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The Doctrine of God's Existence.
HE time is coming, if it have not already come, when the truths of Christianity will no longer be taken for granted; when even the most elementary doctrines of religion the doctrine of a personal Creator, for instance --will be considered an open question. It has been so before, and it will be so again, perhaps in our own generation, only with this difference-that whereas in the last century the doubters were for the most part scoffers, whose bad lives deprived them of any right to be heard in a matter so sacred,' now in our century it is not so; earnest seekers after truth, whose lives are as strictly moral as our own, are putting the question to us in all seriousness, Is it possible for man to have any knowledge of God? It is the old question put to Job, three thousand years ago or more, by Zophar the Naamathite, "Canst thou by searching find out God?" And it is the question put to the Christian by the Positivist and by the Materialist in our own day; and it behoves us to 1 See the Preface to Butler's Analogy.
have an answer, for not only our Christianity, but even our faith in God's existence is on its trial.
"Why," then, "do I believe in God?" Some possibly might answer, if they spoke the real truth, "Because all about me do. I have never considered the question for myself. I have adopted the opinion and belief of those among whom I live." Clearly this is a weak and indolent belief, that will stand just so long as it is propped up on all sides by the belief of others. But if such a believer found himself among unbelievers, his faith would probably fail.
Why, then, do I believe in God? Another answers: "It is the first Article of our Creed, and our Creed is taken directly from the Bible, and the Bible must be true because it is God's word. The best men have believed this, and therefore I believe it."
This is a far worthier answer; it is the answer of one of docile mind, who mistrusts his own judgment, and wishes to lean on authority, and wisely chooses the best authority, the authority of the church in which he has been nurtured.
And yet clearly this answer will not suffice for those who have to do with the heathen on our frontiers, nor will it suffice in controversy with the sceptic at home. And if the time is coming when all Christians will have to hold their own in general society, it is wholesome to consider well the foundations of our faith, and prepare ourselves prayerfully to give an answer to any who may ask us for a reason of the hope that is in us.
Now the question before us, "What grounds have we for believing in the existence of God?" goes to the
very root of all religion. If it be impossible for man to have any knowledge of God, then all religion is an imaginary thing—beautiful it may be and refining as poetry is; but of no further value, and of no obligation whatever. This is what the modern unbeliever says: "In the child, and in the childlike ages of the world, knowledge was very limited, and all the vacant spaces in the realm of thought were filled up by the imagination. Man's knowledge of natural causes was then so small that he was continually having recourse to what he called supernatural causes to explain the things about him,such as magic, demonology, sorcery, and the like. It was in those early days that Religion won her empire over the minds of men. But now, in the maturity of the human intellect, science or knowledge of Nature is continually extending her frontiers, and thus the supernatural is being slowly but surely eliminated from the realm of thought; the natural pushing out the supernatural; science ever growing, and leaving less and less room for imagination; and thus religion coming to be put away with other childish things."
The modern materialist says further :- "Science, that is, true knowledge, can only deal with facts, and what may be proved by careful induction from those facts. If there be a God,—and I do not deny that ther may be,—but if there be, it is all one to me as if there were not, inasmuch as I have no means of knowing anything about Him. Science rests on facts, religion on imagination; therefore I prefer science. And science knows nothing, can know nothing, of God,"
from what seems to be revealed to us respecting
In the Third Part, or Appendix, will be found a kind of stromata or panarium from my own patristic reading, intended chiefly to excite the Student's desire to learn more for himself of what the early Fathers thought and wrote in days when the Church's Theologians had to hold their own against an adverse world.
I shall be very thankful if some who read these pages find them helpful towards thinking out their own thoughts into clearness, and defining to themselves the common theological terms which they are daily using.
COLLEGE GREEN, BRISTOL,