Competence Of Imagination To Serve The Truth -- By: Elias Henry Johnson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 057:228 (Oct 1900)
Article: Competence Of Imagination To Serve The Truth
Author: Elias Henry Johnson


Competence Of Imagination To Serve The Truth

Prof. Elias Henry Johnson

This will not, it is hoped, be thought an audacious article. It undertakes merely to tell of something which is going on in ordinary minds without drawing due attention, and which had better be told in order that its importance may be weighed.

Certain convictions about God and his ways with men are strangely persistent. Reason has never hastened to welcome them, although it has often tried to adjust itself to these convictions, and even to justify them. They persist because they have laid hold on the Christian imagination. The less welcome to reason their persistence, the more evidently it is due to imagination. Indeed, precisely the doctrines that stagger imagination commend themselves to it in some aspect, possibly by their very boldness.

It does not follow that the Christian imagination readily yields to delusions. It would even seem likely that there is “something in” ideas about God and his work which are durably fascinating to good and not unenlightened people. At least the attempt will be made to show what

claim imagination may put forward as a guide to truth. If this exploration takes us a little way underground, where the light is dim, I trust that we may catch the pleasant smell of newly turned earth, and not the musty odors of a neglected basement.

A Concession And A Claim

It is agreed that the poet is a seer. When imagination accepts the shackles of metre and rhyme, it passes for Sir Oracle; but if it makes free to go in prose, what people think, is plainly enough intimated by the phrase “purely imaginary.” Nevertheless, the imagination is a potent, trusty, and widely available instrument for discovery of truth. And it is a discoverer by being first a critic. This claim, although it may seem overbold, is also hinted at in familiar speech by the word “unimaginable.” That is, the last and irreversible verdict against any alleged state of facts is felt to be, that such a state of facts cannot even be imagined.

In calling imagination a faculty of criticism it is not implied that imagination actually passes judgment upon anything. This is the office of reason, with its strange power of beholding fundamental truth face to face; or of the understanding, with its ability to compare, to recognize identity and difference, and to draw inferences. But it is meant that imagination is often able to prepare and present so accurately and so vividly the matter on which judgment is needed, that a verdict is given at once and finally. Such an achievement makes Imagination seem like an immediate vision of truth, and justifies the figure of speech that direc...

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