The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, vol. 55

The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Vol. 55


March 25, 1880

“A Review of Paine’s ‘Age of Reason’” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald 55, 13, pp. 195, 196.


“Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord.” Isaiah 1:18. ARSH March 25, 1880, page 195.1

IN this brief review I do not propose to enter upon the evidences nor the defense of Christianity, nor on the truthfulness of the Bible, only so far as shall be necessary in showing the weakness of the opposition as represented by what is called the “Age of Reason.” For “though a doctrine should be maintained or admitted on the strength or correctness of its principles, yet in the mind of the inquirer its strength is more readily appreciated by a discovery of the weakness or defects of an opposite view.” And as the “Age of Reason” is held and flourished by many of the opponents of the Bible as one of their most effective weapons, we wish, in this brief notice, to maintain our position by an exposure of some of the many weaknesses and defects of that book, and at the same time to inquire whether the “age of reason” did not begin before the time when Mr. Paine wrote his book, I shall not have a word to say against Thomas Paine as an individual. Whatever his private character may have been, it shall have no bearing in this instance against the strength of his arguments. We shall present every argument fairly, and examine it fairly, proving all things holding fast that which is good; for even in this work we shall find some things which are comparatively good. As long as he reasons upon evidence, he reasons justly, as far as he will go; but when he rejects evidence, we see the natural result,—he is at sea and his reasonings are sadly at fault. ARSH March 25, 1880, page 195.2

Paine was a Deist, and therefore he did not, as some do, who profess to have learned from him, deny all possibility of there being a God, and attribute everything to chance. He says on page 1, “I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.” My faith and hope are precisely the same. ARSH March 25, 1880, page 195.3

Again, on the same page he says, “I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.” I also believe all this, and more; I believe in the remainder of the verse. Micah 6:8: “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” He, of course, does not believe all this; and here the singular anomaly is presented of a man writing a work against the Bible and against all revelation, and using, in one of his first sentences a plagiarism from that very book. ARSH March 25, 1880, page 195.4

On Page 27 we read: “It is only by the exercise of reason that man can discover God. Take away that reason, and he would be incapable of understanding anything; and, in this case, it would be just as consistent to read even the book called the Bible to a horse as to a man.” That is true; but he makes a sad mistake in supposing that we reject reason (see same paragraph) when we accept the Scriptures. So far from this, it is entirely to the reason that the Scriptures appeal. Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord.” Romans 12:1: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, saith the Lord.” Romans 12:1: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” Acts 17:2: “And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures.” Again, chap. 18:4: “And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.” 2 Timothy 2:16: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable.... that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” Now compare with this Job 32:8: “But there is a spirit in man; and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.” These two instances are the only ones where the word “inspiration” is used in all the Bible. One says that the Scriptures are given by inspiration of God, and are profitable for man; the other, that the “inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.” Then is it not self-evident that the Scriptures are submitted, and appeal, to the understanding, the reason? And by this it is clearly evident that they mistake utterly who say that the Scriptures reject reason. ARSH March 25, 1880, page 195.5

Again he says, on page 27, “Almost the only parts of the book called the Bible that convey to us any idea of God, are some chapters in Job and the 19th psalm. I recollect no other.” He did well to take the precaution to say that he recollected not other; for there are many others. See Psalm 8:3; 33:6, 7; 65:1-13; 89:11, 12; 102:25; 104:1-35; 146:5, 6; Isaiah 40:12-17, 22-26; 42:5; 44:24; 45:12; 51:13; Jeremiah 10:10-13; and multitudes more. Of course there is not space to quote all these texts here; and I would ask to quote all these texts here; and I would ask every one who reads the article to read it Bible in hand, and turn to every passage to which reference is made. He says of these passages in Job and the 19th psalm, “Those parts are true deistical compositions; for they treat of the Deity through his works. They take the book of creation as the word of God; they refer to no other book, and all the inferences they make are drawn from that volume.” ARSH March 25, 1880, page 195.6

Then he gives Addison’s paraphrase of the first six verse of the 19th psalm; for he says on page 28, “I keep no Bible.” (!!!) If he had kept, or even borrow, a Bible and read the rest of that psalm, he would have found that David did refer to another than the book of creation. In verses 7 and 8 the psalmist says, “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.” Now verse 11: “Moreover by them is thy servant warned; and in keeping of them is great reward.” ARSH March 25, 1880, page 195.7

It is clear that by “the law,” “the commandment,” “the judgments,” of the Lord, David means the ten commandments, which are abundantly proven to be the law of God (Exodus 34:12; 31:18; 32:15, 16; Deuteronomy 10:4, 5), by which the servants of God are “warned,” and in keeping of which is “great reward.” The “warning,” the second commandment: “Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.” Now the reward: “Showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.” The promise of reward is confirmed by Jesus, and Mr. Paine admits that he “preached most excellent morality,” page 10; for he said to him who asked how he might obtain eternal life, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” Matthew 19:16, 17; Revelation 22:14. Now search your “book of creation,” hunt through all the forms of nature, and not the least hint of any reward can be found. Then what is the ground of his “hope for happiness beyond this life.” He has none. But the servant of the Lord looks at his holy law, by keeping of which he receives great reward, through faith in the adorable Redeemer, and his “hope for happiness beyond this life” is “an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.” Hebrews 6:19. David, in the last verse of the psalm already referred to, says: “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” Thus it is evident that David did refer to some other solume than the book of creation, and that other volume revealed to him the law of God, the Redeemer, and the reward. ARSH March 25, 1880, page 195.8

Nor is Mr. Paine any more fortunate in his statement concerning Job. Job argues the case as follows: “How should man be just with God? if he will contend with him, he cannot answer him one of a thousand.” Job 2, 3. [sic.] “If I speak of strength, lo, he is strong; and if of judgment, who shall set me a time to plead? If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse.” Verses 19, 20. “For he is not a man, as I am, that I should answer him, and we should come together in judgment. Neither is there any daysman betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both.” Verse 32. In chap. 16:21, 22, he says: “Oh that one might plead for a man with God, as a man pleadeth for his neighbor! When a few years are come, then I shall go the way whence I shall not return.” He is brought “to death, and to the house appointed for all living” (chap. 30:23), but before he enters, he asks, “If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.” Chap. 14:14. His mind reaches forward to the time when his “change” shall come, and he exclaims with rapture, “Oh that my words were now written! Oh that they were printed in a book! that they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not a stranger [margin].” Chap. 19:23-27. ARSH March 25, 1880, page 195.9

Ay, Job, your words have been “written,” yea, they have been “printed in a book;” and there they stand, an everlasting refutation of the statement of Thomas Paine, that the book of Job is a true deisticalcomposition. Far be it from either Job or the psalmist ever to have written a deistical composition. ARSH March 25, 1880, page 196.1

On page 65, Mr. Paine would convey the impression that he understood the Bible; but I have to doubt it. On pages 28, 29, he purses a line of reasoning which is sound and good, and which will compel him to admit all that it claimed for the Bible. His own reasoning drives him to it. He says:— ARSH March 25, 1880, page 196.2

“I recollect not enough of the passages in Job to insert them correctly; but there is one occurs to me that is applicable to the subject I am speaking on. ‘Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection?’ I know not how the have printers have pointed this passage, for I keep no Bible; but it contains two distinct questions, that admit of distinct answers:— ARSH March 25, 1880, page 196.3

“1. Canst thou by searching find out God? Yes; because in the first place, I know I did not make myself, and yet I have existence; and by searching into the nature of other things, I find that no other thing could make itself; and yet millions of other things exist: therefore it is that I know, by positive conclusion resulting from this search, that there is a power superior to all these things, and that power is God. ARSH March 25, 1880, page 196.4

“2. Canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection? No; not only because the power and wisdom he has manifested in the structure of the creation that I behold is to me incomprehensible, but because even this manifestation, great as it is, is probably but a small display of that immensity of power and wisdom by which millions of other worlds, to me invisible by their distance, were created and continue to exist. ARSH March 25, 1880, page 196.5

“It is evident that both of these questions were put to the reason of the person to whom they are supposed to have been addressed; and it is only by admitting the first question to be answered affirmatively, that the second could follow. It would have been unnecessary, and even absurd, to have put a second question, more difficult than the first, if the first question had been answered negatively. The two questions have different objects; the first refers to the existence of God, the second to his attributes; reason can discover the one, but it falls infinitely short in discovering the whole of the other.” ARSH March 25, 1880, page 196.6

This is sound reasoning. In fact, I know not how it could be improved. But when he admits that “reason falls infinitely short in discovering the attributes of God,” he admits all that is claimed for the Bible. For in that he admits the necessity of a revelation, and this very necessity, we claim the Bible supplies, therefore his argument admits all that is claimed for the Bible; that is, the revelation of the attributes of God, and of his will to men. ARSH March 25, 1880, page 196.7

He says further: “Religion is the belief of a God and the practice of moral truth; or, in other words, a practical imitationof the moral goodness of God.”—p. 51. But as man’s “reason cannot discover the attributes [the moral goodness] of God,” how is it possible for him to imitate it? On page 33, Mr. Paine would have “the Almighty lecturer say to the inhabitants of the globe, ... Learn from my munificence to all, to be kind to each other.” And again, page 28, “Let him [man] believe this with the force it is impossible to repel, if he permits his reason to act, and his rule of moral life will follow of course.” ARSH March 25, 1880, page 196.8

But suppose that men will not be “kind to each other.” Suppose they should do as they are doing every day before our eyes, “the libertine mocking over the grave of blighted hopes; the priceless treasure of virtuous purity, around which cluster the fondest hopes of earth, sported with as a mere toy; the vain rolling in wealth accumulated by fraud and oppression; vice exalted to the pinnacle of fame; to hear the praises of him whose very presence is loathsome by reason of the filthiness of his iniquities;” the red-handed murderer walking at liberty, while his innocent victim lies cold in death; the artful seducer exulting over the ruin of fated innocence; the embezzling bank officer living in ease and luxury upon the scanty savings of poor widows and orphans; am I to look upon all this and say, with a complacent smile, This is right? in this I rejoice? this is the imitation of the moral goodness of God? God forbid. ARSH March 25, 1880, page 196.9

And are these all to “hope for happiness beyond this life? the murderer to receive the same reward as the murdered? the seducer the same reward as his victim? the robber the same reward as the robbed? the bad with the good? Is this the justice of God? No! No!! So far as the “book of creation” is concerned, it is forever silent on this subject. But can it be possible that the “Supreme One, who has so nicely arranged the material world, and subjected it to certain laws,” has left man, the supreme intelligence of the world, wholly without law? That would not be reasonable. ARSH March 25, 1880, page 196.10

And this also Mr. Paine admits in his argument. On Page 155 he says: “Here we are. We cannot conceive how we came here ourselves, and yet we know for a fact that we are here. We must know also that the power that called us into being, can, if he please, and when he pleases, call us to account for the manner in which we have lived here; and, therefore, without seeking any other motive for the belief, it is rational to believe that he will, for we know beforehand that he can.” Now, reader, I ask in all soberness, Is it reasonable to suppose that God holds us responsible, and will “call us to account, for the manner in which we have lived here,” and at the same time withholds from us all rules, all directions, as to how we ought to live? In all reason the answer must be, No. ARSH March 25, 1880, page 196.11

We have all read or heard or the king who made strict laws and had them posted throughout his kingdom, but so high that no one could read them, and then punished the people for not obeying them. The world justly holds that he was a tyrant. Yet Mr. Paine’s position and arguments charge God with just such folly. It is not “common sense,” nor is it in accordance with “the rights of man.” It is not justice. And Eld. J. H. Waggoner, in his work on the Atonement, says: “Can any one dispassionately reason and reflect on this subject, and accept the idea of a God of even partial justice? The idea is alike repugnant to reason and to reverence. God must be strictly, infinitely just. I should choose to be annihilated rather than to possess immortal existence in a universe governed or controlled by a being of almighty power, but lacking justice.” And as justice is and must be one of the attributes of God, and as the “creation” does not reveal it, and as “reason falls infinitely short of discovering it,” it must be revealed somewhere else. And it is. Job 37:23: “Touching the Almighty, we cannot find him out [“to perfection,” of course]; he is excellent in power, and in judgment, and in plenty of justice.” As he will call every man “to account for the manner in which he has lived here,” and as Justice requires that he should give them directions how to live, we find that he has done this also. We quote Paine’s own authority, the 19th psalm, verses 7-11: “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure enlightening the eyes.... The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.... Moreover by them is thy servant warned; and in keeping of them there is great reward.” See also Isaiah 48:17. ARSH March 25, 1880, page 196.12

Now I have proved plainly and conclusively from these positions of Mr. Paine, that his reasoning demands just such a revelation as the Bible supplies. ARSH March 25, 1880, page 196.13

(To be continued.)