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7. To begin with the latter: You do already believe many things which you cannot comprehend. For you believe there is a sun over your head. But whether he stands still in the midst of his system, or not only revolves on his own axis, but "rejoiceth as a giant to run his course;" you cannot comprehend either one or the other: how he moves, or how he rests. By what power, what natural, mechanical power, is he upheld in the fluid ether? You cannot deny the fact: yet you cannot account for it, so as to satisfy any rational inquirer. You may, indeed, give us the hypothesis of Ptolemy, Tycho Brahe, Copernicus, and twenty more. I have read them over and over: I am sick of them; I care not three straws for them all.
"Each new solution but once more affords
New change of terms, and scaffolding of words :
And take my doubt the very same I gave."
Still I insist, the fact you believe, you cannot deny; but the manner you cannot comprehend.
8. You believe there is such a thing as light, whether flowing from the sun, or any other luminous body; but you cannot comprehend either its nature, or the manner wherein it flows. How does it move from Jupiter to the earth in eight minutes; two hundred thousand miles in a moment? How do the rays of the candle, brought into the room, instantly disperse into every corner? Again, here are three candles, yet there is but one light. Explain this, and I will explain the threeone God.
9. You believe there is such a thing as air. It both covers you as a garment, and,
Embraces round this florid earth."
But can you comprehend how? Can you give me a satisfactory account of its nature, or the cause of its properties? Think only of one, its elasticity: can you account for this? It may be owing to electric fire attached to each particle of it: it may not; and neither you nor I can tell. But if we will not breathe it, till we can comprehend it, our life is very near its period.
10. You believe there is such a thing as earth. Here you fix your foot upon it: you are supported by it. But do you comprehend what it is that supports the earth? Oh, an elephant;" says a Malabarian philosopher, "and a bull supports him." But what supports the bull? The Indian and the Briton are equally at a loss for an answer. We know it is God that "spreadeth the north over the empty space, and hangeth the earth upon nothing." This is the fact. But how? Who can account for this? Perhaps angelic, but not human creatures.
I know what is plausibly said concerning the powers of projection and attraction. But spin as fine as we can, matter of fact sweeps away our cobweb hypothesis. Connect the force of projection and attraction how you can, they will never produce a circular motion. The moment the projected steel comes within the attraction of the magnet, it does not form a curve, but drops down.
11. You believe you have a soul. "Hold there," says the doctor :* "I believe no such thing. If you have an immaterial soul, so have the * Dr. Bl―r, in his late Tract.
brutes too." I will not quarrel with any that think they have; nay, wish he could prove it: and surely I would rather allow them souls, than I would give up my own. In this I cordially concur in the sentiment of the honest heathen, Si erro, libenter erro; et me redargui valde recusem. If I err, I err willingly; and I vehemently refuse to be convinced of it. And I trust most of those who do not believe a Trinity are of the same mind. Permit me then to go on. You believe you have a soul connected with this house of clay. But can you comprehend how? What are the ties that unite the heavenly flame with the earthly clod? You understand just nothing of the matter. So it is; but how, none can tell.
12. You surely believe you have a body, together with your soul, and that each is dependant on the other. Run only a thorn into your hand; immediately pain is felt in your soul. On the other side, is shame felt in your soul? Instantly a blush overspreads your cheek. Does the soul feel fear or violent anger? Presently the body trembles. These also are facts which you cannot deny; nor can you account for them.
13. I bring but one instance more: at the command of your soul, your hand is lifted up. But who is able to account for this? For the connection between the act of the mind, and the outward actions? Nay, who can account for muscular motion at all; in any instance of it whatever? When one of the most ingenious physicians in England had finished his lecture upon that head, he added, "Now, gentlemen, I have told you all the discoveries of our enlightened age; and now, if you understand one jot of the matter, you understand more than I do.”
The short of the matter is this: those who will not believe any thing but what they can comprehend, must not believe that there is a sun in the firmament; that there is light shining around them; that there is air, though it encompasses them on every side; that there is any earth, though they stand upon it. They must not believe that they have a soul; no, nor that they have a body.
14. But, secondly, as strange as it may seem, in requiring you to believe, that "there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one;" you are not required to believe any mystery. Nay, that great and good man, Dr. Peter Browne, some time bishop of Cork, has proved at large, that the Bible does not require you to believe any mystery at all. The Bible barely requires you to believe such facts; not the manner of them. Now the mystery does not lie in the fact, but altogether in the manner. For instance: " God said, Let there be light: and there was light.' I believe it: I believe the plain fact: there is no mystery at all in this. The mystery lies in the manner of it. But of this I believe nothing at all; nor does God require it of me
Again : "The Word was made flesh." I believe this fact also. There is no mystery in it; but as to the manner, how he was made flesh, wherein the mystery lies, I know nothing about it; I believe nothing about it: it is no more the object of my faith, than it is of my understanding
15. To apply this to the case before us : "There are three that bear record in heaven; and these three are one." I believe this fact also, (if I may use the expression,) that God is three and one. But the manner, how, I do not comprehend; and I do not believe it. Now in this, in the manner, lies the mystery; and so it may; I have no concern
with it it is no object of my faith: I believe just so much as God has revealed, and no more. But this, the manner, he has not revealed; therefore I believe nothing about it. But would it not be absurd in me to deny the fact, because I do not understand the manner? That is, to reject what God has revealed, because I do not comprehend what he has not revealed.
16. This is a point much to be observed. There are many things .. which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive." Part of these God hath "revealed to us by his Spirit:"-" Revealed;" that is, unveiled, uncovered: that part he requires us to believe. Part of them he has not revealed: that we need not, and indeed, cannot believe: it is far above, out of our sight.
Now where is the wisdom of rejecting what is revealed, because we do not understand what is not revealed? Of denying the fact, which God has unveiled, because we cannot see the manner, which is veiled still?
17. Especially when we consider that what God has been pleased to reveal upon this head, is far from being a point of indifference; is a truth of the last importance. It enters into the very heart of Christianity: it lies at the root of all vital religion.
Unless these three are one, how can "all men honour the Son, even as they honour the Father?" "I know not what to do," says Socinus in a letter to his friend, "with my untoward followers: they will not worship Jesus Christ. I tell them, it is written, 'Let all the angels of God worship him.' They answer, However that be, if he is not God, we dare not worship him. For it is written, thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.'"
But the thing which I here particularly mean, is this: the knowledge of the Three-One God is interwoven with all true Christian faith; with all vital religion.
I do not say, that every real Christian can say with the Marquis de Renty, "I bear about with me continually an experimental verity, and a plenitude of the presence of the ever blessed Trinity." I apprehend this is not the experience of "babes," but rather "fathers in Christ.”
But I know not how any one can be a Christian believer, till he "hath [as St. John speaks] the witness in himself;" till "the Spirit of God witnesses with his spirit, that he is a child of God;" that is, in effect, till God the Holy Ghost witnesses that God the Father has accepted him through the merits of God the Son: and, having this witness, he honours the Son, and the blessed Spirit, even as he honours the Father."
18. Not that every Christian believer adverts to this; perhaps, at first, not one in twenty: but if you ask any of them a few questions, you will easily find it is implied in what he believes.
Therefore I do not see how it is possible for any to have vital religion, who denies that these three are one. And all my hope for them is, not that they will be saved, during their unbelief; (unless on the footing of honest heathens, upon the plea of invincible ignorance ;) but that God, before they go hence, will" bring them to the knowledge of the truth."
SERMON LXI.—God's Approbation of His Works.
"And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good,” Gen. i, 31.
1. WHEN God created the heavens and the earth, and all that is therein, at the conclusion of each day's work, it is said, " And God saw that it was good." Whatever was created was good in its kind; suited to the end for which it was designed; adapted to promote the good of the whole, and the glory of the great Creator. This sentence it pleased God to pass with regard to each particular creature. But there is a remarkable variation of the expression, with regard to all the parts of the universe, taken in connection with each other, and constituting one system: "And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good."
2. How small a part of this great work of God is man able to understand! But it is our duty to contemplate what he has wrought, and to understand as much of it as we are able. For " the merciful Lord,” as the psalmist observes," hath so done his marvellous works" of creation, as well as of providence," that they ought to be had in remembrance" by all that fear him; which they cannot well be, unless they are understood. Let us, then, by the assistance of that Spirit who giveth unto man understanding, endeavour to take a general survey of the works which God made in this lower world, as they were before they were disordered and depraved in consequence of the sin of man: we shall then easily see, that as every creature was good in its primeval state; so, when all were compacted in one general system," behold, they were very good." I do not remember to have seen any attempt of this kind, unless in that truly excellent poem, (termed by Mr. Hutchinson, “That wicked farce!") Milton's "Paradise Lost."
I. 1. "In the beginning God created the matter of the heavens and the earth." (So the words, as a great man observes, may properly be translated.) He first created the four elements, out of which the whole universe was composed; earth, water, air, and fire, all mingled together in one common mass. The grossest parts of this, the earth and water, were utterly without form, till God infused a principle of motion, commanding the air to move" upon the face of the waters." In the next place, "the Lord God said, Let there be light: and there was light." Here were the four constituent parts of the universe; the true, original, simple elements. They were all essentially distinct from each other; and yet so intimately mixed together, in all compound bodies, that we cannot find any, be it ever so minute, which does not contain them all. 2. And God saw that" every one of these "was good;" was perfect, in its kind. The earth was good. The whole surface of it was beautiful in a high degree. To make it more agreeable,
The universal face with pleasant green."
He adorned it with flowers of every hue, and with shrubs and trees of every kind. And every part was fertile as well as beautiful; it was no way deformed by rough or ragged rocks; it did not shock the view with horrid precipices, huge chasms, or dreary caverns; with deep, impass
able morasses, or deserts of barren sand. But we have not any authority to say, with some learned and ingenious authors, that there were no mountains on the original earth, no unevenness on its surface. It is not easy to reconcile this hypothesis with those words of Moses, "The waters prevailed; and all the high hills that were under the whole heaven, were covered. Fifteen cubits upward [above the highest] did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered," Gen. vii, 19–23. We have no reason to believe that these mountains were produced by the deluge itself: not the least intimation of this is given: therefore we cannot doubt but they existed before it.-Indeed they answered many excellent purposes, besides greatly increasing the beauty of the creation, by a variety of prospects, which had been totally lost had the earth been one extended plain. Yet we need not suppose their sides were abrupt, or difficult of ascent. It is highly probable that they rose and fell by almost insensible degrees.
3. As to the internal parts of the earth, even to this day, we have scarce any knowledge of them. Many have supposed the centre of the globe to be surrounded with an abyss of fire. Many others have imagined it to be encompassed with an abyss of water; which they supposed to be termed in Scripture," the great deep," Gen. vii, 11; all the fountains of which were broken up, in order to the general deluge. But, however this was, we are sure all things were disposed therein with the most perfect order and harmony. Hence there were no agitations within the bowels of the globe; no violent convulsions; no concussions of the earth; no earthquakes; but all was unmoved as the pillars of heaven! There were then no such things as eruptions of fire; there were no volcanoes, or burning mountains. Neither Vesuvius, Etna, nor Hecla, if they had any being, then poured out smoke and flame, but were covered with a verdant mantle, from the top to the bottom.
4. The element of water, it is probable, was then mostly confined within the great abyss. In the new earth, (as we are informed by the apostle, Rev. xxi, 1,)" there will be no more sea;" none covering as now the face of the earth, and rendering so large a part of it uninhabitable by man. Hence it is probable, there was no external sea in the paradisiacal earth; none, until the great deep burst the barriers which were originally appointed for it.-Indeed there was not then that need of the ocean for navigation which there is now: for either, as the poet supposes,
Omnis tulit omnia tellus ;
every country produced whatever was requisite either for the necessity or comfort of its inhabitants; or man, being then (as he will be again at the resurrection) equal to angels, was made able to convey himself, at his pleasure, to any given distance; over and above that, those flaming messengers were always ready to minister to the heirs of salvation. But whether there was sea or not, there were rivers sufficient to water the earth, and make it very plenteous. These answered all the purposes of convenience and pleasure, by
"liquid lapse of murmuring stream;"
to which were added gentle, genial showers, with salutary mists and exhalations. But there were no putrid lakes, no turbid or stagnating waters; but only such as