Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

jection, that he does not, in any part of his work, define the object of his appeal, and gives no other answer, than that his reader, if at all attentive to the purport of his appeal, cannot mistake the meaning in which he takes the two words, common sense, wherever he applies them. I confess this answer does not satisfy me, in regard, I insist, to his own use of them, and still less in regard to the general use of them, and to that power or faculty of the mind, to which, I think, all mankind ought to appeal, more especially in matters of religion. Is it not surprising, that a man of his acumen should not have perceived these two words to be a real and formal definition, or that there is no defining a particular definition. We may, indeed, be told what definition in general is, whether of a sentiment, or of the words made use of to signify that sentiment; we may hear a particular definition well defended, or solidly exposed as defective; or we may hear the sentiment otherwise defined. Not to proceed in the dark, this last is the very thing I would here supply, as well for the Doctor as for myself, and my reader, if I shall be honoured with a reader.

That common sense is not a description, but a definition, will evidently appear to any the most indifferent logician, as soon as he shall consider that the word sense signifies some particular sense, and that the particularity of that sense is peculiarly restrained to some certain sense, common to all rational beings. This cannot be any of the external senses, because a rational being may be destitute of any one external sense; nay, of them all, as a separate soul or angel.

What then is signified or defined by the words, common sense? Here, perhaps, I may be obliged to differ a little with the ingenious Doctor. I say, perhaps, and but a little, for he seems to differ somewhat with himself, and I would not willingly imitate him in this. He insists that common sense is fully sufficient to determine the judgment of every rational man on every primary religious truth which it may be necessary for him to hold; or, rather, that his common sense is precisely that judgment which, as a rational being, he is compelled to make on every necessary proposition, the instant he perfectly understands it; and here he sharply inveighs against philosophers and divines, for presuming to reason about points already decided by the judgment of common sense; and the latter especially, to prove by reasoning such positions as are too plain to be proved. In this, if I mistake not, he ascribes too little or too much to common sense, I mean, in confining the office of judgment to the bare perception of the primary truths; and the rather, because he himself, afterward, very ably proves the truth of this proposition, there is a God,' from the works of creation, although he had assumed that proposition as primary in the highest sense of the word. To me it is plain, then, that he was conscious he had too much abridged the meaning of common sense; and in this consciousness I cannot help concurring with him, because sure I am, and sure he was too, that common sense not only dictates the primary truths, but is that alone in man which can decide on the rectitude, or error of our reasonings, deduced from those truths. Now, although those reasonings are too often erroneous, and still oftener so bewildered in long disquisitions, nay, and frequently in loose harangues, that all the good Doctor hath so elegantly censured in them, is most justly condemned by common sense, and yet more severely by their unhappy effects. And yet many of those reasonings which divines employ occasionally on religious subjects, are vouched by common sense, not only as rightly deduced, but as terminating in conclusions equally certain with the primary truths, and with the clearest logical deductions, so as fully to warrant subsequent conclusions, when as fairly deduced. An instance of this may be seen in the remarkable use of it made by a blind man, on whom our blessed Saviour bestowed the sense of seeing. When some of the learned Jews undertook to argue with him against the reality, and even possibility of the fact, because, as they reasoned, Christ could not have given the sense of seeing, being but a sinner, to their knowledge, and was come, they know not from whence,' and consequently not come from God, nor vested with so great a power; by way of an appeal to common sense, he answers, Why, here now is a marvellous thing, that ye know not whence he is,' nor whether he may not possess this power. As to me, I know that whereas I was blind, I now see;' two primary truths followed by another, tacitly formed—I know he is from God (but not openly expressed), * because he hath opened mine eyes. Now I agree with you, that God heareth not sinners ; but if any man is a worshipper of God, and doth his will, him he heareth. If this man, therefore, were not of God, he could do nothing, certainly nothing like what he hath done to me. His last conclusion was a firm faith in Christ. His adversaries argued, first from a false position, which they neither knew, nor could possibly know, to be true; and also from a maxim admitted by the new believer, but so as to draw from it a conclusion directly contrary to what they drew. The plain unlearned man lays down two positions of his own, and a third suggested by them, all supported by common sense, and under the sanction of common sense likewise, infers this truth, that he ought, as a rational creature, to believe in Christ; and a farther one, more practical in becoming the disciple of Christ, from whence, no doubt, he drew this as his last, that by so doing he should be saved.

The Scribes, Pharisees, and more learned Jews, were not able to reason, at least did not, reason as soundly as this poor beggar-man. But it must be observed, that he grounded his reasoning, not only on the principles expressly insisted on therein, but on faith in the existence of God; for he • believed that God is,' Heb. xi. 6; and in the infinite power and goodness of God, which, as his opponents durst not dispute, he assumed as one of his data. Howsoever this poor man came by this first principle, this primary truth of all religion, it is by the Holy Spirit called an article of faith, and certainly was to him no other. Hence it is manifest, that some articles may be absolutely depended on, and serve as primary truths, or axioms, from which reason may draw conclusions of most unquestionable certainty. In commerce, in trials for life and death, &c., common sense and all mankind have agreed on this method of procedure, although with less immediate evidence to justify their so doing, than we have, or may have, for our reliance on articles of faith in the gospel. We should consider him as a fool, who, having spent all his days in this island, should at all doubt whether there is any where such a city as Paris or Rome; and yet for the actual existence of those cities he could have no possible evidence but that of faith; whereas, for the existence of God, his faith is aided by the whole system of creation; and for the truth of other subsequent articles of our reli

gion, he hath, or may have, more and stronger proofs, both internal and external, to support this faith, than have ever been afforded to any other articles of belief.

The reader may now permit me to declare what I mean by that common sense to which I have appealed.

There are two different senses in which it hath been taken, both by others, and by Doctor Oswald himself; namely, the common sense of the heart, the Sensus Communis of Juvenal, or a common feeling, which that satirist says is rarely found in the great ones of the world, and this is no other than that moral sense, or benevolence of every man to every man, to which ought to be added, that love of rectitude in action towards all men, and abhorrence of the contrary, which are natural to all human beings, at least to all such as merit that appellation. This sense, now, when God is known as our Creator and Judge, but not before, becomes a law to us, considered as rational, as morally free, and as accountable agents.

The other, and that the more usual meaning of common sense, is the same with good sense, reason, or the human understanding, a power or faculty of judging, whereby the human creature, idiots and madmen excepted, is distinguished from brutes. To this must be considered, as inseparably inherent, the attribute of moral liberty, whereby a man becomes subject to laws, human and divine, and consequently accountable to God for his very thoughts, and to both God and mankind for the rectitude or obliquity of all his actions. Here is my definition of common sense, w

which includes not only our perception of first principles, or primary truths, but our rational conclusions, or deductions, drawn from those principles, whether of the heart or understanding, and whether inculcated by uncorrupted nature, or by revelation fairly interpreted.

This faculty or power, as it is found in plain illiterate people, hath been called Crassa Minerva, mother wit, and common sense, in contradistinction, as it were, to the same faculty in people of higher education and culture, among whom it goes by the pompous names of learning and philosophy. However, as to its religious use, the lower classes of mankind generally so neglect it, as to live in too great a measure without it; and the higher pervert or despise it. Yet neither can be wise or happy, but in the exercise of it.

It is in vain to say, man was born with the use or exercise of this faculty. Common sense itself and common observation deny the fact, but acknowledge the faculty itself to be an essential ingredient in the nature of man, idiots and madmen excepted. In it indeed consists the essence of man, though its use and exercise are developed by degrees in each individual, as he approaches to maturity, and stands in need of its assistance, or becomes a moral and accountable creature. Hence it is, that man may be justly compared to a candle, made at his birth with the materials of religious and moral light, but not yet luminous, till he is lighted up by instruction; nor does he in a moment break out into full lustre, but kindles, and gradually increases more and more in the effusion of this distinctive light, till he arrives at the perfection of a rational being, when he is qualified to propagate his light by illuminating and kindling it up in others. In this manner it is, that he becomes both a recipient and a secondary source of common sense, at least of its use, and of divine instruction, to others. Here it is to be carefully observed, that the common sense of any man does not enable him to be the inventor and dictator of religion. This is the office of God alone; and common sense itself disclaims the presumption of assuming this office; and confining itself solely to that of judging, and of assenting to, or dissenting from, the religious informations or institutions offered, unless when it is certain, they come mediately, or immediately, from God; in which case common sense hath nothing to do, but to believe and act, as he requires.

It is farther to be observed, that the faculty of common sense, given to all men, is not given equally to all. We are as larger or lesser candles even by our natural make, and still more differenced from one another by the more plentiful or scanty instructions afforded to various individuals. The good God, however, will undoubtedly proportion his requisitions to his own dispensations. He will by no means expect as much from the man who receives five talents from his hands, as from him, to whom he hath intrusted ten. For good and wise reasons of his own he divides these severally

« AnteriorContinuar »