The Agnostic and the Christian
by G.J. Stewart
The chief of the seven sages of Greece, Socrates, was, as to eternal things, the most unwise amongst them. The famous apothegm upon which he based his philosophy was “Unum scio, me nihil scire”—“One thing I know, that I know nothing.” He knew nothing beyond that which the evidence of his senses taught him, and his reason refusing God’s revelation, he became the father of the present race of Agnostics, who, in all the things of God, boast as their highest wisdom that they “do not know.” “Ignorabimus”—“We shall never know”—being their latest motto.
Now reason taught Socrates some things, if they were only of a negative character. He could see from the heavens and the earth, which he surveyed with reason’s eye, that these were not the work of a plurality of gods. He even suffered death for his testimony against this preposterous idea—a death meted out to him as the outcome of a scheme of political aggrandisement, which aimed at universal power over peoples of all climes and religions.
But his reason did not, could not, fallen as it was, with himself, teach him the knowledge of the one true God. This can only be known by revelation, and on the principle of faith, and against this his reason protested as strongly as against the idea of a plurality of gods. He may be taken as a notable example of the heathen philosophers spoken of in the first part of the second chapter of Romans.
Condemned to death for corrupting the youth of his day, by teaching that the notion of a plurality of gods was contrary to the language of creation and of reason, he was offered the choice of the agent of his death, and elected to die by drinking hemlock.
When the cup was put into his hands he inquired of the executioner, “Is it permitted to pour out a libation to the gods?”
Upon being told that there was but sufficient poison in the cup to do the required work, he said to his friend Onto who stood by his side, “I have vowed a cock to Æsculapius, be sure you pay it after my death.”
Here reason failed him, and he had no faith! He who sacrificed his life because he taught that it was impossible there could be many gods, would have offered with his dying hands a drink-offering to them all! Unable to do this, he enjoined his friend to pay a vow he was under to one of them! Where is the consistency of this? Would his gods, which he himself taught were no gods, save him? Alas! no!
True, he met his death philosophically. He did not cry out to any of the gods, “O Baal, hear me!” But he did not turn to the living God. He knew Him not. Here he was agnostic. Here all was blank, and he dropped into the grave a self-destroyed man, without any hope in the future to buoy him up.
How closely does the third verse of Romans 2 apply to him: “And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?” Solemn indeed is this! But beyond all else idolatry is the greatest abomination ever introduced into this world against the living God.
Socrates was honest so far, and owned that he knew not. But without knowledge of the revelation of the one true God he was powerless in the presence of death. He awaits, according to the verse above quoted, the judgment of that God to whom he was accountable, spite of his want of knowledge of Him, in itself the greatest proof of man’s fallen state.
Now the scientific facts with which the Agnostic is well acquainted, and from which he ought to know God’s eternal power and divinity, so that he is without excuse (Rom. 1:20), do not reveal anything about God’s disposition towards a ruined race, nor tell of any means by which a fallen man may be brought into happy relationship with that God. For man by searching cannot find out God.
“How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out” (Rom. 11:33). All connected with His moral being and the requirements of His holiness in those that approach Him; all connected with His nature, which is love, and the way that nature has itself met the requirements of His throne; all unseen and eternal things must be the subject of revelation. And it is just here that the believer, though he may know nothing of science, is able to say, “I know.”
Why should this be thought a thing incredible, with those who take a delight in searching out and admiring the work of God’s hands? Why will they not admit that He is competent to reveal Himself? Would that more amongst those who know by diligent research so much about His creatorial works, were able to say, “I know,” with the Christian, when it is a question of Himself and of the revelation He has made of Himself in Christ, connected as this is with the greatest of all His works, even that by which a sinner can be saved.
Could they but change Socrates’ motto, “One thing I know, that I know nothing,” for that of the man in John 10:25, “One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see,” what an immense difference it would make in their present happiness, as in their whole moral being and eternal destiny. How easily then would they go on to appropriate all the treasures of Christian knowledge presented in the Scriptures to faith. And while now with all their knowledge they do not know what natural life is, then they would know God, whom to know, revealed as the Father, and Jesus Christ as the Sent One of the Father, is Eternal Life (John 17:3).
A few items of Christian knowledge as revealed in the Scriptures and made good to the individual in the power of the Holy Spirit may serve to show what the Agnostic misses.
“For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes be became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).
“And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins, and in him is no sin” (1 John 3:5).
“Ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:18-19).
“I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
“And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life” (1 John 5:20).
“We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1).
True that before we can know these things, we must know and own another and more unpalatable proof, even this: “I know that in me, that is in my flesh, good does not dwell” (Rom. 7:18). This may be the real reason of a man’s refusal to own a personal God, inasmuch as it at once makes a judge of that God. But here the gospel of that very God comes in, and if any one just honestly owns that this is true of himself, he will add to his stores of knowledge the knowledge of that God as a Saviour-God in the person of Jesus Christ, who will shortly appear as a deliverer from coming wrath for all those that trust Him.
Blessed beyond measure is it for Agnosticism to cease in the knowledge of the one true and living God as a personal Saviour!
The Gospel Messenger 1903, p. 169