The Bible Agnostics and Agnosticism
By John J. Pusey, D. D., Virginia
The National Baptist Magazine, 1901
Among the many books which fill the store-houses of the world, the Bible is pre-eminently the one book that is supreme. On theology, in history, in poetry, in morals, it has no equal, and for this reason has been justly styled “The Book.” It is admitted on the one hand as an inspired volume containing a revelation from the allwise Creator to his creatures, and on the other hand, its historical accuracy has been questioned by men whose learning or scientific knowledge prevents them from accepting its statements. These men by way of distinction call themselves “Agnostics,” and the theory which they propound or the reason which they give for the cause of all things, constitutes “agnosticism.” The word “agnostic” is Greek, and means unknown. In the seventeenth chapter of the Acts, verse twenty-three, it was seen on the altar erected by the Athenians to the unknown God. The question then arises what is agnosticism or an agnostic? An agnostic is one who holds that the existence of anything beyond and behind natural phenomena is unknown and unknowable and that a first cause and an unseen world are subject of which we know nothing. Now that a first cause does exist can not be proved by any mathematical or scientifical facts or demonstrations, and as holy scripture has taught us no man can by searching find out God. God is not the object of scientific or mathematical investigations, but of faith. When I say that I believe in a living personal God, if the agnostic asks me how do I know it, I answer that I do not know it; I only believe it and the belief of it is all I want; not the knowledge of it. When I say five millions I believe that I say something, and if I am asked to write it I can do so, but when I have done so I do not know it; I can not give any accurate knowledge of five millions. So when we say God, the same truth holds good. Mathematics are the exact sciences,
all others are experimental and no man, however clever, can by any experiment find out God. God, heaven, hell, death, life, soul, spirit, are all moral truths that lie outside of the provinces of scientific investigations. Now to say that the Bible is not a book of science is but half the truth. It is indeed not a text book of science, but the very source from which the agnostic scientist finds his weapons to attack its records. Let us now consider some statements which agnostic writers have made respecting the Biblican records. Mr. Buel, a very learned writer, has said that the Bible says that Adam and Eve were the first of the human race, but that the records of the Bible could not be true because Cain in going from Eden found a wife in the land of Nod, and this was a sufficient proof to him that there were other folks in the world besides Adam and Eve.
Now it is wonderful that so competent a writer should have fallen into such an egregious blunder. In Genesis IV, 16, 17, we are told that Cain went to the land of Nod on the East of Eden, and that a son was born to him there of his wife. In those primitive times men were allowed to marry their sisters and the probability is his wife was his sister, the daughter of his father.
But is the agnostic theory true, that because God can not be seen by the eye of man he does not exist? Is it true that the universe, the sun, moon, stars and planets and all the host of heaven are merely works of natural phenomena? It is natural that if a man attempts to walk on water he will sink because his specific gravity is heavier than the water. But Jesus Christ walked on water and did not sink. Why so? Because he is above nature. Those limitations which stop man can not stop Him. Agnosticism is a negative theory, and the agnostic is also a negative person. God, the devil, the holy spirit, hell, heaven, the soul, are all beyond and behind natural phenomena, and therefore unknown and unknowable. The Bible, however, teaches all these as invisible entities above and beyond scientific investigations. My soul does want a positive statement as to its future, and finds this in the Bible clearly set forth. But again, does the man of science know all about science? Does the philosopher know all about philosophy? Is there anything like perfection in any branch of human knowledge? Why then should the agnostic ask us to tell him who is God before he can believe in Him?
In the New Testament certain truths are set forth by Christ and His apostles, and the Christian world has accepted them as facts without questioning their veracity. Agnosticism on the other hand casts upon them doubt and asks for proof of their truthfulness. Now Jesus and the apostles must have been honest men, and as they had nothing to gain by a deception, there is no reason why they should hand down a lie to posterity. In the Gospel of Mark, fifth chapter, we read of a man possessed with a demon, exceedingly fierce, dwelling in the mountains and in tombs, and by his demoniacal powers, neither bands nor chains could hold him. Yet agnosticism throws doubt on this simple and undisguised narrative.
Let me say, before I give you what a celebrated agnostic has said about our subject, that no man of the nineteenth century can give us any real idea of the condition of the world when Jesus Christ came into it. The world at that time was under the powers of darkness; the devil was its prince; the only light in the world at that time was in the Jewish church, and even that was imperfect. Under such conditions what could prevent the prince of darkness from possessing men. More than this, Jesus Himself admitted the fact in John XII, 31, that the devil was the prince of the world, and only the death and resurrection of Jesus should decide forever who should be the prince of it.
But to return to the subject, Prof. T. H. Huxley says on the story of Gadarenes Demoniac, “If I declare as I have no hesitation in doing that I utterly disbelieve in the existence of unclean spirits, and consequently, in the possibility of their coming forth out of a man, I suppose that Dr. Wace will tell me I am disregarding the testimony of our Lord. I should think so too. What other alternative is left me. If Jesus taught the existence of demons and Dr. Huxley does not believe it, is he not disregarding the testimony of our Lord in truth? Conscience discovers what the devil or the demons are. Not only in the New Testament are we taught the doctrine of demons, but also in the Old Testament. In Leviticus XVII, 7, we read, “And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto demons,” etc. Dueteronomy. XXXII, 17, “They sacrifice to demons, not to God,” etc. If, therefore, the scriptures teach these facts, how dare any man to disavow his belief in them except he wishes to be wiser than his Maker.
Again, said the learned Professor, “And if the belief in demons and demoniac possession, which form the sombre background of the whole picture of primitive Christianity presented to us in the New testament, is shaken, what is to be said in any case of the uncorroborated testimony of the gospels with respect to: the unseen world?” I wonder that the learned Professor Should say so. The belief in hags, ghosts, conjuration, etc., must be relegated to the realm of superstition, but not so in the belief in the devil and demons. As long as Christianity shall remain on earth, men’s faith will never be shaken in the existence of such beings, though invisible to us. A$ to the invisible world, instead of being “uncorroborated,” as Professor Huxley said, it is the most corroborated fact in the Old and New Testament. You see it in the Sermon on the Mount, in the pat[t]ern prayer as taught by our Lord; in the intercessory prayer of the Christ in the seventeenth chapter of John; in Mark XVI, 19; in Luke XXIII, 70: XXIV, 51; not to speak of the Old Testament passages. Agnosticism may doubt the possibility of an invisible world, but faith believes it, and in every instance the man who exercises faith in the invisible world, in the invisible God. has come out a victor, while agnosticism and the agnostic pull the rock of unbelief upon themselves and are ground to powder. If there be not a future world where then are all the dead of every race, country and nation? Does death destroy utterly human existence? When the Sadducees, the Jewish agnostics, tried to catch Christ in reference to a future world and the resurrection of the dead, they were met on their own ground and their agnosticism was shattered by the Christ. Exodus III. 6, He tells them that God was not the God of the dead but of the living. Matthew XX, 32; Luke, XX, 37, 38; Mark, XII, 26, 27. No future world do you say! What then did the Master of Christianity mean by these scriptures? God a living, personal entity, can not stand in connection with dead entities. The soul of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are not dead, but are alive with God in the invisible world.
Agnosticism negatives a personal devil, and a hell proper. It claims that every man is his own devil, and his own hell. If every man was his own creator this might have been strictly true. But if he is responsible to another for his life and action, then this agnostic theory is false. When we are asked by the agnostic to tell him what Christ is and what he has done, we
refer him to the sayings and miracles of Christ. One quotation more from Professor Huxley: “It is a matter of notoriety, of which Mr. Harrison, who accuses us all (the agnostics) so freely of ignoring history, should not be ignorant that the critical process which has shattered the foundations of orthodox Christian doctrines .owes its origin not to the devotees of physical science, but before all, to Richard Siman, the learned French Oratorican, just two hundred years ago.” The learned Professor was never more mistaken than in this statement. If the foundations of orthodox Christianity were shattered two hundred years ago. what is Christianity doing in the world to-day? What are the various Christian denominations toiling and struggling for? What mean missionary enterprises? What are orthodox ministers of the gospel preaching about? Why does the church live and thrive? Is orthodox Christianity founded on Peter as the church of Rome has said, or on Jesus Himself? Christianity is founded on the eternal Rock of Ages against which no weapons formed could prosper. Agnosticism may rage and foam, but the truth which Jesus delivered to Peter on the road to Caesaria Phillipi, Matthew XVI, 18, will stand. Happy for Christianity that Jesus is not a stone but a rock.
Men can remove stones, but they can not do that to a ledge of rock. If Christianity was not of divine origin, it could not have stood the test of nineteen centuries. What did not the first adherents of it suffer? Every apostle of Jesus save St. John, became a martyr to its truth. Christianity is a living stream of water issuing from the throne of God, of which every thirsty soul may drink and and never thirst; agnosticism is but a mirage which deceives its votaries and after a while hurries them in the parching sands of their own negations.
Let no agnostic deceive you,by saying there is no future; let no man tell you that there is no judgment day; deceive not yourself that Jesus is a mere man; say not there is no personal devil; you will find that out tomorrow; don’t say there is no hell; there is a hell, for Jesus, who came from the invisible world, says there is one. Throw your agnosticism away and accept the cross; don’t you say “I don’t know;” negations won’t do at the hour of death. Accept the present opportunity to hear and ponder on what you hear. A belief in what the scriptures say of Jesus has given rest to many. Agnosticism has never
saved a man. A knowledge of science is good, but the knowledge of Christ as a personal Savior is the chief good.
And now let me draw a picture in conclusion. William Ewart Gladstone, one of England’s greatest statesmen, celebrated as a scholar and a Christian, died about two years ago. This man was a devout disciple of the Christ. When nearing the end of his earthly life, he was asked what as to the future, he replied: “We must look to the maintenance of the faith in the invisible.” That faith has carried him into the general assembly, and church of the first born enrolled in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of perfect just men. And to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better things than Abel’s. On the other hand. Professor Huxley, another of England’s great men died — but alas! no hope for him. He died an agnostic, and as his faith was negative his end was also negative.
Which of these two men would you prefer to follow, Gladstone or Huxley? Faith has a goal, agnosticism is idle fancy.
[The National Baptist Magazine, August, 1901, Volume 8, No. 4, pp. 322-327; via SBHL&A. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
You may also be interested in Robert G. Ingersoll and His Infidelity by J. B. Hawthorne.
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