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THE IMPERFECTION OF OUR KNOWLEDGE IN THE PRESENT STATE.
1 CORINTHIANS xiii. 9.-We know in part.
THERE is no subject of human investigation which does not present its difficulties and mysteries. Whether we direct our inquiries to matter or mind, to the productions of the earth or the luminaries of heaven, questions suggest themselves which we are unable to answer; and the mortifying conviction is forced on us, that beyond the boundary which limits our knowledge, there are numberless particulars which no human understanding is competent to explore.
If there be any department of inquiry in which difficulties and mysteries might certainly have been anticipated-it is religion; for "if we inquire into earthly things and understand not, how shall we understand if we inquire into heavenly things ?”
It has been said, indeed, that "where mystery begins religion ends;" but the reverse of the assertion would have been nearer the truth. Almost everything in religion is closely connected with objects of which infinity is an attribute; but the faculties of a created spirit are necessarily finite, and must therefore be inadequate to the comprehension of that which is infinite. Besides, the faculties of the human soul have
been fearfully enfeebled and debased by the fall, so that to their original and necessary limitation has been superadded a deplorable, acquired inaptitude for the contemplation and apprehension of spiritual things. It is to be recollected further, that the design of divine revelation is to inform us only of what is necessary or useful; but from the connexion subsisting among its different subjects, it is impossible to do this without mentioning or suggesting other topics, a complete knowledge of which is neither necessary nor attainable. It may be remarked finally, that the whole system of religion has a manifest reference to the future state and the invisible world; but the objects of the future state and the invisible world are so dissimilar to those of the present scene, that even if full information had been communicated respecting them, our present faculties. would probably have been incompetent to receive it.
Conformably to what these considerations might have led us to anticipate, we find that religion presents many subjects of which our knowledge is unavoidably limited and imperfect. It is true, indeed, that everything indispensable to be known, in order to salvation, is so clearly and fully stated in Scripture, that "he that runs may read it." It is also true, however, that doctrines the most plain and important stand frequently in immediate contiguity and in intimate connexion with "things hard to be understood ;" and that we cannot push our inquiries a single step, in almost any direction, beyond the circle which circumscribes necessary things, but we enter the region of obscurity and mystery. We find, too, that while the truths which we are required to believe respecting some of the most interesting objects of religion are perfectly intelligible, and are attested by evidence the most satisfactory, there are many other particulars connected with them of which
we know comparatively little, or of which we know nothing at all. So overpowering is the splendour with which these objects are invested, that nothing more than their most prominent features can be distinctly seen; and such is the amplitude of their dimensions, that they stretch immeasurably beyond the reach of the most powerful eye. "We know but in part. Now we see through a glass and darkly."
It is, my friends, a matter of great practical importance that we be deeply impressed with a sense of the present imperfection of our religious knowledge. I shall, therefore, direct your attention to some points in religion which we know but partially.
I. We are but imperfectly acquainted with the nature and attributes of God.
Of the grand system of religion God himself is the sun and the centre, but, unlike the natural sun, He is an object "dark with excessive brightness"-invisible from overpowering radiance. "In him you live and move, and have your being;"* but though he is above you, and around you, and within you, though his presence pervades and actuates the whole system of nature, he is not discernible by the eye, nor by any of our corporeal senses. As the presence of the Deity is not an object of perception to any of the senses of the body, so his essence and his attributes are in a great measure concealed from the faculties of the mind. "Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? it is deeper than hell; what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea."†
These humbling interrogations might be proposed to