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another bishop should publish the following creed: I believe, that in the Lord's supper the bread is changed into the real body of Christ. I believe that God is both divisible and indivisible; that he is the greatest and the least of all intelligencies; that he fills heaven and earth and yet exists no where ; that he sees and knows all things, and yet is destitute of knowledge; that he is absolutely good, and yet destitute of all goodness.
But expecting that others would object to these doctrines as self-contradictory, this bishop justifies his belief in each of them in the following manner:
"This I confess, is a mystery which I cannot possibly conceive, yet it is a truth which I can easily believe; yea, therefore it is so true that I can easily believe it, because it is so high that I cannot possibly conceive it; for it is impossible any thing should be true of the infinite Creator which can be fully expressed to the capacities of a finite creature: and for this reason, I ever did and ever shall look upon those apprehensions of God to be the truest, whereby we apprehend him to be the most incomprehensible; and that to be the most true of God, which seems most impossible unto us."
Now admitting this bishop to be both pious and learned, should we not be compelled to believe that his understanding had been greatly bewildered by the prejudices of education? But to such prejudices all men are liable. How wide then the range for the exercise of candour. By the following extract from the same bishop Beveridge we shall, however, see the consequences of admitting a mysterious doctrine, as an essential article of faith.
"Hence also it was, that all persons to be baptized were always required, either with their own mouths, if adult, or if infants, by their sureties, to make a public confession of their faith in Three Persons, into whose names they were to be baptized: For this indeed was always looked upon as the sum and substance of the christian religion, to believe in God the Father, in God the Son, and in God the Holy Ghost; and they who believed in these Three Persons were still looked upon as christians, and they who did not were esteemed infidels or heretics." Part II. p. 43.
This paragraph opens the way for many remarks; we shall however, confine ourselves to a few.
1st. What the bishop says was "always required" of persons "to be baptised," is we think without any foundation in all that is recorded of the practice of the Apostles.
2nd. We do not admit that a belief in the doctrine in question "was always looked upon as the sum and substance of
the christian religion." For there was a time when this doctrine was not known in the christian church; and there have doubtless been many pious christians, that regarded the doctrine as an important article of faith, who were still far from supposing that a belief in it was the sum and substance of the christian religion." Yet we cannot deny that many professed christians have given too much evidence that, in their view, a belief in this article is the one thing needful, and of far greater importance than conformity of temper to the moral precepts and the example of the Messiah. Hence we may account for much of the unchristian treatment which those have received who have dissented from the doctrine, and yet have made it their care to be followers of Christ and to obey his commands.
3d. If a belief in the mysterious doctrine is "the sum and substance of the christian religion" will it not follow, that Christ's sermon on the mount had no respect to the "sum and substance" of christianity? and that he was under a mistake in the conclusion of his discourse, in likening him, who "heareth and doeth" the sayings, or commands which he had delivered, to the "man who built his house upon a rock?" For he had not, that we can discern, the least reference to the doctrine of three persons in one God in any part of his sermon.
4th. According to the bishop's account, "the sum and substance of the christian religion" consists in the belief of a doctrine, the meaning of which he could not "possibly conceive." Can it then be wonderful that in past ages the hateful passions of persecution and war, have been deemed consistent with christianity? How different would have been the effects, had conformity of heart and practice to the temper exemplified by the Saviour been duly regarded as "the sum and substance of the christian religion!"
If any of our readers should say that the articles of faith which we have supposed to be asserted by another bishop, are more inconceivable or more repugnant to reason, than the one which occasioned these remarks, they are desired to remember, that, according to bishop Beveridge, this very circumstance is to be regarded as evidence of the truth of those articles. For on his hypothesis, we are to regard "that as most true of God, which seems most impossible unto us." Therefore, if it 'seems more impossible unto us' that God is the greatest and the least of all intelligencies,' than that he is three distinct persons, then the former of these must be regarded as most true of God," or the reasoning of the bishop is fallacious and dangerous.
We have seen what opinions some christians have maintained. May God in his mercy hasten the time, when it shall be
more generally understood that a belief in doctrines, the meaning of which we "cannot possibly conceive" is NOT "the sum and substance of the Christian religion."
A GLANCE AT THE HISTORY OF OPINIONS CONCERNING
IN tracing back the history of religious doctrines, we have a much higher object in view than the mere indulgence of curiosity. We should indeed be compensated for the research, if it afforded nothing else than the satisfaction of knowing how the wise and great have speculated before us; but this gratification is of small value, when compared with the real utility whic may be derived from such investigations. They illustrate the necessity of using our own minds in understanding the scriptures, by shewing the various extravagancies, into which men have deviated. They guide us to the manner, in which we should reason, by enlarging our field of view, and lifting us out of many prejudices that had confined our judgment. They will often assist our interpretation of the sacred writings by placing them in new lights, explaining their obscurities, and dispelling the phantasies that we had mistaken for a part of the word of truth. They will show us the gradual, and often not very honourable progress of opinions, that have grown celebrated in the world; and teach us, of how few and slight materials formidable systems of faith have been erected, by human ingenuity and polemick zeal.
Influenced by these considerations, we propose, in this and a succeeding essay, to take a rapid and general survey of the opinions that have been entertained among christians concerning the Mosaic account of the creation and fall of man. That account has been made of great importance in dogmatical divinity, and lies at the very foundation of most of the prevailing confessions of faith. This circumstance will give interest to our inquiries; and as we shall offer no opinions of our own, but merely relate what others have thought, no class of believers can with justice complain of us. Our design is not necessarily concerned with the theories of different theologians, on the origin of the narratives, which are contained in the three first chapters of Genesis. It will not seem irrelevant, however, just to mention, that some ascribe the intelligence, which they convey, to the immediate inspiration of God. Others, maintaining that we need not resort to a miracle when natural causes are
sufficient, nor attribute to Moses, as an historian, a supernatural guidance to which he himself made no pretensions, have believed the source of his information to be oral tradition. Others have preferred the supposition of written documents, transmitted to the times of the great Hebrew legislator, and by him compiled and sanctioned. The ingenuity of some modern critics has attempted to distinguish these supposed documents into classes, on principles of internal evidence; but without arriving at precisely the same results.
We pass over, too, the history of the six days' creation, as not essential to our present object. We will only remark, that some have imagined an absolute creation out of nothing to be described; while others find in it only an account of the redemption of the earth from a state of chaos, and its preparation for the residence of mankind. Some maintain that it relates strictly a positive fact: while others see in it nothing but a fine picture of the gradual effects that were produced upon our planet, when it was rescued from its primaeval emptiness and darkness. However this may be, it exhibits a perfect model of simple sublimity interpreted according to the rules, which we should apply to every other record of so remote an antiquity, it is philosophically beautiful; and as far transcends every other cosmogony, which tradition has preserved as sacred, or mere speculation has devised, as the holy light of which it speaks transcended the shapeless gloom that it dispelled.
Having thus defined the view we are to take, let us turn to the representation of Moses, and say simply what it is. It declares that but a single pair were originally created, from whom have descended all the human race. They were made in the likeness of God. They were good; a praise, which they shared with all the works of the common Creator. The first man appears in a garden abounding with delights, prepared for him by his maker; and all nature is subject to him. He had passed through no helpless infancy, no gradual steps of progress toward maturity. At once he thinks and speaks, he walks and labours. The Lord himself is his immediate teacher. He yet knows no wishes, no feelings, that are not innocent as they are natural. He is not wild and rude; nor yet cultivated: not without freedom of will; but not yet exercised in the use of it. It was yet to be seen whether this freedom would continue to consist with his happiness, or whether its abuse would bring on sorrow, toil and suffering. The first woman is taken out of man; an image, which illustrates the tenderness of the connexion, that was to exist between them: and the principle of life, of thought, and of will within them both, is the breath of God.
Such is the history: and there are allusions to it in various parts of the sacred writings. David, when he looked up to the starry heavens, expressed his grateful wonder that God should so exalt the feeble children of earth as to give them dominion over the works of his hands, and to put all things under their feet; creating them little lower than the angels, and crowning them with glory and honour. In the 139th Psalm, man is described as "having been curiously wrought in the lower parts of the earth," before he stood erect and living upon it, as its delegated lord: a description evidently drawn from the Mosaic idea of his having been moulded out of the dust. Elihu says in the book of Job, "the spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life.-I also am formed out of the clay." The genealogies, 1 Chron. i. 1, are deduced ! from Adam as the common ancestor. In the same spirit the late Jewish authors wrote; as may be seen in the apocryphal books of the Old Testament: Ecclesiasticus, xvii. 1-3. Wisdom of Solomon x. 1. and xv. 8; and in Philo, who regarded the Mosaic account as historically exact, and yet allegorized every part of it. The era of christianity succeeded. References are now found more frequent, and the style of them is unchanged. Our blessed Lord himself enforced the strong obligation of the marriage covenant, by citing two passages from Moses' history of the creation, Genesis i. 27, and ii. 24. St. Paul frequently borrows from the same source. He speaks of man, 1 Corinthians xi. 7, as "the image and glory of God:" and James in his epistle, declaring the iniquity of the tongue, says, "therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God." These representations inspire high conceptions of the dignity and worth of human nature. They exalt as much as is possible the import of that celebrated expression," the image of God," which is used by the Hebrew historian and lawgiver no less than four times in two verses; the 26th and 27th of his first chapter. Indeed, is not the whole tendency of the gospel to show that our nature is elevated in itself, as well as to elevate it infinitely more? Is it not its doctrine, that the Son of God himself was man, and died for man? And does it not intreat all, that they should not judge themselves "unworthy of the resurrection from the dead?"
To give even a compendious history of the opinions, that have found advocates, concerning the original constitution of man, would be to repeat the innumerable interpretations that have been given in ancient and modern times, of the account in the first chapter of Genesis: an enumeration that instead of