Scripture as a Source of Knowledge
Our method at least is a very simple one. It is to appeal to Scripture freely, and in the first place, seeking to use it according to its full value, in faith that it has the highest possible value, in short, that upon whatever it may speak, it will give us, as the Word of God must, truth without any mixture of error, truth that will bear the utmost scrutiny, and stand every possible test. It would be a grand thing, would it not? to have such a standard of appeal, if it could only be proved that we have such! Yes, indeed, if it could be proved! But has not Prof. Drummond told us, "The old ground of faith, authority, is given up"? And is not this appeal considered by many as only the refuge of weakness, a credulity which stultifies reason, and would stop the onward march of scientific achievement, even if it did not put Galileo once more into the hands of the inquisitors, and burn Giordano Bruno at the stake? Of the last, there is perhaps no immediate danger; but it is plain that, in opposition to the modern one, with all its glory of brilliant discovery upon it, the method we are to pursue will seem antiquated, worn out, with none of the vital energy of youth in it, and one which has been losing ground for long continually in its conflict with the scientific, — "extinguished theologians," so it has been told us, "lying about the cradle of every science as the strangled snakes beside that of Hercules." Happily for the theologians, it is generally found that the precocious infants get to be of milder manners after they have left the cradle, or no doubt the race would be extinct.
Is the old ground of faith, authority, given up? And have people learnt, with Prof. Huxley, for justification by faith to substitute justification by verification? Then, if the verification is meant to be, as of course it should be, personal, it will go hard with much that we have counted knowledge. How many have verified for themselves the leading facts and principles of any one of the sciences? And if, as Mr. Lewes says, and as we all know, "the psychological law that we only see what interests us, and only assimilate what is adapted to our condition, causes the mind to select its evidence," then what hope is there of attaining truth by means of evidence gathered in this way by those for whose power to see aright it is wholly impossible to answer?
Says St. George Mivart: —
"Believers have been warned, usque ad nauseam, that a wish to believe vitiates all their arguments. But what weight can we attach to conclusions such as those, e. g., of Prof. Huxley, who tells us, with regard to the doctrine of Evolution, the position of complete and irreconcilable opposition which in his opinion it occupies to the Church is one of its greatest merits in my eyes.' A similar, though less striking, theological prejudice is also exhibited by Mr. Darwin himself. He tells us himself, in his 'Descent of Man,' that in his 'Origin of Species' his first object was 'to show that species had not been separately created;' and he consoles himself for admitted error by the reflection that 'I have at least, as I hope, done good service in aiding to overthrow the dogma of separate creations.'"
If others, then, are to verify for us what certainly we cannot all verify for ourselves, what is this but the bringing back again of "authority" for the mass, and the establishment of a board of directors only instead of Scripture, — Huxley and Darwin instead of Peter and Paul? But why, then, the refusal on the one hand of what they contend for on the other? Is it even sincere? Nay, does not the special use of this doctrine of verification appear as something "one of whose greatest merits" is that it shuts off even inquiry about heaven or hell or a future life, things which, in the way contended for, nobody can verify?
Every one that cares may know that Prof. Huxley puts inquiries of this kind on the same level with "lunar politics," and that to make the little corner of the world in which one lives a little less miserable and ignorant, as his duty is, "it is necessary to be fully possessed of only two beliefs: the first, that the order of nature is ascertainable by our faculties to an extent which is practically unlimited; the second, that our volition counts for something as a condition of the cause of events. Each of these beliefs," he says, "can be verified experimentally, as often as we like to try." Beyond this, he conceives we have but the Maya of the Buddhist — illusion. And a writer in The Westminster Review generalizes this as the conviction of the scientific man, of whom he says, "Above all things, he is silent in the presence of truths (or falsehoods) which he has ascertained to be beyond his reach. And he commands equally, in respect of these, silence on all others of mankind."
Thus it is very clear how a board of such directors would extinguish the theologians. And the very ignorance as to all that it imports man most to know, and of what in general he craves most to know, that very ignorance which pleads so strongly for the need (and so the fact) of revelation, is made the all-sufficient argument against it. The learned scientists of the agnostic school — in plain English, the school of ignorance — know, by reason of their own ignorance, that while all other instincts are provided for, this one, as strong as any, has and can have no provision made for it. And the One whom they have decreed to be the Unknowable, by that very decree they declare they know so well as to know that He cannot (or will not) reveal Himself to man! For if He be the Unknown, they cannot even pronounce Him the Unknowable and if He is not the Unknown, then the Unknowable He cannot be.
But are faith and verification really, then, so far asunder? Is there no possibility of reconciliation between the two? Must the most absolute faith even be credulity? or can there be no verification of authority itself, so as to justify the simplest faith in it? How, then, are we to verify the board of directors? though indeed we are ready to confess that an enigma most insoluble to the most thinking man. But in the case of revelation, if it be possible to verify this as the word of God, will any one say that God is to be trusted only so far as we can verify His word as true, — that is, not so much as one would trust a man of the most ordinary repute for veracity?
Scripture does surely not refuse to submit itself (in this manner) to verification, — nay, it appeals to it. Who can be so credulous as to believe that it requires "blind" faith, or would be honored by it? who that has ever read it, — aye, and who that knows whereof he speaks would dare to affirm that its principal proof even is (according to Mr. Huxley's sneer,) that its "verity is testified by portents and wonders," when its solemn attestation is, that if men "believe not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead"?
Scripture itself is in fact one of the very greatest "portents and wonders" to those who will give it that patient and reverent examination which its claim demands. And for this it offers itself, not merely to the trained man of science, or to the man with abundant means and leisure to investigate. Its gospel is preached to the poor. Like the light which is its emblem, it shines as directly down upon the rustic as on the philosopher. "Light is come into the world," says He who brought it. And the conviction of light is something simple and immediate for those who have eyes to see. It is not the result of a long process of reasoning, where the chain is no stronger than its weakest link, but of a true verification, by the illumination of what it shines on: "that which doth make manifest is light."(Eph. 5:13.)
Grant this, and who will protest against its authority, or deny its absoluteness? Is not light for the man of science, as for the peasant, authoritative? And here is that in which men of all color, caste, and social standing rejoice together. Light, true and beneficent autocrat as it is, is at the same time the greatest leveler: one of those free gifts of God which in their common diffusion would proclaim all men His offspring one of those silent witnesses against the pretension of agnostic imbecility which, as it proclaims darkness to be light, would quench the true light in darkness. How thankful beyond expression may we be to escape the board of directors, and receive our light from heaven rather than from the "Sufficient Number of Competent Observers" Gas Company advertised by Prof. Drummond! Yes, note it, ye natural observers, ye disciples of physical science, here is a law of nature, something in which we "stand face to face with truth, solid and unchangeable," a veritable "spiritual law in the natural world" — all the light of the world is from heaven.
Test it, as much as you will put it to use, and it will light up every thing it shines on. Do not fear that it will leave you timidly groping in the dark, still less put out your eyes that you may see the better. There never was a book more fully submitting itself to investigation, never a book that so looked you in the face while speaking to you, never one with the marks upon it of such absolute truthfulness. Simply and unadulterated, the priestcraft with which men would confound it dares not use it for its evil purposes. The man who does use it truly and reverently may be trusted as true and reverent. Mark out on your map of the world the regions of what even the agnostic would call the fullest light, and you will mark out the regions of an open Bible. And this is mere trite commonplace, thank God: that is to say, every one is witness that the light shines!
We are not, however, studying Scripture evidences: we are merely pointing out their nature. The evidence will come when we have to show the light that Scripture throws upon nature. But it is wise to move step by step here, planting each firmly before we take another. Every step is contested, not only from without, but, alas! also from within professing Christianity itself; and to move surely we must move slowly. Nature is above all that which many professed believers are yet very chary in admitting to be even very accurately represented in Scripture, and if so, of course we need not expect any light upon it from this source. The man of science is met half-way by the concessions of the theologian, who thinks to save the centre of his battle by handing over his right wing to the enemy. No wonder if even an infant science should "extinguish" such defenders. We would gladly aid it even to accomplish this, assured that it would be an immense good if Christians were made to realize the only possible conditions of successful conflict. By all means let Hercules extinguish the "snakes," though that is Huxley's comparison, not ours, for we do not in the least insinuate falsehood or treachery in the men who do this, although it is certain they are playing Satan's game.
What is it to attribute inaccuracy to Scripture, but to say we must no longer speak of it as the Word of God? Satan is a liar, and the father of it." God is no more "a man that He should lie," than He is the son of man, that He should repent." And this applies equally to all subjects. He could no more give me false physics than false arguments, — untrue statements as to sun or moon or firmament, than as to Christ or to salvation. Once admit a possibility of error, though it be infinitesimal, it must shake conviction as to the whole. And the Lord Himself puts His reliability as a Teacher precisely on this ground. "If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?" Take away the truth of Scripture in matters in which it can be tested, how shall we accredit it in those where it cannot be tested? "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much; and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much." Such are the moral principles of the Author of Christianity; and by these we for our part are entirely willing that it should be judged. For with the Word of God what may be pleaded for man may not be pleaded. Man is fallible and ignorant, where yet he may be honest and true; but we cannot plead a mistake of the Omniscient, and call him who makes the mistake omniscient any longer.
Of course it will be said that all this depends upon certain views of inspiration, and (some will think) views in our day sufficiently disproved. It pleased God to take up men as instruments to declare His truth, and inspiration guarded them at most only with regard to their special subject. It did not make them competent as men of science, or in ways irrelevant to this. And as to the last, it may be fully granted. Nor would any proficiency in science have enabled Moses to write the first chapter of Genesis, — a table of contents, as it may be shown to be, of the whole Bible. Yet he writes as one thoroughly at home in his subject, with an ease and confidence, yet a most natural simplicity, which, without laboring to do so, impresses one with the assurance of absolute truthfulness. Taking it at its full worth, as far even as known, natural fact and spiritual type, as it is, combined, one would not hesitate to rest the whole argument as to the truth of Scripture upon the proof in that first page of it alone.
Yet no doubt Moses knew as little of what fullness of meaning is contained in these words of his as the prophets did of their prophecies, which Peter witnesses they had to search in order to find in them the assurance of things beyond their utmost searchings: "Searching what or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow; unto whom it was revealed that not unto themselves but unto us they did minister the things which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into."
Here, assuredly, were men not merely doing the best they could, but better than they knew, things which were consciously beyond themselves, and worthy of angels' occupation; and this, though spoken directly of prophecy, shows how "holy men of God spake as they were moved of the Holy Ghost." And why should it be confined to prophecy? Historical events, if we may believe the apostle, things that "happened unto" Israel, "happened unto them for types, and are written for our admonition," — so that these also as types are prophetic! And why should this be confined to prophecy? Who shall presume to draw the line between what was necessary and what unnecessary, in the divine design for us, so as to be able to say, Here absolute truth had to be insured, and here men could be left to their unassisted wisdom? The purpose of Scripture is larger and more various than we can divine; and who can affirm even that such and such facts of science may not be necessary to be revealed in order to its full accomplishment? Is it not humbler to inquire what God has told us, than to speculate upon what He means to teach us? If nature be in any way His lesson-book for us, why should it not be part of His design to help us to read its lessons? Nay, would we not in fact expect this? and would not this modify to a large extent the conclusion (or assumption) that Scripture was not intended to teach us science?
"Which things we speak," says the apostle, "not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth." Even here it is asserted that there is no claim of verbal inspiration. It has been said, "The term here is logos, which denotes rather propositions than mere words.'" But suppose this so, if propositions are (all of them) by the Holy Ghost, do the words have nothing to do with the propositions? would not the words used be those best suited to define the propositions?
But the citations of the story of Melchisedek, which we find in the epistle to the Hebrews, carry us far beyond this, and show the extent to which it is to be taken. Here the very omissions of the history are insisted on as having significance, as well as what is actually stated, and the whole argument is a pregnant instance of that use of the microscope in Scripture which is quite as brilliant in result as it is known to be in natural science. "For this Melchisedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him, to whom also Abraham gave the tenth part of all, first, being by interpretation, 'king of righteousness,' and then, after that, king of Salem, that is, 'king of peace,' without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life, but made like unto the Son of God, abideth a priest continually." (Heb. 7:1-3.) Now it is evident that the main force of the interpretation depends upon the points which I have emphasized, and it should be as evident that these points depend upon what we should be apt to call mere gaps in the record. It has been indeed supposed by some, from the statements made by the apostle, that Melchisedek was the Son of God Himself; but this the very words, "made like unto the Son of God" forbid.
Here, along with the interpretation of the gaps, we have that of the names, and the order of the names, and the whole woven into precise argument as to the doctrine of Christ's priesthood.
It is plain, then, that, according to this, he who wrote the history of Genesis has been guided by a wisdom far beyond his own, and in matters of minute detail, in such a case as we might have imagined could not have required it. Who shall decide, then, in any case that it did not? Another instance, in which we have the authority of the Lord Himself, is perhaps however even more decisive; for here no type is in question, but the simple use of a term — a very strong term, we should be apt to say, — for the judges in Israel, whom the eighty-second psalm calls "gods" as representing God: "I have said, ye are gods." In the tenth chapter of John's gospel the Lord quotes this to the Jews: Is it not written in your law, 'I said, ye are gods'?" and then founds upon it an appeal, "If He called them 'gods' unto whom the word of God came," and then adds His seal to the absolute authority of that from which he quotes: — "And Scripture cannot be broken."
Surely nothing can be more positive, nothing wider in reach than this: "Scripture" — not merely this or that passage, specially guided or guarded, because of special importance, but Scripture, as Scripture, — "Scripture cannot be broken." Is it then the statement that "In six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is," or any other, however insignificant it may seem to us, if Scripture makes it, then its truth is guaranteed — "Scripture cannot be broken."
Difficulties of course may be pressed, nor is it here the place to examine them. Solve a hundred today, another hundred may be found for solution tomorrow. As to what principle of science is it pretended that all difficulties are removed? and who waits for this before he thinks of certainty? How much less does the Word of God need to wait for this, a requirement which would destroy the possibility of certainty as to any thing whatever.
That "Scripture cannot be broken" is the divine axiom with which we set out, and in this way what a field for examination does it present to us. True, we have had it in our hands for eighteen centuries, yet how fresh is it today! how little exhausted! in some directions how little even explored! and certainly in few less than that which we propose, in dependence upon the Spirit of God, the only sufficient Teacher, now to explore. Throughout we desire to take the attitude and possess the spirit of learners while we do so, and so to proceed step by step, patiently acquiring what we may, and owning the gaps in our knowledge where they exist.