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Of the Impossibility of attaining to the Knowledge of Divine Things by Reason without Revelation.
It is one of the disadvantages to be encountered in the present discussion, that while the evangelical party take only the Scriptures for their guide, the Socinians claim it as a privilege to appeal from the sacred writers to the dic tates of unassisted reason. The latter will submit their opinions to the test of Scripture, only when the Scriptures will stand the ordeal of their opinions. Or, to speak with greater propriety, they choose to try rather the Scriptures by their creed, than their creed by the Scriptures. When the language of the evangelists and apostles appears to favour their hypothesis, they are prepared to make the utmost use of its authority; but when the contrary is the case, and the plainest declarations of the sacred writers can by no "cogging of the dice," be transformed into metaphor, allegory, or figurative representation; when the primitive teachers of Christian truth obstinately refuse to become Socinians, or even to be neutral, our opponents are prepared to pronounce against them a sentence of excommunication, and to erase their testimony from the record, as an interpolation, a corruption of the sacred text, or an inconclusive argument.
On this important subject Mr. G. has fully delivered himself. His language is as follows: "Grant only (what none I imagine will deny) that the bestowment of reason upon man was, in itself, a partial revelation of the nature, attributes, and will of God, and then say whether it be possible that a subsequent, more complete revelation should contradict the first." (Sermon on Christianity an Intellectual and Individual Religion.)
The advocates of the infallibility of human reason in things Divine, would do well to acquaint themselves more exactly with the power and the province of the faculty which they so unreasonably exalt. The doctrine of innate ideas has been long and justly exploded. But if the mind (or reason) of man possesses no innate ideas, from whence does it collect the first principles of knowledge? From sensation, experience, and instruction. Infants obtain their first and imperfect ideas from what they perceive by their external senses. These first ideas are rectified by experience. Having in this way received a variety of ideas, and having learned to distinguish the different sounds which they hear, they are next taught to imitate those sounds, and to make each of them the sign of a distinct idea. They are thus prepared for farther instruction; and by instruction they obtain all their additional knowledge. They are instructed in the knowledge of first principles. They are taught even the use of reason; and by instruction are led on to those farther degrees of knowledge which are acquired by rational deduction. Why do we appoint instructers to our children, if they have the rudiments of all needful knowledge within themselves? The universal practice of mankind, founded on universal experience, yea, even the practice and experience of Mr. G., who, in his way, is taking so much pains to instruct and to guide our reason, amounts to a demonstration of what is here asserted. The personal experience of every man speaks the same language. Let any one make the experiment, whether he can, by the utmost exertion of his reason, create one new idea in addition to those which he has received by sensation and instruction. Every man may be conscious that he at first relied on the testimony of others, and was then taught to reason on those principles which he had thus imbibed. The eye of reason, like the eye of the body, is by its Maker formed capable of perceiving and distinguishing the objects which are suited to its nature, when they are laid before it in a proper light. But until those objects are so proposed to it, it can no more perceive or distinguish them than the bodily eye can see what is not presented to it, or which is the same thing, what is presented in midnight darkness. As the mind cannot reason without ideas, it has no more
power to create them than to create an atom. Man is a dependent being. God only is his own instructer, (if there be no impropriety in applying that expression to the eter nal mind,) and he only has the ideas and archetypes of all things in himself.
The vanity of all the inquiries of mankind after wisdom, Divine wisdom, and spiritual understanding, until God is pleased to reveal it, is finely exemplified in Job xxviii. Exactly similar to the doctrine of that beautiful chapter is the uniform doctrine of the Scriptures. They declare that, as to the things of God, mankind are in a state of entire ignorance until they are taught by Divine revelation; and always impute the knowledge which mankind receive to instruction from above. Take the following passages as a sufficient specimen :" Every man is brutish in his knowledge," Jer. x, 14. "He that teacheth man know. ledge. The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity. Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law," Psalm xciv, 10-12. "But there is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding," Job xxxii, 8, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit," 1 Cor. ii, 9, 10. "The day. spring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death," Luke i, 78, 79. "I had not known sin, but by the law; for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet," Rom. vii, 7. "How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. I was found of them that sought me not. I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me," Rom. x, 14, 17, 20.
However unwilling modern philosophers, who have received all their true wisdom from the Bible, may be to confess the insufficiency of human reason in things Divine, the sages of antiquity were honest enough to acknowledge the uncertainty of its researches.
Pythagoras changed the name of wise men into lovers
of wisdom, as believing it not to be attained by human means. Socrates often repeated, "that he knew but one thing with certainty, and that was his ignorance of all things." Plato frequently reminds his pupils, that in religious subjects they were not to expect proof, but only probability from them. Aristotle condemns his predecessors as the most foolish and vainglorious persons in the world, from a conviction of their ignorance, and the vanity of imagining that he had carried philosophy to the utmost perfection it was capable of; though no one said or believed less of Divine things than he did. Tully complains that we are blind in the discernment of wisdom; that some unaccountable error, and miserable ignorance of the truth, has got possession of us. The Stoics pretended to know all things; yet Plutarch says, "that there neither had been, nor was a wise man on the face of the earth." Lactantius observes, "They could not exceed the powers of nature, nor speak truth on these (sacred) subjects, having never learned it of him who alone could instruct them; nor ever came so near it as when they confessed their ignorance of it." Epictetus found so much uncertainty in Divine things, that like many other heathen philosophers, he advised every one to follow the custom of his country. (Dr. Ellis on the Knowledge of Divine Things.)
Socrates told Alcibiades, "It is necessary you should wait for some person to teach you how you ought to behave yourself toward both the gods and men. He (says he) will do it who takes a true care of you. But, methinks, as we read in Homer, that as Minerva dissipated the mist that covered Diomedes, and hindered him from distinguishing God and man; so it is necessary that he should in the first place scatter the darkness that covers your soul, and afterward give you those remedies that are necessary to put you in a condition of discerning good and evil; for at present you know not how to make a dif ference." (Stanley's Lives.) "Plato wished for a prophet to reveal the will of God to us, without which we cannot know it." And Plutarch says the same, "that the knowledge of the gods can be had only from them." Thus did they plainly attribute whatever they knew of the gods, or of Divine things, to no principle but the gods.
The prospect of finding Divine truth by the exertions of unassisted reason will now appear gloomy. But the confidence of rational Christians is not so easily abashed as is that of rational heathens. That we may enter into a more minute examination of the pretensions of this boasted power, let us inquire:
1. Can we, by the exertions of unassisted reason, find out the being and perfections of God?
When Hiero, tyrant of Syracuse, asked the philosopher Simonides, that important question, What is God? the prudent philosopher required a day to consider it, and doubled his request whenever he was called upon to give in his answer. When Hiero was weary of procrastination, and inquired the reason of this delay :-" Because," said the philosopher, "the longer I consider the subject, the more I am at a loss for a reply."
Such were the modesty and diffidence of Simonides! One who was much more justly reputed for wisdom, exclaimed, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" Rom. xi, 33. "Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection! It is as high as heaven: what canst thou do? deeper than hell, what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea. But vain man would be wise, though man be born like a wild ass' colt," Job xi, 7, 9, 12. The labour, however, has always been useless: "The world by wisdom knew not God," 1 Cor. i, 21.Among those who have not seen the dawn of Divine revelation, "there is none that understandeth, that seeketh after God," Rom. iii, 11. "For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of a man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God," 1 Cor. ii, 11.
Suppose a person whose powers of argumentation are improved to the utmost pitch of human capacity, but who has received no idea of the existence or attributes of God by any revelation, whether from tradition, Scripture, or inspiration; how is he to convince himself that God is, and from whence is he to learn what God is? That of which, as yet, he knows nothing, cannot be a subject of his thought,