« НазадПродовжити »
truth so much above the age and so different, and upon the question of prophecy. It must be remembered, too, that in every age there are men of simple, unprejudiced minds, but of large power and capacity and profound insight, whose grasp of truth is far beyond that of any of their contemporaries in depth and comprehensiveness, and whose thought often waits for centuries before it is fully understood and operative.
The result of man's action under inspiration is, then, simply the preservation of such truth as is attained, subject to the necessary limitations in the premises, personal and other, and needs to be, and actually is, supplemented and corrected as man grows in power of apprehension of truth. This is the real process, the actual fact, of human experience, whether in the individual or the race; true, also, in the case of Christ himself during his earthly existence in the time of his humiliation (Luke ii. 40,52). The objective revelation must become subjective to each man upon his own effort. In each and every case the individual attains his results through his own efforts coöperating with the forces and energies about him. The process is here, as always, synergistic. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as monergistic activity. Each man or age has as much revelation as it can take, and its responsibility is limited by its light.
If this be a true statement of the facts and principles in the case, in what does the authority of revelation in general, and of the Scripture form of it in particular, rest, and how does it vindicate itself to man? The answer may be very brief. The authority of revelation, Scripture or other, rests in its intrinsic excellence and worth as truth inherently rational and practical. This its character becomes self-evident upon study and practice, and this self-evidence is its vindication. · It is a constantly progressive process, continually approximating the final goal, — perfect apprehension of absolute truth.
This statement accords with the facts of Scripture and of life. A fair estimate of the Scripture record, both in its specific utterance as well as in its grand undertone, shows that it makes no claim to be a perfect apprehension of absolute truth, or a perfect record of the same. There is simply progressive approximation to such a goal. Since this goal is not reached, the claim to authority beyond the intrinsic worth of the revelation, at any given stage, is void. To use a reported expression of Dr. Francis Wayland's, it is “worth only what it is worth.” In the Scriptures, later and more perfectly conceived truth supersedes the earlier. The New Testament completes and supersedes the Old in many things. Nothing but a mechanical and arbitrary view of the entire subject gives any warrant for the ordinary time-limit at the close of the apostolic age. The process is continued in the life and thought of the church, as recorded in its history and in the development of Christian doctrine, as well as in the life of humanity as a whole. The end is not yet.
The only claim to authority, possible or actual, lies then in the self-evidencing excellence and worth of truth itself, whatever the stage of revelation at which it manifests itself. This becomes manifest to every man for himself as he studies, reflects upon, and practices the truth he knows. So the objective truth becomes subjective, and so only.1 There is always objective truth to be known by the individual man, and it is his constant duty to make it his own. The human mind honest and earnest is ultimately able to discern truth as such, else all knowledge is impossible, and moral responsibility likewise.
The Christian religion and the true philosophy of religion claim that Jesus Christ is the supreme and final revelation of God to men, — the personal embodiment of absolute truth. The claim is continually and increasingly justified in the experience of men. He is the ideal, absolute, perfect; no higher is conceivable. The more men know of Him, the higher their culture, if truly such, humble, reverent, honest, thoroughgoing, the more they find satisfaction and rest in Him as the ideal. The more his principles are applied in practical life, the more they evidence themselves as ideal and practical truth of the highest order. History furnishes constantly increasing evidence of the truth of this statement. Christ's life and teaching are more and more seen to rest upon and exhibit sound psychology, true philosophy, ideal ethics, and an increasingly proved adequacy to the problems assigned for solution, and vindicate themselves accordingly to the rational, moral, and practical consciousness of mankind.
The attainment of the absolute conception or idea of Christ is a gradual approximation, by reflection upon all the data given in the New Testament, and the ideals of the race in its best literature, and the practical working of the same in history, in view of and together with the norms of the reason, the ideas of truth, right, perfection, the good, the absolute. We have also the vari. ous approximate realizations of the Christ-idea in history. The combination of all these data into one whole may be suggestively illustrated by composite photography. A large number of photographs are taken, one upon another; the result is an approximately ideal face.
1 If any one objects that the truth so claimed is variant and often contradictory, and therefore we must have an authoritative statutory revelation, the reply is, an authoritative revelation, to attain its object as ordinarily understood, requires an authoritative infallible interpretation, which no reasonable and well-informed person can for a moment maintain that we have. This point is discussed later.
This reflective combination and interpretation of all the data each man makes for himself according to his capacity, opportunity, and interest in the matter. There is an ideal objective Christ, the living embodiment of absolute truth; but each one's idea of Him is approximately absolute, according to his capacity for apprehending and his use of data, powers, and opportunities. The idea of Christ is, then, gradually attained. Our conception to-day is, or may be, truer and more complete than when the Apostles lived. We have their ideas, and their working in history and life since their time, with better critical and constructive methods.
Jesus Christ, as the absolute ideal, “ the Way, the Truth, the Life,” continuously and increasingly evidences himself as worthy the place and position He claims to hold both to the theoretic and practical reason of man. Hence He is absolute authority, the infallible teacher, guide, Saviour.
Inspiration, then, does not give authority to truth. Truth is its own authority. Inspiration is merely an aid to men in discovering and apprehending truth, and particularly truth relating to character and life. Inspiration properly applies only to persons; it cannot possibly affect the quality of truth.
So far as the practical efficacy of Scripture truth is concerned, it matters little or nothing whether it is inspired or not. Inspiration gives it no authority beyond what it has in itself, and would have, whether inspired or not. Truth is authoritative so soon as it is recognized as truth. This recognition implies some apprehension of its significance, without which such recognition is impossible. An isolated fact or truth is meaningless, and as such neither fact nor truth. An inspired book, “ signed, sealed, and delivered,” — supposing this to be possible and actually the case, a supposition which it is impossible to prove, — would require interpretation, and this depends upon the knowledge and power of the interpreter; so that, unless we maintain an inspired interpretation of the inspired book, either in the form of an infallible church or otherwise, inspiration does not secure absolutely satis
factory apprehension of truth on the part of men, nor give it its authority. And the widely variant and oftentimes flatly contradictory interpretations set forth by the so-called infallible church, or by the numerous other interpreters of an infallible book, sufficiently prove, when thoroughly examined, the impossibility, under existing conditions, of securing to men the possession of absolute truth in any such way or by any such means. Neither Protestant bibliolatry nor Roman Catholic ecclesiolatry 1 reaches infallibility, or truth in an absolute and final form without any admixture of error or incompleteness. The fact is, God has not chosen to reveal truth upon this plan. The history of thought, whether in the Scriptures or elsewhere, with or without the aid of inspiration, shows that man attains truth by progressive approximation according as he develops in power of apprehending it, and labors patiently and persistently toward this end. Inspiration, then, may give us the book, or, speaking more generally, the truth, but the book or the truth must itself vindicate its authority. Even to the original subject, the authority of the truth revealed must in the last analysis consist in its self-evident excellence, quality, worth. There is no other. It must evidence itself. “If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not” (John x. 37); “If I say truth, why do ye not believe me?” (John viii. 46), said Christ, resting his claims wholly upon the intrinsically worthful quality of his works and words. Inspiration and authority have, therefore, no necessary relation, that is, the fact of inspiration proved cannot and does not make authoritative the communicated truth.
But some one may say: In rejecting the ecclesiolatry of the Roman Catholic and the bibliolatry of the Protestant, and in making Christ himself the infallible and absolute authority, you have simply substituted one authority for another, and gained nothing. Our reply is: We have gained a great deal, for we now have an authority which stands all possible and proper tests, and continually and increasingly vindicates himself as such to the mind; a thing which neither of the other so-called authorities always does. And whenever they do so vindicate themselves it is, as in his case, upon the ground of perceived intrinsic excellence and worth. It is true that our idea of the absolute Christ is
1 These terms are used because they are brief and comprehensive, and express with definiteness and accuracy the essence of the two main positions regarding authority. No imputation or reflection whatever upon the motives of those holding the respective views is intended.
relative and approximate only, approaching nearer the absolute ideal in proportion to our spiritual growth, insight, grasp, etc. But this is the case in all our knowledge, scientific and practical, as well as in theology and religion, and is inevitable as the normal condition of a finite progressive being. The ideal of such a being is necessarily a changing one, continually advancing if he is faithful in the use of his powers and opportunities, and the data at his disposal, and continually growing in depth and purity. The ideal at any given stage is necessarily the final authority at that stage, a principle which has been true and the basis of judgment throughout the entire history of revelation. The pledge of the ultimate attainment by man of the absolute ideal in his own thought and life rests in the fact that he is not wholly finite, but has in his essential nature infinite 1 elements indissolubly binding him to the infinite and absolute, and forming the ground and possibility of any knowledge whatever of the infinite and absolute, as well as of all progress therein. Further reason lies in the progress 2 already made in this direction, a fact of history and experience familiar enough to the student of the history and philosophy of ethics and religion, and sufficiently evident to any intelligent person, if periods far enough apart are taken for comparison. This progress is already very considerable, and is constantly increasing. The fact, too, that human nature is all of a piece, and that the individual and history, or the life of collective humanity, are indissolubly bound together and mutually interpretative, that is, are an organic whole, is sufficient warrant that, given time and experience enough, all who so desire will attain all the essentials of this revelation. It is not reasonable to suppose that there will ever be absolute uniformity, hard-and-fast identity of experience in details. But the individual will exist in the unity of the collective life, preserving his proper individuality, and sharing, in common with all the rest, in all that belongs to the
1 Ecclesiastes iii. 11, He hath set eternity in their heart.
2 Some of the evidence is difficult to state clearly so as to reach all classes of minds. But some also is plain to any one who will give the slightest attention to the subject. For example : the estimate put upon man as such, and the consequent change in the treatment of the humbler, less well-endowed and circumstanced classes, criminals, etc., all of which is due to the truer conception of the nature and worth of man as seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We may also add the increasing patience and forbearance under great irritation with those who severely wrong us, arising from and nourished by a truer estimate of their worth, and supported by the hope of thus inducing them to realize that worth, and by effort on our own part towards this end. All this, and much more that might be mentioned, is a reflex of a truer idea of Christ.