LETTERS ON THE INSPIRATION OF THE SCRIPTURES.
LETTER I. My dear friend, I employed the compelled and most unwelcome leisure of severe indisposition in…
My dear friend,
I employed the compelled and most unwelcome leisure of severe indisposition in reading The Confessions of a Fair Saint in Mr. Carlyle's recent translation of the Wilhelm Meister, which might, I think, have been better rendered literally The Confessions of a Beautiful Soul. This, acting in conjunction with the concluding sentences of your letter, threw my thoughts inward on my own religious experience, and gave immediate occasion to the following Confessions of one who is neither fair nor saintly, but who, groaning under a deep sense of infirmity and manifold imperfection, feels the want, the necessity, of religious support; who cannot afford to lose any the smallest buttress, but who not only loves Truth even for itself, and when it reveals itself aloof from all interest, but who loves it with an indescribable awe, which too often withdraws the genial sap of his activity from the columnar trunk, the sheltering leaves, the bright and fragrant flower, and the foodful or medicinal fruitage, to the deep root, ramifying in obscurity and labyrinthine way-winning -
In darkness there to house unknown, Far underground, Pierced by no sound Save such as live in Fancy's ear alone, That listens for the uptorn mandrake's parting groan!
I should, perhaps, be a happier—at all events a more useful—man if my mind were otherwise constituted. But so it is, and even with regard to Christianity itself, like certain plants, I creep towards the light, even though it draw me away from the more nourishing warmth. Yea, I should do so, even if the light had made its way through a rent in the wall of the Temple. Glad, indeed, and grateful am I, that not in the Temple itself, but only in one or two of the side chapels, not essential to the edifice, and probably not coeval with it, have I found the light absent, and that the rent in the wall has but admitted the free light of the Temple itself.
I shall best communicate the state of my faith by taking the creed, or system of credenda, common to all the Fathers of the Reformation— overlooking, as non-essential, the differences between the several Reformed Churches, according to the five main classes or sections into which the aggregate distributes itself to my apprehension. I have then only to state the effect produced on my mind by each of these, or the quantum of recipiency and coincidence in myself relatively thereto, in order to complete my Confession of Faith.
I. The Absolute; the innominable [Greek text which cannot be reproduced] et Causa Sui, in whose transcendent I AM, as the Ground, IS whatever VERILY is:- the Triune God, by whose Word and Spirit, as the transcendent Cause, EXISTS whatever SUBSTANTIALLY exists:- God Almighty—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, undivided, unconfounded, co- eternal. This class I designate by the word [Greek text which cannot be reproduced].
II. The Eternal Possibilities; the actuality of which hath not its origin in God: Chaos spirituale:- [Greek text which cannot be reproduced].
III. The Creation and Formation of the heaven and earth by the Redemptive Word:- the Apostasy of Man:- the Redemption of Man:- the Incarnation of the Word in the Son of Man:- the Crucifixion and Resurrection of the Son of Man:- the Descent of the Comforter:- Repentance ([Greek text which cannot be reproduced]):- Regeneration:- Faith:- Prayer:- Grace—Communion with the Spirit:- Conflict:- Self- abasement:- Assurance through the righteousness of Christ:- Spiritual Growth:- Love:- Discipline:- Perseverance:- Hope in death:- [Greek text which cannot be reproduced]
IV. But these offers, gifts, and graces are not for one, or for a few. They are offered to all. Even when the Gospel is preached to a single individual it is offered to him as to one of a great household. Not only man, but, says St. Paul, the whole creation is included in the consequences of the Fall—[Greek text which cannot be reproduced]—so also in those of the change at the Redemption—[Greek text which cannot be reproduced]. We too shall be raised IN THE BODY. Christianity is fact no less than truth. It is spiritual, yet so as to be historical; and between these two poles there must likewise be a midpoint, in which the historical and spiritual meet. Christianity must have its history—a history of itself and likewise the history of its introduction, its spread, and its outward- becoming; and, as the midpoint abovementioned, a portion of these facts must be miraculous, that is, phenomena in nature that are beyond nature. Furthermore, the history of all historical nations must in some sense be its history—in other words, all history must be providential, and this a providence, a preparation, and a looking forward to Christ.
Here, then, we have four out of the five classes. And in all these the sky of my belief is serene, unclouded by a doubt. Would to God that my faith, that faith which works on the whole man, confirming and conforming, were but in just proportion to my belief, to the full acquiescence of my intellect, and the deep consent of my conscience! The very difficulties argue the truth of the whole scheme and system for my understanding, since I see plainly that so must the truth appear, if it be the truth.
V. But there is a Book of two parts, each part consisting of several books. The first part (I speak in the character of an uninterested critic or philologist) contains the relics of the literature of the Hebrew people, while the Hebrew was still the living language. The second part comprises the writings, and, with one or two inconsiderable and doubtful exceptions, all the writings of the followers of Christ within the space of ninety years from the date of the Resurrection. I do not myself think that any of these writings were composed as late as A.D.120; but I wish to preclude all dispute. This Book I resume as read, and yet unread—read and familiar to my mind in all parts, but which is yet to be perused as a whole, or rather a work, cujus particulas et sententiolas omnes et singulas recogniturus sum, but the component integers of which, and their conspiration, I have yet to study. I take up this work with the purpose to read it for the first time as I should read any other work, as far at least as I can or dare. For I neither can, nor dare, throw off a strong and awful prepossession in its favour—certain as I am that a large part of the light and life, in and by which I see, love, and embrace the truths and the strengths co-organised into a living body of faith and knowledge in the four preceding classes, has been directly or indirectly derived to me from this sacred volume— and unable to determine what I do not owe to its influences. But even on this account, and because it has these inalienable claims on my reverence and gratitude, I will not leave it in the power of unbelievers to say that the Bible is for me only what the Koran is for the deaf Turk, and the Vedas for the feeble and acquiescent Hindoo. No; I will retire UP INTO THE MOUNTAIN, and hold secret commune with my Bible above the contagious blastments of prejudice, and the fog-blight of selfish superstition. FOR FEAR HATH TORMENT. And what though MY reason be to the power and splendour of the Scriptures but as the reflected and secondary shine of the moon compared with the solar radiance; yet the sun endures the occasional co-presence of the unsteady orb, and leaving it visible seems to sanction the comparison. There is a Light higher than all, even THE WORD THAT WAS IN THE BEGINNING; the Light, of which light itself is but the shechinah and cloudy tabernacle; the Word that is Light for every man, and life for as many as give heed to it. If between this Word and the written letter I shall anywhere seem to myself to find a discrepance, I will not conclude that such there actually is, nor on the other hand will I fall under the condemnation of them that would LIE FOR GOD, but seek as I may, be thankful for what I have—and wait.
With such purposes, with such feelings, have I perused the books of the Old and New Testaments, each book as a whole, and also as an integral part. And need I say that I have met everywhere more or less copious sources of truth, and power, and purifying impulses, that I have found words for my inmost thoughts, songs for my joy, utterances for my hidden griefs, and pleadings for my shame and my feebleness? In short, whatever FINDS me, bears witness for itself that it has proceeded from a Holy Spirit, even from the same Spirit, WHICH REMAINING IN ITSELF, YET REGENERATETH ALL OTHER POWERS, AND IN ALL AGES ENTERING INTO HOLY SOULS, MAKETH THEM FRIENDS OF GOD, AND PROPHETS. (Wisd. vii.) And here, perhaps, I might have been content to rest, if I had not learned that, as a Christian, I cannot, must not, stand alone; or if I had not known that more than this was holden and required by the Fathers of the Reformation, and by the Churches collectively, since the Council of Nice at latest, the only exceptions being that doubtful one of the corrupt Romish Church implied, though not avowed, in its equalisation of the Apocryphal Books with those of the Hebrew Canon, and the irrelevant one of the few and obscure sects who acknowledge no historical Christianity. This somewhat more, in which Jerome, Augustine, Luther, and Hooker were of one and the same judgment, and less than which not one of them would have tolerated—would it fall within the scope of my present doubts and objections? I hope it would not. Let only their general expressions be interpreted by their treatment of the Scriptures in detail, and I dare confidently trust that it would not. For I can no more reconcile the doctrine which startles my belief with the practice and particular declarations of these great men, than with the convictions of my own understanding and conscience. At all events—and I cannot too early or too earnestly guard against any misapprehension of my meaning and purpose—let it be distinctly understood that my arguments and objections apply exclusively to the following doctrine or dogma. To the opinions which individual divines have advanced in lieu of this doctrine, my only objection, as far as I object, is—that I do not understand them. The precise enunciation of this doctrine I defer to the commencement of the next Letter. Farewell.