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• It may perhaps be objected, that “one re“striction, though it be but one, really circum“ scribes human happiness.”
But surely it does not, unless it can be proved, that arbitrary choice and peevish discontent are the just and unalienable privileges of natural man. If the Almighty, having gifted his creature with curiosity and intellect, had, at the same time, left him no sufficient channels for its proportionate gratification ; (nay, let us go mucli farther, and allow, even for its utmost restlessness ;) there might have been some ground of complaint. As things are, we cannot but bé persuaded, that no cause of just complaint exists. For surely none will think, that there is defect of occupation for the mind; or that the whole compass of permissible knowledge has yet been searched by any man!
Wherefore, (to close this part of our consideration,) let attention be requested to what appears an accessory sign, in this same point, of the adaptation of all our heavenly Father's dealings to that which he knows to be in man; I mean, his merciful shortening of the term of this present natural life, after that all-seeing justice had been once compelled to destroy the world for its disobedience. .
I call it “ merciful ;” because, though we can conceive no length of days, which could enable man, with his present faculties, to exhaust all
that is made subject to his intellect; yet observing the scarcely credible rapidity of some minds, and the no less wonderful retention of others; we may well conceive a far severer (nay,
too severe a) test of resignation and patience To paar Jávow to arise from length of years. “ To learn, is sdó. Aristot. Rhet. b. i.c.“ pleasant:" but to be ever learning, and never
able to come to the knowledge of the truth, (I mean merely in matters of lawful, and curious, and ardent speculation,) is a condition, which we may well imagine to grow wearisome by too great length of time. Hope delayed might well make the heart sick, in such matters. We may find an infidel amusing himself on the brink of the grave with imaginary wishes for a little longer respite, and a little yet, that he might witness the result of this or that speculationC; but I am persuaded, that the heart which really loves knowledge most truly and most wisely will be affected very differently. From every fresh addition to its store (as far as concerns itself) it will only derive increase to that desire, wherewith it longs to become disentangled
< This refers to the account of Mr. Hume's death given in the “ Letter from Dr. Adam Smith to Mr. Strahan,” prefixed to “ Hume's History of England.” I am well aware, that quite a contrary inference to that here implied may be drawn by many, with respect to Mr. Hume's own case, from tbe particular passage here alluded to. Let this speak for itself. I have only to disclaim the intention of throwing out insinuations unjustly or uncharitably.
altogether from a state of imperfection ; and to be present in the fulness of that light, wherein every thing that is in part shall be done away. Cf. 1 Cor. Here, then, in one of the most interesting and important of all points, (I mean, the shortening of human life,) we find a representation of Scripture, which may be accounted favourable to its credibility and divine authority on the safest grounds of reason and experience. For certainly, as to the bare matter of fact, such representation corresponds, in the strictest manner, (as far as we know and have seen,) with the state of life as at present existing : and, accepting it as true, we can perceive at once a satisfactory explanation of it, by referring it, as a provision, to the wisdom and mercy of an Omnipotent Spirit, who knew, and knows, what is in man.
To return. This train of thought has drawn us aside to an application of the text somewhat different from that on which we wish to lay our stress, and which is this : not only, that the Bible thus discovers a previous contemplation of the habits and faculties of man, and an adequate provision for their wholesome direction ; but " that its substance is the very likeness of man:" I mean its moral substance, as it appears through all its historical details, its exhortations, and its prohibitions.
I enter on this topic with great reverence: for it is not to be expected, but that the light in
which the sacred Volume will, in what follows, be pointed out to contemplation, in order to arrive at a clear understanding of the point before us, is such as may startle and disturb, if not offend, many pious sensibilities. If it be a wrong light, may He, who is the divine Author of that holy book, mercifully forgive a mistaken apprehension! and may the care of his watchful servants guard it from pernicious effect!
For myself, then, loving and reverencing the Bible with an unreserved affection and homage, I have, nevertheless, been often painfully compelled to think, that, in very many cases, (after accepting it upon the strength of various evidences, and being more than unwilling either to dispute or to hear it disputed,) we do not allow ourselves to meet its internal difficulties with sufficient courage and honesty. We condemn the unbeliever severely and peremptorily; but if the case be that (and it is undoubtedly.possible) of a respectful unbeliever, we do not estimate the solid weight of his scruples with that fit measure of candour towards him, and of severity towards ourselves, which may at once render us merciful to a condition in which we would not stand for worlds, and most truly thankful to that heavenly Comforter whose grace hath saved us from it! We rest our own assurance, under perplexities, far too much upon detached explanations and partial solutions ; (nay,
I do not fear to say, upon explanations, ingenious and conclusive enough, where we are willing to accept the best that can be given, but decidedly and necessarily imperfect ;) instead of facing the whole body of enticements tempting to an evil heart of unbelief, and accounting for Hebr. iii." them to our consciences upon broad general principles ; I mean “ the whole body of such “ temptation," as it arises, not out of the reiterated, and (we believe) refuted, objections of our adversaries; but out of the very volume of Scripture itself.
Is it, then, acknowledging more than is true, or than piety and prudence can justify, to acknowledge, that “the Bible, as a whole, is not “exactly, the sort of record, which our first in“ voluntary impulse makes us wish to find, as " the revelation of a perfect Being, and the law “ of perfect purity ?"
If it be not, it is certainly desirable that we should be enabled to account for this; and especially at a season when the holy Volume is disseminated with such general earnestness : for it must unavoidably fall into the hands of many, to whom no rigorous and partial explanations of high doctrines alone can render it acceptable, or make it that instrument of grace unto repentance and holiness, which it ought everywhere to be.
Let an impartial attention, therefore, be bestowed on the following considerations.