« PreviousContinue »
his reasonings, or his conversation. “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame to him.” He can neither affirm nor deny, till he know what is to be affirmed or denied. It never will, it never can, enter into his mind to inquire whether there be a God, till he have heard of such a being, or have formed some conception of him. “ The mind,” says Mr. Locke, “in all its thoughts and reasonings, hath no other immediate object but its own ideas ; so that all our knowledge is conversant about
(Lib. iv, c. i, sec. 9.) 66 Wherever we want ideas our reasoning stops: we are at the end of our reckoning." (Lib. iv, c. xvii, sec. 9.) The question then is, From whence must our supposed philosopher derive, in the first instance, his idea of the infinite Being, concerning the reality of whose existence he is, in the second instance, to decide? Will a close inspection of every part of the visible creation inspire him with the vast idea of an incorporeal, invisible, unbeginning, everlasting, immutable, and infinitely perfect Spirit ?
Will the idea of matter suggest an idea of immateriality? Not unless to one who is in the habit of reasoning by the rule of contraries. And when the idea of immateriality is struck out of matter, what is it but a negative idea : that is, an idea of nothing? The positive idea of spirit is still wanting
Will the idea of one's self suggest the idea of spirit ? This question scarcely needs to be proposed to a Socinian who holds the doctrine of materialism. Neither the idea of body, nor the consciousness which he has of thinking, reasoning, comparing, judging, and deciding-in a word, neither his intellect nor his will conveys to him the idea of spirit. Those who know that “ there is a spirit in man might pardon this ignorance of the Socinians, if the latter had no opportunity of reading the Bible, when the great metaphysician, Locke, could attain no idea of spirit but from revelation. “ For he who will give himself leave to consider freely, (says he,) will scarce find his reason able to determine him fixedly for or against the soul's immateriality: it being impossible for us, by the contemplation of our own ideas, without revelation, to discover whether omnipotence has not given to some systems of matter, fitly disposed, a power to perceive and think.” (Lib. X, c. iii, sec. 6.)
But if we suppose it possible for a person who is a perfeet stranger to every part of Divine revelation, and to all traditional notices of truths originally discovered by reve. lation, to infer from his own experience that he is himself a spirit, united with a certain portion of matter, and perceiving and acting by bodily organs ; how can this infer. ence suggest the idea of a spirit wholly unconnected with matter, and having no bodily organs whereby to perceive or act?
Cicero affirms that “ a pure mind, thinking, in. telligent, and free from body, was altogether inconceiv.
(Nat. Deor.) Created spirits, separate from body, are supposed not to be known; and, indeed, if they do exist, do not come under our notice.
The whole visible world, with the myriads of ideas with which it furnishes us, however those various ideas may be compounded, can never suggest one idea of what is in its nature invisible. Ten thousand beings, beginning and ending, existing by succession and succeeding each other, could never lead to the idea of a being who is “ from ever. lasting to everlasting,” and “with whom there is no vari. ableness, neither shadow of turning.” To see imperfection and mutability in every thing around, could never lead us, by any train of thinking, to the idea of a being who is abso. lutely perfect, and to whom no change is possible. In a word, “ Every thing about us being finite, we have none but finite ideas, and it would be an act of omnipotence to stretch them to infinite.”
2. If, unaided by revelation, we can trace neither God nor separate spirit, is it possible for us to trace the devil ? If the devil be a 6 deceiver,” no wonder that mankind should be deceived with respect to his existence and opera. tions. If Satan be “ the prince of darkness,” he will not make himself manifest. It is no more wonder that Mr. G. cannot see a devil than that he cannot see darkness ; for 65 that which maketh manifest is light.”
3. But suppose the existence of God, the author of all good, and of a devil, the author of evil, to be already known : how, without Divine, revelation, can reason as. sure us that when a man has rebelled against God, and yielded himself to the influence of the devil, God will par. don his rebellion and rescue him from the tyranny of that usurper? It cannot be argued as the necessary result of the
Divine perfections ; for such a supposition would prove too much. If God must of necessity pardon the criminal, for precisely the same reason he cannot possibly have been ever displeased. If he must of necessity remit the punishment of the crime ; for the same reason no punishment was ever due. In a word : if he must of necessity rescue the prisoner, and restore him to himself, for the same reason he never could permit him to depart, or the devil to gain any advantage against him.
The pardon and salvation of a sinner must depend entirely on the “good pleasure of the will of God," who “ will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and will have compassion on whom he will have compassion."They cannot be necessary; they must be arbitrary. If they are not necessary, they cannot be positively proved from his perfections; and if they are arbritrary, they can. not be known to us, unless he be pleased to reveal them. “For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed to him again ?" Romans xi, 34, 35.
We cannot, from the experience which we have of his goodness in supplying our wants, and in providing antidotes to many of the evils of human life, conclusively argue that he is willing to forgive our sins, and to heal our mental diseases. To reason thus is to found a universal proposition upon a particular one. It is to argue from the less to the greater. This is not properly argument, but presumption. “These," we might rather say, " are parts of
“ his ways, but how little a portion is heard of him? but the thunder of his power who can understand ?” Job xxvi, 14. Beside this : a man might, with greater precision, argue that he who lives in the wilful commission of sin, in so do. ing abuses all the benefits which he receives, and aggra. vates his sin in proportion to the goodness which he abuses; and that thus he may possibly throw all the weight of the argument which is adduced to prove God's pardoning mercy, into the scale of Divine justice. Mercies abused can never show the probability of the forgiveness of the abuse. Again : it is not true that God has provided antidotes to all our bodily diseases; or, which is the same thing, we do not know of such provision. Many of the
disorders of the human body are incurable and mortal; and therefore it follows analogically, that it is at least possible, for any thing that reason can find to the con. trary, that some of our mental diseases have no anti. dote, and may prove destructive.
If reason cannot assure us that God will show mercy to the transgressors of his law, it must be impossible for us, without a declaration of his will, to ascertain on what terms he will forgive and save us. The terms of his
will not be such as a criminal would suggest or choose. The wickedness of such a one is proof that he has but mean ideas of the Divine perfections, and that he has not a proper sense of the honour which is due to the Most High. The offended, and not the offender, must fix on the terms of reconciliation. Here, therefore, reason will again be at a loss. Repentance and reformation may appear to the eye of reason to be necessary to this end; but it cannot, without unreasonable partiality, be assumed that they will certainly be accepted. In a thousand cases repentance does not repair the damage which has been done by sin. When a man has ruined his fortune and his constitution by his profligacy, can he repair them by mere repentance and reformation? When a man has hurt the reputation, the property, the body, or the mind of his neighbour, what atonement can he make by repentance and reformation ? In like manner, when a man has, by his transgressions, robbed, dishonoured, and grieved the Almighty, what re. compense does he
nder to his Maker by a discontinuance of his former practices ? Is it beyond contradiction clear that God is honoured by our amendment, as much as he was dishonoured by our sin ? that reformation restores to him the benefits which we have abused ? that repentance is pleasing to him in the full proportion in which wick. edness is displeasing ? Can a penitent sinner do more than give to God all his heart, and devote to him all the residue of his life? and would not thus much have been due from him, if he had never revolted ? Repent. ance and reformation, then, can, by no form of argu. mentation, be proved to be all that is demanded in order to our being forgiven and restored. 66 The word of recon. ciliation” alone can inform us how God can “ be just and the justifier” of a penitent sinner. “ His thoughts
are not our thoughts, neither are his ways our ways : for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are his ways higher than our ways, and his thoughts than our thoughts," Isa. lv, 8, 9. The “ way of the Lord” can only be un. derstood from Divine revelation, in which he “ has made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he had purposed in himself,” Eph. i, 9.
4. There is still another subject connected with the present controversy, on which reason is utterly silent : the duration of future punishment.
Reason cannot assure us of a future state of existence. It cannot ascertain the immortality of the soul. The great reasoners of heathen antiquity thought the immortality of man only probable. Socrates stands the foremost as its advocate. But was he able to convince his friends of the truth of it? Nay, was he himself thoroughly convinced ! We appeal to the famous conclusion of his speech to his judges : -“ But now it is true, we should all retire to our respective offices; you to live, and I to die. But whether you or I are going upon the better expedition, is known to none but God.” An attentive reader of Plato's Dia. logues may discover in them a great deal of inconclusive reasoning on this subject. “I have," says Cicero, “pe. rused Plato with the greatest diligence and exactness, over and over again : but know not how it is, while I read him, I am convinced; when I lay the book aside, and begin to consider by myself of the soul's immortality, all the con. viction instantly ceases." (Tusc. 2, lib. i, n. 11.) “ If,
, after all, I am mistaken in my belief of the soul's immortality, I am pleased with my error.' (De Senect.) Such was the uncertainty in which, on this important subject, the strongest minds were held!
Human reason, when the question is agitated, may suggest many arguments which render it probable that this is not our final state; but certainty from that source is im. possible. That which had a beginning may possibly have
“ Had the soul a natural immortality the origin of life in itself, it could never cease to be; it would be God." But, like all created beings, it is dependent on its Creator, “ in whom it lives, and moves, and has its be. ing." It is therefore dependent on the sovereign will of