Skeletons of a Course of
By Charles G. Finney
First. Define Deism.
Deism is Godism, in opposition to no God or Atheism. The name Deist originated in France and was assumed by a class of infidels to avoid the stigma of Atheism.
Second. Different classes of Deists.
Although there are several modifications of Deism, they are, by their own writers, divided into two classes, and called mortal and immortal Deists. The mortal Deists admit the existence of God, but deny his providential and moral government, the immortality of the soul, the distinction between virtue and vice, and of course future rewards and punishments, and, for the most part, nearly all the doctrines of natural religion. The immortal Deists profess a belief in all these. The peculiarity of all Deists is their rejection of Christianity and of the Bible as a revelation from God. They agree in discarding all pretences to divine revelation as either imposture or enthusiasm.
Third. Their principal Objections to Christianity.
Obj. I. They object that a revelation is unnecessary; that the powers of the human mind are such, and the light of nature so abundant, as to render any farther revelation of the character and will of God wholly unnecessary. This objection has been sufficiently answered in the preceding lecture. I will only add here, that the true question is not what the human mind, aided by the light of nature, is capable of doing, but what it really has done. Not what men might do were they disposed, but what they really have done in searching out the character and will of God, and in conforming themselves to it.
Obj. II. Another objection is, that a direct revelation from God, is highly improbable. To this I have already sufficiently replied in the preceding lecture.
Obj. III. Another objection is that a direct revelation is impossible--that God is a Spirit, and that man is either wholly material or, at least shut up to the necessity of receiving all his ideas from sensation, and that as God is neither visible nor tangible--as he cannot approach our minds through the medium of our senses, he has no means of communicating directly with our minds, and that therefore a direct revelation, were it necessary, is impossible. To this I reply,
1. It is mere assumption. It is true that we receive our ideas of sensible objects from sensation, but it is not true that we can have no idea of spiritual beings except through sensation.
2. It is not only a gratuitous assumption, that God cannot communicate with minds because he is not a material being, but it is highly absurd. The very fact that he is a spirit, and not a material being, gives him direct access to our minds without either the formality or the difficulty of approaching our minds through our senses.
Obj. IV. Another objection is that there are so many pretended revelations from God, and they differ so fundamentally in their character, that it is the safest and most reasonable course to reject them all as unworthy of credit. To this I reply,
1. That counterfeits imply true coin.
2. That among all the pretended revelations from God, there is not one except our Bible whose claims are of any serious consideration--whose external or internal evidences are of any serious weight.
3. The very fact that so many pretended revelations have been made and received by great portions of mankind, shows how universally mankind have felt the necessity of a divine revelation, and how important it is that a true one should be made.
4. Any thing like a diligent inquiry, would satisfy Deists themselves that there is no analogy between the other professed revelations from God with which the world has abounded, and that contained in the Bible.
5. I believe it is now generally admitted by Deists themselves, that the claims of all other books as pretended revelations from God, are frivolous, and of no account, when compared with the claims and evidences of the christian Bible, as a divine revelation.
6. Hence, their efforts are aimed to overthrow the Bible, and not to discredit other pretended revelations from God.
To the Bible they object,
(1.) That the different books, especially of the Old Testament, are not well authenticated. To this I reply, that it is not pretended that we are acquainted with the name of the particular writer of every book of the Old Testament. Nor is this to be expected. As there is no contemporaneous history, it is not at all wonderful that we should not be certain of the names of the writers or compilers of all these books. The same objection would lie with equal force, against the poems of Homer or the history of Herodotus.
Again, so far as history and tradition go, they are uniform in their testimony in respect to the authenticity and genuineness of those books, the names of whose authors Christians pretend to know.
These books often refer to each other, and to the names of their authors.
Christ and his Apostles uniformly acknowledged them both as authentic and genuine, i.e.: they quoted the Pentateuch as the writings of Moses, the Prophets, the Psalms, etc. as so many parts of divine revelation, thus leaving their impressive testimony to the genuineness of the books of the Old Testament.
(2.) They object to the Bible, that if these books were originally written by the authors to whom they were ascribed, they have become so mutilated by transcribers, so many interpolations and various readings have been introduced as to destroy their credibility.
This has been sufficiently answered in the preceding lecture, but I would here just add, that as a matter of fact, the preservation of the integrity of the text of our Bible, may, when all the circumstances are taken into the account, be justly considered as one of the wonders of the world. That in thirty thousand manuscript copies which have been collected and collated, there should not be one material omission, interpolation, or alteration, is certainly matter of astonishment, and gratitude.
(3.) They object that the different books which compose the Bible contradict each other. This objection is founded in a very superficial view and consideration of the contents of the Bible. It has been so often and so ably considered, that I need not in this place enter into a critical examination of those particular parts and passages that have been objected to as inconsistent with each other.
(4.) They object to the Bible, that the writers give names to places by which they were not called until after the time when they purport to have been written.
To this I reply, that there are a few instances, in the Old Testament, in which places are called by names by which they were not called at the time when those parts of the Bible purport to have been written. But when this matter is well considered, it does not in the least degree detract from the credibility of these writings. They were written for the benefit of the Jews, and of the world. And passed from time to time under the review of succeeding inspired writers. When therefore, the name of any place was changed, either an inspired or an uninspired transcriber might insert the more modern name of the place alluded to for the benefit of the reader without at all impairing the integrity of the text. Indeed, this is just what might be expected, and what might have been, and plainly must have been of great importance.
(5.) They object, that there are passages found in it which could not have been written by the reputed authors of those books in which they are found. In the Pentateuch, e.g., the death of Moses is recorded, which plainly could not have been written by Moses himself. To this it may be replied, that such passages are so plainly the work of a compiler, as not at all to impair the integrity of the text, any more than if the compiler had said: "Now this passage was written by me, and not by Moses." It was never pretended that every word found in the Bible, was written by the authors to whom the various books were ascribed. It is cheerfully admitted that a few such interpolations as the one above alluded to, are found in different parts of the Bible, and are plainly the notes of a compiler. But still it is reasonably insisted that as these interpolations are easily distinguished from the original text, they in no degree, detract from the credibility of the original text.
(6.) They object that Geology and several other sciences demonstrate that the books of Moses cannot be true. They array Geology against the Mosaic account of the creation. And to the fact that the whole human race sprung from one pair as is recorded by Moses, they object that the great diversity of human languages and complexions, demonstrates that the human race could not have descended from one pair. To their objection on the ground of Geology it is replied; that if Geology really deserves the name of a science, and can really be depended upon as truth, its developments rather confirm than discredit the Mosaic account of creation, when that account is properly understood. And with respect to the objection founded in the diversity of complexions and languages, it may be replied, That the Bible itself gives an account of the confusion and division of the languages of the earth.
That a more extended and recent examination and classification of the languages of the earth, have already rendered it almost certain as a matter of fact, that the languages of the earth were originally one.
And as to the diversity of complexions among mankind, they can be accounted for in the most philosophical manner, by the different habits of mankind, in connection with the different climates in which they reside. These truths have been shown most satisfactorily.
(7.) They object that the Bible contains precepts unjust and unworthy of God, e.g.: Such as the command to the Israelites utterly to exterminate their enemies, men, women, and children. To this it may be replied,
a. That as to the adults of those nations thus devoted to destruction, God had a right to destroy them for their sins by whatever instrumentality he pleased.
b. If all those were to be destroyed whose sins deserved destruction, it was rather an act of kindness than otherwise to destroy with them the infants, inasmuch as they would be left entirely without protection or support.
c. It cannot be shown, nor is it probable that the infant children were sent to hell, but from the known character of God it is highly probable that their being cut off was a great mercy to them, and the means of their eternal salvation. If so God did them no injustice, but showed them an infinite kindness.
d. It may be observed that in giving the commandment to destroy their enemies, he made the Israelites the instruments of executing his own justice upon his enemies. But he gave them no liberty to do this in a wrong spirit, or in any other temper than that of entire benevolence. And it is as certain, and as reasonable to suppose that they might do this in a good spirit, as that any executioner might take the life of any victim of justice without ill will or malicious feeling.
(8.) They object that the Bible contains doctrines contrary to reason. To this it may be answered, that the Bible contains no doctrine contrary to reason. But only, as might reasonably be expected, above reason. And certainly this is no objection to the Bible as a revelation from God, but rather a confirmation of its claims to divine origin. For in this, it is in entire keeping with his works and providence which every where abound, with things too high, and too deep for the human reason to grasp and comprehend.
(9.) They object to the Bible, that it is mystical and unintelligible. I reply,
It is admitted that the more spiritual doctrines of the Bible will of course appear mystical and unintelligible to a carnal mind. But it is insisted that, as a whole, the Bible is one of the plainest and most intelligible books in the world.
To this it is objected that there are innumerable christian sects, all claiming to receive their peculiar tenets from the Bible, which, they say, demonstrates its mysticism and unintelligibleness.
To this it may be again replied, that the different christian sects do not differ so much in their fundamental views as is generally supposed, that on the contrary, all that have any reasonable claims to the name of christian are agreed in respect to every doctrine and fact that is fundamental to the Christian system.
There is no more difficulty in understanding the Bible, than in interpreting any other book that claims to lay down rules of human conduct. There has been, for example, much more discrepancy of opinion in respect to the meaning of legislative acts, and much more difficulty in coming at the real meaning of those who have enacted laws, more litigation, expense, and ultimate uncertainty in respect to their interpretation, than there has been in respect to the interpretation of the Bible. And this, to say the least, is not a little wonderful when we consider that human statutes are written with the utmost caution and the utmost precision of human language which the nature of the case will admit. There is perhaps no book in the world of the same size against which the objection of unintelligibleness might not more reasonably be made than against the Bible.
(10.) Deists affirm that the Bible is the work of priest craft and imposition. To this I reply,
a. That it is bare assertion.
b. That it is utterly uncandid in view of all the testimony in favour of the Bible.
c. They are bound to prove this assertion.
d. They cannot prove it.
e. The utter absence of proof is wholly incredible if in fact the Bible is the production of priest craft. By what priest or priests was it written? At what time? In what country? In what language? For what purpose? It is next to impossible that there should be no evidence, either historical or traditional of such a fact, if indeed such a fact ever existed.
(11.) They insist that the Bible is the fabrication of political demagogues for political purposes. To this objection the very same answers may be given as above.
(12.) It is objected that the doctrine of Atonement contained in the Bible beggars all credibility--that it is utterly incredible, and morally impossible that God should condescend to do for mankind what the Scriptures represent him as doing in the work of the Atonement. To this I reply,
That this would be a conclusive objection upon any other supposition than that God is love. If God is not love it is freely admitted that the doctrine of the Atonement is utterly incredible. But if he is love, as the Bible and all his works affirm, the doctrine of Atonement is just what might be expected of such a being under the circumstances, and therefore one of the most reasonable doctrines in the world.
(13.) They object to the general spirit of Christianity as exhibited by its professors. To this I answer,
a. That some of them have objected to the meekness, humility, and excellencies of the christian character, as being unworthy of men, and have recommended the exact opposite spirit and traits of character. To this class of objectors no other answer need to be given than that they are mad, and know not what they say, nor whereof they affirm.
Another class have objected, not to the spirit of Christianity itself, as exhibited and required by its founder, but to an anti christian spirit every where condemned and denounced in the Bible. If the Bible approved of their wicked conduct and spirit, the objection would be fatal. But as it is, it is of no weight, as it is not of the spirit of Christianity, but of Anti Christianity of which they complain.
(14.) They object that revealed religion is inconsistent with liberty of inquiry and of opinion. If by liberty of inquiry and opinion they mean that men are, or ought to be at liberty to hold and inculcate any opinion whatever without being morally responsible for their opinions, the objection is absurd and ridiculous. But if they mean that the Bible or the Christian religion does not allow and invite, and even challenge and demand the most solemn and thorough investigation, and the formation of the most solid and well founded opinions on all religious subjects, their objection is false, for this is precisely what the Bible and the Christian religion do demand of every man, that he shall "Prove all things and hold fast that (and that only) which is good."
Fourth. Consider some of the Difficulties of Deism.
I. Difficulty. The first difficulty that I shall notice, is, that their objections to christianity are almost without an exception, either cavils, or alleged facts, but wholly unsupported by evidence. Most of them are mere cavils, unworthy of serious notice. Some of them might appear reasonable if supported by evidence, and others might be conclusive, were they not manifestly untrue. But as they are, taken together, they are of "no value, and a thing of naught."
II. Difficulty. To the doctrine of the mortal Deists, it may be reasonably objected that it is disguised Atheism. For while they profess to believe in the existence of God, their doctrines, or rather denials, blot out in the detail, his natural, and moral attributes
1. They deny his wisdom. Wisdom consists in the choice of the best ends, and of the most suitable means for the obtaining of those ends. But the mortal Deists represent God as having created the universe without any end, and as using no means to bring about any beneficial result. This is certainly involved in their denial of the divine providence.
2. They deny his intelligence, as they represent him as having acted in creation without any reasonable motive. For certainly, if the universe was not worth governing, it was not worth creating.
3. They deny all his moral attributes, benevolence, justice, mercy, truth, holiness, for which of these is consistent with the creation of such a universe as this, and afterwards refusing to care for it, or exercise a providential government over it.
To mortal Deism I object again, that it is contrary to the belief of all nations in all ages. It has been shown in a former lecture, that all nations of men in all ages, have believed in and acknowledged the grand and peculiar doctrines which mortal Deists deny, such as the immortality of the soul, the distinction between virtue and vice, the doctrine of a divine providence, and a future state of more perfect rewards and punishments.
To their denial of the distinction between virtue and vice, I object,
1. That it is contrary to consciousness. We certainly know that there is such a distinction. It is the dictate of our own moral nature. It is forced upon us by testimony that we cannot resist. And they themselves often manifest a conviction of its truth in awarding praise and blame to those around them.
2. If there is, in fact, no such distinction, our nature is such as to render it impossible for us to believe that there is none. Our moral nature demands such a distinction. And with respect to ourselves we should be morally praise or blame worthy, were there no law except that which is founded in our own nature. But the fact that our nature is what it is, affords the most unanswerable evidence, that a broad and important distinction actually exists between virtue and vice.
3. As our nature demands such a distinction, and as we are capable of perceiving clearly that there is a moral quality in actions, such a distinction must in fact be recognized in the government of God, or God is unjust.
To the doctrine of human annihilation, I object that this also is virtual Atheism, as it denies the essential attributes of God, for which of his attributes is consistent with the annihilation of beings capable of endless improvement, and who need an eternity to develope their faculties, and answer the highest ends of their being.
To the doctrines of immortal Deists, I object,
1. They are inconsistent in holding the doctrines of natural, and rejecting those of revealed religion. For they inculcate precisely the same lessons, so far as natural religion goes, and revealed religion only supplies what is manifestly wanting in the truths of natural religion.
2. The immortal Deists are inconsistent in believing in the moral attributes of God. For a denial of several of these attributes is in fact involved, in rejecting a revelation. E.g.--It involves the denial of his wisdom. Wisdom, I have said, is the choice of the best ends, and the best means for the accomplishment of these ends. Now that revelation as a matter of fact, is the necessary means of attaining the highest perfection of human nature, cannot, with any show of reason, be denied. With what consistency then do they hold to the wisdom of God, and deny that he has provided the necessary and indispensable means of effecting the holiness and happiness of his kingdom.
3. The immortal Deists, are inconsistent in maintenance the justice of God. It cannot, with any show of reason, be maintained that God deals with all men, in this state of existence, precisely according to their character. And without a divine revelation, how could it be positively shown that he would deal upon the principles of exact justice in a future life.
4. They are inconsistent in maintaining the mercy of God. To pardon sin, is the appropriate exercise of mercy. But without a divine revelation, how could it be known that God will pardon sin? How could it be ascertained that he could with any consistency, and safety, dispense with the execution of his law, in the pardon of sin? Some of the wisest men that have ever lived, who were ignorant of the Bible, have maintained that God could not forgive sin, and this conclusion seems to be the perfection of human reason, without a knowledge of the Atonement.
5. They are inconsistent in maintaining the infinite benevolence of God. Infinite benevolence would doubtless do all for man that the nature of the case admits. And the nature of the case certainly admits and demands a revelation.
6. They are inconsistent in holding the power, omniscience, and goodness of God, inasmuch as they deny and set aside the only explanation that reconciles the existence of these attributes in God, with the facts of the universe.
7. To the doctrine that nothing is to be received as an article of faith that is incomprehensible, I object; that this doctrine is destructive of their own system, and quite as inconsistent with it as with the system of christianity. It is also inconsistent with the belief of almost every thing else, as almost everything, contains something in or about it that is incomprehensible.
8. If they reject revelation, they are bound to maintain the doctrine of universal damnation.
(1.) Because all men deserve it.
(2.) Without the Bible we cannot see how they can consistently be forgiven, should they repent.
(3.) Without the motives presented in the Bible, it is a fact, that mankind never would repent. Without a knowledge of the Atonement, men know not that the goodness of God leadeth them to repentance; but after their hardness and impenitent heart treasure up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgments of God.
9. Every evidence in favour of the Bible, as a revelation from God, is a difficulty of Deism, with which it must grapple, and to which it is bound to give some reasonable answer.
10. To admit Deism to be true, we must admit that all the evidence in favour of the divine authority of the Bible is false, and that too without a particle of opposing evidence. This is to set aside all evidence, and consequently all science, and all knowledge, and all belief on every subject.
11. To admit the falsity of all the evidence in favour of a divine revelation, is to swallow the grossest absurdity, and to attempt to sustain Deism by a miracle, more stupendous than all the miracles recorded in the Bible. For certainly, that all this evidence should be false, were the greatest wonder and the greatest miracle in the universe.
12. Therefore Deism requires ridiculous credulity, and almost infinitely more faith, to believe that the Bible is an imposture, in view of all the evidence that exists, than to believe it is what it professes to be.
13. Deism is indebted to Christianity for nearly all the truth that it contains. It is true, that the doctrines of natural religion might be discovered by unaided reason; but as a matter of fact, they never have been to any considerable extent. And none but those Deists who have had access to the Bible have ever given any thing like a consistent account of the doctrines of natural religion.
14. Deists are bound to account for the fact that the most enlightened and virtuous men have believed, that the Bible was a revelation from God. Sir Isaac Newton, than whom a greater philosopher never blessed the earth, was a firm believer in, and defender of the Bible, as a revelation from God.
15. Deists are bound to account for the fact that no one ever renounced the christian religion upon a death bed, while nothing has been more common than for Deists to renounce their Deism in a dying hour.
16. The lives and deaths of Deists prove the inefficacy of their system to sustain them in virtue while alive, and in peace when they die.
17. Deism is, on many accounts, highly dishonorable to God.
18. It is also ruinous to man.
19. Its spirit condemns it.
20. Its tendencies, when well considered, are a complete refutation of it.
21. Upon the supposition that Christianity is not true, infidels are bound to account for the astonishing change in the conduct of the Apostles, after Christ's resurrection--how it came to pass, that instead of their former timidity, they were so fearless, so persevering, so willing to sacrifice every worldly interest, in defence of the truth that Christ had risen from the dead. If they were not honest and sincere, infidels are bound to show upon what principle of human nature such lives as they lived, and such deaths as they died, can be accounted for. With respect to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, it was a matter about which they could not be deceived. If they had stolen him from the sepulchre, as the Jews foolishly pretended, they knew it, and were certain that he had not risen from the dead. The certain knowledge that he had risen from the dead, would naturally result in that change which was witnessed in them. But upon no other conceivable supposition can their conduct be accounted for.
22. Again. Upon the supposition that Christianity is not true, Deists are bound to account for the fact, of the exact fulfillment of such great multitudes of prophecies, extending in an unbroken chain, from the present time back through hundreds and thousands of years. These prophecies have been so literally fulfilled, that some opposers of Christianity have insisted upon the great particularity with which they were fulfilled to the very letter, and have consequently inferred, that they were histories written after the occurrence of the facts which they describe.
23. Upon the supposition that Christianity is not true, Deists are bound to disprove or account for the miracles wrought in confirmation of the truth of the scriptures. That these were real and not pretended miracles, there can be no doubt.
24. If Christianity is not true, Deists are bound to account for the fact, that the Apostles so repeatedly appealed to the Jews themselves, and to all classes of persons, before whom and among whom those miracles were wrought, and referred to those miracles as facts, which were universally admitted, and could not be denied. They are bound also to show why it was, that neither the friends nor enemies of Christianity, during the first centuries, ever pretended to call in question the reality of those miracles.