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ligious significance. ... If wisely used, it is still a blessed teacher." *
The true view of the purpose of the Scriptures, according to Dr. Curtis, is this: "That, when we have faithfully studied them in connection with the whole of what we can obtain from God's other revelations of his will, we may arrive at truth in every point of doctrine, duty, and knowledge, with a precision and certainty proportioned to our necessities." +
“ The Word of God !” says Parker, -"no Scripture can hold that. It speaks in a language no honest mind can fail to read.” I
"The teachings of all history," Dr. Curtis tells us, “ past and present, contain, as surely as the Bible, lessons from God, to be diligently studied; and the whole form the Scriptures of the true Christian.” S
We have given these citations from books written from widely different points of view, with no purpose of raising a prejudice against the work of Dr. Curtis, by thus showing his main position to be the same with that of Mr. Parker. It is the fact alone of this essential identity of views which here concerns us. Indeed, for all practical purposes, there are but two general theories of Inspiration, which divide the theological world to-day: the one, that on which Dr. Curtis and Mr. Parker are in the main agreed; and the other, the accepted Orthodox theory, which both these writers alike assail. Dr. Curtis, it is true, recognizes three classes of views: 1. That which maintains that the inspiration of Scripture secures its absolute infallibility in every part; 2. That which claims this absolute infallibility for the religious portions of Scripture alone; and, 3. That which regards Inspiration as not destroying, but elevating, the human element in man, while conferring no absolute immunity from infirmity and error. But those who hold the first and second of these theories are in reality only different parties in the
* Discourse of Religion, p. 375. | Discourse of Religion, p. 370.
+ pp. 323–324. $ p. 318.
same theological camp. Whatever controversy these may wage against one another, they present an unbroken front to all those who affirm, with Dr. Curtis, that “an infallible revelation is not necessary for man.” The three views, therefore, which, according to Dr. Curtis, represent the main and lead. ing opinions on the inspiration of the Bible, are resolvable into two: that which affirms, and that which denies, the infallibility, and hence the exceptional inspiration, of the Old and New Testament Scriptures.*
Dr. Clarke, in his “ Truths and Errors of Orthodoxy," proposes a very different classification, which we cannot regard as either so clear in statement or so accurate as that which we are reviewing. There are but three views, he tells us, in regard to the inspiration of the Bible. “There may be modifications of these, but nothing essentially different.” These three views are, — 1. Plenary inspiration, the Orthodox theory; 2. No inspiration, the Naturalistic theory; and, 3. The Mediatorial view, the theory which mediates between the Orthodox and Naturalistic theories. We have already
* The position that the Scriptures do not contain an infallible revelation from God is held by many of the most eminent Unitarians of the present day. Thus Dr. Hedge affirms, that there is “no infallible oracle out of the breast. ... However desirable it may seem that infallible guidance from without should have been vouchsafed to our perplexity, however we may cover it and sigh for it, it has not been so ordained." – Reason in Religion, p. 205.
Dr. James Freeman Clarke holds the same view:
“Orthodoxy is right,” he says, “in maintaining the supreme excellence and value of the Christian Scriptures, but wrong in claiming for them infallible accuracy. It is right in saying that they were written by inspired men, but wrong in considering this inspiration a guarantee against all possible error and mistake." — Truths and Errors of Orthodoxy, p. 128.
But the strongest as well as clearest statement of this view of the Bible is given by Dr. Noyes, in the Note to the Introduction in the new edition of his “Translation of the Hebrew Prophets :"
“There is limited, yet trustworthy, but no absolute, infallible authority whatever for man. ... The human senses, the human intellect, the human memory, oral tradition, and historical records, are all fallible. Yet by their aid we may attain, not only faith, but knowledge. The light which it has pleased God to bestow upon us is amply sufficient to guide us to the blessedness for which we were designed in this world and that which is to come. Whether the necessities or the interests of humanity would be better promoted by an infallible standard of doctrine and duty, either in a written volume, in a church, or a single individual, is a question which it is not worth while to discuss. What God has done, not what it is necessary or useful for him to do, is the important concern for us " (p. xci).
shown that the real dividing line between the Orthodox theory and its opposite is not that of a so-called plenary inspiration, but that of the alleged infallibility of the Scriptures. Doubtless the majority of Orthodox believers still hold to the doctrine of verbal or plenary inspiration. But this is because such a doctrine is supposed to be necessary as a basis and support of the infallibility of the Bible. This mechanical theory of inspiration, as it has well been called, might be given up, as indeed it has been abandoned by some eminent Orthodox theologians; while the infallibility of the Bible would still remain, though limited in its application to the religious and theological truths which the Scriptures contain. On the other hand, the Naturalistic theory given by Dr. Clarke does not, we believe, fully represent the view of those who are supposed to hold it. Such was not the theory of Mr. Parker, as the eloquent passage from his chapter on the Bible, which Dr. Clarke has quoted, abundantly proves. Indeed, when Dr. Clarke himself goes so far as to say, that " while there may be a wide gulf between the inspiration of the Bible and that of the Vedas, or of Homer or Plato, yet they may all belong to the same class," he has very nearly expressed the view of the Bible held by such Naturalistic theologians as Mr. Parker. Any difference of opinion as to the comparative width of the separating “gulf” may well be regarded, from a philosophical point of view, as of no importance whatever.
With respect to Dr. Clarke's third class of views, the Me. diatorial, we are at a loss to know what such views are, and by whom they are held. Certainly not by Dr. Clarke himself, who, after denying emphatically the infallibility of Scripture, gives us, as his own conclusion, the statement, that we may have a “ faith in the New Testament as being, in some sense or other, a revelation; as being written, in some way or other, by inspired men; as being, somehow or other, a holy book."*
Let us now put by the side of this what Mr. Parker says, in his chapter on the Excellence of the Bible: “Little needs now be said of the New Testament, of the simple truth that rustles in its leaves, its parables, epistles, where Paul lifts up his manly voice, and John pours out the mystic melody of his faith.” * If “simple truth” may be called, " in some sense or other, a revelation, and if Paul's manly voice and the mystic melody of John's faith can be said to have come, “in some way or other," from “inspired men," it is fair to ascribe to Mr. Parker and Dr. Clarke the same general view of the Bible," as being, somehow or other, a holy book." +
* Truths and Errors of Orthodoxy, p. 128.
But we have wandered from our main purpose, which is not to find fault with the useful and suggestive book of Dr. Clarke, but to call attention to certain points in the equally suggestive work of Dr. Curtis. The chief service which this work will render to Liberal theology will be the awaken
* Discourse of Religion, p. 373.
† Professor Parsons, in his recent work, “Deus Homo,” furnishes another of these threefold classifications of theories on Inspiration. There are, he tells us, - 1.“ Those who hold to the literal Bible, sternly and without compromise;" 2. “Those who believe that the Bible is only a most excellent book of human composition;" 3. “Those who hold firmly to their Bible, and cannot doubt that its writers were inspired by the Spirit of God, that they wrote the words of God, and that these must be true.” Those who hold this view are not, indeed, hostile to science, “some of whose conclusions they cannot deny;" but they hope some way will be discovered to reconcile these apparent opposites, and “they see no other basis for this hope than the doctrine of a spiritual sense of the Word.” The confusion in this classification of views is apparent on the surface. The author of “Deus Homo” is evidently to be reckoned in the class of those who hold, not only to the possibility, but also to the fact, of an infallible revelation of divine truth, as opposed to Drs. Curtis, Hedge, Clarke, and Noyes, and the majority of Liberal theologians of the present day. The only point in dis. pute between the disciple of Swedendorg and the Orthodox, “who hold to the literal Bible," is this : Can the infallibility of the Scriptures be best supported by the doctrine of its plenary inspiration, or by what Professor Parsons calls the “spiritual sense of the Word”? We are content to leave the doctrine of an infallible revelation to its fate between the upper and nether millstones of literalism and allegorical interpretation, while we believe, with Dr. Noyes, that “those Christians enjoy a stronger as well as a purer faith, who, giving up the doctrine of Scripture infallibility as a dream, conceding to authority its just weight, yet guarding against its undue influence, feel bound to trust their own reason under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as the supreme judge, believing that to deny reason is to deny God.” — Introduction to Translation of the Prophets, Note, p. xci. VOL. LXXXIII. — NEW SERIES, VOL. IV. NO. 111.
ing of inquiry among those who have never had the opportunity to learn what modern science and criticism have done to make the old theory of Inspiration untenable. We could wish that the author had confined his discussion more closely to the special subject announced in the title, and had omitted the somewhat extensive survey which he has given of the great field of theological controversy, as well as the uncalledfor and unnecessary biographical sketches of famous theologians. We regret, also, that Dr. Curtis has not defined more clearly and exactly the nature of that Inspiration which he claims alike for the humblest Christian and the greatest prophet or apostle, — for the Scriptures of heathen, no less than of Jewish, origin. In one place he tells us, that the work of the Spirit, both in the inspiration of holy writings and holy men, is “to elicit into distinct manifestation, and to quicken, the individual powers of the inspired one." Yet, in another place, we are told that the inspiration of the writers of the Old and New Testaments "gave them certain divine powers." We are still more surprised, that,' in his anxiety to show what is the underlying truth in the error of Orthodoxy, Dr. Curtis has been led, in one section of his work, to claim for the Bible a “practical infallibility.” Elsewhere he has met the question of Scripture infallibility squarely, and without evasion. “Where, then, it is asked, shall we find an infallible and complete revelation ? And to this we reply frankly. Nowhere on earth” (p. 326). And again: “No one considers infallibility necessary or possible, practically, in any other branch of knowledge, however vital: why, then, in this, the most profound in its researches, abstract in its essential principles, and complicated of them all ?” (p. 327.)
We have no desire to pursue any farther the criticism of what, after all, are but minor defects in a work whose general positions are so well maintained, and so thoroughly on the side of a liberal and rational Christianity. The cause of vital, practical religion demands of theology a frank and complete statement of what the Bible is, and what it is not. The Bibliolatry of the present day is no fancied superstition,