Thomas Smyth.

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to find the author of it." But still further the Scriptures every
where represent God as in his nature and perfections invisible,
incomprehensible and undiscoverable."*

The texts, therefore which seem to teach that man is capable
of his own powers of reason to find out God, require such an
explanation, as shall be consistent with the general spirit and
testimony of Scripture. And such an interpretation is we
believe the true, and the only true, one.

Thus in the passage in Romans 1 : 21, the Apostle evidently
assumes in his whole argument, the former possession, and the
voluntary loss, of the knowledge of the true God. It is upon
this very ground, the Apostle accuses the heathen of inexcuse-
able folly, impiety and guilt, and upon which he justifies the
righteousness of God in giving them up to a reprobate mind.
That the world once truly knew the true God, no one does or
can deny. He was unquestionably made known to Adam, and
his sons, to Enoch and his generation, to Noah and his pos-
terity, to Job in the East, to Abraham in all his wonderings, to
Lot, to Moses and through him to the Egyptians, and after-
wards in various ways to various nations of the earth.

How marvellously did God reveal himself in the deluge, in
the wonderful preservation of his church, in the destruction of
his enemies, in his many appearances, miracles, and interposi-
tions in the affairs of mankind: in all of which there was a
sensible demonstration of his omniscience and omnipotence,
even of that eternal power and Godhead, which alone could
effect such wonderful and supernatural results. But the
heathen nations forgot God (Ps. 91 : 17.) They "did not like
to RETAIN God in their knowledge," and this they did while
"the things that are made," the visible Creation had "from the
very beginning of the world most clearly manifested to them"
the reasonableness and certainty of that knowledge of God
which they originally possessed. Their conduct, therefore,
was an open apostacy, against which God in many ways mani-
fested his wrath. The heathen therefore were, and arc, without

*E1H8, p. 403.

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excuse, "because that which may be known of God," that is as
much as was necessary and sufficient for their present circum-
stances, concerning his essence attributes, or will, "is mani-
fested in them or among them," not however as the result of
their own unassisted reason, "for, says the Apostle, God hath
shewed it unto them (i <f>av€p<or€). The word here used
expressly denotes a positive act of God, who brought to light
made manifest and evident that which was dark, obscure and
unknown before, at sundry times and by divers manners."
"For," continues the Apostle, "the invisible things of God," his
eternal power and Godhead, as afterwards explained, — "from^'
(not ixy but airo) that is ever since the creation of the world,
when they were fully communicated by revelation "are clearly
seen." After a declaration has been made of God's nature and
existence the divine attributes are plainly evinced, "being
understood," or made plain to the understanding "by the things
that are made." They are thus understood however not only
by the works of God, but also by the things which he has done.

Notwithstanding however all this light and all these means
of knowledge God, the heathen by their vain speculations, their
false philosophy, and their ungodliness, "changed the truth of
God into a lie," converted all originally revealed truths into
fables, deified those very works which testified of their Maker,
and plunged into every wickedness. They "became vain in
their imaginations and their foolish heart was darkened."

This charge against the heathen is so true, that even
Porphysy testifies that the heathen never once dreamed of any
incorporeal nature, or invisible powers, as the cause, or the
causes of the world, and that the early Egyptians, Doenicians
and Greeks had no other gods but heaven and the heavenly
bodies, Plato, Diodonus, Siculus, and Plutarch abundantly tes-

Nor is this mode of reason peculiar to the epistle to the
Romans. The same method of argumentation appears in all
the Apostle Paul's discourses with the Gentiles. He does not
attempt to prove the existence of a Deity. He assumes this as
an admitted truth. He therefore, does not tell them, that they
might come to the knowledge of God by considering the great-
ness of God's works, or by any other method. He constantly
implies that by these means they who believe in and acknowl-
edge the existence of God might have learned to worship him
as the true God, and "to be thankful." He does undoubtedly

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affirm that the heavens and the earth, the variety of seasons
and the numberless blessings we enjoy are clear testimonies to
the majesty, wisdom, power, and goodness of God; that no
other Being in the universe can be the proper object of reli-
gious adoration ; and that to give that adoration to any other
being is ingratitude and idolatry. But this is all. The sub-
stance of the apostle's preaching was, that the heathen "should
turn from these vanities," that is from giving divine honors to
these creatures, "unto the living God." In the opinion of the
Apostle, therefore, the book of nature did not of itself reveal
God to man. It is a noble testimony to the truth of God's
nature and existence zvhen once revealed. It makes evident
the necessity of those divine perfections, which characterize
God, and of which, because otherwise invisible, God had been
pleased to make a revelation. But as rain falling on the desert,
does not render it fruitful, no more did these glorious phe-
nomena though constantly presented to the view of man, either
suggest, secure, or restore to mankind the knowledge of God's
existence, attributes, and will. In confirmation of this view
of the apostolic teaching it will be borne in mind that they did
know of the existence of the Gods, was taught them by nature.
Plato always ascribed it to a divine communication and affirmed
that it "is the gift of the gods to men." And in his Theages,
he declares that "the gods give this knowledge to none but
such as are their friends, and therefore not indiscriminately to
all who behold the heavens. More than once he also draws an
analogy and similitude, betwixt the light of the sun and the
knowledge of God. As the eye cannot contemplate the sun but
by its own light, so neither can the mind contemplate the roSv,
i. e., God, without some idea or beam of this chiefest good,
"which (he adds) is the cause of all truth." The comparison
is just as correct, as it is beautiful : since the mind knows intel-
lectual things, as the eye does visible ones, by the interposition
of a proper organ and sufficient light. While therefore the sun
is neither the sight nor the eye, and yet is the means whereby
the eye sees even the sun itself, and thus God is neither the
human mind, reason or understanding ; and yet he is the imme-
diate and sole cause of all spiritual knowledge to man; that
ineffable light, which alone can open man's mind to contem-
plate the invisible glories of the divine nature, and hence also
if the sun could not be perceived but by the light which he
himself affords, much less could God, to whom the glory of the

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heavenly orbs is no more to be compared than a glow-worm, or
spark of fire be known or understood but by His own revela-
tion of himself to man. Now there are but two revelations
given to mortals, by which the mind is enabled to comprehend
invisible things, and those are nature and grace, the works and
word of Grod. God is revealed in them both. But Grod is not
understood in both. Indeed, neither can he be perfectly under-
stood by the natural reason. This cannot comprehend God,
"because he is spiritually discerned." Nature explains,
declares and illustrates, but cannot reveal or disclose her Crea-
tor. She cannot enlighten the intellectual eye. The word and
spirit of God, are the only light that can open the eyes of the
blind, and lead them to a full and perfect acknowledgment of
the truth. God is and must be his own revealer. Matter and
motion can only declare his being, as the herald does a king by
proclaiming his august titles. When his existence and perfec-
tions are already manifested then indeed the works of nature
attest the truth of the one and the exceeding greatness of the
other. When the foundation is laid sure and firm that there is
a God, and his will the cause of all things, and that nothing is
made but by his special appointment and command, then the
works of nature will fill men's minds with a due sense of the
divine majesty and will exalt the mind to juster conceptions of
what is in itself incomprehensible and invisible. Every thing
around us, or that has any relation to us will then become helps
to the better discernment of "things not seen."*

By tradition and intercourse with other nations among whom
the Jewish people were scattered, Plato and Socrates and other
ancient philosophers attained to some knowledge of a God.
But so far was this from being the results of their own reason,
that their utmost reason could not clearly or tenaciously retain
the idea. God was still to them "the unknown God." "When
we speak," says Plato, "of the nature of God, and the creation
of the universe, we ought to be content, if what we offer be but
probable ; for more than that is not to be required ; for it must
be remembered that, I who speak, and you who are hearers, are
but men, and if we can only attain some probable fable or tra-
dition of these things, we may not enquire further about them."
"If," says Shuckford, "the knowledge of God and his nature
were discoverable by reason, and brought to light by a due
course of thinking, and then related to their children; what

*Ellis's Divin. Things, p. 404 and 406.

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were the traces of this reasoning? where to be found? or, how
were they lost? 'Tis strange these things should be so obvious
at first, that an early attempt should discover so much truth,
and that all the wit and learning that came after, for five or six
thousand years, should instead of improving it, only puzzle and
confound it. If Adam, or some other person of extraordinary
learning, had by a chain of reasoning brought these truths into
the world, some hints or other of the argument would have
remained, as well as the truths produced by it; or some suc-
ceeding author would, at one time or other, have reasoned as
fortunately as his predecessor; but nothing of this sort hap-
pened, instead of it we find that the early ages had a great
stock of truth, which they were so far from having learning
enough to invent or discover, that they could not so much as
give a good account of the true meaning of many of them. A
due consideration of which must lead us to believe, that God at
first revealed these things unto men, acquainted them of what
he had done in the creation of the world, which they communi-
cated to their children's children. **It cannot be accounted for
any other way, this is what ancient history and the state of
knowledge, obliges us to believe."

While therefore the wiser of the Grecians, it must be
admitted, knew there was a God, nevertheless who or what
God was they never knew. They did not know where to find,
nor what to make of God. What he really is, was to them a
profound mystery. With all their natural and acquired wis-
dom they could not therefore, attain any right idea or notion of
God, either as to his existence or his nature. They were in a
state of ignorance. The true God was unknown to them.
They rendered an ignorant worship to an unknown God, and
the only real worship they paid was to Demons.* Thus as the
Apostle says in his epistle to the Galatians (4: 8, 9,) **When
they knew not God, they did service unto them which by nature
are no Gods."

The declaration of the Psalmist that "the heavens declare the
glory of God" cannot mean that they actually convey the true
knowledge of the true God to every beholder. This would be
in plain contradiction to the fact that then, and always, among
the heathen these very heavens were regarded as eternal, and
that the very idea of a creation and a Creator was unknown to

*This was the practice of Socrates, whose last act was to offer a sacrifice
to i^sculapius.

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their philosophy.* They attributed creation to chance, matter
combination of atoms, laws of motion, in short, to every thing,
and to any thing, or to nothing, rather than to God. These
few words "in the beginning God created the heavens and the
earth'' contain more true wisdom than all the volumes of
ancient philosophy. To the mind which has been enlightened
with the knowledge of God, and by such only was the psalm
intended to be used, the heavens declare his glory and the
firmament his handy work. But far different is the case with
the unbelieving and ignorant minds. To these as well as
believers, the heavens shine and the firmament displays its
wonders. "For them" also, as the apostle declares, quoting
the words of this very Psalm, "their sound has gone unto all
the earth, and their words unto the ends of the earth." But
of every unenlightened human being, the apostle also declares
(Rom. 10: 14, 16), "How then shall they call on him in whom
they have not believed, and how shall they believe on him of
whom they have not heard ? and how shall they hear without a
preacher? and how shall they preach except they be sent?"
The heavenly bodies had an effect quite contrary to that, which
they are supposed by some, necessarily to produce, on the
ancient philosophers. These very heavens instead of leading
them to the knowledge of God, led them away from God, and
led them to make Gods of the sun, moon, and stars. This was
perhaps the earliest and most prevalent form of ancient idol-
atry. And even now the study of nature without the guidance
of divine revelation, and the divine spirit, leads only to a
rationalistic Pantheistic, and dreamy sentimentality, and poetic

The Psalmist speaks, therefore, of the intended, and not of
the actual effect of the heavens, and the firmament. He speaks
of their influence upon religious minds and as a means of
strengthening and awakening sentiments of devotion in every
believing heart. The Spirit of God also expressly declares
that, "through faith we understand that the worlds were
framed by the word of God." Reason, therefore, could never
so much as have known that the worlds were created, had not
God communicated it, and there cannot be a greater absurdity
than to say that man can find out God by the works of crea-
tion. Yet cannot find that creation is the work of God.

♦Sec on this page an able disourse by Dr. Willat on the Religion of
Nature and Idol, in the Schol. Arm., vol. 1, p. 174; also Dr. Ellis's Knowl.
of Div. Things, p. 302.

5— Vol. IX.

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We may therefore, conclude in the words of the book of
wisdom, "Surely vain are all men by nature, who are ignorant
of God and could not out of the good things that are seen know
him that is neither by considering the work did they acknowl-
edge the workmaster, but deemed either fire, &c., or the light
of heaven to be the gods which govern the world." Nor did
the heathen ever imagine that what they knew of the existence
of the Gods and taught them by nature.*

♦See also 2 Peter 3 and 5 ; and Ps. 33 : 6.

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The Bible, and Not Reason, the Only Authoritative
Source and Standard of Our Knowledge of the
Nature of God — What It Teaches Concerning the
Unity of God.

In the teaching of God's infallible word we have an emphatic
corroboration of all that we have previously taught,* as to the
nature, powers, and province of human reason in reference to
God and things divine. "It is a perilous mistake," says a lead-
ing Unitarian Divine, "to call reason a proud faculty in human
nature." The mistake, however, is with him who would make
reason a faculty, independent in its character and action of that
intelligent and moral nature of which it is only a manifestation
or power. This writer compares reason to the eye. Now we
often speak of a fierce, loving, lustful, envious, jealous, or
proud eye, by which we mean, not that the eye is any one of
these, but that the eye expresses these several states or dispo-
sitions of the mind, and gives character to the individual. And
just so it is that we attribute to reason, when considered as the
faculty of reasoning, pride, presumption, weakness^ impiety,
and unreasonableness, by which we mean, not that the faculty
is any of these, but that the mind which uses it in any of these
ways, and thus perverts and abuses it, is so. Strictly and
properly speaking, the intelligent and moral being man, thinks,
perceives, judges, examines, believes, and feels in doing so,
either proud or humble, presumptuous or teachable, impious or
pious, and in the present state of human nature we affirm that
the natural man, unrenewed and unenlightened by the Spirit of
God, is "compassed about with pride," — that "through pride he
will not seek after God," and "will not come to the light," and
that on this account he "errs from the truth."t This is the
case in reference to all truth so far as it comes in conflict with
the wishes and desires, and selfish sensual interests of the

a man convinced against his will
Is of the same opinion still.

♦See on the Province of Reason and Knowledge of God*s Existence, in
Nos. 1 and 2 of this volu'iie.

tOn the effect of pride in corrupting human philosophy and primitive
truth, see full account in Gale's Court of the Gentiles, vol. 3, pp. 9-12. See
also, the rebuke of Socrates and Plato, in ibid. p. 15.

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But pre-eminently is this the case in reference to God and all
that pertains to God. "For vain man would be wise, though
man is bom like a wild ass's colt." Their "foolish heart is
blinded/' their "understanding is darkened," their "wisdom is
foolishness with God," and "by all their wisdom they know not
God."— (Job xi, 4-12.)

Man — human nature — human rason — is here as it is often
elsewhere in the Bible, called "vain" or empty. It is empty of
that with which it should be filled, and filled with that of which
it should be empty. It is empty of all that is humble, holy and
heavenly. This empty and vain human reason, "would be
wise," not for the sake of "getting wisdom which is the best
thing," but for the sake of being thought wiser than others ; not
in things comprehensible by it and profitable for it, but in
things above and beyond its capacity and its limits, and in
things which only engender "foolish questions" and "damnable
heresies." Yea, so vain and empty is human reason, that it
seeks after what is false, forbidden, and irrational, seven times
more earnestly because it is so. By this very proud and pre-
sumptuous desire to attain to improper and forbidden knowl-
edge, sin entered into our world, and by sin death, and all our
woes. It was not wisdom to know God nor "the wisdom of
God," but the desire to be as knowing as God, which the devil
promised tnd apostate man impiously desired. So it has ever
been with human reason, and so it is now. Vain man would
still be "wise above that which is written," and instead of
"searching what is commanded, and thinking thereon with
reverence, would search the things that are above his
strength." — (Eccl. iii: 21.) There is a drunkenness of the
understanding as well as of the body, and we are therefore
exhorted to "be wise unto sobriety." — (Rom. xii: 3.)

Thus has human reason become "more brutish than a man
and lower than the understanding of a {perfect and unf alien)
man." — (Prov. xxx: 2.) *"So foolish and ignorant is it that
it is as a beast before God," (Psalm Ixxiii: 22,) even "as the
horse and the mule which have no understanding." Man's
"understanding is like the beasts that perish," yea, like the
"wild ass's colt," the most beastly of beasts.

♦Literally, the words would read:

Surely more ignorant I am than a man.

I neither possess the understanding of a man,

Nor have I learned wisdom,

And the knowledge of the Holy Ones I should know.

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And what is the illustration and proof given of this proud
and presumptuous ignorance of vain and empty man in the
passage quoted from the book of Job ? It is the attempt made
from the beginning until now **by searcing to find out God,"
and thus to make God's nature, character, purposes and word,
square with the reason, the opinions, and the wishes of the
human heart. God, and his word, and his worship, and his
truth, and his requirements, must be that, and only that, which
human reason can approve and sanction, and to which human
passion and human fashion will submit, else vain man "will
not have God to reign over him."

The world by its wisdom, its reason, its philosophy, its
science, and its literature, has searched and thought, and writ-
ten much on the subject of God, but it has only like the dove,
surveyed an ocean of angry and discordant elements, one
theory and one superstition dashing against another in endless
confusion. The being of God, the manner of his being, the
attributes of his being, these by all its wisdom and searching,
human reason never knew and never can know, until it can
compass infinity, comprehend eternity, fill immensity, and
attain unto omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence.
"Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out
the Almighty unto perfection ? It is as high as Heaven ; what
canst thou do ? deeper than hell ; what canst thou know ? The
measure thereof is longer than the earth and broader than the

Almighty Former of this wondrous plan,
Faintly reflected in thine image, man —
Holy and just — ^the Greatness of whose name
Fills and supports this universal frame,
Diffus'd throughout th' infinitude of space,
Who art thyself thine 0¥m vast dwelling place ;
Soul of our soul, whom yet no sense of ours
Discerns, eluding our most active pow*rs;
Encircling fhades attend thine awful throne,
That veil thy face, and keep thee still unknown ;
Unknown, thoush dwelling u^ cur inmost part
Lord of the thoughts, and Sov'reign of the heart t

Madcfne Guyon.

When Hiero asked the philosopher of his day, what is God,
he asked time to reflect. When urged to an answer, he
requested from time to time, still further delay, and at last
confessed his ignorant inability to answer. And well he might,
for when holy Augustine pondered by the sea-side the same
absorbing question, he heard a voice calling upon him to empty
the ocean into a cockle shell. An ignorant man might imagine

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that were he possessed of the towering height and power of
genius, he could find out God, even as he might think that from
the top of earth's loftiest peak, he could reach the Heavens,
but he would find that even there, the unscalable heights, and
unfathomable depths of this unsearchable subject were still
above and beyond him.

We cannot by all our vain searching find out God. This is
"a thing too high" for human reason, since "God is higher than
the Heavens, whom the Heaven of Heavens cannot contain,"
and whom "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of
man conceived." "Oh! the depths of the wisdom of God.
How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding

O God, thou bottomless abyss,

Thee to perfection who '^an know^
O height immense! what words suffice

Thy countless attributes to show!

But while we cannot by all our searching find out God, God
may be found by his own revelation of himself to us.

We have but faith ; we cannot know ;

For knowledge is of things we see ;

And yet we trust it comes from thee,
A beam in darkness: let it grow.

Let knowledge grow from more to more.

But more of reverence in us dwell ;

That mind and soul, according well,
May make one music, as before.

The knowledge of God cometh down from God. We know
him only when he makes himself known to us. There are but
two in the universe who know God by their own unaided
knowledge. "The Spirit searcheth all things, even the deep
things of God," and "no man knoweth the Father but the Son,

Online LibraryThomas SmythComplete works of Rev. Thomas Smyth, D. D → online text (page 7 of 68)