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be so; Veracity was not concerned with assenting to it: such assenting would have deceived no one".
6. If the end of assenting to unintelligible propositions is not truth, what is it? it can only be some species of convenience, or utility: that is, avoiding some evil, or attaining some good: to impose assent to them without some such view, would be foolish, and oppressive; nay, considering them as of a religious sort, impious or presumptuous.
7. The principal question is, wherein can that Utility consist? what is the nature of the evil to be avoided, and of the good to be attained ? It is an evil to neglect or throw aside any thing, which it has pleased God to reveal to mankind : if he sends a message, whether it be understood or not, it is to be carefully preserved; it is to be noted and registered faithfully and simply: nay, the more exactly, for not being understood ; if we write what we understand, we may safely alter several little points and dots; we know what we are doing ; but, if we copy a language which we have never learnt, we must copy every thing, even blots and mistakes.-All that we can strictly say, in such a case, is, that we do not at present understand what God is pleased to say to us; we do not know how soon we may. It may be objected here, keep the scriptural information faithfully, only do not require assent to it: but it is not conceivable, that we should value Scripture, and not throw the expressions of it into some forms; of doctrine, or devotion : into sermons, prayers, hymns, &c.—these are necessary, if we were only to remind men of
b Had they signed, they would have thought, probably, their assent equivalent to saying, "we Jansenists condemn Jansenius ;
- but need they have had this difficulty; suppose they had signed and said publicly, we do not condemn Jansenius?'or some other contrivance of that sort might have been bit upon. Vol. II.
what has been revealed: and to make them feel its value and importance: these must be the ordinary means of exciting religious sentiments.-Care must indeed be taken, at the same time, that no one deceives himself, or imagines that he understands what he really does not.
If we throw away what comes from above, because we do not thoroughly see the meaning of it, we know not what we lose. Suppose a people, who were pretty much uncivilized, had an offer of a good body of Laws, and accepted them: there is no doubt but there would be several regulations, of which they would not see the scope: but would they therefore be wise for expunging those regulations?-contests might arise from prejudices against such new Laws, which might occasion some kind of assent to be given to the superior wisdom of the new Laws: it would scarcely be a sufficient objection to giving such assent, to say, that some of the new Laws were unintelligible. Who indeed amongst the ordinary people (I do not mean the ignorant multitude) understands law-deeds, when he signs them, even in the most important concerns? To throw aside the notices from heaven, because we did not understand them, would be to act like Savages, who threw gold and jewels into the sea.—And we must throw such notices aside, if we never insert any of them into our forms.And it is the same thing if, in order to avoid difficulty, we lower the things revealed to what we fancy is common sense. --Sometimes, one set of men are compelled to use unintelligible forms, by other men's perverting or lowering Scripture; if, by such a measure, we can prevent such perversion, the evil which we incur, must be less than that which we avoid.-And the same, if we prevent dissension.
I think we may safely say, of the Nuns of St. Cyran just now mentioned, that the evil of their refusing to assent to an unintelligible proposition was, in fact, much greater than that of their assenting would have been; even if we allow, that they were to be commended for conscientiously adhering to what they thought right.
But the utility of assenting to unintelligible propositions may consist in attaining positive good, as well as in avoiding evil. There is no greater good to human kind than that, which might arise from a Religious Society well conducted, which should include the young and the old, the wise and the unthinking. Now, it is not conceivable, that such a Society could be carried on, without some members assenting to what they did not understand : for, what would be intelligible to some, would be unintelligible to others; and yet there must be an uniformity; all ranks must join in creeds, catechisms, and Liturgies* ; on this uniformity depends that ease and composure, which is so necessary to en. courage religious sentiments, and to heighten devout sympathy. And, (we might add) as it will frequently happen, that forms of words, confessions, &c. continue a long time after they have been found faulty or unnecessary, on this account, verbal affirmations must be made, after the meaning of the words made use of is evaporated.
8. It will add force to this reasoning, if we consider, that a person, who did assent to unintelligible propositions for the reasons we offer, could not be said to lie “ unto Godb," or to injure Man. To allow this, we need only conceive such a person
a It might be here recollected, that the Copts in Ægypt have divine service in a language they do not understand: Book i. Chap. ix. of this, from Pococke's Travels.
b Acts v. 4.
to enter into a solemn meditation, as in the sight of God; and to say, 'I have given my verbal assent to what I did not understand; but I have done this with a good intention ; I have done it, in order to avoid religious evil, and to attain religious good; I have used no words of my own chusing, but only such words as have been appointed for me by those in authority; I have pretended to know nothing more than I really did know: every one, who was concerned, was aware of my ignorance. Perhaps, in time, that ignorance may receive some information ; perhaps several of those, with whom I am, for the best purposes, united in Society, may already see more than I do: my conscience tells me, that, whilst I act with such sincerity, the omniscient Being will not be offended with my conduct.'
As to Man, there seems no foundation for his taking offence; he receives no harm; he is neither injured for deceived.
9. It will confirm and illustrate what has been said, if we consider the manner, in which God has acted with mankind in the revelation of his will : ever since the Creation of the world, he has been revealing it gradually ; at all times giving intimations of the whole of his plan; but those intimations were at first very faint and obscure, afterwards by degrees more and more clear :-this being the case, different things, at different times, must have been unintelligible; or must have been mysterious ; for the true scriptural notion of mvothprov is, a design of God not yet executed, or made manifest. Mysteries, according to this notion, may both be “ kept secret" since the world began,”—and be revealed or made known.—Yet, at all times, what was known, though not clearly comprehended, might be generally professed; and, if that be true, then, at all times unintelligible propositions would be professed by some persons ; though, what was once so, would gradually lose its nature.
then, a Locke on I Cor. i. 1, 7. Rom. xvi. 25. Eph. 11. 4.
To confirm the notion, that parts of Scripture should not be thrown aside, because they are not intelligible, I will mention Eusebius's account of Dionysius of Alexandria, with regard to the Book of Revelation : and I will make use of Lardner's Translation. " Some who were before us, have utterly rejected and confuted this Book, criticising every chapter [or paragraph] shewing it to be throughout unintelligible and inconsistent;" “ But, for my part, I dare not reject the Book, since many of the Brethren have it in high esteem: but, allowing it to be above my understanding, I suppose it to contain throughout some latent and wonderful meaning: for, though I do not understand it, I suspect there must be some profound sense in the words ; not measuring and judging these things by my own reason, but ascribing more to faith, Í esteem them too sublime to be comprehended by me.”—As Dionysius reasons on the mysteries of the Apocalypse, we might reason on any other mysteries. It is highly probable, he would not have been avesse to throwing expressions of the Apocalypse, or even others equivalent to them, into Forms, to be used or assented to, when any good seemed likely to arise from such a measure.
10. What has been said, concerning the gradual opening of Revelation to mankind, is in a good measure applicable to the gradual increase of knowledge in each human being, in any given state of general improvement: Each man has continually something unintelligible immediately before him, though the number of those things, which he understands, is continually increasing.–And, when
Ć See Euseb. Hist. or Lard. Works, vol. III. p. 104, 105.