EXAMINATION OF PROFESSOR CRAWFORD'S WORK ON THE FATHERHOOD OF GOD.*
IT was not without some hesitation that I resolved to attempt so full and formal an answer to Dr. Crawford as I have now prepared. On first looking into his book I rather shrank from the task, chiefly because I feared that the dust raised by stirring so many points of detail as he handles might obscure the general question at issue; nor has a more careful examination altogether removed this fear. But, considering Dr. Crawford's high standing and merited repute, as well as the fact that he meets me openly, with the weight of his avowed name, I have felt it due to him that I should not mix up his elaborate criticism with such anonymous censures as I may have to deal with,t but should give it a place by itself. Hence this reply, which, I venture to hope, will not be found more likely to interrupt friendly relations between us than his own free strictures on my statements and opinions.
One thing that disinclined me at first to.this course, I may as well frankly say, was the studious endeavour, apparently, to create a prejudice from the outset by ostentatiously proclaiming the alleged novelty of my views. "Novel opinions"
* The Fatherhood of God considered in its General and Special Aspects; with a Review of Recent Speculations on the Subject. By Thomas J. Crawford, D.D., Professor of Divinity in the University of Edinburgh. William Blackwood & Sons, Edinburgh and London, 1866.
(preface, p. vi.), "a new theory" (p. 3), "principles very novel and startling" (ibid.), "novel and peculiar position" (p. 11); these and similar expressions, occurring at the very beginning of his book, before any proof has been led, are surely fitted to place me at a great disadvantage, by the use of an art of controversy unworthy of Dr. Crawford, - the art indicated in the homely proverb, - " Give a dog a bad name," etc. Of course Dr. Crawford was at full liberty to bring against me the charge of novelty or innovation, and to substantiate it as he best could. But he must have known that I somewhat earnestly disclaimed the charge, and that I had at least made some effort to disprove it, both in my lectures as delivered, and in my original preface to them when they were first published. In these circumstances, he was scarcely entitled to parade so confidently this imputation of a new theology, as if it were conceded on my part, or might be quietly taken for granted on his part. I do not propose to take up this matter in the present Preliminary Essay, for it might distract attention, and so embarrass the discussion of the great subject under review. I shall dispose of it, so far as I think it needful to advert to it, in a supplementary note.~ Meanwhile I address myself, as I best may, to the work of examining Dr. Crawford s objections to the teaching of my lectures.
PART FIRST.GEINERAL FATHERHOOD OF GOD.
Tnis is the author's title; implying, as he avows, a distinction between "The fatherhood of God in relation to all men as his intelligent and moral creatures," and his fatherhood "more particularly in relation to those who are the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus". In neither of these aspects has it occasioned "heresy" or "schism ;" having "hitherto been in a remarkable degree exempted from the speculations and controversies of theology. A comparatively small space has ordinarily been allotted to it in our articles of faith and systems of divinity. And for the most part it seems to have been regarded as a theme better fitted for popular impression or appeal, than for scientific investigation and discussion."
So he begins his treatise. He does not blame me for disturbing this peace of the church, though apparently he throws upon me the responsibility of raising "speculations and controversie" fitted to do so. I shall have occasion afterwards to vindicate myself against any charge of presumption which may on that account be brought against me, especially in the light of the author s strange relegation of this "theme" from the study to the pulpit. Meanwhile I ask attention to his two distinct fatherhoods.
1. "In regard to the more general aspect of this doctrine, the prevalent opinion of the Christian church has ever been that all mankind may be held to be the children of God" - let the cautious phrase be noted: "may be held to be the children of God " on what grounds ? - first, "as deriving their existence from him ;" secondly, "as created after his likeness;" tbirdly, "as still retaining some traces of his image though grievously defaced and distorted by the fall ;" and fourthly, "as largely partaking of his providential care and bounty" (pp. 1, 2).
2. As regards "the special aspect of this doctrine," all agree that believers "are children of God in a higher sense than other men." But some "apparently hold this higher sonship to be a mere restoration of the primal closeness and fulness of that relation which subsisted between God and man prior to the fall, while others speak of it as to a great extent a new relation, resting on grounds peculiar to itself." All however agree as to "the parties to whom it belongs," and "the inestimable blessings which result from it" (p. 2). That is the creed of Christendom, against which, it seems I "promulgate a new theory" (p. 3).
Now I might fairly deny that I do any such thing. If I am allowed to stand among the latter of the two admittedly orthodox schools, as regards "the special aspect," I am as sound and old-fashioned as my critic himself . I venture, indeed, to question if a relation resting on the grounds on which he places the original relation of man to God does really imply fatherhood, in any reasonable or scriptural sense, in any definite sense, in any sense reaching beyond the vaguest figure of speech. And I farther venture to connect the sonship of believers with the sonship of him in whom they believe, somewhat more closely and personally perhaps, - though I do not admit that generally, - .than some divines are accustomed to do. Let Dr. Crawford, however, have his way. Let it be "a new theory," of which he gives the substance in these words :" That the relation which God sustains to his Eternal Son is his only true and proper Fatherhood, and that it is only by their partaking of that relation that angels and men become the sons of God" (p. 3) ;- terms to which no formal objection can be taken, except that they are fitted to present it at the very outset in the barest possible form, with none of the limitations and qualifications which the course of my argument on the incarnation and the "bringing in of the first-begotten into the world" (Heb. i. 6) is fitted to suggest. I pass from that to the author's view of the first sort of fatherhood which he ascribes to God.
1. Dr. Crawford begins with the argument from reason. He postulates or assumes, first, "the personality of God;" and secondly, his "affinity to us " the first, as against the Pantheists; and the second, as partly at least against what he holds to be the teaching of Mansel. "God is a living person, and He has a true affinityto us" (p. 4). I am not now concerned with his criticism on Mansel, but only with his own doctrine, to which, of course, I assent; for otherwise I see not how any real relation of intelligence, sympathy, and moral truth can subsist between God and us. I accept also his inference. (p. 10) that we have thus, on the one hand, "a sufficient basis for concluding that God actually possesses those qualities essential to the perfection of human nature, which reason and revelation alike teach us to ascribe to him;" and on the other hand, a no less sufficient warrant for believing that he really and truly sustains towards us such relations, analogous to those which subsist between man and man, as the actual course of his dealings with us may be found to indicate, or the positive declarations of his inspired word may be found to reveal" (p. 10). All this is plain enough, and vague enough too. For now "the question comes to be, Is fatherhood thus attributable to him? Have we satisfactory grounds, from reason and from revelation, for ascribing to God the characteristics of a father, and for holding that he sustains the relation of a father," towards "the human race ?" (p. 11).
I might object to this alternative mode of putting the question, as if "to possess the characteristics of a father," and "to sustain the relation of a father," were one and the same thing. Reserving the objection, I proceed to the main point at issue between us. Dr. Crawford regrets that, "at the outset of my argument, no definition or description of fatherhood should have been given." He cannot accept the reason I assign for this omission, "that the duty of defining or describing the relation in question is incumbent on those who assert it as a natural relation, and not on him who denies it." And in reference to my complaint, that "for the most part the asserters of it decline the task, and are more inclined to deal in vague generalities," he offers this explanation, that "having never till now any opponent to contend against, they did not see the necessity of giving any precise or logical definition." "They thought that the simple application to God of the word Father' would be sufficiently understood, as ascribing to him a relation to his intelligent creatures somewhat analogous to that which subsists between an earthly parent and his children" (p. 12).
Somewhat analogous! It is a general enough phrase. Nor is it made much more precise by what follows -"Had any one disputed their doctrine and asked them to define fatherhood:' they might probably have said that fatherhood implies the origination by one intelligent person of another intelligent person like in nature to himself, and the continued support, protection, and nourishment of the person thus originated by him to whom he owes his being. And," he adds with exquisite simplicity, "I need scarcely say that the word, as thus defined, is certainly applicable to God, with reference to all mankind." Certainly, I reply. Such a universal fatherhood as that I do not care to call in question. But is there any relation of any sort defined or described here ? - anything to determine on what footing the two intelligent persons are to stand to one another, or what principle is to rule and regulate their mutual dealings with one another? I attempt, at least, in my first lecture, by a sort of exhaustive analysis or induction, to bring out the exact bearing of intelligence in the creature on his position towards the Creator. It makes him a proper subject of moral government; of government by laws addressed to the reason and conscience, and enforced by sanctions which the reason and conscience may approve as suitable and right. I presume that it did so in the case of the angels; and I do not see how in their case it could do more.
They had no experience or analogy to suggest any other relation than that of moral ruler to responsible subjects, the sense of which is implied in their being created intelligent and free; nor had man when he was first made and when God began to deal with him. There is no vagueness here; all is definite and precise. A well-defined relation is constituted, and one that at once places the intelligent creature, simply as such, on a footing of far truer and nobler affinity to his Maker than Dr. Crawford's description of sonship, even if stretched to the utmost, will allow. He stands out as one with whom the most high God may confer as in some sense an independent person; to whom God says, Thou shalt or thou shalt not, and who himself in reply can say, I will or I will not. That is his high standing; a standing which admits of intercourse on terms all but equal; into which all conceivable kinds of mutual confidence, sympathy, and esteem may be infused; and which, moreover, being framed and fashioned, as all creation is, in the mould of the sonship of the Creative Word, may pass easily and gracefully, as that sonship is unfolded, into a real participation with him in whatever of his sonship the incarnation, with its service and its sacrifice, proves to be compatible with the state and circumstances of a creature and a subject.
This view covers, or rather does more than cover, all that is in the so-called original and general fatherhood of God. And it meets Dr. Crawford's rejoinder to my argument. For as I draw from intelligence, as the attribute of the creature, the inference of moral rule on the part of God and moral responsibility on the part of the creature, so Dr. Crawford considers himself entitled to infer from love, as the attribute of the Creator, a distinct relation of paternity. The manner in whiçh he does so is somewhat strange (p. 19, etc.) he "assumes that God is love ;" and that "in the exercise of that love he has brought into existence a race of intelligent and moral beings, with reference to whom he must equally have been disposed to manifest his love and to maintain his rightful authority." And he "assumes yet farther, that these rational and moral creatures, as bearing the image of him by whom they are made, have something more to distinguish them from his other creatures beyond the bare fact of intelligent responsibility', - that they have the capacity of knowing, loving, desiring, trusting, serving, and enjoying him." The italics here are surely most unfair. He must mean to represent me as denying his "something more;" as if "intelligent responsibility" did not in its very nature involve, not only the capacity, but the obligation, of "knowing, loving, desiring, trusting, serving, and enjoying God ;" - as if that were not its very essence.
But I acquit him of intentional misrepresentation. For he labours throughout, as it seems to me, under an utter inability to comprehend the dignity and glory of service; voluntary service of one absolutely supreme and infinitely worthy; such service as man was made for at first, and is remade for at last, in the Son and by the Spirit. My meaning in the words which he unwarrantably isolates and misapplies is simply that, as regards any definite relationship constituted by creation, what distinguishes angels and men from God's other creatures is "the bare fact of intelligent responsibility." That bare fact, however, I regard as carrying in it a position towards God greatly in advance of Dr. Crawford's description of the fatherhood; and so far from being reluctant to "concede" Dr. Crawford s "supposition," - so far from "holding the image or likeness of God to consist in anything so barely intellectual and so coldly judicial as a mere capacity of understanding the divine will, and feeling a sense of responsibility under it, " - I hold the divine will itself to be the law of love, and the divine image in the creature to be the harmony of his moral nature with that law, understood and owned by him as the law of his creature-relationship to the Creator.
The truth is, Dr. Crawford confounds nature and relation; not perceiving apparently that while the obligation which our relation to God and to his will or law imposes is fulfilled through the conformity of our nature to his, that conformity is not itself the. relation.
Hence, of necessity, his whole subsequent reasoning on this point is of the vaguest possible sort (p. 20, etc.) It proceeds entirely on the assumption of God's general benevolence, or his being love.. Of course, since that is his essential characteristic, he will be moved to bestow upon his intelligent creatures, his moral and responsible subjects, simply as such, all gifts and bounties compatible with their position. Dr. Crawford seems to think, or at least he would lead ofhers to think, that I lay an arrest on the flow of God's goodness towards those whom he has made in his image, because I consider them to be originally subjects only, and not sons. I go no farther in that direction than he does himself. He says, "The circumstance that God is our Father, as having created us, does not imply that we have any right or claim upon him beyond strict legal justice" (p. 24). I say the same, and it is all that I say, though I set little value on a fatherhood that implies no more, and in fact call itno fatherhood at all. And I go as far as he does in asserting "an evident excess and exuberance of divine bounty - a constant and overflowing fulness of beneficence - far beyond aught that mere equity or justice on the part of a sovereign ruler could have dictated, and such as can only be satisfactorily accounted for by ascribing it to the care and kindness " - "of our Father in heaven " - so he puts it ; - "of our sovereign ruler, the God whose name and nature is love," -so I venture to finish the sentence.
Can a ruler not be kind and generous without being a father also? Or is God, as a father by creation, more kind and generous than is consistent with his prerogative as a ruler? Dr. Crawford must admit that God dealt with angels and men, as originally made in his image, legislatively and judicially. If he chooses to call his dealings of another sort with them the dealings of "our Father in heaven," I might not much object, were it not that such language tends in my view to detract alike from the original honour of created subjectship, and from the ultimately higher honour of adoptive sonship.
2. The argument from Scripture is meagre enough, if the point to be proved is fairly considered. For the idea of a general fatherhood introduces, as I have shown, into the original relation of intelligent creatures to their Creator an element not given in the necessary a priori intuition of reason and free will,- like the sense of rule and responsibility,- but confessedly springing out of an a posteriori analogical inference from a human tie, which did not exist, and could scarcely be conceived, when angels were tried and fell, or when man himself was tried and fell. To support such a theory, strong scriptural evidence is surely needed. What Dr. Crawford alleges is of the weakest sort.
He quotes, as Nos. 1 and 2 of his proofs, two texts, the one from the Old Testament, the other from the New, which, severed from the context, may have a sound somewhat in his favour, though the sense is quite away from his purpose. The first text is Malachi ii. 10" Have we not all one Father? Hath not one God created us ?" (p. 34). This looks like a strong assertion. It is to be observed, however, that, read in the light of the context, the force of the prophet's appeal turns, not on the universal fatherhood of God as regards mankind generally, but on his special fatherhood with reference to his chosen people Israel And that fatherhood is made to rest on their being made or constituted his people through redeeming grace and by creative power; for so the phrase is to be understood here, as it is also in Isaiah xliii 1 - " Thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, 0 Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name; - A fatherhood of this sort towards Israel as such that is, towards the nation in its collective capacity admitted, or rather proved, to be declared in Old Testament passages, such as those afterwards quoted misapplied by Dr. Crawford (p. 64). And this of Malachi is simply one of these.
The other text is Heb. xii. 9, where God is called "the Father of our spirits," in contrast to "fathers of our flesh" (p.35). Here, again, the whole argument of the apostle has respect to believers, and to believers exclusively. Nor is any such psychological doctrine as Dr. Crawford imagines intended to be taught as to "our corporeal frame proceeding by ordinary generation from our earthly parents, and the nobler part of our constitution - the immortal soul - being directly communicated by the Creator, so as to be in a peculiar sense his offspring." That may or may not be true; and it may or may not be proved by the other texts referred to. But Paul had too much sense, and was too thorough a master of tender and persuasive reasoning, to be giving a lesson in natural psychology to mourners needing spiritual consolation. Plainly his appeal is more simple and touching. You reverenced those who were your natural parents, when they corrected you, often unwisely and in haste. Much more may you submit to him who is your Father in a far higher, in a truly spiritual sense,- your Father in a sense that allies your spirits to himself as a Spirit,- and all whose dealings with you are ordered accordingly.
Dr. Crawford's third scriptural argument is founded on "the account given of man's original creation, as made in the image of God, after his own likeness " (p. 36, etc.) To give it even the semblance of logical reasoning, he is obliged to assume the very point to be proved,- the original fatherhood of God as respects his intelligent creatures (p. 38). And even then, all that he infers is that, on such an assumption, "creation after his image must be held to bear on his relation to the subjects of it, as implying not only intelligent responsibility, but also that congeniality of disposition which will animate them with"- what? does the reader suppose - an assurance of real sonship like the sense they have of real obligation ?- " with childlike confidence and affection," making it "their chief joy to dwell with him in close fellowship, and in all things to honour and imitate and obey him." Of course, I admit and hold quite as much as this, if not even more, to be implied in the relation of an intelligent creature, simply as such, to the great Creator, and it is not worthy of Dr. Crawford to be putting the question between us so persistently on that issue; at least it would not be worthy of him if he could be supposed to apprehend the distinction between community of moral nature and the constitution or adjustment of mutual and reciprocal personal relationship.
It is partly, I suspect, this very confusion of ideas that makes Dr. Crawford exult so much in the dilemma between whose horns he thinks he has fixed me (p. 38, etc.) I hold (Lecture V.) that "regeneration or the new birth" has "a prominent place in the manner of entrance into that divine sonship which is peculiar to believers," because it is the implanting of the seed of a new life, consisting in likeness to God. Therefore, he argues, I am inconsistent in not allowing that creation after God s likeness at the first involves sonship. I may have occasion to return to this topic in a more suitable connection. Meanwhile, even if I held - which I do not - that the new birth, or new creation - for I do not object to that figure (p. 40) - did no more than restore the broken image of God in the soul to what it was before the fall, - I have never said that by itself alone it constituted sonship. Dr. Cmwford's dilemma is therefore at fault.
I leave Dr. Crawford's fourth argument, - that from the Our Saviour's genealogy in Luke iii. 38, - to stand as against the remarks in my volume, with these two observations. In the first place, he who finds the assertion of fatherhood in this genealogical tree, at any of its stages, as a real, conscious relationship, - or indeed as anything but a link in the chain of succession from age to age, - might almost equally well find it in a line tracing one of an inferior race of animals to its divine source ; the present representative being "of his predecessor" - he again being "of his" - and so on to the first of the family, "which was of God." And, in the second place, I hold it to be unfair to mix up with a criticism on my very brief exposition of the text in Luke, as if it formed part of it, a discussion of the general question, which occurs quite apart, and which I can only relevantly deal with by relegating it to its proper place.
I proceed to the fifth scriptural argument, that derived from Paul's pleading at Athens (Acts xvii. 26-29). And even here I need do nothing more than avail myself of Dr. Crawford's own exposition. "Admitting that Paul's immediate object was to expose the absurdity of rational beings ascribing their origin to what is irrational, it does not therefore follow that this is the only inference which can be logically drawn from the statement that we are the offspring of God'. This was the only inference, as it so happened, which Paul at the time was concerned to draw from it. To have drawn from it anything else, or anything more, would, as the objector himself" - meaning me - "affirms, have been out of place'. But by thus deducing from it the only conclusion which his purpose required, he evidently recognises it, not as a mere rhetorical figure, but as the announcement of a real relation between man and God; and warrants us in like manner to deduce from it such farther conclusions, suited to our purpose, as may be reasonable and legitimate" (p. 52). Surely this is something strange and new in exegetics. The sole question is about the sanction which, by quoting this verse of a heathen poet, Paul may be supposed to give to a universal fatherhood, and not at all about the conclusions which others may draw from it. He quotes it for a purpose, in an argument ad hominem. He does not quote it as inspired; nor does his quoting it make it inspired. Even if it had been a text of Scripture that be quoted, his authority could not be pleaded beyond the precise design for which he quoted it or the use to which he turned it. Of course, in such a case, we are free to turn the text to other uses, and to plead it as divine in doing so. But it is our own judgment which we exercise; we cannot bring in Paul as responsible. Here, however, we have not a text of Scripture at all, unless Paul's citation of it is believed to canonise it. We have simply an uninspired verse of poetry, of which that consummate master of oratory avails himself most happily on a special occasion and for a special purpose. And neither his comment nor the verse itself can be legitimately brought forward as of divine authority, beyond the special occasion and the special purpose. Dr. Crawford's admission therefore confirms my interpretation; and so the question between us falls.
There remains only the argument drawn from the parable of the prodigal son (p. 53, etc.); in regard to which I would be content to leave the decision, as between Dr. Crawford and myself, to any one carefully reading over again my remarks, in the light of his criticism. I must still insist on the danger of bringing a parable, circumstantially interpreted, to prove a doctrine not otherwise established; and I venture to retain my opinion that to make such a use of this parable is not in the best taste. Plainly the point in it, and the only point in it, at all relevant to the occasion, is the Father's way of treating the returning prodigal, as the model of the way in which anyone claiming the position of the elder son ought to treat him. That point the Lord brings out in the most emphatic possible manner; and he does so, be it remembered, in the course of a ministry designed, in large measure, to reveal God's fatherhood, and to prepare men s minds for the perception of that truth in its highest sense. Pressed too closely, in all its details, the parable, as Dr. Crawford must admit, may be pressed into the service of error on the vital doctrine of the ground of a sinner's reconciliation and acceptance. I submit that, whether my comment approve itself or not to competent judges, it is at least more in the line of safe exposition than that which Dr. Crawford would substitute.
And here I have a word or two to say on Dr. Crawford s closing remarks as to the vast practical importance of the tenet of a general fatherhood, chiefly in its bearing on our appeals and invitations to sinners (p. 59, etc.) We lose, it seems, a mighty lever-power, when we let go that tenet. It gives us a hold on them for which nothing can compensate, whether we try to convince them of guilt or persuade them to return to God. I very much doubt this, as regards both of these ends. As to the first, when he and I go to plead with a brother still in his unconverted state, what have we respectively to say, so far as this subject of the fatherhood is concerned? He dwells pathetically on the folly, baseness, and ingratitude of departing from one who is a father, in virtue of his creating, supporting, protecting, and nourishing all of us (p. 12). I, too, dwell on the same considerations, with equal pathos, if I can, when I speak of the right which, as our maker, God has to rule us, and the claim which his Un-numbered benefactions and his unwearied patience and benignity give him upon us. And then, over and above all that, I ask my brother to see, in the light of the Son's revelation of the Father, what the Father originally would have had us to be, if only we had stood the reasonable test of subjection to him as our ruler ;- and what he will have us to be now, if only we accept the Son as first placing us on a right footing with his Father as our ruler, and then sharing with us his own filial standing in the Father's house, and all the fatherly love of which in his Father's house and heart he is the object. For moving to repentance also, not less than for convincing of sin, I cannot but think that I have at least as good a purchase as my friend. I do not indeed address sinners indiscriminately as "those who are sons of God by creation ;" nor do I address, as he most erroneously represents me as addressing, in a special manner, "those whom it is God's purpose to make his sons by redemption" (p. 57). I have nothing to do with "God s purpose," as regards adoption, any more than as regards justification, or sanctification, or any other of the benefits which God holds out in the gospel freely to all who will receive them in and through his Son. To all sinners alike I make offer, in the Father's name, of the Son, as his free gift to all who will accept him. And I commend the offer by urging the assurance that with the Son the Father "freely gives all things ;" and among the all things, this above all, that they who are the Son's become sons as He is, and "because they are sons, God sendeth forth the Spirit of his Son in their hearts, crying, Abba, Father."
End of the refutation of the opening part of "The Fatherhood of God" Now read it!
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