THE INSPIRATION OF THE BIBLE.
Extracts from a Lecture by H. L. Hastings, before
the Massachusetts Annual Convention
of Y.M.C. Associations.
The question as to the inspiration of the Bible is not a question raised by me. It is a question that is already up for discussion through the length and breadth of this land. What are we to do with this book? How are we to regard it? Is it the best book in the world, or the worst? Is it a true book, or is it a false one? Is it God's book, or is it man's book?
Over and over again this Book says, "Hear ye the word of the Lord." Now, the message is the word of the Lord, or it is a lie. It is the word of the Lord, as it professes to be, or else it is a cheat, a swindle, a humbug, a fraud. [R459 : page 6]
To illustrate: A man tells me that Jesus of Nazareth was a good man; but then, there were other men just as good.
But while you say, "He was simply one of many remarkable men," He says, "I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world;" and again, "I leave the world, and go to the Father." He says, "O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was." Now, do you say he was a good man and yet he told lies? What is your idea of a good man? I do not believe that a good man lies; and I do not believe that a man who lies is a good man. Perhaps you do, and if so, you were brought up in a different way from that in which my father brought me up. So I do not believe that a book packed with lies from one end to the other, is a good book; and I do not want any one to come and tell me that Jesus Christ was a good man, and the Bible is a good book, but neither of them tell the truth. I join issue there. This book is what it professes to be, or it is a swindle; Jesus of Nazareth was what he professed to be, or he was an impostor.
Suppose a man comes to town and represents himself as the son of a British nobleman. He is well-dressed and has plenty of money; but after a while they find out that he is the son of a blacksmith, down in the next town. Now I do not want you to tell me how well he behaves, what fine broadcloth he wears, or what a perfect gentleman he is in all his deportment. The fact is that he is a liar, a fraud, and a scamp. He has come under false colors, and palmed himself off on the community under false pretenses; and the more good things you may say about him the less I think of him; because if he is such a well-educated gentleman, he knows better than to be going around as a fraud, and deceiving the people. So we must accept Jesus of Nazareth and his claims entirely, or else we must reject the whole gospel as an imposture, and as the grandest, most stupendous fraud the world has ever known.
Now, do not be fooled by this talk about the Bible being "a good book," and yet just like many other good books. There is not another like it in the world. Let us look at some of its peculiarities:--
Here is one: The Bible is a book which has been refuted, demolished, overthrown, and exploded more times than any other book you ever heard of. Every little while somebody starts up and upsets this book; and it is like upsetting a solid cube of granite. It is just as big one way as the other; and when you overturn it again, it is right side up still. They overthrew the Bible a century ago, in Voltaire's time --entirely demolished the whole thing. "In less than a hundred years," said Voltaire, "Christianity will be swept from existence, and have passed into history." Infidelity ran riot through France, red-handed and impious. A [R459 : page 7] century has passed away. Voltaire's old printing-press, it is said, has since been used to print the word of God; and the very house where he lived has been packed with Bibles from garret to cellar, as a depot for the Bible Society. Up to the year 1800, from four to six million copies of the Scriptures, in some thirty different languages, comprised all that had been produced since the world began. Eighty years later, in 1880, the statistics of eighty different Bible societies which are now in existence with their unnumbered agencies and auxiliaries, report more than 165,000,000 Bibles, Testaments, and portions of Scripture, with two hundred and six new translations, distributed by Bible societies alone since 1804; to say nothing of the unknown millions of Bibles and Testaments which have been issued and circulated by private publishers throughout the world. For a book that has been exploded so many times, this book yet shows signs of considerable life.
I hear of a man traveling around the country exploding this Book and showing up "The Mistakes of Moses," at about two hundred dollars a night. It would be worth something after hearing the infidel on "The Mistakes of Moses," to hear Moses on the mistakes of the infidel. When Moses could talk back, he was rather a difficult man to deal with. Pharaoh tried it, and sank like lead beneath the waves. Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, and it is said were buried in the Red sea. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram tried it, and went down so deep that they have not yet got back. But now Moses is dead, and it is easy to abuse him. It does not take a very brave beast to kick a dead lion.*
A dead book, is it? They would not pay for telegraphing the greatest infidel speech ever delivered in this country. This old book seems to show some signs of life yet.
It outlives its foes. If you could gather all the books written against it, you could build a pyramid higher than Bunker Hill Monument. Now and then a man goes to work to refute the Bible; and every time it is done, it has to be done over again the next day or the next year. And then after its enemies have done their worst, some of its professed friends torture and twist and misrepresent it. It lives through all that. Infidels have been at work for nearly eighteen hundred years, firing away at it, and making about as much impression upon it as you would shooting boiled peas at Gibraltar.
The fact is, this book has come into the world, and it seems to have come to stay. It is in the world, and I do not know how you are to get it out. One hundred years ago you might have found that book in twenty or thirty translations; but now you can find it in from between two and three hundred different versions, most of which have been made in this last progressive, intellectual, nineteenth century. All over the globe it goes; touch any shore and you will find the Book there before you.
Every one knows that where this Book has influence it makes things safe. Why is this? If it were a bad book, we should expect to find it in the hands of the worst men. If it were a bad book, you would expect a man to have a revolver in one pocket and a New Testament tucked away in another.
What makes the book so different from all other books? Whose book is it? Who made it? Infidels have the strangest ideas of that subject. I recollect in Marlboro, Mass., I read in a paper an article written by an infidel, which stated that the Council of Nice in the year 325, compiled the New Testament. They had a lot of Gospels and Epistles, genuine and spurious, and no one could distinguish between the two; so they put them all on the floor, and prayed that the good ones might get up on the communion table and the bad ones stay on the floor; and that was the way the present New Testament was compiled.
And that very statement can be found in infidel books now published in Boston. This writer said that this account rested on the authority of Papias, an early Christian Bishop. I replied in a lecture, that there was one difficulty about that story--that Papias was dead and buried a hundred and fifty years before the Council of Nice was held. The man rose to explain, and said that this was not the right Papias, but that it was another Papias, an obscure Christian Bishop of the fourth century. I told him I thought he was obscure, so obscure that no one ever heard of him before or since. On investigation it was learned that a German dominie, named John Pappus, preacher in Strausburg, and a professor at Munster, who died in 1610, discovered this story in an old Greek manuscript entitled "Synodikon," which was written by some one down in the dark ages, about the year 900; for it relates things which occurred as late as 869, or five hundred years after the Council of Nice was dead and buried. And this story, written nobody knows when, where, or by whom, has been swallowed, believed, and published by infidels far and near, as an account of the origin of the New Testament.
I have on one of my library shelves, between twenty and thirty volumes, containing about twelve thousand pages of the writings of different Christian authors who wrote before A.D. 325, when the Council of Nice was held. These books are full of Scripture. Those writers had the same books which we have; they quoted the same passages which we quote; they quoted from the same books from which we quote.
Origen, who wrote a hundred years before the Council of Nice, quotes five thousand seven hundred and forty-five passages from all the books in the New Testament; Tertullian, A.D. 200, [R460 : page 7] makes more than three thousand quotations from the New Testament books; Clement, A.D. 194, quotes three hundred and eighty passages; Irenaeus, A.D. 178, quotes seven hundred and sixty-seven passages; Polycarp, who was martyred A.D. 165, after having served Christ eighty six years, in a single epistle quoted thirty-six passages; Justin Martyr, A.D. 140, also quotes from the New Testament; to say nothing of heathen and infidel writers like Celsus, A.D. 150, and Porphyry, A.D. 304, who referred to and quoted multitudes of the very passages now found in the Scriptures which we have. Indeed, Lord Hailes, of Scotland, having searched the writings of the Christian Fathers to the end of the third century actually found the whole of the New Testament, with the exception of less than a dozen verses, scattered through their writings which are still extant; so that, if at the time of the Council of Nice every copy of the New Testament had been annihilated, the book could have been reproduced from the writings of the early Christian Fathers, who quoted the book as we quote it, and who believed it. And now infidels talk about the Council of Nice getting up the New Testament. You might as well talk about a town-meeting getting up the Revised Statutes of the State of Massachusetts, because they happened to say they accepted or received them. The Council of Nice did nothing of the kind. The books of the New Testament were received from the Apostles who wrote them, and were carefully preserved, and publicly read in the churches of Christ long before the Council of Nice was held.
Says Tertullian, A.D. 200, "If you are willing to exercise your curiosity profitably in the business of your salvation, visit the apostolic churches, in which the very chairs of the apostles still preside in their places; in which their very authentic letters are recited, sounding forth the voice and representing the countenance of every one of them. Is Achaia near you? You have Corinth. If you are not far from Macedonia you have Phillippi and Thessalonica; if you can go to Asia you have Ephesus, but if you are near to Italy we have Rome."
These apostolic churches received the Gospel at the hands of men who wrote them; and the epistles were given and signed by men whom they well knew. Paul wrote, "The salutation of me, Paul, by mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle, so I write."
Now, what did these writers testify? They testified things which they knew. The Apostle John did not say, "That which we have dreamed, imagined, or guessed at, that thing do we declare unto you;" but "that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word of Life." (1 John 1:1.) This was their testimony. They testified that they saw Christ in his life and in his death; that they saw him after his resurrection, and they knew these things and testified of them. They preached Christ, who had died and risen again. These Apostles suffered the loss of all things, and imperilled their very lives in proclaiming truth; and they left their testimony on record in this Book. Then, the apostles quote from the prophets, and the prophets quote from the Psalms, and refer to the law which was given on Mount Sinai; and so we go back from book to book, until we reach the book of Genesis, and that does not quote from anybody or anything. You have then reached the fountain head.
"But," says one, "I think the Bible may be a true history." So you think it an easy matter to tell the truth, do you? I wish you could make other people think so. Suppose you go and read a file of the newspapers published just before the last election, and see if you do not think it requires divine inspiration to tell the truth, or even to find it out after it is told. Truth is mighty hard to get at, as you can see by perusing the daily papers on the eve of an election.
There are certain things in the Bible which, to my mind, bear the impress of divinity. A skeptic will tell you what a race of sinners we read about in the Bible! Do you suppose that if the Bible had been revised by a committee of eminent divines, and published by some great religious society, we should ever have heard of Noah's drunkenness, of Jacob's cheating, or of Peter's lying, cursing, or dissembling? Not at all. The good men, when they came to such an incident, would have said, "There is no use in saying anything about that. It is all past and gone; it will not help anything, and it will only hurt the cause." If a committee of such eminent divines had prepared the Bible, you would have got a biography of men whose characters were patterns of piety and propriety. Sometimes a man writes his own diary, and happens to leave it for some one to print after he is dead; but he leaves out all the mean tricks he ever did, and puts in all the good acts he can ever think of; and you read the pages, filled with astonishment, and think, "What a wonderfully good man he was!" But when the Almighty writes a man's life he tells the truth about him; and there are not many who would want their lives printed if the Almighty wrote them.
When the Lord undertakes to tell his story of a sinful man he does not select a poor, miserable beggar, and show him up; he does not give even the name of the guilty woman who bathed the Saviour's feet with her tears; but he takes King David from the throne and sets him down in sackcloth and ashes, and wrings from his heart the cry, "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness; according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out all my transgressions." And then when he is pardoned, forgiven, cleansed, and made whiter than snow, the pen of inspiration writes down the dark, damning record of his crimes, and the king on his throne has not power nor wealth or influence enough to blot the page; and it goes into history for infidels to scoff at for three thousand years. Who wrote that?
You find a man who will tell the truth about kings, warriors, princes and presidents to-day, and you may be quite sure that he has within him the power of the Holy Spirit. And a book which tells the faults of those who wrote it, and which tells you that "there is none righteous, no, not one," bears in it the marks of a true book; for we all know that men have faults and failings and sins, and among all the men described in that Book, every man whose life is recorded has some defect, some blot, save one, and that is "the man Christ Jesus."
Men say there are difficulties and absurdities and errors and contradictions in the Bible. After speaking once in the city of Boston, an infidel came to me and told me that the Bible was not true, for there was that story which Moses told about the quails. Israel lusted after flesh, and the Lord sent them quails to eat, and they fell by the camp a day's journey on each side, or over a territory forty miles across, and they were two cubits deep on the ground, and the Israelites ate them for about a month. I have in my possession an infidel paper which was published in Boston, in which there is about a column of arguments and figures on this "quail story;" giving an estimate of the number of bushels of quails that were piled up over the country, and showing that when they were divided among the six million Israelites, each Jew would have 2,888,643 bushels of quails, which they were to eat during the month, giving each poor Israelite 69,620 bushels of quail to eat at each meal during the month; and therefore the Bible was not true! I answered that the Bible did not say any such thing. He insisted that it did. "Well," said I, "find it!" He could not find the place; so I turned over to the eleventh chapter of Numbers, and there read that instead of the birds being packed like cordwood on the ground, three feet deep, the account says that the Lord brought the quails from the sea, and let them fall by the camp, as it were "two cubits high," or about three feet high upon or above the face of the earth. That is, instead of flying overhead and out of reach, they were brought in about three feet high, where any one could take as many of them as he chose. And this skeptical friend had got the birds packed solid, three feet deep, over a territory forty miles across. As if some one should say that a flock of geese flew as high as Bunker Hill Monument, and we should insist that they were packed solid from the ground up, two hundred and twenty-one feet high! This is a sample of the arguments to prove that the Bible is not true!
The book, to my mind, bears the marks of inspiration in the foresight which it exhibits. This Book foretells things. You cannot do that. You cannot tell what will be next year, or next week. "The spirits" cannot tell who will be the next President. They may tell a great many things that are past. They may tell you who your grandmother was, and may copy the inscriptions on your grandfather's grave-stone, and may tell things which were written in the family record. They may reveal many things in the past--for the devil knows about the past--but they cannot foretell the future.
The revelations of prophecy are facts [R460 : page 8] which exhibit the divine omniscience. So long as Babylon is in heaps, so long as Nineveh lies empty, void, and waste; so long as Egypt is the basest of kingdoms; so long as Tyre is a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea; so long as Israel is scattered among all nations; so long as Jerusalem is trodden under foot of the Gentiles; so long as the great empires of the world march on in their predicted course--so long we have proof that one omniscient mind dictated that Book, and "prophecy came not in old time by the will of man."
We call this Bible a book, but here are sixty different books, written by [R461 : page 8] thirty or forty different men. A man may say, "I do not believe in the book of Esther." Well, what of that? We have sixty-five others left. What will you do with them? A man says, "I find fault with this chapter or with that." Suppose you do? If you were on trial for murder and had sixty-six witnesses against you, suppose you impeach one of them, there are sixty-five left; impeach another, and you still have sixty-four left; impeach another, and you have sixty-three--enough to hang you up if you are guilty. Do you not see that you cannot impeach this Book unless you do it in detail? Each book bears its own witness, and stands by itself on its own merits; and yet each book is linked with all the rest. Blot out one, if you can. I am inclined to think it would be difficult to do this. This book is built to stay together; it is inspired by one Spirit.
The authorship of this Book is wonderful. Here are words written by kings, by emperors, by princes, by poets, by sages, by philosophers, by fishermen, by statesmen; by men learned in the wisdom of Egypt, educated in the schools of Babylon, trained up at the feet of rabbis in Jerusalem. It was written by men in exile, in the desert, and in shepherd's tents, in "green pastures" and beside "still waters." Among its authors we find the fishermen, the tax-gatherer, the herdsman, the gatherer of sycamore fruit; we find poor men, rich men, statesmen, preachers, exiles, captains, legislators, judges--men of every grade and class. The authorship of this Book is wonderful beyond all other books.
And what a book it is--filled with law, ethics, prophecy, poetry, history, genealogy, sanitary science, political economy. It contains all kinds of writing; but what a jumble it would be if sixty-six books were written in this way by ordinary men. Suppose, for instance, that we get sixty-six medical books written by thirty or forty different doctors of various schools, believers in allopathy, homeopathy, hydropathy, and all the other opathies, bind them all together, and then undertake to doctor a man according to that book! What man would be fool enough to risk the results of practicing such a system of medicine? Or, suppose you get thirty-five editors at work writing treatises on politics, and then see if you can find any leather strong enough to hold the books together when they have got through.
But again, it took fifteen hundred years to write this Book, and the man who wrote the closing pages of it had no communication with the man who commenced it. How did these men, writing independently, produce such a book? Other books get out of date when they are ten or twenty years old: but this book lives on through the ages, and keeps abreast of the mightiest thought and intellect of every age.
Suppose that thirty or forty men should walk in through that door. One man comes from Maine, another from New Hampshire another from Massachusetts, and so on from each state, each bearing a block of marble of peculiar shape. Suppose I pile up these blocks in order until I have the figure of a man, perfectly symmetrical and beautifully chiseled, and I say, "How did these men, who had never seen each other, chisel out that beautiful statue?" You say, "That is easily explained. One man planned that whole statue, made the patterns, gave the directions, distributed them around; and so, each man working by the pattern, the work fits accurately when completed." Very well. Here is a book coming from all quarters, written by men of all classes, scattered through a period of fifteen hundred years; and yet this book is fitted together as a wondrous and harmonious whole. How was it done? "Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." One mind inspires the whole Book, one voice speaks in it all, and it is the voice of God.
Again, I conclude that this book has in it the very breath of God, from the effect that it produces upon men. There are men who study philosophy, astronomy, geology, geography, and mathematics, but did you ever hear a man say, "I was an out-cast, a wretched inebriate, a disgrace to my race, and a nuisance in the world, until I began to study mathematics, and learned the multiplication table, and then turned my attention to geology, got me a little hammer, and knocked off the corners of the rocks and studied the formation of the earth; but since that time I have been as happy as the day is long; I feel like singing all the time, my soul is full of triumph and peace; and health and blessing have come to my desolate home once more." Did you ever hear a man ascribe his redemption and salvation from intemperance and sin and vice to the multiplication table, or the science of mathematics or geology? But I can bring you, not one man, or two, or ten, but men by the thousand who will tell you, "I was wretched; I was lost; I broke my poor old mother's heart; I beggared my family; my wife was broken hearted and dejected; my children fled from the sound of their father's footstep; I was ruined, reckless, helpless, homeless, hopeless until I heard the words of that Book!" And since that word entered his heart he will tell you that hope has dawned upon his vision; that joy has inspired his heart; and that his mouth is filled with grateful song. He will tell you that the blush of health has come back to his poor wife's faded cheek; that the old hats have vanished from the windows of his desolate home; that his rags have been exchanged for good clothes; that his children run to meet him when he comes; that there is bread on his table, fire on his hearth, and comfort in his dwelling. He will tell you all that, and he will tell you that the Book has done the work. Now, this Book is working just such miracles, and is doing it every day. If you have any other book that will do such work as this, bring it along. The work needs to be done; if you have the book that will do it, bring it out. But for the present, while we are waiting for you, as we know this Book will do the work, we propose to use it until we can get something better.
Christians sometimes try to defend the word of God, but it is its own best witness and defender. The best thing for us to do is to bring out the word of God, and let "the word of the Spirit" prove its own power, as it pierces "even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit."
The Book is its own witness. It bears its own fruits and tells its own story. It is a sorrowful fact that you can hardly go into a prayer-meeting but you are likely to hear a quotation from Scripture that is not in the Bible and never was. You may hear, "In the midst of life we are in death," from the Prayer-book; "He tempers the wind to the shorn lamb," from an old romance; "God unchangeably ordains whatsoever comes to pass," from the Catechism; accompanied by passages misquoted, misunderstood, and misapplied, which show that the people do not study their Bibles and do not understand them. We need to read the Bible, to search it, study it, believe it, and obey it, and we shall find that it is the word of salvation to the perishing, and that it is filled with sanctifying power.
But, says one, "I do not understand the Bible. I read it, but I cannot make anything of it." "How do you read your Bible?" "Oh, I read a chapter now and then; I read it here and there." Suppose your boy comes home from school and says, "I can't make anything of this arithmetic; it is all dark to me." You say to him, "How did you study it?" "Oh, I read a little at the beginning, and then I turned to the middle and read a little here and there, and skipped backward and forward. But I don't understand it; I can't see into it."
You say to him, "My son, that is not the way to understand arithmetic. You must begin with the simplest elements, and master every principle, learn every rule, solve every problem, and thus the whole book will open to you as you go on."
Take the Bible, and read it from beginning to end, and see how it comes out? You will find it the grandest and most thrilling story the world has ever known. Begin at the beginning, and read until you find out who is the hero of the story. You will find that the presence of one person pervades the whole book. If you go into the British navy-yard, or on board a British vessel, and pick up a piece of rope, you will find that there is one little colored thread which runs through the whole of it-- through every foot of cordage which belongs to the British government--so, if a piece of rope is stolen, it may be cut into inch pieces, but every piece has the mark which tells where it belongs. It is so with the Bible. You may separate it into a thousand parts, and yet you will find one thought--one great fact running through the whole of it. You will find it constantly pointing and referring to one great Personage--"the seed of the woman" that shall crush the serpent's head; the seed of Abraham, in whom all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; the seed of David, who shall sit on David's throne, and reign forever; the despised and rejected sufferer, the "man of sorrows," "the Christ of God," born in Bethlehem, crucified on Calvary, rising triumphant from Joseph's tomb, ascending to sit at God's right hand, and coming again to judge the world and reign as King and Lord of all forever. Around this one mighty Personage this whole book revolves. "To him give all the prophets witness;" and this Book, which predicts his coming in its earliest pages, which forshadows his person and his ministry through all its observances, types, and sacred prophecies, reveals in its closing lines the eternal splendors which shall crown and consummate his mighty work.
God's Word declares the end from the beginning. It is not only the chart which guides every weary wanderer to his own eternal rest, but it is the record of the great plan and purpose of the Almighty. It unfolds God's everlasting purpose, as manifested in Jesus Christ; and if one will read three chapters at [R462 : page 8] the first of the Bible and three at the end, he will be struck with the correspondence which there exists.
At the beginning of the Bible we find a new world: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." At the end of the Bible we find a new world: "I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away." At the beginning, we find Satan entering to deceive and destroy; at the end we find Satan cast out, "that he should deceive the nations no more." At the beginning, sin and pain and sorrow and sighing and death find entrance to the world; at the end, there shall be no more pain nor sorrow, no sighing, and no more death. At the beginning, the earth, for man's transgression, is cursed with thorns and thistles; at the end, "there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it." At the beginning, we find the tree of life in paradise, from which the sinner is shut away by a flaming sword, lest he eat and live forever; at the end, we find the tree of life again "in the midst of the paradise of God," and the blessed and the blood-washed ones have a right to the tree of life, and "enter in through the gates into the city." At the beginning, man was beneath the dominion of death and the grave; at the end, "the dead, small and great, stand before God," the sea gives up its dead, and death and hell are destroyed in the lake of fire. At the beginning, the first Adam lost his dominion over earth, and was driven out of the garden of Eden in shame and sorrow; at the end, we find the second Adam, victorious over sin and death, enthroned as King and Lord of all, and reigning in triumph and glory forever.
Now, when you get the plan of this Book, you find that it is something more than a book of detached sentences, good maxims, and comforting words. It is a Book which unfolds the divine purpose, and reveals not only the way of salvation, but it marks the pathway of the people of God through this wilderness, and reveals the destiny of the world and the church.
When we look at these facts we see that this is no man-made book. When Columbus discovered the river Orinoco, some one said he had found an island. He replied: "No such river as that flows from an island. That mighty torrent must drain the waters of a continent." So this Book comes, not from the empty hearts of impostors, liars and deceivers; it springs from the eternal depths of divine wisdom, love and grace. It is the transcript of the Divine Mind, the unfolding of the divine purpose, the revelation of the divine will. God help us to receive it, to believe it, and be saved through Christ our Lord!