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people, that where mystery begins, religion ends. If by mystery be meant — what is commonly understood by the term—a fact, which, though we cannot conceive its particular manner of existence, yet may be known to exist, and applied to valuable and important uses; it is certain, that without belief in mysteries there can be no religion, no morality, no social commerce: all useful knowledge must be at an end, and all the movements of active life must cease their operation.
I. In order to form proper conceptions upon this subject, it will be necessary to consider first how the case stands with regard to the maxims of present knowledge and action.
Experience, which (hows, that our present knowledge is progressive, opening and enlarging by degrees, prepares us to receive the mysteries of religion with the readiest assurance. Of all the things around us, we are obliged to learn the uses, by a slow and gradual process; and, in our highest state of knowledge, we really know little of them, but their uses and practical application.
We come into the world perfect blanks: we are wrapped up in total darkness: the whole face of nature is one universal scene of mysteries. The fond parent watches over us in this blind state, attends our opening senses, and by degrees acquaints us with the general distinctions of things. Without this instruction, we know not, what is innocent, and what is hurtful to us, what is food, and what is poison, what fire or what, water is, or what the first necessaries of life are. Here all things are mysteries to the child: and yet he grows and strengthens, he enjoys the uses of every thing necessary to his being, as perfectly, as if he could by his own knowledge choose the good and esR chew chew the evil. By and by, his senses acquiring some degree of vigor, he begins to observe, and speak, and, with prattling curiosity, to enquire about what he sees and hears. Parental fondness, pleased with the sweet impertinence, instructs his unfolding mind : he gets some few principles to go upon: such mysteries, as relate to animal life, open gradually upon him, and now he keeps himself from fire and water and seeks his proper food under the direction of his own narrow conceptions.
But as this task ceases, new mysteries arise. He is now to be taught such general principles of moral good and evil, as are necessary to social life. These too he must learn; and he must learn them as matter of custom, upon implicit faith.*
* sapiens vitatu, quidque petltu
He must be taught, by little unmeaning gestures, to pray to God, to distinguish his parents and others about him according to their several relations, before he enters into the reasons of these actions.
As he advances in strength and stature, the wants of life enlarge — and what does nature do for him here? Does she voluntarily pour forth her tributary stores for his support? No, he must work out his own support by labour and industry. And here he must be taught by others, and undergo a tedious course of discipline to learn the art and mystery (as it is truly called) of supporting himself in future life. And when he comes to act for himself, whatever profession he chuses, whatever course he follows; he must trust his success for the most part to faith, often to probable conjecture. He lives by the common elements, whose natures he cannot investigate, he trusts to general maxims of R 2 conduct, conduct, whose truth he never thoroughly examines. He uses many accommodations in the intercourse of commerce, which come from men and places, which he never saw—For ought he knows, the next cloaths he puts on may carry infection, and the next meat he eats may carry poison along with it.
As a merchant he entrusts his goods, as a traveller he entrusts his person, to foreign lands. But whether there be any such distant places, is no point of clear certain knowledge: he must implicitly believe it upon the credit of others.
If he takes the track of speculative knowledge, he must surrender up his mind to the direction of others; if his body is disordered, he must trust his life to the skill of others j if he possesses any thing, he must depend upon the faith and assistance of others in a thousand instances. And whether in all these cases he may find the ability and integrity, he expected, is a thing to be known