Wherefore, we shall in the next place declare, what this idea of God is, or what is that thing, whose existence they that affirm, are called Theists, and they who deny, Atheists. In order whereunto, we must first lay down this lemma, or preparatory proposition — that as it is generally acknowledged, that all things did not exist from eternity, such as they are, unmade, but that some things were made and generated or produced; so it is not possible that all things should be made neither, but there must of necessity be something self-existent from eternity, and unmade; because if there had been once nothing, there could never have been any thing. The reason of which is so evident and irresistible, that even the Atheists confess themselves conquered by it, and readily acknowledge it for an indubitable truth, that there must be something αγεννηιον, something which was never made or produced — and which therefore is the cause of those other things that are made, something … that was self-originated and self-existing … Wherefore all the question now is, what is this … which is the cause of all other things that are made. ¶ Now there are two grand opinions opposite to one another concerning it; for, first, some contend, that the only self-existent, unmade and incorruptible thing, and first principle of all things, is senseless matter; that is, matter either perfectly dead and stupid, or at least devoid of all animalish and conscious life. But because this is really the lowest and most imperfect of all beings, others on the contrary judge it reasonable … that the only unmade thing, which was the principle, cause, and original of all other things, was not senseless matter, but a perfect conscious understanding nature, or mind. And these are they, who are strictly and properly called Theists, who affirm, that a perfectly conscious understanding being, or mind, existing of itself from eternity, was the cause of all other things; and they, on the contrary, who derive all things from senseless matter, as the first original, and deny that there is any conscious understanding being self-existent or unmade, are those that are properly called Atheists.
And to stop all Creep-holes, and leave no place for the subterfuges and evasion of confuted and caviling spirits, I shall prefix some few Axiomes, of that plainness and evidence, than no man in has wits but will be ashamed to deny them, if he will admit any thing at all to be true. But as for perfect Scepticisme, it is a disease incurable, and a thing rather to be pitied or laugh at, then seriously opposed. For when a man is so fugitive and unsettled, that he will not stand to the verdict of his own Faculties, one can no more fasten any thing upon him, then he can write in the water, or tye knots of the wind. But for those that are not in such a strange despondency, but that they think they know something already and may learn more, I do not doubt, but by a seasonable recourse to these few Rules, with others I shall set down in their due place, that they will be perswaded, if not forced, to reckon this Truth…
[T]here is a saying much usurped of late, That Wisedome is acquired, not by reading of Books, but of Men. Consequently whereunto, those persons, that for the most part can give no other proof of being wise, take great delight to shew what they think they have read in men, by uncharitable censures of one another behind their backs. But there is another saying not of late understood, by which they might learn truly to read one another, if they would take the pains; and that is, Nosce teipsum, Read thy self: which was not meant, as it is now used, to countenance, either the barbarous state of men in power, towards their inferiors ; or to encourage men of low degree, to a sawcie behaviour towards their betters; But to teach us, that for the similitude of the thoughts, and Passions of one man, to the thoughts, and Passions of another, whosoever looketh into himself, and considereth what he doth, when he does think, opine, reason, hope, feare, &c, and upon what grounds; he shall thereby read and know, what are the thoughts, and Passions of all other men, upon the like occasions.
I have never contemplated anything higher than the reformation of my own opinions, and basing them on a foundation wholly my own. And although my own satisfaction with my work has led me to present here a draft of it, I do not by any means therefore recommend to every one else to make a similar attempt. Those whom God has endowed with a larger measure of genius will entertain, perhaps, designs still more exalted; but for the many I am much afraid lest even the present undertaking be more than they can safely venture to imitate. The single design to strip one’s self of all past beliefs is one that ought not to be taken by every one. The majority of men is composed of two classes, for neither of which would this be at all a befitting resolution: in the first place, of those who with more than a due confidence in their own powers, are precipitate in their judgments and want the patience requisite for orderly and circumspect thinking; whence it happens, that if men of this class once take the liberty to doubt of their accustomed opinions, and quit the beaten highway, they will never be able to thread the byeway that would lead them by a shorter course, and will lose themselves and continue to wander for life; in the second place, of those who, possessed of sufficient sense or modesty to determine that there are others who excel them in the power of discriminating between truth and error, and by whom they may be instructed, ought rather to content themselves with the opinions of such than trust for more correct to their own Reason.
It is now some years since I detected how many are the false beliefs that I had from my earliest youth admitted as true, and how doubtful was everything I had since constructed on this basis, and from that time I was convinced that I must once for all seriously undertake to rid myself of all the opinions which I formerly accepted, and commence to build anew from the foundation…
Philosophy has been cultivated for many centuries by the best minds that have ever lived, and nevertheless no single thing is to be found in it which is not a subject of dispute, and in consequence which is not dubious…
So I were out of your whispering.
No more be grieved at that which thou hast done:
Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud;
Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun,
And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud.
All men make faults, and even I in this,
Authorizing thy trespass with compare,
Myself corrupting, salving thy amiss,
Excusing thy sins more than thy sins are;
For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense–
Thy adverse party is thy advocate–
And ‘gainst myself a lawful plea commence:
Such civil war is in my love and hate
That I an accessory needs must be
To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me.
There are others who, when they would cure this disease, recommend that the subject of predestination should scarcely if ever be mentioned, and tell us to shun every question concerning it as we would a rock. Although their moderation is justly commendable in thinking that such mysteries should be treated with moderation, yet because they keep too far within the proper measure, they have little influence over the human mind, which does not readily allow itself to be curbed. Therefore, in order to keep the legitimate course in this matter, we must return to the word of God, in which we are furnished with the right rule of understanding. For Scripture is the school of the Holy Spirit, in which as nothing useful and necessary to be known has been omitted, so nothing is taught but what it is of importance to know. Every thing, therefore delivered in Scripture on the subject of predestination, we must beware of keeping from the faithful, lest we seem either maliciously to deprive them of the blessing of God, or to accuse and scoff at the Spirit, as having divulged what ought on any account to be suppressed. Let us, I say, allow the Christian to unlock his mind and ears to all the words of God which are addressed to him, provided he do it with this moderation viz. that whenever the Lord shuts his sacred mouth, he also desists from inquiry. The best rule of sobriety is, not only in learning to follow wherever God leads, but also when he makes an end of teaching, to cease also from wishing to be wise.