The Right and Wrong Uses of the Bible
R. Heber Newton
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The Right and Wrong Uses of the Bible
R. Heber Newton.
"In it _is contained_ God's true Word."--_Homily on the Holy
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I. The Unreal Bible.
II. The Real Bible.
III. The Wrong Uses of the Bible.
IV. The Wrong Uses of the Bible.
V. The Right Critical Use of the Bible.
VI. The Right Historical Use of the Bible.
VII. The Right Ethical and Spiritual Use of the Bible.
"The Gospel doth not so much consist _in verbis_ as _in virtute_."
"Liberty in prophesying, without prescribing authoritatively to other
men's consciences, and becoming lords and masters of their faith--a
necessity derived from the consideration of the difficulty of Scripture
in questions controverted, and the uncertainty of any internal medium
"To those who follow their reason in the interpretation of the
Scriptures, God will either give his grace for assistance to find the
truth, or His pardon if they miss it."
[Rational Theology in England in the Seventeenth Century; John Tulloch,
D.D., II: 181, I:398, I:160]
It has been my custom for several years to give occasionally a series of
sermons, having in view some systematic instruction of the people
committed to my care. Such a series of sermons on the Bible had been for
some time in my mind. With the recurrence of Bible-Sunday in our Church
year, this thought crystallized in the outline of a course that should
present the nature and uses of the Bible, both negatively and positively,
in a manner that should be at once reverent and rational. In the course of
this parochial ministration public attention was called to it in a way
that has rendered a complete report of my words desirable.
The views set forth in these sermons were not hastily reached or lightly
accepted. They represent a growth of years. Their essential thought was
stated in a sermon that was preached and published eight years ago. My
positions concerning certain books, etc., have been taken in deference to
what seems to me the weight of judgment among the master critics. They are
open to correction, as the young science of Biblical criticism gains new
light. The general view of the Bible herein set forth rests upon the
conclusions of no new criticism. In varying forms, it has been that of an
historical school of thought in the English Church and in its American
daughter. It is a view that has been recognized as a legitimate child of
the mother Church; and that has been given the freedom of our own
homestead, in the undogmatic language of the sixth of the Articles of
Religion of the Protestant Episcopal Church. It is distinctly enunciated
in the first sentence of the first sermon in the Book of Homilies, set
forth officially for the instruction of the people in both of these
"Unto a Christian man there can be nothing more necessary or profitable
than the knowledge of holy scripture, forasmuch as _in it is contained
God's true word_, setting forth his glory, and also man's duty."
The whole controversy in Protestantism over the Bible may be summed into
the question whether the Bible _is_ God's word or _contains_ God's word.
On this question I stand with the Book of Homilies.
These sermons were meant for that large and rapidly growing body of men
who can no longer hold the traditional view of the Bible, but who yet
realize that within this view there is a real and profound truth; a truth
which we all need, if haply we can get it out from its archaic form
without destroying its life, and can clothe it anew in a shape that we can
intelligently grasp and sincerely hold. To such alone would I speak in
these pages, to help them hold the substance of their fathers' faith.
R. Heber Newton.
All Souls' Church, _March_ 1, 1883.
The Unreal Bible.
"The Bible, and the reading of the Bible as an instrument of
instruction, may be said to have been begun on the sunrise of that day
when Ezra unrolled the parchment scroll of the Law. It was a new
thought that the Divine Will could be communicated by a dead literature
as well as by a living voice. In the impassioned welcome with which
this thought was received lay the germs of all the good and evil which
were afterwards to be developed out of it: on the one side, the
possibility of appeal in each successive age to the primitive, undying
document that should rectify the fluctuations of false tradition and
fleeting opinion; on the other hand, the temptation to pay to the
letter of the sacred book a worship as idolatrous and as profoundly
opposed to its spirit as once had been the veneration paid to the
sacred trees or the sacred stones of the consecrated groves or hills."
Dean Stanley: "History of the Jewish Church," iii. 158.
The Unreal Bible
"Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning
those matters which have been fulfilled among us, even as they
delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eye-witnesses and
ministers of the word; it seemed good to me also, having traced the
course of all things accurately from the first, to write unto thee in
order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty
concerning the things which thou wast taught by word of mouth."--Luke
This day, in our Church year, calls us to think upon the influence of the
Bible on the advance of man into the Kingdom of God.
Since the growth of written language great books have been the
well-springs of thought and feeling for mankind, from which successive
generations have drawn the water of life. Since the introduction of the
printing-press books have been, beyond all other agencies, the educators
of men. And of all books of which we have any knowledge, those together
constituting the Bible form incomparably the most potent factors in the
moral and religious progress of the western world; and as all other
progress is fed from moral and religious forces, I may add, in the
general advance of Christian civilization.
From these books the lisping lips of children have learned the tales of
beautiful goodness which have nourished all noble aspirations. Over these
charming stories of Hebrew heroism and holiness the imagination has caught
sight of the infinite mysteries amid which we walk on earth. Their touch
has quickened conscience into life. Through their voices the whispers of
the Eternal Power have thrilled the soul of youth, and men have learned to
worship, trust, and love the Father-God. These books have preserved for us
the story of the Life which earth could least afford to lose, the image of
the Man who, were his memory dropped from out our lives--our religion,
morals, philanthropy, laws and institutions would lose their highest
force. These books have taught statesmen the principles of government, and
students of social science the cardinal laws of civilization. The fairest
essays for a true social order which Europe and America have known have
laid their foundations on these books. They have fed art with its highest
visions, and have touched the lips of poesy that they have opened into
song. They have voiced the worship of Christendom for centuries, and have
cleared above progressive civilization the commanding ideals of Liberty,
Justice, Brotherhood. Men and women during fifty generations have heard
through these books the words proceeding from out the mouth of God, on
which they have lived. Amid the darkness of earth, the light which has
enabled our fathers to walk upright, strong for duty, panoplied against
temptation, patient in suffering, resigned in affliction, meeting even
death with no treacherous tremors, has shone from these pages. In their
words young men and maidens have plighted troth each to the other, fathers
and mothers have named their little ones, and by those children have been
laid away in the earth in hope of eternal life. All that is sweetest,
purest, finest, noblest in personal, domestic, social and civic life, has
been fed perennially from these books. The Bible is woven into our very
being. To tear it from our lives would be to unravel the fair tapestry of
civilization--to run out its golden threads and crumble its beautiful
pictures into chaos.
* * * * *
Yet we are threatened to-day with no less a loss than this. The Bible is
certainly not read as of old. It is not merely the distraction of our
busier lives, or the multiplicity of books upon our shelves, that turns
men and women away from these classics of our fathers. Men and women no
longer regard these books as did their fathers. They can no longer use
them as their parents did; they see no other way to use them, and so they
leave them unopened on their tables.
An intelligent lady said to me some time since: "My children don't know
anything about the Bible. I cannot read it to them, for I do not know what
to say when they ask me questions. I no longer believe as I was taught
about it: what, then, can I teach them?"
A confession which, if all parents were as frank, would have to be made in
many other households. Where it is still used in home readings, it is, in
hosts of houses, with the pain which mothers know when their children's
honest questions cannot be as honestly answered.
Such a state of things is sad and dangerous. Unless some way be found to
read these books without equivocation, they will gradually cease to be
used in home instruction, and the coming generations will grow up without
their holy influence. This state of things ought not to have been brought
upon us. The reverent reading of the Bible alone would never have led us
into such straits. It is the old story of all human reverence. That which
we revere, we exaggerate. Glamor gathers around it. The symbol is
identified with the spiritual reality. The image becomes an idol. The
wonderful thing becomes a fetish. So we end in an irrational reverence of
that which is worthy of a real and rational reverence. Then we have a
superstition. Superstition always results in destroying the rightful
belief of which it is the exaggeration and distortion.
This is the common story of superstition, from the totemism of savage
tribes and the image-worship of semi-civilized peoples on to the
heathenism of the Mass. Men who felt the reality of a mystic communion
with Christ, of which the Supper of the Lord was the symbol,--who felt the
strengthening of their characters as their thoughts fed upon the words and
life of Jesus,--naturally came to speak of the sacrament in terms of awe,
which magnified the mystery, until at last they bowed down before the
veritable body and blood of Christ, and trembled with fear as the tinkling
of the silver bell announced that the priest was bringing God down into a
wafer! They had really heard God speaking to them through the sacrament;
and this never could have done them harm. But when they tried to express
what they felt, they exaggerated and distorted the simple symbol of the
Infinite Presence, identified it with the spiritual reality, and set up a
Christian idol, a civilized fetish, which has done incalculable harm to
men. The spiritual truth became an intellectual lie, and in every Catholic
country superstition has eaten out faith, and reason refuses to reverence
The Bible has repeated this common story. The spiritual influence felt
forth-flowing from it, the voice of God heard speaking through it, drew
man's natural reverence to it. In trying to express the reasons for this
reverence he has over-stated and mis-stated the nature of these books.
The symbol has been identified with the reality. The Bible has become an
idol, a fetish.
Bibliolatry, the worship of the Bible, is responsible for the lack of the
reasonable reverence these sacred writings merit. This reasonable
reverence can be recovered only by frankly putting away the unreasonable
reverence. We must exorcise a superstition to save a faith. We must part
with the unreal Bible if we would hold the real Bible. Iconoclasm is not
pleasant to any but the callow youth. It may be none the less needful; and
then the sober man must not shrink from shivering the most sacred shrine.
As runs the Hindu thought, the Destroyer is one of the forms of the Divine
Power. God is continually destroying worlds and creeds alike; but in order
"Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying,
yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this
word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are
shaken, as of things that have been made, that those things which
cannot be shaken may remain."
According to its root-meaning, "learning" is a "shaking." Every new
learning shakes society, now as in the days past. As the writer of the
Epistle to the Hebrews saw, it is God who is shaking society in every such
new learning, to the end that "those things which cannot be shaken may
remain." Man need not fear to follow in the steps of God.
There is danger now in shaking men's faiths. There is danger, too, in
leaving men's faith unshaken--unless the Divine process of progress is
wrong. In the stress and storm of the tossing sea, Faith may go down in
the waters. It may also die of dry rot by the old wharves. There is danger
in rash utterance, but there is at least equal danger in timid silence.
The time never comes when a reconstruction does not imperil some great
interest. None the less the reconstruction must go on. Delay in pulling
down may make building up of the old structure impossible.
As the story of past civilizations sadly shows, the gulf between the
popular superstitions and the thoughts of scholars may widen until no
bridge can span it, and religion perishes in it. It seems to me that the
time has come when the pulpit must keep no longer silence. Its silence
will not seal the lips of other teachers. Books and papers are everywhere
forcing the issue upon our generation. Men's minds are torn asunder, their
souls are in the strife. It behoves the Churches to remember that great
word of Luther:
"It is never safe to do anything against the truth!"
When the venerable cathedral, in which our forefathers sought God and
found Him, grows dangerously unsound; when its columns have crumbled and
its arches have sprung, and its stout oaken timbers have dried into dust;
the guardians of the sacred pile must plan its restoration as best they
can. They must shore up its treacherous walls, take out its dead
materials, carve new heads for the saints in the niches of the doors,
build up the edifice anew, following faithfully as may be the old lines,
and striving for the old spirit. When the scaffolding comes down, we may
feel a shock of pain at the strange raw look of that which Time had
stained with sacredness. But the minster has been saved for our children;
and, when they shall gather within its historic walls, those walls will
have grown venerable again with age, and they will not feel the loss which
we have suffered, while as of old, they, too, shall hear the voice of God
and find His Holy Presence.
I propose to consider with you, carefully but frankly, the real nature and
the true uses of the Bible.
* * * * *
Let us examine to-day the traditional view of the Bible.
It is not easy to define the popular theory of the Bible. Like its kindred
theory of Papal Infallibility, it is a true chameleon, changing constantly
in different minds, always denying the absurdity of which it is made the
synonym, ever qualifying itself safely, yet never ceasing to take on a
vaguely miraculous character. Various theories are given in the books in
which theological students are mis-educated, all of which unite in
claiming that which they cannot agree in defining. The Westminster
Confession of Faith may be taken as the dogmatic petrifaction of the
notion which lies, more or less undeveloped and still living, in the other
This Confession opens with a chapter "Of the Holy Scriptures," which
affirms in this wise:
"The light of nature and the works of creation and Providence .... are
not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and of His will, which is
necessary to salvation.... The authority of the Holy Scripture....
dependeth.... wholly upon God, the Author thereof; and therefore it is
to be received, because it is the Word of God....
"....and the entire perfection thereof are arguments whereby it doth
abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God, and establish our
full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine
"The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own
glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down
in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from
Scripture, unto which nothing at any time is to be added by new
revelations of the Spirit.
"Being immediately inspired by God, and by His singular care and
providence kept pure in all ages.... in all controversies of religion
the Church is finally to appeal unto them."
The notion which the learned divines set forth so elaborately at
Westminster, art has expressed in forms much better "understanded of the
people." Mediaeval illuminations picture the evangelists copying their
gospels from heavenly books which angels hold open above them.
A book let down out of the skies, immaculate, infallible, oracular--this
is the traditional view of the Bible.
Let me lay before you some of the many reasons why this theory of the
Bible is not to be received by us.
_This theory has no sufficient sanction by the Church._
The Catholic or OEcumenical Creeds make no affirmation whatever concerning
the Bible. This theory is found alone, in formal official statement, in
the creeds of minor authority, the utterances of councils of particular
churches; as, for example, in the Tridentine Decrees and the Protestant
Confessions of Faith. There is no unanimity of statement among these
several Confessions. Some of the Protestant Confessions of the Reformation
era state this theory moderately. Some of them hold it implicitly, without
exact definition. One at least is wholly silent upon the subject. The
later creeds of Protestantism vary even more than the Reformation symbols.
Such important Churches as the Church of England, our own Protestant
Episcopal Church, and the Methodist Church have nothing whatever of this
theory in their official utterances. These three Churches unite in this
simple, practical, undogmatic statement (the sixth of the thirty-nine
"Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that
whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be
required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the
faith or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation."
_The Bible nowhere makes any such claim of infallibility for itself._
The prophets did indeed use the habitual formula, "Thus saith the Lord."
So did the false prophets, as well as the true. It was the common formula
of prophetism, indeed, of the Easterns generally when delivering
themselves of messages that burned in their souls. The eastern mind
assigns directly to God actions and influences which we Westerns assign to
secondary causes. We are scientific, they are poetic. We reach truth by
reasonings, they by intuitions. No one can follow the processes of the
intuitions. To the mystic mind they are immediate illuminations from on
high, inspirations of the Spirit of God. In the realm of law we trace the
action of natural forces, and are apt to think there is nothing more. In
the realm of the unknown we feel the supernatural, and are apt to think it
all in all.
The great prophets themselves did not accept this language of other
prophets unquestioningly. They denied the claim unhesitatingly when
satisfied that the messages were not from on high. They distinguished
between those who came in the name of the Lord; and so must we. They tried
the spirits whether they were of God; bidding us therefore do the same.
Tried by the severest scrutiny of successive centuries, of different
races, the great prophets prove to have spoken truly when they declared,
of their ethical and spiritual messages, "Thus saith the Lord." If ever
messages from on high have come to men, if ever the Spirit of God has
spoken in the spirit of man, it was in the minds of these "men of the
spirit." But they made no claim to infallibility, or if they did, took
pains to disprove it. Every prophet who goes beyond ethical and religious
instruction, and ventures into predictions, makes mistakes, and leaves his
errors recorded for our warning. We must try even the inspired men, and
when, overstepping their limitations, they err, we must say, Thus saith
Isaiah, Thus saith Jeremiah.
No biblical writer shows any consciousness of such supernatural influences
upon him in his work as insured its infallibility. Nearly all these
authors begin and end their books without any reference to themselves or
their work. The writer of the Gospel according to Luke thus prefaces his
"Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning
those matters which have been fulfilled among us, even as they
delivered them unto us which from the beginning were eye-witnesses and
ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having traced the
course of all things accurately from the first, to write unto thee in
order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty
concerning the things which thou wast taught by word of mouth."
This is the only personal preface to any of the Gospels, and it is
thoroughly human. There is not even such an invocation as introduces
Milton's great poem.
These writers at times, after the fashion of the older prophets, affirm
that they speak with divine authority; but they also as expressly disclaim
such authority in other places. St. Paul is sure, in one matter referred
to him, of the mind of God, and writes:
"Unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord," etc.
Immediately after he writes, as having no such assurance:
"To the rest speak I, not the Lord."
Later on in the same letter he is so uncertain as to add to his judgment:
"And I think also that I have the spirit of God."
Again, in the same connection, being conscious of no divine authorization,
he gives his own opinion as such:
"Now, concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord, but I give
Eighteen hundred years after he wrote, men insist that they know more
about St. Paul's inspirations than he did himself. Against his modest,
cautious discriminations, our doctors set up their theory of the Bible,
clothe all his utterances with the divine authority, and honor him with an
infallibility which he explicitly disclaims.
The New Testament writers use language which seems, to our
theory-spectacled eyes, to ascribe an infallible inspiration to the Old
Testament books. But the words have no such weight. The Epistle to the
Hebrews opens with the words:
"God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto
the fathers by the prophets," etc.
The author of the Second Epistle of Peter writes:
"For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men
of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."
Such passages as these command the instant assent of all who reverence an
ethical and spiritual inspiration in the prophets, and a real revelation
through them, and they command no other belief.
In the first Epistle General of Peter we read:
"Concerning which salvation the prophets sought and searched diligently
who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you; searching what
time or what manner of time the spirit of Christ which was in them did
point unto, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and
the glories that should follow them."
Any idea of a progressive revelation implies that there was a light
coming on into the world, which to them of olden time showed dimly a
mystery into which they strove to look further. A vision of ideal goodness
rose before them. It rested above the ideal Israel, chosen and called of
God for a holy work. It shadowed that righteous servant of God with
sorrow. The lot of the elect one was to be suffering. Thus the world was
to be saved to God. This the great Prophet of the Exile saw. Christ's
coming filled out this mystic vision, and it is fairly translated into the
terms the Epistle uses.
The prophets were, in such lofty visionings, under an influence beyond
"The passive master lent his hand
To the vast soul that o'er him planned."
All other passages claimed in support of the notion of an infallible Bible
fail on the witness-stand.
There is positively nothing in the New Testament which lends a reasonable
countenance to such an amazing theory.
Even the stock argument, used when all other quotations failed, disappears
in the honesty of the Revised New Testament. People who know no Greek see
now that Paul did not write "All Scripture is given by inspiration of
"Every Scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching for
reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness."
This is precisely the claim to be made for the Bible, as against the
exaggerated notions cherished about it. It is good for--all forms of
character-building. Its inspiration is ethical and spiritual. The test of
the inspiration of any writing in it is its efficacy to inspire life with
_The Bible carries the refutation of this claim upon the face of its
They thrust upon the attention of all who are not blind the traces of
human imperfection, of a kind and an extent which precludes any notion of
a clean copy of a perfect script let down from the skies.
The Old Testament historians contradict each other in facts and figures,
tell the same story in different ways, locate the same incident at
different periods, ascribe the same deeds to different men, quote
statistics which are plainly exaggerated, mistake poetic legend for sober
prose, report the marvellous tales of tradition as literal history, and
give us statements which cannot be read as scientific facts without
denying our latest and most authoritative knowledge. I shall not enumerate
these "mistakes of Moses," and of others. That is an ungracious task for
which I have no heart. It may be needful to remind the children of a
larger growth, who persist in believing a saintly mother's beliefs to be
final authority in their studies, that she is not infallible. But one does
not care to catalogue her mistakes and taunt her with them.
That which carries no such reproach in it, but is, when rightly read, an
honor to the Bible, may be pointed out, as the Biblical writers, indeed,
do for us themselves.
The marks of a patient and noble literary workmanship are in every
We can see this as our fathers could not see it, because the glasses
through which to read literature critically have been ground within our
century. Literary criticism is the study of literature by means of a
microscopic knowledge of the language in which a book is written, of its
growth from various roots, of its stages of development and the factors
influencing them, of its condition in the period of this particular
composition, of the writer's idiosyncrasies of thought and style in his
ripening periods, of the general history and literature of his race, and
of the special characteristics of his age and of his contemporary writers.
Every educated person knows something of the working of this criticism on
other books. You have read your Shakespeare with intelligence, and have
felt many misgivings as to the genuineness of a few plays, and of passages
in many plays. The brutalities and beastlinesses of Titus Andronicus
seemed impossible to the author of "The Tempest" and the "Midsummer
Night's Dream." The historic plays seemed to you often "padded." But there
was nothing more than guess-work in your conclusions, and, you suspected,
in the more pretentious opinions of others. You take up, however, the
lectures of Hudson or the charming study of Dowden, and you find that
criticism is becoming, not merely an art, depending on certain instincts
and tastes, but a science, building slowly a well-settled body of laws and
rules, and shaping already a well defined consensus of judgment. The
growth of the English language and literature, the characteristics of
society, of language and of literature in the Elizabethan era, the idioms
of Shakespeare's contemporaries, the manner of Shakespeare himself, in his
different periods, have all been so minutely studied as to form a distinct
specialty in knowledge. The Shakespearian scholar is a well differentiated
species of the genus scholar, and speaks with a substantial authority upon
what is now a real science. You can follow this teacher into Shakespeare's
work-shop, watch the building of his plays, distinguish the hands which
toiled over them and mark their journeyman's work, till quite sure where
the Master's own inimitable touch caressed them into noble form, and in
what period of his life he thus wrought. There is a new revelation of
Shakespeare to our age.
This criticism turned upon the great books of the ancients. Niebuhr led
the way in reconstructing the early history of the Romans. Dr. Arnold
predicted that a Niebuhr of Jewish literature would arise. He came duly.
His name was Ewald. Successors have followed in abundance. The principles
and processes of literary criticism were applied to the Hebrew writings.
In the present immature stage of this science of Biblical Criticism there
are, of course, plenty of speculations and guesses, of hasty
generalizations and crude opinions. Time will correct these. Meanwhile
there is already so much that may claim to be well established as to
constitute a new knowledge of these old books.
The historical books are seen to be the work of many hands in many ages.
They gather up the popular traditions of the race, carry down on their
slow streams fragments from such far back ages that we have almost lost
the clue to their story--glacial boulders that now lie strangely out of
place in the rich fields of later eras; songs of rude periods, nature
myths, legends of semi-fabulous heroes, folk lore of the tribes, scraps
from long-forgotten books, entries from ancient annals, pages torn from
the histories of other peoples to fill out the story; the whole worked
over many times by many hands in many generations.
Just as Thirlwall and Grote give us studies of Grecian history from the
standpoint of Monarchism and Republicanism, so in the Kings and
Chronicles we have studies of Hebrew history from a prophetic and priestly
point of view.
The legislation of the Pentateuch, supposed formerly to have been drawn up
by Moses, appears, as it now stands, to be a codification, made as late as
the period of the Babylonian exile, under the influence of the
hierarchical and ritual system, then crystallizing into the form familiar
to us all. This codification, like its famous parallel in Roman history,
the code of Justinian, collated the decisions and decrees already in
existence from various periods, and reissued them as one body of laws.
It brings together the "Judgments" of early days upon questions of civil
life--the decisions of tribal heads concerning the rights of person and
property, the counterparts of the "Dooms" of English history; the moral
rules of the local priests in a simple state of society; and the ritual
and discipline of a late ecclesiastical age. The compilation is not very
skilfully done, so that we pass from the minutiae of a priest's _vade
mecum_ in a highly developed hierarchical period to the civil statutes of
a rude patriarchal society, whose very crimes are archaic.
The prophecies break up into fragmentary collections, in which the words
of many different and obscure prophets are grouped under the name of some
great prophet, as was quite natural in an uncritical age; the whole mass
being arranged with little chronological order.
The Psalter separates into several books of sacred song, dating from
different periods. They repeat the same Psalm, and divide one Psalm into
two and join two into one, on principles by no means apparent to us. Some
of these Psalms are of a highly artificial and mechanical structure. There
are acrostics, in which the couplets begin with the successive letters of
the Hebrew alphabet; double acrostics, and other refinements of literary
ingenuity; the sure signs of a flamboyant and decadent literature.
The other writings of the Old Testament and the books of the New Testament
have yielded similar general results to the touchstone of criticism;
concerning which it is needless to speak further.
Our critical glasses bring out, clear and strong, the fact of a human,
literary craft in these books, the signs on every hand of the labor of
brain and skill of pen through which the literature of a venerable nation,
and of the infant church born of it, took slow shape into our Bible. Such
a work needs must have in it the traces of human imperfection; and these
limitations of thought and knowledge, these mistakes of fallible writers,
are to be seen by every one, save those who will not see.
It is impossible after such a study to rest in the illusion of an
infallible book, of which, as a book, God can be said to be the "author."
_The growth of this theory is plain to us, and discredits its authority._
The explanation that Max Mueller makes of the growth of superstitious
reverence for ancient traditions in Hindu history is suggestive on this
"In an age when there was nothing corresponding to what we call
literature, every saying, every proverb, every story handed down from
father to son received very soon a kind of hallowed character. They became
sacred heir-looms, sacred because they came from an unknown source, from a
distant age. There was a stage in the development of human thought when
the distance that separated the living generation from their grandfathers
or great-grandfathers was as yet the nearest approach to a conception of
eternity, and when the name of grandfather and great-grandfather seemed
the nearest expression of God. Hence what had been said by these half
human, half divine ancestors, if it was preserved at all, was soon looked
upon as a more than human utterance. Some of these ancient sayings were
preserved because they were so true and so striking that they could not be
forgotten. They contained eternal truths, expressed for the first time in
human language. Of such oracles of truth it was said in India that they
had been heard, Sruta, and from it arose the word Sruti, the recognized
term for divine revelation in Sanskrit."
How, in later times, the great writings of the Hebrews came to acquire the
same exaggerated sacredness, we can also observe. We read in one of the
historical books of the Jews that "Nehemiah founded a library and gathered
together the writings concerning the Kings, and of the prophets, and the
(songs) of David and epistles of Kings concerning temple gifts." This
formation of a National Library was really the germ out of which grew the
Old Testament. It was a purely civic act by a layman, but it expressed the
honor in which the national writings were coming to be held. It is
coincident with this that we find a priestly movement to draw a sacred
line around the more important writings of the nation.
Tradition has credited Ezra, the priestly coadjutor of Nehemiah, with the
first formation of the Old Testament Canon. The two traditions express one
and the same fact from the secular and ecclesiastical points of view. In
the exile, the stricken nation came to value and honor its national
heritage as never before. Its literary sense was quickened by close
contact with the civilization of Babylonia, whose great library
constituted one of the chief treasures of the central city. It was natural
that on their return to their native land the Jews should gather their
race-writings and found a National Library.
The genius of Israel had always been religious. Its very literature was
pre-eminently religious. That their venerable writings should be received
as sacred was thus wholly natural. They were in reality sacred writings.
Moreover, a large part of these writings, and that part largely drawn from
very ancient times, was composed of judicial decisions, legislative codes,
etc., around which veneration properly gathered. This veneration was
heightened by the popular traditions which assigned to Moses the bulk of
their legislation, and traced it through him to Jehovah himself. During
the exile a remarkable priestly development, which had been running on
through two centuries, at least, culminated in a completely organized
hierarchy and an elaborate cultus.
In the process of this final development in Babylonia the legislation and
histories of the nation were worked over by priestly hands in the priestly
spirit. The law of Moses was now for the first time completely set before
the people, and on the restoration to Judea was made the law of the land.
It became, therefore, in a new sense sacred.
The fresh, free inspirations of the prophets--inspirations most real and
divine--died out in the exile, smothered partly by this priestly
When no living prophet arose to make men hear the voice of God, men had to
hearken for that voice in the words of the dead prophets. In the
synagogues or meeting-houses which developed during the exile, when the
holy temple was in ruins, and which, having been found useful, were
continued in the restoration, the writings of the prophets were read each
Sabbath. The true writings of the chief prophets had therefore to be
indicated. Thus came the canon of the prophets.
The freedom with which the author of the Chronicles used the material of
the older historians which had been taken up into the sacred writings,
shows that the sacredness attached to them had not isolated them into
extra-human writings even a century and a half after Ezra.
The process of exaltation was at work, however, and continued thenceforth
through the national history, increasing as the life of the nation ebbed.
It was the period immediately following the destruction of Jerusalem by
the Romans, which busied itself in closing the canon of Jewish Scriptures
Death bound up that Bible. No new chapters could be added, because there
was no more life left to write them. In its dotage this noble nation
became known, by its superstitious reverence for the law, as "the people
of the book." Learned doctors gravely taught their pupils that "God
himself studies the law for the first three hours of every day."
The superstitious exaltation of the sacred writings, coincident with the
lapsing life of the nation, was partially responsible for it, as it
discouraged the fresh inspirations of the soul, and suppressed all free
The genesis of the similar theory concerning the Christian Scriptures
repeats the story told above.
The formation of the Christian Church was a period of astonishing literary
productivity, commensurate in extent and worth with the importance of
Christianity. It was a creative epoch in history. The life and teachings
of Jesus stirred the minds and thrilled the souls of men. The higher
spheres brooded low upon our world. Spiritual influences of unparalleled
magnitude were working in society. The "Spirit of God moved upon the face
of the waters."
Writings of all sorts abounded. They carried such weight as their author's
name or their intrinsic worth imparted to them. Even the most valuable
were not so prized or guarded as to prevent some of them from being lost.
Paul's own letters suffered from this neglect. Had a few copies of these
inestimable letters been made by the churches to whom they were sent such
a fate could not have befallen any of them. These writings were quoted
freely by the early fathers, who rarely cared to give the exact language
even of the great apostle.
As the churches multiplied and organized, the need of selection from the
multitudinous literature of Christianity was felt. Genuine letters had to
be distinguished from spurious letters. Accurate knowledge of the life and
teachings of Christ had become a vital necessity. The growth of legend and
fable, in the Apocryphal Gospels, threatened to swallow up the memory of
the real Jesus. A sifting process went on in the churches, by which the
unimportant and objectionable writings were gradually winnowed out and the
The Christian consciousness tried and tested every writing, accepting
those which approved themselves inspired by inspiring.
In the course of time this thoroughly vital process, through which public
opinion passed upon the Christian writings, was recorded officially in the
legislative action of councils, and thus, after many incertitudes and
vacillations, the selection of sacred writings was finished and the New
Testament canon was closed. It was closed, as in the case of the canon of
the Old Testament, by the gradual loss of free spiritual and literary
productivity; closed, as the visions fade and the tides fall within the
soul, and the period of criticism follows the period of creation.
These writings became rightly sacred as the mementoes of the Divine Man,
and the counsels of the great apostles; a shrine in which men drew near to
the supreme manifestation of God upon earth. But they became wrongly
sacred also, as the lengthening lapse of time isolated these precious
heirlooms of the Christian household into relics it was blasphemy to
criticise; as the falling waters of the river of life stranded high above
men's reach the thoughts and experiences of the inspired fisher-folk of
Galilee. In the Dark Ages, when to read was a sign of distinction, and to
write a schoolboy history like "Eginhard's Charlemagne" was a prodigy;
when to lead clean lives, and to labor as hosts are doing now for their
fellows made a man a saint; the literary and spiritual power of the
apostles was nothing less than preternatural.
In the Reformation the old story repeated itself.
In the days of fresh inspiration men surely did not fail to prize the
blessed books whence had come their new life. But the sense of the divine
life in their own spirits enabled them to judge of the inspiration of the
Apostles at once reverently and rationally. They did not hesitate to
criticise freely the sacred books. Erasmus wrote of the Revelation:
"I certainly can find no reason for believing that it was set forth by
the Holy Spirit.... Moreover, even were it a blessed thing to believe
what is contained in it, no man knows what that is.... But let every
man think of it as his spirit prompts him."
Luther wrote of the Epistle of James,
"In comparison with the best books of the New Testament, it is a
downright strawy epistle."
The ebbing tide again left the second generation critical and not
creative. After the sages and prophets of Protestantism came the scribes
and doctors, and they were concerned not so much with the manly religion
of free learning which Erasmus cherished, or the ethical and spiritual
religion which Luther roused, as with establishing Protestant_ism_ and
waging its doctrinal controversies. They wanted an authority for faith and
morals to set over against the authority of Rome. The age knew of no other
authority than external, extra-natural official authority, the king by
divine right in the realm of thought. In the place of the authority of the
Church rose the authority of the Bible; an oracular, infallible,
miraculous Book, instead of an oracular, infallible, miraculous Church.
Men could only sustain the elaborate speculative system they had spun out
of the New Testament letters, by insisting upon the authority of the
apostles in metaphysics as strongly as upon their authority in ethical
and spiritual principles. When dogma became divine, the books whence it
was drawn were deified.
We simply enter into the heritage of the men who spent two and a half
years in elaborating the Westminster Confession, the first chapter of
which petrified this superstitious theory of the Bible. Profoundly as we
reverence these truly sacred books, for the real revelation they record as
coming in the spirits of holy men who spake as they were moved of the Holy
Ghost, and supremely in the person of the Son of Man; and rightly as we
recognize a Providential purpose in the preparation of these books for the
guidance of human life; the history of these same thoughts and feelings in
the past should warn us from renewing ancient exaggerations, injurious to
the best influence of the Bible.
_This theory is incapable of a statement which is not self-stultifying._
To be an infallible authority upon all the matters upon which it treats, a
book must not only be guaranteed in its thought. Thought changes more or
less in finding an expression. No two statements of an idea or of a fact
can be exactly alike. There are no real synonyms. Interchangeable words
have each a special shade of meaning. The guarantee must cover the
phraseology of the original language in which the book is written. The
words must be dictated to amanuenses. The thorough-going verbal
inspirationists are the only logical defenders of infallibility.
But the guarantee would need to be pushed still further in the case of a
book written as was the Bible. The best stenographers make mistakes in
filling out their abbreviations and in distinguishing the similar signs
which stand for very dissimilar sounds. Early Hebrew was a language of
abbreviations. No vowels were used. Consonants stood alone, and their
conjunction, aided by memory, was expected to suggest the proper vowel
accompaniments. Vowel points were added to the written language centuries
after the last book of the Old Testament was written. Their insertion
demanded a guarantee, if infallibility was to be secured.
This guarantee must then have followed every copyist in the original
tongues, every translation of the Hebrew and Greek into other tongues,
every copyist in modern tongues through the ages before the
printing-press, every printer, who, since Gutenberg, has issued a
Bible--if we are to be absolutely sure of having an oracular and an
The Westminster Confession, indeed, seems to follow its theory through
most of these lengths, and a Protestant Council in Geneva in 1675, with a
magnificent courage of conviction, actually affirms this supernatural
direction of the translators of the Bible. But such notions are of the
same nature with the preposterous traditions of the Jews, as to the
translation of the Septuagint; according to which, seventy elders,
separated from each other, produced seventy versions, which, on
comparison, "agreed exactly"; whereby men knew that the Scriptures were
"translated by the inspiration of God." With such tales we must leave the
theory they seem necessary to authenticate in the lumber-loft of
_This theory of our Bible is, in our age, seen to be the same theory which
all peoples have entertained of their bibles._
For the first time in the history of Europe, Christian people have the
knowledge by which they can correct their ideas about the Bible, in what
may be called a comparative science of Bibliolatry. We know that nearly
every race has had its own Sacred Book. These Sacred Books are now within
the easy reach of all. Any one can examine for himself the Vedas, the
Zend-Avesta and the other Bibles of humanity. Every one can readily form a
just judgment of these Bibles. The light which lighteth every man that
cometh into the world shines from many pages in all of these books. There
are profound thoughts of God, noble ethical ideals, deep perceptions of
sin, yearning desires for human good, gleams of life beyond the grave.
There are prayers we could use here with a few verbal changes, and you
would not recognize their pagan source. There are songs of praise which
might be made our canticles. There are parables that the Master Himself
might have spoken. But the light which shines from heaven through these
books does not disguise their earthly character. Having no glamor of
tradition over our eyes, we can see them to be histories, poems,
philosophies, rituals, counsels of religion, hallowed by age into Sacred
Yet we find precisely the same notions current in each race about its
Bible that we have cherished concerning our own Bible. The Hindu talks of
his Vedas as the Christian talks of his Testaments. Nay, we find our
conceits quite outdone in the dogmas of these heathen. Mohammedan doctors
of divinity divided into fiercely contesting parties over the question
whether the Koran was created or uncreated; the latter theory, as most
highly magnifying their Sacred Book, of course, becoming the orthodox
doctrine. These learned orthodox divines assured men that the Koran was
verily eternal and uncreated, and of the very essence of God; that the
first transcript of it had been from everlasting by His throne; that a
copy, in one volume, on paper, was, by the hands of the angel Gabriel,
sent down to the lowest heaven in the month of Ramadan; from whence
Gabriel revealed it to Mohammed in instalments, giving him the privilege,
however, of beholding the heavenly volume, bound in silk and adorned with
gold and precious stones, once a year.
We cannot mistake the fact that thoroughly human writings have been
exaggerated into super-human scriptures by the deference rightly called
forth towards these venerable books, so influential in the histories of
nations, so potent in the lives of men; and we can study the phases
through which a wholesome reverence degenerated into a puerile
Bibliolatry is pushed to a _reductio ad absurdum_ in these pagan worships
of their Sacred Books. Men will see their folly in the reflected light of
these kindred follies, and another superstition will disappear from
* * * * *
On these grounds, as on others, the unreal Bible must be expected to pass
away. The Church at large never properly authenticated it. The Bible
nowhere calls for such a view of itself. Scripture reveals to a critical
study manifest tokens of its human fallibility, its thoroughly literary
character. We can trace the growth of this theory, and account for it
naturally. As a theory it cannot be stated reasonably. It is a theory
which is shown to be a superstition in the bibliolatries of other peoples.
Our bibliolatry is disappearing none too fast. It has always wrought evil
as well as good on civilization Like all other anachronisms, its original
helpfulness to progress has now become a hindrance. The day when it was of
service is past for educated people, whose minds are open, and the evils
it has caused flow from it still.
It has bred a superstitious use of the Bible which has always made
mischief, though a mischief never realized as sensibly as now. It has
taught men to turn to these holy books and accept unquestioningly all
therein recorded as authoritative on our thought and life. It has barred
all research which even seemed to contradict its history or science, and
has held Europe in mental swaddling-bands, preventing normal growth. It
has taught Most Christian Kings to war with easy consciences, after the
fashion of the Israelites in Canaan, and priests to sing solemn _Te Deums_
over battle-fields where men lay weltering in one another's blood. It has
given slave-owners the coveted proof that the peculiar system was a divine
institution, and has founded the auction block for human cattle solidly
upon the laws of God. It has supplied Joseph Smith with a warrant for
polygamy in the social usages of the Arab sheiks three thousand years ago.
It has opened a sacred refuge for every lie and wrong; no wildest form of
which could fail to find some precedent within these Hebrew histories,
which tell the story of a people's upward growth from savagery. It has
furnished an arsenal stocked with proof texts, from which, through many
generations, priests and doctors have armed themselves to war with one
another; exhausting in ecclesiastical and theological strife the holy
energies of Christian enthusiasm, which might else have changed the face
of the earth. It has arrayed faith against reason, by the necessity it has
imposed of reconciling every new discovery with the cosmogony of Genesis,
or the metaphysics of Romans; putting asunder those whom God hath joined
together, in the needless conflict of science and religion.
It has driven away from the real revelation held in these sacred writings
increasing numbers, in the growing generations; deafening their ears by
its irrational clamor to the voice of the Living God which whispers in
these pages, through the holy men who spake as they were moved of the Holy
Ghost. It has fathered the doubt which to-day sits, cheerless and chill,
within the hearts and homes of thousands who once rejoiced in the warmth
and light of God, but who now accept the alternative their teachers
thrust upon them--"all or none"--and throw away the Blessed Book wherein
God of old revealed Himself to them.
It has made the sacred ark of Israel so vulnerable that its defenders dare
not challenge the great Goliath of the Philistines, who, year by year,
comes forth to strut before the armies of the saints in ridicule of that
they hold so dear; and thus it is to be held responsible for the loss of
the young men who throw away their ancestral faith and go over to the
apparently victorious side of Unbelief.
It has slid in a false bottom to men's faith; shoving in a supposititious
revelation of miracle above the real revelation which is in nature and in
man, and in the Christ as the ideal man; and thus holds back that
reconstruction of belief which Providence is forcing on, as It is shaking
all things, to settle faith upon the everlasting verities: whereon
religion, planting its feet on the solid rock, may lift its head into the
skies, and worship Him in whom we live, and move, and have our being, the
God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, "Our Father who art in Heaven."
In the name of religion let it die!
Then there will be a resurrection, and the Bible will live again, clothed
in a higher form for our most rational reverence. All that ever made the
Bible a Sacred Book, lives on to-day and will live on while these books
exist. Holy men of old spake as they were moved of the Holy Ghost. They
were most truly inspired. The Biblical writers recorded a real revelation.
These books hold for us the words of God. The Word of God speaks to us in
the person of Jesus Christ.
These spiritual realities, no criticism can touch. And these spiritual
realities make the Bible.
Book of our Fathers, venerable and sacred, speak still to our souls those
words proceeding from out the mouth of God on which man liveth!
The Real Bible.
"Out from the heart of nature rolled
The burdens of the Bible old;
The litanies of nations came,
Like the volcano's tongue of flame,
Up from the burning core below,--
The canticles of love and woe.
* * * * *
The passive Master lent his hand
To the vast soul that o'er him planned.
* * * * *
Himself from God he could not free."
The most original book in the world is the Bible.... The elevation of
this book may be measured by observing how certainly all observation of
thought clothes itself in the words and forms of speech of that
book.... Whatever is majestically thought in a great moral element
instantly approaches this old Sanscrit.... People imagine that the
place which the Bible holds in the world it owes to miracles. It owes
it simply to the fact that it came out of a profounder depth of thought
than any other book.--Emerson, _The Dial_, October, 1840.
The Real Bible.
"Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."--2 Peter,
"Men of the Scriptures" was the title assumed by the Karaites, a sect of
devout Jews, who, about the middle of the eighth century of our era, threw
aside tradition, and accepted as their sole authority the canonical
writings of the Old Testament. Seeing the good that the Bible has wrought
for man in the past, we may well emulate the reverence of these Karaites;
while, seeing the unreality of the traditional notion of the Bible that
they held, and the mischiefs it has bred, we may well disown their
superstitiousness. Can we gain a view of the Bible which, without
stultifying our intellectual nature, may satisfy our spiritual nature, and
leave us free to call ourselves men of the Scriptures? The only road to
such an end must be that which our age is opening so successfully through
every field of study; as, dismissing preconceptions, it builds with care
and candor, upon solid facts, the causeway to a certain knowledge.
Let us take up the Bible as we would any other collection of books, and
see if, without assuming anything concerning it, we cannot find our way to
a rational reverence for it, as real as that which our fathers had. The
lines of our inquiry have been projected by a hand you own as high
authority. The results of the survey are in the text. Real men wrote real
books; holy men wrote holy books; and, when we come to account for their
holy, human power, we can only say--The Divine Spirit stirred in them;
"holy men of old spake as they were moved of the Holy Ghost."
The Bible is a collection of many writings, in many forms, by many hands,
from many ages. Genuine letters these, whether they be _belles-lettres_ or
not; by every mark and sign most human writings, whether they be holy
Scriptures or not; the product of honest toil of brain and hand. Whatever
more they are, these are _bona fide_ books, of men of like passions and
infirmities with ourselves.
What is there in these books which has led Christendom to assign to them
so high an honor?
1. _These books have the venerableness which belongs to ancient writings._
With what interest and care we handle a very old book, and turn its
well-worn pages, thumb-marked and dog-eared by men of Oxford or of
Florence in the Middle Ages! Unless we are the baldest materialists, we
will not reserve for the parchment body of some old book the respect
called forth by its soul. The latest re-embodiment of an ancient writer,
fresh from the presses of Putnam or of Appleton, merits the honor
belonging to the book given to the world so many centuries ago, and fed
upon by successive generations. Thus I look at the Plato on my shelves.
How venerable these writings! Over their great words, on which I rest my
eyes, my fathers bent, as their fathers had done before them; generation
after generation finding inspiration where still it flows fresh and full
for me. Thus every reverently minded man ought to feel concerning the
Bible. The latest of these books is probably seventeen hundred years old,
and the earliest has been written twenty-seven hundred years; while in the
more ancient of these writings lie bedded some of the oldest fragments of
literature known to us. These books have been the constant companions of
men and women through two or three score of generations. The crawling
centuries have carried these books along with them--the solace and the
strength of myriad millions of our kind. Forms, now turning into dust,
holy in our memories, read these familiar pages. Men whose names carry us
back through English history knew and prized these writings; Cromwell,
Shakespeare, Chaucer, and the Great Alfred. When Rome was the seat of
empire, Constantine heard them in his churches. Aurelius informed himself
about them. In the lowly hamlet hidden away among the hills of Galilee,
the boy Jesus listened to these tales of Hebrew heroism and holiness from
His mother's lips. Judas, the hammerer, fired his valiant soul from them;
and, while wandering in the hill country of Judaea, David chanted, to his
harp's accompaniment these legends of the childhood of his race. The Bible
is hallowed by the reverent use of ages.
2. _These books form the literature of a noble race._
The Old Testament is a Library of Jewish Letters. The germ of the
collection was planted by Nehemiah when "he, founding a library, gathered
together the acts of the kings, and the prophets, and of David, and the
epistles of the kings concerning the holy gifts." This germ grew
gradually into its present shape. The Apocrypha belongs to it, and is
rightly bound up in our Bibles, for reading in our churches. These books
of the Canonical and Apocryphal writings do not cover the whole literature
of the Hebrew nation. Many writings have been lost inadvertently. Many
have been dropped as unworthy of preservation. We have the garnered grain
of Hebrew literature in our Bible--a winnowed national library. It
includes histories, juridical codifications, dramas of love and destiny,
patriotic songs and state anthems, the hymnal of a people's worship,
philosophic writings of the sages, collections of proverbial sayings,
works of religious fiction, orations of statesmen, and oracles of mystic
The New Testament is the literature of the Christian Church in its
creative epoch; the work still, in the main, of Jewish hands, as Judaism
was blossoming into a universal religion. It is thus the literature of the
most important religious movement civilization has experienced; a movement
whose unspent forces we are feeling still, in the flooding tides of
progress. It, too, forms a winnowed library; the siftings of Sayings of
Jesus, lives of Christ, apostolical and other letters, visions and
romances; and holds the choicest mental products of this fertile era. In
it are gathered memoirs of the Founder of Christianity, doctrinal and
ethical treatises from the hand of the man who, under Christ, was the
chief factor in the early Church; similar essays, in the form of letters,
from other more or less important leaders, representing the various phases
of original Christianity; a fragmentary and free sketch of the apostolic
labors, and the last great effort of apocalyptic genius, in the Revelation
of St. John, the Divine.
3. _This literature of the Jewish nation and of the Christian Church is
The Bible has lost much of its fresh charm for us, with whom its finest
sayings are household words.
We parsed Virgil and Homer in our boyhood until the aroma of poetry
exhaled from their hackneyed pages, and we can scarce think of them now
save as grammatical exercises. The Bible has thus palled upon our
imagination, through the uninspiring familiarity of early task-work. But
were it possible to read it in our manhood for the first time, how the
blood would beat and the nerves thrill over some of its pages. We should
then understand the sensations of a French _salon_ upon a certain
occasion. Our shrewd philosopher-minister Franklin, had previously heard
the _literati_ wont to gather there ridiculing the Bible, and had guessed
that they knew little of it. Upon this evening he observed that he would
much like to have the judgment of the assembly on a certain Eastern tale
he had lately come across, unknown probably to most of those there
present, though long ago translated into their own tongue. Whereupon,
drawing from his pocket a copy of the Bible, he had a Parisienne, let into
the secret, read in her sweet tones the book of Ruth. The company was
thrown into raptures over the charming tale, which lasted until they found
How fresh, with the crisp air of morning, are these tales of primitive
tradition! How _naif_ these simple stories of Hebrew heroes! What so fine
in religious poetry as some of the strains from the Jewish Hymnal? What a
noble drama is Job, the Hebrew Faust! How wise the proverbial sayings!
What pure passion and lofty imagination stir through the pages of the
greater prophets! Where are to be found letters like those of Paul? What
biographies have the artless simplicity of the Synoptic Gospels, or the
mystic spirituality of the Gospel according to St. John!
No critic of our age has finer literary feeling or more dispassionate
judgment than Matthew Arnold; and he has edited the second section of
Isaiah as a text book for the culture of the imagination in English
schools. In the introduction to this Primer he observes: "What a course of
eloquence and poetry is the Bible in our schools."
Goethe shared Arnold's love of the Bible, and was so constant a reader of
it that his friends reproached him for wasting his time over it. Burke
owned his indebtedness to the Bible for his unique eloquence. Webster
confessed that he owed to its habitual reading much of his power. Ruskin
looks back to the days when a pious aunt compelled him to learn by heart
whole chapters of the Bible, for his schooling in the craft of speech, in
which he stands unrivaled among living Englishmen.
"The most original book in the world is the Bible. This old collection
of the ejaculations of love and dread, of the supreme desires and
contritions of men, proceeding out of the region of the grand and
eternal seems ... the alphabet of the nations, and all posterior
writings, either the chronicles of facts under very inferior ideas, or
when it rises to sentiment, the combinations, analogies, or degradation
of this. The elevation of this book may be measured by observing how
certainly all observation of thought clothes itself in the words and
forms of speech of that book.... Whatever is majestically thought in a
great moral element, instantly approaches this old Sanscrit....
Shakspeare, the first literary genius of the world, the highest in whom
the moral is not the predominating element, leans on the Bible; his
poetry presupposes it. If we examine this brilliant
influence--Shakspeare--as it lies in our minds, we shall find it
reverent, not only of the letter of this book, but of the whole frame
of society which stood in Europe upon it, deeply indebted to the
traditional morality, in short, compared with the tone of the Prophets,
_secondary_.... People imagine that the place which the Bible holds in
the world, it owes to miracles. It owes it simply to the fact that it
came out of a profounder depth of thought than any other book."
Even what seem to us valueless books turn out, when studied naturally,
most interesting and suggestive.
Jonah, that stone of stumbling and rock of offence to the modern youth,
becomes, when rightly read, a noble writing, full of the very spirit of
our age. Around the tradition of Jonah, the son of Amittai, a prophet of
whom we know nothing in other writings, some forgotten author has woven a
story, to point a lofty moral. Jonah feels himself called to go to Nineveh
and cry against it, because of its wickedness. Quite naturally he does not
relish such an errand.
The prospect of a poor Jew's reforming the gay and dissolute metropolis of
the earth, which sat as a queen among the nations, singing to herself, "I
will be a lady forever," was not brilliant enough to fascinate him; and
the prospect of the reward he would get from the luxurious people of
pleasure, whose well-opiated consciences he should rudely rouse by calling
their intrigues and carousals wickedness, was only too clear. Jonah fled
from his duty. In his flight occurs the marvelous experience with the big
fish, that has so troubled dear, pious people who have read as literal
history what is plainly legendary. After this fabulous episode, the story
takes up its ethical thread. Jonah finds that he cannot flee from the
presence of the Lord, that he cannot decline a mission imposed from on
high. He goes to Nineveh; cries out against its sins, as God had told him;
and, as God had not told him, predicts its overthrow in forty days, as a
judgment on its crimes. But, contrary to his expectations, the city is
stirred by his preaching; and King and court and people repent and amend
their ways. Whereupon the Divine forgiveness is extended at once to these
wicked Pagans, and the fate they had deserved is averted. But in this turn
of affairs Jonah's prediction failed, and so he was displeased and was
very angry, and took the Almighty to task quite roundly, for his lack of
"Was not this my saying when I was yet in my country? Therefore, I fled
before unto Tarshish, for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and
merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness and repentest thee of
What was to become of preachers if, after they had threatened destruction
upon evil-doers, the Most High went back upon them thus? The later breed
of Jonahs may profitably study the after scene, in which God is made to
rebuke the frightful selfishness and hardness which, rather than have
one's theories belied, would have a city damned.
"Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not labored
... and should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more
than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right
hand and their left hand, and also much cattle?"
The moral marvel of Nineveh's general repentance on the preaching of an
obscure Jew is as unnatural as the physical marvel of the fish story.
Recognizing that the whole tale is a parable, which takes upon it purely
legendary drapery, and ridding ourselves thus of all the questions which
puzzle Sunday-school scholars and theologians, we are ready to read the
meaning of the parable. God is not the God of any one race or religion. He
cares for Gentile as for Jew. He sends a prophet of Israel to bid a pagan
city repent, that He may forgive it freely. These Pagans understand the
message of the Jew. The commands of conscience are owned and honored by
the heathen, even more quickly than by the people of God; whose own
Jerusalem never thus quickly obeyed a prophet's message. The city whence
had come Israel's woes is held up as a pattern to the sacred city
herself. All men, then, are brothers, partakers of the same moral and
religious nature; children of One Father, whose voice they hear in
different tongues, speaking to their souls the same messages of holy love.
Thus read, Jonah becomes the protest of liberal Judaism against the
narrow, exclusive tendencies of popular piety in Israel. It is the writing
of some genuine Broad-Churchman of the olden time, proclaiming the high
truths of Human Brotherhood under a Divine Fatherhood, breathing that
spirit of which, long after, another Jew dared say--
"And now abideth faith, hope and charity, but the greatest of these is
If such be the hidden value of one of the least attractive of these
writings, we may well say, with Milton,
"I shall wish I may deserve to be reckoned among those who admire and
dwell upon them."
4. _This literature has been very influential in the development of
When the writings of Greece and Rome had been buried in the ruins of the
Roman Empire, the literature of Israel was preserved by the pious care of
the Christian Church. The light of Athens went out, and the light of
Jerusalem alone illumined the dark ages. The only books known to the mass
of men through long centuries were these writings of the Hebrews and the
early Christians. Thought was kept alive by them, imagination was fed from
them, conscience was educated and vitalized through them. For a thousand
years there was practically but one book in Europe--the Bible. When the
long gestation of the middle ages was fulfilled, and the modern world was
born, while the educated classes read the exhumed classics of Greece, the
people still read the Bible. It gave, in the person of Luther, the impulse
that restored intellectual liberty and moral health to Europe. It has
continued the best read book of Western civilization; the only book much
read, until of late, by the mass of men; the one foreign and ancient
literature familiar alike to the plain people in Germany and France, in
England and America; the common well-spring of inspiration to thought and
imagination, to character and conduct.
It is the Magna Charta of our liberties; the revered companion and master
of the Pilgrims who sailed the wintry seas, and, on Plymouth Rock,
building wiser than they knew, founded a nation covenanting freedom of
conscience unto all men; a nation on whose Bell of Independence runs the
Bible legend, "Proclaim liberty to the inhabitants thereof."
Wherever society is found to-day in travail with a new and higher order,
the conception can be traced to the seminal words of the Bible. The
institutions and manners of progressive civilization are what they are
because in the heart of that civilization has lain the Bible.
My brothers, were these books nothing more to us than such ancient
writings, the literature of so noble a race, a literature intrinsically
fine, to which our civilization owes so much of mental and of moral
influence, they should win our reverence, and should shame the wantonness
of liberalism, falsely so called.
What if in these ancient writings there are ancient errors, the marvels
which a child age exaggerated into miracles, stories of savage cruelty and
brutal lust in rude, rough times, acts of superstition dark and dreadful,
utterances which to us are blasphemous ascribed to the Eternal and Holy
One? Such faults are inevitable in the literature that records a nation's
growth from barbarism. Were a man in the name of Liberty or in the name of
Truth to hunt through Homer, to rake together all the errors and
superstitions embalmed in these immortal sagas, to haul up from the
obscurity where sensible people leave them the lewdnesses suggested or
described, and then to fling these blemishes at the book in which the
children of Greece and England and America have read with tingling blood
the tales which stirred their souls, by what name would we call him? By
that name let him stand forth impaled upon the scorn of an age that has
not lost the grace of reverence, who, mindless of majestic age, the
dignity of letters, an influence unrivalled and benign, associations
tender and most holy, upon these venerable and sacred books spits his
shallow scepticism, spumes his spleenful sarcasm, and smuts them with his
Let Irreverence stay her ribald tongue before these illustrious writings,
and Indecency vomit her own nastiness elsewhere than on our Bible.
The Bible lays a yet deeper claim upon our reverence These books
constitute the literature of a people whose genius was religion, whose
mission was its evolution into universal forms, whose writings express the
moods and tenses of that development; whose history is the organic growth
which flowered in the life of Him who freed religion from every swathing
band, and gave the world its pure essential spirit; after Whom all races
are being drawn as one flock under one Shepherd.
1. _Israel's specialty in history was religion._
Every people finds laid upon it certain necessary activities, in most of
which all peoples find their common tasks. Every nation must cultivate
agriculture handicrafts, trade and commerce; must develop social,
political and religious institutions. Each people will, however, do some
one thing better than the rest of its tasks, better than it is done by
other peoples. Each great race has some commanding inspiration; some
ideal which masters every other aspiration and ambition, energizes its
efforts and shapes its destiny. It creates a specialty among the nations.
The real legacy of each great race lies in the works wrought in the line
of its highest aptitudes. Thus Rome developed a genius for civil
organization. She conquered the whole western world, united isolated
nations under one empire, cleared the Mediterranean for safe and free
communication, opened roads as arteries through the vast body politic,
established post communications for travellers and the mails, carried law
and order into every obscure hamlet, consolidated a polity which, by sheer
massiveness, lasted for generations after the soul of Rome had fled, and
left to posterity, in her institutes the basis for modern jurisprudence.
Thus Greece evolved a genius for art, developed architecture and sculpture
to the highest perfection the world has seen, made statues thicker than
men in Athens, made men more beautiful than statues, sighed even after
Virtue as the Becoming, the Perfect Beauty, left the world temples whose
ruins are inspirations, and marbles whose discovery dates the epochs of
culture. Israel essayed to do many things that other peoples achieved, and
promised success in more than one direction. At a certain period she bade
fair to develop into a martial empire, and to become a lesser Assyria or
Rome. A little later she seemed about to rival the Phenicians in
commerce. About the same time she
"advanced as far as the Greeks before Socrates towards producing an
independent science or philosophy."
But she found herself content with none of these _roles_. She had a higher
part assigned her in the drama of history, to which her secret instincts
resistlessly drew her. Her predominant characteristic was an intense
religiousness. Everything in the life of her people took on a serious and
devout tone. Patriotism was identified with piety. Her statesmen were
reformers, idealists, whose orations were sermons, like the speeches of
Gladstone in the Midlothian campaign, dealing with politics in the light
of eternal principles. Legislation was developed through the "judgments"
of priestly oracles. Poetry lighted her flames at the altar. Philosophy
busied itself with ethics. The Muse of History was the Spirit of Holiness.
The nation's ambitions were aspirations. Her heroes grew to be saints. The
divine became to her, not the true or the beautiful, but the good. She
evidently had, as Matthew Arnold said of John Wesley, "a genius for
2. _Israel's literature became thus a religious literature._
Her histories were written for edification. They present the past of the
people in such light as to inculcate virtue and inspire piety. Her poems
are songs of pure love, like Canticles; or dramas whose plot lies in the
problem of evil, like Job; or hymns in which the soul seeks communion with
God. The Psalter is the hymnal of the temple choir at Jerusalem. The
prophets are preachers of righteousness, personal, social, political. Even
the writings of her sages or philosophers are almost wholly ethical and
religious. No other people's literature is so intensely and pervasively
religious. Other nations have religious writings as a part of their
general literature. Israel's whole literary life was sacred. There is
scarcely a book left by her to which we may not go to feed religion.
3. _Israel's literature presents us, in the various moods and tenses of
her life, with the various phases of religion._
The glory of a truly National Church is that it takes up into itself every
form of spiritual and ethical consciousness within the nation, and
exhibits in each successive school of thought, in each movement for a
nobler social life, a phase of true religion. This is the glory of Israel.
Religion never separated itself into an institution apart from the State.
There was no Jewish Church, of which Dean Stanley wrote the history.
Church and State were one. Sacred and secular history flowed in one common
stream. The history of Israel was the history of Judaism. Its choicest
literature formed its sacred writings. Religion was never narrowed to a
theory, an institution, an "ism," a sect, a school. It was as generous and
as rich as the broad, free life of the nation. Every factor essential to a
noble religion was thus supplied from the sound and healthy life of the
The inner life of the soul was voiced in the hymns of Israel, to which we
still turn for the inspiration of personal piety in our private devotions;
and which lift the public worship of the moderns as they swelled the souls
of the hosts who waited in the temple courts at Jerusalem, two thousand
A cultus of character through ritual and discipline was elaborated by the
priesthood in that wonderful system which, rebaptized, does duty still in
the Catholic Church. The true outer sphere for personal religion, trained,
if need be, by an ecclesiastical cultus, was fashioned by the great
prophets, the men of the people; who poured their passion for
righteousness into aspirations for a true commonwealth, in which Justice
should be throned on law, and international relations be ruled, not by
Policy, but by Principle. Natural religion was nobly set forth by the
sages in Proverbs, The Wisdom of Jesus, and the other "Writings;" all of
which were characterized by a calm and rational philosophy, that
recognized the laws of life and fed the wisdom which obeys them. Even
Agnosticism, in so far as it is the confession of the inadequacy of every
interpretation of the universe, finds despondent yet still earnest
expression in Ecclesiastes, and humble, hopeful expression in Job; and the
silence of many of the noblest natures of our age, which the churches
brand as irreligious, finds place among the phases of religion in their
Almost every form of strenuous ethical life, almost every answer that
earnest souls have found to the problem of life, is to be drawn from the
writings of this many-sided people. Thus their literature feeds a rich,
and rounded life of religion.
4. _Israel's literature presents us with the record of a continuous growth
of religion upward through its normal stages._
Religion grows like every form of human life with the growth of man
himself. It is coarse, crude and cruel while man is a savage, and as he
becomes civilized--by which I mean something more than wealthy--it becomes
intelligent, reasonable ethical and spiritual. The growth of Israel from
barbarism carried with this progress the growth of Israel's religion. In
the earliest times which we can historically reach the Israelites were
semi-nomadic tribes, slightly distinguishable from their kindred Semites.
The religion of the people appears to have been then a commingling of
fetichism, the worship of things that impressed the imagination, great
trees and huge boulders, with the worship of the various powers of nature,
the orbs of heaven, the reproductive force of the earth, etc., under the
usual savage and sensual symbolisms.
From such unpromising beginnings, through the successive stages of
polytheistic idolatries, religion was gradually led up, in the advance of
the general life of the people and through the inspirations of a series of
great men, to the recognition of One Eternal and infinite Being; the Lord
of nature and of man, the Father of all mankind, Holy, Just and Gracious;
whose truest worship is the aspirations of his children after goodness.
"Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord," writes the
Deuteronomist; "and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine
heart and with all thy soul and with all thy might."
Malachi, looking round upon the manifold forms of worship of the various
nations, and discerning that through them all the soul of man was feeling
after one and the same Divine Being, makes God say:
"From the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my
name is great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense is offered
unto me and a pure offering; for my name is great among the heathen,
saith the Lord of Hosts."
"What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy
and to walk humbly with thy God?"
Of this continuous growth of religion the Old Testament is the record.
5. _Israel's literature records the forcing forward of this growth of
religion, as by some Power back of man, shaping its ends, rough-hew them
as it might._
The Niebuhr of Hebrew history rightly pointed out this significant fact in
the introduction to his great work.
"The manifold changes and even confusions and perversities, which
manifest themselves in the long course of the threads of its history,
ultimately tend to the solution of this great problem."--Ewald: Intro.
A singular succession of great men arise to save and revive and reform
religion in every critical epoch. Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah,
Ezekiel, Ezra, Judas Maccabeus come upon the stage, one after the other,
perform their several parts with singular aptitude, and prepare the way
for the next movement when it comes due. The history of the people rightly
read becomes a mighty drama, in which the right man is never wanting at
the right time, and the action moves on steadily toward a climax.
The experiences of the people, even those most perplexing to the faith of
the nation at the time, fit singularly into this organic evolution of
religion. The rending of the Kingdom of David, that blighted the fair
prospect of a martial empire, turned the nation aside from the false
career on which it was entering. The overthrow of the Northern and then of
the Southern Kingdom, and the deportation of the people to Babylonia,
seemingly the ruin of the sister countries, threw them in upon their inner
life; and in the exile their religion found its highest reach of thought.
Even that hierarchical movement which so quickly followed upon this bloom
of prophetism, and which to the superficial look seems only the arrest of
life and the beginning of death, reveals a legitimate function in the
organic processes of the national religion. In this priestly organization
of institutional religion, all free prophetic inspiration did indeed die
out for over four centuries. But even this was a necessity for the right
flowering of religion. The age was not ready, politically or
intellectually, for the ripening of the thoughts of the prophets. Had they
ripened then, they would have fallen to the ground, as the untimely fruit
of a too-early spring. Four centuries were to be tided over before the
political and intellectual conditions were found for the blossoming of
this flower. This holding back of the normal evolution of Hebraism was the
function of the Priestly Reaction--a curious parallel to the function of
Catholicism in Mediaeval Christianity.
Like the Catholic Church, the Jewish priesthood held society together
when, in the destruction of the political power, there was no other bond
of unity. As in the Catholic Church, the High Priest became a temporal
ruler, the Prince of Israel, as he was called; and kept the sacred city
still the seat of government. As in Catholicism the institutionalizing of
religion that followed the period of free prophetic life was an effort to
embody that life, to incrust and thus preserve it; and, in the one case as
in the other, though the crust of institutions choked the further growth
of spiritual religion, it yet did keep it sluggishly alive within this
hard bark, through times that else would have proved fatal to it. As in
Catholicism, this priestly cultus really drilled deep into the natures of
men the principles and laws and habitudes of ethical and spiritual
religion; and stored the force which, when its rigid routine and fettering
formalism became unbearable, burst through this crust and opened a new
world of fresh, free life.
Of this singular shaping of the nation's experiences to further the growth
of true religion, the Old Testament is the impressive record.
6. _Israel's literature thus presents the picture of a nation's patient,
insistent pressing forward, through long centuries, toward the fruition of
its ideal, the realization of true religion._
So continuous is Israel's movement toward the ideal of religion, so
straight the line of her advance that it seems as though the nation had a
conscious aim, seen afar and steadfastly pursued by generation after
generation, unwilling to stop short of attainment. It is the founder of
scientific Biblical criticism who thus expresses his sense of the
wonderfulness of this historic movement:
"This aim is Perfect Religion; a good which all aspiring nations of
antiquity made an attempt to attain; which some, the Indians and
Persians, for example, really labored to achieve with admirable
devotion of noble energies, but which this people alone clearly
discerned from the beginning, and then pursued for centuries through
all difficulties, and with the utmost firmness and consistency, until
they attained it, so far as among men and in ancient times attainment
7. _The literature of Christian Israel records the realization of this
long sought ideal, the fruition of this organic growth._
The nation found the times ripe at last for the final process of this
historic evolution; the dead cerements of Judaism fell apart, and thereout
bloomed that perfect flower of religion, the religion of the Christ,
simple, free, ethical, spiritual. The extant literature of this last
creative effort of Israel constitutes the New Testament. The Gospels tell
the story of the life of the Founder of Christianity, clearly enough in
the main outlines, and embalm many of the words and deeds of the Son of
Man. The other writings of the New Testament illustrate the working of the
thought and spirit of the Christ in the Church bodying around Him through
the growth of a century. In them we see that the long cherished ideal of
Israel, an Ethical and Universal Religion, had at last incarnated itself
in The Master whose plans laid the foundation of this new Order; into
which men were coming from the east and from the west, and from the north
and from the south, and were sitting down in the Kingdom of God.
The high-water mark of religion in human history is recorded in these
writings. To enter into the spirit of these writings is to feel the force
of the free, full tides of ethical and spiritual life which rose, as never
before nor since, in the dawning day of Christianity. The flow of such a
force within the individual soul and through society has been the power
of the New Testament in Christendom.
8. _This organic growth of a national religion into a catholic ideal, not
without parallels elsewhere, is, however unique in respect to the
conditions for a truly Universal Religion._
The scene of this evolution is not the heart of the East, as in Buddhism,
but the meeting point of East and West. Palestine is the race centre of
the earth. Camels unload in Jerusalem the goods laden upon them in the
seats of the most ancient empires; and on her pebbly beaches the
Mediterranean rolls, bearing the commerce of Europe. Behind Judea lies the
past, before it opens the future. Its Race-Man came at the epoch when,
first in history, the East and West were brought together under one empire
and opened to the free interchange of thought. And when we analyze the
religion of the Christ, grown in this central land and coming to the birth
in this central period, we find that it holds, alone on earth, the
elements of each race-religion in well proportioned combination.
No eastern religion, Buddhism not excepted, appears to contain conceptions
that satisfy the western mind. The religion of the Christ, however can be
shown to hold whatever ideas and ideals make vital the great
race-religions of the East. It is as many sided as humanity, and presents
a family face to every people. It takes up the ideas and ideals of other
religions, disengages and deposits whatever in them is temporal and
circumstantial, preserves whatever is essential and eternal in them,
combines these vital elements with the polar truths needful to their
wholesomeness, and crystallizes ethical and spiritual religion into
perfect forms, forms capable of translation into the idioms of every race
of earth. This religion of the Christ is the one religion which to-day
holds the promise and potency of further evolution, in the progressive
civilization of mankind on which it is enthroned.
9. _Of the literature of the people through whom came this organic
evolution of the keystoning religion of earth what can we say but that it
records a real revelation coming through genuine personal inspirations
from on high!_
Revelation is the opposite aspect of the mystery which we call discovery;
the uncovering of that which was hidden; the unveiling of that which was
not known; the coming on of truth into the light wherein man can see it.
"Discovery" expresses the human effort by which truth is thus uncovered
and found out. "Revelation" expresses the divine effort which lies back of
all human aspirations and endeavors; as the Spirit within man stirs him up
to seek for Truth, flashes in upon his mind strange hints of where and
how she is to be found, allures him onward with the mystic whispers of her
voice, until at length he stands upon the mount of vision whence her holy
form is seen, and cries--"I have found her!"
To him who believes in a Spirit of Truth, guiding men into all truth, the
growth of ethical and spiritual religion into perfect form in Jesus Christ
is a real revelation. It is the oncoming of the Light which lighteth every
man that is in the world; the dawning of the day of earth on the hills of
Judea, over which has risen the Sun of Righteousness with healing in His
This revelation came not to the mystic "man writ large" we call society,
direct from heaven in abstract form. It came to individual men, struggling
for larger light and nobler life, and breathing their higher spirit on
their fellows. Religion is always _life_, the experience of _souls_. We
can name the individuals through whom each important advance was made. The
greater souls who led the worship of the host welcoming the rising Light,
thrilled with the vibrations of a voice deeper and holier than the voice
of man. The lesser souls who formed the chorus of this anthem of The Dawn
thrilled each alike with this mystic sense of God. That which we must aver
of every truth discovered or revealed, of every knowledge needful to man
and won by man; that which we must affirm as the only rational
interpretation of the mysterious suggestions rising below the conscious
thoughts of man, and prompting to noblest benedictions on the race; that
we must, with deepened awe, say of the holiest truths shown to the human
With sincere and reverent confession we must say then in the words of Holy
"Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." "Every
Scripture profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for
instruction in righteousness is God-inspired."
The consciousness and experience of Israel could not have found fitter
expression than in the words of our great seer:
"I conceive a man as always spoken to from behind, and unable to turn
his head and see the speaker. In all the millions who have heard the
voice, none ever saw the face. That well-known voice speaks in all
languages, governs all men; and none ever caught a glimpse of its form.
If the man will exactly obey it, it will adopt him, so that he shall
not any longer separate it from himself in his thought; he shall seem
to be it, he shall be it. If he listen with insatiable ears, richer and
greater wisdom is taught him, the sound swells to a ravishing music, he
is borne away as with a flood, he is the fool of ideas, and leads a
heavenly life. But if his eye is set on the things to be done, and not
on the truth that is still-taught, and for the sake of which the things
are to be done, then the voice grows faint, and at last is but a
humming in his ears."
We have thus seen in the Bible an ancient and noble literature, the
literature of a noble race, the literature supremely influencing and
enriching Christian civilization; demanding, therefore, our rational
reverence, as constituting a truly Sacred Book.
We have seen in the Old Testament the literature of the people of
religion, commissioned with its normal evolution; writings charged with
deep religiousness; the records of the various moods and tenses through
which religion grew continuously and insistently toward perfection, in an
organic process watched and directed by a Higher Power than man. We have
seen in the New Testament the record of the realization of this
long-sought aim of the people of religion; the story of the Divine Man,
who breathed religion out into perfection, and the writings that depict
the bodying around Him of the Universal Church, the Church in whose truth
and life is growing the religion of the future, "the Christ that is to
The fuller knowledge of our age, in evanishing the unreal Bible restores
the real Bible. It is the record of the visioning and embodiment of the
Human Ideal, the Divine Image--The Christ. It is the Providentially
prepared Hand Book of religion in whose rich and varied phases of ethical
and spiritual thought all men may find the nourishment they need. It is
the spiritual reality our fathers rightly felt, but wrongly expressed,
when they called it as a whole The Word of God. It holds the words
proceeding from out of the mouth of God on which man liveth. It bodies in
"letters" The Word of God, embodied in the flesh in Jesus Christ the Lord.
It records a real revelation. This revelation, however, denies no other
revelation. It affirms the fact of the withdrawal of a veil in each new
knowledge won; the fact that man has felt in calling the new knowledge a
discovery; and it interprets this unveiling as Tennyson has learned of it
"And out of darkness come the hands
That reach through nature, moulding man."
These books are the products of a real inspiration. This inspiration,
however, denies no other inspiration. It interprets the sense of a higher
than human influence in the noblest searchers after truth, throughout the
world, in every action of the intellect. It affirms the validity of that
The revelation in the Bible is the Light of God which streams through it,
making it a "lamp unto our feet." The inspiration in the Bible is the life
of God breathing through it into man, "and he becomes a living soul." The
book which, above all others, reveals God to man, he must call the supreme
revelation of God. The book which, above all others, inspires the life of
God in man, he must call the most inspired of God.
If, then, any one asks me how he may know that there is a revelation in
the Bible, I tell him to walk in its light, and see what it reveals. If
any one asks me how I know that the Bible is inspired I answer him in Mr.
"I know that the Bible is inspired, because it 'inspires me.'"
The wrong use of the Bible.
"God, then, is quite simple and true, both in word and deed; neither is
He changed Himself, nor does He deceive others--neither by visions, nor
discourses, nor the pomp of signs. * * * * When any one alleges such
things as these about the gods, we must show disapproval, and not grant
them the privilege of a chorus; neither should we suffer teachers to
employ them in the training of youth--if, at least, our guardians are
to be pious and divine men."
Plato: The Republic; Book II.
"This, it seems, is the modern method of coming to inquire of the
oracles of God; by this process they become a light to our feet, a lamp
to our path! Accept the book as a whole, and then treat all the
portions of it just as you like. Confess all its words to be the words
of the Lord, and then you may yourself be lords over them, and may
perform moral miracles by turning the bread of life into stones for
casting at your enemies."
Maurice: What is Revelation, p. 475.
The wrong use of the Bible
Every Scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for
reproof for correction, for instruction in righteousness.--2 Timothy,
The Unreal Bible is fading upon the vision of our age. You have probably
all perceived this more or less clearly. I have uttered the conviction
which many of you have held in secret with misgivings and self-reproaches,
and have shown you some of the many reasons why, as it seems to me, this
view can no longer be held by men of open minds. The Real Bible is as yet
vaguely seen, and, therefore, its power is feebly felt. According to their
natures men are indulging in flippant flings at a vanished superstition,
or grieving silently over the disappearance of the ancient light which
ruled the night of earth. I have sought to clear your vision of the new
moon rising upon us, the same holy light God set in the heavens of old,
though changed in the altered atmosphere of earth.
I propose now to translate the generalities of the previous sermons into
some practical applications. I want to-day to make more distinct certain
wrong uses of the Bible which grow out of the old view of it; wrong uses
from which great mischiefs have come to the cause of true religion, and
great trouble to individual souls; abuses which fall away in the light of
a more reasonable understanding of the Bible. The Bible viewed as a book
let down from heaven, whose real "author" is God, as the Westminster
Catechism affirmed; a book dictated to chosen penman and written out by
their amanuenses under a direction which secured them against error on
every subject of which they treated; a book thus given to the world to be
an authoratitive and infallible oracle for human information on all the
great problems of life--naturally calls for uses which, apart from this
theory, are gross and superstitious abuses.
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