PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION OF THE GOSPEL OF THE PENTATEUCH
TO THE REV. CANON STANLEY.
My Dear Stanley,
I dedicate these Sermons to you, not that I may make you responsible for any doctrine or statement contained in them, but as the simplest method of telling you how much they owe to your book on the Jewish Church, and of expressing my deep gratitude to you for publishing that book at such a time as this.
It has given to me (and I doubt not to many other clergymen) a fresh confidence and energy in preaching to my people the Gospel of the Old Testament as the same with that of the New; and without it, many of these Sermons would have been very different from, and I am certain very inferior to, what they are now, by the help of your admirable book.
Brought up, like all Cambridge men of the last generation, upon Paley's Evidences, I had accepted as a matter of course, and as the authoritative teaching of my University, Paley's opinions as to the limits of Biblical criticism, [0a] quoted at large in Dean Milman's noble preface to his last edition of the History of the Jews; and especially that great dictum of his, 'that it is an unwarrantable, as well as unsafe rule to lay down concerning the Jewish history, that which was never laid down concerning any other, that either every particular of it must be true, or the whole false.'
I do not quote the rest of the passage; first, because you, I doubt not, know it as well as I; and next, in order that if any one shall read these lines who has not read Paley's Evidences, he may be stirred up to look the passage out for himself, and so become acquainted with a great book and a great mind.
A reverent and rational liberty in criticism (within the limits of orthodoxy) is, I have always supposed, the right of every Cambridge man; and I was therefore the more shocked, for the sake of free thought in my University, at the appearance of a book which claimed and exercised a licence in such questions, which I must (after careful study of it) call anything but rational and reverent. Of the orthodoxy of the book it is not, of course, a private clergyman's place to judge. That book seemed dangerous to the University of Cambridge itself, because it was likely to stir up from without attempts to abridge her ancient liberty of thought; but it seemed still more dangerous to the hundreds of thousands without the University, who, being no scholars, must take on trust the historic truth of the Bible.
For I found that book, if not always read, yet still talked and thought of on every side, among persons whom I should have fancied careless of its subject, and even ignorant of its existence, but to whom I was personally bound to give some answer as to the book and its worth. It was making many unsettled and unhappy; it was (even worse) pandering to the cynicism and frivolity of many who were already too cynical and frivolous; and, much as I shrank from descending into the arena of religious controversy, I felt bound to say a few plain words on it, at least to my own parishioners.
But how to do so, without putting into their heads thoughts which need be in no man's head, and perhaps shaking the very faith which I was trying to build up, was difficult to me, and I think would have been impossible to me, but for the opportune appearance of your admirable book.
I could not but see that the book to which I have alluded, like most other modern books on Biblical criticism, was altogether negative; was possessed too often by that fanaticism of disbelief which is just as dangerous as the fanaticism of belief; was picking the body of the Scripture to pieces so earnestly, that it seemed to forget that Scripture had a spirit as well as a body; or, if it confessed that it had a spirit, asserting that spirit to be one utterly different from the spirit which the Scripture asserts that it possesses.
For the Scripture asserts that those who wrote it were moved by the Spirit of God; that it is a record of God's dealings with men, which certain men were inspired to perceive and to write down: whereas the tendency of modern criticism is, without doubt, to assert that Scripture is inspired by the spirit of man; that it contains the thoughts and discoveries of men concerning God, which they wrote down without the inspiration of God; which difference seems to me (and I hope to others) utterly infinite and incalculable, and to involve the question of the whole character, honour, and glory of God.
There is, without a doubt, something in the Old Testament, as well as in the New, quite different in kind, as well as in degree, from the sacred books of any other people: an unique element, which has had an unique effect upon the human heart, life and civilization. This remains, after all possible deductions for 'ignorance of physical science,' 'errors in numbers and chronology,' 'interpolations' 'mistakes of transcribers' and so forth, whereof we have read of late a great deal too much, and ought to care for them and for their existence, or non-existence, simply nothing at all; because, granting them all--though the greater part of them I do not grant, as far as I can trust my critical faculty--there remains that unique element, beside which all these accidents are but as the spots on the sun compared to the great glory of his life-giving light. The unique element is there; and I cannot but still believe, after much thought, that it--the powerful and working element, the inspired and Divine element which has converted and still converts millions of souls--is just that which Christendom in all ages has held it to be: the account of certain 'noble acts' of God's, and not of certain noble thoughts of man--in a word, not merely the moral, but the historic element; and that, therefore, the value of the Bible teaching depends on the truth of the Bible story. That is my belief. Any criticism which tries to rob me of that I shall look at fairly, but very severely indeed.
If all that a man wants is a 'religion,' he ought to be able to make a very pretty one for himself, and a fresh one as often as he is tired of the old. But the heart and soul of man wants more than that, as it is written, 'My soul is athirst for God, even for the living God.' Those whom I have to teach want a living God, who cares for men, works for men, teaches men, punishes men, forgives men, saves men from their sins; and Him I have found in the Bible, and nowhere else, save in the facts of life which the Bible alone interprets.
In the power of man to find out God I will never believe. The 'religious sentiment,' or 'God-consciousness,' so much talked of now-a-days, seems to me (as I believe it will to all practical common-sense Englishmen), a faculty not to be depended on; as fallible and corrupt as any other part of human nature; apt (to judge from history) to develop itself into ugly forms, not only without a revelation from God, but too often in spite of one--into polytheisms, idolatries, witchcrafts, Buddhist asceticisms, Phoenician Moloch-sacrifices, Popish inquisitions, American spirit- rappings, and what not. The hearts and minds of the sick, the poor, the sorrowing, the truly human, all demand a living God, who has revealed himself in living acts; a God who has taught mankind by facts, not left them to discover him by theories and sentiments; a Judge, a Father, a Saviour, and an Inspirer; in a word, their hearts and minds demand the historic truth of the Bible--of the Old Testament no less than of the New.
What I needed therefore, for my guidance, was a book which should believe and confess all this, without condemning or ignoring free criticism and its results; which should make use of that criticism not to destroy but to build up; which employed a thorough knowledge of the Old Testament history, the manners of the Jews, the localities of the sacred events, to teach men not what might not be in the Bible, but what was certainly therein; which dealt with the Bible after the only fair and trustful method; that is, to consider it at first according to the theory which it sets forth concerning itself, before trying quite another theory of the commentator's own invention; and which combined with a courageous determination to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, that Christian spirit of trust, reverence and piety, without which all intellectual acuteness is but blindness and folly.
All this, and more, I found in your book, enforced with a genius which needs no poor praise of mine; and I hailed its appearance at such a crisis as a happy Providence, certain that it would be, what I now know by experience it has been, a balm to many a wounded spirit, and a check to many a wandering intellect, inclined, in the rashness of youth, to throw away the truth it already had, for the sake of theories which it hoped that it might possibly verify hereafter.
With your book in my hand, I have tried to write a few plain Sermons, telling plain people what they will find in the Pentateuch, in spite of all present doubts, as their fathers found it before them, and as (I trust) their children will find it after them, when all this present whirlwind of controversy has past,
'As dust that lightly rises up, And is lightly laid again.'
I have told them that they will find in the Bible, and in no other ancient book, that living working God, whom their reason and conscience demand; and that they will find that he is none other than Jesus Christ our Lord. I have not apologised for or explained away the so-called 'Anthropomorphism' of the Old Testament. On the contrary, I have frankly accepted it, and even gloried in it as an integral, and I believe invaluable element of Scripture. I have deliberately ignored many questions of great interest and difficulty, because I had no satisfactory solution of them to offer; but I have said at the same time that those questions were altogether unimportant, compared with those salient and fundamental points of the Bible history on which I was preaching. And therefore I have dared to bid my people relinquish Biblical criticism to those who have time for it; and to say of it with me, as Abraham of the planets, 'O my people, I am clear of all these things! I turn myself to him who made heaven and earth.'
I do not wish, believe me, to make you responsible for any statement or opinion of mine. I am painfully conscious, on reviewing for the Press Sermons which would never have been published save by special request, how imperfect, poor, and weak they seem to me--how much worse, then, they will appear to other people; how much more may be said which I have not the wit to say! But the Bible can take care of itself, I presume, without my help. All I can do is, to speak what I think, as far as I see my way; to record the obligation toward you under which I, with thousands more, now lie; and to express my hope that we shall be always found together fellow- workers in the cause of Truth, and that to you and in you may be fulfilled those noble and tender words, in which you have spoken of Samuel, and of those who work in Samuel's spirit:
'In later times, even in our own, many names spring to our recollection of those who have trodden or (in different degrees, some known, and some unknown) are treading the same thankless path in the Church of Germany, in the Church of France, in the Church of Russia, in the Church of England. Wherever they are, and whosoever they may be, and howsoever they may be neglected or assailed, or despised, they, like their great prototype and likeness in the Jewish Church, are the silent healers who bind up the wounds of their age in spite of itself; they are the good physicians who bind together the dislocated bones of a disjointed time; they are the reconcilers who turn the hearts of the children to the fathers, or of the fathers to the children. They have but little praise and reward from the partisans who are loud in indiscriminate censure and applause. But, like Samuel, they have a far higher reward, in the Davids who are silently strengthened and nurtured by them in Naioth of Ramah--in the glories of a new age which shall be ushered in peacefully and happily after they have been laid in the grave.' [0b]
That such, my dear Stanley, may be your work and your destiny, is the earnest hope of
July 1, 1863.