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open. We should be glad that they, whose waking eyes glance evil at such a character, would have the goodness to recollect that the important difference between the natives of the several parts of the United Kingdom lies not in the peculiarities of their national characters, but in the degree in which each has taken advantage of the substantial freedom, and pure religion within his reach: in the use, in short, which his conscience and knowledge have led him to make of the talents entrusted to his care.
In these respects Mr. Burnett was eminently worthy of imitation. If the gratuitous payment of a father's debts ;-if extensive charities to the poor ;-punctuality in all his dealings;-gratuities to those of his correspondents with whom he had driven bargains, when those bargains brought him in more profit than he thought he could conscientiously retain ;-if an ardent thirst for the religious. and moral improvement of mankind, and a singular modesty and aversion from all display in the good he was desirous to promote : -if this combination of excellence may be admitted to counterbalance a few striking singularities of conduct and opinion, Mr. Burnett was certainly an honour to his country: nor should it be forgotten that it was his assiduous application and cautious conduct in business that enabled him thus effectually to direct his efforts to the best and noblest objects. The contemplation of such a character is exceedingly interesting in a double point of view; first, in the proof it exhibits that the heart may be kept upright towards its Maker, and expand itself in unbounded benevolence to men, even amidst close and minute attention to pecuniary interests, -and secondly, in the contrast which the unaffected endeavour to conceal the hand that bestowed the gift, affords to the shewy, advertising, electioneering qualities of some of our modern charities. Among the many charitable bequests of this respectable individual was a sum set apart till it should accumulate to 16007., which was then to be given, in the following proportions, to the authors of the two best Essays on the subject stated below;* viz. 12007. to the first in merit, and 400l. to the second. The Essay before us is that to which the judges appointed by the executors to determine the merits of the contending Essays (and who were, it seems, three Professors of the University of Aberdeen) were pleased unanimously to assign the second prize. The first was awarded with equal unanimity to Dr. W. L. Brown, Principal of Marischal College and University of Aberdeen,' &c.
The evidence that there is a Being all-powerful, wise, and good, by whom every thing exists, and particularly to obviate difficulties regarding the wisdom and the goodness of the Deity: and this, in the first place, from considerations independent of written Revelation; and in the second place, from the Revelation of the Lord Jesus; and from the whole, to point out the inferences most necessary for, and useful to, mankind.'
Upon the whole, Mr. Burnett appears to have been endowed with a just, and, in many respects, an amiable character, but strongly marked with eccentricity. But we have no inclination to inquire into, and, if possible, still less right to indulge in sarcasms against, singularities which have, perhaps, been instrumental in producing the effects now before us. We nevertheless be permitted to regret that it never occurred to Mr. Burnett's mind, that by directing the accumulation of his bequest to extend to 2000/., instead of 1600/., he might have founded a professorship of 1001. per annum in one of the universities of his country, where lectures upon the subjects which he had so much at heart might have been permanently given. The lectures now read in some of the Scottish Universities, for the edification of youth in the most important branches of instruction, must be contemplated with other minds than ours before a reasonable conviction can be entertained that a provision, properly secured, to the purpose of frequently setting forth The wisdom and goodness of God as displayed in the Revelation of the Lord Jesus, with the inferences most necessary for, and useful to mankind,' would be by any means a superfluous institution. We are far, however, from intending, by the wish just expressed, to undervalue the results of Mr. Burnett's liberality, as he has been pleased (in the plenitude of his power over his own property) to display it for the benefit of mankind.
Of the general talents and industry exhibited in the Essay immediately under review, we certainly entertain a favourable opinion: and we are the more disposed to extend our observations upon it to some length, because where we have the misfortune to differ from the ingenious author, it is upon points wherein discussion can scarcely fail to produce effects highly serviceable to the best interests of mankind. In truth we cannot help anticipating important benefits from the salutary association of religious, moral, and political science, pervading many of the publications which have lately issued from the press.
Mr. Sumner has given in his preface a summary of the process by which he proposes, first, to prove the existence of an all-powerful, wise, and good Being by whom every thing exists; and, secondly, to remove the objections to his wisdom and goodness by arguments derived from reason and revelation. He states that the acquaintance which we derive from reason, with the Creator and his attributes, and the conformity of the appearance of the universe, with the conclusions at which reason arrives, have been so fully illustrated by the successive labours of Stillingfleet, Clarke, Butler, Warburton, and Paley, that it is hopeless to look out for a vacant spot in a district so fully occupied. He has, therefore, chosen to
rest his principal evidence of the existence of the Creator upon the credibility of the Mosaic Records of the Creation. He justly adds, that to descend from the height to which, upon the fundamental point of the existence of God, we have been gradually raised by Revelation, and to argue still upon the level of unassisted reason, would be equally impossible and unprofitable :-impossible, because the rays of revealed knowledge will imperceptibly penetrate :-unprofitable, because, although philosophy may silence atheism, it will never command practical obedience, nor inspire practical de
It appears to us that Mr. Burnett, by the terms of his proposal, left the competitors for his prize at perfect liberty as to the ground upon which they might choose to establish the being of a God; and that it is only with respect to his wisdom and goodness that they were bound to establish the proof, both from reason and Revela, tion. Mr. Sumner was, therefore, at liberty to exercise full discretion on the first point; and whether by selecting the question concerning the credibility of the Mosaic Records he has fixed upon the most interesting track, even though Dr. Graves and the present Dean of Westminster had not published their able and learned works when the plan of the Essay before us was arranged, we will not presume to determine. But after all which Warburton, the Abbé Fleury, Lardner, the two Lowths, Chandler, and others have written, either professedly or incidentally, upon the Mosaic History, we think it indisputable that a moiety of the Essay is rather too large a portion to devote to this single point. We are the more disposed to lament the disproportionate space thus occupied, as it has necessarily contracted that which the author has been enabled to allot to other parts of the subject, in the discussion of which many modern writers have succeeded in exciting a lively interest among men of reflection and benevolence, and have thrown over their subjects a sufficient portion of new light to excite eager curiosity, but by no means enough to settle the opinions of candid inquirers. These subjects are the existence of moral and physical evil, or, in the more modern phrase, ofvice and misery,' and their alleged necessary increase as society proceeds towards those advanced stages to which it is now tending in all the most civilized and enlightened nations of the earth. These are points of discussion of momentous import, including questions to the illustration of which the lights of reason and Revelation equally converge, and affording practical inferences for the regulation of man in the sublimest, as well as in the lowest, departments of human conduct. We sincerely regret, therefore, that scarcely more than one half of the Essay is devoted to these discussions, even in their abstract prin
ciples, since they are necessarily developed in a manner more scanty and unsatisfactory than their extreme importance demands; and we are still more disappointed to find that scarely any space is left for the practical inferences justly deducible from the whole,' where we expected to find, in the application of the argument to the hearts and lives of men, the most eloquent and useful portion of the work. We confess, therefore, that our own taste would have been more fully gratified had Mr. Sumner contented himself with giving, in a few pages, the abstract, which he is so well capable of producing, of the arguments to be found in ancient and modern authors concerning the existence of a God, which after all is a FACT scarcely any where denied in the present day; and had devoted, at least, four-fifths of the Essay to the more interesting and original matters to which we have just adverted, and which, in truth, appear to have been mainly in the view of Mr. Burnett when he proposed the subject for his prizes. The political uses of such an argument would have embraced all the most interesting topics among those which may be called fundamental in the constitution of civil society, objects which lie at the root of all public prosperity, because upon them mainly depend the contentment of the people, the security of governments, and consequently the offensive and defensive power of nations. The moral uses would have been yet more interesting; for, as we have lately seen it expressed, there requires but little reflection upon the history of the past, and little experience of the actual condition of society, to perceive the utter insufficiency of mere political, or philosophical, or economical systems, for affording any permanence to the amelioration which they all profess to bestow upon the condition of mankind. System after system has been adopted with eager hope, and rejected in its turn, with utter despair, in favour of another which has ultimately followed the destiny of its predecessor; and mankind, instead of reaping the expected harvest, have too often found their condition deteriorated, and their minds disappointed and irritated. If ever there were a time in which these truths were more palpable than at another it appears to be the present. From all the magnificent systems, which, independently of pure morals, promised so much benefit to society, it has come out demoralized, degraded, impoverished, unsettled, insecure; and politicians have at length been compelled to acknowledge, (without, however, practically enforcing the consequence,) that all hope for the future is to be sought in a general moral amelioration. The opportunity, therefore, is surely favourable for endeavouring to demonstrate with effect the necessary connexion of moral conduct, public and private, with political wealth and prosperity,—that the former is, in fact, the centre round which the latter must revolve.
With the modifications contained in the preceding paragraphs, we venture to pronounce our opinion, that the Essay before us is a sketch by the hand of a master, although, as we have before intimated, a wide difference exists between some of the author's statements and conclusions, and those which we should be disposed to make from the same premises.
The first two chapters of the first book contain a brief exposition and refutation of the opinions of the metaphysicians, the materialists, and the disciples of the atomical philosophy, concerning the eternal existence and fortuitous formation of the world. Upon these we have only to remark that they present a specimen of the style of argument abridged from the writings of the most approved authors, to which we wish that Mr. Sumner had confined the first book of his Essay on the Existence of the Creator. Not that we are disposed to dispute his position, that the subject is by no means exhausted;' but we certainly do think that the point is superabundantly established for all the practical purposes of the theologian, the moralist, and the politician; and that any sane man, who, after due inquiry, should still entertain doubts upon it, must possess, to use the words of the poet, a most uncommon skull.'
But to proceed:—since the world neither had an independent, eternal existence, nor was produced by the fortuitous concurrence of atoms, it follows that it must have been created, and from the innumerable instances of design and benevolence which every where press upon our observation, that it was formed by an all wise, good, and powerful Creator. But as the world, and almost every thing in it, are capable of being abused by man, whose corrupt propensities are continually leading him to poison the sources of his own happiness, it seems to follow that such a world, created for the use of such a being, implies the necessity that some communication should have been made to him by the Creator of the terms upon which the tenure was bestowed, of the laws under which it is to be enjoyed, and of the mode in which the possession, which is the general property of all mankind,' was originally created. This has always appeared to us to be the fundamental point (although too frequently overlooked) from which every just argument on the origin and progress of civil society must diverge, and which should be studiously kept in mind during the whole course. Man in a state of nature represents to our minds the idea of a being known by his Maker to be weak and liable to yield to temptation, surrounded nevertheless by objects continually soliciting him to sin, but amply gifted with the means and the power of resistance, if he do not wilfully set himself in opposition to those means. Man in a state of nature, then, is man in a state of probation :-a rational and