Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Bible Theology and Human Reason, part 1

From the Presbyterian Magazine, October 1858. Edited by Dr. Van Rensselaer. Pages 452-458.

“Bible Theology Consistent with Human Reason”
Part 1

The philosophy of the plan of salvation, as revealed and developed in the sacred Scriptures, has so often been considered, and the consistency of the revealed with the natural law so often shown, that one cannot expect to advance any new views of the one or proofs of the other. Yet so varied is the human mind that the presentation of the same idea clothed in different words, or from a different point of view, will sometimes make an impression, never before following a score of previous repetitions. With this view, we propose to consider the consistency of the theology of the Bible with human reason.

We will not stop with the atheist to argue that there is a God, a great creative, self-existent, omnipotent first cause. Nor will we repeat the conclusive and uncontradicted argument derived from history and observation, to show that man is a religious creature, acknowledging always his dependence upon a Supreme Being or Beings, and thereby evidencing, from the internal consciousness of the entire race, our relation as subjects of a higher power. We are tempted to enter upon the enticing field of god’s external providences, to show how mercy and goodness are exhibited in all his creation, thence to draw the conclusion that this mercy and goodness would not stop short at the provision for our carnal wants, and leave unsupplied that intense thirsting of the soul for the spiritual and eternal. And hence, that it is natural that we shall expect such light upon these great interests as would satisfy the craving of the spirit and make plain and sure the path of rectitude. This light is the true religion. It would be pleasant and easy to examine the many lights which have been exhibited to the world, each claiming to be the true emanation from the Deity, and to show that to the enlightened mind none can claim so high a regard from the intellect as that portrayed in the Christian Bible, and thus demand for it the meed [sic] of being the true light of the world—the true religion—until some purer, more spiritual, more reasonable system disputes with it the palm. All these points however have been so clearly, elaborately, conclusively exhibited and illustrated by others that we propose to take them as granted for our present purpose, and from this stand-point to apply to this best of religious systems the crucible of human reason, and independent of its pre-eminence thus established, to examine its claim to Divine authority and human obedience.

We confine ourselves to internal evidence. We leave out of our consideration all the usual external proof derived from human, and consequently fallible testimony. We propose to take the system as if offered now, for the first time, for our adoption, and without other evidence of its genuineness than its own consistency with our finite reason.

The cardinal fundamental truths taught in the religion of the Bible may be reduced to the following:
  1. Man’s original creation in a state of purity and holiness.
  2. Man’s fall from this state, and the consequent corruption and depravity of his entire nature.
  3. God’s beneficent design to wish to restore man to his original purity, and the difficulty of reconciling the claims of his justice with the designs of his mercy.
  4. The reconciliation of these conflicting attributes by the scheme devised, viz., the expiation of man’s sin by the vicarious sacrifice of a Being combining the infinity of the God with the mortality and finite nature of the man.
  5. The terms upon which this atonement is made efficacious, viz., Faith in the heart and consistency in the life.
Are these truths consistent with the teachings of human reason?

[I will post this, Lord willing, in 6 parts, including this introduction.]