« AnteriorContinuar »
be to an indefinite degree ; it can be of little importance to me, whether there is to be an entire identity with all the former matter composing it or not. For, it may be asked, who can tell how little of the composition, which any one as an infant brings into the world, continues with him to the most extended age, and then descends with him to the grave?
Perfect identity, then, seems scarcely to be cognizable during the present life, although the identity of the body is never called in question; and, if this be the case, the point now to be determined must be, How much of that identical primitive matter ought to be expected in a future resuscitation of the body, in order to constitute identity in the person? It may be answered: As neither reason nor science can determine the case of the one, neither ought it to make the attempt in the other : and, as far as we can see, no such determination need be thought about. If it is a doctrine of the Scripture, that this shall take place, and if it can be shewn that the declarations thus made may be relied on, reason can have no more to object, than it can to the reasonableness of the production of a tree from an acorn, or the growth of an ear of corn from the grain. Both must be produced by a power nothing short of Omnipotent, whether that operate in the ordinary or extraordinary ways of Providence. Reason would, in the one case, never think of proposing objections to what it is bound to recognise as fact: and, in the other, the difficulty is in no sense greater, nor the event proposed less likely. For if the atonement, as we have already shewn, was undertaken and made for the purpose of restoring all that was lost by the fall, it is by no means unlikely that the resurrection of the body was intended also to be brought about as an invariable consequence, though not always to enjoy the same degree of beatitude ; and in this sense the Scripture seems to argue when it speaks of this doctrine. If this then be the case, nothing can be more reasonable, nothing more likely, than that the work of our Redeemer was complete in all its parts; and in one respect exceeding even the blessings of creation and of an earthly paradise, viz. in raising the body to eternal life, and in giving it an inheritance among the saints in light. Where, when, or how, this will take place, our Scriptures no where inform us; and, as the solution of these questions manifestly exceeds
human powers to effect, it can never be the province of reason, as it certainly is not of science, to attempt it; neither can the one or the other pronounce the event impossible. Reason has here nothing from which such a conclusion can be drawn, and science is quite destitute of matter upon which observation can be made. If then no impossibility can here be made out, and this is the fact; and if it be not unreasonable to expect the event, which we affirm also to be the case ; then, if our Scriptures mention it as certain, and we can shew that these are worthy of all acceptation, it will follow that reason is bound to admit this also as a point of faith. But it ought to be observed, our Scriptures not only teach this as a doctrine revealed from above, they also exemplify it in an apparently well-attested fact. If, therefore, it can be shewn that these books are such as to be worthy of belief, no reasonable objection can be made to this doctrine.
ON THE FALL, REDEMPTION, &c. These are subjects against which much and loud declamation has often been urged. Reason, it has been said again and again, can see no end to be gained by routes so tedious and circuitous, and which might have been brought about by one single volition of the Deity. Conclusions have then been drawn more suitable, perhaps, to the tempers of such disputants, than reasonable, and the Scriptures consequently denounced as the work of imposture.
In considering all questions of this sort, however, I think it will be granted, that our arguments ought to be formed and directed with strict regard to things as they are, not to things as they might have been. Had the world, indeed, been differently constituted, then should we have had reason for entertaining notions widely different from those we now hold, because they would necessarily be formed on knowledge which we do not now possess, and would therefore be justifiable.
Our question must, therefore, be considered with reference to things as they now are, and in this respect we now pro
ceed to consider it. It is granted I think on all hands, that God created man, and it will as necessarily be granted that he has created him such in form, condition, and powers, as suited the decisions of his infinite wisdom. It will, perhaps, also be granted, that the Deity would not create a being independent of himself; such an event would certainly be unreasonable to expect, and perhaps impossible to bring about, The plan chosen seems to be, that man should be endued with capacities suited to the confined sphere he had been destined to fill, capable of being extended and improved as society should multiply about him, and in proportion as all possible means afforded for that purpose should be employed, nevertheless still limited ; with bodily powers, too, partaking very much of this character though limited in a still greater degree.
Now, if we can suppose such a being to have been made dependent on his Creator (and it would be unreasonable to suppose the contrary), some marks of that dependence must as necessarily have been left for his observance-something either to be given or abstained from, in testimony of his fealty. Man, however, had nothing to give ; negative obedience was, therefore, all that could reasonably be asked for: and, it will now follow, that the less the privation called for was, light in the same proportion would the tax demanded be; and such we are taught was the fact. Now, if we can suppose any such law as this to have been laid down, we must also suppose some punishment annexed to its infraction; and, for the purpose of securing obedience with beings such as man confessedly was, this punishment must have been
Not that the Lawgiver might not, if he had chosen, made the penalty light, as he had the conditions ; but because reason judges differently. In human laws we know, as the facility for transgression is increased, punishments have usually been made severe; not for the purpose of wantonly inflicting the punishment, but to prevent the occurrence of crime. In the case before us, then, as no want whatever is said to have existed, and such it is reasonable to suppose a new creation coming from a perfect Deity would be, to refuse to acquiesce in a very small privation (and the smaller this was, so much greater would the crime of transgression be), would be to engage in an act of open rebellion against
the Lawgiver, and to set his law at utter defiance. It will avail nothing here to plead for the liability to mistake or lapse, in which such man had been originally placed ; it will stand in no stead to say his volitions were circumscribed, his views dark, or his experience immature: these might, indeed, have been urged on mercy, and mercy we learn has attended to them; but justice could not thus be stayed. As far as the powers of volition went, they could choose between life and death : to indulge in a very triling gratification, coupled as this was with the loss of life, and of all the blessings with which it was then attended, involved questions requiring nothing like philosophy for their solution. The case bere was easy, plain, and obvious; the will had power enough to deliberate and to determine; the views, however contracted they may have been, could see to the very end of the matter; and as to experience, no want of it could be pleaded : the command was easy, plain, and obvious : the punishment heavy beyond description-nevertheless, the man, tempted indeed but unawed by a superior power, and urged by no necessity, deliberately transgressed and fell.
If it be replied, that a laudable thirst for knowledge prompted the deed; it may be answered: It does not appear that the facilities for acquiring real knowledge were by this event multiplied. A knowledge of evil, moral and physical, seems to be the only acqnisition made, the absence of which right reason would never deplore. But it may be urged, why did an all-wise Being create man with a liability to fall ? Is it reasonable that he should have done so? I will answer: If man was intended to be any thing more than a piece of mere unintelligent, unfeeling, and unconscious machinery, he must have been made subject to this liability. Improvement, in whatever way sought, which seems indeed to form the great stimulant to human endeavours, implies also the possibility of failure. Virtue, the brightest star recognised on earth, and which ever calls forth the energies of the best, implies also the existence of vice. Riches too take for granted that poverty somewhere exists; and wisdom that foolishness is something more than a name. Man, then, taken as a dependent being, and constituted as he was, could not but be liable to error; and, indeed, the very circumstance of supposing that he once fell, is sufficient proof that he was originally formed with this liability. But why the Creator chose thus to constitute him, can only be answered by himself: A QUESTION which will remain unsolved, whether we reject the scriptural account of the fall or not: these facts will in either case remain as they were, and the only answer that can be given will be, that the decisions of wisdom inscrutable to us determined that it should be thus.
We may, however, proceed one step further, and affirm, that it will be difficult if not impossible to shew, that dependent, intelligent, and in any way free creatures, can be so situated with respect to a superior, as not to be liable to error; and liability of this sort is sufficient to vindicate the scriptural account of the fall from the charge of being unreasonable. For if we allow such creatures to be liable to error, it will, perhaps, be difficult to suppose the existence of one for any length of time, who has not erred in one way or other; and if we appeal to the consciences of individuals, situated as they now are, and endued with all the knowledge made accessible by the fall, and the experience of some thousands of years to boot, it will perhaps be impossible to find one, who will not afford the most ample testimony to his own transgressions in this respect. Our position, then, is not only conformable with the deductions of reason, from the nature of the case, but is confirmed by experience; and this, under circumstances the most favourable for conducting us to a contrary conclusion.
With respect to scriptural redemption, as that is nothing more than the privilege obtained through the atonement, which has already been considered, it cannot now be necessary to shew the reasonableness of such a doctrine; because the proof adduced for the one, is equally applicable to the other.
We shall now proceed, therefore, to consider what has been termed the New Birth, or Regeneration.
ON THE NEW BIRTH, OR REGENERATION.
It should be premised that our Scriptures, like other books, frequently use metaphorical language : that is, they