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CHAPTER IV.

OF CHRISTIANITY CONSIDERED AS A SCHEME, OR CONSTITUTION, IMPERFECTLY COMPREHENDED.

I. Admitting the credibility of Christianity as a matter of fact there may yet be objections against the wisdom, justice, and goodness of it. Analogy furnishes a general answer to such objections, by showing that Christianity (like God’s moral government, Chap. VII., Part I.) must be a scheme beyond our comprehension.

II. This appears more clearly from particular Analogies. 1st. Means are used to accomplish ends; and, 2d, it is carried on by general laws.

III. The principal objections in particular, may be answered by particular and full Analogies in Nature. One of these objections, being against the whole scheme of Christianity, is considered here, namely, “That it supposes God to have been reduced to the necessity of using roundabout means to accomplish man’s salvation.”

I. IT has appeared, from the seventh chapter of the First Part, that objections against the wisdom, justice, and goodness of the constitution of nature may be answered by its being a constitution or scheme imperfectly comprehended. We now proceed to consider the like objections against revelation. And it is evident, if Christianity be a scheme, and of the same kind, the like objections against it must admit of the like answer.

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Now, Christianity is a scheme beyond our comprehension. The moral government and general plan of Providence is gradually proceeding, so that finally every one shall receive according to his deserts, and truth and right finally prevail. And Christianity is a particular scheme under this general plan of Providence, and a part of it conducive to its completion, consisting itself also of various parts—a mysterious economy for the recovery of the world by the Messiah (John xi., 52; and 2 Pet., iii., 13)—after successive manifestations of this great and general scheme of Providence (1 Pet., i., 11, 12)—the incarnation and passion of the Redeemer (Phil., ii.)—the miraculous mission of the Holy Ghost—the invisible government of the church—Christ’s second coming to judgment, and the re-establishment of the kingdom of God (John, v., 22, 23; Mat., xxviii., 18; 1 Cor., xv.). Surely this is a scheme of things imperfectly comprehended by us; or, as the Scripture expressly asserts it to be, a great mystery of Godliness (1 Tim., iii., 16).

II. But this will more fully appear, by considering, 1st, that it is obvious means are made use of to accomplish ends in the Christian dispensation as much as in the natural scheme of things; and thus the things objected against, how foolish soever they may appear to men, may be the very best means of accomplishing the very best ends. And, 2dly, that the Christian dispensation may have been all 150 along no less than the course of nature, carried on by general laws. To show the credibility of this, let us consider upon what grounds the course of nature is said to be carried on by general laws. We know several of the general laws of matter; and a great part of the natural behavior of living agents is reducible to general laws. But we know in a manner nothing by what laws storms and tempests, earthquakes, famine, pestilences become the instruments of destruction to mankind; by what laws some die as soon as they are born, and others live to extreme old age; by what laws one man is so superior to another in understanding; and innumerable other things which we know so little of as to call them accidental, though we know there can not be such a thing as chance. Thus it appears that it is from analogy—from finding that the course of nature, in some respects, and so far, goes on by general laws—that we conclude this of the rest. And if this be a just ground for such a conclusion, it is a just ground also, at least, to render it credible, which is sufficient for answering objections, that God’s miraculous interpositions may have been all along in like manner, by general laws of wisdom; and, if so, there is no more reason to expect that every exigence should be provided for by them than that every exigence in nature should be by the general laws of nature.

III. Objected against the whole scheme of Christianity: 151 “The Gospel scheme seems to suppose, that God was reduced to the necessity of a long series of intricate means in order to accomplish His ends—the recovery and salvation of the world; just as men, for want of understanding or power, are forced to go roundabout ways to arrive at their ends.”

ANSWER. The use of means is the system of nature (and means which we often think tedious). The change of seasons, the ripening of the fruits of the earth, the very history of a flower is an instance of this. Rational creatures form their characters by the gradual accession of knowledge; our existence, too, is successive, and one state of life is appointed to be a preparation for another. Men are impatient, and for precipitating things—the Author of nature appears deliberate throughout His operations. This is a plain answer to the objection; but we are greatly ignorant how far things are considered, by the Author of nature, under the single notion of means and ends, so as that it may be said, this is merely an end, and that merely means, in His regard.

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QUESTIONS—CHAPTER IV.

1. In obviating objections against the wisdom, Justice, and goodness of Christianity, with what does Butler compare it; and what connection does he assert to exist between it and the general plan of Providence?

2. Name two particular analogies, by the consideration of which the credibility of Christianity being a scheme imperfectly comprehended by us, will more fully appear.

3. Upon what grounds is it said that the course of nature is carried on by general laws? What inference may be drawn from this subject, applicable to miraculous interpositions?

4. How may the principal objections in particular against Christianity be answered?

5. Answer the following particular objection, viz., “The Gospel scheme supposes God to have been reduced to the necessity of using roundabout means to accomplish man’s salvation.”

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