RATIONALISM: The Inborn (Natural) Ability of Human Reason to Know Truth?

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Meaning and Usage of the Word

By Rationalism is meant the system or theory which assigns undue authority to reason in matters of religion. By reason is not to be understood the Logos as revealed in man, as held by some of the Fathers, and by Cousin and other modern philosophers, nor the intuitional faculty as distinguished from the understanding or the discursive faculty. The word is taken in its ordinary sense for the cognitive faculty, that which perceives compares, judges, and infers.

Rationalism has appeared under different forms. (1.) The Deistical, which denies either the possibility or the fact of any supernatural revelation, and maintains that reason is both the source and ground of all religious knowledge and conviction. (2.) That which while it admits the possibility and the fact of a supernatural revelation, and that such a revelation is contained in the Christian Scriptures, nevertheless maintains that the truths revealed are the truths of reason; that is, truths which reason can comprehend and demonstrate. (3.) The third form of Rationalism has received the name of Dogmatism, which admits that many of the truths of revelation are undiscoverable by human reason and that they are to be received upon authority. Nevertheless, it maintains that those truths when revealed admit of being philosophically explained and established, and raised from the sphere of faith into that of knowledge.

How to Interpret the Bible-1

Rationalism in all its forms proceeds on the ground of Theism, that is, the belief of an extramundane personal God. When, therefore, Monism, which denies all dualism and affirms the identity of God and the world, took possession of the German mind, Rationalism, in its old form, disappeared. There was no longer any room for the distinction between reason and God, between the natural and the supernatural. No class of men, therefore, are more contemptuous in their opposition to the Rationalists, than the advocates of the modern, or, as it perhaps may be more properly designated, the modern pantheistic philosophy of Germany.

Although in a measure banished from its recent home, it continues to prevail in all its forms, variously modified, both in Europe and America. Mansel, in his “Limits of Religious Thought,” includes under the head of Rationalism every system which makes the final test of truth to be “the direct assent of the human consciousness, whether in the form of logical deduction, or moral judgment, or religious intuition, by whatever previous process these faculties may have been raised to their assumed dignity as arbitrators.” This, however, would include systems radically different in their nature.

The Holy Spirit_02 THE CREATION DAYS OF GENESIS gift of prophecy

Deistical Rationalism

  1. 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.

  1. 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 be 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.”

  1. 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, fulfillment, the culmination of the protevangelium, “The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head,” as uttered to our first parents (Gen. 3:15). 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

  1. 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 fulfillment 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.

  1. 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.”
  2. 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 10:35). 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. 4:3, 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 that assumes the existence of a personal God.


The Second Form of Rationalism

  1. Its Nature

The more common form of Rationalism admits that the Scriptures contain a supernatural revelation. It teaches, however, that the object of that revelation is to make more generally known, and to authenticate for the masses, the truths of reason, or doctrines of natural religion. These doctrines are received by cultivated minds not on the ground of authority, but of rational evidence. The fundamental principle of this class of Rationalists is, that nothing can be rationally believed which is not understood. “Nil credi posse, quod a ratione capi et intelligi nequeat.” If asked, Why he believes in the immortality of the soul? the Rationalist answers, Because the doctrine is reasonable. To his mind, the arguments in its favor outweigh those against it. If asked, Why he does not believe the doctrine of the Trinity? he answers, Because it is unreasonable. The philosophical arguments against it outweigh the arguments from reason, in its favor. That the sacred writers teach the doctrine is not decisive. The Rationalist does not feel bound to believe all that the sacred writers teach. The Bible, he admits, contains a Divine revelation. But this revelation was made to fallible men, men under no supernatural guidance in communicating the truths revealed. They were men whose mode of thinking, and manner of arguing, and of presenting truth, were modified by their culture, and by the modes of thought prevailing during the age in which they lived. The Scriptures, therefore, abound with misapprehensions, with inconclusive arguments, and accommodations to Jewish errors, superstitions, and popular beliefs. It is the office of reason to sift these incongruous materials, and separate the wheat from the chaff. That is wheat which reason apprehends in its own light to be true; that is to be rejected as chaff which reason cannot understand, and cannot prove to be true. That is, nothing is true to us which we do not see for ourselves to be true.

  1. Refutation

It is sufficient to remark on this form of Rationalism,—

  1. That it is founded upon a false principle. It is not necessary to the rational exercise of faith that we should understand the truth believed. The unknown and the impossible cannot be believed; but every man does, and must believe the incomprehensible. Assent to truth is founded on evidence. That evidence may be external or intrinsic. Some things we believe on the testimony of our senses; other things we believe on the testimony of men. Why, then, may we not believe on the testimony of God? A man may believe that paper thrown upon fire will burn, although he does not understand the process of combustion. All men believe that plants grow, and that like begets like; but no man understands the mystery of reproduction. Even the Positivist who would reduce all belief to zero, is obliged to admit the incomprehensible to be true. And those who will believe neither in God nor spirit because they are invisible and intangible, say that all we know is the unknowable,—we know only force,—but of force we know nothing but that it is, and that it persists. If, therefore, the incomprehensible must be believed in every other department of knowledge, no rational ground can be given why it should be banished from religion.
  2. Rationalism assumes that the human intelligence is the measure of all truth. This is an insane presumption on the part of such a creature as man. If a child believes with implicit confidence what it cannot understand, on the testimony of a parent, surely man may believe what he cannot understand, on the testimony of God.
  3. Rationalism destroys the distinction between faith and knowledge, which all men and all ages admit. Faith is assent to truth founded on testimony, “credo quod non video.” Knowledge is assent founded on the direct or indirect, the intuitive or discursive, apprehension of its object. If there can be no rational faith, if we are to receive as true only what we know and understand, the whole world is beggared. It loses all that sustains, beautifies, and ennobles life.
  4. The poor cannot be Rationalists. If we must understand what we believe, even on the principles of the Rationalists, only philosophers can be religious. They alone can comprehend the rational grounds on which the great truths of even natural religion are to be received. Widespread, therefore, as has been the influence of a Rationalistic spirit, it has never taken hold of the people; it has never controlled the creed of any church; because all religion is founded on the incomprehensible and the infinite.
  5. The protest, therefore, which our religious nature makes against the narrow, cold, and barren system of Rationalism, is a sufficient proof that it cannot be true, because it cannot meet our most urgent necessities. The object of worship must be infinite, and of necessity incomprehensible.
  6. Faith implies knowledge. And if we must understand in order to know, faith and knowledge become alike impossible. The principle, therefore, on which Rationalism is founded, leads to Nihilism, or universal negation. Even the latest form of philosophy, taking the lowest possible ground as to religious faith, admits that we are surrounded on every side by the incomprehensible. Herbert Spencer, in his “First Principles of a New Philosophy,” asserts, p. 45, “the omnipresence of something which passes comprehension.” He declares that the ultimate truth in which all forms of religion agree, and in which religion and science are in harmony, is, “That the Power which the universe manifests to us is utterly inscrutable.” The inscrutable, the incomprehensible, what we cannot understand, must therefore of necessity be rationally the object of faith. And consequently reason, rational demonstration, or philosophical proof is not the ground of faith. We may rationally believe what we cannot understand. We may be assured of truths which are encompassed with objections which we cannot satisfactorily answer.
  7. History

The modern form of Deistic Rationalism had its rise in England during the latter part of the seventeenth, and the first half of the eighteenth centuries. Lord Herbert, who died as early as 1648, in his work, “De Veritate, prout distinguitur a Revelatione,” etc., taught that all religion consists in the acknowledgment of the following truths: 1. The existence of God. 2. The dependence of man on God, and his obligation to reverence him. 3. Piety consists in the harmony of the human faculties. 4. The essential difference between good and evil. 5. A future state of rewards and punishment. These he held to be intuitive truths, needing no proof, and virtually believed by all men. This may be considered as the confession of Faith of all Deists, and even of those Rationalists who admit a supernatural revelation; for such revelation, they maintain, can only authenticate what reason itself teaches. Other writers quickly followed in the course opened by Lord Herbert; as, Toland in his “Christianity without Mystery,” 1696, a work which excited great attention, and drew out numerous refutations. Toland ended by avowing himself a Pantheist. Hobbes was a Materialist. Lord Shaftesbury, who died 1773, in his “Characteristics,” “Miscellaneous Treatises,” and “Moralist,” made ridicule the test of truth. He declared revelation and inspiration to be fanaticism. Collins (died 1729) was a more serious writer. His principal works were, “An Essay on Free-thinking,” and “The Grounds and Reasons of Christianity.” Lord Bolingbroke, Secretary of State under Queen Anne, “Letters on the Study and Utility of History.” Matthew Tindal, “Christianity as Old as the Creation.” Tindal, instead of attacking Christianity in detail, attempted to construct a regular system of Deism. He maintained that God could not intend that men should ever be without a religion adequate to all their necessities, and therefore that a revelation can only make known what every man has in his own reason. This internal and universal revelation contains the two truths: 1. The existence of God. 2. That God created man not for his own sake, but for man’s. By far the most able and influential of the writers of this class was David Hume. His “Essays” in four volumes contain his theological views. The most important of these are those on the Natural History of Religion, and on Miracles. His “Dialogues on Natural Religion” is regarded as the ablest work ever written in support of the Deistical, or rather, Atheistical system.

From England, the spirit of infidelity extended into France. Voltaire, Rousseau, La Mettrie, Holbach, D’Alembert, Diderot, and others, succeeded for a time in overthrowing all religious faith in the governing classes of society.

The Epistle to the Hebrews Paul PAUL AND LUKE ON TRIAL

Rationalism in Germany

In Germany the Rationalistic defection began with such men as Baumgarten, Ernesti, and John David Michaelis, who did not deny the divine authority of the Scriptures, but explained away their doctrines. These were followed by such men as Semler, Morus, and Eichhorn, who were thoroughly neological. During the latter part of the last, and first part of the present century, most of the leading church historians, exegetes, and theologians of Germany, were Rationalists. The first serious blow given to their system was by Kant. The Rationalists assumed that they were able to demonstrate the truths of natural religion on the principles of reason. Kant, in his “Critic of Pure Reason,” undertook to show that reason is incompetent to prove any religious truth. The only foundation for religion he maintained was our moral consciousness. That consciousness involved or implied the three great doctrines of God, liberty, and immortality. His successors, Fichte and Schelling, carried out the principles which Kant adopted to prove that the outward world is an unknown something, to show that there was no such world; that there was no real distinction between the ego and non-ego, the subjective and objective; that both are modes of the manifestation of the absolute. Thus all things were merged into one. This idealistic Pantheism having displaced Rationalism, has already yielded the philosophic throne to a subtle form of Materialism.

Young Christians

Bretschneider’s “Entwickelung aller in der Dogmatik vorkommenden Begriffe,” gives a list of fifty-two works on the rationalistic controversy in Germany. The English books written against the Rationalists or Deists of Great Britain, and on the proper office of reason in matters of religion, are scarcely less numerous. Some of the more important of these works are the following: “Boyle on Things above Reason,” Butler’s “Analogy of Religion and Nature,” Conybeare’s “Defence of Religion,” “Hulsean Lectures,” Jackson’s “Examination,” “Jew’s Letters to Voltaire,” Lardner’s “Credibility of the Gospel History,” Leland’s “Advantage and Necessity of Revelation,” Leslie’s “Short and Easy Method with Deists.” Warburton’s “View of Bolingbroke’s Philosophy,” and his “Divine Legation of Moses,” John Wilson’s “Dissertation on Christianity,” etc., etc. See Stäudlin’s “Geschichte des Rationalismus,” and a concise and instructive history of theology during the eighteenth century, by Dr. Tholuck in “Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review” for 1828. Leibnitz’s “Discours de la Conformité de la Foi avec la Raison,” in the Preface to his “Théodicée,” and Mansel’s “Limits of Religious Thought,” deserve the careful perusal of the theological student. The most recent works on this general subject are Lecky’s “History of Rationalism in Europe,” and “History of Rationalism, embracing a survey of the present state of Protestant Theology,” by Rev. John F. Hurst, A.M. The latter is the most instructive publication in the English language on modern skepticism.


Dogmatism, or the Third
Form of Rationalism

  1. Meaning of the Term

It was a common objection made in the early age of the Church against Christianity, by the philosophical Greeks, that its doctrines were received upon authority, and not upon rational evidence. Many of the Fathers, specially those of the Alexandrian school, answered that this was true only of the common people. They could not be expected to understand philosophy. They could receive the high spiritual truths of religion only on the ground of authority. But the educated classes were able and were bound to search after the philosophical or rational evidence of the doctrines taught in the Bible, and to receive those doctrines on the ground of that evidence. They made a distinction, therefore, between πίστις and γνῶσις, faith and knowledge. The former was for the common people, the latter for the cultivated. The objects of faith were the doctrinal statements of the Bible in the form in which they are there presented. The ground of faith is simply the testimony of the Scriptures as the Word of God. The objects of knowledge were the speculative or philosophical ideas which underlie the doctrines of the Bible, and the ground on which those ideas or truths are received and incorporated in our system of knowledge, is their own inherent evidence. They are seen to be true by the light of reason. Faith is thus elevated into knowledge, and Christianity exalted into a philosophy. This method was carried out by the Platonizing fathers, and continued to prevail to a great extent among the schoolmen. During the Middle Ages the authority of the Church was paramount, and the freest thinkers did not venture openly to impugn the doctrines which the Church had sanctioned. For the most part they contented themselves with philosophizing about those doctrines, and endeavoring to show that they admitted of a philosophical explanation and proof.


As remarked in the preceding chapter, this method was revived and extensively propagated by Wolf (1679–1754, Professor at Halle and Marburg). His principal works were “Theologia Naturalis,” 1736, “Philos. Practicalis Universalis,” 1738, “Philos. Moralis s. Ethica,” 1750, “Vernünftige Gedanken von Gott, der Welt und der Seele des Menschen, auch allen Dingen überhaupt,” 1720. Wolf unduly exalted the importance of natural religion. Although he admitted that the Scriptures revealed doctrines undiscoverable by the unassisted reason of man, he yet insisted that all doctrines, in order to be rationally received as true, should be capable of demonstration on the principles of reason. “He maintained,” says Mr. Rose (in his “State of Protestantism in Germany,” p. 39), “that philosophy was indispensable to religion, and that, together with Biblical proofs, a mathematical or strictly demonstrative dogmatical system, according to the principles of reason, was absolutely necessary. His own works carried this theory into practice, and after the first clamors had subsided, his opinions gained more attention, and it was not long before he had a school of vehement admirers, who far outstripped him in the use of his own principles. We find some of them not content with applying demonstration to the truth of the system, but endeavoring to establish each separate dogma, the Trinity, the nature of the Redeemer, the Incarnation, the eternity of punishment, on philosophical, and strange as it may appear, some of these truths on mathematical grounds.” The language of Wolf himself on this subject has already been quoted on page 5. He expressly states that the office of revelation is to supplement natural religion, and to present propositions which the philosopher is bound to demonstrate. By demonstration is not meant the adduction of proof that the proposition is sustained by the Scriptures, but that the doctrine must be admitted as true on the principles of reason. It is philosophical demonstration that is intended. “Theological Dogmatism,” says Mansel, “is an application of reason to the support and defense of preëxisting statements of Scripture.… Its end is to produce a coincidence between what we believe and what we think; to remove the boundary which separates the comprehensible from the incomprehensible.”2 It attempts, for example, to demonstrate the doctrine of the Trinity from the nature of an infinite being; the doctrine of the Incarnation from the nature of man and his relation to God, etc. Its grand design is to transmute faith into knowledge, to elevate Christianity as a system of revealed truth into a system of Philosophy.

  1. Refutation

The objections to Dogmatism, as thus understood, are,—1. That it is essentially Rationalistic. The Rationalist demands philosophical proof of the doctrines which he receives. He is not willing to believe on the simple authority of Scripture. He requires his reason to be satisfied by a demonstration of the truth independent of the Bible. This demand the Dogmatist admits to be reasonable, and he undertakes to furnish the required proof. In this essential point, therefore, in making the reception of Christian doctrine to rest on reason and not on authority, the Dogmatist and the Rationalist are on common ground. For although the former admits a supernatural revelation, and acknowledges that for the common people faith must rest on authority, yet he maintains that the mysteries of religion admit of rational or philosophical demonstration, and that such demonstration cultivated minds have a right to demand.

  1. In thus shifting faith from the foundation of divine testimony, and making it rest on rational demonstration, it is removed from the Rock of Ages to a quicksand. There is all the difference between a conviction founded on the well-authenticated testimony of God, and that founded on so-called philosophical demonstration, that there is between God and man, the divine and human. Let any man read the pretended philosophical demonstrations of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the resurrection of the body, or any other of the great truths of the Bible, and he will feel at liberty to receive or to reject it at pleasure. It has no authority or certainty. It is the product of a mind like his own, and therefore can have no more power than belongs to the fallible human intellect.
  2. Dogmatism is, therefore, in its practical effect, destructive of faith. In transmuting Christianity into a philosophy, its whole nature is changed and its power is lost. It takes its place as one of the numberless phases of human speculation, which in the history of human thought succeed each other as the waves of the sea,—no one ever abides.
  3. It proceeds on an essentially false principle. It assumes the competency of reason to judge of things entirely beyond its sphere. God has so constituted our nature, that we are authorized and necessitated to confide in the well-authenticated testimony of our senses, within their appropriate sphere. And in like manner, we are constrained to confide in the operation of our minds and in the conclusions to which they lead, within the sphere which God has assigned to human reason. But the senses cannot sit in judgment on rational truths. We cannot study logic with the microscope or scalpel. It is no less irrational to depend upon reason, or demand rational or philosophical demonstration for truths which become the objects of knowledge only as they are revealed. From the nature of the case the truths concerning the creation, the probation, and apostasy of man, the purpose and plan of redemption, the person of Christ, the state of the soul in the future world, the relation of God to his creatures, etc., not depending on general principles of reason, but in great measure on the purposes of an intelligent, personal Being, can be known only so far as He chooses to reveal them, and must be received simply on his authority.

The Testimony of the Scriptures against Dogmatism

  1. The testimony of the Scriptures is decisive on this subject. From the beginning to the end of the Bible the sacred writers present themselves in the character of witnesses. They demand faith in their teachings and obedience to their commands not on the ground of their own superiority in wisdom or excellence; not on the ground of rational demonstration of the truth of what they taught, but simply as the organs of God, as men appointed by Him to reveal his will. Their first and last, and sufficient reason for faith is, “Thus saith the Lord.” The New Testament writers, especially, repudiate all claim to the character of philosophers. They taught that the Gospel was not a system of truth derived from reason or sustained by its authority, but by the testimony of God. They expressly assert that its doctrines were matters of revelation, to be received on divine testimony. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?” (1 Cor. 2:9–11.) Such being the nature of the Gospel, if received at all it must be received on authority. It was to be believed or taken on trust, not demonstrated as a philosophical system. Nay, the Bible goes still further. It teaches that a man must become a fool in order to be wise; he must renounce dependence upon his own reason or wisdom, in order to receive the wisdom of God. Our Lord told his disciples that unless they were converted and became as little children, they could not enter into the kingdom of God. And the Apostle Paul, in his Epistle to the Corinthians, and in those addressed to the Ephesians and Colossians, that is, when writing to those imbued with the Greek and with the oriental philosophy, made it the indispensable condition of their becoming Christians, that they should renounce philosophy as a guide in matters of religion, and receive the Gospel on the testimony of God. Nothing, therefore, can be more opposed to the whole teaching and spirit of the Bible, than this disposition to insist on philosophical proof of the articles of our faith. Our duty, privilege, and security are in believing, not in knowing; in trusting God, and not our own understanding. They are to be pitied who have no more trustworthy teacher than themselves.
  2. The instructions of the Bible on this subject are abundantly confirmed by the lessons of experience. From the time of the Gnostics, and of the Platonizing fathers, the attempt has been made in every age to exalt faith into knowledge, to transmute Christianity into philosophy, by demonstrating its doctrines on the principles of reason. These attempts have always failed. They have all proved ephemeral and worthless,—each successive theorizer viewing with more or less contempt the speculations of his predecessors, yet each imagining that he has the gifts for comprehending the Almighty.

These attempts are not only abortive, they are always evil in their effects upon their authors and upon all who are influenced by them. So far as they succeed to the satisfaction of those who make them, they change the relation of the soul to the truth, and, of course, to God. The reception of the truth is not an act of faith, or of trust in God; but of confidence in our own speculations. Self is substituted for God as the ground of confidence. The man’s whole inward state is thereby changed. History, moreover, proves that Dogmatism is the predecessor of Rationalism. The natural tendency and the actual consequences of the indulgence of a disposition to demand philosophical demonstration for articles of faith, is a state of mind which revolts at authority, and refuses to admit as true what it cannot comprehend and prove. And this state of mind, as it is incompatible with faith, is the parent of unbelief and of all its consequences. There is no safety for us, therefore, but to remain within the limits which God has assigned us. Let us rely on our senses, within the sphere of our sense perceptions; on our reason within the sphere of rational truths; and on God, and God alone, in all that relates to the things of God. He only truly knows, who consents with the docility of a child to be taught of God.

How to Interpret the Bible-1 INTERPRETING THE BIBLE how-to-study-your-bible1

Proper Office of Reason in
Matters of Religion

  1. Reason Necessary for the Reception of a Revelation

Christians, in repudiating Rationalism in all its forms, do not reject the service of reason in matters of religion. They acknowledge its high prerogatives, and the responsibility involved in their exercise.

In the first place, reason is necessarily presupposed in every revelation. Revelation is the communication of truth to the mind. But the communication of truth supposes the capacity to receive it. Revelations cannot be made to brutes or to idiots. Truths, to be received as objects of faith, must be intellectually apprehended. A proposition, to which we attach no meaning, however important the truth it may contain, cannot be an object of faith. If it be affirmed that the soul is immortal, or God is a spirit, unless we know the meaning of the words nothing is communicated to the mind, and the mind can affirm or deny nothing on the subject. In other words, knowledge is essential to faith. In believing we affirm the truth of the proposition believed. But we can affirm nothing of that of which we know nothing. The first and indispensable office of reason, therefore, in matters of faith, is the cognition, or intelligent apprehension of the truths proposed for our reception. This is what theologians are accustomed to call the usus organicus, seu, instrumentalis, rationis. About this there can be no dispute.

Difference between Knowing and Understanding

It is important, however, to bear in mind the difference between knowing and understanding, or comprehending. A child knows what the words “God is a spirit” mean. No created being can comprehend the Almighty unto perfection. We must know the plan of salvation; but no one can comprehend its mysteries. This distinction is recognized in every department. Men know unspeakably more than they understand. We know that plants grow; that the will controls our voluntary muscles; that Jesus Christ is God and man in two distinct natures, and one person forever; but here as everywhere we are surrounded by the incomprehensible. We can rationally believe that a thing is, without knowing how or why it is. It is enough for the true dignity of man as a rational creature, that he is not called upon by his Creator to believe without knowledge, to receive as true propositions which convey no meaning to the mind. This would be not only irrational, but impossible.

  1. Reason must judge of the Credibility of a Revelation

In the second place, it is the prerogative of reason to judge of the credibility of a revelation. The word “credible” is sometimes popularly used to mean, easy of belief, i.e., probable. In its proper sense, it is antithetical to incredible. The incredible is that which cannot be believed. The credible is that which can be believed. Nothing is incredible but the impossible. What may be, may be rationally (i.e., on adequate grounds) believed.

A thing may be strange, unaccountable, unintelligible, and yet perfectly credible. What is strange or unaccountable to one mind, may be perfectly familiar and plain to another. For the most limited intellect or experience to make itself the standard of the possible and true, would be as absurd as a man’s making his visible horizon the limit of space. Unless a man is willing to believe the incomprehensible, he can believe nothing, and must dwell forever in outer darkness. The most skeptical form of modern philosophy, which reduces faith and knowledge to a minimum, teaches that the incomprehensible is all we know, namely, that force is, and that it is persistent. It is most unreasonable, therefore, to urge as an objection to Christianity that it demands faith in the incomprehensible.

The Impossible cannot be believed

While this is true and plain, it is no less true that the impossible is incredible, and therefore cannot be an object of faith. Christians concede to reason the judicium contradictionis, that is, the prerogative of deciding whether a thing is possible or impossible. If it is seen to be impossible, no authority, and no amount or kind of evidence can impose the obligation to receive it as true. Whether, however, a thing be possible or not, is not to be arbitrarily determined. Men are prone to pronounce everything impossible which contradicts their settled convictions, their preconceptions or prejudices, or which is repugnant to their feelings. Men in former times did not hesitate to say that it is impossible that the earth should turn round on its axis and move through space with incredible rapidity, and yet we not perceive it. It was pronounced absolutely impossible that information should be transmitted thousands of miles in the fraction of a second. Of course it would be folly to reject all evidence of such facts as these on the ground of their being impossible. It is no less unreasonable for men to reject the truths of revelation on the assumption that they involve the impossible, when they contradict our previous convictions, or when we cannot see how they can be. Men say that it is impossible that the same person can be both God and man; and yet they admit that man is at once material and immaterial, mortal and immortal, angel and animal. The impossible cannot be true; but reason in pronouncing a thing impossible must act rationally and not capriciously. Its judgments must be guided by principles which commend themselves to the common consciousness of men. Such principles are the following:—


What is Impossible

(1.) That is impossible which involves a contradiction; as, that a thing is and is not; that right is wrong, and wrong right. (2.) It is impossible that God should do, approve, or command what is morally wrong. (3.) It is impossible that He should require us to believe what contradicts any of the laws of belief which He has impressed upon our nature. (4.) It is impossible that one truth should contradict another. It is impossible, therefore, that God should reveal anything as true which contradicts any well authenticated truth, whether of intuition, experience, or previous revelation.

Men may abuse this prerogative of reason, as they abuse their free agency. But the prerogative itself is not to be denied. We have a right to reject as untrue whatever it is impossible that God should require us to believe. He can no more require us to believe what is absurd than to do what is wrong.

Proof of this Prerogative of Reason

  1. That reason has the prerogative of the judicium contradictionis, is plain, in the first place, from the very nature of the case. Faith includes an affirmation of the mind that a thing is true. But it is a contradiction to say that the mind can affirm that to be true which it sees cannot by possibility be true. This would be to affirm and deny, to believe and disbelieve, at the same time. From the very constitution of our nature, therefore, we are forbidden to believe the impossible. We are, consequently, not only authorized, but required to pronounce anathema an apostle or angel from heaven, who should call upon us to receive as a revelation from God anything absurd, or wicked, or inconsistent with the intellectual or moral nature with which He has endowed us. The subjection of the human intelligence to God is indeed absolute; but it is a subjection to infinite wisdom and goodness. As it is impossible that God should contradict himself, so it is impossible that He should, by an external revelation, declare that to be true which by the laws of our nature He has rendered it impossible we should believe.
  2. This prerogative of reason is constantly recognized in Scripture. The prophets called upon the people to reject the doctrines of the heathen, because they could not be true. They could not be true because they involved contradictions and absurdities; because they were in contradiction to our moral nature, and inconsistent with known truths. Moses taught that nothing was to be believed, no matter what amount of external evidence should be adduced in its support, which contradicted a previous, duly authenticated revelation from God. Paul does the same thing when he calls upon us to pronounce even an angel accursed, who should teach another gospel. He recognized the paramount authority of the intuitive judgments of the mind. He says that the damnation of any man is just who calls upon us to believe that right is wrong, or that men should do evil that good may come.
  3. The ultimate ground of faith and knowledge is confidence in God. We can neither believe nor know anything unless we confide in those laws of belief which God has implanted in our nature. If we can be required to believe what contradicts those laws, then the foundations are broken up. All distinction between truth and falsehood, between right and wrong, would disappear. All our ideas of God and virtue would be confounded, and we should become the victims of every adroit deceiver, or minister of Satan, who, by lying wonders, should call upon us to believe a lie. We are to try the spirits. But how can we try them without a standard? and what other standard can there be, except the laws of our nature and the authenticated revelations of God.
  4. Reason must judge of the Evidences of a Revelation

In the third place, reason must judge of the evidence by which a revelation is supported.

On this point it may be remarked,—

  1. That as faith involves assent, and assent is conviction produced by evidence, it follows that faith without evidence is either irrational or impossible.
  2. This evidence must be appropriate to the nature of the truth believed. Historical truth requires historical evidence; empirical truths the testimony of experience; mathematical truth, mathematical evidence; moral truth, moral evidence; and “the things of the Spirit,” the demonstration of the Spirit. In many cases different kinds of evidence concur in the support of the same truth. That Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, for example, is sustained by evidence, historical, moral, and spiritual, so abundant that our Lord says of those who reject it, that the wrath of God abideth on them.
  3. Evidence must be not only appropriate, but adequate. That is, such as to command assent in every well-constituted mind to which it is presented.

As we cannot believe without evidence, and as that evidence must be appropriate and adequate, it is clearly a prerogative of reason to judge of these several points. This is plain.

  1. From the nature of faith, which is not a blind, irrational assent, but an intelligent reception of the truth on adequate grounds.
  2. The Scriptures never demand faith except on the ground of adequate evidence. “If I had not done among them,” says our Lord, “the works which none other man did, they had not had sin” (John 15:24); clearly recognizing the principle that faith cannot be required without evidence. The Apostle Paul proves that the heathen are justly liable to condemnation for their idolatry and immorality, because such a revelation of the true God and of the moral law had been made to them, as to leave them without excuse.
  3. The Bible regards unbelief as a sin, and the great sin for which men will be condemned at the bar of God. This presumes that unbelief cannot arise from the want of appropriate and adequate evidence, but is to be referred to the wicked rejection of the truth notwithstanding the proof by which it is attended. The popular misconception that men are not responsible for their faith, arises from a confusion of ideas. It is true that men are not blameworthy for not believing in speculative truths, when the cause of their unbelief is ignorance of the fact or of its evidence. It is no sin not to believe that the earth moves round the sun, if one be ignorant of the fact or of the evidence of its truth. But wherever unbelief arises from an evil heart, then it involves all the guilt which belongs to the cause whence it springs. If the wicked hate the good and believe them to be as wicked as themselves, this is only a proof of their wickedness. If a man does not believe in the moral law; if he holds that might is right, that the strong may rob, murder, or oppress the weak, as some philosophers teach, or if he disbelieve in the existence of God, then it is evident to men and angels that he has been given up to a reprobate mind. There is an evidence of beauty to which nothing but want of taste can render one insensible; there is evidence of moral excellence to which nothing but an evil heart can render us blind. Why did the Jews reject Christ, notwithstanding all the evidence presented in his character, in his words, and in his works, that he was the Son of God? “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18.) The fact, however, that unbelief is a great sin, and the special ground of the condemnation of men, of necessity supposes that it is inexcusable, that it does not arise from ignorance or want of evidence. “How shall they believe,” asks the Apostle, “in him of whom they have not heard.” (Rom. 10:14.) And our Lord says, “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19.)
  4. Another evidence that the Scriptures recognize the necessity of evidence in order to faith, and the right of those to whom a revelation is addressed to judge of that evidence, is found in the frequent command to consider, to examine, to try the spirits, i.e., those who claim to be the organs of the Spirit of God. The duty of judging is enjoined, and the standard of judgment is given. And then men are held responsible for their decision.

Christians, therefore, concede to reason all the prerogatives it can rightfully claim. God requires nothing irrational of his rational creatures. He does not require faith without knowledge, nor faith in the impossible, nor faith without evidence. Christianity is equally opposed to superstition and Rationalism. The one is faith without appropriate evidence, the other refuses to believe what it does not understand, in despite of evidence which should command belief. The Christian, conscious of his imbecility as a creature, and his ignorance and blindness as a sinner, places himself before God, in the posture of a child, and receives as true everything which a God of infinite intelligence and goodness declares to be worthy of confidence. And in thus submitting to be taught, he acts on the highest principles of reason.


Relation of Philosophy and Revelation

Cicero defines philosophy as “Rerum divinarum et humanarum, causarumque quibus hæ res continentur, scientia.” Peemans1 says, “Philosophia est scientia rerum per causas primas, recto rationis usu comparata.” Or, as Ferrier more concisely expresses it, “Philosophy is the attainment of truth by the way of reason.” These and other definitions are to be found in Fleming’s “Vocabulary of Philosophy.”

There is, however, a philosophia prima, or first philosophy, which is concerned not so much with what is to be known, as with the faculty of knowledge, which examines the cognitive faculty, determines its laws and its limits. It is the philosophy of philosophy.

Whether we take the word to mean the knowledge of God and nature attained by reason, or the principles which should guide all efforts for the attainment of knowledge, the word is intended to cover the whole domain of human intelligence. Popularly, we distinguish between philosophy and science; the former having for its sphere the spiritual, the latter, the material. Commonly, philosophy is understood as comprising both departments. Hence we speak of natural philosophy as well as of the philosophy of mind. Such being the compass of the domain which philosophers claim as their own, the proper relation between philosophy and theology becomes a question of vital importance. This is, indeed, the great question at issue in the Rationalistic controversy; and therefore, at the conclusion of this chapter, all that remains to be done is to give a concise statement of familiar principles.

Philosophy and Theology occupy Common Ground

  1. Philosophy and Theology occupy common ground. Both assume to teach what is true concerning God, man, the world, and the relation in which God stands to his creatures.
  2. While their objects are so far identical, both striving to attain a knowledge of the same truths, their methods are essentially different. Philosophy seeks to attain knowledge by speculation and induction, or by the exercise of our own intellectual faculties. Theology relies upon authority, receiving as truth whatever God in his Word has revealed.
  3. Both these methods are legitimate. Christians do not deny that our senses and reason are reliable informants; that they enable us to arrive at certainty as to what lies within their sphere.
  4. God is the author of our nature and the maker of heaven and earth, therefore nothing which the laws of our nature or the facts of the external world prove to be true, can contradict the teaching of God’s Word. Neither can the Scriptures contradict the truths of philosophy or science.

Philosophers and Theologians should Strive after Unity

  1. As these two great sources of knowledge must be consistent in their valid teachings, it is the duty of all parties to endeavor to exhibit that consistency. Philosophers should not ignore the teachings of the Bible, and theologians should not ignore the teachings of science. Much less should either class needlessly come into collision with the other. It is unreasonable and irreligious for philosophers to adopt and promulgate theories inconsistent with the facts of the Bible, when those theories are sustained by only plausible evidence, which does not command the assent even of the body of scientific men themselves. On the other hand, it is unwise for theologians to insist on an interpretation of Scripture which brings it into collision with the facts of science. Both of these mistakes are often made. The Bible, for example, clearly teaches the unity of the existing races of men, both as to origin and species. Many Naturalists, however, insist that they are diverse, some say, both in origin and kind, and others, in origin if not in species. This is done not only on merely plausible evidence, being one of several possible ways of accounting for acknowledged diversities, but in opposition to the most decisive proof to the contrary. This proof, so far as it is historical and philological, does not fall within the sphere of natural science, and therefore the mere Naturalist disregards it. Comparative philologists hold up their hands at the obtuseness of men of science, who maintain that races have had different origins, whose languages render it clear to demonstration that they have been derived from a common stock. Considering the overwhelming weight of evidence of the divine authority of the Scriptures, and the unspeakable importance of that authority being maintained over the minds and hearts of men, it evinces fearful recklessness on the part of those who wantonly impugn its teachings. On the other hand, it is unwise in theologians to array themselves needlessly against the teachings of science. Romanists and Protestants vainly resisted the adoption of the Copernican theory of our solar system. They interpreted the Bible in a sense contradictory to that theory. So far as in them lay, they staked the authority of the Bible on the correctness of their interpretation. The theory proved to be true, and the received interpretation had to be given up. The Bible, however, has received no injury, although theologians have been taught an important lesson; that is, to let science take its course, assured that the Scriptures will accommodate themselves to all well-authenticated scientific facts in time to come, as they have in time past.

The Authority of Facts

  1. The relation between Revelation and Philosophy (taking the word in its restricted sense) is different from that between Revelation and Science. Or, to express the same idea in different words, the relation between revelation and facts is one thing; and the relation between revelation and theories another thing. Facts do not admit of denial. They are determined by the wisdom and will of God. To deny facts, is to deny what God affirms to be true. This the Bible cannot do. It cannot contradict God. The theologian, therefore, acknowledges that the Scriptures must be interpreted in accordance with established facts. He has a right, however, to demand that those facts should be verified beyond the possibility of doubt. Scientific men in one age or country affirm the truth of facts, which others deny or disprove. It would be a lamentable spectacle to see the Church changing its doctrines, or its interpretation of Scripture, to suit the constantly changing representations of scientific men as to matters of fact.

While acknowledging their obligation to admit undeniable facts, theologians are at liberty to receive or reject the theories deduced from those facts. Such theories are human speculations, and can have no higher authority than their own inherent probability. The facts of light, electricity, magnetism, are permanent. The theories concerning them are constantly changing. The facts of geology are to be admitted; the theories of geologists have no coercive authority. The facts of physiology and comparative anatomy may be received; but no man is bound to receive any of the various conflicting theories of development. Obvious as this distinction between facts and theories is, it is nevertheless often disregarded. Scientific men are disposed to demand for their theories, the authority due only to established facts. And theologians, because at liberty to reject theories, are sometimes led to assert their independence of facts.

The Authority of the Bible higher than that of Philosophy

  1. Philosophy, in its widest sense, being the conclusions of the human intelligence as to what is true, and the Bible being the declaration of God, as to what is true, it is plain that where the two contradict each other, philosophy must yield to revelation; man must yield to God. It has been admitted that revelation cannot contradict facts; that the Bible must be interpreted in accordance with what God has clearly made known in the constitution of our nature and in the outward world. But the great body of what passes for philosophy or science, is merely human speculation. What is the philosophy of the Orientals, of Brahmins and Buddhists, of the early Gnostics, of the Platonists, of the Scotists in the Middle Ages; of Leibnitz with his monads and preëstablished harmony; of Des Cartes and his vortices; of Kant and his categories; of Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, with their different theories of idealistic pantheism? The answer to that question is, that these systems of philosophy are so many forms of human speculation; and consequently that so far as these speculations agree with the Bible they are true; and so far as they differ from it, they are false and worthless. This is the ground which every believer, learned or unlearned, is authorized and bound to take. If the Bible teaches that God is a person, the philosophy that teaches that an infinite being cannot be a person, is false. If the Bible teaches that God creates, controls, regenerates, the philosophy that forbids the assumption that He acts in time, is to be rejected. If the Bible teaches that the soul exists after the dissolution of the body, the philosophy which teaches that man is only the ephemeral manifestation of a generic life in connection with a given corporeal organization, is to be dismissed without further examination. In short, the Bible teaches certain doctrines concerning the nature of God and his relation to the world; concerning the origin, nature, and destiny of man; concerning the nature of virtue, the ground of moral obligation, human liberty and responsibility; what is the rule of duty, what is right and what is wrong in all our relations to God and to our fellow creatures. These are subjects on which philosophy undertakes to speculate and dogmatize; if in any case these speculations come into conflict with what is taught or necessarily implied in the Bible, they are thereby refuted, as by a reductio ad absurdum. And the disposition which refuses to give up these speculations in obedience to the teaching of the Bible, is inconsistent with Christianity. It is the indispensable condition of salvation through the gospel, that we receive as true whatever God has revealed in his Word. We must make our choice between the wisdom of men and the wisdom of God. The wisdom of men is foolishness with God; and the wisdom of God is foolishness to the wise of this world. The relation, therefore, between philosophy and revelation, as determined by the Scriptures themselves, is what every right-minded man must approve. Everything is conceded to philosophy and science, which they can rightfully demand. It is admitted that they have a large and important sphere of investigation. It is admitted that within that sphere they are entitled to the greatest deference. It is cheerfully conceded that they have accomplished much, not only as means of mental discipline, but in the enlargement of the sphere of human knowledge, and in promoting the refinement and well-being of men. It is admitted that theologians are not infallible, in the interpretation of Scripture. It may, therefore, happen in the future, as it has in the past, that interpretations of the Bible, long confidently received, must be modified or abandoned, to bring revelation into harmony with what God teaches in his works. This change of view as to the true meaning of the Bible may be a painful trial to the Church, but it does not in the least impair the authority of the Scriptures. They remain infallible; we are merely convicted of having mistaken their meaning.
The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02

Office of the Senses in Matters of Faith

The question, What authority is due to the senses in matters of faith, arose out of the controversy between Romanists and Protestants? The doctrine of transubstantiation, as taught by the Romish Church, contradicts the testimony of our senses of sight, taste, and touch. It was natural for Protestants to appeal to this contradiction as decisive evidence against the doctrine. Romanists reply by denying the competency of the senses to bear testimony in such cases.

Protestants maintain the validity of that testimony on the following grounds: (1.) Confidence in the well-authenticated testimony of our senses, is one of those laws of belief which God has impressed upon our nature; from the authority of those laws it is impossible that we should emancipate ourselves. (2.) Confidence in our senses is, therefore, one form of confidence in God. It supposes him to have placed us under the necessity of error, to assume that we cannot safely trust the guides in which, by a law of our nature, he constrains us to confide. (3.) All ground of certainty in matters either of faith or knowledge, is destroyed, if confidence in the laws of our nature be abandoned. Nothing is then possible but absolute skepticism. We, in that case, cannot know that we ourselves exist, or that the world exists, or that there is a God, or a moral law, or any responsibility for character or conduct. (4.) All external supernatural revelation is addressed to the senses. Those who heard Christ had to trust to their sense of hearing; those who read the Bible have to trust to their sense of sight; those who receive the testimony of the Church, receive it through their senses. It is suicidal, therefore, in the Romanists to say that the senses are not to be trusted in matters of faith.

All the arguments derived from the false judgments of men when misled by the senses, are answered by the simple statement of the proposition that the senses are to be trusted only within their legitimate sphere. The eye may indeed deceive us when the conditions of correct vision are not present; but this does not prove that it is not to be trusted within its appropriate limits.

by Charles Hodge



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