« AnteriorContinua »
On the Distinction between the Ethics of Theology and the
Objects of Theology.
1. Our first remark on the science of Theology is, that the objects of it, by their remoteness, and by their elevation, seem to be inaccessible. The objects of the other sciences are either placed, as those of matter, within the ken of our senses; or, as in the science of mind, they come under a nearer and more direct recognition still, by the faculty of consciousness. But no man hath seen God at any time. We have neither heard His voice nor seen His shape." And neither do the felt operations of our own busy and ever-thinking spirits immediately announce themselves to be the stirrings of the divinity within us. So that the knowledge of that Being, whose existence, and whose character, and whose ways, it is the business of Theology to investigate, and the high purpose of Theology to ascertain, stands distinguished from all other knowledge by the peculiar avenues through which it is conveyed to us. We feel Him not. We behold Him not. And however palpably He may stand forth to our convictions, in the strength of those appropriate evidences which it is the province of this science to unfold-certain it is, that we can take no direct cognizance of Him by our faculties whether of external or internal observation.
2. And while the spirituality of His nature places Him beyond the reach of our direct cognizance, there are certain other essential properties of His nature which place Him beyond the reach of our possible comprehension. Let me instance the past eternity of the Godhead. One might figure a futurity that never ceases to flow, and which has no termination; but who can climb his ascending way among the obscurities of that infinite which is behind him? Who can travel in thought along the track of generations gone by, till he has overtaken the eternity which lies in that direction ? Who can look across the millions of ages which have elapsed, and from an ulterior post of observation look again to another and another succession of centuries; and at each further extremity in this series of retrospects, stretch backward his regards on an antiquity as remote and indefinite as ever ? Could we by any number of successive strides over these mighty intervals, at length reach the fountain-head of duration, our spirits might be at rest. But to think of duration as having no fountain-head; to think of time with no beginning; to uplift the imagination along the heights of an antiquity which hath positively no summit; to soar these upward steeps till dizzied by the altitude we can keep no longer on the wing; for the mind to make these repeated flights from one pinnacle to another, and instead
of scaling the mysterious elevation, to lie baffled at its foot, or lose itself among the far, the longwithdrawing recesses of that primeval distance, which at length merges away into a fathomless unknown; this is an exercise utterly discomfiting to the puny faculties of man. We are called on to stir ourselves up that we may take hold of God, but the clouds and darkness which are round about Him" seem to repel the enterprise as hopeless; and man, as if overborne by a sense of littleness, feels as if nothing can be done but to make prostrate obeisance of all his faculties before Him.
3. Or, if instead of viewing the Deity in relation to time we view Him in relation to space, we shall feel the mystery of his being to be alike impracticable and impervious. But we shall not again venture on aught so inconceivable, yet the reality of which so irresistibly obtrudes itself upon the mind, as immensity without limits; nor shall we presume one conjecture upon a question which we have no means of resolving, whether the Universe have its terminating outskirts; and so, however stupendous to our eye, shrink by its very finitude, to an atom, in the midst of that unoccupied and unpeopled vastness by which it is surrounded. Let us satisfy ourselves with a humbler flight. Let us carry the speculation no further than our senses have carried it. Let us but take account of the suns and systems which the telescope has unfolded; though for aught we know there might, beyond the furthest range of this instrument, be myriads of remoter suns and remoter systems. Let us, however, keep within the circle of our
actual discoveries, within the limits of that scene which we know to be peopled with realities; and instead of trying to dilate our imagination to the infinity beyond it, let us but think of God as sitting in state and in high sovereignty over millions of other worlds beside
own. If this Earth which we know and know so imperfectly form so small a part of His works--what an emphasis it gives to the lesson that we indeed know a very small part of his ways. “ These are part of his ways,” said a holy man of old, “but how little a portion is heard of Him." Here the revelations of Astronomy, in our modern day, accord with the direct spiritual revelations of a former age. In this sentiment at least the Patriarch and the Philosopher are at one; and highest science meets and is in harmony with deepest sacredness. So that we construct the same lesson, whether we employ the element of space or the element of time. With the one the basis of the argument is the ephemeral experience of our little day. With the other the basis of the argument is the contracted observation of our little sphere. They both alike serve to distance man from the infinite the everlasting God.
4. But it will somewhat dissipate this felt obscurity of the science, and give more of distinctness and definiteness to the whole of this transcendental contemplation—if we distinguish aright between the Ethics of Theology, and the Objects of Theology.
5. To understand this distinction let us conceive some certain relation between two individual