The following is taken from Ethan Allen's monumental book Reason: The Only Oracle of Man
Reason and Religion
by Ethan Allen
Argumentative Reflections on SUPERNATURAL and MYSTERIOUS REVELATION in generalThere is not anything, which has contributed so much to delude mankind in religious matters, as mistaken apprehensions concerning supernatural inspiration or revelation; not considering, that all true religion originates from reason, and can no otherwise be understood, but by the exercise and improvement of it.
Therefore they are apt to confuse their minds which such inconsistencies. In the subsequent reasonings on this subject, we shall argue against supernatural revelation in general which will comprehend the doctrine of inspiration or immediate illumination of the mind.
And first; we will premise, that a revelation consists of an assemblage of rational ideas, intelligibly arranged and understood by those to whom it may be supposed to be revealed; for otherwise, it could not exist in their minds as such.
To suppose a revelation, void of rationality or understanding, or of communicating rational intelligence to those, to whom it may be supposed to be given, would be a contradiction; for that it would contain nothing except it were unintelligibleness which would be the same as to reveal and not to reveal; therefore, a revelation must consist of an assemblage of rational ideas, intelligibly communicated to those who are supposed to have been the partakers or receivers of it; from the first supposed inspiration, down to this or any other period of time.
But such a revelation on this, could be nothing more or less than a transcript of the law of nature, predicated on reason, and would be no more supernatural, than the reason of man may be supposed to be.
The simple definition of supernatural is, that which is "Beyond or above the powers of nature," which never was or can be understood by mankind; the first promulgators of revelation not excepted; for such revelation, doctrine, precept or instruction only, as comes within the powers of our nature, is capable of being apprehended, contemplated or understood by us, and such, as does not, is to us incomprehensible and unknown, and consequently cannot for us compose any part of revelation.
The author of human nature impressed it with certain sensitive aptitudes and mental powers, so that apprehension, reflection or understanding could no otherwise be exerted or produced in the compound nature of man, but in the order prescribed by creator.
It would therefore be a contradiction in nature, and consequently impossible for God to inspire, infuse, or communicate the apprehension, reflection or understanding of any thing whatever into human nature, out of, above, or beyond the natural aptitudes, and mental powers of that nature, which was of his own production and constitution; for it would be the same as to inspire, infuse, or reveal apprehension, reflection or understanding, to that which is not; inasmuch as out of, beyond or above the powers of nature, there could be nothing to operate upon, as a pre-requisite principle to receive the inspiration or instruction of the revelation, which might therefore as well be inspired into, or revealed to nonentity, as to man.
For the essence of man is that, which we denominate to be his nature, out of or above which he is as void of sensation, apprehension, reflection or understanding, as nonentity may be supposed to be; therefore such revelation as is adapted to the nature and capacity of man, and comes within his powers of perception and understanding, is the only revelation, which he is able to receive from God or man. Supernatural revelation, is as applicable to beasts, birds and fishes, as it is to us; for neither we, nor they are capable of being acted upon supernaturally, as all the possible exertions of operations of nature, which respect the natural or moral world, are truly natural.
Nor does God deviate from his rectitude of nature in matters of inspiration, revelation or instruction to the moral world, any more than in that of his government of the natural. Man is a species of being who belongs in part to both worlds, therefore, was God to reveal any particular thing to us, he must of course adapt his revelation to our bodies, as well as to our souls; or to our senses as well as to our reason; but a revelation so adapted would be natural instead of supernatural. Which truly is the case respecting all our sensations, reflections and understandings.
We will premise that at a future time God should superadd a sixth sense to our sensorium, and that inconceivably diverse from our present five senses, and as mysterious to us at present, as the idea of colors are to persons born blind, by which, when superadded to the other senses, we might perceive and understand such things, as at present are mysterious or supernatural to us, and which without the before mentioned sixth sense would have eternal remained so, but that sense being once added to the sensorium, would become as natural as the other senses, and the premises additional knowledge acquired by it, would be as natural as that which is produced by the instrumentality of the other five senses.
So that superaddition to nature, was it possible, and a fact, would not at all contribute to evince the possibility of a supernatural revelation; so likewise admitting that God should superadd mental ability to the principle of the human soul, by which, with the five senses only, it could form simple ideas, and extend its reasonings to a far greater progression than previous to or without such additional mental ability it could have done; still the extensiveness of such supposed reasonings would be as natural, as that which may be supposed to be acquired by the previous mental powers, or that which was supposed to be acquired by the instrumentality of the sixth sense before mentioned.
For if it be supposed, that either sensation or reason, or both, be ever so much enlarged by a superaddition, or the mind ever so much improved and enlarged by any and all possible methods, still progression in knowledge would not be supernatural, whether in consequence of a supposed super addition to nature, or by the improvement of our present compounded natural powers, of sensation or reason or both.
Should the perception or knowledge of colors or of sound be communicated to those who are born blind or deaf, or both, and who ever after continue to be so, such discoveries would be supernatural; as on this position, there could have been no pre-requisite sensitive power or aptitude, which the minds of those who were supposed to be born blind or deaf, could have made use of, in acquiring the premised knowledge of colors or of sound.
Therefore, when such discoveries as these are made, we must admit them to be "beyond or above the powers of nature," which is the same as supernatural; so likewise should we extend our knowledge beyond the limits of our mental capacity, or, which is the same, to understand more than we do or can understand, it would be supernatural; and when such facts as these take place in the world, it will be time enough to credit supernatural revelation.
The infinitude of the wisdom of God's creation, providence and moral government will eternally remain supernatural to all finite capacities, and for that very reason we can never arrive to the comprehension of it, in any state of being and improvement whatever; inasmuch as progression can never attain to that which is infinite, so that an eternal proficiency in knowledge could not be supernatural, but on the other hand would come within the limits and powers of our nature, for otherwise such proficiency would be impossible to us; nor is the infinite knowledge of God supernatural to him, for that his perfection is also infinite.
But if we could break over the limits of our capacity, so as to understand any one supernatural thing, which is above or beyond the power of our natures, we might by that rule as well understand all things, and thus by breaking over the confines of finite nature and the rank of being which we hold in the universe, comprehend the knowledge of infinity. From hence we infer, that every kind and degree of apprehension, reflection and understanding, which we can attain to in any state of improvement whatever, is no more supernatural than the nature of man, from whence perception and understanding is produced, may be supposed to be so; nor has or could God Almighty ever have revealed himself to mankind in any other way or manner, but what is truly natural.
All manner of inspiration, revelation, instruction or understanding must unavoidably be denominated to be natural or supernatural, as there is no third way or medium between these two; so that if instead of the word supernatural, we adopt the words immediate, special, instantaneous, or any other phrases, yet we must be careful to affix the same definition or ideas to those several words or phraseology, as we do to the word supernatural, when applied to revelation, viz. "that which is beyond or above the powers of nature."
So that when we make use of any terms whatever to define revelation, we must be sure to mean supernatural, for otherwise we should define revelation to be no more than natural, which in the opinion of some people would spoil it, and divest it of all its charms; as most believers are fond of a revelation, which they unintelligibly imagine to be supernatural, though neither they nor any body else knows anything about what it is. The word mystery, as applied to revelation, has the same impropriety as the word supernatural.
To reveal, is to make known, but for a mystery to compose any part of a revelation is absurd; for it is the same as to reveal and not reveal at the same time; for was it revealed, it would cease to be mysterious or supernatural, but together with other parts of our knowledge would become natural. Was a revelation, like other writings, adapted to our capacity, it might like them be instructive to us; but a mysterious or supernatural one would not.
For such doctrine, precept or injunction, which is unintelligible to us, the terms, positions and inferences whereof exceed our comprehension, or "concerning which our ideas are inadequate," (which is the very definition of a mystery) cannot be so much as examined into, or contemplated upon by us, nor could a state of improvement unfold those mysterious things, for which our ideas are altogether inadequate. Such knowledge as we acquire by improvement, is that to which our capacity is adequate, or we could not attain it.
But admitting that the knowledge of a mysterious revelation may be arrived at merely by improvement, still such a revelation, (though it is improper to call it so) could not be instructive, which must be the end and design of a supposed revelation, for such a premised improvement would have comprehended it as well without it as with it.
For if reason has to advance its progression of knowledge, independent of any assistance from the supposed mysterious revelation, until it is supposed to comprehend it, it would render it altogether uninstructive and useless; inasmuch as the comprehension or understanding of it is supposed to be obtained by the exercise and improvement of reason, without any assistance from the hidden mystery itself, which could not be revealed until reason, by natural improvement, came upsides with it, and by thus exploring the knowledge of a mysterious revelation, would at the same time nullify the unfulness of it.
And as reason is naturally progressive in its operations, having once rivaled such revelation, would still advance its improvement beyond it, which, when reason had once surpassed, could gain no instruction therefrom, any more than it did in its previous progression in rivaling it.
S E C T I O N IIContaining Observations on the Providence and Agency of GOD, as it respects the Natural and Moral World, with Strictures on Revelation in general.
Although the apprehensions, cogitations, reasonings and agency of mankind are perfectly comprehended in the divine Omniscience, nevertheless our nature is not susceptible of immediate revelation from God, or mere spirits or mental beings, on which our senses cannot operate, on account of the dissimilarity of their natures to ours, they are incapable of making any impression on our organs of sense, or so much as to represent one simple idea to the mind, much less to correspond with us on the sublime topics of religion, philosophy or science, inasmuch as in this life we are absolutely indebted to our external senses for our first apprehensions of the objects of sense, which we denominate to be pure simple ideas without which we cannot exert our minds in any manner at all, as argued in the first and second Sections of the fourth Chapter, to which I refer.
Sensation in the order of nature is the predicate of simple ideas, and simple ideas the predicate of reflection, and reflection continued is a succession of thinking, and by comparing two or more ideas (whether they are mere simple ones, or such as are derived therefrom) together, we perceive their agreement, or disagreement which adds still to the train of a complex reflection, that under the guidance of reason is formed into premises and argumentative deductions, and so on to the extent of the mind's capacity, so that the whole superstructure of our reasoning is demonstratively predicated on simple ideas, which result mediately from the instrumentality of the senses, through the medium whereof the mind is enabled to display its rational nature.
This then is the established order of the compound nature of man, wherein the perceptions of sense are pre-requisitely essential to the exertions and discoveries of the mind, by which only we are capable of receiving intelligence or revelation from God or man, or from any other intelligencies. God is invisible to us, and does not come within the notice of our gross sensations.
The idea of a God we infer from our experimental dependence on something superior to ourselves in wisdom, power and goodness, which we call God; our senses discover to us the works of God which we call nature, and which is a manifest demonstration of his invisible essence.
Thus it is from the works of nature that we deduce the knowledge of a God, and not because we have, or can have any immediate knowledge of, or revelation from him. But on the other hand, all our understanding of, or intelligence from God, is communicated to us by the intervention of natural causes, (which is not of the divine essence) this we denominate to be natural revelation, for that it is mediately made known to us by our senses, and from our sensations of external objects in general, so that all and every part of the universe, of which we have an conception, is exterior from the nature or essence of God; nor is it in the nature of things possible for us to receive, or for God to communicate any inspiration or revelation to us, but by the instrumentality of intermediate causes, as has been before observed.
Therefore, all our notions of the immediate interposition of divine illuminations, inspiration or infusion of ideas or revelations, into our minds, is mere enthusiasm and deception; for that neither the divine mind, nor those of any finite intelligences can make any representation to, or impression on our external senses without the assistance of some adequate intermediate cause.
The same is the case between man and man, or with mankind in general, we can no otherwise hold a correspondence but by the aptitude, and through the medium of our senses. Since this is the only possible way in nature by which we can receive any notices, perceptions, or intelligence from God or man, or from those light beings called ministering spirits, angels or any imperceptible intelligences whatever; therefore provided they hold any intercourse with or communicate any intelligence concerning religion, science or politics to us, they must do it by making use of proper intermediate causes, the same as we do in our mutual correspondence, or by some similar, or at least natural method of communicating their minds to us.
For our nature cannot ascend to the superior manner of existence and interchangeable correspondence with those superior beings, but they must descend to the inferior capacity of mankind, or keep their distance in the scale of being, and let us clod-hopers alone to our manner of existence, communication of ideas and reasoning, that we may enjoy our book of nature, which undoubtedly is adapted to our various capacities and to our several relations, stations and circumstances in life.
Nothing can be more unreasonable than to suppose, because God is infinitely powerful, that he can therefore inspire or infuse perception, reflection or revelation into the mind of man in such a way or manner as is incompatible with the aptitudes and powers of their nature; such a revelation would be as impossible to be revealed by God, as by a mere creature. For though it is a maxim of truth, "That with God all things are possible," yet it should be considered, that contradictions and consequently impossibilities are not comprehended in the definition of things, but are diametrically the reverse of them, as may be seen in the definition of the word Things, to wit: "Whatever is."
There is no contradiction in nature or truth, which comprehends or contains all things, therefore the maxim in just, "That with God all things are possible," viz; all things in nature are possible with God; but contradictions are falsehoods which have no positive existence, but are the negatives to Things, or to nature, which comprehends, "Whatever is"; so that contradictions are opposed to nature and truth, and are no Things, but the chimeras of weak, unintelligent minds who make false application of things to persons, or ascribe such powers, qualities, dispositions and aptitudes to things, as nature never invested them with; such are our deluded notions of the immediate operations of the holy spirit, or of any mere spirit, on our minds independent of the intervention of some adequate, natural or intermediate cause.
To make a triangle four square, or to make a variety of mountains contiguously situated, without vallies, or to give existence to it at the same time, or to reveal anything to us incompatible with our capacity of receiving the perception of it, pertains to those negatives to nature and truth, and are not things revealed, nor have they any positive existence as has been before argued; for they are inconsistent with themselves and the relations and effects which they are supposed to have upon and with each other.
It derogates nothing from the power and absolute perfection of God that he cannot make both parts of a contradiction to be true. The figure of a triangle and that of a square is diverse the one from the other in the essentials of their formation, so that the one is not and cannot be of the same shape as the other; for the same figure, which gives the existence of the truth of the triangle, negatives the possibility of its being a square, and the same truth which is predicated on the form and figure of the mountains, necessarily gives being to the figure of the valleys at the same time.
The figure of the latter results from, and is necessarily produced by the figure of the former, nor is it possible for Omnipotence itself to give the mountains and the vallies an independent and separate existence from each other; likewise the same truth, which is predicated on the fact of the existence of any thing, denies the possibility of its not existing at the same time.
So also that God should make a revelation to men, or make any discoveries to their minds in a supernatural manner, or incompatible with the aptitudes of their sensitive or mental powers, is as contradictory as either of the before mentioned natural impossibilities; for the same truth which is predicated on the fact of the inability of mankind to receive such revelation, inspiration or illumination, as is incompatible with their nature, absolutely forbids the possibility of their perception of it, and consequently of their understanding anything less or more about it, it being unnatural and altogether preposterous.
But let us reverse the position concerning revelation, and premise that it is accommodated to our capacity of receiving and understanding it, and in this case it would be natural, and therefore possible for us to receive and understand it; for the same truth which is predicated on the sufficiency of our capacity to receive and understand a revelation, affirms at the same time the possibility of our receiving and understanding it.
But to suppose that God can make both parts of a contradiction to be true, to reveal and not reveal would be the same as ascribing a falsehood to him and to call it by the name of power (though it ought to be called by its deformed name of falsehood) is by no means good logic and only serves to delude weak minds, by dignifying an inconsiderate application of falsehood to God, with the ideas, with which, in our language we define the word power.
Had the just definition of making both parts of a contradiction, to be true, been always called by its right name, viz; falsehood, and the natural or moral impossibility of it, been rightly understood by mankind (and that instead of honoring and magnifying God, it is nothing less or more than ascribing falsehood, contradiction and inconsistency unto him, which is unworthy of God and incompatible with truth), they had never ascribed it to God, or yielded their reason captive to have believed such absurdities.
That God can do anything and everything, that is consonant to his moral perfections, and which does not imply a contradiction to the nature of the things themselves, and the essential relation which they bear to each other, none will dispute.
But to suppose, that inasmuch as God is all powerful, he can therefore do everything, which we in our ignorance of nature or moral fitness may ascribe to him, without understanding, whether it is either consonant to moral rectitude, or to the nature of the things themselves, and the immutable relations and connections which they bear to each other, or not, is great weakness and folly.
That God cannot in the exercise of his providence or moral government, counteract the perfections of his nature, or do any manner of injustice, is manifestly certain nor is it possible for God to effect a contradiction in the natural world, anymore than in the moral.
The impossibility of the one results from the moral perfections of God, and the impossibility of the other from the immortal properties, qualities, relations and nature of the things themselves, as in the instances of the mountains, valleys etc. before alluded to, and in numberless other such like cases.
Some may query in behalf of the doctrine of supernatural or immediate revelations, that though the far greater part of our ideas and succession of thought is natural, and is the result of simple ideas and reflections, naturally flowing from our sensitive and cogitative nature, and that in so obvious a manner that we are not at a loss as to the real cause of their excitement, yet we are often nonplused and surprised with thought and reflection of which we know not the cause of their excitement, or why such ideas should be produced in our minds, rather than others.
But such an inspiration as this would not serve to constitute a revelation sufficient to authorize us to publish it to the world as God's truth, and dictated by his inspiration, when at the same time it constituted (as before observed) of sudden and surprising reflections, and why they were excited rather than others we knew not, or from whence they came. As to such strange and frightful ideas, which appear to us to be instantaneous, why should they be supposed to be supernatural? For there is not anything which we can conceive of quicker than thought.
It is our superlative comparison to anything surprisingly sudden to us, that we say, "as quick as thought." But the reason why we are transported with hope or fear, joy or grief, pleasure or pain, is not because those passions, or the ideas that move them, are less natural, but because they are really so, and particularly respect our interest and happiness, either real or imaginary; this is it which surprises us; but the cause of the excitement of our perceptions, and consequently of our reflections, is in part owing to the multiplicity of the diverse objects of sense, which at different times disclose themselves to the mind and partly to the subject matter of reflection, which the mind alternately pursues in all possible varieties of thinking, contriving and argumentation.
So that the chain of reflection more naturally inclines the mind to form such ideas as it does, than others. Besides, there is a great similarity in the objects of sense themselves, and also in the method of reasoning from them, and from the reflections that are produced by simple ideas, which are surprisingly more numerous than those corporeal images are.
So that in the course of our perceptions, reflections, speculations and argumentations, our ideas in many instances run one into another; as in the instance of the almost imperceptibleness of the gradations of colors, or the gradual transition from night to day, or from truth to falsehood, in remote, perplexed and intricate cases. This great similarity that there is in things, naturally excites similar ideas, or those of a near or more remote resemblance, and those again excite others of a corresponding sort, and so on throughout the course of human perceptions and reflections.
These are the great outlines of the natural causes of the excitement, diversity and similarity of our ideas, which to point out with any considerable degree of particularity and accuracy would swell to a volume; which is foreign to my design in this concise system, that treats of a great variety of subjects and therefore demands brevet.
Admitting a revelation to be from God, it must be allowed to be infallible, therefore those to whom it may be supposed to have been first revealed from God, must have had an infallible certainly of their inspiration; so likewise the rest of mankind, to whom it is proposed as a Divine Law, or rule of duty, should have an infallible certainty, that its first promulgators were thus truly inspired by the immediate interposition of the spirit of God, and that the revelation has been preserved through all the changes and revolutions of the world to their time, and that the copies extant present them with its original inspiration and unerring composure, or are perfectly agreeable to it.
All this we must have an infallible certainty of, or we fail of an infallible certainty of revelation, and are liable to be imposed upon by impostors, or by ignorant or insidious teachers, whose interest it may be to obtrude their own systems on the world for infallible truth, as in the instance of Mahomet.
But let us consult our own constitutions and the world in which we live, and we shall find, that inspiration is, in the very nature of things, impossible to be understood by us; and of consequence not in fact true. What certainty can we have of the agency of the divine mind on ours? Or how can we distinguish the supposed divine illuminations or ideas from those of our own which are natural to us?
In order for us to be certain of the interposition of immediate divine inspiration in our minds, we must be able to analyze, distinguish, and distinctly separate the premised divine reflections, illuminations, or inspirations, from our own natural cogitations, for otherwise we should be liable to mistake our reflections and reasonings for God's inspiration, as is the cause with enthusiasts or fanatics, and thus impose on ourselves and obtrude our romantic notions on mankind, as God's revelation.
None will (it is presumed) pretend, that the natural reflections of our minds are dictated by the immediate agency of the divine spirit; for if they were thus dictated, they would be of equal authority with any supposed inspired revelation. How then shall we be able to distinguish or understand our natural perceptions, reflections or reasonings, from any premised immediately inspired ones?
Should God make known to us, or to any of us, a revelation by a voice, and that in a language which we understand, and admitting that the propositions, doctrines, or subject matter of it, should not exceed our capacity, we could understand it the same as we do in conversation with one another, but this would be an external and natural revelation, in which God is supposed to make use of language, grammar, logic and found, alias, of intermediate causes, in order to communicate or reveal it, which would differ as much from an immediately inspired revelation, as this book may be supposed to do; for the very definition of immediate inspiration precludes all natural or intermediate causes.
That God is eternally perfect in knowledge, and therefore knows all things, not by succession or by parts, as we understand things by degrees, has been already evinced; nevertheless all truth, which we arrive at the understanding of, accords with the divine omniscience, but we do not come at the comprehension of things by immediate infusion, or inspiration, but from reasoning; for we cannot see or hear God think or reason any more than man, nor are our senses susceptible of a mere mental communion with him.
Nor is it in nature possible for the human mind to receive any instantaneous or immediate illuminations or ideas from the divine spirit (as before argued) but we must illuminate and improve our minds by a close application to the study of nature, through the series whereof God has been pleased to reveal himself to man, so that we may truly say, that the knowledge of nature is the revelation of God. In this there can be no delusion, it is natural, and could come from none other but God.
But should we admit that the divine mind thinks and reflects in our minds, in this case it would not be our mind which thinks and reflects, but the divine mind only, of which we could have no manner of perception of consciousness; for the divine consciousness thereof would not be communicable to us.
But if it be our mind only which thinks and reflects, then it excludes the agency of the divine mind, for the divine and human minds are not of the same essence, and consequently the consciousness of the divine mind cannot be the consciousness of ours; though the divine omniscience extends to our consciousness, as such; for God cannot be conscious that our consciousness is his, for it is not true, as we are not of the divine essence.
Should we conjecture that the divine mind communes with ours, so as to think or reflect in or with our minds, but in part, and that we also think and reflect in a cooperation with the divinity within us. We argue that such conjectures are inadmissible, for that it confounds the divine and human essence, so neither can they be conscious of the same consciousness in part, any more than in the whole, as before argued.
For we could have no manner or perception, of the conjecture, divine agency, or cooperation of the divine mind, as it could not come within the limits of our own consciousness; and though the divine mind knows all things, and among others the individual consciousness of mankind, yet the divine mind cannot be conscious that our consciousness is his, in part, any more than in the whole, or that there ever was any cooperation or immediate infusion or communication of ideas or illuminations from the divine to the human mind, inasmuch as it cannot be true.
But should we admit of a mere mental correspondence between the divine and human minds, yet, how could we analyze or distinguish the interchangeable reflections, which may be supposed to pass between the divine mind and ours, so as to understand which were divine and which were human. Unless we could do this, we should compound them together at a venture, and form a revelation like Nebuchadnezar's idol, "partly iron and partly clay," alias, partly divine and partly human.
The apostle Paul informs us, that sometimes he "spoke, and not the Lord," and at other times speaks doubtfully about the matter, saying, "and I think also that I have the spirit of God," and if he was at a loss about his inspiration, well may we be distrustful of it. From the foregoing speculations on the subject of supernatural inspiration, it appears, that there are insuperable difficulties in a mere mental discourse with the divine spirit, it is what we are unacquainted with, and the law of our nature forbids it.
Our method of conversation is vocal, or by writing, or by some sort of external symbols which are the mediate ground of it, and we are liable to errors and mistakes in this natural and external way of correspondence; but when we have the vanity to rely on dreams and visions to inform ourselves of things, or attempt to commune with invisible finite beings, or with the holy spirit, our deceptions, blunders and confusions are increased to fanaticism itself; as the diverse supposed influence of the spirit, on the respective sectaries, even among Christians, may witness, as it manifestly, in their empty conceit of it, conforms to every of their traditions.
Which evinces, that the whole bustle of it is mere enthusiasm, for was it dictated by the spirit of truth and uniformity itself, it would influence all alike, however zealots persuade themselves and one another, that they have supernatural communion with the Holy Ghost, from whence they tell us they derive their notions of religion, and in their frenzy are proof against reason and argument, which if we tender them, they tell us, that it is carnal and depraved reasoning, but that their teachings are immediately from God; and then proceed to vent upon us all the curses and punishments, which are written in the book of the law.
There has in the different parts and ages of the world, been a multiplicity of immediate and wonderful discoveries, said to have been made to godly men of old by the special illumination or supernatural inspiration of God, every of which have, in doctrine, precept and instruction, been essentially different from each other, which are consequently as repugnant to truth, as the diversity of the influence of the spirit on the multiplicity of sectaries has been represented to be.
These facts, together with the premises and inferences as already deduced, are too evident to be denied, and operate conclusively against immediate or supernatural revelation in general; nor will such revelation hold good in theory any more than in practice.
Was a revelation to be made known to us, it must be accommodated to our external senses, and also to our reason, so that we could come at the perception and understanding of it, the same as we do to that of things in general. We must perceive by our senses, before we can reflect with the mind. Our sensorium is that essential medium between the divine and human mind, through which God reveals to man the knowledge of nature, and is our only door of correspondence with God or with man.
A premised revelation, adapted to our external senses, would enable our mental powers to reflect upon, examine into, and understand it. Always provided nevertheless, that the subject matter of such revelation, or that of the doctrines, precepts or injunctions therein contained, do not exceed our reason, but are adapted to it as well as to our external senses.
For if a revelation be supposed to surpass our reason, or power of understanding, though the external method of communication of it be ever so familiar and natural, yet it would be as supernatural, as though no words or signs, which are the explanations of our ideas, had been made use of in the matter; inasmuch as the ideas themselves are supposed to be above the power of reason, and consequently could not be formed into positions and argumentative deductions or conclusions by it, and after all would remain unintelligible, and therefore not revealed; for that which is beyond the power of reason to understand, is as supernatural to it, as it is to our external senses to correspond with, or form perceptions of imperceptible beings, or of mere spirits.
In the one case it would be supernatural to reason, and in the other to sensation; the one may be denominated a mental inability, and the other a bodily inability; the one proceeds from the mind, and the other from the body; but in both these cases the impossibility is equal, and in either case precludes the reception of revelation. But admitting that a revelation was adapted to our senses, language and reason, still a substantial difficulty would arise, viz; to know whether it came with special commission from God or not.
For a voice suited to our language and method of speech, or in a grammatical and logical way of speaking, which we could understand, could have no existence, except we admit of intermediate causes between the divine and human minds, viz. something fitly organized or rightly constructed and made use of by God to convey to our minds, by the use of speech, the perception, and consequently the knowledge of his revelation; for otherwise, such a grammatical and logical way of speaking would be unnatural, or impossible which would be the same as supernatural; which has been sufficiently confuted, inasmuch as a proper instrument, rightly fitted to divulge the perception and consequently the understanding of a supposed revelation, would be an essential pre-requisite in order to communicate it to us.
To suppose that God, merely from his omnipotence, without the intervention of some adequate intermediate cause, could make use of sound, or grammatical and logical language, or of writing, so as to correspond with us, or to reveal anything to us, would run into the same sort of absurdity, which we have already confuted; for it is the same as to suppose an effect without a suitable or proportionable cause, or an effect without a cause; whereas effects must have adequate causes or they could not be produced.
God is the self-existent and eternal cause of all things, but the eternal cause can no otherwise operate on the eternal succession of causes and effects, but by the mutual operation of those causes on each other, according to the fixed laws of nature. For as we have frequently observed before that of all possible systems, infinite wisdom comprehended the best; and infinite goodness and power must have adopted and perfected it; and being once established into an ordinance of nature, it could not be deviated from by God; for that it would necessarily imply a manifest imperfection in God, either in its eternal establishment, or in its premised subsequent alteration; which will be more particularly considered in the next Chapter.
To suppose that almighty power could produce a voice, language, grammar, or logic, so as to communicate a revelation to us, without some sort of organic or instrumentated machine or intermediate vehicle, or adequate constituted external cause, would imply a contradiction to the order of nature, and consequently to the perfection of God, who established it; therefore, provided God has ever given us any particular revelation, we must suppose, that he has made use of regular and natural constituted and mediate cause, comprehended in the eternal order of nature, rightly fitted and abilitated to make use of the vocal power of language, which comprises that of characters, orthography, grammar and logic, all which must have been made use of, in communicating a supposed revelation to mankind; which foreclose inspiration.
We will however premise that the Christian revelation was of divine authority originally, and communicated or revealed to its first promulgators in an intelligible method of speech, and that the subject matter thereof was wisely adapted to their capacity of sense and reason; in this case there would have been the same liability of misunderstanding it, as of person's misunderstanding another.
When we hear any public discourse, but few of us have a memory to repeat or write it so perfectly that any considerable part would agree with the original. I conclude that I could not understand a revelation thus dictated to me in a vocal manner, so as to communicate it to others with any tolerable exactness, except it were spoken to me in distinct sentences, and I had, as I now have, my pen in hand, and so wrote one sentence first, and then have another spoken to me, and write that down, and so on until I had written the whole; and furthermore, provided I should make any mistake in writing the several parts of it, that the dictating voice should notify me of it, and how to rectify it, and so on throughout the volume; and provided.
I should act the impostor in writing any part of it agreeable to my own notions and designs, that the heavenly dictating intelligencer, by a voice and proper language, should apprise those of it, upon whom I might otherwise impose, and whom I might delude with my own inventions, instead of God's revelation.
Furthermore, this heavenly dictating voice should have been accommodated to all languages, grammars and logical ways of speaking, in which a revelation may have been divulged, as it would be needful to have been continued from the beginning to every receiver, compiler, translator, printer, commentator on, and teacher of such a revelation, in order to have informed mankind in every instance, wherein at any time they may have been imposed upon by any spurious adulterations or interpolations, and how it was in the original.
These, with the refinements of languages and translations, are a summary of the many ways, wherein we may have been deceived, by giving credit to antiquated written revelation, which would need a series of miracles to promulgate and perpetuate it in the world free from mistakes and frauds of one kind or other, which leads me to the consideration of the doctrine of miracles.
Religion and History
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