« НазадПродовжити »
Lord speaks of the ceaseless work of God, “ My Father worketh hitherto.” In nature we see this. Its uninterrupted procedure, in instances bewildering from their number and variety, cannot possibly be accounted for but from the continued exercise of the divine power. And only to mention Omnipotence,—unless we add to it Wisdom and Skill. Look at the universe: the myriads on myriads of vast bodies spread out in space, the contemplation of which almost produces a feeling of giddiness like that occasioned by looking down from some fearful altitude. Look at the arrangements of the solar system; the skill with which every creature is constituted, from the unwieldy elephant and hippopotamus, to the microscopic world of animalcules; the wisdom of their adaptations to the circumstances in which they were made to exist, or the designs they were intended to fulfil. What is all this but a vast and yet particular commentary on some most important portions of the scriptural text? In fact, in how many parts of the Bible does God send us to nature for this very purpose? The Psalms abound in such references; and our Lord teaches us wisdom from herbs and flowers. If we have the opportunity of devoutly studying nature, we sin if we do not avail ourselves of it. And our sin finds us out. How much pleasure, how much profit, do we thus lose! But I will advert to this again.
J. It is said that such studies have made many infidels.
S. Infidels have prosecuted these studies, but they would have been infidels without them. They can never get over the fact, that no man can read and understand the commentary of nature but those who have been educated in the text of Scripture. If nature contradicted Scripture, the case would be different; but, within a certain range, it illustrates and confirms it. The Bible says certain things of God. We go to nature, and find that these things are so. But there are limits into which nature enters not: God's moral government of law and redemption. This he makes known and describes, and its illustrations come from his own proceedings. But here is a confirmatory argument. If the teaching of Scripture is thus found to be so accurate, where we can test it by natural observation and science, we may well admit its teaching on
subjects in themselves evidently beyond nature. “Ye believe in God," said our Lord, “ believe also in me.”
J. But it is a fact, that many professed natural theologians have been, to say the least, very ill-affected to revelation. Can you account for it?
S. Perhaps some of them may have been offended with the unguarded manner in which some professed friends of revelation have spoken, as if nature really taught nothing ; because it does not teach everything, or because it does not teach primarily. And then, they fall into the opposite extreme. They say that they infer from what they find in nature certain perfections in its great Author. They forget that they carried their knowledge along with them to their studies. They have found nothing new, unless they choose to call a particular illustration something new, which it is not. God's attributes are plainly declared in Scripture; and nature is repeatedly quoted, in general, as illustrating them. They find instances of illustration ; nothing more. A correct logic would confirm them in their belief of Scripture. If this be weakened, their logie is as bad as their divinity. But I fear the true reason lies deeper . First; He who comes to revelation must come as a humble scholar, and receive “with all readiness of mind ” (like the Bereans) the lessons which are there taught. Not that no mental effort is required. The utmost degree will find that it may be well exercised, and will be abundantly re warded. Treasures of the most important wisdom and truth will be found there, by those who look beyond the surface. Many who rightly submit to revelation too frequently allow their researches to be superficial, when they ought to be deep. We should search for this wisdom as for “hid treasures." Still, in revelation we are scholars; in nature we seem to be discoverers : and to the pride of reason, this is the most gratifying position. Secondly, Nature discloses the perfections of God in creation, and natural providence: revelation promulgates law with its awful sanctions; pronounces on our guilt and disobedience ; declares us to be fallen and helpless; and announces a wonderful method of redemption, in which, however, “salvation" is "by grace,” and “through faith.” Humility, and penitence, and submission to the “righteousness of God,"
his own plan of justifying the ungodly through the alone and perfect merits of another, Christ, the incarnate Son of God, are absolutely required. Man is considered as man. Mere human and social distinctions, in the question of saving a sinner, are not regarded. The rich and the poor, the learned and the illiterate, the obviously wicked and the sociallyreputable, all must come to God in the same way, and receive the same blessings, from the same source, and on the same conditions. Now, when science and literature are connected with an unawakened, and therefore unhumbled and unanxious, conscience, these great subjects not only meet with no sympathy, excite no admiration, but produce a feeling of opposition and repulsion. So far as their studies in nature go, they meet with nothing of this; and therefore they prefer this “natural theology,” which, after all, in their case, is only speculative. It exercises no influence. It is a sort of notion of religion which exists in them as some work of art in their cabinet. They admire it, but it does not govern them.
J. How is it that so many pious Christians appear to be so much disinclined to these pursuits?
S. I think there are several reasons, some of them sufficient, some by no means so. I will try to point them out. First, the great majority of Christian believers have nothing like time for them. Their regular duties, religious and secular, completely occupy it. And see here the goodness of God. All that they could develop from nature in the way of principle is fully taught them in Scripture. Not only does that contain the best that may be known of God, but all. As I have said before, they might find in nature illustrations which shall make these truths more clear and impressive ; but the truths themselves they have in the Bible. O, it is a wonderful book! It would be well if they who can read no other, or only now and then one designed to explain its essential doctrines, would be more earnest in the study of them, not contenting themselves with reading a given portion at such and such times, as if the mere perusal of the word, as a formal act, were sufficient; but that they would enter more fully (using all the helps in their power, especially the public ministry of the word) into what is evidently a scripturally-enjoined duty, that of devout and regular meditation. Let them bring an honest mind, close thought, a willingness and a wish to learn, and earnest prayer to God the Spirit, by whose inspiration Scripture was given, to this work, and it would soon become as delightful to them as it would be profitable. The Psalmist well says, “ More precious than gold;" there is the value :-"Sweeter than honey ;" there is the pleasure.
But, secondly, there are many Christians, as I have intimated, who see so much evil connected with natural studies, that they fancy-one scarcely wonders at it—that it is the study which causes it. They avoid it conscientiously. I respect the feeling, though I think it is mistaken. I lament its existence, because I think that they thus deprive themselves of much advantage and pleasure. Our next conversation will show this.
There is a third class. I would speak of them with caution as well as respect, because I would not offend them; though I wish they would allow me to teach them. Unaccustomed to the exercise of thought, they do not like to take the trouble of beginning to think ; and, most assuredly, the first steps of active thought will always be found to belong to the class of what has been significantly called, dry duty. They only like such books, therefore, as are both easy, and somewhat exciting. Their reading seldom goes farther than short religious memoirs. Even these they only read; they never study them. The same indolence-for mental indolence it really is—which prevents them from extending their reading, prevents them labouring in the field to which they confine themselves. The plainest religious memoir ever written, if written truly, to be thoroughly (let me make an awkward word from the French) approfounded, would require as much hard thought as the study of nature itself. To analyze a character; to trace conduct to principle; to mark the influence of helping or hindering circumstances, all this requires mental vigour, diligently exercised, and wisely applied. I confess that I often regret to find pious young persons who seem willing to allow that great talent, the mind, to remain
unexercised; unimproved, because uncultivated. They suffer loss by this. They are in danger of being narrow-minded, easily influenced by prejudice, and weak, perhaps even unsound, in judgment. I would not turn them out of the way; but I cannot help seeing that they get on very slowly, and there will never be anything shining and impressive in their example. But I do wish I could stimulate them. I want them to do more than pick up the flowers which grow under their feet; even to dig for the rich minerals below the surface.
J. Why, if you could persuade young readers thus vigorously to apply themselves to their Bibles, and the few books which they read, they would soon want others.
S. Even so. Milk belongs to babes; and if they will be babes all their life, I am glad there is milk for them. But, this a serious subject. Turn to your New Testament, and read to me what St. Paul says upon it, in Hebrews v. 12, &c.
J. “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness; for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” This is strong language. Does it not convey a kind, but yet decided, censure on such as you have been describing ?
S. At all events, an exhortation is added, which, especially from what follows, marks it as a plain Christian duty to avoid mental sluggishness, and to secure, on religious subjects, mental activity and improvement; for to this the exhortation points,—“Let us GO ON UNTO PERFECTION.” (Heb. vi. 1.)*
* Whilst writing the above, we received the letter of " Gervasius” on the subject. We thank him for it. He will find some of his questions answered in the two conversations now given, and the reply to the rest he will have in the third and concluding one. Just now we may say that the abstract question appears to be a difficult one; but, however mysterious the dispen.