Table of Contents
McConnell Understanding Scriptures is a brief 6 chapter work on keys aspects of Scripture: Life, Humanity, God, Christ, and the Cross.
THE MENDENHALL LECTURES, THIRD SERIES DELIVERED AT DEPAUW UNIVERSITY
McConnell UNDERSTANDING THE SCRIPTURES
BY FRANCIS J. McCONNELL
Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church
CONTENTS of McConnell Understanding the Scriptures
II. THE BOOK OF LIFE
III. THE BOOK OF HUMANITY
IV. THE BOOK OF GOD
V. THE BOOK OF CHRIST
VI. THE BOOK OF THE CROSS
The Mendenhall Lectures, founded by Rev. Marmaduke H. Mendenhall, D.D., of the North Indiana Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, are delivered annually in De Pauw University to the public without any charge for admission. The object of the donor was “to found a perpetual lectureship on the evidences of the Divine Origin of Christianity and the inspiration and authority of the Holy Scriptures. The lecturers must be persons of high and wide repute, of broad and varied scholarship, who firmly adhere to the evangelical system of Christian faith. The selection of lecturers may be made from the world of Christian scholarship, without regard to denominational divisions. Each course of lectures is to be published in book form by an eminent publishing house and sold at cost to the faculty and students of the University.”
Lectures previously published: 1913, The Bible and Life, Edwin Holt Hughes; 1914, The Literary Primacy of the Bible, George Peck Eckman.
GEORGE R. GROSE,
President De Pauw University.
IV. The Book of God
CHAPTER IV THE BOOK OF GOD
We have remarked upon some points of view from which the student must start in order to reach a sound understanding of the Scriptures. It is time for us to ask ourselves, however, as to the dominant notes of the Scriptures which make the Book so dynamic. The purpose of this chapter is to show that the essentials of the Book are, after all, its teachings about God. The Bible is the Book of God. Due chiefly to the ideas about God are its uniqueness and its force.
Before advancing to the consideration of the Bible as a book about God it will be well for us to glance for a moment at other grounds on which supremacy for the Scriptures is sometimes claimed. There are those who maintain that the value of the Bible lies in the wealth of information which it gives us concerning the first days of the world’s life. The Bible helps us to regard sympathetically the view of the universe by the ancient Hebrews. It is a repository of knowledge as to early science and philosophy. Now, all this is true, but relatively unimportant. Had it not been for the religious teachings of which the old-time view of the world was the vehicle, that vehicle itself would long since have been forgotten. Only archaeologists are to-day greatly interested in ancient theories of the world as such.
There are, again, those who avow that the Bible deserves all praise because of the literary excellence of its style. There are, indeed, sublime passages to be forever cherished as entitled by their very sublimity of expression to permanent place in the world’s literature. All this we most gladly admit. Oratory like that of the book of Isaiah, some of the sentences of the patriarchs, passages from the Psalms or from the Sermon on the Mount, the parables, the thirteenth chapter of Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, are sure of permanency in literature no matter what may be anyone’s opinion of their religious content. Nobility of conception is very apt to tend toward nobility of phrase. The expression may be admired for its own apart from the substance; but to say that the Bible holds its throne as the Book of books simply because of the superiority of its artistic form is woefully aside from the mark. Lamentable as it may be, masses of men do not rank artistic literary skill as highly as they ought. While a lofty idea is not likely to make its full impression until wrought into lofty beauty by a master of style, the worth must nevertheless inhere in the substance rather than in the form if the statement is to make lasting effect upon the passing generations. Moreover, it is very easy to overemphasize the literary excellence of the Scriptures. There are scores of passages which, as we say, “go through one,” but this marvelous effectiveness is quite as likely to belodged in the idea itself and in the associations which that idea arouses as in the form of the passage. In some instances the literary mold in the Authorized Version is such as to hinder rather than to help; so that the prophet who seeks to add to the force of the idea breaks the mold for literary recasting.
Still another may declare that the Scriptures are valuable because they abound in hints which make for practical success—shrewd moral maxims which aid all classes of men in avoiding pitfalls, axioms for daily conduct which ought to be accepted by everybody, even by those who care not for the religion of the Bible. All this, again, is true, but hardly sufficient to explain the grip of the Bible on mankind. So far as the more conventional morality goes, men are likely to be ruled by the sentiment of the community in which they move. They adapt themselves to the demands of the situation at a particular time rather than to a set of precepts.
Still others maintain that the human ideal itself which we sketched in a previous chapter is the determining factor in giving the Bible power. The greatest study of mankind is man. The erection of such an ideal as that of the Scriptures for man cannot fail to secure for the Book mighty power through all the ages. And yet it must be replied that if we take the Bible merely as portraying a human ideal without reference to the idea of God involved in the same process of revelation, we cut asunder two things which properly belong together. We must not forget that in the history of Israel the prophets grasped at every new insight concerning human character as at the same time a new insight concerning the character of God. Attributing a profoundly moral trait to God made it of more consequence forthwith for man, and thus the conceptions of man and God went along together reenforcing each the other. To separate the ideal of God from the ideal of man leaves everything at loose ends for the human ideal. It is true that there are individuals here and there of intense intelligence and of immense wealth of moral endowment who do not seem to require any ideal of God to sustain and strengthen their ideal of man; but for the most of us the ideal of man cannot grow to any considerable size without growth of our notion as to the character of God. What man is now depends somewhat on our thought of where man came from, and what his place in the universe essentially is. One of our deepest yearnings is to know whether our exalted belief about man has any validity before the larger ranges of the activity of the universe itself. It is very common, for example, for those who go forth to social tasks with a passion for humanity to lose that passion if they do not keep alive a passion for God. Disappointment with some phases of human nature itself and despair over the failures of men are apt to be so trying that the passion for humanity dies down unless familiarity with actual human life is reenforced by communion with an ideal which reaches up toward the Divine. We would ourselves insist that the loftiest human ideal in all literature is that of the Scriptures, but we must insist also that this ideal lacks driving force if it does not keep back of it the biblical doctrine of God.
From the very outset the Hebrew Scriptures deal with God. “In the beginning God,” at the end God, and God at every step of the journey from the beginning to the end. There are other scriptures besides the Hebrew Scriptures that deal with God, but the kind of God set before us in the Hebrew revelation gives the Bible its supreme merit.
Since we often hear that there are other sources for the idea of God than the Scriptures, it may be well for us to appraise the contributions from some of those sources before we look at the kind of God drawn for us in the biblical writings. After allowing as high excellence as is possible to the theologies obtained outside the Scriptures, the moral and spiritual superiority of the scriptural ideal shines forth unmistakably.
Many a scientist tells us that we do not further need the biblical idea of God in view of the vast suggestions concerning the Divine which science places before us. The world in which we live has broadened immeasurably since the days of the Hebrew prophets and seers. The idea of God, broadening to correspond, has to expand so overwhelmingly that we ought no longer pay heed to the imaginations of the biblical writers. Large numbers of scientists to-day avow themselves devout theists. Materialism is decidedly out of fashion, and agnosticism is less in vogue than a decade or two ago. The reverent scientist affirms that he believes in a God whose omniscience keeps track of every particle of matter in a universe whose spaces are measured by billions of miles, a God whose omnipresence implies the interlacing of forces whose sweep and fineness seen through the telescope and microscope astonish us. Moreover, the modern doctrine of evolution shows us that the entire material system is moving on and up from lower to higher forms. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be,” but we shall clearly be something great and glorious.
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Now, far be it from us to belittle the splendor of this scientific vision. Modern scientific searchers are, indeed, finding innumerable illustrations of the greatness of God. There is every reason why the scientific investigator should rejoice in a calling which enables him to think God’s thoughts after him; but when a scientist will have it that his belief in God arises only from his technical investigations, we must declare our suspicion that he is employing his findings to confirm a faith already held, though that faith may be part of his unconscious spiritual possessions. Many times the scientist is determined that the scientific discoveries shall look in theistic directions just to satisfy the imperious though unconscious demands of his own soul. Some scientists are theists just because they are bound to be so, for the close contemplation of the entire situation in the material realm does not make for any adequate theistic verdict. It is hard indeed to believe that the nice adjustments of matter and force occur without the governance of a supervising intelligence. There are too many facts which suggest skill to make it easy to believe that the natural world is just the outcome of a fortuitous concourse of atoms. Science itself very likely establishes a presumption in favor of a governing mind, but the deeper question is as to the character of that mind. Is it a moral mind? At this point the hopeful evolutionist will break out that the progress is so definitely from lower to higher that no one ought to doubt the benevolence of the Power moving upward through all things. Evolution is, indeed, full of promises to one who already trusts in the goodness of God; but the progress from lower to higher is not always unmistakable. Often the survival of the fittest is just a survival of those fittest to survive, and not the survival of those who ought to survive.
There are too many things which survive which ought to be killed off. Simple good can give way to complex evil without at all violating the requirements of the evolutionistic formula. But even if we concede all that the scientist claims for his conception of God; if we grant that terms like “omnipresence” and “omniscience” and “progress” clothe themselves with new force in the Copernican and Newtonian and Darwinian terminology, we must nevertheless insist that none of this rises to the moral height of the biblical teaching. Nor are we willing to admit that the biblical doctrine is to be discounted because it grew up amid small theories of the material universe. The old Hebrew views of the physical system, outdated as they are now, are nevertheless full of sublimity on their own account. But even if they were infinitesimal as compared with the vast stretches of modern scientific measurements, the moral grandeur of the idea of God of which they were the framework stands forth unmistakably. We must not permit the quantitative bigness of modern scientific notions to obscure the qualitative fineness of the biblical ideal of God. Modern philosophy comes also and announces that it has a better God than that of the Scriptures. The most imposing modern philosophical systems are those which proclaim some form of idealism. The gist of the idealistic argument always is that the world itself is nothing apart from thought; that thought-relationships rule in and through all things; that there are no things-in-themselves; that there can be no hard-and-fast stuff standing apart from God.
Things must come within the range of thought or go out of existence. There is no alternative. Now, thought implies a thinker, and this implication carries us at once to God. Here, again, we have no desire to question the cogency of the argument. We are ready to admit that this is the strongest theistic argument that has thus far been built. To be sure, there are some questions that inevitably suggest themselves: What is the thinker? Is it impersonal thought, as some have maintained? Is it just the sum of all forms of consciousness—our consciousnesses being organs or phases of the Supreme Consciousness? Or is the thinker strictly personal, carrying on a thought-world by the power of his will and calling into existence finite thinkers in his own image? Assuming that the world is the expression of the thought of a Personal Thinker who acts in the forces of nature and creates men in his own image, the further question arises as to the character of that Thinker. While returning the heartiest thanks to the idealist for his argument—full as it is of aid for the Christian system—we have to protest that the argument does not lift us to the full height of the ideal of God inculcated in the Scriptures. And if this is true of the majestic systems of idealism, how much more is it true of the other and less convincing systems which are just now having their day! We have already spoken of pragmatism as possessing validity as a method, but pragmatism can hardly cherish pretension of being itself a system of religious philosophy.
Some very strenuous searchers after divine treasures have professed to discover value in various non-Christian religions. They have patiently studied the great Indian world-views, for example, which are admittedly the most important religious creations outside of Christianity. These students come back to us with fragments of doctrines, gems of ethical wisdom, traces of sublimity from the Indian sacred books. It would be foolhardy not to receive any genuine treasures, no matter what the mine from which they have been quarried. We are all eager to admit the immeasurable possibilities of the Oriental type of thinking for the development of Christianity, but Oriental systems thus far have been chiefly significant as indicating what stupendous religious powers can do when they are off the track. The Indian systems of religion have run loose in India. As a result, nowhere in the world has religion been taken more seriously and more sincerely than by the Indian peoples. It is simply impossible to bring the charge against the Indian races that they have not made the most of their religion. The final indictment to be passed upon the Indian systems is that while the Indian peoples have made the most of those systems, the systems have made least of the Indian peoples; and this because of the defects in the conception of the Divine itself. It is doubtful whether the Indian could call his highest gods personal. If he declares them personal, he can hardly make them moral in the full sense; that is to say, in the sense of exerting their force on the world in favor of justice and righteousness and love.
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