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historical, and poetical contents, the sound and useful knowledge which they are really calculated to afford. Many of these petsons convert their Bibles into instruments of divination, and make a lottery of their leaves, dipping into them at random, and interpreting the passage they happen to hit upon, as an answer to their profane prayers ; holding it to be true and valid, in exact proportion to the presumption or infatuation with which they apply it. Their ordinary mode of understanding the Bible is either grossly literal or wildly fantastic; and this is certainly the chief source of the contempt of its calumniators. Even the more learned expositors are often chargeable with the fault of too literal an explanation; their very reverence for the Bible has caused them to do less justice to it, than they would have done to any other book; they have held it so sacred that they have hardly dared to judge of it at all, and by this superstitious timidity they have done it the greatest injury. Considering its connexion with the earliest influences of religion, with the progressive development of true devotion and of the character of the Deity; considering also its great antiquity, the barbarism of the æra at which it commenced, and the ages of darkness through which it has descended to us, clouded and interpolated to an uncertain extent ;-it may well demand the utmost efforts of human wisdom and learning, to free it from all corrupt and profane in. terpretations. A blind addiction to the literal sense of the copies now extant, sacrificing to it, not only the true meaning and use of the original text, together with the rational interpretation that might supply its loss, but even the sacred and eternal principles of morality, planted by God himself in the mind, as the only ground on which true religion can be raised, is an abuse of the sacred scriptures which cannot be too severely censured. It is difficult to decide upon the exact style and character of very early history, and to say how far the spirit of a divine poesy, particularly of a dramatic personation, may have been allowed to enforce and illustrate the simple facts of tradition. In this deficiency of antiquarian learning, which may, perhaps, be long before it is fully supplied, the principles of true goodness are the best interpreters of a book whose chief end and utility is the revelation of the divine will.-Yet, in a recent “ Apology for the Bible," which I refer to with the less reluctance, as its distinguished and respectable author is removed from the selfish vanities of this world, an instance is given of the most extraordinary perversion of moral judgment, arising, no doubt, from a well-meant but mistaken reverence for this valuable book. This zealous writer, in repelling the inconsiderate attack of Paine, unfortunately conceived it necessary to justify Moses in the slaughter imputed

to him, of all the male children of the Midianites. His words are these : “ I see nothing in this proceeding but good policy combined with mercy; the young men might have become dangerous avengers of what they would esteem their country's wrongs. Not content with defending the massacre on the alleged ground of a divine command, the apologist goes farther, and declares it to be consistent with good policy and mercy to slay the helpless children of an exterminated people. Surely this is not a fair account either of the justice, the policy, or the mercy, inculcated by the Word of God. The error Paine committed was the supposition that the Almighty could not justly doom to death these innocent children.- Is man able to judge his Maker ? Who shall say that death, by the visitation

of God, may not be the tenderest of mercies? It is when the hand of man dares to inAlict it

upon his innocent fellow-creature, that we are authorised to charge him with injustice ; and if the text be here literally conformable to the fact, I do not see how Moses can be acquitted of cruelty.—The “good policy" of the deed cannot be admitted as an excuse for it ; and the supposed command of God, to kill innocent children, must be rejected as annihilating the sacredness of all moral obligation. The God we worship has made it an utter impossibility that he should ever command man to kill, to steal, or to lie; the Bible, therefore, must never be understood or allowed to sanction such a doctrine. Those passages which may seem literally to imply it, must be held of no weight in such a sense ; and it is the duty of the learned to seek, in the style of ancient literature, or in the peculiar circumstances of Jewish history, the true point of view in which such passages must be considered, in order that the moral and religious use of the Scriptures may not be sacrificed to a superstitious and immoral use of them.

It must never be admitted, that vice and virtue are indifferent, and have nothing essential in their nature; much less that the Deity either does or can, by his arbitrary fiat, shift them about at his changeable pleasure ;--for He changeth not.

Let the learned seriously consider the importance of the call here made upon them, as the sincere friends of true religion : it is their business by degrees to remove these stumbling-blocks. The duty of the clergy, in the mean time, and of the unlearned, is not to seek obstacles and occasions of offence, but carefully to avoid them. They have only to judge honestly according to their consciences; to reject whatever undermines virtue, and to seek in the Scriptures, and elsewhere, all that can contribute to their advancement in the true religion of the heart.

The friends of this religion, at the present moment, may confidently direct their hopes to the sincerity anà enlightened temperance of its most distinguished advocates ; and while, on the one hand, they deprecate all calumny upon the Bible, on account of its seeming or real imperfections ; recommending that it should cease and lose itself in reverence for the moral and sacred tendency of the whole ; so, on the other, they may justly call upon its ministers to discourage the partial and literal mode of interpretation, wherever it tends to oppress the consciences of men, and thereby to sap the moral foundation of religion.

The divine influence of Revelation in the infancy of the world, was not designed to abrogate Reason and to supersede its moral authority ; but rather to aid and direct its first feeble efforts, and to give a religious sanction to the dictates of the Rational Will. This will itself is a divine revelation ; it speaks in the conscience with a voice of thunder ; and who, that has heard that voice, can doubt that the moral laws it proclaims, as the self-legislation of reason, are invested with the sacred sanction of the divine authority?

Feb. I, 1820.

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“ The propositions are all mere matters of fact; and if they are such facts as draw irresistible conclusions even in the stating, this is the power of truth and not any management of mine."

BURKE.

ORIGINAL

LONDON:

VOL. XVI.

Pam.

NO. XXXII.

Y

INTRODUCTION.

This pamphlet has been published after much hesitation ; the opinions it contains have not been hastily formed, but as they are in direct opposition to those of persons to whom great Jeference is due, the writer has found it necessary to reconsider carefully the ground on which he proceeds.

He is aware of the probability of being wrong when so opposed, but be has himself been unable to resist the evidence which the examination of his subject presented, and he has reason to think that a similar examination by others will be followed by a conviction similar to his own. An acknowledgement by the present Lord Chancellor that he had lately been induced to correct his views on the subject to a certain extent by papers which will be stated here justifies this hope--and the following pages have been written in order to extend the influence of that correction.

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