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overthrow the objection we have hews Ifeen considering, and effectually to stop the mouth of every gainsayert t .
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, ,:» CHAPTER XIII.
The. doctrines of Christianity have an obscure side. The reasons of this obscurity. The error of some philosophers in this respect.
"The Gospel," says J. J. Rousseau, "is accompanied with marks of truth so great, so striking, so perfectly inimitable, that the inventor of it appears abundantly more admirable than its hero. But, after all, this Gospel is filled with incredible things, with things that are repugnant to reason, and which no sensible man can possibly conceive or admit." "Remove all the difficulties," continue the admirers of this philosopher, "dissipate all the obscurity with which its doctrines are surrounded, and we will cheerfully embrace the Gospel."
Extraordinary things appear always incredible, in proportion to our ignorance. Thus, an ignorant negro of Guinea would look upon that man as a deceiver who should assert that there are places in the world where the surfaces of rivers become so solid, at particular seasons, that, without bridge or boat, whole armies may pass them dryshod. And it is well known, that the doctrine of antipodes gave no less offence to the celebrated geographers of a former age, than is unhappily given to the Deistical sages of modern times by the doctrine of a Divine Trinity.
As we become better acquainted with spiritual things, instead of despising the truths of the Gospel as altogether incredible, we shall be truly convinced that J. J. Rousseau passed the same kind of judgment upon the doctrines of Christianity, as a savage might be expected to pass upon some late discoveries in natural philosophy. The sciences present a hundred difficulties to the minds of young students. By entering upon an obscure course, they at length attain to superior degrees of illumination: but, after all the indefatigable labours of the most learned professor, the highest knowledge he can possibly acquire will be mingled with darkness and error. If men of wisdom, however, do not look with contempt upon those sciences which arc usually taught among us, because all of them are attended with difficulties, and most of them are too abstruse to permit a thorough investigation: how absurd would it be in us, for these insufficient reasons, to reject that revelation which may be considered as the science of celestial things?
To despise the doctrines of the Gospel, because they are attended with some degree of obscurity, is to act in as full contrariety to the dictates of philosophy, as to those of revelation. No follower of J. J. Rousseau could blame us, without reproaching himself, if, arguing from the erroneous principles of his master, we should make the following declarations:—"Natural philosophy abounds with incredible things which no sensible man can either conceive or admit. I have arteries, it is said, which carry my blood, with a sensible pulsation, from the heart to the extremities of my body; and veins, which, without any pulsation, reconduct that blood to the heart: but since the union of the arteries and veins is, to me, an inconceivable mystery, I cannot admit the generally received opinion respecting the circulation of the blood. I see that the needle
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of the compass perpetually turns itself toward the pole, and I have observed that the loadston»\communlcates to it .this disposition : -but, aa it cannot be ascertained how. al* this is effected, I look upon all the voyages of Anson and Cook, which are said to have been performed by means of the compass, just as infidels are accustomed to look upon the Gospel. I will no longer increase the number of those idiots who unthinkingly pass over a bridge while they are perfectly unacquainted with the plan upon which it was built; and who vulgarly depend upon their watches with regard to the regulation of time, without being thoroughly versed in the mechanism of timepieces. I will never again be persuaded to take a medical preparation till I have penetrated into the deepest mysteries of physic and chemistry. In short, I resolve neither to eat nor to drink; neither to sow my grounds, nor to gaze upon the sun, till I am enabled perfectly to comprehend whatever is mysterious in vegetation, light, and digestion." If the preceding declarations might reasonabIy.be considered as evident tokens of a weak and puerile judgment, the following affirmation undoubtedly deserves to be considered in the same point of view :—" I grant that the science of physics has its unfathomable mysteries: but, as a philosopher of the first rank, I insist upon it, that nothing of a mysterious nature should be suffered to pass in religion, that deep metaphysical science, which has for its objects the Father of spirits, the relation in which those spirits stand to their incomprehensible Parent, their properties, their light, their nourishment, their growth, their distempers, and their remedies, their degeneracy, and their perfection." Ye who are anxious to be saluted as lovers of wisdom, if such be the absurdity of your common objections against the Gospel of God our Saviour, what poor pretensions have you to the boasted name of philosophers!
This answer may be supported by the following observations:—
In the present world we serve a kind of spiritual apprenticeship to "the truth, which is after godliness," Tit. i, 1; and it is not usual hastily to reveal the secrets of an art to such as have but lately bound themselves to any particular profession. This privilege is justly reserved for those whose industry and obedience have merited so valuable a testimony of their master's approbation, See John xiv, 21.
A physical impossibility of discovering, at present, certain obscure truths, forms the veil by which they are effectually concealed from our view. In order to form a perfect judgment of the material sun, it is necessary, in the first place, to take a near survey of it: but this cannot possibly be done with bodies of a like constitution with ours. The same may be said of the Father of lights. God, as a spiritual Sun, enlightens, even now, the souls of the just: but while they continue imprisoned in tenements of clay, their views of his matchless glory must necessarily be indistinct, since they can only "behold him through a glass darkly," 1 Cor. xiii, 12. Hence we argue with St. Paul, that as spiritual things are spiritually discerned, the natural man can never truly comprehend and embrace them, but in proportion as he becomes spiritually minded by regeneration.
The wise Author of our existence initiates us not immediately into the mysteries which lie concealed under many of our doctrines, for the very same reason that a mathematician conceals the most abstruse parts of his science from the notice of his less intelligent pupils. If a preceptor should affect to bring children acquainted with all the difficulties of algebra, before they had passed through the first rules of arithmetic, such an attempt would deservedly be looked upon as ridiculous and vain. And is it not equally absurd to expect that the profoundest mysteries of the Gospel should be opened to us, before we have properly digested its introductory truths, or duly attended to its lowest precepts?
The Almighty will never perform a useless work, nor ever afford an unseasonable discovery. For the practice of solid piety, it is by no means necessary that we should be permitted to fathom the depth of every spiritual mystery. It is enough that fundamental truths are revealed, with sufficient perspicuity, to produce in us that faith which is the mother of charity. When the Gospel has proposed to us the truths which give rise to this humble faith, and presented us with such motives as evidently lead to the most disinterested charity, it has then furnished us with every thing we stand in need of to work out for ourselves a glorious salvation. The followers of Christ are required to tread in the steps of their Master, and not deeply to speculate upon the secret things of his invisible kingdom.
If a clear knowledge of the mysterious side of our doctrines is no more necessary to man in his present state, than an acquaintance with every thing that respects the art of printing is necessary to a child who is studying the alphabet; why then do we peevishly complain of the sacred writers, for not having thrown light sufficient upon some particular points to satisfy an inordinate curiosity? Our scruples on this head should be silenced by the constant declarations of those very writers, that the time of perfection is not yet arrived; that they themselves were acquainted but in part with the mysteries of the kingdom; and that the language of mortality is unsuitable to the sublimity of Divine things. The sea has its unfathomable abysses, and an extent unknown to the most experienced navigators: but notwithstanding all this uncertainty, the merchant is perfectly contented, if he can but glide securely over its surface to the port for which he is bound.
If we are placed here in a state of probation, it is reasonable that our understanding, as well as our will, should be brought to the trial. But how shall the Almighty proceed to make proof either of the self sufficiency, or the diffidence of our understanding? No happier method could certainly be adopted than that of pointing us to such truths as are partly manifest and partly concealed, that we may search them out with diligence, if there be a possibility of comprehending them; or, if placed above the highest stretch of our faculties, expect with patience a future revelation of them.
To acquire and manifest dispositions of a truly Divine nature, is possible only under a religious economy, whose doctrines are in some degree mysterious, and whose morality has something in it painful to human nature. Why then do those persons who affect to be wiser than their neighbours, universally take offence at such a religion? If a mysterious veil is thrown over the operations of nature and the workings of Providence, why should we expect the more wonderful operations of grace to be laid unreservedly open to every eye? Philosophy, it is presumed, will not dare thus foolishly to destroy the rules of analogy. Humility is necessary to the perfection of our understanding no less than sagacity and penetration, on which account God is pleased to bring our humility to the test. And this he does by discovering to us so much of truth as may enable us to recognize it on its first appearance; at the same time, permitting the objects of faith to be surrounded with difficulties sufficient to leave room for the exercise of that humble confidence in his veracity, and that true poverty of spirit which philosophers are pleased to hold up as just objects of ridicule. Sound knowledge, however, and unaffected humility, will always keep pace with each other. Hence that memorable confession of Socrates, "All that I know is, that I know nothing." And hence that remarkable declaration of St. Paul, "If any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know."
It is impossible that any thing should have a greater tendency to keep man at a distance from God, than that arrogant self sufficiency with which modem free thinkers are usually puffed up. This unhappy disposition must be totally subdued before we can come to the fountain head of pure intelligence, James i, 5. And to effect this, the Almighty permits our understanding to be embarrassed and confounded, till it is constrained to bow before his supreme wisdom, in acknowledgment of its own imbecility. But it is always with the utmost difficulty, and not till after a thousand vain devices have been practised, that human nature can be forced into this state of self abasement. Here Socrates and St. Paul may be regarded as happy companions, experiencing, in common, that submissive meekness, and that profound humility, which are so terrible to many professors of wisdom. And it is but reasonable that the piety of the one, and the philosophy of the other, should have been established upon the basis of those rare virtues which formed the ground of the following address from Christ to his Father: "I thank thee, O Father! Lord of heaven and-uarth, because thou hast hidden these things from the wise and the prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes," Matt, xi, 25.
It becomes us so much the more to moderate the sallies of an impatient curiosity, with respect to truths of a mysterious nature, since Christ himself has given us an example of the obedience due to the following apostolic precept:—" Let no man think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but let him think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith," Rom. xii, 3. This condescending Saviour was content, as Son of man, to remain in the humble ignorance of which we speak. If, in order to have satisfied his curiosity with respect to the day of judgment, he had attempted to explore the secret counsels of the Almighty, there can be no doubt but his gracious Father would have admitted hun into that impenetrable sanctuary. But he rather chose to leave among his followers an example of the most perfect respect and resignation to the will of that Father.
What was said by St. Paul concerning heresies, may, with propriety, be applied to that obscurity which accompanies the doctrines of the Gospel. "There must be heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest," 1 Cor. xi, 19. Mons. de Voltaire, who saw not any utility in the proof here mentioned by the apostle, was accustomed to censure revelation, because the doctrines it proposes are incapable of such incontestable evidence as mathematical problems. He considered not that lines, circles, and triangles, falling immediately under the senses, are subjects of investigation peculiarly suited to the natural man. He recollected not that many of Euclid's demonstrations are as incomprehensible to the greater part of mankind, as the mysteries of our holy religion are incomprehensible to the generality of philosophers. And lastly, he perceived not that, if all men were to pique themselves upon their skill in mathematics, and were equally interested in the proportions of circles, squares, and triangles, as in those relations which subsist between fallen man and an incomprehensible God, there would be excited, among ignorant mathematicians, as many warm disputes as are continually arising among ill-instructed Christians.
The justness of these observations will become more apparent, if we consider the importance of that virtue, which is called, in Scripture language, "the obedience of faith," Rom. xvi, 26. Man originally suffered himself to be seduced with the hope of wonderful effects to be produced by the fruit of a mysterious tree; founding his frail hope upon the simple declaration of the tempter. God, in order to humble the soul, is pleased to restore us through the hope of powerful effects to be produced by the truths of a mysterious revelation; a sweet hope, whose only basis is the simple declaration of the God of truth. And it is undoubtedly reasonable, in every respect, that the cause of our restoration should be thus directly opposed to the cause of our fall. The obedience that is unattended with difficulties, can never be regarded as a reasonable proof of our fidelity to God. Had he merely commanded us to believe that "the whole is greater than a part," or that " two and two make four ;'' in such case no room would have been left for a reasonable distribution of rewards and punishments. The Deity could not possibly have been disobeyed, since we can no more refuse our assent to these manifest truths, than we can deny the existence of the sun, while we are rejoicing in his meridian brightness. It appears, therefore, perfectly necessary that every truth, proposed to the faith of man in his probationary state, should have an obscure as well as a luminous side, that it may leave place for the mature deliberation, and, of consequence, for the merit or demerit of those who are called to "the obedience of faith."
To desire a revelation without any obscurity, is to desire a day without night, a summer without winter, a sky without a cloud. And what should we gain by such an exchange? Or rather, what should we not lose, if those intentional obscurities, which conceal some parts of celestial truth, should be as needful to man in his present situation, as those clouds which frequently deform the face of the heavens are beneficial to the earth? The faith which is unaccompanied with any thing mysterious, no more merits the name of faith than the tranquillity of a man, who has never been in the way of danger, deserves the name of bravery. An expression of our Lord's to one of his doubting disciples is sufficient to throw the most convincing light upon this matter: "Thomas," said he, " because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed;" but what recompense or praise can be due to such a faith ?" Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed," John xx, 29.
To conclude: What occasion would there be for the exercise of either wisdom or virtue, were the one only good path presented so clearly to our view that it would be difficult to make choice of any other? Or to what good purpose could true philosophy serve, which has no other use