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to the general idea of divine attributes or animals, with wbich I clearly and distinctly perceive them to be connected.
It may be illustrated in this manner. Suppose a long chain lies before me, whose nearest links I see are iron rings, and I see them fastened to a post near me, but the most distant links lie beyond the reach of my sight, so that I know not whether they are oval or round, brass or iron: now I may boldly affirm, the whole length of this chain is fastened to the post, for I have a clear idea that the nearest links are thus fastened, and a clear idea that the distant links are connected with the nearest, if I can draw the whole chain by one link.
Or thus : If two known ideas, A and B, are evidently joined, or agree, and if C unknown be included in A, and also D unknown be included in B, then I may affirm that C and D are joined and agree: for I have a clear perception of the union of the two known ideas A and B; and also a clear perception of the connection of the unknown idea with the known. So the clear and distinct ideas must still abide as a general necessary qualification, in order to form a right judgment; and indeed it is upon this foot that all ratiocination is built, and the conclusions are thus formed, which deduce things unknown from things known.
Yet it seems to me, that there is one just limitation or exception to this general rule of judgment, as built on clear and distinct ideas, and it is this:
Exception. “ In matters of mere testimony, whether human or divine, there is not always a necessity of clear and distinct ideas of the things which are believed." Though the evidence of propositions, which are entirely formed by ourselves, depends on the clearness and distinctness of those ideas of wbich they are composed, and on our own clear perception of their agreement or disagreement, yet we may justly assent to propositions formed by others, when we have neither a very clear conception in ourselves of the two ideas contained in the words, nor how they agree or disagree ; provided always that we base a clear and sufficient evidence of the credibility of the persons who inform us.
Thus when we read in scripture the great doctrines of the Deity of Christ, of the unity of the divine and human natures in bim, of the divine agency of the blessed Spirit, that “ The Son is the brightness of his Father's glory, that all things were created by him and for him, that the Son shall give up his king. dom to the Father, and that God shall be all in all ;" we may safely believe them : for though our ideas of these objects themselves are not sufficiently elear, distinct, and perfect, for our own minds to form these judgments or propositions codcerving them, yet we have a clear and distinct perception of God's revealing them, or that they are contained in scripture; and this is sufficient evidence to determine our assent.
The same thing holds true in some measure, where credible haman testimony assures us of some propositions, while we have no sufficient ideas of the subject and predicate of them to determine our assent. So when an honest and learned mathematician assures a ploughman that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles, or that the square of the hypothenase of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the two sides; the ploughman who has but confused ideas of these things, may firmly and safely believe these propositions, upon the same ground, because he has evidence of the skill and faithfulness of his informer*.
* Perhaps some may object against this représentation of things, and say, that “ We cannot properly be said to believe a proposition any farther than we ourselves have ideas under the term; therefore if we have po ideas under the terms, We believe gothiog but the connexion of words or sounds; and if we bave but obscure and inadequate ideas under the terms, then we partly believe a connexioo of things, and partly a connexion of sounds. But that we cannot properly be said to believe the proposition, for our faith can never go beyond our ideas,"
Now to set this matter in a clear light. I suppose that every proposition which is proposed to my assent, is a sentence made up of terms which have some ideas under them knowo or unknown to me. I copfess, if I believe there are no ideas at all uoder the terms, and there is nothing meant by them, then indeed, with regard to me, it is the mere " joining of sounds;" but if, for instance, a ploughman bas credible information from an honest and skilful mathemetician, that an "elipsis is made by the section of a cone," he believes the proposition, or be believes the sentence is true, as it is made up of terms which bis informant uoderstands, though the ideas be uokoown to him; that is, he believes there are some ideas which bis informant has under these words which are really connected. And I think, this may justly be called beliering the proposition, for it is a belief of something more than the mere joining of sounds ; it is a belief of the real connection of some ugkoown ideas belonging to those sounds, and in this sense a man may be said to believe the truth of a proposition, which be doth pot understand at all.
With more reason still may we be said to believe a proposition upon credible testimony, if we have some sort of ideas under the terms, though they are bat partial, or inadequate and obscure ; such as “ divine answers were given by Urim and Thummim ;" for since it is purely upon testimony, we believe the “knowo parts” of the ideas signified by those words to be connected, upon the same testimony we may also believe all the "uukoowo parts” of the ideas signified by those words to be connected, namely, because our informant is koowiog and faithful. And in this sense we may justly be said to believe a proposition of scripture entirely, which we understand but very imperfectly, because God who reveals it is knowing add faithful in perfectioo.
And indeed, unless this representation of the matter be allowed, there are but very few propositions in the world, even in human thiogs, to which we can give an entire assent, or which we may be said either to know or to believe, because there is scarce any thing on earth of which we have an adequate, and most perfect idea. And it is evident, that in divine things there is scarce any thing which we could either know or believe without this allowance : for though reason and revelation join to inform me, that “God is holy," bow exceeding inadequate are my ideas of God, and of his holioess? Yet I may boldly and entirely assent to this whole proposition, since 1 am sure that every known aod oknown idea eigoified by the term “ God," is connected with the ideas of the term "boliness,"
III. Direct. When you have obtained as clear and comprehensive ideas as needful, both of the subject and predicate of a proposition, then compare those ideas of the subject and predicate together with the utmost attention, and observe how far they agree, and wherein they differ :" Whether the proposition may be affirmed absolutely or relatively, whether in whole or in part, whether universally or particularly, and then under what particular limitations. Turn these ideas about in your mind, and take a view of them on all sides, just as a mason would do to see whether two hewn stones exactly suit each other in every part, and are fit to be joined in erecting a carved or fluted pillar.
Compare the whole subject with the whole predicate in their several parts: take heed in this matter that you neither add to nor diminish the ideas contained in the subject or in the predicate ; for such an inadvertence or mistake will expose you to great error in judgment. because reason partly informs me, but especially because the divide testimony which has connected them, is certainly credible.
I might argue upon this head perhaps more forcibly from the doctrine of “ God's incomprehensibleness.” If we could believe nothing but what we bave ideas of, it would be impossible for us to believe that “ God is incomprehensi. ble;" for this implies in it a belief that there are some voknown ideas belonging to the nature of God; therefore we do both believe and profess something cooceroing ookoowo ideas, when we believe and profess that God is incomprehensible.
I persuade myself that most of those very persons who object against my representation of things, will yet readily confess they believe all the propositions in scripture, rather than declare " they do not believe several of them ;" though they must acknowledge that several of them are far above their understa ading, or that they have scarce any ideas of the true sense of them ; and therefore where propositions derived from credible testimony are made up of dark or in. adequate ideas, I think it is much more proper to say, we believe them, than that we do not believe them, lest we cut off a multitude of the propositions of the bible from our åssent of faith.
Yet let it be observed here, tbat when we believe a proposition on mere testimony, of which we have no ideas at all, we can only be said to give a "general implicit assent to the truth of that proposition" without any particular knowledge of, or “ explicit assent to the special truth contained in that proposition :" And this our implicit assent is of very little use, unless it be to testify our beliel of the koowledge and veraciiy of him that informs us.
As our ideas of a proposition are more or less clear and adequate, as well as just and proper, so we do explicitly assent more or less to the particular truth contained in that proposition; and our assent hereby becomes more or less useful for the increase of our knowledge, or the direction of our practice.
Whea divine testimony plainly proposes to our faith such a proposition wbereof we have but obscure, doubtful and ioadequate ideas, we are bound implicitly to believe the truth of it, as expressed in these terms, in order to shew our submission to God who revealed it, as a God of perfect knowledge and veracity. But it is our duty to use all proper methods to obtain a farther and explicit knowledge of the particular truth contaioed in the proposition, if we would improve by it either in knowledge or virtue. All necessary rules of grammar and criticism sbould be employed to find out the very ideas that belong to those words, and which were desigoed by the divine speaker or wriler. Though we may believe the truth of a proposition which we do not uoderstand, yet we should eldeavour to understand every proposition wbich we believe to be true.
IV. Direct. « Search for evidence of truth with diligence and honesty, and be heartily ready to receive evidence, whether for the agreement or disagreement of ideas.”
Search with diligence ; spare no labour in searching for the truth in due proportion to the importance of the proposition. Read the best authors who have writ on that subject ; consult your wise and learned friends in conversation ; and be not unwilling to borrow hints toward your improvement from the meanest person, nor to receive any glimpse of light from the most unlearned. Diligence and humility is the way to thrive in the riches of the understanding, as well as in gold or silver. Search carefully for the evidence of truth, and dig for wisdom as for hid treasure.
Search with a steady honesty of soul, and a sincere impartiality to find the truth. Watch against every temptation that might bribe your judgment, or warp it aside from truth. Do not indulge yourself to wish any unexamined proposition were true or false. A wish often perverts the judgment, and tempts the mind strangely to believe upon slight evidence whatsoever we wish to be true or false.
V. Direct. Since the evidence of the agreement or disagreement of two ideas is the ground of our assent to any propo. sition, or the great criterion of truth; therefore “ we should suspend our judgment, and neither affirm nor deny till this evidence appear.
This direction is different from the second; for though the evidence of the agreement or disagreement of two ideas most times depends on the clearness and distinctness of the ideas themselves, yet it does not always arise thence. Testimony may be a sufficient evidence of the agreement or disagreement of two obscure ideas, as we have seen just before in the exception under the second direction. Therefore, though we are not universally and in all cases bound to suspend our judgment, till our ideas of the objects themselves are clear and distinct, yet we must always suspend our judgment, and withhold our assent to, or denial of any proposition, till some just evidence appear of its truth or falsehood. It is an impatience of doubt and suspence, a rashness and precipitance of judgment and hastiness to believe something on one side or the other, that plunges us into many errors.
This direction to delay and suspend our assent is more particularly necessary to be observed when such propositions offer theinselves to us as are supported by education, autbority, custom, inclination, interest, or other powerful prejudices; for our judge ment is led away insensibly to believe all that they dictate; and where prejudices and dangers of error are multiplied, we should set the stricter guard upon our assent,
Yet remember the caution or limitation here which I gave under the first direction, namely, that this is not to be too strictly applied to matters of daily practice, either in human life or religion ; but when we consider ourselves as philosophers, or searchers after truth, we should always withhold our assent where there is not just evidence; and as far and as fast as we can, in a due consistence with our daily necessary duties, we should also reform and adjust all our principles and practices both in religion and the civil life by these rules.
VI. Direct. We must “ judge of every proposition by these proper and peculiar mediums or means, whereby the evidenee of it is to be obtained,” whether it be sense, consciousness, intelligence, reason, or testimony. All our faculties and powers are to be employed in judging of their proper objects.
If we judge of sounds, colours, odours, sapors, the smoothness, roughness, softness, or hardness of bodies, it must be done by the use of our senses ; but then we must take heed that our senses are well disposed, as shall be shewn afterward.
And since our senses in their various exercises are in some cases liable to be deceived, and more especially when by our eyes or ears we judge of the figure, quantity, distance, and position of objects that are afar off, we ought to call our reason in to the assistance of our senses, and correct the errors of one sense by the help of another.
It is by the powers of sense and reason joined together, that we must judge philosophically of the inward nature, the secret properties and powers, the causes and effects, the relations and proportions of a thousand corporeal objects which surround us on earth, or are placed at a distance in the beavens. If a man, on the one hand, confines himself only to sensible experiments, and does not exercise reason upon them, he may surprise himself and others with strange appearances, and learn to entertain the world with sights and shews, but will never become a philosopher; and, on the other hand, if a man imprison himself in bis closet, and employ the most exquisite powers of reason out the nature of things in the corporeal world, without the use of his senses, and the practice of experiments, he will frame to himself a scheme of chimeras instead of true philosophy. Hence came the invention of substantial forms and qualities of materia prima and privation, with all the insignificant names used by the peripatetic writers ; and it was for want of more experiments, that the great Descartes failed in several parts of his philosophi. cal writings.
In the abstracted and speculative parts of the mathematics which treat of quantity and number, the faculty of reason must be chiefly employed to perceive the relation of various quadtities, and draw certain and useful conclusions ; but it wants the