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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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whomsoever He will, and setteth up over it the basest
of men.' a In these few clauses we have a firm, clear,
and consistent account of a creating, preserving,
governing Deity, such as the scattered lights of
heathen antiquity could never be combined to supply.
And the same remark holds good if we turn to trace
the truths which St. Paul interweaves with this teach-
ing, on the true position of our human nature.

(2.) Two main principles are laid down on this
subject ; the one, that God ' hath made of one blood
all nations of man ; ' the other, that He has endowed
them with so indelible a consciousness of His exist-
ence, that in some dim way or other they never cease
to ' feel after Him,' in hopes that they may ' find
Him.' The one of these principles supplies a basis
for the brotherhood of man, because all are children
of one common Father; the other supplies a basis
for practical religion, because all are thus endowed
with something of a religious sentiment, the testimony
to God which is written in their hearts, and which
marks them as His human offspring. This doctrine,
with its clear view of the proper dignity of human
nature, puts an end to all distinctions between Greek
and barbarian, between bond and free. And this

a Dan. iv. 17, 25, 32.


new creed of universal brotherhood must have come
with the more impressive force when uttered by a
Jew, as the outgrowth of the most jealous religion
which the world had ever witnessed; the creed that
God is no respecter of persons, announced by one
whom Tacitus would have branded as the enemy of
all humanity,* and who would but recently have
despised the claims of any Gentile to share the bless-
ings of the sons of Abraham. Thus the old view of
human nature is as much enlarged as the old con-
ception of the Deity was corrected and exalted. The
Apostle had preached God, not as a vague abstrac-
tion, still less as the mythical ruler of a crowd of
deities, imagined in the forms of men; but as man's
Creator, Guardian, ever-bounteous Lord. He now sets
man before us, by a corresponding revelation, not as
the mere masterpiece of Nature, the mere summit of
the series of the animated world ; but as the sole
earthly representative, through all his scattered tribes
and families, of the image and likeness of God.

(3.) But it was the union between these two con-
ceptions which formed the most distinctive message
which St. Paul had been commissioned to convey.
What is the true relation between man and God ?
That was a question which heathen knowledge failed
to answer (19). How could man reach the true
thought of the mystery of redemption, when so thick
a darkness was resting over the history of his creation
and his fall? This is the point on which St. Paul

a Tac. Ann. xv. 44 ('odio humani generis'); Hist \. 5 ('ad-
versus omrtes alius hostile odium ').


speaks with an emphatic force, befitting the central
revelation to which his other arguments converge.
There had been ' times of ignorance ' with which God
in His wisdom had borne for a season : such is his
brief allusion to that night of darkness which Christ's
advent had brought to its close. Now had arrived
the true Redeemer of mankind. Now came the call
to repentance, as the foremost duty of all who would
share in the redemption He had brought. Now
came the Gospel of the- risen Saviour, whose second
advent was appointed for the judgment of the world.
In this great truth the apostolic message finds its
height and termination. God as our Redeemer is
more than Creator, more than Guardian, more than
Kins;. All are authorised and ur°:ed to claim that
redemption, on the sole condition that they fulfil the
requisite of repentance, and render faithful obedience
to the commandments of Christ. How far is he
thus raised above the dark enquirer, who was feeling
doubtfully, and often erroneously, after God ! God
is now found to be indeed ' not far from every one of
us ; ' ready to make these bodies His temple. Where
is the power of heathen worship, where is the worth
of heathen speculation, beside the preaching of the
glad and certain tidings of the resurrection of Christ
Jesus, as the firstfruits and assurance of our own?

This is the Divine creed, then, which St. Paul
announced to the Athenians, instead of their popular
superstitions or their philosophic theology : — faith in
a God who was not satisfied to rest in grand seclusion
in the highest heavens ; but who issued forth, in the



depth of untold ages, to create a universe which it
was His pleasure thenceforward to protect and rule.
Not only so, but He peopled this world with intelli-
gent beings, on whom His own image was impressed.
Nor only so, again, but when that image had been
defaced by the sin of His creature, He came from
heaven to earth, and ' was delivered for our offences,
and was raised again for our justification,' a and re-
opened the avenue of intercourse through which man
might receive the grace of God. This is He in whom
we too live and move and have our being ; to whom we
owe not only the full perfection of our human exist-
ence, but the lower blessings of vital organisation,
and even the privilege of life itself, which rests as its
sole basis upon Him. This is He to whom we further
owe the certainty of future resurrection, which raises
our anticipations above the diversified guesswork of a
wider circle than was represented in the Athenian
audience of St. Paul — above the annihilation which
was expected by Samaritan and Sadducee, as well as
Epicurean — above the absorption which was looked
for by Oriental and Arabian Pantheists, in common
with at least some teachers of the Stoics — above the
purely intellectual individuality of the resurrection
which the Gnostic believed to be past already b —
above that highest faith in immortality, without a
resurrection, which limited the loftiest term of hope
to which man had ever reached independently of
Christ (-20). Truths like these we should not repeat,

a Rom. iv. 25. b 2 Tim. ii. 18.


even in this hasty general outline, without offering, as
we pass, the earnest prayer that we may not make a
hollow formalism of Christian doctrines which the
Apostle preaches as an earnest life.

Trace back that line of light to the beginning, and
the farthest point you reach still leaves you in the
presence of the same truths; on the one hand, the
high capacities and aspirations, yet the mean achieve-
ments of mankind ; on the other hand, the unity, the
immutability, the power, the righteousness, yet with
all of these the love of God. Re-examine through-
out history the systems of Paganism, and they offer
precisely the same contrast to the truths of revela-
tion which we have traced in the Athenian sermon
of St. Paul. The highest heathen creeds of God
were partial ; representing Him now as a power, now
as a law, now as a distant abstraction, and now as the
capricious likeness of a human despot. But revela-
tion combines the partial truths which each of these
several creeds had covered, and excludes the false-
hoods by which those truths had been neutralised.
This it does by declaring that, though almighty,
though unchangeable, though veiled in the light
which no man can approach unto, God is described
most faithfully and most completely when we ad-
dress Him as the Father of mankind. God is our
Father; Christ is our Brother; the bond of bro-
therhood is the indwelling Spirit. All men every-
where are sons of God, and all men everywhere
are therefore brethren of each other. All are of one
blood. All spring from the same first parents. All


are bound together by the universal ties of common
kindred. All may hope to find perfection in a
common heaven. That image of God, through which
we hold our Divine sonship, is stamped as certainly,
if not as brightly, upon the rudest savage of the
Eastern seas as upon the noblest representative of
European culture. And the practical expression of
this common sonship is the obligation of universal
charity ; ' for he that loveth not his brother whom he
hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not
seen ? And this commandment have we from Him,
that he who loveth God love his brother also.' a

Such is the general character of the Divine element
in Scripture, and such the contrast it presents to the
false religions of the heathen world, even when the
scanty grains of truth which they embody have been
most carefully numbered and recognised. I have not
wished to dwell at any length on the darker features
of ancient superstition — its sensuality, its cruelty,
the degradation of its more debasing rituals, the foul
enormities of Nature-worship. We need not follow out
our argument to those remoter consequences, when
it can be sufficiently established by the contrast of
revelation with the fairest forms of belief which the
purest of man's own thoughts can unfold. If we
confine our attention to our Saviour's incarnation, the
contrast will assume its loftiest and most striking


aspect. That incarnation re-established under new

11 1 John iv. 20, 21.

LECTURE ir. 69

conditions the relations held by man to God. In
seeking for its parallel, let us exclude the mere
guesses of a so-called natural religion ; let us exclude
the few remnants of old tradition which were constantly
escaping from men's feeble grasp ; let us confine our-
selves to the purest theology which the speculative
thinker could maintain as credible and could attempt
to support by argument ; and we shall find that the
Deity which we are told to accept is no more than an
intellectual reflection of man's highest mind, the pos-
tulated perfection of all indications of goodness which
are confessedly imperfect in man ; and the chief proof
of His existence is only the apparent convergence of
our highest thoughts towards some centre of supreme
intelligence far from the sphere of human action (21).
To the general range of the more thoughtful minds
among the heathen, no ray of the Divine brightness
seemed to rest upon the business of our common life.
To be finally absorbed and lost in His glory might be
the ambitious vision of the sage ; but there was no hope
nor reward in such a Deity for the man condemned
to active labours; as the whole field of action, like
some dark and confused battlefield, where fallen good
was wrestling with evil, was excluded from, because
unworthy of, its light. If such a creed had any
common ground at all with ours, it lay simply in this,
that both alike believe that God ' only hath immor-
tality, dwelling in the light which no man can
approach unto, whom no man hath seen, nor can see.' a

a 1 Tim. vi. 16.


But this, wliicli is the remotest point in our vision,
was the nearest point in theirs. They had no know-
ledge of the glorious range of truths which lie between
us and that distant heaven. They knew nothing of
Him who once spoke ' unto the fathers by the
prophets,' and who, ' in these last days,' hath ' spoken
unto us by His Son;' a nothing of God as a distinct
and personal Being, who is invested with certain
declared attributes, who watches with the tenderest
mercy over every creature of His hand, who hears
and answers every fervent prayer, and who will
receive His faithful servants when their work is done,
to restore them completely to His Divine image, and
to employ them in endless adoration round His throne.
The fatal defect, then, of false religions is the im-
passable chasm which, in spite of every effort to the
contrary, seems to separate their worshippers from
any God who is worthy of their adoration. The more
thoughtful heathen have acknowledged this, and
acquiesced in it, silent, if not satisfied. They have
translated the feeling into philosophic language.
They have hardened it down into the formal creed
which pronounced that the Deity was inconceivably
above all knowledge, and which scarcely needed to
pronounce the implied yet far more bitter sentence,
tli at He was therefore inconceivably above all love.
In this temper the)- have striven to describe the deep
serenity of that untroubled intelligence, that un-
fathomable sea of central light, on which no shadow

■ Heb. i. 1. 2


should be reflected from the tainted atmosphere of
worlds which are overclouded by misery and sin (22).
The recoil from this feeling doubtless had some in-
fluence in perpetuating the gods many and lords many
of Polytheism. Idolatry, however strange and de-
basing in its forms, is but the unconscious testimony
which is borne by ignorance and frailty to that
craving of the human spirit for some nearer and
more accessible representative of Deity than they
could find in the remote abstractions of an intel-
lectual God. It was an effort in each case to bridge
over the abyss which reduced man to a hopeless
exile from heaven. It has ever failed, and must ever
fail, to yield the slightest breath of consolation,
because the phantoms which it raises are no reflec-
tions of the Deity, but are mere shadows which men
project on the dark clouds that surround them —
shadows which exaggerate mere human attributes,
the worship of which is pure self-worship, veiled
beneath a thin disguise.

That gulf, which man had found impassable, was
destroyed for ever at our Saviour's incarnation, when
the Eternal Son of the Eternal Father vouchsafed to
clothe Himself with the garments of Time. That
doctrine lays hold at once of earth and heaven, and
brings them into union through the Person of our
Lord. Christ was Man ; and He has left us the noblest
example of all loving and tender sympathy for man :
but He was also God; and it is the duty of His
followers to lift their thoughts from earth to heaven,
and seek to fit themselves for entrance there. The


heathen might fear God ; might marvel at each
witness of His majesty and power; might catch their
echoes in the spheres of heaven, and trace their re-
flections in the rushing river or the ancient mountain.
But it was the incarnation alone, in promise or in
fulfilment, which made it possible for man to enter-
tain the thought of loving God. Christ is God's
image, and He is love : therefore we know that God
is love. In seeing Christ we see the Father : there-
fore we know that in loving Christ we love the Father.
And thus the gulf is bridged over; the dark clouds
are rent asunder; the prayers of earth are heard
in heaven. We can pass on from that cheerless
image of the far-off unfathomable sea of light ;
we can pass on to the touching Gospel picture of
the father who fell on the neck of the returning
prodigal. And thus, through the portals of the
holiest manhood, we rise to the conception of the
absolute Divine.

Let no shadow steal across the vision of our spirits,
to separate our souls again from God. There have
been many such to shed a baleful deadness over the
darkening eye of man. There is the dreamy mistiness
of a remote abstraction ; there is the vulgar heathenism
of a debased idolatry; there is the miserable formalism
of a lifeless and uninfluential creed; there is the
chilling falsehood of an unloving intellectual faith.
What are these things when contrasted with the
warm devotion of a Christian heart, which searches
the Holy Scriptures daily for the living witness which
they bear to Christ ? We know whom we have


believed. a We are redeemed; but it is by a personal
Redeemer, whose words of love are left to guide us.
A¥e are called to be sanctified ; but it is by the personal
Spirit, whom that glorified Redeemer sends to testify
of Him. b The voice of our prayer and praise can
reach the loftiest throne of Deity ; but it is because
Christ has enabled us to approach God as our Heavenly
Father. ' The word was made flesh and dwelt amon<>'
us;' c and we, who never saw His glory, may now
attain a still higher blessing, if we reach Him in faith
through the Holy Scriptures, and realise throughout
that sacred Presence which fills their earthly frame-
work with the Spirit of the Lord.

a 2 Tim. i. 12. b John xv. 26. c John i. 14.



1 Cor. xiii. 12.

' Now we see through a glass, darkly ; but then face to

THE reality of Scripture revelation has been thus
far dealt with as a question of simple fact, which
could be established by the ordinary branches of
evidence, and confirmed by the contrast with heathen
religions. But when we advance from revelation to
inspiration, and state the grounds for our belief, that
Scripture not only contains a true Divine message,
but is throughout the work of inspired writers, whose
inspiration still addresses our own spirits through the
language which they used, we must proceed from the
proof of that external fact to trace the general cha-
racter of the conditions under which the revelation
was recorded. There are two of these especially
which seem to call for consideration at the present
time ; namely, the Scriptural use of antinomies and of
double senses : — the one subject determining the mode
in which great truths were brought within the range
of the human intellect; the other subject supplying
a leading proof of the Divine authorship, in the


existence of a depth of significance which the human
authors could not have commanded. To these two
topics I propose to invite attention in the present and
the next succeeding Lecture.

We need not enter here upon the general question
of the limitations which the laws of thought impose
upon the forms in which we receive this revelation
from God (1). It cannot be doubted, as the Church
has always held, that Scripture employs a kind of
economy, accommodation, or condescension, to adapt
the eternal truths which it reveals for admission within
the range of finite thought. But for my present
purpose I may venture to assume, that though these
restrictions cause such disclosures to be constantly
expressed under the form of double and contrasted
statements, yet the revelation which results is as
absolutely true as the love of God could make it for
the children of His hand ; that the adaptation of
truth to inferior capacities involves no loss of any
fraction of its living power; and that the seen may
be accepted as an index to that mysterious unseen,
which it is confessed that its symbols cannot ade-
quately measure. If proof were needed, we should
find in it such declarations as these : — that man was
created in the image of the unseen God, and that
he retains a true though broken impress of that image
even since his fall a (-2) ; that God's perfection is the
standard at which our feeble efforts are encouraged to
aim ; that God's mercy is the pattern which man

a Gen. ix, G ; Ps. viii. 5, G ; Acts xvii. 29 ; 1 Cor. xi. 7 ; James iii. 9.


ought to imitate, as He shows it by making His sun to
rise on the evil and on the good, and by sending rain
on the just and on the unjust/ It is plainly indispen-
sable that man should know clearly what God is, before
he can hope to restore to its original brightness the
likeness of God, which was tarnished by sin. Or again,
we find it in such truths as these : — that even through
the veil of nature, ' the invisible things' of God ' are
clearly seen, being understood by the things that are
made ; ' b that even ' Gentiles which have not the law '
' shew the work of the law written in their hearts ; ' c
and above all, that ' God, who commanded the light
to shine out of darkness, hath sinned in our hearts,
to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God
in the face of Jesus Christ.' d

We have already seen that no doubt is left on
the medium of communication, through which these
eternal truths are granted to mankind. On our side,
' there is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the
Almighty giveth them understanding.' e On the side
of God there is the gracious influence which ' the
Father of spirits' f sends into our hearts, through
the personal agency of His quickening and enlighten-
ing Spirit. The Divine intercourse, which sin had
interrupted, was reopened on the advent of our
Saviour, in whom ' dwelleth all the fulness of the
Godhead bodily.' g The conditions under which we

a Matt, v. 45, 48. b Rom. i. 20.

c Rom. ii. 14, 15. d 2 Cor. iv. G.

c Job xxxii. 8. f Heb. xii. i).

8 Col. ii. ( J.


enjoy that communion are prescribed by a specific
revelation, which protects us from the uncertainty of
human fancies ; and they are maintained by the con-
tinuance of an organised society, which exists through
the promise and presence of the Spirit. Within these
bounds it is, that what we apprehend by faith becomes
the subject of our knowledge; and though that
knowledge is still partial and imperfect, its portions
are all absolutely true. We see, as St. Paul says^
8;' ecroVrpou, sv alviy[xaTi • as though the rays were
received on an imperfectly reflecting mirror, which
gives an incomplete representation of the figure which
is thrown upon it (s). Yet though the form of the
revelation may be adjusted to the laws of human
thought, we cannot hesitate to believe that in its
substance and reality it is the most direct reflection of
the truth of Heaven which could be cast upon the
spirits of a fallen but regenerated race. The Giver of
revelation was the Maker of man's nature; and we
cannot doubt either His will or His power to adjust
the conditions of the one to the other. Whatever
impediments, then, may have existed, either through
the general imperfections of our fallen race, or through
special obstructions in particular cases, it may be
safely assumed that Scripture never fails to reveal as
much spiritual truth, in as explicit and direct a shape,
as the qualifications of its hearers would permit them
to receive. I proceed to apply this doctrine to the
antinomies of Scripture, or those apparent contradic-
tions which, from the earliest days of ancient heretics,
the gainsayer has gathered from the sacred page (-;)•


The subject has indeed an apologetic value ; though
that point is secondary to my present purpose. What-
ever freedom of interpretation may be claimed under
the formularies of the English Church, it is allowed
that one restriction at least is expressed in terms which
cannot be mistaken. She has explicitly disclaimed
the power of so expounding ' one place of Scripture
that it be repugnant to another;' and she has been
careful to guard against any revival of the Marcionite
heresy, by asserting that ' the Old Testament is not
contrary to the New.' a This rule is obviously of
vital importance. Whatever may be the relation
between Scripture and science, it is clear that on all
such subjects as fall within its proper province, the
voice of Scripture must be consistent and uniform ;
for a trumpet which gave ' an uncertain sound ' b
could never be the instrument of God. If Scripture,
then, could be convicted of contradictory teaching on
any moral or religious question, it would follow that
some erroneous tendencies in the human element had
been strong enough to modify the influence of inspi-
ration. If it can be shown, on the other hand, that
the alleged cases of contradiction are really conform-
able to the limitations of the human intellect, and
consistent with our reasonable expectations on the
character of a Divine revelation, we shall not only
remove a difficulty, but establish an evidence, which
will be all the stronger for the fact that it did not lie
upon the surface, and was not unfolded without

a Art. xx. vii. b 1 Cor. xiv. 8.


enquiry and thought. To this subject, therefore, let
us now address ourselves, reserving for a future time
one portion of it, namely, the moral difficulties con-
nected with some events in the older Scriptures
which might be treated as contradictions to the spirit
of the Gospel. It will be more convenient to treat of
these moral difficulties at a later stage of our arsm-
ment, and to approach them rather from the human
side. 3

We must, in the first place, be careful to distinguish
between contradiction in the text and contradiction
in the comment. The mere fact that opposite theorists
are equally ready to claim support from Scripture, is
not always sufficient to raise even the presumption of
contradiction in Scripture itself. There is no diffi-
culty in understanding how truth in the text is
consistent with error in the comment, even when the in-
ference has been honestly drawn. For it is the common

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 6 of 30)