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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 often, at the outset of his course, perplexed by a multitude of difficulties which are more or less directly connected with the subject of religion, and which will arise to his view. These difficulties in many cases can not be removed. The embarrassing perplexity, however, which arises from them, always can be, and it is to this subject that I wish to devote the present chapter. My plan will be in the first place, to endeavor thoroughly to convince all who read it, that difficulties must be expected-difficulties too which they can not entirely surmount; and in the second place, to explain and illustrate the spirit with which such perplexities must be met.

It is characteristic of the human mind not to be willing to wait long in suspense, on any question produced to view. When any new question or new subject comes before us, we grasp hastily at the little information in regard to it which is 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 consideration of it are before us. We decide at once. It is not pleasant to be in suspense. Suspense implies ignoranco, and to admit ignorance is humiliating.


Story of the Chinese and the map.


Hence most persons have a settled belief upon almost question which has been brought before them. In expressing their opinions they tell us what they believe, and what they do not believe; but very few people have a third class of questions which they acknowledge 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 traveler once exhibited a map of the world to a Chinese philosopher. The philosopher looked at it a few moments, and then turned with a proud and haughty look and said to the by-standers, "This map is entirely wrong; the English know nothing of geography. They have placed China out upon one side of the world, whereas it is, in fact, exactly in the middle.”

Multitudes of amusing stories are related by travelers of the mistakes and misconceptions and false reasonings of semi-barbarous people, about the subjects of European science and philosophy. These savages go to reasoning at once, and fall into the grossest errors-but still they have much more confidence in their senseless speculations, than in any evidence which their minds are capable of receiving.

But you will perhaps ask me whether I mean to compare the reader of this book to such savages. Yes; the human

Difficulties in all subjects.

Astronomical difficulties.


mind, in its tendencies, is everywhere the same. 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 can not even fairly grasp the truths relating to the mere physical motions of this earth. We know, for instance, that the distinction downward is only toward 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 attempt to realize that downward is toward 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 a 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 it for a moment, and then look off from it, first in one direction,

Difficulties in religion to be expected.

Difficulties described.

then in another, until you have looked in every direction, and can you make all these seem the same? No, we can not 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 senses.

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, there should be many things in it which we can not now understand? No. There are, and from the nature of the case must be, 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 difficultiesinsuperable difficulties in the various aspects of religious. truth, and to persuade you to admit this, and to repose quietly in acknowledged ignorance, in those cases where the human mind can not 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 can not be explained satisfactorily to young persons, but with the design of bringing all cordially to feel that they must necessarily be ignorant, and that they may as well honestly acknowledge their ignorance, as vainly attempt to deny or to conceal it.

First difficulty. It is a common opinion that God existed before the creation of the world, alone and unemployed

First difficulty.

Attempt to avoid it.

from eternity. Now the difficulty is this: How could a being who was infinite in benevolence and power spend all that infinite period, in utter inaction, when it might have been employed in making millions and millions happy? The creation was not far from six thousand years ago, and a period of six thousand years, compared with the eternity beyond, is 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 very far from really believing that the universe has ever been the lifeless void which such a speculation would infer to have once existed. I neither believe it nor disbelieve it. 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 show 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 ?"

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