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THE PRINCIPLES OF CHRISTIANITY CONFORMABLE WITH REASON AND MORALITY.-DISCORDANT OPINIONS WITH RESPECT TO THE DOCTRINES OF CHRIST AND HIS APOSTLES.--THE SOLUTION OF OBSCURE AND DIFFICULT PASSAGES, BY A REFERENCE TO THOSE WHICH ARE MORE CLEAR AND INTELLIGIBLE, THE OBVIOUS REMEDY FOR SUCH DISSENSIONS. THE PURPOSE OF THIS WORK EXPLAINED.
THE pretensions of a sect, which peculiarly assumes to itself the title of evangelical, obviously suggest an inquiry, on what grounds these pretensions rest: and whether those teachers, who claim exclusively that sacred appellation, do really inculcate the doctrines of Jesus Christ. This, according to the tenor of the gospel, might seem no difficult or perplexing question. That heavenly dispensation was
preached to the poor and ignorant, “ as a light to them who sat in darkness.” The evidences of its truth, therefore, are proposed in the clearest, and most intelligible form; and our blessed master establishes the faith of his disciples on the miracles he wrought. “ The works that I do, in my father's name, they bear witness of me.” * And again, “ if I do not the works of my father, believe me not; but if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works, that ye may know that the father is in me and I in him.” + A test more infallible in itself, or more easily comprehended, by men of all capacities, could not have been devised. † And with regard to those qualifications which might best dispose his hearers to receive the word of
* John X. 25.
† John x. 37, 38. | That there are mysterious points in holy scripture which are the proper object of Christian faith, is no objection to the credibility of the gospel, nor any exception to the clear revelation it contains ; because mysteries are inseparable from religion. Yet, an author, to whom the public is much indebted for his forcible exposure of Methodism, reasons thus: “ As mysteries cannot be made manifest, they of course cannot be understood; and that which cannot be understood, cannot be believed, and can consequently make no part of any system of faith, since no one, till he understand a doctrine, can tell, whether it be true or false. Till then, therefore, he can have no faith in it, for no one can rationally affirm that he believes that doctrine to be true, which he does not know to be so; and he cannot know it to be true if he does not understand it. In the religion of a true Christian, therefore, there can be nothing unintelligible, and if the preachers of that religion do not make mysteries they will never find any."*
* Hints by a Barrister, part iii. p. 19.
This position is equally untenable on the grounds of natural or revealed religion. In saying, “ that which cannot be understood cannot be believed,” &c. if the writer mean to assert that nothing is a proper object of faith which we cannot fully comprehend, we dissent entirely from his opinion. The evidence of revealed truth may be incontrovertible, while the subject of it is incomprehensible. Otherwise, the being of a God would be incredible; for surely no one pretends to understand the mode of his existence; and whether the Divine Nature, which is one in essence and substance, reside in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, or only in a single person: the difficulty of understanding the mystery of his existence is equally great.
If the barrister's argument intend no more than this, that we cannot believe any proposition, except we understand the terms in which it is conveyed, there is no question about it. 6 But if our assent be required to a proposition which hath some meaning and no inconsistency in it, and is undeniably asserted in a revelation well proved: but only, we have no other evidence for it, nor should of ourselves ever have imagined any such thing; indeed, should have thought it very unlikely, and still cannot thoroughly comprehend it, or so much as guess at the reasons, the manner, the circumstances of what we are taught: All this is absolutely no foundation for our disbelieving it. Nay, though we should see difficulties and objections against it, which we could not particularly answer, we should allow them only their proper weight, which may be far overbalanced by the general attestations given of its divine authority.”*
There must be mysteries in that, which infinitely exceeds the utmost stretch of human capacity. For as the wisdom of the creature cannot understand wholly and absolutely the
* Archbishop Secker's Sermons, vol. iv. serm. xviii.
God, our Lord declares, that “ the seed which bare fruit an hundred fold, are they, who, in an
counsels of the Creator, which therefore can only be revealed in part, while “ we see through a glass darkly,” a mystery must consequently intervene wherever the Divine Nature or designs become inscrutable. “The preachers of the Christian religion do not make mysteries ;" but the error lies in adopting mysteries to the exclusion of what is not mysterious,—in rejecting those plain rules of a holy life which are manifestly revealed,—and in resolving the terms of salvation into mysticism.
These observations may not appear misplaced at the begin. ning of this treatise, when it is considered, that the denial of mysteries in the doctrine delivered by Jesus Christ, is to a certain extent, an impeachment of that gospel which contains them; and that the intelligent writer who has so pointedly exhibited the falsehood, folly, and pernicious tendency of · Methodism, has advanced some opinions, which the advocates
of that sect have not failed to remark, as tinctured with Socinianism; and have thence taken occasion to stigmatize his whole performance.
Since this note was written, the barrister has repeated his assertion, that Christianity contains nothing mysterious; with more sophistry than argument, he says, “ To talk of mysteries of revelation is a perfect solecism; a mystery revealed is a mystery no longer; it would not be more absurd to talk of a concealed discovery," &c.* We talk not of the mysteries of revelation, but of those points which were mysterious before that revelation unfolded them; or which are still mysterious because they are not fully revealed; but are involved in those truths, and inseparably connected with those articles of faith which are incontestably established. Thus we believe our Saviour's declaration, “ I and my Father are one,” because he has proved his “words to be spirit and truth.” But how the
* Hints, part iv. p.48.
honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience. ”'* How accordant is this with the natural apprehensions of man, whose virtuous propensities are engaged in the support of that holy religion, for which a moral disposition is declared to be the most suitable preparation! What perfect harmony subsists then between that light of truth which God hath graciously revealed through Jesus Christ, and that light of reason, the judge of truth, which he first inspired when man became a living soul! There is no discrepancy between his former and his latter gift; his ways are always equal, just, and true. To evince the authority of his gospel, he appeals to the evidence of our senses and rational faculties; and for the practice of its precepts, he requires
Father and Son are one, (sy, one thing, or substance,) is a mystery, which when the barrister has 'explained, we will allow his dèfiance to be something more than a mere bravado:“ I will defy any one to produce any doctrine that our Saviour ever delivered, that contains in it any thing incomprehensible, or that has any thing of niystery in it.”+ Had he confined his assertion to the practical doctrines of the gospel, there would have been no difficulty in admitting it.
The church of England is much beholden to this learned advocate of its rights and interests ; but really it is rather too friendly in him to defend its cause by attacking its creed; and to profess“ his faith and attachment,” while he undermines the principles on which it is established.
* Luke viïi. 15.
+ Hints, part iv. p. 57.