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Introduction - 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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Tho’ it be a plain and universally received rule in criticism, that the obscurer passages of an author are always to be interpreted by the plain ones, and not the plain ones made doubtful by those that are more obscure, not to extend which to the sacred writings, in common with all others, would be most unaccountable partiality, to say no worse of it: yet upon some obscure passages of scripture are certain doctrines founded which are inconsistent not only with reason, but with the whole tenor of the scripture in general, or numberless plain declarations therein, in order to banter revelation, and turn it into ridicule. But to all impartial men such railing must indeed appear not merely ridiculous, but highly unjust and abusive; if it be really unjust or ridiculous not to observe the same rules of criticism in interpreting all books: and I now choose rather to take notice of some very false and hurtful opinions about scripture doctrines, into which those who pay a serious regard to revelation are misled through wrong notions of natural religion, by some passages of scripture: opinions by which they are induced to think very meanly of the guide God hath given us, without which revelation could be of no use to even our reason, as if by it we could not attain to<123> any just ideas of the divine moral perfections; far less come at any knowledge of his works of creation and providence, or of the equity of his ways to man. The passages by which weak men (for however pious they may be, very weak and ignorant they certainly are) are misled into such injurious notions of reason, and of God the father of lights whose image and gift it is, are such as that in Isaiah,a who says, speaking of God, “there is no searching of his understanding.” But even in the same place doth not the prophet appeal thus both to reason and tradition or revelation: “Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard that the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth fainteth not, neither is weary?”—And doth he not in a following verse affirm, “that they that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength: they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint.” The plain meaning of which passage must be, That they who endeavour to know God, in order to conform themselves to his image and will (which necessarily implies a capacity of knowing God) shall feel their faculties enlarge, and they shall gradually ascend in knowledge and in holiness, so as to become at last able to make a very swift progress in both, without wearying or fainting.
Or that other passage of the same prophet,b “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts”—Whence some have inferred that we cannot have any clear apprehension of the divine perfections, so as to be able to affirm in any case, that any thing is unjust with respect to God; so totally different is justice in God from what we call such in men—Whereas the verse immediately preceeding plainly shews it can have<124> no such meaning—Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon—Where it is evidently supposed that we can distinguish between righteous and unrighteous ways, between mercy and its contrary; and thus understand what it is not to be like to wicked and unrighteous men, but to have justice, goodness, and righteousness higher than the most perfect men, as heavens are higher than earth.
Or that of the Psalmist,a Clouds and darkness are round about him— Though it is often repeated by the same Psalmist—That we have full evidence from his works, that judgment and righteousness are the habitation of his seat—And that the whole universe is full of the riches of his bounty and goodness.
Or that of Zophar in Job,b “Canst thou by searching find God? Canst thou find out the almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven, what canst thou do; it is deeper than hell, what canst thou know?”—Though there nothing evidently is said, but that finite minds cannot fully comprehend all the ways of infinite knowledge.
Or that of Solomon,c “As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit (of the wind it should be translated, according to that of our Saviour, ‘Thou hearest the sound thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth’). As thou knowest not what is the way of the wind, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child; even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all”—Which cannot be understood as if it were absolutely impossible for men to attain to any skill in the anatomy of the human body, or of the animal<125> oeconomy and growth in general; but in the same sense as the wise author of the Book of Ecclesiasticus, who having given a noble description of all the parts of the visible creation known in his time, sums up all at last with this judicious exclamation,d There are still hid greater things than these, and we have seen but a few of his works.
Or that of the Apostle St. Paul,e O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are the judgments of God, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord; or who hath been his counsellor? Where tho’ the full extent of the riches of God’s wisdom and mercy are said to be beyond human reach, and many of his ways to be past our finding out; yet we are plainly supposed to be able to know and understand not only what wisdom and mercy means; but that they may be in God in the most exalted degree of perfection, and therefore may produce many things perfectly consistent with them which we cannot comprehend.
Or, to name no more, that of the same apostle,a Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?—The plain meaning of which words and those which follow is, “Where is the philosopher skilled in the wisdom of the Greeks? Where is the scribe studied in the Jewish learning? Where the professor of human arts and sciences? Hath not God rendered all their learning and wisdom folly, plainly proved it to be so by the discovery of the truths of the Gospel? For since the world, by their natural parts and improvements in what with them passed for wisdom, acknowledged not the only true God, tho’ he had clearly manifested himself to them in the wise contrivance and admirable frame of the<126> world, it pleased God, by the plain (which seems foolishness to them) doctrine of the gospel, to bring to true and salutary knowledge, those who understanding it, believe, receive, and conform to it.”
As there is no foundation for the doctrines which have been mentioned in these or any other texts of scripture: so the frequent exhortations in scripture to search after the knowledge of God, to prove all things, and hold fast that which is good; to prove God’s ways, and carefully to prove and try all pretended revelations from him, and to be ready to give a reason of any faith or hope we entertain or profess: the frequent commendations of those who take pleasure in searching into God’s works, God’s revelations, laws and testimonies; the severe censures of the ignorant, deceived, blind, and rash; the severe corrections of superstition, idolatry, and of implicite blind faith, and of talking deceitfully even for God: all these together, with the direct assertions of his justice, truth, goodness, faithfulness, mercy, and all his other perfections in scripture, as the ground, the only ground of religious love, hope and confidence; and the frequent appeals to his works, as evidently bearing the marks of his glorious attributes, and loudly calling upon us to study and imitate them, to love, adore, and copy after them, are sufficient refutations of such tenets, which obviously leave nothing to dignify human nature, above that of the brutes, who are only inferior to us in respect of their not being endued with reason, as we are; and leave no foundation for religion or morality. For if we may not understand the justice and goodness of God, in the same sense as we attribute those moral perfections to men, we cannot understand them at all; and consequently, we ascribe them to God without any meaning; and we, in reality, must deny moral differences of actions to be certainly intelligible by us, and consequently say, that we have indeed no rule of action.<127> In truth, if we may not exercise our reason, or are not able to make any advantageous use of it, in studying the works of God, in order to know God, and our relation to him, and the duties resulting from that relation; What are we? Or what indeed is our reason good for? For, how mean, how low, how truly barren, and unprofitable is all knowledge, in comparison of this!
Let us not therefore vilify our reason, which is our glory; but let us quit ourselves like men, which it alone makes us to be. Let us look upon it as the image of God in our souls, which renders us capable of delighting in the contemplation of his works, by rendering us able to see clearly the manifest tokens of infinite intelligence, power and goodness, shining so visibly in them; and capable of transplanting these virtues, by careful and diligent imitation, thro’ the sincere love of them, into our minds and lives. And let us accordingly delight ourselves, day and night, in searching into his works, and in endeavouring to conform ourselves more and more to the universal language of them all; the plain language of our own truly wonderful frame in particular; that to endeavour to be like God, is our proper study, our end, our dignity, our glory, our happiness. All this is the proper work of reason, and to it must revelation speak. It might be as reasonably offered to the brutes, as to us, had we not reason to understand its voice, and discern its evidences of truth and divine authority. But let us not be surprized, if we are frequently puzled, and in the dark.
For as we cannot judge of a kingdom; nay, not of a small family, unless we know its whole constitution and government; but may presume, that the parts not yet understood by us are of a piece with what we perceive clearly to be good or bad: as we cannot be competent judges of a ship, a watch,<128> or any machine, without understanding its mechanism, or the parts, and mutual references of parts, which compose it: but we may in such cases reasonably presume, because other works of the same artist, which we fully comprehend, are wisely contrived for their ends, that these also will be found to be such, when they are duly considered and fully comprehended.—Or so soon as we begin to discover the uses of some parts, we may infer, that a full insight into the whole would discover the uses of all the parts, and the excellent contrivance of the whole for a useful end.—So with respect to the works of God, if we can no where see any vestiges of good order and contrivance, then are they wholly incomprehensible to us, and we can make no conclusion from them: but, on the other hand, if, as far as we have advanced by the study of them, we have still found more clear evidences of excellent general laws, and of good and wise administration; then have we excellent reason from such samples to judge well of the whole; or to conclude, that all is perfectly good, tho’ we know but a part, and can indeed see but a very small part of the scheme which is carrying on to perfection, even so far as it is advanced, in our narrow and limited situation. Thus we must reason concerning God’s works, or give over reasoning in such a manner concerning men’s works, and consequently give over acting upon probabilities, that is, acting upon the evidence on which the management of human affairs absolutely depends. Let us remember, that such conclusions concerning God from his works, are agreeable to what we have good ground to think of him from other considerations and arguments, those and such like which have already been considered; and that the scripture account of God is likewise to the same effect. And thus, let us not suffer ourselves to be shaken or startled, that we should at any time be in the dark, who see but a small part<129> of a scheme, that is indeed but a little way advanced. But let us, without fear of displeasing God, who cannot be intelligently loved, worshiped or praised, without clear and just ideas of him, which may be safely depended upon as infallibly certain, exercise our reason with candor, diligence and impartiality: not stand in awe to search, but yet search respectfully; not fear incurring his displeasure, for falling into any errors we can fall into in the diligent honest search of truth, without any biass, or with the pure love of it: far less dread his displeasure for endeavouring to grow in knowledge, in the knowledge of his perfections especially, to the utmost pitch of knowledge, the most enlarged diligent mind can reach. If we cannot clearly comprehend the agreements of certain ideas, or may not safely depend upon our clear conceptions of them, then can we not indeed attain to any knowledge. But if we can discover some agreements of certain ideas, and may depend on such discoveries, we may likewise with equal assurance depend upon our clear perceptions of certain disagreements of ideas: that is, we may depend upon it, that what we clearly perceive to be impossible, unjust, &c. is really what we clearly perceive it to be. Let it, however, be remembred, that very consistently with this position, between which and absolute scepticism there is no medium, (for I now would have knowledge to be understood in its largest sense, comprehending not merely demonstrative truths, but probability in its several ascending degrees) it may justly be said, that many questions may be asked relative even to known truths, to which we are not able to give any satisfying answer to ourselves. No truth can lead by a just chain of reasoning to an absurdity; and therefore there cannot lie objections against any truth, which are in that sense absolutely insolvable, that is, which necessarily terminate in a plain absurdity; for objections, thus terminating, are indeed demonstrations that the propositions from which they necessarily result<130> are absolutely false, because contradictory. But what is it that we know so fully, as to be able to enumerate all its qualities, or powers, and their productions; or that we can answer every intelligible question about it? Do we know any property of any body in this manner? Any law of nature in this manner? Do we know ourselves, or any part of ourselves, in this manner? And as justly may one say, who is ignorant of the particular use of some part of a machine, tho’ he knows in general the end of the machine, that the machine is useless, or that part at least useless; that he shall never be able to comprehend it, or that no man can: nay, as justly may he infer, that for that reason, there is no such machine existing, but that his senses are deceived, when he thinks he sees it; as, in any case of natural, or of moral providence, say what he understands is not certain; it cannot be depended on, but must be given up as a deception, because there are several things relating to it he does not yet know, and cannot account for. To argue in this manner, in either case, or indeed at any time in any instance, is in effect to assert, “That because there is one question in a science which we cannot solve, there is no such science.” Every impossibility or contradiction perceived to be such is a part of our knowledge: we cannot exclude negative propositions from our knowledge without sadly contracting its bounds: many, very many such propositions, both in natural and moral knowledge, are of the highest use and importance. But a question, which is intelligible, tho’ not answerable, is no more than a question, to which as yet we cannot reply: for it would not only be absurd to conclude that no being can solve it; but it would be absurd to say that we ourselves may not afterwards be very capable of giving an answer to it. Otherwise how had science advanced? For how many questions about the government of the material world were but lately deep mysteries in that sense; which are now no more so, but clearly understood, tho’ related to, or connected with other properties, and laws of properties<131> not yet understood, and therefore the proper object of search to the curious.
It was not unnecessary to premise this observation in an attempt to explain providence. It might otherwise appear too presumptuous and arrogant to many, tho’ it be indeed man’s properest and best study.
Of divine providence according to the scripture doctrine.
[a. ]Chap. xl. 28.
[b. ]Chap. lv. 8–9.
[a. ]Ps. xcvii. 2. xcii. 5. cxlv. 5. Isa. 40.8. Ps. lxxxix. 14.
[b. ]Job. v. 9. ix. 10, 11. xi. 7–8. xxvi. 14.
[c. ]Eccles. xi. 5.
[d. ]Chap. xliii. 36.
[e. ]Rom. xi. 33–34.
[a. ]1 Cor. i. 20.