Reason & Revelation – William S. Plumer, 1875

Biblical Doctrine, Plainly Stated

By William S. Plumer, 1875


I. If man could not reason—he would be no better than a brute. When he will not reason—he is no better than a fool! He who gave us souls gave us our reason. We are guilty when we refuse rightly to use all our powers of mind. The stronger our faculties are the better, if directed to a right end. The ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master’s crib; let us know the God who keeps and feeds us always. Brutes have instincts; men have reason. Let them think often, earnestly, wisely.

II. We may have a deep sense of our needs; but we are not fit to tell God in what he should instruct us. Nor can we judge of truths of which we are wholly ignorant. But by using our reason aright we may learn whether God has indeed spoken to us in the Bible. In the same way we may, by his blessing, learn what his word means. Yet men are not saved by their wit nor by their logic. Some seem inclined to put reason in the place of the Almighty, and worship it. They speak great swelling words of vanity. They say that they have too good an opinion of God to believe that he will do such and such things; when he has often said he will do them, and when he is doing them every day. The human mind is very weak. It is liable to many prejudices. He who would find truth must love truth. Sincerity is always called for. He who would find truth must search for it as for hid treasure.

III. Reason cannot believe an absurdity. No contradiction is a truth. Men sometimes say that they believe things absurd, but they are mistaken. No lie is of the truth. It has not its nature nor its marks. If we knew all about it, we would see how absurd it is. A thing may be very strange, and yet it may be true. “Wonder is broken knowledge.” God never wonders, because his knowledge is infinitely perfect.

IV. For a long time men sought to know God by reason alone, but they utterly failed. For ages the world by wisdom attempted to know God, but it knew him not. 1 Cor. 1:21. The more completely men were left without divine teaching, the grosser was their ignorance. A revelation therefore was clearly necessary. In lands where the word of God was not, the more the arts and sciences have been cultivated, the more have false gods been multiplied. The Chinese know many useful and ornamental arts, and have much literature, yet they have gods by the million. The more ancient Rome extended her conquests, the more gods did she worship in the Pantheon. The Athenians worshiped all the gods they knew, and then to be sure they omitted none, they erected an altar to the unknown God. Acts 17:23. Left to itself, reason will but grope its way to the judgment through the thickest darkness. “Whatever the light of nature could do for man before reason was depraved, it is evident it has done little for man since.”

V. Why should it be thought incredible that He who made man should speak to him? The heathen tell us that their gods wrap themselves up in the mantle of their dignity, and retire from human affairs. But while the true God is in the heavens, he is also upon earth. To the teachable the volume of nature is constantly telling its secrets. Why may not He who knows all things, tell us something about himself, and the right way of pleasing him? He knows all things; why should not he tell us those things which greatly concern both his honor and our welfare? “He who planted the ear, shall he not hear? He who formed the eye, shall he not see? He who teaches man knowledge, shall not he know?” Psalm 94:910. It is perverseness to deny that God can make known his mind if he chooses to do it. He who knows all things can teach us whatever it is important for us to know.

VI. A revelation, not accompanied with sufficient evidences of its being from God, would avail us nothing. If it were unfriendly to truth, justice, honor, kindness, or piety, we might know that it did not come from God. If it contained falsehoods or contradictions; if it rested on the mere assertion of some man who said God had spoken to him; if it were accompanied with no power over the human heart and conscience; if its doctrines were unworthy of even a good man; if it were accompanied with no signs, or wonders, such as God only can give; if its aim was not holiness; if those who walked most according to its spirit and precepts were vile and bad men; in short, if it promoted ungodliness and malignity—we could not regard it as a communication from a good God.

So, if the men who testified of the life, character, doctrines, and miracles of Jesus Christ, had been greedy of filthy lucre, anxious for human applause, or earnest in seeking for sensual gratifications, and by their stories had succeeded in these base plans, we could not have credited what they told us. But none of them ever accumulated wealth. Instead of pleasure, they had torture. Instead of honor or applause, they were esteemed the offscouring of all things. They were accounted as sheep for the slaughter all the day long. They were always delivered unto death. Yet they never swerved from their testimony, but they constantly affirmed the truth of all they had spoken. Every kind of appropriate evidence accompanies the revelation which God has given us.

VII. When we open the Bible we find its statements calm, sober, reasonable; its doctrines searching and humbling to the pride of man; its precepts pure, just, and comprehensive; its promises plain and well suited to cheer the heart of godly men; its threatenings awful, and suited to deter the wicked from their courses. In short, it says nothing hurtful to man or unworthy of God; but it greatly encourages holy men in their right ways, and God is by it more honored than by all other books ever written. The only people who cheerfully submit all to God, are those who firmly believe the Bible.

VIII. This book has authority over the human mind and conscience. Such is its power, that when two noted and ingenious infidels of former days undertook to read it through in order to find faults in it, they were both converted, and both wrote in its favor. Its words are life and spirit. In a day of God’s power they entirely transformed three thousand of Christ’s murderers into his adoring worshipers. It still converts, purifies, and comforts the hearts of all who truly receive it.

IX. This word of God is intended for all. Even infidels, who know it and reject it, shall be judged by it. So said Christ, who will judge the world: “He who rejects me, and receives not my words, has one that judges him; the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” John 12:48. By searching the Scriptures David was made wiser than his enemies. He had more understanding than all his teachers. He understood more than the ancients. Psalm. 119:98-100. He who has ears to hear, let him hear all that God says. He who has eyes to read, let him read all God’s word. To a great mass of people, some of them enemies and opposers, Jesus said, “Search the Scriptures; for in them you think you have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me.” John 5:39. It is a sad error in any church to discourage the reading and study of God’s word by the people. Such take away the key of knowledge. Luke 11:52. God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light unto our path. Psalm. 119:105.

William Swan Plumer

Minister, author, and theological professor, William Swan Plumer (1802-80) was one of Princeton Theological Seminary’s most well-known students. Born in Griersburg, Pennsylvania, Plumer would graduate from Washington College in Virginia in 1825. Following a year of study at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1826, Plumer began a very active and diverse ministerial career. Plumer was a prolific author and active churchman. His published works include commentaries, biblical studies, articles, essays, sermons, and a volume on pastoral theology. His writings, while profoundly theological in nature, are very practical in focus. 

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