Jonathan Edwards' Great Awakening View
of Religious Secularism,
as Contrasted with Christianity
[Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) refutes religious secularism (deism and paganism) and contrasts it with Christianity. Excerpts from: The Works of President Edwards (London 1817 edition, vol. 8), "Miscellaneous Observations on Important Theological Subjects, Original and Collected" (excerpted and slightly edited).
These observations reflected a topic of common interest that Jonathan Edwards and his friend, Governor Jonathan Belcher (1682-1757) had at that time: refuting the tenets of religious secularism, which held to a shallow, impersonal view of the "Great Architect of the Universe" (a view then known as deism or natural religion). (See the discussion in the article, Jesus Is the Light of the World.) Inaccurate/incomplete views of the Deity believed in a God, but instead of viewing Him as a person, viewed Him more as an impersonal "force" of nature. (Such a presupposition gradually underpinned the philosophical foundation of evolution.)
Two basic tenets of what later became known as evolution were present in the religious secularist system of religion in the eighteenth century: religious secularists thought the world had always existed, and was self-generating (that is, generated by the "force" within nature itself, which was vaguely identified with a concept of the "Great Architect of the Universe"--an impersonal conception of God): As Jonathan Edwards described the religious secularist views: "whether the world was from eternity or not; and whether the form and order of the world did not result from the mere nature of matter"; "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." Claiming that God's creations are the result of "an eternal series of causes" is the basic premise of the philosophy now called evolution. Thus, evolution was not newly-minted in the nineteenth century; it was merely a more sophisticated rehash of old religious secularist arguments.
That Gnosticism and deism mixed, blended, and ran together in the eighteenth century was apparent from Edwards' description of skeptics' arguments, such as the following: "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 any thing else but matter."
The idea of two deities, one good and one bad, with the material universe being like a matrix created by the bad one, was a Gnostic idea (and it was false). And the idea that matter was produced by only matter, and could not be produced by spirit, was a deistic idea. So these ideas ran together and blended in the eighteenth century under the general umbrella of "deism".
Edwards called the deists' "Enlightenment" an "imaginary light": "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".
For further reading about Jonathan Edwards, the Great Awakening, and religious secularism:
Jesus Is the Light of the World
The Great Awakening View of Enlightenment
The Right Use of Reason: Jonathan Edwards' Great Awakening View, as Contrasted with Religious Secularism
Don't Hide God in a Closet
Incidentally, Jonathan Edwards and Jonathan Belcher were relatives by virtue of the marriage (in 1705) of Governor Belcher's sister Martha Belcher (1686-1748) to Judge Anthony Stoddard (1678-1748), son of Simeon Stoddard and a member of the family of Edwards' mother. Edwards maternal grandfather was the famed minister Solomon Stoddard (1643-1729), whose brother was Simeon Stoddard.]
OBSERVATIONS ON THE FACTS AND EVIDENCES OF
AND THE OBJECTIONS OF INFIDELS.
I suppose it will be acknowledged by the Deists, that the Christian religion is the most rational and pure that ever was established in any society of men; and that they will except only themselves, as serving God in a manner more according to the will than the Christian manner. But can any believe that God has so wholly thrown away mankind, that there never yet has been a society of men, that have rightly paid respect to their Creator.
It is easily proved that the highest end and happiness of man, is to view God's excellency, to love him, and receive expressions of his love. This love, including all those other affections which depend upon, and are necessarily connected with it, we express in worship. The highest end of society among men, therefore, must be, to assist and join with each other in this employment. But how comes it to pass, that this end of society was never yet obtained among Deists? Where was ever any social worship statedly performed by them. And were they disposed socially to express their love and honor, which way would they go about it? They have nothing from God to direct them. Doubtless there would be perpetual dissensions about it, unless they were disposed to fall in with the Christian model. We may be convinced, therefore, that revelation is necessary to right social worship.
2. There never was any religion but that which we profess, and those formed from it, that pretended to inform us of the nature of God; that there is but one God; how the world came into being, and how God governs it. What other religion discovered God's great designs; what is his will, and how he should be served? declared the reward of obedience, and punishment of disobedience; the nature of man's happiness, and the end for which he was made? that gave us good moral rules; told us what will become of the world hereafter; explained how we came to be sinful and miserable, and how we may escape sin and misery? gave an account of the great revolutions of the world, and the successions of God's works in the universe; and where his true worshippers have been, and what has befallen them; or informed us how the world came to apostatize from the true worship of God? Christianity is the only religion that ever pretended that there should a time come, when it should be the religion of the world in general.
5. I am convinced of the necessity of a revelation, considering how negligent, dull, and careless about a future happiness, I should be, if I was left to discover that happiness by unassisted reason: especially if there were no revelation at all, about what is pleasing to God; how he accepts our services; after what manner he loves his servants; how he will pardon sin, etc.
6. It is certain that Jesus Christ had none of the advantages of education, to get learning and knowledge: and it is also certain, that, every where in his speeches, he showed an uncommon insight into things, a great knowledge of the true nature of virtue and morality, and what was most acceptable to God, vastly beyond the rest of the nation--take Scribes and Pharisees and all. And how did he come by it? how did he get it at Nazareth? Those who have not an education in these days, may get much by books, which are so common: but books of learning were not to be had then. Yes, it is evident that he knew vastly more than any of the philosophers and wise men in the whole world, by those rational descriptions which he gave of God and his attributes; of his government and providence; and of man's nature, business, end, and happiness: of what is pleasing to God; of the immortality of the soul, and a future state. How knew he, so exactly, truths perhaps demonstrable by reason, but never found out before? etc.
8. If Christianity was not true, it would never afford so much matter for rational and penetrating [enquiring] minds to be exercised upon. If it were false, such minds would find it empty, and it would be a force upon the intellect to be set upon meditating upon that which has no other order, foundation, and mutual dependence to be discovered in its parts, than what is accidental. A strong and piercing mind would feel itself exceedingly bound and hindered. But in fact, there is the like liberty in the study of Christianity, and as much improvement of the mind, as in the study of natural philosophy, or any study whatsoever; yes, a great deal more. And whatever may be said about Mahometan divinity, I cannot be convinced but that a mind that has the faculty and habit of clear and distinct reasoning, would find nothing but chains, fetters, and confusion, if it should pretend to fix its reason upon it.
9. Seeing the beauty of the corporeal world consists chiefly in representing spiritual beauties, and the beauties of minds are infinitely the greatest; we therefore may conclude, that God, when he created the world, showed his own perfection and beauties far the most charmingly and clearly, in the spiritual part of the world. But seeing spiritual beauty consists principally in virtue and holiness; and seeing there is so little of this beauty to be seen now on earth; hence we may fairly conclude, that there has been a great fall and defection in this part of the spiritual world, from its primitive beauty and charms.
Corollary. Seeing this is so agreeable to the account that the Christian religion gives of the matter: and seeing it is evident by many arguments, that God intends not to give over man as lost, but has a merciful intention of restoring him to his primitive [first] beauty; and seeing we are told this, and the manner of it, in the Christian religion alone; and seeing the account is so rational: it is a great confirmation of the truth of Christianity.
10. It is a convincing argument for the truth of the Christian religion, and that it stands upon a most sure basis, that none have ever yet been able to prove it false, though there have been many men of all sorts, many fine wits and men of great learning, that have spent themselves, and ransacked the world for arguments against it, and this for many ages.
15. If human reason, by any thing that has happened since the creation, be really very much corrupted; and if God is still propitious, and does not throw us off, but reserves us for that end for which he made us; it cannot be imagined that he would leave us to our reason as the only rule to guide us in 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 reference to our everlasting welfare. 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.
16. It seems much the most rational to suppose, that the universal law by which mankind are to be governed, should be a written law. For if that rule, by which God intends the world shall be regulated, and kept in decent and happy order, be supposed to be expressed no other way than by nature; man's prejudices will render it, in innumerable circumstances, a most uncertain thing. For though "it must be granted, that men who are willing to transgress, may abuse written as well as unwritten laws, and expound them so as may best serve their turn upon occasion: yet it must be allowed, that, in the nature of the thing, revelation is a better guard than a bare scheme of priniciples without it. For men must take more pains to conquer the sense of a standing, written law, which is ready to confront them upon all occasions. They must more industriously tamper with their passions, and blind their understandings, before they can bring themselves to believe what they have a mind to believe, in contradiction to the words of an express and formal declaration of God Almighty's will, than there can be any pretense or occasion for, when they have no more than their own thoughts and ideas to manage. These are flexible things, and a man may much more easily turn and wind them as he pleases, than he can evade a plain and positive law, which determines the kinds and measures of his duty, and threatens disobedience in such terms as require long practice and experience to make handsome salvos and distinctions to get over." (Ditton on the Resurrection.) And upon this account also, that it is fit in every case, when the law is made known, that also the sanctions, the rewards and punishments, should be known at the same time. But nature could never have determined these with any certainty.
18. The being of God is evident by the scriptures, and the scriptures themselves are an evidence of their own divine authority, after the same manner as the existence of a human thinking being is evident by the motions, behavior, and speech of a body animated by a rational mind. For we know this no otherwise, than by the consistency, harmony, and concurrence of the train of actions and sounds, and their agreement to all that we can suppose to be in a rational mind. These are a clear evidence of understanding and design, which are the original of these actions. There is that universal harmony, consent, and concurrence in the drift, such an universal appearance of a wonderful and glorious design, such stamps every where of exalted wisdom, majesty, and holiness, in matter, manner, contexture, and aim; that the evidence is the same, that the scriptures are the word and work of a divine mind--to one that is thoroughly acquainted with them--as that the words and actions of an understanding man are from a rational mind. An infant, when it first comes into the world, sees persons act, and hears their voice, before it has so much comprehension as to see something of their consistency, harmony, and concurrence. It makes no distinction between their bodies, and other things; their motions and sounds, and the motions and sounds of inanimate things. But as its comprehension increases, the understanding and design begin to appear. So it is with men that are as little acquainted with the scriptures, as infants with the actions of human bodies. They cannot see any evidence of a divine mind, as the original of it; because they have not comprehension enough to apprehend the harmony, wisdom, etc.
19. Were it not for divine revelation, I am persuaded, that there is no one doctrine of that which we call natural religion, which, notwithstanding all philosophy and learning, would not be forever involved in darkness, doubts, endless disputes, and dreadful confusion. Many things, now they are revealed, seem very plain. It is one thing, to see that a truth is exceedingly agreeable to reason, after we have had it explained to us, and have been told the reasons of it; and another, to find it out, and clearly and certainly to explain it, by mere reason. It is one thing to prove a thing after we are shown how; and another, to find it out, and prove it of [by] ourselves.
If there never had been any revelation, I believe the world would have been full of endless disputes about the very being of a God; whether the world was from eternity or not; and whether the form and order of the world did not result from the mere nature of matter. Ten thousand different schemes there would have been about it. And if it were allowed that there was a first cause of all things, there would have been endless disputes, and abundance of uncertainty, to determine what sort of a thing that first cause was. Some, it may be, would have thought that it was properly an intelligent mind and a voluntary agent. Others might say, that it was some principle of things, of which we could have no kind of ideas. Some would have called it a voluntary agent: some a principle exerting itself by a natural necessity. There might have been many schemes contrived about this, and some would like one best, and some another; and among those that held, that the original of all things was superior intelligence and will, there probably would have been everlasting doubts and disputes, whether there was one only, or more. Some perhaps would have said, there was but one; some that there were two; the one the principle of good, the other the principle of evil: others, that there was a society, or a world of them. And among those that held that there was but one mind, there would be abundance of uncertainty what sort of a being he was; whether he was good or evil; whether he was just or unjust; holy or wicked; gracious or cruel; or whether he was partly good, and partly evil; and how far he concerned himself with the world, after he had made it; and how far things were owing to his providence, or whether at all; how far he concerned himself with mankind; what was pleasing to him in them, and what was displeasing; or whether he cared any thing about it, whether he delighted in justice and order or not; and whether he would reward the one, and punish the other; and how, and when, and where, and to what degree. There would have been abundance of doubt and dispute concerning what this mind expected from us, and how we should behave towards him; or whether he expected we should anywise concern ourselves with him: whether we ever ought to apply ourselves to him any way; whether we ought to speak to him, as expecting that he would take any notice of us: how we should show our respect to him; whether we ought to praise and commend him in our addresses; whether we ought to ask that of him which we need; whether or not he would forgive any, after they had offended him; when they had reason to think they were forgiven, and what they should do that they might be forgiven; and whether it is ever worth the while for them that are so often offending, to try for it; whether there were not some sins so great, that God never would upon any terms forgive them, and how great they must be in order to that. Men would be exceedingly at a loss to know when they were in favor with him, and upon what terms they could be in his favor. They would be in a dreadful uncertainty about a future state; whether there be any, and, if there be, whether it is a state of rewards and punishments; and if it is, what kind of state it is, and how men are to be rewarded and punished, to what degree, and how long; whether man's soul be eternal or not; and if it be, whether it is to remain in another world in a fixed state, or change often.
Every man would plead for the lawfulness of this or that practice, just as suited his fancy, and agreed with his interest and appetites; and there would be room for a great deal of uncertainty and difference of opinion among those that were most speculative and impartial. There would be uncertainty, in a multitude of instances, what was just, and what unjust. It would be very uncertain how far self-interest should govern men, and how far love to our neighbor; how far revenge would be right, and whether or not a man might hate his neighbor, and for what causes: what degree of passion and ambition was justifiable and laudable: what sensual enjoyments were lawful, and what not: how far we ought to honor, respect, and submit to our parents, and other superiors: how far it would be lawful to dissemble and deceive. It seems to me, there would be infinite confusion in these things; and that there would hardly be any such thing as conscience in the world.
The world has had a great deal of experience of the necessity of a revelation; we may see it in all ages, that have been without a revelation. In what gross darkness and brutal stupidity have such places, in these matters, always been overwhelmed! and how many and how great and foolish mistakes, and what endless uncertainty and differences of opinion have there been among the most learned and philosophical! Yet there never was a real trial how it would be with mankind in this respect, without having any thing from revelation. I believe that most of those parts of natural religion, that were held by the Heathens [pagans] before Christ, were owing to tradition from those of their forefathers who had the light of revelation. And many of those being most evidently agreeable to reason, were more easily upheld and propagated. Many of their wise men who had influence and rule over them, saw their rectitude and agreeableness to reason better than others. Some of them traveled much, and those things which appeared most agreeable to their reason, they transplanted to their own country. Judea was a sort of light among the nations, though they did not know it. The practice and principles of that country kept the neighboring nations in remembrance of traditions, which they had from their forefathers; and so kept them from degenerating so much as otherwise they would have done. In fact, the philosophers had the foundation of most of their truths, from the ancients, or from the Phoenicians, or what they picked up here and there of the relics of revelation.
How came all the Heathen [pagan] nations to agree in the custom of sacrificing? The light of nature did not teach it [to] them; without doubt they had it from tradition; and therefore, it need not seem strange, that what of natural religion they had among them, came the same way. I am persuaded, that mankind would have been like a herd of beasts, with respect to their knowledge in all-important truths, if there never had been any such thing as revelation in the world; and that they never would have risen out of their brutality. We see, that those who live at the greatest distance from revelation, are [by] far the most brutish. The Heathens in America, and in some of the utmost parts of Asia and Africa, are far more barbarous than those who formerly lived in Rome, Greece, Egypt, Syria, and Chaldea. Their traditions are more worn out, and they are more distant from places enlightened with revelation. The Chinese, descended probably from the subjects of Noah, that holy man, have held more by tradition from him, than other nations, and so have been a more civilized people. The increase of learning and philosophy in the Christian world, is owing to revelation. The doctrines of revealed religion, are the foundation of all useful and excellent knowledge. The word of God leads barbarous nations into the way of using their understandings. It brings their minds into a way of reflecting [reflection] and abstract reasoning; and delivers from uncertainty in the first principles, such as, the being of God, the dependence of all things upon him, being subject to his influence and providence, and being ordered by his wisdom. Such principles as these, are the basis of all true philosophy, as appears more and more, as philosophy improves. Revelation delivers mankind from that distraction and confusion, which discourages all attempts to improve in knowledge. Revelation actually gives men a most rational account of religion and morality, and the highest philosophy, and all the greatest things that belong to learning, concerning God, the world, human nature, spirits, providence, time, and eternity. Revelation not only gives us the foundation and first principles of all learning, but it gives us the end, the only end, that would be sufficient to move man to the pursuit.
Revelation redeems nations from a vicious, sinful, and brutish way of living, which will effectually keep out learning. It is therefore unreasonable to suppose, that philosophy might supply the defect of revelation. Knowledge is easy to us that understand by revelation; but we do not know what brutes we should have been, if there never had been any revelation.
20. As Moses was so intimately conversant with God, and so continually under the divine conduct, it cannot be thought, that when he wrote the history of the creation and fall of man, and the history of the church from the creation, he should not be under the divine direction in such an affair.
21. It is certainly necessary, that, in the word of God, we should have a history of the life of Christ, of his incarnation, his death, his resurrection and ascension, and his actions, and of the instructions he gave the world.
If God expects that we shall receive any New Testament at all, we must suppose that God's providence would be concerned in this matter. God took this care with respect to the books of the Old Testament, that no books should be received by the Jewish church, and delivered down in the canon of the Old Testament, but what were his word, and owned by Christ. We may therefore conclude, that he would still take the same care of his church, with respect to the New Testament.
22. It seems to me an unaccountable dullness, that when intelligent men read David's psalms, and other prayers and songs of the Old Testament, they are not at once convinced, that the Jews had the true worship and communion of the One great and holy God; and that no other nation upon earth had them. It seems as clear as the sun at noon-day; and so indeed from all the histories and prophecies of the Old Testament.
23. We need not wonder at all, that God should so often reveal himself by prophets and miracles, to the Israelitish nation, and that now we should see nothing of this nature; for this way of revealing himself is not at all suitable to the present state of the church. The church was then confined to one particular nation, that God chose on purpose to make them the receptacle of his revelation, and the conveyancer of it to the rest of the world. And I can think of no other way that it could be done with any tolerable convenience, but by a chosen peculiar nation, that should alone be God's people, and have the true religion among them. Therefore, it was highly convenient and necessary, that there should be such a manner of communication, with such a nation. It was also necessary, in the first transition of this revelation from the Jews to the world, as it was in the apostles' times, that the world receiving this revelation from them, might see God still revealing himself; and so might receive it from God, in the same manner as they received it. But that God should now reveal himself after that manner to his church, is no way necessary, nor at all suitable to the gospel state of the church, which is not any particular enclosure, but is dispersed through the whole world. How is it practicable that God should treat with the church now, in such a way as he did with that peculiar [particular] nation? Besides, if it were practicable, it would be very inexpedient; for, what need of new revelations to the end of the world? Is it not better that God should give the world a book, that should be the summary of his will, to which all nations in all ages may resort? Prophecy and miracles are nothing without charity; like the shadow without the substance: and seeing the substance is come, what need the shadow should be continued? Seeing the end is come, it would be impertinent still to continue the means. The church now enjoys that glory, in comparison with which all the glory of prophecy and miracles, even those of that extraordinary prophet Moses, is no glory at all, 2 Cor. 3:10.
24. If there be any such thing needful, or at all proper and suitable, that God should reveal himself to mankind; it is perhaps impossible that he should do it in any other way, or with any other kind of evidence, than he has done it. No kind of miracle can be thought of, that would be more evidential, than those by which Christianity has been confirmed.
25. It is no argument against the reality of the incarnation of Jesus Christ--whereby God became the same person with a man--that there is nothing else like it any where to be seen; because it was evidently God's design to show his wisdom, by doing a thing that was, and forever would have been, far beyond the thoughts of any creatures. Man's fall was God's opportunity to show how far his contrivance and wisdom was beyond that of all creatures.
31. If there must be a revelation, it is convincing, that the Christian revelation is the true one; that it has been by means of this revelation, and this only, that the world has come to the knowledge of the one only true God. Till this came, all the world lay in ignorance of him. But when this came, it was successful to bring the world to the acknowledgment of him. If there be a true revelation in the world, it is not to be supposed, that by a false one, an imposture, the world should come to the knowledge of the true God. If the Christian revelation be not the proper means to bring the world to the knowledge of the true God, it is strange that the world, which was before ignorant of him, should be brought to the knowledge of him by it; and no part of it ever be brought to the knowledge of him by any other means.
32. It is an argument for the truth of the Christian revelation, that there is nothing else that informs us, what God designs by that series of revolutions and events that are brought to pass in the world; what end he seeks, and what scheme he has laid out; agreeable to the challenge which God makes to the gods, and prophets, and teachers of the heathen [pagan] world, Isa. 41:22, 23. It is most fit, that the intelligent beings of the world should be made acquainted with it. The thing that is God's great design, is something concerning them; and the revolutions by which it is to be brought to pass, are revolutions among them, and in their state. The state of the inanimate, unperceiving part of the world, is nothing regarded any otherwise, than in a subservience to the perceiving and intelligent part. And it is most rational to suppose, that God should reveal the design he has been carrying on, to his rational creatures; that as God has made them capable of it, they may actively fall in with and promote it, acting herein as the subjects and friends of God. The Christian revelation is a design most worthy of an infinitely wise, holy, and perfect being.
35. It is very unreasonable to make it an objection against the Christian revelation, that it contains some things that are very mysterious and difficult to our understandings, and that seem to us impossible. If God will give us a revelation from heaven of the very truth, concerning his own nature, acts, counsels, and ways, and of the spiritual and invisible world; it is unreasonable to expect any other, than that many things in such a revelation should be utterly beyond our understanding. For was there ever a time, when, if there had been a revelation of the very truth in philosophical matters--concerning created things, which are of a vastly lower nature, and must be supposed more proportioned to our understandings--there would not have appeared many things, not only to the vulgar [unlearned], but to the learned of that age, absurd and impossible? If many of those positions in philosophy [i.e., science], which are now received by the learned world as indubitable truths, had been revealed from heaven to be truths in past ages, they would have seemed as impossible as the most mysterious Christian doctrines do now. I believe, that if, even now, there should come a revelation from heaven of what is the very truth in these matters, without deviating at all to accommodate it to our received notions and principles, there would be many things in it that would seem absurd and contradictory. I now receive principles as certain, which once, if they had been told me, I should have regarded as difficult as any mystery in the Bible. Without doubt, much of the difficulty that we have about the doctrines of Christianity, arises from wrong principles that we receive. We find that those things which are received as principles in one age, and are never once questioned, are yet exploded in another age, as light increases. If God makes a revelation to us, he must reveal to us the truth as it is, without accommodating himself to our notions and principles; which would indeed be impossible: for those things which are our received notions in one age, are contrary to what are so in another; and the word of God was not given for any particular age, but for all ages. It surely becomes us to receive what God reveals to be truth, and to look upon his word as proof sufficient; whether what he reveals squares with our notions or not.
I rather wonder that the word of God contains no more mysteries in it; and I believe it is because God is so tender of us [sensitive to our needs], and reveals only such things as he sees that man, though so weak a creature, if of an humble and an honest mind, can well enough bear. Such tenderness we see in Christ towards his disciples; he had many things to say, but forbore, because they could not bear them yet. Though God does not depart from truth to accommodate himself to our manner of thinking, yet I believe he accommodates himself to our way of understanding, in his manner of expressing and representing things; as we are wont to do [have a tendency to do], when teaching little children.
[PART I. CHAP. 6.]
14. 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.
15. 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, Vaninus, 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.
16. 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 [mass] 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 any thing 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.
17. 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?
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.
18. What instance can be mentioned, from any history, of any one nation under the sun, that emerged from atheism or idolatry, into the knowledge or adoration of the One True God, without the assistance of revelation? The [Native] 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 farther 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 seen by what they have already done. We cannot argue more convincingly on any foundation, than that of known and incontestable facts.
21. Socrates, Plato, and Cicero, who were more inclined to the belief of a future existence, than the other philosophers, plead 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 on 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.
That I do not charge the philosophers with worse principles and practices, than they themselves maintain, and their own Pagan historians ascribe to them, any one may satisfy himself, who will consult Diogenes, Laertius, Sextus Empiricus, Lucian, Plutarch, and the works of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero.
22. 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 Gentile 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 revelation: 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.
23. 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.
24. 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.
25. 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 [lacked]; 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 Sceptics. In respect to religion, Socrates and Plato either were, or pretended to be, Sceptics, beating down the absurd notions of others, but seldom building up any thing of their own; or, when they did, building on mere conjectures, or arguments suspected by themselves.
26. If it be said, the finding out of truth by the light of nature, is a work of time; time has taught the Tartars, Africans, and [Native] 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.
27. 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 [come up with] 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 [is the] 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, 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 [pagan] 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.
28. 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, 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 Simmias 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 itself; 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 any thing else, and therefore must move, and consequently exist forever."
The wisdom of Socrates and Plato united, produce such arguments for a most favorite opinion, as they themselves are dissatisfied with, and therefore call for more than human help.
29. 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 Scipio, when he does not reason nor seem to inculcate any particular doctrine, he indeed introduces the elder Scipio telling the younger, by way of dream, that those who served 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 Cicero'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 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?
30. 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 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--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.
31. 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 [things perceived by the senses], 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 [pagan] world, and open their eyes to religious truths.
32. 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 [i.e., objects perceived by the senses]; 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, nor 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 manners: "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, does 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."
33. 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 proceeded 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."
34. 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, or 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.
35. 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 subtilty of libertines is unable to evade.
36. 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 [pagan] philosopher founded his morality on any sense of religion, or ever dreamed of an inability in man to render himself happy.*
(*From [sections] 14-36. is chiefly out of "Deism Revealed," Second Edition.)
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