The nature of, and the things pertaining to the kingdom, can only be ascertained within the limits of Scripture.
PROPOSITION 9. The nature of, and the things pertaining to the kingdom, can only be ascertained within the limits of Scripture.
This kingdom is God’s kingdom; it is one that He proposes to establish, and being the outgrowth of His Divine purpose, we must apply to Him for information respecting it. This He extends to us in His Word, and what He has said, being the only One capable of imparting knowledge on the subject, is to be received in preference to human opinions. The kingdom itself, the subject of a thousand prophecies pertaining to the future, is, as delineated by God, a prediction of that which is to come, and hence beyond human ability to portray, unless God’s description of it is carefully studied and copied. Outside of the Scriptures, nothing reliable is to be found, only excepting in so far as it may be in accord with Holy Writ. Scripture, and that alone, contains the reliable, authoritative information; and therefore, instead of going to second sources, application should be made to the fountain-head itself to appreciate and enjoy the issuing pure stream of covenant and prophecy. God’s words in describing what He intends to perform, are most certainly to be preferred to man’s. We are justified in thus placing confidence alone in the Word of God, seeing that, when this kingdom is to be manifested in all its glory, the King Himself has the significant name (Rev. 19:13), in addition to the one upon His vesture and thigh, “The Word of God,” for it is in Him, by Him, and through Him that the Word is fulfilled and realized.[*]
Note. One of the distinguishing results of the Reformation was “the resurrection of the Bible,” making it, as in the Apostolic era, the object of constant citation and appeal. In view of this Chillingworth (Works, c. 4) said: “The Bible only is the Religion of Protestants,” and Dorner (His. Prot. Theol. 1, 2) remarks: “Protestantism seeks, indeed, its ultimate foundation in the nature of Christianity, as it is handed down to us in a documentary form in the Scriptures.” With this may be compared the utterances of Protestant Confessions and Symbolical books, as e.g. Westminster Conf., Art. of Church of Eng., Conf. Hel., Book of Concord, Neth. Confess., Heidelberg Cat., etc. For the opinions of Luther, Zwingle, Calvin, etc., see Hagenbach’s His. of Doctrines, Vol. 2, sec. 240, who also informs us (Vol. 1, sec. 212) that “the formal principle of the Reformation, of Protestantism is subjection to the authority of Scripture.” Dr. Schaff (The Principle of Protestantism, p. 70, etc.) discusses this “formal or knowledge principle” in an interesting manner, asserting: “If there be then any unerring fountain of truth, needed to satisfy religious want, it can be found only in the Word of God, who is himself the truth; and this becomes thus consequently the highest norm and rule, by which to measure all human truth, all ecclesiastical tradition, and all synodical decrees.” (Comp. Art. “The Apostles’ Creed,” Princeton Review, 1852.) Dr. Schaff justly shows how this was a revival of the position occupied by the early church, by some of the later Fathers, and even, however obscured and fettered by subsequent tradition, by some of the Roman Catholic divines, forcibly quoting Moehler, etc. The usual Romish view is expressed by Bellarmine, making the Church superior to the Bible, its judge; and this is exemplified e.g. in Heefert (Hagenbach’s His. of Doc. Vol. 1, p. 424) pronouncing the doctrinal position of Wycliffe and Huss at their trials (viz., as solely founded on the Scriptures), “the Alpha and Omega of error.” Hippolytus (Bunsen’s Hippolytus, Vol. 2, p. 144), says: “There is one God, my brethren, and Him we know only by the Holy Scriptures. For in a like manner as he who wishes to learn the wisdom of this world cannot accomplish it without studying the doctrines of the philosophers, thus all who wish to practise divine wisdom will not learn it from any other source than from the Word of God. Let us therefore see what the Holy Scriptures pronounce; let us understand what they teach; and let us believe what the Father wishes to be believed, and praise the Son as He wishes to be praised, and accept the Holy Spirit as He wishes to be given. Not according to our own will, nor according to our own reason, nor forcing what God has given, but let us see all this as He has willed to shew it by the Holy Scriptures.”
Obs. 1. The doctrine of the kingdom being one of the greatest in the Bible (Props. 1 and 2), it must, like all pure Christian doctrine, be found within its pages. No true or scripturally founded doctrine of the kingdom can possibly be at variance with the express language of Holy Writ. This is self-evident, and important use will be made of this principle, clearly showing as we proceed that no doctrine on this subject excepting that of the primitive Christian Church is in full sympathy with the Word. This correspondence, so far as one sense, the literal, is concerned, our most decided opponents frankly admit.[*]
Note. This work being largely composed, of doctrine, it is proper, briefly, to notice the notion extensively held and strenuously advocated (e.g. Dr. Arnold in Literature and Dogma), that it makes no material difference what we believe only so that the conduct is right, for “religion is conduct,” etc. This is a crusade renewed against the presentation of truth in a dogmatical or doctrinal form, and finds a champion in Prof. Seely, who raises the standard, “Christian morality without dogmas.” This cry is raised in many quarters, being duly appreciated by the sceptical as a blow at a vital part of Christianity. (Thus e.g. D’Aubigne. in his Address to Ch. Alliance at N. York, informs us that “at an important assembly held lately in German Switzerland, at which were present many men of position, both in Church and State, the basis of the new religion was laid down: ‘No doctrines,’ was the watchword on that occasion, ‘No new doctrines, whatever they may be, in place of the old; Liberty alone.’ ”) Freely conceding the difference between doctrine and conduct, doctrine and practical religion, doctrine and Christian life; cheerfully willing to attest to the exceeding value of the latter, and that it may even exist without the entertainment of a great amount of doctrinal knowledge, yet it is folly to disconnect doctrine from religion, seeing that the latter is a natural outgrowth from the former, that they sustain a mutual relationship, and that to produce a symmetrical whole they must be united. Doctrine has been aptly compared to the root, and morality or conduct to the growth; for every believer must accept of some truths giving motives for conduct, which are either doctrinally stated in the Word, or dogmatically presented in the formulas of the church. Faith must, in some form, have an outward, intellectual expression in connection with its heart work. Mind and heart are both enlisted. Truth to be apprehended must be formally stated. Reason demands, intellectual culture requires, as its concomitant, a distinctive statement in language of those ideas which are given either as worthy of credence, or as inducements to action. Doctrine may indeed exist without corresponding conduct (which may be the fault of the man and not of the doctrine), but true Christian conduct cannot be produced without doctrine, as e.g. the doctrine of God, of Jesus Christ, of repentance, of faith, etc., influencing us to a certain determined course of life. To destroy this vital union, is to sever the tree from its roots, to remove the building from its foundation, and thus give us a sickly, dying tree and a ruined, unsafe building. The fact is, that the very men who strive to disconnect what God has joined together by inseparable laws; who sneer at the declaration of the Chancellor of the University of Oxford for saying that “religion is no more to be severed from dogmas than light from the sun”—these men are actually engaged in laying down doctrines, dogmatically expressed, for our acceptance. This feature alone, the resultant of a law that they cannot avoid, indicates the connection between the two, which, in the very act of an attempted destruction, they only confirm. Graybeard (Lay Sermons, Nos. 75 and 76) urges “the importance of maintaining sound doctrine,” asserting truthfully that “the great fundamental framework of the Scriptures is its doctrines,” and comparing them to the bones of the body, imparting consistency and form. He concludes: “All sound doctrine centres in Christ, and is founded on Christ. Not to know its power and value is to be a weakling, and to deny the importance of it is to dishonor God. ‘Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any man unto you, and bringeth not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God-speed; for he that biddeth him God-speed is partaker of his evil deeds’ (2 Jno. 9–11).” The Bible commends “continuing steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42), and persevering in “sound doctrine” (1 Tim, 1:3, 10), as promotive of strength and salvation (e.g. 1 Tim. 4:13–16).
Obs. 2. To comprehend fully any doctrine, especially that of the kingdom, there must be a diligent comparing of Scripture with Scripture. Dr. Neander (His. of Dog., vol. 2, p. 623) says of Melanchthon that on occasion of the Leipzig disputation he stated, “that it is the duty to abide by the pure and simple meaning of the Holy Writ, as, indeed, heavenly truths are always the simplest; this meaning is to be found by comparing Holy Writ with itself.” Dr. Dorner (His. Prot., vol. 2, p. 429) justly remarks: “The work of theological criticism, especially in so far as it touches upon doctrinal matters, must always at last become a criticism, or a measuring, of Scripture by Scripture—in other words, the self-criticism of the canon through the instrumentality of believers.”[*] The hermeneutical canon of the Reformers (Hagenbach’s His. of Doc., vol. 2, sec. 240), “to interpret and illustrate Scripture by Scripture,” is ours, imitating “The Noble Lesson” of the Waldensians: “The Scriptures speak, and we must believe. Look at the Scriptures from beginning to end.”
Note. This rule was early observed in the church. Thus e.g. Neander (His. of Dog. Vol. 1, p. 77) says of Irenĉus “that the Holy Scriptures should be explained by comparing one passage with another, and that he held them to be the complete and normal source of the knowledge of Christian doctrine.” We follow Irenĉus, of whom Erasmus (Eras. Epist. prefixed to Irenĉus) says: “Irenĉus fought against the troops of heretics with arguments (munitions) drawn from the Scriptures alone.” This was only an imitating of Christ, the apostles, and prophets, who constantly appealed to, and cited from, the Record, thus comparing the things of the Spirit. It is gratifying to see eminent men, in Europe and this country, lay so much stress on the self-interpretation of the Bible, by which alone the true analogy of it can be discovered, and a real profound acquaintance with its substance can be acquired. In such a comparison, however, a number of things must be observed in order to make it consistent and successful. All Scripture must be received, and not a portion of it be rejected (e.g. as Acts and Pauline epistles by Swedenborg) because we cannot make it fit into our doctrinal system. The connected reasoning of the writer must not give place to deductions from mere fragmentary or isolated passages. A doctrine must, by an instituted comparison, be in harmony both with the general analogy of Scripture and of Faith, i.e. it must not be in antagonism with the grammatical language or meaning of Scripture, or with its doctrinal teaching. The comparison must be made with due reverence for Scripture, so that a willingness to receive its meaning, without undue bias or prejudice, may exist. Passages that are strictly parallel, and not merely made such by accommodation or perversion, are to be employed, and, in brief, the cautions and rules laid down for a consistent doctrinal interpretation by such writers as Horne (Introd. of the Bible), Alford (How to Study the New Test.), Dunn (The Study of the Bible), Bickersteth (Scripture Help), Stuart (Elements of Interpretation, altered from Ernesti’s work), etc., must be duly observed. With all this, there must be an abiding sense of the inspiration of the Word, so that there is no unjust discrimination between portions of it, as e.g. between the Old and New Testaments (Schleiermacher, etc.), between the so-called Narrator and the Commentator (Rothe, etc.), between the Gospels and the Epistles (Renan, etc.), between the Bible and tradition (Bellarmine, etc.), between the Scriptures and human opinion (Parker, etc.), etc.
Obs. 3. The doctrine of the kingdom being thus exclusively derived from the Word for reasons already assigned (others will be given hereafter), an earnest protest must be presented against a spirit, widely prevalent among eminent divines, manifested in the adoption of a theory by which a doctrinal growth in the Church is made to cover up alleged weaknesses and misapprehensions of the truth in the founders of Christianity. Reference is made to “the development theory” as applied to doctrine, by which the idea of the kingdom is represented as “a seed” or “a germ” surrounded by “a husk,” or “a rind” (i.e., literal sense), out of which, however, was produced or developed the perfect tree or fruit (so e.g. Neander, Nevin, and others).* The reasons, evidently, which actuated pious and able men to accept of this theory and employ it, were, first, their inability otherwise to meet the tremendous shafts of infidelity levelled at the early Christianity (showing that doctrinally it was different from the faith entertained at present); and second, the desire through it to secure some unity in their conception of the nature, constitution, etc., of the kingdom of God. Admitting that truth can be obtained by a study of nature, science, race, etc.—by observing the development of mind, experience, the Church, etc., yet all this progress, this attestation to and amplification of truth, is not to be placed in comparison with the truth given by God Himself. The Scriptures are supreme authority to the believer, and no change, no variation, no substitution, under the pretence of growth, is allowable unless we have the same indicated by God Himself. Increase of doctrinal knowledge does not consist in altering the form of doctrine, but in obtaining a clearer, more enlarged apprehension of the unaltered doctrine. Oosterzee (Ch. Dog., vol. 1, p. 70) justly grounds progress upon “amplification” and not in “alteration.” Rev. Bernard (Bampton Lectures, “The Progress of Doctrine in the New Testament”) forcibly argues (Lec. 1) that the Divine teaching coincides in extent with the present canon, and that the progress of doctrine in the Church since such communication is a progress of apprehension by man. He clearly shows that no advance in Divine teaching after the apostolic age was ever admitted by the Church, and that all elucidations, renewed definitions, etc., indicative of a clearer apprehension of the truth, are invariably based upon, and derived from, the original truth in the Old and New Testaments. He also effectively points out that innovations (as in Dr. Newman’s theory of development including new doctrines) even are sustained by their upholders under the plea of a tradition enforced by extending it back to apostolic days, thus implying, or inferring, apostolic sanction.
The kingdom is something described by God for us to believe; and hence is not one thing to-day and another to-morrow, one thing under the former dispensation and another under this ordering. The description of it is unchangeably the same, for it is a simple declaration of the Divine purpose to which it is impossible, without detriment, to add anything. It is a positive revelation, portraying that when realized certain great events are to transpire, certain promises are to be joyfully experienced, etc., and therefore, in the very nature of the case, it cannot be a mere “germ” which is to sprout forth into something else. The theory of development, especially when applied to the doctrine of the kingdom, must be regarded as an important concession to infidelity.
Note 1. The fundamental Montanistic notion (Kurtz, Ch. His. Vol. 1, p. 132) that Divine Revelation is gradually and constantly developed, finds its extremes in such doctrinal additions as are given by Swedenborg, Joseph Smith, Ann Lee, etc. But even in those who are utterly opposed to all such extravagancies, it is still found in a modified form. It is enunciated in the principle laid down in Hagenbach’s His. of Doctrine that “the doctrinal substance of the Scriptures” is “as a living seed, capable of the most prolific development; in the midst of the most unfavorable influences it retains the formative energy, by which it evokes new and living products adapted to the times.” Now while this might not be objectionable in one sense, yet when applied to doctrine it stands forth really as an effort to reconcile the departure of the church (as e.g. in the doctrine of the kingdom) from the early doctrinal position to a later. It is a bridge, conveniently erected by philosophy, to cover the ugly chasm between Primitive and Later Christianity. The parable of the leaven is pressed into its service, as if it delineated doctrinal change or growth in place of the simple influence, controlling power of the truth (or of error) over the heart. The seed, blade, ear, and the full corn in the ear, of Mark 4:26–29, is made to cover doctrinal deviations, just as if the doctrine, full grown, were to be harvested in place of the fruit developed by the reception of the truth. Much is affirmed respecting the difference between the seed and the tree and fruit;—this analogy holds good in nature and also in grace (when truth is represented as the seed and the results in increased morality, piety as a growth into fruit), but not in the Word as to doctrinal growth. A Scriptural doctrine fully stated is the whole doctrine, or if partially given so much of it as God sees proper to reveal, to which man can add nothing; and that of the kingdom, dealing exclusively in things belonging to God and only known to Him, falls specially under this category. If such a doctrine is imperfectly given or is concealed under a covering, and it is left to infirm man to develop its real meaning, who, if we are to go outside of the Scriptures, has gained its true meaning? Out of the overwhelming abundance of dogmatic statements, which then is the genuine fruit? Or, are they all the legitimate outgrowth of the same “germ?” Why embrace a theory which evidently lowers the authority of Scripture by enveloping the doctrine of the kingdom in an unperceived “germ” but a very perceptible “husk;” which sends us away to fallible man for “the real truth;” which is forbidden by the Word itself when declaring its doctrines unchangeably the same; which makes a particular doctrine in one century to be held in accordance with the letter of the Word, and in another and following centuries directly the opposite to accord with an alleged spirit; and which deliberately fastens upon Holy Writ the vagaries and dreams of man as its natural outgrowth? The development producing change is not in the doctrine but in the individual; the doctrine is given to the individual and to the church that both may grow thereby, and not that the doctrine may grow into something else by the church. Doctrine as seed in the heart is productive of good works, and not of doctrinal change; the very seed given by God is to be retained in the heart, and it is not to be exchanged for improved or developed seed of man’s proposing. God bestows doctrine to instruct, to guide, to change, to sanctify man, and not for man to take it and mould and transmute it according to his will. Christian, Bible doctrine ever remains the same, and can only be authoritatively changed by God Himself. It is God’s truth and not man’s. If man could add to it, modify or alter it, or even bend it in accommodation, what infallible standard or guide would there be to protect us against error and unbelief? The motive power to virtue and holiness embraced in the doctrines of the Bible, is deteriorated just in proportion as changes are introduced. The more Scriptural our faith, the more pious and devoted the life, seeing that the purest influence for good comes from God’s own gracious words. (Comp. e.g. Mozley’s “Theory of Development,” in reply to Newman’s “Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine,” Sprecher’s “Groundwork of Theol.,” etc.)
Note 2. It is a concession to unbelief, in that it rejects the grammatical sense and makes Scripture language changeable, placing truth in a variety of aspects of antagonism (thus e.g. making the declaration of the letter to conflict with that of the spirit). It presses the parables by an analogy drawn from the vegetable world until they are compelled to “crawl on all fours.” It causes a direct conflict between the express language of Scripture and the idea or notion advocated. And it does this to account for the variations of doctrine in the church on the subject of the kingdom, and to make the external church better than she merits. It is, to say the least, dangerous to receive a theory by which we may apologize for the introduction of new doctrines in the past and for the future; and which leaves us no Divinely constituted exponent of authority in doctrine but allows the doctrinal position to be settled by an interpretation at variance with a legitimate grammatical sense. It presents us (as in Neander. etc.,) the most shadowy, mystical conceptions (e.g. “the consciousness of the Church, and its authoritative utterances,”) to be the true criterion of the truth. Unbelief accepts of the favorite phrase “Christian consciousness” in this development scheme. Thus e.g. Alger in his Essay on Jesus (The Solitudes, p. 380), while praising Jesus, fearfully mutilates the Messiah under the plea: “The Christian Consciousness, the collective sense of Christendom, is competent to determine what is congruous, what incongruous, with the true idea of Christ; to cut off superfluities and supply defects in the transmitted form,” etc. We, on the other hand, assert that the Christ and His kingdom are not to be tampered with under any such a plea, but are to be received just as God has given them to us. Besides this, Alger informs us that a few favored ones are “the authoritative representatives of this totality of Christian perception and feeling.” We recognize no such “authoritative representatives” excepting as they fairly coincide with the authorities of the Bible, and as to “the collective sense” and “totality,” the diversity existing and the claims proposed forbid the idea of such unity in the church. The majority rule cannot apply to doctrine as seen e.g. in the rejection of Jesus, the dark ages, etc. The fact is, that the development theory as applied to doctrine is one that cannot be confined within limits; it is a sword entirely too unwieldy for the believer to handle; it is a net so widely sweeping that it cannot be managed, and hence, with due deference to its originators (Hegel, etc.) it may be rejected without causing Christianity to suffer. The latter needs no such weapon for defence, no such system of apologetics, for its best defence and apology is, as one (Dunn) aptly remarked: “The Bible can never get behind the age.” It is true that men of great intellect, of vast learning, have and do advocate it, but such too, as thousands of cases past and present testify, are liable to error. It is the more needful to direct attention to this matter, seeing that our more recent church histories, Sys. Divinities, etc., are thoroughly leavened with its spirit and deductions. So far as it is applied to the doctrine of the kingdom, we protest against it, because the doctrinal things of the kingdom are subjects of direct revelation and not of growth; because Revelation itself on this point is not subject to growth, being merely declarations of God’s purpose; because to make the Revelation in its grammatical sense a mere husk is a virtual belittling of the Word; because doctrinal truth is always the same, and is only to be found in its purity in Holy Writ; and because error, antagonism, division, etc., find their best apologist in this theory.
Surely believers ought to reject this development theory when they see how a host of men (Ammon, Strauss, Parker, etc.,) are employing it, to show that Christianity is only in the course of development, and must by the aid of science and reason give place to something higher. When the notion leads multitudes, not to content themselves with a legitimate progress (drawn from study, comparison, criticism, experience, etc.,) in knowledge, but to change the doctrines of the Bible (under the plea of spirit, reason, enlightenment, progress, etc.,) at will, introducing a vast body of conflicting opinions and sects; when under its influence the covenants, oath-bound, are either denied in their grammatical sense or totally ignored; when the theory is flatly contradicted by the predicted closing of this age, for instead of finding a childhood, youth, manhood, and matured manhood, resulting in perfectability, the outcome as given by the Spirit is the direct opposite; when it is utterly opposed by the manner of the kingdom’s introduction, coming suddenly and supernaturally, with numerous additional fatal reasons—we, certainly, can only regard the theory, with its specious reasoning, as one of the most dangerous ever broached; and one, too, destined to bring about still greater evil in the hands of recent writers. Incorporated with this view, and going hand in hand with it, is that of general, universal Inspiration, under which new revelations may be expected, and though guarded (as Beecher in The Ch. Union, Ap. 10, 1878) by the declaration that such must be in accord with the Scriptures, yet this position (as shown Prop. 5) is dangerous, opening a wide door, through which unbelievers are pressing with exultant hopes. Felix Adler in The North Amer. Review, Sept.–Oct. 1877, Art. “Reformed Judaism,” under the influence of such an inspiration theory, discriminating (as he thinks) between “the letter and the spirit,” and by adding “the process of evolution,” most pointedly denies the covenants and predictions in their plain sense, resolves the Jewish nation into the Messiah, etc.
Obs. 4. Allowing a development of doctrine in the Bible itself (i.e., given in respective dispensations, and by different writers), made under the auspices of the Spirit, the same, by the principle of interpretation adopted (Prop. 4), shows, by its completeness and manner of presentation, that the Bible is designed to be a book for the people, for all men, both learned and unlearned. It is addressed to the masses, to the ignorant, to all classes, and, therefore, is not merely designed for the educated. It assumes upon the very face of it, that its important doctrines can be easily comprehended, and that to realize their force and value it is unnecessary to make additions or alterations. It takes it for granted that it contains all that is requisite for us to know concerning the kingdom, and that every person can obtain this knowledge by its perusal and study. It assumes, that it is correct in its claim of being an infallible guide (Ps. 119:105, 2 Pet. 1:19, Gal. 1:8, Isa. 8:20, 2 Tim. 3:17, etc.), as endorsed by the early Christians, Reformers, etc., in the things pertaining to God and the everlasting happiness of man. It distinctly teaches that without a due acceptance of its doctrines, we are regarded by the Almighty as those, however learned in other respects, who lack understanding. It urges upon us, in view of its Divine origin, purity, veracity, power, duration, etc., the obligation that we are under to know God’s Word. It professes to enlighten every one who receives it respecting God and our personal relationship to Him, the Messiah and our need of Him, the kingdom and the manner in which to gain it, the duties pertaining to God and man, the future destiny of ourselves and the world, etc., and that to obtain this enlightenment we do not absolutely require, valuable as they may be in many respects, those cumbersome systems of interpretation, those diversified and ponderous exegetical commentaries, etc., which are given as helps to the student.[*]
Note. The Bible assumes, then, that it can be understood, so far as its essential, important doctrines are concerned, by all men. If so, then instead of a recondite meaning being intended, the plain grammatical sense, common to all men, must undoubtedly be received. The infallibility it places in its own utterances expressed according to the usual laws of language, and not in a superadded sense bestowed at the pleasure of the interpreter. It does not allow it to exist outside of itself in an authoritative declaration of the church (excepting only as it corresponds with the Word), or in what is called “the infallible consciousness.” If we were to accept of the latter, in what confession or writing is it incorporated? The interpretation of the Word must not be hampered by a philosophical generality, glittering in conception and well adapted to lead us away from Holy Writ, and to cause us to put our faith in mere human opinion, thus also covering up deficiencies, difficulties, antagonisms suggested by the Word. Such a consciousness does not exist, as is proven by the opposite confessions and theological writings of past centuries, and which differences continue down to the present day, even on points the most important, as e.g. the sacrificial death of Christ, the sacraments, the order of salvation, etc. Amid this diversity, the sad result of human infirmity, one consoling feature alone remains, that, notwithstanding the differences of opinion, so much of the truth of Scripture, in its plain sense, is cordially received, that faith in, and obedience to, Christ is characteristic of all believers. The failure to show where this “consciousness” is lodged, in order to make it available for direct reference and appeal, should guard us against a theory well intended but really derogatory to Scripture. Scripture must ever retain its position as paramount, sole authority, and care must be exercised lest the helps intended to facilitate Scriptural investigation become hindrances instead of valuable aids, by being too much relied on without a personal searching of the Word of God. Any substitution in place of Holy Writ, is, in so far, lowering the supreme standard. Compare some excellent remarks on the supremacy of Scripture in Bridges’ Chris. Ministry, Saurin’s Sermon on The Sufficiency of Revelation, Graybeard’s (Graff) Lay Sermons, etc. We reproduce one sentence from Graff (No. 62, “Search the Scriptures”): “A man may become a theological tinker by studying theological books; but in order to become ‘a workman that needeth not to be ashamed rightly dividing the word of truth,’ there can be no substitute for the habitual, personal study of God’s Word.” How true this is, when we look at the history of godly men and women of the past. How many with vast stores of learning have been eclipsed in advancement of true knowledge and usefulness, by those who have constantly drawn divine things from a persevering perusal and study of God’s Word.
Obs. 5. All believers admit that in the study of the Scriptures there must be, to secure success, a reverent, prayerful spirit maintained, a reliance upon Divine guidance into truth. There must be a moral preparation (John 8:47) to appreciate their force and beauty (Ps. 119:12, 18) Such a direction, although given by God Himself (Jas. 1:5, Luke 11:13, etc.), loses some of its weight in the estimation of unbelief, since parties the most antagonistic in doctrine and practice profusely profess to have poured forth earnest prayer, and to have been guided by the Spirit in their expositions. A modest student, and one too who really prays and is morally aided, will scarcely set up such a standard, or refer to Him in such a connection. Prayerful study of the Scriptures will evidence itself, not in profession, but in fruits. It, too, will be found that error may be conjoined with even fervent prayer, if the Bible is neglected, if the simplest rules are rejected for ascertaining its meaning, if the grammatical sense is violated, if reason is not properly used, if intellectual activity is not combined with faith, and if the formulas of men are substituted for the Word. Prayer is a help, but not so directly that we need not search for the truth. So also mistake may be connected with the assumed guidance of the Spirit; for if a man expects “direct spiritual illumination” or an “intellectual light” by which he can know the truth without an acceptance and patient study of that which the Spirit has already given, he only shows that he is self-deceived. Prayer and the Spirit indeed are of great avail in their moral bearing, in preparing us for the perception and reception of the truth, but they are not given to supersede the searching of the Scriptures (John 5:39), the reasoning out of the Scriptures (Acts 17:2; 18:4, etc.), the using of our faculties in noting the oracles of God (Heb. 5:14), the taking heed unto the Word given (2 Pet. 1:19), the daily receiving and study of Holy Writ (Acts 17:11). Indeed the fact of our dependence upon the Spirit to enlighten us and enable us to savingly appropriate truth, to trust and to rejoice in it, does not allow us to neglect the means of enlightenment which He has already furnished in the presented Word. It forbids a passivity of our mental faculties, and enjoins upon the man of God, in order “to be perfect, thoroughly furnished,” to let both mind and heart receive “all scripture,” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17).[*]
Note. The Spirit reveals Himself, and the truth He is commissioned to impart through the Word already given, and in proportion as that Word is pondered, studied, and received, just in that proportion will true enlightenment follow; and even love will be excited (2 Tim. 3:15, Luke 24:32, Phil. 1:9), and growth promoted (1 Pet. 2:2,). For, if man is in a reverent, prayerful, teachable attitude, desirous for the truth, the Spirit will impress that same truth given by Him, not by directly revealing it (for that He has already done), but by morally qualifying him for its reception and retention. (See this illustrated in the Controversy—Tyerman’s “Oxford Methodists,” p. 95—between the Moravian Molther and Wesley, on the question whether penitent inquirers should search the Scriptures—Wesley affirming, and Molther denying, the necessity and importance of the same.) Bible truth, inasmuch as it relates to our moral constitution, demands both mind and heart to receive it. Three things are requisite to make truth practically effective. Lord Bacon says: “The inquiry of Truth, which is the love-making or wooing it; the knowledge of Truth, which is the presence of it; and the belief of Truth, which is the enjoying of it;—is the Sovereign Good of human nature.” The Spirit aids us only in the line of revealed truth, never in contradistinction to the recorded things of the Spirit. The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17), and there can be no revelation given, however plausible and advocated, which runs in opposition to Holy Writ. There is no proof whatever, amid the multitude of claims proposed, saving that afforded by the personal assertion of the interested parties themselves, that a single person since the days of the apostles has received a new or modified doctrine, not found in the Bible, directly from the Spirit. A very suspicious fact in those who claim it, is, that every such doctrine advanced they still desire, in some way or other, to fasten to Scriptures given, thus unconsciously (e.g. Mormons, German Inspirationists in Iowa, etc. Comp. Prop. 4) testifying to its supremacy over their own utterances.
This subject is the more worthy of attention, since advantage is taken of this supposed additional bestowment of doctrinal truth outside of the Bible to lower the supremacy of the Scriptures. This is done by receiving the concessions, intentional or not, of various parties, opening a wide door for endless additions, because of the introduction of a Divine authority outside of the Bible. Those who undermine the authoritative position of the Scriptures, are the following: (1.) It is claimed by good men (as e.g. Dr. Bushnell, Sermons on the New Life, p. 46) that every man is also inspired, not indeed having the same inspiration as the writers of the Bible, but still a continued inspiration, imparted by the Spirit, by which we interpret the Scriptures, etc. (2.) Another class (Essays and Reviews) assert that “inspiration is a permanent power in the church” which by a constant “illumination,” kindred to that of the Bible, develops confessions, doctrines, liturgies, etc. (3.) The Roman Catholic Church affirms that the Holy Spirit is so given to it, that the Pope in his official or doctrinal utterances cannot err. The same is asserted by many respecting General Councils. Tradition is thus elevated to inspired truth.* (4.) Infidels adopt the language of Scripture, and declare that all men are inspired equal to and even superior to the apostles, as e.g. the Parker school. (5.) Men of a mystical tendency in various centuries and denominations, who, professing a special guidance and enlightenment of the Spirit, ask for their utterances a corresponding faith. The history of Mysticism, separate and combined with scholasticism, presents numerous painful instances, of “an inner light” exalted to Scriptural authority. (6.) The Mormons, and other sects,† who give us long pretended revelations of divine truth. (7.) Swedenborg, who constituted himself the first and sole interpreter of the Word, whom the angels could not instruct (Div. Prov., pub. 1764, p. 135), and who, by an inner sense and revelations professedly received, inaugurated a new Gospel. The grammatical sense is but a worthless husk, containing the highest mysteries which were revealed to him. (8.) The Society of Friends, who, with many excellencies, frankly acknowledge the superior light granted by the Spirit.‡ (9.) The Spiritualists, who elevate the revelations of the spirits, supposed to be given for special enlightenment, above the Bible. All these, whether they design it or not, bring to us an authority equal to or superior to that of the Scriptures. Advantage is quickly taken of this opening, by arguing (as e.g. Essays and Reviews) that as inspiration, the imparting of the Spirit is now accompanied with error, so it was also in the days of the apostles, and, therefore, only so much authority is to be allowed to the Scriptures as good men can approve of as credible, thus really allowing no unity of doctrine, etc. Advantage is also taken of it, by pointing to all these contradictory professions, all under professed spiritual guidance, as evidence of the uncertainty of any Spirit-derived truths. Advantage is taken of the wide gap thus opened for pretended revelations and new doctrines, for greater sanctity, holiness, and exclusiveness, until the heart saddens at the fearful sight. The simple truth of God has been outrageously perverted, mutilated, and abused by these processes. No! No!! our only safety is in strictly adhering to the Word, as containing all the doctrines in their true teaching grammatically expressed, and that prayer and all other things, including the moral aid of the Spirit, are subsidiary to the eternal Word itself, acting only favorably and efficiently in connection with it.
But while avoiding one extreme, we must not fall into another, and deny that the Holy Spirit may, if He chooses, impart mental aid, or perception, or knowledge. He did this to others, to prophets, apostles, and others, and it would limit His freedom and power to say that He cannot do it now if He so pleases; especially He has not told us that He will not do it, and many passages (Eph. 1:16, 17, 1 Cor. 12:7–11, James 1:5, 1 Kings 3:9–13) seem to indicate that, not however without seeking, prayer, searching, that God can and will at times directly aid in the attainment of the truth. But let it never be forgotten that even such aid and moral law, enforced by the Spirit, is placed within restrictions, viz.: it is subsidiary to the Word itself; it embraces no new revelations or new doctrines, but only leads to a fuller comprehension and appreciation of the Revelation already given; it retains and enforces the supremacy of Holy Writ. Dunn in his excellent treatise (The Study of the Bible) takes the position that there is no mental enlightenment, no “direct spiritual illumination” to be expected at the present day, and brings in the analogy that we obtain truth as we do bread, “that as God now showers not bread from heaven as He did in the wilderness, so He showers not truth upon our minds as He did upon the apostles,” that we must labor for it, etc. This ordinarily and generally is true, but universally the analogy drawn from the bread does not hold good, for God did, after the manna was given, provide bread for Elijah, the widow, and others, and in answer to prayer He can yet do it, quite out of the ordinary way, in cases of necessity, without man laboring for it. Take e.g. Luther, as he painfully toiled up the steps on his knees, suddenly impressed with “the just shall live by faith,” or the extraordinary preparedness of the Sandwich Islanders for the Gospel, or the remarkable conversions of some of the heathen and others—these and other examples can only be fully explained by accepting of a direct mental aid afforded by the Spirit, but, in every case, subordinate to, and in support of, the Scriptures given. Admitting, therefore, that when necessity requires it, or the pertinacity of faith secures it, or the pleasure of God bestows it, that such may be the case, yet we have one decisive test to which even these must bow, viz., all enlightenment must be in the direct line of the Scriptures, not in opposition to, or in conflict with them, because they are given by the same Spirit, and cannot be antagonistic. This e.g. was Luther’s position when he encountered the fanatics who pretended to new revelations by the Spirit, that they were contradictory to the utterances already bestowed by the Spirit and hence unreliable, and that being different, a variation from the Bible, they were not proven authoritative by the mighty works of the Spirit and therefore could not supersede the truth presented (D’Aubigne’s His. Ref. Vol. 3. B. 9). The apostles themselves appeal to the Scriptures given as bearing testimony that they speak in the Spirit, in unison with Him, and that the same are abundantly able to afford us all the light, direction, etc., that we need. Any effort which professes to be from God, directly or indirectly, mediately or immediately, if it lowers the standard, or places in a subordinate position any of the teaching, of Holy Writ, is open to the gravest suspicion, and should at once be rejected. True enlightenment advocates the supreme authority of the Bible; false revelations either endeavor to supplant it, or wrest it from its meaning, or attach to it irrelevant, contradictory, and extravagant matter. Fortunately for the truth, most pretended revelations and additions are borne down by the weight of their own palpable ignorance, foolishness, and error. Calvin (Insti. Ch. 9, C. 1) characterizes the pretensions of immediate revelations as “subversive of every principle of piety;” while we dare not, in charity, give so sweeping a criticism, yet it may be held that they are subversive of the Scriptures, of all hope of possessing, what man needs, an intelligent, reliable, infallible doctrinal guide, leading often, as illustrated in Ochino and others, to a sad shipwreck. Infallibility in doctrinal utterances, whether claimed as a divine right, or as proceeding from an imparted Spirit, or as coming in any other way, is something that belongs exclusively to Holy Writ, which not merely asserts its possession but proves it in a variety of ways (comp. e.g. Props. 179–183). The subject matter of the Bible, its entire tenor of teaching, its decided authoritative statements, its injunction not to add or take from it, its continuous Divine Purpose, its unity of Plan in Redemption, its provisional portion amply realized in personal experience and the world’s history—all clearly show that it is not to be supplanted by any other authority. We are therefore abundantly satisfied with the position occupied by the church for the first three hundred years (so Mosheim, Neander, Killen, Giesler, etc.), by the Reformers, and a host of able men, viz., that the Bible is the sole, supreme authority, and that every Christian doctrine, including that of the kingdom, must find its true basis within its limits.
Obs. 6. It has been sufficiently intimated that in the elucidation of the Scriptures, man’s agency is also required. It is needed in a variety of ways: in the criticism of the text to indicate its purity and meaning, in securing the evidences pertaining to it, in comparing one portion with another, etc. The Word is indeed given by God, but to comprehend and ensure its blessings, we must, like with His gift of nature, bestow upon it thought, meditation, labor, and research. It contains deep things requiring careful study, and even mysteries beyond our limits; it discusses the most profoundly interesting questions within our mental power; it gives us plain statements, which are to be contrasted with others, lest we fail to realize their full significancy; it deals with the sublime, the beautiful, the emotional, the moral, the spiritual, the eternal, the seen and the unseen, the past, present, and future, and hence calls for both mind and heart in its interpretation. Reliance upon the Word does not forbid progress, advancement, but ensures it; for our entire argument indicates, that just in proportion as man accepts of Holy Writ, and his writings or expositions are based on it, in that proportion will he be in the way of real progress, obtaining a clearer, more comprehensive view of the truth. The doctrines of the Bible, too, are corroborated not only by comparison, study, etc., but by the additional knowledge bestowed by personal experience and the history of the Church and world, i.e. they are truths confirmed by a degree of realization.[*]
Note. Those who object to the Scriptures being an infallible standard bring in (as Owen, Dab. Land, p. 146) this comparison: “Science sets up no infallible standard; if she did, there would be an end of all scientific progress.” The fact is, that this is both an unjust comparison and conclusion. Science cannot do so, since all its knowledge is derived through human instrumentality; it deals with Nature, and yet amid the diversity of scientific teaching respecting Nature, in view of the many unknown problems suggested by Nature, it would be glad to avail itself of the teaching of an infallible standard, if it were possessed. On the other hand, the Bible, which professes not to be a teacher of science, deals with another and higher sphere—the moral, spiritual, and eternal interests of man, the most essential for happiness, and in which man needs assistance and guidance. God condescends, in compassion to our necessities, to reveal Himself authoritatively in this direction, especially in view of our being under moral law to Him. But this does not forbid progress in man, in knowledge, etc., as is seen in the results of comparison, deduction, inference, experience, etc. Even an infallible standard in science would not prevent progress in the same way. No! the truth is, that men wish to introduce and enforce novelties, etc., that are contradictory to the Word, and, therefore, they are desirous to get rid of its authority in order that their own opinions may be the more readily received. Dr. Schaff (Principle of Protest. p. 80) justly observes: “The more any one enters into the contents of the Bible, the more he learns to say with Luther, that it resembles an herb that by every rubbing becomes only the more odoriferous, a tree that by every shaking throws down only a richer supply of golden apples. Every valuable exegetical work discloses to us new treasures, and our Church (Reformation), having lived upon it already three hundred years, must still with Paul exclaim in amazement, ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God.’ ”