The Question and the Crisis

 •  18 min. read  •  grade level: 10
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Halifax, Nova Scotia, April 19th [1877].
My Dear Brother,
I send you some details on the statements made in the papers you sent me. Mr. Smith says, Ezra 9:1111Which thou hast commanded by thy servants the prophets, saying, The land, unto which ye go to possess it, is an unclean land with the filthiness of the people of the lands, with their abominations, which have filled it from one end to another with their uncleanness. (Ezra 9:11) proves that Deut. 7 must be from the prophets; but we have exactly the same statement in Ex. 34:11-1711Observe thou that which I command thee this day: behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite. 12Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee: 13But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves: 14For thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God: 15Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice; 16And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods. 17Thou shalt make thee no molten gods. (Exodus 34:11‑17); so that his proof proves nothing, unless Exodus be from the prophets too. But prophet is a mere word for those who spoke the word of God; as Abraham is called a prophet, and Moses.
Besides, the argument is an absurdity. It is an absurdity to pretend that Ezra, already scribe in the law of Moses, who, it is alleged, compiled it in its last form, should speak as if it was not given by Moses at all, and say it was the prophets, and yet say, in the same sentence, Israel was going into the land to possess it when the commandment was given; as he does. Only a rationalist, who can believe anything but the simple truth, but no one of sound sense, could swallow such a fancy as this. If Ezra referred to Deuteronomy (which is very likely, as he speaks of going in to possess the land, which characterizes that book), then he assuredly refers to it as given before the Israelites entered into the land. None but those accustomed to assume, and justify too, forgery in documents which pretend to be divine, could allege that Ezra attributes to prophets of the seventh or eighth century a statement of the law which he was teaching as the law of Moses; and, in the deep grief of his heart about their sins before God, accredit and state the forgery in speaking to God. Upon the face of it, to apply " thy servants the prophets " (saying, " the land into which ye go to possess it ") to prophets hundreds of years after they possessed it, is a gross absurdity. The defilement of the land is not particularly spoken of in Deut. 7; it is much more in other chapters, and more especially in Lev. 18.
I must add a few words on the prudent wise speech reported in your Scotch journals as that of Dr. Rainy. I can only take it as it appears, " wary and well-considered." Supposing, speaking of course as a mere natural man, that some one had given my mother a box on the ear, instead of knocking him down or thrusting him away, I say, Well, but I must see if the fingers reached to the ear: otherwise this is not a box on the ear; if it only struck the cheek, the accusation is not correct. With what feelings should one view such a son? With profound contempt. Here I must add indignation, because the faith of thousands is in question. The speech would insist that it should not be felt there was a crisis. There is a crisis, and the crisis is this: Whether the Free Church of Scotland in its public profession be, however many may object to its tenets or forms, a body maintaining the faith of Christianity as based on the word of God, or not? It is not Professor Smith who is on trial; it is the Free Church. I have no interest in either, save as a Christian ought to be interested in all men and all good; but in the authority of the word of God every one who is loyal to Christ must be.
Members of commissions may laugh if it be asked, Are we to have a Bible or no? but this is the question. Germans may hold, still pretending to be Christians, that the allegations of miracles at once render a book unhistorical; but the proofs by which they convince others that it cannot be are the proofs by which Mr. Smith would prove that the Pentateuch, and especially Deuteronomy, are unhistorical, and these are with heartless indifference, on the ground of legal technicalities, to be allowed to be valid on the plea that Mr. Smith on other grounds holds them trustworthy. And what grounds are these? That, because these Shemitic historians, like Thucydides or Livy giving speeches they invent as spoken by the persons they wrote about, do not think it fraud to put the words in their heroes' mouths, we must take them as they gave them, and they were received at the time; and this is divine inspiration! Does he mean, or does the speech mean, that this fabled Shemitic system was held at the time for divine inspiration? That they received what was known to be put into Moses' mouth by a modern author to polish crude legislation, as the WORD OF GOD by the mouth of Moses saying, " Jehovah spake unto Moses saying," when they knew and received it as Mr. Smith does now (namely, that it was not so given), though some few portions might be true traditions of what Moses taught? Let us see what the " wary and well-considered " compromise speech in the journal amounts to. Mr. Smith is guarded enough. We have this account of Scripture from him: the written record of the revelation of God's will which is necessary unto salvation makes use of certain forms of literary presentation which have always been thought legitimate in ordinary composition, but which were not always understood to be used in the Bible. Used by whom? How carefully the inspiration of the writings is avoided! Mr. Smith does not call this fraud as Dr. Kuenen honestly does (" pious fraud "): that is his opinion, but not the question.
Classical authors no one is troubled about; men did the best they could, or what they would, to present matters as they saw them, or would please their readers. Did the Holy Ghost do so? The record uses the fraud of literary compositions which I do not call fraud! But where is God in the matter? How carefully He is left out! What more can an infidel want? What does an extreme infidel as Dr. Kuenen, or a violenttempered but more sober-minded infidel as Ewald, or one in borrowed plumes as Mr. Newman, desire but to reduce the Scriptures to this level? This is what the system of Mr. Smith does. He now tells us that for other reasons (which he withheld in what went out to all the world, and till this was called in question) he believes in the authority of these books; but the proofs he gives to all the world, and which are unrecalled, are proofs, not (mind) of a date, but that the books are not what they pretend to be. Does he believe that the composers and compilers and polishers were inspired to say that their work was God speaking by Moses? Nothing can be clearer than that it was so given, and sanctioned by the Lord's authority as such. Their nature, their authority, their contents, depended on these contents being inspired. They had no other, they have no other; the very circumstances are identified with the truth of their being by Moses and from God, for that is inseparably interwoven with the history they contain. On this I shall speak again in touching on the reported speech. But the Scriptures, even in his defense, are not spoken of by Mr. Smith when defined as inspired. When he justifies the statement by quotation of the Confession, they are a record of the revelation of God's will but formed after the pattern of literary compositions which ascribe to orators or the like speeches invented for them. This is not inspiration of the Scriptures. It may lead us to distrust " Confessions " as no better than a sieve, as a means of securing truth, and saving those who hold the opposite of what their authors held, but that is all.
But I turn to the reported speech and the wary defense of Mr. Smith. The speech saves the credit of the speaker. " On reading the article it was with the greatest possible feeling of apprehension and pain. Not only he did not agree, but it would not meet with general approbation; he had a very strong impression that they were fitted in the greatest degree to create bewilderment, anxiety, and misapprehension in the mind of members of the church." What about? Was it not as to the authority and inspiration of the Scriptures? Yet such a question, we are told, cannot possibly arise, or might be soon settled. Now, I do ask what was the bewilderment and anxiety about? Mr. Smith accepts and gives the proofs of infidels that the Scriptures were the development of crude legislation and national life, large portions professing to be what they were not, nor of the age nor of the person who was stated to have received them from God as God's law-gives these proofs as general satisfactory proofs that the case was thus, without a hint that he thought otherwise. He propagates infidelity, for everybody knows it is infidelity and the elaborately wrought-out theory of infidels; which we are now to understand he does not believe, though he believes all the proofs of it.
As to the canon, one was really a love-song about the purity of northern Israel contrasted with Solomon, which we should have lost but for a false theory about its being an allegory; but the bewilderment and anxiety was not about the inspiration or canon of Scripture, nor whether we are to have the whole Bible! But Mr. Smith and all agree, we are told, that the Bible is inspired. What then was his article about? The escape from the difficulty is: The question is not about inspiration, but whether certain positions brought in, in connection with the explanation of Professor Smith's views on the Bible, are really inconsistent with this position. A queer roundabout sentence; but have we no views of Mr. Smith on the Bible, or on parts of it? Nothing but positions in connection with the explanation of his views? And is what every one knows to be characteristic of modern infidelity in the theological sphere to be spread broadcast by professors of theology, without a hint of anything else? Nay, accepting really as desirable progress views that are to every honest mind totally destructive of the inspiration of Scripture, and then to be told there is no question about inspiration? And how is it excused in a compromising way? We are not, we are told, to deal with it as if some party were rising up to unsettle and undermine these great doctrines. But a party has arisen up, and, as every one occupied with these subjects knows, unsettling and underMining these great doctrines; and all that Mr. Smith has done is to popularize them in a well-known book of general science, the Encyclopcedia Britannica, wherever the English language is spoken in the two continents. He has reproduced and disseminated for all English readers, and as valid, the wellknown modern grounds of infidelity as to these great truths. Scotland and the Free Church have been the source, or, if not the source, the instrument, of spreading over the world modern infidelity as to inspiration and the canon of Scripture, as a part of the more accurate knowledge of modern science in a popular publication. This is the broad fact, and no special pleading in church courts and committees in Scotland will alter it; nor, it is to be feared, if the Free Church clear itself, undo it.
The speech defends the position of the committee as far as it dares; it does not agree with Mr. Smith, but defends its " deliverances " on the substantive merits, mark, not on the competency of the committee. " You will not succeed in laying a libel for heresy in connection with this view of Deuteronomy." I should not call it " heresy "; infidelity is its true character. However, the published speech declares that to hold that a book purporting to be spoken by Moses immediately before Israel's entrance into the land, and directly from Jehovah as words from His mouth in reference to their conduct as so entering, was not so spoken but written some hundreds of years after, proving this by passages alleged to be in contradiction with what was ordained by Jehovah originally, is not heresy as to the inspiration of the books. Such false statement, it is alleged, was a generally allowed license of literary composition. Were these late modifiers of the old law moved by the Holy Ghost to say that Jehovah spake it all by Moses before Israel's going in to possess the land? " It is," we are told, " a different case where there is a general disposition in certain quarters, or in any quarter, to move off from these fundamental doctrines." Is there none such? Every one knows that large masses of Protestants, and Protestant teachers, have moved off from these fundamental doctrines both in Germany and in England; that their works are translated into English, and have largely affected the public mind; that this attack on the inspiration of the Scriptures is one of the chief characteristics of modern infidelity; that the " Deuteronomist " is one of their chief points along with the " Great Unnamed," Zechariah, and the Song of Solomon as a northern pastoral.
Now, I will suppose that as yet this hacking up of Scripture has not penetrated into the Free Church, at least in " any quarter." The speech assures that an attempt to make “heresy" of these views will not succeed. A man is " not particularly wise who is particularly sure about them," that is, about the usual orthodox view of the inspiration of Deuteronomy, etc. True, “a man is not particularly wise who is particularly ready to raise questions about them." The questions on many points as to authorship, date, and so on, are “awkward questions." “They are really not matters of faith at all." How calculated to relieve “bewilderment, anxiety, and misapprehension, in the minds of members of the church"! Mr. Smith had done something to relieve this feeling in his answer to the sub-committee. He tells us of a "persuasion of the divine authority of the book (of Deuteronomy), which rests on the witness of our Lord, the testimonium Spiritus Sancti. It would be possible to adjust the result thus. But this the speech cuts away from under our feet. As to the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, it “does not believe that Jesus and his apostles ever said anything on that subject." But kirk commissioners will hardly make sober men think that it is declared by inspiration that “Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying," when it was not Moses at all; and that when the Lord says " Moses' writings," " He never said anything on that subject."
It is trifling to talk of who wrote down the words; the question is, Is it a divinely given, and therefore, perfect account of what God spake and did by Moses, and was really uttered by Him, interwoven as it is with all the details of the history of God's people? We know that, save the one to the Galatians, Paul wrote none of his epistles. In one case we know who did it for him: “I, Tertius, who wrote this epistle." He signed each, saluting in grace, that it might he authentic. Does anyone think, because Tertius adds that, sanctioned as it is by the Pauline salutation, we have not Paul's inspired writings? All this is child's play, and worse. The speech does “not see how a very conclusive argument could be raised against anyone maintaining that the book of Deuteronomy was written after the promised land was occupied, and therefore by some one living in the promised land, though he was directed and enabled to embody in that book the authentic declarations and speeches of Moses." This will tacitly, seemingly at least, screen the infidel system which insists on its being written afterward in the land and not by Moses. But save in one fatal word it does not touch the question. It is perfectly immaterial when and where it was written, as in Tertius' writing the Epistle to the Romans, provided I have a divinely given and therefore divinely authentic word and reproduction of what Moses said before Israel entered into the land, as the book professes to be. We have no statement that Moses textually wrote anything but the song in chapter 32 and the law put beside the ark of the covenant, but there is no “embodying" what Moses said in some other record. It professes to give what Moses said by God's command and with God's authority to the people before their entry into the land, stating where it was spoken; and all through the book it is almost chapter by chapter repeated, “the land which ye go in to possess." Now who wrote it is no more important than Tertius in Romans; but if it be not Moses who spoke the things before Israel's crossing the Jordan, and really the directions for Israel in the land when actually going in to possess it, the book is a false book, not an inspired one-an imposition of some later hand, not a revelation of God. And this is what the system in fact alleges.
It does not “embody" what Moses spoke. It gives, and states that it gives, what he spake and where. And if this be not true, the book is not true. But the statement of the speech, while screening the statement of Mr. Smith, does not touch it. That statement, as of all the infidel school who hold this, is that the Deuteronomist put Moses' name in as a license of literary composition; that it was written centuries afterward- some Mosaic revelations and modifications and adaptations of later development thrown into the form of a declaration and testimony by Moses. A crude legislation-such is the theory- was developed and perfected by the 'priests and the national life of the people. Let any one read Deuteronomy and see what it professes to be, and say if such be its character; whether it “embodies" sayings of Moses, or whether it be not, save the last chapter which has nothing to do with the question, the directions of God by Moses to Israel before going into the land. I deny the alleged additions and contradictions. That there are provisions for a state of things which did not exist in the wilderness is quite true. A considerable part consists of civil enactments adapted to their condition in the land when the kingly government did not exist. There are two probable interpolations, like “there it is unto this day” (chap. 2:10-12, 20-23), and possibly one other passage besides (chap. 3: 9), which may or may not be; that is, one or two small parentheses evidently such, which do not affect the substance of the book, nor have anything to do with a later date.
And let it be here remarked, the question is not about dates or writers where Scripture does not state who speaks or writes, but about inspiration. People may discuss who wrote the Hebrews as no author is named: it may be wise or unwise; but that the Spirit of God dictated it, that it is inspired, is another question.
I hold the tradition as to Luke and Mark wholly irrelevant. The question is, Arc they inspired accounts of the Lord's life? Learning from Peter is nothing to the purpose if they are not inspired; from Paul as an eye-witness Luke could not: indeed his own statement leaves no ground for it.
The question is this: When Deuteronomy says, These are the words which Moses spake, are they really such? or something concocted, centuries after, out of a crude legislation given under Moses through the development of national life, by priests or prophets who contended against them? Though, indeed, we are called on to believe that the law which was the priest's work, at least the Deuteronomic or more advanced form of it, was concocted by a prophet, one of the class opposed to the priests; for we are to believe anything, provided it be not inspiration and the truth of God. I have nothing to do with Mr. Smith or commissions of the Free Church. The question is far wider than that: it is of the propagation of an infidel view of Scripture all over the English-speaking world in a popular book of science. The Free Church is indeed on its trial as to faithfulness, but the evil has to be combated on its own merits. It may be sorrowful to see every professing body of Christians more or less giving up the truth; but the question is there, and we cannot avoid it. The word of God, the Scriptures, are what we are taught to rely on; and those who are taught of God will rely on them. The enemies' attacks are especially directed against them. Cavils and special pleading will not do in this conflict: it must be the faith of God's elect, or spiritual " traditores " on whom no reliance can be placed in the conflict.
I have had some doubt as to sending you this, because I believe, as I have said above, the question must be treated on its merits, and this is (save the first paragraph, as to Ezra) on the kirk commission, and what is reported as Dr. Rainy's speech, to me far more painful than Mr. Smith's article. It is a question of the Free Church about inspiration as well as about inspiration itself. It is only a bye-battle, and it ought to be treated for God on its own merits. But if you think it may be useful for souls, you may use it. But the question is raised, and will have to be discussed, not as a local but as a fundamental question. As I have said before, it has long pressed upon me as an impending conflict.