Studies in Christian Essentials

By Harry E. Jessop


Chapter 1


Numerous Theories

That there is a Supreme Being men in general agree, although there are to be found "fools" with minds so blinded and spiritual natures so perverted as to say in their hearts, "There is no God" (Ps. 14:1). These do so, however, because inwardly they are corrupt, and as the result of their corruption they have done abominable works.

Yet, among those who assent to some sort of divine existence an amazing variety of views are expressed. It will be well, therefore, for us at the beginning of our study to line up some of the numerous theories which men have evolved and make a concise statement concerning each. We shall name seven:

1. The Atheistic Theory

The atheist bluntly and boldly asserts, "There is no God."

Throughout the centuries the history of atheism has been sporadic. It has entrenched itself here and manifested itself there; then for a season it has gone into hiding. But with all the development of religion, atheism as such has never died; and so long as the human heart is what it is, atheism will live on, for the corrupt heart does not want to acknowledge God (Ps. 10:4).

At certain periods when spirituality is low the cancer comes to the surface, as for instance, in the French Revolution and the Bolshevistic regime in Russia. There are few great cities today without an atheistic society.

Atheism has been classified under four general heads:

a. Classical atheism. This is not of necessity the absolute denial of divine existence, but may have to do with the gods of a particular nation. The early Christians were sometimes called atheists because of their disavowal of the gods of heathen nations.
b. Philosophic atheism. Not that the various systems to which this term is applied actually deny the existence of a First Cause, but they are atheistic in their trends and tend to unsettle the faith of mankind in the existence of God.

Examples: The Idealism of Fichte; the Ideal Pantheism of Spinoza; the Natural Pantheism of Schelling; and similar forms of thought.

c. Practical atheism. This form of atheism is not so much in the realm of thought but has to do with the life. It does not of necessity declare there is no God, but lives as though He did not exist. Among the masses, such a form of atheism is prevalent today.


d. Dogmatic atheism. Here is atheism in full flower. It is blatant, belligerent, and aggressive. Within recent years there have been determined efforts to revive it, and we shall meet more, but few will honestly endorse it when facing the great realities of life and the fact of death. Atheism has no certainties.

To all this the Christian heart replies, "O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker" (Ps. 95:6).

2. The Agnostic Theory

The agnostic is akin to the atheist, but is less dogmatic as to God's nonexistence. He insists that man does not have, nor can he have, any knowledge of God. "God, if such there be," he argues, "is infinite, while man is finite. The finite can never comprehend the infinite; therefore God is unknowable, and consequently unknown."

To this the Christian heart makes the prompt and vigorous reply, "I know him whom I have believed" (II Tim. 1:12, R.V.).

3. The Deistic Theory

The deist says, "There is a God, but He is to be regarded as being outside His universe. Certainly He created it, but He then withdrew from it, leaving it to a process of self-development. To this the Christian heart replies, Our God is not afar off. "The Lord is at hand" (Phil. 4:5).

4. The Polytheistic Theory

Polytheism predicates many gods, each ruling in his own realm.

The liberal theologians declare that this was man's primitive belief, a superstition from which he has slowly evolved. On the contrary, according to the plain teaching of the Scriptures, it is the product of man's fallen condition, and is a relic of a corrupted monotheism (Rom. 1:1: 20-23). It has developed under various forms, such as:

a. Fetishism. This is probably the lowest type of polytheism, where stones, reptiles, and other objects are worshipped under the belief that they are associated with supernatural influences.
b. Animism. This may be stated as the belief that inanimate objects and the phenomena of nature are endowed with personal and living souls. The term is also used to denote the worship of the spirits of ancestors or of national heroes.
c. Sabianism. Sabianism is that species of idolatry which consists in the worship of the heavenly bodies, the sun, the moon, and the stars. It is the belief in the ruling power of the stars, and underlies all religions having astrology or astronomy for their basis.

To all this the Christian heart replies, "There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (I Tim. 2:5).

5. The Pantheistic Theory

This theory may be summed up in one sentence, namely, God and the universe are one. To the pantheist, God is not a person but an aggregation all things, animate and inanimate, form the sum total of God and find consciousness in man.

The pantheist does not profess to find God in any individual person, place, or thing. He does not say, for instance, "This tree is God, this animal is God, this sky is God, this man is God," etc.; but surveying the whole tree, animal, sky, man, and all else in one grand totality -- he says, "This is God."

To this the Christian heart replies, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" (Gen. 1:1).

"The living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein" (Acts 14:15).

6. The Materialistic Theory

The materialistic theory, in its explanation of things, gives priority to matter, contending that material atoms constitute the ultimate and fundamental reality of all things. In a word, materialism denies the existence of everything but matter.

To this the Christian heart replies, "In the beginning was the Word..... and the Word was God. All things were made by him" (John 1:1, 3).

7. The Monotheistic Theory According to this theory, God is personal and God is one. The monotheistic religions are

Judaism, Mohammedanism, and Christianity. Our concern in these studies is with the Christian religion and its idea of God.


The theories here stated are fundamental; a knowledge of them is therefore essential for future work. If they are not already well rooted in the memory they should be learned. Material should also be sought in the general reading suggested at the end of this section, which will supplement what is here given.


  1. Name the seven theories concerning the divine existence.

  2. Take the theories separately, and in your own words give a statement of each.

  3. Compare and contrast atheism and agnosticism.

  4. Compare and contrast deism and monotheism.

  5. Contrast deism and pantheism.


It would be correct to say that the Bible nowhere in the form of an actual declaration states the fact of the divine existence -- and yet it does more, for throughout the entire Book is to be found the grand assumption that God is. The Bible writers do not even pause to prove His existence, but with a certainty born of conscious contact they boldly declare the God they know.

What can be more majestic than those opening words of the Book of Genesis: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" (Gen. 1:1)? Or what is more definite than the language of Paul when stressing the fact of the high priestly intercession of the risen Lord: "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (I Tim. 2:5)?

Strictly speaking, such passages in themselves are not formal declarations; they are to be regarded as links in an argument or part of a general statement, but they do at least take for granted the fact of the divine existence, and this could not be without a definite and sufficient reason. Then too, we cannot ignore the constant claim of these speakers as they repeatedly insist that their messages are from God himself. What is all this but an indirect way of saying, "There is a God"?

Before plunging into the heart of our study, it will be well for us to settle our definition of God. For our material here it will be necessary to go first to the Bible, and then, from the knowledge there gained, to construct our definition in the realm of theology.

1. Our Biblical Material

The Bible is by no means a ready-made theology; it is rather a Source Book of theological knowledge, the raw material, so to speak, on which we must work. Therefore in seeking our definition of God we may expect to find the Sacred Book to be descriptive rather than definitive. It is from its general trend that we must gather our conception, and here four definite passages will give us descriptive expression. They are as follows:

"God is Spirit" (John 4:24, R.V., marg.)

"God is light" (I John 1:5)

"God is love" (I John 4:16)

"God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29)

2. The Theological Construction

This truth which the Bible in general is found to teach is now taken over by the theologian and stated in concise theological form. Here are some specimen definitions which will assist the student in making his own:

Martin Luther: "God is an infinite and spiritual essence."

John Howe: "God is an eternal, uncaused, independent, necessary being, of perfect wisdom, power and goodness, transcendently glorious, the Creator of the universe who preserves it by His providence and governs it according to His laws."

Westminster Catechism: "God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His Being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth."

John Miley: "God is an eternal, personal Being, of absolute knowledge, power and goodness."

W. N. Clarke: "God is the personal Spirit, in whom all things have their source, support and end."

H. Orton Wiley: "God is a Spirit, holy in nature and attributes, absolute in reality, infinite in efficiency, perfect in personality, and thereby the ultimate ground, adequate cause, and sufficient reason for all finite existence."

Nazarene Manual: "We believe in one eternally existent, infinite God, Sovereign of the universe; that He only is God, creative and administrative, holy in nature, attributes, and purpose."


After a careful consideration of these definitions, remembering also the numerous theories concerning the divine existence already considered, write in your own words a definition of God which best satisfies you.


  1. Would it be correct to say that the Bible nowhere formally declares the existence of God?

  2. If this is so, what is the attitude of the Bible writers with regard to the divine existence?

  3. In what relation to theology may the Bible be said to stand?



This idea of God, with its numerous definitions, may, to some of us, tend to become ordinary and even commonplace. It is well, therefore, that we should inquire into its origin and acquaint ourselves with the methods by which men have arrived at this position.

Immediately we find ourselves in the sphere of conflict, discovering that concerning the idea of God two distinct and contrasting views are held, some insisting that man's knowledge of God is innate and comes to him intuitively, while others contend that it is the result of reasoning processes. We think it might be safe to state that this knowledge of the divine existence cannot be limited to either one of these, but rather requires both with the addition of a third, namely: Intuition-Reason- Revelation.

1. The Idea of God May Be Said To Be Ours By Intuition

That is to say, there is something in man even in his fallen state -- call it instinct if you will -- which, if allowed to speak, will lead him to the thought of a higher power.

It is not claimed that this intuitive sense is self-interpretative. Only the Holy Spirit can give inward spiritual life, awakening the sense of need within the soul and leading it to God; there is, nevertheless, within man a universal something, an innate idea, which despite his depravity, willfulness, and sin has persisted through the ages, telling man that his relationship is not wholly with the animals -- he has capacity for the knowledge of God, yea, for the indwelling God himself.

Dr. A. H. Strong argues that the idea of the existence of God is a first truth, namely, a rational intuition which logically precedes and conditions all observation and reasoning. This intuition is basic to our conception of God.

2. This Idea of God Becomes Clearer By Recognition

Thoughtful minds have set forth convincing arguments in proof of this, and although admittedly timeworn and to some even threadbare and allegedly outworn, they stand today as the unanswerable apologetic of our holy faith. We shall state four:

Argument 1-- Cosmological: The evidences of the existence of an adequate First Cause.

The cosmological argument is the reasoning based on the evident fact of cause and effect, inferring an Infinite Being as the only rational cause of the cosmos. Every effect must have a cause. The world is an effect; therefore it must have a cause outside of itself and sufficiently adequate to account for its existence. As nothing could never produce something, there must exist an Eternal Being to account for that which has been produced. The world as we see it gives abundant evidence that everything in it is dependent and mutable, and cannot be self-existent and eternal. The forces of nature are utterly inadequate to produce such a world. The cosmos is far too vast and complex for us to believe that it is the product of blind force. The wonders of the telescope as seen in the vast sweep of the heavens and the marvels of the microscope as realized increasingly in the earth unite in their testimony to the fact of a First Cause, and that First Cause the Christian calls God.

Argument 2 -- Teleological: The evidence for the divine existence as seen in the presence of order, design, adaptation, and rational purpose. By this we mean: (a) the selection of an end to be attained, (b) the choice of suitable means for its attainment, (c) the actual use of those means to accomplish the given end.

The cosmological and teleological arguments are necessarily complementary the one to the other. The fact of a sufficient First Cause being predicated, our next consideration will naturally be the evidences that that First Cause is intelligent in its operation. Soon, however, we are compelled to recognize that the "It" must be dropped and personal pronouns substituted, and with a reverential awe we begin to speak of "Him" and "His."

The works of nature everywhere bear evidence of design: whether the preparation of the earth as the abode of man, the construction of man's physical frame, or the construction of the creatures beneath man and their adaptation for their respective spheres. All nature is vibrant with the testimony to an originating design, and such design of necessity demands the existence of a Designer. Sooner or later this must lead to the recognition of a personal Intelligence and Will; in short, it must lead to God. See Heb. 3:4, R.V.

All this, we know, is amazingly old-fashioned indeed, but let him disprove it who can.

Argument 3 -- Ontological: The argument from the nature of being; based on the idea of God as it exists in the human mind. This is much like the argument from intuition, designed to show that the real, objective existence of God is involved in the very idea of such a Being.

St. Augustine argued from the existence of a finite and imperfect human truth and reasoned that perfect truth and reason must exist somewhere by which these lower things can be measured.

Anselm argued that an imaginary or ideal Divine Being, however perfect in conception, cannot answer to the idea of the most perfect. Hence we must admit actual existence.

Descartes said, "I find in me the notion of God which I cannot have formed by my own power, since it involves a higher degree of being than I possess. It must have for its author God himself who stamped it upon my mind, just as an architect impresses his stamp upon his work."

Argument 4 -- Anthropological or Moral: The argument from the nature of man both mental and moral.

Here man is seen as having a sense of responsibility and accountability. He recognizes distinctions between right and wrong. He knows the operation of conscience and is conscious of a sense of duty. He feels a sense of dependence and obligation. The moral world has laws to which he is subject, and all these demand the existence of a Lawgiver. His own mind cannot be responsible for all this. There must be a God.

3. This Idea Of God is Conveyed to the Soul By Revelation

When men's best arguments have been stated, we are compelled to admit that there are those who do not find it easy to believe. There is reason for this, as later we shall see. But for the moment it will be sufficient to say that man's nature Godward has been twisted and warped, so much so that spiritual facts are difficult to comprehend.

"The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (I Cor. 2:14).

Both atheism and faith have their respective seats, not in the mind, but in the heart. "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God" (Ps. 14:1). "With the heart man believeth" (Rom. 10:10). "Take heed lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief" (Heb. 3:12). "Having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that ye may know . . ." (Eph. 1:18, R.V.). Speaking about the truth which he claimed to possess, Paul the Apostle declared, "Neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation" (Gal. 1:12, R.V.).

All this, with many other statements, is a united declaration that, if man is to acknowledge God as existent and Creator, God must take definite steps to reveal himself to man. This He has done, and in such a manner that only those willfully blind can disregard the revelation.

a. He has revealed himself through the world which He has made (Psalms 19; Rom. 1:20). The farthest star and the tiniest flower are His messengers. Hence Lord Tennyson writes:

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower -- but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

b. He has revealed himself through the prophets whom He has sent. "God... spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets" (Heb. 1:1).
c. He has revealed himself through the Son, whom He has given. "God ... hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son" (Heb. 1:1-2).

All the earlier arguments, convincing though they be, would be lacking in their effectiveness but for the fact that the very God of whom they speak is always at work to illuminate the mind of the honest seeker after truth. The Holy Spirit ever stands ready to help. God "is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Heb. 11:6).

"I do not know the whole of God and many things I dare neither to affirm nor to deny; but what I do know of Him, I find so grounded in my very being, so confronted by all forms of all external being, so comforting to my heart, so fruitful in the life, that I affirm it beyond the possibility of denial." -- John Duncan


Make sure that you understand the three "methods" here discussed. Then each argument for the divine existence and state it in your notebook in your own words. Imagine your self suddenly confronted by a critical unbeliever; face him and answer him.


  1. Name the three methods by which we arrive at our knowledge of God.

  2. State as fully as possible each of the methods you have named.