Page images

the former source for their knowledge of divine things. For if, as is highly probable, and as we believe certain, the Almighty made a revelation of himself to the earliest of the human race; it was not likely that the traces of that revelation should ever be so completely obliterated from the minds of succeeding generations, as to leave them to derive all their notions of a Supreme Being from their own reason alone. In fact, we find the notion of a Deity prevalent amongst nations in the lowest state of barbarism, whose reasoning faculties are far too inactive and uncultivated, to have travelled upward, through a long chain of inferences, to the grand conclusion, that there is a God; and far too unobservant, to have noticed those demonstrations of his attributes, which awaken and realize their innate notion of his existence. It is a knowledge which they have inherited from their first progenitors; the very perversion of which affords an argument in favour of its being traditional. So that, in reality, it is very doubtful, whether any thing like a system of natural religion would ever have existed, had there never been a direct revelation. Taking it, however, in the common acceptation of the terms, natural religion discloses to man the being and moral attributes of a God, and nothing more. By reasoning upon the necessary connexion between cause and effect, we can discover the existence of a first great source of being; and it is plain that the Creator must possess in perfection all those excellencies, which his creatures enjoy, from him, in a limited degree; that he must be perfectly good, and powerful, and merciful, and just, and wise. But it is evident, that we can assign no attributes to the Deity, except those which we ourselves possess in kind; because we have no perception, or notion, of any other. And yet, since God is in heaven and we on earth ; since he is a Spirit, and we are creatures of a nature which is mixed and circumscribed, he may, and undoubtedly does, possess other faculties and properties, of which, in our present state, we can have no conception.

This observation holds good, with regard, not only to the Deity, but also to the intermediate orders of beings between man and his Creator. A blind man, in the full enjoyment of all his other senses, has not only no accurate perception, but not the least notion of those ideas which are conveyed into the mind by the sense of vision. In like manner, it is easy to conceive, that beings of a superior order of intelligence may have many

objects of perception and enjoyment, to which we are strangers, for want of senses adapted to them. Thus the Supreme Being himself may possess, not only all the intellectual properties of his creatures in the highest perfection, but many others, which we are utterly unable to comprehend in the present limited state of our faculties. And to what degree, or in what manner, those properties will enter into and affect his moral government of the world, is a point, upon which natural religion cannot even form a conjecture. This is amongst the secret things that belong unto the Lord our God. We may safely conclude that all his purposes are good, and that all the measures of his providence are right: but when we proceed to consider the mode of his existence, the nature of his intellectual properties, we take in hand a subject which we have no faculties to grasp; we speak of a Being of infinite capacity in language, which was invented to represent the conceptions of a limited intelligence.

It is at this point that Revelation steps in, and discloses to mankind, not only the will of God, with respect to their conduct in this state of trial, but so much of his nature as he himself has seen fit to make known to them; so much, we may conclude, as he deemed sufficient for the purpose of enlivening our devotion, of exercising our humility, of trying our faith, and, perhaps, of exciting our ardent desires after that more perfect state of being, where our nature will be exalted and purified, our senses extended and quickened, and our capacity of knowledge and happiness increased, in a manner, and to a degree, of which, at present, we have no conception. As creatures endowed with reason, whose highest privileges are the contemplation of our Maker, and the capacity of imitating his perfections, it is natural to conclude, that an improvement and exaltation of all our faculties, and an advancement in the scale of intellectual beings, are amongst those good things which are in store for the glorified spirits of the just.

This discussion may perhaps appear to be somewhat dry and speculative; but it involves a point of great practical importance: for it is indispensable to our religious character, that we should entertain a profound sense of the immeasurable difference which exists between our Creator's nature and our own ; that we should be fully aware how presumptuous it is, to apply the scale of human probabilities to the counsels and operations of a Being, not only infinitely superior

to ourselves, but upon whose will those very probabilities depend. The folly and rashness of such a proceeding are strongly insisted upon by St. Paul, who justly observes, that what we actually know of the nature of God and his operations, has been revealed to us by God himself; and neither is, nor can be the result of mere human speculation, nor can be safely described in any other terms than those which have been dictated by the Spirit of God. Speaking of the hidden things which belong to the Deity, and which concern an essence so greatly superior to, and different from our own, he says, God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit ; for the Spirit searcheth all things ; yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him ? even so the things of God knoweth no man ; but the Spirit of God:' and our Saviour, in the words of the text, declares in the most explicit manner, No man knoweth the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him : that is, no man, by the force of his natural reason, can arrive at any certain knowledge of the nature and proceedings of the Deity; but he must be content to be

1 1 Cor. ii. 10, 11.

« PreviousContinue »