Page images
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]





CHAPTER I. The Moral Philosopher's concessions concerning the usefulness of Divine Revelation in

the present corrupt state of mankind. He leaves no way of knowing when such a Revelation is really givev. His pretence that moral truth and fitness, as appearing to our understandings, is the only proof or evidence of divine Truth, or of any doctrine as coming from God, examined. That not only the persons to whom the Revelation is originally and immediately made, but others also, may have a sufficient assurance of its being a revelation from God, so as to make it reasúnable for them to receive it as of divine authority. And particularly that miracles may be so circumstanced as to furnish a sufficient proof of a person's divine mission, and of the divine original and authority of doctrines and laws attested and confirmed by those miracles. The Author's exceptions against this considered. And what be offers to show that a Divine Revelation cannot be conveyed to us by human testimony, so as to be a

matter of divine faith, examined. The Moral Philosopher, in several parts of his book, speaks of Revelation with respect. He nowhere expressly denies either the possibility or usefulness of Divine Revelation in general. On the contrary, he seems plainly to assert that it may be of great use in aid of human reason in the present corrupt state of mankind. What 'he offereth to this purpose, pp. 143—145, is very strong and ex. press. He there acknowledgeth that at the time of Christ's coming into the world, maukind in general were in ' a state of gross ignorance and darkness,' with respect to the true knowledge of God and of themselves, and of all those moral revelations and obligations we stand in to the Supreme Being, and to one another.' That they were under great uncertainty concerning a future state,' and the

concern of divine providence in the government of the world,' and at the same time were filled with a proud and vain conceit of their own natural abilities and self-sufficiency. That our Saviour's doctrines on these heads,' though they appeared to be the true and genuine principles of nature and reason, when he had set them in a



proper light, yet were such as the people had never heard or thought of before, and • never would have known without such an instructor, and such means and opportunities of knowledge ;' and that it doth not follow, that because these are natural truths and moral obligations,' that therefore there could be no need of Revelation to discover them :' as the books of Euclid and Newton's Principia contain natural truths, and such as are necessarily founded in the reason of things, and yet 'none but a fool or a madman would say that he could have informed himself in these matters as well without them.' He speaks of our natural weakness and inability,' and represents those as ' conceited of themselves,' who talk of the strength of human reason in matters of religion' in the present state of mankind. He saith that they who would judge uprightly of the strength of human reason in matters of morality and religion, under the present corrupt and degenerate state of mankind, ought to take their estimate from those parts of the world which never had the benefit of Revelation; and this, perhaps, might make them less conceited of themselves, and more thankful to God for the light of the Gospel. He asks, 'if the religion of nature, under the present pravity and corruption of mankind, was written with sufficient strength and clearness upon every man's heart, why might not a Chinese or an Indian draw up as good a system of natural religion as a Christian, and why have we never met with any

such?' and he adds, that let us take Confucius, Zoroaster, Plato, Socrates, or the greatest moralist that ever lived without the light of Revelation, and it will appear that their best systems of morality were intermixed and blended with much superstition, and so many gross absurdities as quite eluded and defeated the main design of them.'

All this seems fairly to grant the need there is of a divine revelation, and its great usefulness and expediency, in the present corrupt state of mankind, to instruct them in things of considerable importance, and to give them more clear and certain knowledge in matters of religion and morality, than they could have by the mere strength of their own reason without it. One would be apt to think that such an acknowledgment could only be made with a friendly design to establish the authority of Divine Revelation, and to prepare men's minds for a more favourable reception of it. But this does not appear to be the author's real and prevailing intention. Whilst he seems to make such fair concessions, he finds another way to make that revelation, the usefulness of which he would be thought to acknowledge, to be really of little or no use or authority at all. For he in effect leaves us no way of knowing or being assured when such a Revelation is really given. And it is the same thing with respect to the use it may be of to mankind to say, ' that no Revelation was ever given, or that it is entirely needless,' and to say, 'that if it be given, we can have no way of knowing with sufficient certainty that it is given, so as to make it reasonable for us to depend upon its authority.

He maintains, that whatever certainty God may convey to a man's mind by inspiration or immediate revelation, the knowledge of such truth can go no farther upon divine authority, or as a matter of divine faith, than to the person or persons thus inspired, or to whom the original revelation is made; and whoever afterwards receives it from them must take upon their sole credit and authority, and not upon a divine testimony, or the authority of God; in which case he believes in them, and not in God, unless God should in like manner reveal to him that he had made such a prior revelation to them, and then the proof of their revelation would be needless to him,' p. 82. He expressly asserts, that the certainty any man may have concerning any truth by immediate revelation from God is not naturally communicable. For he could not convince any other man not thus inspired, that he had any such revelation from God. If God speaks to me immediately and directly, I believe him upon his own authority without any human interposition ; but if a man speaks to me as from God, I must take his own word for it, unless he could prove to me the natural reasonableness or fitness of the thing; and then I should take it indeed as coming from God, but not upon any human authority at all. In a word, there can be no such thing as divine faith upon human testimony; and this absurd supposition has been the ground of all the superstition and false religion in the world, pp. 83, 84. And the whole truth of the matter he thinks, in short, is this,• There is one, and but one certain and infallible mark or criterion of divine truth, or of any doctrine as coming from God, which we are obliged to comply with as a matter of religion and conscience; and that is the moral truth, reason, or fitness of the thing itself, whenever it comes to be fairly proposed to and considered by the mind or understanding. The ways of conveying the doctrines of religion to the mind of man, and of proposing them to a fair and equitable consideration, may be various and different. They may be proposed and conveyed to the mind by inspiration or immediate revelation from God, by historical traditional evidence, or by the exercise of men's natural faculties, by which those truths occurred to the mind under the evidence of their moral reason or fitness : but in which soever of those ways the doctrines and truths of religion are conveyed and proposed to the mind, the ground and reason of their reception and belief, and their evidence and proof as coming from God is still the same, i.e. the moral eternal reason and fitness of the things themselves, as appearing to the understanding upon a fair impartial consideration and judgment of reason;' see pp. 85, 86, compared with p. 10. Here we may observe, that he plainly puts human testimony or tradition, and inspiration or immediate revelation from God, entirely on the same foot in point of authority: that the one no more than the other is in itself a reason for my believing any thing that cometh to me from another person in either of these ways. But I believe it both in the one case and the other, merely because upon an impartial consideration it appeareth to my own reason to be true in itself, abstracting entirely from the authority of him from whom I had it whether God or inan.

By this the reader may be enabled to judge of the author's pretended regard for revelation. For the account he gives of it comes plainly to this : That we must not believe any doctrines to be true, because they are revealed from God to any other sent to ourselves, but we must believe them to be revealed from God, because we know them by our own reason to be true, by arguments drawn from the nature of the thing independent of the authority of revelation. And if we thus know them by our own reason to be true, we shall believe them whether they be supposed to have been immediately revealed by God or not. Which is in effect to say, that we are to receive nothing upon the credit of Divine Revelation at all, unless the revelation be immediately to ourselves; and that the doctrines and laws delivered as by revelation from God, are entirely on the same foot of authority and evidence with those taught by the philosophers and others, who do not pretend to any immediate revelation. If those things were uncertain to our season before the revelation was published, they are so still, nor can the testimony or authority of that revelation give us any additional assurance concerning them. One, while he supposes that in the present state of mankind they need a revelation from God to ascertain them of several things of considerable use and importance; and another while such a revelation cannot ascertain them of those things at all; because, in judging of those things brought by revelation, they are to have no regard to the authority of that revelation as a reason for believing them; but just to consider them as they lie before their own reason, and if they cannot prove them to be true from the reason and nature of the thing, independently of that revelation, they are not to believe them to be revealed at all.

The foundation of all this depends upon this principle, which he frequently repeats in several parts of his book,-that moral truth' or righteousness’and fitness,' is the only infallible mark or criterion of divine truth,' or of any doctrine as coming from God. He reduces all the proofs and evidences of religion to this alone, and represents it as a thing which cannot be mistaken,' p. 92. This is the design of the second and fifth of those principles which he tells were agreed upon among the gentlemen of their club as true and defensible against all the objections that could be urged against them, see pp. 8, 10.

It is not easy to form a distinct idea of what this writer means by moral truth and righteousness,' or by a thing's appearing to the understanding to be morally true; which he declares to be the only sure evidence and infallible criterion of divine truth, or of any doctrine as coming from God. The most natural meaning of this expression, 'moral truth,' seems to be this, that a moral truth is a truth relating to morality, or a proposition which truly affirms something concerning some moral obligation. So he seems to understand it, when he talks so often of the doctrines and obligations of moral truth and righteousness.' But will he not allow any doctrine to belong to religion that is not in this sense morally

This would discard several important principles even in

« PreviousContinue »