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In all discussion on the general subject of disbelief in the authority of the Bible, we cannot too carefully distinguish two classes of disbelievers.
One class come to the Bible, in the first instance, with no prejudice against it, with no thought of controverting any of its presumed claims, -it may be with prepossessions all in its favor-early education and habits of belief inclining them to concede its authority as a matter of course. But, most unexpectedly to them, they find in the Bible itself, serious difficulties—what have the appearance of contradiction, misstatement, and, it may be supposed, repugnant morals. The first effect is a painful sense of doubt, which finally settles into confirmed disbelief.
A very different class do indeed recognize and assert all the difficulties named, but it is not these difficulties which have made them disbelievers. Persons of this class are distinguished by this characteristic: they come to the Bible in the outset, we may suppose, with a theology already established, a corollary of which theology is to the effect, that the Bible cannot have any special authority,—that, in the nature of things, there cannot be a revelation in that special sense of the word which is popularly acknowledged; that
no argument in support of the claims of such a revelation can even be conceived. While therefore the class first named reject the Bible as a special revelation from God, because of difficulties supposed by them to be inherent in the Bible, the class second named reject the Bible without any regard to such difficulties, would have rejected it had no such difficulties ever been alleged, would continue to reject it were all such difficulties satisfactorily removed.
They already have a theology which neither requires nor permits an authoritative revelation, in the common acceptation of the words. The soul itself, by its own energies, furnishes, in the form of certain intuitions or first principles, the material of all necessary, all possible theology. In the work of moulding these materials into a system, into a theology, the Bible may help the soul, as may the Veda of the Hindoos, or the speculations of Plato ; but it is only in this subsidiary sense—never as an authority—that the Bible, or any book, can aid man in the work of theological faith.
It is clear at a glance that as these two classes reject the Bible for such widely different reasons, discussion must meet them in widely different ways. The class first named we should at once refer to Horne, Paley, Norton, and kindred authors. With them it would be sufficient to remove the difficulties that have disturbed their faith—to harmonize if possible seeming contradiction, to show that apparent misstatements of fact are only apparent, and to exhibit the principles whereby sentiments and practices which have stirred revolt in their moral natures, admit of a satisfactory explanation. Whether all this can be done, is not now the question ; it is sufficient for our present purpose to say, that if done, the cause of disbelief is removed, and the original inclination to believe in the authority of the Bible left free to assert its full force.
The class second named—who, as will be seen, are popularly known as rationalists—we should not by any means treat in this way. They have been made disbelievers by a theory, not by difficulties. Of course then, we should attack the theory, and waste no words upon the difficulties. It would be a thankless task even to succeed in the attempt to remove every appearance of contradiction in the Scripture record, and to explain to their satisfaction every sen
timent and practice endorsed in the record. Even such success could amount to nothing with the intelligent rationalist. It is his “intuitions” that have made him reject the special authority of the Bible; and if in this result he is wrong, those “ intuitions,” or his notions respecting what he calls by that name, have misled him. It is not Horne or Paley that meets his case. Only a proper inquiry into the claims of rationalism as a theology can be pertinent to the emergency. Let us add, rationalism is and claims to be simply a philosophy. Of course then, if controverted at all, it must be controverted on philosophical grounds.
In order to get at the real essence of the rationalistic theology, we shall consider it in relation to the origin of Christianity ; for it is on this point that it indicates its fundamental position. The prevalent belief, as we hardly need say, is, that Christianity has been specially revealed to man—that it is a communication from God by other methods than appear in the nature and faculties of man himself—that it came to man, not of man, or out of man. But rationalism—admitting the intrinsic excellence and truth of Christianity as a religion-avers that it is nevertheless wholly and immediately the production of man; and this in a sense which denies any direct and special intervention on the part of God. Of course, it is not pretended that Christianity is the creation of any one man. All that is claimed is, that the experience of mankind in the course of ages has finally developed the religious system (if system it may be called) which is called the Christian religion. The agency of God in producing this result is only indirect or intermediate ; this agency acting only through the faculties and religious wants and aspirations, which, at his creation, God implanted in the constitution of man.
According to this theory, the origin of Christianity is accounted for in precisely the same way, as we account for the origin of agriculture, or geology, or the science and art of medicine. In its present stage, even agriculture has become quite a complex science; so much so, that it requires not a little skill and a large experience to master all its principles. Yet no one supposes that agriculture as a system was ever supernaturally revealed to the human mind. We attribute its whole existence to the unaided experience of man. In the beginning, it was perceived that a seed dropped into the ground, in due time sprang up and yielded its kind. Next it was perceived, that growth and fertility were materially affected by the qualities of the soil, and their combinations ; by considerations of moisture, sun-light and heat; and thus, one age improving on another, sifting out mistakes, adding the results of fresh experience, and finally enlisting the sciences in the work of improvement, we have at last quite a complicated system. The system is too much to have possibly been the discovery and invention of any one mind however fertile. But mankind and time were sufficient for it; so that we have no occasion to resort to a direct and special revelation from God in order to account for its origin.
It requires many years of hard study and wise observation to comprehend the science of geology. Perhaps no one mind is sufficiently comprehensive and retentive to master all its principles and details. Certainly, no single intelligence could have produced it in its present stage of complexity. But there was never any occasion for a supernatural revelation of the science of geology. The casual perception that air and water and volcanic fires were gradually working changes on the earth's surface, and fixing results similar to those which had been determined in prior ages,—this perception at first crude, superficial, and extremely limited, proved the nucleus of a vast and sublime system of truths, which the sagacity and experience of but half a century have sufficed to establish. Hence, though geology is too great a science to be the creation of a single intellect, it is matter of historic fact, that it is but the aggregate result of many minds. Revelation, in the ordinary sense of the word, is not needed in order to explain the origin of the science.
The science and practice of medicine—to employ one more illustration-demand an acquaintance with facts, an appreciation of principles, and a thoroughness of mental training, which only the most skilful by nature, and the most industrious can ever hope to attain. So varied and so minute are the details pertaining to the healing art, that proficiency in the practice demands years of study and experience. How much greater then must be the intelligence which has created and matured the art ! Nevertheless, no