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church in its first article, "That there is but one living and true God, of infinite power and wisdom, the maker and preserver of all things visible and invisible; and that, in the unity of this Godhead, there are three persons, of one substance, power and eternity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost."
That this is a very mysterious doctrine we do not deny; but it is not more so than many other doctrines of the Christian revelation, which we all admit, and which we cannot reject without subverting the foundation, and destroying the very substance and essence of our religion. The miraculous birth and incarnation of our blessed Lord, his union of the human nature with the divine, his redemption of mankind, and his expiation of their sins by his death upon the cross: these are doctrines plainly taught in Scripture, and yet as incomprehensible to our finite understandings as the doctrine of three persons and one God. But what we contend for in all these instances is, that these mysteries,
mysteries, although confessedly above our reason, are not contrary to it. This is a plain and a well-known distinction, and in the present case an incontrovertible one. No one, for instance, can say, that the supposition of three persons and one God is contrary to reason. We cannot, indeed, comprehend such a distinction in the divine nature; but unless we knew perfectly what that nature is, it is impossible for us to say that such a distinction may not subsist in it consistent with its unity. The truth is, on a subject where we have no clear ideas at all, our reasoning faculties must fail us, and we must be content to submit (as well we may) to the clear and explicit declarations of holy writ. It is, indeed, natural for the human mind to wish that every thing in religion should be intelligible and plain, and that there should be no difficulties to perplex and stagger our faith. But natural as this wish may be, is it a reasonable one? Do we find that in the most important concerns of the present life, in those where our
most essential interests, our property, our welfare, our health, our reputation, our very life, are at stake, that no difficulties, no perplexities, no intricacies occur; that every thing is plain and level before us, and that we are never at a loss how to act, what opinion to form, or what course to take? There are few, I fancy, here present, whose experience has not taught them, to their cost, the very reverse of alli this. If then, even in the ordinary affairs of life, there is so much difficulty, doubt, and obscurity, how can we wonder to find it in religion also, in those inquiries that relate to an invisible world and an invisible Being," to the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity*?"
And let it never be forgotten, that
"So far is it from being true (as some one has said) that where mystery begins, religion ends; that religion, even natural religion, begins with a mystery, with the greatest of all mysteries, the self-existence and eternity of God. Let any one tell us how an eternity can be past, unless it was once present, and how that can be once present which never had a beginning" Seed's Sermons, v. ii. S. 7. 459
mysteries are not (as is often insinuated, and often taken for granted) peculiar to the Christian religion. They belong to all religions, even to that which is generally supposed to be of all others the least encumbered with difficulties, pure deism; or, as it is sometimes called, the religion of nature, of reason, or of philosophy.
Who, for instance, can grasp with the utmost stretch of his understanding, the idea of an Eternal Being; of a Being whose existence never had any beginning, and never will have an end? Where is the man whose thoughts are not lost and confounded in contemplating the immensity of a God who is intimately present to every part of the universe; who sees, with equal clearness, a kingdom perish and a sparrow fall, and to whom every thought of our hearts is perfectly well known*?
* "J'apperçois Dieu partout dans ses œuvres. Je le sens en moi, je le vois tout autour de moi; mais sitôt que je veux le contempler en lui même, sitôt que je veux chercher où il est, ce qu'il est, quelle est sa substance, il m'echappe, & mon esprit troublé n'apperçoit
Who can reconcile that foreknowledge of future and contingent events, which is an unquestionable attribute of the Almighty, with that free will and free agency, which are no less unquestionable properties of man? Who, in fine, can account, on the principles of mere natural religion, for the introduction of natural and moral evil into the works of a benevolent Creator, whose infinite goodness must necessarily incline him to intend the happiness of all his creatures?
These Enfin plus je
plus rien. Rousseau, v. viii. p. 32. m'efforce de contempler son essence infinie, moins je la conçois; mais elle est, cela me suffit; moins je la conçois, plus je l'adore."
I have cited these fine passages from the eloquent Rousseau in his own language (for no translation can do justice to them) because no arguments are so convincing as those which are drawn from the concessions of sceptics themselves, which fall from them incidentally and undesignedly; and because the sentiments here quoted stand in direct contradiction to that writer's cavils in other places against the Christian mysteries. For if notwithstanding the difficulties which attend the contemplation of the Deity himself, he firmly believes his existence, on what ground can he make his Savoyard vicar doubt the truth of the Gospel on account of its mysteries? - V. viii. p. 93.