Witsius On The Relation Between Human Reason And Divine Authority

III. Let then these things be premised. First. Reason signifies either that faculty of man where by he perceives, and judgeth, and distinguisheth truth from falsehood, or those maxims, aphorisms, or axioms, which are either self evident, or believed to be rightly drawn from evident principles. Secondly. Right reason, considered as a faculty, is that which being endued with sufficient light, conceives things, or judgeth concerning them, no otherwise than as they truly are; and is opposed to corrupt, erroneous, blind reason which frequently forms very wrong conceptions and judgements of things. Considered as an axiom, by right reason is meant most certain and evident principles, or inferences drawn there from by plain and evident consequence; and is opposed to rash assertions, spoken without any just examination, or test, of the things so affirmed. Thirdly. Reason is fully persuaded that it judgeth right, when the conceptions, or ideas, of things are clearly and distinctly perceived; nevertheless the often discovers herself to have been mistaken, whilst she thought that she perceived something clearly and distinctly, when at the same time she was in an error. Fourthly. In as far as reason denotes a faculty, it is the next efficient cause of perception and judgement; not the rule: but as it signifies evident and certain axioms it may so far have the nature of a rule that whatever is rejected for false is plainly repugnant to a position of manifest truth, or is not a just and legitimate inference. Fifthly. Faith here notes an assent given to some truth, not on account of the evidence of the thing,* but on account of the testimony of God; who, as he is the supreme truth, bears witness of himself. John 3:33. 1 John 5:9, 10. Sixthly. Those are called the mysteries of faith which no man was ever able to find out by his own reasoning powers, but are known by the revelation of God alone, and are opposed to that which may be known of God by the light of nature. Rom. 1:19. 1 Cor. 2:7. Eph. 3:3. Seventhly. That revelation is contained in the sacred books of the Old and New Testament, which evince their authenticity to the conscience of a serious enquirer, duly attending to the external and internal marks of their divinity; and, if any thing be there plainly taught, it is certainly a great crime to treat them with reproach, under any pretence whatever.

IV. These things being premised; the Question is not, Whether the scripture may teach some mysteries contrary to right reason? Nor, whether reason may ever oppose itself to the doctrine of the scripture, under pretence of its own rectitude? Nor, whether in investigating the sense of scripture, reason be of great use? For this would be an ambiguous statement of the subject. But, when we enquire into the meaning of the holy scriptures, the question is, Whether then the dictates of what is accounted right reason, must be first consulted, that it may in the first place determine, concerning the things themselves, whether they be worthy a divine revelation; or, whether we ought simply to attend to what the words, in all their circumstances, properly signify, so that what they are found to mean, may forthwith be received for true, without any farther test, or examination, of the things according to pretended axioms of reason? Or, (more briefly stated) whether it is better to explain the words of scripture so that they may agree with the axioms of reason, or to correct the axioms of reason to that sense which the words of scripture plainly speak? The Socinians contend for the former, and support it by their practice; and I wish they only did so: the Orthodox maintain the latter.

—Hermann Witsius, An Essay on the Use and Abuse of Reason in Matters of Religion, trans. John Carter (Norwich: Crouse, Stevenson and Matchett, 1795), 4–7.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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