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But the Scriptures do not merely extend the limits of moral science. In the second place, they fix its certainty. They reveal nothing as the object of conjecture, but every thing as of absolute knowledge. The truths they disclose are not matters of opinion; they are facts, facts ascertained by the God only wise, and the reality of which depends on his veracity speaking in his word. There is no foundation in the nature of things, for uncertainty in moral, more than in natural, or mathematical science. Every thing which men perceive, and about which they think and reason, is either certainly true, or certainly false. Independent of all our views and the views of others, distinct from all the notions we derive from custom and education, irrespective of all our caprice, prejudice, and ignorance, there is such a thing as religious truth. There is, in the nature of the case, no ground for doubt and uncertainty. Though not decided by the same kind of evidence by which we resolve an equation, or demonstrate a theorem, or determine the nature and causes of disease, it is not on that account the less certain. Where infinite intelligence and integrity bear witness, there can be no room for uncertainty. All farther inquiry is out of place. One declaration of the God of truth is paramount to all the philosophical theories, and all the opposing systems of faith the world ever beheld. It is amusing to hear some modern religionists talk about a more rational religion than the religion of the Bible! What can be more rational than the wisdom of God? “Who hath been his counsellor, and who hath instructed him?” A suffering, but godly man, was once asked if he could see any reason for the dispensation which caused him so much agony. “ No;" replied he, “but I am as well satisfied as if I could see ten thousand. God's will is the very per
fection of all reason." So of the revelations of his truth. They are the perfection of all reason. The reason that is opposed to them is not reason, but folly. We need not be surprised, therefore, that the Scriptures claim for themselves certain knowledge for how can it be otherwise, since they come from God? Nor should it be any matter of surprise to us that those who truly receive the Bible should regard it as an unerring standard, and be established in its truths. “Lord, to whom shall we go, but unto thee? Thou hast the words of eternal life; and we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God !” Men who love the Bible, know that it is true. They have not merely learned to bow their understanding to the decisions of infinite wisdom, but they have felt its power. Its truthis accord with their own experience. They perceive their excellence and beauty. They have felt them; they have handled them; they have tasted and enjoyed them; and those wants of the soul which have so long been mocked, and deluded, and unrelieved, have found in these truths that satisfaction and peace which have elsewhere been sought in vain. “Do not wonder,” says the devout Pascal, “ to see some unsophisticated people believe without reasoning. God inclines their hearts to believe. They judge by the heart, as others do by the understanding. The Holy Scripture is not a science of the understanding, but of the heart. It is intelligible only to those who have an honest and good heart. Charity is not only the end of the Holy Scriptures, but the entrance to them.” Men who are born of God, are begotten through the truths of the Bible; they are, as it were, born into them, and they form the aliment of their spiritual being. They have had access to the tree once guarded by flaming cherubim; they have plucked its fruit, have breathed its fragrance and perfume, and know indeed that it is the tree of life.
Nor is it a consideration of little moment, that the Scriptures fix the certainty of religious truth. Fewprinciples are of higher importance than that truth, so far as it is attained, can be known with certainty. It is one thing to be on the whole persuaded, and another to be assured. It is one thing to view a proposition undulating between the different gradations of probability, and established only by the preponderance of probabilities; and another to consider truth beyond the influence of a doubt. If, after patient investigation, there were few subjects but may be unsettled by a corrupt philosophy; if, after a laborious, impartial, and prayerful study of the Scriptures, it were impossible to arrive at any other conclusion than conjecture, we might well feel ourselves involved in “ an horror of great darkness." I cannot easily conceive of a more painful state of mind. Perhaps, indeed, there is no feeling in the human bosom so distressing as suspense and uncertainty, be the subject what it may. Man needs firm ground whereon to place his feet, and not the marsh or quicksand, that trembles beneath him. He has a singular power to brace his courage to a level with his condition, and to endure with fortitude those evils which, before their arrival, seemed almost insupportable. But a state of hesitation between hopes and fears is, if possible, more tormenting than the fulfilment of his worst apprehensions. The haunting fear, the agony of suspense, prostrate his energy; and to escape these, he often leaps to grapple with the dread realities. Where then can be imagined a more dreadful state of mind than one of uncertainty as to the most important and vital moral subjects ? Is there such a being as God? Is there a future state of immortal
existence ? Is there pardon for the guilty ? At what rate shall we estimate the misery of the mind that ponders upon these momentous questions with doubt and uncertainty? To hang over the deep current into which generations have sunk, while the eye finds nothing but darkness, nor even a ripple which shows the spot where they disappeared; to lean over the abyss to see whether perhaps it might discover some faint outline of the world beneath; whether some gloomy echo, or some response of joy, some sound of mourning, or some song of praise, shall tell the dreadful mystery; what indescribable anxiety is this! But not thus is it with men who have the Bible. From these unerring pages speaks a voice that is echoed back from every bosom of the living, every tomb and monument of the dead. If every thing were conjecture elsewhere, here every thing is certainty. We know now the value and the true business of life. And if we are misled and perplexed by the shadows of uncertainty, it is because we “love darkness," and prefer to trace our dubious, hesitating course, under the dim torchlight of reason, to being led by that book which eternal wisdom has revealed to be a “ light to our feet and a lamp to our path.”
But you will ask me, Has human reason no place in the pursuits of moral science? She has a definite and definable place. It is her province to ascertain that there is a God, and that he is a being of infinite power, knowledge and rectitude. It is her province to ascertain that he is able to make a revelation of his will to men, and with such evidence of its reality that she can believe and know that it comes from him. It is her province to inquire and judge whether the persons who speak in his name were truly sent by him, and to become assured that what they have spoken and written is in sober verity his own word. It is her province to look at the difficulties, and weigh well all the objections, to the plenary inspiration of the sacred volume; and to be the more severe in her scrutiny because this volume claims to be the only infallible rule of faith and practice. Nor does her province terminate here. While it belongs not to her to erect herself into a tribunal before which the truth of God must appear to be judged, it at the same time belongs to her to inquire and ascertain what this divinely inspired book contains. This she must do diligently, humbly, and with becoming meekness. Having ascertained that this is the book of God, she may task all her powers and all her learning, and what is more, all her fairness and candour, to ascertain the true sense and import of the sacred writers. Her views of religious truth she must draw directly from the Scriptures. She is not merely to call in the aid of the Bible in confirmation of her own opinions, but to begin her investigations with this divine source of knowledge. The evidence of the truth she receives is the divine testimony, and she has nothing to do but ascertain and receive it. She may not interfere, nor hesitate, where the God of truth has decided. Her business is to stand a silent inquirer at the shrine of these oracles, and there hear what God the Lord hath spoken. Her object is to get at their philosophy, and not her own. She must take leave of her lofty independence and dignity, if she would learn of Christ. Her philosophical speculations have nothing to do in ascertaining the meaning of the Scriptures. Nor can we give too great emphasis to this thought. Men are very apt, where they have any fixed views of the laws which regulate mind, to look at God's truth through the medium of their own philosophy. If for example, God declares that the human race are sinners from their birth, they hesitate at such a statement,