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Store-house of Literary Materials.
Now with mental and national peculiarities such as we have indicated, with an organization of the theological departments in the universities, such as has long existed in the German universities, we might expect that modes of theological investigation, principles of biblical inquiry would be adopted, which would lead to sad results in weakening, if not subverting, all faith in Divine revelation. Before, however, we enumerate some of these erroneous principles, it may be proper, in order to prevent misunderstanding, to allude to the great obligations which all Protestant nations are under to the biblical scholars and theologians of Germany. No person of candor, who has any knowledge of this subject, will deny these obligations or wish to abate from their value. The true Christian scholar will welcome light from every possible source, and will not consider it necessary to maintain his character for orthodoxy by any illiberal and unworthy prejudices.
First, we are indebted to the Germans for an immense accumulation of valuable materials. Germany is a store house crowded with spoils from every region of the earth, from every province of inquiry. Her libraries are receptacles of inost elaborate speculation and of widely gathered knowledge. On all the subjects which have a near or a remote relation to theology, on almost every topic which is at all kindred to it, the scholars of that country have toiled with incredible patience. In this affluence of materials, one needs especially the power of a wise selection, the ability to sift the wheat from the chaff. Still, secondly, not a little of these theological treasures is admirably simplified and digested. Indeed the scholars of no country are so fond of methodology as the German. In respect to clear arrangement, the grammars and lexicons of the Latin, Greek, Hebrew and other languages have been constructed with surpassing ability. The grammars and lexicons of Zumpt, Freund, Kühner, Buttmann, Thiersch, Pape, Gesenius and others, are the common property of all in Christendom worthy the name of scholars. So it is in dogmatic theology and in church bistory. The manuals of Hahn, Hase, Bretschneider, Hagenbach, Gieseler, etc., stand at the head of the list in their respective departments, not only for the value, but for the scientific arrangement of the materials. Then, in the third place, we have the advantage, which is by no means inconsiderable, of possessing truths wbich have come unharmed from the sharpest conflict, views which are the product of the keenest comparison, gold that has been seven times purified. Every truth which is admitted in Germany, we may be sure, has a firin foundation, because it has come uninjured from the hardest fight. Many positions, capable of the amplest defence, have been given up; those which remain, though they be few in number, challenge our instant and cordial belief, because they have been put to a fiery trial in every form. If any part of the Scriptures is acknowledged by the German to be authentic, then we may be sure that it is so; if there were a weak place in the evidence, it would have been infallibly detected. And in cases where the authenticity or genuineness of a passage has been given up, on insufficient grounds, there may be no ultimate loss. Truth does not fear the sharpest scrutiny. And it is no mean advantage to the Christian cause, that its opponents have been men of eminent learning, of the keenest powers of criticism, and of practised ability in sifting evidence.
Again, it is not without its advantages, that the truths of religion and morals have been investigated by German theologians, who are so unlike those of England and France, theologians so learned and so marked by idiosyncrasies. We obtain aspects of truth which we might never otherwise reach. A door is opened into treasures on which we might not otherwise gaze. The peculiarities of the German scholar become, in this way, productive of good. In the final result, we possess profounder and more comprehensive conceptions of truth than were otherwise possible, in the same manner that we obtain a more adequate and truthful view of the French Revolution by tracing it on
of the German historian, as well as on those of the English and French writers.
These advantages, however, have been attended with serious evils. The peculiar intellectual and religious culture of Germany has given birth to mental habits and modes of investigating truth, which are unsound and pernicious.
I. The first to which we will allude is the erecting of a standard of judgment, often termed “the higher criticism,” to which everything is made to bow without appeal. If an assertion or a narrative will not abide this test, they are summarily dismissed as unworthy of attention. If an ancient document cannot stand this arbitrary and fiery ordeal, it receives sentence of condemnation at once. An objection to this highly vaunted standard, is its uncertainty. Who has defined it? What are its necessary bounds and metes ? It is a varying quantity. On approaching it, it recedes, so that we cannot grasp its form or colors. With one writer it may mean one thing; with his neighbor, another. A second objection is, that this “higher criticism” has been set up as a standard in a country and in a period where the spirit of skepticism and doubting in regard to all ancient 1849.]
Personal Feelings as the Standard of Judgment.
monuments has been carried to an extraordinary and unwarrantable length. The influence of Wolf and Niebuhr has been injuriously extended to a department of ancient knowledge with which they had little to do. A spirit of suspicion has been breathed over all ancient writings, because some have been found spurious, or because a little flaw has been detected in a trustworthy document. Nothing is incorrupt if anything is corrupt. This skeptical tendency has become a national characteristic of German scholarship, a tendency which as really unfits one to set up a standard of criticism, or to judge fairly of a literary production, as the easy faith or the superstitious credulity of the Roman Catholic. In a school of criticism founded in such circumstances, we cannot place confidence. Candor, fairness, a large and honest view of a subject, and a truly comprehensive judgment, are sadly wanting. Again, this standard of criticism has been erected on a basis almost exclusively subjective, on the strength of individual feeling and opinion, without much regard to objective truth or external testimony. The “ spiritual philosophy" has prevailed to such an extent in Germany, it has so pervaded all departments of thought, it has so colored and shaped all the aspects and tendencies of the mind, that evidence drawn from history, from buman experience, from the tangible and visible universe, and from the honest and every-day feelings of common men, is neglected or is unknown. German culture has been, to a melancholy extent, a one-sided colture. It has embraced only a part of man. We cannot expect, therefore, a standard of criticism entirely just and reasonable. True rules of judgment in matters of taste, or in matters pertaining to any department of literature, can be found only in proportion as all mental phenomena and all the facts of human experience are taken into the account.
II. Another erroneous principle in biblical interpretation is, the setting up of one's own feelings, or intellectual and moral judgment, as the final arbiter. Thus a miracle is to be rejected because it is psy. chologically impossible. A narrative is pronounced to be a myth, because it does not coincide with our observation or experience. The state of mind in which a seer could foretel future events, is inconceiva able, and is therefore to be denounced. We cannot imagine how an individual can be under the immediate influence of a malignant spirit and retain his free agency ; consequently, we must abandon the doctrine of a personal evil spirit. Thus we set up ourselves as the ultimate standard of appeal. Nothing that will not stand the test which we have assumed, is worthy of belief. At the bar of our judgment all alleged facts, the minutest and the most stupendous events recorded in history are to be tried. By the light of our own conceptions, a uni
verse of truth is to be accepted or disowned. The sun could not have stood still on Gibeon, if it is at variance with our preconceived notions of what is practicable. There must be an error in the alleged number of the Israelites who marched through the wilderness, as the physical difficulties would be insurmountable. The miraculous conception of Jesus presents embarrassment to the interpreter, which he sees no means of overcoming.
Now one difficulty connected with this standard of judgment arises from the want of an accurate perception of the true province of reason. Alleged facts are summarily rejected because we cannot perceive their consistency with other facts, or because we cannot precisely determine the mode of their existence and operation. They do not really contradict each other, but simply rise above our comprehension. Another difficulty is, that we do not clearly distinguish the reason from other powers or qualities with which it has little to do. The light of this faculty may be compelled to pass through a murky atmosphere. A thousand influences may come in to mislead us. What we imagine to be the decision of an unbiassed intellectual faculty, is compliance with the spirit of the times, or results from a dread of giving offence, or is one method in wbich our idiosyncrasy is revealed, or it is one of the thousand aspects in which prejudice shows itself. Again, a fruitful source of error lies in our ignorance of what is fit and becoming. We have not the power to transport ourselves into the distant past, and reproduce states of society which no longer exist, or with which we are not familiar. The miracle is incomprehensible because we are unable to understand the state of the society for whose benefit it was performed. A book of the Old Testament (Canticles, e. g.) bas no divine authority because we cannot see the utility of it. It affords no spiritual nutriment to us, therefore it is psychologically impossible that it was ever intended for the spiritual benefit of any portion of our race. Civil and political usages were tolerated under the Jewish theocracy which would not be borne now. Wars were authorized at which the philanthropy of the present age stands aghast. A perfect Being could not take delight in these scenes of barbarism and bloodshed. The Scriptures which profess to give the Divine sanction to them, could not have proceeded from God. Now in this way, we make our own limited experience, our own culture, our states of mind, modern and occidental habits and feelings, the rule, the fixed standard, with which distant ages, states of society, manners and customs totally different, must be made to square. Obviously erroneous as such a standard must be, inapt and unanalogous as such methods of comparison necessarily are, yet they have constituted the favorite standard, the constant source of 1849.]
Mechanical Style of Interpretation.
appeal, consciously or unconsciously, to hundreds of learned commentators. The biblical books have been subjected to a system of interpretation which has been applied to no other productions. A bill of rights, a legal document, any ancient parchment or scroll, are explained according to certain well known objective rules, acknowledged and approved by all. Nothing would be considered more preposterous than to expound the Twelve Tables, Magna Charta, or an American Constitution, according to the personal feelings of the reader, or the subjective tendencies and habits of different annotators.
III. Another erroneous method of interpretation may be termed the monotonous or mechanical. It represents the sacred writers as shut up to one stereotyped style, to a diction confined, as it were, by iron clogs and clasps. Moses could not have been, in any sense, the author of various parts of Genesis, because the style and language are not run in the same mould. The book of Deuteronomy is thrust down several centuries, because it has a different complexion from the other portions of the Pentateuch. A Psalm is assigned to the Maccabean period, because it has a few Chaldaisms, or half a dozen phrases which are not found in other compositions that are supposed to be earlier. The two parts of Zechariah have not the same author, for there are striking differences of expressions in the earlier and later chapters. The three Pastoral Epistles are not Paul's, for they contain scores of words that do not appear elsewhere. John, the apostle, did not write the Apocalypse, as the Greek is quite foreign to his Gospel and Epistles. Thus the beautiful form of scriptural truth has been dislocated, marred, patched up, and amalgamated in a way which shows a most lamentable ignorance of the operations of the human mind, and of a thousand phenomena in literary history. A multitude of facts and considerations may be adduced to show the absurdity of the rule in question. Advancing age very often produces important changes in one's style of writing. In general the fancy and imagination become less prominent; the judgment, the reason, common sense, give tone and direction to the style. Copiousness of words gives place to copiousness of ideas. vidual at twenty-five years of age delights in a flowery, or an antithetic, or an ambitious style ; at forty-five his compositions are remarkable for condensed energy or mathematical precision. At the same time there are instances where the reverse of this is true. The style grows more picturesque and lively with advancing years. The later writings of Burke have much more exuberance than his Essay on the Sublime. The sharp trials of life, the bitter sorrows which fall to the lot of most literary men, exert a mellowing influVOL. VI. No. 21.