Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE COMPARATIVE INFLUENCE OF ATHEISM AND CHRISTIANITY”  Part 1

Psalm 14.1

 

Eighteenth century New England pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards preached the famous sermon “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God.” That sermon was used by God to ignite the First Great Awakening in the British colonies that forever changed the spiritual landscape in the English-speaking world.

One of Jonathan Edwards’ grandsons was named Timothy Dwight, who served as the president of Yale College from 1795 to 1817. During his time at Yale College, he mentored a young man named Asahel Nettleton, who was singularly used in the Second Great Awakening in the early 1800s. “Yale College experienced a series of revivals during the Second Great Awakening (1802, 1808, and 1813).”[1] At the beginning of his presidency at Yale, President Dwight found himself presiding over a college with students who had embraced the Enlightenment philosophy of the French intellectuals. He succeeded in combating their atheism, in part, by preaching directly to them.

This morning’s message is the first of four that I have adapted from one of his sermons preached during his presidency. My text is Psalm 14.1: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.”

Consider the subject of this verse, the atheist. In his worst form, the atheist is a person who does not believe God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. These beliefs, and doctrines that derive from these beliefs, are clung to by atheists with a religious fervor, despite the powerful arguments of both logic and science to the contrary. How is this possible? Keep in mind that although atheists and their almost-atheist fellow travelers wrap themselves in the mantle of scientific respectability and the appearance of logical sophistication, close examination reveals this to be a facade, a curtain behind which the Wizards of Oz hide to play their tricks on those who are gullible.

In point of fact, the various belief systems of atheists are all doctrines of the heart and not of the intellect. Their belief systems are each the constructs of vain imaginations, rather than the logical conclusions of a reasonable mind, or the verdicts of scientific evidence. No wonder the psalmist describes not only atheists, but also those who while not being self-described atheists do embrace the doctrines derived from atheism, as fools. Why such strong language, using the Hebrew word here translated “fool,” that Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance indicates is equivalent to our modern English word “stupid”?

Consider what we are dealing with, a person who clings to a conviction that will have eternal consequences that will affect the well-being of his eternal and undying soul. Yet the conviction that is embraced, the doctrine that is defended, is believed for no other reason than because he loves the idea of it, because he wants it to be true. The atheist rejects the idea that God created this universe and all that herein is, and that He sustains it all. Why? Because he hates the idea of it, and does not want it to be true. No wonder the psalmist labels such a person a fool, someone who is at least morally stupid, if not intellectually stupid. Imagine a pilot flying by the sensations of his inner ear rather than his instruments. Before we could ever get around to calling such a pilot a fool we would call such a pilot dead. Anyone who is so weak-minded that he allows his inclinations to govern his understanding is very unwise.

Notice what our text declares about the doctrines of atheism. “They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.” In other words, atheists are corrupt. Atheists do abominable works. There is no atheist who does good. The atheist is the person who does not believe either God exists, or who refuses to recognize God as his God.

This character of atheists, seen by the psalmist and declared by the Spirit of God three thousand years ago, has not changed for the better over time. The modern version is no better than the ancient variety. Atheists have always been corrupt, and they still are corrupt. Atheists have always done abominable works, and their works are still abominable. There has never been, and there does not exist at present, a single good or virtuous atheist.

This morning, and for several intermittent Sundays after Father’s Day next week, I will lay out how the folly of atheism, when it is embraced by an evil heart of unbelief, contributes to making the sinner’s heart even worse, and fills the atheist’s life with abominable behavior, all the while preventing that same person from assuming any characteristics of virtue.

I have used the word virtue, but what is virtue? Is virtue a good thing or a bad thing? Is virtue something to be desired, or is it quite unnecessary? Virtue should be seen as the voluntary obedience to truth. Sin, on the other hand, is voluntary obedience to falsehood. What is it, from the human perspective, that you choose to do? Do you choose to obey the truth, or do you choose to obey falsehood, that which is untrue?

Virtue and sin, one being good and the other being evil, result from the disposition of your heart. What is your heart like? What your heart is like, and how your heart is prepared, will lead to various acts of obedience, either obedience to the truth or obedience to that which is not true. Atheism, denying the existence of God, or denying God a role in your life, predisposes a person to obeying falsehood. Atheism also blocks the development of virtue, that willingness to obey the truth.

From these definitions of virtue and sin, which I will presume cannot be successfully denied, it is evident that every false belief which a person clings to in his heart will govern what he comes to love, and will govern what he decides to do. Once a person comes to love something and to do something, then the course of his conduct has been determined. Just as obvious, when something is believed only because it is loved, when something is believed only because you want it to be true, every aspect of your morality and conduct will then be affected by what you believe. Persuade yourself that you love him. Convince yourself that you love her. Believe it because you want it to be true, then you will see how your morality and your conduct is affected by what you believe. Have we not see it too many times ourselves?

It will also be clear to anyone who meditates on moral issues that the character of anyone is in great measure formed by his views of the subjects with which he is acquainted. If a man’s views are expansive, magnificent, uplifting, and excellent, then his conduct will tend to be refined and noble. However, if his views are very narrow, ordinary, and low, then his taste, his character, and his behavior will be gross and vulgar.

Where is this line of argument going? You would think that any man who is accustomed to the finer things of life, and who is used to dealing with great concepts and ideas, would develop some measure of dignity and some amount of greatness of mind. You would think he would naturally exhibit personal character that is superior to that of those not so exposed to the finer things. You would expect that there is something princely about a man, even if he is quite normal and average in his inherited abilities, when he is properly educated for the inheritance of a throne. Contrariwise, everything about the same man would be expected to be small and piddling, if he has been trained to do nothing more than bag groceries or mow lawns.

It is very naturally imagined that when men are educated to a life of contemplation and science, that their minds (allowing for the difference of their natural abilities) will from the similarity of their pursuits be formed into a similarity of character. This, however, is largely a mistaken opinion.

Let me contrast what is typically expected with what is typically found: The very subjects of two men’s consideration, assuming them to be equally informed about some topic, will be very differently seen and understood by them because of the differing perspectives from which the two men view a common subject.

Allow me to be a bit more specific. Consider the mind of a heathen man, with all his heathen views, studying the polytheism of Greece and Rome. Now consider the mind of a Christian man, with all his Christian views, studying the same subject, the polytheism of Greece and Rome. Would you expect the views of these two men, the heathen one and the Christian one, to be the same? No. This is because the manner in which someone approaches a subject creates as much difference in his perception as would two different subjects being studied.

Take two men looking into the midnight sky. The understanding of the one man, who thinks of the night sky as a large canopy stretched over the earth and the stars as little pinpoints of light, is radically different from the astronomer standing next to him, who sees before him a great expanse of universe populated by millions of stars bigger than our own sun. Yet they are both actually looking at the same things.

Therefore, you see, the lenses through which each of us looks at the same scene are very different, giving to each of us a vastly different perception of the things we are looking at. In truth, then, it is not so much the greatness or the smallness of any object, but the greatness or smallness of the perception of the object, which ends up greatly affecting and forming each person’s character. This type of thing will in great measure, if not wholly, form what a person’s mind enjoys. When your mind early on becomes accustomed to a small view, it will become used to; it will grow accustomed to, those small views . . . and will eventually become intolerant of any other view.

If your mind from the very beginning is used to dealing only with silliness and trivialities, it is no great surprise when you are quickly bored with complex and mature issues, no matter how interesting they may be. When you are used to taking a low view of everything, you can quickly become disgusted with the high view, no matter how simple it is, or how wonderfully it fits the facts.

This is how the human mind works, and is something that every parent must keep in mind. The music you expose your babies to will prepare them for either grand music as adults or trashy and inferior music as adults. Imagine, then, the difficulties of someone whose early thoughts are godless, whose mind is exposed only to that which is atheistic. His theology and ethics will be greatly affected by that view of the world. What most people fail to realize is that every person’s behavior is a response to what motivates him. But what motivates each and every person is found in his views of issues, and topics, and subjects. If the things you think about, or the particular views of things that you see, are low and debased, then only low and debased motives will arise out of them.

But do not motives prompt all of our conduct, regulate its progress, and determine its nature? Therefore, if your motives are low and debased, meaning that your motives are selfish and concerned only with pleasing and satisfying yourself, then your conduct will end up being low and debased. This is precisely because that which your mind is occupied with, the objects of your affection, the topics of your thoughts, and your understanding and opinions of those things, will determine both your internal and external character.

Notice that everything I have said this morning, after reading and briefly commenting on my text, has been without any direct reference to the Word of God, which is our infallible guide. The reason I am doing that is because some people do not believe the Bible, and they reject it as an authoritative source of truth for every man.

Okay, so we will approach the subject another way, using our powers of observation and the record of history. What will we see, using our powers of observation and remembering the record of history? We will see that the psalmist was right, that the natural result of atheism is to shrink the views of man, is to corrupt the character of man, and is to deform the life of man. We will also see that Christianity has the opposite effect on man.

There are three things I want to illustrate this reality with in three sermons over the next few weeks. First, I will rehearse to you the view the atheist forms of the natural world. Subsequently, I will rehearse to you the atheist’s views of the moral world. In the last message in this series, I will rehearse to you the atheist’s views of the future.

Along the way, I will compare the result of atheism with the corresponding result of the same subject in the life of the Christian. The results, of course, will be quite different.

You may not think these sermons will apply to you. You may grant to yourself the status of a privileged child of God, a saint who has been forgiven by God, and whose sins the precious blood of Jesus Christ has cleansed. Alternatively, you may grant that you are not a Christian. You would probably say, “I am not a Christian by your way of thinking, pastor.” However, I submit that these messages will still apply to you, since the psalmist categorized as a fool not only that person who denies God’s existence, but also that person whose life is lived as though there was no God, even while believing God. I speak, of course, of what I call the practical atheist. The practical atheist is a person who mouths God-words and Jesus-words and Bible-words, but whose style of life is otherwise identical to the atheist.

Do you live like an atheist, all the while denying that you are an atheist? This series of sermons will help you to identify whether or not you do.

What is the long-term goal of this series of sermons? It is very straightforward, I assure you. My prayer is that you will reject atheism, either the classical kind of atheism or the practical kind of atheism. Then, acknowledging God, my earnest wish is that you will be susceptible to the gospel, seeing yourself to be a sinner in desperate need of a savior. The goal, always the goal, is to lift up Jesus Christ as the only savior of sinful men’s souls, the One who reconciles sinful men to our holy God.



[1] Timothy Dwight, Theology: Explained and Defended, Volume One, (Birmingham, Alabama: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2005), preface by Joel Beeke.

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org