J. B. (James Bowling) Mozley.

Ruling ideas in early ages and their relation to Old Testament faith; lectures delivered to graduates of the University of Oxford online

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tion is thus made by the mental confusion of the
accuser, and at the first clear sight vanishes into
air. Eather the material of accusation becomes
itself evidence of the Divine power in the sys-
tem, and the guarantee to its authority. You
expatiate upon the actual crudities of the Jewish
morality, as if the dispensation were accountable for
them ; but if it in fact overcomes them, all the rough-

240 The End the Test of

ness of the material which it conquers only redounds
to its glory.

" But," it will be said, " the crude and imperfect
nature of Jewish morals is a plain fact of Scripture
history itself, while this running design and inner
current of the dispensation is only an interpretation
put upon Jewish history by theologians. It is true,
the Jewish nation gradually grew out of a rude and
barbarous state, and attained to a certain civilisation ;
and with that civilisation came a finer moral standard ;
but this was not the result of the dispensation they
were under, but due only to the natural growth and
expansion of reason. The moral standard of the dis-
pensation is before us in black and white, and that
was a very defective one, and sanctioned vengeance
and bloodshed on a large scale ; the people, or the
higher minds among them, at last outgrew this moral
standard by the force of reason. This is the natural
and rational account of the progress of the Jewish
nation, and of the high morality which at last issued
out of that nation. But to attribute this result to
the inner working of a dispensation whose written
code was marked by plain defects and shortcomings,
is mere speculation, and by no means probable specu-

To this the answer is, that other nations of the
world, beside the Jewish, began with an imperfect and
crude moral standard ; but, of all these nations we
observe that, as they began so they ended. Hindu
law, Eoman law, Greek codes of law, all led their
respective communities a certain way in morals, but

a Progressive Revelation. 241

they all stopped short of any true development in
morals. They never became active inspiring teachers
of the people under them, seeds of enlightenment
and advancement. Look at Spartan law ; has it the
slightest spring or elasticity in it ? or has it anything
approaching to a principle of growth in it ? It per-
forms a certain set of motions like an automaton ; its
whole power is restricted within a certain area of
public military virtue, and it has no inward self-moving
power by which it can transcend its original limits.
This is perhaps an extreme case. But Roman law, as
a moral law, works in chains ; it cannot liberate itself
from its own inflexible adherence to the type of slavery,
and from those barbarous definitions of personal rights
which left no station but a servile one to wife or son ;
thus degrading society at its fountainhead of family
life. The Roman law remained essentially savage
till Christianity released it and set it free from its
bonds. It could not free itself; it could not make
the wife a free woman and at the same time give
her the sanctity of marriage, but could only con-
fer freedom on her at the cost of license, by the
exchange of marriage for a contract which let in in-
definite divorce. Hindu law has not raised itself. In
other nations, then, the ideas of justice, benevolence,
purity, stay at an incipient stage, and never become
more than half ideas; in the Jewish alone is there
moral progress, an advance, which begins and goes
steadily on unchecked, till it reaches the New or
Christian Law. In the Jewish nation alone the Law
acts not only as a document, but as a guiding prin-


242 The End the Test of

ciple in the nation. There it is a light, a teacher ; it
does not abide within its letter only, but conies out in
the shape of comment or interpretation to suggest and
inspire. It is accompanied and guarded by the great
Prophetic order, which carries on, in conjunction with
the Law and in check upon it, a standing guidance and
teaching. There is a moral element in the dispen-
sation which has an intrinsic and overruling force of
its own, a free unstunted growth, by which it arrives
at its completion.

But exception may be taken, last of all, to the
fundamental assumption upon which this whole argu-
ment has been based ; upon the very idea, to begin
with, of a progressive revelation. " Natural reason/' it
may be said, " is, as everybody admits, and as we know
by experience, slow and gradual in its processes, it
requires time for developing and maturing itself, and
it only gains possession of truths after a succession of
trials and delays ; but why should a Divine revelation
be subject to such conditions as these ? Is not a reve-
lation given for the very purpose of supplying the
deficiencies of reason ? But if so, why, when it is
given, does it exhibit these very deficiencies ? If reve-
lation is as slow and dilatory as reason, is it indeed
revelation at all, or is it simply reason operating all
the time ? For what can be the meaning of the
Divine Being instituting an exception to His ordinary
providence, if the exception after all follows the pattern
of the rule ? what reason can there be why an Omni-
potent Being should not communicate what He has to
communicate summarily, and by one act ? There is

a Progressive Revelation. 243

that in man, by his fundamental constitution, to which
a truth can be imparted ; his reason is in him by
nature. Why is not a truth, which is capable of being
apprehended, not imparted to that reason at once ?
And are not such truths as these capable of being
apprehended immediately ? say the Christian law of
marriage, that a man should have but one wife ; Chris-
tian justice, that a man should be punished only for
his own fault. These truths are perfectly plain truths
if they are truths at all ; and revelation is able to give
man the proper guarantee that they are truths ; and
if he knows them to be such, what has man to do
but to set about practising them ? Why then should
God not reveal what He has to reveal at once ? Why
should He purposely deal out His instruction piece-
meal, and postpone what He can give immediately, and
let a special revelation stand over centuries, which could
have been given at the commencement ? A progres-
sive revelation is itself an inconsistent transaction, and
the very idea of it cannot be admitted. For if there
is power to possess man with a certain moral truth
now, at this moment, by a summary act of Divine
grace, all ground why the knowledge should be put off
is gone, and you are left without a reason to account
for the delay."

This, then, is the objection raised. But here an
argument opens upon us, founded on the nature of
man as God created him, which necessitates the use
of language imposed upon us by our ignorance. When,
then, we speak of the omnipotence of God, we do not
mean that He can simply and nakedly do anything that

244 The End the Test of

can be stated in words. It is an attribute with con-
ditions ; I mean that is the mode in which we express
it in language. God can no more force an immediate
moral enlightenment upon an existing age, and antedate
a high moral standard by two thousand years, than He
can instantaneously impart a particular character to an
individual. He has endowed man with intellectual
faculties of a certain kind, which move in a certain
way, and with a gradual progressive motion requiring
time. He cannot impart to it a truth in such a way
as contradicts that institution of the understanding,
and communicate in a moment that which, by the laws
of the being's nature, can be only received slowly and
by degrees. The natural motion of the human under-
standing is by steps and stages ; after one effort it is
weary, sinks back exhausted, and cannot go farther just
then, but rests : and there is a pause in the progress
until another impulse comes, and another step is
made ; and thus the work is accomplished gradually,
and some large and complete truth is at last arrived
at. To suppose the Deity, then, imparting in a
moment some ultimate truth which experience shows
requires time for men to embrace, is to suppose
Him imparting the truth in a way which contra-
dicts those very laws which He has Himself laid
down in the constitution of the being with whom
He is dealing.

The understanding of man, again, moves by the
action of the will ; it cannot be raised to the compre-
hension of any great truth without a succession of acts
of attention, and the will must keep up attention.

a Progressive Revelation. 245

The will and the understanding, then, cannot be sepa-
rated in the advancement of the human mind in truth,
and in the progress of revelation. But can the Divine
power control the human will in its collective aspect
any more than it can in its individual ? Can it
dictate the mode of taking in a revelation, any more
than it can secure individual conduct ? The question
respecting the immediate comprehension and accept-
ance of a revelation is very much analogous to the
question of human action and its subjection to the
Divine power ; the possibilities in conducting revela-
tion are much akin to the possibilities of dictation to
the human will. The whole question comes in, of the
relations of the Divine power to the human will.

Here, then, we are launched upon a fundamental
difficulty. The will of the human race influences the
understanding of the human race in its mode of taking
in a revelation. A revelation is accepted readily
when it concurs with men's wishes, but the under-
standing, when separated from the inclination, stops
short, and refuses to exert itself. Can the fact, then,
that it is a revelation reverse this slowness in the
understanding ? this slowness which is produced by
want of inclination ? There is no more reason to sup-
pose that it can in the human race at large than
that it can in an individual : that the mind of the
race can be enlightened by an instantaneous act of
Divine omnipotence, than the mind of an individual
can be. Nor is there any more reason to suppose that
an individual's mind can be enlightened all at once by
an act of revelation, than that a man's conduct can be

246 The End the Test of

made good all at once. The Divine power can assist
the individual ; and yet the individual has a will that
can resist the Divine power, astounding as the asser-
tion may appear. And the human race has collectively
the same will, and can resist the progress of revelation
within the collective human mind, so as to make it
a gradual instead of an instantaneous work, and will
do so if it act naturally. We are accustomed to the
idea of a limit to the Divine power in dealing with
one individual man ; that God cannot force an indi-
vidual to do good acts against his will, but that his
will mysteriously, yet still actually or in fact, has a
power of resisting the Divine will ; but we do not think
of society resisting God ; the race resisting Him. Yet
the same limitation which attaches to the Divine omni-
potence dealing with one man, applies also to the same
attribute in dealing with mankind collectively: it
applies to the advancement of the human race, morally
and intellectually, and to Divine revelation as the
means of such advancement, just as much as it applies
to one man, and to ordinary grace as an influencer.
This instantaneous enlightenment of mankind by reve-
lation is a wild notion ; it is a method of dealing with
man as a mass, which is utterly at variance with the
conditions which attach to the Divine omnipotence in
dealing with man as an individual. Is there in one
individual an inherent vis inertia, a stubbornness
which is capable of effectively withstanding the Divine
influence and desire for his good ; and even if it yield
finally, can first withstand it from time to time, thus
necessitating successive applications of the Divine

a Progressive Revelation. 247

moving power? The same principle applies to the
Divine action upon the race. This stubbornness and vis
inertia exists in the race ; nor is collective humanity
by its own inherent constitution capable of being
raised to such a level of truth by an instantaneous
leap, as it can be made to attain by a long dis-

The difficulty of a slow and progressive revelation,
as being inconsistent with the Divine omnipotence, is
thus only the fundamental difficulty of the Divine
power and man's free will. The Divine power acts in
a man's conversion, but it is quite consistent with that
power acting, that it should act gradually, and only be
able to act gradually. In the same way, there is
nothing unreasonable in the idea and notion that the
human race can be elevated and improved by a Divine
dispensation, and yet that that Divine dispensation may
be only able to improve and elevate it gradually. The
advance and progress may still be proved to have been
owing to that dispensation, because it may appear that
that result has only in fact been ultimately attained in
conjunction with it.

It must be remembered that that which the Deity
communicates with, when He makes a revelation to
man, is his reason; and that a revelation does not
profess to change the reason of man, or to substitute
one kind of reason for another kind, when it com-
municates fresh truth. It does not profess to alter the
fundamental mode of thought in man, or the pace
which is natural to the operations of reason.

Eevelation, in imparting what it does impart to man,

248 The End the Test of

takes reason as it finds it, with all its imperfections, with
its slow reception of whatever is new, and its hesitation
and irregularity. Eevelation does not, with the new
truth it gives, create a new instrument for receiving
that truth. That which is imparted is new indeed, but
that which receives what is imparted is the natural
understanding of man, which specially requires time.
That is to say, when a revelation is given to man, it is
man to whom it is given ; and he gets out of it what it
contains according to the natural constitution of his
mind. Moral action goes with intellectual. But God,
so to speak, cannot force moral action upon him ; and
we find that the same obstruction which there is to the
Divine power in the case of an individual and his im-
provement, exists also in the case of the race and its
improvement ; that the same obstruction which is in
the way of conversion immediately, exists in the way
of enlightenment by revelation immediately. Free
will is equally at the bottom of the slowness with
which both processes take place; that process by
which truths are seen and come to light, and that by
which moral changes take place.

But it may be objected, when we say that revela-
tion cannot produce its effect instantaneously, because
God has created the reason of man with certain habits
and a certain progress and pace of its own, which
resist quicker enlightenment, that the very principle
of miracles is that God does produce effects which are
contrary to the institution of certain laws which He
has established in the world for ordinary use. That,
therefore, if there ever is such a thing as a miracle,

a Progressive Revelation. 249

such a thing might be expected to take place in the
case of the action of a revelation ; and that revelation
must be able to produce, and if it can should produce, its
effect upon mankind instantaneously. But it must be
remembered that it is a different thing, a contradic-
tion to a physical law, and a contradiction to the real
will of a real being. A physical law has nothing
wherewith to resist God, Who can as easily make or
do a thing in another way than that of law, as by that
law. A physical law is as nothing, regarding it as
preventing God from acting in any special way. If
this law acts it acts ; but if it does not act, some other
mode does for the occasion. But it is a different thing
when we come to the actual wills of real beings. The
will of man is admitted, (with that reserve which, as
ignorant creatures, we must fall back upon in such
mysterious statements,) as that which has the power
of resisting the will of God. Free will is claimed as a
real attribute of man, power to do or not to do. The
will can resist God's will, and can stop the progress
of a work of God. Is this an intricate view of Divine
dealings, and does putting Divine power under such
checks and conditions as a progressive revelation implies,
seem radically to interfere with the attribute ? This
is an objection which, if it be of any force at all, does
not apply to a progressive revelation specially ; it
applies to the whole idea of a Deity, as compatible
with human free will. Human free will is an internal
modification of the idea of God, which is only pre-
vented from interfering injuriously with the idea, by
the intervention of our resort to ignorance. As

250 The End the Test of

ignorant creatures we are not entitled to say that
apparent limitations of the Divine power are real ones,
because they may be only such as the mathematical
consistency of truth itself imposes ; that is only
verbal restrictions upon power, and not real ones. To
the intellectual conception, however, the idea of God
is thus an idea with checks and conditions in it ; and
those who would simplify it absolutely, would establish
an idol and not a God. If we invent an idol, all is
plain enough ; there are no enigmas in an idol ; there
are no reasons why individuals cannot be converted in
an instant, and why the human race cannot be enlight-
ened in an instant by an abstract Omnipotence. But
if we suppose the Deity to be the Being we represent
Him in our sermons, our popular treatises, our exhorta-
tions, who cannot do some things, and cannot change
man without his own concurrence, this is a Deity who
cannot give enlightenment or implant a revelation in
man by an instantaneous act. Nor does the God of
the Jewish covenant do this. Simply, He does not do
what God, in our ordinary common-sense conception
of Him, does not do.

To sum up the argument, I explained in a former
Lecture that it was the peculiarity of the Jewish dis-
pensation that it was both present and prospective in
its design ; that it worked for a future end, while it
provided also for the existing wants of man.

The system having thus a double aim, it is obvious
that of these two objects, that which is prior and takes
the first place in the intention of the system is the
end. In what did the dispensation actually result ?

a Progressive Revelation. 251

In a perfect moral standard. Then we only argue
upon ordinary rules of evidence when we say that
that was the intention of the dispensation, and that
that was the intention even while its morality was
actually imperfect. The morality of the Author of
the dispensation is the true morality of the dispensa-
tion; the final morals are the true morals, the tempo-
rary are but scaffolding ; the true morals are con-
tained in the end and in the whole.

Popular critics of the morality of the Old Testa-
ment apply the coarsest possible arguments to this
subject. They think it enough to point to a rude
penal law, to a barbarous custom, to an extirpating
warfare, and it at once follows that this is the morality
of the Bible ; but this is to judge the sculptor from
the broken fragment of stone. It was not the morality
of the Bible unless it was the morality of the Bible as
a whole, and the whole is tested by the end and not
by the beginning. Scripture was progressive : it
went from lower stage to higher, and as it rose from
one stage to another it blotted out the commands of
an inferior standard and substituted the commands of
a higher standard. This was the nature of the dis-
pensation as being progressive ; it was the essential
operation of the Divine government as it acted in
that period of the world. The dispensation, then,
as a whole, did not command the extermination
of the Canaanites, but a subordinate step did ;
and this step passed from use and sight as a
higher was attained. The fact, though instruct-
ive as past history, became obsolete, and was left

252 The End the Test of

behind as a present lesson ; and the dispensation
in its own nature was represented by its end. The
very lower steps led to the end, and were for the
sake of leading to it. The critic adheres to a class
of commands which existed for the moment, as facts
of the day; but the turning point is the issue, and
the whole can only be interpreted by the event. The
morality of Scripture is the morality of the end of
Scripture ; it is the last standard reached, and what
everything else led up to.

Nothing, then, can be cruder and more rude than
to identify Scripture with the action of the day. In
the eyes of some, the action of the day is the self-
evident morality of Scripture, and no argument is
thought necessary ; but whatever the facts may be,
it is a fundamental mistake to suppose that there
is any conclusion to be got from them, except
through the defile of an argument. In assuming a
God in the dispensation, we assume a presiding mind
and intention ; and of that intention not the imme-
diate fact, but the upshot of the dispensation is the
test. We say the upshot is worth all the extraordi-
nary and apparently lowering accommodation, the
stooping process, and humiliation of the Divine govern-
ment. God allowed, during all those ages, rude men
to think of Him as one of themselves, acting with the
rudest and dimmest idea of justice. But He conde-
scended at the moment, to prevail and conquer in
the end. In entering into and accepting their con-
fused ideas, He grappled with them. Through what
a chaos of mistakes did final light arise, and the true

a Progressive Revelation. 253

idea of justice make its way in the world I And God
tolerated the mistakes, and allowed His commands to
go forth in that shape, but the condescension was
worth the result. It is the result alone which can
explain those accommodations ; but the result does
explain them, and bring them out as successful Divine


O T. AUGUSTINE is perhaps the most marvellous
^ controversial phenomenon which the whole history
of the Church from first to last presents. One great
controversy is usually enough for one man ; but he
conducted, or it may be said finished, three ; the
Manichsean, the Pelagian, and the Donatist. But it
is not so much the number of the controversies which
he conducted, as the vigour and prolific power of his
pen upon each, and the extraordinary force with
which he stamped his own statements permanently
upon the Church, which is the remarkable fact. The
language in which he summed up the Pelagian con-
troversy reigned in the Church and dictated her
formulae ; and after moulding the schools of the
Middle Ages, prescribed the Articles of our own
Church. He was superlatively fitted for fulfilling this
function, as well by his defects as by his gifts and
merits. Armed with superabundant facility of ex-
pression, so that he himself observes that one who
had written so much must have a good deal to answer
for, he was able to hammer any point of view which
he wanted, and which was desirable as a counter-

The Manic hceans. 255

acting one to a pervading heresy, with endless repeti-
tion upon the ear of the Church ; at the same time
varying the forms of speech sufficiently to please and
enliven. In argument he was not too deep ; to have
been so would have very much obstructed his access
to the mind of the mass, and prevented him from
getting hold of the ear of the Church at large.
Nothing could have been more fatal to his influ-
ence than that he should have got himself im-
bedded in some profound question, the solution of
which must only have taken him into lower and still
more difficult depths. He undoubtedly dealt with
profound questions, but his mode of dealing with
them was not such as to entangle him in knots and
intricacies, arising from the disposition to do justice
to all sides of truth. On some subjects of contro-
versy, as on the Manichsean, his line was clearly laid
down for him in Scripture, in the assertion of one
God of infinite power and goodness, to which Mani-
chaeanism was a direct contradiction ; though here he
had perhaps in parts and branches of the controversy
rather neat answers, than full or final answers. In
the Pelagian controversy he had one side of truth, and
one fundamental and conspicuous assertion of Scrip-
ture, to defend, of which the Pelagian doctrine was an
audacious denial ; but he did not allow the unity and

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Online LibraryJ. B. (James Bowling) MozleyRuling ideas in early ages and their relation to Old Testament faith; lectures delivered to graduates of the University of Oxford → online text (page 17 of 22)