How May We Know that There is a God?

One of the leaders of the Westminster Assembly, John Arrowsmith (1602-1659) sought to answer this question. His remarks are very interesting:

There are six several acts which every man of understanding is able to exert in a way of contemplation: He may ‘ respicere,’ ‘prospicere,’ ‘suspicere,’ ‘despicere,’ ‘inspicere,’ and ‘ circumspicere.’ Whosoever shall advisedly exercise any of these will undoubtedly meet with some demonstrations of a Deity; much more if he be industriously conversant in them all.

“1. If he do ‘respicere,’ look backward to the creation of the world (which the light of nature will tell him had a beginning), he will see and understand ‘the invisible things of God by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead,’ as Paul speaks. Basil, therefore, called the world a school, wherein reasonable souls are taught the knowledge of God. In a musical instrument, when we observe divers strings meet in a harmony, we conclude that some skilful musician tuned them. When we see thousands of men in a field, marshalled under several colours, all yielding exact obedience, we infer that there is a general, whose commands they are all subject to. In a watch, when we take notice of great and small wheels, all so fitted as to concur to an orderly motion, we acknowledge the skill of an artificer. When we come into a printing-house, and see a great number of different letters so ordered as to make a book, the consideration hereof maketh it evident that there is a composer, by whose art they were brought into such a frame. When we behold a fair building, we conclude it had an architect; a stately ship, well rigged, and safely conducted to the port, that it hath a pilot. So here. The visible world is such an instrument, army, watch, book, building, ship, as undeniably argueth a God, who was and is the tuner, general, and artificer, the composer, architect, and pilot of it.

2. If he do ‘prospicere,’ look forwards to the rewards and punishments, to be dispensed in another world (which the heathens’ Elysium and Tartarus shew them to have had a slight knowledge of by the light of nature), he cannot but acknowledge some supreme Judge, whom they are dispensed by; and that He is a searcher of hearts, wherein piety and sin do chiefly reside, seeing it were impossible for Him otherwise to pass righteous judgment without mistaking good for evil, and evil for good. Some discourses of Plato, and some verses of Menander, besides many other testimonies, make it appear that the notion of these things was entertained by the wiser sort both of philosophers and poets; and that which they held of a world to come is a topic sufficient to argue from for the being of a God in the world that is.

3. If he do ‘ suspicere,’ look upwards to a rank of creatures above himself, I mean good and evil spirits, of which the heathens were not ignorant, witness their large discourses of demons, of intelligences, and of a ‘bonus et malus genins.’ For if such creatures as angels be acknowledged, so good, holy, wise, and powerful, as they are said to be by all that take notice of them, they must have a Maker better, holier, wiser, and powerfuller than themselves, seeing the cause is always more noble than the effect, and hath that perfection which it communicates much more eminent in itself. If there be devils, whose mischief and might are both of them so confessedly great there must needs be a God to restrain and countermand them, else the world would soon be turned into a mere hell, ful of nothing but abominations and confusion.

4. If he do ‘despicere,’ look downward to things below iimself, whose nature is inferior to that of man, the contemplation of elements, plants, and brute beasts, will extort the confession of a Deity. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his handiwork.’ Nor these alone, which have so much of magnificence in them, but the least fly, if it could be anatomised, would be found to have in it more miracles than parts; such proportion of members, distinction of offices, correspondence of instruments, as speaketh the infinite power and wisdom of the Maker. Well might Job say. as he did, ‘Ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee: or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee, and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee. Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this ?’

5. If he do ‘inspicere,’ look within himself, and that either to the composition of his body, or to the dictates of his conscience. We are so ‘ fearfully and wonderfully made,’ that the great physician Galen, though an heathen, being amazed at the wisdom which he discovered in the frame of every member in man’s body, could no longer contain himself, but fell to praising the Creator in an hymn. As for conscience, there is nothing more common than for wicked men, after the commission of gross sins, to be inwardly tormented and affrighted by reason of somewhat it suggests, the substance whereof is, that there is a God, and that He will judge them for what they have done. Calvin tells us of a certain profane fellow who was ranting at his inn, and blasphemously wresting that of the Psalmist, ‘The heaven of heavens is the Lord’s, and the earth hath he given to the children of men,’ as if God left us to do what we list upon earth, confining Himself and His providence to the heavens, thereby, as far as he openly durst, disavowing a Deity; whereupon he was struck suddenly with extreme torments in his body, and began to cry out, ‘O God, O God.’ So natural it is even for the worst of mankind to acknowledge a God in their extremities, and for others more ingenuous, even among those that want Scripture-light (as Tertullian hath observed), to be frequently saying, ‘ God seeth; I commend it to God; God will recompense;’ which drew from him an exclamation that must be warily understood, ‘Oh, the testimony of a soul naturally Christian!’

6. If he do ‘ circumspicere,’ look round about him to the various occurrences in the world; the great deliverances vouchsafed to some, the great calamities brought upon others, both beyond all expectation. ‘The Lord is,’ and cannot but be, ‘known by the judgments which He executeth;’ so by the blessings which He bestoweth. Who can see a Daniel rescued from reasonable lions, unreasonable men, a Moses preserved in an ark of bulrushes, a Noah in a deluge of waters, others in a furnace of fire — who can behold a Pharaoh plagued, an Herod eaten up with worms, an Achitophel making away himself, a Judas bursting asunder in the midst—and not cry out, as it is in the Psalm, ‘Verily there is a reward for the righteous, doubtless there is a God that judgeth the earth?’ We meet with a passage in Athenaeus, not unworthy, as I conceive, to be taken notice of, and recorded here. When at a public meeting in some place of receipt, a beam of the house suddenly falling had dashed out the brains of a notoriously wicked man in the sight of many bystanders to whom he was known, one Stratonicus brake out into a speech so emphatical in the Greek, as it can hardly be translated without much loss, yet take it thus : ‘Sirs,’ said he, ‘ the beam of light which I have convinceth me that there is a God; if any of you be otherwise minded, this beam of wood may suffice to beget in him the same persuasion.