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rying human knowledge to the height we know they have done? If we find that Divine Wisdom can, by the most unpromising causes, produce the greatest ef. fects, and that hardly any thing is constituted in such a manger as human wisdom would beforehand have judged proper, why should we wonder if we cannot reconcile the scheme of Divine Revelation to our arbitrary and fantastical views; which, for any thing we know, may be immensely different from those of the Author of revelation?
With all our incapacity of judging beforehand what revelation ought to have been, it does not follow, that we may not be sufficiently qualified to judge of its evidence and excellence now it is delivered. And that is enough to determine us to what is right and safe for us, I mean, to pay it all due regard. For, in all cases, it is our wisdom to act upon the best probability we can obtain.
A supernatural scheme contrived by Divine Wisdom, an express revelation from God, may well be expected to contain difficulties too great for human reason to investigate. The ordinary economy of nature and providence, is founded in, and conducted by a sagacity too deep for our penetration, much more the extrordinary parts, if such there are, of the Divine Government. In the works of nature, it is easy for men to puzzle themselves and others with difficulties unsurmountable, as well as to find objections innumerable; to say, Why was such a creature or thing made fo? Why was such another not made in such a particular manner ? The ways of Providence are also too intricate and complex for our shallow understandings to trace out. The wisdom, which guides the moral, as well as that which framed the natural system, is Divine; and therefore too exquisite for our grofs apprehensions. Even in human : government, it is not to be expected, that every particular law or regulation should give satisfaction to every subject, or should be perfectly seen through by individuals at a distance from the seat of government: Which is often the cause, especially in free countries, of most unreasonable and ridiculous complaiots against what is highly wise and conducive to the general advantage,
But in inquiring into nature, providence, and revelation, one rule will effectually lead us to a proper determination, to wit, to judge by what we know, not by what we are ignorant of. If in the works and ways of God, in nature, providence, and revelation, where, comprehended by us, we find a profusion of wisdom and goodness exhibited in the most perspicuous and striking manner; is any thing more reasonable than to conclude, that if we saw through the whole, we should perceive the same propriety in those parts which are intricate, as we now do in the clearest. And it has been the peculiar fate of revelation, much more than either of the other two, to be opposed on account of such difficulties in it, as arise from our weakness. Especially, it has very rarely happened, that the existence of God, and the doctrine of his being the Creator of the world, has been questioned merely on account of any difficulties in tracing out the wisdom of any part of the constitution of nature. « And yet it would be as rational to argue, that there is no God, because the brutes have in some inferior respects the advantage of the lord of this lower world, as to question the truth of revealed religion, after examining its innumerable evidences, presumptive and positive, merely because we may think it strange, that the Saviour of the world should die the death of a criminal,
Here it is proper to enter an express caveat against whatever may pretend to the sacred character of a point of faith or religion, and on that pretence elude or baffle reason. There can nothing be imagined to be intended for the use and improvement of reasonable minds, which directly and explicitly contradicts reason. If reason and revelation be both the gifts of God, it is not to be expected that they should oppose one another ; but that they should tally, as both coming from the same wise and good Author. Whatever therefore is an express absurdity, or contradiction, we may be well assured can be no genuine doctrine of revealed religion, but a blundering invention of weak or designing men.
It is one thing for a point of revealed religion to be, as to its modus, above our reach, and quite another matter, for
a doctrine to be clearly contradictory to human understanding. That the direct connection in the nature of things betwixt the death of Christ and the salvation of mankind, should be utterly inexplicable by human reafon, is no more than what might have been expected, and, if unquestionably a doctrine of revealed religion, is to be received without hesitation upon the credit of the other parts which we understand more perfectly. But, that on a priest's muttering a few words over a wafer, it should immediately become a whole Christ, while at the same time it is certain, that if a little arlenic had been put into the compotition of it, it would have effectually poisoned the foundest believer; and while we know that there can be but one whole Chrift, though the Papists pretend to make a thousand Christs in a day; this is not to be considered as a difficult or mysterious point, but as a clear express contradiction both to sense and reason.
It is also proper here to mention, that whatever doctrine of religion (supposing it to be really genuine) is beyond the reach of human understanding, cannot be imagined necessary to be received, any farther than understood. . For belief cannot be carried the least degree beyond conception. And it is to be remembered, that a doctrine may be contained in Scripture, and yet not a necessary point of faith. For example: It is said in Scripture, that the angels desire to look into the scheme of the redemption of mankind. But nobody has ever thought of making an article of faith neceflary tó falvation, That we are to believe, that the angels are interested in the scheme of our redemption, Unless Scripture itself expressly declares a doctrine necessary to be received, we cannot, without rashness, pretend to pronounce it absolutely necessary to be believed in any precise or determinate sense whatever.
It has been objected against the scheme of revelation which is received among us, That great part of the precepts contained in it are such as appear at first view agreeable to sound reason; whereas it might have been expected (say those objectors, or rather cavillers) that every article in it should be quite new and unheard of.
At the same time the same gentlemen think proper likewise to object, That many of the Scripture-expressions are very different from those used by other ancient authors. So that it is, it seems, an objection against Scrip. ture, That it is what it might have been expected to be; and that it is not what it might have been expected to be.
To the former of these cavils it may be briefly an. swered, That the general agreement between reason and revelation, shews both to be of Divine original; while revelation's being an improvement and addition to reason *, Mews its usefulness and expediency. The latter difficulty will vanish on considering that, many of the Scripture expreslions are visibly accommodated to human apprehension, while others on the same subjects are raised to a sublimity suitable to the nature of the thing; by which means the narrowest mind receives an information suitable to its reach, while the most elevated conception is enlarged by views of the noblest and most sublime nature. Thus, to mention only one instance at present, the meanest reader of Scripture, is struck with fear of One, whofe eye is quick and piercing, to search the hearts, and try the reins of the children of men, and whose hand is powerful, and his out-stretched arm mighty, to seize and punish offenders. At the same time the profound philosopher is in the same writings informed, that God is a spirit filling heaven and earth, and not contained within the limits of the heaven of heavens, but inhabiting immensity and eternity, in whom all live and move, and have their being ; necessarily invisible, and altogether unlike to any of his creatures; having neither eyes, nor hands, nor passions like those of men ; but whose ways are infinitely above our ways, and his thoughts above our thoughts. Thus the Scripture language is such, as that of a revelation intended for the improvement of men of all different degrees of capacity, ought to be. It is, in short, fit for the use of a whole , fpecies.
That the Old Testament particularly, which is the only book extant in that language, should be so well preserved and understood as it is, so long after the He
brew * See page 417.
brew has ceased to be a living language: that we should at this time be able to make out a regular history, and a set of consistent thoughts and views, from writings of such antiquity, is much more to be wondered, than that there should be found in them difficulties, seeming contradictions, and thoughts or expressions different from those found in productions of a later date. But above all things, that the thoughts and expressions in Scripture should so far exceed in sublimity all other conpositions, seems unaccountable upon every other scheme, but their being of Divine original. Of the truth of this assertion, let the following instance, among innumerable others, serve as a proof.
The loftieft passage, in the most sublime of all human productions, is the beginning of the eighth book of Homer's Iliad. There the greatest of all human imaginations labours to describe, not a hero, but a god; not an inferior, but the Supreme God; nor to thew his supetiority to mortals, but to the heavenly powers; and not to one, but to them all united. The following is a verbal translation of it.
“ The saffron-coloured morning was spread over the
whole earth, and Jupiter, rejoicing in his thunder, “ held an assembly of the gods upon the highest top of “the many-headed Olympus. He himself made a speech “ to them, and all the gods together listened.
“ Hear 'me, all ye gods, and all ye goddesses, that I
may say what my soul in my breast commands. Let “ not therefore any female deity, or any male, endea
vour to break through my word; but all consent together, that I may most quickly perform these works.
Whomsoever, therefore, of the gods I shall under“ stand to have gone by himself, and of his own accorc!, " to give aslistance either to the Trojans or the Greeks, " he thall return to Olympus shamefully wounded; or “ I will throw him, seized by me, into dark hell, very far off, where the most deep abyss is under the earth; “ where there are iron gates, and a brazen threshold, " as far within hell, as heaven is distant from the earth. " He will then know, by how much I am the most
powerful of all the gods.