J Hannah.

The relation between the Divine and human elements in Holy Scripture : eight lectures preached before the University of Oxford in the year MDCCCLXIII .. online

. (page 12 of 30)
Online LibraryJ HannahThe relation between the Divine and human elements in Holy Scripture : eight lectures preached before the University of Oxford in the year MDCCCLXIII .. → online text (page 12 of 30)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

was accommodated to a scientific creed which has
now been abandoned, we simply translate that phrase
into the deeper meaning, which no scientific theory
can reach or alter. We refuse to lend the weight of
Scripture authority to decisions on topics with which
it was not dealing, and which did not lie within its
proper sphere. We obey no laws, in interpreting the
Scripture, except those which sound criticism and
God's Spirit would prescribe ; but we may find it a
duty to divest ourselves of errors which have been
forced into the exegesis by imperfect knowledge.

The principle that scientific language used in
Scripture would necessarily be optical or pheno-
menal (26), has long been recognised, and is now sel-
dom challenged. Few would now raise a difficulty
on such expressions as the rising and setting of the
sun, the pillars, doors, and windows of heaven, the
foundations and four corners of the earth. a It is felt
at once that these terms were either simply figurative,
or adjusted to mere outward appearances ; that they
do no more than express the facts in current lan-

a Job xxvi. 11; Ps. Ixxviii. 24; Gen. vii. 11; Ps. civ. 5; Isa.
xi. 12 ; Rev. vii. 1, &c.


guage, and commit the writer to no theory on natural
antecedents or sequences with which he was not
called upon to deal. On this point it cannot now be
necessary to dwell. But it is alleged, afresh, that
scientific error has eaten, in some cases, into the very
substance of the narrative ; and that we cannot accept
the conclusions of modern science without acknow-
ledging that the inspired writers have fallen into such
mistakes as must modify the older creed of inspira-
tion. Let us meet this difficulty on the ground
which is most frequently chosen by objectors — the
crucial instance of the Mosaic record of creation.

In examining that record, we must be careful to
distinguish between the facts and their framework : I
mean, between the material assertions, which convey
the theological doctrines of God's agency and purpose
in creation, and the mere form or arrangement into
which they have been cast. Setting aside, for the
present, the reference to the Fourth Commandment,
which will claim our further consideration in the
sequel, we can find no reason, either in the passage
itself, or in the numerous allusions to it which are
scattered over the rest of Scripture, for laying equal
stress in this case on the matter and on the form. But
I think it will be found that the substantial facts em-
bodied in this passage have been almost universally
accepted as unassailable. No reasonable geology has
ever claimed to contradict such positions as these:
that God was the Creator of all things in the beginning ;
that the ordering of primeval chaos was the work of
His Most Holy Spirit; that He framed earth and


heaven and all their hosts with a distinct personal
energy and unceasing care, of which the terms of
human labour yield but a very imperfect symbol;
that the crown of His creation was man himself,
who was made in the image of God (27). Before
controversy assails these fundamental principles, it
must have reached a stage at which the disputants,
on one side, have lost all interest in the literal worth
of any Scripture statement. The geological attack, I
think, has mainly been directed, not against these
truths, with their details or consequences, but against
the mere order of succession, under which creation is
described, and against the terms ' evening,' ' morning,'
and ' day,' by which its successive epochs are distin-
guished. Now in a case which lies so far outside
of anything which can properly be called history, it is
not easy to see any reason for placing the mere frame-
work of the narrative on a level with the facts which it
conveys. We are accustomed to draw this distinction
in cases where there was less antecedent reason to ex-
pect it ; and even in the Gospels themselves, which are
surely the most vitally important narratives in Scrip-
ture. No diatessaron is possible, unless occasional tra-
jections are admitted; i.e., unless it is allowed that
the facts may have been arranged in accordance with
some other law than that of simple succession in time.
The order of our Lord's temptations, for instance, is
different hi the two statements which record them in
detail.* It is well known that all these matters can

a Mutt, iv. 1-11 ; Luke iv. 1-13.


be adjusted and reduced to rule without throwing
doubts on such successions as are obviously historical,
like the reigns and order of a line of kings. But
there is a special reason why we should apply this
principle to set free the present chapter from the
restrictions of time like our own. So far as it unfolds
God's purpose in creation, it belongs to the eternal
rather than the temporal; and it is only by the help
of economy or condescension that the eternal can be
brought within our grasp. We are justified, there-
fore, in regarding the word ' days,' when applied to
creation, as an expression of the same class with those
which no one now would be likely to misinterpret,
the eye, or hand, or finger of God. It is the nearest
expression of the eternal truth which could be con-
veyed through human language for the purpose of its
original revelation ; but to take it in the strictest and
most literal sense, is simply to bind the eternal by
the forms of time. It may fairly be compared with
the numbers in the Apocalypse, the figures which fix
the square proportions of the city of the heavenly
Jerusalem a (28).

The distinction which I have now suggested rests
upon the twofold ground, that the revelation of causes
which we gain from Scripture was not meant to inter-
fere with the proper function of the human intellect
in the discovery of scientific laws ; and that the secrets
of God's counsels could only be revealed to man under
the veil of lano;uaa;e which fails to fathom their full

a Rev. xxi. 1G, 17.


depth of meaning. It is completely borne out, how-
ever, by examining the internal structure of the
passage ; in which, as it has been repeatedly pointed
out, we trace as close a resemblance to the Hebrew
parallels as could be expected in a narrative which
presents no other signs of poetry. If we read the
passage carefully, we can scarcely fail to see that there
is a break at the end of the third day, and that the
work of the fourth lies parallel to that of the first (-29).
The order is, that God created light, and firmament,
and land: these three great acts are detailed as the
work of the first three days. Then again, as if by a
fresh beginning, we are told that He created orbs in
heaven to hold that light; birds and fishes, to people
the divisions which the firmament had sundered ; beasts
and man to occupy the land, which had been clothed
with vegetation for their use and support. Such are
the six days, each .answering in pairs to each, and
crowned on the seventh day by that rest of God, that
great Sabbath rest, which is the fittest type for divine
meditation, ' the haven and Sabbath ' a of man's loftiest

This explanation seems to meet the double require-
ments of reasonable expectation and the exegesis of
the passage. We may further observe that it stands
free from two objections which might be raised against
many attempts at a more direct reconciliation ; namely,
that in some cases, they throw doubts on the substan-
tial truth of the revelation, while trying to remove

a Bacon, Works, ed. Ellis .and Spedding, iii. 351, 477.


objections which tell only against the form under
which it is presented; and that in other cases,
they are open to the retort, that if God had meant
them, He would certainly have expressed them : they
are as easy to understand as that which they are
proposed to supersede. If it had been meant that
these were visions, it would have been said that they
were visions (30). It was no harder to write down
' the vision of Moses,' than to write down ' the vision
of Isaiah, the son of Amoz.' If it had been meant
that this was only an exposition of God's plan, it
could surely have been made plain to us that the
plan had been altered in the course of execution (31).
The only tenable doctrine of accommodation rests
upon this principle, that the words which are used
are the closest and clearest that man could understand.
Explanations which treat the narrative as parable or
poem are more exposed to the first objection (32).
They throw doubts, as I have said, on the reality and
substantial truth of the revelation, to avoid scruples
which rest solely on too literal an interpretation of
the form in which that revelation is conveyed.

It is by no means admitted, however, that the form
was indifferent, or without a meaning, though it is
urged that the attempt to impose an historical meaning
is in this case misapplied. On the contrary, it seems
possible to see very clear and sufficient reasons for
it. It pleased God to throw the record of His own
workings into such a form, as would most clearly
exhibit their archetypal character, in relation to the
work of man. Just as man bears God's image, though

M 2


unspeakably inferior, so man's work, with all its
poverty and imperfection, may be modelled after the
glorious image of the work of God. Are we com-
manded to labour for six days, and rest on the
seventh ? The creation of the world can be presented
under a precisely similar formula. Our Creator also
Avrought for six days, and rested on the seventh,
though His days are as much higher than our days
as His image than our imaore, or His thoughts than
our thoughts. The Fourth Commandment thus be-
comes the key to the record of creation. Accepting
that record as what it manifestly is — rather a revela-
tion than a tradition — it carries on our thoughts to the
contemporary marvel, when God's finger wrote the
Ten Commandments on the rock. And they answer
on this point, each to each; and the work of God's
creatures is ennobled and dignified when it is repre-
sented as a shadow of the great creating work of God.
If we are asked, then, whether we resign the histo-
rical reality of the beginning of Genesis, we answer,
that we resign nothing but a deeply seated misappre-
hension, which has confounded records of a different
order, and obliterated the distinction between theo-
logy and history, by transferring the conditions of
the one to the other. The first step in what may be
technically called the narrative of history, is taken
at the beginning of the fifth chapter of the book of
Genesis, in the words, ' This is the book of the gene-
rations of Adam;' words which are followed by the
briefest possible summary of the previous account of
creation, and then by the order of a lineage, and the


regular chronicle of dates and ages. To this historical
commencement, part of the fourth chapter has been
guiding our thoughts : a but, with that and some other
minor exceptions, the first four chapters are rather
theological than historical ; they belong to the head of
pure revelation, rather than to that of ordinary narra-
tive. They embody matter which no conjecture could
have reached, which no tradition could have furnished.
They unfold, in such order as God judged to be the
fittest, the fundamental truths about God's purpose
and God's workings in creation; and about the inno-
cence, the sin, and fall of man. This, then, after all,
is the sole residuum of that ' confident rhetoric ' to
which the Mosaic record has been exposed : the assail-
ant has only succeeded in carrying a position, which
a deeper interpretation makes it needless to defend.

But it cannot be denied that an examination of the
literature which has gathered round this subject pro-
duces a discouraging impression of the effects of these
misapprehensions on the minds of both theological
and scientific disputants. Keep each enquirer to his
own province, and he advances with a firm step and
cheerful spirit in the track which God lays open to
his knowledge : the one to read the marvellous
lessons of the book of Nature ; the other to draw
water from the inexhaustible wells of salvation for
the refreshment of the souls of men. Give geology
free course, and it prepares to render signal service by
removing mistakes which used to obscure our earlier


a Gen. iv. 17-22, 25, 2G.


conceptions of God's working. It has already cor-
roborated our belief in special acts of creative energy,
by disclosing the indisputable records of creation, in
countless remains which prove beyond a question
that God has again and again been pleased to in-
troduce the beginnings of new races on the earth.
It appears now to supply a safeguard against theories
which substitute creation by the law of development
for creation by the word of God. This end it answers
by its witness, that though species may die, they are
not found to be transmuted ; that each spans indepen-
dently its arc of life ; some longer and some shorter ;
some to run a course which has long ago been ended,
and which we know only from the uncovering of the
graveyards of the past ; others stretching forth into
the living world around us, and connecting the relics
of immemorial antiquity with forms which meet us in
our daily path. If I do not venture to enumerate
other services which have been sometimes claimed at
the hand of the geologist, it is simply because ' he that
believeth shall not make haste ; ' a and it does not
become us to grasp at seeming gams from those who
may yet alter their decisions and reclaim them (33).
But for the gifts which science has already bestowed
on us — gifts which we owe to God alone, though it
lias pleased Him to enhance their value by making
them the prizes of the human intellect — for these, I
say, let us be heartily grateful, and let us frankly
acknowledge their importance. Let us above all

a Isa. xxviii. 1G.


things shun that faithless and suspicious temper
which watches askance the work of science, as if
convinced that it is merely looking out for an oppor-
tunity to rob us of some treasure in the heritage of
faith. But we may be allowed, in turn, to remind the
scientific enquirer, that it is quite as great a fault of
reasoning to overstrain a fact in science that it may
be made to contradict a text of Scripture, as to stand
stubbornly upon some old interpretation of a doubtful
text, and insist that it condemns some new discovery
in science. As a moral fault it is of course far worse,
because the interests involved are incomparably more
important on the one side than on the other.

A dread of enquiry, then, must be calmed by the re-
flection, that the same God who made the earth and
all its marvels created and bestowed the intellect of
man, by whose well-guided activity those ancient
wonders have been gathered and revealed. On the
other hand, a jealousy of inspiration must be checked
by the assurance, that as certainly as God built the
rocks, and peopled sea and land through untold ages
with countless forms of life, so surely did He give to
man the higher blessing of those Holy Scriptures,
which disclose the birth, the fall, the restoration of
our race. Why this strife among the servants of a
common Master, the children of a common Father,
who owe their varied gifts to Him ? And why, again,
this contest among the different members of the
body which He made ? a Each one of these members

a 1 Cor. xii. 12.


hath He planted as it pleased Him in the body of
mankind. Let not the ear of faith declare its inde-
pendence of the eye of science, which reads God's
writing on the hidden tablets of the everlasting hills.
And let not the eye of science declare its indepen-
dence of the ear of faith, which has caught and
understood the heavenly message of the reconciliation
of man through the Son to the Father. The contest
has not long to live when it is brought to the issue of
a strong but reasonable faith. God's works, we
know, cannot contradict God's Word. This is not
even an open question. To think it so betrays the
secret doubt that either the one or the other came
from God. We are as certain that we hold God's
Word, as you can be certain that you are dealing
with God's work. If they seem for a moment to
present a passing shade of contradiction, there is
abundant room for explanation in the mingled igno-
rance and impatience of man : his impatience, which
guesses before he knows ; his ignorance, which makes
his guesses wrong — an ignorance which assumes
too hastily that we have already mastered all the
mind of Scripture, and an impatience which snatches
weapons for the contest which God intended for a
very different purpose.

To sum up briefly, then, the view which has been
urged. The records of Scripture range through a
long series of ages, and were committed to writing by
i lien of very different characters, who possessed very
different attainments, and who spoke, in short, a
very different langiuige: under which head of Ian-


guage I include the forms of speech by which the
phenomena of heaven and earth would be described.
When the voice of God was heard in thunder from
the rocks of Sinai, by that band of fugitives which
was now being moulded, through stern discipline,
amidst the sands of the desert into national life, what
could they have comprehended of a revelation which
anticipated the far-off conclusions of science, the
results of the observations of laborious ages ? It is
surely mere misapprehension to suppose, that the
revelation with which Moses was really entrusted
could traverse the path of the modern geologist, or
contain anything that would either confirm or con-
tradict his readings of those buried rocks. From
whichever side the error comes, we are bound to
shake ourselves free from it ; not by saying, with some,
that God cared not though His instruments should
make mistakes on scientific subjects, but by pointing
out that there can be no error where there is no asser-
tion ; and that a purely theological revelation contains
no assertion which falls within the proper sphere of

It is thus that we may find room for researches of
the reason, without treachery to truths whose pro-
vince they do not really invade. It is thus that we
may give fair play to the enquiries of science, with-
out surrendering to desecration a single corner of the
heritage of faith.

Let us welcome all free enquiries so long as they are
pursued with reverence and candour. The believer
is not justified in trying to intimidate free thought by


the accusation of atheism : still less is the free-
thinker justified in striking at faith under the shield
of science. Each commits the same fault; that of
coupling truth with his own private opinions, and
insisting that they must stand or fall together. Each
must be met by the same answer ; that what God
never joined, man is bound to put asunder — the
speculations of man and the revelations of God.



Matt. xiii. 33.

' The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a
woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the
Avhole was leavened.'

N passing from the historical and scientific lan-
guage of Scripture, to consider the moral diffi-
culties presented by some parts of its earliest record,
we must begin by endeavouring to form a clear
conception of the obstacles which retarded man's
recovery of truth after the Fall. To whatever quarter
we turn for the early history of our race, we shall
find its moral character all but unintelligible, unless
we recognise the full influence of that mass of
energetic evil which obstructed all its aspirations
after good. The existence of this great hindrance,
which man had thrown in his own path by abusing
the gift of freewill, is a primary fact, which no human
theory can account for, but which every theory must
accept as its inevitable starting-point. It is one of
those elementary considerations which stand above
the sphere of discussion, and fix the conditions on
which all discussion must depend. When we study


the history of God's first revelation, Ave find that we
are not dealing with the unembarrassed development
of heavenly truth, unfolded for the guidance of a
pure, obedient, sympathising race. We are dealing
with the introduction of truth into the hearts of fallen
creatures, whose conduct and tendencies it thwarted
and condemned ; with its promulgation in the face of
unruly animosity, of resolute rebellion, of that ' carnal
mind' which 'is enmity against God,' of a 'whole
world' lying 'in wickedness. ' a To judge of the reve-
lation without taking account of the resistance which
it had to overcome, is as unreasonable as to apply the
principles of peace to a scene of warfare, and to
complain of the cruel sternness which the soldier has
to practise in the presence of a turbulent and active

We may gain much aid towards forming this con-
ception from the short parable contained in the words
of our text (1). The image of leaven sets before us
the secret history of God's kingdom as a counterpart
to the picture of its outward growth, which the
parable of the mustard-seed had furnished. Some
qualities of leaven are so antagonistic and corrupting,
that the usage of Scripture applies it more frequently
to evil than to good. b But it is not the less fitted to
illustrate that anti-leaven of righteousness by which
the influence of evil is to be counteracted and sub-
dued. Jt is a cause of change, which is external in
its origin, but internal in its operation; which produces

a Rom. viii. 7; 1 John v. 19. b Luke xii. 1 ; 1 Cor. v. 7, &c.


its effects by slow degrees, as it penetrates the sub-
stance in which it is hidden — attracting one part
after another to itself — communicating its own virtue
to every particle with which it comes in contact, and
fitting it to leaven what it touches in its turn ; a
hidden power, as though it were working from the
centre outwards ; mixing with all parts, while scarcely
traceable in any ; but gradually and surely accomplish-
ing its office, by transmuting the entire mass into
that state of assimilation, when we can say that the
whole is leavened.

Under this figure we trace the law of God's elec-
tion, by which religion was brought back into a fallen
and corrupted world. The sacred history establishes
that it is the law of God's government to brine: in arood
by slow degrees for the expulsion of evil. A few of
God's chosen servants are planted hi the midst of
multitudes who have forgotten God. Blessed them-
selves, they enjoy the high prerogative of dealing out
blessings to others in their turn. The befnnnino- is
small, and seems but feeble when compared with the
resisting mass which it has to penetrate and influence.
But the principle itself, like the existence of evil, is
one which must be received as primary. We cannot
tell why it is that God chooses to bless some only, for
the future benefit of all ; why He left the world to lie
so long in darkness ; on what grounds He gave such
advantage to the Jew ; for what reason He now bestows
so many undeserved privileges on ourselves. The
fact is all that we have to deal with ; and that fact is
clearly brought before us by this image of the leaven,


to which Christ gives a place in the series of His
earliest parables. It was not God's plan to convert
the world by a sudden manifestation of His supreme
power and glory. It ivas God's plan to bring back
into the world that good which it had forfeited, by a
providential arrangement which may be fitly com-
pared to the natural process of hiding leaven in the
midst of meal.

The principle applies with equal clearness to what
is intellectual in theology, as well as what is moral ;
and illustrates with the same distinctness the rein-
troduction of religious knowledge, to enlighten the
darkened spirit of mankind. It is the current objec-
tion to the earliest revelation, that it is less perfect
than the fuller light of later times ; so much less per-
fect that some have tried to prove it to be unworthy
of God, and therefore no more than a purely human
composition, embodying no true message from above.
All are ready to confess that God's disclosures of His
own name and nature were progressives The first
signs of the Holy Trinity are veiled and obscure. The
Pentateuch supplies us with but a faint shadow of
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as compared with the

Online LibraryJ HannahThe relation between the Divine and human elements in Holy Scripture : eight lectures preached before the University of Oxford in the year MDCCCLXIII .. → online text (page 12 of 30)