Jeremy Taylor.

The whole works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor (Volume 11) online

. (page 43 of 50)
Online LibraryJeremy TaylorThe whole works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor (Volume 11) → online text (page 43 of 50)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

c Isa. i. 18 ; r. 3. Ezek. xviii. 25.


and those two wills were indeed but one, nothing but a will to
deceive and abuse him. Now this is reason, right reason, the
reason of all the world, the measure of all mankind, the mea-
sure that God hath given us to understand, and to walk, to
live, and to practise by. And we cannot understand what is
meant by hypocrisy and dissembling, if to speak one thing
and not to mean it, be not that hypocrisy. Now put the
case, God should call us to give him the glory of his justice
and sincerity, of the truth of his promises, and the equity of
his ways, and should tell us, that we perish by our own fault,
and if we will die, it is because we will die, not because we
must ; because we choose it, not because he forces us ; for
he calls us, and offers us life and salvation, and gives us
powers, and time, and advantages, and desires it really, and
endeavours it passionately, and effects it materially, so far as
it concerns his portion : this is a certain evidence of his truth
and justice ; but if we can reply, and say, It is true, O God,
that thou dost call us, but dost never intend we should come ;
that thy open will is loving and plausible, but thy secret will
is cruel, decretory, and destructive to us, whom thou hast
reprobated ; that thy open will is ineffective, but thy secret
will only is operative, and productive of a material event,
and therefore, although we are taught to say, "Thou art
just, and true in all thy sayings," yet certainly it is not that
justice which thou hast commanded us to imitate and prac-
tise, it is not that sincerity which we can safely use to one
another, and therefore either we men are not just when we
think we are ; or else thou art not just who doest and speak-
est contrary things, or else there are two contrary things
which may be called justice.

39. For let it be considered as to the present instance;
God cannot have two wills, it is against the unity of God,
and the simplicity of God. If there were two Divine wills,
there were two Gods ; and if it be one will, then it cannot,
at the same time, will contrary things ; and if it does not,
then when God says one thing, and yet he wills it not, it is
because he only wills to say it, and not to do it ; and if to
say this thing of the good, the just, the true, the righteous
Judge of all the world, be not blasphemy, I know not what is.

40. The purpose of this instance is to exemplify, that
in all virtues and excellences there is a perfect unity : and


because all is originally and essentially in God, and from him
derived to us, and all our good, our mercy, our truth, our
justice, is but an imitation of his, it follows demonstratively,
that what is unjust in men, and what is falsehood in our
intercourses, is therefore false or unjust, because it is con-
trary to the eternal pattern : and therefore whatsoever our
reason does rightly call unjust, or hypocrisy, or falsehood,
must needs be infinitely far from God ; and those propositions
which asperse God with any thing of this nature, are so far
from being the word of God, or an article of faith, or a
mystery of religion, that it is blasphemous and false, hateful
to God and good men.

41 . In these things there is the greater certainty, because
there is the less variety and no mystery ; these things which
in God we adore as attributes, being the lines of our duty,
the limits and scores we are to walk by ; therefore as our
reason is here best instructed, so it cannot easily be deceived,
and we can better tell what is right reason in these things,
than in questions not so immediately relative to duty and

42. But yet this rule also holds in every thing where
reason is, or can be, right ; but with some little difference
of expression, but generally thus :

43. (1.) Whatsoever right reason says cannot be done,
we cannot pretend from Scripture, that it belongs to God's
almightiness to do it; it is no part of the Divine omnipo-
tence to do things contradictory ; for that is not to be done
which is not, and it is no part of power to do that which is
not an act or eifect of power. Now in every contradictory,
one part is a nonentity, a nothing, and therefore by power
cannot be produced ; and to suppose it producible, or pos-
sible to be effected by an almighty power, is to suppose an
almighty power to be no power, or to do that which is not
the effect of power.

44. But I need say no more of this, for all men grant it,
and all sects and varieties of Christians endeavour to clear
their articles from inferring contradictions, as implicitly con-
fessing, that it cannot be true, to which any thing that is
true is contradictory. Only some men are forced by their
interest and opinions to say, that although to human reason
some of their articles seem to have in them contradictions,


yet it is the defect of their reason, and their faith is the
more excellent, by how much reason is more at a loss. So
do the Lutherans about the ubiquity of Christ's body, and
the Papists about transubstantiation, and the Calvinists about
absolute reprobation, as being resolved upon the p)'opositions,
though heaven and earth confute them. For if men can be
safe from argument with such a little artifice as this, then no
error can be confuted, then there is nothing so absurd but
may be maintained, and a man's reason is useless in inquiry
and in probation ; and (which is to me very considerable)
no man can, in any article, be a heretic, or sin against his
conscience. For to speak against the words of Scripture, is
not directly against our conscience, there are many ways to
escape, by interpretation or authority ; but to profess an
article against our reason, is immediately against our con-
science ; for reason and conscience dwell under the same
roof, and eat the same portions of meat, and drink the same
chalice : the authority of Scripture is superinduced, but right
reason is the eternal word of God ; " The kingdom of God,
that is within us ;" and the best portions of Scripture, even
the law of Jesus Christ, which in moral things is the eternal
law of nature, is written in our hearts, is reason, and that
wisdom to which we cannot choose but assent ; and therefore
in whatsoever he goes against his reason, he must needs go
against his conscience, because he goes against that by which
he supposes God did intend to govern him, reason not having
been placed in us as a snare and a temptation, but as a light
and a star to lead us by day and night. It is no wonder that
men maintain absurd propositions, who will not hear great
reason against them, but are willing to take excuses and
pretences for the justification of them.

45. (2.) This is not to be understood as if God could do
nothing but what we can with our reason comprehend or
know how. For God can do every thing, but we cannot
understand every thing ; and therefore infinite things there
are, or may be, which our reason cannot master ; they are
above our understanding, but are to be entertained by faith.
It is not to be said or believed, that God can do what right
reason says cannot be : but it must be said and believed that
God can do those things, to which our understanding cannot,
by all its powers ministered here below, attain. For since


God is omnipotent, unless we were omniscient, we could not
understand all that he can do ; but although we know but
little, yet we know some propositions which are truths taught
us by God, and they are the measures whereby we are to
speak and believe concerning the works of God.

46. For it is to be considered, whatsoever is above our un-
derstanding, is not against it: 'supra' and 'secundurn,' may
consist together in several degrees : thus we understand the
Divine power of working miracles, and we believe and know
God hath done many : and although we know not how our
dead bones shall live again, yet our reason tells us, that it is
within the power of God to effect it ; and therefore our faith
need not be troubled to believe it. But if a thing be against
our understanding, it is against the work of God, and against
a truth of God, and therefore is no part, and it can be no
effect of the Divine power : many things in nature are above
our understanding, and no wonder if many things in grace
are so too ; " The peace of God passeth all understanding,"
yet we feel something of it, and hope for more, and long for
all, and believe what we yet cannot perceive. But I con-
sider further :

47. There are some things in reason which are certainly
true, and some things which reason does infallibly condemn :
our blessed Saviour's argument was certain, "A spirit hath
not flesh and bones as ye perceive me to have ;" therefore I
am no spirit: and St. John's argument was certain, "That
which we have seen with our eyes, and heard with our ears,
and which our hands have handled of the word of life, that
we preach;" that is, we are to believe what we see, and hear,
and feel; and as this is true in the whole religion, so it is
true in every article of it. If right sense and right reason
tell us clearly, that is, tell us so that there is no absurdness,
or contradiction, or unreasonableness, in it, we are to believe
it, as we are to believe God ; and if an angel from heaven
should tell us any thing against these propositions, I do not
doubt but we would reject him. Now if we inquire what
things are certainly true or false ; I must answer, that in the
first place I reckon prime principles and contradictions : in
the next place, those things which are manifestly absurd :
but if it be asked further, which things are manifestly absurd,
and what it is to be manifestly absurd ? there can no more


answer be given to this, than to him who asks, How shall I
know whether I am in light or in darkness ? If therefore it
be possible for men to dote in such things as these, their
reason is useless in its greatest force and highest powers :
it must therefore be certain, that if the parts of a contradic-
tion or a right reason be put in bar against a proposition, it
must not pretend to be an article of faith ; and to pretend
God's omnipotence against it, is to pretend his power against
his truth. God can deliver us from our enemies, when to
human reason it seems impossible, that is, when we are de-
stitute of all natural help, and proper causes and probabilities
of escape, by what we see or feel ; that is, when it is impos-
sible to men, it may be possible with God ; but then the
faith which believes that God can do it, is also very right
reason : and if we hope he will do it, there is more than faith
in it, but there is nothing in it beyond reason, except love
also be there.

48. The result is this : (1.) Our reason is below many of
the works, and below all the power, of God, and therefore
cannot perceive all that God hath, or can, or will do, no
more than an owl can stare upon the body of the sun, or tell
us what strange things are in that immense globe of fire.
But when any thing that is possible is revealed, reason can
consent ; but if reason cannot consent to it when it is told of
it, then it is nothing, it hath no being, it hath no possibi-
lity ; whatsoever is in our understanding, is in being : for that
which is not, is not intelligible ; and to what reason cannot
consent, in that no being can be supposed.

49. (2.) Not only what is impossible to reason, is possible
in faith, but if any thing be really absurd or unreasonable,
that is, against some truth, in which human reason is really
instructed, that is a sufficient presumption against a proposi-
tion, that it cannot be an article of faith. For even this very
thing, I mean, an avoiding of an absurdity, or an inconve-
nience, is the only measure and rule of interpreting very
many places of Scripture. For why does not every Christian
pull out his right eye, or cut off his hand and leg, that he
might enter into heaven halt and blind ? why do not we believe
that Christ is a door, and a vine, and a stone, since these
things are dogmatically affirmed in Scripture ? but that we
expound scriptures as we confute them who deny principles,


by declaring that such senses or opinions introduce evil and
foolish consequents, against some other truth in some faculty
or other in which human reason is rightly taught. Now the
measure and the limit of this is that very thing which is the
reason of this, and all the preceding discourse, One truth
cannot be against another: if therefore your opinion or in-
terpretation be against a truth, it is false, and no part of faith.
A commandment cannot be against a revelation, a privilege
cannot be against a promise, a threatening cannot mean
against an article, a right cannot be against a duty ; for all
reason, and all right, and all truth, and all faith, and all
commandments, are from God, and therefore partake of his
unity and his simplicity.

50. (3.) This is to be enlarged with this advice, that in
all questions of the sense of Scripture, the ordinary way is
to be presumed before the extraordinary: and if the plain
way be possible, and reasonable, and useful, and the extra-
ordinary of no other use, but to make wonder and strange-
ness to the belief of the understanding, we are to presume
for that, and to let this alone, because that hath the advantage
of reason, it being more reasonable that God will keep the
methods of his own creation, and bring us to him byways
with which we are acquainted, and by which we can better
understand our way to him, than that he will do a miracle
to no purpose, and without necessity; God never doing any
thing for the ostentation, but very many things for the mani-
festation, of his power: for his wisdom and his power declare
each other, and in every thing where he shews his mighti-
ness, he also shews his wisdom, that is, he never does
any thing without great reason. And therefore the Roman
doctrine of the holy sacrament suffers an intolerable pre-
judice, because it supposes daily heaps and conjugations
of miracles, wholly to no purpose; since the real body can
be taken by them to whom it does no good; and all the
good can be conveyed to us, though the body be only taken
in a spiritual sense; all the good being conveyed by moral
instruments, and to spiritual effect; and therefore the or-
dinary way, and the sense which the Church of England
gives, is infinitely to be preferred, because it supposes no
violences and effects of miracles, no cramps and convul-
sions to reason: and a man may receive the holy sacra-
ment, and discourse of all its effects and mysteriousnesses^


though he do not talk like a madman, or a man going
out of his wits, and a stranger to all the reason and philo-
sophy of the world; and therefore it is remarkable, that there
is in our faith no article but what is possible to be effected
by the ordinary power of God ; that a virgin should conceive
is so possible to God's power, that it is possible in nature,
say the Arabians ; but however, he that made the virgin out
of nothing, can make her produce something out of some-
thing : and for the resurrection of the dead, it is certainly
less than the creation, and it is like that which we see
every year, in the resurrection of plants and dead corn, and
is in many degrees imitable by art, which can out of ashes
raise a flower. And for all the articles of our creed, they
are so far from being miraculous and strange to reason,
that the greatest wonder is, that our belief is so simple and
facile, and that we shall receive so great and prodigious
events hereafter, by instruments so fitted to the weakest ca-
pacities of men here below. Indeed, some men have so
scorned the simplicity of the Gospel, that because they
thought it honourable to have every thing strange and unin-
telligible, they have put in devices and dreams of miracles of
their own, and have so explicated them, that as without many
miracles they could not be verified, so without one they can
hardly be understood. That which is easy to reason, and
most intelligible, is more like the plainness, and truth, and
innocence, and wisdom, of the Gospel, than that which is
bones to philosophy, and iron to the teeth of babes.

51. But this is to be practised with caution; for every
man's reason is not right, and every man's reason is not
to be trusted : and therefore,

(4.) As absurd, foolish things are not to be obtruded,
under the pretence of being mysteries, so neither must mis-
taken philosophy, and false notices of things, be pretended for
reason. There are mistakes on all hands, some Christians
explicate their mysteries, and mince them into so many
minutes and niceties, and speak of them more than they are
taught, more than is said in the Scriptures, or the first
creeds, that the article, which in its own simplicity was
indeed mysterious, and not to be comprehended by our dark
and less instructed reason, but yet was not impossible to be
believed, is made impossible to be understood by the append-
ages, and exposed to scorn and violences by heretics and


misbelievers : so is the incarnation of the Son of God, the
mysterious Trinity, the presence of Christ in the holy sacra-
ment. For so long as the mysteries are signified in simple,
wise, and general terms, reason can espy no particular
impossibilities in them : but when men will explicate what
they cannot understand, and intricate what they pretend to
explicate, and superinduce new clauses to the article, and
by entering within the cloud, do less seethe light, they find
reason amazed, where she could easily have submitted, and
clouds brought upon the main article, and many times the
body itself is supposed to be a phantasm, because of its
tinsel and fairy dressing : and on the other side, he that would
examine an article of faith, by a proposition in philosophy,
must be careful that his philosophy be as right as he
pretends. For as it will be hard to expect that right reason
should submit to a false article, upon pretence it is revealed,
so it will be as hard to distrust an article, because it is
against a false proposition, which I was taught in those
schools of learning, who speak things by custom, or by
chance, or because they are taught, and because they are
not suffered to be examined. Whoever offers at a reproof
of reason, must be sure that he is right in the article, and
that must be upon the strength of stronger reason ; and he
that offers by reason to reprove a pretended article, must be
sure his reason must be greater than the reverence of that

62. And therefore Holy Scriptures command us in those
cases to such purposes, as not only teach us what to do in it,
but also confirm the main inquiry ; for therefore we are com-
manded to " try all things :" suppose that be meant that we
try them by Scriptures ; how can we so try them, but by
comparing line with line, by considering the consequents of
every pretence, the analogy of faith, the measures of justice,
the laws of nature, essential right, and prime principles?
And all this is nothing but by making our faith the limit of
our reason, in matters of duty to God ; and reason the
minister of faith, and things that concern our duty. The
same is intended by those other words of another apostle,
" Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try if the spirits be
of God ;" how can this be tried ? By Scripture ? Yea ; but
how if the question be of the sense of Scripture, as it is


generally at this day ? Then it must be tried by something
extrinsical to the question, and whatsoever you can call to
judgment, reason must still be your solicitor, and your
advocate, and your judge; only reason is not always the law,
sometimes it is, for so our blessed Saviour was pleased to
say, " Why of yourselves do you not judge that which is
reasonable ?" f For so 5/xa/oi/ there is used, 'that which is
fitting and consonant to reason ;' and in proportion to this it
was, that so much of the religion of Jesus was clothed with
parables, as if the theorems and propositions themselves
were clothed with flesh and blood, and conversed after the
manner of men, to whom reason is the law and the rule, the
guide and the judge, the measure of good and evil for this
life, and for that which is to come. The consequent is this :

53. He that says thus, ' This doctrine is against the
word of God, and therefore it is absurd and against reason/
may, as it falls out, say true ; but his proposition will be of
no use, because reason is before revelation, and that this is
revealed by God, must be proved by reason. But,

54. He that says, ' This is absurd, or this is against
reason, therefore this is against the word of God,' if he says
true in the antecedent, says true in the consequent, and the
argument is useful in the whole, it being the best way to
interpret difficult scriptures, and to establish right senses,
and to confute confident heresies. For when both sides
agree that these are the words of God, and the question of
faith is concerning the meaning of the words, nothing is an
article of faith, or a part of the religion, but what can be
proved by reason to be the sense and intentions of God.
Reason is never to be pretended against the clear sense of
Scripture, because by reason it is that we came to perceive
that to be the clear sense of Scripture. And against reason,
reason cannot be pretended ; but against the words of Scrip-
ture produced in a question, there may be great cause to
bring reason ; for nothing seems plainer than those words of
St. James, "Above all things, my brethren, swear not at all ;"
and yet reason interposes and tells us, that plain words must
not be understood against plain reason and plain necessity:
for if oaths before magistrates were not permitted and
allowed, it were necessary to examine all men by torture;

' Luke, xii. 37.


and yet neither so could they so well be secured of truth as
they can by swearing. What is more plain than the words
of St. Paul ? g Nexouffart ra [M\q upuv, rot, SKI rqg yqg, " Mortify
(or kill) your members, that are upon the earth ;" and yet
reason tells us, that we must not hurt or destroy one limb ;
and wherever the effect would be intolerable, there the sense
is still unreasonable ; and therefore not a part of faith, so long
as it is an enemy to reason, which is the elder sister, and the
guide and guardian of the younger.

55. For as when the tables of the law were broken by
Moses, God would make no new ones, but bade Moses
provide some stones of his own, and he would write them
over ; so it is in our religion : when God with the finger of
his Spirit writes the religion and the laws of Jesus Christ,
he writes them in the tables of our reason, that is, " in the
tables of our hearts." ' Homo cordatus, a wise, rational
man,' sober, and humble, and discursive, hath the best faith :
but the arocro/ (as St. Paul calls them) " the unreasonable,"
they are such who " have no faith, " h for the Christian
religion is called by St. Paul \oyixri Xarotia, " a reasonable
worship ;" and the word of God is called by St. Peter, 1 yaXa
hoyixbv adohov, " the reasonable and uncrafty milk ;" it is
full of reason, but it hath no tricks ; it is rational, but not
crafty ; it is wise and holy : and he that pretends there are
some things in our religion, which right reason cannot
digest and admit, makes it impossible to reduce atheists,
or to convert Jews and heathens. But if reason invites them
in, reason can entertain them all the day.

And now to the arguments brought against the use of
reason ; the answers may easily be gathered from the
premises :

56. To the first I answer, that reason is the eye of the
soul in all things, natural, moral, and religious ; and faith is
the light of that eye, in things pertaining to God ; for it is
true, that natural reason cannot teach us the things of God :
that is, reason instructed only by this world, which St. Paul
calls " the natural man," cannot discern the things of the
Spirit, for they are " spiritually discerned :" that is, that
they are taught and perceived by the aids of God's Spirit,
by revelation and Divine assistances and grace : but though

Coloss. iii. 5. h 2 Thess. iii. 2. 1 Peter, ii. 2.


natural reason cannot, yet it is false to say that reason
cannot ; for reason illuminated can perceive the things of
God ; that is, when reason is taught in that faculty, under
that master, and by those rules which are proper for

Online LibraryJeremy TaylorThe whole works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor (Volume 11) → online text (page 43 of 50)