Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
The Obscurity of the Christian Religion
By Henry More (16141687)
From the Mystery of Godliness
THAT there is a considerable obscurity and abstruseness in Christian religion is easily made evident as well from the cause as the effects of this obscurity. For besides that from the common nature of a mystery Christianity ought to be competently obscure and abstruse, that it may thereby become more venerable and more safely removed out of all danger of contempt; we cannot but see what a special congruity there is in the matter itself, to have so holy and so highly-concerning a mystery as our religion is, abstruse and obscure. For that divine wisdom that orders all things justly ought not to communicate those precious truths in so plain a manner that the unworthy may as easily apprehend them as the worthy; but does most righteously neglect the sensual and careless, permitting every man to carry home wares proportionable to the price he would pay in the open market for them: and when they can bestow so great industry upon things of little moment, will not spare to punish their undervaluing this inestimable pearl by the perpetual loss of it. For what a palpable piece of hypocrisy is it for a man to excuse himself from the study of piety, complaining of the intricacies and difficulties of the mystery thereof; whereas he never yet laid out upon it the tenth part of that pains and affection that he does upon the ordinary trivial things of this world?
Thus are the careless, voluptuous epicure and over-careful worldling justly met with. But not they alone. For the obscurity of this mystery we speak of is such, that all the knowledge of nature and geometry can never reach the depth of it, or relish the excellency of it; nor all the skill of tongues rightly interpret it, unless that true interpreter and great mystagogus, the Spirit of God himself, vouchsafe the opening of it unto us, and set it so home in our understandings, that it begets faith in our hearts, so that our hearts misgive us not in the profession of what we would acknowledge as true. For as for the outward letter itself of the Holy Scriptures, God has not so plainly delivered himself therein, that he has given the staff out of his own hands, but does still direct the humble and single-hearted, while he suffers the proud searcher to lose himself in this obscure field of truth. Wherefore disobedient both learning and industry are turned off from obtaining any certain and satisfactory knowledge of this divine mystery, as well as worldliness and voluptuousness. According as our Blessed Saviour has pronounced in that devout doxology:I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight.
Nor are the wicked only disappointed, but the goodly very much gratified by the intricacy of this sacred mystery. For the spirit of man being so naturally given to search after knowledge, and his understanding being one of the chiefest and choicest faculties in him, it cannot but be a very high delight to him to employ his noblest endowments upon the divinest objects, and very congruous and decorous they should be so employed. Besides, the present doubtfulness of truth makes the holy soul more devout and dependent on God, the only true and safe guide thereunto. From whence we should be so far from murmuring against Divine Providence for the obscurity and ambiguity of the Holy Scriptures, that we should rather magnify His wisdom therein; we having discovered so many and so weighty reasons why those divine oracles should be obscure: the wicked thereby being excluded; the due reverence of the mystery maintained; and the worthy partakers thereof much advantaged and highly gratified.
For what can indeed more highly gratify a manwhose very nature is reason, and special prerogative speechthan by his skill in arts and languages, by the sagacity of his understanding, and industrious comparing of one piece of those sacred pages with another, to work out, or at least to clear up, some divine truth out of the Scripture to the unexpected satisfaction of himself and general service of the Church; the dearest faculty of his soul and greatest glory of his nature acting then with the fullest commission, and to so good an end that it need know no bounds, but joy and triumph may be unlimited, the heart exulting in that in which we cannot exceed, viz. the honour of God and the good of His people? All which gratulations of the soul in her successful pursuits of divine truth would be utterly lost or prevented, if the Holy Scriptures set down all things so fully, plainly, and methodically, that our reading and understanding would everywhere keep equal pace together. Wherefore, that the mind of man may be worthily employed and taken up with a kind of spiritual husbandry, God has not made the Scriptures like an artificial, wherein the walks are plain and regular, the plants sorted and set in order, the fruits ripe, and the flowers blown, and all things fully exposed to our view; but rather like an uncultivated field, where indeed we have the ground and hidden seeds of all precious things, but nothing can be brought to any great beauty, order, fulness, or maturity without our own industry; nor indeed with it, unless the dew of His grace descend upon it, without whose blessing this spiritual culture will thrive as little as the labour of the husbandman without showers of rain.