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HOW WE ATTAIN TO THE KNOWLEDGE OF CERTAIN TRUTHS - 2, PREVIOUS SECTION - NEXT SECTION - HELP - FACEBOOK
Of the understanding
The understanding is that function of the intellect that takes up, classifies and arranges the objects and truths of sensation under a law of classification and arrangement given by the reason, and thus forms notions and opinions and theories. The notions, opinions, and theories of the understanding may be erroneous, but there can be no error in the a priori intuitions of the reason. The knowledge of the understanding are so often the result of induction or reasoning, and fall so entirely short of a direct beholding, that they are often knowledge only in a modified and restricted sense.
What has been said has, I trust, prepared the way for saying that the truths of theology arrange themselves under two heads: Truths which need proof and Truths which need no proof.
Truths which need proof
Every truth that must be arrived at by reasoning or induction, every truth that is attained to by other testimony than that of direct beholding, perceiving, intuiting, or cognizing, is a truth belonging to the class that needs proof.
Second. Truths of demonstration belong to the class that needs proof. When truths of demonstration are truly demonstrated by any mind, it certainly knows them to be true, and affirms that the contrary cannot possibly be true. To possess the mind of others with those truths, we must lead them through the process of demonstration. When we have done so, they cannot but see the truth demonstrated. The human mind will not ordinarily receive and rest in a truth of demonstration until it has demonstrated it. This it often does without recognizing the process of demonstration. The laws of knowledge are physical. The laws of logic are inherent in every mind; but in various states of development in different minds. If a truth which needs demonstration, and which is capable of demonstration, is barely announced and not demonstrated, the mind feels a dissatisfaction and does not rest short of the demonstration of which it feels the necessity. It is therefore of little use to dogmatize, when we ought to reason, demonstrate, and explain. In all cases of truths not self-evident, or of truths needing proof, religious teachers should understand and comply with the logical conditions of knowledge and rational belief; they tempt God when they merely dogmatize where they ought to reason, explain, and prove, throwing the responsibility of producing conviction and faith upon the sovereignty of God. God convinces and produces faith, not by the overthrow of, but in accordance with, the fixed laws of mind. It is therefore absurd and ridiculous to dogmatize and assert, when explanation, illustration, and proof are possible and demanded by the laws of the intellect. To do this, and then leave it with God to make the people understand and believe, may be at present convenient for us, but if it be not death to our auditors, no thanks are due to us. We are bound to inquire into what class a truth belongs, whether it be a truth which, from its nature and the laws of mind, needs to be illustrated or proved. If it does, we have n right merely to assert it, when it has not been proved. Let us comply with the necessary conditions of a rational conviction and then leave the event with God.
To the class of truths that need proof belong those of divine revelation.
All truths known to man are divinely revealed to him in some sense, but I here speak of truths revealed to man by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Bible announces many self-evident truths and many truths of demonstration. These may or might be known, at least many of them, irrespective of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But the class of truths of which I here speak rest wholly upon the testimony of God and are truths of pure inspiration. Some of these truths are above reason in the sense that the reason can, a priori, neither affirm nor deny them.
When it is ascertained that God has asserted them, the mind needs no other evidence of their truth, because by a necessary law of the intellect all men affirm the veracity of God. But for this necessary law of the intellect, men could not rest upon the simple testimony of God, but would ask for evidence that God is to be believed. But such is the nature of mind, as constituted by the Creator, that no moral agent needs proof that God's testimony ought to be received. Let it be once settled that God has declared a fact or a truth, and this is, with every moral agent, all the evidence he needs.
The reason, from its own laws, affirms the perfect veracity of God, and although the truth announced may be such that the reason, a priori, can neither affirm or deny it, yet when asserted by God, the reason irresistibly affirms that God's testimony ought to be received.
These truths need proof in the sense that it needs to be shown that they were given by a divine inspiration. This fact demonstrated, the truths themselves need only to be understood, and the mind necessarily affirms its obligation to believe them.
My present object more particularly is to notice:
Truths which need no proof
These are a priori truths of reason and truths of sense; that is, they are truths that need no proof because they are directly intuited or beheld by one of these faculties.
The a priori truths of reason may be classed under the heads of first truths: self-evident truths which are necessary and universal: and self-evident truths not necessary and universal.
First truths have the following attributes.
(1) They are absolute or necessary truths in the sense that the reason affirms that they must be true. Every event must have an adequate cause. Space must be. It is impossible that it should not be, whether any thing else were or not. Time must be, whether there were any events to succeed each other in time or not. Thus necessity is an attribute of this class.