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quate; because the knowledge of them is not, in any degree, necessary for his enjoyment of the portion, or his discharge of the duties, assigned him by his Creator.
2. If difficulties belong to the Gospel, as it is a republication of the religion of nature, we may expect to meet with more difficulties, when we consider it in its higher character, as the religion of sinners. By this character the Gospel makes provision for a new situation, which had brought upon men evils, any remedy of which was not suggested by their knowledge of nature. We found that all those notions of the Divine character and government, which constitute natural religion, fail us in this new situation; and that the assurance of pardon rests upon an interposition of the Creator. What parts of the universe may be affected by that interposition we cannot say; and it is presumptuous to think, that all the branches and the ends of it may be fully comprehended by our understanding, since it is a subject confessedly farther beyond our reach than any part of nature. But if the revelation of the Gospel leaves no doubt that the interposition has been made, and that the effects of it with regard to us are attained, this is all the knowledge that is of real importance upon the subject. Clear evidence of the fact is sufficient to revive our hopes; and although the manner in which the interposition is calculated to produce the effect had not been, in any measure, revealed to us, we should have been in no worse situation with regard to this fact than with regard to many others in nature, most important to our being and comfort, where we know that an effect exists, but have no apprehension of the kind of connexion between the effect and its cause. If this interposition involve the agency of other beings that are not made known to us by the light of nature, and if their agency be a ground of hope, or the principle of any duty, the revelation must inform us that they exist. But the knowledge of their existence and agency does not require an intimate acquaintance with their nature. There are in natural religion many intricate questions concerning the manner in which the Deity exists, that do not in the least affect the proof of his existence. The manner in which those beings exist, who are made known to us merely by revelation, may be still farther removed beyond the reach of our fa
culties. At any rate, the knowledge of it is not necessary for the purposes of the revelation; and, therefore, although so very little be revealed concerning them, as to leave impenetrable darkness over all the speculations by which men attempt to investigate the manner in which they are distinguished from one another, and the manner in which they are united, still their existence and their agency may be placed beyond doubt by explicit declarations, and the reliance upon these declarations may establish, on the firmest grounds, that hope which the revelation was meant to con
The state of the case, then, with regard to the difficulties of religion, is precisely this. We have, by reason, the means of acquiring that knowledge which the orginal condition of our being required, but not that which our curiosity may desire; and accordingly when we launch into questions and speculations of mere curiosity, our pride is rebuked, and we are reminded that "we are of yesterday, and know nothing." The Gospel, by the provision which it has made for the change in our original condition, has opened to us a state of things in many respects new, by which we perceive how very limited the range of our natural knowledge was. But this state of things is intimated only in so far as the provision for our condition renders an intimation necessary; and while all the facts of real importance to our comfort and hope are published with the most satisfying evidence, we are checked in our speculations concerning this new state of things, by the very scanty measure of light which is afforded us to guide them. This is a view of the extent of our knowledge not very flattering to our pride. But it may be favourable both to our happiness and to our improvement; and if we are wise enough to cultivate the temper of mind which such a view is peculiarly calculated to form, we may derive much profit from the bounds which are set to our inquiries, as well as from the enlargement which is given to our hopes. There does arise, however, from this view of our knowledge, one most interesting and fundamental question, which is the subject of my third preliminary observation, What is the use of reason in matters of religion?
USE OF REASON IN RELIGION.
Ir the Christian religion contain many points which we do not fully comprehend, and if we be required to believe these points, a difficulty seems to arise with regard to the boundaries between reason and faith. This is a subject upon which it is of very great importance to form distinct apprehensions, before we proceed to a particular consideration of the doctrines of Christianity. When you study church history, you will find that this question has been agitated in various forms from the beginning of Christianity to this day. It is not my province to relate the progress of this dispute, or the different appearances which it has assumed. And, in truth, many of the controversies to which it has given occasion are insignificant, because when they are examined they appear to be purely verbal. Those, who said that reason was of no use in matters of religion, sometimes meant nothing more than that religion derived no benefit from that which is really the abuse of reason, false philosophy, and the jargon of metaphysics. The argument was kept up by the equivocation between reason and the abuse of reason; and had the disputants shown themselves willing to understand one another by defining the terms which they used, it would have appeared that there was very little difference in their opinions.
But this account will not apply to all the controversies that have turned upon this question. The sublime incomprehensible nature of some of the Christian doctrines has so completely subdued the understanding of many pious men, as to make them think it presumptuous to apply reason any how to the revelation of God; and the many instances, in which the simplicity of truth has been corrupted by an alliance with philosophy, confirm them in the belief that it is safer, as well as more respectful, to resign
their minds to devout impressions, than to exercise their understandings in any speculations upon sacred subjects. Enthusiasts and fanatics of all different names and sects agree in decrying the use of reason, because it is the very essence of fanaticism to substitute in place of the sober deductions of reason, the extravagant fancies of a disordered imagination, and to consider these fancies as the immediate illumination of the Spirit of God. Insidious writers in the deistical controversy have pretended to adopt those sentiments of humility and reverence, which are inseparable from true Christians, and even that total subjection of reason to faith which characterises enthusiasts. A pamphlet was published about the middle of the last century, that made a noise in its day, although it is now forgotten, entitled, Christianity not Founded on Argument, which, while to a careless reader it may seem to magnify the Gospel, does in reality tend to undermine our faith, by separating it from a rational assent; and Mr. Hume, in the spirit of this pamphlet, concludes his Essay on Miracles, with calling those, dangerous friends or disguised enemies to the Christian religion, who have undertaken to defend it by the principles of human reason. "Our most holy religion," he says, with a disingenuity very unbecoming his respectable talents, "is founded on faith, not on reason," and " mere reason is insufficient to convince us of its veracity." The Church of Rome, in order to subject the minds of her votaries to her authority, has reprobated the use of reason in matters of religion. She has revived an ancient position, that things may be true in theology which are false in philosophy; and she has, in some instances, made the merit of faith to consist in the absurdity of that which is believed.
The extravagance of these positions has produced, since the Reformation, an opposite extreme. While those who deny the truth of revelation consider reason as in all respects a sufficient guide, the Socinians, who admit that a revelation has been made, employ reason as the supreme judge of its doctrines, and boldly strike out of their creed every article that is not altogether conformable to those notions which may be derived from the exercise of reason.
These controversies, concerning the use of reason in matters of religion, are disputes not about words, but
about the essence of Christianity. They form a most interesting object of attention to a student of divinity, because they affect the whole course and direction of his studies; and yet, it appears to me that a few plain observations are sufficient to ascertain where the truth lies in this subject.
1. The first use of reason in matters of religion is to examine the evidences of revelation. For the more entire the submission which we consider as due to every thing that is revealed, we have the more need to be satisfied that any system which professes to be a divine revelation does really come from God. It is plain from the review which we took of the evidence of Christianity, that very large provision is made for affording our minds a rational conviction of its divine original; and the style of argument, which pervades the discourses of our Lord, and the sermons and the writings of his apostles, is a continued call upon us to exercise our reason in judging of that provision. I need not quote particular passages; for that man must have read the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles with a very careless or a very prejudiced eye, who does not feel the manner, in which our religion was proposed by its divine author and his immediate disciples, to be a clear refutation of the position which I mentioned lately, that Christianity is not founded on argument. You will recollect too, that all the different branches of the evidence of Christianity are ultimately resolvable into some principle of reason. The internal evidence of Christianity is only then perceived, when you try the system of the Gospel by a standard which you are supposed to have derived from natural religion. The argument which miracles and prophecies afford is but an inference from the power, wisdom, and holiness of God, all of which you assume as premises that are not disputed; and that complication of circumstances which constitutes the historical evidence for Christianity, derives its weight from those laws of probability which our experience and reflection suggest as the guide of our judgment. It is not easy to conceive that a creature, who is accustomed to exercise his reason upon every other subject, should be required to lay it aside upon a subject so interesting as the evidences of religion; and it is plain, that to substitute as the ground