« AnteriorContinuar »
SOME THOUGHTS ON COMMON SENSE.
after the high compliment he makes to his common Christians, it is plain, he did not consider them as possessed of common sense. This they ought not to resent; since he hath evidently shewn himself void of common honesty, whereof common sense should surely be the basis. But, if he was indeed a clergyman of the church, established in Ireland, he hath undoubtedly ranked himself among the most atrocious villains of that kingdom.
Another Appeal to Common Sense, written by the Reverend Doctor Oswald, a clergyman of the church of Scotland, published, I believe, at least twenty years later than the former, merits a much higher, and I hope, a very opposite character. Here the master, as well in point of style, as matter, is justly admired in every paragraph. He follows throughout the whole work, and that passibus æquis, the same track of thinking with Reid, that most excellent Scottish writer, with a just title however to originality; but with this difference as to the drift of each work, that whereas Reid, for the far greater part of his performance on the senses, assumes the character of a philosopher, Oswald, in as ample measure, takes that of a divine, and only glances, in passing, on philosophical subjects. This admirable work I did not happen to see till a fortnight ago, when I was far gone in the 78th year of my life. If therefore I have, any where in these remarks, mistaken his system, or built injudiciously on that system (for on it with some reservations, I have built) the reader will, it is humbly hoped, neither greatly wonder, nor severely censure my well-intended endeavours. With this fine writer I agree in many things; in some I differ widely from him. Few authors deliver themselves more warmly in favour of Divine revelation, than he. He seems to have it at heart, but as useful only in recalling us from our irreligious refinements and deviations, to the exercise of our natural perceptions and power of judging in matters of religion. Were he and his readers to insist solely on this recall, they should have me so far unreservedly with them. But I cannot think, as he does, that our natural judgment, unassisted, is adequate to the discovery of true religion. Many parts of his Appeal deliver documents highly deistical; particularly, the third chapter of his sixth book sets out with such as flatly combat the necessity of a
revelation, such in short as Tindal would have gladly laid hold of among his artful quotations from several of our unwary divines. They did not, but, at this time of day, Doctor Oswald ought, to have seen the weakness of these assertions, and their glaring inconsistency with the very supposition of a revelation. If his great abilities compel us to think he saw either, what must we think of his sincerity, or of the contempt be entertained for his readers ? There is nothing easier to be proved, than that man must have been, and was actually, taught, from the beginning, the knowledge of one only God, of his will, and of several other necessary things, which, without an actual revelation, he could not possibly have known, if the natural faculties of the first men were not both very different from, and greatly superior to, those of their posterity, which would have been equivalent to a revelation. Almost every where he cites the Scriptures with just veneration, excepting in two or three passages, which he so interprets with the infidels, in favour of his intuitive judgment on primary truths, as to make them deny the necessity, and even utility of Divine revelation. Herein he shews too little regard for the written word of God, which can never, by any fair appeal to common sense, be so understood as to treat its own utility at least with any degree of contempt.
The first passage is found in Deut. chap. xxxvi. from ver. 11 to 14 inclusive, where Moses tells the Israelites, in his last speech to them, that the commandment, or commandments, see ver. 10, which he had revealed to them from God, and written in his book of the law, need not then be sought from heaven,' or · from beyond the sea,' inasmuch as it was then in their hearts and in their mouths; and, if the Doctor pleases, seconded, as the law of God, by their own common sense, and hearts, inasmuch as they knew its rectitude, and had seen the miracles wrought in confirmation of its authority, whereof their lawgiver had just then reminded them.
Another passage insisted on by Tindal, and all our other infidels, for a like purpose with that of the Doctor, and indeed with more show of reason, is found in Rom. chap. i. and ver. 20, The invisible things of him (God) from the creation of the world are clearly seen (or proved) being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead. Here the apostle does not say, that the being and attrjbutes of God had not been revealed to mankind, or that it was needless to reveal them, points directly contrary to the faith and doctrine of the apostle; no, he says, the heathen, when they knew God,' which I insist, was by an original revelation, and the apostle supports me therein, 1 Cor. i. 21, they glorified him not as God, but fell into gross idolatry, notwithstanding their knowledge of him, and of his works, which were sufficient to keep up that knowledge, from whence he infers, “they were inexcusable ;' and I cannot help inferring, that they stood greatly in need of a new and ample revelation.
His last passage is cited, or rather referred to, from the second chapter of the same Epistle, where the apostle says, " the Gentiles had not the law,' (by Moses) but were, in some sense, a law unto themselves,' and had another sort of law, the moral law, or the law of common sense, which consisted in distinguishing between good and evil actions, and which makes the chief part of the Jewish law. This however could not, in a strict sense of the word, be a law, till it was believed to be the will of some lawgiver, to whom they were to account for the observation of that distinction in their actions. But to what lawgiver did they hold themselves accountable? Was it to a Baal, a Jupiter, a Mars, a Venus, a Bacchus ? To gods of their own invention, and favourable to their vices? Did our apostle approve of these gods, or of an accountability to them? By no means, for he asserts, chap. iii. ver. 23, that all have sinned,' Jews and Gentiles, and have come short of the glory of God.' Wherefore he calls them all, not only Gentiles, but • Jews, to the redemption which is in Jesus Christ, through faith in his blood, that they may be justified, not by either of the laws above-mentioned, or by the works of those laws, but by a very different law, 'the law of faith. To this most gracious law Cornelius and many other Gentiles, guided by the Spirit of God, and by the law of common sense within their hearts, had recourse. To which recourse this good man in particular, on account of his prayers and alms, while a Gentile, and in suspense about religion, was invited by a special revelation, as one who still wanted both that and a Saviour. To these he was, in some measure, entitled, because he had made the best use he could of such lights, as, together with his natural common sense. had been previously afforded him. He saw the horrible errors of paganism, and the wickedness it was productive of; believed in the existence of a good God; and made his addresses to him both by prayer and such charitable actions, as he rightly judged must be pleasing to an infinitely gracious Being. This was precisely the sort of Gentile whom St. Paul styles • a law to himself;' not but that every Gentile might, if he pleased, have been as good a man as he, had he lived as long on the verge of Christian light as Cornelius did.
Is it not somewhat strange, that the advocates of natural light, and its sufficiency for all the purposes of religion and morality, should, in their distress for arguments on its behalf from holy Scripture, forget John i. 9, spoken of Christ, the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world ?' The Quakers, indeed, quote it for their light within, not well aware of the very next two verses ; ' He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
He came unto his own (the Jews, who ought to have known him best), and his own received him not.' Verse 5, · The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.' Matt. iv. 16, “The people that sat in darkness, saw great light.' Here it is plain, that whatsoever degree of light, in regard to religion, mankind, not excepting the Jews themselves, had originally enjoyed by the nature God had given, they nevertheless sat in such religious darkness when Christ visited them, that the far greater number of them could not discern the light he offered them, through the prophecies applied to him, nor miracles he wrought, nor the excellence and necessity of the doctrines he preached to them. He was the fountain of reason, and the natural light of all men, which, when he came among us, was so extinguished, that few only had so far the use of it, as to comprehend the still brighter light which shone from his gospel. These texts so coincide with, and illustrate the doctrine of St. Paul, in the first and second chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, above referred to, as to leave no doubt concerning the sense of the apostle in those passages.
It grieves me, that I have been forced to defend Divine revelation against the charge of vilifying its own utility and authority, and against, at least, a seeming infidelity in a preacher of the gospel, whereof it appears to me, he cannot be acquitted but by an imputation on his understanding, which surely no favourer of his ought to take amiss, unless he will deny that Solomon had a thousand times the sense of Oswald, and yet was guilty of far greater stupidity in matters of religion. I shall not, however, ask leave of Dr. Oswald, or his admirers, to take party with the word of God, rather than with him. As to the three passages of Scripture, little more than barely touched here, either Oswald and Tindal must be given up, or the sacred volume resigned, as subversive of its own truth and authority. It could not come from God to tell mankind such truths as itself declares they perfectly knew before, or might as easily and perfectly know, as they do that the sun is above the horizon at noon day. Surely not the weakest of our divines hath gone more astray in his reasonings for the defence of Christian revelation, than the Doctor hath in this instance, though he condemns all their reasonings for that purpose in the lump, and not only theirs, but all possible reasonings in support of that cause, excepting his own. Does not this 'look a little like vanity ? Or, rather, does it not look somewhat like an attack on Christ and his apostles; for they also frequently reason with us in defence of this revelation, and even of its necessity to the salvation of mankind ? If God vouchsafes to reason with us, who ought to take his every dictate for an axiom, may we not reason with one another, as long as we take care to found all our reasonings on the plain and obvious sense of those dictates ? That we should, appears to me to have been his original intention; because, otherwise, the decision of every controversy among Christians, supposing it of considerable consequence, must have continued a controversy to the end of the world, or required a new and special revelation to clear it up.
As I too have made an appeal to common sense, in regard to religious truths, I have set out with such an idea of it, as my reader and I can concur in; at least, such an idea as hath made me every where intelligible to him. Doctor Oswald, somewhere, candidly states it to himself as an ob