I have no pretension to learning or leisure, yet I have written and now present to my reader a book, the size of which, when I see it complete, alarms myself. It may be asked why I undertook such a task when I knew that I had neither. My answer is this: When any one loves, confides in, and is deeply indebted to another (and in this case the debt is infinite), he will seek to defend, if he has any heart, the beloved object when it is attacked, without perhaps exactly measuring his power to be fully successful in its defence.
One qualification (none is of any value if God be not with us) I may boast of—profound, unfeigned (I believe divinely given) faith in the Bible. I have, through grace, been by it converted, enlightened, quickened, saved. I have received the knowledge of God by it to adore His perfections—of Jesus, the Saviour, joy, strength, comfort of my soul. Many have been indebted to others as the means of their being brought to God, to ministers of that gospel which the Bible contains, or to friends who delight in it. This was not my case. That work, which is ever God’s, was wrought in me through the means of the written word. He who knows what the value of Jesus is will know what the Bible will be to such a one. If I have, alas! failed it, in nearly thirty years’ arduous and varied life and labour—at least such, as far as the service of an unknown and feeble individual usually leads, I have never found it fail me: if it has not for the poor and needy circumstances of time, through which we feebly pass, I am assured it never will for eternity. “The word of the Lord abideth for ever.” If it reaches down even to my low estate, it reaches up to God’s height because it comes thence: as the love that can reach even to me, and apply to every detail of my feebleness and failure, proves itself divine in doing so: none but God could, and hence it leads me up to Him. As Jesus came from God and went to God, so does the book that divinely reveals Him come from and elevate to Him. If received, it has brought the soul to God, for He has revealed Himself in it. Its positive proofs are all in itself. The sun needs no light to see it by.
This, indeed, has made me hesitate as to how far it is to the purpose to go through much of the matter of this book—that part, I mean, which takes up the objections to scripture. My only reason is, that they are thrown down before a multitude of minds, as every one knows, in these days—a heartless and sickly age, which finds its refuge, from the cold and desolate waste of infidelity and human wilfulness, in the more pleasing imagery of imposed superstition. The man of intelligence produces human infidelity. The man of imagination will give us human superstition, coloured over with the haze of antiquity, for fear what it really is should be too clearly seen. Both give me man. The scriptures alone give me God. Hence the peculiar form of modern infidelity is, attack on the written word—the scriptures. Superstition takes exactly the same ground. The cry of “Bibliolatry!” sounds alike from the intellectual and from the superstitious infidel. Both have the same object of attack, both are infidels—one an intellectual, the other an imaginative one. Both would persuade me that the Bible cannot itself command my conscience and oblige me to faith as coming from God. Do they not both seek to do this? Is it not infidelity? Doubtless, through the sinfulness of man’s will, without divine grace, he never will really receive the word as it is in truth—the word of God. But is that his fault or the word’s? Infidels and superstitious persons will both tell me that the word itself has not divine authority over my soul; that I cannot receive it as such on its own authority without something more to prove it. It is hard to say who is guiltiest here: he who denies it is the word; or he who, not denying that it is, declares that what God has said cannot bind the conscience of man unless validated by some authority other than its own.
I should not certainly have entertained these objections even in order to reply to them; but they had already done positive mischief to many, and shaken the comfort, and agitated the minds, more or less, of many accustomed to confide simply in the word with real faith. Most Christians have met with examples. One which came in a painful way under my own observation led me to read, and, in result, to answer the book. Some who have read the MS. have desired that it should be printed. It was not like a book of edification, which, if it failed to attain its end, came simply under the negative charge of being profitless or stupid. It was worse than this to occupy the mind with questions, if there were not positive good to be done by it. The book is meant for those who have been already occupied with these questions. Knowing that to feed on the word is what the soul wants, not to discuss it, I have no desire that any should read it before whose mind the subject has not already come. But how large alas! this class is now as well known to most interested in these subjects.
I desire to add one remark here in reference to inspiration. I beg to avow, in the fullest, clearest, and distinctest manner here, my deep, divinely-taught conviction of the inspiration of the scriptures. That is, while of course allowing, if need be, for defect in the translation and the like, when I read the Bible, I read it as of absolute authority for my soul as God’s word. There is no higher privilege than to have communications direct from God Himself. I say this, because, in reasoning with infidels in the body of the book, I have sometimes done so on their own ground, to shew how untenable their positions were—how unreasonable their complaints, even setting aside inspiration. Indeed, did not the scriptures claim this authority, no one would dream of calling in question their authenticity or the evidence on which they rest. Such a method might lead some unguardedly to suppose hesitation or want of depth of conviction on my part. My joy, my comfort, my food, my strength, for near thirty years, have been the scriptures received implicitly as the word of God. In the beginning of that period, I was put through the deepest exercise of soul on that point. Did heaven and earth, the visible church, and man himself, crumble into nonentity, I should, through grace, since that epoch, hold to the word as an unbreakable link between my soul and God. I am satisfied that God has given it me as such. I do not doubt that the grace of the Holy Spirit is needed to make it profitable, and to give it real authority to our souls, because of what we are; but that does not change what it is in itself. To be true when it is received, it must have been true before it was so.
And here I will add, that although it require the grace of God and the work of the Holy Ghost to give it quickening power, yet divine truth, God’s word, has a hold on the natural conscience, from which it cannot escape. The light detects “the breaker-up,” though he may hate it. And so the word of God is adapted to man, though he be hostile to it—adapted in grace (blessed be God!) as well as in truth. This is exactly what shews the wickedness of man’s will in rejecting it. And it has power thus in the conscience, even if the will be unchanged. This may increase the dislike of it; but it is disliked because conscience feels it cannot deny its truth. Men resist it because it is true. Did it not reach their conscience, they would not need to take so much pains to get rid of and disprove it. Men do not arm themselves against straws, but against a sword whose edge is felt and feared.
Reader, it speaks of grace as well as truth. It speaks of God’s grace and love, who gave His only-begotten Son that sinners like you and me might be with Him, know Him—deeply, intimately, truly know Him—and enjoy Him for ever, and enjoy Him now; that the conscience, perfectly purged, might be in joy in His presence, without a cloud, without a reproach, without fear. And to be there in His love, in such a way, is perfect joy. The word will tell you the truth concerning yourself; but it will tell you the truth of a God of love, while unfolding the wisdom of His counsels.
It is because I have found it all this, feeble and unworthy as I am, and because it is the scriptures that have made God thus known to me through grace, that I have ventured on ground to which I am not much accustomed; from which I gladly retire, to use the word which I here in a particular case attempt to defend. I have sometimes feared I might be a little like David with Saul’s armour on. I have done it, I trust, in love to the Lord and to the souls of others, yet with some reluctance. Let me add to my reader, that by far the best means of assuring himself to the truth and authority of the word is to read the word itself.
In fine, I would say, that as I am conscious I have no claim to literary honour, so I neither pretend to nor desire it. I hope I may have been, in general, sufficiently clear to be understood. I would only beg my reader kindly to remember, that sometimes the subjects are somewhat abstract; and while he who publishes anything must expect, of course, to be criticised (if what he writes is indeed worth it), I would so far claim indulgence as jne may who has snatched from hours of rest almost the whole time occupied in composing what the reader has before him (service in ministering amongst souls from day to day, and other labours in the Lord’s field, needless to mention, fully occupying all ordinary hours of toil). If I am useful to any, and the Lord accepts it as service done to Him, I am content. I think one or two points are twice referred to from being connected with different subjects. It is not very material. If it be so, the reader will excuse what other labours forbid my now correcting.
I draw the attention of my reader to one point, on which this whole question of revelation greatly hangs in the reasoning of those with whom we have to do. I have noticed it in the body of the book from feeling it was really the basis of their reasonings. I have since seen it laid down as the foundation of them by a French writer of this class in his attacks on scripture. It is this —that man is not capable of other ideas than those his own mind can create or produce. These may be awakened by some occasion, but they must exist in an abstract sense. This is true, as to mathematics, because they are the expression of the relationship of quantity or form, and these are perpetually inherent in what is subject to the mind of man, and what he has the capacity of pursuing to all its consequences. But in moral facts it is quite otherwise. Every being who has a superior moral nature to mine will produce acts, of the influence of which I am susceptible, though quite incapable in virtue of being morally inferior. Nay, so true is this principle, that the same act done by beings of a superior nature or position has an entirely different moral character and effect. If that nature and position are infinitely superior, the difference is infinite, the obligation quite of another character; yet the act may be quite intelligible, even through my wants. I do not measure it, but I know a love, if the act be one of love, which is beyond my measure.
Thus Christianity tells us, that “God was manifest in the flesh” to fulfil a work of self-sacrifice for me. A man’s sacrificing himself for me would present the highest human claim on a grateful heart; but God’s doing it (that new, lovely, yet infinite fact, capable of filling the whole moral world,) puts all that world in a new condition. Again, take the moral difference merely: man could die for a benefactor perhaps, but he is not capable, in true simple-hearted love, of unostentatiously dying for an enemy; God’s becoming a man to do it silences the heart, and creates, by the sovereign title of love, a new order of feeling.
The result is, that the notion that new moral thoughts which no human investigation could reach cannot be produced, cannot be communicated, is utterly and stupidly untrue; and of these truths man is abstractedly incapable of judging but by the effect and thoughts produced by them. He becomes capable of estimating them by the change which takes place in his state in virtue of them, and not by pre-existing thoughts; he receives the new moral ideas from the objects and grows up into them. This is eminently true of Christianity, as an unexampled divine act, for and in man. I reserve the answer to the French rationalist for another occasion, if God permit. He has stated more definitely the basis of the argument; and, consequently, the gross absurdity of the system is more palpable.
The heart and conscience, then, is capable of impressions, of effects, which neither could produce; because beings in a higher order of moral nature can act on principles, and with rights entirely above man, and yet can act on and towards him in things he was wholly ignorant of before, which meet his need, but which no moral effort could, by any possibility, have produced, because they proceed from a nature superior to his. It is a false assumption, that man is so constituted that he is not capable of a certain impression by an act of which he was wholly incapable of forming an idea before it was accomphshed by another. He knows it as so accomphshed by the superior being in the effect produced in his heart by it. I do not doubt that there is a divine work wrought in communicating the knowledge of it; but on that ground I do not enter here.