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opinions on any particular subject, but which, if understood in that sense, would be opposed to what the same writer has ex, pressed in other and more frequent places, we are not therefore to imagine that the passage before us bears this meaning alone, and to conclude that the writer is wrong elsewhere: far from it. Curiosity alone, not to speak of those better feelings by which every scriptural reader ought to be animated, should induce us to investigate most thoroughly this apparent contradiction, in order that we may ascertain whether we have not been biassed in the sense which we have affixed by partiality to our own notions, and have thus been constituting ourselves judges in our own cause, instead of allowing the writer to be the judge between himself and us. If, after such an investigation, the meaning of the passage
appear the same as at first, we are not even in that case to conclude that it is the correct one. There is another mode of trial still remaining. We must examine the other writings contained in the same collection, and endeavour to ascertain what they declare in relation to the subject before us. If, instead of agreeing with this single passage in the sense in which we understand it, they should confirm, in the most decided manner, the general meaning to be inferred from the other productions of the writer in question, what conclusion but one is left for the adoption of a reasonable mind ?
But there is another mode of examining the sacred volume still more erroneous than the one we have been considering, and involving the most pernicious consequences; and which is of very frequent occurrence with a certain class of scripture readers. These persons approach the sacred volume with much the same feelings as they would a work of profane history, written by an individual of a past or the present age. Should they meet with a fact or event contrary to the course of their own experience, they exercise a strict criticism upon it; they exaimine into its cause, the means by which it was brought about, and the end for which it was designed: and un] ss they can make themselves acquainted with these several circumstances, a feeling of dissatisfaction, and even doubt, springs up within their minds. Far be it from us to deprecate the most persevering sudy of the volume of inspiration, or the most accurate scrutiny of its details, when pursued for the sake of confirming and strengthening the grounds of our belief. But it is to be feared the motives which actuate the persons of whom we have spoken is scarcely so praiseworthy.
There is a natural pride and self-sufficiency in the human breast, which renders its possessor averse and unwilling to receive as true, those things which he does not consider probable, or, in other words, which do not come up to that standard of truth formed in his own mind by observation of passing circumstances. It is the operation of this mental defect, which too often disposes the scripture reader to canvass with unfriendly severity those relations which the pages of revelation unfold. Now, in the first place, what right has any individual to confine truth to the limits of probability? In the second place, what right has he to restrict probability within the bounds of his own confined observation ? If this world were intended to be the end as well as the beginning of our existence,-if no future scene remained as the issue of our mortal pilgrimage,-it might be very well to say, that truth and probability are of like extent; still more, to measure the probable by the standard of our own observation. But since the existence of another state of being is declared by the universal belief of mankind, to say nothing here of the express testimony of revelation, it is evident that there must be many things which are true, which yet are not capable of proof by a finite understanding. Who, for instance, can explain the precise nature of our existence in that future scene? who can describe the employments which will be allotted to the beings who shall inhabit its abodes; whether resembling in some faint degree those intellectual pursuits in which the same individuals may have been engaged whilst denizens of this lower world, or, whether of a totally distinct character; and, if so, what that character will be? And yet our inability to prove the nature of these things can have no power to affect that immutable truth,revealed in the Patriarchal and Jewish dispensations, brought more gloriously to light in the gospel, and confirmed by the voice and analogy of animate and inanimate nature in every age and clime—that there is a life beyond the grave. Again, how many events are constantly taking place in this lower sphere, totally opposed to probability, according to the received idea of it amongst the generality of mankind! How many persons in the possession of the finest health, in the very prime of life, are cut off so suddenly as to set at defiance not only all attempts at remedy, but even every endeavour to prove the cause of their death! How many extraordinary and almost miraculous combinations of circumstances, producing the most singular results, take place every day, which, if not witnessed by ourselves, but related to us by others, would be regarded almost as the dreams of a madman, and for the concurrence of which we are unable to assign any probable cause! If we consider the fearful and wonderful manner of our formation-the extreme delicacy of many parts of our frame exposing them to destruction by the most trifling injury—and yet observe the perils and dangers, of the most various description, through which any one individual shall run his course, and yet escape unscathed and uninjured ;- if we consider these, and a thousand other matters appearing at first sight utterly improbable, but which yet are most true-how can we, with any appearance of reason or consistency, assume, even with regard to terrestrial affairs, that the true is to be measured by what appears to be the probable ?
Who, again, shall venture to measure the probable by his own observation and experience, since these qualities exist in such various degrees in different persons ? One individual may possess great powers of observation, and acuteness of intellect enabling him to apply these powers; he may have passed through numerous vicissitudes of life ; have visited distant countries, and investigated the manners and customs of various countries; and, as a consequence from all these, he will of course possess a very extended experience. Another individual, on the contrary, may have a narrow and circumscribed mind; may be almost destitute of the faculty of observation; and, at the same time, may be able to enjoy very few opportunities of mixing in the world, or of conversing with his fellow-men: his experience will naturally be limited. Events which, to a person differently situated, would appear common and of almost daily occurrence, will excite in his breast feelings of astonishment and incredulity. The circumstance of being a native of a different country, or of having lived in another age, will also frequently give rise to the same contrariety of feeling, and a like variety in belief. The Asiatic will scarcely be brought to comprehend matters of the most usual occurrence amongst Europeans. An individual who had lived in the 15th century would have been considered as a magician, for exhibiting scientific experiments which the merest tyro in chemistry now is accustomed to put in practice almost hourly. We, again, of the present age, can hardly credit the ignorance and infatuation which in this country, scarcely two centuries since, condemned to the flames helpless and withered beings, more worthy of compassion than of fear, under the absurd accusation of witchcraft.
Shall we, then, weak and feeble as we are,-unable, from the limited nature of our faculties, to discover a standard adequate even to measure the events which are taking place in this world, venture to apply the same defective rule to the acts and words of the Most High, to the deep counsels of God? Shall the creature dare to say to the Creator who hath formed him,“ These things I will believe, because they appear probable ; but other things I will not believe, because, as I have never seen any thing like them, therefore I think them incredible?" Such a person would not only be guilty of the greatest arrogance and impiety, but would also convict himself of gross folly and ignorance. If he believes in the existence of God, and that the world has been created by him, (and we are not speaking now of infidels), it necessarily follows, that he must believe this great Being to be superior to himself, and to possess omnipotent power and infinite wisdom; otherwise he could not have been equal to the accomplishment of the work of creation. But this being the case, if he then sets up the results of his own experience in opposition to the express words of the Deity, he virtually places a finite intellect above Infinite Wisdom, and makes himself superior to his Maker.
Impious and daring as such speculators must appear, examples of them are not wanting in our own age, in a country unhappily more distinguished for learning and research, than for purity of christian doctrine. In that country a spirit of inquiry with regard to religious subjects has existed for a considerable period, to which the name of rationalism has been applied, from the circumstance that those who exercise it are accustomed to consider reason as the sole test of Divine truth. These persons submit every doctrine and fact recorded in Scripture to the decision of reason; and those doctrines and facts which, in their opinion, are not consonant to its dictates, they reject as unworthy of belief. Instead of bending their minds to the authority of revelation, considering its declarations to be penned by inspiration, and to contain the message of God to man, they presumé to lay down a theory which, in its very outset, is utterly repugnant to the relation subsisting between the Creator and the creature ;-viz. Every thing which is above the conception of the human mind, or which does not proceed according to the usual course of sublunary affairs, is, according to these philosophers, to be rejected altogether, under the extraordinary plea, that it was only intended by its relator as an accommodation to the feelings and temper of the age in which it was published, and was therefore designed to be of a temporary, not permanent, nature; or else they affect to doubt whether the authors of the books, in which these matters are contained, were entirely free from error, or possessed the power of relating every thing as it really took place. To argue thus, is to change, or rather to overthrow entirely, the connexion which exists between God and man. If the child is to reason with the parent, the scholar with the master, the proper relation between them is destroyed, and the one takes the place of the other. So, if the creature is to be allowed to determine what shall and what shall not be believed of the revealed will of the Creator, the relation between God and man is changed, and the latter impiously assumes the power and authority of his Maker. Or if, as these persons urge, the writers of Scripture composed in a spirit of accommodation to the feelings of the persons whom they addressed, and of the age in which they lived, they charge them with the commission of deliberate falsehood, and by implication accuse the Author of inspiration of untruth. Or, again, if they imagine that the writers in question were liable to error, or did not possess the power of relating every thing as it really took place, in that case they deny their inspiration, because the very nature of inspiration renders error in those who possess it a matter of impossible occurrence. Such is the dilemma in which these persons involve themselves by their intellectual perverseness and
presumption : they are either obliged to charge the writers of Scripture with deliberate falsehood, or else, by alleging against them error, or the possibility of not relating the truth, they deny their inspiration.
And such must ever be the case with those who presume to tamper with holy things, and dare to tread with unhallowed footsteps within the sanctuary of the Most High. Undoubting faith, unscrupulous reverence, unhesitating submission, are required from him who seeks to enter into the courts of the temple. There is no mode of studying the sacred records, by which we can at once indulge the vanity and presumption incidental to the human mind, and at the same time perform the duty demanded of the faithful Christian. If we believe only those doctrines and facts which are pleasing to our imaginations, and do not offend against our peculiar failings—and doubt, or admit with difficulty and scruple, those parts of Scripture which reprove our weaknesses and strike at the very root of human pride,--our belief is null and void, our faith is vain; and we are equally or more guilty than those unhappy individuals, who affect to disbelieve and reject religion altogether ; for they perhaps have never enjoyed our advantages; they have never been taught to know their Creator in their youth, and in their more mature years have never opened the sacred volume; whilst we have opened that volume only to cavil at its details, and have worn the profession of Christianity as an external badge to obtain respect from the world, whilst the whole tendency of our speculations has been but to make that profession a solemn mockery in our own persons, and to undermine it in that of others. It may be very proper to talk of reason as a test for human truth; although even here it will be necessary to determine the precise meaning of the term, in order to prevent misapprehension and error; otherwise, what one individual considers reasonable as a subject of belief, another will view in a totally different light. This fluctuating character, therefore, must render it still less applicable to those truths which regard not the welfare of the perishable body, but of the immortal soul. To be deceived in the one case, will subject us at the most to but a brief inconvenience; whilst error in the other may incur the penalty of endless woe. But it is very evident that reason, as it is interpreted by those inquirers who derive their name from this term, is altogether misunderstood.
Reason, properly so called, far from teaching those who exercise it to cavil and doubt upon the words of revelation, will rather influence its possessor to receive without scruple or hesitation the Divine message in the fullest and most unlimited sense. It will tell him, that although he may be allowed to pause before he yields assent to the words of his fellow-men, and may require the clearest and most decided proof-since an