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St. Paul, in his enumeration of the qualifications necessary for the different orders of the priesthood, requires that they should “hold fast the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience,” clearly showing that though the Christian faith has its mysteries, we are, nevertheless, to “hold it fast without wavering”—that is, to believe it implicitly. A pure apostolic faith, is not that which arises from an actual demonstration to the senses of what we are required to believe, but that which is realized within us, simply upon “ the evidence of things not seen.” We are, indeed, required to believe what we cannot understand; for whilst religion has its mysteries, until it shall please the Almighty to remove them, we must be content to believe what we cannot comprehend ; since all mysteries must be unintelligible to the human understanding, for as soon as they are understood, they cease to be mysteries. That belief is the only test of a pure faith, which takes everything for true, upon the authority of God, that He has declared to us, without presuming to make our insufficient reason the touchstone by which his truth is to be tried. If in any one single instance our assent is accorded to a truth, which we cannot explain, there can be no reason why it should not be in another, especially when it comes to us authenticated by indubitable authority; and there are many mysteries in nature of which we do not, for a moment, pretend to question the existence, though we are altogether unable to explain them. Now, surely, if this be the case in the material world—a fact evident to our daily experience—there can be nothing very extraordinary that it should be so in the spiritual. Indeed, mystery is essential to the Christian dispensation. The manner in which it was consummated, transcended even the conceptions of angels. “Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness ! God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory."
But to come more immediately to the first division of the subject. We shall perceive, that in the words before us, there is no definite, no tangible idea, if I may so say, suggested of the nature of Deity. They convey, nevertheless, a veiled but stupendous notion of a something not to be expressed or defined, and buoy up the mind amid the very indistinctness of its conceptions to a sublime feeling of awe; our veneration rising the higher in proportion as we feel the object of our thoughts to be beyond their reach. The words were mysterious, not because the Almighty designed to perplex him whom he had chosen as the leader of his people, but only because he could not communicate or represent himself to an inferior being. It is the absence of all positive knowledge of God, save what we feel to be true of his infinity, that conveys to us such awful, but, nevertheless, exalted, notions of those stupendous attributes insepara
ble from this unlimitedness of the Divine Nature. Our very defectiveness in knowledge forces the inquisitive and expansive mind into the boundless field of possibilities, where it busies itself in adapting ideas to the Deity, which, though they always end, as they ever must end, in insufficiency, still stimulate it to adopt new, and, if possible, more comprehensive notions of him, and to endeavour to measure His perfections who is so far removed beyond the perceptive faculties of man. forced, however, to come at length to the conclusion of the Psalmist : “Such knowledge is too excellent for me, I cannot attain unto it: whither shall I
go from thy spirit, O God, or whither shall I go from thy presence? if I climb up into Heaven, thou art there, and if I go down to Hell, thou art there also."
The more we reflect upon the immensity of the Divine Nature, the more sensible shall we feel that it could not be fully revealed to us. God could not evidence and communicate himself to man without first making man capable of conceiving him. This would be at once to alter the spiritual economy of the mere human being to something superhuman, which would be utterly incompatible with his present nature and condition. Nay, in order to render himself definitively intelligible to man, God must advance him to a level with his own omniscience, for nothing short of infinite can comprehend infinite. He, therefore, exhibits him
self in the terms of our text, as an incomprehensible, indescribable Being, always existing, always acting; known only to himself, because omniscient, infinite in all his attributes, and therefore not to be fully apprehended by any being inferior to himself; no language being equal to inspire any adequate conception of him ;—an essence the most subtle, refined and intelligent, pervading all things and to which all things are subject, still perfectly abstract and inaccessible. “I AM THAT I AM"-ever the same,“ with whom is no variableness nor shadow of turning,” “one God world without end." Past and future with Him combine, as it were, but one everlasting present; for where there are no divisions of duration, there can be no past or future. These are only relative terms in time. Everything is eternally passing in the omniscient mind. It is everlastingly present to it.
“ He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” With Him the “yesterday” has not past ; with Him the “for ever ” is not come. He pervades eternity, past as well as present, future as well as past, space as well as infinite duration. He is, in fine, “the Almighty, everlasting God.”
Christ says of himself, “ before Abraham was, I am ;" conveying the idea of an ever-enduring present, an unvarying existence which is unchangeable and eternal. How then shall mere mortals look into the mystery of the Godhead—that Almightiness “dwelling in the light which no man
can approach unto, whom no man hath seen nor can see"? How shall the limited faculties of earthborn creatures completely apprehend such an inconceivable object as this? I repeat, that nothing less than God can comprehend God. Even the Angels have only their degrees of knowledge of Him, as is clear from the declaration of St. Peter, that the incarnation is a mystery into which “they desire to look.” If then there be anything mysterious in the Godhead to an order of creatures so superior to us, shall we wonder that we cannot comprehend the nature of Deity ? Had the angels been fully acquainted with that God against whom they rebelled,—had He in his abstract nature been as familiar to them as they were to themselves before they were “cast down to Hell, and delivered into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment,” they never would have provoked condemnation certain and foreknown. They could not have appreciated Him rightly, or they never would have fallen. It is certain then, that man cannot fully know God, because, he is still “ lower than the Angels.” “No man hath seen God at any time.” He has indeed revealed himself to man, but never in the unimaginable plenitude of his glory. “This is too wonderful for us,” and though in Heaven we are promised that “we shall see Him as He is," we are not, however, to understand by this, that we shall there have the same knowledge of him as He has of himself. This were at once to be equal with