MATERIAL OF THEOLOGY.
I. Sources Op Theology.—God himself, in the last analysis, must be
the only source of knowledge with regard to his own being and relations.
Theology is therefore a summary and explanation of the content of God's
self-revelations. These are, first, the revelation of God in nature; secondly
and supremely, the revelation of God in the Scriptures.
Ambrose: "To whom shall I give greater credit concerning God than to God himself?" Von Baader: "To know God without God is impossible; there is no knowledge without him who is the prime source of knowledge."
1. Scripture and Nature. By nature we here mean not only physical facts, or facts with regard to the substances, properties, forces, and laws of the material world, but also spiritual facts, or facts with regard to the intellectual and moral constitution of man, and the orderly arrangement of human society and history.
We here use the word'nature'in the ordinary sense, as including man. There is another and more proper sense of the word 'nature,' whicli makes it simply a complex of forces and beings under the law of cause and effect. To nature in this sense man belongs only as respects his body, while as immaterial and personal he is a supernatural being. Free will is not under the law of physical and mechanical causation. As Bushnell has said: "Nature and the supernatural together constitute the one system of God." Drummond, Natural Law in the Spiritual World, 232—"Things are natural or supernatural according to where we stand. Man is supernatural to the mineral; God is supernatural to the man." We shall in subsequent chapters use the term 'nature' in the narrow sense. The universal use of the phrase " Natural Theology," however, compels us in this chapter to employ the word 'nature' in its broader sense as Including man, although we do this under protest, and with this explanation of the more proper meaning of the term. See Hopkins, in Princeton Rev., Sept., 1882:183 *v.
(a) Natural theology.—The Scriptures assert that God has revealed himself in nature. There is not only an outward witness to his existence and character in the constitution and government of the universe (Ps. 19; Acts 14 : 17; Rom. 1 : 20), but an inward witness to his existence and character in the heart of every man (Rom. 1 : 17, 18, 19, 20, 32; 2 : 15). The systematic exhibition of these facts, whether derived from observation, history, or science, constitutes natural theology.
Outward witness: Ps. 19 :1-6—"The heavens declare the glory of God"; Acts 14 :17—"he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave You from heaven rains and fruitful seasons "; Rom. 1 : 20—"for the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity." Inward witness: Rom. 1:19—To yvt»orbv Tov i>eot> =" that which is known of God is manifest among them." Compare the airoicaAvu-T«T<xc of the gospel, In verse 17, with the iiro«aAuirT(Tcxi of wrath, In v. 18—two revelations, one of 6oy>j, the other of X*pn: see Shedd, Homiletics, 11. Rom. 1: 32—" knowing the ordinance of God "; 12 : 5—" they show the work of the law written in their hearts." Therefore even the heathen are " without excuse" (Rom. 1: 20). There are two books: Nature and Scripture—one written, the other unwritten: and there is need of studying both. On the passages In Romans, sec the Commentary of Hodge.
(6) Natural theology supplemented.—The Scriptures declare, however, with equal plainness, that the revelation of God in nature does not supply all the knowledge which a sinner needs (Acts 17: 23; Eph. 3 : 9). This revelation is therefore supplemented by another, in which divine attributes and merciful provisons only dimly shadowed forth in nature are made known to men. This latter revelation consists of a series of supernatural events and communications, the record of which is preserved in the Scriptures. There is, indeed, an internal work of the divine Spirit, by which the outer word is made an inner word, and its truth and power are manifested to the heart. This teaching of the Spirit, however, is not a giving of new truth, but an illumination of the mind to perceive the truth already revealed. Christian experience is but a testing and proving of the truth objectively contained in Scripture. While theology, therefore, depends upon the teaching of the Spirit to interpret, and upon Christian experience to illustrate, the Scriptures, it looks to the Scriptures themselves as its chief source of material and its final standard of appeal. We use the word revelation, therefore, henceforth, to designate the objective truth made known in Scripture.
acta 17:23—Paul shows that, though the Athenians, in the erection of an altar to an unknown God. "acknowledged a divine existence beyond any which the ordinary rites of their worship recognized, that Being was still unknown to them; they had no Just conception of his nature and perfections" (Haekett, in loco). Bph. 3 : 9 -"tie mjstery which from ill ages hath been hid in God —this mystery is in the gospel made known for man's salvation. '* Experience," from cxitcrior, to test, try. Christian consciousness is not norma noraumt, but norma normata. Mght, like life, comes to us through the mediation of others. Yet the first comes from God as really as the last, of which without hesitation wo say: "God made me," though we have human parents. See Calvin, Institutes, book I: ch. 7—" As nature has an immediate manifestation of God In conscience, a mediate in his works, so revelation has an immediate manifestation of God in the Spirit, a mediate in the Scriptures." See Twesten, Dogmatlk, 1 :i!4t-34«; Hodge, Syst. Theol., 1 : 15.
(c) The theology of Scripture not unnatural.—Though we speak of the systematized truths of nature as constituting natural theology, we are not to infer that Scriptural theology is unnatural. Since the Scriptures have the same author as nature, the same principles are illustrated in one as in the other. All the doctrines of the Bible have their reason in that same nature of God which constitutes the basis of all material things. Christianity is a supplementary dispensation, not as contradicting, or correcting errors in, natural theology, but as more perfectly revealing the truth. Christianity, indeed, is the ground-plan upon which the whole creation is built—the original and eternal truth of which natural theology is but a partial expression. Hence the theology of nature and the theology of Scripture are mutually dependent. Natural theology not only prepares the way for, but it receives stimulus and aid from, Scriptural theology. Natural theology may now be a source of truth, which, before the Scriptures came, it could not furnish.
See Peabody. Christianity the Religion of Nature, leet. 2: Revelation is the unveiling, uncovering of what previously existed, and excludes the Idea of newness, invention, creation. "The revealed religion of earth is the natural religion of heaven." Compare R«. 13: 8—" The Lamb thai hath been slain from the foundation of the world" - the coming of Christ was no make-shift; in a true sense the cross existed In eternity; the atonement Is a revelation of the heart of God. Note Plato's illustration of the cave which can be easily threaded by one who hits previously entered it with a torch. Nature is the dim light from the cave's mouth; the torch is Scripture. Kant to Jacob!, in Jacobi's Werke, 8 : 523—" If the gospel had not previously taught the universal moral laws, reason would not yet have obtained so perfect an insight into them." Dorner, Hist. prot. Theol., 252, 253: Faith at the Reformation first gave scientific certainty; it had God sure—hence it proceeded to banish scepticism in philosophy and science. 8ee also Dove, Logio of the Christian Faith, 333; Bowen, Metapb. and Ethics, 442-463; Bib. Sac, 1874: 436.
2. Scripture and Rationalism. Although the Scriptures make known much that is beyond the power of man's unaided reason to discover or fully to comprehend, they contain nothing which contradicts a reason conditioned in its activity by a holy affection and enlightened by the Spirit of God. To reason in the large sense, as including the mind's power of cognizing God and moral relations—not in the narrow sense of mere reasoning, or the exercise of the purely logical faculty—the Scriptures continually appeal.
A. The proper office of reason, in this large sense, is: (a) To furnish us with those primary ideas of space, time, cause, right, and God, which are the conditions of all subsequent knowledge, (b) To judge with regard to man's need of a special and supernatural revelation, (c) To examine the credentials of communications professing to be such a revelation, (d) To receive and reduce to system the facts of revelation, when such an one has been properly attested, (e) To deduce from these facts their natural and logical conclusions. Thus reason itself prepares the way for a revelation above reason, and warrants an implicit trust in such revelation when once given.
Dove, Logic of the Christian Faith, 318—" Reason terminates in the proposition: Look for revelation." Leibnitz: "Revelation is the viceroy who first presents his credentials to the provincial assembly, and then presides." Reason can recognize truth after it is made known (e. g. demonstrations in geometry) which it never could discover of itself. "Above reason" is not "against reason." ^ee Calderwood's illustration of the party lost in the woods, in Philosophy of the Infinite, 126. Path blazed. Lutbardt, Fund. Truths, lect. viii: Reason eouid never have Invented a self-humiliating God, cradled in a manger and dying on a cross. Leasing: "What is the meaning of a revelation that reveals nothing?"
B. Rationalism, on the other hand, holds reason to be the ultimate source of all religious truth, while Scripture is authoritative only so far as its revelations agree with previous conclusions of reason, or can be rationally demonstrated. Every form of rationalism, therefore, commits at least one of the following errors: (<i) That of confounding reason with rnere reasoning, or the exercise of the logical intelligence, (b) That of ignoring the necessity of a holy affection as the condition of all right reason in religious things, and the absence of this holy affection in man's natural state, (c) That of regarding the unaided reason, even in its normal and unbiased state, as capable of discovering, comprehending, and demonstrating all religious truth.
See Fetich in Theology, by Miller, for criticism of Dr. Hodge's description of rationalism as an "overuse of reason." It is rather the use of an abnormal, perverted, improperly conditioned reason. See Hodge, Syst. Theol., 1: 34, 39,55. "Sanctified intellect "= intellect accompanied by right affections toward God, and trained to work under their influence. Bishop Butler: "Let reason be kept to, but let not such poor creatures as we are go on objecting to an infinite scheme that we do not see the necessity or usefulness of all its parts, and call that reasoning." The most unreasonable people in the world are those who depend solely upon reason, in the narrow sense. Compare yvi,<rit (1 Tim. 6 : 20) with iwiyywnt (2 Prt. 1: 2). See Twesten, Dogmatik, 1: 467-500; Julius MUller, Proof-texts, 4, 5; Manse), Limits of Rellg. Thought, 96.
3. Scripture and Mysticism.
A. True mysticism.—We have seen that there is an illumination of the minds of all believers by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, however, makes no new revelation of truth, but uses for his instrument the truth already revealed. The illuminating work of the Spirit is, therefore, an opening of men's minds to understand the Scriptures. As one thus initiated into the mysteries of Christianity, every true believer may be called a mystic. True mysticism is that higher knowledge and fellowship which the Holy Spirit gives through the use of the Scriptures as a means.
"Mystic "=one Initiated, from "to close the eyes "—probably in order that the soul may have inward vision of truth. But divine truth is a "mystery," not only as something into which one must be initiated, but as i>»e»8aAAoi;o-a r^t yvu<r«ot (Eph. 3:19)— surpassing full knowledge even to the believer. See Meyer on Ron. 11:25. The Germans have ilu*tik with a favorable sense, Mygtidtmus with an unfavorable sense,—corresponding respectively to our true and false mysticism. True mysticism, in John 16:13— "Spirit , . guide . . into all truth'*; Eph. 3: 9—"fellowship of the mystery"; 1 Cor. 2 ■ 10—"God hath revealed them to us by his Spirit" Nitzsch, Syst. of Christ. Doct., 35—" Whenever true religion revives, there is an outcry against mysticism, (. c, higher knowledge, fellowship, activity, through the Spirit of God In the heart." Cf. the charge against Paul, that he was mad, m lets 28 24, 25; 2 Cor. 5:13—"beside ourselves.''
B. False mysticism.—Mysticism, however, as the term is commonly used, errs in holding to the attainment of religious knowledge by direct communication from God, and by passive absorption of the human activities into the divine. It either partially or wholly loses sight of (a) the outward organ of revelation, the Scriptures; (6) the activity of the human powers in the reception of all religious knowledge; (c) the personality of man, and, by consequence, the personality of God.
In opposition to false mysticism, we are,to remember that the Holy Spirit works through the word (Kph. 6 17—"sword of the Spirit"), and that by that word we are to test all new communications which would contradict or supersede it (1 Jo. 4:1—" try the spirits''; Eph. 5 10— "prove what is acceptable to the Lord "), e.g. Spiritualism, Joseph Smith, Swedenborg. Note the mystical tendency in Francis de Sales, Thomas a Kempis, Madame Guyon, Upbam. Using Scripture ad aperturam Ubri. False abnegation of reason and will, and "swallowing up of man in God "—implying that God and man are one substance, and that man is an Incarnation of God. Cf. Pa. 16'7—"the Lord, who hath given me counsel: yea, my rems instruct at" = God teaches his people through the exercise of their own faculties. Dorner, Gesch. prot. Theol., 48-59,243; Herzog, Encyclopaedic, art.: Mystik, by Langs; Vaughn, Hours with the Mystics, 1; 199; Morell, History of Philosophy, 58, 191-215, 556-625,726; Hodge, Syst. Theol.. 1: 61-69,97,104: Fleming, Vocab. of Philosophy, in voce; Tholuck, Introd. to BlUthensammlung aus der morgenlandischen Mystik.
4. Scripture and Romanism. "While the history of doctrine, as showing the progressive apprehension and unfolding by the church of the truth implicitly contained in the Scriptures, is a subordinate source of theology, Protestantism recognizes the Bible as the only primary and absolute author
Romanism, on the other hand, commits the twofold error (a) Of making "the church, and not the Scriptures, the immediate and authoritative source of religious'knowledge, and (b) Of making the relation of the individual to Christ depend upon his relation to the church, instead of making his relation to the church depend upon, follow, and express his relation to Christ.
In Roman Catholicism there is a mystical element. The Scriptures are not the sole standard. God gives to tho world from time to time, through popes and councils, new communications of truth. See Hodge, Syst. Theol., 1: 61-69. In reply to the Romanist argument that the church was before the Bible, and that the same body that crave the truth at first can make additions to that truth, we Bay that the unwritten truth was before the church and made the church possible. The word of God existed before it was written down, and by that word the first disciples as well as the latest were begotten
(1 Pet. i: 23—" born again by tie word of God"). See Robinson, in Mad. Av. Lectures, 387.
The Roman Church would keep men In perpetual childhood—coming to her for truth instead of going directly to the Bible. See Dorner, Gesch. prot. Theol., 227; Martensen, Christian Dogmatics, 30—" Romanism Is so busy in building up a system of guarantees for Christianity, that she forgets the truth of Christ which she would guarantee." Schleiermacher, Glaubenslehre, 1: 24. George Herbert; "What wretchedness can give him any room, Whose house is foul, while he adores his broom!" Drummond, Nat. Law In Spir. World, 327: Romanist semi-parasitic doctrine of safety without spirituality.
LT. Limitations Of Theology.—Although theology derives its material from God's twofold revelation, it does not profess to give an exhaustive knowledge of God and of the relations between God and the universe. After showing what material we have, we must show what material we have not. We have indicated the sources of theology; we now examine its limitations. Theology has its limitations
(a) In the finiteness of the human understanding. This gives rise to a class of necessary mysteries, or mysteries connected with the infinity and incomprehensibleness of the divine nature (Job 11: 7; Bom. 11: 33).
Job 11 - 7—" Canst thou bj searching find oat God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection ? *' Rom. 11:33 —"bow unsearchable are his judgments '" Every doctrine, therefore, has Its Inexplicable side. A system that explained all would be untrue. Here Is the proper meaning of Tertullian'ssaying: "Credo quiaimposslbile est." Drummond, Natural Law in the Spiritual World: "A science without mystery Is unknown; a religion without mystery is absurd." See Calderwood, Philos. of Infinite, 491; Sir Wm. Hamilton, Discussions, 22.
(6) In the imperfect state of science, both natural and metaphysical. This gives rise to a class of accidental mysteries, or mysteries which consist in the apparently irreconcilable nature of truths, which, taken separately, are perfectly comprehensible.
Instance divine sovereignty and human freedom. Astronomy has its centripetal and centrifugal forces. The child cannot hold two oranges at once in the same hand. F. W. Robertson's conclusion. Theology helped by Bp. Butler's doctrine of conscience, and by Darwin's doctrine of heredity.
(c) In the inadequacy of language. Since language is the medium through which truth is expressed and formulated, the invention of a proper terminology in theology, as well as in every other science, is a condition and criterion of its progress. The Scriptures recognize a peculiar difficulty inputting spiritual truths into earthly language (1 Cor. 2: 13; 2 Cor. 3: 6; 12: 4).
'Cor. 2 13—"not words which man's wisdom teachath"; 2 Cor 3. 6— "the letter iilleth"\ 12? 4—"unspeakable words.'' God submits to conditions of revelation. Language has to be created. Words "stagger under their weight of meaning"—c. g. "day" in Genesis 1, and iyoirii in N. T. "As fast as we tunnel Into the sandbank of thought, the stones of language must be built into walls and arches, to allow further progress into the boundless mine."
(d) In the incompletei^ss of our knowledge of the Scriptures. Since it is not the mere letter of the Scriptures that constitutes the truth, the progress of theology is dependent upon hermeneutdcs, or the interpretation of the word of God.
Progress of commenting—from bomlletioal to grammatical, historical, dogmaticillustrated in Scott, Ellicott, Stanley, Lightfoot. John Robinson: "I am verily persuaded that the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth from his holy word."
(e) In the silence of written revelation. For our discipline and probation, much is probably bidden from us, which we might even with our present powers comprehend.
The origin of evil; the method of the atonement; the state after death. Paul's silence upon speculative questions which he must have pondered with absorbing- Interest. John Foster's "gathering questions for eternity." On Luther, see Hagenbach, Hist. Doctrine, 2: 338.
(/) In the lack of spiritual discernment caused by sin. Since holy
affection is a condition of religious knowledge, all moral imperfection in
the individual Christian and in the church serves as a hindrance to the
working out of a complete theology.
The spiritual ages make most progress in theology—witness the half-century succeeding the Reformation, and the half-century succeeding the great revival In New England in the time of Jonathan Edwards.
We do not, therefore, expect to construct a perfect system of theology. All science but reflects the present attainment of the human mind. No science is complete or finished. However it may be with the sciences of nature and man, the science of God will never amount to an exhaustive knowledge. We must not expect to demonstrate all Scripture doctrines upon rational grounds, or even in every case to see the principle of connection between them. Where we cannot do this, we must, as in every other science, set the revealed facts in their places and wait for further light, instead of ignoring or rejecting any of them because we cannot understand them or their relation to other parts of our system.
Theology is progressive, in the sense that our subjective understanding of the facts with regard to God, and our consequent expositions of these facts, may and do become more perfect. But theology is not progressive, if by this be meant that its objective facts change, either in their number or their nature. With Martineau we may say: "Religion has been reproached with not being progressive; it makes amends by being imperishable." Though our knowledge may be imperfect, it will have great value still. Our success in constructing a theology will depend upon the proportion which clearly expressed facts of Scripture bear to mere inferences, and upon the degree in which they all cohere about Christ, the central person and theme.