Page images
PDF
EPUB

person, to appear in the fulness of time, in whom all the promises of God to the Jews were to be fulfilled : and it relates, that at the time expected, a person did actually appear, assuming to be the Saviour foretold ; that he worked various miracles among them in confirmation of his divine authority; and, as was foretold also, was rejected and put to death by the very people who had long desired and waited for his coming: but that his religion, in spite of all opposition, was established in the world by his disciples, invested with supernatural powers for that purpose ; of the fate and fortunes of which religion there is a prophetical description, carried down to the end of time. Let any one now, after reading the above history, and not knowing whether the whole were not a fiction, be supposed to ask, whether all that is here related be true; and, instead of a direct answer, let him be informed of the several acknowledged facts which are found to correspond to it in real life, and then let him compare the history and facts together, and observe the astonishing coincidence of both ; such a joint review must appear to him of very great weight, and to amount to evidence somewhat more than human. And unless the whole series, and every particular circumstance contained in it, can be thought to have arisen from accident, the truth of Christianity is proved *.

The view here given of the moral and religious systems of Bishop Butler, it will immediately be perceived, is

ܪ

* Chap. 7. To the Analogy are subjoined two Dissertations, both originally inserted in the body of the work. One on Personal Iden. tity, in which are contained some strictures on Mr. Locke, who asserts that consciousness makes or constitutes personal identity; whereas, as our author observes, consciousness makes only personality, or is necessary to the idea of a person, i. e., a thinking intelligent being, but presupposes, and therefore cannot constitute, personal identity ; just as knowledge presupposes truth, but does not constitute it. Consciousness of past actions does indeed show us the identity of ourselves, or gives us a certain assurance that we are the same persons or living agents now, which we were at the time to which our remembrance can look back; but still we should be the same persons as we were, though this consciousness of what is past were wanting, though all that had been done by us formerly were forgotten ; unless it be true that no person has existed a single moment beyond what he can remember. The other dissertation is on the Nature of Virtue, which properly belongs to the moral system of our author, already explained.

chiefly intended for younger students, especially for students in divinity ; to whom it is hoped it may be of use, so as to encourage them to peruse, with proper diligence, the original works of the author himself. For it may

be necessary to observe, that neither of the volumes of this excellent prelate are addressed to those who read for amusement, or curiosity, or to get rid of time. All subjects are not to be comprehended with the same ease ; and morality and religion, when treated as sciences, each accompanied with difficulties of its own, can neither of them be understood as they ought, without a very peculiar attention. But morality and religion are not merely to be studied as sciences, or as being speculatively true; they are to be regarded in another and higher light, as the rule of life and manners, as containing authoritative directions by which to regulate our faith and practice. And in this view, the infinite importance of them considered, it can never be an indifferent matter whether they be received or rejected : for both claim to be the voice of God; and whether they be so or not, cannot be known till their claims be impartially examined. If they indeed come from him, we are bound to conform to them at our peril : nor is it left to our choice, whether we will submit to the obligations they impose upon us or not'; for submit to them we must, in such a sense, as to incur the punishments denounced by both against wilful disobedience to their injunctions.

The following lines, by way of epitaph, were written soon after the Bishop's decease, and inserted in Webb's Collection of Epitaphs, vol. i. p. 97.

BENEATH this marble BUTLER lies entomb'd ;
Who, with a soul inflamed by love divine,
His life in presence of his God consumed,
Like the bright lamps before the holy shrine.
His aspect pleasing, mind with learning fraught;
His eloquence was like a chain of gold,
That the wild passions of mankind controll’d.
Merit, wherever to be found, he sought :
Desire of transient riches he had none;
These he with bounteous hand did well dispense,
Bent to fulfil the ends of Providence,
His heart still fix'd on an immortal crown.

His heart a mirror was of purest kind,
Where the bright image of his Maker shined ;
Reflecting faithful to the throne above

The irradiant glories of the Mystic Dove. N.B.—Bishop Butler was born at Wantage in Berkshire, A. D. 1692 ; died July 16, 1752, ætatis 60. On a flat marble stone, in Bristol Cathedral, where his remains were interred, is the following inscription :

H.S.
Reverendus admodum in Christo Pater
JOSEPHUS BUTLER, LL. D.

Hujusce primo Dioeceseos
Deinde Dunelmensis Episcopus.

Qualis quantusq.; Vir erat

Sua libentissimè agnovit ætas :
Et si quid Præsuli aut Scriptori ad famam valent

Mens altissima,
Ingenii perspicacis et subacti Vis,
Animusq. ; pius, simplex, candidus, liberalis,
Mortui haud facile evanescet memoria.
Obiit Bathoniæ 16 Kalend. Julii,

A. D. 1752.
Annos natus 60.

INTRODUCTION.

PROBABLE evidence is essentially distinguished from demonstrative by this, that it admits of degrees, and of all variety of them, from the highest moral certainty, to the very lowest presumption. We cannot indeed say a thing is probably true, upon one very slight presumption for it; because, as there may be probabilities on both sides of a question, there may be some against it: and though there be not, yet a slight presumption does not beget that degree of conviction which is implied in saying a thing is probably true. But that the slightest possible presumption is of the nature of a probability, appears from hence, that such low presumption, often repeated, will amount even to moral certainty.--Thus, a man's having observed the ebb and flow of the tide to-day, affords some sort of presumption, though the lowest imaginable, that it may happen again to-morrow; but the observation of this event for so many days, and months, and ages together, as it has been observed by mankind, gives us a full assurance that it will.

That which chiefly constitutes probability is expressed in the word likely, i. e. like some truth *, or true event; like it, in itself, in its evidence, in some more or fewer of its circumstances. For when we determine a thing to be probably true, suppose that an event has or will come to pass, 'tis from the mind's remarking in it a likeness to some other event which we have observed has come to pass.

And this observation forms, in numberless daily instances, a presumption, opinion, or full conviction, that such event has or will come to pass ; according as the observation is, that the like erent has sometimes, most commonly, or always, so far as our observation reaches, come to pass at like distances of time, or place, or upon like occasions. Hence arises the belief, that a child, if it lives twenty years, will grow up to the stature and strength of a man ; that food will contribute to the preservation of its life, and the want of it for such a number of days be its certain destruction. So, likewise the rule and measure of our hopes and fears concerning the success of our pursuits; our expectations that others will act so and so in such circumstances; and our judgment that such actions proceed from such principles ;—all these rely upon our having observed the like to what we hope, fear, expect, judge ; I say, upon our having observed the like, either with respect to others or ourselves. And thus, whereas the prince*, who had always lived in a warm climate, naturally concluded, in the way of analogy, that there was no such thing as water becoming hard, because he had always observed it to be fluid and yielding; we, on the contrary, from analogy, conclude, that there is no presumption at all against this : that 'tis supposable there may be frost in England any given day in January next; probable, that there will on some day of the month ; and that there is a moral certainty, i. e. ground for an expectation, without any doubt of it, in some part or other of the winter.

* Verisimile.

Probable evidence, in its very nature, affords but an imperfect kind of information, and is to be considered as relative only to beings of limited capacities. For nothing which is the possible object of knowledge, whether past, present, or future, can be probable to an Infinite Intelli. gence : since it cannot but be discerned absolutely as it is in itself, certainly true, or certainly false. But to us, probability is the very guide of life.

From these things it follows, that in questions of difficulty, or such as are thought so, where more satisfactory evidence cannot be had, or is not seen, if the result of examination be, that there appears, upon the whole, any the

• The story is told by Mr. Locke, in the chapter of Probability.

« PreviousContinue »