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Who Wrote the Bible? by Washington Gladden

Part 5 out of 5

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comfort in sorrow, for wisdom to work with, for weapons to fight with,
to understand how men could have lived the life of faith without it; how
a godly seed could have been nourished in the earth without the sincere
milk of the word for them to feed on.

It was indeed a great privation that they suffered, but we must not
suppose that they were left without witness. For there is another and
even a clearer revelation than the written word, and that is a godly
life. Godly lives there were in all these dark times; and it was at
their fires that the torch of gospel truth was kindled and kept burning.
There may be reason for a question whether we have not come to trust in
these times too much in a word that is written, and to undervalue that
other revelation which God is making of his truth and love in the
characters of his children. For it is only in the light that Christ is
constantly manifesting to the world in the lives of men that we can see
any meaning in the words of the book. "The Christian," says Dr.
Christlieb, "is the world's Bible." This is the word that is known and
read of men. Let it be our care to make it, not an infallible, but a
clear, an adequate, and a safe revelation of the truth and love of God
to men.



Of the Bible as a book among books, of the human elements which enter
into its composition, some account has been given in the preceding
chapters. But in these studies the whole story of the Bible has not been
told. There is need, therefore, that we should enlarge our view
somewhat, and take more directly into account certain elements with
which we have not hitherto been chiefly concerned.

Our study has, indeed, made a few things plain. Among them is the
certainty that the Bible is not an infallible Book, in the sense in
which it is popularly supposed to be infallible. When we study the
history of the several books, the history of the canon, the history of
the distribution and reproduction of the manuscript copies, and the
history of the versions,--when we discover that the "various readings"
of the differing manuscripts amount to one hundred and fifty thousand,
the impossibility of maintaining the verbal inerrancy of the Bible
becomes evident. We see how human ignorance and error have been suffered
to mingle with this stream of living water throughout all its course; if
our assurance of salvation were made to depend upon our knowledge that
every word of the Bible was of divine origin, our hopes of eternal life
would be altogether insecure.

The book is not infallible historically. It is a veracious record; we
may depend upon the truthfulness of the outline which it gives us of the
history of the Jewish people; but the discrepancies and contradictions
which appear here and there upon its pages show that its writers were
not miraculously protected from mistakes in dates and numbers and the
order of events.

It is not infallible scientifically. It is idle to try to force the
narrative of Genesis into an exact correspondence with geological
science. It is a hymn of creation, wonderfully beautiful and pure; the
central truths of monotheistic religion and of modern science are
involved in it; but it is not intended to give us the scientific history
of creation, and the attempt to make it bear this construction is highly

It is not infallible morally. By this I mean that portions of this
revelation involve an imperfect morality. Many things are here commanded
which it would be wrong for us to do. This is not saying that these
commands were not divinely wise for the people to whom they were given;
nor is it denying that the morality of the New Testament, which is the
fulfillment and consummation of the moral progress which the book
records, is a perfect morality; it is simply asserting that the stages
of this progress from a lower to a higher morality are here clearly
marked; that the standards of the earlier time are therefore inadequate
and misleading in these later times; and that any man who accepts the
Bible as a code of moral rules, all of which are equally binding, will
be led into the gravest errors. It is no more true that the ceremonial
legislation of the Old Testament is obsolete than that large portions of
the moral legislation are obsolete. The notions of the writers of these
books concerning their duties to God were dim and imperfect; so were
their notions concerning their duties to man. All the truth that they
could receive was given to them; but there were many truths which they
could not receive, which to us are as plain as the daylight.

Not to recognize the partialness and imperfection of this record in all
these respects is to be guilty of a grave disloyalty to the kingdom of
the truth. With all these facts staring him in the face, the attempt of
any intelligent man to maintain the theoretical and ideal infallibility
of all parts of these writings is a criminal blunder. Nor is there any
use in loudly asserting the inerrancy of these books, with vehement
denunciations of all who call it in question, and then in a breath
admitting that there may be some errors and discrepancies and
interpolations. Perfection is perfection. To stoutly affirm that a thing
is perfect, and then admit that it may be in some respects imperfect, is
an insensate procedure. Infallibility is infallibility. The Scriptures
are, or they are not, infallible. The admission that there may be a few
errors gives every man the right, nay it lays upon him the duty, of
finding what those errors are. Our friends who so sturdily assert the
traditional theory can hardly be aware of the extent to which they
stultify themselves when their sweeping and reiterated assertion that
the Bible can _never_ contain a mistake is followed, as it always
must be, by their timid and deprecatory, "hardly ever." The old
rabbinical theory, as adopted and extended by some of the post-
Reformation theologians, that the Bible was verbally dictated by God and
is absolutely accurate in every word, letter, and vowel-point, and that
it is therefore blasphemy to raise a question concerning any part of it,
is a consistent theory. Between this and a free but reverent inquiry
into the Bible itself, to discover what human elements it contains and
how it is affected by them, there is no middle ground. That it is
useless and mischievous to make for the Bible claims that it nowhere
makes for itself,--to hold and teach a theory concerning it which at
once breaks down when an intelligent man begins to study it with open
mind--is beginning to be very plain. The quibbling, the concealment, the
disingenuousness which this method of using the Bible involves are not
conducive to Christian integrity. This kind of "lying for God" has
driven hundreds of thousands already into irreconcilable alienation from
the Christian church. It is time to stop it.

How did this theory of the infallibility of the Bible arise? Those who
have followed these discussions to this point know that it has not
always been held by the Christian church. The history of the canon, told
with any measure of truthfulness, will make this plain. The history of
the variations between the Septuagint and the Hebrew shows, beyond the
shadow of a doubt, that this theory of the unchangeable and absolute
divinity of the words of the Scripture had no practical hold upon
transcribers and copyists in the early Jewish church. The New Testament
writers could not have consistently held such a theory respecting the
Old Testament books, else they would not have quoted them, as they did,
with small care for verbal accuracy. They believed them to be
substantially true, and therefore they give the substance of them in
their quotations; but there is no such slavish attention to the letter
as there must have been if they had regarded them as verbally dictated
by God himself. The Christian Fathers were inclined, no doubt, to accept
the rabbinical theories of inspiration respecting the Old Testament; but
they sometimes avoid the difficulties growing out of manifest errors in
the text by a theory of an inner sense which is faultless, frankly
admitting that the natural meaning cannot always be defended. As to the
early Reformers, we have seen how freely they handled the Sacred
Writings, submitting them to a scrutiny which they would not have
ventured upon if they had believed concerning them what we have been
taught. It was not until the period succeeding the Reformation that this
dogma of Biblical Infallibility was clearly formulated and imposed upon
the Protestant churches. As taught by Quenstedt and Voetius and
Calovius, the dogma asserts that "not only the substance of truth and
the views proposed in their minutest detail, but even the identical
words, all and in particular, were supplied and dictated by the Holy
Ghost. Not a word is contained in the Holy Scriptures which is not in
the strictest sense inspired, the very interpunctuation not excepted....
Errors of any sort whatever, even verbal or grammatical, as well as all
inelegancies of style, are to be denied as unworthy of the Divine Spirit
who is throughout the primary author of the Bible." [Footnote: _The
Doctrine of Sacred Scripture_, ii. p. 209.] This view was long
maintained with all strictness, and many a man has been made a heretic
for denying it. Within the last century the form of the doctrine has
been somewhat modified by theologians, yet the substance of it is still
regarded as essential orthodoxy. Dr. Charles Hodge, in his "Theology,"
vol. i. p. 152, says, "Protestants hold that the Scriptures of the Old
and New Testaments are the word of God, written under the inspiration of
God the Holy Ghost, and are therefore infallible, and consequently free
from all error, whether of doctrine, of fact, or of precept." And again
(p. 163), "All the books of Scripture are equally inspired. All alike
are infallible in what they teach." Such is the doctrine now held by the
great majority of Christians. Intelligent pastors do not hold it, but
the body of the laity have no other conception.

Whence is it derived? Where do the teachers quoted above get their
authority for their affirmations?

Not, as we have seen, from any statements of the Bible itself. There is
not one word in the Bible which affirms or implies that this character
of inerrancy attaches to the entire collection of writings, or to any
one of them.

The doctrine arose, as I have said, in the seventeenth century, and it
was in part, no doubt, a reflection of the teaching of the later
rabbins, whose fantastic notions about the origin of their sacred books
I have before alluded to. It was also developed, as a polemical
necessity, in the exigencies of that conflict with the Roman Catholic
theologians which followed the Reformation. The eminent German scholar
and saint, Professor Tholuck, gives the following account of its origin:

"In proportion as controversy, sharpened by Jesuitism, made the
Protestant party sensible of an externally fortified ground of combat,
in that same proportion did Protestantism seek, by the exaltation of the
outward authoritative character of the Sacred Writings, to recover that
infallible authority which it had lost through its rejection of
infallible councils and the infallible authority of the Pope. In this
manner arose, _not earlier than the seventeenth century_, those
sentiments which regarded the Holy Scripture as the infallible
production of the Divine Spirit--in its entire contents and its very
form--so that not only the sense but also the words, the letters, the
Hebrew vowel points, and the very punctuation were regarded as
proceeding from the Spirit of God." [Footnote: _Theological
Essays_, collected by George R. Noyes.] The fact that the doctrine
had this origin is itself suspicious. A theory which is framed in the
heat of a great controversy, by one party in the church, is apt to be
somewhat extreme.

The strength of the doctrine lies, however, in the fact that it is a
theological inference from the doctrine of God. "God is the author of
the Bible," men have said; "God is omniscient; he can make no mistakes;
therefore the Book must be infallible. To deny that it is infallible is
to deny that it is God's book; if it is not his book it is worthless."
Or, putting it in another form, they have said, "The Bible is an
inspired book. God is the source of inspiration. He cannot inspire men
to write error. Therefore every word of the inspired book must be true."
This is what the logicians call an _a priori_ argument. The view of
what inspiration is, and of what the Bible is, are deduced from our
theory of God. It amounts to just this: If God is what we think him to
be, he must do what seems wise to us. This is hardly a safe argument.
Doubtless we would have said beforehand that if God, who is all-wise and
all-powerful, should create a world, he would make one free from
suffering and every form of evil. We find, however, that he has not made
such a world. And it may be wiser for us, instead of making up our minds
beforehand what God must do, to try and find out what he has done. It
might seem to us, doubtless, that if he has given us a revelation, it
must be a faultless revelation. But has he? That is the question. We can
only know by studying the revelation itself. We have no right to
determine beforehand what it must be. We might have said with equal
confidence, that if God wished to have his truth taught in the world, he
would certainly send infallible teachers. He has not done so. The
treasure of his truth is in earthen vessels, to-day. Has it not always
been so?

The trouble in this whole matter arises from the fact that men have made
up their theories of the Bible out of their ideas about God, and have
then gone to work to fit the facts of the Bible to their preconceived
theories. This has required a great deal of stretching and twisting and
lopping off here and there; the truth has been badly distorted,
sometimes mutilated. The changed view of the Bible, which greatly alarms
some good people, arises from the fact that certain honest men have
determined to go directly to the Bible itself and find out by studying
it what manner of book it is. They have discovered that it is not
precisely such a book as it has been believed to be, and the answer that
they make to those who hold the old theory about it is simply this: "We
cannot believe what you have told us about the Bible, because the Bible
contradicts you. It is because we believe the Bible itself that we
reject your theory. We believe that the Bible is an inspired book, nay,
that it is by eminence The Inspired Book; but when you ask us 'What is
an inspired book?' instead of making up a definition of inspiration out
of our own heads, we only say, 'It is such a book as the Bible is,' and
then we proceed to frame our definition of inspiration by the study of
the Bible. Therefore, when you say that inspiration must imply
infallibility, we answer, No; it does not; for here is The Inspired Book
and it is not infallible."

In what sense the book is inspired we may be able, after a little, to
see more clearly. For the present I only desire to point out the sources
of the traditional doctrine of the Bible, and the sources of the new
doctrine. The one is the result of the speculations of men about what
the Bible must be; the other is the result of a careful and reverent
study of the Bible itself.

What, then, do we find the Bible to be?

I. It is the book of righteousness. No other book in the world fixes our
thoughts so steadily upon the great interest of character. Whatever else
the Bible may show us or may fail to show us, it does keep always before
us the fact that the one great concern of every man is to be right in
heart and in life. Righteousness tendeth to life; righteousness is
salvation; Jehovah is He who loveth righteousness and hateth iniquity,
and in his favor is life; these are the truths which form the very
substance of this revelation. It is quite true that in the application
of this principle to the affairs of every day, the early records show us
much confusion and uncertainty; the definitions of righteousness which
sufficed for the people of that time would not suffice for us at all;
but the fact remains that the only interest of this Book in the
individuals and the races which it brings before us is in their loyalty
or disloyalty to that ideal of conduct which it always lifts up before
us. Righteousness is life; righteousness is salvation; this is the one
message of the Bible to men. There are rites and ceremonies, but these
are not the principal thing; "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to
hearken than the fat of rams." "He hath showed thee, O man, what is
good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to
love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" This great truth of the
Bible has been but imperfectly apprehended, even among modern
Christians; there is always a tendency to make the belief in sound
dogma, or the performance of decorous rites, or the experience of
emotional raptures the principal thing; but the testimony of the Bible
to the supremacy of character and conduct is clear and convincing, and
the world is coming to understand it.

Now for any man who cares for the right, to whom character is more
precious than anything else in the world, this book is worth more than
any other book can be. Even the Old Testament narratives, indistinctly
as they reveal the real nature of true conduct to us in this day, show
us plainly the fact that nothing else in the world is to be compared
with it; and the struggles and temptations of the heroes of that old
book are full of instruction for us; their failures and follies and sins
admonish and warn us; their steadfastness and fidelity inspire and
hearten us.

II. The Bible is the record of the development of the kingdom of
righteousness in the world. Man knows intuitively that he ought to do
right; his notion of what is right is continually being purified and
enlarged. The Bible is the record of this moral progress in the one
nation of the earth to which morality has been the great concern. We
have seen, clearly enough, the imperfection of the ethical standards to
which the early Hebrew legislation was made to conform; we have also
seen that this legislation was always a little in advance of the popular
morality, leading it on to purer conceptions and better practices. The
legislation concerning divorce, the legislation regulating blood-
vengeance, recognizes the evils with which it deals and accommodates
itself to them, but always with the purpose and the result of giving to
men a larger thought and a better standard. Laws which conformed to our
moral ideal would have been powerless to control such a semi-barbarous
people as the Hebrews were when they came out of Egypt. The higher
morality must be imparted little by little; one principle after another
must be drilled into their apprehension; they could not well be learning
more than one or two simple lessons at a time, and while they were
learning these, other coarse and cruel and savage practices of theirs
must be "winked at," as Paul says. Against any rule more strict at this
early time the Hebrews would have revolted; the divine wisdom of this
legislation is seen in this method which takes men as they are, and does
for them the thing that is feasible, patiently leading them on and up to
higher ground. If you would seize a running horse by the rein and stop
him, you had better run with him for a little. This homely parable
illustrates much of the Old Testament legislation which we find so
defective, when judged by our standards.

It is in this larger sense that we see the signs of divinity in this old
Book. It is a book of inspiration because it is the record of an
inspired or divinely guided development; because the life it shows as
unfolding is divine; because the goal to which we see the people
steadily conducted in its vivid chapters is the goal which God has
marked for human progress; because it gives us the origin and growth of
the kingdom of God in the world.

"Whence came," asks one, "and of what manner of spirit is this _anti-
historic_ power in Israel and the Bible? Some inner principle of
development struggles against the outward historical environment, and
will not rest until it prevails. What was it which selected Israel, and
in one narrow land, while all the surrounding country was sinking,
lifted man up in spite of himself? which along the course of one
national history carried on a progressive development of religious life
and truth, while other peoples, though taught by many wise men and
seers, and not without their truths, still can show no one connected and
progressive revelation like this?" [Footnote: _Old Faiths in New
Light_, p. 81.]

What is the power that has wrought all this but the divine Power? If you
ask for a proof of the existence of God, I point you to the life of the
Jewish people as the Bible records it. _That history is the revelation
of God._ In the record of this nation's life, in its privileges and
its vicissitudes, its captivities and its restorations, its blessings
and its chastenings, its institutions and its laws, its teachers and its
legislators, its seers and its lawgivers, in all the forces that combine
to make up the great movement of the national life, I see God present
all the while, shaping the ends of this nation, no matter how perversely
it may rough-hew them, till at last it stands on an elevation far above
the other nations, breathing a better atmosphere, thinking worthier and
more spiritual thoughts of God, obeying a far purer moral law, holding
fast a nobler ideal of righteousness,--polytheism gradually and finally
rooted out of the national consciousness; the family established and
honored as in no other nation; woman lifted up to a dignity and purity
known nowhere else in the world; the Sabbath of rest sanctified; the
principles of the decalogue fastened in the convictions of the people,
the sure foundations laid of the kingdom of God in the world.

We are quite too apt unduly to disparage Judaism. Doubtless the
formalism that our Lord found in it needed rebuke; its worship and its
morality were yet far away from the ideal when Jesus came to earth;
nevertheless, compared with all the peoples round about them even then--
compared with classic Greeks and noble Romans--the ethical and spiritual
development of the Jews had reached a higher stage. It is not
extravagant to claim for this race the moral leadership of the world.
Hear Ernest Renan, no champion of orthodoxy, as you know: "I am eager,
gentlemen,"--I quote from a lecture of his on "The Share of the Semitic
People in the History of Civilization,"--"to come at the prime service
which the Semitic race has rendered to the world; its peculiar work, its
providential mission, if I may so express myself. We owe to the Semitic
race neither political life, art, poetry, philosophy, nor science. _We
owe to them religion._ The whole world--we except India, China,
Japan, and tribes altogether savage--_has adopted the Semitic
religions."_ Speaking then of the gradual decay of the various pagan
faiths of the Aryan races, Renan continues: "It is precisely at this
epoch that the civilized world finds itself face to face with the Jewish
faith. Based upon the clear and simple dogma of the divine unity,
discarding naturalism and pantheism by the marvelously terse phrase, 'In
the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,' possessing a law,
a book, the depository of grand moral precepts and of an elevated
religious poetry, Judaism had an incontestable superiority, and it might
have been foreseen then that some day the world would become Jewish,
that is to say, would forsake the old mythology for monotheism."
[Footnote: _Religious History and Criticism,_ pp. 159, 160.]

Here is the testimony of a man who can be suspected of no undue leanings
toward the religion of the Bible, to the fact that the world is indebted
for its great thoughts of religion to the Semitic races, and chiefly to
the Hebrew race; that the religion of Judaism, brought into comparison
with the other religions, is incontestably superior. Now any man who
believes in religion and in God must believe that the people to whom
such a task was committed must have been trained by God to perform it.
The history of this nation will then be the history of this training.
That is exactly what the Old Testament is. No disputes over the nature
of inspiration must be suffered to obscure this great fact. The Old
Testament Scriptures do contain in biography and history, in statute and
story and song and sermon, the records of the life of the nation to
which God at sundry times and in divers manners was revealing himself;
which he was preparing to be the bearer of the torch of his own truth
into all the world. And now I ask whether anybody needs to be told that
these records are precious, precious above all price? Are there any
authentic portions of them that any man can afford to despise? Is not
every step in the progress of this people out of savagery into a
spiritual faith, matter of the profoundest interest to every human soul?
Even the dullness and ignorance and crudity of this people,--even the
crookedness and blindness of their leaders and teachers, are full of
instruction for us; they show us with what materials and what
instruments the divine wisdom and patience wrought out this great
result. What other book is there that can compare in value with this
book, which tells us the way of God with the people whom he chose, as
Renan declares, to teach the world religion? And when one has firmly
grasped this great fact, that the Bible contains the history of the
religious development of the Jewish people under providential care and
tuition, how little is he troubled by the small difficulties which grow
out of theories of inspiration! "We can listen," says Dr. Newman Smyth,
"with incurious complacency while small disputants discuss vehemently
the story of the ark or Jonah's strange adventure.... After all the work
of the critics, the Bible still remains, the great, sublime, enduring
work of the Eternal who loves righteousness and hates iniquity."
[Footnote: _Old Faiths in New Light_, pp. 60, 61.]

But what have I been vindicating? The Bible? Nay, I have carefully
restricted my argument to the Old Testament. It is in behalf of the Old
Testament writings alone that I have sought to establish this exalted
claim. What I have shown you is only the pedestal on which the beauty
and strength of the Bible rests, the enduring portals which open into
the glory that excelleth. The Old Testament shows us the progressive
revelation of God to the Jewish people; the New Testament gives us the
consummation of that work, the perfect flower of that growth of
centuries. After shadows and hints and refracted lights of prophecy,
breaks at last upon the world the Light that lighteth every man! When
the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son. It was for this
that the age-long discipline of this people had been preparing them.
True, "He came to his own, and they received him not," but where else in
the world would the seed of his kingdom have found any lodgment at all?
The multitude rejected him, but there was a remnant who did receive him,
and to whom he gave power to become the sons of God. So the word of God,
that had been painfully and dimly communicated to the ancient people in
laws and ordinances and prophecies, in providential mercies and
chastenings, in lives of saints and prophets and martyrs, was now made
flesh, and dwelt among men full of grace and truth, and they beheld his

It is here that we find the real meaning of the Bible. "The end," as
Canon Mozley has so strongly shown, "is the test of a progressive
revelation." Jesus Christ, who is himself the Word, toward whom these
laws and prophecies point, and in whom they culminate, is indeed the
perfect Revelation of God. From his judgment there is no appeal; at his
feet the wisest of us must sit and learn the way of life. With his words
all these old Scriptures must be compared; so far as they agree with his
teachings we may take them as eternal truth; those portions of them
which fall below this standard, we may pass by as a partial revelation
upon us no longer binding. He himself has given us, in the Sermon on the
Mount, the method by which we are to test the older Scriptures. When we
refuse to apply his method and go on to declare every portion of those
old records authoritative, we are not honoring him. The mischief and
bane of the traditional theory is that it equalizes things which are
utterly unlike. When it says that "all the books of the Scripture are
equally inspired; all alike are infallible in what they teach," it puts
the Gospels on the same level with Deuteronomy and Ecclesiastes and
Esther. The effect of this is not to lift the latter up, but to drag the
former down. They are not on the same level; it is treason to our Master
Christ to say that they are alike; the one is as much higher than the
other as the heavens are higher than the earth.

It is here, then, in the simple veracious records that bring before us
the life of Christ, that we have the very Word of God. Whatever else the
four Gospels may or may not be, they certainly do contain the story of
the Life that has been for many centuries the light and the hope of the
world. It is the same unique Person who stands before us in every one of
these narratives,--

"So meek, forgiving, godlike, high,
So glorious in humility."

What fault has criticism to find with this Life? What word or deed is
here ascribed to him that is not worthy of him, that is not like him? Is
it any wonder to us when we read this record through, that the guileless
Nathanael cried out as he communed with him, "Rabbi, thou art the Son of
God, thou art the King of Israel."

If, then, the New Testament gives us the artless record of the life and
words of this divine Person, the Son of God and the Saviour of the
world; if it brings Him before us and manifests to us, so far as words
can do it, his power and his glory; if it shows us how, by bearing
witness to the truth in his life and in his death, he established in the
world the kingdom which for long ages had been preparing; if it makes
known to us the messages he brought of pardon and salvation; if it gives
us the record of the planting and training of his church in the early
ages, is there any need that I should go about to praise and magnify its
worth to the children of men? If light is worth anything to those who
sit in darkness, or hope to those who are oppressed with tormenting
doubt; if wisdom is to be desired by those who are in perplexity, and
comfort by those who are in trouble, and peace by those whose hearts are
full of strife, and forgiveness by those who bear the burden of sin; if
strength is a good gift to the weak, and rest to the weary, and heaven
to the dying, and the eternal life of God to the fainting soul of man,
then the book that tells us of Jesus Christ and his salvation is not to
be compared with any other book on earth for preciousness; it is the one
book that every one of us ought to know by heart.

The value of the Bible, the greatness of the Bible, are in this Life
that it discloses to us. "It is upon Jesus," says a modern rationalist,
"that the whole Bible turns. In this lies the value, not only of the New
Testament, a great part of which refers to him directly, but of the Old
Testament as well." Rationalist though he is, no man could have stated
the truth more clearly. "It is upon Jesus that the whole Bible turns."
The Old Testament shows us the way preparing by which the swift feet of
the messengers approach that tell us of his coming; the New Testament
lifts the veil and bids us, Behold the man! The Bible is of value to us,
just in proportion as it helps us to see him, to know him, to trust him.
You may have a cast-iron theory of inspiration with every joint riveted;
you may believe in the infallible accuracy of every vowel point and
every punctuation mark; but if the Bible does not bring you into a vital
union with Jesus Christ, so that you have his mind and follow in his
footsteps, it profiteth you nothing. And if, by your study of it, you
are brought into this saving fellowship, your theories of inspiration
will take care of themselves.

I fear that we do not always comprehend the fact that it is this divine
Life shining out of its pages that makes the Bible glorious. We strain
our eyes so much in verifying commas, and in trying to prove that the
dot of a certain i is not a fly-speck, that we fail to get much
impression of the meaning or the beauty of the Saviour's life. See those
two critics, with their eyes close to the wonderful "Ecce Homo" of
Correggio, disputing whether there is or is not a visible stitch in the
garment of Christ that ought to be seamless. How red their faces; how
hot their words! Stand back a little, brothers! look away, for a moment,
from the garment's seam; let the infinite pain and the infinite pity and
the infinite yearning of that Face dawn on you for a moment, and you
will cease your quarreling. So, not seldom, do the idolaters of the
letter wholly miss the meaning of the sacred book, and remain in
mournful ignorance of him who himself is the Word.

There are those to whom the view of the Bible presented in these
chapters seems not only inadequate but destructive. "If the Bible is not
infallible," they say, "it is no more than any other book; we have no
further use for it." In one of the leading church reviews I find these
words, the joint utterance of two eminent American theologians: "A
proved error in Scripture contradicts not only our doctrine but the
Scripture's claims, and therefore its inspiration in making those
claims." [Footnote: _Presbyterian Review_, vol. ii. p. 245.] A
proved error in Scripture stamps the book as fraudulent and worthless!
Worthless it is then! Proved errors there are, scores of them. It is
fatuity, it is imbecility, to deny it. And every man who can find an
error in these old writings has the warrant of these teachers for
throwing the book away. Tens of thousands of ingenuous and fair-minded
men have taken the word of such teachers, and have thrown the book away.
May God forgive the folly of these blind guides!

But what stupid reasoning is this! "If the Bible is not infallible, it
is worthless." Your watch is not infallible; is it therefore worthless?
Your physician is not infallible; are his services therefore worthless?
Your father is not infallible; are his counsels worthless? Will you say
that the moment you discover in him an error concerning any subject in
heaven or on earth, that moment you will refuse to listen to his
counsel? The church of God is not infallible, and never was, whatever
infatuated ecclesiastics may have claimed for it; are its solemn
services and its inspiring labors and its uplifting fellowships

"A ship on a lee shore," says one, "in the midst of a driving storm,
throws up signal rockets or fires a gun for a pilot. A white sail
emerges from the mist; it is the pilot boat. A man climbs on board, and
the captain gives to him the command of the ship. All his orders are
obeyed implicitly. The ship, laden with a precious cargo and hundreds of
human lives, is confided to a rough-looking man whom no one ever saw
before, who is to guide them through a narrow channel, where to vary a
few fathoms to the right or left will be utter destruction. The pilot is
invested with absolute authority as regards bringing the vessel into
port." [Footnote: _Orthodoxy; its Truths and Errors_, by James
Freeman Clarke, p. 114.] Is this because the man is infallible, because
he has never been detected in holding an erroneous opinion? Doubtless
any of these intelligent passengers could find out, by half an hour's
conversation with him, that his mind was full of crass ignorance and
misconception. And nobody supposes that he is infallible, even as a
pilot. He may make a mistake. What then? Will these passengers gather
around the captain, and demand that he be ordered down from the bridge
and thrown overboard if he disobeys? Will they say, "A pilot who is not
on all subjects infallible is one whom we will not trust?" No; they
believe him to be, not omniscient, but competent and trustworthy, and a
great burden is lifted from their hearts when they see him take command
of the ship. On all other subjects besides religion, people are able to
exercise their common sense; why can they not use a modicum of the same
common sense when they come to deal with religious truth?

It is not true, as a matter of fact, that the Bible no longer has any
value for those who have ceased to hold the traditional view of it. Not
seldom, indeed, those who have been compelled by overwhelming evidence
to relinquish the traditional view have been driven by the natural
reaction against it to undervalue the Bible, and even to treat it with
contempt and bitterness; but even some of these have come back to it
again and have found in it, when they studied it with open mind, more
truth than they ever before had known. Let me cite an extreme case. I
could take you to a society of free-thinkers, consisting of people who
have long been outspoken in their rejection of all the doctrines of
historical Christianity, many of whom formerly flouted the Bible as a
book of fables, but who are now studying it diligently week by week, in
the most sympathetic spirit. They do not now accept its supernaturalism;
but they believe that as a manual of conduct, as a guide to life, it
excels all other books. The young people of their Sunday-school are told
that the Bible is not like other books; that the men who wrote it knew
more about the human soul and its struggles and its aspirations after
good than any other men who ever lived; and they are besought to attend,
most carefully, to the lessons of life which this ancient book teaches.
I should like to take some of our ultra orthodox friends, who are
pettishly crying out that the Bible, if not infallible, is good for
nothing, and set them down for a Sunday or two in the midst of this
free-thinking Sunday-school; they might learn some things about its
value that they never knew before.

This incident ought to be of service, also, to those who, having
discovered that the Bible contains human elements, have rushed to the
conclusion that it is no more than any other book, and who, although
they do not cast it from them, hold it off, at arm's length, as it were,
and maintain toward it an attitude of critical superiority. Even these
free-thinkers treat it more fairly. They are learning to approach it
with open mind; they sit down before it with reverent expectancy. The
Bible has a right to this sympathetic treatment. It is not just like
other books. Do not take my word for this; listen rather to the
testimony of one who was known, while he was alive, as the arch-heretic
of New England:--

"This collection of books has taken such a hold on the world as no
other. The literature of Greece, which goes up like incense from that
land of temples and heroic deeds, has not half the influence of this
book, from a nation alike despised in ancient and in modern times. It is
read of a Sabbath in all the ten thousand pulpits of our land. In all
the temples of religion is its voice lifted up week by week. The sun
never sets on its gleaming page. It goes equally to the cottage of the
plain man and the palace of the king. It is woven into the literature of
the scholar, and colors the talk of the street. The bark of the merchant
cannot sail the sea without it; no ships of war go to the conflict, but
the Bible is there. It enters men's closets; mingles in all their grief
and cheerfulness of life. The affianced maiden prays God in Scripture
for strength in her new duties; men are married by Scripture. The Bible
attends them in their sickness, when the fever of the world is on them.
The aching head finds a softer pillow when the Bible lies underneath.
The mariner escaping from shipwreck clutches this first of his treasures
and keeps it sacred to God. It goes with the peddler in his crowded
pack; cheers him at eventide when he sits down dusty and fatigued;
brightens the freshness of his morning face. It blesses us when we are
born, gives names to half Christendom; rejoices with us; has sympathy
for our mourning; tempers our grief to finer issues. It is the better
part of our sermons. It lifts man above himself; our best of uttered
prayers are in its storied speech, wherewith our fathers and the
patriarchs prayed. The timid man, about awaking from this dream of life,
looks through the glass of Scripture and his eye grows bright; he does
not fear to stand alone, to tread the way unknown and distant, to take
the death angel by the hand and bid farewell to wife and babes and home.
Men rest on this their dearest hopes; it tells them of God and of his
blessed Son, of earthly duties and of heavenly rest." [Footnote:
Theodore Parker, _Discourses on Religion_.]

This is not mere rhetoric; it is simplest truth of human experience. How
is it possible for any man to treat this book just as he would any other
book? He ought to come to its perusal with the expectation of finding in
it wisdom and light and life. He must not stultify his reason and stifle
his moral sense when he reads it; he must keep his mind awake and his
conscience active; but there is treasure here if he will search for it;
search he must, yet the only right attitude before it is one of
reverence and trust. Any man of ripe wisdom and high character, who has
been known to you all your life, whose judgment you have verified, whose
goodness you have witnessed and experienced, commands your respectful
attention the moment he begins to speak. You do not believe him to be
infallible, but you listen to what he says with trustfulness; you expect
to find it true. To say that you listen to him as you do to every other
man is not the fact; the posture of your mind in his presence is
different from that in which you stand before most other men. It ought
to be. He has gained, by his probity, the power to speak to you with
authority. The Bible has gained the same power. You do not use it fairly
when you use it as you do every other book.

There is the nation's flag proudly flying from the summit of the
Capitol. It may be a banner that was borne upon the battlefield,
decorated now with well-mended rents, and with stains of carnage.
"Behold it!" cries the idolater. "It is absolutely faultless in
perfection and beauty! There is not a blemish on its folds, there is not
an imperfection in its web; every thread in warp and woof is flawless;
every seam is absolutely straight; every star is geometrically accurate;
every proportion is exact; the man who denies it is a traitor!"

"Absurd!" replies the iconoclast. "See the holes and the stains; there
is not one straight seam; there is not a star that is in perfect form;
ravel it, and you will find no thread in warp or woof that is flawless;
nay, you may even discover shreds of shoddy mixed with the fine fibre.
Your flag is nothing more than any other old piece of bunting, and if
you think it is, you are a fool."

Nay, good friends, you are both wrong. The blemishes are there; it would
be fanaticism to deny them; and he who says that no man can be loyal to
the nation who will not profess that this banner is immaculate is
setting up a fantastic standard of patriotism. But, on the other hand,
this flag is something more than any other old piece of bunting, and he
who thinks it something more is not a fool. It is the symbol of liberty;
it is the emblem of sovereignty; it is the pledge of protection; it is
the sign and guarantee of justice and order and peace. What memories
cluster round it, of dauntless heroism, and holy sacrifice, and noble
consecration! What hopes are gleaming from its stars and fluttering in
its shining folds--hopes of a day when wars shall be no more and all
mankind shall be one brotherhood! The man to whom the flag of his
country is no more than any other piece of weather-beaten bunting is a
man without a country.

Is not my parable already interpreted? Are not the idolaters who make it
treason to disbelieve a single word of the Bible, and the iconoclasts
who treat it as nothing better than any other book, equally far from the
truth? Is it not the part of wisdom to use the book rationally, but
reverently; to refrain from worshiping the letter, but to rejoice in the
gifts of the Spirit which it proffers? The same divine influence which
illumines and sanctifies its pages is waiting to enlighten our minds
that we may comprehend its words, and to prepare our hearts that we may
receive its messages. Some things hard to understand are here, but the
Spirit of truth can make plain to us all that we need to know. No man
wisely opens the book who does not first lift up his heart for help to
find in it the way of life, and to him who studies it in this spirit it
will show the salvation of God.

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