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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

that its in

differs from most other ideas of the class to which I have referred it, only in this respect, adequacy 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.

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

finite, or when they are multiplied beyond very narrow limits, my imagination fails and is altogether confounded. But the same is the case with regard to much humbler subjects. No ideas can be more definite, considered as objects of the understanding, than those which relate to number and quantity; yet it is principally collective and aggregate ideas involving the notion of great numbers or vast quantity, that the imagination is thus unable to embrace. When I am told that there are more than six hundred millions of inhabitants upon the earth, I understand the proposition as perfectly, as when I am told that there are six individuals in a certain room. But of the latter my imagination can form a distinct conception, of the former it cannot. I have no images in my mind which correspond in any considerable degree to the immense number of individuals mentioned; or to that vast mass of matter with all its various modifications which constitutes the earth. Still less can one form distinct images of what astronomy has made known to us respecting the universe. But who will pretend that man cannot comprehend the truths which man has discovered? We need not, however, go so far for examples. I can form no image of a figure with twenty equal sides, none which shall distinguish it from a similar figure of nineteen or twenty-one. But I am surely able to comprehend propositions respecting such a figure with twenty sides; and I have a very clear idea of it as an object of the understanding. The fact therefore that our imagi

nations cannot conceive of omniscience, has no bearing to prove that our reason cannot comprehend the propositions which we make concerning it. When indeed we regard omniscience as infinite knowledge, then our ideas respecting it, however clear, must be inadequate. But, as I have just shown, propositions relating to inadequate ideas may be altogether intelligible.

Language then cannot be formed into propositions having a meaning, which meaning is not, in itself considered, fully to be comprehended. This is merely saying, in other terms, that the human mind is capable of comprehending the ideas of the human mind, for no other ideas are associated with, or can be expressed by, language. What then is the character of those propositions, said to be derived from the Scriptures, which are called incomprehensible; and which, it is affirmed, express mysteries above human reason? I answer, that so far as they have a meaning, they are intelligible; and that many of them are, in fact, propositions which are perfectly intelligible. When I am told that the same being is both God and man, I recognize, as I have before said, a very intelligible, though a very absurd proposition, that is, I know well all the senses which the words admit. When it is affirmed that "the Father is God, and the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God; and yet there are not three Gods, but one God"; no words can more clearly convey any meaning,

* See pp. 57, 58.

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