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of Manicheism and Atheism.-Such is the reconsciling the prescience of God with the free-will of man, which, after much thought on the subject, Mr. Locke fairly confesses he could not do, though he acknowledged both; and what Mr. Locke could not do, in reasoning upon subjects of a metaphysical nature, I am apt to think, few men, if any, can hope to perform.-Such is also the creation of the world at any supposed time, or the eternal production of it from God; it being almost equally hard, according to mere philosophical notions, either to admit that the goodness of God could remain unexerted through all eternity before the time of such a creation, let it be set back ever so far, or to conceive an eternal production, which words, so applied, are inconsistent and contradictory terms; the solution commonly given by a comparison to the emanation of light from the sun not being adequate to it, or just ; for light is a quality inherent in fire, and naturally emanating from it: whereas matter is not a quality inherent or emanating from the Divine Essence, but of a different substance and nature, and if not independent and self-existing, must have been created by a mere act of the Divine Will ; and if created, then not eternal; the idea of creation implying a time when the substance created did not exist. But, if to get rid of this difficulty, we have recourse, as many of the ancient philosophers had, to the independent existence of matter, then we must admit two self-existing principles, which is quite inconsistent with genuine Theism, or natural reason. Nay, could that be admitted, it would not yet clear up the doubt, unless we suppose, not only the eternal existence of matter, independent of God, but
that it was from eternity, in the order and beauty we see it in now, without any agency of the Divine Power; otherwise the same difficulty will always occur, why it was not before put in that order and state of perfection; or how the goodness of God could so long remain in a state of inaction, unexerted and unemployed. For, were the time of such an exertion of it put back ever so far, if, instead of five or six thousand years, we were to suppose millions of millions of ages to have passed since the world* was reduced out of a chaos to an harmonious and regular form, still a whole eternity must have preceded that date, during which the Divine attributes did not exert themselves in that beneficent work, so suitable to them, that the conjectures of human reason can find no cause for its being delayed.
But because of these difficulties, or any other that may occur in the system of Deism, no wise man will deny the being of God, or his infinite wisdom, goodness, and power, which are proved by such evidence as carries the clearest and strongest conviction, and cannot be refused without involving the mind in far greater difficulties, even in downright absurdities and impossibilities. The only part, therefore, that can be taken is, to account in the best manner that our weak reason is able to do, for such seeming objections; and where that fails, to acknowledge its weakness, and acquiesce under the certainty, that our very imperfect knowledge, or judgment, cannot be the measure of the Divine Wisdom, or the universal
By the world, I do not mean this earth alone, but the whole material universe, with all its inhabitants. Even created spirits fall under the same reasoning; for they must also have had a beginning, and before that beginning an eternity must have preceded,
standard of truth. So likewise it is with respect to the Christian religion. Some difficulties occur in that Revelation, which human reason can hardly clear; but as the truth of it stands upon evidence so strong and convincing, that it cannot be denied without much greater difficulties than those that attend the belief of it, as I have before endeavoured to prove, we ought not to reject it upon such objections, however mortifying they may be to our pride. That indeed would have all things made plain to us; but God has thought proper to proportion our knowledge to our wants, not our pride. All that concerns our duty is clear; and as to other points, either of natural or revealed religion, if he has left some obscurities in them, is that any reasonable cause of complaint ? Not to rejoice in the benefit of what he has graciously allowed us to know, from a presumptuous disgust at our incapacity of knowing more, is as absurd, as it would be to refuse to walk, because we cannot fly.
From the arrogant ignorance of metaphysical reasonings, aiming at matters above our knowledge, arose all the speculative impiety, and many of the worst superstitions of the old heathen world, before the Gospel was preached to bring men back again to the primitive faith; and from the same source have since flowed some of the greatest corruptions of the evangelical truth, and the most inveterate prejudices against it: an effect just as natural, as for our eyes to grow weak, and even blind, by being strained to look at objects too distant, or not made for them to see.
Are, then, our intellectual faculties of no use in religion ? Yes; undoubtedly of the most necessary use, when rightly employed. The proper employment
It is our
of them, is to distinguish its genuine doctrines, from others erroneously or corruptly ascribed to it; to consider the importance and purport of them, with the connection they bear to one another; but, first of all, to examine, with the strictest attention, the evidence by which religion is proved, internal as well as external. If the external evidence be convincingly strong, and there is no internal proof of its falsehood, but much to support and confirm its truth, then, surely, no difficulties ought to prevent our giving a full assent and belief to it. duty, indeed, to endeavour to find the best solutions we can to them; but where no satisfactory ones are to be found, it is no less our duty to acquiesce with humility, and believe that to be right which we know is above us, and belonging to a wisdom superior to ours.
Nor let it be said, that this will be an argument for the admitting all doctrines, however absurd, that may have been grafted upon the Christian faith. Those which can plainly be proved not to belong to it, fall not under the reasoning I have laid down (and certainly none do belong to it, which contradict either our clear, intuitive knowledge, or the evident principles and dictates of reason.) I speak only of difficulties which attend the belief of the Gospel in some of its pure and essential doctrines, plainly and evidently delivered there, which, being made known to us by a revelation supported by proofs, that our reason ought to admit, and not being such things as it can certainly know to be false, must be received by it as objects of faith, though they are such as it could not have discovered by any natural means, and such as are difficult to be conceived, or satisfactorily explained, by its limited powers. If the glorious light of the gospel be sometimes overcast with clouds of doubt, so is the light of our reason too. But shall we deprive ourselves of the advantage of either, because those clouds cannot, perhaps, be entirely removed while we remain in this mortal life? Shall we obstinately and frowardly shut our eyes against “ that day-spring from on high that has visited us," because we are not as yet able to bear the full blaze of his beams? Indeed, not even in heaven itself, not in the highest state of perfection to which a finite being can ever attain, will all the councils of Providence, all the height and the depth of the infinite wisdom of God, be ever disclosed or understood. Faith, even then will be necessary; and there will be mysteries which cannot be penetrated by the most exalted archangel, and truths which cannot be known by him otherwise than from Revelation, or believed upon any other ground of assent than a submissive confidence in the Divine Wisdom. What, then, shall man presume that his weak and narrow understanding is sufficient to guide him into all truth, without any need of revelation or faith? Shall he complain that “ the ways of God are not like his ways, and past his finding out ?" True Philosophy, as well as true Christianity, would teach us a wiser and modester part.