Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Mystery Hid From Ages and Generations, Part I

I am going to reproduce Rev. Charles Chauncy's "The Mystery Hid From Ages and Generations" in portions. I am also going to edit the lowercase "s" because in the original style they look more like "f." This helps sheds light on Dr. Gregg Frazer's assertion that ministers like Chauncy, while they held reason and revelation largely agreed, resolved apparent differences between them in favor of reason, not revelation. Hence reason trumps revelation. That's not what Chauncy and others necessarily claimed to do (he's claiming to derive his authority from the Bible's text). But, I want us to ask whether that is in fact what Chauncy DID. What follows is the three and a half pages. The original can be read in its entirety here.



AS the First Cause of all things is infinitely benevolent, 'tis not easy to conceive, that he should bring mankind into existence, unless he intended to make them finally happy. And if this was his intention, it cannot well be supposed, as he is infinitely intelligent and wise, that he should be unable to project, or carry into execution, a scheme that would be effectual to secure, sooner or later, the certain accomplishment of it. Should it be suggested. Free agents, as men are allowed to be, must be left to their own choice, in consequence whereof blame can be reflected justly no where but upon themselves, if, when happiness is put into their own power, they chuse to pursue those courses which will end in misery: The answer is obvious, Their Creator, being perfectly benevolent, would be disposed to prevent their making, or, at least, their finally persisting in, such wrong choices; and, being infinitely intelligent and wise, would use suitable, and yet effectual, methods, in order to attain this end. Should it be said further. Such free agents as men are may oppose all the methods that can be used with them, in consistency with liberty, and persist in wrong pursuits, in consequence of wrong determinations, to the rendering themselves finally unhappy: The reply is, This is sooner said than proved. Who will undertake to make it evident, that infinite wisdom, excited by infinite benevolence, is incapable of devising expedients, whereby moral agents, without any violence offered to their liberty, may certainly be led, if not at first, yet after various repeated trials, into such determinations, and consequent actions, as would finally prepare them for happiness? It would be hard to suppose, that infinite wisdom should finally be outdone by the obstinacy and folly of any free agents whatsoever. If this might really be the case, how can it be thought, with respect to such free agents, that they should ever have been produced by an infinitely benevolent cause? If the only good God knew (as he must have known, if he is infinitely intelligent), that some free agents would make themselves unhappy, notwithstanding the utmost efforts of his wisdom to prevent it, why did he create them? To give them existence, knowing, at the same time, that they would render themselves finally miserable, by abusing their moral powers, in opposition to all that he could do to prevent it, is scarcely reconcilable with supremely and absolutely perfect benevolence; which, in this case, one would be ready to think, must have withheld the gift of existence.

But however uncertain the final state of men may be, upon the principles of mere reason, the matter is sufficiently cleared up in the revelations of scripture. For we are here informed, not only that men were originally made for happiness, but that they shall certainly attain to the enjoyment of it, in the final issue of things. The salvation of the whole human kind is indeed the great thing aimed at, in the scheme, the bible has opened to our view, as now in prosecution, by the benevolent Deity, under the management of that glorious personage, Jesus Christ; who, we are there assured, will go on prosecuting this design, till all the individuals of the human race that ever had, now have, or ever will have, existence, shall be fixed in the possession of complete and everlasting happiness.

This, I am sensible, is very contrary to the common opinion, which supposes that the greatest part of mankind will be finally miserable, notwithstanding the appointment of Jesus Christ to the office of a Saviour, and all that God has either yet done, or will hereafter do, under his ministration, in order to prevent it. Nay, it is the opinion of some, that the elect (a very small number comparatively considered) are the only ones, the benevolent Deity has concerned himself for, so as effectually to secure their salvation; having left all others, whom he might as well have saved, had he so pleaded, to bring upon themselves remediless and eternal ruin, for the praise of the glory of his justice.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Hence reason trumps revelation.

You keep insisting that, Jon, even when your own evidence says just the opposite.

"But however uncertain the final state of men may be, upon the principles of mere reason, the matter is sufficiently cleared up in the revelations of scripture."

Jonathan Rowe said...

Yes, I noted that's what Chauncy is saying. My question is is this what he's DOING?

I copied the first 3.5 pages verbatim and I don't see any biblical arguments. To be fair, he does get to them. But it's notable that he sets his case up with determinations he makes from reason about God's infinitely benevolent nature.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Let me also note that if Chauncy is right -- that Scripture proves universal salvation -- that makes me more inclined to believe in the Bible, because it's what I'd like to believe.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Heck, you could be Catholic and believe that, or at least hope for it. Here's a bishop who agrees with you.

Of course, I imagine Gregg Frazer would say that in Catholicism, reason trumps revelation too, so we see the discussion gets out of hand in a hurry when we let a member of one sect judge the others.

Still, the biblical arguments for universal reconciliation are not bad, good enough that

"Various theologians, including Clement of Alexandria and Origen in the 3rd century, St. Gregory of Nyssa in the 4th century, and St. Isaac the Syrian in the 7th century, expressed universalist positions in early Christianity.[citation needed] Though Gregory of Nyssa was a known universalist, he was never condemned. He was additionally declared "the father of fathers" by the seventh ecumenical council.

The existence of hell is normative theology, but non-normative theology isn't necessarily heretical---although John Calvin would disagree, since he was completely opposed to speculative theology. But that's Calvin, not Christianity, unless we set up Calvin as the authority on Christianity.

But that would be trading one pope for another, eh?

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'll park this here, as it touches on many of the discussions we've been having:

From an essay by Robert Rea scroll halfway down]:

"Finally [Hooker's fellow pastor and Puritan/Calvinist rival Walter] Travers attacked Hooker on his manner of accepting Scripture. Travers took exception to Hooker's saying that the assurance of what we believe by word is not so great as that we believe by sense. Hooker replies by asking why it is then, that if assurance by word is greater, God so frequently shows his promises to us in our sensible experience.

Hooker's ultimate principle he calls reason, by which he means thought, not as propositional thinking, but as the whole process of experience, and reflection on experience, that issues in knowledge and wisdom, and supremely, the knowledge of God.

Further, for Hooker, the realm of experience is ordinary life, all of it. Of this ordinary experience, scripture is a part. As all comes from God, so scripture does. As we learn from all our experience, and learn that the world is so ordered that it works in this way and not in that, so we learn of God from Scripture. This supplies the knowledge of God which we cannot gain from the nature we discern in the world around us."

As we see, Richard Hooker [1554-1600] predates Locke, the "Enlightenment," and American Protestantism like Chauncy's. Hooker's method is rooted in Aquinas [we see here "general" and "special" revelation differentiated in the last 2 sentences], and we also see that applying reason to scripture was no new American phenomenon some call "theistic rationalism."

Hooker is called the father of Anglicanism, which we can see contrasted here to strict Calvinism. The Calvinistic-minded, for good reason, would be tempted to call Hooker something less than fully Christian, but that's an intramural theological battle, not a socio-historical one.

Although Hooker [or Anglicanism] may be called "crypto-Catholic," that makes it no less Christian.
From the linked essay:

Although Hooker is unsparing in his censure of what he believes to be the errors of Rome, his contemporary, Pope Clement VIII (died 1605), said of the book: "It has in it such seeds of eternity that it will abide until the last fire shall consume all learning."

Jonathan Rowe said...

Two things.

First the "rationalism" of 1750-1800. Viewed from the perspective of Calvinism and Sola Scriptura, it does look like a watershed. Yet viewed from the perspective of Aristotle->Aquinas->Hooker->Locke [and Milton, Newton, Clarke as his contemporaries who also influenced the FFs] it was an evolving tradition. However, one could argue it was still evolving ever more in the direction of "rationalism," something more enlightened, less traditional. One could also argue that Hobbes->Locke, "state of nature," was a watershed even for THAT tradition, but Locke didn't present it that way.

Re the Bible and universalism. If you read further in Chauncy's pamphlet you see how he notes those who don't accept Christ get temporarily punished in proportion to their degree of sin. Gregg terms this in his thesis "Protestant Purgatory," so you may be correct about how he'd term RCism. However, he also notes, in the thesis RC adherence to the orthodox creeds, and Aquinas' clear teaching of revelation over reason.

Yes, Chauncy did claim scripture vetted his notions, evangelicals -- the ones that I've come across, esp. here on these threads, have a hard time believing "Sola-Scriptura" can disprove original sin, the Trinity and eternal damnation. To them, this has just GOT to be "man's reason" masking itself in that claim.

And I think that says something further about the complications of politics and theology, when the two intersect, and coming forth with compromises and lowest-common-denominators. It also says something about the problems with "Christian Nation" claims as political theology.

That's why I will continue to press those who believe in "Christian Nation" political theology to define such theology and tell me how things like original sin, the Trinity, eternal damnation, infallibility of the Bible (things arguably excluded America's Founding political theology) relate to "Christianity." Are they "central/non-negotiable" tenets?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, that's your battle, Jon. I see that McGrath fellow is at war with the fundies too in the name of "liberal" theology or whatever. I just wonder if the worst theology and the worst preachers are frankensteined into some easily refutable straw man, which is then conflated with the most intelligent and righteous evangelicals to declare some total victory over orthodoxy.

Actually, I don't "just wonder." I think it's a very deliberate tactic, and I object to its fundamental dishonesty.

Back to our historical studies, there is zero evidence that Jesus' divine nature one way or the other was a factor. And I would admit that even if men like Jefferson were in a minuscule minority---and I think they were---

And so the equivocation of "the laws of nature and of nature's God," which Jefferson could read his way and the majority could read another.

Still, we must never forget that religion was left to the states. It was only in the national government that the lowest common denominator, which I reckon was Virginia, needed to be accommodated.

And that's where the Christian nation thesis meets the road. The clever language of the Treaty of Tripoli says that the government of the United States was in no way founded on the Christian religion, and that's certainly true, in that narrowest of senses.

However, that doesn't address whether the US was founded on [Judeo-]Christian principles, or whether as a whole, the state laws [even Virginia's!], the ones that governed everyday life, were in full accord with Christianity.

The latter two arguments are pretty good ones for the Christian nation thesis, as well as the informal customs like both houses of congress going over to St. Paul's Chapel to pray together immediately after Washington's inaugural inauguration.

The funny thing about Protestantism evolving into something more "enlightened" is that for every Chauncy there's an Anabaptist or a Mennonite. In fact, I reckon there are as many Amish today as Unitarian Universalists.

Once Protestantism rejected the Magisterium, the Catholic Church's "teaching authority," anything could happen, and it did.

Indeed, we might question if Puritanism was a "liberation" in any real way. Perhaps Catholicism was too liberal.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Well Tom,

I have no idea about McGrath's work; but you have to appreciate ironies. The way I, Gregg, David Holmes, Mark Noll et al. have attacked the Christian Nation thesis is not by seeking to bury orthodoxy, but to the contrary to elevate "orthodoxy" (which by the way the Roman Catholic Church qualifies as) as true historic Christianity! A victory for orthodoxy that requires sacrificing American political theology as authentically Christian.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I think you might be right, Jon. Chesterton was a "distibutionist." On the other hand, Michael Novak has actually been heard and somewhat embraced by the last 2 popes, that man is at his best when free, not just politically but economically.

It's sort of a natural law argument, that the proof is in the pudding, and what Adam Smith argues implicitly in The Wealth of Nations, published in---wait for it---1776.

For natural law arguments depend on the proof in the pudding, else they're mere ideology, not "natural" atall atall.

Phil Johnson said...

Apparently, Chauncey wrote and gave this sermon in 1784, at a time when changes in the way Americans thought about these things was only just beginning to really germinate with the elite. That is, according to Barry Alan Shain whose claim is that the eighteenth century's last decade was the beginning of the sprouting of that seed.

I don't believe any educated person can take any slice of those times when what was to become America was just beginning to burgeon in the minds of Founding Era Americans.
It was a time when the forces of history were converging in rapid succession. It was not a time when any one idea was coming to flower.
The idea of glory was beginning to take hold in a way that would drive many Americans to rationalize who and what we came to be well into the nineteenth century.
America was created to be a place where personal growth took hold. Think of the impact that has had and continues to have on progress across the globe.

Tom Van Dyke said...

America was created to be a place where personal growth took hold.

Shain seems to say that was a mutation of the Founding dynamic.

"...that "for Revolutionary-era Americans, the common or public good enjoyed preeminence over the immediate interests of individuals." Thus, eighteenth-century Americans "cannot be accurately characterized as predominantly individualistic, or, for that matter, classically republican." Rather, they lived in "morally demanding agricultural communities shaped by reformed-Protestant social and moral norms."

From a review of Shain's "The Myth Of American Individualism: The Protestant Origins of American Political Thought," here:

Phil Johnson said...

Thus, eighteenth-century Americans "cannot be accurately characterized as predominantly individualistic, or, for that matter, classically republican."
Actually, Shain argues that it is precisely the intrusive nature of the reformed protestant influence on localism that informed Founding Era Republicanism--each local community being represented by IT'S communal representative to ensure the local public had a voice in the greater government.
He argues that Founding Era American had no concept of individualism as we know it today. The "self" was unregenerate and incapable of doing good and, so, it was put down as worthy of consideration.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Actually, Phil, Dr. Shain argues against everything you've written here for the past year and what you undauntedly continue to write, even as you read him and quote him.

It's great you're so open-minded. Some might fall victim to a cognitive dissonance, but to your credit, you don't let that slow you up atall.

Rock on, dude.

Phil Johnson said...


Tom Van Dyke said...

Aw, Phil, it's not that bad. I'm the one who listens to you around here. I'm all you got.

That I actually respond in substance to what you actually write in substance should make you feel like I take you seriously as a human being.

Which I do. A real friend doesn't just pat you on the head like a dog or something. Feel the love, man.

bpabbott said...

Tom, Nice tactful response :-(

Phil, I'd like to hear more of your thoughts on Shain. That Tom is so quick to attack you rather than your opinion is a good indication you are on an interesting line of thought.