« PreviousContinue »
They might be informed, that they could perceive at once the extent and shape of a thing so great and multiform as a tree, without touch : This would seem very strange and impossible. --They might be told, that, to those who see, some things appear a thousand times as great as some others, which yet are made
up of more visible parts, than those others : which would be very mysterious, and seem quite inconsisterrt with reason. These, and many other things, would be attended with unsearchable mystery to them, concerning objects of sight; and, concerning which, they could never fully see how they can be reconciled to reason ; at least, not without very long, particular, gradual, and elaborate instruction; and which, after all, they would not fully comprehend, so as clearly to see how the ideas connected in these propositions do agree. -And yet I suppose, in such a case, the most rational persons would give full credit to things that they know not by reason, but only by the revelation of the word of those that see. I suppose, a person born blind in the manner described, would nevertheless give full credit to the united testimony of the seeing world, in things which they said about light and colours, and would entirely rest on their testimony.
§ 15. If God give us a revelation of the truth, not only about spiritual beings, in an unseen state ; but also concerning a spiritual being or beings of a superior kind, (and so of an unexperienced nature,) entirely diverse from any thing we now experienee in our present state,—and from any thing that we can be conscious of in any siate whatsoever-then, especially, may mysteries be expected in such a revelation.
The truth concerning any kind of percipient being, of a different nature from our own, though of a kind inferior, might well be supposed to be attended with difficuliy, by reason of its diversity from what we are conscious of in ourselves : but much more so, when the nature and kind is superior. For a superior perceptive nature may well be supposed, in some respects, to include and comprehend what belongs to an inferior, as the greater comprehends the less, and the whole includes a part; and therefore, what the superior experiences may give him advantage to conceive of concerning the nature of the inferior. But, on the contrary, an inferior nature does not include what belongs to a superior. When one of an inferior nature considers what concerns beings of a nature entirely above his own, there is something belonging to it that is over and above all that the inferior nature is conscious of.
A very great superiority, even in beings of the same nature with ourselves, sets them so much above our reach, that many of their affairs become incomprehensible, and attended with inexplicable intricacies. Thus many of the affairs of adult persons are incomprehensible, and appear inexplicably strange to the understandings of little children : and many of the affairs of learned men, and great philosophers and mathematicians, things with which they are conversant, and well acquainted, are far above the reach of the vulgar, and appear to them not only unintelligible, but absurd and impossible, and full of inconsistencies. But much more may this be expected, wben the superiority is not only in the degree of improvement of faculties and properties of the same kind of beings, but also in the nature itself. So that, if there be a kind of created perceptive beings, in their nature vastly superior to the human, which none will deny to be possible, and a revelation should be given us concerning the nature, acts, and operations of this kind of creatures; it would be no wonder, if such a revelation should contain some things very much out of our reach, attended with great difficulty to our reason, being things of such a kind, that no improvement of our minds, that we are capable of, will bring us to an experience of any thing like them. But, above all, if a revelation be made to us concerning that Being who is uncreated and selfexistent, who is infinitely diverse from and above all others, in his nature, and so infinitely above all that any advancement of our nature can give us any consciousness of: In such a revelation, it would be very strange indeed, if there should not be some great mysteries, quite beyond our comprehension, and attended with difficulties which it is impossible for us fully to solve and explain.
$ 16. It may well be expected, that a revelation of truth, concerning an infinite Being, should be attended with mystery. We find, that the reasonings and conclusions of the best metaphysicians and mathematicians, concerning infinites, are attended with paradoxes and seeming inconsistencies. Thus it is concerning infinite lines, surfaces, and solids, which are things external. But much more may this be expected in infinite spiritual things; such as, infinite thought, infinite apprehension, infinite reason, infinite will, love, and joy, infinite spiritual power, agency, &c.
Nothing is more certain, than that there must be an unmade and unlimited Being; and yet, the very notion of such a Being is all mystery, involving nothing but incomprehensible paradoxes, and seeming inconsistencies. It involves the notion of a Being, self-existent and without any cause, which is utterly inconceivable, and seems repugnant to all our ways of conception. An infinite spiritual Being, or infinite understanding and will and spiritual power, must be omnipresent, without extension ; which is nothing but mystery and seeming inconsistence.
The notion of an infinite Eternal, implies absolute immutability. That which is in all respects infinite, absolutely perfect, to the utmost degree, and at all times, cannot be in any respect variable. And this immutability being constant from eternity, implies duration without succession, and is wholly a mystery and seeming inconsistence. It seems as much as to say, an infinitely great or long duration all at once, or all in a moment; which seems to be saying, an infinitely great in an infinitely little ; or an infinitely long line in a point without any length.
§ 17. Infinite understanding, which implies an understanding of all things past, present, and future; and of all truth and all reason and argument, implies infinite thought and reason. But, how this can be absolutely without mutation, or succession of acts, seems mysterious and absurd. We can conceive of no such thing as thinking, without successive acting of the mind about ideas. Perfect knowledge of all things, even of all the things of external sense, without any sensation, or any reception of ideas from without, is an inconceivable mystery. Infinite knowledge, implies a perfect comprehensive view of a whole future eternity; which seems utterly impossible. For, how can there be any reaching of the whole of this, to comprehend it, without reaching to the utmost limits of it? But this cannot be, wliere there is no such thing as utmost limits. And again, if God perfectly views an eternal succession or chain of events, then he perfectly sees every individual part of that chain, and there is no one link of it hid from his sight. And yet there is no one link that has not innumerable links beyond it; from which it would seem to follow, that there is a link beyond all the links that he sees, and consequently, that there is one link, yea, innumerable links, that he sees not; inasmuch as there are innumerable links beyond every one that he sees. And many other such seeming contradictions might be mentioned, which attend the supposition of God's omniscience.
If there be absolutely immutability in God, then there never arises any new act in God, or new exertion of himself; and yet there arise new effects: which seems an utter inconsistence. And so, innumerable other such like mysteries and paradoxes are involved in the notion of an infinite and eternal intelligent Being. Insomuch, that, if there had never been any revelation, by which God had made known himself by his word to mankind; the most speculative persons would, without doubt, have for ever been exceedingly at a loss cono
cerning the nature of the Supreme Being and First Cause of the universe. And, that some of the ancient philosopbers and wiser Heathens had so good notions of God as they bad, seems to be much more owing to tradition, which originated from divine revelation, than from their own invention; though human nature served to keep those traditions alive in the world, and led the more considerate to embrace and retain the imper. fect traditions which were to be found in any parts remaining, as they appeared, when once suggested and delivered, agreeable to reason.
§ 18. If a revelation be made of the principal scheme of the Supreme and infinitely Wise Ruler, respecting his moral kingdom, wherein bis all-sufficient wisdom is displayed, in the case of its greatest trial; ordering and regulating the said moral kingdom to its great ends, when in the most difficult circumstances ; extricating it out of the most extreme calamities, in which it had been involved by the malice and subtilty of the chief and most crafty of all God's enemies, should we expect no mysteries? If it be the principal of all the effects of the wisilom of Him, the depth of whose wisdom is unsearchable and absolutely infinite; his deepest scheme, by which mainly the grand design of the universal, incomprehensibly complicated system of all bis operations, and the infinite series of his administrations, is most happily, completely and gloriously attained ; the scheme in which God's wisdom is mainly exercised and displayed: it may reasonably be expected, that such a revelation will contain many mysteries.
We see that to be the case, even as to many works of human wisdom and art. They appear strange, paradoxical, and incomprehensible, by those that are vastly inferior in sagacity, or are entirely destitute of that skill or art. How are many of the effects of human art attended with many things that appear strange and altogether incomprehensible by children, and many others seeming to be beyond and against nature; and in many cases, the effect produced not only seems to be beyond the power of any visible means, but inconsistent with it, being an effect contrary to what would be expected: the means seems inconsistent with the end.
§ 19. If God reveal the exact truth in those things which, in the language of the Heathen sages, are matters of philosophy, especially, things concerning the nature of the Deity, and the nature of man as relate to the Deity, &c. it may most reasonably be expected, that such a revelation should contain many mysteries and paradoxes, considering how many mysteries the doctrines of the greatest and best philosophers, in all ages, concerning these things, have contained; or, at least,
how very mysterious, and seemingly repugnant they are to the reason of the vulgar, and persons of less understanding ; and considering how mysterious the principles of philosophers, even concerning matters far inferior to these, would have appeared in any former age, if they had been revealed to be true, which however are now received as the most undoubted truths.
If God gives mankind his word in a large book, consisting of a vast variety of parts, many books, histories, prophecies, prayers, songs, parables, proverbs, doctrines, promises, sermons, epistles, and discourses of very many kinds, all connected together, all united in one grand drift and design; and one part having a various and manifold respect to others; so as to become one great work of God, and one grand system ; as is the system of the universe, with its vast variety of parts, connected in one grand work of God: It may well be expected that there should be mysteries, things incomprehensible and exceeding difficult to our understanding; analogous to the mysteries that are found in all the other works of God, as the works of creation and providence; and particularly such as are analogous to the mysteries that are observable in the system of the natural world, and the frame of man's own nature.
§ 20. If it be still objected, that it is peculiarly unreasonable that mysteries should be supposed in a revelation given to mankind, because, if there be such a revelation, the direct and principal design of it must be, to teach mankind, and to inform their understandings, which is inconsistent with its delivering things to man which he cannot understand; and which do not inform but only puzzle and confound bis understanding : I answer,
Ist. Men are capable of understanding as much as is pretended to be revealed; though they cannot understand all that belongs to the things revealed. For instance, God may reveal, that there are Three who have the same nature of the Deity, whom it is most proper for us to look upon as Three Persons; though the particular manner of their distinction, or how they differ, may not be revealed. He may reveal that the Godhead was united to man, so as to be properly looked upon as the same person; and yet not reveal how it was effected.
2d. No allowance is made in the objection, for what may be understood of the word of God in future ages, which is not now understood. And it is to be considered, that divine revelation is not given only for the present or past ages.
3d. The seeming force of this objection, lies wbolly in this,