Chapter III:7: Is Universal Doubt Necessary for the Knowledge of God?

In order to acquire this Knowledge, according to our AUTHOR, sometimes Universal Doubt concerning all Religion and its principium is wrongly urged; by which a man, not now an Infidel or Heretic, but by profession truly a Christian, having come of age, and zealous for Religion, on account of the many things admitted without sufficient scrutiny, ought once by a voluntary Suspension of Judgment to doubt, thus being actually inclined unto Christianity no more than unto Islam. Which phrase in the Compendio of our AUTHOR alludes to a certain thesis cited in Judicio Ecclesiastico laudato, chapter II, § 5, “While it belongs to the Philosopher (not only as a Philosopher but as a man) to believe or affirm nothing without a reason, definite and which sets the matter beyond doubt, it is manifest that to no one, even if he be born of Christian parents, is the Christian Religion, before it be made evident to him concerning its truth by altogether certain arguments, to be held in a better position than either Islam, Paganism, or Judaism. For if one ought to esteem the Religion in which he was born the best, with the foundations on which it rests left unexplored, how should any Turk, Pagan, or Jew ever be converted to Christianity?” Compare what things were already observed on Chapter I, § 32. This is a manifest abuse of the method of the more recent Philosophy, rashly applied to this by some. TRIGLAND, Kerckelycke Geschiedenissen, page 392, with that method of Descartes, whereby through Universal Doubt he was setting aside for a time all his philosophical opinions previously believed after the likeness of a basket filled with fruit, so that he might then explore whether certain among them were rotten apples, and, with those cast away, take up the rest again; compares the petition of the Arminians, who wanted all Pastors to be relieved for a time from the obligation with which they were bound to the Formulas of Union, the Confession and Catechism: and he subjoins: Just as this Philosopher has for some time utterly confused both himself and all his disciples, the Counter-advisers have done likewise by labeling themselves and other Ministers as Atheists. For the attentive reader ought to consider, what difference there is between a Philosopher that doubts and a madman, and between Theologians that are doubtful concerning the tenets of Religion and Atheists. The hypothesis of the Author of Exercitationis de Philosophia Interprete Scripturæ[1] is able to be compared, who wants all articles of faith hitherto believed to be revoked and set aside as so many prejudices, until with Philosophy as guide and Reason as Judge there might be certainty concerning the truth of the same, and concerning the sentence of the Scriptures: see SPANHEIM the Younger’s Disputation II de Articulis Fundamentalibus, § 8, opera, tome 3, column 1296. And thus that Doubt concerning Religion is made so much more dangerous, when the arguments by which you might extricate yourself again from that Doubt are urged to be sought, not out of Sacred Scripture, with prayers and the illumination of the Holy Spirit going before, but from the temple storehouse of Reason and Philosophy. But our AUTHOR rightly observes;

α. That such Doubt implies Unbelief, which ought never to be commended, but is always a most grievous sin, 2 Thessalonians 1:8; Hebrews 11:6; 2 Corinthians 10:5.

Neither is Unbelief able to be made good on account of the brevity of its duration; since even a momentary sin deserves an eternal punishment; not even for a moment is it lawful to deny a humble subservience to the Sacred Scriptures.

Nor is the commendation of Unbelief able to be excused by the good end intended; since it is never lawful to do evil, so that thence good might come, Romans 3:8.

β. If one has received the Spirit, he is bound for a time to resist the operation of the same through Doubt of this sort, of which there is no one ignorant of just how sinful that is, Acts 7:51; Ephesians 4:30. But the Spirit is wont to reveal to babes, and to ingenerate in them the certainty of faith through a divine power of persuasion, concerning the most sublime mysteries of Religion; the certainty of which proud Philosophers by seeking long demonstrations from Reason or Philosophy, and in not admitting anything that Reason has not dictated, will never attain: Matthew 11:25; 16:17; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10, 14.

γ. In the writings of their principal men, the way of Satan is kept, who by injecting Doubt concerning the commandment given by God to man willed to make use of this as a first step toward the seduction of our first parents, thereafter more easily to move them completely to unbelief and disobedience, Genesis 3:1. To whose seduction man even now dangerously exposes himself through this sort of voluntary Doubt concerning Religion. Augustine records a similar μεθοδείαν/method of the Manichæans,[2] in which he himself was entangled for almost nine year, Libro Utilitate credenda ad Honoratum, chapter I, § 2, opera, tome 8, column 34, whose words concerning this matter are cited by LEYDEKKER,[3] Face Veritatis, locus I, controversy 3, page 13, § 12; they are worth reading, and deserve to be applied to the present doctrine.

δ. Thus all Catechetical Instruction of children and of the ignorant is eliminated as useless, even noxious, in implanting prejudices; contrary to the divine commandment in Deuteronomy 6:6, 7; Proverbs 22:6; contrary also to the commended example of Timothy, 2 Timothy 3:15, upon whom Paul considered it ill-advised to urge this sort of Doubt concerning those things that he had imbibed from his youth. So also Academic education is to be pronounced noxious on account of the prejudices that are implanted in the minds of the Youth: and it would be advantageous for the Teachers of all sects to teach in the Academy, whereby the Studious might hear disputes from every perspective; neither would their minds be rendered more inclined unto the Reformed Religion than any other. And so by Doubting they would be obliged to wipe out the entire Academic age; and, since not even so do they hold all things sufficiently investigated, nor judgment confirmed to a sufficient extent, that Doubt would also be obliged to be extended thereafter for a long time.

ε. Thus into dangerous Temptation, from which we daily ask relief from God, they manifestly knowingly and willingly bring themselves in this singular manner: especially if they, withdrawing from God and the illumination of the Spirit, and subordinating the authority of the Scriptures, undertake to try all things by the Lydian Stone[4] of Reason, as it were. The Lord resists the proud of this sort,[5] and requires them to tremble before His Word.[6]

And so Philosophers without the Spirit would defend that Doubt concerning God and matters of faith is not unworthy of a Christian man; but I would rather glory with Paul, ἔχοντες δὲ τὸ αὐτὸ πνεῦμα τῆς πίστεως, κατὰ τὸ γεγραμμένον, Ἐπίστευσα, διὸ ἐλάλησα, καὶ ἡμεῖς πιστεύομεν, διὸ καὶ λαλοῦμεν, we having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak, 2 Corinthians 4:13: and, since I know that all Doubt is opposed to Faith, and that it does not arise from the Spirit but from remaining corruption or the temptation of the Satan, I myself rather daily ask relief from Doubt concerning matters of faith, and proceed by the leading of the Spirit to press more and more to πληροφορίαν πίστεως, the full assurance of faith;[7] gratefully acknowledging the goodness of God and the care of my Parents, who from my youth took care that I be imbued with a sense of the true Religion, which I have daily found by experience to have been delivered to me in conformity with the Word of God without any preceding Doubt. But if, on the other hand, you should ask all the common people whether they were persuaded of the truth of their Religion by reasons the most substantial? or suggest that their Religion is perhaps erroneous; and that they need first to explore other Religions, today’s Jewish, Pagan, Mohammedan, Papal, Socianian, and Arminian, and then to decide whether they enjoy a Religion greater than all these, or not: In this manner, you will indeed be able to drive some to Skepticism and Indifference in Religion: but of a hundred common people hardly one by this method will be brought to a better understanding of Religion and a fuller confidence in the truth of their Religion. FRANCISCUS JUNIUS, in his Collatione de Natura et Gratia, opera, tome 2, column 397, to Francesco Pucci,[8] writes: “Thy past experience was not occupied in the knowledge of divine things: it was occupied with errors for twenty-two years: which I remember to have heard from thee with my own ears. For thus thou didst narrate concerning thyself: While thou didst give attention to such a variety of opinions and sects, for twenty-two years thou didst nothing but wander to the Mohammedans, Jews, Arians, and others; so that, with all sorts of doctrine having been examined, thou mightest at last by thy divine judgment establish which Religion is true. I remember that experienced men say that what is able to be done with fewer things is not to be done with more. But, saith Paul, The Word of the Lord is nigh thee, Romans 10:8, or, as saith the Prophet, This is the way, walk ye in it.[9] Therefore, what thou hast been able to overtake with fewer things; thou hast walked past in the many. Then, this is not true expertise, not a true manner of pursuit, if one, pursuing truth, through all errors wanders about. In this way hast thou found for thyself a path in the pathless wilderness, and in the sea a passage through the buffeting strikes of crosswinds? Finally, because thou testifiest that belief is to be afforded to the experienced, I as one experienced to say: I, of all those men that sought truth in various errors, never saw one that either arrived at the truth, or that was ever able solidly to settle himself upon it. But this is the most just judgment of God: who does not will that the truth that is before our feet be set aside, and that errors be rashly wandered through; as if there might always be an easy return to the truth by our own judgment. Those are the ones that the Apostle graphically depicts as ever learning, but never being able to come to the knowledge of the truth.[10]

They object: Thus no Infidel or Heretic would ever be converted, if it never be allowed to doubt of the Religion in which one has been brought up.

I respond: There is a great distance here between false Religion and the true, and the privilege of the latter is certainly to be acknowledge before the former; while the Spirit of truth makes simple believers also the most firmly persuaded concerning the truth of sincere Religion, of which they are not able to boast, who are addicted to false Religion. Now, a Knowledge of false Religion is not able to be said of itself and simply to be necessary for salvation.

To the Objection, which is again moved to the contrary, that in the early year of life many things are admitted through error, our AUTHOR sufficiently answers: compare LELAND’S Beschouwing van de Schriften der Deisten, tome 1, chapter 10, pages 280-282, 284, chapter 14, page 498.

[1] Philosophia Sacræ Scripturæ Interpres was published anonymously, and was initially thought to be the work of Spinoza. It was actually penned by Lodewijk Meyer (1629-1681), a Dutch Enlightenment scholar and Rationalist philosopher.

[2] Manichæism was a dualistic Pseudo-Christianity. It was founded by a Persian prophet by the name of Mani (c. 216-276). It thrived after its first founding until the seventh century, and exerted influence from the Roman Empire to China.

[3] Melchior Leydekker (1642-1721) studied under Voetius at Utrecht, and Hoornbeeck and Cocceius at Leiden. He was appointed Professor of Theology at Utrecht (1676).

[4] A type of black stone, formerly used to test the purity of precious metals.

[5] See James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5.

[6] See Isaiah 66:2, 5.

[7] Hebrews 10:22.

[8] Francesco Pucci (1543-1597) was an Italian humanistic philosopher. Due to his radical Pelagianism, he was not able to find a home among Protestants, and eventually returned to the Roman communion.

[9] Isaiah 30:21.

[10] 2 Timothy 3:7.

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.




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