1 Importance


Edward Madeley



THE subject of this treatise is one of momentous interest to every well-disposed and reflective mind. Accustomed to reverence the Bible as a book containing the revealed will and wisdom of the Supreme Being, written under immediate inspiration, and professing to regard it as the fountain of all spiritual light, and the source of all religious knowledge, we must, if indeed we are humble and teachable, feel greatly rejoiced when we learn that there exists a certain and universal rule of interpretation, by which its glorious truths can be disclosed, its heavenly wonders unfolded, its consolatory doctrines dis played, and its sacred precepts made plain. In this state of mind we are prepared rationally to perceive the true nature and character of the Holy Word as ” the power and wisdom of God, ” the only authentic source of religious knowledge and spiritual wisdom (John i. 1, 2; Rom. i. 16 ; 1 Cor. i. 24). We shall be disposed to regard it as a spiritual meat and drink, ” the green pastures and still waters” for the repose and refreshment of the Lord s flock (Ps. xxiii. 2) ; and as we receive the heavenly nourishment by which our souls live, we shall exclaim, with the prophet Jeremiah, ” Thy words were found, and I did eat them ; and they were unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart” (xv. 16).

Incontrovertible reasons might be adduced for the absolute necessity of a direct revelation, and also what are commonly called the presumptive and positive but irresistible evidences, both internal and external, satisfactory as they are, in proof of the genuineness, authen ticity, and integrity of those books which form the Word, together with the overwhelming testimonies in favor of their verity derived from the wonderful literal fulfillment of many of the inspired pre dictions, and from their marvellous effects in advancing human civilization wherever they have been freely circulated ; likewise the in vincible proofs of the divinity of the Holy Word, as exemplified in the perfect harmony, simplicity, and practical tendency of its doctrines, and their universal adaptation to the exalted purposes proposed ; the further corroborative testimony which might be adduced from important philosophical investigations, philological inquiries and responses, scientific scrutiny, and archaeological discoveries, together with its miraculous preservation from age to age, amid the fiercest commotions and devastations, and the dismemberment of all the nations that have ever existed on the face of the earth; and the wonderful unity of the whole, though written by the instrumentality of various men, at distant periods, all of which facts and circumstances strongly argue a divine inspiration and prescience. I pass over these multiplied arguments, satisfactory as they are, and take far higher grounds than these in behalf of the inspiration of the Word, and appeal to the inward consciousness, experience, and reason of all.

To admit that a book is the pure dictate and voice of God, demands that we should require it to be authenticated, as well as discriminated from other productions, not merely by verbal exegesis, critical analysis, and historical researches (however valuable they may be in furnishing expositions and confirmations of the letter), but by the highest and most cogent evidence. ” I speak as to wisemen, judge ye what I say” (1 Cor. x. 15). ” Prove all things, hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. v. 21). Far be it from me, how ever, to decry or undervalue the use and application of profound philosophical, archaeological, and scientific researches, applied to the enodation and illustration of the letter of the Word of God, from which, when directed by sound piety and judgment, there is nothing to fear. On the contrary, honor and gratitude are due to all who, in a right spirit, engage in Biblical criticism. For it is of the utmost consequence that the literal sense of the Word should be as critically correct, and as absolutely definite as possible; because this sense, adapted to all readers, is the only just source and faithful standard of all true doctrine and genuine morality.

A careful examination of the Bible may lead an impartial and reflective mind to see that it consists of two kinds of writings, distinguished by two very different degrees of inspiration : one primary, plenary, and infallible the other secondary and partial, which might appropriately be considered as the result of the spiritual illumination of the writer s rational mind. The first, or superior degree of inspiration, is that in which the speakers and writers were inspired as to the very words they uttered and recorded. For the time their individuality was suspended. Their mind, reason-, and memory were altogether subservient to the prevalent influence of the Spirit of Jehovah, who “spake by them, and his word was in their tongues,” which were as “the pen of a ready writer” (2 Sam. xxiii. 2; Ps. xiv. i.).

The writers were only seen in their representative characters. Their states were intermittent ; at times they were in the Spirit, and had direct intercourse with the spiritual world, and conscious communion with God, while at others they were in their ordinary state of mind. Thus every term, yea, every “jot and tittle” (Matt. v. 18) of such books was dictated or spoken by the Lord himself, necessarily contains a heavenly, spiritual sense, distinct from but within the literal sense, and consequently both senses are most holy and divine.

Now the books of the Bible written according to this peculiar style are the pure and plenary WORD OF GOD. For “inspiration,” Swedenborg says,” implies that in all parts of the Word, even the most minute, as well the historical as other parts, are contained celestial things, which refer to love or goodness, and spiritual things, which refer to faith or truth, consequently things divine. For what is inspired by the Lord, descends from Him through the angelic heavens, and so through the world of spirits, till it reaches man, before whom it presents itself as the Word in the letter.” (A. C. 1837.) The second or lower degree of inspiration is that which is generally supposed to belong to the entire Bible, in which the writers, for the edification of the Church, were led by the illumination and direction of the Holy Spirit as far as THE SENSE is concerned, without being inspired as to the words they used, or in the descriptions of the events and facts they related.

The views of the New Church, therefore, do not differ from those of other Christian expositors and commentators in regard to the authority which belongs to the latter class of writings, the subsidiary objects for which they were composed, or the mode of interpretation usually adopted (see Appendix, p. 651) ; but we widely differ from all others as to the character of those books which are affirmed to be plenarily inspired. And the distinction is, that these are maintained to be of immediate divine authority, and thus more sacred more practical than modern theologians admit. We believe them to be the divine truth itself, an emanation from the divine goodness itself, and holy even to the very letter. And further confirmed as it is to us by the most convincing evidence that this very Word of God, thus plenarily inspired, is written according to peculiar laws, which are applicable to no other compositions whatsoever. And moreover, that the books so written are, in the Old Testament those enumerated by our blessed Lord, in Luke xxiv. 44, with reference to Himself, namely, “THE LAW” (the Pentateuch, or five books) “OF MOSES,THE PROPHETS AND THE PSALMS,” and in the New Testament, the FOUR GOSPELS, which relate to the history of our Lord s incarnation, ministry, and glorification, and record his very words ; together with the book of REVELATION, which the Apostle John calls ” the revelation and testimony of Jesus Christ,” and which he says was “signified” to him, or as the original word eshmanen means, symbolically shown to him. These Scriptures, then, are contradistinguished from all human compositions whatsoever ; and while the histories re corded are all, in the general sense, literally true, yet the whole is capable of being interpreted by the known, determinate, harmonious, universal, and unerring law on which they rest, and according to which they were written.

That the term Gospel (or “glad tidings,” or ” news that is well “) is taken to mean the Four Gospels, and that these were always regarded as, in some sense, more holy than the Epistles, is evident first, from the circumstance that oaths from a period antecedent, at least, to the time of Justinian (A. D. 527), have been administered in the four Gospels; secondly, from the ancient form universally prevailing in the Christian Church so early as the third century, of ordaining Bishops to their sacred functions in which the book of the Four Evangelists was held open over the candidate s head ; and, lastly, from the practice of the Church, in which a custom has long existed, and is even now retained, which, if it has any meaning, was designed to mark a greater degree of reverence for the Gospels in comparison with the Apostolic Epistles ; for, the congregation is directed, in the rubric of the Church of England communion service, to stand while the holy Gospel is read, but to sit during the reading of the Epistles.

Bishop Tomline thus writes on the inspiration of the entire Bible, in his Elements of Christian Theology: ” When it is said that the Sacred Scriptures are divinely inspired, we are not to understand that God suggested every word, or dictated every expression, nor is it to be supposed that they were inspired in every fact which they related, or in every precept which they delivered.” ” It is sufficient to believe that by the general superintendence of the Holy Spirit, they were directed in the choice of their materials, and prevented from recording any material error.”

In what, then, does the difference consist between the view now propounded, and that which was held by this orthodox prelate of the Establishment, whose opinion on this topic has been echoed on all sides, and would, it is presumed, be admitted as a precise exposition of what is generally believed on the subject of inspiration throughout the Christian world ? It consists in this : the Bishop s mode of interpretation, like ours, is strictly applicable to the Epistles, and such portions of the Word as are not included by the Lord in the text just noticed ; but we believe, from evidence apparently irresistible, that by far the greater part is of an incomparably more exalted character than such a standard of interpretation is calculated to establish, for we believe that these latter books contain, in the original at least, truth without the admixture of error, and that they were inspired both as to materials and sense, as to phraseology and words, as to precepts and facts, every particular expression therein being holy and divine. And that, thus, the oracles of God (Rom. iii. 2 ; Heb. v. 12 ; 1 Pet. iv. 11 ; lively oracles, Acts i. 35), like a casket enclosing brilliant pearls and gems, contain a lucid heavenly meaning, distinct from, but within, the letter.Indeed, to the pious mind, it is a truly lamentable reflection that the inspiration of the Word of God has been reduced to so low a test by modern expositors. Nothing, certainly, can tend more to the support and encouragement of the most rank infidelity. Dr. Palfrey, for instance, late Professor of Biblical Literature in the University of Cambridge, Mass., speaking of the Pentateuch, says that ” We are not debarred from supposing that it had its origin in the imperfect wisdom of Moses.” (Acad. Led. on the Jewish Scrip, and Antiq., vol. i., lect. iv., pp. 85, 86.)

Professor McLellan, in his Manual of Sacred Interpretation, designed to aid theological students in Biblical exegesis, among others lays these maxims down as a canon of direction for the expositor : ” The object of Interpretation is to give the precise thoughts which the sacred writer intended to express. No other meaning is to be sought but that which lies in the words themselves. Scripture is to be interpreted by the same method which we employ in discovering the meaning of any other book; ” and Dr. Davidson, in his Sacred Hermeneutics, speaking of the true principles of interpretation, says that “The grammatical meaning [of the Scriptures] is the same with the historical; and both constitute all the meaning intended by the Holy Spirit When the grammatical or historical meaning of a passage is ascertained, all the theology of the passage is also known” (p. 227).

Dr. Orville Dewey, one of the most distinguished theologians of the Unitarian school, writes on this subject as follows : ” If any one thinks it necessary to a reception of the Bible as a revelation from God, that the inspired penmen should have written by immediate dictation ; if he thinks that the writers were mere amanuenses, and that word after word was put down by instant suggestion from above ; that the very style is divine and not human ; that the style, we say, and the matters of style the figures, the metaphors, the illustrations, came from the Divine mind, and not from human minds ; we say, at once and plainly, that we do not regard the Scriptures as setting forth any claims to such supernatural perfection, or accuracy of style. It is not a kind of distinction that would add anything to the authority, much less to the dignity, of a communication from heaven. Nay, it would detract from its power, to deprive it, by any hypothesis, of those touches of nature, of that natural pathos, simplicity, and imagination, and of that solemn grandeur of thought, disregarding style, of which the Bible is full.

Enough is it for us, that the matter is divine, the doctrines true, the history authentic, the miracles real, the promises glorious, the threatenings fearful. Enough, that all is gloriously and fearfully true, true to the Divine will, true to human nature, true to its wants, anxieties, sorrows, sins, and solemn destinies. Enough, that the seal of a Divine and miraculous communication is set upon that Holy Book.” ( Works, English Ed., p. 465.)

And in a Tract (Belief and Unbelief\ published in 1839, with the avowed purpose of defending the Bible from the objections of infidelity, he says, ” The Scriptures are not the actual communication made to the minds inspired from above. They are not the actual Word of God, but they are the record of the Word of God.” ” If there ever were productions which show the free and fervent workings of human thought and feeling, they are our sacred records. But the things [in them] which we have to deal with are words; they are not divine symbols of thought.” Again, he says, ” If we open almost any book, especially any book written in a fervent and popular style, we can perceive, on accurate analysis, that some things were hastily written, some things negligently, some things not in the exact logical order of thought ; that some things are beautiful in style, and others inelegant ; that some things are clear, and others obscure and hard to be understood.” ” And do wre not,” adds the same writer, ” find all these things in the Scriptures ?

Speaking of the twenty-fifth and following chapters of Exodus, Andrews Norton, Professor of Sacred History in Harvard University, Mass., says : ” Seven chapters are filled with trivial directions [respecting the ark, the tabernacle, and its utensils]. So wholly unconnected are they with any moral or religious sentiment, or any truth, important or unimportant, except the melancholy fact of their having been regarded as a divine communication, that it requires a strong effort to read through with attention these pretended words of the Infinite Being. The natural tendency of a belief that such words proceeded from Him, whenever such belief prevailed, must have been to draw away the regard of the Jews from all that is worthy of man, and to fix it upon the humblest object of superstition.” Evidences of the Genuineness of the Gospels, add. notes, cxxvii. In these divinely inspired chapters, Swedenborg in his Arcana Celestia shows the importance and explains the spiritual meaning of every sentence and every word, as teaching countless lessons of instruction, and as having in each particular an important representative meaning, and a practical application, in which the celestial and spiritual order and realities of heaven and the divine presence and blessing in sacred worship are presented to the contemplation and acceptance of the prepared mind. They describe the very sanctuary in which the Lord can dwell with man, and of which he says: “For the Lord hath chosen Zion ; He hath desired it for his habitation. This is my rest forever : here will I dwell, for I have desired it. I will abundantly bless her provision ; I will satisfy her poor with bread. I will also clothe her priests with salvation, and her saints shall sing aloud for joy” (Ps. cxxxii. 13-16). And again, “Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God ” (Rev. xxi. 3). And it was with precisely such a precept on the interpretation of these very chapters, that the Apostle Paul thus addresses the Christian Church at Corinth : ” Ye are the people of the living God ; as God hath said [Ex. xxix. 45 ; Lev. xxvi. 12], I will dwell in them, and walk in them ; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Cor. vi. 16).

Surely, less reverent ideas of inspiration than these quoted above cannot possibly be held by such as profess to believe in its existence at all. They must appear to every devout mind as little less than a disavowal of inspiration altogether, and instead of a defence, to be a total abandonment of the truth, and a virtual denial of the sanctity and authority of the Word of God.

If we look into the Christian world, we shall find men, distinguished for their learning and piety, as widely at variance in their sentiments and interpretations of the inspired Volume as noonday differs from midnight darkness ; supporting tenets of religion irrational in them selves, and diametrically opposed to each other, by the most confident appeals to its sacred pages; disputing with the bitterest acrimony about doctrines that are admitted to be mere implications, and not unfrequently distorting the plainest facts of science, and even accredited events of history, in support of favorite theological opinions. We find men, gifted with most profound powers of investigating the secret laws of nature, who can unfold, amid a blaze of demonstration, the most wonderful phenomena of physical existence, and unravel the perplexing mysteries of creation and mathematical science, but who either profess themselves embarrassed with the conflicting difficulties and obscurities of revelation, or openly avow their conviction that the Bible and nature are at variance with each other. And as facts in nature are constant and undeniable, and as it would be most ab surd to suppose that the Divine Being would speak and act inconsis tently, so, therefore, they at once conclude that the Bible cannot be divine cannot have God for its author.

Bishop Colenso, insisting vehemently on the Bible possessing a human element, and being merely ” a human book,” containing not only a literal sense, but one that bears no other meaning whatever, except that which lies upon the surface, says :” In this way, I repeat, the Bible becomes to us a human book, in which the thoughts of other hearts are opened to us, of men who lived in the ages long ago, and in circumstances so different from ours.” ” We must not blindly shut our eyes to the real history of the composition of this book, to the legendary character of its earlier portions, to the manifest contradictions and impossibilities, which rise up at once in every part of the story of the Exodus, if we persist in maintaining that it is a simple record of historical facts. We must regard it, then, as the work of men, of fellow-men like ourselves.” (Pent, and Book of Joshua, p. ii., p. 382, 511,512.)