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Thus was the gospel intoduced; and thus in that gospel, was the righteousness of God revealed in Christ,' whereby not only the rectitude, but the mercy also, of his dealings with men, is fully justified to us, and we to him. Here we see, how from the lowest degree of faith, excited by the least striking lights or proofs, a yet higher and stronger is produced, as the lights advance in number and force.
Parallel to this progress of faith among mankind in general, is another, made in the breast of every individual Christian, who first believes in the gospel history, as he does in any other, on the strength of the testimony afforded by. its witnesses; then resigning his heart to that which his judgment had pronounced so true, and so replete at the same time with God's infinite goodness to him, he soon finds his rational or human, improved into divine faith by the demonstration of the spirit.' He, like the church of God, is trained by dimmer lights to bear the more vivid; and as the eye of his mind is more and more familiarised to the light, that light pours on him in a stronger beam, and opens to his view the incomprehepsible wonders of that original righteousness, which interposing between the divine and human nature, justifies God to the reason of man, and man to the mercy of God.
If the faith of a Christian can be vindicated as rational, and well founded in the first step of its progress, and, in the second, as productive of real goodness and solid happiness, wherever it takes place; I hope, it will be amply vindicated at the same time against the cavils of those infidels, who, to run down Christian faith, treat faith in general as a weak credulity, vilify both as not founded on argument, and endeavour to represent the former as rather a vice, if not supported by evidence; at least as no virtue, if countenanced by that which is sufficient.
This good design, together with another, namely, to make faith somewhat more intelligible, than it is at present, among the professors of Christianity, will be attempted in a short series of discourses on that subject, which I intend, with God's permission, to deliver from this place. Whether the one or the other of these designs is of the greater consequence to truth, will not be known, till it is determined, which of the two, our senseless controversies about faith, or
the artful attacks made on it by our common adversaries, have been the more fruitful source of confusion.
Faith, as an inlet to, or a branch of knowledge, is well enough defined, and distinguished from the other inlets and branches, by logicians. But to this definition and distinction, our controvertists on the subject of faith seem to pay little or no regard. Yet till knowledge, in its seyeral branches, and in this particularly, is carefully analysed, and closely considered, there will be no end of mistakes. That we may not therefore continue to talk at random on a subject of such infinite moment,
Let us first briefly delineate these branches, as distinct from one another, that we may see their mutual connexions, and find out the comparative dependence which we may safely have on each.
After this, let us lay down such rules for regulating our belief in all cases, as may distinguish, in the clearest manner, the credible from the contrary reports.
The use, nay the absolute necessity of doing both, will evidently appear by applying that delineation, and these rules, to Christian faith in particular.
In the first place then, there are certain luminous truths, which we either receive through our senses, or more inwardly feel the force of, by immediate contact, as it were, with the very faculties of our minds. These truths of both sorts, which I call primary, carry their own evidence with them, and produce full conviction, without the help of borrowed lights or proofs. At the same time that they discover themselves to all capacities by their own native lustre, they also enlighten and prove such other points, not evident in themselves, as are naturally connected with them, and can be brought by the mind within the influence of their light. To give an instance of each; one thing I know,' saith he in the gospel,whom Christ cured of his blindness, that whereas I was blind, now I see. God heareth not sinners' (the vilest impostors he means), so as to work miracles at their request.
This kind of knowledge, by an expression taken from a particular sensation applied to all our immediate perceptions of truth, whether external or internal, is called intuitive; is in its outward and proper sense enjoyed by man in common
with the whole animal creation; and, in a metaphorical sense, but restrained to perceptions of pure intellect only, ascribed to the Deity himself.
Clear and intuitive however as is our perception of these traths, we nevertheless find by experience, that our senses sometimes deceive us, either through a defect in themselves, or an obscurity and confusion in the objects presented, or a too slight attention of the mind. Nay, we sometimes through a wrong education, or through a bias received from those we have long conversed with, and much venerated, habitually attach ourselves to that, as a first principle, and as self-evinent, which is really false. Thus it is that imperfection and error are found in the very fountain of all our knowledge, and springing from thence, are apt more or less to tincture the stream. But this, which rarely happens, and may in most cases, be easily avoided, or rectified, hinders not the evidence (I mean the self-evidence) mentioned, from furnishing the foundation of all our other knowledge.
On the certainty of this evidence, and by the light of these primary truths, reason is able to work out a proof of other truths, neither clear in themselves, nor evidenced by lights of their own, but transparent nevertheless to the light of first principles. When these, which I call secondary truths, are once proved, and received as such by the understanding, they serve again as axioms for the establishment of new ones, and so on. Kindled at the first, they now emit
' a light, in effect, their own, applicable to subsequent obscurities, in a chain, consisting sometimes of many links; for example, the man just mentioned, to whom our Saviour had given sight, having a clear conviction of the happy change in himself, and of this truth also, that God heareth not sinners, concludes from thence, in his disputation with the Jews, that Christ was no deceiver, but a good man, and sent from God. It is chiefly, if not wholly, in this second step of knowledge that our reasoning faculty is concerned, and shews itself more or less powerful, according to its different degree of natural or acquired ability in different men. In this exertion of the rational faculty, the mind extends its perception of truth beyond the verge of its senses, and even internal apprehensions of first principles, so as to see or know, at a distance from itself.
Here also we are still more apt to be deceived, not only as taking that for an unquestionable and self-evident truth, which in reality is false, and concluding from it as certain; but likewise as reasoning wrong from right principles, through some imperfection in, or a bad use of, the reasoning faculty itself. It is true, our reasoning faculty is as much the work
. of God, and perhaps as perfect in itself, as our senses, and other powers of perceiving self-evident principles; but in regard to the exercise of this faculty, we are more voluntary, I dare not see, free, than in that of the senses and perceptions mentioned; and therefore, here is more room for error, as here is a greater concurrence of our own.
Yet this is the very faculty or power, which extends our knowledge beyond that of brutes; enables us to subdue them, and appropriate all their powers to our own use. It is also this faculty which gives birth to all the arts and sciences, and renders us capable of religion.
But that the human mind may not be confined to these two inlets of knowledge, which would circumscribe our’understanding, and with it our sphere of action, within very narrow limits, there is a much larger field opened to us by a third way, which, passing through the primary and secondary truths, puts us into the hands of faith, founded on report, in order to informations of the last consequence to us, whereof our senses, our reason, and our own experience, could never have given us any intelligence, much less any certainty. The notices of this third class being in their own nature wholly dark and opaque to those who can be made acquainted with them only by report, are illuminated and brought into view by the light thrown on that report from self-evident truths, and sound arguments.
Faith now, or belief, is an assent of the rational mind to some report, whether affirmative or negative, on the admitted credit of him or them who make it. On this all commerce, all trials at law, and therefore all government, or society is founded. By this we have the use of sensation at the most distant parts of the world, though we stir not from home. Nay, since the invention of writing, by this we may see what the rest of mankind hear, taste, feel, or smell, over the whole earth, and so become as it were all eye. By this we raise the dead again, and recall to our view the transac
tions of past ages. By this we may even commence prophets, and foreknow all the events of considerable consequence that shall happen to us, from the present hour, to all eternity. An instance may make me more intelligible. The man born blind, and restored to his sight by our Saviour, having from a full conviction of the fact, and the infinite truth, and goodness of God, proved to himself, that Christ camc from God, goes on by both, by all the credit he had with bis neighbours, as a man of veracity, by the concurring testimony of his parents, and all who had known him from his infancy, and by the reasonings that had satisfied himself, not only to report the miracle every where, but by that means also to confirm the faith of some, and to bring over others who were yet unbelievers.
But in this third step of our progress towards knowledge by faith or belief, there is more room for error and imposition, than in both the former. The reporters may be deceived themselves, or wilfully mean to deceive others; and either to believe or disbelieve, may be attended with great and equal consequences, whether beneficial or mischievous.
To prevent as far as in us lies, the danger of either, we ought when the matter reported concerns us, in any respect or degree, to examine with proportionable attention, and by all the lights afforded us in primary and secondary principles, whether it is possible or probable in itself; what were the means of knowledge, both as to capacity and opportunity, in the reporter ; whether he is to our own knowledge, or so vouched by others, in whom we may safely confide, a person of tried integrity; whether he apparently hath, or possibly may have, an interest in our belief of his report; whether he is able and willing to lay down a pledge of value proportionable to the risk we may run at all events in crediting what he says; whether others with equal signs of knowledge, and veracity, and under the sanction of an equal pledge, report the contrary; and if any do, what farther reasons there may be found in the nature of the thing, or the number of additional vouchers on either side, for assenting to this or that testimony.
Here now are several things to be remarked, before we apply these rules to the trial of Christian faith ; as first, that faith is built on self-evidence, and rational proof; on