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Systematic Theology - Volume I
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§ 2. The Knowledge of God is not due to a Process of Reasoning.

Those who are unwilling to admit that the idea of God is innate as given in the very constitution of man, generally hold that it is a necessary, or, at least, a natural deduction of reason. Sometimes it is represented as the last and highest generalization of science. As the law of gravitation is assumed to account for a large class of the phenomena of the universe, and as it not only does account for them, but must be assumed in order to understand them; so the existence of an intelligent first cause is assumed to account for the existence of the universe itself, and for all its phenomena. But as such generalizations are possible only for cultivated minds, this theory of the origin of the idea of God, cannot account for belief in his existence in the minds of all men, even the least educated.

Others, therefore, while regarding this knowledge to be the result of a course of reasoning, make the process far more simple. There are many things which children and illiterate persons learn, and can hardly avoid learning, which need not be referred to the constitution of their nature. Thus the existence of God is so obviously manifested, by everything within and around us, the belief in that existence is so natural, so suited to what we see and what we need, that it comes to be generally adopted. We are surrounded by facts which indicate design; by effects which demand a cause. We have a sense of the infinite which is vague and void, until filled with God. We have a knowledge of ourselves as spiritual beings, which suggests the idea of God, who is a spirit. We have the consciousness of moral qualities, of the distinction between good and evil, and this makes us think of God as a being of moral perfections. All this may be very true, but it is not an adequate account of the facts of the case. It does not give a satisfactory reason for the universality and strength of the conviction of the existence of God. Our own consciousness teaches us that this is not the ground of our own faith. We do not thus reason ourselves into the belief that there is a God; and it is very obvious that it is not by such a process of ratiocination, simple as it is, that the mass of the people are brought to this conclusion.

Moreover, the process above described does not account for the origin of our belief in God, but only gives the method by which that belief is confirmed and developed. Very little is given by intuition in any case, at least to ordinary minds. What is thus discovered needs to be expanded, and its real contents unfolded. If this be true with the intuitions of sense and of the understanding, why should it not be so of our religious nature?

The truth is, that all the faculties and feelings of our minds and bodies have their appropriate objects; and the possession of the faculties supposes the existence of those objects. The senses suppose the existence and reality of the objects of sense. The eye, in its very structure, supposes that there is such an element as light; the sense of hearing would be unaccountable and inconceivable without sound; and the sense of touch would be inconceivable were there no tangible objects. The same is true of our social affections; they necessitate the assumption that there are relations suited to their exercises. Our moral nature supposes that the distinction between right and wrong is not chimerical or imaginary. In like manner, our religious feelings, our sense of dependence, our consciousness of responsibility, our aspirations after fellowship with some Being higher than ourselves, and higher than anything which the world or nature contains, necessitates the belief in the existence of God. It is indeed said that if this belief is intuitive and necessary, there is no virtue in it. This objection overlooks the fact that the moral character of our feelings depends on their nature and not on their origin. They may spring from the constitution of our nature, and yet be good or evil as the case may be. A mother's love for her child is instinctive; the absence of the maternal affection in a mother is something unnatural and monstrous, the object of universal condemnation. The sense of pity, of justice, the feelings of benevolence, are instinctive, but none the less virtuous. The same is true of our religious feelings, and of the belief which they involve. We cannot help feeling that we are responsible, and it is right that we should feel so. The man who has brought himself to a state of insensibility to all moral obligation, is what the Scriptures call a “reprobate.” Adam believed in God the moment he was created, for the same reason that he believed in the external world. His religious nature, unclouded and undefiled, apprehended the one with the same confidence that his senses apprehended the other. It is of great importance that men should know and feel that they are by their very nature bound to believe in God; that they cannot emancipate themselves from that belief, without derationalizing and demoralizing their whole being.

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