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Men Endowed with Faculties Proper for Discerning the Difference between Truth and Falsehood, Right and Wrong

Jonathan Mayhew

“And he said also to the people, When ye see a cloud rise out of the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it is. And when ye see the south-wind blow, ye say, There will be heat; and it cometh to pass. Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky, and of the earth: but how is it, that ye do not discern this time? Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?” –Luke 12:54-57.

The second thing proposed was to show,

II. That as there is a natural difference between truth and falsehood, right and wrong; so men are naturally endowed with faculties proper for the discerning of these differences.

This is evidently implied in my text—“How is it that ye do not discern this time? Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?”

It must be acknowledged that the Pyrrhonists who demand great encomiums for teaching men (not to know anything, but) to doubt of everything, have not generally carried their Skepticism any farther than to deny all certainty in a relative sense, or with respect to us. To the most of them it appears too gross to affirm that there is no difference in things themselves, and so no such thing as right absolutely, in opposition to error and wrong conduct. What they principally insist upon is that all things are totally incomprehensible by us that there is no criterion of truth and right, by which they may be distinguished from error and wrong action, so that although there be, in nature, a difference between them, yet we have no faculties for discovering it.

Now upon this state of the case, it is evident that the questions in the text would be altogether impertinent (as impertinent as they would have been upon the former supposition), that there is no real difference in things, but all propositions, equally true, and all actions equally right. When it was asked—“How is it that ye do not discern this time? Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?” it would have been easy and natural to answer—“Because we have no faculties to distinguish between truth and error, right and wrong. These things are left so uncertain and precarious with respect to us, that after all our researches, we are as distant from them as ever. It is not possible for the most critical inquirer to find the truth in any instance, this being like a bird that constantly flies from us with a speed proportioned to that with which we pursue it. All we can do is first to fatigue ourselves in quest of truth, and then to delude ourselves by fancying we have found her.”

Such is the dark and unhappy condition in which the skeptical doctrine supposes mankind: doomed to total ignorance, and wandering from the right path. Or, if in any case, they think and act right, it is by mere chance; nor can they have the pleasure of knowing it if they happen to be in the right. But it is to be hoped that the Author of our being has not been so sparing of his favours to us as to leave us at such uncertainties about everything, especially about what concerns our own welfare. However, were this really our case, one would think that those who are sensible it is so, instead of deriding the doctrine of a supernatural revelation (as is the practice of modern Skeptics), should accommodate the words of David to their own case and circumstances—“Who will show us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us!” [Psalm 4:6]. The blinder we are naturally, the more need we have of supernatural light and instruction.

The doctrine of our total incapacity to distinguish between truth and falsehood, right and wrong, has much the same aspect upon common life, civil society, philosophy and religion, with that of the absolute indifference of all things in their own nature, and the like absurdities will follow from it. Thus (for example) it follows that there is no difference at all in men with respect to wisdom and knowledge. For in order to constitute such a difference, it is not only necessary that there should be a natural distinction between truth and falsehood, but also, that some at least should have faculties for discovering it. Knowledge, if there be any such thing, consists in seeing or perceiving truth.. But if no men have a capacity for this, all men must be entirely destitute of knowledge, as destitute of it as if there were in nature no distinction between truth and error.

The doctrine of our inability to discover truth and right (as was said above), has much the same aspect upon common life, civil society, philosophy and religion, with that of the absolute indifference of all things in their own nature. It as effectually precludes all inquiries concerning truth and virtue, private and public good, and every other subject. For what does it signify to us, that there is a true and a right in nature, while it is supposed we have no faculties for discovering them? If they lie entirely beyond our reach, we have no more concern with them than if they had no existence at all, and it is folly for anyone to busy himself about them. Nor can any man consistently take satisfaction in his own opinions and actions, as though the former were true and the latter right, or blame another for error in principle or practice, while he asserts that there is equal evidence for the truth of all opinions, and for the regularity of all actions, i.e., no real evidence for the truth and regularity of any. Upon this supposition, he that denies his own existence, and commits murder, adultery and robbery, has as much to say in his own vindication as he that asserts a circle is not a square, and saves his country from ruin. And from hence it appears that those who carry their skepticism no farther than to question the abilities of men to discover truth and right in all cases, are guilty of the same inconsistency with those who explode the whole notion of a real distinction between truth and right, and their contraries. For why will they attempt to investigate truth? Or why will they plume themselves upon their supposed discovery of this notable truth: that men are unable to discover truth? Why will they upbraid their antagonists with ignorance? Why will they, in any case, attempt to vindicate their own conduct under the notion of its being right? Or why will they censure that of others, and resent things under the notion of injury? This has ever been their practice which goes wholly upon the supposition that truth and right are not only somewhat real in nature, but also that they may be distinguished from their contraries, at least by these sagacious men themselves. What Ariadne’s clue can be found to extricate them from this labyrinth of folly and contradiction? If there be no criterion of truth, let them not pretend to have found one themselves, and then deride others for supposing that truth may be discovered. There are many dogmatists about the world, who allow themselves only to be the proper judges of truth and right, which is arrogant enough. But no bigoted dogmatist is half so absurd and insolent as the Skeptic. For he endeavours to make a monopoly of truth, and to engross the whole of that sacred treasure to the beggaring of the rest of mankind, even while the first (and I might add the only) article of his creed is: That truth cannot be discovered by any. It is hard to say whether this conduct has in it more of stupidity or of insolence. But thus much is certain, that a thorough-pac'd Skeptic is the most silly, conceited and inconsistent bigot in the world.

He that allows of no certainty in any case, cannot even be sure that he imagines there is no such thing as certainty. Perhaps he may be mistaken in thinking he believes what he says he believes. To say he is certain he believes what he thinks he does, is to admit of certainty in general, which is to give up the point in question. But supposing him certainly to know what his own sentiments are, how comes he to know that anyone contradicts them or differs from him in opinion? He need not make himself uneasy at the opposition of any supposed adversaries, for, upon his own scheme, these adversaries and their opposition may not be real, but wholly imaginary. And if one should call him hard names, persecute him for his opinion, and answer his arguments with a brick-bat instead of a syllogism, this may be imaginary also. At least, he has nothing to complain of, upon his own principles, for such a conduct towards him may possibly be as right and reasonable as it is to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. And indeed such treatment might possibly be the most effectual way to bring him to his senses.[1]

But to come more directly to the point — Some things are in themselves so evidently true that no criterion is necessary in order to our knowing them with certainty. Thus, for example, that we exist is what we have an immediate and intuitive certainty of. And the same may be said concerning the reality of all our own ideas and perceptions. That we experience pleasure and pain, that we converse with various objects which assist us in a different manner, that colour is one thing, and sound another, and that smelling is not tasting—these things are self-evident and no medium can make them plainer. But it will perhaps be said that all this is only fantasy and imagination, there being no archetypes existing without us, of which these perceptions are the images or representations. Be it so: still the perceptions and ideas themselves are real—this we are certain of, whether there be anything external of which they are the antitypes, or not, so that certainty may be had in some respects at least. And this is sufficient to our present purpose, for we are not speaking concerning the extent, but the certainty, of human knowledge.

Of the truth of other things we may be certain in a different manner, viz. by reason, deducing them from other truths of which we have an intuitive knowledge. Thus it is that a thousand mathematical truths are demonstrated, and with a certainty little or nothing inferior to those first principles from which they are deduced, the connection in every step through the whole process being so apparent that to suppose the contrary would be a plain contradiction and amount to the denying a thing to be what it is acknowledged to be. And in the same way many moral and religious truths may be demonstrated also—as the being of a God, his power, wisdom, goodness and providence, and our obligation to obey him.

For the truth of many other things we can, indeed, have no more than probable evidence, but which is, in many cases, almost as satisfactory to the mind as intuitive and demonstrative certainty. Thus who doubts but that the sun will set in a few hours?—that the sea will ebb and flow tomorrow, as, usual?—that autumn will succeed to summer, winter to autumn, and spring to winter, as in times past? But of these things there is no certainty. For God has power to put a stop to the usual course of nature, and we cannot be certain that he will not do it the next moment. Thus also probable evidence is all we can have for the truth of facts recorded in ancient history. Men may possibly deceive us. But whoever has been in such a doubting humour as to question whether there have been such men as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, whether they fought and triumphed, etc. Indeed we can have no more than probable evidence that food and sleep will refresh us for the future, as heretofore. Our whole institution of life, as it relates to the present world, is grounded upon evidence of this sort, and not upon intuitive or demonstrative certainty. Such evidence is easy to be had and is sufficient to the purposes of life, as daily experience shows us. We may, if we please, perplex ourselves about the nature of time, place and motion. But men who are no philosophers find the way home at one o'clock without any difficulty. We may puzzle ourselves about the essences of things, and the manner in which one operates upon another, but experience teaches the husbandman how to manure his fields, so as to make them fruitful. We all know that drink allays our thirst, and food our hunger; nor do we ever hesitate whether we shall make use of them, or of something else, to remove those natural uneasinesses. But still there is no infallible and necessary connection between those causes and the effects that are usually produced by them.

Nor is there more room for skepticism in relation to morals and religion than in common life, nor indeed so much with regard to the principal branches of our duty. But however it comes to pass, men take more pains to doubt in one case than in the other. We have stronger evidence for the proof of the chief articles of religion than we have for most other things of which we are fully satisfied. The being and perfections of God may be known without much difficulty; and these being known, it is as easy to know how we ought to conduct ourselves towards him in general, as it is for a servant to know how to please a master whose temper and character he is acquainted with. And it is at least as plain that the Sovereign of the world will make a distinction between the righteous and the wicked, as that a wise and good prince will make a distinction between dutiful subjects and rebels.

Thus it appears, in general, that men are able to distinguish between truth and falsehood, right and wrong. But I shall now make several observations upon this proposition, in order to farther explain the real intention of it, to obviate some objections against it, and to guard it against those abuses to which it may appear liable. And

1. It is not intended in this assertion, that all men have equal abilities for judging what is true and right. The whole creation is diversified, and men in particular. There is a great variety in their intellectual faculties. That which principally distinguishes some men from the beasts of the field is the different formation of their bodies. Their bodies are human, but they are in a manner brute all beside. Whether the difference that there is in the natural powers of men proceeds from the original make of their minds, or from some difference in those bodily organs upon which the exercise of the rational faculties may be supposed to depend, it is apparent that there is, in fact, such a difference. And therefore when it is said that men are able to judge what is true and right, it must be understood in such a sense as is consistent with this fact. Those of the lower class can go but a little way with their inquiries into the natural and moral constitution of the world. But even these may have the power of judging in some degree. However, upon supposition that some were wholly ignorant of their own existence, it does not follow that all must be so, any more than that all bodies must be round, because some are of that particular figure. From the most dull and stupid of the human species, there is a continual rise or gradation, there being as great a variety in the intellectual powers of men, as in their bodily and active powers. And so it may be true of some in an higher and more proper sense than of others that they may ‘even of themselves judge what is right.’ Many things are obvious, and, in a manner, first principles to them, which to others are mysterious and incomprehensible.

2. As a farther limitation of this assertion, I would observe that it does not imply that the same persons are equally adequate judges of truth and right in all conditions and circumstances. There is a great difference in the powers of different men. But no one differs more from another than he does from himself, considered in childhood and mature life, before and after his mind is cultivated by study and exercise. The man knows what the child was ignorant of. We come into the world ignorant of everything. But he that in his natural, rude and uncultivated state is unqualified to judge what is true and right, unless it be in a few obvious cases, is capable of considerable improvements by study and experience Our intellectual faculties were given us to improve; they rust for want of use, but are brightened by exercise. Exercise strengthens and invigorates our mental faculties as well as our bodily. And the more a man habituates himself to intellectual employments, the greater will be his aptness and facility in discovering truth, and detecting error. Without some previous study and application, it is as impossible that men should be accurate judges of truth and right, as it is that they should be complete artificers in any mechanical business without spending time to learn the trade. They may bungle and cobble, but can do nothing that will bear the inspection of a master-workman. It is the unhappiness of a great part of mankind that they do not sufficiently consider this natural weakness, ineptitude and awkardness of human reason before cultivation, but sit down contented with their imaginary sagacity and promptness of understanding, without using the proper means to qualify them for judging of things that may come under their consideration. Hence it is that we have so many quacks and ignorant pretenders in all arts and sciences—What need of study to come at an acquaintance with those subjects which we may understand at any time only by opening our eyes? Who will descend into the bowels of the earth to dig for gold, while it lies in plenty within his reach upon the surface of the ground? Who will dive for pearls, while he imagines they float upon the waves? Or what need has that field of tillage, whose soil is so fertile, that, like that of Eden, it produces spontaneously the richest fruits? When men imagine that the depths of science may be fathomed by a single glance of thought, without any previous application to intellectual exercises, it cannot be expected that they should be able to determine justly upon any points but some of the most familiar and obvious. In this case, he that was “born like the wild ass’s colt” [Job 11:12] must needs continue to be so? or, at best, come to maturity and grow up into an ass himself.

The alteration which time and study make in the abilities of men for judging concerning truth and right is sufficient to account for the diversity of sentiments entertained by the same persons at different periods of their life, without having recourse to skepticism or supposing all our notions, from first to last, to be mere fancy and illusion. A man may err once without erring always. Nor can we argue from the reveries of youth, and the absurd conceits of the illiterate, that all mankind are but a mighty nation of fools and lunatics, pleasing themselves with idle dreams and delusive appearances, instead of realities.

3. That men are able ‘even of themselves to judge what is right’ does not imply that they can receive no assistance from books and the conversation of learned men, or that they may judge as well without these helps, as with them. Although all men are capable of discerning truth and right in some degree by the bare exercise of their own natural faculties, it does not follow that they can stand in no need of any foreign aid, in order to their judging in a more perfect manner. The more knowing may be helpful to others in their pursuit of knowledge. And the abilities of men for reasoning justly, and judging truly, may depend, in a great measure, upon the method of their education, the books they read, and the genius and abilities of the persons they converse with. Who will pretend that the natives of Greenland, or the Cape of Good Hope, enjoy the same, or equal, means of knowledge with those that are born in the polite and learned nations of Europe? Who imagines that one brought up at the plough is as likely to form right notions or things, as if he had been educated at a university? Or that a man who has conversed only with ordinary mechanics has the same advantages with those who have enjoyed the familiarity of the greatest proficients in literature? To suppose these things is to contradict daily experience. And, therefore, to decline all assistances from others in the search of knowledge, under a notion that we are able to ‘judge even of ourselves what is right,’ is pride and vanity, and not the part of an ingenuous inquirer after truth. This may be allowed by the most strenuous asserter of men’s natural abilities and natural right to judge for themselves, without any appearance of inconsistency or contradiction. For it amounts to no more than this, that some men are superior to others and may help them to the knowledge of some things which they would not have known without their assistance.

4. It is not implied in this doctrine that men’s intellectual powers have no bounds at all, or that they are equally able to determine upon all points, although they should improve all the helps to knowledge and cultivate their reason in the best manner possible. There are many cases wherein the wisest of men are unable to form any judgment at all—difficulties which they cannot solve—heights which they cannot climb—depths which they cannot fathom. Some may, perhaps, think this a reflection upon human understanding. And indeed it is so, if it be any reflection upon it to say that it is not infinite like that of God, but not otherwise. To say that human reason is confined to a certain sphere, beyond which it cannot penetrate, is, in reality, no more than to assert that man is a finite, and not an infinite, being, a creature and not the Creator. There are probably created intelligences much superior to man even in his best estate; but it is no derogation from their real dignity to say they are not omniscient. Why then should man grasp at omniscience? imagine he may know everything because he may know some? and look upon it as a reproach, when it is said that his reason, and all his other faculties are circumscribed?

We may know what is proper to be known by beings of our rank, so as to fill our place and answer the design of our creation, without being able to comprehend all things. We may know that this earth is inhabited by creatures, the law of whose nature is virtue, and its end happiness, although we cannot certainly tell whether the planets are inhabited, or not, or, if they are, by what kind of beings, and what their condition and circumstances. We may know, in general, what tends to health and felicity in this world, although the real essences of things should be beyond our reach. We may know that whatever came into existence (as it is demonstrable that everything did which we behold) must have some invisible cause adequate to it, although we were not able to form a clear idea of creative power, or the manner of its exertion. We may know that beauty, order, harmony and design, in the works of nature, presuppose a designer or intelligent artificer, although we cannot comprehend the system of the universe. We may know that a constitution of things, actually tending to happiness, must be the product of goodness, although we are not able exactly to define beforehand that system, the correspondent parts of which shall be so adjusted as to effect the greatest possible good. We may know in general that the Author of the world must be a wise and good being, although the final causes of some things which we see in it are beyond our sight. In fine we may know that “God is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” [Heb. 11:6], although we cannot “by searching find out the Almighty unto perfection” [Job 11:7] or comprehend his nature, or see through the whole scheme of his works, government and providence.

The wisest of men was not ashamed to own this imperfection of human reason, even under its greatest improvements, and carried to its most exalted pitch. “When I allied mine heart to know wisdom,” says Solomon, “then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out all the work that is done under the sun; because though a man seek it out, yet shall he not find it; yea farther, though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it” [Eccl. 8:16-17]. However Solomon was no Skeptic. In the same book we find him saying that “wisdom excelleth folly, as much as light excelleth darkness.” And with him the conclusion of the whole matter is: “Fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is the whole of man” [Eccl. 12:13]. Whatever he might be in doubt about, he was satisfied of this: that there was a God who governed the world, that his will and commandments might be known, and the business and happiness of man consists in obeying them. Again,

5. When it is said we are able ‘even of ourselves to judge what is right,’ this is not designed to suggest that our intellectual faculties are so capacious as to render a supernatural revelation of no use or importance to us. Certainly we cannot suppose this to be the intention of him that uttered the words of our text, since one of the titles which he took upon himself was that of a Prophet, or a Teacher sent from God. And indeed it necessarily follows from the supposition of our rational faculties being limited, that there is room for our being instructed by revelation. If one man may instruct another, much more may we suppose it possible for “him that is perfect in knowledge” [Job 37:16] to supply the natural defects of human reason by a supernatural communication of light and knowledge. When, and how far, it is expedient for him to do this, he only knows. However upon supposition of such a revelation, we must be supposed to be able to see the evidence of its being such. It is the proper office of reason to determine whether what is proposed to us under the notion of a revelation from God be attended with suitable attestations and credentials or not. So that even in this case, we may ‘of ourseves judge what is right.’ If there be no rational evidence of its coming from God, no rational man can receive it as such. And, on the other hand, if it be accompanied with rational evidence, no reasonable man can reject it. Indeed what Jesus Christ particularly blames the Jews for in the text is their not exercising their reason in this way. He had sufficiently proved his divine mission; but they would not ‘discern the time, nor judge what was right,’ being under the influence of prejudice, and not of reason. Moreover, it is the proper office of reason to determine the meaning of the particular parts of a revelation, after the divine authority of it in general is established and allowed. And this men’s natural faculties qualify them for, much in the same manner that they qualify them for interpreting other writings. If God gives men a revelation, he gives it to be understood by men. And if he gives it to be understood by men, he must give it in human language and accommodate it to human capacity. For otherwise, a second revelation would be necessary to explain the first. And then, why not a third to explain the second, and so on in infinitum? And so nothing would be really revealed after all.

I shall just add in the

6th, and last place, as a farther limitation of the proportion before us, that it does not intend that we are able to determine, with an equal degree of certainty, all points which we are capable, in some sense, of coming to a conclusion about. Although truth does not admit of degrees, yet the evidence of truth does, so that of various propositions equally true in themselves, some may be known with greater certainty than others. Probable evidence is indeed all that can be had in most cases, as was observed before. It is by virtue of this that that the intercourse of man with man and all the business and commerce of the world is carried on. Experience shows that such evidence is sufficient in secular affairs, and it may be sufficient in religious affairs also, in those cases where absolute certainty cannot be had.

I shall now conclude this head concerning the certainty and sufficiency of human knowledge with the words of Mr. Locke: “If any one,” says he, “will be so skeptical as to distrust his senses, and to affirm that all we see and hear, feel and taste, think and do, during our whole being, is but the series and deluding appearances of a long dream, whereof there is no reality; and therefore will question the existence of all things, or our knowledge of anything, I must desire him to consider that if all be a dream, then he doth but dream that he makes the question; and so it is not much matter that a waking man should answer him. But yet, if he pleases, he may dream that I make him this answer, that the certainty of things existing in rerum natura, when we have the testimony of our senses for it, is not only as great as our frame can attain to, but as our condition needs. For our faculties being suited not to the full extent of being, nor to a perfect, clear and comprehensive knowledge of things, free from all doubt and scruple, but to the preservation of us in whom they are, and accommodated to the use of life, they serve our purpose well enough, if they will but give us certain notice of those things which are convenient or inconvenient to us. For he that sees a candle burning, and hath experimented the force of its flame by putting his finger in it, will little doubt that this is something existing, which does him harm and puts him to great pain, which is assurance enough, when no man requires greater certainty to govern his actions by, than what is as certain as his actions themselves. And if our dreamer pleases to try whether the glowing heat of a glass furnace be barely a wandering imagination in a drowsy man's fancy by putting his hand into it, he may perhaps be wakened into a certainty, that it is something more than bare imagination. So that this evidence is as great as we can desire, being as certain to us as our pleasure or pain, i.e., happiness or misery, beyond which we have no concernment, either of knowing or being.”[2]

Thus it appears that men are naturally endowed with faculties proper for distinguishing between truth and error, right and wrong. And hence it follows that the doctrine of a total ignorance and incapacity to judge of moral and religious truths, brought upon mankind by the apostasy of our First Parents, is without foundation. How much brighter and more vigorous our intellectual faculties were in Adam, six thousand years before we had any existence, I leave others to determine. It is sufficient for my purpose to consider mankind as they are at present, without inquiring what they were before they had any being. And it appears that they have now a natural power to judge what is true and right, with the restrictions mentioned above. But it is, nevertheless, the manner of vain Enthusiasts, when the absurdity of their doctrines is laid open, to fall a railing, telling their opposers that they are in a carnal state, blind, and unable to judge, but that themselves are spiritually illuminated. Thus they endeavour to palm the grossest absurdities upon their neighbours, under the notion of their being divine truths and holy mysteries, so that these enlightened Idiots make inspiration, and the Spirit of truth and wisdom, the vehicle of nonsense and contradictions. Whatever is reasonable, is, with them, carnal, and nothing is worthy of belief, but what is impossible and absurd in the eye of human reason.

We see that our Blessed Saviour did not suppose that the minds of men had suffered any such total eclipse, or were wholly overspread with darkness. He addresses the unbelieving Jews as if they had proper faculties for judging of religious truths, and blames them for not exerting them—“why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?”—The “candle of the Lord” which was lighted up in man at first, when “the inspiration of the Almighty gave him understanding,” was not extinguished by the original apostasy, but has kept burning ever since. The divine flame has caught from father to son and has been propagated quite down to the present generation. Nor will it be put out 'till “the sun himself shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light” [Mark 13:24].

Let us retain a suitable sense of the dignity of our nature in this respect. It is by our reason that we are exalted above the beasts of the field. It is by this that we are allied to angels and all the glorious intelligences of the heavenly world: yea, by this we resemble God himself. It is principally on account of our reason that we are said to have been “created in the image of God” [Gen. 1:27]. So that how weak soever our intellectual faculties are, yet to speak reproachfully of reason in general is nothing less than blasphemy against God. Let us, therefore, instead of contemning this inestimable gift in which consists the glory of our nature, employ it to the ends for which it was designed, in the service of the great Father of our spirits.

But we have had occasion, in this discourse to speak of the imperfection, as well as of the strength, of human reason. He that is not sensible of this imperfection is so far from being the wisest of men that he “knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know it” [1 Cor. 8:2]. ‘Professing himself to be wise, he becomes a fool’ [Rom. 1:22], the knowledge of ourselves being the first, last, point, the alpha and omega of human wisdom. The knowledge of our own ignorance is the most important and beneficial of all sciences. This will naturally lead us to humility and excite us to improve, with gratitude and diligence, all the means of knowledge which we are savoured with, especially that revelation which God has given us by his Son, whom he has sent from heaven to be “a light unto the Gentiles” [Isa. 42:6] as well as “the glory of his people Israel” [Luke 2:32]. A sense of our ignorance would also teach us modesty in criticising the works of nature and providence. The scheme of God's government is vast; our understandings are narrow and not proportioned to it. We are at present, as it were, but rational beings in embryo, unborn to light and knowledge. At best we are mere babes in speculation; we “speak as children,” we “think as children,” we “understand as children.” But perhaps we may e're long “become men, and put away childish things.” 'Till we arrive at that maturity of life and knowledge, towards which we are in progress during our abode in the present world, we ought not to think strange that our understandings are baffled, or that many things remain mysterious and unaccountable to us, both in the natural and moral government of God. And instead of boldly censuring the author of the universe, as taking wrong measures in any respect, it becomes us to use that humble language, not only of a great man, but an inspired apostle: “O the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! [Rom. 11:33]—“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen” [1 Tim. 1:17].



[1] Epictetus used to say, “Were I a servant to those Pyrrhonists, I should take a pleasure in teasing them. If they should bid me pour oil into the bathing tub, I would throw brine upon their head. If they should ask me to give them ptisan, I would bring them vinegar. And if they offered to complain, I would tell they were mistaken; or persuade them that the vinegar was ptisan, or else make them renounce their notions.” Bayle’s Hist. and Crit. Dict. Art. Pyrrho, Note K.

[2] Mr. Locke’s works, edit. 4th, Vol. I. p. 312.


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