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take the Saviour as their portion, to go on with me through the remaining chapters of the book, which I shall devote entirely to the instruction of those who are altogether Christians.
DIFFICULTIES IN RELIGION.
"The secret things belong unto the Lord our God."
THE Young Christian, conscientiously desiring to know and to do his duty, is at the outset of his course perplexed by a multitude of difficulties which are more or less remotely connected with the subject of religion, and which will arise to his view. These difficulties in many cases cannot be removed. The embarrassing perplexity, however, which arises from them, always can, and it is to this subject that I wish to devote the present chapter. My plan will be, in the first place, to endeavour thoroughly to convince all who read it that difficulties must be expected,difficulties, too, which they cannot entirely surmount; and, in the second place, to explain and illustrate the spirit with which they must be met.
It is characteristic of the human mind not to be willing to wait long in suspense on any question presented to it for decision, When any new question or new subject comes before us, we grasp hastily at the little information in regard to it within our immediate reach, and then hurry to a decision. We are not often willing to wait to consider whether the subject is fairly within the grasp of our powers, and whether all the facts which are important to a proper con
It is not
sideration of it are before us. We decide at once. pleasant to be in suspense. Suspense implies ignorance, and to admit ignorance is humiliating.
Hence most persons have a settled belief upon almost every question which has been brought before them. In expressing their opinions they mention things which they believe, and things which they do not believe, but very few people have a third class of questions, which they acknow ledge to be beyond their grasp, so that in regard to them they can neither believe nor disbelieve, but must remain in suspense. Now this is the secret of nine-tenths of the difference of opinion, and of the sharp disputes by which this world is made so noisy a scene. Men jump at conclusions before they distinctly understand the premises, and as each one sees only a part of what he ought to see before forming his opinion, it is not surprising that each should see a different part, and should consequently be led to different results. They then fall into a dispute, each presenting his own partial view, and shutting his eyes to that exhibited by his opponent.
Some of the mistakes which men thus fall into are melancholy; others only ludicrous. Some European traveller showed a map of the world to a Chinese philosopher. The philosopher looked at it a few moments, and then turned with proud and haughty look, and said to the bystanders"This map is entirely wrong; the English know nothing of geography. They have got China out upon one side of the world, whereas it is, in fact, exactly in the middle."
Multitudes of amusing stories are related by travellers of the mistakes, and misconceptions, and false reasonings of semi-barbarous people, about the subjects of European science and philosophy. They go to reasoning at once, and fall into the grossest errors, but still they have much more confidence in their silly speculations than in any evidence which their minds are capable of receiving. But you will say, do you mean to compare us with such savages? Yes, the human mind, in its tendencies, is everywhere the same. The truths which relate to the world of spirits are to us what European science is to a South Sea islander. Our minds experience the same difficulty in grasping them, and we hurry to the same wild speculations and false conclusions.
It is not surprising that the truths contained in a revelation from heaven should be beyond our grasp. We cannot even fairly grasp the truths relating to the mere physical motions of this earth. We know, for instance, that the distinction downwards is only towards the earth. Now let your imagination extend half round the globe. Think of the people who are standing upon it, exactly opposite to ourselves, and to try to realize that downwards is towards the earth there. You believe it, I know, but can you, in the expressive phrase of children, make it seem so?
Again, you know, if you believe that the earth revolves, that the room you are in revolves with it, and that consequently it was six hours ago in a position the reverse of what it now is, so that the floor was in a direction corresponding to that of the walls now. Now, can you, by any mental effort, realize this? Or will you acknowledge that even this simple astronomical subject is beyond your grasp?
Once more. Suppose the earth and sun and stars were all annihilated, and one small ball existed alone in space. You can imagine this state of things for a moment. Now there would be, as you well know, if you have the slightest astronomical knowledge, no down or up in such case, for there would be no central body to attract. Now when you fancy this ball, thus floating in empty space, can you realize that there would be no tendency in it to move in one direction rather than another? You may believe, on authority, that it would not move; but fix your mind upon for a moment, and then look off from it, first in one direction, then in another, until you have looked in every direction, and can you make all these seem the same? No, we cannot divest ourselves of the impression that one of these is more properly up, and the other more properly down, though the slightest astronomical knowledge will convince us that this impression is a mere delusion. Even this simple and unquestionable truth is beyond the grasp of the human mind, at least until after it has, by very long contemplation on such subjects, divested itself of the prejudices of the
Is it surprising, then, that when a revelation comes to us from a world which is entirely unseen and unknown, describing to us in some degree God's character, and the principles of his government, that there should be many things
There are, and
in it which we cannot understand? No. from the nature of the case must bè, a thousand difficulties, insuperable to us at present. Now if we do not cordially feel and admit this, we shall waste much time in needless perplexity. My object in this chapter is to convince all who read it, that they must expect to find difficulties, insuperable difficulties, in the various aspects of religious truth, and to try to persuade you to admit this, and to repose quietly in acknowledged ignorance, in those cases where the human mind cannot know. The difficulties are never questions of practical duty, and sometimes are very remotely connected with any religious truth. Some of them I shall however describe, not with the design of explaining them, because I purposely collect such as I believe cannot be explained satisfactorily to young persons; but with the design of bringing all cordially to feel that they must be ignorant, and that they may as well acknowledge their ignorance at once.
First difficulty. It is a common opinion that God existed before the creation of the world, alone and unemployed, from eternity. Now the difficulty is this. How could a being who was infinite in benevolence and power waste all that time, when it might have been employed in making millions and millions happy? The creation was not far from six thousand years ago, and six thousand years compared with the eternity beyond are nothing. So that it follows that almost the whole of the existence of a benevolent and omnipotent Being, who delights in doing good and promoting happiness, has been spent in doing nothing.
Perhaps some one will make a feeble effort to escape from the difficulty by supposing, what is very probably true, that other worlds were created long before this. But let such an one consider, that however remote the first creation may have been, there is beyond it, so far as we can see, an eternity of solitude and inaction.
Remember, I say, so far as we can see, for I am far from believing that Jehovah has ever wasted time. I know nothing about it. I can see and reason just far enough to perceive that the whole subject is beyond my grasp, and I leave it, contented not to know, and not to pretend to know, any thing about it.
After reading these remarks at one time to an assembly
of young persons, several of them gathered around me, and attempted to shew that there was in fact no difficulty in this first case.
"Why," said I, "what explanation have you?"
"I think," was the reply," that God might have been creating worlds from all eternity, and thus never have been unemployed."
"If that had been the case," replied I, "would or would not some one of these worlds have been eternal ?"
"Yes, Sir," they all answered with one voice.
"Then you suppose that some of these worlds were eternal and others not. The first which were created had no beginning, but after a time, according to this hypothesis, Jehovah began to create them at definite periods. This is evidently absurd. Besides, those which were eternal must have existed as long as God has existed, and if you admit that, it seems that you must admit that they are independent of God, for if they have existed for ever, they could not have been created."
One of the party attempted to avoid this by saying, that though the whole series of creations has been eternal, yet that every particular creation may have been at some definite point of time, so that each one world has had but a limited existence, though the whole series has been eternal. "But," said I, can you conceive-clearly conceive-of an eternal series of creations of matter, without believing that some matter itself is eternal? And if you suppose matter itself to be eternal, can you understand how God can have created that which has existed as long as he has himself?"
This was the substance of the conversation, which, however, in all its details, occupied half an hour. And I believe all who engaged in it cordially acknowledged, that the whole subject was entirely beyond the grasp of their minds.
As this book may fall into the hands of some theological scholar, I beg that he will bear in mind that I do not present this subject as one that would perplex him, but as one which must perplex the young. I maintain that whatever trained metaphysicians may understand, or fancy that they can understand, it is entirely beyond the reach of such minds as those for whom this book is intended.
Second difficulty. When in a still and cloudless summer