Master Sermon List
The Authority And Inspiration 0f The Holy Scriptures
by Robert Smith Candlish
The authority and inspiration of Holy Scripture form one subject. According to its inspiration, so is its authority. And if the Bible is not inspired, in the full sense of that term, in the sense of its being literally the word of God, the whole question as to the degree of weight to be attached to its statements becomes a matter of discreation and doubt. Reason, or intuition, or whatever else the faculty in man may be called, is constituted the ultimate and only judge. And in all that relates to acquaintance and intercourse with the Supreme, in the whole vast problem of the settlement of our peace with God, and the adjustment of the terms on which we be with him for ever, we have absolutely no distinct and authoritative expression of the Divine mind at all.
We are left entirely to the guidance of the higher instincts of our own nature, and of such finer particles of the historical Record, such flowers of Biblical fact or argument or appeal, as these instincts may happen to grasp. In short, we have no external standard or test of religious truth, no valid objective revelation, no "thus saith the Lord" but only such a measure of insight as a good and holy man, by the help of what other good and holy men have written, may attain into the Divine Ideal, which the aching void and craving want of the human soul either creates and evokes for itself, or welcomes when presented from whatever quarter, and by whatever means.
This is especially the state of the question with reference to the turn which modern speculation, in religious matters, has taken.
For a revolution, as it would seem, has come over the camp and kingdom of the freethinkers whether philosophers or divines.
Formerly, the battle of the Bible was to be fought chiefly on the ground of historical testimony and documentary evidence. The possibility at least, if not the desirableness, not to say the necessity, both of an express revelation from above, and of an infallible record of that revelation, was acknowledged; and upon that acknowledgment the method of procedure was well defined.. Two steps were required. In the first place, good cause must be shown for connecting the two volumes which we now call the Old and New Testaments, and these alone, with the entire body of proof for the supernatural origin of our religion, which miracles, prophecy, internal matks of credibility, and other branches of the evidence of a divine revelation, afford. And in the second place, these volumes being thus attested and accredited by the whole weight of proof that accredits and attests the religion itself with which they are identified, it followed that they must be allowed to speak for themselves, as to the manner in which they were composed, and the measure of deference to which they were entitled. Thus the two questions, of the canon of scripture, and the authority of Scripture, fell to be dicussed in their order, immediately after the evidences of Revealed Religion.
The divine origin of Christianity being established by the usual arguments, together with the genuineness and authenticity, as historical documents, of the books from which we derive our information concerning it the way was open for inquiring,
first, On what principle have these books come to be separated all other contemporary writings, so as to form one entire and select volume the Holy Bible held to possess a peculiar character, as entitled to be considered exclusively and par exellence divine? And,
secondly, In what sense, and to what extent, is the volume thus formed to be regarded as the word of God, how far is it. to be received as dictated by his Spirit, and as declared to us authoritatively his mind and will? This last, supposing the other to have been satisfactorily adjusted, sought and found its solution within the volume and whatever it could be fairly proved that the claimed to be, in respect of its inspiration, that, admitted, it must be allowed and believed to be. For at that stage of the Christian argument, the Bible established a right to speak for itself, and to say what kind and amount of submission it demanded at the hands of all Christian men.
Such is the method of proof applicable to this subject, as it used to be discussed formerly, in the Protestant schools and books of divinity. And such, I venture to think, is the only fair and legitimate method of proof still; at least, if the sound and cautious principles of the Baconian logic, or the inductive philosophy, are to have any weight in the province of religious belief. By a rigid investigation of its credentials, we ascertain that Christianity is the true religion, that it is of supernatural origin, that it is a divine revelation, divinely attested. On an examination of written records and documents, we find, that this religion of Christianity, thus proved to be divine, is identified with a volume entirely sui generis; that the whole force of its own divine authority, and of the divine attestations on which it leans, is transferred to that volume; that the volume, in short, is the religion which has been proved to be divine, and is therefore itself divine. Thereafter, we consult the volume itself to discover what it tells us of its own composition and claims: and whatever it tells us concerning itself, we how implicitly receive as true.
But a new aspect of the question meets us, as we come in contact with the speculations of modern times. Not only the antecedent probability, but the very possibility of an infallible external standard of faith, is doubted at least in some quarters, and wholly denied in others. A subtle sort of refined mysticism, offspring of the transcendental philosophy meeting with a certain vague fervour of evangelical spirituality, has entered the field: and the atmosphere has become dim with the haze and mist of a vapoury and verbose cloud, in which nothing clear, nothing distinct or defined, but the vast sublime of chaos seems again to brood over all things.
Among others who have contributed to this result, Sleiermacher in Germany might be named, and the poet Coleridge among ourselves; although it is due to great and good countryman to remark, that many who are indebted to him, and these not merely among the more openly sceptical, but even among the schools and circles of far more evangelical thinkers, have improved upon his hints, bettered his example, and so out Coleridged Coleridge that the philosophic bard might with a]most as much justice protest against being identified with his followers, as Wilkes the patriot did when he denied that he had ever been a Wilkite.
At the same time the impulse given by the profound and transcendent genius of Coleridge, has been one chief cause or occasion of the style and method that has become fashionable, of late years, in treating of the inspired authority of the Bible. His famous opprobrium of Bibliolotry flung in the face of old-school, Bible-loving, gospel-taught Christians, has become a by-word and watchword in the mouths of men, whom to name in the same breath with Coleridge would be to offend alike against high intellect and pure spirituality. Even some of better mark, while themselves railing against echoes with which, instead of voices, they say the orthodox world resounds, have not scrupled to ring the changes on this poorest of all echoes, the unintelligent echo of a not very intelligible conceit, .filling the air with the cry of Bible-worship, and making it out that to receive the Bible as the word of God is as gross idolatry and superstition as to revere the Pope in the character of the Vicar of Christ.
With this modern form of opposition to the infallibility of Holy Scripture,, it is not very easy to deal. In the first place, it is in itself very intangible, unfixed, obscure; being negative rather than positive. And it is apt, moreover, to take shelter in a sort of studied indistinctness; making a merit of abstaining from plainness of speech, and creating such a vague alarm as leads timid men to be thankful for any measure of forbearance, and to shrink from asking explanations, or wishing to have the inquiry carried further home.
A notable instance of this occurs in a tract of Archdeacon Hare, in which he speaks of himself and those who think with him, as "finding difficulty in the formation and exposition of their opinions on this mysterious and delicate subject," "hesitating to bring forward what they felt to be immature and imperfect," and "shrinking from the shock it would be to many pious persons if they were led to doubt the correctness of their notions concerning the plenary inspiration of every word of the Bible. "So far good. This maybe a reason why "refusing to adopt the popular view on the subject, the Archdeacon does not straight-way promulgate another view."But might not this hesitancy of his incline him to speak a little less offensively of the popular view than he sometimes does, seeing that he has nothing better to put in its place? Might it not also suggest the suspicion that possibly he does not really understand that "popular view" itself so well as he evidently thinks he does, above all, does it never occur to him this sort of bush-fighting is unfair to his opponents, that they are entitled to demand from him a practical repudiation of the popish doctrine of reserve as well e dintinct, articulate, and manly avowal of what he, and such as he, really hold the Scriptures of the Old and Testaments to be?
But I must do what I can to thread my way through the misty labyrinth. And accordingly, passing from preliminaries, I now propose to indicate rather than discuss for I can do little more than indicate four successive topics as those which, in my opinion, a thorough inquiry the subject before us should embrace.
I. The conditions of the question should be ascertained. What previous points of controversy are to be held as settled? And what meaning is to be attached to the terms employed?
II. The method of proof ought to be adjusted. What are the lines of evidence bearing upon the investigation? And what is their precise amount and value, whether separately or in combination?
III. The sources of difficulty are to be candidly and cautiously weighed. And
IV. The practical value of the doctrine is to be estimated, with especial reference to the right fixing of the limits between divine authority and human liberty, and the vindication of our Protestant submission to the teaching of the Spirit, in and by the word, from the imputation of its being analogous to, if not virtually identical with, the popish prostration of the intellect, and heart, and will, beneath the blind sway of a spiritual monarch or a traditional Church. These, then, are my heads of discourse.
I. There are several preliminary matters in regard to which we ought to have a clear and common understanding, before we enter directly upon the argument we have in hand. Three of these in particular must be briefly noticed, however imperfectly.
1. A divine revelation of the mind of God is a different thing from a divine action on the mind of man. To some, this remark may sound like a self-evident truism; but the turn of modern metaphysical speculation in certain quarters renders it necessary to make it. According to what is now a favourite theory of our mental constitution, we are possessed of a twofold reason: the one, the lower, or logical faculty, which deals with truth in the region of experimental knowledge, and deals with it mediately, through the processes and forms of raciocination and language; the other, the higher, or intuitional faculty, which has for its object the spiritual, transcendental, the infinite, and which grasps its by a sort of super-sensual instinct, the intervention of the ordinary means, or of human thought. To the cognisance of this latter faculty belongs the idea of God, and of whatever his character, government, and law. Whatever real insight we have into the being and perfections of God is by the intuitional faculty, or by intuition.
Hence it is inferred that the only way in which God veries of himself to man, is by quickening faculty, and so giving to his highest reason sight of things divine. In this way all revelation is resolved into one grand process of subjective illumination, which God has been carrying on by a great of methods since the world began in short, according to the theory to which I am now adverting, revelation is not oracular, but providential. The Scriptures are not in any proper sense the oracles of God; nor do they convey to us direct utterances, or objective communications, of the divine mind. They merely contain materials fitted to exercise a wholesome influence by awakening into more intense and lively action powers, through the contagion of sympathy the force of example and whatever divine impulse leads us to kindle our torch at the divine fire which we see burning there so brightly.
For that a divine fire does burn in the Bible is not to be denied. It burns in the wondrous history of the Church as unfolded in the Bible, from the first germ of that history in the homes of the pilgrim patriarchs through all the stirring vicissitudes in the Jewish annals of captivity, deliverance, wilderness-wanderings, wars, and victories, gorgeous pomps, and temple services down to the full development of faith and fellowship ushered in at Pentecost. It burns also in the heroic lives and deaths the words and deeds of all the holy men of whom the world was not worthy the martyrs, prophets, apostles, raised up in succession to receive the gift of a divine intuition, and spread the savour of a divine unction all around. Especially it burns in the character and life of the divine Man who taught in Galilee and Judea, and died on Calvary.
Thus, throughout the Bible a divine fire burns. The sympathising student may catch the flame of it; and in this way, imbibing the spirit of the Scriptural narratives, and of the Scriptural personages whom these narratives, so manifestly show to have been spiritually moved, being moreover spiritually moved himself he may gain an insight into things divine, otherwise beyond his reach. Thus in a sense he may come to "see Him who is invisible."
Now this vague and perhaps sublime recognition of a certain sort of divinity in the Bible, is manifestly inconsistent with the idea of its being, in any fair meaning of the term, a revelation of the mind of God. It becomes, in this view, merely one of the means by which God acts upon the mind of man The Bible is in no respect different from "Fox's Book of Martyrs," or "The Scottish Worthies" in which also the divine life is manifested the actions and sufferings of divinely gifted and divinely-aided men. There may be a difference in degree teaching us thus in the Bible, and His teaching us in the same way in these other works. But there is no difference in kind.
To call this a revelation is an abuse of language; but a plausible abuse, and one fitted to impose upon the unwary. The distinction between a real revelation and this counterfeit adroitly substituted for it, is as broad asit vital. It may be made clear by a simple illustration.
It is one thing for a king to leave his subjects to gather from his mind what they may see of the conduct of his officers and captains, whom he admits nearest to his person, and who may be presumed to have the best opportunities of knowing him, and to be most strongly attached to him by the ties of loyalty and love; to be able, therefore, of exhibiting and acting out, in their whole life and conversation, the true spirit of their royal master's kingdom. It is quite another thing for the King to make an express communication of his mind to his subjects and to use the agency of his officers and captains in making it. That nothing is to be learned of his mind in the first of these two ways I am far from saying; nay, I admit that the teaching of the Bible is, in many parts of that indirect nature, in so far at least as the use we are to make of its inspired narrative is concerned. Still, revelation, properly so called, is something different. It is not merely a depository or receptacle of sundry influences fitted to act upon my mind. It is God himself making known to me, and to all men, His own mind. It is God speaking to man.
2. Inspiration, as connected with revelation, has respect, not to the receiving of divinely communicated truth, but to the communication of it to others. This again might seem so self-evident as scarcely to need its being stated. But in certain quarters there is great confusion of ideas upon this very point.
It is admited by all deep thinkers it is a great doctrine of Scripture, that spiritual things can only be spiritually discerned. Let these spiritual things be set forth ever so clearly, in the plainest forms of speech, so that an intelligent man can have no difficulty in ascertaining what is meant, and in laying down correct propositions upon the subjects to which they relate, still the things themselves cannot be fully grasped by the mere logical faculty or understanding; the higher reason or intuition, which alone is conversant with the infinite and the absolute, must be called into exercise; and even it cannot take in the things of the Spirit of God, to the effect of their becoming practically and powerfully influential, without an operation of that same Spirit upon the mind itself purging, quickening, elevating the mental eye, so as to make it capable of the divine, the beatific vision.
All this is true; or, in other words, it is true that no communication of the mind of God to me from without, even if it were made to me directly and immediately, in express terms, by God himself, could give me a real spiritual, satisfying, and saving knowledge of God, if he did not also, by his Holy Spirit, touch and move me within my inner man, giving me a spiritual tact and spiritual taste to discern spiritual things.
Now, such an action of the Spirit of God in and upon my spirit, with a view to my spiritually apprehending spiritual truth, may be called in a certain sense inspiration. And if there be due warning given of the unusual sense in which the word is to be employed, no great harm perhaps may be done.
But such an application of the term ceases to be harmless and becomes a snare or a juggle, when it is the occasion of confounding the Spirit's action upon me, for my own enlightenment and edification, with the use which the Spirit may make of me, for conveying his mind to others. The inspiration of a disciple is one thing; the inspiration of an apostle is another.
A little child in the kingdom of God is inspired: he is breathed upon, he is breathed into, by the Holy Spirit; He has imparted to him a capacity for knowing God and apprehending things divine, higher far than man's proudest intellect can boast. He has a God-given eye to see, and a God-given heart to feel, the very eye and heart of the eternal Father, as he looks down from heaven in love, to embrace all that believe in his Son. Tender as he may be in age, and but ill-instructed in the schools of human learning, that little child has in him the Spirit who searcheth all things, even the "deep things of God"and in respect of all that pertains to his saving aquaintance of the Most High, he may be greater than the greatest of the prophets.
Nevertheless, it is an inspiration proper to the prophet, as a revealer of the will of God, which the little child, as a learner of it, does not need, and does not possess. This last sort of inspiration may be less intuitional and spiritual, so far as the immediate recipient of it is concerned, than the other; aud therefore to him personally, far less valuable. It would have been better for Balaam personally, if he had been taught as a little child by the Spirit to know the will of God, for his own salvation, rather than used as a prophet by the Spirit, almost as involuntarily as his own dumb beast, for making known the will of God to others. The question here, however, is not as to the comparative advantages of these two operations of the Spirit, but as to the essential distinction between them. Our sole concern at present is not with what the Spirit does when he works faith in the heart, but with what he does when he employs human instrumentality for communicating those truths which are the objects of faith.
3. One other remark, under this head, must be allowed. The fact of inspiration is a different thing altogether from the manner of it. The fact of inspiration may be proved by divine testimony, and accepted as an ascertained article of belief, while the manner of it may be neither revealed from heaven nor within the range of discovery or conjecture upon earth.
But it may be asked, What are we to understand the fact of inspiration which is to be proved? And especially, What are we to understand by the inspiration of the Bible?
To this I answer generally, that I hold it to be an infallible divine guidance exercised over those who are to declare the mind of God, so as to secure that in declaring it they do not err. What they say or write under this guidance, is as truly said and written through them, as if their instrumentality werenot used at all. God is, in the fullest sense, responsible for every word of it.
Now, I do not much care about the definition of the term being more precise than this. It is of very little consequence whether you call this verbal dictation or not. It is equivalent to verbal dictation, as regards the reliance placed on the discourse, or the document, that is the result of it. Only to speak of it under that name is to raise a question as to the manner of inspiration, a subject into which I refuse to be dragged. For the same reason, I refuse to discuss a topic which used to be too much a favourite among religious writers, the different kinds and degrees of inspiration for different sorts of composition. The mode of divine action upon the mind of the speaker, or writer, is at issue. It is enough to maintain such an action as makes the word spoken, and the word written, throughout, the very word of God.
Oh, but this is a mechanical theory of inspiration, cry some! We, for our part, prefer the dynamical. The prophets and apostles were dynamically inspired, not mechanically.
Formidable words! which it would puzzle many who use them most familiarly to translate into plain English, and plainly distinguish one from one another.
But if what they mean is this; that God by his Spirit cannot so superintend and guide a man speaking or writing on his behalf, as to secure that every word of what the man speaks or writes shall be precisely what God would have it to be; and that not merely the whole treatise, but, every sentence and syllable of it, shall be as much to be ascribed to God as its author as if he had himself written it with his own hand; if they mean that God cannot do this, without turning the man into a mere machine if this be what they mean then I have to tell them that the onus probandi, the burden of proof, lies with them. They must give some reason for the limitation which they would impose upon the divine omnipotence. They must show cause why God may not employ all or any of his creatures infallibly to do his will and declare his pleasure, according to their several natures, and in entire consistency with the natural exercise of all their faculties.
God may speak and write articulately in human language without the intervention of any created being, as he did on Sinai. He may cause articulate human speech to issue from the lips of a brazen trumpet, or a dumb ass. He may constrain a reluctant prophet to utter the words he puts in his mouth, almost against his will, as in the case of Balaam: or so order the spontaneous utterance of a persecuting high priest; as to make it an unconscious prediction, as in the case of Caiaphas. But is he restricted to these ways of employing intelligent agents infallibly to declare his mind and will?
Let us see how this matter really stands. Let us eliminate and adjust the conditions of the problem.
It is an important part of the divine purpose that, for most part, men should be employed in declaring his will to their fellow-men; men rather than, for example, angels. Several good reasons may be assigned for this. Two, in particular, may be named here.
For the purposes of evidence, this is an important arrangement. A divine revelation needs not only to be communicated, but to be authenticated; and the authentication of it must largely depend upon human testimony. Take for example, the four gospels. These are not the records of our Lord's ministry, but the proofs of it. It is upon the historical authority of these documents that we believe Christ to have been a historical personage, and to have said, and done, and suffered the things ascibed to him. But the historical authority of the gospels rests very much, not only on the external evidence in their behalf afforded by the writers of the first and second centuries, but also on the internal evidence arising out of a comparison of them among themselves. And here great stress is justly laid upon their essential agreement, amid minute and incidental differences.
There are variations enough in the accounts which they severally give of Christ, to preclude the idea of a concerted plan, or of premeditated collusion; while there is so entire a harmony throughout as to make it manifest that they are all speaking of a real person, and that person the same in all. In short, we have fourindependent witnesses to the facts of our Lord's history; proved to be independent, by the very differences that are found in their depositions; differences not sufficient to invalidate the testimony of any of them, but only fitted to enhance the value of the whole, by making it clear that they did not conspire together to deceive.
Such is the actual result of a fair collation and comparison of the four gospels as they stand.
Now to secure that result, it is manifest that the Spirit, in inspiring each evangelist, must act according to that evangelist's own turn of thought and gift of memory, and must direct him to the use of expressions such as shall at once convey the mind of the Spirit in a way for which he can make himself thoroughly responsible, and shall also at the same time record the bona fide deposition of the evangelist, as a witness to the transactions which he narrates.
Nor is there any incompatibility between these two things. Take an illustration. Let it be supposed that any one say such an one as Socrates has spent three years in teaching, and that he wishes an authentic and self-authenticating record of his ministry to go down to posterity. Four of his favourite pupils; or two, perhaps, of these, and two other students writing upon the immediate and personal information of men who had been pupils, prepare four separate and independent narratives, all availing themselves more or less of the reminiscences current in the school. The four narratives are submitted to the revision of Socrates. He is to correct and verify them, so as to make each of them a record for which he can become himself out and out responsible. And yet he is not to prune and pare them into an artificial sameness. Would he have any difficulty in the task?
Could he not each narrative, with such close attention tothe minutest turn of phraseology as to imply that he sets his seal lto every word of it, and owns it to be what he is prepared to stand to as an exact record of his sayings and doings? And would he ever dream of reducing all four to one flat level of literal uniformity? Would he obliterate all the nice and delicate traces of truth and character that are to be observed in different varieties of honestly and correctly testifying, each according to his own genius, to the same fact, or to the substance of thesame discourse? What, then, in the case supposed, would be the result? Socrates would have four memorabilia, of his memorable deeds, for each of which, in his revisal of them all, he would be as thoroughly responsible, down to the very sentences and syllables, as had himself written it with his own proper hand; whle each, again, would preserve the freshness and us of its own separate authorship; and the whole would carry the full force of four independent testimonies to the credit of the life which Socrates actually led, and the doctrines which Socrates taught.
The case is really the same, so far as the consideration is concerned, whether it be verbal revisal afterwards or verbal inspiration beforehand. The Spirit is as much at liberty to dictate and direct the writing of t accounts of Christ's ministry, according to minds and memories of the compilers whom he employs as Socrates would be to sanction four different reports of his teaching, taken down by four of his followers of very various capacities and tastes, and submitted for his imprimatur to himself. An exact agreement in accounts given by different persons of things done or said, is not essential to the integrity of the narrators; it would often be a proof of preconcerted fraud. Neither is it essential to the integrity of one revising their several accounts; even if he do so under the condition of becoming himself accountable, as much as if he were directly the author, for every one of them, and for everything that is in every one of them. It cannot, therefore, be fairly regarded as inconsistent with the integrity of the Holy Spirit, that, in inspiring the four evangelical narratives, he should give to each the impression of its own characteristic authorship; so as to make them severally tell as distinct attestations, upon the faith of independent witnesses, to the things that were said and done by the Lord Jesus in Galilee and in Judea.
But again, for the purposes of life, and interest, and spirit, as well as for the purposes of evidence, the arrangement in question is important. The Bible would have been comparatively tame and dull, if it had come to us as the utterance of an angelic voice, or as all at once engraven on a table of stone. Its power over us largely depends upon its being the voice of humanity, as well as the voice of Deity; and upon its being the voice, moreover, of our common humanity, expressing itself in accommodation to all the varieties of age, language, situation, and modes of thought, by which our common humanity is modified. A stiff thing, indeed, would the Revelation of God have been if it had been proclaimed once, or twice, or ever so often, by an oracular response, from a Sybil's cave, or by a heavenly trumpet pealing articulate words in the startled ear. God has wisely and graciously ordered it otherwise. He inspires men to speak to men he inspires men to write for men. inspires men of all sorts; living in various times and various countries; occupying various positions; accustomed to various styles. He inspires them, moreover, as they are as he finds them. He does not put them all into one Procrustes-bed of forced uniformity. He uses them freely, according to their several peculiarities. They are all his instruments; but they are his instruments according to their several natures, and the circumstances in which they are severally placed. Every word they write is His, but he makes it his, by guiding them to the use of it as their own.
Doubtless there is some difficulty in our thus conceiving of this divine work. But it is not a difficulty that need affect either our understanding of the Spirit's meaning or recognition of his one agency throughout, amid all the diversities of composition which he may see fit to employ.
Thus, as to the first of these points, with reference to our understanding the Spirit's meaning when he thus variously inspires the various writers of the Bible, we must apply the same sagacity that we would bring to bear upon the miscellaneous writings of a human author. A mass of papers written or dictated by a friend, or a father, comes into my hands. They are of a very miscellaneous character,with a great variety of dates, ranging of time, and almost every clime and country of the globe. They consist of all manner of compositions, in prose and poetry, historical pieces, letters on all sorts of subjects, and to all sorts of people, antiquarian researches, tales of fiction, with verses in abundance, lyric, dramatic, didactic, and devotional. I receive the precious legacy, and I apply my reason to estimate and arrange so welcome an "embarrass des richesses"And here there are two distinct questions; the
first, What can I legitimately gather out of the materials before me as to the real mind of the author on any given subject? and the second, What weight is due to his opinion or authority? Assuming this last question to be settled and it is the fair assumption what remains as to the first?
There may be very considerable difficulty in dealing with it, and much room for the exercise, said, let it be added emphatically, for the trial of my candour, patience, and good faith. There is not a little confusion, let us say, in the mass of materials to be disposed of; it needs to be examined, assorted, and classified. There may be room for inquiry, in particular instances, as to how far, and in what manner, the author means to express his own views in his narratives and stories, or in his poetical productions, or even in his abrupt, off-hand, and occasionally rhetorical reasoning. There may be need of a certain large-minded and large-hearted shrewdness, far removed from that of the mere word-catcher that lives on syllables, and able to enter into the genuine earnestness with which the writer throws himself always into the scenes and the circumstances before him, nay, even when he employs an amanuensis, into the habits of thought, and the very manner of expression, of his scribe. The voluminous and varied papers of more than one great man might furnish an example of what I mean.
Now, in a sense quite analogous to this, the Bible may be said to consist of the papers of God himself. They are very miscellaneous papers: every sort of character is personated, as it were, in the preparation of them every different style of writing is employed; every age is represented, and every calling. There are treatises of all sorts, which must be interpreted according according to the rules of composition. And yet an intelligent reader can discriminate between the several discoveries which God makes of himself in the inspired history of the Pentateuch, in the inspired drama of Job, and in the inspired reports of Christ's own teaching, in the inspired reasoning of Paul s epistles, just as is he can gather a human author's real sentiments on any point from a comparison of his different plays, and poems, and tales, and histories, and sermons, which he may have composed.
His mind is not indicated in the same way in each and all of these various kinds of writing. It is discovered in some, and more inferentially in others. Still, they are His writings; he is responsible for every one of them; and, taken freely and fairly together, they authentically, and with sufficient clearness declare his views.
Nor, again, on the other hand, need we have any serious difficulty in recognising the one divine agency that pervades the various compositions which the Bible comprehends within itself.
Let it be assumed that God means to compose a book, such as shall at once bear the stamp of his own infallible authority, and have enough of human interest to carry our sympathies along with it. He may accomplish this by a miracle in a moment; the book may drop suddenly complete from heaven; and sufficient proofs and signs may attest the fact. Even in that case, unless the miracle is to be perpetual, the book once launched has the usual hazards of time and chance to run in the world; in the process of endless copying and printing, it is liable to the usual literary accidents; and in the course of centuries, sundry points of criticism emerge regarding it. But instead of thus issuing the volume at once and entire from above, its divine Author chooses to compile it more gradually on the earth, and he chooses also to avail himself of the command which he has of the mind and tongue and pen of every man that lives. He selects, accordingly, chosen men from age to age.
These not turn into machines, they continue to be men. They speak and write according to their individual tastes an temperaments, in all the various departments of literary composition: the prince, the peasant, the publican, the learned scribe, the unlettered child of toil, one skilled in all the wisdom of Egypt, another bred among the herdsmen of Tekoa, men, too, of all variety of natural endowments, the rapt poet, the ripe scholar, the keen reasoner, the rude annalist and bare chronicler of event the dry and tedious compiler, if you will, all are enlisted in the service, and the Divine Spirit undertakes so to penetrate their minds and hearts, and so to guide them in every utterance and recording of their sentiments, as to what they say and write, when under his inspiration, the word of God in a sense not less exact than if, his own finger, he had graven it on the sides of the everlasting hills.
Many questions, doubtless, will arise to exercise the skill and tact of readers, and put their intelligence and faith to the test; for it is to intelligence and good faith this volume of miscellanies is committed. In the case of any author writing freely and naturally, it often becomes a nice point of criticism to determine how and in what way he is to be held as giving any of his own; as, for example, when he narrates the speeches and actions of others, or when in an abrupt play of argumentative wit he mixes up the adversary's pleas with his own, or when he uses parables and figures, he adapts himself to the state of information and measure of aptitude to learn among those for whom he writes, or when he writes in different characters and for different ends. On the principle of plenary inspiration, it is, of course, assumed that the same sagacity and good sense will be applied to those various works of which God is thus the author, that we do not grudge in the case of a voluminous and versatile human authorship; and it is confessed that the whole inquiry regarding the books to be included in the collected edition of these works, the purity and accuracy of the text, and the rules of sound literal interpretation, falls within the province of the uninspired understanding of mankind, and must be disposed of according to the light which the testimony of the Church, the literary history of the canon, and other sources of information may afford.
But what then? Does this detract from the value of our having an infallible communication from the divine mind, somewhat fragmentary, if you will, and manifold, having been made "at sundry times and in divers manners," but still conveying to us, on divine authority, and with a divine guarantee for its perfect accuracy, the knowledge of the character and ways of God, the history of redemption, the plan of salvation, the message of grace, and the hope of glory? Or does it hinder the assurance which, under the teaching of the Holy Ghost, a plain man may have, as the Scriptures enter into his mind, carrying their own light and evidence along with them, that he has God speaking to him as unequivocally as one friend speaks to another, but with an authority all his own?
I have dwelt so long upon my first topic which is the preliminary work of clearing the way that I must hasten rapidly over the remainder of the ground. In particular I must dismiss, almost without remark, the second and third branches of the subject, the method of proof, and the sources of difficulty. This I do the more willingly, because they are found sufficiently discussed in many excellent and easily accessible treatise, and because the principles upon which they are discussed in these treatises are really not substantially affected by those transcendental speculations, which threaten to involve the whole question of a divine test or standard of truth in hopeless and inextricable confusion.
II. In regard to the method of proof I may briefly indicate the line of evidence that seems most simple and satisfactory, only premising again that we must assume, at this stage, an acquiescence in the truth of Christianity, as in the genuineness of its books as historical and literary documents.
1. First, then, I start with the undoubted fact, that Jesus and his apostles recognised the Old Testament as of divine authority, and divinely inspired. This is clear from the use which they made of them in their discourses and writings.
It must be remembered that, in our Lord's day, the books of the Jews existed, not as miscellaneous works of different authors, having different claims upon mens' attention and belief, but as one volume, of which throughout God was held to be the author. The contents of the volume were well defined. It had its well-known division in three parts. But it was always freely quoted and referred to as one complete whole; and the words contained in it anywhere, in any of its parts, were always cited as divine. I do not here inquire into the formation of the Jewish canon. That is a matter of history involved in much obscurity. When, how, and by whom, the writings of Moses and the Prophets were collected, revised and published as one book by what authority and under what guidance we may be unable to ascertain. But that does not affect the notorious fact that the book did exist, as one book, in our Lord's day; and that it was so well known as having the character of a peculiara sacred book, that any allusion made to it by him and his apostles could admit of no misapprehension.
Now, whenever either he, or they, do allude to that book, or any portion of it, it is in language implying in the strongest manner its divine authority and inspiration Such phrases as, "It is written" "Well spake the Holy Ghost by the mouth of" such a one "The Scripture saith". "David in the Spirit calleth him Lord "these and similar forms of expression will readily occur; together with such exhortations and testimonies, as "Search the Scriptures" "Then began he to open up to them the Scriptures, and to show that Christ must needs have suffered, and have risen from the dead" "These were more noble than the men of Thessalonica, in that they searched the Scriptures daily whether these things were so." The uniform manner of speaking of the Old Testament which we trace in the sayings and writings of Christ and his apostles in the New is such as to be wholly incompatible with any other idea than that of it's full and verbal inspiration: and cannot but convey to a simple reader the impression that they regarded every word of that Testament as divine.
2. There are manifest traces, in the teaching of Christ and his apostles, of the design to have a volume, and of the actual forming of a volume, under the New Dispensation, corresponding in respect of authority and inspiration to that existing under the Old, and equally entitled to the name of the Scriptures, or the word of God. Not to speak of the presumption that this really would be the case since surely God could be expected to provide less security for the gospel infallibly transmitted among the families of men, than for the law being so transmitted and not to dwell the plain intimations which Christ gave of his design to have his own words perpetuated upon earth, and to endow his apostles with the gift of the Holy Spirit, for utterance, as well as for the understanding, of all truthit is impossible to read the epistles generally, without perceiving that we have in them the gradual compiling of books that are to lay just claim to a place in the New Testament volume. And in particular, it is impossible to evade the force of the Apostle Peter's testimony, classing the writings of his brother Apostle Paul. among the well-known Scriptures as to whose divine character there could be no doubt.
Here, again, we may be at a loss to explain, historically, the settlement of the Christian canon. This much, however, seems plain enough. The early Christians had every reason to believe and be sure that inspired narratives of gospel history, and treatises on gospel truth, would be forthcoming. And when called to discriminate between these and other publications, they were in the best possible circumstances for knowing and judging what were divine and what were not. That they were, in point of fact, guided to a wonderfully correct discrimination, must be evident to every one who considers the cautious pains which they took, and the scrupulous jealousy which they exercised, in admitting books into the canon; especially when in connection with that, he compares the books actually admitted, with those of the like kind discarded or rejected. The contrast is so striking between the most doubtful of the canonical books and the very best of the apocryphal, or the patristic, in point of doctrine, sentiment, taste, sense, and judgment that scarcely any one can hesitate to admit that the early Christians came to a sound conclusion when they recognised the present set of works as composing the New Testament Scriptures which they had already been led beforehand to expect, and which they had been taught to place upon the same level, in point of inspiration and authority, with the Old Testament Scriptures themselves, as the Jews had been wont to accept them.
3. And now, at this stage, we are fully warranted in applying to the books, both of the Old and New Testaments, viewed as a whole, whatever testimonies we find anywhere in the Bible to the plenary character of the inspiration of Scripture. Among others, including the familiar formulae of quotation already noticed two in particular stand out; the first, that of the Apostle Paul (2 Tim. iii. 16) "All scripture is given by inspiration of God;" and the second, that of the Apostle Peter (2 Pet. i. 20, 21) "No prophecy of the scripture is private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."
In the first of these passages, inspiration is plainly ascribed to Scripture or to the written word; not to conception of divine things in the mind, but to the writing down of divine things with the pen. In so far inspiration can be predicated of any scripture or writing at all, it must, according to this testimony, be inspiration reaching to the very words or language, as written down.
The other passage, again, giving the reason why no prophecy, or no revelation, of Scripture is of any private interpretation, uses phraseology singularly explicit and strong: "Holy men of God spake as they were moved the Holy Ghost." And the argument implied is a striking confirmation of this view. It is briefly this. No human author should have his meaning judged of by single, isolated observation or expression, in some portion of his works. You are not at liberty to fasten upon a single sentence, as if it must needs be exclusively its own interpreter, and as if out of it alone you were to gather the author's mind on any point at issue. He is entitled to the benefit of being allowed to explain himself; and you are bound to ascertain his views, not by forcing one solitary passage to interpret itself, but by comparing it with other passages, and from a fair survey of the scope and tenor of his whole writings, collecting what he really means to teach. The Author of the Bible, argues the apostle, has a right to the same mode of treatment. If, indeed, each holy man of God had spoken simply by his own "will," then the Bible would have many authors, and each author must speak for himself; his teaching, apart from that of others, must be self interpreting. But if holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, then the Bible has really but one author the Holy Ghost. And in dealing with it, you are to deal with it as one whole, the product of one mind the collection of the miscellaneous works of one divine Author.
4. Finally, to a mind rightly exercised upon them, and above all, to a heart influenced by the same Holy Spirit who breathes in them, the Scriptures evidence themselves to be of divine authority and divine inspiration. This is a great and glorious theme, upon which, however, it is impossible, in the present lecture, to expatiate or enlarge. One remark only I would make, in reference to a somewhat unfair objection that has been raised against this branch of the proof of inspiration. It is admitted that some books and passages of the Bible do commend themselves to the honest mind and pious head as divine. But what impress of divinity does any one feel or own in the genealogies of Matthew and Luke, or in the dry catalogue of names in the tenth chapter of Nehemiah? The question is almost too absurd to deserve a reply; and yet very spiritual and transcendental philosophers have condescended to put it. If it is anything more, in any instance, than a mere trick of argument, a poor and paltry hit, if any one is seriously embarrassed by it, a plain natural analogy may furnish a satisfactory reply.
My child feels the letter which I write to him to be from me. He lovingly recognises my spirit breathing in and prompting all the words of simple fatherly fondness that I address to him. "It is my father's letter, all through," he cries; "I trace my father's warm and loving heart in every syllable of it." My own actual hand-writing may not be on the page: sickness, or some casualty, may have made an amanuensis necessary. But my boy knows my letter nevertheless knows it as all my own knows it by the instinct, the intuition of affection, and needs no other proof. And what would he say to any cold, cynical, hypercritical schoolmates, who might ask, But what of your father do you discern in that barren itinery with which the letter begins the dry list of places he tells you he has gone through; or in that matter-of-course message about a cloak and some books with which it ends?
How would he resent the foolish impertinence! How would he grasp the precious document all the more tightly, and clasp it all the closer to his bosom! "You may be too knowing to sympathise with me"he will reply;" but there is enough in every line here to make me know my father's voice; and if he has been at the pains to write down for my satisfaction the names of towns and cities and men if he does give me simple notices about common things, I see nothing in that. I love him all the better for his kindness and condecension; and whatever you may insinuate, I will believe that this is all throughout his very letter, and that he has a gracious meaning in all that he writes to me in it, however frivolous it may seem to you."
III. The sources of difficulty, in connection with this subject, are many; nor is it wonderful that it should be so, and that the lapse of time, and the loss of nearly all contemporary information, should render the solution of some perplexing questions impossible. There is much that is incomprehensible in the doctrine, or fact, of inspiration itself, and not a few things in the inspired Scriptures confessedly hard to be understood. Objectors are fond of multiplying and magnifying these difficulties, drawing them out in long and formidable array, and giving them all the pomp and circumstance of successive numerical enumeration. In point of fact there are two classes to which they may all be reduced.
1. There are critical difficulties connected with the canon, the original text, the translations, and the interpretation of the Scriptures. Several elements of uncertainty are thus introduced which, it is alleged, go far to neutralise the benefit of an infallible, plenary inspiration.
Now it is admitted, of course, first that the question of the canon, what books are to be received as of divine authority, or what books do the Scriptures contain, is mainly a question of human learning secondly that the original text of the sacred books has suffered from successive copyings, that it must be adjusted by a comparison of manuscripts, and that the best adjustment can furnish only an approximation to absolute accuracy thirdly, that all translations, ancient and modern, are imperfect and, fourthly, that the ordinary rules of criticism must be applied to the interpretation of the Bible, and that in applying them there may be doubt, hesitancy, and error. It is confessed that these circumstances do imply that a certain measure of uncertainty to the Scriptures as we now have them; though less than in the case of any other ancient book, as facts prove, and as there are obvious reasons to explain. at what of that? Because we, at this distance of time and place, can have but a transcript, somewhat marred and obscured by the wear and tear of ages, of the inspired volume as it originally, in its several parts, came directly from God, does it therefore follow that there was no inspiration of the original books at all? Or that we would have been as well off if there had been none?
The strangest perversion of mind appears among our opponents upon this point. One learned Theban, for instance, a profound Anglican divine, objects to our view of inspiration, on the ground that it precludes the application of criticism to the settlement of the text, or the interpretation of the meaning of the Bible. I would have imagined it to have an exactly opposite tendency. If the Scriptures have God as their author, it surely concerns us all the more on that account, to have them subjected to the most searching critical scrutiny. What pains do critics take with the remains of a favourite classic! With what zeal will a Bentley apply himself to the works of Horace; first, to see to it that no spurious production is allowed to pass under that honoured name; secondly, to make the text, by a comparison of manuscripts, and the exercise of a sound, critical acumen, as nearly as possible, immaculately accurate; thirdly, to guard against mistakes in translation; and, fourthly, to lay down the rules, and catch the spirit, that may enable him most thoroughly to enter into and draw out his loved author's meaning! In all these particulars the pains spent upon the works of Horace may with tenfold more reason be spent upon the word of God.
And the more thoroughly and completely the Scriptures are held to be the very word of God, so much the more need will there be for the vocation of the sound biblical critic. Our worthy scholar and theologian, therefore, may calm his alarmed soul, and rest assured that the theory of a plenary inspiration will give him no cause to cry "Othello's occupation s gone!"
2. The other class of difficulties are of a historical, physical, and moral, rather than of a critical, kind; consisting of alleged inconsistencies and contradictions, whether between different passages of the Bible themselves, or between the Bible and the facts of history, or the laws of nature. These would require to be dealt with in detail; and this cannot be attempted at the end of so long a lecture. But one general observation may be suggested. No intelligent defender of plenary inspiration need be ashamed to own that, in many instances, he cannot reconcile apparent disagreements. For, after all, the Scriptures are fragmentary writings: and we would require to have far fuller information on all the matters which they treat, to enable us to say which of several explanations may be the right one, or, whether there may not be an explanation in reserve, such as our knowledge fails to suggest to us.
IV. But I must now close with a brief reference to my fourth and last topic. I would vindicate, in a few words, this sacred doctrine of the authority and inspiration of Bible, against the charge of Bibliolatry, rashly vented, in evil hour, by a man too great for the use of such a name; and eagerly bandied about by a whole tribe of followers, to the exposure of their own conceit, as as to the scandal of pious minds.
"Bibliolatry!" "Mechanical Inspiration!" "As of a drawer receiving what is put in it!" "Cabalistic Ventriloquism!" So the pleasant sarcasm takes! And ingenuity of sucessive lovers of freedom is taxed, as on improving on one another! One of the most recent improvements, perhaps, is due to Professor Sherer, formerly of Geneva to whom belongs the credit of that happy hit, "Cabalistic Ventriloquism!"
What profanity, one is inclined to exclaim! And yet, need we wonder? It is not meant for profanity by the writers. Nay, they think they are doing God service. my do well to get a convenient by-word, or term of reproach that may make short work with Christ' as certain men of old contrived by such a by-word, blasphemy and treason, to make short work with Christ's person.
But we wrong them. They are the champions of liberty. They are to emancipate the soul from the Protestant yoke of subjection to the Bible, as well as from the popish yoke of submission to the church. Authority, especially authority claiming to be infallible, must be set aside; and man must be absolutely free! The Papist has his church. The Protestant has his Bible. Both are almost equally bad. For me, I have as the object of my faith, the person of Jesus Christ! And ask me not to define who, or what, Jesus Christ is. Far less ask me to define what his work was upon the earth. All the ills of Christianity come from definition. Let me have the person of Jesus Christ, as my intuitional consciousness, quickened by a divine inspiration of it, apprehends him; let me lose myself in him: let me plunge into the infinite divine love of which he is the impersonation.
But I cannot pretend to make intelligible the rhapsodies of this new anti-biblical mysticism. Nor need I dwell on the approaches to it that are but too discernible in the whole school that would substitute what is called "the Christian consciousness" for the direct authority of Scripture. Let it suffice to contrast man's position before God, upon the true Protestant footing of his owning the Scriptures as authoritative and inspired, with either of the other two positions which he may be regarded as occupying; when, on the one hand, he rejects, more or less, their inspired authority, or when he substitutes for them, on the other hand, the authority of church or Pope.
1. Some would have it that Christianity is purely a subjective influence on the minds of men that the gospel operates by assimilating the soul to itself that Christ it not a revealer, but a revelation and that as the central revelation of God, he becomes the occasion, or the means, through the working of the Spirit, of our intuitively apprehending God, and being renewed into his likeness. According to this view, God brings to bear upon you a series and succession of influences, partly external and partly internal, fitted to emancipate you from corruption, and elevate you to a participation in the divine nature. It is a subjective process, a working in and upon you, at so that, like the plastic clay, you take the impress and character into which you are moulded; and the Scriptures, in exhibition of God in Christ, have an important part in the process.
But in all this, there is nothing like God addressing himself directly to you, and dealing with, as it were, face to face. There is no real, objective transaction or negotiation of peace between you and him. This, however, is the very peculiarity of the gospel, as conceive of it; that God not merely influences man, but speaks to man. He treats man, not as a creature merely, but as a subject; not merely as a creature needing to be renovated, but as a subject to be called to account.
The two systems are directly conflicting here. And which,think you, best consults in the long-run for the true dignity and liberty of man?
Tell me that I am brought within the range of influences and impulses, inward revelations and spiritual operations of various kinds, to be grasped by my intuisional consciousness, and to be available, through the exercise of my soul upon them, and their hold over me,for my regeneration. In one view, my pride may be gratified. These divine communications are all subject to me: I am their master: I receive them only in so far as they commend themselves to my acceptance: and I use and wield them for my own good. But after all, in the whole of this process, am I not passive, rather than active? It is God acting upon me; according to my intelligent and self-conscious nature, no doubt; but still very much as if he were acting upon some sort of substance that is to be sublimated into an ethereal essence, and is to lose itself ultimately in the surrounding air.
But tell me that God has something objectively to say to me, that he summons me as a responsible, and in a sense, an independent being before him, that he treats with me upon terms that recognise my standing at his bar, that he calls me to account, that he reckons with me for my sin, that he directs me to a surety, that he makes proposals of mercy, that he puts it into my heart to comply with these proposals, that I, personally, and face to face, come to an understanding with him personally, and that he, judicially acquitting me, receives me as a loyal subject, a son, an heir, and works in me to will and to do, while I work out my own salvation with fear and trembling. Tell me all this, and tell me further, that the charter of this real and actual negotiation of peace is in his word, as the Scriptures infallibly record it And then judge ye, if I am not really made to occupy a far loftier, nobler, freer position in the presence of my God, than the highest possible refinement of subjective illumination and transformation could ever of itself reach?
It is true in this instance, as it is true universally, that "whosoever humbleth himself shall be exalted." Refusing to submit yourself to the divine word, you may affect a superiority over the slaves of mere authority: and you may work yourself into a state of ideal absorption into Christ, little different in reality from the pantheistic dream of a rapturous absorption into the great mundane intelligence. But yield an implicit deference to the word. Let it absolutely and unreservedly rule you, as a real communication of his mind, by God, to you. Then you have realities to deal with. You have real sin, and a real sentence of death; a real atonement, a real justification, a real adoption; a real portion in the favour of God now, a real work of progressive sanctification, and real inheritance in heaven at last.
2. Nor let us be greatly moved, even if it shall be alleged against us that our reverence for the Bible is to on the same level with the Romanist's blind obediance to the Church, and the Church's head upon earth. In point of fact, no tendency towards the recognition of an infallible human authority can be more direct and strong than that which the denial of an infallible objective standard of divine truth implies. Set asidethe Scriptures as not furnishing such a standard. You are thrown back on either the individual intuition of each Christian consciousness of each believer, or on the general community of believers. But neither of these refuges will long satisfy or soothe the earnest soul. Soon there will come to be felt a sad want of some surer prop. And whether as relieving the individual from his undefined responsibility, or as giving shape and power to the indefinite notion of a general Christian consciousness, an ecclesiastical voice will be allowed to speak as the interpreter of the dumb mind of Christendom; and the weary spirit will sink to rest, and find its home, in the maternal embrace of Rome.
But apart from this consideration, an emphatic protest must be uttered against the attempt to represent Scriptures in Protestantism, as occupying a parallel position to that of the Church in Mediaevalism; or to that of Pope in Romanism.
The real truth is, that the Pope, and the same may said of the Church, does not take the place of the Bible He usurps the throne of Him whom the Bible elevate as the only High Priest and King in Zion; Christ Jesus the Lord. He assumes the office of Him who interprets authoritatively the Scriptures which he inspired; the Holy Ghost, the Great Teacher of Church. And the glory of Protestantism is not that it puts the Bible instead of the Pope, but that it puts Christ instead of the Pope, as the great object of the Bible's testimony, and the Spirit instead of the Pope as the Bible's only interpreter. The Bible the Bible alone is the religion of Protestants; the Bible, not sealed the papal key, and doled out by the papal ministers; but the Bible left freely in the hands of its Divine Author the Holy Ghost, to be by Him freely opened up to every devout and serious child of man, that he may know who is the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent; whom to know is life eternal.