ReasonMiscellanies by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)
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249. Christian Religion. Fallible Human Reason. If human reason, by anything that has happened since the creation, be really very much corrupted, and if God is still propitious and is willing that we should obtain the good for which we were created and does not throw us off, but reserves us for that end for which he made us, it cannot be imagined that God would leave us to our reason as the only rule to guide us in that business which is the highest end of life. For it is not to be depended upon, and yet we exceedingly need something that may be depended upon, in that which our everlasting welfare depends. If God be still inclined to show mercy to us and does not cast us off, he doubtless will be very merciful and will consider our great need of a better rule. It does not seem to me reasonable to suppose that if God be merciful after we have forfeited his favor, he will manifest his mercy only in some mitigations of that misery into which we have plunged ourselves, leaving us inevitably to endure the rest: but that he will quite restore us, in case of our acceptance of his offered favor.
1298. Reason and Revelation. If we suppose that God never speaks to or converses at all with mankind and has never from the beginning of the world said anything to them, but has perfectly let them alone as to any voluntary, immediate, and direct signification of his mind to them in any respect (teaching, commanding, promising, threatening, counseling, or answering them), such a notion, if established, would tend exceedingly to atheism. It would naturally tend to the supposition there is no being that made and governs the world. And if it should nevertheless be supposed that there is some being that is in some respect the original of all other beings, yet this notion would naturally lead to doubt of his being properly an intelligent, volitive being, and to doubt of all duties to him implying intercourse, such as prayer, praise, or any address to him, external or internal, or any respect to him at all analogous to that which we exercise towards rulers or friends or any intelligent beings we here see and know. And so it would tend to overthrow every doctrine and duty of natural religion.
Now in this respect deism has a tendency to a vastly greater degree of error and brutishness, with regard to matters of religion and morality, than the ancient heathens. For the heathens had no such notion that the deity never at all conversed with mankind in the ways above mentioned, but received many traditions, rules, and laws, as supposing they came from God, or the gods, by revelation.
Many of the freethinkers of late deceive themselves, through the ambiguity or equivocal use of the word reason. They argue that we must make our reason the highest rule by which to judge of all things, even of the doctrines of revelation, because reason is that by which we must judge of revelation itself. It is the rule on which our judgment of the truth of a revelation depends, and therefore undoubtedly must be that, by which particular doctrines of it must be judged: not considering that the word reason is here used in two senses. In the former, viz. in our judging of the divinity of a supposed revelation, the word means the faculty of reason taken in the whole extent of its exercise. In the latter, it is the opinion of our reason, or some particular opinions that have appeared rational to us. Now there is a great difference between these two. It is true, the faculty of reason is that by which we are to judge of every thing, as it is the eye by which we see all truth. And after we have received revelation, still, by the faculty of reason, we receive the particular doctrines of revelation, yea, even those that are most difficult to our comprehension. For by the faculty of reason we determine this principle: that God knows better than us, and whatever God declares is true. But this is an exceedingly different thing from making an opinion, which we first establish without revelation, by reason only, as our rule to judge of particular doctrines which revelation declares. It may be illustrated by this: if there be a man with whom we have the most thorough acquaintance, and have long known to be a person of the soundest judgment and greatest integrity, who goes a journey or voyage to a place where we never were, and when he returns, gives an account of some strange phenomena or occurrences that he was an eyewitness of there, which we should not have otherwise believed, but we believe them now to be true, because we rely on his testimony. Here it would be ridiculous for a man to say that it is unreasonable to believe him, because what he says is not agreeable to reason (meaning, by reason, that particular opinion we should have had, independent on his testimony), and urging that reason must be our highest rule, and not his testimony, because it is by our reason that we judge of the testimony, and credibility of the man that testifies, meaning, in this case, the faculty of reason. This would be as unreasonable, as for a man to say that he never will rely on any representation made by the best microscope or telescope that is different from the representation which he has by the naked eye, because his eye is the rule by which he sees even the optic glass itself, and by which he judges whether it be regularly made, tending to give a true representation of objects: urging that his eye must be the highest rule for him to determine by, because it is by the eye he determines the goodness and sufficiency of the glass itself. And therefore he will credit no representation made by the glass, wherein the glass differs from his eye, and so will not believe that the blood consists partly of red particles, and partly of a limpid liquor, because it appears all red to the naked eye: not considering the different sense in which he uses the word eye. In the former case, viz. with respect to judging of the goodness of the optic glass, he means the sense of seeing, or the organ of sight. In the latter, when he says he will not believe the representation of the glass, wherein it differs from his eye, because his eye is the highest rule. By the eye, he means the particular representation he has by his eye, separately, and without the glass.
Again: They blunder exceedingly, through not making a distinction between reason and a rule of reason. They say that reason is our highest rule by which to judge of all things, and therefore they must judge of the doctrines of revelation by it, Whereas, they seem not to consider what they mean by reason being the highest rule. It is true, our reason or understanding is the only judging faculty by which we determine truth and falsehood. But it is not properly our highest rule of judging of truth and falsehood, nor any rule at all. The judge, and the rule by which he judges, are diverse. A power of discerning truth, and a rule to regulate and determine the use of that power, are quite different things. The rule may be divine revelation, especially in matters of religion. As it is with the faculty or organ of sight, the organ is not properly the highest means, but the only immediate means we have of discerning the objects of sight. But if men were talking of rules how to use their eyes to the best advantage, so as to see most certainly and clearly — to see the most distant or the minutest objects, so as to have the most certain and full information — it would be ridiculous for anyone to say that his eye was the highest rule to regulate his sight.
Sometimes, by the word reason, is intended the same as argument or evidence, which the faculty of reason makes use of in judging of truth. As when we say, we should believe nothing without or contrary to reason: that is, we should not give the assent of our judgments without or against evidence, or something that appears which argues the thing to be true. But if this be meant by them who assert reason to be a rule superior to revelation, it is absurd in them thus to speak of reason as contradistinguished from revelation. To say that argument or evidence is a higher rule than revelation, is to make evidence and divine revelation entirely distinct, implying that divine revelation is not of the nature of evidence or argument. They ought to explain themselves, who assert that evidence is superior to the evidence we have by divine revelation. It is true, divine testimony is not the same thing as argument or evidence in general, because it is a particular sort of evidence. There are other particular sorts of evidence, and persons might speak as intelligibly, if they single out any other kind of evidence, and assert that reason or evidence was superior to that sort of evidence. As for instance, one sort of evidence is human testimony of credible eyewitnesses; another is credible history; another is memory; another is present experience; another is geometrical mensuration; another is arithmetical calculation; and another is strict metaphysical distinction and comparison. Now would it not be an improper and unintelligible way of speaking, to ask, whether evidence was not above experience? Or whether argument was not above mensuration or calculation? If they who plead that reason is a rule to judge of truth superior to revelation, mean by reason, that evidence which is worthy to influence the faculty of reason, it seems not to be considered by them that such evidence, when spoken of in general, comprehends divine testimony, as well as other sorts of evidence, unless they would entirely set aside divine revelation, as carrying in it no evidence at all. If this be their meaning, they are deceitful. For this is not what they pretend, since it would entirely change the point in dispute, and alter the whole controversy.
Or if when they say reason is a higher rule than revelation, they mean reason exclusive of revelation, or that such arguments of truth as we have without revelation, are better than divine testimony. That is as much as to say, all other arguments are better than divine testimony. For reason or argument, without divine testimony, comprehends all other arguments that are without divine testimony. And then, this is as much as to say that divine testimony is the very least and lowest of all possible arguments, that ever can occur to the mind of man, in any measure to influence his judgment, which meaning they will hardly own. On the whole, it is manifest that, let us turn the expressions which way we will, all the boasted proof of their assertion is owing wholly to confusion, and an ambiguous use of terms. It is talking without ideas, and making sounds without fixing any distinct meaning.
Here, if any, in disdain of such an imputation, shall say, “I see no necessity of supposing this assertion to be so unreasonable and unintelligible. By reason, we mean that evidence which is seen by reason simply considered: reason itself, without dependence on the dictates of another, viewing things as they are in themselves.” Such an objector is mistaken, if he thinks he has got clear of the difficulty. All evidence whatsoever, even that by divine revelation, is included in his description of reason. It is by viewing things as they are in themselves, and judging by our own reason, and not by the reason of another, that we judge there is a divine revelation, and that we judge divine revelation must be agreeable to truth. Reason judges by viewing things as they are in themselves, not the less because it makes use of a medium of judgment. And when reason makes use of divine testimony as an evidence or medium of judgment, it judges as much by viewing things as they are in themselves, as when it makes use of any other medium of judgment: as, for instance, a measuring rod in judging of distances, a compass in judging of directions and courses, and figures and characters in calculating and determining numbers.
If any should say that reason, in our inquiries after truth, is to be regarded as a rule superior to experience, this — according to what would be most naturally suggested to the mind by such a saying, and might generally be supposed to be intended by it according to the more usual acceptation of words — would be a foolish assertion. For by the comparison which takes place in the proposition between reason and experience, reason would be understood in such a sense as that it might properly be set in opposition to experience, or taken in contradiction to it. And therefore the proposition must be understood thus, viz. That our highest rule is what our reason would suggest to us independent of experience, in the same things that are matters of experience. Or what our reason would lead us to suppose before experience, is what we must regard as our highest rule, even in those matters that afterwards are tried by experience. Certainly, he that should proceed in this manner in his inquiries after truth, would not be thought wise by considerate persons.
Yet it is really true, in some sense, that our reason is our highest rule, and that by which we are to try and judge of all things, even our experience and senses themselves, must be tried by it. For we have no other faculty but our reason, by which we can determine of truth or falsehood, by any argument of medium whatsoever. Let the argument be testimony or experience, or what it will, we must judge of the goodness or strength of the argument by reason. And thus it is we actually determine that experience is so good and sure a medium of proof. We consider the nature of it, and our reason soon shows us the necessary connection of this medium with truth. So we judge of the degree of dependence that is to be had on our senses by reason, by viewing the agreement of one sense with another, and by comparing, in innumerable instances, the agreement of the testimonies of the senses with other criteria of truth, and so rationally estimating the value of these testimonies.
But if this is what is meant by saying that our reason is a surer rule than experience, it is an improper way of speaking, and an abuse of language. For take reason thus, and so reason and experience are not properly set in contradiction, or put in comparison one with another. For the former includes the latter, as the genus includes the species, or as a whole includes the several particular sorts comprehended in that whole. For judging by experience is one way of judging by reason, or rather, experience is one sort of argument which reason makes use of in judging. And to say that reason is a more sure rule than experience, is to say that arguing is a more sure rule than a particular way of arguing, or to say that argument (in general) is a more sure rule than that particular sort of argument, viz. experience. Or if by reason, is meant the faculty of reason, or that power or ability of the mind, whereby it can see the force of arguments, then such an assertion will appear still more nonsensical. For then it is as much as to say that the mind’s ability to see the force of arguments, is a surer rule by which to judge of truth, than that particular argument, viz. experience, which is the same as to say, an ability to judge of arguments is a surer argument than that sort of argument, experience, or that a man’s understanding is a better rule to understand by, than such a particular means or rule of understanding.
These observations concerning reason and experience, when these two are compared as rules by which to judge of truth, may be applied to reason and revelation, or divine testimony, when in like manner compared as distinct rules of truth. To insist that men’s own reason is a rule superior to divine revelation, under a pretense that it is by reason that we must judge even of the authority of revelation; that all pretended revelations must be brought to the test of reason; and that reason is the judge whether they are authentic or not, etc. is as foolish as it would be to assert, for the like reasons, that man’s own reason is a test of truth superior to experience. There is just the same fallacy in the arguments that are brought to support one and the other of these foolish assertions, and both are, for reasons equally forcible, very false, or very nonsensical.
If the assertion of those who say, that men’s own reason is a higher test of truth than divine revelation, has any sense in it, it must imply a comparison of different sorts of arguments or evidences of truth. And so the meaning of it must be that those evidences of truth, which men find before they have the help of divine revelation, are a better criterion of truth, than any discovery they have by revelation. And their great argument to prove it is this: that the faculty of reason, by which the mind is able to discern the force of truth, is the only faculty by which we are able to judge of the value and force of revelation itself. It is just such a sort of arguing, as if a person should go about to demonstrate, that a man could more certainly discover the form and various parts of the planets with the naked eye, than with a telescope, because the eye is that by which we see all visible things, yea, by which we see and discern how to use and to judge of the goodness of telescopes themselves.
In the argument these men use to prove that reason is a better test of truth than revelation, they wretchedly deceive themselves, by sliding off from the meaning which they give to the word reason in the premises, into another meaning of it exceedingly diverse in the conclusion. In the premises, wherein they assert that reason is that by which we judge of all things, even of revelation itself, they mean either the power of discerning evidence, or the act of reasoning in general. The consequence they draw is: “Therefore reason is a higher test of truth than revelation.” Here, if they retained the same sense of the word as in the premises, the conclusion would be perfect nonsense. For then the conclusion would be thus: “The power or the act of discerning evidence, is a better evidence of truth than divine revelation.” But this is not what is intended to be understood. What is intended in the conclusion is that the evidence we have before we have revelation, or independently of it, is better and more certain than revelation itself.
1337. Reason and Revelation. Tindal’s main argument against the need of any revelation is that the law of nature is absolutely perfect. But how weak and impertinent is this arguing, that because the law of nature (which is no other than natural rectitude and obligation) is perfect, therefore the light of nature is sufficient. To say that the law of nature is perfect, yea, absolutely perfect, is no more than to say that what is naturally fit and right in itself, is indeed right, and that what is in itself, or in its own nature perfectly and absolutely right, is absolutely right. But this is an empty, insipid kind of doctrine. It is an idle way of spending time, ink, and paper, to spend them in proving that what is in its own nature perfectly true, is perfectly true; and what is in its nature perfectly good, is perfectly good; or that what is, is and is as it is. But this is all that can be meant by the law of nature being perfect.
And how far is this from having any reference to that question, whether we have by mere nature, without instruction, all that light and advantage that we need, clearly and fully to know what is right, and all that is needful for us to be and to do, in our circumstances as sinners, etc. in order to the forgiveness of sin, the favor of God, and our own happiness? What, according to the nature of things, is fittest and best, may be most perfect, and yet our natural knowledge of this, may be most imperfect.
If Tindal, or any other deist, would assert and urge it upon mankind as an assertion that they ought to believe, that the light of nature is so sufficient to teach all mankind what they ought, or in any respect need to be, and to believe and practice for their good, that any additional instruction is needless and useless: then all instruction in families and schools is needless and useless; all instruction of parents, tutors, and philosophers; all that has been said to promote any such knowledge as tends to make men good and happy by word of mouth, or by writing and books; all that is written by ancient and modern philosophers and learned men; and then, also, all the pains the deists take in talking and writing to enlighten mankind, is wholly needless and vain….
If the perfection of the light of nature does not prove anything against the great need and usefulness of the farther instruction of fellow creatures, so neither does it prove anything against as great usefulness and necessity of the farther instruction of their Creator.
If it is no evidence that mankind does not need to have something farther revealed to them by Mr. Tindal, than the light of nature brings them to the knowledge of, in order to the welfare of mankind, and human society’s being delivered from foolish and destructive notions that have generally prevailed, so no more is it any evidence that they do not need to have something farther revealed to them by God, who is wiser, and more fit to be a teacher of mankind, than Mr. Tindal.
When it is asserted that the light of nature, or the means and advantages which all mankind have by pure nature to know the way of their duty and happiness, are absolutely sufficient, without any additional means and advantages, [then] one of these two things must be meant by it, if it has any meaning: either that they are sufficient in order to a mere possibility of obtaining all needful and useful knowledge in these important concerns, or that these natural means have a sufficient tendency actually to reach the effect, either universally, or generally, or at least in a prevailing degree, according as the state of mankind may be.
If the former of these be meant, viz. that the means of understanding these things, which all mankind have by mere nature, is sufficient, in order to a bare possibility of obtaining this knowledge: even that, should it be allowed, will not at all prove that further light is not extremely needed by mankind. A bare possibility may be, and yet there may be no tendency or probability that ever the effect (however necessary, and however dreadful the consequence of its failing) will be reached, in one single instance, in the whole world of mankind, from the beginning of the world to the end of it, though it should stand millions of ages.
But if by the sufficiency of these natural means be meant, a sufficiency of tendency actually to reach the effect — either universally, or in a prevailing degree, considering all things belonging to the state and circumstances of mankind — it is the very same thing as to say that it actually does obtain the effect. For if the tendency, all things considered, be sufficient actually to obtain the effect, doubtless it does actually obtain it. For what should hinder a cause from actually obtaining the effect that it has a sufficient tendency to obtain, all things considered? So that here, what we have to inquire is whether that effect be actually obtained in the world? Whether the world of mankind be actually brought to all necessary or very important knowledge of these things, merely by the means they have by nature? History, observation, and experience, are the things which must determine the question.
In order the more clearly to judge of this matter, of the sufficiency of the light of nature to know what is necessary to be known of religion in order to man’s happiness, we must consider what are the things that must be known in order to do this, which are these two: 1st. The religion of nature, or the religion proper and needful, considering the state and relations we stand in as creatures: 2d. The religion of a sinner, or the religion and duties proper and necessary for us, considering our state as depraved and guilty creatures, having incurred the displeasure of our Creator.
As to the former, it is manifest from fact that nature alone is not sufficient for the discovery of the religion of nature, in the latter sense of sufficiency. That is, no means we have by mere nature, without instruction, bring men to the knowledge of the nature of God, and our natural relation to, and dependence on him, and the consequent relations we stand in to our fellow creatures, and the duties becoming these relations, sufficient actually to reach the effect, either universally, or generally, or in any prevailing degree. No, nor does it appear to have proved sufficient so much as in a single instance. A sufficiency to see the reasonableness of these things, when pointed out, is not the same thing as a sufficiency to find them out. None but either mere dunces, or those who are incorrigibly willful, will deny that there is a vast difference.
And as to the latter, viz. the religion of a sinner, or the duties proper and necessary for us as depraved, guilty, and offending creatures. It is most evident that the light of nature cannot be sufficient for our information, by any means, or in any sense whatsoever. No, nor is the law of nature sufficient either to prescribe or establish this religion. The light of nature is, in no sense whatsoever, sufficient to discover this religion. It has no sufficient tendency to it: nor, indeed, any tendency at all to discover it to any one single person in any age. And it not only has no tendency to the obtaining of this knowledge, by mere natural means, but it affords no possibility of it. — Not only is the light of nature insufficient to discover this religion, but the law of nature is not sufficient to establish it, or to give any room for it.
1338. Communication and Revelation. God’s Moral Government. By conversation, I mean intelligent beings expressing their minds one to another, in words, or other signs intentionally directed to us for our notice, whose immediate and main design is to be significations of the mind of him who gives them. Those signs are evidences distinguished from works done by any, from which we may argue their minds. The first and most immediate design of the work, is something else than a mere signification to us of the mind of the efficient. Thus, I distinguish God’s communicating his mind to us by word or conversation, from his giving us opportunity to learn it by philosophical reasoning, or by God’s works which we observe in the natural world.
There is a great difference between God’s moral government of his creatures, that have understanding and will, and his general government of providential disposal. — The nature, design, and ends of the latter, by no means require that it should be declared and made visible by a revelation of the methods, rules, particular views, designs, and ends of it. These are secret things that belong to God, in which men’s understandings and wills are no way concerned. There is no application to these faculties in it, nor are these faculties any otherwise concerned, than the qualities or properties of inanimate and senseless things.
But it is quite otherwise with respect to God’s moral government of a kingdom or society of intelligent and willing creatures, to which society he is united as its head, ruling for its good. The nature of that requires that it should be declared, open, and visible. How can any moral government be properly and sufficiently established and maintained in a kingdom of intelligent agents, consisting in exhibiting, prescribing, and enforcing methods, rules, and ends of their own intelligent voluntary actions, rules, without declaring, and particularly promulgating to their understandings, those methods, rules, and enforcements? The moral government of a society, in the very nature of it, implies and consists in, an application to their understandings, in directing the intelligent will, and in enforcing the direction by the declaration made.
It is needful, in order to a proper moral government, that the ruler should enforce the rules of the society, by threatening just punishments, and promising the most suitable and wise rewards. But without word or voluntary declaration, there is no threatening or promising in the case, in a proper sense. To leave the subject to find out what reward would be wise, if their appear in the state of things room for every subject to guess at it in some degree, would be a different thing from promising it. And to leave men to their own reason, to find out what would be a just, deserved, and all things considered, a wise punishment, though we should suppose some sufficiency in everyone’s reason for this, would be a different thing from threatening of it.
It is needful in a moral kingdom, not in a ruined and deserted state — the union between the head and members remaining — that there should be conversation between the governors and governed. It is requisite that the former should have intercourse with the latter in a way agreeable to their nature: that is, by way of voluntary signification of their mind to the governed, as the governed signify their minds voluntarily one to another. There should be something equivalent to conversation between the rulers and ruled, and thus the rulers should make themselves visible. The designs and ends of government should be made known. Iit should be visible what is aimed at, and what grand ends or events are in view, and the mind of the rulers should be declared as to the rules, measures, and methods, to be observed by the society. If the rulers are sovereign, absolute disposers, it is necessary their will should be particularly declared, as to the good and evil consequence of obedience or disobedience, which they intend as moral enforcements of the rules and laws, to persuade the will to a compliance. For they can reach the will, or affect it at all, no further than they are made known. — It is requisite something should be known, particularly, of the nature, weight, and degree of the rewards and punishments, and of their time, place, and duration.
Thus, it is requisite that it should be declared what is the end for which God has made us and made the world, supports it, provides for it, and orders its events. For what end mankind are made in particular, what is intended to be their main employment, and what they should chiefly aim at in what they do in the world. How far God, the Creator, is man’s end, and what man is to aim at with respect to God, who stands in no need of us and cannot be in the least dependent on us; how far, and in what respect, we are to make God our highest end; how [far] we are to make ourselves, or our fellow creatures, our end; what benefits man will have by complying with his end; and what evils he shall be subject to by refusing, or failing so to comply, in a greater or lesser degree. If we have offended, and deserved punishment, it must be known on what terms (if at all) we may be forgiven and restored to favor, and what benefits we shall receive, if we are reconciled.
It is apparent that there would be no hope that these things would ever be determined among mankind, in their present darkness and disadvantages, without a revelation. Without a revelation — now extant or once extant, having some remaining influence by tradition — men would undoubtedly forever be at a loss, what God expects from us, and what we may expect from him; what we are to depend upon as to our concern with God, and what ground we are to go upon in our conduct and proceedings that relate to him; what end we are to aim at; what rule we are to be directed by; and what good, and what harm, is to be expected from a right or wrong conduct. Yea, without a revelation, men would be greatly at a loss concerning God: what he is, and what manner of being, whether properly intelligent and willing, a being that has will and design, maintaining a proper, intelligent, voluntary dominion over the world. Notions of the first being, like those of Hobbes and Spinosa, would prevail. Especially would they be at a loss concerning those perfections of God, which he exercises as a moral governor. For we find that some of the deists, though they, from revelation, have been taught these, yet having cast off revelation, apparently doubt of them all. Lord Bolingbroke, in particular, insists that we have no evidence of them.
And though, with regard to many, when they have a revelation fully setting forth the perfections of God — giving a rational account of them, and pointing forth their consistence — their reason may rest satisfied in them. This is no evidence that it is not exceedingly needful that God should tell us of them. It is very needful that God should declare to mankind what manner of being he is. For though reason may be sufficient to confirm such a declaration after it is given, and enable us to see its consistence, harmony, and rationality, in many respects, yet reason may be utterly insufficient first to discover these things.
Yea, notwithstanding the clear and infinitely abundant evidences of his being, we need that God should tell us that there is a great being, who understands, who wills, and who has made and governs the world. It is of unspeakable advantage, as to the knowledge of this, that God has told us of it. And there is much reason to think that the notion mankind in general have entertained in all ages concerning a Deity, has been very much originally owing to revelation.
On the supposition that God has a moral kingdom in the world, that he is the head of a moral society, consisting either of some part of mankind or of the whole, in what darkness must the affairs of this moral kingdom be carried on, without a communication between the head and the body: the ruler never making himself known to the society by any word, or other equivalent expression whatsoever, either by himself, or by any mediators, or messengers!
So far as we see, all moral agents are conversible agents. It seems to be agreeable to the nature of moral agents, and their state in the universal system, that we observe none without it. And there are no beings that have even the semblance of intelligence and will, but possess the faculty of conversation, as in all kinds of birds, beasts, and even insects. So far as there is any appearance of something like a mind, so far they give significations of their minds one to another, in something like conversation among rational creatures. And as we rise higher in the scale of beings, we do not see that an increase of perfection diminishes the need or propriety of communication and intercourse of this kind, but augments it. And accordingly, we see most of it among the most perfect beings. So we see conversation by voluntary immediate significations of each other’s minds, more fully, properly, and variously, between mankind, than any other animals here below. And if there are creatures superior to mankind united in society, doubtless still voluntary converse is more full and perfect.
Especially do we find conversation proper and requisite between intelligent creatures concerning moral affairs, which are most important: affairs wherein especially moral agents are concerned, as joined in society, and having union and communion one with another. As to other concerns that are merely personal and natural, wherein we are concerned more separately and by ourselves, and not as members of society, in them there is not equal need of conversation.
Moral agents are social agents. Affairs of morality are affairs of society. It is concerning moral agents as united in society in a commonwealth or kingdom, that we have been speaking. Particular moral agents so united, need conversation. The affairs of their social union cannot well be maintained without conversation. And if so, what reason can be given, why there should be no need of conversation with the head of the society? The head of the society, so far as it is united with it on a moral ground, is a social head. The head belongs to the society, as the natural head belongs to the body. And the union of the members with the head is greater, stricter, and more important, than one with another. And if their union with other members of the society require conversation, much more their greater union with the head. By all that we see and experience, the moral world and the conversible world are the same thing, and it never was intended that the affairs of society, in any that are united in society among intelligent creatures, should be upheld and carried on without conversation.
There is no more reason to deny God any conversation with his moral kingdom, in giving laws, and enforcing them with promises and threatenings, than to deny him any conversation with them in another world, when judging them. But can any that believe a future state, rationally imagine that when men go into another world to be judged by their Supreme Governor, nothing will pass or be effected through the immediate interposition of the Judge, but all things be left wholly to go on according to laws of nature established from the beginning of the world, and that souls pass into another state by a law of nature, as a stone, when shaken off from a building, falls down by gravity, without any miraculous signification from God? But there is as much reason to suppose this, as to deny any miraculous interposition in giving and establishing the laws of the moral society. If judgment and execution by law, be by immediate interposition and declaration, why not legislation?
The ground of moral behavior, and all moral government and regulation, is society, or mutual intercourse and social regards. The special medium of union and communication of the members of the society, and the being of society as such, is conversation, and the well-being and happiness of society is friendship. It is the highest happiness of all moral agents, but friendship, above all other things that belong to society, requires conversation. It is what friendship most naturally and directly desires. By conversation, not only is friendship maintained and nourished, but the felicity of friendship is tasted and enjoyed. The happiness of God’s moral kingdom consists, in an inferior degree, in the members’ enjoyment of each other’s friendship, but infinitely more in the enjoyment of their Head. Therefore, here especially and above all, is conversation requisite.
Conversation between God and mankind in this world, is maintained by God’s Word on his part, and by prayer on ours. By the former, he speaks and expresses his mind to us, and by the latter, we speak and express our minds to him. Sincere friendship towards God, in all who believe him to be properly an intelligent, willing being, does most apparently, directly, and strongly incline to prayer, and it no less disposes the heart strongly to desire to have our infinitely glorious and gracious Friend expressing his mind to us by his Word, that we may know it. The same light which has directed the nations of the world in general to prayer, has directed them to suppose, that god, or the gods, have revealed themselves to men. And we see that the same infidelity that disposes men to deny any divine revelation, disposes them to reject as absurd the duty of prayer.
If God’s moral kingdom, or the society of his friends and willing subjects, shall be in a most happy state in another world — in the most complete friendship, and in perfect union with God their Head, as some of the deists pretend to believe — is it reasonable to suppose any other, than that they will fully enjoy the sweets of their friendship one with another, in the most perfect conversation, either by words, or some more perfect medium of expressing their minds? And shall they have, at the same time, no conversation at all with their glorious Head, the fountain of all the perfection and felicity of the society, in friendship with whom their happiness they have in it, is begun in this world? And this is the state wherein they are trained up for that more perfect state: and shall they nevertheless live here wholly without any intercourse with God of this sort; though their union with him, as their moral Head, and their great Friend, begins here; and though their happiness, as consisting in friendship to him, and also the enjoyment of that subordinate happiness of holding a virtuous and holy conversation one with another, be begun here? The need of conversation in order properly to support and carry on the concerns of society, may well appear, by considering the need of it for answering all the purposes of friendship, which is one of the main concerns of society, in some respects the main social concern, and the end of all the rest.
Let us suppose that some friend, above all others dear to us, in whose friendship consisted the main comfort of our life, should leave us in possession of something he had contrived and accomplished, some manifold complicated effect that he had produced which we might have always in our view. Suppose also that this work should be a very great and manifold evidence of the excellencies of our friend’s mind, of his great, fixed, and firm benevolence to us; that he should withdraw forever, and never have any conversation with us; that no word should ever pass, or anything of that nature; and that no word should be left behind in writing, nor any word ever spoken left in the memory. — Would this sufficiently and completely answer the purposes of this great friendship, and satisfy its ends and desires, or be a proper support of this great end of society?
I cannot but think that every sober, considerate person will at once determine, that it would be very far from it, for such reasons as these, — that it would not give us those views of things pertaining to the support and enjoyment of friendship, suitable to the nature of intelligent, volitive, and conversible beings; and not giving the direct and immediate view, nor at all tending, in so great a degree and so agreeable a manner, to affect and impress the mind. And as for these reasons, this alone would not answer the ends and purposes of society in this respect. So for the same reasons, it would not answer other purposes of society.
As we may suppose that God will govern mankind in that moral kingdom which he has mercifully set up among them, in a manner agreeable to their nature. So it is reasonable to suppose that he would make his moral government, with respect to them, visible, not only in declaring the general ends, methods, and rules of his government, but also by making known the chief of his more particular aims and designs. As in human kingdoms, in order to the wisdom, righteousness, and goodness of the administration being properly visible — so far as is requisite for encouraging and animating of the subject, and in order to the suitable convenience, satisfaction, and benefit of the whole society of intelligent agents — it is needful, not only that the general end, viz. the public good, should be known, but also the particular design of many of the principal parts of the administration, among which we may reckon the main negotiations, treaties, and changes of affairs, the cause and end of wars engaged in, the ground of treaties of peace and commerce, the design of general revolutions in the state of the kingdom, etc. Otherwise the society is not governed in a manner becoming their rational and active nature, but affairs are carried on in the dark, and the members have no opportunity to consent or concur, to approve or disapprove, to rejoice in the goodness, wisdom, and benefit of the administration, and to pay proper regards to those in whose hands the government is, etc. These things are necessary for the establishment and confirmation of the government. God’s moral government over his moral kingdom on earth, cannot, in such like respects, be carried on in a visible manner, and in a way suitable to our nature, without divine history and prophecy. Without divine history, we cannot properly see the grounds and foundation of divine administrations, the first formation or erection of God’s moral kingdom, the nature and manner of the main revolutions to which it has been subject, which are the ground of future designs, and to which future events and intended revolutions have a relation. It is also necessary that those past events should be known, in order that the reason, wisdom, and benefit of the present state of the kingdom, and of God’s present dispensations towards it, may be known. And prophecy is needful to reveal the future designs and aims of government, and what good things are to be expected.
These things are necessary, in order to the proper establishment, health, and prosperity, of God’s moral, intelligent kingdom. Without them, the government of an infinitely wise and good Head, is not sensible. There is no opportunity to see the effects and success of the administration. There is no opportunity to find it by experience. Neither the designs of government, nor the accomplishment of those designs, are sensible, and the government itself, with respect to fact, is not made visible.
If it be said that reason, and the light of nature, without revelation, are sufficient to show us that the end of God’s government, in his moral kingdom, must be to promote these two things among mankind, viz. their virtue, and their happiness:
In reply, I would ask, “What satisfaction can men without revelation have, with respect to the design, wisdom, and success of God’s government, as to these ends, when wickedness so generally prevails and reigns, through all ages hitherto, in the far greatest part of the world; and the world, at all times, is so full of calamities, miseries, and death, having no prophecies of a better state of things in which all is to issue at last, in the latter ages of the world; or assuring us that all these miserable changes and great confusion are guided by Infinite Wisdom to that great final issue, and without any revelation of a future state of happiness to the city of God in another world?”
Object. God does maintain a moral government over all mankind. But we see, in fact, that many are not governed by revelation, since the greater part of the world have been destitute of divine revelation: which shows that God does not look upon conversation as necessary in order to his moral government of mankind, as God judges for himself, and acts according to his own judgment.
Ans. 1. What I have been speaking of is God’s moral government over a society of moral agents, which are his kingdom, or a society that have God for their King, united to them as the Head of the society, as it is with earthly kings with respect to their own kingdoms, where the union between king and subjects is not broken and dissolved. And not of a society or country of rebels who have forsaken their lawful sovereign, withdrawn themselves from subjection to him, and cast off his government, though they may still be under the king’s power, and moral dominion, in some sense, as he may have it in his power and design, to conquer, subdue, judge, and punish them for their rebellion. But yet the sense in which such a nation is under the moral government of this king, and may be said to be his kingdom or people, is surely extremely diverse from that of a kingdom remaining in union with their king. In the case of a people broken off from their king, the maintaining of intercourse by conversation is in no wise in like manner requisite. The reasons for such intercourse, which take place in the other case, do not take place in this.
In this case, society ceases, i.e. that union ceases between God and man, by which they should be of one society. And where society ceases, there the argument for conversation ceases. If a particular member of the society were wholly cut off, and ceases to be of the society — the union being entirely broken — the argument for conversation, the great medium of social concerns, ceases. So if the body be cut off from the head, or be entirely disunited from it, intercourse ceases. Moral government in a society is a social affair, wherein consists the intercourse between superior and inferior constituents, between that which is original and that which is dependent, directing and directed in the society. It is proper, in this case, that the rebel people should have sufficient means of knowing the end of their rebellion, and that it is their duty to be subject to their king, to seek reconciliation with him, and to inquire after his will. But while they remain obstinate in their rebellion, and the king has not received them into favor, the state of things does not require that he should particularly declare his intentions with respect to them, or should open to them the designs and methods of his administration. It is not necessary that he should publish among them the way and terms of reconciliation; make revelations of his goodness and wisdom, and the great benefits of his government; converse with them as their friend, and so open the way for their being happy in so great a friend; or that he should so particularly and immediately publish among them particular statutes and rules for their good, as a society of moral agents, etc. Conversation, in this sense, when there is an utter breach of the union, is not to be expected, nor is it requisite, though judging and condemning may.
Ans. 2. So far as the union between God and the heathen world has not been utterly broken, so far they have not been left utterly destitute of all benefit of divine revelation. They are not so entirely and absolutely cast off, but that there is a possibility of their being reconciled. And God has so ordered the case that there is an equal possibility of their receiving the benefit of divine revelation.
If the heathen world, or any parts of it, have not only enjoyed a mere possibility of being restored to favor, but have had some advantages for it: so a great part, yea, mostly the greater part, of the heathen world have not been left merely to the light of nature. They have had many things, especially in the times of the Old Testament, that were delivered to mankind in the primitive ages of the world by revelation, handed down from their ancestors by tradition, and many things borrowed from the Jews. And, during those ages, by many wonderful dispensations towards the Jews — wherein God did, in a most public and striking manner, display himself, and show his hand — the world had, from time to time, notices sufficient to convince them that there was a divine revelation extant and sufficient to induce them to seek after it. And things sufficient to make revelation public, to spread it abroad — to extend the frame of it and its effects to the utmost end of the earth, and to draw men’s attention to it — have been vastly more and greater in later times, than in the primitive ages.
Ans. 3. The nations that are separated from the true God, and live in an open and obstinate full rejection of him as their supreme moral Governor, reject all friendly intercourse while their state is such. They are open enemies, and so far as God treats them as such, he does not exercise any friendly moral government over them. And they have light sufficient, without revelation, for any other exercise of moral government and intercourse, besides those that are friendly, viz. in judging and condemning them. They have light sufficient for that judgment and condemnation, of which they shall be the subjects. For their condemnation shall proceed no farther, than proportioned to their light. They shall be condemned for the violation of the law of nature and nations, and the degree of their condemnation shall be only answerable to the degree of the means and advantages they have had for information of the duties of this law, and of their obligations to perform them.
Ans. 4. What has appeared in those parts of the world which have been destitute of revelation, is so far from being any evidence that revelation is not necessary, that in those nations and ages which have been most destitute of revelation, the necessity of it has most evidently and remarkably appeared, by the extreme blindness and delusion which have prevailed and reigned, without any remedy, or any ability in those nations to extricate themselves from their darkness.
1340. The Insufficiency of Reason as a Substitute for Revelation. By reason, I mean that power or faculty an intelligent being has to judge of the truth of propositions: either immediately, by only looking on the propositions, which is judging by intuition and self-evidence, or by putting together several propositions, which are already evident by intuition, or at least whose evidence is originally derived from intuition.
Great part of Tindal’s arguing, in his Christianity as Old as the Creation, proceeds on this ground that since reason is the judge whether there be any revelation, or whether any pretended revelation be really such, therefore reason without revelation, or undirected by revelation, must be the judge concerning each doctrine and proposition contained in that pretended revelation. This is an unreasonable way of arguing. It is as much as to say that seeing reason is to judge of the truth of any general proposition, therefore, in all cases, reason alone, without regard to that proposition, is to judge separately and independently of each particular proposition implied in, or depending and consequent upon, that general proposition. For whether any supposed or pretended divine revelation be indeed such, is a general proposition. And the particular truths delivered in and by it, are particular propositions implied in, and consequent on, that general one. Tindal supposes that each of these truths must be judged of by themselves, independently of our judging of that general truth, that the revelation that declares them is the Word of God, evidently supposing that if each of these propositions, thus judged of particularly, cannot be found to be agreeable to reason, or if reason alone will not show the truth of them, then that general proposition on which they depend (viz. that the word which declares them is a divine revelation), is to be rejected. [This] is most unreasonable and contrary to all the rules of common sense and of the proceeding of all mankind in their reasoning and judging of things in all affairs whatsoever.
For this is certain that a proposition may be evidently true, or we may have good reason to receive it as true, though the particular propositions that depend upon it, and follow from it may be such, that our reason, independent of it, cannot see the truth, or can see it to be true by no other means, than by first establishing that other truth on which it depends. For otherwise, there is an end of all use of our reasoning powers, an end of all arguing one proposition from another. And nothing is to be judged true, but what appears true by looking on it directly and immediately, without the help of another proposition first established, on which the evidence of it depends.
For therein consists all reasoning or argumentation whatsoever, viz. in discovering the truth of a proposition, whose truth does not appear to our reason immediately, or when we consider it alone, but by the help of some other proposition, on which it depends.
If this be not allowed, we must believe nothing at all, but self-evident propositions, and then we must have done with all such things as arguments. And all argumentation whatsoever, and all Tindal’s argumentations in particular, are absurd. He himself, throughout his whole book, proceeds in that very method which this principle explodes. He argues and attempts to make evident, one proposition by another first established.
There are some general propositions, the truth of which can be known only by reason, from whence an infinite multitude of other propositions are inferred, and reasonably and justly determined to be true, and rested in as such, on the ground of the truth of that general proposition from which they are inferred by the common consent of all mankind, being led thereto by the common and universal sense of the human mind. And yet not one of those propositions can be known to be true by reason, if reason considers them by themselves independently of that general proposition.
Thus, for instance, what numberless truths are known only by consequence from the general proposition that the testimony of our senses may be depended on? The truth of numberless particular propositions cannot be known by reason, considered independently of the testimony of our senses, and without an implicit faith in that testimony. That general truth, that the testimony of our memories is worthy of credit, can be proved only by reason. And yet, what numberless truths are there, which we know no other way, and cannot be known to be true by reason, considering the truths in themselves, or any otherwise than by testimony of our memory, and an implicit faith in this testimony? That the agreed testimony of all we see, and converse with continually, is a to be credited, is a general proposition, the truth of which can be known only by reason. And yet how infinitely numerous propositions do men receive as truth, that cannot be known to be true by reason, viewing them separately from such testimony: even all occurrences, and matters of fact, persons, things, actions, works, events, and circumstances, that we are told of in our neighborhood, in our own country, or in any other part of the world that we have not seen ourselves.
That the testimony of history and tradition is to be depended on, when attended with such and such credible circumstances, is a general proposition, whose truth can be known only by reason. And yet, how numberless are the particular truths concerning what has been before the present age, that cannot be known by reason considered in themselves, and separately from this testimony, which yet are truths on which all mankind does, ever did, and ever will rely?
That the experience of mankind is to be depended on, or that those things which the world finds to be true by experience, are worthy to be judged true, is a general proposition, of which none doubt. By what the world finds true by experience, can be meant nothing else, than what is known to be true by one or other of those forementioned kinds of testimony, viz. the testimony of history and tradition; the testimony of those we see and converse with; the testimony of our memories, and the testimony of our senses. I say, all that is known by the experience of mankind, is known only by one or more of these testimonies, excepting only the existence of that idea, or those few ideas, which are at this moment present in our minds, or are the immediate objects of present consciousness. And yet, how unreasonable would it be to say, that we must first know those things to be true by reason, before we give credit to our experience of the truth of them! Not only are there innumerable truths, that are reasonably received as following from such general propositions as have been mentioned, which cannot be known by reason, if they are considered by themselves or otherwise than as inferred from these general propositions, but also many truths are reasonably received, and are received by the common consent of the reason of all rational persons, as undoubted truths, whose truth not only would not otherwise be discoverable by reason, but when they are discovered by their consequence from that general proposition, appear in themselves not easy and reconcilable to reason, but difficult, incomprehensible, and their agreement with reason not understood. So that men, at least most men, are not able to explain, or conceive of the manner in which they are agreeable to reason.
Thus, for instance, it is truth, which depends on that general proposition that credit is to be given to the testimony of our senses, that our souls and bodies are so united, and that they act on each other. But it is a truth which reason otherwise cannot discover, and now that it is revealed by the testimony of our senses, reason cannot comprehend that what is immaterial, and not solid nor extended, can act upon matter, which it cannot touch. Or, if any choose to say that the soul is material, then other difficulties arise as great. For reason cannot imagine any way, that a solid mass of matter, whether at rest or in motion, should have perception, should understand, and should exert thought and volition, love, hatred, etc.
And if it be said that spirit acts on matter, and matter on spirit, by an established law of the Creator, which is no other than a fixed method of his producing effects, still the manner how it is possible to be, will be inconceivable. We can have no conception of any way or manner, in which God, who is a pure Spirit, can act upon matter, and impel it.
There are several things in mechanics and hydrostatics, that by the testimony of our senses are true in fact, not only that reason never first discovered before the testimony of sense declared them, but now they are declared, are very great paradoxes, and if proposed, would seem contrary to reason, at least to the reason of this generality of mankind, and such as are not either mathematicians, or of more than common penetration, and what they cannot reconcile to their reason. But God has given reason to the common people, to be as much their guide and rule, as he has to mathematicians and philosophers.
Even the very existence of a sensible world, which we receive for certain from the testimony of our senses, is attended with difficulties and seeming inconsistencies with reason, which are insuperable to the reason at least of most men. For if there be a sensible world, that world exists either in the mind only, or out of the mind, independent of its imagination or perception. If the latter, then that sensible world is some material substance, altogether diverse from the ideas we have by any of our senses — as color or visible extension and figure, which is nothing but the quantity of color and its various limitations, which are sensible qualities that we have by sight; and solidity, which is an idea we have by feeling; and extension and figure, which is only the quantity and limitation of these; and so of all other qualities.
But that there should be any substance entirely distinct from any, or all of these, is utterly inconceivable. For if we exclude all color, solidity, or conceivable extension, dimension and figure, what is there left that we can conceive of? Is there not a removal on our minds of all existence, and a perfect emptiness of everything? But if it be said that the sensible world has no existence, but only in the mind, then the sensories themselves, or the organs of sense, by which sensible ideas are let into the mind, have no existence but only in the mind. And those organs of sense have no existence but what is conveyed into the mind by themselves, for they are a part of the sensible world. And then it will follow that the organs of sense owe their existence to the organs of sense, and so are prior to themselves, being the causes or occasions of their own existence, which is a seeming inconsistency with reason, that, I imagine, the reason of all men cannot explain and remove.
There are innumerable propositions that we reasonably receive from the testimony of experience, all depending on the truth of that general proposition, “that experience is to be relied on,” (what is meant by experience has been already explained), that yet are altogether above reason. They are paradoxes attended with such seeming inconsistencies, that reason cannot clearly remove, nor fully explain the mystery.
By experience we know that there is such a thing as thought, love, hatred, etc. But yet this is attended with inexplicable difficulties. If there be such a thing as thought and affection, where are they? If they exist, they exist in some place, or no place. That they should exist, and exist in no place, is above our comprehension. It seems a contradiction, to say they exist, and yet exist nowhere. And if they exist in some place, then they are not in other places, or in all places. Therefore [they] must be confined at one time, to one place, and that place must have certain limits, from whence it will follow that thought, love, etc. have some figure, either round, or square, or triangular, which seems quite disagreeable to reason, and utterly inconsonant to the nature of such things as thought and the affections of the mind.
It is evident, by experience, that something now is. But this proposition is attended with things that reason cannot comprehend, paradoxes that seem contrary to reason. For if something now is, then either something was from all eternity, or something began to be, without any cause or reason of its existence. The last seems wholly inconsistent with natural sense. And the other, viz. that something has been from all eternity, implies that there has been a duration past, which is without any beginning, which is an infinite duration. Which is perfectly inconceivable, and is attended with difficulties that seem contrary to reason. For we cannot conceive how an infinite duration can be made greater, any more than how a line of infinite length can be made longer. But yet we see that past duration is continually added to. If there were a duration passed without beginning, a thousand years ago, then that past infinite duration has now a thousand years added to it. And if so, it is greater than it was before by a thousand years, because the whole is greater than a part. Now the past duration consists of two parts, viz. that which was before the last thousand years, and that which is since. Thus here are seeming contradictions, involved in this supposition of an infinite duration past.
And, moreover, if something has been from eternity, it is either an endless succession of causes and effects, as for instance an endless succession of fathers and sons, or something equivalent. But the supposition is attended with manifold apparent contradictions, or there must have been some eternal self-existent being, having the reasons of his existence within himself, or he must have existed from eternity, without any reason of his existence: both of which are inconceivable. That a thing should exist from eternity, without any reason why it should be so, rather than otherwise, is altogether inconceivable, and seems quite repugnant to reason. And why a being should be self-existent, and have the reason of his existence within himself, seems also inconceivable, and never, as I apprehend, has yet been explained. If there has been anything from eternity, then that past eternity is either an endless duration of successive parts as successive hours, minutes, etc. or it is an eternal duration without succession. — The latter seems repugnant to reason, and incompatible with any faculty of understanding that we enjoy. And the other an infinite number of successive parts involves the very same contradictions with the supposition of an eternal succession of fathers and sons.
That the world has existed from eternity without a cause, seems wholly inconsistent with reason. In the first place, it is inconsistent with reason that it should exist without a cause. For it is evident, that it is not a thing, the nature and manner of which is necessary in itself, and therefore it requires a cause or reason out of itself [for] why it is so, and not otherwise. And in the next place, if it exists from eternity, then succession has been from eternity, which involves the forementioned contradictions. But if it be without a cause, and does not exist from eternity, then it has been created out of nothing, which is altogether inconceivable, and what reason cannot show to be possible, and many of the greatest philosophers have supposed it plainly inconsistent with reason. — Many other difficulties might be mentioned as following from that proposition, “that something now is,” that are insuperable to reason.
It is evident, by experience, that great evil, both moral and natural, abounds in the world. It is manifest that great injustice, violence, treachery, perfidiousness, and extreme cruelty to the innocent, abound in the world, as well as innumerable extreme sufferings, issuing finally in destruction and death, are general all over the world, in all ages. — But this could not otherwise have been known by reason, and even now is attended with difficulties, which the reason of many, yea most of the learned men and greatest philosophers that have been in the world, have not been able to surmount. That it should be so ordered or permitted in a world, absolutely and perfectly under the care and government of an infinitely holy and good God, discovers a seeming repugnancy to reason, that few, if any, have been able fully to remove.
That men are to be blamed or commended for their good or evil voluntary actions, is a general proposition received, with good reason, by the dictates of the natural, common, and universal moral sense of mankind in all nations and ages, which moral sense is included in what Tindal means by reason and the law of nature. And yet many things attend this truth, that appear as difficulties and seeming repugnancies to reason, which have proved altogether insuperable to the reason of many of the greatest and most learned men in the world.
I observe further that when any general proposition is recommended to us as true, by any testimony or evidence that considered by itself, seems sufficient, without contrary testimony or evidence to countervail it, and difficulties attend that proposition. If these difficulties are no greater, and of no other sort, than what might reasonably be expected to attend true propositions of that kind, then these difficulties are not only not valid or sufficient objection against that proposition, but they are no objection at all.
Thus, there are many things that I am told concerning the effects of electricity, magnetism, etc. and many things that are recorded in the philosophical transactions of the Royal Society, which I have never seen, and are very mysterious. But being well attested, their mysteriousness is no manner of objection against my belief of the accounts, because, from what I have observed, and do know, such a mysteriousness is no other than is to be expected in particular, exact observation of nature, and a critical tracing of its operations. It is to be expected that the further it is traced, the more mysteries will appear. To apply this to the case in hand: If the difficulties which attend that which is recommended by good proof or testimony to our reception, as a divine revelation, are no greater, nor of any other nature, than such as, all things considered, might reasonably be expected to attend a revelation of such a sort, of things of such a nature, and given for such ends and purposes, and under such circumstances — these difficulties not only are not of weight sufficient to balance the testimony or proof that recommends it, but they are of no weight at all as objections against the revelation. They are not reasonably to be looked upon as of the nature of arguments against it, but on the contrary, may, with good reason, be looked upon as confirmations, and of the nature of arguments in its favor.
This is very evident, and the reason of it very plain. For certainly, whatever is reasonably expected to be found in a truth, when we are seeking it, cannot be an objection against that truth, when we have found it. If it be reasonably expected in truth beforehand, then reason unites it with truth, as one property of that sort of truth. And if so, then reason unites it with the truth, after it is found. Whatever reason determines to be a property of any kind of truth, that is properly looked upon in some degree as a mark of truths of that sort, or as belonging to the marks and evidences of it. For things are known by their properties. Reason determines truth by things which reason determines to be the properties of truth. And if we do not find such things belonging to supposed truth, that were before reasonably expected in truth of that kind, this is an objection against it, rather than the finding of them. The disappointment of reason is rather an objection with reason, than something to induce its acceptance and acquiescence. If the expectation be reasonable, then the not answering of it must so far appear unreasonable, or against reason, and so an objection in the way of reason.
Thus, if anyone that is in search for things of a certain kind, reasonably expects beforehand, that if he be successful in finding the thing, of the kind and quality that he is in search of, he shall find it possessed of certain properties. When he has actually found something, with all those properties and circumstances that he expected, he receives it, and rests in it so much the more entirely, as the very thing that he was in quest of. And surely, it would be no argument with him, that his invention is right, that some things, that he reasonably expected, are wanting. But on the contrary, this would rather be an objection with his reason.
In order to judge what sort of difficulties are to be expected in a revelation made to mankind by God, such as Christians suppose the Scriptures to be, we must remember that it is a revelation of what God knows to be the very truth concerning his own nature; of the acts and operations of his mind with respect to his creatures; of the grand scheme of infinite wisdom in his works, especially with respect to the intelligent and moral world; a revelation of the spiritual and invisible world; a revelation of that invisible world which men shall belong to after this life; a revelation of the greatest works of God, the manner of his creating the world, and of his governing of it, especially with regard to the higher and more important parts of it; and a revelation delivered in ancient languages.
Difficulties and incomprehensible mysteries are reasonably to be expected in a declaration from God, of the precise truth as he knows it, in matters of a spiritual nature; as we see things that are invisible, and not the objects of any of the external senses, are very mysterious, involved much more in darkness, attended with more mystery and difficulty to the understanding, than others; as many things concerning even the nature of our own souls themselves, that are the nearest to us, and the most intimately present with us, and so most in our view, of any spiritual things whatsoever.
The farther things are from the nature of what language is chiefly formed to express, viz. things appertaining to the common business and vulgar affairs of life — things obvious to sense and men’s direct view and most vulgar observation, without speculation, reflection and abstractions — the more difficult it is clearly to express them in words. Our expressions concerning them will be attended with greater abstruseness, difficulty, and seeming inconsistency, i.e. language not being well fitted to express these things, and words and phrases not being prepared for that end. Such a reference to sensible and vulgar things is unavoidably introduced, that naturally confounds the mind, and involves it in darkness.
If God gives a revelation of religious things, it must be mainly concerning the affairs of the moral and intelligent universe, which is the grand system of spirits: it must be chiefly about himself and intelligent creatures. It may well be supposed that a revelation concerning another and an invisible world, a future state that we are to be in when separated from the body, should be attended with much mystery.
It may well be supposed that the things of such a world, are of an exceeding different nature from the things of this world, the things of sense, and all the objects and affairs which earthly language was made to express. And that they are not agreeable to such notions, imaginations, and ways of thinking that grow up with us, and are unnatural to us, as we are from our infancy formed to an agreeableness to the things which we are conversant with in this world. We could not conceive of the things of sense, if we had never had these external senses. And if we had only some of these senses, and not others, as, for instance, if we had only a sense of feeling, without the senses of seeing and hearing, how mysterious would a declaration of things of these last senses be! Or if we had feeling and hearing, but had been born without eyes or optic nerves, the things of light, even when declared to us, would many of them be involved in mystery, and would appear exceedingly strange to us.
Thus persons without the sense of seeing, but who had the other senses, might be informed by all about them, that they can perceive things at a distance, and perceive as plainly, and in some respects more plainly, than by touching them. Yea, that they could perceive things at so great a distance, that it would take up many ages to travel to them. They might be informed of many things concerning colors, that would be all perfectly incomprehensible, and yet might be believed. And it could not be said that nothing at all is proposed to their belief, because they have no idea of color.
They might be told that they perceive an extension, a length and breadth of color, and terminations and limits, and so a figure of this kind of extension. And yet, that it is nothing that can be felt. This would be perfectly mysterious to them, and would seem an inconsistency, as they have no ideas of any such things as length, breadth, and limits, and figure of extension, but only certain ideas they have by touch. They might be informed that they could perceive at once the extent and shape of a thing so great and multiform as a tree, without touch. This would seem very strange and impossible.
They might be told that to those who see, some things appear a thousand times as great as some others, which yet are made up of more visible parts, than those others: which would be very mysterious, and seem quite inconsistent with reason.
These, and many other things, would be attended with unsearchable mystery to them, concerning objects of sight, and, concerning which, they could never fully see how they can be reconciled to reason, at least not without very long, particular, gradual, and elaborate instruction, and which, after all, they would not fully comprehend, so as clearly to see how the ideas connected in these propositions do agree.
And yet I suppose, in such a case, the most rational persons would give full credit to things that they know not by reason, but only by the revelation of the word of those that see. I suppose, a person born blind in the manner described, would nevertheless give full credit to the united testimony of the seeing world, in things which they said about light and colors, and would entirely rest on their testimony.
If God gives us a revelation of the truth, not only about spiritual beings in an unseen state, but also concerning a spiritual being or beings of a superior kind (and so of an inexperienced nature), entirely diverse from anything we now experience in our present state, — and from anything that we can be conscious of in any state whatsoever — then, especially, may mysteries be expected in such a revelation.
The truth concerning any kind of percipient being, of a different nature from our own, though of a kind inferior, might well be supposed to be attended with difficulty, by reason of its diversity from what we are conscious of in ourselves: but much more so, when the nature and kind is superior. For a superior perceptive nature may well be supposed, in some respects, to include and comprehend what belongs to an inferior, as the greater comprehends the less, and the whole includes a part. And therefore, what the superior experiences may give him advantage to conceive of concerning the nature of the inferior. But, on the contrary, an inferior nature does not include what belongs to a superior. When one of an inferior nature considers what concerns beings of a nature entirely above his own, there is something belonging to it that is over and above all that the inferior nature is conscious of.
A very great superiority, even in beings of the same nature with ourselves, sets them so much above our reach, that many of their affairs become incomprehensible, and attended with inexplicable intricacies. Thus many of the affairs of adult persons are incomprehensible, and appear inexplicably strange to the understandings of little children. And many of the affairs of learned men, and great philosophers and mathematicians, things with which they are conversant and well acquainted, are far above the reach of the vulgar, and appear to them not only unintelligible, but absurd and impossible and full of inconsistencies. But much more may this be expected when the superiority is not only in the degree of improvement of faculties and properties of the same kind of beings, but also in the nature itself.
So that if there be a kind of created perceptive beings in their nature vastly superior to the human, which none will deny to be possible, and a revelation should be given us concerning the nature, acts, and operations of this kind of creatures, [then] it would be no wonder if such a revelation should contain some things very much out of our reach, attended with great difficulty to our reason, being things of such a kind that no improvement of our minds, that we are capable of, will bring us to an experience of anything like them.
But, above all, if a revelation be made to us concerning that being who is uncreated and self-existent, who is infinitely diverse from and above all others, in his nature, and so infinitely above all that any advancement of our nature can give us any consciousness of — in such a revelation, it would be very strange indeed, if there should not be some great mysteries, quite beyond our comprehension, and attended with difficulties which it is impossible for us fully to solve and explain.
It may well be expected that a revelation of truth, concerning an infinite being, should be attended with mystery. We find that the reasonings and conclusions of the best metaphysicians and mathematicians, concerning infinites, are attended with paradoxes and seeming inconsistencies. Thus it is concerning infinite lines, surfaces and solids, which are things external. But much more may this be expected in infinite spiritual things: such as infinite thought, infinite apprehension, infinite reason, infinite will, love and joy, infinite spiritual power, agency, etc.
Nothing is more certain than that there must be an unmade and unlimited being, and yet the very notion of such a being is all mystery, involving nothing but incomprehensible paradoxes, and seeming inconsistencies. It involves the notion of a being, self-existent and without any cause, which is utterly inconceivable, and seems repugnant to all our ways of conception. An infinite spiritual being, or infinite understanding and will and spiritual power, must be omnipresent, without extension, which is nothing but mystery and seeming inconsistency.
The notion of an infinite eternal, implies absolute immutability. That which is in all respects infinite, and absolutely perfect to the utmost degree, and at all times, cannot be in any respect variable. And this immutability being constant from eternity implies duration without succession, and is wholly a mystery and seeming inconsistency. It seems as much as to say, an infinitely great or long duration all at once, or all in a moment, which seems to be saying, an infinitely great in an infinitely little, or an infinitely long line in a point without any length.
Infinite understanding, which implies an understanding of all things past, present and future, and of all truth and all reason and argument, implies infinite thought and reason. But how this can be absolutely without mutation, or succession of acts, seems mysterious and absurd. We can conceive of no such thing as thinking, without successive acting of the mind about ideas.
Perfect knowledge of all things, even of all the things of external sense, without any sensation, or any reception of ideas from without, is an inconceivable mystery.
Infinite knowledge, implies a perfect comprehensive view of a whole future eternity, which seems utterly impossible. For how can there be any reaching of the whole of this to comprehend it without reaching to the utmost limits of it? But this cannot be, where there is no such thing as utmost limits. And again, if God perfectly views an eternal succession or chain of events, then he perfectly sees every individual part of that chain, and there is no one link of it hid from his sight. And yet there is no one link that has not innumerable links beyond it, from which it would seem to follow, that there is a link beyond all the links that he sees, and consequently, that there is one link, yea, innumerable links, that he sees not, inasmuch as there are innumerable links beyond everyone that he sees. And many other such seeming contradictions might be mentioned, which attend the supposition of God’s omniscience.
If there be absolutely immutability in God, then there never arises any new act in God, or new exertion of himself, and yet there arise new effects, which seems an utter inconsistency. And so innumerable other such like mysteries and paradoxes are involved in the notion of an infinite and eternal intelligent being.
Insomuch, that if there had never been any revelation, by which God had made known himself by his Word to mankind; the most speculative persons would, without doubt, have forever been exceedingly at a loss concerning the nature of the Supreme Being and first cause of the universe. And that some of the ancient philosophers and wiser heathens had so good notions of God as they had, seems to be much more owing to tradition, which originated from divine revelation, than from their own invention: Though human nature served to keep those traditions alive in the world, and led the more considerate to embrace and retain the imperfect traditions which were to be found in any parts remaining as they appeared, when once suggested and delivered agreeable to reason.
If a revelation be made of the principal scheme of the supreme and infinitely wise Ruler, respecting his moral kingdom, wherein his all-sufficient wisdom is displayed, in the case of its greatest trial; ordering and regulating the said moral kingdom to its great ends, when in the most difficult circumstances; and extricating it out of the most extreme calamities, in which it had been involved by the malice and subtlety of the chief and most crafty of all God’s enemies — [then] should we expect no mysteries? If it be the principal of all the effects of the wisdom of him, the depth of whose wisdom is unsearchable and absolutely infinite; his deepest scheme, by which mainly the grand design of the universal, incomprehensibly complicated system of all his operations, and the infinite series of his administrations, is most happily, completely and gloriously attained; and the scheme in which God’s wisdom is mainly exercised and displayed — [then] it may reasonably be expected that such a revelation will contain many mysteries.
We see that to be the case, even as to many works of human wisdom and art. They appear strange, paradoxical, and incomprehensible, by those that are vastly inferior in sagacity, or are entirely destitute of that skill or art. How are many of the effects of human art attended with many things that appear strange and altogether incomprehensible by children, and many others seeming to be beyond and against nature. And in many cases, the effect produced not only seems to be beyond the power of any visible means, but inconsistent with it, being an effect contrary to what would be expected. The means seems inconsistent with the end.
If God reveal the exact truth in those things which, in the language of the heathen sages, are matters of philosophy, especially things concerning the nature of the Deity, and the nature of man as related to the Deity, etc. it may most reasonably be expected that such a revelation should contain many mysteries and paradoxes; considering how many mysteries the doctrines of the greatest and best philosophers, in all ages, concerning these things, have contained; or at least, how very mysterious, and seemingly repugnant they are to the reason of the vulgar, and persons of less understanding; and considering how mysterious the principles of philosophers, even concerning matters far inferior to these, would have appeared in any former age, if they had been revealed to be true, which however are now received as the most undoubted truths.
If God gives mankind his Word in a large book, consisting of a vast variety of parts, many books, histories, prophecies, prayers, songs, parables, proverbs, doctrines, promises, sermons, epistles, and discourses of very many kinds, all connected together, all united in one grand draft and design; and one part having a various and manifold respect to others, so as to become one great work of God; and one grand system, as is the system of the universe, with its vast variety of parts connected in one grand work of God — [then] it may well be expected that there should be mysteries, things incomprehensible and exceeding difficult to our understanding; analogous to the mysteries that are found in all the other works of God, as the works of creation and providence, and particularly such as are analogous to the mysteries that are observable in the system of the natural world, and the frame of man’s own nature.
For such a system or bible of the Word of God, is as much the work of God as any other of his works: the effect of the power, wisdom, and contrivance of a God, whose wisdom is unsearchable, whose nature and ways are past finding out. And as the system of nature, and the system of revelation, are both divine works, so both are in different senses a divine word. Both are the voice of God to intelligent creatures, a manifestation and declaration of himself to mankind. Man’s reason was given to him that he might know God, and might be capable of discerning the manifestations he makes of himself in the effects and external expressions and emanations of the divine perfections.
If it be still objected that it is peculiarly unreasonable that mysteries should be supposed in a revelation given to mankind, because if there be such a revelation, the direct and principal design of it must be, to teach mankind and to inform their understandings, which is inconsistent with its delivering things to man which he cannot understand, and which do not inform but only puzzle and confound his understanding: I answer,
1st. Men are capable of understanding as much as is pretended to be revealed, though they cannot understand all that belongs to the things revealed. For instance, God may reveal that there are three who have the same nature of the Deity, whom it is most proper for us to look upon as three persons, though the particular manner of their distinction, or how they differ, may not be revealed. He may reveal that the Godhead was united to man, so as to be properly looked upon as the same person, and yet not reveal how it was effected.
2d. No allowance is made in the objection, for what may be understood of the Word of God in future ages, which is not now understood. And it is to be considered, that divine revelation is not given only for the present or past ages.
3d. The seeming force of this objection, lies wholly in this: that we must suppose whatever God does, tends to answer the end for which he does it, but that those parts of a revelation which we cannot understand, do not answer the end, inasmuch as informing our understandings is the very end of a revelation, if there be any such thing.
But this objection is no other than just equivalent to an objection which may be made against many parts of the creation, particularly of this lower world. It is apparent that the most direct and principal end of this lower world was to be for the habitation, use, and benefit of mankind, the head of this lower world. But there are some parts of it that seem to be of no use to man, but are rather inconvenient and prejudicial to him: as the innumerable stones and rocks that overspread so great a part of the earth, which as to anything known, are altogether useless, and oftentimes are rather an inconvenience than benefit.
Thus, it is reasonable to expect, that, in such a revelation, there should be many things plain and easy to be understood and that the revelation should be most intelligible, wherein it is most necessary for us to understand it, in order to our guidance and direction in the way to our happiness, but that there should also be many incomprehensible mysteries in it, many things understood in part, but yet that room should be left for vast improvement in the knowledge of them, to the end of the world. It is reasonable to expect that the case should actually be the same as concerning the works of nature; that many things which were formerly great and insuperable difficulties, unintelligible, mysteries, should now, by further study and improvement, be well cleared up, and cease longer to remain difficulties; and that other difficulties should be considerably diminished, though not yet fully cleared up.
It may be expected that as in the system of nature, so in the system of revelation, there should be many parts whose use is but little understood, and many that should seem wholly useless, yea, and some that should seem rather to do hurt than good. I might further observe that if we have a revelation given in ancient languages, used among a people whose customs and phraseology are but very imperfectly understood, many difficulties will arise from hence. And in a very concise history, in which only some particular facts and circumstances that concern the special purpose of that revelation, are mentioned — and innumerable others are omitted that would be proper to be mentioned, if the main design were to give a full, clear, connected, continued history of such a people, or such affairs as the history mentions — it is no wonder that many doubts and difficulties arise.
1350. Reason, Knowledge and Religion. The following things are abridged from Deism Revealed, second edition.
Mankind cannot subsist out of society, especially if we comprehend families in the number of societies, and families cannot subsist without the protection of greater societies. As children depend absolutely on families for subsistence, so do families on kingdoms and commonwealths, for peace, security, property, life and everything. And societies cannot subsist without laws. Its members must know by what constitutions or customs they are to regulate their actions. And magistrates are as necessary as laws, for let the laws be never so good, they cannot execute themselves. And that laws and magistracy may answer that end, there is need of a Supreme Magistrate, who is almighty, perfectly wise and just, all-knowing, and perfectly acquainted with the conduct of inferior magistrates and of all subjects. Otherwise, the greatest irregularities and enormities may be committed by both with impunity. And it is necessary officers and subjects should know that they are under such a Supreme Magistrate, thus perfectly wise and just, who perfectly inspects and takes care of the society, will judge all, will reward and punish, and that all must give an account of themselves to him, otherwise the welfare of society will not be influenced by his government. That man, who does not believe that he is to account, in the severest manner, for the use and application of his power, ought never to be trusted with any power, because he will endeavor to draw all the advantages of society to himself and his instruments, and turn all its weight and strength against those who thwart his usurpations. How can mankind be more unhappy than under a fallible, or I should rather say, a corrupt administration that stands in awe of no superior? As to the subjects, if they do not look upon themselves as accountable to one that is omniscient, omnipotent, and inflexibly just, they will follow their own private ends, in all cases wherein authority can be resisted or evaded, which may be done in most cases. Public societies cannot be maintained without trials and witnesses. And if witnesses are not firmly persuaded that he who holds the supreme power over them is omniscient, just, and powerful, and will revenge falsehood, there will be no dependence on their oaths, or most solemn declarations.
God therefore must be the supreme magistrate. Society depends absolutely on him, and all kingdoms and communities are but provinces of his universal kingdom, who is King of kings, Lord of lords, and Judge of judges.
Thus, as mankind cannot subsist out of society, nor society itself subsist without religion. I mean, without faith in the infinite power, wisdom, and justice of God and a judgment to come, religion cannot be a falsehood. It is not credible that all the happiness of mankind, the whole civil world, and peace, safety, justice, and truth itself, should have nothing to stand on but a lie. It is not to be supposed that God would give the world no other foundation. So that religion is absolutely necessary, and must have some sure foundation. But there can be no good, sure foundation of religion without mankind having a right idea of God, and some sure and clear knowledge of him, and of our dependence on him. Lord Shaftesbury himself owns that wrong ideas of God will hurt society as much, if not more, than ignorance of him can do.
Now the question is, “Whether nature and reason alone can give us a right idea of God and are sufficient to establish among mankind a clear and sure knowledge of his nature, and the relation we stand in to him, and his concern with us? It may well be questioned, whether any man has this from the mere light of nature. Nothing can seem more strange than that the wisest and most sagacious of all men, I mean the philosophers, should have searched with all imaginable candor and anxiety for this, and searched in vain, if the light of nature alone is sufficient to give it to, and establish it among, mankind in general.”
There never was a man known or heard of, who had an idea of God, without being taught it. Whole sects of philosophers denied the very being of God; and some have died martyrs to atheism, as Vanius, Jordanus, Bruno, Cosimir, Liszinsai, and Mahomet Effendi.
A man, confined to a dungeon all his days, and deprived of all conversation with mankind, probably would not so much as once consider who made him, or whether he was made or not, nor entertain the least notion of God. There are many instances of people born absolutely deaf and blind who never showed the least sense of religion or knowledge of God.
It is one thing to work out a demonstration of a point, when once it is proposed and another to strike upon the point itself. I cannot tell whether any man would have considered the works of creation as effects, if he had never been told they had a cause. We know very well, that even after the being of such a cause was much talked of in the world, and believed by the generality of mankind, yet many and great philosophers held the world to be eternal, and others ascribed what we call the works of creation to an eternal series of causes. If the most sagacious of the philosophers were capable of doing this, after hearing so much of a first cause and a creation, what would they have done, and what would the gross of mankind, who are inattentive and ignorant, have thought of the matter, if nothing had been taught concerning God and the origin of things, but every single man left solely to such intimation as his own senses and reason could have given him? We find the earlier ages of the world did not trouble themselves about the question whether the being of God could be proved by reason, but either never inquired into the matter, or took their opinions upon that head merely from tradition. But allowing that every man is able to demonstrate to himself that the world, and all things contained therein, are effects and had a beginning, which I take to be a most absurd supposition, and look upon it to be almost impossible for unassisted reason to go so far. Yet if effects are to be ascribed to similar causes, and a good and wise effect must suppose a good and wise cause, by the same way of reasoning, all the evil and irregularity in the world must be attributed to an evil and unwise cause. So that either the first cause must be both good and evil, wise and foolish, or else there must be two first causes, an evil and irrational, as well as a good and wise principle. Thus man left to himself, would be apt to reason, “If the cause and the effects are similar and conformable, matter must have a material cause, there being nothing more impossible for us to conceive than how matter should be produced by spirit, or anything else but matter.” The best reasoner in the world, endeavoring to find out the causes of things by the things themselves, might be led into the grossest errors and contradictions, and find himself, at the end, in extreme want of an instructor….
Men who live in times and places of ignorance hardly reason at all and are little better than brutes, in comparison of such as have been bred up in ages and countries well-enlightened. Uneducated and illiterate men are able to reason on few points, and these only such as relate to their daily occupations and affairs.
It is manifest that reason stands in great need of instruction in order to the right performance of her office, and most of all, when she is to weigh propositions and draw conclusions about objects that are only to be analogically apprehended and considered. The mind of man imports its rules of reasoning, as well as notions, from abroad, and one generation teaches another, not only in religion, but all other sciences. The art of reasoning rightly follows instruction and is progressive and traditional. We can trace it from Syria to Egypt, from Egypt to Greece, from Greece to Italy, and from whence westward and northward to the rest of Europe, while (the Chinese accepted) all the other nations of the earth, who made but little advances in knowledge, lying without the verge of right religious instruction, remained profoundly ignorant. Reason, in them, not meeting with opportunities of culture, the seeds of knowledge lay dead and produced little or no inventions, and scarcely any improvement in arts and sciences. No country that we know of ever became ingenious and learned from barbarous and ignorant, merely of themselves. In all countries we are acquainted with, knowledge bears an exact proportion to instruction. Why does the learned and well educated reason better than the mere citizen? Why the citizen better than the boor? Why the English boor better than the Spanish? Why the Spanish better than the Moorish? Why the Moorish better than the Negro? And why he better than the Hottentot? If then reason is found to go hand in hand, and step by step, with education, what would be the consequence if there were no education? There is no fallacy more gross than to imagine reason, utterly untaught and undisciplined, capable of the same attainments in knowledge, as reason well refined and instructed. Or to suppose that reason can as easily find in itself principles to argue from, as draw the consequences, when once they are found: I mean especially in respect to objects not perceivable by our senses. In ordinary articles of knowledge our senses and experience furnish reason with ideas and principles to work on, continual conferences and debates give it exercise in such matters, and that improves its vigor and activity. But, in respect to God, it can have no right idea nor axiom to set out with, till he is pleased to reveal it….
What instance can be mentioned, from any history, of any one nation under the sun that emerged from atheism or idolatry, into the knowledge of adoration of the one true God, without the assistance of revelation? The Americans, the Africans, the Tartars, and the ingenious Chinese, have had time enough, one would think, to find out the true and right idea of God, and yet, after above five thousand years’ improvements and the full exercise of reason, they have, at this day, got no further in their progress towards the true religion, than to the worship of stocks and stones and devils. How many thousand years must be allowed to these nations, to reason themselves into the true religion? What the light of nature and reason could do to investigate the knowledge of God, is best seem by what they have already done. We cannot argue more convincingly on any foundation, than that of known and incontestable facts….
Le Compte and Duhald assure us [that] the Chinese, after offering largely to their gods, and being disappointed of their assistance, sometimes sue them for damages, and obtain decrees against them from the Mandarin. This ingenious people, when their houses are on fire, to the imminent peril of their wooden gods, hold them to the flames, in hopes of extinguishing them by it. The Tyrians were a wise people, and therefore, when Alexander laid siege to their city, they chained Apollo to Hercules to prevent his giving them the slip….
Revenge and self-murder were not only tolerated, but esteemed heroic, by the best of the heathen. I know not, in all profane history, six more illustrious characters, than those of Lycurgus, Timoleon, Circero, Cato, Uticensis, Brutus, and Germanicus. The first encouraged tricking and stealing, by an express law. The second, upon principle, murdered his own brother. Cicero, with all his fine talk about religion and virtue, had very little of either, as may appear by what he says (I think it is in a letter to Atticus), on the death of his daughter Tullia, “I hate the very gods, who hitherto have been so profuse in their favours to me;” and by deserting his friends and his country, and turning a servile flatterer to Caesar. Brutus concludes all his mighty heroism with this exclamation: “Virtue, I have pursued thee in vain, and found thee to be but an empty name;” and then kills himself. Cato’s virtue was not strong enough to hinder his turning a public robber and oppressor (witness his Cyprian expedition), nor to bear up against the calamities of life. And so he stabbed himself and ran away like a coward from his country and the world. Germanicus, who exceeded all men in his natural sweetness of temper, at the approach of death, called his friends about him, and spent his last moments in pressing them to take revenge of Piso and Plancina for poisoning or bewitching him, in directing them how this might be best done, and in receiving their oaths for the performance of his request. His sense of religion he thus expressed on that occasion: “Had I died by the decree of fate, I should have had just cause of resentment against the gods, for hurrying me away from my parents, my wife, and my children, in the flower of my youth, by an untimely death.”
Socrates, Plato, and Cicero, who were more inclined to the belief of a future existence than the other philosophers, plea for it with arguments of no force, speak of it with the utmost uncertainty, and therefore, are afraid to found their system of duty and virtue in the expectation of it. Their notions of morality were of a piece with their religion and had little else for a foundation than vain-glory. Tully, in his treatise of Friendship, says that virtue proposes glory as its end, and has no other reward. Accordingly, he maintains, that wars undertaken for glory, are not unlawful, provided they are carried on without the usual cruelty…. Diogenes, and the sect of the Cynics, held that parents have a right to sacrifice and eat their children and that there is nothing shameful in committing the grossest acts of lewdness publicly and before the faces of mankind. The virtuous sentiments discovered by the philosophers on some occasions, will neither palliate these execrable principles, nor suffer us to think those who could abet them, fit instructors for mankind…. Zeno, Cleombrotus, and Menippus committed murder on themselves. The last, because he had lost a considerable sum of money, which, as he was an usurer, went a little too near his heart. That I do not charge the philosophers with worse principles and practices than they themselves maintain, and their own pagan historians ascribe to them: anyone may satisfy himself, who will consult Diogenes, Laertius, Sextus Empiricus, Lucian, Plutarch, and the works of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero.
Thus, it is plain, whether we consider what the human understanding could do, or what it actually did, that it could not have attained to a sufficient knowledge of God, without revelation. So that the demonstration brought in favor of some religion, ends in a demonstration of the revealed. When we attentively consider the nature of man, we find it necessary he should have some religion. When we consider the nature of God, we must conclude he never would have made a falsehood necessary to the happiness of his rational creatures, and that therefore there must be a true religion. And when we consider that, by our natural faculties, it is extremely difficult to arrive at a right idea of God, till he reveals it to us, that all the Gentiles’ world has run into the grossest theological errors, and in consequence of these, into the most enormous customs and crimes, and that no legislator ever founded his scheme of civil government on any supposed religious dictates of nature, but always on some real or pretended revelations. We cannot help ascribing all the true religion in the world to divine instruction, and all the frightful variety of religious errors to human invention and to that dark and degenerate nature, by the imaginary light of which deists suppose the right idea of God may be easily and universally discovered.
Socrates, who never traveled out of Greece, had nothing to erect a scheme of religion or morality on, but the scattered fragments of truth, handed down from time immemorial among his countrymen, or imported by Pythagoras, Thales, and others, who had been in Egypt and the East. These he picked out from a huge heap of absurdities and errors, under which they were buried, and by the help of a most prodigious capacity, laying them together, comparing them with the nature of things, and drawing consequences from them, he found reason to question the soundness of the Grecian theology and morality. But this is all the length he seems to have gone. He reasoned extremely well against the prevailing errors of his time, but was able to form no system of religion or morality. This was a work above the strength of his nature and the lights he enjoyed. He taught his disciples to worship the gods and to ground the distinction between right and wrong on the laws of their country, in the latter of which he followed the saying of his master Archelaus, who taught that what is just or dishonest is defined by law, not by nature.
The notions of Plato concerning the divine nature, were infinitely more sublime and nearer the truth, than those of his master Socrates. He did not content himself merely with removing errors. He ventured on a system and maintained that virtue is a science and that God is the object and source of duty, that there is but one God, the fountain of all being and superior to all essence, that he has a Son, called The Word, that there is a judgment to come by which the just who have suffered in this life shall be recompensed in the other and the wicked punished eternally, that God is omnipresent and, consequently, that the wicked, if he were to dive into the deepest caverns of the earth, or should get wings and fly into the heavens, would not be able to escape from him, that man is formed in the image of God, and that in order to establish laws and government, relations made by true traditions and ancient oracles are to be consulted. These points, so much insisted on by Plato, are far from being the growth of Greece, or his own invention, but derived from Eastern traditions, which we know he traveled for, at least as far as Egypt. He was wiser than his teacher (who was a much greater man), because his lights were better. But as they were not sufficient, he ran into great errors, speaking plainly as if he believed in a plurality of gods, making goods, women, and children, common, etc.
How should it come to pass that Mount Taurus in Asia, Mount Atlas and the deserts of Barca in Africa make so great a difference between the knowledge and politeness of the nations dwelling on the one side of them and those of the nations dwelling on the other? Is knowledge progressive, and may it be stopped by a mountain, a sea or a desert? The natural faculties of men, in all nations, are alike, and did nature itself furnish all men with the means and materials of knowledge, philosophy need never turn traveler, either in order to her own improvement, or to the communication of her lights to the world. How came it to pass that Scythia did not produce so many, so great philosophers, as Greece? I think it very evident that the great difference between these countries as to learning and instruction, arose from this: the latter had the benefit of commerce with the Phoenicians, from whence they came by the knowledge of letters and probably of navigation, and with the Egyptians, from whom they learned the greater part of their theology, policy, arts, and sciences. Such advantages the Scythians wanted, and therefore, although their natural talents were as good as those of the Grecians, they were not able to make any improvements in philosophy. Why are the Asiatic Scythians at this day as ignorant as ever, while the European Scythians are little inferior to the other nations of Europe in arts and politeness? And how does it come to pass, that we, at this day, take upon us to approve the philosophy of Socrates and Plato, rather than that of Epicurus and Aristippus? The Grecians were divided in this matter: some followed the notions of the former, and others those of the latter. Why did not reason put the matter out of question in those times, or at least immediately after? The infinite contradictions and uncertainties among the ancient philosophers produced the sects of the skeptics. In respect to religion, Socrates and Plato either were, or pretended to be, skeptics, beating down the absurd notions of others, but seldom building up anything of their own, or when they did, building on mere conjectures or arguments suspected by themselves.
If it be said, the finding out of truth by the light of nature, is a work of time, [then] time has taught the Tartars, Africans, and Americans, little or nothing of true theology or morality, even yet. Time of itself can search nothing. It was the Christian religion that opened the eyes of the polite nations of Europe, and even of the deists of this age, wherein their eyes are still open, and they have any true principles by which they are able to examine the philosophy of the ancients, and, by comparing their several opinions one with another, and with the truths derived from the Christian revelation, to decide in favor of some against the rest….
As to the doctrine of THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL: it is certain nothing can be more agreeable to reason, when once the doctrine is proposed and thoroughly canvassed, while, at the same time, there is no one probable opinion in the world which mankind, left entirely to themselves, would have been more unlikely to have started. Who, if he was not assured of it by good authority, would ever take it into his head to imagine, that man, who dies and rots and vanishes forever, like all other animals, still exists? It is well if this, when proposed, can be believed, but to strike out the thought itself, is somewhat, I am afraid, too high and difficult for the capacity of men. The only natural argument of any weight, for the immortality of the soul, takes its rise from this observation: that justice is not extended to the good, nor executed upon the bad, man in this life, and that as the Governor of the world is just, man must live hereafter to be judged. But as this only argument that can be drawn from mere reason, in order either to lead us to a discovery of our own immortality, or to support the opinion of it when once started, is founded entirely on the knowledge of God and his attributes. And as we have already seen that such knowledge is almost unattainable by the present light of nature, the argument itself, which before the fall could not possibly have been thought of, is since the fall [and is] clogged with all the difficulties mere reason labors under, in finding out a right idea of God. And besides, this argument in itself is utterly inconclusive, on the principles of the deists of our age and nation, because they insist that virtue fully rewards, and vice fully punishes itself. It is no wonder that many heathen nations believed a future state, as they received it by tradition from their ancestors. — But yet, there is this evidence that mankind had not this doctrine merely from the easy and plain dictates of reason and nature, that many did not believe it….
Socrates, in the Phaedon of Plato, says most men were of opinion that the soul, upon its separation from the body, is dissipated and reduced to nothing. And Tully, in his first Tusculan question says [that] Pherecydes Syrus, preceptor to Pythagoras, was the first person known to the learned world, who taught the immortality of the soul. The other arguments brought by Plato and Cicero for the immortality of the soul, besides that already mentioned, are very inconclusive. They themselves thought so. The former, in his Phaedon, makes Socrates speak with some doubt concerning his own arguments, and introduces Simias saying to Socrates, after having listened to his principal reasonings, “We ought to lay hold of the strongest arguments for this doctrine, that either we ourselves, or others, can suggest to us. If both ways prove ineffectual, we must however put up with the best proofs we can get, till some promise or revelation shall clear up the point to us.” — One of Plato’s arguments for the immortality of the soul is this: “Every cause produces an effect contrary to its self; and that, therefore, as life produces death, so death shall produce life.” Cicero, to prove that the soul will exist after it is separated from the body, endeavors to prove that it existed before it was joined to it. And to that end he insists, “that what we call aptness in children to learn, is nothing more than memory.” Another argument of Plato is this: “That alone which moves itself, inasmuch as it is never deserted by itself, never ceases to move: but the mind moves itself, and borrows not its motion from anything else, and therefore must move, and consequently exist, for ever.”
The wisdom of Socrates and Plato united, produced such arguments for a most favorite opinion, as they themselves are dissatisfied with, and therefore call for more than human help. Cicero being so fond of this opinion that, as he says, he would rather err with Plato in holding it, than think rightly with those who deny it, poorly echoes the arguments of Plato, adds little to them himself, and at the conclusion, in a manner giving up the point, with all the arguments brought to support it, endeavors to comfort himself and others against the approach of death by proving death to be no evil, even supposing the soul to perish with the body. And this great philosopher, with all his knowledge, gives but one lot to the good and evil in another life. It was his opinion: “If the soul is immortal, it must be happy: if it perishes with the body, it cannot be miserable.” This consolation he administers alike to all men, without making any distinction, and consequently leaves moral obligation on a mere temporal footing, which in effect, is not a whit better than downright atheism. But in his dream of Scope, when he does not reason nor seem to inculcate any particular doctrine, he indeed introduces the elder Scope telling the younger, by way of dream, that those who serve their country and cultivated justice and the other virtues, should go to heaven after death. But that the souls of those that had violated the laws of the gods and men should, after leaving their bodies, be tossed about on the earth, and not return to heaven for many ages. Now, if a person of Cicerone’s abilities and learning could, from the light of nature, work out no better scheme than this, which renders futurity almost useless to moral obligation, how much farther from the truth and reason must we suppose the bulk of mankind to stray, if each ignorant person is to be left entirely to his own thoughts and discoveries, in respect to the future rewards of virtue, and punishments of vice?
As to the expectations which the people had of future rewards and punishments, which appears by their historians and poets: these they could have borrowed from nothing else but tradition.
Plato, who makes all religious knowledge to depend on revelation, either drew his theory of futurity from his travels into countries bordering on the light of revelation and the hints of those who were not altogether unacquainted with the sacred writings and religion of the Israelites, or else he received it from the crude opinions of his countrymen, extracting and separating, by the force of amazing talents, what was original and true, from what was novel and superstitious.
Thus, upon considering the extent and strength of human faculties, we have found them at present utterly incapable of attaining to any competent notion of a divine law, if left wholly to themselves. This is vastly confirmed by experience, from which it appears that mankind, instead of being able, through a long series of ages by the mere light of nature, to find out a right idea of God and his laws, on the contrary, after having, without doubt, been well acquainted at first with both, [they] gradually, and at length almost universally, lost sight of both: insomuch that idolatry as bad as atheism, and wickedness worse than brutality, were established for religion and law in all countries. The philosophers who lived in the most knowing countries, and sought for religion and moral truth, but sought in vain, as the wisest of them confess, render this argument still more cogent and conclusive….
As the apostle Paul observes in the first chapter of his epistle to the Romans, men did not like to retain God in their knowledge, and professing themselves to be wise, they became fools and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Thus were their foolish hearts darkened, upon which God gave them over to a reprobate mind and gave them up to uncleanness, to sins of all kinds, even such as were utterly against nature. St. Chrysostom, in his descant on this passage, says, “The Gentiles fell into a kind of madness, insomuch, that having deprived themselves of the light, and involved their minds in the darkness of their own thoughts, their attempt to travel towards heaven ended in a miserable shipwreck, as his must do, who, in a dark night, undertakes a voyage by sea.” Being guided by conceit, and too great an attachment to sensible things, they entered upon a wrong way, so that still the longer they traveled, the farther they wandered from the knowledge of the true God, and right religion. The doctrine of St. Paul, concerning the blindness into which the Gentiles fell, is so confirmed by the state of religion in Africa, America, and even China, where to this day, no advances towards the true religion have been made, that we can no longer be at a loss to judge of the insufficiency of unassisted reason, to dissipate the prejudices of the heathen world and open their eyes to the religious truths….
The starting of a proposition is one thing, and the proof of it quite another. Every science has its proofs in the nature of things. Yet all sciences require to be taught, and those require it most, the first principles of which lie a little out of the reach of ordinary capacities. The first principles of religion, being of a high and spiritual nature, are harder to be found out than those of any other science, because the minds of men are gross and earthly, used to objects of sense. And all their depraved appetites and corrupt dispositions, which are by nature opposite to the true religion, help to increase the natural weakness of their reason, and clip the wings of their contemplation, when they endeavor, by their own strength, to soar towards God and heavenly things. No man in his, or hardly in any other time, knew better how to catch at the evidence of divine truths discovered in the works of creation, nor had better opportunities, than Plato. Yet, with all the help he derived from foreign and domestic instruction, he finds himself on every occasion at a loss. When he speaks of God and divine matters, he relies on oracles, traditions, and revelations, and having got a little taste of this kind of instruction, is every now and then confessing his want of more and wishing for it with the greatest anxiety…. And not thinking the traditions which he was acquainted with sufficient, he talks of a future instructor to be sent from God, to teach the world a more perfect knowledge of religious duties. “The truth is,” (says he, speaking in his first book De Legibus, concerning future rewards and punishments), “to determine or establish any thing certain about these matters, in the midst of so many doubts and disputations, is the work of God only.” In his Phaedon, one of the speakers says to Socrates concerning the immortality of the soul, “I am of the same opinion with you, that in this life, it is either absolutely impossible, or extremely difficult, to arrive at a clear knowledge in this matter.” In the apology he wrote for Socrates, he puts these words into his mouth, on the subject of reformation of matters: “You may pass the remainder of your days in sleep, or despair of finding out a sufficient expedient for this purpose, if God, in his providence, doth not send you some other instructor.” And in his Epinomis he says, “Let no man take upon him to teach, if God do not lead the way.”
In the book De Mundo, ascribed to Aristotle, we have a remarkable passage to this effect: “It is an old tradition, almost universally received, that all things proceed from God, and subsist through him; and that no nature is self-sufficient, or independent of God’s protection and assistance.” In his Metaphysics, he ascribes the belief of the gods, and of this, that the Deity compasses and comprehends all nature, to a traditionary habit of speaking, handed down from the first men to after-ages. Cicero, in his treatise concerning the nature of the gods, introduces Cotta blaming those who endeavored, by argumentation, to prove there are gods, and affirming that this only served to make the point doubtful, which, by the instructions and traditions of their forefathers, had been sufficiently made known to them, and established. Plutarch, speaking of the worship paid to a certain ideal divinity, which his friend had called in question, says, “It is enough to believe pursuant to the faith of our ancestors, and the instructions communicated to us in the country where we were born and bred; than which, we can neither find out, nor apply, any argument more to be depended on.”
It will be further useful to observe, that the thoughts of men, with regard to any internal law, will be always mainly influenced by their sentiments concerning the chief good. Whatsoever power or force may do in respect to the outward actions of a man, nothing can oblige him to think or act, as often as he is at liberty, against what he takes to be his chief good or interest. No law, nor system of laws, can possibly answer the end and purpose of a law, till the grand question: what is the chief happiness and end of man, be determined and so cleared up, that every man may be fully satisfied about it. Before our Savior’s time, the world was infinitely divided on this important head. The philosophers were miserably bewildered in all their researches after the chief good. Each sect, each subdivision of a sect, had a chief good of its own, and rejected all the rest. They advanced, as Varro tells us, no fewer than 288 opinions in relation to this matter; which shows, by a strong experiment, that the light of nature was altogether unable to settle the difficulty. Every man, if left to the particular bias of his own nature, chooses out a chief good for himself, and lays the stress of all his thoughts and actions on it. Now if the supposed chief good of any man should lead him, as it often does, to violate the laws of society, to hurt others, and act against the general good of mankind, he will be very unfit for society, and consequently, as he cannot subsist out of it, an enemy to himself.
If Christianity came too late into the world, what is called natural religion came full as late, and there are no footsteps of natural religion, in any sense of the words, to be found at this day, but where Christianity has been planted. In every place else, religion has no conformity with reason or truth. So far is the light of nature from lending sufficient assistance. It is strange that the natural light should be so clear, and yet the natural darkness so great, that in all unassisted countries the most monstrous forms of religion, derogatory to God and prejudicial to man, should be contrived by some and swallowed by the rest, with a most voracious credulity. I could wish most heartily that all nations were Christians, yet since it is otherwise, we derive this advantage from it, that we have a standing and contemporary demonstration of that which nature, left to herself, can do. Had all the world been Christians for some ages past, our present libertines would insist that Christianity had done no service to mankind, that nature could have sufficiently directed herself, and that all the stories told, either in sacred or profane history, of the idolatry and horrible forms of religion in ancient times, were forged by Christian priests, to make the world think revelation necessary and natural reason incapable of dictating true and right notions of religion. But as the case stands at present, we have such proofs of the insufficiency of unassisted reason in this behalf, as all the subtlety of libertines is unable to evade.
All that the Grecians, Romans, and present Chinese, know of true religion, they were taught traditionally. As to their corrupt notions and idolatries, they were of their own invention. The Grecians, who were by far the most knowing people of the three, were as gross idolaters as the rest, till Plato’s time. He traveled into the East and ran higher towards truth in his sentiments of religion than others, but still worshipped the gods of his country, and durst not speak out all he knew. However, he formed a great school, and both through his writings and scholars, instructed his countrymen in a kind of religious philosophy that tended much more directly and strongly to reformation of manners, than either the dictates of their own reason, or of their other philosophers. All the philosophy of the Gentile nations, excepting that of Socrates and Plato, was derived from the source of self-sufficiency. Only these two acknowledge the blindness of human nature, and the necessity of a divine instructor. No other heathen philosopher founded his morality on any sense of religion, or ever dreamt of an inability in man to render himself happy.
Consider the following two works by Edwards that have been updated and republished for easy reading:
Ripe for Damnation: Sermons on the Book of Revelation – by Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758). Are you hungry for more of Edwards’ sermons? On the book of Revelation? These new works are not found anywhere on A Puritan’s Mind, and there are new ones not found in his large 2 volume works. 4 deal with the plight of the wicked, and 2 deal with the bliss of saints in heaven. These sermons are powerful, practical, and biblical, glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ, and contain 2 never before published sermons.
Justification by Faith Alone – by Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758). In this classic work, Edwards covers the intricacies of how believers are made righteous only through Christ’s merits, and that this justifying righteousness is equally imputed to all elect believers. This is accomplished by the condition of faith as an instrument.