The Bible and Theology.
Theological and religious truth is the last department of knowledge to which in this treatise attention is invited.
The reign of the Bible, especially in the realms of theology, is supreme. It is the basis of all modern theologies: it is modern theology. Without the Bible, our knowledge of God seemingly would be almost total darkness. The Bible, in the field of pure and correct theological science, is the pioneer, the explorer, the beginning, the end. Since the days of John the Apostle, there has been revealed to the race, in the field of pure theological truth, not a particle of new subject-matter. Modern thought has discovered not one additional attribute in the Divine nature; we know not a syllable more respecting the end of the world, the coming of Christ, or of the final judgment, of the dead, of angels, of demons, of hell, than was revealed in the Bible when it was completed, sanctioned, and committed to the Christian Church. The apostles knew as fully as do people of the nineteenth century, dwelling in the most enlightened countries on earth, what are men’s relations and obligations to God and to one another; and it is the knowledge of these relations which constitutes the basis of all morality and religion as well as theology.
Science confirms Bible theology, but adds nothing essentially new.
Modern science and philosophy, in the last eighteen hundred years, have, it is true, confirmed, and in some instances have made more vivid, many theological truths; archaeology has cleared away many difficulties: but we repeat, science, philosophy, archaeology, and all the correlated science, have added not one new fundamental truth to our theological knowledge, and have changed nothing.
Other Bible truths, no doubt, will be more fully confirmed, or better illustrated; other difficulties, doubtless, will be cleared away: but to the theology of the Bible, judging from the past, there will henceforth be nothing essentially new or different added, and what may be, perchance, for a time taken away by venturesome theologians will afterwards have to be fully restored.
In a word, the writers of the Bible advanced so far into the field of pure theology, and revealed so much, that, from the nature of the case, theology cannot discover an essentially new truth, and cannot in this respect be a progressive science. The theology of the Bible came from the hand of God as the beautiful flowers come, complete. Science may name one part of the flower the filament, another part the anther, other parts the ovary, the style, and the stigma; but this nomenclature contributes nothing either to the perfection or to the beauty of the flower. Such, too, is Bible theology. There is a bare possibility that theological nomenclature may be modified and be made more exact; but modern skill and wisdom can, in these matters, go no farther. We say bare possibility; for it is questionable if modern thought shall henceforth be able essentially to modify that exposition and expression of Bible truth which during the last eighteen hundred years have been thought and spoken by the average Christian consciousness of the world.
In many respects, too, how radically exceptional is Bible theology! Other ancient theologies are half-truths: Bible theology , according to the best modern estimates, is the truth. Other theologies, even the best of them, are mixed with crudities, vagaries, and even vulgarities of the lowest sort; Bible theology is generally acknowledged to be pure, inspiring, and ennobling.
The Bible and religious truth.
The same essentially is true of the religion of the Bible. “The grand peculiarity of the religion of the Scriptures,” as President Woolsey says, “is that it is intensely moral and elevating.” The only religion of antiquity which “knows no compromise with sin, no pardon to this destroyer of mankind and its development, only deadly, deadly earnest combat till complete victory is gained,” is that found in the Old and New Testament scriptures. Biblical religion, too, is the only one, ancient or modern, which “does not allow itself to be dazzled by a brilliant partial culture; but looks with calm, clear eye at the death-germ concealed in the soul, and says decidedly and earnestly, ‘Ye must be born again,’ and then adds, ‘Ye can be born again, and actually and truly provides the means whereby man and human society may be delivered from the dominion of the power inimical to culture, and thoroughly renewed.”
Bible religion originated practical philanthropy.
Thus, also in practical philanthropy the other religions of the world, as compared with that of the Bible, show to the poorest advantage. Not at Athens or Rome, the high places of civilization, of political wisdom and power, the chosen abodes of philosophy, eloquence, poetry, and artistic skill, are to be found such institutions as charity hospitals and asylums. The first hospital known in the world – unless an exception be made in the case of a small temple of Esculapius on an island in the Tiber, where the maimed and sick were brought to be experimented upon, and then “left to struggle in solitude or the pangs of death” – was built at Constantinople by a Christian bishop of that city. The dispensaries, convalescent-homes, reformatories, alms-houses, orphanages; asylums for the blind, the deaf, the dumb, the idiot, the insane, the inebriate; the refuges for the fallen; and other agencies for overtaking and alleviating the thousand ills of human life – are the outgrowth of Bible religion. “The outgrowth of modern civilization,” does some one say? But, as already seen, the referring of these philanthropies to modern civilization does not discharge their obligation to the Bible; for modern civilization was rendered possible only through Bible faith and practice. As Judge Sir Allen Parker, at a public meeting in London, once said, “We live in the midst of blessings till we are utterly insensible of the source from which they flow. We speak of our civilization, our arts, our freedom, our laws, and forget entirely how large a share is due to Christianity. Blot it out of the pages of man’s history, and what would his laws have been? What his civilization? Christianity is mixed up with our very being and our daily life. There is not a familiar object around us which does not wear a different aspect because the light of Christian love is on it; not a law which does not owe its truth and gentleness to Christianity; not a custom which cannot be traced in all its holy, health-felt parts to the gospel.”
Bible religion is adapted to all peoples.
Think, too, how adequate is the religion of the Bible. There are to-day, it is estimated, one billion three hundred thousand souls on earth. And yet the Bible, if its conditions are complied with, is abundantly able to meet all the religious wants of all these millions. And it is the only book that can do this. It is the only book that attempts to explain to all their true relation to God and eternity. It is the only book that furnishes the prayer, the confidence, and the joy needed by the little child and the gray-haired man, the slave and the king. It is the only book that equally satisfies the main working in coal-pits or sweeping street crossings, and such men as Francis Bacon, John Herschel, Michael Faraday, and David Brewster. It instructs, and then wounds or heals, condemns or acquits, every man, woman, and child on earth. Wonderful book!
Why did not some of the philosophers of the ancient world
invent a universal religion?
But the question now confronts us: Why did not some of the philosophers – those of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, or Rome, who figured during the same ages that witnessed the writing and compilation of the Bible – give the world books which in their theological and religious teachings might equal or even approach the Bible? In a human point of view, those noted men of antiquity had the same sources of information that were available to the Hebrew prophets and New-Testament evangelists; and they had, in many respects, even superior advantages: why, therefore did they not make discoveries equally valuable, and furnish data equally full and correct upon which to base theological science? How chanced it that the Hebrews alone rose in theological and religious knowledge not only above their contemporaries, but so far as also to stand in advance of the best thinkers even in modern times? The wisest men of the present century confess that they have not yet been able fully even to explore the profundity of Bible teaching, and that any improvement upon those subjects which the Bible was designed especially to teach and settle is out of the question. Now, what is or what can be the explanation of this extraordinary scope and sweep of vision, and this grasp of theological and religious knowledge? If Bible men were moved by a superior wisdom to write as they did, then the involved enigma is solved: otherwise does it not remain unsolved and apparently insoluble?
When, therefore, we ponder, as we ought, the teachings of the Bible; as we think of the accuracy of the Bible in departments of knowledge which this treatise we have hardly touched upon – history, chronology, ethnology, and archaeology; when we take under review the entire field over which, in these pages, we have tried to pass; when we note the differences, in so many respects, between this book and nearly all other ancient literature; as we trace the harmonies between its revelations and the most recent discoveries and facts of modern research: what shall be said of the narrowness, determined blindness, and willful misrepresentations of men who continue to rank its revelations with the myths of Egypt and Babylon, of Greece and Rome?
In view, therefore, of what the Bible is and of what it has done, need there be any surprise that a wide-spread conviction, which is more and more to deepen, has taken possession of the best minds in modern times, that nothing of so much value as the Bible has yet appeared in the majestic evolution of this world’s history, except the One who is the chief glory of all its pages, Christ the Saviour and the King?
Need there be any hesitation in saying, if we may judge by the past, that after the philosophies and the sciences shall have run their small or mighty rounds of investigation, and after men of the broadest culture shall have returned from their most daring explorations, in the heavens above and in the earth beneath, even then the Bible will be found by curious hints or by explicit statements to have anticipated, or at least be in harmony with, their grandest discoveries? Marvellous Book, thy conquest shall yet be complete!
But, among all these considerations, let no one be disregardful of the fact that it is this same Bible, wondrously correct in its revelations, which speaks of an endless life for all, of joy unspeakable for the righteous, of anguish unmitigated for the unrighteous, and of an atonement for those who comply with its sacred conditions. If, therefore, these solemn announcements as to death and the judgment, heaven and hell, which, from the nature of the case, can never in this world be disproved, shall at the end of things be found true, how, in that unexplored hereafter, will stand affairs with each one who now closes the perusal of these pages?