the subject of that faith by which we are saved, as well as to that more common instance of it, which we shall thus have analysed. Besides, by this way of proceeding, we shall be enabled to appeal more freely to common experience, than we could do, while treating a subject which falls not under the cognizance or observation of every man. I
We shall make no apology for drawing our principles concerning faith in general, from the sacred Scriptures. For it follows from the very purpose for which revelation was given to men, that however we may judge of the expressions of the Bible, when they regard natural philosophy, or other similar sciences, which relate to external things, if that volume be
indeed what it professes to be, a Divine Revelation, its moral philosophy and metaphysics must be conformable to the nature. of things, and therefore philosophically true; and we may add, that the Bible must be the only source of truth on those branches of knowledge to the human race.
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead, afforded hini a noble opportunity of illustrating the true doctrine of human belief; and by carefully attending to what is recorded concerning the conversations of our blessed Saviour with his disciples, after he was risen, we shall be enabled to take sure steps in this most interesting inquiry..
The circumstance, to which, in the first instance, we would point the attention of our readers, is this. Our Lord had already appeared to some of his disciples, who, therefore, having ocular demonstration, could no longer doubt of the truth of his resurrection from the dead. This their conviction they endeavoured to impart to their friends and companions, through the evidence of their testimony; but in vain. Those who had not seen their Master, refused to believe upon the testimony of those who bad, that he was indeed risen.
When, afterwards, our blessed Lord favoured these unbelieving disciples with a convincing appearance, he at the same time blamed them for not believing without it. Upon this occasion, he chid them rather severely; if we consider who He was, and in what relation they stood to him, we may say, very severely. He seems on this, as frequently before on similar occasions, and once or twice afterwards, to have been deeply grieved and pained by their conduct; and he states expressly, that what he blamed them for, was, that they did not believe the fact of his resurrection, upon the testimony of those who had seen him.
What Jesus himself blamed, and so blamed, must indeed have been blame-worthy in the sight of God. For his judgement was in fact the judgement of God. The disciples therefore acted seriously wrong, when they refused their assent to the testimony of their fellow-disciples, that Jesus was risen from the dead.
Let us now attend to some separate considerations, which, if we mistake not, need only be fairly stated, in order to approve themselves as truth to every reflecting mind.
The truth of a fact, and my belief of that fact, are two quite distinct things., What is true I may not believe; or inversely, I may believe what is not true. That which connects any fact with my belief, is called evidence. No fact, however true, can be believed, without evidence. Supposing any fact to be true, my evidence for its truth may be defective, or it may be