Theological Institutes

Part First - Evidences of The Divine Authority of the Holy Scriptures

By Richard Watson

Chapter 3

FARTHER PRESUMPTION OF A DIRECT REVELATION from the Weakness and Corruption of human Reason, and the want of Authority in merely human Opinions.

IF we should allow that a perfect reason exercised in contemplating the natural works of God and the course of his moral government, might furnish us, by means of an accurate process of induction, with a suffi­cient rule to determine the quality of moral actions, and with sufficient motives to obedience, yet the case would not be altered; for that perfect reason is not to be found among men. It would be useless to urge upon those who deny the doctrine of Scripture, as to the fall of man, that his understanding and reason are weakened by the deterioration of his whole intellectual nature.) But it will be quite as apposite to the argument to state a fact not to be controverted, that the reasoning powers of men greatly differ in strength; and that from premises, which all must allow to be somewhat obscure, different inferences would inevitably be drawn. Either then time Divine law would be what every man might rake it to be, and, by consequence, a variable rule, a position which cannot surely be maintained; or many persons must fail of duly apprehending it. ) And though in this case it should be contended, that he is not punishable who obeys the law as far as he knows it, yet surely the ends of a steady and wisely formed plan of general government would arm this ground be frustrated. The presumption here also must there­fore be in favour of an express declaration of time will of God, in terms which the common understandings of men may apprehend, as the only means by which sufficient moral direction can be given, and effectual control exerted.

The notion, that by rational induction time will of God may be inferred from his acts in a sufficient degree for every purpose of moral direction, is farther vitiated by its assuming that men in general are so contempla­tive in their habits as to pursue such inquiries with interest; and so well disposed as in most cases to make them with honesty. Neither of these is true.

The mass of mankind neither are, nor ever leave been, contemplative, and must therefore, if not otherwise instructed, remain ignorant of their duty; for questions of virtue, morals, and religion, as may be shown from the contentions of the wisest of men, do not for time most part lie level to the minds of the populace without a revelation.[1]

It is equally a matter of undoubted fact, that in all questions of morals which restrain the vices, passions, and immediate interests of men, conviction is generally resisted, and the rule is brought down to the practice, rather than the practice raised to the rule ; so that the most flimsy sophisms are admitted as arguments, and principles the most lax displace those of rigid rectitude and virtue. This is matter of daily observation and cannot be denied. The irresistible inference from this is, that at least, the great body of mankind, not being accustomed to intellectual exercises; not having even leisure for them on ac­count of their being doomed to sordid labours; and not being disposed to conduct the investigation with care and accuracy, would never become acquainted with the will of the Supreme Governor, if the knowledge of it were only to be obtained from habitual observation and reasoning. Should it be said, "that the intellectual and instructed part of mankind ought to teach the rest," it may be replied, that even that would be difficult, because their own knowledge must be communicated to others by the same process of difficult induction through which they attain it them­selves, or rational conviction could not be produced in the minds of the learners. The task would therefore be hopeless as to the majority, both from their want of time and intellectual capacity. But, if practicable, the Theistical system has no provision for such instruction. It neither makes it the duty of some to teach, nor of others to learn. It hag no authorized teachers; no day of rest from labour, on which to collect the auditors no authorized religious ordinances by which moral truth may be brought home to the ears and the hearts of men: and, if it had, its best know­ledge being rather contained in diffuse and hesitating speculation, than concentrated in maxims and first principles, embodied in a few plain words, which at once indicate some master mind fully adequate to the whole subject, and suddenly irradiate the understandings of the most listless and illiterate,-it would be taught in vain.

Let, us however suppose the truth discovered, the teachers of it ap­pointed, and days for the communication of instruction set apart. With what authority would these teachers be invested? They plead no commission from Him whose will they affect to teach, and they work no miracles in confirmation of the truth of their doctrine. That doc­trine cannot, from the nature of things, be mathematically demonstrated so as to enforce conviction, and it would therefore be considered, and justly considered, as the opinion of the teacher, and nothing but an opinion, to which every one might listen or not without any conscious­ness of violating an obligation, and which every one might and would receive as his own judgment agreed with or dissented from his un­authorized teacher, or as his interests and passions might commend or disparage the doctrine so taught.[2]

Facts are sufficiently in proof of this. The sages of antiquity were moral teachers; they founded schools; they collected disciples; they placed their fame in their wisdom: yet there was little agreement among them, even upon the first principles of religion and morals; and they neither generally reformed their own lives, nor those of others. This is acknowledged by Cicero: "Do you think that these things had any influence upon the men (a very few excepted,) who thought and wrote and disputed about them? Who is there of all the philosophers, whose mind, life, and manners, were conformable to right reason? Who ever made his philosophy the law and rule of his life, and not a mere show of his wit and parts? Who observed his own instructions, and lived in obedience to his own precepts? On the con­trary, many of them were slaves to filthy lusts, many to pride, many to covetousness," &c.[3]

Such a system of moral direction and control, then, could it be formed, would bear no comparison to that which is provided by direct: and external revelation, of which the doctrine, though delivered by dif­ferent men, in different ages, is consentaneous throughout; which is rendered authoritative by Divine attestation; which consists in clear and legislative enunciation, and not in human speculation and laborious. inference; of which the teachers were as holy as their doctrine was sublime; and which in all ages has exerted a powerful moral influence upon the conduct of men. "I know of but one Phaedo and one Pole-mon throughout all Greece," saith ORIGEN, "who were ever made bet­ter by their philosophy; whereas Christianity hath brought back its myriads from vice to virtue."

All these considerations then still farther support the presumption, that the will of God has been the subject of express revelation to man, because such a declaration of it is the only one which can be conceived, ADEQUATE; COMPLETE; OP COMMON APPREHENSION; SUFFICIENTLY AUTHORITATIVE; AND ADAPTED TO THE CIRCUMSTANCES OP MANKIND.


[1] If philosophy had gone farther than it did, and from undeniable prince pies given us ethics in a science, like mathematical, in every part demonstrable, this yet would not have been so effectual to man in this imperfect state, nor pro per for the cure. The greatest part of mankind want leisure or capacity for demonstration, nor can carry a train of proofs, which in that way they must always depend upon for conviction, and cannot be required to assent to till they see the demonstration. Wherever they stick, the teachers are always put upon proof, and must clear the doubt by a thread of coherent deductions from the first principle, how long or how intricate soever that be. And you may as soon hope to leave all the day labourers and tradesmen, the spinsters and dairy maids, perfect mathematicians, as to have them perfect in ethics this way: having plain commands is the sure and only course to bring them to obedience and practice: the greatest part cannot know, and therefore they must believe. And I ask, whether one coming from heaven in the power of God, in full and clear evidence and demonstration of miracles, giving plain and direct rules of morality and obedience, be not likelier to enlighten the bulk of mankind, and set them right in their duties, and bring them to do them, than by reasoning with them from general notions and principles of human reason?" (Locke's Reasonableness of Christianity.)


[2] "Let it be granted, (though not true,) that all the moral precepts of the Gospel were known by somebody or other, among mankind before. But where, or how, or of what use, is not considered. Suppose they may be picked up here and there; some from SOLON, and BIAS, in Greece; others from TULLY, in Italy, and, to complete the work, lot CONFUCIUS as far as China be consulted, and ANA­CHARSIS the Scythian contribute his share. What will all this do to give time world a complete morality, that may be to mankind the unquestionable rule of life and manners? What would this amount to toward being a steady rule, a certain transcript of a law that we arc under? Did the saying of ARISTIPPUS or CONFUCIUS give it an authority? Was ZENO a lawgiver to mankind? If not, what he or any other philosopher delivered was but a saying of his. Mankind might hearken to it, or reject it, as they pleased, or as it suited their interest, passions, principles, or humours :-they were under no obligation: the opinion of this or that philosopher was of no AUTHORITY." (LOCKE'S Reasonableness, 4-c.)

"The truths which the philosophers proved by speculative reason, were desti­tute of some more sensible authority to back them; and the precepts which they laid down, how reasonable soever in themselves, seemed still to want weight, and to be no more than PRECEPTS OF MEN." (DR. SAM. CLARKE.)

[3] Sed haec eadem num censes apud eos ipsos valere, nisi admodum paucos, a