Confusing your Cause with God’s Cause

Taken and adapted from, “Faith and Life” Section titled, “The Cause of God”
From the “Faith and Life  Conferences’  held in the Oratory of Princeton Seminary
Written by B.B. Warfield, Published 1916

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1 Kings 19:9: “What doest thou here, Elijah?”

The history of Elijah supplies us with one of the most striking, and, we may add, one of the most instructive, sections of the Old Testament. With him begins the wonderful history of Prophetism. Through him we obtain a glimpse which we would not willingly lose of God’s dealings with His people: His faithfulness to them when they were unfaithful to Him; His unremitting efforts to withdraw them from sin and keep them in that intimate and obedient relation to Him in which alone was safety to be found.

At first sight the narrative may appear objective to a fault. We are told nothing of who Elijah was, how he had been trained, whence he came as he passes across the page of history. In the midst of Ahab’s wicked rule suddenly he stands before the idolatrous King and pronounces the curse of God, which for his sake should fall on the land which he had polluted with his apostasy. And as suddenly as he appears, so suddenly he withdraws again. Hidden at Cherith or at Zarephath for a period measured by years, he appears on the scene of public history once again as unexpectedly and as much a messenger from on high as at first. Everywhere he goes the powers of heaven accompany him, and his appearances and disappearances are almost as sudden as the bolts of heaven themselves.

But, however rapid the action, and however much, at first view, the narrative may seem to wear the appearance of objectivity; however much it may seem to be concerned only with the history of Israel and God’s endeavour through the words and works of His prophet to awaken His people to righteousness and rescue them from the slough of their idolatry; the story of Elijah yet manages to be primarily and above all else the story of Elijah. Somehow, as in music sometimes a secondary strain is carried on, shot through the dominant theme of the composition, in harmony with it and yet separable from it, and needing but a little emphasizing to make it the chief burden of the whole; so within the bosom of this narrative of how God sent His prophet to Israel with His thunder-message calling it back to the service of Him, of how He dealt thus faithfully with His people and sought to save them from themselves and for Him, there lies, not hidden, but embraced and preserved for us, the touching account of how God dealt with and trained the prophet himself. As Jesus, when He sat in the judgment hall of Annas offering Himself a victim for the saving of the world, yet had time to turn a significant glance upon Peter as he stood denying Him before the courtyard fire, and thus saved His poor repentant follower in the saving of the world; so God in His use of Elijah for the teaching of Israel also found time to train the heart of the prophet himself.

These chapters are crowded with teaching for us. We must select, from the wealth they bring to us, some one thing on which our minds may especially dwell to-day. Let it be this instructive element in them: God’s way of training His prophet. Let us observe in the case of Elijah how God dealt with him in His grace so as to bring him to a better knowledge of himself, of God and of the nature of the work to which he was called. When once we approach the narrative with this purpose in view, it becomes difficult to see anything else in it. We forget Israel in Elijah. Israel seems only the instrument upon which and by means of which Elijah’s heart and soul were taught. We have in a word emphasized the subordinate strain until it becomes dominant; and the very possibility of this is a clear proof that the subordinate strain was planted in the music by the Great Composer, and that it was meant that our ears should hear it.

We are told, we say, nothing of the early life, the early training, or directly, of the character of Elijah. He appears suddenly before us as the messenger of God’s wrath. Like his great antitype—who was greater, our Lord being witness, than even he—he is a voice from the wilderness crying the one word, Repent! He is the human embodiment of the wrath of God. Wherever he goes destruction accompanies him. Drought, fire from heaven, floods of rain, death for the enemies of God, follow hard on his footsteps. He is embodied law. And as such he is a swift witness against his people. Obedience, repentance, strict account, these form the essence of his message.

God chooses appropriate instruments for His work. And we have reason to believe that the sternness of Elijah’s mission was matched by the sternness of his aspect and the sternness of his character. We are therefore justified in having said that he was, not merely the messenger of God’s law and wrath, but their embodiment. He was by natural disposition, as framed under providential circumstances, and by virtue of the side of God which he had as yet apprehended, nothing loath but rather naturally inclined to act as the witness of God against his people, well-fitted to call down the vengeance of God upon them and to delight in the overthrow of His enemies. He was in danger of thinking of God only as a lawgiver and the just avenger of His wounded honour. Hence arose the necessity of the training of the prophet. Every incident of his career, as it is recorded for us, entered into this training.

As we cast our eye over it, we observe that what Elijah needed to be taught was:

(1) dependence on God;
(2) fellowship with man in his sufferings;
(3) confidence in God’s plans; and
(4) a sense of their essential and broad mercifulness.

These lessons are brought home to him by means of two stupendous miracles over nature, wrought for the purpose of teaching the people that Jehovah and He alone is God,—so closely intertwined were the two lines of Divine work, the training of the people and the training of Elijah. No sooner had the prophet declared to the apostate King the word of God sent to him, “As the Lord, the God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years but according to my word,” than a special personal message came from the Lord to him saying, “Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And it shall be that thou shalt drink of the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there.” Thus it was brought about that both Israel and Elijah were simultaneously learning the lesson of the littleness of man before God. But diversely. Israel was learning that it could not with impunity break God’s law; Elijah that even God’s servants depend on Him for their every want. The self-willed nation was learning to submit to its Lord; the perhaps too self-confident prophet was learning the weakness of flesh and man’s utter dependence on his Maker.

In the silence of the wilderness, hidden in one of those torrent-clefts which fall into the Jordan valley, Elijah was dependent on God’s hand for his daily food; on the water which flowed at first in quantities full enough for his needs over the rocks of the brook’s bed, but gradually grew less and less until it trickled in drops scarcely numerous enough to moisten his parched lips; on food brought to him by the unclean ravens. Thus gradually he learned to sympathize with his suffering fellows and to rest on God. It was meet that he who seemed to have the dominion of the heavens in his hands, who prayed that it should not rain and it rained not, should share in the want which resulted; and should learn to sympathize with poor suffering, even if sinful, humanity, like that greater one who was yet to come and learn also how to sympathize with us through His participation in our griefs. How fully he learned his lesson the subsequent narrative tells us in the beautiful story of his dealings with the widow of Zarephath with her cruse and barrel, and her sick and dying child—one of the most Christlike narratives among all the Old Testament miracles. Thus then as Israel was prepared for repentance, the prophet was prepared inwardly to be a fit messenger to his suffering brethren, bringing them relief from their sore affliction. We repeat . it, God sends His messages by fit instruments.

And so, in due time, Elijah comes to bring the famished land relief. We all remember the story of the tremendous scene wherein Elijah—the “prodigious” Tishbite, as an old author calls him—challenges the prophets of Baal to meet him in a contest of worship on Carmel, and defeats them by simply calling on his God; and then draws down rain on the parched ground by the almighty virtue of his prayer. No scene of higher dramatic power is to be found in all the world’s literature. As we read, we see the prophet ruling on the mount; we see him bent in prayer on the deserted summit; we see him when, the hand of God upon him, he girded up his victorious loins and ran before the chariot of Ahab, the sixteen miles through the driving storm, from Carmel to Jezreel. No scene we may say could have been more nicely fitted to his mind or to his nature. Here the king of men was king indeed and his victory seemed complete. But God’s children must suffer for their triumphs. Were there no thorns in the flesh, messengers of Satan, sent of God to buffet them, there would be no one of men who could serve the Lord in the scenes of His triumph without grave danger to his own soul. And Elijah needed to learn other lessons yet. He needed to learn that God’s victories are not of the external sort and are not to be won by the weapons of men.

How quickly after the triumph comes the moment of dismay. “And Ahab told Jezebel,” says the simple narrative, “all that Elijah had done, and withal, how he had slain the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, ‘So let the gods do to me and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to-morrow about this time.’ And when he saw that, he arose and went for his life and came to Beersheba.” Thus, Elijah has his lesson to learn again after his miracle. We need not wonder at his sudden flight. It is the price that strong, fervent spirits pay for their very strength, that they suffer a correspondingly strong reaction. So it was with the prophet’s antitype, John the Baptist, when in the prison he lost his faith and sent to ask Him whom God had Himself pointed out to him on the banks of Jordan, whether, indeed, He was the Coming One. So it was with Peter also, who could venture on the waves, but only to cry, “Lord save me, I perish”; who could draw his sword and smite the High Priest’s servant, but only at once to deny his Lord at the challenge of a servant maid. So now it was with Elijah. God’s hand had been outstretched at his call. He had shut up the heavens at his bidding and had nourished him at Cherith and given him miraculous sustenance at Zarephath, and the widow’s son back from the grave. • He had sent down His fire from heaven and delivered the priests of Baal into his hand and opened the heavens at his prayer. But Elijah could not trust God, now, to deliver him from a woman’s hate; and that, although her very message bore in it the betrayal of her weakness.

Was there not a deeper spring for this distrust still?

With all his training, Elijah did not as yet know his God. His life had fallen on evil days, times of violence that demanded violent remedies for their diseases. And he could not believe in the efficacy of any but violent remedies. Fresh from Carmel and the slaughter of the priests he was impatient of the continuance of evil, and expected the miracles of Carmel to be but the harbinger of the greater miracle of the conversion of the people to God in a day. When Elijah awoke on the morrow and found Israel altogether as it had been yesterday, he was dismayed. Had then the triumph of yesterday been as nothing? Was Jezebel still to lord it over God’s heritage? What then availed it that the fire had fallen from heaven? That the false priests’ blood had flowed like water? That the rain had come at his bidding? Was the hand of God outstretched only to be withdrawn again? Elijah loses heart because God’s ways were not as his ways. He cannot understand God’s secular modes of working; and, conceiving of His ways as sudden and miraculous only, he feels that the Most High has deserted His cause and His servants. He almost feels bitter towards the Lord who had let him begin a work which He leaves him without power to complete. Hence Elijah must go to the wilderness to learn somewhat of the God he serves. After his first miracle of closing the heavens, he learned what man was in his sufferings and in his needs. Now he has opened the heavens and is to learn what God is and what are the modes of His working and the nature of His plans.

There is no mistaking the purpose of God in leading the prophet into the wilderness; nor the import of the teaching He gives him there. The disheartened prophet, despairing of the cause of God because all things had not turned out as he had anticipated, throws himself on the desert sands to die. But there God visits him; and leads him on to Horeb, where the Law had been given, where it had been granted to Moses to see God’s glory, the glory of the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy and truth. Reaching the Mount the stricken prophet seeks a cave and lodges in it. And then the word of the Lord came to him with the searching question, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” We do not need to doubt that there was reproof in the question; but surely it is not reproof but searching inquiry that forms its main contents. The Lord had Himself led Elijah here, for his lesson. And now the Lord probes him with the deepest of questions.

After all, why was Elijah there? The question calls for reflection; and reflection which will bring light with self-condemnation; and with the self-condemnation, also self-instruction. “What doest thou here, Elijah?” The honest soul of the prophet gives back the transparent truth: “I have been very jealous” . . . and so on. Here we see distrust in God and despair of His cause; almost complaint of God, for not guarding His cause better; nay, more, almost complaint of God that He had left His servant in the lurch. The Lord deals very graciously with His servant. There is no need now of reproof; only the simple command to go forth and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And then the Lord passed by; first a great, strong wind rent the mountains and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but it was not in the wind that the Lord was. And after the wind, an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake, fire; but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, a sound of gentle stillness. Elijah does not now need to be told where the Lord is. The terror of the storm, of the earthquake, and of the flame, is as nothing to the awesomeness of the gentle stillness. “And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out and stood in the entering in of the cave.” Did he already begin to suspect that he had mistaken the storm that goes before Jehovah for Jehovah’s self? The terror of the law for the very hand of Him whose essence is love? The terrible preparation for the Gospel for the Gospel itself? But there is still no word of direct instruction. Only the old question still sounds in his ears. “And behold there came a voice to him and said ‘What doest thou here, Elijah?'” To it he returns the same answer as before; but surely in deep humility of spirit. Be that as it may, however, the Lord proceeds to tell him that He has yet work for him to do and sends him back with instructions which imply that there is a long future for the fruition of His plans. And whether at once or more slowly we cannot doubt that the lesson had its effect and Elijah learned not to lose hope in God’s cause because God’s ways in accomplishing it are not our ways.

How full all this is of lessons to us!

Let us at least not fail to learn from it:

(1) That the cause of God does not depend on our single arm to save it. “I, I only, am left,” said Elijah, as if on him alone could God depend to secure His ends. We depend on God, not God on us.
(2) That the cause of God is not dependent for its success on our chosen methods. Elijah could not understand that the ends of God could be gained unless they were gained in the path of miracles of manifest judgment. External methods are not God’s methods.
(3) That the cause of God cannot fail. Elijah feared that God’s hand was not outstretched to save and fancied that he knew the dangers and needs better than God did. God never deserts His cause.
(4) That it is not the Law but the Gospel, not the revelation of wrath but that of love, which saves the world. Wrath may prepare for love; but wrath never did and never will save a soul.

We close then, with a word of warning and one of encouragement.

The word of warning:

We must not identify our cause with God’s cause; our methods with God’s methods; or our hopes with God’s purposes.

The word of encouragement:

God’s cause is never in danger; what He has begun in the soul or in the world, He will complete unto the end.

Toward Understanding Calvinistic Salvation from Supralapsarianism, Infra-lapsarianism, Amyraldianism, and Congruism Perspectives

Taken and adapted from, “The Plan of Salvation”
Written by B.B. Warfield.

photo-by-hrishikesh-karambelkarflickr

AS OVER AGAINST…

…all attempts to conceive the operations of God looking to salvation universalistically, that is as directed to mankind in the mass, Calvinism insists that the saving operations of God are directed in every case immediately to the individuals who are saved. Particularism in the processes of salvation becomes thus the mark of Calvinism. As supernaturalism is the mark of Christianity at large, and evangelicalism the mark of Protestantism, so particularism is the mark of Calvinism. The Calvinist is he who holds with full consciousness that God the Lord, in his saving operations, deals not generally with mankind at large, but particularly with the individuals who are actually saved. Thus, and thus only, he contends, can either the supernaturalism of salvation which is the mark of Christianity at large and which ascribes all salvation to God, or the immediacy of the operations of saving grace which is the mark of evangelicalism and which ascribes salvation to the direct working of God upon the soul, come to its rights and have justice accorded it. Particularism in the saving processes, he contends, is already given in the supernaturalism of salvation and in the immediacy of the operations of the divine grace; and the denial of particularism is constructively the denial of the immediacy of saving grace, that is, of evangelicalism, and of the supernaturalism of salvation, that is, of Christianity itself. It is logically the total rejection of Christianity.

The particularism of the saving operations of God which is thus the mark of Calvinism, it is possible, however, to apply more or less fully (or, shall we say, with more or less discernment?) in our thought of the activities of God relatively to his sinful creatures (or shall we say, broadly, relatively to his creatures?). Thus differing varieties of Calvinism have emerged in the history of thought. As they are distinguishable from one another by the place they give to particularism in the operations of God, that is as much as to say they are distinguished from one another by the place they give to the decree of election in the order of the divine decrees.

Some are so zealous for particularism that they place discrimination at the root of all God’s dealings with his creatures. That he has any creatures at all they suppose to be in the interest of discrimination, and all that he decrees concerning his creatures they suppose he decrees only that he may discriminate between them. They therefore place the decree of “election” by which men are made to differ, in the order of decrees, logically prior to the decree of creation itself, or at any rate prior to all that is decreed concerning man as man; that is to say, since man’s history begins with the fall, prior to the decree of the fall itself. They are therefore called Supralapsarians, that is, those who place the decree of election in the order of thought prior to the decree of the fall.”

Others, recognizing that election has to do specifically with salvation, (that is to say, that it is the logical prius, not of creation or of the providential government of the world, but of the salvation of sinful man), conceive that the principle of particularism, in the sense of discrimination, belongs in the sphere of God’s soteriological, not in that of his cosmical creation. They therefore think of “election” as the logical prius not of creation, or of the fall, but of those operations of God which concern salvation. The place they give it in the order of decrees is therefore at the head of those decrees of God which look to salvation. This implies that it falls into position in the order of thought, consequently upon the decrees of creation and the fall, which refer to all men alike, since all men certainly are created and certainly have fallen; and precedently to the decrees of redemption and its application, since just as certainly all men are not redeemed and brought into the enjoyment of salvation. They are from this circumstance called Sublapsarians or Infralapsarians, that is, those who, in the arrangement of the decrees in logical order, conceive the place of the decree of election to be logically after that of the fall.

There are others, however, who, affected by what they deem the Scriptural teaching concerning the universal reference of the redemption of Christ, and desirous of grounding the universal offer of salvation in an equally universal provision, conceive that they can safely postpone the introduction of the particularistic principle to a point within the saving operations of God themselves, so only they are careful to introduce it at a point sufficiently early to make it determinative of the actual issue of the saving work. They propose therefore to think of the provision of salvation in Christ as universal in its intent; but to represent it as given effect in its application to individuals by the Holy Spirit only particularistically. That is to say, they suppose that some, not all, of the divine operations looking to the salvation of men are universalistic in their reference, whereas salvation is not actually experienced unless not some but all of them are operative. As the particular saving operation to which they ascribe a universalistic reference is the redemption of Christ, their scheme is expressed by saying that it introduces the decree of election, in the order of thought, at a point subsequent to the decree of redemption in Christ. They may therefore be appropriately called Post-redemptionists, that is, those who conceive that the decree of election is logically postponed to the decree of redemption. In their view redemption has equal reference to all men, and it is only in the application of this redemption to men that God discriminates between men, and so acts, in this sense, particularistically.

It is obvious that this is the lowest point in the order of decrees at which the decree of election can be introduced and the particularistic principle be retained at all. If the application of the redemption of Christ by the Holy Spirit be also made universalistic, that is to say, if the introduction of the particularistic principle be postponed to the actual issue of the saving process, then there is obviously no particularism at all in the divine operations looking to salvation. “Election” drops out of the scheme of the divine decrees altogether, unless we prefer to say, as it has been cynically phrased, that God is careful to elect to salvation only those who, he foresees, will in the use of their own free will elect themselves. All Calvinists must therefore be either Supralapsarians or Sub- (or Infra-) lapsarians, or, at least, Post-redemptionists which is also to be Anteapplicationist.

Nevertheless, we do not reach in the Post-redemptionists, conceived purely from the point of view of this element of their thought, the lowest possible, or the lowest actual, variety of Calvinists. Post-redemptionists may differ among themselves, if not in the position in the order of decrees of the decree of election (for still further to depress its position in that order would be to desert the whole principle of particularism and to fall out of the category of Calvinists), yet in their mode of conceiving the nature of the work of the Holy Spirit in applying redemption, under the government of the decree of election; and as to the role of the human spirit in receiving redemption. A party has always existed even among Calvinists which has had so large an interest in the autonomy of the human will, that it has been unwilling to conceive of it as “passive” with respect to that operation of God which we call regeneration, and has earnestly wished to look upon the reception of salvation as in a true sense dependent on the will’s own unmoved action. They have, therefore, invented a variety of Calvinism which supposes that it is God indeed who selects those who shall savingly be brought to Christ, and that it is the Holy Spirit who, by his grace, brings them infallibly to Christ,(thus preserving the principle of particularism in the application of salvation), but which imagines that the Holy Spirit thus effectually brings them to Christ, not by an almighty, creative action on their souls, by which they are made new creatures, functioning subsequently as such, but purely by suasive operations, adapted in his infallible wisdom to the precise state of mind and heart of those whom he has selected for salvation, and so securing from their own free action, a voluntary coming to Christ and embracing of him for salvation. There is no universalism here; the particularism is express. But an expedient has been found to enable it to be said that men come voluntarily to Christ, and are joined to him by a free act of their own unrenewed wills, while only those come whom God has selected so to persuade to come (he who knows the heart through and through) that they certainly will come in the exercise of their own free will. This type of thought has received the appropriate name of “Congruism,” because the principle of its contention is that grace wins those to whom it is “congruously” offered, that is to say, that the reason why some men are saved and some are not lies in the simple fact that God the Holy Spirit operates in his gracious suasion on some in a fashion that is carefully and infallibly adapted by him to secure their adhesion to the gospel, and does not operate on others with the same careful adaptation.

A warning must, however, be added to the effect that the designation “Congruists” is so ambiguous that there exists another class bearing this name, who are as definitely anti-Calvinistic as those we have in mind are, by intention, Calvinistic in their conception. The teaching of these is that God the Holy Spirit accords his suasive influences to all alike, making no distinction; but that this universalistically conceived grace of the Holy Spirit takes effect only according as it proves to be actually congruous or incongruous to the state of mind and heart of those to whom it equally is given. Here it is not the sovereign choice of God, but a native difference in men, which determines salvation, and we are on expressly autosoteric ground. The danger of confusing the Calvinistic “Congruists” with this larger, and definitely anti-Calvinistic party, has led to the habit of speaking of the Calvinistic Congruists rather by the name of their most distinguished representative, (who, indeed, introduced this mode of thinking into the Calvinistic churches), Claude Pajon, Professor in the Theological School at Saumur in France in the middle of the seventeenth century. It was his predecessor and teacher in the same school, Moses Amyraut, who first formulated in the Reformed Churches the Post- redemptionist scheme, of which Pajonism is a debased form. Thus the school of Saumur has the bad eminence of having originated, and furnished from the names of its professors the current designations of, the two most reduced forms of Calvinism, Amyraldianism or Hypothetical Universalism as it is otherwise called, and Pajonism, or Congruism as it is designated according to its nature.

We have thus had brought before us four forms of Calvinism;

and these, as we believe, exhaust the list of possible general types: Supralapsarianism, Sub- (or Infra-)lapsarianism, Post-redemptionism (otherwise called Amyraldianism, or Hypothetical Universalism), and Pajonism (otherwise called Congruism). These are all forms of Calvinism, because they give validity to the principle of particularism as ruling the divine dealings with man in the matter of salvation; and, as we have seen, the mark of Calvinism is particularism. If now, particularism were not only the mark of Calvinism but also the substance of Calvinism, all four of these types of Calvinism, preserving as they all do the principle of particularism, might claim to be not only alike Calvinistic, but equally Calvinistic, and might even demand to be arranged in the order of excellence according to the place accorded by each in its construction to the principle of particularism and the emphasis placed on it. Particularism, however, though the distinguishing mark of Calvinism, by which it may be identified as over against the other conceptions of the plan of salvation, in comparison with which we have brought it, does not constitute its substance; and indeed, although strenuously affirmed by Calvinism, is not affirmed by it altogether and solely for its own sake. The most consistent embodiment of the principle of particularism is not therefore necessarily the best form of Calvinism; and the bare affirmation of the principle of particularism though it may constitute one so far a Calvinist, does not necessarily constitute one a good Calvinist. No one can be a Calvinist who does not give validity to the principle of particularism in God’s operations looking to the salvation of man; but the principle of particularism must not be permitted, as Pharaoh’s lean kine devoured all the fat cattle of Egypt, to swallow up all else that is rich and succulent and good in Calvinism, nor can the bare affirmation of particularism be accepted as an adequate Calvinism.

Post-redemptionism, therefore (although it is a recognizable form of Calvinism, because it gives real validity to the principle of particularism), is not therefore necessarily a good form of Calvinism, an acceptable form of Calvinism, or even a tenable form of Calvinism. For one thing, it is a logically inconsistent form of Calvinism and therefore an unstable form of Calvinism. For another and far more important thing, it turns away from the substitutive atonement, which is as precious to the Calvinist as is his particularism, and for the safeguarding of which, indeed, much of his zeal for particularism is due. I say, Post-redemptionism is logically inconsistent Calvinism. For, how is it possible to contend that God gave his Son to die for all men, alike and equally; and at the same time to declare that when he gave his Son to die, he already fully intended that his death should not avail for all men alike and equally, but only for some which he would select (which, that is, because he is God and there is no subsequence of time in his decrees, he had already selected) to be its beneficiaries? But as much as God is God, who knows all things which he intends from the beginning and all at once, and intends all things which he intends from the beginning and all at once, it is impossible to contend that God intends the gift of his Son for all men alike and equally and at the same time intends that it shall not actually save all but only a select body which he himself provides for it. The schematization of the order of decrees presented by the Amyraldians, in a word, necessarily implies a chronological relation of precedence and subsequence among the decrees, the assumption of which abolishes God, and this can be escaped only by altering the nature of the atonement. And therefore the nature of the atonement is altered by them, and Christianity is wounded at its very heart.

The Amyraldians “point with pride” to the purity of their confession of the doctrine of election, and wish to focus attention upon it as constituting them good Calvinists. But the real hinge of their system turns on their altered doctrine of the atonement, and here they strike at the very heart of Calvinism. A conditional substitution being an absurdity, because the condition is no condition to God, if you grant him even so much as the poor attribute of foreknowledge, they necessarily turn away from a substitutive atonement altogether. Christ did not die in the sinner’s stead, it seems, to bear his penalties and purchase for him eternal life; he died rather to make the salvation of sinners possible, to open the way of salvation to sinners, to remove all the obstacles in the way of salvation of sinners. But what obstacle stands in the way of the salvation of sinners, except just their sin? And if this obstacle (their sin) is removed, are they not saved? Some other obstacles must be invented, therefore, which Christ may be said to have removed (since he cannot be said to have removed the obstacle of sin) that some function may be left to him and some kind of effect be attributed to his sacrificial death. He did not remove the obstacle of sin, for then all those for whom he died must be saved, and he cannot be allowed to have saved anyone. He removed, then, let us say, all that prevented God from saving men, except sin; and so he prepared the way for God to step in and with safety to his moral government to save men. The atonement lays no foundation for this saving of men: it merely opens the way for God safely to save them on other grounds.

We are now fairly on the basis of the Governmental Theory of the Atonement; and this is in very truth the highest form of doctrine of atonement to which we can on these premises attain. In other words, all the substance of the atonement is evaporated, that it may be given a universal reference. And, indeed, we may at once recognize it as an unavoidable effect of universalizing the atonement that it is by that very act eviscerated. If it does nothing for any man that it does not do for all men why, then, it is obvious that it saves no man; for clearly not all men are saved. The things that we have to choose between, are an atonement of high value, or an atonement of wide extension. The two cannot go together. And this is the real objection of Calvinism to this compromise scheme which presents itself as an improvement on its system: it universalizes the atonement at the cost of its intrinsic value, and Calvinism demands a really substitutive atonement which actually saves. And as a really substitutive atonement which actually saves cannot be universal because obviously all men are not saved, in the interests of the integrity of the atonement it insists that particularism has entered into the saving process prior, in the order of thought, to the atonement.

As bad Calvinism as is in Amyraldianism, Pajonism is, of course, just that much worse. Not content with destroying the whole substance of the atonement, by virtue of which it is precious, (“Who loved me, and gave himself up for me”) it proceeds to destroy also the whole substance of that regeneration and renovation by which, in the creative work of the Spirit, we are made new creatures. Of what value is it that it should be confessed that it is God who determines who shall be saved, if the salvation that is wrought goes no deeper than what I can myself work, if I can only be persuaded to do it? Here there is lacking all provision not only for release from the guilt of sin, but also for relief from its corruption and power. There is no place left for any realizing sense of either guilt or corruption; there is no salvation offered from either the outraged wrath of a righteous God or the ingrained evil of our hearts: after all is over, we remain just what we were before. The prospect that is held out to us is nothing less than appalling; we are to remain to all eternity fundamentally just our old selves with only such amelioration of our manners as we can be persuaded to accomplish for ourselves. The whole substance of Christianity is evaporated, and we are invited to recognize the shallow remainder as genuine Calvinism, because, forsooth, it safeguards the sovereignty of God. Let it be understood once for all that the completest recognition of the sovereignty of God does not suffice to make a good Calvinist. Otherwise we should have to recognize every Mohammedan as a good Calvinist. There can be no Calvinism without a hearty confession of the sovereignty of God; but the acknowledgement of the sovereignty of God of itself goes only a very little way toward real Calvinism. Pajon himself, the author of Calvinistic Congruism, advanced in his fundamental thought but little beyond a high variety of Deism.

It seems particularly worth while to make these things explicit, because there is perhaps nothing which more prejudices Calvinism in the general mind than the current identification of it with an abstract doctrine of sovereignty, without regard to the concrete interests which this sovereignty safeguards. In point of fact the sovereignty of God for which Calvinism stands is not only the necessary implicate of that particularism without which a truly religious relation between the soul and its God cannot exist; but is equally the indispensable safeguard of that complementary universalism of redemption equally proclaimed in the Scripture in which the wideness of God’s mercy comes to manifestation. It must be borne well in mind that particularism and parsimony in salvation are not equivalent conceptions; and it is a mere caricature of Calvinistic particularism to represent it as finding its center in the proclamation that there are few that are saved.” What particularism stands for in the Calvinistic system is the immediate dealing of God with the individual soul; what it sets itself against is the notion that in his saving processes God never comes directly into contact with the individual-is never to be contemplated as his God who saves him-but does all that he does looking to salvation only for and to men in the mass. Whether in dealing with the individual souls of men, he visits with his saving grace few or many, so many that in our imagination they may readily pass into all, does not lie in the question. So far as the principles of sovereignty and particularism are concerned, there is no reason why a Calvinist might not be a universalist in the most express meaning of that term, holding that each and every human soul shall be saved; and in point of fact some Calvinists (forgetful of Scripture here) have been universalists in this most express meaning of the term. The point of insistence in Calvinistic particularism is not that God saves out of the sinful mass of men only one here and there, a few brands snatched from the burning, but that God’s method of saving men is to set upon them in his almighty grace, to purchase them to himself by the precious blood of his Son, to visit them in the inmost core of their being by the creative operations of his Spirit, and himself, the Lord God Almighty, to save them. How many, up to the whole human race in all its representatives, God has thus bought and will bring into eternal communion with himself by entering himself into personal communion with them, lies, I say, quite outside the question of particularism. Universalism in this sense of the term and particularism are so little inconsistent with one another that it is only the particularist who can logically be this kind of a universalist.

And something more needs to be said- Calvinism in point of fact has as important a mission in preserving the true universalism of the gospel (for there is a true universalism of the gospel) as it has in preserving the true particularism of grace.

The same insistence upon the supernuralistic and the evangelical principles, (that salvation is from God and from God alone, and that God saves the soul by dealing directly with it in his grace) which makes the Calvinist a particularist, makes him also a universalist in the scriptural sense of the word. In other words the sovereignty of God lays the sole foundation, for a living assurance of the salvation of the world. It is but a spurious universalism which the so-called universalistic systems offer: a universalism not of salvation but, at the most, of what is called the opportunity, the chance, of salvation. But what assurance can a universal opportunity, or a universal chance, of salvation (if we dare use such words) give you that all, that many, that any indeed, will be saved? This universal opportunity, chance, of salvation has, after two thousand years, been taken advantage of only by a pitiable minority of those to whom it has been supposed to be given. What reason is there to believe that, though the world should continue in existence for ten billions of billions of years, any greater approximation to a completely saved world will be reached than meets our eyes today, when Christianity, even in its nominal form, has conquered to itself, I do not say merely a moiety of the human race, but I say merely a moiety of those to whom it has been preached? If you wish, as you lift your eyes to the far horizon of the future, to see looming on the edge of time the glory of a saved world, you can find warrant for so great a vision only in the high principles that it is God and God alone who saves men, that all their salvation is from him, and that in his own good time and way he will bring the world in its “entirety to the feet of him whom he has not hesitated to present to our adoring love not merely as the Saviour of our own souls, but as the Saviour of the world; and of whom he has himself declared that he has made propitiation not for our sins only, but for the sins of the world. Calvinism thus is the guardian not only of the particularism which assures me that God the Lord is the Saviour of my soul, but equally of the universalism by which I am assured that he is also the true and actual Saviour of the world. On no other ground can any assurance be had either of the one or of the other. But on this ground we can be assured with an assurance which is without flaw, that not only shall there be saved the individual whom God visits with his saving grace, but also the world which he enters with his saving purpose, in all the length and breadth of it.

The redemption of Christ, if it is to be worthily viewed, must be looked at not merely individualistically, but also in its social, or better in its cosmical relations.

Men are not discrete particles standing off from one another as mutually isolated units. They are members of an organism, the human race; and this race itself is an element in a greater organism which is significantly termed a universe. Of course the plan of salvation as it lies in the divine mind cannot be supposed to be concerned, therefore, alone with individuals as such: it of necessity has its relations with the greater unities into which these individuals enter as elements. We have only partially understood the redemption in Christ, therefore, when we have thought of it only in its modes of operation and effects on the individual. We must ask also how and what it works in the organism of the human race, and what its effects are in the greater organism of the universe. Jesus Christ came to save men, but he did not come to save men each as a whole in himself out of relation to all other men. In saving men, he came to save mankind; and therefore the Scriptures are insistent that he came to save the world, and ascribe to him accordingly the great title of the Savior of the world. They go indeed further than this: they do not pause in expanding their outlook until they proclaim that it was the good pleasure of God “to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things on the earth.” We have not done justice to the Biblical doctrine of the plan of salvation therefore so long as we confine our attention to the modes of the divine operation in saving the individual, and insist accordingly on what we have called its particularism. There is a wider prospect on which we must feast our eyes if we are to view the whole land of ‘ salvation. It was because God loved the world, that he sent his only-begotten Son; it was for the sins of the world that Jesus Christ made propitiation; it was the world which he came to save; it is nothing less than the world that shall be saved by him.

What is chiefly of importance for us to bear in mind here, is that God’s plan is to save…

…whether the individual or the world, by process. No doubt the whole salvation of the individual sinner enters into the full enjoyment of this accomplished salvation only by stages and in the course of time. Redeemed by Christ, regenerated by the Holy Spirit, justified through faith, received into the very household of God as his sons, led by the Spirit into the flowering and fruiting activities of the new life, our salvation is still only in process and not yet complete. We still are the prey of temptation; we still fall into sin; we still suffer sickness, sorrow, death itself. Our redeemed bodies can hope for nothing but to wear out in weakness and to break down in decay in the grave. Our redeemed souls only slowly enter into their heritage. Only when the last trump shall sound and we shall rise from our graves, and perfected souls and incorruptible bodies shall together enter into the glory prepared for God’s children, is our salvation complete.

The redemption of the world is similarly a process. It, too, has its stages: it, too, advances only gradually to its completion. But it, too, will ultimately he complete; and then we shall see a wholly saved world. Of course it follows, that at any stage of the process, short of completeness, the world, as the individual, must present itself to observation as incompletely saved. We can no more object the incompleteness of the salvation of the world today to the completeness of the salvation of the world, than we can object the incompleteness of our personal salvation today (the remainders of sin in us, the weakness and death of our bodies) to the completeness of our personal salvation. Every thing in its own order: first the seed, then the blade, then the full corn in the ear. And as, when Christ comes, we shall each of us be like him, when we shall see him as he is, so also, when Christ comes, it will be to a fully saved world, and there shall be a new heaven and a new earth, in which dwells righteousness.

It does not concern us at the moment to enumerate the stages through which the world must pass to its complete redemption. We do not ask how long the process will be; we make no inquiry into the means by which its complete redemption shall be brought about. These are topics which belong to Eschatology and even the lightest allusion to them here would carry us beyond the scope of our present task. What concerns us now is only to make sure that the world will be completely saved; and that the accomplishment of this result through a long process, passing through many stages, with the involved incompleteness of the world’s salvation through extended ages, introduces no difficulty to thought. This incompleteness of the world’s salvation through numerous generations involves, of course, the loss of many souls in the course of the long process through which the world advances to its salvation. And therefore the Biblical doctrine of the salvation of the world is not “universalism” in the common sense of that term. It does not mean that all men without exception are saved. Many men are inevitably lost, throughout the whole course of the advance of the world to its complete salvation, just as the salvation of the individual by process means that much service is lost to Christ through all these lean years of incomplete salvation. But as in the one case, so in the other, the end is attained at last: there is a completely saved man and there is a completely saved world. This may possibly be expressed by saying that the Scriptures teach an eschatological universalism, not an each- and-every universalism. When the Scriptures say that Christ came to save the world, that he does save the world, and that the world shall be saved by him, they do not mean that there is no human being whom he did not come to save, whom he does not save, who is not saved by him. They mean that he came to save and does save the human race; and that the human race is being led by God into a racial salvation: that in the age-long development of the race of men, it will attain at last to a complete salvation, and our eyes will be greeted with the glorious spectacle of a saved world. Thus the human race attains the goal for which it was created, and sin does not snatch it out of God’s hands: the primal purpose of God with it is fulfilled; and through Christ the race of man, though fallen into sin, is recovered to God and fulfills its original destiny.

Now, it cannot be imagined that the development of the race to this, its destined end, is a matter of chance; or is committed to the uncertainties of its own determination. Were that so, no salvation would or could lie before it as its assured goal. The goal to which the race is advancing is set by God: it is salvation. And every stage in the advance to this goal is, of course, determined by God. The progress of the race is, in other words, a God-determined progress, to a God-determined end. That being true, every detail in every moment of the life of the race is God-determined; and is a stage in its God- determined advance to its God-determined end. Christ has been made in very truth Head over all things for his Church: and all that befalls his Church, everything his Church is at every moment of its existence, every “fortune,” as we absurdly call it, through which his Church passes, is appointed by him. The rate of the Church’s progress to its goal of perfection, the nature of its progress, the particular individuals who are brought into it through every stage of its progress: all this is in his divine hands. The Lord adds to the Church daily such as are being saved. And it is through the divine government of these things, which is in short the leading onwards of the race to salvation, that the great goal is at last attained. To say this is, of course, already to say election and reprobation. There is no antinomy, therefore, in saying that Christ died for his people and that Christ died for the world. His people may be few today: the world will be his people tomorrow. But it must be punctually observed that unless it is Christ who, not opens the way of salvation to all, but actually saves his people, there is no ground to believe that there will ever be a saved world. The salvation of the world is absolutely dependent (as is the salvation of the individual soul) on its salvation being the sole work of the Lord Christ himself, in his irresistible might.

It is only the Calvinist that has warrant to believe in the salvation whether of the individual or of the world. Both alike rest utterly on the sovereign grace of God.” All other ground, is shifting sand.

FALSE RELIGIONS AND THE TRUE: Paul’s Thoughts behind the Worshiping of the “Not-Known” God, and its Context in Today’s Post-Modern, Seeker-Friendly, Church Culture.

Taken and adapted from, “The Power of God unto Salvation”
Written by, B. B. Warfield.

jesus-loves-you-this-much-cross

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“What therefore ye worship in ignorance, this set I forth unto you.”

– Acts 17: 23. (R. V.)
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THESE words give the gist of Paul’s justly famous address at Athens before the court of the Areopagus.

The substance of that address was, to be sure, just what the substance of all his primary proclamations to Gentile hearers was, namely, God and the judgment. The necessities of the case compelled him to approach the heathen along the avenue of an awakened conscience. They had not been prepared for the preaching of Jesus by a training under the old covenant, and no appeals to prophecy and its fulfillment could be made to them. God and the judgment necessarily constituted, therefore, the staple of his proclamation to them; and so typical an instance as this address to the Areopagus could not fail to exhibit the characteristics of its class with especial purity.

Nevertheless, the peculiar circumstances in which it was delivered have imprinted on this address also a particular character of its own. Paul spoke it under a specially poignant sense of the depths of heathen ignorance and of the greatness of heathen need. The whole address palpitates with his profound feeling of the darkness in which the heathen world is immersed, and his eager longing to communicate to it the light intrusted to his care. All that goes before the words selected for the text and all that comes after serve but to enhance their great declaration – build for it, as it were, but a lofty platform upon which it is raised to fix the gaze of men. Out of it all Paul fairly shouts this one essential message to the whole unbelieving world: “What therefore ye worship in ignorance, this set I forth unto you.”

Let us consider for a little while the circumstances in which the address was delivered. Summoned by a supernatural vision, Paul had crossed the sea and brought the gospel into Europe. Landing in Macedonia, he had preached in its chief cities, meeting on the one hand with great acceptance, and arousing on the other the intensest opposition. He had been driven from city to city until the brethren had at last fled with him to the sea and, hurrying him upon a ship, had conveyed him far to the south and, at last, landed him at Athens. There they left him – alone but in safety – and returned to Macedonia to send his companions to him.

Meanwhile Paul awaited their coming at Athens. Athens! Mother of wisdom, mistress of art; but famous, perhaps, above all its wisdom and above all its art for the intensity of its devotion to the gods. Paul had had a missionary’s experience with idolatry, in its grosser and more refined forms alike; he had been forced into contact with it throughout his Asian work. Even so, Athens seems to have been a revelation to him – a revelation which brought him nothing less than a shock. Here he was literally in the thick of it. No other nation was so given over to idolatry as the Athenians. One writer tells us that it was easier to find a god in populous Athens than a man; another, scarcely exaggerating, declares that the whole city was one great altar, one great sacrifice, one great votive offering. The place seemed to Paul studded with idols, and the sight of it all brought him a paroxysm of grief and concern.

He was in Athens, as it were, in hiding. But he could not keep silence. He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and there preached to the Jews and those devout inquirers who were accustomed to visit the synagogues of the Jews in every city. But this did not satisfy his aroused zeal. He went also to the market place – that agora which the public teachers of the city had been wont to frequent for the propagation of their views – and there, like them, every day, he argued with all whom he chanced to meet. Among these he very naturally encountered certain adherents of the types of philosophy then dominant – the Epicurean and Stoic – and in conflict with them he began to attract attention.

He was preaching, as was his custom, “Jesus” and the “resurrection” – doubtless much as he preached them in his recorded address, to which all this led up. Some turned with light contempt away from him and called him a mere smatterer; others, with perhaps no less contempt, nevertheless took him more seriously and anxiously asked if he were not “a proclaimer of alien divinities.” This was an offense in Athens; and so they brought him to the Areopagus. He was not formally arraigned for trial – there was only set on foot something like a preliminary official inquiry; and the question put to him is oddly compounded of courteous suggestion and authoritative demand. They said: “May we be allowed to know what this new teaching is that is talked of by thee? For thou dost bring certain strange things to our ears; and it is our wish to know what these things may be.” The hand is gloved, but you see the iron showing through. It was to Paul, however, only another opportunity; and in the conscious authority of his great mission he stood forth in the midst of the court and began to speak.

We must bear in mind that Paul was put to the question on the general charge that he was “a proclaimer of strange deities.” He had no intention whatever of denying this general allegation. He was rather firmly determined to seize this opportunity yet once more to proclaim a Deity evidently unknown to the Athenians. And this, in fact, he proceeded at once to do. But he did it after a fashion which disarmed the complaint; which enlisted the Athenians themselves as unwilling indeed, but nevertheless real, worshipers of the God he proclaimed; and which powerfully pried at their consciences as well as appealed to their intelligences and even their national pride to give wings to his proclamation.

The hinge on which the whole speech turns is obviously Paul’s deep sense of the darkness of heathen ignorance. As our Saviour said to the Samaritan woman, so Paul, in effect, says to the Athenian jurists and philosophers, “You worship you know not what.” The altar at Athens which he signalizes as especially significant of heathen worship is precisely the altar inscribed “To a Not known God.” The whole course of their heathen development he characterizes as a seeking of God, if by any chance – “in the possible hope at least that” – they may touch Him as a blind man touches with his hands fumblingly what he cannot see – and so doubtfully find Him; nay, shortly and crisply, as ” times of ignorance.” The very purpose of his proclamation of his gospel among them is to bring light into this darkness, to make them to know the true nature and the real modes of working, the all-inclusive plan and the decisive purpose of the one true God. Therefore it is simply true to say that the hinge on which the whole speech turns is the declaration that the heathen are steeped in ignorance and require, above all things, the light of divine instruction.

But when we have said this we have not said all. After all, it is not quite a blank ignorance that Paul ascribes to the Athenians. He institutes a certain connection between what they worship and the God he was commending to them. He does not wholly scoff at their religion, though he certainly sharply reprobates and deeply despises the modes in which it expresses itself. He does not entirely condemn their worship even of a not-known god; he rather makes it a point of attachment for proclaiming the higher worship of the known God of heaven and earth which he is recommending to them. There is, in a word, a certain amount of recognition accorded by him to their religious feelings and aspirations.

It is accordingly not all a scoff when he tells them that he perceives that they are apparently “very religious.” The word he employs is no doubt sometimes used in a bad sense, and accordingly is frequently translated here by the ill-savored word “superstitious.” So our English version translates it: “I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious” or “somewhat superstitious,” as the Revised Version puts it. But it is scarcely possible to believe that Paul uses it in this evil sense here. It means in itself nothing but “divinity-fearing” – not exactly “God-fearing,” though generally equivalent to that, because it has a hint in it of the gods many and lords many of the heathen. It easily, therefore, lends itself to a bad sense, and is often, as we have seen, so used. But as often it is used in a perfectly good sense, as equivalent simply to “religious,” and surely it is so used here. Paul is not charging his hearers with superstition; he is recognising in them a religious disposition. He chooses a term, indeed, of somewhat non-committal character – which would not say too much – which might be taken perhaps as bearing a subtle implication of incomplete approval: but a word by which he expresses at least no active disapproval and even a certain measure of active approval. Paul, in fine, commends the religiousness of the Athenians.

The forms in which this religiousness expressed itself he does not commend. The sight of them, indeed, threw him into a paroxysm of distress, if not of indignation. He could not view without disgust and horror the degradation of their worship. In one sense we may say that it reached its lowest level in this altar, “To a Not-known God.” For what could be worse than the superstitious dread which, after cramming every corner of the city with altars to every conceivable divinity, was not yet satisfied, but must needs feel blindly out after still some other power of earth or air or sky to which to immolate victims or before which to cringe in unintelligent fear? But in another aspect it may even have seemed to Paul that in this altar might rather be seen the least degraded expression of the religious aspirations of the Athenians. Where every definite trait given to their conceptions of divinity was but a new degradation of the idea of the divine, there is a certain advantage attaching to vagueness. At least no distinctive foulness was attributed to a god confessedly unknown. Perhaps just because of its undifferentiation and indefiniteness it might therefore seem a purer symbol of that seeking after God for which God had destined all nations when He appointed to them the ordained times and limits of their habitation, if by any chance they might feel Him and so find Him. Surely the forms they gave to the gods they more definitely conceived, the characters they ascribed to them, the functions they assigned them, and the legendary stories of their activities which they wove around them, sufficiently evinced that in them the Athenians had not so much as fumblingly touched God, much less found Him. A worship offered to “an unknown god” was at least free from the horror of definitely conceiving God as corruptible men and birds and fourfooted beasts and creeping things.

In any event, behind the worship, however ill conceived, Paul sees and recognizes the working of that which he does not shame to call religion. Enshrined within his general condemnation of the heathenism of the Athenians there lies thus a recognition of something not to be condemned – something worthy of commendation rather – fit even on his lips to bear the name of “religion.” All this is implied in the words we have chosen as our text, and it is therefore that we have said of them that they give us the gist of the whole address. “What ye thus not knowing adore,” says Paul, “that it is that I am proclaiming to you.” It will repay us, probably, to probe the matter a little in the way of its wider applications.

First, then, we say there is given in the apostolic teaching a certain recognition to the religion of the heathen.

We do not say, mark you, that a recognition is given to the heathen religions. That is something very different. The heathen religions are uniformly treated as degrading to man and insulting to God. The language of a recent writer which declares that man’s “most unfortunate things” are his religions – nay, that man’s religions are “among his worst crimes” – is thoroughly justified by the apostolic attitude toward them. Read but the account given at the end of the first chapter of Romans of the origin of these religions in the progressive degradation of man’s thought of God, as man’s repeated withdrawals from God and God’s repeated judicial blindings of man interwork to the steady destruction of all religious insight and all moral perception alike, and from this observe how the writers of the New Testament conceived of the religions which men have in the procession of the ages formed for themselves.

Nor is it to be imagined that only the more degraded of the popular superstitions were in the apostle’s mind when he painted this dreadful picture of the fruits of human religious thinking. In an almost contemporary epistle he calmly passes his similar judgment on all the philosophies of the world. Not by all its wisdom, he tells us, has the world come to know God, but in these higher elaborations also, becoming vain in its imaginations, its foolish heart has only become darkened. In a somewhat later epistle he sums up his terrible estimate of the religious condition of the Gentiles in that dreadful declaration that “they walk in the vanity of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart.”

This is what the apostle thought – not of some heathen, but of heathen as such, in their religious life – not of the degraded bushmen of Australia or Africa or New Guinea, but of the philosophic minds of Greece and Rome in the palmiest days of their intellectual development and ethical and aesthetic culture; of the Socrateses and Platos and Aristotles and Epictetuses and Marcus Aureliuses of that ancient world, which some would have us look upon as so fully to have found God as veritably to have taken heaven by storm and to have entered it by force of its own attainments. To him it was, on the contrary, in his briefest phrase, “without hope and without God.”

Nevertheless, alongside of and in the very midst of this sweeping and unmitigated condemnation of the total religious manifestation of heathendom there exists an equally constant and distinct recognition of the reality and value of religion even among the heathen.

It does not seem ever to have occurred to the writers of the New Testament to doubt that religion is as universal as intelligence itself; or to question the reality or value of this universal religiousness. To them man, as such, appears to be esteemed no more a reasonable creature than a religious animal; and they appeal to his religious instinct and build upon it expectations of a response to their appeal, with the same confidence which they show when they make their appeal to his logical faculty. They apparently no more expect to find a man without religion than they expect to find a man without understanding, and they seem to attach the same fundamental value to his inherent religiousness as to his inherent rationality.

In this the passage that is more particularly before us to-day is thoroughly representative of the whole New Testament. Paul, it is seen at once, does not here in any way question the fact that the Athenians are religious, any more than he questions that they are human beings. He notes, rather, with satisfaction that they are very especially religious. “I perceive that ye are in all things exceedingly divinity-fearing.” There is a note of commendation in that which is unmistakable. Nor does he betray any impulse to denounce their religious sentiment as intrinsically evil. On the contrary, he takes it frankly as the basis of his appeal to them. In effect, he essays merely to direct and guide its functioning, and in so doing recognizes it as the foundation of all the religious life which he would, as the teacher of Christianity to them, fain see developed in and by them. In the same spirit he always deals with what we may call the inherent religiousness of humanity. Man, as such, in his view is truly and fundamentally religious.

Now this frank recognition, or, we might better say, this emphatic assertion of the inherent religiousness of humanity, constitutes a fact of the first importance in the biblical revelation. It puts the seal of divine revelation on the great fundamental doctrine that there exists in man a notitia Dei insita – a natural knowledge of God, which man can no more escape than he can escape from his own humanity. Endowed with an ineradicable sense of dependence and of responsibility, man knows that Other on which he depends and to whom he is responsible in the very same act by which he knows himself. As he can never know himself save as dependent and responsible, he can never know himself without a consciousness of that Other Not-self, on whom he is dependent and to whom he is responsible; and in this co-knowledge of self and Over-not-self is rooted the whole body of his religious conceptions, religious feelings, and religious actions-which are just as inevitable functionings of his intellect, sensibility, and will as any actions of those faculties, the most intimate and immediate we can conceive of. Thus man cannot help being religious; God is implicated in his very first act of self-consciousness, and he can avoid thinking of God, feeling toward Him, acting with respect to Him, only by avoiding thinking, feeling, and acting with respect to self.

How he shall conceive God – what notion he shall form, that is, of that Over-not-self in contrast with which he is conscious of dependence and responsibility; how he shall feel toward God – that is, toward that Over-not-self, conceived after this fashion or that; how he shall comport himself toward God – that is, over against that Over-not-self, so and not otherwise conceived, and so and not otherwise felt toward: these questions, it is obvious, raise additional problems, the solution of which must wait upon accurate knowledge of the whole body of conditions and circumstances in which the faculties of intellect, feeling, and will function in each given case. But that in his very first act of consciousness of self as a dependent and responsible and not as a self-centered and self-sufficient being, man is brought into contact with the Over-not-self on which he is dependent and to which he is responsible; and must therefore form some conception of it, feel in some way toward it, and act in some manner with respect to it, is as certain as that he will think and feel and act at all.

That man is a religious being, therefore, and will certainly have a religion, is rooted in his very nature, and is as inevitable as it is that man will everywhere and always be man. But what religion man will have is no more subject to exact a priori determination than is the product of the action of his faculties along any other line of their functioning. Religion exists and must exist everywhere where man lives and thinks and feels and acts; but the religions that exist will be as varied as the idiosyncrasies of men, the conditions in which their faculties work, the influences that play on them and determine the character of their thoughts and feelings and deeds.

Bearing this in mind, we shall not be surprised to note that along with the recognition of the religiousness of man embodied in the apostolic teaching, there is equally prominent in it, as we have said, the unwavering assertion of the absolute necessity of religious instruction for the proper religious development of man.

The whole mission of the apostle is founded upon, or, more properly speaking, is the appropriate expression of, this point of sight. Nor could he be untrue to it on an occasion like that which is more particularly engaging our attention to-day. We observe, then, as we have already pointed out, that though he commends the Athenians for their God-fearingness and finds in their altar to a “not-known god” a point of attachment for his proclamation of the true God; he does not for a moment suggest that their native religiousness could be left safely to itself to blossom into a fitting religious life; or that his proclamation of the known God of heaven and earth possessed only a relative necessity for them.

Clearly he presents the necessity rather as absolute. God had for a time, no doubt, left the nations of the world to the guidance of their own religious nature, that they might seek after Him in the possible expectation at least of finding Him. But on God’s part this was intended rather as a demonstration of their incapacity than as a hopeful opportunity afforded them; and in its results it provides an empirical proof of the absolute necessity of His interference with direct guidance.

Accordingly the apostle roundly characterizes the issue of all heathen religious development, inclusive of that in Athens itself, the seat of the highest heathen thinking on divine things, as just bald ignorance. That the world by its wisdom knows not God and lies perishing in its ignorance is the most fixed element of his whole religious philosophy.

What is involved here is, of course, the whole question of the necessity of “special revelation.” It is a question which has been repeatedly fought out during the course of Christian history. In the eighteenth century, for example, it was this very issue that was raised in the sharpest possible form by the deistic controversy. A coterie of religious philosophers, possessing an eye for little in man beyond his logical understanding, undertook to formulate what they called the “natural religion.” This they then set over against the supernatural religion, which Christianity professed to be, as the religion of nature in contrast with the religion of authority – authority being prejudged to be in this sphere altogether illegitimate. The result was certainly instructive. Bernard Pünger is not a jot too severe when he remarks of this boasted “natural religion” of the Deists, that it deserves neither element of its designation. “It is,” he declares, “neither religion nor natural, but only an extremely artificial abstraction of theologians and philosophers. It is no religion, for nowhere, in no spot, in either the old or new world, has there ever existed even the smallest community which recognized this ‘natural religion.’ And it is not natural; for no simple man ever arrived of himself at the ideas of this ‘natural religion.”‘

And when it was thus at last formulated by the philosophers of the eighteenth century, it proved no religion even to them. A meager body of primary abstract truth concerning God and His necessary relations to man was the entire result. This formed, indeed, an admirable witness to the rational rooting of these special truths concerning God and our relations to Him in the very nature of man as a dependent and responsible being; and this the Christian thinker may well view with satisfaction. It may be taken as supplying him also with a demonstration, once for all, that an adequate body of religious truth can never be obtained by the artificial process of abstracting from all the religions of the world the elements held in common by them all, and labeling this “natural religion.” Neither in religion nor in any other sphere of life can the maxim be safely adopted that the least well-endowed member of a coterie shall be crowned king over all. Yet obviously that is the result of proceeding by what is called “the consensus method” in seeking a norm of religious truth.

Taught wisdom by experience like this, our more modern world has found a new method of ridding itself of the necessity of revelation. The way was pointed out to it by no less a genius than Friedrich Schleiermacher himself. Led no doubt by the laudable motive of seeking a place for religion unassailable on the shallow ground of intellectualistic criticism, he relegated it in its origin exclusively to the region of feeling. In essence he said, religion is the immediate feeling of absolute dependence.

He calls it an “immediate feeling” or an “immediate self-consciousness” just in order to eliminate from it every intellectual element. That is to say, he wishes to distinguish between two forms of self-consciousness or feeling, the one mediated by the perception of an object and the other not so mediated, but consisting in an immediate and direct sensation, abstracted from every intellectual representation or idea; and in this latter class of feelings he places that feeling of absolute dependence with which he identifies religion. Religion, therefore, it is argued, is entirely independent of every intellectual conception; it is rooted in a pure feeling or immediate consciousness which enters into and affects all of our intellectual exercises, but is itself absolutely independent of them all, and persists the same through whatever intellectual conceptions we may form of the object of our worship or through whatever actions we may judge appropriate to the service of that object thus or otherwise conceived.

Upon the basis of this mode of conceiving religion we have been treated of late to innumerable paeans to religion as a primal force running through all the religions; and are being constantly exhorted to recognize as absolutely immaterial what forms it takes in its several manifestations, and to greet it as subsisting equally valid and equally noble beneath all its forms of manifestation indifferently, because in itself independent of them all. It is thus only the common cry that echoes all around us which Père Hyacinthe repeats in his passionate declaration: “It is not true that all religions are false except one only.”

Only a few years ago when a professor was being inducted into a new chair of the History of Religion established in one of the oldest of the Reformed schools, he took up the same cry with much the same passion, and professed himself able to feel brotherhood with every form of religion – except that perhaps which arrogated to itself to be the only legitimate form. “When the history of religions,” he eloquently said, “places in our hands the religious archives of humanity it is surely our duty rather to garner these treasures than to proclaim Christianity the only good, the only true one among the religions of men. ‘We also, we also are the offspring of God,’ the poet Aratus cried three centuries before Christ. Let us pause before this cry of the human soul and let us contemplate with attention the luminous web in which the history of this divine sonship has been woven by universal worship. When we have opened, with the same respect which we demand for our own, the sacred books of other peoples, when we have observed them clinging, as to their most holy possessions, to their sublime traditions, in which are enshrined the mother-thoughts of all true religion – lavishing their genius in exalting them, sacrificing their fortunes in defending them, exiling themselves to the most distant lands and sinking into the burning sands in propagating them, accepting death itself in order to preserve them – our hearts, moved with surprise and brotherly sympathy, will repudiate forever the Pharisaic pride which treats as heathen or as uncircumcised all God’s creatures which are without the sacred pale of the elect.” “Men of all nations,” he tells us, “and of all tongues-whether savage or civilized, whether ignorant or instructed, whether Parsi or Christian – though God may have been revealed to them diversely, though they may be looking up to Him through variously-colored glasses – are yet all looking nevertheless up to the same God, by whatever liturgical name He may be known to them – and it is to Him that all their prayers alike are ascending. And to all of them,” he adds, “I feel myself a brother – except to the hypocrite.” “No one,” he concludes, “who has ever felt echoing in his heart the murmur of this universal worship will ever be able to return to the sectarian apologetics with which the unhappiness of the times inspired the Jews after the exile, and which from Judaism has passed into the Church of Christ.”

I have not thus adverted to this eloquent address because it is especially extreme in its assertions. It is not. Rather, let it be said, it enunciates with unusual balance and moderation views common to a large part of the modern world. It is on this very account that I have adduced its presentation of this very widespread conception because it affords us a very favorable opportunity to observe it at its best, touched with fervor and announced with winning eloquence of speech. Even in it, however, we may perceive the portentous results to which the whole conception of religion as an “immediate feeling” may take us – nay, must inevitably carry us. If what it tells us be true, it obviously is of no importance whatever with what conceptions religion may be connected. So only the religious sentiment be present, all that enters into the essence of religion is there; and one may call himself Brahmin or Mohammedan, Parsi or Christian, and may see God through whatever spectacles and name Him by whatever designation he will, and yet be and remain alike, and alike, validly, religious. We may justly look upon this inevitable result of the identification of religion with an “immediate feeling” as its sufficient refutation.

In no event could it be thought difficult, however, to exhibit the untenability of this entire conception. We should probably only need to ask, How could an abstract feeling of dependence, with no implication whatever of the object on which the dependence leans, possess any distinctively religious quality whatever? It would appear too clear to require arguing that the whole religious quality of a feeling of dependence, recognized as religious, must be derived necessarily from the nature of the object depended upon – viz., God. If we conceive that object as something other than God, then the feeling of dependence ceases to be in any intelligible sense religious. It is assuredly only on God that a specifically religious feeling can rest.

Schleiermacher himself appears to have felt this. And accordingly he distinguished between the feeling of dependence in general and the feeling of absolute dependence in particular; and on the supposition that absolute dependence can be felt only toward the Absolute, confined the religious feeling to it. Here there appears to be a subintroduction of the idea of God; and therefore a veiled admission that we have in this “feeling of absolute dependence” not an “immediate feeling,” but a feeling mediated by an idea, to wit, the idea of God. Thus the whole contention is, in principle, yielded; and we revert to the more natural and only valid ground – that all their quality is supplied to feelings by the objects to which they are directed, and that, therefore, the nature of our conceptions so far from having nothing, has everything, to do with religion.

I recall with great vividness of memory a striking picture I once saw, painted by that weird Russo-German genius Sasha Schneider, in order to illustrate religion conceived as the feeling of absolute dependence, and at the same time to express the artist’s repugnance to it and scorn of it. It has seemed to me to provide us with a most striking parable. He figures a man stripped naked and laden down with chains, head bowed, in every trait dejection, every fiber of every muscle relaxed, every line a line of hopelessness and despair. The ground on which he stands is the earth itself, fashioned, however, into the hideous presentment of a monstrous form, so painted as to give it the texture of hard, black, iron-like stone. The horizon that stretches around the figure and seems to bend in upon him consists of two great iron-like arms ending in dreadfully protuberant fingers, which appear about to close in on his limbs; while just before him heavy shoulders rise slightly into a low forbidding hillock, and between them thrusts forward the hard mound of a scarce-distinguishable head, lit by two malevolent eyes, like low volcano-fires glaring up upon their victim. Thus is set forth the artist’s conception of religious sentiment as the “feeling of absolute dependence.”

Yes – but we then must add, there are two points that require criticism in the conception presented. First, in this figure of a despondent man, the artist has, after all, painted not the feeling of dependence, but rather the feeling of helplessness. These are very different things. And in their difference we touch, as I think, the very heart of the error we are seeking to unmask. A feeling of dependence, properly so-called, necessarily implies an object: helplessness – yes, that may exist without an object, but not dependence. He that depends must, needs have somewhat on which to depend. A feeling of dependence is unthinkable apart from the object on which the dependence rests. In picturing for us abject “helplessness,” then, the artist has not at all pictured for us “dependence.” The former is passive, the latter is active, and the abjectness that belongs to the one is not at all inherent in the other. Secondly, even so, the artist has not been able to get along without an object. He has painted this dejected man: there he stands before us the very picture of helplessness. But the artistic sense is not satisfied: and so he throws around him these hideous encircling arms; he sets upon him this baleful gaze. He must suggest, after all, an object toward which the feeling of dependence he is endeavoring to depict turns. But why this hideous object? Only to justify the abjectness of the figure he has painted. From which we may learn at once that the character of the feeling – all that gives quality and meaning to it – is, after all, necessarily dependent on the nature of the object to which it is referred

And so, if we mistake not, Sasha Schneider’s picture is itself the sufficient refutation of the whole conception of religion we are discussing. Given no object, the figure of helplessness remains inexplicable and meaningless and will result in nothing. Given a monstrous object, it develops at once into a figure of abject misery. Given a glorious object – a God of righteousness and goodness – and only then does it develop into a figure of that dependence which we call religion. And if we require an earthly image of this feeling of dependence, let us find it in an infant on its mother’s bosom, looking up in confidence and trust into a face on which it perceives the smiles of goodness and love. Even the heathen poet tells us that the happy infant laughs as it sees the smile of love on the mother’s countenance. It is in such scenes as this that the true earthly portrait of the absolute dependence, which is religion is to be found.

But it is neither to logical analysis nor to the artistic instinct of a Sasha Schneider that we need to turn to-day to assure ourselves that this whole construction of religion as independent of knowledge is impossible. For surely it is obvious that it is the very antipodes of Paul’s view of the matter. This we have already sufficiently pointed out, and need only now to remind ourselves of it.

Perhaps it is enough for this purpose simply to ask afresh how Paul dealt with the religiousness of the Athenians, notable as they were among all nations for their religiousness. Assuredly he did not withhold due recognition from it “O men of Athens,” he cried, “I perceive that in all things ye are exceedingly religious.” But did he account this exceeding religiousness enough for their needs? As he went about the streets of Athens and beheld the great city studded with idols – one great sanctuary, as it were – did he reason within himself that the forms of manifestation were of no importance, that through and beneath them we should rather perceive that pure impulse to worship which sustained and gave vitality and value to them all; and, observing in it the essence of all religions alike, recognize it as enough?

Our text gives us the emphatic answer: “What ye, thus, in ignorance adore, that it is that I declare unto you.” The whole justification of his mission hangs on the value he attaches to knowledge as the informing principle of all right, of all valid, of all availing religion. And if we care to follow Paul we must for our part also, once and for all, renounce with the strongest emphasis all attempts to conceive the native religious impulse as capable in sinful man of producing religious phenomena which can be recognized as well pleasing in the sight of God.

No doubt we shall be under manifold temptations to do otherwise. Our modern atmosphere is charged to saturation with temptations to do otherwise. Let us all the more carefully arm ourselves against them. In warning us against this overestimate of natural religions Paul may perhaps be allowed to give us also a name for it, by the employment of which we may possibly be able to put a new point on our self-admonitions. He calls it, as we have seen, in the case of the Athenians, by a term of somewhat peculiar flavor. “Divinity-fearing” we bunglingly translate it – that is, so to say, “generally Divinity-fearing,” without too close inquisition into which divinity it is that we fear or what is the character of the service that we render it. “Deisidaimonism” is the Greek term he makes use of. It is an uncouth term. But, then, it is not a very lovely thing it designates. And perhaps, in the absence of a good translation, we may profitably adopt the Greek term to-day, with all its uncouthness of sound and its unlovely association, and so enable ourselves to make a recognizable distinction between that general natural religiosity and its fruits which we may call “deisidaimonism” and true religion, which is the product of the saving truth of God operating upon our native religious instincts and producing through them phenomena which owe all their value to the truth that gives them form.

Ah, brethren, let us avoid “deisidaimonism” in all its manifestations! As you look out over the heathen world with its lords many and gods many, and see working in every form of faith the same religious impulses, the same religious aspirations, producing in varying measure indeed, but yet everywhere, to some extent, the same civilizing and moralizing effects – are you perhaps sometimes tempted to pronounce it enough; possibly adding something about the special adaptation of the several faiths to the several peoples, or even something about the essential truth underlying all religions? This is “deisidaimonism.” And on its basis the whole missionary work of the Church is an impertinence, the whole history of the Church a gigantic error; the great commission itself a crime against humanity – launching the Christian world upon a fool’s errand, every step of which has dripped with wasted blood. Surely the proclamation of the gospel is made, then, mere folly and the blood of the martyrs becomes only the measure of the narrow fanaticism of earlier and less enlightened times.

It is possible, however, that your temptation does not come to you in such a crass shape. Perhaps it may whisper to you only something about the narrowness of sectarianism within the limits of Christianity – of the folly of contentions over what we may at the moment be happening to call “the truth.” Look, it may say – do you not see that under every faith the religious life flourishes? Why lay stress then on creed? Creeds are divisive things; away with them! Or at least let us prune all their distinctive features away, and give ourselves a genial and unpolemic Christianity, a Christianity in which all the stress is laid on life, not dogma, the life of the spirit in its aspirations toward God, or perchance, even the life of external activities in the busy fulfillment of the duties of life. This too, you observe, is “deisidaimonism.” Embark once on that pathway and there is no logical and – oh, the misfortune of it! – no practical stopping-point until you have evaporated all recognizable Christianity away altogether and reduced all religion to the level of man’s natural religiosity. A really “undogmatic Christianity” is just no Christianity at all.

Let us not for an instant suppose, to be sure, that religion is a matter of the intellect alone or chiefly. But in avoiding the Scylla of intellectualism let us not run into the Charybdis of mere naturalism. All that makes the religion we profess distinctively Christian is enshrined in its doctrinal system. It is therefore that it is a religion that can be taught, and is to be taught – that is propagated by what otherwise would be surely, in the most literal sense, the foolishness of preaching. Mere knowledge, indeed, does not edify; it only puffs up. But neither without knowledge can there be any edification; and the purer the knowledge that is propagated by any church the purer, the deeper, the more vital and the more vitalizing will be the Christianity that is built up under that church’s teaching. Let us renounce, then, in this sphere, too, all “deisidaimonism,” and demand that our church shall be the church of a creed and that that creed shall be the pure truth of God – all of it and nothing but it. Only so can we be truly, purely, and vitally Christian.

And what shall we say of “deisidaimonism” in the personal religious life? Ah, brethren, there is where its temptations are the most subtle and its assaults the most destructive! How easy it is to mistake the currents of mere natural religious feeling, that flow up and down in the soul, for signs that it is well with us in the sight of God! Happy the man who is born with a deep and sensitive religious nature! But shall that purely natural endowment save him? There are many who have cried, Lord, Lord, who shall never enter into the kingdom of heaven. Not because you are sensitive and easily moved to devotion; not because your sense of divine things is profound or lofty; not because you are like the Athenians, by nature “divinity-fearing”; but because, when the word of the Lord is brought to you, and Jesus Christ is revealed in your soul, under the prevailing influence of the Holy Ghost, you embrace Him with a hearty faith – cast yourself upon His almighty grace for salvation, and turning from your sins, enter into a life of obedience to Him – can you judge yourself a Christian. Religious you may be, and deeply religious, and yet not a Christian. How instructive that when Paul himself preached in “deisidaimonistic ” Athens, where religiosity ran riot, no church seems to have been founded. We have only the meager result recorded that “there were some men that clave unto him and believed, among whom also was Dionysius, the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others along with them.” The natively religious are not, therefore, nearer to the kingdom of God.

But, thank God, the contrary is also true. Those who have no special native religious endowments are not, therefore, excluded from the kingdom of God. We may rightly bewail our coldness: we may rightly blame ourselves that there is so little response in our hearts to the sight of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, or even to the manifestation of His unspeakable love in the death of His Son. Oh, wretched men that we are to see that bleeding love and not be set on fire with a flame of devotion! But we may be all the more thankful that it is not in our frames and feelings that we are to put our trust. Let us abase ourselves that we so little respond to these great spectacles of the everlasting and unspeakable love of God But let us ever remember that it is on the love of God and not on our appreciation of it that we are to build our confidence. Jesus our Priest and our Sacrifice, let us keep our eyes set on Him! And though our poor sinful hearts so little know how to yield to that great spectacle the homage of a suitable response, His blood will yet avail even for us.

“Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling”

Here – and let us bless God for it – here is the essence of Christianity. It is all of God and nothing of ourselves.