Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tackling A Theological Chunkster: Day Three, Charnock

Stephen Charnock,
The Existence and Attributes of God
On Monday I began reading Stephen Charnock's The Existence and Attributes of God, a work of theology first published in 1682, a book in two volumes, a book over a thousand pages. This post will conclude the first discourse, Discourse I: On the Existence of God. You may want read the first and second posts on that discourse. The entire discourse is focused on Psalms 14:1. (I've included verses two and three as well.)
The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They were all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. (KJV)
To catch you up, Charnock has reached the point in his argument where the existence of God is a given, he then went on to argue how nature proves that God exists. The universe is too complex, too ordered, too beautiful. Someone had to create this world, this universe, and someone has to be sustaining it. That someone is God, he argues.

So in today's post, I'll be covering pages 63 through 88.

God exists because....

  • God has given us minds, bodies, souls that are so complex, so wonderful, so unique and individual.
  • God has given us a conscience; we know good and evil; we are able to discern the right from the wrong. There are some laws, he argues, that are engraved on our hearts. These universal laws revealed to us provide the basis for our laws and allow for civilization and governments.
  • Each of us have a God-shaped hole. We're incomplete apart from God. We're not content--really content--apart from him. We chase after anything and everything in an attempt to be satisfied. But our souls hunger for God.
  • God acts. God judges the world--we see those judgments carried out before us. In the performing of miracles. We have supernatural miracles and signs from God. In the fulfillment of prophecy. Not only does God send prophets in his name to his people, His prophecies are always fulfilled. His prophecies come to pass. We can look at those fulfilled prophecies as proof that God exists.

Charnock then lists reasons why atheists are bad. Well, not quite in those terms, but that is his conclusion  essentially.

Atheists are...
  • They are "pernicious" to the world. They disrupt governments, civilizations, societies, etc. "It would root out the foundations of government. It demolisheth all order in nations." (77)
  • They "introduce all evil into the world." "The worst of actions could not be evil, if a man were a god to himself, a law to himself" (78) 
  • It is "pernicious" to the atheist himself. "If he fear no future punishment, he can never expect any future reward: all his hopes must be confined to a swinish and despicable manner of life, without any imaginations of so much as a drachm of reserved happiness. He is in a worse condition than the silliest animal." (79)
  • They are "monsters in human nature" (79) and "They would fain believe there were no God, that they might not be men, but beasts." (82)
If it is foolish to say in our hearts that there is no God, then it must be wisdom to say that there is a God. After SO MANY PAGES of text, we finally get to the good part. The part where Charnock applies what this all means to believers. The part where readers get the heart of the message.

Words of wisdom...
If it be the atheist's folly to deny or doubt of the being of God, it is our wisdom to be firmly settled in this truth that God is. (84)
Stir up sentiments of conscience to oppose sentiments of corruption. Resolve sooner to believe that yourselves are not, than that God is not. (84)
Without this truth fixed in us, we can never give him the worship due his name. When the knowledge of anything is fluctuating and uncertain, our actions about it are careless. If we do not firmly believe there is God, we shall pay him no steady worship; and if we believe not the excellency of his nature, we shall offer him but a slight service. (84)
Study God in the creatures as well as in the Scriptures. (86)
View God in your own experiences of him. There is a taste and sight of his goodness, though no sight of his essence. (86)
It is a folly also not to worship God, when we acknowledge his existence; it is our wisdom then to worship him. To deny him worship is as great a folly as to deny his being. (87)
The natural inclination to worship is as universal as the notion of a God. (87)
He that denies his being, is an atheist to his essence; he that denies his worship, is an atheist to his honor. (87)
Our minds are a beam from God; and, therefore, as the beams of the sun, when they touch the earth, should reflect back upon God. (88)
A God forgotten is as good as no God to us. (88)

More Quotes from Discourse I, "On the Existence of God"
In his soul he partakes of heaven; in his body of the earth. (64)
The soul is the greatest glory of this lower world; and, as one saith, "There seems to be no more difference between the soul and an angel, than between a a sword in the scabbard and when it is out of the scabbard." (67) 
By considering the nature of our souls, we may as well be assured that there is a God, as that there is a sun, by the shining of the beams in at our windows; and, indeed, the soul is a statue and representation of God, as the landscape of a country or a map repre­sents all the parts of it, but in a far less proportion than the country itself is. The soul fills the body, and God the world; the soul sus­tains the body, and God the world; the soul sees, but is not seen ; God sees all things, but is himself invisible. (68) 
Conscience is the foundation of all religion; and the two pillars upon which it is built, are the being of God, and the bounty of God to those that diligently seek him. (73)
There could be no conscience if there were no God, and man could not be a rational creature, if there were no conscience. (73)
Whence should the soul of man have those desires? how came it to understand that something is still wanting to make its nature more perfect, if there were not in it some notion of a more perfect being which can give it rest ? Can such a capacity be sup­posed to be in it without something in being able to satisfy it? (74)
This boundless desire had not its original from man himself ; nothing would render itself restless ; something above the bounds of this world implanted those desires after a higher good, and made him restless in everything else. And since the soul can only rest in that which is infinite, there is some­thing infinite for it to rest in ; since nothing in the world, though a man had the whole, can give it a satisfaction, there is something above the world only capable to do it, otherwise the soul would be always without it, and be more in vain than any other creature. There is, therefore, some infinite being that can only give a content­ment to the soul, and this is God. And that goodness which im­planted such desires in the soul, would not do it to no purpose, and mock it in giving it an infinite desire of satisfaction, without intend­ing it the pleasure of enjoyment, if it doth not by its own folly de­prive itself of it. The felicity of human nature must needs exceed that which is allotted to other creatures. (74)
The being of a God is the guard of the world: the sense of God is the foundation of civil order: without this there is no tie upon the consciences of men. (77)
It is utterly impossible to demonstrate there is no God. (81)
To require to see God, is to require that which is impossible. (81)
My conclusions: 

I struggled at first with the text. I wanted to untangle it. I wanted to learn from it, and really benefit from it. But it wasn't always easy. His approach was very structured, very methodical, and above all else, very wordy!!!

I think there must be a GREAT difference in education between then and now. And since I'm from now, well, it was mind-stretching to read this one.

IF Charnock's discourse is truly an outline in prose-form. If I could see it back in outline form, if I could see how his arguments flowed from one to the other to the other--which paragraphs would be "I" "II" "III" "IV" etc. and which would be "A" "B" "C" "D" and which would be "1" "2" "3" "4" and "a" "b" "c" "d" etc.--then it might make the text itself more reader-friendly.

If there were PARAGRAPH HEADINGS in plain English, that would be good too.

By far my favorite and best section was the last part of the discourse, when Stephen Charnock switches focus from calling atheists fools and wicked monsters and beasts....TO calling Christians to live in right relationship to God. When Charnock focused on how Christians should be thinking about God, meditating on Him, worshiping Him, then there were some great words of wisdom that we can still learn from today.

I think the greatest of these may be this simple truth:

A God forgotten is as good as no God to us. (88)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

1 comment:

WhenJesusSavedMYSoul said...

Most of these older books are harder to read but they be can be what I call extra interesting.