Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The American Theory of Rights: Not in the Social Contract, but in the Natural Law

James Otis might have become the foremost thinker of the Founding, except he was brained by a violent Tory in 1769 and was showing signs of mental problems before that.  But 'twas James Otis who got the intellectual arguments for the American vision of liberty off to a brilliant start in 1764:



"Government is founded not on force, as was the theory of Hobbes; nor on compact, as was the theory of Locke and of the revolution of 1688; nor on property, as was the assertion of Harrington. It springs from the necessities of our nature, and has an everlasting foundation in the unchangeable will of God."
This is the unique American theory of rights as expressed in the Declaration of Independence--the foundation of man's rights is "the laws of nature and of nature's God."

Here the erudite James Otis makes the essential distinction between various "Enlightenment" theories of government and rights [Hobbes and Harrington, yes, even contrary to John Locke!] and the uniquely American vision--our rights come prior to government, we don't negotiate our rights with the government, or with each other:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Rights are prior to government, then

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...



And some years later, in 1790, James Wilson---one of the few signers of both the Declaration and the Constitution, and a future Supreme Court justice, reminds his audiences [that included President Washington] in his lectures on law of just how the American view of rights differs from the British "contract" view of 1688, the supreme legal theorist William Blackstone and Edmund Burke, and even John Locke and the Magna Carta:

"But even if a part was to be given up, does it follow that all must be surrendered? Man, says Mr. Burke, cannot enjoy the rights of an uncivil and of a civil state together. By an uncivil contradistinguished from a civil state, he must here mean a state of nature: by the rights of this uncivil state, he must mean the rights of nature: and is it possible that natural and civil rights cannot be enjoyed together? Are they really incompatible? Must our rights be removed from the stable foundation of nature, and placed on the precarious and fluctuating basis of human institution? Such seems to be the sentiment of Mr. Burke: and such too seems to have been the sentiment of a much higher authority than Mr. Burke -- Sir William Blackstone. 

...
And must we surrender to government the whole of those absolute rights? But we are to surrender them only -- in trust: -- another brat of dishonest parentage is now attempted to be imposed upon us: but for what purpose? Has government provided for us a superintending court of equity to compel a faithful performance of the trust? If it had; why should we part with the legal title to our rights?"

Here is the fatal flaw of "social contract" theory, the British understanding of rights and government according to Burke and Blackstone and Locke---We barter our natural rights with the government and receive "civil privileges" in return.

Wilson answers his own question, "Must our rights be removed from the stable foundation of nature, and placed on the precarious and fluctuating basis of human institution?"---a "social contract" with government...?

 No!

At first, the stirrings of rebellion among the American colonists came from acts of Parliament abridging their "rights as Englishmen." But in the end, the Americans realized that even their "contractual" rights as Englishmen weren't enough---

 Rights reside in man, not in where a man resides.

This is the American way.

48 comments:

jimmiraybob said...

Rights reside in man, not in where a man resides.

Then what stops a man from declaring himself sovereign and severed from the laws of the city, county, state, or - deity forbid - the federal government?

By what right would, let's say, a deputy sheriff have to pull over a van that has a "f-ck you" bumper sticker plastered over an old expired and out-of-state license plate?

If the van driver gets out with an AK-47 and takes a principled stand against the tyranny of the state over his natural rights of free movement withing his environment, what then? Is there no negotiation between nature, the individual and the state?

If a state takes the position that the black man is inferior to the white man and subject to properly rendered humiliation and degrading treatment as the natural order of things, what then?

What if the van driver and the State's Attorneys General invoke the Bible and God-given natural rights?

On any given day I'm free to weigh being a citizen and abiding by the laws of the city, county, state and federal government or work against man's laws in some way that I might find more personally beneficial or edifying. In essence, if I choose to work within the system, either to maintain the status quo or to attempt to change the system to something else, am I not giving tacit approval to this arrangement? Am I not daily negotiating my natural rights with the state?

Why can't this be viewed in social contract terms in which I might be willing to abide by the contract or negate the contract at my peril or profit?

What anchored the natural rights for James Wilson? God and the Bible? The implacable forces of a non-senscient universe? The reason of man? Or some combination.

To agree on natural law interpretation do the parties have to be in agreement on the foundation of natural law (e.g., based on God and the Bible or the implacable forces of a non-senscient universe or the reason of man or some combination)?

What is the list of natural laws and where do I get a copy?

What am I not getting?

So many questions, so little coffee.

I watched the video that Jon pointed to a little while ago - Arkes & Kozinski Debate “Natural Law Should Inform Constitutional Law” - and the above are questions that I had then too. It seemed that there was no settled and definitive natural law (not open to interpretation).


Tom Van Dyke said...

If a state takes the position that the black man is inferior to the white man and subject to properly rendered humiliation and degrading treatment as the natural order of things, what then?

You already know the answer to that. In fact, what you describe was life under the "social contract" understanding of the Constitution which allowed slavery and Jim Crow. To use "natural" in this context is a complete sophistry and a fundamental misunderstanding of the natural rights argument.

Phil Johnson said...

.
Now, that's what I call a great post, Tom.
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thx, man. Been meaning to bring American Founders James Otis and James Wilson together against the Great Britons John Locke and Edmund Burke for awhile now.

USA! USA!

Sincerely, Phil, this is why I love America, in a way than no man can love just his piece of land, or his tribe, or his government.

Perhaps "there will always be an England," but that England is still just a piece of land, a tribe, and a government. America is so much more.

"Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.

We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We -- even we here -- hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free -- honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just -- a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless."
---Mr. Lincoln

Phil Johnson said...

Loving America. Right. Don't we all?

I hope.

But, loving our own, our native land is a bigger thing than loving it for your own interests. We have to love it for the way it lifts humanity up no matter who they are within the limits of what we believe are our natural rights upon which our nation was founded--on our rights.

All of which, we must love America for its divcersity as we come together in a unity regarding our self respect. We--of all people--must express the Golden Rule. That's what they taught me in grade school.
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

E pluribus unum.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Hadley Arkes replies to some of JRB's reservations re natural law:

http://www.claremont.org/publications/crb/id.1925/article_detail.asp

jimmiraybob said...

Actually, I'm not trying to be argumentative. I'm really not sure what to make of the natural law theory. This, as they say, really is a good teaching moment. I'll work through your new post.

wsforten said...

According to James Wilson's Lectures on the Law, natural law is the law established by God:

“Laws may be promulgated by reason and conscience, the divine monitors within us. They are thus known as effectually, as by words or by writing: indeed they are thus known in a manner more noble and exalted. For, in this manner, they may be said to be engraven by God on the hearts of men: in this manner, he is the promulgator as well as the author of natural law.”

Later in the same volume, he described God's law as:

"that law, which God has made for man in his present state; that law, which is communicated to us by reason and conscience, the divine monitors within us, and by the sacred oracles, the divine monitors without us. This law has undergone several subdivisions, and has been known by distinct appellations, according to the different ways in which it has been promulgated, and the different objects which it respects.

“As promulgated by reason and the moral sense, it has been called natural; as promulgated by the holy scriptures it has been called revealed law.

“As addressed to men, it has been denominated the law of nature; as addressed to political societies, it has been denominated the law of nations.

“But it should always be remembered, that this law, natural or revealed, made for men or for nations, flows from the same divine source: it is the law of God.

“Nature, or to speak more properly, the Author of nature, has done much for us; but it is his gracious appointment and will, that we should also do much for ourselves. What we do, indeed, must be founded on what he has done; and the deficiencies of our laws must be supplied by the perfection of his. Human law must rest its authority, ultimately, upon the authority of that law, which is divine.”


Source: http://christian76.com/james-wilson/

Jason Pappas said...

I take Locke to be advocating a “natural theory of rights” and a “contractual theory of government” whose purpose is to protect natural rights.

I sometimes get the impression that you see Locke's “contract” as an agreement creating rights, when it is only the agreement on procedural manners to protect rights. “To secure these rights Governments are instituted ...” is Lockean.

bpabbott said...

A key point for me is that while Natural law may be described as divine, it is known (in the divine context) through General Revelation.

wsforten said...

The law of nature is not perfectly knowable through General Revelation because such knowledge would require perfect understanding. To summarize Blackstone's explanation:

"This law of nature is of course superior in obligation to any other. No human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this: and such of them as are valid derive all their authority from this original. But in order to apply this to each individual, it is still necessary to have recourse to reason by considering what method will tend the most to our own happiness. And if our reason were always clear and perfect the task would be pleasant and easy. But every man now finds the contrary in his own experience; that his reason is corrupt, and his understanding full of ignorance and error.

"This has given manifold occasion for the interposition of divine providence; which has been pleased, at sundry times and in diverse manners, to discover its laws by direct revelation. The doctrines thus delivered we call the revealed law, and they are to be found only in the Holy Scriptures. These precepts, when revealed, are found to be really a part of the original law of nature. But we are not to conclude that the knowledge of these truths was attainable by reason, in its present corrupted state. The revealed law is of infinitely more authenticity than that moral system, which is framed by ethical writers. Because one is the law of nature, expressly declared so to be by God himself; the other is only what, by the assistance of human reason, we imagine to be that law. Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human law should be suffered to contradict these."


Source: http://www.increasinglearning.com/the-source-of-the-law.html

Tom Van Dyke said...

The interesting thing is that the Jesuit Francisco Suarez [a "Thomist," that is, a philosophical descendent of Aquinas] was working in the 1500s to make the natural law non-dependent on revealed religion, or even God:

"...even though God did not exist, or did not make use of His reason, or did not judge rightly of things, if there is in man such a dictate of right reason to guide him, it would have had the same nature of law as it now has."

And Suarez' successor, Dutch Protestant jurist Hugo Grotius in his De Iure Belli ac Pacis (1625):

"What we have been saying would have a degree of validity even if we should concede that which cannot be conceded without the utmost wickedness, that there is no God."

It was the Enlightenment and the Founding era, incl Locke, who injected God back in!

Alexander Hamilton:

"Apply yourself, without delay, to the study of the law of nature. I would recommend to your perusal, Grotius, Puffendorf, Locke, Montesquieu, and Burlemaqui. I might mention other excellent writers on this subject; but if you attend, diligently, to these, you will not require any others.

...

Good and wise men, in all ages...have supposed, that the deity, from the relations, we stand in, to himself and to each other, has constituted an eternal and immutable law, which is, indispensibly, obligatory upon all mankind, prior to any human institution whatever.

This is what is called the law of nature, "which, being coeval with mankind, and dictated by God himself, is, of course, superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times. No human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid, derive all their authority, mediately, or immediately, from this original."

[The last bit is from the great British jurist William Blackstone.]

http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch3s5.html

But do keep in mind that this "natural law," although fashioned by the Creator into man's very essence, is not synonymous with what Aquinas calls "special" revelation, IOW, scripture, the Bible.

You could easily be merely a deist and accept the concept of natural law.

Or even an atheist like Murray Rothbard!!!

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2009/04/primer-on-natural-law.html

Tom Van Dyke said...

To WSForten and JPappas: The "true" Locke is less important than Locke as the Founders understood him, which as we see from the Hamilton quote, far closer to the Thomist, traditional view of natural law than the "radical Hobbesian" Locke is accused of being by modern interpreters.

To WSForten's citation of Blackstone's opinion that "special" revelation, i.e. the Gospels, was necessary to truly understand the natural law, that is also Locke's admission in "The Reasonableness of Christianity," not that the natural CANNOT be known by natural reason, only that even the greatest of philsophers didn't manage it.

"But natural religion, in its full extent, was nowhere, that I know, taken care of by the force of natural reason. It should seem, by the little that has hitherto been done in it, that 'tis too hard a task for unassisted reason, to establish morality, in all its parts, upon its true foundations, with a clear and convincing light. And 'tis at least a surer and shorter way, to the apprehensions of the vulgar, and mass of mankind, that one manifestly sent from God, and coming with visible authority from him, should, as a King and law-maker, tell them their duties, and require their obedience, than leave it to the long, and sometimes intricate deductions of reason, to be made out to them: such strains of reasonings the greatest part of mankind have neither leisure to weigh, nor, for want of education and use, skill to judge of. We see how unsuccessful in this, the attempts of philosophers were, before Our Saviour's time. How short their several systems came of the perfection of a true and complete morality, is very visible. And if, since that, the Christian philosophers have much outdone them, yet we may observe, that the first knowledge of the truths they have added are, owing to revelation; though as soon as they are heard and considered, they are found to be agreeable to reason, and such as can by no means be contradicted."

Also, ibid.:

"Or whatever else was the cause, 'tis plain in fact, that human reason unassisted, failed men in its great and proper business of morality. It never, from unquestionable principles, by clear deductions, made out an entire body of the law of Nature. And he that shall collect all the moral rules of the philosophers, and compare them with those contained in the new testament, will find them to come short of the morality delivered by Our Saviour, and taught by his apostles; a college made up, for the most part, of ignorant, but inspired fishermen.

Though yet, if any one should think, that out of the saying of the wise heathens, before Our Saviour's time, there might be a collection made of all these rules of morality, which are to be found in the Christian religion; yet this would not at all hinder, but that the world, nevertheless, stood as much in need of Our Saviour, and the morality delivered by him."


Jason Pappas said...

It would be interesting to have specific truths that Locke believed was contributed by revelation that wasn’t founded by reason. This is especially interesting given his Second Treatise is considered philosophy and not theology and certainly a tour de force of rational thought.

In any case, a nice review of Suarez, Grotius, and even Rothbard on inherent nature of natural law, one that is "coeval with mankind." As Cicero says in the Republic:

There is a true law, a right reason, conformable to nature, universal, unchangeable, eternal, whose commands urge us to duty, and whose prohibitions restrain us from evil. Whether it enjoins or forbids, the good respect its injunctions, and the wicked treat them with indifference. This law cannot be contradicted by any other law, and is not liable either to derogation or abrogation. Neither the senate nor the people can give us any dispensation for not obeying this universal law of justice. It needs no other expositor and interpreter than our own conscience. It is not one thing at Rome and another at Athens; one thing to–day and another to–morrow; but in all times and nations this universal law must for ever reign, eternal and imperishable. It is the sovereign master and emperor of all beings. God himself is its author,—its promulgator,—its enforcer. He who obeys it not, flies from himself, and does violence to the very nature of man. For his crime he must endure the severest penalties hereafter, even if he avoid the usual misfortunes of the present life.

Tom Van Dyke said...

It would be interesting to have specific truths that Locke believed was contributed by revelation that wasn’t founded by reason.

I don't know what Locke would say, but IMO, it's that all men are created equal and therefore possess certain natural rights. Classical philosophy doesn't necessarily believe this.

wsforten said...

Here is Locke's explanation from his book The Reasonableness of Christianity:

"Next to the knowledge of one God; maker of all things; “a clear knowledge of their duty was wanting to mankind.” This part of knowledge, though cultivated with some care by some of the heathen philosophers, yet got little footing among the people. All men, indeed, under pain of displeasing the gods, were to frequent the temples: every one went to their sacrifices and services: but the priests made it not their business to teach them virtue. If they were diligent in their observations and ceremonies; punctual in their feasts and solemnities, and the tricks of religion; the holy tribe assured them the gods were pleased, and they looked no farther. Few went to the schools of the philosophers to be instructed in their duties, and to know what was good and evil in their actions. The priests sold the better pennyworths, and therefore had all the custom. Lustrations and processions were much easier than a clean conscience, and a steady course of virtue; and an expiatory sacrifice that atoned for the want of it, was much more convenient than a strict and holy life. No wonder then, that religion was everywhere distinguished from, and preferred to virtue; and that it was dangerous heresy and profaneness to think the contrary. So much virtue as was necessary to hold societies together, and to contribute to the quiet of governments, the civil laws of commonwealths taught, and forced upon men that lived under magistrates. But these laws being for the most part made by such, who had no other aims but their own power, reached no farther than those things that would serve to tie men together in subjection; or at most were directly to conduce to the prosperity and temporal happiness of any people. But natural religion, in its full extent, was no-where, that I know, taken care of, by the force of natural reason. It should seem, by the little that has hitherto been done in it, that it is too hard a task for unassisted reason to establish morality in all its parts, upon its true foundation, with a clear and convincing light. And it is at least a surer and shorter way, to the apprehensions of the vulgar, and mass of mankind, that one manifestly sent from God, and coming with visible authority from him, should, as a king and law-maker, tell them their duties; and require their obedience; than leave it to the long and sometimes intricate deductions of reason, to be made out to them. Such trains of reasoning the greatest part of mankind have neither leisure to weigh; nor, for want of education and use, skill to judge of. We see how unsuccessful in this the attempts of philosophers were before our Saviour’s time. How short their several systems came of the perfection of a true and complete morality, is very visible. And if, since that, the christian philosophers have much out-done them: yet we may observe, that the first knowledge of the truths they have added, is owing to revelation: though as soon as they are heard and considered, they are found to be agreeable to reason; and such as can by no means be contradicted. Every one may observe a great many truths, which he receives at first from others, and readily assents to, as consonant to reason, which he would have found it hard, and perhaps beyond his strength, to have discovered himself. Native and original truth is not so easily wrought out of the mine, as we, who have it delivered already dug and fashioned into our hands, are apt to imagine. And how often at fifty or threescore years old are thinking men told what they wonder how they could miss thinking of? Which yet their own contemplations did not, and possibly never would have helped them to.

wsforten said...

"Experience shows, that the knowledge of morality, by mere natural light, (how agreeable soever it be to it,) makes but a slow progress, and little advance in the world. And the reason of it is not hard to be found in men’s necessities, passions, vices, and mistaken interests; which turn their thoughts another way: and the designing leaders, as well as following herd, find it not to their purpose to employ much of their meditations this way. Or whatever else was the cause, it is plain, in fact, that human reason unassisted failed men in its great and proper business of morality. It never from unquestionable principles, by clear deductions, made out an entire body of the “law of nature.” And he that shall collect all the moral rules of the philosophers, and compare them with those contained in the New Testament, will find them to come short of the morality delivered by our Saviour, and taught by his apostles; a college made up, for the most part, of ignorant, but inspired fishermen.

"Though yet, if any one should think, that out of the sayings of the wise heathens before our Saviour’s time, there might be a collection made of all those rules of morality, which are to be found in the christian religion; yet this would not at all hinder, but that the world, nevertheless, stood as much in need of our Saviour, and the morality delivered by him. Let it be granted (though not true) that all the moral precepts of the gospel were known by somebody or other, amongst mankind before. But where, or how, or of what use, is not considered. Suppose they may be picked up here and there; some from Solon and Bias in Greece, others from Tully in Italy: and to complete the work, let Confucius, as far as China, be consulted; and Anacharsis, the Scythian, contribute his share. What will all this do, to give the world a complete morality, that may be to mankind the unquestionable rule of life and manners? I will not here urge the impossibility of collecting from men, so far distant from one another, in time and place, and languages. I will suppose there was a Stobeus in those times, who had gathered the moral sayings from all the sages of the world. What would this amount to, towards being a steady rule; a certain transcript of a law that we are under? Did the saying of Aristippus, or Confucius, give it an authority? Was Zeno a law-giver to mankind? If not, what he or any other philosopher delivered, was but a saying of his. Mankind might hearken to it, or reject it, as they pleased; or as it suited their interest, passions, principles or humours. They were under no obligation; the opinion of this or that philosopher was of no authority. And if it were, you must take all he said under the same character. All his dictates must go for law, certain and true; or none of them. And then, if you will take any of the moral sayings of Epicurus (many whereof Seneca quotes with esteem and approbation) for precepts of the law of nature, you must take all the rest of his doctrine for such too; or else his authority ceases: and so no more is to be received from him, or any of the sages of old, for parts of the law of nature, as carrying with it an obligation to be obeyed, but what they prove to be so. But such a body of ethics, proved to be the law of nature, from principles of reason, and teaching all the duties of life; I think nobody will say the world had before our Saviour’s time.

wsforten said...

"It is not enough, that there were up and down scattered sayings of wise men, conformable to right reason. The law of nature, is the law of convenience too: and it is no wonder that those men of parts, and studious of virtue, (who had occasion to think on any particular part of it,) should, by meditation, light on the right even from the observable convenience and beauty of it; without making out its obligation from the true principles of the law of nature, and foundations of morality. But these incoherent apophthegms of philosophers, and wise men, however excellent in themselves, and well intended by them; could never make a morality, whereof the world could be convinced; could never rise to the force of a law, that mankind could with certainty depend on. Whatsoever should thus be universally useful, as a standard to which men should conform their manners, must have its authority, either from reason or revelation. It is not every writer of morality, or compiler of it from others, that can thereby be erected into a law-giver to mankind; and a dictator of rules, which are therefore valid, because they are to be found in his books; under the authority of this or that philosopher. He, that any one will pretend to set up in this kind, and have his rules pass for authentic directions, must show, that either he builds his doctrine upon principles of reason, self-evident in themselves; and that he deduces all the parts of it from thence, by clear and evident demonstration: or must show his commission from heaven, that he comes with authority from God, to deliver his will and commands to the world. In the former way, no-body that I know, before our Saviour’s time, ever did, or went about to give us a morality. It is true, there is a law of nature: but who is there that ever did, or undertook to give it us all entire, as a law; no more, nor no less, than what was contained in, and had the obligation of that law? Who ever made out all the parts of it, put them together, and showed the world their obligation? Where was there any such code, that mankind might have recourse to, as their unerring rule, before our Saviour’s time? If there was not, it is plain there was need of one to give us such a morality; such a law, which might be the sure guide of those who had a desire to go right; and, if they had a mind, need not mistake their duty, but might be certain when they had performed, when failed in it. Such a law of morality Jesus Christ hath given us in the New Testament; but by the latter of these ways, by revelation. We have from him a full and sufficient rule for our direction, and conformable to that of reason. But the truth and obligation of its precepts have their force, and are put past doubt to us, by the evidence of his mission. He was sent by God: his miracles show it; and the authority of God in his precepts cannot be questioned. Here morality has a sure standard, that revelation vouches, and reason cannot gainsay, nor question; but both together witness to come from God the great law-maker. And such an one as this, out of the New Testament, I think the world never had, nor can any one say, is any-where else to be found. Let me ask any one, who is forward to think that the doctrine of morality was full and clear in the world, at our Saviour’s birth; whither would he have directed Brutus and Cassius, (both men of parts and virtue, the one whereof believed, and the other disbelieved a future being,) to be satisfied in the rules and obligations of all the parts of their duties; if they should have asked him,

wsforten said...

"Where they might find the law they were to live by, and by which they should be charged, or acquitted, as guilty, or innocent? If to the sayings of the wise, and the declarations of philosophers, he sends them into a wild wood of uncertainty, to an endless maze, from which they should never get out: if to the religions of the world, yet worse: and if to their own reason, he refers them to that which had some light and certainty; but yet had hitherto failed all mankind in a perfect rule; and we see, resolved not the doubts that had arisen amongst the studious and thinking philosophers; nor had yet been able to convince the civilized parts of the world, that they had not given, nor could, without a crime, take away the lives of their children, by exposing them.

If any one shall think to excuse human nature, by laying blame on men’s negligence, that they did not carry morality to an higher pitch; and make it out entire in every part, with that clearness of demonstration which some think it capable of; he helps not the matter. Be the cause what it will, our Saviour found mankind under a corruption of manners and principles, which ages after ages had prevailed, and must be confessed, was not in a way or tendency to be mended. The rules of morality were in different countries and sects different. And natural reason no-where had cured, nor was like to cure the defects and errours in them. Those just measures of right and wrong, which necessity had anywhere introduced, the civil laws prescribed, or philosophy recommended, stood on their true foundations. They were looked on as bonds of society, and conveniencies of common life, and laudable practices. But where was it that their obligation was thoroughly known and allowed, and they received as precepts of a law; of the highest law, the law of nature? That could not be, without a clear knowledge and acknowledgment of the law-maker, and the great rewards and punishments, for those that would, or would not obey him. But the religion of the heathens, as was before observed, little concerned itself in their morals. The priests, that delivered the oracles of heaven, and pretended to speak from the gods, spoke little of virtue and a good life. And, on the other side, the philosophers, who spoke from reason, made not much mention of the Deity in their ethics. They depended on reason and her oracles, which contain nothing but truth: but yet some parts of that truth lie too deep for our natural powers easily to reach, and make plain and visible to mankind; without some light from above to direct them. When truths are once known to us, though by tradition, we are apt to be favourable to our own parts; and ascribe to our own understandings the discovery of what, in reality, we borrowed from others: or, at least, finding we can prove, what at first we learn from others, we are forward to conclude it an obvious truth, which, if we had sought, we could not have missed. Nothing seems hard to our understandings that is once known: and because what we see, we see with our own eyes; we are apt to overlook, or forget the help we had from others who showed it us, and first made us see it; as if we were not at all beholden to them, for those truths they opened the way to, and led us into. For knowledge being only of truths that are perceived to be so, we are favourable enough to our own faculties, to conclude, that they of their own strength would have attained those discoveries, without any foreign assistance; and that we know those truths, by the strength and native light of our own minds, as they did from whom we received them by theirs, only they had the luck to be before us.

wsforten said...

"Thus the whole stock of human knowledge is claimed by every one, as his private possession, as soon as he (profiting by others discoveries) has got it into his own mind: and so it is; but not properly by his own single industry, nor of his own acquisition. He studies, it is true, and takes pains to make a progress in what others have delivered: but their pains were of another sort, who first brought those truths to light, which he afterwards derives from them. He that travels the roads now, applauds his own strength and legs that have carried him so far in such a scantling of time; and ascribes all to his own vigour; little considering how much he owes to their pains, who cleared the woods, drained the bogs, built the bridges, and made the ways passable; without which he might have toiled much with little progress. A great many things which we have been bred up in the belief of, from our cradles, (and are notions grown familiar, and, as it were, natural to us, under the gospel,) we take for unquestionable obvious truths, and easily demonstrable; without considering how long we might have been in doubt or ignorance of them, had revelation been silent. And many are beholden to revelation, who do not acknowledge it. It is no diminishing to revelation, that reason gives its suffrage too, to the truths revelation has discovered. But it is our mistake to think, that because reason confirms them to us, we had the first certain knowledge of them from thence; and in that clear evidence we now possess them. The contrary is manifest, in the defective morality of the gentiles, before our Saviour’s time; and the want of reformation in the principles and measures of it, as well as practice. Philosophy seemed to have spent its strength, and done its utmost: or if it should have gone farther, as we see it did not, and from undeniable principles given us ethics in a science like mathematics, in every part demonstrable; this yet would not have been so effectual to man in this imperfect state, nor proper for the cure. The greatest part of mankind want leisure or capacity for demonstration; nor can carry a train of proofs, which in that way they must always depend upon for conviction, and cannot be required to assent to, until they see the demonstration. Wherever they stick, the teachers are always put upon proof, and must clear the doubt by a thread of coherent deductions from the first principle, how long, or how intricate soever they be. And you may as soon hope to have all the day-labourers and tradesmen, the spinsters and dairy-maids, perfect mathematicians, as to have them perfect in ethics this way. Hearing plain commands, is the sure and only course to bring them to obedience and practice. The greatest part cannot know, and therefore they must believe.

wsforten said...

"And I ask, whether one coming from heaven in the power of God, in full and clear evidence and demonstration of miracles, giving plain and direct rules of morality and obedience; be not likelier to enlighten the bulk of mankind, and set them right in their duties, and bring them to do them, than by reasoning with them from general notions and principles of human reason? And were all the duties of human life clearly demonstrated, yet I conclude, when well considered, that method of teaching men their duties would be thought proper only for a few, who had much leisure, improved understandings, and were used to abstract reasonings. But the instruction of the people were best still to be left to the precepts and principles of the gospel. The healing of the sick, the restoring sight to the blind by a word, the raising and being raised from the dead, are matters of fact, which they can without difficulty conceive, and that he who does such things, must do them by the assistance of a divine power. These things lie level to the ordinariest apprehension: he that can distinguish between sick and well, lame and sound, dead and alive, is capable of this doctrine. To one who is once persuaded that Jesus Christ was sent by God to be a King, and a Saviour of those who do believe in him; all his commands become principles; there needs no other proof for the truth of what he says, but that he said it. And then there needs no more, but to read the inspired books, to be instructed: all the duties of morality lie there clear, and plain, and easy to be understood. And here I appeal, whether this be not the surest, the safest, and most effectual way of teaching: especially if we add this farther consideration, that as it suits the lowest capacities of reasonable creatures, so it reaches and satisfies, nay, enlightens the highest. The most elevated understandings cannot but submit to the authority of this doctrine as divine; which coming from the mouths of a company of illiterate men, hath not only the attestation of miracles, but reason to confirm it: since they delivered no precepts but such, as though reason of itself had not clearly made out, yet it could not but assent to, when thus discovered, and think itself indebted for the discovery. The credit and authority our Saviour and his apostles had over the minds of men, by the miracles they did, tempted them not to mix (as we find in that of all the sects and philosophers, and other religions) any conceits, any wrong rules, any thing tending to their own by-interest, or that of a party, in their morality. No tang of prepossession, or fancy; no footsteps of pride, or vanity; no touch of ostentation, or ambition: appears to have a hand in it. It is all pure, all sincere; nothing too much, nothing wanting; but such a complete rule of life, as the wisest men must acknowledge, tends entirely to the good of mankind, and that all would be happy, if all would practise it."

[Sorry about the lengthy post - just wanted to get the whole context.]

Jonathan Rowe said...

WS Forten:

What do you think of Greg Forsters very accurate summary of Locke's "Christianity"?

"Locke was (and still is) welcomed as an ally by theological rationalists. The Reasonableness was (and still is) attacked by theological conservatives; Locke wrote his two “vindications” of the Reasonableness in response to the conservative John Edwards, who attacked Locke’s theology as rationalistic in a book entitled Socinianism Unmasked.

[...]

"... Locke fought hard for the position that people could be saved in Jesus while denying the Incarnation, the Trinity and the Atonement. In Locke’s time that would have been a reference to Socinians and deists. Supporting this “latitudinarian” view of salvation was one of the primary motives of the Reasonableness, and it was on these grounds Edwards and others accused Locke of being a Socinian rationalist. Many interpretations of these facts are possible; Locke was certainly not a deist, and I believe there’s a strong case to be made that the charges of Socinianism and rationalism were overblown and that Locke does not deserve to be called a “forerunner of deism.” However, his influence was crucial to normalizing the presence of deism in Anglican theological discourse and the eventual admission of deists to Anglican membership. ...

[I]n our time as in Locke’s time, it’s generally the conservative Christians who attack Locke’s theology and the liberals, rationalists, and secularists who defend it."

Tom Van Dyke said...

Y'know, Mr. Forten, I don't believe Locke answered the question in all that. He just asserts over and over that Jesus perfected morality, but how, he does not say.

It's actually his "lawgiver" argument that's strongest, that a) Jesus' miracles proved he spoke with God's authority and b) there's objectionable stuff in canons like Epicurus's that diminish his moral authority. It's the combination of its self-evident reasonableness and moral authority that makes the New Testament special.

Jonathan Rowe is making his usual trouble per evangelical historian Gregg Frazer , that if you don't believe Jesus died for our sins, you're not really a Christian. And indeed, Locke glosses over that entire dimension of Christianity, ascribing Jesus' status as "Our Saviour" to the message he brought rather than any "mystical" Christianity like the Atonement.

I hold that "Christian" enough for rock'n'roll, but there's still the question of Moses and the Old Testament---what are they, chopped liver? [I suppose the reply might be that Mosaic law isn't all that reasonable, but he did perform miracles too, after all.]

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jonathan Rowe is making his usual trouble per evangelical historian Gregg Frazer

I put a wink in there, Jon, but it didn't take, for some reason.

>wink< ;-) ;-D ;-P &c.

wsforten said...

Have either of you actually read Locke's Reasonableness of Christianity and his two vindications of it?

Mr. Forster's claim that "Locke fought hard for the position that people could be saved in Jesus while denying the Incarnation, the Trinity and the Atonement" is not a very fair representation of Mr. Locke's argument. Lock's goal was to present the bare necessities for salvation according to the Scriptures. He wrote that:

What we are now required to believe to obtain eternal life, is plainly set down in the gospel. St. John tells us, John iii. 36, “He that believeth on the Son, hath eternal life; and he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life.” What this believing on him is, we are also told in the next chapter: “The woman said unto him, I know that the Messiah cometh: when he is come, he will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee, am he. The woman then went into the city, and saith to the men, come see a man that hath told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Messiah? and many of the Samaritans believed on him for the saying of the woman, who testified, he told me all that ever I did. So when the Samaritans were come unto him, many more believed because of his words, and said to the woman, We believe not any longer, because of thy saying; for we have heard ourselves, and we know that this man is truly the Saviour of the world, the Messiah.” John iv. 25, 26, 29, 39, 40, 41, 42.

By which place it is plain, that believing on the Son is the believing that Jesus was the Messiah; giving credit to the miracles he did, and the profession he made of himself. For those who are said to believe on him, for the saying of the woman, ver. 39, tell the woman that they now believed not any longer, because of her saying: but that having heard him themselves, they knew, i. e. believed, past doubt, that he was the Messiah.

This was the great proposition that was then controverted, concerning Jesus of Nazareth, “Whether he was the Messiah or no?” And the assent to that was that which distinguished believers from unbelievers ... To convince men of this, he did his miracles; and their assent to, or not assenting to this, made them to be, or not to be, of his church; believers, or not believers.


He also wrote that:

Repentance is as absolute a condition of the covenant of grace as faith; and as necessary to be performed as that ... Believing Jesus to be the Messiah, and repenting, were so necessary and fundamental parts of the covenant of grace, that one of them alone is often put for both ... “Repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus the Messiah.” This was the sum and substance of the gospel which St. Paul preached, and was all that he knew necessary to salvation.

These two things, faith in Jesus as the Messiah and repentance from sin are all that are taught in the Scriptures as being required for any man to become a Christian and inherit eternal life. In regards to other doctrines taught in the Bible, Mr. Locke wrote:

There be many truths in the bible, which a good christian may be wholly ignorant of, and so not believe: which, perhaps, some lay great stress on, and call fundamental articles, because they are the distinguishing points of their communion.

wsforten said...

And later in his first book, he wrote:

But farther, therefore, to those who will be ready to say, “May those truths delivered in the epistles, which are not contained in the preaching of our Saviour and his apostles, and are therefore, by this account, not necessary to salvation; be believed or disbelieved, without any danger? May a christian safely question or doubt of them?”

To this I answer, That the law of faith, being a covenant of free grace, God alone can appoint what shall be necessarily believed by every one whom he will justify. What is the faith which he will accept and account for righteousness, depends wholly on his good pleasure. For it is of grace, and not of right, that this faith is accepted. And therefore he alone can set the measures of it: and what he has so appointed and declared is alone necessary. No-body can add to these fundamental articles of faith; nor make any other necessary, but what God himself hath made, and declared to be so. And what these are which God requires of those who will enter into, and receive the benefits of the new covenant, has already been shown. An explicit belief of these is absolutely required of all those to whom the gospel of Jesus Christ is preached, and salvation through his name proposed.

The other parts of divine revelation are objects of faith, and are so to be received. They are truths, whereof no one can be rejected; none that is once known to be such, may, or ought to be disbelieved. For to acknowledge any proposition to be of divine revelation and authority; and yet to deny, or disbelieve it; is to offend against this fundamental article and ground of faith, that God is true. But yet a great many of the truths revealed in the gospel, every one does, and must confess, a man may be ignorant of; nay, disbelieve, without danger to his salvation...

Though all divine revelation requires the obedience of faith, yet every truth of inspired scriptures is not one of those, that by the law of faith is required to be explicitly believed to justification. What those are, we have seen by what our Saviour and his apostles proposed to, and required in those whom they converted to the faith. Those are fundamentals, which it is not enough not to disbelieve: every one is required actually to assent to them. But any other proposition contained in the scripture, which God has not thus made a necessary part of the law of faith, (without an actual assent to which, he will not allow any one to be a believer,) a man may be ignorant of, without hazarding his salvation by a defect in his faith. He believes all that God has made necessary for him to believe, and assent to; and as for the rest of divine truths, there is nothing more required of him, but that he receive all the parts of divine revelation, with a docility and disposition prepared to embrace and assent to all truths coming from God; and submit his mind to whatsoever shall appear to him to bear that character. Where he, upon fair endeavours, understands it not, how can he avoid being ignorant? And where he cannot put several texts, and make them consist together, what remedy? He must either interpret one by the other, or suspend his opinion. He that thinks that more is, or can be required of poor frail man in matters of faith, will do well to consider what absurdities he will run into. God, out of the infiniteness of his mercy, has dealt with man, as a compassionate and tender Father. He gave him reason, and with it a law: that could not be otherwise than what reason should dictate: unless we should think, that a reasonable creature should have an unreasonable law. But, considering the frailty of man, apt to run into corruption and misery, he promised a Deliverer, whom in his good time he sent; and then declared to all mankind, that whoever would believe him to be the Saviour promised, and take him now raised from the dead, and constituted the Lord and Judge of all men, to be their King and Ruler, should be saved.

wsforten said...

It is clear from these passages that Mr. Locke was not excusing those who denied the Incarnation, the Trinity or the Atonement. He simply taught that a man may be ignorant of many truths and still be a Christian.

It is certainly true that many people have taken Mr. Locke's statements and used them to support ideas that he would have rejected, but it is likely that the same thing can be said of every book that has ever been written. We should not be as concerned with how a particular book was received as we are with what that book actually says. And this, of course, brings me back to my original question. Have either of you actually read John Locke's Reasonableness of Christianity and his two vindications of it?

Jonathan Rowe said...

Yes I've read Locke's Reasonableness and Vindications.

"It is clear from these passages that Mr. Locke was not excusing those who denied the Incarnation, the Trinity or the Atonement."

Yes it's clear as mud, as my friend Mr. Van Dyke, likes to note.

"He simply taught that a man may be ignorant of many truths and still be a Christian."

The difference between ignorant and denied. I think we need to revisit those original texts.

wsforten said...

If you have read Mr. Locke's books on this topic, then it should be obvious to you that his sole purpose in writing them was to present the minimum requirements of redemption. He left all other arguments alone. Therefore, any claim that Mr. Locke denied the truth of a particular argument simply because he did not mention it in his book is a false claim. If I were to write a book on the fundamental concepts of history which are necessary for one to graduate with a degree in that field, it would be wrong to charge me with advocating a vegetarian diet simply because my book about the fundamentals of history does not mention anything about the students eating meat. Eating meat is not a necessary requirement for one to receive a degree in history. Therefore, my book on the requirements for receiving such a degree should not be judged based on whether it instructs the student to eat meat. The same is true of John Locke's Reasonableness of Christianity.

Take the doctrine of the Trinity, for example. Mr. Locke was not writing a book on the nature of God; he was writing a book on the minimum requirements of redemption. Therefore, in order to claim that he should have mentioned the Trinity in his book, the one making that claim must first prove that the belief in the Trinity is necessary for salvation. If a belief in the Trinity is not absolutely necessary for salvation (and Mr. Locke presents a very clear explanation for why it is not in his second vindication), then he should no more be derided for failing to discuss that belief than I should be for failing to instruct students of history to eat meat. He does not discuss the Trinity because it is not within the scope of his book, and the burden of proof is on those who claim otherwise to demonstrate that a belief in the Trinity is necessary for salvation.

Are you of the opinion that a belief in the Trinity is necessary in order for a man to receive the redemption of God and become a Christian? If so, then how do you answer Mr. Locke's argument to the contrary; and if not, then why do you condemn him for the absence of such a claim in his book?

Jonathan Rowe said...

I tell you where I am coming from:

I am not a traditional believer. For personal reasons anyone who calls himself a Christians -- Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Jerry Falwell, the Pope, Bishop Gene Robinson, Fred Phelps, -- gets to be one.

I'm trying to find out what it is Locke believed/taught and nothing more. I think we would agree the Locke posited belief in Jesus as Messiah as a lowest common denominator for "Christianity." With a whole lot of nuances like you have to repent, and you could be ignorant of certain parts of the Bible and still be a Christian. That last part seems common sense. The Bible is one big thick complicated book. Most folks who claim to believe every word of it, I bet, aren't aware of what's in more than half of it.

The only issue I have with you is, folks have claimed Locke believes in all sorts of things (like that he was a secret atheist). Forster's summation of Locke is one of the fairest I've seen.

You yourself seem to accept Locke stood for the proposition that you didn't need to believe in the Trinity to be a Christian. It stands to reason that Arians and Socinians, those who disbelieve in the Trinity, Incarnation and Atonement, could be Christians because they believed Jesus Messiah. That's all Forster seems to be saying.

Yes I've read Reasonableness of Christianity. Though I can't say I retained it well.

Tom Van Dyke said...

If a belief in the Trinity is not absolutely necessary for salvation (and Mr. Locke presents a very clear explanation for why it is not in his second vindication), then he should no more be derided for failing to discuss that belief than I should be for failing to instruct students of history to eat meat. He does not discuss the Trinity because it is not within the scope of his book, and the burden of proof is on those who claim otherwise to demonstrate that a belief in the Trinity is necessary for salvation.

Hm. Mr. Forten seems to be somewhere in my zone, that a "belief" in Jesus as cosmically unique some way more than merely as a great philosopher is Christian enough for rock'n'roll. [Forten seems to be arguing theologically per Locke*; I argue it only sociologically.]


*Esp the 2nd Vindication

"Why did Jesus Christ and his
apostles require assent to, and belief of, this one ar-
tide alone, viz. That Jesus is the Messiah, to consti-
tute and make a man a Christian, or true member of
Christ, (as it is abundantly evident they did, from the
Reasonableness of Christianity,) if the belief of more
articles is absolutely necessary to make and constitute a man a Christian?"

BUT TO THIS Mr. Edwards ANSWERS NOT."

http://archive.org/stream/thereasonablenes00lockuoft/thereasonablenes00lockuoft_djvu.txt

wsforten said...

You are very much mistaken to conclude that anyone who calls himself a Christian gets to be one, and Tom is mistaken to conclude that a mere belief that Jesus is unique is enough for salvation. Locke correctly taught that faith alone is insufficient for making someone a Christian. In fact, we can see from the very definition of the word that a Christian is not just someone who believes on Jesus or who claims to be such. The word "Christian" literally means a follower of the Messiah. For someone to claim to be a Christian without following Christ no more makes him a Christian than junior high boy becomes a professional basketball player just by pretending to be one.

As I pointed out in a previous post, there are two things which are necessary for salvation. First, a belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the promised deliverer from God; and second, repentance from sin and toward Jesus Christ. As Locke pointed out, the Bible clearly teaches that the devils believe Jesus to be the Messiah:

Perhaps it will farther be urged, that this is not a “saving faith;” because such a faith as this the devils may have, and it was plain they had; for they believed and declared “Jesus to be the Messiah.” And St. James, ch. ii. 19, tells us, “The devils believe and tremble;” and yet they shall not be saved. To which I answer...

...that though the devils believed, yet they could not be saved by the covenant of grace; because they performed not the other condition required in it, altogether as necessary to be performed as this of believing: and that is repentance. Repentance is as absolute a condition of the covenant of grace as faith; and as necessary to be performed as that. John the Baptist, who was to prepare the way for the Messiah, “Preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins,” Mark i. 4.


And shortly after making this statement, Mr. Locke explains what is meant by the term "Repentence":

A sincere obedience, how can any one doubt to be, or scruple to call, a condition of the new covenant, as well as faith; whoever reads our Saviour’s sermon in the mount, to omit all the rest? Can any thing be more express than these words of our Lord? Matt. vi. 14, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” And John xiii. 17, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if you do them.” This is so inindispensable a condition of the new covenant, that believing without it, will not do, nor be accepted; if our Saviour knew the terms on which he would admit men into life. “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord,” says he, Luke vi. 46, “and do not the things which I say?” It is not enough to believe him to be the Messiah, the Lord, without obeying him. For that these he speaks to here, were believers, is evident from the parallel place, Matt. vii. 21—23, where it is thus recorded: “Not every one who says, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doth the will of my father, which is in heaven.” No rebels, or refractory disobedient, shall be admitted there, though they have so far believed in Jesus, as to be able to do miracles in his name: as is plain out of the following words: “Many will say to me in that day, Have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils, and in thy name have done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, ye workers of iniquity.”

wsforten said...

This part of the new covenant, the apostles also, in their preaching the gospel of the Messiah, ordinarily joined with the doctrine of faith.

St. Peter, in his first sermon, Acts ii. when they were pricked in heart, and asked, “What shall we do?” says, ver. 38, “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins.” The same he says to them again in his next speech, Acts iv. 26, “Unto you first, God having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you.” How was this done? “in turning away every one from your iniquities.”


Repentance, therefore, is the turning away from disobedience or sin and turning to Jesus Christ in sincere obedience to Him. The Bible says that any faith without this obedience is a dead faith (James 2:17, 20, 26).

It is for this reason that I do not believe President Obama to be a Christian. He presented the account of his conversion in his 2006 "Call to Renewal" keynote address, and there is no repentance to be found anywhere within that address. I sincerely hope that I am wrong and that our President truly has repented of his sins and become a follower of Jesus Christ, but I have not seen any evidence in his life of the "works meet for repentance" (Acts 26:20) which in another place are referred to as fruits (Matthew 3:8) by which we may discern who is and who is not a Christian (Matthew 7:15-20).

Jonathan Rowe said...

Do you think Mitt Romney is a Christian?

Tom Van Dyke said...

FTR, I'm speaking of "Christian" sociologically. I take no side in the intramural battles as to who is and who's not.

Jesus must be seen as more than a mere philosopher or even prophet--"Messiah" works; that the Bible is believed to be Divine Writ is necessary, but a belief in Jesus' divinity is not.

Repentance is also secondary--universalism [all dogs go to heaven] is not a disqualifier: Origen was assuredly Christian, as was, say, Benjamin Rush.

As for the American religions like Mormonism or Adventism or Messianic Judaism, or Jehovah's Witnesses

http://www.4truth.net/fourtruthpbnew.aspx?pageid=8589952835

it's all a headache, but sociologically speaking, they can tuck under the "Christian" umbrella well enough. Since they evolved after the Founding, such hair-splitting is often unnecessary, sociologically speaking: they is what they is. To a Presbyterian, they're fringey if not downright heretical to the breaking point; to a Muslim or a Martian, they seem Christian enough.

Tom Van Dyke said...

by which we may discern who is and who is not a Christian (Matthew 7:15-20)

& BTW, I think questioning Barack Obama's Christianity may be a little unsuitable for this blog, and Mormonism too--these are theological questions and therefore are necessarily subjective. Mormons maintain they're Christians; some Christians insist they are not.

But judging such truth claims is above the historian's pay grade, as is that of the disposition of the president's soul.

wsforten said...

Locke indicated that he would not have considered Mormonism to be a Christian doctrine, for he correctly claimed that monotheism was a necessary precursor to believing that Jesus is the Messiah. In his Reasonableness of Christianity, he wrote:

We must, therefore, examine and see what God requires us to believe now, under the revelation of the gospel; for the belief of one invisible, eternal, omnipotent God, maker of heaven and earth, &c. was required before, as well as now.

Later in that same volume, Locke explained the necessity of monotheism in more detail:

Upon the like occasion he tells the jews at Antioch, Acts xiii. 46, “It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you; but seeing you put it off from you, we turn to the gentiles.” ’Tis plain here, St. Paul’s charging their blood on their own heads, is for opposing this single truth, that Jesus was the Messiah; that salvation or perdition depends upon believing or rejecting this one proposition. I mean, this is all that is required to be believed by those who acknowledge but one eternal and invisible God, the maker of heaven and earth, as the jews did. For that there is something more required to salvation, besides believing, we shall see hereafter. In the mean time, it is fit here on this occasion to take notice, that though the apostles in their preaching to the jews, and the devout, (as we translate the word σε[Editor: illegible character]όμενοι, who were proselytes of the gate, and the worshippers of one eternal and invisible God,) said nothing of the believing in this one true God, the maker of heaven and earth; because it was needless to press this to those who believed and professed it already (for to such, ’tis plain, were most of their discourses hitherto.) Yet when they had to do with idolatrous heathens, who were not yet come to the knowledge of the one only true God; they began with that, as necessary to be believed; it being the foundation on which the other was built, and without which it could signify nothing.

Thus Paul speaking to the idolatrous Lystrians, who would have sacrificed to him and Barnabas, says, Acts xiv. 15, “We preach unto you, that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, who made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”

Thus also he proceeded with the idolatrous Athenians, Acts xvii. telling them, upon occasion of the altar, dedicated to the unknown God, “whom you ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God who made the world, and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands.—Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art, or man’s device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every-where to repent; because he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom he hath ordained: whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” So that we see, where any thing more was necessary to be proposed to be believed, as there was to the heathen idolaters, there the apostles were careful not to omit it.

wsforten said...

Tom, it seems to me that it would be improper to label someone as a sociological Christian who is not a Christian in fact. That would be like labeling someone as a social drinker who does not consume alcohol at all. In order to determine who is and who is not a Christian in fact, it is necessary that we follow Locke's example and examine teachings of Jesus Christ and his apostles in order to determine what requirements they proclaimed to be necessary.

This is actually one of the major points of contention that I have with Gregg Frazer's position. Instead of determining whether the founding fathers were Christians in fact, he chose to measure their Christianity according to an arbitrary standard that is nowhere to be found within the pages of the Scripture. In essence, Mr. Frazer is guilty of the very same theistic rationalism that he incorrectly attributes to the key founding fathers. He has used his own human reason guided by the human reasoning of others to determine what is and is not a requirement for one to be a Christian. In this regard, it is Frazer who is the theistic rationalist and not Locke, for Locke argued that it is the teachings of Jesus and His apostles, i.e. revelation, that should form the basis for determining who is and who is not a Christian and not the rationale of the various Christian denominations upon which Mr. Frazer has relied.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Tom, it seems to me that it would be improper to label someone as a sociological Christian who is not a Christian in fact.

Heh heh, WS. No, not at all. For socio-historical purposes, think of me as a Muslim or a Martian. I cannot determine as "fact" who and who is not a Christian, anymore than you or I are qualified to adjusge who is and is not a Muslim.

[We might agree on who is a Martian, though. Barack Obama. I don't get the dude. OTOH, Mitt Romney is like this Stepford American, so partisanwise, I think 2012 was a push.]

Yo, I'm enjoying your clarity and erudition on this completely. I have no idea where you're coming from sociologically or theologically, but your facts are rock-solid so I really don't care.

Welcome to our little karass, bro.

He has used his own human reason guided by the human reasoning of others to determine what is and is not a requirement for one to be a Christian. In this regard, it is Frazer who is the theistic rationalist and not Locke, for Locke argued that it is the teachings of Jesus and His apostles, i.e. revelation, that should form the basis for determining who is and who is not a Christian and not the rationale of the various Christian denominations upon which Mr. Frazer has relied.

Way above my pay grade, but I love it. Bring the pain, within reason, keeping in mind that the American Creation blog's readers and writers count among us an evangelical preacher, an atheist, several agnostics, a papist or three, and a couple of Mormons. [Our Israeli contingent has been MIA of late. He's pretty Calvinist, though, esp being as he's Jewish and all.]

Welcome, dude. Rock on. But let's go easy on President Obama's religion. Too current. If you want to do the late Ronald Reagan, that's fairer game for a history blog, since he hath passed into history. He was pretty sphinx-like on the doctrine stuff, eh?

wsforten said...

Thank you, Tom. I appreciate your kindness.

Tom Van Dyke said...

It's not as though I'm not sympathetic,

http://www.pastorjoelhunter.com/?p=1029

it just that this might not be the blog for it.

;-)

secular square said...

Hey TVD--

I am a little late to the discussion.

I wanted to follow up on the comment of Pappias @ Dec. 14.

I, too, understand that Locke argued for “a natural theory of rights.” and that people establish governments to protect those rights. I do not see how this differs from the assertion of Otis that the establishment of government

 “springs from the necessities of our nature, and has an everlasting foundation in the unchangeable will of God.”

After all, Locke did begin his section on the origins of political society with the observation that “God, having made man such a creature, in his own judgment, it was not good for him to be alone, put him under strong obligations of necessity, convenience, and inclination to drive him into society.”

And I wonder why Wilson disagrees with Locke. He asked,

“Must our rights be removed from the stable foundation of nature, and placed on the precarious and fluctuating basis of human institution?”

Isn't that Locke's point, that rights are insecure and precarious in a state of nature? And that mankind needs civil government to protect those rights? Does Wilson elaborate on why he comes to a different conclusion?

And how much of our natural liberty do we really surrender as part of the social contract? Locke asserted that we give up the private executive authority to punish infractions of natural law. Not much else.

Lee

Tom Van Dyke said...

Lee--great to hear from you. I think that understandings of Locke are all over the place--the "true" Locke penetrated by Otis, and the "natural law" Locke as understood by less penetrating readers such as Hamilton.

As for James Wilson, my own secret guess is that he hijacks Locke for traditional natural law via Locke's citations of the Anglican Rev. Richard Hooker. The Straussian close reader points out that often, when Locke is citing Hooker seemingly approvingly, he's often disagreeing with him. But the uncareful or skimming reader reads the lengthy citations of Hooker and takes them to be Locke's opinions as well.

So for Wilson--a fabulously erudite man who was an actual Scotsman who actually understood men like Locke--I wonder whether he drags the esteemed Locke onto his own side, ignoring Locke's actual deviations from Hooker.

Locke's unpublished work on natural law came out only in the 1950s. It's rather incoherent, which is why he never published or even finished it.

http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/1952329?uid=3739560&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21101469055423

Strauss examines it here. Strauss's opinion that Locke was really more a Hobbesian

Isn't that Locke's point, that rights are insecure and precarious in a state of nature? And that mankind needs civil government to protect those rights?

than a natural rights guy. That opinion of the "true" Locke is that of Otis, and of many today such as Michael Zuckert, and following Zuckert, the lauded historian Mark Noll.

I do not necessarily disagree; my counter is that the Founders' Locke is that of Hamilton and James Wilson, Locke's name and reputation appropriated for the American vision of natural rights.




Tom Van Dyke said...

...which Peter Lawler calls an "accidental Thomism."

http://bigthink.com/rightly-understood/am-i-american-enough

"In a superb chapter on John Courtney Murray, Lawler defends the American founders' "implicitly Thomistic" liberalism (from which we've strayed), which, despite its debt to Locke, retained a conception of rights firmly grounded in natural law. Following Murray, he credits a Calvinist influence with tempering the founders' own liberal impulses, allowing them to build "better than they knew." He hopes that perhaps our politics may again experience a similarly fruitful tension between today's evangelicals and secularists."

I agree with this, as well as the Calvinism part [which I also credit for putting the fight for natural rights into political action], but I think the "Thomism" isn't accidental--parts of Aquinas survived the Reformation, not the Catholic theology but the metaphysics and thus natural law ["natural theology"], the germ of political philosophy that became natural rights and liberty as the Founders posited them.

secular square said...

Pretty complicated . . . the Straussian Locke, the Founders Locke, the true Locke.

Hasn't anyone found the key to Locke?

Tom Van Dyke said...

I've seen Mark Noll using Zuckert's Straussian Locke, others use him as a secular poison pill in the Founding. Me, I think it's a mistake.

Kim Ian Parker argues a more Christian what-you-see-is-what-you-get Locke, disregarding the "esoteric" Locke whom Strauss sees as a Hobbesian radical, and charging that the Straussian reading ignores what is plainly traditional if not Thomistic. [E.g., the First Treatise, which echoes Cardinal Bellarmine.]

And James Wilson [albeit perhaps unitarian himself] argued much the same:

"I am equally far from believing that Mr. Locke was a friend to infidelity. But yet it is unquestionable, that the writings of Mr. Locke have facilitated the progress, and have given strength to the effects of scepticism.

The high reputation, which he deservedly acquired for his enlightened attachment to the mild and tolerating doctrines of christianity, secured to him the esteem and confidence of those, who were its friends. The same high and deserved reputation inspired others of very different views and characters, with a design to avail themselves of its splendour, and, by that means, to diffuse a fascinating kind of lustre over their own tenets of a dark and sable hue.

The consequence has been, that the writings of Mr. Locke, one of the most able, most sincere, and most amiable assertors of christianity and true philosophy, have been perverted to purposes, which he would have deprecated and prevented, had he discovered or foreseen them."

So even in his own time--actually in the century thereafter, he was used by some as a cudgel against traditional theo-philosophy. But I think it was "the Founders' Locke" as wielded by Hamilton and Wilson who won.

Ibid., Trinitarianish language in support of natural law:

"Let humble reverence attend us as we proceed. The great and incomprehensible Author, and Preserver, and Ruler of all things—he himself works not without an eternal decree.

Such—and so universal is law. “Her seat,” to use the sublime language of the excellent Hooker, “is the bosom of God; her voice, the harmony of the world; all things in heaven and earth do her homage; the very least as feeling her care, and the greatest as not exempted from her power. Angels and men, creatures of every condition, though each in different sort and manner, yet all with uniform consent, admiring her as the mother of their peace and joy.”

---Wilson, Of the General Principles of Law and Obligation, Lectures on law

http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=2072&chapter=156457&layout=html&Itemid=27

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