The kingdom of heaven is intimately connected with the supernatural.
PROPOSITION 6. The kingdom of heaven is intimately connected with the supernatural.
The whole Bible, whose leading theme is the kingdom, is grounded on the supernatural. Remove this, and you destroy, if not the book itself, the chief characteristic, the distinguishing excellency of the Scriptures.[*]
Note. By “the Supernatural” we include both the existence of God as the great First Cause of all things, and that He is able to, and does, work above, in and through what are known as “the laws of Nature.” It is more than “the Superhuman,” since the latter is found in Nature itself (i.e., in exerting powers, introducing forces, and bringing forth results beyond man’s ability and comprehension), while the former exists independent of Nature (i.e., the seen and experienced in Creation) and yet sustains to the Natural a most intimate relationship as its framer and upholder.
Obs. 1. The Word begins with the supernatural (the presence of God) and the natural in harmony. It shows how an antagonism was produced, causing the withdrawal of the supernatural from the sight of man, and yet how in mercy it at times exhibited itself to man, in and through and for man, especially in giving revelations of its will. It even condescends, in order to secure redemption, to veil itself in humanity and manifest the fact by suitable demonstrations. It indicates its presence by fulfilment of predictions and promises, by the conversion of men, by the existence of the Church, by the consciousness of man excited in contact with truth and providence. It will, in a still more striking and direct way, exhibit itself in the future, after all the preliminary preparations are made, in order to fulfil the remainder of Holy Writ. Now the kingdom being designed to restore and manifest the original concord once existing between the natural and supernatural, the Bible closes with that kingdom in such accordance. Without the supernatural the kingdom cannot be produced, for it requires, as predicted, a supernatural king, who has been provided in a supernatural manner, and rulers who have experienced a supernatural transforming power. Even in its conception and the preparatory measures, as well as in its final manifestation, is it indissolubly bound with the Divine. Death, which is to be destroyed in it, tears, which are to be wiped away in it, nature which is to be fashioned anew in it, these, as well as a multitude of other promises, can never be realized without the attending supernatural. The kingdom and the supernatural cannot possibly be dissevered. The inception of it arises from the supernatural, and under the guidance of the same, consistently with human freedom, not only revelations are given, manifestations of its reality are vouchsafed, exhibitions of its power are foreshown, but that all these are mere shadowings, foretastes of a living, vital relationship, now invisibly maintained, which shall ultimately be visibly shown in the kingdom itself by affinity no longer concealed, owing to the mediumship of a glorified humanity, which serves as the connecting link between the visible and invisible. The supernatural is held in abeyance as to its outward manifestation until the time arrives for the restoration of the forfeited blessing, the personal dwelling of God with man, which will be experienced in this kingdom. When Jesus, of supernatural origin and glorified by supernatural power, shall come the second time unto salvation, His supernatural might shall be exerted in behalf of this kingdom in the most astounding manner. Holy Writ constantly appeals to this union, and no scriptural conception of it can be obtained without conceding this fact.[*]
Note. When science confines itself to the material universe, making law or force the result of nature and not of intelligent will; when it rests satisfied with the material and ignores a higher sphere indicative of conscious relationship to the Infinite—then it can and must (in logical consistency) deny the Supernatural. (Comp. Dr. Sprecher’s Groundwork of Theol. Div. 2, ch. 6.) But we are not thus bound, preferring “the old paths,” which alone impart comfort, hope, strength, and blessing. It is still true, as Theirs (Pressense’s Relig. and Reign of Terror, p. 326) remarked: “It is the privilege of intelligence to recognize marks of intelligence in the Universe; and a great mind is more capable than a narrow one of seeing God in His works.” The host of intelligent men, who in the past have substantiated this declaration, are witnesses that such a reverent recognition is in accord with the highest mental development. Nature, Religion, Christianity, man’s moral nature, Personal experience, all unite in calling for a Higher Will, Higher Reason, a God, whom we gratefully acknowledge as our dependence—our All in All. Prof. Bowen (Modern Philosophy), reviewing the phases of philosophy from Descartes down to Hartman, informs us: “I accept with unhesitating conviction and belief the doctrine of the being of one personal God, the creator and governor of the world, and of one Lord Jesus Christ in whom ‘dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily’; and I have found nothing whatever in the literature of modern infidelity which, to my mind, casts even the slightest doubt about that belief.” Just as in Nature, nature herself is sustained and interpenetrated by forces which come from vast distances beyond the earth, and to which she gives conscious evidence in light, growth, etc., so in moral and spiritual things influences come from heaven itself which sustain light, life, growth, etc., and to which man—if receptive—consciously responds. To this self-consciousness the Bible confidently appeals (Comp. e.g. Williamson’s Rud. Theol. and Mor. Science, ch. 9), as teaching the Supernatural.
Obs. 2. Men may call this foolishness, incredible, etc., and we admit that it is a “strange work” (Isa. 28:21), “a marvellous work and a wonder, for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid” because “their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men” (Isa. 29:13, 14). Moreover, such a “strange work” is required if the heart-felt longings of suffering humanity, and the exceeding precious promises, the only consolation we possess in the darkest hours of trial, are to be realized. It is admitted, that outside of Revelation, we have no decided promises that the groanings of creation can ever be removed, and that, if this is ever performed (e.g. death abolished), it must be done by a higher power than is now manifested in and through nature. The necessity for such a power is allowed by all; the desirableness of securing information and knowledge on the subject is granted by all; why not then tolerate the reasonableness of the Bible on these points until a clearer, brighter light is found? In looking over the extended field of controversy between faith and unbelief—while admitting that faith, in its eagerness to vindicate God’s Word, has sometimes, urged on by the consciousness of personal experience, employed arguments that are logically inadmissible, yet we can apologize for the same on the ground that it evinced “zeal without knowledge” in an ill-directed effort to sustain truth. On the other hand, unbelief has too often shown a swiftness and unnatural avidity to bring discredit upon the same Word; resorting to a most unscholarly criticism, employing arguments often refuted, without the least notice of attempted refutations, ignoring what is alleged in vindication, etc., for which we can make no apology, seeing that the effort itself, and the peculiar spirit in which it is made, is indicative of a bitter hostility to the Gospel. We might the more readily excuse them if, in place of the faith and hope so rudely and remorselessly destroyed, they could bring us light to dispel the darkness which otherwise overshadows man’s destiny. But instead of light they only give us increased darkness.[*]
Note. It has become quite fashionable to designate the old method of proving the existence of God and of the supernatural by an appeal to design, contrivance, the adaptation of means to an end, etc., as “the production of a clock-making Divinity.” While it is true that the moral nature of man affords us the most decisive proof of a higher agency and of the moral nature of the Being who has called us into existence, yet man is not yet so far advanced in knowledge that he can do without the argument that God in His wisdom appeals to, and which has commanded the reason and strengthened the hearts of multitudes. If the argument in proof of the Divine Existence drawn from design in Nature commends itself even to such men as John Stuart Mill (Cook’s Lect. Huxley and Tyndall on Evolution, p. 30), then surely the far more comprehensive argument that can be founded on evidences of design in the Divine Purpose (as e.g. seen in the redemptive arrangements, the Theocratic ordering, etc.) ought specially to be of force. Besides this: when the much lauded criticism of unbelief plants itself upon the broad platform “that the Great First Cause never breaks through the chain of finite causes by an immediate exertion of power,” it is certainly right to wait for the proof of such a position. If the boasted intellectual groundwork of unbelief can produce nothing better than mere assumption to sustain such a position, men of reflection may well ask, Who informed the creature that God never interferes, over against the testimony of the past and the general conviction, impressed by moral consciousness, that He can do so? Suppose this to be a fact, and that unbelievers are gifted with superior wisdom, it then follows: (1) that man is firmly bound in an eternal chain of necessity and fatalism; (2) that the motives presented by religion and morality are all vain, being under the power of irreversible destiny; (3) that the First Cause elevates His work to an equality with Himself, or, at least, subordinates Himself to a constituted necessity; (4) that a power inherent in a Creator (the will or pleasure to do as He pleases) is thus lost and bound up in that which is created; (5) and that we attribute to God less control over His work than man exerts over the labor of his hands. Strauss lays it down as an axiom, “that, according to sound philosophy, as well as experience, the regular chain of conditional causes is never interrupted by the absolute Causality through special acts.” The question, however, is whether sound philosophy or common-sense requires that the great Cause must thus be rigorously bound by His own creation? Does such a limitation of “the Absolute” really constitute Him or “it” the Absolute? Does it require, admitting the existence of evil and the desirableness of its removal, that this Cause should feel no interest in the removal of evil existing in creation? Does it insist upon a God, stern, inflexible, cold and distant, binding humanity by unalterable law to a sad, dreary, consecutive fate, or can it bring this Cause into vital relationship with intelligence, morality, religion, the noblest feelings, impulses, aspirations and hopes of man?
Obs. 3. If we had a Revelation and a kingdom proposed by it, without a supernatural element claimed and exerted, then the objection would be urged, without the possibility of contradiction, that it was merely of human origin. God knew this, and hence stamps the one given with something above nature and the power of man. Some charge us with superstition and a low, degrading belief when, acquiescing in the supernatural, we look beyond the natural law to its Creator or Institutor. But justly the charge cannot be preferred against us, seeing that it is not we who stopping short at the natural laws, regarding them as the real causation of all things, and utterly unalterable in their workings, tender to the laws what reverence and worship we are capable of, so that the laws virtually become our gods, our eternal divinities, and in their sum, totality, constitute the high-sounding “Absolute.” Who is the most superstitious or who has faith the lowest in the scale, the one who bows down to physical law, or the other who looks beyond such laws to the Lawgiver Himself? Can it be shown, without mere assertion, that the supernatural never exerted its power in creation—that these laws were self-producing, eternal—that man never comes under its influence—that it is not needed—that its manifestations are physically impossible—that they are morally impracticable—that it is unworthy of God or man, etc.? These and similar questions must be fairly answered before we can give up a precious faith and hope, affording the richest of consolations and blessings needed in our pilgrimage here.[*]
Note. Unbelief makes much of Natural Religion, but as Christian apologists (e.g. Bp. Butler’s Analogy) have abundantly shown, it is insufficient (as unbelief sadly confesses) to solve the most essential problems concerning the present and the future in reference to man’s happiness. Now when Christianity does not destroy Natural Religion, but confirms it, adding to it that which it was impossible for it to produce, is it not strange that men devote themselves to a persistent, life-long exertion to demolish the labors of intelligent, pious men, without the least effort—owing to, sometimes confessed, inability—to substitute something better? Is it not remarkable that such will deliberately deny the fundamental ideas underlying our subjection to moral government, simply because such are constantly appealed to in Scripture—no matter how destructive their repeal would be to society? The Realism, Utilitarianism, Naturalism of the day does not stop to consider how necessary to man’s welfare the Supernatural is, in order to insure deliverance, complete and continued, from evil. A Religion that proposes such a Supernaturalism connected with redemption (which unbelief acknowledges, in view of the permanency of natural law, is not to be found in Nature) surely should be met with respect and not with unrelenting bitterness.
Obs. 4. The objection that a supernatural interference would argue imperfection in creation and Providence, is purely one-sided. It has its limits, and when pressed too far is at once forged into a double-edged sword which cuts both ways. Imperfection is found in nature, but this is overlooked; it is found in man, but this is ignored, in order to find it in the plan of redemption, and not in the creature and creation which it is designed to save. Is this wise? If the theory is correct, then those eternal laws, so magnified, should have avoided imperfection—those complete and perfect forces of nature should have removed the ills and woes and sufferings and antagonisms now so abundantly prevalent—those unchangeable and eternal laws should, long before this, from the beginning have elevated man to knowledge, truth and happiness, removing from him ignorance, error, and misery. But not satisfied with this objection, another is brought from the opposite extreme (showing how easily objections are formed when the heart desires them) viz., that fixed and invariable law without intervention indicates the absolute sovereignty of God, His wisdom, goodness (so Dr. Draper and others), etc. In the one case, intervention indicates imperfection in the work performed by God; in the other it shows the same in the Creator Himself. Law unchangeable, etc., certainly gives us a high opinion of God, of His absolute power, sovereignty, wisdom, etc., that was able thus to constitute them. But we have still a higher and more majestic view of God, if we regard (as the Bible) the same power, sovereignty, etc., equal to adding to, or controlling, or reversing, or altering, or staying for a brief period any of the laws or forces which He has constituted. In the general invariableness is a fact established to enforce His government, to provide for and contribute to the happiness of His creatures, but in every particular instance it is not true; for if that were the case it would limit His own power, and make the laws equal to if not superior to the Lawgiver. If we could place Christianity and the kingdom which is to result from it under such law without Divine interposition or aid, the foundation of all hope would not only be overturned, but men would justly say, you can expect nothing more than what these laws can give; God’s sovereignty is only in them, He can do no more for you, and therefore it is idle to pray, to expect a resurrection, to hope for freedom from evil, etc. (This many do say at the present time.) In brief, such a theory, put into its mildest form, places God in the posture of a cruel Being, giving us unchangeable law from which we can see no escape from misery, and this law being eternal, we dare not comfort ourselves with the idea that evil is temporary, that God will ultimately remove and destroy it. From such hope-crushing reasoning, we turn with relief and joy to the comforting doctrine of the Word, that while God has created this world and man, placed them under laws which in the general are unchangeable, yet when the time arrives that the necessity of man or the Divine purpose requires it, He can exert a higher law still—His Omnipotent Will—and control or bend or reverse, in short, do what He pleases with His own creation. Man cannot describe a greater, more perfect, more absolute sovereign than the Bible in its simplicity does, when it makes Him so all-powerful that He is able, and does, at any time He chooses, intervene in His own workmanship. To deny this is to degrade and not ennoble God. Believers in the Bible are warned against just such reasoning. Thus e.g. 2 Pet. 3:3, 4, unmistakably foretells that “scoffers”* will arise who shall claim that “all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (most probably with the plea that otherwise imperfection exists either in the works or in the Creator). The same apostle traces its origin to willingly are ignorant of—i.e.—wilful ignorance—desiring, wishing, willing it; and charges us that it is worthy of marked, special attention (“knowing this first,” etc.,) being a distinguishing characteristic of the last days.
Note 1. Excepting by Mill, and some others, who, however, to account for the evil, boldly argue (as in “Literature and Dogma”) that the Creator or First Cause was limited in ability to create—thus making an imperfect, weak God, the product of their reason over against the majestic, perfect God of the Bible. Another class also admit the evil, and find no hope, advocating a despairing fate or nihilism over against the cheering prospects held forth by the Word of God. Generally, however, the position is assumed as stated in the text. In the Art. “Immortality,” in Littell’s Liv. Age for 1872, taken from Brit. Quarterly Review, the Optimist Philosophy, that evil will be eradicated, is opposed.
Note 2. In the paper contributed by Merle D’Aubigne to Christ. Alliance at New York, reference is made to the wide-spread nature of infidelity and the critical posture of the times, and to the remarkable characteristic of infidelity of the present period: “Until now, the eighteenth century—the age of Voltaire—was regarded as the epoch of most decided infidelity, but how far does the present time surpass it in this respect. Voltaire himself protested against the philosophy which he called atheistic, and said, ‘God is necessarily the Great, the Only, the Eternal Artificer of all nature.’ (Dialogues, xxv.) But the pretended philosophers of our day leave such ideas far behind, and regard them as antiquated superstitions,” etc. Taking Prof. Tyndall’s eloquent address in favor of materialism, it almost seems that we have his atomic theory fulfilled in himself, viz., that the atoms formerly composing Democritus have conjoined again in forming a Tyndall. The Egyptian transmigration theory, modernized to suit prevailing tastes, may, for aught we know, again be revived.
Obs. 5. Before entering upon the consideration of the miraculous, it is necessary, first of all, to come to a decision respecting the supernatural; whether indeed a Higher Power exists in addition to nature which can introduce the miraculous. The Bible takes this for granted as something indirectly taught by nature itself (in works, design, etc.), but more directly by our mental and moral constitution (in moral and religious impulses, a consciousness of being under moral law, etc.). The simplicity of the Bible teaching, corroborated by the religious feeling, prayer tendency, and experience of ages, has not been invalidated by the recent prevailing attacks of unbelief, because reason itself, unbiased, must, in the contest now raging, determine in favor of the Scriptures. Which, e.g., is the most reasonable, to believe in a Creator who takes a continued interest in His creatures, and can at pleasure exert His power in their behalf; or to believe that nature has no intelligent personal Producer, or if it has such an One, that He keeps aloof from His own workmanship? Which is the most reasonable, to affirm that the world is produced by God, who can order and control it according to His will; or to say that it is somehow unexplained, the result of natural laws (also unexplained), and that such laws are alone causative and operative? Which is the most reasonable, to declare that an intelligent Designer, with an ultimate glorious end in view, created all things, and, to indicate and vindicate the intended end, gives intimations of His power and goodness; or to say that atoms (necessarily endued with intelligence) come together by forces (also intelligent), and combine to form an intelligent, related design (as seen), and this goes on eternally? Which is the most reasonable, to announce that reason existed before the creation of the world, designed it, and evidences itself in the varied works thereof, and that the same reason has access to its work, and can, in accordance with an announced plan, manifest its presence in new acts and new performances; or to assert that reason is only (Büchner) in nature? (Zollman in The Bible and Natural Science justly observes, that such a theory virtually makes the atoms individually possess the greatest reasoning power because of their forming combinations which man is incapable of wholly searching out and understanding.) Which is the most in accord with reason, to acknowledge that the world has a personal Sovereign Ruler, or that impersonal, unexplained forces and laws form such a Ruler? Reason, as evidenced in the gifted intellects which have bowed in reverence to revelation and in the studious sons of science who have made nature subservient to the Word, can cordially receive, as the highest reason, the biblical idea of a God, the biblical conception of the power and freedom of intelligence, the biblical will as manifested in a divine purpose unfolding toward redemption. It is assuming too much to suppose, that the reasoning in favor of the supernatural from the earliest days down to more recent writers (as Butler, Argyle, McCosh, Cook, etc.), and that the concessions even of the ablest opponents of the miraculous, of a great first cause, existing prior to, and forming, nature, should be but folly. The assumption, by its absurdity and antagonism to reason, defeats itself. Independent of the Scriptures, relying simply upon the constitution of nature and man, our deepest thinkers of all classes and ages, even those unprepared to receive the entire biblical conception, have still taught a theism. The acknowledgment of the supernatural prepares us for the next proposition. Admit the supernatural, of a higher power of existence and intelligence over and above nature, and then the way is prepared for reason to accept of this power manifesting itself in that sphere relating to the highest interests of man. Reason finds a sufficient cause in the God of the Bible to explain not only the existence and continued operation of law, but how the Creator of law can exhibit His all-pervading power and presence, at any desired moment, through the electric flashes of a Divine Providence, thus visibly manifesting that the creative spirit is a God, not afar off but nigh at hand.
Note 1. To indicate the contrast between our views and those of the free-thinking class, we select a recent writer, Winwood Reade, who (Martyrdom of Man) thus gives the final result of making man an atom, a cell growth of nature: “We teach that there is a heaven in the ages far away, but not for us single corpuscules, not for us dots of animated jelly; but for the One (i.e. Humanity) of whom we are the elements, and who, though we perish, never dies, but grows from period to period, and by the united efforts of single molecules called men, or of those cell groups called nations, is raised toward the Divine power which he will finally attain. Our Religion, therefore, is Virtue our Hope is placed in the happiness of Posterity; our Faith is the perfectibility of Man.” With this view is allied the teaching that we are the product of natural laws, that we cannot discover or define the Creator or First Cause (if there is such), and that the Supreme Power is “something for which we have no words, something for which we have no ideas,” “to whom it is profanity to pray, of whom it is idle and irreverent to argue and debate, of whom we should never presume to think save with humility and awe, being that ‘Unknown God,’ ” etc. What admirable humility and convenient ignoring of the testimony of man’s moral nature and God’s revelation!
Note 2. Man cannot without violence to the history of the past and to his own moral nature refuse such a view of a Power existing above Nature. The religions of the past and the present, the experience of the civilized and uncivilized, the expressed opinions of a Plato and a Newton, a Socrates and a Kant, a Xenophon and an Anselm, a Cicero and a Descartes, a Galen and a Leibnitz, an Aristotle and a Fenelon, besides an innumerable multitude, clearly indicate this feature. Even Pantheism, in its varied forms, however it may neutralize the biblical idea, still admits and enforces the notion of a superior, infinite intelligence, all pervading, etc. Pure Atheism is something rare, and forms an exception, seldom found, to a general, universal rule. Those alleged to be decided atheists sometimes (as Voltaire, J. Priestley, etc.) express themselves in a manner indicative of Theistical notions. Hence such a challenge as “Asmodeus” gives in the Cin. Commercial of Dec. 27th, 1875, is simply ridiculous, viz., for any one to prove the existence of a God and His Personality, the existence of the soul (allowing only “a higher physical organization”), and the existence of sin. This is simply ignoring, with the utmost self-complacency, what the leaders of intelligence have presented on the subject. Some of the followers of Darwin have been exercised that he has not excluded the idea that a personal God may have created the first forms of vegetable and animal being, thus still leaving a bond of union between him and Kepler, Newton, Davy, Haller, Cuvier, the Wagners, Liebig, etc.
Note 3. No mythology, no philosophy, no human production has ever presented such a sublime portraiture of the Deity and His attributes as the Scriptures give us. Take the Bible conception and contrast it e.g. with Mill’s imperfect, impotent God, and what an immense distance exists between them. Contrast the same with a thousand others, and the God of the Bible stands forth immeasurably grand and complete—lacking nothing. Contrast the perfect, lovely, holy Redeemer Jesus, so simply but strikingly presented to us, with the Saviour tendered by unbelief, and the former is light in the midst of darkness. This alone is sufficient, as Apologists have noticed, to vindicate the Supernatural (e.g. Roger’s Superhuman Origin of the Bible). But allow this God (as Creator and Redeemer) to present the Divine Purpose, the End, contemplated by creation, then He is seen in a new aspect commending itself to reason and the moral nature of man. Such a presentation makes a necessity of revelation supernaturally given and supported; for the Creator, and not the creature, must inform us what are the ends contemplated by an Infinite Mind. Hence the basis of Revelation, indicating the intelligent moral purposes held in view, commends itself to us as the one required, and as proof of its being God-given. This feature has additional weight given to it when it is observed that God works after a definitely laid down Plan—a Plan, too, extending through many centuries, evidencing foresight, provisions, providences, etc. This Plan, whose origin cannot be accounted for as proceeding from the Jewish race; which makes God and His glory the dominant idea; which brings Him in sympathy with man and expresses the highest possible evidence to promote man’s welfare; which subordinates ethics to theology (the former being derived from the idea of God, His will, and our relations to Him) and enforces as essential morality and piety; which appeals (as to a thing self-evident) to the self-consciousness implanted by moral nature and recognized by society; which opens before us the most exalted destiny and eternal inheritance, must, in the very nature of the case, demand, what unbelief so persistently objects to, a cordial recognition of the Divine rights and claims, and of the dependence, obligations, and obedience of the creature. If Revelation occupied a lower plane in its delineation of God and in its demands, infidelity would be the first to indicate it as a radical defect. A Divine Revelation with God and His interest in, and relationship to, His own Creation stricken out, would remove its heart and life, leaving the creature in ignorance and hopeless. Man, burdened by the influence of evil, subject to calamity and death, looking for some way of deliverance, finds in the Scriptures and in the doctrine of this kingdom a Revelation most honorable to God Himself, and most conducive to the highest interests and happiness of His creatures. Many receiving this in the past, have found peace and joy; many rejecting, have realized unrest and unhappiness. Humility, such as becomes a creature, is fundamental to gain the former position: pride, such as makes the Creator subject to the creature’s judgment, is invariably conducive to the latter. In reference to the teaching of Science, its very statements respecting the inability of discovering the intelligent power back of nature and natural law, only indicates, as the Bible claims, the necessity of a Revelation to bring man to a correct and ample comprehension of that great Power. So also the confession of seeing no hope of release from death, the grave, etc., through the fixedness of law; that man being in possession of a moral nature needs more than the facts of nature; that if God exists the possibility of a revelation must be admitted; that the non-existence of a God is not susceptible of definite proof; that if an intelligent reason is back of nature, it would be desirable for such reason to reveal itself; that if such a revelation would be made, it is reasonable to suppose that it would present us things that man cannot discover, etc.—these confirm our position. Whatever difficulties—as alleged—on the side of pure reason there may be to prove the existence and the revelation of God, far greater difficulties are met in the effort to show that there is no God or no Revelation, for the latter leaves nature, man, world, the Universe an inscrutable enigma.