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one that is good, that is God." · However noble may be the faculties he has given to man, they cease to be good, as soon as they cease to be governed by him. God is the sun and centre of his spiritual creation; and as soon as we depart from under the restraining influence of his love, we fall into a state of disorder and confusion. But he desires that we should serve him from choice, and not from compulsion; and therefore, while he has bound the material universe in chains, he has “ left free the human will."
All the dealings of God towards his creatures are founded in eternal love: even the sufferings which result from the abuse of his gifts, seem intended to bring back the delinquents to the path of rectitude, which is the only state where happiness can be attained. His commands and his prohibitions are all for our good, and are wisely designed for the promotion of our present and eternal welfare. It is a law which he has stamped upon our nature, that virtue will always produce happiness, and vice will always bring misery: they do so now, and they must continue to do so forever. How important then it is, that we should cultivate those benevolent affections, which are calculated to bring us into the image of God; for, as we become “ partakers of his nature," we shall participate in his happiness; and when we leave this scene of probation, we shall be fitted to enter into those spiritual joys which are prepared for the righteous.
How ardently do I desire that all my fellow creatures may become sensible of the true dignity of man; which does not depend on the abundance of riches, nor on the attainments of learning, nor on the possession of intellectual power; but it consists in being made “partakers of the Divine nature," enjoying communion with the Holy Spirit, and becoming " heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ."
CONVERSATION IV. .
ON THE DIVINE BEING. James. Since our last interview, brother John and I have been conversing on the attributes of the Divine Being, and his manifestations to the children of men, in different ages of the world. He appears to think there is something so mysterious in the subject, that we ought to believe without understanding it; but I am opposed to every thing like implicit belief; and as different doctrines are taught among men, I cannot believe any of them, until the subject shall become clear to my own understanding.
John. Here is the difference between brother James and myself: he is determined to measure every thing by his own finite understanding, even the threefold existence of the infinite God; but I do not feel at liberty to doubt any thing that appears to be clearly recorded in the Holy Scriptures, although it may be beyond my limited comprehension: for I find, that even in the works of creation, there are many things that I do not understand, yet it is impossible to doubt them. For instance, I know there is an intimate connexion between the soul and the body, and yet I cannot understand how they are united, nor how a material body can be acted on by an immaterial soul. We cannot understand how the simplest operations in nature take place. For example, the growth of grass is a fact that we all acknowledge, but we do not understand how it takes place. I therefore conclude, that it would be a piece of great folly in me to attempt to understand the mystery of three persons in the Godhead; for if the Scriptures assure us of the fact, I ask no further evidence.
Father. I am willing to explain to you my views upon the subject, and I wish you to state all the objections that may occur to you; for it is my desire that we may all be seekers of truth, and not the champions of a party. Before I proceed to state my views upon the main question, I must make a few remarks upon the subject of belief.
It appears to me, that belief does not depend entirely upon our own will; for we often hear things asserted, that we could not believe if we were to try. , If a man who was really very sick, were told by his physician that he was not sick, and that he might get up and walk, it is very certain that the sick man would not believe him, although he might wish it were in his power to helieve.
Belief depends upon the weight of evidence presented before the mind, and upon our having a clear perception of that evidence. If the mind be clouded by the prejudices of education, or biassed by interest, it will not always perceive the evidence on both sides, that may be presented to it; which is a fact that may be illustrated by our outward vision: for when a great number of objects are presented before us at the same time, the eye will naturally rest upon those objects which are most agreeable to us, and will sometimes overlook other objects, so as not to perceive them at all. We therefore make up our opinions according to the evidence that we perceive; and if we perceive only a part of the evidence, we may be irresistably led to form an erroneous opinion. But if, at any time afterwards, we come to perceive the remaining evidence, we shall then be obliged to change this opinion. Therefore, I do not condemn any man for entertaining opinions different from my own; for I conclude that one or the other of us has not seen the subject in all its bearings; and I feel assured, that if we are both faithful to put in practice all that we do know to be good, the Divine Being will not leave us without sufficient light to guide our steps in the way that leads to eternal peace. There are many facts which we cannot explain, and yet we are obliged to believe
them, because the evidence of their existence is so plain as to leave no room for doubt. In this case, it is the fact that is the object of our belief, and not the manner or process by which the fact has been produced; for if this process be hidden from us, it cannot be an object of belief. For instance, in the cases mentioned by John; the union of the soul and body, and the action of the soul upon the body, are facts which I cannot doubt; but the manner in which they are united, and the principle by which the soul acts upon the body, are hidden from me, and consequently, this manner and this principle, are not the objects of my belief. That the grass grows is a fact for which I have the evidence of my senses; but so far as I cannot perceive the process by which it grows, this process is not an object of my belief. The human. mind is so constituted, that we cannot believe without sufficient evidence; nor can we believe any proposition that contains in itself a contradiction or an absurdity: for no evidence can prove a thing that contradicts itself. For instance, if a person were to say, that a part of any given thing is as large as the whole of it: here is a contradiction that no authority whatever could make me believe. Compulsion may make hypocrites, but it never can make believers. It is related of Socrates, that when he was asked his opinion of some writings that were very obscure, he replied that he approved of those parts which he understood, and he therefore concluded, that the parts which he did not understand were equally good. This is the conclusion I have formed with regard to the Scriptures; and, therefore, I am far from rejecting any passage which I do not understand: for I apprehend there may be truths contained in such passages, which, in a more advanced stage of experience, will become clear to my mind.
James. This explanation is satisfactory to me; but I believe it is very common for men to withdraw their attention from that kind of evidence which does
not accord with their prejudices and passions; and this is a species of wilful neglect, for which we shall certainly be held accountable. The term mystery, which is so often used by religious teachers, in order to extricate themselves from the absurdities of their own doctrines, has been perverted from its original meaning. A mystery, among the ancients, was not a doctrine supposed to be incomprehensible in itself; but it was something that was hidden, or withheld from the public, and only revealed to a favoured few; and, therefore, when it was revealed to any one, it was no longer a mystery to him.
Father. There are two kinds of mysteries mentioned in the Scriptures. The first is that kind to which Christ alludes, when he says to his disciples, '“ It is given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” Mat. xiii. 11. These mysteries are not revealed through the wisdom or learning of man; for he says, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.” Luke x. 21. “Even the mystery,” says the apostle, " which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints; to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the gentiles; which is, Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Col. i. 26, 27.
From these passages it appears, that the mysteries of the kingdom of God are only revealed to the children of the kingdom, who are the meek, the humble, the teachable as babes, and they are hidden from the wise and prudent of this world; that is, from those who attempt to understand them by the wisdom and learning of man, without coming to the experimental knowledge of the truth. There is, however, another kind of mystery, called the mystery of iniquity,"