This is our third day at Fetter Lane on discussing the power and limitations of reason. Today we continue with what reason alone cannot accomplish. Dipping once again into the well of Wesley's Sermons, #70, "The Case of Reason Impartially Considered", we find the English evangelist's further counsel on what reason can't do:
"Thirdly. Reason, however cultivated and improved, cannot produce the love of God; which is plain from hence: It cannot produce either faith or hope; from which alone this love can flow. It is then only, when we 'behold' by faith 'what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us,' in giving his only Son, that we might not perish, but have everlasting life, that 'the love of God is shed abroad in our heart by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.' It is only then, when we 'rejoice in hope of the glory of God,' that 'we love Him because he first loved us.' But what can cold reason do in this matter? It may present us with fair ideas; it can draw a fine picture of love: But this is only a painted fire. And farther than this reason cannot go. I made the trial for many years. I collected the finest hymns, prayers, and meditations which I could find in any language; and I said, sung, or read them over and over, with all possible seriousness and attention. But still I was like the bones in Ezekiel's vision: 'The skin covered them above; but there was no breath in them.'"
Reason won't lead you to loving God; you can't argue your way into loving the Creator. Instead, the Lord's love must be poured in your heart (Rom 5.5) for one thing, and it can (and should) grow stronger:
"Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints."
(1Th 3.11-13 ESV)
That's not all. Wesley continues:
"And as reason cannot produce the love of God, so neither can it produce the love of our neighbour; a calm, generous, disinterested benevolence to every child of man. This earnest, steady good-will to our fellow-creatures never flowed from any fountain but gratitude to our Creator. And if this be (as a very ingenious man supposes) the very essence of virtue, it follows that virtue can have no being, unless it spring from the love of God. Therefore, as reason cannot produce this love, so neither can it produce virtue."
Wesley rounds out his list on the limitations of reason:
"And as it cannot give either faith, hope, love, or virtue, so it cannot give happiness; since, separate from these, there can be no happiness for any intelligent creature. It is true, those who are void of all virtue may have pleasures, such as they are; but happiness they have not, cannot have."
To be joyful in the scriptural sense is to be people who have received revelation from the Spirit of Jesus. Reason alone won't bring it; it has to be brought. Christianity isn't natural but, rather, supernatural. Faith, and all that comes with it, comes because God first brought it.
Now, a person may be ignorant of God's communications; he may think, "I've done this all by myself." That would be wrong thinking, however. Just because he doesn't see God working in a visible way doesn't mean that God hasn't been communicating to his soul. God is mysterious and he often works after the counsel of his will in a way intangible to us but nevertheless quite real.