Remarks on "The Doctrine of Inspiration"

<44038E> 271

J. N. Darby.

(Notes and Comments Vol. 4.)

{"The Doctrine of Inspiration, being an enquiry concerning the Infallibility, Inspiration, and Authority of Holy Writ," by the Rev. John Macnaught, M.A. (Oxon). London, Longman, Brown, Green & Longmans, 1857.}

It is perfectly right practically to say, the Bible is infallible, but, strictly, revealed truth cannot be infallible; it is simply, perfectly true. A person is fallible or infallible - God alone is so - He, while He acts in, uses a man, is, and makes the man while so exclusively using him, de facto infallible. But the man is not so. The question is not if Mark or Luke are infallible, but whether what is written be "given by inspiration of God" (theopneustos) - a revelation given of God, so that I can rely on it as given of, coming from Him.

Certainly this man would not convince me of the contrary. He has crammed himself with infidel statements without even enquiring into them for himself. It is imbecile, this book.

Page 21. He says Matthew is at the pains to state that "all the generations" from David till the captivity were "fourteen generations." This Matthew does not do; he says, "All the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations," and that there were fourteen generations from David to the captivity. Here he finds a discrepancy, but it is of his own making. Again he says, 'The Magi asked, "Where is the king of the Jews that has been born?" (i.e. just recently born).' There is not the least trace of this - quite the contrary. And again, "That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene," is not given as a quotation, but as said by the prophets in general. It is not said "the prophecy." But he says, 'Christ dwelt at Nazareth that He might be called a Nazarene, and to fulfil the type of Nazariteship.' The italics are his, but he has not even searched and seen that the words are different, Nazoraios and Nazareenos.

Page 34. 'Peter, Acts 1:18, says, that Judas purchased a field with the reward of iniquity.' But it is not Peter - verses 18, 19 are a parenthesis. The Jews bought it, it was his - the chief priests with his money; ektesato is not 'personally bought' - he gained a field and hanged himself.

272 Difficulties there are, but such a miserable cooking up of unexamined objections I never saw, as in this book.

Page 117. 'Every tyro in Greek knows that an adjective (theopneustos, signifying "divinely breathed") is the term which our translators have paraphrased as equivalent to "given by inspiration of God."' But theopneustos is just 'inspired,' and stronger if anything.

Page 123. 'According to the Old Testament idea, it was with the presence and co-operation of the Holy Ghost that the prophets spoke.' It is not so said, and this is the point; he is not honest here. Did the Spirit co-operate with Chaos? Again, it is quite false to say, 'The novelty was, not in the miracle of Pentecost, but in the extent to which the miracle-working agents were multiplied.'

Page 131. 'It is very remarkable that nowhere do we find the inspired penmen - Jewish or Christian - pronouncing their own writings inspired.' This is a mistake; see 2 Sam. 23:2, 1 Cor. 14:37, and 'Thus saith the Lord,' a thousand times - 'The Lord spake unto Moses,' etc. This objection is imbecility.

Page 132. 'Amongst pious Jews and the early Christians, the idea of Inspiration was wholly unmixed with the notion of infallibility, and was, in addition to referring each good thing to God as its giver, simply equivalent to what we mean by any or all the several words good, strong, orderly, wise, clever, inventive, brave, instinctive, holy.' In whom? And from whom? What is the meaning of 'in addition to'? Were they not special endowments? It is all simply infidel exalting of man. When he says the writings of Milton and Bacon were 'written by divine inspiration,' one can only ask, is there any positively revealed truth from God or not? Again, 'In this manner David or Solomon, or Isaiah, or Paul would have spoken of everything as written by divine inspiration, which may with propriety be called a work of genius, or of cleverness, or of holiness. Milton and Shakespeare, and Bacon and Canticles, and the Apocalypse and the Sermon on the Mount, and the eighth chapter to the Romans are - in our estimation - all inspired.' This is equally low and abominable. Nobody denies all great faculties are from God, but what has this to do with a revelation from God? I have no objection to the word if explained. I believe every good thought in us is inspired of God, and the fruit of the Spirit. The question is not there, but whether God has given a revelation, and, further, whether in the Book called Scripture, His action by the Spirit was such that what was given was exactly such as He would have it given, and did give it, in that He guarded the instruments in such sort, in the communication or use of truth they propounded, and used it exactly according to His mind, so that I can receive it as what God has given to me, though (thank God) through men? Is Shakespeare's buffoonery inspired? Or Milton's cannons in heaven? They degrade everything they touch, these men. Reasoning on the word 'inspiration' is merely shirking the question of fact.

273 As to co-operation - with what did God co-operate in Creation? Is truth less important - is His word as really and completely from Him as Creation when it came out of His hand? Sin has corrupted the Creation. Is truth equally lost or never given?

Page 138. 'The Bible is at once fallible, inspired, and containing the very word of God.' How can I tell, if it is fallible? It is no longer divine conviction, but all dependent on competency of human judgment; and whose? Again, 'The mere idea that the volume has some good in it, and is, therefore, in some degree inspired, ought surely to command our reverential study of its contents.' A priori, as of Shakespeare or Milton - for man's taste less, it is ludicrous. 'Some may say if the Bible be, after all, a book with errors in it, I care nought for it. If it lay at my feet, in my path, I would not stoop to pick it up. Not stoop to pick up a fallible Bible! Are then the dialogues of Plato infallible?' etc., etc. I would not stoop to pick up Plato to guide my mind as a revelation from God. The man is imbecile. He says, 'Let the lowliest child or pauper say to me, "Honour thy father and thy mother," and let those words sound in harmony with my inmost being - as they and I are created to be in harmony together - and then those terms, before unintelligible and only gibberish, become to me the very word of God.' This is first nonsense, and he only means God speaks to us in language, and next it confounds revelation and conscience.

Page 160. 'If any reader be inclined to ask, why then interfere with this Bible which, in the hands of the 'Evangelicals,' has been called infallible, and has effected so much good? Our answer is, because we love this blessed Book, and would fain not see it exposed to ridicule by being called infallible; and because we are persuaded that the Bible, in its true character of an inspired but fallible book, will do all its present good work, and a great deal besides, which now this false name "infallible" prevents it accomplishing.' But would it have had this power if it had not been recognised as infallible, as, in short, a revelation from God? Coming from God - call it a good book, will it have the power of bringing God to the heart, conscience, and will, with God's authority? That is the question. He says, 'In this spiritual mine, the veins of precious ore lie embedded in a preponderance of common earth, are for the most part hidden by a deep covering of worthless strata, and must be dug for with assiduity.' This is a grand mistake, for what is its authority then?

274 Again, 'Tell the serious student that the book he has been taught by history to revere is not only a good and holy book, containing the word of God to man, but is the infallible word of God, in which there is no error' (I tell him it is the truth itself, or nothing at all; education of a child is another thing) 'and he can appreciate the singular honour that the wise and the great have so often, and so conspicuously given to the Bible: but, alas! you have told him the Holy Book is infallible; and, before he passes from its first page, he is led to believe that the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them were made in six days, whereas the indelible testimonies of matter, sense, and reason combine to assure him that this earth, with all its populations' (where, and what?) 'that have in its younger days dwelt on it and perished in its ruins, is countless millions of years old,' etc. But he is not so led as to Creation. I believe the earth may have existed millions of years, nor does the Bible contradict it, but admit of it, and proves thus its divinity, for Moses knew it not. He says, 'The fourth day's special product was the sun, and moon, and stars.' But that is not said, but avoided. It is said, "God made two great lights." The sun as a 'body having weight' is not a light. As to 'multitudes of men in this state of mind being habituated until they become dead to all practical sense of religion and spirituality,' that is they judge by physical science of which they are ignorant.

Page 165. 'The authority which we claim for the Bible is, not that the reader should expect to find infallibility or freedom from error in the whole book, or in any part of it, but that he should study it with the same kind of reverence, combined with discriminating judgment of the good and the evil, the wise and the unwise, with which he would listen to a father or a mother whom, though far from infallible, Providence or God had given him as his divinely appointed teacher.' Here we see the importance of distinguishing between infallibility and truth. I believe God only is infallible - but all He has said, or caused to be written, is absolute truth, and comes from the Infallible and because it does. Again, he says it is unnecessary for him to quote the words of Aristotle or Cicero, etc., but he had better do so, and honestly, than thus refer to them. As to 'The best of heathen systems which professes to be derived from Socrates,' how far did it spread? This is idiocy. Did he or Plato, or any of them, know God before 'the foolishness of preaching'? And as to 'Reverence towards the gods, and compliance with the popular custom of sacrificing to the various deities,' what does that mean? Who were they?

275 Page 168. 'It is difficult for anything to surpass the exquisite beauty and calm propriety with which, in the dialogue called the Phaedo, Socrates is represented as dying a martyr to the truth he had taught.' Christ is not, but declares Himself forsaken of God. How comes this? And this to be forgotten of Mr. Macnaught! As to Socrates 'taking leave of his wife, and descanting on the most solemn truths,' etc., he sends her off about her business as unphilosophical. 'The departed not coming before the judges in the deceptive integuments of flesh and body, but stripped of all appearances, that the ordeal might be gone through, not merely face to face, but soul to soul,' was popular conscience long before Socrates, and embodied in Egypt in their religion. Again, 'Good men were, after judgment, admitted to that holy and better world into which Socrates rejoiced to think that he was about to pass.' An apotheosis of men like their heroes or demigods, only without, not merely bodies but, the natural soul, or its parts, which was not derived second or third hand from God through the Dicastai (assessors).

He then goes on: 'It will be manifest how incorrect are the interpretations we often hear put upon those words of Paul, in which he says that Jesus "brought life and immortality to light."' In the first place it is "incorruptibility," not 'immortality.' Resurrection is God's work. The immortality of the soul was held simply because nothing could perish, nor matter either. It was as eternal as God, perhaps distinguished. It seems so, at least in some places, but man found his pride in his own necessary immortality. Speaking of Jesus, he says: 'His conception of the highest aim for man was to witness to the truth, to go about doing good, to be filled with love even of one's foes.' No! Eternal Life was to know the Father, the only true God - to men, no doubt, love.

276 Socrates, and Plato, held that men's souls had existed before, and were treated in the world according to some previous responsibility, only when he came to himself, he held his philosophy, intellect, gave him a title to be freed from it; all the mass might go to purgatory, or to hell and the furies - that was no affair of his. He says: 'Socrates would have annihilated poetry in order to develope man' - Yes! and love to others too; he would have justice and mathematics, and so a title to have only his divine soul left to be with the gods.

Page 172. 'Not only did good old Socrates allow that, for the multitude, there was piety in worshipping gods many and lords many: but the last act of his death-scene shows what a hold the educational prejudices of superstition still retained upon his mind. His last words to his friends were a charge that they should offer, on his behalf, the accustomed sacrifice of a cock to the god of medicine, Esculapius.' Note that this is represented as the right thing - the triumph of true philosophy - by a spectator. It is not a weakness even not overcome. He was to be rescued from the charge of Atheism. As to the Bible being 'distinct and firm in pronouncing on the worship of the one true God as indispensable to virtue and happiness,' it is a tolerable difference between that and philosophy, if God be anything, but that is the great point.

Again, 'As is the deity of a nation, so will be the character of a nation' - and of a man? And if so, what was Socrates?

Page 173. 'This dallying with Polytheism, then, which is so strongly denounced in the Bible, we assert to be a grievous fault in Socrates.' This is really too bad! God is below man in their system. Again, 'Socrates recommends such a community of wives and children as must degrade woman, put an end to the sweetest earthly happiness of domestic love,' etc. What was his religion then, or the connection between his conduct and god? But he says: 'And Socrates looked at Krito, and said, O Krito, let some one lead this woman away to her home. And certain of Krito's attendants led Xanthippe away in the midst of her cries and lamentations: but Socrates sat down on the couch, and began to rub his leg, which he had raised and crossed upon the other, whilst he descanted on the absurdity of that which men call pleasure.' And this, we are told, is dignity in the presence of death!

277 Page 174. 'The last fault of the Academic teaching, which it will be necessary for us to notice at present, is the partiality with which it regarded mankind, and the indifference it manifested as to the propagation of the truth. This partiality is apparent from the kind of life which Socrates represented as most approved by the gods.' But what then was his philosophy worth? Why praise it so at first? As to 'an unnatural disrespect of the female sex, combined with the most atrocious theory of cohabitation,' what kind of holiness is that? Or is mathematics holiness, or sacrificing a cock to Esculapius?

Page 181. 'If at any time God should appear to us as a jealous or a terrible God, or as a consuming fire - it is not because He has changed His nature, but because we are viewing Him through the various media of our different sins and our chilling sense of guilt.' But the Bible says He is a consuming fire, "Our God is a consuming fire."

Page 184. 'It would be vain to speak of John's dream (Apocalypse) in which he saw foreshadowed struggles between truth and error, sometimes seeming doubtful in their issue,' etc. What is he dreaming of, or is it all a dream? Again, 'The sacred volume is full of life and action, from Genesis to Revelation; and in all its action it has principles - eternal principles - of truth and goodness displayed so plainly as to be easy for every pious reader's observation.' But how came the Bible to be all this? All these different writers, yet one collection!

Page 187. 'We are not of the number of those who believe the prophetic portions of Holy Writ to be "anticipated history" as they have been styled … If Edom is named in a prediction, we do not consider that Idumea is destined, by an inevitable fate, to a certain curse; but rather that Edom itself, and every nation which by a similar abuse of opportunities, and by a similar practice of vice, makes itself a spiritual Edom, will, if it continue obstinately in the state of sin in which and against which it has been warned, then be overthrown in some such way as that threatened in the prediction.' But who should have picked out this from all countries, and particular countries for this? If I look, as a man, at it, they were the Jews' enemies, and it was national hostility and prejudice, not a Christian spirit.

278 Page 191. Speaking of the blind man to whom the Lord gave sight, he says: 'Fervent desire, so earnestly entertained that we go to speak with God about it constantly and perseveringly, as did the widow in the parable of the unjust judge, will not change God; but will to a certainty change us and our moral position.' Will that give a man his sight then? And so of prayer, he says: 'We go to state solemnly our wishes at the throne of grace, and to seek there for wisdom in selecting and employing means for the accomplishment of such wishes as we retain when we return from taking counsel with the Lord.' Is that all a man asks for? What nonsense all this is!

Page 199. 'A man may believe Scripture to be fallible, and yet he may - as we ourselves do - believe Jesus to be the anointed Son of God who came into the world and lived and died and rose again in order that we might learn through Him to trust and love God our heavenly Father, and so loving and trusting Him might be accounted righteous.' That is no Scriptural statement; what does he believe of Christ? Again, 'So he may - as we ourselves do - believe the miracle of Mary's virgin conception, simply because it is no more difficult than any other miracle'; that is believing it possible, not true. And again, 'We believe these grand and Christianly consistent points, whilst we gravely, though humbly, think it possible for a good Christian to doubt whether the evangelists were not misled by their own angry recollections,' etc. But he has a made Christ according to his estimate of good and evil, no historical One; and what does he think of His Person? As to his alleged contradictions between Acts 9:7 and chapter 22:9, there is no kind of contradiction at all in the passages. The first is: "But the men who were travelling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice" (or 'sound') "but beholding no one." The second is: "But they that were with me beheld the light, and were filled with fear, but heard not the voice of him that was speaking to me."

Page 206. Speaking of the thirty-nine Articles, he says: 'Whatever can be proved by any means, drawn from any source, we are ready to believe; and, above all, whatever can be proved by the most satisfactory evidence of the Scripture, that we shall not be slow devoutly to believe. That is an honest man; I sign a thing because it may be proved, and I interpret that as meaning whatever of it can be. Again, 'I do believe all the Canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, not merely when they tell me such obvious historical and philosophical truth as that Jesus is the only scheme by which men can and must be saved or brought to true happiness in this life and true fitness for enjoying a future world; but I also believe them, with the most humble and comfortable assurance, when, by the palpable evidence of errors, discrepancies and contradictions, they tell me that, although they contain the Word of God, they yet are themselves fallible, and, like the best of those who wrote them, they have this treasure in earthen vessels.' This is nice and honest too. But of all the low things I ever read, this book is the poorest, and, if it proves anything, proves the divinity of Scripture which can extort from such a mind the confessions it does.


279 What a blessed rest it must be, in the divine sense, to God, to see no sin anywhere around Him, and all good according to what He is!


How the atonement effaces previous failings, and gives place to love! When the Lord visits His disciples after His resurrection, their past is gone; He comes in the unclouded unhindered power of "Peace be with you."