60 Years With The Bible - The Motive
( Originally Published 1917 )
Not for the sake of telling the story, but for the sake of what the story may tell, do I sit down to write these notes of memory. With respect to the Bible, I am one of the men who have lived through the crisis of the Nineteenth Century, and experienced the change which that century has wrought. I began, as a child must begin, with viewing the Bible in the manner of my father's day, but am ending with a view that was never possible until the large work of the Nineteenth Century upon the Bible had been done. Thus I am entering into the heritage of my generation, which I consider it both my privilege and my duty to accept. To some of my friends it may seem that I have changed too much, and to others that I have changed too little. It may indeed be that I have made mistakes, sometimes in one direction and sometimes in the other. That is the human way. But I know that I have followed my light, and passed through the revolution to which my generation was born, and have never come into danger of losing my faith in God and Jesus Christ. If a man may say it of himself, I have passed without ruin over what many deem to be a very dangerous wayŚnay, over a road that truly has its perils, not to be forgotten or despised.
Many, I know, have gone over that road of change at my side, or a little be-fore or after, and many, willing or unwilling, are making the journey now. Many, too, are wondering whether they shall be compelled to go, and are looking with alarm on the perils that beset the way.
Very many are pitying those who have been compelled to set forth. Is it possible, these inquirers ask, for a man to make this change with regard to the Bible without losing his faith, not to say his soul? Can there be good reasons for it? Is it credible that the steps are legitimate? Is it to be supposed for a moment that a man can be led by sound reason and good religious experience from the old attitude toward the Bible to the new? Can there possibly be any leading of the Spirit of truth in this experience? Is it not a mere wandering on the dark mountains without a guide? For the rank and file of the Christian people these are living questions, since facts that lead directly toward the great change are pressing into common knowledge and cannot be ignored. Many are asking these questions with godly sincerity though, perhaps, with trembling; while there are too many who have only indignation for the change, and denunciation for those who believe it to be of God.
An argumentative answer to these questions might be useful, and there are men to make it; but upon such a practical issue the best witness is experience. What if a man who has made the change without losing his faith were to recount the stages of his journey ? What if he were to show by what steps he had come, and offer his comrades opportunity to judge whether his processes had been legitimate, valid, spiritual, worthy of a child of God ? I can well believe that such a revelation of experience might be an enlightening and encouraging thing to many a perplexed and anxious soul. More than once it has occurred to me that if I were to tell the story of my own life in the single character of a student, lover, and user of the Bible, exhibiting the mental processes through which the change in my own attitude toward the Bible has come to pass, I might be offering to many a veritable helping hand. For I know that in my case the change has been an honest one, and am equally sure that it has been a legitimate one, which I could not have refused to make without being false to the true light. It sprang out of the very necessities of my life and thought, and resulted directly from my worthiest work. It has followed sound processes, and stands as a genuine element in Christian experience. It was necessary, it was Christian, it was beneficent. Knowing well these facts about it, I am inclined to place my experience with the Bible at the disposal of any whom it may help.
No man can tell the whole of such a story, and yet I think I can trace my course clearly enough through the years, ' and trust that I can truthfully represent the way in which the Lord my God has led me. The chief influences from with-out, the main crises in thought, and the entrance of significant results, I certainly can recount, and I can exhibit my present position in contrast with the old. I shall have to trace my journey from childhood to the present day. I cannot expect that my memories of personal experience will be as interesting to others as they are to me, and yet I have confidence that my story will be interesting, for it will possess at least the interest that belongs to a human document. If my progress appears to have been more or less irregular, halting, inconsistent, this element will be no mystery to any who understand them-selves, for it belongs to human nature. Yet I can see, and hope to show, that by a sure and unceasing guidance I have been brought along the way to the present goal.
But I do not write for the sake of the interest that an autobiography might possess, and I shall record nothing that does not bear directly upon my relation to the Bible and the progress of my mind with regard to it. If I could tell the story in any person but the first I should do so, but I cannot. In no sense do I offer the story as an Apologia pro Vita Mea for which no one would care; but I do wish it to stand as an Apologia for the kind of experience which it records. That experience with respect to the Bible, radical though it may seem to some readers, and conservative to others, I desire to illustrate as worthy of a child of God, and to commend to all my brothers in God's family. I shall accomplish all that I have in mind to do if I convince my readers that for reasons that are sound and by processes that are worthy one man has passed over from the old view of the Bible to the new. Yet of course I am desiring more than this. If I succeed in bringing in this conviction, I shall hope for fruits following.
I shall hope that my experience may lead many a man to commit himself without fear to the journey that I have been led to make, assured that the good hand of his God will be upon him as he moves out into the broader country.