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

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sanctity and life. The duration of the Church itself
rests on the promise that Christ should continue with
it, through the presence of the Comforter, even unto
the end of the world. The religious life of each
separate spirit depends on the operation of that holy-
inmate who can alone give efficacy to sacraments and
strength to faith : who can alone maintain within us
holiness of conduct, purity of thought, and elevation
of knowledge ; who can alone assist the fallen to
secure that glorious restoration which Christ's sacri-
fice has brought within our reach. A religion that
is not spiritual stands condemned by the confes-
sion. We might as well speak of a religion that is
earthly, but not heavenly ; that is human, not divine :
of a religion which finds its centre in ourselves, instead
of leading us to fix the centre of all our motives and
thoughts in God.

But surely this admission — I would rather say this


earnest declaration of our deepest convictions — surely
this can form no reason for such questions as the
following : — Why should you seek, then, to interpose
the barriers of a book religion ; to fetter man's spirit
with the forms and obligations of an ancient creed ; to
intercept the free communion between God's Spirit
and his own? Why should you erect, for instance,
on the teaching of Scripture, a complex system of
doctrine, and proclaim that 'this is the Catholic Faith;
which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be
saved'? Why load man's conscience with the burthen
of what is called an historical religion ; instead of
leaving him free to tell his griefs to the Great Spirit
of the universe, with no bar from Bible or church,
from priest or creed, from ritual or form?

We might answer, in the first place, that Holy
Scripture surely has a priceless value, if it were no
more than the record of God's spiritual disclosures to
those human spirits whom He has vouchsafed, in long-
past times, to visit with His personal grace. To doubt
this would be to set aside the principle on which all
human progress in all branches must depend — the
principle that later days are heirs of all the previous
ages, and may attain a higher eminence in every
province, by their command of the accumulated
treasures of the past. But what I have said would
indicate the grounds on which this reply, though true
as far as it goes, may be set aside as comparatively
unimportant, when we bear in mind the real reasons
for the unapproachable eminence which Scripture gains
from its subject-matter, and its positive disclosures


from a higher world. "We believe that it records the
acts and words of God incarnate; that its earlier pages
are the preparation for that august advent, when the
Son of God became the Son of Man ; that it interprets
the facts which lie beneath its doctrines, and which
give them a firm standing-ground in the midst of
human history. We believe that Scripture embodies
countless disclosures from a higher world, which
differ in kind, as well as in degree, of revelation, from
any communication, however lofty, which His Spirit
vouchsafes to ourselves. It records by inspiration ;
it explains by revelation. It contains the only distinct
and certified messages from God to man ; and it places
in our hands the only clue of infallible guidance, by
which man, in his exile, may feel the way home to his
Heavenly Father.

And now I trust that these explanations will
enable us to restate the doctrine of the inspiration
claimed for Holy Scripture, in such a manner as to
ward off some current misapprehensions, and to lay a
safe foundation for further enquiry into the relation
of the divine and human elements. The possibility
of inspiration rests upon the fact, that God has en-
dowed man with a capacity for Divine communion,
which serves, more than even the broadest marks of
physical or intellectual superiority, to stamp him as a
citizen belonging to a higher world than this. ' The
spirit of man is the candle of the Lord. ,a It is the
ground of all religion, the proof of our Divine

* Prov. xx. 27. Cf. Job xxxii. 8.


sonship, the faculty whereby we know the Father, the
germ of that eternal life which will assume its full
proportion in the spiritual body, and in the unveiled
presence of the Lord. The voice of God's Spirit
may be heard within that spirit, wherever the true
and listening worshipper is found. But our belief
that the Divine gift is shed forth so abundantly is not
at variance with our belief in the special intensity
of its peculiar presence, as manifested in the Books of
Scripture, and confined within the limits of the
Sacred Canon.

And next; when we study the characteristics of
that special inspiration, we find that it lays a firm
grasp on objective support, in the supernatural reve-
lations which were entrusted to its keeping, and which
anchor it on the eternal shore. Through these God
makes Himself known to man, under such conditions
as the spiritual capacities of finite creatures would
allow. It is by a series of objective facts and super-
natural disclosures that He reveals Himself to us as
the Father of an infinite majesty; His honourable,
true, and only Son; also the Holy Ghost, the Com-

When we have thus noted the manner in which the
Holy Ghost has filled to overflowing selected repre-
sentatives of the most religious human spirits, and
has supplied them with supernatural material for
their messages to men, we should go on to observe
that it has performed that work without obliterating
a single human peculiarity, or destroying the free
rights of the human will, which yielded glad obe-


dience to the heavenly impulse. We thankfully
accept the inspired announcement, that God spake
unto the fathers ' in divers manners,' as well as at
'sundry times.' We know that the same law is
traceable even in the last days, after He had ' spoken
by His Son.' a We are perfectly aware that the voice
of James is not the voice of Paul ; that we can dis-
tinguish in a moment between the utterance of Peter
and the utterance of John. And with this reserva-
tion we accept and explain the various images which
have been used to set forth the different phases of the
truth of inspiration. The inspired writers are not
pens only, but trusted penmen; not organs alone,
but living instruments ; not mere ' ministers ' and
' stewards,' like slaves employed upon a servile duty,
but ' ambassadors for Christ,' beseeching men, ' in
Christ's stead,' to be 'reconciled to God.' b (20). The
most mechanical illustrations, when intelligently used,
need no more contradict the higher truth which they
fail to express, than St. Paul's figure of clay in the
hands of the potter is meant to negative the respon-
sibility of the free will of man.

When we enter more at large upon the details of
the subject, I shall propose to consider first the nature
and relations of the Divine element in Scripture;
together with some of those difficulties which appear
to rise from its presentation under the forms of the
human intellect. To the different branches of that
topic, our next three Lectures will, with God's

a Heb. i. 1,2. b 1 Cor. iv. 1; 2 Cor. v. 20.

c Rom. ix. 21.

d 2


permission, be directed. In the later part of our course
we shall consider in its turn the human element, and
devote our best attention to such questions as the
following : — What has been the effect of the Divine
message on the vehicle through which it has been
given ? How far has Divine truth suffered, if at all,
from the human form through which it was received?
Has that form imposed any drawback of imperfection
on the matter? Or is it possible that any grains of
error may lie embedded in the form, without injury
or disparagement to the spiritual revelations which it
enshrines ?

It would be idle to attempt to conceal the con-
sciousness that much of this subject brings us within
the range of painful controversy, and deals with
questions causing deep disquietude to many hearts.
Under such circumstances, it may not be thought
unbecoming to tender the assurance that I shall not
venture to approach these topics, before such an
audience, in any controversial spirit. It is precisely
the fact that so much controversial heat has been
evolved, which has caused, perhaps on both sides, so
much general alarm. It is clear, at least, that on
one side what men have dreaded has been the sus-
pected animosity of a ' remorseless criticism.' There
is no peril to be apprehended from the honest recog-
nition of the human element. The vast majority
would readily grant it. But they draw back in
alarm when they imagine that books which they hold
dear as life itself, and with which their holiest
thoughts are blended, are assailed with a hostility


from which Herodotus would be protected; and are
rent in pieces with a ruthlessness which scholars now
refuse to tolerate towards Homer. We need not ask
whether these suspicions have ever been too vehe-
ment, or whether they have not been sometimes
exasperated by the spirit in which they have been
met. It is better to make the question practically
useful, by drawing for ourselves the lesson, that we
must be careful to shun, on either hand, the errors
and exaggerations of unyielding tempers. With
patience and courage, with candour and forbearance,
let us endeavour to place ourselves so far aloof from
the contest, that we may contemplate with perfect
calmness the materials which it has served to bring
into one focus ; and may wait with humility to catch
the lineaments of truth, as they rise above the mists
of strife. Above all things, let us recollect that
purity of thought is the only avenue to sacred know-
ledge ; and that if we wish to enter on the mind of
Christ, we must seek the constant help of that Divine
Spirit, who will lead us to the pastures of heavenly
wisdom through the portals of meekness and love.



Acts xvii. 30, 31.

' And the times of this ignorance God winked at ; but now
commandeth all men everywhere to repent : Because
He hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge
the world in righteousness, by that Man whom He hath
ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all
men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead.'

MY former Lecture was mainly devoted to the task
of examining the two terms, ' Inspiration ' and
'Revelation,' with the view of showing that though not
co-extensive, either with each other or with the Bible,
they are both distinguished in Scripture by such ex-
alted characteristics, that the difference in degree is
superseded by a difference in kind (l). Thus of
Inspiration, we believe that the Holy Spirit speaks to
man's spirit in many forms of diversified blessing, yet
nowhere else in accents so distinct and certified as He
uses through the medium of the sacred writers ; and
of Revelation, we believe that God has unveiled Him-
self in other ways to man, through the voice of
conscience and through the works of Nature, yet
nowhere else with the same kind of certainty and
fulness as He did in the person of the Divine Saviour,


and as He did to the prophets who foretold His
advent, or to the apostles and evangelists by whom it
was proclaimed.

I now propose to enter on an examination of the
Divine element in Scripture, as contrasted with those
external systems of religion with which it seems
natural to compare it. Believing as we do that
Scripture alone conveys a revelation of unmingled
truth, and that in all those other systems truth is
grievously weighed down by falsehood, we may let
this leading distinction suggest the division of our
immediate subject. Let us take up the comparison
of Christianity with Heathenism, first as to truth, and
next as to falsehood ; asking, in the first place, how the
truth of Scripture stands related to the partial truths
of independent systems; and dwelling afterwards on
the light which Scripture throws, by the mere force of
contrast, on the falsehoods by which all heathen
systems are debased.

I. For the first head, it will be convenient to begin
by classifying the whole subject of religious know-
ledge, so as to mark the exact sphere which the
Divine element in Scripture occupies.

Five such classes will suffice, I think, to span the
subject, and form, as we might speak, five zones of
knowledge. In the first, Ave may arrange those
glimpses of truth which were granted to the heathen,
as we can ascertain them independently of the sacred
records. In the second, we may place the Scripture
proofs that similar but somewhat clearer know-


ledge was possessed by the heathen who came under
the observation of the inspired historians. The
third class would contain the Divine element of special
revelation, as received and recorded by special inspi-
ration, and holding a position incomparably higher
and more distinct than either of the former classes.
Fourthly, we may rank those positive ordinances by
which the special revelation was accompanied ; ordi-
nances which sprang from a Divine origin, but
received their particular mould or frame from con-
formity with the actual needs of man. Lastly, we
place the purely human element which is contributed
by the writers of Scripture themselves.

1. To begin with the subject of the religious know-
ledge of the heathen. It needs but a short survey
of the higher classes of heathen writers to convince
us that from the first there has existed a large body of
moral and religious truth on the outside of the sphere
to which God's special revelation is confined. This
is a fact which cannot be overlooked, and which it is
only reasonable to expect us to account for ; but it is a
fact which we cannot account for on the narrow view
of making God's gift of sacred knowledge the exclu-
sive possession of His chosen race. Are we to say,
then, that these truths are relics of Paradise, which
lingered in the memories of men ; the dying embers
of a primeval illumination, which had not yet been lost
in the prevailing darkness (2) ; or shall we say that they
were all borrowed from the fire which was kept alive
upon the Jewish altar, though the means of such a
general transfer are as inconceivable as they are


unknown (3) ? Both of these views have received a
certain support from research and argument. The
facts disclosed by comparative mythology, and the
similarity of traditions which are traceable through
remote and scattered nations, have been believed to
give some countenance to the favourite thought, that
all men have retained, though unconsciously, a direct
inheritance from that primeval period, when 'the
whole earth was of one language and of one speech,' a
and the families of man still owned a common centre.
Men have loved to look upon these scattered treasures
as the ' wreck of Paradise,' which still,

1 Through many a dreary age,

Upbore whate'er of good and wise

Yet lived in bard or sage.' b

But the other opinion also has exercised considerable
influence, especially among the earlier apologists, who
pointed out the modes in which the light of revelation
might have glanced aside into the darkness which it
was not meant to dissipate, and actual glimpses of the
laws, the miracles, the prophecies of Scripture, might
have flashed upon the vision of the Gentile world.

These two hypotheses are of very different value ;
but it is needless to lay further stress on either for
our present purpose, since we shall find a surer basis
for our own enquiries in the authoritative declaration
of St. Paul. The Apostle teaches, as we have already
seen, that the heathen owed that knowledge partly

a Gen. xi. 1. b Christian Year, Fourth Sunday after Trinity.


to the law of God, which was written on their hearts,
and which speaks there through the voice of con-
science; partly to the dim manifestation of Him who
is invisible, as it reached them in their darkest days,
through the veil of His visible creation.

A firm belief, then, in the special character of the
Divine revelation in Scripture is quite compatible
with the conviction, that God has always granted to
mankind a universal, though vague, manifestation of
Himself, by leaving in man's nature the traces of His
own Divine image, and by enabling man to read the
witness of His presence through the signs of the
material universe. It has been a task of deep interest,
in all the more enlightened ages of the Church, to
gather and register these scattered truths ; to verify
them by comparison with God's special revelation ; to
group them round their earthly centre in man's con-
science ; to estimate precisely what their disclosures
amount to ; and to point out exactly where they fail.
It is with this design that men have compiled histories
of the Dispensation of Paganism, the Unconscious
Prophecies of Heathendom, the Religions before
Christ (4). And these enquiries have run the same
course in earlier as in later days. A frank recognition
of the Divine truths contained in heathen creeds lias
been pushed on to the untenable position, of claiming
for them equality with Scripture revelation ; and the
heathen creeds, in turn, have been depressed below
their proper level by the orthodox recoil (5).

The Church, indeed, has always held two different
relations to heathen religions : on the one hand,


sympathy with their partial truth ; on the other hand,
abhorrence for their pervading errors. The weight of
her judgment would preponderate on this side or on
that, according as the balance of truth or error varied
in the separate cases. We may suppose that so long
as it was their single mission to convert the heathen,
Christian teachers would seek to attract the sympathy
of their hearers by a recognition of the truth which
they already held ; as St. Paul did when he was
' made all things to all men,' that he ' might by all
means save some.' a But when the influx of heathen
converts made it needful to repel the aggressions of
heresies, under cover of which the vanquished sought
to lead their victors captive (6), they were compelled
to denounce the evil of the pernicious leaven, by
which false religions were degraded below the level of
the purer characters among their worshippers. And
when the evil became universally more conspicuous
than the good, and the contagion of error began to
exert a more baneful influence, then the opposing
current of Christian condemnation set in with a steady
and resistless tide, which tended to deprive the heathen
of their just proportion in the common spiritual
heritage of man. The researches of later times may
perhaps have diminished the immediate pressure of
the danger, but they certainly have not lessened our
conviction of the evil which was infused into such
systems by the corruption of the heart of man. They
have widened our acquaintance with the details of the

* 1 Cor. ix. 22.


creeds, and deej)ened our insight into their fundamental
affinities ; but they have not removed the ancient
landmarks which were fixed by the Apostle. The lines
of demarcation still remain as he drew them, to dis-
tinguish between the true revelation and the vague
manifestation ; though we can confirm the distinction
by a cloud of witnesses, who lay beyond the range of
knowledge which the observation of that period could

The position of these exiled truths, which wandered
homeless, yet not unwelcome, through the darkest
ages of the heathen world, might be described by an
application of the Platonic image ; a they were like
shadows thrown before the eyes of prisoners, who had
no power to turn and view the substance, as contrasted
with the realities presented to the Church of God,
which flow from the revelation of the Deity in Christ.
Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, we
see, in the revealed object of our common adoration, a
true and Divine Person, who gives coherency and
reality to the blessed truths by which we live. To
change the figure, we may say, that light reached the
heathen through so thick a cloud, that the face of the
sun was entirely hidden, and its very form remained
unknown. In the revelation of the Old Testament,
the clouds were broken, and the rays burst forth ; but
the sun himself remained concealed. The advent of
Christ gave idl the light that man could bear, when
'life and immortality' were brought 'to light through

a Plat. Rep. vii. init.


the Gospel' * — light which resembled that of noon, in
contrast with the clouded daybreak ; yet light which,
in its turn, will seem pale hereafter, when contrasted
with the brightness of heaven.

Now the point of departure between these two
collateral but unequal manifestations of Divine know-
ledge must be sought in the earliest incident recorded
of our fallen race — the promise which was given in
Paradise, before the forfeited blessings of our first
abode had been withdrawn. It follows, that to claim
a Divine source for the religious knowledge of the
heathen, is so far from being a denial that salvation
comes only through the name of Christ, that it simply
asserts our Lord's rightful position, as the sole Head
of renewed humanity — of the race which would
have perished in that hour of disobedience, but for
the hope of salvation through the promise of Christ's

2. But within the range of the authenticated Scrip-
tures, we find many traces of a revelation of religious
knowledge, which was granted through unusual chan- '
nels to others besides those who were entrusted with
the oracles of God (7). So far as the worship of
primeval nations is referred to in Genesis, it seems
not unlike the worship which was offered by the
patriarchs; and the stranger was often favoured by
Divine visitations, resembling those which were
granted to the chosen nation. Thus ' God came to '
the Philistine ' Abimelech in a dream by night,' and

a 2 Tim. i. 10.


admitted his appeal to the 'integrity of his 'heart
and innocencyof his 'hands,' while He withheld him
from an unintended sin. a Another Abimelech was
enlightened to see in Isaac ' the blessed of Jehovah,'
and on that ground made a covenant with him. b
Abraham and Ephron, or Joseph and Pharaoh, con-
verse in precisely the same tone, and apparently under
the influence of similar principles of belief and
conduct. God sent His messengers to visit Sodom,
and hearkened to the pleadings which Abraham
offered for that guilty city. d The same fact is trace-
able through the history of the idolatrous Laban, and
the Midianite Jethro, and the Egyptian women who
' feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt com-
manded them.' 6 At a later date, God's blessings or
warnings are sent through Elijah to the Sidonian
widow, through Elisha to the Syrian Naainan, through
Jonah to the Ninevites, through Daniel to Nebuchad-
nezzar, through other prophets to adjacent nations ; f
yet with no intimation, in any such cases, that the
" recipient of God's message incurred the obligation to
accept the forms of the Jewish ritual. But there are
many other instances more remarkable than these.
Of four women whom St. Matthew mentions in the
lineage of Christ, the purest was a daughter of the

a Gen. xx. 3-G. * Gen. xxvi. 28, 29.

e Gen. xxiii. 8-17; xli. 38, 39. d Gen. xviii. ; xix. 1.

" Gen. xxiv. 31 5 xxx. 27, 30; xxxi. 24, 49; Ex. xviii. 1, 9,
10, 11, &c. ; i. 17, 20, 21.

f 1 Kings xvii. ; 2 Kings v. (Luke iv. 25-27); Jonah iii. 5
Dan. ii., &c.


Moabite. a Another was the Canaanitish Rahab, who
is commemorated by two different apostles as an emi-
nent example both of faith and works. b God caused
Melchizedek, whose race and ancestry we know not,
to be a special and exalted type of Christ. He over-
ruled the spirit of Balaam the Aramaean, who ' loved
the wages of unrighteousness," 1 to be His instrument
for blessing those whom He had blessed ; for uttering
precepts of as lofty import as any embodied in the
older Scriptures ; e for announcing from afar the ' Star
out of Jacob,' and the ' Sceptre ' that should i rise out
of Israel.' f He vouchsafed to reason with Job, 'a
perfect and an upright man,' who, though no Israelite,
is called His ' servant,' g and who steadfastly persisted,
under all his temptations, in speaking the thing that
was right of God. All along the frontiers of God's
Church, we see the light of revelation resting on the
faces of those who were attracted to approach its
borders, even down to the time when a star brought

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 4 of 30)