SermonIndex Audio Sermons
Access over 100,000+ Sermons from Ancient to Modern : Christian Books : VII. Proposition VII. For these reasons there was plainly wanting a divine revelation,

A Discourse Concerning The Being And Attributes Of God by Samuel Clarke

VII. Proposition VII. For these reasons there was plainly wanting a divine revelation,

to recover mankind out of their universally
degenerate estate, into a state suitable to the original excellency of their nature: Which divine revelation both the necessities of men and their natural notions of God gave them reasonable ground to expect and hope for; as appears from the acknowledgments which the best and wisest of the heathen philosophers themselves have made of their sense of the necessity and want of such a revelation; and from their expressions of the hopes they had entertained that God would some time or other vouchsafe it unto them.

1. A divine revelation absolutely necessary for the recovery of mankind. There was plainly wanting a divine revelation, to recover mankind out of their universal corruption and degeneracy; and without such a revelation it was not possible that the world should ever be effectually reformed; for if (as has been before particularly shown) the gross and stupid ignorance, the innumerable prejudices and vain opinions, the strong passions and appetites of sense, and the many vicious customs and habits which the generality of mankind continually labour under, make it undeniably too difficult a work for men of all capacities to discover every one for himself, by the bare light of nature, all the particular branches of their duty; but most men, in the present state of things, have manifestly need of much teaching and particular instruction; if those who were best able to discover the truth, and instruct others therein, namely the wisest and best of the philosophers, were themselves unavoidably altogether ignorant of some doctrines, and very doubtful and uncertain of others, absolutely necessary to the bringing about that great end, the reformation of mankind; if those truths, which they were themselves very certain of, they were not yet able to prove and explain clearly enough to vulgar understandings; if even those things which they proved sufficiently, and explained with all clearness, they had not yet authority enough to enforce and inculcate upon men's minds with so strong an impression as to influence and govern the general practice of the world; nor pretended to afford men any supernatural assistance, which yet was very necessary to so great a work; And if, after all, in the discovery of such matters as are the great motives of religion, men are apt to be more easily worked upon, and more strongly affected, by good testimony, than by the strictest abstract arguments; so that, upon the whole, it is plain the philosophers were never by any means well qualified to reform mankind with any considerable success; then there was evidently wanting some particular revelation, which might supply all these defects. There was plainly a necessity of some particular revelation, to discover in what manner, and with what kind of external service, God might acceptably be worshipped. There was a necessity of some particular revelation, to discover what expiation God would accept for sin, by which the authority, honour, and dignity of his laws might be effectually vindicated. There was a necessity of some particular revelation, to give men full assurance of the truth of those great motives of religion, the rewards and punishments of a future state, which, not withstanding the strongest arguments of reason, men could not yet forbear doubting of. In fine, there was a necessity of some particular divine revelation, to make the whole doctrine of religion clear and obvious to all capacities, to add weight and authority to the plainest precepts, and to furnish men with extraordinary assistances, to enable them to overcome the corruptions of their nature: And, without the assistance of such a revelation, it is manifest it was not possible that the world could ever be effectually reformed. Ye may even give over, saith Socrates, all hopes of amending men's manners for the future, unless God be pleased to send you some other person to instruct you. And Plato: Whatever, saith he, is set right and as it should be, in the present evil state of the world, can be so only by the particular interposition of God.

2. That it was agreeable to the dictates of nature and right reason, to expect or hope for such a divine revelation. Since, therefore, there was plainly and confessedly wanting a divine revelation, to relieve the necessities of men in their natural state; and since no man can presume to say that it is inconsistent with any of the attributes of God, or unbecoming the wisdom of the Creator of all things, to supply that want; to reveal to his creatures more fully the way to happiness; to make more particular discoveries of his will to them; to set before them in a clearer light the rewards and punishments of a future state; to explain in what manner he will be pleased to be worshipped; and to declare what satisfaction he will accept for sin, and upon what conditions he will receive returning sinners: Nay, since, on the contrary, it seems more suitable to our natural notions of the goodness and mercy of God, to suppose that he should do all this than not; it follows undeniably, that it was most reasonable and agreeable to the dictates of nature to expect or hope for such a divine revelation. The generality of the heathen world, who were far more equal and less prejudiced judges in this matter than modern deists, were so fully persuaded that the great rules for the conduct of human life must receive their authority from heaven, that their chief lawgivers thought it not a sufficient recommendation of their laws that they were agreeable to the light of nature, unless they pretended also that they received them from God. But I have no need, in this argument, to make use of the examples of idolatrous lawgivers. The philosophers themselves, the best and wisest, and the least superstitious of them that ever lived, were not ashamed to confess openly their sense of the want of a divine revelation, and to declare their judgment that it was most natural and truly agreeable to right and sound reason to hope for something of that nature. There is, besides the several places before cited, a most excellent passage in Plato to this purpose; one of the most remarkable passages, indeed, in his whole works, though not quoted by any that I have met with, which therefore I think highly worthy to be transcribed at large, as a just and unanswerable reproach to all those who deny that there is any want or need of a revelation. It seems best to me, saith Socrates to one of his disciples, that we expect quietly; nay, it is absolutely necessary, that we wait with patience till such time as we can learn certainly how we ought to behave ourselves both towards God and towards men. When will that time come, replies the disciple, and who is it that will teach us this? For, methinks, I earnestly desire to see and know who the person is that will do it. It is one, answers Socrates, who has now a concern for you. But in like manner, as Homer relates, that Minerva took away the mist from before Diomede's eyes, that he might be able to distinguish one person from another, so it is necessary that the mist, which is now before your mind, be first taken away, that afterwards you may learn to distinguish rightly between good and evil; for, as yet, you are not able to do it. Let the person you mentioned, replies the disciple, take away this mist, or whatever else it be, as soon as he pleases; for I am willing to do any thing he shall direct, whosoever this person be, so that I may but become a good man. Nay, answers Socrates, that person has a wonderful readiness and willingness to do all this for you. It will be best, then, replies the disciple, to forbear offering any more sacrifices till the time that this person appears. You judge very well, answers Socrates; it will be much safer so to do, than to run so great a hazard of offering sacrifices, which you know not whether they are acceptable to God or no. Well then, replies the disciple, we will then make our offerings to the Gods, when that day comes; and I hope, God willing, it may not be far off. And, in another place, the same author having given a large account of that most excellent discourse, which Socrates made a little before his death, concerning the great doctrines of religion, the immortality of the soul, and the certainty of a life to come, he introduces one of his disciples replying in the following manner: I am, saith he, of the same opinion with you, O Socrates, concerning these things; that to discover the certain truth of them, in this present life, is either absolutely impossible for us, or at least exceeding difficult. Yet not to inquire, with our utmost diligence, into what can be said about them, or to give over our inquiry before we have carried our search as far as possible, is the sign of a mean and low spirit. On the contrary, we ought therefore by all means to do one of these two things, either, by hearkening to instruction, and by our own diligent study, to find out the truth, or, if that be absolutely impossible, then to fix our foot upon that which to human reason, after the utmost search, appears best and most probable; and, trusting to that, venture upon that bottom to direct the course of our lives accordingly; unless a man could have still some more sure and certain conduct to carry him through this life, such as a divine discovery of the truth would be. I shall mention but one instance more, and that is of Porphyry, who, though he lived after our Saviour's time, and had a most inveterate hatred to the Christian revelation in particular, yet confesses in general, that he was sensible there was wanting some universal method of delivering men's souls, which no sect of philosophy had yet found out.

3. The unreasonableness of modern deists, in denying the want and use of a revelation. This sense of the ancient and wisest philosophers is much departed from by modern deists, who contend that there was no want, no need of a revelation; that philosophy and right reason was of itself sufficiently able to instruct and preserve men in the practice of their duty; and that nothing was to be expected from revelation. But besides what has been already intimated concerning the extreme barbarity of the present heathen world, and what the philosophers, both Greeks and Latins, have confessed concerning the state of the more civilized nations wherein they lived; I think we may safely appeal even to our adversaries themselves, whether the testimony of Christ, (without considering at present what truth and evidence it has,) concerning the immortality of the soul, and the rewards and punishments of a future state, have not had (notwithstanding all the corruptions of Christians) visibly in experience and effect a greater and more powerful influence upon the lives and actions of men than the reasonings of all the philosophers that ever were in the world: Whether credible testimony, and the belief and authority of revelation, be not in itself as it were a light held to the consciences of stupid and careless men; and the most natural and proper means that can be imagined to awaken and rouse up many of those who would be little affected with all the strict arguments and abstract reasonings in the world. And, to bring this matter to a short issue; whether in Christian countries, (at least where Christianity is professed in any tolerable degree of purity,) the generality even of the meaner and most vulgar and ignorant people have not truer and worthier notions of God, more just and right apprehensions concerning his attributes and perfections, a deeper sense of the difference of good and evil, a greater regard to moral obligations and to the plain and most necessary duties of life, and a more firm and universal expectation of a future state of rewards and punishments; than in any heathen country any considerable number of men were ever found to have had.

It may The great necessity and use of divine revelation. here perhaps be pretended, by modern deists, that the great ignorance and undeniable corruptness of the whole heathen world has always been owing, not to any absolute insufficiency of the light of nature itself, but merely to the fault of the several particular persons, in not sufficiently improving that light; and that deists now, in places where learning and right reason are cultivated, are well able to discover and explain all the obligations and motives of morality, without believing any thing of revelation. But this, even though it were true, (as, in the sense they intend, it by no means is; because, as has been before shown, there are several very necessary truths not possible to be discovered with any certainty by the bare light of nature; but) supposing it, I say, to be true, that all the obligations and motives of morality could possibly be discovered and explained clearly, by the mere light of nature alone, yet even this would not at all prove that there is no need of revelation: For, whatever the bare natural possibility was, it is certain in fact the wisest philosophers of old never were able to do it to any effectual purpose, but always willingly acknowledged that they still wanted some higher assistance. And as to the great pretences of modern deists, it is to be observed, that the clearness of moral reasonings was much improved, and the regard to a future state very much increased, even in heathen writers, after the coming of Christ. And almost all the things that are said wisely and truly by modern deists, are plainly borrowed from that revelation which they refuse to embrace, and without which they could never have been able to have said the same things. Now, indeed, when our whole duty, with its true motives, is clearly revealed to us, its precepts appear plainly agreeable to reason; and conscience readily approves what is good, as it condemns what is evil: Nay, after our duty is thus made known to us, it is easy not only to see its agreement with reason, but also to begin and deduce its obligation from reason. But had we been utterly destitute of all revealed light, then, to have discovered our duty in all points, with the true motives of it, merely by the help of natural reason, would have been a work of nicety, pains and labour; like groping for an unknown way, in the obscure twilight. What ground have any modern deists to imagine, that if they themselves had lived without the light of the gospel, they should have been wiser than Socrates, and Plato, and Cicero? How are they certain they should have made such a right use of their reason as to have discovered the truth exactly, without being any way led aside by prejudice or neglect? If their lot had been among the vulgar, how are they sure they should have been so happy, or so considerate, as not to have been involved in that idolatry and superstition which overspread the whole world? If they had joined themselves to the philosophers, which sect would they have chosen to have followed? And what book would they have resolved upon to be the adequate rule of their lives and conversations? Or, if they should have set up for themselves, how are they certain they should have been skilful and unprejudiced enough to have deduced the several branches of their duty, and applied them to the several cases of life, by argumentation and dint of reason? It is one thing to see that those rules of life, which are beforehand plainly and particularly laid before us, are perfectly agreeable to reason; and another thing to find out those rules merely by the light of reason, without their having first been any otherwise made known. We see that even many of those, who profess to govern their lives by the plain written rule of an instituted and revealed religion, are yet most miserably ignorant of their duty; and how can any man be sure he should have made so good improvement of his reason, as to have understood it perfectly in all its parts, without any such help? We see that many of those who profess to believe firmly that great and everlasting happiness which Christ has promised to obedience, and that great and eternal misery which Christ has threatened to disobedience, are yet hurried away, by their lusts and passions, to transgress the conditions of that covenant to which these promises and these threatenings are annexed: And how can any man be sure he should be able to overcome those great temptations, if these mighty motives were less distinctly known, or less powerfully enforced? But suppose he could, and that by strength of reason he could demonstrate to himself these things with all clearness and distinctness, yet could all men do so? Assuredly all men are not equally capable of being philosophers, though all men are equally obliged to be religious. At least thus much is certain, that the rewards and punishments of another world, the great motives of religion, cannot be so powerfully enforced, to the influencing the lives and practice of all sorts of men, by one who shall undertake to demonstrate the reality of them by abstract reason and arguments, as by one who, showing sufficient credentials of his having been himself in that other state, shall assure them of the truth and certainty of these things. But, after all, the question does not really lie here. The truth, at the bottom, is plainly this: All the great things that modern deists affect to say of right reason, as to its sufficiency in discovering the obligations and motives of morality, is only a pretence to be made use of when they are opposing Christianity. At other times, and in reality, they have no hearty regard for morality, nor for the natural evidences of the certainty of a future state: They are willing enough to believe that men perish absolutely at death; and so they have no concern to support effectually the cause of virtue, nor care to make out any consistent scheme of things, but unavoidably recur, in truth, to downright atheism; at least, in the manners of most of them it is too plain and apparent that absolute libertinism is the thing they really aim at; and, however their creed may pretend to be the creed of deists, yet almost always their practice is the practice of very atheists.

4. Yet God was not absolutely obliged to afford men the help of such a revelation. To return therefore to the argument: From what has been said upon this head, it appears plainly that it is agreeable to the natural hopes and expectations of men, that is, of right reason duly improved, to suppose God making some particular revelation of his will to mankind, which may supply the undeniable defects of the light of nature: And, at the same time, it is evident that such a thing is by no means unworthy of the divine wisdom, or inconsistent with any of the attributes of God, but rather, on the contrary, most suitable to them. Consequently, considering the manifold wants and necessities of men, and the abundant goodness and mercy of God, there is great ground, from right reason and the light of nature, to believe that God would not always leave men wholly destitute of so needful an assistance, but would at some time or other actually afford it them: Yet it does not from hence at all follow, (as some have imagined,) that God is obliged to make such a revelation; for then it must needs have been given in all ages, and to all nations; and might have been claimed and demanded as of justice, rather than wished for and desired as of mercy and condescending goodness. But the fore-mentioned considerations are such as might afford men reasonable ground to hope for some favour of this kind, to be conferred at such time, and in such manner, and upon such persons, as should seem best to supreme infinite wisdom; at least they might well dispose and prepare men before-hand, whenever any doctrine should come accompanied with just and good evidence of its being such a revelation to believe and embrace it with all readiness.

Want of universality, no sufficient objection against the truth of a revelation. It has been made use of by a modern author, as his principal and strongest argument against the reasonableness of believing any revelation at all, that it is confessed there has been no revelation universally owned and embraced as such, either in all ages, or by all nations in any age. He pretends to acknowledge, that if the doctrine of Christianity was universally entertained, he would not doubt of its being truly a revelation of the will of God to mankind. But since, in fact, there is no instituted religion universally received as a divine revelation, and there are several nations to whom the Christian doctrine in particular was never so much as preached, nor ever came to their knowledge at all, he concludes, that what is not universal and equally made known to all men, cannot be needful for any; and consequently, that there never was any real want of a revelation at all, nor any ground to think any further assistance necessary to enable men to answer all the ends of their creation than the bare light of nature. This is the sum and strength of this author's reasoning; and herein all the deniers of revelation agree with him. Now, (not to take notice here that it is by no means impossible but all men may be capable of receiving some benefit from a revelation, which yet a great part of them may have never heard of,) if these men's reasoning was true, it would follow, by the same argument, that neither was natural religion necessary to enable men to answer the ends of their creation: For, though all the truths of natural religion are indeed certainly discoverable by the due use of right reason alone, yet it is evident all men are not indued with the same faculties and capacities, nor have they all equally afforded to them the same means of making that discovery; as these gentlemen themselves upon some occasions are willing enough to own, when they are describing the barbarous ignorance of some poor Indian nations. And, consequently, the knowledge of natural religion being, in fact, by no means universal, it will follow that there is no great necessity even of that, but that men may do very well without it, in performing the functions of the animal life, and directing themselves wholly by the inclinations of sense: And thus these gentlemen must at last be forced to let go all moral obligations, and so recur unavoidably to absolute atheism. The truth is: As God was not obliged to make all his creatures equal, to make men angels, or to indue all men with the same faculties and capacities as any, so neither is he bound to make all men capable of the same degree or the same kind of happiness, or to afford all men the very same means and opportunities of obtaining it. -- There is ground enough, from the consideration of the manifest corruption of human nature, to be so far sensible of the want of a divine revelation, as that right reason and the light of nature itself will lead a wise and considerate man to think it very probable that the infinitely merciful and good God may actually vouchsafe to afford men some such supernatural assistance; and consequently such a person will be very willing, ready, and prepared to entertain a doctrine which shall at any time come attended with just and good evidence of its being truly a revelation of the will of God. But it does not at all from hence follow, either that God is absolutely bound to make such a revelation, or that, if he makes it, it must equally be made to all men; or that, since in fact it is not made to all, therefore there is no reason to believe that there is any need or any probability of its being made to any.

<<  Contents  >>

Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Affiliate Disclosure | Privacy Policy