« PreviousContinue »
sible for the testator himself to be either a treacherous or an incompetent witness. Therefore the evidence of testimony is called faith, and those of sensible proof and mental deduction are called knowledge. From the foregoing remarks it would clearly appear, that the evidence of testimony will not endure the same testation, as those of sensible and mental demonstration, and therefore it is no wonder that persons who require the demonstration of certainty, in support of the evidence of testimony, should be betrayed into the slough of a universal scepticism.
There are many things which, in popular speech, are denominated certainties, but which are by no means supported by the irrefragable evidence of absolute certainty, and which therefore belong to the class of probable events. As, for instance, the rising of the sun on the morning of to-morrow, is regarded by many persons as being a natural and absolute certainty: but if it be only possible for the sun to rise no more after his going down at the close of the present day, then his rising again on a future morning cannot possibly amount to an absolute certainty. For upon the assumption that the sun will certainly rise once more upon this our globe, after his going down at the close of the present day, then it must be equally certain, that he will rise again a second time, that he will arise at the distance of a week, that he will arise at the distance of a month, of a year, of a century, then, in short, it is absolutely certain, that the sun will never go down to rise no more, but will continue to set and rise, in daily rotation, without interruption and without an end.
There is a description of probabilities, of so exalted a character, as to be usually denominated moral certainties ; because the evidence by which they are supported, is such as must justify and command our assent, and such as will render them worthy to be acted upon in real life, and even to be trusted in the momentous concern of our eternal salvation. Of this description are the reports of there having been such a person as Alexander, and there having been such a person as Julius Cæsar, and there having been such a person as Jesus of Nazareth. For even in the matter of our personal salvation, “ We walk by faith, and not by sight.”
It may not be improper, in this place, to offer a few ob
servations on the evidence of miracle; which I am induced to believe, must be ranked not among probable evidence, however exalted, but among evidence as certain, if not as permanent, as those of mental and sensible demonstration. It has already been observed, that although all competent testimony be derived originally from actual existence, which is the primitive source of all evidence, yet since, in all cases of human testimony, incompetency and fraud are not absolutely impossible, the evidence of testimony can never be ranked with that of demonstration. But in all cases of accredited miracle, such as are recorded in the Holy Scriptures, we have testimony delivered and confirmed by an agency that is equally incapable of incompetency and fraud. Those persons, therefore, to 'whom Divine revelation was originally and immediately delivered, and who were witnesses of their miraculous confirmation, had the evidence of absolute and irrefragable certainty, for the truth of the matter revealed; so that all the facts and doctrines of Divine revelation, are supported by evidence which is every way equal to either mental or sensible demonstration.
It is true, that when God is the testator, the evidence of testimony will amount to a moral certainty, since, in that case, the testimony is infallible: and yet the evidence of miracle is of an inferior order to that of mathematical and mental demonstration. The evidence of miracle to the person who was the mmediate witness of that evidence, must be of a higher description than it can possibly be to any subsequent believer; but the evidence of demonstration is aqually accessible to every human being. And although the miraculous evidence by which the truth of Christianity was originally demonstrated must become less and less accessible to every succeeding generation of Christian believers, yet its internal evidence remains immutable, and its collateral evidence must be growing in magnitude with the number of Christian converts, the increase of Christian piety in the world, and the experience and testimony of every happy individual who may die in the Lord.
The nature, and acquisition, and bounds of Knowledge ; and the com
petency of knowledge in human beings.
KNOWLEDGE is a conscious perception, acquired by an intelligent being, of any positive or relative existence, either in himself or in the
other being Human knowledge is not direct in its nature, neither is it immediate in its modes of acquirement. The human mind is only able to take cognizance of the properties of things, from whence it infers the fact of their existence; and we are obliged to acquire that knowledge, by means which are extraneous to the objects of our knowledge, or which have but a relative existence in the objects of our perception. The knowledge which the human mind acquires of both material and immaterial existence, is obtained by an acquaintance with their respective properties; and it is by that means alone, we are enabled to acquire a knowledge of the fact of their existence. Since therefore all human knowledge is only indirect in its notices, and mediate in its acquirement, and is limited in its observation to facts and properties, the hypostasis of things, is, at present, an impenetrable mystery to the human mind, and will remain such, in all probability, world without end.
On the contrary, all knowledge in the Deity, is direct in its nature, and immediate in its mode of acquirement. The physical hypostasis of all things, is under his immediate cognizance, and therefore, the knowledge of Deity cannot be limited by the properties and the facts of things, but must extend to every thing that is knowable, both in actual existence and in abstract possibility. But although all knowledge in the Deity be direct in its nature, and immediate in its mode of acquirement, yet all knowledge in God must be a personal acquisition ; because it is demon
stratively clear, that nothing but the Deity himself can be unoriginated; and because it is equally clear that although an infinite intellect is God himself, yet no part of the garniture of that intellect, can be possibly eternal. And as to the limits of knowledge in the Deity, it has no bounds to the power of its comprehension, nor any limits in the means of its acquirement, except those of an abstract and infinite possibility. There is another point of dissimilarity between the acquisition of knowledge in the Deity, and the acquirement of knowledge by human beings; which is, that all knowledge in the Deity is necessarily, and is not voluntarily acquired; whereas knowledge in human beings, is for the most part, not only voluntary in its acquirement, but is obtained by very much labour. I say, for the most part, because I am inclined to believe that some of our knowledge, is passively, on our part, communicated to us, by that infinite Spirit, who is the author of our being, and the giver of all good. And I do think that if the distinction of innate and acquired ideas, were but exchanged for that of ideas voluntarily acquired, and ideas passively communicated to the human mind, it might contribute something towards settling that very interesting and important question.
But even human knowledge, although it is neither direct in its nature nor immediate in the mode of its acquirement, and although it is confined in the range of its observation to the properties and the fact of things, yet all its legitimate notices must of necessity be correct, and its decisions must uniformly possess the authority and stamp of truth. For if we are not to believe the information of our senses, and the rational conclusions of our understanding, we can have no conceivable standard of either physical or moral truth, and our senses and intellect must have been bestowed upon us in vain. Revelation could never have been given to supersede the use of our senses or the employment of our understanding, but must have been intended to assist and direct them in the discovery of truth : and Revelation itself must of necessity owe all its authority to the convictions which it is adapted to produce on the human mind : and therefore, it is because that no man can resist the evidence of Revelation, but by the moral obliquity
of his heart, that unbelief becomes a deadly and damnable sin.
Every hypothesis which would deny the competency of the human understanding, to judge of truth and error, when presented to the senses, and brought fairly before the mind, must involve in its consequences, all the horrors of a universal scepticism, or subject the human understanding to all the vassallage of an implicit credulity: we must, in such a case, either give credit to every thing, or else we must not believe any thing at all. If a man will not permit me to give credit to my senses, or allow me to rely on my own convictions, and if he be as intolerant to himself as he is towards me, how is he to convince me of error, and how will he prove himself to be in the right? Assertions and denials on such an hypothesis, must be all of equal value; nor would there be any possibility of identifying truth or of detecting falsehood.
I am not contending for the infallibility of the human understanding. I do not see how any created being, however elevated, can be absolutely infallible, unless it be by a uniform and plenary superintendence of the Holy Ghost; and whether that infallible superintendence will be one of the privileges of our glorified state, and whether it may possibly constitute the eternal security of the saints in heaven, is perhaps, one of those things which “ do not yet appear. But I must maintain the competency of the human mind, in every case, where it actually comprehends the meaning of any proposition, to decide and determine whether such a proposition be true or false. Speculative error, when the intellect of man is in a sane condition, usually arises, either from his not fully comprehending the proposition which is to be the datum of his reasoning, or from his want of mental or moral integrity in deducing his consequences. The competency of the human understanding in relation to truth and falsehood, and especially in relation to right and wrong, is the only solid foundation upon which the doctrine of human responsibility can be made to rest. Divine Revelation confirms the truth of this argument: a Revelation was given to us because we were competent to judge of its truth; and it invites an investigation of its sacred contents, and builds its authority on