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Title: Understanding the Scriptures
Author: McConnell, Francis John, 1871-1953
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Understanding the Scriptures" ***





Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church




The Mendenhall Lectures, founded by Rev. Marmaduke H. Mendenhall, D.D.,
of the North Indiana Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, are
delivered annually in De Pauw University to the public without any
charge for admission. The object of the donor was "to found a perpetual
lectureship on the evidences of the Divine Origin of Christianity and
the inspiration and authority of the Holy Scriptures. The lecturers
must be persons of high and wide repute, of broad and varied
scholarship, who firmly adhere to the evangelical system of Christian
faith. The selection of lecturers may be made from the world of
Christian scholarship, without regard to denominational divisions. Each
course of lectures is to be published in book form by an eminent
publishing house and sold at cost to the faculty and students of the

Lectures previously published: 1913, The Bible and Life, Edwin Holt
Hughes; 1914, The Literary Primacy of the Bible, George Peck Eckman.


President De Pauw University.



The problem as to the understanding of the Scriptures is with some no
problem at all. All we have to do is to take the narratives at their
face meaning. The Book is written in plain English, and all that is
necessary for its comprehension is a knowledge of what the words mean.
If we have any doubts, we can consult the dictionary. The plain man
ought to have no difficulty in understanding the Bible.

Nobody can deny the clearness of the English of the Scriptures.
Nevertheless, the plain man does have trouble. How far would the
ordinary intelligence have to read from the first chapter of Genesis
before finding itself in difficulties? There are accounts of events
utterly unlike anything which we see happening in the life around us,
events which seem to us to contradict the course of nature's procedure.
There are points of view foreign to our way of looking at things. More
than that, there seem to be actual contradictions between various
portions of the books. And, above all, the way of life marked out in
the Book seems to lead off toward mystery. To save our lives we have to
lose them. All the precepts of common sense seem set at defiance by
some passages of the Book. How can we explain the hold of such a book
on the world's life?

When once the problem of the understanding of the Scriptures is raised,
various solutions are offered, all of which contribute a measure of
help, but most of which do not greatly get us ahead. For example, we
are told that the Book is translated literature, and that if we could
get back to the original narratives in the original languages, we would
find our perplexities vanishing. There is no question that a knowledge
of Greek and Hebrew does aid us in an understanding of the Scriptures,
but this aid commonly extends only to the meaning of particular words.
One who knows enough of Greek or Hebrew to enter sympathetically into
the life of which those languages were the expression is prepared to
sense the scriptural atmosphere better than one who has not such
equipment. Very few Scripture readers, however, are thus qualified to
understand Greek and Hebrew. Very few ministers of the gospel are so
trained as to be able to pass upon shades of meaning of Greek or Hebrew
words against the judgment of those who teach these languages in the
schools. With graduation from theological school most ministers put
Hebrew to one side; and many pay no further attention to Greek. Even a
trained biblical student is very careful not to question the authority
of the professional linguistic experts. Apart from sidelights upon the
meaning of this or that passage, there is very little that the biblical
student can get from Greek or Hebrew which is not available in
important translations. We cannot solve the greater difficulties in
biblical study by carrying our investigations back to the study of the
original languages as such. The fact is that emphasis upon the
importance of mastery of Greek and Hebrew for an insight into
scriptural meanings rests largely upon a theory of literal inspiration
of the biblical narratives. It requires only a cursory reading to see
that the narratives in English cannot claim to be strictly inerrant, so
that the upholder of inerrancy is driven to the position that the
inerrancy is in the documents as originally written. No doctrine of
inerrancy, however, can explain away the puzzles which confront us, for
example, in the accounts of the creation as given us in the early
chapters of Genesis, or throw light upon the possibility of a soul's
passing from moral death to life.

Great help is promised us by those who maintain that the modern methods
of critical biblical study give us the key to scriptural meanings.
There is no doubt that many doors have been opened by critical methods.
Now that the flurries of misunderstanding which attended the first
application of such methods to biblical study have passed on, we see
that some solid results have been gained. In so far as our difficulties
arise from questions of authorship and date of writing, the critical
methods have brought much relief. Even very orthodox biblicists no
longer insist that it is necessary to oppose the teaching that the
first five books of the Bible were written at different times and by
different men. In fact, there is no reason to quarrel with the theory
that many parts of these books are not merely anonymous, but are
documents produced by the united effort of narrators and correlators
reaching through generations--the narratives often being transmitted
orally from fathers to sons. There is no reason for longer arguing
against the claim that the book of Isaiah as it stands in our
Scriptures is composed of documents written at widely separated
periods. It is permissible even from the standpoint of orthodoxy to
assign a late date to the book of Daniel. No harm is wrought when we
insist that the book of Mark must have priority in date among the
Gospels, and that Matthew and Luke are built in part from Mark as a
foundation. It is not dangerous to face the facts which cause the
prolonged debate over the authorship of the fourth Gospel. It is not
heresy to teach that the dates of the epistles must be rearranged
through the findings of modern scholarship. There is not only no danger
in a hospitable attitude toward modern scholarship, but many
difficulties disappear through adjusting ourselves to present-day
methods. If contradictions appear in a document hitherto considered a
unit, the contradictions are at least measurably done away with when
the document is seen to be a composite report from the points of view
of different authors. The critical method has been of immense value in
enforcing upon us that the scriptural books were written each with a
distinctive intention, apart from the purpose to represent the facts in
the method of a newspaper reporter or of a scientific investigator. In
a sense many of the more important scriptural documents were of the
nature of pamphlets or tracts for the times in which they were written.
The author was combating a heresy, or supplementing a previous
statement which seemed to him to be inadequate, or seeking to adjust a
religious conception to enlarging demands. The biblical writers are
commentators on or interpreters of the truth which they conceive to be

Making most generous allowances, however, for the advantages of the
critical methods, we must use them with considerable care. Results like
those suggested above seem to be well established, but there is always
possibility of the critic's becoming a mere specialist with the purely
technical point of view. Suppose the critic holds so to the passion for
analysis that for him analysis becomes everything. We may then have a
single verse cut into three or four pieces, each assigned to a
different author, the authors separated by long periods. Even if the
older narratives are composite, the process of welding or compression
was so thorough that detailed analyses are now out of the question.
Apart from its broader contentions, the method of the critical school
must be used tentatively and without dogmatism. Moreover, we must
always remember that the critical student comes to his task with
assumptions which are oftentimes more potent with him from his very
blindness to their existence. Assumption in scientific investigation is
inevitable. Suppose a critic to be markedly under the influence of some
evolutionary hypothesis. Suppose him to believe that the formula which
makes progress a movement from the simple to the complex can be traced
in detail in the advance of society. He is prepared to believe that in
practically every case the simple has preceded the complex. He will
forthwith untangle the biblical narrative to get at the ideal
evolutionary arrangement, ignoring the truth that except in the most
general fashion progress cannot thus be traced. In the actual life of
societies the progress, especially of ideas, is often from the complex
to the simple. Many evolutionists maintain that movement is now
forward, now backward, now diagonal, and now by a "short cut"; but if
the evolutionary critic sticks closely to his preconceived formula
about progress as always from the simple to the complex, he can lead us
astray. Again, almost all great prophetic announcements are ahead of
their time. They seem out of place at the date of their first
utterance--interruptions, interjections hard to fit into an orderly
historic scheme. Or suppose the critic to be a student of the
scientific school which will not allow for the play of any forces
excepting as they openly reveal themselves, the school that will not
allow for backgrounds of thought or for atmospheres which surround
conceptions. Such a student is very apt to maintain, for example, that
Paul knew only so much of the life of Jesus as he mentions in the
epistles. Such a student cannot assume that Paul ever took anything for
granted. We can see at once that a method so professedly exact as this
may be dangerously out of touch with the human processes of the life of
individuals and of societies. Or suppose still further that the
biblical student holds a set of scientific assumptions which are
extremely naturalistic; that is to say, suppose that he assumes that
nothing has ever happened which in any way departs from the natural
order. We have only to remind ourselves that the natural order of a
particular time is the order as that time conceives it; but it is
manifestly hazardous to limit events in the world of matter to the
scientific conceptions of any one day. To take a single illustration,
the radical student of the life of Jesus of a generation ago cast out
forthwith from the Gospel accounts everything which suggested the
miraculous. The conceptions of the order of nature which obtained a
generation ago did not allow even for works of healing of the sort
recorded in the Gospels. At the present time radical biblical criticism
makes considerable allowance for such works. Discovery of the power of
mental suggestion and of the influence of mind over body has opened the
door to the return of some of the wonders wrought by Jesus to a place
among historic facts. This does not mean that the radical student is
any more friendly to miracles than before. We are not here raising the
question of miracles as such, but we do insist that an assumption as to
what the natural order may or may not allow can be fraught with peril
in the hands of critical students of the Scriptures. We say again that
while, in general, the larger contentions of the biblical school can be
looked upon as established beyond reasonable doubt; and while, in
general, the methods of the school are productive of good, yet, because
of the part that assumption plays in the fashioning of all critical
tools, the assumptions must be scrutinized with all possible care. A
good practical rule is to read widely from the critics, to accept what
they generally agree upon, to hold very loosely anything that seems
"striking" or "brilliant." This is a field in which originality must be
discounted. There is so little check upon the imagination.

It is but a step from the consideration of the critical methods in
biblical study to that of the historical methods in the broader sense.
Many students who are out of patience with the more narrowly critical
processes maintain that the broader historical methods are of vast
value in biblical discussion. Here, again, we must admit the large
measure of justice in the claim. We can see at once that the same
reservations must be made as in the case of the critical methods. The
assumptions play a determining part. If we are on our guard against any
tricks that assumptions may play, we can eagerly expect the historical
methods to aid us greatly.

We have come to see that any revelation to be really a revelation must
speak in the language of a particular time. But speaking in the
language of a particular time implies at the outset very decided
limitations. The prophets who arise to proclaim any kind of truth must
clothe their ideas in the thought terms of a particular day and can
accomplish their aims only as they succeed in leading the spiritual
life of their day onward and upward. Such a prophet will accommodate
himself to the mental and moral and religious limitations of the time
in which he speaks. Only thus can he get a start. It is inevitable,
then, that along with the higher truth of his message there will appear
the marks of the limitations of the mold in which the message is cast.
The prophet must take what materials he finds at hand, and with these
materials direct the people to something higher and better.
Furthermore, in the successive stages through which the idea grows we
must expect to find it affected by all the important factors which in
any degree determine its unfolding. The first stage in understanding
the Scriptures is to learn what a writer intended to say, what he meant
for the people of his day. To do this we must rely upon the methods
which we use in any historical investigation. The Christian student of
the Scriptures believes that the Bible contains eternal truths for all
time, truths which are above time in their spiritual values. Even so,
however, the truth must first be written for a particular time and that
time the period in which the prophet lived. When the Christian speaks
of the Scriptures as containing a revelation for all time, he refers to
their essential spiritual value. The best way to make that essential
spiritual value effective for the after times is to sink it deep into
the consciousness of a particular time. This gives it leverage, or
focus for the outworking of its forces. No matter how limited the
conceptions in which the spiritual richness first took form, those
conceptions can be understood by the students who look back through the
ages, while the spiritual value itself shines out with perennial
freshness. Paradoxical as it may sound, the truths which are of most
value for all time are those which first get themselves most thoroughly
into the thought and feeling of some one particular time. Let us look
at the opening chapters of Genesis for illustration. The historical
student points out to us that the science of the first chapters of
Genesis is not peculiar to the Hebrew people, that substantially
similar views of the stages through which creation moved are to be
found in the literatures of surrounding peoples. A well-known type of
student would therefore seek at one stroke to bring the first chapters
of Genesis down to the level of the scriptures of the neighbors of the
Hebrews. He would then discount all these narratives alike by reference
to modern astronomy, geology, and biology. But the difference between
the Hebrew account and the other accounts lies in this, that in the
Hebrew statement the science of a particular time is made the vehicle
of eternally superb moral and spiritual conceptions concerning man and
concerning man's relation to the Power that brought him into being. The
worth of these conceptions even in that early statement few of us would
be inclined to question. Assuming that any man or set of men became in
the old days alive to the value of such religious ideas, how could they
speak them forth except in the language of their own day? They had to
speak in their own tongue, and speaking in that tongue they had to use
the thought terms expressed by that tongue. They accepted the science
of their day as true, and they utilized that science for the sake of
bodying forth the moral and spiritual insights to which they had
attained. The inadequacy of early Hebrew science and its likeness to
Babylonian and Chaldean science do not invalidate the worth of the
spiritual conceptions of Genesis. This ought to be apparent even to the
proverbial wayfaring man. The loftiest spiritual utterances are often
clad in the poorest scientific draperies. Who would dare deny the worth
of the great moral insights of Dante? And who, on the other hand, would
insist upon the lasting value of the science in which his deep
penetrations are uttered? And so with Milton. Dr. W. F. Warren has
shown the nature of the material universe as pictured in Milton's
"Paradise Lost." In passing from heaven to hell one would descend from
an upper to a lower region of a sphere, passing through openings at the
centers of other concentric spheres on the way down. Nothing more
foreign to modern science can be imagined; yet we do not cast aside
"Paradise Lost" because of the crudity of its view of the physical

Assuming that the biblical prophets were to have any effect whatever,
in what language could they speak except that of their own time? Their
position was very similar to that of the modern preacher who uses
present-day ideas of the physical universe as instruments to proclaim
moral and spiritual values. Nobody can claim that modern scientific
theories are ultimate, and nobody can deny, on the other hand, that
vast good is done in the utilization of these conceptions for high
religious purposes.

A minister once sought in a sermon on the marvels of man's constitution
to enforce his conceptions by speaking of the instantaneousness with
which a message flashed to the brain through the nervous system is
heeded and acted upon. He said that the touch of red-hot iron upon a
finger-tip makes a disturbance which is instantly reported to the brain
for action. A scientific hearer was infinitely disgusted. He said that
all such disturbances are acted upon in the spinal cord. He could see
no value, therefore, even in the main point of the minister's sermon
because of the minister's mistaken conception of nervous processes. I
suppose very few of us know whether this scientific objection was well
taken or not. Very few of us, however, would reject the entire sermon
because of an erroneous illustration; and yet sometimes all the
essentials of the Scriptures are discounted because of flaws no more
consequential than that suggested in this illustration. The Scriptures
aim to declare a certain idea of God, a certain idea of man, and a
certain idea of the relations between God and man. Those ideas are
clothed in the garments of successive ages. The change in the fashions
and adequacy of the garments does not make worthless the living truth
which the garments clothe. Jesus himself lived deeply in his own time
and spoke his own language and worked through the thought terms which
were part of the life of his time. Some biblical readers have been
greatly disturbed in recent years by the discovery of the part which
so-called apocalyptic thought-forms play in the teaching of Jesus. The
fact is that these conceptions were the commonest element in all later
Jewish thinking. Jesus could not have lived when he did without making
apocalyptic terms the vehicle for his doctrines. We have come to see
that the manner of the coming of the kingdom of Jesus is not so
important as the character of that kingdom.

Not only must a prophet speak in the language of a definite time, but
he must speak to men as he finds them. This being so, we must expect
that revelations will in a sense be accommodated to the apprehension of
the day of their utterance. The minds of men are in constant movement.
If the prophet were to have before him minds altogether at a
standstill, he might well despair of accomplishing great results by his
message. He would be forced to think of the intelligence of this day as
a sort of vessel which he could fill with so much and no more. But
whether the prophets have through the ages had any theoretic
understanding of human intelligence as an organism or not, they have
acted upon the assumption that they were dealing with such organisms.
So they have conceived of their truth as a seed cast into the ground,
passing through successive stages. Jesus himself spoke of the kingdom
of God as moving out of the stage of the blade into that of the ear and
finally into that of the full corn in the ear. This illustration is our
warrant for insisting that in the enforcing of truth all manner of
factors come into play and that the truth passes through successive
epochs, some of which may seem to later believers very unpromising and
unworthy. The test of the worth of an idea is not so much any opinion
as to the unseemliness of the stages through which it has passed as it
is the value of the idea when once it has come to ripeness. The test of
the grain is its final value for food. The scriptural truths are to be
judged by no other test than that of their worth for life.

In the light of the teaching of Jesus himself there is no reason why we
should shrink from stating that the revelation of biblical truth is
influenced by even the moral limitations of men. Jesus said that an
important revelation to man was halted at an imperfect stage because of
the hardness of men's hearts. The Mosaic law of divorce was looked upon
by Jesus as inadequate. The law represented the best that could be done
with hardened hearts. The author of the Practice of Christianity, a
book published anonymously some years ago, has shown conclusively how
the hardness of men's hearts limits any sort of moral and spiritual
revelation. It will be remembered that William James in discussing the
openness of minds to truth divided men into the "tough-minded" and the
"tender-minded." James was not thinking of moral distinctions: he was
merely emphasizing the fact that tough-minded men require a different
order of intellectual approach than do the tender-minded. If we put
into tough-mindedness the element of moral hardness and
unresponsiveness which the prophet must meet, we can see how such an
element would condition and limit the prophet.

Again, Jesus said to his disciples that he had many things to say to
them, but that they could not bear them at the time at which he spoke.
Some revelations must wait for moral strength on the part of the people
to whom they are to come. Suppose, for example, in this year of our
Lord 1917, some scientist should discover a method of touching off
explosives from a great distance by wireless telegraphy without the
need of a specially prepared receiver at the end where the explosion is
desired. Suppose it were possible for him simply to press a button and
blow up all the ships of the British Navy, or all the stores of
munitions in Germany. What would be the first duty of such an inventor?
Very likely it would be his immediate duty to keep the secret closely
locked in his own mind. If such a discovery were made known to European
combatants in their present temper, it is a question what would be left
on earth at the end of the next twenty-four hours. With European minds
in their present moral and spiritual plight it would not be safe to
trust them with any such revelation. And this illustration has
significance for more than the physical order of revelation. There are
principles for individual and social conduct that may well be put into
effect one hundred years from now. Men are not now morally fit to
receive some revelations. All of which means that any revealing
movement is a progressive movement in that it depends upon not merely
the utterances of the revealing mind, but upon the response of the
receiving mind. In the play back and forth between giver and receiver
all sorts of factors come into power. The study of the interplay of
these factors is entirely worthy as an object of Christian research. We
may well be thankful for any advance thus far made in such study and we
may look for greater advances in the future. For example, the historic
students thus far have put in most of their effort laying stress upon
similarities between the biblical conceptions and the conceptions of
the peoples outside the current of biblical revelation. The work has
been of great value. Nevertheless it would seem to be about time for
larger emphasis on the differences between the biblical revelations and
the conceptions outside.

Still when all is said the mastery of historical methods of study is
but preliminary to the real understanding of the Scriptures. If we come
close to the revealing movement itself, we find that before we get far
into the stream there must be sympathetic responsiveness to biblical
teaching. The difficulties in understanding the Scriptures are, as of
old, not so much of the intellect as they are of conscience and
will--the difficulties, in a word, that arise from the hardness of
men's hearts.



The approaches to an understanding of the Scriptures which we suggested
in the first chapter are those which have to do merely with
intellectual investigation. Any student with normal intelligence can
appreciate the methods and results of the critical scrutiny of the
biblical documents, but will require something more for an adequate
mastery of the scriptural revelations. There is need of sympathetic
realization that the Book itself did not in any large degree come out
of the exercise of the merely intellectual faculties. In the scriptural
revelation we are dealing with a current of life which flowed for
centuries through the minds of masses of people. To be sure of insight
into the meanings of this revelation there must be an approach to the
Bible as a Book of Life in the sense that its teachings came out of
life and that they were perennially used to play back into life. Its
hold on life to-day can be explained only by the fact that it was thus
born out of life, and has its chief significance for the experiences of
actual life.

Even the most superficial perusal of the Scriptures shows that they
came of practical contact with men and things. There is comparatively
little in the entire content of our Sacred Book to suggest the
speculations of abstract philosophy. The writers deal with the
concrete. They tell of men and of peoples who had to face facts and who
achieved comprehensions and convictions through grappling with facts.
There is about the Scriptures what some one has called a sort of
"out-of-doors-ness." There is very little hint of withdrawal from the
push and pressure of daily living. If the prophets ever withdrew to
solitude, they did not retire to closets, but rather to deserts or to
mountains. We must not allow our modern familiarity with bookmaking as
an affair of library research and tranquil meditation in seclusion to
mislead us into thinking that the Christian Bible was wrought out in
similar fashion. The Book is full of the tingle and even the roar of
the life out of which it was born. Jesus gathered up in a single
sentence the process by which the scriptural revelation can be
apprehended by man when he said, "He that doeth the will shall know of
the truth." The entire scriptural unfolding is one vast commentary on
this utterance of Jesus.

It is impossible for us in this series of studies to attempt any
detailed survey of the revealing movement of which our Scriptures are
the outcome. It is important, however, that we should see clearly that
the revelation came to those who opened themselves to the light in an
obedient spirit. While it is not in accord with our modern knowledge of
psychology to assort and divide human activities too sharply, it is
nevertheless permissible to insist that the biblical revelation was in
a sense primarily to the will. As Frederick W. Robertson used to say,
obedience is the organ of spiritual knowledge. The first men to whom
illuminations came evidently received these gifts out of some purity of
intention and moral excellence. These early leaders gathered others
around them and set them on the path of determined striving toward a
definite goal. As the idea of the seer or the prophet found general
acceptance it gradually hardened into law, law meant for scrupulous
observance. If a singer felt stirred to write a psalm, he voiced his
experiences or his aspirations in the midst of a throbbing world. If a
statesman drew a wide survey of God's dealings with the nations of the
earth, he did so at some mighty crisis in Israel's relations to Egypt
or Assyria or Babylon. When we reach New Testament times we find that
even the Gospels seem to have been books struck out of immediate
practical urgencies rather than composed tranquilly with a scholar's
interest merely in doing a fine piece of professional work. The early
Christians were anxious to hold the believers to the strait and narrow
way. To do this they repeated often the words of the Lord Jesus. When,
however, the older members of the first circles began to fall away, the
words were written down, not because some scholar felt moved thus to
improve his leisure, but because it was absolutely necessary to
preserve the words. Moreover, conflicts were arising between the
growing church and the forces of the world round about. Some scriptures
were written to supply instruments with which to carry on the warfare.
Always the fundamental aim was to keep the people acting according to
the teachings which lay at the heart of the Christian system. The
object of the biblical revelation was from the beginning just what it
is to-day in the hands of Christian believers--the object of using the
Scriptures as an instrument for practicing the Christian spirit into
all the phases of life.

We would by no means deny that there are imposing philosophies or,
rather, hints toward such philosophies, in the Scriptures, but we
insist that these did not come out of a purely philosophizing temper.
They came as men tried to put into some form or order the
understandings at which they had arrived as they wrestled with the
tough facts of a world which they were trying to subject to the rule of
their religion. As we have said in the previous chapter, the Scriptures
bear scars of all such conflicts. The revelation was knocked into its
shape in the rough-and-tumble of an attempt to convert the world. And
this is not to claim for the Bible any difference in method of creation
from that which obtains in the shaping of any vitally effective piece
of literature. The world-shaking conceptions have always been won in
profound experience. This chapter is not written with the principles of
the modern school of pragmatism as a guide, and yet pragmatism can be
so stated as to phrase an essentially Christian doctrine that spiritual
ideas result from spiritual practices and are of worth as they prove
themselves aids in further experience. Take some of the expressions of
Paul. The fundamental fact in Paul's experience was his vision on the
Damascus road and his determination to be obedient to that vision. To
make his own view of the Christian religion attractive to those whom he
was trying to win, it became necessary for him to speak in terms of the
Judaism of his time. In fact, he could not have spoken in any other
terms, though some of his reasonings seem to us to be remote from
actual life. But when he left argument and came back to experience he
was most effective. His terribly compelling utterances are those which
were born of driving necessity. The theology started with the vision
and unfolded in obedience to the vision, "What wilt thou have me to
do?" Everywhere upon Paul's epistles there are the marks of practical
compulsion. A letter was dispatched to convince stubborn Jews in
Galatia or to persuade questioning Gentiles in Rome. Some of the
profoundest phrasings of Pauline belief were uttered first as appeals
for generous collections to starving saints.

The example of Paul as a receiver and giver of spiritual light is very
significant. Even if we should make the largest allowances to the
biblical critics who would cut down the number of epistles known to be
genuinely Pauline, we would have enough left to make on our minds the
impression of enormous personal activity. One passage does, indeed,
tell us of a period of months of withdrawal for reflection in Arabia.
For the most part, however, Paul's life was spent in ceaselessly going
to and fro throughout the Roman empire; even in the days of
imprisonment he seems to have been burdened with the administration of
churches. It was out of such multifarious activities that the theology
of Paul was born, and therein lies its value. No interpretation is
likely to bring the separate deliverances into anything like formal,
logical consistency. Very likely Paul was of a markedly logical frame
of mind, but he did not attempt to rid his message of contradictions in
detail. The unity and consistency are found in the fundamental life
purpose to get men to accept Jesus Christ as the Chosen of God. If Paul
had ever heard that much of his theology might be out-dated with the
passage of the years, he would probably have responded that he was
perfectly willing that the instrument should be cast aside if it had
served its spiritual purpose of bringing men to obedience to the law of

It is not intended to make this a book of sermons or exhortations. We
must say, however, that in a series of studies on how to understand the
Scriptures stress must be laid upon the maxim that the Scriptures can
be understood only by those who seek to recognize and obey the spirit
of life breathing from the Scriptures. Nothing could be more hopeless
than to attempt to get to the heart of Christian truth without
attempting to build that truth into life. The formal reasonings of the
theologian are no doubt of value, but they throw little light upon the
essentials of Christianity except as they deal with data which have
been supplied by Christian experience. It would, indeed, be well for
any study of the Bible to begin with a recognition of the part played
by distinctly scholarly research. We cannot go far, however, until we
recognize that sympathy with Christian truth is necessary before we can
come upon vital knowledge. And this, after all, is but the way we learn
to understand any piece of life-literature. A vast amount of material
is at hand in the form of commentaries upon the work of Shakespeare. We
know much about the circumstances under which the plays of Shakespeare
were written; we know somewhat of the sources from which Shakespeare
drew his historical materials; we are familiar with the chronology of
the plays; but all this is knowledge about Shakespeare. To know
Shakespeare there must be something of a deliberate attempt to
surrender sympathetically to the Shakespearean point of view. We get
"inside of" any classic work of literature only by this spirit of
surrender. The aim of Shakespeare is simply to picture life as he sees
it, but even to appreciate the picture men must enter into sympathy
with the painter. The Scriptures aim not merely to paint life, but to
quicken and reproduce life. How much more, then, is needed a surrender
of the will before there can be adequate appreciation of the
Scriptures? If the Scriptures are the results primarily of
will-activities, how can they finally be mastered except by minds
quickened by doing the will revealed in the Scriptures? The book of
Christianity must be interpreted by the disciples of Christianity.
Judged merely by bookish standards, there is no satisfactory
explanation of the power of the Bible. But lift the whole problem out
of the realm of books as such! The glimpses into any high truth that
are worth while--how do they come? They come out of experience. Even
when they are repeated from one mind to another they become the
property of that second mind only as they reproduce themselves in
experience. Otherwise the whole transaction is of words, words, words.
The Scriptures have to do with deeds, not words.

All this is offensive to the dogmatic reasoner. For him the intellect
as such is the organ of religious truth. He insists on speaking of the
Scriptures in formally theological terms. That the Scripture writers
employed theological terms there can be no doubt, but they did not
speak as systematic theologians. And always they brought their theology
to the test of actual life. The writer of these lines once knew a
student who had read enough of psychology to enable him to reason
himself into a belief that he was the only person in existence; that is
to say, he declared that he himself was the only one of whose existence
he was infallibly certain. Does not all knowledge of an external world
come as a report through a sensation aroused by stimulus? If the
appropriate stimulus could be kept up an external world might fall away
and I would still think it was there. The bell might ring at the door
and might be nobody there. And so on and on, through steps familiar
enough to the student of philosophy. When a friend made a quick appeal
to life with the question: "If you are the only one alive, why do you
bring your troubles to me?" the amateur philosopher came to earth with
a sense of jar. But the jar is no greater than that when we pass from
the plane of dogmatic theology to that of reading the Scriptures for
their own sake. The old scholastics said that in God there are three
substances, one essence, and two processions. How does this sound as
compared with the statement of Jesus that he and his Father are one,
and that he would send the Comforter? This is not to decry theology;
but is nevertheless to discriminate between theology and scripture.

Some one will object, however, that the scriptural truths take their
start in large part from the visions of mystics--of men who brood long
and patiently until they behold realities not otherwise discernible.
Some students will urge upon us that such mystic revelations are
granted peculiarly to the mystic temperament as such, and they often
come regardless of the quality of life that the seers themselves may be

There have, indeed, been in all ages of the world temperaments of
supernormal or abnormal responsiveness to influences which seem to make
little or no impression upon the ordinary mind. In all periods natures
of this type have been looked upon as organs of religious revelation.
So valuable have abnormal experiences seemed that all manner of
expedients have been utilized to beget unusual mental states. A certain
tribe of Indians, for example, in the southwest of our country are
accustomed at set times to send their religious leaders into the desert
to find and partake of a peculiar plant which has an opiate or narcotic
effect. In the belief of the Indians this plant opens the door to
visions. The visions, as reported by those who have recovered from the
influence of the narcotic, are not of any considerable value. Similar
attempts have been made by hypnotic experimenters among other peoples,
the hypnosis sometimes being self-induced. From some Old Testament
passages especially we may well believe that this sort of extraordinary
mental condition was sought for in the so-called schools of the
prophets in the olden days of Israel. The astonishing peculiarity about
the Scriptures, however, is not that there is so much reliance on this
trance experience as that there is so little. The Hebrew Scriptures
were the expression of a people living in the midst of heathen
surroundings; and heathenism always has laid stress upon the virtue of
these abnormal experiences. Granting all allowances for mental states
induced by eating an opiate, or by whirling like the dervish, or by
fasting like the Hindu, the fact remains that in the main, the visions
of the writers of our Scriptures came out of attempts to realize in
conduct the moral will of God. When we think of the surroundings even
of the early church; when we reflect upon the force of suggestion for
uncritical minds; when we consider the sway of superstition at all
periods during the Hebrew revealing movement, the wonder is that the
Scriptures lay such stress as they do upon the type of vision which
arises from faithfulness in doing the revealed will.

If we may characterize scriptural mysticism, it seems very much akin to
mental abilities which we meet frequently in our ordinary intercourse.
Take, for example, the prescience of a skilled business man. Nothing is
more inadequate than the rules for success laid down by many a man who
has himself succeeded in business. Mastery of his rules will not help
another to win business success. The reason is that there comes out of
prolonged business practice a keen sense of what is likely to happen in
the industrial or financial world. The sharpened wits foresee without
being able to assign reasons or grounds for the prophecies. So it is
with intellects trained to any superior skill. The Duke of Wellington
once remarked that he had spent all his life wondering what was on the
other side of the hills in front of him, yet the Duke himself came to
marvelous skill in guessing what was on the other side. There is also a
variety of scientific mysticism, if such an expression may be
permitted. The man long trained to the reading of scientific processes
develops a quick insight which runs far ahead of reason or proof. The
transcendent scientific discoveries have been glimpsed or, rather,
sensed before they so reported themselves that they could be seized by
formal proof. Now it is a far cry from business men, generals, and
scientists to the mysticism of the Scriptures, but when we see the
emphasis which the Scriptures place upon constancy in keeping the law
and in acting according to divine commandments, we cannot help feeling
that biblical mysticism was and is an awareness developed as the life
becomes practiced to the doing of religious duty. Think too of the
emphasis placed in the Scriptures upon the consecration of the whole
life to the truth as cleansing the heart from evil. All this makes for
a power to seize truth beyond that possible to formal and systematic
reason. Mysticism of this sort is the very height of spiritual power.
The Master's word: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see
God," does not refer to merely negative virtue. It means also the power
of soul accumulated in the positive doing of good. It means entrance
into the life of quick spiritual awareness through the adjustment of
the whole nature to the single moral purpose.

In all promise of revelation the Scriptures insist upon the importance
of keeping upon the basis of solid obedience. The finer the instrument
is to be, the more massive must be the foundation. Professor Hocking,
of Harvard University, has used a remarkable illustration to enforce
this very conception. The scientific instrument, he says, which must be
kept freest from distracting influences so that it may make the finest
registries must rest upon a foundation broad and deep. So the soul that
is to catch the finest stirrings of the divine must rest upon the
solidest stones of hard work for the moral purposes of the scriptural

Still some one will insist that the Bible is a book built around great
crises in human experience; that it is a record of these crises; that
the people in whose history the crises occurred were a peculiar people,
apparently arbitrarily chosen as a medium for religious
world-instruction; that the crises cast sudden bursts of intense light
upon the meaning of human life, but that they themselves are far apart
from ordinary experience. Here, again, we must insist that the
scriptural stress is always upon obedience to what is conceived of as
revealed truth. We have already said that Jesus regarded revelation as
organic. In everything organic we find instances of quick crisis
following long and slow periods of growth. The crisis or the climax of
the sudden flowering-out would never be possible were it not for the
antecedent growth. The Hebrew nation, developed through workaday
righteousness, manifested wonderful power in sudden crises. The inner
forces of moral purpose which at times seemed hidden or dead because of
the riot of wickedness suddenly blossomed forth in mighty bursts of
prophecy; but the all-essential was the long-continued practice of
righteousness which made possible the sudden crisis; and this is in
keeping with the teachings of most commonplace human experience. The
daily struggle prepares for the sharp, quick strain or for the swift
unfolding of a new moral purpose. There is nothing more arbitrary in
the crises in the scriptural movement than in the ordinary ongoings of
our lives. The student who has long been wrestling with a problem finds
the solution instantaneously bursting upon him in the midst of untoward
circumstances. The most insignificant trifle may finally turn the lock
which opens to the glorious revelation after prolonged brooding. The
daily practice may make men ready for the shock which leaps upon them
altogether unexpected.

We summarize by saying that the essentials of biblical truth came in
progressive revelations to men who were putting forth their energies to
live up to the largest ideals they could reach; and that they sought
these larger ideals for use in their lives. It must be understood in
all that we have said about acting the revelation out into life that we
do not mean merely the more matter-of-fact activities. It should be
noticed that whenever men speak of will-activities they are apt to give
the impression that they mean some putting forth of bodily energy. The
will to do scriptural righteousness did not manifest itself merely in
outside actions. It manifested itself just as thoroughly in bearings
and attitudes of the inner spirit; and the appeal was always to the
will to hold itself fast in the direction of the highest life, whatever
the form of the activity.

After this emphasis upon obedience as the organ of spiritual knowledge
some one may ask what provision we are making for infallibility and for
inspiration. We can only say that we are dealing with a Book which has
come out of concrete life, and that in concrete life not much
consideration is given to abstract infallibility. In daily experience
the righteous soul becomes increasingly sure of itself. To return for
the moment to Paul, we may think of the certainty with which he grasped
the thought of the reward which would be his. The time of his
departure, or, of his unmooring, was at hand. He was perfectly
confident that he was to go on longer voyages of spiritual discovery
and exploration. Can we say that this splendid outburst came from
devotion to an abstract formula? Did it not, rather, spring from the
sources of life within him-sources opened and developed by the
experiences through which he passed? The biblical heroes wrought and
suffered through living confidence in the forces which were bearing
them on and up. They would have answered questions about abstract
infallibility with emphatic avowals as to the firmness of their own
belief. In other words, they could have relied upon their life itself
as its own best witness to itself. They felt alive and ready to go
whithersoever life might lead.

And so with inspiration. It is the merest commonplace to repeat that
the inspiration of the Scriptures must show itself in their power to
inspire those who partake of their life. Does a fresh moral and
spiritual air blow through them? Is there in them anything that men can
breathe? Anything upon which men can build themselves into moral
strength? This is the final test of inspiration. Physical breathing is
in itself a mystery, but we know when the air invigorates us. Abstract
doctrine of inspiration apart from life and experience is a very
stifling affair compared with inspiration conceived of as a breath of
life. The scriptural doctrine is that the man who does the will finds
himself able to breathe more deeply of the truth of God; and that the
very breath itself will satisfy him, and by satisfying him convince him
that it is the breath of life.

There is an old story of a student who decided to learn the meaning of
a strange religion which was taught and practiced by priests in a
far-away corner of India. The student thought to disguise himself, to
go close to the doors of the temple and to listen there for what he
might overhear of the principles taught by the priests. One day he was
detected and captured by the priests and made their slave. He was set
to work performing to the utmost the duties for which the temple
called. His response was at first rebellious. In the long years that
followed the spell of the strange religion was cast upon him. He began
to learn not as an outsider, not as one merely studying writings and
rituals, but as one enthralled by the system itself. In this old story,
inadequate as it is, we have a suggestion of the way in which the
biblical revelation lays its spell upon man. The outside study is,
indeed, worth much, but the true understanding comes inside the temple
to him who carries forward the work of the temple.



We have seen that the understanding of the Scriptures presupposes at
least a sympathy with the rule of life contained in the Scriptures, and
implies for its largest results a practical surrender to that rule of
life. He that doeth the will revealed in the Scriptures cometh to a
knowledge of the truth revealed in the Scriptures. We must next note
that an understanding of the Bible cannot advance far until it realizes
the emphasis on the human values set before us in the scriptural books.
We are to approach the distinctively religious teachings of the Bible
somewhat later. It is now in order to call attention to the truth that
the biblical movement is throughout the ages in the direction of
increasing regard for the distinctively human. The human ideal is not
so much absolutely stated as imposed in laws, in prophecies, in the
policies of statesmen, in the types of ideal erected on high before the
chosen people as worthy of supreme regard. And the place of the human
ideal in the Bible helps determine the place of the Bible in human
life. Mankind makes much of the Book because the Book makes much of

There is much obscurity about the beginnings of the laws of the
Hebrews. One characteristic of those laws, however, is evident from a
very early date--the regard for human life as such and the aim to make
human existence increasingly worth while. It is a common quality of
primitive religions that they are apt to lay stress on merely
ceremonial cleansings, for example. The ceremony is gone through for
the sake of pleasing a deity. There are abundant indications of this
same purpose in the ceremonies of the early Hebrews, but there is even
more abundant indication that the ceremonies were aimed at a good
result for the worshiper himself. It is impossible to read through the
Mosaic requirements concerning bodily cleanliness, the sanitary
arrangements of the camps, the regulations for cooking the food, and
the instructions for dealing with disease without feeling that there is
a wide difference between such requirements and merely formal
ceremonials. The Mosaic sanitary law aimed at the good of the people.
It sought to make men clean and decent and human. So it was also in
many of the rules governing the daily work, the regulations as to the
use of land, the prohibitions of usury, the relations of servants and
masters--all these had back of them the driving force of an enlarging
human ideal. The trend was away from everything unhuman and inhuman. It
is not necessary for us to remark upon the outbursts of the prophets
against those who would put property interests above human interests.
It is a matter of commonplace that the call of the prophets was for
larger devotion to a genuinely human ideal: that the fires of their
wrath burned most fiercely against old-time monopolists who joined land
to land till there was "no place," and against old-time corrupters of
the law who sold the needy for a pair of shoes.

Not only did the emphasis on the human ideal show in laws, but in the
training up of types of life which should in themselves embody and
illustrate the conceptions of the biblical leaders. At the heart of the
Christian religion is incarnation, or divine revelation through the
human organism. We are told that this incarnation came in the fullness
of time. The passage seems to refer not merely to the rounding out of
historic periods, but also to the fashioning of an ideal of human
character, and at least a partial realization of that ideal in Hebrew
heroes. If the final ideal was to stand incarnate before men, there
must be approximations to that ideal before the crowning incarnation
could be appreciated. We look upon the character of Jesus as the
complete embodiment of human excellencies. Such a revelation, however,
would have been futile if there had not previously been glimpses of and
anticipations of the ideal in the lives of those who were forerunners
of Jesus. The Scriptures teach, or at least imply, that the life of a
good man is in itself a transcendent value.

And yet it is perfectly clear that while the Scriptures exalt the
individual, they do not mean to wall individuals off in impenetrable
circles by themselves. It is true that the individual is the end toward
which the scriptural redemption and glorification aims, but individuals
find their own best selves not in isolation but in union with their
fellows--a union of mutual cooperation and service, a union so close
that the persons thus related come to be looked upon as a veritable
Body of Christ, making together by their impact upon the world the same
sort of revelation that the living Christ made in the days of his early
life. The ideals as to the supremacy of human values are realized,
according to the Scriptures, not in any separateness of individual
existence, but in a closeness of social interdependence. So true is
this that it is hardly possible to see how one can make much of the
scriptural movement without immersing himself in the stream of human
life with highest regard for the values of that life.

It has been insisted from the beginning that the Christian
consciousness is the only adequate interpretation of the Scriptures. By
Christian consciousness is meant not the consciousness of the body of
believers who are together trying to serve Christ. The interpretation
of the individual becomes final only as it is accepted by the mass of
the believers. Something of worth-while thought is conceived of as
going out from the life of every believer. The utterance of the seer is
not conceived of as complete until even he who sits in the seat of the
unlearned has said "Amen." The pronouncements which do not evoke this
wide human response fall by the wayside. For example, how was the canon
of the New Testament shaped? Was there a determination on the part of
individual leaders that such and such books should be included in the
volume of Scriptures? Very likely there was at the last such deliberate
selection, but before the final decision there must have been the
practice of the congregations which amounted in the end to the choice
or rejection of sacred books. Very likely the New Testament Scriptures
were collected by a process of trying out the reading of Epistles and
Gospels and exhortations before the congregations. As passages met or
failed to meet the human needs, there was call for the repeated reading
of some works and no call for the rereading of others. In use some
documents proved their sacredness and other documents fell aside into
disuse. Before the concluding deliberate choice was this selection in
use by the believers themselves; and the selection turned round the
question as to whether or not the documents helped people. If each
member of the body of believers is entitled to interpret biblical
literature, interpretation becomes a composite and diversified
activity. There is little warrant in the Scriptures for the notion that
the biblical revelation is to level men to any sort of sameness. There
are diversities of endowments and varieties of expression; but the
united judgment of the body of believers is the supreme authority in
interpreting the scriptural revelation. This is what we mean by saying
that the church is to interpret the Scriptures. We mean that no matter
how brilliant or interesting the utterances of any individual may be,
they are not of great value until they have received in some fashion
the sanction of the main mass of believers. It is the function of the
spokesmen of the church to gather up into distinct expression what may
have been vaguely, but nevertheless really, in the thought or
half-thought of the people. Gladstone once said that it is the business
of the orator to send back upon his audience in showers what comes up
to him from the audience in mist or clouds; so it is with the voice of
a biblical truth through any medium of interpretation. The spokesman
compresses or condenses into speech what has been dimly in the
consciousness of the people. Even in days less democratic than ours
this was abundantly true. It is the fashion to denounce some of the
councils of the old church which shaped the creeds. It is often said
that these creedal councils were moved by considerations of low-grade
expediency. The councils, however, knew what the people were thinking
of, and managed to get the popular thought into expression measurably
satisfactory to the people themselves.

In this doctrine of the church as interpreter of scriptural truth we
can be sure that the emphasis will remain on the elements which make
for enlarging human life if the church keeps true to the spirit of the
Bible itself. The aspirations of humanity, the longings of masses of
men, find utterance in the great popular spiritual demands all the more
effectively because such demands override and nullify the insistence of
an individualistic point of view which might easily become selfish. We
have said that this democratic interpretation is final so long as it
keeps itself in line with the biblical purpose. There are some dangers,
however, against which we must be on our guard. First is the danger of
identifying the church with those who actually belong to an
organization. When we think of the church we have in mind not merely
formal organizations, but all men who are really working in the spirit
of the biblical ideals. There are many persons who really act according
to the biblical revelation without technically uniting with a church.
It may be that such persons do not accept the intellectual puttings of
biblical doctrine, but that they nevertheless live in the spirit of
that doctrine. It might be conceivably possible that a church
organization would stand for an interpretation of truth which would be
rejected by the general good sense of a larger community. In such a
case the larger community would be the interpreter. Another danger in
an interpreting body is that of traditionalism. The native conservatism
of many minds stands against innovation. If, however, the innovation is
in the direction of enlarging human life, it will in the end win its
way. A third danger is that of institutionalism, where the organization
as such becomes an end in itself without regard to the human interests
involved. The Master's fiercest condemnations were for those who put
any institution before the fulfillment of the human ideals. In the
parable of the good Samaritan it is noteworthy that it was the priest
and the Levite who passed by on the other side. It is hard to resist
the feeling that the Master implied that the priest and Levite had been
institutionalized into a lack of humanity. Making allowance now for all
these dangers against which believers must guard, the chances are that
interpretation of a book so human as the Scriptures is not final until
it has received the real, though not necessarily formal, sanction of
the body of believers.

So thoroughly does the biblical revelation turn around the supremacy of
the distinctively human values that we must insist that anything which
would run counter to these values is alien to the spirit of the
revelation, and, therefore, to comprehension of that revelation. We do
not wish to be extreme, but it is hard to see how, in our day, for
example, any who fail to put human rights in the first place can really
master the scriptural revelation. We have spoken of the Master's
rebukes of any form of institutionalism which stands in the way of
human rights. Institutions at best are instruments; they exist merely
for the purpose of bringing men to larger life; but these institutions
sometimes get petrified into custom and become glorified by long
practice, and even made sacred by adherents who look upon them as ends
in themselves. Then there is no recourse except to break the
institutions in the name of larger human life. If we could put
ourselves back in the times of Jesus and feel something of the
sacredness with which the Jews regarded the Sabbath, we would know the
tremendous force of the Master's daring when he declared that the
Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. The Master was
also insistent upon the priority of human rights as over against
property rights. It is perfectly true that Jesus did not encourage any
propaganda for social reform. It is a mistake to try to read any form
of modern Socialism into his teaching. Socialism is the theory of a
particular time. Many of its outstanding features will no doubt one day
be adopted; and the world will then move forward toward something else.
Very likely three centuries from the present date the well-advanced
communities of the world will be living under systems which will make
Socialism itself look like the most hopeless and reactionary
conservatism. The scriptural revelation, however, has not to do with
the details of any particular scheme. It aims, rather, at the setting
on high of the human ideal, an ideal which will, if given a chance,
work itself out into the concrete forms best suited to each age, and
which will not have exhausted its vitality when all that is good in the
programs of our particular day shall have been incorporated into social

But let us linger for a moment around the blighting effect of placing
property rights in front of human rights. If anyone at this juncture
becomes nervous and insists that we are likely to introduce the
new-fangled notions of the present day into a discussion where they are
out of place, let us remind such a one that the danger of putting the
material before the spiritual has always been the chief stumbling stone
in the path of the biblical revelation. It may be too much to say with
the old version that the love of money is the root of all evil, but the
Scriptures place the sin of greed in the forefront among the evils that
block the revealing process. Jesus said, "It is easier for a camel to
go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the
kingdom of God." With God a morally miraculous redemption is entirely
possible; but Jesus declares that there is no need of our trying to
minimize the power of the present world to blind us to visions of the
spiritual world. For many forms of wrongdoing the Master had a
willingness to make allowances; for the sin of placing material desires
above human welfare he had unsparing condemnation. In the day of Jesus
the world had an opportunity such as it never had before confronted to
learn spiritual truth. What manner of opposition was it which prevented
that truth from running its full course? Largely the opposition of
money interests. The Pharisees had need to keep alliance with the
temporal powers. It is not without significance that Jesus was betrayed
for money. It is not without significance too that Jesus's picture of
the Judgment Scene concerns itself largely with the rewards for those
who discharge the tasks of simple human kindness. It means much to find
Jesus hinting at an unpardonable sin on the part of those who call
deeds of human relief works of Beelzebub. It is certainly food for
reflection that the fiercest condemnations in his parables are for
those who miss the human duties in their regard for the possessions of
this world. We repeat that we would not be extreme, but when we see the
disregard of human life in modern industrialism; when we behold the
attempts of property interests to get control of all channels for the
shaping of public opinion; when we see rent, interest, and dividends
more highly rated than men, women, and children, we cannot help feeling
that the deeper penetration into the Scriptures cannot arrive except
through an emphasis upon fundamental human rights so mighty that all
institutional creations of industrialism or ecclesiasticism shall be
put into the secondary place and strictly kept there. This is not
railing against wealth. It is simply calling attention to the fact that
the man who possesses the wealth-tool cannot be allowed to use it or
even to brandish it in such fashion as to endanger the unfolding of
human ideals. It is only through the enforcing of these ideals that the
Scriptures can be adequately apprehended. Until a social kingdom of God
comes on earth the light of revelation cannot shine in its full
brightness. Any social preacher of larger human rights is working for
the dawn of a new day of biblical understanding.

Some one will ask, however, why we single out one type of evil as
especially thwarting the understanding of a biblical revelation. Why
not speak of the evils of appetite and of envy and jealousy? The answer
is that such evils, devastating as they are toward the spiritual
faculties, are so definitely personalized in individuals that their
nature is quickly recognized. The difference is that under present
organization the evils of materialism are preeminently social. There is
everywhere the heartiest condemnation for the man who personally is
conspicuously greedy. A social evil can manifest itself in outstanding
startlingness in a single person, but the plain fact is that under
modern industrial organization we are all caught in the same snare. We
are all tarred with the same stick. Great as is the improvement of our
present system over anything that has preceded it, nevertheless the
distribution of this world's goods is so unequal that we walk in the
presence of injustice on every hand. The poor man often does not
receive the product of his own work. Large material prizes go to men
who toil not. Now no one in particular is to blame for this social
plight. Nobody has yet arisen to show us the way out. We cannot act
except as we all act together; and it is doubtful even if one nation
could act alone. If, however, we should all recognize the evils of the
present system, if we should condemn the wrongs of that system instead
of trying to justify them, we would be on much better spiritual ground,
for the attempts to justify the system lead to uneasy consciences, and
to the searing of those consciences, and to the softening down of harsh
truths, and finally to an inability to see things as they are. Though
we have come far along the path toward industrial justice, there is
still very much in the system under which we live that makes for an
inability to understand some of the most elementary phrasings of
Christian truth. The only way out is to see the system as it is and to
take such steps forward as can be taken now. Only thus can we keep our
souls saved, and only thus also can we follow the flashes from above.

Jesus preached the highest ideal for individual righteousness. Men are
to strive to be perfect even as the Father in heaven is perfect. But
the perfection is to show itself in social impartiality in the use of
material opportunities. God sendeth the rain to fall and the sun to
shine on the evil and the good. How many Christians of the present day
could be safely intrusted with the distribution of rainfall and
sunshine? Those of us who dwell in lands that must be irrigated know
that the type of Christianity that can be trusted to deal fairly with
our irrigation system is somewhat unusual.

We take the injustices of the present social order too much as a matter
of course. We ought to see them as making against humanity, and
therefore against the scriptural revelation. When these injustices
culminate in a war like the present, the only safety is thought that
deals honestly with the inhumanity of the war. Granted that war in
self-defense is justifiable, we keep ourselves open to divine
revelations only as we refuse to glorify the inhuman. Only that nation
can succeed in war and remain open to revelation from above which
recognizes the inhumanity of war and refuses to glorify it.

Closely related to the blight of the spirit of this present world is
the failure to perceive the need of missionary spirit for a full grasp
of scriptural truth. Though the Bible was given to a peculiar people,
self-centered and exclusive, it nevertheless abounds in suggestions
that its content can be appreciated the full only by those whose
sympathies run out to men at the very ends of the earth. In the eyes of
the Scriptures a human being is a human being anywhere. The differences
between men are as nothing compared to the likenesses. Every revelation
must begin somewhere and must attack its problems in proper sequence,
one after the other; but mere priority of approach does not mean that
one problem is inherently more important than another. Leaders among
the Jews early tried to impress this upon the Jewish mind. Considered
in its historical setting, the book of Jonah is one of the most
spiritually daring books ever written. Jonah stands as a type of Jew
who would not admit anything of worth in human beings outside of
Judaism. Rather than carry the word of the Lord to Nineveh he would
leave his country and go to Tarshish; rather than turn back and resume
the journey to Nineveh, he would consent to be cast overboard in a
storm. Forced at last to deliver his message, he announced it with the
grim satisfaction of expecting to see Nineveh destroyed. And the final
text of the book is that Jonah must learn not merely to proclaim his
message to the Ninevites, but to proclaim his message with sympathy and
genuine human interest. The Jews were a long time learning the lesson,
but not longer than other peoples have been. Just because of the human
interest involved, the missionary impulse is necessary to a spiritual
seizure of the biblical revelation.

It is important that we keep the missionary motive on the right basis.
It is true that the Scriptures will never be adequately appropriated
until all kindreds and peoples and tongues bring their contributions.
Some phases of the truth the Oriental mind must seize before the
Occidental mind can be brought to appreciate them. When the final
revelation comes it will be adapted to the understanding of any kindred
under heaven. It is worth while to spread the Christian revelation for
the sake of the return which the Christianized peoples will one day
bring to our studies of the truth. But the better motive is deeper than
this--the passion for human beings as human beings. Any human being is
entitled to any truth which another human being can reveal to him.

The approach must be the human approach. We must speedily get away from
the Jonah-like conceptions of the biblical revelation as intended
particularly for any one nation. One great danger from the present war
is the loss by the religious nations involved of the ordinary New
Testament point of view. Many of the fighting nations have lapsed back
into the pre-Jonah era. But the present war aside, the thought of
supreme truth as intended chiefly for a particular race or nation,
leads to a patronizing, condescending bearing toward other peoples
which thwarts the finer spiritual achievements. The contacts between
the so-called higher and so-called lower nations in military,
diplomatic, and commercial relations have thus far for the most part
been abominable. Too often missionary effort itself has based itself on
these same assumptions of racial superiority. A people may indeed
receive blessings from the Scriptures in whatever spirit they are
bestowed, but damage is wrought in the souls of the bestowers by the
attitude of superiority. The only genuinely biblical approach is one of
respect--respect for the peoples as peoples, respect which will have
regard for their growing independence in spiritual development, respect
which will not force upon them particularistic interpretations of the
universal Scriptures.

Now, all of this may seem like a long distance from a treatment of
understanding of the Scriptures in the ordinary sense. It would not
have been worth while, however, to discuss this problem merely from the
point of view of exegesis or professional commentary. The essentials
about the Scriptures are their relations to life, their views of human
beings and teachings concerning the forces of the spiritual kingdom. We
shall proceed in the other chapters to speak of God, of the revelation
of God in Christ, and of the spirit of Christ as revealed in his cross.
Before we enter upon that study we must again remind ourselves that
only life in harmony with the point of view of the Scriptures and only
an interest in the same human problems that engross the attention of
spiritual writers can avail us for vital interpretation of the
teachings concerning the Divine, or make intelligible to us the hold of
the Scriptures on the life of the world. The Bible is conceived in a
spirit of respect for men. Only those who enter into that same spirit
can hope to make much of the biblical revelation.



We have remarked upon some points of view from which the student must
start in order to reach a sound understanding of the Scriptures. It is
time for us to ask ourselves, however, as to the dominant notes of the
Scriptures which make the Book so dynamic. The purpose of this chapter
is to show that the essentials of the Book are, after all, its
teachings about God. The Bible is the Book of God. Due chiefly to the
ideas about God are its uniqueness and its force.

Before advancing to the consideration of the Bible as a book about God
it will be well for us to glance for a moment at other grounds on which
supremacy for the Scriptures is sometimes claimed. There are those who
maintain that the value of the Bible lies in the wealth of information
which it gives us concerning the first days of the world's life. The
Bible helps us to regard sympathetically the view of the universe by
the ancient Hebrews. It is a repository of knowledge as to early
science and philosophy. Now, all this is true, but relatively
unimportant. Had it not been for the religious teachings of which the
old-time view of the world was the vehicle, that vehicle itself would
long since have been forgotten. Only archaeologists are to-day greatly
interested in ancient theories of the world as such.

There are, again, those who avow that the Bible deserves all praise
because of the literary excellence of its style. There are, indeed,
sublime passages to be forever cherished as entitled by their very
sublimity of expression to permanent place in the world's literature.
All this we most gladly admit. Oratory like that of the book of Isaiah,
some of the sentences of the patriarchs, passages from the Psalms or
from the Sermon on the Mount, the parables, the thirteenth chapter of
Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians, are sure of permanency in
literature no matter what may be anyone's opinion of their religious
content. Nobility of conception is very apt to tend toward nobility of
phrase. The expression may be admired for its own apart from the
substance; but to say that the Bible holds its throne as the Book of
books simply because of the superiority of its artistic form is
woefully aside from the mark. Lamentable as it may be, masses of men do
not rank artistic literary skill as highly as they ought. While a lofty
idea is not likely to make its full impression until wrought into lofty
beauty by a master of style, the worth must nevertheless inhere in the
substance rather than in the form if the statement is to make lasting
effect upon the passing generations. Moreover, it is very easy to
overemphasize the literary excellence of the Scriptures. There are
scores of passages which, as we say, "go through one," but this
marvelous effectiveness is quite as likely to belodged in the idea
itself and in the associations which that idea arouses as in the form
of the passage. In some instances the literary mold in the Authorized
Version is such as to hinder rather than to help; so that the prophet
who seeks to add to the force of the idea breaks the mold for literary

Still another may declare that the Scriptures are valuable because they
abound in hints which make for practical success--shrewd moral maxims
which aid all classes of men in avoiding pitfalls, axioms for daily
conduct which ought to be accepted by everybody, even by those who care
not for the religion of the Bible. All this, again, is true, but hardly
sufficient to explain the grip of the Bible on mankind. So far as the
more conventional morality goes, men are likely to be ruled by the
sentiment of the community in which they move. They adapt themselves to
the demands of the situation at a particular time rather than to a set
of precepts.

Still others maintain that the human ideal itself which we sketched in
a previous chapter is the determining factor in giving the Bible power.
The greatest study of mankind is man. The erection of such an ideal as
that of the Scriptures for man cannot fail to secure for the Book
mighty power through all the ages. And yet it must be replied that if
we take the Bible merely as portraying a human ideal without reference
to the idea of God involved in the same process of revelation, we cut
asunder two things which properly belong together. We must not forget
that in the history of Israel the prophets grasped at every new insight
concerning human character as at the same time a new insight concerning
the character of God. Attributing a profoundly moral trait to God made
it of more consequence forthwith for man, and thus the conceptions of
man and God went along together reenforcing each the other. To separate
the ideal of God from the ideal of man leaves everything at loose ends
for the human ideal. It is true that there are individuals here and
there of intense intelligence and of immense wealth of moral endowment
who do not seem to require any ideal of God to sustain and strengthen
their ideal of man; but for the most of us the ideal of man cannot grow
to any considerable size without growth of our notion as to the
character of God. What man is now depends somewhat on our thought of
where man came from, and what his place in the universe essentially is.
One of our deepest yearnings is to know whether our exalted belief
about man has any validity before the larger ranges of the activity of
the universe itself. It is very common, for example, for those who go
forth to social tasks with a passion for humanity to lose that passion
if they do not keep alive a passion for God. Disappointment with some
phases of human nature itself and despair over the failures of men are
apt to be so trying that the passion for humanity dies down unless
familiarity with actual human life is reenforced by communion with an
ideal which reaches up toward the Divine. We would ourselves insist
that the loftiest human ideal in all literature is that of the
Scriptures, but we must insist also that this ideal lacks driving force
if it does not keep back of it the biblical doctrine of God.

From the very outset the Hebrew Scriptures deal with God. "In the
beginning God," at the end God, and God at every step of the journey
from the beginning to the end. There are other scriptures besides the
Hebrew Scriptures that deal with God, but the kind of God set before us
in the Hebrew revelation gives the Bible its supreme merit.

Since we often hear that there are other sources for the idea of God
than the Scriptures, it may be well for us to appraise the
contributions from some of those sources before we look at the kind of
God drawn for us in the biblical writings. After allowing as high
excellence as is possible to the theologies obtained outside the
Scriptures, the moral and spiritual superiority of the scriptural ideal
shines forth unmistakably.

Many a scientist tells us that we do not further need the biblical idea
of God in view of the vast suggestions concerning the Divine which
science places before us. The world in which we live has broadened
immeasurably since the days of the Hebrew prophets and seers. The idea
of God, broadening to correspond, has to expand so overwhelmingly that
we ought no longer pay heed to the imaginations of the biblical
writers. Large numbers of scientists to-day avow themselves devout
theists. Materialism is decidedly out of fashion, and agnosticism is
less in vogue than a decade or two ago. The reverent scientist affirms
that he believes in a God whose omniscience keeps track of every
particle of matter in a universe whose spaces are measured by billions
of miles, a God whose omnipresence implies the interlacing of forces
whose sweep and fineness seen through the telescope and microscope
astonish us. Moreover, the modern doctrine of evolution shows us that
the entire material system is moving on and up from lower to higher
forms. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be," but we shall clearly
be something great and glorious.

Now, far be it from us to belittle the splendor of this scientific
vision. Modern scientific searchers are, indeed, finding innumerable
illustrations of the greatness of God. There is every reason why the
scientific investigator should rejoice in a calling which enables him
to think God's thoughts after him; but when a scientist will have it
that his belief in God arises only from his technical investigations,
we must declare our suspicion that he is employing his findings to
confirm a faith already held, though that faith may be part of his
unconscious spiritual possessions. Many times the scientist is
determined that the scientific discoveries shall look in theistic
directions just to satisfy the imperious though unconscious demands of
his own soul. Some scientists are theists just because they are bound
to be so, for the close contemplation of the entire situation in the
material realm does not make for any adequate theistic verdict. It is
hard indeed to believe that the nice adjustments of matter and force
occur without the governance of a supervising intelligence. There are
too many facts which suggest skill to make it easy to believe that the
natural world is just the outcome of a fortuitous concourse of atoms.
Science itself very likely establishes a presumption in favor of a
governing mind, _but the deeper question is as to the character of that
mind_. Is it a moral mind? At this point the hopeful evolutionist will
break out that the progress is so definitely from lower to higher that
no one ought to doubt the benevolence of the Power moving upward
through all things. Evolution is, indeed, full of promises to one who
already trusts in the goodness of God; but the progress from lower to
higher is not always unmistakable. Often the survival of the fittest is
just a survival of those fittest to survive, and not the survival of
those who ought to survive. There are too many things which survive
which ought to be killed off. Simple good can give way to complex evil
without at all violating the requirements of the evolutionistic
formula. But even if we concede all that the scientist claims for his
conception of God; if we grant that terms like "omnipresence" and
"omniscience" and "progress" clothe themselves with new force in the
Copernican and Newtonian and Darwinian terminology, we must
nevertheless insist that none of this rises to the moral height of the
biblical teaching. Nor are we willing to admit that the biblical
doctrine is to be discounted because it grew up amid small theories of
the material universe. The old Hebrew views of the physical system,
outdated as they are now, are nevertheless full of sublimity on their
own account. But even if they were infinitesimal as compared with the
vast stretches of modern scientific measurements, the moral grandeur of
the idea of God of which they were the framework stands forth
unmistakably. We must not permit the quantitative bigness of modern
scientific notions to obscure the qualitative fineness of the biblical
ideal of God. Modern philosophy comes also and announces that it has a
better God than that of the Scriptures. The most imposing modern
philosophical systems are those which proclaim some form of idealism.
The gist of the idealistic argument always is that the world itself is
nothing apart from thought; that thought-relationships rule in and
through all things; that there are no things-in-themselves; that there
can be no hard-and-fast stuff standing apart from God. Things must come
within the range of thought or go out of existence. There is no
alternative. Now, thought implies a thinker, and this implication
carries us at once to God. Here, again, we have no desire to question
the cogency of the argument. We are ready to admit that this is the
strongest theistic argument that has thus far been built. To be sure,
there are some questions that inevitably suggest themselves: What is
the thinker? Is it impersonal thought, as some have maintained? Is it
just the sum of all forms of consciousness--our consciousnesses being
organs or phases of the Supreme Consciousness? Or is the thinker
strictly personal, carrying on a thought-world by the power of his will
and calling into existence finite thinkers in his own image? Assuming
that the world is the expression of the thought of a Personal Thinker
who acts in the forces of nature and creates men in his own image, the
further question arises as to the character of that Thinker. While
returning the heartiest thanks to the idealist for his argument--full
as it is of aid for the Christian system--we have to protest that the
argument does not lift us to the full height of the ideal of God
inculcated in the Scriptures. And if this is true of the majestic
systems of idealism, how much more is it true of the other and less
convincing systems which are just now having their day! We have already
spoken of pragmatism as possessing validity as a method, but pragmatism
can hardly cherish pretension of being itself a system of religious

Some very strenuous searchers after divine treasures have professed to
discover value in various non-Christian religions. They have patiently
studied the great Indian world-views, for example, which are admittedly
the most important religious creations outside of Christianity. These
students come back to us with fragments of doctrines, gems of ethical
wisdom, traces of sublimity from the Indian sacred books. It would be
foolhardy not to receive any genuine treasures, no matter what the mine
from which they have been quarried. We are all eager to admit the
immeasurable possibilities of the Oriental type of thinking for the
development of Christianity, but Oriental systems thus far have been
chiefly significant as indicating what stupendous religious powers can
do when they are off the track. The Indian systems of religion have run
loose in India. As a result, nowhere in the world has religion been
taken more seriously and more sincerely than by the Indian peoples. It
is simply impossible to bring the charge against the Indian races that
they have not made the most of their religion. The final indictment to
be passed upon the Indian systems is that while the Indian peoples have
made the most of those systems, the systems have made least of the
Indian peoples; and this because of the defects in the conception of
the Divine itself. It is doubtful whether the Indian could call his
highest gods personal. If he declares them personal, he can hardly make
them moral in the full sense; that is to say, in the sense of exerting
their force on the world in favor of justice and righteousness and love.

Now, it is just in the quality of moral force that the God of the
Scriptures shows his superiority. The entire revealing process can be
looked upon as one long story of the moralization of the idea of God.
Let it be granted that the biblical idea was at the beginning marked by
the naïve and the crude. Personally, we have never been able to see the
pertinency of the reasonings which make the Hebrew Jehovah as imperfect
as some students would have us believe. Nevertheless, for the sake of
the argument we will admit limitations in the early Hebrew conception
of God. Even with such concession, however, the outstanding
characteristics of that God were from the beginning moral. Suppose that
Jehovah was at the beginning just a tribal Deity. The difference
between Jehovah and other tribal deities was that the commandments
which were conceived of as coming from him looked in the direction of
increasing moral life for the people, and these moral demands upon the
chosen people were conceived of as arising out of the nature of Jehovah
himself. To be sure, the early narratives employ expressions like "the
jealousy of God," but even a slightly sympathetic reading of the
Scriptures indicates that the jealousy was directed against whatever
would harm human life. In the mighty pictures of the patriarchs the
heroes speak to their God as if the same moral obligations rested upon
God as upon themselves. There is nothing finer in the Old Testament
than Abraham's challenge, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do

We are not specially interested in the growth of the ideas as to the
power of God, though we repeat that it is difficult for us to believe
that the early Hebrews thought of their Deity as so narrowly limited in
power as some modern students seek to prove. The conception of the
might of Jehovah grew through the centuries and followed upon the
extension of the knowledge of the Hebrews about the world in which they
lived. If tomorrow morning some revolutionary astronomical discovery
should convince us that the solar system is much vaster than we have
ever imagined, the theist would, of course, extend the thought of the
sway of God to all that solar system. If there were some method of
becoming aware that the bodies of the entire astronomical system are
millions of times more numerous than scientists ever have dreamed, the
theist would, of course, maintain that the righteous purpose of his God
reaches to all of these bodies. The growth of the Hebrew idea was
somewhat parallel to this. Even when the Hebrew thought of the outside
peoples as having gods of their own; he believed that as soon as his
God came into conflict with the other gods, he would shatter them with
his might. By the time the first chapters of Genesis were written the
Hebrew conceived of God as creator of all things, and thereafter the
growth of the belief in the power of God kept pace with the enlarging
view of the world.

We repeat that we are not much concerned with the growth of the idea of
the power of God. We are, however, interested in the manifest teaching
or direct implication of the Scriptures that from the beginning the
Hebrews thought of God as under obligation to use his power for moral
ends. What the moral ends were depended upon the growth of the moral
ideal. At the very beginning it was believed that since God had chosen
the people of Israel to be his people, he must fight their battles for
them. It is from this point of view that we must deal with the early
idea of God as a God of battles. God was wielding his force for a moral
purpose. Moreover, if God had chosen a people to be the channel through
which he was to reveal himself to the world, he must be very patient
with that people. How sublime is the Old Testament belief in the
patience of God toward Israel! To use the phrase of our later days, God
accommodated himself to the progress which the people could make. When
the prophets called upon the people to walk with God, they implied a
willingness on God's part to walk with the people. If they must
lengthen their stride, he must shorten his; he must bear with them in
their inadequate notions; he must judge their efforts by the direction
in which they were tending rather than by any achievement in itself.

It is from the point of view of their growing apprehension of God as
moral that we can best understand the ferocity of the Israelite toward
the so-called heathen peoples. The boasting of the Israelites over the
slaughter of outsiders must be understood from the faith in the moral
destiny which the prophets conceived the God of Israel to hold in store
for his people. The reason assigned for cruelties and warfares upon
heathen peoples was the abominations practiced by those peoples. Of
course it is possible for a student obsessed with the modern doctrine
of the economic determinism of history to say that we have in the story
of the Hebrew development just the play of economic forces with moral
aims assigned as their formal justification. Assuming that the
narratives of the conquest of Canaan are true, what the Hebrews
desired--these economists tell us--was the milk and the honey. They
made their so-called advance in obedience to God an excuse for taking
possession of the milk and the honey. Now, he would be blind indeed who
would deny that economic values do play their part in wars of conquest;
he would be foolish who would deny that wars always do justify
themselves by appealing to lofty religious motives, but nevertheless
the impact of the Hebrew history upon the life of the world has been a
moral impact, due to the belief of the Hebrews that they were
instruments in the hands of a moral God. If we could behold the
abominations in heathenism upon which the old prophets looked, we would
sympathize quite readily with an impulse which might seem to call for
outright destruction. A friend of mine, a man of the most sensitive
Christian feeling, once stood on the banks of the Ganges and watched
people by the hundreds and thousands going through religious
ceremonials, some of which were defiling and others silly. In the midst
of the reeking vileness of one scene in particular he said that he felt
for the moment an impulse like that of the old prophets to cry out for
the destruction of the entire mass. The situation seemed so dreadful
and so hopeless! All this passed in an instant to the loftier feeling
of compassion, but the stirring of the more primitive impulse was
really moral in its foundation. In any case, the old Hebrew notion was
of a God who would put a growing moral ideal in the first place.

It is not necessary for us to attempt to trace the steps of the growth
of the moral ideal for God. As we have said, that ideal kept pace with
the growth of the ideal for man. We must call attention, however, to
the fact that the growth of the ideal was in the direction of
increasing emphasis upon the responsibilities that go with power. The
Hebrew may not have definitely phrased the responsibility, but he
nevertheless shows his increasing realization of the obligations
resting upon God. When we reach the later prophets we discern that his
moral obligation upon God himself becomes more and more a determining
factor. There appear glimpses of belief that God must not only fight
for his people, but that he must suffer in their sufferings. It is of
little consequence for our present purpose whether the suffering
servant of Jehovah of the later Israelitish Scriptures is a group of
persons or an individual. The implication is that the suffering is a
revelation of Jehovah himself. Moreover, there appears a widening
stream of emphasis on the tenderness of God's care for his people. The
Hebrew writers comparatively early broke away from the thought of God
as merely philanthropically inclined toward Israel. They did not think
of him as bestowing gifts which were without cost to himself. They show
him as deeply involved in the life of the nation and as caring for his
people with an infinite compassion. This enlarging revelation was made
clear to the people through the utterances of prophets, the decrees of
lawgivers, the songs of psalmists, the interpretations of historians,
and the warnings of statesmen. Slowly and surely, moreover, the people
attained grasp on the doctrine that the greatest revelation of God is
the revelation in human character itself. They began to look forward to
the coming of one who would in himself embody the noblest and best in
the divine life, who would gather up in himself all the ideals and
purposes toward which the law and the prophets had looked. New
Testament revelation as such we leave to the later chapters, but we
have come far enough, we think, to warrant us in saying that only he
can understand the Scriptures who sees that the chief fact about the
Scriptures is the emphasis on the moral nature of God. Other Scriptures
besides that of the Hebrews--we might say scientific, philosophical,
extra-Christian Scriptures--have stood for the existence of God; but
none have stood for the existence of such a God as the God of the
Bible. The salient feature of the Bible is its thought of God.



It is of course the merest commonplace to say that the revelation of
God in the Scriptures comes to its climax in Christ. The revelation in
Christ gathers up all that is loftiest in the utterances of the Old
Testament and gives it embodiment in a human life. It is legitimate to
declare that there is little either in the teaching of Christ or in his
character that is not at least foreshadowed in the Old Testament. The
uniqueness of the Christ revelation consists in the manner in which the
separate streams of truth of the law and the prophets and the seers and
the poets are merged together in the Christ teaching, and in the fine
balance with which the ideal characteristics seen from afar by the
saints of the older day were realized in the living Christ. We might
justly say that a devout reader of the Old Testament could find rich
elements of the Christ revelation even if he should never see a page of
the New Testament. The virtue of the New Testament, however, is that
all the elements revealed throughout the course of the historic periods
of Israel's career are bound together in the life and character of
Christ. It is no mere epigram to say that if the greatest fact about
the Scriptures is God, the greatest fact about God is Christ. Any
thorough study of the Scriptures must revolve around Christ as its
center. If the Scriptures mean anything, they mean that in Christ we
see God. Of course it is open to the skeptic to reply that in all this
the Scriptures are completely mistaken; but he cannot maintain that
this is not what the Scriptures mean. The Book comes to its climax with
an honest conviction that Christ is the consummate revelation of God.
The day when men could charge any sort of manipulation of the material
by Scripture writers for unworthy doctrinal purposes is past. We have
in another connection said that each of the New Testament books was,
indeed, written with a definite aim, but this does not mean that facts
and teachings were twisted out of their legitimate significance. That
Christ is the supreme gift of God to men is so thoroughly built into
the biblical revelation that there is no digging that idea out without
wrecking the entire revelation itself. To maintain anything else would
be to do violence to the entire scriptural teaching. The burden of the
entire New Testament is that God is like Christ.

This may seem to some to be a reversal of present-day approach to the
study of the Christ. We may appear to be attacking the problem from the
divine angle rather than from the human. Why not ask what Christ was
rather than what God is? It is indeed far from our purpose to minimize
the rich significance of the humanity of Jesus, but we are trying now
to get the scriptural focus. We do not believe that we can secure that
focus by looking upon the character of Christ as a merely human ideal.
The might of the scriptural emphasis is that Christ is the revelation
of God. We are well aware that ordinary theological debate has centered
on the question as to the extent to which Christ is like God. The Bible
is colored with the belief that God is like Christ. This may seem at
first glimpse to be a very fine discrimination, but the importance of
that discrimination appears when we reflect that mankind is more eager
to learn the character of God than to learn how far a man can climb
toward divinity. In all such discussions as this we proceed at peril of
being misunderstood, but we must repeatedly affirm that important as is
the problem as to the human ideal set forth in Christ, the divine ideal
set forth in him is more significant as explaining the hold of the
Bible on men. Is it not sufficient for us to behold a lofty human ideal
in the portrait of Christ without such emphasis on this ideal as also a
revelation of the divine character? The answer depends upon what we are
most interested in. If we care most for a perfect and symmetrical human
life, we reply that we find that perfection and symmetry in Christ. In
our second chapter we laid such stress upon the importance of the
enlarging human ideal that we have committed ourselves to the
importance of the Christ ideal as a revelation of the possibilities of
human life. But if we take that ideal in itself without any reference
to the character of God, how much enlargement does it bring us? As
members of the human race we can indeed be proud that a human being has
climbed to such moral stature as did Jesus, but what promise does that
give that any other human being can attain to his stature? As a member
of the human race I can be profoundly thankful for a philosopher like
Kant. I can, indeed, dedicate myself to the study of the Kantian
philosophy with some hope of mastering it. I can seek to reproduce in
my life all the conditions that surrounded the life of the great
metaphysician, but I cannot hope to make myself a Kant. Strive as I
may, such transformation is out of the question. I may attain great
merit by my struggle, but I cannot make myself a Kant. The more
intensely I might struggle, the more convinced I would become of the
futility of my quest, and the genius of the philosopher might tower up
at the end as itself a grim mockery of my ambition. So it is with the
Christ if he is not a revelation of the God life at the same time that
he is an idealization of the human life. Viewed as a revelation of
God's character the Christ life is the hope of all the ages. Viewed
only as a masterpiece of human life it might well be the despair of

Of course there are those who believe that it is impossible for Christ
to be a revelation of the human without also being a revelation of the
Divine. We have no desire to quarrel with this position, though we find
it more optimistic than convincing. Incredible as it may seem at first
thought, the universe might theoretically be regarded as a system ruled
over by a Deity who had brought forth a character like that of Christ
just for the sake of seeing what he could achieve in the way of a
masterpiece, without being himself fundamentally involved in
self-revelation. Christ might conceivably be a sort of poetic dream of
the Almighty rather than a laying bare of the Almighty's own life. We
find that human authors by an effort of great imagination fashion
creations in a sense completely different from themselves. It might be
theoretically urged that the character of Christ is different from the
character of God. If this seems very far-fetched, let us remind
ourselves then that there are those in the present world who conceive
of Christ as the very highest peak of human existence and yet deny that
he has any sort of significance as a revelation of the forces back of
the world. Such thinkers maintain that Christ is the best the race has
to show, and yet affirm that the race is but an insignificant item in
the total massiveness of the universe. The Bible establishes the faith
of men against skepticism like this by making the Christ-ideal for God
himself so attractive and appealing.

There are those who proclaim that we do not need any revelations of God
to make then human ideal fully significant--the human ideal stands by
itself. Some such thinkers go consistently the full length of saying
that they are willing to keep their eyes open to the hopelessness of
the universe. They can see nothing beyond this life but total oblivion.
Nevertheless, with their eyes open they will fight on manfully to the
end and take the final leap into the dark without flinching. They are
very apt to add that their philosophy is the only unselfish one; that
the desire of men for any sort of help from conceptions about the
Divine is selfishness where it is not sentimentalism. It is fair to say
that such doctrines seldom meet large response. The reason is not that
men selfishly seek out a God for the sake of material reward that may
come to them, but that they seek him for the sake of finding a resting
place for their minds and souls, for the sake of cherishing an end
which seems in itself worth while, for the sake of laying hold on a
universe in which they can feel at home. If this is selfishness, then
the activities of the human soul in its highest ranges are selfish. If
it is selfish to long for a universe in which the heart can trust, it
is selfish also to enjoy the self-satisfaction with which some of these
thinkers profess to be ready to take their leap into the night. As we
scan the history of Christianity since the day of the Founder we are
impressed that religious organizations as such which arise within
Christianity tend to survive in proportion as they make central the
significance of Christ as the revealer of the character of God. We
would not for a moment underestimate the importance of those groups of
Christians who take Christ merely as a prophet who lived the noblest
life and exalted his truth by the noblest death. Many such believers
manifest the very purest devotion to Christ. They are his disciples.
But the historic fact is that organizations founded on such doctrines
alone do not win sweeping triumphs. On their own statement the most
they hope to do is to spread the leaven of their doctrine into the
thinking of other groups of Christians. Their service in this respect
is not to be disparaged, for at all times the more orthodox opinion of
Christ, so called, needs the leavening of emphasis on the humanity of
Christ. But after all these allowances it is just to affirm that
theology which sees only the human in Christ does not come to vast
power, and that clearly because the world is chiefly interested in the
question with which the entire biblical revealing movement deals,
namely, what is the nature of God? With that question answered we can
best understand the nature of man and the possibility of communion
between man and God.

We may be permitted to pick up the thread of the argument in the last
chapter and ask again what moral purposes rule the forces of this
world. It must indeed be an odd type of mind that does not at least
occasionally ask what this world is for, and what all this cosmic
commotion is about. It is well for all of us to do the best we can
without asking too many hard questions, but the queries will at times
come up and with the normal human being they are not likely easily to
down. We are in the midst of powers which defy our intellects. We do
not go far in the attempt to read the secrets of nature around us
without discovering that all we can hope to spell out is the stages by
which things come to pass, and the mechanisms by which they fit
themselves together. Why they come to pass is beyond us, except in a
most limited sense. The purposes for which events occur in this world
are not self-evidently clear. Explanations of purposes only make
matters worse; and at any moment this problem of the mystery of the
universe may take personal significance in the form of a blow upon the
individual which seems to mock all hope of anything worth while in
human life. There is nothing more futile than the attempts even of
ministers to divine the meanings of afflictions or of those
inequalities of lot which attend the natural order. The preachers can
encourage us to make the most of a bad lot, but their guesses as to why
these things are ordinarily add to our burdens. No, the mind of itself
just by contemplation of the things as they are cannot find much light.
This enigma has always been before the philosophers in the form of the
question as to physical suffering. A number of plausible answers have
been made as to the reasons for pain in the present order. Leibnitz
said that even the Almighty creating the finite world had to adjust
himself to some limitations for the good of the whole; that if some
forces are to run in one direction, there must be mutual concession and
compromise in the adjustment of manifold other activities; and that all
this involves at least apparent stress and injustice at particular
points. This sounds well enough, but why the afflictions of the
individual who happens to be one of the particular points should be
just what they are is a mystery. The upshot is that the ordinary
man--the plain man, as we call him--must either give up the whole
problem by seeking to forget it, or must rebel against it, or he must
find relief in a God whom he can trust without being able to fathom his

The tragedy of physical affliction is light as compared to the
tragedies which arise in any conscience which seeks to take moral
duties seriously. To be sure, we live at present in a rather complacent
age so far as the struggles of conscience are concerned. The advice of
the world is to do the best we can and let the rest go. We are not to
take ourselves too seriously. But the long moral advances of the race
have come through those who have taken the voices of conscience
seriously. Now, what can a sensitive conscience make of moral duty?
Assume that we have before us the exalted Christ ideal, and accept this
as the guide of our lives--assume that we even have hope of some day
attaining to that ideal--the distracting question is bound to jump at
us: Are we doing enough? Have we sacrificed enough for those in worse
plight than ourselves? And what about our past mistakes? Shall we go
back and try to undo these? At the very best that might be like
unraveling through the night what we have spun through the day. It will
not do to dismiss this as unhealthiness or morbidness of mind. William
James has shown pretty conclusively that the so-called normal or
healthy-minded moral life is apt to be shallow. The great moral tragedy
of the race is the distance between the ideal and any possible
attainment. We can console ourselves by saying that noble discontent is
the glory of man; but that does not get us far. There is only one way
out, and that is to trust that we are dealing with a Christlike God,
that his attitude toward us is the attitude of Jesus toward men. It is
impossible to feel that in discipleship with Jesus men were complacent
about their own moral perfections on the one hand, or harassed with
self-reproaches on the other. They were advancing toward the
realization of an ideal in companionship with One who not only in
himself realized the human ideal, but who taught them that all the
forces of the world would work together with them in their climb toward
perfection, and that God would be patient with their blunders.

The question as to the character of God becomes more vital the longer
we reflect. The growing conscience of our time demands that two
conceptions be kept together--that of power and that of moral
responsibility. We cannot hold a person responsible unless he has
power; we cannot give a person power unless he is willing to act under
responsibility. This realization is fast modifying all our relations to
politics, to finance, to industry, even to private duties. We are
swiftly moving toward the day when society will insist that any measure
of power which has an outreach beyond the circle of the holder's
personal affairs shall be acquiesced in by society only on condition
that the holder of that power be willing definitely to assume
responsibility to society. What we demand of men we demand also of God,
and we have the scriptural warrant for believing that these human
demands are themselves hints concerning the nature of God. Now, no one
doubts the power of God. All scientific and philosophic trends are
toward the centralization of power in some unitary source. All our
study of nature and of society convinces us that there is a unity of
power somewhere. If this be true, there must be raised with increasing
persistence the question as to whether the World-Power is acting under
a sense of moral responsibility. There were days when this problem was
not raised as it is now. Men assumed for centuries that the king could
do no wrong; that he could order his people about in the most arbitrary
fashion. In our own time we have seen advocacy of the doctrine that the
man of wealth is a law unto himself in the handling of the power that
comes with wealth. Such mistakes never were really a part of the
biblical idea. In shaping the threefold notion of priest and prophet
and king to make the people familiar with the functions of God-sent
leadership the strokes of emphasis always fell on the responsibility of
the prophet to proclaim his message at whatever cost to himself, of the
priest to keep in mind the sacredness of his office, and of the king to
rule in righteousness. These demands were inevitably carried up to God:
and in Christ the supreme effort is made to convince us that we can
trust in the God of Christ, though we may not be able to understand
him. This is not the place for an attempt at determining the essentials
of the Christ career. Some features of that life, however, as
illustrating responsibility in the use of power can be hinted at here.
Take the story of the temptation. We are not concerned now with the
historic form in which the temptation occurred. After the historians
have made all the changes in the drapery of the story they choose, the
fact remains that the temptation narrative deals with the essential
problems of any leader confronted with a task like that of Christ. The
Messianic consciousness was a consciousness of power. How should the
power be used? Should it be used to minister to human needs like those
of hunger? That would promise a quick solution of a sort. The peoples
would eagerly rally around the new deliverer. Should there be an
attempt to utilize the political machinery of the time? There could be
no doubt of the effectiveness of this plan. Should the exalted lofty
spiritual state of the Master be relied upon to carry him through
spectacular displays of extraordinary might that would capture the
popular mind? Each of these suggestions presented its advantages. Each
might have been rightfully followed by some one with less power than
Jesus had; but for him any one of them would have involved a misuse of
power, and hence he cast them all aside.

The miracles reported of Christ have this for their peculiarity, that
they show a power conceived of as divine used for a righteous purpose.
It is significant that practically all the miracles described are those
of healing or of relief. The kind of miracle that an irresponsible
leader would have wrought is suggested by the advice of James and John
to Jesus to call down fire on an inhospitable Samaritan village. The
reported reply of Jesus, "Ye know not what spirit you are of," is the
final comment on such use of power. Now, after we have made the most of
the miracles recorded of Jesus, after we have made them seem just as
extraordinary in themselves as possible, their most extraordinary
feature is this use to which the power was put; and on the other hand,
if we strip the miracles of everything that suggests breach of natural
law and make them just revelations of super-normal control over nature
through laws like those whose existence and significance we are
beginning to glimpse to-day, still we cannot empty these narratives of
their significance as revealing a morally responsible use of force. Let
us be just as orthodox as we can, the purpose of the use of the forces
is the supreme miracle; let us be just as destructively radical as we
please, we cannot eliminate from the Scriptures this impression of
Christ as one who used power with a sense of responsibility. This
revelation is one which the ages have always desired.

We must be careful to keep in mind the connection of the Christ life
with what came before it and what has proceeded from it. Here we have
the advantage which comes of regarding the Bible as the result of a
process running through the centuries. If the Bible were not a library,
but only a single book, written at a particular time, we might well be
attracted by the nobility of its teachings, but might despair of ever
making the teachings effective. There is no proving in syllogistic
fashion that Jesus was what he claimed to be, or that he was what his
disciples thought of him as being; but when we see a massive revealing
movement centering on the idea of God as revealed in Christ, when we
see the acceptance of the spirit of Christ opening the path to
communion with the Divine, and when we find increasing hosts of persons
finding larger life in that approach to the Divine, we begin to discern
the vast significance of the scriptural doctrine that in Christ we have
the revelation of the Christlike God.

In this discussion we have been careful to avoid the terms of formal
and creedal orthodoxy. This is not because the present writer is out of
sympathy with these terms, but because he is trying to keep to the main
impression produced by the New Testament. The fundamental scriptural
fact is that in Jesus the early believers saw God; they came to rest in
God as revealed in Christ. This is true of the picture of Christ in the
earliest New Testament writings. Modern scholarship has not been able
to find any documents of a time when the disciples did not think of
Jesus as the revealer of God. If the disciples had not thought of Jesus
thus, they would have found little reason to write of him. Now the
scriptural authors employ various terms to declare the unique intimacy
of Christ with God. In these expositions Jewish and Greek and even
Roman thought terms play their part. Passages like the opening
sentences of the fourth Gospel, or like the great chapter in the
Philippians, are always profoundly satisfying and suggestive in their
interpretation of the fundamental fact, but that fundamental fact
itself is the all-essential--that in Christ the New Testament writers
thought of themselves as having seen God, and as having gazed into the
very depths of the spirit of the Father in heaven. Believing as we do,
moreover, in the helpfulness of the creedal statements of the church,
we must nevertheless avow that such statements are secondary to the
impression made upon the biblical writers by actual contact with the
Christ. We must not lose sight of the primacy of that impression as we
study our Scriptures. We must not limit the glory of the impression
itself by the limitations of some of the explanations which we
undertake. Much harm has been done the understanding the Scriptures by
speaking as if some of our creedal statements concerning Christ are
themselves Scriptures! The scriptural Christ is greater than any
creedal characterization of Christ thus far undertaken.

Of recent years an attempt has been made to prove that no such person
as Jesus ever existed. The attempt has proved futile, but it has had a
significance altogether different from what the propounders of the
theory intended. The original aim was to show the contradictions of the
testimony concerning Jesus and the inadequacies of the testimony to his
existence as an historical Person. The result has been to show that the
real significance of the Christ life is not to be found in any
particular utterance, or in any specific deed, but in the total impact
that he made upon the consciousness of man as suggesting the immediate
presence of the Divine. The quality of the Christ life satisfies us in
the inner depths as bearing witness to the quality of the God life. We
have no sympathy with the views of the critics just mentioned; but we
must say that no matter how the thought of God in Christ got abroad, no
matter how mistaken our thought of the historical facts at the
beginning of the Christian era, the belief in the Christlike God
nevertheless did get abroad. There is no effacing that conception from
the New Testament. No matter what detailed changes in the narrative
itself radical criticism may think itself capable of making, the door
was opened wide enough in the Christ for the divine light to stream
through. We said in the last chapter that the most important feature of
the biblical revelation is God himself. We must now say that the
supreme fact about God is Christ.



If the central feature of the Scriptures is their idea of God, and if
the climax of the biblical revelation is Christ, the greatest fact
about Christ from the point of view of the Bible is his cross. We say
_fact_ advisedly, for we are not dealing with the theories that have
sprung up to interpret the meaning of the cross. We are trying to deal
solely with the direct impressions which seem to have been made upon
the scriptural writers as to the place of the cross in the revealing

We said in the last chapter that the Scriptures reach their climax in
the doctrine that God is in Christ. The cross of Christ carries to most
effective revelation the Christlike character of God. While we are not
treating now the various creedal dogmas as to the person of Christ, we
must not forget that those dogmas have essayed as part of their task
the bringing of God close to men. The truth embodied in the text that
the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world is essential to
knowing the Scriptures. We have seen that even as a warrior Jehovah was
thought of as willing to bear his part of the burdens of the chosen
people. We have seen growing the idea that Jehovah was under moral
obligation to carry through the uplifting work which he had begun. We
have seen prophets attain to glimpses of the meaning of suffering for
the divine life, and we have beheld the culmination in the suffering of
Christ. In those perplexing phrases of the creeds like, "Very God of
very God," the aim of the church has been perfectly clear--to guard the
scriptural idea that God was so truly in Christ that the sufferings of
Christ were the sufferings of God. Even when least intelligible the
pain of men becomes more easily borne if men can believe that in some
real sense their pain is also the pain of God. That God is Christlike
in capacity to suffer is in itself a revelation of no small consequence.

In the cross of Christ we see exalted with surpassing power the belief
that God acts out of righteousness in his relation to the universe and
to men. It must needs be that Christ suffer. The writers seem unable to
escape the conviction that they are beholding the working of divinely
inevitable moral necessities. These moral obligations are not to be
conceived of as external to God or imposed on him from outside of
himself. In the Scriptures they seem, rather, to be expressions of his
own nature. When the writers of theories about the cross lay stress on
those profound obligations of God toward moral law which must be
discharged in the work of redemption, the Scriptural basis underneath
such theories is the implication that God, by the very fact of what he
is, must act righteously. His power is not his own in such sense that
he can act from arbitrary or self-centered motives. The Judge of all
the earth must do right, at whatever cost to himself. The Scriptures
keep close to the thought of God as a supremely powerful Being under
supreme responsibility in the use of his power. If we can believe the
Scripture that in Christ we see God, and that the bearing, of Christ
during his suffering reveals really and uniquely the bearing of God
himself, we have a revelation of the grasp with which moral
responsibility holds the Almighty against even any momentary slip into
arbitrariness. Sometimes we hear the sufferings of Christ preached as a
pattern of nonresistance for men. It is permissible thus to interpret
the cross within limitations; but this is not the essential aspect of
the cross, as explaining its hold on men. The all-important doctrine as
to the use of power is hinted at in the Master's word that he had but
to call for legions of angels if he so chose. Under most extreme
provocation the forces of the Almighty held to their appointed task. If
the Almighty had been conceived of as a Despot or an Egotist, he would
have been expected to resort at once to revengeful violence in the
presence of such insults as those of the persecutors of the Son of God.
The Source of all activity can hardly be conceived of as passive; but
the passivity of the Christ of the cross suggests that no outrage by
men can divert the almighty power from its moral purpose. This is
really a gathering together and lifting on high of the doctrine of the
Sermon on the Mount, that God maketh the sun to shine upon the just and
the unjust, and causeth his rain to fall on the evil and the good. That
is to say, while the Bible thinks of the cross as laying bare the
Almighty's reaction against evil, it also thinks of that cross as
showing a God who will not be disturbed by any merely "personal"
considerations. We behold the Almighty's use of power for the advance
of a moral kingdom. The Almighty is set before us as exerting all his
power for the relief of men. The cross makes the profoundest revelation
of the moral fixedness and self-control of God so long as we hold to
the scriptural representation. It is to be regretted that many
theological theories break away from the Scripture basis and build upon
assumptions which are artificial, not to say unmoral: or, rather, in
their striving after system they get away from the atmosphere of moral
suggestiveness with which the Gospels and Epistles surround the cross.
That God will do his part in the redemption of men is set before us in
the cross. That part can be nothing short of making men yearn to be
like Christ and of aiding them in their struggle for the Christlike
character. It will be remembered that in the last chapter we called
attention to the hopelessness of the Christian ideal viewed as an ideal
in itself without a dynamic to help men to realize the ideal. If Christ
is only to reveal to us the character toward which men are to strive,
we are in despair. That one man has reached such perfection is in
itself no promise that other men may reach that perfection. Moreover,
the excellence of Christ is not only a moral excellence; or if it is
moral excellence, that excellence involves a balance of intellectual
attributes which is for us practically out of reach. Now, Christ is the
ideal, but the ideal is one toward which we not only labor in our own
strength, but one whose attainment by us is an object of solicitude for
God himself. And so we see in the cross a patience which will bear with
men to the utmost, and which will reenforce them as they press toward
the goal. The glory of Christianity is largely hi the paradox that it
sets before men an unattainable ideal and then commands them to attain
the ideal. If the cross is nothing but a revelation of an ideal for
men, this paradox is insoluble and intolerable. In the scriptural light
of the cross, however, we catch the glory not of an abstract ideal, but
of a Father's love for his children--not of the commands of conscience
in the abstract, but of the desires of a personal Friend who will lift
men as they stumble and fall. The ground for this patience seems as we
read to be in the very nature of God himself. God has brought men into
this world without consulting them, he has dowered them with the
terrific boon of freedom, he has set them in hard places; but he has
done this out of a moral and loving purpose. He therefore makes more
allowances for men than exacting men ever can make for themselves. He
puts at the service of men so much of his power as they can appropriate
by their moral effort. The Christ of the cross is taught as the truth
about God--the God who is at once the supremely real and the supremely
ideal places his powers at the service of men who would make their
Christ-ideal progressively real in themselves.

The power of the Bible over men centers around the teaching that the
cross not only reveals God as morally bound to redeem men, but that it
also shows us the divine aim in redemption. Men are to be redeemed by
seeking for forgiveness in the name of the moral life set on high by
the cross, but the repentant soul is to show its sincerity by devotion
to the task and spirit of cross-bearing. The aim of the cross is to
bring men together into a fellowship of the cross, in a fellowship of
suffering for the sake of the moral triumph to be won at the end. We
are accustomed to think of suffering as implying the possibility of
joy. The man who can feel keen sorrow can feel keen joy; they who have
the power to weep have also the power to laugh. In the final kingdom
the weeping shall be turned into joy. But, according to the Scriptures,
it is not necessary for the disciples to wait until the consummation
before entering into the joy of their Lord. There is an entrance to the
divine mind through bearing the cross. Those who desired to learn of
Christ as true disciples were expected to take up the cross and carry
it daily. The Master also declared that the disciples were to think of
themselves as blessed when they endured persecution for righteousness'
sake, for men had persecuted the prophets in all ages. The implication
is that knowledge of and sympathy with the prophets came out of
cross-bearing like that of the prophets. To use a simple illustration:
a student of the careers of the leaders of any reform might gather a
mass of information about the reformers in an outside kind of fashion,
as by the study of books, or by visits to the scenes of their
struggles. Such a student, however, could not master the inner spirit
of a reformer's life until he himself had battled for some cause at
risk to himself. So the man who seeks to bear the cross of Christ is on
the path to sympathetic inner knowledge of the spirit of Christ. In our
second chapter we called attention to the truth that approach to
knowledge of God is through the doing of the will of God. Doing of the
will, according to Jesus, means much more than just a round of good
deeds. It means carrying the burdens which are inevitable in
cross-bearing. There is good reason for believing that the very highest
step in spiritual learning is taken only through the willingness to
bear the cross. In our modern educational systems we lay varying
degrees of stress upon the importance of different methods of acquiring
knowledge. There is at the bottom of the scale the method of mastering
the instruction of the teacher by attention and reflection. There is,
next, the method of learning through one's own experiment--through
using microscope or telescope or textbook for oneself. There are,
further, the social aids to the quickening of the mind as groups of
students study and discuss together. But the deepest knowledge comes as
the student feels his sympathy and feeling involved. If he must pay
himself out for the acquisition of the truth, or if he must defend his
conclusions at great cost to himself, this experience which involves
the feeling involves also the sharpening of the intellect. The eyes of
the soul are opened to the subtler intuitions. Thus it is in the
revelations of the divine purpose in the Scriptures. It is hard to make
out how anybody can hope to master a revelation of a cross-bearing God
without himself being a cross-bearer. In the New Testament narratives
of Passion Week the Master is reported as winning his surest
convictions of the presence of God and of the victory of his truth at
the very instant when he entered into the extreme depths of suffering.
In the after days it was when the saints faced stoning that they saw
the heavens opening; it was the apostle who had suffered hardships
almost too numerous to mention who got the most positive conviction of
the reward which awaited him. In the school of Christ the very heaviest
stress must fall upon the indispensability of cross-bearing as a means
to understanding.

Not only does the biblical revelation see in the cross of Christ the
culminating manifestation of the character of God, and of the purpose
of God in redemption, but it also shows to us the divine method in
helping men. We have spoken of those who dwell upon the Master's
nonresistance as a model of passivity in the presence of evil. The
example of Christ when thus treated is in danger of being
misinterpreted. The Christ of the cross was passive so far as physical
force was concerned; but he was never more intensely active in the
higher ranges of his faculties--in self-control and in alertness to the
finer whisperings of the spirit. The Christ's non-resistance to the
physical might of evil is not to be interpreted as acquiescence on the
part of the Divine toward the ravages of evil, but, rather, as the
divine method of thwarting evil by allowing it to reveal itself. No
amount of preaching about the nature of evil can equal in eloquence the
self-revelations of that nature as it works itself out into expression.
While in a degree the self-revelation of evil put forth against Christ
was unique, yet we must remember that the sins which put Christ to
death are just those commonest in all time. Judas was disappointed. He
carried spite no more tenaciously than the ordinary heart is capable of
treasuring it. Caiaphas desired simply to hold his own position and
preserve the peace of his nation. Very likely the type of opinion in
the midst of which Caiaphas moved would have pronounced that he
rendered a disagreeable, but nevertheless necessary patriotic service
in his condemnation of Christ. Pilate too meant well, but was afraid of
the crowd. His friends may have commended his administrative wisdom in
allowing the people to have their own way. It was the play of just such
ordinary forces of sin against an extraordinary holiness that made it
impossible for the mightiest revelation ever vouchsafed to man to work
through the earthly activity of Jesus for more than a few months. The
Scripture does not have much to do with abstract sins; with concrete
sins of men as we actually find them, it has much to do.

The Scriptures make it very clear that there is something which
satisfies God himself in the work of redemption. God acts out of moral
obligation, out of self-respect, out of love. But he acts always in
respect for men as free moral beings. The cross appeals to the free
spirit of men to behold the nature of evil, and to flee from that evil
toward their redeeming God. If the redemption is to be a moral
redemption, the last detail of the method must be moral. The power of
the Almighty must not be used to break down freedom of men. It would be
theoretically possible for an almighty power to bring to bear such
pressures upon human wills as to crush them, but the strongest
representation of the power of God in the New Testament does not go to
the length of hinting at interference with the freedom of men. Men are
to be saved as free men or not at all. We might conceivably imagine the
Almighty as granting such indubitable vision of the material rewards of
righteousness and the material loss of unrighteousness as would
irresistibly draw masses of a certain grade of men into the Kingdom
without a morally free consent to righteousness. Or we might conceive
of the Almighty as so weighing this or that factor of environment as to
diminish almost to the vanishing point the free choice of men. This
kind of compulsion would not be moral. The only compulsions of the
cross are those of a moral God splendidly attractive on his own account.

It will have occurred to some readers by this time that we have said
very little about the love of God in our discussion of the Scriptures,
whereas that love is the outstanding feature of the biblical
revelation. Our reply is that we have been trying to be true to the
impression made by the Scriptures as to the kind of love which we must
think of as expressing the deepest fact in God's life. We would not in
the least minimize the truth that love is the last word of the
scriptural revelation; but in our modern life we are apt to get away
from the quality of the love revealed in the Bible. The love of the
cross is built upon the righteousness which runs through the Sacred
Book from the beginning to the end. A god of indifferent moral quality
might love. The old Greek gods had favorites upon whom they lavished
their affections. A god might be conceived of as an amiable and
well-wishing father, foolishly indulgent toward his children. The love
of the New Testament, however, is the love of a Father who dares to
appeal to the children to make heroic response; and who shows his own
love for them in the lengths to which he will go for them. Moral love
will go the full length of heroic self-sacrifice. We cannot help
believing that it is the quality of God's love, rather than the mere
fact of that love, which is the explanation of the power of the
biblical teaching.

A friend of mine many years ago wrote a book which he called The Hero
God. The publishers objected to the title because they saw in it a
touch of sensationalism. No title, however, could have more adequately
set forth the biblical God. God is the hero of the Bible. His heroism
appears in growing revelation from the beginning. It shows itself
superbly in his willingness to bear the burdens of mankind and in the
appeals which he makes for response from men. The picture is of a God
who dares to believe in men and who dares to call on them for the
extremes of self-sacrificing devotion, not to himself as an arbitrary
Person, but to himself as the center of the moral life which is above
all other life worth while. It is open to anyone to object that this
biblical picture does not necessarily hold good for God; but it is
hardly possible to object that the picture is not biblical. The picture
stands in its own right and makes its own appeal. The only way to test
it in life is to yield to its appeal.

If we are asked to account for the power of the Bible, we are at a loss
for any one single statement. The most compendious reply is the
magnetism of the love of God as revealed in Christ. This is so broad,
however, that it may not make a direct and vivid impression. We may
say, then, that one element of the magnetism of the biblical revelation
is the magnetism of the appeal to the heroic. Whatever else the Bible
may or may not be, it is not a book of soft and easy things. Breaths of
the most rigorous life blow across every page. It is made for man in
that it calls men to the service of the highest and best. The religious
systems which make the fewest and least demands upon their followers
most speedily fall away; those that call for the utmost are most likely
to meet the enthusiastic response. There is a frank honesty about the
biblical appeal which holds a charm for all men in whom there are any
sparks of real manhood. The severities of the Christian life are
nowhere disguised. Men are never lured on by false pretenses. The path
is the path of cross-bearing, and the reward is the comradeship between
God and man as they together work toward the highest goal, a
comradeship which of itself brings relief to men burdened with the
mystery of the universe and agonized by remorse over sin.  This essay
is quite as significant for what it has not said as for what it has
said. In our omissions we have tried to keep clear the main outlines of
scriptural revelation. We have sought to hold fast to principles rather
than to discuss details. We have done this because we have believed
that there is more value for religious understanding in pointing out
the loftier biblical peaks which give the direction of the whole range
than in tracing out pathways through detailed passages. Moreover, we
have been afraid to employ many theoretical terms lest we blur the
quick moral impressions made by the Scripture phrasings. For example,
it may be objected that our treatment of the character of God is
altogether inadequate. We have not thus far said a word about the
Trinity, for example, or about atonement. The reason is that we believe
that any theories about God must base themselves upon the moral
suggestions of the Scriptures; and our business is with these rather
than with the theories. The received revelation concerning God would
warrant us in fashioning any theory as to the richness of his inner
constitution which might even measurably satisfy our minds. The
scriptural atmosphere as to the moral life in God must, however, be
kept in the chief place in all of our theological theories. Atonement
must be interpreted chiefly in terms of ethical steadiness if it is to
build on a biblical foundation. But the instant we use formal terms
like "Trinity" and "atonement" we have taken at least one step away
from the Scriptures. Again, we have said nothing about Divine
Providence. The Bible is full of instances of providences, but here
also we have preferred to let the fundamental moral character of the
biblical God speak for itself. We may have our own belief that there is
no scriptural warrant for that separation which obtains in much
theology between the processes of God and the processes of nature. We
may admit that the Hebrew had no very systematically framed theory of
the processes of nature, but he deemed God to be in such close touch
with nature as easily to control its forces for a good end. In two
accounts of the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites we have an
apparent contradiction which is at bottom not a contradiction. In one
account God seems to cause the waters to wall up on both sides of the
Israelites in defiance of the laws of nature. In another God
accomplishes the drying of the path through the blowing of a strong
east wind. The Hebrew would not have troubled himself much with the
apparent contradiction, for he would have conceived of God as the chief
factor in either event, and of his purpose as having the right of way.
There is thus no great value in discussing specific instances as long
as the care of God for his children is the animating purpose of the
entire biblical content. So with answers to prayer--the God who is
willing to go for men to the lengths revealed in the cross will surely
answer any prayer worth answering. The essential is to lift prayer up
into harmony with the entire revealing and redeeming movement, and to
conceive of it as a fitting of the whole life into the purposes of a
moral God. Certain general requirements would always have to be met.
Prayer would have really to deal with what is best for the individual,
best for those around him, and most in harmony with the character of
God himself. So, again, with the progress of the kingdom of God on
earth--the God of whose nature the cross is the final revelation can be
trusted to do the best possible for the Kingdom here and now. Much
debate about the second coming of Christ misses the great moral
principles which are the heart of the Christian revelation and loses
itself in the incidental forms in which those principles were declared.
The best preparation for the coming of the kingdom of Christ is
absorption in the principles of Christ and in the spirit of Christ. To
get away from these in our search for external and material conditions
which are the mere vehicle of the biblical thought is not only to
pursue a will-o'-the-wisp, but to injure true spiritual progress. Jesus
has given us the spiritual principles which must control the destiny of
any society here and now. In the light of the Christ-faith revealed in
the cross we must not despair of the redemption of men by the city-full
and by the nation-full, for the greatest confidence ever placed in men
is the implied trust of the cross of Christ. The Almighty at the
beginning paid an immense tribute to the human race when he flung it
out into the gale of this existence. In the light of the cross we
cannot believe that He expected the race to sink. In the cross the
Christ who revealed God's own mind showed the length he was willing to
go in confidence that men would finally turn to him with all the powers
of their lives. To throw up our hands and say that the world is getting
worse and we can do nothing without a speedy physical return of the
Christ is to overlook the spiritual forces of the cross.

We have said nothing about immortality. What the Scriptures themselves
say is largely incidental. The Master did not allow himself to be drawn
into any extended conversation about the details of a future life, but
he did give us the God of the cross. In the presence of that cross we
can profess the utmost confidence in the eternal life of the sons of
God, while at the same time acknowledging the utmost ignorance as to
any of the material conditions of the future life. It is commonly
assumed that the resurrection of Christ proves that we shall likewise
rise, but the rising of Christ does not of itself prove that others
shall rise. The cross, however--showing the extent to which the Divine
is willing to go for men--is the ground of our hope. God will not leave
his loved ones to see corruption. In a word, the cross of Christ
gathers up all the biblical truth. It is a revelation of God's own
character, of his hope for men, of the methods by which he seeks to win
men, and of the ground of our faith in a right outcome for men and for

We may be permitted to summarize by saying that scientific and
historical biblical study is a preparation for the knowledge of the
Scriptures; that it is exceedingly important that the student approach
with the correct preliminary point of view. The revelation of the inner
significance, however, does not dawn until there is recognition of the
need of obedience to the principles laid down in the Scriptures. And
this obedience must be broad enough to include zeal for the uplift of
our fellow men in all phases of their lives. Out of righteous living
the devoted life, we believe, will see that the greatest fact of the
Bible is God; that the greatest fact of God is Christ; that the
greatest fact of Christ is the cross.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Understanding the Scriptures" ***

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