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THE RULE Of Faith. The holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are held to be the only and the sufficient rule of faith and practice, and the ultimate arbiter in all controversies. They are such because they are the word of God, and therefore infallible. This position, in general terms, probably will be scarcely questioned by any who call themselves evangelical. Yet we think it virtually assailed and endangered by the denial of verbal inspiration. We hold strenuously that inspiration extends not only to the thoughts but the words of scripture, else it is not the word of God, but man's word attempting to express the mind of God; hence it declares itself to be the word of God, spoken “not in words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth,” “given by inspiration of God,” who “spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,” the “ holy men of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
By the “inspiration of God” we understand the infallible guidance of God so given to the writers of the sacred oracles as to lead them to write the precise words in which he would express his mind and will, and no other; to preserve them, in short, from all error, not only of thought, but of language. This is perfectly consistent with each writer preserving his own individuality of style, as is undeniably the case. To prove these things incompatible or contradictory is impossible. And unless for an author to preserve his own style, and yet use words which the Holy Ghost selects for the accurate expression of his mind, be proved impossible, all arguments against the verbal inspiration of the scriptures founded on this individuality of style are without foundation. This is wholly aside of all ques . tions as to the manner of this guidance. It is enough that He who can so marvellously work upon the secret springs of the soul, unobserved, except by his marvellous effects in transforming that soul from unbelief to faith, from enmity to love, from despair to hope, can, in a manner no less secret
and wonderful, move it to write the words which he teacheth.
The questions pertaining to revelation, whether or how far it be by suggestion, dreams, afflatus, or articulate, vocal utterance, are irrelevant, and, in regard to the great question in issue — the nature and extent of inspiration – immaterial. Revelation is one thing; inspiration another. The former is. the revealing to men of things before unknown; the latter is the securing of infallible accuracy in writing the truth, whether acquired through special supernatural revelation, or, in whole or in part, from natural human means of information. This, we say, extends both to the thoughts and words the matter and manner of the subject of inspiration.
Not only does this appear from such scripture testimonies as those already cited, but from the impossibility of securing an infallible and authoritative communication of the mind of God to men by any other means.
If the sacred penmen were left to the choice of their own words, without being divinely guided in all instances to the use of the right words, which truly express the thoughts of God, then there is no certainty that in any instance the words are employed which truly declare the mind and will of God. Nothing is more notorious than that the ablest and best men frequently fail adequately and rightly to express what they mean to express. If this be so in human things, must it not, much more, be so in divine things? How will it ever be possible thus to tell what is the real mind of God, from these attempts to speak it by the human authors of the words of scripture? The words may indeed assert something very different from what 6 man's wisdom teacheth.” But how does this bind the conscience of any one offended by the doctrine thus declared ? The words are the words of man, after all, and may very erroneously express the mind of God. Hence, if verbal inspiration be denied, then the whole authority of the scriptures, as an infallible rule of faith and arbiter of controversies, is subverted. No one is concluded
by any words of scripture, for the simple reason that they are not the words of God, and may not truly express his mind.
Moreover, so far as revelation is concerned, it is more than a question whether it can be made except in words, either to the writers or, through them, to the readers of scripture. Thought, and words -- the articulate signs of thought — are so vitally intertwined, that to separate the former from the latter is like tearing the nerves from the flesh. It is true that the mind can and does take cognizance of single objects by intuition, without the intervention of language. But those discursive intellectual processes and products which constitute thought cannot go on, to any extent, without the aid of language. Those products of abstraction and generalization which involve the formation of conceptions represented by common terms, cannot be retained in the mind, or conveyed to other minds, without the aid of such terms. But without such conceptions, thus set in general words, there can be no judgments or propositions beyond empty tautology, much less reasonings or arguments. Let any one try to present to his own mind the propositions, thoughts, and arguments of one of Paul's Epistles without expression in language; or try to conceive how they could be revealed to any mind so as to be conveyed by that mind to another without the mediation of language, and he will, we think, see the impossibility of any real revelation of God to man, except through the vehicle of language. Such language then must be inspired, if there be a real revelation. A wordless thought is like a shapeless body; and a wordless revelation is, like a mute oracle, a dumb teacher. Presbyterians, therefore, as we suppose, in common with most evangelical Christians, hold that verbal inspiration is requisite to the authority and sufficiency of the scriptures as the only rule of faith and life, and the sapreme arbiter of controversies. As to any real or supposed inaccuracies of fact, historic or scientific, they are capable of explanation, either by the unavoidable errors that
would creep into the successive manuscripts in the process of transcription, or by the solutions which will be furnished by a further advance in knowledge.
As to the principles which should control the interpretation of scripture, we hold that it should be interpreted by scripture: the obscurer parts by those more plain ; exceptional passages by the general scope and harmony of the whole.
The province of human reason in interpretation is, to ascertain what the scriptures teach ; to put its varied teachings in systematic form ; to construe them so as to shun obvious contradictions with each other, with the indisputable testimony of sense, and of unperverted reason; and humbly to bow to them when so ascertained and determined, however incomprehensible, unwelcome, or irreconcilable with our feelings, judgments, or predilections.
This gives reason a very high office in ascertaining and accepting the teachings of revelation ; a very humble office as an orginal authority touching any matters in regard to which God speaks in his word. The form in which human reason rebels against the authority of God's word, while professing to receive it, is, in claiming that the Bible cannot teach given doctrines, although its language seems plainly to teach them, because they are alleged to conflict with its own decisions or with right feeling. In this way nearly every distinctive Christian doctrine, whether of theology, anthropology, or soterology, has been in turn assailed, and widely rejected. And if reason may be exalted to this authority, it is supreme, and overbears the authority of the divine word. Reason soars beyond its true level when it assumes to judge what can or cannot be true or possible relative to the infinite God; what, therefore, he cannot mean to declare, although he seems to declare it, in his word. Human reason is competent to no such office. It cannot span infinity. A being, all whose nature, ways, and proceedings could be compassed by human reason, could not be God. That a revelation from God should contain much
which surpasses human comprehension, is only what reason should expect, a priori. In such cases it is our privilege as well as duty, not to doubt or reject, but to believe and adore. * Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through bim, and to him are all things: to whom be glory for ever.
Amen" (Rom. xi. 33 – 36).
While this disposes of a class of mysteries which are above the normal human intellect, such as the Trinity, Incarnation, Predestination, there are doctrines which the unregenerate soul cannot clearly see and appreciate, on account of the blindness induced upon it by sin. It is very certain that the Bible makes a broad distinction between the power to judge and appreciate scriptural truth in the regenerate and in the unregenerate soul. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him ; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned; but he that is spiritual judg. eth all things” (1 Cor. ii. 14 - 15). Much more of the same purport might be cited from scripture. And it all shows, beyond all doubt, that the human intellect is disqualified for authoritative judgment, as to what it is compatible with the nature and character of God to reveal, not only by its finitude, but by its corruption. However it may retain its speculative insight comparatively unimpaired, its power in moral and spiritual aesthetics, i.e. to discern the beauty of holiness, the beauty of the Lord, the loveliness of Christ, the glory of his salvation in all its parts, is seriously impaired. Hence, with regard to the whole range of soterology, it is wholly disqualified and unwarranted to erect its judgment against the obvious meaning of the inspired record.
The only function that can be conceded to reason in constraining an interpretation into accord with its own