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§ 3. Adverse Theories.

Although substantial unanimity as to the doctrine of inspiration has prevailed among the great historical Churches of Christendom, yet there has been no little diversity of opinion among theologians and philosophical writers. The theories are too numerous to be examined in detail. They may, perhaps, be advantageously referred to the following classes.

A. Naturalistic Doctrine.

There is a large class of writers who deny any supernatural agency in the affairs of men. This general class includes writers who differ essentially in their views.

First. There are those who, although Theists, hold the mechanical theory of the universe. That is, they hold that God having created the world, including all that it contains, organic and inorganic, rational and irrational, and having endowed matter with its properties and minds with their attributes, leaves it to itself. Just as a ship, when launched and equipped, is left to the winds and to its crew. This theory precludes the possibility not only of all miracles, prophecy, and supernatural revelation, but even of all providential government, whether general or special. Those who adopt this view of the relation of God to the world, must regard the Bible from beginning to end as a purely human production. They may rank it as the highest, or as among the lowest of the literary works of men; there is no possibility of its being inspired in any authorized sense of that word.

Secondly. There are those who do not so entirely banish God from his works. They admit that He is everywhere present, and everywhere active; that his providential efficiency and control are exercised in the occurrence of all events. But they maintain that He always acts according to fixed laws; and always in connection and cooperation with second causes. According to this theory also, all miracles and all prophecy, properly speaking, are excluded. 173A revelation is admitted, or at least, is possible. But it is merely providential. It consists in such an ordering of circumstances, and such a combination of influences as to secure the elevation of certain men to a higher level of religious knowledge than that attained by others. They may also, in a sense, be said to be inspired in so far as that inward, subjective state is purer, and more devout, as well as more intelligent than that of ordinary men. There is no specific difference, however, according to this theory, between inspired and uninspired men. It is only a matter of degrees. One is more and another less purified and enlightened. This theory also makes the Bible a purely human production. It confines revelation to the sphere of human knowledge. No possible degree of culture or development can get anything more than human out of man. According to the Scriptures, and to the faith of the Church, the Bible is a revelation of the things of God; of his thoughts and purposes. But who knoweth the things of God, asks the Apostle, but the Spirit of God? The things which the Bible purports to make known, are precisely those things which lie beyond the ken of the human mind. This theory, therefore, for bread gives us a stone; for the thoughts of God, the thoughts of man.

Schleiermacher’s Theory.

Thirdly. There is a theory far more pretentious and philosophical, and which of late years has widely prevailed, which in reality differs very little from the preceding. It agrees with it in the main point in that it denies anything supernatural in the origin or composition of the Bible. Schleiermacher, the author of this theory, was addicted to a philosophy which precluded all intervention of the immediate efficiency of God in the world. He admits, however, of two exceptions: the creation of man, and the constitution of the person of Christ. There was a supernatural intervention in the origin of our race, and in the manifestation of Christ. All else in the history of the world is natural. Of course there is nothing supernatural in the Bible; nothing in the Old Testament which the Adamic nature was not adequate to produce; and nothing in the New Testament, which Christianity, the life of the Church, a life common to all believers, is not sufficient to account for.

Religion consists in feeling, and specifically in a feeling or absolute dependence (or an absolute feeling of dependence) i.e., the consciousness that the finite is nothing in the presence of the Infinite, — the individual in the presence of the universal. This consciousness involves the unity of the one and all, of God and man. 174“This system,” says Dr. Ulmann, one of its more moderate and effective advocates, “is not absolutely new. We find it in another form in ancient Mysticism, especially in the German Mystics of the Middle Ages. Within them, too, the ground and central point of Christianity is the oneness of Deity and humanity effected through the incarnation of God, and deification of man.”114114Studien und Kritiken, 1845, p. 59.

Christianity, therefore, is not a system of doctrine; it is not, subjectively considered, a form of knowledge. It is a life. It is the life of Christ. Ullmann again says explicitly: “The life of Christ is Christianity.”115115Studien und Kritiken, January 1845; translated in The Mystical Presence, by Dr. J.W. Nevin. God in becoming man did not take upon himself, “a true body and a reasonable soul,” but generic humanity; i.e., humanity as a generic life. The effect of the incarnation was to unite the human and divine as one life. And this life passes over to the Church precisely as the life of Adam passed over to his descendants, by a process of natural development. And this life is Christianity. Participation of this divine-human life makes a man a Christian.

The Christian revelation consists in the providential dispensations connected within the appearance of Christ on the earth. The effect of these dispensations and events was the elevation of the religious consciousness of the men of that generation, and specially of those who came most directly under the influence of Christ. This subjective state, this excitement and elevation of their religious life, gave them intuitions of religious truths, “eternal verities.” These intuitions were by the logical understanding clothed in the form of doctrines. This, however, was a gradual process as it was effected only by the Church-life, i.e., by the working of the new divine-human life in the body of believers.116116The English reader may find this theory set forth, in Morell’s Philosophy of Religion, in Archdeacon Wilberforce’s work on the Incarnation; in Maurice’s Theological Essays; in the Mystical Presence, by Dr. John W. Nevin, and in the pages of the Mercersburg Quarterly Review, a journal specially devoted to the defense of Schleiermacher’s doctrines and of those of the same general character. Mr. Mormell in expounding this theory, says:117117Philosophy of Religion, p. 77 “The essential germ of the religious life is concentrated in the absolute feeling of dependence, — a feeling which implies nothing abject, but, on the contrary, a high and hallowed sense of our being inseparably related to Deity.” On the preceding page he had said, “Let the subject become as nothing — not, indeed, from its intrinsic insignificance or incapacity of moral action, but by virtue of the infinity of the object to which it stands 175consciously opposed; and the feeling of dependence must become absolute; for all finite power is as nothing in relation to the Infinite.”

Christianity, as just stated, is the life of Christ, his human life, which is also divine, and is communicated to us as the life of Adam was communicated to his descendants. Morell, rather more in accordance with English modes of thought, says,118118Philosophy of Religion, page 104. “Christianity, like every other religion, consists essentially in a state of man’s inner consciousness, which develops itself into a system of thought and activity only in a community of awakened minds; and it was inevitable, therefore, that such a state of consciousness should require time, and intercourse, and mutual sympathy, before it could become moulded into a decided and distinctive form.” He represents the Apostles as often meeting together and deliberating on essential points, correcting each other’s views; and, after years of such fellowship, Christianity was at last brought into form.

Revelation is declared to be a communication of truth to our intuitional consciousness. The outward world is a revelation to our sense-intuitions; beauty is a revelation to our esthetic intuitions; and “eternal verities,” when intuitively perceived, are said to be revealed; and this intuition is brought about by whatever purifies and exalts our religious feelings. “Revelation,” says Morell, “is a process of the intuitional consciousness, gazing upon eternal verities; while theology is the reflection of the understanding upon those vital intuitions, so as to reduce them to a logical and scientific expression.”119119Page 141.

Inspiration is the inward state of mind which enables us to apprehend the truth. “Revelation and inspiration,” says Morell, “indicate one united process, the result of which upon the human mind is, to produce a state of spiritual intuition, whose phenomena are so extraordinary, that we at once separate the agency by which they are produced from any of the ordinary principles of human development. And yet this agency is applied in perfect consistency with the laws and natural operations of our spiritual nature. Inspiration does not imply anything generically new in the actual processes of the human mind; it does not involve any form of intelligence essentially different from what we already possess; it indicates rather the elevation of the religious consciousness, and with it, of course, the power of spiritual vision, to a degree of intensity peculiar to the individuals thus highly favoured of God.”120120Page 151. The only difference, therefore, between the Apostles and ordinary Christians is as to their relative holiness.


According to this theory there is no specific difference between genius and inspiration. The difference is simply in the objects apprehended and the causes of the inward excitement to which the apprehension is due. “Genius,” says Morell, “consists in the possession of a remarkable power of intuition with reference to some particular object, a power which arises from the inward nature of a man being brought into unusual harmony with that object in its reality and its operations.”121121Philosophy of Religion, page 184. This is precisely his account of inspiration. “Let,” he says, “there be a due purification of the moral nature, — a perfect harmony of the spiritual being with the mind of God, — a removal of all inward disturbances from the heart, and what is to prevent or disturb this immediate intuition of divine things.”122122Page 186.

This theory of inspiration, while retaining its essential elements, is variously modified. With those who believe with Schleiermacher, that man “is the form in which God comes to conscious existence on our earth,” it has one form. With Realists who define man to be “the manifestation of generic humanity in connection with a given corporeal organization;” and who believe that it was generic humanity which Christ took and united in one life with his divine nature, which life is communicated to the Church as his body, and thereby to all its members; it takes a somewhat different form. With those again who do not adopt either of these anthropological theories, but take the common view as to the constitution of man; it takes still a different, and in some respects, a lower, form. In all, however, inspiration is the intuition of divine truths due to the excitement of the religious nature, whatever that nature may be.

Objections to Schleiermacher’s Theory.

To this theory in all its forms it may be objected, — 1. That it proceeds upon a wrong view of religion in general and of Christianity in particular. It assumes that religion is a feeling, a life. It denies that it is a form of knowledge, or involves the reception of any particular system of doctrine. In the subjective sense of the word, all religions (i.e., all religious doctrines) are true, as Twesten says,123123Dogmatik, vol. i. p. 2. “Das Verhältniss des Erkennen zur Religion.” Hase’s Dogmatik. “Jede Religion als Ergebniss einer Volksbildung ist angemesen oder subj. wahr; wahr an sich ist die, welche der vollendeten Ausbildung der Menschheit entspricht.” See also his Hutterus Redivivus. but all are not equally pure, or equally adequate expressions of the inward religious principle. According to the Scriptures, however, and the common conviction of Christians, 177religion (subjectively considered) is the reception of certain doctrines as true, and a state of heart and course of action in accordance with those doctrines. The Apostles propounded a certain system of doctrines; they pronounced those to be Christians who received those doctrines so as to determine their character and life. They pronounced those who rejected those doctrines, who refused to receive their testimony, as antichristian; as having no part or lot with the people of God. Christ’s command was to teach; to convert the world by teaching. On this principle the Apostles acted and the Church has ever acted from that day to this. Those who deny Theism as a doctrine, are atheists. Those who reject Christianity as a system of doctrine, are unbelievers. They are not Christians. The Bible everywhere assumes that without truth there can be no holiness; that all conscious exercises of spiritual life are in view of truth objectively revealed in the Scriptures. And hence the importance everywhere attributed to knowledge, to truth, to sound doctrine, in the Word of God.

2. This theory is inconsistent with the Scriptural doctrine of revelation. According to the Bible, God presents truth objectively to the mind, whether by audible words, by visions, or by the immediate operations of his Spirit. According to this theory, revelation is merely the providential ordering of circumstances which awaken and exalt the religious feelings, and which thus enable the mind intuitively to apprehend the things of God.

3. It avowedly confines these intuitions, and of course revealed truth, to what are called “eternal verities.” But the great body of truths revealed in Scripture are not “eternal verities.” The fall of man; that all men are sinners; that the Redeemer from sin was to be of the seed of Abraham, and of the house of David; that He was to be born of a virgin, to be a man of sorrows; that He was crucified and buried; that He rose again the third day; that He ascended to heaven; that He is to come again without sin to salvation, although truths on which our salvation depends, are not intuitive truths; they are not truths which any exaltation of the religious consciousness would enable any man to discover of himself.

4. According to this theory the Bible has no normal authority as a rule of faith. It contains no doctrines revealed by God, and to be received as true on his testimony. It contains only the thoughts of holy men; the forms in which their understandings, without supernatural aid, clothed the “intuitions” due to their religious feelings. “The Bible,” says Morell,124124Philosophy of Religion, ch. 8, p. 143, London ed. 1849. “cannot in strict 178accuracy of language be termed a revelation, since a revelation always implies an actual process of intelligence in a living mind; but it contains the records in which those minds who enjoyed the preliminary training or the first brighter revelatior of Christianity, have described the scenes which awakened their own religious nature to new life, and the high ideas and aspirations to which that new life gave origin.” The Old Testament is the product of “the religious consciousness of men who lived under a rude state of culture; and is of no authority for us. The New Testament is the product of “the religious consciousness of men who had experienced the sanctifying influence of Christ’s presence among them. But those men were Jews, they had Jewish modes of thinking. They were familiar with the services of the old dispensation, were accustomed to think of God as approachable only through a priesthood; as demanding expiation for sin, and regeneration of heart; and promising certain rewards and forms of blessedness in a future state of existence. It was natural for them, therefore, to clothe their “intuitions” in these Jewish modes of thought. We, in this nineteenth century, may clothe ours in very different forms, i.e., in very different doctrines, and yet “the eternal verities” be the same.

Different men carry this theory to very different lengths. Some have such an inward experience that they can find no form for expressing what they feel, so suitable as that given in the Bible, and therefore they believe all its great doctrines. But the ground of their faith is purely subjective. It is not the testimony of God given in his Word, but their own experience. They take what suits that, and reject the rest. Others with less Christian experience, or with no experience distinctively Christian, reject all the distinctive doctrines of Christianity, and adopt a form of religious philosophy which they are willing to call Christianity.

5. That this theory is antiscriptural has already been said. The Bible makes revelation as therein contained to be the communication of doctrines to the understanding by the Spirit of God. It makes those truths or doctrines the immediate source of all right feeling. The feelings come from spiritual apprehension of the truth, and not the knowledge of truth from the feeling. Knowledge is necessary to all conscious holy exercises. Hence the Bible makes truth of the greatest importance. It pronounces those blessed who receive the doctrines which it teaches, and those accursed who reject them. It makes the salvation of men to depend upon their faith. This theory makes the creed of a man or of a people of comparatively little consequence.


In the Church, therefore, Christianity has always been regarded as a system of doctrine. Those who believe these doctrines are Christians; those who reject them, are, in the judgment of the Church, infidels or heretics. If our faith be formal or speculative, so is our Christianity; if it be spiritual and living, so is our religion. But no mistake can be greater than to divorce religion from truth, and make Christianity a spirit or life distinct from the doctrines which the Scriptures present as the objects of faith.

B. Gracious Inspiration.

This theory belongs to the category of natural or supernatural, according to the meaning assigned to those terms. By natural effects are commonly understood those brought about by natural causes under the providential control of God. Then the effects produced by the gracious operations of the Spirit, such as repentance, faith, love, and all other fruits of the Spirit, are supernatural. And consequently the theory which refers inspiration to the gracious influence of the Spirit, belongs to the class of the supernatural. But this word is often used in a more limited sense, to designate events which are produced by the immediate agency or volition of God without the intervention of any second cause. In this limited sense, creation, miracles, immediate revelation, regeneration (in the limited sense of that word), are supernatural. As the sanctification of men is carried on by the Spirit by the use of the means of grace, it is not a supernatural work, in the restricted sense of the term.

There are many theologians who do not adopt either of the philosophical theories of the nature of man and of his relation to God, above mentioned; and who receive the Scriptural doctrine as held by the Church universal, that the Holy Spirit renews, sanctifies, illuminates, guides, and teaches all the people of God; and yet who regard inspiration to be one of the ordinary fruits of the Spirit. Inspired and uninspired men are not distinguished by any specific difference. The sacred writers were merely holy men under the guidance of the ordinary influence of the Spirit. Some of those who adopt this theory extend it to revelation as well as to inspiration. Others admit a strictly supernatural revelation, but deny that the sacred writers in communicating the truths revealed were under any influence not uncommon to ordinary believers. And as to those parts of the Bible (as the Hagiographa and Gospels), which contain no special revelations, they are to be regarded as the devotional writings or historical narratives of devout but fallible 180men. Thus Coleridge, who refers inspiration to that “grace and communion with the Spirit which the Church, under all circumstances, and every regenerate member of the Church, in permitted to hope and instructed to pray for;” makes an exception in favour of “the law and the prophets, no jot or tittle of which can pass unfulfilled.”125125“Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit,” Letter 7. Works, N.Y., 1853, vol. v. p. 619. The remainder of the Bible, he holds, was written under the impulse and guidance of the gracious influence of the Spirit given to all Christian men. And his friends and followers, Dr. Arnold, Archdeacon Hare, and specially Maurice, ignore this distinction and refer the whole Bible “to an inspiration the same as what every believer enjoys.”126126See Bannerman, Inspiration of the Scriptures. Edinburg, 1865; pp. 145, 232. Thus Maurice says,127127Theological Essays, p. 339, Cambridge, 1853. “We must forego the demand which we make on the conscience of young men, when we compel them to declare that they regard the inspiration of the Bible as generically unlike that which God bestows on His children in this day.”

Objections to the Doctrine that Inspiration is common to all Believers.

That this theory is anti-scriptural is obvious. 1. Because the Bible makes a marked distinction between those whom God chose to be his messengers, his prophets, his spokesmen, and other men. This theory ignores that distinction, so far as the people of God is concerned.

2. It is inconsistent with the authority claimed by these special messengers of God. They spoke in his name. God spoke through them. They said, “Thus saith the Lord,” in a sense and way in which no ordinary believer dare use those words. It is inconsistent with the authority not only claimed by the sacred writers, but attributed to them by our Lord himself. He declared that the Scripture could not be broken, that it was infallible in all its teachings. The Apostles declare those anathema who did not receive their doctrines. This claim to divine authority in teaching was confirmed by God himself in signs, and wonders, and divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost.

3. It is inconsistent with the whole nature of the Bible, which is and professes to be a revelation of truths not only undiscoverable by human reason, but which no amount of holiness could enable the mind of man to perceive. This is true not only of the strictly prophetic revelations relating to the future, but also of all things, 181concerning the mind and will of God. The doctrines of the Bible are called μυστήρια, things concealed, unknown and unknowable, except as revealed to the holy Apostles and prophets by the Spirit. (Eph. iii. 5.)

4. It is inconsistent with the faith of the Church universal, which has always made the broadest distinction between the writings of the inspired men and those of ordinary believers. Even Romanists, with all their reverence for the fathers, never presumed to place their writings on a level with the Scriptures. They do not attribute to them any authority but as witnesses of what the Apostles taught. If the Bible has no more authority than is due to the writings of pious men, then our faith is vain and we are yet in our sins. We have no sure foundation for our hopes of salvation.

C. Partial Inspiration.

Under this head are included several different doctrines.

1. Many hold that only some parts of Scripture are inspired, i.e., that the writers of some books were supernaturally guided by the Spirit, and the writers of others were not. This, as mentioned above, was the doctrine of Coleridge, who admitted the inspiration of the Law and the Prophets, but denied that of the rest of the Bible. Others admit the New Testament to be inspired to an extent to which the Old was not. Others again hold the discourses of Christ to be infallible, but no other part of the sacred volume.

2. Others limit the inspiration of the sacred writers to their doctrinal teaching. The great object of their commission was to give a faithful record of the revealed will and purpose of God, to be a rule of faith and practice to the Church. In this they were under an influence which rendered them infallible as religious and moral teachers. But beyond these limits they were as liable to error as other men. That there should be scientific, historical, geographical mistakes; errors in the citation of passages, or in other unessential matters; or discrepancies as to matters of fact between the sacred writers, leaves their inspiration as religious teachers untouched.

3. Another form of the doctrine of partial, as opposed to plenary inspiration, limits it to the thoughts, as distinguished from the words of Scripture. Verbal inspiration is denied. It is assumed that the sacred writers selected the words they used without any guidance of the Spirit, to prevent their adopting improper or inadequate terms in which to express their thoughts.

4. A fourth form of the doctrine of partial inspiration was early 182introduced and has been widely adopted. Maimonides, the greatest of the Jewish doctors since the time of Christ, taught as early as the twelfth century that the sacred writers of the Old Testament enjoyed different degrees of divine guidance. He placed the inspiration of the Law much above that of the Prophets; and that of the Prophets higher than that of the Hagiographa. His idea of different degrees of inspiration was adopted by many theologians, and in England for a long time it was the common mode of representation. The idea was that the writers of Kings and Chronicles needed less, and that they received less of the divine assistance than Isaiah or St. John.128128This view of different degrees of inspiration was adopted by Lowth: Vindication of the Divine Authority and Inspiration of the Old and New Testaments. Whitby, in the Preface to his Commentary. Doddridge, Dissertation on the Inspiration of the New Testament. Hill, Lectures on Divinity. Dick, Essay on the Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. Wilson, Evidences of Christianity. Henderson, Divine Inspiration.

In attempting to prove the doctrine of plenary inspiration the arguments which bear against all these forms of partial inspiration were given or suggested. The question is not an open one. It is not what theory is in itself most reasonable or plausible, but simply, What does the Bible teach on the subject? If our Lord and his Apostles declare the Old Testament to be the Word of God; that its authors spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost; that what they said, the Spirit said; if they refer to the facts and to the very words of Scripture as of divine authority; and if the same infallible divine guidance was promised to the writers of the New Testament, and claimed by themselves; and if their claim was authenticated by God himself: then there is no room for, as there is no need of, these theories of partial inspiration. The whole Bible was written under such an influence as preserved its human authors from all error, and makes it for the Church the infallible rule of faith and practice.

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