Letter from John Admas to Thomas Jefferson

John Adams
September 14, 1818
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Adams bristles as the Calvinist notion that a man's fate is determined by the grace of God instead of good works. He rejects the idea that non-Christians who lead good lives will go to Hell, and poses an alternative definition of being a good Christian.
I owe you a thousand thanks for your favor of August 22d, and its inclosures, and for Doctor Priestley's " Doctrines of Heathen Philosophy compared with those of Revelation." Your letter to Dr. Rush, and the syllabus, I return inclosed with this, according to your injunction, though with great reluctance. May I beg a copy of both ? They will do you no harm, me and others, much good. I hope you will pursue your plan, for I am confident you will produce a work much more valuable than Priestley's, though that ia curious, and, considering the expiring powers with which it was written, admirable.

The bill in parliament for the relief of Anti-Trinitarians, is a great event, and will form an epoch in ecclesiastical history. The motion was made by my friend Smith, of Clapham, a friend of the Belshams. I should be very happy to hear that the bill is passed.

The human understanding is a revelation from its maker, which can never be disputed or doubted. There can be no scepticism, Pyrrhonism, or incredulity or infidelity here. No prophecies, no miracles are necessary to prove this celestial communication. This revelation has made it certain that two and one make three, and that one is not three nor can three be one.

Howl, snarl, bite, ye Calvinistic, ye Athanasian divines, if you will; ye will say I am no Christian; I say ye are no Christians, and there the account is balanced. Yet I believe all the honest men among you are Christians, in my sense of the word.
We can never be so certain of any prophecy, or the fulfilment of any prophecy, or of any miracle, or the design of any miracle, as we are from the revelation of nature, that is, nature's God, that two and two are equal to four. Miracles or prophecies might frighten us out of our wits, might scare us to death, might induce us to lie, to say that we believe that two and two make five, but we should not believe it; we should know the contrary.

Had you and I been forty days with Moses on Mount Sinai, and admitted to behold the divine Shechinah, and there told that one was three and three one, we might not have had courage to deny it, but we could not have believed it. The thunders and lightnings and earthquakes, and the transcendent splendors and glories, might have overwhelmed us with terror and amazement, but we could not have believed the doctrine. We should be more likely to say in our hearts — whatever we might say with our lips—, This is chance. There is no God, no truth. This is all delusion, fiction, and a lie, or it is all chance. But what is chance? It is motion; it is action; it is event; it is phenomenon without cause. Chance is no cause at all; it is nothing, and nothing has produced all this pomp and splendor, and nothing may produce our eternal damnation in the flames of hell-fire and brimstone, for what we know, as well as this tremendous exhibition of terror and falsehood.

God has infinite wisdom, goodness, and power; he created the universe; his duration is eternal, a parte ante and a parte post. His presence is as extensive as space. What is space? An infinite spherical vacuum. He created this speck of dirt and the human species for his glory; and with the deliberate design of making nine tenths of our species miserable for ever for his glory. This is the doctrine of Christian theologians, in general, ten to one. Now, my friend, can prophecies or miracles convince you or me that infinite benevolence, wisdom, and power, created, and preserves for a time, innumerable millions, to make them miserable for ever, for his own glory? Wretch! What is his glory? Is he ambitious? Does he want promotion? Is he vain, tickled with adulation, exulting and triumphing in his power and the sweetness of his vengeance? Pardon me, my Maker, for these awful questions. My answer to them is always ready. I believe no such things. My adoration of the author of the universe is too profound and too sincere. The love of God and his creation — delight, joy, triumph, exultation in my own existence — though but an atom, a molecule organ- ique in the universe — are my religion.

Howl, snarl, bite, ye Calvinistic, ye Athanasian divines, if you will; ye will say I am no Christian; I say ye are no Christians, and there the account is balanced. Yet I believe all the honest men among you are Christians, in my sense of the word.

When I was at college, I was a mighty metaphysician, at east I thought myself such, and such men as Locke, Hemmenway, and West thought me so too, for we were forever disputing, though in great good humor.

When I was sworn as an attorney in 1758, in Boston, though I lived in Braintree, I was in a lo.w state of health, thought in great danger of a consumption, living on milk, vegetables, pudding, and water, not an atom of meat or a drop of spirit; my next neighbor, my cousin, my friend, Dr. Savil, was my physician. He was anxious for me, and did not like to take upon himself the sole responsibility of my recovery. He invited me to a ride. I mounted my horse, and rode with him to Hingham, on a visit to Dr. Ezekiel Hersey, a physician of great fame, who felt my pulse, looked in my eyes, heard Savil describe my regimen and course of medicine, and then pronounced his oracle: " Persevere, and as sure as there is a God in Heaven you will recover." He was an everlasting talker, and ran out into history, philosophy, metaphysics, &c., and frequently put questions to me as if he wanted to sound me and see if there was any thing in me besides hectic fever. I was young and then very bashful, however saucy I may have sometimes been since. I gave him very modest and very diffident answers. But when he got upon metaphysics, I seemed to feel a little bolder, and ventured into something like argument with him. I drove him up, as I thought, into a corner, from which he could not escape. "Sir, it will follow, from what you have now advanced, that the universe, as distinct from God, is both infinite and eternal." "Very true," said Dr. Hersey; " your inference is just; the consequence is inevitable, and I believe the universe to be both eternal and infinite." Here I was brought up. I was defeated. I was not prepared for this answer. This was fifty-five years ago. When I was in England, from 1785 to 1788, I may say I was intimate with Dr. Price. I had much conversation with him at his own house, at my house, and at the houses and tables of many friends. In some of our most unreserved conversations, when we have been alone, he has repeatedly said to me : "I am inclined to believe that the universe is eternal and infinite: it seems to me that an eternal and infinite effect must necessarily flow from an eternal and infinite cause; and an infinite wisdom, goodness, and power, that could have been induced to produce a universe in time, must have produced it from eternity. It seems to me, the effect must flow from the cause."

Now, my friend Jefferson, suppose an eternal, self-existent being, existing from eternity, possessed of infinite wisdom, goodness, and power, in absolute, total solitude, six thousand years ago conceiving the benevolent project of creating a universe ! I have no more to say at present. It has been long, very long, a settled opinion in my mind, that there is now, ever will be, and ever was, but one being who can understand the universe, and that it is not only vain but wicked for insects to pretend to comprehend it.


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