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The more mysterious doctrines of Christianity considered.
W E are now to notice, as far as our subject rea quires, those doctrines of Christianity which are plainly ABOVE REASON, which were adopted by our Lord and his apostles from the Jewish religion, or which were first promulgated by themselves, and which can be received and understood no further than they have judged it necessary to reveal them
Our Lord commanded his apostles « * to go and 66 teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of 66 the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”. The part therefore which each of these divine persons have taken in the dispensations of God to man, as well as their relation to each other, and their mutual connection, forms a peculiar and mysterious object in the Christian revelation. On the other hand, this reve. lation exhibits to us mankind as a fallen and corrupted race, whose first parents had violated the law of their Creator, and by the violation materially altered the condition, both of themselves and their posterity for the worse. It states further, that this unhappy change gave occasion for that interposition of God, which the scriptures relate to have taken place for the redemption of man. Thus the circumstances of this change in the original condition of mankind, as well as the nature and extent of the remedy provided for it, forms another most interesting and important part of the gospel system.
a Mat. xxviii. 18.
o Gen. jii. Rom, v.
1 Cor. IV. dom?
All these doctrines relate to subjects which evidently lie beyond the penetration of human reason, and the discoveries of human experience; to judge about them clearly, and to understand them fully, we must be supposed accurately acquainted with the entire nature of God, and of his attributes, and the mode of conduct which these attributes would lead him to adopt towards the human race, connected as it may be with his system of government over all intellectual beings. We must also be supposed capable of tracing the effects of the divine conduct on mankind, from the creation of the world till its close, and estimating whether on the whole there did not result from the series of dispensations, recorded in the scriptures, the greatest quantity of virtue and happiness which it was possible to produce, confistently with the nature of man as a moral agent, and the views of God as the moral governor of the world. Now, who does not at the first glance see that any one human being-nay, all human beings united, would be wholly incompetent to judge of these things, if left to their limited capacities and limited experience, without any instruction from divine wif
dom? Who does not see that the nature of these subjects is such, that with regard to them men must be content to proceed as mere learners, convinced that they cannot discover the system of measures which God has adopted, or penetrate into the mo. tives which determine his conduct, further than he has thought fit to disclose them? The business of reason then, in this case, is plainly confined to two points. Ist. To be fully assured of the divine autho. rity of those who claim the character of messengers sent from God to instruct men in these mysterious subjects; and next, to take care that their instructions are rightly understood. We are however under no obligation to attend at all to doctrines on such subjects, as men could know nothing of but by revelation, till we have been satisfied that the men who advance these doctrines have been enlightened by the Divinity ; antecedent therefore to any enquiry into their doctrines, we have a right to demand from them such external proofs of a divine authority as we are competent judges of. If convincing proofs are supplied, we must be satisfied that the general system of doctrines thus attested, is undoubtedly of divine original ; we shall therefore proceed to examine its parts, and interpret its peculiar tenets with caution and humility, admitting as a rule of interpretation, that nothing directly contradictory to the principles of intuitive or demonstrative certainty can be true, and therefore, that if the revelation is interpreted so as to carry such a sense, it must have been misinter
preted. But these questions cannot arise till the authority of the revelation has been previously established by external proofs; and therefore (as it seems to me) a minute discussion of them is not necessary in a work designed to weigh the direct proofs, and examine the general authority of the gospel of Christ. The question I purpose to discuss is simply this were the first teachers of Christianity deluded enthusiasts in be: lieving themselves divinely inspired ? They appeal to miracles and prophecies, as proofs of a divine interpofition, were they in their belief of these facts enthufiasts ? if not, neither were they enthusiasts in their belief of those doctrines, in proof of which they appeal to these facts, and therefore all these doctrines, rightly interpreted, are unquestionably true.
The existence of doctrines in Christianity, which we do not fully comprehend, affords no presumption of their having originated in the delusions of fanaticism ; when we consider that they relate to subjects which have, in every age, exercised the penetration of the most acute and enlightened reasoners; without their having been able to form any clear and certain system relating to them, or to dispel that obfcurity, which seems from their very nature to rest upon them. Thus the existence of natural and moral evil, is a fact which experience too fully testifies; the Deist feels it as strongly as the Christian, and it forms a difficulty, a mystery, on the principles of natural religion, of which no human fagacity has yet been
able to find an adequate solution. The difficulty of reconciling the omniscience of God with the free agency of man, is another subject which has perplexed the speculative enquirer. The unequal distri. bution of all natural and moral advantages amongf men, whether we consider nations or individuals, is not less difficult to account for on the principles of natural religion. We may ask a variety of questions to which the Deist can give no fatisfactory anfwer. Why does that Being, who is the Creator and Lord of all alike, permit some nations to remain barbarous, poor, enslaved, while others are enlightened, rich - and free? why are some individuals wise, strong, healthy, opulent, prosperous; others ignorant, fees ble, diseased, dependent, unfortunate ? and this without any regular proportion being observed, to all. appearance at least, between each man's external advantages and his moral merit. These, and a variety of other similar difficulties occur, which natural religion does not solve; yet we admit the principles of natural religion, because they are founded on direcť proofs, which are not refuted by our inability to comprehend the entire fubject in its minuter detail. Ignorance on such a subject only shews that our faculties are inadequate to its full extent, but is ng refutation of what has been positively proved.
Of the doubts and difficulties which obfcure natu. ral religion many remain undetermined and unex. plained, even by revelation. Some perhaps, because it