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There is an important, though often an overlooked difference between the results of human ingenuity, as embodied in the principles of science, and the institutions of civil society, and the results of divine wisdom, as embodied in the doctrines of revelation, and the ordinances of the Christian church. Human science is the offspring of the observations and experiments of beings limited in their faculties, and liable to error, and admits, from this very circumstance of constant growth, frequent correction and indefinite improvement. The principles of natural philosophy are much better understood at present, not only than they were, but than they could have been an hundred years ago; and it is highly probable, that, before the end of another century, they will be still better understood than they are at present: but, as the most finished work of the human mind is necessarily imperfect, there will always be room for the correction of mistakes, and the supply of deficiencies.
It is altogether otherwise with the doctrines of Revelation. They flow forth absolutely pure from the fountain of knowledge and of truth. They are an infallible statement of a portion of the mind of Him who alone hath wisdom. Human science is like the statue, which, under the successive strokes of the artist's chisel, from a rude, unformed block, gradually assumes a striking resemblance to “ the human form divine.” Revealed truth is like our general parent, rising at once into perfect form, and beauty, and life, at the command of his Creator. The improvement even of the most finished statue implies no absurdity; but the idea of mending the divine work were equally replete with impiety and folly. Human science, being the product of fallible reason, cannot be perfect. There must be deficiency, and there may be error; and it admits of improvement both by correction and addition. There is room for neither in the doctrines of revelation. Divine revelation is, from its very nature, free from error, proceeding from him who cannot be deceived, and who cannot deceive; and though imperfect, inasmuch as it does not extend to all possible objects of religious knowledge, it obviously admits of addition in no other way than by a new revelation. He who has made known to us a portion of his mind, may, if he pleases, make known to us another portion of it; but till he does so, the whole of our duty, in reference to the revelation given, is to endeavour distinctly to apprehend the meaning of its various parts, and the relations, connexions, and dependencies of these various parts, and to yield up the whole of our intellectual and active nature to its influence. It is equally inconsistent with this duty to attempt to make corrections on the system of revealed truth, or to make additions to it.
It would have been a happy thing for the Christian world, if the obvious distinction which has now been pointed out had been steadily kept in view by the teachers of religion. The “ truth as it is in Jesus” would not then have been obscured by attempts to illustrate it; nor the dogmas of a vain philosophy mingled with the oracles of divine wisdom, or substituted in their room. The ingenuity,
. and learning, and labour, which have been often worse than wasted, in endeavouring, by working up into a complete system of religion and morals, such of the materials furnished by revelation, as seemed fit for their purpose, along with such materials as they could collect from other sources, while, with
out ceremony, such portions of revelation as appeared unsuitable to their object were overlooked or rejected,-might have been devoted to a diligent inquiry into the meaning and connexion of the sacred oracles; and thus have discovered there made by his hand who made the world, what they must for ever in vain attempt to make for themselves; and we would not have had reason to doubt, in an age when human science has, in all its branches, attained to an unprecedented state of improvement, whether the principles of revealed truth are not worse understood, among those who profess to believe them, than they were seventeen hundred years ago.
A similar distinction ought to be made between the institutions of civil society and the ordinances of the Christian church. The principles of civil government are at present much better understood than they were or could have been in what are ordinarily called the dark ages; and it is certain, whatever a blind reverence for antiquity may urge to the contrary, that the social arrangements which prevail in our own country are incomparably superior to those which existed even in the most illustrious ages of Grecian and Roman history; and it is equally evident,
T; whatever a partial fondness for the institutions of our own country and age may suggest, that a much more perfect form of social life is not only easily conceivable ; but, at some future period, is likely to be realized, than any that has yet been established among
mankind. These institutions are the result of human ingenuity, and therefore are imperfect. There is something wanting, and something wrong with the best of them.
But it is otherwise with the ordinances of the Christian church; for they are the appointments of infinite wisdom. They were originally given by one who had a perfect knowledge of the end of such institutions—the religious and moral improvement of his people; and a perfect knowledge, too, of that intellectual and moral constitution, for the improvement of which they are intended-and, like all the divine works, they are perfect. They are all of them characterized by a beautiful simplicity, which ill accords with the ordinary, but depraved taste of mankind for what is complicated and difficult; but which is a leading feature in all the works and arrangements of infinite wisdom.
It might have been expected, that the institutions of Christianity, bearing on them the impress of supreme authority, would have been accounted too sacred things to be tampered with by those who admitted the divine origin of that religion. But what is there too presumptuous for man to attempt? The same principle which led professed Christians to modify the doctrines of Christ, led them to alter his institutions. In both cases, they flattered themselves that they were making improvements; but what was the truth ? By their experiments on the doctrines of Christ, they, in many cases, converted the true elixir of immortal life into a deadly poison, and, at the very best, robbed it of its healing virtues, just in the proportion in which they have infused into it baser ingredients : and by their experiments on the institutions of Christ, they have rendered them utterly unfit for the purposes they were intended to answer; and, instead of important means of religion and moral improvement, they have made them mere vehicles of amusement to the senses or imagination, and in many cases, the instruments of extensive demoralization and of fatal delusion.
No Christian ordinance has been more perverted by superstition than the Lord's Supper; and no portion of Christian truth has been more involved in obscurity and error than that which respects that ordinance. False opinions and superstitious usages mutually produce and support each other. By this