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This very plain subject has been obscured by a oose and ambiguous use of language. It is said, that we believe truths which we do not comprehend; that we believe that the grass grows; but do not know how it grows;—that we believe that some things are infinite; but that we do not comprehend infinity; - that we believe that God knows all things; but that we cannot form a conception of omniscience. Let us examine these propositions. The grass grows: do we not know what we mean when we use these words? It is as intelligible a proposition as can be stated. We affirm, and we intend nothing more than to affirm, that certain well-known, sensible phenomena take place. It is true that we do not know how it grows, that is to say, we do not know the proximate causes of its growth; and it is equally true, that we affirm nothing about those causes in the proposition stated. Our affirmation does not extend beyond our knowledge. The fact that there are many phenomena of which we cannot assign the causes, does not tend to prove that, when we affirm those phenomena to exist, we utter incomprehensible propositions.

But we say of many things, that they are or may be infinite; that space and duration are infinite; that the attributes of God are infinite; that our own existence will be infinite or without termination; and we do not understand what is meant by infinity; we do not comprehend these truths. I answer, that if we do not understand those propositions, if they are unintelligible, it is very idle

to make them. We do not comprehend infinity in itself considered; but we comprehend our own idea of infinity, with the knowledge, as in very many other cases, that it is an inadequate idea. Our ideas of things infinite are, as that word implies, essentially negative ideas. They consist in the conception of certain things, accompanied with the belief of the absence of all limit or termination, We not only have an idea of infinity, but it is impossible we should not have. The very constitution of our minds is such that we cannot, for instance,, imagine a period when time began, or when it may end. It is true that we are unable to conceive of infinity positively, we do not understand all its nature; and we can reason about it therefore but very partially. It belongs to the class of inadequate ideas, which includes far the greater portion of all our ideas; and the propositions relating to it are no more unintelligible than the propositions which relate to other ideas of this class. I affirm, that the same person who called on me to-day visited me yesterday; and there is no one, I think, who will maintain that this is an incomprehensible proposition. Yet there are few who will pretend to have a perfectly adequate idea of identity, the notion of which is involved in the proposition just stated; and many questions may be raised respecting this subject, as well as respecting infinity, by which most minds would be perplexed. I say that the sun is the

* From the Latin in negative, and finitus.

principal source of light and heat; and the proposition is perfectly intelligible. But I have not an adequate idea of the sun; there are many things concerning it, as well as concerning infinity, which I can neither affirm nor deny. I cannot say, for instance, whether, as some have imagined, it be adapted to the support of animals and vegetables, in any respect similar to those which exist upon the earth. Our idea of infinity differs from most other ideas of the class to which I have referred it, only in this respect, — that its inadequacy is occasioned by the fact, that the subject is beyond the grasp of our faculties; while the inadequacy of most other ideas seems to arise from the deficiency of our means of information. But this is a difference which does not in any degree affect the nature of the propositions made concerning it, so as to distinguish them from other propositions relating to inadequate ideas.

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But it will be said, that we have no conception of omniscience; and yet that we make propositions concerning it, which have a meaning and a very important one. I answer, that they have not only an important, but a perfectly intelligible meaning; and that this subject is of a similar kind to many others, of the nature and relations of which the understanding has distinct ideas, though they are subjects of which the imagination cannot form distinct conceptions. Fix on any particular object of knowledge, and I can conceive, in every sense of the word, that this should be known to God. But when these objects are in

ends. Whilst we are discussing any given magnitude, they are grown to it."*

"A strong and habitually indulged imagination," says Foster, "has incantations to dissolve the rigid laws of time and distance, and to place a man in something so like the presence of his object, that he seems half to possess it; and it is hard, while occupying the verge of paradise, to be flung far back in order to find or make a path to it, with the slow and toilsome steps of reality."†

Remarking upon the responsibility of writers of fictitious narratives, in regard to the characters they delineate, the same author has the following passage: "They create a new person; and in sending him into society, they can choose whether his example shall tend to improve or pervert the minds that will be compelled to admire him."‡ I will quote a few more sentences, from Young.§

"The death-bed of the just . . . .

Is it his death-bed? No; it is his shrine:
Behold him there just rising to a god."

"Shall we this moment gaze on God in man
The next, lose man for ever in the dust?"


"A Christian dwells, like Uriel, in the sun."

Speaking of the beauty of the material world, as relative to our perceptions, and existing only so far as it is perceived by the eye of man:


[Speech on Conciliation with America.]

† [Essay on the Application of the Epithet Romantic, Letter III.] [On the Aversion of Men of Taste to Evangelical Religion, Letter VIII.]

§ [Night Thoughts, II. 629; VII. 222, 1354; VI. 429.]



"But for the magic organ's powerful charm,
Earth were a rude, uncolored chaos still. . . . .
Ours is the cloth, the pencil, and the paint,
Which Nature's admirable picture draws. . .
Like Milton's Eve, when gazing on the lake,
Man makes the matchless image man admires.
Say then, shall man, his thoughts all sent abroad,
His admiration waste on objects round,

When Heaven makes him the soul of all he sees ?"

Any person in his common reading may find numberless similar passages, of which we reject without hesitation the verbal meaning, simply because it is absurd or evidently false. But this principle has not been regarded in the interpretation of Scripture. The believer in transubstantiation contends that we are to understand verbally the declaration: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have not life within you."* The sect of the Antinomians would have us take to the letter the words of St. Paul, as rendered in the Common Version: "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."† And of the believers in the doctrine of Atonement, some contend, that, when the Apostle speaks of the church as being "purchased by the blood of Christ," or, as they would have it read, "by the blood of God," we are to regard the blood of the Son as being paid, as it were, to the .Father to deliver us from his wrath. All the errors connected with Christianity have appealed for support to such verbal misinterpretations of particular

[John vi. 53.]

† [Romans iv. 5.]

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