Comparative Religion shows us that there have been many different beliefs
But the Christian doctrine of God is distinct from all others and has a long history of its own.
It is not founded upon reason,
or on the considerations mentioned in the preceding chapter,
but upon a special revelation of God to the Hebrew people.
Nevertheless, it is not contrary to reason.
What man has learned about God by the use of reason agrees with what he has learned by revelation.
But God has revealed many things about Himself which man has not discovered, and could not have discovered, by reason alone.
The history of the Christian doctrine of God begins with the Old Testament.
God revealed Himself partially and gradually to the Hebrew prophets.
The three great THEISTIC religions (that is, religions which teach that there is only One God),
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam,
all accept as their origin the revelation of God to the Hebrew prophets.
According to the tradition recorded in Genesis, God revealed Himself first to Abraham.
But as it is uncertain how far that tradition is historical,
we had better be content to say that the history of God's revelation goes back at least to Moses.
Amos, the first of the writing prophets, lived about 700 years after Moses;
but it is certain that long before his time the religious difference between the children of Israel and their neighbours was very strongly marked; and we cannot account for this or for their later history unless the story of Moses and the deliverance from Egypt is, at least in general outline, true.
The writers of the Old Testament never tried to prove the existence of God.
They were prophets, not philosophers.
They knew God by immediate experience.
The philosophers of Greece, on the other hand, had no such immediate experience of God.
The greatest of them arrived at belief in God by means of reason.
It was because the Hebrews at that period were not philosophers,
because their very language was extremely concrete,
and contained hardly any abstract words,
that they were more suitable than the much cleverer Greeks to receive the revelation of God.
[The contrast between the Hebrew prophet and the Greek philosopher is well brought out by H. F. Hamilton, The People of God, v. 1.]
The revelation of God to the Hebrews was not made all at once, but
at sundry times and in divers manners
We can trace its development from the crude and primitive form that we find
in the Book of Judges
to its completion in Him who was at once the greatest of the prophets and the fulfilment of their prophecies,
the Lord Jesus Christ.
Modern study of the Old Testament,
by enabling us to place the books of the Old Testament in something like the order in which they were written,
has made this process much clearer to us that it was to our forefathers.
The final revelation,
the full display of all that it is possible for man to know of God,
was the Person of Jesus of Nazareth,
who was both the Anointed King (MESSIAH, CHRIST) foretold by the prophets and the eternal Word of God,
the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person
There can be no further revelation in this world.
The revelation of God, partial through the prophets, complete in Jesus Christ, was unique.
It did not occur in any other nation.
It has not occurred since, and it will never occur again.
Therefore we can never hope by any kind of psychological investigation,
which can only be speculative, to understand fully or clearly the nature of revelation.
We must presume that, as its results are unique, the revelation itself was unique.
We are not to expect it to be continued, but we shall probably never cease to gain more light from it.
Every generation and every race that accept Christ see the revelation in a fresh light and learn something new from it.
The doctrine of God revealed to us in this way is called Theism;
we believe it to be the only kind of Theism that is true.
A theist is a person who believes in One God who is personal, transcendent,
that is to say, that God is like us, a self-conscious rational Person though infinitely greater than we are;
that He is above and outside of all other beings in the universe, and they all owe their existence to Him;
that He is also inside His world, and that nothing could exist for a moment if it were not continually sustained by Him.
Christians, Jews, and Unitarians (who are not Christians, strictly speaking,
because they do not believe that Jesus Christ is God) are Theists, though
there is a strong element of Deism in Islam. These are the only theistic
religions that have ever been widespread, and they are all based on the revelation
of God through the Hebrew prophets.
The word Theist is derived from the Greek Θεός (Theos), God.
The word Monotheist from μόνος Θεός (monos Theos), one God only,
means the same thing with special emphasis on the uniqueness of God.
Opposed to Monotheism are Polytheism, belief in many gods,
and Henotheism, belief in one God but not in one God only.
This was a stage through which Israel and other nations passed,
and during which they believed that they had one God of their own,
whom alone they were to worship,
but who could not be worshiped in other lands.
Dagon was the proper god to worship in Ashdod,
and Chemosh in Moab,
as Yahweh [The Hebrew name for God, wrongly represented by JEHOVAH.] was in the land of Israel;
see I Sam.26.19; II Kings 5.17.
In all other cases henotheism developed into polytheism through the combination of different cults.
In Israel alone through the revelation to the prophets it developed into monotheism.
A Deist (from the Latin deus, God) is a person who believes that
God is transcendent but not immanent;
that God created the world and then abandoned it,
and that He takes little or no interest in His creatures, and cannot be reached by their prayers.
In practice, this leads to atheism (denial of the existence of God),
for man cannot long continue to believe in a God who does not love him and will not hear his prayer.
Many primitive peoples believe vaguely in the Great Spirit who made the world;
but they are usually much more interested in keeping off the attacks of lesser spirits who will hurt men if they are not propitiated.
The Great Spirit is kindly;
therefore there is no need to pay any attention to Him.
This is a primitive form of Deism.
The eighteenth century was the great age of Deism in Europe.
Even Christian thinkers in that period were often inclined to Deism.
Voltaire and many of the leaders of the French Revolution were Deists.
In England Deism was checked by the work of Bishop Butler and others,
and by the missions of John Wesley and his followers.
The reason why Deism was prevalent at that period was this:
educated men were beginning to think in terms of the scientific dogma of the uniformity of nature,
which they did not attribute to the will of God but thought of as a mechanical process.
God was supposed to have started the world,
like a man winding up a watch,
and then to have left it to run down.
He was not thought of as Sustainer and Preserver.
There is an element of Deism in Islam,
but since Moslems believe in prayer, Islam is not strictly deistic.
extreme opposite to Deism is Pantheism.
A Pantheist, from πᾶν (pan), all, and θεός, God, is a person who believes that God is immanent but not transcendent;
that He, or rather it, is a hidden, impersonal force guiding from within all that exists.
This force is indeed identified with the whole universe.
Some forms of Hinduism and Buddhism are pantheistic.
So were many European philosophers such as Spinoza and Hegel.
If God is to be identified with all that exists,
all that exists is equally divine.
There is no distinction between the personal and the impersonal.
Therefore Pantheists cease after a time to attach any value to personality, or even to believe that it exists;
which constitutes one of the greatest difficulties of missionaries in Buddhist countries.
Still worse, there is no distinction between right and wrong, for good and evil are alike divine.
Therefore the effect of Pantheism is to deaden the conscience.
Philosophers, both in India and in Europe, have often been attracted by
the conception of the ABSOLUTE,
that of which nothing can be predicated;
a conception well explained in the lines:
Whatever conception your mind comes at,
I tell you flat,
God is not that.
Some Hindu philosophers have held that the Supreme and Unknowable is not
only neither good nor evil,
but also neither existent nor non-existent.
European believers in the Absolute have sometimes tried to identify it with
the God worshiped by Christians.
Probably all such attempts are bound to fail.
The philosophy of the Absolute in all its forms is inconsistent with the Divine Revelation.
To believe that God is impersonal and non-moral, as Pantheists must,
and to believe that man is personal and moral,
is to believe that man is greater and more noble than God,
which he certainly would be if Pantheism were true.
To sum up the contents of the last three sections:
Theism is the belief that God is transcendent and immanent.
Deism is the belief that He is transcendent but not immanent.
Pantheism is the belief that He (or it) is immanent but not transcendent.
Christian Theism differs from other kinds of Theism by extending belief
in One God
to belief in Three Persons in One God.
Theism is incomplete without belief in the Holy Trinity
a belief which man could not have discovered for himself
but which has been revealed to him by God.
For if God were a single unrelated Person,
it would be difficult to believe that He could ever have become related to anybody or anything.
In that case He would be entirely beyond our reach.
We could not pray to Him or love Him.
We could not know anything about Him.
And if God had only His creatures to love, either He would be dependent
on them, or He would not be eternally Love.
Those who reject the doctrine of the Trinity have sometimes been forced to assume that God's creation is eternal.
But we have no need of any such assumption.
God is not a single unrelated Person.
He has all that is needed both for relation and for love within His own being;
for He is Three in One, and One in Three;
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.