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we put no additional stumbling-block in their way. If, by any want of equity and Christian dispositions, we repel and alienate them still further from THE TRUTH which must be received that men may be saved ; * we sin most awfully against God; and have we not reason to expect that “ their blood he will require at our hands?”ť
Of another serious impropriety it might be doubted whether it is most suitably introduced here or ought to be reserved to the next chapter. Both the orthodox and their adversaries have, in different directions, made themselves chargeable with this fault; but to the former the effect has been beyond comparison the most injurious. It has consisted in a confusion and misapplication, of both ideas and language, on the use of reason in matters of faith. On the one side, assertions have been brought forth about the power and sufficiency of reason, which have scarcely stopped short of impiety; and on the other, the opposite disclaimer has been made, with a vehemence so inconsiderate, as almost to imply the abdication of our mental faculties. The error has, in part at least, arisen from not attending to the different senses of ambiguous words, from not using care to preserve the same acceptation of the same terms through the whole length of an argument, and from a blameable and uncandid readiness to seize upon and exaggerate the inadvertencies of oppo
nents. The principal term which has been thus abused, Reason, is constantly employed in two very different meanings; not to mention its other senses which belong less to our present consideration. By reason, we often intend the employment of our mental faculties in discerning the agreements and differences of things, in comparing premises and their conclusions, in perceiving the weight and appropriation of evidence, and in judging of the application of motives: at other times, we intend the sum of notions, sentiments, or opinions received by any individual, at a given time, as so certainly true that to him they do not appear to require further questioning. The former is the power of thought exercising itself for the discovery of truth : and therefore it would be absurd to say that any position is agreeable to it, or repugnant to it; for, in this acceptation, reason is not a rule but a mere instrument. In the latter sense, however, a man commonly says that a given position is agreeable to his reason, or above it, or contrary to it; by which he means, or ought to mean, nothing more than that the new proposition appears to him compatible with that collection of previous notions which he is in the habit of regarding as indubitably certain, or that it is quite out of the range of his hitherto acquired mental habits, or that it is irreconcileable with what he has been accustomed to regard as unquestionable truth. Every one must perceive, that the value of such assertions as these must depend upon the correctness of the mass of sentiment which the individual assumes as his standard. If the motion of the earth be asserted to an ignorant peasant, he calls it contrary to reason, and rejects it: for to his reason, at the present time, it is indeed contrary, and appears among the grossest of absurdities. On the other hand, a geometrician cannot, in his department of science, fall into irreclaimable error; because the collection of notions held indubitable in his mind, his standard of judgment, or what we may call his geometrical reason, is ultimately no other than a few axioms, known by all men to be necessary truths. Happy would it be, if, in all the exercises of mind, we would faithfully and unremittingly aim at an imitation, so far as possible, of the geometrician's provident and inflexible method!
But it is further to be observed that, from this latter signification of the word, another has been derived, by which it is made to stand for a certain collection of received notions which are supposed to be common to mankind; whether they are impressed on the mind by the immediate energy of the Creator, or are an universal case of association, or are the necessary product of circumstances inevitable to men, on the first occurrence of those circumstances to a sound intellect. Whatever opinion we may form of this common reason of mankind, it is evident that it will be more or less perfect according to the progress of society in experience and improvement; and that to each
individual, his share of this common reason coincides and becomes identified with his own particular sum of accredited opinions, only it is corroborated by his belief of an universal participation in the same on the part of his fellowcreatures.
If these observations are just, they will assist us to judge of the propriety or impropriety of some current phrases. A dictate of reason, or a judgment of reason, would denote, in the first sense, the settled issue of a careful examination; but, in the latter and probably more common acceptation, it would signify that opinion on a given case which a person looks upon as intuitively certain. The light of reason, in the first sense, is a phrase without meaning: if it were used in the latter, it would signify merely the whole collection of sentiments which an individual held to be indubitable. “ What the eye is to the body,” says the excellent Bishop Horne,“ reason or understanding is to the soul. The eye is framed in such a manner as to be capable of seeing, reason in such a manner as to be capable of knowing. But the eye, though never so good, cannot see without light; reason, though never so perfect, cannot know without instruction. The phrase, therefore, light of reason, seems to be an improper one; since reason is not the light, but is an organ for the light of instruction to act upon : and a man may as well take a view of things upon earth, in a dark night, by the light of his own eye, as
pretend to discover the things of heaven, in the night of nature, by the light of his own reason. I doubt whether, in this valuable paragraph, the author has avoided an inadvertent change in the use of his principal term. He first employs the word reason in the first of the senses above stated, to denote the exercise of the intellectual faculty: but the supposed advocate of natural religion might complain that his opinion was not fairly stated. He might protest against the conclusion, and say that he intended his “
light of reason”, to be taken in the other sense, that of a collection of supposed indubitable notions or first truths.
But it would be easy to adduce instances of grosser inaccuracy. Language like this has been held by some Christians; that “reason must be silent when faith speaks,” and that “ reason must be submitted, or must even be sacrificed, to faith.” A good sense may be put upon such phrases, if, by reason, we understand our opinions and deductions formed by our own speculations, and, by faith, the dictates of a testimony which has been established by previous proofs to be divine : but, with this explication, the terms are not well chosen. Infidels have been very fond of such language, when, for the worst of purposes, they have written under the affectation of a reverence for revealed religion. If they can lodge in the unwary
Bp. Horne's Works, vol. vi. p. 198.