I. I AM to speak this afternoon of the Bible, its genesis and its inspiration. The word “Bible” means book, the word “Scripture” means writing, and it is by the common consent of men that these words are applied to this one subject, because it is a Book of books, and because, beyond all comparison, it is the Writing of writings. It is the most important of all books, because, as a matter of historical fact, this book, more than any other force, has moulded the character of the great nations of the world and given birth to what we call the modern or Western civilization; because all historic churches, with one accord, declare it to be the foundation of their creeds—declare that this book is the Word of God; because, in spite of all our divisions, the whole Church really accepts this book as the only infallible and divinely authoritative rule of our faith and practice; and because it is, between all Christians, the standard of appeal on all subjects of debate, the only common ground upon which we stand, the only court of last resort.
II. On what presuppositions does our doctrine rest? In every problem there are two elements—the a priori element of principle and the a posteriori element of fact. To this there is no exception in any of the problems of philosophy or of science or of theology. The a priori question of principle must be taken first, and will condition the whole argument. We must, before we take up the subject of the Bible, first take up the questions, Is there a God? Does he exist? What relation does he sustain to the universe? Can he reveal himself to man? Has he made a revelation of himself to man? Are men capable of receiving a divine revelation through the means of a book?
Now, it is held, on the basis of all the presuppositions of Atheism, of Materialism, of Agnosticism, and even of the old Deism, that it is absolutely absurd to talk of any supernatural revelation of God, or of any Bible as either containing or being the Word of God. I want, however, to assure the laymen who have not investigated these questions that nine-tenths of all the objections which men are making now to the Scriptures, in which they claim that the progress of knowledge, the progress of civilization, the progress of science, the progress of critical investigation, the vast aggregate of historical knowledge, all are sweeping away the foundations of our ancient faith in the Bible,—I wish to assure them that, these objections are not only untrue, but absurd. Those that are made are not founded upon facts, but are founded upon a priori philosophical principles. Neither science nor history nor criticism bears any testimony against the divine origin of the Bible. I appeal with confidence to the a priori principles of a contrary philosophy. We must meet them on their own ground, and appeal from the postulates of a false philosophy to the postulates of a true. We have as much right to believe our philosophy as they have to believe theirs. Renan, for instance, begins his discussion upon the Epistles with this assumption: “The supernatural is impossible;” therefore the supernatural is unhistorical, and therefore any piece of literature that claims to convey to us supernatural information must so far forth be incorrect and be the subject of correction by critical hands.
You see that this is a mere assumption, and the whole principle on which it rests is that which underlies the philosophy, atheistic, materialistic, agnostic or deistic, of these errorists; and if this be swept away not only all the foundations for such a claim, but all color of presumption on which it rests, is swept away at once. Doubtless there are very many men of great ability who are perfectly honest who hold to this belief. They are thoroughly convinced of the principles of their a priori philosophy, and these principles are evidently inconsistent with the truths of Christianity.
But if we discard the unproved assumptions, we invalidate their conclusions. There are others who ought to be treated kindly: they are thoroughly convinced, but they are half-educated, timid souls who are confused in this babel of tongues, and who do not know the deceitfulness of materialistic belief—who are inclined to believe in the ancient faith, but are also under pressure from the arrogant claims of philosophy. For such have great consideration, and instead of repelling them by words draw them to you by the Spirit of Christ, and by showing that you not only believe intellectually, but that you have a ground of assurance in your inward experience, in the testimony of the Holy Ghost, which must excite respect and confidence in them.