THE MENDENHALL LECTURES, THIRD SERIES DELIVERED AT DEPAUW UNIVERSITY
UNDERSTANDING THE SCRIPTURES
FRANCIS J. McCONNELL
Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church
FORWARD I. PRELIMINARY II. THE BOOK OF LIFE III. THE BOOK OF HUMANITY IV. THE BOOK OF GOD V. THE BOOK OF CHRIST VI. THE BOOK OF THE CROSS
The Mendenhall Lectures, founded by Rev. Marmaduke H. Mendenhall, D.D., of the North Indiana Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, are delivered annually in De Pauw University to the public without any charge for admission. The object of the donor was "to found a perpetual lectureship on the evidences of the Divine Origin of Christianity and the inspiration and authority of the Holy Scriptures. The lecturers must be persons of high and wide repute, of broad and varied scholarship, who firmly adhere to the evangelical system of Christian faith. The selection of lecturers may be made from the world of Christian scholarship, without regard to denominational divisions. Each course of lectures is to be published in book form by an eminent publishing house and sold at cost to the faculty and students of the University."
Lectures previously published: 1913, The Bible and Life, Edwin Holt Hughes; 1914, The Literary Primacy of the Bible, George Peck Eckman.
GEORGE R. GROSE,
President De Pauw University.
The problem as to the understanding of the Scriptures is with some no problem at all. All we have to do is to take the narratives at their face meaning. The Book is written in plain English, and all that is necessary for its comprehension is a knowledge of what the words mean. If we have any doubts, we can consult the dictionary. The plain man ought to have no difficulty in understanding the Bible.
Nobody can deny the clearness of the English of the Scriptures. Nevertheless, the plain man does have trouble. How far would the ordinary intelligence have to read from the first chapter of Genesis before finding itself in difficulties? There are accounts of events utterly unlike anything which we see happening in the life around us, events which seem to us to contradict the course of nature's procedure. There are points of view foreign to our way of looking at things. More than that, there seem to be actual contradictions between various portions of the books. And, above all, the way of life marked out in the Book seems to lead off toward mystery. To save our lives we have to lose them. All the precepts of common sense seem set at defiance by some passages of the Book. How can we explain the hold of such a book on the world's life?
When once the problem of the understanding of the Scriptures is raised, various solutions are offered, all of which contribute a measure of help, but most of which do not greatly get us ahead. For example, we are told that the Book is translated literature, and that if we could get back to the original narratives in the original languages, we would find our perplexities vanishing. There is no question that a knowledge of Greek and Hebrew does aid us in an understanding of the Scriptures, but this aid commonly extends only to the meaning of particular words. One who knows enough of Greek or Hebrew to enter sympathetically into the life of which those languages were the expression is prepared to sense the scriptural atmosphere better than one who has not such equipment. Very few Scripture readers, however, are thus qualified to understand Greek and Hebrew. Very few ministers of the gospel are so trained as to be able to pass upon shades of meaning of Greek or Hebrew words against the judgment of those who teach these languages in the schools. With graduation from theological school most ministers put Hebrew to one side; and many pay no further attention to Greek. Even a trained biblical student is very careful not to question the authority of the professional linguistic experts. Apart from sidelights upon the meaning of this or that passage, there is very little that the biblical student can get from Greek or Hebrew which is not available in important translations. We cannot solve the greater difficulties in biblical study by carrying our investigations back to the study of the original languages as such. The fact is that emphasis upon the importance of mastery of Greek and Hebrew for an insight into scriptural meanings rests largely upon a theory of literal inspiration of the biblical narratives. It requires only a cursory reading to see that the narratives in English cannot claim to be strictly inerrant, so that the upholder of inerrancy is driven to the position that the inerrancy is in the documents as originally written. No doctrine of inerrancy, however, can explain away the puzzles which confront us, for example, in the accounts of the creation as given us in the early chapters of Genesis, or throw light upon the possibility of a soul's passing from moral death to life.
Great help is promised us by those who maintain that the modern methods of critical biblical study give us the key to scriptural meanings. There is no doubt that many doors have been opened by critical methods. Now that the flurries of misunderstanding which attended the first application of such methods to biblical study have passed on, we see that some solid results have been gained. In so far as our difficulties arise from questions of authorship and date of writing, the critical methods have brought much relief. Even very orthodox biblicists no longer insist that it is necessary to oppose the teaching that the first five books of the Bible were written at different times and by different men. In fact, there is no reason to quarrel with the theory that many parts of these books are not merely anonymous, but are documents produced by the united effort of narrators and correlators reaching through generations—the narratives often being transmitted orally from fathers to sons. There is no reason for longer arguing against the claim that the book of Isaiah as it stands in our Scriptures is composed of documents written at widely separated periods. It is permissible even from the standpoint of orthodoxy to assign a late date to the book of Daniel. No harm is wrought when we insist that the book of Mark must have priority in date among the Gospels, and that Matthew and Luke are built in part from Mark as a foundation. It is not dangerous to face the facts which cause the prolonged debate over the authorship of the fourth Gospel. It is not heresy to teach that the dates of the epistles must be rearranged through the findings of modern scholarship. There is not only no danger in a hospitable attitude toward modern scholarship, but many difficulties disappear through adjusting ourselves to present-day methods. If contradictions appear in a document hitherto considered a unit, the contradictions are at least measurably done away with when the document is seen to be a composite report from the points of view of different authors. The critical method has been of immense value in enforcing upon us that the scriptural books were written each with a distinctive intention, apart from the purpose to represent the facts in the method of a newspaper reporter or of a scientific investigator. In a sense many of the more important scriptural documents were of the nature of pamphlets or tracts for the times in which they were written. The author was combating a heresy, or supplementing a previous statement which seemed to him to be inadequate, or seeking to adjust a religious conception to enlarging demands. The biblical writers are commentators on or interpreters of the truth which they conceive to be essential.
Making most generous allowances, however, for the advantages of the critical methods, we must use them with considerable care. Results like those suggested above seem to be well established, but there is always possibility of the critic's becoming a mere specialist with the purely technical point of view. Suppose the critic holds so to the passion for analysis that for him analysis becomes everything. We may then have a single verse cut into three or four pieces, each assigned to a different author, the authors separated by long periods. Even if the older narratives are composite, the process of welding or compression was so thorough that detailed analyses are now out of the question. Apart from its broader contentions, the method of the critical school must be used tentatively and without dogmatism. Moreover, we must always remember that the critical student comes to his task with assumptions which are oftentimes more potent with him from his very blindness to their existence. Assumption in scientific investigation is inevitable. Suppose a critic to be markedly under the influence of some evolutionary hypothesis. Suppose him to believe that the formula which makes progress a movement from the simple to the complex can be traced in detail in the advance of society. He is prepared to believe that in practically every case the simple has preceded the complex. He will forthwith untangle the biblical narrative to get at the ideal evolutionary arrangement, ignoring the truth that except in the most general fashion progress cannot thus be traced. In the actual life of societies the progress, especially of ideas, is often from the complex to the simple. Many evolutionists maintain that movement is now forward, now backward, now diagonal, and now by a "short cut"; but if the evolutionary critic sticks closely to his preconceived formula about progress as always from the simple to the complex, he can lead us astray. Again, almost all great prophetic announcements are ahead of their time. They seem out of place at the date of their first utterance—interruptions, interjections hard to fit into an orderly historic scheme. Or suppose the critic to be a student of the scientific school which will not allow for the play of any forces excepting as they openly reveal themselves, the school that will not allow for backgrounds of thought or for atmospheres which surround conceptions. Such a student is very apt to maintain, for example, that Paul knew only so much of the life of Jesus as he mentions in the epistles. Such a student cannot assume that Paul ever took anything for granted. We can see at once that a method so professedly exact as this may be dangerously out of touch with the human processes of the life of individuals and of societies. Or suppose still further that the biblical student holds a set of scientific assumptions which are extremely naturalistic; that is to say, suppose that he assumes that nothing has ever happened which in any way departs from the natural order. We have only to remind ourselves that the natural order of a particular time is the order as that time conceives it; but it is manifestly hazardous to limit events in the world of matter to the scientific conceptions of any one day. To take a single illustration, the radical student of the life of Jesus of a generation ago cast out forthwith from the Gospel accounts everything which suggested the miraculous. The conceptions of the order of nature which obtained a generation ago did not allow even for works of healing of the sort recorded in the Gospels. At the present time radical biblical criticism makes considerable allowance for such works. Discovery of the power of mental suggestion and of the influence of mind over body has opened the door to the return of some of the wonders wrought by Jesus to a place among historic facts. This does not mean that the radical student is any more friendly to miracles than before. We are not here raising the question of miracles as such, but we do insist that an assumption as to what the natural order may or may not allow can be fraught with peril in the hands of critical students of the Scriptures. We say again that while, in general, the larger contentions of the biblical school can be looked upon as established beyond reasonable doubt; and while, in general, the methods of the school are productive of good, yet, because of the part that assumption plays in the fashioning of all critical tools, the assumptions must be scrutinized with all possible care. A good practical rule is to read widely from the critics, to accept what they generally agree upon, to hold very loosely anything that seems "striking" or "brilliant." This is a field in which originality must be discounted. There is so little check upon the imagination.
It is but a step from the consideration of the critical methods in biblical study to that of the historical methods in the broader sense. Many students who are out of patience with the more narrowly critical processes maintain that the broader historical methods are of vast value in biblical discussion. Here, again, we must admit the large measure of justice in the claim. We can see at once that the same reservations must be made as in the case of the critical methods. The assumptions play a determining part. If we are on our guard against any tricks that assumptions may play, we can eagerly expect the historical methods to aid us greatly.
We have come to see that any revelation to be really a revelation must speak in the language of a particular time. But speaking in the language of a particular time implies at the outset very decided limitations. The prophets who arise to proclaim any kind of truth must clothe their ideas in the thought terms of a particular day and can accomplish their aims only as they succeed in leading the spiritual life of their day onward and upward. Such a prophet will accommodate himself to the mental and moral and religious limitations of the time in which he speaks. Only thus can he get a start. It is inevitable, then, that along with the higher truth of his message there will appear the marks of the limitations of the mold in which the message is cast. The prophet must take what materials he finds at hand, and with these materials direct the people to something higher and better. Furthermore, in the successive stages through which the idea grows we must expect to find it affected by all the important factors which in any degree determine its unfolding. The first stage in understanding the Scriptures is to learn what a writer intended to say, what he meant for the people of his day. To do this we must rely upon the methods which we use in any historical investigation. The Christian student of the Scriptures believes that the Bible contains eternal truths for all time, truths which are above time in their spiritual values. Even so, however, the truth must first be written for a particular time and that time the period in which the prophet lived. When the Christian speaks of the Scriptures as containing a revelation for all time, he refers to their essential spiritual value. The best way to make that essential spiritual value effective for the after times is to sink it deep into the consciousness of a particular time. This gives it leverage, or focus for the outworking of its forces. No matter how limited the conceptions in which the spiritual richness first took form, those conceptions can be understood by the students who look back through the ages, while the spiritual value itself shines out with perennial freshness. Paradoxical as it may sound, the truths which are of most value for all time are those which first get themselves most thoroughly into the thought and feeling of some one particular time. Let us look at the opening chapters of Genesis for illustration. The historical student points out to us that the science of the first chapters of Genesis is not peculiar to the Hebrew people, that substantially similar views of the stages through which creation moved are to be found in the literatures of surrounding peoples. A well-known type of student would therefore seek at one stroke to bring the first chapters of Genesis down to the level of the scriptures of the neighbors of the Hebrews. He would then discount all these narratives alike by reference to modern astronomy, geology, and biology. But the difference between the Hebrew account and the other accounts lies in this, that in the Hebrew statement the science of a particular time is made the vehicle of eternally superb moral and spiritual conceptions concerning man and concerning man's relation to the Power that brought him into being. The worth of these conceptions even in that early statement few of us would be inclined to question. Assuming that any man or set of men became in the old days alive to the value of such religious ideas, how could they speak them forth except in the language of their own day? They had to speak in their own tongue, and speaking in that tongue they had to use the thought terms expressed by that tongue. They accepted the science of their day as true, and they utilized that science for the sake of bodying forth the moral and spiritual insights to which they had attained. The inadequacy of early Hebrew science and its likeness to Babylonian and Chaldean science do not invalidate the worth of the spiritual conceptions of Genesis. This ought to be apparent even to the proverbial wayfaring man. The loftiest spiritual utterances are often clad in the poorest scientific draperies. Who would dare deny the worth of the great moral insights of Dante? And who, on the other hand, would insist upon the lasting value of the science in which his deep penetrations are uttered? And so with Milton. Dr. W. F. Warren has shown the nature of the material universe as pictured in Milton's "Paradise Lost." In passing from heaven to hell one would descend from an upper to a lower region of a sphere, passing through openings at the centers of other concentric spheres on the way down. Nothing more foreign to modern science can be imagined; yet we do not cast aside "Paradise Lost" because of the crudity of its view of the physical system.
Assuming that the biblical prophets were to have any effect whatever, in what language could they speak except that of their own time? Their position was very similar to that of the modern preacher who uses present-day ideas of the physical universe as instruments to proclaim moral and spiritual values. Nobody can claim that modern scientific theories are ultimate, and nobody can deny, on the other hand, that vast good is done in the utilization of these conceptions for high religious purposes.
A minister once sought in a sermon on the marvels of man's constitution to enforce his conceptions by speaking of the instantaneousness with which a message flashed to the brain through the nervous system is heeded and acted upon. He said that the touch of red-hot iron upon a finger-tip makes a disturbance which is instantly reported to the brain for action. A scientific hearer was infinitely disgusted. He said that all such disturbances are acted upon in the spinal cord. He could see no value, therefore, even in the main point of the minister's sermon because of the minister's mistaken conception of nervous processes. I suppose very few of us know whether this scientific objection was well taken or not. Very few of us, however, would reject the entire sermon because of an erroneous illustration; and yet sometimes all the essentials of the Scriptures are discounted because of flaws no more consequential than that suggested in this illustration. The Scriptures aim to declare a certain idea of God, a certain idea of man, and a certain idea of the relations between God and man. Those ideas are clothed in the garments of successive ages. The change in the fashions and adequacy of the garments does not make worthless the living truth which the garments clothe. Jesus himself lived deeply in his own time and spoke his own language and worked through the thought terms which were part of the life of his time. Some biblical readers have been greatly disturbed in recent years by the discovery of the part which so-called apocalyptic thought-forms play in the teaching of Jesus. The fact is that these conceptions were the commonest element in all later Jewish thinking. Jesus could not have lived when he did without making apocalyptic terms the vehicle for his doctrines. We have come to see that the manner of the coming of the kingdom of Jesus is not so important as the character of that kingdom.
Not only must a prophet speak in the language of a definite time, but he must speak to men as he finds them. This being so, we must expect that revelations will in a sense be accommodated to the apprehension of the day of their utterance. The minds of men are in constant movement. If the prophet were to have before him minds altogether at a standstill, he might well despair of accomplishing great results by his message. He would be forced to think of the intelligence of this day as a sort of vessel which he could fill with so much and no more. But whether the prophets have through the ages had any theoretic understanding of human intelligence as an organism or not, they have acted upon the assumption that they were dealing with such organisms. So they have conceived of their truth as a seed cast into the ground, passing through successive stages. Jesus himself spoke of the kingdom of God as moving out of the stage of the blade into that of the ear and finally into that of the full corn in the ear. This illustration is our warrant for insisting that in the enforcing of truth all manner of factors come into play and that the truth passes through successive epochs, some of which may seem to later believers very unpromising and unworthy. The test of the worth of an idea is not so much any opinion as to the unseemliness of the stages through which it has passed as it is the value of the idea when once it has come to ripeness. The test of the grain is its final value for food. The scriptural truths are to be judged by no other test than that of their worth for life.
In the light of the teaching of Jesus himself there is no reason why we should shrink from stating that the revelation of biblical truth is influenced by even the moral limitations of men. Jesus said that an important revelation to man was halted at an imperfect stage because of the hardness of men's hearts. The Mosaic law of divorce was looked upon by Jesus as inadequate. The law represented the best that could be done with hardened hearts. The author of the Practice of Christianity, a book published anonymously some years ago, has shown conclusively how the hardness of men's hearts limits any sort of moral and spiritual revelation. It will be remembered that William James in discussing the openness of minds to truth divided men into the "tough-minded" and the "tender-minded." James was not thinking of moral distinctions: he was merely emphasizing the fact that tough-minded men require a different order of intellectual approach than do the tender-minded. If we put into tough-mindedness the element of moral hardness and unresponsiveness which the prophet must meet, we can see how such an element would condition and limit the prophet.
Again, Jesus said to his disciples that he had many things to say to them, but that they could not bear them at the time at which he spoke. Some revelations must wait for moral strength on the part of the people to whom they are to come. Suppose, for example, in this year of our Lord 1917, some scientist should discover a method of touching off explosives from a great distance by wireless telegraphy without the need of a specially prepared receiver at the end where the explosion is desired. Suppose it were possible for him simply to press a button and blow up all the ships of the British Navy, or all the stores of munitions in Germany. What would be the first duty of such an inventor? Very likely it would be his immediate duty to keep the secret closely locked in his own mind. If such a discovery were made known to European combatants in their present temper, it is a question what would he left on earth at the end of the next twenty-four hours. With European minds in their present moral and spiritual plight it would not be safe to trust them with any such revelation. And this illustration has significance for more than the physical order of revelation. There are principles for individual and social conduct that may well be put into effect one hundred years from now. Men are not now morally fit to receive some revelations. All of which means that any revealing movement is a progressive movement in that it depends upon not merely the utterances of the revealing mind, but upon the response of the receiving mind. In the play back and forth between giver and receiver all sorts of factors come into power. The study of the interplay of these factors is entirely worthy as an object of Christian research. We may well be thankful for any advance thus far made in such study and we may look for greater advances in the future. For example, the historic students thus far have put in most of their effort laying stress upon similarities between the biblical conceptions and the conceptions of the peoples outside the current of biblical revelation. The work has been of great value. Nevertheless it would seem to be about time for larger emphasis on the differences between the biblical revelations and the conceptions outside.
Still when all is said the mastery of historical methods of study is but preliminary to the real understanding of the Scriptures. If we come close to the revealing movement itself, we find that before we get far into the stream there must be sympathetic responsiveness to biblical teaching. The difficulties in understanding the Scriptures are, as of old, not so much of the intellect as they are of conscience and will— the difficulties, in a word, that arise from the hardness of men's hearts.
THE BOOK OF LIFE
The approaches to an understanding of the Scriptures which we suggested in the first chapter are those which have to do merely with intellectual investigation. Any student with normal intelligence can appreciate the methods and results of the critical scrutiny of the biblical documents, but will require something more for an adequate mastery of the scriptural revelations. There is need of sympathetic realization that the Book itself did not in any large degree come out of the exercise of the merely intellectual faculties. In the scriptural revelation we are dealing with a current of life which flowed for centuries through the minds of masses of people. To be sure of insight into the meanings of this revelation there must be an approach to the Bible as a Book of Life in the sense that its teachings came out of life and that they were perennially used to play back into life. Its hold on life to-day can be explained only by the fact that it was thus born out of life, and has its chief significance for the experiences of actual life.
Even the most superficial perusal of the Scriptures shows that they came of practical contact with men and things. There is comparatively little in the entire content of our Sacred Book to suggest the speculations of abstract philosophy. The writers deal with the concrete. They tell of men and of peoples who had to face facts and who achieved comprehensions and convictions through grappling with facts. There is about the Scriptures what some one has called a sort of "out-of-doors-ness." There is very little hint of withdrawal from the push and pressure of daily living. If the prophets ever withdrew to solitude, they did not retire to closets, but rather to deserts or to mountains. We must not allow our modern familiarity with bookmaking as an affair of library research and tranquil meditation in seclusion to mislead us into thinking that the Christian Bible was wrought out in similar fashion. The Book is full of the tingle and even the roar of the life out of which it was born. Jesus gathered up in a single sentence the process by which the scriptural revelation can be apprehended by man when he said, "He that doeth the will shall know of the truth." The entire scriptural unfolding is one vast commentary on this utterance of Jesus.
It is impossible for us in this series of studies to attempt any detailed survey of the revealing movement of which our Scriptures are the outcome. It is important, however, that we should see clearly that the revelation came to those who opened themselves to the light in an obedient spirit. While it is not in accord with our modern knowledge of psychology to assort and divide human activities too sharply, it is nevertheless permissible to insist that the biblical revelation was in a sense primarily to the will. As Frederick W. Robertson used to say, obedience is the organ of spiritual knowledge. The first men to whom illuminations came evidently received these gifts out of some purity of intention and moral excellence. These early leaders gathered others around them and set them on the path of determined striving toward a definite goal. As the idea of the seer or the prophet found general acceptance it gradually hardened into law, law meant for scrupulous observance. If a singer felt stirred to write a psalm, he voiced his experiences or his aspirations in the midst of a throbbing world. If a statesman drew a wide survey of God's dealings with the nations of the earth, he did so at some mighty crisis in Israel's relations to Egypt or Assyria or Babylon. When we reach New Testament times we find that even the Gospels seem to have been books struck out of immediate practical urgencies rather than composed tranquilly with a scholar's interest merely in doing a fine piece of professional work. The early Christians were anxious to hold the believers to the strait and narrow way. To do this they repeated often the words of the Lord Jesus. When, however, the older members of the first circles began to fall away, the words were written down, not because some scholar felt moved thus to improve his leisure, but because it was absolutely necessary to preserve the words. Moreover, conflicts were arising between the growing church and the forces of the world round about. Some scriptures were written to supply instruments with which to carry on the warfare. Always the fundamental aim was to keep the people acting according to the teachings which lay at the heart of the Christian system. The object of the biblical revelation was from the beginning just what it is to-day in the hands of Christian believers—the object of using the Scriptures as an instrument for practicing the Christian spirit into all the phases of life.
We would by no means deny that there are imposing philosophies or, rather, hints toward such philosophies, in the Scriptures, but we insist that these did not come out of a purely philosophizing temper. They came as men tried to put into some form or order the understandings at which they had arrived as they wrestled with the tough facts of a world which they were trying to subject to the rule of their religion. As we have said in the previous chapter, the Scriptures bear scars of all such conflicts. The revelation was knocked into its shape in the rough-and- tumble of an attempt to convert the world. And this is not to claim for the Bible any difference in method of creation from that which obtains in the shaping of any vitally effective piece of literature. The world- shaking conceptions have always been won in profound experience. This chapter is not written with the principles of the modern school of pragmatism as a guide, and yet pragmatism can be so stated as to phrase an essentially Christian doctrine that spiritual ideas result from spiritual practices and are of worth as they prove themselves aids in further experience. Take some of the expressions of Paul. The fundamental fact in Paul's experience was his vision on the Damascus road and his determination to be obedient to that vision. To make his own view of the Christian religion attractive to those whom he was trying to win, it became necessary for him to speak in terms of the Judaism of his time. In fact, he could not have spoken in any other terms, though some of his reasonings seem to us to be remote from actual life. But when he left argument and came back to experience he was most effective. His terribly compelling utterances are those which were born of driving necessity. The theology started with the vision and unfolded in obedience to the vision, "What wilt thou have me to do?" Everywhere upon Paul's epistles there are the marks of practical compulsion. A letter was dispatched to convince stubborn Jews in Galatia or to persuade questioning Gentiles in Rome. Some of the profoundest phrasings of Pauline belief were uttered first as appeals for generous collections to starving saints.
The example of Paul as a receiver and giver of spiritual light is very significant. Even if we should make the largest allowances to the biblical critics who would cut down the number of epistles known to be genuinely Pauline, we would have enough left to make on our minds the impression of enormous personal activity. One passage does, indeed, tell us of a period of months of withdrawal for reflection in Arabia. For the most part, however, Paul's life was spent in ceaselessly going to and fro throughout the Roman empire; even in the days of imprisonment he seems to have been burdened with the administration of churches. It was out of such multifarious activities that the theology of Paul was born, and therein lies its value. No interpretation is likely to bring the separate deliverances into anything like formal, logical consistency. Very likely Paul was of a markedly logical frame of mind, but he did not attempt to rid his message of contradictions in detail. The unity and consistency are found in the fundamental life purpose to get men to accept Jesus Christ as the Chosen of God. If Paul had ever heard that much of his theology might be out-dated with the passage of the years, he would probably have responded that he was perfectly willing that the instrument should be cast aside if it had served its spiritual purpose of bringing men to obedience to the law of God.
It is not intended to make this a book of sermons or exhortations. We must say, however, that in a series of studies on how to understand the Scriptures stress must be laid upon the maxim that the Scriptures can be understood only by those who seek to recognize and obey the spirit of life breathing from the Scriptures. Nothing could be more hopeless than to attempt to get to the heart of Christian truth without attempting to build that truth into life. The formal reasonings of the theologian are no doubt of value, but they throw little light upon the essentials of Christianity except as they deal with data which have been supplied by Christian experience. It would, indeed, be well for any study of the Bible to begin with a recognition of the part played by distinctly scholarly research. We cannot go far, however, until we recognize that sympathy with Christian truth is necessary before we can come upon vital knowledge. And this, after all, is but the way we learn to understand any piece of life-literature. A vast amount of material is at hand in the form of commentaries upon the work of Shakespeare. We know much about the circumstances under which the plays of Shakespeare were written; we know somewhat of the sources from which Shakespeare drew his historical materials; we are familiar with the chronology of the plays; but all this is knowledge about Shakespeare. To know Shakespeare there must be something of a deliberate attempt to surrender sympathetically to the Shakespearean point of view. We get "inside of" any classic work of literature only by this spirit of surrender. The aim of Shakespeare is simply to picture life as he sees it, but even to appreciate the picture men must enter into sympathy with the painter. The Scriptures aim not merely to paint life, but to quicken and reproduce life. How much more, then, is needed a surrender of the will before there can be adequate appreciation of the Scriptures? If the Scriptures are the results primarily of will-activities, how can they finally be mastered except by minds quickened by doing the will revealed in the Scriptures? The book of Christianity must be interpreted by the disciples of Christianity. Judged merely by bookish standards, there is no satisfactory explanation of the power of the Bible. But lift the whole problem out of the realm of books as such! The glimpses into any high truth that are worth while—how do they come? They come out of experience. Even when they are repeated from one mind to another they become the property of that second mind only as they reproduce themselves in experience. Otherwise the whole transaction is of words, words, words. The Scriptures have to do with deeds, not words.
All this is offensive to the dogmatic reasoner. For him the intellect as such is the organ of religious truth. He insists on speaking of the Scriptures in formally theological terms. That the Scripture writers employed theological terms there can be no doubt, but they did not speak as systematic theologians. And always they brought their theology to the test of actual life. The writer of these lines once knew a student who had read enough of psychology to enable him to reason himself into a belief that he was the only person in existence; that is to say, he declared that he himself was the only one of whose existence he was infallibly certain. Does not all knowledge of an external world come as a report through a sensation aroused by stimulus? If the appropriate stimulus could be kept up an external world might fall away and I would still think it was there. The bell might ring at the door and might be nobody there. And so on and on, through steps familiar enough to the student of philosophy. When a friend made a quick appeal to life with the question: "If you are the only one alive, why do you bring your troubles to me?" the amateur philosopher came to earth with a sense of jar. But the jar is no greater than that when we pass from the plane of dogmatic theology to that of reading the Scriptures for their own sake. The old scholastics said that in God there are three substances, one essence, and two processions. How does this sound as compared with the statement of Jesus that he and his Father are one, and that he would send the Comforter? This is not to decry theology; but is nevertheless to discriminate between theology and scripture.
Some one will object, however, that the scriptural truths take their start in large part from the visions of mystics—of men who brood long and patiently until they behold realities not otherwise discernible. Some students will urge upon us that such mystic revelations are granted peculiarly to the mystic temperament as such, and they often come regardless of the quality of life that the seers themselves may be living.
There have, indeed, been in all ages of the world temperaments of supernormal or abnormal responsiveness to influences which seem to make little or no impression upon the ordinary mind. In all periods natures of this type have been looked upon as organs of religious revelation. So valuable have abnormal experiences seemed that all manner of expedients have been utilized to beget unusual mental states. A certain tribe of Indians, for example, in the southwest of our country are accustomed at set times to send their religious leaders into the desert to find and partake of a peculiar plant which has an opiate or narcotic effect. In the belief of the Indians this plant opens the door to visions. The visions, as reported by those who have recovered from the influence of the narcotic, are not of any considerable value. Similar attempts have been made by hypnotic experimenters among other peoples, the hypnosis sometimes being self-induced. From some Old Testament passages especially we may well believe that this sort of extraordinary mental condition was sought for in the so-called schools of the prophets in the olden days of Israel. The astonishing peculiarity about the Scriptures, however, is not that there is so much reliance on this trance experience as that there is so little. The Hebrew Scriptures were the expression of a people living in the midst of heathen surroundings; and heathenism always has laid stress upon the virtue of these abnormal experiences. Granting all allowances for mental states induced by eating an opiate, or by whirling like the dervish, or by fasting like the Hindu, the fact remains that in the main, the visions of the writers of our Scriptures came out of attempts to realize in conduct the moral will of God. When we think of the surroundings even of the early church; when we reflect upon the force of suggestion for uncritical minds; when we consider the sway of superstition at all periods during the Hebrew revealing movement, the wonder is that the Scriptures lay such stress as they do upon the type of vision which arises from faithfulness in doing the revealed will.
If we may characterize scriptural mysticism, it seems very much akin to mental abilities which we meet frequently in our ordinary intercourse. Take, for example, the prescience of a skilled business man. Nothing is more inadequate than the rules for success laid down by many a man who has himself succeeded in business. Mastery of his rules will not help another to win business success. The reason is that there comes out of prolonged business practice a keen sense of what is likely to happen in the industrial or financial world. The sharpened wits foresee without being able to assign reasons or grounds for the prophecies. So it is with intellects trained to any superior skill. The Duke of Wellington once remarked that he had spent all his life wondering what was on the other side of the hills in front of him, yet the Duke himself came to marvelous skill in guessing what was on the other side. There is also a variety of scientific mysticism, if such an expression may be permitted. The man long trained to the reading of scientific processes develops a quick insight which runs far ahead of reason or proof. The transcendent scientific discoveries have been glimpsed or, rather, sensed before they so reported themselves that they could be seized by formal proof. Now it is a far cry from business men, generals, and scientists to the mysticism of the Scriptures, but when we see the emphasis which the Scriptures place upon constancy in keeping the law and in acting according to divine commandments, we cannot help feeling that biblical mysticism was and is an awareness developed as the life becomes practiced to the doing of religious duty. Think too of the emphasis placed in the Scriptures upon the consecration of the whole life to the truth as cleansing the heart from evil. All this makes for a power to seize truth beyond that possible to formal and systematic reason. Mysticism of this sort is the very height of spiritual power. The Master's word: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God," does not refer to merely negative virtue. It means also the power of soul accumulated in the positive doing of good. It means entrance into the life of quick spiritual awareness through the adjustment of the whole nature to the single moral purpose.
In all promise of revelation the Scriptures insist upon the importance of keeping upon the basis of solid obedience. The finer the instrument is to be, the more massive must be the foundation. Professor Hocking, of Harvard University, has used a remarkable illustration to enforce this very conception. The scientific instrument, he says, which must be kept freest from distracting influences so that it may make the finest registries must rest upon a foundation broad and deep. So the soul that is to catch the finest stirrings of the divine must rest upon the solidest stones of hard work for the moral purposes of the scriptural Kingdom.
Still some one will insist that the Bible is a book built around great crises in human experience; that it is a record of these crises; that the people in whose history the crises occurred were a peculiar people, apparently arbitrarily chosen as a medium for religious world- instruction; that the crises cast sudden bursts of intense light upon the meaning of human life, but that they themselves are far apart from ordinary experience. Here, again, we must insist that the scriptural stress is always upon obedience to what is conceived of as revealed truth. We have already said that Jesus regarded revelation as organic. In everything organic we find instances of quick crisis following long and slow periods of growth. The crisis or the climax of the sudden flowering-out would never be possible were it not for the antecedent growth. The Hebrew nation, developed through workaday righteousness, manifested wonderful power in sudden crises. The inner forces of moral purpose which at times seemed hidden or dead because of the riot of wickedness suddenly blossomed forth in mighty bursts of prophecy; but the all-essential was the long-continued practice of righteousness which made possible the sudden crisis; and this is in keeping with the teachings of most commonplace human experience. The daily struggle prepares for the sharp, quick strain or for the swift unfolding of a new moral purpose. There is nothing more arbitrary in the crises in the scriptural movement than in the ordinary ongoings of our lives. The student who has long been wrestling with a problem finds the solution instantaneously bursting upon him in the midst of untoward circumstances. The most insignificant trifle may finally turn the lock which opens to the glorious revelation after prolonged brooding. The daily practice may make men ready for the shock which leaps upon them altogether unexpected.
We summarize by saying that the essentials of biblical truth came in progressive revelations to men who were putting forth their energies to live up to the largest ideals they could reach; and that they sought these larger ideals for use in their lives. It must be understood in all that we have said about acting the revelation out into life that we do not mean merely the more matter-of-fact activities. It should be noticed that whenever men speak of will-activities they are apt to give the impression that they mean some putting forth of bodily energy. The will to do scriptural righteousness did not manifest itself merely in outside actions. It manifested itself just as thoroughly in bearings and attitudes of the inner spirit; and the appeal was always to the will to hold itself fast in the direction of the highest life, whatever the form of the activity.
After this emphasis upon obedience as the organ of spiritual knowledge some one may ask what provision we are making for infallibility and for inspiration. We can only say that we are dealing with a Book which has come out of concrete life, and that in concrete life not much consideration is given to abstract infallibility. In daily experience the righteous soul becomes increasingly sure of itself. To return for the moment to Paul, we may think of the certainty with which he grasped the thought of the reward which would be his. The time of his departure, or, of his unmooring, was at hand. He was perfectly confident that he was to go on longer voyages of spiritual discovery and exploration. Can we say that this splendid outburst came from devotion to an abstract formula? Did it not, rather, spring from the sources of life within him-sources opened and developed by the experiences through which he passed? The biblical heroes wrought and suffered through living confidence in the forces which were bearing them on and up. They would have answered questions about abstract infallibility with emphatic avowals as to the firmness of their own belief. In other words, they could have relied upon their life itself as its own best witness to itself. They felt alive and ready to go whithersoever life might lead.
And so with inspiration. It is the merest commonplace to repeat that the inspiration of the Scriptures must show itself in their power to inspire those who partake of their life. Does a fresh moral and spiritual air blow through them? Is there in them anything that men can breathe? Anything upon which men can build themselves into moral strength? This is the final test of inspiration. Physical breathing is in itself a mystery, but we know when the air invigorates us. Abstract doctrine of inspiration apart from life and experience is a very stifling affair compared with inspiration conceived of as a breath of life. The scriptural doctrine is that the man who does the will finds himself able to breathe more deeply of the truth of God; and that the very breath itself will satisfy him, and by satisfying him convince him that it is the breath of life.
There is an old story of a student who decided to learn the meaning of a strange religion which was taught and practiced by priests in a far-away corner of India. The student thought to disguise himself, to go close to the doors of the temple and to listen there for what he might overhear of the principles taught by the priests. One day he was detected and captured by the priests and made their slave. He was set to work performing to the utmost the duties for which the temple called. His response was at first rebellious. In the long years that followed the spell of the strange religion was cast upon him. He began to learn not as an outsider, not as one merely studying writings and rituals, but as one enthralled by the system itself. In this old story, inadequate as it is, we have a suggestion of the way in which the biblical revelation lays its spell upon man. The outside study is, indeed, worth much, but the true understanding comes inside the temple to him who carries forward the work of the temple.
THE BOOK OF HUMANITY
We have seen that the understanding of the Scriptures presupposes at least a sympathy with the rule of life contained in the Scriptures, and implies for its largest results a practical surrender to that rule of life. He that doeth the will revealed in the Scriptures cometh to a knowledge of the truth revealed in the Scriptures. We must next note that an understanding of the Bible cannot advance far until it realizes the emphasis on the human values set before us in the scriptural books. We are to approach the distinctively religious teachings of the Bible somewhat later. It is now in order to call attention to the truth that the biblical movement is throughout the ages in the direction of increasing regard for the distinctively human. The human ideal is not so much absolutely stated as imposed in laws, in prophecies, in the policies of statesmen, in the types of ideal erected on high before the chosen people as worthy of supreme regard. And the place of the human ideal in the Bible helps determine the place of the Bible in human life. Mankind makes much of the Book because the Book makes much of mankind.
There is much obscurity about the beginnings of the laws of the Hebrews. One characteristic of those laws, however, is evident from a very early date—the regard for human life as such and the aim to make human existence increasingly worth while. It is a common quality of primitive religions that they are apt to lay stress on merely ceremonial cleansings, for example. The ceremony is gone through for the sake of pleasing a deity. There are abundant indications of this same purpose in the ceremonies of the early Hebrews, but there is even more abundant indication that the ceremonies were aimed at a good result for the worshiper himself. It is impossible to read through the Mosaic requirements concerning bodily cleanliness, the sanitary arrangements of the camps, the regulations for cooking the food, and the instructions for dealing with disease without feeling that there is a wide difference between such requirements and merely formal ceremonials. The Mosaic sanitary law aimed at the good of the people. It sought to make men clean and decent and human. So it was also in many of the rules governing the daily work, the regulations as to the use of land, the prohibitions of usury, the relations of servants and masters—all these had back of them the driving force of an enlarging human ideal. The trend was away from everything unhuman and inhuman. It is not necessary for us to remark upon the outbursts of the prophets against those who would put property interests above human interests. It is a matter of commonplace that the call of the prophets was for larger devotion to a genuinely human ideal: that the fires of their wrath burned most fiercely against old-time monopolists who joined land to land till there was "no place," and against old-time corrupters of the law who sold the needy for a pair of shoes.
Not only did the emphasis on the human ideal show in laws, but in the training up of types of life which should in themselves embody and illustrate the conceptions of the biblical leaders. At the heart of the Christian religion is incarnation, or divine revelation through the human organism. We are told that this incarnation came in the fullness of time. The passage seems to refer not merely to the rounding out of historic periods, but also to the fashioning of an ideal of human character, and at least a partial realization of that ideal in Hebrew heroes. If the final ideal was to stand incarnate before men, there must be approximations to that ideal before the crowning incarnation could be appreciated. We look upon the character of Jesus as the complete embodiment of human excellencies. Such a revelation, however, would have been futile if there had not previously been glimpses of and anticipations of the ideal in the lives of those who were forerunners of Jesus. The Scriptures teach, or at least imply, that the life of a good man is in itself a transcendent value.
And yet it is perfectly clear that while the Scriptures exalt the individual, they do not mean to wall individuals off in impenetrable circles by themselves. It is true that the individual is the end toward which the scriptural redemption and glorification aims, but individuals find their own best selves not in isolation but in union with their fellows—a union of mutual cooperation and service, a union so close that the persons thus related come to be looked upon as a veritable Body of Christ, making together by their impact upon the world the same sort of revelation that the living Christ made in the days of his early life. The ideals as to the supremacy of human values are realized, according to the Scriptures, not in any separateness of individual existence, but in a closeness of social interdependence. So true is this that it is hardly possible to see how one can make much of the scriptural movement without immersing himself in the stream of human life with highest regard for the values of that life.
It has been insisted from the beginning that the Christian consciousness is the only adequate interpretation of the Scriptures. By Christian consciousness is meant not the consciousness of the body of believers who are together trying to serve Christ. The interpretation of the individual becomes final only as it is accepted by the mass of the believers. Something of worth-while thought is conceived of as going out from the life of every believer. The utterance of the seer is not conceived of as complete until even he who sits in the seat of the unlearned has said "Amen." The pronouncements which do not evoke this wide human response fall by the wayside. For example, how was the canon of the New Testament shaped? Was there a determination on the part of individual leaders that such and such books should be included in the volume of Scriptures? Very likely there was at the last such deliberate selection, but before the final decision there must have been the practice of the congregations which amounted in the end to the choice or rejection of sacred books. Very likely the New Testament Scriptures were collected by a process of trying out the reading of Epistles and Gospels and exhortations before the congregations. As passages met or failed to meet the human needs, there was call for the repeated reading of some works and no call for the rereading of others. In use some documents proved their sacredness and other documents fell aside into disuse. Before the concluding deliberate choice was this selection in use by the believers themselves; and the selection turned round the question as to whether or not the documents helped people. If each member of the body of believers is entitled to interpret biblical literature, interpretation becomes a composite and diversified activity. There is little warrant in the Scriptures for the notion that the biblical revelation is to level men to any sort of sameness. There are diversities of endowments and varieties of expression; but the united judgment of the body of believers is the supreme authority in interpreting the scriptural revelation. This is what we mean by saying that the church is to interpret the Scriptures. We mean that no matter how brilliant or interesting the utterances of any individual may be, they are not of great value until they have received in some fashion the sanction of the main mass of believers. It is the function of the spokesmen of the church to gather up into distinct expression what may have been vaguely, but nevertheless really, in the thought or half- thought of the people. Gladstone once said that it is the business of the orator to send back upon his audience in showers what comes up to him from the audience in mist or clouds; so it is with the voice of a biblical truth through any medium of interpretation. The spokesman compresses or condenses into speech what has been dimly in the consciousness of the people. Even in days less democratic than ours this was abundantly true. It is the fashion to denounce some of the councils of the old church which shaped the creeds. It is often said that these creedal councils were moved by considerations of low-grade expediency. The councils, however, knew what the people were thinking of, and managed to get the popular thought into expression measurably satisfactory to the people themselves.
In this doctrine of the church as interpreter of scriptural truth we can be sure that the emphasis will remain on the elements which make for enlarging human life if the church keeps true to the spirit of the Bible itself. The aspirations of humanity, the longings of masses of men, find utterance in the great popular spiritual demands all the more effectively because such demands override and nullify the insistence of an individualistic point of view which might easily become selfish. We have said that this democratic interpretation is final so long as it keeps itself in line with the biblical purpose. There are some dangers, however, against which we must be on our guard. First is the danger of identifying the church with those who actually belong to an organization. When we think of the church we have in mind not merely formal organizations, but all men who are really working in the spirit of the biblical ideals. There are many persons who really act according to the biblical revelation without technically uniting with a church. It may be that such persons do not accept the intellectual puttings of biblical doctrine, but that they nevertheless live in the spirit of that doctrine. It might be conceivably possible that a church organization would stand for an interpretation of truth which would be rejected by the general good sense of a larger community. In such a case the larger community would be the interpreter. Another danger in an interpreting body is that of traditionalism. The native conservatism of many minds stands against innovation. If, however, the innovation is in the direction of enlarging human life, it will in the end win its way. A third danger is that of institutionalism, where the organization as such becomes an end in itself without regard to the human interests involved. The Master's fiercest condemnations were for those who put any institution before the fulfillment of the human ideals. In the parable of the good Samaritan it is noteworthy that it was the priest and the Levite who passed by on the other side. It is hard to resist the feeling that the Master implied that the priest and Levite had been institutionalized into a lack of humanity. Making allowance now for all these dangers against which believers must guard, the chances are that interpretation of a book so human as the Scriptures is not final until it has received the real, though not necessarily formal, sanction of the body of believers.
So thoroughly does the biblical revelation turn around the supremacy of the distinctively human values that we must insist that anything which would run counter to these values is alien to the spirit of the revelation, and, therefore, to comprehension of that revelation. We do not wish to be extreme, but it is hard to see how, in our day, for example, any who fail to put human rights in the first place can really master the scriptural revelation. We have spoken of the Master's rebukes of any form of institutionalism which stands in the way of human rights. Institutions at best are instruments; they exist merely for the purpose of bringing men to larger life; but these institutions sometimes get petrified into custom and become glorified by long practice, and even made sacred by adherents who look upon them as ends in themselves. Then there is no recourse except to break the institutions in the name of larger human life. If we could put ourselves back in the times of Jesus and feel something of the sacredness with which the Jews regarded the Sabbath, we would know the tremendous force of the Master's daring when he declared that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. The Master was also insistent upon the priority of human rights as over against property rights. It is perfectly true that Jesus did not encourage any propaganda for social reform. It is a mistake to try to read any form of modern Socialism into his teaching. Socialism is the theory of a particular time. Many of its outstanding features will no doubt one day be adopted; and the world will then move forward toward something else. Very likely three centuries from the present date the well-advanced communities of the world will be living under systems which will make Socialism itself look like the most hopeless and reactionary conservatism. The scriptural revelation, however, has not to do with the details of any particular scheme. It aims, rather, at the setting on high of the human ideal, an ideal which will, if given a chance, work itself out into the concrete forms best suited to each age, and which will not have exhausted its vitality when all that is good in the programs of our particular day shall have been incorporated into social practice.
But let us linger for a moment around the blighting effect of placing property rights in front of human rights. If anyone at this juncture becomes nervous and insists that we are likely to introduce the new- fangled notions of the present day into a discussion where they are out of place, let us remind such a one that the danger of putting the material before the spiritual has always been the chief stumbling stone in the path of the biblical revelation. It may be too much to say with the old version that the love of money is the root of all evil, but the Scriptures place the sin of greed in the forefront among the evils that block the revealing process. Jesus said, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." With God a morally miraculous redemption is entirely possible; but Jesus declares that there is no need of our trying to minimize the power of the present world to blind us to visions of the spiritual world. For many forms of wrongdoing the Master had a willingness to make allowances; for the sin of placing material desires above human welfare he had unsparing condemnation. In the day of Jesus the world had an opportunity such as it never had before confronted to learn spiritual truth. What manner of opposition was it which prevented that truth from running its full course? Largely the opposition of money interests. The Pharisees had need to keep alliance with the temporal powers. It is not without significance that Jesus was betrayed for money. It is not without significance too that Jesus's picture of the Judgment Scene concerns itself largely with the rewards for those who discharge the tasks of simple human kindness. It means much to find Jesus hinting at an unpardonable sin on the part of those who call deeds of human relief works of Beelzebub. It is certainly food for reflection that the fiercest condemnations in his parables are for those who miss the human duties in their regard for the possessions of this world. We repeat that we would not be extreme, but when we see the disregard of human life in modern industrialism; when we behold the attempts of property interests to get control of all channels for the shaping of public opinion; when we see rent, interest, and dividends more highly rated than men, women, and children, we cannot help feeling that the deeper penetration into the Scriptures cannot arrive except through an emphasis upon fundamental human rights so mighty that all institutional creations of industrialism or ecclesiasticism shall be put into the secondary place and strictly kept there. This is not railing against wealth. It is simply calling attention to the fact that the man who possesses the wealth-tool cannot be allowed to use it or even to brandish it in such fashion as to endanger the unfolding of human ideals. It is only through the enforcing of these ideals that the Scriptures can be adequately apprehended. Until a social kingdom of God comes on earth the light of revelation cannot shine in its full brightness. Any social preacher of larger human rights is working for the dawn of a new day of biblical understanding.
Some one will ask, however, why we single out one type of evil as especially thwarting the understanding of a biblical revelation. Why not speak of the evils of appetite and of envy and jealousy? The answer is that such evils, devastating as they are toward the spiritual faculties, are so definitely personalized in individuals that their nature is quickly recognized. The difference is that under present organization the evils of materialism are preeminently social. There is everywhere the heartiest condemnation for the man who personally is conspicuously greedy. A social evil can manifest itself in outstanding startlingness in a single person, but the plain fact is that under modern industrial organization we are all caught in the same snare. We are all tarred with the same stick. Great as is the improvement of our present system over anything that has preceded it, nevertheless the distribution of this world's goods is so unequal that we walk in the presence of injustice on every hand. The poor man often does not receive the product of his own work. Large material prizes go to men who toil not. Now no one in particular is to blame for this social plight. Nobody has yet arisen to show us the way out. We cannot act except as we all act together; and it is doubtful even if one nation could act alone. If, however, we should all recognize the evils of the present system, if we should condemn the wrongs of that system instead of trying to justify them, we would be on much better spiritual ground, for the attempts to justify the system lead to uneasy consciences, and to the searing of those consciences, and to the softening down of harsh truths, and finally to an inability to see things as they are. Though we have come far along the path toward industrial justice, there is still very much in the system under which we live that makes for an inability to understand some of the most elementary phrasings of Christian truth. The only way out is to see the system as it is and to take such steps forward as can be taken now. Only thus can we keep our souls saved, and only thus also can we follow the flashes from above.
Jesus preached the highest ideal for individual righteousness. Men are to strive to be perfect even as the Father in heaven is perfect. But the perfection is to show itself in social impartiality in the use of material opportunities. God sendeth the rain to fall and the sun to shine on the evil and the good. How many Christians of the present day could be safely intrusted with the distribution of rainfall and sunshine? Those of us who dwell in lands that must be irrigated know that the type of Christianity that can be trusted to deal fairly with our irrigation system is somewhat unusual.
We take the injustices of the present social order too much as a matter of course. We ought to see them as making against humanity, and therefore against the scriptural revelation. When these injustices culminate in a war like the present, the only safety is thought that deals honestly with the inhumanity of the war. Granted that war in self- defense is justifiable, we keep ourselves open to divine revelations only as we refuse to glorify the inhuman. Only that nation can succeed in war and remain open to revelation from above which recognizes the inhumanity of war and refuses to glorify it.
Closely related to the blight of the spirit of this present world is the failure to perceive the need of missionary spirit for a full grasp of scriptural truth. Though the Bible was given to a peculiar people, self- centered and exclusive, it nevertheless abounds in suggestions that its content can be appreciated the full only by those whose sympathies run out to men at the very ends of the earth. In the eyes of the Scriptures a human being is a human being anywhere. The differences between men are as nothing compared to the likenesses. Every revelation must begin somewhere and must attack its problems in proper sequence, one after the other; but mere priority of approach does not mean that one problem is inherently more important than another. Leaders among the Jews early tried to impress this upon the Jewish mind. Considered in its historical setting, the book of Jonah is one of the most spiritually daring books ever written. Jonah stands as a type of Jew who would not admit anything of worth in human beings outside of Judaism. Rather than carry the word of the Lord to Nineveh he would leave his country and go to Tarshish; rather than turn back and resume the journey to Nineveh, he would consent to be cast overboard in a storm. Forced at last to deliver his message, he announced it with the grim satisfaction of expecting to see Nineveh destroyed. And the final text of the book is that Jonah must learn not merely to proclaim his message to the Ninevites, but to proclaim his message with sympathy and genuine human interest. The Jews were a long time learning the lesson, but not longer than other peoples have been. Just because of the human interest involved, the missionary impulse is necessary to a spiritual seizure of the biblical revelation.
It is important that we keep the missionary motive on the right basis. It is true that the Scriptures will never be adequately appropriated until all kindreds and peoples and tongues bring their contributions. Some phases of the truth the Oriental mind must seize before the Occidental mind can be brought to appreciate them. When the final revelation comes it will be adapted to the understanding of any kindred under heaven. It is worth while to spread the Christian revelation for the sake of the return which the Christianized peoples will one day bring to our studies of the truth. But the better motive is deeper than this—the passion for human beings as human beings. Any human being is entitled to any truth which another human being can reveal to him.
The approach must be the human approach. We must speedily get away from the Jonah-like conceptions of the biblical revelation as intended particularly for any one nation. One great danger from the present war is the loss by the religious nations involved of the ordinary New Testament point of view. Many of the fighting nations have lapsed back into the pre-Jonah era. But the present war aside, the thought of supreme truth as intended chiefly for a particular race or nation, leads to a patronizing, condescending bearing toward other peoples which thwarts the finer spiritual achievements. The contacts between the so-called higher and so-called lower nations in military, diplomatic, and commercial relations have thus far for the most part been abominable. Too often missionary effort itself has based itself on these same assumptions of racial superiority. A people may indeed receive blessings from the Scriptures in whatever spirit they are bestowed, but damage is wrought in the souls of the bestowers by the attitude of superiority. The only genuinely biblical approach is one of respect— respect for the peoples as peoples, respect which will have regard for their growing independence in spiritual development, respect which will not force upon them particularistic interpretations of the universal Scriptures.
Now, all of this may seem like a long distance from a treatment of understanding of the Scriptures in the ordinary sense. It would not have been worth while, however, to discuss this problem merely from the point of view of exegesis or professional commentary. The essentials about the Scriptures are their relations to life, their views of human beings and teachings concerning the forces of the spiritual kingdom. We shall proceed in the other chapters to speak of God, of the revelation of God in Christ, and of the spirit of Christ as revealed in his cross. Before we enter upon that study we must again remind ourselves that only life in harmony with the point of view of the Scriptures and only an interest in the same human problems that engross the attention of spiritual writers can avail us for vital interpretation of the teachings concerning the Divine, or make intelligible to us the hold of the Scriptures on the life of the world. The Bible is conceived in a spirit of respect for men. Only those who enter into that same spirit can hope to make much of the biblical revelation.
THE BOOK OF GOD
We have remarked upon some points of view from which the student must start in order to reach a sound understanding of the Scriptures. It is time for us to ask ourselves, however, as to the dominant notes of the Scriptures which make the Book so dynamic. The purpose of this chapter is to show that the essentials of the Book are, after all, its teachings about God. The Bible is the Book of God. Due chiefly to the ideas about God are its uniqueness and its force.
Before advancing to the consideration of the Bible as a book about God it will be well for us to glance for a moment at other grounds on which supremacy for the Scriptures is sometimes claimed. There are those who maintain that the value of the Bible lies in the wealth of information which it gives us concerning the first days of the world's life. The Bible helps us to regard sympathetically the view of the universe by the ancient Hebrews. It is a repository of knowledge as to early science and philosophy. Now, all this is true, but relatively unimportant. Had it not been for the religious teachings of which the old-time view of the world was the vehicle, that vehicle itself would long since have been forgotten. Only archaeologists are to-day greatly interested in ancient theories of the world as such.
There are, again, those who avow that the Bible deserves all praise because of the literary excellence of its style. There are, indeed, sublime passages to be forever cherished as entitled by their very sublimity of expression to permanent place in the world's literature. All this we most gladly admit. Oratory like that of the book of Isaiah, some of the sentences of the patriarchs, passages from the Psalms or from the Sermon on the Mount, the parables, the thirteenth chapter of Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians, are sure of permanency in literature no matter what may be anyone's opinion of their religious content. Nobility of conception is very apt to tend toward nobility of phrase. The expression may be admired for its own apart from the substance; but to say that the Bible holds its throne as the Book of books simply because of the superiority of its artistic form is woefully aside from the mark. Lamentable as it may be, masses of men do not rank artistic literary skill as highly as they ought. While a lofty idea is not likely to make its full impression until wrought into lofty beauty by a master of style, the worth must nevertheless inhere in the substance rather than in the form if the statement is to make lasting effect upon the passing generations. Moreover, it is very easy to overemphasize the literary excellence of the Scriptures. There are scores of passages which, as we say, "go through one," but this marvelous effectiveness is quite as likely to belodged in the idea itself and in the associations which that idea arouses as in the form of the passage. In some instances the literary mold in the Authorized Version is such as to hinder rather than to help; so that the prophet who seeks to add to the force of the idea breaks the mold for literary recasting.
Still another may declare that the Scriptures are valuable because they abound in hints which make for practical success—shrewd moral maxims which aid all classes of men in avoiding pitfalls, axioms for daily conduct which ought to be accepted by everybody, even by those who care not for the religion of the Bible. All this, again, is true, but hardly sufficient to explain the grip of the Bible on mankind. So far as the more conventional morality goes, men are likely to be ruled by the sentiment of the community in which they move. They adapt themselves to the demands of the situation at a particular time rather than to a set of precepts.
Still others maintain that the human ideal itself which we sketched in a previous chapter is the determining factor in giving the Bible power. The greatest study of mankind is man. The erection of such an ideal as that of the Scriptures for man cannot fail to secure for the Book mighty power through all the ages. And yet it must be replied that if we take the Bible merely as portraying a human ideal without reference to the idea of God involved in the same process of revelation, we cut asunder two things which properly belong together. We must not forget that in the history of Israel the prophets grasped at every new insight concerning human character as at the same time a new insight concerning the character of God. Attributing a profoundly moral trait to God made it of more consequence forthwith for man, and thus the conceptions of man and God went along together reenforcing each the other. To separate the ideal of God from the ideal of man leaves everything at loose ends for the human ideal. It is true that there are individuals here and there of intense intelligence and of immense wealth of moral endowment who do not seem to require any ideal of God to sustain and strengthen their ideal of man; but for the most of us the ideal of man cannot grow to any considerable size without growth of our notion as to the character of God. What man is now depends somewhat on our thought of where man came from, and what his place in the universe essentially is. One of our deepest yearnings is to know whether our exalted belief about man has any validity before the larger ranges of the activity of the universe itself. It is very common, for example, for those who go forth to social tasks with a passion for humanity to lose that passion if they do not keep alive a passion for God. Disappointment with some phases of human nature itself and despair over the failures of men are apt to be so trying that the passion for humanity dies down unless familiarity with actual human life is reenforced by communion with an ideal which reaches up toward the Divine. We would ourselves insist that the loftiest human ideal in all literature is that of the Scriptures, but we must insist also that this ideal lacks driving force if it does not keep back of it the biblical doctrine of God.
From the very outset the Hebrew Scriptures deal with God. "In the beginning God," at the end God, and God at every step of the journey from the beginning to the end. There are other scriptures besides the Hebrew Scriptures that deal with God, but the kind of God set before us in the Hebrew revelation gives the Bible its supreme merit.
Since we often hear that there are other sources for the idea of God than the Scriptures, it may be well for us to appraise the contributions from some of those sources before we look at the kind of God drawn for us in the biblical writings. After allowing as high excellence as is possible to the theologies obtained outside the Scriptures, the moral and spiritual superiority of the scriptural ideal shines forth unmistakably.
Many a scientist tells us that we do not further need the biblical idea of God in view of the vast suggestions concerning the Divine which science places before us. The world in which we live has broadened immeasurably since the days of the Hebrew prophets and seers. The idea of God, broadening to correspond, has to expand so overwhelmingly that we ought no longer pay heed to the imaginations of the biblical writers. Large numbers of scientists to-day avow themselves devout theists. Materialism is decidedly out of fashion, and agnosticism is less in vogue than a decade or two ago. The reverent scientist affirms that he believes in a God whose omniscience keeps track of every particle of matter in a universe whose spaces are measured by billions of miles, a God whose omnipresence implies the interlacing of forces whose sweep and fineness seen through the telescope and microscope astonish us. Moreover, the modern doctrine of evolution shows us that the entire material system is moving on and up from lower to higher forms. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be," but we shall clearly be something great and glorious.