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Tappou Prest, Auce,
This volume is prepared for those who believe that Jesus Christ is the Incarnate Son of God; and that the Bible is a true record of God's purpose in Him, and of the Divine actings to fulfill that purpose. Its aim is simply to set forth that record in its order, and to restore to it that unity in Christ which it claims upon its face, and which was ascribed to it by our Lord, but which with many of its readers it has now lost. (Luke xxiv. 27.) For those who deny the fact of the Incarnation, — that Jesus Christ is, and abides, the God-man forever, - I do not write ; much less for those who are seeking proof of the existence of a God. I address myself to believers; for to all others, the Bible, which declares the purpose of God in Christ, must be an insoluble riddle. The Incarnate Son is the centre from which all the actings of the Father, both creative and redemptive, must be seen to be known aright.
This book, therefore, is not critical after the modern fashion ; it discusses no textual questions, and enters into no special historical or archæological investigations, and it assumes the substantial truth of the Scriptures as we possess them. It deals only with the outlines of the Divine purpose, not with the details. Its scope is simple, — to set forth the manner in which God is pleased to reveal Himself to men, past, present, and future, as He has made it known. I believe there is in it nothing contrary to catholic truth, nor to the faith of the Church as expressed in her creeds. Nor is there in it any thing distinctively new; or, if there seem to be, it is in the restatement of old truths, and in the consistency with which certain fundamental principles are carried out. In those parts which speak of the still unfulfilled purpose of God in redemption, I believe nothing is affirmed which has not scriptural sanction, and which is not in harmony with that purpose as already fulfilled. Eschatology in its larger meaning, embracing the stages of redemption yet future, has confessedly occupied very little the attention of the Church ; and only the most general statements are found in the creeds and confessions of faith.
The number of references to particular passages of Scripture could in most cases have been greatly multiplied, but a single one is generally sufficient to enable a diligent reader to find more ; and all who wish to add to these, and to compare passage with passage, have abundant help in any good reference Bible. The revised version of the Old Testament was published too late to be of much use, but the changes in the translation are not for us very important.
I have made no reference to others who have written on these topics, nor citations from them, not as intending to deny my great obligations to them, but because the unity of treatment is thus disturbed, and the attention of the reader diverted. It has demanded some firmness not to enter upon side issues, and to discuss points very nearly related to those treated of, and yet not essential to them, as, e.g.,
the person and place of “the angel of the covenant." In endeavoring to be brief, I may have sometimes become obscure, and so liable to misapprehension; and I must therefore ask that expressions which are ambiguous, may be interpreted in conformity with the general scope of the book.
I may be permitted to address here a few words to my young friends, students of the Scriptures, and especially to those in theological schools. It was once said by Dean Stanley, that “there are times when we are prone to confound instrumentals with fundamentals, to confound things which are of no importance with things which are of the utmost importance.” The present is pre-eminently such a time of confusion as regards religious things. That which is of first importance in Christianity, is the fact of the present existence of Jesus Christ, exalted to the right hand of God, and made Head of the Church, and Ruler over all. You will at once say to me that no Christian denies this. It is declared in all the creeds, and held by all. But we know that not a few who nominally hold the creeds, do disbelieve it; some openly speak of a de-incarnation ; and others, as if many incarnations were possible. The tendencies of modern thought are to make the fact of the union of the Divine and human in the person of Jesus Christ, more and more incredible ; and if the Incarnation be held, as it doubtless is, by far the larger number, it may be so held as by no means to give it its due place and importance. If Jesus Christ is the Incarnate Son of God, the Word made flesh, now risen from the dead and made immortal, and having all power in heaven and in earth, this is the one supreme fact; it must be recognized, and its transcendent significance be acknowledged. Christianity with the living Christ, and Christianity with a dead Christ, are two things world-wide apart: in the one case, there is a Person and a work; in the other, a book and an ethical system. A mistake here is vital. If He is dead, it is the saddest of delusions to think of Him as sitting in the Father's throne ; if He is living, the man Christ Jesus, the Ruler under God over all His creatures, it will not do to treat Him as one of the dead, sleeping in His unknown sepulchre. One of these alternatives is true; and with the universal Church we affirm that He who was dead is alive again forever, that He is the Prince of the kings of the earth, the Great High Priest, the Head of the Church. Let, then, His due place and honor be given Him.
Thus taking Christ's present exaltation and dominion as the great central fact of Christianity, what are its bearings on the place of the Bible in the Church, and on biblical criticism? The Bible is an account of what God has done in the past, that we may learn to know both the Father and the Son; and especially to know Christ as the great Actor in man's redemption - whọ He is, and why He was made man, and what He has done, and is doing, and is yet to do; and thus its records are the chief means of our knowledge. But the Bible cannot be read simply as a history of past events ; for its purpose is not merely to enlighten us as to the past, but also to show us the way to Him as now living, that we may go to Him, and that He may work in us His work of salvation. We are not saved through our belief in the past actings of God, but by being in Christ. The book cannot give us life: we must go to Him who, as the Risen One, is the fountain of life. And His existence is not dependent on the existence of the book, any more than the mountain peak upon the existence of the guide-book that describes it, and points out the way to its summit. We may suppose all copies of the Bible to be destroyed : this would not affect Him as now exalted, or His work, past or future; only our knowledge of Him.
What is now demanded of us is, that we put the two, the Bible and Christ, in their right relations to each other. The book is not useless because He lives, as some have said. No words can express its intrinsic value. But it is above all His book; for not only is He its great theme, He is also, through the Spirit whom He has sent, its interpreter. As He explained to His disciples when on earth the things written in it concerning Himself, so must He continue to do down to the end. The Scriptures can be understood only by those whose understandings He opens. (Luke xxiv. 44, 45.) And He will make known their mysteries, the secret counsels of His Father, just so far as His children are spiritually prepared to receive them, and can rightly apply their knowledge. But no wit of man can know what it is God's will to do, before the time when He would make it known. The true and full and harmonious explanation of the Bible can be made only in the Church, wherein is the Spirit of Christ.
Keeping in mind this relation of the Bible to the living Christ, how are we to regard much recent biblical criticism? There are critics of all schools, and of all degrees of faith;