MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH
THE HIGHER CRITICISM
BY PROFESSOR J. J. REEVE,
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas
The purpose of this article is to state in a very brief way the influences which led me to accept certain of the views of the Higher Criticism, and after further consideration, to reject them. Necessarily the reasons for rejecting will be given at greater length than those for accepting. Space will not permit me to mention names of persons, books, articles and various other influences which combined to produce these results. I shall confine myself to an outline of the mental processes which resulted from my contact with the Critical Movement; In outlining this change of view, I shall deal with —
1. THE PRESUPPOSITIONS OF THE HIGHER CRITICISM
These presuppositions and assumptions are the determining elements in the entire movement. Once they are understood, it is not difficult to understand the higher critics. It is their philosophy or world-view that is responsible for all their speculations and theories. Their mental attitude towards the world and its phenomena is the same as their attitude toward the Bible and the religion therein revealed. These presuppositions appealed to me very strongly, Having spent some time at one of the great American universities, thus coming in contact with some of the leading minds of the country, the critical view was presented to me very ably and attractively. Though resisted for a time, the forcefulness of the teaching and influence of the university atmosphere largely won my assent. The critics seemed to have the logic of things on their side. The results at which they had arrived seemed inevitable. But upon closer thinking I saw that the whole movement with its conclusions was the result of the adoption of the hypothesis of evolution. My professors had accepted this view, and were thoroughly convinced of its correctness as a working hypothesis. Thus I was made to feel the power of this hypothesis and to adopt it. This worldview is wonderfully fascinating and almost compelling. The vision of a
cosmos developing from the lowest types and stages upward through beast and man to higher and better man is enchanting and almost overwhelming. That there is a grain of truth in all this most thinkers will concede. One can hardly refuse to believe that through the ages “An increasing purpose runs,” that there is “One God, one law, one element, and one far-off divine event to which the whole creation moves.” This world-view had to me at first a charm and witchery that was almost intoxicating. It created more of a revolution than an evolution in my thinking. But more careful consideration convinced me that the little truth in it served to sugar-coat and give plausibility to some deadly errors that lurked within. I saw that the hypothesis did not apply to a great part of the world’s phenomena. That this theory of evolution underlies and is the inspiration of the Higher Criticism goes without saying. That there is a grain of truth in it we may admit or not, as we see fit, but the whole question is, what kind of evolution is it that has given rise to this criticism. There are many varieties of the theory. There is the Idealism of Hegel, and the Materialism of Haeckel; a theistic evolution and an anti-theistic; the view that it is God’s only method, and the view that it is only one of God’s methods; the theory
that includes a Creator, and the theory that excludes Him; the deistic evolution, which starts the world with God, who then withdraws and leaves it a closed system of cause and effect, antecedent and consequent, which admits of no break or change in the natural process. There is also the theory that on the whole there is progress, but allowance must be made for retrogression and degeneration. This admits of the direct action of God in arresting the downward process and reversing the current; that is, there is an evolution through revelation, etc., rather than a revelation by evolution.
On examining the evolution of the leaders of the Critical School, I found that it was of a naturalistic or practically deistic kind. All natural and mental phenomena are in a closed system of cause and effect, and the hypothesis applies universally, to religion and revelation, as well as to mechanisms.
This type of evolution may not be accepted by all adherents of the Critical School, but it is substantially the view of the leaders, Reuss, Graf, Vatke, Kuenen and Wellhausen. To them all nature and history are a product of forces within and in process of development. There has not been and could not be any direct action of God upon man, there could be no break in the chain of cause and effect, of antecedent and consequent. Hence there can be no miracle or anything of what is known as the supernatural. There could be no “interference” in any way with the natural course of events, there could be no “injection” of any power into the cosmic process from without, God is shut up to the one method of bringing things to pass. He is thus little more than a prisoner in His own cosmos. Thus I discovered that
the Critical Movement was essentially and fundamentally anti-supernatural and anti-miraculous. According to it all religious movements are human developments along natural and materialistic lines. The religion of Israel and the Bible is no exception, as there can be no exception to this principle. The revelation contained in the Bible is, strictly speaking, no revelation; it is a natural development with God in the cosmic process behind it, but yet a steady, straight-lined, mechanical development such as can be traced step by step as a flight of stairs may be measured by a foot-rule. There could have been no epoch-making revelation, no revivals and lapses, no marvelous exhibitions of divine power, no real redemption. With these foregone conclusions fixed in their minds, the entire question is practically
settled beforehand. As it is transparently clear that the Bible on the face of it does not correspond to this view, it must be rearranged so as to correspond to it. To do this, they must deny point-blank the claims and statements of most of the Bible writers. Now, if the Bible claims to be anything, it claims to be a revelation from God, a miraculous or supernatural book, recording the numerous direct acts of God in nature and history, and His interference with the natural course of events. Are the writers of the Bible correct, or are the critics? It is impossible that both should be right.
Reasoning thus, it became perfectly clear to me that the presuppositions and beliefs of the Bible writers and of the critics were absolutely contradictory. To maintain that the modern view is a development and advance upon the Biblical view, is absurd. No presupposition can develop a presupposition which contradicts and nullifies it. To say that the critical position and the Biblical position, or the traditional evangelical view which is the same as the Biblical, are reconcilable, is the most fatuous folly and delusion. Kuenen and others have recognized this contradiction and have acknowledged it, not hesitating to set aside the Biblical view. Many of their disciples have failed to see as clearly as their masters. They think the two can be combined. I was of the same opinion myself, but further reflection showed this to he an impossibility. I thought it possible to accept the results of the Higher Criticism without accepting its presuppositions. This is saying that one can accept as valid and true the results of a process and at the same time deny the validity of the process itself. But does not this involve an inner contradiction and absurdity? If I accept the results of the Kuenen-Wellhausen hypothesis as correct, then I accept as correct the methods and processes which led to these results, and if I accept these methods, I also accept the presuppositions which give rise to these methods. If the “assured results” of which the critics are so fond of boasting are true, then the naturalistic evolution hypothesis which produced these results is correct. Then it is impossible to accept the miraculous or supernatural, the Bible as an authoritative record of supernatural revelation is completely upset and its claims regarding itself are false and misleading. I can see no way of escaping these conclusions.
There is no possible middle ground as I once fondly imagined there was. Thus I was compelled to conclude that although there is some truth in the evolutionary view of the world, yet as an explanation of history and revelation it is utterly inadequate, so inadequate as to be erroneous and false. A world-view must be broad enough to admit of all the facts of history and experience. Even then it is only a human point of view and necessarily imperfect. Will any one dare to say that the evolutionary
hypothesis is divine? Then we would have a Bible and a philosophy both claiming to be divine and absolutely contradicting each other. To attempt to eliminate the miraculous and supernatural from the Bible and accept the remainder as divine is impossible, for they are all one and inextricably woven together. In either case the Book is robbed of its claims to authority. Some critics do not hesitate to deny its authority and thus cut themselves loose from historical Christianity.
In spite, however, of the serious faults of the Higher Criticism, it has given rise to what is known as the Scientific and Historical method in the study
of the Old Testament. This method is destined to stay and render invaluable aid. To the scholarly mind its appeal is irresistible. Only in the light of the historical occasion upon which it was produced, can the Old Testament be properly understood. A flood of light has already been poured in upon these writings. The scientific spirit which gave rise to it is one of the noblest instincts in the intellectual life of man. It is a thirst for the real and the true, that will be satisfied with nothing else. But, noble as is this scientific spirit, and invaluable as is the historical method, there are subtle dangers in connection with them. Everything depends upon the
presuppositions with which we use the method. A certain mental attitude there must be. What shall it be? A materialistic evolution such as Kuenen and his conferees, or a theistic evolution which admits the supernatural?
Investigating in the mental attitude of the first of these, the scholar will inevitably arrive at or accept the results of the critics. Another, working at the same problem with Christian presuppositions, will arrive at very different conclusions. Which shall we have, the point of view of the Christian or the critic? I found that the critics claim to possess the only really scientific method was slightly, true but largely false. His results were scientific because they fitted his hypothesis. The Christian scholar with his broader presuppositions was peremptorily ruled out of court. Anything savoring of the miraculous, etc., could not be scientific to the critic, and hence it could not be true, therefore, it must be discarded or branded as Myth, Legend, Poesy, Saga, etc. Such narrowness of view is scarcely credible on the part of scholars who claim to be so broad and liberal.
Another question confronted me. How can so many Christian scholars and preachers accept the views of the critics and still adhere to evangelical Christianity with intense devotion? As we have seen, to accept the results of Criticism is to accept the methods and presuppositions which produced these results. To accept their assumptions is to accept a naturalistic evolution which is fundamentally contradictory to the Biblical and Christian point of view. It is therefore essentially contradictory to Christianity, for what is the latter if it is not a supernaturally revealed knowledge of the plan of salvation, with supernatural power to effectuate that salvation? All who have experienced the power of Christianity will in the main assent to this definition. How then can Christians who are Higher Critics escape
endorsing the presuppositions of the Critics? There is art inner contradiction between the assumptions of their scientific reason and the assumptions of their religious faith. A careful study of the attitude of these mediating critics, as they are called, has revealed a sense of contradiction somewhere of which they are vaguely conscious. They maintain their attitude by an inconsistency. Thus it is they have many difficulties which they cannot explain. This inner contradiction runs through much of their exegesis and they wonder that evangelical Christians do not accept their views. Already many of them are not quite so sure of their “assured results” as they were. Many evangelical Christians do not accept these views because they can “see through” them.
The second line of thinking which led me to reject the Critics’ view was a consideration of:
2. THEIR METHODS
At first I was enthusiastic over the method. Now at last we have the correct method that will in time solve all difficulties. Let it be readily granted that the historical method has settled many difficulties and will continue to do so, yet the whole question lies in the attitude of mind a man brings to the task. Among the critics their hypothesis is absolute and dominates every attempt to understand the record, shapes every conclusion, arranges and rearranges the facts in its own order, discards
what does not fit or reshapes it to fit. The critics may deny this but their treatment of the Old Testament is too well known to need any proof of it. The use of the Redactor is a case in point. This purely imaginary being, unhistorical and unscientific, is brought into requisition at almost every difficulty. It is acknowledged that at times he acts in a manner wholly inexplicable. To assume such a person interpolating names of God, changing names and making explanations to suit the purposes of their hypothesis and imagination is the very negation of science, notwithstanding their boast of a scientific method. Their minds seem to be in abject slavery to their theory. No reason is more impervious to facts than one preoccupied with a theory which does not agree with these facts. Their mental attitude being biased and partial, their methods are partial and the results very one-sided and untrustworthy. They give more credence to the guesses of some so-called scholar, a clay tablet, a heathen king’s boast, or a rude drawing in stone, than to the Scripture record. They feel instinctively that to accept the Bible statements would be the ruin of their
hypothesis, and what they call their hard-won historical method. In this their instinct is true. The Bible and their hypothesis are irreconcilable. As their theory must not be interfered with, since it is identical with the truth itself, the Bible must stand aside in the interests of truth.
For this reason they deny all historicity to Genesis 1-11, the stories of Creation, the Fall, the Flood, etc. No theory of naturalistic evolution can possibly admit the truth of these chapters. Likewise, there is but a substratum of truth in the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses. Nearly all legislation is denied to the latter, because it represents too rapid an advance, or a stage too advanced. But is such the case?
Centuries before Moses, laws, government, civilization, culture, art, education, religion, temples, ritual and priest-hood had flourished in Babylonia and Egypt and were a chief factor in the education of Moses. With all this previous development upon which to build, what objections to ascribing these laws to Moses, who, during the forty years under divine guidance, selected, purified, heightened, and adopted such laws as best served the needs of the people. The development of external laws and customs had preceded Moses and there is no need to suppose a development afterward in the history of the people. That history records the fitful attempts at the assimilation of these laws. To maintain that they were at first put in the exact form in which they have come down to us is wholly unnecessary and contrary to certain facts in the records themselves. But to my mind one of the greatest weaknesses of the critical position is, that because there is little or no mention of the laws in the history that follows the death of Moses, therefore these laws could not have existed.
To the critic this is one of the strongest arguments in his favor. Now he has found out how to make the history and the laws correspond. But does the non-mention or non-observance of a law prove its non-existence? All history shows that such is not the case. Moreover, the books of Joshua, Judges and Samuel make no pretence at giving a complete detailed history.
If non-mention or non-observance were proof of non-existence, then the Book of the Covenant and Deuteronomy could not have existed until the return from Exile; for the laws against idolatry were not carried out until then. Apply this same method of reasoning to laws in general and the most absurd results will follow. The Decalogue could never have existed, for all of its laws are constantly being broken. No New Testament could have existed through the Dark Ages, for almost every precept in it was violated during that period. The facts of life plainly show that men with the law of God in their hands will continually violate them. But why did not Joshua and those succeeding him for several centuries carry out the law of Moses?
The answer is obvious. The circumstances did not permit of it, and no one, not even Moses, had any idea of the law being fully observed at once. He looked forward to a time when they should be settled and should have a capital and central sanctuary. Moreover, a large portion of the laws was intended for the priest alone and may have been observed. The laws were flexible and to be fulfilled as the circumstances permitted. If the Book of Deuteronomy could not be observed, the Book of the Covenant could be followed. Changes and modifications were purposely made by Moses to meet the demands of the changing circumstances. If the non-fulfillment of these laws proved their non-existence, then the Book of the Covenant and Deuteronomy were not in existence in the time of Jehoiakim, for idolatry was then rampant.
By its arbitrary methods, Modern Criticism does wholesale violence to the record of the discovery of the Law Book as recorded in 2 Kings 22:8-20. It denies any real discovery, distinctly implies fraud upon the part of the writers, assumes a far too easy deception of the king, the prophetess, the king’s counselors, Jeremiah and the people. It implies a marvelous success in perpetrating this forged document on the people; The writers did evil that good might come, and God seems to have been behind it all and endorsed it. Such a transaction is utterly incredible. “The people would not hear Moses and the prophet, yet they were easily persuaded by a forged Mosaic document.” The critics disagree among themselves regarding the authorship of the Book of Deuteronomy. Some maintain it was by the priestly class and some by the prophetic class, but there are insuperable objections to each. They have failed to show why there were so many laws incorporated in it which absolutely contradict a later date and why the Mosaic dress succeeded so well although contradictory to some of the genuinely Mosaic laws.
According to the critics also, Ezra perpetrated a tremendous fraud when he palmed off his completed Code as of Mosaic origin. That the people should accept it as genuinely Mosaic, although it increased their burdens and contradicted many laws previously known as Mosaic, is incredible. That such a people at such a time and under such circumstances could be so easily imposed upon and deceived, and that such a man as Ezra could perform such a colossal fraud and have it all succeed so well, seems inconceivable except by a person whose moral consciousness is dulled or benumbed by some philosophical theory. According to the critics, the
authors of Deuteronomy and the Levitical Code not only produced such intensely religious books and laws, but were at the same time deliberate inventors and falsifiers of history as well as deceivers of the people. What such views imply regarding the character of God who is behind it all we shall consider later.
Space does not permit me to more than refer to the J. E. P. analysis. That certain documents existed and were ultimately combined to make up the five books of Moses no one need doubt. It in no way detracts from their inspiration or authenticity to do so, nor does it in any way deny the essentially Mosaic origin of the legislation. But the J. E. P. analysis on the basis of the different names for God I found to require such an arbitrary handling and artificial manipulation of the text, to need the help of so many Redactors whose methods and motives are wholly inexplicable, with a multitude of exceptions to account for, that I was convinced the analysis could not be maintained. Astruc’s clue in Exodus 6:3, which was the starting point for the analysis, cannot be made to decide the time of the use of the names of God, for the text is not perfectly certain. There is considerable difference between the two readings, “was known,” “made myself known.” Even if God had not previously revealed Himself by the name Jahveh, that does not prove the name unknown or that God was not known by that name. And even if he had so revealed Himself, the earlier record would not be less authentic, for they were either written or rewritten and edited after the revelation to Moses in the light of a fuller revelation. Thus it was made perfectly clear that El, Elohim, El-Elyon, E1- Shaddai, were identical with Jahveh.
The methods of the critics in regarding the earlier histories as little more than fiction and invention, to palm off certain laws as genuinely Mosaic, found some lodgment in my mind for a time. But the more I considered it, the more I was convinced that it was the critics who were the inventors and falsifiers. They were the ones who had such a facile imagination, they could “manufacture” history at their “green tables” to suit their theories and were doing so fast and loose. They could create nations and empires out of a desert, and like the alchemists of the Middle Ages with their magic wand, transform all things into their own special and favorite metal. To charge the Scripture writers with this invention and falsification is grossly to malign them and slander the God that wrought through them. The quality of their products does not lend countenance to such a view, and it is abhorrent to the Christian consciousness. Such a conception cannot be long held by any whose moral and religious natures have not been dulled by their philosophical presuppositions. The habit of discarding the Books of Chronicles, because they give no history of Northern Israel, lay considerable emphasis upon the temple and priesthood, pass over the faults and sins of the kings, etc., and are therefore a biased and untrustworthy history, has appeared to me an aberration from common sense, and is scarcely credible among men of such intelligence. When the compiler of
Chronicles covers the same history of Kings, he agrees with these histories substantially, though varying in some minor details. If he is reliable in this material, why not in the other material, not found in Kings? The real reason is that he records many facts about the temple and its services which do not fit in with the critics’ hypothesis, and therefore something must be done to discredit the Chronicler and get rid of his testimony. But my third reason for rejecting the critical standpoint is
3. THE SPIRIT OF THE MOVEMENT
Grant that there is a genuine scientific interest underlying it all, the real question is, what is the standpoint of the scientific mind which investigates. What is authoritative with him? His philosophical theory and working hypothesis, or his religious faith? In other words, does his religion or philosophy control his thinking? Is it reason or faith that is supreme? Is his authority human or divine? There is no question here of having one without the other, that is, having faith without reason, for that is impossible. The question is, which is supreme? For some time I thought one could hold these views of the Old Testament and still retain his faith in evangelical
Christianity. I found, however, that this could be done only by holding my philosophy in check and within certain limits. It could not be rigorously applied to all things. Two supreme things could not exist in the mind at the same time. If my theories were supreme, then I was following human reason, not faith, and was a rationalist to that extent. If the presuppositions of my religious faith were supreme and in accordance with the Biblical presuppositions and beliefs, then my philosophy must be held in abeyance. The fundamentals of our religious faith, as known in the Bible and history, are a belief in divine revelation, the miraculous birth, the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the God-Man. Inseparable from these there is also the fact of a supernatural power in regeneration. The philosophy of the
critics cannot consistently make room for these. Thus the real question becomes one of authority, viz.: shall the scientific hypothesis be supreme in my thinking, or the presuppositions of the Christian faith? If I make my philosophical viewpoint supreme, then I am compelled to construe the Bible and Christianity through my theory and everything which may not fit into that theory must be rejected. This is the actual standpoint of the critic.
His is a philosophical rather than a religious spirit. Such was Gnosticism in the early centuries. It construed Christ and Christianity through the categories of a Graeco-Oriental philosophy and thus was compelled to reject some of the essentials of Christianity. Such was the Scholasticism of the Middle Ages, which construed Christianity through the categories of the Aristotelian Logic and the Neo-platonic Philosophy. Such is the Higher Criticism which construes everything through the hypothesis of evolution.
The spirit of the movement is thus essentially scholastic and rationalistic. It became more and more obvious to me that the movement was entirely intellectual, an attempt in reality to intellectualize all religious phenomena. I saw also that it was a partial and one-sided intellectualism, with a strong bias against the fundamental tenets of Biblical Christianity. Such a movement does not produce that intellectual humility which belongs to the Christian mind. On the contrary, it is responsible for a vast amount of intellectual pride, an aristocracy of intellect with all the snobbery which usually accompanies that term. Do they not exactly correspond to Paul’s
word, “vainly puffed up in his fleshly mind and not holding fast the head, etc.?” They have a splendid scorn for all opinions which do not agree with theirs. Under the spell of this sublime contempt they think they can ignore anything that does not square with their evolutionary hypothesis. The center of gravity of their thinking is in the theoretical not in the religious, in reason, not in faith. Supremely satisfied with its self-constituted authority, the mind thinks itself competent to criticise the Bible, the thinking of all the centuries, and even Jesus Christ Himself. The followers of this cult have their full share of the frailties of human nature. Rarely, if ever, can a
thoroughgoing critic be an evangelist, or even evangelistic; he is educational. How is it possible for a preacher to be a power for God, whose source of authority is his own reason and convictions? The Bible can scarcely contain more than good advice for such a man.
I was much impressed with their boast of having all scholarship on their side. It is very gratifying to feel oneself abreast with the times, up to date, and in the front rank of thought. But some investigation and consideration led me to see that the boast of scholarship is tremendously overdone. Many leading scholars are with them, but a majority of the most reverent and judicious scholars are not. The arrogant boasts of these people would be very amusing, if they were not so influential. Certainly most of the books put forth of late by Old Testament scholars are on their side, but there is a formidable list on the other side and it is growing larger every day.
Conservative scholarship is rapidly awakening, and, while it will retain the legitimate use of the invaluable historical method, will sweep from the field most of the speculations of the critics. A striking characteristic of these people is a persistent ignoring of what is written on the other side. They think to kill their antagonist by either ignoring or despising him. They treat their opponents something as Goliath treated David, and in the end the result will be similar. They have made no attempt to answer Robertson’s “The Early Religion of Israel;” Orr’s “The Problem of the Old Testament,” Wiener’s “Studies in Biblical Law” and “Studies in Pentateuchical
Criticism,” etc. They still treat these books which have undermined the very foundations of their theories with the same magnificent scorn. There is a nemesis in such an attitude.
But the spirit of the critical movement manifests some very doubtful aspects in its practical working out among the pastors and churches. Adherents of this movement accept the spiritual oversight of churches which hold fast to the Biblical view of the Bible, while they know that their own views will undermine many of the most cherished beliefs of the churches. Many try to be critics and conservative at the same time. They would “run with the hare and hunt with the hounds,” professing to be in full sympathy with evangelical Christianity while abiding their opportunity to inculcate their own views, which, as we have seen, is really to forsake
the Christian standpoint. The morality of such conduct is, to say the least, very doubtful. It has led to much mischief among the churches and injury to the work. A preacher who has thoroughly imbibed these beliefs has no proper place in an evangelical Christian pulpit. Such a spirit is not according to the spirit of the religion they profess to believe. But another weighty reason for rejecting the Higher Criticism is
4. A CONSIDERATION OF ITS RESULTS
Ten or twenty years ago these scholars believed their views would immensely advance the cause of Christianity and true religion. They are by no means so sure of that now. It is not meeting with the universal acceptance they anticipated. Making a mere hypothesis the supreme thing in our thinking, we are forced to construe everything accordingly. Thus the Bible, the Christ and the religious experiences of men are subjected to the same scientific analysis. Carry this out to its logical conclusion and what would be the result? There would be all science and no religion. In the array of scientific facts all religion would be evaporated. God, Christ, the Bible, and all else would be reduced to a mathematical or chemical formula. This is the ideal and goal of the evolutionary hypothesis. The rationalist would rejoice at it, but the Christian mind shrinks with horror from it. The Christian consciousness perceives that an hypothesis which leads to such results is one of its deadliest foes.
Another danger also arises here. When one makes his philosophy his authority, it is not a long step until he makes himself his own god. His own reason becomes supreme in his thinking and this reason becomes his lord. This is the inevitable logic of the hypothesis mentioned, and some adherents of the school have taken this step. They recognize no authority but their own moral instincts and philosophical reason. Now, as the evolution theory makes all things exist only in a state of change, of flux, or of becoming, God is therefore changing and developing, the Bible and Christ will be outgrown, Christianity itself will be left behind. Hence, there
is no absolute truth, nothing in the moral religious world is fixed or certain. All truth is in solution; there is no precipitate upon which we can rely. There is no absolute standard of Ethics, no authority in religion, every one is practically his own god. Jesus Christ is politely thanked for His services in the past, gallantly conducted to the confines of His world and bowed out as He is no longer needed and His presence might be very troublesome to some people. Such a religion is the very negation of Christianity, is a distinct reversion to heathenism. It may be a cultured and refined heathenism with a Christian veneer, but yet a genuine heathenism.
I am far from saying that all adherents of this school go to such lengths, but why do they not? Most of them had an early training under the best conservative influences which inculcated a wholesome reverence for the Bible as an authority in religion and morals. This training they can never fully outgrow. Many of them are of a good, sturdy religious ancestry, of rigid, conservative training and genuine religious experience. Under these influences they have acquired a strong hold upon Christianity and can never be removed from it. They hold a theoretical standpoint and a religious experience together, failing, as I believe, to see the fundamental
contradiction between them. Slowly the Christian consciousness and Christian scholarship are asserting themselves. Men are beginning to see how irreconcilable the two positions are and there will be the inevitable cleavage in the future. Churches are none too soon or too seriously alarmed. Christianity is beginning to see that its very existence is at stake in this subtle attempt to do away with the supernatural, I have seen the Unitarian, the Jew, the free thinker, and the Christian who has imbibed critical views, in thorough agreement on the Old Testament and its teachings. They can readily hobnob together, for the religious element becomes a lost quantity; the Bible itself becomes a plaything for the intellect, a merry-go-round for the mind partially intoxicated with its theory.
As has been already intimated, one of the results of the critical processes has been to rearrange the Bible according to its own point of view. This means that it has to a large extent set it aside as an authority. Such a result is serious enough, but a much more serious result follows. This is the reflection such a Bible casts upon the character and methods of God in His revelation of Himself to men. It will scarcely be doubted by even a radical critic, that the Bible is the most uplifting book in the world, that its religious teachings are the best the world has known. If such be the case, it must reflect more of God’s character and methods than any other book.
The writers themselves must exemplify many of the traits of the God they write about. What then must be the methods of a holy and loving God? If He teaches men truth by parable or history or illustration, the one essential thing about these parables or histories is that they be true to life or history or nature. Can a God who is absolutely just and holy teach men truths about Himself by means of that which is false? Men may have taught truth by means of falsehoods and other instruments and perhaps succeeded, but God can hardly be legitimately conceived of as using any such means. Jesus Christ taught the greatest of truths by means of parables, illustrations, etc., but every one was true to life or nature or history. The Christian consciousness, which is the highest expression of the religious life of mankind, can never conceive of Jesus as using that which was in itself untrue, as a vehicle to convey that which is true. In like manner if God had anything to do with the Old Testament, would He make use of mere myths, legends, sagas, invented and falsified history, which have no foundation in fact and are neither true to nature, history nor life? Will God seek to uplift mankind by means of falsehood? Will He sanction the use of such dishonest means and pious frauds, such as a large part of the Pentateuch is, if the critics are right? Could He make use of such means for such a holy purpose and let His people feed on falsehood for centuries and centuries and deceive them into righteousness? Falsehood will not do God’s will; only truth can do that. Is there nothing in the story of creation, of the fall, the flood, the call and promise to Abraham, the life of Jacob and Joseph and the great work of Moses? If all these things are not true to fact or to life, then God has been an arch-deceiver and acts on the Jesuit maxim, “The end justifies the means.” This would apply to the finding of the Law in Josiah’s time, and the giving of the law under Ezra. That such a lot of spurious history, deceptive inventions and falsifying history should achieve such a success is most astonishing. Is it possible that a holy God should be behind all this and promote righteousness thereby? This surely is conniving at evil and using methods unworthy of the name of God. To say that God
was shut up to such a method is preposterous. Such a conception of God as is implied in the critical position is abhorrent to one who believes in a
God of truth.
Perhaps the Book of Daniel at the hands of the critic best illustrates this point. No one can deny the religious quality of the book. It has sublime heights and depths and has had a mighty influence in the world. No one can read the book carefully and reverently without feeling its power. Yet according to the modern view the first six or seven chapters have but a grain of truth in them. They picture in a wonderfully vivid manner the supernatural help of God in giving Daniel power to interpret dreams, in delivering from the fiery furnace, in saving from the lion’s mouth, smiting King Nebuchadnezzar, etc. All this is high religious teaching, has had a great influence for good and was intended for a message from God to encourage faith. Yet, according to the critics these events had no foundation in fact, the supernatural did not take place, the supposed facts upon which these sublime religious lessons are based could never have occurred. Yet the God of truth has used such a book with such teaching to do great good in the world. He thus made abundant use of fiction and falsehood. According to this view He has also been deceiving the best people of the world for millenniums, using the false and palming it off as true. Such a God may be believed in by a critic, but the Christian
consciousness revolts at it. It is worthy of a Zeus, or perhaps the Demiurge of Marcion, but He is not the God of Israel, not the God and Father of Jesus Christ. “But,” says the critic, “the religious lessons are great and good.” Are they? Can a story or illustration or parable teach good religious lessons when it is in itself essentially untrue to nature, history and life? To assert such a thing would seem to imply a moral and religious blindness that is scarcely credible. It is true there are many grave difficulties in the book of Daniel, but are they as great as the moral difficulty implied in the critical view?
The foregoing embody my chief reasons for rejecting the position of the Critical School with which I was once in sympathy. Their positions are not merely vagaries, they are essentially attempts to undermine revelation, the Bible and evangelical Christianity. If these views should ultimately prevail, Christianity will be set aside for what is known as the New Religion, which is no religion, but a philosophy. All critics believe that traditional Christianity will largely, if not altogether, give place to the modern view, as it is called. But we maintain that traditional Christianity has the right of way. It must and will be somewhat modified by the conception of a
developing revelation and the application of the historical method, but must prevail in all its essential features. It has a noble ancestry and a glorious history. The Bible writers are all on its side; the bulk of Jewish scholars of the past are in the procession; it has Jesus, the Son of God, in its ranks with the apostles, prophets, the martyrs, the reformers, the theologians, the missionaries and the great preachers and evangelists. The great mass of God’s people are with it. I prefer to belong to that goodly company rather than with the heathen Porphyry, the pantheistic Spinoza, the immoral Astruc, the rationalistic Reuss, Vatke, Graf, Kuenen and Wellhausen, with a multitude of their disciples of all grades. Theirs is a new traditionalism begun by those men and handed down to others in England and America.
Most of these disciples owe their religions life and training almost entirely to the traditional view. The movement has quickened study of the Old Testament, has given a valuable method, a great many facts, a fresh point of view, but its extravagancies, its vagaries, its false assumptions and immoralities will in time be sloughed by the Christian consciousness as in the past it has sloughed off Gnosticism, Pantheism, Scholasticism and a host of other philosophical or scientific fads and fancies.