« AnteriorContinua »
may be said to study the lessons of natural astronomy.
There was such an astronomy prior to the invention of the telescope ; and even still, the limits could be assigned between those truths or doctrines of the whole science of astronomy which lie within the ken of the natural eye, and those that lie without the ken of the natural eye, but within the ken of the telescope.
34. And so truly of moral philosophy. Within the natural eyesight of the mind, there may be clearly perceived—not alone those objects of the science which are placed immediately around us upon earth; but there may also be perceived, though dimly and hazily we allow, one heavenly object of the seience. The light of nature reaches more or less a certain way into the region of celestial ethics; and so there is a natural theology which, however dull or imperfect the medium through which it is viewed, presents us with something different from a total obscuration. There is a book of observation open to all men, in whose characters, indistinct though they be, we may read if not the signals at least the symptoms of a Divinity--and which, if not enough for the purpose of our seeing, are at least enough to make us responsible for the direction in which we are looking. The doctrines of this natural theology may not bear the decided impress of verities upon themso that as the conclusions of a full and settled belief they may not be valuable. But they at least stand forth in the aspect of verisimilitudes
so that as calls to attention and further inquiry they are highly valuable. There was such a theology prior to the Christian revelationand even still there is a real, though not perhaps very definable limit between those truths of the whole science of theology which lie within the ken of nature, and those which lie without the ken of nature, but within the ken of revelation.
35. And lastly, the telescope hath immeasurably extended the dominion of astronomical science. Objects, though before within the limits of vision yet descried but faintly, have had vivid illumination shed upon them; and an immensity teeming with secrets before undiscoverable hath been evolved on the contemplation of men. A world hath been expanded into a universe; and natural astronomy shrinks into a very little thing, when compared with that mighty system which the great instrument of modern revelation hath unfolded. What an injustice to this noble science, on the part of one of its expounders—did he limit himself to the information of the eye; and forbear every allusion to the powers or informations of the telescope. What a creeping and inadequate representation could he bring forth of it, if with no other materials than the phenomena of vision, he was barred either by ignorance of the telescope, or by a wilful contempt for its performances, from the glories of the higher astronomy.
36. This consummates the analogy. By what may be termed an instrument of discovery too, a spiritual telescope, the science of Theology has been extended beyond its natural dimensions. By the word of God, the things of Heaven have been brought nigh to us; and the mysteries of an 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