John Toland, Christianity not
Toland, Christianity not Mysterious
(London: Sam Buckley, 1696).
Not Mysterious: Or, A Treatise Shewing, That There Is Nothing in the Gospel
Contrary to Reason, Nor Above It: And That No Christian Doctrine Can Be
Properly Call's A Mystery.
Preface] I hope to make it appear, that the Use of Reason is not so dangerous
in Religion as it is commonly represented, and that too by such as mightily
extol it, when it seems to favour 'em, yet vouchsafe it not a hearing when it
makes against them, but oppose its own Authority to itself. . . . I hold
nothing as an Article of my Religion but what the highest Evidence forc'd me
to embrace. . . . Since Religion is calculated for reasonable Creatures, 'tis
Conviction and not Authority that should bear Weight with them. . . . Truth is
always and everywhere the same; and an unintelligible or absurd Proposition is
to be never the more respected for being ancient or strange, for being
originally written in Latin, Greek, or Hebrew. . . . The true Religion must
necessarily be reasonable and intelligible.
Essay] There is nothing that Men make a greater Noise about, in our Time
especially, than what they generally profess least of all to understand . . .
I mean the Mysteries of the Christian Religion. . . . Some say the Mysteries
of the Gospel are to be understood only in the Sense of the Ancient Father. .
. . Others tell us we must be of the Mind of some particular Doctors,
pronounc'd Orthodox by the Authority of the Church. . . . Some give a decisive
Voice in the Unravelling of Mysteries, and the Interpretation of Scripture, to
a General Council; and others to one Man whom they hold to be the head of the
Church Universal upon Earth, and the infallible Judge of all Controversies. .
. . But they come nearest the thing who affirm, that we are to keep what the
Scriptures determine about these Matters: and there is nothing more true, if
rightly understood. . . . Some will have us always believe what the literal
Sense imports, with little or no Consideration for Reason, which they reject
as not fit to be employ'd about the reveal'd Part of Religion. Others assert,
that we may use Reason as the Instrument, but not the Rule of our Belief. The
first contend, some Mysteries may be, or at least seem to be contrary to
Reason, and yet be receiv'd by Faith. The second, that no Mystery is contrary
to Reason, but that all are above it. Both of 'em from different Principles
agree, that several Doctrines of the New Testament belong no farther to the
Enquiries of Reason than to prove 'em divinely reveal'd, and that they are
properly Mysteries still.
On the contrary, we hold that Reason is the only Foundation of all
Certitude; and that nothing reveal'd whether as to its Manner or Existence, is
more exempted from its Disquisitions, than the ordinary Phenomena of Nature.
Wherefore, we likewise maintin, that there is nothing in the Gospel contrary
to Reason, nor above it; and that no Christian Doctrine can be properly call'd
a Mystery. . . .
Every one experiences in himself a Power or Faculty of forming various
Ideas or Perceptions of Things: Of affirming or denying, according as he sees
them to agree or disagree: And so of loving and desiring what seems good unto
him; and of hating and avoiding what he thinks evil. The right Use of all
these Faculties is what we call Common Sense, or Reason in general. But the
bare Act of receiving Ideas into the Mind . . . is not strictly Reason,
because the Soul herein is purely passive. When a proper Object is
conveniently presented to the Eye, Ear, or any other sense rightly dispos'd,
it necessarily makes those Impression which the Mind at the same time cannot
refuse to lodge. (Not the object, but and idea lodges in the mind) and I have
not only and Idea of the Picture that is before me, I wish it were mine. And
thus I form or rather after this manner I have first form'd, the Ideas of
Knowing, Perceiving, Affirming, Denying, Considering, Willing, Desiring, and
the Ideas of all the other operations of the Mind, which are thus occasion'd
by the Antecedent Impressions of sensible Objects.
By the word Idea . . . I understand the immediate Object of the Mind
when it thinks, or any Thought that the Mind imploys about anything. But these
simple and distinct Ideas be not what we call strictly Reason, yet they are
the sole Matter and Foundation of all our Reasoning: For the Mind does compare
them together, compound, enlarge, contract, or separate them. . . . So all our
Knowledge is, in effect, nothing else but the Perception of the Agreement or
Disagreement of our Ideas in a greater or lesser Number, whereinsoever this
Agreement or Disagreement may consist. . . . This Method of Knowledge is
properly call'd Reason or Demonstration, That faculty of the Soul which
discovers the Certainty of any thing dubious or obscure, by comparing it with
something evidently known. . . . What is evidently repugnant to clear and
distinct Ideas, or to our common Notions, is contrary to Reason; so I prove
that the Doctrines of the Gospel, if it be the Word, cannot be so.
The first thing I shall insist upon is, that if any Doctrine of the New
Testament be contrary to Reason, we have no manner of Idea of it. To say for
instance that a Ball is white and black at once, is to say just nothing; for
these Colours are so incompatible in the same subject, as to exclude all
Possibility of a real positive Idea or Conception. So to say, as the Papists,
that Children dying before Baptism are damn'd without Pain, signifies nothing
at all: For if they be intelligent Creatures in the other World, to be
eternally excluded from God's Presence, and the Society of the Blessed, must
prove ineffable Torment to them: But if they think they have no Understanding,
then they are not capable of Damnation in their Sense; and so they should not
say they are in Limbo-Dungeon, but that either they had no Souls; or were
annihilated; which would be reasonable enough, and easily conceiv'd. Now if we
have no Ideas of a thing, it is certainly but lost Labour for us to trouble
our selves about it: For what I don't conceive, can no more give me right
Notions of God, or influence my Actions, than a Prayer deliver'd in an unknown
Tongue can excite my Devotion.
The next thing I shall remark is, That those, who stick [choke] not to
say they could believe a downright Contradiction to Reason, did they find it
contain'd to the Scripture, do justify all Absurdities whatsoever; and, by
opposing one Light to another, undeniably make God the Author of all
Incertaintude. The very Supposition that Reason might authorize one thing, and
the Spirit of God another, throws us into inevitable Scepticism; fro we shall
be at a perpetual Uncertainty which to obey: Nay, we can never be sure which
is which. . . .
The natural Result of what has been said is, That to believe the
Divinity of Scripture or the Sense of any Passage thereof, without rational
Proofs, and an evident Consistency, is a blameable Credulity, and a
temerarious Opinion, ordinarily grounded upon and ignorant and wilful
Disposition, but more generally maintained out of a gainful Prospect. For we
frequently embrace certain doctrines not from any convincing Evidence in them,
but because they serve our Designs better than the Truth; and because other
Contradictions we are not willing to quit, are better defended by their means.
. . .
I [have] said that Revelation was not a necessitating Motive of Assent,
but a Means of Information. We should not confound the Way whereby we come to
the knowledge of a thing, with the Ground we have to believe it. A man may
inform me concerning a thousand matters I never heard of before, and of which
I should not as much as think if I were not told; yet I believe nothing purely
upon his word without Evidence in the things themselves. Not the bare
Authority of him that speaks, but the clear Conception I form of what he says,
is the Ground of my Persuasion.
If the sincerest Person on Earth should assure me he saw a Cane without
two ends, I neither should nor could believe him; because this Relation
plainly contradicts the Idea of a Cane. But if he told me he saw a Staff that,
being by chance laid in the Earth, did after some time put forth Sprigs and
Branches, I could easily rely upon his Veracity; because this no way
contradicts the Idea of a Staff, nor transcends Possibility. I say
Possibility; for Omnipotency itself can do no more. . . . We heartily believe
God can do all things: But that mere Nothing should be the Object of his
Power, the very Ominipotency alleg'd will not permit us to conceive. And that
every Contradiction, which is a Synonym for Impossibility, is pure nothing, we
have already sufficiently demonstrated. . . .
When we say then, that nothing is impossible with God, or that he can
do all things, we mwan whatever is possible in itself, however far above the
power of Creatures to effect.
Thus god is pleas'd to reveal to us in Scripture several wonderful
Matters of Fact, as the Creation of the Wolrd, the last Judgement, and many
other important Truths, which no Man left to himself could ever imagine, no
more than any of my fellow creatures can be sure of my private Thoughts. . .
Secret things belong unto the Lord; [but] those things which are reveal'd
belong unto us and to our Children. Yet, as we discours'd before, we do not
receive them only because they are reveal'd: For besides the infallible
Testimony of the Revelation from all requisite Circumstances, we must see in
its Subject the indisputable Characters of Divine Wisdom and Sound Reason;
which are the only Marks we have to distinguish the Oracles and Will of God,
from the impostures and Traditions of Men.
Whoever reveals any thing, that is, whoever tells us something we did
not know before, his Words must be intelligible, and the Matter possible. This
Rule holds good, let God or Man be the Revealer. If we count that Person a
Fool who requires our Assent to what is manifestly incredible, how dare we
blasphemously attribute to the most perfect Being, what is an acknowledg'd
Defect in one of our selves? As for unintelligible Revelations, we can no more
believe them from the Revelation of God, than from that of Man; for the
conceiv'd Ideas of things are the
only Subjects of Believing, Denying, Approving, and every other Act of the
Understanding: Therefore all Matters reveal'd by God or Man, must be equally
intelligible and possible; so far both Revelations agree. But in this they
differ, that tho the Revelation of Man should be thus qualified, yet he may
impose upon me as to the Truth of a think; whereas what God is pleas'd to
discover to me is not only clear to my Reason (without which his Revelation
could make me no wiser) but likewise is always true. A Man, for example,
acquaints me that he has found a Treasure: This is plain and possible, but he
may easily deceive me. God assures me, that he has form'd Man of Earth: This
is not only possible to God, and to me very intelligible; but the thing is
also most certain, God not being capable to deceive me, as Man is. In how many
places are we exhorted to beware of false Prophets and Teachers, Seducers and
Deceivers? We are not only to prove or try all things, and to hold fast that
which is best, but also to try the Spirits whether they be of God. But how
shall we try? How shall we discern? Not as the Horse and Mule which have no
understanding, but as circumspect and wise Men, judging what is said. . . .
The New Testament (if it be indeed Divine) must consequently agree with
Natural Reason, and our own ordinary Ideas. The Apostles commend themselves to
every Man's conscience, that is, the appeal to every Man's Reason, in the
Sight of God. Peter exhorts Christians to be ready always to give an Answer to
every one that asks them a Reason
of their Hope. Now to what purpose serv'd all these Appeal, if no Regard was
to be had to Men's Understandings? If the Doctrines of Christ were
incomprehensible, contradictory; or were we oblig'd to believe in reveal'd
There is nothe Mysterious or above Reason in the Gospel [no matter how
veiled or obscured some things may be in the ceremonies or rituals of men] . .
. and I affirm that nothing can be said to be a Mystery, because we have not
an adequate Idea of it, or a distinct View of all its Properties at once; for
then every thing would be a Mystery. . . . I understand nothing better than
this Table upon which I am now writing: I conceive it divisible into Parts
beyond all Imaginiation; but shall I say it is above my Reason because I
cannot count these Parts, nor distinctly perceive their Quantity and Figures?
No Christian Doctrine, no more than
any ordinary Piece of Nature, can be reputed a Mystery, because we have not an
adequate or compleat Idea of whatever belongs to it. What is reveal'd in
Religion, as it is most useful and necessary, so it must and may be as easily
comprehended, and found as consistent with our common Notions, as what we know
of Wood or Stone, of Air or Water. . . .
Now since by Revelation Men are not endu'd with any new Faculties, it
follows that God should lose his end in speaking to them, if what he said did
not agree with their common notions. . . . No matter of Fact can be known
without Revelation [either divine or human], but what is once reveal'd we must
as well understand as any other Matter in the World, Revelation being only f
use to inform us whilst the Evidence of its Subject persuades us. Reason is
not less from God than Revelation. . . .
No Miracle is contrary to Reason, for the Action must be intelligible,
and we learn from Scripture and Reason that no Miracle
is ever wrought without some special and important End, which is either
appointed by those for whom the Miracle is made, or intended and declar'd by
him that works it.
[Toland concludes his discussion by asserting that so-called Mysteries
were introduced into Christianity by self-interested professionals who
endeavoured to secure their own desires by obscuring the simple, reasonable
things of Christianity in a maze of ceremonies, customs, and exalted claims of
special insight. In particular, this happened to Baptism and the Supper].
I acknowledge no Orthodoxy but the Truth; and, I'm sure, where-ever the
Truth is, there must also be the Church, of God I mean, and no any Human
Faction or Policy.