HOLINESS OF CHRISTIANS IN THE PRESENT LIFE–NO. 1
PROVE ALL THINGS
Lecture by Professor Finney.
Preached in the City of New York, and reported for the Evangelist
by Rev. S.D. Cochran
TEXT.–Prove all things: hold fast that which is good.– 1 Thess. 5:21.
In speaking from this text, I remark,
1. That it enjoins the duty of fundamental and thorough inquiry on religious subjects. It requires us to know the reason of our faith and practice, that our piety may not be superstition, but the result of intelligent conviction, arising from thorough investigation.
2. In order to fulfill this requirement, the mind must be free from prejudices on religious subjects. So long as prejudices exist in any mind, it is impossible that it should examine religious opinions with any such spirit as will admit of obedience to this precept. All its views will be perverted just in proportion as it is uncandid and prejudiced.
3. This precept assumes the fact of our ability to ‘prove all things.’ The ability to comply with any requirement is always implied in the requirement. Otherwise the command is unjust.
4. This precept implies the necessity of correct information on religious subjects. The sentiment that it is immaterial what our opinions are, seems to prevail extensively among men, but it is plainly a mistake. Men can never be expected to remain rooted and grounded in the truth any farther than their opinions are true. All observation and experience prove this, and such is the concurrent representation of the Bible.
5. This command is given to all; not merely to ministers, but to laymen and women. Each is required to examine for himself, and to call no man master, so as to receive his “ipse dixit” as authoritative. It requires each one to know for himself the reasons of his faith.
6. The great mass of mankind don’t love to think closely. They would prefer to do almost any thing else. They are like school-boys who shun the labor of study, and go to be taught without having studied their lesson. What they are told they forget before the next recitation.
7. I shall address myself, in this lecture, to those, and those only, who will be at the trouble to think. To address others would but be a waste of time and strength. Those who will not think cannot be saved.
8. I will neither spend my time, nor endanger your souls, by random exhortation and appeal, but strive to follow the spirit of the text.
9. My object is not controversy; I hope wholly to avoid its spirit, and, as far as possible, even its form. On the contrary, it will be my object as far as possible, to present what I honestly believe to be the truth to the consideration of the honest and truth-loving.
10. There is but little obedience to the requirement in the text, and as a consequence great ignorance and error prevail on many questions of fundamental importance. There are very few who can give any rational account of what constitutes sin and holiness, moral obligation, or human responsibility.
11. The terms which represent the attributes of Christian character, or what are commonly called the Christian graces, are almost never rightly defined. The definitions which are given scarcely ever represent the right idea, for example, of love, faith, repentance, self-denial, and humility. It is manifest that but few know how to define them.
Because they have not complied with the requirement of the text. And because these attributes of holiness are not rightly defined, they are misunderstood, and the result is that they are not exhibited in the lives of Christians. We see one picture drawn in the Bible, and quite another in real life. The former is beautiful and glorious, the latter–how sadly deformed. Why? Because the mass are mistaken, and mistaken as the result of incorrect views respecting the nature of true piety.
12. The distinction between natural and revealed theology should be understood and appreciated. Indeed, it is fundamental to an understanding of the Bible, for the Bible both assumes the truths of natural theology, and that we understand them; for example, that we exist, the existence of God, our moral agency, natural ability, the distinction between right and wrong, &c. We do not, therefore, and can not rightly understand the Bible, unless we understand the fundamental truths of natural theology, which are taken for granted in the Bible.
13. Natural theology consists in those truths that we may learn from the book of nature. God has presented us with two books–that of nature, and that of revelation, and they are equally authentic, and mutually confirmatory of each other.
14. The Bible not only assumes, and in various ways confirms the truths of natural theology, but adds many truths not discoverable by unaided reason, but which are recognized as truths as soon as suggested.
15. Many err in supposing that because a truth is seen to be such in the light of its own evidence, when suggested, therefore it might have been discovered without inspiration. There are plainly multitudes of truths revealed in the Bible, which men could never otherwise have discovered, but which, now that they are discovered, are seen to be perfectly reasonable. It is one thing to apprehend and recognize truth, when made known, but quite another thing to discover it.
I bespeak your prayers and attention, while I proceed to show,
I. HOW WE KNOW ANY THING.
II. HOW WE KNOW EVERY THING WHICH WE DO KNOW.
III. SOME THINGS WHICH WE KNOW ABOUT OURSELVES, THE TRUTH, AND OUR KNOWLEDGE OF WHICH, ARE TAKEN FOR GRANTED BY INSPIRATION.
I. How we know any thing.
1. Consciousness is a condition of all knowledge. It is the mind’s recognition of its own existence, choice, thoughts and feelings. It is a knowledge of ourselves in the phenomena of our minds. The mind does not first observe its phenomena, and thence infer its own existence, for to attempt to prove this would be to assume as doubtful that which is absolute certainty and which must be so regarded in order to attempt proof or inferences, but it absolutely affirms its own existence, and consciousness testifies to this affirmation, saying, “I exist, I think, I feel, I will.” Consciousness give both the I and its phenomena, that is its choices, thoughts and feelings, together with their freedom or necessity. Without consciousness knowledge would be to us impossible, for there is no other way of obtaining knowledge. How and what could one know, without knowing that he knows? and what knowledge would that be, of which you have no knowledge?
II. How we know every thing which we do know.
1. As our existence, and all our mental acts and states are given us by consciousness, it is plain that we know by consciousness every thing which we do know. For example. Suppose I have a sensation: How do I know that I have it? By consciousness. So it is with all our emotions, desires, choices, judgments, affirmations, denials, hopes, fears, doubts, joys, and sorrows. They are all given us by consciousness. I am now speaking what every man knows to be true.
2. Nothing without us is known to us only as it makes an impression upon our minds which impression is revealed to us by consciousness.
3. What we know by consciousness we know with certainty, that is, we know that our existence, acts, thoughts, and feelings are realities.
4. Consciousness is therefore the highest possible evidence. We do, and cannot but rely upon it as conclusive. If I think, feel, or act, I know that I think, feel, or act, and know it absolutely. It is impossible from our very constitution to doubt its testimony.
5. But we should carefully distinguish between what is really revealed to us by our consciousness, and inferences drawn from such revelations. We may mistake the cause of a sensation, but not the sensation. When God spoke to Christ from Heaven, the people who heard were conscious of the sensation upon the auditory nerve. Here was no mistake. But they mistook its cause. They said, it thundered. So, in forming our various judgments and opinions we may mistake, but when consciousness testifies that we do judge or form an opinion, in this we cannot be mistaken.
III. Some things that we know about ourselves, the truth of which, and our knowledge of which are taken for granted by inspiration.
1. We know that we exist, and we know it so certainly that to ask for evidence is absurd. It is to assume that as doubtful which must be assumed as absolutely true in order to prove any thing true.
2. We know that we perform certain mental acts, and are the subjects of certain mental states. For example: we know that we originate choices and volitions, and are the subjects of thought and feeling.
3. Hence we know that we possess certain faculties and capacities, that is, we are capable of acts, thoughts, and feelings.
4. We know that these faculties, as also their products, are capable of being classified. All men naturally classify them. They never confound thinking with feeling, feeling with willing, nor willing with either of them. No child does this. Nor do they confound the power of thinking, or of feeling with that of willing, or with one another.
5. Hence all men, although they may not understand the terms employed by philosophers to represent the natural faculties, notwithstanding, fully understand the thing intended by these terms. They know themselves to possess those faculties which we call intelligence, sensibility, and free will. We think, feel, and will, and therefore we know that we have the faculties of thinking, feeling, and willing, and mental philosophy is nothing else than an analysis of what all men are conscious of. Under the general term intelligence we include consciousness, reason, and understanding. All thoughts, affirmations, intuitions[,] judgments, and inferences, are the product of the intelligence.
6. We are conscious of our own liberty in the sense of having ability to choose in any direction in view of motives–to choose or refuse any object of choice. We know this with absolute certainty. This is an intuition of reason revealed by consciousness, and however men may deny their own freedom, in theory, yet they always act upon the assumption that mankind are free.
7. We are conscious that we can voluntarily control some of our capabilities, and some we cannot; for example; the voluntary, and involuntary muscles. If I will to move my arm, it moves in obedience to my will, but if I will that my heart shall cease to beat it still continues to beat wholly regardless of my will. In like manner we know that some of our capabilities are directly under the control of the will, and some indirectly.
8. We know by consciousness that muscular action is directly necessitated by our will–that there is a necessary connection between volitions and outward action. Some have made freedom to consist in doing as we please, or as we will; but that there is no freedom in this, every one knows, for when I will to move my arm, or to perform any other outward action, the action takes place by a natural necessity. While the volition exists, the outward action must be.
9. We also know by consciousness that thought and feeling are only indirectly subject to the will. Suppose, for instance, you wish to transfer your thoughts from one object to another. You cannot do this directly, and yet you are conscious that you can indirectly through the attention. Hence by directing the attention to any given subject upon which you wish to think, thought is the necessary result. So if you abstract the attention from an object upon which you do not wish to think you thus indirectly abstract the thoughts from it. Even children know this with absolute certainty. So with feeling of every kind.
We are conscious that we cannot directly feel by willing to feel. Suppose, for example, we wish to call into being the feelings of love, hope, fear, joy, or sorrow. We are conscious that we cannot, by direct willing, create these feelings, or even modify them. But, nevertheless, we are conscious that we can indirectly regulate the feelings to a great degree. For example: If we wish to experience the emotions produced by the beautiful, we turn our attention to a beautiful object, and the emotions arise of course.
On the contrary, by turning our attention to an offensive object, we can indirectly produce disagreeable emotions in our own minds. The same law operates respecting all religious feelings. They can to a very great degree be regulated indirectly by the will through the attention, but never directly.
10. We know by consciousness that whatever we can do at all, we can do by willing and that whatever act or state is not connected with the action of our will is impossible to us by a natural necessity. Suppose, for example, I will to move, but suddenly the nerves of voluntary motion are paralyzed, so that they will not obey my will.
Then to move is impossible for me. The same is true of thoughts and feelings. If I will to expel certain thoughts and feelings from my mind, and to produce others, I abstract my attention from those objects on which it rests and direct it to other objects. This course will universally change the existing thoughts and feelings, but if it should not, then to change them is impossible for me. So of every thing else. Whatever we cannot accomplish by willing, we cannot accomplish at all. This is universal experience.
11. We are conscious of possessing in our intelligence a faculty, called reason, or the intuitive faculty, by which we perceive and affirm absolutely certain truths which carry with them their own evidence. This faculty gives us, when certain conditions are fulfilled, all necessary, absolute and universal truths. It is so infallible, and uniform in its affirmations, that whenever the terms of a proposition are understood, every reason in the world will affirm the same things. For example, mathematical truths, as that two and two equal four, or things which are equal to the same thing are equal to one another. These affirmations are so absolute that the mind cannot doubt them.
12. Among these self-evident truths are all the first principles of morals such as–
That there is such a thing as right and wrong, and that the difference between them is fundamental.
That the existence of these implies moral law.
That men have moral character.
That moral character implies moral obligation.
That moral obligation implies moral law and moral agency.
That moral agency implies natural ability.
That natural ability implies the existence of intelligence, sensibility and freewill, that is, that moral agents actually know, feel, and will. The mind does not call for proof of these things, but affirms them as absolute verities, and the Bible therefore assumes them as true. It assumes that moral agents do actually know, feel and will.
That moral character does not and cannot belong to the constitution of either body or mind, since it is impossible that a moral being should be either praise or blameworthy for his constitution. But moral character is necessarily either praise or blameworthy. It cannot thus belong to the constitution.
That the constitutional appetites, desires and passions can have no moral character in themselves, since they are in themselves involuntary. For example, the appetite for food. Suppose yourself hungry, and in the presence of food. The appetite will naturally demand it from the very constitution, and can therefore in itself have no moral character. The same is true of desires and passions whenever you are in the presence of objects adapted to awaken them.
This intuitive faculty affirms, that on the will’s consenting to gratify any of these appetites, desires or passions under forbidden circumstances, there is sin. For example, when Eve saw the fruit, her appetite naturally craved it. In this there was nothing wrong, but when she consented to gratify her appetite, not withstanding it was prohibited, this was supreme selfishness. Had it not been prohibited the gratification would have been proper, but being prohibited, it was sin. It is the same respecting the gratifying of any desire or passion whatever.
This intuitive faculty asserts that moral character cannot belong to any involuntary act or state of mind whatever, nor to any outward actions. If I stab a man, the moral character of the act does not belong to the dagger, nor to the hand which held it, nor to the muscles of the arm, nor to the volition which impelled the arm, but to the intention.
It also asserts that moral character cannot belong to the states of the sensibility, that is, to the various emotions or feelings, for these are necessary; nor to the states of the intelligence. There is no virtue in the perception of truth. Devils, and wicked, as well as good men, perceive truth, and doubtless think correctly on many subjects, and their reason affirms moral truths, but there is no virtue in this.
It also asserts that moral character cannot belong to volitions as distinguished from choices, for choice or intuition necessitates volition for the time being.
But it does assert that moral character belongs to the ultimate intention of the mind. Intention is the choice of an end. The ultimate intention is the last end chosen–that for which every thing else is chosen or done. I will illustrate the difference between ultimate and proximate intention. Suppose a young man laboring, and you inquire what he is laboring for. He says, to get money. This is one end. But ask again, what do you want of money?
He says, to buy books. This is another end. Ask again, what do you want of books? He says, to get knowledge. This is another end. But continue the inquiry, what do you want of knowledge? He says, to preach the gospel. This is still another end. But you may ask farther, what do you want to preach the gospel for?
He replies, to do good–because the good of the universe is valuable in itself. This is the last end–the ultimate intention, and all the previous ends are only means to this or what are called proximate ends. But in this case the whole moral character of all the process belongs plainly to the ultimate intention. In this all ethical philosophers, worthy of note at the present day, agree.
It is plainly the doctrine of the Bible, and thus the Bible and natural theology are at one precisely. The truth is even children understand that character consists in ultimate intention. Pa, says the child in self justification, I didn’t mean to do it. And the question between the child and his parent is about the intention. So it is in courts of justice.
They always inquire for the “quo animo” or intention. In short, all men, whatever may be their theory, understand and act upon the truth of this doctrine. If a physician give medicine with a design to cure, he would be universally acquitted of blame, even though instead of curing the disease, it should take the life of a patient. In fact, this doctrine is so certain that the Bible could not be believed if it disagreed with it. HOW WE ATTAIN TO THE KNOWLEDGE OF CERTAIN TRUTHS.
ALL teaching and reasoning take certain truths as granted. That the unequivocal, à priori affirmations of the reason are valid, for all the truths and principles thus affirmed, must be assumed and admitted, or every attempt to construct a science, of any kind, or to attain to certain knowledge upon any subject, is vain and even preposterous. As I must commence my lectures on moral government by laying down certain moral postulates, or axioms, which are, à priori, affirmed by the reason, and therefore self-evident to all men, when so stated as to be understood, I will spend a few moments in stating certain facts belonging more appropriately to the department of psychology.
Theology is so related to psychology, that the successful study of the former without a knowledge of the latter, is impossible. Every theological system, and every theological opinion, assumes something as true in psychology. Theology is, to a great extent, the science of mind in its relations to moral law. God is a mind or spirit: all moral agents are in his image. Theology is the doctrine of God, comprehending his existence, attributes, relations, character, works, word, government providential and moral, and, of course, it must embrace the facts of human nature, and the science of moral agency. All theologians do and must assume the truth of some system of psychology and mental philosophy, and those who exclaim most loudly against metaphysics, no less than others.
There is a distinction between the mind’s knowing a truth, and knowing that it knows it. Hence I begin by defining self-consciousness.
Self-consciousness is the mind’s recognition of itself. It is the noticing of, or act of knowing itself. Its existence, attributes, acts, and states, with the attributes of liberty or necessity which characterize those acts and states. Of th
is, I shall frequently speak hereafter.
THE REVELATIONS OF SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS.
Self-consciousness reveals to us three primary faculties of mind, which we call intellect, sensibility, and will. The intellect is the faculty of knowledge; the sensibility is the faculty or susceptibility of feeling; the will is the executive faculty, or the faculty of doing or acting. All thinking, perceiving, intuiting, reasoning, opining, forming notions or ideas, belong to the intellect.
Consciousness reveals the various functions of the intellect, and also of the sensibility and will. In this place, we shall attend only to the functions of the intellect, as our present business is to ascertain the methods by which the intellect arrives at its knowledges, which are given to us in self-consciousness.
Self-consciousness is, itself, of course, one of the functions of the intellect; and here it is in place to say, that a revelation in consciousness is science, or knowledge. What consciousness gives us we know. Its testimony is infallible and conclusive, upon all subjects upon which it testifies.
Among other functions of the intellect, which I need not name, self-consciousness reveals the three-fold, fundamental distinction of the sense, the reason, and the understanding.
OF THE SENSE.
The sense is the power that perceives sensation and brings it within the field of consciousness. Sensation is an impression made upon the sensibility by some object without or some thought within the mind. The sense takes up, or perceives the sensation, and this perceived sensation is revealed in consciousness.
If the sensation is from some object without the mind, as sound or colour, the perception of it belongs to the outer sense. If from some thought, or mental exercise, the perception is of the inner sense. I have said that the testimony of consciousness is conclusive, for all the facts given by its unequivocal testimony. We neither need, nor can we have, any higher evidence of the existence of a sensation, than is given by consciousness.
Our first impressions, thoughts, and knowledge's, are derived from sense. But knowledge derived purely from this source would, of necessity, be very limited.
OF THE REASON.
Self-consciousness also reveals to us the reason or the à priori function of the intellect. The reason is that function of the intellect which immediately beholds or intuits a class of truths which, from their nature, are not cognizable either by the understanding or the sense. Such, for example, as the mathematical, philosophical, and moral axioms, and postulates. The reason gives laws and first principles.
It gives the abstract, the necessary, the absolute, the infinite. It gives all its affirmations by a direct beholding or intuition, and not by induction or reasoning. The classes of truths given by this function of the intellect are self-evident. That is, the reason intuits, or directly beholds them, as the faculty of sense intuits, or directly beholds, a sensation. Sense gives to consciousness the direct vision of sensation, and therefore the existence of the sensation is certainly known to us. The reason gives to consciousness the direct vision of the class of truths of which it takes cognizance; and of the existence and validity of these truths we can no more doubt, than of the existence of our sensations.
Between knowledge derived from sense and from reason there is a difference: in one case, consciousness gives us the sensation: it may be questioned whether the perceptions of the sense are a direct beholding of the object of the sensation, and consequently whether the object really exists, and is the real archetype of the sensation. That the sensation exists we are certain, but whether that exists which we suppose to be the object and the cause of the sensation, admits of doubt. The question is, does the sense immediately intuit or behold the object of the sensation. The fact that the report of sense cannot always be relied upon, seems to show that the perception of sense is not an immediate beholding of the object of the sensation; sensation exists, this we know, that it has a cause we know; but that we rightly know the cause or object of the sensation, we may not know.
But in regard to the intuitions of the reason, this faculty directly beholds the truths which it affirms. These truths are the objects of its intuitions. They are not received at second hand. They are not inferences nor inductions, they are not opinions, nor conjectures, nor beliefs, but they are direct knowings. The truths given by this faculty are so directly seen and known, that to doubt them is impossible. The reason, by virtue of its own laws, beholds them with open face, in the light of their own evidence.
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 à priori intuitions of the reason. The knowledges 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 knowledges only in a modified and restricted sense.
Of the imagination, and the memory, &c., I need not speak in this place.
What has been said has, I trust, prepared the way for saying that the truths of theology arrange themselves under two heads.
I. Truths which need proof.
II. Truths which need no proof.
I. Truths which need proof.
First. Of this class it may be said, in general, that to it belong all truths which are not directly intuited by some function of the intellect in the light of their own evidence.
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 developement 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, and 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 to 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 no 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, à 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, à priori, can neither affirm, or deny it, yet when asserted by God, the reason irresistibly affirms that God’s testimony ought 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.
Under this head I might notice the probable or possible truths; that is, those that are supported by such evidence as only shows them to be probable or possible, but I forbear.
My present object more particularly is to notice–
II. Truths which need no proof.
These are à 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 à 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.
1. 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.
(2.) Universality is an attribute of a first truth. That is, to truths of this class there can be no exception. Every event must have a cause, there can be no event without a cause.
(3.) First truths are truths of necessary and universal knowledge. That is, they are not merely knowable, but they are known to all moral agents, by a necessary law of their intellect.
That space and time are, and must be, that every event has and must have a cause, and such like truths, are universally known and assumed by every moral agent, whether the terms in which they are stated have ever been so much as heard by him, or not. This last is the characteristic that distinguishes first truths from others merely self-evident, of which we shall soon speak.
(4.) First truths are, of course, self-evident. That is, they are universally directly beheld, in the light of their own evidence.
(5.) First truths are truths of the pure reason, and of course truths of certain knowledge. They are universally known with such certainty as to render it impossible for any moral agent to deny, forget, or practically overlook them. Although they may be denied in theory, they are always, and necessarily, recognized in practice. No moral agent, for example, can, by any possibility, practically deny, or forget, or overlook the first truths that time and space exist and must exist, that every event has and must have a cause.
It is, therefore, always to be remembered that first truths are universally assumed and known, and in all our teachings, and in all our inquiries we are to take the first truths of reason for granted. It is preposterous to attempt to prove them, for the reason that we necessarily assume them as the basis and condition of all reasoning.
The mind arrives at a knowledge of these truths by directly and necessarily beholding them, upon condition of its first perceiving their logical condition. The mind beholds, or attains to the conception of, an event. Upon this conception it instantly assumes, whether it thinks of the assumption or not, that this event had, and that every event must have, a cause.
The mind perceives, or has the notion of body. This conception necessarily developes the first truth, space is and must be.
The mind beholds or conceives of succession; and this beholding, or conception, necessarily developes the first truth, time is, and must be.
As we proceed we shall notice divers truths which belong to this class, some of which, in theory, have been denied. Nevertheless, in their practical judgments, all men have admitted them and given as high evidence of their knowing them, as they do of knowing their own existence.
Suppose, for example, that the law of causality should not be, at all times or at any time, a subject of distinct thought and attention. Suppose that the proposition in words, should never be in the mind, that “every event must have a cause,” or that this proposition should be denied. Still the truth is there, in the form of absolute knowledge, a necessary assumption, an à priori affirmation, and the mind has so firm a hold of it, as to be utterly unable to overlook, or forget, or practically deny it. Every mind has it as a certain knowledge, long before it can understand the language in which it is expressed, and no statement or evidence whatever can give the mind any firmer conviction of its truth, than it had from necessity at first. This is true of all the truths of this class. They are always, and necessarily, assumed by all moral agents, whether distinctly thought of or not. And for the most part this class of truths are assumed, without being frequently, or at least without being generally, the object of thought or direct attention. The mind assumes them, without a distinct consciousness of the assumption. For example, we act every moment, and judge, and reason, and believe, upon the assumption that every event must have a cause, and yet we are not conscious of thinking of this truth, nor that we assume it, until something calls the attention to it.
First truths of reason, then, let it be distinctly remembered, are always and necessarily assumed, though they may be seldom thought of. They are universally known, before the words are understood, by which they may be expressed; and although they may never be expressed in a formal proposition, yet the mind has as certain a knowledge of them as it has of its own existence.
All reasoning proceeds upon the assumption of these truths. It must do so, of necessity. It is preposterous to attempt to prove first truths to a moral agent; for, being a moral agent, he must absolutely know them already, and if he did not, in no possible way could he be put in possession of them, except by presenting to his perception the chronological condition of their developement, and in no case could any thing else be needed, for upon the occurrence of this perception, the assumption, or developement, follows by a law of absolute and universal necessity. And until these truths are actually developed, no being can be a moral agent.
There is no reasoning with one who calls in question the first truths of reason, and demands proof of them. All reasoning must, from the nature of mind and the laws of reasoning, assume the first-truths of reason as certain, and admitted, and as the à priori condition of all logical deduction and demonstration. Some one of these must be assumed as true, directly or indirectly, in every syllogism and in every demonstration.
In all our future investigations we shall have abundant occasion for the application and illustration of what has now been said of first truths of reason. If, at any stage of our progress, we light upon a truth of this class, let it be borne in mind that the nature of the truth is the preclusion, or, as lawyers would express it, the estopple of all controversy.
To deny the reality of this class of truths, is to deny the validity of our most perfect knowledge. The only question to be settled is, does the truth in question belong to this class? There are many truths which men, all sane men, certainly know, of which they not only seldom think, but which, in theory, they strenuously deny.
2. The second class of truths that need no proof are self-evident truths, possessing the attributes of necessity and universality.
Of these truths, I remark–
(1.) That they, like first truths, are affirmed by the pure reason, and not by the understanding, nor the sense.
(2.) They are affirmed, like first truths, à priori; that is, they are directly beheld or intuited, and not attained to by evidence or induction.
(3.) They are truths of universal and necessary affirmation, when so stated as to be understood. By a law of the reason, all sane men must admit and affirm them, in the light of their own evidence, whenever they are understood.
This class, although self-evident, when presented to the mind, are not, like first truths, universally and necessarily known to all moral agents.
The mathematical axioms, and first principles, the à priori grounds and principles of all science, belong to this class.
(4.) They are, like first truths, universal in the sense that there is no exception to them.
(5.) They are necessary truths. That is, the reason affirms, not merely that they are, but that they must be, true; that these truths cannot but be. The abstract, the infinite, belong to this class.
To compel other minds to admit this class of truths, we need only to frame so perspicuous a statement of them as to cause them to be distinctly perceived or understood. This being done, all sound minds irresistibly affirm them, whether the heart is, or is not, honest enough to admit the conviction.
3. A third class of truths that need no proof, are truths of rational intuition, but possess not the attributes of universality and necessity.
Our own existence, personality, personal identity, &c., belong to this class. These truths are intuited by the reason, are self-evident, and given, as such, in consciousness; they are known to self, without proof, and cannot be doubted. They are at first developed by sensation, but not inferred from it. Suppose a sensation to be perceived by the sense, all that could be logically inferred from this is, that there is some subject of this sensation, but that I exist, and am the subject of this sensation, does not logically appear. Sensation first awakes the mind to self-consciousness; that is, a sensation of some kind first arouses the attention of mind to the facts of its own existence and personal identity. These truths are directly beheld and affirmed. The mind does not say, I feel, or I think, and therefore I am, for this is a mere sophism; it is to assume the existence of the I as the subject of feeling, and afterwards to infer the existence of the I from the feeling or sensation.
4. A fourth class of truths that need no proof are sensations. It has been already remarked, that all sensations given by consciousness, are self-evident to the subject of them. Whether I ascribe my sensations to their real cause may admit of doubt, but that the sensation is real there can be no doubt. The testimony of the sense is valid, for that which it immediately beholds or intuits, that is, for the reality of the sensation. The judgment may err by ascribing the sensation to the wrong cause.
But I must not proceed further with this statement; my design has been, not to enter too minutely into nice metaphysical distinctions, nor by any means to exhaust the subject of this lecture, but only to fix attention upon the distinctions upon which I have insisted, for the purpose of precluding all irrelevant and preposterous discussions about the validity of first and self-evident truths. I must assume that you possess some knowledge of psychology, and of mental philosophy, and leave to your convenience a more thorough and extended examination of the subject but hinted at in this lecture.
Enough, I trust, has been said to prepare your minds for the introduction of the great and fundamental axioms which lie at the foundation of all our ideas of morality and religion. Our next lecture will present the nature and attributes of moral law. We shall proceed in the light of the à priori affirmations of the reason, in postulating its nature and its attributes. Having attained to a firm footing upon these points, we shall be naturally conducted by reason and revelation to our ultimate conclusions.