« ForrigeFortsæt »
the rational convictions which it is adapted to produce on the human mind.
Even the faculties of brutes, and much more the intellect of man, must always be adequate to answer the purposes for which they were originally bestowed; and within the limits prescribed to them by the great Author of all created existence, both the suggestions of brute instinct, and the dictates of human reason, must be always of paramount authority. The instinct of an oyster, and the intellect of a cherub, must be equally perfect in their kind, and equally adequate to the purposes for which they were given; and within the sphere of their respective operations, the notices of the one must be as competent a standard of truth, as the convictions of the other.
In the exercise of faith there is no exclusion of reason; no man believes every report, no man receives every testimony; and every man feels that he has a right to receive some and to reject others. And even in the momentous subjects of personal religion, and eternal salvation, we are not called upon to receive any proposition for truth, which may be in direct hostility to the sane convictions of the human understanding. Unbelief does not consist in using our reason for the examination of what is proposed to our faith, nor in refusing to receive any proposition for truth, in spite of our own convictions; but in refusing to be convinced by a legitimate and adequate evidence, or in striving against the convictions of truth in our own minds. Neither does Christian faith imply any renunciation of our reason; but it implies a rigorous and decisive exercise of our mental and moral faculties, in the investigation and reception of truth: it implies the conviction of the intellect and the conscience, illuminated by the light of Revelation, and strengthened and confirmed by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.
We may indeed be called upon to receive many propositions, the fact of which we should not have otherwise discovered, and should never have known without a revelation from heaven; and we may be required to receive practically, many other propositions, the truth of which had been previously apparent, but which we should not have had resolution to carry into our practice, without the Divine authority of a miraculous confirmation; but we can
never be obliged to receive any proposition for truth, except on the ground of a rational conviction. And although the contents of the Bible, and the verities of practical godliness, may not be accompanied by that kind and degree of evidence which the impiety of wicked men may profanely and ignorantly demand, yet they must be always accredited by an evidence, which in both nature and quantity, would be abundantly sufficient for conviction and salvation, if the moral feelings of the inquirer were but in a state of honesty and rectitude in the sight of God. And hence it is, that in the Holy Scriptures, the sin of unbelief is never represented as being the effect of a mental imbecility, but as being solely the consequence of a moral obliquity: and hence it is that unbelievers are charged, not with the imaginary fault of refusing to prostrate their mental faculties under the authority of the Scriptures, but they are charged with the real crime of setting their wills and their passions in a state of direct hostility, as much against their own convictions, both mental and moral, as against the authority of the living and true God.
Christian faith is not an invidious and implicit credence; but it is a rational and honest conviction; and although it should demand the exercise of an unlimited reliance on the veracity, and the mercy, and the agency of God, yet that veracity, and that mercy, and that agency, are accredited to us, by an evidence the most irrefragable and infallible: and therefore, Christian faith can never require an implicit and obsequious credulity, or a renunciation of our own reason; and it must be as utterly incompatible with what some theologians have been pleased to denominate an implicit faith, as it is with the dogmas of Popery, or the dreams of Mahomedan delusion.
It must be obvious to every one, on a moment's reflection, that the perfection of all knowledge, whether human or divine, must consist in an exact correspondence between the notices of the mind, and the nature and properties of those things which are the objects of its perception: and to attribute to knowledge the predication of any properties that do not actually exist in the objects of its cognition, would be only to impute to knowledge, the real properties of ignorance and to suppose that the Divine knowledge might recognise properties in any object, or predicate any
thing of an object, which does not in reality and in truth belong to that object in re, would be to confound knowledge with ignorance, and would involve a libel on the Divine character, and would be as gross an absurdity as ever was palmed on the intellect of man.
Any proposition which is certain in re, may be certain in evidence and conviction, to every mind that has either immediate or mediate access to the native evidence of its being; and the knowledge of a contingency, in like manner, as far as a contingency may be an object of knowledge, may predicate of a contingency, all such properties as belong in reality to the contingency itself. But, to suppose that the limits of evidence, even to the perceptions of an infinite mind, may exceed the bounds of actual existence, would be to contradict the plainest and strongest dictates of the human understanding, and to confound all right and wrong, and truth and falsehood. Every discrepancy between the predications of a pretended knowledge, and the real nature and properties of the objects of its predications, must fully demonstrate their incompetency or falsity; for if the knowledge should predicate any property, which is not to be found in the object itself, I have all the certainty which the human intellect can admit, that the predictions of such a pretended knowledge are absolutely false. If all knowledge, whether human or divine, may not be brought to the foregoing test, we have no means of distinguishing between knowledge and ignorance, or between the dictates of truth and the delusions of error.
It is, I presume, agreed on by all parties, that in the order of nature, the knowledge of any fact or event, must always be subsequent to its occurrence; because, the fact or event itself, must support the knowledge of its existence. It is true, indeed, that knowledge must always imply the actual existence of an intelligent being, who is the possessor of that knowledge, and it is equally true, that the existence of knowledge must always demonstrate the actual existence of the object of that knowledge. But we read of foreknowledge, and we believe in the existence of foreknowledge; and especially we believe that the Deity has a prescience of future events. How then is the subject of foreknowledge to be understood, so as to be in unison with the sentiment at the beginning of this paragraph? The pur
pose of bringing about a future event, and the causation that is to secure the issue, are now in actual existence, and are the real objects of the Divine cognizance; but the future event, which is in reality the object of his purpose, and therefore the object of his anticipation, is expressed as though it were purely an object of perception. And for this reason, although foreknowledge, in strict philosophical propriety, would be absolutely inadmissible, yet its application to an anticipated issue, is perfectly admissible and quite intelligible. Causation implies issue; and therefore, the knowledge of a cause, implies the anticipation of its effect. For the will and the purpose of the Deity must imply an anticipation of the consequent issue, and are a sufficient security for its future transpiration: and even if the knowledge of a principle or habit, in any being, must imply an anticipation of a consequent issue, and if such a knowledge be a sufficient warrant to expect that the issue will afterwards actually transpire, then there can be no impropriety in designating such anticipations, by the name of foreknowledge. And this, I conceive, to be the legitimate and the only sense, in which the term prescience can be applicable to any actual knowledge, whether it be human or Divine.
It is also agreed, that the knowledge of an event, cannot possibly possess any influence whatever, in giving either existence or character to the event which it perceives; and that the existence of the knowledge. must always demonstrate the existence of the event which is the object of the knowledge; and that the predications of the knowledge, if competent and true, must demonstrate the properties of the event which is thereby presumed to be known. That which such a knowledge does formally predicate of the event, must actually belong to the event itself; otherwise the knowledge must be incompetent and false. And therefore if the knowledge predicate necessity, the event must be necessary; if it predicate certainty, the event must be certain; if it predicate possibility, the event must be possible; and if it predicate contingency, the event must be contingent. Now if the foregoing chain of reasoning be not legitimate, let the objector have the goodness to detect its fallacy.
Lest my reader should misapprehend what I have said
above, on the difference between the competency and the infallibility of human knowledge, it may be well to add a few remarks, which may render my meaning a little more intelligible. I mean by competency, something that may possibly be adequate and successful, but at the same time, may possibly fail. I mean by infallibility, that which must of necessity be successful, and cannot possibly fail. The competency of human knowledge stands on precisely the same ground, as does the competency of human integrity: and they are both of them so indispensable to the righteous probation of human beings, that without them, there can be no moral agency in man, nor any rational or adequate testation of the human character.
It may not be improper to notice, in this place, the equivocal use which is sometimes made of that apostolical phrase," I speak after the manner of men." Rom. vi. 19. AvoρwπIVOV Xεуw. Dr. Macknight says, "He means that his reasoning was taken from the customs of men, and was accommodated to their apprehension; and that he used metaphors and allegories which were well known. It may signify, I speak of a thing well understood." And in 1 Cor. xv. 32, he shews that, Ei karà av0pwπоν, the barbarous customs of the men of that age." the popular use of this phrase, it is commonly employed quite invidiously, and without any definite or conceivable meaning: and is used either for the purpose of raising a theological mist, and escaping in the cloud, or for the implicit inculcation of any thing which can neither be explained or understood. If any thing be advanced which is opposed to the popular and vulgar notion of the subject, it must be immediately rejected, because it is only spoken, we are told, after the manner of men; but if any thing, on the contrary be inculcated, which would imply an obvious contradiction to the sober dictates of the human mind, then we are immediately and confidently informed, that the thing must be implicitly believed, because it is spoken only after the manner of men. But why one thing must be believed, because it is only spoken after the manner of men, and another thing must not be believed, for the very same reason, is what I never had the discernment fully to comprehend. It must be evident to every person,