Inspiration of the Scriptures*

Luke 1:1‑4  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 9
ONE of the great efforts of the enemy in these days is against the written word of God. Ecclesiastical office and orthodoxy is in its nature no barrier against this inroad. In its most pretentious forms and highest claims it is injurious to true confidence in scripture, because the authority of the Church, not that of the word, lies at the root of these pretensions. Divinely given authority is its first principle; not divine truth from God.
If its true principle be scrutinized beneath conventional habits and fears, it will be found that the authority of the word is founded, according to this system, on the authority of the Church -that is, the word has none properly divine in itself. I say this, not with a view to controversy with that system, but as a warning that, in the struggle which is going on, such a barrier against unbelief is not to be trusted to.
The confidence in man and his intellectual powers and progress, which characterizes another considerable portion of the professing Church, is surely no security against man's assuming to judge what does and will surely judge him. The word has its authority from God; and God will make good and prove that authority in judgment, as He blesses us with it now in grace. The word, if it be the word of God at all, calls for submission. It forms, as a means, the link of renewed connection with God, granted to us by sovereign mercy when sin and flesh had separated us from God. It is sent out from Him, as was the living and eternal Word, as a point of contact in mercy and power for man with God; which comes to him where he is, deals with man exactly in the state man is in, and reveals God-and as He is pleased to reveal Himself-to man in that state. But for this God must be its author-none but God can rightly reveal Himself. Otherwise that word cannot bear witness of the love, the purpose of love, which is in God.
It cannot have the wise adaptation to the end which that love proposes to itself, and the gracious consideration for all the infirmities, all the varied circumstances, of those to whom it is addressed, so as to reveal divine love and truth, divine love and plans, to and in spite of those infirmities, if the purpose of doing so be not there-ἁρχή τῆς θεωρίας τέλος τῆς πράξεως. Now I meet a great deal which takes the form of condescension to believers in divine inspiration, while it really assumes human intellectual powers to be on superior ground on this question, and adapts its reasonings, with great deference to their claims, to the theory of inspiration, so as to save something for the more feeble-minded. Help is allowed on God's part, the aiding the memory according to the Lord's promise. It is thought much to rescue such points as these from the invading grasp of rationalism. Now I do not doubt that the Holy Ghost did help-did recall to the memory of the New Testament writers what our Lord had said. But who was the author of the New Testament? How came it to be written? Is there no purpose in the history and other writings of the New Testament? and if so, whose purpose was it? Whence do the writings flow? Is the existence of the New Testament an accident, which has its origin in the will or circumstances of four men (I speak particularly now of the Gospels, though the principles apply to the whole New Testament, and with increasing force when it is looked at as a whole) who were afterward, when they thought fit to undertake the work, graciously assisted? Or is the scripture New Testament history the consequence of a purpose of God, a fruit of a divine intention and plan, of whose execution the Holy Ghost is the author?
We read in Peter, Holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. Here we have the source-the motive power in this work. The word of the Lord came to them. I have no theory as to the manner in which the New Testament writers were inspired. I recognize, in the fullest way, the diversities of style and the stamp of individuality in the different writers. The Lord was pleased to use men. But when I say that, it implies that He used them. I see the Lord declaring that He would use their memories. I see the apostle preferring an inspired communication in which his understanding had a part. But it is evident that if God recalled, by the Holy Ghost, certain events to the memory of a writer, He could recall them in such a way and form as He pleased; or as it had particularly struck the writer at the time the event happened; or while the facts were presented anew to his memory, with such additional apprehensions as the spiritual state of the writer made him capable of at the time of writing, and according to that peculiar form of apprehension wrought by His power and presence in the writer. He might recall these events to the writer's mind in the succession He thought fit, so as to produce a given order in the narration. But all this supposes the action and purpose-the will-of a divine Author, who acts with a plan and wisdom suited to its accomplishment. The wisdom of such an author might (by the combination of the events in a given order, and the selection of such as He recalled) produce a result from them, as a whole, which had a bearing and gave a witness to Christ entirely beyond the thoughts of the writer, though he might in every part be used according to the state of his own mind under the influence of the Spirit of God.
Now you will find that many discussions on inspiration, or statements on the subject, leave the thought of any purpose or motive power of the Spirit of God wholly aside, or deliberately deny it. The fact of distinct order in the recital of events in two Gospels is assumed to be a proof of the writers being left to themselves in these points; and such like, as I judge, shortsighted arguments are used.
Now either the Holy Ghost moved the inspired writers to compose their accounts, or He did not. If not, then the existence of the written accounts of the life of Jesus are a providential accident, and flow from no intention of God towards His Church and even a ruined world. If He did, then it was with a plan and purpose, flowing from and suited to the object to be attained and to the divine wisdom which so moved them. If this be so God has thought it right to give to us an account of the wonderful facts of incarnation and redemption and all that accompanied these great events. And if He has done so, He has done so with a purpose and plan. For the carrying of this out He used fitted instruments; but the plan was His. He worked in and by them- but to produce what? The uncertain fruit of their own researches, or that which would not answer to His intentions and the glory of Christ and the truth as it is in Him? It is the height of absurdity, a contradiction of the nature and working of God, to think so for a moment. It is in vain to talk of helping them. Whose will was it that it should be done? whose purpose to be carried into effect? whose work was it which was done? Was it God's will to have it done? Did the work flow from the action of the Holy Ghost? and was it, in carrying it out, left to go wrong and be executed contrary to the divine will and wisdom? I press the question-Whose action and purpose was it? The moment I believe it to be God's, I get a divine work. I look for divine wisdom, divine purpose displayed in carrying it out. One tells me that the various arrangements of contents prove human agency in their selection and disposition. Why so? If Christ be presented in various characters, why may not the Holy Ghost present facts which display those characters in a way calculated to do so, employing diverse human agency to do it? The whole argument assumes that there is no purpose or plan of the Holy Ghost in the New Testament narrative. The moment I believe there is, I must expect the materials to be selected and arranged according to that purpose and plan. And nothing can be more absurd and contradictory than the contrary supposition. It is admitted by such authors that the Holy Ghost recalled facts to the memory of the evangelists. Did He do it at haphazard-out of place, time, and order, and differently to the different evangelists, so that they have put them in different and, as to some or perhaps all, in incorrect order?
Where inspiration is wholly denied, then it is easy to understand that men hold that each evangelist did the best he could; and put the things out of due order because he did not know any better. If, on the other hand, God would glorify His Son Jesus, and give to us an adequate account of His life and sufferings- an object so perfectly suited to His grace and our need-we can easily understand the Spirit of God so ordering various accounts, as to present (for those who know in part and prophesy in part) the various aspects of His path on earth, its bearings and results, on Jews, on men at large, or on the hearts of sinners, or as unfolding before men the divine nature; and thus we should have the same true facts, but variously arranged, and with diversity of details. But of all theories, that which makes the Gospels the result of no purpose, or will, or plan of God at all, but that when men took the thought up, the Holy Ghost helped them, and recalled things to their memories, but so as to have all in disorder and confusion without a purpose; and that He did thus with several independent writers, so as to have inconsistency as well as disorder, is of all theories-for theory it is-the most unworthy of God, and absurd for man.
No man can doubt for a moment that the four Gospels present Christ each in a different way. Did this flow from the purpose and intention of God, or is it an accident? If from divine purpose, I must look for an ordering of the materials according to that purpose. It is in vain to say that this is an a priori theory. It is an a priori theory to say that the putting the history of the deliverance of the demonaic in Galilee before or after Matthew's call is a proof of human arrangement. Why not of divine? If chronological order had been alleged to have been preserved, or were it the object, then I should see that men had been left to their own weakness. But who says that chronological order is the object, say, in Matthew? I am satisfied it is not. This is not the place to prove that he had another. But the assumption that the Gospels are a compilation of memoirs in chronological order, as far as the writer was competent (which is not true even in many a well arranged human history), is the sole ground on which arrangement can be attributed to human agency. But the assumption is a very foolish one.
That the selection of facts depended on human agency is still more absurd. It is held that the Holy Ghost recalled to the remembrance of the writers what Jesus said. Where, then, is the writers' selection? Did the Holy Ghost come in aid when the evangelist remembered something imperfectly, and left we know not what-perhaps something much more important-wholly unremembered? Such an operation of the Holy Ghost as is here pretended is as irreverent an idea as it is absurd. But if He did move, the writer did not select, and could hardly be said to arrange. God may have led the writers to use all sources, all they had in their memoirs, or directly recalled or revealed what they had not. I make no limit as to the divine use of means: all are at the disposal of God. The question I urge is, Who is the author and mover in the history we have of the blessed Lord? If it be the Holy Ghost, then is He the source of. this history; and He had a purpose in giving it. He has carried it out according to that purpose. To suppose that the Holy Ghost wrought to leave us an imperfect, wrongly arranged, inconsistent account of the Lord Jesus, and of the unspeakable intervention of God in redemption, is the most irreverent-I do not say intentionally so; I do not the least think so: but in fact the most irreverent and absurd of all theories as to inspiration.
I have not a doubt the New Testament history bears the stamp and contains the proof of the most perfect divine arrangement, and that harmonies are wrong in principle. But into so large a subject as this I could not here enter. This would, of course, be a matter of spiritual intelligence and instruction, from the contents and order in which they are formed, and, if extended to the whole New Testament, from the scope of the whole book and the combination of its parts. My object in this flying communication is merely to draw attention to the question which is often in so strange a way silently dropped-Who is the author of the New Testament history? From whose will or purpose does it flow? Whose plan is this history of the Lord Jesus? Is it a divine or a human one? a thing flowing from human will in aid of which the Holy Ghost has wrought, or the fruit of God's counsels and the agency of the Holy Ghost accomplishing the purpose of God? If it be from the purpose and moving of the Holy Ghost, I must look for His carrying that purpose out.
I add one word as to the preface of Luke's Gospel. I say nothing as to the extent to which the writers were conscious of the Holy Ghost's purpose and action; but I wholly deny the construction put upon the words of Luke as a matter of fact. It is constantly stated both by rationalists and by others who hold loose views of inspiration that he declares he gave his own account from what he heard and from his inquiries. He does no such thing. He says, Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to compose an account of what is most surely believed among us, as it has been delivered to us by those who were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having accurate knowledge of all things from the origin, to write to thee with method, &c. Now the evangelist contrasts here the ground on which he wrote with that on which others had gone. I do not allege, as some of the fathers have, that he blames those others, as having "taken in hand" themselves in contrast with inspiration; but it shows that many having done it in that day was a motive for his doing it on more trustworthy ground. He does it because he has thorough personal knowledge of all from the outset. Paul says of Timothy (2 Tim. 3:1010But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, (2 Timothy 3:10)), "Thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life," &c. The same word is here used. The others had known what was delivered. Now it is not said Luke knew them himself, but παρηκολουθηκότι ἄνωθεν πᾶσιν ἀκριβπως. It would be hard to express personal accurate knowledge more strongly. It has nothing to do with the question of inspiration. It is the fitness of the instrument which appears. Whether the Holy Ghost made use of it is not touched upon; but the conclusion which is drawn from it, that Luke denied it and derived his materials from other accounts, is wholly unfounded.