The Right Use of Reason:
Jonathan Edwards' Great Awakening View,
as Contrasted with Religious Secularism
[Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), The Insufficiency of Reason as a Substitute for Revelation, presents the correct view of reason, in contrast to the incorrect Enlightenment view (religious secularism). Edwards refuted the work of the English deist Matthew Tindal, Christianity as Old as the Creation, or the Gospel a Republication of the Religion of Nature (1730). In doing so, Edwards revealed his respect for all people, including the common people, as God's creations: "But God has given reason to the common people, to be as much their guide and rule, as he has to mathematicians and philosophers," Edwards stated. Edwards also implied that there is harmony between true science and Christianity.
The Insufficiency of Reason as a Substitute for Revelation (the title says it all), is from: The Works of President Edwards (London 1817 edition, vol. 8), "Miscellaneous Observations on Important Theological Subjects, Original and Collected" (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 otherwise 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 (see: Jonathan Edwards' Great Awakening View of Religious Secularism, as Contrasted with Christianity): "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 (see: Jonathan Edwards' Great Awakening View of Religious Secularism): "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
Jonathan Edwards' Great Awakening View of 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.]
The Insufficiency of Reason as a Substitute for Revelation.
1. By reason, I mean that power or faculty an intelligent being has to judge of the truth of propositions; either immediately, by only looking on the propositions, which is judging by intuition and self-evidence; or by putting together several propositions, which are already evident by intuition, or at least whose evidence is originally derived from intuition.
Great part of [Matthew] Tindal's arguing, in his Christianity as old as the Creation, proceeds on this ground, That since reason is the judge whether there be any revelation, or whether any pretended revelation be really such; therefore reason without revelation, or undirected by revelation, must be the judge concerning each doctrine and proposition contained in that pretended revelation. This is an unreasonable way of arguing. It is as much as to say, that seeing reason is to judge of the truth of any general proposition, therefore, in all cases, reason alone, without regard to that proposition, is to judge separately and independently of each particular proposition implied in, or depending and consequent upon, that general proposition. For, whether any supposed or pretended divine revelation be indeed such, is a general proposition: and the particular truths delivered in and by it, are particular propositions implied in, and consequent on, that general one. Tindal supposes each of these truths must be judged of by themselves, independently of our judging of that general truth, that the revelation that declares them is the word of God; evidently supposing, that if each of these propositions, thus judged of particularly, cannot be found to be agreeable to reason, or if reason alone will not show the truth of them; then, that general proposition on which they depend, viz. That the word which declares them is a divine revelation, is to be rejected: which is most unreasonable, and contrary to all the rules of common sense, and of the proceeding of all mankind, in their reasoning and judging of things in all affairs whatsoever. For this is certain, that a proposition may be evidently true, or we may have good reason to receive it as true, though the particular propositions that depend upon it, and follow from it, may be such, that our reason, independent of it, cannot see the truth, or can see it to be true by no other means, than by first establishing that other truth on which it depends. For otherwise, there is an end of all use of our reasoning powers; an end of all arguing one proposition from another; and nothing is to be judged true, but what appears true by looking on it directly and immediately, without the help of another proposition first established, on which the evidence of it depends. For therein consists all reasoning or argumentation whatsoever; viz. in discovering the truth of a proposition, whose truth does not appear to our reason immediately, or when we consider it alone, but by the help of some other proposition on which it depends.
2. If this be not allowed, we must believe nothing at all, but self-evident propositions, and then we must have done with all such things as arguments: and all argumentation whatsoever, and all Tindal's argumentations in particular, are absurd. He himself, throughout his whole book, proceeds in that very method which this principle explodes. He argues, and attempts to make evident, one proposition by another first established. There are some general propositions, the truth of which can be known only by reason, from whence an infinite multitude of other propositions are inferred, and reasonably and justly determined to be true, and rested in as such, on the ground of the truth of that general proposition from which they are inferred by the common consent of all mankind, being led thereto by the common and universal sense of the human mind. And yet not one of those propositions can be known to be true by reason, if reason consider them by themselves independently of that general proposition.
Thus, for instance, what numberless truths are known only by consequence from that general proposition, that the testimony of our senses may be depended on? The truth of numberless particular propositions, cannot be known by reason, considered independently of the testimony of our senses, and without an implicit faith in that testimony. That general truth, that the testimony of our memories is worthy of credit, can be proved only by reason; and yet, what numberless truths are there, which we know no other way, and cannot be known to be true by reason, considering the truths in themselves, or any otherwise than by testimony of our memory, and an implicit faith in this testimony? That the agreed testimony of all we see, and converse with continually, is to be credited, is a general proposition, the truth of which can be known only by reason. And yet, how infinitely numerous propositions do men receive as truth, that cannot be known to be true by reason, viewing them separately from such testimony; even all occurrences, and matters of fact, persons, things, actions, works, events, and circumstances, that we are told of in our neighborhood, in our own country, or in any other part of the world that we have not seen ourselves?
3. That the testimony of history and tradition is to be depended on, when attended with such and such credible circumstances, is a general proposition, whose truth can be known only by reason. And yet, how numberless are the particular truths concerning what has been before the present age, that cannot be known by reason, considered in themselves, and separately from this testimony, which yet are truths on which all mankind do, ever did, and ever will rely?
That the experience of mankind is to be depended on; or, that those things which the world finds to be true by experience, are worthy to be judged true, is a general proposition, of which none doubt. By what the world finds true by experience, can be meant nothing else, than what is known to be true by one or other of those aforementioned kinds of testimony, viz. the testimony of history and tradition; the testimony of those we see and converse with; the testimony of our memories, and the testimony of our senses. I say, all that is known by the experience of mankind, is known only by one or more of these testimonies; excepting only the existence of that idea, or those few ideas, which are at this moment present in our minds, or are the immediate objects of present consciousness. And yet, how unreasonable would it be to say, that we must first know those things to be true by reason, before we give credit to our experience of the truth of them? Not only are there innumerable truths, that are reasonably received as following from such general propositions as have been mentioned, which cannot be known by reason, if they are considered by themselves, or otherwise than as inferred from these general propositions; but also, many truths are reasonably received, and are received by the common consent of the reason of all rational persons, as undoubted truths, whose truth not only would not otherwise be discoverable by reason, but, when they are discovered by their consequence from that general proposition, appear in themselves not easy, and reconcilable to reason, but difficult, incomprehensible, and their agreement with reason not understood. So that men, at least most men, are not able to explain, or conceive of the manner in which they are agreeable to reason.
4. Thus, for instance, it is a truth, which depends on that general proposition, that credit is to be given to the testimony of our senses, that our souls and bodies are so united, that they act on each other. But it is a truth which reason otherwise cannot discover, and, now that it is revealed by the testimony of our senses, reason cannot comprehend, That what is immaterial, and not solid nor extended, can act upon matter. Or, if any choose to say, that the soul is material, then other difficulties arise as great. For reason cannot imagine any way, that a solid mass of matter, whether at rest or in motion, should have perception, should understand, and should exert thought and volition, love, hatred, etc. And if it be said that spirit acts on matter, and matter on spirit, by an established law of the Creator, which is no other than a fixed method of his producing effects; still the manner how it is possible to be, will be inconceivable. We can have no conception of any way or manner, in which God, who is a pure Spirit, can act upon matter, and impel it.
There are several things in mechanics and hydrostatics, that by the testimony of our senses are true in fact, not only that reason never first discovered before the testimony of sense declared them, but, now they are declared, are very great paradoxes, and, if proposed, would seem contrary to reason, at least to the reason of the generality of mankind, and such as are not either mathematicians, or of more than common penetration [perception], and what they cannot reconcile to their reason. But God has given reason to the common people, to be as much their guide and rule, as he has to mathematicians and philosophers.
5. Even the very existence of a sensible world, which we receive for certain from the testimony of our senses, is attended with difficulties and seeming inconsistencies with reason, which are insuperable to the reason at least of most men. For, if there be a sensible world, that world exists either in the mind only, or out of the mind, independent of its imagination or perception. If the latter, then that sensible world is some material substance, altogether diverse from the ideas we have by any of our senses--as color, or visible extension and figure, which is nothing but the quantity of color and its various limitations, which are sensible qualities that we have by sight; and solidity, which is an idea we have by feeling; and extension and figure, which is only the quantity and limitation of these; and so of all other qualities. But that there should be any substance entirely distinct from any, or all of these, is utterly inconceivable. For, if we exclude all color, solidity, or conceivable extension, dimension and figure, what is there left, that we can conceive of? Is there not a removal in our minds of all existence, and a perfect emptiness of every thing?
But, if it be said, that the sensible world has no existence, but only in the mind, then the sensories themselves, or the organs of sense, by which sensible ideas are let into the mind, have no existence but only in the mind; and those organs of sense have no existence but what is conveyed into the mind by themselves; for they are a part of the sensible world. And then it will follow, that the organs of sense owe their existence to the organs of sense, and so are prior to themselves, being the causes or occasions of their own existence; which is a seeming inconsistency with reason, that, I imagine, the reason of all men cannot explain and remove.
6. There are innumerable propositions, that we reasonably receive from the testimony of experience, all depending on the truth of that general proposition, "that experience is to be relied on," (what is meant by experience has been already explained), that yet are altogether above reason. They are paradoxes attended with such seeming inconsistencies, that reason cannot clearly remove, nor fully explain the mystery.
By experience we know that there is such a thing as thought, love, hatred, etc. But yet this is attended with inexplicable difficulties. If there be such a thing as thought and affection, where are they? If they exist, they exist in some place, or no place. That they should exist, and exist in no place, is above our comprehension. It seems a contradiction, to say, they exist, and yet exist nowhere. And, if they exist in some place, then they are not in other places, or in all places; and therefore must be confined, at one time, to one place, and that place must have certain limits; from whence it will follow, that thought, love, etc. have some figure, either round, or square, or triangular; which seems quite disagreeable to reason, and utterly inconsonant to the nature of such things as thought and the affections of the mind.
7. It is evident, by experience, that something now is. But this proposition is attended with things that reason cannot comprehend, paradoxes that seem contrary to reason. For, if something now is, then either something was from all eternity; or, something began to be, without any cause or reason of its existence. The last seems wholly inconsistent with natural sense: And the other, viz. That something has been from all eternity, implies, that there has been a duration past, which is without any beginning, which is an infinite duration: which is perfectly inconceivable, and is attended with difficulties that seem contrary to reason. For we cannot conceive how an infinite duration can be made greater, any more than how a line of infinite length can be made longer. But yet we see that past duration is continually added to. If there were a duration past without beginning, a thousand years ago, then that past infinite duration has now a thousand years added to it: And if so, it is greater than it was before by a thousand years; because the whole is greater than a part. Now, the past duration consists of two parts, viz. that which was before the last thousand years, and that which is since. Thus here are seeming contradictions, involved in this supposition of an infinite duration past.
And, moreover, if something has been from eternity, it is either--an endless succession of causes and effects, as for instance, an endless succession of fathers and sons, or something equivalent; but the supposition is attended with manifold apparent contradictions: or, there must have been some eternal self-existent being, having the reasons of his existence within himself: or, he must have existed from eternity, without any reason of his existence: both which are inconceivable. That a thing should exist from eternity, without any reason why it should be so, rather than otherwise, is altogether inconceivable, and seems quite repugnant to reason. And why a being should be self-existent, and have the reason of his existence within himself, seems also inconceivable, and never, as I apprehend, has yet been explained. If there has been any thing from eternity, then that past eternity is either an endless duration of successive parts, as successive hours, minutes, etc., or it is an eternal duration without succession. The latter seems repaginate to reason, and incompatible with any faculty of understanding that we enjoy: And, the other, an infinite number of successive parts, involves the very same contradictions with the supposition of an eternal succession of fathers and sons.
That the world has existed from eternity without a cause, seems wholly inconsistent with reason. In the first place, it is inconsistent with reason, that it should exist without a cause. For it is evident, that it is not a thing, the nature and manner of which is necessary in itself; and therefore it requires a cause or reason out of itself, why it is so, and not otherwise. And, in the next place, if it exists from eternity, then succession has been from eternity; which involves the aforementioned contradictions. But, if it be without a cause, and does not exist from eternity, then it has been created out of nothing; which is altogether inconceivable, and what reason cannot show to be possible; and many of the greatest philosophers have supposed it plainly inconsistent with reason. Many other difficulties might be mentioned as following from that proposition, "that something now is," that are insuperable to reason.
8. It is evident, by experience, that great evil, both moral and natural, abounds in the world. It is manifest, that great injustice, violence, treachery, perfidiousness, and extreme cruelty to the innocent, abound in the world; as well as innumerable extreme sufferings, issuing finally in destruction and death, are general all over the world, in all ages. But this could not otherwise have been known by reason; and even now is attended with difficulties, which the reason of many, yes, most of the learned men and greatest philosophers that have been in the world, have not been able to surmount. That it should be so ordered or permitted in a world, absolutely and perfectly under the care and government of an infinitely holy and good God, discovers a seeming repugnancy to reason, that few, if any, have been able fully to remove.
9. That men are to be blamed or commended for their good or evil voluntary actions, is a general proposition received, with good reason, by the dictates of the natural, common, and universal moral sense of mankind in all nations and ages: which moral sense is included in what Tindal means by reason and the law of nature. And yet many things attend this truth, that appear difficulties and seeming repugnancies to reason, which have proved altogether insuperable to the reason of many of the greatest and most learned men in the world.
10. I observe, further, that when any general proposition is recommended to us as true, by any testimony or evidence, that, considered by itself, seems sufficient, without contrary testimony or evidence to countervail it; and difficulties attend that proposition: if these difficulties are no greater, and of no other sort, than what might reasonably be expected to attend true propositions of that kind, then these difficulties are not only no valid or sufficient objection against that proposition, but they are no objection at all.
Thus, there are many things, that I am told concerning the effects of electricity, magnetism, etc. and many things that are recorded in the philosophical transactions of the Royal Society, which I have never seen, and are very mysterious: But, being well attested, their mysteriousness is no manner of objection against my belief of the accounts; because, from what I have observed, and do know, such a mysteriousness is no other than is to be expected in a particular, exact observation of nature, and a critical tracing of its operations. It is to be expected, that the farther it is traced, the more mysteries will appear. To apply this to the case in hand: If the difficulties which attend that which is recommended by good proof or testimony to our reception, as a divine revelation, are no greater, nor of any other nature, than such as, all things considered, might reasonably be expected to attend a revelation of such a sort, of things of such a nature, and given for such ends and purposes, and under such circumstances; these difficulties not only are not of weight sufficient to balance the testimony or proof that recommends it, but they are of no weight at all as objections against the revelation. They are not reasonably to be looked upon as of the nature of arguments against it; but on the contrary, may, with good reason, be looked upon as confirmations, and of the nature of arguments in its favor.
11. This is very evident, and the reason of it very plain. For, certainly, whatever is reasonably expected to be found in a truth, when we are seeking it, cannot be an objection against that truth, when we have found it. If it be reasonably expected in truth beforehand, then reason unites it with truth, as one property of that sort of truth: and, if so, then reason unites it with the truth, after it is found. Whatever reason determines to be a property of any kind of truth, that is properly looked upon in some degree as a mark of truths of that sort, or as belonging to the marks and evidences of it: for things are known by their properties. Reason determines truth by things which reason determines to be the properties of truth. And, if we do not find such things belonging to supposed truth, that were before reasonably expected in truth of that kind, this is an objection against, rather than the finding of them. The disappointment of reason is rather an objection with reason, than something to induce its acceptance and acquiescence. If the expectation be reasonable, then the not answering of it must so far appear unreasonable, or against reason, and so an objection in the way of reason.
Thus, if any one that is in search for things of a certain kind, reasonably expects beforehand, that if he be successful in finding the thing, of the kind and quality that he is in search of, he shall find it possessed of certain properties: when he has actually found something, with all those properties and circumstances that he expected, he receives it, and rests in it as much the more entirely, as the very thing that he was in quest of. And, surely, it would be no argument with him, that his invention is right, that some things, that he reasonably expected, are wanting: but, on the contrary, this would rather be an objection with his reason.
12. In order to judge what sort of difficulties are to be expected in a revelation made to mankind by God, such as Christians suppose the scriptures to be, we must remember, that it is a revelation of what God knows to be the very truth concerning his own nature; of the acts and operations of his mind with respect to his creatures; of the grand scheme of infinite wisdom in his works, especially with respect to the intelligent and moral world; a revelation of the spiritual and invisible world; a revelation of that invisible world which men shall belong to after this life; a revelation of the greatest works of God, the manner of his creating the world, and of his governing of it, especially with regard to the higher and more important parts of it; a revelation delivered in ancient languages.
Difficulties and incomprehensible mysteries are reasonably to be expected in a declaration from God, of the precise truth as he knows it, in matters of a spiritual nature; as we see things that are invisible, and not the objects of any of the external senses, are very mysterious, involved much more in darkness, attended with more mystery and difficulty to the understanding, than others; as many things concerning even the nature of our own souls themselves, that are the nearest to us, and the most intimately present with us, and so most in our view, of any spiritual things whatsoever.
The farther things are from the nature of what language is chiefly formed to express, viz. things appertaining to the common business and vulgar [lesser or common] affairs of life--thing obvious to sense and men's direct view and most vulgar [common] observation, without speculation, reflection, and abstraction--the more difficult it is clearly to express them in words. Our expressions concerning them, will be attended with greater abstruseness, difficulty, and seeming inconsistency; language not being well fitted to express these things; words and phrases not being prepared for that end. Such a reference to sensible [detectable by the physical senses] and vulgar [common] things, is unavoidably introduced, that naturally confounds the mind, and involves it in darkness [confusion].
13. If God gives a revelation of religious things, it must be mainly concerning the affairs of the moral and intelligent universe: which is the grand system of spirits: it must be chiefly about himself and intelligent creatures. It may well be supposed, that a revelation concerning another and an invisible world, a future state that we are to be in when separated from the body, should be attended with much mystery. It may well be supposed, that the things of such a world, are of an exceedingly different nature from the things of this world, the things of sense, and all the objects and affairs which earthly language was made to express; and that they are not agreeable to such notions, imaginations, and ways of thinking that grow up with us, and are connatural to us, as we are from our infancy formed to an agreeableness to the things which we are conversant with in this world. We could not conceive of the things of sense, if we had never had these external senses. And, if we had only some of these senses, and not others; as, for instance, if we had only a sense of feeling, without the senses of seeing and hearing, how mysterious would a declaration of things of these last senses be! Or, if we had feeling and hearing, but had been born without eyes or optic nerves, the things of light, even when declared to us, would many of them be involved in mystery, and would appear exceedingly strange to us.
14. Thus, persons without the sense of seeing, but who had the other senses, might be informed by all about them, that they can perceive things at a distance, and perceive as plainly, and in some respects more plainly, than by touching them; yes, that they could perceive things at so great a distance, that it would take up many ages to travel to them. They might be informed of many things concerning colors, that would be all perfectly incomprehensible, and yet might be believed; and it could not be said that nothing at all is proposed to their belief, because they have no idea of color.
They might be told that they perceive an extension, a length and breadth of color, and terminations and limits, and so a figure of this kind of extension; and yet, that it is nothing that can be felt. This would be perfectly mysterious to them, and would seem an inconsistency, as they have no ideas of any such things as length, breadth, and limits, and figure of extension, but only certain ideas they have by touch. They might be informed, that they could perceive at once the extent and shape of a thing so great and multiform as a tree, without touch: This would seem very strange and impossible. They might be told, that, to those who see, some things appear a thousand times as great as some others, which yet are made up of more visible parts, than those others: which would be very mysterious, and seem quite inconsistent with reason. These, and many other things, would be attended with unsearchable mystery to them, concerning objects of sight; and, concerning which, they could never fully see how they can be reconciled to reason; at least, not without very long, particular, gradual, and elaborate instruction; and which, after all, they would not fully comprehend, so as clearly to see how the ideas connected in these propositions do agree. And yet I suppose, in such a case, they most rational persons would give full credit to things that they know not by reason, but only by the revelation of the word of those that see. I suppose, a person born blind in the manner described, would nevertheless give full credit to the united testimony of the seeing world, in things which they said about light and colors, and would entirely rest on their testimony.
15. If God gives us a revelation of the truth, not only about spiritual beings, in an unseen state; but also concerning a spiritual being or beings of a superior kind (and so of an unexperienced nature [something beyond our experience]), entirely diverse from anything we now experience in our present state--and from anything that we can be conscious of in any state whatsoever--then, especially, may mysteries be expected in such a revelation.
The truth concerning any kind of percipient being, of a different nature from our own, though of a kind inferior, might well be supposed to be attended with difficulty, by reason of its diversity from what we are conscious of in ourselves: but much more so, when the nature and kind is superior. For a superior perceptive nature may well be supposed, in some respects, to include and comprehend what belongs to an inferior, as the greater comprehends the less, and the whole includes a part; and therefore, what the superior experiences may give him advantage to conceive of concerning the nature of the inferior. But, on the contrary, an inferior nature does not include what belongs to a superior. When one of an inferior nature considers what concerns beings of a nature entirely above his own, there is something belonging to it that is over and above all that the inferior nature is conscious of.
A very great superiority, even in beings of the same nature with ourselves, sets them so much above our reach, that many of their affairs become incomprehensible, and attended with inexplicable intricacies. Thus many of the affairs of adult persons are incomprehensible, and appear inexplicably strange to the understandings of little children: and many of the affairs of learned men, and great philosophers and mathematicians, things with which they are conversant, and well acquainted, are far above the reach of the vulgar [average person], and appear to them not only unintelligible, but absurd and impossible, and full of inconsistencies. But much more may this be expected, when the superiority is not only in the degree of improvement of faculties and properties of the same kind of beings, but also in the nature itself. So that, if there be a kind of created perceptive beings, in their nature vastly superior to the human, which none will deny to be possible, and a revelation should be given us concerning the nature, acts, and operations of this kind of creatures; it would be no wonder, if such a revelation should contain some things very much out of our reach, attended with great difficulty to our reason, being things of such a kind, that no improvement of our minds, that we are capable of, will bring us to an experience of anything like them. But, above all, if a revelation be made to us concerning that Being who is uncreated and self-existent, who is infinitely diverse from and above all others, in his nature, and so infinitely above all that any advancement of our nature can give us any consciousness of: In such a revelation, it would be very strange indeed, if there should not be some great mysteries, quite beyond our comprehension, and attended with difficulties which it is impossible for us fully to solve and explain.
16. It may well be expected, that a revelation of truth, concerning an infinite Being, should be attended with mystery. We find, that the reasonings and conclusions of the best metaphysicians and mathematicians, concerning infinites, are attended with paradoxes and seeming inconsistencies. Thus it is concerning infinite lines, surfaces, and solids, which are things external. But much more may this be expected in infinite spiritual things; such as, infinite thought, infinite apprehension, infinite reason, infinite will, love, and joy, infinite spiritual power, agency, etc.
Nothing is more certain, than that there must be an unmade and unlimited Being; and yet, the very notion of such a Being is all mystery, involving nothing but incomprehensible paradoxes, and seeming inconsistencies. It involves the notion of a Being, self-existent and without any cause, which is utterly inconceivable, and seems repugnant to all our ways of conception. An infinite, spiritual Being, or infinite understanding and will and spiritual power, must be omnipresent, without extension; which is nothing but mystery and seeming inconsistency.
The notion of an infinite Eternal, implies absolute immutability. That which is in all respects infinite, absolutely perfect, to the utmost degree, and at all times, cannot be in any respect variable. And this immutability being constant from eternity, implies duration without succession, and is wholly a mystery and seeming inconsistency. It seems as much as to say, an infinitely great or long duration all at once, or all in a moment; which seems to be saying, an infinitely great in an infinitely little; or an infinitely long line in a point without any length.
17. Infinite understanding, which implies an understanding of all things past, present, and future; and of all truth and all reason and argument, implies infinite thought and reason. But, how this can be absolutely without mutation, or succession of acts, seems mysterious and absurd. We can conceive of no such thing as thinking, without successive acting of the mind about ideas. Perfect knowledge of all things, even of all the things of external sense, without any sensation, or any reception of ideas from without, is an inconceivable mystery. Infinite knowledge, implies a perfect comprehensive view of a whole future eternity; which seems utterly impossible. For, how can there be any reaching of the whole of this, to comprehend it, without reaching to the utmost limits of it? But this cannot be, where there is no such thing as utmost limits. And again, if God perfectly views an eternal succession or chain of events, then he perfectly sees every individual part of that chain, and there is no one link of it hid from his sight. And yet there is no one link that has not innumerable links beyond it; from which it would seem to follow, that there is a link beyond all the links that he sees, and consequently, that there is one link, yes, innumerable links, that he sees not; inasmuch as there are innumerable links beyond every one that he sees. And many other such seeming contradictions might be mentioned, which attend the supposition of God's omniscience.
If there be absolute immutability in God, then there never arises any new act in God, or new exertion of himself; and yet there arises new effects: which seems an utter inconsistency. And so, innumerable other such like mysteries and paradoxes are involved in the notion of an infinite and eternal intelligent Being. Insomuch, that, if there had never been any revelation, by which God had made known himself by his word to mankind; the most speculative persons would, without doubt, have forever been exceedingly at a loss concerning the nature of the Supreme Being and First Cause of the universe. And, that some of the ancient philosophers and wiser Heathens [pagans] had so good notions of God as they had, seems to be much more owing to tradition, which originated from divine revelation, than from their own invention; though human nature served to keep those traditions alive in the world, and led the more considerate to embrace and retain the imperfect traditions which were to be found in any parts remaining, as they appeared, when once suggested and delivered, agreeable to reason.
18. If a revelation be made of the principal scheme of the Supreme and infinitely Wise Ruler, respecting his moral kingdom, wherein his all-sufficient wisdom is displayed, in the case of its greatest trial; ordering and regulating the said moral kingdom to its great ends, when in the most difficult circumstances; extricating it out of the most extreme calamities, in which it had been involved by the malice and subtlety of the chief and most crafty of all God's enemies, should we expect no mysteries? If it be the principal of all the effects of the wisdom of Him, the depth of whose wisdom is unsearchable and absolutely infinite; his deepest scheme, by which mainly the grand design of the universal, incomprehensibly complicated system of all his operations, and the infinite series of his administrations, is most happily, completely and gloriously attained; the scheme in which God's wisdom is mainly exercised and displayed: it may reasonably be expected, that such a revelation will contain many mysteries.
We see that to be the case, even as to many works of human wisdom and art. They appear strange, paradoxical, and incomprehensible, by those that are vastly inferior in sagacity, or are entirely destitute of that skill or art. How are many of the effects of human art attended with many things that appear strange and altogether incomprehensible by children, and many others seeming to be beyond and against nature; and in many cases, the effect produced not only seems to be beyond the power of any visible means, but inconsistent with it, being an effect contrary to what would be expected: the means seems inconsistent with the end.
19. If God reveals the exact truth in those things which, in the language of the Heathen [pagan] sages, are matters of philosophy, especially, things concerning the nature of the Deity, and the nature of man as related to the Deity, etc., it may most reasonably be expected, that such a revelation should contain many mysteries and paradoxes, considering how many mysteries the doctrines of the greatest and best philosophers, in all ages, concerning these things, have contained; or, at least, how very mysterious, and seemingly repugnant they are to the reason of the vulgar [average person], and persons of less understanding; and considering how mysterious the principles of philosophers [scientists], even concerning matters far inferior to these, would have appeared in any former age, if they had been revealed to be true, which however are now received as the most undoubted truths.
If God gives mankind his word in a large book, consisting of a vast variety of parts, many books, histories, prophecies, prayers, songs, parables, proverbs, doctrines, promises, sermons, epistles, and discourses of very many kinds, all connected together, all united in one grand drift and design; and one part having a various and manifold respect to others; so as to become one great work of God, and one grand system; as is the system of the universe, with its vast variety of parts, connected in one grand work of God: It may well be expected that there should be mysteries, things incomprehensible and exceedingly difficult to our understanding; analogous to the mysteries that are found in all the other works of God, as the works of creation and providence; and particularly such as are analogous to the mysteries that are observable in the system of the natural world, and the frame of man's own nature.
20. If it be still objected, that it is peculiarly unreasonable that mysteries should be supposed in a revelation given to mankind; because, if there be such a revelation, the direct and principal design of it must be, to teach mankind, and to inform their understandings, which is inconsistent with its delivering things to man which he cannot understand; and which do not inform but only puzzle and confound his understanding: I answer,
1st. Men are capable of understanding as much as is pretended to be revealed; though they cannot understand all that belongs to the things revealed. For instance, God may reveal, that there are Three who have the same nature of the Deity, whom it is most proper for us to look upon as Three Persons; though the particular manner of their distinction, or how they differ, may not be revealed. He may reveal that the Godhead was united to man, so as to be properly looked upon as the same person; and yet not reveal how it was effected.
2d. No allowance is made in the objection, for what may be understood of the word of God in future ages, which is not now understood. And it is to be considered, that divine revelation is not given only for the present or past ages.
3d. The seeming force of this objection, lies wholly in this, that we must suppose whatever God does, tends to answer the end for which he does it; but that those parts of a revelation which we cannot understand, do not answer the end, inasmuch as informing our understandings is the very end of a revelation, if there be any such thing.
21. But this objection is no other, than just equivalent to an objection which may be made against many parts of the creation, particularly of this lower world. It is apparent, the most direct and principal end of this lower world was, to be for the habitation, use, and benefit of mankind, the head of this lower world. But there are some parts of it that seem to be of no use to man, but are rather inconvenient and prejudicial to him; as, the innumerable stones and rocks that overspread so great a part of the earth, which as to anything known, are altogether useless, and oftentimes are rather an inconvenience than benefit.
Thus, it is reasonable to expect, that, in such a revelation, there should be many things plain and easy to be understood; and that the revelation should be most intelligible, wherein it is most necessary for us to understand it, in order to our guidance and direction in the way to our happiness; but that there should also be many incomprehensible mysteries in it, many things understood in part, but yet that room should be left for vast improvement in the knowledge of them, to the end of the world. It is reasonable to expect, that the case should actually be the same as concerning the works of nature; that many things which were formerly great and insuperable difficulties, unintelligible mysteries, should now, by further study and improvement, be well cleared up, and cease longer to remain difficulties; and that other difficulties should be considerably diminished, though not yet fully cleared up.
It may be expected that, as in the system of nature so in the system of revelation, there should be many parts whose use is but little understood, and many that should seem wholly useless, yes, and some that should seem rather to do hurt than good. I might further observe, that if we have a revelation given in ancient languages, used among a people whose customs and phraseology are but very imperfectly understood, many difficulties will arise from hence. And, in a very concise history, in which only some particular facts and circumstances that concern the special purpose of that revelation, are mentioned--and innumerable others are omitted that would be proper to be mentioned, if the main design were to give a full, clear, connected, continued history of such a people, or such affairs as the history mentions--it is no wonder that many doubts and difficulties arise.
22. Tindal's main argument against the need of any revelation, is, that the law of nature is absolutely perfect. But how weak and impertinent is this arguing, that because the law of nature (which is no other than natural rectitude and obligation) is perfect, therefore the light of nature is sufficient. To say, that the law of nature is perfect, yes, absolutely perfect, is no more than to say, that what is naturally fit and right in itself, is indeed right; and that what is in itself, or in its own nature, perfectly and absolutely right, is absolutely right. But this is an empty, insipid kind of doctrine. It is an idle way of spending time, ink, and paper, to spend them in proving, that what is in its own nature perfectly true, is perfectly true; and what is in its nature perfectly good, is perfectly good; or that what is, is, and is as it is. But this is all that can be meant by the law of nature being perfect.
And how far is this from having any reference to that question, whether we have by mere nature, without instruction, all that light and advantage that we need, clearly and fully to know what is right, and all that is needful for us to be and to do, in our circumstances as sinners, etc., in order to the forgiveness of sin, the favor of God, and our own happiness? What, according to the nature of things, is fittest and best, may be most perfect; and yet our natural knowledge of this, may be most imperfect.
If Tindal, or any other Deist, would assert, and urge it upon mankind as an assertion that they ought to believe, that the light of nature is so sufficient to teach all mankind what they ought, or in any respect need to be, and to believe and practice for their good, that any additional instruction is needless and useless: then, all instruction in families and schools is needless and useless; all instruction of parents, tutors, and philosophers; all that has been said to promote any such knowledge as tends to make men good and happy by word of mouth, or by writing and books; all that is written by ancient and modern philosophers and learned men. And then, also, all the pains the Deists take in talking and writing to enlighten mankind, is wholly needless and vain.
23. When it is asserted that the light of nature, or the means and advantages which all mankind have by pure nature, to know the way of their duty and happiness, are absolutely sufficient, without any additional means and advantages; one of these two things must be meant by it, if it has any meaning: either that they are sufficient in order to a mere possibility of obtaining all needful and useful knowledge in these important concerns; or that these natural means have a sufficient tendency actually to reach the effect, either universally, or generally, or at least in a prevailing degree, according as the state of mankind may be.
If the former of these be meant, viz. that the means of understanding these things, which all mankind have by mere nature, is sufficient, in order to a bare possibility of obtaining this knowledge; even that, should it be allowed, will not at all prove, that farther light is not extremely needed by mankind. A bare possibility may be; and yet there may be no tendency or probability that ever the effect (however necessary, and however dreadful the consequence of its failing) will be reached, in one single instance, in the whole world of mankind, from the beginning of the world to the end of it, though it should stand millions of ages.
But if by the sufficiency of these natural means be meant, a sufficiency of tendency actually to reach the effect--either universally, or in a prevailing degree, considering all things belonging to the state and circumstances of mankind--it is the very same thing as to say, that it actually does obtain the effect. For, if the tendency, all things considered, be sufficient actually to obtain the effect, doubtless it does actually obtain it. For, what should hinder a cause from actually obtaining the effect that it has a sufficient tendency to obtain, all things considered? So that here, what we have to inquire, is, whether that effect be actually obtained in the world? whether the world of mankind be actually brought to all necessary or very important knowledge of these things, merely by the means they have by nature? History, observation, and experience, are the things which must determine the question.
24. In order the more clearly to judge of this matter, of the sufficiency of the light of nature to know what is necessary to be known of religion in order to man's happiness, we must consider what are the things that must be known in order to this: which are these two: 1st. The religion of nature, or the religion proper and needful, considering the state and relations we stand in as creatures: 2d. The religion of a sinner, or the religion and duties proper and necessary for us, considering our state as depraved [sinful] and guilty creatures, having incurred the displeasure of our Creator.
As to the former, it is manifest from fact, that nature alone is not sufficient for the discovery of the religion of nature, in the latter sense of sufficiency: That is, no means we have by mere nature, without instruction, bring men to the knowledge of the nature of God, and our natural relation to, and dependence on him, and the consequent relations we stand in to our fellow creatures, and the duties becoming these relations, sufficient actually to reach the effect, either universally, or generally, or in any prevailing degree. No; nor does it appear to have proved sufficient, so much as in a single instance. A sufficiency to see the reasonableness of these things, when pointed out, is not the same thing as a sufficiency to find them out. None but either mere dunces, or those who are incorrigibly willful, will deny that there is a vast difference.
And as to the latter, viz. the religion of a sinner, or the duties proper and necessary for us as depraved [sinful], guilty, and offending creatures; it is most evident, the light of nature cannot be sufficient for our information, by any means, or in any sense whatsoever. No, nor is the law of nature sufficient either to prescribe or establish this religion. The light of nature is, in no sense whatsoever, sufficient to discover this religion. It has no sufficient tendency to it; nor, indeed, any tendency at all to discover it to any one single person in any age. And it not only has no tendency to the obtaining of this knowledge, by mere natural means, but it affords no possibility of it. Not only is the light of nature insufficient to discover this religion, but the law of nature is not sufficient to establish it, or to give any room for it.
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