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A Theodicy Or Vindication Of The Divine Glory by Albert Taylor Bledsoe

Section III. The system of the moral universe not purposely involved in obscurity to teach us a lesson of humility.

But the assertion is frequently made, that the moral government of the world is purposely left in obscurity and apparent confusion, in order to teach man a lesson of humility and submission, by showing him how weak and narrow is the human mind. We have not, however, been able to find any sufficient reason or foundation for such an opinion. As every atom in the universe presents mysteries which baffle the most subtle research and the most profound investigation of the human intellect, we cannot see how any reflecting mind can possibly find an additional lesson of humility in the fact, that the system of the universe itself is involved in clouds and darkness. Would it not be strange, indeed, if the mind, whose grasp is not sufficient for the mysteries of a single atom, should be really humbled by the conviction that it is too weak and limited to fathom the wonders of the universe? Does the insignificance of an egg-shell appear from the fact that it cannot contain the ocean?

The truth is, that the more clearly the majesty and glory of the divine perfections are displayed in the constitution and government of the world, the more clearly shall we see the greatness of God and the littleness of man. No true knowledge can ever impress the human mind with a conceit of its own greatness. The farther its light expands, the greater must become the visible sphere of the surrounding darkness; and its highest attainment in real knowledge must inevitably terminate in a profound sense of the vast, unlimited extent of its own ignorance. Hence, we need entertain no fear, that man's humility will ever be endangered by too great attainments in science. Presumption is, indeed, the natural offspring of ignorance, and not of knowledge. Socrates, as we have already seen, endeavoured to inculcate a lesson of humility, by reminding his contemporaries how far the theory of the material heavens was beyond the reach of their faculties. And to enforce this lesson, he assured them that it was displeasing to the gods for men to attempt to pry into the wonderful art wherewith they had constructed the universe. In like manner, the poet, at a much later period, puts the following sentiment into the mouth of an angel: --

|To ask or search, I blame thee not; for heaven
Is as the book of God before thee set,
Wherein to read his wondrous works, and learn
His seasons, hours, or days, or months, or years:
This to attain, whether heaven move or earth,
Imports not if thou reckon right; the rest
From man or angel the great Architect
Did wisely to conceal, and not divulge
His secrets, to be scann'd by them who ought
Rather admire; or, if they list to try
Conjecture, he his fabric of the heavens
Hath left to their disputes, perhaps to move
His laughter at their quaint opinions wide

All this may be very well, no doubt, for him by whom it was uttered, and for those who may have received it as an everlasting oracle of truth. But the true lesson of humility was taught by Newton, when he solved the problem of the world, and revealed the wonderful art displayed therein by the Supreme Architect. Never before, in the history of the human race, was so impressive a conviction made of the almost absolute nothingness of man, when measured on the inconceivably magnificent scale of the universe. No one, it is well known, felt this conviction more deeply than Newton himself. |I have been but as a child,| said he, |playing on the sea-shore; now finding some pebble rather more polished, and now some shell rather more agreeably variegated than another, while the immense ocean of truth extended itself unexplored before me.|

It is, indeed, strangely to forget our littleness, as well as the limits which this necessarily sets to the progress of the understanding, to imagine that the Almighty has to conceal anything with a view to remind us of the weakness of our powers. Indeed, everything around us, and everything within us, brings home the conviction of the littleness of man. There is not a page of the history of human thought on which this lesson is not deeply engraved. Still we do not despair. We find a ground of hope in the very littleness as well as in the greatness of the human powers.

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