60 Years With The Bible - The Nineties
( Originally Published 1917 )
IN the first week of the Nineties my old teacher in Systematic Theology, who had been inspiring students through all the intervening years, very suddenly died, and after a few days I found myself seated in his chair, engaged to conduct through the remainder of the seminary year the class that he had left. My favorite work had always been biblical, and I had never looked forward to teaching theology, or desired it, or dreamed that any one would ever wish me to do it, or imagined that I could ever assent if I were asked. Nothing could have lain more completely beyond my field of contemplation. But now, within two weeks of a time when such views were undisturbed, I was actually doing the work, and a few months later the temporary engagement was exchanged for a permanent one, and the work that was neither expected nor desired was be-fore me as the work of the remainder of my life. No man was ever more surprised to find himself where he was, or felt himself less responsible for being there. But there I was, and my experience with the Bible in the Nineties was that of a teacher of theology.
The teacher had to be constructor also. It chanced that my predecessor's text-book, privately printed, went out of print just when he went out of life. He did not leave copies enough to supply a single class. There was no text-book at hand that I could successfully use, and there was no way but to make my own. Theology was coming into a new period; all the older text-books were framed upon a method of using the Bible that I could not employ. To make my own book was what I desired from the first, but the conditions compelled me to begin at once. So in the summer of that first year I set myself to the laying-out of my system, and formed the outline of my theology as it has ever since remained. In the next three years I rewrote my treatise three times, enlarging it each time. In the fourth year I rewrote it again and printed it. A few years later I revised and enlarged it once more, and it was published.
In those years of constructive labor it was of course necessary that I should act upon some principle as to the relation of the Bible to a system of theology. But the question of method here did not present itself as a present question, or as a problem that had then to be solved. My life had given me my method with the Bible, and I found myself readily putting it to this new application. If I had been waiting for a method, or had had still to decide on what principle I should use my Bible in constructing theology, I should not have dared to undertake my new work, nor should I have been qualified for it.
It was my task to give form to the theology of the Christian religion : therefore I could not do otherwise than regard the Bible as my chief source. Other sources I must use, and in all theology there is truth for which no written source can exist; but for that which is distinctive in Christianity, and for the Christian aspects of universal truth in religion, the Christian Scriptures provide material that can be obtained nowhere else. Of the Christian Scriptures therefore I must make primary use; and from their primacy in Christian theology they can never be deposed.
Formerly it was assumed that if the Bible was to be used as a primary source for theology, that course must be justified by presenting proof that the Bible was divinely inspired. Conceptions of divine authority were very external, and very external were the modes of evidencing himself to men that were attributed to God : very great and exclusive also were the claims that were made for the Bible. In such conditions it is not surprising that a strong theory of inspiration was felt to be indispensable. If I had been claiming that the Bible was the sole repository of God's communications to men, and that it was inerrant in all its statements and infallible in all its contents, and that I had no right to pass judgment upon what it offered me, but must absolutely accept it all as the word of God, I should have needed to support my claims by positive proof that these extraordinary qualities had been imparted to the book, and a clear account of the manner in which it was done. A theory of inspiration is a very difficult thing to make, it is true, and none has ever been made that corresponded to the facts; but it is no wonder that up to recent times the effort to construct such theories has been continued as something indispensable to theology. In my case, however, there was no need. I belong to a generation that has outlived the necessity of such theories. If one observes it, no new theories of inspiration have been formed lately: the theories that stand in theological books are old ones, discredited by later knowledge of the Bible, but not yet abandoned, because their superfluousness has not yet been perceived. But they are destined to be left behind. We are able now to take the Bible as it is, and listen to its testimony, without first proving by a doctrine of inspiration that it must be listened to. At present a more interior and spiritual idea of the evidence of the present God may be applied. If God is in a book he will be found : we do not have to justify our sense of his presence there by building up a theory to show how he got there. God shines by his own light.
My own experience here was very simple. I found that the Bible set before me the historical and spiritual figure of Jesus Christ, and showed me the principle on which he taught us to live the true life of men : it showed me the Saviour, and the salvation. In this twofold vision I had the key to the Christian theology; or, to use a better simile, I had the light which it was my privilege to hold up for illumination of the field. This light which I as theologian was to use I found in my Bible just as it lay in my hands, without reference to any theory as to how the divine Spirit influenced the men who wrote it. I could read the book, and get my information. How the book was written is a matter of indifference to me: what it contains is the point. Under what special kind of divine influence it was written I can never discover, and my theories can never be anything but guesses, as all such theories have been; but what it contains I can read and put to use. Viewed in this light, the Bible did not need any theory of inspiration to justify its admission as a main source of theology. I am sure that I was right in thinking myself entitled to take it for just what it was and learn its lessons; and I judge that recent theological thought is right in allowing theories of inspiration to lapse. The future will need no such theory, and will use the Bible more intelligently with none. Theories of inspiration have always been dictating the contents of the Bible, telling us what we must find. When theology has used the Bible for a generation or two with-out them, our successors will wonder how we ever thought that its testimony could be ascertained when they were in mind.
Another change in method was inevitable. In constructing a system of theology I did not find myself proceeding upon the ancient and familiar proof-text method. The proof-text idea has appeared in various forms. Texts, or quotations from Scripture, have been largely relied upon for support of doctrinal statements, and have been regarded as sufficient support for such statements. If the Bible can be quoted for a doctrine, that doctrine has been accepted as true. It has usually been held that a theologian must work into his statement of a doctrine the testimony of all the texts in the Bible that bear upon the subject in question, and must construct a statement that will include the teaching of them all. If this cannot be quite accomplished, still it is the ideal, to be reached as nearly as possible. Some-times, again, a doctrine has been made to take its form from some classical biblical passage, felt to be so important that it must be made determinative. But I did not find myself following the proof-text method in any of these forms. A critic once remarked concerning my published result, that although the pages were freely marked with Scripture references—" spattered," I think he said—the work was not really an expression of the results of exegesis. He was wrong in the deeper sense, ' but superficially he was right. I was not simply gathering in the meaning of pas-sages, and fortifying my positions by the citation of texts. I was not simply re-porting what the Bible said upon the Christian doctrines. I was working under a different conception of the relation of the Bible to theology.
My life had brought me entirely over to the position of my early teacher in theology, now my predecessor, from whose method I had so conscientiously dissented in my youth. I had almost demanded, as I acknowledged to him long afterward, that his theology be dictated to him by the Bible. But by this time I had learned that instead of being dictated by the Bible, a man's theology should be inspired in him by the Bible—or, more truly, inspired in him through the Bible by the Spirit that inspired the Bible. Theology should be a result of exegesis, but a second fruit, not a first. Between exegesis and theology there are inter-mediate processes, not only legitimate but necessary.
Toward this view of a theologian's task it is easy to see that my whole life had been leading me. A more genuine movement toward an end it would be difficult to find. In my, exegetical years I had been gathering material from the Bible. In preaching I had been making it my own. In the doctrinal studies to which I had been impelled I had been thinking for myself and organizing what God had given me. In this earlier work I had made certain my later method. When I was searching out the doctrine of the atonement, I had explored the Scriptures as thoroughly and honestly as I was able, and had also called to my aid universal ethical principles. Thus I had endeavored to interpret God's saving work in the light of his character as it was revealed by Jesus Christ. I had allowed the divine character and the great moral principles that are involved in it to condemn and expel whatever doctrine could not abide in their company, and had invited them to inspire the doctrine that I should hold. I had thus sought to clear the ground of all that must pass away in the divine presence, and to build up a positive doctrine that could bear the light of God. In all this I had simply been following the Christian revelation out to its doctrinal development, and had been using only such means as were in keeping with its character. I had been introducing processes between exegesis and doctrine, or between the Bible and theology, but the processes were legitimate. By such work I had come into possession of a method that I could not abandon when I came to the construction of theology. When my results were reached of course they were illustrated and confirmed abundantly by reference to the Bible; but the proof-text method was a thing of the past. I believed, however, and still believe that I was using the right method of drawing doctrine from the Christian revelation, and of forming theology. Not that the method was an invention of mine. Even the stoutest reliers upon proof-texts had always used it more or less. But I was coming out into the liberty of it, and using it as a free child of God.
After all, this ought to have been the only way. The Bible is not a book of proofs for theology. Not for such a purpose was it made, and with reference to the truths that theology seeks to express, its real utterances can properly find their way into theology only through such a process as I have described. These utterances fall naturally into three groups : and these in three very different ways require to be brought into theology as it were in their distilled essence. First we have the religious utterances of the Old Testament, various in quality, some in deep harmony with the spirit of Jesus, and some belonging to earlier and inferior stages of religious life. This group of utterances, pre-Christian, must, of course, be analyzed and classified before they are used, in order that only those of them that are in the spirit of Jesus may become contributory to our scheme of Christian thought. The character of the God of Jesus must make its discriminations and selections in the material that comes from before Jesus' time.
Next, ushering in the new age, we have the utterances of Jesus himself. These are words of religion and of life. They were not spoken in order to provide material for the construction of a system of theology : they were spoken for the revealing of God, for the enlightening of men, for the illuminating of religion, for the establishing of eternal life. If we use them directly as timbers for the frame of a system, we put first a use of them that was intended to be second. They enter into theology with their sure and glorious testimony, but they must enter through the medium of religion and experience. It is thus that they are powerful. Above all others, these testimonies to divine reality must pass into theology through life.
And last in the New Testament we have the interpretations of the Christian gospel that were made by Jesus' followers. It has been the common belief that in these we have the end of theology, the conclusive utterances, and that it is the destiny of all theological thought, whether interpretative or speculative, to return to identity, with the judgments of the apostles, and especially of Paul, the best known among them. Historically, indeed, these early statements were the beginning of theology, not its end; for theology has always been discussing them and using them, but has never returned to identity with them. They have constituted its warp, perhaps, but never its warp and woof. It has always expounded them, judged them, accepted them with inevitable modifications of understanding, combined them in various proportions, and wrought them into systems. Such various use of them is right. It was never possible that the beginning of theology should be its end, the first interpretation the final. That would accord neither with the nature of man nor with the nature of truth as man has to do with it. These earliest interpretations of Christ and the gospel require to be analyzed before they bring their contribution to our doctrine. These, too, are religious rather than doctrinal in their intention; but besides this they were made in conditions that were more or less provisional and temporary. In those conditions final interpretations were impossible. Understandings of the gospel that were made, for example, in the light of still existing Judaism, and were colored by actual experience of Judaistic life, were by very necessity provisional and transitory. They were rich in truth, indeed : not only did they contain the central truth of Christ, but they contained important truth in their very peculiarities. But the element of finality in the form of doctrine they could not possibly possess. In due time doctrine must pass through them into other forms, and through these again into others still. And so when, in my study of the atonement, I used the Pauline conceptions, not in their first form but in what I have called their distilled essence, I was doing what their character requires, and what Paul would wish me to do. When in my larger constructive enterprise I used the Scriptures generally on the same principle, I was doing what the nature of the Bible requires to be done.
How does this principle work out in practice ? What result does it yield ? According to the principle that I accepted and acted upon, a system of Christian theology has God for its centre, the spirit of Jesus for its organizing principle, and congenial truth from within the Bible and from without for its material. As for the Bible, I am not bound to work all its statements into my system : nay, I am bound not to work them all in, for some of them are not congenial to the spirit of Jesus which dominates Christian theology, and some express truth in forms that cannot be of permanent validity. The glory of the Bible for my purpose as theologian is that it gives me Christ whose revealing shows me God the centre of the system, that it instructs me in that spirit of Christ which is the organizing principle, and that it provides me with abundant congenial material for the building up of doctrine. One who uses the Bible thus is using it in accordance with its character. He may fail in forming his system through insufficiency of his own, but he will not fail because his principle is wrong.
So much for the manner of using the Bible that I was constrained to follow in giving form to the theology of the Christian faith. In other writings, and in the preaching of later years, I have followed the inspiration of the same principle, never doubting that it was right. It is a, more exacting method than the one that it has supplanted, but to that a seeker for truth has no right to object.
In teaching theology I have very naturally had a variety of experiences with students respecting the Bible and the manner in which we ought to use it. My pupils are my joy and crown, and they know it; and I shall neither disparage nor offend them if I freely chronicle what I have learned from them about the harm of holding wrong notions about the Bible.
Generally speaking, and with occasional exceptions, I have found students more and more open-minded as the years of my teaching went by. But they have usually needed much reconstruction of their ideas of the Bible—a fact of which some of them have been aware. I have said to them year after year that for students of Christian theology a fundamental question is, What is the Bible, and how does it teach us truth ? For want of a clear answer to this question theology has often groped its way through open country, and for want of a tenable and convincing answer it has been weakened on every side. If there are conflicting answers to this question in the minds of disputants on theology, discussion is ambiguous and inconclusive, and therefore endless. I have often been hampered in teaching by the fact that my students and I were carrying in our minds different answers to this fundamental question. As long as that was the case, it was inevitable that we should be working more or less at cross-purposes. Students for the ministry, however, as I have known them, are usually very slow to accept any considerable alteration of their general conception of the Bible : many of them resist the change most earnestly. The fact that this is perfectly intelligible does not render it less unfortunate. Many of them come to us a generation or two behind the times in knowledge of what the Bible is, and hold beliefs about it that stand in the way of their obtaining better knowledge. It is pathetic when a young man's belief about the word of God prevents his coming to the best belief in God.
I think theological seminaries would do well to make some special provision for this need. The traditional course begins with exegesis and kindred studies. By starting with exegesis the seminary assumes that the student knows what kind of book it is that he sits down to interpret; but usually the fact is that the student does not know. He brings inherited and inbred opinions, which he supposes to be the only opinions that can possibly be correct, but it is rarely the case that in his mind they rest upon sound knowledge. Usually they have been taught to him, and are held in deference to orthodox belief. I think it would be a good thing for the seminary, before exegetical work is so much as mentioned, to offer a good stiff course on the question, "What is the Bible ?" The course should be thoroughly organized, and should require hard work, and the teacher should be a scholar who is incapable of evasions and double meanings. Then perhaps the student might become prepared to do at the best advantage the work that lies before him. It is a frequent temptation for a theological seminary to endeavor to keep a student along in the ideas that he brought with him when he entered, alarming him as little as possible, or as gradually. But it may be the duty of a theological seminary as early as possible to shock him out of some of the ideas that he brought with him, in order that he may be ready for straightforward and intelligent work. One of my colleagues, in the exegetical department, has been wont to congratulate me that I did not have to take the students as he did, fresh from the outside world, but only after he had had opportunity to rid them of some of the ideas with which they came. I could congratulate him in turn if, before he led them to grapple with interpreting the New Testament, they had had a good straight opportunity to learn under a good teacher what the New Testament is, and what is the Bible of which it is a part.
I have been accustomed to find students most reverent toward the Bible, and devotedly attached to it. Many I have found largely familiar with its contents. It has formed a most significant element in their religious life, and they have gladly looked forward to having it for their life-long companion. It has been a perpetual support to their faith; and yet the manner of their belief in it has often appeared to be an impediment in the way of a better faith. I have often counselled students to transfer to God himself the faith that they were building on the Bible, but usually the counsel has not been very readily understood. The impression seemed to be that I was merely giving two names to the same thing, and that to believe the Bible as a witness to God was the same as to believe in God. The difference between believing in God as a living reality and giving credit to authoritative statements about him did not seem to be under-stood. Many think there is no way of attaining to vital faith in a living God, except by assenting to the statements of an infallible book about him : it is assumed, indeed, that to assent to the statements is to have the faith. I have often tried to make plain the difference between these two believings, but not always with success. The statements of the infallible Bible stood as a ready, convenient, and available foundation for religious confidence, and I have had great difficulty in convincing students that there could be a better or securer one. It is true indeed that through the help of the Bible they had come to believe in God. But by their own acknowledgment they were holding their belief in God on the strength of their confidence in the Bible; and often they have based their belief in God so exclusively upon the Bible as to be seriously afraid to admit any change in their conception of the Bible, lest they should lose their belief in God. Many a time have I found students in this frame of mind; and they have many companions. There are many who hold their faith in God by so feeble a tenure as to fear that they may lose it if they accept the results of the higher criticism. This is one of the main causes of the popular outcry against the higher criticism: people do not see how to keep their faith in God except by holding fast to their old ideas of the Bible. For my part, I am most thankful for so precious a means of rising to faith in God as the Bible has proved itself to be. But I think it must be God's will that the time shall come when the means gives way to the end; when confidence in the living God himself stands independent of any views that we may hold of the book in which we have read most about him. All Christians need a faith in God that no changes in knowledge of the Bible can disturb, and I am sure that God intends such a faith for us all. There-fore it is a sorrow to find a certain type of belief in the Bible standing in the way of such faith in God himself.
I have often found students very tenacious in holding that view of the Bible which I unwittingly presented to my scientific guests on a Sunday evening—namely, that it contains all that God has ever spoken to men, and nothing has been heard from him since it was completed. Of course it is understood that he has ever since been unfolding or developing the truth that the Bible contains, and presenting it in new forms to successive generations; but I have often found it held as a primary assumption of Christianity that no new truth has been revealed by God since the closing of the Canon.
Men in my classroom have been ready to fight for this as if it were indispensable to religion. "No new truth since the Bible" has seemed to them a necessary proposition : Christianity would be dead without it. Any real reason why God should not be manifesting truth to his creatures in one age as well as in another, and truth that he had not shown to them before, has not been alleged: it was only that such action of God was ruled out by the theory that was held concerning the Bible. It was assumed that the Bible was final, and that was reason enough : no new truth can have been revealed since.
And thus by their theory about the Bible Christians were prevented from rising to belief in the living God, always the same, whose nature it is to be shining as the light, always in spiritual communication with his creatures, administering the life of his world as a self-revealing God. I am not careful, however, to observe a sharp distinction between old truth and new, for I am not sure that such a distinction can be maintained. Exactly when in the history of mankind a truth is new and when it is old, I suspect that no one can tell; nor can any one tell at what precise moment a truth is revealed from God. Revelation is not a lightning-flash : it is rather like the dawn, brightening into the full day. As for God, I am sure that he is free to utter his truth when and where he will, and I will hold no theory that would limit him. Here is one of the points at which there evidently is enlargement and uplifting in the transfer of faith from the Bible to God. When he himself is the ground of our confidence in him, then the Bible comes to its place as our helper and brings us the service for which it was given. But if we use it instead of God as the foundation for our confidence, it even obscures God for us.
It is not surprising that the view of the Bible that I have described should manifest itself in a fixed prejudice against changes in theological thought. I do not say progress in theological thought, for that word might seem to beg an important question. Nor am I complaining because changes that I have myself proposed have found this prejudice awaiting them. The point is more general. Stu-dents have frequently stood in firm resistance to any important modification of their views. I am not without experience of that feeling in the earlier part of my own life: I well know what it is, though I never knew it in its full strength. The philosophy is simple, and the immovableness comes naturally about. Belief in the finality of the Bible is apt to be accompanied by an equal belief in the correctness of accepted interpretations. If a man says to his pupil or parishioner, "I tell you by authority of God that you must believe this," it is necessary that he should add, "And this is what it means": for in all words there is ambiguity. When he has declared the meaning, the meaning goes into the words for the hearer, and partakes of their authority, and the requirement comes to be, " You must believe these words in this sense." But a teacher or preacher will not usually make a personal interpretation, and put into the authoritative words a meaning of his own. Rather will he take up the interpretation that has been accepted, either by Christians generally or by the group of Christians with whose testimony he is most familiar. Thus the orthodox interpretation, approved by the many and the great, fastens its grasp upon the infallible words and makes them its own; and to the humble and reverent individual it comes to pass that this is the meaning to which the divine authority is attached. Then departure from this, and reinterpretation in new light, becomes departure from the mind and will of God. The field is not free to reinterpretation which may result in change, for sanctity guards the old, a flaming sword turning every way that keeps the gate. Thus there stands a predetermined opposition to change, assuming that the weight of God's will is against it. How often, both within my classroom and without, have I found proposals of fresh thought upon divine themes encountering this solid wall! The meaning of the law is the law : the accepted meaning of the Bible is the Bible, which stands supported by the authority of God. And this I have met with in a day when in every other field of knowledge change of thought was welcomed as the very substance of things hoped for.
Against this view of the method of divine authority I have always maintained with my students, as I have with my own soul, that we are as free to search out the truth of God as ever an apostle was, and that we may be as truly under the leading of God in doing so as the apostles were. God has never limited freedom of inquiry by any commandment of his own, nor has he authorized his children to limit one another's freedom by their established versions of his truth. Orthodoxy is a human institution, not a divine, and God has never set it up as a barrier in the way of thought concerning divine realities. I have sought to lead my students into the sense and exercise of this normal freedom, and not without success. And my experience in working with students has confirmed me, I scarcely need say, in my confidence in this genuine Christian liberty. Their frequent lack of it and my own continual benefit from it have kept it ever in mind as a goal of endeavor and a theme of gratitude.
I have scarcely mentioned the movement of my mind with reference to the moral difficulties of the Bible. I have said that in my childhood all was calm in this oft-troubled quarter, the disturbing questions having not yet arisen. Somewhat later detached problems, such as that of the destruction of the Canaanites and the hardening of Pharaoh's heart, began to be troublesome. How laboriously these have been argued, for vindication of God ! Gradually I became aware of the childlike character of the imprecatory Psalms. In the Sixties I heard an essay on the imprecatory Psalms by an elderly minister, in which he began with a fair statement of the difficulty that a Christian reader finds in them. But after offering various tentative explanations of the difficulty, he declared them all needless, and staked the whole matter on inspiration. However we may feel about it, we may be sure that it is all right. His words were, "In any case, God takes all the responsibility" : he has inspired these psalms with all their imprecations, and we need not suspect that there is anything wrong about them, for there cannot be, with him as their inspirer. Thought and language are his own. His solution did not help me, but rather shocked me; but after all it was only a bald statement of the doctrine of inspiration that was commonly held, in its application to these perplexing pas-sages. I remember hearing another justification a few years later, from another minister, to the effect that we can all understand these ancient psalms of imprecation: the best of us have felt just as the psalmist did. The amount of it was that even a good man will sometimes want to use bad words, and his passion may not be altogether an evil one. Neither did this help me much, nor did it seem a worthy explanation, if any direct inspiration of God was supposed to be involved. The dark mystery of such sentiments in a book attributed to God remained.
Some time in the early Seventies I was invited back to my first parish to deliver an address on the Morality of the Bible, in a course that one of my successors had projected. I delivered my lecture, but I do not think it was worth anything. I had thought somewhat on the subject, but had not yet taken any large grasp of it, and had no true idea of the way in which it ought to be treated. I supposed that the Bible, as the word of God, would contain the divine teaching as to the morals of human life: therefore I expected to find God's system of morality presented rudimentally in the Old Testament, and perfectly in the New. This of course I could find, as others did, by judicious selection of materials—just as I afterward found men finding their premillennial and postmillennial theories of the advent. This I did, as well as I could, endeavoring to state and illustrate the ruling principles of the divine morality. But I became aware how much I had to omit in order to make the Bible yield this result : how much there was there that did not fall into the scheme of the Christian ethics. Hard places had to be skipped. The biblical material as a whole did not yield itself to that kind of treatment: the method was wrong, and my lecture probably did not help the situation for any one. The pastor, however, an older man, told me that he thought I had the right idea, and did not see how much more could be done than I had included in my endeavor. Yet his tone indicated that he did not regard the effort as very satisfactory, and wished he could see a better way through the question. He was no farther along than I.
As long as I believed that I was bound to approve all that any part of the Bible said about God and his judgments as to good and evil, it was natural that I should look away from the moral difficulties, or should minimize them as much as possible. If moral contradictions were attributed to God, it was natural that I should be blind to them. The skipping was a privilege, and seemingly a duty. Here my conception of inspiration tended 'directly to blunt my moral sense, by preventing a straightforward ethical judgment upon matters that were laid before me. In my youth I was taught that concerning matters of record in the Bible, especially in their bearing upon the character of God, I had no right to the free exercise of my moral judgment. I must not admit that God had done wrong or approved of evil : hence I must deny that any act attributed to him in the inspired Bible was wrong, or that anything was evil that he was recorded to have approved. In my childhood, how well I remember the shocked and grieved expression with which any sharp inquisitiveness about such acts was met! "God did it, for the Bible says so, and what God did was right: of course it was right—you must not question it": such was the repressive reverence that such inquiries encountered. In later years how often have I heard good men arguing with unconscious sophistry that deeds that bore every mark of being wrong were right because God was recorded to have done them or approved them! It was a necessity. If we were to believe in the good God and the infallibility of the Old Testament, we had to ignore the moral contradictions, or else to argue them out of the way.
In this manner it came to pass that I did not fully know how serious were the moral difficulties of the Bible from the old point of view, until after they had ceased to trouble me. I have already said that my altered conception, formed under various influences and rendered consistent and secure by the higher criticism, has released me from all obligation to attribute to God all the traits and judgments that are attributed to him within the Bible. In much that I used to suppose that I must receive as true of God, I now read the record and effect of what people thought of God—a difference that goes to the very bottom of the mat-ter. When I was thus set free from obligation to approve all that I found, I could see how much there was that I could not approve, as well as how high and glorious was the morality of Christ. I now see clearly, and gratefully, how broad is the contrast between the Christian thought of God and much that stands in the Old Testament: how broad is the contrast, too, between the best in the Old Testament and much that stands beside it there. This contrast it is my duty to note, and my privilege to keep in memory. In. dealing with the Bible I am as free to call black black as I am to call white white, and I am delivered from the too-familiar temptation to call black white for the glory of God. Thus difficulty with the Bible on account of these moral contrasts is entirely gone, and can never return to trouble me.
In the classroom it has not come in my way to discuss the moral difficulties of the Bible very largely, and except in a few instances I do not know how seriously students are troubled by them. But I imagine that students, like Christians generally, are receiving a good deal of benefit from views like mine, whether they accept them or not. Such views, widely diffused, make an atmosphere of relief that all are breathing. In the presence of this helpful influence, the unresponsive many have great reason to be thankful for what the responsive few are doing for them. The old pressure of infallibility is not so heavy as it once was. Readers do not take so seriously the attribution to God in the Bible of acts that a good being could not perform. Moral judgment is claiming its rights, even though by some they can be granted only through inconsistency. I long for the time when the inconsistency shall be done away, by the vanishing of the view of the Bible that thus hampers the moral sense. If I could welcome the Christian people into my own liberty in the matter, we should all rejoice together.
Neither have I said anything of the movement of my mind with regard to the Canon. In such a life as I have reviewed, I could not fail to encounter questions as to how the Bible came to be constituted as it is. The list of books that bore God's authority was, of course, assumed in my childhood to be identical with the list that I read at the front of my Bible and committed to memory. In later years I learned that the Canon had a history, and that the making of the familiar list was not so simple a matter as I had sup-posed. From the old point of view the question is extremely important. Stu-dents have frequently become aware of this, and brought the subject up by their questions: "If you found a lost epistle of Paul, would you bind it into the Bible ? and if you thought a book had better not have been accepted into the Canon, would you throw it out ? " To such questions I have been accustomed to reply that we are not making or unmaking Bibles now, and are not called to any such task. The Bible is a historical fact, and we have no need to alter it. That Bible which we call single is really a collection of books. If we understand the real significance and quality of its constituents, and learn to put a just estimate upon them in practical use, that is all that we have to do. It is for us to treat the various books of the Bible as what they are, not to revise their history, or to give them a new grouping. Let the composite Bible stand as it is, and be used as what it is. We need not increase it or diminish it. If we do not think well of the book of Esther on moral grounds, still there is no reason why we should remove it from the position in which history has placed it: we have only to use it as the kind of book that we have found it to be. When people judged it differently they used it differently : we must follow our own light. In like manner we count Ecclesiastes as an element in that body of Scriptures which the pre Christian time produced and the Christian time adopted. Hence it is in our Bible : but we must make such use of it as our knowledge of its quality entitles it to receive from us. If we find those books inferior to the best in the Bible, we have only to use them as inferior. As to a lost epistle of Paul, I heartily wish that one might be recovered—as conceivably it may. The experience would throw a flood of light for the people upon the nature of the Bible, its inspiration, and its claims. The question of binding it in with its fellows in the Bible would then be a living question, not an academic one, and nothing could be more wholesome. People would be forced to see on what principle the Bible was made up, and to understand that for us the real sacredness of a book is due to its quality and its relation to Christian truth, not to its authorship or its external attestation. But at present, whatever we and here they are. There was never any guarantee that the collection should be perfect, and perfect we cannot claim that it is. Perhaps some writings equally precious with these that we possess were lost, and perhaps some that were of inferior abiding value were gathered in. By this natural process we have received the greatest book of spiritual reality and power that the world has ever known, and at this date in human affairs we have not to change the Bible that we possess. We only need to understand it, and value it according to its worth, and put it to its uses.
From the old point of view I used to assume, unthinkingly, that to drop the old conception of a book in the Bible was to surrender its value. It is true that I never enjoyed or approved the talk that I used to hear, about the critics' tearing book after book out of the Bible and throwing them away, till there was nothing left but the covers. That would al-ways have been a slander, if it had not been so profound a misunderstanding. Yet I can remember when I thought that if the Pentateuch was not written by Moses it was no part of the revelation of God, that the book of Isaiah was less truly a book of heavenly value if it had more than one author, and that if the Fourth Gospel was not written by the apostle John it bore no true and valuable testimony to Jesus. If I had heard in those days the suggestion that the book of Jonah was not historical, I should have said that in that case it was worthless-so ignorant was I of the real meaning and value of that beautiful book. But all that is in the far past. It was, the book of Isaiah that dealt the death-blow to my old idea. I learned that the mighty chapters of the latter part could not have been so full of the glow of God if they had not sprung up in the very time to which they had reference; and that time was far on beyond the days of the prophet Isaiah. So two authors at least there must have been: perhaps there were more: and the dual authorship, instead of detracting from the rich divineness of the book, was necessary to account for it. I learned, too, that there is more than one way for a writing to be valuable, and to be a means of divine revelation. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, or of the Good Samaritan, we do not demand that the events that are described shall have actually occurred, before we can hear the voice of God in the story, and we need not be more exacting or unimaginative with the book of Jonah. The first chapter of Genesis rises to a sublime height of revelation, although it certainly is not a record of actual events. In any instance, it is the real book that we wish to discover and understand, and we may be sure that it is in the real book that we shall find the divine message. I am glad to have been cured of the unbelief according to which I thought that I should lose a book out of my Bible if I lost my idea of its author-ship. Unbelief it was, and misconception, too. A reader will not perceive the value of the actual book, the Bible in his hands, until he has gotten rid of the assumption that there is peril in changing from his old opinions. Such fear of danger can only darken his eyes. But who-ever has disposed of that assumption, and looked at the Bible with the new confidence instead of the old fear, may behold there a glory worthy of God to which a fore time he was blind.