It's Use and Abuse in the Quest for Truth
from a late 19th Century Treatise by Rev. James Gardner, M.D. & A.M
"Natural religion" is an expression used to denote those religious truths which are derived from the teaching of the light of nature, or the exercise of the unassisted powers of human reason. These primary truths of religion are few in number, including simply the Being and Perfections of God; the different relations in which we stand to this Great Being, and the duties arising therefrom; the Divine government of the world; the immortality of the soul, and the future state of rewards and punishments. These are the great articles of Natural Religion; but though said to be derived from the simple unaided efforts of human reason, mankind are far from being unanimous in the admission of these articles. Some have even gone so far as to den that human reason can possibly discover for itself religious truths of any kind. But without utterly rejecting Natural Religion, we may remark that there is no point which it is of greater importance to keep constantly in view, in all our inquiries into matters of religion, than the precise line of distinction which separates the province of reason from that of revelation. The two are constantly in danger of being confounded, more especially by those who have been educated in a professedly Christian country, and under the influence, perhaps imperceptibly, without a knowledge of divine truth, however superficial, exercises over all our opinions and judgements. So liable, indeed, are we to be modified in our sentiments by the peculiar circumstances amid which we are placed, that it is often difficult, if not impossible, to state from what precise source any particular opinion has been derived. Hence it not infrequently happens, that we attribute to the pure native operations of reason, sentiments which we have acquired only in consequence of our acquaintance with the truths of revealed religion; and conversely, also we sometimes imagine that the perverse deductions of our own unassisted reason are sanctioned by, or perhaps originate in, the dictates of inspiration. Of these two classes of errors, though the latter is attended with the worst practical consequences, the former is the more subtle and imperceptible in its influence. We have formed many of our religious opinions directly from our knowledge of revealed truth, and yet so familiar have we become with them, and so deeply convinced of their reality, that we are in danger if confounding them with the plainest and simplest deductions of human reason. They bear upon our minds with the force of independent axioms, until at length we conclude them to have reached us in consequence of the primary operations of our own minds. It is more difficult than is often imagined to separate between the conviction arising from our belief in the doctrines of Scripture and the conviction arising from the simple exercise if our minds upon the evidence in favour of that truth of which we are become convinced. Thus, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul is taught plainly in the pages of revelation, but it is also alleged to be ascertainable by the exercise of unassisted reason. Now, in reference to all those who have been familiar from infancy with the statements of the Bible, the difficulty is to calculate to what amount of conviction, as to the soul's immortality, they have drawn from the one source, and what from the other. Do they believe the doctrine because nature has taught them to believe it, or is it not rather because the Bible has taught them? The proofs which have passed before the minds of the heathen unenlightened y the Gospel, have, with at least equal force, pressed themselves upon the attention of those who are blessed with the light of revelation; they have learned much upon the subject, no doubt, from the dictates of nature, but how much more have they learned from the lessons of Scripture! The danger lies in their confounding the teaching of the one with the teaching of the other; in attributing to reason what they have received solely from revelation; and, on the other hand, in endeavouring to make revelation responsible for what are purely and entirely the perverse judgements of unaided reason. In a sound condition of our intellectual and moral powers, reason and revelation must always be at one; but we are too prone to exalt the former at the expense of the latter. To keep the province of the one separate and distinct from the province of the other, is in fact one of the most difficult, but nevertheless one of the most important lessons which the theological student is called upon the learn. It is to ignorance and recklessness on this one point, that we would be inclined to attribute the greater part of the heresies which have distracted the Christian Church.
We have been endowed by our Creator with reason for the most valuable and necessary ends; but these ends in reference to theology, are too little regarded. The Socinian  entertains the most vague and extravagant views as to illimitable extent to which reason can go, while the enthusiast , on the other hand, restricts it within too narrow bounds; and one of the most necessary points, we conceive, in the logical training of the speculative inquirer in theology, is to enable him to ascertain the precise and definite limits which bound the province within which the exercise of human reason must be strictly confined. As long as we investigate the evidence on which the truth of revelation rests, reason is employed within her own sphere; and even after having ascertained that there is sufficient evidence to prove that the alleged revelation has indeed come from God, reason may legitimately inquire what is the precise meaning of its contents, and the relative bearing of its parts upon each other, or, in other words, what is usually termed the analogy of faith. Here, however, we have reached the point at which reason must pause, and revelation assume the sole and undivided supremacy. The truth of the individual doctrines is founded not on their reasonableness, though that may be admitted as an additional evidence in their favour, but solely on the authority of Him from whom we have ascertained the revelation to have come. It is not necessary, as the Socinian would argue, that what the Bible teaches should be proved to be consistent with reason; this were to make the reason of man, feeble though it be, the arbiter and judge in matters which, from their very nature, must be regarded as beyond the limits of human investigation. Revelation presupposes man to be ignorant of those truths which it unfolds, and shall he notwithstanding dare to exalt reason so extravagantly as to imagine it, in point of fact, superior in authority to the dictates of inspiration? No, by no means. It is in condescension to the feebleness and inadequacy of human reason, that a revelation has been imparted at all, and ever recollecting that what we do not understand is far from being, on that account, necessarily untrue, let us bow implicitly to the simple statements of that Being whose "understanding is infinite".
No little injury has been done to the cause of Christianity by the extravagant adulators of human reason. Under the delusive idea, that by depriving the religion of the Bible of all that was peculiar, and by endeavouring to reduce it to a perfect consistency and harmony with what are imagined to be the necessary truths taught by nature, they have furnished the infidel with powerful, and we fear too effective, weapons, wherewith to destroy the whole Christian system. The result, accordingly, has been such as might have been anticipated. Bollingbroke, Tindal, Collins, and many others of the same school, have directed their whole efforts to show that there is nothing in Christianity which was not previously revealed to us in the religion of nature; and if any mysteries are recorded, they are merely resolvable into the figurative phraseology in which the author wrote, or into subsequent corruptions and interpolations of the record itself. Thus it is, that under the guise of friendship the deadliest blows have been struck at all that is vital in the Christianity of the Bible; and that, too, arising from no other cause than the injudicious conduct of its real friends. It is not in Germany alone that this spirit of rationalism has been diffusing its withering influence; in Britain, also, has such a spirit been gradually gaining ground. The consistency of revelation with reason is, no doubt, when properly conducted, a powerful argument in its favour; but there is a point in the argument beyond which we dare not go, and the exact position of which, it is absolutely necessary for us previously to ascertain. It was an investigation of this kind that gave rise to one of the most valuable works on mental science that has ever appeared - the immortal essays of Locke on the Human Understanding. "Were is fair to trouble thee with the history of this essay," says the author in his Epistle to the reader, "I should tell thee, that five or six friends meeting at my chamber, and discoursing on a subject very remote from this, found themselves quickly at a stand, y the difficulties that arose on every side. After a while we puzzled ourselves, without coming any nearer a resolution of those doubts which perplexed us, it came into my thoughts that we took a wrong course, and that before we set ourselves upon inquiries of that nature, it was necessary to examine our own abilities, and see what object our understandings were or were not fitted to deal with." It were well for the cause of Christianity, and well for the cause of science in general, that the example of Locke were more frequently followed, and the fact rendered familiar to our minds, that there is a point where reason ends, and implicit faith in revelation must begin. The human mind has not previously discovered all that the Bible unfolds to us, otherwise what necessity for the Bible at all? If, then, there be truths peculiar to the Christian system, there is no necessity for the slightest anxiety on the part of the defenders of Christianity to reconcile an apparent inconsistency between these peculiar Christian truths and the principles of reason. A strong presumptive argument, it is true, may be founded on the fact which, in most instances, can be shown by analogy, that what is peculiar to Christianity is not contrary to reason. Such an argument, however, can never amount to more than a presumption in its favour; and though it may be powerful enough to silence the cavils of objectors, it adds little to the direct force of the Christian evidence.
The essential and primary elements of all religious truth may be learned y the pure efforts of reason unaided b revelation, and all revealed religion, in fact, proceeds on the existence of that class of truths which is included under the term Natural Religion. But to assert this, is just tantamount to the assertion that the Scriptures are accommodated to the nature of the beings to whom the are addressed. This is not all, however, that ma e said in reference to their value. They state, no doubt, what is addressed to our reason, and what proceeds on the supposition that there are some truths which unassisted reason has discovered; but they do more, for they state, and in this their peculiar existence consists, many truths which the reason of man has not discovered, and by its most strenuous and sustained exertions never could discover. And the danger is, that in deference to a certain class of sceptics and unbelievers, these peculiarities of the Christian system should either be entirely overlooked, or attempted to be so modified as to suit the caprice of those who, while they profess an adherence to the doctrines of revelation, are all the while still more devoted admirers of human reason. All human systems of religion, even the most degrading, are founded to some extent on natural religion, or, in other words, on those religious sentiments and feelings which are inherent in the constitution of ever mind. ut from these human religions, Christianity stands separate and apart; and the exhibition of its peculiarities, as contra distinguished from every other system of religious doctrine, forms a most important branch of the Christian evidences. This argument skilfully conducted would tend to destroy the force of the infidel maxim which is too often assumed to be the shibboleth of a self-styled liberal party - that all religions are alike. The counterfeit, we admit, may resemble the true coin in one point - that they are both of them coins, ut in ever other point they are diametrically opposed. Between truth and falsehood in the eyes of God there is and must ever be a great gulf fixed; and though one may impiously dare to approximate the two, and even to mistake the one for the other, the eye of Omniscience discerns between them an inconceivable, an infinite distance.
 Socinians: a name applied in a general sense to all who deny the doctrine of the Trinity, and of the divinity of the Lord Yah'shua haMashiach (Jesus Christ). In its more restricted meaning, however, the term denotes those who adhered to the doctrines inculcated by Laelius Socinus and his nephew, Faustus Socinius, in the 16th century. Their modern successors are the Unitarians.
 Enthusiasts: a name given to the sect of the Euchites because they pretended to be inspired, and so hold converse with the Holy Spirit. The 'Enthusiastics' was a name given by the ancient Greeks to the Vates, who pretended to utter prophecies by the perpetual influence of an indwelling demon. The modern-day successors to the 'Enthusiasts' are the Charismatics.
This page was created on 12 June 2000
Last updated on 12 June 2000
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