Thomas Smyth.

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mind, the reason of the intelligent man concurs in allowing
their indulgence, and in securing the means necessary for it.
They are intended to be as absolutely under the controul of
reason as are the hand, the feet, the eyes, and the other senses.

It is on this account that man is capable of vice and virtue,
morality and immorality, purity and impurity, sin and holiness.
He possesses, and the brutes do not, a knowledge of God, of
God's law, God's will, and of his own duty, and of all that is
required and prohibited under the penalty of God's wrath and
curse. But all this knowledge man possesses by his reason,
which is, we have seen, that intelligent nature which distin-
guishes him from the brutes. The same actions which in
brutes have no moral character, in man become morally right
or wrong. It follows, therefore, that since the actions of men
are only regarded as right or wrong, blamable or commendable,
when they proceed from one who is considered to be in the full
possession of his reason, — ^that every thing that is imprudence,
baseness, villany or sin, in man, however it may require the
co-operation of the body, must be the act of his rational nature,
otherwise it would have no moral character whatever.

I do not mean to condemn the language which speaks of the
several faculties and passions of the soul as if they were as
distinct and independent as the governor, officers and citizens
of a commonwealth. These distinctions are necessary for
mental analysis and general comprehension, — ^give life and
beauty to all language and discourses, — and indicate the par-
ticular motive and medium by which, in every action, the intel-
ligent nature of man is induced to judge and to act as it does.

Considered, however, in this light, — that is, as a faculty of
thinking and judging, — reason has no moral character. It is
neither good nor evil, proud nor humble, presumptuous nor

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vain. It is merely a faculty or power, and only becomes moral
when r^[arded as tmder the direction of the intelligent moral
nature of man, actuated by motives, arriving at certain ends,
subject to the moral law of God, and guided by certain prin-
ciples. Morally speaking, reason is just what man is. Man \s
under authority to God's law as the rule of duty, — to God's ufill
as the supreme and final judge, — ^to God's testimony, — in what-
ever way imparted, — as the ultimate, final, and infallible evi-
dence of what is true or false, good or evil. Reason, therefore,
becomes morally good or evil, holy or unholy, humble or proud,
presumptuous or vain, just as it is employed in faithfully ascer-
taining God's law, God's testimony, and God's will, and in
implicitly obeying them, — or, on the other hand, as it follows
the desires and devices of a wicked heart, and under its influ-
ences will not come to the light, lest its deeds should be

We proceed to remark that this rational nature, and of course
this faculty or power of judging, is limited. All men, in dis-
tinction from the brutes, are by nature intelligent and rational
beings, by which, and not by instinct, they discover what is
right or wrong, good and evil.

Not that all men are alike in their intellectual, any more than
in their physical, nature. There is, in both respects, perfect
individuality and endless variety, and yet, at the same time, one
and the same general nature.

This intelligent and rational nature of man, however exalted
it may be in its highest manifestations, it is nevertheless inferior
to that of angels, both in its capacity of thought, and in the
extent of its knowledge, and it is infinitely inferior to the rea-
son and knowledge of God. Man is endowed with that degree
of reason, and that capacity of knowledge, which was proper
and necessary for his condition here and hereafter. His glory,
therefore, must be to act in accordance with the order and per-
fection of his being. And to sink below it, and prostitute his
powers to earthly, sensual, or devilish pursuits, — or, on the
other hand, to attempt to exceed the powers bestowed upon
him, — is equally irrational and sinful. The one is self-destruc-
tion, the other presimiption, folly and rebellion. There is a line
which no created tmderstanding can pass, and that line is fixed
to every class of beings according to their own order, even as
there is one glory of the sun, and another of the moon, and
another of the stars.

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And, as there are doubtless many beings superior to our-
selves, who are able to discover more truths than we can do, so
it is reserved for God alone, to have a perfect and universal
comprehension of all possible truths.

"When, therefore, reason refuses to submit to God's guid-
ance, or assent to what has all the inward and external marks
of God's infallible testimony ; — when it will deny, only because
it cannot comprehend and fathom the depths of God with its
own short line, — or, when it attempts to give reasons, and
accoimt for things which God has not thought fitting to
explain, — then it transgresses the bound of duty, and, instead of
a guide, becomes a deceiver and destroyer of those who follow
its directions." It is the light of a candle employed to discover
that which is irradiated by the light of the sun. It is arrogant
profaneness, a wanton encroachment upon the prerogatives of
Heaven, and an impious challenge to our Maker, why he has
made us as he has. Reason, in such a case, is the ignis f atuus
which leads its bewildered followers into fatal paths ; or, it is
like the lightning flash to the lost traveller, which only discovers
the immensity of the trackless waste before him.

But further, human reason is as certainly limited in its field
of observation, as in its capacity to judge. We inhabit but a
spot in the creation of God. By our connection with the body,
and the subjection of our reason to the senses as the inlets of
all our original perceptions, the mind cannot go beyond the
conclusions drawn from what it is capable of observing.

Reason, in its popular acceptation, is nothing but a faculty.
It is not knowledge, but only the capacity or power of obtaining
it. When observation, instruction and education are denied,
this power lies dormant. When that observation and instruc-
tion are erroneous, reason only confirms us in ignorance and
error. Reason, in and of itself, is therefore insufficient to dis-
cover and practise what is necessary for the ordinary duties
even of the present life.

As our Saviour has taught us, reason or understanding is,
spiritually, what the eye is physically. The one is capable of
seeing, and the other of laiowing. But the eye cannot see
without light, nor reason without instruction. Reason is not
the light, but the organ which acts by the light imparted to it.
Even in reference to the world arotmd it, reason knows infi-
nitely less than it is ignorant of ; and the little it does know, is

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known as the result of close observation, diligent study, and
ages of experience and discovery.

The relations and dependencies of the system of our globe,
not to speak of our planetary system, and that of the visible
universe, are almost entirely beyond our observation and
knowledge. So are all the essences of things. How much
more certainly and necessarily, therefore, must this be the case,
in reference to every thing that is beyond the visible world, —
all that is invisible and incapable of observation, — all that is
supernatural and infinitely removed from the sphere and
capacity of our finite and limited reason.

Whatever we can know by the use of our f aculities of obser-
vation and understanding, is properly within the bounds of rea-
son. Whatever objects are beyond these, must either remain
unknown, or become known only by clear and sufficient testi-
mony, in which case they reasonably claim and secure the
approbation of our reason. In reference to such objects, the
testimony must be supernatural, and the evidence must be
Divine, in order to be infallible. Reason perceives the truth
and certainty of the testimony, in whatever way it is revealed,
just as it perceives God's testimony to what is true in all the
phenomena of nature, — and knowing that God will not deceive
and cannot lie, it regards the evidence as infallible, and arrives
at a most rational assurance of the truth. This is faith, that
is, knowledge founded, not upon observation or intuition, but
upon testimony.

The things which are objects of this knowledge, that is,
which are above and beyond reason, were by the ancients
included under that part of knowledge termed metaphysical,
that is, after or above what is physical.

"In this case, Plato ranges the contemplation of all Divine
things ; such as, the first being or cause, — the origin of things,
— ^the wonders of providence, — the worship of God, — ^the mys-
teries of religion, — the immortality of the soul, — and a future
state. He never pretended one of these to be discoverable by
reason, but always ingenuously confesses them to be learned
by traditions brought from the Barbarians, viz : the Jews, &c.
They were frequently termed wonderful things, as being
neither discoverable nor demonstrable by reason."

Such is the nature and limits of human reason, considered
apart from any moral obliquity that may attach to it, — clear,
and upright, and ever ready to approve and follow that which

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is good. But such is not its present character. Man was,
indeed, "made upright," but he has become "corrupt." As men
are now, "they have no understanding." They have "corrupt
minds." Their "foolish heart is darkened." "Having the
understanding darkened through the ignorance that is in them,
because of the blindness of their heart" Man's reason, there-
fore, is now clouded as well as limited. It is debased by servi-
tude to the lusts of the flesh and the lusts of the eyes. It is
enfeebled by moral disease. It is manacled by prejudices.
The eye of reason is vitiated. It cannot bear the light. It
loveth darkness rather than light, and because it will not come
to the light and receive the truth in the love of it, it stumbleth,
even at noon-day. Such is the testimony of "the Father of our
spirits," — "the Light who enlighteneth every man that cometh
into the world," and who "knoweth what is in man."

And such, also, is the testimony of observation and experi-
ence. Even in reference to purely intellectual and philosoph-
ical pursuits, the father of philosophy found it necessary to
caution against the idols of the mind. The art of reasoning is
but the science of exposing and guarding against the weakness,
perversity and sophistry of the human mind. Imperfection,
contradiction, change have characterized all the efforts of
genius. No theory has been too absurd to find advocates and
disciples, while rival sects, — from those who believe every
thing, to those who beHeve nothing, however true, — ^have filled
up the history of philosophy. There is no single truth, from
the existence of an external world to the existence of an eternal
God, which has not been denied and darkened. Reason has, in
all ages, rendered man shamefully unreasonable. Philosophy
has been the guide to all the errors under the sun. What right
reason itself is, — what the chief good is, — what right and
wrong are, — what is the nature, ground, and authority of moral-
ity, — what man is, — what the soul is, — what God is, — what
man's destiny is, — human reason never has discovered or deter-
mined, with any fixed or authoritative certainty. There have
been as many opinions as philosophers in the world, and among
them, there have been opinions merely, but no certain knowl-
edge. When in the right, they disputed themselves wrong, and
left every thing in confusion and doubt. Socrates, the wisest
of men, professed to know only one thing with certainty, and
that was his ignorance of every thing, and the ignorance of all
who pretended to know any more. Plato, again and again.

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reminded his hearers that he could give them probability, and
not proof, for what he taught. Both Socrates and Plato
rebuked the pride and ignorance of philosophers as the fruitful
source of every error.* Aristotle condemned all his predeces-
sors as foolish and vain-glorious, and in regard to all things
Divine, said little, and believed less. And, not to name the
skeptics who doubted and disputed every thing, the opinion of
TuUy may be given as that of all who have ever earnestly
inquired after truth, without the light of revelation, namely,
"that all things are surrotmded and concealed by so thick a
darkness, that no strength of mind can penetrate them."t

But man was made to practise as well as to know; and reason
was intended to guide into right actions as well as into right
opinions. To know and choose to do what is good is moral
goodness, and to know and choose to do what is contrary to

*Plato brings in Socrates in his Alcibiades, thus philosophizing: ''Thou
knowest that errors in practice come from this ignorance, that men think
they know, what they do not" Then he adds, When men are conscious
of their own ignorance, they are willing to be taught by others. Again,
Believe me and the famous Delphic oracle. Know thyself. This Plato, in
his Charmides, speaks. Many have erred from their scope by trusting to
their own opinion without judgment. Again. It is a great piece of tem-
perance for a man to know himself. It would be a great advantage if none
would act beyond their knowledge and strength. We seem to know all
things, but indeed we are ignorant of every thing. It is an absurd thing
to philosophize of things we know not; when any attempts a thing above
his strength, he greatly errs. Thus Plato, out of what he had learnt from
his master, Socrates. So, again, in Legib. 5, Plato discoursing of self-
love : From this, says he, proceeds this g^eat error, that all men esteem
their ignorance to be wisdom, whence, knowing nothing, we think we
know all things. Thence, not permitting ourselves to be taught what we
are ignorant of, we fall into great errors. We have, indeed, a great saying
in his Epinom. p. 980, shewing that we can get no true knowledge of God,
but by dependence on, and prayer to him. His words are. Trusting in
the Gods, pray unto them, that thou mayest have right notions of the
Gods. Thus it shall be, if God as a Guide, shall shew us the way; only
help thou with thy prayers.

Lastly, Plato, Legib. 4, tells us. That he who is humble and modest will
adhere to Divine justice. But he that is lifted up in his own proud con-
fidences, as though he wanted no Guide or Governor, he is deserted by
God ; and being deserted, disturbs others ; and, although he may for awhile
seem some body, yet at last he is sufficiently punished by Divine justice. —
See the original, given in Gales Court of the Gentiles, vol. 3, pp. 15, 16.

tThe early fathers who had been disciples of Plato, and the other phi-
losophers, speidc very strongly of their weakness and folly.

You will adduce, says Justin Martyr to the Greeks, the wise men and
the philosophers, for, to these, as to a strong-hold, you are wont to make
your escape, whenever, concerning the Gods, any one twits you with the
opinion of the poets. Wherefore, since it is fitting to begin with the first
and the most ancient, commencing with them I will shew: that the specu-
lation of each philosopher is still more ridiculous, than even the theology
of the poets. (1)

He then proceeds in regular succession, through the several opinions of
Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Heraclitus, Anaxagoras, Archelaus,

(1) Justin ad Grac. Cohort. Oper. p. 3.

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right, is moral evil. What, then, is the character of human
reason, as seen in human conduct ? All that we commonly call
the weakness, blindness and disorder of our passions, is, in
reality, the weakness, disorder and blindness of our reason, to
whom those passions are in subjection, and without whose
sanction they could neither desire, will, nor act. All the
tempers and passions of the heart, all the prejudices and idols
of the mind, all the numerous faculties of the soul, are, as we
have said, but the various acts and operations of one and the
same rational principle which, in its union with the physical
nature, constitutes man, and they only receive different names,
according to the object on which this reason is employed, and
the manner in which it acts. Reason, therefore, as it is the
only principle of virtue, so it is the only cause of all that is base,

Pythagoras, Epicurus, Empedoclcs, Plato, and Aristotle, or the purpose of
convicting them all of manifest and indisputable folly. With respect to
Plato, in particular, nothing can be more contemptuous than Justin's sneer
at him.

Plato, forsooth, is as sure that the Supreme Deity exists in a fiery sub-
stance, as if he had come down from above, and had accurately learned
and seen all things that are in Heaven. (1)

Since, continues he to the Greeks, it is impossible to learn from your
teachers any thing true respecting piety towards God, inasmuch as their
very difference of opinion is a plain proof of their ignorance ; I deem it an
obvious conse(^uence, that we should return to our own forefathers ; who
are of much higher antiquity than any of your teachers ; who have taught
us nothing from their own mere phantasy ; who, among themselves, have
no discrepancies ; and who attempt not mutually to the opinion of each
other, but who, without wrangling and disputation, communicate to us
that knowledge which they have received from God. For, neither by
nature nor by human intellect, is it possible for men to attain the knowl-
edge of such great and Divine matters ; but only by the gift which descends
from above upon holy men, who needed not the arts of eloquence or the
faculty of subtle disputation, but who judged it solely necessary to preserve
themselves pure for the efficacious energy of the Divine Spirit.

For the authors of our theology, says he, we have the Apostles of the
Lord: who not even themselves arbitrarily chose what they would intro-
duce ; but who faithfully delivered to the nations that discipline which they
had received from Christ. Finai<ly HER£sies themselves are suborned
PROM PHii,osoPHy. Thence spring those fables and endless genealogies and
unfruitful questions and discourses, creeping like a gangrene: from which
the Apostles would rein us back, by charging us, even in so many words, to
beware of philosophy. What, then, is there in common between Athens
and Jerusalem, between the Academy and the Church, between Heretics
and Christians? Our institution is from the porch of Solomon: who him-
self has admonished us to seek the Lord in simplicity of heart. Let those
persons see to it, who have brought forward a Stoical, or a Platonic, or a
Dialectic Christianity.

From the Prophets and from Christ we are instructed in regard to God.
Not from the Philosophers or from Epicurus.

God hath chosen the foolish things of the world that he might confound
the wise. Through this simplicity of the truth, directly contrary to sub-
tiloquence and philosophy, we can savour nothing perverse. (2)

(1) Justin. Cohort. Oper., p. 4.

(2) See also Tertullian to the same effect, adv. har. 5 2, 3 ; and adv.
Marcion lib. ii., S 13, and lib. v. S 40.

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horrid and shameful in human nature. Reason alone can dis-
cern truth, and reason alone can lead into the grossest errors,
both in speculation and in practice, and hence men are held
accountable for all the evil they do, because they do it know-
ingly, and willingly, that is, in the exercise of reason.

Such, then, as is human nature, such is human reason. And
as human nature is every where, and in all ages and places mis-
trusted, deceitful, and desperately wicked in its unrestrained
developments, it follows that though all men are rational, they
are not reasonable; since reason itself is darkened by sin, "so
that the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of
God, either as to doctrine, spirit or duty, for they are foolish-
ness unto him, because they are spiritually discerned."

Reason, in man's present condition, is not what it originally
was. That light, therefore, which at first was sufficient to pre-
serve man from falling, and to lead him in the way of truth, is
not sufficient to restore him, now that he has fallen, and to
bring him back to God. "Not (says the Apostle,) that we are
sufficient of ourselves, to think anything as of ourselves, but
our sufficiency is of God," who alone can "give us an under-
standing that we may know Him that is true, and be guided
into all truth, and be preserved from all error."

This brings us once more, therefore, to the main question
before us, namely, whether reason, — the reason of every indi-
vidual man, or the collective reason of all men, or the particular
opinions each man has happened to take up, with or without
examination, — whether this reason is the standard and judge
of truth. It is not a question now in dispute, whether all men
have the right and are under a solemn obligation, to judge and
act according to their own reason. This is as clear to our mind
as that every man has a right to see, and can see only with his
own eyes, and hear with his own ears. This is a matter of
duty and of necessity, since man, as a rational being, can only
act from reason, and can only really believe what his own rea-
son has assured him is proved by sufficient evidence. To act
from the principle of reason and choice, or will, is as necessary
to man as his being what he is. This is not the privilege of the
philosopher, but is as essential to human nature as self-con-
sciousness, personal identity and conscience are.

Tn this controversy, we maintain, therefore, the absolute
necessity of reason to every opinion which man holds, and to
every action man performs. This we do against fanatics on

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the one hand, and Romanists on the other. Both these classes
of errorists agree in denying the use of reason. The fanatic
"substitutes in place of the sober deductions of reason, the
extravagant fancies of a disordered imagination, and considers
these fancies as the immediate illumination of the Spirit of
God." He puts out the light, and then follows the vagaries of
his own bewildered imagination, forgetting that God never
commands, but he convinces also ; that men cannot obey with-
out believing, nor believe without sufficient evidence of the
truth or duty. They who deny, therefore, the use of reason,
in order to the belief of any doctrine or duty, destroy the only
means God has given us to convince of the reasonableness and
obligation of truth and duty, and instead of a rational worship,
have fallen into all the delusions of madness and superstition.

The Romanist allows religion to be a reasonable service only
so far as it enables the enquirer to discover that the Romish
Church is the infallible testifier, in God's stead, to all that is
truth, and to all that is duty. Having done this, its office ceases,
except so far as to hear what she inculcates, and obey what she
commands. In other words, man, in becoming a Romanist,
ceases to be a rational being, and to hold any direct relation or
responsibility to God. He believes and does what the church
enforces, and this is the sum and substance of the Romish
religion. It is not belief in God, in Christ, in a Holy Spirit, or
in any one or all of the doctrines of the Gospel. It is belief in
the Church of Rome, not in the Bible, not in our own senses,
reason, or faculties. This, however, is as contrary to the neces-
sity of our being, as it is to the word of God, which requires us
to search the Scriptures, whether what the church teaches be
true, to prove all her teachings by that word, and to be always
ready, in reference to every doctrine and duty, to give a reason
to every one that asketh.

The question, then, now before us, is not as to the use of
reason, in reference to all testimony, and all evidence, and its
absolute necessity to all belief, but whether every man's reason
is to guide him in his inquiries after truth, and in his reception
of the truth by its own light merely, by the amount of its pres-

Online LibraryThomas SmythComplete works of Rev. Thomas Smyth, D. D → online text (page 3 of 68)