1. We may commence our inquiry into the subject by noticing, that a knowledge of God
, to be obtained in some way or other
, seems almost essential to the well-being of man
. If it be granted, that there is such a Being -- and few, it is presumed, would go so far as to deny this -- it must be of great importance for us to know the relationship in which that Being stands to us, and we to Him. We can hardly suppose it possible that an Infinite Being, in some sense, as we suppose will be generally allowed, the Governor of the world, should not have an important relation to all
other existences; much less, that the relation which He bears to man
, the most noble existence of which we have any actual experience, should be of an insignificant character. Looking, too, upon man as a free and moral agent, accountable, as conscience declares, for his actions to his fellow-men, it seems almost certain that he must be also responsible for his acts in relation to the Deity. The general belief of mankind, in all ages and in all places, tends to the same conclusion; and, if it be admitted that there is an eternal world into which the consequences of our actions follow us, a knowledge of the relationship in which we stand to God becomes of still greater importance. But if this knowledge probably may be, and, should the general belief of the world have a foundation in fact, certainly is, of great importance, it can hardly be supposed that a God of love would allow us to remain in ignorance of it; and the question arises, how it is to be obtained
It may be observed, first of all, that the Deity does not, like other objects, come within the direct cognizance of our perceptive faculties. We have an organization, by means of which we are enabled to perceive various objects around us; and, by travelling to other lands, we can obtain a knowledge of many things of which we had before been ignorant. We perceive also what is going on within us. The telescope and the microscope reveal to us wonders which, without their intervention, we could never have discovered. But we cannot through the instrumentality of any of our faculties perceive God. Travel where we will we cannot find Him out. No appliance of art has availed to disclose Him to us. If any philosophers conceive that they can intuitively gaze upon God, other philosophers declare their ignorance of any intuition of this kind, and assuredly the common people, who most stand in need of clear notions on the subject, and who would hardly be neglected by a beneficent God, are altogether unconscious of it. The knowledge of Him, therefore, if obtained at all, must be had in some other way.
But may not an adequate knowledge of God be obtained by the exercise of the faculties of the human mind upon external nature, or in some other way? The Apostle St. Paul says something which rather favours this view, when he declares that |the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse| (Rom. i.20): and we believe that a considerable insight into the nature of God, and the probable character of His dealings with us may be obtained in the manner to which we have referred. Still we have only to look at the ever varying and degrading notions which have, at all times, prevailed in many parts of the world respecting the Divine Being, to perceive that a more clear method of obtaining knowledge about Him would, to say the least of it, be a most valuable boon. The method under consideration has not practically issued as we might have hoped that it would; and therefore there is reason to expect, that God might make use of some more direct way of communicating to us a knowledge of Himself.
Another possible mode of communicating a knowledge of God would be, by implanting in the mind of man, an idea corresponding, so far as might be needful, to the nature of God. But a belief in the existence of anything of this kind is open to several objections. If such an idea existed, it must, to answer the required end, be sufficiently clear and well defined to give at least a tolerably accurate notion of the Deity, and must also bring with it a well-grounded conviction of its correspondence to the reality. But the variety of opinions which have been entertained on the subject forbid us to believe that any such idea as this exists. Search as far as we can into our own minds, we are unable to discover anything approaching to such a notion of the Divinity. It appears too, that, notwithstanding some speculations as to time and space, which, in the opinion of some, bear a slightly exceptional character, there is no good reason to believe that we acquire other kinds of knowledge in the manner under consideration; and, if this be so, there is a strong presumption against a knowledge of the Deity being obtained in this way.
As however some confusion of mind not uncommonly prevails on this subject, we will endeavour to explain our meaning more fully. We possess, as it appears to us, certain capacities for obtaining knowledge, and for retaining, and disposing our knowledge, when obtained, in different ways; but we are not born with the actual possession of knowledge; nor, so far as we can see, is knowledge, at any subsequent time, obtained by us, except by means of the capabilities to which we have referred. We have by nature powers of knowing objects, both external to our organization, and internal; but the objects themselves, and not the representations of them, are presented to us before we know them. We are conscious of seeing, and smelling, and tasting, and feeling, etc.; but they are the things themselves which we see, and smell, and taste, and feel, in the first instance, although afterwards we are able to contemplate the representations of them which are formed in the mind. There is within us, no doubt, a capability of apprehending, in a sufficient degree, the perfections of God, when they are declared to us; but a knowledge of these perfections does not naturally exist within us. We conclude, then, that, as the Deity is not directly perceived by us, has not in practice been adequately discerned by any process of the mind, and is not made known to us by any connate, or subsequently implanted idea, we must be indebted to revelation, in the main, for any knowledge we may obtain respecting Him. We do not consider it necessary to enter into a discussion of Pantheistic views, inasmuch as we have yet to learn that Pantheism has ever furnished any definite ideas respecting the nature of God which will bear the test of a close examination as to their reality. We think, too, that it is destructive of the personality of either God, or man, or both, and thus does away with all real relation between the two.
Before proceeding to the investigation of what we mean by a revelation, we will endeavour to answer an objection which may be raised. It may be alleged that, if a true knowledge of God is of such great consequence to man, it appears strange that such differing opinions should have been held on the subject, and that God's revelation -- on the supposition that there is one -- should not have been more extensively promulgated, and declared with more irresistible evidence. There is no doubt a difficulty here. It does not however attach especially to the subject of a revelation; but meets us at all points, when we consider the unequal distribution of the blessings of nature. Why many persons should be destitute of the advantages which others enjoy, and why some should pass a life of suffering, while others are surrounded with every comfort, are questions which naturally arise in the minds of reflecting men, but which have hitherto remained without full and satisfactory answers. He who would give a complete reply must have clearer views, than have yet been obtained, with regard to the origin of evil. It may be observed too that, on the supposition that the Bible is a real revelation from God, and bearing in mind the vast number of the human race to whom it has already been given, and its capability of future communication, it far more nearly meets the difficulty, than abstruse speculations respecting the Deity, which can scarcely be apprehended even by philosophers, and which are to the mass wholly unintelligible.