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  • Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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Childhood: Why I Believe in God – Part Three

From the pen of Rev. Cornelius Van Til, Ph.D:

To go on, then, I can recall playing as a child in a sandbox built into a corner of the hay-barn. From the hay-barn I would go through the cow-barn to the house. Built into the hay- barn too, but with doors opening into the cow-barn, was a bed for the working-man. How badly I wanted permission to sleep in that bed for a night! Permission was finally given. Freud was still utterly unknown to me, but I had heard about ghosts and “forerunners of death.” That night I heard the cows jingle their chains. I knew there were cows and that they did a lot of jingling with their chains, but after a while I was not quite certain that it was only the cows that made all the noises I heard. Wasn’t there someone walking down the aisle back of the cows, and wasn’t he approaching my bed? Already I had been taught to say my evening prayers. Some of the words of that prayer were to this effect: “Lord, convert me, that I may be converted.” Unmindful of the paradox, I prayed that prayer that night as I had never prayed before.

I do not recall speaking either to my father or mother about my distress. They would have been unable to provide the modern remedy. Psychology did not come to their library table — not even The Ladies Home Journal! Yet I know what they would have said. Of course there were no ghosts, and certainly I should not be afraid anyway, since with body and soul I belonged to my Savior who died for me on the Cross and rose again that His people might be saved from hell and go to heaven! I should pray earnestly and often that the Holy Spirit might give me a new heart so that I might truly love God instead of sin and myself.

How do I know that this is the sort of thing they would have told me? Well, that was the sort of thing they spoke about from time to time. Or rather, that was the sort of thing that constituted the atmosphere of our daily life. Ours was not in any sense a pietistic family. There were not any great emotional outbursts on any occasion that I recall. There was much ado about making hay in the summer and about caring for the cows and sheep in the winter, but round about it all there was a deep conditioning atmosphere. Though there were no tropical showers of revivals, the relative humidity was always very high. At every meal the whole family was present. There was a closing as well as an opening prayer, and a chapter of the Bible was read each time. The Bible was read through from Genesis to Revelation. At breakfast or at dinner, as the case might be, we would hear of the New Testament, or of “the children of Gad after their families, of Zephon and Haggi and Shuni and Ozni, of Eri and Areli.” I do not claim that I always fully understood the meaning of it all. Yet of the total effect there can be no doubt. The Bible became for me, in all its parts, in every syllable, the very Word of God. I learned that I must believe the Scripture story, and that “faith” was a gift of God. What had happened in the past, and particularly what had happened in the past in Palestine, was of the greatest moment to me. In short, I was brought up in what Dr. Joad would call “topographical and temporal parochialism.” I was “conditioned” in the most thorough fashion. I could not help believing in God — in the God of Christianity — in the God of the whole Bible!

Living next to the Library of Congress, you were not so restricted. Your parents were very much enlightened in their religious views. They read to you from some Bible of the World instead of from the Bible of Palestine. No, indeed, you correct me, they did no such thing. They did not want to trouble you about religious matters in your early days. They sought to cultivate the “open mind” in their children.

Shall we say then that in my early life I was conditioned to believe in God, while you were left free to develop your own judgment as you pleased? But that will hardly do. You know as well as I that every child is conditioned by its environment. You were as thoroughly conditioned not to believe in God as I was to believe in God. So let us not call each other names. If you want to say that belief was poured down my throat, I shall retort by saying that unbelief was poured down your throat. That will get us set for our argument. (“Why I Believe in God”)

To be continued tomorrow afternoon (April 11). . . .

Belief In God Is Essential To Moral Order

From the words of James Madison In A letter to Frederick Beasley:

The belief in a God All Powerful wise and good, is so essential to the moral order of the world and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters and capacities impressed with it. (November 20, 1825)

The Accident of Birth: Why I Believe in God – Part Two

From the writings of Rev. Cornelius Van Til, Ph.D:

We are frequently told that much in our life depends on “the accident of birth”. In ancient time some men were said to spring full-grown from the foreheads of the gods. That, at any rate, is not true today. Yet I understand the next best thing happened to you. You were born, I am told, in Washington, D.C., under the shadow of the White House. Well, I was born in a little thatched roof house with a cow barn attached, in Holland. You wore “silver slippers” and I wore wooden shoes.

Is this really important for our purpose? Not particularly, but it is important that neither of us was born in Guadalcanal or Timbuktu. Both of us, I mean, were born in the midst and under the influence of “Christian civilization.” We shall limit our discussion, then, to the “God of Christianity.” I believe, while you do not believe or are not sure that you do believe, in this particular kind of God. That will give point to our discussion. For surely there is no sense in talking about the existence of God, without knowing what kind of God it is who may or may not exist.

So much then we have gained. We at least know in general what sort of God we are going to make the subject for our conversation. If now we can come to a similar preliminary agreement as to the standard or test by which to prove or disprove God’s existence, we can proceed. You, of course, do not expect me to bring God into the room here so that you may see Him. If I were able to do that, He would not be the God of Christianity. All that you expect me to do is to make it reasonable for you to believe in God. And I should like to respond quickly by saying that that is just what I am trying to do. But a moment’s thought makes me hesitate. If you really do not believe in God, then you naturally do not believe that you are his creature. I, on the other hand, who do believe in God also believe, naturally, that it is reasonable for God’s creature to believe in God. So I can only undertake to show that, even if it does not appear reasonable to you, it is reasonable for you, to believe in God.

I see you are getting excited. You feel a little like a man who is about to undergo a major operation. You realize that if you are to change your belief about God, you will also have to change your belief about yourself. And you are not quite ready for that. Well, you may leave if you desire. I certainly do not wish to be impolite. I only thought that as an intelligent person you would be willing to hear the “other side” of the question. And after all I am not asking you to agree with what I say. We have not really agreed on what we mean by God more than in a general and formal way. So also we need not at this point agree on the standard or test in more than a general or formal way. You might follow my argument, just for argument’s sake. (“Why I Believe in God”)

To be continued later this afternoon. . . .

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