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THE CERTAINTY OF SACRED THEOLOGY
Although the observations which I have already offered in explanation of the Object, the Author and the End of sacred Theology, and other remarks which might have been made, if they had fallen into the hands of a competent interpreter, although all of them contain admirable commendations of this Theology, and convince us that it is altogether divine, since it is occupied concerning God, is derived from God, and leads to God; yet they will not be able to excite within the mind of any person a sincere desire of entering upon such a study, unless he be at the same time encouraged by the bright rays of an assured hope of arriving at a knowledge of the desirable Object, and of obtaining the blessed End. For since the perfection of motion is rest, vain and useless will that motion be which is not able to attain rest, the limit of its perfection. But no prudent person will desire to subject himself to vain and useless labour. All our hope, then, of attaining to this knowledge is placed in Divine revelation. For the anticipation of this very just conception has engaged the minds of men, "that God cannot be known except through himself, to whom also there can be no approach but through himself." On this account it becomes necessary to make it evident to man, that a revelation has been made by God; that the revelation which has been given is fortified and defended by such sure and approved arguments, as will cause it to be considered and acknowledged as divine; and that there is a method, by which a man may understand the meanings declared in the word, and may apprehend them by a firm and assured faith. To the elucidation of the last proposition, this third part of our labour must be devoted. God grant that I may in this discourse again follow the guidance of his word as it is revealed in the scriptures, and may bring forth and offer to your notice such things as may contribute to establish our faith, and to promote the glory of God, to the uniting together of all of us in the Lord. I pray and beseech you also, my very famous and most accomplished hearers, not to disdain to favour me with a benevolent and patient hearing, while I deliver this feeble oration in your presence.
As we are now entering upon a consideration of the Certainty of Sacred Theology, it is not necessary that we should contemplate it under the aspect of Legal and Evangelical; for in both of them there is the same measure of the truth, and therefore, the same measure of knowledge, and that is certainty. We will treat on this subject, then, in a general manner, without any particular reference or application.
But that our oration may proceed in an orderly course, it will be requisite in the first place briefly to describe Certainty in general; and then to treat at greater length on the Certainty Of Theology.
I. Certainty, then, is a property of the mind or understanding, and a mode of knowledge according to which the mind knows an object as it is, and is certain that it knows that object as it is. It is distinct from Opinion; because it is possible for opinion to know a matter as it is, but its knowledge is accompanied by a suspicion of the opposite falsity. Two things, therefore, are required, to constitute certainty. (1.) The truth of the thing itself, and (2.) such an apprehension of it in our minds as we have just described. This very apprehension, considered as being formed from the truth of the thing itself, and fashioned according to such truth, is also called Truth on account of the similitude; even as the thing itself is certain, on account of the action of the mind which apprehends it in that manner. Thus do those two things, (certainty and truth,) because of their admirable union, make a mutual transfer of their names, the one to the other.
But truth may in reality be viewed in two aspects—one simple, and the other compound. (1.) The former, in relation to a thing as being in the number of entities; (2.) the latter, in reference to something inherng in a thing, being present with it or one of its circumstantials—or in reference to a thing as producing something else, or as being
produced by some other—and if there be any other affections and relations of things among themselves. The process of truth in the mind is after the same manner. Its action is of two kinds. (1.) On a simple being or entity which is called "a simple apprehension;" and (2.) on a complex being, which is termed composition." The mode of truth is likewise, in reality, two-fold—necessary and contingent; according to which, a thing, whether it be simple or complex, is called "necessary" or "contingent." The necessity of a simple thing is the necessary existence of the thing itself, whether it obtain the place of a subject or that of an attribute. The necessity of a complex thing is the unavoidable and essential disposition and habitude that subsists between the subject and the attribute.
That necessity which, as we have just stated, is to be considered in simple things, exists in nothing except in God and in those things which, although they agree with him in their nature, are yet distinguished from him by our mode of considering them. All other things, whatever may be their qualities, are contingent, from the circumstance of their being brought into action by power; neither are they contingent only by reason of their beginning, but also of their continued duration. Thus the existence of God, is a matter of necessity; his life, wisdom, goodness, justice, mercy, will and power, likewise have a necessary existence. But the existence and preservation of the creatures are not of necessity. Thus also creation, preservation, government, and whatever other acts are attributed to God in respect of his creatures, are not of necessity. The foundation of necessity is the nature of God; the principle of contingency is the free will of the Deity. The more durable it has pleased God to create anything, the nearer is its approach to necessity, and the farther it recedes from contingency; although it never pass beyond the boundaries of contingency, and never reach the inaccessible abode of necessity.
Complex necessity exists not only in God, but also in the things of his creation. It exists in God, partly on account of the foundation of his nature, and partly on account of the principle of his free-will. But its existence in the creatures is only from the free will of God, who at once resolved that this should be the relation and habitude between two created objects. Thus "God lives, understands, and loves," is a necessary truth from his very nature as God. "God is the Creator," "Jesus Christ is the saviour," "An angel is a created spirit endowed with intelligence and will," and "A man is a rational creature," are all necessary truths from the free will of God.
From this statement it appears, that degrees may be constituted in the necessity of a complex truth; that the highest may be attributed to that truth which rests upon the nature of God as its foundation; that the rest, which proceed from the will of God, may be excelled by that which (by means of a greater affection of his will,) God has willed to invest with such right of precedence; and that it may be followed by that which God has willed by a less affection of his will. The motion of the sun is necessary from the very nature of that luminary; but it is more necessary that the children of Israel be preserved and avenged on their enemies; the sun is therefore commanded to stand still in the midst of the heavens. (Josh. x. 13.) It is necessary that the sun be borne along from the east to the west, by the diurnal motion of the heavens. But it is more necessary that Hezekiah receive, by a sure sign, a confirmation of the prolongation of his life; the sun, therefore, when commanded, returns ten degrees backward; (Isa. xxxviii. 8,) and thus it is proper, that the less necessity should yield to the greater, and that from the free will of God, which has imposed a law on both of them. As this kind of necessity actually exists in things, the mind, by observing the same gradations, apprehends and knows it, if such a mode of cognition can truly deserve the name of "knowledge."
But the causes of this Certainty are three. For it is produced on the mind, either by the senses, by reasoning and discourse, or by revelation. The first is called the certainty of experience; the second, that of knowledge; and the last, that of faith. The first is the certainty of particular objects which come within the range and under the observation of the senses; the second is that of general conclusions deduced from known principles; and the last is that of things remote from the cognizance both of the senses and reason.
II. Let these observations now be applied to our present purpose. The Object of our Theology is God, and Christ in reference to his being God and Man. God is a true Being, and the only necessary one, on account of the necessity of his and he is also a necessary Being, because he will endure to all eternity. The things which are attributed to God in our Theology: partly belong to his nature, and partly agree with it by his own free will. By his nature, life, wisdom, goodness, justice, mercy, will and power belong to him, by a natural and absolute necessity. By his free will, all his volitions and actions concerning the creatures agree with his nature, and that immutably; because he willed at the same time, that they should not be retracted or repealed. All those things which are attributed to Christ, belong to him by the free will of God, but on this condition, that "Christ be the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever," (Heb. xiii. 8,) entirely exempt from any future change, whether it be that of a subject or its attributes, or of the affection which exists between the two. All other things, which are found in the whole superior and inferior nature of things, (whether they be considered simply in themselves, or as they are mutually affected among themselves,) do not extend to any degree of this necessity. The truth and necessity of our Theology, therefore, far exceed the necessity of all other sciences, in as much as both these [the truth and necessity,] are situated in the things themselves. The certainty of the mind, while it is engaged in the act of apprehending and knowing things, cannot exceed the Truth and Necessity of the thing’s themselves; on the contrary, it very often may not reach them, [the truth and necessity,] through some defect in its capacity. For the eyes of our mind are in the same condition with respect to the pure truth of things, as are the eyes of owls with respect to the light of the sun. On this account, therefore, it is of necessity, that the object of no science can be known with greater certainty than that of Theology; but it follows rather, that a knowledge of this object may be obtained with the greatest degree of certainty, if it be presented in a qualified and proper manner to the inspection of the understanding according to its capacity. For this object is not of such a nature and condition as to be presented to the external senses; nor can its attributes, properties, affections, actions and passions be known by means of the observation and experience of the external senses. It is too sublime for them; and the attributes, properties, affections, actions and passions, which agree with it, are so high that the mind, even when assisted by reason and discourse, can neither know it, investigate its attributes, nor demonstrate that they agree with the subject, whatever the principles may be which it has applied, and to whatever causes it may have had recourse, whether they be such as arise from the object itself, from its attributes, or from the agreement which subsists between them. The Object is known to itself alone; and the whole truth and necessity are properly and immediately known to Him to whom they belong; to God in the first place and in an adequate degree; to Christ, in the second place, through the communication of God. To itself, in an adequate manner, in reference to the knowledge which it has of itself; in an inferior degree to God, in reference to his knowledge of him, [Christ.] Revelation is therefore necessary by which God may exhibit himself and his Christ as an object of sight and knowledge to our understanding; and this exhibition to be made in such a manner as to unfold at once all their attributes, properties, affections, actions and passions, as far as it is permitted for them to be known, concerning God and his Christ, to our salvation and to their glory; and that God may thus disclose all and every portion of those theorems in which both the subjects themselves and all their attending attributes are comprehended. Revelation is necessary, if it be true that God and his Christ ought to be known, and both of them be worthy to receive Divine honours and worship. But both of them ought to be known and worshipped; the revelation, therefore, of both of them is necessary; and because it is thus necessary, it has been made by God. For if nature, as a partaker and communicator of a good that is only partial, is not deficient in the things that are necessary; how much less ought we even to suspect such a deficiency in God, the Author and Artificer of nature, who is also the Chief Good?
But to inspect this subject a little more deeply and particularly, will amply repay our trouble; for it is similar to the foundation on which must rest the weight of the structure—the other doctrines which follow. For unless it should appear certain and evident, that a revelation has been made, it will be in vain to inquire and dispute about the word in which that revelation has been made and is contained. In the first place, then, the very nature of God most clearly evinces that a revelation has been made of himself and Christ. His nature is good, beneficent, and communicative of his blessedness, whether it be that which proceeds from it by creation, or that which is God himself. But there is no communication made of Divine good, unless God be made known to the understanding, and be desired by the affections and the will. But he cannot become an object of knowledge except by revelation. A revelation, therefore, is made, as a necessary instrument of communication.
2. The necessity of this revelation may in various ways be inferred and taught from the nature and condition of man. First. By nature, man possesses a mind and understanding. But it is just that the mind and understanding should be turned towards their Creator; this, however, cannot be done without a knowledge of the Creator, and such knowledge cannot be obtained except by revelation; a revelation has, therefore, been made. Secondly. God himself formed the nature of man capable of Divine Good. But in vain would it have had such a capacity, if it might not at some time partake of this Divine Good; but of this the nature of man cannot be made a partaker except by the knowledge of it; the knowledge of this Divine Good has therefore been manifested. Thirdly. It is not possible, that the desire which God has implanted within man should be vain and fruitless. That desire is for the enjoyment of an Infinite Good, which is God; but that Infinite Good cannot be enjoyed, except it be known; a revelation, therefore, has been made, by which it may be known.
3. Let that relation be brought forward which subsists between God and man, and the revelation that has been made will immediately become manifest. God, the Creator of man, has deserved it as his due, to receive worship and honour from the workmanship of his hands, on account of the benefit which he conferred by the act of creation. Religion and piety are due to God, from man his creature; and this obligation is coeval with the very birth of man, as the bond which contains this requisition was given on the very day in which he was created. But religion could not be a human invention. For it is the will of God to receive worship according to the rule and appointment of his own will. A revelation was therefore made, which exacts from man the religion due to God, and prescribes that worship which is in accordance with his pleasure and his honour.
4. If we turn our attention towards Christ, it is amazing how great the necessity of a manifestation appears, and how many arguments immediately present themselves in behalf of a revelation being communicated. Wisdom wishes to be acknowledged as the deviser of the wonderful attempering and qualifying of justice and mercy. Goodness and gracious mercy, as the administrators of such an immense benefit sought to be worshipped and honoured. And power, as the hand-maid of such stupendous wisdom and goodness, and as the executrix of the decree made by both of them, deserved to receive adoration. But the different acts of service which were due to each of them, could not be rendered to them without revelation. The wisdom, mercy and power of God, have, therefore, been revealed and displayed most copiously in Christ Jesus. He performed a multitude of most wonderful works, by which we might obtain the salvation that we had lost; he endured most horrid torments and inexpressible distress, which, when pleaded in our favour, served to obtain this salvation for us; and by the gift of the Father he was possessed of an abundance of graces, and, at the Divine command, he became the distributor of them. Having, therefore, sustained all these offices for us, it is his pleasure to receive those acknowledgments, and those acts of Divine honour and worship, which are due to him on account of his extraordinary merits. But in vain will he expect the performance of these acts from man, unless he be himself revealed. A revelation of Christ has, therefore, been made. Consult actual experience, and that will supply you with numberless instances of this manifestation. The devil himself, who is the rival of Christ, has imitated these instances of gracious manifestation, has held converse with men under the name and semblance of the true God, has demanded acts of devotion from them, and prescribed to them a mode of religious worship. We have, therefore, the truth and the necessity of our Theology agreeing together in the highest degree; we have an adequate notion of it in the mind of God and Christ, according to the word which is called emfutov "engrafted." (James i. 21.) We have a revelation of this Theology made to men by the word preached; which revelation agrees both with the things themselves and with the notion which we have mentioned, but in a way that is attempered and suited to the human capacity. And as all these are preliminaries to the certainty which we entertain concerning this Theology, it was necessary to notice them in these introductory remarks.
Let us now consider this Certainty itself. But since a revelation has been made in the word which has been published, and since the whole of it is contained in that word, (so that This Word is itself our Theology,) we can determine nothing concerning the certainty of Theology in any other way than by offering some explanation concerning our certain apprehension of that word. We will assume it as a fact which is allowed and confirmed, that this word is to be found in no other place than in the sacred books of the Old and New Testament; and we shall on this account confine this certain apprehension of our mind to that word. But in fulfilling this design, three things demand our attentive consideration: First. The Certainty, and the kind of certainty which God requires from us, and by which it is his pleasure that this word should be received and apprehended by us as the Chief Certainty. Secondly. The reasons and arguments by which the truth of that word, which is its divinity, may be proved. Thirdly. How a persuasion of that divinity may be wrought in our minds, and this Certainty may be impressed on our hearts.
I. The Certainty "with which God wishes this word to be received, is that of faith; and it therefore depends on the veracity of him who utters it." By this Certainty "it is received," not only as true, but as divine; and it is not of that involved and mixed kind "of faith" by which any one, without understanding the meanings expressed by the word as by a sign, believes that those books which are contained in the Bible, are divine: for not only is a doubtful opinion opposed to faith, but an obscure and perplexed conception is equally inimical. Neither is it that species "of historical faith" which believes the word to be divine that it comprehends only by a theoretical understanding. But God demands that faith to be given to his word, by which the meanings expressed in this word may be understood, as far as it is necessary for the salvation of men and the glory of God; and may be so assuredly known to be divine, that they may be believed to embrace not only the Chief Truth, but also the Chief Good of man. This faith not only believes that God and Christ exist, it not only gives credence to them when they make declarations of any kind, but it believes in God and Christ when they affirm such things concerning themselves, as, being apprehended by faith, create a belief in God as our Father, and in Christ as our saviour. This we consider to be the office of an understanding that is not merely theoretical, but of one that is practical. For this cause not only is asfaleia (certainty,) attributed in the Scriptures to true and living faith, but to it are likewise ascribed both wlhroforia (a full assurance, Heb. vi. 2,) and wewoiqhsiv (trust or confidence,2 Cor. iii. 4,) and it is God who requires and demands such a species of certainty and of faith.
II. We may now be permitted to proceed by degrees from this point, to a consideration of those arguments which prove to us the divinity of the word; and to the manner in which the required certainty and faith are produced in our minds. To constitute natural vision we know that, (beside an object capable of being seen,) not only is an external light necessary to shine upon it and to render it visible, but an internal strength of eye is also required, which may receive within itself the form and appearance of the object which has been illuminated by the external light, and may thus be enabled actually to behold it. The same accompaniments are necessary to constitute spiritual vision; for, beside this external light of arguments and reasoning, an internal light of the mind and soul is necessary to perfect this vision of faith. But infinite is the number of arguments on which this world builds and establishes its divinity. We will select and briefly notice a few of those which are more usual, lest by too great a prolixity we become too troublesome and disagreeable to our auditory.
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