Historical Facts and Religious Faith -- By: Austin Rice

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 068:271 (Jul 1911)
Article: Historical Facts and Religious Faith
Author: Austin Rice


Historical Facts and Religious Faith

Austin Rice

In our age the “external” supports of religion are being scrutinized with rigor. Mere tradition and dogmatism are; not strong enough for the permanent foundations of faith.

The teachers in our theological seminaries are able to appreciate much better than the ordinary pastor how sharp is the criticism of historical positions which our forefathers regarded as inviolable. These professors have seen many such ancient theories undermined. So, in their natural eagerness to find a basis for religion, they look elsewhere. Accordingly, not a few of our best teachers and most scholarly ministers find the impregnable support of their faith, either as mystics, through inward fellowship with God, or as prophets of the Divine Righteousness. Such professors and scholars deserve great credit for calling our attention to these abiding sources of faith. We honor them for their clear and brave defense of the inner citadels of Christianity.

But are not objective facts also of value to religion? Do they not strengthen our moral assurance?. In our anxiety to establish religion upon the lasting inner supports, is there not grave danger that we underestimate the necessary part which historical facts, even so-called “external facts,” play in religious development? Is there not a risk that some of our most thoughtful teachers and ministers may fail to see how important facts are as guides and aids to faith?

In recent conversations with leading theological professors, I have heard such expressions as these: “We must not allow our faith to become involved in any question of historic facts”; “The external supports of religion are gone.” Grant that we would not rest our faith solely on any set of 9 outward facts, lest these pillars crumble. But do not facts reënforce faith?

The poet Whittier combined two great qualities which we regard as fundamental. He had a rich inner life of fellowship with God; he was a “Friend.” He was also a prophet of the Divine righteousness. Both those evidences of religion, which many in the modern school regard as the supports of faith, he possessed by nature and by training in a surpassing degree. Yet no one can read the life and study the poems of Whittier without being impressed by a distinct increase of his faith; a marked gain in buoyancy and serenity in the years of later middle life. The reason is evident. The triumph of freedom in the Civil War brought a manifest access of faith.

Now the victory of the Union and of freedom in the Civil War was a set of historical facts “external” to Mr. Whittier. It was the success of guns over guns, and armies ov...

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