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

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sense, in which work they have been too often assisted
by the exaggerations of its upholders ; affirming that


the theory, as commonly explained, is inconsistent
with the facts, or destroys the true position of the
human writer, or is an unfair attempt to get rid of
supposed contradictions, by representing them as
mere developments. At other times, again, they have
striven to prove that the human element exerts an
influence of absolute error — an argument which they
work out by overestimating the significance of alleged
inaccuracies ; by treating as mistakes what were mere
accommodations ; by thrusting scientific doctrines into
the sphere of Scripture — an error, again, in which
their opponents have been only too ready to keep
them in countenance ; and above all, by urging that
the Old Testament is marred by the harsh dictates of
an imperfect morality, and that defects less striking,
but not less certain, can be discovered in the blessed
teaching of the New. The answer to these cavils
will be found, as we believe, in the careful discrimi-
nation which separates in all cases between the matter
and the form; which distinguishes, in moral prin-
ciples, between the record of a sin and its express
approbation ; which analyses mixed actions into their
component elements, and confines the praise which is
accorded to the element of good; which recognises
the Jewish nation as an authorised instrument of
God's vegeance against evil, and therefore invests its
public acts with something like the judicial character,
though careful to stop short of the extension of the
principle, which would make God's command turn
evil into good; and which points out that errors
recorded in the lives of Scripture writers were not

240 lecture vin.

permitted to throw a shade of imperfection over the
message which they delivered as ambassadors from
God. To these subjects I have endeavoured to direct
attention in such detail as the nature of my task
permitted : with a deep sense of the responsibility
which rests on any one who ventures, however dif-
fidently, to suggest terms of peace, while men's
thoughts are still agitated by the recollection of the
strife, and while the atmosphere is still charged with
tendencies to further controversy ; yet in the earnest
hope, and with the fervent prayer, that there may be
some minds, at all events, which will be thankful to
escape from the contest, and find refuge in a solution
Avhich aims at preserving alike the absolute divinity
of the message, and the unimpaired humanity of those
through whose lips and pens it was conveyed.

Let us pass on now to consider, briefly, the bearing
of this argument on the great question of Scripture
interpretation, to which all such enquiries lead our
thoughts. It is the foremost duty of the Christian
teacher rightly to divide the word of truth (6). The
metaphor of this passage may be micertain, but the
precept is distinct and clear. The figure may either
mean that, like a good steward, he is to apportion to
each member of God's household his meat in due
season; or perhaps, that he. is 'to distribute the word
rightly," 1 by arranging it under different heads of
belief, according to the just 'proportion of faith;' b or

a Hooker, E. P., V. lxxxi. 2. b Rom. xii. G.


that he is to lay straightly out the road or the furrow,
by drawing a direct line through the intricacies of error,
without yielding to any bias from his onward course.
Whichever sense we adopt, the duty of the inter-
preter is taught clearly and distinctly. It is far less
pardonable in the case of Scripture than in the case
of any other writing, to have recourse to the devices
of a forced, unnatural, or, worst of all, an uncandid

1. ' The principle,' says Warburton, 'which Grotius
went upon, in commenting the Bible, was, that it
should be interpreted on the same rules of criti-
cism that men use in the study of all other ancient
writings.' a Now what is the reason why the restate-
ment of a precept, which has so much to recommend
it, should have given rise in our own day to special
opposition and remonstrance (7) ? Perhaps "Warburton's
remarks may suggest the explanation : ' Nothing,'
he says, ' could be more reasonable than his prin-
ciple ; but unluckily he deceived himself in the appli-
cation of it. . . . He went on this reasonable ground,
that the j^rophecies should be interpreted like all other
ancient writings; and on examining their authority
he found them to be truly divine. When he had
gone thus far, he then preposterously went back
again, and commented as if they were confessed to be
merely human.' It is obvious that those who apply
the principle in the same manner can only escape from
the same inconsistency, by denying that the Books

a Divine Legation of Moses, VI. vi. 2 ; vol. iii. p. 230.


contain that special divine element which distin-
guishes them from every other composition of man.

The canon, then, which the last generation learnt
under the form that the expounder of Scripture
must follow ' the same mode of interpretation which
is applied to classic authors,' a binds us precisely so
far as Scripture resembles classic authors : but beyond
that point it is necessary that Scripture interpretation
should follow a course of its own. No fair inter-
preter could complain of the injunction to obey the
conditions of truth and candour, to be biassed by
nothing, to pervert nothing; to let no considerations
of possible consequences deter him from accepting the
primary meaning which the literal and grammatical
interpretation would convey. But at that precise
point where Scripture ceases to resemble any other
book, the common rules of criticism fail. No one
attempts to treat all other books as equal. Rhetoric
and logic ; history and speculation ; poetry and prose ;
the suggestion of probable inference, and the rigorous
deductions of scientific conclusions ; all are dealt with
alike, up to a certain point, and not beyond it. And
when we allege that there is a line, at which Scripture
passes beyond the analogy of other compositions, we
thereby claim that beyond that line it shall receive an
appropriate criticism.

It is important that this position should be dis-
tinctly comprehended; and that it should be known
precisely what we mean when we allege, that Scrip-

a Bp. Marsh, Lectures on the Criticism and Interpretation of the
Bible, p. 510, ed. 1828.


ture throughout contains a divine element, which is
in itself as complete as the human element, and which
is incomparably more important. We acknowledge
that there is one sense in which Scripture must be
treated like any other book, in so far as it is the
work of those who had 7ra$r) like unto other men. a
We are thankful to every one who will give us sound
advice on the grammatical, historical, contextual,
and minute interpretation. 5 We ask for no difference
in criticism as criticism. We merely stipulate that
criticism shall be adjusted to the subject-matter, as it
would be in every other instance. If Scripture were
no more than any other book, the canon referred to
would be irrefragable. So far as Scripture corresponds
to other books, we use it, and claim it as our own, and
welcome all suggestions by which it seems likely that
the exposition will be served. But if Scripture is all
this and more ; if there is a point at which it outstrips
the analogy of other writings ; at that point it enters
on a separate province, which must be marked by
a variation in the laws of criticism. Within proper
restrictions, and under proper explanations, the rule
may be useful in reminding men that God's Scripture
revelation is expressed in human language, and sub-
mits to the conditions of human thought. But if
ever it is proposed as a sufficient canon of Scripture
interpretation, we are compelled to rejoin that in that
view it is either a truism or a petitio principh. If
it merely means that the interpreter of Scripture

a Acts xiv. 15 ; James v. 17. b Aids to Faith, p. 439.
r 2


should be fair, should be truthful, should be accurate,
should be just, should be candid — then it is a truism ;
for who can doubt it ? If it is meant to involve the
denial that God has imparted to the books which form
the Bible any special quality of spiritual eminence,
which distinguishes it from every other human work —
then it is a petitio principii ; for the existence of that
higher element is the very ground on which the spe-
cial principles of Scripture exposition rest. The
distinction may be compared with that which must
be drawn to limit the domain of positive science in
its relation to religion. We accept the laws which
science teaches, without permitting it to trench on that
faith in God's providence which a blind regard to its
submissive sequences has often tended to obscure.
And we accept with gratitude the labours of the
scholar, without resigning our faith in that diviner
and more spiritual light, to which the deeper meaning
of the Scripture text bears witness.

2. But Scripture interpretation should be com-
prehensive as well as spiritual. Its expounder should
be ready to weigh one part with another, to give to
each phrase its broader rather than its narrower mean-
ing, to shun private opinion, to dread partial exposi-
tion, and to take the whole tenor of the faith for his
guidance, when he seeks to enter on the mind of
Christ. It is an error against this fundamental prin-
ciple when men fall into the habit of relying too
exclusively on isolated texts, without much regard to
the context, and with still less respect for the analogy
of Scripture (8). Controversialists are naturally dis-


posed to place an undue value on passages which
seem to command the foremost place in argument, by
the conciseness which condenses whole trains of rea-
soning into single phrases, and by the ease with which
they are transferred to the memory of the hearer. But it
often happens that the main principles of an argument
lie rather beneath than on the surface, and are more
characterised by the wideness of their influence than
by the point and conciseness of their occasional ex-
pression; just as a mountain spring may prove its
presence rather by the verdure that surrounds it than
.by the flashing of its unveiled waters in the sunlight;
or as a tract of rock may rarely break the surface, yet
may uphold wide districts on its basis, as a portion of
the solid fabric of the earth. In that case single texts
only serve to guide us to the neighbourhood in which
the traces of that deeper influence may be found. If,
on the other hand, we assume that a text is the sole
vehicle of a doctrine, we suggest the suspicion that it
could be detached without injury from the great
framework of principles on which the revelation
rests; just as a boulder could be removed from the
surface of the ground, while no power of man could
have upheaved it had it been a peak emerging from
the living rock. And this suspicion has been fostered
by the unwise alarm with which the orthodox have
looked on the labours of criticism whenever it seemed
likely to rob them of some favourite texts. We are
bound, indeed, to defend the text in possession till
reason has been shown for the change. But if criti-
cism has proved in any case that the marginal notes


of early Christians have found admission to the record,
we may rest assured that such glosses can be removed
without injury to the revelation, which, even were
they genuine, they would not so much embody as

3. Closely allied with this error, is the habit fostered
by the controversial spirit, of taking a stand on one
line of texts to the neglect of such modifications or
corrections as other passages would furnish. This is
the mistake, on which we have previously dealt in
detail, of taking half-truths for truths, and yielding
them an undivided instead of qualified obedience.
A practical illustration may prove the most weighty ;
and I know not where we could find one of such sur-
passing magnitude, as the course of reasoning which
seems to have led the Jews to the rejection of our
Lord (9). At first thought, indeed, we never look
after their reasoning. We only ask, in perplexed
surprise, was ever guilt or penalty like theirs! To
reject that Saviour, whose promise had been the sole
day-star of humanity, ever brightening from the dark-
ness of the Fall; to repudiate the long-sought de-
scendant of Abraham, who had been foreshadowed
for nearly two thousand years, as the culminating
glory of their ancient line; to refuse allegiance to
that Son of David, who was to found a nobler
power than David's kingdom, and was to bear the
rank of David's Lord: can we conceive of a more
fatal national infatuation than that which thus cast
away the single object of their own election, the one
flower and perfection of their race and name? Our

LECTURE vm. 247

very reason seems silenced by the greatness of their
crime. We shrink from its analysis. We hesitate to
account for it by ordinary motives. We take refuge
in some theory of inexplicable frenzy, or demoniacal
influence, which removes it beyond the rank of the
common laws of human nature. And yet that solu-
tion is inconsistent with the clearness of the inspired
narrative, and incompatible with any keen perception
of the warning it embodies for ourselves. If we
examine carefully the Gospel records, we shall dis-
cover, I think, that the Jews were simply acting upon
their own narrowed interpretation of one portion of
the Divine inj unctions, in defiance of the obligations
which countless other passages conveyed. Dis-
appointed by the low estate to which our gracious
Lord had condescended ; vexed by the downfal of the
carnal expectations which had looked forward to
Messiah's promised kingdom, as a more splendid
dominion than had hitherto been gathered under a
Jewish sceptre; they simply sought for weapons to
avenge their disappointment from misapplications of
the word of God. And then they fell into the too
common error of letting one text blot out a thousand ;
of dwelling on favourite dogmas, and misinterpreted
passages, till the wide fields of Scripture truth were
narrowed to the limits of their prejudiced and partial
zeal. There can be little doubt that the Jewish
leaders believed themselves to be acting under the
authority of that command in Deuteronomy, which
enjoins that they should slay the prophet who came to
them with signs and wonders, in case he tempted


them to 'go .after other gods.' a They wilfully over-
looked the promise of that other prophet, whom the
Lord their God was to raise up from amongst them : b
a promise which lies near to the other passage in the
Mosaic record, and which is supported, explained, and
unfolded in the great stream of prophecy which runs
from one end to the other of the ancient Scriptures.
It was a biassed zeal for a literal, isolated, and faith-
less interpretation, which made them set the special
)ist the general revelation; and persuade them-
selves that Christ was teaching a new Divinity, ' because
He made Himself the Son of God.' c

4. And from this lesson we may draw another
inference; namely, the importance of paying due
regard to every part of Scripture, alike for its place
in the past, and its possible use in the future. This
principle should lead us to retain a firm hold on those
portions of the sacred record in which we can see no
present utility, or which may seem to create some
passing difficulty. Christianity does not come before
us merely as a present life, which would continue to
exist if dissevered from the past. It would be felt
that an open attempt to set aside the Bible which
records its history would be a definite attack on
Christianity itself. Attempts of that kind, therefore,
possess at all events that measure of security which
accompanies an ojdcii and acknowledged danger.
Much greater is the need of watchfulness against the
more covert and perilous proposals, which would

n Dcut. xiii. 1, &c. b Dcut. xviii. 15. 9 John xix. 7.


break at least some of the many links of connection
between our living Christianity and the Book of God.
"We have to resist the temptation which presents itself
under the specious suggestion, that we might resign
the letter with all its difficulties, yet retain the full
blessings of its spiritual teaching. Thus some have
tried to assail a book here and a chapter there; in
one place a few sentences, in others a mere phrase ;
and they would persuade us that these may be allowed
to fall away and perish, as withered leaves might
drop from a tree which continues to flourish. It is a
more true figure to say that the result would rather
resemble the slow degrees by which life passes from
the dying body: first, the extremities are chilled
under the grasp of death; then the fatal numbness
steals gradually onward, till it fastens on life's strong-
hold in the heart. Or we might liken it to the dying
out of an illumination in a royal mansion : first, there
is darkness in some distant chamber ; then it steals
along the corridors and halls ; one room after another
vanishes from sight ; one light after another is extin-
guished; till the whole building rests in unbroken ob-
scurity, when the last lamp of all has been withdrawn.

But the waning time reminds me that this is not
the opportunity for entering more minutely into the
details of Scripture interpretation, and that it is
necessary to bring these observations to a close. How
can I find a better conclusion than by reminding you
of the lesson which the Church suggests, when the
prayers for inspiration which she puts into our mouths


recall us from theories on the inspiration of Scripture
to seek the inspiration of a holy life ? If the end is
greater than the means, that living gift of the Spirit
is greater than even those lofty endowments which
raised men to become its authorised witnesses, and
to guide us to the ordinances through which it is
bestowed. Greater, indeed, yet very different ; greater
in its universality, its duration, its practical connec-
tion with our own personal experience; yet inferior
in those high attributes of supernatural illumination,
in which the writers of Scripture stand alone. AYhen
St. Paul has enumerated the most precious gifts that
man can long for, he assigns the highest rank to
charity, which sums up all the purest graces of the
Christian life. a Prophecies and tongues and know-
ledge — the gifts of the teacher, the preacher, the
expounder of God's will — these are but parts of the
earthly organisation which God has established for the
recovery of man. They fail, they cease, they vanish
away. Our highest knowledge here is partial. Our
spiritual vision does but resemble the wavering
outline reflected from a clouded mirror. But the
life of true love grows ever upward, with an un-.
interrupted progression, toward 'the measure of
the stature of the fulness of Christ.' b And while the
river of life is flowing past us, and each of us may
drink and live for ever, no folly could be greater than
to neglect the privilege, and waste time and pains in
endless contests on the nature of its earthly source.

1 Cor. xiii. 13. * Eph. iv. 13.


And let ine close with an earnest exhortation to
our younger brethren, that they will not perplex
themselves with curious questions on the inspiration
of Scripture till they forget to claim that present
inspiration, ' the spirit of truth, unity, and concord,'
which they are bound to pray for and to make their
own. There may perhaps be others here, who need
as earnest a word of warning against falling into such
bondage to the pleasures of their age, that the voice
of God's Spirit is scarcely heard within their hearts.
It is well that they should rejoice in the gifts of their
youth, if they do but remember to rejoice with trem-
bling, and to pray that the Holy Spirit will continue
to dwell with them, filling their bodies with purity
and their spirits with devotion. The evil days will
come before they are expected; and then where will
be the pleasures which deceived them for a season?
The sun and the light and the stars will be darkened,
and 'the clouds' will 'return after the rain.' 'The
daughters of music shall be brought low,' ' and the
grasshopper shall be a burthen, and desire shall fail;
because man goeth to Ins long home, and the mourners
go about the streets.' a We have often had to look
on faces that were younger than yours, and not less
bright and hopeful, over which the cloud of death had
gathered, when the child of God was summoned early
to the blessed shelter of its Father's house. And now
they draw nearer to God's hidden mysteries than the
wisest student of God's Word can reach before the

a Eccles. xii. 1-5.

252 LECTURE vin.

The knowledge of God which we gather from the
Scriptures is the earthly foretaste of that beatific
vision, which is the crown and consummation of
created bliss. The condition which admits us to all
gradations of that knowledge is the childlike purity
of heart to which its highest gifts are promised — the
'holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.' a

It is no light blessing, be assured, that your secular
studies are in this place hallowed by the daily circle
of religious duties; that your youth is trained to
emulate the temper of great saints, because it is
passed amidst the forms and memorials of ancient
devotion. But the greater is the sorrow if the rich-
ness of God's gifts is wasted; the sorer will be the
burthen of the grievous punishment, if you pass from
the light of God's altar to the outer darkness of sin.
Be it rather your lasting study and your earnest
prayer that you may see God's Spirit present in His
Word, and that you may feel God's Spirit present in
your spirits; that the letter of Scripture, which is
deadly to the sinner, may be found full of divine life
by the humble faith which receives it gladly; and
that the endowments which would turn to corruption
in the service of sin, may be purified and elevated
till you reach that heavenly kingdom, where there is
no more sorrow, no more doubt, no more perplexity ;
but where we shall see Christ as He is, and know as
we are known. b

* Matt. v. 8 ; Heb. xii. 14. b 1 John iii. 2 ; 1 Cor. xiii. 12.




Note 1, page 2. Expressions are often found in theological
writers, which imply that the heathen entirely lost the human
ttvevhcl, as well as the presence of the Holy Spirit. Compare
Mr. J. B. Morris's Essay towards the Conversion of the Hindus,
p. 320, &c. : 'The spirit here spoken of (1 Thess. v. 23) is that
supernatural gift whereby Adam was what he was in Paradise.'
' Body is almost essential to the idea, man : it may be logically
divided into body and soul ; but man and this gift (i. e. spirit)
together make up the idea, Christian.' ' The Christian man is this
natural man with that supernatural gift which Adam had, restored
to him.' Cf. p. 32-4. So Grotius on 1 Thess. v. 23 : ' Grseci omnes
spiritum hoc loco exponunt ^api<rfia = donum? On the opinion of
Irenams, see Mosheim's Note on Cudworth, Intellectual System of
the Universe, iii. 329, ed. Harrison.

But the donum supernaturale, which man had thus possessed and
lost, was not the human Tryevfxa, which must be regarded as an
integral portion of his nature. It was rather the presence and
operation of the Holy Spirit, which purified the created spirit and
conformed man to the image of our Lord. See Mr. Scudamore's
Essay on the Office of the Intellect in Religion, pp. 133, 139, &c. ;
and, for the general tenor of English teaching, compare Hooker,
E. P., I. xi. 5, and Appendix to Book V., Works, ii. 539 ; Bull,
Life, p. 440; Works, ii. 52, 82; iv. 211, 213 ; Waterland, Works,
iv. 176 ; Mill, On our Lord's Temptation, pp. 38-42, 156 ; Wilber-
force, On the Incarnation, pp. 62-3 ; Mozley, On Predestination,
pp. 10, 111. Man exspoliatur gratuitis; but only vulneratur in
naturalibus (Bede in S. Thorn. Aquin., I ma II dae lxxxv. 1), and the


human irvevpa is naturale. On another aspect of the subject, com] »ar< !
Olshausen's Dissertation, in which Antiquiss. Eccles. Grcecce Pat rum
de Immortalitate Animce Sentential recensentur ; Opuscula, No. vii.
' Patres Grseci — de spiritu libentissime concedunt, quod nostri animal

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 17 of 30)