This month’s installment features more selections from Blaise Pascal’s classic work in apologetics, Pensées (“Thoughts”). Having provided the necessary background in last month’s article, we will proceed directly to the selections themselves. The first topic includes his observations on Messianic and other prophecies. Pascal’s insights here add a new dimension in this standard area of apologetics. The final set of selections consists of short thoughts I have grouped under the heading “Aphorisms.”
Continuing the numbering of our selections from the five topics listed in the previous article, we start this month with #4.
4. Evidences & Prophecy
We’ll begin with excerpts from a relatively long essay, #570, on the Jews as keepers of the scriptures that foretold the Christ. [Brackets in all quotes are mine].
To give faith to the Messiah [provide a reason for faith in Messiah], it was necessary there should have been precedent prophecies, and that these should be conveyed by persons above suspicion, diligent, faithful, unusually zealous, and known to all the world.
To accomplish all this, God chose this carnal people [naturalIsrael], to whom He entrusted the prophecies that foretell the Messiah as a deliverer, and as a dispenser of those carnal goods [the blessings of the Messianic age] that this people loved. And thus they have an extraordinary passion for their prophets, and, in sight of the whole world, have had charge of these books which foretell their Messiah…Yet this people, deceived by the poor and ignominious advent of the Messiah, have been his most cruel enemies. So that they, the people least open to suspicion in the world of favoring us [the Gentiles], the most strict and zealous that can be named for their law and their prophets, have kept the books incorrupt. Hence those who rejected and crucified Jesus Christ, who has been to them an offence, are those who have charge of the books which testify of him, and state that He will be an offence and rejected.
Pascal wrote many ideas about the Jewish witness to Christ. The above selection states that Messianic prophecy must be beyond reproach, so God delivered these prophecies to the Jews who diligently guarded them. There could be no doubt, in Jesus’ time or ours, about the authenticity of the prophetical writings. However, contained in these well-kept texts were the very prophecies, such as Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53, of Jesus’ rejection by those who kept the prophecies! Thus, not only do the Jews testify against themselves for rejecting Christ, they have impeccable documentation of the very prophecies that said they would!
Pensées #744 & 749 reflect on the witness of an unbelieving nation:
Those who have a difficulty in believing seek a reason in the fact that the Jews do not believe. “Were this so clear,” say they, “why did the Jews not believe?” And they almost wish that they [the Jews] had believed, so as not to be kept back by the example of their refusal. But it is their very refusal that is the foundation of our faith. We should be much less disposed to the faith, if they were on our side. We should then have a more ample pretext. The wonderful thing is to have made the Jews great lovers of the things foretold, and great enemies of their fulfillment.
If the Jews had all been converted by Jesus Christ, we should have none but questionable witnesses. And if they had been entirely destroyed, we should have no witnesses at all.
In one paragraph, #616, Pascal summarizes the history of the Jewish people leading up to Messiah, who has always been foretold. Pascal’s assessment, “This is wonderful,” probably means “This is a wonder,” but it is also wonderful, in our sense of the word.
Perpetuity—Let us consider that since the beginning of the world the expectation of worship of the Messiah has existed uninterruptedly; that there have been found men, who said that God had revealed to them that a redeemer was to be born, who should save his people; that Abraham came afterwards, saying that he had had a revelation that the Messiah was to spring from him by a son, whom he should have; that Jacob declared that, of his twelve sons, the Messiah would spring from Judah; that Moses and the prophets then came to declare the time and the manner of his coming; that they said their law was only temporary till that of the Messiah, that it should endure till then, but that the other should last forever; that thus either the law, or that of the Messiah, of which it was the promise, would be always upon the earth; that, in fact, it has always endured; that at last Jesus Christ came with all circumstances foretold. This is wonderful.
Despite the thousands of years of Old Testament history, the transmission exchanges of the historical records have been relatively few, and Pascal saw this as an evidence for authenticity. The following two paragraphs are Pensées 623 and 624. The first sentence below is a figure of speech; do not read it as thinking that Pascal regarded Genesis 5 as myth:
Why should Moses make the lives of men so long, and their generations so few? Because it is not the length of years, but the multitude of generations, which renders things obscure. For truth is perverted only by the change of men. And yet he put two things, the most memorable that were ever imagined, namely, the creation and the deluge, so near that we reach from one to the other.
Shem, who saw Lamech, who saw Adam, saw also Jacob who saw those who saw Moses; therefore the deluge and the creation are true. This is conclusive among certain people who understand it rightly.
According to this sequence, only five exchanges of information would take Adam’s account to Moses: Adam to Lamech to Shem to Jacob, to “those who saw Moses” to Moses. This is a noteworthy observation, but Pascal must have had yet more in mind to declare this “conclusive” as regarding the creation and flood accounts.
In section XI of Pensées, “The Prophecies,” and section XII, “Proofs of Jesus Christ,” Pascal continues with insights and observations about Messianic prophecies, and the Jews’ role in preserving the testimony of those prophecies.
Pensée #709 reflects on the weight of the testimony of multiple prophets:
If one man alone had made a book of predictions about Jesus Christ, as to the time and the manner, and Jesus Christ had come in conformity to these prophecies, this fact would have infinite weight.
But there is much more here. Here is a succession of men during four thousand years, who, consequently [consecutively] and without variation, come, one after another, to foretell this same event. Here is a whole people who announce it, and who have existed for four thousand years, in order to give corporate testimony of the assurances that they have, and from which they cannot be delivered [removed] by whatever threats and persecutions people may make against them. This is far more important.
Pensée #711, though very brief, makes the point that prophecy contains both immediate fulfillment concerning the temporal affairs of Israel, and distant fulfillment in Jesus. The phrase at the end, “special prophecies without fruit,” means “not coming to fruition.” In other words, the immediate fulfillment established the basis of veracity for the ultimate fulfillment. This combination gives better credence to both:
The prophecies about particular things are mingled with those about the Messiah, so that the prophecies of the Messiah should not be without proofs, nor the special prophecies without fruit.
Another observation on Messianic prophecy is found in pPensées #756 & #757
…The time of the first advent was foretold; the time of the second is not so; because the first was to be obscure, and the second is to be brilliant, and so manifest that even His enemies will recognise it. But, as He was first to come only in obscurity, and to be known only of those who searched the Scriptures…[ellipsis his; Pascal did not finish this thought]
God, in order to cause the Messiah to be known by the good and not to be known by the wicked, made Him to be foretold in this manner. If the manner of the Messiah had been clearly foretold, there would have been no obscurity, even for the wicked. If the time had been obscurely foretold, there would have been obscurity, even for the good…
In the above paragraphs, Pascal refers to our Lord’s first advent as “obscurity,” that is, the manner of Jesus’ life and ministry. Therefore, the prophecies of his first advent were clear in regards to his time (Dan.9:25-27), place (Micah 5:3), and manner of life (Psa. 22, Isa. 11:1-3; 53; etc.). However, these were not so obvious and specific that anyone and everyone would obviously know his coming. Those whose hearts were prepared to seek after God (like Anna and Zechariah in Luke 1) received the reward of their diligence, while those who looked for a Messiah of another sort rejected him. When Jesus comes again, this time in judgment, even his enemies will know of it.
Pascal evidently had a great fondness for types, as he mentioned them frequently. Unfortunately, very few of these sections contain anything more than an enigmatic teaser. For instance, #765:
“Types—Savior, father, sacrificer, offering, food, king, wise, law-giver, afflicted, poor, having to create a people whom He must lead and nourish, and bring into His land…”
Pascal probably had in mind some Old Testament figure of each of these roles, such as manna for “food.”
Unfortunately, much of Pensées is like this — just sketches or ideas. Another example is #290: “Proofs of religion — Morality, Doctrine, Miracles, Prophecies, Types.” Whatever Pascal had in mind remained, of course, unwritten. However, in Pensée #767, Pascal did record some interesting and useful notes on Joseph as a type:
…Jesus Christ typified by Joseph, the beloved of his father, sent by his father to see his brethren, etc., innocent, sold by his brethren for twenty pieces of silver, and thereby becoming their lord, their savior, the savior of strangers, and the savior of the world; which had not been but for their [his brothers] plot to destroy him, their sale and their rejection of him.
In prison Joseph innocent between two criminals; Jesus Christ on the cross between two thieves. Joseph foretells freedom to one, and death to the other, from the same omens. Jesus Christ saves the elect, and condemns the outcast for the same sins. Joseph foretells only; Jesus Christ acts [with regard to the two criminals]. Joseph asks him who will be saved to remember him when he comes into his glory; and he whom Jesus Christ saves asks that He will remember him when he comes into his Kingdom.
The Joseph narrative in Genesis must be the richest source of typology in the Old Testament. Pascal used these not as little gems to write in a Bible margin, but as cumulative evidence of the Lord Jesus as Messiah. He also counted types as part of the Jewish witness to Jesus. The entire Old Testament foretells Jesus, he wrote more than once. This foretelling included both direct prophecies and types. The Jewish people carefully protected and maintained these books, and then rejected the Messiah, as Joseph’s brothers rejected him.
In this section I have selected a dozen of the most quotable and incisive of Pascal’s thoughts. I have listed them in numerical order. I don’t know if he meant these as aphorisms, or just the start of longer essays that he never finished.
10. People are better persuaded by the reasons that they have themselves discovered than by those that have come into the mind of others.
44. Do you wish people to believe good of you? Don’t speak.
81. It is natural for the mind to believe, and for the will to love; so that, for want of true objects, they must attach themselves to false.
101. I set it down as a fact that if all men knew what each said of the other, there would not be four friends in the world…
136. A mere trifle consoles us, for a mere trifle distresses us.
194. …there are two kinds of people one can call reasonable: those who serve God with all their heart because they know Him, and those who seek Him with all their heart because they do not know Him.
272. There is nothing so conformable to reason as the disavowal of reason.
277. The heart has its reasons which reason knows not….
280. The knowledge of God is very far from the love of Him.
414. Men are so necessarily mad that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness.
508. Grace is indeed needed to turn a man into a saint; and he who doubts it does not know what a saint or a man is.
510. Man is not worthy of God, but he is not incapable of being made worthy….
533. There are only two kinds of men: the righteous, who believe themselves sinners; the rest sinners, who believe themselves righteous.
894. Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.
A Closing Meditation
Pensée #791 offers a lovely meditation on the life of Christ, and we will close our selections from Pascal with this:
What man ever had more renown? The whole Jewish people foretell Him before His coming. The Gentile people worship Him after His coming. The two peoples, Gentile and Jewish, regard Him as their center.
And yet what man enjoys this renown less? Of thirty-three years, He lives thirty without appearing. For three years He passes as an imposter; the priests and chief people reject Him; His friends and nearest relatives despise Him. Finally, He dies, betrayed by one of His own disciples, denied by another, and abandoned by all.
What part, then, has He in this renown? Never had man so much renown; never had man more ignominy. All that renown has served only for us, to render us capable of recognizing Him; and He had none of it for Himself.
There is no more well known figure in the history of humanity than that of Jesus Christ, yet he was an ignominious, unknown, rejected figure in his own time. How could this be, save for the resurrection? For this reason, Pascal writes that all his renown was for our sake, not his.
In the next article, we will return, God willing, to a third branch of arguments for the existence of God (in addition to the teleological and cosmological arguments that we have recently reviewed). This time we will investigate the phenomena of morality and mind as evidences of a transcendent Creator.