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ulterior region, impalpable to the eye of man, because utterly beyond its reach, have been opened to his view. It is that boundary where the light of nature ends and the light of revelation begins, which marks the separation between the respective provinces of Moral Philosophy and the Christian Theology. In demonstrating the credentials of Scripture we authenticate as it were the informations of the telescope. In expounding the contents of Scripture we lay before you the substance of these informations. We affirm the vast enlargement which has thence accrued to Theology; from both the richness and the number of those places in the science to which man has been thereby introduced, and that otherwise would have been wholly inacessible. There are men who can glory in the discoveries of modern science, and feel contemptuously. of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet so meagre truly is their academic theism, notwithstanding the pomp of its demonstrations—that to suppress the doctrines of the Gospel were to inflict the same mutilation on the high theme of the celestial ethics, as astronomy would undergo by suppressing the informations of the telescope.
37. We should not have expatiated at such length on this distinction between the Ethics and the Objects of Theology_had we not felt urged by the paramount importance of a principle which should be made as plain as may be to every understanding. And it is this that from the very embryo of thought or feeling on the subject of religion, and in the rudest possible state of humanity, there is what may be called a moving moral force on the
spirit of man which, if he obey, will conduct him onward through successive manifestations, to what in his circumstances is a right state of belief in religion—and which if he resist, will supply the subject matter of his righteous condemnation. It should be made obvious that, in no circumstances whatever, he is beyond the pale of Heaven's jurisprudence; and that whether or not he have light for the full assurance of his understanding, he has light enough to try his disposition towards Godboth to prompt his desire towards Him, and give direction to his inquiries after him. Even on the lowly platform of the Terrestrial Ethics this principle comes into operation; and in virtue of it, every mind which feels as it ought, and aspires as it ought, will be at least set in motion and come to all the light which is within its reach. “He that doeth truth,” says the Saviour, “cometh to the light.” He that is rightly affected by the Ethics of the question, cometh to the Objects: and thus an entrance is made on the field of the Celestial Ethics, and possession taken by the mind of at least one section of it-Natural Theology. But after this is traversed; and the ulterior or revealed Theology has come into prospect, we hold that the same impulse which carried him onwards to the first will carry him onwards to the second. We shall therefore resume the consideration of this principle after that we have ended our exposition of the natural or the academic theism. And next in importance to the question “What are those conclusive proofs on the side of Religion which make it our duty to believe ?” is the question
“What are those initial presumptions which make it our duty to inquire ?”
38. It is impossible to say how much or how little of evidence for a God may lie in these first surmisings, these vague and shadowy imaginations of the mind respecting Him. They serve a great moral purpose notwithstanding-whether when entertained and followed out by man they act as an impellent to further inquiry, or when resisted they fasten upon him the condemnation of impiety. An argument for the existence of a Divinity has been grounded on the fact of such being the universal impression. We may not be able precisely to estimate the argument; but this affects not the importance of the fact itself, as being a thing of mighty subservience to the objects of a Divine administration-bringing a moral force on the spirits of all men, and so bringing all within the scope of a judicial reckoning. This applies indeed to the whole system of Natural Theology. It may be of invaluable service, even though it fall short of convincing us. We may never thoroughly entertain the precise weight or amount of its proofs. But this does not hinder their actually being of a certain and substantive amount, whereupon follows a corresponding amount or aggravation of moral unfairness in our resistance of them—known to God though unknown to ourselves. Enough if it be such as to challenge our serious attention, though it may not challenge our full and definite belief—and whether Natural Theology has to offer such a proof on the side of religion as enables us absolutely to decide the question, yet high is the function which
it discharges if it offer such a precognition as lays upon us the duty of farther entertaining it.
39. For, after having traversed the field of Natural Theology and come to the ulterior margin of it, it will be found that though ignorant of all which is before us in Christianity, there will still be the same moving force carrying us forward to its investigations, as that which now makes it morally imperative upon us to prosecute the inquiry after God. If it be morally incumbent on us now to follow out the faintest incipient notices of a Deity, it will be equally incumbent on us then to follow out the same notices of a profest, if at all a likely messenger from the sanctuary of His special dwellingplace. Now this is precisely what we shall come within sight of, after having finished the lessons of natural theism. There will then be offered to our observation a certain historical personage—bearing at least such a creditable aspect and such verisimilitude of a divine commission, that we cannot without violence to the ethical principles of the subject bid it away from our mind by an act of summary rejection. In the revealed, as well as in the natural religion, there is a prima facie evidence which, if not amounting to a claim on our belief, at least amounts to a claim on our attention. There may not instanter be put into our hands the materials of a valid proof, so as to challenge all at once from us a favourable verdict. But there will at least be put into our hands the materials of a valid precognition so as to challenge from us a fair trial. It may not announce itself; and what question whether in science or in history ever does so ? -it may not announce itself as worthy of our immediate conviction ; but it will announce itself as worthy of an immediate hearing. If there be not so much at the very first, of the certainty of truth as shall compel us to receive; there will at least be as much of the semblance of truth as should compel us to listen and to look after. And whether one looks to that expression of moral honesty which sits on the character and sayings of Jesus Christ, or cast a regard, however rapid and general, on the testimony and the sufferings and the apparent worth of those who followed in His train ; and after this forbears a closer inquiry-he incurs the same delinquency of spirit which we have already charged upon him who can step abroad with open eye among the glories of the creation, yet remain unmoved by any desire of gratitude or even of curiosity to the question of a Creator.
40. But there is one special advantage which we should not omit noticing in our study of the Natural prior to our study of the Christian argument. It may not prepare us for justly estimating the outward credentials of the embassy--but it will enable us to recognise other credentials in the very substance and contents of the embassy. After, in fact, that the theology of the schools has done its uttermost, it but lands us in certain desiderata which, if not met and not satisfied, leave nothing to humanity but the utmost destitution and despair. But if, on the other hand, these desiderata are met by the counterpart doctrines of Christianity—if the unresolved problems of the one theology do find their solution and their adjust