|Bible Research > English Versions > McAfee > The Bible in the Life of Today|
THIS lecture must differ at two points from those which have preceded it. In the first place, the other lectures have dealt entirely with facts. This must deal also with judgments. In the earlier lectures we have avoided any consideration of what ought to have been and have centered our interest on what actually did occur. We especially avoided any argument based on a theory of the literary characteristics or literary influence of the Bible, but sought first to find the facts and then to discover what explained them. It might be very difficult to determine what is the actual place of the Bible in the life of to-day. Perhaps it would be impossible to give a broad, fair judgment. It is quite certain that the people of James's day did not realize the place it was taking. It is equally certain that many of those whom it most influenced were entirely unconscious of the fact. It is only when we look back upon the scene that we discover the influence that was moving them. But, while it is difficult to say what the place of the Bible actually is in our own times, the place it ought to have is easier to point out. That will involve a study of the conditions of our times, which suggest the need for its influence. While we must consider the facts, therefore, we will be compelled to pass some judgments also, and therein this lecture must differ from the others.
The second fact of difference is that while the earlier lectures have dealt with the King James version, this must deal rather with the Bible. For the King James version is not the Bible. There are many versions; there is but one Bible. Whatever the translators put into the various tongues, the Bible itself remains the same. There are values in the new versions; but they are simply the old value of the Bible itself. It is a familiar maxim that the newest version is the oldest Bible. We are not making the Bible up to date when we make a new version; we are only getting back to its date. A revision in our day is the effort to take out of the original writings what men of King James's day may have put in, and give them so much the better chance. There is no revised Bible; there is only a revised version. Readers sometimes feel disturbed at what they consider the changes made in the Bible. The fact is, the revision which deserves the name is lessening the changes in the Bible; it is giving us the Bible as it actually was and taking from us elements which were not part of it. One can sympathize with the eloquent Dr. Storrs, who declared, in an address in 1879, that he was against any new version because of the history of the King James version, describing it as a great oak with roots running deep and branches spreading wide. He declared we were not ready to give it up for any modern tulip-tree. There is something in that, though such figures are not always good argument. Yet the value to any book of a worthy translation is beyond calculation. The outstanding literary illustration of that fact is familiar. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam lay in Persian literature and in different English translations long before Fitzgerald made it a household classic for literary people. The translator made the book for us in more marked way than the original writer did. In somewhat the same way the King James version gave to the English-speaking people the Bible; and no other version has taken its place.
Yet that was not a mistaken move nearly forty years ago, when the revision of the King James version was proposed and undertaken. Thirty years ago (1881) it was completed in what we ordinarily call the Revised Version, and ten years ago (1901) the American form of that Revised Version appeared. Few things could more definitely prove the accepted place of the King James version than the fact that we seem to hear less to-day of the Revised Version than we used to hear, and that, while the American Revised Version is incomparably the best in existence in its reproduction of the original, even it makes way slowly. In less than forty years the King James version crowded all its competitors off the field. The presence of the Revised Version of 1881 has not appreciably affected the sales or the demand for the King James version. In the minds of most people the English and the American revisions stand as admirable commentaries on the King James version. If one wishes to know wherein the King James version failed of representing the original, he will learn it better from those versions than from any number of commentaries; but the number of those to whom one or other of the versions has supplanted the King James version is not so large as might have been expected.
There were several reasons for a new English version of the Bible. It was, of course, no indignity to the King James version. Those translators frankly said that they had no hope to make a final version of the Scriptures. It would be very strange if in three hundred years language should not have grown by reason of the necessities of the race that used it, so that at some points a book might be outgrown. In another lecture it has been intimated that the English Bible, by reason of its constant use, has tended to fix and confirm the English language. But no one book, nor any set of books, could confine a living tongue. Some of the reasons for a new version which give value to these two revisions may be mentioned.
1. Though the King James version was made just after the literary renaissance, the classical learning of to-day is far in advance of that day. The King James version is occasionally defective in its use of tenses and verbs in the Greek and also in the Hebrew. We have Greek and Hebrew scholars who are able more exactly to reproduce in English the meaning of the original. It would be strange if that were not so.
2. Then there have been new and important discoveries of Biblical literature which date earlier in Christian history than any our fathers knew three hundred years ago. In some instances those earlier discoveries have shown that a phrase here or there has been wrongly introduced into the text. There has been no marked instance where a phrase was added by the revisers; that is, a phrase dropped out of the original and now replaced. One illustration of the omission of a phrase will be enough. In the fifth chapter of I John the seventh verse reads: "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one." In the revised versions it is omitted, because it seems quite certain that it was not in the original writing. It does not at all alter the meaning of Scripture. While it appears in most of the best manuscripts which were available for the King James translators, earlier manuscripts found since that time have shown that it was formerly written at the side as a gloss, and was by some transcriber set over in the text itself. The process of making the early manuscripts shows how easily that could have occurred. Let us suppose that two or three manuscripts were being made at once by different copyists. One was set to read the original; as he read, the others wrote. It would be easy to suppose that he might read this marginal reference as a suitable commentary on the text, and that one or more of the writers could have written it in the text. It could easily happen also that a copyist, even seeing where it stood, might suppose it had been omitted by the earlier copyist, and that he had completed his work by putting it on the margin. So the next copyist would put it into his own text. Once in a manuscript, it would readily become part of the accepted form. Discoveries that bring that sort of thing to light are of value in giving us an accurate version of the original Bible.
3. Then there are in our King James version a few archaic and obsolete phrases. We have already spoken of them. Most of them have been avoided in the revised versions. The neuter possessive pronoun, for example, has been put in. Animal names have been clarified, obsolete expressions have been replaced by more familiar ones, and so on.
4. Then there were certain inaccuracies in the King James version. The fact is familiar that they transliterated certain words which they could not well translate. In the revised versions that has been carried farther still. The words which they translated "hell" have been put back into their Hebrew and Greek equivalents, and appear as Sheol and Hades. Another instance is that of an Old Testament word, Asherah, which was translated always "grove," and was used to describe the object of worship of the early enemies of Israel. The translation does not quite represent the fact, and the revisers have therefore replaced the old Hebrew word Asherah. The transliterations of the King James version have not been changed into translations. Instead, the number of transliterations has been increased in the interest of accuracy. At one point one might incline to be adversely critical of the American revisers. They have transliterated the Hebrew word Jehovah; so they have taken sides in a controversy where scholars have room to differ. The version would have gained in strength if it had retained the dignified and noble word "Lord," which comes as near representing the idea of the Hebrew word for God as any word we could find. It must be added that the English of neither of our new versions has the rhythm and movement of the old version. That is partly because we are so accustomed to the old expressions and new ones strike the ear unpleasantly. In any case, the versions differ plainly in their English. It seems most unlikely that either of these versions shall ever have the literary influence of the King James, though any man who will prophesy about, that affects a wisdom which he has not.
These, then, are the two differences between this lecture and the preceding ones, that in this lecture we shall deal with judgments as well as facts, and that we shall deal with the Bible of to-day rather than the King James version.
Passing to the heart of the subject, the question appears at once whether the Bible has or can have to-day the influence or the place which it seems to have had in the past. Two things, force that question: Has not the critical study of the Bible itself robbed it of its place of authority, and have not the changes of our times destroyed its possibilities of influence? That is, on the one hand, has not the Bible been changed? On the other hand, has it not come into such new conditions that it cannot do its old work?
It is a natural but a most mistaken idea that the critical study of the Bible is a new thing. From long before the childhood of any of us there has been sharp controversy about the Bible. It is a controversy-provoking Book. It cannot accept blind faith. It always has made men think, and it makes them think in the line of their own times. The days when no questions were raised about the Bible were the days when men had no access to it.
There are some who take all the Bible for granted. They know that there is indifference to it among friends and in their social circle; but how real the dispute about the Bible is no one realizes until he comes where new ideas, say ideas of socialism, are in the air. There, with the breaking of other chains, is a mighty effort to break this bond also. In such circles the Bible is little read. It is discussed, and time-worn objections are bandied about, always growing as they pass. In these circles also every supposedly adverse result of critical study is welcomed and remembered. If it is said that there are unexplained contradictions in the Bible, that fact is remembered. But if it is said further that those contradictions bid fair to yield to further critical study, or to a wiser understanding of the situations in which they are involved, that fact is overlooked. The tendency in these circles is to keep alive rather the adverse phases of critical study than its favorable phases. Some of those who speak most fiercely about the study of the Bible, by what is known as higher criticism, are least intelligent as to what higher criticism actually means. Believers regret it, and unbelievers rejoice in it. As a matter of fact, in developing any strong feeling about higher criticism one only falls a prey to words; he mistakes the meaning of both the words involved.
Criticism does not mean finding fault with the Bible. 1 It is almost an argument for total depravity that we have made the word gain an adverse meaning, so that if the average man were told that he had been "criticized" by another be would suppose that something had been said against him. Of course, intelligent people know that that is not necessarily involved. When Kant wrote The Critique of Pure Reason he was not finding fault with pure reason. He was only making careful analytical study of it. Now, critical study of the Bible is only careful study of it. It finds vastly more new beauties than unseen defects. In the same way the adjective "higher" comes in for misunderstanding. It does not mean superior; it means more difficult. Lower criticism is the study of the text itself. What word ought to be here, and exactly what does that word mean? What is the comparative value of this manuscript over against that one? If this manuscript has a certain word and that other has a slightly different one, which word ought to be used?
Take one illustration from the Old Testament and one from the New to show what lower or textual criticism does. In the ninth chapter of Isaiah the third verse reads: "Thou hast multiplied the nation and not increased the joy." That word "not" is troublesome. It disagrees with the rest of the passage. Now it happens that there are two Hebrew words pronounced "lo," just alike in sound, but spelled differently. One means "not," the other means "to him" or "his." Put the second word in, and the sentence reads: "Thou hast multiplied the nation and increased its joy." That fits the context exactly. Lower criticism declares that it is therefore the probable reading, and corrects the text in that way.
The other illustration is from the Epistle of James, where in the fourth chapter the second verse reads: "Ye lust, and have not; ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain; ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not." Now there is no commentator nor thoughtful reader who is not arrested by that word "kill." It does not seem to belong there. It is far more violent than anything else in the whole text, and it is difficult to understand in what sense the persons to whom James was writing could be said to kill. Yet there is no Greek manuscript which does not have that word. Well, it is in the field of lower criticism to observe that there is a Greek word which sounds very much like this word "kill," which means to envy; that would fit exactly into the whole text here. All that lower criticism can do is to point out such a probability.
When this form of criticism has done its part, and careful study has yielded a text which holds together and which represents the very best which scholarship can find for the original, there is still a field more difficult than that, higher in the sense that it demands a larger and broader view of the whole subject. Here one studies the meaning of the whole, the ideas in it, seeks to find how the revelation of God has progressed according to the capacities of men to receive it. Higher criticism is the careful study of the historical and original meanings of Scripture, the effort to determine dates and times and, so far as may be, the author of each writing, analyzing its ideas, the general Greek or Hebrew style, the relation of part to part. That is not a thing to be afraid of. It is a method of study used in every realm. It is true that some of the men who have followed that method have made others afraid of it, because they were afraid of these men themselves. It is possible to claim far too much for such study. But if the result of higher criticism should be to show that the latter half of the prophecy of Isaiah is much later than the earlier half, that is not a destruction of the Word of God. It is not an irreverent result of study. If the result of higher criticism is to show that by reason of its content, and the lessons which it especially urges, the Epistle to the Hebrews was not written by the Apostle Paul, as it does not at any point claim to have been, why, that is not irreverent, that is not destructive. There is a destructive form of higher criticism; against that there is reason to set up bulwarks. But there is a constructive form of it also. Scholarly opinion will tell any one who asks that criticism has not affected the fundamental values of the Bible. In the studies which have just now been made we have not instanced anything in the Bible that is subject to change. No matter what the result of critical study may be, the fundamental democracy of the Scripture remains. It continues to make its persistent moral appeal on any terms. Both those great facts continue. Other great facts abide with them. And on their account it is to our interest to know as much as we can learn about it. The Bible has not been lessened in its value, has not been weakened in itself, by anything that has taken place in critical study. On the other hand, the net result of such studies as archaeology has been the confirmation of much that was once disputed. Sir William Ramsay is authority for saying that the spade of the excavator is to-day digging the grave of many enemies of the Bible.
Take the second question, whether these times have not in them elements that weaken the hold of the Bible. There again we must distinguish between facts and judgments. There are certain things in these times which relax the hold of any authoritative book. There is a general relaxing of the sense of authority. It does not come alone from the intellectual awakening, because so far as that awakening is concerned, it has affected quite as much men who continue loyal to the authority of the Bible as others. No, this relaxing of the sense of authority is the result of the first feeling of democracy which does not know law. Democracy ought to mean that men are left independent of the control of other individuals because they realize and wish to obey the control of God or of the whole equally with their fellows. When, instead, one feels independent of others, and adds to that no sense of a higher control which he must be free to obey, the result is not democracy, but individualism. Democracy involves control; individualism does not. A vast number of people in passing from any sense of the right of another individual to control them have also passed out of the sense of the right of God or of the whole to control them. So that from a good many all sense of authority has passed. It is characteristic of our age. And it is a stage in our progress toward real democracy, toward true human liberty.
Observe that relaxed sense of authority in the common attitude toward law. Most men feel it right to disregard a law of the community which they do not like. It appears in trivial things. If the community requires that ashes be kept in a metal receptacle, citizens approve it in general, but reserve to themselves the right to consider it a foolish law and to do something else if that is not entirely convenient. If the law says that paper must not be thrown on the sidewalk, it means little that it is the law. Those who are inclined to be clean and neat and do not like to see paper lying around will keep the law; those who are otherwise will be indifferent to it. That is at the root of the matter-of-course saying that a law cannot be enforced unless public opinion sustains it. Under any democratic system laws virtually always have the majority opinion back of them; but the minority reserve the right to disregard them if they choose, and the minority will be more aggressive. Rising from those relaxations of law into far more important ones, it appears that men in business life, feeling themselves hampered by legislation, set themselves to find a way to evade it, justifying themselves in doing so. The mere fact that it is the law does not weigh heavily. This is, however, only an inevitable stage in progress from the earliest periods of democracy to later and more substantial periods. It is a stage which will pass. There will come a democracy where the rule of the whole is frankly recognized, and where each man holds himself independent of his fellows only in the sense that he will claim the right to hold such relation to God and his duty as he himself may apprehend.
In these times, also, the development of temporal and material prosperity with the intellectual mood which is involved in that affects the attitude of the age toward the Bible. Sometimes it is spoken of as a scientific age over against the earlier philosophical ages. Perhaps that will do for a rough statement of the facts. It is the age of experiment, of trying things out, and there naturally works into men a feeling that the things that will yield to the most material scientific experimentation are the things about which they can be certain and which are of real value. That naturally involves a good deal of appreciation of the present, and calls for the improvement of the conditions of present life first of all. It looks more important to see that a man is well fed, well housed, well clothed, and well educated than that he should have the interests of eternity pressed on his attention. That is a comparatively late feeling. It issues partly from the fact that this is a scientific age, when science has had its attention turned to the needs of humanity.
Another result of our scientific age is the magnifying of the natural, while the Bible frankly asserts the supernatural. No effort to get the supernatural out of the Bible, in order to make it entirely acceptable to the man who scouts the supernatural, has thus far proved successful. Of course, the supernatural can be taken out of the Bible; but it will destroy the Bible. Nor is there much gain in playing with words and insisting that everything is supernatural or that everything is natural. There is a difference between the two, and in an age which insists upon nature or natural laws or forces or events as all-sufficient it is almost inevitable that the Bible should lose its hold, at least temporarily.
Regarding all this there are some things that need to be said. For one thing, this, too, is a passing condition. As a matter of fact, men are not creatures of time. They actually have eternal connections, and the great outstanding facts which have always made eternity of importance continue. The fact is that men continue to die, and that the men who are left behind cannot avoid the sense of mystery and awe which is involved in that fact. The fact also is that the human emotions cannot be explained on the lower basis, and the only reason men think they can be is because they have in the back of their minds the old explanations which they cast into the lower forms, deceiving themselves into thinking they are new ideas when they are not.
It ought to be added that the Bible has greatly suffered in all its history at the hands of men who have believed in it and have fought in its behalf. Many of the controversies which were hottest were needless and injurious. All the folly has not been on one side. Some one referred the other day to a list of more than a hundred scientific theories which were proposed at the beginning of the last century and abandoned at the end of it. Scientific men are feeling their way, many of them reverently and devoutly, some of them rather blatantly and with a readiness for publication, which hastens them into notoriety. But there has been enough folly on both sides to make every one go cautiously. It has been remarked that in Dr. Draper's book The Conflict Between Science and Religion he makes science appear as a strong-limbed angel of God whereas religion is always a great ass. The title of the book itself is not fair. In no proper understanding of the words can there be any conflict between science and religion. There can be a conflict, as Dr. Andrew D. White puts it, between science and theology. There can certainly be contest between scientists and religionists. Science and religion have no conflict.
It is interesting to observe how far back most of the supposed conflicts actually lie. There is no warfare now; and, while our fathers one or two generations ago felt that they must fly to the defense of religion against the attacks of science, no man wastes his strength doing that to-day. That period has passed. The trouble is that some good people do not know it, and are just fond enough of a bit of a tussle to keep up the fighting in the mountain-passes while out in the plain the main armies have laid down their arms and are busy tilling the soil.
The period of conflict is past, partly because we are learning to distinguish between the Bible as it really is and certain long-established ideas about the Bible which came from other sources and have become attached to it until it seemed to sustain them. The proper doctrine of evolution is entirely compatible with the Bible. The great Dr. Hodge declared that the consistent Darwinian must be an atheist. For that matter, Shelley defended himself by saying that, of course, "the consistent Newtonian must necessarily be an atheist." But fifty years have made great changes in the doctrine of evolution, and the old scare has been over for some time. Newton is honored in the church quite as much as in the university, and Darwin is not a name to frighten anybody. Understanding evolution better and knowing the Bible better, the two do not jangle out of tune so badly but that harmony is promised.
The doctrine of the antiquity of the world is entirely compatible with the Bible, though it is not compatible with the dates which Archbishop Ussher, in the time of King James, put at the head of the columns. That is so with other scientific theories. Any one who has read much of history has attended the obsequies of so many theories in the realm of science that he ought to know that he is wasting his strength in trying to bring about a constant reconciliation between scientific and religious theories. It is his part to keep an open mind in assurance of the unity of truth, an assurance that there is no fact which can possibly come to light and no true theory of facts which can possibly be formed which does not serve the interest of the truth, which the Bible also presents. The Bible does not concern itself with all departments of knowledge. So far as mistakes have been made on the side of those who believe it, they have issued from forgetting that fact more than from any other one cause.
On the other hand, it has sometimes occurred that believers in the Bible have been quite too eager to accommodate themselves to purely passing phases of objection to it. The matter mentioned a moment ago, the excision of the supernatural, is a case in point. The easy and glib way in which some have sought to get around difficulties, by talking in large terms about the progressiveness of the revelation, as though the progress were from error to truth, instead of from half light to full light, is another illustration. The nimble way in which we have turned what is given as history into fiction, and allowed imagination to roam through the Bible, is another illustration. One of our later writers tells the story of Jonah, and says it sounds like fiction; why not call it fiction? Another tells the story of the exodus from Egypt, and says it sounds like fiction; why not call it fiction? Well, certainly the objection is not to the presence of fiction in the Bible. It is there, openly, confessedly, unashamed. Fiction can be used with great profit in teaching religious truth. But fiction may not masquerade in the guise of history, if men are to be led by it or mastered by it. If the way to be rid of difficulties in a narrative is to turn it into pious fiction, there are other instances where it might be used for relief in emergencies. The story of the crucifixion of Christ can be told so that it sounds like fiction; why not call it fiction? Certainly the story of the conversion of Paul can be made to sound like fiction; why not call it fiction? And there is hardly any bit of narrative that can be made to sound so like fiction as the landing of the Pilgrims; why not call that fiction? It is the easy way out; the difficulties are all gone like Alice's cat, and there is left only the broad smile of some moral lesson to be learned from the fiction. It is not, however, the courageous nor the perfectly square way out. Violence has to be done to the plain narrative; historical statement has to be made only a mask. And the only reason for it is that there are difficulties not yet cleared. As for the characters involved, Charles Reade, the novelist, calling himself "a veteran writer of fiction," declares that the explanation of these characters, Jonah being one of them, by invention is incredible and absurd: "Such a man [as himself] knows the artifices and the elements of art. Here the artifices are absent, and the elements surpassed." It is not uncommon for one who has found this easy way out of difficulties to declare with a wave of his hand, that everybody now knows that this or that book in the Bible is fiction, when, as a matter of fact, that is not at all an admitted opinion. The Bible will never gain its place and retain its authority while those who believe in it are spineless and topple over at the first touch of some one's objection. It could not be a great Book; it could not serve the purposes of a race if it presented no problems of understanding and of belief, and all short and easy methods of getting rid of those problems are certain to leave important elements of them out of sight.
All this means that the changes of these times rather present additional reason for a renewed hold on the Bible. It presents what the times peculiarly need. Instead of making the influence of the Bible impossible, these changes make the need for the Bible the greater and give it greater opportunity.
Add three notable points at which these times feel and still need the influence of the Bible. First, they have and still need its literary influence. So far as its ideas and forces and words are interwoven in the great literature of the past, it is essential still to the understanding of that literature. It remains true that English literature, certainly of the past and also of the present, cannot be understood without knowledge of the Bible. The Yale professor of literature, quoted so often, says: "It would be worth while to read the Bible carefully and repeatedly, if only as a key to modern culture, for to those who are unfamiliar with its teachings and its diction all that is best in English literature of the present century is as a sealed book."
From time to time there occur painful reminders of the fact that men supposed to know literature do not understand it because they are not familiar with the Bible. Some years ago a college president tested a class of thirty-four men with a score of extracts from Tennyson, each of which contained a Scriptural allusion, none of them obscure. The replies were suggestive and quite appalling. Tennyson wrote, in the "Supposed Confessions":
"My sin was a thorn among the thorns that girt Thy brow."
Of these thirty-four young men nine of them did not understand that quotation. Tennyson wrote:
"Like Hezekiah's, backward runs The shadow of my days."
Thirty-two of the thirty-four did not know what that meant. The meaning of the line,
"For I have flung thee pearls and find thee swine,"
was utterly obscure to twenty-two of the thirty-four. One of them said it was a reference to "good opportunities given but not improved." Another said it was equivalent to the counsel "not to expect to find gold in a hay-stack." Even the line,
"A Jonah's gourd Up in one night, and due to sudden sun,"
was utterly baffling to twenty-eight of the thirty-four. One of them spoke of it as an "allusion to the uncertainty of the length of life." Another thought it was a reference to "the occasion of Jonah's being preserved by the whale." Another counted it "an allusion to the emesis of Jonah by the whale." Another considered it a reference to "the swallowing of Jonah by a whale," and yet another considered that it referred to "things grand, but not worthy of worship because they are perishable." It is amazing to read that in response to Tennyson's lines,
"Follow Light and do the Right—for man can half control his doom—Till you find the deathless Angel seated in the vacant tomb,"
only sixteen were able to give an explanation of its meaning! The lines from the "Holy Grail" were equally baffling:
"Perhaps like Him of Cana in Holy Writ, Our Arthur kept his best until the last."
Twenty-four of these thirty-four young men could not recall what that meant. One said that the keeping of the best wine until the last meant "waiting till the last moment to be baptized!"
All that may be solely the fault of these young men. Professor Lounsbury once said that his experience in the class-room had taught him the infinite capacity of the human mind to withstand the introduction of knowledge. Very likely earnest effort had been made to teach these young men the Bible; but it is manifest that they had successfully resisted the efforts. If Tennyson were the only poet who could not be understood without knowledge of the Bible, it might not matter so much, but no one can read Browning nor Carlyle nor Macaulay nor Huxley with entire intelligence without knowledge of the greater facts and forces of Scripture. The value of the allusions can be shown by comparing them with those of mythology. No one can read most of Shelley with entire satisfaction without a knowledge of Greek mythology. That is one reason why Shelley has so much passed out of popularity. We do not know Greek mythology, and we have very largely lost Shelley from our literary possession. The chief power of these other great writers will go from us when our knowledge of the Scripture goes.
The danger is not simply with reference to the great literature of the past. There is danger of losing appreciation of the more delicate touches of current literature, sometimes of a complete missing of the meaning. An orator describing present political and social conditions used a fine phrase, that "it is time the nation camped for a season at the foot of the mount." Only a knowledge of Bible history will bring as a flash before one the nation in the desert at Sinai learning the meaning and power of law. Yet an intelligent man, hearing that remark, said that he counted it a fine figure, that he thought there did come in the life of every nation a time before it began its ascent to the heights when it ought to pause and camp at the foot of the mountain to get its breath! After Lincoln's assassination Garfield stood on the steps in New York, and said: "Clouds and darkness are around about him! God reigns and the government at Washington still lives!" Years after, some one referring to that, said that it was a beautiful sentence, that the reference to "clouds and darkness" was a beautiful symbolism, but that Garfield had a great knack in the building-up of fine phrases! He lacked utterly the background of the great Psalm which was in Garfield's mind, and which gives that phrase double meaning. If we go back to Tennyson again, some one has proposed the inquiry why he should have called one of his poems "Rizpah," since there was no one of that name mentioned in the whole poem! When, some years ago, a book was published, The Children of Gideon, one of the reviewers could not understand why that title was used, since no one of that name appeared in the entire volume. And when Mrs. Wharton's book, The House of Mirth, came out some one spoke of the irony of the title; but it is the irony of the Scriptures and the book calls for a Scriptural knowledge for its entire understanding.
Take even an encyclopedia article. Who can understand these two sentences without instant knowledge of Scripture? "Marlowe and Shakespeare, the young Davids of the day, tried the armor of Saul before they went out to battle, then wisely laid it off." "Arnold, like Aaron of old, stands between the dead and the living; but, unlike Aaron, he holds no smoking censor of propitiation to stay the plague which he feels to be devouring his generation." 2 That is in an encyclopedia to which young people are often referred. What will they make out of it without the Bible? In a widely distributed school paper, in the question-and-answer department, occurs the inquiry: "Who composed the inscription on the Liberty Bell?" The inscription is, "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all the inhabitants thereof." 3 It is to be hoped it was a very young person who needed to ask who "composed" that expression!
This applies to all the great classics. There has come about a "decay of literary allusions," as one of our papers editorially says. In much of our writing, either the transient or the permanent, men can no longer risk easy reference to classical literature. "Readers of American biography must often be struck with the important part which literary recollection played in the life of a cultured person a generation or two ago. These men had read Homer, Xenophon and Virgil, Shakespeare, Byron and Wordsworth, Lamb, De Quincey and Coleridge. They were not afraid of being called pedants because they occasionally used a Latin phrase or referred to some great name of Greece or Rome." That is not so commonly true to-day. Especially is there danger of losing easy acquaintance with the great Bible references.
There are familiar reasons for it. For one thing, there has been a great increase of literature. Once there was little to read, and that little became familiar. One would have been ashamed to pretend to culture and not to know such literature well. Now there is so much that one cannot know it all, and most men follow the line of least resistance. That line is not where great literature lies. Once the problem was how to get books enough for a family library. Now the problem is how to get library enough for the books. Magazines, papers, volumes of all grades overflow. "The Bible has been buried beneath a landslide of books." The result is that the greatest literary landmark of the English tongue threatens to become unknown, or else to be looked upon as of antiquarian rather than present worth. There our Puritan fathers had the advantage. As President Faunce puts it: "For them the Bible was the norm and goal of all study. They had achieved the concentration of studies, and the Bible was the center. They learned to read that they might read the literature of Israel; their writing was heavy with noble Old Testament phrases; the names of Old Testament heroes they gave to their children; its words of immortal hope they inscribed on their tombstones; its Mosaic commonwealth they sought to realize in England and America; its decalogue was the foundation of their laws, and its prophecies were a light shining in a dark place. Such a unification of knowledge produced a unified character, simple, stalwart, invincible." It is very different in our own day. As so-called literature increases it robs great literature of its conspicuous outstanding character, and many men who pride themselves on the amount they read would do far better to read a thousandth part as much and let that smaller part be good.
Another reason for this decay of the influence of literary knowledge of the Bible is the shallowness of much of our thinking. If the Bible were needed for nothing else in present literary life, it would be needed for the deepening of literary currents. The vast flood of flotsam and jetsam which pours from the presses seldom floats on a deep current. It is surface matter for the most part. It does not take itself seriously, and it is quite impossible to take it seriously. It does not deal with great themes, or when it touches upon them it deals with them in a trifling way. To men interested chiefly in literature of this kind the Bible cannot be of interest.
That is a passing condition, and out of it is certain to come here and there a masterpiece of literature. When it does appear, it will be found to reveal the same influences that have made great literature in the past, issuing more largely from the Bible than from any other book. That is the main point of a bit of counsel which Professor Bowen used to give his Harvard students. To form a good English style, he told them, a student ought to keep near at hand a Bible, a volume of Shakespeare, and Bacon's essays. That group of books would enlarge the vocabulary, would supply a store of words, phrases, and, allusions, and save the necessity of ransacking a meager and hide-bound diction in order to make one's meaning plain. Coleridge in his Table-Talk adds that "intense study of the Bible will keep any writer from being VULGAR in point of style." So it may be urged that these times have and still need the literary influence of the Bible.
Add that the times have and still need its moral steadying. Every age seems to its own thoughtful people to lack moral steadiness, and they tend to compare it with other ages which look steadier. That is a virtually invariable opinion of such men. The comparison with other ages is generally fallacious, yet the fact is real for each age. Many things tend in this age to unsettle moral solidity. Some of them are peculiar to this time, others are not. But one of the great influences which the Bible is perpetually tending to counteract is stated in best terms in an experience of Henry M. Stanley. It was on that journey to Africa when be found David Livingstone, under commission from one of the great newspapers. Naturally he had made up his load as light as possible. Of books he had none save the Bible; but wrapped about his bottles of medicine and other articles were many copies of newspapers. Stanley says that "strangest of all his experiences were the changes wrought in him by the reading of the Bible and those newspapers in melancholy Africa." He was frequently sick with African fever, and took up the Bible to while away his hours of recovery. During the hours of health he read the newspapers. "And thus, somehow or other, my views toward newspapers were entirely recast," while he held loyal to his profession as a newspaper man. This is the critical sentence in Stanley's telling of the story: "As seen in my loneliness, there was this difference between the Bible and the newspapers. The one reminded me that apart from God my life was but a bubble of air, and it made me remember my Creator; the other fostered arrogance and worldliness." 4 There is no denying such an experience as that. That is precisely the moral effect of the Bible as compared with the moral effect of the newspaper accounts of current life. Democracy should always be happy; but it must always be serious, morally steady. Anything that tends to give men light views of wrong, to make evil things humorous, to set out the ridiculous side of gross sins is perilous to democracy. It not only is injurious to personal morals; it is bound sooner or later to injure public morals. There is nothing that so persistently counteracts that tendency of current literature as does the Bible.
From an ethical point of view, "the ethical content of Paul is quite as important for us as the system of Schopenhauer or Nietzsche. The organization of the New England town meeting is no more weighty for the American boy than the organization of the early Christian Church. John Adams and John Hancock and Abraham Lincoln are only the natural successors of the great Hebrew champions of liberty and righteousness who faced Pharoah and Ahab and put to flight armies of aliens." But aside from the definite ethical teaching of the Bible there is need for that strong impression of ethical values which it gives in the characters around which it has gathered. The conception of the Bible which makes it appear as a steady progression should add to its authority, not take from it. The development is not from error to truth, but from light to more light. It is sometimes said that the standards of morality of some parts of Scripture are not to be commended. But they are not the standards of morality of Scripture, but of their times. They are not taught in Scripture; they are only stated; and they are so stated that instantly a thoughtful man discovers that they are stated to be condemned. When did it become true that all that is told of a good man is to be approved? It is not pretended that Abraham did right always. David was confessedly wrong. They move much of the time in half-light, yet the sum total of the impression of their writings is inevitably and invariably for a more substantial morality. These times need the moral steadying of the Bible to make men, not creatures of the day arid not creatures of their whims, but creatures of all time and of fundamental laws.
Add the third fact, that our times have and still need the religious influence of the Bible. No democracy can dispense with religious culture. No book makes for religion as does the Bible. That is its chief purpose. No book can take its place; no influence can supplant it. Max Muller made lifelong study of the Buddhist and other Indian books. He gave them to the English-speaking world. Yet he wrote to a friend of his impression of the immense superiority of the Bible in such terms that his friend replied: "Yes, you are right; how tremendously ahead of other sacred books is the Bible! The difference strikes one as almost unfairly great." 5 Writing in an India paper, The Kayestha Samachar, in August, 1902, a Hindu writer said: "I am not a Christian; but half an hour's study of the Bible will do more to remodel a man than a whole day spent in repeating the slokas of the Purinas or the mantras of the Rig-Veda." In the earlier chapters of the Koran Christians are frequently spoken of as "people of the Book." It is a suggestive phrase. If Christianity has any value for American life, then the Bible has just that value. Christianity is made by the Bible; it has never been vital nor nationally influential for good without the Bible.
Sometimes, because of his strong words regarding the conflict between science and theology, the venerable American diplomat and educator, Dr. Andrew D. White, is thought of as a foe to religion. No one who reads his biography can have that impression half an hour. Near the close of it is a paragraph of singular insight and authority which fits just this connection: "It will, in my opinion, be a sad day for this or for any people when there shall have come in them an atrophy of the religious nature; when they shall have suppressed the need of communication, no matter how vague, with a supreme power in the universe; when the ties which bind men of similar modes of thought in the various religious organizations shall be dissolved; when men, instead of meeting their fellow-men in assemblages for public worship which give them a sense of brotherhood, shall lounge at home or in clubs; when men and women, instead of bringing themselves at stated periods into an atmosphere of prayer, praise, and aspiration, to hear the discussion of higher spiritual themes, to be stirred by appeals to their nobler nature in behalf of faith, hope, and charity, and to be moved by a closer realization of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, shall stay at home and give their thoughts to the Sunday papers, or to the conduct of their business, or to the languid search for some refuge from boredom." 6 Those are wise, strong words, and they sustain to the full what has been urged, that these times still need the religious influence of the Bible.
The influence of the Bible on the literary, moral, and religious life of the times is already apparent. But that influence needs to be constantly strengthened. There remains, therefore, to suggest some methods of giving the Bible increasing power. It should be recognized first and last that only thoughtful people will do it. No help will come from careless people. Moreover, only people who believe in the common folk will do it. Those who are aristocrats in the sense that they do not believe that common people can be trusted will not concern themselves to increase the power of the Bible. But for those who are thoughtful and essentially democratic the duty is a very plain one. There are four great agencies which may well magnify the Bible and whose influence will bring the Bible into increasing power in national life.
First among these, of course, must be the Church. The accent which it will place on the Bible will naturally be on its religious value, though its moral value will take a close second place. It is essential for the Church to hold itself true to its religious foundations. Only men who have some position of leadership can realize the immense pressure that is on to-day to draw the Church into forms of activity and methods of service which are much to be commended, but which have to be constantly guarded lest they deprive it of power and concern in the things which are peculiar to its own life and which it and it alone can contribute to the public good. The Church needs to develop for itself far better methods of instruction in the Bible, so that it may as far as possible drill those who come under its influence in the knowledge of the Bible for its distinctive religious value. This is neither the time nor the place for a full statement of that responsibility. It is enough to see how the very logic of the life of the Church requires that it return with renewed energy to its magnifying and teaching of the Bible.
The second agency which may be called upon is the press. The accent of the press will be on the moral value of the Bible, the service which its teaching renders to the national and personal life. There seems to be a hopeful returning tendency to allusions to the Scripture in newspaper and magazine publications. It is rare to find among the higher-level newspapers an editorial page, where the most thoughtful writing appears, in which on any day there do not appear Scripture allusions or references. When that is seriously done, when Scripture is used for some other purpose than to point a jest, it helps to restore the Bible to its place in public thought. In recent years there has been a noticeable return of the greater magazines to consideration of the moral phases of the Scripture. That has been inevitably connected with the development of a social sense which condemns men for their evil courses because of their damage to society. The Old Testament prophets are living their lives again in these days, and the more thoughtful men are being driven back to them for the great principles on which they may live safely.
The third agency which needs to magnify the Bible is the school. The accent which it will choose will naturally be the literary value of the Bible, though it will not overlook its moral value as well. Incidental references heretofore have suggested the importance of religion in a democracy. But there are none of the great branches of the teaching of the schools, public or private, which do not involve the Bible. It is impossible to teach history fairly and fully without a frank recognition of the influence of the Bible. Study the Reformation, the Puritan movement, the Pilgrim journeys, the whole of early American history! We can leave the Bible out only by trifling with the facts. Certainly literature cannot be taught without it. And if it is the purpose of the schools to develop character and moral life, then there is high authority for saying that the Bible ought to have place.
Forty years ago Mr. Huxley, in his essay on "The School Boards: What They Can Do, and What They May Do," laid a broad foundation for thinking at this point, and his words bear quoting at some length: "I have always been strongly in favor of secular education, in the sense of education without theology; but I must confess I have been no less seriously perplexed to know by what practical measures the religious feeling, which is the essential basis of conduct, was to be kept up, in the present utterly chaotic state of opinion on these matters, without the use of the Bible. The pagan moralists lack life and color, and even the noble stoic, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, is too high and refined for an ordinary child. Take the Bible as a whole; make the severest deductions which fair criticism can dictate for shortcomings and positive errors; eliminate, as a sensible lay teacher would do if left to himself, all that is not desirable for children to occupy themselves with; and there still remains in this old literature a vast residuum of moral beauty and grandeur. And then consider the great historical fact that, for three centuries, this Book has been woven into the life of all that is best and noblest in English history; that it has become the national epic of Britain, and is as familiar to noble and simple, from John-o'-Groat's House to Land's End, as Dante and Tasso once were to the Italians; that it is written in the noblest and purest English, and abounds in exquisite beauties of mere literary form; and, finally, that it forbids the veriest hind who never left his village to be ignorant of the existence of other countries and other civilizations, and of a great past, stretching back to the furthest limits of the oldest nations of the world. By the study of what other book could children be so much humanized and made to feel that each figure in that vast historical procession fills, like themselves, but a momentary space in the interval between two eternities; and earns the blessings or the curses of all time, according to its effort to do good and hate evil, even as they also are earning their payment for their work? On the whole, then, I am in favor of reading the Bible, with such grammatical, geographical, and historical explanations by a lay teacher as may be needful, with rigid exclusion of any further theological teaching than that contained in the Bible itself." Mr. Huxley is an Englishman, though, as Professor Moulton says, "We divide him between England and America." But Professor Moulton himself is very urgent in this same matter. If the classics of Greece and Rome are in the nature of ancestral literature, an equal position belongs to the literature of the Bible. "If our intellect and imagination have been formed by Greece, have we not in similar fashion drawn our moral and emotional training from Hebrew thought?" It is one of the curiosities of our civilization that we are content to go for our liberal education to literatures which morally are at opposite poles from ourselves; literatures in which the most exalted tone is often an apotheosis of the sensuous, which degrade divinity, not only to the human level, but to the lowest level of humanity. "It is surely good that our youth during the formative period should have displayed to them, in a literary dress as brilliant as that of Greek literature, a people dominated by an utter passion for righteousness, a people whose ideas of purity, of infinite good, of universal order, of faith in the irresistible downfall of moral evil, moved to a poetic passion as fervid and speech as musical as when Sappho sang of love or Eschylus thundered his deep notes of destiny." 7
But there is a leading American voice which will speak in that behalf, in President Nicholas Murray Butler, of Columbia University. In his address as President of the National Educational Association, President Butler makes strong plea for the reading of the Bible even in public schools. "His reason had no connection with religion. It was based on altogether different ground. He regarded an acquaintance with the Bible as absolutely indispensable to the proper understanding of English literature." It is unfortunate in the extreme, he thought, that so many young men are growing up without that knowledge of the Bible which every one must have if he means to be capable of the greatest literary pleasure and appreciation of the literature of his own people. Not only the allusions, but the whole tone and bias of many English authors will become to one who is ignorant of the Bible most difficult and even impossible of comprehension.
The difficulties of calling public schools to this task appear at once. It would be monstrous if they should be sectarian or proselytizing. But the Bible is not a sectarian Book. It is the Book of greatest literature. It is the Book of mightiest morals. It is governing history. It is affecting literature as nothing else has done. A thousand pities that any petty squabbling or differences of opinion should prevent the young people in the schools from realizing the grandeur and beauty of it!
But the final and most important agency. which will magnify the influence of the Bible must necessarily be the home. It will gather up all its traits, religious, moral, and literary. Here is the fundamental opportunity and the fundamental obligation. Robert Burns was right in finding the secret of Scotia's power in such scenes as those of "The Cottar's Saturday Night." One can almost see Carlyle going back to his old home at Ecclefechan and standing outside to hear his old mother making a prayer in his behalf. A newspaper editorial of recent date says this decay of literary allusion is traceable in part to the gradual abandonment of family prayers. Answering President Butler, it is urged that it is not so important that the Bible be in the public schools as that it get back again into the homes. "Thorough acquaintance with the Bible is desirable; it should be fostered. The person who will have to foster it, though," says this writer, "is not the teacher, but the parent. The parent is the person whom Dr. Butler should try to convert." Well, while there may be differences about the school, there can be none about the place of the Bible in the home. It needs to be bound up with the earliest impressions and intertwined with those impressions as they deepen and extend.
So, by the Church, which will accent its religious value; by the press, which will accent its moral power; by the school, which will spread its literary influence; and by the home, which will realize all three and make it seem a vital concern from the beginning of life, the Bible will be put and held in the place of power to-day which it has had in the years that are gone, and will steadily gain greater power.
1 Jefferson, Things Fundamental, p. 90.
2 New International Encyclopedia, art. on English Literature.
3 Current Events, January 12, 1912.
4 Autobiography, p. 252.
5 Speer, Light of the World, iv.
6 Autobiography, vol. ii, p. 570.
7 Literary Study of the Bible, passim.
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