Friday, June 11, 2010

Revolutionary Founding Father James Wilson

A well written book concerning James Wilson was written in 1956, by Charles Page Smith. He takes a considerable amount of time presenting Wilson's upbringing, and college life in Scotland, that included attendance at several universities.

Wilson was raised arguably in the most die-hard Calvinist area on the planet; Fife, in the Lowlands of Scotland. His Father was an elder in the Reformed Church, where, it is more than likely, as a boy, Wilson actually watched George Whitefield preach. In all of Scotland, Fife was the heart of Calvinism, the home of St. Andrews University.

There is no record, that I know of, that he affirmed Calvinism, or unitarianism, but, he did believe the scriptures, the least common denominator.

Growing up in the middle 18th century, it doesn't appear the Scottish Enlightenment had a big impact on Wilson, considering he attended Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities a fraction of the time he spent at Calvinist St. Andrews. Wilson was not over-joyed by philosophy:
I prefer the conversation of a fine woman to that of a philosopher.

The Visitant, Pennsylvania Chronicle, Feb. 1768. Charles Page Smith, "James Wilson" (Univ. of N.C. Press, Chapel Hill, 1956)
In the Chronicle, Wilson gives his insight as to his opinion on man's reason:
Mathematical knowledge is not received by the senses but rather proved by them. In moral subjects the mind has not such a certain standard; there are numberless passions and prejudices to warp the judgment. It is thus "absolutely impossible," because of the weakness of our minds to have a clear perception of moral truths. "The most important moral truths are discovered not by reasoning, but by that act of the mind which I have called perception...reasoning is very fallacious, for every step leads us into danger, and by one false step we are irrecoverably lost."

The Visitant, Pennsylvania Chronicle, Apr. 25, 1768. Charles Page Smith, "James Wilson" (Univ. of N.C. Press, Chapel Hill)
Hence, Wilson is an important Founding Father, not to be forgotten, or labeled by a tier, whose influences included the "sagacious" "judicious" and "most excellent" Calvinist (sola scriptura, total depravity, salvation by faith alone), Richard Hooker:
Hooker's account of natural law appeals to Luther's [and Calvin's] distinction of the twofold use of the law, although his formulation of doctrine is potentially misleading on a terminological level:

The lawe of reason doth somewhat direct men how to honour God as their Creator, but how to glorifie God in such sort as is required, to the end he may be an everlasting Saviour, this we are taught by divine law, which law both ascertayneth the truth and supplyeth unto us the want of that other law. So that in morall actions, divine lawe helpeth exceedingly the law of reason to guide mans life, but in supernaturall it alone guideth. (Lawes I.16.5; 1:139.3-10)
Thus, to Hooker, and Wilson, the scriptures guide man's reason where enumerated.

Wilson was one of only six men to sign both the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, the 2nd most active speaker at the Constitutional Convention. Not much is known about his personal faith, or that he affirmed any creed. What we do know is Wilson believed the Scriptures.

8 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Richard Hooker was "The Father of Anglicanism," a middle course between Calvin and Aquinas.

But you're on the right track.

Cheers,
TVD

Our Founding Truth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Our Founding Truth said...

I like the "most excellent" Hooker. An Anglican indeed. The link I posted presents a good contrast with Calvin, Luther, and Hooker. He must have greatly admired the Monarchy, as did Churchill, however, I see him as a pre-reformer at heart, much like Erasmus.

Harmonizing the dual method of Divine Law, he took directly from Calvin, and Luther before him.

As you yourself, I'm not so interested in Hooker's theology, or Calvin's for that matter; what matters to me is how the framers used these Christians in molding our founding.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Note you can't prove Wilson believed in the Bible from his direct words, but must prove it thru his citing Hooker?

That's not a very strong foundation for proving some a Bible believer.

Our Founding Truth said...

Jon said..Note you can't prove Wilson believed in the Bible from his direct words

All we have from James Wilson is that he believed the scriptures with no specificity, thus, he must be a Bible believer:

"In compassion to the imperfection of our internal powers, our all-gracious Creator, Preserver, and Ruler has been pleased to discover and enforce his laws, by a revelation given to us immediately and directly from himself. This revelation is contained in the holy scriptures."

-Wilson. Works, Vol. 1

I don't think it's a stretch to exclude anything in the scriptures in the above statement. He wasn't so much interested in philosophy, and he affirmed the Flood. Sounds pretty orthodox to me.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"In compassion to the imperfection of our internal powers, our all-gracious Creator, Preserver, and Ruler has been pleased to discover and enforce his laws, by a revelation given to us immediately and directly from himself. This revelation is contained in the holy scriptures."

-Wilson. Works, Vol. 1


Absolute proof.

This is pure Locke, BTW.

Our Founding Truth said...

TVD, to elaborate on this point in Wilson's quote, which may, or may not, have mattered to him.

"In compassion to the imperfection of our internal powers..."

Because of the imperfection of our minds, God gave us a revelation; in contrast to the imperfection, does it not follow that the revelation was not imperfect?

Tom Van Dyke said...

"In compassion to the imperfection of our internal powers..."

Because of the imperfection of our minds, God gave us a revelation; in contrast to the imperfection, does it not follow that the revelation was not imperfect?


Yes, but that doesn't necessarily argue that the Bible is inerrant: men could have misinterpreted, and Biblical scholarship has already proven that some things have been mistranslated in some versions of the Bible.

Which is why there's a weirdo movement that says the KJV is divinely inspired.

Still, most of the New Testament says what it says rather unambiguously, love yr neighbor, stuff like that.

You may have gotten Barrett's 100 Biblical arguments from one of my AC posts, or found it yourself. I find the unitarian arguments strong, not specious. The one thing I've observed about the unitarian Christians is that took the Bible and Jesus very seriously, far more seriously than most mealy-mouthed Trinitarians. So I respect them.

I still think Matt. 28:19 is decisive, and further find the idea that God fractured the continuum of time and space and the separation of man and God with the Incarnation beautiful, but I prefer Franklin's reply when asked:

"I am in accord with the present dissenters in England in having some doubts regarding Jesus’s divinity: although it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon the opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble."

Franklin died, an old man of 86 [?], several months later. I'm younger, but feel the same way. Even if I could, it would be a matter of faith, and no man's faith can truly be transplanted into another.

You're doing great work lately, Jim. It's hard, but one must resist the temptation to overshoot the mark, because they're in the bushes with their knives out. Get one fact wrong or overstate it, and that means you're a Liar for Jesus.