II. The Holy Scriptures. By the Rev. Harry P. Nichols, Rector of St. Mark's Church, Minneapolis
"(A). The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as 'containing all things necessary to salvation,' and as being the rule and ultimate standard of Faith."--Lambeth Quadrilateral.
THE Chicago-Lambeth propositions are overtures of Church Unity. A form of language is to be interpreted with reference to its purpose. Though the matter it handles have many sides, though the terms in which it is expressed admit of varying interpretation, yet in determining its living value, of primary concern is the aim of its utterance. Only those aspects of the subject-matter, only that interpretation of its phraseology, are to be considered which bear upon the reason of its being. To the critic belongs the right to fault articles of peace, that the conditions set forth are trivial and their expression [61/62] ambiguous; but the statesman pushes the conditions to the full realization of their capacity, ascertaining their meaning in the light of the conceded intention. We are here this evening as ecclesiastical statesmen. In this course of lectures we do not as lawyers summon witnesses, from our own or other ranks favorable or hostile to the merits of the overtures; we set them forth, in the character of ambassadors, as proffers of peace.
A noble proposition has been put forth by the Anglican Communion as a basis of Church Unity. In the Chicago-Lambeth protocol four essentials are affirmed as pre-requisites for restoration of unity in the Christian Church. It may be claimed that there are other essentials which have been omitted. It may be thought that the preservation of even these essentials is not sufficiently guaranteed by the language of the propositions. Neither of these positions is an open question before us in these lectures. We stand as advocates to plead the positive merit of conditions already put forth by an authority to [62/63] which at least we who speak owe unqualified allegiance. Here are essentials. Why are they essential? How does their presentation forward the cause? Charity does not demand that a truth be pushed into a corner, to determine just where it is inconsistent, in what exact measure it fails of completeness, ere we concede to it sincerity and value. "I must hold that a full divine scheme has been set forth, in exact form, with no margin of the questionable or the permissible," is not the Church's language when she steps forth with the olive branch in hand.
As the first essential to the Unity of the Church are put forward the Holy Scriptures. We are here this evening to inquire: first, why the Holy Scriptures as a whole are such an essential, and second, what aspects of the Holy Scriptures constitute their unifying element. We are to read the Holy Scriptures in the light of the blessing, the unique and invaluable blessing they bestow upon our common Christianity in this Nineteenth Century and in this Western world. With the dividing, sect-forming use of [63/64] Holy Scripture all through the Church's history we have no concern save to crowd it out by better thought thereon. This, I take it, is our attitude on the whole quadrilateral of propositions for the Peace of the Church. They ask with one common voice, what can we, so-called essentials, contribute in ourselves and in our possible presentation, toward the restoration of lost unity in the Church of the Christian's one Lord and Master--an aim for which saints and angels pray and labor with strong crying and tears.
The Holy Scriptures the First Essential.
This both with reference to Protestant Christianity, for whom the Bible is the one appeal, and to the Christianity of the ancient Greek and Roman communions, tinder whose ecclesiastical tradition the primary position of the Bible has seemed somewhat buried. Church Unity means a whole united Christendom. Overtures of peace in the Christian Church embrace all its members. The movement may be more hopeful of a hearing in some quarters than in others, but as a [64/65] proposition in the thought of the ambassadors its terms must include all the parties.
The Holy Scriptures contain all things necessary to salvation. There may be much in Scripture additional to the things necessary to salvation, we suggest to the ultra-Protestant worship of the letter. There may be much outside the Scriptures, within Church tradition, valuable but not necessary, we suggest to the worshipper of the traditional. But for man's salvation, redeemed from sin and death, as that to which the Christian faith must be referred as its rule and ultimate standard the Holy Scriptures stand solitary--"for they may be proved by most certain warrant of Holy Scripture." The Bible is not itself salvation; faith is not reposed in a book; it is that to which man looks to learn the way of salvation and to determine the faith.
This opening proposition affirms one invaluable truth, and leaves unaffirmed, for the cherishing and enjoyment of all types of feeling and thought within the Christian Church, many valuable truths beside. The one truth--we have [65/66] in Christianity a book, made up of man3r writings, by many writers, in many styles, spread over many ages, which book, as a whole, is the revealed truth of God on God's nature and man's duty. As such it has stood the test of man's criticism and man's living, shining on every age with deeper and richer light as the very word of God. To this composite Book the Christian turns as bearing all necessary witness to the way of salvation; by this composite Book he tests all essential religious truth whether it be of God or whether it be of man.
Christianity is the Religion of a Book--that thought stands on the forefront of our propositions of peace. We come, to Christian folk, to the world of men, with a writing in our hand, to which, gladly making every allowance for copyists, translators, interpreters, for differences in style of writing and moral progress of a writer's time, we appeal as the one final witness of Christian truth and Christian duty. This does not underestimate the truth of a position dear to many Church people that the Church was [66/67] before the Bible, nor the equally cherished position of an opposite school of thought that the inward witness of a life blessed by the Bible is its unanswerable evidence. "A word of mouth Gospel sufficed so long as men who had had 'perfect understanding of all things from the very first' were still alive to tell their story; but with the passing away of that generation there came in the need of an authenticated record, a trustworthy chronicle, a written recital of facts" (Peace of the Church, p. 63). The spirit of the Bible survives in the Bible itself.
Other religions are religions of a book as well. This generation cannot refuse to submit the Christian Bible to a comparison with other Bibles. In the comparison the Holy Scriptures shine the brighter. "The worship of Jehovah was never tainted as the other great religions of antiquity were tainted. It lived in a serener region and breathed a purer air." "The Christian Evidence Societies," says Dr. Huntington in his Bohlen lectures, "could do the public no better service than to print for purposes of contrast [67/68] an edition, say, of the Gospel of St. John interleaved with the very best sentences it is possible to gather from the sacred literatures of the East. The whole controversy would in that case, be condensed into a simple, Look here upon this picture, and upon this" (Peace of the Church, p. 73). And this picture finds its centre, the explanation of all its human figures and their grouping, in the divine Figure of Him whose name Christians delight to bear. Christianity is indeed the religion of a book, but its mark, distinguishing it from all other religions--ethical systems, philosophical schemes, strings of precepts, codes of laws--is that it is personal discipleship to a Personal Lord whom that Book cradles in the Old Testament, and crowns in the New.
Why is Christianity the religion of a book? This is only another way of asserting that Christianity is an historical religion. This we affirm in setting forth the Book of the Holy Scriptures as a proposition of peace, as well as in proclaiming a Historic Episcopate. Historic [68/69] is the adjective of the whole overture; a Historic Book, Historic Creeds, Historic Sacraments, an Historic Ministry; the term is disparaged as an unspiritual requirement, is even repugnant to many within our Church as well as to those without; the feeling results from ignoring the very idea of an external institution as that which enrolls the individual membership into an historic body, the one ever living Church of the Lord Himself. Would we be free from these trammels of the past, would we be saved from laborious examination of old records, from questions of true text, of authenticity of writings? Would we throw over the weight of these documents, throw over the millstone of a Church of fallible men bringing our religion into contempt, and stand on the naked simplicity of God, and truth, and righteousness blazoning its summons upon our solitary and responsive consciousness? Not for one moment, not the most rabid individualist of us all, of us lovers of home, of native land, lovers of our unworthy but splendid fellow. Christianity is the religion of a Book, because [69/70] the Scriptures are the present visible witness, to our common Christianity, of its birthright. God has given four witnesses of Himself; His dear Son, His Spirit, His Church, His written word. The inspiration of all of these must be today submitted to the witness of Scripture; not for the Apostle, since he had the Lord Himself; not for the individual Christian, since he has the witnessing spirit within--even he may confuse the utterence of the Spirit with his own lower predilections; not for the loyal Churchman, since he listens to the Church's voice, yet not without interpreting its meaning to his own conscience. But for the Living Church of today, for a divided Christendom, the Holy Scriptures are the final authority on the way of life, on the truth of God. That way and truth was first a preached word; it is preached still, the living voice drives it home. But the oral must be tested by the written. As the Apostles passed away men asked: "What is the abiding witness of Jesus' work and truth? We have in the Old Testament a word of God we all [70/71] acknowledge. Is there aught in the new dispensation we can place side by side with these sacred Scriptures?" So the books of the New Testament took their place as God's abiding witness to Christ. The Church determined the New as the Old Scriptures, not suddenly, not easily, but by that sifting process out of which has come all splendid and permanent possessions for humanity. The Church determining the Holy Scriptures is the undivided Church, is the earlier-Church, is the Church that even antedates the formulated Creeds, the Church to which all Christendom goes back with unfaltering loyalty.
As the first overture of peace to every form of Christianity we put unhesitatingly the Holy Scriptures of the Apostolic Church, "as containing all things necessary to salvation, and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith."
We come now to what we may term, by contrast with the historic, the living feature of the overture. In what aspect does the Holy Scriptures commend itself as the first basis of unity for a divided Christianity? What presentation [71/72] of the Bible to the living Christianity of this age acts as a unifier?
One word gathers that living aspect into itself: The Interpretation of Holy Scripture.
The characteristics of the Bible as the Word of God which spring first to your thought do not come within our range at this time, as being neither characteristics on which, as we are growing to feel, there are differences of any radical moment, among Christian Churches, differences, I mean, that concern the Bible as the true Word of God; nor characteristics serving as a basis to harmonize their differences.
You think of Inspiration. Some prefer the word Revelation the Inspiration of the Scriptures is not a thing for Christians to wrangle over. As a technical term to conjure by, in the spirit of partisan condemnation of other views than our own, denouncing as traitors to the Christian Faith those who do not limit the breathings of the spirit by the sounds caught of our ears, "Inspiration" is neither a mark of Holy Scripture nor a message from on high to a [72/73] divided Church. All Christians agree that the Bible is the inspired Word, the revealed truth of God. Our Church proclaims that general proposition as alone essential. We impose no theory of inspiration as we impose none of the Atonement, of the union of the Divine and human in Christ, of God's foreknowledge and man's freedom, of the power of prayer. It belongs to a divided Christianity to impose a theory about eternal truths. We do not even ask: Is there inspiration elsewhere, outside the Bible, does the inspiration of the Bible itself extend to its entire contents; we require and we challenge no answer to such questions.
You think of the Canon of Scripture as a matter of moment. Yet strange as it may sound, what constitutes the Bible is neither a point of difference or of agreement among Christian Churches. The study of the formation of the Canon, as of the Nicene Creed, of the institutions and beliefs in general of an undivided Christianity, reveals a painstaking fidelity. Superficial reading of Church History is with a [73/74] sneer: deeper reading begets confidence and thankfulness. That some books of the Bible were long in doubt and possibly are still open to question, does not invalidate the sacredness of the whole, rather confirms the accuracy and value of conclusions so laboriously reached.
These necessary determinations have led to a more careful and intelligent study of Holy Scripture. This is criticism. Ignorance and immaturity are afraid of criticism. The fathers who determined the canon were fearless critics. So-called Higher Criticism, though the phrase is hardly a felicitous one, is not directly in the path of our discussion of the Holy Scriptures as a unifier. Let the higher critics tell Christian people all the scholarly truth they can; we will thank them for it. Ignorance is never a blessing. Their intellect can help us as our spiritual discernment can help them. Criticism, in determining the text, the date, the authorship, the source and method of composition of the Books of the Bible, is an intellectual process. Its results, however radical in modifying cherished [74/75] views, do not infringe on the integrity of the Book as the divinely given record of God's way and will. Those results are still indeterminate. Should their demonstration of the construction and contents of the Bible be much more destructive of existing conceptions than appears at all likely, either from results already attained or from the line of reasoning approved by critics themselves, we are confident that the characteristics of the Scriptures which endear them to the faith and life of our common Christianity will still remain invulnerable.
Christians do not need to agree even within their own ranks on secondary details. We can all agree on essential characteristics. What is the essential characteristic of Holy Scripture? The answer to that question is the one keynote of the proposition as an overture of peace.
Interpretation answers. Interpretation is making the Bible live. Interpretation is the translation of Truth into living Language, Thought, Action. A divided Christianity is to be united on living principles. We cannot [75/76] galvanize Church Unity, nor reason it into line by logic, nor summon it by authority, nor scare it into being by denunciation. The Living God; a Present Christ; a Holy Spirit working to-day; a ministry that summons and guides to righteousness; Sacraments that feed the soul's hunger; Creeds which formulate the soul's needs; a Bible that speaks to the men of to-day in a language they understand, of a faith and a salvation whereby they may fill their life in this tremendous time with meaning and beauty and hope from on high--these rally Christian discipleship to a common cause. The Word of God interpreted to the soul's life of this century, and this civilization, is the rallying ground of a living Christianity of every name.
Some interpretation of the Bible we all share. The Bible is a translated book in its language, from Hebrew, Greek, Latin, early English. The Bible is a composite book of many styles of literature. We forget the translating, deeming our "King James" or our "Revised" to be the inspired word. We ignore or deny the varying literature, [76/77] treating as one thing history, law, poem, prophecy, Gospel, letter. On this simplest interpreting ground a new temper is receiving a welcome among Christian people. Christians of every name are coming together to study the Bible in an absolutely new way. The light that is being let in with a flood is the light of reality. Men are thronging to be told, after the manner of a master of his art, that the book of Job is a sacred drama, that Deuteronomy is a series of three orations by Moses the man of God, interleaved with historical notes by the sacred compiler. What would have been profane to our ears less than a generation ago now makes the Bible live. And this is but one application of the method of interpretation. Reading it so, divided Christianity is asking with one voice, "What is the one essential infallible feature? What speaks to every Church, age, race? In what does our humanity hear the same voice from above, whether it be Paul to Athens, or John to Ephesus, or Moses to Israel? Sifting out the human element, whether it be a maximum as in Esther, or a minimum as [77/78] in John's Gospel, what divine element remains for us all?"
Mountain peaks there are, snow capped, unsullied, rising out of underbrush, of fogs, unveiled toward the blue heavens. We must climb high enough to see them. We ask for the mountain peaks of revelation. Like all greatest things they are the possession of no one country, of no one Creed.
The essential blessedness of the Holy Scriptures, marking with one divine mark history, prophecy, Psalm, Gospel, Epistle--differ as they do as literature, though none of them are weak literature--is the uniform reference of thought and action to divine standards; is a religious purpose, a growing religious purpose from Genesis to Isaiah, from Isaiah to St. John the Divine; is a consciousness of God, a consciousness of revealing God. Herein Christian scholarship is now finding the most satisfactory proof of Inspiration. On the mind of the writers rested, with more or less distinctness, the sense of writing in God's name. Then the reader only asks, [78/79] Can he be trusted? Herein, herein alone, is the marvellous unity of the Bible; writers, ages apart, separated by impassable chasms in civilization, style, taste, strength, all witnesses for God. Paul sits to write a plain letter on duty to a convert in Asia Minor; behold! he is under the guidance of the one Mind, in whose presence David, the race's hero, penned his Psalms.
This first overture of unity to the heart of Christianity summons Christian men everywhere to be first of all Christians, children of God, disciples of Christ, workers together for righteousness. To righteousness, to God, to Christ, the Bible bears witness, agrees in all its parts to bear witness.
Find God in the Bible. That is what the Bible is for, or it is not God's Word. Find Christ. It is from the Holy Scriptures we know of the work and words of Jesus Christ. It has been wisely said, even if we held not the Inspiration of the Bible, the credibility of the Scripture is invaluable. The witness of the prophets to themselves and to the Christ that was coming [79/80] the witness of the plain Evangelists, and of that marvellous zealot Paul, and of that painstaking scholar Luke, to the Christ that had come, compels us to ask, Who is this Christ, what does He claim? On even the lowest estimate of Holy Scripture we have a foundation for a common and a splendid Christianity.
What God is, seen afar by the prophets, seen in Himself in Christ, a thing which revelation alone could teach, is the essential in Holy Scripture. And not anything else is essential, science, history, language, geography, criticism; to ascertain these, God has given us powers of our own. Search not the Bible for these things! The Bible is a religious monograph, and is nothing else worth the race's reverent cherishing. God in Christ is somewhere there, in Ruth, in Leviticus, in Esther, in Jonah, in the Apocalypse. That is the reason they are part of Holy Scripture. Wise men, themselves semi-inspired, included these books after ages of sifting. Their critical powers were poor. Their deductions were often fanciful. But they found in the Bible [80/81] what they had an instinct to hear, a voice from God, a promise of Christ, a preparing His way, a temper to meet Him, a revelation of the need that He come; and there we too must find Him.
This waiving of non-essentials in Holy Scripture, as anywhere else, is a trying process. We are wedded to secondary shibboleths, the essence of all sectarianism, within and without the Church; we are striving to rid ourselves of the secondary. We deem the essentials of truth to be wrapped up in our interpretation of truth; that men be converted my way; that the Indian accept New England Puritanism, that Japanese Christianity be Protestant Episcopalianism; Church unity comes as we free ourselves from such limitation of God's universal truth.
Traditional views of Holy Scripture are no longer possible. Every one has conceded something, though with a sigh. Unconsciously, as well as consciously, none of us prove as hard as our theories, be we advocates of the letter of the rubric, or of no Christian discipleship without immersion. "All or nothing" is a [81/82] hopeless and an abandoned position, as well in the Holy Scriptures as in all overtures of Church unity. All that is essential together, everything unessential apart. We do not ask for a human all at the price of a divine nothing. We eliminate as we can the human, and we have left the divine, less in bulk, simpler in expression, but outweighing and outmeasuring the human as the little pool shut into my cistern unto the showers of rain from heaven.
What form these divine essentials in Holy Scripture take for man, the Church in the Creeds helps determine. So one overture supplements another. The Fatherhood of God, the divine mission and work of Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins, these and like truths are what the Scriptures stand for. Of the Science of nature even of theology as a science, the Creeds affirm nothing, the Bible is not given to proclaim.
A man looking to find these saving truths finds them; Origen with his allegories, Swedenborg with his spiritual meanings, Calvin with his hard theology. Can you be at unity with [82/83] these in the one Church of Christ? Not with their interpretations, but with the God they found by means thereof. The devotional use of Holy Scripture ministers a common blessing to the Scotch peasant woman, and to Lightfoot of Durham. The Scotch woman's Calvinism, and the Bishop's critical scholarship, are not the Bible, are not characteristics of the Word of God that make it holy; they are human means of finding Him. We may agree with the one or with the other as partisans, and have no Word of God. We may agree with both as seekers of Him through His truth, and find a divine unity over human contradictions. Use a thing for its purpose, and it reveals a genius, a value. 1'se it for some other purpose, and it is defective, awkward. The purpose of the Holy Scriptures is the revelation of God's character and man's duty. Read in the light of that purpose it is written in no language, in no style, in no climate; for all can discern through these lower media the mountain peaks--God's love and Christ's beauty, man's privilege and man's hope.
 We hold out to our brethren of every name the Holy Scriptures. It is theirs as well as ours. Here it is; it might be freer from human imperfections, there might be something added worthy of praise. But here it is, surely itself cherished, divine. It is a sacred book, but not too sacred to be read. It is a treasured book, but not as a fetich. It is a noble literary composition, but this is not its spiritual claim. It fears no comparison with other sacred books. It fears no inspection, when approached with an understanding of its purpose. It has no traditional pre-emption from inquiry. It is under no law of a dead hand. It is God's word by holy men, telling what He had to tell, what they felt they must tell in His name, what else the world would have gone on without to its unspeakable loss.
And a divided Christendom, reading it together, may find there, if they will,--and find nowhere else at first hand,--God is love, Christ is divine, man is a sinner, his Father calls him home and provides the way to come. And that [84/85] is a message to whose four notes the manifold voices of every nation, and kindred, and people, and tongue, may be attuned into a swelling harmony of united thanksgiving and praise.
And unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.