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Systematic Theology - Volume I
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§ 1. Its Nature.

If the views presented in the preceding chapter be correct, the question, What is Theology? is already answered. If natural science be concerned with the facts and laws of nature, theology is concerned with the facts and the principles of the Bible. If the object of the one be to arrange and systematize the facts of the external world, and to ascertain the laws by which they are determined; the object of the other is to systematize the facts of the Bible, and ascertain the principles or general truths which those facts involve. And as the order in which the facts of nature are arranged cannot be determined arbitrarily, but by the nature of the facts themselves, so it is with the facts of the Bible. The parts of any organic whole have a natural relation which cannot with impunity be ignored or changed. The parts of a watch, or of any other piece of mechanism, must be normally arranged, or it will be in confusion and worthless. All the parts of a plant or animal are disposed to answer a given end, and are mutually dependent. We cannot put the roots of a tree in the place of the branches, or the teeth of an animal in the place of its feet. So the facts of science arrange themselves. They are not arranged by the naturalist. His business is simply to ascertain what the arrangement given in the nature of the facts is. If he mistake, his system is false, and to a greater or less degree valueless. The same is obviously true with regard to the facts or truths of the Bible. They cannot be held in isolation, nor will they admit of any and every arrangement the theologian may choose to assign them. They bear a natural relation to each other, which cannot be overlooked or perverted without the facts themselves being perverted. If the facts of Scripture are what Augustinians believe them to be, then the Augustinian system is the only possible system of theology. If those facts be what Romanists or Remonstrants take them to be, then their system is the only true one. It is important that the theologian should know his place. He is not master of the situation. He can no more construct a system of theology to suit his fancy than the astronomer can adjust the mechanism of the heavens according to his own good pleasure. As the facts of astronomy arrange themselves in a certain order, and will admit of no other, so it is with the facts of theology. Theology, therefore, is the exhibition of the facts of Scripture in their proper order and relation, with the principles or general truths involved in the facts themselves, and which pervade and harmonize the whole.

It follows, also, from this view of the subject, that as the Bible contains one class of facts or truths which are not elsewhere revealed, and another class which, although more clearly made known in the Scriptures than anywhere else, are, nevertheless, so far revealed in nature as to be deducible therefrom, theology is properly distinguished as natural and revealed. The former is concerned with the facts of nature so far as they reveal God and our relation to him, and the latter with the facts of Scripture. This distinction, which, in one view is important, in another, is of little consequence, inasmuch as all that nature teaches concerning God and our duties, is more fully and more authoritatively revealed in his Word.

Definitions of Theology.

Other definitions of Theology are often given

1. Sometimes the word is restricted to its etymological meaning, “a discourse concerning God.” Orpheus and Homer were called theologians among the Greeks, because their poems treated of the nature of the gods. Aristotle classed the sciences under the heads of physics, mathematics, and theology, i.e., those which concern nature, number and quantity, and that which concerns God. The Fathers spoke of the Apostle John as the theologian, because in his gospel and epistles the divinity of Christ is rendered so prominent. The word is still used in this restricted sense when opposed to anthropology, soteriology, ecclesiology, as departments of theology in its wider sense.

2. Theology is sometimes said to be the science of the supernatural. But what is the supernatural? The answer to that question depends on the meaning assigned to the word nature. If by nature is meant the external world as governed by fixed laws, then the souls of men and other spiritual beings are not included under the term. In this use of the word nature, the supernatural is synonymous with the spiritual, and theology, as the science of the supernatural, is synonymous with pneumatology. If this view be adopted, psychology becomes a branch of theology, and the theologian must, as such, teach mental philosophy.

The word nature is, however, often taken in a wider sense, so as to include man. Then we have a natural and a spiritual world. And the supernatural is that which transcends nature in this sense, so that what is supernatural is of necessity also superhuman. But it is not necessarily super-angelic. Again, nature may mean everything out of God; then the supernatural is the divine, and God is the only legitimate subject of theology. In no sense of the word, therefore, is theology the science of the supernatural. Hooker22Eccles. Pol. iii. 8. says, “Theology is the science of divine things.” If by divine things, or “the things of God,” he meant the things which concern God, then theology is restricted to a “discourse concerning God;” if he meant the things revealed by God, according to the analogy of the expression “things of the Spirit,” as used by the Apostle in 1 Cor. ii. 14, then the definition amounts to the more definite one given above.

3. A much more common definition of Theology, especially in our day, is that it is the science of religion. The word religion, however, is ambiguous. Its etymology is doubtful. Cicero33Nat. Deor. ii. 28. refers it to relegere, to go over again, to consider. “Religio” is then consideration, devout observance, especially of what pertains to the worship and service of God. “Religens” is devout, conscientious. “Religiosus,” in a good sense, is the same as our word religious; in a bad sense, it means scrupulous, superstitious. “Religentem esse oportet, religiosum nefas.44Poet. ap. Gell. iv. 9. Augustin and Lactantius derive the word from religare, to bind back. Augustin55De Civitate Dei, x. 3. Edit. of Benedictines, Paris, 1838. says: “Ipse Deus enim fons nostræ beatudinis, ipse omnis appetitionis est finis. Hunc eligentes vel potius religentes amiseramus enim negligentes: hunc ergo religentes, unde et religio dicta perhibetur, ad eum dilectione tendimus ut perveniendo quiescamus.” And Lactantius, “Vinculo pietatis obstricti, Deo religati sumus, unde ipsa religio nomen accepit, non, ut Cicero interpretatus est, a religendo.66Instt. Div. iv. 28. According to this religio is the ground of obligation. It is that which binds us to God. Subjectively, it is the inward necessity of union with God. Commonly the word religion, in its objective sense, means “Modus Deum colendi,” as when we speak of the Pagan, the Mohammedan, or the Christian religion. Subjectively, it expresses a state of mind. What that state characteristically is, is very variously stated. Most simply it is said to be the state of mind induced by faith in God, and a due sense of our relation to him. Or as Wegscheider expresses it, “Æqualis et constans animi affectio, qua homo, necessitudinem suam eandemque æternam, quæ ei cum summo omnium rerum auctore ac moderatore sanctissimo intercedit, intimo sensu complexus, cogitationes, voluntates et actiones suas ad eum referre studet.” Or, as more concisely expressed by Bretschneider, “Faith in the reality of God, with a state of mind and mode of life in accordance with that faith.” Or, more vaguely, “Recognition of the mutual relation between God and the world” (Fischer), or, “The recognition of a superhuman causality in the human soul and life” (Theile). “Faith founded on feeling in the reality of the ideal” (Jacobi). “The feeling of absolute dependence” (Schleiermacher). “The observance of the moral law as a divine institution” (Kant). “Faith in the moral order of the universe” (Fichte). “The union of the finite with the infinite or God’s coming to self-consciousness in the world” (Schelling).77See Hase’s Hutterus Redivivus, § 2.

This diversity of views as to what religion is, is enough to prove how utterly vague and unsatisfactory must be the definition of theology as “the science of religion.” Besides, this definition makes theology entirely independent of the Bible. For, as moral philosophy is the analysis of our moral nature, and the conclusions to which that analysis leads, so theology becomes the analysis of our religious consciousness, together with the truths which that analysis evolves. And even Christian theology is only the analysis of the religious consciousness of the Christian; and the Christian consciousness is not the natural religious consciousness of men as modified and determined by the truths of the Christian Scriptures, but it is something different. Some say it is to be referred to a new life transmitted from Christ. Others refer everything distinctive in the religious state of Christians to the Church, and really merge theology into ecclesiology.

We have, therefore, to restrict theology to its true sphere, as the science of the facts of divine revelation so far as those facts concern the nature of God and our relation to him, as his creatures, as sinners, and as the subjects of redemption. All these facts, as just remarked, are in the Bible. But as some of them are revealed by the works of God, and by the nature of man, there is so far a distinction between natural theology, and theology considered distinctively as a Christian science.

With regard to natural theology, there are two extreme opinions. The one is that the works of nature make no trustworthy revelation of the being and perfections of God; the other, that such revelation is so clear and comprehensive as to preclude the necessity of any supernatural revelation.


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