Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes

The Third Part:
Of a Christian Commonwealth

Chapter xxxii

Of the Principles of Christian Politics

I HAVE derived the rights of sovereign power, and the duty of subjects, hitherto from the principles of nature only; such as experience has found true, or consent concerning the use of words has made so; that is to say, from the nature of men, known to us by experience, and from definitions, of such words as are essential to all political reasoning, universally agreed on. But in that I am next to handle, which is the nature and rights of a Christian Commonwealth, whereof there dependeth much upon supernatural revelations of the will of God, the ground of my discourse must be not only the natural word of God, but also the prophetical.

Nevertheless, we are not to renounce our senses and experience, nor that which is the undoubted word of God, our natural reason. For they are the talents which he hath put into our hands to negotiate, till the coming again of our blessed Saviour; and therefore not to be folded up in the napkin of an implicit faith, but employed in the purchase of justice, peace, and true religion. For though there be many things in God's word above reason; that is to say, which cannot by natural reason be either demonstrated or confuted; yet there is nothing contrary to it; but when it seemeth so, the fault is either in our unskillful interpretation, or erroneous ratiocination.

Therefore, when anything therein written is too hard for our examination, we are bidden to captivate our understanding to the words; and not to labour in sifting out a philosophical truth by logic of such mysteries as are not comprehensible, nor fall under any rule of natural science. For it is with the mysteries of our religion as with wholesome pills for the sick, which swallowed whole have the virtue to cure, but chewed, are for the most part cast up again without effect.

But by the captivity of our understanding is not meant a submission of the intellectual faculty to the opinion of any other man, but of the will to obedience where obedience is due. For sense, memory, understanding, reason, and opinion are not in our power to change; but always, and necessarily such, as the things we see, hear, and consider suggest unto us; and therefore are not effects of our will, but our will of them. We then captivate our understanding and reason when we forbear contradiction; when we so speak as, by lawful authority, we are commanded; and when we live accordingly; which, in sum, is trust and faith reposed in him that speaketh, though the mind be incapable of any notion at all from the words spoken.

When God speaketh to man, it must be either immediately or by mediation of another man, to whom He had formerly spoken by Himself immediately. How God speaketh to a man immediately may be understood by those well enough to whom He hath so spoken; but how the same should be understood by another is hard, if not impossible, to know. For if a man pretend to me that God hath spoken to him supernaturally, and immediately, and I make doubt of it, I cannot easily perceive what argument he can produce to oblige me to believe it. It is true that if he be my sovereign, he may oblige me to obedience, so as not by act or word to declare I believe him not; but not to think any otherwise than my reason persuades me. But if one that hath not such authority over me shall pretend the same, there is nothing that exacteth either belief or obedience.

For to say that God hath spoken to him in the Holy Scripture is not to say God hath spoken to him immediately, but by mediation of the prophets, or of the Apostles, or of the Church, in such manner as He speaks to all other Christian men. To say He hath spoken to him in a dream is no more than to say he dreamed that God spake to him; which is not of force to win belief from any man that knows dreams are for the most part natural, and may proceed from former thoughts; and such dreams as that, from self-conceit, and foolish arrogance, and false opinion of a man's own goodliness, or virtue, by which he thinks he hath merited the favour of extraordinary revelation. To say he hath seen a vision, or heard a voice, is to say that he dreamed between sleeping and waking: for in such manner a man doth many times naturally take his dream for a vision, as not having well observed his own slumbering. To say he speaks by supernatural inspiration is to say he finds an ardent desire to speak, or some strong opinion of himself, for which he can allege no natural and sufficient reason. So that though God Almighty can speak to a man by dreams, visions, voice, and inspiration, yet He obliges no man to believe He hath so done to him that pretends it; who, being a man, may err and, which is more, may lie.

How then can he to whom God hath never revealed His will immediately (saving by the way of natural reason) know when he is to obey or not to obey His word, delivered by him that says he is a prophet? Of four hundred prophets, of whom the King of Israel, asked counsel concerning the war he made against Ramoth Gilead, only Micaiah was a true one.1 The prophet that was sent to prophesy against the altar set up by Jeroboam,2 though a true prophet, and that by two miracles done in his presence appears to be a prophet sent from God, was yet deceived by another old prophet that persuaded him, as from the mouth of God, to eat and drink with him. If one prophet deceive another, what certainty is there of knowing the will of God by other way than that of reason? To which I answer out of the Holy Scripture that there be two marks by which together, not asunder, a true prophet is to be known. One is the doing of miracles; the other is the not teaching any other religion than that which is already established. Asunder, I say, neither of these is sufficient. "If a prophet rise amongst you, or a dreamer of dreams, and shall pretend the doing of a miracle, and the miracle come to pass; if he say, Let us follow strange gods, which thou hast not known, thou shalt not hearken to him, etc. But that prophet and dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he hath spoken to you to revolt from the Lord your God."3 In which words two things are to be observed; first, that God will not have miracles alone serve for arguments to approve the prophet's calling; but (as it is in the third verse) for an experiment of the constancy of our adherence to Himself. For the works of the Egyptian sorcerers, though not so great as those of Moses, yet were great miracles. Secondly, that how great soever the miracle be, yet if it tend to stir up revolt against the king or him that governeth by the king's authority, he that doth such miracle is not to be considered otherwise than as sent to make trial of their allegiance. For these words, revolt from the Lord your God, are in this place equivalent to revolt from your king. For they had made God their king by pact at the foot of Mount Sinai; who ruled them by Moses only; for he only spake with God, and from time to time declared God's commandments to the people. In like manner, after our Saviour Christ had made his Disciples acknowledge him for the Messiah (that is to say, for God's anointed, whom the nation of the Jews daily expected for their king, but refused when he came), he omitted not to advertise them of the danger of miracles. "There shall arise," saith he, "false Christs, and false prophets, and shall do great wonders and miracles, even to the seducing (if it were possible) of the very elect."4 By which it appears that false prophets may have the power of miracles; yet are we not to take their doctrine for God's word. St. Paul says further to the Galatians that "if himself or an angel from heaven preach another Gospel to them than he had preached, let him be accursed."5 That Gospel was that Christ was King; so that all preaching against the power of the king received, in consequence to these words, is by St. Paul accursed. For his speech is addressed to those who by his preaching had already received Jesus for the Christ, that is to say, for King of the Jews.

And as miracles, without preaching that doctrine which God hath established; so preaching the true doctrine, without the doing of miracles, is an insufficient argument of immediate revelation. For if a man that teacheth not false doctrine should pretend to be a prophet without showing any miracle, he is never the more to be regarded for his pretence, as is evident by Deuteronomy, 18. 21, 22: "If thou say in thy heart, How shall we know that the word" (of the prophet) "is not that which the Lord hath spoken? When the prophet shall have spoken in the name of the Lord, that which shall not come to pass, that is the word which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet has spoken it out of the pride of his own heart, fear him not." But a man may here again ask: When the prophet hath foretold a thing, how shall we know whether it will come to pass or not? For he may foretell it as a thing to arrive after a certain long time, longer than the time of man's life; or indefinitely, that it will come to pass one time or other: in which case this mark of a prophet is unuseful; and therefore the miracles that oblige us to believe a prophet ought to be confirmed by an immediate, or a not long deferred event. So that it is manifest that the teaching of the religion which God hath established, and the showing of a present miracle, joined together, were the only marks whereby the Scripture would have a true prophet, that is to say, immediate revelation, to be acknowledged; of them being singly sufficient to oblige any other man to regard what he saith.

Seeing therefore miracles now cease, we have no sign left whereby to acknowledge the pretended revelations or inspirations of any private man; nor obligation to give ear to any doctrine, farther than it is conformable to the Holy Scriptures, which since the time of our Saviour supply the place and sufficiently recompense the want of all other prophecy; and from which, by wise and learned interpretation, and careful ratiocination, all rules and precepts necessary to the knowledge of our duty both to God and man, without enthusiasm, or supernatural inspiration, may easily be deduced. And this Scripture is it out of which I am to take the principles of my discourse concerning the rights of those that are the supreme governors on earth of Christian Commonwealths, and of the duty of Christian subjects towards their sovereigns. And to that end, I shall speak, in the next chapter, of the books, writers, scope and authority of the Bible.

1 I Kings, 22

2 Ibid., 13

3 Deuteronomy, 13. 1-5

4 Matthew, 24. 24

5 Galatians, 1. 8


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