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Christian system. If I shall succeed in evincing, in due succession, the fallaciousness of both positions, I shall conceive myself to have fulfilled the promise of the title, and to have returned a fair and sufficient answer to the entire objection.
I. The futility of the former of the two will be easily exposed. It is an instance of what is called, in the terminology of Logic, the fallacy of composition. The sceptic in urging it takes for granted that what his opponents aver to be the prevailing character of a whole, they are bound to recognize as a character of all the parts. He might as well allege that the essence of any disclosure is modified by the numbers to whom it is entrusted, forfeiting that description when restricted to a few to which it should become entitled by its extension to many. That a subject strictly simple cannot be, at the same time, and as regards the same understanding, revealed and unrevealed, that is known and unknown, is indeed a palpable truism. But that in a subject consisting of a huge congeries of parts, each susceptible of a vast variety of aspects, the admission of the presence, in whatever proportion, of the mysterious element, is inconsistent with the ascription to it of that other attribute which gives character and complexion to the mass, is no less manifestly false.* To say that Christianity contains mysteries is one thing; to say that it is made up of mysteries is another. The man who should maintain the latter proposition, and style the system to which he deemed it applicable, in the same breath, a revelation, would be justly chargeable with having uttered a contradiction in terms. But no such absurdity can be brought home to the defenders of Christianity. According to them it has a bright and a dark side-parts which are exposed, and parts which are concealed. Some truths, according to them, it undertakes to divulge, aud actually does divulge; others it refrains, and that professedly, from divulging. It is in the former capacity, and not the latter,—as communicative, and not as marked by reserve,that they apprehend it to fulfil the function of a revelation, and in that alone do they assign it the name. The moon is not the less a luminary, that of the portion of her surface which is visible to us a section is generally opaque.
Nor is this alliance of the perspicuous and the obscure a quality peculiar to the Christian Revelation. It seems equally the characteristic of every object on which the human understanding can be engaged. Paradoxical as the observation sounds, it is certain that There is nothing irrational in the assertion, 'We know-in part.'
every step on the field of knowledge brings to thoughtful inquirers a fresh memento of ignorance. A conceit of his own proficiency is the note of a tyro. He who will not be contented to learn by halves will learn nothing. Every fact in science will be found by the discoverer or the student encumbered with its twin perplexity, an attempt to detach which from the natural associate would be as futile as the effort to divorce body from its shadow. But the least fraction of new knowledge, whatever accessions of perplexity may be entailed on the acquisition, is knowledge notwithstanding, and all knowledge is precious. When the chemist, as ignorant as his pupils respecting its essence, undertakes to instruct us in the action of caloric, we willingly allow to the modicum of information he is able to impart the name of science. Why not extend a similar treatment to revealed religion? Why expect the absence in it of that which is the inseparable concomitant and condition of all successful scientific research, whether physical or metaphysical? With what reason can this be required to be exempt from what seems an universal affection of other objects of thought? If no system besides be wholly self-solvent and self-interpretative, why look for these properties in Christianity?
But higher ground may be taken up. If this close interlacement of what is mysterious with what is plain be in truth, as the slightest reflection will show, an attribute of all departments of human speculation, much more is it likely, a priori, to mark a series of communications from the Deity. Disclosures emanating from such a source, and involving a reference to His complicated administration, could not but seem wrapped in wonder to beings of such feeble capacity as we. Shall we, to whom all is mystery in the creation, expect it to disappear when we rise to the Creator? Shall we, purblind at the best, and dazzled by the flare of torches, hope to pierce the light inaccessible,' and to gaze without winking on the sun?
It is of high consequence, however, to keep clearly in view that the inevitable admixture of the mysterious ingredient does by no means divest Christianity of its proper character of a revelation. Of that element there is certainly no gratuitous infusion, no undue predominance. With mysteries our minds are only brought into contact so far as such apprehensions of the subjects of them as we are competent to reach, may be made to conduce or are absolutely essential to the purgation of our hearts, and the amendment of our lives. And it must be carefully remarked, that these happy consequences are not suspended on successful investigation of the theory,
but on submissive reception, on divine testimony, of the fact—a distinction well understood by all who have made the experiment. When subjects are incomprehensible, considered by themselves and singly, the knowledge of their relations to others may be of the highest consequence and utility; and where it is the relations which are invested with obscurity, the knowledge of the subjects may be of vast importance considered in their own nature and per se.— -Besides, after every possible deduction, there is left in Christianity a large residuum of truth, and that of the utmost moment and magnitude, to which all the ingenuity of scepticism will fail to affix the imputation in question. Whatever be dark in this divine system, that assuredly is not dark which it most concerns us to know. If the mysteries with which it is invested take shape to the fancy as a congregation of thunder-clouds, to the vision of faith at least they are cleft by a fiash which scoops through them, in living fire, the pathway to the sky. Intoniut lævum, et, de cœlo lapsa, per umbras,
Stella, facem ducens, multa cum luce cucurrit :
On the benefits accruing to the human race from the death and passion of our Saviour Christ;' on the religious efficacy of faith, prayer, and repentance; on 'the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting,' no darkness or dubiety can be said to hang. And what more than this is, by hypothesis, demanded? If the placability of that great Being with whom we have to do be unequivocally declared if our duty be plainly taught, and the high sanctions of eternity be clearly propounded; if the Father of our spirits, and the Arbiter of our destiny, be no longer an 'unknown God;' and if that to which our hopes and our fears, untutored and in a state of nature, are alike tremulously pointing, be no longer an unknown world,—then the ideal object, the theoretic perfection of a revelation considered in its character of an instruction, has certainly been attained. Than these sublime truths, supposing them to be truths, what more necessary for man to know, what more worthy of his Maker to reveal! 'He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?' On the means of observing such a course, and on the happiness which shall be its crown and consummation, Christianity has cast a flood of light. Supposing the evi
dence on which it rests to be sufficient, who will venture to assert that it leaves us as ignorant as it found us? Is it nothing to have had unfolded to us the high end of life, to have had assurance imparted of the favour of the Almighty, to have had unbarred, in fine, the black portals of the grave? Let the sceptic consult his own heart, and then say whether he would not gladly and gratefully exchange all the proud revelations of philosophy for one authentic intimation that the tomb was not the bourne of his existence; whether he would not regard all the spoils of science as the small dust in the balance when put in competition with the one fact of immortality? So long as he believes himself a mere cipher, liable every moment to be blotted out from the universe, what boots it that his Astronomy acquaints him with magnitudes, and his Geology unrolls before him epochs, which only press upon him by a double calculus, by a painfully re-duplicated power of contrast, his own utter insignificance. But convince him that he is the heir of another life; that there is in his nature a charmed spot over which the last enemy hath no power, and the buoyancy of hope comes instantly instead of utter acquiescence in a destiny against which it would be folly to rebel; he is made by this new conviction, in every sense but the very highest, a new creature;' he starts at one touch of this ethereal weapon from a thing, a reptile, into a MAN; and all his schemes, and thoughts, and passions, become tinged with the grandeur of an impending eternity.
I shall close the illustration of this part of the subject by observing that the very truths in the Christian system, which are partially shrouded in mystery, while they surpass all others in intrinsic dignity, are second to none in their influence on human conduct. Nor is this to be thought at all strange or startling. That what is imperfectly understood may be the basis of action, everyday experience affords innumerable proofs. The boy who applies himself to the rudiments of a dead language, though proceeding on a groundwork of whose construction he knows nothing, is nevertheless rationally and usefully engaged. The sailor, who takes no thought of the magnetic sympathy, may steer his vessel with the nicest skill by the compass. invalid may recover by implicit faith in his physician's prescriptions, to whom it would be death to deliberate or delay. In all these cases there is mystery to the schoolboy in the recondite principles of the language, to the sailor in the attraction of the magnet, to the sick man in the operation of the medicine. But in all there is
action, and action to profit. Were any of the three to recalcitrate, or even pause, when required to perform his part, on the plea of imperfect knowledge, in what light would his conduct be regarded by all sober men? And does that which, adopted in any of these instances, would be judged an indication of egregious folly, or, rather, of downright madness, become rational, wise, and praiseworthy, when applied to matters of religion? Or do not these examples imply, all of them, the principle, that truths, confessedly occult, may not be exclusively speculative, and that prudence may authorise, nay, urge to action on limited and defective knowledge? The Nile is not the less a blessing to the land in whose lap it pours its fructifying treasures, that it hides its source from the curiosity of her people.
Nile Pater, quanam possim te dicere causa,
Aut quibus in terris occuluisse caput ?
Nor does the Christian believer find his motives to gratitude, or his obligations to obedience, resulting from so divine an interposal, enfeebled by his felt inability to grapple with the mystery of the Incarnation, or to elucidate the theory of the Atonement. Without speculating too anxiously on the past, or prying too curiously into the future, he can yet draw store of holy influence, of sweet and congenial coercion, from the great facts, that God was manifest in the flesh,' that the Saviour 'bare our sins in his own body on the tree,' and that there are reserved for the faithful, in another life, as the reward of a 'patient continuance in well-doing,' an unfading inheritance, and an immarcessible crown. Notwithstanding the shade it leaves lying on futurity, he deems the following intimation amply fitted to minister an incentive to obedience, and a stimulus to hope: -Beloved, now are we the sons of God; and it doth not yet appear what we shall be but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.'
(To be continned.)
THE COMMINATION OFFICE FOR ASH WEDNESDAY.
AMONG our notices of remarkable days in the month will be found some practical reflections on Ash Wednesday. But we cannot