Grounds Of Faith Proposed In Scripture

Another general point now opens before us, though some particular objections connect themselves with it. The grounds of faith proposed in scripture. Is moral truth to be received in obedience to an apparent miracle of sense, or are we to believe in sensible miracles because of their recommending some moral truth?130 Such is the way in which Mr. N. approaches the question. He proceeds to accuse the Bible of great inconsistency on this point. “In one place Jesus reproves the demand of a miracle, and blesses those who believe without miracles. In another, He requires that they will receive His doctrine (and submit to it as little children), because of His miracles.” (Phases, pp. 145,146.)

The Testimony Of Christ

Now, before going further, I would remark that that to which Mr. N. objects here carries the moral evidence of its justice in itself in the simplest and plainest manner. If the moral excellence took effect on the conscience, so much the better. It ought to have done so: man was in an evil state if it did not. But then, with such miracles as Christ did, men were left without excuse in not receiving such a doctrine. Thus Christ says, “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me, or else believe me for the very works’ sake.” What can be simpler? Again, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin.” “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin; but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.”

Mr. N. has, however, stated a question which, as to the matter in hand, is perfectly absurd and irrelevant. Is he to believe miracles on account of morality, or doctrine on account of miracles? Neither. No doubt immorality of doctrine would tend to discredit a miracle, and if the miracle were certain, it would not accredit what was certainly wrong; and purity of doctrine helps to accredit a miracle, as a miracle confirms the authority of a teacher. But we are not called on to believe a doctrine because of a miracle, or a miracle because of a doctrine; we are called on to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, because He offered both these proofs together; so that all Mr. N.’s abstract reasoning on the difficulty of arriving at truth, or the grounds of truth, is an irrelevant question of his own mind. Christ appeals to both kinds of proof as evidence of who He was, and of the truth of what He said: “Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me?” Again, “I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me.” Mr. N. then is astray as to the whole matter in hand.

But there is another thing which Mr. N. of course keeps entirely out of sight; he continues, after what I already quoted, “Now this is intelligible, if blind external obedience is the end of religion, and not truth and inward righteousness, an ambitious and unscrupulous Church that desires by fair means or foul to make men’s minds bow down to her, may say, Only believe; and all is right. The end being gained—obedience to us—we do not care about your reasons. But God cannot speak thus to man… It peculiarly vexed me to find so total a deficiency7 of clear and sound instruction in the New Testament, and eminently in the gospel of John, on so vital a question. The more I considered it, the more it appeared as if Jesus was solely anxious to have people believe in Him without caring on what grounds they believed, although that is obviously the main point.” (Phases, p. 146.) Indeed! Is the logic, which is to govern their principles of reasoning about it, the main point, when God is there? For we are supposing (Mr. N. as well as myself) the case to be that of God speaking to man, and our enquiry is, How is He to speak? He is mainly (says Mr. N.) to explain to them the logical grounds on which they ought to go! This is quite worthy of Mr. N.; but I avow I know not of whom else. The Lord does give them clear grounds of faith. (See the close of John 5.) John Baptist’s testimony—the Father’s testimony—His works’ testimony—the scripture’s testimony. But as to teaching them logic, I must leave it to infidels to count it the worthy occupation of God teaching in the world. Yet why He should teach this is hardly apparent on Mr. N.’s shewing, for “a question of logic, such as I have had before me, was peculiarly one in which the propagator of a new religion could not be allowed to dictate.” (Phases, p. 147.) But a man’s reasoning cannot rise above what is in his mind. Think of God being in the world to give “clear views” on “a question of logic,” which is yet so the province of man’s mind that He “could not be allowed to dictate!”—and this man is to tell us the just grounds of faith!

Now I leave to every honest-minded reader, how much the life and words of the blessed Jesus resembled the conduct of “an ambitious and unscrupulous Church.” It is a great thing, when we have to do with the vaporous reasonings of infidels, to get at things as they are—man as he is—history as we have it— Jesus as He was. They cannot bear facts; and if an “unscrupulous Church” is not to be trusted, I avow (and Mr. N.’s book has not enfeebled my conviction) scrupulosity is not the burden that weighs down an infidel.

But I say, that if God do come into the world, or if He send even a revelation into the world other than a claim of law, His great end must be to reveal Himself. He has to do so because men have departed from Him, or (for whatever reason) are ignorant of Him; were it not so, there would not be place for the revelation. Now He is the source of all blessing. He knows it; He would make man happy by it. The knowledge of Him, as the Lord states it, and of Jesus whom He has sent, is eternal life. But He will have this, of course, real, moral, in the soul—hence by faith. He is not thus revealed as God exacting, though He will judge all, but acting for us so as to take away every “obstacle, while maintaining fully the highest standard of conscience—existing, in order to bless us in Himself, for He is love. Thus, believing in Him, I have perfect peace and living joy in Himself. Now, if He thus come to bless, and by such a knowledge of Him, what can He do but engage men to believe in Him? His words and ways are the revelation of His so coming. In mercy to men He appeals to them; and, seeing how many obstacles there are to the simple perception of what is good and the embracing of it, we can understand that goodness adding sensible proofs by the exercise of power to overcome those obstacles and to shew by that power who it is that is really come. No doubt men ought to see the grace and truth in itself. So the Lord says; but He adds condescendingly external proofs to confirm the testimony and help man’s mind. On the other hand, if the conviction as to the glory of the messenger and truth of the message be produced merely by the miracles, the Lord rejects such faith because there is merely a conviction of the mind; the moral perception is wanting, which really recognizes His person and receives the power of the truth. “When he was in Jerusalem… many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them … for he knew what was in man.” (John 2:23-25.)

In fine, the ground Mr. N. takes is this, that the question is, Are we to believe miracles for doctrine’s sake, or doctrine for miracles’ sake?

I say that Christ calls us to believe in His person and revelation by reason of both; and that the question Mr. N. puts on the matter is absurd. The doctrine and works confirm each other. Which of these two statements is according to fact? For it is a question of fact.

Revelation Of God

Next Mr. N. says (I would repeat it with reverence), that when God teaches He should explain the logical grounds of faith to man without dictating; as that could not be allowed in the propagator of a new religion.

I say, that if God reveals Himself, He would give all that love could of the display of Himself, in nature, conduct, word, and work, which would not destroy the responsibility of man131—that He would give the display of His nature in act, doctrine, and power. He would give, in a word, the grounds for faith in its object, not the logical grounds of faith. He would present what the conscience, heart, and intelligence of man ought to recognize as a revelation of who was there. That was what He, He alone, could do for man—what would be a revelation—what man wants; not an humble conversation on what grounds a man might believe; carried on by one not allowed to dictate. That He condescended, as we have seen, to plead with man on the grounds he had for faith, is most true. Nothing was too low for His love, if it might be a blessing to man; but that is another thing.

If Mr. N. merely means that he is quite ignorant of what the grounds of faith are, and wants instruction as to them—that I believe is true. He does not even know what the question is. But that is a strange reason for writing a book on it. His theory is, There can be no possible grounds for believing. Let me suggest, that when we seek a ground for faith, we must look for it in the proofs given of the thing proposed to us to be believed, not in discussing the abstract principles in which the human mind can believe, and neglecting the proofs of what it is called upon to believe; for the grounds of divine faith can be given only by divine testimony, by what God reveals (and hence known only in looking at that), not by settling whether one kind of proof is to be believed on account of the other, where both are direct proofs of something else—proofs which confirm each other.

But further, if God presents Himself as the object of faith— He who is the sole and perfect source of blessing, our alienation from whom is our ruin, can He do anything else than call on men to believe on Him? Can He give reasons for doing it other than the adequate display of Himself? Having given them to believe in Himself is everything as to human responsibility, and the necessary pursuit of divine love. He could do nothing but call men to this faith if He meant to bless. And what shall we say of the reasoning of one who compares God calling unhappy man to come to Himself for blessing, to the act of “an ambitious, unscrupulous Church, that desires, by fair means or foul, to make men’s minds bow down to her?” It may be said that I am begging the question in saying “God calling.” But this is a mistake, because we are enquiring what is suitable if God does address Himself to man. Mr. N. says, “But God cannot thus speak to man.” I reply, He must thus speak to man. He must claim obedience as necessary in virtue of the revelation of Himself. He must call men to believe on Him if He means to bless. The Church’s pretension to do it sets aside God—God’s pretension to do it brings Him in. He must shew that the rejecting of Himself will be everlasting ruin.

If He be really God, it cannot be otherwise. If it be He, He cannot claim less than absolute obedience, nor do otherwise than call to believe in Himself. The taking any other ground would prove it was not He, however He may condescend in grace as to the means of display and proof. Mr. N. is blaming the character of address, as not suiting God if He does speak. Hence His speaking is necessarily assumed. If God speaks, He must do what Mr. N. blames; and what Mr. N. requires is the most unfitting and monstrous thing possible (that is, that if God reveals Himself, He is to discuss the logical grounds on which men are to receive evidence, instead of giving adequate evidence, and throwing upon them the responsibility of receiving Him). The evidence God has graciously offered, in contrast with that afforded by false religions or corrupt systems, is here avoided by Mr. N.; and he puts in his argument “an ambitious Church—Hindooism —Mahommedanism”—on the same ground as God, excluding the only real question (that is, the evidence attached to each), iri order to discuss the human grounds of judging, without introducing the object about which he is to judge. Now, though God in grace can afford every kind of evidence, and has done so, He cannot subject Himself to man’s à priori judgment, but must place man under responsibility to Him, and call him to come to Him, if He means to bless him. And this is what we find in the gospel. God, by positive truth, has met every kind of working in the human mind, groping after means of truth. He has, working in men, adapted His reasonings to their condition. But the thing revealed is always itself, and in its own divine perfection. The manner of revealing and teaching is grace; the thing taught is truth itself, and (blessed be God!) is grace also.

Paul’s Reasonings Like Gamaliel’s—Plato, Philo, The Targums

This is my answer to what Mr. N. says of Paul’s reasoning like Gamaliel, and talking of subjects such as Philo reasons about.132 I have no doubt that glimmerings of needed truth were apprehended through the wants of the natural mind. The mind of man (through some traditional rays of light, affected by the creation through which it moved, by its conscience, by its sense of the want of something to meet a thousand questions which arose out of all this, and the heavings of an immortal soul within) felt that something was wanted to answer a craving, a void, which gave no clearness or certainty of what that answer would be. The revelation given in the Old Testament, the secondary effect of which was undoubtedly widely spread, furnished some clue to a large apprehension of the divine nature—opened up enquiries to the mind which it did not satisfy either. These floated about in various forms, and may be resumed in the western world, in Plato and the Targums, or perhaps Philo. The revelation of God in the New Testament met all these by the perfect revelation of God Himself, in His own being, and in every relation in which He stood with creation. Hence, while it gave the whole positive truth as to God, it left no room for the inadequate or erroneous views current on the same subjects in various forms. It took all the elements of truth which floated in men’s minds and systems— rati nantes in gurgite vasto—and connected them in their true place with the centre of all truth. Chaos became perfect order, and associated with the vast expanse of heaven, with which it took its true place and relationship; while it left no room for the pride of man to pretend to have stores of wonderful knowledge (for he is proud of everything he discovers himself); for all true knowledge was a matter of revelation, and who can boast of that? Hence we find the hazy notions of the Platos, Philos, and Tar-gums, absorbed into perfect truth, and the gnostic reveries and pretensions anticipated and judged. We get the lovgo" with divine certainty and clearness, the plhvrwma in all its simple, divine, clearly defined truth and perfectness. We get the fw'" and ajlmvweta, everything that man might indulge his imagination and his pride about, in the form of real truth. We get infinitely more knowledge, and certain, yea, divine knowledge, but no room for speculation; and (the perfection of the Godhead being revealed in Christ) all the development of ancient or modern gnostics is shut out by that all-important divine word—“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life. For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.”

Either the living person of the Son of God is not the object of faith, and the perfect revelation of God and the Father in Him not the subject matter of those who speak of development; or the pretence to add anything to it is the blasphemous denial of His perfectness. Infidelity is openly the latter; Puseyism and Popery have their choice to make between the two. In either case they are not Christianity. That which was from the beginning is the superscription of that book of scripture which, above all, especially guards us against seducing spirits. Modern infidelity professes to be development; so does modern Popery and Puseyism; and, strange to say, when Mr. N. renounced Christianity and became a developed infidel, he renewed, he tells us, happy intercourse with Mr. J. H. Newman, who is a developed Puseyite or Roman Catholic. Let the saint remember, that if he will be a Christian, he must hold to that which was from the beginning—the truth once delivered to the saints; and he may know, if he trusts an apostle, that he “has everlasting life,” 1 John 5:13.

Faith At Second Hand

But it is well to remark some other points on which the chapter we are occupied with depends. Its title is, “Faith at second hand found to be vain.” Now the reader will observe that, though “second-hand faith” seems to be a very uncertain ground of confidence, the real meaning of the phrase is this, that there can be no faith at all except by a revelation made to the individual who receives it; and that it can never pass any farther. That is, that as regards the revelation of truth, or any revelation for men in general, none such can exist; for, if Peter or Paul have received a revelation, it is for me a revelation at second hand. That is, all revelation of truth must be a perpetual personal miracle, and exercise of God’s power, without, consequently, any exercise of responsibility whatever in its reception. The scripture presents revelation as given, in order to be communicated for the good of others. Which is most rational (I go no farther here), if there is any real blessing—to give a revelation so as to produce absolute divine certainty in the mind, with no possibility of communicating it so as to put man under the responsibility of receiving it, and thus, if a blessing, to require a renewed miracle to each person,— or to communicate divine truth by a chosen instrument, with sufficient evidence to place men under responsibility of bowing to it when it is presented to them? But, further, Mr. N.’s reasonings on it are nothing whatever to the purpose. He requires to be informed how Paul got it. The question is not, What has been the means of assuring him? but, has he given adequate evidence of the truth he preaches, so as to bind me to receive it? It is evident that this last is the whole question with me. If any one has got possession of my father’s will leaving me an immense fortune, the question is, not by what means he was convinced it was his, so as to keep it safe and communicate it to me; but whether I have, and can produce in court, adequate testimony that it is my father’s, now it is in my possession. Mr. N.’s reasonings here are totally irrelevant. It is merely a denial of any revelation, and discrediting all by a point, difficult perhaps to solve for any of us whom God does not employ as instruments of communicating one, but perfectly irrelevant when the question is, Am I bound to receive it? If I prove my father’s signature, and that of the witnesses, how the finder was convinced is all one to me.

Divine Truth Communicated By God. Adequate Proofs

The meaning of any one’s having a divine revelation is very simple. It is divine truth directly communicated to him by God, with divine certainty, whatever the means of such communication (and they were various) may be. With Moses it was face to face; with prophets, a vision or dream; in the New Testament, often, evidently, the Holy Ghost acting on the intelligence; in certain cases, though the coming of the word of the Lord was certain in the Old, the full bearing was not understood at the time of revelation. This difference may have its interest to the believer. It is nothing to an unbeliever; with him the question is, With what evidence is the truth presented to him? To say that God cannot communicate His thoughts to man, giving certainty to the mind that it is Himself, is to say that He cannot do what man is perfectly capable of. To say that He cannot afford certainty when the truth is communicated to a third person, by adequate evidence accompanying it, is an absurdity worthy of an infidel only. But if he can, “faith at second hand” is not vain. It is founded, or may be so, on adequate proofs. Yet this is the proposition of the chapter. Whether there are such proofs is a question of fact which Mr. N. leaves aside to enquire how Paul received the revelation,133 and knew it to be such, which has nothing whatever to say to the matter. Supposing prophecies clearly accomplished, and even finding a meaning by the event, while otherwise inexplicable:—supposing, in him who is the subject of revelation, a perfection of individual walk wholly without parallel, the invention of which, even as a tale, would have been a greater miracle, man being what he is, than its existence, if a divine Person was really there:—supposing this person, after accomplishing prophecies and working notorious miracles, publicly and undeniably over the whole country, promises to communicate, when gone, to others who had it not, a power more conspicuous than that exercised by Himself—that a doctrine and practice, entirely beyond their age and country, characterize these persons, their whole tone and conduct being founded on the communication they impart, and that they perform publicly, in view of their enemies, notable miracles, which there is no gainsaying—that with a few words these men, once ignorant, confound all their adversaries, not by contentious learning, but by the power which, in the plainest terms, guides and fills their speech—that the promise of power from Him gone away is thus demonstrably fulfilled—that ignorant fishermen, whose provincialisms betrayed their country, now suddenly speak many tongues, so that men brought up in each understood them:—supposing all this true, should I not have proof that the testimony about this admirable and unequalled Being was true? That is, I should have proof, moral, prophetic, miraculous, in my conscience, my understanding, that their testimony was divine—that it was a revelation, though many historic points otherwise cognizable might confirm it; for I suppose the thing not done in a corner. In what manner this wonderful Being, now absent, has communicated to them What they preach about Him, does not touch the question whether I am bound to receive it. That depends on the evidence offered to me, not on that afforded to them. Now, it may be said, “You are supposing all this.” I am: because the question is not whether Christianity is true, but whether, as a general proposition, faith at second hand is vain; that is, whether a denial of all revelation to man, as being an impossibility, can be reasonably maintained. Secondhand faith is the best and highest kind. It has an amazingly higher moral character, and so the Lord assures us in the case of Thomas, John 20.

I do not again go over in detail the case of Abraham, here again referred to. Mr. N.’s argument is of no use whatever here, because Abraham went on the supposition of having a direct command from God; and St. Paul and St. James reason on that supposition as to the proof of faith contained in it, and on nothing else. He reckoned on God’s restoring him his son, says St. Paul. He shewed this faith in his act, says St. James. But Mr. N. is unreasonable, even as to that by which he seeks to act on the feelings of men to set them against the true God, the God of the Bible. There are cases, he tells us, elsewhere, in which it is a mere “morbid notion,” to complain of men’s being put to death. Men are to be put to death; and it is counted useful and proper as an example for the good of society. That is, there are motives which make it right that man should dispose of human life for the good of others. Mr. N. must think it to be approved of God —not perhaps as absolute good, but as needed and useful to man as he is; and life is taken away accordingly. Now, if there are reasons why we should, there may be reasons why Abraham should have been ordered to do it. There was no malice: it was done because God commanded it,, in perfect obedience to Him. Now I believe (indeed no person can deny) that more good, incomparably and beyond all question more good, and of a more positive excellent kind, has been done by the example of Abraham’s faith in this, and that for ages, than by the execution of a criminal for the space of a year after his suffering. No one ever had the idea, or could draw it from the history, that it was right or allowable for a man to kill his child of his own will—quite the contrary. The sovereign claim of God, who forbids it to man, was enforced by it. There is this difference, that men cannot restore the life of a man whom they sacrifice to the good of society, whereas God could that of Isaac; and so Abraham believed. And, indeed, He could hinder his being even put to death, and did so as soon as Abraham’s faith was fully proved in the way presented by Paul and James.

Many prophetic accounts which Mr. N. refers to are, evidently to me, visions only, and demonstrably so meant, to represent the character of Israel to the prophet’s mind. I shall again omit noticing particularly some of the miserable insinuations which are worthy only of an infidel, or of a corrupt mind, if, indeed, they are to be distinguished, a conclusion to which, certainly, this book would not lead us.

130 “Ought we in any case to receive moral truth in obedience to an apparent miracle of sense? or, conversely, ought we ever to believe in sensible miracles because of their recommending some moral truth?” (Phases, p. 145.)

131 The question of the grace that overcomes an “antagonistic will” in quickening power, is not what occupies us here, but the revelation of the object of faith.

132 “Paul’s reasonings are those of a Gamaliel, and often are indefensible by our logical notions. John also (as I had been recently learning) has a wonderful similarity to Philo.” (Phases, p. 147.)

133 “What does he mean by saying that he has had a ‘revelation?’ Did he see a sight, or hear a sound? or was it an inward impression? and how does he distinguish it as divine? Until these questions are fully answered, we have no materials at all before us for deciding to accept his results.” (Phases, p. 148.) Paul did see a sight—did hear a sound—and tells us he did receive things from the Lord, which I suppose produced impressions. But leaving this, which was the ground of his faith properly speaking (and unless I had an equally strong impression on my mind with himself, it would be impossible for me to know how he discerned its divine character, and then I should not want his reception of it at all)—leaving this entirely illogical and irrational ground taken by Mr. N., I would ask, what he means by—“Until these questions are fully answered we have no materials before us for deciding?” Suppose Paul had opened my eyes, I having been born blind, or any one else’s, and had so reached my conscience that I could say, Here is a man who has told me all that ever I did, and shewn me a God that indeed searches the heart and tries the reins, and yet is perfect love—should I have no materials for judging whether he taught the truth and was sent of God—supposing too, in all his life he approved himself as a minister of God—until I knew, to satisfy my curiosity, how he had got it? Was ever more consummate nonsense?