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been in no small degree chargeable, although the far greater portion of them has doubtless originated with those in whom no reverential regard for the sacred oracles appears to have operated, to restrain their perverse or exuberant imaginations.
I proceed, then, in the more general application of this subject, to consider the questions which we are here instructed to avoid as reducible to three distinct classes, comprising, first, those which involve points neither within the reach of our natural faculties, nor made known to us by Divine revelation; secondly, those which, whether or not they may be capable of satisfactory decision, are yet in their kind unprofitable and unimportant; thirdly, those which relate to verbal, not substantial differences, arising from some misunderstanding or misapplication of the terms used by the respective parties in their several topics of contention. The first of these classes will sufficiently occupy our attention for the present.
Far the greater part of the questions belonging to this class may justly be called "both foolish and unlearned;" foolish, because they admit not of a definitive answer; unlearned, because inquiry into that which no human learning can fathom, and which reve
lation has not disclosed, can never lead to the acquisition of real knowledge.
Every one who is well instructed in revealed religion must be aware that there are certain boundaries of knowledge which God himself appears to have prescribed to the human intellect; that many things are revealed in his word purely as matters of faith, not of scientific investigation; and that, with respect to these, so long as we continue in our present state, we must be content to "know in part," and to "see through a glass "darkly." Upon such subjects it is both our duty and our wisdom, not to indulge in more abstruse or sublime contemplations than we can attempt with safety, and with a reasonable prospect of success.
The temptation nevertheless is great, to men of superior mental endowments, to seek the reputation of being able to penetrate further than others into the depths of mystery, and to evince their acuteness, either by endeavouring to explain, or (if that be above their strength) to perplex and invalidate those doctrines, which the more modest inquirer is content to receive by faith, without asking for demonstrations, of which they are not susceptible. This spirit being once roused, and questions being started of a new and
subtle kind, which give scope to a display of talents and ingenuity, antagonists will not long be wanting, of no less ardour and selfconfidence, to enter the lists; and so long as vanity is on either side the governing propensity, the encounter will probably be fierce and obstinate; nor will either party be disposed to concede aught, where concession might be construed into an acknowledgment of defeat. The utmost exertions will be made to overpower the rival opponents, whatever may be the results with regard to the interests of truth.
Questions of this description not only thus operate in "gendering strifes" for the sake of victory rather than of truth, but are also in their very nature more fitted to raise disputes, than those which relate to subjects nearer to the level of our apprehensions. Darkness, not light, is favourable to the increase of perplexity and confusion. That which admits of an appeal to the evidence of sense, of experience, or of any certain principles on which to ground an opinion, may be brought to some conclusive issue. But that which cannot be submitted to any such test may be again and again debated, without any nearer approach to decision. Now, of this kind are some of the most important truths
of revealed religion: truths no farther made known to us, than is necessary to enable us to become "wise unto salvation;" beyond which salutary purpose, we have nothing to guide our steps but vague conjectures from obscure and remote analogies, or the still more vague suggestions of a fruitful imagination. Here no bounds can be set to a daring and restless spirit of curiosity. Hypothesis upon hypothesis may be raised; theory upon theory be constructed; and matters undetermined, nay unmentioned, in holy writ, may be argued upon the most groundless surmises. Revelation itself will in such cases too often be compelled to submit to the usurped authority of human conceit. The conflicting parties will be more and more eagerly engaged, and become more obstinate and untractable, in proportion as they both renounce the authority of any superior power to arbitrate between them.
The evidence of ecclesiastical history will fully bear us out in these assertions.
In the heresies of the apostolic age there appears to have been much of that disputatious spirit, and of those false pretensions to knowledge, which the apostle condemns in the words of the text. The censures bestowed upon them by the inspired teachers
of the gospel indicate that they originated, for the most part, in an overweening pride of intellect, and in presumptuous attempts to adapt the sublimest mysteries of revelation to the crude conceptions of inflated minds. In this respect, the heresies the apostles had to contend with were but prototypes of those which the advocates of unadulterated truth have in later times had occasion to combat.
What St. Paul says of heathen philosophers before the coming of Christ, that "professing "themselves to be wise they became fools"," is no less applicable to all disputants of this description. That is false wisdom which dogmatizes upon things inscrutable by human faculties; which frames to itself theories of spiritual and divine truth, without evidence to support them; which sets up some device of its own to be the criterion of what is proposed purely as an article of faith. The more such pretended knowledge is cultivated, the more manifold will be the errors resulting from it. The misapplication, indeed, of knowledge of any kind in things finite and within the reach of our natural perceptions, to subjects in their nature infinite and inaccessible to those perceptions, is no better than actual ignorance; nay, it is worse than simple ignorance, be
e Rom. i. 22.