« AnteriorContinuar »
will lead them even to the end. Scripture itself is the record of the struggles and conflicts through which human faith has long since triumphantly passed; it bears witness to a divine truth which has never failed, and a love which has never abandoned its purpose.
Thus encouraged faith may calmly confront new problems, neither minimizing their importance nor exaggerating their difficulty. This at any rate is the temper in which our subject is to be approached. Our aim is to consider in a constructive and practical spirit some fundamental aspects of the Old Testament, regarded as a divine message to mankind for all time.
It has appeared after careful consideration, that the object in view might be most satisfactorily attained, not by attempting to reconstruct the history of Israel -a task which Mr. Montefiore has with striking ability achieved in his Hibbert Lectures — but by approaching the subject from the point of view of Old Testament theology. If we wish to reassure persons who suppose that Christianity itself is endangered by the results of Old Testament criticism, we shall find it advisable to start from the great religious thoughts and verities which Christianity has inherited from the Jewish Church and to look at them afresh in the light of modern research. It is not indeed as mere inquirers or searchers after truth that we approach the Old Testament, but rather as men of faith eagerly desiring to understand more intelligently the ways of One who has already made Himself known to us in Christ and who requires of men truth in the inward parts. We have to use our faculties honestly as in His sight. For St. Paul, as we have noticed, claims for Christians the judicial office; he implies that it is the function of Christian reason to pass judgment on the phenomena of human life and the products of human wisdom or skill. But Christian reason is synonymous with the mind of Christ. The fixed standpoint from which a Christian approaches the consideration of all problems, ethical, social, or intellectual, is that of belief in the person of Him who by the presence of His Spirit inhabits and enlightens the Church. A true estimate of the Old Testament, its character, purpose, and teaching, is only possible on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man.
1 I Cor. ii. 16.
First of all, then, we approach the Old Testament as believers in the Incarnation of the Son of God: that unique revelation of the glory and love of the Father, which lies at the root of all our Christian life and experience. We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ 1. In comparison with this fact all that foreshadowed it in the world's history, or in the literature which enshrined the expectation of good things to come, is of secondary importance and interest. We know that the Son of God is come. In their assurance of this divine gift, Christians can bear with much uncertainty and perplexity in regard to problems which lie on the fringe of God's self-revelation. But something is to be gained from a closer survey of the Incarnation in relation to the task which at present engages our attention, for it is a fact which necessarily illustrates the divine method of dealing with mankind. For example, the Incarnation is the perfect consecration of nature. It is the crowning example of the employment by God of media, of the appropriation of things visible and material as organs and vehicles of divine gifts to mankind. In the Incarnation, Almighty God reveals Himself as a being who wills to take things common and make them instruments of grace
I John v. 20.
and power ; to consecrate human nature, and elevate it into fellowship with the divine life; to convey spiritual blessings to the world through the mediation of human service and human suffering. Again, the Incarnation reveals to us a love which addresses itself to the actual conditions, and accommodates itself to the present needs, of mankind. “Accommodation,' it has been said, 'is an essential principle in the method of a revelation of grace?'; and on a broad scale we are familiar enough with the exhibition of this principle in Hebrew history. In the election and education of a peculiar people, God is seen taking man as He finds him to make him what as yet he is not, adapting Himself to the existing capacities of a backward and untutored race. That this is the true inner secret of the Old Testament history we are assured when we study the life and work of the incarnate Son. If Jesus Christ were merely the last and most eminent of a line of prophets, there would be more to be said for that familiar type of criticism which represents Israel's religious development as a purely natural phenomenon, having its starting-point and controlling principle not in any intervention or guidance of a gracious and loving God, not in any supernatural revelation imparted to elect souls at different epochs in Israel's history, but in fetichism, or totemism, or polytheism, whence by a slow process of purely natural evolution it passed to its final stage in ethical monotheism ?. Here we touch one of the distinctive features of Israel's religion, which separates it sharply from other contemporary religions of antiquity, namely, that it is a religion of revelation, whereas they are products of the ordinary development of man's religious and moral faculties 3.
The Incarnation, then, sets a seal of confirmation
A. B. Bruce, The Chief End of Revelation, p. 113.
to the general principle which was really at work in Israel's religious history; it reveals the secret of its upward tendency, namely, the condescending love and patience of God. And to that condescension who shall venture to prescribe limitations, considering what we now know of the depth to which divine love will stoop in order to win man from his sin and lead him to holiness ? In the light of God's actual dealings with the world in the gift of His Son, we can appreciate better all that recent research has taught us respecting the close affinity between Israel's early faith and practice, and that of its heathen neighbours and kinsfolk. It no longer startles us to find the divine wisdom adopting, regulating, and consecrating to higher uses traditional customs or practices common to the entire Semitic race, in order to employ them as elements in a system of rudimentary instruction and of graduated moral discipline. We cannot be surprised even to find that very low and inadequate conceptions of the Godhead are accepted as the necessary basis of higher and more spiritual ideas. Indeed, not to enlarge upon so familiar a theme, it is enough to recall the saying of Wellhausen, that the religion of the Old Testament 'did not so much make men partakers in a divine life, as make God a partaker in the life of men?' If God really was, as we believe, preparing the world for such an event as the tabernacling of God with men, we have no occasion for wonder that He should, through long centuries of education, have accommodated Himself to what was partial, rude, and imperfect, while ever aiming at that which was perfect.
'God a partaker in the life of men.' Let us pause to consider the significance of this expression in its application to our subject. Does it not suggest that the divine action will inevitably transcend the range
Sketch of the History of Israel and Judah, p. 17. The first volume of Renan's Histoire du peuple d'Israël is a striking illustration of this thesis, in spite of much in its pages that seems arbitrary, prejudiced, and fantastic.
of our experience, and possibly contradict the first suggestions, though not the ultimate conclusions, of reason itself ? If the love of God be love indeed, it will not be deterred from self-manifestation. It will break down barriers. It will adapt itself to the actual situation. It will use the available material, the instruments ready to hand. There will be no limit to the range of divine condescension, except that imposed by the law of perfect holiness.
'What lacks then of perfection fit for God
Then is the tale true and God shows complete.' And, indeed, such a fact as the Incarnation, a mystery of which St. Paul and St. John have taught us the cosmic significance, inevitably suggests that in all departments of its operation, the love of God will exhibit a certain uniformity of method. Hence, we are only reasoning as serious Christians must necessarily reason, when we apply to the questions involved in the present day study of the Old Testament principles suggested by the acknowledged fact of the Incarnation. Let us follow out this line of thought somewhat in detail.
1. First let us bear in mind that in the Bible the Word of God comes to us!, and addresses us as beings capable of moral response. The Bible appeals to us as an inspired book, a divine product. It is one as the person of Christ is one. Whatever conclusions may be ultimately ascertained as to its structure and the mode of its formation, it presents itself to us as a whole, possessed of a certain unmis
* We must not without caution identify the Word of God' with *Scripture.' Such an identification is not biblical and is open to serious objections. In the Old Testament the term Word of God is applied chiefly to particular declarations of the purposes or promises of God, especially to those made by the prophets ; in the New Testament it denotes commonly the gospel message.' (Driver, Sermons on Old Testamint Subjects, pp. 158, 159.)