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THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD DISPLAYED
ON THE FACULTY OF MEMORY.
MEMORY implies a conception and belief of past duration : for it is impossible that a man should remember a thing distinctly, without believing some interval of duration more or less, to have passed between the time it happened, and the present moment; and I think it is impossible to shew how we could acquire a notion of duration if we had no memory.
Things remembered must be things formerly perceived or known. I remember the transit of Venus over the sun in the year 1769. I must therefore have perceived it at the time it happened, otherwise I could not remember it. Our first acquaintance with any object of thought cannot be by remembrance. Memory can only produce a continuance or renewal of a former acquaintance with the thing remembered.
The remembrance of a past event is necessarily accompanied with a conviction of our own existence at the time the event happened. I cannot remember a thing that happened a year ago, without a conviction as strong as memory can give, that I, the same identical person, who now remember that event, did then exist.
I think it appears that memory is an original faculty given us by the Author of our being, of which we can give no account, but that we are so made.
The knowledge which I have of things past by my memory, seems to me as unaccountable, as an immediate knowledge would be of things to come; and I can give no reason why I should have the one and not the other, but that such is the will of my Maker. I find in my mind a distinct conception and a firm belief of a series of past events; but how this is produced I know not. I call it memory, but this is only giving a name to it, it is not an account of its cause. I believe most firmly what I distinctly remember; but I can give no reason of this belief. It is the inspiration of the Almighty that gives me this understanding.
When I believe the truth of a mathematical axiom, or of a mathematical proposition, I see that it must be so: every man that has the same conception of it sees the same. There is a necessary and an evident connection between the subject and the predicate of the proposition; and I have all the evidence to support my belief, which I can possibly conceive.
When I believe that I washed my hands and face this morning, there appears no necessity in the truth of this proposition. It might be, or it might not be. A man may distinctly conceive it without believing it at all. How then do I come to believe it? I remember it distinctly. This is all I can say. This remembrance is an act of my mind. Is it impossible that this act should be, if the event had not happened? I confess I do not see any necessary connection between the one and the other. If any one can show such a connection, then I think that belief which we have of what we remember, will be fairly accounted for ; but if this cannot be done, that belief is unaccountable, and we can say no more, but that it is the result of our constitution.
Perhaps it may be said, that the experience we have had of the fidelity of memory is a good reason for relying upon its testimony. I deny not that this may be a reason to those who have had this experience, and who reflect upon it. But I believe there are few who ever thought of this reason, or who found any need of it. It must be some very rare occasion that leads a man to have recourse to it; and in those who have done so, the testimony of memory was believed in before the experience of its fidelity, and that belief could not be caused by the experience which came after it.
We know some abstract truths, by comparing the terms of the proposition which expresses them, and perceiving some necessary relation or agreement between them. It is thus I know that three and two make five; that the diameters of a circle are all equal. But I apprehend that our knowledge of the existence of things contingent can never be traced to this source. I know that such a thing exists, or did exist. This knowledge cannot be derived from the perception of a necessary agreement between the existence and the thing that exists, because there is no such necessary agreement; and therefore no such agreement can be perceived either immediately, or by a chain of reasoning. The thing does not exist necessarily, but by the will and power of him that made it; and there is no contradiction follows from supposing it not to exist.
Whence I think it follows, that our knowledge of the existence of our own thoughts, of the existence of all the materiał objects about us, and of all past contingencies, must be derived, not from a perception of necessary relations or agreements, but from some other source.
Our Maker has provided other means for giving us the knowledge of these things; means which perfectly answer their end, and produce the effect intended by them. But in what manner they do this, is, I fear, beyond our power to explain. We know our own thoughts, and the operations of our minds, by a power which we call consciousness: but this is only giving a name to this part of our frame. It does not explain its fabric, nor how it produces in us an irresistible conviction of its informations. We perceive material objects, and their sensible qualities, by our senses; but how they give us this information, and how they produce our belief in it, we know not. We know many past events by memory; but how it gives us this information, I believe is inexplicable.
It is well known that subtile disputes were held through all the scholastic ages, and are still carried on, about the prescience of the Deity. Aristotle had taught that there can be no certain fore-knowledge of things contingent and in this he has been very generally followed, upon no other grounds, as I apprehend, but that we cannot conceive how such things should be foreknown, and therefore conclude it to be impossible. Hence has arisen an opposition and supposed inconsistency between divine prescience, and human liberty. Some have given up the first in favour of the last, and others have given up the last in favour of the first.
It is remarkable, that these disputants have never apprehended that there is any difficulty in reconciling with liberty the knowledge of what is past, but only of what is future. It is prescience only, and not memory, that is supposed to be hostile to liberty, and hardly reconcileable to it.
Yet I believe the difficulty is perfectly equal in the one case and the other. I admit, that we cannot account for prescience of the actions of a free agent. But I maintain that we can as little account for memory of the past actions of a free agent. If any man thinks he can prove that the actions of a free agent cannot be foreknown, he will find the same arguments of equal force to prove that the past actions of a free agent cannot be remembered. It is true, that what is past did certainly exist. It is no less true, that what is future will certainly exist. I know no reasoning from the constitution of the agent, or from his circumstances, that has not equal strength, whether it be applied to his past or to his future actions. The past was, but now is not.
The future will be, but now is not. The present is equally connected, or unconnected with both.
The only reason why men have apprehended so great disparity in cases so perfectly like, I take to be this, that the faculty of memory in ourselves convinces us from fact, that it is not impossible, that an intelligent being, even a finite being, should have certain knowledge of past actions of free agents, without tracing them from any thing necessarily connected with them. But having no prescience in ourselves corresponding to our memory of what is past, we find great difficulty in admitting it to be possible even to the Supreme Being.
A faculty which we possess in some degree, we easily admit that the Supreme Being may possess in a more perfect degree; but a faculty which has nothing corresponding to it in our constitution, we will hardly allow to be possible. We are so constituted as to have intuitive knowledge of many things past; but we have no intuitive knowledge of the future. We might perhaps have been so constituted as to have an intuitive knowledge of the future, but not of the past: nor would this constitution have been more unaccountable than the present, though it might be much more inconvenient. Had this been our constitution, we should have found no difficulty in admitting that the Deity may know all things future, but very much in admitting his knowledge of things that are past.
Our original faculties are unaccountable. Of these memory is one. He only who made them comprehends fully how they are made, and how they produce in us, not only a conception, but a firm belief and assurance of things which it concerns us to know.
(Concluded from our last.)
OF GOD. In illustrating the nature and perfections of the Deity, they (the Socinians) make not the least mention of his infinity, his omniscience, his immensity, his eternity, his omnipotence, his omnipresence, his spirituality, nor of those other perfections of the divine nature that surpass the comprehension of finite minds. Instead of this, they characterize the Supreme
Being only by his wisdom, his immortality, his goodness, and unbounded dominion and empire over the creatures. By this it would seem, that even in the early period of Socinianism, the rulers of that sect had adopted it as a maxim, that nothing incomprehensible or mysterious was to be admitted into their religious system."*
Jesus Christ. He was a person sent into the world to promulgate the will of God: to communicate new lights on the subject of religious duties: by his life to set an example of perfect obedience by his death to manifest his sincerity and by his resurrection to convince us of the great truth which he had been commissioned to teach, our rising again to future life.'Magee, p. 23. But the account of the miraculous conception of Jesus, was probably the fiction of some early gentile convert, who hoped by elevating the dignity of the founder, to abate the popular prejudice against the sect.' And Dr. Priestly, who may be considered as refining on the principles of Socinus, says, 'Christ being a man, who suffered and died in the best of causes, there is nothing so very different in the occasion and manner of his death from that of others who suffered and died after him in the same cause of Christianity, but that their sufferings and death may be considered in the same light with his.' Magee. p. 95.
Here, reader, pause, and ask your heart in the name of God, are you willing to subscribe to the above sentiments respecting Jesus Christ. Are you perfectly satisfied to rest your eternal salvation upon doctrines that set aside the merits of his death? Are you willing to allow that the death of Christ was nothing more than a confirmation of his preaching; nothing more than a pat tern of a holy and patient, and perhaps voluntary martyrdom; nothing more than necessarily antecedent to his resurrection, by which he gave a grand and clear proof of human resurrection? Or, rather, do you not think, that the death of Jesus Christ is spoken of in scripture, in reference to human salvation, in terms and in a manner in which the death of no person whatever is spoken of besides. Others have died martyrs, as well as our Lord. Others have suffered in a righteous cause as well as he; but that is said of him, and of his death and sufferings, which is not said of any one else; an efficacy and a concern are ascribed
* Mosheim, vol. iv. p. 489.
+Soc. New Test. p. 2.