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consequences are logically deduced from them. 4th. The experience and the results of the reflection of other men, conveyed to them through language.
Now it appears self-evident that the God who made man may at any time convey to men any new knowledge their faculties are capable of receiving.
I. Even new simple ideas may be excited within his mind by means of a supernatural spiritual illumination and inward experience. God does act upon the finite soul, though we can not understand how he acts; and yet we can understand that if such an experience be excited in the mind, the man would have the same knowledge of the matter of this new experience that he has of the matter of his perceptions through his bodily senses.
II. It is clear that God may convey by means of visions, language or otherwise any information not involving new elementary ideas, just as any man may, by means of signs, convey any such information that he is possessed of to the mind of another.
Many modern rationalists make a very senseless objection to the possibility of what they call a "book revelation.” They argue that a book is composed of words, and that words are mere arbitrary signs which have power to exoite only those ideas which are already in the mind ; and therefore if Paul, by a divine influence,
had been elevated to the intuition of a new spiritual truth, he could not by words communicate those spiritual truths to any who have not already the same ideas latent in their minds. In answer to this, we admit that simple or elementary ideas can not be first taught by words. No man can know color without an eye, or moral right without a moral sense.—(See Lock's Essay, Book IV., chap. xviii, sect. 3.) But, on the other hand, it is too plain to be denied,
I. That the revelations of the Bible consist principally of facts, promises, commands, and threatenings, and that the reception of no new elementary ideas, in the proper sense of that word, is involved in Christian faith. The primary ideas of the soul, intellectual and moral, are involved in this revelation, and gloriously exalted in new combinations and relations. -See Alexander's Moral Science, chaps. ii. and xii.
II. That God can convey to man, by means of language, information with regard to himself and his purposes, not involving new elementary ideas, just as clearly and as certainly as one man can convey any new information to any other.
III. The Scriptures themselves teach that the spiritual beauty and power of the revelation they convey can be discerned only by means of a supernatural spiritual illumination and inward practical experience. The work of the Spirit accompanying the word completes the revelation ; and although the Spirit thus dispensed communicates no new truth, but only leads the heart and conscience to the experience of the full spiritual idea conveyed by the word, yet there is a true sense in which the Bible is a revelation only to those who have the Spirit.
10. How may it be shown that a supernatural revelation is necessary for man?
I. From reason itself ; for, although in man's original condition reason doubtless was a sufficient guide, yet reason itself teaches us (1.) that man's intellectual and moral nature is disordered and not capable of perfectly fulfilling its original functions. (2.) That man's relations to God are complicated by guilt and alienation, and that the light of nature discovers no remedy for men in this state.
II. The human heart universal craves such revelation from God, and has always manifested its readiness to receive even counterfeits of one in the absence of the true.
III. Reason has never, in the entire course of human history, availed to afford man religious comfort and certainty, and to lead him in the way of moral rectitude.-1 Cor. i., 20, 21. Revelation has. Both have been tried upon a wide scale, the one has proved sufficient, the other has failed.
IV. The highest prophets of reason are not agreed among themselves; no two prominent rationalists agree as to what the all sufficient and universal religious teaching of reason is. Their mutual inconsistency demonstrates the worthlessness of their common principle.
11. What is the distinction between reason and faith, and what in the legitimate use of reason in the sphere of religion ?
The general definition of faith is, “assent to the truth upon the exhibition of its appropriate evidence,” (see Chapter on Faith.) This assent in many of its modes is an act of the understanding alone, and in all cases it involves the action of the understanding, working concurrently with the will (or heart). But when we contrast faith and reason as mutually exclusive, then we define reason to be man's natural faculty of reaching the truth, including his understanding, heart, conscience, and experience, acting under natural circumstances, and without any supernatural assistance. And we define faith, on the other hand, to be the assent of the mind to truth, upon the testimony of God, conveying knowledge to us through supernatural channels. As to the authority and legitimate use of reason in the sphere of theology, Protestants admit,
I. That reason is the original and fundamental revelation of God to man.
II. Reason is therefore involved and presupposed in every other revelation God will ever give to man. The Scriptures address us as rational creatures, and to the irrational they are no more a revelation than light is to the blind.
III. God can not even be supposed to reveal any thing which contradicts reason, acting legitimately within her own province. For then (1.) would God, who speaks first in reason, contradict himself, and (2.) faith would be impossible. To believe is to assent to a thing as true. To see a thing to be contrary to reason is to see it not to be true. These opposite states of mind can not concur at the same time.
But, on the other hand, Protestants maintain that it is essential for us to settle definitely the limits of the office of reason with regard to divine things.
I. It is self-evident that there is a total difference between a thing being above reason, and its being clearly contrary to reason, acting legitimately in its own sphere. The ignorant boor has no right to measure the philosopher by his standard ; and much less, of course, has the philosopher a right to measure God by his. Many things are claimed to be contrary to reason which only appear to be such because of our ignorance. “Humility becomes the cardinal virtue, not only of revelation but of reason.”
II. Human reason utterly fails to grasp the idea of the infinite, or to understand the relation of the infinite to the finite. From this universal incapacity springs the mystery which attende so many of the revelations and providential dispensations of the infinite God. Hence the insolvable nature of such questions as the origin of evil, divine foreknowledge, foreordination, and concurrent providence with relation to the free agency of man, etc., etc.
III. Hence it follows that reason can not be the measure of our faith ; we must believe, and that rationally, much that we can not understand. We must use reason to reach the knowledge of what God means by his words, and what he would have us believe. But to understand the meaning of words is one thing, and to understand how the thing we believe exists in all of its relations, is entirely a different thing. We believe ten thousand things with respect to the phenomena of our earthly life that we can not understand ; how much more may we do so rationally with respect to the information conveyed to us by a supernatural revelation concerning divine things.
IV. Hence it follows that reason can not be the ultimate ground of our faith ; this rests only upon the knowledge and truth of God, who speaks to us in his word. Reason established the fact that God speaks, but when we know what he says, we believe it because he says it.
The use of reason in the sphere of theology is, 1st, to examine the authenticating evidence of revelation, and to decide the fact that God is speaking therein.
2d. To interpret, with the help of every light of the most various learning, the records of revelation, and to determine impartially what God does say to us therein.
This work of interpretation includes besides the grammatical rendering of every text by itself, the careful comparison of Scripture with Scripture, the limitation of one class of passages by another bearing upon the same subject, and thus a development, by an impartial induction from all Scripture, of the entire harmonious system of truth God has therein revealed.
3d. Be it remembered that reason can accomplish this much successfully only as it is informed by a sanctified heart, and guided by the Holy Ghost.
4th. Reason can be of further use in this matter only as the servant and instrument of faith, in promulgating, illustrating, and in defending the truth.
12. Give a summary statement of the different departments of Christian theology ?
The three grand departments of Christian theology are, I. The Exegetical, the object of which is to arrive at the exact mind of the Holy Spirit in the interpretation of the text. This department includes as preparatory the study of the original languages, the critical settlement of the text in its integrity, also Biblical geography, antiquities, and the science of the Old Testament types in their relation to the gospel.
II. The Dogmatic, or Systematic, the object of which is by means of a just comparison and impartial induction from the sacred text truly interpreted, to present a scientific exhibition of all the doctrines of the Bible in their essential relations. This includes (1.) Anthropology, or the teaching of the Scripture concerning man and his relation to God. (2.) Theology proper, or the doctrine concerning God and his relation to man, and (3.) Soterology, or the doctrine of salvation.
III. The Practical, the object of which is to deduce from the doctrines and precepts of the Bible rules for the organization and administration of the Christian Church in all her functions, and for the guidance of the individual Christian in all the relations of life.