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THE BIBLE, AND NOT REASON, THE ONLY AUTHORITATIVE SOURCE AND STANDARD OF OUR KNOWLEDGE OF THE NATURE OF GOD-WHAT IT TEACHES CONCERNING THE UNITY OF GOD.
In the teaching of God's infallible word we have an emphatic corroboration of all that we have previously taught,* as to the nature, powers, and province of human reason in reference to God and things divine. "It is a perilous mistake," says a leading Unitarian Divine, "to call reason a proud faculty in human nature." The mistake, however, is with him who would make reason a faculty, independent in its character and action of that intelligent and moral nature of which it is only a manifestation or power. This writer compares reason to the eye. Now we often speak of a fierce, loving, lustful, envious, jealous, or proud eye, by which we mean, not that the eye is any one of these, but that the eye expresses these several states or dispositions of the mind, and gives character to the individual. And just so it is that we attribute to reason, when considered as the faculty of reasoning, pride, presumption, weakness, impiety, and unreasonableness, by which we mean, not that the faculty is any of these, but that the mind which uses it in any of these ways, and thus perverts and abuses it, is so. Strictly and properly speaking, the intelligent and moral being man, thinks, perceives, judges, examines, believes, and feels in doing so, either proud or humble, presumptuous or teachable, impious or pious, and in the present state of human nature we affirm that the natural man, unrenewed and unenlightened by the Spirit of God, is "compassed about with pride,”—that "through pride he will not seek after God," and "will not come to the light," and that on this account he "errs from the truth." This is the case in reference to all truth so far as it comes in conflict with the wishes and desires, and selfish sensual interests of the heart.
A man convinced against his will
*See on the Province of Reason and Knowledge of God's Existence, in Nos. 1 and 2 of this volume.
†On the effect of pride in corrupting human philosophy and primitive truth, see full account in Gale's Court of the Gentiles, vol. 3, pp. 9-12. See also, the rebuke of Socrates and Plato, in ibid. p. 15.
But pre-eminently is this the case in reference to God and all that pertains to God. "For vain man would be wise, though man is born like a wild ass's colt." Their "foolish heart is blinded," their "understanding is darkened," their "wisdom is foolishness with God," and "by all their wisdom they know not God." (Job xi, 4-12.)
Man-human nature-human rason-is here as it is often elsewhere in the Bible, called "vain" or empty. It is empty of that with which it should be filled, and filled with that of which it should be empty. It is empty of all that is humble, holy and heavenly. This empty and vain human reason, "would be wise," not for the sake of "getting wisdom which is the best thing," but for the sake of being thought wiser than others; not in things comprehensible by it and profitable for it, but in things above and beyond its capacity and its limits, and in things which only engender "foolish questions" and "damnable heresies." Yea, so vain and empty is human reason, that it seeks after what is false, forbidden, and irrational, seven times more earnestly because it is so. By this very proud and presumptuous desire to attain to improper and forbidden knowledge, sin entered into our world, and by sin death, and all our woes. It was not wisdom to know God nor "the wisdom of God," but the desire to be as knowing as God, which the devil promised and apostate man impiously desired. So it has ever been with human reason, and so it is now. Vain man would still be "wise above that which is written," and instead of "searching what is commanded, and thinking thereon with reverence, would search the things that are above his strength." (Eccl. iii: 21.) There is a drunkenness of the understanding as well as of the body, and we are therefore exhorted to "be wise unto sobriety."-(Rom. xii: 3.)
Thus has human reason become "more brutish than a man and lower than the understanding of a (perfect and unfallen) man.”—(Prov. xxx: 2.) *"So foolish and ignorant is it that it is as a beast before God," (Psalm 1xxiii: 22,) even "as the horse and the mule which have no understanding." Man's "understanding is like the beasts that perish," yea, like the "wild ass's colt," the most beastly of beasts.
*Literally, the words would read:
Surely more ignorant I am than a man.
I neither possess the understanding of a man,
Nor have I learned wisdom,
And the knowledge of THE HOLY ONES I should know.
And what is the illustration and proof given of this proud and presumptuous ignorance of vain and empty man in the passage quoted from the book of Job? It is the attempt made from the beginning until now "by searcing to find out God," and thus to make God's nature, character, purposes and word, square with the reason, the opinions, and the wishes of the human heart. God, and his word, and his worship, and his truth, and his requirements, must be that, and only that, which human reason can approve and sanction, and to which human passion and human fashion will submit, else vain man "will not have God to reign over him."
The world by its wisdom, its reason, its philosophy, its science, and its literature, has searched and thought, and written much on the subject of God, but it has only like the dove, surveyed an ocean of angry and discordant elements, one theory and one superstition dashing against another in endless confusion. The being of God, the manner of his being, the attributes of his being, these by all its wisdom and searching, human reason never knew and never can know, until it can compass infinity, comprehend eternity, fill immensity, and attain unto omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. "Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as Heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth and broader than the sea."
Almighty Former of this wondrous plan,
Holy and just-the Greatness of whose name
When Hiero asked the philosopher of his day, what is God, he asked time to reflect. When urged to an answer, he requested from time to time, still further delay, and at last confessed his ignorant inability to answer. And well he might, for when holy Augustine pondered by the sea-side the same absorbing question, he heard a voice calling upon him to empty the ocean into a cockle shell. An ignorant man might imagine
that were he possessed of the towering height and power of genius, he could find out God, even as he might think that from the top of earth's loftiest peak, he could reach the Heavens, but he would find that even there, the unscalable heights, and unfathomable depths of this unsearchable subject were still above and beyond him.
We cannot by all our vain searching find out God. This is "a thing too high" for human reason, since "God is higher than the Heavens, whom the Heaven of Heavens cannot contain," and whom "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived." "Oh! the depths of the wisdom of God. How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out."
O God, thou bottomless abyss,
Thee to perfection who can know?
O height immense! what words suffice
But while we cannot by all our searching find out God, God may be found by his own revelation of himself to us.
We have but faith; we cannot know;
Let knowledge grow from more to more,
The knowledge of God cometh down from God. We know him only when he makes himself known to us. There are but two in the universe who know God by their own unaided knowledge. "THE SPIRIT searcheth all things, even the deep things of God," and "no man knoweth the Father but THE SON, and he to whom THE SON shall reveal him." Would we then be made to know him in knowledge of whom standeth eternal life? "If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God who giveth liberally and upbraideth not," and then shall "he be able to comprehend with all saints what is the length and breadth, and heighth, and depth of the love of God as it is in Christ Jesus."
When reason fails with all her powers,
The foundation on which all religion rests is the existence, character, attributes, and government of an infinitely wise and perfect God. The word religious emphatically expresses our bond or obligation, as created beings, to God as our creator,
preserver, governor and judge. It implies in the very term-a religando*-the rupture of this bond by sin, and our return to God by penitence, faith, and obedience,-by godliness or piety towards Him,-by receiving, believing and obeying his word,— by observing his worship and fulfilling all his commands,-by seeking and serving him only in the way of his own appointment,—by looking forward to a state of rewards and punishments in the life to come,—and by recognizing our duties and obligations to each other as fellow creatures of the same God.
Our ideas of God therefore determine our ideas of religion, and the whole character of our religion.
What then do we know of God besides what he makes us know of himself in his word?
Before answering this question we would remark that there is an essential and important difference between receiving and holding certain opinions as both true and reasonable, and the ability of reason to discover them by its own unaided light. Almost the entire body of every man's knowledge which he believes and holds as reasonable and true, is what he has acquired by education, and the information and instruction of others. The amount of knowledge which has been discovered by the greatest genius is as a drop of water to the ocean, or a grain of sand to the sea-shore.
It is also to be borne in mind that the amount of truth or knowledge which may be acquired by man is immeasurably greater than the compass of reason, and our powers of comprehension. The most exalted of human intellects know as little as the feeblest,-that is, they comprehend nothing at all, of the essence, cause, and operations even of natural things,-nothing whatver of immaterial things-nothing of the infinite relations of the boundless universe. The existence of innumerable things as facts, and the invariable antecedence and consequence of causes and effects we do know, but of their nature and mode of operation we do and can know nothing.
*It is a controversy of long standing, whether the word religio comes from religere, to reconsider, or from religare, to rebind. Cicero is the patron of the former; Lactantius advocates the latter. Linguistically, Cicero's derivation is the preferable; by no known process of etymology can religio be deduced from religare. As respects the meaning, both are correct, religion is the re-consideration of our obligations to God, and our re-union to him. But may not the true etymon after all be re-eligere, thus making religio equivalent to re-eligio, a re-choice? Religion is so in point of fact; objectively, God's re-choice of us; subjectively, our re-choice of God. I may observe, that this etymology has the merit of accounting for the re in religio being long; a fact which has been strangely overlooked by writers on this matter.-Alexander's Connex. O. and N. Test.