This volume is prepared for those who believe that Jesus Christ is the Incarnate Son of God; and that the Bible is a true record of God's purpose in Him, and of the Divine actings to fulfill that purpose. Its aim is simply to set forth that record in its order, and to restore to it that unity in Christ which it claims upon its face, and which was ascribed to it by our Lord, but which with many of its readers it has now lost. (Luke xxiv. 27.) For those who deny the fact of the Incarnation,—that Jesus Christ is, and abides, the God-man forever,—I do not write; much less for those who are seeking proof of the existence of a God. I address myself to believers; for to all others, the Bible, which declares the purpose of God in Christ, must be an insoluble riddle. The Incarnate Son is the centre from which all the actings of the Father, both creative and redemptive, must be seen to be known aright.
This book, therefore, is not critical after the modern fashion; it discusses no textual questions, and enters into no special historical or archaeological investigations, and it assumes the substantial truth of the Scriptures as we possess them. It deals only with the outlines of the Divine purpose, not with the details. Its scope is simple,—to set forth the manner in which God is pleased to reveal Himself to men, past, present, and future, as He has made it known. I believe there is in it nothing contrary to catholic truth, nor to the faith of the Church as expressed in her creeds. Nor is there in it any thing distinctively new; or, if there seem to be, it is in the restatement of old truths, and in the consistency with which certain fundamental principles are carried out. In those parts which speak of the still unfulfilled purpose of God in redemption, I believe nothing is affirmed which has not scriptural sanction, and which is not in harmony with that purpose as already fulfilled. Eschatology in its larger meaning, embracing the stages of redemption yet future, has confessedly occupied very little the attention of the Church; and only the most general statements are found in the creeds and confessions of faith.
The number of references to particular passages of Scripture could in most cases have been greatly multiplied, but a single one is generally sufficient to enable a diligent reader to find more; and all who wish to add to these, and to compare passage with passage, have abundant help in any good reference Bible. The revised version of the Old Testament was published too late to be of much use, but the changes in the translation are not for us very important.
I have made no reference to others who have written on these topics, nor citations from them, not as intending to deny my great obligations to them, but because the unity of treatment is thus disturbed, and the attention of the reader diverted. It has demanded some firmness not to enter upon side issues, and to discuss points very nearly related to those treated of, and yet not essential to them, as, e.g., the person and place of "the angel of the covenant." In endeavoring to be brief, I may have sometimes become obscure, and so liable to misapprehension; and I must therefore ask that expressions which are ambiguous, may be interpreted in conformity with the general scope of the book.
I may be permitted to address here a few words to my young friends, students of the Scriptures, and especially to those in theological schools. It was once said by Dean Stanley, that "there are times when we are prone to confound instrumentals with fundamentals, to confound things which are of no importance with things which are of the utmost importance." The present is pre-eminently such a time of confusion as regards religious things. That which is of first importance in Christianity, is the fact of the present existence of Jesus Christ, exalted to the right hand of God, and made Head of the Church, and Ruler over all. You will at once say to me that no Christian denies this. It is declared in all the creeds, and held by all. But we know that not a few who nominally hold the creeds, do disbelieve it; some openly speak of a de-incarnation ; and others, as if many incarnations were possible. The tendencies of modern thought are to make the fact of the union of the Divine and human in the person of Jesus Christ, more and more incredible ; and if the Incarnation be held, as it doubtless is, by far the larger number, it may be so held as by no means to give it its due place and importance. If Jesus Christ is the Incarnate Son of God, the Word made flesh, now risen from the dead and made immortal, and having all power in heaven and in earth, this is the one supreme fact; it must be recognized, and its transcendent significance be acknowledged. Christianity with the living Christ, and Christianity with a dead Christ, are two things world-wide apart: in the one case, there is a Person and a work; in the other, a book and an ethical system. A mistake here is vital. If He is dead, it is the saddest of delusions to think of Him as sitting in the Father's throne; if He is living, — the man Christ Jesus, the Ruler under God over all His creatures, — it will not do to treat Him as one of the dead, sleeping in His unknown sepulchre. One of these alternatives is true; and with the universal Church we affirm that He who was dead is alive again forever, that He is the Prince of the kings of the earth, the Great High Priest, the Head of the Church. Let, then, His due place and honor be given Him.
Thus taking Christ's present exaltation and dominion as the great central fact of Christianity, what are its bearings on the place of the Bible in the Church, and on biblical criticism? The Bible is an account of what God has done in the past, that we may learn to know both the Father and the Son ; and especially to know Christ as the great Actor in man's redemption— who He is, and why He was made man, and what He has done, and is doing, and is yet to do; and thus its records are the chief means of our knowledge. But the Bible cannot be read simply as a history of past events; for its purpose is not merely to enlighten us as to the past, but also to show us the way to Him as now living, that we may go to Him, and that He may work in us His work of salvation. We are not saved through our belief in the past actings of God, but by being in Christ. The book cannot give us life: we must go to Him who, as the Risen One, is the fountain of life. And His existence is not dependent on the existence of the book, any more than the mountain peak upon the existence of the guide-book that describes it, and points out the way to its summit. We may suppose all copies of the Bible to be destroyed: this would not affect Him as now exalted, or His work, past or future; only our knowledge of Him.
What is now demanded of us is, that we put the two, the Bible and Christ, in their right relations to each other. The book is not useless because He lives, as some have said. No words can express its intrinsic value. But it is above all His book; for not only is He its great theme, He is also, through the Spirit whom He has sent, its interpreter. As He explained to His disciples when on earth the things written in it concerning Himself, so must He continue to do down to the end. The Scriptures can be understood only by those whose understandings He opens. (Luke xxiv. 44,45.) And He will make known their mysteries, the secret counsels of His Father, just so far as His children are spiritually prepared to receive them, and can rightly apply their knowledge. But no wit of man can know what it is God's will to do, before the time when He would make it known. The true and full and harmonious explanation of the Bible can be made only in the Church, wherein is the Spirit of Christ.
Keeping in mind this relation of the Bible to the living Christ, how are we to regard much recent biblical criticism? There are critics of all schools, and of all degrees of faith; and some who utterly deny the Incarnation, and of course Christ's present existence and exaltation. As an astronomer, who should deny to the sun its central place in the solar system, would wholly fail to explain the order and courses of the planets; so these interpreters of the Scriptures, denying to Christ His central place, cannot see the biblical records in their true order and consistence. But even in this class there are critics and critics. In some is seen a positive hostility to Christ, a determination to pull Him down from the throne in which He sits, and to destroy the faith of men in Him. Their chief motive in studying the sacred records seems to be to prove them full of errors; and to this end they exaggerate differences, and exalt discrepancies into contradictions. The Scriptures are to them only an antiquarian book, whose chief value is that it supplies to them a field on which to display their critical acumen and their powers of invention in new readings of history. If any thing useful in biblical study can be learned from them, it is only in regard to very minor points and small details.
But there are critics of a very different spirit, who holding the Scriptures to be God's word, and Christ to be the Son of God, seek to cast light upon their meaning by a more accurate knowledge and rendering of the texts, by the study of newly discovered or deciphered records, by identification of biblical sites, by archaeological investigations, and by diligent use of all external means of knowledge. To these our thanks are due; they approach the Bible, not as a surgeon to dissect a dead body, but carefully to remove some excrescence, or to replace some dislocated limb, that there may be new life and strength.
But the question arises whether the critics of this class do not often fall into the error of which Dean Stanley speaks, of confounding instrumentals with fundamentals, and spend much of their strength in discussions of matters of little moment. There is a sense in which all truth, even in its minutest details, may be said to be of value; but perfect truth is unattainable. Our best knowledge is partial. All events in a single human life can never be written, much less all in the life of a people. There is necessarily a choice between the important and the unimportant. The sacred records are comparatively very brief, yet criticism must here distinguish between the essential and non-essential; a hundred minor questions may remain unanswered. Investigations which concern events "ntrinsically unimportant — the length of a king's reign, the number of the slain in a battle, the site of a city, the exact date of a prophecy, the authorship of a psalm, and like points, the minima of biblical history — cannot but hold a very subordinate place; they are but instrumentals; we may be ignorant of them, and suffer little loss. The general outlines of the Divine purpose as given in the Bible are clear and unmistakable. As we may know the course of a mountain range, its direction, the order of its summits, and yet cannot see the many little valleys at their feet, so we know the chief facts of the past, their order and significance; and our ignorance of details does not affect what is of chiefest importance to us, our existing relations to God and to His Christ. No knowledge of details, indeed, is to be despised; and he who removes a stone of stumbling out of the King's pathway, or straightens an angle, or cuts down a bush that obstructs the wayfarer's vision, does a service ; but he may remember that a hundred generations have trod the pathway before him, and found Him whom they sought. I believe it will be truly said, in a time not very far distant, that many points which now occupy the attention of biblical scholars, and call forth learned dissertations and elaborate treatises, were not worthy of the attention given them; and that their labors will be regarded as the critical tithing of the mint, anise, and cummin.
What is now most necessary, is to hold the Bible in its right relation to the Living Christ. We may dismiss at once all fear that criticism, even the most hostile and deadly, can affect His existence or His work; at most it can only hide Him for a moment from view by the smoke of its learning. The Incarnate Son lives, and Christianity in Him. Do not allow yourselves, my young friends, to be put merely on the defensive; you have something far higher to do than even to maintain the truth and integrity of the Bible against sceptical attacks. What the world would know, and what the Church is set to prove, is that the Son of the Virgin, the Crucified One, is to-day at God's right hand, made Lord over all. How shall the Church prove this? Not simply by appealing to apostolic testimony that He rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven, but by showing forth the power of His resurrection in her children ; — in their lives of holiness, in their words of truth, and in their mighty works. It was the prayer of the apostles in the beginning, "Grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, by stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy Holy Child Jesus." And this prayer is the prayer of His people unto the end. Christ working from heaven through His Church, is the proof that He is risen, and invested with all power and dominion. Accurate Hebrew and Greek scholarship is desirable in those who can attain to it, but it is only instrumental. Of far more importance is it to be so cleansed and illumined that we have spiritual discernment of the purpose of God; and such faith in His words, and such spirit of self-sacrifice, that we give ourselves to be co-workers with Him and with His Son. The one thing, and the only thing, that will enable the Church to overcome the growing infidelity of the time, is to trust in her Living Head and obey Him, as He trusted in and obeyed the Father. Then will Christ be His own witness from heaven: He will testify to Himself. The temptation of Protestants is to hide Christ behind the Book, that of Boman Catholics to hide Him behind the Church. Let us do neither, but holding both the Bible and the Church in their right relations to Him, keep our eyes ever fastened on Him till He comes forth to fill the earth with the glory of God.
S. J. A
Haetfokd, Conn., Nov. 6,1885.