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Authority, Intellect, Heart

By Benjamin B. Warfield


      The exact nature of the intimate relation between religion and theology is not always perceived. Sometimes religion is made the direct product of theology; more frequently theology is conceived as directly based on religion. The truth is that while they react continually upon each other, neither is the creation of the other. They are parallel products of the same body of truths in different spheres. Religion is the name we give to religious life; theology is the name we give to the systematized body of religious thought. Neither is the product of the other, but both are products of religious truth, operative in the two spheres of life and thought. Neither can exist without the other. No one but a religious man can be a true theologian. No one can live religiously who is innocent of all theological conceptions. Man is a unit; and the religious truth which impinges upon him must affect him in all his activities, or in none. But it is in their common cause-religious truth-that religion and theology find their deepest connection. The truth concerning God, his nature, his will, his purposes is the fundamental fact upon which both religion and theology rest. The truth of God is, therefore, the greatest thing on earth. On it rest our faith, our hope, and our love. Through it we are converted and sanctified. On it depends all our religion, as well as all our theology.

      There are three media or channels through which the truth of God is brought to man and made his possession, that it may affect his life and so make him religious, or that it may be systematized in his thinking and so issue in a theology. These three media or channels of communication may be enumerated briefly as authority, the intellect, and the heart. They are not so related to one another that any one of them may be depended upon to the exclusion of the others. In any sound religion and in any true religious thinking, that is theology, all three must be engaged, and must work harmoniously together as the proximate sources of our religion and of our knowledge. The exaltation of any one of the three to the relative exclusion of the others will, therefore, mar our religious life and our religious thought alike, and make both one-sided and deformed. We cannot have a symmetrical religious life or a true theology except through the perfect interaction of all three sources of communication of the truth.

      It may, indeed, be plausibly pleaded that the three reduce ultimately to one; and this one channel of truth may, with almost equal plausibility-, be found in each of the three in turn. Thus it may be urged that our confidence in the processes of our intellects and in the deliverances of our feelings, rests ultimately on the trustworthiness of God; so that, after all, authority is the sole source of our information concerning God. We know only what and as God tells us. Similarly it may be argued that all the dicta of authority are addressed to the intellect, which, also, is the sole instrument for ascertaining the implications of the feelings; so that all our sources of knowledge reduce at last to this one source--the intellect. We know only what our intellect grasps and formulates for us. Still again, it may be contended that not the logical reason but the facts of life, our upward strivings, our feelings of dependence and responsibility, supply the points of contact between us and God, without which all the thunders of authority and all the excursions of thought into the realm of divine things, would be as unintelligible to us and as inoperative upon us as a babbling of colors would be to a blind man. There is truth in each of these representations; but they do not avail to show that we have but one means of access to divine things, but rather emphasize the fact that the three sources so interlace and interact that one may not be exaggerated to the exclusion of the others as our sole channel of knowledge concerning God and divine things.

      The exaggeration of the principle of authority to the discrediting of the others would cast us into traditionalism, and would ultimately deliver us bound hand and foot to the irresponsible dogmatism of a privileged caste. This is the pathway which has been trodden by the Church of Rome, and we have as the result a nerveless submission to the dicta, first of an infallible church, then of an infallible class, and lastly of an infallible person. Here neither the heart nor the intellect is permitted to speak in the presence of lordly authority; but men are commanded docilely to receive, on authority alone, even what contradicts their most primary intuitions (as in the doctrine of transubstantiation) or what outrages their most intimate feelings (as in the use of indulgences).

      The exaggeration of the principle of intellect to the discrediting of the others would bring us to rationalism, and leave us helplessly in the grasp of the merely logical understanding. This pathway has been followed by the rationalists, and we have as the result any number of a priori systems built up on the sole credit of the reasoning faculty. Here neither revelation nor the conscience is permitted to raise a protest against the chill processes of intellectual formulae, but all things are reconstructed at the bidding of a priori fancies, and men are required to reject as false all for which they have not a demonstration ready even though God has spoken to assert its truth (as in the doctrine of the Trinity) or the heart rises up and answers, I have felt (as in original sin).

      The exaggeration of the principle of the heart to the discrediting of the others would throw us into mysticism, and deliver us over to the deceitfulness of the currents of feeling which flow up and down in our souls. This pathway has been traveled by the mystics, and we have as the result the clash of rival revelations, and the deification of the most morbid of human imaginations. Here neither the objective truth of a revealed word nor adherence to rational thinking is allowed to check the wild dreaming of a soul that fancies itself divine, or the confusion of our weakest sentiments with the strong voice of God; and men are forbidden to clarify their crude fancies by right reason (as in the doctrine of absorption in God), or to believe God's own testimony to his real nature (as with reference to his personality).

      Thus authority, when pressed beyond its mark and becoming traditionalism, intellect when puffed up into rationalism, and the heart when swamped in mysticism, alike illustrate the danger of one- sided construction. Authority, intellect, and the heart are the three sides of the triangle of truth. How they interact is observable in any concrete instance of their operation. Authority, in the Scriptures, furnishes the matter which is received in the intellect and operates on the heart. The revelations of the Scriptures do not terminate upon the intellect. They were not given merely to enlighten the mind. They were given through the intellect to beautify the life. They terminate on the heart. Again, they do not, in affecting the heart, leave the intellect untouched. They cannot be fully understood by the intellect, acting alone. The natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God. They must first convert the soul before they are fully comprehended by the intellect. Only as they are lived are they understood. Hence the phrase, "Believe that you may understand," has its fullest validity. No man can intellectually grasp the full meaning of the revelations of authority, save as the result of an experience of their power in life. Hence, that the truths concerning divine things may be so comprehended that they may unite with a true system of divine truth, they must be: first, revealed in an authoritative word; second, experienced in a holy heart; and third, formulated by a sanctified intellect. Only as these three unite, then, can we have a true theology. And equally, that these same truths may be so received that they beget in us a living religion, they must be: first, revealed in an authoritative word; second, apprehended by a sound intellect; and third, experienced in an instructed heart. Only as the three unite, then, can we have a vital religion.

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