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to form from their means of knowledge compared with the vast extent of the objects of knowledge. Is the defect merely in the opinions which men are able to derive from the means they possess of knowledge? Does the apostle mean to affirm that there is no such thing in the present state as arriving at certainty of knowledge on religious subjects P that the Atheist, the Deist, the Pagan, the Jew, the Papist, the Mahometan, the Socinian, the Christian, are all mere learners, without having yet come to the certain knowledge of any religious truth P that we are all as men, necessitated alike, to be in uncertainty about religious truths, whatever are our means of knowledge P Do we all so “know in part,” that we cannot be decided, that we have a certain knowledge on any one religious truth? Is this the meaning of the apostle * We will allow the apostle himself to speak on this question. First, then, the apostle claims to himself the infallible knowledge of an inspired teacher of religious truth. “I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God.” “The truth of Christ is in me.” “We have the mind of Christ.” “We have received the Spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” Now, since Christ had promised to give his disciples the Spirit to guide them into the truth, and since Paul, who makes these claims to the infalibility of an inspired teacher of Christ, wrought abundantly, “the signs of an apostle,” it must be conceded that his claims to infallible knowledge are just. Paul then, at least for one, knew some religious truths with absolute certainty. Can it be believed then that such a man as Paul meant, in the declaration we are examining, to class himself with his fellow-men, or his fellow-christians, and say, we
On the Imperfection of our Religious Knowledge.
have no correct and certain knowledge on religious subjects P Secondly ; Paul uniformly speaks, on the religious subjects of which he treats, with the decision of absolute knowledge. “They that are in the flesh cannot please God.” “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit . of God.” Here is no doubt. Here is no uncertainty. The apostle asserts something which he knows to be true. “Predestinated according to the purpose of him, who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. “He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world.” “He hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. There is no indecision here. The apostle knows that he is asserting what is true. “By him [Christ Jesus] were all things created that are in heaven and in earth.” What doubt is here P What is there of ignorance P. “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord.” Here all is light. All is certainty. Can it be then that such a man ever made the assertion, that he had no correct and certain religious knowledge whatever ? Thirdly. Paul urges definite opinions on his fellow men as religious certainties. The very office he performed of preaching to others, implies that he communicated to them truths, which he esteemed it important for them to understand and believe. The appeal however is made to his declarations. “By revelation he made known unto me the mystery; as I wrote afore in few words; whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ.” “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” He certainly esteemed his fellow-men capable of understanding the opinions he taught, and most solemnly bound, too, to admit them as religious truths. Can it be then, that he should have declared to those fellow-christians whom he
had instructed at Corinth, that neither they nor he, had any correct and certain knowledge on religious truths? that they who in Corinth consented to follow him as a teacher, and they who should through his writings in after ages, ought to be very cautious how they arrogated to themselves any certainty on religious opinions, and be very cautious of dissenting in a decided manner from the Pagan, the Atheist, the Deist, the Jew, the Mahometan, the Socinian, or the Universalist? If the apostle be allowed to speak in his own case, and interpret his own meaning, then, he never meant to assert, when telling his fellow christians that “we know in part,” that there is an absolute defect in us, in the present state, in regard to our arriving at certainty, from our means of religious knowledge. The meaning of the apostle then must be that the partiality of our knowledge is owing to the limitation of our means of knowledge, compared with the extent of the objects of knowledge. There is a certain extent of revelation, which, though conveying knowledge as far as it goes, stops short of revealing to us the whole of the subject. The extent to which it leads us in the present state into the knowledge of God, is so incomplete, compared with the fuller revelations of the heavenly world, that the difference is like the views of the child compared with those of the maturer man. After we have attained to these truths that are revealed, the apostle means to assert that we yet “know but in part.” We know from revelation that there is a God of infinite perfection; yet how many things can be asked respecting this subject, that we have no means, in the present state, of answering? We know how to decide the atheistical controversy;— but in deciding it, we admit what transcends our knowledge. In the Deistical controversy, we know on which side the truth lies; but in admitting the fact of a revelation, we
have a subject before us, that has in it many things transcending our knowledge. We can decide against Jews, Mahometans, Socinians, Universalists; yet the ability of doing all this does not imply the possession of boundless knowledge. What we gain by revelation in the present state, is necessarily limited then, the apostle means, because revelation itself is limited as to subjects, and the extent to which it treats on those subjects.There is no other absolute necessity of a limited knowledge, that stops short of the contents of revelation. Can the text of the apostle be used then as a defence of latitudinarianism, on points of absolute revelation ? If any are content so to use it, it must be from opinions they have formed on the subjects of revelation itself, and not from correctly interpreting the meaning of the apostle. As to the ability or not of our coming to correct knowledge on the subjects of revelation, I will beg leave to quote an animated passage from Chillingworth. “Though we pretend not to certain means of not erring in interpreting all scripture, particularly such places as are obscure and ambiguous, yet this methinks should be no impediment but that we may have certain means of not erring in and about the sense of those places which are so plain and clear that they need no interpreters: And in such, we say, our faith is contained. If you ask me, how I can be sure that I know the true meaning of these places P I ask you again, can you be sure that you understand what I, or any man else says 2–God be thanked that we have sufficient means to be certain enough of the truth of our faith: But the privilege of not being in possibility of erring, that we challenge not, because we have as little reason as you, to do so; and you have none at all. If you ask, seeing, we may possibly err, how can we be assured we do not * I ask you again, seeing your eye-sight may deceive you, how can you be sure you see the sun when you do see it? A pretty Sophism
That whosoever possibly may err, cannot be certain that he doth not err. A judge may possibly err in judgment, can he therefore never have assurance that he hath judged right P A traveller may possibly mistake his way, must I therefore be doubtful whether I am in the right way from my hall to my chamber P Or can our London carrier have no certainty, in the middle of the day, when he is sober and in his wits, that he is in the way to London 2 These, you see, are right worthy consequences, and yet they are as like to your own, as an egg to an egg, or milk to milk. “The ground of your error here is, your not distinguishing between actual certainty and absolute infallibility. Geometricians are not infallible in their own science; yet they are very certain of what they see demonstrated: And carpenters are not infallible, yet certain of the straitmess of those things which agree with their rule and square. So though the church be not infallibly certain that in all her definitions, whereof some are about disputable and ambiguous matters, she shall proceed according to her rule; yet being certain of the infallibility of her rule, and that in this or that thing she doth manifestly proceed according to it; she may be certain of the truth of some particular decrees, and yet not certain that she shall never decree but what is true.” O. F.
fittittu of settu publicationg.
Inaugural Discourse, delivered before the University in Cambridge, Aug. 10th, 1819: by Andrews Norton, Dexter Professor of Sacred Literature.—Cambridge : printed by Hilliard & Metcalf, at the University press, 1819.
The practice, so frequent among readers, of turning to the conclusion of a book, after they have glanced
their eyes over one or two of the introductory sentences, though not in the style of a real student, is yet not without its effect in satisfying the mind, as to the attention which it should give to the work. We candidly consess, that our desire of reading throughout the discourse which appears at the head of this article, and of making it the subject of remark, was conceived in this anticipating and impatient attitude of the mind. The first two sentences, which clearly announce the design of the author, were found to be the follow
The liberality of our citizens, and especially of one distinguished individual, who bore a name which has long been honoured, and which I hope will long continue to be honoured among us, having afforded new facilities for theological instruction in this University, an additional professorship has in consequence been founded.— About to enter on the duties of this new office, I have thought that it would not be uninteresting to speak of the extent and relations of the science of theology, or, in other words, of the intellectual acquisitions and endowments required to constitute a consummate theologian.
The conclusion of the discourse runs thus:—
And what consciousness of desert can be more honourable or more animating than his, who feels that he is directing all his efforts, that he is devoting the whole energy of his mind, that he is pouring himself out like water, to swell the tide, which is to bear his country on to happimess and glory !
If all that a “consummate theologian” intends to do, or if all the result of his “intellectual acquisitions and endowments” be what is included in “swelling the tide which is to bear his country on to happiness and glory;” and if at the same time he has no higher “consciousness of desert” than what is derived from this source, it occurred to us, that a “consummate theologian” might be but little better than a political intriguer, or at least that he might be identified with a worldly-minded statesman. Some impressions also, which time and fashion have obliterated from the minds of a part of the community professing religion, were awakened concerning that which such a theologian as Paul, or Edwards, would have felt authorized to make his governing object, or would have deserved as the result and the recompence also of his labours. From this specimen we concluded that there would be somewhat to censure in the discourse, whatever matter there might be in other re
spects for eulogy; and with regard to the latter, we confess we could not but feel conscious, after having read the discourse throughout, that there was in it a portion of good sense, of manly eloquence, and of correct and elegant composition highly honoura. ble to the professor of sacred literature in Cambridge. In whatever light the science of theology may be viewed, every reflecting mind will concede that it possesses transcendent importance; since it treats of the being and attributes of God, his relation to us as men and as sinners, the dispensations of his providence, his will with respect to our actions, and his purposes with respect to our end, it involves in its discussion the greatest interests in existence, viz. the divine glory and the salvation of the soul. The glory of God and the sinner’s salvation are the paramount interests involved in theological inquiries. To promote them, should certainly be the great object of a teacher of theology, through the instrumentality of his studies and exertions. Professor N. introduces indeed the name of the Supreme Agent in a general way, and speaks of man as an immortal being: but by not adverting to the peculiarity of human nature as depraved, and the consequent relation which the divine character bears towards it, he has, as we conceive, overlooked the real extent, and some of the most important bearings of this great science. He may therefore be consistent with himself, in speaking only of the intellectual qualifications of a theologian, understanding by that phrase merely the reasoning powers, the capacity of conceiving, remembering and combin
ing ideas, or, more generally, literary
and scientific accomplishments of every sort. These qualifications, without doubt, are sufficient to teach and defend a theology, whose principal object is the augmentation of national happiness and glory—a happiness and glory which consist, let it be remembered, more in the reception of a philosophical religion, than in sub
jection to the pure doctrines and precepts of the gospel. But though the writer may be here consistent with himself, we cannot think that he is consistent with the truth. Something beyond great mental powers and literary accomplishments, are necessary to constitute a ‘consummate theologian,’ or one who can properly and ably teach the science of christian theology. For this, indeed all our natural and acquired talents are demanded, and the greater a person's talents, the more auspicious, other things being equal, may be expected to be the result of their application. But we ask, with a confidence not to be shaken, that the asfirmative must be conceded to us, are not a love of the truth, purity of intention, spiritual discernment, and a heart renewed unto holiness, quite as indispensable P Intellectual and spiritual accomplishments united, make the real ‘consummate theologian.” Some of the truths of the bible are so contrary to our natural views, or so humiliating to our natural feelings, that it is only through the medium of regeneration that they are conveyed to the heart, and seen in their real beauty and glory. Whatever the understanding may itself dictate on such subjects, however it may be capable of attaching a true meaning to the terms, which present a spiritual object to the mind; yet the heart so controls the understanding in these cases, that the latter remains, to a great extent, in darkness. They therefore who do not love the truth, and have not a disposition to bow to it, are essentially deficient in the necessary qualifications of an accurate theologian. They will with too much certainty misapprehend, pervert, or deny some material parts of the divine communication. Our author has not insisted on spiritual qualifications. He does not even speak of common virtue, or of honesty of heart; but seems to rest the proper and adequate representation of the will of God, whether as taught us in the volume of nature, or that of revelation, on
strength of mind and literary skill.— These alone are expected to furnish us with greater light than has hitherto been enjoyed by the church of Christ on earth !— But it is time to refer to a few particulars of his illustration of the extent and relations of the science of theology, or the intellectual qualifications and endowments required to constitute a theologian. On the connection of theology with metaphysics, which is the first connection considered, we present the following paragraph:
It is one part of the business of a theologian to make himself familiar with those reasonings, by which the mind, now that it has been educated by christianity, is able, even when left to its own powers and resources, to establish or render probable the truths of religion. He must become the interpreter of the works and providence of God, and qualify himself to perceive the harmony between the two revelations which God has given us;—that, which is taught us by the laws which govern the world, as they proceed in their regular operation ; and that whose divine origin was attested by the presence of a power, controlling and suspending those laws. He will find a perfect harmony between them ; and will perceive that the evidences of both, though derived from sources the most remote from each other, flow together at last, and bear us on to one common object, the truth of the essential principles of religion. Yet notwithstanding the strength of argument by which these principles are supported, we cannot but remark that our conclusions are embarrassed by some dif. ficulties; and we know that scepticism has laboured to overthrow all our reasonings. The theologian, in pursuing his inquiries respecting these difficulties and objections, if he be determined to follow them to the uttermost, will be obliged to go on to the very limits of human knowledge; to the barriers which the mind has not yet passed, and which perhaps are impassible. He must fix a steady attention upon ideas very abstract, shadowy and inadequate. Where the last rays begin to be lost in utter darkness, he must distinguish in the doubtful twilight between deceptive appearances, and the forms of things really existing. He must subject to a strict scrutiny, words and expressions which often deceive us, and often mock us with only a show of mean: ing. He must engage in complicated and difficult processes of reasoning, in which the terms of language, divested of all their usual associations, become little more