Back in 1957 a British archaeologist opined in an American magazine: “Nearly all the really important questions, the things we ponder in our profoundest moments, have no answer”. No doubt she was thinking of such questions as: Does God exist? Why are we here? and, What happens to us after death? But, in spite of widespread scepticism, there are answers to all these questions. For there is a God, and He has spoken to us clearly and with real authority. Yet today, almost 50 years on, there is an even greater unwillingness to accept the authority of Scripture, where God has given a revelation of Himself.
The fact is, as Paul makes plain in Romans 1, there is a real, though limited, revelation from God in the created universe around us, “for the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead” (v 20). If it were possible for us to look about us without prejudice at the things that are made, we would feel obliged to accept the conclusion that no power less than God’s could have made them – that they did not come into existence apart from His eternal power. Yet every individual in this world is prejudiced and, in this generation, unbelieving prejudice very much operates in the direction of denying the creatorship of God and even His existence. But the evidence Paul speaks of still exists and, in the last part of the verse just quoted, he adds that, because of this evidence, “they are without excuse”.
In similar vein, Paul told the idolaters in Lystra of “the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein”. And they should have recognised His existence. Paul told them that God “left not Himself without witness, in that He did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). They should have realised that God’s kind provision in providence shows conclusively that God does indeed exist, and they should have realised this even if they had no further revelation, even if they never had the opportunity to listen to one of God’s messengers and never saw any part of the Scriptures.
If we accept the right answer to the first question, the answer to the second should follow very easily. The Shorter Catechism provides one answer to the question, Why are we here? when it declares that the First Commandment “requireth us to know and acknowledge God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify Him accordingly”. Among the scriptures quoted in support is Psalm 29:2: “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness”. But how can we know what is glorifying to God and what kind of worship is acceptable to Him? We must go to the Bible. There we will find both the main principles – and, to some extent, the details which are to guide us in fulfilling the chief end for which we were created. One such main principle, which applies to the whole of our lives, is: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself” (Luke 10:27).
And the third question: What happens after death? It is obvious what happens to the body, but no one can observe the soul as it leaves the body behind. To discover what may be known of the soul’s destiny, we must turn again to the Bible, where we are told that “the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Ecc 12:7). It is God who made us; it is He to whom we must all give account at last; it is He accordingly who will, in perfect justice, send each of us to where we will spend eternity, to heaven or to hell. Will it be to the house of many mansions, the place of everlasting blessedness? Yes, the Bible tells us plainly, if we have become reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. But the answer to that last question is, No, if we reach death still in our sins, still under condemnation, still in rebellion against our Creator.
God has indeed spoken. He has told us all we need to know about religion. There is an answer in Scripture to every reasonable question, however profound. And all such answers are perfectly reliable, being given as part of an infallible revelation, which is, from beginning to end, inspired by the Holy Spirit. In particular, He has told us all we must know so that we may get safely through this life and safely out of it into a better world. Fundamentally we need faith in a crucified Saviour.
But will man listen? Sadly, as in most other generations, the vast majority of people today refuse to take such answers seriously. Even in countries like Britain, with a wonderful heritage of religious knowledge, and where the Bible is still so easily accessible, very few really believe its teachings. Perhaps never before in the history of the world has there been a generation which has felt so confident in trying to live without a god. Behind that confidence, of course, lies a faith in the theory of evolution, with its assurance that everything just happened to come into existence, without any supernatural guiding power – apart altogether from a divine Creator. Today’s secular “prophets prophesy falsely”, and the “people love to have it so” (see Jer 5:31).
There was a time in the history of Judah when the Lord accused the people of following false gods. They were refusing to listen to the Lord’s words; they were content with merely human answers to religious questions; in other words, they were walking “in the imagination of their heart”, an expression which includes the idea of stubbornness. It was in this context that the Lord called: “Hear ye, and give ear; be not proud” (Jer 13:15). And why do people not listen today when God speaks? One clear reason is pride. They are too proud to submit to the authority of God and to obey when He commands. Matthew Henry expands on these words of God through Jeremiah: “It is the great God that has spoken, whose authority is incontestable, whose power is irresistible; therefore bow to what He says, and be not proud, as you have been”. Equally our duty today is to put away our pride before this great God, to receive the truths that He has revealed, and to obey.
God has shown us clearly that this is a sinful world and that sin has infected every individual human being. Which points us to a further profound question: What must I do to be saved? This was what the Philippian jailer asked, and the answer he received from Paul and Silas is the very answer we need today. Human knowledge in most areas may have mushroomed over the past 2000 years, but, even at the beginning of the twenty-first century, man must humble himself and accept the revelation given in Scripture as the one totally-dependable source of information on this vital matter. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” is the only accurate counsel that can be given to a sinner concerned about how to get safely to heaven. Yes, the answer may be expressed in other words; but unless it points in the same direction – that of faith in Jesus Christ – it is worse than worthless.
The late 1950s were a period of increasing prosperity when, in the words of Harold Macmillan, the then British Prime Minister, people had “never had it so good”, but Western society was on the verge of a tremendous departure from biblical standards in morals and religion. Certainly the rot had set in long before then, but what became known as the “swinging sixties” proved, in many ways, a marked turning point. Since then economic growth has gone on more or less continuously, but it has been accompanied by a continued decline in morality and religious observance – and by an increasing refusal to accept that there are sound answers to our profoundest questions.
What is the solution? On one level, it is a return to the Scriptures – to receive them as the inspired Word of God, and to listen and obey. But we must also be conscious of the need of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to apply that glorious revelation to the hearts of sinners everywhere.
Kenneth D. Macleod
Editor of the Free Presbyterian Magazine from whose March 2006 edition this article is taken with kind permission.www.fpchurch.org.uk
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