Lecture 5. The Impression made on the Reader by the Statements of Scripture

{170} THE characteristics then, of the narrative portion of Scripture are such as I have described; it is unsystematic and unstudied;—from which I would infer, that as Scripture relates facts without aiming at completeness or consistency, so it relates doctrines also; so that, if it does after all include in its teaching the whole Catholic Creed, (as we of the English Church hold,) this does not happen from any purpose in its writers so to do, but from the overruling providence of God, overruling just so far as this: to secure a certain result, not a certain mode of attaining it,—not so as to interfere with their free and natural manner of writing, but by imperceptibly guiding it; in other words, not securing their teaching against indirectness and disorder, but against eventual incompleteness. From which it follows, that we must not be surprised to find in Scripture doctrines of the Gospel, however momentous, nevertheless taught obliquely, and capable only of circuitous proof;—such, for instance, as that of the Blessed Trinity,—and, among them, the especial Church doctrines, such as the Apostolical Succession, the efficacy of the Holy Eucharist, and the essentials of the Ritual.

The argument, stated in a few words, stands thus:—Since distinct portions of Scripture itself are apparently inconsistent with one another, yet are not really so, {171} therefore it does not follow that Scripture and Catholic doctrine are at variance with each other, even though there may be sometimes a difficulty in adjusting the one with the other.

Now I propose to go over the ground again in somewhat a different way, not confining myself to illustrations from Scripture narrative, but taking others from Scripture teaching also, and that with a view of answering another form which the objection is likely to take.

1.

The objection then may be put thus: "We are told, it seems, in the Prayer Book, of a certain large and influential portion of doctrine, as constituting one great part of the Christian Revelation, that is, of Sacraments, of Ministers, of Rites, of Observances; we are told that these are the appointed means through which Christ's gifts are conveyed to us. Now when we turn to Scripture, we see much indeed of those gifts, viz., we read much of what He has done for us, by atoning for our sins, and much of what He does in us, that is, much about holiness, faith, peace, love, joy, hope, and obedience; but of those intermediate provisions of the Revelation coming in between Him and us, of which the Church speaks, we read very little. Passages, indeed, are pointed out to us as if containing notices of them, but they are in our judgment singularly deficient and unsatisfactory; and that, either because the meaning assigned to them is not obvious and natural, but (as we think) strained, unexpected, recondite, and at best but possible, or because they are conceived in such plain, unpretending words, that we cannot imagine the writers meant to say any great thing in introducing them. On the other hand, a silence is observed in certain places, where one might {172} expect the doctrines in question to be mentioned. Moreover, the general tone of the New Testament is to our apprehension a full disproof of them; that is, it is moral, rational, elevated, impassioned, but there is nothing of what may be called a sacramental, ecclesiastical, mysterious tone in it.

"For instance, let Acts xx. be considered: 'Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread'—who would imagine, from such a mode of speaking, that this was a solemn, mysterious rite? The words 'break bread' are quite a familiar expression.

"Or again: 'Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.' Here, if the Church system were true, one might have expected that in mentioning 'keeping the feast,' a reference would be made to the Eucharist, as being the great feast of Christ's sacrifice; whereas, instead of the notion of any literal feast occuring to the sacred writer, a mental feast is the only one he proceeds to mention; and the unleavened bread of the Passover, instead of suggesting to his mind the sacred elements in the Eucharist, is to him but typical of something moral, 'sincerity and truth.'

"Or again: 'Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.' [Matt. xxviii. 20.] This means, we are told, that Christ is with the present Church: for when Christ said 'with you,' He meant with you and your descendants; and the Church, at present so called, is descended from the Apostles and first disciples. How very covert, indirect, and unlikely a meaning! {173}

"Or, to take another instance: How is it proved that the Lord's Supper is generally necessary to salvation? By no part of Scripture except the sixth chapter of St. John. Now, suppose that a person denies that this passage belongs to that Sacrament, how shall we prove it? And is it any very strong step to deny it? Do not many most excellent men now alive deny it? have not many now dead denied it?"

This is the objection now to be considered, which lies it would seem in this: that after considering what I have been saying about the statement of facts in Scripture, after all allowances on the score of its unstudied character, there is still a serious difficulty remaining,—that the circumstance that its books were written at different times and places, by different persons, without concert, explains indeed much,—explains indeed why there is no system in it, why so much is out of place, why great truths come in by-the-bye, nay, would explain why others were left out, were there any such; but it does not explain the case as it stands, it does not explain why a doctrine is not introduced when there is an actual call for it, why a sacred writer should come close up to it, as it were, and yet pass by it; why, when he does introduce it, he should mention it so obscurely, as not at all to suggest it to an ordinary reader; why, in short, the tone and character of his writing should be just contrary to his real meaning. This is the difficulty,—strongly, nay almost extravagantly put, but still plausible,—on which I shall now attempt some remarks.

2.

Now there are two attributes of the Bible throughout, which, taken together, seem to meet this difficulty,—attributes which, while at first sight in contrast, have {174} a sort of necessary connexion, and set off each other—simplicity and depth. Simplicity leads a writer to say things without display; and depth obliges him to use inadequate words. Scripture then, treating of invisible things, at best must use words less than those things; and, as if from a feeling that no words can be worthy of them, it does not condescend to use even the strongest that exist, but often take the plainest. The deeper the thought, the plainer the word; the word and thought diverge from each other. Again, it is a property of depth to lead a writer into verbal contradictions; and it is a property of simplicity not to care to avoid them. Again, when a writer is deep, his half sentences, parentheses, clauses, nay his words, have a meaning in them independent of the context, and admit of exposition. There is nothing put in for ornament's sake, or for rhetoric; nothing put in for the mere sake of anything else, but all for its own sake; all as the expressions and shadows of great things, as seeds of thought, and with corresponding realities. Moreover, when a writer is deep, or again when he is simple, he does not set about exhausting his subject in his remarks upon it; he says so much as is in point, no more; he does not go out of his way to complete a view or to catch at collateral thoughts; he has something before him which he aims at, and, while he cannot help including much in his meaning which he does not aim at, he does aim at one thing, not at another. Now to illustrate these remarks, and to apply them.

One of the most remarkable characteristics of Scripture narrative, which I suppose all readers must have noticed, is the absence of expressions by which the reader can judge whether the events recorded are presented for praise or blame. A plain bare series of facts {175} is drawn out; and whether for imitation or warning, often cannot be decided except by the context, or by the event, or by our general notions of propriety—often not at all. The bearing and drift of the narrative are not given.

For instance, when the prophet Isaiah told Ahaz to ask a sign, he said, "I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord." Was this right or wrong?

When Elisha said to Joash, "Smite on the ground," the king "smote thrice and stayed." What was the fault of this? We should not know it was faulty but by the event, viz., that "the man of God was wroth with him, and said, Thou shouldest have smitten five or six times." [2 Kings xiii. 18, 19.]

What was David's sin in numbering the people? Or take the account of Moses striking the rock: "And Moses took the rod from before the Lord, as He commanded him. And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also." [Numb. xx. 9-11.] I really do not think we should have discovered that there was anything wrong in this, but for the comment that follows: "Because ye believed Me not, to sanctify Me," etc.; though, of course, when we are told, we are able to point out where their fault lay.

And in that earlier passage in the history of Moses, when his zeal led him to smite the Egyptian, we are entirely left by the sacred narrative to determine for ourselves whether his action was good or bad, or how far one, how far the other. We are left to a comment, the comment of our own judgment, external to the inspired volume. {176}

Or consider the account of Jeroboam's conduct from first to last in the revolt of the ten tribes; or that of the old prophet who dwelt in Samaria. Is it not plain that Scripture does not interpret itself?

Or consider the terms in which an exceeding great impiety of Ahaz and the high priest is spoken of; and say, if we knew not the Mosaic law, or if we were not told in the beginning of the chapter what the character of Ahaz was, whether we should be able to determine, from the narrative itself, whether he was doing a right or a wrong, or an indifferent action. There is no epithet, no turn of sentence, which betrays the divine judgment of his deed. It passes in the Scripture narrative, as in God's daily providence, silently. I allude to the following passage: "And king Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, and saw an altar that was at Damascus: and king Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the fashion of the altar, and the pattern of it, according to all the workmanship thereof. And Urijah the priest built an altar according to all that king Ahaz had sent from Damascus: so Urijah the priest made it against king Ahaz came from Damascus. And when the king was come from Damascus, the king saw the altar; and the king approached to the altar, and offered thereon. And he burned his burnt-offering, and his meat-offering, and poured his drink-offering, and sprinkled the blood of his peace-offerings upon the altar. And he brought also the brasen altar, which was before the Lord, from the fore-front of the house, from between the altar and the house of the Lord, and put it on the north side of the altar. And king Ahaz commanded Urijah the priest, saying, Upon the great altar burn the morning burnt-offering ... and the brasen altar shall be for me to inquire by. Thus did {177} Urijah the priest, according to all that king Ahaz commanded." [2 Kings xvi. 10-16.]

Or, again, how simple and unadorned is the account of St. John Baptist's martyrdom! "Herod had laid hold of John, and bound him and put him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife; for John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her. And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. But when Herod's birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod. Whereupon, he promised with an oath, to give her whatsoever she would ask. And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist's head in a charger. And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath's sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her. And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel; and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus." [Matt. xiv.] Not a word of indignation, of lament, or of triumph! Such is the style of Scripture, singularly contrasted to the uninspired style, most beautiful but still human, of the ancient Martyrologies; for instance, that of the persecution at Lyons and Vienne.

St. Paul's journey to Jerusalem, against the warnings of the prophets, is the last instance of this character of Scripture narrative which shall be given. The facts of it are related so nakedly, that there has been room for maintaining that he was wrong in going thither. That he was right would seem certain, from the way in which he speaks of these warnings: "Behold, I go bound in the {178} Spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there, save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying, that bonds and afflictions abide me;" [Acts xx. 22, 23.] and also from Christ's words in the vision: "Be of good cheer, Paul; for as thou hast testified of Me in Jerusalem," [Acts xxiii. 11.] etc. Yet though this be abundantly enough to convince us, nevertheless, the impression conveyed by the warning of the disciples at Tyre saying, "through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem," [Acts xxi. 4.] and by that of Agabus at Csarea, and, when he got to Jerusalem, by his attempt to soften the Jews by means of a conformity to the Law, and by his strong words, seemingly retracted, to Ananias, and by his cleverly dividing the Jewish council by proclaiming himself a Pharisee,—the impression, I say, conveyed by all this would in itself be (a very false one,) that there was something human in his conduct.

3.

Thus the style of Scripture is plain and colourless, as regards the relation of facts; so that we are continually perplexed what to think about them and about the parties concerned in them. They need a comment,—they are evidently but a text for a comment,—they have no comment; and as they stand, may be turned this way or that way, according to the accidental tone of mind in the reader. And often the true comment, when given us in other parts of Scripture, is startling. I think it startling at first sight that Lot, being such as he is represented to be on the whole in the Old Testament, should be called by St. Peter "a just man." I think Ehud's assassination of Eglon a startling act,—the praise given to Jael for killing Sisera, startling. It is evident that the letter of the sacred history conveys to the ordinary {179} reader a very inadequate idea of the facts recorded in it considered as bodily, substantial, and (as it were) living and breathing transactions.

Equal simplicity is observed in the relation of great and awful events. For instance, consider the words in which is described the vision of God vouchsafed to the elders of Israel. "Then went up Moses and Aaron, and Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and they saw the God of Israel: and there was under His feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel He laid not His hand: also they saw God, and did eat and did drink." [Exod. xxiv. 9-11.] Or consider the account of Jacob's wrestling with the Angel. Or the plain, unadorned way in which the conversations, if I may dare use the word, between Almighty God and Moses are recorded, and His gracious laments, purposes of wrath, appeasement, repentance. Or between the Almighty and Satan, in the first chapter of Job. Or how simply and abruptly the narrative runs, "And [the Serpent] said unto the woman ... and the woman said unto the serpent;" or, "And the Lord opened the mouth of the ass, and she said to Balaam ... and Balaam said unto the ass." [Numb. xxii. 28-29.] Minds familiarized to supernatural things, minds set upon definite great objects, have no disposition, no time to indulge in embellishment, or to aim at impressiveness, or to consult for the weakness or ignorance of the hearer.

And so in like manner the words in which the celebration of the holy Eucharist is spoken of by St. Luke and St. Paul, viz., "breaking bread," are very simple: they are applicable to a common meal quite as well as to the Sacrament, and they only do not exclude, they in no {180} respect introduce that full and awful meaning which the Church has ever put on them. "As He sat at meat with them, He took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them; and their eyes were opened." [Luke xxiv. 30, 31.] "They continued stedfastly in the breaking of bread, and in prayers." [Acts ii. 42.] "The first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread ... When he therefore was come up again and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while even till break of day, so he departed." [Acts xx. 7-11.] "When he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it, he began to eat." [Acts xxvii. 35.] "The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the Body of Christ?" [1 Cor. x. 16.] "The Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread; and when He had given thanks, He brake it." [1 Cor. xi. 23, 24.] Now no words can be simpler than these. What is remarkable is the repeated mention of the very same acts in the same order—taking, blessing or giving thanks, and breaking. Certainly the constant use of the word "break" is very remarkable. For instance, in the ship, why should it be said, "And when He had thus spoken, He took bread, and gave thanks; and when He had broken it, He began to eat," since he alone ate it, and did not divide it among his fellow-passengers? But supposing the passages had been a little less frequent, so as not to attract attention by their similarity, what could be more simple than the words,—what less adapted to force on the mind any high meaning? Yet these simple words, blessing, breaking, eating, giving, have a very high meaning put on them in our Prayer Book, put on them by the Church from the first; and a person may be tempted to say {181} that the Church's meaning is not borne out by such simple words. I ask, are they more bare and colourless than the narrative of many a miraculous transaction in the Old Testament?

Such is the plain and (as it were) unconscious way in which great things are recorded in Scripture. However, it may be objected that there is no allusion to Catholic doctrines, even where one would think there must have been, had they been in the inspired writer's mind; that is, supposing them part of the Divine Revelation. For instance, if Baptism is so indispensable for the evangelical blessings, why do we hear nothing of the baptism of the Apostles? If Ordinances are so imperative now, why does not our Lord say so, when He says, "Neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father"? That is, the tone of the New Testament is unsacramental; and the impression it leaves on the mind is not that of a Priesthood and its attendant system. This may be objected: yet I conceive that a series of Scripture parallels to this, as regards other matters, might easily be drawn out, all depending on this principle, and illustrating it in the case before us; viz., that when the sacred writers were aiming at one thing, they did not go out of their way ever so little to introduce another. The fashion of this day, indeed, is ever to speak about all religious things at once, and never to introduce one, but to introduce all, and never to maintain reserve about any; and those who are imbued with the spirit which this implies, doubtless will find it difficult to understand how the sacred writers could help speaking of what was very near their subject, when it was not their subject. Still we must submit to facts, which abundantly evidence that they could. This omission of the Sacraments in St. Paul and St. John, so {182} far as distinct mention is omitted (for in fact they are frequently mentioned), as little proves that those Apostles were not aware and thinking of them, as St. James's Epistle is an evidence that he did not hold the doctrine of the Atonement, which is not there mentioned. Or consider how many passages there are in the history, in which some circumstance is omitted which one would expect to be inserted. For instance: St. Peter struck off the ear of Malchus when our Lord was seized. St. John gives the names; St. Matthew and St. Mark relate the occurrence without the names. This is commonly explained on the ground that St. John, writing later than his brother Evangelists, and when all parties were dead, might give the names without exposing St. Peter, if indeed he was still alive, to any civil inconveniences. True, this is an explanation so far; but what explains their omitting, and St. John omitting, our Lord's miracle in healing the ear, while St. Luke relates it? Was not this to deliver a half account? is it not what would be called unnatural, if it were a question, not of history, but of doctrine?

4.

Now let us review cases in which matters of doctrine, or the doctrinal tone of the composition, is in question. Is the tone of Scripture more unfavourable to the doctrine of a Priesthood than it is to the idea of Christianity, such as we have been brought up to regard it,—I mean of an established, endowed, dignified Church; and, if its establishment is not inconsistent (as it is not) with the New Testament, why should its mysticalness be? Certainly, if anything is plain, it is that Scripture represents the very portion of Christians, one and all, to be tribulation, want, contempt, persecution. I do not,—of course not, {183} far from it,—I do not say that the actual present state of the Church Catholic and the text of the New Testament, are not reconcilable; but is it not a fact, that the first impression from Scripture of what the Church should be, is not fulfilled in what we see around us?

Again: I suppose another impression which would be left on an unbiassed reader by the New Testament would be, that the world was soon to come to an end. Yet it has not. As, then, we submit to facts in one case, and do not exercise our so-called right of private judgment to quarrel with our own consciousness that we do live, and that the world does still go on, why should we not submit to facts in the other instance? and if there be good proof that what the Church teaches is true, and is conformable to given texts of Scripture, in spite of this vague impression from its surface to the contrary, why should we not reconcile ourselves to the conclusion that that impression of its being opposed to a Sacramental or Priestly system is a false impression, is private and personal, or peculiar to a particular age, untrustworthy, in fact false, just as the impression of its teaching that the world was soon to come to an end is false, because it has not been fulfilled?

Again: I suppose any one reading our Lord's discourses, would, with the Apostles, consider that the Gentiles, even if they were to be converted, yet were not to be on a level with the Jews. The impression His words convey is certainly such. But of this more presently.

Again: it is objected that little is said in the New Testament of the danger of sin after baptism, or of the penitential exercises by which it is to be remedied. Well: supposing it for argument's sake: yet let me ask the previous question. Is there much said in the New {184} Testament of the chance of sin after baptism at all? Are not all Christians described as if in all important respects sinless? Of course, falling away is spoken of, and excommunication; but grievous sin has no distinct habitat among those who are "called to be saints" and members of the Church in the Epistles of St. Paul and St. John. Till we examine Scripture on the subject, perhaps we have no adequate notion how little those Apostles contemplate recurring sin in the baptized. The argument then proves too much: for if silence proves anything, it will prove either that Christians who now live do not fall into gross sin, or that those who have so fallen have forfeited their Christianity.

Again: the first three Gospels contain no declaration of our Lord's divinity, and there are passages which tend at first sight the other way. Now, is there one doctrine more than another the essential and characteristic of a Christian mind? Is it possible that the Evangelists could write any one particle of their records of His life, without having the great and solemn truth steadfastly before them, that He was their God? Yet they do not show this. It follows, that truths may be in the mind of the inspired writers, which are not discoverable to ordinary readers in the tone of their composition. I by no means deny that, now we know the doctrine, we can gather proofs of it from the three Gospels in question, and can discern in them a feeling of reverence towards our Lord, which fully implies it; but no one will say it is on the surface, and such as to strike a reader. I conceive the impression left on an ordinary mind would be, that our Saviour was a superhuman being, intimately possessed of God's confidence, but still a creature; an impression infinitely removed from the truth as really contained and intended in those Gospels. {185}

Again: is the tone of the Epistle of St. James the same as the tone of St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians? or that of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans as that of the same Apostle's Epistle to the Hebrews? Might they not be as plausibly put in opposition with each other, as the Church system is made contrary to Scripture?

Again: consider what the texts are from which Calvinists are accustomed to argue, viz., such as speak of God's sovereign grace, without happening to make mention of man's responsibility. Thus: "He who has begun a good work in you will perform it unto the day of the Lord Jesus," and, "Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation," are taken as irrefragable arguments for final perseverance. If mention in Scripture of God's electing mercy need not exclude man's moral freedom, why need the stress laid in Scripture upon faith and love exclude the necessity of sacraments as instruments of grace?

Again: if silence implies denial or ignorance of the things passed over; if nothing is the sense of Scripture but what is openly declared; if first impressions are everything, what are we to say to the Book of Canticles, which nowhere hints, (nor Scripture afterwards anywhere hints either,) that it has a spiritual meaning? Either, then, the apparent tone of passages of Scripture is not the real tone, or the Canticles is not a sacred book.

Again: is not the apparent tone of the Prophecies concerning Christ of a similarly twofold character, as is shown by the Jewish notion that there were to be two Messiahs, one suffering and one triumphant?

Another illustration which deserves attention, lies in the impression which David's history in the Books of Samuel conveys, compared with that derived from the Chronicles and the Psalms. I am not speaking of verbal discrepancies {186} or difficulties to be reconciled,—the subject which I have already discussed,—but of the tone of the narrative, and the impression thence made upon the reader; and I think that it must be allowed that the idea which we have of David's character from the one document, is very different from that gained from the other two. In the Books of Samuel we have the picture of a monarch, bold, brave, generous, loyal, accomplished, attractive, and duly attached to the cause, and promoting the establishment, of the Mosaic law, but with apparently little permanent and consistent personal religion; his character is sullied with many sins, and clouded with many suspicions. But in the First Book of Chronicles, and in the Psalms, we are presented with the picture of a humble, tender, devotional, and deeply spiritual mind, detached from this world, and living on the thought and in the love of God. Is the impression derived from the New Testament more unfavourable to the Church system (admitting that it is unfavourable), than that of the Books of Samuel to David's personal holiness?

5.

I just now reserved the doctrine of the admission of the Gentiles into the Church, for separate consideration; let us now turn to it. Their call, certainly their equality with the Jews, was but covertly signified in our Lord's teaching. I think it is plainly there signified, though covertly; but, if covertly, then the state of the evidence for the Catholicity of the Christian Church will lie in the same disadvantage in the Gospels as the state of the evidence for its ritual character in the Epistles; and we may as well deny that the Church is Gentile, on the ground that our Lord but indirectly teaches it, as that it is sacramental on the ground that His Apostles indirectly {187} teach it. It is objected that the Church system, the great Episcopal, Priestly, Sacramental system, war an after-thought, a corruption coming upon the simplicity of the primitive and Apostolic religion. The primitive religion, it is said was more simple. More simple! Did objectors never hear that there have been unbelievers who have written to prove that Christ's religion was more simple than St. Paul's—that St. Paul's Epistles are a second system coming upon the three Gospels and changing their doctrine? Have we never heard that some have considered the doctrine of our Lord's Divinity to be an addition upon the "simplicity" of the Gospels? Yes: this has been the belief not only of heretics, as the Socinians, but of infidels, such as the historian Gibbon, who looked at things with less of prejudice than heretics, as having no point to maintain. I think it will be found quite as easy to maintain that the Divinity of Christ was an after-thought, brought in by the Greek Platonists and other philosophers, upon the simple and primitive creed of the Galilean fishermen, as infidels say, as that the Sacramental system came in from the same source as rationalists say.—But to return to the point before us. Let it be considered whether a very plausible case might not be made out by way of proving that our Blessed Lord did not contemplate the evangelizing of the heathen at all, but that it was an after-thought, when His Apostles began to succeed, and their ambitious hopes to rise.

If texts from the Gospels are brought to show that it was no after-thought, such as the mustard-seed, or the labourers of the vineyard, which imply the calling and conversion of the Gentiles, and the implication contained in His discourse at Nazareth concerning the miracles of Elijah and Elisha wrought upon Gentiles, and His significant {188} acts, such as His complying with the prayer of the Canaanitish woman, and His condescension towards the centurion, and, above all, His final command to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature, "and to go teach all nations, baptizing them;" still it may be asked, Did not the Apostles hear our Lord, and what was their impression from what they heard? Is it not certain that the Apostles did not gather this command from His teaching? So far is certain: and it is certain that none of us will deny that nevertheless that command comes from Him. Well then, it is plain, that important things may be in Scripture, yet not brought out: is there then any reason why we should be more clear-sighted as regards another point of doctrine, than the Apostles were as regards this? I ask this again: Is there any reason that we, who have not heard Christ speak, should have a clearer apprehension of the meaning of His recorded discourses on a given point, than the Apostles who did? and if it be said that we have now the gift of the Holy Spirit, which the Apostles had not during our Lord's earthly ministry, then I ask again, where is there any promise that we, as individuals, should be brought by His gracious influences into the perfect truth by merely employing ourselves on the text of Scripture by ourselves? However, so far is plain, that a doctrine which we see to be plainly contained, nay necessarily presupposed, in our Lord's teaching, did not so impress itself on the Apostles.

These thoughts deserve consideration; but what I was coming to in particular is this; I wish you to turn in your mind such texts as the following: "Ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem and in all Juda and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." An objector would say that "the uttermost part of the {189} earth" ought to be translated "uttermost part of the land"—that is, the Holy Land. And he would give this reason to confirm it. "How very unlikely that the whole of the world, except Juda, should be straitened up into one clause! Jerusalem, Juda, Samaria, mentioned distinctly, and the whole world brought under one word!" And I suppose the Apostles did at the time understand the sentence to mean only the Holy Land. Certainly they did not understand it to imply the absolute and immediate call of the Gentiles as mere Gentiles.

You will say that such texts as Luke xxiv. 47, are decisive: "that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His Name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." Far from it; as men nowadays argue, they would say it was not safe to rely on such texts. "Among all nations:" "into or to all nations," this need not mean more than that the Jews in those nations should be converted. The Jews were scattered about in those days; the Messiah was to collect them together. This text speaks of His doing so, according to the prophecies, wherever they were scattered. To this, the question of the populace relates, "Whither will He go that we shall not find Him? will He go unto the dispersed among the Gentiles, and teach the Gentiles" [John vi. 35.] or Greek Jews? And St. John's announcement also, that He died "not for that nation only, but that also He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad." [John xi. 51, 52.] And St. Peter's address "to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia." And especially on the day of Pentecost, when the same Apostle addressed the Jews, devout men dwelling at Jerusalem, "out of ever nation under heaven." [Acts ii. 5.] {190}

Again: if the words "preach the Gospel to every creature," were insisted on, an objector might say that creature or creation does not mean all men any more than it includes all animals or all Angels, but one part of the creation, the elect, the Jews [Note 1].

Here then are instances of that same concise and indirect mode of stating important doctrine in half sentences, or even words, which is supposed to be an objection to the peculiar Church doctrines only. For instance, it is objected that the sacred truth of the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father, is only contained in the words, "the Spirit of Truth, which proceedeth from the Father:" [John xv. 26.] the co-equality of the Son to the Father, in the phrase, "who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God," and in the Jews' inference from our Lord's words, "He said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God." [Philip. ii. 6; John v. 18.] The doctrine of original sin depends on a few implications such as this, "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." [1 Cor. xv. 22.] And in like manner the necessity of the Holy Eucharist for salvation, upon the sixth chapter of St. John, in which the subject of Christ's flesh and blood is mentioned, but not a word expressly concerning that Sacrament, which as yet was future. So also, 1 Cor. x. 16, "The cup of blessing," etc., is almost a parenthesis: and the ministerial power of Absolution depends on our Lord's words to His Apostles, "Whosesoever sins ye remit," [John xx. 23.] etc.; and the doctrine of the Christian Altar, upon such words as, "If thou bring thy gift to the Altar," etc. Now I say all these are paralleled by the mode in which our Lord taught the call of the Gentiles: He said, "Preach the Gospel to every creature." {191} These words need have only meant, "Bring all men to Christianity through Judaism:" make them Jews, that they may enjoy Christ's privileges, which are lodged in Judaism; teach them those rites and ceremonies, circumcision and the like, which hereto have been dead ordinances, and now are living: and so the Apostles seem to have understood them. Yet they meant much more than this; that Jews were to have no precedence of the Gentiles, but the one and the other to be on a level. It is quite plain that our Saviour must have had this truth before His mind, if we may so speak, when He said, "Preach to every creature." Yet the words did not on the surface mean all this. As then they meant more than they need have been taken to mean, so the words, "I am with you alway," or, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost," may mean much more than they need mean; and the early Church may, in God's providence, be as really intended to bring out and settle the meaning of the latter, as St. Peter at Joppa, and St. Paul on his journeys, to bring out the meaning of the former.

To this there are other parallels. For instance: who would have conceived that the doctrine of the Resurrection of the Dead lay hid in the words, "I am the God of Abraham," etc.? Why may not the doctrines concerning the Church lie hid in repositories which certainly are less recondite? Why may not the Church herself, who is called the pillar and ground of the Truth, be the appointed interpreter of the doctrines about herself?

Again: consider how much is contained, and how covertly, in our Saviour's words, "But ye are clean, but not all;"—or in His riding on an ass, and not saying why; or in His saying "Destroy this Temple," when "He spoke of the Temple of His Body." Let it be {192} borne in mind, that a figurative, or, what may be called a sacramental style, was the very characteristic of oriental teaching; so that it would have been a wilful disrespect in any hearer who took the words of a great prophet in their mere literal and outside sense.

Here, too, the whole subject of prophecy might be brought in. What doctrine is more important than that of the miraculous conception of our Lord? Yet how is it declared in prophecy? Isaiah said to Ahaz, "Behold, a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His Name Immanuel." The first meaning of these words seems not at all to allude to Christ, but to an event of the day. The great Gospel doctrine is glanced at (as we may say) through this minor event.

6.

These remarks surely suffice on this subject, viz., to show that the impression we gain from Scripture need not be any criterion or any measure of its true and full sense; that solemn and important truths may be silently taken for granted, or alluded to in a half sentence, or spoken of indeed, yet in such unadorned language that we may fancy we see through it, and see nothing;—peculiarities of Scripture which result from what is the peculiar character of its teaching, simplicity and depth. Yet even without taking into account these peculiarities, it is obvious, from what meets us daily in the course of life, how insufficient a test is the surface of any one composition, conversation, or transaction, of the full circle of opinions of its author. How different persons are, when we know them, from what they appeared to us in their writings! how many opinions do they hold, which we did not expect in them! how many practices and ways have they, how many peculiarities, how many tastes, which we did {193} not imagine! I will give an illustration;—that great philosopher, Bp. Butler, has written a book, as we know, on the Analogy of Religion. It is distinguished by a grave, profound, and severe style; and apparently is not the work of a man of lively or susceptible mind. Now we know from his history, that, when Bishop, he put up a Cross in his chapel at Bristol. Could a reader have conjectured this from that work? At first sight would it not have startled one who knew nothing of him but from that work? I do not ask whether, on consideration, he would not find it fell in with his work; of course it would, if his philosophy were consistent with itself; but certainly it is not on the surface of his work. Now might not we say that his work contained the whole of his philosophy, and yet say that the use of the Cross was one of his usages? In like manner we may say that the Bible is the whole of the Divine Revelation, and yet the use of the Cross a divine usage.

But this is not all. Some small private books of his are extant, containing a number of every-day matters, such as of course one could not expect to be able to conjecture from his great work: I mean, matters of ordinary and almost household life. Yet those who have seen these papers are likely to feel a surprise that they should be Butler's. I do not say that they can give any reason why they should not be so; but the notion we form of any one whom we have not seen, will ever be in its details very different from the true one.

Another series of illustrations might be drawn from the writings of the ancients. Those who are acquainted with the Greek historians know well that they, and particularly the gravest and severest of them, relate events so simply, calmly, unostentatiously, that an ordinary reader does not recognize what events are great and {194} what little; and on turning to some modern history in which they are commented on, will find to his surprise that a battle or a treaty, which was despatched in half a line by the Greek author, is perhaps the turning-point of the whole history, and was certainly known by him to be so. Here is the case of the gospels, with this difference, that they are unsystematic compositions, whereas the Greek historians profess to be methodical.

Again: instances might easily be given of the silence of contemporary writers, Greek or Roman, as to great events of their time, when they might be expected to notice them; a silence which has even been objected against the fact of those events having occurred, yet, in the judgment of the mass of well-informed men, without any real cogency.

Again: as to Greek poetry, philosophy, and oratory, how severe and unexceptionable is it for the most part; yet how impure and disgraceful was the Greek daily life! Who shows a more sober and refined majesty than Sophocles? yet to him Pericles addressed the rebuke recorded in the first book of Cicero's Offices [Note 2].

7.

I conclude with two additional remarks. I have been arguing that Scripture is a deep book, and that the peculiar doctrines concerning the Church, contained in the Prayer Book, are in its depths. Now let it be remarked in corroboration, first, that the early Church always did consider Scripture to be what I have been arguing that it is from its structure,—viz., a book with very recondite meanings; this they considered, not merely with reference to its teaching the particular class of doctrines in question, but as regards its entire teaching. They considered {195} that it was full of mysteries. Therefore, saying that Scripture has deep meanings, is not an hypothesis invented to meet this particular difficulty, that the Church doctrines are not on its surface, but is an acknowledged principle of interpretation independent of it.

Secondly, it is also certain that the early Church did herself conceal these same Church doctrines. I am not determining whether or not all her writers did so, or all her teachers, or at all times, but merely that, viewing that early period as a whole, there is on the whole a great secrecy observed in it concerning such doctrines (for instance) as the Trinity and the Eucharist; that is, the early Church did the very thing which I have been supposing Scripture does,—conceal high truths. To suppose that Scripture conceals them, is not an hypothesis invented to meet the difficulty arising from the fact that they are not on the surface; for the early Church, independent of that alleged difficulty, did herself in her own teaching conceal them. This is a second very curious coincidence. If the early Church had reasons for concealment, it may be that Scripture has the same; especially if we suppose,—what at the very least is no very improbable idea,—that the system of the early Church is a continuation of the system of those inspired men who wrote the New Testament.

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Notes

1. Vide Rom. viii. 19.
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2. i. 40.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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