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What J Believe


Hugh 0. Pentecost



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N o r E .

The following pages were written during a
period of serious mental unrest as an expe-
dient for relief. They are published in the
Jiope that they will do good. They were writ-
ten very rapidly and, I might almost say, at
one sittins:, since I wrote eicfht or ten hours
a day upon them until they were finished.
This will partly account for their style, in
so far as they have any. I was away from
my library during their com^^tosition, and they
will, accordingly, be found to contain very
few quotations or references to books. Those
who are familiar with " The Bible for
Learners" will recognize my indebtedness to
that invaluable work in two places. With
this exception I am not aware of having
borrowed anything not inclosed within quo-
tation marks. All foot-notes have been
avoided because 1 wish the book to be read
without having the reader pestered with
interruptions. There is nothing new nor

remarkable in tliese pages and the only
excuse for tiieir publication is that they dis-
cuss great themes in simple, straightforward
language, something for wliich I am always
very thankful when I am lucky enough to
fall in with an author who has cared to
make a similar attemi)t.

I ])ublisbed tlie book myself partly be-
cause I had not the courage to submit it to
a publisher and partly because I supposed
no publisher would handle it, even if it was
acceptable, unless he or I had it coi)yrighted.
This I ])rcfer not to do or have done for
reasons which are satisfactory to me. If any
one wishes to republish the book or any part
of it, I sliall be glad to know of its wider
circulation, and if he makes money by the
venture he will, no doubt, send me what he
considers my share, as I think I should do
were the case reversed.

The book is given to its readers, as I
know it will be received by them, for what
it is worth.

II. 0. P.


Why seek other than the most general
definition ? An indefinable influence upon
the mind — the personaUty — of man, sup-
posed to proceed extranaturally from God.
That is, in broad outline, what we under-
stand by inspiration. It is supposed to
move toward right conduct, more or less
imperatively, more or less successfully. It
is supposed to move toward right thought,
and to express itself in writing. It is sup-
posed to open a wider realm to thought
than is possible to unassisted reason ;
windows into infinitude ; lenses into su-
per-nature. The conduct of inspired men
becomes to those who range upon a lower
plane of experience — holy. The writings


of such men become infallible ; it is Rev-
elation. Not a natural getting at the
fact, but an imparting of the fact — sup-
posed fact — to the receptive man, as into
a vessel. The fact, too, is of such a na-
ture as to be not obtainable in any other
way. It must be imparted or it could
never be known, since it is beyond the
range of human experience. The method
of knowing the thing and the thing
known, or said to be known, are equally
superior to natural methods of acquiring
information and natural subjects of in-
formation. The tbhigs revealed are, nec-
essarily, undebatable and undeniable.
There is no platform, not even the small
surface of some post-top, upon which an
opponent may get any kind of footing,
not to say spread for his footing. How
can one deny what is no more subject to
proof than denial ? If the supposed in-
spired man is actually inspired, then the
thing uttered for truth is truth. But if


the supposed inspired man is not really
inspired then he knows no more of the
matter than another, not necessarily as
much as some possible other. What he
says may be true or it may not. It is
not true upon his authority unless he is
inspired, and unless, too, he can make
it quite clear to others that inspiration
is a part of human experience and that
he, in particular, is or was, when the
thing was said, inspired.

Inspiration is supposed by those who
believe in Revelation to be sometimes
verbal and mechanical and sometimes
merely psychical or dynamic. In one
case, if the man is a writer as well as
a doer, and his writings are under con-
sideration, he is an automaton, an in-
strument, not an intelligent agent ; a
mere machine which moves and acts as
it is moved and acted upon by the Divine
Afflatus. He does not necessarily under-
stand all that he himself writes ; much


of it, indeed, is of such a nature that
he cannot understand it any more than
anyone else. He is a mere instrument
upon which the Heavenly Musician plays;
a pipe through which extranatural knowl-
edge flows. This view of the subject has
been practically abandoned ; none but the
most stubbornly ignorant holding to it
any more. But it is eloquent of bygone
possibihties of human credulity that it
was once the received opinion and that
there are yet extant in the libraries and
second-hand book stalls volumes in de-
fense of such a conception of "plenary

In tlie other case— that of psychical or
dynamic inspiration — the mortal writer
is invested with somewhat more of hu-
man identity. He is no longer a mere
steam engine but a thinking man, re-
taining personal characteristics but so
dominated by the Divine Mind that he
writes only what is suggested to him.


He may clothe the matter in his own
garment of words and invest it with
his own Hterary style, if he has any,
but he, nevertheless, writes only what
is given him to write, and is so con-
trolled by the Divine One that what he
writes is truth and truth only, and is
infalhble, for the double reason that it
is truth (though it must be confessed
that, in certain quarters, and among a
certain class of minds, Truth, for its
own sake, has never been reckoned a
sufficient authority) and that it is
uttered by an inspired penman.

In either case inspiration is called
'' plenary " and places the writer in the
position of a voice or pen for God. The
productions of such a writer are the
" Word of God." Revelation thus ijn-
parted is absolute truth and discussion
is only permissible as to what is re-
vealed. Once decide that and discussion
ends. Reason and will must bow to it


as to God Himself ; a demand that is
right and imperative if we admit that
the man who writes is really the voice
of God ; is really fully inspired.

Perhaps that view of inspiration which
is now most generally accepted among
thinking people who hold to the tra-
ditional doctrine of inspiration is one
which has not yet found definite formu-
lation, owing to the hesitancy which
characterizes the entrance of any inno-
vation in religious thought. Leaders of
religious thought are conservative, partly
because conservation is safe and wise,
apart from personal considerations, and
partly because heresy is expensive and
dangerous. They are usually those who
live by the favor of Ecclesiasticism, which
is i/npatient of novelties whose tendency
is toward its own decay and disruption.
Men will change their minds, however,
though slowly and at heavy price. They
are doing so in regard of this subject


and there are probably at this time few
among the most highly educated and
thoughtful of the clergy who hold to
what may fairly be called plenary in-
spiration. It is coming to be admitted
that there are degrees of inspiration
probable, perhaps apparent, in all the
sacred writings. All are inspired but
this not to such a degree as that ; Sol-
omon's Song not to the extent of the
Epistle to the Romans ; Solomon him-
self not to the extent of Paul. It is
even questioned whether there is the
same need for inspiration in the record-
ing of plain historical facts which may
be obtained by ordiaary research as in the
enunciation of mysteries which apper-
tain to the unknown. History gives up
its recorded facts to any painstaking
student, but there are declarations in
various portions of the Scripture which,
if true, could only have been known by
God, or one to whom God revealed


them. "In My Father's house are many
mansions." God only knows that. If
he who said it ^vas God it is, indeed,
true. If God spoke through him who
said it, it is true. But if he was only
man, no amount of investigation or ex-
periment could ever discover such a fact.
He could not possibly know such a
thing. Supposing it to be true, it was
discovered by a degree of inspiration for
which we cannot understand the neces-
sity in the case of a plain statement of
fact quite within the range of ordinary
human experience, which one may know
as well as another.

But the vital question, that which
underlies the whole subject, is deeper
far than this of degree ; it is as to
whether inspiration, as commonly un-
derstood, is possible or probable upon
any terms. Why discuss degrees when
it is gravely doubtful whether the kind
exists in any degree. Does God, or did


God, ever communicate with any man,
except as He communicates with all
men ? Is there any such fact as revela-
tion, as commonly understood? Are
there any possible or probable channels
of communication between Divinity and
Humanity other than the senses, the
mind, and the conscience, and these in
their ordinary operation ? Are we justi-
fied in believing that God has ever
spoken, or does now speak, to a few
men in a manner which He does not
employ toward all men ? Is it credible
that anything was ever revealed to
one man, or a few men, which might
not have been thought out, discovered
or inferred by another man or set of
men, given the same quantity and
quality of intellect and the same
amount of leisure and other facilities
for study and reflection ?

It is hazardous for any finite crea-
ture, perhaps impertinent, to confident-


ly affirm what is or is not possible in
this mysterious universe. I, certainly,
would not dare to assert that inspira-
tion is an impossibility ; that if God
chose He could not and would not com-
municate with man in any way He
pleased, and to whatever man or men
He pleased. It is not, however, so
much a question of possibility as prob-
ability. All things are possible with
God but all things are not probable ;
and while it is possible it is not prob-
able that God ever acted any differ-
ently in his dealings with mankind
than he does at this present time. It
is an old saying that we are to judge
the future by the past; as old as
Confucius, perhaps older ; a n d it is a
wise saying. I believe it is just as
wise that we judge the past by the
present. What is common to human
experience now was probably always
so. It requires no argument to con-


vince any one that no one is inspired
now. The man who makes such a
claim only subjects himself to ridicule,
and that too, among those who firm-
ly believe that some men have been

It is now nearly two thousand years
since the last inspired man passed away
from this earth, according to the belief
of Christendom, though Mahommeden-
dom would shorten this period some
centuries. And yet mankind was never
in more need of some clear manifesta-
tion from the unseen than now, and, I
may say, never so well prepared to un-
derstand any message which might be
communicated. Mind was never so de-
veloped as now ; observation was never
so keen ; moral sense never so recep-
tive, so intelligently sensitive. There
never has been, in short, a time in all
the history of this world as we are able
to speU that history out, when a revela-


tion could be so appropriately and hope-
fully made as just at this present. Y'et
there is none. The most pious and sin-
cere Christian may find himself hag-
ridden with doubts, until agonized cries
are wrung from h i s distressed soul ;
cries for some little crumb or scrap of
revelation to him, some single drop of
water to cool his throbbing brain and
fevered heart. But the heavens are
brass, God is dumb ; He says nothing,
does nothing, though His creature end
in bedlam ; nothing, that is, of the nat-
ure of a special revelation to him. He
leaves him as he leaves all others to learn
of Him in the appointed ways of nat-
ure. Wickedness stalks abroad ; Lech-
ery tracks its victims ; Injustice sits
enthroned ; Worldliness gnaws at the
very heart of Conscience ; Might crushes
Right ; the whole habitable world seems
whirling in some Devil's dance of death ;
He, nevertheless, does nothing, says


nothing out of the ordinary course of
things ; enough in the ordinary coarse,
to satisfy a really pious mind, but noth-
ing out of it. There is as much need
every way for revelation in one period
of history as another, in this period as
any other whatsoever. Yet, now for
nineteen centuries there has been not a

It will not do to say the revelation
given then and before then by the sev-
eral writers of Scripture is and ought to
be sufficient, for such arguments only
satisfy those who wish to believe — not
the truth, but whatever is told them
upon authority. And, too, that revela-
tion is manifestly not enough to satisfy
all minds ; among those who are still
asking questions there being some of
the strongest, noblest and devoutest in
all that goes for basic religion. It is
impossible to understand why inspira-


tion should appertain to one age or one
man and not another.

It is true, indeed that a fact should
not he doubted or denied merely because
it is inexplicable, but in this case the
fact is not only not proven but is of
such a nature that its demonstration is
impossible. If a man is inspired his
condition can only be known to himself.
He can only declare it to another ; not
in any way prove it. In the very nat-
ure of the case whatever revelation he
may have had, supposing him to have
had any, can only be revelation to him-
self, alone. When he declares it to
another it becomes hearsay — not what
God says but what he says that God
says, behevable or not as we choose,
since be both parties never so willing
he cannot by any possibility prove his
inspiration. He can only assert it. His
revelations cannot be put in evidence,
because there is no possible way of de-


termining the truth or falsity of them ;
or whether, if true, they are not merely
clever guesses or at best the intuitions
of genius.

It is curious, that the men who are
supposed to have been inspired almost
never, if, indeed, ever, made any such
claim for themselves. They have been
invested with inspiration by succeeding
generations, or if by their own, only
in a very superstitious age. Should a
man make such a claim for himself now
there would be no better proof of his
imposture asked ; he would be immedi-
ately considered, without argument or
hesitation, self -deluded, insane, or a char-
latan. The authorship of the Old Testa-
ment writings is so uncertain that it is
impossible to say that any prophet or
writer ever claimed to be inspired, but
it is quite certain that no such high dig-
nity is assumed by the New Testament
writers for their writings, far less for


themselves, except in the hook of Reve-
lation — one of the most doubtful authen-
ticity. If any New Testament writer was
inspired it will he admitted that Paiil
was, since he was the greatest among
them and deals with the most difficult
and abstruse subjects in the most affirm-
ative manner. Yet he makes no such
claim for himself, or none which is in-
dubitably so. If he had we should be
obliged to accept his mere word for it ;
but, apparently, he has not. Probably
all the New Testament writings were
read at first, by those to whom they
were written with no suspicion of their
being inspired. Were not the men who
wrote them known and abused among
them ? But in a century or so they be-
gan to be considered inspired, just as
Peter (and others) reckoned the Old Tes-
tament inspired when he wrote his epis-
tle, without assuming such Divine au-
thority for his own production any more


than I for what I am now writing. He
beheved it to be the truth as I do this.
Nothing more. By-and-by, however, it
was decided by others, long after Peter
was dead and gone, to be inspired, and
so, not the word of Peter, but the Word
of God. For centuries there was dis-
pute as to which of the early Christian
writings were inspired and which not, a
question that is, to this day, unsettled,
some of Peter's own writings, or alleged
writings, being still in doubt. Upon such
a question there ought to be no shadow
of doubt or uncertainty, instead of which
there is no kind of certainty. We do
not and cannot know that any of our
sacred writings are inspired and if any
are it seems impossible, with all our crit-
ical learning, to decide which. It is all, at
best, a matter of human judgment, and,
unfortunately, not the best judgment,
since it is warped by doctrinal beliefs,
which unquestionably entered largely into


the formation of the canon m so far as
it is indubitably formed. Certain early
Christian writings were once believed to
be inspired which are not only stupid and
silly in many passages but which contain
egregious fables. They were finally
thrown out, indeed, but the age and
grade of culture and intelligence which
admitted them for a time was practi-
cally the same which decided the ques-
tion of inspiration for the remaining cur-
rent Scriptures. The early Christians
were the sternest moralists of their time,
be it said to their high praise, but they
were neither the most intelligent of their
age, nor freest from superstition ; they
were practically without critical faculty
or training. Every human product must
submit to human criticism and take its
final place at the dictation of criticism,
and since the Scripture books escaped this
test in the beginning they must submit to


it sooner or later, the later being not far

One insuperable objection to the doc-
trine of Biblical inspiration lies in the
character of much of the writing. It
abounds with manifest myths and
legends, quite analagous to those which
appertain to other ancient history and
the development of other religions.
There is no essential difference between
the writings of the Hebrews as to their
historic quality and those of other
nations which are freely admitted by
Christendom to be fabulous. The con-
clusion would, therefore, seem t o be
irresistible that if one class of authors
were inspired another precisely sim-
ilar class must be accorded the same
honor when it is claimed with the
same earnestness and upon the same
grounds. T o hold that the writings
upon which our religious faith is
founded are genuine revelation while


those of all other religions are spurious
is to do exactly what the adherents of
those other rehgions do and with just
as httle reason. It is highly improb-
able that among many religious writ-
ings belonging to different ages of the
world and to different nationahties,
each precisely resembhng the other in
essential particulars, only one set should
be Divinely inspired, the others all be-
ing base and fraudulent imitations pro-
duced by the cunning of a priestly
class for motives of personal gain and
with consciousness of the hypocritical
cheat practiced upon the unsuspecting
multitudes. It is more probable that
all those records of the infancy of
nations and the development of rehg-
ion which constitute the Bibles of all
peoples are the compilations of legends
which were implicitly believed by
priests and people alike at the time of
their committal to paper or tablets.


Nations like individuals have no recol-
lection of their days of infancy, their
formative period, and the only history
they have is that which is transmitted
from generation to generation in the
form of legends which assume an extra-
natural character because they relate to
a period known only to tlie imagination
and whose events and characters afford,
therefore, free scope for Wonder. There
is no philosophic ground for the sup-
position that the Hebrew people were
free from the operation of natural law
in recording their history, that they
were guided into the truth to the ex-
tent of rendering their historical docu-
ments infallible. And, furthermore, an
examination of those records reveals a
multitude of stories which bear every
evidence of legend and which in some
instances are necessarily untrue. Those
of the garden of Eden, the Flood, the
lives of the Patriarchs, the Exodus


from Egypt, and many other similar
ones are plainly legendary, while the
account of the Creation, the cruise
of the Ark, the crossing of the Red
sea, and many other such records
which are given as sober history are
not only improbable but simply impos-
sible and therefore untrue. If the
record is not true of course it is not
inspired. Such stories if written to-day
would not be considered for a moment
except to excite ridicule.

We have, for instance, in the book of
Exodus, the record of the march of an
army or, rather, the emigTation of a
nation, from Egypt into the wilderness.
We are there told that upwards of six
hundred thousand warriors over twenty
years of age marched forth, together
with their women and children and a
mixed multitude which must have been
quite numerous to have been considered
worthy of any notice. By the usual


methods of computing population this
company o f Hberated slaves would
amount to quite three millions of people.
Apart from the impossibility of such
rapid increase in population as this num-
ber would indicate, from the original sev-
enty souls who went down into Egypt,
during the comparatively short time
which they must have remained there,
the impossibility remains of such a mul-
titude escaping as they are said to have
done in a single night. A perusal of
the story shows that Moses gave notice
to all the people to flee ; that the wo-
men borrowed (with no intention of ever
returning them) quantities of jewelry
from then- Egyptian mistressess ; that
the people were gathered and the flight
from Egypt was actually accomphshed
all in a single night. Now, to say
nothing of the moving of such a multi-
tude in so short a time, we know very
well that without the aid of some such



instrumentality as the telegraph it would
be quite impossible for Moses to trans-
mit an order of any kind of intelligence
to such a vast number of people ; almost
as many as the population of the city
of London and scatterred over a far
wider district. It would have required
weeks with the facilities which Moses
had at command to make known Pha
raoh's final decision to the people and
summon them to flight.

Afterward this vast multitude are
made to cross an arm of the Red sea in
a single night — a physical impossibility.
We may judge how impossible such a
feat was if we remember that when
Napoleon crossed the river Niemen in
1812 it required . three days and nights
to transmit his forces over three bridges
in close order, though there were only
about two hundred and thirty thousand
of them, all under that discipline which
we know the Israelites did not have


and which would certainly contribute to
the expedition of such an enterprise.

Whatever else may be said of such
stories and whatever may be their use
(they doubtless liave a use) it is impos-
sible to believe them ; we know they
are not true however much we may try
to make ourselves believe them, as
doubtless many do, through a supersti-
tious dread of doubting anything that is
found in the Bible, however absurd or
incredible. Whatever is true in the
Bible, as in any other book, needs no
inspiration to enforce it. Truth is strong
enough to win its own way. And what-
ever is untrue not only cannot be made
credible by investing it with the author-
ity of inspiration, but its manifest un-

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