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that strictly speaking, all those so-called Economies or dispensations, which display His character in action, are but condescensions to the infirmity and peculiarity of our minds, shadowy representations of realities which are incomprehensible to creatures such as ourselves, who estimate every thing by the rule of association and
arrangement, by the notion of a purpose and plan, object and means, parts and whole. What, for instance, is the revelation of general moral laws, their infringement, their tedious victory, the endurance of the wicked, and the “winking at the times of ignorance,” but an “ Economia” of greater truths untold, the best practical communication of them which our minds in their present state will admit? What are the phenomena of the external world, but a divine mode of conveying to the mind the realities of existence, individuality, and the influence of being on being, the best possible, though beguiling the imaginations of most men with a harmless but unfounded belief in matter as distinct from the impressions on their senses? This at least is the opinion of some philosophers, and whether the particular theory be right or wrong, it serves as an illustration here of the great truth which we are considering. Or what, again, as others hold, is the popular argument from final causes but an “ Economia” suited to the practical wants of the multitude, as teaching them in the simplest way the active presence of Him, who after all dwells intelligibly, prior to argument, in their heart and conscience? And though on the mind's first mastering this general principle, it seems to itself at the moment to have cut all the ties which bind it to the universe, and to be floated off upon the ocean of interminable scepticism; yet a true sense of its own weakness brings it back, the instinctive persuasion that it must be intended to rely on something, and therefore that the information given, though philosophically inaccurate, must be practically certain; a sure confidence in the love of Him who cannot deceive, and who has impressed the image and the thought of Himself and of His will upon our original nature. Here then we may lay down with certainty as a consolatory truth, what was but a rule of duty when we were reviewing the Economies of man; viz. that whatever is told us from heaven, is true in so full and substantial a sense, that no possible mistake can arise practically from following it. And it may be added, on the other hand, that the greatest risk will result from attempting to be wiser than God has made us, and to outstep in the least degree the circle which is prescribed as the limit of our range. This is but the duty of implicit faith in Him who knows what is good for us, and who has ordained that in our practical concerns intellectual ability should do no more than enlighten us in the difficulties of our situation, not in the solutions of them. Accordingly, we may safely admit the first chapter of the book of Job, the twenty-second of the first book of Kings, and other passages of Scripture, to be Economies, that is, representations conveying substantial truth in the form in which we are best able to receive it; and to be accepted by us and used in their literal sense, as our highest wisdom, because we have no powers of mind equal to the more philosophical determination of them. Again, the Mosaic Dispensation was an Economy, simulating (so to say) unchangeableness, when from the first
it was destined to be abolished. And our Blessed Lord's conduct on earth abounds with the like gracious and considerate condescension to the weakness of His creatures, who would have been driven either to a terrified inaction or to presumption, had they known then as afterwards the secret of His Divine Nature.
I will add two or three instances, in which this doctrine of the Divine Economies has been wrongly applied ; and I do so from necessity, lest the foregoing remarks should seem to countenance errors, which I am most desirous at all times and every where to protest against.
For instance, the Economy has been employed to the disparagement of the Old Testament Saints; as if the praise bestowed on them by Almighty God were but economically given, that is, with reference to their times and circumstances; their real insight into moral truth being possibly below the average standard of knowledge in matters of faith and practice received among nations rescued from the rude and semi-savage state in which they are considered to have lived. And again, it has been even supposed, that injunctions, as well as praise, have been thus given them, which an enlightened age is at liberty to criticize; for instance, the command to slay Isaac has sometimes been viewed as an economy, based upon certain received ideas in Abraham's day, concerning the innocence and merit of human sacrifice. It is enough to have thus disclaimed participation in these theories, which of course are no objection to the general doctrine of the Economy, unless indeed it could be shown, that those who hold a principle are answerable for all the applications arbitrarily made of it by the licentious ingenuity of others.
Again, the principle of the Economy has sometimes been applied to the interpretation of the New Testament. It has been said, for instance, that the Epistle to the Hebrews does not state the simple truth in the sense in which the Apostles themselves believed it, but merely as it would be palatable to the Jews. The advocates of this hypothesis have proceeded to maintain, that the doctrine of the Atonement is no part of the essential and permanent evangelical system. To a conscientious reasoner, however, it is evident, that the structure of the Epistle in question is so intimately connected with the reality of the expiatory scheme, that to suppose the latter imaginary, would be to impute to the writer, not an economy (which always preserves substantial truth), but a gross and audacious deceit.
A parallel theory to this has been put forward by men of piety among the Predestinarians, with a view of reconciling the inconsistency between their faith and practice. They have suggested, that the promises and threats of Scripture are founded on an economy, which is needful to effect the conversion of the elect, but clears up and vanishes under the light of the true spiritual perception, to which the converted at length attain. This has been noticed in another connexion, and will here serve as one among many illustrations which might be given, of the fallacious application of a true principle. And so much upon the Economia.
A question was just now reserved, as interfering with the subject then before us. In what sense can it be said, that there is any connexion between Paganism and Christianity só real, as to warrant the preacher of the latter to conciliate idolaters by allusion to it? St. Paul evidently connects the true religion with the existing systems which he laboured to supplant, in his speech to the Athenians in the Acts, and his example is a sufficient guide to missionaries now, and a full justification of the line of conduct pursued by the Alexandrians, in the instances similar to it; but are we able to account for his conduct, and ascertain the principle by which it was regulated ? I think we can; and the exhibition of it will set before the reader another doctrine of the Alexandrian school, which it is much to our purpose to understand, and which I shall call the divinity of Traditionary Religion.
We know well enough for practical purposes what is meant by Revealed Religion ; viz. that it is the doctrine taught in the Mosaic and Christian Dispensations, and contained in the Holy Scriptures, and is from God in a sense in which no other doctrine can be said to be from Him. Yet, if we would speak correctly, we must confess, on the authority of the Bible itself, that all know, ledge of religion is from Him, and not only that which the Bible has transmitted to us. There never was a time when God had not spoken to man, and told him to a certain extent his duty. His injunctions to Noah, the common father of all mankind, is the first recorded fact