Front Page Titles (by Subject) Proposition I - The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy
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Proposition I - George Turnbull, The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy 
The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy, ed. and with an Introduction by Alexander Broadie (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005).
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Revelation supposes the existence of God, and his moral attributes, to be known and understood by those to whom it is addressed.
“For they who have not very clear and just ideas of the divine perfections, far from being able to judge whether a message can really come from him or not, cannot so much as comprehend the meaning of such a pretension.”
Insomuch, that if a divine messenger should come to instruct a people quite ignorant of the Deity, he must first open their reason, and lead them gradually, by rational instruction suited to their capacity, to the knowledge of God, before he can deliver his message to them, and reason with them about it. The arguments to prove that an embassy is from God, must run in this manner. “’Tis worthy of God: ’tis suitable to his moral perfections: nay, it hath all the proper evidences and credentials of a divine message.” But can such reasoning be understood by those who have no idea of God, and do not know what moral perfection, and a supreme creator and governor of the world, signify?<16> To suppose that, is the same thing in effect, as to speak of measuring without some known standard or rule. This is too evident to be longer insisted upon. It is indeed by no means inconsistent to suppose a divine messenger taking pains to instruct in just notions of God, and the divine excellencies, that these being well understood, the divine authority he pretends to may be the more evident to those whom he would inform and influence. Nay, it is by no means absurd to imagine a person may be sent by God, on purpose to instruct a people plunged in darkness, and ignorance or superstition, in the knowledge of the only true God, his moral perfection, and the duties naturally and necessarily resulting from our relation to him, as our maker and governor, and from our relation to one another, as fellow-creatures under the same laws and administration. And such a person being invested for so excellent a purpose with very great knowledge and power, may reason in this manner, “You see, by my works, what an extensive insight I have into the nature of things, or the government of the world: this my power sufficiently evidences: this the works I do fully prove; for they are natural, full and proper samples of such very large and comprehensive knowledge. I may therefore reasonably be judged to be able to give you a true account of the government of the world, since my doctrine, far from having any hurtful tendency, hath on the contrary a very comfortable and beneficial one with regard to every man in particular, and human society in general; and since you have not the least reason to doubt of my integrity and good intention toward you, nor of my knowledge. And I do assure you, that all is made and governed, with perfect wisdom and benevolence, by one all-perfect mind, whom it is your highest excellence and happiness to know, love and imitate.”
And indeed, such reasoning would be quite unexceptionable: it is strictly philosophical. For is it not<17> precisely parallel to several ways of arguing, which no man hath any scruple about? Such as this for instance: “Sir Isaac Newton gave full proofs of his profound skill in mathematical philosophy, and of his integrity; but he asserts, that he hath accounted for the motions of the celestial bodies by that same law of gravitation, which we know takes place in all the bodies subject to immediate experiment: and therefore we may rest assured that it is so; tho’ we be not able to go through all his investigations and reasonings to prove it.” Or, to give one other example, “Such a physician hath studied the medicinal art with great application; hath shewn himself to be a very humane, wise, good man; and hath given very great proofs of his skill in the science he professes: we may therefore safely rely upon him, tho’ we do not understand the principles upon which physicians reason and choose their methods of treating our diseases.” We reason, and must reason, in innumerable instances in this manner almost every day of our life. And indeed, such reasoning, as it cannot be admitted in one case, and rejected in another, without very unaccountable partiality; so it must be universally received, or we must absurdly say, that there can be no such thing as reasoning from samples, specimens or experiments; which philosophers, at least, must immediately see to be giving up with all real knowledge.
But tho’ a divine messenger may very justly reason with the people to whom he is sent in this manner: yet it is not to be imagined that he will stop there; and not go on to tell them, that if they will attend to him, he will quickly convince them, that there are many very evident and irrefragable arguments to prove his account of the government of the world (which they have no good reason to doubt of, even as coming from him) to be true. And therefore he would certainly proceed to open and clear up their understandings gradually; and to lead them by proper steps to a<18> full conviction of his doctrine concerning God, by rational arguments, or by reasonings which will be felt to conclude necessarily by all who are made capable of attending to them. And if he should have any other message to deliver, till he hath made this first step he cannot go further; because he could not possibly be understood. It would be talking in the dark, and absolutely to no purpose.
Now, agreeably to what hath been concluded must be the conduct of a divine instructor; we find our Saviour himself, and his Apostles, frequently reasoning from supposed previous knowledge of God. We have a remarkable instance of it in the gospel of St. Mark,a “Ye err, says he, because you not only do not understand the sacred writings you have so long enjoyed, but you do not so much as understand the first principles of natural religion: you have not just conceptions of God, and his divine power.” “Ye err not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.”
In like manner, St. Paul finding the Athenians very ignorant and superstitious, before he proceeds to deliver the christian doctrine to them, he argues with them from principles of natural religion. “Ye men of Athens, saith the apostle, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious: For as I passed by,a and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, To the unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God, that made the world, and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands: neither is he worshiped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things. And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the<19> times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation. That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us; for, in him we live, above, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said. For we are also his offspring. For as much then, as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the God-head is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.”
So the same apostle, in several other places, as, to name no more, in the epistle to the Galatians. “Howbeit then when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. But now after ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?b And, in the text, the apostle, when he speaks of mocking God, plainly supposes the nature of God to be so far known by those to whom he writes, that if they would but attend to what they understood of his moral perfections, they must perceive the truth he asserts concerning the divine moral government necessarily to result from it. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews, tells them, “That he who comes to God, must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”9
Our Saviour reasons to the same purpose, when he says, “No man can come unto me, unless the Father who sent me draw him.” And when he tells us, that those who having just notions of God, know his will, and set themselves in earnest to do it, they shall be able to discern the truth of his doctrine, its perfect agreeableness to just conceptions of God, and of the Divine will, with regard to our moral conduct; and the truth of his pretension to be sent of God to instruct us in our duty, and the way to eternal happiness.a <20> “No man can come to me, says Jesus Christ, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.—And again, Every man that hath learned of the Father cometh unto me.”10 The phrase, except the Father draw him, is, in our present manner of speaking, unusual, and therefore it appears uncouth. But it is explained by what follows, “He that hath learned of the Father.” The meaning is, no man can effectually believe in Christ, or become a good christian, except he first believes in God. Natural religion is a necessary preparative for the reception of the christian. In the scripture stile, The love of truth and virtue in general is the dispensation of the Father; and The doctrine of the gospel in particular is the dispensation of the Son. Now, as no man can be a good christian, who is not first resolved to be a good man; so no one can listen to, understand or judge of revelation, till he hath just apprehensions of the God from whom it pretends to come. That knowing the Father, in the stile of the Scriptures means, the knowledge of the principles of natural religion and morality, is plain from what our Lord says. “And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father nor me.”b That is, they have no true sense either of natural religion or revealed.
It is in this sense, that “wisdom is said to be justified of her children.”c That is, those who are wise, having just notions of virtue and God, or of the essential differences between good and evil, will easily discern a wise and good doctrine from a corrupt, foolish and vicious one, and will render justice to that which they know and understand to be true wisdom. But such alone are capable of distinguishing truth from falshood, or wisdom from folly; for such alone have in them the well improved judgment by which only the distinction can be apprehended. They alone have the rule by which the matter must be tried and measured.<21>
[a. ]Chap. xii. ver. 24, &c.
[a. ]Acts of the apostles, chap. xvii ver. 22, &c.
[b. ]Chap. iv. ver. 8, &c.
[9. ]Heb. 11.6.
[a. ]St. John vii. 17.
[10. ]John 6.44, 45.
[b. ]John xvi. 3.
[c. ]Luke vii. 35.