« PreviousContinue »
venture to assert, that no conceivable evidence from without, could render the theology of Hesiod or Homer, in any degree, credible. Thus far, therefore, it will be allowed, that reason is entitled to examine and judge concerning the subject itself: for there may be something in the subject that may serve as evidence, either in its favour, or against it. At the same time it must be owned that, the more the subject is above the things which commonly fall under the discussion of our faculties, the narrower is the range of our reason ; insomuch that, in things so far beyond our reach, as those may be supposed to be which are conveyed by revelation from God, there is hardly any internal character that can be considered as sufficient to defeat a claim, otherwise well supported, but either, as has been said, absurdity or immorality.
Now, here lies the principal difference between the impartial seekers of truth, whose minds are unbiased on every side, and those who, under the appearance of exalting human reason, idolize all their own conceptions and prejudices. I speak not of those who reject revelation altogether ; but of those who, whilst they admit the truth of the Christian revelation in general, consider their own reason as competent to determine, and prejudge, as I may say, what it is fit for God, either to declare as truth, or to command as duty. Such people, for example, if they do not discover an useful purpose that any particular declaration in Scripture can answer, boldly conclude, in defiance of the clearest positive evidence, that it
is not there : if they cannot divine the intention of Providence in the production of any being, or order of beings, of which there may be frequent mention in holy writ, they infer that such being, or order of beings, notwithstanding the notice there taken of them, does not exist. They will not admit the reality of an operation, of which they do not perfectly comprehend the manner, though the former may be a matter clearly revealed in Scripture, the latter not. Now the rejection of the aid of reason altogether (the common error of fanatics of every denomination), and such a conviction as that now described of its all-sufficiency, are extremes which the judicious, but humble-minded Christian, will think it incumbent on him equally to guard against.
Indeed those deifiers of human reason, of whom I have been speaking, seem, all the while, to mistake the proper province of reason. They proceed on the supposition that, from her own native stock, she is qualified for the discovery of truth; of all such truths, at least, as are of any consequence to a man to be acquainted with. The fact is nearly the reverse : for except those things which pass within our own minds, and which we learn solely from what is called consciousness, and except the deductions made from self-evident or mathematical axioms, all our information relating to fact, or existence of any kind, is from without. Hence all our knowledge of arts, sciences, languages; of history, philosophy, and every thing in which human life is concerned. Do I, by this, mean to depreciate human
reason as a thing of little consequence ? Far from it. Reason, I am sensible, is absolutely necessary to render us capable of that information from with. out, by which we are enabled to make so great progress in knowledge. For want of this power entirely, or at least in the requisite degree, how little, comparatively, is the greatest knowledge which the most sagacious of the brute creation can attain? I cannot, therefore, be justly thought to derogate from a faculty which, by my hypothesis, constitutes the radical distinction between man and beast. Would a man be understood to depreciate that admirable or. gan of the body, the eye, because he affirmed, that unless the world, which is without the body, furnished us with light, our eyes could be of no service to us? Reason is the eye of the mind : it is in consequence of our possessing it, that we are susceptible either of religion or of law. Now the light by which the mental eye is informed, comes also from with. out, and consists chiefly in testimony, human or divine.
I would recommend it, therefore, to those, who are accounted the most refined rationalists in religion, to take the trouble to reflect a little, and inquire what is the method which they, and indeed all, must follow, in the acquisition of human knowledge. In natural history, for example, how insignificant would be our progress, if our conviction were to be regulated by the same maxims by which those men seem to regulate their faith in matters of revelation ? If our not knowing the use of any thing were a suffi
cient reason for disbelieving its existence, how many animals, how many vegetables, how many inanimate substances, apparently useless, or even noxious, should we discard out of our systems of nature, inflexibly denying that they exist any-where, except in the disordered imaginations of men ? Nor should we make greater proficiency in the other branches of science. Of nothing have we clearer evidence than of this, that by means of the food which animals swallow, life is preserved, the body is nourished, the limbs gradually advance in strength and size, to their full maturity. Yet, where is the philosopher, where is the chemist, who can explain, or will pretend to understand, the process whereby the nourishment is converted into chyle, and the chyle into blood, and the blood into skin, and flesh, and bones and sinews?
Now if, in matters of science, merely human, our ignorance of the use, in the one case, and of the manner of operation, in the other, does not preclude our belief of the fact, a belief which ultimately rests, in most cases, on the testimony of our fellow-creatures ; can we think it reasonable to be more shy of admitting a fact, on the testimony of God, when, in effect, we admit that sufficient ground is given us to conclude that we have his testimony ? For I do not here argue with the denyers of revelation, but with those who, professing to believe it, reject its obvious meaning. Are we better acquainted with things divine than with things human? or with things eternal than with things temporal ? Our Lord, in
his conversation with Nicodemus, seemed to consider it as an acknowledged truth, that things earthly are more level to the natural capacity of man than things heavenly. Yet how soon would an effectual stop be put to our progress in every branch, even of earthly science, were we to lay down as maxims, that the existence of any being, however well attested, whereof we cannot discover the use, is not to be believed ; and that the production of an effect, if we do not comprehend the mode of operation in the cause, is incredible ? The much greater part of all human knowledge, whether of things corporeal, or things spiritual, things terrestrial, or things celestial, is originally from information. Revelation means no other than information from God; and whatever human knowledge we derive from the testimony of our fellow-mortals, which is more than ninetynine parts in a hundred of all we are possessed of, is, if I may be allowed the expression, a revelation from man.
In regard to both, we ought, no doubt, in the first place, to be satisfied that we have the proper testimony : but when this point is ascertained, I think it unaccountable to reject the obvious meaning of the divine testimony (which is indirectly to reject the testimony), on grounds which no judicious person would think sufficient to warrant him in rejecting the testimony of a man of charac
If ye have not satisfactory evidence, that what claims to be the testimony of God is really such, ye
3 Jo. iii. 12.