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I.

_It is a wrong use of the Bible to set it in its entirety before all classes and all ages._

On the old view of the Bible no man might dare to omit portions of it in public reading or home instruction. The horrible atrocities and brutal lusts of the early Hebrews, and the coarsenesses of their later days, as unbearable by modern ears as the rough talk of Shakespeare’s ladies, had all to be read to mixed assemblies of young men and maidens; and be read with blushing face by the pure mother to the purer children at her knees. For us, who see the Bible in its true light, there is no necessity for a minister to offend against the taste of a refined age, or for a mother to introduce the unsoiled soul of her child to evil, by reading straight through the successive chapters of the Bible. It has been left for Protestant piety to excel Romanists and Jews in superstition. The Church of Rome, as you know, discourages the use of the Bible by her laity, erring in the other extreme. The Jewish rabbis had a saying that no one should read the Canticles before he was thirty years of age. If you follow the public readings of the Bible in this church from your own Bibles, you must often appreciate the relief this liberty of omission brings. Use the Bible in this way with your children at home. Who would think of an indiscriminate use of the original Shakespeare? Stage managers cut him so freely for rendering before grown up folk as to have made another Shakespeare. He who cares for his children’s innocence will set before them an expurgated edition like that of Rolfe. So we should use at home such an expurgated edition of the Scriptures as “The Child’s Bible,” published by Cassel, Petter & Galpin, of London. No timid soul need fear that imprecation in the last chapter of the Revelation:

If any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy God shall take away his part out of the book of life.

That sounds like the ruling passion, strong in death, of the Son of Thunder; who in youth asked if he should call down fire from heaven upon a hamlet which did not welcome Jesus, and was well rebuked for his zeal by the gracious Master. It is part of the human weakness through which the voice of God speaks, taking its tone from the defects of the instrument. This imprecation had reference, in all probability, solely to the copyists, against whose carelessness the author sought to guard himself by an awful threat. It certainly had reference to this book alone. Not until long afterwards did the Church determine what books were to enter the canon of the New Testament, and in what order they were to stand. That order placed the Revelation as the last book in the canon, and thus made this threat appear to cover the whole Bible.[26]

II.

_It is a wrong use of the Bible to accept its utterances indiscriminately as the words of God, to quote every saying of every speaker in its pages, or every deed of every actor in its histories as expressing to us the mind of God._

Such use of the Bible is thoughtlessly common. Some time ago before going into a church in whose service I was asked to participate, I ventured to show some slight hesitancy in using certain Psalms which were set down in the Psalter for the day. When asked, why, I mildly answered that I could not request a Christian congregation to join with me in singing, after the embittered Jews in Babylon:

Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom, in the day of Jerusalem. How they said, “Down with It! down with it! even to the ground.” Oh, daughter of Babylon, who art to be wasted, Happy shall he be that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be that taketh thy little ones and throweth them against the stones.

Nor could I ask the people to unite in praying:

Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb; yea, all their princes as Zeba and Salmana.

I had in mind the fate of Oreb and Zeeb and of Zeba and Salmana, splendidly brave fellows even in their death, as told in the seventh and eighth chapters of Judges, where you can learn what sort of prayer was this of those savage Jews. Naturally, as I thought, I objected to voicing such heathen imprecations in the nineteenth century of the era of the Prince of Peace. My good friend, with a look of amazement, replied, “Why, these Psalms are in the Bible.” That ended the question for him.

This incident is typical of a vast quantity of wrong uses of the Bible. Thus our American slaveholder read that ‘precious’ word of the ancient tradition, “Cursed be Ham,” and smoothed his troubled conscience. He had the sanction of the Bible for the curse plainly upon Africa. He was fulfilling the Divine will in breeding black cattle for the auction block. Piety and profit were one, and godliness had great gain, and some contentment also. Thus the extermination of the Canaanites, for which the Hebrews pleaded long after the Divine order, and for which they had substantial warrant in Destiny’s determination to rid the land of these corrupting tribes and make room for the noble life Israel was to develop, has been the stock argument of kings and soldiers for their bloody trade. Thus poor human consciences have been sorely hurt and troubled as men have read, in stories such as those of Jael and Sisera and Jacob and Esau, of acts which their better nature instinctively condemned. They have felt themselves arraigning the Bible and suspecting God.

If indeed the Bible is a book let down from the skies, of which God can be called the ‘author,’ then all such uses of it may be correct enough, and in those dark and savage words and deeds I may be obliged to find the words of God and the deeds He holds up to our admiration and imitation; though I do not see that such a use is a necessity, even on this theory. Fancy a man quoting Shylock when he pleads for his bond, or Iago’s devilish innuendos against Desdemona’s purity, as showing what Shakespeare liked or what he would have us imitate! “These are the words of Shakespeare!” Yes, but of Shakespeare’s Shylock, Shakespeare’s Iago.

If, however, the Old Testament is the national library of the Jews, I must expect to find all sorts of early Jewish notions, in ethics and religion, bodied in the words of the speakers they introduce, and the deeds of the men of whom they tell the tales.

If the Bible is the record of a real revelation which came in the spirits of ancient men, through the historic growth of conscience and reason; and if these books are the literature embalming that growth of a people out of ignorance and superstition into the light of pure ethics and spiritual religion; then I must look to find all sorts of crudities and crassnesses in the representation of God, and all phases of unmoral and immoral life, as parts of the error and imperfection out of which they were educated. These deeds and words are the milestones in the path of progress by which Judaism reached Christianity. If the individual is to reproduce the story of the race, as our wise men tell us, then these words and deeds are in the Bible to carry us through the same course of education; to exercise our consciences in discriminating right from wrong, and to lead us to grow out of such conceptions and desires toward the spirit of Christ. In a cruise last summer we dropped anchor in a lovely little out-of-the-way harbor of Buzzard’s Bay, which proved to be near Pocasset; where, not long ago, a pious man, reading the Hebrew tradition of Abraham and Isaac, as a real command of the Most High, and having this word of the Lord borne in on his mind, as spoken to himself, murdered his child in sacrifice to God–no angel interfering to stay his knife. He simply made a _reductio ad absurdum_ of this use of the Bible.[27]

III.

_It is a wrong use of the Bible to accept everything recorded therein as necessarily true._

If the historians were simply the amanuenses of the Infinite Spirit, then of course they could not have erred in anything they recorded. If they were ordinary writers, trying to tell the story of their peoples’ growth; searching court archives, state annals, old parchments of forgotten writers, consulting the traditions of town and village, using their material in the best way their abilities enabled them to do; using all to teach virtue and religion, for which alone they were specially qualified of God; then all questions of historical accuracy are beside the mark. Nothing in their inspiration guarantees their historical accuracy; their philological learning in using ancient poetic language, or their critical judgment in detecting exaggerations. Are we to wait anxiously upon the latest Assyrian tablets or the freshest Egyptian mummy to confirm our faith that God has spoken to the spirit of man? Are we to quake in our shoes when a few ciphers are cut off from the roll of Israel’s impossible armies? If much that we read as literal history turns out legend and myth, are we to find a painful alternative between a blind credulity and as blind a skepticism? We follow this same re-reading of Roman and Grecian story untroubled, and see the heroes of our childhood turn into races and sun-myths without calling the Muse of History a fraud.

Has it been such comfort to us to read the doings of Samson as actual history, slaying a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass, tying fire-brands to the tails of three hundred foxes, etc., that we should resent the translation of this impossible hero into the Semitic Hercules, a solar myth? Or if, perchance, the historian accepted from remote antiquity the accounts of great deeds and striking events, as they were told at the camp fires of the Hebrew nomads, or in the merry makings of the Palestinian villages, with an ever growing nimbus of the marvelous gathering around them; and if thus impossible marvels are reported to us soberly, are we to be compelled to accept them uncritically or reject the Bible altogether? The Bible itself points us to the interpretation of such legends We have some histories written by the actors in the scenes narrated. Nehemiah and Ezra, leaders in the most important movement of Hebrew history after the migration led by Moses, left accounts of their work from their own pens. In such a crucial epoch as that of the restoration of the Jews to their native land, after the dispersion in Babylonia, we might expect to find miraculous interpositions on behalf of the chosen people, if they are to be found anywhere. But no tale of miracle adorns their simple pages. No other old Testament history, written by the actors in its scenes, tells of miracles. Such stories are found in the traditions written down long after the events narrated, by men who knew nothing of the facts at first hand. Exceptions to this rule occur alone in such startling events as the mysterious calamity that befell Sennacherib; which strongly impressed the imagination of the people and naturally gave rise to exaggerations that we can no longer resolve.

Perhaps Elisha’s iron axe head did swim upon the water. I am prepared to believe almost anything after our spiritualistic mediums, and their exposers. Whether it did or did not concerns me no whit. I shrug my shoulders and read on. I cannot make out the historical fact which was at the basis of the Red Sea deliverance; nor do I care much to make out this or any other Old Testament miracle. If I felt obliged to accept literally these stories, or to lose my faith in the voice of God which speaks through the men of the Bible I should care greatly. In the true view of the Bible I am delivered from solicitude about these traditions, and am under no constraint of credulity. Those who can believe the story of Elisha and the bears, or of Elijah’s ascension into heaven, may; those who cannot, need not; and both alike should reverently read their Bibles, not for these tales of wonder, but for the still small voice of the eternal spirit sounding through holy lives and holier aspirations, until He came whose life was the Word of God, the Wonderful.[28]

IV.

_It is a wrong use of the Bible to consult it as a heathen oracle for the determining of our judgments and the decision of our actions._

The pagans, even such grand old pagans as the Romans, before undertaking any important action would solemnly consult the auspices. Men with reason given them of God would stand anxiously around the steaming entrails of a bird, to find out whether the fates were propitious to their undertaking. Great generals would open or delay a campaign according to the intestinal revelations of a goose. Intelligent people use the Bible in some such way. When at a loss how to proceed, instead of calmly consulting their own judgments and the judgments of their wisest friends, and then acting like reasonable beings, men and women will open their Bibles at random, let then-eyes rest on the first verse which arrests their attention, and accept any possible bearing on the question in hand as the voice of God. The journals of John Wesley and other eminent men contain examples of this abuse of the Bible. I call it an abuse, for such action degrades the Bible to the level of a heathen oracle. Isaiah, like all the great prophets, habitually contrasted the true and the false communications of of the Divine will by the test of the reasonableness of their manifestations. The real prophet heard the voice of God, not so much in dreams and visions, in the “peepings and chirpings” of the oracles, as in the calm and sober working of his mind, illumined from on high. The oracle was the antithesis of the prophet. The oracle represented unintelligent, unreasonable magical means of getting at a desired knowledge. The prophet represented the intelligent, reasoning, natural means of getting at that knowledge; the lighting of that candle of the Lord which is the spirit of man. In the profound double significance of the original, the _Logos_ is the Word or the Reason. The Word of God which comes to man is the Divine Reason, of which each human reason is a ray. To train and use that reason in all our exigencies, humbly looking up to the Eternal Reason to let the light in us be pure and clear, is the way to hear the Word of God.

To consult the reason of the holy men of old on themes whereon they were qualified to speak is rational and right. To make of their writings a new oracle whose mysterious meanings we are to guess, as the ancient Greeks puzzled over the messages of the Delphic shrine, is to revive Paganism in Christianity. “No prophecy is of any private interpretation.” No passage in the Bible was written, centuries ago, with reference to your private affairs. All that is there written concerned men and affairs of distant days. The principles there applied will help you now, if you will take the trouble to search for them, since principles do not change with the fashions.

V.

_It is a wrong use of the Bible to go to it, as the heathen went to their oracles, for divination of the future._

The pagan oracles were the shrines of a Power sought for the forecasting of events. The inspiration of an oracle was proven by the success of its predictions. In the same way men have turned to the Bible as a sort of sacred weather bureau, a book which, if we could only interpret its mystic utterances, would tell us what things were going to happen upon the earth. I remember an eloquent Irish divine who came to this country on a great mission a number of years ago. His first sermon was on Ezekiel’s vision by the Chebar. He said that this was the age of science, and that such a marvel as science could not have escaped the vision of the prophets. This mystic creature which the prophet saw, with wheels, whose appearance was like burning coals of fire, which turned not as it went, and so on, was–the locomotive! This folly was only more undisguised than the mass of the lucubrations called Prophetic Studies.

Let any political crisis occur, and some sage will write a book showing how Daniel had foretold this issue of diplomacy. I have not forgotten the learned tracts and essays called forth by the fascination Louis Napoleon exercised upon the imaginations of half-educated people; all proving beyond a doubt that he was the mystic man of sin, the Anti-Christ in whom history was to culminate.

America, the restoration of the Jews to Palestine, and the Church of Rome especially inspire, at present, these crazy conjectures. They ought all to issue from Bedlam.

This mad and maddening use of what, rightly read, are noble and instructive books, grows out of a misunderstanding of what were the functions of Hebrew prophecy.

Prophecy has been taken as a synonyme for prediction. There is not much verbal difference between foretelling and forthtelling, but there is a vast difference for the purposes of religion. Taking prophecy as the synonyme of foretelling, the essential function of the prophets became predicting. They were supposed to have been busy in forecasting the things which should come to pass in the far future. The success of these long-range predictions was the demonstration of their being charged with miraculous powers. The prophecies constituted the chief evidence for the supernatural character of the Bible. Of course, with this theory in the mind of the church, a predictive character would be read into everything capable of bearing it; and the history of the Hebrews, the eloquent orations of their great statesmen, the pious longings of their hymn writers, became mystic anticipations of everything in the heavens above and the earth beneath.

But Hebrew prophecy never was the synonyme for prediction. It meant forth-telling. The prophets were “men of the spirit,” whose pure nature mirrored the supreme laws of earth, the moral laws; whose intuitions made application of those laws to the policies of statecraft, and enabled them to divine the issues of the stirring events amid which they lived. Their glory is that they saw above the brute force of great empires the might of right, and dared to vision its triumph, and that history has verified their moral insight. But they chiefly spake, as the author of The Revelation declares of his prophecy, “of things which must shortly come to pass” upon the earth. Their horizon bounded a very nigh future the approach of Syrian, Assyrian, Egyptian invaders the overthrow of Jerusalem, etc.

In these predictions they were often mistaken; nearly as often in error as in the right. We seldom hear of these unfulfilled prophecies, but they are in your Bibles. They should teach you, that which the prophets tried so hard to teach their own cotemporaries, that the essential distinction of the true prophet was not that he predicted the future, for this they scornfully left to the false prophets the oracles of the pagan Jews, but that they forthtold the inner mind and will of God, read the ‘laws mighty and brazen’ which constitute the essential nature of the Most High and hold the supreme felicity of man. I believe I know of no one passage of the prophets which can be certainly said to point to any event beyond the near future of the writer. Only in so far as they spoke of the ideal forces, of ethical victories, did they launch out upon the far future.

But you say, Do not the Old Testament prophets surely point on to Christ? I answer both No, and Yes. Of any mere literal prediction of the events of His life I know none. The many passages that have been made to read like predictions of His miraculous birth, His sale for thirty pieces of silver, and so on, refer to personages and experiences in the time of the writers. Isaiah expressly says this about the Virgin–that is, the young bride–who was to conceive and bear a son. Before he should be able to distinguish right from wrong the relief of Jehovah to Israel would appear. The passages which seem to our eyes, looking through orthodox spectacles, to have this predictive character, lose it in a more exact translation.

It is doubtless true that the Gospels make many such applications of Old Testament words, adding to their record of minute incidents–“That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by … saying.” But the Gospels, as we now possess them, have been slowly fashioned by the labor of many hands, working over the tradition which gradually shaped itself out of the reminiscences of multitudes of men and women. Pious Jews, trained in this Rabbinical use of their Sacred Scriptures, delighting to make application of ancient mystic sayings to the life of their adorable Messiah, read into the Gospel narrative these fulfillments of prediction.

This use of the Old Testament has been pushed to absurdity in learned books over which I have patiently toiled. “The Gospel of Leviticus,” gave me the Hebrew civic and ecclesiastic legislation mystified into ‘sound evangelical’ symbols. “Christ in the Psalms” twisted every heathenish imprecation of the Hebrew hymns into language which could be put upon the lips of the dear Lord, and turned the bitterest curses into sweet and gracious benedictions.

The culmination of this moon-struck exegesis, as far as my knowledge reaches, is in the ancient and fantastic reading of the tradition of the escape of the spies from Jericho, which gave a young and eloquent Bishop of our church a favorite sermon; wherein he showed conclusively that the scarlet cord by which Rahab let down her visitors over the city wall was a type of the atoning blood of Christ!

This Chinese puzzle-book of predictions exists nowhere save in the imagination of its readers.

There was, however, a most real and substantial typifying of Christ through the Old Testament; but it was natural, organic, ethical and spiritual; in those books as first in the lives of the people. The growth of the nation onward toward the true Image of God, the true Human Ideal; the travail of the nation with the Divine-Human Character which at the last came to the birth in Jesus the Christ; this was a mystery of natural, organic evolution, which ‘must give us pause’ in every shallow denial of a supernatural involution in human history. This makes true rationalism reverent before ‘that Holy Thing’ born not alone of Mary but of Mary’s race, begotten plainly of the overshadowings of some Holy Ghost, of whom our best judgment is, now as of old,–“He shall be called the Son of the Highest.”

The whole history of Israel is a growth of The Christ, and that is the abiding wonder of it.

In such a mystic evolution it may well be, in history as in nature, that the organic processes type the oncoming form of life; but to trace these rightly there is needed a finer criticism than that which has given us the orthodox typology.[29]

* * * * *

Let us pause here for to-day. And let us take home, as the heart-thought of the morning, an assurance which may comfort us as we stand under the shadow of Christmas. If the dear Christ’s throne stood on any such flimsy basis of prophecy as men have built up beneath it, then, when the underpinnings came tumbling out, as to-day they are doing, we might fear that His authority was dropping in with them; that no longer we were to call Him Master and King; that criticism had pronounced His _decheance_. But His throne really rests on a nation’s growth of the human Ideal and Divine Image. And, since this nation’s growth was on the same general lines as the religious and ethical progress of other races, His throne rests on no less secure a foundation than humanity’s evolution of the human Ideal and Divine Image. Man’s best and noblest life aspires after an ideal which is the Christly character. Man’s best and noblest thoughts of God fashion a vision which is the God revealed in Christ. He is Humanity’s “Master of Life.”

IV.

The wrong use of the Bible

“The Scriptures will be more studied than they have been, and in a different manner–not as a magazine of propositions and mere dialectic entities, but as inspirations and poetic forms of life; requiring, also, divine inbreathings and exaltations in us, that we may ascend into their meaning. No false _precision,_ which the nature and conditions of spiritual truth forbid, will, by cutting up the body of truth into definite and dead morsels, throw us into states of excision and division, equally manifold. We shall receive the truth of God in a more organic and organific manner, as being itself an essentially vital power.”

Horace Bushnell. God in Christ; p. 93.

“But, further, the zealots for the Bible _as it is_, just because it _is_, forget that, in their outcry in behalf of every existing book, and paragraph, and sentence, and word in the present edition of it, as ‘God’s Word written,’ they are simply begging the question, What _is_ ‘God’s Word written’? What _is_, without any doubt, a genuine portion of those writings which contain the message from God? The question is, in no case, ‘Will you part with any utterance of God’s voice, whether through apostle or evangelist?’ but only, ‘Is this particular word, or sentence, or passage, truly such an utterance? Have we good grounds for accepting it as such? Nay, have we not overwhelming grounds for doubting it to be such?’ We do right to hold fast ‘the faith once delivered to the saints,’ but the more we are determined to be faithful to this faith, just the more sedulous and more searching must be our inquiry, Have we here this faith in its integrity?”

Thomas Griffith, late Prebendary of St. Paul’s, London: The Gospel of the Divine Life, p. 418.

IV.

The wrong use of the Bible.

“Every Scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”–2 Tim. iii; 16-17.

“Use the world as not abusing it” was a great principle of the Apostle, which has many special applications. One of these comes again before us to-day: Use the Bible as not abusing it.

I proceed to point out some further wrong uses of the Bible:

I.

_It is a wrong use of the Bible to go to it as an authority in any sphere save the spheres of theology and of religion._

In the traditional view it was an infallible authority upon every subject of which it treated.

The Divine Being had prepared a book which answered off-hand the questions man’s mind naturally starts concerning the problems of existence; a book which taught officially how the earth came into its present form, how life arose upon it, how man was made, how sin entered, how the world was peopled, how mankind was to fare upon the earth, how the present order was to come to an end, and many things beside. To answer authoritatively these questions was the _raison d’etre_ of the Bible. It laid a solid foundation for a science of life. With the passing away of the unreal Bible all reference to it for such information should cease. These books, as actual human writings, the studies of men of long past centuries, of men having no guarantees of infallibility, cannot be expected to have anticipated the solution of the great problems of knowledge, towards which the human intellect has been laboriously working through the generations since they were written; towards which it is still toilsomely striving, content, even now, with the cold, grey light as of the dawning day.

Our truer idea of revelation–the evolution of nature and the historic growth of man–forbids such a notion of any book. It has plainly pleased the Most High that knowledge of these mysteries should come to man through his patient, persevering effort after truth. Such continued endeavour wins gradually better knowledge, and with it better life. This process of human discovery is yet more truly a process of the Divine self-revealing. In each and every real knowledge man is learning to know–God. Each truth of science is a manifestation of somewhat in the Infinite Power in whom we live and move and have our being. Had it pleased God to have given, centuries ago, a super-natural answer to these problems of earth, He would simply have dismissed His children from school, with-held from them that noble education which lies in the discipline of study, and, while giving them truth, have robbed them of that keenest joy of life, that benediction richer even than the possession of truth–the search for it.

How indeed, even in the resources of omnipotence, could an answer to the earth-problems have been framed, which, while coming down to the plane of the age of Moses, should have kept level with the rise of human knowledge through the climbing centuries? No, the Bible was not prepared as an Encyclopedia of Knowledge for the successive generations of men. Its writers may anticipate the thought of ages by profound intuitions, pregnant imaginations, visions of the seer, as Plato does. Genius often outstrips the plodding feet of generations. But genius must not put on the airs of omniscience. It must submit its claims to trial by jury. They are to stand, if stand they shall, not because they are in Genesis or the Republic, but because they prove true.

When (_e.g._) the Biblical writers speak of the Creation, the Garden of Eden, the Fall of Man, etc., they give us their thoughts, the thoughts of their age, the thoughts of earlier ages, of greatly gifted minds in many ages gathering into an imposing tradition; which, as we now see, came down through successive generations of Hebrews, from a remote antiquity in which this race had not been thrown off from the common Semitic stock. On the baked clay tablets of Babylonia we read to-day the same stories. The Hebrews worked them over, under the plastic power of their religious genius, into the lofty ethical and theistic forms in which they stand in Genesis; forms which, rightly read, are parables fresh and inspiring now, as when, twenty-five hundred years ago, Jewish children listened to them with awe beneath the willows by the water courses of Babylonia. That most exquisite story of our weird Hawthorne, the Marble Faun, is a version of the legend of the Garden of Eden. Commingled with these lofty truths we find crude notions of astronomy, geology, biology, and anthropology How could it be otherwise, since these sciences were embryotic then, or even unborn? We hearken, reverently, thankfully, to the philosophy and poetry of Hebrew, Chaldean and Accadian sages and seers, in these profound and subtle parables of the mysteries which still fascinate us. We dismiss the knowledge of nature set forth in these legends and myths as the child-sciences of Israel and Chaldea and Accadia.

We go to our savans for knowledge of physical nature. We make no attempt to reconcile Genesis with the Origin of Species. Genesis is no authority in science, and The Origin of Species is no authority in philosophy, poetry, theology or religion.

The accounts of man in the dim distance of pre-historic times, given in Genesis, belong to the departments of the antiquarian, and the philologist; and we trust their story, no matter how it collides with the Hebrew traditions. So through every sphere of knowledge upon which the Biblical writers enter, outside of their own special spheres, we follow them as venerable guides, but as entirely fallible authorities, expressing the knowledge of their age and race.

Thus, to take one example from later times, St. Paul, in the first epistle to the Corinthians, condemns woman’s participation in the exercises of worship and instruction in the Christian assemblies of Corinth. This judgment is accepted, by those who hold to the unreal Bible, as forclosing the case of woman versus man in the vocation of the ministry, in this land and age as in all lands and ages. We saw lately the action of this theory over in Brooklyn. Though she had the gifts and graces of a Lucretia Mott, though her preaching were blessed as that of a Miss Smiley, though woman’s temperament seems peculiarly fitted for the inspirational influences of the pulpit, yet Nature’s ordination must be disowned because Saul of Tarsus thought it unseemly for a woman to speak in meeting! He thought it unseemly also, as he tells us in the same letter, that woman should appear unveiled in public assemblies; in which you do not seem to consider him an authority. Why should you defer to him in the one opinion and disregard him in the other? Both opinions formed part of his education as a Jew of the first century of our era; as which he frankly confessed that he regarded woman as inferior to man. We do not consider the Jewish physiology and psychology of that age binding on us; and St. Paul’s opinion on such a matter falls to the ground with it.

II.

_It is a wrong use of the Bible, for the purposes of theology or religion, to give its language any other meaning than that which similar language would have under similar circumstances._

People of sound minds do not read poetic language in other books as though it were prose. They do not take words thrown off at white heat; crowd them, all molten with feeling, into the mould of a Gradgrind understanding; force them to take the form of such matter-of-fact minds; and then, when the emotion is cooled down, and the fluent fancies are reduced to stiff, hard prose, say–“there, that is the exact meaning of this language!” Fancy Shakespeare’s impetuous, tumultuous riotous imagery treated by such ‘criticism!’

Yet that is the sort of treatment which many learned pedants call ‘expounding the Bible!’ It is with the greatest difficulty that the Western mind can rightly read the Eastern’s language. We miss the rich aroma of their nectared speech, and find only the grounds left. And we take these grounds for the true original beverage of the gods! Out of such residuum of poetry, when the poesy has exhaled, we make our spiritual food! Poetry petrified into prose–is the real explanation to be offered of many an absurdity of Bible-reading.

A visitor to one of the Shaker communities describes the men and women as engaging in the most preposterous play of making-believe; performing upon imaginary instruments as they marched in procession; going through the motions of washing their faces and hands as they surrounded an imaginary fountain; and, finally, plunging bodily into this spiritual fountain, by rolling over on the grass! To an exclamation of surprise at such childish doings, answer was made that thus they were becoming as little children, in order to enter the kingdom of heaven![30]

Luther sat disputing with Zwinglius the doctrine of trans-substantiation, and to every argument of his rational opponent answered by laying his sturdy finger on the words, “This _is_ my body.” The most powerful Church of Christendom bases itself upon this prosaic reading of a poetic saying.

Many a mysterious dogma would simplify itself at once by remembering that, in the language of the imagination, “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth it life.”[31]

We are not to rush from this extreme into the opposite error and turn into mystical and marvellous meanings the plain sense of the Biblical writers. Imagine the result of putting all sorts of mystic glosses on the straight-forward accounts of men and things in ordinary writings. Such is in reality the folly of turning the sober statements of Biblical prose writers into allegories, parables, symbols, types; and of finding underneath the plainest meanings a double, triple and quadruple sense.

In the hour of Christ’s approaching arrest he warns his disciples, in His usual figurative manner, that they must now learn to provide for themselves; since he would shortly be taken from them. “He that hath a purse let him take it; and he that hath no sword let him sell his garment and buy one.” And his disciples, being very unimaginative folk, or being perhaps stupefied with wonder and anxiety by His strange words and actions on that night of sad surprises said–“Lord, behold here are two swords.” The Master answered, with a weariness of their obtuseness that we can feel in the curt reply, “It is enough.” And the wisdom of the Roman Church sees herein a type of the temporal and spiritual power of the Papacy!

I am solemnly warned against such learned puerilities every time I turn to my shelves and encounter Swedenborg’s “Arcana Coelestia.” In ten goodly volumes he interprets Scripture history after this fashion:

“‘And Rebecca arose’–hereby is signified an elevation of the affection of truth: ‘And her damsels’–hereby are signified subservient affections: ‘And they rode upon camels’–hereby is signified the intellectual principle elevated above natural scientifics.”!

Of all this pious sort of folly we may say with the Master–“Enough.”

It is the common mistake which gathers a nimbus of mystic sense around every book excessively revered. Thus the Greeks fancied an inner and mystical sense in Homer; and thus Italian professors expound the esoteric significance of Dante.

The fantastic dream of mysterious meanings in the Bible must take wings after its kindred fancies of Greeks and Italians, at the touch of a ripening literary judgment. One rule holds of all human letters. Where there is legend, myth, metaphor, or other clear form of poetic fancy, language is to be read imaginatively. Otherwise, in the Bible, as out of it, the ordinary meaning of words must be followed.

III.

_It is a wrong use of the Bible to construct a theology out of it, by the mechanical system of proof texts in vogue in the churches._

With a preconceived system of thought in their minds, drawn from the most highly evolved speculations of the New Testament, men have gone through both Testaments; and whenever they have lighted upon a sentence which seemed to coincide with this system, it has been torn bleeding from its place in a living texture of thought, impaled on some one of the “Five Points,” and set up in the Theological Cabinet, duly labelled “Proof-Text of Original Sin,” or “Proof Text of Future Punishment.”

What a monstrosity an ordinary Sunday School Scripture Catechism is, with its statements of received doctrines, to which are appended proof-texts drawn from Genesis and Isaiah and Paul; _i.e._, from some pre-historic tradition, from a Hebrew states, man’s oration and from a Christian apostle’s letter. It makes no difference what the character of the writing from which the sentence is taken. Everything is grist for this mill. A “judgment” or “doom” of the nomadic Hebrews, a burning metaphor from a late poet and a metaphysical proposition from an Alexandrian philosopher are jumbled together side by side, as co-equal proofs of the most awful doctrines.

An ancient historian, gathering up the traditions of his primitive fore-fathers, records the legend of the Flood, in which it is told that

“God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, And that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart Was only evil continually.”

The poet who wrote, out of the deep of some experience of shameful sin, the pathetic penitential hymn, known as the Fifty-first Psalm, said, in the course of his self-condemnings:–

“Behold I was shapen in wickedness, And in sin hath my mother conceived me.”

The poet who wrote his unrivaled prophecies amid the humiliation of the national exile in Babylonia, cried out in one place:–

“We are all as an unclean thing,
And all our righteousness are as filthy rags.”

And these mythic and poetic words, true to man’s abiding sense of evil in his deepest hours, stand to-day in the arsenal of theology as proof-texts of the doctrines of original sin and total depravity!

Even this folly has been surpassed. Among the proverbial sayings of the Jews was one to this effect;

“If the tree fall towards the South, or towards the North, In the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be.”

The meaning of such a proverb is surely plain enough. Death’s action is irrevocable. As it meets a man it leaves him. His plans and schemes lie as incapable of development as the fallen tree is incapable of new sproutings. At the time the book of Ecclesiastes was written, the belief in any life after death was little known in Israel. This book was the work of a thorough pessimist, whose constant refrain was–Vanity of Vanities, all is Vanity. It gives no hint of a second life; and in the absence of this faith the present life is to the writer an insoluble problem. This saying really expressed the popular belief that death ended everything. A man falls like a tree, and, like a prostrate tree, as he falls he lies.

And lo! this Jewish proverb is the first proof-text generally quoted for the dread doctrine that after death there is another life, but that its character is fixed forever by the state of the man at death; the dogma of everlasting conscious suffering in Hell!

What Midsummer Night’s Dream reasoning, turning common-sense topsy-turvy, and treating the words of God in the very reverse way from that in which all sane people agree to treat the words of man!

IV.

_It is a wrong use of the Bible to disregard the chronological order of its parts in constructing our theology._

We are not to read the Biblical writers as though they were all cotemporaries. They are separated by vast tracts of time. The later writers stand upon the shoulders of their predecessors and see further and clearer. We are not to view the institutions or doctrines of the Bible as though, no matter in what period of the development of the Hebrew Nation or of the Christian Church they are found, they were equally authoritative upon us. That would be to say that green apples are as good food for us as ripe ones. The time-perspective is essential to set any Biblical institution or dogma in the true light.

Romanists and our own Ritualists entrench their sacerdotalism behind the priestly system of the Jews. As though, because that was once needful and serviceable to an ignorant, half heathen people, it was still indispensible to us. As though what providence once ordained, providence perpetually imposed on humanity. Such a rule would keep us with our primers always in our hands. Progress is marked by the debris of discarded institutions, wholesome and necessary once, but incumbrances after a time. The whole _rationale_ of sacerdotalism is exploded by this simple common sense principle; and we see in its light the significance of Paul’s impatient sweeping away of the Law; of the entire ignoring of the sacrifice and the priesthood in the life and teaching of Jesus himself.

“The hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain, Nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. God is spirit; And they that worship must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

Dogmas also must be seen in historical perspective. Thus, for example, the doctrine of the Second Advent, which still exercises the Christian mind, is wholly cleared up as looked at through the time-vista.

We see the progress of the Messianic expectation through the centuries immediately prior to the age of Christ, in our old Testament books and in the Apocryphal writings. In these latter works we see it gradually gathering round itself visions of the winding up of the present aeon, the renovation of the earth, the judgment of the nations, the resurrection of the pious dead, and the opening of a millenial era in which the Messiah should rule the world from Jerusalem. It would appear to have even developed the notion that the Messiah, after his appearance on earth, would depart into the spirit-world, to consummate his preparation; and would return thence to assume full power. This had became the popular expectation by the Christian era.

When then the early Christians became satisfied that Jesus was the Messiah, it followed of necessity that they should after his death, say to themselves–“He has gone into the heavens to receive his institution into the office he has won by his sinless life and suffering death. He will come again in the clouds with power; the conquering Messiah.”

This belief seems to have taken shape first in Paul’s fervid mind. His earlier epistles were full of it. His converts became unsettled by it, and in their excited expectation of the return of the Messiah they neglected their earthly duties; and Paul had to caution them against this impatience and cool their heated minds.

This and other experiences sobered Paul’s own mind. He found that as year after year came round the Messiah did not return. In the rapid ripening of thought which went on in the tropical climate of his soul, he grew into a more spiritual apprehension of Christ. If you read his undoubted letters in the order of their writing; First Thessalonians, First and Second Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, etc., you will note a steady decrease of reference to this topic, until it fades away into a vague vision of the dawning day of God; the absolute assurance that Christ would conquer and rule the earth, though it might be in the spirit and not in the flesh; the certain conviction of a good time coming though beyond his ken. The later light of the apostle corrected his earlier misapprehensions; and would correct our crude and carnal notions of the second coming of Christ, if we would only study Paul, as we study Turner or Shakespeare, in his ripening ‘periods.’

Were this one principle followed, our popular theology would soon reconstruct itself.

V.

_It is a wrong use of the Bible to cite its authors as of equal authority, even in the spheres of theology and religion._

The teachings of any human writing come clothed with such authority as the author’s name lends to it or its intrinsic force wins for it.

If in the work of an obscure economic writer, of no perceptible ability, you come upon the theory that the land of a people belongs to the people; that its passing into the absolute ownership of private persons is the basic evil of our civilization; that the nation must resume the inalienable rights of the people at large, in the resources of all wealth, and regulate the individual usufruct of land in the interests of the entire body politic–you will probably toss the book contemptuously from you as the crazy lucubration of a fool.

If in reading John Stuart Mill’s Principles of Political Economy you come upon this theory, cautiously broached, you are constrained to treat it with the consideration due an acknowledged master in this science. If again in the first elaborate work of a new author, Progress and Poverty, you meet this same theory, boldly laid down as the central theme of the book, and contended for as the real solution of the persistent problem of pauperism, you are disposed to pass it by unheeded. The author’s name carries to your mind no prestige of tradition. He speaks from no time-honored university chair. No array of imposing titles hang upon the plain ‘Henry George,’ of the title page. But you become interested in these brilliant pages of genius and follow the author, with growing sympathy, to the end.

You lay the book down, feeling as though a spell had been upon you, in which you could form no sound judgment. You lay it by accordingly, to take it up after some weeks, work over its positions, and find your first impressions confirmed; to realize that here is a work of real, rare power; an epoch-making book, which, if it does not carry your conviction, commands your careful consideration.

Precisely so we are to be affected by the Biblical authors. There are writings in the Bible by utterly unknown writers. A letter of an obscure author cannot come with the weight of a letter from St. Paul. There are writings of widely different mental force. Biblical authors varied in personal power as much as other authors. Inspiration cannot do away with the limitations of the human individuality. It must be modified by its instrumentality. The saints are of various orders. Even the diamond books which reflect the light of God so brilliantly may not be all of first water. We must allow for the hues in the less perfect prisms. Were the greatest musical genius in the world to sit before the key-boards he could not draw from a harmonium the notes of a Lucerne organ. The impact of a writing on our souls must be proportionate to the spiritual and ethical force with which it is charged. Everyone recognizes this practically. None of us, however orthodox, professes to be as much inspired by Esther as by Job; by Chronicles as by Kings; by Daniel as by Isaiah; by Jude as by Paul. That simply means that there is not as much inspiration in some Biblical authors as in others. No author is always at his best. His work differs. The second epistle to the Thessalonians is not level with the epistle to the Romans. The third epistle of John, if it be of John, is surely not as highly inspired as the first epistle of John. Inspiration is plainly a matter of degrees.

The recognition of this common-sense principle, theoretically, would remand the darker doctrines of Christianity to such authority as the lower order of Biblical writings possess. The terrifying and torturing teachings of the New Testament are from obscure authors, or from the masters in their lower moods. The representations of a wrathful God, of an avenging Christ, of a hell of horrors, are found in such epistles as Second Thessalonians, whose authorship is uncertain; as Jude or Second Peter, about whose authorship and date we have only the probability that no apostle wrote them, and that they were written after the first, fresh inspiration had passed from the church. Rabbinical speculations and Greek superstitions show themselves at work in the Christian Church.[32] The unquestioned letters of Paul are sunny and sweet. In them we see the father of Christian Restorationism. If he knows anything of a dark side to the resurrection, as he shows elsewhere that he does, he leaves it in its own shadows; and in the height of this great argument of Corinthians brings to the front only the resurrection to life and joy. “Knowing the fear of the Lord we–persuade men.”

The first epistle of John is true to its favorite symbol of the light. There are no clouds in it. The God revealed in the greatest writings of the greatest authors of the New Testament is Love. The Christ they picture is _Christus Consolator_. The full breath of inspiration opens only the upper register of notes. The voices of the soul are buoyant, joyous, hopeful.

If you are willing to follow the most inspired writers, in their most inspired moods, up into the heights whither the divine afflatus bore them, you will mount above the cloud-level, and leave to those who lag after feebler guides on the lower ranges of truth, the chill mists that eat into the soul, while you rejoice in the light.

VI.

_It is a wrong use of the Bible to manufacture cut of it any one uniform, system, of theology, as the fixed and final form of thought in which religion is to live._

Let me define these contrasting terms, so commonly confounded. Religion is man’s perception of the Power in whom we live and move and have our being, and his emotion towards this power. Theology is man’s conception of this Power, and his thought defined and formulated.

Religion is man’s feeling after God; theology is man’s grasp of God. The two are necessarily connected. They are different forms of one and the same force; the heat and the light which stream from God; but the heat and the light are not always equal. A worthy thought of God ought to sustain any worthy feeling towards Him. It generally does so. A heightened thought of God may often be found back of a rising flow of feeling after Him. More often the emotion precedes the conception; the vague, awed sense of God travails till a new thought is born among men. This has been the order of development in history. Men felt the Divine Power and Presence ages before they had learned so much of theology as to say–God. The feeling of God–religion–always keeps, in healthy natures, far ahead of theology–the thought about Him. The deepest religion finds no word for the mystery before which it bows. Its only thought may be that no thought is sufficient.

“In that high hour thought was not.”

Theology, then, as man’s thought about God, is necessarily conditioned by man’s mind. It is under the general limitations of the human intellect, and the special limitations of thought in each race and age and individuality. It cannot escape these limitations, expand as they may. A flooding of the mind from on high may overflow these embankments but they still stand, shaping the flow of the fullest tides. The individuality of a great writer asserts itself most strongly in his greatest works. His deepest inspiration brings out most plainly his mental form, just as the drawing of a full breath shows the real shape of a man. No possible theory of inspiration should lead us to look for the submergences of the dykes of thought cast up by race and age and individuality.

As a matter of fact, we find no uniformity in the theologies of the New Testament writers. Men have tried hard to make it appear that there was such a unity of thought. Never was more ingenious joiner-work done than in the “harmonies” of the New Testament writers. But facts are stubborn things, and in this case have resisted even the omnipotence of human ingenuity; as open minds have seen, despite the doctors.

St. Paul’s Epistles reveal a theology by no means as precise and fixed as is popularly imagined, undergoing rapid changes, growing with his growth, always suffused from the soul with emotions which struggled against the prison bars of thought and speech. His intensely speculative mind had furnished a system of thought into which he built such ideas as these: The pre-existence of Christ, as, in some mystic, undefined way, the Head of Humanity; the sacrificial nature of His death; the justification of the sinner through faith; the life of Christ within the soul, as the Human Ideal; the speedy return of Christ in person to reign on earth (at least in the early part of his career); the resurrection of the pious dead; the translation of living believers; the final victory of goodness over evil; and the ending of the mediatorship of Christ, God then becoming all in all.

This was the form which the mystery of God’s relationship to man took in the mind of this great genius, and around which the fiery passion of his hunger after righteousness shaped itself.

In the Epistle of St. James, assuming the traditional authorship, how much of this theology can you find? The incarnation is nowhere clearly stated. The name of Christ occurs but twice. His atonement is scarcely mentioned. The prophets are held up as examples of patience, under suffering without any reference to Christ. Paul’s especial doctrine of justification by faith is explicitly denied. Of his fellowship with the Gentiles and his broad human sympathies, there is nothing whatever. All is intensely Jewish. If Paul’s theology is orthodoxy, James is dreadfully unsound.[33] “The fundamentals” are all lacking.

Both Paul and James differ very decidedly from the mystic soul who wrote the First Epistle of John; and all three differ again, quite as much, from the philosopher who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews. How little have either the Apocalypse or Jude in common with Paul! We can no more make a uniform theology out of the New Testament writers than we can out of Calvinism, Arminianism Catholicism, and Unitarianism.

These various theologies can be traced to the elements making up the individualities of the different writers. The idiosyncracies of Paul are clearly marked. He was a man of strong speculative mind, of mystic piety, of lofty enthusiasm for great ideals, a-hungered after righteousness. A Jew and yet a Roman citizen, his education developed the two-fold sympathies of an Israelite of the dispersion. At the feet of the liberal rabbi, Gamaliel, he learned the curious and mystical lore of the rabbins, while drinking in from his Master the spirit of freedom. Thrown from a child in constant contact with the Gentiles of his native city, Tarsus, race prejudices had been sapped unconsciously; while in youth or manhood the wisdom and beauty of the Greek genius had apparently been opened to him.

Paul’s personality, fusing the materials of his education, and out of them building a body of thought around The Christ, explains his theology. He reproduces the conceptions of the rabbis, of the popular Jewish belief, of Gamaliel, of Tarsus, of Athens; transfigured on the heights of thought to which he climbed, in his intense musings over the problem of Jesus of Nazareth, while buried away in Arabia.

The small amount of theology in the practical Epistle of James is quite as plainly Jewish, of the school of the Sages, with a touch of Essenism. The theology of the Epistle to the Hebrews shows throughout the influences of the philosophy of Alexandria. The theology of the introduction to the Gospel according to St. John is just as unquestionably this same Alexandrian philosophy, still further developed.

These variant schools of Christian theology, so plainly revealing the sources of their variations, deny the existence of any one uniform system of thought in the New Testament writers, and pronounce the different systems transient and not final forms.

Whatever the Church may offer us, the New Testament offers us no fixed and final body of thought. In the Bible, Christian theology is still a soft vase, plastic to the touch of each worker upon it. Had Paul’s fine hand played around it even another decade, how different the shape it might have taken.

With the incoming of a more rational, ethical, and spiritual age, we may surely expect a finer fashioning of the forms of thought blocked out in the New Testament, under the first, fresh inspiration of the age of Jesus; into whose larger patterns shall be taken up all the truths revealed through the various sciences of these rich later ages; while all shall still take on the shape of Him who is the image of the invisible God.

“The Lord has more truth yet to break forth out of His holy word.”

The true Biblical theology is–Christ himself. His thought of God, and not even Paul’s thoughts about Christ, are to mould our thinking. The Supreme Son of Man must have had the truest thought of God. Two words formulate his theology as bodied not in a creed, but in a prayer–“Our Father.” The earliest, simplest, deepest cry of the human after God, now by Him who lived its spirit perfectly, the trusting, loving, holy Child of the Father, made no longer a sigh, a dream, a vision, but a life. “The life was the light of men.”

That light is the sufficient clue to the dark labyrinth in which we wander wearily.

I cannot always make out the face of a Father on the stern, harsh Power in whom we live and move and have our being. Then I turn to my Divine Brother, who, of all the children of men, saw deepest into the mystery, and in his far-mirroring eyes I read the vision which satisfies me.

With poor dying Joe, I whisper to myself:

“‘Our Father:’ yes, that’s werry good.”

V.

The Right Critical Use of the Bible.

“I am convinced that the Bible becomes even more beautiful the more one understands it; that is, the more one gets insight to see that every word, which we take generally and make special application of to our own wants, has had, in connection with certain circumstances, with certain relations of time and place, a particular, directly individual reference of its own.”

Goethe: quoted by M. Arnold in “The Great Prophecy of Israel’s Restoration.”

V.

The Right Critical Use of the Bible.

“God, who at many times and in many manners spake in time past to the fathers, by the prophets.”–Hebrews, i. 1.

The right use of the Bible grows out of the true view of the Bible.

The Old Testament is the literature of the people of religion, in whom ethical and spiritual religion grew, through all moods and tenses, toward perfection. The New Testament is the literature of the movement which grew out of Israel, the literature of the Universal Church bodying around the Son of Man, in whom religion came to perfect flower and fruit. The real Bible is the record of this real revelation coming through real ethical and spiritual inspirations; a revelation advancing with men’s deepening inspirations toward the Light which rose in the Life of Jesus Christ our Lord.

God, who at many times and in many manners spake in time past to the fathers by the prophets, hath at the last of these days spoken unto us by a Son.

These speakings of the Divine Spirit in the souls of men, at many times and in many manners, were articulated, as best was possible, in the writings of many ages and of many forms. The Bible is the collection of these writings. They require a critical study, as _bona fide_ “letters,” before we can know the degree of their inspiration, and their place in the progressive historic revelation; before we can thus deduce aright the thoughts about God out of which we are to construct our theology. Concerning this right critical use of the Bible, I propose now to offer some practical suggestions. Next Sunday I purpose giving you a bird’s-eye view of the general course of the historic revelation which led up to the Christ, the Word of God. After which I shall pass on to consider with you the pre-eminently right use of the Bible, in which our souls humbly hearken for its words proceeding from out the mouth of God, on which man liveth; and on them feeding, grow toward a perfect manhood in Christ Jesus.

I.

_Every aid of outward form should be used to make these books appear as living “letters” to us._

The traditional form in which the Bible has been given to the people would seem to have been devised with a design of robbing its writings of every natural charm, as the best means of making men feel its supernatural power. The fresh sense of “letters” disappears in this conventional form. These many books of many ages have been bound up together, with the most imperfect classification either as to period or character. A verse-making machine has been driven through them all alike, chopping them up into short, arbitrary, artificial sentences, formally numbered in the body of the text. The larger divisions into chapters have been made in an equally mechanical manner. By this twofold system an admirable provision has been made for checking the flow of the writer’s thought, and for effectually preventing any easy grasp of the natural movement of the book. Poetry has been printed as prose; thereby marring its rhythm, concealing its structure, and blinding the reader to the dramatic character of immortal works of genius. Through the whole mass of writings a system of chapter-headings has been introduced that ingeniously insinuates into the body of these sacred books, as seemingly an integral part thereof, a scheme of interpretation which possesses now no pepsine power for resolving their contents into spiritual nutriment, but rather positively hinders our assimilation of many of these books.

Probably the greatest obstacle to the use of the Bible is the senseless form in which custom persists in publishing it. I know few stronger evidences of the intrinsic power of these books than their continued influence, under conditions that would have remanded other books to the topmost shelves of the most unused alcoves in our libraries.

We ought to have the different books, or groups of books, bound separately; arranged paragraphically like other writings, with the present verse divisions indicated, if need be, in the margin; and the poetic structure properly indicated. These books should have brief, simple, lucid notes; drawing from our best critics the needful information as to their age, authorship, integrity, form, scope, obsolete words and idioms, local customs historical allusions, etc.; with other readings throwing light upon obscure passages. Each book should be thus provided with such a popular critical apparatus as accompanies good editions of other classics, and as Matthew Arnold has prepared for one book, in his primer entitled “The Great Prophecy of Israel’s Restoration;” which is the second section of Isaiah, arranged as a “Bible-reading for schools.”

This series of Bible-books should then be chronologically arranged, as far as the conclusions of the higher criticism will allow; and should be bound in uniform style and set in a Bible case, preserving thus the unity of the whole. Such an edition of the Bible would stimulate a renewed resort to it, in which men would re-discover a lost literature.

Until you can procure such an edition, provide yourselves with a paragraph Bible, following the natural divisions of the writings and maintaining their poetic form; and seek the information you may desire in some of the manuals embodying the results of the higher criticism.

II.

_Each writing having an intrinsic unity should, by such aids, be studied as a whole._

Every intelligent Christian ought to have a clear conception of the general scope of thought in each great Bible-book. Whatever fragmentary use of these books for direct devotional purposes may be made, he who would count himself as one of “the men of the Bible,” ought to know as much about them as he knows about his favorite authors.

Who that pretends to be a lover of Shakespeare is content with a scrappy reading of his immortal plays? To enjoy them fully, even in fragmentary readings, he seeks to have a foundation of critical knowledge, such as Shakespearian scholars place within the easy mastery of any one. After such a study of a play he can pick it up in leisure hours and see new beauties every time he reads it. How many Bible Christians know their Bible thus?

What a revelation such a study makes! It is an alchemist’s touch, turning many a leaden book into finest gold.

The oldest book, as a whole, in the Bible, is the Song of Songs. Attributed by later ages to Solomon, it was probably written by some unknown author, anywhere from the tenth to the eighth century before Christ.[34] The poem is dramatic in form, though imperfectly constructed according to our canons. Its scenes shift, and its speakers change with true dramatic movement. It is the closest approach to the drama preserved to us in Hebrew literature, whose genius never favored this highly organic form. There is needed but the usual indication of the _dramatis personae_ to clear the movement of the plot, and to reveal the force and beauty of the poem.

A maiden, her royal admirer, ladies of the court, the girl’s brother and her shepherd lover, appear and disappear in animated conversation. The country maiden is wooed away from her shepherd lad by the allurements of a royal admirer, who employs all the resources of fervid flattery and passionate persuasion to win her as a new attraction for his harem. He is foiled, however, by her simple, steadfast loyalty to her absent lover, to whom she at length returns, triumphant in her virtue. In a corrected version, the sensuousness of our English translation disappears in the ordinary richness of Eastern imagery, and the poem becomes a pure picture of loyal love. It reveals thus the healthy moral tone of Jewish society in that early age. This sound domestic virtue of the people, which looked with abhorrence on the licentiousness of the court, becomes all the more striking in contrast with the polygamous customs of the surrounding nations. We see the social foundation on which Israel builded such a noble structure of ethical religion. The people whose literature opens with such a laud of loyal love might well rise into the pure splendors of a Second Isaiah.

Such a poem fitly introduces the canon of Scripture; since, into whatever heights Religion aspires to lift the fabric of civilization, she must lay its corner-stone in the marriage bond, and rear the church and the state upon the family.

Perhaps we may also find in this Hebrew Song of Songs that mystic meaning, not uncommon in Eastern love-songs, at least in later readings of them, which Edwin Arnold has so vividly brought out in the Hindoo Song of Songs; and may understand how the Church came to take it as a parable of the love of the soul for its Heavenly Ideal, seen in the Christ.

Job, thus read, becomes a semi-dramatic poem, in which the problem of the disconnection of goodness and good-fortune, the lack of any just ordering of individual life, is discussed in the persons of an upright and sorely afflicted patriarch and his three friends, who come to condole and counsel with him. Through their interchanging colloquies, that bring up one after another the stock theories of the age of the author, the argument moves along without really getting on. No solution is found for the perplexing puzzle, in which man’s moral instincts beat vainly against the hard facts of life. Once, for a moment, the thought of a future life flashes up, as the true solution of the injustice of earth, in that thrilling cry of the tortured soul:

I know that my Redeemer liveth,
And that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though, after my skin, worms destroy this body, Yet out of my flesh shall I see God;
Whom I shall see for myself,
And mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.

But the vision fades upon an atmosphere unready for it, and the poet does not return to follow this clue out into the sunshine.

All the light that he can discern is in Nature’s manifestations of power and order and wisdom. From a wide range of knowledge, the poet draws together upon the stage the wonders of creation, which, with daring freedom, he introduces God himself as describing; until at length Job humbles himself in an awe not uncheered by trust:

Therefore have I uttered that I understood not. Things too wonderful for me which I knew not.

* * * * *

I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; But now mine eye seeth Thee.
Wherefore I abhor myself,
And repent in dust and ashes.

By dropping out the episode of Elihu, as an insertion of some later hand, the movement of the poem becomes sustained and progressive. The arguments of the Jewish theology are cleverly presented, while the swift, sure sense of justice in the sufferer pierces all sophisms, and riddles all pious conventionalities. The descriptions of Nature are graphic and eloquent. The _motif_ of the drama is one that voices the thought and feeling of our far-off age, in which many men again vainly thresh the old arguments of conventional theology, in trying to solve the “godless look of earth,” and take refuge anew in the manifestations of power and law in nature; not without the ancient lesson, let us trust, of an awe which silences and purifies, and leaves them in the light as of a mystery of meaning on the sphynx’s face, breaking into the dawning of a day which “uttereth speech.” Scientific agnosticism, in so far as it is an humble confession of human ignorance, has its worship scored in this noble poem, ringing the changes on the strain, at once plaint and praise:

Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? Deeper than hell; what canst thou know?

Curiously enough, as showing the power of conventionalism, the author winds up with a prose epilogue of the genuine story-book fashion, in which all things are set right by Job’s restoration to his lost wealth, in multiplied possessions. Pathetic persuasion of the poor human heart that all things must come right in the end!

What the Epistle to the Romans, that affrighting _vade mecum_ of theological disputants, becomes when read thus reasonably as a whole, with critical discernment of its real aim, I will not try to tell you; but will content myself with sending you where you may see it beautifully told, with Paul’s own upspringing inspiration of righteousness in Matthew Arnold’s “St. Paul and Protestantism.”

III.

_Each great book should, as a whole, be read in its proper place in Hebrew and Christian history._

The historical method is the true clue to the interpretation of a book. To know it aright we must know the age in which it was produced. This is the method by which such surprising light has been shed on many great works. Who that has read Taine’s graphic portraiture of the Elizabethan age can fail ever thereafter to see Shakespeare stand forth vividly? What can we make of Dante without some knowledge of Italy in the thirteenth century? What new life is given to Milton’s Samson after we have seen the blind old poet of the fallen Protectorate in his dreary home! How can we rightly estimate Rousseau’s writings unless we know somewhat of the artificial and luxurious age to which they came as a call back to nature? Taken out of their true surroundings these writings lose their force and meaning.

In the same way we need to find the historical place of a Biblical writing, and to read it in the light of its relation to the period.

The traditional view of Deuteronomy made it the last of the writings of Moses, a Farewell Address of the Father of his Country; reciting to the nation he had founded the story of its deliverance, repeating the laws established for its welfare, and warning it against the dangers awaiting it in the future. Such a view was attended with many difficulties, not insuperable, however, to the critical knowledge of earlier generations. Its real place in the history of Israel appears to have been found of late.

The Prophetic Reformation of Religion, begun in the eighth century before Christ, by the group of noble men of whom Isaiah was the most conspicuous had, by the latter part of the seventh century before Christ, become ripe for an organization of the institutions of religion. Jeremiah was the central figure in this second period of the prophetic movement. Upon the throne of Judah at that time was the good young king, Josiah–the Edward the Sixth of Israel–in whom the hopes of the reformers centred. About the year 625 B.C. occurred an event that decided the future of religion in Judah; described in the twenty-second chapter of the second book of Kings. The high-priest sent to the young king, saying:

I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord.

This book of the law of Moses, according to tradition, had been lost; had been lost so long that its provisions had dropped into disuse, into oblivion; an oblivion so complete that the nation’s religion ignored and violated the whole system of that law; had been lost so long and so thoroughly that the very existence of such a law had passed from the memory of man.

This was the book that Hilkiah claimed to have re-discovered in the temple archives. It was at once read to the excited king. It made a profound impression upon him by its revelation of the apostasy in which the nation was living, and by its solemn threatenings upon such apostasy.

It came to pass that when the king had heard the words of the book of the law, that he rent his clothes.

For, said he:

Great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us.

The devout young king threw himself into a thorough reformation of the prevailing religion. All local altars were swept away, all idolatries were cleared from the Jerusalem temple, the priesthood was centred in the capital and more thoroughly organized; in short, as our fathers read the story, Mosaism was re-established, after some seven centuries of partial or total disuse.

Through processes which we cannot now follow, our later critics have, I think, fairly established the proposition, that this book of The Law was none other than the substance of our book of Deuteronomy, then for the first time written. The plans of the prophetic reformers had contemplated the sweeping changes described above, in the interests of an ethical and spiritual religion. They felt that they were but carrying out the principles of the nation’s great Founder. Of his original conception of religion, bodied in The Ten Words, their aspirations were the legitimate historical development; as the leaf and bud are the growth of the far back roots. This programme of the prophetic reformers, presented in its true light as a development of the ideas of Moses, was, by the priest Hilkiah, sent to the king as the law of the nation’s Founder, with the results sketched above.

Read in this light, the book takes on a fresh and fascinating interest. It marks the organization of the movement toward a higher religion which had been started by the great prophets of the preceding century. It becomes the Augsburg Confession of the Jewish Reformation, from which dates the gradual possession of the institutions of the nation by ethical and spiritual religion.

The lofty character of this book, the “St. John of the Old Testament,” as Ewald called it, is thus rendered intelligible; as it stands for the aspirations of the noblest movement in ancient Jewish history. It is the issue of a long travail of soul to whose words we hearken in such a truth as this:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

Placed in this position, the book of Deuteronomy becomes the key to Israel’s history, by which criticism is reconstructing that story, on the lines of the great laws of all life, with most significant consequences to the cause of religion. The ideas and institutions known to us as The Mosaic Law come forth now as the crown and culmination of a long historic development. Israel’s story is that of a slow and gradual education under the divine hand; not a relapse, but a progress, not an apostasy but an evolution. Israel takes its place in the general order of humanity’s movement. With it religion sweeps at once into the pathway of progress which science has shown to be the order of nature; and the historic revelation is seen to be, like the revelation in nature, a gradual, progressive manifestation of Him “whose goings forth are as the morning”–its orbit the sweep of the ascending sun.

With such mighty secrets does this little book grow luminous when placed in the light of its real belongings.

The Book of Ezekiel, whose historic position was never disputed, becomes of new value in the light of a fuller knowledge of its period. It presents to the science of Biblical criticism the missing link in its theory of Israel’s development. It shows the process of transformation, out of which issued during the exile the elaborate, hierarchical system known to us as Mosaism. The new criticism seems to me to have reasonably established the theorem, that the priestly cultus embodied in the legislation of the Pentateuch was first systematized into the form it there presents during the exile, and was first set up as the national system on the return to Judea. It is not claimed that it was a new manufacture of that period. As such it would be inconceivable.[35] It is simply claimed that it was a thorough codification, for the first time, of the scattered and conflicting codes of conduct and systems of worship of the various local priesthoods of Israel, as handed down by tradition and in records from ancient times; a codification animated by the centralizing and hierarchical tendencies working in the nation; which tendencies were themselves the result largely of the prophetic spirit, and its aspirations for a nobler religion.[36] It is not difficult to account for this remarkable priestly movement.

The institutional organization of religion that began under Josiah had continued, with various fortunes, the aim of the higher spirits of the nation down to the exile. The movement of life was in the direction of uniformity and order. There was much in the circumstances of the exile to stimulate this movement. The priests were left without their temple worship, and, in the absence of outward interests, must have turned their thought in upon their system itself, studying it as they had not done in the midst of its actual operation. Like all wrongly lost possessions, it became doubly dear. The Jews were placed in the midst of an ancient and highly organized priestly system in Babylonia, whose benefits to culture and religion they must have noted and pondered. In the national humiliation and the personal sorrows of such a wholesale carrying away of a people from their native land, a wide-spread awakening of the inner life was experienced, a genuine revival of religion. A new wave of prophetic enthusiasm rose in the strange land, lifting the soul of the nation to heights of spiritual and ethical religion never reached before.

This revival was stamped with the impress of the intellectual influences which were working upon the Jews in Babylonia. Some of the extant writings of this period, alike in literary style, in moral tone and in religious thought, mark a new era. Israel’s genius flowered in this dark night–true to the mystic character of the race. This highest effort of prophetic thought and feeling appears to have quickly exhausted itself. In reality, it followed the usual order of religious movements, and turned into a priestly organization. The group of prophets around the first Isaiah prepared the way for the priestly movement that followed a century later. The group of prophets around the second Isaiah prepared the way for the priestly movement that followed close in their steps. First comes always, in religion, an epoch of inspiration, and then comes a period of organization. The organization never bodies fully the spirit of the inspiration. The ideal is not realizable in institutions. Institutional religion is always a compromise, a mediation between the lofty conceptions and impatient aspirations of the few who inspire the new life, and the low notions and contented conventionalisms of the many whom they seek to inspire. The compromise is necessarily of the nature of a reaction; but the interplay of action and re-action is the law of ethical as of chemical forces.

Israel really needed the conserving work of a great organization. The prophetic religion was far in advance of the popular level. The high thoughts and lofty ideas of the prophets needed to be wrought into a cultus, which, while not breaking abruptly with the popular religion, should imbue the conventional forms with deeper ethical and spiritual meanings; should, through them, systematically train the people in ethical habits and spiritual conceptions; and should thus gradually educate men out of these forms themselves.

In the providence of God, and under the influences of His patient Spirit, this needful system was developed in the exile: a system whose symbolism was so charged with ethical and spiritual senses that it led on to Christ; as the Epistle to the Hebrews rightly shows and as Paul distinctly declares. As the first priestly period, following the first prophetic epoch, bodied that double movement in a book–Deuteronomy; so the second priestly period, following the second prophetic epoch, bodied this double movement in a book, or group of books–the present form of the Pentateuch. The traditions and histories and legislations of the past were worked over into a connected series of writings, through which was woven the new priestly system, in a historical form. On the restoration to Judea, this institutional reorganization was set up as the law of the land, and continued thenceforward in force–the providential instrumentality for the _ad interim_ work of four centuries. Such a remarkable process of development, so deepening in us a sense of the guiding hand of God, ought to show some sign of its working, in the literature of the period. However clear, from our general knowledge, the tendencies which were at work in that period, we could not feel assured of our correct interpretation of this most important epoch, in the absence of some such sign, in a writing of that date.

The Book of Ezekiel supplies the missing link. The writer was a prophet-priest, who went into the exile, and wrote in Babylonia. In the earlier part of his life-work, recorded in the earlier portion of his book, he was thoroughly prophetic, intensely ethical and spiritual, breathing the very spirit of his great master, Jeremiah. In the latter part of his career he was visited with dreams, such as are plainly indicated to us in the remarkable vision occupying the concluding section of his book. The fortieth chapter opens thus:

In the visions of God brought he me into the land of Israel, and set me upon a very high mountain, upon which was as the frame of a city on the south.

Then follows, through eighteen chapters, a sketch of the temple system in the expected restoration. It is a thoroughly ideal sketch, a vision destined to take on much simpler and humbler proportions in its realization; a picture probably not intended for copying in actual construction, but, like all ideal work, a powerful stimulus to the aspirations it expressed.

It is a free sketch of the New Priestly System, on the easel, awaiting correction and completion at the hands of Ezra and others. It reveals to us the visions that were occupying the minds of the best men in the latter part of the exile, and the work they were essaying. Thus we are prepared for the final issue.

The Book of Daniel has been wrongly placed, traditionally, with most serious consequences to the character of the book, and, through this misconception to Christianity. Dated from the early part of the sixth century before Christ, its story of Daniel’s experiences read as literal history, and its visions appear as actual predictions of long subsequent events.

A high authority has declared–

There can be no doubt that it exercised a greater influence upon the early Christian Church than any other writing of the Old Testament.[37]

That influence, owing to this misconception, is chiefly to be traced in the growth of an apocalyptic literature, and in the fantastical and material expectations of the Messianic Kingdom which they encouraged. It has continued down to our own day turning heads as wise as Sir Isaac Newton’s, setting religion at conjuring with visions of monstrous beasts and juggling with mystic figures until the name of Prophecy has become a by-word.

This book appears to take its proper place, at least in its present form, about a century and a half before Christ. That was a period of deep depression for Israel. Under Antiochus Epiphanes the nation had been sorely oppressed, its temple denied, and its religion well nigh crushed out. Men’s hearts were failing them for fear, and for looking for those things that were coming to pass upon the earth. Pious souls turned back to the ancient time of bitter humiliation, when Israel had been scattered in a strange land, and recalled the bold word of faith spoken by Jeremiah, which had stayed the spirits of their forefathers. The great prophet promised that after seventy years the nation should be restored to its native land, and should renew its prosperity gloriously. It had won back its home, but in the old homestead it had grown poorer and feebler, generation after generation. Had the ancient promise of prophecy failed? Good men could not think so. To some devout soul came the suggestion that the seventy years had meant seventy Sabbatical years, each of which consisted of seven years; that is, four hundred and ninety years. One can still feel the thrill that must have gone through him, as he saw that this computation would place the defiling of the temple–that sign of God’s having forsaken his people–in the middle of the last week of years. It was then only about three years to the destined end of the weary period that Jeremiah had included in the term of Israel’s humbling, after which would come Jehovah’s help. Fired with this thought, he set himself to inspire his people with fresh hope and courage.

Around a traditional Daniel, famed for his wisdom and piety, and possibly upon an earlier document containing some tales of this sage and saint, he wove a story which should interpret Jeremiah’s prophecy and Jehovah’s purpose. With charming grace he tells the tale of Daniel’s constancy and trust under the sorest trials, and of the divine deliverance that always came to him. Into his mouth he placed predictions of what had already come to pass in history, that thus his reputation as a prophet might be established. Then he caused him to present a striking series of symbolical visions, the clue to which was furnished for the writer’s contemporaries by certain clear allusions. These visions foretold deliverance as about to come at the approaching end of the four hundred and ninety years of Jeremiah. Other visions sketched the ushering in of the Messiah-Kingdom, in glowing pictures of lofty religious tone.

In that dark night over Israel this book was as the morning star. It was truly, as Dean Stanley called it, “the Gospel of the age.” Its story spread, and with it spread renewed patience and hope. It doubtless fed the forces of that glorious revolt that shortly thereafter burst forth under the heroic Maccabees. Thus it kept alive the vital spark in the nation, through a crucial hour, that else might have gone out before it had given birth to Christianity. Noble as the book of Daniel is in many ways, especially as the real father of “the philosophy of history,” it has a still deeper interest to us Christians for its timely service to the sinking nation through which came at last our Blessed Master.

The Acts of the Apostles, when studied in the light of the tendencies known to have been working in the apostolic church, becomes of similar importance in New Testament history to Deuteronomy in Old Testament history.

The primitive Church was, as we well know, agitated by contending factions. Two leading parties dominated all minor schools of thought; the Jewish Christians, who naturally wanted to keep within the old religion, and who would have made a reformed Judaism, and the Gentile Christians who as naturally objected to being herded within Judaism, and who wanted to make a new and universal society. The first party rallied under the name of Peter, and the second used the name of Paul. There was imminent danger that the new society would break apart, with fatal consequences to posterity. Real and deep as were the differences between Peter and Paul, they did not, in all probability, sunder these great natures as widely as their followers imagined. There must have been meeting points between such souls, in love with the one Master. To find these convergences and construct out of them a peace-platform on which both wings of the new society might stand, was the aim of The Acts. It embodied genuine journals of a traveling companion of St. Paul, notes of his addresses in various cities, traditions lost to us outside of this book, of Peter’s conciliatory attitude and utterances; and groups these historic fragments into a sketch, in which the two apostles are shown as dividing equally the labors of founding the Christian Church, as preaching the same views, and acting in cordial harmony. This book is a sign of the disposition to draw together which was gaining ground among the primitive churches, a disposition fostered largely by this writing; out of which process of comprehension and conciliation arose the Catholic Church, naming its great cathedrals after St. Peter and St. Paul.

IV.

_The books which are of a composite character should be read in their several parts, and traced to their proper places in history._

Thus, for example, in reading Isaiah uncritically we pass from the fragment of history that forms our thirty-ninth chapter, to the magnificent strain of impassioned imagination which opens with the fortieth chapter, as though there were no hiatus; and we proceed straight through this latter section of the book, taking it all as written in the reign of Hezekiah, that is, in the latter part of the eighth century before Christ. We thus view this second section of Isaiah from a wrong standpoint. The panorama of its visions becomes blurred. We cannot focus the glass upon the objects in its field. The real significance and beauty of this noblest reach of prophetic imagination evanishes from our vision.

To see this second section of Isaiah aright, we must push it down the stream of time nearly two hundred years. It is the work of a prophet, or group of prophets, in the latter part of the exile, about the middle of the sixth century before Christ. Watching the signs of the times, the gifted and gracious spirit who led this chorus of hope saw tokens, as of the dawning of day after the long, dark night. Rumors of the all conquering Cyrus, the Medo-Persian king, made Babylon tremble with fear, and Israel thrill with excited expectation. In the ethical and spiritual religion of the advancing Persians, the Jews might look for a bond of sympathy. It would be the policy of Cyrus to make friends of the foes of Babylon, and to place the captive people in their own land on the borders of his empire, as his grateful feudatories. The seer saw thus, in the conquering hero, the Servant of God, raised up to restore the chosen people to their native country. Prophecy kindled anew for its final flame, and burst forth in the immortal strain of hope for the long-tried Israel:

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people,
Saith your God.
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, That her warfare is accomplished,
That her iniquity is pardoned.

I never read this sublime chapter without a fresh thrill, as I hear the voice of a crushed race, lifting amid its misery a cry of unconquerable confidence in the Just and Holy One, who was ordering alike the embattled armies of earth and the starry hosts of the skies, and through history, as in nature, was sweeping on resistlessly to fulfill the good pleasure of His Will. No wonder the matchless oratorio of the Messiah opens with this aria, abruptly as the original words are spoken in Isaiah. They sound the key-note of the good tidings of great joy which, growing as a hope in men’s souls through the centuries, became a faith, an assured conviction, in the life of the Christus Consolator; in whom God is seen as “Our Father which art in heaven.”

Every gem of this second section of Isaiah takes on a new lustre in this setting. It is the cry of the lost sheep in the wilderness, catching sight of the Shepherd who they thought had forgotten them, that we hear in the gracious strain:

He shall feed his flock like a Shepherd, He shall gather the lambs with his arm, And carry them in his bosom,
And shall gently lead those that are with young.

The vision of the Suffering, Righteous Servant of God grows clear and pathetic in the true historic light. The chastened nation feels itself called to a higher mission than that of political power. It is to teach the other nations of the earth the knowledge of God. That knowledge it is itself to learn in the school of sorrow. It is to save humanity through the sacrifice of itself. Thus the secret of suffering is spelled out, not for ancient Israel alone, but for all mankind; the secret which is shrined, for ever sacred to us, in the story of our Lord Christ; from whom you and I this day, through a simple symbol, are to learn anew that if we sorrow it is that we may be made perfect through suffering, and thus be fitted to lead our fellows up into the light and love of God.

V.

_These writings should be read critically, until we can decipher the successive hands working upon them, and interpret them accordingly._

Few, if any, of the books of the Bible stand now as they came from their original authors. Nearly all have been re-edited; most of them many times. Some of them have been worked over by so many hands, and have undergone such numerous and serious changes, that the original writer would scarcely identify his work. The historical writings of the Old Testament take up into them all sorts of materials, from all sorts of sources. If the annals of the Venerable Bede, the father of English history had been re-written again and again through the subsequent centuries; abridged, enlarged, interpreted by each editor; the accumulating knowledge and growing experience of the nation read into his simple chronicles; we should appreciate the critical care needful in studying our edition of Bede if we would know the real original. Very much such care is necessary if we are to use the Old Testament histories aright for information. It is as though there were several surfaces to the parchment on which the histories were written, on each successive film of which, in finest tracery, an older record was inscribed.

Genesis, for example, presents us, at every step of what seems a consecutive story, with successive layers of tradition, through which we must work our way most carefully if we would really understand the book. We readily observe a twofold tradition of the Creation in the opening chapters of Genesis, differing very materially: a sign to us, if we need it, that there was no one authoritative account of the Creation current in Israel. Little attention is required to note a double version of the story of the flood, whose artless piecing together is the cause of the confusions and contradictions that puzzle many readers. The deciphering of this double tradition of the flood first started criticism upon the true track of Biblical study. The frequently recurring phrase, “These are the generations,” or beginnings, indicates the insertion of fragments of a work giving an account of the origin of the world, of the races of earth, of language, of the Jewish people, etc.; a work called by the critics “The Book of Origins.” In the fourteenth chapter there is what seems to be a very ancient non-Jewish fragment of history, torn possibly from some Syrian writing, which gives a tale of Abraham’s prowess in war.

And even in one and the same tale of tradition, we apparently find strata of thought laid down by successive ages. There are extant to-day parchments in which, for lack of other material, a writer has scratched partially away an earlier manuscript, and written over it another book. Such a palimpsest is Genesis. “A legend of civilization is written over a solar-myth, and a tribal legend over the legend of civilization, and a theocratic legend over the tribal.”[38]

* * * * *

When such a mastery of the Bible-books is won, they are to be used in the customary methods of critical study, with reference to their contents and the significances thereof, under the same general laws of interpretation that hold over other literature.

* * * * *

I think I hear some one saying–Is this the right use of the Bible, for which I am asked to give up the dear, old, simple way of reading for my soul’s inspiration? Not at all, my friend. That blessed use of the Bible, learned at your mother’s knees, is still, and must always remain, the best use possible to any one. Of this I shall speak hereafter. I am now speaking, not of the right devotional use of the Bible, but of the right critical use of it. It has been used critically in building our theologies, but, to a large extent, amiss. Out of this wrong use of it has come the misconceptions in theology which to-day perplex our minds and bar the progress of religion. If we must use the Bible critically, let us by all means try to employ a true and thorough criticism. Let us not think to close every controversy by the phrase–The Bible says so. We shall be more modest and less disputatious when we appreciate the study necessary before any one can properly answer the question–What saith the Scriptures?

Again I hear a voice from the pews–Who then save a scholar is competent for such a use of the Bible? I answer–No one, except a pupil of the scholars. The scholars have placed within our reach the results of such a critical study of the Bible. You can find the rational guidance you may desire in the manuals which set forth the conclusions of these critical processes; though you must painfully feel, as I do, the lack of the religious tone in some of them. A crying need of our day is a Hand Book to the Bible in which the new critical knowledge shall blend, as it may blend, with the old spiritual reverence.

One should not rise from such a study of the Bible as we have made to-day, in its merely literary aspects, without a new, strange sense of awe before this mystic Book. It is the handiwork of no one man, of no group of men, of no period. It is an organic product, the growth of a whole people the coralline structure builded by a nation. Hands innumerable have toiled over these pages. Voices indistinguishable now, in blended chorus from the dawn of history, have joined in the cry of the human after God which whispers upon us from this sacred phonograph.

Successive generations of men, struggling with sin, striving for purity, searching after God, have exhaled their spirits into the essence of religion, which is treasured in this costly vase. The moral forces of centuries, devoted to righteousness, are stored in this exhaustless reservoir of ethical energy. At such cost, my brothers, has Humanity issued this sacred book. From such patience of preparation has Providence laid this priceless gift before you. In such labor of articulation–spelling out the syllables of the message from on high, through multitudinous lives of men dutifully and devoutly walking with their God–does the Spirit speak to you, O, soul of man. Say thou–

Speak Lord; thy servant heareth!

* * * * *

It is a matter of perfect indifference where a thing originated the only question is; Is it true in and for itself?

Hegel: “Philosophy of History,” Part III.: Sec. III.: Ch. II.

With reference to things in the Bible, the question whether they are genuine or spurious is odd enough. What is genuine but that which is truly excellent, which stands in harmony with the purest nature and reason, and which even now ministers to our highest development? What is spurious but the absurd and the hollow, which brings no fruit–at least, no good fruit.

Goethe: “Conversations,” March 11,1832.

No article of faith is injured by allowing that there is no such positive proof, when or by whom these and some other books of holy Scripture were written, as to exclude all possibility of doubt and cavil.

Watson’s “Apology for the Bible,” Letter IV.

VI.

The Right Historical Use of the Bible.

The principle of development involves also the existence of a latent germ of being–a capacity or potentiality striving to realize itself…. What Spirit really strives for is the realization of its Ideal being…..

The profoundest thought is connected with the personality of Christ–with the historical and external; and it is the very grandeur of the Christian religion that, with all this profundity, it is easy of comprehension by our consciousness in its outward aspect, while, at the same time, it summons us to penetrate deeper.

Hegel: “Philosophy of History,” pp. 57, 344. [Bohn.]

Let mental culture go on advancing, let the natural sciences go on gaining in depth and breadth, and the human mind expand as it may, it will never go beyond the elevation and moral culture of Christianity as it glistens and shines forth in the gospel!

Goethe: “Conversations,” March, 11,1832.

VI.

The Right Historical Use of the Bible.

“When the fulness of the time was come God sent forth His Son.”–Galatians, iv. 4.

St. Paul condensed the philosophy of Hebrew history into a metaphor. Israel travailed in birth with Christianity. In the mind of the nation was begotten, of the Most High, a conception of ethical religion, whose gestation was a process of centuries. The period of parturition came, and a universal religion was born into the world; bodied, as religion needs must be, in a man, Jesus, the Christ.

“When the fulness of the time was come God sent forth His Son.”

The sacred literature of Israel is the record and embodiment of this organic growth of her religion, through its various moods and tenses, toward its ideal in the Christ. The sacred literature of the Christian Church is the picture of this flower of the soul of Israel, and of the new growth springing up from its seeding down of humanity. The whole Bible presents us with the growth of the religion of the Christ, below ground and above ground; its rootings and its flowerings. The right historical use of the Bible is, through a critical knowledge of the sacred literature of Israel, to reproduce before our minds this process of the growth of the Christ in Israel and of His new growth in humanity; with a view to our intelligent perception of His true place in history, and of the significance thereof. The heart of the Bible is Christ. That which our fathers saw we need to see, that in Him all things stand together, as the arch is holden by the key-stone. Rightly to read the secret of His life is to find the secret of earth’s problems. Therefore our fathers insisted so strenuously on the Old Testament preparation for Christ. A tree’s rootings are proportionate to its size. In the gradual prefiguring of Christ through Israel’s story, they read the historic attestation of His revelation. The picture of Israel’s history that yielded them their vision is dissolving before our eyes, at the touch of the new criticism, and men are fearing that the secret of the Bible is escaping from our age. I desire to-day to draw for you, in outline, the story of Israel’s development, as traced by our new masters; that you may see the old vision re-emergent in truer, nobler forms. The re-construction of Hebrew history makes real and certain an organic, natural development of the religion of the Christ; a travail of the nation with the Son it bore to God.

The best method of studying any history is in its great epochs and periods. The eras of Hebrew history group themselves clearly, in orderly progression.

I.

_The Epoch of Moses:_ B.C. 1300(?)