Nathaniel Hillyer. Egleston.

The North American review (Volume 139) online

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with God, the fountain of all wisdom and goodness."

These voices come to us from out the old heathen world j
but, judging them by their spirit and contents, they are as worthy
to be counted divine as some of the sayings in " Solomon's
Song." " Rare flowers from the garden of nature/ 7 evangelical
sentiment calls these wise and weighty utterances ; but we may
be bold to say of them, without fear of irreverence, " All these
worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man
severally as he will." For St. Paul himself places precisely such
an estimate upon certain utterances of heathen wisdom, accord
ing to unambiguous statements of the New Testament. From
his Hellenistic training and associations at Tarsus, he had be
come acquainted, it would seem, with Greek writers; which
knowledge he does not disdain to use as a Christian missionary ;
of which fact the record of his visit to Athens presents a striking
instance. In the conduct of his great argument on Mars Hill,
he accordingly cites, in support of the doctrine of the universal
fatherhood of God, a line from the poet Aratus, affirming the
broad generous truth.* In the First Epistle to the Corinthians,
again (ch. xv. v. 33), he gives us, approvingly, a sentiment from
Menander " Evil communications corrupt good manners " ;
while in the letter to Titus (ch. i. v. 12), he refers to Epimenides
as a " prophet." Thus, words from heathen authors have become
part of what we hold to be supremely inspired Scripture, and are
themselves therefore inspired. But the inspiration did not come
into them, surely, in the mere process of citation, or of trans
cription ; it must have been in the words, or in the truth they
expressed, when they came from the original writers.t

"We must therefore enlarge our conception of the sphere and
function of inspiration, and that under requirement of Bible
authority and precedent. St. Paul being judge, other men than
Hebrew prophets and Christian apostles have been " moved by

* Or the words may be from a hymn to Jove, by Cleanthes. The sentence
is almost identical in form in both authors.

t See a curious notion of Cardinal Newman to the contrary of this, in
"The Nineteenth Century," for February, 1884, where he tells us that all
that is required to secure the quality of inspiration to a writing is "an in
spired editor ! " But how can the merely editorial function possibly convey
to a writing any essential quality that it had not before ?


the Holy Ghost " to the utterance of divine and everlasting truth.
Says Farrar :

" God lias spoken to men rcoXojAspdis ual TroXoTp6it<L<;, ' at sundry times and
in divers manners/ with a richly variegated wisdom. Sometimes he has
taught truth by the voice of Hebrew prophets ; sometimes by the voice of
Pagan philosophers ; and all his voices demand our listening ear. If it was
given to the Jew to speak with diviner insight and intenser power, it was
given to the Gentile, also, to speak at times with a large and lofty utterance ;
and we may learn truth from men of alien lips and another tongue. They,
too, had the dream, the vision, the dark saying upon the harp, the mystic
flashes upon the graven gems ..... We cannot afford to lose these
heathen testimonies to Christian truth, or to hush the glorious utterances of
Muse and Sybil, which have outlived l the drums and tramplings of a hundred
triumphs.' "

Doubtless, the highest and best of the Spirit's work in and
over men's minds and hearts has been gathered up, by a law of
" natural selection/ 7 so to speak, into the volume that we there
fore hold to be inspired xai' eSox-Jjv. Such honor cannot be claimed
for it exclusively, however, but only in excellence of degree.
The Divine Father has been in living contact with men through
other avenues of intercourse than book-revelations, and far be
yond the limits of the Jewish and Christian Churches. The
light supernal has, no doubt, shone most clearly, and fullest, in
and through them ; but human reason, too, has been a " candle
of the Lord " ; the conscience has been a prophetic voice in the
moral conduct of life, men doing by nature the works of a law
that they knew not, otherwise than as written in their hearts.
These, also, are among the " fruits of the Spirit " ; with all that
is true and wholesome in art, in literature, in social order, in
civilization, in a word. And in any definition of inspiration that
theology may hereafter summon courage to frame, room must
be found for these things, as, in their place and degree, religious
and divine.

But while our conventional theory of inspiration, so far as it
has any definite character or compass at all, is thus demon-
strably very much too narrow, in one important respect it is
very much too wide. In the mental processes of nearly all our
religious teachers and their disciples, inspiration is assumed to
carry with it an absolute infallibility ; one broad, concrete, per
manent consequence of which is, our possessing a collection of
writings distinguished from all others by this one quality of in-


fallibility j which quality, according to traditional estimate,
appertains in equal degree to every part of the composite whole
that we know as the Bible j every sentence of which, every word
of which, indeed, is charged to the full with the heavenly
unction, having been dictated to lawgiver, or prophet, or
apostle, by the Holy Ghost, and is therefore infallible. This is
the theory that has been held inviolable by our evangelical
orthodoxy in general, down to our own time ; and that in spite
of protest and exposure from nearly all the great scholars of all
Christian creeds and schools ever since the revival of learning.
For the manifold assumption, applied to the Bible as a whole,
has very little valid authority to sustain it j but, having once been
received into confidence by the devout, ere critical learning had
begun its labors, it has been impossible, or it has been deemed
inexpedient, to dislodge it, as it is still approved by church
" standards n as one of the articuli stantis vel cadentis ecclesice.
How the assumption gained general acceptance, and so long re
tained it, among the faithful, history shows us. Jewish doctors
of the earlier schools drew strong lines of demarkation, as we
know, between the inspiration and authority of the several sec
tions into which they divided Sacred Scripture the Law, the
Prophets, and the rest of the books, grouped under the designa
tion Ketubim, or Hagiographa; but a superstitious reverence
soon abolished all such distinctions, every part of the canonical
collection of writings being credited at length with a plenary
inspiration and infallibility ; * which lofty estimate of the
ancient Scriptures was passively accepted by the early fathers
of the Christian Church. Not till the time of Jerome was there
any application of the genuine critical faculty to the mass of in
herited literature deemed all alike sacred ; and even then only
in a timid, tentative way ; his labors exposing him to reproach
as tending to undermine the authority of the "Word of God. For
neither was the time ripe, nor were the necessary implements in
hand, for the formation of a critically discriminated estimate of
writings that an idolatrous affection deemed it sacrilege to
touch. The leading lights of the church were busy, moreover,
with work of another sort, in multiplying and elaborating
theological speculations and refinements, and in supplanting the

* A special preeminence was always assigned to the books ascribed to
Moses, however.


claims of an infallible book, by asserting, in effect, the superior
claims of an infallible church. And so the work of investiga
tion into the origin and true character of the canonical Scrip
tures had to wait for more luminous days, and for better
equipped workmen ; the intellect of Christendom lying almost
suffocated for centuries under heaps of ecclesiastical disputa
tions and decisions. Here and there a man of learning and
insight, and of erratic courage, like Abelard, dared to breast
the heavy current of Jewish and patristic tradition, but their
daring was denounced as heresy. For the "Western Church
cared little for critical studies, except to discourage them. The
infallibility it was chiefly concerned about was impersonated in
the Pope.

But an insurrection was rapidly approaching against all
such authority. The " new learning " was spreading through
Europe 5 schools and colleges were increasing ; the printing-
press began its work ; absolute authority over the intellect and
conscience was dethroned over large spaces of Christendom j all
these being signs of a very threatening significance for the old,
ecclesiastical hierarchy. But strange enough, as it may seem to
some, and yet not strange to the discerning, the causes that con
spired to relax the tyrannous hold of the church over men's
minds, only tended to strengthen the old superstitious venera
tion for the Bible. Men cast away very generally their faith in
an infallible church ; but, as if the Christian life were impossi
ble without the support of infallibility of some sort, they betook
themselves the more eagerly and the more trustingly to an in
fallible book. And thus, from the epoch whence we date the
birth of a larger intellectual liberty in Christendom, and at
which we catch almost the first breath of an honest and com
petent criticism, from that period has come down to us the
driest, hardest, most irrational, and relentlessly dogmatic bib-
liolatry ever known in the religious world ; and chiefly from the
pressure of the historical exigency just indicated, the keenly-
felt need of some other infallibility to take the place of the dis
carded infallibility of the church. * Some of the first Reformers

* This frank statement may please those who long for the restoration of
the autocratic authority of the church. Yet is the wish foolish. Revolutions
never go backward. The church, while in possession of absolute power,
almost wearied the world of her presence. See Art. XIX. of the Church of
England's famous Thirty-nine.


were large-minded and free in their estimates of Holy Scrip
tures, particularly Luther j who, though declaring at one time
that, "one letter, yea, a single tittle, of Scripture, is of
more and greater consequence than heaven and earth," never
theless exercised an un trammeled judgment on these matters j
boldly setting aside, " not only the strict inspiration, but the
divine authority " of several books of the Old and New Testa
ments. Such freedom was in part the consequence of a fervent
faith in one of the leading tenets of Protestantism, viz., that a
considerable part of the Old Testament was useless, and in
effect dead, for the evangelical believer since " grace and
truth " had come through Jesus Christ. But, as in later Juda
ism, an unreasoning reverence prevailed over the discrimina
tions of criticism, and soon verbal inspiration and an absolute
infallibility were claimed, with stronger emphasis than ever, for
every part of the Bible ; the writers of the several books being
regarded as simply the amanuenses of the Holy Ghost, an infalli
ble inspiration being asserted for even the vowel-points and
accents of the sacred text.

Such extravagance was rebuked or corrected, from time to
time, by men of culture and of conscience, among Evangelicals
and among Romanists ; conspicuously and most effectively by
Erasmus, since whose rummaging among musty manuscripts,
and the publication of his annotations to the New Testament,
there has been no peace for believers in verbal infallibility.
What is the theory worth, at best, to those who, for more than
two thousand years, have had to rely upon translations to get at
the pure truth of God ? Unless the church has had a perennial
supply of Dr. Newman's "inspired editors" all along, able to
detect instinctively all mistakes of copyists, the claim to verbal
infallibility in behalf of the Bible is absurd. But the book itself
in its inherent character refutes the claim. One sacred writer
very frequently cites the doctrine of an earlier, as so often in the
New Testament ; but very seldom is any importance attached to
the words in which the doctrine had been expressed. Chief
regard is had to the thought or truth of the elder writer, the
citation being sometimes very different in its verbal dress. Not
only so, but in the various accounts we have of the same fact or
event in sacred history, we have the largest and most conflicting
diversity in the words employed in the records. For which
version, then, is plenary inspiration to be claimed ? Or what
VOL. cxxxix. NO. 334. 17


becomes of the notion of verbal infallibility in such cases I In
respect to the writing over the Cross, for example, one evan
gelist asserts that the inscription ran thus: "This is Jesus
the King of the Jews " j another, that it stood thus, simply :
"The King of the Jews"; another puts it thus: "This is the
King of the Jews"; and another thus: " Jesus of Nazareth, the
King of the Jews." Which of these is verbally infallible?
Surely it were enough to say that all the four bear witness to
the infallibility of the substantial fact, which each gives in his
own way. Or, again, how can we prefer the claim of infallibility
in behalf of all the four or five widely divergent controversial
ists in the Book of Job ? or for the conflicting sentiments and
reflections of the wise but moody author of the Book of Ecclesi-
astes ? Or how can we honestly apply the claim not only to the
pure, sweet, and sublimely devout utterances in the Book of
Psalms, but also to the angry and sometimes horrible impreca
tions in that same justly cherished collection of sacred songs ?
I know that orthodox commentators, deeming the imprecations
unworthy the lips of David or of other Hebrew singers repre
sented in the collection, have dared to transfer them as prophe
cies to the lips of Jesus Christ ; but a more outrageous insult
was never done to the intelligent faith and affection of those
who honor " the name that is above every name.' 7

The spirit and purpose of this article will be misjudged if it
be construed as an unqualified onslaught upon the doctrines
indicated in the title. Both inspiration and infallibility are
here affirmed, and emphasized, as predicable of the Biblical
writings ; but not indiscriminately. Inspiration is a power of
many differing degrees, not wholly confined to men or matters
professionally sacred. No just exception can be taken to the
phrase " verbal inspiration " when reasonably interpreted ; for
words have been and are often inspired, as being the utterances
of inspired men. While an absolute infallibility may be con
ceded to some sayings that have come down to us, to those of
the Lord Jesus Christ, to wit, so far as we can get at them.
But for all the essential needs of the Christian life, all we can
ask, for our guidance and comfort, is a moral infallibility ; and
Christ has told us how we may attain to that. " If any man
will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine that it is of God."
And surely that should content any who may have been near


breaking down into tears, saying, "What shall we do, if you
destroy our trust in the infallible Word ? "

Let us have done with all timid concealments, all sophistica
tions, all turgid talk, and with all cant, in the cause of religion.

Says Professor Jowett, in " Essays and Reviews n :

" When interpreted like any other book, by the same rules of evidence,
and by the same canons of criticism, the Bible will remain unlike any other
book : its beauty will be freshly seen, as of a picture which is restored,
after many ages, to its original state ; it will create a new interest, and
make for itself a new kind of authority, by the life that is in it. It will be a
spirit, and not a letter, as it was at the beginning ; having an influence like
that of the spoken word, or the book newly found. The purer the light in
the human heart, the more it will have an expression of itself in the mind of

Christ No one can form any notion, from what we see around us,

of the power which Christianity might have if it were at one with the con
science of man, and not at variance with his intellectual convictions."



WITHIN the past few years a new interest has been awakened
in questions relating to marriage and divorce, many of the ablest
men in England, France, and America taking part in the discus
sion. In the prolonged debate on " the deceased wife's sister's bill, 77
in the British Parliament, we have had the opinions of the lead
ing men of England as to what constitutes marriage, and the best
conditions to insure the happiness and stability of home life. In
the French Chamber of Deputies, where a divorce bill* has been
pending for years, the social relations have been as exhaustively
discussed. And now, the proposition to secure a general law of
divorce in the United States, by an amendment to the national
constitution, must necessarily arouse a wide-spread agitation in
this country.

When a distinguished Judge of the Supreme Court of
New York, in an able article in one of our most liberal re
views, suggests important changes that should be made in our
laws regulating the marriage relation, it is time for every good
citizen to give a candid consideration to this subject. With
many points made by Judge Noah Davis most thoughtful minds
must agree, viz., the wisdom of having uniform laws in every
State } more stringent laws against early marriages ; the same
moral code for men and women ; that marriage should be regu
lated by the State, by the civil and not the canon law, wholly
independent of church interference, unless the parties desire to
solemnize the contract with its ceremonies. Thus far I agree
with Judge Davis ; but there are a few other equally vital points
that I would suggest to him for reconsideration.

In common with the British Parliament, the Chamber of
Deputies, and the general spirit of our laws, he regards marriage
too much as a physical union, wholly in its material bearings,

* Introduced by M. Naquet.



and from the man's stand-point. He says : " Restrictions ought
to be imposed on the marriage of infants. The common-law
rule of twelve years for females and fourteen for males is not a
fit or decent one for this country. The age should be at least
fifteen and eighteen years. 77 On what principle, I would ask,
should the party on whom all the inevitable hardships of
marriage must fall, be the younger to enter the relation ? Girls
do not get their full growth until twenty-five, and are wholly
unfit at fifteen for the trials of maternity. Both mother and
child are enfeebled in such premature relations, and the girl
robbed of all freedom and sentiment just as she awakes to the
sweetest dreams of life. Few fathers or mothers would consent
to the marriage of a daughter of fifteen, and the state, by wise
laws, should reflect the common sense of the people. What
knowledge can a girl of fifteen have of the great problems of
social life, of the character of a husband, of the friendship and
love of which the true marriage should be an outgrowth ?

The state not only views marriage as a physical union and a
civil contract, but seemingly as of inferior importance to all
other contracts. A legal contract for a section of land requires
that the parties be of age and of sound mind ; that there be no
flaw in the title, no liens or mortgages thereon not specified ; and
that the agreement be in writing, with the names of parties and
witnesses duly affixed, stamped with the seal of the state, and
recorded in the office of the county clerk. But a legal marriage,
in most of the states, may be contracted between a boy of four
teen and a girl of twelve, without the consent of parents or
guardians, without publication of banns, without witnesses,
without even the signatures of the parties, the presence of a
priest, or of any officer of the state.

Though we are taught to regard France, of all European
nations, most lax in social morals, yet her legislation on marriage
is far more stringent than ours. By French law the husband
must be eighteen, the wife fifteen. The consent of the parents
or guardians of both parties is required, and, in case of their
refusal, the contract cannot be made until the man is twenty-five,
and the woman twenty-one. The marriage must be preceded by
the publication of the banns, and the ceremony performed by
a public official, at his office, in the presence of four witnesses.
It is, moreover, recorded in two special registers, one of which is
deposited in the archives of the state. Yet, while this contract


may be formed so ignorantly, thoughtlessly, and irreverently
in the United States, the whole power of law, religion, and
public sentiment are now about to be summoned to enforce its
continuance, without regard to the happiness or misery of the

Judge Davis speaks of divorce as the foe of marriage. He
makes this mistake throughout his article. Divorce is not
the foe of marriage. Adultery, intemperance, licentiousness
are its foes. One might as well speak of medicine as the
foe of health. Again, in surbordinating the individual to the
state, the premises of Judge Davis are unsound. He says, " the
interests of society are first and paramount, those of indi
viduals secondary and subordinate." "We have so often heard
the declaration that the individual must be sacrificed to
society that we have come to think their interests lie in
different directions; whereas, the reverse of this proposition
is true. Whatever promotes the best interests of the indi
vidual promotes the best interests of society, and vice versa.
The normal condition of adult men and women is one of indi
vidual independence, of freedom, and of equality j their first duty,
the full development of their own faculties and powers, with a
natural right to life, liberty, and happiness, and of resistance to
all artificial contrivances that endanger life, curtail liberty, or
destroy happiness. The best interests of the individual are the
primal consideration j individual happiness, the only true basis
of a happy home, a united church, a peaceful state, a well organ
ized society. " We must first have units," says Emerson, " before
we can have unions." We must have harmoniously developed
men and women before we can have happy marriages. The
central idea of barbarism has ever been the family, the tribe,
the nation, never the individual. The Roman idea, the pagan
idea, was, that the individual was made for the state. The Chris
tian idea is the sacredness of the individual, superior to all
human institutions. It was this central truth, taught by the
great founder of our religion, that gave Christianity such a hold
on the people, slowly molding popular thought to the higher
idea, culminating at last in the Protestant Reformation and a
Republican Government, alike based on individual rights, on
individual conscience and judgment.

In regard to Judge Davis's proposition for an amendment
to the national constitution, to make the laws homogeneous


from Maine to Texas, the question naturally suggests itself,
On what basis should this general law be enacted ? On the pro
gressively freer divorce laws that the true American sover
eign of the West will surely demand, or on more restrictive
legislation ? It is evident that Judge Davis inclines to the latter j
but in selecting South Carolina as his standard of " peace, purity,
and felicity " in family life, because no divorce laws have ex
isted there, he is most unfortunate alike in his philosophy and
his statistics. From 1872 to 1878, divorces were obtainable for
adultery in South Carolina, but none were granted. In 1878 the
law was repealed. Judge Davis indicates, in a very indefinite
manner, the result of having no divorce law in South Carolina ;
he says : " I am greatly misinformed if in that State the peace,
purity, and felicity of families do not maintain a far higher
standard than in States where divorces are the chronic mischief
and misery of domestic life." I will prove by judicial evidence
the disastrous effect that the want of a divorce law has had on
the family life of South Carolina, the only State in the Union in

Online LibraryNathaniel Hillyer. EglestonThe North American review (Volume 139) → online text (page 23 of 60)