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§ 2. Deistical Rationalism.
A. Possibility of a Supernatural Revelation.
The first point to be determined in the controversy with the Deistical Rationalists, concerns the possibility of a supernatural revelation. This they commonly deny, either on philosophical or moral grounds. It is said to be inconsistent with the nature of God, and with his relation to the world, to suppose that He interferes by his direct agency in the course of events. The true theory of the universe, according to their doctrine, is that God having created the world and endowed his creatures with their attributes and properties, He has done all that is consistent with his nature. He does not interfere by his immediate agency in the production of effects. These belong to the efficiency of second causes. Or if the metaphysical possibility of such intervention be admitted, it is nevertheless morally impossible, because it would imply imperfection in God. If his work needs his constant interference it must be imperfect, and if imperfect, it must be that God is deficient either in wisdom or power.
That this is a wrong theory of God’s relation to the world is manifest. (1.) Because it contradicts the testimony of our moral nature. The relation in which we stand to God, as that relation reveals itself in our consciousness, implies that we are constantly in the presence of a God who takes cognizance of our acts, orders our circumstances, and interferes constantly for our correction or protection. He is not to us a God afar off, with whom we have no immediate concern; but a God who is not far from any one of us, in whom we live, move, and have our being, who numbers the hairs of our head, and without whose notice a sparrow does not fall to the ground. (2.) Reason itself teaches that the conception of God as a ruler of the world, having his creatures in his hands, able to control them at pleasure, and to hold communion with them, is a far higher conception and more consistent with the idea of infinite perfection, than that on which this system of Rationalism is founded. (3.) The common consciousness of men is opposed to this doctrine, as is plain from the fact that all nations, the most cultivated and the most barbarous, have been forced to conceive of God as a Being able to take cognizance of human affairs, and to reveal himself to his creatures. (4.) The argument from Scripture, although not admitted by Rationalists, is for Christians conclusive. The Bible reveals a God who is constantly and everywhere present with his works, and who acts upon them, not only mediately, but immediately, when, where, and how He sees fit.
B. Necessity of a Supernatural Revelation.
Admitting, however, the metaphysical possibility of a supernatural revelation, the next question is whether such a revelation is necessary. This question must be answered in the affirmative. (1.) Because every man feels that he needs it. He knows that there are questions concerning the origin, nature, and destiny of man; concerning sin, and the method in which it can be pardoned and conquered, which he cannot answer. They are questions, however, which must be answered. So long as these problems are unsolved, no man can be either good or happy. (2.) He is equally certain that no man answers these questions for his fellow-men. Every one sees intuitively that they relate to matters beyond the reach of human reason. What can reason decide as to the fate of the soul after death? Can he who has been unable to make himself holy or happy here, secure his own well-being in the eternal future? Every man, without a supernatural revelation, no matter how much of a philosopher, knows that death is the entrance on the unknown. It is the gate into darkness. Men must enter that gate conscious that they have within them an imperishable life combined with all the elements of perdition. Is it not self-evident then that immortal sinners need some one to answer with authority the question, What must I do to be saved? To convince a man that there is no sin, and that sin does not involve misery, is as impossible as to convince a wretch that he is not unhappy. The necessity of a divine revelation, therefore, is a simple matter of fact, of which every man is in his heart convinced. (3.) Admitting that philosophers could solve these great problems to their own satisfaction, What is to become of the mass of mankind? Are they to he left in darkness and despair? (4.) The experience of ages proves that the world by wisdom knows not God. The heathen nations, ancient and modern, civilized and savage, have without exception, failed by the light of nature to solve any of the great problems of humanity. This is the testimony of history as well as of Scripture. (5.) Even where the light of revelation is enjoyed, it is found that those who reject its guidance, are led not only to the most contradictory conclusions, but to the adoption of principles, in most cases, destructive of domestic virtue, social order, and individual worth and happiness. The reason of man has led the great body of those who know no other guide, into what has been well called, “The Hell of Pantheism.”
C. The Scriptures contain such a Revelation.
Admitting the possibility and even the necessity of a supernatural revelation, Has such a revelation been actually made? This the Deistical Rationalist denies, and the Christian affirms. He confidently refers to the Bible as containing such a revelation, and maintains that its claims are authenticated by an amount of evidence which renders unbelief unreasonable and criminal.
1. In the first place, its authors claim to be the messengers of God, to speak by his authority and in his name, so that what they teach is to be received not on the authority of the writers themselves, nor on the ground of the inherent evidence in the nature of the truths communicated, but upon the authority of God. It is He who affirms what the sacred writers teach. This claim must be admitted, or the sacred writers must be regarded as fanatics or impostors. It is absolutely certain that they were neither. It would be no more irrational to pronounce Homer and Newton idiots, than to set down Isaiah and Paul as either impostors or fanatics. It is as certain as any self-evident truth, that they were wise, good, sober-minded men. That such men should falsely assume to be the authoritative messengers of God, and to be endowed with supernatural powers in confirmation of their mission, is a contradiction. It is to affirm that wise and good men are foolish and wicked.
2. The Bible contains nothing inconsistent with the claim of its authors to divine authority as teachers. It contains nothing impossible, nothing absurd, nothing immoral, nothing inconsistent with any well-authenticated truth. This itself is well-nigh miraculous, considering the circumstances under which the different portions of the Scriptures were written.
3. More than this, the Bible reveals truths of the highest order, not elsewhere made known. Truths which meet the most urgent necessities of our nature; which solve the problems which reason has never been able to solve. It recognizes and authenticates all the facts of consciousness, all the truths which our moral and religious nature involve, and which we recognize as true as soon as they are presented. It has the same adaptation to the soul that the atmosphere has to the lungs, or the solar influences to the earth on which we live. And what the earth would be without those influences, is, in point of fact, what the soul is without knowledge of the truths which we derive solely from the Bible.
4. The several books of which the Scriptures are composed were written by some fifty different authors living in the course of fifteen hundred years and yet they are found to be an organic whole, the product of one mind. They are as clearly a development as the oak from the acorn. The gospels and epistles are but the expansion, fulfilment, the culmination of the protevangelium, “The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpents head,” as uttered to our first parents (Gen. iii. 15). All that intervenes is to the New Testament what the roots, stem, branches, and foliage of the tree are to the fruit. No one book of Scripture can be understood by itself, any more than any one part of a tree or member of the body can be understood without reference to the whole of which it is a part. Those who from want of attention do not perceive this organic relation of the different parts of the Bible, cannot appreciate the argument thence derived in favor of its divine origin. They who do perceive it, cannot resist it.
Argument from Prophecy.
5. God bears witness to the divine authority of the Scriptures by signs and wonders, and divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost. The leading events recorded in the New Testament were predicted in the Old. Of this any man may satisfy himself by a comparison of the two. The coincidence between the prophecies and the fulfilment admits of no rational solution, except that the Bible is the work of God; or, that holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. The miracles recorded in the Scriptures are historical events, which are not only entitled to be received on the same testimony which authenticates other facts of history, but they are so implicated with the whole structure of the New Testament, that they cannot be denied without rejecting the whole gospel, which rejection involves the denial of the best authenticated facts in the history of the world.
Argument from the Effects of the Gospel.
Besides this external supernatural testimony, the Bible is everywhere attended by “the demonstration of the Spirit,” which gives to its doctrines the clearness of self-evident truths, and the authority of the voice of God; analogous to the authority of the moral law for the natural conscience.
6. The Bible ever has been and still is, a power in the world. It has determined the course of history. It has overthrown false religion wherever it is known. It is the parent of modern civilization. It is the only guarantee of social order, of virtue, and of human rights and liberty. Its effects cannot be rationally accounted for upon any other hypothesis than that it is what it claims to be, “The Word of God.”
7. It makes known the person, work, the acts, and words of Christ, who is the clearest revelation of God ever made to man. He is the manifested God. His words were the words of God. His acts were the acts of God. His voice is the voice of God, and He said, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John x. 35). If any man refuse to recognize him as the Son of God, as the infallible teacher, and only Saviour of men, nothing can be said save what the Apostle says, “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the God of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. iv. 3, 4, 6.)
Deistical Rationalism is in Germany sometimes called Naturalism, as distinguished from Supernaturalism; as the former denies, and the latter affirms, an agency or operation above nature in the conduct of events in this world. More commonly, however, by Naturalism is meant the theory which denies the existence of any higher power than nature, and therefore is only another name for atheism. It is, consequently, not a proper designation of a system which assumes the existence of a personal God.
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