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them with a due reserve, and in such a manner only, as it may be done without offending the laws of our country, and disturbing the public peace.
I cannot conclude my discourse on this occasion better than by putting you in mind of a passage you quoted to me once, with great applause, from a sermon of Foster, and to this effect: 6. Where mystery begins, religion ends." The apothegm pleased me much, and I was glad to hear such a truth from any pulpit, since it shows an inclination, at least, to purify Christianity from the leaven of artificial theology, which consists principally in making things that are very plain mysterious, and in pretending to make things that are impenetrably mysterious very plain. If you continue still of the same mind, I shall have no excuse to make to you for what I have written, and shall write. Our opinions coincide. If you have changed your mind, think again, and examine further. You will find that it is the modest, not the presumptuous inquirer who makes a real, and safe progress in the discovery of divine truths. One follows nature, and nature's God, that is, he follows God in his works, and in his word; nor presumes to go further by metaphysical and theological commentaries of his own invention, than the two texts, if I may use this expression, carry him very evidently. They who have done otherwise, and have affected to discover, by a supposed science derived from tradition, or taught in the schools, more than they who have not such science can discover concerning the nature, physical and moral, of the Supreme Being, and concerning the secrets of his providence, have been either enthusiasts, or knaves, or else of that numerous tribe who reason well very often, but reason always on some arbitrary supposition.
Much of this character belonged to the heathen divines, and it is, in all its parts peculiarly that of the ancient fathers, and modern doctors of the Christian church. The former had reason, but no revelation to guide them; and though reason be always one, we cannot wonder that different prejudices, and different tempers of imagination warped it in them, on such subjects as these, and produced all the extravagances of their theology. The latter had not the excuse of human frailty to make in mitigation of their presumption. On the contrary, the consideration of this frailty, inseparable from their nature, aggravated their presumption. They had a much surer criterion than human reason, they had divine reason, and the word of God to guide them, and to limit their inquiries. How came they to go beyond this criterion? Many of the first preachers were led into it because they preached or wrote before there was any such criterion established, in the acceptance of which they all agreed; because they preached or wrote in the mean time, on the faith of tradition,
and on a confidence that they were persons extraordinarily gifted. Other reasons succeeded these. Skill in languages, not the gift of tongues, some knowledge of the Jewish cabala, and some of heathen philosophy, of Plato's especially, made them presume to comment, and under that pretence to enlarge the system of Christianity, with as much license as they could have taken, if the word of man, instead of the word of God, had been concerned; and they had commented the civil, not the divine law. They did this so copiously, that, to give one instance of it, the exposition of St. Matthew's gospel took up ninety homilies, and that of St. John's eighty-seven in the works of Chrysostom; which puts me in mind of a puritanical parson,* who, if I mistake not, for I have never looked into the folio since I was a boy and condemned sometimes to read in it, made one hundred and nineteen sermons on the hundred and nineteenth psalm.
Now all these men, both heathens and Christians, appeared gigantic forms through the false medium of imagination, and habitual prejudice; but were, in truth, as arrant dwarfs in the knowledge to which they pretended, as you and I, and all the sons of Adam. The former, however, deserved some excuse: the latter none. The former made a very ill use of their reason, no doubt, when they presumed to dogmatise about the divine nature; but they deceived nobody. What they taught, they taught on their own authority, which every other man was at liberty to receive, or reject, as he approved or disapproved the doctrine. Christians, on the other hand, made a very ill use of revelation and reason both. Instead of employing the superior principle to direct and confine the inferior, they employed it to sanctify all that wild imagination, the passions, and the interests of the ecclesiastical order suggested. This abuse of revelation was so scandalous, that whilst they were building up a system of religion, under the name of Christianity, every one who sought to signalise himself in the enterprise, and they were multitudes, dragged the Scriptures to his opinion by different interpretations, paraphrases, and comments. Arius and Nestorius both pretended that they had it on their sides: Athanasius and Cyril on theirs. They rendered the word of God so dubious, that it ceased to be a criterion, and they had recourse to another, to councils and the decrees of councils. He must be very ignorant in ecclesiastical antiquity, who does not know by what intrigues of the contending factions, for such they were and of the worst kind, these decrees were obtained: and yet an opinion prevailing that the Holy Ghost, the same divine spirit who dictated the Scriptures, presided in these assemblies and dictated their decrees, their de
* Dr. Manton.
crees passed for infallible decisions, and sanctified, little by little, much of the superstition, the nonsense, and even the blasphemy which the fathers taught, and all the usurpations of the church. This opinion prevailed, and influenced the minds of men, so powerfully, and so long, that Erasmus, who owns, in one of his letters, that the writings of Oecolampadius, against transubstantiation seemed sufficient to seduce even the elect, ut seduci posse videantur etiam electi,” declares in another, that nothing hindered him from embracing the doctrine of Oecolampadius, but the consent of the church to the other doctrine, “ nisi obstaret consensus ecclesiæ.” Thus artificial theology rose on the demolitions, not on the foundations, of Christianity; was incorporated into it, and became a principal part of it. How much it becomes a good Christian to distinguish them in his private thoughts, at least, and how unfit even the greatest, the most moderate, and the least ambitious of the ecclesiastical order are to assist us in making this distinction, I have endeavored to show you by reason, and by example.
It remains, then, that we apply ourselves to the study of the first philosophy without any other guides than the works, and the word of God. In natural religion the clergy are unnecessary, in revealed they are dangerous, guides.
ESSAY THE FIRST.
THE NATURE, EXTENT, AND REALITY
AMONG the many cavils that have been devised against the demonstrated existence of a first, intelligent, self-existent Cause of all things, this has been one; that things known must be anterior to knowledge, and that we may as well assert that the images of objects we see reflected made those objects, as that knowledge or intelligence made them. Hobbes is accused of reasoning on this principle in his Leviathan, and his book De Cive, by the author of the Intellectual System of the Universe, and his argument in the place, where he mentions the notions that reason dictates to us, concerning the divine attributes, is thus stated. “ Since knowledge and intelligence are nothing more in us, than a tumult of the mind, excited by the pressure of external objects on our organs, we must not imagine there is any such thing in God, these being things which depend on natural causes.” Now I think, this charge a little too hastily brought, and a little too heavily laid. So will any man who reads the context. Hobbes having said that, when we ascribe will to God, we must not conceive it to be in him, what it is in us, but must suppose it to be something analogous which we cannot conceive. He adds,“ in like manner when we attribute sight, and other sensations, or knowledge, and intelligence to God, which are in us no
thing more than a certain tumult of the mind, excited by the pressure of external objects on our organs, we must not imagine that any thing like this happens to God.” I am far from subscribing to many notions which Hobbes has advanced. But still the plain and obvious meaning of this passage, according to iny apprehension, is not to deny that the Supreme Being is an intelligent Being, but to distinguish between the Divine and human manner of knowing. If Hobbes did not assert a distinct kind of knowledge, and attribute the same clearly to God Almighty” upon this occasion, the omission will not serve to fix the brand of atheism upon him. On the contrary, whatever his other opinions were, this opinion may be reconciled to the most orthodox theism. It is more reasonable, and carries along with it a more becoming reverence, than the learned writer who makes the objection shows; when, like other divines, he supposes clearly by his reflections on this passage, and indeed by the whole tenor of his writings, that intelligence and knowledge in God are the same as intelligence and knowledge in man; that the divine differs from the human in degrees, not in kind, and that by consequence if God has not the latter, he has none at all.
Absurd and impertinent vanity! We pronounce our fellow animals to be automates, or we allow them instinct, or we bestow graciously upon them, at the utmost stretch of liberality, an irrational soul, something we know not what, but something that can claim no kindred to the human mind. We scorn to admit them into the same class of intelligence with ourselves, though it be obvious, among other observations easy to be made, and tending to the same purpose, that the first inlets, and the first elements of their knowledge, and of ours, are the same. But of ourselves, we think it not too much to boast that our intelligence is a participation of the divine intelligence; that the mind of man, like that of God, contains in it the ideas of intelligible natures; that it does not rise from particular to general knowledge, but descends from universals to singulars; hovers, as it were, aloft over all the corporeal universe; is independent of the bodies that compose it, or proleptical to them, and in the order of nature before them.
Such wild notions as these, or the magic of such unmeaning sounds, and articulated air, which the warm imaginations of Asia and Africa first produced, have been echoed down to the present age, and have been propagated with so much success even in our northern and cold climates, that the heads of many reverend persons have been turned by a præternatural fermentation of the brain, or a philosophical delirium. None has been so more, I think, since the days of the latter Platonists, and the reign of the schoolmen who may be called properly the latter