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answer any useful purpose, even if they were true; for it is more difficult to obtain belief to a miracle, than to a principle evidently * moral, without any miracle. Moral principle speaks universally for itself. Miracle could be but a thing of the moment, and seen but by a few; after this it requires a transfer of faith from God to man, to believe a miracle upon man's report. Instead therefore of admitting the recitals of miracles as evidence of any system of religion being true, they ought to be considered as symptoms of its being fabulous. It is necessary to the full and upright character of truth, that it rejects the crutch ; and it is consistent with the character of fable, to seek the aid that truth rejects. Thus much for mystery and miracle.
As mystery and miracle took charge of the past and the present, prophecy took charge of the future, and rounded the tenses of faith. It was not sufficient to know what had been done, but what would be done. The supposed prophet was the supposed historian of times to come; and if he happened, in shooting with a long bow of a thousand years, to strike within a thousand miles of a mark, the ingenuity of posterity could make it point-blank; and if he happened to be directly wrong, it was only to suppose, as in the case of Jonah and Ninevah, that God had repented himself and changed his mind. What a fool do fabulous systems make of man !
It has been shown, in a former part of this work, that the original meaning of the words prophet and prophesying has been changed, and that a prophet, in the sense of the word as now used,
is creature of modern invention ; and it is owing to this change in the meaning of the words, that the flights and metaphors of the Jewish poets and phrases and expressions now rendered obscure, by our not being acquainted with the local circumstances to which they applied
at the time they were used, have been erected into prophecies, and made to bend to explanations, at the will and whimsical conceits of sectaries, expounders and commentators. Every thing unintelligible was prophetical, and every thing insignificant was typical. A blunder would have served as a prophecy; and a dish-clout for a type.
If by a prophet we are to suppose a man, to whom the Almighty communicated some event that would take place in future, either there were such men, or there were not. If there were, it is consistent to believe that the event so communicated, would be told in terms that could be understood ; and not related in such a loose and obscure manner as to be out of the comprehensions of those that heard it, and so equivocal as to fit almost any circumstance that might happen afterwards. It is conceiving very irreverently of the Almighty to suppose he would deal in this jesting manner with mankind ; yet all the things called prophecies in the book called the Bible, come under this description
But it is with prophecy as it is with miracle ; it could not an
purpose even if it were real. Those to whom a prophecy should be told, could not tell whether the man prophesied or lied, or whether it had been revealed to him, or whether he conceited it ; and if the thing that he prophesied, or intended to prophecy, should happen, or something like it, among the multitude of things that are daily happening, nobody could again know whether he foreknew it, or guessed at it, or whether it was accidental. A prophet, therefore, is a character useless and unnecessary; and the safe side of the case is, to guard against being imposed upon by not giving credit to such relations.
Upon the whole, mystery, miracle, and prophecy, are appendages that belong to fabulous and not to true religion. They are the means by which so many Lo heres ! and Lo theres ! have been spread about the world, and religion been made into a trade.The success of one impostor gave encouragement to another, and the quieting salvo of doing some good by keeping up a pious fraud, protected them from remorse.
Having now extended the subject to a greater length than I first intended, I shall bring it to a close by abstracting a summary from the whole.
First—That the idea or belief of a word of God, existing in print, or in writing, or in speech, is inconsistent in itself for reasons already assigned. These reasons, among many others, are the want of an universal language; the mutability of language ; the errors to which translations are subject; the possibility of totally suppressing such a word ; the probability of altering it, or of fabricating the whole, and imposing it upon the world.
Secondly_That the Creation we behold is the real and ever existing word of God, in which we cannot be deceived. It proclaims his power, it demonstrates his wisdom, it manifests his goodness and beneficence.
Thirdly-That the moral duty of man consists in imitating the moral goodness and beneficence of God manifested in the Creation towards all his creatures. That seeing as we daily do the goodness of God to all men, it is an example calling upon all men to practise the same towards each other ; and consequently that every thing of persecution and revenge between man and man, and every thing of cruelty to animals, is a violation of moral duty.
I trouble not myself about the manner of future existence. I content myself with believing, even to positive conviction, that the power
me existence is able to continue it; in any form and manner he pleases, either with or without this body; and it appears more probable to me that I shall continue to exist hereafter, than that I should have had existence, as I now have, before that existence began
It is certain that, in one point, all nations of the earth and all religions agree;
all believe in a God ; the things in which they disagree, are the redundancies annexed to that belief; and therefore,
if ever an universal religion should prevail, it will not be believing any thing new, but in getting rid of redundancies, and believing as man believed at first. Adam, if ever there was such a man, was created a Deist ; but in the mean time, let every man follow, as he has a right to do, the religion and worship he prefers.
END OF THE FIRST PART