The Church and the Sacraments, The Time of the Reformation, Views on the Church, Formal Principle (contiuned)

In our preceding article, appraising that form of Rationalism which is known as Deistical Rationalism, we observed, in the first place, that it is surely contrary to the teachings of the Word of God. And, in the second place, we also pointed out that this presentation is contrary to all that which is taught us by history. However, this is not all. 

In the third place, we also wish to remark that Scripture alone directs us to the only way out of our present misery and shame and death. Why criticize the Word of the living God when one is utterly helpless to furnish relief and point the way out? Why reject the Word of God when one cannot put anything in its place? The Word of the living God alone is a lamp before our feet and a light upon our path to lead man to life and glory. This lies surely in the nature of the case. How could the mind of man possibly serve to lead him to life and peace? How could man’s reason possibly lead the way out of misery and the abyss of his shame and corruption and death into life and immortality? How can man who is from below lead mankind to the things that are above? Is it reasonable or rational to assume the possibility of this? Can any mortal who cannot save himself from death lead mankind to life and peace, through death and the grave, and beyond the grave into the land of eternal life and heavenly immortality? Do not the Scriptures obviously declare the truth when they teach that “to us have been -revealed the things that could never arise within the heart or mind of man”? The proud and abominably conceited rationalist rejects the Biblical revelation in the Scriptures, but he himself can only plunge mankind and himself into greater shame and debauchery and destruction. Indeed, his attitude toward the Word is surely not reasonable or logical, but purely spiritual. He rejects the Scriptures not because he cannot understand or comprehend them, but only because, hating God, he also hates the Word of God. His heart and mind are dead in sins and trespasses, and his entire attitude is simply one of hatred and enmity against the living God.

Until now we have called attention to that form of Rationalism which is known as Deistical Rationalism. This form of Rationalism denies Divine revelation. 

Another more common form of Rationalism admits that the Scriptures contain a supernatural revelation. It maintains, not that the things are true because they are in the Bible, but that they are in the Bible because they are true. Of course, it is very true that “things are in the Bible because they are true.” However, in the mouth of the Rationalist this has an altogether different meaning than as expressed by one who bows before the authority of the Holy Scriptures. The Rationalist, we understand, does not believe the things that are in the Bible merely because they are in the Bible. He believes the things that are in the Word of God only when he is able to understand and comprehend them. If, for example, he believes in the immortality of the soul (and this truth is, of course, taught in the Word of God), then he believes in this doctrine only because it is reasonable to him. If, for example, he does not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, that God is one in essence and three in Persons, and this truth is also taught in the Scriptures, then he does not believe in it because it is not reasonable to him. The arguments which can be advanced against this doctrine far outweigh, as far as the rationalist is concerned, those that can be set forth in favor of it. It means nothing to the Rationalist that the doctrine of the Trinity appears in the Bible and that writers of old have recorded it. This also applies, of course, to other doctrines such as the creation of the world, the incarnation of the Son of God, the re-creation of new heavens and new earth. He does not believe things merely because they are mentioned in the Word of God but only because they fall within the scope of his human intellect and understanding. We repeat: that sacred writers have recorded these things means nothing to him. These writers may have been in error: They undoubtedly were in error. Just because something may have appeared reasonable to them does not mean that they are therefore reasonable. What people may have believed to be true in days of old may not necessarily be true today. God, then, may have revealed to fallible men what He wanted them to write, but He did not inspire them infallibly. The Lord simply left it to them to write as they wanted to write. These writers were no stenographers, we must understand (although permit me to add that we do not believe either that they were mere stenographers). God did not tell them, word for word, what to write, but simply told them in general terms, but left the actual writing to them. And these writers were undoubtedly influenced by the times and circumstances of their particular age. They may have written things which were currently accepted as truth in their day, may have written in harmony with and according to popular opinion. And they may surely have been in error. The Scriptures, therefore, abound with misapprehensions, with inconclusive arguments and accommodations to Jewish errors, superstitions, and popular beliefs. In those days of old, for example, people believed that the earth was flat and that it rested upon foundations and pillars, that the sun moved around the earth rather than that the earth moved around the sun. We know better today, of course. And what must now determine what is truth and what is not the truth? Man’s reason must surely supply the answer. To separate the wheat from the chaff, the true from the false is the task of the reason and mind of man. He will believe and accept to be true only that which is in harmony with his human intellect and understanding. 

In our appraisal of this form of Rationalism our first observation is that when it declares to believe only that which it is able to understand and comprehend it is not speaking the truth. The Rationalist is simply lying when he claims to maintain this. Does he reject such doctrines as the Trinity and the Incarnation of the Son of God in our flesh and blood because he cannot understand them? Of course not! Fact is, he does not understand anything. All of life is a profound riddle and mystery to man. Does a child understand that certain people are his (or her) parents and does it therefore address them as its father and mother? Does anybody understand the feeding qualities of foods and the potent qualities of various medicines and therefore partake of them? Does a farmer understand how a kernel of corn can grow into an ear of corn, how the seed of wheat and oats can grow and mature into wheat and oats, and does he for this reason plank his crops in the springtime of the year? We know better: Does the evolutionist believe in the theory of evolution, that one species can develop into another because it is reasonable to him and he is able to understand it? Does he fully understand and comprehend the process of life, and can he explain, rationalistically and logically, how one species develops into another? The Scriptures teach us that God created Adam out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and that man thus became a living soul. This is Scripture’s description of the creation of man. And it also sets forth the Divine creation of all the animals of the earth. Now man has been trying to find the “missing link” between man and the animal world, between the rational and irrational creation. Until now he has been completely unable to furnish this “missing link,” has been utterly unable to explain how an irrational creature can develop info a creature with a mind and a will, that is, a moral-rational creature. And this, we understand, is quite a problem. And it becomes more of .a problem when attention is called to the fact that, within the last six thousand years, no such development or transition has been discerned anywhere in this creation. Man, we say, has been quite unable to supply this “missing link.” Yet, he rejects the Scriptural account of the creation of man and of the entire animal world. Why? Because this Scriptural account does not fall within the scope of his natural understanding and thinking? Of course not! If be would believe only that which he is able to understand and comprehend, why, then, does he believe in Evolution? Rationalism does not believe in the Scriptural presentation of the living God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, because he cannot comprehend it with his natural mind and thinking? Fact is, however, he cannot even understand the creature. Does he accept himself to be a fact? He does not comprehend the Scriptural truth of the Trinity because his intellect cannot grasp the truth that God is one in essence and three in Persons. So he claims. Yet, he certainly cannot understand his own being, that he is a human being with a body and a soul, and that his body and soul are wondrously adapted to each other. He does not doubt his own personal existence, does he? Consequently, when he declares that he rejects the truths as set forth in the Word of God because he cannot comprehend them, he is surely not speaking the truth. Another motive surely dominates him in his rejection of the Word of God. The reason why he rejects the Word of God is not because he cannot comprehend it, but because he does not want the things that are contained in it. He hates the living God and refuses to submit himself to what that living God has revealed in his infallible Word and testimony. It must be very obvious that the Rationalist is not controlled exclusively by his reason and thinking after all. He is principally controlled and dominated by his heart, and that heart is evil. 

A second observation which we wish to make in connection with this form of Rationalism concerns the written Word of God, the Holy Scriptures. To understand this, we must bear in mind that some forty writers were instrumental in the composition of the Bible. The first writer of the Bible was Moses and the last writer was John as he wrote the Book of Revelation. These writers covered a period of time which lasted approximately fifteen to sixteen hundred years. And these writers were not in touch with one another when they wrote the Scriptures. The one was completely unaware of the other. Now this is surely a very remarkable phenomenon. And the reason why this is so remarkable is that all the writings of these forty or more writers are characterized by a wonderful unity of thought! There is no discrepancy or difference of conflict between them. Their presentation of the living God and His dealings with the children of men is absolutely the same in all their writings. And this becomes all the more remarkable if you bear in mind the time and age in which these various writers contributed to the Word of God. Most of them lived and wrote in the Old Dispensation, the time of the symbols and types and shadows. This means that they lived and wrote in a day when the main theme of their writings was as yet to be fulfilled. They did not write, as far as this fulfillment is concerned, of that which had happened but of that which as yet had to happen. We challenge the Rationalist, who wants to believe only the things he is able to understand and comprehend, to explain this indisputable and amazing phenomenon. To write about things which were not as yet, and about things which they understood themselves so imperfectly and vaguely, and yet that all their writings are characterized by an amazing unity of thought is surely a striking and phenomenal characteristic of the holy Scriptures. 

—H.V.