THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE
"I Am a man under authority," said the Roman centurion. Yet the centurion himself had authority. He had soldiers under him. When he said "Go," they went; when he said "Come," they came. His authority was a subordinate authority. There were limits to it. It was sometimes imperfectly understood and imperfectly exercised. Yet it had behind it the whole power of the Roman Empire. Nay, it had behind it the power of God. Rome was an earthly representative of the divine sovereignty—the powers that be are ordained of God. Since the centurion's soldiers obeyed him, he could justly argue that all the powers of nature and all the wills of men must render obedience to the Christ of God.
In this world we need authority, for the reason that there are so many things we do not know, but need to know, while we cannot by ourselves get the knowledge of them. Etymology helps us here. The word "authority" is derived from augco, augere, to add. The "author" is one who adds to the facts his own testimony about them. "Authority" is the personal element of witness added to the truth communicated. Let the truth come by itself, do you say? Let it stand in its own light and win its own way? But suppose, on account of immaturity or perversity, my judgment is untrustworthy. Then I must either have the truth
attested to me by others, or I must remain in ignorance.
We see this in the child. He is very ignorant. He cannot find out everything for himself. Some one must teach him. There are things which he needs to know, but which he has a natural reluctance to learn. The rights of others, for example, he is slow to appreciate. He needs an authority over him that will add to the facts the influence of personal testimony, and sometimes of physical force besides. And so, parental authority is ordained of God, to secure the proper education of the child. We see the same thing in the foreign immigrant to our shores. He is ignorant of America and fancies it a land of license. He must learn that our liberty is a liberty regulated by law. Government must instruct and restrain him. Civil authority is ordained of God to educate the members of the State.
God is the original source of all just authority, and no authority is just which cannot be referred to God's ordination. The human reason is bound to submit to God's authority, for human reason is finite. The human conscience is bound to submit to God's authority, for the human conscience is warped and perverted by sin. It is not only rational for us in our present intellectual and moral state to recognize an authority above that of individual reason and conscience, but this is the only reasonable and conscientious thing for us to do. Reason itself bids me follow a guide where I do not know the way myself. It is not enough to say, I must follow conscience. I am bound also to have a right conscience to follow, and I must permit my conscience
to be set right by Him who made the conscience. The most unreasonable and most unconscientious of all people are those who depend solely upon their own reason and conscience, without recognizing the limitations of reason and conscience and their need of divine instruction and correction.
It is a very absurd thing, then, for a man to say that he will follow reason rather than authority. What he wants to follow, or ought to want to follow, is truth. And authority is as much God's appointed way to truth as reason is. For nine-tenths of the facts of geology we are dependent upon the testimony of observers whom we never saw. These data do not fetter our reason, but only give the proper basis for reason to work upon. To say that we will take nothing on authority, but that we will build up our system of belief solely upon the results of our own observation and judgment, is to condemn ourselves to the narrowest sort of induction and utterly to preclude a coming to the knowledge of the truth.
So one whole half of human life consists in following authority, taking facts from others, acting upon testimony. Physical science is largely based upon the witness of our fellow-men, and its conclusions have in them a great element of faith. Religion demands of us only an application to spiritual things of the same principle of dependence, submission, trust, which we are obliged to exercise in all the affairs of this world. But here comes in the moral test. In my ignorance I must follow some authority; whose authority shall it be? I have the solemn power of choice: I choose my authority, and in that choice I reveal my character. If I feel my sin, my weakness, my need, I see also the glory of God's saving revelation and I choose to follow it. If I am proud, self-righteous, self-willed, I choose to follow my own perverse judgment; but I have not rid myself of authority, I have simply substituted the authority of self for the authority of God.
How long must authority last? How long will it be before I shall cease to need data for my intellect? You reply: Until I cease to be ignorant and become omniscient. How plain it is that the apostle said well, "Now abideth faith." Since my largest intellectual progress will never compass all things, there will always be an infinite outlying region with regard to which I shall have to take testimony—and that testimony of God will be authority. Much more dependent upon his authority am I here in this nebulous and unformed state of my moral nature, where so many things are seen in a glass darkly and so many other things are never seen at all. And, therefore, my probation consists more than anything else in my decision of the question whether I will add to the sources of my knowledge and the springs of my moral action the information which God communicates, or whether I will go on my lonely way without light and without God. Alas! the light reveals so much of evil in me that I am likely to take this latter course, unless the Spirit of God convert my heart.
God is the original source of all authority. But he is not the only source. He has delegated his authority. He has given authority to parents. The commandment, "Honour thy father and thy mother," was probably a part of the first table of the law, and belongs DELEGATED AUTHORITY
among our duties to God. He has given authority to magistrates. The words of the psalm, "I said, Ye are gods," were uttered with reference to earthly rulers, because they stood in the place of God, executed judgment for him, and were clothed with his authority. Both family government and civil government derive all their dignity from the fact that they are constituted by God and that they are his appointed representatives.
No earthly father and no earthly judge appreciates his responsibility until he recognizes that God has delegated to him a portion of his own divine sovereignty, and that the family on the one hand and the community on the other will judge of God by his equitable or inequitable administration. The father is often unwise, yet within the bounds of the family, God clothes him with authority over his children; to the child in his earliest years the father almost takes the place of God. The civil ruler enacts imperfect laws and passes imperfect judgments; that does not prevent his authority from being supreme within its sphere. "He that resisteth the power, withstandeth the ordinance of God, and they that withstand shall receive to themselves judgment."
I think it is also plain that any delegated authority that forgets its derivation from God and sets itself up for original, to the ignoring and exclusion of its divine source, does very much to nullify its own work and to harm mankind. The aim of the parent and of the judge should be so to exercise authority that the mind of the family and the mind of the community shall be led up to the God by whom that authority has been conferred. In this way external and formal obedience will come to be replaced by intelligent and willing obedience,—the law will be written on the heart, duty will be performed as unto God and not unto men.
The father who rules only by physical force, who never reasons with his child, who never points the child to God, will find sooner or later that the child regards his rule as tyranny, and runs riot so soon as he has escaped from the father's eye and control. The aim of paternal government is so to educate the child that he becomes a law to himself, no longer needing paternal control, but able to manage a family of his own. And so civil government takes the raw recruit, from Poland or from Italy, brings to bear upon him the influence of schools and of statutes, until he becomes a law-abiding citizen, appreciating the blessings of liberty and willing to bear his portion of the burdens of the State. The citizen is educated just in proportion as he recognizes that government is not an arbitrary thing but an embodiment of a higher justice; or, to say the same thing in other words, just in proportion as external law is inwrought into his intellectual and moral nature.
Let us now take a further step and consider how conscience and the church, God's witnesses in the individual soul and in the world at large, are invested in a similar way with an authority that is delegated, subordinate, limited, yet sufficient and binding in the sphere and for the purposes for which it was given. Conscience has been called "the voice of God in the soul." But this definition is inaccurate and inadequate. Doctor Faunce has well said, in reply to this method of representation: "Conscience is not God; it is only a part of one's self." To build up a religion about one's CONSCIENCE HAS AUTHORITY
own conscience, as if it were God, is only a refined selfishness, a worship of one part of one's self by another part of one's self.
Let us amend the definition then, and while we still preserve the pictorial element in it add the truth which the definition lacks. Conscience, let us say, is the echo of God's voice. Its original source is in God; but it is a reflection of that original. The reflecting surface modifies the original voice. If the surface that reflects is perfectly even and true, the echo fairly represents the original, though its intensity is somewhat diminished. If that reflecting surface is jagged and broken, the echo will give but a scattering and feeble impression of the original sound. My moral reason is the reflecting surface, and that moral reason is greatly perverted from its early integrity. It furnishes the standard by which I judge; and in every judgment of conscience accordingly there is an element of imperfection.
Shall I say, because conscience has its limitations, that it has no authority? Ah, no! Delegated, subordinate, limited, as it is, it is yet the finite echo of an infinite righteousness, and in the sphere and for the purposes for which it was given it is sufficient to guide our moral action. As the watch I carry may regulate my going out and coming in, even though it needs itself to be regulated by comparison with the great town clock which represents more directly the astronomic standards, so conscience may be indispensable authority even though its aberrations need to be corrected by comparison with the more sure standard of divine revelation.
The church represents the collective consciousness of redeemed humanity. It is the Christian consciousness embodied. Can it have authority? Is "the analogy of faith " of any value in determining what is truth? Yes, so long as it is kept to its proper place as a delegated, subordinate, and limited authority. I am not the only man to whom the Holy Spirit ever made known the truth. He has illuminated thousands of other men before he began to teach me. I owe respect, therefore, to the conclusions of the past. There is a presumption in favor of their correctness. Until I have fairly investigated for myself, and have found that these conclusions are based upon false premises and false interpretations, the dogmas of the church have a certain authority for me.
But its authority is not ultimate. I am not to stop with the church. I am not to bow to the church as the final and only source of light. This is what Roman Catholicism would have me do. It would keep me in perpetual tutelage, instead of encouraging me to exercise my own reason and judgment in interpreting God's revelation. It would make my relation to Christ depend upon my relation to the church, instead of making my relation to the church depend upon, follow, and express my relation to Christ. It forgets that Christ, and not the church, is "the door," and that the interposition of any other door is the separation of the sinner from his Saviour.
So far, we have considered the general matter of authority, and have seen that all authority is derived from God, and is intended to lead to God. All other authority is dependent, subordinate, provisional, limited; valid so long as it confines itself to the sphere and the CHRIST AS THE WORD OF GOD
purposes for which it was ordained, but invalid when it goes beyond its proper bounds, usurps functions which do not belong to it, or assumes to take the place of God himself. What has been said, however, has been intended only as preliminary to the real subject of discussion, which is the authority of Scripture. And, in order that I may set forth more clearly what I conceive to be the truth, let me show what relation the Scripture holds to Christ.
The word "Christ" sums up all that we mean by God and by revelation. For Christ is nothing less than Deity revealed, God brought down to our human comprehension and engaged in the work of our salvation. Christ is the Word of God, the divine reason in expression. All outgoing, communication, manifestation of the Godhead, is the work of Christ. God never thought anything, said anything, did anything, except through Christ. Christ is the creator of all and the sustainer of all. He upholds all things by the word of his power. In him all things consist or hold together. Nature, with all its powers and laws, exists and moves, only because Christ's energy throbs through it all. The sunset clouds are painted by his hand and the tides of life that ebb and flow on the far shores of the universe are only manifestations of him in whom is "the power of an endless life."
As this Logos, or Word of God, is the originating and animating principle of nature, so man lives and moves and has his being in him. Human nature, physical as well as mental, is created in Christ before it is recreated in him. It is intellectually united to him before it is spiritually united to him. It is Christ who conducts the march of human history. He is "the Light that lighteth every man." All the lights of conscience, as well as of science, all the truths hid amid the chaff of paganism, as well as all the discoveries made to the chosen people, were communications of Christ, the reason, the wisdom, and the power of God. There is no truth beyond his province, for he is himself "the Truth."
Christ and revelation, then, are one and the same thing from different points of view. The first term, "Christ," brings before us the personal author, the divine Word, God revealing himself, and, since we can never know an unrevealed God, the only God with whom we have to do or with whom we shall ever have to do. "No man hath seen God at any time." "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father."
The second term, "revelation," brings before us this same Christ as made known, as the truth of God communicated and made an objective possession of mankind. So "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy"; he is the author, the subject, the end of Old Testament revelation; and the new dispensation is simply his emerging from behind the scenes where he has been invisibly managing the drama of history, to take visible part in the play, to become the leading actor in it, and to bring it to its denouement. The curtain has not fallen and will not fall to the end of the world. But that appearance of the incarnate, crucified, risen, ascending God has given us the key to human history. It is he who conducts its course and who makes the forces of nature and the gifts of the Spirit tributary to his everlasting kingdom.
CHRIST THE ULTIMATE AUTHORITY 123
Since Christ, then, is God revealed, it is not enough for a Christian to say that God is the source of authority in religion—he must also say, in order to give completer expression to the truth, that Christ is the ultimate source of authority. If I can ascertain what Christ says in nature, that will be authority for me. If I can learn what he says in the constitution of the human mind, that will be authority for me also. Christ speaks in providence to the individual and he speaks in history to the race. But it is in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments that I find his works and his words most perfectly set forth.
What is the relation which the Bible sustains to him? I give a two-fold answer to this question. I say, on the one hand, that the Bible, like the earthly father and the civil ruler, like conscience and the church, has an authority which is divine. I say, on the other hand, that this authority, like theirs, is delegated and subordinate, limited to the sphere in which it was meant to move and to the purposes for which it was designed. It was not meant to teach us mathematics, but it was meant to teach us of Christ. It was not meant to teach us how the heavens go, but to teach us how to go to heaven. Through it the Holy Spirit leads us into all' religious truth, the truth as it is in Jesus.
It is quite conceivable that the whole revelation of God in Christ might have been given without any written record of it. The memory of past works and words of God might have been handed down by word of mouth. Such was doubtless the method by which the knowledge of God's earliest communications to mankind was transmitted in the days of the patriarchs. So it is generally agreed that the gospel narrative was orally preserved for twenty or thirty years before it was permanently committed to writing.
Was there no religious authority in the days of the patriarchs? Was there no religious authority in the thirty years which followed Christ's resurrection? Ah, yes! The truth was in the world; the church was founded upon that truth; that truth was mighty to convince mankind; there was authority in the truth. But there was then no New Testament Scripture, for no one had then been commissioned to write it. Neither the safety of the church nor the authority of the truth depended at that time upon the existence of Scripture. And it is conceivable that it might be so to-day; that tradition might still be authoritative, though the facts of Christianity had never been recorded.
We claim, moreover, that the record of these facts which we actually possess might be authoritative even if that record had never been inspired. There have been men like Priestley, who believed in all the miracles upon the testimony of the evangelists, while at the same time he denied to their accounts any inspiration, and regarded them simply as genuine and authentic historical documents. But if Christianity could conceivably be authenticated to the world without inspiration, and even without a written record, it is much more true that Christianity does not stand or fall with any particular theory of inspiration.
Let us make sure that we use the terms "revelation," "illumination," "inspiration," with a perfectly definite meaning. Half the perplexity and alarm which agitates many excellent Christians would disappear if they would REVELATION, ILLUMINATION, INSPIRATION 125
once consider that, while "revelation " is the communication of new truth from God, and "illumination" is the quickening of man's powers to understand truth already revealed, " inspiration " is simply the qualifying of men to put that truth into permanent and written form.
Revelation and illumination then may exist, and at times they have existed, without inspiration. When we deny that Christianity stands or falls with the doctrine of inspiration as a whole, or with any theory of inspiration in particular, we are not denying or imperiling in the least the reality of divine revelation. We are only saying that the facts of Christ's life and teaching are greater than any written record of them, and that the substantial truth of the Scripture history may be vindicated just as the truth of many secular narratives has been.
We believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures and of every part of the Scriptures. The Bible not only contains, but it is, the word of God. But as Christ is the truth and his inspiring Spirit is the Spirit of truth, the word which he has inspired has no need of special pleading. It covets the closest examination; it fears no criticism, provided the criticism be candid. There is indeed a self-sufficient and prejudiced study that comes to the Bible determined to find nothing there that will humble the sinner or suggest his need of supernatural aid, and such study will be blind to the most important facts of revelation. It will see in Christ only a man like ourselves; it will strip from his brow the halo of miracle and prophecy that surrounds it; it will find in Scripture no fulfillment of his promise that the Spirit should lead his disciples into all the truth.
But to the truly scientific mind,—and we mean by this simply the mind that is integral, that has conscience and affection active, as well as the merely logical understanding,—to the truly scientific mind, I say, that same Scripture will be self-evidencing; the law and the prophets and the Psalms will speak of Christ; minor obscurities and difficulties will be forgotten in the overpowering impression that this revelation is from God. Believing it to be the very word of Christ, we welcome investigation; we form in advance no peculiar theories of inspiration; we are content to let science and criticism tell us what inspiration is. The supremacy of Christ, and not any theory of inspiration, is the citadel of our faith. We refuse to confound the citadel with any of those temporary outworks which past ages have constructed to defend it, and with which our modern artillery enables us in some cases to dispense. 'Upon what, then, must we insist, and what points may we regard as unessential in our judgment of the Scriptures? I answer, We must insist that the Bible, taken together, is a complete and sufficient guide to Christ and salvation. It contains the truth which God saw to be best adapted to man's moral and religious needs. It is given in the forms that will most stimulate and satisfy the candid and inquiring soul. When rightly interpreted, it is an infallible guide to Christian doctrine. As to all the essential historical facts, both of the earlier and the later dispensation, both with regard to Moses and with regard to Christ, it gives us true and sufficient information. So it is the very truth of God, in the sphere and for the purposes of divine revelation. But it is not essential that we regard every unimporERRANCY OR INERRANCY?
tant historical detail as vouched for by inspiration, or that we hold the Bible to any man-made standard of literary perfection or scientific accuracy. These things are beside the purpose of revelation. There is a human element in the Bible. It is God's "word made flesh," put into imperfect forms of human speech, clothed in the garb of earthly custom and usage, but for that very reason meeting men on their own level and speaking to them in the tongue in which they were born. So the very humanity of the Bible is the best proof of its divinity.
Do I say that there are errors in matters of historical detail, errors in New Testament translations from the Hebrew, errors in exegesis, errors in logic? I say nothing of the kind. I do not myself feel compelled to recognize such errors as existing in the original autographs. I have carefully examined one after another of the so-called contradictions between different historical books of the Bible, and I have yet to find one where some reasonable hypothesis will not furnish a reconciliation. The so-called errors of translation, exegesis, logic, seem to me, in almost every case, to be the figments of a shallow criticism or an unbelieving spirit.
But I recognize the right of others to another conclusion than mine. I am not willing to stake the Christian faith upon the correctness even of the original autographs of Scripture in matters so unessential as these. I open my mind to evidence. I do not prejudge the case. I refuse to impose on students for the ministry the dogma of absolute inerrancy in matters which do not affect the substance of the Bible history, or the substance of the Bible doctrine. I refuse to make either baptism or ordination conditional upon the candidate's ability to say that Scripture is absolutely free from error in matters which have nothing to do with Christ or salvation.
I remember that although the great mass of our present Old Testament Scriptures was in the time of Christ regarded as indubitably canonical, there was yet a sort of penumbra around the sun; the sacred writings shaded off into some that were not so sacred; about Esther and the Song of Solomon some of the rabbis doubted whether they were really a part of the word bf God. So I find in the early church far less external evidence for Second Peter than for the synoptic Gospels; even about the Epistle to the Hebrews some doubted; the New Testament had its penumbra like the Old; for four centuries the outline of the sun's disc was not perfectly defined. And now in our day, among those who accept the whole Bible, there is a question whether even around the great sunlike testimony of the accepted books there may not be a penumbra, or shading off into inaccuracy, of historical or scientific detail. This, I say, is a mere question of fact, and its decision either one way or the other should not shake in the least our confidence in the proper authority of Scripture.
Sir Joshua Reynolds was a great painter and a great teacher of his art. His lectures on painting laid down principles which have been accepted as authority for generations. But Joshua Reynolds illustrates his subject from history and science. It was a day when both history and science were young. In some unimportant matters of this sort, which do not in the least affect his conclusions, Sir Joshua makes an occasional slip; his HISTORICAL AND SCIENTIFIC DETAILS
statements are inaccurate. Does he, therefore, cease to be an authority in matters of his art? And must I have presented to me the alternative of renouncing Joshua Reynolds as a guide in painting, or of taking for absolute truth all his statements of historical and scientific detail?
I say, once more, that I do not as yet find indubitable evidence that the original autographs of Scripture were marked by such errors of detail. But I say also that the question is not one of such moment as to make me willing to exclude from my Christian fellowship one who thinks he does find such errors. We may still hold to one Lord, one faith, one baptism. If my brother, after patient, candid, and reverent investigation, thinks that he finds such errors, let him say so; no man is required to lie for God. The Christian should love truth, for Christ is the Truth. He should face the facts, for whatever they may be, and however the knowledge of them may require the modification of his former views, Baptists, above all, should recognize the right of private judgment and should not be quick to stigmatize possible progress as heresy.
The anxiety of many Christians to maintain the historical and scientific inerrancy of Scripture is mainly the result of their fear that the possibility of mistake in such minor matters may carry with it the possibility of mistake in the greater matters of faith and doctrine. But the fallibility of the record in the one case does not necessarily involve its fallibility in the other. A secular history may be perfectly trustworthy in its great features, while yet it is inaccurate in some of its details. The Duke of Wellington said once that no human being knew at what time of day the battle of Waterloo began. One historian gets his story from one combatant, and he puts the hour at eleven in the morning. Another historian has his information from another combatant, and he puts it at noon. Shall we say that this discrepancy argues error in the whole account and that we have no longer any certainty that the battle of Waterloo was ever fought at all? Nay, verily. Both historians may be good authority for all the main facts of the battle, notwithstanding this difference with regard to the precise time of its commencement.
What we need in Scripture is an absolute authority in matters pertaining to salvation. The Bible may conceivably be an authority about Christ and Christian truth without being absolutely inerrant in its account of the numbers slain in some Old Testament battle, or of the length of time from Abraham to Moses. In its chosen sphere it is infallible, and its chosen sphere is the revelation of moral and religious truth.
We see a striking combination of authority and errancy in many a legal decision. The judgment as a whole is final and binding, for it is a judgment of the highest court. So far as it keeps to the purpose of its utterance, it settles the matter at issue; but the obiter dicta of the judge, his allusions to other matters, his remarks by the way, while they may be instructive and interesting, are not necessarily authoritative.
Now in Scripture there is certainly no forgery, no misrepresentation or idealization, no conscious connivance at the mistakes of others. But if any one says that the most natural explanation of certain apparent discrepancies is that each of the differing authors used INSPIRATION HAS MANY METHODS 13 I
the material ready to his hand, and that the Spirit of inspiration did not regard it as worth the while to correct the unimportant variation, I cannot prove that his view is incorrect. It would only enlarge a little my conception of the amount of human imperfection which the Holy Spirit may leave in inspired Scripture. It would only make the Scripture histories a little more like secular histories, two of which may vary in slight details, while both of them in all essentials are perfectly harmonious.
It becomes us to be very slow in concluding that seeming discrepancies are real errors, for many such difficulties in the past have been removed by increasing knowledge. Careful examination has strengthened rather than weakened faith in the accuracy of Scripture. But let us not preclude inquiry by any a priori theory of what the Bible must be. Why should we deny to inspired men the right to use all the ordinary methods of honest literature? Why may they not collect material as other historians do? Why may they not embody previously existing documents in their own productions? Why may not truth be put in parabolic or dramatic form? Why may not the words of Satan, or of wicked men, or of good men in their occasional periods of depression or skepticism, be embodied in sacred literature, to give examples of all the various experiences of life under the providence and discipline of God?
Do you say that this leaves us without a clue to what is true and what is false? Not so. In each of these cases inspiration guarantees that the story is true to nature and valuable as containing divine instruction; and the difficulty of distinguishing man's words from God's words, or ideal truth from actual truth, only gives stimulus to inquiry, puts us upon our honor and conscience, and makes the book of Scripture more like the book of nature, which yields its treasures of knowledge only to the diligent and devout.
God's word is "a stream in which the lamb may wade and the elephant may swim." There is a general plainness of teaching, so that the wayfaring man may read as he runs. The tenor of Scripture will not be mistaken by any sinner who humbly seeks the way of life. Not from single passages, isolated from their context, are we to gather our scheme of doctrine. We are "to compare spiritual things with spiritual." "Every scripture inspired by God is profitable," but the parts are of complete authority only when taken in connection with the whole. Inspiration, then, makes the whole Scripture to be the word of God. And by inspiration I mean—to use the language of another—" such a complete and immediate communication by the Holy Spirit to the minds of the sacred writers of those things which could not have been otherwise known, and such an effectual superintendence as to those things concerning which they might otherwise obtain information, as sufficed absolutely to preserve them from every degree of error in all things which could in the least affect the doctrines or precepts contained in their writings."
And this is to say over again, in other words, that the Scriptures are not the original, but the reflection; not the Being revealed, but the revelation of that Being; not the Christ, but the witness to him. I reverence the Bible, then, as an organic and progressive account THE HIGHER CRITICISM
of Christ's historical work and teaching, both under the Old Dispensation and under the New. I reverence it because of him, not him because of it. When he tells me that not one jot or tittle of the law shall pass away till all be fulfilled, I take his word as true. If I can find out precisely what he meant when he says that Moses wrote of him, I shall believe that.
The higher criticism, conducted in a humble and candid spirit, can only show me the real meaning of Christ's words. I have no fear of the higher criticism, therefore, but rather welcome it as a new means to the understanding of Christ. That the Pentateuch is a composite production made up in part of documents which Moses found ready to his hand, and also in small part of material added after Moses' death, is now a matter of probability. Yet still, Moses is substantially its author. I believe that the higher criticism itself will yet show the most of it to have been written by him. What others added, and how they added it, I hold myself free as air to determine, after the investigation of the facts and the application of proper scientific tests.
The authority and sufficiency of Scripture, as a rule of faith and practice, is the formal principle of the Reformation. Too many martyrs have shed their blood for it, for us to be willing to renounce it now. But not even Protestants have the right to put the formal principle of the Reformation before its material principle, justification by faith. The Christ in whom we believe is greater and more perfect than the Bible, which only speaks of him. And the right of private judgment in the interpretation of Scripture is just as important an article of faith, and just as essential to a complete Christian life, as is the authority of Scripture itself. -1 We may be compelled to admit that there are literary, historical, and scientific imperfections to some small extent in the Bible, but we can never admit that there are imperfections in Christ. He is the final and ultimate authority, while the authority of Scripture is subordinate and limited. He is himself the Word of God, and Scripture is but the reflection of that Word. His words are the very words of God, for he says: "I have not spoken of myself, but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment what I should say and what I should speak: whatsoever I speak, therefore, even as the Father hath said unto me, so I speak."
In his last great prayer our Lord declares that he had communicated God's words to men: "All things whatsoever thou hast given me are from thee; for the words which thou gavest me I have given unto them; and they received them, and knew of a truth that I came from thee, and believed that thou didst send me." He promised that the memory of his communications should not leave his disciples' minds. "The Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you." The result of this work of the Holy Spirit is the Scriptures of the New Testament. They are inspired, as the Old Testament Scriptures were inspired. They derive their authority from Christ himself; and so, in spite of the human element that mingles with them, they constitute "the word of God which liveth and abideth forever," and they are "able to mike us wise unto salvation."
THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT
Thus reason and conscience, themselves possessing a limited and individual authority, are put under the advisement of State and Church, which possess a larger and more general authority. But Scripture, the record of God's special revelation, overtops all these; and, where Scripture plainly speaks, reason and conscience, Church and State, must bow. And yet, even above this revelation stands the Revealer; and the source of all authority is not Scripture, but Christ. The hierarchy finds its summit in him who is "the head of all principality and power."
Nowhere are we told that the Scripture of itself is able to convince the sinner or to bring him to God. It is a glittering sword, but it is "the sword of the Spirit"; and unless the Spirit use it, it will never pierce the heart. It is a heavy hammer, but only the Spirit can wield it so that it breaks in pieces the flinty rock. It is the type locked in the form, but the paper will never receive an impression until the Spirit shall apply the power. No mere instrument shall have the glory that belongs to God. Every soul shall feel its entire dependence upon him. Only the Holy Spirit can turn the outer word into an inner word. And the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. Christ comes into direct contact with the soul. He himself gives his witness to the truth. He bears testimony to Scripture, even more than Scripture bears testimony to him.
We are, therefore, to worship, not the book, but him who gave the book. May it not be for this very reason God has left the book still laden with marks of human imperfection, sometimes errors of grammar and rudeness of style, sometimes the imperfect morality of the earlier ages, in order that we may bow only to him to whom the whole book points—the Christ of God, who is himself God's one and only complete revelation to man?
One of the earliest recollections of my childhood is that of a great family Bible, with a cover of brilliant red, which stood upon the center-table of our humble parlor. One day I stood upon tip-toe and ventured to open it. Upon the title-page I saw the picture of a book, from which rays of light seemed to stream in every direction. A feeling of awe seized me; God seemed to be in the book; the book was almost God.
In that picture, and in my childish impression of it, there was a solemn truth, and I would not undervalue it. But I have learned to correct the symbol. The Bible is not an original source of light,—it only transmits the light of Christ. It is not an original source of power,—it only serves as the vehicle and instrument of Christ's power. Christ is the source from which the rays proceed, and Scripture is but the earthly mirror that reflects his glory. Like the Holy Spirit who inspired it, it does not magnify itself,—it takes of the things of Christ and shows them to us. We use it rightly when we permit it to lead us to him. It is like * the angel who showed to John, in the Apocalypse, the things that should shortly be done. If we ever are so dazzled by its beams that we bow down to worship it, it reminds us at once that its authority is delegated and limited, that it only reflects the glory of the divine Redeemer; and we hear it saying to us: "See thou do it not: worship God!"