Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

complete in all their parts; and it will follow, that he who doubts, doubts unreasonably; and most justly deserves all the consequences pronounced against unbelief.

But suppose we allow, that greater information might have been given on this subject; What now, it might be asked, could have been its object or its end? The main ends had already been sufficiently provided for; namely, the salvation of the soul : the utmost, then, for which this knowledge could have been afforded must have been to satisfy curiosity; and Who shall tell where this curiosity should end ? Instead of having a revelation of moderate length, we must now have had one drawn out to an enormous extent, and dealing in matter in many cases the most frivolous, and in others the most obscure possible; such as, in fact, a great part of the pretended revelations of the Hindus and Buddhists is; which every body knows could never have come from a wise and good God. But suppose we allow, that a real revelation of all the mysteries of heaven and earth could have been made (and it is best to suppose all, in order to meet the whole of every case), the question will now be : To whom could such a revelation have been sent, in order to secure its being understood ? Certainly not to the learned ; for, whatever knowledge they may possess, the nature of the case makes it quite impossible they can know any thing whatsoever of the particulars of a spiritual world : all they know is drawn from the experience of things about them; all they believe beyond this is mere conjecture. Such revelation, therefore, were it made at all, would labour under this difficulty, viz. that no one could understand it; for it would be in vain to apply to the ignorant, where the learned had failed. The revelation we have, does, therefore, to my mind, stop at the very point at which a revelation from above would stop :'it imparts all that is necessary for the purposes of salvation, and all on these points into which we are qualified to enter: and here it most prudently forbids further inquiry : leaving, as it ought to do, the exercise of our talents for the acquisition of those arts and sciences, which will be beneficial to society and creditable to ourselves ; but demanding an implicit faith in those things which, how elevated soever above our powers to analyse, are, nevertheless, to the meanest capacity, such as cannot fail to be the most instructive and encouraging.

Having said thus much on the divinity of the Son, and on the general question relating to these mysterious points, it will not be necessary to urge much on the doctrine of the third person,-namely, the Holy Ghost. All we know is, The Scriptures speak plainly and repeatedly of such person, and in a way sufficiently guarded, to convince us that no confusion existed in the minds of the persons who committed them to writing. “If I go not from you,” says our Lord, “the Comforter (the Spirit, whom the world cannot receive) will not come ; but if I go, I WILL SEND HIM.”—“Baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”_" The Holy Ghost had not yet been given.”—“ They were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” It will be unnecessary to cite more passages on this subject: nothing can be more clear, distinct, or orderly than the manner in which these are enounced. In the first instance, the personality of the one is delivered precisely in the same manner with that of the other; and, whatever may be the precise fact of the case, it can be nothing short of impiety to endeavour, by any forced gloss, to give a different representation of the doctrine. Reason knows nothing of the matter farther than its duty to bow to whatever is proposed on good and adequate grounds; and faith will at once recognise its duty both to believe and to adore. In the last citation, the effects, as of a powerful and almighty agent, are expressly stated : and, throughout the writings of the Apostles, as well as in many places of the Old Testament, the assisting co-operations of this Divine being are pointed out as the privilege for which the believer ought to pray. But how this being exists, or is identified, or united, or co-operates, with the Father and the Son, I know not: no one has informed me; and therefore I must be content to remain ignorant. One thing I know, and with this I am satisfied. The Scriptures represent him as an object of fạith ; they insist on this again and again. They go farther; they tell me of his offices; that he is the Comforter; that he must dwell within me; must sanctify and preserve me, until the day of redemption, unless I would be a reprobate. These aids I know I want; and these I know, too, the Scriptures most distinctly and clearly promise to him who duly seeks them. But, as to the particulars,

[ocr errors]

how, and in what way, and when, these effects are to be brought about, I am not told; and I think, if I were, I should be no gainer by the additional information. The same is the case in the natural world. The acorn, by some means or other, becomes an oak; the grain of corn grows up into an ear; and the wildest flower on the plain springs up, blossoms, and yields its seed, by a power equally far removed from my comprehension, and impervious to my research. All, however, as far as I can see and judge, is conspiring to promote some good and beneficent end; and with this knowledge I am, as I ought to be, thankful and content. .

· But suppose I am discontent. Will the exertion of any powers with which man is endued carry me any farther ? And must not all my endeavours in these pursuits end in failure? The experiments already made on these subjects are certainly numerous enough to convince all future adventurers, that to press them farther must end in similar discomfiture and disappointment. But this is not all; failure is not the only consequence to be dreaded ; gross impiety will also attach itself to the endeavour: and, what is still more to be feared, the being given up to a reprobate mind: a positive withdrawment of the means of grace may be again, as it often has been, the fate of him who has boldness enough to deny, that “secret things belong to the Lord our God,” and to pry into those things for which neither powers nor information have been afforded, such as to warrant any sound or useful results. Religion, to deserve that name, must necessarily rest on faith; and that cannot be termed faith which resolves every thing to the evidence of sight. Faith cannot indeed be exerted, where the matter to be believed is manifestly absurd or inconsistent; but no such thing can be affirmed of this doctrine. The utmost that can be said is, It is inexplicable; or, in the words of the Psalmist, “ It is high, I cannot attain unto it;" which is a very different thing from affirming that it is incredible. Difficulties equally great and insurmountable attach themselves to some part or other of every science; and, indeed, to the cominonest phenomena in life; but yet no one is absurd enough to say that, because these are inexplicable, they are incredible. Such an assertion would be deemed madness; and yet it is often thought a part of the profoundest wisdom, boldly to

make such on these mysterious and highly intricate points : but this, whatever else it may be, cannot be the office of right reason.

SECTION XIII.

ON THE AUTHORITY OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES.

Having shewn that the most important doctrines of our Scriptures are not unreasonable, when viewed in their native simplicity, and unencumbered with foreign matter; we now come to consider the authority on which they are grounded ; and if we can shew this to be divine, no possible doubt can then remain as to the duty of receiving them.

We shall find, upon a little inquiry, that the Scriptures we possess came into our hands either from Jews, or from those who had once been Jews : but at what period they began to be made known does not appear: from a deliberate review of the question, however, we shall find that, in all probability, some of them were known long before the Jews existed as a people. That the Jews, upon their delivery from Egypt, had some new laws given them by Moses, we are assured both by the Scriptures themselves and by profane authority. Of this fact, therefore, no doubt can reasonably exist; but, when we come to examine the statements found in the Bible, we have the strongest reasons for believing, that a very considerable and very important part of it, had been known to the world long before. It has been usual, I know, to suppose that its first part (i. e. the Book of Genesis) had been either preserved by oral tradition to the times of Moses, or that it was made known to him by inspiration. There is, however, no good ground for giving credit to either of these suppositions, for the following reasons : first, it would seem extremely improbable, that a document of such immense importance as this book is, should be committed to memory only; because, how few soever the persons might have been to whom it would in such case be intrusted, the danger either of losing, forgetting, or altering, something, would have been so great, as to leave little likelihood, that posterity would know much on the real nature of its contents. Besides, the fewness of the persons concerned would, according to my notions, rather have increased than diminished this danger; because, here we should have had no checks, - nothing to correct the lapses of memory, to which we know the greatest and best men are liable; nor will their extreme long lives mend the matter. The particulars of facts long ago known, are apt to escape the best memories; and the longer the period is since their occurrence, in the same proportion are the facilities for mistake generally multiplied. The document under consideration does, we know, abound in particulars the most likely to be thus mistaken and mis-stated; such, for example, as the numbers of years the patriarchs are said to have lived, the proper names of the founders of families, of their sons, sons' sons, daughters, &c., for many generations; the several ages to which these lived before they had children, and the like, which nothing but the memories of angels could possibly have retained. Add to this, the several prophecies, evidently intended to be preserved to the latest generations, many of which could scarcely have been understood by the patriarchs in all their bearings; but in which either the omission or alteration of one word only would have introduced irremediable confusion. Take, for example, the prophecy of the woman's seed bruising the serpent's head, as in Gen. iii. 15, in which the slightest alteration would have given occasion to the most grievous mistakes.* These things, I think, when duly considered, will make it highly probable, that tradition was not had recourse to during the first two thousand years of the world.

In the second place, I know of no good reason why we should suppose tradition to have been the first medium through which the revelation passed. The Jews, indeed, say that this was the case ; but of this they can afford no proof whatever : and, when we know their proneness to magnify Moses as their national leader,—their extreme vanity, in supposing that all knowledge, science, &c., the world ever saw, came from them,- and, what is still more remarkable, their immoderate attachment to the doctrine of tradition, wę have abundant reason for believing that this notion is a mere Jewish figment. Nor can there, as far as I can see, any good

* We know of one instance of this kind, in which He (shall bruise, &c.) was changed to She; a most unpardonable liberty taken in the Catholic edition of the Hebrew and Latin Bible of 1572.

« AnteriorContinuar »