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On the Difficulties of Speculative Inquiry.

On the Difficulties of Speculative Inquiry.

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"When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me." Psalm
l.xxiii. 16.

"When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me." Psalm
l.xxiii. 16.

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Published by: GLENN DALE PEASE on Nov 15, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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O THE DIFFICULTIES OF SPECULATIVE IQUIRY.BY JOH HOWARD HITO"When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me." Psalm l.xxiii. 16. KOWLEDGE is pleasant to the mind as light is sweet to the eye. And there seems to be full warrant for this kind of enjoyment. The sun, with its glorious fires, is lighted up for the eye; for the eye, also, the face of nature is illumined with its beams ; and, in like manner, the universe seems to be outspread before the mind on purpose to be known. At what point need the searching gaze of the eye be arrested 1 Or where need intelligent scrutiny be stayed? Do not nature and providence court investigation, and recompense it with precious discoveries, ever new? ay, more; a cease- less pursuit of knowledge may be said to be obligatory. Our intellectual faculty is given to be employed, and its inaction woiild be as culpable as a voluntary blindness. Is it not in his works and ways that God makes himself manifest? And is it not our duty to trace him to the utmost, that we may recognize and adore? There is, however, a limit to the pleasantness of know- ledge. Its pursuit may become to us even painful; in the words of our text, "too painful." What, for example, is more pleasant than to survey the providence of God with its vast benignities? And yet God's providence has in every age exhibited some fearful aspects, forbidding too close a scrutiny, and throwing back even the most resolute inquirer upon the inscrutable pleasure of the sovereign Ruler. It was with a problem of tliis sort that the Psalmist was en- gaged when he used the words before us. He " saw the prosperity of the wicked," and it troubled him. " When I thought to know this," he says, " it was too painful for me, Preached at Exeter Hall, London, June 8th, 1851.
112 O THE DIFFICULTIES OF until I went into the sanctuary of God." In that position, the solemn retributions of another world presented them- selves as counterbalancing the inequalities of this. Or take another illustration. What can be more pleasant than to investigate the intellectual natui'e of man, his posi- tion, his prospects, and his destiny, under the government of God? Or, perad venture, to take a still wider range, and grapple with the vast problem of being, and of the universe '? Yet inquiries of this sort lead to dark and fear- ful issues. However clear the light may be which is thrown upon matters of immediate moment, the speculative inquirer is soon introduced to profound questions and insoluble problems. Here, for example, is the outburst and prevalence of moral evil under the government of a wise and holy God. Here, again, is a vast amount of animal suffering in the creation of a benevolent God. Here is a being of free and responsible agency under a system of eternal predestination and irreversible decrees. Here, moreover, are two worlds, the world within us and the world without us the subjec- tive and the objective; and no one can demonstrate the link that connects the two, or explain the process by which we take cognizance of the external world. Some tell us that the subjective is illusory, some that the objective is illusory, and some that both are so, all things being only modifica- tions of the Deity. At a period when, by the extended culture of a literary taste and of reading habits, the elements of speculative philosophy come to be widely known, difficulties of this class have their influence, and, probably, a very considerable influence. They operate in two ways. Some are by them thrown into a state of general scepticism. They are strong thinkers. They study hard. They can grasp nothing less than the problem of the universe, and they are resolved to
find out the solution of it. They will know all things; and the obstructions they meet with, and the difficulties in which their inquiries land them, annoy and vex them. " We thought," say they, " to know this," and we are sure we have brought to the problem no mean powers, no insignificant industry; but we cannot, it is too high, "too painful," for us. To be thus slmt up within a narrow circle of mystery, to be refused an answer to so many interesting questions, makes them almost angry. The language of their conduct SPECULATIVE IQUIRY. 113 is, " We can do nothing, we will do nothing, thus denied and embarrassed, but struggle and complain." If we hold out the Bible to them, and say, Take counsel of this; they exclaim, "The Bible? Explain to us the mystery of the universe." There are others who do not feel this influence so strongly, but who, nevertheless, are embarrassed and distressed by what they come to know, or hear, of the difficulties of specu- lative philosophy. It seems to them as though these loudly bewailed difficulties might involve some very important deficiency, if not one fatally injurious to truth, and duty, and human welfare; and their fears are aggravated by their ignorance, inasmuch as they arise in reference to subjects which they are not able personally to master, or to estimate. It is likely enough, that by an influence of this sort the com- mencement of piety may in some cases be obstructed; and it is certain, that by it the progress of piety has in some instances, perhaps in not a few, been vexed and harassed by painful and afflictive thoughts. ow it is my purpose, on this occasion, to suggest a few considerations by which this feeling of painfulness may be mitigated, or removed. I begin with a confession. I confess that I am not in

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