I have nearly closed my task; for task it has been.
I somewhat fear I have tired my reader, and certainly I have tired myself. For the wide waste of infidelity, without an object and without an affection, without a link with God, is a wearying thing; the dreary waste “seems lengthening as I go.” I look upon myself as a mere “hewer of wood and drawer of water,” nay, as a mere “watchman” round the house of God. How often I have felt this in respect of learned writers! That they were useful, no doubt; but just as supplying materials to negative the unfounded but constantly renewed allegations of infidels (to whom it is so easy to allege a thing without feeling bound to prove it—to catch at anything as an objection, where there is sufficiently obscurity to hinder any one giving a clear answer193), while the faithful feed on the green pastures of God within. I little thought it would come to my turn, without any pretence to learning, to undertake such a task. The mischief done to one I knew led to my reading the book I have answered. The perfect horror I felt on reading it led me to examine its statements more carefully, as I found it had done mischief to several. Its emptiness, and a tone I will not characterize, astonished me. It is cleverly written,194 so as to attract, and in some respects with very measured subtilty; but to a moral, spiritual mind, there are traits in it which are most deeply painful. It borrows, moreover, from old infidelity and new all it can pick, and dresses it up as the history of the progress of the author’s mind. Certain elements in it are calculated to mislead, and just those which most shew the want of genuineness of conviction in the writer. It has been impossible for me, of course, to write an apology for the Bible; I should not feel myself competent to do it. I have answered Mr. N.’s book in moments which incessant occupation scarce afforded me. The reader, and finally the Lord, must judge how rightly.
I close with noticing some instances of reasoning or sentiment which could hardly be taken up in the general argument, but which will help to characterize and give a just idea of the book.
Mr. N. complains that Calvin “supposes God to have created the most precious thing on earth in unstable equilibrium, so as to topple over irrecoverably at the first infinitesimal touch… surely all nature proclaims, that if God planted any spiritual nature at all in man, it was in stable equilibrium, able to right itself when deranged.” (Phases, p. 98.) Where is this proclamation? We see misery, degradation, idolatry, a vast extent of prevailing wickedness: this Mr. N. avows. Did God create it so? If not, man has lost his equilibrium, and has not righted himself. Perhaps, indeed, Mr. N. thinks God created man wicked; for he avows that man has an “antagonist will.” If so, there was indeed no “unstable equilibrium,” no deranging any, and certainly no righting itself. If not, then the equilibrium was lost, and is not righted. Perhaps Mr. N. thinks an “antagonist will” to God no harm at all. But his eternal morality is then of a very singular kind.
“I saw,” he says further (Phases, p. 98), “that the Calvinistic doctrine of human degeneracy teaches, that God disowns my nature (the only nature I ever had) as not His work, but the devil’s work. He hereby tells me that He is not my Creator.” This, if it have any sense, must apply to being born in sin; but sin is not my nature as a creation, but a certain state of my nature—its departure from God. And independent creation is sin in existence, because it is the creature God created, and is not dependent on Him. The sin is not the nature, it is its corruption and fall—the negative of its state as a creature in the nature of things. God made man upright; but he sought out to himself many inventions. Mr. N., as we have seen, owns an “antagonistic will.” Does he mean to say that God owns that as His work? God disowns man’s present state, not his nature. Mr. N. owns our state of sin. Does he think God owns or disowns sin? It is well our minds should recollect that sin, evil, and misery are there, before the Bible begins to account for them. The infidel denies the scriptural account of the fall. How does he account for the evil which exists?
Mr. N. insists much upon “eternal ethics,” in order to shew that that outward government of God which He exercised over Israel, as scripture teaches, could not be from Him. I say, outward government of God, for such it was, without a full revelation of Himself (the only true ground of all ethics, as laying the foundation of the first of obligations), a government which He patiently exercised toward Israel for special ends, but which contained within it, as a kernel which Christ was able to draw out, the eternal and immutable and perfect rule of right and wrong—love to God and our neighbour. What, then, is Mr. N.’s measure of right and wrong? “I saw that it was an immorality to teach that sin was measured by anything else than the heart and will of the agent.” (Phases, p. 78.) It is not pardon, he alleges, to befit God, it is not patience; it is judging, according to the opportunities of fight, them that are without law, them that are under law. No—the measure of sin is “the heart and will of the agent.” That is “eternal ethics” in earnest. If such is the eternal law of ethics, let us now see the history of the knowledge of God—Mr. N.’s theological notions.
“The law of God’s moral universe, as known to us, is that of progress. We trace it from old barbarism to the methodized Egyptian idolatry; to the more flexible polytheism of Syria and Greece; the poetical pantheism of philosophers, and the moral monotheism of a few sages. So in Palestine and in the Bible itself we see, first of all, the image-worship of Jacob’s family, then the incipient elevation of Jehovah above all other gods by Moses, the practical establishment of the worship of Jehovah alone by Samuel, the rise of spiritual sentiment under David and the psalmists, the more magnificent views of Hezekiah’s prophets, finally in the Babylonish captivity the new tenderness assumed by that second Isaiah and by the later psalmists. But ceremonialism more and more incrusted the restored nation; and Jesus [read here, an impostor] was needed to spur and stab the consciences of his contemporaries, and recall them to more spiritual perceptions; to proclaim a coming ‘kingdom of heaven,’ in which should be gathered all the children of God that were scattered abroad; where the law of love should reign, and no one should dictate to another.” (Phases, p. 223.)
Singular, that this systematic series of impostures should be the means of producing spiritual perceptions, and the knowledge of the true God! Still more singular, that methodized idolatry, flexible polytheism, and poetical pantheism, should be the law of progress, of God’s moral universe! The contemptibleness of such a passage vies with its cool wickedness. “The law of God’s moral universe” is idolatry of the most wicked, polluted,195 and degraded kind. But “we trace,” it is said, “from old barbarism.” But how do we trace it to it? It is not “known to us.” Be it so: ignorance has its convenience, even for an infidel, sometimes. But was “old barbarism” man’s original state? Progress begins with something: old barbarism was brutal ferocity of manners, and grosser though less developed forms of idolatry—the worship of the serpent, of the sun, and moon. Did God create man then in this “old barbarism?” If not, how came he there? what progress brought him to it? Is there no law of progress in God’s moral universe but barbarism, and methodized worship of bulls, onions, and crocodiles? Is that all that Mr. N. has to tell us of God’s moral universe? He must have a strange idea of God. This, added to acquiring spiritual perceptions, and a law of love, by imposture, constitutes all he knows of God’s moral universe, save (I had well-nigh forgotten) his good opinion of his own “higher spiritualism.” Can anyone be fallen lower in his ideas of God’s moral universe, and its law?
But his facts are rather peculiar. He says, “In the Bible itself, we see, first of all, the image-worship of Jacob’s family.” This phrase, so singularly turned to bring in the teraphim of Rachel, ill covers its own deceit. I say nothing now of Moses’s account of creation. It may be considered dogmatical, or mythical, or I know not what, and to be dated as of his time; but Mr. N. accepts Moses’s history of Jacob—necessarily, then, of Isaac and Abraham, to say nothing of Noah, or even Enoch. Whatever he accepts, it is totally false to say, “In the Bible we see, first of all, the image-worship.” We do not see it first of all—quite the contrary. No; not even in Palestine, which is foisted in to save appearances. What we see in the Bible is this: the knowledge of one true God possessed by Noah; that knowledge of the true God lost, and men serving “other gods beyond the flood” (that is, the Euphrates); one of these men called out by the true God’s revealing Himself to him, and this person worshipping the one true God “in Palestine:” so did his son; and as did Jacob, though wandering back to the East, his wife, whom he married there, had brought with her her father’s household images. Mr. N.’s statement of what we “see in the Bible” is a false statement; and he knows enough of the Bible—alas for him!—to know very well that it is so.
I do not know what he means by the incipient elevation of Jehovah by Moses. Moses’s teaching is as clear, more full, more elaborate, more absolute as to the sole deity of Jehovah, than that of Samuel, and he too declares that he knew Israel would corrupt themselves.
That polytheism is a part of God’s moral universe is quite worthy of the heartlessness of infidelity; that “old barbarism” should be its only idea of what man began with, without a thought of going farther as to man’s connection with God, or an enquiry whether he was created in “old barbarism,” is worthy of its “superficiality;” and the statement as to “Jacob’s family,” worthy of its truthfulness. I am aware this may be accounted hard. I ask, What else can an honest man, with his senses about him, think of this paragraph? There are cases where you may hesitate between indignation and contempt; but the absence of both is a proof of want of moral sentiment in him in whom they are not found.
But take another example of the moral justness of the reasonings: we have seen Mr. N. stating, in his attack on Calvinism, that “all nature proclaims, that if God planted any spiritual nature at all in man, it was in stable equilibrium, able to right itself when deranged.”
Now I can understand in physical nature, where there is no will, an action of attractive forces which keeps in order the movements of bodies in various and periodically contradictory directions, or self-correcting contradictory directions, or self-correcting contradictory influences, because one will has imposed them all; but the application of this where there is a will is wholly false. Besides, “stable equilibrium,” which, if “deranged,” is, I humbly conceive, flat nonsense; because, if “deranged,” it is not “stable;” nor, if deranged specially by the action of will, is there any reason why it should necessarily re-arrange itself; indeed, it has proved itself unstable. It did not maintain, far less is able to restore, a deranged equilibrium.
This is not the case with the movements of the moon’s nodes, or mutation of the earth’s axis, or other astronomical self-correcting motions. This is not derangement; it is the variety of order arising from one common principle; it is the proof of stable equilibrium. It is always going on, and always going on regularly, by the constantly operating effect of the same power.
But this is not all. I must cite another passage of Mr. N.’s to shew what the moral equihbrium of infidel thought is. “To me,” I read (Phases, p. 101), “it appeared an axiom, that if Jesus was in physical origin a mere man, He was, like myself, a sinful man, and therefore certainly not my judge”—singular, let me say in passing, that we can judge God or His revelation by “a preexisting standard of moral truth,” and our “inward power,” and be incompetent to judge of man’s state because we are sinful. But, if the fact of Jesus being a man, made Him necessarily a sinful man, what becomes of the stable equilibrium? Is a state of sin moral equilibrium, and a stable one? Indeed, the whole phrase is worthy of attention, as shewing the necessity to which infidelity is reduced, when it has, by circumstances, got the external light which Christianity affords. Sin is, according to Mr. N., a necessity; at the same time, to maintain his system, man’s state is one of stable equilibrium; yet he would not allow that God created man a sinner, nor will he admit the fall, save as a common necessity to all. What confusion, not merely of reasoning, but of all moral thought, is here, from abandoning the simple and clear testimony of scripture, which has its witness in every conscience! The man who would recognize both necessary, sin and a stable equilibrium, has, indeed, a harder task than a believer. Sin is in the world without the Bible; the infidel cannot get over that. Revelation tells us much about it; but it exists— revelation or no revelation. The infidel makes it a part of God’s moral universe; the believer, of man’s immoral condition.
And then, in Mr. N.’s system, the deranged stable equilibrium is to be set right by an “antagonist will.” This is hopeful.
See the kind of statements, too, indulged in. “It is clear that Paul longed, above all things, to overthrow the wall of partition which separated two families of sincere worshippers.” (Phases, p. 225.) Were idolaters sincere worshippers? Worshippers of whom? He taught that converted Jews, and converted Gentiles brought out of their corrupt worship of devils by the knowledge of Jesus, were to worship together. But an idolater is a true worshipper for Mr. N.; it is a part of the law of progress of God’s moral universe, that men should worship demons and stocks and stones!
Nor am I wrong in supposing this indifference to exist in Mr. N.’s mind as to truth and error as to God Himself; that it is all one, if it be
“By saint, by savage, or by sage;
Jehovah, Jove, or Lord.”
“We now see stronger and higher walls of partition than ever between the children of the same God… The cause of all this is to be found in the claim of Messiahship for Jesus” (Phases, p. 225—the italics are Mr. N.’s). That is, a worshipper of Jove, and stocks and stones, is a sincere worshipper—children of the same God, with those who follow “a higher spiritualism.” The only intolerable mischievous thing which makes barriers, is believing that Jesus is the Messiah.
It does make a barrier against such notions of God as would make “old barbarism” the beginning of God’s moral universe, and flexible Polytheism its desirable progress; and which would call themselves, with perfect self-complacency, “higher spiritualism.” Mr. N. is astonished, too, at being treated as an infidel.
But how powerful, after all, is scriptural truth! In Phases, p. 223, we read:
“We trace the law of God’s moral universe in the progress from old barbarism to the methodized Egyptian idolatry, flexible Polytheism, and poetical Pantheism.”
In page 230: “The great doctrine on which all practical religion depends—the doctrine which nursed the infancy and youth of human nature—is ‘the sympathy of God’ with individual man.” This was succeeded by Paganism and Pantheism. “Among pagans this was so marred by the imperfect characters ascribed to the gods, and the dishonourable fables told concerning them, that the philosophers who undertook to prune religion too generally cut away the root, by alleging that God was mere intellect, and wholly destitute of affections.” No doubt. But where is the progress, which is the law of God’s moral universe, which we trace from old barbarism upward to the higher spirituality? It would seem that the infancy was the best part of progress, only, unhappily, it was at the beginning—I suppose before even the “old barbarism.”196
Would you know, reader, how this precious doctrine of God’s sympathy with individual man was preserved and developed? Hear Mr. N.’s account of the book he is rejecting, traducing, and leading you to regard as an imposture. He continues:—
“But happily among the Hebrews the purity of God’s character was vindicated; and with the growth of conscience in the highest minds of the nation, the ideal image of God shone brighter and brighter. The doctrine of His sympathy was never lost, and from the Jews it passed into the christian Church. This doctrine applied to that part of man which is divine the well-spring of repentance and humility, of thankfulness, love and joy. It reproves and it comforts—it stimulates and it animates. This it is which led the Psalmist to cry, ‘Whom have I in heaven but thee? There is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.’ This has satisfied prophets, apostles, and martyrs, with God as their portion. This has been passed from heart to heart for full three thousand years, and has produced bands of countless saints.” (Phases, p. 231.) Now, in the first place, all these saints have fed undoubtedly on what Mr. N. denies, and got this temper and character from believing it. They were prophets of—apostles to promulgate— martyrs for—the truth of that which Mr. N. says is a falsehood and an imposture, the cause of all the mischief—the Messiahship, and, when Jesus had appeared, the Messiahship of Jesus. This last has been for two thousand of these the governing motive and principle of their lives and testimony. They have lived by it, and died for it. They have avowed this as the one thing which gave them full faith in this sympathy of God. This has produced all these admirable effects. Yet, according to Mr. N., it was all a mistake; and “more entangling to the conscience, and more depressing to the mental energies, than anything in the Levitical law… This gave a premium to crooked logic… This perverted men’s notions of right and wrong… This gave a merit to credulity.” (Phases, p. 225.)
But mark another thing. We have seen Mr. N. obliged to confess, that this sympathy of the true God with individual man was that which nursed the infancy and youth of human nature; that it was succeeded by Paganism and Pantheism, and then passed into infidel coldness in philosophy; but that one little, obscure, detested, despised, bigoted, exclusive people (who had impassable walls of separation from all others, and possessed and valued as inspired the books which Mr. N. is attacking as an imposture of Josiah’s reign), alone in the midst of the universal corruption, “methodized” or “flexible,” “happily vindicated the purity of God’s character”—that through their means “the doctrine of His sympathy was never lost, and from the Jews it passed into the christian Church.” Why, this is exactly the history the Bible gives. It verifies to a letter its whole contents. It shews why, when the pagan barbarism had destroyed the truth which had nurtured the infancy of man, Abraham was called out in order to vindicate the purity of God’s character; how thus the doctrine of His sympathy was never lost; why there was such a wall of partition raised up between Israel and the pagan nations, by a system of ordinances “imposed on them to the time of reformation;” while the great central principles of truth were preserved within. It shews that, at the same time, it was, as a whole, only a temporary provision for this particular purpose, in connection with die people thus kept apart to preserve this truth, and who did thus preserve it; and how, through the well known history of Christ, and His rejection and death by the Jews (by which they forfeited by their own act the title to claim anything exclusive), it passed by grace to every Gentile, who (through faith in Him, who was the deepest living expression of that sympathy, and accomplisher of that in which the whole power of it was shewn) believed in and came to it in truth.
The admissions of Mr. N.—and history compels these admissions—are the extorted confession, not merely of particular acts, but that the whole system of scripture is the undoubted truth of God, and that the notion of progress as applied to moral condition (for it is true in civilization and science) is as baseless and unfounded as can possibly be. Indeed, this kind of statement awakens in my mind the longing hope, that he who makes them is so forced to be a witness to scripture truth, that that truth, which I know to be eternal life, may have a hold within—deep as it may be covered, and hardily as it may be intellectually braved— which will produce a glorious testimony in the person of the author to God’s patient grace, before the day which will prove all truth to the confusion of those who have denied it. The Lord grant it may be so!
Mr. N. says (Phases, p. 95), “In short, I could not find the modern doctrine of the fall anywhere in the Bible … that is, of a permanent degeneracy induced by the first sin of the first man; and when I studied Romans 5,1 found it was death, not corruption, which Adam was said to have entailed.” A strange state of mind! The passage is, “As by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin.” “By one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.” Does not the apostle state, in the Romans, that men were in a state of permanent degeneracy—in Ephesians, that all were by nature children of wrath; that there is a law of sin in our members (Rom. 7:23); and that the flesh lusts against the Spirit? (Gal. 5:17.)
And why is it so carefully noted that Adam begat a son in his likeness after his image? But this is more a question of theology than of rationalism. I only note it as shewing how easily Mr. N. disposed of scriptural truth.
The best answer is to read what is said in Romans and elsewhere, and see whether permanent degeneracy is not taught, and as the fruit of Adam’s sin.
I would just remark also the strange notions, the singular moral contradictions (and moral contradictions are serious things), which pass unnoticed in Mr. N.’s mind. From the want of all objective truth, not only is a worshipper of demons a sincere worshipper of God’s family for him, but, as to his own mind, he thinks falsehood can have the same happy effect as truth. Thus, in his early days (p. 2), when under evangelical influence: “Such was the beginning and foundation of my faith—an unhesitating unconditional acceptance of whatever was found in the Bible… And as to my creed, I must insist that it was no mere fancy resting in my intellect: it was really operative on my temper, tastes, pursuits, and conduct”—that is, a delusion and a falsehood was! And now that he thinks it so, he tells us it took real effect on him (that is, believing a lie to be of God did). This is singular.
Again (Phases, p. 99): “I was conscious that, in dropping Calvinism, I had lost nothing evangelical: on the contrary, the gospel which I retained was as spiritual and deep hearted as before, only more merciful.” As “spiritual and deep-hearted!” And yet it was all a delusion from beginning to end. It was an imposture carried on by an impostor who rode in on an ass—”a deed which he appears to have planned with the express purpose of assimilating himself to the lowly king here described.” (Phases, p. 195.)
What, then, is Mr. N.’s notion, a common notion, of truth—of love of truth? It is the total uncertainty whether anything is true or not—the keeping the mind perpetually open, without acting on it at all. It is not, as in the progress of sound science, the relinquishing hypotheses for the investigation of facts.
“They left off,” as he expresses it, “to dogmatize; and approached God’s world as learners.” They did well. But “God’s world” was a certain existing thing to be learned—a known existence, though much was yet to be learned about it. Now, when the love of truth is spoken of in this book, it is entirely a different thing. There is no existing truth to be investigated. That is the position of him who receives the Bible as the truth. Be he right or wrong, he approaches, not God’s world indeed, but God’s word, as a learner. The man of science receives creation as existing; he investigates it. The believer receives the Bible as the existing revelation of God; he investigates it. Truth to the man of science is merely the ascertaining the laws of admitted facts, or the discovery of facts already existing. Now the rationalist has no object before his mind. Mr. N., in order to discover what God is, works in the mine of his own intellect; and, just as Des Cartes would hold that such things must be, because nature abhors a vacuum, or others theorize on the fortuitous concourse of atoms, so Mr. N. settles that God must be the projected image of man’s mind. It is just like the hypothesis which preceded Baconian science; an hypothesis—a theory; not an existing object already before us, investigated by our minds if capable of it. What then does all this love of truth amount to when it is not mere hypothetical speculation about what must be? It is merely that a person is unprejudiced!
Mr. N. would persuade us that he is the most unprejudiced person going, unless it be the whole company of his friends. I do not doubt their good opinion of themselves, or their disposition to state it. But I somewhat doubt about this entire absence of prejudice. I see marks of will working very strongly in Mr. N.; I have noticed some. The joy manifested at the discovery of a difficulty, or a slur thrown by others on the credit of a book of scripture; the plain proof often given that their “wish was father to their thought.” When a man speaks of being “justly encouraged to apply similar criticism;” when he thinks he has found a flaw—is there no will there? When I read the passage I already ventured to translate,
“O mihi tam longae maneat pars ultima vitae,
Spiritus et, quantum sat erit tua discere facta.”
Is there no will at work here? When I read, “But as soon as it begins to discern error in the standard proposed to it, we have the mark of incipient original thought which is the thing so valuable and so difficult to elicit.” Is there no love for getting rid of a standard here as well as love of truth? Now, I would remark here, that universal openness at all times to receive everything is not the proof of love of the truth, but of incapacity at all times to ascertain it, and of perpetual uncertainty in consequence. Supposing the human mind, by itself or by divine aid, capable of ascertaining truth with certainty, love of the truth when it is ascertained is shewn in holding it fast, because it is truth. Not to do this is merely, I repeat, to say that perpetual uncertainty is the only possible state; that is, that there is no such thing as truth for the human mind, and that the love of it is nonsense. Truth in this case does not exist for man; and therefore the theory, the notion of the love of truth, is a contradiction in itself. If there be truth as to anything, as to what God is, what Christianity is, when I have ascertained it, and know that to be the truth, I hold it fast because I love it.
In a word, either the truth cannot be ascertained, and then there is no truth for man; or it can, and then if we have ascertained it, we hold it against all cavils. It is true, our minds may be prejudiced, and we may also receive solid truth mixed with other things. Hence patience, discrimination, and readiness to hear become us; but not readiness to call in question what is certain. This is the love of doubting, not of truth. Further, if the positive proofs of a thing remain, the difficulties connected with it are not disproof. They may be proof merely of my incapacity to solve them. But, besides, the proof of divine things is upon quite a different principle from that of human experience; and must be, because they are divine, and cannot be the subjects of human experience till received. And the kind of knowledge possessed about divine things is not reached consequently by human cavil. Thus Mr. N. speaks of an “intellectual creed” being held to be an essential criterion of God’s people (i.e., such an historical proposition as “that the Jewish teacher, Jesus, fulfilled the conditions requisite to constitute Him the Messiah”). Now such a conviction would not constitute a person a believer at all.
Mohammedans believe it; and they are not “the people of God.” Thousands who would not understand Mr. N.’s phrase are devoted believers in Jesus. There has been an action on their hearts and consciences connected with his name, which is more certain to them than their existence—more powerful than the love of it. It characterizes their life—fills them with joy in death: their whole life is formed by it. A person has been revealed to them whom they love, by whom they know God, and are at peace:—I do not say how, for I am not writing on theology. Christ’s account of it is, “They shall be all taught of God.” They are quiet, sober, unenthusiastic persons, who know themselves, confess faults they hid or excused before, yet are happy and peaceful. They know in whom they have believed. And all this is identified with the word of God which has produced it, orally or in writing, and is recognized by it when studied. Hence too their convictions have an elevated and deeply moral character and bear the impress of divine action. This, as to the proof of its source, though partially mixed with other things in the stream it flows in, is of the highest importance. Now questions as to historical contradictions do not touch the ground on which this faith is built. Be it foolish or wise, that is not my question now. I only say that Historical questions and genealogies do not reach it; for it never was founded on them, but on something else. There may be complete ignorance of what the difficulty applies to, and yet a profound knowledge of the person it applies to; and such an appreciation of Him and all that regards Hun that difficulties of genealogies have no weight. He is a sinner and does not keepjthe sabbath—“yet He opened mine eyes,” says the man. I The disproof, in its nature, did not touch the kind of proof. The reasonings of learned men were lost upon him, because he was the subject of a power which it needed no learning to know the force of, when a person had been subjected to its influence. Such a believer reasons from the power, of which he is quite certain, to judge that which would call so certain a thing in doubt. And he reasons justly.
Now that is the divine way of teaching—God acts and makes Himself known in acting, and a man thus taught of God believes, and with divine faith; that is, with certainty. He leaves intellectual propositions to those who make them; he possesses the subject of them. This is not logical. No; not if you mean conclusions drawn from human knowledge. It is divine teaching. I repeat what I said at the beginning, that God can act on man’s conscience and heart so as to make Himself known, though the conscience and heart would have never so known Him if He had not acted on them. It is not a “pre-existing standard” in the human mind, but a susceptibility of receiving impressions with the certainty of what produces them, without the independent power of forming the ideas for itself, or of judging them by a complete measure already formed. I admit fully the conscience and the heart; and that there is a sense in all that there is a God. But then conscience always takes notice of the authority and just judgment of God, and judges self, or it is not conscience.
The question really is this, as I have already stated, Can God communicate His mind and thoughts to man with the certainty that it is He who does so? To deny it is an absurdity. It makes God inferior to men, who certainly can do so—almost to some beasts, who in a small measure can. But if man has been created with a capacity for receiving thoughts of and from God (and of and from have really the same force here, so far as that all that is from must be of Him), and that God can communicate such, is it not very much more than a probability that He would do this?197
It does not at all follow that man would know by other means the same things. Nay, it is rather the contrary that would follow. Even in human intercourse, a person may communicate things to me which I fully understand and receive with certainty, which I did not know—perhaps never should have known—nay, take the full scope of human education, certainly never should have known—if they had not been communicated; yet I have the certainty of them when they are. It is not the judgment I form of them; but that I am so formed, so circumstanced internally, that they carry conviction when announced.
But another point is clear, that is, that if God does communicate knowledge, it will be in its purpose the knowledge of Himself; that is, it will have a divine character—be a divine communication. If I am communicating algebra, the communication will be algebraic. If God communicates divine knowledge, the communication will be divine. Man may be (I do not doubt he is) such as can be acted on by such communications when God so acts; but the communication does not lose its own character; it cannot cease to be divine, or it would wholly miss its object, it would cease to be what we suppose it. Yet, as such, God can (for I assume this now) accompany it with the certainty that it is He who does so. It carries, where He does, its own proof of the power and authority of the communication, so as to bind the conscience and soul of man. God is known in the obedience of faith. The question of judging is out of place. “The entering in of thy word giveth light and understanding to the simple.” Now God may, to put man to the test (I believe He has), communicate truth by means which have a permanent character, so that men should have them always before them. He may use means of doing so adapted to men’s faculties, and as means, within the scope of man’s moral investigation; yet with fully adequate proof of the authenticity and power of the communication, and of who made it. Here it is that infidelity has its scope and play. Now such a communication puts man to the test, and, adequate evidence being given, demonstrates an “antagonist will”—the moral evil of his condition, that he does not like to come to or receive the knowledge of God as having authority. Such a state of mind will receive no communication from God, though there be one before it; but it proves its unwillingness to receive one.
Nay, there is more than this; because there is not merely adequate proof within the scope of man’s intelligence in due moral exercise, but there is, in the divine word thus communicated, a direct action on the conscience, which is its own witness. For conscience man has, whether he will or no; and Felixes will tremble before the word their will rejects and their passions slight; and they do tremble: for God will make Himself known to man in his conscience, if He pleases (and He does please); and every secret work shall be brought into judgment.
But if God can make Himself known to man, He alone really can. He has addressed adequate testimony to man’s responsibility. But what shall change man’s will? His people shall be willing in the day of His power. This is grace. God really reveals Himself in gracious, life-giving power; and the word, which is His, acquires at once the authority which a known God has over a soul to whom His holiness becomes true and His mercy precious. God is known. His word is His word. The permanent testimony delivered to men in every kind of condition, adapted to them, copied for three thousand years, and transmitted from man to man, may present difficulties. It may present such as arise from his own defective spiritual apprehensions and intelligence, and (which in part is the converse of it) the depth and vastness of the communication made, embracing all God’s ways with man from first to last, and His counsels for the glory of His Son. It may present difficulties, which arise from the circumstances of its transmission by man during so long a period, considered as “committed” to him, though guarded by Providence. But” Who has spoken?” is no longer a question. He who thus knows God is called upon diligently to enquire what He has said—to use all diligence as far as he is capable—to see that man has not deceived him either by design or by carelessness; and he may count on gracious divine aid in doing so. He has now, not perfect capacity, but a sense which helps him much in this, because he does know God. But these enquiries suppose an existing truth communicated, which is loved because it is God’s truth. There is something (as the existing world for science) which enquiry is occupied about. The infidel’s love of truth means that he has no known truth to love; it is an immoral thing, a self-wasting affection without an object. If man be framed to know God for his happiness, in what state is he till he finds Him? Yet that is what is called “love of truth above all.” It merely means subjecting everything as it occurs to the assumed competency of our own mind to judge of it. It has no object which is truth, which it values as such.
“Morality and truth are principles in human nature both older and more wide-spread than Christianity or the Bible,” says Mr. N. Now that man has a conscience, and judges right and wrong, is most true—knows good and evil, as the scripture expressly teaches; and so it is, that the divine word addresses and acts on this. But it is not true that this is truth, or a standard of moral truth; because, though it recognizes the authority of God, yet as we are sinners impressed with fear, we do not really know God thereby. It craves, though it fears, that knowledge. It does judge men’s acts, but it does not reveal God’s nature, ways, thoughts, and purposes. Revelation (and O what grace to have it!) is the answer to its need. Conscience deals with man as man, and man subject to God in judgment; but it does not reveal God as God, though it dreads the authority it has despised. Now, if God does thus reveal Himself (and how immense the privilege!) that becomes the standard of moral truth. Thus Christ was born under the law; but He was God manifest in the flesh. He became the standard of moral truth, and the pattern of divine ways in man. Others may, through grace and “partaking of the divine nature,” have followed him—He may graciously call them His companions. The day that comes will mark out some one in this walk, proximus at longo intervallo. It was reserved for Mr. N. alone, not to delight in the blest resemblance in those who followed Him, but to shew his own state—to proclaim his capacity for discerning divine perfectness in man—to raise (what horror would it have occasioned him!) the devoted and gracious Fletcher to a level with Jesus.198 We may thank Mr. N. for this: a man’s tastes shew, not what that which he likes is, but what he is. A Rousseau could see farther than this. We have a tolerable specimen of the standard of moral truth in Mr. N.’s mind. It is true that Fletcher was not, as Mr. N. makes the blessed Jesus, an impostor. That would make some difference in excellency, though it appears not a great deal with Mr. N.; for, after all, it is this imposture which, even for Fletcher himself, “has vindicated the purity of God’s moral character.”
But let us leave this miserable display of an infidelity effaeta veri. The Christian does not reject the ascertaining the truth of Christianity. The proofs are there; and Mr. N., with his associates who pretend to the “higher spirituality,” will be judged by the positive proofs which have been afforded them—proofs to their conscience—proofs to their heart. Would that they would listen to them, and not merely to their understanding! But the Christian thinks that, if God speaks, however He may condescend to man, He speaks as God; and, in examining a professed revelation, he must expect this; and hence it is not by a pre-existing standard of moral truth, nor by the inward powers of the hearer that he will be judged. He will address the conscience which man by His appointment has, and the heart that needs Him. He will adapt Himself to it; but He will speak in His own character, and must, if He be God, give the standard of moral truth. He is it in Christ. The weapons of this warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds, casting down reasonings, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into the captivity of the obedience of Christ. He will not contradict what He has taught. He will act on the conscience He has given. If the Being, presented as divine, is, in His own desires and character, below the standard of natural conscience, conscience may reject Him, and man become an infidel. If I have the truth from God, I shall judge by it what pretends to be so. I shall not talk of the inward powers of the hearer as a judge when I am hearing God.
I do not deny a conscience. I believe that there are obligations flowing unchangeably from relationships in which we are by nature (in that sense ethics are eternal), and from such as redemption places us in. But I deny a pre-existing standard of moral truth possessed by man, and his competency, or his inward powers, to judge God. Where is it? Conscience does recognize evil and good, and it bows, by its very nature, to God, when He speaks to it. I speak of the fact, but the subjection of conscience to judgment is not judging. It does more; nay, it is the opposite. It puts God in His place: judging puts Him out of it. Does His speaking enfeeble man’s sense of right and wrong? It adds divine authority as a sanction to it, and enlarges vastly the knowledge of it by new relations of an infinite character. But God has far more fully (nay, only then really) His place; for He speaks in love, and that is what He is. The soul does not want to judge God; it is glad to know Him.
I have only one word to add—that difficulties which arise may exercise the heart as to its faith, but do not touch the consciousness we have of the knowledge of God, where the will is not corrupted, nor, consequently, the authority of His word, nor its evidence. I have been conversing with a man, with my father, with intimate acquaintance of his and my history. He has told me things which, in connection with it, prove their own truth; and one comes and proves by inferences, that from dates, and the like, he could not have been where I was. I cannot solve the difficulty, but I do not doubt my intercourse with him. Perhaps I detect that he who would persuade me of the contrary, does not like that I should believe what he has told me. At any rate my certainty is unshaken. I solve the difficulty, if I can; if I cannot, I leave it unsolved. I have got the knowledge I want, and I know my Father’s care and love. May you, my reader, thus know it. Let me only add a very simple but all-important remark. The question as to Christianity is not, if it be true (Mohammedanism is true), but if it be from God. The kinds of proof and their effects will be quite different.
193 The love of objections is one of the worst moral features possible. It is quite right to weigh them, and see that one is well founded in what the soul builds on. But there is moral proof in the power of an object to produce (where the soul is capable of feeling) affections which are the moral reflex, in a rightly constituted mind, of the object itself, and which are thus the proof of power, because the fruit of power. Now where there is this power in the object rightly exercised, the love of objections is only the proof of insensibility to the power which attracts and fixes the soul. It is moral incapacity to estimate what is excellent. The qualities displayed in the object do not convince and silence cavil. Why? Because the heart is incapable of estimating, by its own sentiments, these qualities—perhaps does not like their superiority. This is infidelity.
A true heart loves what is excellent, because it is able to appreciate it, or at least to discern it; it is glad it should have its superiority, because, capable of appreciating excellence, it feels, in virtue of its own love of it, that it ought to have, and it desires that it should have, this place of superiority. This applies in an infinite degree to God in Christ; besides His immutable title to this place. Hence, for faith to be occupied with the positive object of it is the best and truest means of proof. It carries its own unquestionable power with it.
There is another thing that helps our judgment; that is, that when the object is known and valued, the moral aim of the infidel is judged. “Their device is only to pull Him down whom thou wouldest exalt.” The sagacity, and here the spiritual sagacity, of affection easily detects this. “Give God the praise!”—the modern compliment of infidels also— “As for this man, we know that he is a sinner,” will not hide it. There is a kind of reasoning which flows from being oneself the subject of power, which infidel Pharisees cannot reach: theirs only creates astonishment, by its evident nonsense, to the simple mind who knows the power. “Why herein is a wonderful thing, that ye know not who he is, yet he hath opened my eyes.” There is no mistake then. Mr. N. may ask,” What has this to do with scripture, or an historical document?” He is found there. No doubt Mr. N. has not found Him there; he does not know Him. He says, indeed, to the evangelical—imitating language he has heard—that he has tried both; he has a double experience—the believer’s and the infidel’s. But this poor imitation of what converted persons, who have come to the knowledge of Christ, have said, is too miserably transparent to be anything but the shame of him who uses it. What did he experience at the first? The effect, on his own shewing, of believing a he—of supposing true what had no existence in truth. “A deceived heart hath turned him aside: he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a he in my right hand?” Let not the language seem hard. Mr. N. declares it is a lie; and that Jesus is not the Messiah. (Phases, p. 225.) What was his first experience?— “To any ‘evangelical’ I have a right to say that, while he has a single, I have a double experience.” (Phases, p. 201.) Now how can he tell what the effects, “the spiritual fruits,” if a living knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ are, since he does not believe there is such a person at all? His only past experience was, as he avows, a wholly false one. I ever hope it may not have been. “Spiritual fruits,” in his case, are not those of the true knowledge in power of the Lord Jesus. He never had such; for if he really knew Jesus to be the Son of God, it was and must have been because He was so—if He was so, He is so. Now Mr. N. declares it is (and hence was) all a delusion. His “spiritual fruits” were the fruits of a delusion—of belief in an imposture. Think of a person coolly speaking of this in his own case! To what a state of moral reasoning, of moral susceptibilities, must he be reduced! “It was really operative,” he tells us, “on my moral tastes, pursuits, and conduct.” (Phases, p. 2.) What was?
But I have said, infidels love obscurity. God allows, indeed, faith to be tested. We had seen self-boasting learning, at the end of the last century, relying on Hindoo Yugas of millions of years, and Chinese chronology of any length you please. Egyptian hieroglyphics being then illegible, the Zodiac of Dendera disproved the dates of the Mosaic account, by the long period of the earth’s existence demonstrated by this very ancient monument. All here was obscure, and it suited infidel reasoning. Alas! Western astronomy and science examined Hindoo calculations and proved that the observations must have been made—indeed, profess to be made (that conjunction being assumed to have existed at creation) —in a certain position of the movable bodies of the heavens, and all the rest calculated backward, like Scaliger’s Julian Period, making the great Calpa, or epoch, of similar conjunction; in fact, they were mere astronomical cycles. And still worse, hieroglyphics were read, and the Zodiac of Dendera was found to have been made in the reign of Augustus Caesar. Chinese chronology has suffered the like diminution, the Emperor Hoangti (B.C. 213) having destroyed all records, that everything might be dated from him. It is ascertained, as far as obscure traditions allow, that the real Hindoo dates of historical events agree pretty much with scripture history, and belong to epochs as recent as that history gives them. I do not here enter into details of course. It seems ascertained that the most ancient Hindoo astronomical treatise is not above seven hundred and fifty years old. (Hales’ Chronology, vol 1, p. 195.) It is of little moment. I refer to these circumstances to shew the disposition of infidels to get into the dark to make objections. The light dissipates them: they turn to others undaunted and unashamed. Their will is engaged in it.
So now their researches into the historical origin of the books of the Old Testament. On these points they can throw doubts, as they do not own the authority of the New. And why? Because the books, though we can trace their existence as far back as we have any records (and they are confirmed by references to the history contained in them as authentic, by fragments of the earliest known authors quoted in such books, as Josephus, Eusebius, &c), yet are themselves the only existing records of the times they belong to. They are, beyond all controversy, the most ancient records in existence. Hence, when their own intrinsic power is not perceived, and their coherence as a moral whole, as a key to the whole world’s history before God, is not understood, ample scope is found for speculating in the dark and raising objections. Still even here God has confounded them by such means as Egyptian antiquities, where the details of Exodus are found painted in yet brilliant colours on the walls of long lost buildings.
194 Strange to say, the English is often, to say the least, very incorrect; but as to this, I do not trouble myself.
195 Mr. N., however, I perhaps should add, does not (apart from its accompaniments, and the immoral character of its deities) think so very badly of polytheism. He says (Phases, p. 89), “It thus became clear to me, that polytheism as such is not a moral and spiritual, but at most only an intellectual, error.” His indifference to the true God is a remarkable phenomenon. He had long ago been convinced “that the Spirit is evidently God in the hearts of the faithful, and nothing else.” Now he “believed the Son to be derived from the Father, and not to be the Unoriginated,” and was not a Ditheist:—“No doubt! yet, after all, could I seriously think that, morally and spiritually, I was either better or worse for this discovery? I could not pretend that I was.” Perhaps so; but then your state had nothing to say to God. Had you been a polytheist, you would not have been morally or spiritually the better or the worse for it, for it is not a moral or spiritual error. Noble ideas you must have of God, certainly! Let me caution my reader here, that if he finds “the Spirit” used in such writers, he must not fancy it is in any christian sense. This use of christian language, which keeps up to the eye a delusive appearance which hinders the mind being shocked, is perpetual in Mr. N.’s book. “I now,” says he, “understood somewhat better his whole doctrine of ‘the Spirit,’ the coming of which had brought the Church out of a childish into a mature condition.” Now when he wrote this phrase, he did not believe a word of the coming of the Spirit. It would be endless to multiply the instances of this kind of language—in a word, of christian language preserved, when he does not believe a word of it. This use of language which the author does not believe does not startle, because it seems to belong to the period of his history which he is relating; but the book was written when he had discovered it was all false.
196 I do not know where Mr. N. got it, but Epiphanius speaks of the first worship being barbarism and of Scythism and Ionism succeeding it—Barbarism from Adam to Noah, Scythism from Noah to the tower of Babel, and, some time after, Hellenism from the time of Serug.
197 This does not prove, as a fact, that He has; but it makes it unlikely that He has not. But while it cannot prove that God has communicated to man the knowledge of the things of God, it does prove that the supposition that He would not is a gross absurdity—is merely the desire not to have to say to Him in His own way: and in spite of the infidel effort which takes effect when the morality of religious pretenders sinks below the standard of natural conscience, the need of some divine communication is such that, I may say, the universal feeling of man proves it by its cravings—cravings which are so strong, that in the long run the most absurd and corrupt pretensions to it are preferred to none at all. It is of this all forms of priesthood have taken advantage.
And here I would notice a very remarkable circumstance, that, elevated and peculiar as was the priesthood among the Jews, they were not, as with false religions, the peculiar and chief communicators of divine knowledge. The prophets had this office; and God’s character was maintained independently of, and often reproving, those who might have made an interested use of their nearness to Him. In Christianity there are no priests (save as all Christians are, and Christ above all). Judaism being founded on law, and God yet much hidden from man who could not come near under such a system, a priesthood was necessary, but betrayed the real state of things, thus expressed by the apostle— “The way into the holiest was not yet made manifest, while as yet the first tabernacle was standing.” Christianity being the manifestation of grace, and having brought men to God, there is not a priesthood, but a ministry to make known that grace, and build up those who have received it in further acquaintance with it; while all believers are themselves in the presence of God—have access to the Father who Himself loves them—are brought to God. Hence as to this point, ministry and the absence of a distinct priesthood essentially characterize Christianity. Priesthood characterizes the religion of Judaism, though God interfered sovereignly by prophets in mercy.
198 This is not so very surprising in Mr. N.’s case; he says (Phases, pp. 101, 102) “But I now discovered that there was a deeper distaste in me for the details of the human life of Christ than I was previously conscious of.” In page 210 he says, of Benson’s Life of Fletcher of Madeley, “And at this day, if I were to read the book afresh, I suspect I should think his character a more perfect one than that of Jesus.”