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ARTICLE III.

MARKS OF THE SUPERNATURAL IN GOD'S PROMISE

TO ABRAHAM.

BY SAMUEL HARRIS, D.D., PROFESSOR in Bangor theoloGICAL SEMINARY.

THE controversy of Rationalism is not with Christianity, but with Theism. The denial of the possibility of the miraculous is its essential doctrine and the source of its vitality and strength. But miracles are possible if there is a personal God. Positivism or Pantheism are the only positions in which the denier of the possibility of miracles can make a stand.

Christianity is essentially miraculous. It implies primarily a supernatural, divine action in the redemption of fallen man; and, secondarily, a supernatural revelation by that action. The whole conception involves the miraculous the creation, the fall, the primitive promise, the call of Abraham, the covenant with the chosen people, the preparatory and prophetic dealings of God with that people, the coming of the Messiah, "the Word made flesh," his resurrection and ascension, the outpouring of the Spirit, the second coming of Christ, the final judgment. Whether true or false, this is Christianity. The denial of the supernatural is the denial of Christianity.

Christianity is willing to appear and submit her claims to decision in the court of reason. The question to be submitted is: Is this scheme of redemption an adequate solution of the great problem of human nature, history, and destiny? Is there in man a need of redemption and a demand for it? Is the scheme theoretically consistent and reasonable, and does it commend itself to the reason as adequate, if historically true, to solve the world-problem? Was it from the beginning so incorporated into human history, has it in its late influences so wrought itself into

human history, as to commend itself to reason as a historical verity?

But if this question is to be decided in the court of reason, it must be Christianity itself that appears before the tribunal, and not a makeshift bearing its name, but divested of all that constitutes its distinctive character, grandeur, vitality, and power. The denial of the possibility of miracles is the denial of the possibility of Christianity. It is giving judgment before the question is opened for argument. It is not arguing the question with Christianity in the court of reason; it is shutting Christianity out of court. Deny the miraculous and nothing is left in the Bible but the debris of myths and legends, and the fragments and crumbling ruins of a history which, even so far as it may be true, is no longer significant or important. Then the question is triumphantly propounded: Does this insignifi cant residuum solve the great problem of human history and destiny? What if it does not? It is not Christianity. The plea of Christianity has not even been heard.

The question of the truth of Christianity is debatable, then, only with a theist who admits the possibility of miracles. Then the conception of Christianity appears in all its grandeur, as a supernatural, redemptive action of God, traversing the history of man from his creation to the judg ment; and the question is fairly before us: Does this conception adequately solve the problem of human history and destiny? Has it inwrought itself into history so as to prove its historical verity?

It is, therefore, fruitless to debate the evidences of Christianity with a rationalist who denies the possibility of miracles. Let him be shut up to his controversy with the theist; driven back to his legitimate position either in positivism or pantheism.

For similar reasons rationalism has no right to criticise or interpret the Bible. The denial of the possibility of miracles necessitates beforehand that criticism be destruc tive and interpretation false. The Bible is a record, whether

true or false, of a grand series of supernatural, divine actions in the redemption of fallen man. Though the work of many authors, in many centuries, this grand conception dominates in all, is steadily and consistently unfolded more and more clearly, and advanced by accompanying historical events to completeness, and gives to the series of books a unity which indicates the control of one superintending mind. The denial of the supernatural necessitates in criticism the assumption that the books are false in their substance. That denial makes a right interpretation impossible; for the Bible is a story of the supernatural; and its actual meaning, whether true or false, can be ascertained only by recognizing the supernatural. Deny it, and the meaning of every part of the book changes-the essential and vital significance is gone. The grand panorama of redemption vanishes. Nothing is left but a blinding drizzle of myth and legend over a dreary waste of uncertain and valueless stories in which float-"rari nantes in gurgite vasto "—a few fine moral sentiments, like those found in the literature of every nation. It is absurd to criticise or interpret the Bible from this point of a view. If a man enters St. Peter's church with the assumption that it is a private dwelling. house, his criticism must pronounce the plan and construction faulty, and his interpretation must miss the significance. of every part. Not less absurd the attempt of Strauss to criticise and interpret the Bible on the assumption that the supernatural is impossible.

These principles are important in the interpretation of God's promise to Abraham. If a miracle is impossible, then God never made the promise, the account of it is peremp torily set aside as a myth, and the whole story at once takes its place among the obscure beginnings of history as a tradition respecting the origin of a nomadic tribe which afterwards established itself as an agricultural people in the small province of Palestine. When this position is frankly acknowledged and held with logical consistency, the scepticism is comparatively harmless. But rationalism extends

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its poison beyond the circle of minds that accept its legitimate conclusions. The miasma debilitates many who are not prostrated with the plague. Many in the churches are reluctant to acknowledge in the covenant with Abraham more than the founding of a nation and the promise of secular advantages. Under the same influence they will not see in any scriptural event a reference to the spiritual, if it is possible to extract from it a meaning which refers it to the temporal. They find it difficult to discover in the Old Testament any Messiah or Messianic kingdom; and we have the strange contrast of Jews finding the Old Testament full of the Christ, and Christians who find it Christless. Rationalism and naturalism have swept over modern thought like a sandstorm of the desert, not only overwhelming those in the centre of its path, but blinding and bewildering those that are far off.

The difficulty arises from forgetting the unity of the scriptures as recording the grand series of divine actions in redemption. Every part of scripture is included under this unity and derives its significance from it. As a segment of the human body shows in its dissevered ligaments, fibres, and vessels its connection on every side with the body, and is utterly unintelligible except as this connection is recog nized, every part of scripture shows its connection with the organic whole, and is meaningless aside from that connection. As the acorn can be understood only when it is known as the seed and therefore the prophecy of an oak; as the history of the oak can be understood only when the tree is known to have grown from an acorn; the Old Testament can be understood only when it is known to be the germ and prophecy of the New; and the history of the New Testament is intelligible only as we find its germ in the Old. And as the sight of the growing oak enlarges the knowledge of the acorn, even to those who had theoretically understood its nature as a germ, the coming of Christ must give a deeper and clearer understanding of the Old Testament, even to those who had understood its prophetic and pre

paratory character. Overlooking this unity of redemption, the interpretation of single passages of scripture becomes impossible. The structure is crumbled into a shapeless heap, and the several parts become undistinguishable and meaningless rubbish. The denier of the supernatural, in attempting to interpret the Bible, necessarily acts over again the bookish want of common sense, which has been ridiculed from the beginning of literature, and shows a brick as a sample of the house.

When it is admitted that the scriptures have this unity in the work of redemption, it becomes natural, and even necessary, to interpret the promise to Abraham as referring to the blessings to come to mankind through redemption. On this supposition, it is evident that the Bible teaches that redemption was to be brought into human history by the agency of a chosen people, and that the Jews were that people. It is, then, the obvious and necessary interpretation of the call of Abraham that it was the call of that chosen people, and that the covenant with him had refer erence to their agency in the great scheme of redemption. On this supposition, the questions of criticism respecting the author and composition of Genesis become of minor consequence. If God was in Christ the Redeemer of the world by supernatural action, then it was through the line of Jewish history that the supernatural agency took its preparatory course; and in their very origin God must have destined the Jewish people to this service. On this supposition, even the facts of their history, which remain fixed. under the most destructive criticism, could receive no other interpretation. If not so interpreted, the incarnation and redemption of Christ must be denied. Accordingly Colenso, who in his first book on the Pentateuch writes as if he were still retaining the supernatural in the New Testament, appears in his second part to have seen the impossibility of resolving the Old Testament into myths and holding the New Testament as history, and so abandons both.

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