« Prev Supplement to Sermon IV. Next »


THERE is yet another view of the nature and office of Inspiration,—another ‘Theory’ as it would perhaps aspire to be called,—which limits the extent of the Divine help and guidance which the writers, confessedly inspired, may be supposed to have enjoyed. According to this view, it is admitted that Inspiration was, from first to last, a continuous influence; exerted equally throughout: but then, it has been suggested that perhaps its office was not to protect a Writer against a certain class of errors. The office of the Bible, (it is argued,) is to make men wise unto Salvation. It does not follow that Inspiration, because it guided a sacred writer so long as he wrote of Christian Doctrine, so as to make what he wrote unerringly true, should have protected him against slips of memory; preserved him from inaccuracies of statement; from inconclusive reasonings; from incorrect quotations; from mistaken inferences; from scientific errors.—This is what is said: and because this is a view of the question which is observed to recommend itself occasionally to candid, and even to reverential minds, it seems to deserve distinct and careful consideration.

But I must preface all I have to reply by remarking that “a Book cannot [properly] be said to be inspired, or to carry with it the authority of being God’s Word, if only portions come from him, and there exists no plain and infallible sign to indicate which those portions 127are; and if the same Writer may give us in one verse of the Bible a revelation from the Most High, and in the next verse a blunder of his own. How can we be certain, that the very texts, upon which we rest our doctrines and hopes, are not the uninspired portions? What can be the meaning or nature of an Inspiration to teach Truth, which does not guarantee its recipient from error?”—So far a living sceptical writer.

1. Now, the first thing which strikes one in this theory, is its extreme vagueness. We hardly know what we have to consider; for nothing is definitely stated. Neither are we informed how many of the phenomena of Inspiration, this view is intended to explain. Again, does the theory apply equally to the Old Testament and to the New? If it does apply equally to the Old Testament, (and I can see no possible reason why it should not,) then, I apprehend this theory will be found practically to run up into, and to identify itself with, that last described417417   See above, p. 95-99.. For a guidance which has failed to guide, has been no guidance at all; and since whole chapters of the Old Testament will occur to every one’s memory which may be thought to have no connexion whatever with ‘Christian Doctrine,’—to conduce wondrous little to the ‘making men wise unto Salvation,’—it will follow that Inspiration is, according to this theory, in effect, of the nature already described,—namely, a quality which can never be predicated of any passage of Scripture with entire certainty. The larger part of the Old Testament in fact, by this theory, is exhibited in the light of a common book; having no pretension to be regarded as part of the Inspired Canon.


But if this theory simply shirks the question of the Old Testament, then, those who are inclined to accept it, are bound to explain why there should be one theory of Inspiration applicable to the Old Testament, and another for the New:—in which difficulty, I must candidly profess that I am not able to render any assistance at all. It is clearly not allowable to overlook the intimate connexion which subsists between the two great divisions of Holy Scripture; the habitual references of the Writers of the New Testament to the writers of the Old,—Moses, David, Isaiah, and the rest rather, to the utterance of the Holy Ghost, speaking by the mouth of those writers. Whatever may have been the Inspiration of the Authors of the New Testament must be assumed to have been that of the Authors of the Old Testament also.

2. But further,—(to confine our remarks to the Scriptures of the New Testament; which, it is manifest, the view under consideration specially contemplates;)—however plausible in the abstract a theory may sound, which would account for a Chronological difficulty,—the insertion of what seems to be a wrong name,—a quotation made with singular license,—an unscientific statement,—the apparent inconsistency of two or more accounts of one and the same transaction, in respect of lesser details,—a (supposed) inconclusive remark, or specimen of reasoning which seems to be fallacious;—on the supposition that it is not the office of Inspiration to enlighten the understanding on points like these, or to preserve the pen from error;—however plausible, I say, this theory, abstractedly considered, may appear;—it will be found that it will not bear the searching test of a practical application.

It would indeed be a great advantage to the cause 129of Truth, and a great help to individual minds, as well as wonderfully promote the arriving at a sound conclusion in this perilous department of speculative Divinity,—if, instead of putting up with a vague theory, (like the present,) regardless of its logical bearings and necessary issues;—men would compel themselves to apply their view to the actual phenomena of Holy Scripture to carry it out to its legitimate consequences, and steadily to contemplate the result. I venture to predict that the theory which we are now considering, when submitted to such a test, would be found not only inconvenient, but absolutely untenable. The inconsistency and absurdity which results from it, can, I think, easily be made to appear.

For if any one who is disposed to regard it with favour,—instead of idly, (as is the way with nine-tenths of mankind,) repeating the formula in terms more or less vague and indefinite; and straightway wincing, falling back on generalities, and in a word shirking the point, the instant it is proposed to bring the question to a definite issue;—if a favourer of the present theory I say, instead of so acting, would take up a copy of the New Testament, and proceed, with a pen in his hand, to apply the theory, by running his pen through the places, (and they must be capable of individual specification!), which he suspects of being external to the influence of Inspiration—or, if you please, which he thinks have been penned without that Divine help which makes what is written infallible;—I venture to predict that such an one will speedily admit that his erasures are either so very few, or so very many, as to be fatal to the theory of which they are the expression.

If they be confined to “the fifteenth year of Tiberius418418   St. Luke iii. 1.; 130to the names of the second Cainan419419   Ibid. iii. 36., Cyrenius420420   Ibid. ii. 2., Abiathar421421   St. Mark ii. 26., ‘Jeremy the prophet422422   St. Matth. xxvii. 9.;’ to “the sixth hour423423   St. John xix. 14.,” and so on;—no great inconvenience truly will result. But the instant you go a step further, the difficulty begins. Many of the quotations from the Old Testament may be made to correspond with the Hebrew, doubtless, without sensible inconvenience: but there are others which refuse the process. However, let it be supposed that all such indications of imperfect memory, or misapprehension of the sense of the Hebrew Scriptures, have been removed; and hero and there, that an irrelevant clause in the reasoning has been lopped off, or an unscientific remark expunged.—After all this leas been done, I venture to say that the result will be the reverse of satisfactory, even to the theorist himself. He will infallibly exclaim secretly,—I seem to have gained wondrous little by this corrective process. Was it worth while, in order to achieve this, to tamper with the Divine Oracles? The great body of Scripture remains after all, in all its strangeness, all its perplexing individuality. Meanwhile, piety and wisdom modestly suggest,—Is it reasonable to think that Evangelists and Apostles should have stumbled, like children, before dates, and names, and quotations from their own Scriptures? Surely if this be all that can be objected against the Bible, the very slenderness of the charge becomes its sufficient refutation! . . . . . . The erasures are so few, in fact, that they refute the theory.

But if; on the other hand, the pen be freely used, then the result will be fatal to the theory, because it 131 will be fatal to the record. If an ‘Essayist and Reviewer’ were to reduce the Gospels to consistency, according to his view of consistency, the Gospels would scarcely be recognizable. If he were to reject from St. Paul’s writings every instance of what he thinks fanciful exposition, illogical reasoning, inexact quotation, and mistaken inference; the result would be altogether unmanageable. For any one who attends to the matter will perceive that such things run into the very staple of the Apostle’s argument; and therefore cannot be detached without destroying the whole. The householder’s reason for not removing the tares, (“lest while ye gather up the tares ye root up also the wheat with them424424   St. Matth. xiii. 29.,”) applies exactly. If St. Paul’s exposition of Melchizedek be fanciful and untrustworthy, then does the proof of time superiority of our. Saviour’s Priesthood over that of Aaron, fall to the ground. If his handling of the story of Sarah and Hagar be an uninspired allegory, then does his argumentation respecting the rejection of the Jews and the calling of the Gentiles disappear. If time furniture of the Temple, and the provisions of the Jewish ritual, were not dictated by the Spirit of God425425   Heb. ix. 8., then will the Epistle wherein it is found be reduced to proportions which make it meaningless. If Deuteronomy xxv. 4 has no reference to the Christian Ministry, then the entire context (in two of St. Paul’s Epistles) must go at once426426   1 Cor. ix. 9 and 1 Tim. v. 18. . . . . It is useless to multiply such instances. Any one familiar with the writings of St. Paul will know the truth of what has been offered; and will admit that the erasures required by the theory before us will become so numerous as to 132prove,—(to a devout mind at least, or indeed to any one of sense and candour,)—that the theory is altogether untenable.

It cannot escape observation, therefore, that however plausible this view of Inspiration may sound, as long as some few petty historical, chronological, and scientific inaccuracies are all that have to be accounted for;—the theory (unhappily) proves worthless when it comes to be practically applied; inasmuch as in the writings of St. Paul, for example, there is little or nothing of the kind just specified, to be condoned. Erroneous dates, unscientific statements, wrong names, and the like, form no part of the staple of the New Testament. Such instances may be counted on one’s fingers; and are to be sufficiently explained to render any special theory of Inspiration in order to meet them, quite a gratuitous exercise of ingenuity.

3. On the other hand, if a wider class of phenomena is to be dealt with by this theory, the reader is requested to observe that we involve ourselves in a gross contradiction; for we forsake the very principle on which it pretends to be built. The theory set out by reminding us that “the office of the Bible is to make men wise unto Salvation,”—not to teach physical Science, nor to deal with facts in chronology and the like: and the plea was allowed. But the theory which was devised to account for one class of phenomena is now most unwarrantably applied to account for another. We have travelled into a widely different subject-matter,—namely, Divinity proper! Let it therefore be respectfully asked,—If the Inspiration which the Apostles enjoyed did not preserve them against unsound inferences in respect of Holy Scripture; and illogical, inconclusive argumentation in things Divine;133—pray, of what use was it? We have not been reviewing a set of Geological mistakes on the part of the great Apostle. To Physical Science, he has scarcely so much as a single allusion. He deals with Christian Doctrine; with Divinity, properly so called; and with that only. Pray, was not Inspiration a sufficient guide to him, there?

4. It is high time also to remind the reader that although the office of the Bible, confessedly, is “to make men wise unto Salvation,” it does not by any means follow that that is its only office. In other words, we have no right to assume that we know all the possible ends for which the Bible was designed; and to lay it down, as if it were an ascertained fact, that it was not designed to enlighten men in matters of Chronology, History, and the like; seeing, on the one hand, that all the evidence we are able to adduce in support of such an opinion, does not establish so much as a faint presumption that any part of Scripture is uninspired; and seeing that, on the other, as a plain matter of fact, historical details constitute so large a part of the contents of the Bible; and that the sacred volume is the sole depository of the History and Chronology of the World for by far the largest portion of the interval since that World’s Creation.

5. In passing, it may also be reasonably declared, that it is to take a very derogatory view of the result of the Holy Spirit’s influence, to suppose that imperfections and inaccuracies can freely abound,—nay, can exist at all,—in a Revelation which the same Holy Spirit is believed to have inspired. They ought surely to be demonstrated to exist, before we are called upon to listen to the apologies which have been invented to account for their existence!


6. Let me also advert to a dilemma which seems hardly ever to obtain from a certain class of critics the attention it deserves. If a writing be not inspired, it is of no absolute authority. If a part of a writing be not inspired, that part is of no absolute authority. If a single word in the text of Holy Scripture be even uncertain,—(as, for example, whether we are to read ΟΣ or ΘΕΟΣ in 1 Tim. iii. 16,)—that word becomes without absolute authority. We cannot venture to adduce it in proof of anything. Without therefore, in the remotest degree, desiring to discourage the application of a true theory of Inspiration to the phenomena of Holy Scripture, through fear of the necessary consequences,—may we not call attention to the manifest awkwardness of a theory which no one knows how to apply, and about the application of which no two men will ever be agreed?—the issue of the discussion being, in every case, neither more nor less than this,—whether the portion of Scripture under consideration is Human, and therefore of no absolute authority; or Divine, and therefore infallible!

7. A far more important consideration remains to be offered, and with this I shall conclude. Although, when St. Paul appears to reason inconclusively, some of us do not hesitate to refer the Apostle’s (supposed) imperfect logic to his personal infirmity,—yet, common piety revolts against the proposal to apply the same solution to the same phenomenon when it is observed to occur in the Discourses of our Blessed Lord Himself. It seems to have been providentially ordained, however, that the discourses of Christ Himself should supply examples of every one of those difficulties which it is thought lawful to account for,—when an Apostle or an Evangelist is the speaker,135—on the hypothesis of partial, imperfect, or suspended Inspiration. Now, since I, at least, shall not be permitted to be either vague or general, I proceed to subjoin the proof of what has been thus advanced:—

α. The well-known difficulty about “the days of Abiathar,” is found in one of our Lord’s discourses427427   St. Mark ii. 26.. Here then is a case of what, if an Evangelist or an Apostle had been the author of the statement, would have been called an historical inaccuracy.

β. However unworthy of scientific attention the Mosaic account of the descent of Mankind from a single pair may be deemed,—the universality of ‘the Noachian Deluge,’—the destruction of the Cities of the plain,—the fate of Lot’s wife,—Jonah in the fish’s belly,—and so forth;—to all these (supposed) unscientific statements our Blessed Lord commits Himself unequivocally428428   All will be found more fully insisted upon at the beginning of the VIIth Sermon..

γ. When the Holy One inferred the Resurrection of the Dead from the words spoken to Moses “in the bush429429   St. Luke xx. 37-8.;”—when he proved that Christ is not the son of David, because “David in spirit calls Him Lord430430   St. Matth. xxii. 41-6.;’”—and when he shewed from a clause in the 6th verse of the lxxxiind Psalm, (“I said ye are gods,”) that it was not unlawful for Himself to claim the title of Son of God431431   St. John x. 31-6.;—I humbly think that the argumentation is of such a nature as would not produce conviction in captious minds cast in a modern mould432432   ‘Essayists and Reviewers’ would reply, that in the first instance, the supposed inference has no connexion with the premisses:—that in the second, (1) it has to be proved that the person intended in Psalm cx. is Christ; and (2) it does not follow, because David calls him “lord,” that the person so spoken of is not his “son:”—that in the third instance, ‘gods’ is used in Psalm lxxxii. of earthly rulers; whereas, when, our Saviour called Himself “the Son of God,” he claimed to be “of one substance with the Father,—God of God.”. I desire not 136to dwell longer upon this subject; and only hope in what I have ventured to say concerning some of the recorded sayings of Him to whose creative Power and Goodness I am indebted for the exercise of my own reason,—I have not written amiss. But the point of what I am urging is, that I defy any one to bring a charge of faulty logic against passages in St. Paul’s Epistles which might not, with the same show of reason, be brought against certain of our Lord’s recorded sayings.

δ. When the Chief Priests and Scribes remonstrated with our Lord because of the children crying in the Temple; and asked Him,—“Hearest Thou what these say?” He replied,—“Yea, have ye never read, ‘Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise433433   St. Matt. xxi. 16.?” . . . Now, this quotation from the viiith Psalm is what an ‘Essayist or Reviewer’ would have pronounced irrelevant.

ε. It seems clear from Gen. ii. 24, that Adam was the author of the words, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother,” &c. And yet, our Lord (in St. Matth. xix. 4, 5,) as unmistakeably seems to make God the Speaker. An Evangelist or an Apostle would be thought here to have made a slip of memory.

ζ. In St. John viii. 47, the following words occur. “He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore 137hear them not, because ye are not of God.” This passage (as already pointed out434434   See above, p. 4.,) has been adduced by one who now occupies an Archiepiscopal throne, as containing a logical fallacy.

Many more examples might be adduced: but these will suffice. It is plain that when the like phenomena are observed in the writings of Apostles and Evangelists, we need not, in order to account for them, have recourse to any theory of partial or imperfect Inspiration since nothing of the kind is supposed necessary when they occur in the Discourses of our Lord.—As much as I care to offer on the subject of Inspired Reasoning will be found in the course of the Sixth of these Sermons, where the Doctrine of ‘Accommodation’ is considered.


To say that the Scriptures, and the things contained in them, can have no other or farther meaning than those persons thought or had, who first recited or wrote them; is evidently saying, that those persons were the original, proper, and sole Authors of those Books, i.e. that they are not inspired: which is absurd, whilst the authority of those Books is under examination; i.e. till you have determined they are of no Divine authority at all. Till this be determined, it must in all reason be supposed, (not indeed that they have, for this is taking for granted that they are inspired; but) that they may have, some farther meaning than what the compilers saw or understood.

Bishop Butler, Analogy, P. II. ch. vii.

As the Literal sense is, as it were, the main stream or river, so the Moral sense chiefly, and sometimes the Allegorical or Typical, are they whereof the Church hath most use: not that I wish men to be bold in allegories, or indulgent or light in allusions; but that I do much condemn that Interpretation of the Scripture which is only after the manner as men use to interpret a profane book.

Lord Bacon, Advancement of Learning.

THE Book of this Law we are neither able nor worthy to open and look into. That little thereof which we darkly apprehend, we admire; the rest, with religious ignorance we humbly and meekly adore.

Hooker, Eccl. Pol., B. I. c. ii. § 5.

Open Thou mine eyes that I may see the wondrous things of Thy Law!


« Prev Supplement to Sermon IV. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection