Religion & Morality (or: Dead While They Live) (Hodge)

Systematic Theology, 3 Volumes   -     By: Charles Hodge

Jesus said the first and greatest commandment is this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt. 22:37 NET). This commandment is echoed in the OT and in the NT. When discussing this great commandment, Charles Hodge related it to religion, morality, and Romans 1:18ff. I’ve put his comments on this below, although it’s longer than my usual post. However, it’s pretty easy to read and very insightful. I’ve edited the layout slightly:

The preëminence of this commandment is further evident from the fact that religion, or the duty we owe to God, is the foundation of morality. Without the former, the latter cannot exist.

This is plain,
(1.) From the nature of the case. Morality is the conformity of an agent’s character and conduct to the moral law. But the moral law is the revealed will of God. If there be no God, there is no moral law; and if a man does not acknowledge or recognize God, there is no higher law than his own reason to which he can feel any obligation to be conformed.
(2.) It is a principle of our nature that if a man disregard a higher obligation, he will not be controlled by a lower. This principle was recognized by our Lord when He said, “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much; and he that is unjust in the least, is unjust also in much.” (Luke 16:10.) This involves the converse: He that is unfaithful in much, is unfaithful in that which is least.
(3.) It is the testimony of experience that where religion has lost its hold on the minds of the people, there the moral law is trampled under foot. The criminal and dangerous class in every community consists of those who have no fear of God before their eyes.
(4.) It is the secret conviction of every man that his duty to God is his highest duty, as is evinced by the fact that the charge of atheism is one from which the human soul instinctively recoils. It is felt to be a charge of the utter degradation, or of the deadness of all that is highest and noblest in the nature of man.
(5.) The most decisive and solemn evidence of this truth, however, is to be found in the revealed purpose of God to forsake those who forsake Him; to give up to the unconstrained control of their evil passions, those who cast off their allegiance to Him. The Apostle says of the heathen world that it was “Because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, … God gave them up unto vile affections.” (Rom. 1:21, 26.) And again in ver. 28, “As they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful.” Such are the natural, the actual, the inevitable, and the judicially ordained effects of men’s refusing to retain God in their knowledge.

Notwithstanding all this we see multitudes of men of whom it may be said that God is not in all their thoughts. They never think of Him. They do not recognize his providence. They do not refer to his will as a rule of conduct. They do not feel their responsibility to Him for what they think or do. They do not worship Him; nor thank Him for their mercies. They are without God in the world. Yet they think well of themselves. They are not aware of the dreadful guilt involved in thus forgetting God, in habitually failing to discharge the first and highest duty that rests on rational creatures. Self-respect or regard to public opinion often renders such men decorous in their lives. But they are really dead while they live; and they have no security against the powers of darkness.

It is painful also to see that scientific men and philosophers so often endeavour to invalidate the arguments for the existence of God, and advance opinions inconsistent with Theism; arguing, as they in many cases do, to prove either that there is no evidence of the existence of any power in the universe other than of physical force, or that no knowledge, consciousness, or voluntary action can be predicated of an infinite Being. This is done in apparent unconsciousness that they are undermining the foundations of all religion and morality; or that they are exhibiting a state of mind which the Scriptures pronounce worthy of reprobation.

 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 279–281.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Ask Creation! (Augustine)

 In the opening comments of Augustine’s sermon on John 14:6 he noted that some wise philosophers had some sort of knowledge of God.  He said that they saw the Truth from afar, but because of their errors they didn’t know how to attain the Truth or come to possess it.  Augustine based his statements on Romans 1:18ff, explaining that people “saw (as far as can be seen by man) the Creator by means of the creature, the Worker by His work, [and] the Framer of the world by the world.”

The Apostle put it this way: “For the invisible things of Him are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.”  Augustine commented,

Ask the world, the beauty of the heaven, the brilliancy and ordering of the stars, the sun, that sufficeth for the day, the moon, the solace of the night; ask the earth fruitful in herbs, and trees, full of animals, adorned with men; ask the sea, with how great and what kind of fishes filled; ask the air, with how great birds stocked; ask all things, and see if they do not as if it were by a language of their own make answer to thee, “God made us.” These things have illustrious philosophers sought out, and by the art have come to know the Artificer.

What then? Why is the wrath of God revealed against this ungodliness? “Because they detain the truth in unrighteousness?” Let him come, let him show how. For how they came to know Him, he hath said already. “The invisible things of Him,” that is God, “are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; His eternal Power also and Godhead; so that they are without excuse. Because that when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”

They are the Apostle’s words, not mine: “And their foolish heart was darkened; for professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” What by curious search they found, by pride they lost. “Professing themselves to be wise,” attributing, that is, the gift of God to themselves, “they became fools.” They are the Apostle’s words, I say; “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.”

Augustine, NPNF 1.6.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Sexuality and Nature in Romans 1:26-27 (Stott)

 Romans 1:26-27 is a very deep text that talks about the darkness and destructiveness of depravity.  In the context of these verses, Paul is discussing how the rejection of God leads to all sorts of misery.  For example, rejecting God affects the mind and morals in very bad ways (v 18, 21).  Rejection of God necessarily leads to idolatry (v 23, 25).  Rejection of God can also result in God giving a person over to his or her sins – judicially withdrawing his restraint and letting them have the depraved lusts of their hearts (v 24).  Rejecting God has many dire and dark consequences: sometimes God punishes sin with sin.

Back to Romans 1:26-27.  In these verses Paul says that one result of God giving a person over to his or her sinful lusts is that they exchange natural sexual relations with unnatural ones: men lust after men and women lust after women.  John Stott has some helpful comments on these verses:

Verses 26–27 are a crucial text in the contemporary debate about homosexuality. The traditional interpretation, that they describe and condemn all homosexual behaviour, is being challenged by the gay lobby. Three arguments are advanced. First, it is claimed that the passage is irrelevant, on the ground that its purpose is neither to teach sexual ethics, nor to expose vice, but rather to portray the outworking of God’s wrath. This is true. But if a certain sexual conduct is to be seen as the consequence of God’s wrath, it must be displeasing to him. Secondly, ‘the likelihood is that Paul is thinking only about pederasty’ since ‘there was no other form of male homosexuality in the Greco-Roman world’, and that he is opposing it because of the humiliation and exploitation experienced by the youths involved. All one can say in response to this suggestion is that the text itself contains no hint of it.

Thirdly, there is the question what Paul meant by ‘nature’. Some homosexual people are urging that their relationships cannot be described as ‘unnatural’, since they are perfectly natural to them. John Boswell has written, for example, that ‘the persons Paul condemns are manifestly not homosexual: what he derogates are homosexual acts committed by apparently heterosexual people’.  Hence Paul’s statement that they ‘abandoned’ natural relations, and ‘exchanged’ them for unnatural (26–27). Richard Hays has written a thorough exegetical rebuttal of this interpretation of Romans 1, however. He provides ample contemporary evidence that the opposition of ‘natural’ (kata physin) and ‘unnatural’ (para physin) was ‘very frequently used … as a way of distinguishing between heterosexual and homosexual behaviour’. Besides, differentiating between sexual orientation and sexual practice is a modern concept; ‘to suggest that Paul intends to condemn homosexual acts only when they are committed by persons who are constitutionally heterosexual is to introduce a distinction entirely foreign to Paul’s thought-world’, in fact a complete anachronism.

So then, we have no liberty to interpret the noun ‘nature’ as meaning ‘my’ nature, or the adjective ‘natural’ as meaning ‘what seems natural to me’. On the contrary, physis (‘natural’) means God’s created order. To act ‘against nature’ means to violate the order which God has established, whereas to act ‘according to nature’ means to behave ‘in accordance with the intention of the Creator’. Moreover, the intention of the Creator means his original intention. What this was Genesis tells us and Jesus confirmed: ‘At the beginning the Creator “made them male and female”, and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one.’ Then Jesus added his personal endorsement and deduction: ‘Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.’

In other words, 1) God created humankind male and female; 2) God instituted marriage as a heterosexual union; and 3) what God has thus united, we have no liberty to separate. This threefold action of God established that the only context which he intends for the ‘one flesh’ experience is heterosexual monogamy, and that a homosexual partnership (however loving and committed it may claim to be) is ‘against nature’ and can never be regarded as a legitimate alternative to marriage.

 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 77–78.

Shane Lems
Hammon, WI, 54015

The Tension of Unbelief (Guinness)

Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion Fool’s Talk by Os Guinness is an excellent resource for thoughtful Christian apologetics.  I’ve mentioned it here before so I won’t go into details.  But there is a section I was recently reading again – a section which is well worth posting here.  It’s based on Romans 1:18ff:

“At the core of unbelief is ceaseless, unremitting and inescapable tension and conflict.  Unbelievers suppress the truth in unrighteousness, but it is still always the truth, so they can never completely get away from it.  An unbeliever’s view of the world without God may contain many deep truths and have all sorts of genuine merits.  But that view of the world can never be completely true, because the unbeliever will not accept God, without whom it will always be finally false at some points.  Yet at the same time, the unbelievers’ views of the world are never completely false, because they can never get away completely from God and his truth.  Unbelief is therefore always an inherently in tension, and it can never escape this conflict.  Whatever view of the world unbelief espouses, it is always partly true but twisted, and it is always twisted, though never other than still partly true.”

Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk, p. 93-4.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI