1883: Faith the Measure of Success



Brethren Of The Graduating Class :— Your days of pupilage are now over, and you are soon to be teachers of the churches. You have been good learners here, and this past docility is a guarantee of future power. Before any man can preach the gospel, he must receive it as a little child. We trust that you thus receive God's truth. You do not create the truth,— God gives it to you. Let me now, in these closing words of counsel, remind you that the measure of your faith, in accepting the truth and proclaiming it, will be the measure of your success as ministers of Christ.

A different doctrine from this is broached of late — the doctrine that reason, and not Scripture, is the final standard of appeal. In recent discussions with regard to Eschatology, it has been maintained that plain Biblical statements must be denied their full weight in determining our faith, because we cannot bring them into harmony with our conceptions of human freedom. Not only is everlasting punishment relegated to the category of questionable doctrines, but, upon the same ground that they are inconsistent with certain assumed metaphysical or moral principles, the doctrine of a common sin of the race in Adam and the doctrine of a veritable bearing of the penalty of sin in Christ, are declared to be absurd and outworn errors. Instead of asking what Scripture says, and taking that as binding upon our faith and our con

science, reason is first to determine what is worthy of God, and to take that only for Scripture.

I know well, from our intercourse in private as well as in the lecture-room, that this pernicious view is held by no one of you. But there are forms of words frequently used which seem to imply it, although those who use them would abhor this conclusion. Is reason the criterion of religious truth? In a certain sense, yes; in the sense of these critics, no. We can know nothing except by our reason,— for the reason is the mind's whole power of knowing. But this is a very different thing from saying that we can know nothing except by our reasoning faculty, for the reasoning or logical faculty is but a small part of the reason. My whole intuitional nature, with all my powers of sense-perception and of belief in testimony, lies outside the domain of mere reasoning or logic. While reason, in the larger sense, may be the criterion of truth, mere reasoning never can be. I am obliged to accept a thousand facts, in nature and in my own soul, which I can never explain. I take them for true, because reason tells me they are true, not because reasoning tells me so.

Now this testimony of my own nature is trustworthy, because it is the testimony of God, who made my nature. God is truth, and truth is God. Hence the only ultimate criterion of truth is God and God's revelations. My nature is a criterion of truth, only as it is in the image of God. When my nature becomes perverted, it misrepresents God,— as the colored glass misrepresents the landscape, or as the chromatic aberration of the telescope misrepresents the stars. Then Christ, the true image of God, the true human nature, becomes the real criterion of truth to me, and when he who is the Eternal Word speaks his words to me, I am bound to listen, believe, and obey.

Or, put it in another form. God alone is truth, and only God can make known himself, or the truth, to any human creature. How am I to judge of what God, or truth, is? Only by what God has told me. How has God told me? First, by his revelation in nature, including my own constitution; secondly, by his revelation in Scripture. Can I perfectly trust the first? Yes, so far as God has made himself known in it,— provided my constitution is not impaired or blinded by sin. But here are two fatal difficulties : There are many things I need to know, which God has not made known in nature, and many of those which he has made known I cannot rightly discern, on account of the diseased condition of my spiritual vision. Both on account of natural weakness and of moral perversity, my reason is fallible. I am like a man partially blind. Some things I must take upon testimony. So my ultimate criterion of truth must be, not my own reason, but the Scriptures; not what God tells me in my own nature, for that voice is greatly weakened and obscured, but what God tells me clearly and externally in his written word.

I should be the last to deny — rather I should be the first to maintain — that in all this process reason is active. It is reason that must feel her own weakness and need of superior help; it is reason that must examine the credentials of the revelation that professes to supply this need; it is reason that must accept this revelation and reduce its facts to order and system ; in this sense, reason is a preliminary criterion of truth. But reason is not the ultimate criterion of truth, because her last utterance and her highest wisdom are to confess her insufficiency, to resign her place of authority, and to make way for a mightier and clearer revelation of God — the revelation of God in the Bible. Henceforth it is the part of reason, not to criticize, but to submit.

To go further than this, and to assert for reason the right to accept or to reject whatever of Scripture may suit her preconceptions or her fancies — this is to abuse reason. Of all methods of human thought, rationalism is the most irrational. To make reason the ultimate criterion of truth, is to assert that the finite mind can comprehend and challenge the infinite; that reason is the superior and truth the inferior; that the corrupted revelation of God in my nature is more trustworthy than that perfect law of the Lord which converts the soul; that, because man was once made in the image of God, we can now construct God in the image of corruptible man. Thank God, God's power of giving is infinitely greater than man's power of receiving, and my power to take in is not the limit or the criterion of truth. Reason is not a latent omniscience, is not a power of discovering or of judging all truth, but in its highest activities is rather a power of taking what is freely given to it by Him who, with his revelation, provides also the Spirit of truth to enlighten our minds and enlarge our faculties to take it in.

Faith, then, whether in God or in God's word, is the highest act of reason; and this reason, although it is a preliminary criterion of truth, is not the ultimate criterion. God's word is the only final standard of appeal. To the law and to the testimony,— if reason speaks not according to their voice, it is because there is no light in her. With all my heart I congratulate you, my brethren, that you have this sure and safe rule by which to test your erring fancies, and to measure the new utterances that claim your credence and support. We live in a day when the old truths are questioned, when the world's faith is unsettled, when multitudes bow to nothing as ultimate authority. Satan's suggested doubt as to the inspiration of the word: "Tea, hath God said?" is followed, as in Eden, by the open denial, "Ye shall not surely die." The rejection of eternal punishment and the rejection of the Bible go together, and both errors proceed from the apotheosis of human reason and its elevation above God's word. The man who enters the ministry, professing to be a teacher of Christian truth and a steward of the mysteries of God, while yet he attributes greater weight to the conclusions of his own reason than he gives to the plain declarations of Scripture, or who interprets Scriptural utterances in some non-natural sense instead of bowing to them as the end of all controversy, enters the ministry with a lie in his right hand, and can hope to be only a propagator of dishonesty and a means of ruin to the souls whom he misleads. But the man who accepts the whole word of God as inspired, and fairly interpreting it declares the whole counsel of God to men, will not only save himself and those who hear him, but will find at last that he builded better than he knew, that his utterances were infinitely more true than he thought, that death, judgment and eternity witness to their divine and everlasting validity.

All other human callings have to do mainly with local and temporal interests, and the truth with which they deal is of a partial and inferior sort. It is the glory of your calling, my brethren, that you are to preach that word of God which liveth and abideth forever, and by which you and your hearers alike are to be judged at the last day. It is a sublime vocation. I pray you,

value your inestimable privilege. And may Christ, who is himself the truth, give you grace to preach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so long as he gives you breath, and, when death comes, may you be able to say, with Paul, that you have kept the faith and that you have won the crown.