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Cicero was in painful doubt concerning various important points of natural religion. If mere human reason, in its present state, were the proper and sure means, by which man is to attain to the certitude of truth, in regard to those religious and moral questions which seem to belong to the class of natural sciences; surely those distinguished individuals, who possessed human reason in its greatest perfection, and who sought for truth with all the powers of their minds, would have formed a true and certain judgment on those important subjects of inquiry. But if each one had discovered truth, their opinions and doctrines would have been uniformly the same.
It is not only on these religious and moral subjects, which seem to belong to the class of natural sciences, that human reason feels the want of intrinsic evidence, to enable it to form a true judgment of things as they really are in themselves ; but it finds itself frequently in the dark, when it wishes to discover truth in matters relating to the physical order of the universe. What a number of contradictory doctrines do we not see in the history of philosophical systems, concerning matter and motion, and the various operations of nature, which are daily exhibited before our eyes! Every object of our senses, from the sun to a grain of sand, from an elephant to the smallest insect, is a mystery to human reason. But the greatest of mysteries to man, in this sublunary world, is man himself, his body, and soul; their union, and co-operation; the action of the pure powers of his soul, and the connexion between volition and the notions of animal life. All these are mysteries, incomprehensible to human reason. And on these natural subjects, what contradictory doctrines have not been maintained by the most enlightened philosophers, even since the dark ages have passed away! Did not even Descartes and Locke, Leibnitz and Newton, maintain opposite systems ? Each thought that he had intrinsic evidence or demonstration of the truth of his own; but on those points, on which they were in contradiction to one another, the light of human reason must have led either the one or the other of them into error.
If, in the moral and physical order of things, there are so many objects, the truth of which cannot be intuitively seen, nor be intrinsically demonstrated from principles of natural science, so as to make it absolutely certain that the thing really is what we judge it to be; if nature, on every side, presents incomprehensible mysteries to the mind of man; can human reason expect to obtain intrinsic evidence of the truth of the supernatural objects of divine revelation : Can the private judgment of every individual, formed by a series of arguments from principles of natural science, be reasonably considered as the proper and sure means by which he is to obtain the certain knowledge of the truth of the revealed doctrines of Christianity? Is it reasonable to deny the truth of these doctrines, because it cannot be demonstrated by natural reason ? May there not be some other medium, by which the certitude of the truth of the doctrines of divine revelation may be obtained, in a manner more congenial to the object of inquiry ?
ON'THE MEANS OF ASCERTAINING, WITH ABSOLUTE CERTITUDE,
THE TRUTH OF THE REVEALED DOCTRINES OF CHRISTIANITY.—Previous Observations. It cannot be ascertained by the medium of intrinsic demonstrative evidence, or by the natural light of reason.—Exemplified in the doctrines of the Trinity, and Incarnation. And in revealed doctrines, the objects of which depend on the free will of God.—The obscurity of the possibility of a mystery, is not evidence of its impossibility.
In this inquiry, the revelation of certain doctrines, which have been commonly considered as the doctrines of Christianity, and by wbich God is understood to have communicated to man a sublime knowledge of the glory of his divine nature, and of his great designs and works relative to the redemption and eternal happiness of mankind, is, for the present, assumed as a fact. Such are the doctrines concerning the Trinity of Persons in one God: the union of two natures in one Person in Christ, by which he is both God and Man; the existence of original sin; the nature of the atonement required for sin ; the conditions required on the part of man, that he may receive the benefit of this atonement, in the remission of his sins; the necessity of divine grace; the resurrection of our bodies ; the general judgment of all mankind at the last day ; the eternal reward of the good in heaven; the eternal punishment of the wicked in hell.
These doctrines are true if they announce things as they really are in themselves. This objective truth, by which the things announced by these doctrines are what they are, is independent of the perception of our minds; it cannot be made or destroyed, by our conceptions, opinions, or reasonings; it is fixed in its object. So, the existence of the sun is independent of the human eye: for whether we see it or inot, it exists. By opening our eyes to it, we do not give it existence; by shutting our eyes to it, we do not destroy its existence, nor extinguish its rays. So the existence of facts is, in itself, independent of our knowledge : for by believing a fact, we do not give it existence; by denying it, we do not destroy its existence. The man who has committed a criminal act, cannot, by denying it, undo what he has done; nor can he prevent the execution of the sentence pronounced against him, by persuading himself that no crime is punished with death. He who wishes to ascertain the truth of the l'evealed doctrines of Christianity, must seek to ascertain whether the things, announced by them, are or are not, in themselves, what they are affirmed to be.
We do not yet inquire, whether the certain knowledge of the truth of these doctrines can be obtained from the evidence of the testimony of God who has taught them. But the simple question proposed at present is, whether the truth or falsehood of these revealed doctrines can be intrinsically demonstrated by arguments drawn from principles of natural science; whether intrinsic and demonstrative evidence is the medium, by which the certitude of the truth of these doc trines can be obtained; whether these doctrines are the object of human reason, as light is the object of the eye? If they are not, it would be as absurd to attempt to demonstrate them by human reason, as it would be to attempt to perceive sound by the eye, or light by the ear.
The truth or falsehood of the revealed Doctrines of Chris, tianity cannot be ascertained by the medium of intrinsic demonstrative evidence, or by arguments drawn from self-evident principles of natural science : consequently mere human reason is not the medium of REVEALED TRUTH.
The province and office of the faculty of human reason is to demonstrate the truth or falsehood of a doctrine that is obscure and uncertain, by shewing its connexion with, or repugnance to, some self-evident proposition, or principle of natural science,
The revealed doctrines of Christianity, which all relate either to the sublime and incomprehensible mysteries of the divine nature, or to the designs and works of God relative to the redemption and eternal happiness of man, belong to a supernatural order of things, and have no connexion with any principle of natural science; consequently it cannot be shewn intrinsically, by the natural light of human reason, or by the medium of demonstrative evidence, whether the supernatural objects of these doctrines are, or are not, in themselves, what they are announced to be * Let us take for an example, the doctrine of the Trinity; viz. that “ in one divine nature there are three distinct per sons.” By what intrinsic evidence could it be shewn, that there are or are not three persons in one God, and consequently that this doctrine is true or false? With what self-eviderit principle of natural science is this doctrine connected, or to what principle of natural science is it evidently opposed ? The doctrine does not announce that there is only one divine nature, and that there are three divine natures ; nor, that there are three divine persons, and only one divine person. If such were the doctrine, in either case it would be repugnant to a self-evident principle of natural science, viz. “ that the same thing cannot at the same time, and in the same respect, be and not be, what it is affirmed to be.” But such is not the doctrine proposed; it announces that there is one NATURE and three PERSONS. This, intrinsically considered, is obscure to human reason, for want of the light of some self-evident principle of natural science applicable to it. But obscurity of truth is not evidence of falsehood.
Are there not three distinct powers, the will, the memory, and the understanding, in the one, simple, spiritual substance of the human soul; each of which powers is the soul itself? Is not this a mystery to human reason?
Could the possibility of such distinct powers, in one soul, have been speculatively demonstrated, from any self-evident principle of natural science ? Could the possibility of them bave been naturally known, but from the consciousness of their existence and operations ? To what principle of natural science could the doctrine of the existence, or of the possibility of these three powers in one soul, be opposed by those who should undertake to deny it? Will man, then, who cannot comprehend the nature, the powers, and operations of his own soul, pretend to have such a comprehensive knowledge of the infinite perfection of the divine nature, as to be able to see evidently, by the light of human reason, whether there can'' or cannot be three divine persons in one divine nature ?