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called by Christ. Thus Luke, starting from the true beginning, does not follow out the narrative, but passes over Christ's sojourn in the city. But the other two [evangelists] mention only the time which was nearest to the miracle. It is a probable conjecture that Christ, inasmuch as he often delayed answering men's prayers for a season that he might try their faith, employed the same test with this blind man."1 We leave it to the reader's judgment to decide whether such artificial attempts at reconciliation do not involve greater difficulties than those which they are intended to remove; and whether it is not more probable that in such unessential matters the Holy Spirit saw good to leave the evangelic narratives to the ordinary law of authentic history where different independent writers describe the same events. This law, as all know, is substantial agreement, with variety in details.
In considering the question of plenary inspiration, we should have primary reference to the end which it has in view, rather than to the particular way in which it accomplishes that end. The end of inspiration is, as we have seen, to give men a divinely authorized and infallible rule of faith and practice. The scriptures are plenarily inspired, because they come to us with the full authority of God, and contain a revelation made under the full illumination and guidance of the Holy Ghost, and therefore free from all mixture of error. While the revelation itself was immediately from God, everything connected with it, and with the record of it, came under God's superintendence. If the sacred writers, under the inspiration of the Spirit, were left free to use each one his own peculiar diction and mode of reasoning, that freedom was itself a part of the divine plan. If, in recording the same transaction, two or more of the evangelists, writing independently of each other, have used variety of details, sometimes amounting to discrepancies, which we find it
1 In Harmoniam Evang., in loco. We are unable to say whether this explanation (which Wordsworth follows for substance, so far as the place of the miracle is concerned) is, or is not, original with Calvin.
difficult to harmonize with each other in any satisfactory manner, this too was wisely permitted by the omniscient Spirit; nor does it derogate in the least from the full authority of scripture. The variety in incidental matters and the uniformity of substance and spirit are both comprehended in the divine plan for giving to men a revelation of God's will. In this we have a guarantee that no discrepancy can exist which shall be detrimental to the truth; all the limitations connected with the inspiration of the record being such as the Holy Spirit has, for wise reasons, prescribed to himself. In truth, we may say of these discrepancies, real or alleged, as has been said of the "various readings" of the sacred text, that, taken altogether, they neither mar the heavenly system of doctrines and duties contained in the Bible, nor even dim its brightness.
It might seem to us very desirable that we should have an immaculate text, in which we might know with absolute certainty that every word and letter was just as the sacred penman wrote it. In like manner, it might be the judgment of human wisdom that all the parts of a revelation from God should be nicely adjusted to each other, not only in their substance and scope, but also in the minute details of time, place, and historic circumstances; so that there should be no perplexing questions left for our solution. But in neither of these two respects has the wisdom of God conformed itself to what we might think expedient. We have no absolutely pure text, but are compelled to make the nearest possible approximation to it by the laborious collation of manuscripts and versions; always, however, with the cheering assurance that the "various readings" of the sacred text neither change nor obscure a single doctrine or duty of Christianity. So, also, in comparing the different evangelic narratives, we find a glorious harmony in their spirit and doctrine in "all things that pertain unto life and godliness," but a noble negligence in details that lie without their proper scope and office. In this way, the wisdom of God has guarded us against the error of exalting the letter of the
VOL. XXIX. No. 116.
gospel above its spirit-a species of formalism into which some good men fall who are very earnest in their protestations against formalism in other spheres. There are, for example, theologians who contend earnestly (and, as we think, justly) against the claim of any particular form of church polity to be of divine right, and against the claim of a particular form of administering baptism as essential to its validity, who yet denounce in severe terms all who do not adopt their theory of verbal inspiration, as if they rejected the substance itself of the doctrine that "all scripture is given by inspiration of God." Thus, in their denunciation of formalism in some spheres and their unconscious maintenance of it in other, they illustrate the inconsistency of
4. The last limitation which we notice has respect to the amount of light which it has pleased the Divine Spirit to give us in the holy scriptures. The light of supernatural revelation, from its first dawn in Eden to the close of the sacred canon, was "as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day." But the "perfect" day of revelation is relative, not absolute. Doubtless there are oceans of divine truth which remain hidden from our view, partly because flesh and blood could not bear the disclosure, and partly because the premature communication of it would hinder, not help us in the divine life. In the scriptures God has given us "all things that pertain unto life and godliness," not all things which might minister nutriment to a vain and prurient curiosity. The reserve, for example, which God has maintained in his revelations concerning the world of spirits, is worthy of special notice. We learn from the Bible that there is such a world, embracing innumerable spirits, good and bad, of different orders, and that they stand in an intimate relation to us; the bad tempting us, and the good ministering to us. But on the particular question whether the spirits of our departed friends are present with and can minister to our wants, they maintain a solemn silence a silence which the folly of man has in all ages
been endeavoring to break, and always with the same disastrous results. Here God's manner of treating the subject is in harmony with human nature, and modern spiritualism (which is only another form of ancient necromancy) is at war with it. We have, inclosed in our body of flesh and blood, a higher form of being, which is destined one day to unfold itself in a normal way, and which, when clothed with its perfect spiritual body, will be "equal to the angels" able to see and hold converse with Gabriel face to face; able, if necessary, to encounter and withstand evil angels personally, as Michael, did Satan. But here in the flesh we cannot bear the excitement of a conscious personal communion with spirits; nor is such a communion needful for us. God has given us in his word all the light we need respecting the spiritual world, respecting our duty here, and respecting our destiny here and hereafter. God's word, God's Spirit, and God's providence- these three constitute a perfect directory of faith and practice. Unbelief alone can incline us to seek another guide. To turn away from God's word to the spirits of the dead is rebellion and folly. It is to pursue a wrong end in a wrong way. Unhealthy excitement, the rejection of God's word, and the unsettling of all fundamental principles of faith and practice - these are the natural results of the doctrine; and of its followers we may say; "They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind."1 We may take, for another illustration, the sphere of prophecy. "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God." This is the key-note of prophecy. The veil is lifted enough to show us a mighty conflict between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, reaching from century to century; the consummation of which is to be the triumph of Christ and his cause. In the system of prophecy the grand salient points of the future stand out in bold relief. But they are not given after the manner of a map, with its scale of miles, so that we can accurately measure the distance from one event to another. The repre1 See in Appendix, note B.
sentation is rather that of mountains rising magnificently on the distant horizon, with no clear indication of the intervening valleys. There are, it is true, some prophecies (like those of Daniel and the Apocalypse) in which the representation gives an orderly succession of events, with their signature of months and weeks and years. But even here the wisdom of God has hitherto baffled all attempts to construct out of them an almanac of the future. Uncertainty rests, by divine appointment, either upon the nature of the symbolism with its signatures of time and number, or upon the terminus a quo of an event, or upon the terminus ad quem, or upon all these elements of interpretation. The prophecies minister consolation to faith, but not satisfaction to curiosity. We believe that at the time of the end" all will be made plain. But every attempt to anticipate the interpretation of God's providence must necessarily prove
The diligent student of scripture must be profoundly impressed with the fact that God with whom a thousand years are as one day makes but little account of the bare element of time, and is very sparing in his revelations to men concerning times and seasons. When the disciples asked our Lord, just before his ascension: "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" he answered: "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power"; and directed their thoughts to the work appointed them to perform.1 A like reserve is maintained in the New Testament respecting the time of his second coming. There are some passages in the epistles which make upon the reader's mind the impression that the apostles themselves expected the Lord's advent before their generation should have passed away. Nor is there anything in this that ought to offend the devout be
1 Acts i. 6-8.
2 See particularly 1 Cor. xv. 51, 52; 1 Thess. iv. 15-17. The expectation probably had its ground in the interpretation of our Lord's words, Matt. xxiv. 34, as having exclusive reference to the end of the world.