Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter XXIII: A Summary Answer to those who fly to Grace for a Solution of these Difficultys. - A Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14.23, 'Compel Them to Come In, That My House May Be Full'
Return to Title Page for A Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14.23, ‘Compel Them to Come In, That My House May Be Full’
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Chapter XXIII: A Summary Answer to those who fly to Grace for a Solution of these Difficultys. - Pierre Bayle, A Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14.23, ‘Compel Them to Come In, That My House May Be Full’ 
A Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14.23, ‘Compel Them to Come In, That My House May Be Full’, edited, with an Introduction by John Kilcullen and Chandran Kukathas (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
A Summary Answer to those who fly to Grace for a Solution of these Difficultys.
I had once resolv’d not to meddle with the Objection before us, till I shou’d come to sound this whole matter to the bottom; but I don’t see that I can well avoid saying a word or two upon it in this place. Most of my Readers wou’d think hardly of me, if they did not find something in this first Part concerning a Difficulty which they must o’ course make in their own minds. As thus:
They’l object that the Grace of the Holy Spirit, which interposes in our Conversion, gives us the Gift of discerning Truth from Falshood; and as this might become a Principle for directing the Orthodox Judges in Trials for Heresy, their Decrees wou’d be render’d by it as pleasing to God, as those of Heretical Judges wou’d be displeasing: they276 being neither mov’d nor led by his Grace, but remaining in the Darkness of their corrupt Nature.
I answer in the first place, That where the business is only to persuade Men that such and such Doctrines are true; those, for example, which are really contain’d in Divine Revelation; there’s no necessity of flying to a particular Assistance of the Spirit of God. Education alone is sufficient for this purpose, or the natural Qualitys of the Understanding, which are such, that<702> upon reading, examining, and comparing what can be said for and against two opposite Opinions, we see more reason of one side than the other; and even without weighing the Reasons of both sides, are sometimes by the first Impression of the Object determin’d to embrace it.
This Answer bears upon Pillars which can never be shaken, since the most Augustinian Christians are agreed, that the Devils under the greatest destitution possible of the Grace of God, are yet most firmly persuaded of the Truth of the Doctrines of Christianity; which therefore proceeds intirely from the natural Force of their Understandings, for the discerning in all Objects the sound Proofs from the false. Beside, that we all allow there’s such a thing as an historical Faith, by which we believe the Gospel in general to be true, and thus particular Mysterys reveal’d in it; which Faith is yet by no means suppos’d to be a Grace of the Holy Spirit: Consequently a Man can’t be deem’d converted, or endu’d with Grace, precisely on the score of his being persuaded of the Gospel Truths. This simple Persuasion is only the effect of Education or natural Sagacity. And how can any one pretend, that all who are persuaded of the Mysterys of the Christian Religion, are gifted for this purpose by a particular Favor of the Holy Spirit, when the greatest part of those who are so persuaded live most ungodly Lives, and are damn’d at last?
This Supposition wou’d utterly ruin the Thomistical Doctrine of efficacious Grace, and that of the Inamissibility of Grace according to the Calvinists; and reduce the Molinists277 to this grand Absurdity, That the most execrable Sects, and<703> the most infected with Heresy, have their share in the particular Influences of Grace, for the believing one part of the Mysterys, while they obstinately combat others, and lie bury’d in the most sensual Enormitys.
This Absurdity wou’d be likewise common to all those Sects which mutually damn each other. In fine, those who are bred up from their Infancy in the Belief of a certain Catechism, Jews, Pagans, Mahometans, Romans, Lutherans, Calvinists, Arminians, Socinians, being all firmly persuaded of the Truth of it at a certain Age, and almost all of ’em all their life long; recurring to a spiritual and supernatural Principle for the producing a bare Persuasion, be it of what Religion it will, is manifestly against good Sense.
In the second place I answer, That according to the most general Hypothesis of Protestants, that Faith which passes for one of the three Christian Vertues, and is praised under the Term justifying, is that which makes us love God, obey his Commandments, and cherish the Truths of which it begets in us a firm Persuasion; in a word, ’tis that Faith which works by Love. This is what they call Grace properly speaking; but the simple Persuasion of the Truths of Faith, which is to be met with in a world of sensual perverse Christians, and who die impenitent, is not the Grace of the Holy Spirit, according to this Hypothesis.
I say in the third place, That whether they’l have it that all Persuasion of Evangelick Truths is the effect of a supernatural Grace, or whether they restrain it to a Persuasion<704> attended with Charity, I don’t see how they can get clear of the Difficultys here propos’d. My reason is, that the business now is either to render the Conduct of those Judges just and blameless, who shou’d condemn such as were accus’d of Heresy at their Tribunals, or else to render it evil. To this end it is not sufficient that one sort declare those Hereticks who are really such, and the other declare those Hereticks who are really Orthodox: for if this were all, we ought to approve the Conduct of a Judg, who having nodded all the time of the Pleading, and starting out of his sleep the minute his Judgment was demanded, shou’d answer, Hang him by the Neck; but the Trial’s about a Meadow, my Lord, says the Court; Let it be mow’d then, says he: We must praise, I say, the Conduct of this Judg, shou’d it happen that the Trial was about a Murder which really deserv’d the Gallows, or a Meadow which the lawful Proprietor desir’d, with all the reason in the world, he might be suffer’d to mow. An accidental stumbling then upon the Truth not being sufficient to render the Conduct of a Judg just, let it be said, if you please, that certain Judges act prudently, and others imprudently; that those have gone by such Proofs, as upon a strict Examination appear’d to them best, and that these had no regard to the Quality of the Proofs alledg’d of one side or t’other: for if once it be suppos’d that the Judges of both sides have inquir’d into the Merits of the Cause with all possible Application and Sincerity, and govern’d themselves by the Proofs which appear’d to them most solid, they must be allow’d to have acted pru-<705>dently o’ both sides, tho their Judgments are contrary. There shall be no difference between ’em as to the moral part, tho there may be as to the natural Qualitys of the Understanding.
For the Confirmation of this, I cou’d wish the Reader wou’d only think of my preceding Remark;278 which is, That the Proofs of Heresy or Orthodoxy never amount to more than a strong Probability: so that the Judges can’t have recourse to that way for avoiding the Imputation of all Temerity which the new Philosophers prescribe,279 to wit, never affirming any thing but what we clearly and distinctly conceive cannot be false, after having maturely consider’d it over and over without prejudice. This Rule being impracticable in matters of Religion, it follows that a Judg may declare what is Orthodoxy and what Heresy, upon Reasons which are only probable, without incurring the Charge of Temerity. But if so, there will be no more Temerity in a Heretick Judg’s pronouncing Sentence against Orthodoxy, upon Proofs which appear to him the most probable upon mature and sincere Deliberation, than in an Orthodox Judg’s pronouncing with the same Conditions against Heresy.
The Result on the whole is, That Grace can be of no service towards removing the Difficulty; because he who shou’d be led by this Grace, wou’d not therefore perceive the Objects clearer, the Arguments, the Force of the Objections, and the Solutions.
Experience is incontestable in this Point. Assign Orthodoxy in its utmost Purity to what Communion you please, three parts in four of<706> the good Souls in it, Souls predestinated, and ready to suffer all rather than abjure, shall not be able to give a reason of their Belief to a subtle Controvertist, after a first or second Reply of his to their first Defences. All the World must own (and who can dispute it against daily Experience?) that the most efficacious Grace improves neither the Understanding, nor Memory, nor Imagination; teaches us neither Greek nor Hebrew, neither the Rules of Argumentation, nor the way of solving Sophisms, nor historical Facts: so as one may safely answer, that a Person void of all Grace and Vertue, but who at the same time has a world of good Sense and studys hard, shall in a year’s time be Master of more Argument, more Knowledg, and Skill for silencing one that’s an Adversary to his Religion, than the holiest Person in the same Communion, who neither reads nor studys, who has but a moderate Understanding, and a worse Memory. Consequently a Judg who were endu’d with Grace, and shou’d pronounce that such a Text of Scripture ought to be taken in the literal Sense, and a Judg void of Grace, who shou’d declare for the figurative Sense of the same Passage; wou’d be either equally guilty of Temerity, if they gave Judgment before they had faithfully consulted the Originals, and acquir’d all the Improvements of sound Learning; or equally exempt from Temerity, if each of ’em sincerely determin’d that to be the Sense which to the best of his Judgment seem’d most certain and reasonable: for as to that Cartesian Evidence, by means of which a Judg pronounces without a possibility of imagining that he can be mista-<707>ken, that an Order of Court issu’d within these four days contains a certain Thing (for example, that any new Convert who refuses the Sacrament at his death, shall have his dead Body drawn on a Sledg) and that neither the Words nor Expressions ought to be understood in any other Sense but this; it’s plain, that Grace bestows it not, with regard to several obscure Passages of Scripture, on a Man who knows neither A nor B,280 or even to a Lawyer, who’s a stranger to Hebrew, to Greek, to Divinity, to the Prophetick Stile, &c. They who are Masters of all these things, seldom arrive at such a certainty about obscure Points.
From hence it appears, that the Temerity of the Judges diminishes only in proportion to the Force which they perceive in the Arguments and Proofs which determine ’em. Now so it is, that Grace does not make ’em perceive a greater Evidence in the Proofs and Arguments than they might perceive in ’em without it: for a Peasant abounding with Grace, or an Advocate who understood neither Greek nor Hebrew, shall know no more whether the Version of Louvain or that of Geneva has translated such a Text truest, than if they were utterly void of Grace, other things being equal; or which is the justest Exposition of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, on which the Doctors make new Discoverys daily: an Argument that former Ages had not hit upon the true Key for explaining it, tho assisted by a saving Grace. ’Tis vain then going about to condemn or absolve the Judges, on pretence that a Principle unknown to themselves inclin’d ’em imperceptibly of one side rather than another; a Principle, I say, unknown, which on this very account is incapable<708> of affording a just and well-grounded Assurance, that what they pronounce to be Truth is more to be rely’d on, than that which others assert in opposition to ’em.
Did Grace operate now as heretofore in the miraculous Gift of Prophecy, the Objection I examine wou’d hold good; for when once a Prophet was fully assur’d by unequivocal Signs from God that he was a Prophet, he might reasonably securely rely on what he himself spoke as true, tho perhaps he might not be able to comprehend or understand all the reasons of it: but as the Case stands today, Christian Certainty with regard to our being in possession of the Truth, cannot be otherwise well grounded (for as to the Love of God, and a Sincerity of Intention, it’s quite another thing) than in proportion to our Knowledg of the respective Arguments, Proofs, Solutions, and Objections. And therefore unless we give a little, or rather very much, into Quakerism and Enthusiasm,281 there’s no getting off by the way which I examine; the exploding of which ruins the Pretensions of Councils, or Pope speaking ex Cathedra, by the very same Arms which Mr. Nicole makes use of, for shewing that the Assurance of private Persons, founded on their own proper Examination, is rash.282 For as the Debates and Examinations which precede the Decisions of Pope or Councils never carry matters to that degree of Evidence, in which it distinctly appears to ’em impossible they shou’d be otherwise than they conceive ’em; it follows, either that the Assurance they have of not being deceiv’d is rash, or that they found it on Enthusiasm, I mean on an immediate Direction of the Spirit of<709> God, which makes ’em utter the Truth by way of Mechanism, or at least without discovering to ’em the necessary Proofs of it.
I own, if we allow’d ’em their Hypothesis, to wit, that God never permits the Reasons which favor Error to appear to them as probable as those which favor the Truth, they might get over the Difficulty: for then this Consequence wou’d hold good; We have founded our Decisions on the Reasons which to us appear the most probable, after having maturely weigh’d what can be alledg’d o’ both sides; therefore we have lit upon the Truth. But it fares with this Hypothesis as with that of Epicurus: Grant him his Atoms and his Vacuum, and he shall account extremely well for abundance of Phenomena, and avoid a thousand Objections which lie against infinite Divisibility, Motion, Gravitation, Hardness of certain Bodys; but if you don’t allow his Hypothesis, if you make an immediate attack upon the very Foundation of his Doctrine, you sink him to rights under Mountains of unanswerable Objections. Just such is the Strength of the Roman Catholicks.
From what I have bin now saying one may easily collect, that a Judg who were assur’d of his being possess’d of the Grace of the Holy Spirit, in such a measure as might preserve him from Error, might condemn those accus’d before him of Heresy, altho he went upon Reasons which were only probable: but as he has no necessary Proof of his possessing this Grace, or, which is the same thing, no Proofs whose Force he perceives more clearly than another Heretical Judg perceives that of his own Proofs, by means of<710> which he believes himself assisted by the Holy Spirit in condemning those accus’d of Heresy; any Man may comprehend, if he thinks attentively on it, that the Charge or Exemption from Rashness equally fits both Orthodox and Heretical Judges, provided they condemn those accus’d of Heresy only on a fair Hearing, and upon Reasons which shall appear to them respectively the best.
And this brings me to my fourth and last Answer: That there’s no assigning any sure Mark and Character, a Character free from all Equivoke, of those Opinions into which God leads us by his special Grace. So that neither to ground a difference between Judges who shou’d condemn real Hereticks, and those who condemn only reputed Hereticks, nor to answer Mr. Nicole’s Objections concerning the Temerity with which he charges the Illiterate among us, who believe they hold the pure Truth of the Gospel; is it to any purpose to have recourse to the extraordinary Grace of the Holy Spirit. For how wou’d you have a Peasant rationally assur’d, that he believes his own Religion true from this Principle, when he sees other Peasants of the opposite Religion maintain in like manner, that they believe their own Religion thro the influence of the same Grace?
Does not a Lutheran pretend, that it’s owing to the Mercy and Favor of God that he believes several Doctrines which the Calvinists and Socinians reject as false; the latter that concerning three Divine Persons in the Godhead, the former those touching the Real Presence, Free-Will, the<711> Universality of Grace? A Calvinist shall allow, that the Lutheran is right in ascribing his Persuasion of a Trinity to Grace, but not that of the other Doctrines. Yet the Lutheran can neither outwardly express, nor does he inwardly feel any difference between the Motive which binds him to the Doctrine of the Trinity, and that which binds him to the others. Consequently the being persuaded that God reveals to us certain Doctrines, is no certain Proof of the Truth of ’em; and for this very reason the Objection which I confute is of no force: for if I have not a certain and necessary Proof, that I am directed by a special Grace towards the Truth, my fancying I am directed will be rash, and without any reasonable grounds, even tho it shou’d be true that I was actually directed by it.
Two Men, one of which shou’d say that the Parts of a cubick Inch of the Body of the Moon were even, and the other that they were odd; wou’d they not be equally rash whether they spoke at a venture, and as if they were at Cross and Pile, or whether they spoke upon some Geometrical Calculations absolutely false and erroneous: since no one can exactly tell what are the Inequalitys of the Surface of the Moon; and in a word, that it’s affirming what cannot be evidently known? Yet one of these Men must be right. Then a Man may affirm a Truth without being less rash than he who tells a Falsehood. Nor wou’d it signify any thing, that he who hit on the Truth was persuaded of what he said; his Temerity wou’d be never the less,<712> so long as the Reasons and Grounds of his Persuasion are neither* solid nor convincing.
Here’s what People don’t give heed to: They imagine, provided a body speaks the truth, that he’s very knowing and prudent, or at least is more so than he who does not speak it. To shew the Emptiness of this Conceit, we need only promise a Crown to any Peasant of a Village that shall find out the exact distance from hence to the Moon. Shou’d the first Peasant say fifty thousand Leagues, and the second raise it a thousand, and the third as many, and so on; one of ’em will o’ course hit on the Opinion of some famous Astronomer: and it might even happen, that by bidding whimsically upon each other so many or so many Leagues, one of ’em hits precisely on the true Distance, or on that at least which the best Astronomers are agreed in. Wou’d he for all this have any better grounds for what he said than his Neighbors? Yes undoubtedly, say you, since the Object is such as he affirms it, and not such as the rest say it is. But how poor an Answer is this? For was it the real Truth of the Object, known to this Peasant, which determin’d him to affirm it? Not at all: consequently it cou’d communicate no Vertue to his Act, which shou’d render it better than that of the other Peasants.
It’s manifest then that neither the real Truth of Objects, when we don’t perceive it by solid Proofs, nor an invisible Principle directing, yet without discovering to us these solid Proofs, or<713> making us feel its direction by any certain and necessary Signs; are capable of founding a difference between Orthodox and Heretical Judges, when suppos’d in other respects equal as to Sincerity, Application in examining the Cause, and a Purpose of following the Proofs which to them shall appear the strongest.
[276. ]The heretics.
[277. ]See Appendixes, “Grace, Original Sin, Predestination,” p. 587.
[278. ]See above, p. 519.
[279. ]See Appendixes, “Philosophical Controversies,” p. 595.
[280. ]I.e. the alphabet.
[281. ]“Enthusiasm” here means the belief that the divine Spirit directly forms thoughts in one’s mind, which one can recognize intuitively as being from God and therefore certainly true. The Quakers believed that every human being is immediately open to an inner light guiding them to truth. In their religious meetings Quakers sat in silence until the Holy Spirit gave one of them something to say.
[282. ]See Appendixes, “Philosophical Controversies,” p. 595.
[* ]The Reader will see in another place what use I make of this, in my System of Conscience. [See above, pp. 262ff.]