Front Page Titles (by Subject) A Preliminary Proposition - The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy
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A Preliminary Proposition - 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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A Preliminary Proposition
Nothing can be explained or made intelligible to any beings, which hath not some analogy or likeness to their present state: wherefore, so far only can our future state be laid open, or discovered to us by revelation, as it bears an analogy or likeness to our present condition and circumstances.
All our ideas or conceptions are and must be derived from experience, and analogy to experience. In other words, we cannot form or receive any notion, but either by immediate experience, or by analogy to such ideas as we have received by experience. As we could have no notion of colours and their various modifications, nor of any thing resembling them, had we never received these ideas from without; so is it, in like manner, with regard to all our other perceptions, into whatever classes they are distinguished: they are all of them ultimately owing to experience: and we can have no new ones till we have new experience. Were not we ourselves reflecting, rational beings, we could never have had any idea of rational powers, and their operations. And we cannot form to ourselves any notion of other rational beings, but by ascribing to them powers and operations of powers analogous to those we experience in ourselves. We can frame ideas of beings inferior to us, by imagining them possessed of some of the powers belonging to us, in an inferior degree. And as we can, in that manner, form to ourselves notions of very<386> various orders of beings inferior to man, rising, as it were by steps, nearer and nearer to the qualities and sphere of activity, which constitute us what we really are, or our rank and dignity in nature; so, on the other hand, we are able to form conceptions of various orders of beings ascending above mankind in a regular gradation, by supposing them endued with powers analogous to our rational faculties, indifferent degrees of perfection superior to us. We can thus by imagining powers like to our rational powers, rising one above another in various degrees of perfection, ascend to the idea of an infinitely perfect mind; the source of all created or derived power and perfection, in whom all excellencies meet and are united in their most perfect degree. But how is it we are able to do this, but by conceiving all the intelligent powers we are endued with, and all the perfections we are thereby enabled to acquire, belonging to the first author of all power and perfection, in a way absolutely removed from all imperfection and limitation. In fine, our ideas, the materials of all our knowledge or reasoning, cannot, as all philosophers agree, extend beyond our experience.
Now, from this obvious acknowledged truth, it is manifest, that no rational being, however superior to man, can make his own state known to us any farther than that state bears an analogy or likeness to our present state, and its laws and connexions. And for the same reason, the nature, circumstances, laws and connexions of our future state can no farther be declared, explained, or made intelligible to us at present by any being, however superior to us in the knowledge of nature and providence, than it is analogous or like to our present state. It can only be described to us so far as we are able to conceive or take ideas of it by the help of present experience; for our ideas cannot reach beyond the boundaries of our present experience: it can therefore only be so far described to us as it really hath any similitude to our present state; so far only as analogy<387> to present experience can furnish us with ideas or images of it.
This being certain, beyond all possibility of doubt, these two inferences plainly follow.
Hence it is plain, that a future state, being a new one, or a very different one from the present, which can only be similar or like to it in a few general respects, it can only be positively revealed, i.e. discovered or made known to us here in the few general respects, in which it is analogous or like to the present state of mankind. If we are to have there new ideas, new materials of knowledge, a new sphere of activity; if we are to have new experience; or, in other words, if there are to be any absolute differences between our future and present state, these differences, or whatever is absolutely new in it, cannot now be discover’d to us in a positive manner; no more than the ideas of light and colours can be to a blind man.
Hence it follows, in the second place, that in any account that can be given to us here of our future state, the greater number of truths discovered about it must run in a negative strain, or be merely negative propositions. A positive account of a state different from our present situation and circumstances can only be given us, so far as it is not different; so far as it is not absolutely new. The laws, the connexions, the circumstances, which are new, or different, can only be explained negatively. If, therefore, our future state be really a very new, a very different one, which is only analogous to our present condition in a few general respects, the positive account of it cannot reach beyond these few general respects in which it is analogous to our present;<388> and the account given of it must chiefly run in the negative way, by telling us, that it is not like to the present in such and such respects. I shall not stay to observe what all who are acquainted with the sciences will readily grant, viz. that a very considerable part of what is called science is but negative knowledge. It is sufficient to my present purpose to remark, that to object against a revelation, that most of the doctrines in it concerning our future state are but negative propositions, would be in reality to object against a revelation, because an account is not given by it of a future state, which cannot in the nature of things be given.
But having just suggested these general objections, I now proceed to shew, that the account given by the christian doctrine of a future state is very full, and very satisfactory, and comfortable. And as we advance in this discourse, it will plainly appear, that even the negative accounts which christianity gives us of a future state are of the highest moment, and do by themselves make up a very important discovery concerning it.