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Understanding the Scriptures by Francis McConnell

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Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church




The Mendenhall Lectures, founded by Rev. Marmaduke H. Mendenhall, D.D.,
of the North Indiana Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, are
delivered annually in De Pauw University to the public without any
charge for admission. The object of the donor was "to found a perpetual
lectureship on the evidences of the Divine Origin of Christianity and
the inspiration and authority of the Holy Scriptures. The lecturers must
be persons of high and wide repute, of broad and varied scholarship, who
firmly adhere to the evangelical system of Christian faith. The
selection of lecturers may be made from the world of Christian
scholarship, without regard to denominational divisions. Each course of
lectures is to be published in book form by an eminent publishing house
and sold at cost to the faculty and students of the University."

Lectures previously published: 1913, The Bible and Life, Edwin Holt
Hughes; 1914, The Literary Primacy of the Bible, George Peck Eckman.


President De Pauw University.



The problem as to the understanding of the Scriptures is with some no
problem at all. All we have to do is to take the narratives at their
face meaning. The Book is written in plain English, and all that is
necessary for its comprehension is a knowledge of what the words mean.
If we have any doubts, we can consult the dictionary. The plain man
ought to have no difficulty in understanding the Bible.

Nobody can deny the clearness of the English of the Scriptures.
Nevertheless, the plain man does have trouble. How far would the
ordinary intelligence have to read from the first chapter of Genesis
before finding itself in difficulties? There are accounts of events
utterly unlike anything which we see happening in the life around us,
events which seem to us to contradict the course of nature's procedure.
There are points of view foreign to our way of looking at things. More
than that, there seem to be actual contradictions between various
portions of the books. And, above all, the way of life marked out in the
Book seems to lead off toward mystery. To save our lives we have to lose
them. All the precepts of common sense seem set at defiance by some
passages of the Book. How can we explain the hold of such a book on the
world's life?

When once the problem of the understanding of the Scriptures is raised,
various solutions are offered, all of which contribute a measure of
help, but most of which do not greatly get us ahead. For example, we are
told that the Book is translated literature, and that if we could get
back to the original narratives in the original languages, we would find
our perplexities vanishing. There is no question that a knowledge of
Greek and Hebrew does aid us in an understanding of the Scriptures, but
this aid commonly extends only to the meaning of particular words. One
who knows enough of Greek or Hebrew to enter sympathetically into the
life of which those languages were the expression is prepared to sense
the scriptural atmosphere better than one who has not such equipment.
Very few Scripture readers, however, are thus qualified to understand
Greek and Hebrew. Very few ministers of the gospel are so trained as to
be able to pass upon shades of meaning of Greek or Hebrew words against
the judgment of those who teach these languages in the schools. With
graduation from theological school most ministers put Hebrew to one
side; and many pay no further attention to Greek. Even a trained
biblical student is very careful not to question the authority of the
professional linguistic experts. Apart from sidelights upon the meaning
of this or that passage, there is very little that the biblical student
can get from Greek or Hebrew which is not available in important
translations. We cannot solve the greater difficulties in biblical study
by carrying our investigations back to the study of the original
languages as such. The fact is that emphasis upon the importance of
mastery of Greek and Hebrew for an insight into scriptural meanings
rests largely upon a theory of literal inspiration of the biblical
narratives. It requires only a cursory reading to see that the
narratives in English cannot claim to be strictly inerrant, so that the
upholder of inerrancy is driven to the position that the inerrancy is in
the documents as originally written. No doctrine of inerrancy, however,
can explain away the puzzles which confront us, for example, in the
accounts of the creation as given us in the early chapters of Genesis,
or throw light upon the possibility of a soul's passing from moral death
to life.

Great help is promised us by those who maintain that the modern methods
of critical biblical study give us the key to scriptural meanings. There
is no doubt that many doors have been opened by critical methods. Now
that the flurries of misunderstanding which attended the first
application of such methods to biblical study have passed on, we see
that some solid results have been gained. In so far as our difficulties
arise from questions of authorship and date of writing, the critical
methods have brought much relief. Even very orthodox biblicists no
longer insist that it is necessary to oppose the teaching that the first
five books of the Bible were written at different times and by different
men. In fact, there is no reason to quarrel with the theory that many
parts of these books are not merely anonymous, but are documents
produced by the united effort of narrators and correlators reaching
through generations--the narratives often being transmitted orally from
fathers to sons. There is no reason for longer arguing against the claim
that the book of Isaiah as it stands in our Scriptures is composed of
documents written at widely separated periods. It is permissible even
from the standpoint of orthodoxy to assign a late date to the book of
Daniel. No harm is wrought when we insist that the book of Mark must
have priority in date among the Gospels, and that Matthew and Luke are
built in part from Mark as a foundation. It is not dangerous to face the
facts which cause the prolonged debate over the authorship of the fourth
Gospel. It is not heresy to teach that the dates of the epistles must be
rearranged through the findings of modern scholarship. There is not only
no danger in a hospitable attitude toward modern scholarship, but many
difficulties disappear through adjusting ourselves to present-day
methods. If contradictions appear in a document hitherto considered a
unit, the contradictions are at least measurably done away with when the
document is seen to be a composite report from the points of view of
different authors. The critical method has been of immense value in
enforcing upon us that the scriptural books were written each with a
distinctive intention, apart from the purpose to represent the facts in
the method of a newspaper reporter or of a scientific investigator. In a
sense many of the more important scriptural documents were of the nature
of pamphlets or tracts for the times in which they were written. The
author was combating a heresy, or supplementing a previous statement
which seemed to him to be inadequate, or seeking to adjust a religious
conception to enlarging demands. The biblical writers are commentators
on or interpreters of the truth which they conceive to be essential.

Making most generous allowances, however, for the advantages of the
critical methods, we must use them with considerable care. Results like
those suggested above seem to be well established, but there is always
possibility of the critic's becoming a mere specialist with the purely
technical point of view. Suppose the critic holds so to the passion for
analysis that for him analysis becomes everything. We may then have a
single verse cut into three or four pieces, each assigned to a different
author, the authors separated by long periods. Even if the older
narratives are composite, the process of welding or compression was so
thorough that detailed analyses are now out of the question. Apart from
its broader contentions, the method of the critical school must be used
tentatively and without dogmatism. Moreover, we must always remember
that the critical student comes to his task with assumptions which are
oftentimes more potent with him from his very blindness to their
existence. Assumption in scientific investigation is inevitable. Suppose
a critic to be markedly under the influence of some evolutionary
hypothesis. Suppose him to believe that the formula which makes progress
a movement from the simple to the complex can be traced in detail in the
advance of society. He is prepared to believe that in practically every
case the simple has preceded the complex. He will forthwith untangle the
biblical narrative to get at the ideal evolutionary arrangement,
ignoring the truth that except in the most general fashion progress
cannot thus be traced. In the actual life of societies the progress,
especially of ideas, is often from the complex to the simple. Many
evolutionists maintain that movement is now forward, now backward, now
diagonal, and now by a "short cut"; but if the evolutionary critic
sticks closely to his preconceived formula about progress as always from
the simple to the complex, he can lead us astray. Again, almost all
great prophetic announcements are ahead of their time. They seem out of
place at the date of their first utterance--interruptions,
interjections hard to fit into an orderly historic scheme. Or suppose
the critic to be a student of the scientific school which will not allow
for the play of any forces excepting as they openly reveal themselves,
the school that will not allow for backgrounds of thought or for
atmospheres which surround conceptions. Such a student is very apt to
maintain, for example, that Paul knew only so much of the life of Jesus
as he mentions in the epistles. Such a student cannot assume that Paul
ever took anything for granted. We can see at once that a method so
professedly exact as this may be dangerously out of touch with the human
processes of the life of individuals and of societies. Or suppose still
further that the biblical student holds a set of scientific assumptions
which are extremely naturalistic; that is to say, suppose that he
assumes that nothing has ever happened which in any way departs from the
natural order. We have only to remind ourselves that the natural order
of a particular time is the order as that time conceives it; but it is
manifestly hazardous to limit events in the world of matter to the
scientific conceptions of any one day. To take a single illustration,
the radical student of the life of Jesus of a generation ago cast out
forthwith from the Gospel accounts everything which suggested the
miraculous. The conceptions of the order of nature which obtained a
generation ago did not allow even for works of healing of the sort
recorded in the Gospels. At the present time radical biblical criticism
makes considerable allowance for such works. Discovery of the power of
mental suggestion and of the influence of mind over body has opened the
door to the return of some of the wonders wrought by Jesus to a place
among historic facts. This does not mean that the radical student is any
more friendly to miracles than before. We are not here raising the
question of miracles as such, but we do insist that an assumption as to
what the natural order may or may not allow can be fraught with peril in
the hands of critical students of the Scriptures. We say again that
while, in general, the larger contentions of the biblical school can be
looked upon as established beyond reasonable doubt; and while, in
general, the methods of the school are productive of good, yet, because
of the part that assumption plays in the fashioning of all critical
tools, the assumptions must be scrutinized with all possible care. A
good practical rule is to read widely from the critics, to accept what
they generally agree upon, to hold very loosely anything that seems
"striking" or "brilliant." This is a field in which originality must be
discounted. There is so little check upon the imagination.

It is but a step from the consideration of the critical methods in
biblical study to that of the historical methods in the broader sense.
Many students who are out of patience with the more narrowly critical
processes maintain that the broader historical methods are of vast value
in biblical discussion. Here, again, we must admit the large measure of
justice in the claim. We can see at once that the same reservations must
be made as in the case of the critical methods. The assumptions play a
determining part. If we are on our guard against any tricks that
assumptions may play, we can eagerly expect the historical methods to
aid us greatly.

We have come to see that any revelation to be really a revelation must
speak in the language of a particular time. But speaking in the language
of a particular time implies at the outset very decided limitations. The
prophets who arise to proclaim any kind of truth must clothe their ideas
in the thought terms of a particular day and can accomplish their aims
only as they succeed in leading the spiritual life of their day onward
and upward. Such a prophet will accommodate himself to the mental and
moral and religious limitations of the time in which he speaks. Only
thus can he get a start. It is inevitable, then, that along with the
higher truth of his message there will appear the marks of the
limitations of the mold in which the message is cast. The prophet must
take what materials he finds at hand, and with these materials direct
the people to something higher and better. Furthermore, in the
successive stages through which the idea grows we must expect to find it
affected by all the important factors which in any degree determine its
unfolding. The first stage in understanding the Scriptures is to learn
what a writer intended to say, what he meant for the people of his day.
To do this we must rely upon the methods which we use in any historical
investigation. The Christian student of the Scriptures believes that the
Bible contains eternal truths for all time, truths which are above time
in their spiritual values. Even so, however, the truth must first be
written for a particular time and that time the period in which the
prophet lived. When the Christian speaks of the Scriptures as containing
a revelation for all time, he refers to their essential spiritual value.
The best way to make that essential spiritual value effective for the
after times is to sink it deep into the consciousness of a particular
time. This gives it leverage, or focus for the outworking of its forces.
No matter how limited the conceptions in which the spiritual richness
first took form, those conceptions can be understood by the students who
look back through the ages, while the spiritual value itself shines out
with perennial freshness. Paradoxical as it may sound, the truths which
are of most value for all time are those which first get themselves most
thoroughly into the thought and feeling of some one particular time. Let
us look at the opening chapters of Genesis for illustration. The
historical student points out to us that the science of the first
chapters of Genesis is not peculiar to the Hebrew people, that
substantially similar views of the stages through which creation moved
are to be found in the literatures of surrounding peoples. A well-known
type of student would therefore seek at one stroke to bring the first
chapters of Genesis down to the level of the scriptures of the neighbors
of the Hebrews. He would then discount all these narratives alike by
reference to modern astronomy, geology, and biology. But the difference
between the Hebrew account and the other accounts lies in this, that in
the Hebrew statement the science of a particular time is made the
vehicle of eternally superb moral and spiritual conceptions concerning
man and concerning man's relation to the Power that brought him into
being. The worth of these conceptions even in that early statement few
of us would be inclined to question. Assuming that any man or set of men
became in the old days alive to the value of such religious ideas, how
could they speak them forth except in the language of their own day?
They had to speak in their own tongue, and speaking in that tongue they
had to use the thought terms expressed by that tongue. They accepted the
science of their day as true, and they utilized that science for the
sake of bodying forth the moral and spiritual insights to which they had
attained. The inadequacy of early Hebrew science and its likeness to
Babylonian and Chaldean science do not invalidate the worth of the
spiritual conceptions of Genesis. This ought to be apparent even to the
proverbial wayfaring man. The loftiest spiritual utterances are often
clad in the poorest scientific draperies. Who would dare deny the worth
of the great moral insights of Dante? And who, on the other hand, would
insist upon the lasting value of the science in which his deep
penetrations are uttered? And so with Milton. Dr. W. F. Warren has shown
the nature of the material universe as pictured in Milton's "Paradise
Lost." In passing from heaven to hell one would descend from an upper to
a lower region of a sphere, passing through openings at the centers of
other concentric spheres on the way down. Nothing more foreign to modern
science can be imagined; yet we do not cast aside "Paradise Lost"
because of the crudity of its view of the physical system.

Assuming that the biblical prophets were to have any effect whatever, in
what language could they speak except that of their own time? Their
position was very similar to that of the modern preacher who uses
present-day ideas of the physical universe as instruments to proclaim
moral and spiritual values. Nobody can claim that modern scientific
theories are ultimate, and nobody can deny, on the other hand, that vast
good is done in the utilization of these conceptions for high religious

A minister once sought in a sermon on the marvels of man's constitution
to enforce his conceptions by speaking of the instantaneousness with
which a message flashed to the brain through the nervous system is
heeded and acted upon. He said that the touch of red-hot iron upon a
finger-tip makes a disturbance which is instantly reported to the brain
for action. A scientific hearer was infinitely disgusted. He said that
all such disturbances are acted upon in the spinal cord. He could see no
value, therefore, even in the main point of the minister's sermon
because of the minister's mistaken conception of nervous processes. I
suppose very few of us know whether this scientific objection was well
taken or not. Very few of us, however, would reject the entire sermon
because of an erroneous illustration; and yet sometimes all the
essentials of the Scriptures are discounted because of flaws no more
consequential than that suggested in this illustration. The Scriptures
aim to declare a certain idea of God, a certain idea of man, and a
certain idea of the relations between God and man. Those ideas are
clothed in the garments of successive ages. The change in the fashions
and adequacy of the garments does not make worthless the living truth
which the garments clothe. Jesus himself lived deeply in his own time
and spoke his own language and worked through the thought terms which
were part of the life of his time. Some biblical readers have been
greatly disturbed in recent years by the discovery of the part which
so-called apocalyptic thought-forms play in the teaching of Jesus. The
fact is that these conceptions were the commonest element in all later
Jewish thinking. Jesus could not have lived when he did without making
apocalyptic terms the vehicle for his doctrines. We have come to see
that the manner of the coming of the kingdom of Jesus is not so
important as the character of that kingdom.

Not only must a prophet speak in the language of a definite time, but he
must speak to men as he finds them. This being so, we must expect that
revelations will in a sense be accommodated to the apprehension of the
day of their utterance. The minds of men are in constant movement. If
the prophet were to have before him minds altogether at a standstill, he
might well despair of accomplishing great results by his message. He
would be forced to think of the intelligence of this day as a sort of
vessel which he could fill with so much and no more. But whether the
prophets have through the ages had any theoretic understanding of human
intelligence as an organism or not, they have acted upon the assumption
that they were dealing with such organisms. So they have conceived of
their truth as a seed cast into the ground, passing through successive
stages. Jesus himself spoke of the kingdom of God as moving out of the
stage of the blade into that of the ear and finally into that of the
full corn in the ear. This illustration is our warrant for insisting
that in the enforcing of truth all manner of factors come into play and
that the truth passes through successive epochs, some of which may seem
to later believers very unpromising and unworthy. The test of the worth
of an idea is not so much any opinion as to the unseemliness of the
stages through which it has passed as it is the value of the idea when
once it has come to ripeness. The test of the grain is its final value
for food. The scriptural truths are to be judged by no other test than
that of their worth for life.

In the light of the teaching of Jesus himself there is no reason why we
should shrink from stating that the revelation of biblical truth is
influenced by even the moral limitations of men. Jesus said that an
important revelation to man was halted at an imperfect stage because of
the hardness of men's hearts. The Mosaic law of divorce was looked upon
by Jesus as inadequate. The law represented the best that could be done
with hardened hearts. The author of the Practice of Christianity, a book
published anonymously some years ago, has shown conclusively how the
hardness of men's hearts limits any sort of moral and spiritual
revelation. It will be remembered that William James in discussing the
openness of minds to truth divided men into the "tough-minded" and the
"tender-minded." James was not thinking of moral distinctions: he was
merely emphasizing the fact that tough-minded men require a different
order of intellectual approach than do the tender-minded. If we put into
tough-mindedness the element of moral hardness and unresponsiveness
which the prophet must meet, we can see how such an element would
condition and limit the prophet.

Again, Jesus said to his disciples that he had many things to say to
them, but that they could not bear them at the time at which he spoke.
Some revelations must wait for moral strength on the part of the people
to whom they are to come. Suppose, for example, in this year of our Lord
1917, some scientist should discover a method of touching off explosives
from a great distance by wireless telegraphy without the need of a
specially prepared receiver at the end where the explosion is desired.
Suppose it were possible for him simply to press a button and blow up
all the ships of the British Navy, or all the stores of munitions in
Germany. What would be the first duty of such an inventor? Very likely
it would be his immediate duty to keep the secret closely locked in his
own mind. If such a discovery were made known to European combatants in
their present temper, it is a question what would he left on earth at
the end of the next twenty-four hours. With European minds in their
present moral and spiritual plight it would not be safe to trust them
with any such revelation. And this illustration has significance for
more than the physical order of revelation. There are principles for
individual and social conduct that may well be put into effect one
hundred years from now. Men are not now morally fit to receive some
revelations. All of which means that any revealing movement is a
progressive movement in that it depends upon not merely the utterances
of the revealing mind, but upon the response of the receiving mind. In
the play back and forth between giver and receiver all sorts of factors
come into power. The study of the interplay of these factors is entirely
worthy as an object of Christian research. We may well be thankful for
any advance thus far made in such study and we may look for greater
advances in the future. For example, the historic students thus far have
put in most of their effort laying stress upon similarities between the
biblical conceptions and the conceptions of the peoples outside the
current of biblical revelation. The work has been of great value.
Nevertheless it would seem to be about time for larger emphasis on the
differences between the biblical revelations and the conceptions

Still when all is said the mastery of historical methods of study is but
preliminary to the real understanding of the Scriptures. If we come
close to the revealing movement itself, we find that before we get far
into the stream there must be sympathetic responsiveness to biblical
teaching. The difficulties in understanding the Scriptures are, as of
old, not so much of the intellect as they are of conscience and will--
the difficulties, in a word, that arise from the hardness of men's



The approaches to an understanding of the Scriptures which we suggested
in the first chapter are those which have to do merely with intellectual
investigation. Any student with normal intelligence can appreciate the
methods and results of the critical scrutiny of the biblical documents,
but will require something more for an adequate mastery of the
scriptural revelations. There is need of sympathetic realization that
the Book itself did not in any large degree come out of the exercise of
the merely intellectual faculties. In the scriptural revelation we are
dealing with a current of life which flowed for centuries through the
minds of masses of people. To be sure of insight into the meanings of
this revelation there must be an approach to the Bible as a Book of Life
in the sense that its teachings came out of life and that they were
perennially used to play back into life. Its hold on life to-day can be
explained only by the fact that it was thus born out of life, and has
its chief significance for the experiences of actual life.

Even the most superficial perusal of the Scriptures shows that they came
of practical contact with men and things. There is comparatively little
in the entire content of our Sacred Book to suggest the speculations of
abstract philosophy. The writers deal with the concrete. They tell of
men and of peoples who had to face facts and who achieved comprehensions
and convictions through grappling with facts. There is about the
Scriptures what some one has called a sort of "out-of-doors-ness." There
is very little hint of withdrawal from the push and pressure of daily
living. If the prophets ever withdrew to solitude, they did not retire
to closets, but rather to deserts or to mountains. We must not allow our
modern familiarity with bookmaking as an affair of library research and
tranquil meditation in seclusion to mislead us into thinking that the
Christian Bible was wrought out in similar fashion. The Book is full of
the tingle and even the roar of the life out of which it was born. Jesus
gathered up in a single sentence the process by which the scriptural
revelation can be apprehended by man when he said, "He that doeth the
will shall know of the truth." The entire scriptural unfolding is one
vast commentary on this utterance of Jesus.

It is impossible for us in this series of studies to attempt any
detailed survey of the revealing movement of which our Scriptures are
the outcome. It is important, however, that we should see clearly that
the revelation came to those who opened themselves to the light in an
obedient spirit. While it is not in accord with our modern knowledge of
psychology to assort and divide human activities too sharply, it is
nevertheless permissible to insist that the biblical revelation was in a
sense primarily to the will. As Frederick W. Robertson used to say,
obedience is the organ of spiritual knowledge. The first men to whom
illuminations came evidently received these gifts out of some purity of
intention and moral excellence. These early leaders gathered others
around them and set them on the path of determined striving toward a
definite goal. As the idea of the seer or the prophet found general
acceptance it gradually hardened into law, law meant for scrupulous
observance. If a singer felt stirred to write a psalm, he voiced his
experiences or his aspirations in the midst of a throbbing world. If a
statesman drew a wide survey of God's dealings with the nations of the
earth, he did so at some mighty crisis in Israel's relations to Egypt or
Assyria or Babylon. When we reach New Testament times we find that even
the Gospels seem to have been books struck out of immediate practical
urgencies rather than composed tranquilly with a scholar's interest
merely in doing a fine piece of professional work. The early Christians
were anxious to hold the believers to the strait and narrow way. To do
this they repeated often the words of the Lord Jesus. When, however, the
older members of the first circles began to fall away, the words were
written down, not because some scholar felt moved thus to improve his
leisure, but because it was absolutely necessary to preserve the words.
Moreover, conflicts were arising between the growing church and the
forces of the world round about. Some scriptures were written to supply
instruments with which to carry on the warfare. Always the fundamental
aim was to keep the people acting according to the teachings which lay
at the heart of the Christian system. The object of the biblical
revelation was from the beginning just what it is to-day in the hands of
Christian believers--the object of using the Scriptures as an instrument
for practicing the Christian spirit into all the phases of life.

We would by no means deny that there are imposing philosophies or,
rather, hints toward such philosophies, in the Scriptures, but we insist
that these did not come out of a purely philosophizing temper. They came
as men tried to put into some form or order the understandings at which
they had arrived as they wrestled with the tough facts of a world which
they were trying to subject to the rule of their religion. As we have
said in the previous chapter, the Scriptures bear scars of all such
conflicts. The revelation was knocked into its shape in the rough-and-
tumble of an attempt to convert the world. And this is not to claim for
the Bible any difference in method of creation from that which obtains
in the shaping of any vitally effective piece of literature. The world-
shaking conceptions have always been won in profound experience. This
chapter is not written with the principles of the modern school of
pragmatism as a guide, and yet pragmatism can be so stated as to phrase
an essentially Christian doctrine that spiritual ideas result from
spiritual practices and are of worth as they prove themselves aids in
further experience. Take some of the expressions of Paul. The
fundamental fact in Paul's experience was his vision on the Damascus
road and his determination to be obedient to that vision. To make his
own view of the Christian religion attractive to those whom he was
trying to win, it became necessary for him to speak in terms of the
Judaism of his time. In fact, he could not have spoken in any other
terms, though some of his reasonings seem to us to be remote from actual
life. But when he left argument and came back to experience he was most
effective. His terribly compelling utterances are those which were born
of driving necessity. The theology started with the vision and unfolded
in obedience to the vision, "What wilt thou have me to do?" Everywhere
upon Paul's epistles there are the marks of practical compulsion. A
letter was dispatched to convince stubborn Jews in Galatia or to
persuade questioning Gentiles in Rome. Some of the profoundest phrasings
of Pauline belief were uttered first as appeals for generous collections
to starving saints.

The example of Paul as a receiver and giver of spiritual light is very
significant. Even if we should make the largest allowances to the
biblical critics who would cut down the number of epistles known to be
genuinely Pauline, we would have enough left to make on our minds the
impression of enormous personal activity. One passage does, indeed, tell
us of a period of months of withdrawal for reflection in Arabia. For the
most part, however, Paul's life was spent in ceaselessly going to and
fro throughout the Roman empire; even in the days of imprisonment he
seems to have been burdened with the administration of churches. It was
out of such multifarious activities that the theology of Paul was born,
and therein lies its value. No interpretation is likely to bring the
separate deliverances into anything like formal, logical consistency.
Very likely Paul was of a markedly logical frame of mind, but he did not
attempt to rid his message of contradictions in detail. The unity and
consistency are found in the fundamental life purpose to get men to
accept Jesus Christ as the Chosen of God. If Paul had ever heard that
much of his theology might be out-dated with the passage of the years,
he would probably have responded that he was perfectly willing that the
instrument should be cast aside if it had served its spiritual purpose
of bringing men to obedience to the law of God.

It is not intended to make this a book of sermons or exhortations. We
must say, however, that in a series of studies on how to understand the
Scriptures stress must be laid upon the maxim that the Scriptures can be
understood only by those who seek to recognize and obey the spirit of
life breathing from the Scriptures. Nothing could be more hopeless than
to attempt to get to the heart of Christian truth without attempting to
build that truth into life. The formal reasonings of the theologian are
no doubt of value, but they throw little light upon the essentials of
Christianity except as they deal with data which have been supplied by
Christian experience. It would, indeed, be well for any study of the
Bible to begin with a recognition of the part played by distinctly
scholarly research. We cannot go far, however, until we recognize that
sympathy with Christian truth is necessary before we can come upon vital
knowledge. And this, after all, is but the way we learn to understand
any piece of life-literature. A vast amount of material is at hand in
the form of commentaries upon the work of Shakespeare. We know much
about the circumstances under which the plays of Shakespeare were
written; we know somewhat of the sources from which Shakespeare drew his
historical materials; we are familiar with the chronology of the plays;
but all this is knowledge about Shakespeare. To know Shakespeare there
must be something of a deliberate attempt to surrender sympathetically
to the Shakespearean point of view. We get "inside of" any classic work
of literature only by this spirit of surrender. The aim of Shakespeare
is simply to picture life as he sees it, but even to appreciate the
picture men must enter into sympathy with the painter. The Scriptures
aim not merely to paint life, but to quicken and reproduce life. How
much more, then, is needed a surrender of the will before there can be
adequate appreciation of the Scriptures? If the Scriptures are the
results primarily of will-activities, how can they finally be mastered
except by minds quickened by doing the will revealed in the Scriptures?
The book of Christianity must be interpreted by the disciples of
Christianity. Judged merely by bookish standards, there is no
satisfactory explanation of the power of the Bible. But lift the whole
problem out of the realm of books as such! The glimpses into any high
truth that are worth while--how do they come? They come out of
experience. Even when they are repeated from one mind to another they
become the property of that second mind only as they reproduce
themselves in experience. Otherwise the whole transaction is of words,
words, words. The Scriptures have to do with deeds, not words.

All this is offensive to the dogmatic reasoner. For him the intellect as
such is the organ of religious truth. He insists on speaking of the
Scriptures in formally theological terms. That the Scripture writers
employed theological terms there can be no doubt, but they did not speak
as systematic theologians. And always they brought their theology to the
test of actual life. The writer of these lines once knew a student who
had read enough of psychology to enable him to reason himself into a
belief that he was the only person in existence; that is to say, he
declared that he himself was the only one of whose existence he was
infallibly certain. Does not all knowledge of an external world come as
a report through a sensation aroused by stimulus? If the appropriate
stimulus could be kept up an external world might fall away and I would
still think it was there. The bell might ring at the door and might be
nobody there. And so on and on, through steps familiar enough to the
student of philosophy. When a friend made a quick appeal to life with
the question: "If you are the only one alive, why do you bring your
troubles to me?" the amateur philosopher came to earth with a sense of
jar. But the jar is no greater than that when we pass from the plane of
dogmatic theology to that of reading the Scriptures for their own sake.
The old scholastics said that in God there are three substances, one
essence, and two processions. How does this sound as compared with the
statement of Jesus that he and his Father are one, and that he would
send the Comforter? This is not to decry theology; but is nevertheless
to discriminate between theology and scripture.

Some one will object, however, that the scriptural truths take their
start in large part from the visions of mystics--of men who brood long
and patiently until they behold realities not otherwise discernible.
Some students will urge upon us that such mystic revelations are granted
peculiarly to the mystic temperament as such, and they often come
regardless of the quality of life that the seers themselves may be

There have, indeed, been in all ages of the world temperaments of
supernormal or abnormal responsiveness to influences which seem to make
little or no impression upon the ordinary mind. In all periods natures
of this type have been looked upon as organs of religious revelation. So
valuable have abnormal experiences seemed that all manner of expedients
have been utilized to beget unusual mental states. A certain tribe of
Indians, for example, in the southwest of our country are accustomed at
set times to send their religious leaders into the desert to find and
partake of a peculiar plant which has an opiate or narcotic effect. In
the belief of the Indians this plant opens the door to visions. The
visions, as reported by those who have recovered from the influence of
the narcotic, are not of any considerable value. Similar attempts have
been made by hypnotic experimenters among other peoples, the hypnosis
sometimes being self-induced. From some Old Testament passages
especially we may well believe that this sort of extraordinary mental
condition was sought for in the so-called schools of the prophets in the
olden days of Israel. The astonishing peculiarity about the Scriptures,
however, is not that there is so much reliance on this trance experience
as that there is so little. The Hebrew Scriptures were the expression of
a people living in the midst of heathen surroundings; and heathenism
always has laid stress upon the virtue of these abnormal experiences.
Granting all allowances for mental states induced by eating an opiate,
or by whirling like the dervish, or by fasting like the Hindu, the fact
remains that in the main, the visions of the writers of our Scriptures
came out of attempts to realize in conduct the moral will of God. When
we think of the surroundings even of the early church; when we reflect
upon the force of suggestion for uncritical minds; when we consider the
sway of superstition at all periods during the Hebrew revealing
movement, the wonder is that the Scriptures lay such stress as they do
upon the type of vision which arises from faithfulness in doing the
revealed will.

If we may characterize scriptural mysticism, it seems very much akin to
mental abilities which we meet frequently in our ordinary intercourse.
Take, for example, the prescience of a skilled business man. Nothing is
more inadequate than the rules for success laid down by many a man who
has himself succeeded in business. Mastery of his rules will not help
another to win business success. The reason is that there comes out of
prolonged business practice a keen sense of what is likely to happen in
the industrial or financial world. The sharpened wits foresee without
being able to assign reasons or grounds for the prophecies. So it is
with intellects trained to any superior skill. The Duke of Wellington
once remarked that he had spent all his life wondering what was on the
other side of the hills in front of him, yet the Duke himself came to
marvelous skill in guessing what was on the other side. There is also a
variety of scientific mysticism, if such an expression may be permitted.
The man long trained to the reading of scientific processes develops a
quick insight which runs far ahead of reason or proof. The transcendent
scientific discoveries have been glimpsed or, rather, sensed before they
so reported themselves that they could be seized by formal proof. Now it
is a far cry from business men, generals, and scientists to the
mysticism of the Scriptures, but when we see the emphasis which the
Scriptures place upon constancy in keeping the law and in acting
according to divine commandments, we cannot help feeling that biblical
mysticism was and is an awareness developed as the life becomes
practiced to the doing of religious duty. Think too of the emphasis
placed in the Scriptures upon the consecration of the whole life to the
truth as cleansing the heart from evil. All this makes for a power to
seize truth beyond that possible to formal and systematic reason.
Mysticism of this sort is the very height of spiritual power. The
Master's word: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,"
does not refer to merely negative virtue. It means also the power of
soul accumulated in the positive doing of good. It means entrance into
the life of quick spiritual awareness through the adjustment of the
whole nature to the single moral purpose.

In all promise of revelation the Scriptures insist upon the importance
of keeping upon the basis of solid obedience. The finer the instrument
is to be, the more massive must be the foundation. Professor Hocking, of
Harvard University, has used a remarkable illustration to enforce this
very conception. The scientific instrument, he says, which must be kept
freest from distracting influences so that it may make the finest
registries must rest upon a foundation broad and deep. So the soul that
is to catch the finest stirrings of the divine must rest upon the
solidest stones of hard work for the moral purposes of the scriptural

Still some one will insist that the Bible is a book built around great
crises in human experience; that it is a record of these crises; that
the people in whose history the crises occurred were a peculiar people,
apparently arbitrarily chosen as a medium for religious world-
instruction; that the crises cast sudden bursts of intense light upon
the meaning of human life, but that they themselves are far apart from
ordinary experience. Here, again, we must insist that the scriptural
stress is always upon obedience to what is conceived of as revealed
truth. We have already said that Jesus regarded revelation as organic.
In everything organic we find instances of quick crisis following long
and slow periods of growth. The crisis or the climax of the sudden
flowering-out would never be possible were it not for the antecedent
growth. The Hebrew nation, developed through workaday righteousness,
manifested wonderful power in sudden crises. The inner forces of moral
purpose which at times seemed hidden or dead because of the riot of
wickedness suddenly blossomed forth in mighty bursts of prophecy; but
the all-essential was the long-continued practice of righteousness which
made possible the sudden crisis; and this is in keeping with the
teachings of most commonplace human experience. The daily struggle
prepares for the sharp, quick strain or for the swift unfolding of a new
moral purpose. There is nothing more arbitrary in the crises in the
scriptural movement than in the ordinary ongoings of our lives. The
student who has long been wrestling with a problem finds the solution
instantaneously bursting upon him in the midst of untoward
circumstances. The most insignificant trifle may finally turn the lock
which opens to the glorious revelation after prolonged brooding. The
daily practice may make men ready for the shock which leaps upon them
altogether unexpected.

We summarize by saying that the essentials of biblical truth came in
progressive revelations to men who were putting forth their energies to
live up to the largest ideals they could reach; and that they sought
these larger ideals for use in their lives. It must be understood in all
that we have said about acting the revelation out into life that we do
not mean merely the more matter-of-fact activities. It should be noticed
that whenever men speak of will-activities they are apt to give the
impression that they mean some putting forth of bodily energy. The will
to do scriptural righteousness did not manifest itself merely in outside
actions. It manifested itself just as thoroughly in bearings and
attitudes of the inner spirit; and the appeal was always to the will to
hold itself fast in the direction of the highest life, whatever the form
of the activity.

After this emphasis upon obedience as the organ of spiritual knowledge
some one may ask what provision we are making for infallibility and for
inspiration. We can only say that we are dealing with a Book which has
come out of concrete life, and that in concrete life not much
consideration is given to abstract infallibility. In daily experience
the righteous soul becomes increasingly sure of itself. To return for
the moment to Paul, we may think of the certainty with which he grasped
the thought of the reward which would be his. The time of his
departure, or, of his unmooring, was at hand. He was perfectly confident
that he was to go on longer voyages of spiritual discovery and
exploration. Can we say that this splendid outburst came from devotion
to an abstract formula? Did it not, rather, spring from the sources of
life within him-sources opened and developed by the experiences through
which he passed? The biblical heroes wrought and suffered through living
confidence in the forces which were bearing them on and up. They would
have answered questions about abstract infallibility with emphatic
avowals as to the firmness of their own belief. In other words, they
could have relied upon their life itself as its own best witness to
itself. They felt alive and ready to go whithersoever life might lead.

And so with inspiration. It is the merest commonplace to repeat that the
inspiration of the Scriptures must show itself in their power to inspire
those who partake of their life. Does a fresh moral and spiritual air
blow through them? Is there in them anything that men can breathe?
Anything upon which men can build themselves into moral strength? This
is the final test of inspiration. Physical breathing is in itself a
mystery, but we know when the air invigorates us. Abstract doctrine of
inspiration apart from life and experience is a very stifling affair
compared with inspiration conceived of as a breath of life. The
scriptural doctrine is that the man who does the will finds himself able
to breathe more deeply of the truth of God; and that the very breath
itself will satisfy him, and by satisfying him convince him that it is
the breath of life.

There is an old story of a student who decided to learn the meaning of a
strange religion which was taught and practiced by priests in a far-away
corner of India. The student thought to disguise himself, to go close to
the doors of the temple and to listen there for what he might overhear
of the principles taught by the priests. One day he was detected and
captured by the priests and made their slave. He was set to work
performing to the utmost the duties for which the temple called. His
response was at first rebellious. In the long years that followed the
spell of the strange religion was cast upon him. He began to learn not
as an outsider, not as one merely studying writings and rituals, but as
one enthralled by the system itself. In this old story, inadequate as it
is, we have a suggestion of the way in which the biblical revelation
lays its spell upon man. The outside study is, indeed, worth much, but
the true understanding comes inside the temple to him who carries
forward the work of the temple.



We have seen that the understanding of the Scriptures presupposes at
least a sympathy with the rule of life contained in the Scriptures, and
implies for its largest results a practical surrender to that rule of
life. He that doeth the will revealed in the Scriptures cometh to a
knowledge of the truth revealed in the Scriptures. We must next note
that an understanding of the Bible cannot advance far until it realizes
the emphasis on the human values set before us in the scriptural books.
We are to approach the distinctively religious teachings of the Bible
somewhat later. It is now in order to call attention to the truth that
the biblical movement is throughout the ages in the direction of
increasing regard for the distinctively human. The human ideal is not so
much absolutely stated as imposed in laws, in prophecies, in the
policies of statesmen, in the types of ideal erected on high before the
chosen people as worthy of supreme regard. And the place of the human
ideal in the Bible helps determine the place of the Bible in human life.
Mankind makes much of the Book because the Book makes much of mankind.

There is much obscurity about the beginnings of the laws of the Hebrews.
One characteristic of those laws, however, is evident from a very early
date--the regard for human life as such and the aim to make human
existence increasingly worth while. It is a common quality of primitive
religions that they are apt to lay stress on merely ceremonial
cleansings, for example. The ceremony is gone through for the sake of
pleasing a deity. There are abundant indications of this same purpose in
the ceremonies of the early Hebrews, but there is even more abundant
indication that the ceremonies were aimed at a good result for the
worshiper himself. It is impossible to read through the Mosaic
requirements concerning bodily cleanliness, the sanitary arrangements of
the camps, the regulations for cooking the food, and the instructions
for dealing with disease without feeling that there is a wide difference
between such requirements and merely formal ceremonials. The Mosaic
sanitary law aimed at the good of the people. It sought to make men
clean and decent and human. So it was also in many of the rules
governing the daily work, the regulations as to the use of land, the
prohibitions of usury, the relations of servants and masters--all these
had back of them the driving force of an enlarging human ideal. The
trend was away from everything unhuman and inhuman. It is not necessary
for us to remark upon the outbursts of the prophets against those who
would put property interests above human interests. It is a matter of
commonplace that the call of the prophets was for larger devotion to a
genuinely human ideal: that the fires of their wrath burned most
fiercely against old-time monopolists who joined land to land till there
was "no place," and against old-time corrupters of the law who sold the
needy for a pair of shoes.

Not only did the emphasis on the human ideal show in laws, but in the
training up of types of life which should in themselves embody and
illustrate the conceptions of the biblical leaders. At the heart of the
Christian religion is incarnation, or divine revelation through the
human organism. We are told that this incarnation came in the fullness
of time. The passage seems to refer not merely to the rounding out of
historic periods, but also to the fashioning of an ideal of human
character, and at least a partial realization of that ideal in Hebrew
heroes. If the final ideal was to stand incarnate before men, there must
be approximations to that ideal before the crowning incarnation could be
appreciated. We look upon the character of Jesus as the complete
embodiment of human excellencies. Such a revelation, however, would have
been futile if there had not previously been glimpses of and
anticipations of the ideal in the lives of those who were forerunners of
Jesus. The Scriptures teach, or at least imply, that the life of a good
man is in itself a transcendent value.

And yet it is perfectly clear that while the Scriptures exalt the
individual, they do not mean to wall individuals off in impenetrable
circles by themselves. It is true that the individual is the end toward
which the scriptural redemption and glorification aims, but individuals
find their own best selves not in isolation but in union with their
fellows--a union of mutual cooperation and service, a union so close
that the persons thus related come to be looked upon as a veritable Body
of Christ, making together by their impact upon the world the same sort
of revelation that the living Christ made in the days of his early life.
The ideals as to the supremacy of human values are realized, according
to the Scriptures, not in any separateness of individual existence, but
in a closeness of social interdependence. So true is this that it is
hardly possible to see how one can make much of the scriptural movement
without immersing himself in the stream of human life with highest
regard for the values of that life.

It has been insisted from the beginning that the Christian consciousness
is the only adequate interpretation of the Scriptures. By Christian
consciousness is meant not the consciousness of the body of believers
who are together trying to serve Christ. The interpretation of the
individual becomes final only as it is accepted by the mass of the
believers. Something of worth-while thought is conceived of as going out
from the life of every believer. The utterance of the seer is not
conceived of as complete until even he who sits in the seat of the
unlearned has said "Amen." The pronouncements which do not evoke this
wide human response fall by the wayside. For example, how was the canon
of the New Testament shaped? Was there a determination on the part of
individual leaders that such and such books should be included in the
volume of Scriptures? Very likely there was at the last such deliberate
selection, but before the final decision there must have been the
practice of the congregations which amounted in the end to the choice or
rejection of sacred books. Very likely the New Testament Scriptures were
collected by a process of trying out the reading of Epistles and Gospels
and exhortations before the congregations. As passages met or failed to
meet the human needs, there was call for the repeated reading of some
works and no call for the rereading of others. In use some documents
proved their sacredness and other documents fell aside into disuse.
Before the concluding deliberate choice was this selection in use by the
believers themselves; and the selection turned round the question as to
whether or not the documents helped people. If each member of the body
of believers is entitled to interpret biblical literature,
interpretation becomes a composite and diversified activity. There is
little warrant in the Scriptures for the notion that the biblical
revelation is to level men to any sort of sameness. There are
diversities of endowments and varieties of expression; but the united
judgment of the body of believers is the supreme authority in
interpreting the scriptural revelation. This is what we mean by saying
that the church is to interpret the Scriptures. We mean that no matter
how brilliant or interesting the utterances of any individual may be,
they are not of great value until they have received in some fashion the
sanction of the main mass of believers. It is the function of the
spokesmen of the church to gather up into distinct expression what may
have been vaguely, but nevertheless really, in the thought or half-
thought of the people. Gladstone once said that it is the business of
the orator to send back upon his audience in showers what comes up to
him from the audience in mist or clouds; so it is with the voice of a
biblical truth through any medium of interpretation. The spokesman
compresses or condenses into speech what has been dimly in the
consciousness of the people. Even in days less democratic than ours this
was abundantly true. It is the fashion to denounce some of the councils
of the old church which shaped the creeds. It is often said that these
creedal councils were moved by considerations of low-grade expediency.
The councils, however, knew what the people were thinking of, and
managed to get the popular thought into expression measurably
satisfactory to the people themselves.

In this doctrine of the church as interpreter of scriptural truth we can
be sure that the emphasis will remain on the elements which make for
enlarging human life if the church keeps true to the spirit of the Bible
itself. The aspirations of humanity, the longings of masses of men, find
utterance in the great popular spiritual demands all the more
effectively because such demands override and nullify the insistence of
an individualistic point of view which might easily become selfish. We
have said that this democratic interpretation is final so long as it
keeps itself in line with the biblical purpose. There are some dangers,
however, against which we must be on our guard. First is the danger of
identifying the church with those who actually belong to an
organization. When we think of the church we have in mind not merely
formal organizations, but all men who are really working in the spirit
of the biblical ideals. There are many persons who really act according
to the biblical revelation without technically uniting with a church. It
may be that such persons do not accept the intellectual puttings of
biblical doctrine, but that they nevertheless live in the spirit of that
doctrine. It might be conceivably possible that a church organization
would stand for an interpretation of truth which would be rejected by
the general good sense of a larger community. In such a case the larger
community would be the interpreter. Another danger in an interpreting
body is that of traditionalism. The native conservatism of many minds
stands against innovation. If, however, the innovation is in the
direction of enlarging human life, it will in the end win its way. A
third danger is that of institutionalism, where the organization as such
becomes an end in itself without regard to the human interests involved.
The Master's fiercest condemnations were for those who put any
institution before the fulfillment of the human ideals. In the parable
of the good Samaritan it is noteworthy that it was the priest and the
Levite who passed by on the other side. It is hard to resist the feeling
that the Master implied that the priest and Levite had been
institutionalized into a lack of humanity. Making allowance now for all
these dangers against which believers must guard, the chances are that
interpretation of a book so human as the Scriptures is not final until
it has received the real, though not necessarily formal, sanction of the
body of believers.

So thoroughly does the biblical revelation turn around the supremacy of
the distinctively human values that we must insist that anything which
would run counter to these values is alien to the spirit of the
revelation, and, therefore, to comprehension of that revelation. We do
not wish to be extreme, but it is hard to see how, in our day, for
example, any who fail to put human rights in the first place can really
master the scriptural revelation. We have spoken of the Master's rebukes
of any form of institutionalism which stands in the way of human rights.
Institutions at best are instruments; they exist merely for the purpose
of bringing men to larger life; but these institutions sometimes get
petrified into custom and become glorified by long practice, and even
made sacred by adherents who look upon them as ends in themselves. Then
there is no recourse except to break the institutions in the name of
larger human life. If we could put ourselves back in the times of Jesus
and feel something of the sacredness with which the Jews regarded the
Sabbath, we would know the tremendous force of the Master's daring when
he declared that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the
Sabbath. The Master was also insistent upon the priority of human rights
as over against property rights. It is perfectly true that Jesus did not
encourage any propaganda for social reform. It is a mistake to try to
read any form of modern Socialism into his teaching. Socialism is the
theory of a particular time. Many of its outstanding features will no
doubt one day be adopted; and the world will then move forward toward
something else. Very likely three centuries from the present date the
well-advanced communities of the world will be living under systems
which will make Socialism itself look like the most hopeless and
reactionary conservatism. The scriptural revelation, however, has not to
do with the details of any particular scheme. It aims, rather, at the
setting on high of the human ideal, an ideal which will, if given a
chance, work itself out into the concrete forms best suited to each age,
and which will not have exhausted its vitality when all that is good in
the programs of our particular day shall have been incorporated into
social practice.

But let us linger for a moment around the blighting effect of placing
property rights in front of human rights. If anyone at this juncture
becomes nervous and insists that we are likely to introduce the new-
fangled notions of the present day into a discussion where they are out
of place, let us remind such a one that the danger of putting the
material before the spiritual has always been the chief stumbling stone
in the path of the biblical revelation. It may be too much to say with
the old version that the love of money is the root of all evil, but the
Scriptures place the sin of greed in the forefront among the evils that
block the revealing process. Jesus said, "It is easier for a camel to go
through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the
kingdom of God." With God a morally miraculous redemption is entirely
possible; but Jesus declares that there is no need of our trying to
minimize the power of the present world to blind us to visions of the
spiritual world. For many forms of wrongdoing the Master had a
willingness to make allowances; for the sin of placing material desires
above human welfare he had unsparing condemnation. In the day of Jesus
the world had an opportunity such as it never had before confronted to
learn spiritual truth. What manner of opposition was it which prevented
that truth from running its full course? Largely the opposition of money
interests. The Pharisees had need to keep alliance with the temporal
powers. It is not without significance that Jesus was betrayed for
money. It is not without significance too that Jesus's picture of the
Judgment Scene concerns itself largely with the rewards for those who
discharge the tasks of simple human kindness. It means much to find
Jesus hinting at an unpardonable sin on the part of those who call deeds
of human relief works of Beelzebub. It is certainly food for reflection
that the fiercest condemnations in his parables are for those who miss
the human duties in their regard for the possessions of this world. We
repeat that we would not be extreme, but when we see the disregard of
human life in modern industrialism; when we behold the attempts of
property interests to get control of all channels for the shaping of
public opinion; when we see rent, interest, and dividends more highly
rated than men, women, and children, we cannot help feeling that the
deeper penetration into the Scriptures cannot arrive except through an
emphasis upon fundamental human rights so mighty that all institutional
creations of industrialism or ecclesiasticism shall be put into the
secondary place and strictly kept there. This is not railing against
wealth. It is simply calling attention to the fact that the man who
possesses the wealth-tool cannot be allowed to use it or even to
brandish it in such fashion as to endanger the unfolding of human
ideals. It is only through the enforcing of these ideals that the
Scriptures can be adequately apprehended. Until a social kingdom of God
comes on earth the light of revelation cannot shine in its full
brightness. Any social preacher of larger human rights is working for
the dawn of a new day of biblical understanding.

Some one will ask, however, why we single out one type of evil as
especially thwarting the understanding of a biblical revelation. Why not
speak of the evils of appetite and of envy and jealousy? The answer is
that such evils, devastating as they are toward the spiritual faculties,
are so definitely personalized in individuals that their nature is
quickly recognized. The difference is that under present organization
the evils of materialism are preeminently social. There is everywhere
the heartiest condemnation for the man who personally is conspicuously
greedy. A social evil can manifest itself in outstanding startlingness
in a single person, but the plain fact is that under modern industrial
organization we are all caught in the same snare. We are all tarred with
the same stick. Great as is the improvement of our present system over
anything that has preceded it, nevertheless the distribution of this
world's goods is so unequal that we walk in the presence of injustice on
every hand. The poor man often does not receive the product of his own
work. Large material prizes go to men who toil not. Now no one in
particular is to blame for this social plight. Nobody has yet arisen to
show us the way out. We cannot act except as we all act together; and it
is doubtful even if one nation could act alone. If, however, we should
all recognize the evils of the present system, if we should condemn the
wrongs of that system instead of trying to justify them, we would be on
much better spiritual ground, for the attempts to justify the system
lead to uneasy consciences, and to the searing of those consciences, and
to the softening down of harsh truths, and finally to an inability to
see things as they are. Though we have come far along the path toward
industrial justice, there is still very much in the system under which
we live that makes for an inability to understand some of the most
elementary phrasings of Christian truth. The only way out is to see the
system as it is and to take such steps forward as can be taken now. Only
thus can we keep our souls saved, and only thus also can we follow the
flashes from above.

Jesus preached the highest ideal for individual righteousness. Men are
to strive to be perfect even as the Father in heaven is perfect. But the
perfection is to show itself in social impartiality in the use of
material opportunities. God sendeth the rain to fall and the sun to
shine on the evil and the good. How many Christians of the present day
could be safely intrusted with the distribution of rainfall and
sunshine? Those of us who dwell in lands that must be irrigated know
that the type of Christianity that can be trusted to deal fairly with
our irrigation system is somewhat unusual.

We take the injustices of the present social order too much as a matter
of course. We ought to see them as making against humanity, and
therefore against the scriptural revelation. When these injustices
culminate in a war like the present, the only safety is thought that
deals honestly with the inhumanity of the war. Granted that war in self-
defense is justifiable, we keep ourselves open to divine revelations
only as we refuse to glorify the inhuman. Only that nation can succeed
in war and remain open to revelation from above which recognizes the
inhumanity of war and refuses to glorify it.

Closely related to the blight of the spirit of this present world is the
failure to perceive the need of missionary spirit for a full grasp of
scriptural truth. Though the Bible was given to a peculiar people, self-
centered and exclusive, it nevertheless abounds in suggestions that its
content can be appreciated the full only by those whose sympathies run
out to men at the very ends of the earth. In the eyes of the Scriptures
a human being is a human being anywhere. The differences between men are
as nothing compared to the likenesses. Every revelation must begin
somewhere and must attack its problems in proper sequence, one after the
other; but mere priority of approach does not mean that one problem is
inherently more important than another. Leaders among the Jews early
tried to impress this upon the Jewish mind. Considered in its historical
setting, the book of Jonah is one of the most spiritually daring books
ever written. Jonah stands as a type of Jew who would not admit anything
of worth in human beings outside of Judaism. Rather than carry the word
of the Lord to Nineveh he would leave his country and go to Tarshish;
rather than turn back and resume the journey to Nineveh, he would
consent to be cast overboard in a storm. Forced at last to deliver his
message, he announced it with the grim satisfaction of expecting to see
Nineveh destroyed. And the final text of the book is that Jonah must
learn not merely to proclaim his message to the Ninevites, but to
proclaim his message with sympathy and genuine human interest. The Jews
were a long time learning the lesson, but not longer than other peoples
have been. Just because of the human interest involved, the missionary
impulse is necessary to a spiritual seizure of the biblical revelation.

It is important that we keep the missionary motive on the right basis.
It is true that the Scriptures will never be adequately appropriated
until all kindreds and peoples and tongues bring their contributions.
Some phases of the truth the Oriental mind must seize before the
Occidental mind can be brought to appreciate them. When the final
revelation comes it will be adapted to the understanding of any kindred
under heaven. It is worth while to spread the Christian revelation for
the sake of the return which the Christianized peoples will one day
bring to our studies of the truth. But the better motive is deeper than
this--the passion for human beings as human beings. Any human being is
entitled to any truth which another human being can reveal to him.

The approach must be the human approach. We must speedily get away from
the Jonah-like conceptions of the biblical revelation as intended
particularly for any one nation. One great danger from the present war
is the loss by the religious nations involved of the ordinary New
Testament point of view. Many of the fighting nations have lapsed back
into the pre-Jonah era. But the present war aside, the thought of
supreme truth as intended chiefly for a particular race or nation, leads
to a patronizing, condescending bearing toward other peoples which
thwarts the finer spiritual achievements. The contacts between the
so-called higher and so-called lower nations in military, diplomatic,
and commercial relations have thus far for the most part been
abominable. Too often missionary effort itself has based itself on these
same assumptions of racial superiority. A people may indeed receive
blessings from the Scriptures in whatever spirit they are bestowed, but
damage is wrought in the souls of the bestowers by the attitude of
superiority. The only genuinely biblical approach is one of respect--
respect for the peoples as peoples, respect which will have regard for
their growing independence in spiritual development, respect which will
not force upon them particularistic interpretations of the universal

Now, all of this may seem like a long distance from a treatment of
understanding of the Scriptures in the ordinary sense. It would not have
been worth while, however, to discuss this problem merely from the point
of view of exegesis or professional commentary. The essentials about the
Scriptures are their relations to life, their views of human beings and
teachings concerning the forces of the spiritual kingdom. We shall
proceed in the other chapters to speak of God, of the revelation of God
in Christ, and of the spirit of Christ as revealed in his cross. Before
we enter upon that study we must again remind ourselves that only life
in harmony with the point of view of the Scriptures and only an interest
in the same human problems that engross the attention of spiritual
writers can avail us for vital interpretation of the teachings
concerning the Divine, or make intelligible to us the hold of the
Scriptures on the life of the world. The Bible is conceived in a spirit
of respect for men. Only those who enter into that same spirit can hope
to make much of the biblical revelation.



We have remarked upon some points of view from which the student must
start in order to reach a sound understanding of the Scriptures. It is
time for us to ask ourselves, however, as to the dominant notes of the
Scriptures which make the Book so dynamic. The purpose of this chapter
is to show that the essentials of the Book are, after all, its teachings
about God. The Bible is the Book of God. Due chiefly to the ideas about
God are its uniqueness and its force.

Before advancing to the consideration of the Bible as a book about God
it will be well for us to glance for a moment at other grounds on which
supremacy for the Scriptures is sometimes claimed. There are those who
maintain that the value of the Bible lies in the wealth of information
which it gives us concerning the first days of the world's life. The
Bible helps us to regard sympathetically the view of the universe by the
ancient Hebrews. It is a repository of knowledge as to early science and
philosophy. Now, all this is true, but relatively unimportant. Had it
not been for the religious teachings of which the old-time view of the
world was the vehicle, that vehicle itself would long since have been
forgotten. Only archaeologists are to-day greatly interested in ancient
theories of the world as such.

There are, again, those who avow that the Bible deserves all praise
because of the literary excellence of its style. There are, indeed,
sublime passages to be forever cherished as entitled by their very
sublimity of expression to permanent place in the world's literature.
All this we most gladly admit. Oratory like that of the book of Isaiah,
some of the sentences of the patriarchs, passages from the Psalms or
from the Sermon on the Mount, the parables, the thirteenth chapter of
Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians, are sure of permanency in
literature no matter what may be anyone's opinion of their religious
content. Nobility of conception is very apt to tend toward nobility of
phrase. The expression may be admired for its own apart from the
substance; but to say that the Bible holds its throne as the Book of
books simply because of the superiority of its artistic form is woefully
aside from the mark. Lamentable as it may be, masses of men do not rank
artistic literary skill as highly as they ought. While a lofty idea is
not likely to make its full impression until wrought into lofty beauty
by a master of style, the worth must nevertheless inhere in the
substance rather than in the form if the statement is to make lasting
effect upon the passing generations. Moreover, it is very easy to
overemphasize the literary excellence of the Scriptures. There are
scores of passages which, as we say, "go through one," but this
marvelous effectiveness is quite as likely to belodged in the idea
itself and in the associations which that idea arouses as in the form of
the passage. In some instances the literary mold in the Authorized
Version is such as to hinder rather than to help; so that the prophet
who seeks to add to the force of the idea breaks the mold for literary

Still another may declare that the Scriptures are valuable because they
abound in hints which make for practical success--shrewd moral maxims
which aid all classes of men in avoiding pitfalls, axioms for daily
conduct which ought to be accepted by everybody, even by those who care
not for the religion of the Bible. All this, again, is true, but hardly
sufficient to explain the grip of the Bible on mankind. So far as the
more conventional morality goes, men are likely to be ruled by the
sentiment of the community in which they move. They adapt themselves to
the demands of the situation at a particular time rather than to a set
of precepts.

Still others maintain that the human ideal itself which we sketched in a
previous chapter is the determining factor in giving the Bible power.
The greatest study of mankind is man. The erection of such an ideal as
that of the Scriptures for man cannot fail to secure for the Book mighty
power through all the ages. And yet it must be replied that if we take
the Bible merely as portraying a human ideal without reference to the
idea of God involved in the same process of revelation, we cut asunder
two things which properly belong together. We must not forget that in
the history of Israel the prophets grasped at every new insight
concerning human character as at the same time a new insight concerning
the character of God. Attributing a profoundly moral trait to God made
it of more consequence forthwith for man, and thus the conceptions of
man and God went along together reenforcing each the other. To separate
the ideal of God from the ideal of man leaves everything at loose ends
for the human ideal. It is true that there are individuals here and
there of intense intelligence and of immense wealth of moral endowment
who do not seem to require any ideal of God to sustain and strengthen
their ideal of man; but for the most of us the ideal of man cannot grow
to any considerable size without growth of our notion as to the
character of God. What man is now depends somewhat on our thought of
where man came from, and what his place in the universe essentially is.
One of our deepest yearnings is to know whether our exalted belief about
man has any validity before the larger ranges of the activity of the
universe itself. It is very common, for example, for those who go forth
to social tasks with a passion for humanity to lose that passion if they
do not keep alive a passion for God. Disappointment with some phases of
human nature itself and despair over the failures of men are apt to be
so trying that the passion for humanity dies down unless familiarity
with actual human life is reenforced by communion with an ideal which
reaches up toward the Divine. We would ourselves insist that the
loftiest human ideal in all literature is that of the Scriptures, but we
must insist also that this ideal lacks driving force if it does not keep
back of it the biblical doctrine of God.

From the very outset the Hebrew Scriptures deal with God. "In the
beginning God," at the end God, and God at every step of the journey
from the beginning to the end. There are other scriptures besides the
Hebrew Scriptures that deal with God, but the kind of God set before us
in the Hebrew revelation gives the Bible its supreme merit.

Since we often hear that there are other sources for the idea of God
than the Scriptures, it may be well for us to appraise the contributions
from some of those sources before we look at the kind of God drawn for
us in the biblical writings. After allowing as high excellence as is
possible to the theologies obtained outside the Scriptures, the moral
and spiritual superiority of the scriptural ideal shines forth

Many a scientist tells us that we do not further need the biblical idea
of God in view of the vast suggestions concerning the Divine which
science places before us. The world in which we live has broadened
immeasurably since the days of the Hebrew prophets and seers. The idea
of God, broadening to correspond, has to expand so overwhelmingly that
we ought no longer pay heed to the imaginations of the biblical writers.
Large numbers of scientists to-day avow themselves devout theists.
Materialism is decidedly out of fashion, and agnosticism is less in
vogue than a decade or two ago. The reverent scientist affirms that he
believes in a God whose omniscience keeps track of every particle of
matter in a universe whose spaces are measured by billions of miles, a
God whose omnipresence implies the interlacing of forces whose sweep and
fineness seen through the telescope and microscope astonish us.
Moreover, the modern doctrine of evolution shows us that the entire
material system is moving on and up from lower to higher forms. "It doth
not yet appear what we shall be," but we shall clearly be something
great and glorious.

Now, far be it from us to belittle the splendor of this scientific
vision. Modern scientific searchers are, indeed, finding innumerable
illustrations of the greatness of God. There is every reason why the
scientific investigator should rejoice in a calling which enables him to
think God's thoughts after him; but when a scientist will have it that
his belief in God arises only from his technical investigations, we must
declare our suspicion that he is employing his findings to confirm a
faith already held, though that faith may be part of his unconscious
spiritual possessions. Many times the scientist is determined that the
scientific discoveries shall look in theistic directions just to satisfy
the imperious though unconscious demands of his own soul. Some
scientists are theists just because they are bound to be so, for the
close contemplation of the entire situation in the material realm does
not make for any adequate theistic verdict. It is hard indeed to believe
that the nice adjustments of matter and force occur without the
governance of a supervising intelligence. There are too many facts which
suggest skill to make it easy to believe that the natural world is just
the outcome of a fortuitous concourse of atoms. Science itself very
likely establishes a presumption in favor of a governing mind, _but
the deeper question is as to the character of that mind_. Is it a
moral mind? At this point the hopeful evolutionist will break out that
the progress is so definitely from lower to higher that no one ought to
doubt the benevolence of the Power moving upward through all things.
Evolution is, indeed, full of promises to one who already trusts in the
goodness of God; but the progress from lower to higher is not always
unmistakable. Often the survival of the fittest is just a survival of
those fittest to survive, and not the survival of those who ought to
survive. There are too many things which survive which ought to be
killed off. Simple good can give way to complex evil without at all
violating the requirements of the evolutionistic formula. But even if we
concede all that the scientist claims for his conception of God; if we
grant that terms like "omnipresence" and "omniscience" and "progress"
clothe themselves with new force in the Copernican and Newtonian and
Darwinian terminology, we must nevertheless insist that none of this
rises to the moral height of the biblical teaching. Nor are we willing
to admit that the biblical doctrine is to be discounted because it grew
up amid small theories of the material universe. The old Hebrew views of
the physical system, outdated as they are now, are nevertheless full of
sublimity on their own account. But even if they were infinitesimal as
compared with the vast stretches of modern scientific measurements, the
moral grandeur of the idea of God of which they were the framework
stands forth unmistakably. We must not permit the quantitative bigness
of modern scientific notions to obscure the qualitative fineness of the
biblical ideal of God. Modern philosophy comes also and announces that
it has a better God than that of the Scriptures. The most imposing
modern philosophical systems are those which proclaim some form of
idealism. The gist of the idealistic argument always is that the world
itself is nothing apart from thought; that thought-relationships rule in
and through all things; that there are no things-in-themselves; that
there can be no hard-and-fast stuff standing apart from God. Things must
come within the range of thought or go out of existence. There is no
alternative. Now, thought implies a thinker, and this implication
carries us at once to God. Here, again, we have no desire to question
the cogency of the argument. We are ready to admit that this is the
strongest theistic argument that has thus far been built. To be sure,
there are some questions that inevitably suggest themselves: What is the
thinker? Is it impersonal thought, as some have maintained? Is it just
the sum of all forms of consciousness--our consciousnesses being organs
or phases of the Supreme Consciousness? Or is the thinker strictly
personal, carrying on a thought-world by the power of his will and
calling into existence finite thinkers in his own image? Assuming that
the world is the expression of the thought of a Personal Thinker who
acts in the forces of nature and creates men in his own image, the
further question arises as to the character of that Thinker. While
returning the heartiest thanks to the idealist for his argument--full as
it is of aid for the Christian system--we have to protest that the
argument does not lift us to the full height of the ideal of God
inculcated in the Scriptures. And if this is true of the majestic
systems of idealism, how much more is it true of the other and less
convincing systems which are just now having their day! We have already
spoken of pragmatism as possessing validity as a method, but pragmatism
can hardly cherish pretension of being itself a system of religious

Some very strenuous searchers after divine treasures have professed to
discover value in various non-Christian religions. They have patiently
studied the great Indian world-views, for example, which are admittedly
the most important religious creations outside of Christianity. These
students come back to us with fragments of doctrines, gems of ethical
wisdom, traces of sublimity from the Indian sacred books. It would be
foolhardy not to receive any genuine treasures, no matter what the mine
from which they have been quarried. We are all eager to admit the
immeasurable possibilities of the Oriental type of thinking for the
development of Christianity, but Oriental systems thus far have been
chiefly significant as indicating what stupendous religious powers can
do when they are off the track. The Indian systems of religion have run
loose in India. As a result, nowhere in the world has religion been
taken more seriously and more sincerely than by the Indian peoples. It
is simply impossible to bring the charge against the Indian races that
they have not made the most of their religion. The final indictment to
be passed upon the Indian systems is that while the Indian peoples have
made the most of those systems, the systems have made least of the
Indian peoples; and this because of the defects in the conception of the
Divine itself. It is doubtful whether the Indian could call his highest
gods personal. If he declares them personal, he can hardly make them
moral in the full sense; that is to say, in the sense of exerting their
force on the world in favor of justice and righteousness and love.

Now, it is just in the quality of moral force that the God of the
Scriptures shows his superiority. The entire revealing process can be
looked upon as one long story of the moralization of the idea of God.
Let it be granted that the biblical idea was at the beginning marked by
the naive and the crude. Personally, we have never been able to see the
pertinency of the reasonings which make the Hebrew Jehovah as imperfect
as some students would have us believe. Nevertheless, for the sake of
the argument we will admit limitations in the early Hebrew conception of
God. Even with such concession, however, the outstanding characteristics
of that God were from the beginning moral. Suppose that Jehovah was at
the beginning just a tribal Deity. The difference between Jehovah and
other tribal deities was that the commandments which were conceived of
as coming from him looked in the direction of increasing moral life for
the people, and these moral demands upon the chosen people were
conceived of as arising out of the nature of Jehovah himself. To be
sure, the early narratives employ expressions like "the jealousy of
God," but even a slightly sympathetic reading of the Scriptures
indicates that the jealousy was directed against whatever would harm
human life. In the mighty pictures of the patriarchs the heroes speak to
their God as if the same moral obligations rested upon God as upon
themselves. There is nothing finer in the Old Testament than Abraham's
challenge, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"

We are not specially interested in the growth of the ideas as to the
power of God, though we repeat that it is difficult for us to believe
that the early Hebrews thought of their Deity as so narrowly limited in
power as some modern students seek to prove. The conception of the might
of Jehovah grew through the centuries and followed upon the extension of
the knowledge of the Hebrews about the world in which they lived. If
tomorrow morning some revolutionary astronomical discovery should
convince us that the solar system is much vaster than we have ever
imagined, the theist would, of course, extend the thought of the sway of
God to all that solar system. If there were some method of becoming
aware that the bodies of the entire astronomical system are millions of
times more numerous than scientists ever have dreamed, the theist would,
of course, maintain that the righteous purpose of his God reaches to all
of these bodies. The growth of the Hebrew idea was somewhat parallel to
this. Even when the Hebrew thought of the outside peoples as having gods
of their own; he believed that as soon as his God came into conflict
with the other gods, he would shatter them with his might. By the time
the first chapters of Genesis were written the Hebrew conceived of God
as creator of all things, and thereafter the growth of the belief in the
power of God kept pace with the enlarging view of the world.

We repeat that we are not much concerned with the growth of the idea of
the power of God. We are, however, interested in the manifest teaching
or direct implication of the Scriptures that from the beginning the
Hebrews thought of God as under obligation to use his power for moral
ends. What the moral ends were depended upon the growth of the moral
ideal. At the very beginning it was believed that since God had chosen
the people of Israel to be his people, he must fight their battles for
them. It is from this point of view that we must deal with the early
idea of God as a God of battles. God was wielding his force for a moral
purpose. Moreover, if God had chosen a people to be the channel through
which he was to reveal himself to the world, he must be very patient
with that people. How sublime is the Old Testament belief in the
patience of God toward Israel! To use the phrase of our later days, God
accommodated himself to the progress which the people could make. When
the prophets called upon the people to walk with God, they implied a
willingness on God's part to walk with the people. If they must lengthen
their stride, he must shorten his; he must bear with them in their
inadequate notions; he must judge their efforts by the direction in
which they were tending rather than by any achievement in itself.

It is from the point of view of their growing apprehension of God as
moral that we can best understand the ferocity of the Israelite toward
the so-called heathen peoples. The boasting of the Israelites over the
slaughter of outsiders must be understood from the faith in the moral
destiny which the prophets conceived the God of Israel to hold in store
for his people. The reason assigned for cruelties and warfares upon
heathen peoples was the abominations practiced by those peoples. Of
course it is possible for a student obsessed with the modern doctrine of
the economic determinism of history to say that we have in the story of
the Hebrew development just the play of economic forces with moral aims
assigned as their formal justification. Assuming that the narratives of
the conquest of Canaan are true, what the Hebrews desired--these
economists tell us--was the milk and the honey. They made their
so-called advance in obedience to God an excuse for taking possession of
the milk and the honey. Now, he would be blind indeed who would deny
that economic values do play their part in wars of conquest; he would be
foolish who would deny that wars always do justify themselves by
appealing to lofty religious motives, but nevertheless the impact of the
Hebrew history upon the life of the world has been a moral impact, due
to the belief of the Hebrews that they were instruments in the hands of a
moral God. If we could behold the abominations in heathenism upon which
the old prophets looked, we would sympathize quite readily with an
impulse which might seem to call for outright destruction. A friend of
mine, a man of the most sensitive Christian feeling, once stood on the
banks of the Ganges and watched people by the hundreds and thousands
going through religious ceremonials, some of which were defiling and
others silly. In the midst of the reeking vileness of one scene in
particular he said that he felt for the moment an impulse like that of
the old prophets to cry out for the destruction of the entire mass. The
situation seemed so dreadful and so hopeless! All this passed in an
instant to the loftier feeling of compassion, but the stirring of the
more primitive impulse was really moral in its foundation. In any case,
the old Hebrew notion was of a God who would put a growing moral ideal
in the first place.

It is not necessary for us to attempt to trace the steps of the growth
of the moral ideal for God. As we have said, that ideal kept pace with
the growth of the ideal for man. We must call attention, however, to the
fact that the growth of the ideal was in the direction of increasing
emphasis upon the responsibilities that go with power. The Hebrew may
not have definitely phrased the responsibility, but he nevertheless
shows his increasing realization of the obligations resting upon God.
When we reach the later prophets we discern that his moral obligation
upon God himself becomes more and more a determining factor. There
appear glimpses of belief that God must not only fight for his people,
but that he must suffer in their sufferings. It is of little consequence
for our present purpose whether the suffering servant of Jehovah of the
later Israelitish Scriptures is a group of persons or an individual. The
implication is that the suffering is a revelation of Jehovah himself.
Moreover, there appears a widening stream of emphasis on the tenderness
of God's care for his people. The Hebrew writers comparatively early
broke away from the thought of God as merely philanthropically inclined
toward Israel. They did not think of him as bestowing gifts which were
without cost to himself. They show him as deeply involved in the life of
the nation and as caring for his people with an infinite compassion.
This enlarging revelation was made clear to the people through the
utterances of prophets, the decrees of lawgivers, the songs of
psalmists, the interpretations of historians, and the warnings of
statesmen. Slowly and surely, moreover, the people attained grasp on the
doctrine that the greatest revelation of God is the revelation in human
character itself. They began to look forward to the coming of one who
would in himself embody the noblest and best in the divine life, who
would gather up in himself all the ideals and purposes toward which the
law and the prophets had looked. New Testament revelation as such we
leave to the later chapters, but we have come far enough, we think, to
warrant us in saying that only he can understand the Scriptures who sees
that the chief fact about the Scriptures is the emphasis on the moral
nature of God. Other Scriptures besides that of the Hebrews--we might
say scientific, philosophical, extra-Christian Scriptures--have stood
for the existence of God; but none have stood for the existence of such
a God as the God of the Bible. The salient feature of the Bible is its
thought of God.



It is of course the merest commonplace to say that the revelation of God
in the Scriptures comes to its climax in Christ. The revelation in
Christ gathers up all that is loftiest in the utterances of the Old
Testament and gives it embodiment in a human life. It is legitimate to
declare that there is little either in the teaching of Christ or in his
character that is not at least foreshadowed in the Old Testament. The
uniqueness of the Christ revelation consists in the manner in which the
separate streams of truth of the law and the prophets and the seers and
the poets are merged together in the Christ teaching, and in the fine
balance with which the ideal characteristics seen from afar by the
saints of the older day were realized in the living Christ. We might
justly say that a devout reader of the Old Testament could find rich
elements of the Christ revelation even if he should never see a page of
the New Testament. The virtue of the New Testament, however, is that all
the elements revealed throughout the course of the historic periods of
Israel's career are bound together in the life and character of Christ.
It is no mere epigram to say that if the greatest fact about the
Scriptures is God, the greatest fact about God is Christ. Any thorough
study of the Scriptures must revolve around Christ as its center. If the
Scriptures mean anything, they mean that in Christ we see God. Of course
it is open to the skeptic to reply that in all this the Scriptures are
completely mistaken; but he cannot maintain that this is not what the
Scriptures mean. The Book comes to its climax with an honest conviction
that Christ is the consummate revelation of God. The day when men could
charge any sort of manipulation of the material by Scripture writers for
unworthy doctrinal purposes is past. We have in another connection said
that each of the New Testament books was, indeed, written with a
definite aim, but this does not mean that facts and teachings were
twisted out of their legitimate significance. That Christ is the supreme
gift of God to men is so thoroughly built into the biblical revelation
that there is no digging that idea out without wrecking the entire
revelation itself. To maintain anything else would be to do violence to
the entire scriptural teaching. The burden of the entire New Testament
is that God is like Christ.

This may seem to some to be a reversal of present-day approach to the
study of the Christ. We may appear to be attacking the problem from the
divine angle rather than from the human. Why not ask what Christ was
rather than what God is? It is indeed far from our purpose to minimize
the rich significance of the humanity of Jesus, but we are trying now to
get the scriptural focus. We do not believe that we can secure that
focus by looking upon the character of Christ as a merely human ideal.
The might of the scriptural emphasis is that Christ is the revelation of
God. We are well aware that ordinary theological debate has centered on
the question as to the extent to which Christ is like God. The Bible is
colored with the belief that God is like Christ. This may seem at first
glimpse to be a very fine discrimination, but the importance of that
discrimination appears when we reflect that mankind is more eager to
learn the character of God than to learn how far a man can climb toward
divinity. In all such discussions as this we proceed at peril of being
misunderstood, but we must repeatedly affirm that important as is the
problem as to the human ideal set forth in Christ, the divine ideal set
forth in him is more significant as explaining the hold of the Bible on
men. Is it not sufficient for us to behold a lofty human ideal in the
portrait of Christ without such emphasis on this ideal as also a
revelation of the divine character? The answer depends upon what we are
most interested in. If we care most for a perfect and symmetrical human
life, we reply that we find that perfection and symmetry in Christ. In
our second chapter we laid such stress upon the importance of the
enlarging human ideal that we have committed ourselves to the importance
of the Christ ideal as a revelation of the possibilities of human life.
But if we take that ideal in itself without any reference to the
character of God, how much enlargement does it bring us? As members of
the human race we can indeed be proud that a human being has climbed to
such moral stature as did Jesus, but what promise does that give that
any other human being can attain to his stature? As a member of the
human race I can be profoundly thankful for a philosopher like Kant. I
can, indeed, dedicate myself to the study of the Kantian philosophy with
some hope of mastering it. I can seek to reproduce in my life all the
conditions that surrounded the life of the great metaphysician, but I
cannot hope to make myself a Kant. Strive as I may, such transformation
is out of the question. I may attain great merit by my struggle, but I
cannot make myself a Kant. The more intensely I might struggle, the more
convinced I would become of the futility of my quest, and the genius of
the philosopher might tower up at the end as itself a grim mockery of my
ambition. So it is with the Christ if he is not a revelation of the God
life at the same time that he is an idealization of the human life.
Viewed as a revelation of God's character the Christ life is the hope of
all the ages. Viewed only as a masterpiece of human life it might well
be the despair of mankind.

Of course there are those who believe that it is impossible for Christ
to be a revelation of the human without also being a revelation of the
Divine. We have no desire to quarrel with this position, though we find
it more optimistic than convincing. Incredible as it may seem at first
thought, the universe might theoretically be regarded as a system ruled
over by a Deity who had brought forth a character like that of Christ
just for the sake of seeing what he could achieve in the way of a
masterpiece, without being himself fundamentally involved in self-
revelation. Christ might conceivably be a sort of poetic dream of the
Almighty rather than a laying bare of the Almighty's own life. We find
that human authors by an effort of great imagination fashion creations
in a sense completely different from themselves. It might be
theoretically urged that the character of Christ is different from the
character of God. If this seems very far-fetched, let us remind
ourselves then that there are those in the present world who conceive of
Christ as the very highest peak of human existence and yet deny that he
has any sort of significance as a revelation of the forces back of the
world. Such thinkers maintain that Christ is the best the race has to
show, and yet affirm that the race is but an insignificant item in the
total massiveness of the universe. The Bible establishes the faith of
men against skepticism like this by making the Christ-ideal for God
himself so attractive and appealing.

There are those who proclaim that we do not need any revelations of God
to make then human ideal fully significant--the human ideal stands by
itself. Some such thinkers go consistently the full length of saying
that they are willing to keep their eyes open to the hopelessness of the
universe. They can see nothing beyond this life but total oblivion.
Nevertheless, with their eyes open they will fight on manfully to the
end and take the final leap into the dark without flinching. They are
very apt to add that their philosophy is the only unselfish one; that
the desire of men for any sort of help from conceptions about the Divine
is selfishness where it is not sentimentalism. It is fair to say that
such doctrines seldom meet large response. The reason is not that men
selfishly seek out a God for the sake of material reward that may come
to them, but that they seek him for the sake of finding a resting place
for their minds and souls, for the sake of cherishing an end which seems
in itself worth while, for the sake of laying hold on a universe in
which they can feel at home. If this is selfishness, then the activities
of the human soul in its highest ranges are selfish. If it is selfish to
long for a universe in which the heart can trust, it is selfish also to
enjoy the self-satisfaction with which some of these thinkers profess to
be ready to take their leap into the night. As we scan the history of
Christianity since the day of the Founder we are impressed that
religious organizations as such which arise within Christianity tend to
survive in proportion as they make central the significance of Christ as
the revealer of the character of God. We would not for a moment
underestimate the importance of those groups of Christians who take
Christ merely as a prophet who lived the noblest life and exalted his
truth by the noblest death. Many such believers manifest the very purest
devotion to Christ. They are his disciples. But the historic fact is
that organizations founded on such doctrines alone do not win sweeping
triumphs. On their own statement the most they hope to do is to spread
the leaven of their doctrine into the thinking of other groups of
Christians. Their service in this respect is not to be disparaged, for
at all times the more orthodox opinion of Christ, so called, needs the
leavening of emphasis on the humanity of Christ. But after all these
allowances it is just to affirm that theology which sees only the human
in Christ does not come to vast power, and that clearly because the
world is chiefly interested in the question with which the entire
biblical revealing movement deals, namely, what is the nature of God?
With that question answered we can best understand the nature of man and
the possibility of communion between man and God.

We may be permitted to pick up the thread of the argument in the last
chapter and ask again what moral purposes rule the forces of this world.
It must indeed be an odd type of mind that does not at least
occasionally ask what this world is for, and what all this cosmic
commotion is about. It is well for all of us to do the best we can
without asking too many hard questions, but the queries will at times
come up and with the normal human being they are not likely easily to
down. We are in the midst of powers which defy our intellects. We do not
go far in the attempt to read the secrets of nature around us without
discovering that all we can hope to spell out is the stages by which
things come to pass, and the mechanisms by which they fit themselves
together. Why they come to pass is beyond us, except in a most limited
sense. The purposes for which events occur in this world are not self-
evidently clear. Explanations of purposes only make matters worse; and
at any moment this problem of the mystery of the universe may take
personal significance in the form of a blow upon the individual which
seems to mock all hope of anything worth while in human life. There is
nothing more futile than the attempts even of ministers to divine the
meanings of afflictions or of those inequalities of lot which attend the
natural order. The preachers can encourage us to make the most of a bad
lot, but their guesses as to why these things are ordinarily add to our
burdens. No, the mind of itself just by contemplation of the things as
they are cannot find much light. This enigma has always been before the
philosophers in the form of the question as to physical suffering. A
number of plausible answers have been made as to the reasons for pain in
the present order. Leibnitz said that even the Almighty creating the
finite world had to adjust himself to some limitations for the good of
the whole; that if some forces are to run in one direction, there must
be mutual concession and compromise in the adjustment of manifold other
activities; and that all this involves at least apparent stress and
injustice at particular points. This sounds well enough, but why the
afflictions of the individual who happens to be one of the particular
points should be just what they are is a mystery. The upshot is that the
ordinary man--the plain man, as we call him--must either give up the
whole problem by seeking to forget it, or must rebel against it, or he
must find relief in a God whom he can trust without being able to fathom
his plans.

The tragedy of physical affliction is light as compared to the tragedies
which arise in any conscience which seeks to take moral duties
seriously. To be sure, we live at present in a rather complacent age so
far as the struggles of conscience are concerned. The advice of the
world is to do the best we can and let the rest go. We are not to take
ourselves too seriously. But the long moral advances of the race have
come through those who have taken the voices of conscience seriously.
Now, what can a sensitive conscience make of moral duty? Assume that we
have before us the exalted Christ ideal, and accept this as the guide of
our lives--assume that we even have hope of some day attaining to that
ideal--the distracting question is bound to jump at us: Are we doing
enough? Have we sacrificed enough for those in worse plight than
ourselves? And what about our past mistakes? Shall we go back and try to
undo these? At the very best that might be like unraveling through the
night what we have spun through the day. It will not do to dismiss this
as unhealthiness or morbidness of mind. William James has shown pretty
conclusively that the so-called normal or healthy-minded moral life is
apt to be shallow. The great moral tragedy of the race is the distance
between the ideal and any possible attainment. We can console ourselves
by saying that noble discontent is the glory of man; but that does not
get us far. There is only one way out, and that is to trust that we are
dealing with a Christlike God, that his attitude toward us is the
attitude of Jesus toward men. It is impossible to feel that in
discipleship with Jesus men were complacent about their own moral
perfections on the one hand, or harassed with self-reproaches on the
other. They were advancing toward the realization of an ideal in
companionship with One who not only in himself realized the human ideal,
but who taught them that all the forces of the world would work together
with them in their climb toward perfection, and that God would be
patient with their blunders.

The question as to the character of God becomes more vital the longer we
reflect. The growing conscience of our time demands that two conceptions
be kept together--that of power and that of moral responsibility. We
cannot hold a person responsible unless he has power; we cannot give a
person power unless he is willing to act under responsibility. This
realization is fast modifying all our relations to politics, to finance,
to industry, even to private duties. We are swiftly moving toward the
day when society will insist that any measure of power which has an
outreach beyond the circle of the holder's personal affairs shall be
acquiesced in by society only on condition that the holder of that power
be willing definitely to assume responsibility to society. What we
demand of men we demand also of God, and we have the scriptural warrant
for believing that these human demands are themselves hints concerning
the nature of God. Now, no one doubts the power of God. All scientific
and philosophic trends are toward the centralization of power in some
unitary source. All our study of nature and of society convinces us that
there is a unity of power somewhere. If this be true, there must be
raised with increasing persistence the question as to whether the World-
Power is acting under a sense of moral responsibility. There were days
when this problem was not raised as it is now. Men assumed for centuries
that the king could do no wrong; that he could order his people about in
the most arbitrary fashion. In our own time we have seen advocacy of the
doctrine that the man of wealth is a law unto himself in the handling of
the power that comes with wealth. Such mistakes never were really a part
of the biblical idea. In shaping the threefold notion of priest and
prophet and king to make the people familiar with the functions of
God-sent leadership the strokes of emphasis always fell on the
responsibility of the prophet to proclaim his message at whatever cost
to himself, of the priest to keep in mind the sacredness of his office,
and of the king to rule in righteousness. These demands were inevitably
carried up to God: and in Christ the supreme effort is made to convince
us that we can trust in the God of Christ, though we may not be able to
understand him. This is not the place for an attempt at determining the
essentials of the Christ career. Some features of that life, however, as
illustrating responsibility in the use of power can be hinted at here.
Take the story of the temptation. We are not concerned now with the
historic form in which the temptation occurred. After the historians
have made all the changes in the drapery of the story they choose, the
fact remains that the temptation narrative deals with the essential
problems of any leader confronted with a task like that of Christ. The
Messianic consciousness was a consciousness of power. How should the
power be used? Should it be used to minister to human needs like those
of hunger? That would promise a quick solution of a sort. The peoples
would eagerly rally around the new deliverer. Should there be an attempt
to utilize the political machinery of the time? There could be no doubt
of the effectiveness of this plan. Should the exalted lofty spiritual
state of the Master be relied upon to carry him through spectacular
displays of extraordinary might that would capture the popular mind?
Each of these suggestions presented its advantages. Each might have been
rightfully followed by some one with less power than Jesus had; but for
him any one of them would have involved a misuse of power, and hence he
cast them all aside.

The miracles reported of Christ have this for their peculiarity, that
they show a power conceived of as divine used for a righteous purpose.
It is significant that practically all the miracles described are those
of healing or of relief. The kind of miracle that an irresponsible
leader would have wrought is suggested by the advice of James and John
to Jesus to call down fire on an inhospitable Samaritan village. The
reported reply of Jesus, "Ye know not what spirit you are of," is the
final comment on such use of power. Now, after we have made the most of
the miracles recorded of Jesus, after we have made them seem just as
extraordinary in themselves as possible, their most extraordinary
feature is this use to which the power was put; and on the other hand,
if we strip the miracles of everything that suggests breach of natural
law and make them just revelations of super-normal control over nature
through laws like those whose existence and significance we are
beginning to glimpse to-day, still we cannot empty these narratives of
their significance as revealing a morally responsible use of force. Let
us be just as orthodox as we can, the purpose of the use of the forces
is the supreme miracle; let us be just as destructively radical as we
please, we cannot eliminate from the Scriptures this impression of
Christ as one who used power with a sense of responsibility. This
revelation is one which the ages have always desired.

We must be careful to keep in mind the connection of the Christ life
with what came before it and what has proceeded from it. Here we have
the advantage which comes of regarding the Bible as the result of a
process running through the centuries. If the Bible were not a library,
but only a single book, written at a particular time, we might well be
attracted by the nobility of its teachings, but might despair of ever
making the teachings effective. There is no proving in syllogistic
fashion that Jesus was what he claimed to be, or that he was what his
disciples thought of him as being; but when we see a massive revealing
movement centering on the idea of God as revealed in Christ, when we see
the acceptance of the spirit of Christ opening the path to communion
with the Divine, and when we find increasing hosts of persons finding
larger life in that approach to the Divine, we begin to discern the vast
significance of the scriptural doctrine that in Christ we have the
revelation of the Christlike God.

In this discussion we have been careful to avoid the terms of formal and
creedal orthodoxy. This is not because the present writer is out of
sympathy with these terms, but because he is trying to keep to the main
impression produced by the New Testament. The fundamental scriptural
fact is that in Jesus the early believers saw God; they came to rest in
God as revealed in Christ. This is true of the picture of Christ in the
earliest New Testament writings. Modern scholarship has not been able to
find any documents of a time when the disciples did not think of Jesus
as the revealer of God. If the disciples had not thought of Jesus thus,
they would have found little reason to write of him. Now the scriptural
authors employ various terms to declare the unique intimacy of Christ
with God. In these expositions Jewish and Greek and even Roman thought
terms play their part. Passages like the opening sentences of the fourth
Gospel, or like the great chapter in the Philippians, are always
profoundly satisfying and suggestive in their interpretation of the
fundamental fact, but that fundamental fact itself is the all-essential
--that in Christ the New Testament writers thought of themselves as
having seen God, and as having gazed into the very depths of the spirit
of the Father in heaven. Believing as we do, moreover, in the
helpfulness of the creedal statements of the church, we must
nevertheless avow that such statements are secondary to the impression
made upon the biblical writers by actual contact with the Christ. We
must not lose sight of the primacy of that impression as we study our
Scriptures. We must not limit the glory of the impression itself by the
limitations of some of the explanations which we undertake. Much harm
has been done the understanding the Scriptures by speaking as if some of
our creedal statements concerning Christ are themselves Scriptures! The
scriptural Christ is greater than any creedal characterization of Christ
thus far undertaken.

Of recent years an attempt has been made to prove that no such person as
Jesus ever existed. The attempt has proved futile, but it has had a
significance altogether different from what the propounders of the
theory intended. The original aim was to show the contradictions of the
testimony concerning Jesus and the inadequacies of the testimony to his
existence as an historical Person. The result has been to show that the
real significance of the Christ life is not to be found in any
particular utterance, or in any specific deed, but in the total impact
that he made upon the consciousness of man as suggesting the immediate
presence of the Divine. The quality of the Christ life satisfies us in
the inner depths as bearing witness to the quality of the God life. We
have no sympathy with the views of the critics just mentioned; but we
must say that no matter how the thought of God in Christ got abroad, no
matter how mistaken our thought of the historical facts at the beginning
of the Christian era, the belief in the Christlike God nevertheless did
get abroad. There is no effacing that conception from the New Testament.
No matter what detailed changes in the narrative itself radical
criticism may think itself capable of making, the door was opened wide
enough in the Christ for the divine light to stream through. We said in
the last chapter that the most important feature of the biblical
revelation is God himself. We must now say that the supreme fact about
God is Christ.



If the central feature of the Scriptures is their idea of God, and if
the climax of the biblical revelation is Christ, the greatest fact about
Christ from the point of view of the Bible is his cross. We say
_fact_ advisedly, for we are not dealing with the theories that
have sprung up to interpret the meaning of the cross. We are trying to
deal solely with the direct impressions which seem to have been made
upon the scriptural writers as to the place of the cross in the
revealing movement.

We said in the last chapter that the Scriptures reach their climax in
the doctrine that God is in Christ. The cross of Christ carries to most
effective revelation the Christlike character of God. While we are not
treating now the various creedal dogmas as to the person of Christ, we
must not forget that those dogmas have essayed as part of their task the
bringing of God close to men. The truth embodied in the text that the
Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world is essential to knowing
the Scriptures. We have seen that even as a warrior Jehovah was thought
of as willing to bear his part of the burdens of the chosen people. We
have seen growing the idea that Jehovah was under moral obligation to
carry through the uplifting work which he had begun. We have seen
prophets attain to glimpses of the meaning of suffering for the divine
life, and we have beheld the culmination in the suffering of Christ. In
those perplexing phrases of the creeds like, "Very God of very God," the
aim of the church has been perfectly clear--to guard the scriptural idea
that God was so truly in Christ that the sufferings of Christ were the
sufferings of God. Even when least intelligible the pain of men becomes
more easily borne if men can believe that in some real sense their pain
is also the pain of God. That God is Christlike in capacity to suffer is
in itself a revelation of no small consequence.

In the cross of Christ we see exalted with surpassing power the belief
that God acts out of righteousness in his relation to the universe and
to men. It must needs be that Christ suffer. The writers seem unable to
escape the conviction that they are beholding the working of divinely
inevitable moral necessities. These moral obligations are not to be
conceived of as external to God or imposed on him from outside of
himself. In the Scriptures they seem, rather, to be expressions of his
own nature. When the writers of theories about the cross lay stress on
those profound obligations of God toward moral law which must be
discharged in the work of redemption, the Scriptural basis underneath
such theories is the implication that God, by the very fact of what he
is, must act righteously. His power is not his own in such sense that he
can act from arbitrary or self-centered motives. The Judge of all the
earth must do right, at whatever cost to himself. The Scriptures keep
close to the thought of God as a supremely powerful Being under supreme
responsibility in the use of his power. If we can believe the Scripture
that in Christ we see God, and that the bearing, of Christ during his
suffering reveals really and uniquely the bearing of God himself, we
have a revelation of the grasp with which moral responsibility holds the
Almighty against even any momentary slip into arbitrariness. Sometimes
we hear the sufferings of Christ preached as a pattern of nonresistance
for men. It is permissible thus to interpret the cross within
limitations; but this is not the essential aspect of the cross, as
explaining its hold on men. The all-important doctrine as to the use of
power is hinted at in the Master's word that he had but to call for
legions of angels if he so chose. Under most extreme provocation the
forces of the Almighty held to their appointed task. If the Almighty had
been conceived of as a Despot or an Egotist, he would have been expected
to resort at once to revengeful violence in the presence of such insults
as those of the persecutors of the Son of God. The Source of all
activity can hardly be conceived of as passive; but the passivity of the
Christ of the cross suggests that no outrage by men can divert the
almighty power from its moral purpose. This is really a gathering
together and lifting on high of the doctrine of the Sermon on the Mount,
that God maketh the sun to shine upon the just and the unjust, and
causeth his rain to fall on the evil and the good. That is to say, while
the Bible thinks of the cross as laying bare the Almighty's reaction
against evil, it also thinks of that cross as showing a God who will not
be disturbed by any merely "personal" considerations. We behold the
Almighty's use of power for the advance of a moral kingdom. The Almighty
is set before us as exerting all his power for the relief of men. The
cross makes the profoundest revelation of the moral fixedness and self-
control of God so long as we hold to the scriptural representation. It
is to be regretted that many theological theories break away from the
Scripture basis and build upon assumptions which are artificial, not to
say unmoral: or, rather, in their striving after system they get away
from the atmosphere of moral suggestiveness with which the Gospels and
Epistles surround the cross. That God will do his part in the redemption
of men is set before us in the cross. That part can be nothing short of
making men yearn to be like Christ and of aiding them in their struggle
for the Christlike character. It will be remembered that in the last
chapter we called attention to the hopelessness of the Christian ideal
viewed as an ideal in itself without a dynamic to help men to realize
the ideal. If Christ is only to reveal to us the character toward which
men are to strive, we are in despair. That one man has reached such
perfection is in itself no promise that other men may reach that
perfection. Moreover, the excellence of Christ is not only a moral
excellence; or if it is moral excellence, that excellence involves a
balance of intellectual attributes which is for us practically out of
reach. Now, Christ is the ideal, but the ideal is one toward which we
not only labor in our own strength, but one whose attainment by us is an
object of solicitude for God himself. And so we see in the cross a
patience which will bear with men to the utmost, and which will
reenforce them as they press toward the goal. The glory of Christianity
is largely hi the paradox that it sets before men an unattainable ideal
and then commands them to attain the ideal. If the cross is nothing but
a revelation of an ideal for men, this paradox is insoluble and
intolerable. In the scriptural light of the cross, however, we catch the
glory not of an abstract ideal, but of a Father's love for his children
--not of the commands of conscience in the abstract, but of the desires
of a personal Friend who will lift men as they stumble and fall. The
ground for this patience seems as we read to be in the very nature of
God himself. God has brought men into this world without consulting
them, he has dowered them with the terrific boon of freedom, he has set
them in hard places; but he has done this out of a moral and loving
purpose. He therefore makes more allowances for men than exacting men
ever can make for themselves. He puts at the service of men so much of
his power as they can appropriate by their moral effort. The Christ of
the cross is taught as the truth about God--the God who is at once the
supremely real and the supremely ideal places his powers at the service
of men who would make their Christ-ideal progressively real in

The power of the Bible over men centers around the teaching that the
cross not only reveals God as morally bound to redeem men, but that it
also shows us the divine aim in redemption. Men are to be redeemed by
seeking for forgiveness in the name of the moral life set on high by the
cross, but the repentant soul is to show its sincerity by devotion to
the task and spirit of cross-bearing. The aim of the cross is to bring
men together into a fellowship of the cross, in a fellowship of
suffering for the sake of the moral triumph to be won at the end. We are
accustomed to think of suffering as implying the possibility of joy. The
man who can feel keen sorrow can feel keen joy; they who have the power
to weep have also the power to laugh. In the final kingdom the weeping
shall be turned into joy. But, according to the Scriptures, it is not
necessary for the disciples to wait until the consummation before
entering into the joy of their Lord. There is an entrance to the divine
mind through bearing the cross. Those who desired to learn of Christ as
true disciples were expected to take up the cross and carry it daily.
The Master also declared that the disciples were to think of themselves
as blessed when they endured persecution for righteousness' sake, for
men had persecuted the prophets in all ages. The implication is that
knowledge of and sympathy with the prophets came out of cross-bearing
like that of the prophets. To use a simple illustration: a student of
the careers of the leaders of any reform might gather a mass of
information about the reformers in an outside kind of fashion, as by the
study of books, or by visits to the scenes of their struggles. Such a
student, however, could not master the inner spirit of a reformer's life
until he himself had battled for some cause at risk to himself. So the
man who seeks to bear the cross of Christ is on the path to sympathetic
inner knowledge of the spirit of Christ. In our second chapter we called
attention to the truth that approach to knowledge of God is through the
doing of the will of God. Doing of the will, according to Jesus, means
much more than just a round of good deeds. It means carrying the burdens
which are inevitable in cross-bearing. There is good reason for
believing that the very highest step in spiritual learning is taken only
through the willingness to bear the cross. In our modern educational
systems we lay varying degrees of stress upon the importance of
different methods of acquiring knowledge. There is at the bottom of the
scale the method of mastering the instruction of the teacher by
attention and reflection. There is, next, the method of learning through
one's own experiment--through using microscope or telescope or textbook
for oneself. There are, further, the social aids to the quickening of
the mind as groups of students study and discuss together. But the
deepest knowledge comes as the student feels his sympathy and feeling
involved. If he must pay himself out for the acquisition of the truth,
or if he must defend his conclusions at great cost to himself, this
experience which involves the feeling involves also the sharpening of
the intellect. The eyes of the soul are opened to the subtler
intuitions. Thus it is in the revelations of the divine purpose in the
Scriptures. It is hard to make out how anybody can hope to master a
revelation of a cross-bearing God without himself being a cross-bearer.
In the New Testament narratives of Passion Week the Master is reported
as winning his surest convictions of the presence of God and of the
victory of his truth at the very instant when he entered into the
extreme depths of suffering. In the after days it was when the saints
faced stoning that they saw the heavens opening; it was the apostle who
had suffered hardships almost too numerous to mention who got the most
positive conviction of the reward which awaited him. In the school of
Christ the very heaviest stress must fall upon the indispensability of
cross-bearing as a means to understanding.

Not only does the biblical revelation see in the cross of Christ the
culminating manifestation of the character of God, and of the purpose of
God in redemption, but it also shows to us the divine method in helping
men. We have spoken of those who dwell upon the Master's nonresistance
as a model of passivity in the presence of evil. The example of Christ
when thus treated is in danger of being misinterpreted. The Christ of
the cross was passive so far as physical force was concerned; but he was
never more intensely active in the higher ranges of his faculties--in
self-control and in alertness to the finer whisperings of the spirit.
The Christ's non-resistance to the physical might of evil is not to be
interpreted as acquiescence on the part of the Divine toward the ravages
of evil, but, rather, as the divine method of thwarting evil by allowing
it to reveal itself. No amount of preaching about the nature of evil can
equal in eloquence the self-revelations of that nature as it works
itself out into expression. While in a degree the self-revelation of
evil put forth against Christ was unique, yet we must remember that the
sins which put Christ to death are just those commonest in all time.
Judas was disappointed. He carried spite no more tenaciously than the
ordinary heart is capable of treasuring it. Caiaphas desired simply to
hold his own position and preserve the peace of his nation. Very likely
the type of opinion in the midst of which Caiaphas moved would have
pronounced that he rendered a disagreeable, but nevertheless necessary
patriotic service in his condemnation of Christ. Pilate too meant well,
but was afraid of the crowd. His friends may have commended his
administrative wisdom in allowing the people to have their own way. It
was the play of just such ordinary forces of sin against an
extraordinary holiness that made it impossible for the mightiest
revelation ever vouchsafed to man to work through the earthly activity
of Jesus for more than a few months. The Scripture does not have much to
do with abstract sins; with concrete sins of men as we actually find
them, it has much to do.

The Scriptures make it very clear that there is something which
satisfies God himself in the work of redemption. God acts out of moral
obligation, out of self-respect, out of love. But he acts always in
respect for men as free moral beings. The cross appeals to the free
spirit of men to behold the nature of evil, and to flee from that evil
toward their redeeming God. If the redemption is to be a moral
redemption, the last detail of the method must be moral. The power of
the Almighty must not be used to break down freedom of men. It would be
theoretically possible for an almighty power to bring to bear such
pressures upon human wills as to crush them, but the strongest
representation of the power of God in the New Testament does not go to
the length of hinting at interference with the freedom of men. Men are
to be saved as free men or not at all. We might conceivably imagine the
Almighty as granting such indubitable vision of the material rewards of
righteousness and the material loss of unrighteousness as would
irresistibly draw masses of a certain grade of men into the Kingdom
without a morally free consent to righteousness. Or we might conceive of
the Almighty as so weighing this or that factor of environment as to
diminish almost to the vanishing point the free choice of men. This kind
of compulsion would not be moral. The only compulsions of the cross are
those of a moral God splendidly attractive on his own account.

It will have occurred to some readers by this time that we have said
very little about the love of God in our discussion of the Scriptures,
whereas that love is the outstanding feature of the biblical revelation.
Our reply is that we have been trying to be true to the impression made
by the Scriptures as to the kind of love which we must think of as
expressing the deepest fact in God's life. We would not in the least
minimize the truth that love is the last word of the scriptural
revelation; but in our modern life we are apt to get away from the
quality of the love revealed in the Bible. The love of the cross is
built upon the righteousness which runs through the Sacred Book from the
beginning to the end. A god of indifferent moral quality might love. The
old Greek gods had favorites upon whom they lavished their affections. A
god might be conceived of as an amiable and well-wishing father,
foolishly indulgent toward his children. The love of the New Testament,
however, is the love of a Father who dares to appeal to the children to
make heroic response; and who shows his own love for them in the lengths
to which he will go for them. Moral love will go the full length of
heroic self-sacrifice. We cannot help believing that it is the quality
of God's love, rather than the mere fact of that love, which is the
explanation of the power of the biblical teaching.

A friend of mine many years ago wrote a book which he called The Hero
God. The publishers objected to the title because they saw in it a touch
of sensationalism. No title, however, could have more adequately set
forth the biblical God. God is the hero of the Bible. His heroism
appears in growing revelation from the beginning. It shows itself
superbly in his willingness to bear the burdens of mankind and in the
appeals which he makes for response from men. The picture is of a God
who dares to believe in men and who dares to call on them for the
extremes of self-sacrificing devotion, not to himself as an arbitrary
Person, but to himself as the center of the moral life which is above
all other life worth while. It is open to anyone to object that this
biblical picture does not necessarily hold good for God; but it is
hardly possible to object that the picture is not biblical. The picture
stands in its own right and makes its own appeal. The only way to test
it in life is to yield to its appeal.

If we are asked to account for the power of the Bible, we are at a loss
for any one single statement. The most compendious reply is the
magnetism of the love of God as revealed in Christ. This is so broad,
however, that it may not make a direct and vivid impression. We may say,
then, that one element of the magnetism of the biblical revelation is
the magnetism of the appeal to the heroic. Whatever else the Bible may
or may not be, it is not a book of soft and easy things. Breaths of the
most rigorous life blow across every page. It is made for man in that it
calls men to the service of the highest and best. The religious systems
which make the fewest and least demands upon their followers most
speedily fall away; those that call for the utmost are most likely to
meet the enthusiastic response. There is a frank honesty about the
biblical appeal which holds a charm for all men in whom there are any
sparks of real manhood. The severities of the Christian life are nowhere
disguised. Men are never lured on by false pretenses. The path is the
path of cross-bearing, and the reward is the comradeship between God and
man as they together work toward the highest goal, a comradeship which
of itself brings relief to men burdened with the mystery of the universe
and agonized by remorse over sin. This essay is quite as significant
for what it has not said as for what it has said. In our omissions we
have tried to keep clear the main outlines of scriptural revelation. We
have sought to hold fast to principles rather than to discuss details.
We have done this because we have believed that there is more value for
religious understanding in pointing out the loftier biblical peaks which
give the direction of the whole range than in tracing out pathways
through detailed passages. Moreover, we have been afraid to employ many
theoretical terms lest we blur the quick moral impressions made by the
Scripture phrasings. For example, it may be objected that our treatment
of the character of God is altogether inadequate. We have not thus far
said a word about the Trinity, for example, or about atonement. The
reason is that we believe that any theories about God must base
themselves upon the moral suggestions of the Scriptures; and our
business is with these rather than with the theories. The received
revelation concerning God would warrant us in fashioning any theory as
to the richness of his inner constitution which might even measurably
satisfy our minds. The scriptural atmosphere as to the moral life in God
must, however, be kept in the chief place in all of our theological
theories. Atonement must be interpreted chiefly in terms of ethical
steadiness if it is to build on a biblical foundation. But the instant
we use formal terms like "Trinity" and "atonement" we have taken at
least one step away from the Scriptures. Again, we have said nothing
about Divine Providence. The Bible is full of instances of providences,
but here also we have preferred to let the fundamental moral character
of the biblical God speak for itself. We may have our own belief that
there is no scriptural warrant for that separation which obtains in much
theology between the processes of God and the processes of nature. We
may admit that the Hebrew had no very systematically framed theory of
the processes of nature, but he deemed God to be in such close touch
with nature as easily to control its forces for a good end. In two
accounts of the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites we have an
apparent contradiction which is at bottom not a contradiction. In one
account God seems to cause the waters to wall up on both sides of the
Israelites in defiance of the laws of nature. In another God
accomplishes the drying of the path through the blowing of a strong east
wind. The Hebrew would not have troubled himself much with the apparent
contradiction, for he would have conceived of God as the chief factor in
either event, and of his purpose as having the right of way. There is
thus no great value in discussing specific instances as long as the care
of God for his children is the animating purpose of the entire biblical
content. So with answers to prayer--the God who is willing to go for men
to the lengths revealed in the cross will surely answer any prayer worth
answering. The essential is to lift prayer up into harmony with the
entire revealing and redeeming movement, and to conceive of it as a
fitting of the whole life into the purposes of a moral God. Certain
general requirements would always have to be met. Prayer would have
really to deal with what is best for the individual, best for those
around him, and most in harmony with the character of God himself. So,
again, with the progress of the kingdom of God on earth--the God of
whose nature the cross is the final revelation can be trusted to do the
best possible for the Kingdom here and now. Much debate about the second
coming of Christ misses the great moral principles which are the heart
of the Christian revelation and loses itself in the incidental forms in
which those principles were declared. The best preparation for the
coming of the kingdom of Christ is absorption in the principles of
Christ and in the spirit of Christ. To get away from these in our search
for external and material conditions which are the mere vehicle of the
biblical thought is not only to pursue a will-o'-the-wisp, but to injure
true spiritual progress. Jesus has given us the spiritual principles
which must control the destiny of any society here and now. In the light
of the Christ-faith revealed in the cross we must not despair of the
redemption of men by the city-full and by the nation-full, for the
greatest confidence ever placed in men is the implied trust of the cross
of Christ. The Almighty at the beginning paid an immense tribute to the
human race when he flung it out into the gale of this existence. In the
light of the cross we cannot believe that He expected the race to sink.
In the cross the Christ who revealed God's own mind showed the length he
was willing to go in confidence that men would finally turn to him with
all the powers of their lives. To throw up our hands and say that the
world is getting worse and we can do nothing without a speedy physical
return of the Christ is to overlook the spiritual forces of the cross.

We have said nothing about immortality. What the Scriptures themselves
say is largely incidental. The Master did not allow himself to be drawn
into any extended conversation about the details of a future life, but
he did give us the God of the cross. In the presence of that cross we
can profess the utmost confidence in the eternal life of the sons of
God, while at the same time acknowledging the utmost ignorance as to any
of the material conditions of the future life. It is commonly assumed
that the resurrection of Christ proves that we shall likewise rise, but
the rising of Christ does not of itself prove that others shall rise.
The cross, however--showing the extent to which the Divine is willing to
go for men--is the ground of our hope. God will not leave his loved ones
to see corruption. In a word, the cross of Christ gathers up all the
biblical truth. It is a revelation of God's own character, of his hope
for men, of the methods by which he seeks to win men, and of the ground
of our faith in a right outcome for men and for society.

We may be permitted to summarize by saying that scientific and
historical biblical study is a preparation for the knowledge of the
Scriptures; that it is exceedingly important that the student approach
with the correct preliminary point of view. The revelation of the inner
significance, however, does not dawn until there is recognition of the
need of obedience to the principles laid down in the Scriptures. And
this obedience must be broad enough to include zeal for the uplift of
our fellow men in all phases of their lives. Out of righteous living the
devoted life, we believe, will see that the greatest fact of the Bible
is God; that the greatest fact of God is Christ; that the greatest fact
of Christ is the cross.

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