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ON THE VIEWS AND PRINCIPLES OF THE MODERN RATIONALISTS OF
It should seem, from what has been laid down in the foregoing pages, that our Scriptures, considered in the light which has usually been termed orthodox, present nothing unreasonable, much less impossible, to the belief of Christians; and that what they do present, rests on the best, and indeed the only, grounds, which can ensure acceptance with beings truly rational. Objections loud and frequent have, however, been made to this view of the subject, and particularly of late years, by a large and respectable body of divines in Germany; who hesitate not to affirm that it is unreasonable, and, indeed, incompatible with the additional and progressive light, with which modern times have been blest; and that it must, therefore, be entirely given up. Assertions like these cannot but be alarming, because they imply that mistake and error have attached themselves to Christianity from the very period, perhaps, in which it was first promulgated ; and this will involve a charge either of blindness or corruption, or both, against those who have been its authorised teachers. But this might be borne, were a better, a more safe, and a more efficient view, proposed by those who make the objection; for I believe it cannot be of much importance generally, as to what different polemics may think on different but unimportant points of religious dispute, provided the ends for which religion itself has been given can be secured. Truth, however, is here the main point at issue. Religion, to deserve the name, must rest on truth; and, as we have already seen, its dictates must be authoritative, and the ends it proposes certain of attainment: otherwise, it can offer grounds only for opinion, but none for faith ; matter for speculation, but little for practice. The new views (or rather old ones revived), however, propose grounds very different from these : they positively deny the authority which we have been urging as necessary for the purposes of true religion; and at once deprive the Scriptures of their claim both to inspiration and miracle; and then argue, irrationally, as far as we can see, that a religion claiming no higher an authority than human infirmity, is sufficient both to inform the head, and to amend the heart; to lay claim to the faith, and to raise the hope ; and not only to make society all that it is capable of being made in a religious and moral point of view, but also to afford the assurance of a happy immortality beyond the grave. This we cannot help believing is most unreasonable to suppose; because we know the fact, that mere morality, or even science, has never yet brought about effects like these; and for the best possible of all reasons ; because they are not conversant with matter at all calculated to do so. The question at issue, however, rests on very different grounds. Both parties here ascribe to the Scriptures supreme authority in matters relating to religion ; and the question is: How ought these to be understood ? The Rationalist affirms, that on the orthodox view they present much that is unreasonable; and consequently, incredible. This we have shewn is not the case. He also affirms, that on the views of the Rationalist they present nothing but what is most reasonable. This we deny: and our proofs will presently be given. We shall first, however, proceed to investigate the principles themselves, upon which these views are proposed; and then, in the next place, to examine their application in detail, at some length.
It has already been remarked, that the system termed Rationalism (Rationalismus), is not new, although its supporters are anxious to have it believed that it is. The truth, however, is, its leading principles are to be found in the fragments still preserved of the ancient objectors to Christianity, as Porphyry, Hierocles, and others; and, with some embellishments, in the writings of the later but equally celebrated Spinoza.
For replies to the former, the ancient Apologists may be profitably consulted :— to the latter, the divines and others of modern times.* I shall confine myself, therefore, to the consideration of some of the leading principles as proposed by the Rationalists; and, if it can be shewn that these are unsound, it will not be necessary to follow them into all their particulars; because the foundation being once sapped, the superstructure itself must necessarily fall.
One of the first principles of this school is:† That“philosophy and religion are bound together by the most necessary ties of connection; so much so, that no doctrine of any authoritative religion whatever, can be proposed to an enlightened man, with any probability of its being accepted, unless it first submit to be tried by right reason. And, it is added, as the improvements in science are now such as to have shaken all former merely authoritative religious notions, the study of philosophy, upon which the more modern creeds have been formed, and on which they securely rest, ought the most strenuously to be inculcated. Nor, it is said, will philosophy in any way injure a religion leading to a real knowledge of God; on the contrary, it is necessary for the purpose of determining what are the true fundamentals of a religious faith.” From these statements it will immediately be seen, what is meant to be brought about by this connection of religion with philosophy: not that philosophy should be employed as the handmaid of religion; but, on the contrary, that religion should be made entirely subservient to the purposes of philosophy; in other words, that philosophy is first to determine what is fit to be considered as religion or not, and then that the system, doctrines, &c. whatever they may be, are to be passed upon the world for the authoritative declarations of the Deity. All we can yet say is, that things wear a very suspicious aspect. We cannot pronounce such a system to be actually false, because we have not yet seen what is meant by the term philosophy. “It will appear,” we are further told, “ that all religion Rests upon that faculty of the human mind (occasionally indeed corrupted by the allurements of the imagination), by which a man endued with reason and moral liberty, elevates himself above all external things, the order of the whole visible world, and the limits of time and space by which he is confined.*.... Whence arises a persuasion of the truth of the ideas which belong to religion ; which faith is called rational religion .... This faith, although not capable of mathematical demonstration, nor yet evident to the senses, proceeds, nevertheless, from an efficacy necessarily inherent in reason, possessed of no less certainty than (absolute) knowledge.” And again, “a rational, that is a philosophical faith, is a certain persuasion of things, exceeding the boundaries of the visible world, proceeding from the force and efficacy of ideas.” The philosophy, therefore, upon which all this mighty fabric is to rest, is nothing more than a few notions obtained by the aid of science falsely so called -of science which will neither admit of demonstration, nor of being reduced to experiment; but which is, nevertheless, as certain in its deductions, as real knowledge, however obtained, can possibly be !
* On the life and writings of this extraordinary and misguided man, see the Bibliotheca Hebræa of Wolfius, vol. i. p. 239, art. 378; Bayle's Dictionary, tom. ix. art. Spinoza, edit. 1739. Clarke on the Nature and Attributes of God, passim. Condillac, Traité des Systèmes, tom. i. chap. x. &c.
+ I shall cite a book here accessible to all, namely, the “ Institutiones Theologiæ Christianæ Dogmaticæ," by Wegscheider, (edit. 1826), because, not only is this a book of considerable authority in Germany, but because abundant references will be found in it to other works, either in Latin or German, composed by the leading authors of this school. The passage alluded to is : “Arctissimo cum vera philosophia vinculo theologia, si vel formam vel materiem ejus respexeris, conjuncta cernitur .... nulla religionis alicujus positivæ doctrina homini cultiori possit probari, nisi ad sanæ rationis, sensu veri atque honesti recte imbutæ .... tanquam ad lapidem Lydium, priùs exacta fuerit. ....Quo magis autem nostris temporibus progressu doctrinarum omnium fides auctoritatis qualiscunque concussa est, et fundamenta, quibus theologia olim superstrui solebat, labefacta sunt; eo gravius sanæ philosophiæ, qua theologia recentior ut fundamento nititur solidissimo, studium theologiæ cultoribus commendari debet .... Tantum verò abest, ut philosophia religioni quæ animum ad veram Dei cognitionem erigit, repugnet, ut hæc ab illa, quæ sint vera fidei religiosæ fundamenta, explicari sibi cupiat. (§ 15, pp. 64, 5.) The following are the sentiments of Spinoza on this subject: “Cum itaque mens nostra ex hoc solo, quod Dei naturam objective in se continet, et de eadem participiat, potentiam habet ad formandas quasdam notiones rerum naturam explicantes, et vitæ usum docentes ; meritò mentis naturam, quatenus talis conspicitur, primam divinæ revelationis causam statuere possumus; ea enim omnia, quæ clare, et distincte intelligimus, Dei idea (ut modo indicavimus et natura nobis dictat, non quidem verbis, sed modo longe excellentiore, et qui cum natura mentis optime convenit, ut unusquisque, qui certitudinem intellectus gustavit, apud se, sine dubio expertus est.” Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, pp. 2, 3. (Edit. 1674.) And again, “Omnia enim per Dei potentiam facta sunt: imo quia naturæ potentia nulla est nisi ipsa Dei potentia, certum est nos eatenus Dei potentiam non intelligere, quatenus causas naturales ignoramus; adeoque stulte ad eandem Dei potentiam recurritur, quando rei alicujus causam naturalem, hoc est, ipsam Dei potentiam ignoramus.” (Ib. p. 20.) “Si concipere possemus aliquid in natura ab aliqua potentia. posse fieri, quod naturæ repugnet.... id ut absurdum rejiciendum.” (Ib. p. 102.)
* “Patebit, omnem religionem niti ea animi humani facultate, quamvis sensuum atque imaginationis illecebris sæpius corrupta, qua homo, ratione et libertate morali præditus, super rerum externarum totiusque mundi visibilis ordinem, temporis et spatii limitibus adstrictum, sese attollit.... Unde persuasio ea nascitur de idearum ad religionem spectantium veritate, quæ fides dicta religiosa rationalis ....Hæc fides, licet objecta ejus nec mathematicorum more demonstrari, nec sensibus percipi possint .... tamen, siquidem ab efficacia proficiscitur, rectæ rationi necessario inhærente, non minore gaudet certitudine quam scientia." (Wegscheider, $ 2. pp. 4, 5.) The author has here, it must be confessed, appealed to Heb. xi, 1–3, in support of this sentiment; but, as I can see no possible connection between the two writers,
To such a conclusion, from such premises, I think I may say, no man in a sound state of mind could ever have come; unless, indeed, he were supposed to be ignorant of all science, mathematical, physical, and moral. But let us see whether any thing better can be discovered in favour of this system. There may still be probabilities, that some religious truth can be discovered by the efforts of the human mind. A man may come to the belief that there is a God; that He is wise, holy, just, good, omnipotent, and so on; and even, that there
I have omitted the reference in the text. Nothing, however, can be more. obvious, than the agreement in sentiment and even in words discoverable in this passage is, with that just cited from Spinoza. So Spinoza again, (Ib. p. 23): “Cum simplex imaginatio non involvat ex sua natura certitudinem, sicuti omnis clara et distincta idea, sed imaginationi, ut de rebus, quas imaginamur, certi possimus esse, aliquid necessario accedere debeat, nempe ratiocinium,” &c. I must give one passage more from Wegscheider, which is this: “Doctrina illa quum variis prematur difficultatibus, disciplinarum, inprimis historicarum, physicarum et philosophicarum progressu in dies magis magisque elucentibus, inter theologos et philosophos recentiores baud pauci exstiterunt, qui vario modo ab illa recedentes, usum rationis humanæ in rebus divinis cognoscendis et explicandis non solum formalem, sed etiam materialem, ut dicitur, admittendum esse censerent (Rationalismus generatim sic dictus). Prodiit inde Rationalismus proprie sic dictus, s. doctrina de necessitate religionis ideis, per rectam rationem homini a Deo manifestatis, unice fidem habendi et, summA RATIONI AUCTORITATE VINDICATA, revelationis cujusque opinatæ supernaturalis argumentum, non nisi ad leges cogitandi agendique homini a Deo insitas exactum probandi.” (Ib. pp. 39, 40.) After this, surely no doubt can remain on the mind of any, as to the primary notions of this school on this subject.