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CHRISTIAN NOTIONS OF INFINITE JUSTICE.
disrepute; the sacrifices of beasts were not so common or so popular as in former times, and one sect, the Essenes, had entirely given up the practice of this bloody worship. The Pharisees, like the Catholics and High Churchmen, had adopted many doctrines, traditions, and customs, unauthorised by the letter of the Old Testament; while the Sadducees, like the ultra Protestants, refused to believe anything without the sanction of scripture, and consequently denied the immortality of the soul, which formed part of the creed of the Pharisees and Essenes.
Promises of eternal life and happiness to all true believers abound in the New Testament, but there seems to have been some diversity of opinion or doubt as to the fate of the wicked. The Destructionist and Annihilationist heretics have drawn their doc. trines very fairly from the language of the Gospels and Epistles : “ eternal death” is a strange term to signify eternal life, even of torment. However, it is very certain that the present almost universal doctrine of eternal rewards and punishments became developed at a very early period of the church, and soon became established and popular. It affords to preachers a greater terror to denounce against evil-doers, and it has always appeared to be a great comfort to believers to reflect that all who, through the constitution of their minds, or their bad education, cannot coincide with them in opinion, or are less moral than themselves, will be consigned after death to hell prepared for them by God. There in sulphurous flames, despairing, longing for annihilation as a boon, they will be eternally tortured by the devils, who, under Divine providence, were the instigators of all their crimes, and the inventors and teachers of every false religion. And this, we are told, is infinite wisdom, justice, and mercy! Omnipotence, says the Christian, is angry because his creatures, when placed by him in unfavourable circumstances, act in accordance with their natural propensities; because they are led away by the temptations of the devil, whom he created on purpose to tempt
• Matthew, chap. x., verse 28; John, chap. iii., verses 15-36; chap. V., verse 24; chap. vi., verse 40; chap. viii., verse 51; Romans, chap. vi., verse 23 ; 1st Jobn, chap. iii., verse 16, &c.
them ; because they do not believe in a religion which it is impossible to discover amongst the multitude of creeds, while millions of men are born and educated under God's Providence in bitter bostility to his true faith, or are unable from their disposition or education to believe either its promises or threats. Sinners must be damned to satisfy the infinite justice of God.
According to our modern, civilised, and reasonable ideas of justice, punishments ought to have a distinct object and an evi. dent utility. Crime is punished, not to satisfy any abstract idea of justice, not to expiate the sin, but for a useful purpose : to deter the offender and all others from committing similar offences. And any punishment which is irrespective or in excess of these views, which falls heavily upon criminals without having any reformatory or preventive effect, either upon them or upon society, is both senseless and cruel, is a savage and objectless vengeance.
The Christian doctrine of the redemption of the world by the expiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ is derived from the same imperfect and bárbarous notion that a certain amount of pain and punishment is necessary to satisfy justice for a certain amount of crime. God, says the Christian theologian, was willing to forgive mankind for their offences against his laws and neglect of his worship, but his infinite justice must first be satisfied, his ven geance must fall somewhere, “ Without shedding of blood there is no remission of sins :" a pure and sinless victim must be offered up instead of the eternal death of the whole human race.
The Son of God therefore became a man, by means of the Holy Ghost he was born of a pure virgin, and was finally crucified for the sins of mankind. Now is there anything just, reasonable, or efficacious, in the fact of an innocent person being sacrificed to expiate the sins of the guilty ? Not with our present reasonable ideas of justice, but in former days the barbarous doctrine to which I have so often alluded was universal, the pain was necessary to expiate the crime, the punishment was due to justice. It is thus that we hear in the olden times such stories as of a generous man offering himself to the executioners to save the life of a friend, and of a father offering to have his eyes plucked out instead of his son's, and very pretty stories they are ; we can admire the
OMNIPOTENCE THE AUTHOR OF EVIL.
generosity and devotion of the proposed substitute, but the equity of the judge who accepts it merely excites our contempt and disgust. Yet such in the doctrine of the Redemption is the justice of the God of the Bible.
There is a wondrous mass of contradictions involved in this doctrine. If one person of the Trinity descended upon earth, and Jesus is said to have been perfect God, then, unless the remaining two persons were sufficient to form a quorum, there was no God in heaven, as two-thirds cannot amount to a whole. Again, Jesus is said to have suffered to appease the anger of God; but Jesus himseif was the second person in the Trinity, which is said to be one God. Did he, then, suffer to appease his own anger ? or was it to satisfy the Father and Holy Ghost, he bimself not only being willing to forgive mankind freely, but to be the means of reconciling them with the more obdurate Father and Ghost ? This, of course, would be answered by the defenders of Christianity calling it a great, an incomprehensible mystery, and declaring all further inquiry to be impious.
Theologians will persist in their attempts at reconciling the justice and wisdom of the God of the Bible--the justice and wisdom, in fact, of dark and superstitious times—with our rational and civilised ideas on these subjects ; and although frequently reduced to that superlative nonsense, a dogmatical limitation of Omnipotence, they still endeavour to explain how their God, without any evil in himself, could admit evil into the world. In the hypothesis of Omnipotence, no inferior agent or power can possibly be supposed to exist without the express command of God. If, with some of the ancient philosophers, we were to suppose a matter existing from all eternity, from which God did not so much create as form the universe, then in this case we should have two powers,
both imperfect and finite, instead of one perfect and self-sufficient God. Again : if, with the Manichees, Guebres, and other sects, we were to believe in two powers, one the author of all good, and the other of all evil, we should be reduced to the same inconsistency. The Almighty God of the Christians must, therefore, be considered as the author of all evil-at once Oromasdes and Arimanes. Theologians may sophisticate and twist
INSPIRATION OF THE BIBLE.
and mangle the plain meaning of their own words and their own doctrines, but all must come to this inevitable conclusion, that if there be an Omnipotent God, no evil, no sin could ever have come into the world without his absolutely placing it there. It is not worth while to entangle ourselves in the mazes of free will and predestination, for the insurmountable difficulty lies in the idea of Omnipotent power, which involves a thousand absurd contradictions.
The claim of the writers of the Bible to a supernatural inspiration will merely excite the reader's ridicule, when he finds the power and wisdom of the God of the Bible illustrated by vacillation and blundering, and his mercy and goodness by inefficacious cruelty and antiquated injustice; and when he finds that this heavenly influence has not preserved the writings from glaring marks of ignorance and barbarity, from Oriental extravagance, hyperbole, and bad taste, and from the fouler stain of Oriental obscenity.
CHAPTER THE THIRTEENTH.
Some witty remarks of S. T. Coleridge, at the commencement of one of his Theological Essays, are peculiarly applicable to many defenders of Christian doctrines and evidences. “ People are apt, when they are strongly attached to a doctrine, which they never take the pains carefully to unfold and examine in all its parts, to fly out against those who present it to them plainly, as if they presented it unfairly. They see it for the first time in its bare, unadorned reality, without that running accompaniment, and deceptive commentary of assumptions and attributions laudatory or reproachful, which has been to them in lieu of sound, searching argument. When these are left out they think the doctrine cheated and abused, merely because it does not look as
WHAT WE HAVE DONE.
well in their eyes as it used to do; forgetting that the form of Truth will bear exposure as well as that of Beauty itself-that truth is beauty, inasmuch as it is symmetry and fair proportion."
Arguments when exposed appear too bad ever to have been used; brought into the light of Reason,
"They look as glow-worms look by day,' or like the scenes and tipsel of a playhouse, viewed in the cool clear atmosphere of the morning.”
Stripped of the “deceptive commentary of assumptions and attributions," what are the evidences of Christianity? We have shown that nothing favourable to the supernatural origin of the religion can be drawn from the writings of its early apologists. We have examined Leslie's celebrated and vaunted argument of the four criteria, and claim to have proved it to be a fallacy. We have shown that pious frauds have been made use of with the best intentions by otherwise virtuous men, both before and after the death of Christ, and up to the present time. We have inquired into the authenticity of the Gospel Narratives, and have found the proofs of it to be fatally deficient. We have exposed the sophistry of always representing the early Christian martyrs as having suffered and died in testimony to the truth of the miracles—a point which their persecutors never called in question. We have found Christianity to be, not a “cunningly devised fable,” but a stage of improvement on Judaism and Paganism; and the founders of Christianity to be, not crafty impostors, hut simple-minded and generous reformers, who lived in an age when truth was little understood or regarded-when belief in superpatural interference on earth was a vivid faith, and not a respectable conventional profession-when men would fight, and kill, and die, and lie, for their faith, and believed that the end sanctified the means, and that everything was justifiable in the cause of God. We have proved the worthlessness of the Evidences of Prophecy, and have reduced them to an absurdity, by showing that an equally strong case can be made for Mohammedanism,
* Aids to Keflection, vol. ii., pp. 249-60.