And saying, Sirs, why do you these things? We also are men of like passions with you…
Lord Chesterfield, being in Brussels on one occasion, supped with Voltaire and a Madame C., his disciple. "I think," said the lady, "the British Parliament consists of some five or six hundred members, the best informed and sensible men in the kingdom, does it not?" "It is so supposed, madame," was the formal reply. "What then," continued she, "can be the reason they tolerate so great an absurdity as the Christian religion?" "I suppose, madame," said his lordship, "it is because they have not been able to substitute anything better in its place; when they can, I doubt not but that in their wisdom they will readily accept it." Chesterfield, in his sly, ironical reply, went on the assumptions —
I. THAT SOME RELIGION MEN MUST HAVE. This he shared with the most sagacious men in all ages. It has been inferred —
1. From the teachings of the past, as found in history, tradition, and fable. From the beginning to this hour, wherever the foot of man has trod, religion has been found.
2. From the necessity of religion to the well-being of society. All great legislators and statesmen have seen this and acted accordingly; for, as De Tocqueville remarks, "Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot."
3. From the manifest requirements of the individual. Every man stands in manifest need of religion, and that, however it may be with the living, when men come to die, almost all wish this want were supplied, and regret that they had not before taken measures to supply it.
4. From a consideration of human nature and the elements which compose it. The religious instinct belongs to it as much as any other. This religiousness is no accident: it comes of man's weakness and dependence as a finite being; of his intelligence, which looks for and is not satisfied without a first cause, personal and infinitely wise; above all of his conscience. Till this is torn from man's breast, he must believe there is a ruler over him in the heavens.
II. THAT IF ANY IS NOWADAYS ADOPTED IT MUST BE CHRISTIANITY. The choice is only between Paganism, Mohammedanism, Deism, and Christianity.
1. The first may be dismissed at once. When the world, under apostolic teaching, renounced heathenism, it renounced it forever.
2. The claims of Mohammedanism may be disposed of with like despatch. All that is contained in the Koran, which commends itself religiously to our judgment, has been taken from the Bible: the rest is folly and impurity. Bereft of external advantages, there is nothing within to recommend it, either in its origin, history, or spirit. The adoption of such a system by persons brought up under Christian influence is not to be thought of.
3. But what about Deism or natural religion — a system which acknowledges God, but rejects revelation and Christianity. Well, we need a religion which will with authority and certainty instruct us about the nature and character of God, and our relations to Him. We need it to assure us of and guide us to immortality. We need it to help us to bear the burdens of life; to strengthen us in holy living, and to cheer us with bright and well-grounded hope, and make us more than conquerors over death. So much for the individual's wants. But for society we further need a religion that will take strong hold on the general mind, and by its own inherent energy, acting through appropriate means on the public conscience, will purify and elevate it, giving us honesty in business, moderation and forbearance in ordinary intercourse, and kindliness and affection in domestic life. Now, can Deism accomplish these purposes for the world?
(1) It has never proved its sufficiency by the actual accomplishment of these ends for any community. It lacks power. It has no aggressive energy. It was never the permanent religion of a nation.
(2) An actual inspection of the system itself shows that it must needs be so. It is, indeed, not so much a system of unbelief as of unbeliefs. It is destructive, not constructive. Deism comes not with authority: it speaks as the Scribes. It is not the voice of God: it even spurns the idea that God has ever spoken to the race: it is confessedly the voice of man, In the matter of religion man needs the direct interposition of Divine authority. A religion, without such authority, is like a bank note, well engraved it may be, but lacking the proper signature. Further, Deism has no outward standard to which all may resort for information and direction. In all matters touching government (religion is governmental) we need a written constitution. We need it for protection and convenience. In civil and religious matters we want to know our duties and the rights of the government; and we further need to have them recorded where all may find access to them. Without such record we should be at the mercy of our own fickleness, of the crafty assaults of the plausible, of the weakness of the human memory, and of the strength of human passion. But Deism has no sacred book; no standard to walk by. Our conclusion then is, that the high purposes of religion for the world cannot be answered by Deism.
4. Thus has God shut us up to Christianity. God hath not left Himself without witness. By the very nature which He hath given us, the circumstances in which He has placed us, and the facilities which He has supplied to our hand (to say nothing of miracles, and prophecies, and various other historical, moral, and critical proofs), He has plainly and unmistakably shown where truth, interest, and duty lie. As by a voice from heaven He has said of Jesus: "This is My beloved Son; hear ye Him." "This is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world."
(W. Sparrow, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein:
WEB: "Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to the living God, who made the sky and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them;