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indebted for that knowledge to revealed religion, in which God has disclosed to mankind so much respecting himself, and the economy of his providence, as he deemed sufficient for the purposes of a state of trial and preparation.”
It appears therefore to be a very unreasonable mode of proceeding, to examine the Word of revelation, with a preconceived resolution to reject every doctrine which shall transcend the grasp
of human reason. The first point to be ascertained is, whether the Scriptures are, what they profess to be, the Word of God. Having settled this to our satisfaction, our next duty is, to read them with the best attention we can give to so important a study; to search out the testimonies of the Lord, with a view to discovering what we are required to believe concerning him, and what we are to practise ; to take the words of Scripture in their plain and obvious sense; to compare its doctrines and precepts, in order that our interpretation of them may be consistent; to rest assured, that what we are unable to comprehend, must yet be true, if it is distinctly stated in the word of God; and not to guide ourselves by any such deceitful rule as this, that where mystery begins,
? See Butler's Analogy, Part II. ch. 3 & 4.
religion ends; that whatever is not clear, need not be believed; a rule by which no man thinks of guiding himself in any other branch of knowledge.
Men are very apt to mistake this rule for another, concerning which there is no question ; that nothing is necessary to be believed, but what is plainly revealed. It is a very different thing, to assert a truth, and to explain how it can be true. For instance; the doctrine of a bodily resurrection is expressly asserted in the New Testament; we therefore believe that the body will rise again; but how it can be, is not explained, although St. Paul has in part illustrated the subject by analogy. The difficulties, which embarrass our conceptions of the mode of a bodily resurrection, are insuperable to human reason; yet we are not on that account at liberty to doubt it. Now this is a matter, of which I should have known nothing, had it not been for Revelation. It is to me perfectly inconceivable, how this bodily frame should first moulder in dust; then pass in succession through a countless variety of organized substances, and yet preserve its identity, and at the last be raised again, to stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. Yet the Scriptures tell me it will be so; and I acquiesce.
But are we not frequently required, upon other authority than that of Scripture, to assent to truths which we know to be such, and yet cannot tell how they can be? We know that the Almighty Creator formed this material world out of nothing; for if not, the materials, out of which it is made, must have subsisted independently of God; yet surely no proposition is less comprehensible to the human understanding, than that every thing was made out of nothing; or rather, that every thing was made to exist, where nothing was before.
It is the same with many of the phenomena of nature; we know that such and such things are; we can trace the effect of certain causes; but when we proceed to investigate the causes themselves, and how it is that they produce their effects, we always find that there is a point, where human reason must stop, and beyond which it discerns nothing; the great Cause of all has enveloped himself in darkness impenetrable to the eye of man: Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel the Saviour. 3 And if we find that this is uniformly the case in natural philosophy, why should we be offended, if, in the revelation of himself to mankind, the Deity should have disclosed to us some features of his providence, and some properties of his nature, undiscoverable to our reason, without explaining to us how, or why such things are, probably because our present limited faculties are inadequate to comprehend it ?
3 Ssa. xlv. 15.
If we accept the testimony of human reason to facts, which we are utterly at a loss to comprehend; ought we not much more readily to accept the testimony of the written word of God? Such seems to be the reasoning of St. John, when he observes, If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater : for this is the witness of God, which he hath testified of his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God, hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God, hath made him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.
The Gospel is in part a revelation of the will of God, as it concerns the moral duty of man, and in part a revelation of the divine nature and operations. In the former particular it is full, clear, and explicit; in the latter, as might reasonably be expected, it is somewhat obscure and mysterious. The great doctrines of a satisfaction
+ 1 John v. 9, 10.
made for sin, of immortality, and of a future state of rewards and punishments, are set forth in the strongest light; yet the ways of God's dealings with mankind are not fully cleared up; the apparent inconsistencies of Providence are no further reconciled, than by a general reference to a future day of retribution; the doctrines of God's foreknowledge and man's free will are asserted; but the mode, in which they may consist with each other, is not explained; nor is the secret of the divine nature disclosed to us; probably because it surpasses the powers of a finite understanding.
With respect to the plan of redemption, we may
indeed well exclaim with St. Paul, great is the mystery of godliness : God manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. But was it to be expected, that the great work of man's redemption should be accomplished by means altogether comprehensible to human understanding? Was it not competent to its divine contriver and finisher, to choose his own method of conferring a signal benefit upon mankind; and, where the two parties concerned were, on the one hand
s 1 Tim. iii. 16.