T. R. (Thomas Rawson) Birks.

The Bible and modern thought online

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REV. T. R. PIRKS, M. A.,






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The present volume was written last Spring, in com-
pliance with a request from the Committee of the Tract
Society, in order to supply some antidote, in a popular
form, to that dangerous school of thought, which denies
the miracles of the Bible, explains away its prophecies,
and sets aside its Divine authority. Various circum-
stances have occasioned some unexpected delay in its
publication. Though suggested by the appearance of
the Essays and Reviews, which have gained so wide a
notoriety, it is not, of course, a direct and formal reply
to them. It is designed for the use of thoughtful Chris-
tians, or serious inquirers, who may have been per-
plexed by modern speculations, and not for scholars
and learned divines. My aim has been to treat the
subject of the Christian evidences and the authority of
the Bible in a simple, clear, and solid style of argu-
ment, logically connected and continuous ; and to deal
with recent objections only so far as they lie directly
in the way, and, like the lions in the allegory, block
up the road of the Christian pilgrim to the palace of

heavenly truth. At the same time, the fourth chapter,



on the Reasonableness of Miracles ; the eighth, on the
Prophecies of the Old Testament; the twelfth and
thirteenth, on the Interpretation of Scripture, and on
its Alleged Discrepancies ; the fourteenth and fifteenth,
on Modern Science ; and the sixteenth, on the Bible
and Natural Conscience, contain a full discussion of
the principles advanced in the Third, the Second, the
Seventh, the Fifth, and the First Essays. But my
desire has been not so much to detect and expose error
as to unfold the truth, and guide the minds of sincere
inquirers into a well-grounded faith in the truth, wis-
dom, harmony, and Divine authority of the Gospel, and
of the written Word of Grod. May it please the Holy
Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, to use it, however
humble in itself, for a help to the faith of the people
of Christ in these latter days !

Kelshall Rectory, Oct. 10, 1861.


Mr. Birks has evidently well studied the skepticism
of his own day and country; and in the following
work has ably discussed the questions which have come
before him. Modern infidelity is of course charac-
terized by the spirit of the age in which we live.
It is not coarse, daring, open, blasphemous; it does
not attack by ridicule, scurrility, or misrepresentation.
The ribaldry of Voltaire and Paine would offend and
disgust our age, and their works are no longer read.
The infidelity of our day is refined, respectful, subtile,
analytical; it wears the appearance of candor and sin-
cerity; the writer seems to be ingenuously searching
after truth ; he claims to be " an honest skeptic." He
does not level his heavy artillery against the outer
intrenchments ; these have so long and so effectually
hurled back his attacks that their invulnerability seems
to be conceded. With guns of much longer range,
and with much more accurate aim, he attacks the
citadel itself, and hopes to find some weakness in its
inner works.

Laying aside the figure, infidelity no longer contends

against the historical evidences of the Bible ; it no


6 editor's preface.

longer charges the sacred writers Avith imposture, dis-
honesty, and collusion; it accepts th( antiquity, the
genuineness, and almost the authenticity of the Scrip-
tures. It concedes to the Bible a high degree of
historical value and antiquarian interest; it extols its
poetical beauties; it praises its lofty aim and pure
morality; it even recognizes in the sacred penmen
deep religious feeling; yet can not acknowledge their
Divine inspiration, nor accept their teachings as the
only and infallible messages of truth. In brief, the
Bible is to the modern infidel a most excellent book
in every respect — literary, historical, moral, and re-
ligious — but is not a revelation from God.

To meet these new and subtile attacks we need new
champions. The attack comes from a new quarter; it
must be met on new ground. It shows its true char-
acter best in Great Britain; in England, therefore, we
expect to find its ablest opponents. Our author ranks
in this class. He sees clearly, understands his work
well, and writes forcibly. He does not evade the real
points at issue, but enters fully and fairly into the
subtile and delicate questions which lie back of all
questions of mere historical credibility, and, conceding
to a considerable extent the honesty of modern in-
quiry, he candidly meets and discusses the real diffi-
culties which the skeptic presents. We bespeak for
this work a cordial reception in this country.

I. W. Wiley.

Cincinnati, July, 1864.



Introduction IS

Infidelity defined, 13 ; its changing forms, 13 ; covert infidelity, 14 ;
its praise of the Bible, 14, 15; need of spiritual discernment, 17;
questions to be answered, 18, 19.


The Nature of Divine Revelation 20

Truths implied — 1. The being of God, 20 ; 2. Reality of crea-
tion, 21 ; 3. Divine Nature capable of being revealed, 22 ; 4.
Man capable of Divine knowledge, 24 ; 5. The fallen condition
of man, 25 ; theory of the " Absolute Religion,"' 27 ; doctrine of
the Fall, the key to supernatural revelation, 29.


Man's Need of Divine Revelation 33

Objection of the Theist, 33 ; the need proved by facts, 34 ; due to
man's corruption, 35 ; no disparagement of natural religion, 36 ;
kinds of inspiration distinguished, 37 ; a true revelation no bur-
den, but a blessing, 38.


The SupERNATTjKAL Claims to Christianity 40

The main question — is Christianity human or Divine ? 40 ; first ap-
peal to the Bible itself, 40 ; midway position untenable in the
presence of its claims, 41 ; St. Matthew's Gospel, 42 ; St. Mark
and St. Luke, 46; St. John's Gospel, 47; Book of Acts, 60;
Apostolic Epistles, 53. Conclusion, a supernatural claim of the
essence of Christianity, 60.



The Reasonableness of Miracles 61

{Examination of Third Eaaay^)
Appeal to miracles by Moses, 61 ; our Lord himself and the apostles,
61 ; recent objections, 63. I. Charges against Christian advocates^
63 ; reply, 64 ; an inquirer not a judge, 65 ; reasoning consistent
with moral guilt of unbelief, 67 ; historical and moral evidence
rightly mingled, 68; belief not a simple act of will, 68; right
order of honest inquiry, 69 ; moral preparation needed, 70. II.
Objections to miracles stated, 73 ; Scripture view of their origin,
75 ; imply a ^Ise view of induction, 76 ; false view of the con-
stancy of natural law, 77 ; false definition of miracles, 79 ; contra-
dictions of the skeptical argument, 80. III. Objections to mira-
cles as evidence, 82 ; definition of miracles, 84 ; their main use,
87; relation of external and internal evidence, 88; result of the
inquiry, 91.


The Historical Truth op the New Testament 95

Historical character of the Bible, 95 ; assaults on the Gospels and
Pentateuch, 96 ; preliminary remarks, 98 ; the Book of Acts to the
death of Herod, 103 ; to St. Paul's voyage, 107 ; internal harmony,
112 ; the four Gospels — times, 114 ; places and persons, 117 ; rec-
oncilable diversity, 119.


The Historical Truth of the Old Testament 123

I. From the Captivity to Christ — Limits in time, 123 ; absence of
miracle, 126 ; chronological distinctness, 127 ; fullness of detail,
129 ; Book of Esther, 130. II. From Solomon to the Captivity.
Chronology, 132; heathen history, 133; Kings and Chronicles,
136 ; prophetic books, 137. III. From the Conquest to Solomon.
General remarks, 139 ; Book of Joshua, 142 ; Book of Judges, 147 ;
its chronology, 150. IV. The Pentateuch, 152 ; results of induc-
tion, 153.


The Miracles of the Bible 166

Circular reasoning of modern skeptics, 155. I. Infrequenoy of mira-
cles, 156. II. Their publicity, 160. III. Their consistent plan,
162. IV. Their moral purpose, 167.


The Prophecies op the Old Testament 169

{Remarks on the Second Essay.)
Christianity, an appeal to miracles, 169; and to prophecy, 169; ex-
amples in the Gospels, 170; their wide range, 170; recent objec-
tions examined, 176 ; prophecy, Isa. vii-ix, 179 ; later prophecies
of Isaiah, 184; Book of Daniel, its genuineness, 192; conclusion,


Christianity and Written Revelation 204

Reception of the Bible, a corollary of Christian faith, 204 ; general
outline of the argument, 206 ; stage of doubt, 208 ; faith in the
Gospel, and in the inspiration of the Bible, distinct, though closely
united, 210; inspiration, a positive idea, 213; entrance of written
revelation, a great era, 214 ; its uses and reasons, 215 ; its original
perfection inferred, 217.


The Inspiration of the Old Testament 220

Solemn introduction of written revelation, 220 ; testimonies of our
Lord himself — 1. The temptation, 221 ; 2. Galilean ministry,
222 ; 3. Sermon on the Mount, 223 ; 4. Charge to the leper, 225 ;
5. Testimony to the Baptist, 225 ; 6. Matthew xii, 3-7, 226 ; 7.
Teaching in parables, 227 ; 8. Tradition, Matthew xv, 1-9, 227 ; 9.
The Transfiguration, 228; 10. Divorce, 229; 11. Entrance to
Jerusalem, 229 ; 12. Answers to Sadducees, 231 ; 13. Matthew
xxiii, 232; 14. The passion, 233; 15, 16. St. Luke's Gospel, 234,
235 ; later books, 237 ; general conclusion, 238.


The Inspiration of the New Testament 240

Evidence less direct, 240. I. Analogy of the Old Testament, 241 ;
II. Special nature of the new dispensation, 242. III. Resem-
blance in structure of New and Old Testament, 244. IV. Prom-
ises to the apostles, 245. V. Their rank compared with the
prophets, 247. VI. Testimonies in St. Paul's Epistles to their
own inspiration, 248. VII. And to the Gospels and Acts, 251.
VIII. Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude, 254. IX. Writings of
St. John, 257. Conclusion, 260.


The Interpretation of Scripture. 261

[Remarks on the Seventh Essay.)
Amount of Biblical literature, 261 ; temptation thus occasioned, 261 ;
recoil from the maxim of Vincentius, 262; counter maxim of the
Seventh Essay delusive, 263 ; Bible to be studied naturally, 264 ;
its inspiration not mechanical, 265 ; reverently, as the voice of the
Spirit, 267 ; confusion of the negative criticism, 271 ; contrast in
two examples, 273 ; value of human helps, 276 ; real certainty of
Bible theology, 280.

On Alleged Discbepanoies of the Bible 282

Theory of partial inspiration, 282 ; its difficulties, 283 ; divergence
not contradiction, 284; variety one element of the true definition,
Heb. i^y^Q^b; Scriptures a condensed record, 286; silence, no
proof of ignorance, 287 j inferences not assertions, 288. I. Dis-
crepancies alleged in the Essays, 290. II. Prolegomena to the
New Testament, 295.

The Bible and Modern Science 308

{Examination of the Fifth Essay.)
Question stated, 308 ; its true limits, 309 ; astronomical objection,
310 ; based on three errors, 311 ; geological difficulties, 316 ; opti-
cal representation, 318; break in Gen. i, 2, 324; events of fourth
day, 330 ; the firmament, 331 ; true relation of Genesis and geol-
ogy, 333-335.


The same continued 336

All the Bible of Divine authority, 336 ; contains materials of sci-
ences, not sciences themselves, 340.

The Bible and Natural Conscience 350

[BenunrJce on the First Essay.)
Question stated, 350; direct authority of Scripture, 352; conscience
not absolute or supreme, 358 ; its true nature, 360 ; no mediator,
361 ; needs to bo corrected and purified by the Word of God, 362;
the Gospel, a;i external autliurity, 368.


The Historical Unity of the Bible 371

I. The historical character of the Bible a mark of the Divine
Wisdom, 372. II. Its unity of purpose a proof of its Divine
origin, 375. III. Continuity of outline a distinctive feature, 377.
IV. Simplicity of style, 379. V. Condensation of the Bible his-
tories, 381. VI. The Pentateuch, 383. VII. Later historical
books, 387. VIII. The (Gospels, 392. IX. The Acts of the Apoa-
tles, 397. Conclusion, 401.


The Doctrinal Unity of the Bible 402

I. Doctrinal harmony in all the main topics of religions faith, 403.
1. The creation, 404; 2. The unity of God, 406; 3. The Fall and
corruption of man, 407 ; 4. The doctrine of a Redeemer, 408 : 5.
Salvation by Faith, 409; 6. The need of an atonement, 410 ; 7.
Need of regeneration, 411. II. Harmony in many other particu-
lars, 412 ; contrast between the Old and New Testaments, 413 ; no
real diflference, 413 ; the Law and the Gospel, 415 ; their essential
unity, 420 ; contrast no contradiction, 421.


Chris ianity a Progressive Scheme .423

Object of the Bible, 423; the scheme' of redemption, 423; not a
scheme for the World's education, 424 ; redemption of the world a
progressive scheme, 425 ; spurious theories of progress, 425 ; the
Bible opposed to all such theories, 426 ; the true progress, 427 ;
the promise and Divine forbearance 428 ; the incarnation of
Christ, 430 ; the final triumDh, 432; the Word of God, 434.



Christianity claims to be a Divine revelation, or a
message of truth from the living God to the children of
men, contained, embodied, and recorded in the Scriptures
of the New Testament. It claims, further, to be the sequel
and completion of earlier messages from the same Divine
Author, contained and recorded, in like manner, in the
Scriptures of the Old Testament. Christian faith, in the
widest sense of the term, consists in the admission of this
double claim. Infidelity consists in its rejection and denial.

This denial may assume very different forms. It may be
coarse, arrogant, and abusive, or polite, modest, and refined
in its tone. It may load the Bible with abuse, as a gross
imposture, or admire its poetical beauty, extol its pure
morality, and treat it with the reverence of the scholar and
the antiquarian, as containing some of the choicest prod-
ucts of human intelligence. While one type of infidelity
repels and disgusts by its open blasphemy, another allures
and fascinates ingenuous minds by an air of caution and
candor, and puts on the garb of philosophical research, moral
sensibility, and religious reverence. But these, after all,
may be only varieties of the same unbelief. The question
between the Christian and the infidel does not turn upon

the degree of merit or demerit assigned to the Scriptures,



viewed as merely human compositions. It depends on the
admission or rejection of their Divine authority. Is Chris-
tianity a supernatural message from the living and true
Grod, or a mere product of the natural powers of the hu-
man mind? Is the Bible the voice of God, or only the
voice of some Hebrew historians, poets, and moralists — the
word of God, or the word of man?

The form of infidelity which prevailed at the close of
the last century was daring, open, and blasphemous. It
was bred amid the rottenness of a corrupted Church and a
dissolute society; and ascribing to Christianity all the worst
abuses of both, it kept no terms with "the wretch" it
labored to destroy. The experience of seventy years has
wrought a great change in the tactics of this moral war
fare. The hopes of an ungodly and blaspheming philoso
phy were quenched speedily, under the reign of terror, in
a sea of blood. The liberty, equality, and philanthropy,
which had trodden the Bible under foot, were replaced, in
a few years, by the heaviest yoke of military despotism.
At the same time Christian faith received a fresh impulse,
and began to win new trophies, by the revival of mission-
ary zeal, the increased circulation of the Word of God,
and the spread of the Gospel, through the self-jdenying
labors of faithful men, in almost every part of the heathen

In consequence of these changes, the spirit of unbelief
has revealed itself, of late years, in features less repulsive
but more insidious. It rejects the Divine authority of the
Bible, but is willing to extol its poetical beauty, and to
recognize in it a high degree of historical value and anti-
quarian interest. It acquits the sacred writers of willfiil
imposture, and even gives them praise for high religious
feeling, for deep thought, and lofty imagination, though it
refuses to own that they are the messengers of God. Its


motto is no longer that of the unbelieving Pharaoh — " Who
is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?" It resembles
more nearly the "Hail, Master" of the false apostle, or the
attempt of the spirit of divination to enter into partnership
with the truth, when it cried — " These men are the servants
of the Most High God, which show unto us the way of

This varied and more subtile form of assault on the
authority of the Gospel requires increased discernment and
watchfulness on the part of all the true disciples of Christ.
Open blasphemies are more easily repelled. They revolt us
by their gross impiety, put the conscience at once on its
guard, and may often produce a powerful reaction in favor
of the truth which they assail. But the sapping and min-
ing process of a covert infidelity, which borrows the very
phrases of the Gospel, to give them a philosophical mean-
ing, and will own almost every kind of excellency in the
Scriptures, except the authority of a Divine message, is far
more perilous and seductive to thoughtful and serious
minds. The chasm which separates faith from unbelief,
submission to God from the rejection of his authority, is
bridged over by a thin layer of ambiguous phrases, and
thickly strewn with flowers of fancy, and a sentimental
piety, till it disappears totally from view; and those
who are thorough unbelievers at heart, mistake them-
selves for the genuine disciples of a pure and enlightened

Let us contrast, for example, the ribaldry of Paine and
Voltaire with the following eulogy on the Bible by a mod-
ern ringleader in the attempt to replace Christian faith by
deism or natural religion. It will be evident at once how
total a change has occurred in the weapons of assault; and
what discernment and caution are required in the friends
of truth, that they may not be deceived by smooth and


complimentary phrases, while the foundations of their 'faith
are silently, but vigorously and daringly assailed.

"This collection of books," Mr. Parker writes, "has
taken such hold of the world as no other. The literature
of Greece, which goes up like incense from that land of
temples and heroic deeds, has not half the influence of this
book from a nation despised alike in ancient and modern
times. It is read in all the ten thousand pulpits of our
land. In all the temples of Christendom is its voice lifted
up week by week. The sun never sets on its glowing page.
It goes equally to the cottage of the plain man and the
palace of the king. It is woven into the literature of the
scholar, and colors the talk of the street. It enters men's
closets, mingles in all the grief and cheerfulness of life.
The Bible attends men in sickness, when the fever of the
world is on them. The aching head finds a softer pillow,
when the Bible lies underneath. The mariner, escaping
from shipwreck, seizes it the first of his treasures, and
keeps it sacred to God. It blesses us when we are born,
gives names to half Christendom, rejoices with us, has sym-
pathy for our mourning, tempers our grief to finer issues.
It is the better part of our sermons. It lifts man above
himself. Our best of uttered prayers are in its storied
speech, wherewith our fathers and the patriarchs prayed.
The timid man, about to awake from his dream of life,
looks through the glass of Scripture, and his eyes grow
bright; he does not fear to stand alone, to tread the way
unknown and distant, to take the death-angel by the hand,
and bid farewell to wife and babes and home. Men rest
on this their dearest hopes. It tells them of God and of
his blessed Son, of earthly duties and heavenly rest. Fool-
ish men find in it the source of 'Plato's wisdom, of the
science of Newton, and the art of Raphael.

"Now, for such effects there must be an adequate cause.


It is no light thing to hold, with an electric chain, a thou-
sand hearts, though but an hour, beating and bounding
with such fiery speed; what is it, then, to hold the Chris-
tian world, and that for centuries? Are men fed with
chaff and husks? The authors we reckon great, whose
articulate breath now sways the nation's mind, will soon
pass away, giving place to other great men of a season,
who in their turn shall follow them to eminence, and then
to oblivion. Some thousand famous writers come up in this
century, to be forgotten in the next. But the silver cord
of the Bible is not loosed, nor its golden bowl broken, as
Time chronicles his tens of centuries passed by. Fire acts
as a refiner of metals : the dross is piled in forgotten heaps,
but the pure gold is reserved for use, and is current a
thousand years h^nce as well as to-day. It is only real
merit that can long pass for such; tinsel will rust in the
storms of life; false weights are soon detected there. It is
only a heart can speak to a heart, a mind to a mind, a
soul to a soul, wisdom to the wise, and religion to the pious.
There must then be in the Bible, mind, heart, and soul,
wisdom and religion; were it otherwise, how could millions
find it their lawgiver, friend, and prophet? Some of the
greatest of human institutions seem built on the Bible:
such things will not stand on chafi^, but on mountains of
rock. What is the secret cause of this wide and deep in-
fluence? It must be found in the Bible itself, and must
be adequate to the efiect." ^''

Such a school of infidelity, which assumes the garb, and
borrows the phrases of Christianity, requires us to look
below the surface, before we can discern its real nature, and
guard against the inroads of its subtile delusions. All these
praises of the Bible, in the writer just quoted, and others

Parker's " Discourse of Religion," pp. 237-2.39, 242.


of the same type of thought, are followed by a distinct
and deliberate rejection of its Divine authority. "The
conclusion," we are told, "is forced upon us that the Bible
is a human work, as much as the 'Principia' of Newton oi
Descartes. Some things are beautiful and true, but others
no man in his senses can accept. Here are the works of
various writers, thrown capriciously together, and united by
no common tie but the lids of the bookbinder — two forms
of religion which differ widely, one the religion of fear, and
the other of love."

The same spirit evidently pervades other writings, which
profess to set Christianity free from the trammels of a tradi-
tional orthodoxy, and to bring it into harmony with the
discoveries of modern science. It is essential, then, to look
beneath the surface of the inquiry, and to examine the
foundations themselves. A course of argument, like that
of Paley, may be triumphant and complete against a direct
charge of imposture, dishonesty, and collusion. But the
form of temptation which now assails the Church requires
some previous questions, more subtile and delicate in their
nature, to be examined. What do we mean by a Divine rev-
elation? What are the conditions on which its possibility,
its probability, or its certainty depend? What need is
there that such a revelation should be given to mankind?
How far can miracles, prophecies, or moral excellence, sep-
arately or in combination, furnish decisive evidence of its
reality? How may we infer the Divine authority of the
Bible from the statement of the Bible itself, without a
vicious circle in our reasoning? How are we to explain
alleged contradictions between the language of Scripture
and the results of antiquarian research, and the real or
supposed discoveries of modern science? How can we
reconcile the doctrine of Divine inspiration, and the claim
of the Bible to a supernatural origin, with the innumer;ible


Online LibraryT. R. (Thomas Rawson) BirksThe Bible and modern thought → online text (page 1 of 34)