Inspiration and Interpretation - Seven Sermons Preached Before the University of Oxford
by John Burgon
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It is painful to anticipate what will be the fate of St. John's Gospel, on this principle,—together with most of the Divine Discourses therein recorded. Not, to be sure, that we shall lose the conversation with Nicodemus, nor that with the woman of Samaria; because St. John was not present when either of those conversations took place: but all, from the xivth to the xviith chapter inclusive; as well as the discourse in the vith chapter, must of course be dismissed. The matter of these discourses, it will be urged,—(with more of logical consistency, alas! than of essential truth,)—might have been faithfully handed down by St. John without any extraordinary gift. He was bound to our LORD by more than ordinary affection. He was ever nearest to Him. Is it not conceivable, (we are asked,) that these two causes, aided by a retentive memory, would at least enable him to give us the record which he has given?

Quite superfluous must it be to state that the Acts of the Apostles, under the expurgatory process which now engages our attention, will cease to be regarded as an inspired Book; and therefore must be at once disconnected from the confessedly inspired portions of Holy Scripture.—St. Paul's Epistles, you say, on the contrary, are probably inspired, and therefore are probably to be spared.... And I really think we need go no further. If your own handling of Holy Scripture,—your own method, by yourself applied,—be not a reductio ad absurdum, I know of nothing in the world which is.... Look only at that handful of mutilated pages in the hands of one who is supposed to be the impersonation of "common sense;" turn the tattered and mangled leaves over and over, which you are pleased to call the Volume of Inspiration; and get all the comfort and help out of it you can. But be not surprised to hear that you are exposing yourself to the ridicule of the sane part of Mankind,—even while haply you are acting a part which makes the Angels weep.... How much of the Bible will remain, when Science, (Physical, Moral, Historical,) has further done her work, I forbear now to inquire: but I shrewdly suspect that she will leave you very little beyond the back and the covers.

Let us not be told, (as we doubtless shall,) that the human parts of Scripture need not be ejected from the Canon because they are human: that they may be allowed to stand with the rest, although uninspired; and the like. About this, we at least are competent judges. We are now bent on discovering how much of Holy Scripture is the Word of GOD; and we refuse, for the moment, to regard as such, and to retain, a single passage which, being (as you say) uninspired, is simply the word of Man.

II. Let me now be permitted to lay before you a somewhat different view of the office of Inspiration. Since the illumination of Science, falsely so called, and the process of Common Sense, would seem to have resulted in the extinction of the deposit, I ask your patience while I try to shew, that common sense, informed by a somewhat loftier Theological Instinct, may give such an account of the matter as will enable us to preserve every word of the deposit entire.

You call my attention to the catalogue of the Dukes of Edom, and tell me that it required no supernatural aid to enable Moses to write it. How, may I ask, do you ascertain that fact? No specimens of the documentary evidence of the land of Seir in the days of Moses, are known now to exist on the earth's surface. You therefore know absolutely nothing whatever about the matter of which you speak so confidently.

But, that we may grapple with the question fairly, let us come down from an age concerning which neither of us knows anything beyond what the Bible teaches, to a period with which all are familiar, and to documents of which we know at least a little. It will suit your purpose far better that you should instance the two Genealogies of our LORD,—of which you also say that it is impossible to maintain that they exhibit the work of Inspiration in the same sense as when some lofty statement of Christian doctrine comes before us. Indeed, you deny that they are inspired at all. I, on my side, am willing to admit that it is quite possible,—even probable,—that the first and the third Evangelist had access to extant documents of which they respectively availed themselves, when they recorded our LORD'S descent.

But, do you not perceive that the great underlying fallacy in all you have been saying, is your own wholly gratuitous assumption that you are a competent judge of what did,—what did not,—require supernatural aid to deliver? that whatever seems as if it might have been written without Inspiration, was therefore written without it?—I see so many practical inconveniences, or rather I see such glaring absurdity, resulting from the supposition that Inspiration goes and comes before an authentic document, that I am constrained to think that you are altogether mistaken in the office which you assign to Inspiration,—in the kind of notion which you seem to entertain concerning its nature.

An Evangelist, if you please, is inspired. It becomes necessary to introduce a genealogy. Following the Divine guidance, (the nature of which, neither you nor I know anything at all about,) he applies in a certain quarter, and obtains access to a certain document. Or he repairs to a well-known repository of public archives, and out of the whole collection he is guided to make choice of one particular writing. He proceeds to transcribe it,—omitting names (dropping three generations for instance,)—or inserting names (the second Cainan for example,)—or, if you please, neither omitting nor inserting anything. The document, (suppose,) requires no correction whatever.—Well but, this man was inspired a moment ago, in what he was writing; and no reason has been shewn why he should not be inspired still. He has adopted a document, by incorporating it into his narrative. By transcribing it, he has made it his own. I am at a loss to see that its claim to be an inspired writing, from that moment forward, is in any respect inferior to the rest of the narrative in which it stands.

You are requested to remember that when we call the Bible an inspired book, we mean nothing more than that the words of it are the very utterance of the HOLY SPIRIT;—that the Book is as much the Word of GOD as if high Heaven were open, and we heard GOD speaking to us with human voice. All I am contending for now, is, that this is at least as true of one part of the Gospel as of another: that if it be true of anything in the Gospel, it is at least as true of the Genealogy of CHRIST. The subject-matter indeed is different; but it is a mere confusion of thought to infer therefrom a different degree of Inspiration. Let me try and make this plainer by a few familiar illustrations.

1. When the Sovereign reads a speech from the Throne, does she speak the words of it in any different sense from the words of a speech which she has herself composed?—Nay, are words of investiture, mere words of form and state, in any less degree spoken, than words of confidence, and private friendship?

2. Again. The substance of paper and the substance of gold, are widely different. And yet, when paper has been subjected to a certain process, and stamped with a certain impress, there is practically no difference whatever between the value of what was, a moment ago, absolutely worthless, and an ingot of the purest gold.

3. Consider how the case stands with a merely human author. An historian has occasion to introduce into his narrative the descent of a House, or the preamble of an Act, or any other lifeless thing. Does his responsibility cease when he comes to it, and recommence immediately afterwards? Is he not responsible just to the same extent for that, as for every other part of his story?

That he did not compose it himself, is certain: but neither did he compose the sayings which he has recorded of great men.—True also is it that the edification to be derived from the pedigree is not so great,—certainly, not so obvious,—as from certain of the events which he describes. But it is nevertheless henceforth an integral part of his history. He sought for it,—and he found it: he weighed it,—and he approved of it: he transcribed it,—and he interwove it into his narrative. In a word, he adopted; and by adopting, he made it his own. Henceforth, it will be quoted as authentic, because it is found to have satisfied him.

The utmost praise which can be accorded to any creature is, that it thoroughly fulfils the office whereunto God sends it. A genealogy is not intended to make men wise unto Salvation: the threats and promises of GOD'S Law are not intended to acquaint men with the descent of David's Son. But because their offices are different, it does not follow that their origin shall not he the same! Is a shoe-latchet in any sense less an article manufactured by Man, than a watch? Is the Archangel Michael, burning with glory, and intent on some celestial enterprise, with twelve legions of glittering seraphs in his train;—is such a host as that, one atom more a creation of the ALMIGHTY than the handful of yellow leaves which flutter unheeded on the blast?

None of these figures present a strict parallel; and yet, successively, they seem to set forth different aspects of the same case, with sufficient vividness and truth.... So bent am I on conveying to your minds the strong sense of certainty, the clear definite view, which I cherish for myself on this subject, that I take leave to add yet another illustration.

4. If I commission a Servant to deliver a message,—is not the message which he delivers mine? If I give him words to deliver,—are not the words which he delivers mine? So obvious a proposition is no matter of opinion. You cannot deny it. Nor,—(to apply the illustration to the matter in hand,)—nor do you deny it, probably, so far as Prophecy, (in the popular sense of the term,) is concerned: but you begin to doubt, it seems, when any other function of the prophetic office is in question. "Any other function," I say; for, (as all men ought to be aware,) a prophet,—(nave in Hebrew, prophts in Greek,)—does not, by any means, of necessity imply one who describes future events. Pro does not denote futurity of time, but vicariousness of office. The pro-phts is one who speaketh pro, "on behalf of," "in the person of," GOD; whether declaring things past,—(as when Moses describes the Creation of the World, the Fall of Man, the Patriarchal Age): things present,—(as when St. Luke, "having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first," writes of them "in order"): things future,—(as when David, and Isaiah, and the rest of the goodly fellowship, "testified beforehand the sufferings of CHRIST, and the glory that should follow[396].") This is no arbitrary statement, but a well-known fact, which modern unbelievers and ancient heathen writers have declared with sufficient plainness[397]. So long then as the message which the Servant delivers is prophetic, you do not object to the notion that it is GOD'S message; nay, that the words spoken are GOD'S words. You begin to doubt, it seems, when a collection of genealogies, (as the two Books of Chronicles;) or when a story like that contained in the Book of Esther is concerned.

But what is this but very trifling, and mere childishness? The message may be mine, it seems, if it be of a lofty character: it may not be mine if it be of a homely, ordinary kind!—I send a message by my Servant, and he delivers it faithfully: but whether it is to be called my message, or is not to be called my message, is to depend entirely on the subject-matter!... Thus, if a King, refusing to appear in person, should issue a reprieve to prisoners under sentence of Death, a proclamation of Peace or of War, an address to the representatives of the constitution, (Clergy, Lords, and Commons,) in parliament assembled,—the message would be his. But if, on the contrary, he were only to send a few homely words, the expression of some wish or intention which has nothing that seems particularly royal in it,—then, the message would cease to be his!... I protest that as I am unable to see the reasonableness of such a method of regarding things human, so am I at a loss to understand why men should so regard things Divine.

5. This entire matter may be usefully illustrated by having recourse to an analogy which was established on a former occasion: namely, the analogy between the Written and the Incarnate Word[398]. That our LORD JESUS CHRIST is at once very GOD and very Man, we all fully admit; although the manner of the union of GODHEAD and Manhood in His one Person we confess ourselves quite unable to comprehend. Even so, that there is a human as well as a Divine element in Holy Scripture,—who so blind as to overlook? who so weak as to deny? And yet, to dissect out that human element,—who (but a fool) so rash as to attempt?... To apply this to the matter before us. Certain parts of Holy Scripture you think, (for reasons to yourself best known,) are not to be looked upon as inspired in the same sense as the rest of the volume. Just as reasonably might you try to persuade me that our SAVIOUR was not in the same sense our SAVIOUR when He ate and drank at the Pharisees' board, as when He cast out devils and raised the dead. Was He not equally the Incarnate WORD at every stage of His earthly career; from the time that He was laid in the manger, until the instant when He expired upon the Cross? The degradation which He endured in Pilate's judgment-hall did not affect the reality of the great truth that the GODHEAD was indissolubly joined to the Manhood in His Person. He was not less very GOD as well as very Man when some one spat upon Him, than at His Transfiguration and at His Ascension into Heaven!... Why then should the mean aspect and lowly office of certain parts of Scripture,—(genealogical details and the narrative of what we think ordinary occurrences,)—be supposed to disentitle those parts to the praise of being as fully inspired as any thing in the whole compass of the Bible?

I may remind you, in passing, that the narrative of Scripture, even in its humblest, and (to all appearance) most human parts, has a perpetual note of Divinity set upon it. The historical portions are throughout interspersed with indications that the writer is beholding the transactions which he records, from a Divine, (not a human,) point of view. GOD is invariably, (sooner or later,) mentioned as the Agent; or there is some reference made to GOD; or to GOD'S Word. As Butler expresses it,—"The general design of Scripture ... may be said to be, to give us an account of the world, in this one single view,—as GOD'S world: by which it appears essentially distinguished from all other books, so far as I have found, except such as are copied from it[399]."

I entreat you therefore to disabuse your minds of the very weak,—aye and very fatal,—notion that the catalogue of the Dukes of Edom is less, or in any different sense, inspired, from the rest of the narrative in which it stands. We may not multiply miracles needlessly, it is true; but neither may we deny the miraculous character of certain transactions, (as the two Draughts of Fishes,) which, apart from the recorded attendant circumstances, would not have been deemed miraculous.—In truth, however, Holy Scripture, in one sense, is a miracle from end to end; and if we may not multiply miracles needlessly, certainly we are not at liberty to dismiss the recorded details of a single miracle, as of no account.—Consider also, I entreat you, whether it is credible that Inspiration should be a thing of such a nature, that it comes and goes,—is here and is gone,—once and again in the course of a single page. What? does it vanish, like lightning, when the Evangelist's pen has to record the title on the Cross,—to re-appear the instant afterwards?

This allusion to the title on the Cross of our Blessed LORD, variously given by each of the four Evangelists, reminds me of the singular perversity of mankind when this subject of Inspiration is being treated of; and to this, I now particularly desire to invite your attention.—When a document is simply transcribed by the Evangelist, or may be supposed to have been merely transferred to his pages, men assert that so purely mechanical an act precludes the notion that Inspiration has had any share in the transaction. Be it so!—Behold now, four inspired writers exhibiting the brief title on our LORD'S Cross with considerable verbal diversity; and you will hear the same critics open-mouthed against the Evangelists' claim to Inspiration, for exactly the opposite reason!—It is just so of places quoted from the Old Testament in the New. Faithful transcription, (we are told,) is in the power of all. What note of an inspired author have we here? But the places are not faithfully transcribed. On the contrary. They exhibit every possible degree of deflection from the original standard. And lo, the Apostles of CHRIST are thought not to have quite understood Greek,—to have mistaken the sense of the Hebrew,—and to have been the victims of a most capricious memory.—For the last time. Certain narrative portions of Holy Scripture, (it is assumed,) could have been written without the aid of Inspiration; and therefore it is unphilosophical, (we are told,) to assign to them a divine original. But the marvellous parts of Holy Scripture, which seem to claim a loftier original than man's unaided wit,—these you view with suspicion, or you deny!... "Whereunto shall I liken the men of this generation?"

Before dismissing the subject, I must ask you to observe, that this arbitrary, irreverent method of approaching Holy Scripture, is absolutely fatal; and can result in nothing but general unbelief. It confessedly leaves the individual reader to decide what parts of the Bible he thinks could, what parts could not, have been written without Divine assistance;—a point on which I am bold to say that he is not competent even to form an opinion. In other words, it constitutes every man the judge of how much of the Bible he will retain,—how much he will reject. To put the case yet more plainly, it makes every man a GOD to himself, and the maker of his own Bible.—For, mark you, the exceptions taken against a genealogy, or a catalogue of names, are just as applicable to the account of our LORD'S Discourses as given by St. John. Once convince me that the function of Inspiration ceases when a genealogy has to be set down,—because (say you) it requires no Inspiration to enable an Evangelist to copy written words;—and I shall have no difficulty in convincing myself that St. John's Gospel, from the xivth to the xviith chapters inclusive, is not inspired,—because I cannot but infer that then neither can it require Inspiration to enable an Evangelist to copy spoken words.—The original fallacy, I repeat,—the prton pseudos,—consists in your supposing yourself a competent judge of the nature and office of Inspiration; concerning which, in reality, you know nothing. You can but reverently examine the phenomena of the Book of Inspiration; remembering that you have everything to learn.

The Bible, it cannot be too often repeated, too clearly borne in mind,—the Bible must stand or fall,—or rather, be received or rejected,—as a whole. A Divinity hath over-ruled it, that those many Books of which it is composed should come to be spoken of collectively as if they were one Book. As it was formerly called h graph—"the Scripture,"—so is it happily called "the Bible"—(the Book)—now. "Moses—the Prophets—and the Psalms," was the recognized analysis of the volume of the Old Testament. The Gospels, the Epistles, and the Apocalypse, exhibits the sum of the contents of the New.—There is no disjoining the Law from the Gospel. There is no disconnecting one Book from its fellows. There is no eliminating one chapter from the rest. There is no taking exception against one set of passages, or supposing that Inspiration has anywhere forgotten her office, or discharged it imperfectly. All the Books of the Bible must stand or fall together. "Nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it[400]." It is a fabric hard as adamant; and the gates of Hell will assuredly never prevail against it. But remove in thought a single stone; and in thought, that goodly work of Lawgivers and Judges—Kings and Prophets—Evangelists and Apostles,—collapses into a shapeless and unmeaning ruin[401].

Nor may it occasion perplexity, or breed mistrust in any thoughtful mind to find this Book of GOD'S Law so complex in its character,—so various in its contents,—so fruitful in its difficulties. Might it not, on the contrary, have been expected beforehand, that some analogy would have been recognizable between the general complexion of GOD'S Works and of GOD'S Word? While I behold the creatures of GOD so various,—their functions so marvellous,—their nature so little understood,—the very purpose of their creation so great a mystery;—shall I think it strange that that Book which is but another expression of GOD'S Mind and Will, proves diverse in texture, and difficult of interpretation?—Shall I grow rebellious against the message, because the history of it is hid in the long night of ages; say rather, in the counsels of GOD'S inscrutable will? or shall I be incredulous that it comes from Heaven, because I see the fingers of a Man's hand writing upon the plaister of the wall? or shall I despise those parts of it of which I cannot detect the medicinal value? As there are riddles in Nature, so are there riddles in Grace. Anomalies too, it may be, are discoverable in both worlds.—Give me leave to add, that as the microscope reveals unsuspected wonders in the one, so does minute examination bring to light undreamed of perfections in the other also; unimagined proofs of divine wisdom, and skill.... But beyond all things, there is perhaps this further thing which it behoves us to consider:—that the field of either is very vast; the subject-matter very complex: and as, in one, many Professors are needed,—(for the Animal kingdom and the Vegetable kingdom are realms apart: the analysis of substances, and the structure of the Earth demand the undivided attention of different minds;)—so does it fare with the other also. The languages of Scripture are in themselves a mighty study; and the collation of the Text is the portion of a long life. The Law of Moses would abundantly engross the time of one who should undertake to explain its depths; as the Gospel of JESUS CHRIST would assuredly fill to overflowing the soul of another who should desire to appreciate its perfections. The Prophetic writings are a distinct field of labour. The same may well be said of the Epistles of St. Paul. It would be easy to multiply departments—; for I have said nothing yet of Sacred History; and above all, of Sacred Exegesis. But enough has been stated to introduce the remark that considering how slenderly one man is able to labour in all these various provinces, it behoves each one of us to be humble; and certainly to be a vast deal more mistrustful of ourselves than some of us unhappily seem to be; especially when the errand on which we propose to come abroad is the assailing of the authenticity, or the morality, or the integrity, or the Inspiration, of any part of the Bible. Our own amazing ignorance,—our many infirmities,—our faculties limited on every side,—might well keep us humble in the presence of Him whose knowledge is infinite;—whose attributes are all perfections;—whose very Name is ALMIGHTY!—Shall we, on the contrary, presume to sit in judgment upon His Word, which claims to be none other than the authentic record of His Providence,—the Revelation of His very mind and will?... Truly, in this behalf, beyond all others, we seem to stand in need of the solemn warning: "Dangerous it were for the feeble brain of Man to wade far into the doings of the Most High: whom although to know be life, and joy to make mention of His Name; yet our soundest knowledge is to know that we know Him not as indeed He is, neither can know Him. And our safest eloquence concerning Him is our silence, when we confess without confession that His glory is inexplicable; His greatness above our capacity and reach. He is above, and we upon earth: therefore it behoveth our words to be wary and few[402]."

And this brings me naturally back to the subject of my first Sermon from this place; and enables me to conclude, as I began, with an earnest entreaty to the younger men present, that,—whatever their future destination in life may be,—but especially if the Ministry is to be their high privilege, (and the blessedness of that choice they can have no idea of, until they prove it by experience!);—an entreaty, I say, that they would now be assiduous, and earnest, and regular, and punctual, and devout, in their daily study of one chapter of the Bible.—And while you read the Bible, read it believing that you are reading an inspired Book:—not a Book inspired in parts only, but a Book inspired in every part:—not a Book unequally inspired, but all inspired equally:—not a Book generally inspired,—the substance indeed given by the Spirit, but the words left to the option of the writers; but the words of it, as well as the matter of it, all—all given by GOD. As it is written,—"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of GOD."

I illustrated sufficiently, last time, in what way fulness of Inspiration is consistent with the expression of individual character: even while I availed myself of the ancient illustration that an inspired writer is like an instrument in the harper's hand[403]. I did not, of course, "intend thereby to affirm that the Writers of Holy Scripture were constrained to write, without any volition or consciousness on their part.... ALMIGHTY GOD, while He inspired the Writers of Scripture, did not impair their moral and intellectual faculties, nor destroy their personal identity[404]." Let me not be told therefore that this is to advocate a mechanical theory of Interpretation. Theory I have none[405]. The Bible comes to me as the Word of GOD; and, as the Word of GOD, (the LORD being my helper!) I will receive it. I should as soon think of holding a theory of Providence and Freewill, as of holding a theory of Inspiration. I believe in Providence. I know that I am a free agent. And that is enough for me.—The case of Inspiration seems strictly parallel. I believe in the Divine origin of the Bible. I see that the writers of the several books wrote like men.... That outer circle of causation, which, leaving each individual will entirely free, so controuls without coercing, so overrules without occasioning, the actions of men,—that all things shall work together for good in the end, and the great designs of GOD'S Providence find free accomplishment;—all this, far, far transcends your and my powers of comprehension. It is as much beyond us as Heaven is higher than the Earth. And, in like manner, we must be content to own that Inspiration,—the analysis of which is so favourite a problem with this inquisitive age,—is far, far above us likewise. To St. Luke "it seemed good" to write a Gospel; and doubtless he held high communing on the subject,—which may, or may not, have sounded like ordinary human converse,—with St. Paul. St. Mark in like sort, beyond a question, enjoyed the help of St. Peter, while he wrote his Gospel. But St. Peter and St. Mark, and St. Paul and St. Luke, were all alike,—however unconsciously,—held by the Ancient of Days within the hollow of His palm; and, as Augustine says,—"Whatsoever He willed that we should read concerning His acts and sayings,—that He commissioned the Evangelists to write,—as though it had been Himself that wrote it[406]."—The guidance was remote, I grant you. The mechanism which moved the pens of those blessed writers was far above out of their sight; and complex beyond anything which the mind of man can imagine; (so that the publican lisped of "gold, and silver, and brass[407];"—and the companion of St. Peter, at Rome, wrote Latin words in Greek letters[408];—and the Physician of Antioch withheld the statement that the woman who had spent all that she had in consulting many physicians, "was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse[409];"—and the beloved disciple perhaps indulged his own personal love while he recalled so largely the discourses of his LORD:)—but, for all that, the long sequence of cause and effect existed; and the other end of that golden chain which terminated in the man, and the pen, and the ink, and the paper,—the other end of it, I say, was held fast within the Hand of GOD.—The method of Inspiration is but another of the many thousand marvels which on every side surround me; one of the many things I cannot fully understand, much less pretend to explain. But I may at least believe it in silence, and adore[410].

And,—(forgive me for keeping you so long; but I cannot let you go until I have emptied my heart a little more on this great, and most concerning subject;)—mark you, Sirs, however reluctant some of you may be to admit that you agree with me, you do agree with me,—almost to a man. For, what mean your reasonings on Holy Scripture,—your sermons, and your dissertations, and your catechizings,—your formul of belief, and your definitions of Faith,—except you believe in a vast deal more than the substance of Holy Scripture? How can you pretend to expound a text, unless you hold the words of that text to be inspired? What inferences can you venture to draw from words, the Divinity of which you dare not affirm? O, to what endless, hopeless scepticism are you pointing the way! What a variety of most unanswerable questionings will you provoke! How can you hope ever to convince or convict, if you begin by acquainting your adversary that it is only for the substantial verity of Scripture that you claim Inspiration; the verbal details being quite a different matter! See you not that you put into his hands a weapon with which he will infallibly slay yourself? Did the Bishops and Doctors of the Church, when they met in solemn Council,—did they hold such a theory concerning Holy Scripture, think you, as that the matter of it alone is Divine,—the language human? More briefly, that the words of Scripture are not inspired? What then mean their weighty definitions of Doctrine;—GOD the FATHER, "Maker of Heaven and Earth,"—GOD the SON, "by whom all things were made:"—the SON, "Theos ek Theou,"—"being of one substance with the FATHER:"—"incarnate by the HOLY GHOST of the Virgin Mary:"—who "descended into Hell"—"whose kingdom shall have no end:"—the HOLY GHOST, "to Kyrion kai to xopoion," "who proceeded from the FATHER and the SON?"—What means every article of that Creed to which you and I have given our unfeigned assent, and which Athanasius would have gladly subscribed to,—the most precious jewel in the Church's casket!—Nay, what means St. Paul's commentary on the history of Melchizedek, if the very words omitted from Holy Scripture are not a Divine omission?

You will perhaps be told hereafter, (I am speaking now to the younger men,) that quite fatal to this view of the question, is the state of the Text of Scripture: that no one can maintain that the words of Scripture are inspired, because no one can tell for certain what the words of Scripture are; or something to that effect. Now I will not stop to expose the falsity of this charge against the text of Scripture; (which is implied to be a very corrupt text, whereas, on the contrary, it is the best ascertained text of any ancient writing in the world.) Rather let me remind you, once and for ever, how to refute this silly sophism,—the transparent fallacy of which one would have thought unworthy of exposure before men of trained understandings; but that one hears it urged so often and so confidently. See you not that the state of the text of the Bible has no more to do with the Inspiration of the Bible, than the stains on yonder windows have to do with the light of GOD'S Sun? Let me illustrate the matter,—(though it surely cannot need illustration!)—by supposing the question raised whether Livy did or did not write the history which goes under his name. You, (suppose,) are persuaded that he did,—I, that he did not. So far, we should both understand, and perhaps respect one another. But what if I were to go on to condemn your opinion as untenable, because of the corrupt state of Livy's text? Would you not reply that I mistook the question entirely: that you were speaking of the authorship of the work,—not about the fate of the copies! ... Suppose, however, I were to contend that Livy may indeed have furnished the matter of his history, but that the form of expression must needs have been supplied by some one else; still on the same ground of the corrupt state of the historian's text. What would you think of me then?—a man who not only confounded two things utterly dissimilar,—(the authorship of a book, and the amount of care with which it had been transcribed and printed;)—but who was for distinguishing the mind of the writer from the expression of that mind; the thoughts, from the words which are essential to their transmission! A hopelessly illogical person, surely!

O no, Sirs! Banish the fancy at once and for ever from your minds. You cannot thus dissect Inspiration into substance and form. It is a mere delusion of these last days,—prated of from man to man, until respectable persons begin to give in to the fallacy; and persuade themselves that they themselves believe it. They hope thus to avoid the danger which is supposed to attach to hearty belief in the Bible as the very Word of GOD; as well as to secure for themselves a side-door, (so to speak,) by which to escape, whenever they are inconveniently hard pressed. How much more faithful, to leave GOD to take care of His own! How much more manly, to be prepared sometimes to confess ignorance!... As for thoughts being inspired, apart from the words which give them expression,—you might as well talk of a tune without notes, or a sum without figures. No such dream can abide the daylight for a moment. No such theory of Inspiration, (for a theory it is, and a most audacious one too!), is even intelligible. It is as illogical as it is worthless; and cannot be too sternly put down. The philosophical mind of Greece, (far better taught!), knew of only one word for both Reason and the expression of it. Lodged within the chambers of the brain, or put forth into living energy,—it was still, with them, the Logos.—I invite you, as the only intelligible view of the matter,—your only alternative, unless you resolve to run the risk of the most irrational rationalism,—to take this high view of Inspiration: to believe, concerning the Bible, that it is in the most literal sense imaginable, verily and indeed, the Word of GOD.

And do you,—(for I am still addressing myself to the younger men,)—learn to put away from your souls that vile indifferentism which is becoming the curse of this shallow and unlearned age. Be as forgiving as you please of indignities offered to yourselves; but do not be ashamed to be very jealous for the honour of the LORD of Hosts; and to resent any dishonour offered to Him, with a fiery indignation utterly unlike anything you could possibly feel for a personal wrong. Attend ever so little to the circumstance, and you will perceive that every form of fashionable impiety is one and the same vile thing in the essence of it: still Antichrist, disguise it how you will. We were reminded last Sunday that the sensualist, by following the gratification of his own unholy desires, in bold defiance of GOD'S known Law, is in reality setting himself up in the place of GOD, and becoming a GOD unto himself[411]. The same is true of the Idolatry of Human Reason; and of Physical Science: as well as of that misinformed Moral Sense which finds in the Atonement of our LORD nothing but a stone of stumbling and a snare. It is true of Popish error also;—for what else is this but a setting up of the Human above the Divine,—(Tradition, the worship of the Blessed Virgin, the casuistry of the Confessional, and the like,)—and so, once more substituting the creature for the Creator?—What again is the fashionable intellectual sin of the day, but the self-same detestable offence, under quite a different disguise? The idea of Law,—(that old idea which is declared to be only now emerging into supremacy in Science,)—takes the hideous shape of rebellion against its Maker; and pronounces, now Miracles, now Prophecy, now Inspiration itself, to be a thing impossible; or is content to insinuate that the disclosures of Revelation are at least untrue. What is this, I say, but another form of the self-same iniquity,—a setting up of the creature before the Creator who is blessed for evermore; a substitution of some created thing in the place of GOD!

The true antidote to all such forms of impiety, believe me, is not controversy of any sort; but the childlike study of the Bible, each one for himself,—not without prayer.—Humble must we be, as well as assiduous; for the powers of the mind as well as the affections of the heart should be prostrated before the Bible, or a man will derive little profit from his study of it. Humble, I repeat, for mysteries, (remember), are revealed unto the meek[412]; and the fear of the LORD is the beginning of Wisdom[413]; and he that would understand more than the Ancients must keep GOD'S precepts[414]; and it is the commandments of the LORD which give light unto the eyes[415].—The dutiful student of the Bible is permitted to see the mist melt away from many a speculative difficulty; and is many a time reminded of that saying of his LORD,—"Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the Scriptures, neither the power of GOD[416]?" ... The humble and attentive reader of the Bible becomes impressed at last with a sense of its Divinity, analogous I suppose to the conviction of Eleven of the Apostles that the Man they walked with was none other than the SON of GOD. That similarity of allusion,—that sameness of imagery,—that oneness of design,—that uniformity of sentiment,—that ever-recurring anticipation of the Gospel message;—all goes to produce a secret and sure conviction that every writer, under whatever variety of circumstances, had access to but one Treasury,—drew from but one and the same Well of living water. Marks of purpose, shewn in the choice or collocation of single words, often strike an attentive reader; which, singly, might be thought fortuitous; but which, collectively, can only be accounted for on a very different principle. The beautiful structure of the Gospels strikes him especially; and he could as soon believe that a song harmonized for four Angel voices had been the result of accident, as that the Evangelists had achieved their task without special aid, throughout, from Heaven. A lock of very complicated mechanism, which four keys of most peculiar structure will open simultaneously,—must have been as evidently made for them, as they for it.

It is almost treason, in truth, to the Majesty of Heaven to discuss the Bible on the low ground which I have been hitherto forced to occupy. It is quite monstrous, in the first University of the most favoured of Christian lands, that a man should be compelled thus to lift up his voice in defence of the very Inspiration of GOD'S Word. O that Divine narrative, which is for ever rending aside the veil, and disclosing to us the counsels of the presence-chamber of the ALMIGHTY!—O those human characters, beset with all the infirmities of our fallen nature,—whose words and actions yet are shadows of things heavenly and eternal!—O that majestic retinue of types which, from the very birthday of recorded Time, heralded the approach of the King of Glory!—O that scarlet thread which runs through all the seemingly tangled web of Scripture, to terminate only in the cross of CHRIST!—How do the features of the Gospel struggle into sight through the veil of the Law! How do the holy and humble men of heart ever and anon break out into speech, as it were, before the time;—as if they felt the burden of silence too great to be endured!... Whence is it that we dare to handle the pages of GOD'S Book as if they were a common thing,—doubting, questioning, cavilling, disbelieving, denying? Why choose for ourselves the soldiers' part, who buffeted, reviled, smote, spat upon Him?... O my friends, far, far be all this from you and from me! Never imagine, because this day we have thus spoken, that such discussions are congenial to us; or that we deem them the proper theme for addresses from the pulpit; although the coincidence of this day's Collect seems, for once, to lend a kind of sanction to our present endeavours. Look through the whole range of patristic homilies, and you will not find one of the kind, with which, unhappily, our ears are grown so familiar in this place,—ingenious attempts to evacuate Holy Writ of its fulness, on the one hand;—or apologies of some sort for its Divinity and Inspiration, on the other. You will take, if you are wise, far, far higher ground, in your private study of its pages; remembering that "the most generous faith is invariably the truest;"—nor ever stoop so low as we have been this day doing. Waste not thy precious time in cavil about the structure of the casket which contains thy treasure; but unlock it once with the Key of Faith, and make thyself rich indeed.—Already,—(as we were last week reminded),—already the Judge standeth at the door; and assuredly, thou and I, (to whom GOD hath entrusted so much!) shall have to render a very strict account of the use we have made of the Bible,—when we shall stand face to face with its undoubted Author. The season of the year reminds us, as with a trumpet, of that tremendous hour when the veil will be withdrawn from our eyes,—and the office of Faith will be ended,—and we shall be confronted with One who hath "a vesture dipped in blood, and whose Name is called THE WORD OF GOD." ... "I have heard of Thee," (we shall, every one of us, exclaim),—"I have heard of Thee, by the hearing of the ear; but now,—mine eye seeth Thee[417]!"


There is yet another view of the nature and office of Inspiration,—another 'Theory' as it would perhaps aspire to be called,—which limits the extent of the Divine help and guidance which the writers, confessedly inspired, may be supposed to have enjoyed. According to this view, it is admitted that Inspiration was, from first to last, a continuous influence; exerted equally throughout: but then, it has been suggested that perhaps its office was not to protect a Writer against a certain class of errors. The office of the Bible, (it is argued,) is to make men wise unto Salvation. It does not follow that Inspiration, because it guided a sacred writer so long as he wrote of Christian Doctrine, so as to make what he wrote unerringly true, should have protected him against slips of memory; preserved him from inaccuracies of statement; from inconclusive reasonings; from incorrect quotations; from mistaken inferences; from scientific errors.—This is what is said: and because this is a view of the question which is observed to recommend itself occasionally to candid, and even to reverential minds, it seems to deserve distinct and careful consideration.

But I must preface all I have to reply by remarking that "a Book cannot [properly] be said to be inspired, or to carry with it the authority of being GOD'S Word, if only portions come from Him, and there exists no plain and infallible sign to indicate which those portions are; and if the same Writer may give us in one verse of the Bible a revelation from the MOST HIGH, and in the next verse a blunder of his own. How can we be certain, that the very texts, upon which we rest our doctrines and hopes, are not the uninspired portions? What can be the meaning or nature of an Inspiration to teach Truth, which does not guarantee its recipient from error?"—So far a living sceptical writer.

1. Now, the first thing which strikes one in this theory, is its extreme vagueness. We hardly know what we have to consider; for nothing is definitely stated. Neither are we informed how many of the phenomena of Inspiration, this view is intended to explain. Again, does the theory apply equally to the Old Testament and to the New? If it does apply equally to the Old Testament, (and I can see no possible reason why it should not,) then, I apprehend this theory will be found practically to run up into, and to identify itself with, that last described[418]. For a guidance which has failed to guide, has been no guidance at all; and since whole chapters of the Old Testament will occur to every one's memory which may be thought to have no connexion whatever with 'Christian Doctrine,'—to conduce wondrous little to the 'making men wise unto Salvation,'—it will follow that Inspiration is, according to this theory, in effect, of the nature already described,—namely, a quality which can never be predicated of any passage of Scripture with entire certainty. The larger part of the Old Testament in fact, by this theory, is exhibited in the light of a common book; having no pretension to be regarded as part of the Inspired Canon.

But if this theory simply shirks the question of the Old Testament, then, those who are inclined to accept it, are bound to explain why there should be one theory of Inspiration applicable to the Old Testament, and another for the New:—in which difficulty, I must candidly profess that I am not able to render any assistance at all. It is clearly not allowable to overlook the intimate connexion which subsists between the two great divisions of Holy Scripture; the habitual references of the Writers of the New Testament to the writers of the Old,—Moses, David, Isaiah, and the rest;—or rather, to the utterance of the HOLY GHOST, speaking by the mouth of those writers. Whatever may have been the Inspiration of the Authors of the New Testament must be assumed to have been that of the Authors of the Old Testament also.

2. But further,—(to confine our remarks to the Scriptures of the New Testament; which, it is manifest, the view under consideration specially contemplates;)—however plausible in the abstract a theory may sound, which would account for a Chronological difficulty,—the insertion of what seems to be a wrong name,—a quotation made with singular license,—an unscientific statement,—the apparent inconsistency of two or more accounts of one and the same transaction, in respect of lesser details,—a (supposed) inconclusive remark, or specimen of reasoning which seems to be fallacious;—on the supposition that it is not the office of Inspiration to enlighten the understanding on points like these, or to preserve the pen from error;—however plausible, I say, this theory, abstractedly considered, may appear;—it will be found that it will not bear the searching test of a practical application.

It would indeed be a great advantage to the cause of Truth, and a great help to individual minds, as well as wonderfully promote the arriving at a sound conclusion in this perilous department of speculative Divinity,—if, instead of putting up with a vague theory, (like the present,) regardless of its logical bearings and necessary issues;—men would compel themselves to apply their view to the actual phenomena of Holy Scripture: to carry it out to its legitimate consequences, and steadily to contemplate the result. I venture to predict that the theory which we are now considering, when submitted to such a test, would be found not only inconvenient, but absolutely untenable. The inconsistency and absurdity which results from it, can, I think, easily be made to appear.

For if any one who is disposed to regard it with favour,—instead of idly, (as is the way with nine-tenths of mankind,) repeating the formula in terms more or less vague and indefinite; and straightway wincing, falling back on generalities, and in a word shirking the point, the instant it is proposed to bring the question to a definite issue;—if a favourer of the present theory I say, instead of so acting, would take up a copy of the New Testament, and proceed, with a pen in his hand, to apply the theory, by running his pen through the places, (and they must be capable of individual specification!), which he suspects of being external to the influence of Inspiration;—or, if you please, which he thinks have been penned without that Divine help which makes what is written infallible;—I venture to predict that such an one will speedily admit that his erasures are either so very few, or so very many, as to be fatal to the theory of which they are the expression.

If they be confined to "the fifteenth year of Tiberius[419]; to the names of the second Cainan[420], Cyrenius[421], Abiathar[422], 'Jeremy the prophet[423];'" to "the sixth hour[424]," and so on;—no great inconvenience truly will result. But the instant you go a step further, the difficulty begins. Many of the quotations from the Old Testament may be made to correspond with the Hebrew, doubtless, without sensible inconvenience: but there are others which refuse the process. However, let it be supposed that all such indications of imperfect memory, or misapprehension of the sense of the Hebrew Scriptures, have been removed; and here and there, that an irrelevant clause in the reasoning has been lopped off, or an unscientific remark expunged.—After all this has been done, I venture to say that the result will be the reverse of satisfactory, even to the theorist himself. He will infallibly exclaim secretly,—I seem to have gained wondrous little by this corrective process. Was it worth while, in order to achieve this, to tamper with the Divine Oracles? The great body of Scripture remains after all, in all its strangeness, all its perplexing individuality. Meanwhile, piety and wisdom modestly suggest,—Is it reasonable to think that Evangelists and Apostles should have stumbled, like children, before dates, and names, and quotations from their own Scriptures? Surely if this be all that can be objected against the Bible, the very slenderness of the charge becomes its sufficient refutation!... The erasures are so few, in fact, that they refute the theory.

But if, on the other hand, the pen be freely used, then the result will be fatal to the theory, because it will be fatal to the record. If an 'Essayist and Reviewer' were to reduce the Gospels to consistency, according to his view of consistency, the Gospels would scarcely be recognizable. If he were to reject from St. Paul's writings every instance of what he thinks fanciful exposition, illogical reasoning, inexact quotation, and mistaken inference; the result would be altogether unmanageable. For any one who attends to the matter will perceive that such things run into the very staple of the Apostle's argument; and therefore cannot be detached without destroying the whole. The householder's reason for not removing the tares, ("lest while ye gather up the tares ye root up also the wheat with them[425],") applies exactly. If St. Paul's exposition of Melchizedek be fanciful and untrustworthy, then does the proof of the superiority of our SAVIOUR'S Priesthood over that of Aaron, fall to the ground. If his handling of the story of Sarah and Hagar be an uninspired allegory, then does his argumentation respecting the rejection of the Jews and the calling of the Gentiles disappear. If the furniture of the Temple, and the provisions of the Jewish ritual, were not dictated by the SPIRIT of GOD[426], then will the Epistle wherein it is found be reduced to proportions which make it meaningless. If Deuteronomy xxv. 4 has no reference to the Christian Ministry, then the entire context (in two of St. Paul's Epistles) must go at once[427].... It is useless to multiply such instances. Any one familiar with the writings of St. Paul will know the truth of what has been offered; and will admit that the erasures required by the theory before us will become so numerous as to prove,—(to a devout mind at least, or indeed to any one of sense and candour,)—that the theory is altogether untenable.

It cannot escape observation, therefore, that however plausible this view of Inspiration may sound, as long as some few petty historical, chronological, and scientific inaccuracies are all that have to be accounted for;—the theory (unhappily) proves worthless when it comes to be practically applied; inasmuch as in the writings of St. Paul, for example, there is little or nothing of the kind just specified, to be condoned. Erroneous dates, unscientific statements, wrong names, and the like, form no part of the staple of the New Testament. Such instances may be counted on one's fingers; and are to be sufficiently explained to render any special theory of Inspiration in order to meet them, quite a gratuitous exercise of ingenuity.

3. On the other hand, if a wider class of phenomena is to be dealt with by this theory, the reader is requested to observe that we involve ourselves in a gross contradiction; for we forsake the very principle on which it pretends to be built. The theory set out by reminding us that "the office of the Bible is to make men wise unto Salvation,"—not to teach physical Science, nor to deal with facts in chronology and the like: and the plea was allowed. But the theory which was devised to account for one class of phenomena is now most unwarrantably applied to account for another. We have travelled into a widely different subject-matter,—namely, Divinity proper! Let it therefore be respectfully asked,—If the Inspiration which the Apostles enjoyed did not preserve them against unsound inferences in respect of Holy Scripture; and illogical, inconclusive argumentation in things Divine;—pray, of what use was it? We have not been reviewing a set of Geological mistakes on the part of the great Apostle. To Physical Science, he has scarcely so much as a single allusion. He deals with Christian Doctrine; with Divinity, properly so called; and with that only. Pray, was not Inspiration a sufficient guide to him, there?

4. It is high time also to remind the reader that although the office of the Bible, confessedly, is "to make men wise unto Salvation," it does not by any means follow that that is its only office. In other words, we have no right to assume that we know all the possible ends for which the Bible was designed; and to lay it down, as if it were an ascertained fact, that it was not designed to enlighten men in matters of Chronology, History, and the like; seeing, on the one hand, that all the evidence we are able to adduce in support of such an opinion, does not establish so much as a faint presumption that any part of Scripture is uninspired; and seeing that, on the other, as a plain matter of fact, historical details constitute so large a part of the contents of the Bible; and that the sacred volume is the sole depository of the History and Chronology of the World for by far the largest portion of the interval since that World's Creation.

5. In passing, it may also be reasonably declared, that it is to take a very derogatory view of the result of the HOLY SPIRIT's influence, to suppose that imperfections and inaccuracies can freely abound,—nay, can exist at all,—in a Revelation which the same HOLY SPIRIT is believed to have inspired. They ought surely to be demonstrated to exist, before we are called upon to listen to the apologies which have been invented to account for their existence!

6. Let me also advert to a dilemma which seems hardly ever to obtain from a certain class of critics the attention it deserves. If a writing be not inspired, it is of no absolute authority. If a part of a writing be not inspired, that part is of no absolute authority. If a single word in the text of Holy Scripture be even uncertain,—(as, for example, whether we are to read OS or THEOS in 1 Tim. iii. 16,)—that word becomes without absolute authority. We cannot venture to adduce it in proof of anything. Without therefore, in the remotest degree, desiring to discourage the application of a true theory of Inspiration to the phenomena of Holy Scripture, through fear of the necessary consequences,—may we not call attention to the manifest awkwardness of a theory which no one knows how to apply, and about the application of which no two men will ever be agreed?—the issue of the discussion being, in every case, neither more nor less than this,—whether the portion of Scripture under consideration is Human, and therefore of no absolute authority; or Divine, and therefore infallible!

7. A far more important consideration remains to be offered, and with this I shall conclude. Although, when St. Paul appears to reason inconclusively, some of us do not hesitate to refer the Apostle's (supposed) imperfect logic to his personal infirmity,—yet, common piety revolts against the proposal to apply the same solution to the same phenomenon when it is observed to occur in the Discourses of our Blessed LORD Himself. It seems to have been providentially ordained, however, that the discourses of CHRIST Himself should supply examples of every one of those difficulties which it is thought lawful to account for,—when an Apostle or an Evangelist is the speaker,—on the hypothesis of partial, imperfect, or suspended Inspiration. Now, since I, at least, shall not be permitted to be either vague or general, I proceed to subjoin the proof of what has been thus advanced:—

1. The well-known difficulty about "the days of Abiathar," is found in one of our LORD'S discourses[428]. Here then is a case of what, if an Evangelist or an Apostle had been the author of the statement, would have been called an historical inaccuracy.

2. However unworthy of scientific attention the Mosaic account of the descent of Mankind from a single pair may be deemed,—the universality of 'the Noachian Deluge,'—the destruction of the Cities of the plain,—the fate of Lot's wife,—Jonah in the fish's belly,—and so forth;—to all these (supposed) unscientific statements our Blessed LORD commits Himself unequivocally[429].

3. When the Holy One inferred the Resurrection of the Dead from the words spoken to Moses "in the bush[430];"—when He proved that CHRIST is not the son of David, because "David in spirit calls Him 'LORD[431];'"—and when He shewed from a clause in the 6th verse of the lxxxiind Psalm, ("I said ye are gods,") that it was not unlawful for Himself to claim the title of SON of GOD[432];—I humbly think that the argumentation is of such a nature as would not produce conviction in captious minds cast in a modern mould[433]. I desire not to dwell longer upon this subject; and only hope in what I have ventured to say concerning some of the recorded sayings of Him to whose creative Power and Goodness I am indebted for the exercise of my own reason,—I have not written amiss. But the point of what I am urging is, that I defy any one to bring a charge of faulty logic against passages in St. Paul's Epistles which might not, with the same show of reason, be brought against certain of our LORD's recorded sayings.

4. When the Chief Priests and Scribes remonstrated with our LORD because of the children crying in the Temple; and asked Him,—"Hearest Thou what these say?" He replied,—"Yea, have ye never read, 'Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise[434]?'" ... Now, this quotation from the viiith Psalm is what an 'Essayist or Reviewer' would have pronounced irrelevant.

5. It seems clear from Gen. ii. 24, that Adam was the author of the words, "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother," &c. And yet, our LORD (in St. Matth. xix. 4, 5,) as unmistakeably seems to make GOD the Speaker. An Evangelist or an Apostle would be thought here to have made a slip of memory.

6. In St. John viii. 47, the following words occur. "He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God." This passage (as already pointed out[435],) has been adduced by one who now occupies an Archiepiscopal throne, as containing a logical fallacy.

Many more examples might be adduced: but these will suffice. It is plain that when the like phenomena are observed in the writings of Apostles and Evangelists, we need not, in order to account for them, have recourse to any theory of partial or imperfect Inspiration; since nothing of the kind is supposed necessary when they occur in the Discourses of our LORD.—As much as I care to offer on the subject of Inspired Reasoning will be found in the course of the Sixth of these Sermons, where the Doctrine of 'Accommodation' is considered.

To say that the Scriptures, and the things contained in them, can have no other or farther meaning than those persons thought or had, who first recited or wrote them; is evidently saying, that those persons were the original, proper, and sole Authors of those Books, i.e. that they are not inspired: which is absurd, whilst the authority of those Books is under examination; i.e. till you have determined they are of no Divine authority at all. Till this be determined, it must in all reason be supposed, (not indeed that they have, for this is taking for granted that they are inspired; but) that they may have, some farther meaning than what the compilers saw or understood.

BISHOP BUTLER, Analogy, P. II. ch. vii.

As the Literal sense is, as it were, the main stream or river, so the Moral sense chiefly, and sometimes the Allegorical or Typical, are they whereof the Church hath most use: not that I wish men to be bold in allegories, or indulgent or light in allusions; but that I do much condemn that Interpretation of the Scripture which is only after the manner as men use to interpret a profane book.

LORD BACON, Advancement of Learning.

The Book of this Law we are neither able nor worthy to open and look into. That little thereof which we darkly apprehend, we admire; the rest, with religious ignorance we humbly and meekly adore.

HOOKER, Eccl. Pol. B. I. c. ii. 5.




[390] Preached in Christ-Church Cathedral, Dec. 9th, 1860.

[391] See Sermon VII.

[392] Ibid.

[393] Gen. xxxvi.

[394] See the Hulsean Lectures for 1833, (The Law of Moses viewed in connexion with the History and character of the Jews, with a defence of the Book of Joshua, &c.) by Henry John Rose, B.D.

[395] 2 St. Peter i. 21.

[396] 1 St. Peter i. 11.

[397] "With the idea of a Prophet," (says Gesenius in his Hebrew Lexicon, on the noun,) "there was this necessarily attached; that he spoke not his own words, but those which he had divinely received; (see Philo, t. iv. p. 116, ed. Pfeifferi,—prophts gar idion men ouden apophthengetai, allotria de panta hypchountos heterou); and that he was the messenger of GOD, and the declarer of His will. This is clear from a passage of peculiar authority in this matter, (Ex. vii. 1,)—where GOD says to Moses,—'I have made thee a god to Pharaoh; and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.'" ... Elsewhere, (speaking of the Hebrew verb, 'to prophesy,') Gesenius has the following remarkable statement:—"The passive forms, Niphal and Hithpael, are used in this verb; from the Divine Prophets having been supposed to be moved rather by another's powers than their own." (Just as if the Oracles of GOD were not express on the subject! viz. "No prophecy ever came by the will of Man; but, [because they were] borne along (pheromenoi) by the HOLY GHOST, spake those holy men of GOD."—2 St. Pet. i. 21.)

Prophts, in fact, means 'an interpreter' rather than 'a prophet,' (for which, in our popular sense, the Greek is rather mantis:) hence the use of the words prophts, prophteu, prophteia in the New Testament, e.g. 1 Thess. v. 20. 1 Cor. xi. 4: xii. 10. Rom. xii. 6, (where see Wordsworth.) See also 1 Cor. xiv. 1, 3, 4, 5, &c.: in all which places, the prophts was what we should rather now call a preacher. But then, the expounding of GOD'S Word is the special function of the preacher's office from which he takes this name.—The reader is referred to Blomfield's Glossary, Agam. v. 399, and to Liddell and Scott's Lexicon; (in both of which, some important references are given:) also to Trench's Synonyms of the New Testament, pp. 22-26.

[398] See above, pp. 2-5.—The reader will find an interesting passage based on this analogy, in the Appendix (F).

[399] Analogy, P. II. c. vii.—The same thing has been more fully expressed in a volume of Sermons which deserves to be far better known than it is:—"I suppose that if there is one portion of the Old Testament which a discriminator would set aside as less needing to be reckoned inspired than other parts, it is the Historical; the books which are strictly narrative. Now it may seem to have been providentially ordered, in the purpose of meeting this view, that these books are made to bear on them most peculiarly the stamp and the claim of Inspiration. For they do not profess to be so much the account of what Man did, as what GOD did in ruling men, and guiding human events. They are a history of a providential course of events, and, (which is the point,) as seen from the providential point of view. They are a history written not on Earth, but above the skies. Events are spoken of therefore in this view. A man's obduracy is recorded thus,—'GOD hardened his heart.' A king numbers his people; it is recorded as a thing suggested in the spiritual world. In fact, the historic volume of the Old Testament is a history of the secret springs of things; it is a narrative of things which none but GOD ALMIGHTY could know; not Man's Word therefore at all, but GOD'S."—Sermons, by the Rev. C. P. Eden, pp. 153-155. Several other extracts from the same suggestive volume of a very excellent Divine, will be found in the Appendix.

[400] Eccl. iii. 14. So Deut. iv. 2: xii. 32. Rev. xxii. 19.

[401] See the Appendix (G).

[402] Hooker's Eccl. Pol., B. 1. c. ii. 2

[403] See above, p. 77.

[404] The Inspiration of the Bible, five Lectures, by Chr. Wordsworth, D.D. 1861,—p. 5.

[405] For some remarks on Theories of Inspiration, see the Appendix (H.)

[406] "Quicquid Ille de Suis factis et dictis nos legere voluit, hoc scribendum illis tanquam Suis manibus imperavit."

[407] St. Matth. x. 9.

[408] E.g. kentyrin: spekoulatr: xests.

[409] Comp. St. Luke viii. 43, with St. Mark v. 26.

[410] The reader will be grateful for a beautiful and highly suggestive passage from Eden's Sermons, in the Appendix (I.)

[411] Alluding to a sermon preached by the Provost of Queen's.

[412] Ecclus. iii. 19.

[413] Ps. cxi. 10. Prov. ix. 10.

[414] Ps. cxix. 100.

[415] Ps. xix. 8.

[416] St. Mark xii. 24.

[417] Job xlii. 5.

[418] See above, p. 95-99.

[419] St. Luke iii. 1.

[420] Ibid. iii. 36.

[421] Ibid. ii. 2.

[422] St. Mark ii. 26.

[423] St. Matth. xxvii. 9.

[424] St. John xix. 14.

[425] St. Matth. xiii. 29.

[426] Heb. ix. 8.

[427] 1 Cor. ix. 9 and 1 Tim. v. 18.

[428] St. Mark ii. 26.

[429] All will be found more fully insisted upon at the beginning of the VIIth Sermon.

[430] St. Luke xx. 37-8.

[431] St. Matth. xxii. 41-6.

[432] St. John x. 34-6.

[433] 'Essayists and Reviewers' would reply, that in the first instance, the supposed inference has no connexion with the premisses:—that in the second, (1) it has to be proved that the person intended in Psalm cx. is CHRIST; and (2) it does not follow, because David calls him "lord," that the person so spoken of is not his "son:"—that in the third instance, 'gods' is used in Psalm lxxxii. of earthly rulers; whereas, when our SAVIOUR called Himself "the SON of GOD," He claimed to be "of one substance with the FATHER,—GOD of GOD."

[434] St. Matth. xxi. 16.

[435] See above, p. 4.

SERMON V.[436]

* * * * *


* * * * *

ST. MATTHEW iv. 4.

It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

It is impossible to preserve exact method in Sermons like these, uncertain in number, and delivered at irregular intervals. It shall only be stated that, having already spoken at considerable length, of the INSPIRATION of Holy Scripture;—not, one part more, one part less, but every part equally inspired throughout; not general, (whatever the exact notion may be of a book generally inspired,) but particular, by which I mean that every word is none other than the utterance of the Holy Ghost[437]: having, moreover, explained the reasonableness,—(the logical necessity, as it seems,)—of giving such an account of the Bible;—I propose to-day to proceed to the subject of INTERPRETATION. Really, it has become the fashion of a School of unbelief which has lately emerged into infamous notoriety, to deal with both these questions in so insolent a style of dogmatism, that the preacher is compelled to halt in limine; and to explain that he begs that no offence may be taken at the account which he has just given of the Bible; for that really he means no more than Bp. Pearson meant when he said that "the Scripture phrase" is "the Language of the HOLY GHOST[438]:"—that he desires to say no other thing than what He said, by whose Spirit, (as St. Peter declares[439],) the prophets prophesied;—the preacher, I say, wishes to explain that he desires to mean no other thing than our LORD JESUS CHRIST Himself meant, when He spoke of "every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of GOD."

I. INTERPRETATION, then, in the largest sense of the term, I take to denote the discovery of the method and meaning of Holy Scripture.—I exclude those critical labours which merely aim at establishing a correct text.—I exclude also the learning which merely investigates the grammatical force of single words. True, that even to translate is often to interpret; but this results only from the imperfection of language,—which can seldom represent the words of one idiom by the words of another, without at the same time parting with the associations which belong to the old words, and importing those which are inseparable from the new.—Moreover, except occasionally, it is presumed that the lore of the Antiquary, Geographer, and so forth, does not aspire to the dignity of Interpretation.—To be brief,—whatever simply puts us on a level with ordinary hearers of ancient days; does no more than inform us what custom, locality, or date is intended by the sacred writer; (things which once were obvious, and which ought not to be any difficulty now;)—all this, I say, seems external to the province of Interpretation; the purpose of which is to discover the method and the meaning of Holy Writ. And I find that every extant specimen of this sacred Science is either (1) what GOD hath Himself revealed; or (2) what the Church hath with authority delivered; or (3) what individuals have thought themselves competent to declare.

Of these three authorities concerning the sense of Scripture, it is evident that the last-named is entitled to least notice. So unimportant indeed is it, as scarcely to be of any weight at all. What one individual asserts, on his own unsupported authority, another individual may, with as much or as little authority, deny; and who is to decide?

But the authority indicated in the second place, clearly challenges very different attention. When, for example, our own Hooker declares, concerning the 5th verse of the iiird chapter of St. John, that "of all the ancients there is not one to be named that ever did otherwise expound or allege this place than as implying external Baptism[440]," we perceive at once that such consent, on the part of men in whose ears the echoes of the Apostolic Age had not yet quite ceased to vibrate; and who were themselves professors of that Divine Science which takes cognizance of the subject-matter in hand:—such general consent of Antiquity, I say, on a point of Interpretation, must evidently be held to be decisive.

"Religio mihi est, eritque, contra torrentem omnium Patrum, Sanctas Scripturas interpretari; nisi quando me argumenta cogunt evidentissima,—quod nunquam eventurum credo[441]." So spake one who had read the Fathers with no common care, and who turned his reading to no common account. "I persuade myself," he says, "that you will learn the modesty of submitting your judgment to that of the Catholic Doctors, where they are found generally to concur in the interpretation of a text of Scripture, how absurd soever that interpretation may, at first appearance, seem to be. For upon a diligent search you will find, that aliquid latet quod non patet,—'there is a mystery in the bottom:' and that which at first view seemed even ridiculous, will afterwards appear to be a most certain truth[442]." "No man can oppose Catholic consent, but he will at last be found to oppose both the Divine Oracles and Sound Reason[443]."

The distinction thus drawn between individual opinion and the collective voice of the Church, was far better understood anciently than at present. The interpretation of a Council, especially if oecumenical, was accounted decisive. Even the generally consentient voice of Doctors and Fathers, as far as it could be ascertained, was held to be of the same authoritative kind. An interesting illustration occurs. Than Eusebius, Bishop of Csarea, few Fathers of the fourth century were more learned in Holy Scripture. He, commenting upon "the Captain of the LORD'S Host," mentioned in the vth chapter of the Book of Joshua, delivers it as his opinion that it was the same Personage who spoke to Moses 'in the Bush;' viz. the Eternal SON[444]. On which opinion, a learned man of the same age, in a scholion of singular beauty which has come down to us, remarks as follows:—"Aye, but the Church, O most holy Eusebius, holds a view on this subject altogether at variance with thine[445]." He goes on to allege reasons why the archistratgos of Joshua must be held to have been not an uncreated, but a created Angel; the Archangel Michael, in fact. We will not now go into that matter. You are but requested to observe, how profoundly unimportant the opinion of a very learned individual was held to be, by one in whose ears the Patristic "torrent" was yet sounding; although Justin Martyr is known to have been of the same mind with Eusebius.—And thus much for individual views as to the meaning of Holy Scripture; as contrasted with the decisions of Councils and Fathers. To judge from the signs of the Age, we have exactly reversed the ancient estimate; and expect that more respect will be shewn to our own private fancies, than to a general consensus of Divines, ancient and modern. It seems to have been discovered that the supreme guide of Life is the individual conscience,—"without appeal—except to himself[446]!"

II. Before descending, however, to the business of Interpretation, there is clearly one preliminary question to be settled: namely, the principle on which Interpretation is to be conducted. And this is all that can be discussed to-day. To seek for that principle in the contradictory pages of solitary theorists, would of course be hopeless, as well as absurd. To elicit it from Patristic Commentaries, would obviously leave a door open for cavil. The ancient Fathers, (allowing that they often speak with consentient voice,) singly, were but fallible men,—however famous, as professors of Theological Science, they may have been. This, however, I venture to assume without any hesitation whatever,—that if, instead of either of these two ways of ascertaining how Holy Scripture ought to be handled, we can be so fortunate as to discover from the Inspired Writers themselves what their method was with respect to the Word of GOD,—in such case, I say, we shall be in a position of entire certainty[447]. We shall then have full warrant for disregarding the dicta of modern sciolists on this great subject;—however arrogant their dogmatism, however confident their unsupported asseverations.

I desire to be very clearly understood. My position is this. All Christian men allow that the Apostles and Evangelists of our LORD were inspired. Before such an audience as the present, I will not condescend even to allude to the absolute claim of our SAVIOUR CHRIST, who, as the Son of Man, enjoyed the gift of the Spirit without measure; who, as very GOD, "in the beginning created the Heaven and the Earth,"—(for, "In the beginning was THE WORD; and THE WORD was with GOD; and THE WORD was GOD.... All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made[448]:")—I will not, I say, for every utterance of our SAVIOUR CHRIST pause even, to claim the entire reverence of our hearts,—the prostrate homage of our understandings.... Well then. If we can but discover what the mind and method of these several speakers and writers was, with regard to the Interpretation of Holy Scripture; on what principle, and with what sentiments, they bandied the Book of GOD'S Law; we shall have discovered the thing of which we are in search. For the Author of a book must perforce be allowed to be the best judge of the method and intention of that book:—the HOLY SPIRIT must be allowed to be the best authority as to His own meaning!

Now this method,—(of which, as I will presently remind you, we possess a great many specimens,)—proves to be very extraordinary. It altogether establishes the fact that the Bible is not to be interpreted "like any other book." That it could not be so interpreted, might have been confidently anticipated beforehand, from the very fact of its Divine origin[449]. What I mean,—Since, "by the mouth of David," the HOLY GHOST is expressly declared by CHRIST and by St. Peter to have "spoken;" and since the Psalms collectively are described by St. Paul as the utterance of the HOLY GHOST; since Jeremiah's witness is said to be the witness of the HOLY GHOST; and the HOLY GHOST is actually said to have spoken by Isaiah; while the Spirit of CHRIST Himself, (St. Peter says,) dwelt in the Prophets:—in a word, since "holy men of GOD spake as they were moved by the HOLY GHOST," and the provisions of the Mosaic Law are to the same HOLY GHOST by St. Paul emphatically ascribed[450];—stubborn facts, you are requested to observe, which Essayists may prudently suppress but which no Sophistry on earth can either evade or deny:—seeing, I say, that Holy Scripture is declared by inspired men to be the utterance of the Eternal God, it was to have been expected beforehand that its texture would bear witness to its Divine origin; and that, to interpret it "like any other book," would be to forget its extraordinary character. Interpret Sophocles and Plato, if you will, like any other book, for a very plain reason; but beware how you apply your purely human notions to the utterance of the Ancient of Days; for that utterance, enshrined in one particular volume, clearly makes that one volume essentially unlike any other volume in the world.

You are particularly requested to observe, further,—that singular pains have been taken to mystify this entire subject. It has been a favourite device to multiply difficulties,—real or imaginary,—and so, to create a miserable sense of the dangers which fairly hem the subject in,—in order to render more palatable a desperate escape from them all. Thus, we are told of the risks to which Grammatical nicety, and Rhetorical accommodation expose us; and again, the snares into which the Logical method may betray. Metaphysical aid, we are assured, mystifies; and even Learning, (would to Heaven we had a little more of it!) obscures the sense[451]. Might we just take the liberty of suggesting that the study of the exploded works of German unbelievers, (of which Germany herself, thank GOD! is beginning to be ashamed,) on the part of men of very moderate intellectual powers, however wise in their own conceit; and with no previous Theological knowledge to guide them,—is another yet more fruitful avenue to error?... Next, we are threatened with the manifold inconveniences which would ensue from the discovery that there is more than one sense in Holy Scripture,—(that one sense being assumed to be, not the sense intended by its Divine Author, but the sense which the first hearers may be supposed to have put upon it[452].) "If words may have more than one meaning," (it is not very logically argued,) "they may have any meaning[453]." We are told a great deal about "the growth of ideas;" and of human prejudices; and of "the disturbing influence of Theological terms."—But all this kind of thing, it will be perceived at once, is altogether foreign to the matter in hand. Ought Scripture to be interpreted like any other book,—or not? That is the real question! Has Scripture only one meaning, or more? That is the point in dispute! Above all, What is the true principle of Scripture Interpretation? That is the only thing we have to discover!

Now, as for how the principles of Divine Interpretation are to be discovered, it is undeniable that there can be no surer way than by discovering what is the method of the HOLY GHOST; by inquiring, what is the method of our SAVIOUR CHRIST, and of His Evangelists, and of His Apostles?

1. Surely it is needless to remind an audience like the present, what that method is! Turn the first page of St. Matthew's Gospel, and weigh well the three famous cases of Interpretation which there encounter you[454]:—namely, the assurance that Hosea's words, "Out of Egypt have I called my son[455];"—that Jeremiah's declaration concerning the tears of Rachel[456];—and that the many prophetic utterances concerning "the Branch[457];"—found fulfilment, each, in CHRIST. The first,—when, at Jehovah's bidding, He was carried up out of Egypt into Palestine; the second,—when the bereaved mothers of Bethlehem wept for their murdered offspring; the third,—when CHRIST, being bred up in Nazareth, was called a "Nazarene,"—the root of which, etymologically, denotes "a branch."—But look further, and your surprise will increase at discovering how extraordinary the Divine method is. When our Saviour cast out evil spirits and healed the sick, St. Matthew declares that He fulfilled that prophecy of Isaiah, "Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses[458];" the language of the prophet in fact being, "Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows[459];" which, as far as the words go, is rather a different thing.

2. But it is St. Paul who affords us the largest induction of instances. When he would establish the right of the Clergy to have due provision made for them, he finds his warrant in a most unexpected place of Scripture. "Say I these things as a man? or saith not the Law the same also? For it is written in the Law of Moses, 'Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn.' Doth GOD care for the oxen here alluded to[460]? (m tn bon melei t The?) or saith He it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written[461]." I remind you of the entire passage, because it is so very express.—Elsewhere, St. Paul adduces a few verses from the viiith Psalm, the primary and more obvious meaning of which appears to assert nothing more than the supremacy of Man's present nature over the inferior races of animals; ("all sheep and oxen, yea and all the beasts of the field[462].") The application of it, in a prophetic sense, to the supreme dominion of our Redeemer over all created beings in Heaven and Earth, is certainly not one which would naturally suggest itself to us; yet is it for this purpose, and this only, that St. Paul adduces it; and as confirmatory of the universal sovereignty of CHRIST, the place in question is three times quoted by the same Apostle[463].—Elsewhere, when he would warn persons who have been partakers of both Sacraments, of the danger of final rejection, he cites the example of the Fathers of Israel in the Wilderness. "The waters of the Red Sea were a wall unto them, on their right hand and on their left[464]," and the watery Cloud covered them above; whereby it came to pass that "all our Fathers were under the Cloud, and all passed through the Sea; and were all therefore baptized unto Moses in the Cloud and in the Sea." Moreover, he declares that they "did all eat the same spiritual meat;" (alluding to the Manna;) "and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was CHRIST[465]." ... Our SAVIOUR'S emphatic application to Himself (in the vith of St. John) of the Manna, "the bread which came down from Heaven,"—none can forget[466].

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