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OBSERVATIONS CONCERNING THE MYSTERIES OF SCRIPTURE,
When we seek for any thing in the dark by so low a faculty of discerning as the sense of feeling, or by the sense of seeing with a dim light, sometimes we cannot find it: though it be there, it seems to us to be impossible that it should be. But yet, when a clear light comes to shine into the place, and we discern by a better faculty, or the same faculty in a clearer manner, the thing appears very plain to us. So, doubtless, many truths will hereafter appear plain, when we come to look on them by the bright light of heaven, that now are involved in mystery and darkness.
§ 2. How are we ready to trust to the determinations of one universally reputed a man of great genius, of vast penetration and insight into things, if he be positive in any thing that appears to us very mysterious, and is quite contrary to what we thought ourselves clear and certain in before? 'How are we ready in such a case to suspect ourselves, especially if it be a matter wherein he has been very much versed; has had much more occasion to look into it than we; and has been under greater advantages to know the truth? How much more still, if one should be positive in it, as a thing he had clearly and undoubtedly seen to be true, if he were still of ten times greater genius, and of a more penetrating insight into things, than any that ever have appeared ? And, in matters of fact, if some person whom we had long known one of great judgment and discretion, justice, integrity, and fidelity, and had always been universally so reputed by others, should declare to us, that he had seen and known that to be true which appeared to us very strange and mysterious, and concerning which we could not see how it was possible ; how, in such a case, should we be ready almost to suspect our own faculties, and to give credit to such a testimony, in that which, if he had not positively asserted it, and persisted in it, we should have looked upon as perfectly incredible, and absurd to be supposed ?
§ 3. From that text, John iii. 12. “ If I have told you of earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things ?"-several things are manifest concerning mysteries in religion. (1.) That there are things contained in those doctrines which Christ came into the world to teach, which are not only so far above human comprehension, that men cannot easily apprehend all that is to be understood concerning them ; but which are difficult to be received by the judgment or belief; “How shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things ?” difficult, upon the same account that the doctrine of the new birth was difficult to Nicodemus, because it was so strange and seemingly impossible. (2.) We may from the words infer, that the more persons are, in themselves, and in their own nature, above us; the more the doctrines or truths concerning them are mysterious to us, above our comprehension, and difficult to our belief; the more do those things that are really true concerning them, contain seeming inconsisten. cies and impossibilities. For Christ, in the preceding verses, had been speaking of something that is true concerning man, being of the same nature, an inhabitant of the same world with ourselves; which, therefore, Christ calls an earthly thing. And this seemed very mysterious and impossible, and to contain great seeming inconsistencies. “How can a man be born
. when he is old ?" This seemed to be a contradiction. And after Christ had somewhat explained himself, still the doctrine seemed strange and impossible ; ver. 9. “How can these things be?” Nicodemus still looked upon it as incredible, and, on that account, did not believe it at that time, as is implied in these words of Christ ; "If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not.” But Christ here plainly signifies that he had other truths to teach that were not about man, an earthly inhabitant, but about the person vastly above men, even about himself who is from heaven and in heaven, as in the next verse : " And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven; even the Son of man which is in heaven." Which, therefore, would be much more difficult to men's understanding and judgment, seeming to contain greater impossibilities and inconsistencies; as he then proceeds immedately to declare to him an heavenly thing, as he calls it, viz. that Christ, an heavenly and divine person, should die; ver. 14, 15. Such a mysterious doctrine, so strange, and seemingly inconsistent and impossible, that a divine person should die, is more strange than that men should be born again. Hence, when divines argue, from the mysterious nature of many things here below with which we are daily conversant, that it would be very unreasonable to suppose but that there should be things concerning God which are much more mysterious; and that, therefore, it is unreasonable to object against the truth of the doctrines of the Trinity, In
carnation, &c.; they argue justly, because they argue as Christ argued.
§ 4. The wiser heathens were sensible, that the things of the gods are so high above us, that what appertains to them should appear exceedingly mysterious and wonderful to us; and that it is therefore unreasonable to disbelieve what we are taught concerning them on that account. This is fully expressed by Pythagoras; viz." Concerning the gods, disbelieve nothing wonderful, nor yet concerning divine things. This, says Jamblicus, declareth the superlative excellency of God instructing us, and puts us in mind, that we ought not to estimate the divine power by our own judgment. The Pythagoreans stretched this rule beyond the line of divine revelation to the belief of every oriental tradition." Gale's Court of the Gentiles, p. 2. b. 2. c. 8. 190.
$5. It is not necessary that persons should have clear ideas of the subject of a proposition, in order to be rationally convinced of the truth of the proposition. There are many truths, of which mathematicians are convinced by strict demonstration, concerning many kinds of quantities, as, surd quantities and fluxions; but concerning which they have no clear ideas.
§ 6. Supposing that mankind in general were a species of far less capacity than they are ; so much less, that, when men are come to full ripeness of judgment and capacity, they arrived no higher than that degree to which children generally arrive at seven years of age; and supposing a revelation to be made to mankind, in such a state and degree of capacity, of many such
, propositions in philosophy as are now looked upon as undoubted truths; and let us suppose, at the same time, the same degree of pride and self-confidence as there is now ; what cavilling and objecting would there be! Or supposing a revelation of these philosophical truths had been made to mankind, with their present degree of natural capacity, in some ancient generationsuppose that which was in Joshua's time in that degree of acquired knowledge and learning which the world had arrived at then, how incredible would those truths have seemed !
§ 7. If things which fact and experience make certain, such as the miseries infants are sometimes the subjects of in this world, had been exhibited only in a revelation of things in an unseen state, they would be as much disputed as the Trinity and other mysteries revealed in the Bible.
$ 8. There is nothing impossible or absurd in the doctrine of the Incarnation of Christ. If God can join a body and a rational soul together, which are of natures so heterogeneous and opposite, that they cannot of themselves, act one upon another ; may he not be able to join two spirits together, which are of natures more similar ? And if so, he
may, for ought we know to the contrary, join the soul or spirit of a man to him
self. Had reason been so clear in it, that God cannot be in. carnate, as many pretend, it could never have suffered such a notion to gain ground, and possess the minds of so many nations: nay, and of Julian himself, who says, that “ Jupiter begat Esculapius out of his own proper substance, and sent him down to Epidaurus, to heal the distempers of mankind.” Reason did not hinder Spinosa, Blount, and many other modern philosophers, from asserting, that God may have a body: or rather, that the universe, or the matter of the unvierse, is God. Many nations believed the incarnation of Jupiter himself. Reason, instead of being utterly averse to the notion of a divine incarnation, hath easily enough admitted that notion, and suffered it to pass, almost without contradiction, among the most philosophical nations of the world.
$ 9. "In thinking of God's raising so many myriads of spirits, and such prodigious masses of matter out of nothing, we are lost and astonished, as much as in the contemplation of the Trinity. We can follow God but one or two steps in his lowest and plainest works, till all becomes mystery and matter of amazement to us. How, then, shall we comprehend himself? How shall we understand his nature, or account for his actions? In that he contains what is infinitely more inconceivable than all the wonders of his creation put together." Deism Revealed, edit. 2 vol. ii. p. 93, 94.
Those who deny the Trinity, because of its mysteriousness and seeming inconsistence, yet, generally own God's certain prescience of men's free actions, which they suppose to be free in such a sense, as not to be necessary. So that we may do, or may not do, that which God certainly foresees. “ They also hold, that such a freedom without necessity, is necessary to morality; and that virtue and goodness consists in any one's doing good when he might do evil. And yet they suppose, that God acts by the eternal law of nature and reason, and that it is impossible that he should transgress that law, and do evil; because that would be a contradiction to his own nature, which
a is infinitely and unchangeably virtuous. Now this seems a flat contradiction. To say, that the infinite goodness of God's nature makes it utterly impossible for God to do evil, is exactly the same as to say, he is under a natural necessity not to do evil. And to say, he is morally free, is to say he may do evil. Therefore the necessity and freedom in this case being both moral, the contradiction is flat and plain ; and amounts to this, that God, in respect to good and evil actions, is both a necessary and free agent. Dr. Clark, in his Treaties on the attributes, labours to get clear of this contradiction upon these principles of liberty, but without success ; and leaves it just where all men, who hold the same principles, must be forced to leave it. Therefore, they hold such mysteries, in respect to Deity, that VOL. VII.
are even harder to be conceived of, or properly expressed, and explained, than the doctrine of the Trinity.
When we talk of God, who is infinite and incomprehensible, it is natural to run into notions and terms which it is impossible for us to reconcile. And in lower matters, that are more within our knowledge and comprehension, we shall not be able to keep ourselves clear of them. To say that a curve line, setting out from a point within an hair's breadth of a right line, shall run towards that right line as swift as thought, and yet never be able to touch it, seems contrary to common sense ; and, were it not clearly demonstrated in the conchoides of Nicomedes, could never be believed. Matter is infinitely divisible; and therefore a cubical inch of gold may be divided into an infinity of parts; and there can be no number greater than that which contains an infinity. Yet another cubical inch of gold may be infinitely divided also ; and therefore, the parts of both cubes must be more numerous than the parts of one only. Here is a palpable contrariety of ideas, and a flat contradiction of terms. We are confounded and lost in the consideration of infinites; and surely, most of all, in the consideration of that infinite of infinites. We justly admire that saying of the philosopher, that God is a Being whose centre is every where, and circumference nowhere, as one of the noblest and most exalted flights of human understanding; and yet, not only the terms are absurd, and contradictory, but yet the very ideas that constitute it, when considered attentively, are repugnant to one another. Space and duration are mysterious abysses, in which our thoughts are confounded with demonstrable proposition, to all sense and reason flatly contradictory to one another. Any two points of time, though never so distant, are exactly in the middle of eternity. The remotest points of space that can be imagined or supposed, are each of them precisely in the centre of infinite space." Deism Revealed, vol. ii. p. 109, 110, 111.
Here might have been added the mysteries of God's eternal duration, it being without succession, present, before and after, all at once: Vitæ interminabilis tota simul et perfecta possessio.
§ 10. To reject every thing but what we can first see to be agreeable to our reason, tends, by degrees, to bring every thing relating not only to revealed religion, but even to natural religion, into doubt; to make all its doctrines appear with dim evidence, like a shadow, or the ideas of a dream, till they are all neglected as worthy of no regard. It tends to make men doubt of the several attributes of God, and so, in every respect, to doubt what kind of being God is ; and to make men doubt about the forgiveness of sin, and about the duties of religion, prayer, and giving thanks, social worship, &c. It will tend, at jast, to make men esteem the science of religion as of no value,