3 Spiritual Sense


Edward Madeley



IN what, let us now ask, does the peculiar divinity and sanctity of the Holy Word consist ? By what arguments or reasonings is the indubitable certainty of its truth to be established ? and how is it to be distinguished from works of human composition? These are most vital and momentous inquiries, and cannot be answered without thoughtful reflection and laborious research. In this work I can only profess to offer a few brief and general remarks. Happy shall I be, however, if the reader should be sufficiently interested to follow the principles which are advanced, until it is rationally perceived and acknowledged that the Holy Word, throughout all its inspired pages, teems with the divine “spirit, ” and is filled with the divine ” life” (John vi. 63).

I would begin by observing, then, at once, that the divinity and sanctity of the Word of God consist in its being an inspired revelation of the divine will and wisdom, from the mouth of the Lord himself; and as these are not apparent in the letter, the Word must contain a heavenly, spiritual sense, which is, as it were, its breathing, living soul.

The spirit of the Word is united with the letter, and pervades every sentence and expression, just as the soul is contained in the body ; and as the life of the soul, momentarily derived from God, descends and flows into and animates every corporeal organ, so the divine life of the Lord flows into the minds of humble and prepared believers, as in faith and with affection they read the inspired pages. That world of wonders, the human frame, consists of forms in endless variety, exactly corresponding with principles and faculties of the mind which inhabit it, and as all the parts and portions of the nervous tissues and muscular fibre are harmoniously combined, and the minutest vessel, the smallest artery and vein, the slenderest and most delicate filament, are one and all required to make up the perfection of the whole ; and as each receives its vitalized influx for the sake of some specific usefulness, so each part and expression of the Holy Word is the receptacle of an inward spirit, has its peculiar analogy, its appropriate place, and its distinct use ; and contributes to the harmony, the completeness, the divine perfection of the whole.

While, therefore, the letter of the Word, especially in the Old Testament, appears to treat much of natural objects and appearances, the inward sense treats only of spiritual, celestial, and divine realities. The very title,” THE WORD OF GOD,” implies a revelation of his existence and nature, his boundless love and wisdom, his infinite purposes and thoughts, together with the existence, the capacities, the responsibility, and the destiny of the human soul, and the infallible doctrines and truths, essentially for man in the relation in which he stands to his great Creator ; and the knowledge of which, without such supernatural communications, it were impossible to attain Mob xi. 7, 8). And if this be the real character of the Sacred Writings, they must, in consequence, be full of interior truth and goodness as emanations from the divine mind, yet adapted to the comprehension of men on earth. The Apostle Paul, therefore, declares, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God;”” or, as the Greek term qeopnendtod has been aptly and emphatically translated, “God-breathed,” or God-inspired, or divinely inspired (2 Tim. iii. 1(5,17), that is, full of the Divine Spirit and the Divine life, “All Scripture divinely inspired of God is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” And the Apostle Peter says, ” Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is [or cometh] of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man ; but holy men of God spake as they were moved [feromenoi, borne away, carried out of themselves] by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. i. 21) ; or, as Dean Alford renders it, “had utterance from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit.” Josephus, the Jewish historian, speaking of the plenarily inspired books of the Old Testament, adds, that they were written according to rtvfvjna, or the inspiration that comes from God ; and Philo, a contemporary Jewish philosopher, calls the Scripture feoyxext oracles, that is to say, oracles given under the immediate agency and dictation of God.

The ideas of men and angels naturally embody themselves in suit able sounds and expressions the tones express the sensibilities of the will, and the words reveal the thoughts of the intellect. In this we are images of God, whose voice has spoken in audible terms from most ancient times, as an intelligible dictate, who wrote on stone tablets the Decalogue, or ” ten words,” and commanded and inspired seers and prophets what to speak and what to write. What are words but symbols of ideas, between which there is the closest correspondence and the most intimate dependence; and as without man’s words we cannot comprehend his human and finite ideas, so without God’s words we cannot understand his infinite and divine ideas. The very language, then, of the Word of God, if indeed He be the Author, must be inspired as well as the ideas. The words of a man contain only his finite thought and intelligence ; and by hearing or reading them, and attending to the sense they are designed to convey, we become more or less acquainted with the prevailing sentiments of a finite mind ; but the Word of God has an INFINITE BEING for its author, and eternal purposes to serve ; for thus saith the Lord, ” My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts ” (Isa. Iv. 8, 9). Yea, He has moreover solemnly declared, that ” His NAME is called THE WORD OF GOD” (Rev. xix. 13).

Whatever, then, may be the appearance of the letter, or the surface of the outward covering, the Holy Word must be designed to accommodate and convey to man, as far as possible, in a way precisely adapted to the condition and circumstances of his mind, in all ages, the infinite truth, the perfect intelligence, the unbounded love, and the unchangeable goodness, or, in other words, the divine will and wisdom of the Supreme Being, of which it must be the rich depository. Thus, Divine Revelation could never be designed to instruct us in mere human history or physical science, in the laws of astronomy or the facts of geology, in the elementary constitution of the earth or the political events of empires, for we acquire all this kind of knowledge in an external way, by the exercise of the outward senses, and without the aid of special inspiration : but must have been designed to instruct man in the subjects and objects of genuine religion, in spiritual and celestial, yea, divine, wisdom, in the holy operations of repentance and conversion, of charity and faith, of righteousness and truth ; thus, in our duty towards God and our duty towards our neighbor, our regeneration and final salvation.

These must have been the objects of Divine Revelation, the only objects worthy of an all-wise and benevolent Deity. Without such an inspired revelation, thus mercifully adapted to his states and necessities, man could never have known anything concerning his soul, or his eternal life, or even of the existence of God, still less could he have known anything of religion, which is the love of God above all things and his neighbor as himself, and on which revealed commands it is declared by the Lord himself, ” hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. xxii. 37-40); or on which depend all the unspeakable blessings of salvation.

That the Word of God, however, contains faithful historical relations, records which are literally true, prophecies which have been permitted to have a general accomplishment even in the world, and relates true miracles, that an external reverence for its contents, apart from superstition, might be thereby possessed among the most sensual of the human race, is freely and fully accorded. But this, great as are the objects attained, is wholly insufficient to prove that it is a series of books dictated by the immediate inspiration Of God. “Who does not see,” says the Rev. S. Noble, in an admirably sustained argument on this subject, ” that the difference between compositions that are really the Word of God and the compositions of men must be as great as between the works of God and the works of men ? And wherein does the latter difference most remarkably consist ? Is it not in the interior organization which the works of God possess, beyond what appears in their outAvard form? When we look at a picture or a statue, which are among the most exquisite productions of human ingenuity, after we have seen the surface, we have seen the whole: and although there are pieces of curious mechanism, which contain a complication of parts within their outside case, this only carries us one step farther : when we look at any of the parts, we see the whole : the interior texture of the material of which they are composed not being the work of the human artist, but of the Divine Creator. Whereas, when we look at any of the works of his omnipotent hand, beautiful and exact as they are m their outward form, still, the most beautiful and wonderful parts of them are within.

Some of these hidden wonders are discoverable to the diligent inquirer by means of dissections and by the aid of glasses : but when the most ingenious investigator has extended his researches into the interior construction of any natural production to the utmost limits that human means can conduct him, he must, if he is a wise man, be convinced, that what he has thus discovered, is, after all, but general and superficial, compared with the greater wonders which still lie concealed within. The most expert anatomist never, for instance, reached the seat of the soul, still less the principle of consciousness and life of which the soul itself is merely the organ ; all which, and even the material forms which are their first envelopes, still lie beyond the most subtile forms that the gross observation of the senses can discover. The farther, however, the observation of the senses can extend, the greater are the wonders which appear. Just so it is with the Word of God ; and so it must be, if it has in reality God for its Author.

To suppose the literal sense of the Word of God to be all that it contains, because nothing more is obvious to a superficial inspection, is just as reasonable as to affirm that the human body consists of nothing but skin, because this is all that meets the unassisted eye : but as the researches of anatomists have assured us that within the skin which covers our frame there are innumerable forms of use and beauty, each of which consists again of innumerable vessels and fibres ; whilst, after science has carried her discoveries to the utmost, the principle that imparts life to the whole still eludes the search : so the letter of the Holy Word, which may be regarded as its skin, includes within it innumerable spiritual truths, adapted in some measure to the apprehension of spiritually-minded men, but more completely to the intellects of purely spiritual beings ; whilst the Essential Divine Wisdom, which gives life to the whole, is beyond the comprehension of the highest finite intelligence, and can only be known to its Infinite Original. And such must be the character of the whole of the Word of God, as well of those passages which afford a clear instructive sense in the letter as of those which do not : for the Word of God, to be truly so, must be like itself throughout, and must every where be composed upon one uniform principle. Every mind that reflects, deeply upon the subject, will, I am persuaded, see, that to deny the Holy Word to possess such contents as we have described, is equivalent to denying it to have God for its Author.” Plenary In spiration of the Scriptures Asserted, &c., pp. 63-8. I take the present opportunity of strongly recommending this able work to the reader.