Manual of Theology
by John Dagg, 1857
Section 1. STUDY OF RELIGIOUS TRUTH
Chapter 1. The Obligation
The study of religious truth ought to be undertaken and prosecuted from a sense of duty, and with a view to the improvement of the heart. When learned, it ought not to be laid on the shelf, as an object of speculation; but it should be deposited deep in the heart, where its sanctifying power ought to be felt. To study theology, for the purpose of gratifying curiosity, or preparing for a profession, is an abuse and profanation of what ought to be regarded as most holy. To learn things pertaining to God, merely for the sake of amusement, or secular advantage, or to gratify the mere love of knowledge, is to treat the Most High with contempt.
Our external interests are involved in the subject of religion, and we should study it with a view to these interests. A farmer should study agriculture, with a view to the increase of his crop; but if, instead of this he exhausts himself in inquiring how plants propagate their like, and how the different soils were originally produced, his grounds will be overrun with briers and thorns, and his barns will be empty. Equally unprofitable will be that study of religious doctrine which is directed to the mere purpose of speculation. It is as if the food necessary for the sustenance of the body, instead of being eaten and digested, were merely set out in such order as to gratify the sight. In this case, the body would certainly perish with hunger; and, with equal certainty will the soul famish if it feed not on divine truth.
When religious doctrine is regarded merely as an object of speculation, the mind is not content with the simple truth as it is in Jesus, but wanders after unprofitable questions, and becomes entangled in difficulties, from which it is unable to extricate itself. Hence arises the skepticism of many. Truth, which would sanctify and save the soul, they willfully reject, because it will not gratify all their curiosity, and solve all their perplexities. They act as the gardener would, who should reject the whole science of agriculture, and refuse to cultivate his grounds, because there are many mysteries in the growth of plants, which he cannot explain.
If we set out, in our search for religious truth, from a sense of duty, and with the purpose of making the best possible use of it, we may hope for success. The Lord will bless our efforts; for he has promised, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine" (John 7:17). As we advance, we shall find out all that is necessary for any practical purpose; and the sense of duty, under which we proceed, will not drive us beyond this point.
The sense of religious obligation which moves us to seek the knowledge of the truth, though disregarded by a large part of mankind, belongs to the constitution of human nature. Man was originally designed for religion, as certainly as the eye was formed for the purpose of vision. It will be advantageous to consider well this fact, at the outset of our inquires. We shall then feel that we are proceeding according to the best dictates of human nature.
The various parts of the world which we inhabit, are admirably adapted to each other. Many of these adaptations present themselves to our most careless observation; and, if we search for them with diligence, they multiply to our view beyond number. The seed falls to the ground from its parent stalk, like a grain of sand; but, unlike the sand, it contains in its minute dimensions, a wonderful provision for the production of a future plant. This provision, however, would prove unavailing, if it did not find a soil adapted to give nourishment to the young germ. Moisture is also needed: and the vapor, rising from a distant sea, is wafted to the place by the wind, and, condensed in the atmosphere, descends in the fertilizing shower. But all these adaptations are insufficient, if warmth is not supplied; and, to complete the process, the sun at the distance of ninety-five millions of miles, sends forth his enlivening beams. Such complications of arrangements abound in all the works of nature.
The purposes which these adaptations accomplish, are often perfectly obvious. In plants and animals, they provide for the life of the individual and the continuance of the species. Plants are adapted to become food for animals; and plants and animals render important benefits to man. But man, too, has his adaptations; and, from a consideration of these, his proper place in the great system of the universe may be inferred.
Like other animals, man is so constituted, that provision is made for the continuance of his life, and of the race. Were there no higher indications in his constitution, he might eat and drink, like other animals; and the indulgence of his natural appetites and propensities might be the highest end of his being. But, for human beings so to brutalize themselves, is a manifest degradation of their nature. They possess endowments, which, as every one feels, fit them for far nobler purposes.
The high intellectual powers of man, call for appropriate exercise. His knowledge is not confined to objects near at hand, nor to such relations and properties of things as are immediately perceived by the senses; but his reason traces remote relations, and follows the chain of cause and effect through long successions. From the present moment he looks back through past history, and connects events in their proper order of dependence. By his knowledge of the past he is able to anticipate and prepare for the future. In the causes now existing, he can discover the effects which will be developed long hereafter. Such endowments agree well with the opinion that he is an immortal being, and that the present transitory life is preparatory to another which will never end; but they, by no means, accord with the supposition, that he dies as the brute. No one imagines that the ox, or the donkey, is concerned with the question whether an immortality awaits him, for which it is important that he should prepare; but the idea of a future state has had a place in the human mind in all ages, and under all forms of religion. The bee and the ant provide for the approaching winter; and the winter, for which their instincts lead them to prepare, comes upon them. If the future life, which men have so generally looked for, which their minds are so fitted to expect, and for which many have labored to prepare, with unceasing care, should never be realized, the case would violate all analogy, and be discordant with the harmony of universal nature.
The human mind is fitted for continued progress in knowledge; and, therefore for a state of immortality. This adaptation includes an insatiable desire of knowledge, and an ability to acquire it. The little chicken, not many hours after it has left the shell in which its feeble existence commences, is able to select its food, to roam abroad in search of it, and to return to its mother's wing for protection. Man is born into the world, the most helpless of animals. Tedious weeks pass away before the development of his intellectual powers begins to appear. The progress is slow, and many months of gradual improvement pass, before he becomes equal in ability for self-preservation, to many other creatures that have lived a few hours. These animals, however, stop at a point beyond which, it may be said, they never go. The birds of the present age build their nests just as they were built five thousand years ago; and the admirable social arrangements found among bees and ants have undergone no improvements. But no point, no line, bounds the progress of the human mind. Though we are now familiar with the great improvements which have been made in arts and sciences, we contemplate them with admiration and astonishment; and we feel that a boundless career is open before the intellect of man, inviting the efforts which he finds himself internally prompted to make. But, as far as each individual of the race is concerned, the vast fields of knowledge open before him in vain, his power to explore them exists in vain, and the desire to explore burns in vain in his breast, if the present life, which flies as the weaver's shuttle, is the only opportunity granted, and if all his hopes and aspirations are to be forever buried in the grave.
The moral faculties with which man is endowed, adapt him to a state of subjection to moral government. Our minds are so constituted, that we are capable of perceiving a moral quality in actions, and of approving or disapproving them. A consciousness of having done what is right, affords us one of our highest pleasures; and the anguish of remorse for evil deeds, is as intolerable as any suffering of which the human heart is susceptible. Our conscience exercises a moral government within us, and rewards or punishes us for actions according to their moral character. Much of our happiness depends on the approbation of those with whom we associate. Hence, we find moral government without, as well as within; and at every point, in our relations to intelligent beings, we feel its restraints. Where are the bounds of this moral government? It must be as extensive as our relations to moral beings, and as lasting as our existence.
That men are immortal and under a moral government, by which their future state will be made happy or miserable, according to their conduct in the present life, are fundamental truths of religion. Man is a religious animal; because a persuasion of his immortality and an expectation of future retribution so readily find a place in his mind. No one imagines that such thoughts were ever entertained for a moment, by any one of the innumerable brute animals that have trodden the earth. But in the human race, such thoughts have been prevalent in all nations and ages; have mingled with the cogitations of the learned and the unlearned, the wise and the unwise; and have blended religion thoroughly with the history of mankind.
The considerations which have been presented, establish the claim of religious truth to our highest respect and most diligent investigation. He who disregards its claim acts contrary to his own nature, and degrades himself to the level of the beast that perishes. That men do so degrade themselves, is a fact which correct views of religious truth cannot overlook: "The ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master's crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not consider" (Isa 1:3). It is a peculiar glory and excellence of the Christian revelation, that it is adapted to this fallen condition of mankind; and that it has power to effect a restoration. It is medicine for the sick, as well as food for the healthy. A healthy appetite calls for food; and the food, when received, administers needed nourishment; so that between the healthy stomach and the nutritious food, the adaptation is reciprocal. But in sickness the stomach loathes food, and rejects the medicine which is needed to effect a cure: yet the adaptation of the medicine to the condition of the sick man still remains. Just so it is with respect to the gospel of Christ. Though rejected by men, it is "worthy of all acceptance," because it is a remedy, precisely adapted to our depraved state. Thousands of thousands have experienced its restoring power, and unite in recommending its efficacy to the multitudes who are unwilling to make trial of it.
In contemplating the truths of religion, we may view them in various aspects. We may consider them as proceeding from God; as demonstrated by abundant proof; as harmonizing with one another; and as tending to the glory of God. It is interesting and instructive to view them in immediate contact with the human heart, and, like the Spirit of God, brooding over the original chaos, bringing order out of confusion, and infusing light and life where darkness and death had previously reigned. In exerting this new-creating power, the divinity of Christian truth appears; and the demonstration of it is the more satisfactory, because practical, and leveled to the capacity of all.
As religious beings, let us seek to understand the truths of religion. As immortal beings, let us strive to make ourselves acquainted with the doctrine on which our everlasting happiness depends. And let us be careful that we do not merely receive it coldly into our understanding, but that its renewing power is ever operative in our hearts.
Chapter 2. Sources Of Knowledge
We find ourselves in a world where we have no continuing abode. Within us, and without us, we have proofs and admonitions that our chief interests lie in another world, and that our chief business in this is to prepare for the future state, into which we shall very soon enter. We need information respecting that unseen world and the right method of preparing for it, and no other knowledge can be so important to us as this. Can it be that we have no means of acquiring it? For our guidance in the things of this world, every necessary provision has been made. We possess eyes; and the world in which we are placed affords the light that is needed to tender them useful in directing our steps. We possess understanding; and means of knowledge from without are presented, by which we may select the objects of our pursuits, and the best methods of gaining them. We may hence infer that some means of knowledge respecting our highest interests must exist. The sources from which this knowledge may be obtained, are the following:
1. Our moral and religious feelings. Brute animals have instincts by which they are guided; and in man, also, instinctive propensities exist, adapted to his nature and the condition and circumstances of his being. Maternal affection is not confined to brutes as an instinct peculiar to them, but it is found in the highest degree in the human mother; and in her breast, mingles with moral and religious feelings peculiar to human nature and inseparable from it. The human mother feels the moral obligation to take care of her child, antecedent to all reasoning on the subject. When we determine what is right or wrong by a process of reasoning, we judge according to some law, or rule of right; but, in this case, the mother is a law to herself. She needs no teaching from without, to inform her that it is her duty to take care of her offspring. Sin may so debase human nature, that mothers may evince no moral feeling; but, however it may be buried under our corruptions, the moral principle is an element of our nature. Because of it, even the heathen are a law unto themselves, and show the work of the law written in their hearts. The moral feeling which at first co-operates with the mother's instinctive affection to induce her to take care of her child, co-operates afterwards with her reason in devising the best method of promoting its good.
When it was to be determined which of two women was the mother of a living child claimed by both, the wisdom of Solomon decided, that the maternal relation existed where maternal affection existed. On the same principle we may, from our moral and religious feelings, infer our relation to moral government and to the Supreme Ruler. From this law, written in the heart, we might obtain much religious knowledge, if the fall of man had not obscured the writing.
2. The moral and religious feelings of our fellow-men. We are formed for society, and are capable of benefitting each other in the things of this life, and of that which is to come. The judgments of others assist our judgments; and their moral and religious feelings may, in like manner, assist ours. In the approbation or disapprobation of mankind, we may find an important means of knowing what is right or wrong. Hence, it is a rule of duty to do those things which are "of good report."
If an ancient writing is transmitted to us in numerous copies, all of which are mutilated and greatly effaced, the probability of ascertaining what the original was is far greater, when we compare many copies with each other, than it would be, if we possessed one copy only. For the same reason, the moral and religious feeling of mankind generally, is a source of knowledge more to be relied on, than that which is opened for our examination in the moral nature of a single individual. A hardened transgressor's own conscience may fail to reprove him, when his crimes shock the moral sense of the whole company; and, from their disapprobation, he might learn the iniquity of his conduct, though all moral feeling were extinguished in his own breast.
In examining this second source of knowledge, we observe the common consent of mankind, that there is a God; that he ought to be worshiped; that there is a difference between virtue and vice; that a moral government exists, which is partly administered in this life by Divine Providence; that the soul of man is immortal; and that a future retribution awaits all men after death. These truths of religion appear in the history of mankind, through all the corruptions which have covered and obscured them.
3. The course of Nature. Things are so arranged by the Creator and Ruler of the world, that some actions tend to promote, and others to destroy, the happiness of the individual and of society. By observing the tendency of actions, we may learn what to do and what to avoid. God has established the nature of things, and the voice of Nature is the voice of God. Conscience is God speaking within us, but, because of man's apostasy from God, it often delivers false oracles. Hence, we do well to turn our ear to the voice of God, speaking in universal Nature.
The tendency of vice to produce misery, is obvious to every one who observes the curse of things around him. Drunkards and gamblers, impoverish themselves, ruin their families, waste their health, and bring themselves to an untimely grave, frequently by violent, and sometimes, by suicidal hands. In ten thousand ways, crime of every species exhibits its pernicious tendency, and, in this arrangement of things, the moral government of God is clearly seen, and the conduct which he approves, is pointed out by the finger of his Providence. Enough of God's moral government appears in the present life, to demonstrate its existence; and the imperfection which is manifest in its present administration, furnishes satisfactory proof that it extends beyond the present life, and is perfected in the world to come.
The religious knowledge which may be obtained from the three sources which have been enumerated, constitutes what is called Natural Religion. Though insufficient to meet the wants of man in his fallen condition, it teaches the fundamental truths on which all religion is based, and leads to the higher source of knowledge by which we may become wise to salvation. That is
4. Divine Revelation. Because all other means of knowledge are insufficient to bring men to holiness and happiness, God has been pleased, in pity to our race, to make known his will by special revelation. Besides his voice in conscience and in Nature, he utters his voice from Heaven. This revelation was anciently made by prophets, who were commissioned to speak to men in his name, and afterwards by his Son from Heaven. To us, in this latter days, he speaks in his written word, the Bible, which is the perfect source of religious knowledge, and the infallible standard of religious truth.
The Bible consists of two parts:
1. The Old Testament, or Hebrew Scriptures. This is the book very carefully preserved by the Jews throughout the world, and held sacred by them as a revelation from God.
2. The New Testament. This consists of various writings, which have been carefully preserved by the Christians of past ages, and are now regarded by them as a revelation from God, made through the immediate followers of Jesus Christ.
We shall here assume that the Bible is a revelation from God. If the reader has any doubts on this point, he may study, to advantage, any of the numerous works extant on the Evidences of Christianity; or, in the absence of more elaborate productions, he may read a small tract by the Author, entitled The Origin and Authority of the Bible. [This Tract has been introduced into the present work as an Appendix, people. 26-42.]
Inspiration and transmission of the Scriptures. The Bible, though a revelation from God, does not come immediately from him to us who read it, but is received through the medium of human agency. It is an important question, whether its truth and authority are impaired by passing through this medium. Human authority was employed in the first writing of the Scriptures, and agency was employed in the first writing of the Scriptures, and afterwards in transmitting them, by means of copies and translations, to distant places, and succeeding generations.
The men who originally wrote the Holy Scriptures, performed the work under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Such was the extent of this influence, that the writing, when it came forth from their hands, was said to be given by inspiration of God. So Paul said, with special reference to the Old Testament: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable . . . that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto good works." (2Tim 3:16) Though Moses and the prophets executed the writing, it is said to have been given by God, and the perfection attributed to it demonstrates that it had not suffered by the instrumentality which he had chosen to employ. Christ referred to the Hebrew Scriptures, as the word of God (Mk 7:13). Paul represents what was spoken by the prophets, as spoken by God (Heb 1:1). Peter attributes to the writings of Paul equal authority with that of the Old Testament Scriptures (2Pet 3:16). Paul also claims equal authority for what he spoke and wrote (1Cor 14:37). Christ promised to his apostles, after his departure, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and described the effect of his influence on them in these words: "It is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your father which speaks in you." (Mt 10:20) This gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them on the day of Pentecost; and their possession of it was proved by their power to speak with tongues, and work miracles. From all this, we learn that what was spoken and written by inspiration, came with as high authority as if it had proceeded from God without the use of human instrumentality. While Peter said to the lame man, "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up, and walk," (Acts 3:6) the voice which spoke was Peter's, but the power which restored the ankle bones was God's. The words, though Peter's, were spoken under divine influence, or the divine power would not have accompanied them. So the gospel, received from the lips of the apostles, was received, "not as the word of men, but as it is in truth the word of God." (1 Thessalonians 2:13) The men who spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, were the instruments that God used to speak and write his word. Their peculiarities of thought, feeling, and style, had no more effect to prevent what they spoke and wrote from being the word of God, than their peculiarities of voice or of chirography.
The question, whether inspiration extended to the very words of revelation, as well as to the thoughts and reasonings, is answered by Paul: "We preach, not in the words which man's wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches." (1Cor 2:13) The thoughts and reasonings in the minds of the inspired writers, were not a revelation to others until they were expressed in words; and if the Holy Spirit's influence ceased before expression was given to these thoughts and reasonings, he has not made a revelation to mankind. On this supposition, we cannot read the Bible as the word of God, but as the word of men; of good and honest men, it is true, but nevertheless of fallible men. The opinion that the expression is merely human, undermines the confidence with which the word of God deserves to be regarded; because we know not when, or how far, that expression may fail to convey the meaning of the Holy Spirit. It can no longer be said, that the Scriptures are "a more sure word of prophecy," (2Pet 1:19) that "they cannot be broken," (In 10:35) and that the things written "are the commandments of the Lord." (1Cor 14:37).
The doctrine of plenary inspiration, if properly understood, does not imply that the Holy Spirit employed the writer as an unconscious instrument. It maintains that his memory, and other mental powers, were employed in the execution of the work, as truly as his hand; but it insists that the latter was as certainly controlled by the unerring guide as the former. Nor does the doctrine imply, that the Holy Spirit is the original author of every word contained in the sacred volume. It records the speeches of Satan, and of the Orator Tertullus, and records them faithfully; but the Holy Spirit was not the author of these speeches.
In 1 Cor 7, Paul distinguishes between what he delivered, as a commandment of the Lord, and what he spoke without such commandment. It may appear, at first view, that he disclaims inspiration with regard to the things of the last kind. But if it be admitted, that these things were matters of human advice with out divine authority, it does not follow, that the writing which contains his advice, is uninspired. The inspired word which records the speeches of Satan and Tertullus, may record the prudent counsel of a wise apostle, even when that counsel does not come with the full sanction of divine authority. But, in giving this counsel, Paul says, "I think that I have the Spirit of God," v. 40; and, if he thought that he gave it by the Spirit, it would be rash in us to think otherwise. We are not to understand the word "think," as implying doubt in Paul's mind, and we need have no doubt that the counsel which he gave, was by the wisdom from above.
Although the Scriptures were originally penned under the unerring guidance of the Holy Spirit, it does not follow, that a continued miracle has been wrought to preserve them from all error in transcribing. On the contrary, we know that manuscripts differ from each other; and where readings are various, but one of them can be correct. A miracle was needed in the original production of the Scriptures; and, accordingly , a miracle was wrought; but the preservation of the inspired word, in as much perfection as was necessary to answer the purpose for which it was given, did not require a miracle, and accordingly it was committed to the providence of God. Yet the providence which has preserved the divine oracles, has been special and remarkable. They were at first committed to the Jews, who exercised the utmost care in their preservation and correct transmission. After the Christian Scriptures were added, manuscript copies were greatly multiplied; many versions were prepared in other languages; innumerable quotations were made by the early fathers; and sects arose which, in their controversies with each other, appealed to the sacred writings, and guarded their purity with incessant vigilance. The consequence is, that, although the various readings found in the existing manuscripts, are numerous, we are able, in every case, to determine the correct reading, so far as is necessary for the establishment of our faith, or the direction of our practice in every important particular. So little, after all, do the copies differ from each other, that these minute differences, when in contrast with their agreement, render the fact of that agreement the more impressive, and may be said to serve practically, rather to increase, than impair our confidence in their general correctness. Their utmost deviations do not change the direction of the line of truth; and if they seem in some points to widen that line a very little, the path that lies between their widest boundaries, is too narrow to permit us to stray. As copies of the Holy Scriptures, though made by fallible hands, are sufficient for our guidance in the study of divine truth; so translations, though made with uninspired human skill, are sufficient for those who have not access to the inspired original. Unlearned men will not be held accountable for a degree of light beyond what is granted to them; and the benevolence of God in making revelation, has not endowed all with the gifts of interpreting tongues. When this gift was miraculously bestowed in ancient times, it was for the edification of all: and now, when conferred in the ordinary course of providence, the purpose of conferring it is the same. God has seen it wiser and better to leave the members of Christ to feel the necessity of mutual sympathy and dependence, than to bestow every gift on every individual. He has bestowed the knowledge necessary for the translations with which the common people are favored, is full of divine truth, and able to make wise to salvation.
A full conviction that the Bible is the word of God, is necessary to give us confidence in its teachings, and with respect for its decisions. With this conviction pervading the mind when we read the sacred pages, we realize that God is speaking to us, and when we feel the truth take hold of our hearts, we know that it is God which whom we have to do. When we study its precepts, all our powers bow to them, as the undoubted will of our sovereign Lord; and when we are cheered and sustained by its consolations, we receive them as blessings poured down from the eternal throne. Nature and science offer no light that can guide us in our search for immortal bliss; but God has given us the Bible, as a lamp to our feet, and a light to our path. Let us receive the gift with gratitude and commit ourselves to its guidance.
Appendix. Origin And Authority Of The Bible
We are rational beings; and, as such, the desire of knowledge is natural to us. In early childhood, as each new object of interest comes under our notice, we ask, who made it; and as we advance in years, the same inquisitiveness attends us, and prompts us to investigate the sources of knowledge which are ever opening before us. Brutes may look with indifference on the works of God, and tread under foot the productions of human ingenuity, without inquiry into their origin; but rational men cannot act thus without violence to the first principles of their nature. Among the objects which have occupied a large space in human thought, and which claim our consideration, the BIBLE stands conspicuous. Its antiquity; the veneration in which it has been held, and continues to be held, by a large part of mankind; and the influence which it has manifestly exerted on their conduct and happiness, are sufficient, if not to awaken higher emotions, at least to attract our curiosity, and excite a desire to know its origin and true character.
We are moral beings. The Bible comes to us as a rule of conduct. The claim which is set up for it is, that it is the highest standard of morals, admitting no appeal from its decisions. We are, therefore, under the strongest obligations to examine the foundation of this claim.
We are, if the Bible is true, immortal beings. Heathen philosophers have conjectured that man may be immortal; and infidels have professed to believe it; but, if we exclude the Bible, we have no means of certain knowledge on this point. Yet it is a matter of the utmost importance. If we are immortal, we have interests beyond the grave which infinitely transcend all our interests in the present life. What folly, then, it is, to reject the only source of information on this momentous subject! Besides if we have such interests in a future world, we have no means of knowing how to secure them, except from the Bible. Shall we throw this book from us, and trust to vain conjecture, on questions in which our all is involved? It would be folly and madness.
Let us then inquire, whence came the Bible? Is it from Heaven, or from men ? If it is from men, is it the work of good men, or of bad men?
If bad men had been the authors of the Bible, they would have made it to their liking. If made to please them, it would please other men of like character. But it is not a book in which bad men delight. They hate it. Its precepts are too holy; its doctrines too pure; its denunciations against all manner of iniquity too terrible. It is not at all written according to the taste of such men. There are men who prize the Bible; who pore over its pages with delight; who have recourse to it in all their perplexities and sorrows; who seek its counsels to guide them, and its instructions to make them wise; who esteem its words more than gold, and feast on them as their sweetest food. But who are these men? They are those who detest all deceit and falsehood, and whom this very book has transformed, from men of iniquity and vice, to men of purity and holiness. It is impossible, therefore, that the Bible should be the work of bad men.
It remains that the Bible must be either from Heaven or from good men. So pure a stream cannot proceed from a corrupt fountain. If it be from good men, they will not willfully deceive us. Let us, then, look to the account which they have given of its origin: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God." (2Tim 3:16) "The things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord." (1Cor 14:37) "And so we have the prophetic word more firm, to which you do well to take heed, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the morning star arise in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of private invention. For never, at any time, was prophecy brought by the will of man, but the holy men of God spoke, being moved by the Holy Spirit." (2Pet 1:19; Macknight's Translation).
It may, perhaps, be objected to the use of these quotations, that we permit the Bible to speak for itself; but this is no unprecedented procedure. If a stranger were passing through our neighborhood, and we were desirous to know whence he came, it would not be unnatural to propose the inquiry to the man himself. If there were about him marks of honesty and simplicity of character, and if, after our most careful investigations, it should appear that he has no evil design to accomplish, and no interest to promote by deceiving us, we should rely on the information we derive from him. Such a stranger is the Bible; and why may we not rely on its testimony concerning itself? Nay, it is not a stranger. Though claiming a heavenly origin, it has long dwelt on earth, and gone in and out among us, a familiar companion. We have been accustomed to hear its words; and have known them to be tried with every suspicion, and every scrutiny, and no falsehood has been detected. More, it has been among us as a teacher of truth and sincerity; and truth and sincerity have abounded just in proportion as its teachings have been heeded. Old men of deceit have shrunk from its probings, and trembled at its threatenings; and young men have been taught by it to put away all lying and hypocrisy. Can it be that the Bible itself is a deceiver and impostor? Impossible! It must be, what it claims to be, a book from heaven — the Book of God.
The truth that the Bible is from God, is not only testified by the inspired men who wrote it, but it is established by many other decisive proofs, some of which we shall proceed to consider.
The Divine origin of the Bible is proved by the CHARACTER OF THE REVELATION which it contains.
The character of God, as exhibited in the Bible, cannot be of human origin. We know what sort of gods men make; for they have multiplied them without number. They carve deities from blocks of wood and stone, and worship them with stupid adoration; but this is not the most debasing and abominable idolatry of which they are guilty. Their vain imaginations fashion gods more vile than these. The blocks of wood or stone may take the form of birds, four-footed beasts, and creeping things; but the deities which derive their origin from the imaginations of men have passions and propensities that are beastly, and even worse than beastly. Such are the objects which they worship with laborious and costly devotion. Let any man visit the temples of the heathen, observe their horrid ceremonies, and study the character of their gods; and then let him say whether these gods, and the God of the Bible, are from one common origin.
Some objectors may allege that the deities to which we have referred are those of uncivilized tribes. What then? Were the gods of the most civilized nations better than these? What were the divinities which were worshiped by the ancient Greeks and Romans, even by their sages and philosophers, whose talents and genius have been admired in every age? Jupiter, their Optimus Maximus, best and greatest, was a monster of crime; and Venus, Bacchus, Mercury, Mars, and the rest of their deities, were his fit companions. They were patrons and examples of vice. The infidel Rousseau has drawn their character correctly. "Cast your eyes over all the nations of the world, and all the histories of nations. Amid so many inhuman and absurd superstitions, amid that prodigious diversity of manners and characters, you will find everywhere the same principles and distinctions of moral good and evil. The paganism of the ancient world produced, indeed, abominable gods, who on earth would have been shunned or punished as monsters, and who offered as a picture of supreme happiness only crimes to commit and passions to satiate. But vice, armed with this sacred authority, descended in vain from the eternal abode; she found, in the heart of man, a moral instinct to repel her. The continence of Xenocrates was admired by those who celebrated the debaucheries of Jupiter — the chaste Lucretia adored the unchaste Venus — the most intrepid Roman sacrificed to Fear. He invoked the God who dethroned his father, and he died without a murmur by the hand of his own. The most contemptible divinities were served by the greatest men. The holy voice of Nature, stronger than that of the gods, made itself heard, and respected, and obeyed on earth, and seemed to banish as it were to the confinement of Heaven, guilt, and the guilty.''
Go now to the Pantheon, and study the character and works of Rome's innumerable deities. After infidelity has acknowledged that they are monsters, more wicked than men, and sending forth a corrupting influence into human society, invite her to study the character of Jehovah, the God of the Bible, a Spirit, whose form cannot be represented; a Being whose eyes cannot behold iniquity, who is glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, and doing wonders; and who requires to be worshiped in the beauty of holiness. Let her stand with Moses in the cleft of the rock, and hear the Lord proclaim his name: "The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty.'' (Ex 34:6) Surely she will bow her head with reverence, and confess, this is the voice of God.
The account of the life and character of Christ given in the gospels, is not a fiction of human invention. The introduction of Christianity, its existence in the world, the persecutions which it has encountered, its spread in spite of opposition, and the influence which it has exerted on nations and governments, are all so interwoven with the history of the last eighteen hundred years, that all history must be doubted, if these are fables. The evidence that there were such men as Alexander and Julius Caesar, is not so abundant and indisputable as that Jesus Christ appeared at the time and place stated in the gospels. The accounts of his life, sufferings, and death, given by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, come down to us with all the marks of authentic history. No signs of fraud can be detected in the narratives. The admirable simplicity of the writers, their ingenuousness in relating the faults and weaknesses of their own characters, their artlessness in depicting the sublime virtues of their Master, and recording his stupendous works, and the unimpassioned manner in which they described the cruel treatment he received from his persecutors and murderers; all these considerations place the truth of their narratives beyond question. Add to all this, that they had sufficient means of knowing the truth of the facts which they have recorded; that they attested the sincerity of their faith in them by enduring tortures and death; and that those who received their testimony, and transmitted it to us, testified their faith in it by like endurance. No other facts in the history of the world have evidence so strong. But if this evidence can be rejected, an insuperable difficulty still remains. It is impossible to account for the existence of the gospels on any other supposition, than that they are what they profess to be, true delineations of a real character. The authors were incapable of conceiving such a fiction. Even such men as Virgil and Homer were incapable of such an effort. They could conceive and describe such characters as Aeneas and Ulysses, but not such a character as Jesus Christ. Besides, the learning of the world was arrayed against Christianity; and to the unlearned and humble fishermen of Galilee the task was assigned of recording the life and works of Jesus of Nazareth. That such men should have transmitted to succeeding ages a fiction such as this, is incredible — impossible.
Another quotation from Rousseau will show the overpowering influence of these considerations on the mind of an infidel: "I will confess to you further, that the majesty of the Scripture strikes me with admiration, as the purity of the gospel has its influence on my heart. Peruse the works of our philosophers, with all their pomp of diction — how mean — how contemptible — are they, compared with the Scripture! Is it possible, that a book at once so simple and sublime should be merely the work of man? Is it possible that the sacred personage whose history it contains should be himself a mere man? Do we find that he assumed the air of an enthusiast or ambitious sectary? What sweetness, what purity in his manner! What an affecting gracefulness in his delivery! What sublimity in his maxims! What profound wisdom in his discourses! What presence of mind! What subtlety. What truth in his replies! How great the command over his passions! Where is the man, where the philosopher, who could so live and die, without weakness and without ostentation? Shall we suppose the Evangelic History a mere fiction? Indeed, my friend, it bears not the marks of fiction. On the contrary, the history of Socrates, which nobody presumes to doubt, is not so well attested as that of Jesus Christ. The Jewish authors were incapable of the diction, and strangers to the morality contained in the gospels; the marks of whose truth are so striking and invincible, that the inventor would be a more astonishing character than the hero."
If the gospels give a true account of Jesus Christ, he was a teacher from Heaven; and both the doctrine which he taught, and the Scriptures, to which he often appealed as of divine authority, are from God.
The method of salvation revealed in the Bible is not a human device. The preaching of Christ crucified was to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness, yet salvation by the Cross is the grand peculiarity of the gospel. Were Christianity a cunningly-devised fable, a doctrine so offensive to mankind would not have been made prominent in the scheme. To this day, men of proud intellect and corrupt heart reject the doctrine of salvation by the obedience and sufferings of another. To the humble and contrite, oppressed with a sense of sin, and seeking, from the borders of despair, some divine method of escape from the wrath to come, this doctrine is thrice welcome; but the humble and contrite are not the men to cheat the world with a forged system of religion.
The BLESSINGS which the Bible confers on mankind have their origin in infinite Benevolence.
Compare the condition of those nations where Paganism reigns with that of the nations where the most corrupt forms of Christianity exist, and you will find the latter preferable. Institute another comparison between these, and the lands where a purer Christianity prevails, and where the Bible, instead of being withheld from the common people, is open to the reading of all, and you will perceive a far better state of human society, where the Sacred Volume is best known. Compare, again, in these most favored lands, the families where the Bible is least regarded, with those in which its doctrines are revered and its precepts obeyed and you will be sensible that a heavenly influence pervades the latter. But even in such families as these, the individual members often differ widely from each other. Though they may all worship at the same altar, and read the same Bible, some have the word of truth on their lips only, while others treasure it up deep in their hearts, and find it sweeter to their taste than honey and the honeycomb. What elevation of character, what pure and unsullied bliss do the latter enjoy! Take, lastly, an individual of the last most favored class, and compare the different moments of his life — those in which the Bible is least regarded, with those in which he feasts on its truths and promises, and experiences joy unspeakable and full of glory, while he receives the divine word into his heart; and you will have a full view of the blessed influence which the Bible can impart. We know that the sun is a source of light and heat, because all is dark and cold when his beams are absent; and light and heat are found to increase in proportion as we draw nearer to him. Precisely so it is with the Bible. From Paganism, cold and dark, where the Bible is unknown, to the saint in his most rapturous devotions, when he has the sweetest foretaste of Heaven which mortals on earth can enjoy; the light of truth which fills the understanding, and the warmth of love which glows in the heart, bear an exact proportion to the proximity of the Bible. If the sun, which enlightens the material world, is the work of a benevolent Creator, much more may we ascribe to the same benevolence the authorship of the Bible, the source of spiritual illumination.
Having compared the Bible to the sun, it may be a fit occasion to remark that both these lights have their darknesses — the Bible its obscurities, and the sun its spots. The Deist may cavil at the one, and the Atheist at the other; but the cavils of both are alike absurd and unavailing. Because there are spots in the sun, shall we conclude that God did not make it, or that it is not a blessing to mankind? Yet this conclusion would not be more irrational than to deny that God is the author of the Bible, or that the Bible is a blessing to the world, because there are obscurities found in its pages. Suppose it be admitted that the spots in the sun, and the obscurities in the Bible are imperfections, is God the author of nothing in which imperfections exist? If everything material, and everything human, be marked with imperfection, may not God nevertheless glorify himself by things material and human? The new Jerusalem has no need of a material sun to enlighten it, because the glory of God and the Lamb is the light thereof; but God has fixed the sun in the firmament to enlighten this world of matter; and the sun in the firmament, notwithstanding its spots, declares its Maker's glory. So God may make revelation of Himself to the pure intelligences of Heaven in language free from human imperfection; but when He speaks to mortals on earth, He uses the language of mortals; and whatever may be the imperfection of the medium, this revelation of God displays his glory in the brightest light in which human eyes can behold it.
But are the spots in the sun and the obscurities in the Bible to be accounted imperfections? The light of the sun is pure and abundant; and, if it were deficient, the deficiency might be supplied, as well by enlarging the sun, as by removing its spots. It would, therefore, be as rational to complain that the sun is not larger, as to complain that there are spots in its disc. In like manner, the light of God's Word is pure, and sufficient to make men wise to salvation; and we might as well complain that the Bible is not larger, as that it contains obscurities. Besides, the obscurities of the Bible may have a beneficial use. If, as some astronomers suppose, the solar spots are the body of the sun, seen through the partings of its luminous atmosphere, they can scarcely be deemed imperfections; much less can they be so regarded, if they are streams of gas rising in the sun's atmosphere, and diffusing itself to become fuel for the lamp of day. According to the latter hypothesis, the spots are as far from being imperfections, as are the clouds that sometimes darken our sky, but which are the rich sources of the earth's fertility, and the granaries of our bread. So, some of the obscurities of the Bible are the deep things of God, seen through; the light of revelation — the inscrutable mystery of the divine nature appearing through the light with which He has clothed Himself. Other mysteries are, in process of time, dissipated; and, like clouds which burst, pour out a blessing. It was a mystery "that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs and partakers of the promise of Christ by the gospel;" but in due time this mystery was explained, and the bursting cloud poured the richest blessing on all the Gentile world.
The Old Testament dispensation was dark, abounding with shadows of good things to come; but since the Sun of Righteousness has arisen, the dark places have been illuminated, and are full of instruction. Prophecies have been delivered in obscure language; but their fulfillment has interpreted them. Some obscurities have given occasion to the infidel to charge the Bible with contradictions; but a careful examination of the inspired word has not only served to repel the charge by reconciling the apparent discrepancies, but it has added new proof that the Scriptures were written by undesigning and honest men, without any collusion; and that there is perfect harmony in their statements, even when apparently most discordant. Men of superior intellect may find a pleasant and profitable exercise of their powers in investigating those parts of the Bible which are less clear; while its plainest truths are adapted to men of least capacity, and are sufficient for their necessities. Here are waters in which "a lamb may wade," and in which "an elephant may swim." There is yet another use of Bible obscurities. When God gave a law to mankind, he did not give one which it was impossible to violate, but one which men, as free agents, might violate, and by violating bring ruin on their souls. So, when he gave a revelation to mankind, he did not give one which could not be caviled at, but one at which men might cavil, and, by caviling, bring wrath upon themselves. The obscurities of the Bible serve for this use; for the Bible itself declares, that it contains "some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest unto their own destruction." Let those who choose rather to cavil at the obscurities of the Bible, than to walk in its light, read this declaration, and fear and tremble.
The revelations contained in the Bible have the attestation of MIRACLES. It is a plain dictate of common sense, that Almighty God, who created and governs the world, may direct its movements as He chooses. He appointed the laws of Nature, and He may suspend these laws whenever He pleases, and turn the course of things out of the ordinary channel. It is equally clear, that none but the Author of Nature can effect such changes. It follows, therefore, that miracles, if wrought in attestation of a revelation professing to be from Heaven, stamp upon it the seal of Omnipotence. Persons who saw such miracles wrought, reasoned well when they said: "We know that you are a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that you do, except God be with him."
Though miracles furnished, to those who saw them with their own eyes, a more impressive evidence than to us who see them through the light of history, yet the argument founded on them is perfectly conclusive, even at the present time. That Moses and the prophets, Christ and his apostles, performed works truly miraculous, is as well attested as any ancient fact whatever. The character of the works attributed to them, their number, the circumstances in which they were performed, the absence of everything indicating fraud or imposture, the sufferings by which the witnesses demonstrated their sincerity, the credence which their testimony obtained rapidly and extensively, and in the face of bitter persecution, and the absence of all counter testimony; all these considerations compel the belief that miracles were wrought, and if wrought, the revelation which they attest must be from God. The evidence, though it may be less impressive, is not less decisive than it would have been if we had personally witnessed the miracles.
We are not wholly indebted for the evidence of miracles, to the light of history. It does not need historical proof to satisfy our minds that the pyramids of Egypt were built by human labor and skill. We are as well satisfied of this, as if we had seen them rise under the hands of the workmen. We know that they are the work of man, because they resemble, in kind, other works of man. But he who gazes on these stupendous structures, may turn his eyes to the great globe beneath them, and feel equally well assured that it is not the work of man. So, in contemplating a system of heathen mythology or philosophy, we may be convinced that it is of human origin, because it bears the marks of man's workmanship; but in contemplating the Bible, and the religion which it has introduced into the world, we may be as well assured that the origin of these is superhuman. A system so destitute of everything which could recommend it to the carnal mind, and claiming to be attested "with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles," could not, in the absence of such miracles, obtain, according to the ordinary course of things, easy and extensive credence among mankind, and become firmly established in their confidence. The propagation, in such circumstances, must itself have been miraculous. It is of no importance to the present argument, whether the miracle was wrought before the eyes of him who received the doctrine, or on his mind, to incline him to receive it. In either case, there was a miracle, an interposition of Divine Power, and such an interposition demonstrated that the doctrine was from God.
The PROPHECIES which the Bible contains, must have proceeded from infallible foreknowledge. This is proved by their exact fulfillment.
Daniel prophesied to Nebuchadnezzar, the proud head of the Babylonian empire, then in its glory and strength, that this empire would give place to three others which were to arise after it (Dan 2:39, 45). This succession of empires, the Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, the Grecian, and the Roman, is more fully described afterward in the prophecies of Daniel, together with a series of events extending down to the present time (Dan 7:12). More than a century before the time of Daniel, the prophet Isaiah predicted (Isa 21:9; 45:1; 45:3) the taking of Babylon by the Persians, who were, at the time of the prediction, a feeble and obscure nation. He foretold the very name of the Persian leader, and the manner of his entrance into the city, through gates which, by a special ordering of Providence, were carelessly left open by the Babylonians in their drunken festivity. Other prophets foretold the destruction and final desolation of Babylon (Jer 51:1), and of Nineveh (Nah 1:1; 3:1), the overthrow of ancient Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar (Ezek 26:7; 26:11), and afterward of insular Tyre by Alexander (Ezek 27:32), and the decline and present state of Egypt (Ezek 29:1), once the proudest of nations. All these predictions were made when the events predicted were so improbable, that they could not be foreknown by any human sagacity; yet history, and the reports of travelers, attest their exact accomplishment. Many other examples of fulfilled prophecy might readily be cited.
The prophecies concerning the Jews are remarkable, and we refer to them with the more satisfaction, because the reader has probably, to some extent, personal knowledge of the facts predicted. These people are scattered through our nation, and through most of the nations on earth. Their synagogues, in which they meet to worship the God of their fathers, are found in all our principal cities. The Scriptures of the Old Testament are regularly read in their public worship, and are regarded with religious veneration, as their sacred book, received from God by their ancient prophets, and handed down to them from their forefathers. This book minutely describes (Lev 26; Dt 27; Dt 30), in the language of prediction, the sufferings which they have undergone; their wonderful preservation as a distinct people, notwithstanding these sufferings, and their dispersed condition among all nations. Other ancient tribes, when scattered, have been lost in the general mass of mankind; but these people, after centuries of dispersion and persecution, still remain distinct, and stand forth to the world as witnesses of the wonderful fulfillment of the predictions respecting them, uttered by their ancient prophets.
The sacred writings of the Jews not only contain predictions of the dispersion, sufferings, and wonderful preservation of this people, but also furnish explanation of these extraordinary events. The book describes a covenant between this nation and the God whom they worship, and its records show that they have repeatedly violated this covenant, and suffered the threatened penalty. The whole history of the nation illustrates the dealings of God with them, in accordance with the stipulations of this covenant. Once before, as a punishment of their unfaithfulness, they were driven from their land into captivity for seventy years, yet they were preserved and brought back. The prophetic declarations of their sacred volume explain that their present dispersion and sufferings are, in like manner, in consequence of their crimes, and that their preservation is in prospect of another restoration. Their condition, therefore, resembles that of a malefactor nailed to the cross, with his accusation written over his head; a fit punishment for the nation that crucified the Lord of glory. They hold in their hands the book which specifies their crimes and predicts their sufferings, and they furnish, in their persons, the spectacle of these predictions fulfilled. They not only claim that their book is divine, but they are the proof of its divinity.
The Jews may be made witnesses for the New Testament also, which they reject, and for Christianity, which they hate. What crime so great, has extended their dispersion and sufferings through the long period of eighteen centuries? The New Testament gives the only satisfactory answer to this inquiry, and it answers in perfect accordance with their own Scriptures. They have rejected and crucified their King, their long-expected Messiah, whom their prophets had foretold. It was predicted that he would appear before the tribe of Judah should become extinct, or should cease to maintain a distinct government of its own (Gen 49:10); before the second temple should be destroyed (Hag 2:7; Hag 2:9); and in 490 years from the decree of Cyrus to rebuild Jerusalem (Dan 9:24). At this time Jesus Christ appeared, claiming to be their Messiah, and furnishing most abundant proofs that he came from God; yet, as their prophets had foretold, they rejected him (Isa 53:3), and united with Gentile rulers to destroy him (Ps 2:1, 2). Their own Scriptures, and their confessed hatred of Jesus Christ, fully make out the crime for which they suffer, and these unite with the known fact of their sufferings to demonstrate the Messiahship of Jesus and the divine origin of Christianity.
The New Testament contains various predictions (Mt 24; Mk 13; Lk 21) which have been exactly fulfilled concerning the destruction of Jerusalem; the calamities of the Jews; their dispersion and their preservation; also concerning the persecutions of Christianity; its spread through the world, and the Papal Apostasy (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12; 1Jn 2:18; 1Tim 4:1-3). Besides these, it contains predictions, yet not accomplished, of the conversion of the Gentiles, the restoration of the Jews, and the millennial state of the Church. When these shall have been fulfilled, the prophetical evidence now constantly accumulating will be complete.
In concluding this brief inquiry into the origin of the Bible, we may admire and adore the wonderful providence of God, which has made his enemies the preservers and witnesses of his revelation. The Jews, who killed the prophets and crucified the Son of God himself, have preserved and transmitted the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and are now witnesses to the world of its divine origin, and the truth of its prophecies. The Roman Catholic Church, the great Antichrist, or man of sin, drunk with the blood of the saints, has transmitted to us the Scriptures of the New Testament, and now gives, in the same two-fold manner, its testimony to this part of the Sacred Volume. Even the infidel scoffer is made an unconscious witness. In its pages, his very scoffs are predicted, and his corrupt heart, from which, rather than from sober judgment, these scoffs proceed, is portrayed with an accuracy and skill which bespeak the Author divine, the Searcher of hearts. The word which "is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart," must be "the word of God." Even the reluctant tongue of the infidel, as in the case of Rousseau, is sometimes constrained to utter its testimony aloud; and at other times, when danger comes or death threatens, his alarm and terror divulge the truth, that his rock is not as our rock, himself being judge. Unhappy infidel! Is there a God? Have you an immortal soul? Until you can, with unfaltering hardihood, answer, No to both these inquiries, do not cast away from you the Bible, the Book of God, the Light of immortality.
THOUGH the Bible was written by inspired men, they are to be regarded merely as the instruments chosen, fitted, and employed by God, for the production of this work. God himself is the author of the Bible. When we read its sacred pages, we should realize that God speaks to us, and when we suffer it to lie neglected, we should remember that we are refusing to listen to God, when he proffers to instruct us on subjects of infinite moment.
The Bible contains the testimony of God, and is therefore a Rule of Faith. The declarations of an honest man ought to be believed, much more ought those which are made by the God of truth; "if we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater." To reject the testimony of God, is to make him a liar. To call a fellow-man a liar, is to offer an insult of the grossest character. This insult we offer to the great God, when we refuse to receive his testimony, given to us in his holy Word.
The Bible contains the precepts of God, and is therefore a Rule of Duty. We are bound to obey the commands of parents and civil rulers, but God has a higher claim on our obedience. He is our Father in Heaven, and the Supreme Lawgiver of the universe. Against this high authority we rebel, when we refuse to obey the precepts of the Bible.
The Bible contains the promises of God, and is therefore a Rule of Hope. It determines, not only what we are to believe and to do, but also what we are to expect. It presents, as the foundation of our hope, the promise and the oath of God, two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie. We look to him as the rewarder of those that diligently seek him, and all our confidence respecting the nature and extent of this reward, and the certainty of our obtaining it, is founded on the sure word of prophecy, the Bible.
Whether, as a rule of faith, of duty, or of hope, the authority of the Bible is supreme. We may rely on the testimony of men, but they sometimes deceive us. We may regulate our conduct by the command of those who are over us, or by the dictates of our own conscience, but rulers may command what is wrong, and conscience is not infallible. We may cherish hopes founded on human promises, or the natural tendencies of things, but human promises are often delusive, and the promises of Nature are buds which, however beautiful and fragrant, are often blasted before they produce fruit. God never deceives. "The grass withers, and the flower thereof falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever." When the Bible speaks, all else may be silent, and its decisions leave no room for doubt and admit no appeal.
The authority of the Bible is independent. It was not conferred on it by the inspired men who wrote it; nor does it derive any from the persons who have transmitted it to us. The purest church on earth cannot invest it with authority; much less can the corrupt Church of Rome. The inspired writers referred the authority of what they wrote to God; and here it must rest. The transcribers of the manuscripts, who have been the agents of Providence in preserving and transmitting the Sacred Volume to us, and the printers and bookbinders by whose labors this volume is so widely circulated, have conferred no authority on it, and it has received as little from the Church of Rome as from these. It possesses authority simply because it is the word of God.
The authority of the Bible is immediate. Its address is directly from God, and directly to the mind and heart of every individual reader. We have no mediator but Christ, and no infallible interpreter but the Holy Spirit. We may derive assistance from men in understanding the Bible, but they have no right to understand it for us. We should employ our own minds in the study of God's Word, and allow no human interpreter to intervene between God and our own conscience. We should say, each one for himself, "Speak, Lord, for your servant hears."
What a precious gift is the Bible! Who will not prize it? Who will not bind it to his heart? We stand on the narrow isthmus of life, between two oceans, the boundless past and the boundless future. The records of eternity past are beyond our reach, but the Ancient of Days has opened them, and has revealed to us in the Bible whatever it is necessary that we should know. The vanishing present is all important to us, because on it depends our everlasting all, but who will instruct us how to use the swiftly passing moments as we ought? The only wise God has condescended to speak to us in the Bible, and to teach us how to order our steps in life's short way, so as to insure life eternal. The future world is just before us. For myself, I realize that I am standing on the shore of the boundless ocean, with but an inch of crumbling sand remaining. I hear the shrieks of the dying infidel at my side, to whose view all is covered with impenetrable darkness. He, too, has come to the brink, and would gladly refuse to proceed, but he cannot. Perplexed, terrified, shuddering, he plunges in and sinks, he knows not where. How precious, at this trying moment, is the Book of God! How cheering this Light from Heaven! Before it I see the shades retiring. The Bible lifts its torch — nay, not a feeble torch, such as reason may raise, to shine on the darkness and render it visible; the Bible sheds the light of the noonday sun on the vast prospect before me, and enables me, tranquil and joyful, to launch into eternity with the full assurance of hope. Mortals, hastening to the retributions of eternity, be wise; receive the revelation from Heaven presented to you in the Bible; attend diligently to its instructions, and reverence its authority, as the word of the final Judge before whom you will soon appear.