Obrazy na stronie

This writer has, indeed, observed with pain, something like an approximation to this absurdity, within these few years, among a certain class of Christians. These deluded persons, if I may venture so to call them, have certainly adopted, in many instances, a plan of interpreting Scripture, from which, as it appears to me, reason is in a great measure excluded; and for want of that guide, it cannot be expected that two persons of that class can long continue to interpret any one passage of Scripture alike, except by concert.

But as these are not the persons, to whom Mr. Wright wishes to apply his remark, so neither does it seem to me, that there are any other persons to whom it does apply. Christian divines, in general, have laboured not to discard or even to depreciate reason; and when they speak against what they sometimes denominate "carnal reason," they do not mean by that expression sound reason, or the principle of reason considered abstractedly and in itself, but reason under the influence of pride and self conceit. The object of their labours is to assign to reason its proper office, which is to discern by the light of Revelation the eternal truths of God. "What the eye is to the body, reason or understanding is to the soul, as says the Apostle: Having the eyes of your understanding, Ts diavolas, the faculty of discernment, enlightened.' The eye then is framed in such a manner as to be capable of seeing; and reason in such a manner as to be capable of knowing. But the eye, though ever so good, cannot see without light; and reason, though ever so perfect, cannot know without instruction. The eye, indeed, is that which sees; but the light is the cause of its seeing. Reason is that which knows; but instruction is the cause of its knowing: and it would be as absurd to make the eye give itself light, because it sees by the light, as to make reason in

[ocr errors]

struct itself, because it nows by instruction. The phrase, therefore, light of reason,' seems to be an improper one; since reason is not the light, but an organ for the light of instruction to act upon: and a man may as well take a view of things upon earth in a dark night by the light of his own eye, as pretend to discover the things of Heaven in the night of nature, by the light of his own reason: nor do we any more derogate from the perfection of reason when we affirm it cannot know without instruction, than we derogate from the perfection of the eye when we deny it has a power of seeing in the dark. Christ only, who is the Sun of Righteousness, has in him the perfection of light, even all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The perfection of reason is to be able to receive of his fulness, to receive the instruction of wisdom."-Horne's Apology for certain Gentlemen in the University of Oxford.

I have no hesitation, therefore, in agreeing with our author in his statement, that "if there be nothing in religion contrary to reason, nothing unreasonable, it follows that there is no subject in religion but what reason may be exercised upon." Yet this conclusion he follows up by a remark, which, if I mistake not, is the beginning of my difference with him.

"Still," says he, 16 we shall be told, that the Scriptures contam doctrines which are above reason.”

Here, then, I commence my inquiry, and proceed to investigate the arguments by which Mr.Wright seeks to invalidate the position, that the Scriptures contain dectrines which are above reason. This argument is as follows:"What is above reason can be no part of revelation: for the word Revelation is only applicable to things which are made known; consequently, which are brought down to a level with our reason, and may be comprehended; as what is got brought on a level with

our rational powers, is no revelation to us. Did the Gospel really contain doctrines above reason, it would, so far, cease to be a Divine Revelation, and with such incomprehensible mysteries we shall have nothing to do; for secret things belong unto the Lord, and what is above our reason must necessarily be a secret to us, but revealed things belong to us and our children. We may safely conclude, that the Gospel, as it was preached to, and intended for, the poor, as it is a revelation to babes in knowledge, contains no mysterious and incomprehensible doctrines. Still, it will be argued we must believe doctrines which we cannot understand. To this it is replied, The thing is impossible: we may assent to what we do not understand: we may say we believe it, but we cannot really believe it, because we know not what it is; for we cannot know what we do not understand; and if we say we believe what we do not understand, we in fact say we believe we know not what; and how, in that case, are we either to explain or give a reason for what we believe?"

When I first read this passage, I was inclined to produce my own experience, as evidence against the truth of it: for I undoubtedly believed, that the author had written it; and yet I could not pretend to understand it. But, to wave the benefit of this argument, which, however, appears to me somewhat in point, I would ask, What can be meant by that saying of St. Paul's, "We know in part, and we prophecy in part," if nothing in Scripture is revealed partially? Or whether, because all our knowledge is confessedly partial, we must, there fore, conclude that we have no knowledge at all, and the revelation which teaches it is no revelation? There is nothing in nature which we thoroughly understand. We believe in the intimate connexion and reciprocal influence of our own souls and bodies: and yet

we cannot understand it. We believe in magnetism, gravitation, and a hundred other properties (if they are properties) of particular bodies, none of which do we understand, and some of them it is perhaps impossible we should understand. They are above or beyond our reason; and yet, not being contrary to any of its dictates or principles, are believed upon sufficient evidence, though not comprehended. It is, indeed, one thing to understand a truth, and another thing to comprehend the import of the terms in which it is told, or the relations in which they stand to each other. But we may assent to a truth, when we do not even comprehend the full meaning of the terms in which it is conveyed to us. Thus with respect to that fundamental truth, the being of a God, how many believe it; and yet how few have a correct idea of the God in whom they profess to believe! Indeed, the several attributes which go to make up the true notion of God, and still more the combination of them, are beyond human capacity. Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection? Even Mr. Wright, indeed, draws a distinction here.

"If a man should say he believes there is a God, but understands not how God exists; that he believes the dead will be raised, but he understands not how they will be raised; it will be easy to reply, that he does not believe how God exists, nor how the dead will be raised; that his faith is limited to the part of each subject which he understands; for he understands that God exists, and that the dead will be raised; and it extends not to the part of either subject of which he remains ignorant."

But, surely, to the complete understanding of the position -"There is a God"-- a right apprehension of the idea of God is necessary; and if that right apprehension be impossible to a finite

capacity, we are reduced to the dilemma of either not believing that there is a God, or of believing what we do not understand. I am, however, satisfied with the distinction which the author draws on this occasion; and if he will allow me to extend to the doctrine of a Trinity what he has asserted concerning the Divine existence and the resurrection, I cannot perceive that, so far at least as the use of reason is concerned, there will be any disagreement between us. If a man should say he believes there is a Trinity, but understands not how the Trinity subsists, it will be easy to reply, that he does not believe how the Trinity subsists, but that his faith is limited to the part of the subject which he understands; for he understands simply, that God is a Trinity, and it extends not to the part of the subject of which he remains ignorant: and this, indeed, is apparently conceded by our author, in another part of his work, where he sets the question on its right footing.

"The dispute is not about the manner of the fact, but about the fact itself. The point at issue is, whether or not any such fact be revealed. The Trinitarian affirms, the Unitarian denies: the Scrip tures must decide between them. If the former can convince us that the Scriptures teach the fact, this will satisfy us we will not reject it, merely because we cannot comprehend the manner of it."

Still Mr. Wright maintains, in this place, that with incomprehensible mysteries we can have nothing to do. Yet certainly the self existence, the omnipresence, the omniscience, the omnipotence of God, are subjects with which he would not say that we have no concern. They are tenets which he believes and yet they are in comprehensible mysteries. Nevertheless, even these, if we adopt his principles, can be no part of revelation; for the word Revelation is only applicable to things

which are brought down to a level with our reason, and placed within our comprehension, which these can never be. There must, indeed, be many mysteries in infinity, which transcend our poor apprehensions; so that if a revelation of God were offered to our consideration, which contained in it nothing mysterious or surprising, that circumstance would afford a presumption not for but against its truth.

All scriptural revelation is addressed to us, as to reasonable beings; to those who, according to an admirable maxim of Paley, will not let the parts of a subject which they do not know interfere with their legitimate conclusions from those which they do. The poor, the illiterate, and the young, are able to make this discrimination; and, therefore, to them also is revelation addressed. They can apprehend the difference between those parts of a subject which are revealed, and those which, not being revealed, are probably undiscoverable; and up to this point, they can, with the light of revelation, and by the eye of reason, prove all things; and, through Divine grace, hold fast that which is good." What they cannot do, and what was never designed for us to do, is to bring revealed truths to the test of reason. this maxim, our author indeed seems, in one place, to have obtained a glimpse: for he says,


[ocr errors]


Though I dare not set up my reason as a judge of what is fit for God to reveal, yet I am called to use it in judging of what he hath been pleased to reveal: believing him to be infinitely wise and good, I cannot think he hath revealed any thing contrary to reason."

Reason is necessary to discern the truths of religion, and to distinguish them from the glosses of error and misinterpretation. But it can neither discover those truths nor subject them to any other just test but this, "Has God revealed

[merged small][ocr errors]

them?" Nor is there, in fact, any more reasonable course, that can be followed by our understandings, than, after we have once been persuaded of the immutable truth of God's character, to believe what ever doctrine he has revealed, upon the simple warrant of his word. No doctrine can possibly be irrational, which is fairly deduced by this process: for reason can teach nothing more certainly, than that the doctrines which God has revealed must be true.

What has been said above, concerning the competency of the poor and illiterate to receive a plain truth, notwithstanding the difficulties with which it may be surrounded, is, however, decidedly opposed in the following passages.

"The pure Gospel is distinguished by its simplicity, which adapts it to the capacity of the poor or unlearned. The notion of two natures in the person of Christ destroys this simplicity, and renders Christianity unintelligible, at least in what relates to the Person who introduced it. Those who contend that Christ is God as well as man substitute in the place of a plain fact; that is, that Jesus of Nazareth is the anointed of God; the most inexplicable mystery, and make the declaration of the Saviour equivocal, if not self-contradictory."

"The unlettered Christian is not a little embarrassed in his views, and filled with perplexity of thought, by hearing insisted on, as essential doctrines of the Gospel, abstruse and metaphysical notions, of which he can form no rational idea, but which he is told he must believe, on pain of damnation."

There may be teachers who take this method of inculcating religious doctrines. But to the extent of my own observation, I may take up the author's distinction, and say, that the people are not required to believe how our blessed Saviour, being God, became man; or how two natures are

united in one person; any more than they are required to understand how a material and an immaterial essence can be united in their own.

But they are simply taught,

that our blessed Lord, being in the
form of God, took upon him the
form of a servant; and that, in
that form, he became
our Re-
deemer by making an atonement
for our sins, as he is now our Inter-
cessor, and will hereafter be our
Judge. The doctrine of a Trinity
is involved in this statement, but
not explained in it; and as to any
abstruse or metaphysical notions,
they are no more essential to our
scheme than to others. All doc-
trines in physics or in theology
involve abstruse and metaphysical
notions in them, if persons are dis-
posed to dwell on them. But the
statement above given, if, like the
great Being of whom it treats, it
be infinitely above our understand-
ing, speaks intelligibly enough to
the heart, and offers motives to
gratitude and godly fear, into
which even the poor and illiterate
may well enter, and which the
"poor in spirit" will be sure to
entertain: nor have I any doubt,
that the pain of damnation is an-
nexed to a rejection of it, so far
as it is scriptural, and with good
reason; for if it be true, the re-
jection of it cannot amount to less
than to a rejection of a Saviour in
that only character in which he is
offered to us, and therewith of all
the benefits which he conveys.

If, indeed, the doctrines, to which I have alluded, were incapable of being received by the poor, because of the mysteriousness which belongs to them, such a fact would be a presumption against their being the doctrines of Scripture; for the Gospel, which is particularly preached to the poor, must also be adapted to their capacities. But that we are not to infer from the Gospel being preached to the poor, that there is no mystery in it, is evident from our Lord's words, in Mark iv. 11;

"Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God. But unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables." This declaration was made to the Apostles, who were the poorest of men, except their Master: and in it we have a plain declaration, that the kingdom of God is a mystery, which is hid from many, not indeed from the poor, as such, but from the worldly and the wicked. "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth," (said our blessed Saviour,) "because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes." "If our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost, in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." (2 Cor. iv. 3, 4.) See also Rom. xvi. 25, 26; 1 Cor. ii. 7; Eph. i. 8,9; vi. 19; Col. i. 25, 26, 27. iv. 3; and 1 Tim. iii. 16. In truth, a fact is not the less simple for being mysterious. The miracle of turning water into wine is mysterious. Yet no fact could be more simple. The belief of simple facts, more over, requires no learning, though the explanation of them would often baffle the greatest: nor, in point of fact, do we perceive that the poor have any greater difficulty in apprehending what we mean, when we say, that he who was God took upon him the nature of man, than their more educated neighbours. But, when they not only apprehend this doctrine, but believe it too, I imagine they will more readily both feel and understand, at first hearing, what is meant by the saying, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, than they could be made to do, after the fullest explanation, without any such belief to co operate with it.

If, then, an incarnation, and the other facts connected with that

important doctrine, be not impossible, it remains only to inquire, whether they have been clearly revealed: and previously to the determination of this problem, I have some remarks to offer on the manner in which the author sets about the inquiry. With this view I cite the following passage.

"As in every science, so also in religion, there are plain and simple facts, or clear and evident truths, which may be taken as grounds of reasoning, inference, and conclusion, and to the test of which should be brought things less plain and manifest. Such obvious facts, and evident truths, we call first principles."

In physics, metaphysics, and every other department of philosophy, we know nothing but what we can discover. we can discover. Our knowledge, therefore, on these subjects, can never exceed our proofs; and the validity of our proofs must depend on their connexion or variance with admitted first principles. But in religion we have nothing to discover. It is from first to last a revelation. We must not add thereto, nor diminish from it; but receive every truth that is plainly revealed, one as well as another; and the question in this case is not concerning principles of investigation, but rules of interpretation. Whatever, according to the legiti mate rules of interpretation, appears to be a doctrine of Scripture, must be received as such; and we have not merely to ask-" Do the conclusions which we have drawn agree with the first principles of Scripture?"-but, "Do the first principles we have collected, agree with the conclusions of Scripture ?" It would be no less preposterous, when we find any doctrine plainly revealed in Scripture, to reject it, merely because it does not accord with what we are pleased to denominate first principles, than it would be to deny any well authenticated fact in natural history, merely because it does not fall in

« PoprzedniaDalej »