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THE PLENARY INSPIRATION OF EVERY PART OF THE BIBLE, VINDICATED AND EXPLAINED.—NATURE OF INSPIRATION.—THE TEXT OF SCRIPTURE.
Thy Word is Truth.
I THANKFULLY avail myself of the opportunity which, unexpected and unsolicited, so soon presents itself, to proceed with the subject which was engaging our attention when I last occupied this place.
Let me remind you of the nature of the present inquiry, and of the progress which we have already made.
Taking Holy Scripture for our subject, and urging, as best we knew how, its paramount claims on the daily attention of the younger men,—who at present are our hope and ornament; to be hereafter, as we confidently believe, our very crown and joy;—even while we held in our hands that volume which our Fathers were content to call the volume of Inspiration, we were constrained to recollect that its claim to be inspired has of late years been repeatedly called in question. It has even become the fashion to cavil at almost everything which the Bible contains. We are 92grown so exceedingly wise, have made so many strange discoveries, and have become so clear-sighted, that the more advanced among us are kindly bent on disabusing the minds of their less gifted brethren of that most venerable delusion of all,—(for it is coeval with Christianity,)—that the Bible is in any special sense the Word of God. I do not say that Theologians talk thus. But pretenders to Natural Science, knowing nothing whatever of Divinity, and therefore intruding into a realm of which they do not understand so much as the language;—together with, (sad to relate!) men bearing a commission in the Church of Christ, (and who ought therefore to be building up, where they are seeking to destroy,)—are employing the powers which God has given them, in this direction. It becomes indispensable, in consequence, that we should say somewhat on behalf of those Oracles which have been so vigorously impugned; and it should not seem strange if we oppose to such destructive dogmatism, the most uncompromising severity of counter statement.
The objections which have been raised against the Bible, although they have been industriously gleaned from various quarters, will all be most effectually met, I am persuaded, by getting men to acquaint themselves with the contents of the deposit itself. And yet, inasmuch as it is the nature of doubts, when once injected into the mind, to fester and to spread; inasmuch also as the bold confidence of plausible assertion, especially when recommended by men of reputation, and set off with some ability and skill, is apt to impose on youth and inexperience;—we seem reduced to a kind of necessity, to examine; and, as far as the limits of a sermon will allow, to refute; the 93charges which have been so industriously brought forward against the Bible.
The favourite objections of the day come partly from without,—partly from within. The classification is not exact, but it may serve to assist the memory. One class of objections is, in a manner, destructive,—for it results in entire disbelief of the Bible:—the other class, suggesting imperfections, results in a low and disparaging estimate of its contents. When exception is taken against certain portions of Holy Scripture, on the ground of discoveries in Physical Science,—of the dictates of the Moral Sense,—of the supremacy of mechanical Laws,—and the like,—we consider that the supposed difficulties come from without. As much as we care to say on this class of objections has either been already offered, or must be reserved for a subsequent occasion390390 See Sermon VII..—When doubts are insinuated, arising out of the subject-matter of the Bible, we consider the difficulties to proceed from within. The apparent contradictions of the Evangelists, are of this nature. Supposed errors or misstatements, come under the same head. Very imperfectly, yet sufficiently for our immediate purpose, we have touched upon both subjects. Those portions of the Old Testament which savour in the highest degree of the marvellous, must be reserved for separate consideration391391 Ibid.. To-day I propose to speak of another kind of objection but which arises, like the others, out of the subject-matter of the Bible. Moreover, it is the kind of difficulty which most readily presents itself to any who listened with unwilling ears to my last discourse. Some here present may remember my repeated and unequivocal assertion that Holy Scripture is inspired from the Alpha 94to the Omega of it;—not some parts more, some parts less, but all equally, and all to overflowing ,—that we hold it to be, not generally inspired, but particularly; that we see not how with logical consistency we can avoid believing the words as well as the sentences of it; the syllables as well as the words; the letters as well as the syllables; every “jot” and every “tittle” of it, (to use our Lord’s expression,) to be divinely inspired:—and further, that until the contrary has been proved, we shall maintain that no misapprehension or misstatement, no error or blot of any kind, can possibly exist within its pages:—that we hold the Bible to be as much the Word of God, as if God spoke to us therein with human lips;—and that, as the very utterance of the Holy Ghost, we cannot but think that it must be absolute, faultless, unerring, supreme.
I. To this, it has been objected as follows:—
You cannot possibly mean what you say. You will not pretend to assert that the list of the Dukes of Edom392392 Gen. xxxvi., is as much inspired,—inspired in the same sense,—as the Gospel of St. John.—To which I make answer, that I believe one to be just as much inspired as the other: and before I leave off, I will endeavour to bring my hearers to the same opinion. In the meantime, it is only fair to the objector, to hear him out: to follow his guidance; and to see whither he would lead us. It will be quite competent for us then to retrace our steps; to point out “a more excellent way;” and to entreat him, with all a brother’s earnestness, to reconsider the matter, and to follow us.
The objection may, I believe, be fairly stated as follows.—It is unreasonable to consider any part of 95Holy Scripture inspired which the author was competent to write without the aid of Inspiration. Just as you would not multiply miracles needlessly, and ascribe to special Divine interference results which might be otherwise accounted for, so neither ought you to call in the aid of Inspiration where it may clearly be dispensed with. A genealogy,—a catalogue of names, whether of places or persons,—whatever may reasonably be suspected to have been an extract from public Archives;—nothing of this sort need you, nor indeed, properly speaking, can you, call “inspired.” More than that. All mere narratives of ordinary transactions,—or indeed of transactions extraordinary ,—whatever, in short, a writer, having first beheld it with his eyes, appears to have simply described with his pen, it is unreasonable to regard as the work of Inspiration. For it is plain to common sense,—(so at least I have heard it said,) that there is much, both in the Old and in the New Testament, the delivery of which required no other than the ordinary gifts of men:—actual observation, good memory, high intellect, clearness of statement, honesty of purpose. Look at the preface to St. Luke’s Gospel. It seems only to convey that the author of it believed himself to be bringing out a superior edition of a narrative which had already been attempted by many. I would apply, (it is said,) to the whole of the Old Testament the same observations which I apply to the New. There are parts which evidently required nothing but opportunity of experience, or research, and the ordinary qualities of a trustworthy historian.—This then is the way the case is put. There is no intentional irreverence on the part of the objector: no conscious hostility to God’s Truth. Very much the reverse. 96But having once assumed that the catalogue of the Dukes of Edom is not to be regarded as an inspired document, he has logical consistency enough to perceive that he cannot exactly stop there. And so, he carries his speculations a little further. He tries to take (what he calls) a “common sense” view of the question. He says that he thinks it a dangerous proceeding on the part of the preacher to insist on the infallibility of Apostles and Evangelists. Meanwhile, I suspect that he is not by any means without a suspicion that he is on a platform beset with far greater dangers, himself. He has walked a little this way, and that way; and his “common sense” has shewn him that there is an ugly precipice on every side. Nay; he perceives that the ground trembles, and cracks, and shakes,—and even yawns beneath his feet.
For I request you to observe, that there is absolutely no middle state between Inspiration and non-inspiration. If a writing be inspired, it is Divine: if it be not inspired, it is human. It is absurd to shirk the alternative. Some parts of the Bible, it is allowed, are inspired; other parts, it is contended, are not. Let it be conceded then, for the moment, that the catalogue of the Dukes of Edom is not an inspired writing; and let it be ejected from the Bible accordingly. We must by strict parity of reasoning, eject the xth chapter of Genesis, which enumerates the descendants of Japheth, of Ham, and of Shem, with the countries which they severally occupied,—that truly venerable record and outline of the primæval settlement of the nations! The ten Patriarchs before, and the ten after Noah: the many enumerations contained in the Book of Numbers: much of the two Books of Chronicles: 97together with the Genealogies of our Saviour as given by St. Matthew and St. Luke.
It is clear that the history of the Flood,—very much of it at least,—is of the same nature: a kind of calendar as it were, and record of dates.
But we may go on faster, and use the knife far more freely. Every thing in the Pentateuch of which Moses had been an eye or ear-witness, and which he set down from his own personal knowledge, may be eliminated from the Bible, as not inspired. According to the principle already enunciated by yourself, I call upon you to excise from the Book of God’s Law, Exodus, and Leviticus, and Numbers, and Deuteronomy: those passages only excepted which are prophetical,—as the xxxiiird of Deuteronomy. Joshua must go of course: for if the son of Nun did not write the Book which goes under his name,—(as the wise men in Germany say, or used to say, he did not393393 See the Hulsean Lectures for 1833, (The Law of Moses viewed in connexion with the history and character of the Jews, with a defence of the Book of Joshua, &c.) by Henry John Rose, B.D.,)—of course the narrative is not authentic; and if he did, you say that it ought not to be regarded as inspired. Judges and Ruth cannot hope to stand; for they are mere stories,—narratives of events which any contemporary author who enjoyed “actual observation, good memory, high intellect, clearness of statement, and honesty of purpose,” was abundantly qualified—(according to your view of the matter)—to commit to writing. The Books of Samuel and of Kings cannot be claimed as the work of Inspiration, of course. Chronicles we have got rid of already. No imaginable plea can be invented for the Books of Ezra, of Nehemiah, and of Esther; those writings 98having evidently required nothing (to use your own phrase) but “opportunity of experience or research, and the ordinary qualities of a trustworthy historian.” The prophetical books you spare; natural piety suggesting that since “Prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost394394 2 St. Peter i. 21.;”—the writings of Isaiah and the rest, must be retained as inspired. We expunge those portions only which are simply historical and moral; since to these, by the hypothesis, the spirit of Inspiration cannot be thought to have extended.
We come .now to the New Testament; and two of the Gospels are found to be mutilated already, by the elimination of one chapter of St. Matthew and one of St. Luke. But on the principle that personal observation, a good memory, honesty of purpose, and so forth, are the only requirements necessary, we may proceed to carry forward the work of excision with spirit, so that we be but careful to use discernment. For example, we may begin with the Call of St. Matthew, and the Feast which he made to our Lord in his own house. Who so competent to relate this, as the Evangelist himself? Whenever, in short, the Twelve were present, St. Matthew, (as one of the Twelve,) may be assumed to have written from personal observation; and that portion of his narrative is to be rejected accordingly as uninspired.
It is painful to anticipate what will be the fate of St. John’s Gospel, on this principle,—together with most of the Divine Discourses therein recorded. Not, to be sure, that we shall lose the conversation with Nicodemus, nor that with the woman of Samaria; 99because St. John was not present when either of those conversations took place: but all, from the xivth to the xviith chapter inclusive; as well as the discourse in the vith chapter, must of course be dismissed. The matter of these discourses, it will be urged,—(with more of logical consistency, alas than of essential truth,)—might have been faithfully handed down by St. John without any extraordinary gift. He was bound to our Lord by more than ordinary affection. He was ever nearest to him. Is it not conceivable, (we are asked,) that these two causes, aided by a retentive memory, would at least enable him to give us the record which he has given?
Quite superfluous must it be to state that the Acts of the Apostles, under the expurgatory process which now engages our attention, will cease to be regarded as an inspired Book; and therefore must be at once disconnected from the confessedly inspired portions of Holy Scripture.—St. Paul’s Epistles, you say, on the contrary, are probably inspired, and therefore are probably to be spared. . . . . And I really think we need go no further. If your own handling of Holy Scripture,—your own method, by yourself applied,—be not a reductio ad absurdum, I know of nothing in the world which is. . . . Look only at that handful of mutilated pages in the hands of one who is supposed to be the impersonation of “common sense;” turn the tattered and mangled leaves over and over, which you are pleased to call the Volume of Inspiration; and get all the comfort and help out of it you can. But be not surprised to hear that you are exposing yourself to the ridicule of the sane part of Mankind,—even while haply you are acting a part which makes the Angels weep. . . . . How much of 100the Bible will remain, when Science, (Physical, Moral, Historical,) has further done her work, I forbear now to inquire: but I shrewdly suspect that she will leave you very little beyond the back and the covers.
Let us not be told, (as we doubtless shall,) that the human parts of Scripture need not be ejected from the Canon because they are human: that they may be allowed to stand with the rest, although uninspired; and the like. About this, we at least are competent judges. We are now bent on discovering how much of Holy Scripture is the Word of God; and we refuse, for the moment, to regard as such, and to retain, a single passage which, being (as you say) uninspired, is simply the word of Man.
II. Let me now be permitted to lay before you a somewhat different view of the office of Inspiration. Since the illumination of Science, falsely so called, and the process of Common Sense, would seem to have resulted in the extinction of the deposit, I ask your patience while I try to skew, that common sense, informed by a somewhat loftier Theological Instinct, may give such an account of the matter as will enable us to preserve every word of the deposit entire.
You call my attention to the catalogue of the Dukes of Edom, and tell me that it required no supernatural aid to enable Moses to write it. How, may I ask, do you ascertain that fact? No specimens of the documentary evidence of the land of Seir in the days of Moses, are known now to exist on the earth’s surface. You therefore know absolutely nothing whatever about the matter of which you speak so confidently.
But, that we may grapple with the question fairly, let us come down from an age concerning which neither 101of us knows anything beyond what the Bible teaches, to a period with which all are familiar, and to documents of which we know at least a little. It will suit your purpose far better that you should instance the two Genealogies of our Lord,—of which you also say that it is impossible to maintain that they exhibit the work of Inspiration in the same sense as when some lofty statement of Christian doctrine comes before us. Indeed, you deny that they are inspired at all. I, on my side, am willing to admit that it is quite possible,—even probable,—that the first and the third Evangelist had access to extant documents of which they respectively availed themselves, when they recorded our Lord’s descent.
But, do you not perceive that the great underlying fallacy in all you have been saying, is your own wholly gratuitous assumption that you are a competent judge of what did,—what did not,—require supernatural aid to deliver? that whatever seems as if it might have been written without Inspiration, was therefore written without it?—I see so many practical inconveniences, or rather I see such glaring absurdity, resulting from the supposition that Inspiration goes and comes before an authentic document, that I am constrained to think that you are altogether mistaken in the office which you assign to Inspiration,—in the kind of notion which you seem to entertain concerning its nature.
An Evangelist, if you please, is inspired. It becomes necessary to introduce a genealogy. Following the Divine guidance, (the nature of which, neither you nor I know anything at all about,) he applies in a certain quarter, and obtains access to a certain document. Or he repairs to a well-known repository 102of public archives, and out of the whole collection he is guided to make choice of one particular writing. He proceeds to transcribe it,—omitting names (dropping three generations for instance,)—or inserting names (the second Cainan for example,)—or, if you please, neither omitting nor inserting anything. The document, (suppose,) requires no correction whatever.—Well but, this man was inspired a moment ago, in what he was writing; and no reason has been shewn why he should not be inspired still. He has adopted a document, by incorporating it into his narrative. By transcribing it, he has made it his own. I am at a loss to see that its claim to be an inspired writing, from that moment forward, is in any respect inferior to the rest of the narrative in which it stands.
You are requested to remember that when we call the Bible an inspired book, we mean nothing more than that the words of it are the very utterance of the Holy Ghost,—that the Book is as much the Word of God as if high Heaven were open, and we heard God speaking to us with human voice. All I am contending for now, is, that this is at least as true of one part of the Gospel as of another: that if it be true of anything in the Gospel, it is at least as true of the Genealogy of Christ. The subject-matter indeed is different; but it is a mere confusion of thought to infer therefrom a different degree of Inspiration. Let me try and make this plainer by a few familiar illustrations.
1. When the Sovereign reads a speech from the Throne, does she speak the words of it in any different sense from the words of a speech which she has herself composed?—Nay, are words of investiture, mere 103words of form and state, in any less degree spoken, than words of confidence, and private friendship?
2. Again. The substance of paper and the substance of gold, are widely different. And yet, when paper has been subjected to a certain process, and stamped with a certain impress, there is practically no difference whatever between the value of what was, a moment ago, absolutely worthless, and an ingot of the purest gold.
3. Consider how the case stands with a merely human author. An historian has occasion to introduce into his narrative the descent of a House, or the preamble of an Act, or any other lifeless thing. Does his responsibility cease when he comes to it, and recommence immediately afterwards? Is he not responsible just to the same extent for that, as for every other part of his story?
That he did not compose it himself, is certain: but neither did he compose the sayings which he has recorded of great men.—True also is it that the edification to be derived from the pedigree is not so great,—certainly, not so obvious,—as from certain of the events which he describes. But it is nevertheless henceforth an integral part of his history. He sought for it,—and he found it: he weighed it,—and he approved of it: he transcribed it,—and he interwove it into his narrative. In a word, he adopted and by adopting, he made it his own. Henceforth, it will be quoted as authentic, because it is found to have satisfied him.
The utmost praise which can be accorded to any creature is, that it thoroughly fulfils the office whereunto God sends it. A genealogy is not intended to make men wise unto Salvation: the threats and promises 104of God’s Law are not intended to acquaint men with the descent of David’s Son. But because their offices are different, it does not follow that their origin shall not be the same! Is a shoe-latchet in any sense less an article manufactured by Man, than a watch? Is the Archangel Michael, burning with glory, and intent on some celestial enterprise, with twelve legions of glittering seraphs in his train;—is such a host as that, one atom more a creation of the Almighty than the handful of yellow leaves which flutter unheeded on the blast?
None of these figures present a strict parallel; and yet, successively, they seem to set forth different aspects of the same case, with sufficient vividness and truth. . . . So bent am I on conveying to your minds the strong sense of certainty, the clear definite view, which I cherish for myself on this subject, that I take leave to add yet another illustration.
4. If I commission a Servant to deliver a message,—is not the
message which he delivers mine? If I give him words to deliver,—are not
the words which he delivers mine? So obvious a proposition is no
matter of opinion. You cannot deny it. Nor,—(to apply the illustration to
the matter in hand,)—nor do you deny it, probably, so far as Prophecy,
(in the popular sense of the term,) is concerned: but you begin to doubt, it
seems, when any other function of the prophetic office is in question. “Any
other function,” I say; for, (as all men ought to be aware,) a prophet,—(navē in
Hebrew, προφήτης in Greek,)—does not, by any means, of necessity imply one who
describes future events. Πρό does not denote futurity of time, but
vicariousness of office. The προ-φήτης. is one who speaketh πρό,
“on behalf of,” “in the person of,” God; whether 105declaring things past,—(as when Moses describes the Creation
of the World, the Fall of Man, the Patriarchal Age): things present,—(as when
St. Luke, “having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first,”
writes of them “in order”): things future,—(as when David, and Isaiah, and the
rest of the goodly fellowship, “testified beforehand the sufferings of
Christ, and the glory that should follow395395 1 St. Peter i. 11..”) This is no
arbitrary statement, but a well-known fact, which modern unbelievers and ancient
heathen writers have declared with sufficient plainness396396 “With the idea of a Prophet,” (says Gesenius in his Hebrew
Lexicon, on the noun,) “there was this necessarily attached; that he spoke not
his own words, but those which he had divinely received; (see Philo, t. iv. p.
116, ed. Pfeifferi,—προφήτης γὰρ ἴδιον
μὲν οὐδὲν ἀποφθέγγεται, ἀλλότρια δὲ πάντα ὑπηχοῦντος ἑτέπου); and that he was the messenger of God, and the declarer of His will.
This is clear from a passage of peculiar authority in this matter, (Ex.
vii. 1,)—where God says to Moses,—‘I have made thee a god to Pharaoh; and Aaron
thy brother shall be thy prophet.’” . . . Elsewhere, (speaking of the
Hebrew verb, ‘to prophesy,’) Gesenius has the following remarkable
statement:—“The passive forms, Niphal and Hithpael, are used in this
verb; from the Divine Prophets having been supposed to be moved rather by
another’s powers than their own.” (Just as if the Oracles of God were not
express on the subject! viz. “No prophecy ever came by the will of Man; but,
[because they were] borne along (φερόμενοι) by the Holy Ghost, spoke those
holy men of God.”—2 St. Pet. i. 21.)
Προφήτης in fact, means ‘an interpreter’ rather than ‘a prophet,’ (for which, in our popular sense, the Greek is rather μάντις:) hence the use of the words προφήτης, προφητεύω, προφητεία in the New Testament, e.g. 1 Thess. v. 20. 1 Cor, xi. 4: xii. 10. Rom. xii. 6, (where see Wordsworth.) See also 1 Cor. xiv. 1, 3, 4, 5, &c.: in all which places, the προφήτης was what we should rather now call a preacher. But then, the expounding of God’s Word is the special function of the preacher’s office from which he takes this name.—The reader is referred to Blomfield’s Glossary, Agam. v. 399, and to Liddell and Scott’s Lexicon.; (in both of which, some important references are given also to Trench’s Synonyms of the New Testament, pp. 22-26..
So long then as the message which the Servant delivers is prophetic, you do not object to the notion that it is God’s message; nay, that the words spoken are God’s words. You begin to doubt, it seems, when a collection of genealogies, (as the two Books of Chronicles;) or when a story like that contained in the Book of Esther is concerned.
But what is this but very trifling, and mere childishness? The message may be mine, it seems, if it be of a lofty character: it may not be mine if it be of a homely, ordinary kind!—send a message by my Servant, and he delivers it faithfully: but whether it is to be called my message, or is not to be called my message, is to depend entirely on the subject-matter! . . . . Thus, if a King, refusing to appear in person, should issue a reprieve to prisoners under sentence of Death, a proclamation of Peace or of War, an address to the representatives of the constitution, (Clergy, Lords, and Commons,) in parliament assembled,—the message would be his. But if, on the contrary, he were only to send a few homely words, the expression of some wish or intention which has nothing that seems particularly royal in it,—then, the message would cease to be his! . . . . I protest that as I am unable to see the reasonableness of such a method of regarding things human, so am I at a loss to understand why men should so regard things Divine.
5. This entire matter may be usefully illustrated by having recourse to an analogy which was established on a former occasion: namely, the analogy between 107 the Written and the Incarnate Word397397 See above, pp. 2-5.—The reader will find an interesting passage based on this analogy, in the Appendix (F).. That our Lord Jesus Christ is at once very God and very Man, we all fully admit; although the manner of the union of Godhead and Manhood in His one Person we confess ourselves quite unable to comprehend. Even so, that there is a human as well as a Divine element in Holy Scripture,—who so blind as to overlook? who so weak as to deny? And yet, to dissect out that human element,—who (but a fool) so rash as to attempt? . . . . To apply this to the matter before us. Certain parts of Holy Scripture you think, (for reasons to yourself best known,) are not to be looked upon as inspired in the same sense as the rest of the volume. Just as reasonably might you try to persuade me that our Saviour was not in the same sense our Saviour when He ate and drank at the Pharisees’ board, as when He cast out devils and raised the dead. Was He not equally the Incarnate Word at every stage of His earthly career; from the time that he was laid in the manger, until the instant when He expired upon the Cross? The degradation which He endured in Pilate’s judgment-hall did not affect the reality of the great truth that the Godhead was indissolubly joined to the Manhood in His Person. He was not less very God as well as very Man when some one spat upon Him, than at His Transfiguration and at His Ascension into Heaven! . . . Why then should the mean aspect and lowly office of certain parts of Scripture,—(genealogical details and the narrative of what we think ordinary occurrences,)—be supposed to disentitle those parts to the praise of being as fully inspired as any thing in the whole compass of the Bible?108
I may remind you, in passing, that the narrative of Scripture, even in its humblest, and (to all appearance) most human parts, has a perpetual note of Divinity set upon it. The historical portions are throughout interspersed with indications that the writer is beholding the transactions which he records, from a Divine, (not a human,) point of view. God is invariably, (sooner or later,) mentioned as the Agent; or there is some reference made to God; or to God’s Word. As Butler expresses it,—“The general design of Scripture . . . . may be said to be, to give us an account of the world, in this one single view,—as God’s world: by which it appears essentially distinguished from all other books, so far as I have found, except such as are copied from it398398 Analogy, P. II. c. vii.—The same thing has been more fully expressed in a volume of Sermons which deserves to be far better known than it is:—“I suppose that if there is one portion of the Old Testament which a discriminator would set aside as less needing to be reckoned inspired than other parts, it is the Historical; the books which are strictly narrative. Now it may seem to have been providentially ordered, in the purpose of meeting this view, that these books are made to bear on them most peculiarly the stamp and the claim of Inspiration. For they do not profess to be so much the account of what Man did, as what God did in ruling men, and guiding human events. They are a history of a providential course of events, and, (which is the point,) as seen from the providential point of view. They are a history written not on Earth, but above the skies. Events are spoken of therefore in this view. A man’s obduracy is recorded thus,—‘God hardened his heart.’ A king numbers his people; it is recorded as a thing suggested in the spiritual world. In fact, the historic volume of the old Testament is a history of the secret springs of things; it is a narrative of things which none but God Almighty could know; not Man’s Word therefore at all, but God’s.”—Sermons, by the Rev. C. P. Eden, pp. 153-155. Several other extracts from the same suggestive volume of a very excellent Divine, will be found in the Appendix..”109
I entreat you therefore to disabuse your minds of the very weak,—aye and very fatal,—notion that the catalogue of the Dukes of Edom is less, or in any different sense, inspired, from the rest of the narrative in which it stands. We may not multiply miracles needlessly, it is true; but neither may we deny the miraculous character of certain transactions, (as the two Draughts of Fishes,) which, apart from the recorded attendant circumstances, would not have been deemed miraculous.—In truth, however, Holy Scripture, in one sense, is a miracle from end to end; and if we may not multiply miracles needlessly, certainly we are not at liberty to dismiss the recorded details of a single miracle, as of no account.—Consider also, I entreat you, whether it is credible that Inspiration should be a thing of such a nature, that it comes and goes,—is here and is gone,—once and again in the course of a single page. What? does it vanish, like lightning, when the Evangelist’s pen has to record, the title on the Cross,—to re-appear the instant afterwards?
This allusion to the title on the Cross of our Blessed Lord, variously given by each of the four Evangelists, reminds me of the singular perversity of mankind when this subject of Inspiration is being treated of; and to this, I now particularly desire to invite your attention.—When a document is simply transcribed by the Evangelist, or may be supposed to have been merely transferred to his pages, men assert that so purely mechanical an act precludes the notion that Inspiration has had any share in the transaction. Be it so!—Behold now, four inspired writers exhibiting the brief title on our Lord’s Cross with considerable verbal diversity; and you will hear the same critics open-mouthed against the Evangelists’ claim to Inspiration, 110for exactly the opposite reason!—It is just so of places quoted from the Old Testament in the New. Faithful transcription, (we are told,) is in the power of all. What note of an inspired author have we here? But the places are not faithfully transcribed. On the contrary. They exhibit every possible degree of deflection from the original standard. And lo, the Apostles of Christ are thought not to have quite understood Greek,—to have mistaken the sense of the Hebrew,—and to have been the victims of a most capricious memory.—For the last time. Certain narrative portions of Holy Scripture, (it is assumed,) could have been written without the aid of Inspiration and therefore it is unphilosophical, (we .are told,) to assign to them a divine original. But the marvellous parts of Holy Scripture, which seem to claim a loftier original than man’s unaided wit,—these you view with suspicion, or you deny! . . . . “Whereunto shall I liken the men of this generation?”
Before dismissing the subject, I must ask you to observe, that this arbitrary, irreverent method of approaching Holy Scripture, is absolutely fatal and can result in nothing but general unbelief. It confessedly leaves the individual reader to decide what parts of the Bible he thinks could, what parts could not, have been written without Divine assistance;—a point on which I am bold to say that he is not competent even to form an opinion. In other words, it constitutes every man the judge of how much of the Bible he will retain,—how much he will reject. To put the case yet more plainly, it makes every man a God to himself, and the maker of his own Bible.—For, mark you, the exceptions taken against a genealogy, 111or a catalogue of names, are just as applicable to the account of our Lord’s Discourses as given by St. John. Once convince me that the function of Inspiration ceases when a genealogy has to be set down,—because (say you) it requires no Inspiration to enable an Evangelist, to copy written words;—and I shall have no difficulty in convincing myself that St. John’s Gospel, from the xivth to the xviith chapters inclusive, is not inspired,—because I cannot but infer that then neither can it require Inspiration to enable an Evangelist to copy spoken words.—The original fallacy, I repeat,—the πρῶτον ψεῦδος,—consists in your supposing yourself a competent judge of the nature and office of Inspiration; concerning which, in reality, you know nothing. You can but reverently examine the phenomena of the Book of Inspiration; remembering that you have everything to learn.
The Bible, it cannot be too often repeated, too clearly borne in mind,—the Bible must stand or fall,—or rather, be received or rejected,—as a whole. A Divinity hath over-ruled it, that those many Books of which it is composed should come to be spoken of collectively as if they were one Book. As it was formerly called ἡ γραφή—“the Scripture,”—so is it happily called “the Bible”—(the Book)—now. “Moses—the Prophets—and the Psalms,” was the recognized analysis of the volume of the Old Testament. The Gospels, the Epistles, and the Apocalypse, exhibits the sum of the contents of the New.—There is no disjoining the Law from the Gospel. There is no disconnecting one Book from its fellows. There is no eliminating one chapter from the rest. There is no taking exception against one set of passages, or supposing that Inspiration has anywhere forgotten 112her office, or discharged it imperfectly. All the Books of the Bible must stand or fall together. “Nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it399399 Eccl. iii. 14. So Deut. iv. 2: xii. 32. Rev. xxii. 19..” It is a fabric hard as adamant; and the gates of Hell will assuredly never prevail against it. But remove in thought a single stone; and in thought, that goodly work of Lawgivers and Judges—Kings and Prophets—Evangelists and Apostles,—collapses into a shapeless and unmeaning ruin400400 See the Appendix (G)..
Nor may it occasion perplexity, or breed mistrust in any thoughtful mind to find this Book of God’s Law so complex in its character,—so various in its contents,—so fruitful in its difficulties. Might it not, on the contrary, have been expected beforehand, that some analogy would have been recognizable between the general complexion of God’s Works and of God’s Word? While I behold the creatures of God so various,—their functions so marvellous,—their nature so little understood,—the very purpose of their creation so great a mystery;—shall I think it strange that that Book which is but another expression of God’s Mind and Will, proves diverse in texture, and difficult of interpretation?—Shall I grow rebellious against the message, because the history of it is hid in the long night of ages; say rather, in the counsels of God’s inscrutable will? or shall I be incredulous that it comes from Heaven, because I see the fingers of a Man’s hand writing upon the plaister of the wall? or shall I despise those parts of it of which. I cannot detect the medicinal value? As there are riddles in Nature, so are there riddles in Grace. Anomalies too, it may be, are discoverable in both worlds.113—Give me leave to add, that as the microscope reveals unsuspected wonders in the one, so does minute examination bring to light undreamed of perfections in the other also; unimagined proofs of divine wisdom, and skill . . . . But beyond all things, there is perhaps this further thing which it behoves us to consider:—that the field of either is very vast; the subject-matter very complex: and as, in one, many Professors are needed,—(for the Animal kingdom and the Vegetable kingdom are realms apart: the analysis of substances, and the structure of the Earth demand the undivided attention of different minds;)—so does it fare with the other also. The languages of Scripture are in themselves a mighty study; and the collation of the Text is the portion of a long life. The Law of Moses would abundantly engross the time of one who should undertake to explain its depths; as the Gospel of Jesus Christ would assuredly fill to overflowing the soul of another who should desire to appreciate its perfections. The Prophetic writings are a distinct field of labour. The same may well be said of the Epistles of St. Paul. It would be easy to multiply departments;—for I have said nothing yet of Sacred History; and above all, of Sacred Exegesis. But enough has been stated to introduce the remark that considering how slenderly one man is able to labour in all these various provinces, it behoves each one of us to be humble; and certainly to be a vast deal more mistrustful of ourselves than some of us unhappily seem to be; especially when the errand on which we propose to come abroad is the assailing of the authenticity, or the morality, or the integrity, or the Inspiration, of any part of the Bible. Our own amazing ignorance,—our many infirmities,—our faculties limited on every 114side,—might well keep us humble in the presence of Him whose knowledge is infinite;—whose attributes are all perfections;—whose very Name is Almighty!—Shall we, on the contrary, presume to sit in judgment upon His Word, which claims to be none other than the authentic record of His Providence,—the Revelation of His very mind and will? . . . Truly, in this behalf, beyond all others, we seem to stand in need of the solemn warning: “Dangerous it were for the feeble brain of Man to wade far into the doings of the Most High: whom although to know be life, and joy to make mention of His Name; yet our soundest knowledge is to know that we know Him not as indeed He is, neither can know him. And our safest eloquence concerning Him is our silence, when we confess without confession that His glory is inexplicable; Ms greatness above our capacity and reach. He is above, and we upon earth: therefore it behoveth our words to be wary and few401401 Hooker’s Eccl. Pol., B. I. c. ii. § 2..”
And this brings me naturally back to the subject of my first Sermon from this place; and enables me to conclude, as I began, with an earnest entreaty to the younger men present, that,—whatever their future destination in life may be,—but especially if the Ministry is to be their high privilege, (and the blessedness of that choice they can have no idea of, until they prove it by experience!);—an entreaty, I say, that they would now be assiduous, and earnest, and regular, and punctual, and devout, in their daily study of one chapter of the Bible.—And while you read the Bible, read it believing that you are reading an inspired Book:—not a Book inspired in parts only, but a Book inspired in every part:—not a Book unequally inspired, 115but all inspired equally:—not a Book generally inspired,—the substance indeed given by the Spirit, but the words left to the option of the writers; but the words of it, as well as the matter of it, all—all given by God. As it is written,—“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”
I illustrated sufficiently, last time, in what way fulness of Inspiration is consistent with the expression of individual character: even while I availed myself of the ancient illustration that an inspired writer is like an instrument in the harper’s hand402402 See above, p. 77.. I did not, of course, “intend thereby to affirm that the Writers of Holy Scripture were constrained to write, without any volition or consciousness on their part. . . . Almighty God, while He inspired the Writers of Scripture, did not impair their moral and intellectual faculties, nor destroy their personal identity403403 The Inspiration of the Bible, five Lectures, by Chr. Wordsworth, D.D. 1861,—p. 5..” Let me not be told therefore that this is to advocate a mechanical theory of Interpretation. Theory I have none404404 For some remarks on Theories of Inspiration, see the Appendix (H.). The Bible comes to me as the Word of God; and, as the Word of God, (the Lord being my helper!) I will receive it. I should as soon think of holding a theory of Providence and Freewill, as of holding a theory of Inspiration. I believe in Providence. I know that I am a free agent. And that is enough for me.—The case of Inspiration seems strictly parallel. I believe in the Divine origin of the Bible. I see that the writers of the several books wrote like men. . . .116That outer circle of causation, which, leaving each individual will entirely free, so controuls without coercing, so overrules without occasioning, the actions of men,—that all things shall work together for good in the end, and the great designs of God’s Providence find free accomplishment;—all this, far, far transcends your and my powers of comprehension. It is as much beyond us as Heaven is higher than the Earth. And, in like manner, we must be content to own that Inspiration,—the analysis of which is so favourite a problem with this inquisitive age,—is far, far above us likewise. To St. Luke “it seemed good” to write a Gospel; and doubtless he held high communing on the subject,—which may, or may not, have sounded like ordinary human converse, with St. Paul. St. Mark in like sort, beyond a question, enjoyed the help of St. Peter, while he wrote his Gospel. But St. Peter and St. Mark, and St. Paul and St. Luke, were all alike,—however unconsciously,—held by the Ancient of Days within the hollow of His palm; and, as Augustine says,—“Whatsoever He willed that we should read concerning His acts and sayings,—that He commissioned the Evangelists to write,—as though it had been Himself that wrote it405405 “Quicquid Ille de Suis factis et dictis nos legere voluit, hoc scribendum illis tanquam Suis manibus imperavit.”.”—The guidance was remote, I grant you. The mechanism which moved the pens of those blessed writers was far above out of their sight; and complex beyond anything which the mind of man can imagine; (so that the publican lisped of “gold, and silver, and brass406406 St. Matth. x. 9.;”—and the companion of St. Peter, at Rome, wrote Latin 117words in Greek letters407407 E. g. κεντυρίων: σπεκουλάτωρ: ξέστης;—and the Physician of Antioch withheld the statement that the woman who had spent all that she had in consulting many physicians, “was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse408408 Comp. St. Luke viii. 43, with St. Mark v. 26.;”—and the beloved disciple perhaps indulged his own personal love while he recalled so largely the discourses of his Lord:)—but, for all that, the long sequence of cause and effect existed; and the other end of that golden chain which terminated in the man, and the pen, and the ink, and the paper,—the other end of it, I say, was held fast within the Hand of God.—The method of Inspiration is but another of the many thousand marvels which on every side surround me; one of the many things I cannot fully understand, much less pretend to explain. But I may at least believe it in silence, and adore409409 The reader will be grateful for a beautiful and highly suggestive passage from Eden’s Sermons, in the Appendix (I.).
And,—(forgive me for keeping you so long; but I cannot let you go until I have emptied my heart a little more on this great, and most concerning subject;)—mark you, Sirs, however reluctant some of you may be to admit that you agree with me, you do agree with me,—almost to a man. For, what mean your reasonings on Holy Scripture,—your sermons, and your dissertations, and your catechizings,—your formulæ of belief, and your definitions of Faith,—except you believe in a vast deal more than the substance of Holy Scripture? How can you pretend to expound a text, unless you hold the words of that text to be inspired? What inferences can you venture to draw from words, the Divinity of which you dare not affirm? 118O, to what endless, hopeless scepticism are you pointing the way What a variety of most unanswerable questionings will you provoke I How can you hope ever to convince or convict, if you begin by acquainting your adversary that it is only for the substantial verity of Scripture that you claim Inspiration; the verbal details being quite a different matter I See you not that you put into his hands a weapon with which he will infallibly slay yourself? Did the Bishops and Doctors of the Church, when they met in solemn Council,—did they hold such a theory concerning Holy Scripture, think you, as that the matter of it alone is Divine,—the language human? More briefly, that the words of Scripture are not inspired? What then mean their weighty definitions of Doctrine;—God the Father, “Maker of Heaven and Earth,”—God the Son, “by whom all things were made:”—the Son, “Θεὸς ἐκ Θεοῦ,”—“being of one substance with the Father:”—“incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary:”—who “descended into Hell”—“whose kingdom shall have no end:”—the Holy Ghost, “τὸ Κύριον καὶ τὸ ξωοποίον,” “who proceedeth from the Father and the Son?”—What means every article of that Creed to which you and I have given our unfeigned assent, and which Athanasius would have gladly subscribed to,—the most precious jewel in the Church’s casket!—Nay, what means St. Paul’s commentary on the history of Melchizedek, if the very words omitted from Holy Scripture are not a Divine omission?
You will perhaps be told hereafter, (I am speaking now to the younger men,) that quite fatal to this view of the question, is the state of the Text of Scripture: that no one can maintain that the words of Scripture 119are inspired, because no one can tell for certain what the words of Scripture are; or something to that effect. Now I will not stop to expose the falsity of this charge against the text of Scripture; (which is implied to be a very corrupt text, whereas, on the contrary, it is the best ascertained text of any ancient writing in the world.) Rather let me remind you, once and for ever, law to refute this silly sophism,—the transparent fallacy of which one would have thought unworthy of exposure before men of trained understandings; but that one hears it urged so often and so confidently. See you not that the state of the text of the Bible has no more to do with the Inspiration of the Bible, than the stains on yonder windows have to do with the light of God’s Sun? Let me illustrate the matter,—(though it surely cannot need illustration!)—by supposing the question raised whether Livy did or did not write the history which goes under his name. You, (suppose,) are persuaded that he that he did not. So far, we should both understand, and perhaps respect one another. But what if I were to go on to condemn your opinion as untenable, because of the corrupt state of Livy’s text? Would you not reply that I mistook the question entirely: that you were speaking of the authorship of the work,—not about the fate of the copies! . . . Suppose, however, I were to contend that Livy may indeed have furnished the matter of his history, but that the form of expression must needs have been supplied by some one else; still on the same ground of the corrupt state of the historian’s text. What would you think of me then?—a man who not only confounded two things utterly dissimilar,—(the authorship of a book, and the amount of care with which it had been transcribed 120and printed;)—but who was for distinguishing the mind of the writer from the expression of that mind; the thoughts, from the words which are essential to their transmission! A hopelessly illogical person, surely!
O no, Sirs! Banish the fancy at once and for ever from your minds. You cannot thus dissect Inspiration into substance and form. It is a mere delusion of these last days,—prated of from man to man, until respectable persons begin to give in to the fallacy; and persuade themselves that they themselves believe it. They hope thus to avoid the danger which is supposed to attach to hearty belief in the Bible as the very Word of God; as well as to secure for themselves a side-door, (so to speak,) by which to escape, whenever they are inconveniently hard pressed. How much more faithful, to leave God to take care of His own! How much more manly, to be prepared sometimes to confess ignorance! . . . As for thoughts being inspired, apart from the words winch give them expression,—you might as well talk of a tune without notes, or a sum without figures. No such dream can abide the daylight for a moment. No such theory of Inspiration, (for a theory it is, and a most audacious one too!), is even intelligible. It is as illogical as it is worthless; and cannot be too sternly put down. The philosophical mind of Greece, (far better taught!), knew of only one word for both Reason and the expression of it. Lodged within the chambers of the brain, or put forth into living energy,—it was still, with them, the Λόγος.—I invite you, as the only intelligible view of the matter,—your only alternative, unless you resolve to run the risk of the most irrational rationalism,—to take this high view of Inspiration: 121to believe, concerning the Bible, that it is in the most literal sense imaginable, verily and indeed, the Word of God.
And do you,—(for I am still addressing myself to the younger men,)—learn to put away from your souls that vile indifferentism which is becoming the curse of this shallow and unlearned age. Be as forgiving as you please of indignities offered to yourselves; but do not be ashamed to be very jealous for the honour of the Lord of Hosts; and to resent any dishonour offered to Him, with a fiery indignation utterly unlike anything you could possibly feel for a personal wrong. Attend ever so little to the circumstance, and you will perceive that every form of fashionable impiety is one and the same vile thing in the essence of it: still Antichrist, disguise it how you will. We were reminded last Sunday that the sensualist, by following the gratification of his own unholy desires, in bold defiance of God’s known Law, is in reality setting himself up in the place of God, and becoming a God unto himself410410 Alluding to a sermon preached by the Provost of Queen’s.. The same is true of the Idolatry of Human Reason; and of Physical Science: as well as of that misinformed Moral Sense which finds in the Atonement of our Lord nothing but a stone of stumbling and a snare, It is true of Popish error also;—for what else is this but a setting up of the Human above the Divine,—(Tradition, the worship of the Blessed Virgin, the casuistry of the Confessional, and the like,)—and so, once more substituting the creature for the Creator?—What again is the fashionable intellectual sin of the day, but the self-same detestable offence, under quite a different disguise? The idea of Law,—(that old idea 122which is declared to be only now emerging into supremacy in Science,)—takes the hideous shape of rebellion against its Maker; and pronounces, now Miracles, now Prophecy, now Inspiration itself, to be a thing impossible; or is content to insinuate that the disclosures of Revelation are at least untrue. What is this, I say, but another form of the self-same iniquity,—a setting up of the creature before the Creator who is blessed for evermore; a substitution of some created thing in the place of God!
The trite antidote to all such forms of impiety, believe me, is not controversy of any sort; but the childlike study of the Bible, each one for himself,—not without prayer.—Humble must we be, as well as assiduous; for the powers of the mind as well as the affections of the heart should be prostrated before the Bible, or a man will derive little profit from his study of it. Humble, I repeat, for mysteries, (remember), are revealed unto the meek411411 Ecclus. iii. 19.; and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom412412 Ps. cxi. 10. Prov. ix. 10.; and he that would understand more than the Ancients must keep talon’s precepts413413 Ps. cxix. 100.; and it is the commandments of the Lord which give light unto the eyes414414 Ps. xix. 8..—The dutiful student of the Bible is permitted to see the mist melt away from many a speculative difficulty; and is many a time reminded of that saying of his Lord)—“Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the Scriptures, neither the power of God415415 St. Mark xii. 24.?” . . . The humble and attentive reader of the Bible becomes impressed at last with a sense of its Divinity, analogous I suppose to the conviction of Eleven of the Apostles that the Man they walked with was none other than the Son 123of God. That similarity of allusion,—that sameness of imagery,—that oneness of design,—that uniformity of sentiment,—that ever-recurring anticipation of the Gospel message;—all goes to produce a secret and sure conviction that every writer, under whatever variety of circumstances, had access to but one Treasury,—drew from but one and the same Well of living water. Marks of purpose, shewn in the choice or collocation of single words, often strike an attentive reader which, singly, might be thought fortuitous; but which, collectively, can only be accounted for on a very different principle. The beautiful structure of the Gospels strikes him especially and he could as soon believe that a song harmonized for four Angel voices had been the result of accident, as that the Evangelists had achieved their task without special aid, throughout, from Heaven. A lock of very complicated mechanism, which four keys of most peculiar structure will open simultaneously,—must have been as evidently made for them, as they for it.
It is almost treason, in truth, to the Majesty of Heaven to discuss the Bible on the low ground which I have been hitherto forced to occupy. It is quite monstrous, in the first University of the most favoured of Christian lands, that a man should be compelled thus to lift up his voice in defence of the very Inspiration of God’s Word. O that Divine narrative, which is for ever rending aside the veil, and disclosing to us the counsels of the presence-chamber of the Almighty!—O those human characters, beset with all the infirmities of our fallen nature,—whose words and actions yet are shadows of things heavenly and eternal!—O that majestic retinue of types which, from the very birthday of recorded Time, heralded the 124approach of the King of Glory!—O that scarlet thread which runs through all the seemingly tangled web of Scripture, to terminate only in the cross of Christ!—How do the features of the Gospel struggle into sight through the veil of the Law! How do the holy and humble men of heart ever and anon break out into speech, as it were, before the time;—as if they felt the burden of silence too great to be endured! . . . . . Whence is it that we dare to handle the pages of God’s Book as if they were a common thing,—doubting, questioning, cavilling, disbelieving, denying? Why choose for ourselves the soldiers’ part, who buffeted, reviled, smote, spat upon Him? . . . O my friends, far, far be all this from you and from me! Never imagine, because this day we have thus spoken, that such discussions are congenial to us; or that we deem them the proper theme for addresses from the pulpit; although the coincidence of this day’s Collect seems, for once, to lend a kind of sanction to our present endeavours. Look through the whole range of patristic homilies, and you will not find one of the kind, with which, unhappily, our ears are grown so familiar in this place,—ingenious attempts to evacuate Holy Writ of its fulness, on the one hand;—or apologies of some sort for its Divinity and Inspiration, on the other. You will take, if you are wise, far, far higher ground, in your private study of its pages; remembering that “the most generous faith is invariably the truest;”—nor ever stoop so low as we have been this day doing. Waste not thy precious time in cavil about the structure of the casket which contains thy treasure; but unlock it once with the Key of Faith, and make thyself rich indeed.—Already,—(as we were last week reminded),—already the 125Judge standeth at the door; and assuredly, thou and I, (to whom God hath entrusted so much!) shall have to render a very strict account of the use we have made of the Bible,—when we shall stand face to face with its undoubted Author. The season of the year reminds us, as with a trumpet, of that tremendous hour when the veil will be withdrawn from our eyes,—and the office of Faith will be ended,—and we shall be confronted with One who hath “a vesture clipped in blood, and whose Name is called The Word of God.” . . . “I have heard of Thee,” (we shall, every one of us, exclaim),—“I have heard of Thee, by the hearing of the ear; but now,—mine eye seeth Thee416416 Job xlii. 5.!”126
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