Taken from, Theology Proper
Written by Charles Hodge
Is it given in the very constitution of our nature?
Is it one of those truths which reveal themselves to every human mind, and to which the mind is forced to assent? In other words, has it the characteristics of universality and necessity? It should be remarked that when universality is made a criterion of intuitive truths, it is intended to apply to those truths only which have their foundation or evidence in the constitution of our nature. As to the external world, if ignorance be universal, error may be universal. All men, for example, for ages believed that the sun moves round the earth; but the universality of that belief was no evidence of its truth.
When it is asked, whether the existence of God is an intuitive truth, the question is equivalent to asking is whether the belief in his existence is universal and necessary? If it be true that all men do believe there is a God, and that no man can possibly disbelieve his existence, then his existence is an intuitive truth. It is one of those given in the constitution of our nature; or which, our nature being what it is, no man can fail to know and to acknowledge.
Such has been the common opinion in all ages. Cicero says: “Esse Deos, quoniam insitas eorum, vel potius innatas cognitiones habemus.” Tertullian says of the heathen of his day, that the common people had a more correct idea of God than the philosophers. Calvin says “Hoc quidem recte judicantibus semper constabit, insculptum mentibus humanis esse divinitatis sensua, qui deleri nunquam potest.” The whole tendency in our day is, to make the existence of God so entirely a matter of intuition as to lead to the disparagement of all argument in proof of it. This extreme, however, does not justify the denial of a truth so important as that God has not left any human being without a knowledge of his existence and authority.
The word God, however, is used in a very wide sense. In the Christian sense of the word, “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” This sublime idea of God no human mind ever attained either intuitively or discursively, except under the light of a supernatural revelation. On the other hand, some philosophers dignify motion, force, or the vague idea of the infinite, with the name of God. In neither of these senses of the word is the knowledge of God said to be innate, or a matter of intuition. It is in the general sense of a Being on whom we are dependent, and to whom we are responsible, that the idea is asserted to exist universally, and of necessity, in every human mind. It is true that if this idea is analyzed, it will be found to embrace the conviction that God is a person, and that He possesses moral attributes, and acts as a moral governor. Nothing is asserted as to how far this analysis is made by uneducated and uncivilized men. All that is maintained is that this sense of dependence and accountability to a being higher than themselves exists in the minds of all men.
The Knowledge of God is Universal.
In proof of this doctrine, reference may be made —
- To the testimony of Scripture. The Bible asserts that the knowledge of God is thus universal. This it does both directly and by necessary implication. The Apostle directly asserts in regard to the heathen as such without limitation, that they have the knowledge of God, and such knowledge as to render their impiety and immorality inexcusable. “Because that when they knew God,” he says, “they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful.” (Rom 1:19-2 1.) He says of the most depraved of men, that they know the righteous judgment of God, that those who commit sin are worthy of death. (Rom. 1:32.) The Scripture everywhere addresses men as sinners; it calls upon them to repent; it threatens them with punishment in case of disobedience: or promises pardon to those who turn from their sins. All this is done without any preliminary demonstration of the being of God. It assumes that men know that there is a God, and that they are subject to his moral government. It is true that the Bible at times speaks of the heathen as not knowing God, and says that they are without God. But this, as explained by the context in which such declarations appear, and by the general teaching of the Scriptures, only means that the heathen are without correct, or saving knowledge of God; that they are without his favor, do not belong to the number of his people, and of course are not partakers of the blessedness of those whose God is the Lord. In teaching the universal sinfulness and condemnation of men: their inexcusableness for idolatry and immorality, and in asserting that even the most degraded are conscious of guilt and just exposure to the divine judgment, the Bible takes for granted that the knowledge of God is universal, that it is written on the heart of every man.
This is still more apparent from what the Bible teaches of the law as written on the heart. The Apostle tells us that those who have a written revelation, shall be judged by that revelation; that those who have no externally revealed law, shall be judged by the law written on the heart. That the heathen have such a law, he proves first, from the fact that “they do by nature the things contained in the law,” i. e., they do under the control of their nature the things which the law prescribes; and secondly, from the operations of conscience. When it condemns, it pronounces something done, to be contrary to the moral law; and when it approves, it pronounces something to be conformed to that law. (Rom. 2:12-16.) The recognition of God, therefore, that is, of a being to whom we are responsible, is involved in the very idea of accountability. Hence every man carries in the very constitution of his being as a moral agent, the evidence of the existence of God. And as this sense of sin and responsibility is absolutely universal, so must also, according to the Bible, be the knowledge of God.
- The second argument in favor of the universality of this knowledge, is the historical one. History shows that the religious element of our nature is just as universal as the rational or social one. Wherever men exist, in all ages and in all parts of the world, they have some form of religion. The idea of God is impressed on every human language. And as language is the product and revelation of human consciousness, if all languages have some name for God, it proves that the idea of God, in some form, belongs to every human being.