By Robert Anderson
ONE who is himself a sceptic both by temperament and by training can appreciate the difficulties of the honest truth-seeker. And to such I would offer the assurance of respectful sympathy, and such counsel as my own experience may enable me to give.
And first, I would say with emphasis, Ignore the atheistical section of the scientists. To quote the words of " that prince of scientists" Lord Kelvin, "If you think strongly enough you will be forced by science to the belief in God." And I would add, quoting Lord Kelvin again, "Do not be afraid of being free thinkers." For the free thinker will refuse to be either prejudiced or discouraged by the confusion and error which abound on every side, and which have always marked the history of the professing Church.
Fifteen centuries ago the great Chrysostom ' deplored that even in those early days, every Christian ordinance was parodied, and every Christian truth corrupted. And if it be demanded, \Vhere can we look for guidance amid the din of the discordant cries which beat upon our ears to-day ? his words may best supply the answer :- "There can be no proof of true Christianity," he says, " nor any other refuge for Christians wishing to know the true faith, but the Divine Scriptures. . . . Therefore the Lord, knowing that such a confusion of things would take place in the last days, commands on that account that Christians should betake themselves to nothing else but the Scriptures" (Matthew, Hom. XLIII.).
The Scriptures ! " some one may exclaim, "but what about Moses and Jonah and Daniel ? " Some people will believe nothing, unless they can believe everything. But men who make fortunes in commerce are content with small beginnings, enough for the necessaries of life. The " Catholic Church," it is true, would hand us over to "the secular arm" for failing, not only to accept the whole Bible, but to swallow all its own superstitions. And to fit us for this achievement, Pascal's advce would be to take to ' religion." For, he said, " that will make you stupid, and enable you to believe." But a very different spirit marks the Divine dealings with sinful men. " He that cometh unto God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." "That He is" for not a few of the difficulties which men find in the Bible are practically atheistical. And if even in the natural sphere it is the " diligent seeker" who succeeds, no one need wonder if in the spiritual sphere it is the " diligent seeker " who secures the treasure.
Here then is my advice to any who are troubled with sceptical doubts Be in earnest; and begin at the beginning. God does not require of us that before we come to Him we shall believe in Daniel and Jonah and Moses. But, to render the words with slavish literalness, It is necessary for the comer unto God to believe that He exists, and that He is a rewarder of them that seek Him out. "Men do not find pearls upon the open beach, or nuggets of gold upon the public road. Even in this world the principle of "the narrow way " prevails. And it is only the few who find it. Even in the mundane sphere, success is not for the trifler or the faddist. But while in this world the diligent seeker is often thwarted, and sometimes crushed, it is never so with God: He never says, "Seek ye Me in vain."
I repeat then," Do not be afraid of being free thinkers." In peace-time a war-ship may carry top-hamper without endangering her safety; but in presence of an enemy the first order is to clear the decks. And in these days, when it is necessary to "contend earnestly for the faith once delivered," we cannot be too fearless or too ruthless in jettisoning all error and superstition. The schoolboy's definition of "faith " is not the right one: he described it as " believing what we know to be untrue." The God of revelation is the God of nature; and in the spiritual, as in the natural sphere, there are difficulties which perplex and distress us. But though the Word of God, like the works of God, may be full of mystery, it is wholly free from falsehood and folly.
Some one may object that the truth here urged is quite too elementary to be vital. But elementary truths are often the deepest, and always the most important. And it is a significant fact that, in view of the completed revelation of Christianity, the last of the doctrinal books of the New Testament closes by re-iterating this most elementary of all truths "We know that the Son of God is come and has given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true. . . . This is the true God." Faith begins by giving up belief in the Deity as a mere abstraction, like "the Monarchy" or "the State," and learning to believe in "the living God" who is "the Rewarder of them that seek Him." This is the alpha of the alphabet of faith. We reach the omega when, giving up "the historic Jesus," we come to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, "the Son of God." Just as "all the law and the prophets" are included in love to God and our neighbour, so, in the same sense, the whole revelation of Christianity is an unfolding of this truth. Not, as the rationalist has it, "that a man of the name of Jesus Christ once stood in our midst," but that "the Son of God is come," He who was in the beginning with God, and who was God, and by whom all things were made "-that He once stood in our midst. "God hath spoken to us in His Son."
"But," it may be said, "there is a fallacy here. Belief in God belongs to the sphere of natural religion, but belief in Christ depends upon revelation; and this raises the question of the inspiration of Scripture." I challenge that statement. The question of inspiration is of vital importance in its own place, but this is not its place. Here and now we are concerned with facts-the public facts of the ministry of Christ, including His miracles and His resurrection from the dead. For the genuineness of the records is admitted, and, as we have seen their authenticity is guaranteed by the character of the men who wrote them. And I need not repeat the argument that the denial of their inspiration compels us to form a still higher estimate of their personal competence.'
In order to evade the force of their testimony the infidel points to the lapse of time since these events occurred, and he tries to raise a cloud of prejudice by ringing the changes on the apostasy of the Christian Church. But this is only nisi prius claptrap. The significance of facts such as those we have here in view cannot be impaired either by the lapse of centuries or by any amount of human failure and folly. I put this question therefore to all fair and earnest thinkers. Suppose the ministry of Christ belonged to the nineteenth century, instead of the first, what effect would it have upon you? How would you account for it? Is not the only reasonable explanation of it this, "that the Son of God is come"?
The New Testament records but one apostolic sermon addressed to a heathen audience. Jews could be referred to the Hebrew Scriptures in proof "that Jesus was the Christ." But when preaching to the Areopagites of Athens the Apostle appealed to their own religion, the writings of their poets, and the phenomena of nature, to prove the existence of an intelligent, personal, and beneficent God; and he pointed to the resurrection of Christ in proof that God had declared Himself to men. The times of ignorance which God could overlook were past. "He now commandeth all men everywhere to repent" ; for agnosticism has become a sin that shuts men up to judgment, "whereof He hath given assurance unto all men in that He hath raised Him from the dead."'
There is not a word here about the inspiration either of writings or of men. That is a question for "the household of faith," the home circle of the family of God. But here we have to do with what concerns "all men everywhere." Acts xvii. 22-31. And, I repeat, the fact that "the Son of God is come," and the solemn warning that judgment is assuredly to follow, are wholly unaffected by accidents of time or place. I am not fencing with professional sceptics, but appealing to real truth-seekers, and upon such I again press the question, What bearing has this upon you?
No one who will read these pages is more sceptical than the writer of them, none who feels a stronger antipathy to superstition and error and nonsense. But the falsehoods and follies of "the Christian religion " in its many phases, whether venerable or newfangled, must not be allowed to obscure the issue here involved. "The Son of God is come." And in view of that supreme fact God commands repentance, "for He has appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom He has ordained."
And in that day no one will be condemned because he did not belong to this Church or that, or because he failed to accept the inspiration of one book or another. The judgment will turn on this, "that God sent His Son into the world." Here are His own words - the words of Him who is Himself to be the Judge:
"This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil."
A blind and unreasoning infidelity denies the resurrection. But to aver that God could not raise Christ from the dead is practical atheism: to aver that He would not raise Him from the dead is mere nonsense; and to assert that He did not raise Him from the dead is to deny a public fact, "the certainty of which can be invalidated only by destroying the foundations of all human testimony."
And by the resurrection He was "declared to be the Son of God."' How else can the resurrection be explained? What other significance can possibly be assigned to it? That Christ Himself claimed to be the Son of God is not a matter of inspiration but of evidence. His crucifixion by the Jews establishes it. The Jews were not savages who murdered their Rabbis. They honoured them. But, we read, when he said, "Before Abraham was, I am, then took they up stones to cast at Him." And when He said, "I and My Father are one, then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him." And in answer to His remonstrance they exclaimed, "Thou being a man makest thyself God." If He was not Divine He was a blasphemer, and by their law deserved to die. But the resurrection proved Him to be Divine.
And can the appalling fact that the Son of God has thus died at the hands of men be dismissed as a mere incident in history, or as a commonplace of religious controversy! "As He laid aside His glory, He now restrained His power, and yielded Himself to their guilty will. In return for pity He earned but scorn. Sowing kindnesses and benefits with a lavish hand, He reaped but cruelty and outrage. Manifesting grace, He was given up to impious law without show of mercy or pretence of justice. Unfolding the boundless love of the heart of God, He gained no response but bitterest hate from the hearts of men." The fate of the heathen who have never heard of Him rests with God; but to us the Cross must of necessity bring either blessing or judgment. In presence of it we must take sides. And he who takes sides with God is safe.
And now, having reached this stage, can we not advance another step? "Scientific thought compels belief in God." And here "Agnosticism assumes a double incompetence, the incompetence not only of man to know God, but of God to make Himself known. But the denial of competence is the negation of Deity. For the God who could not speak would not be rational, and the God who would not speak would not be moral. The idea of a written revelation, therefore, may be said to be logically involved in the notion of a living God." And with overwhelming force this applies to the matter here at issue. If "the Son of God is come," is it credible, is it possible, that God has not provided for us an authentic record of His mission and ministry? Even the credulity of unbelief might well give way under the strain of such a supposition. Whether you describe it as "inspiration" or "providence "-call it by what term you please - must not the existence of such a record be assumed? If men are doubters here, it must be because they doubt either that" God is," or that" the Son of God is come." But "we know that the Son of God is come." With certainty, therefore, we accept the record. And here are His words :- "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
And if this be Divine truth, who will dare to cavil at the words which follow: "He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."' It is not death that decides our destiny, but our acceptance or rejection of the Gospel of Christ. For the consequences of receiving or rejecting Him are immediate and eternal. 2 John iii. 14-18.