John Smith: Discurso I – Método

It hath been long since well observed, that every art and science hath some certain principles upon which the whole frame and body of it must depend; and he that will fully acquaint himself with the mysteries thereof, must come furnished with some Praecognita, or prolepsis that I may speak in the language of the Stoics. Were I indeed to define divinity, I should rather call it a Divine life than a Divine science; it being something rather to be understood by a spiritual sensation, than by any verbal description, as all things of sense and life are best known by sentient and vital faculties; gnosis ekaston di homoiotetos ginetai, as the Greek philosopher hath well observed — everything is best known by that which bears a just resemblance and analogy with it; and therefore the Scripture is wont to set forth a good life as the prolepsis and fundamental principle of Divine science; “Wisdom hath builded her house, and hewen out her seven pillars”; but “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,”—the foundation of the whole fabric.1

We shall therefore, as a prolegomenon or preface to what we shall afterward discourse upon the heads of divinity, speak something of this true method of knowing, which is not so much by notions as actions; as religion itself consists not so much in words as in things. They are not always the best skilled in divinity that are the most studied in those Pandects, into which it is sometimes digested, or that have erected the greatest monopolies of art and science. He that is most practical in Divine things hath the purest and sincerest knowledge of them, and not he that is most dogmatical. Divinity, indeed, is a true efflux from the eternal light, which, like the sunbeams, does not only enlighten, but heat and enliven; and therefore our Saviour hath, in His beatitudes, connected purity of heart with the beatifical vision. And as the eye cannot behold the sun, helioeides me ginomenos,— unless it be sunlike, and hath the form and resemblance of the sun drawn in it; so neither can the soul of man behold God, theoeides me ginomene,— unless it be Godlike, hath God formed in it, and be made partaker of the Divine nature. And the Apostle St. Paul, when he would lay open the right way of attaining to Divine truth, saith that “knowledge puffeth up,” but it is “love that edifieth.” The knowledge of divinity that appears in systems and models is but a poor wan light; but the powerful energy of Divine knowledge displays itself in purified souls: here we shall find the true pedion aletheias, as the ancient philosophy speaks—” the land of truth.”

  1. This paragraph strikes the keynote: the “Way” is not to be won by intellect alone ; the nature of the Divine Being is too full for that. It is not a Metaphysical principle, nor a Substance with some definite Attributes, however far-reaching, but the living God, of whom Smith is to speak. The searcher must come with his whole personality. A comparison with Spinoza, both as to the nature of God and the nature of the believer, is full of suggestion.