CHRIST AND SCRIPTURE
"E come now to the consideration of
Christ's relation to Holy Scripture.
The whole matter is summed up in the statement that the written word is the expression of the eternal Word.
But as the eternal Word was made flesh and appeared in human form, so the written word comes to us through the weak and halting methods of human composition. As the Father expressed himself in Christ under the limitations of space and time, beginning as a mere speck in the womb of the Virgin, coming to the full consciousness of his dignity and mission as he grew in stature and wisdom, and learning obedience by the things which he suffered, so Christ expressed himself gradually in the Scriptures, beginning with the prophecy that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head (Gen. 3:15), enlarging the revelation by occasional theophanies and by the types of the Mosaic service, by the rough denunciations of the herdsman Amos and the surpassing eloquence of the courtier Isaiah, until at last, in his personal manifestation in human form, he furnished the key to all the past and made God understood to all the future (John 1: 17, 18).
Scripture a Superintended Evolution
After what I have said of Christ, as the life and light of men, I can speak without hesitation of the evolution of Scripture. Evolution is simply the ordinary method of Christ's working. He uses the past in his building of the future, as he uses the seed in his bringing forth of fruit (Gen. 1: 12).
But this method is not exclusive. It leaves room for absolute creation, for incarnation, miracle, resurrection; indeed, these are required either to precede, explain, or supplement the evolutionary process. Christ can work from within, as easily as from without (Gal. 1: 16). There need be no denunciation of an evolutionary element in the composition of Scripture, so long as we recognize to the full that holy men of old wrote as they were moved by the Spirit of Christ (1 Pet. 1:11; 2 Pet. 1:21).
In this evolution of Scripture, Christ may use all the methods of literary composition which are consistent with truth—poetry as well as prose, proverb as well as history, parable as well as dogmatic teaching, apologue and drama as well as legislative enactment. Even hyperbole and fable are found in the Old Testament (Deut. 1:28; Judg. 9:14). This variety of method has given such interest and popularity to the Bible that it has become the most widely circulated book of the world.
Christ's revelation may be a progressive one, requiring a final and personal appearance of the Lawgiver, to show the connection of its parts and to disclose the meaning of the whole. But because one mighty Spirit of Christ has breathed through the whole process of Scripture growth from the beginning to the end, Christian experience recognizes the written word as the expression of the eternal Word, and, when taken as a whole and rightly interpreted, the supreme rule of our faith and practice.
The Function and Limits of Criticism The higher criticism has its rights, and we must concede that it has thrown valuable light upon the methods employed in the composition of Scripture. But the higher criticism is not master, but servant, of our spiritual sense; and its surmises must bow to the total testimony of the word of God.
The Bible is given for the use and comprehension of ordinary Christians; the same Spirit that inspired the Bible is given to Christ's followers to interpret what he has permitted to be written; and each Christian is to be judged at the last day by his obedience or disobedience to the plain teaching of the Bible.
The confessions of faith which have marked the history of the church show clearly that the great majority of believers have found Scripture to teach the deity and pre-existence of Christ, his incarnation, virgin birth, miracles, vicarious atonement, physical resurrection, his omnipresence in the hearts of his people, and his final coming to be Judge of the living and of the dead.
The Bible a Divinely Edited Literature The Bible is, therefore, not simply revelation; it is also literature. Not all of it is divine dictation; most of it is human utterance. The relation of Scripture to Christ, as its principal author, enables us to interpret many problems which would otherwise be insoluble. For Christ was the Word of God made flesh. The written word which expresses him is therefore the word of God made human; adapted to ordinary human comprehension; limited by many shortcomings and imperfections. It is a record of man's downward progress, in spite of Christ's restraints and incentives to obedience. "By diverse portions and in diverse manners" (Heb. 1:1), and usually through man's own reports, though selected and supervised by Christ, it tells the story of the downward progress of the human race until man's sin culminated in the effort to murder man's Creator, and to quench in darkness man's only Light.
That record of sin must be taken as a whole, gathered as it was from human life and from conflicting sources. No single utterance can be taken as complete truth; it must be taken in connection with its context; like the railway coupon, it is "not good if detached." The sentence, "There is no God" must have its explanation from the words that precede it— "The fool hath said in his heart" (Ps. 14: 1). The Old Testament must be taken in connection with the New, and the words of Jesus in connection with the later words of his apostles.
So long as essential truth is conveyed, therf is almost no limit to the methods which may be employed. Single words have more than one meaning, and while the lesser meaning maybest teach the child, the larger meaning may best teach the man. The word "day," in the history of creation in Genesis, does not necessarily mean a day of twenty-four hours, for the prophet Zechariah (14:7) speaks of "days known to the Lord, not day nor night," and the six days of creation may be age-long periods of time.
Christ ordinarily lets men tell their own story. There was once a cold-blooded murder in Florence. Differing accounts of it were given by the murderer and by his victim, by the prosecuting counsel and by the pope. Robert Browning makes all these witnesses describe the matter in " The Ring and the Book." We are left to make up our own minds about the facts, after the reading of these differing reports; but we do not, on that account, doubt that there occurred a real murder. Shall we doubt the death of Christ, because the evangelists do not precisely agree as to the superscription on his cross?
King Arthur of the Round Table was a historical character. But Tennyson, in his Idylls of the King, has made him and his knights the subject of an imaginary story which will teach great moral truth to the end of time. Shall we deny the poet's right to weave round King Arthur a work of imagination?
Job was also a historical character. Must we therefore say that the speeches of Job's friends were also real utterances? Let us rather regard them as incidents of a poet's drama.
Shall we refuse to Christ the use of parable in the case of the prodigal son, or of apologue in the case of Jonah and of Daniel? These last are historical characters, mentioned elsewhere in Scripture; but it is still possible that there are legendary incidents in their stories, and that Jesus himself may have referred to them as such (Matt. 12:40).
Christ the Sufficient Guarantor of Scripture
Many a modern historian, like H. G. Wells, quotes varying reports of a battle like Waterloo, or of an important piece of legislation like that of Spain in the Netherlands, and we do not deny him the privilege. If he who antedated Moses gives us varied reports of Moses and his law, and leaves us to judge between them, shall we say that there was no Moses and no law? All these sceptical objections fall to the ground when we remember that he who permitted these methods of literary composition was himself the Truth, and that he took these humble ways only to impress the truth more readily and more forcibly upon the minds of men.
Remember who Christ was, the manifested God, the one and only medium of God's revelation, and we shall see that the whole Old Testament was composed under his superintendence and so cannot be "broken " up into fragments (John 10:35). Isaiah "saw his glory, and spoke of him" (John 12:41); and the same Jesus, who had "many things to say" which his disciples could not bear while he was with them, could "bring to their remembrance all that he had said unto them," and actually did this in John's gospel (16: 12 and 14:26).
This superintendence of Christ makes the written word, with all its literary and human shortcomings, an expression of the eternal Word, and gives it unity, sufficiency, and authority, as a rule of faith and practice (Miscellanies, 1:251-260).