« PreviousContinue »
ON THE STUDY OF THE SCRIPTURES, BY THE YOUNG ESPECIALLY.
The study of the Scriptures has not at all kept pace with that of other departments of knowledge. Science and general literature have found popular expositors in rich and increasing abundance; but where is the popular exposition of the literary qualities and religious claims, the history and contents, of the various books of the Bible?
The Scriptures are, it is to be feared, passively rather than actively believed in. A thoughtful and discriminating acceptance of their just claims is the great present need of our Protestantism. That grand principle of the Reformation, “The Bible, and the Bible alone, is the Religion of Protestants,” is not fully worked out till we have intelligently inquired what the Scriptures really are. The Bible is the religion of Protestants; but what is the Bible ? How to be interpreted? How accepted? One great office of our Protestantism should be to ascertain these points. And the answer is not to be found in a few round phrases—“The Bible is the Word of God;” “The Scriptures are inspired ;” “They are the oracles of God.” We mu define in what sense these phrases are true; and we shall find they are often used with very little exactness of meaning, and with a force of unthoughtful prejudice and dogmatism that is apt to discourage free and healthy inquiry.
Still the question must and will be persistingly asked, What is the Bible? and it must be thoughtfully, while reverently, answered in a somewhat less summary manner.
The Bible is not a simple, but a very complex, production. It is not one book, but many. It is not the product of one age,
but the progressive growth probably of sixteen centuries. It contains the records of the Jewish religion and those of Christianity,—the Old Testament and the New,-quite separate and distinct in themselves, and each, again, consisting of many portions, perfectly separate and independent of one another; yet all gratuitously confounded together in the minds of Bible readers in general, who, too often, are satisfied to quote from the Bible, without knowing whether their quotation comes from Genesis or from the Revelation of St. John, from the Law or from the Gospel,—without considering whether it is Hebrew history or Christian precept, whether a Psalmist's aspiration or a promise of the Saviour. No books have, in fact, been so hardly used as the Scriptures, by their unlearned but overzealous advocates. Such persons claim (if they mean what their language implies) that every passage of Scripture be received as an oracle, whether it be the history of a fact, or the expression of human feeling, or the announcement of a divine command or promise. They seem to imply that the same character of divine wisdom and goodness belongs to the record of the horrid wars of Canaan, as to the life and actions of Jesus Christ. They speak, roundly and vaguely, of all the Scriptures as alike the very Word of God, and seem to think that every word and letter of the Bible is supernatural. Bibliolatry (as Coleridge so well named this extravagance) holds among Protestants the place of Mariolatry among Romanists. It is a blind, unthinking worship of an ideal Bible, as monstrous and as unlike the real Bible, as the Queen of Heaven or the “Mother of God” is unlike the gentle Mother of the Saviour.
The natural result of this Bible-worship on the one hand, is contempt for the Bible on the other. Such untenable claims set forth on its behalf, are by many rejected without examination; while in many more, who cannot reject that which so largely nourishes their heart's faith, a most painful perplexity is produced, demanding a speedy intellectual reconcilement as the only condition of firm belief.
Probably not one really intelligent and reasoning Christian can be found, who distinctly and deliberately thinks of the Bible as the prevailing language respecting it implies. That language has, in fact, survived the full belief in the implied dogmas respecting the plenary verbal inspiration of the sacred volume. All who read the Scriptures carefully and thoughtfully, know and feel quite well how various in character and object, in value and importance, the different books are; and they are ready to welcome any earnest attempt to define the distinctions of which they are themselves sensible. They feel that the Bible has a richly varied literature, which invites to as careful a discrimination as any other collection of curious and important books; and, in spite of the fears of the Bibliolater, they must go on, as men seeking rational convictions on the most important of all subjects, to inquire into the real character of the Bible and its real claims upon their acceptance.
In these volumes I endeavour to give something of methodical expression to the growing opinion and faith of intelligent readers of the Bible,—of such as do not timidly suppress their scriptural doubts and difficulties, but reverentially think them out. My book is not addressed to the professional student of critical theology. He has access to more suitable books, and I have nothing to teach him. If I have biblical learning enough to keep me free from serious critical censure in the presence of such judges, I am satisfied ; feeling anxious rather not to seem oppressively or stupidly learned to the general reader, for whom it is my ambition, as a theologian, to write something free from technicality, intelligible and useful.
I know, from repeated and various experience, that a book adapted to this end is greatly needed. I know how the intelligent mind, in search of scriptural truth and desiring to harmonize it with the radiant truths of Nature and Providence, has to grope its way painfully through the mist of antiquated notions which encumber rather than protect the Scriptures, endangering their continued acceptance; and with what gladness the dawn of daylight is welcomed when once a rational principle is laid hold of, for discriminating between the true claims of Scripture and the false ones set up in its behalf.
That I have written just such a book as is wanted, I have no right to flatter myself: but I hope it may be welcomed by some earnest minds, and perhaps it may lead to the production of a better book from some other quarter.
A few remarks may be appropriate here, as to the proper mode of instructing the young in the knowledge of the Scriptures, which are earnestly offered to the consideration of parents and teachers, and of young persons themselves.
It is universally agreed among judicious parents and teachers, that the Bible is not a proper book to be placed intire in the hands of young persons for promiscuous reading. No one ought to read the Bible through till close upon adult life, at any rate. Many parts of the Old Testament are no more fit for the use of the young than
any other unselected ancient history would be. The Jewish wars are such a record of cruelties and horrors as no young mind ought to come in contact with. And our modern civilization joins with our Christian feeling in rejecting, as too gross to be permitted to sully our children's minds, many incidents and expressions in the Old Testament which the mature mind learns to look upon as gross, indeed, but requiring to be taken in their historical connection with simple or barbarous ages, and as the unceremonious descriptions of contemporaneous pens.
But this is no more than happens to us in all other parts of education, and the difficulty must be met in the same way as we meet it elsewhere. We never think of introducing young persons to the literature of Greece or Rome, or even to our own English historians and poets, without some discrimination or caution. We select, we revise, we castigate, we re-write for them. The history of ancient or foreign countries has been re-written expressly for the young. Selected extracts from the poetry and oratory of such countries have been made for their peculiar use. Selections from the best writers of our own country are put into their hands. The rest is reserved for their adult study.
The same thing precisely is done by every judicious parent and teacher as regards the Bible. Not everything in the Jewish history is either level to the understanding of the young or fit for their perusal. Not by any means all the Psalms, Proverbs and Prophecies are calculated to develope their understanding or nourish their devotion. Accustomed though many persons are to speak loosely of the Bible as one indivisible whole, equally sacred and equally valuable in every part, we all feel that we must discriminate for the sake of our children at any rate; and