Clever devils

Clever devils
Peter Barnes Rev Dr Peter Barnes is a Presbyterian pastor who lives in Sydney, Australia. He has served on the mission field in Vanuatu, ministered on the Nambucca River in northern NSW, and is currently pastor at
01 April, 2001 3 min read

According to the Bible, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. So keen is God that we grasp this, that it is stated no less than five times (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; 15:33; Psalm 111:10; Job 28:28).

It is not that Christian truth is the icing on the cake; it is the yeast in the cake. It does not provide a few extra insights; it is the foundation for every subject. God is not just the God of prayer and worship but of everything. He is the God of science – it is he who created the world and upholds it.

Hence the created world reveals something of the majesty of the Creator (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20). So obvious is this that we are without excuse if we fail to see it.

Fundamental issues

In the fundamental sense, I cannot understand a cow or a cockroach unless I can relate it to God. God is also the God of history – even unbelieving kings are instruments in his hand (Isaiah 10:5-7).

Again, I have no way of grasping the fundamental issues behind the Six o’clock news unless I understand that all history takes place under the sovereign will of God. Music also points to God, and reflects the fact that God the Creator made man in his own image and thus creative (e.g. Psalm 150). The same can be said of art and technology (e.g. Exodus 35).

In fact, without God, there is no basis for order and discovery, and hence no basis for education. There is a vast difference between educating for civic respectability and educating for eternity.

This can be illustrated by an exchange between the renowned deist Benjamin Franklin and the evangelist George Whitefield in 1749. Franklin planned to found an academy in Philadelphia, and to this end sought to enlist the support of his friend Whitefield.

The latter’s reply is a cogent one: ‘As we are all creatures of a day, as our whole life is but one small point between two eternities, it is reasonable to suppose that the grand end of every Christian institution for forming tender minds should be to convince them of their natural depravity, of the means of recovering out of it, and of the necessity of preparing for the enjoyment of the Supreme Being in a future state … Arts and sciences may be built on this, and serve to embellish and set off this superstructure, but without this, I think there cannot be any good foundation’.

Excluding religion

The best-known Free Church missionary in India in the 19th century, Alexander Duff, feared the onset of secular education in India. He wrote: ‘As the Government schemes of education systematically exclude religion, the necessary effect of their operation must be everywhere to subvert the idolatries and superstitions of the people, and, then cast them adrift on the wide ocean of infidelity’.

Or, as Lord Shaftesbury put it: ‘Education without instruction in religious and moral principles will merely result in a race of clever devils’.

That is largely what has happened in the Western world, although perhaps the noun is doing better than the adjective. We have been bombarded with the view that we cannot explain anything by recourse to God.

Hence the doctrine of evolution is compulsory in state schools while the alternative of creationism is effectively banned. English texts which are immoral or blasphemous are chosen in preference to more wholesome literature.

No ultimate values

The result is either secularism (‘there is no God’) or a truncated pietism (‘there is a God but he has nothing much to do with the workings of this world’). There is no point of integration, no foundation, nothing to unify knowledge. The knowledge that is gleaned is fragmentary and unrelated to other subjects. There are no ultimate values, except that there are no ultimate values.

However, the West has almost passed that stage now. Into the vacuum of secularism – which had lasted for many decades – is now sweeping the modern mania for all things ‘spiritual’, including witches, transcendental meditation, star signs, crystals, and an acceptance of all religions which accept all other religions. It is not ‘in’ to be Christian, but it is ‘in’ to be ‘spiritual’. Yet there is still no foundation.

The battle continues. As C. S. Lewis so graphically put it: ‘There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan’.

Rev Dr Peter Barnes is a Presbyterian pastor who lives in Sydney, Australia. He has served on the mission field in Vanuatu, ministered on the Nambucca River in northern NSW, and is currently pastor at
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