Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Spurious Religious Excitement (Part 1)

This post (and the following) is an article written by Robert L. Dabney on the subject of false religious excitement as it relates to the "Revival movement" of the 19th Century. Although  today's version of such movements are not as wide-spread, the attendant evils are. Because of the article's length, I have split in into two parts relatively equal in length.

by Robert L. Dabney

It is believed all thoughtful Christians are alive to the fact that religious excitements, which consist of temporary movements of the emotions devoid of any saving operation of the Truth on the reason and conscience, are equally frequent and mischievous in America. This judgment not seldom expresses itself in very queer and inaccurate forms. Thus: good brethren write to the religious journals grateful accounts of a work of grace in their charges, and tell the editors that "they are happy to say, the work has been purely rational and quiet, and attended by not the slightest excitement." They forget that the efficacious (not possibly, tempestuous) movement of the feelings is just as essential a part of a true religious experience, as the illumination of the intellect by divine truth; for indeed, there is no such thing as the implantation of practical principle, or the right decisions of the will, without feeling. In estimating a work of divine grace as genuine, we should rather ask ourselves whether the right feelings are excited, and excited by divine cause. If so, we need not fear the most intense excitement. This misconception is parallel to the one uttered by public speakers, when they assure their hearers that, designing to show them the respect due to rational beings, and to use the honesty suitable to true patriots, "they shall make no appeal to their feelings, but address themselves only to their understandings." This is virtually impossible. On all practical subjects, truth is only influential as it stimulates some practical feeling. There is no logical appeal of the rhetorical nature which does not include and appeal to feeling. Does the orator proclaim, for instance, that waiving all appeals to passion, he will only address his hearers' intellects to prove what is for their interest, or "for their honor," or "for the good of their country"? What is he really doing except appealing to the emotions of desire for wealth, or love of applause, or patriotism?

In the Southern, Presbyterian Review, 1884, I presented a discussion on the psychology of the feelings. I wish to recall a few of the fundamental positions there established. The function of feeling is as essential to the human spirit, and as ever present, as the function of cognition. The two are ever combined, as the heat-rays and the light-rays are intermingled in the sunbeams. But the consciousness intuitively recognizes the difference of the two functions, so that it is superfluous to define them. "Feeling is the temperature of thought." The same kind of feeling may differ in degree of intensity, as the heat-ray in the brilliant winter sunbeam differs from that in the fiery glare of the "dog days"; but the thermometer shows there is still caloric in the most wintry sunbeam, and even in the block of crystal ice. So a human spirit is never devoid of some degree of that feeling which the truth then engaging the intelligence tends to excite. No object is or can be inducement to volition unless it be apprehended by the soul as being both in the category of the true and of the good. But, that function of soul by which the object is taken as a good, is desire, an act of feeling. Whence it follows, that an element of feeling is as essential to every rational volition as an act of cognition. The truly different sorts of feelings were distinguished and classified. But this all important division of them was seen to be into the passions, and the active feelings; between those impressions upon the sensibility of the soul, caused from without, and in receiving which the soul is itself passive, and its spontaneity has no self-determining power (as pain, panic, sympathy) on the one hand, and on the other hand those subjective feelings which, while occasioned from without, are self-determined by the spontaneity from within and in which the soul is essentially active, (as desire, benevolence, ambition, etc.)

It may be asked here: Does the writer intend to rest the authority of his distinction between genuine and spurious religious experiences on a human psychology? By no means. The Scriptures are the only sure source of this discrimination. Its declarations, such as that sanctification is only by revealed truth, its anthropology, its doctrine of redemption, and its examples of saving conversions, give the faithful student full guidance as to the conduct of gospel work, and the separation of the stony-ground hearers from the true. But it is claimed that the psychology outlined above is the psychology of the Bible. It is that theory of man's powers everywhere assumed and postulated in Scripture. It gives that theory of human action on which all the instances, the narratives, and the precepts of Scripture ground themselves. Hence these mental laws and facts are of use, not as the mistress, but as the hand-maid of Scripture, to explain and illustrate those cautions which the Bible gives us.

One inference is simple and clear. The excitement of mere sensibilities, however strong or frequent, can offer no evidence whatever of a sanctified state. The soul is passive in them; their efficient cause is objective. An instinctive susceptibility in the soul provides the only condition requisite for their rise when the outward cause is applied. Hence the excitement of these sensibilities is no more evidence of change or rectification in the free agency, than the shivering of the winter wayfarer's limbs when wet by the storms. Now the doctrine of Scripture is that man's spontaneity is, in his natural state, wholly disinclined and made opposite (yet freely) to godliness, so that he has no ability of will for any spiritual act pertaining to salvation. But it is promised that, in regeneration, God's people shall be willing in the day of his power. He so enlightens their minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renews their wills, that they are both persuaded and enabled to embrace Jesus Christ. The very spontaneity is revolutionized. Now the stimulation of merely passive sensibilities, in which the will has no causal part, can never be evidence of that saving change. No evidence of it appears, until the subjective desires and the will exhibit their change to the new direction. That fear, that selfish joy, that hope, that sympathy are excited, proves nothing. But when the soul freely exercises a "hungering and thirsting after righteousness," hatred of sin, desire of God's favor, love of his truth, zeal for his honor, this evinces the sanctifying revolution.

Shall we conclude then that the excitement of the passive sensibilities by the pastor is wholly useless? This class of feelings presents the occasion (not the cause) for the rise of the subjective and spontaneous emotions. This is all. It is this connection which so often misleads the mental analyst into a confusion of the two classes of feelings. The efficient cause may be restrained from acting by the absence of the necessary occasion; this is true. But it is equally true, that the occasion, in the absence of the efficient cause, is powerless to leaving any effect. If the pastor aims to move the sensibilities merely for the purpose of gaining the attention of the soul to saving truth, and presents that truth faithfully the moment his impression is made, he does well. If he makes these sensibilities an end, instead of a means, he is mischievously abusing his people's souls.

People are ever prone to think that they are feeling religiously because they have feelings round about religion. Their sensibilities have been aroused in connection with death and eternity, for instance; so, as these are religious topics, they suppose they are growing quite religious. The simplest way to clear away these perilous illusions is, to ask: What emotions, connected with religious topics as their occasions, are natural to the carnal man? These may be said to be, first, the emotions of taste, or the mental-aesthetic; second, the involuntary moral emotion of self-blame, or remorse; third, the natural self-interested emotions of fear and hope, and desire of future security and enjoyment; and fourth, the emotion of instinctive sympathy. The following conclusions concerning these feelings need only to be stated, in order to be admitted.

The aesthetic feeling may be as naturally stimulated by the features of sublimity and beauty of God's natural attributes, and of the gospel-story, as by a cataract, an ocean, a starlit sky, or a Shakespearean hero. Now it is most obvious that the movements of taste, in these latter cases, carry no moral imperative whatever. They have no more power to reform the will than strains of music or odors of flowers. Yet how many souls are deluded into supposing that they love God, duty, and gospel truth, because these aesthetic sensibilities are stimulated in connection with such topics!

When the ethical reason pronounces its judgment of wrongfulness upon any action or principle, this may be attended by the feeling of moral reprehension. If it is one's own action which must be condemned, the feeling takes on the more pungent form of remorse. But this feeling is no function of the. soul's spontaneity. Its rise is purely involuntary; its natural effect is to be the penal retribution, and not the restrainer of sin.

How completely this feeling is disconnected with the correct regulation or reformation of the will, appears from this: that the transgressor's will is usually striving with all his might not to feel the remorse, or to forget it, while conscience makes him feel it in spite of himself. A Judas felt it most keenly while he rushed to self-destruction. It is the most prevalent emotion of hell, which gives us the crowning proof that it has no power to purify the heart. But many transgressors are persuaded that they exercise repentance because they feel remorse for conscious sins. Man's native selfishness is all-sufficient to make him desire the pleasurable, or natural good, and fear and shun the painful, or natural evil. Those desires and aversions, with the fears and hopes which expectation suggests, and the corresponding terrors and joys of anticipation, may be stimulated by any natural good or evil, more or less remote, the conception of which occupies the mental attention distinctly. Just as the thoughtless child dreads the lash that is expected in the next moment, and the more thoughtful person dreads the lash of next week or next month, just so naturally a carnal man, who is intellectually convinced of his immortality and identity, may dread the pains, or rejoice in the fancied pleasures, of another life. He may fear death, not only with the unreasoning instinct of the brute, but also with the rational dread (rational, though purely selfish) of its penal consequences. Selfishness, with awakened attention and mental conviction, suffices fully for all this. In all these feelings there is nothing one whit more characteristic of a new heart, or more controlling of the evil will, than in the wicked sensualist's dread of the colic which may follow his excess, or the determined outlaw's fear of the sheriff. Tet how many deluded souls fancy that, because they feel these selfish fears or joys in connection with death and judgment, they are becoming strongly religious. And unfortunately they are encouraged by multitudes of preachers of the gospel to make this fatal mistake. Turretin has distinguished the truth here by a single pair of phrases, as by a beam of sunlight. He says: Whereas the stony-ground believer embraces Christ solely pro bono jucundo, the gospel offers him mainly pro bono honesto. True faith desires and embraces Christ chiefly as a Saviour from sin and pollution. The false believer embraces him only as a Saviour from suffering and punishment. Holy Scripture is always careful to represent Christ in the former light. His "name is Jesus because he saves his people from their sins." He gives himself to redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify us unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. But preachers so prevalently paint the gospel as God's method of delivering sinners from penal pains and bestowing the enjoyment of a sensuous paradise, and the guilty selfishness of hearers is so exclusively exercised about selfish deliverance, that we apprehend most men are permitted to conceive of the gospel remedy solely as a bonum jucundum, a provision for simply procuring their selfish advantage. It is true that, if asked, Is not the gospel to make you good also? many of them might reply with a listless "Yes." They have a vague apprehension that their grasping the bonum jucundum is somehow conditioned on their becoming better; and they suppose they are willing to accept this uninteresting formality for the sake of the enjoyment that follows it, just as the epicure tolerates the tedious grace for the sake of the dainties which are to come after at the feast. But were one to tell this gourmand that the grace was the real chief-end of the feast, and the eating a subordinate incident thereto, he would be exceedingly amazed and incredulous. Such would also be the feeling of many subjects of modern revivals, if the Bible conception of redemption were forced on their minds. Hence, one great reform in our preaching must be to return to the scriptural presentation of the gospel in this particular. A grand reform is needed here. This grovelling, utilitarian conception of redemption must be banished. Men must be taught that the blessing is only for them "who hunger and thirst after righteousness," not for those who selfishly desire to grasp enjoyment only, and to shun pain. They must be made to see clearly that such a concern does not in the least differentiate them from reprobate souls in hell, or hardened felons on earth; not even from the thievish fox caught in a trap.

The fourth and the most deceptive natural feeling of the carnal man is instinctive sympathy. It will be necessary to state the nature and conditions of this feeling. First, it belongs to the passive sensibilities, not to the spontaneous appetencies. It is purely instinctive, appearing as powerfully in animals as in men. Witness the excitement of a flock of birds over the cries of a single comrade, and the stampede of a herd of oxen. Next, it is even in man an unintelligent feeling in this sense: that if the emotion of another be merely seen and heard, sympathy is propagated, although the sympathizer understands nothing of the cause of the feeling he witnesses. We come upon a child, who is an utter stranger, weeping; we share the sympathetic saddening before he has had time to tell us what causes his tears. We enter a room where our friends are drowned in laughter. Before we have asked the question, 'Friends, what is the jest?' we find ourselves smiling. We see two strangers afar off exchanging blows; we feel the excitement stimulating us to run thither, while ignorant of the quarrel. Sympathy is in its rise unintelligent and instinctive. The only condition requisite for it, is the beholding of the feeling in a fellow. Third, this law of feeling extends to all the emotions natural to man. We so often connect the word with the emotion of grief, that we overlook its applicability to other feelings, and we forget even its etymology: pathos, in Greek philosophy, did not mean grief only, but every exercise of feeling; so sympathein is to share by spiritual contagion any pathos we witness in our fellows. We sympathize with merriment, joy, fear, anger, hope, benevolence, moral approbation, courage, panic, just as truly as with grief. Fourth, the nature of the emotion witnessed determines, without any volition of our own, the nature of the feeling injected into us. Sympathy with joy is a lesser joy. The glow is that of the secondary rainbow reflecting, but usually in a weaker degree, precisely the tints of the primary arch.

The reader is now prepared to admit these conclusions: that sympathy may infect men with a phase of religious emotion, as of any other; that the sympathetic emotions, though thus related as to their source, have no spiritual character whatever in themselves—for they are involuntary, they are unintelligent, they are passive effects on an instinctive sensibility, giving no expression to the will, and not regulating it nor regulated by it. The animal feels these sympathies as really as the man.

The reader should notice that these propositions are asserted only of the simple sensibility, the immediate reflex of strong feeling witnessed. It is not denied that the capacity of sympathy is a social trait implanted by a wise Creator for practical purposes. It is the instrumental occasion of many useful results. Thus, upon the excitement of sympathy with grief follow the appetency to succor the sufferer, and the benevolent volition. The first is the occasion, not the cause, of the second. On our natural sympathy with the actions we witness, follows our impulse to imitate. But imitation is the great lever of education. So sympathy has been called the sacred “orator's right arm.” Let us understand precisely what it could and cannot do in gaining lodgment for divine truth in the sinner's soul. This truth and this alone is the instrument of sanctification. To Presbyterians the demonstration of this is superfluous. It is impossible for the truth to work sanctification except as it is intelligently received into the mind. Light must reach the heart through the understanding, for the soul only feels healthily according as it sees. To the inattentive mind the truth being unheard, is as though it were not. Hence it is of prime importance to awaken the listless attention. Whatever innocently does this is therefore a useful preliminary instrument for applying the truth. This, sympathy aids to effect. The emotion of the orator arouses the slumbering attention of the sinner, and temporarily wins his ear for the sacred word. Another influence of awakened sympathy may also be conceded. By one application of the law of association, the warmth of a feeling existing in the mind is communicated temporarily to any object coexisting with it in the mind; though that object be in itself indifferent to that soul. The stone dropped into the heated furnace is not combustible, is no source of caloric; but by contact it imbibes some of the heat which flames there, and remains hot for a little time after it is drawn out. So the mind warmed with emotion, either original or sympathetic, is a furnace which gives some of its warmth to truth or concepts coexisting in it, otherwise cold and indifferent to it. But the warmth is merely temporary.

The whole use, then, of the sympathetic excitement is to catch the attention and warm it. But it is the truth thus lodged in the attention that must do the whole work of sanctification. Here is the all-important discrimination. Attention, sympathetic warmth, are merely a preparation for casting in the seed of the Word. The preacher who satisfies himself with exciting the sympathies, and neglects to throw in at once the vital truth, is like the husbandman who digs and rakes the soil, and then idly expects the crop, though he has put in no living seed. The only result is a more rampant growth of weeds. How often do we see this mistake committed! The preacher either displays, in his own person, a high-wrought religious emotion, or stirs the natural sensibilities by painting in exciting and pictorial words and gestures, some natural feeling connected by its occasion with a religious topic, as a touching death or other bereavement; or he stimulates the selfish fears by painting the agonies of a lost soul, or the selfish desires and hopes by a sensuous description of the pleasures of heaven. Then, if sympathetic feeling is awakened, or the carnal passions of hope, fear and desire are moved, he acts as though his work were done. He permits and encourages the hearers to flatter themselves that they are religious, because they are feeling something round about religion. I repeat: if this stimulation of carnal and sympathetic feeling is not at once and wisely used, and used solely as a secondary means of fixing a warmed attention on didactic truth, which is the sole instrument of conversion and sanctification, then the preacher has mischievously abused the souls of his hearers. The first and most obvious mischief is the encouragement of a fatal deception and self-flattery. Unrenewed men are tacitly invited to regard themselves as either born again, or at least in a most encouraging progress towards that blessing; while in fact they have not felt a single feeling or principle which may not be the mere natural product of a dead heart. This delusion has slain its “tens of thousands.”

The reader will remember the masterly exposition by Bishop Butler of the laws of habit as affecting the sensibilities and active powers. Its truth is too fully admitted to need argument. By this law of habit, the sensibilities are inevitably dulled by repeated impressions. By the same law, the appetencies and will are strengthened by voluntary exercise. Thus, if impressions on the sensibilities are followed by their legitimate exertion of the active powers, the soul as a whole, while it grows calmer and less excitable, grows stronger and more energetic in its activities, and is confirmed in the paths of right action. But if the sensibilities are stimulated by objects which make no call, and offer no scope for right action, as by fictitious and unreal pictures of human passion, the soul is uselessly hackneyed and worn, and thus depraved. Here we find one of the fundamental objections to habitual novel reading. The excitement of the sympathies by warmly colored, but unreal, portraitures of passions, where there cannot possibly be any corresponding right action by the reader inasmuch as the agents and sufferers are imaginary, depraves the sensibilities without any retrieval of the soul's state in the corresponding cultivation of the active powers. The longer such reading is continued, the more does the young person become at once sentimental and unfeeling. The result is a selfish and morbid craving for excitement, coupled with a callous selfishness, dead to the claims of real charity and duty. The same objection lies against theatrical exhibitions, and for the same reason. Now this species of spurious religious excitement is obnoxious to the same charge. In its practical results it is fictitious. The merely sensational preacher is no more than a novelist or a comedian, with this circumstance, that he connects topics, popularly deemed religious, with his fictitious arts. He abuses and hackneys the souls of his hearers in the same general way, rendering them at once sentimental and hard, selfishly fond of excitement, but callous to conscience and duty.

Once more; spiritual pride is as natural to man as breathing, or as sin. Its only corrective is sanctifying grace. Let the suggestion be once lodged in a heart not really humbled and cleansed by grace, that the man is reconciled to God, has “become good,” is a favorite of God and heir of glory—that soul cannot fail to be swept away by the gales of spiritual pride. Let observation teach us here. Was there ever a deceived votary of a false religion, of Islam, of Buddhism, of Brahmanism, of Popery, who was not in reality puffed up by spiritual pride? It cannot be otherwise with a deceived votary of a Protestant creed. The circumstance that there is divine truth in this creed, which has no vital influence on his heart, is no safeguard. The only preventive of spiritual pride is the contrition which accompanies saving repentance. Here, also, is the explanation of the fact, that the hearty votaries of those professedly Christian creeds which have more of Pelagianism than of gospel in them, are most bigoted and most hopelessly inaccessible to truth. Their adamantine shield is spiritual pride, fostered by a spurious hope, and unchastened by sovereign grace. Of all such self-deceivers our Saviour has decided that “the publicans and harlots enter into the kingdom before them.”

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Liberal Bigotry

Dr. Johnson, during his tour to the Hebrides, met with a person who like many in the present day was vehemently opposed to creeds and confessions of faith. His principal objection to them was that they are inconsistent with mental freedom. The human mind, he said, is confined by them, and they ought not to be imposed upon it. To this the hard head and robust common- sense of Johnson made answer, that what the objector called imposition is only a voluntary declaration of agreement in certain articles of faith which a church has a right to require, just as any other society can insist upon certain rules being observed by its members. Nobody is compelled to belong to the church, as nobody is compelled to enter a society. This, however, did not satisfy the pertinacious opponent of creeds; and he continued his objections in the same general strain as before. Johnson then silenced him with the remark: "Sir, you are a bigot to laxness."

Bigotry is a blind and unreasonable devotion to an opinion. It may be found in the ranks of infidelity as frequently as in those of politics or religion. The political and especially the theological bigot has had a full share of attention and criticism. The latitudinarian bigot is a species that has been somewhat overlooked, and taking the text we have quoted from Dr. Johnson, we propose to preach a short sermon upon the subject of Liberal Bigotry. Our first remark is, that the liberal thinker, as he styles himself, is a bigot in finding fault with a religious denomination to which he does not be long, for making an honest and manly statement of what it believes. The zeal with which he at tacks a society with which he is not identified, because it holds certain tenets as the condition of membership, is certainly both blind and unreasonable. By what right does he complain of a body of his fellow-men because, in the exercise of their own judgment, they have come to the conclusion that the creed of Calvin or the creed of Arminius is the truth, and that the doctrine of Socinus or of Swedenborg is error? What reason is there in demanding of a large society that they surrender their convictions respecting such subjects as the trinity, the incarnation, the apostasy, and the redemption, and take in lieu of them the opinions of an individual who styles himself a liberal thinker? There might be some reason in this objecting to distinct statements of religious truth, if the objector were himself concerned in the origin and formation of the society adopting them. If it were still an open question, and the disputant were entitled to a voice, then his zeal against creeds would not necessarily be bigoted. But the churches are already in existence. Neither the latitudinarian nor the downright sceptic had anything to do with their origin or constitution, and they have no more part or lot in them than an American democrat has in the monarchy of England. It is the height of bigotry, therefore, when the unbeliever represents the terms of communion which religious denominations have established not for him, but for themselves, as being bigoted and intolerant.

Our second remark is, that the bigot to laxness is himself an inquisitor, and a foe to freely-formed opinion. He is uneasy upon seeing that others have fixed and settled views, and attempts to unsettle them by attacks upon all definite statements of doctrine. Why is he not content with the liberty which he himself enjoys of adopting no particular sentiments, and of maintaining, like the ancient sophists, that there is no absolute truth, and that one thing is just as valid as another? He is allowed his own dislike and rejection of a creed, why should he disallow another man's liking for and adoption of a creed? His complaint over the freely-formed conviction of his fellow-men that the evangelical system is the truth of God, is in reality a protest against their right of private judgment, and a demand that they adopt his opinions upon this point. But this is bigotry. If he would be content with his criticism and attack upon a particular creed, no fault would be found with him. But when, after the criticism and attack, he pronounces the advocate of the creed to be a bigot because he still remains unconvinced by his reasonings and still retains his belief, he passes the line of free and fair discussion, and enters the province of intolerance and bigotry. He does not meet with this treatment from the defender of the faith once delivered to the saints. The charge of bigotry is not often made by the orthodox against the heterodox, but always by the heterodox against the orthodox. Perhaps we are the first since Dr. Johnson to direct attention to the bigotry of laxness. And we do not charge bigotry upon the latitudinarian merely because he attacks the evangelical creed, but because he calls those bigots who are not converted by his arguments.

It is curious to notice how extremes meet. The latitudinarian will be found to be narrow, when he comes to be examined; and the dogmatist will be found to be liberal, when his real position is seen. The former is restless and uneasy upon discovering that his fellow -men in large masses are holding fixed opinions, and are ready to live and die by them. He complains and quarrels with them for so doing. The latter is calm and self-possessed, being satisfied with his freely- formed convictions and his self-consistent creed, and while he does his best to convert to his own views those whom he regards as being in error, yet if he finds himself to be unsuccessful, he enters no querulous complaint and indulges in no bitter intolerance, because he commits all judgment to God and the final day.

The gentle and fair-minded Addison, in one of the Spectators (No. 185), directs attention to what he denominates infidel bigotry. "After having treated of these false zealots in religion, I cannot," he says, "forbear mentioning a monstrous species of men who one would not think had any existence in nature, were they not to be met with in ordinary conversation. I mean the zealots in atheism. Infidelity is propagated with as much fierceness and contention, wrath and indignation, as if the safety of mankind depended upon it. There is something so ridiculous and perverse in this kind of zealots, that one does not know how to set them out in their proper colors. They are a sort of gamesters who are eternally upon the fret, though they play for nothing. They are perpetually teasing their friends to come over to them, though at the same time they allow that neither of them shall get anything by the bargain. In short, the zeal of spreading atheism is, if possible, more absurd than atheism itself. I would fain ask one of these bigoted infidels: Supposing all the great points of atheism, such as the casual or eternal formation of the world, the materiality of a thinking substance, the mortality of the soul, the fortuitous organization of the body, the motions and gravitation of matter, and the like particulars, were laid together and formed into a kind of creed, according to the opinions of the most celebrated atheists, I ask, supposing such a creed as this were formed, and imposed upon any one people in the world, whether it would not require an infinitely greater measure of faith, than any set of articles which they so violently oppose. Let me therefore advise this generation of wranglers, for their own and for the public good, to act at least so consistently with themselves, as not to burn with zeal for irreligion, and with bigotry for nonsense."

The present attack upon the Calvinistic creed by the so-called "liberal" and "progressive" parties in Protestantism, is an example of the zeal of bigotry. The particular opponents of Calvinism of whom we are now speaking are not atheists. They are believers in a deity and the principles of morality, and some of them accept a vague form of evangelical doctrine. But the language of Johnson and Addison nevertheless applies to them. In respect to the five points of Calvinism, and the general type of doctrine contained in the Westminster standards, they are bigoted partisans. The zeal which they exhibit in opposition to this intellectual and powerful theology, is as unintelligent and passionate as anything to be found in any annals whatever. And what is worse, it is an unscrupulous zeal not seen among the orthodox. When did the orthodox ever stoop to the method of the "liberal" theologian? When did Calvinists ever attempt to sap and destroy "progressive" theology, by the plan recommended by some "progressive" theologians for sapping and destroying the Calvinistic faith: the plan of remaining in a denomination after changing one's belief, and trying to subvert the creed of the denomination? What Calvinists ever advised Calvinists publicly to subscribe an anti-Calvinistic creed, and then teach and defend Calvinism within an anti- Calvinistic denomination? What Calvinist ever advised Calvinists to hold office and take emoluments on anti-Calvinistic foundations? What orthodox body has ever put to its own use endowments that were given for the spread of "progressive " theology? The history of religious endowments shows without an exception, if we are not mistaken, that it is the looser creed that filches from the stricter, not the stricter from the looser. Whatever else may be laid to the charge of the advocates of orthodoxy, covert movements, concealed opinions, and double dealing cannot be. They have never burrowed underground; and they have never pretended to be what they are not. And they have insisted that all who join them shall do so in good faith, and hold a common creed. For this they are charged with narrowness and bigotry! The charge falls upon the other party.

 – W.G.T. Shedd, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Conjectural Criticism - W.G.T. Shedd

There are two views of the origin of the Bible, 1. That it is the production of a limited circle of authors mostly contemporaneous with the events, whose names are mentioned in the work itself, and who were divinely inspired for the purpose of producing a book having infallible accuracy and authority. 2. That it is the production of late and unknown editors, who gathered up oral traditions from unknown and often mythical sources, and put them in the form in which they now appear. The first is the Historical view, or that commonly held in ancient, mediaeval, and modern Christendom. The second is the Fragmentary theory, and is confined to individuals and schools in modern Christendom. According to the historical theory, the Pentateuch has Moses for its responsible and inspired author. According to the fragmentary theory, with the exception of a few parts which perhaps may be ascribed to Moses, no man knows who wrote the Pentateuch, any more than where the sepulchre of Moses is. According to the historical theory, the four Gospels are the inspired productions of four men, Matthew, Peter-Mark, Paul-Luke, and John, who received and obeyed their Lord's commission to prepare his biography for the use of the church in all time. According to the fragmentary theory, the four Gospels are the uninspired product of unauthorized persons, later than the apostles, who gathered up the traditions concerning Christ that were floating about in the church, and wrought them into their present shape. Such, briefly stated, is the substantial difference between the two theories. One ascribes the Bible to known and infallible authors; the other to unknown and fallible editors.

1. The first objection to the fragmentary theory of the origin of the Scriptures is that it is late and modern. This, to some persons, is a recommendation. But in estimating theories, if time is to be taken into account, one that has all time behind it is preferable to one that has only a fraction. To be modern and new is a good recommendation for the fashion of a hat, but not for an opinion in science. The latest intelligence from the stock market is more valuable than the latest intelligence in Hebrew. The superficiality characteristic of the present decade is due to a rage for "the last thing out," and the neglect of ancient and standard learning. If a person's reading is confined to works composed in his own time, he will become the victim of a theorist or a coterie of them. His knowledge will be narrow, while he supposes it to be omniscient.

The hypothesis that the Scriptures are a collection and combination by unknown editors is a modern conjecture. Though occasionally broached in the Ancient church, it obtained no currency. It dates from Spinoza and Hobbes, in the seven teenth century, and more particularly in the eighteenth century from Astruc (1725), who applied it to the Pentateuch, and Semler (1750), who applied it to the Gospels and the canon generally. The newness of the theory is an objection to it. For it is highly improbable that all the investigations of Biblical philologists for seventeen hundred years, which corroborate the traditional theory of the origin of the Bible, should suddenly be invalidated by the alleged discoveries of a few theorists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Sudden conversions in religion, like that of St. Paul, are possible, but they suppose an Almighty Author. Such a sudden revolution in Biblical criticism as the refutation of the historical theory and the demonstration of the fragmentary, would be a phenomenon without parallel in literary history.

2. A second objection to the fragmentary theory is, that it is wholly conjectural. Conjecture has its place in all investigation, but it is a very narrow place. It must be employed cautiously and sparingly, and only by the most learned, balanced and judicial minds. That which now goes under the name of "higher criticism" was formerly known as "conjectural criticism," when those standard editions of the Greek and Roman classics were being prepared by the great scholars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which it would now be beyond the power of the nineteenth century to produce, because of its neglect of classical literature and overestimate of physical science. But when these erudite editors of the classics used the conjectural method, it was infrequently and timidly. Whoever ventured to declare a passage to be spurious, or to suggest a new reading that differed from the manuscripts, or new interpretations that departed from those of previous scholars, must furnish strong and conclusive reasons. His ipse dixit would not do. Individual opinions when contradictory to historical were looked upon with suspicion, even when there was extraordinary learning and acumen. Bentley was the most learned classical scholar of his century, and was better qualified to make use of conjecture in editing the Greek and Latin classics than any other one of his tim; but Pope, probably with some of the extravagance and injustice of satire, said of his editions of Milton and Horace:
"To Milton lending sense, and Horace wit,
He made them write what poet never writ."
But this fear of conjectural criticism, and caution in its use, is not characteristic of those modern schools of Biblical philology which are now employing it for the purpose of recasting the Scriptures, in order to force them into the service of anti-supernaturalism and infidelity. In endeavoring to disprove the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, and the Apostolic authorship of the Gospels, they rely chiefly upon the inventiveness and ingenuity of their own intellects in constructing schemes that are unsupported either by documents or testimony. The utmost rashness and recklessness characterize their work. It would be startling, and a refutation of the whole procedure, to see a Hebrew text of the Pentateuch actually edited and published in accordance with the conjectural criticism of Kuenen and Wellhausen, or a Greek text of the Gospels in accordance with that of Baur and Strauss. Critics of this class make hypothesis the substance and staple of their method, employing it excessively and almost exclusively. The Hebrew text of the Pentateuch, without regard to the manuscripts and the history of the text, and with no support from them, is arbitrarily parcelled out into sections and fractions designated by letters of the alphabet, and this fragment is assigned to the "Elohist," and that to the "Jehovist," this to Moses and that to an unknown editor after the exile, and a fifth to the time of Josiah, purely upon the individual guess of a man living three thousand years after Moses. The Greek text of the four Gospels, without regard to the authority of numerous, and some of them very ancient manuscripts, and in contradiction to the early testimony of scholars like Origen and Jerome, and the consensus of Christendom for fifteen hundred years, is declared to be spurious in all such Gospels, and also in such Epistles, as the scheme of the critic requires.

Such effrontery and dogmatism in claiming that the ipse dixit of an individual or a party outweighs the evidence of documents and historical data, and the learning of all the Christian centuries, would not be endured for a moment within the province of secular literature. Nor is such "higher criticism" as this attempted in this department. No one has endeavored to disconnect the Platonic dialogues from the name of Plato, and to prove that they are the production of later editors working over oral discourses of Socrates that were floating in fragmentary form among the circles of the Academy. No one has pretended to a knowledge of Greek literature so much superior to that of the Cudworths and Porsons, the Hermanns and Stallbaums, as to be able to reverse their judgment and demonstrate the spuriousness and late origin of large portions of the Phaedo, Symposium, and Laws. No one has composed a new life of Socrates, evincing that the traditional account of him is erroneous. The credulity that trusts such assurance as this is to be found only among students of the Bible. "The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light." The only important attempt of this kind in classical literature, that of Wolf, though made by the most eminent German philologist of the eighteenth century, was a failure. He did not succeed in persuading the classical circles that the Iliad and Odyssey were not the work of Homer, but of a school of rhapsodists whose oral poems were collected and combined by later editors.

3. A third objection to the fragmentary theory of the origin of the Bible is that it is fatal to its inspiration. If, as a conjectural critic asserts, "the great body of the Old Testament was written by authors whose names are lost in oblivion" (Briggs-Inaugural, p. 33), it was written by uninspired men. Because inspiration, from the nature of the case, was always bestowed upon a particular known person, and is so represented. "God spake unto Moses." "The Lord said unto Samuel." "The word of God came to Nathan." "The word of the Lord came unto David." "The vision of Isaiah which he saw concerning Judah." "The word of the Lord came expressly unto Ezekiel." "God at sundry times spake unto the fathers by the prophets," and the names of these prophets were well known to those to whom they spoke. Inspiration is not an indiscriminate gift of God, like air and water, to anybody and everybody, in any age and every age. It is an extraordinary and rare gift to only a few persons, chosen out of the common mass for the purpose of Divine communications to mankind. The "holy men of God" who "spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" were not anonymous authors, like Walter Scott when he was the great Unknown. They belonged to the Jewish people, and their names are generally mentioned in the Bible in connection with the fact of their inspiration and the time of its occurrence. The moment therefore that inspiration is severed from known individuals, the moment it is disconnected from the college of prophets and apostles, it becomes inspiration "in the air," without locality, history, or evidence. The self consistent advocates of the fragmentary theory, like Kuenen and Wellhausen, perceive that it is incompatible with inspiration, and deny inspiration; but some who are less logical, or more under the restraints of an evangelical connection, try to retain the inspiration of the Pentateuch while denying that Moses is its author. The Pentateuch, they say, was composed long after Moses by some persons no one knows who; but whoever they were they were inspired. This is the inspiration of imaginary persons like John Doe and Richard Roe, and not of definite historical persons like Moses and David, Matthew and John, chosen of God by name and known to men.

The notion that there is an inspiration outside of the Biblical circle of the prophets and apostles, existing anywhere and at all times, and that the unknown collectors and redactors of the Scriptures partook of it, was invented by the recent latitudinarian party in the Presbyterian church who adopted the critical principles of Rationalism, but who from their ecclesiastical connection did not venture to draw the logical conclusion of all Rationalists and deny inspiration altogether. The assertion that an utterly unknown person was an inspired person is absurd on the face of it, and untenable because it is not only destitute of proof but is absolutely incapable of proof. No testimony is possible in the case. No one has ever seen an unknown man work a miracle as evidence of a divine commission; has heard him speak a prophecy or deliver a divine message while under a divine afflatus; or can attest that he was the author of a particular book of Scripture. No proof whatever on such important points as these can be furnished by eye-witnesses and contemporaries. An unknown man, virtually, has no con temporaries; for as no one knows when the man himself lived, so no one knows when his contemporaries did. The only testimony conceivable in the case is that of the conjectural critic, living two or three thousand years later, who merely asserts that the unknown author of the Pentateuch, or Psalms, or Isaiah, was inspired. This, of course, is not of the nature of testimony, because the critic "is of yesterday and knows nothing" of ancient events, and has observed nothing with any of his senses, in the case.

The absurdity of this notion is apparent, when it is considered that nothing whatever can be predicated of an utterly unknown person, any more than of a non-existent one. Attributes and characteristics of every kind are impossible in both cases alike. No one would think of asserting that an utterly unknown man, any more than a non existent man, is black, or has a large nose, or underwent a surgical operation. Such particulars as these can neither be affirmed nor denied in these instances, because nothing at all is known about the person in question, and consequently nothing can be testified to. But an inspiration that cannot be proved is worthless. Mankind demand evidence when the claim to this unique and extraordinary gift of God to the human mind is made. And in the instance of that limited circle of prophets and apostles whose names are mentioned in Scripture as the authors of most of the books, and are copied from Scripture into the catalogue of the canonical books given in the Westminster Confession (i. 2), and into all the Christian creeds that contain articles upon this point, the proof is forth coming. That Moses, Samuel, David and Isaiah were inspired, rests upon testimony of two kinds: first, that of Jesus Christ, who authoritatively indorses the inspiration of the traditional authors of the Old Testament; secondly, that of contemporaries and those who were nearest to contemporaries. These latter do not authoritatively indorse like the Son of God, but only give witness respecting the prophetical and apostolical authorship. The evidence in this last instance relates only to canonicity, and is precisely like that for the authorship of the writings of Plato and Cicero, respecting which there is no scepticism in the literary world. The evidence in the first instance is wholly unlike anything in secular literature, and infinitely higher and more trustworthy, provided that Jesus Christ was not an impostor, but God incarnate. The assertion of the critic to whom we have referred, that it is "not of great importance that we should know the names of those authors chosen by God to mediate his revelation" (Briggs-Inaugural, p. 33), overlooks the fact that in revealed religion the credibility of a doctrine depends upon its source, as well as upon its nature and contents. For example, the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, judged by its mere contents, is the same in the Egyptian Book of the Dead (Rawlinson's Egypt, I. 319) as in 1 Cor. 15:51, 52. Resurrection is resurrection. But when Egyptian priests assert a resurrection of the body, and St. Paul asserts it, the ground of belief for the doctrine is wholly different in the two instances. And the difference is due to the difference in the author ship. In case of an ipse dixit like this, it is important to know who ipse is. St. Paul is a known man, and his inspiration can be proved. The Egyptian priests are unknown men, and if they were known there is no proof that they were inspired. Hence the questions of authorship, and genuineness of authorship, have always been regarded in Christian apologetics as vital; and the endeavor from the first has been to connect every one of the books of the Old and New Testaments with some known inspired prophet or apostle. The sceptical criticism, on the contrary, has from the first endeavored to disconnect them. That the first endeavor is difficult in regard to a few of the books, is no reason why the whole position of Christian apologetics should be surrendered, and the authorship of the Bible be ascribed to utterly unknown persons, living no one knows where, and no one knows when.

A deadly thrust is given to the doctrine of infallible inspiration, by the denial that "the Scriptures were written by or under the superintendence of prophets and apostles." (Briggs-Inaugural, p. 32.) This severs them entirely from that particular circle of persons who were called of God by name, and inspired by him to receive and record his supernatural communications. The Westminster Confession, as well as the creeds of Christendom generally, teaches that the Scriptures were composed by or under the superintendence of the prophets of the Old dispensation, and the apostles of the New, and that these persons, and these only, were "the holy men of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." One of the principal endeavors of Christian apologetics from Eusebius down, has been to present the proof of this. And there is a general consensus in Christian apologetics, respecting the authorship of the canonical books mentioned in the Westminster Confession (i. 2). Its contention is, that they were composed by the persons to whom from the first they have been ascribed by both Jewish and Christian tradition. Respecting the authorship of a few of these books, there is a difference of opinion among Christian apologetes. But the author ship in these instances is still kept within the inspired circle of prophets and apostles, and the endeavor is always made to give the name of the prophet or apostle. It is assumed that if it could be incontrovertibly proved that a particular book was not written by or under the guidance of a prophet or apostle, it is not inspired. Rationalistic criticism dissents from and combats this consensus of Christian apologetics. The reason for this constant aim and office of all the learning of evangelical as opposed to rationalistic criticism is: first, because the books themselves generally claim to be the composition of these particular persons to the exclusion of all other extraneous persons known or unknown; and second, because there were no other inspired persons but the prophets and apostles. If the Bible cannot be proved to be written by the prophets and apostles, it cannot be proved to be inspired at all; because it cannot be proved that there were ever any human beings whatever, excepting these prophets and apostles, that were "moved by the Holy Ghost." The origin of an inspired writing must therefore be brought by competent testimony within this inspired circle or nowhere. And if it is thus brought by ancient Jewish testimony in the case of the Old Testament, and by ancient Christian testimony in the case of the New, it cannot be said to be the product of an utterly unknown author even in the instances when the name of the particular prophet or apostle is debated. For this testimony connects it with a definite circle of inspired per sons whose nationality, time, and place are known. If, for illustration, there is sufficient reason for believing, from Patristic testimony, that the epistle to the Hebrews was composed under the supervision of St. Paul, the doubt whether the penman was Luke, Apollos, or Barnabas, does not make it the product of an "unknown inspired man." The maintenance of this position in apologetics is vital, and has always been so considered. In disconnecting, as the conjectural critic does, the Pentateuch from Moses as its responsible and inspired author, and connecting it with an unknown editor or editors a thousand years later than Moses, he has destroyed its inspiration, because, as we have seen, an unknown man cannot be proved to be one of the "holy men of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." There is no testimony or tradition, either for him or against him, in regard to this point. In algebra, the value of the unknown x can be determined, but there is no assignable value to an unknown inspired man. The denial that the Pentateuch is what our Lord frequently called it, "the book of Moses " (Mark 12:26; Luke 24:27; John 7:19, 22, 23), has the same effect upon its inspired authority and credibility, which the denial that the four Gospels were composed by the four Evangelists has upon the inspiration and credibility of the only source the world has for the life of its divine Redeemer. There were no infallibly inspired persons upon earth between a.d. 33 and a.d. 100, excepting the company of the Apostles chosen by Christ to be the founders of his church, and, if we may so say, his literary executors to write his life for the church in all time; and if the four Gospels were not composed by them, or under their superintendence, they are neither inspired nor infallible. No persons but these were authorized or qualified to prepare the memoirs of his marvellous origin and generation, and of his merciful and sorrowful life (Luke 24:49; John 14:26; 15:26; Acts 1:8). Whoever denies this, and enlarges the circle of New Testament inspiration by asserting that others than the Apostles were inspired by the Holy Ghost, is bound to prove his assertion. As the four Evangelists do in the instance of the "Twelve Apostles," he must mention the names of the persons, the circumstances under which they were called to this office, and the supernatural signs of their inspiration (Matt. 10:1-5; Mark 3:14-19; Luke 6:13-16). The burden of proof is upon the affirmative, not upon the negative. The inspiration of a Biblical writing, therefore, stands or falls with its authenticity and genuineness. If its authorship is forged and spurious; if it is falsely ascribed to the prophets and apostles, and is not their work; it was not written by "holy men of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."

W.G.T. Shedd, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy (1893)

Visitor Counter

Flag Counter