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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 adı it." "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 surface 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 are 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 sensi ble pulsation, from the heart to the extremities of my body; and veins, which, without any pulsation, reconduct the 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 of the compass perpetually turns itself toward the pole; and I have observed, that the loadstone communicates to it this disposition; but as it cannot be ascertained how all this is effected, I look upon 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 time-pieces. I will never again be persuaded to take a medical preparation till I have penetrated into the deepest mysteries of physic and chymistry. 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 reasonably 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 physic 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 is 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;" Titus 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 constitutes 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 depths 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 con stant 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 is 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 recognise 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 subjects of ridicule. Sound knowledge, however, and unaffected humility will