« FöregåendeFortsätt »
These words admit of a very simple, and a very natural commentary, which we sball first produce, in order to explain them. The point in question is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Thomas is to be convinced of the certainty of it, by nothing short of the testimony of his own eyes : this mode of producing conviction, was going, henceforward, to cease. Jesus Christ was shortly to leave the world : a cloud was soon to receive him out of the sight of the inhabitants of this earth : The heavens must now receive him, until the times of the resti. tution of all things, Acts iii. 21. The angels declared to the apostles, as they stood rapt in astonishment at beholding their beloved Master disappear: This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven, Acts i. 11, The disposition of Thomas's mind, therefore, was going, henceforth, to become universally fatal. Every one who should say with him, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe, must die and perish in unbelief. There was to be, henceforward, no other way but this, of believing without having seen, no other means of arriving at a participation in the felicity of believers : Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed : blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. .
This commentary contains much good sense. It does not, however, seem to me to have exhausted the whole meaning of Jesus Christ. .
God is supremely good : nothing appeared to bim too dear for the salvation of the human race: he made choice of means the best adapted to the execution of this great work. If he has made choice of means the best adapted to the salvation of the human race, he has likewise made choice of the properest method of enabling us to avail ourselves of the appointed means, and that method is obscure faithi. Why so ? This is the point which we must attempt to elucidate : and some time ago, you will please to recollect, that we undertook this task. For when that difficulty was urged against us, which unbelievers make the subject of their triumph : " Wherefore did not Jesus Christ shew himself alive after his passion, to his judges, to his executioners ?” We made this reply, that the gift of working miracles, bestowed on the apostles, and on the first Christians, constituted a proof more irresistible of his resurrection, than if he had shewn himself then, nay, than if he were to shew himself risen, at this day.
It might be retorted upon us, “ That these two proofs, that of miracles performed by his disciples, and that of his personal manifestation, were not incompatible with each other : Jesus Christ might first have shewn himself alive after his resurrection ; here would have been one kind of proof: he might afterwards, upon his ascension, have sent the Holy Spirit to his apostles; this would have consituted a second kind of proof. These two kinds of proof united, would have placed the truth of his resurrection far beyond the reach of all suspicion. Wherefore did he not employ them? Wherefore did he not give to a truth of his religion so interesting, and of such capital importance, every species of proof of which it is susceptible ?” To this we still reply, that obscure faith was a method far more proper to conduct us to salvation, than a clear faith, founded on the testimony of the senses, or on the personal discoveries of the believer himself: Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
A principle which we have on other occasions laid down, will justify this reply. God has placed us in this world, as in a place of probation and sacrifice. It is his will that the manner in which we correspond to this view of his providence, should determine our everlasting destiny.
Let us try clearly to explain this principle, before we apply it to the subject in hand.
In strictness of speech, God will not proportion the celestial felicity which he reserves for us, to the exertions which we make to obtain it. Dd Gd observe the rules of an exact distribution in this respect, there is not a single person in ihe world who durst flatter bimself with being a partaker in that felicity: because there is no one, I speak vf even the greatest saints, who does all that he ought, and all that he might do, toward the attainment of it. Much more, supposing us to have done all that we could, and all that we ought to do, to be admitted to a participation in this blessedness, our utinost efforts never could bear any proportion to it. We must still say of every thing we undertake, in order to salvation, what St. Paul says of the most cruel sufferings of the martyrs: They are not worthy to be co npared with the glory which shall be revealed in us, Rom. viii. 18. The most extravagant thought, accordingly, that ever could find its way into the mind of man, is that of the persons who maintain the possibility of meriting heaven by their good works, nay, the possibility of a man's meriting the kingdom of heaven for others, after having earned it for himself.
But though there is not a proportion of rigorous justice, between the heavenly felicity, and the efforts which we make to attain it, there is a proportion of equity and of establishment. Permit me to explain what I mean by these words: God will not save mankind, unless they exert themselves to obtain salvation. Had it been his will to extend indiscriminating favor, he had only to open, without reservation, the path to heaven : he had only to exert the supreme power, which he pos. sesses over our souls, to infuse into them virtue and emulation, and to put us in possession of a felicity
a already completely acquired, without subjecting us to the necessity of employing indefatigable and unintermitting efforts, in order to the acquiring of it. But his views respecting man are altogether different from this. Hence it is that he is pleased to represent the life of a Christian, as a narrow path, in which he must walk; as a race which he must run; as a task which he must perform ; as a warfare which he has to accomplish. For this reason it is, that salvation is represented to us, as a victory to be won, as a prize to be gained, as a kingdom which can be taken only by the violent. God, then, has placed us in this world, as in a place of probation and sacrifice : it is his sovereign good pleasure, that the manner in which we correspond to his gracious views, shall decide our everlasting destination.
Let us apply this principle to the subject under discussion: to that obscure faith, which discerns, in the darkness of the past, those facts on which the great truths of religion rest, as the building on its foundation ; to that obscure faith, which penetrates into the darkness of futurity, there to discover the blessedness which religion proposes to us as the object of hope.
1. Let us apply the principle laid down to that obscure faith, which discerns, in the darkness of the past, those facts on which the great truths of religion rest. There is more difficulty in attaining a discernment of the truth in the darkness of the past, than in beholding the object with a man's own eyes. It is admitted. Had Jesus Cnrist appeared alive to his judges and executioners, after bis resurrection ; were he to appear to us, at this day, as risen from the dead, we should have much less difficulty in believing the certainty of an event on which the whole Christian religion hinges. It is admitted. There would be no occasion, in order to attain the conviction of it, to employ extensive reading, to consult doctors, to surmount the trouble of profound meditation, to suspend pleasure, to interrupt business. It is admitted. But the very thing which constitutes your objection, furnishes me with a reply.
The trouble which you must take, before you can acquire conviction of the resurrection of the Saviour of the world, the extensive reading that is necessary, the consultation of learned men, those efforts of profound me. ditation which you must employ, that suspension of your pleasures, that interruption of your worldly business_all, all enter into the plan of your salvation: it is the will of God that you should exert yourselves diligently for the attainment of it.
Let us suppose the case of two Christians: the first shall be St. Thomas; the second a Christian of our own days. Let us suppose both the two equally convinced of the resurrection of the Saviour of the world; but acquiring their conviction in two different ways : Thomas convinced by the testimony of his senses, the modern Christian, by the attentive examination of the proofs which establish the truth of it: Whether of these two Christians, according to your judgment, expresses the greater love of the truth? Whether of these two Christians makes the greater sacrifice, in order to arrive at the knowledge of it? The one has only to open his eyes, the other must enter on a course