Why The Bible
And Not Other Standards
By T. T. Eaton, D. D., LL. D.
Pastor Walnut Street Baptist Church
To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. - Isaiah 8:20.
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. - I John 4:1.
For the prophecy came not in old times by the will on man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. - 2 Peter 1:21.
THERE are three reasons, either of which is decisive.
I. IT IS THE BEST STANDARD.
We are often told to
”Accept the truth wherever found,
On Christian or on heathen ground,”
and the inference is implied that there is some truth on heathen, not found on Christian ground. But no one has ever ventured to name any such truth. The simple fact is that whatever religious truths may be found in other sacred books or in works of philosophy, these same truths are found in the Bible, and here they are free from mixture with errors.
Ethics knows nothing higher or nobler than the moral teaching of the Bible. Amid all the wonderful progress of the race during the more than 1800 years since the last book of the Bible
was written, not the smallest addition has been made to Biblical ethics. No moral truth has been discovered beyond what is contained in the Bible. And the same is true of all other religious truth. If any man thinks some new religious truth has been discovered since the Bible was completed, he has only to attempt to produce it, and he will be convinced. What we must believe, what we must be and what we must do, are set forth in the Bible with a clearness and a completeness found nowhere else. Not a doctrine, nor an aspiration nor a duty is omitted.
Here are a few testimonies from great thinkers who will not be suspected of any bias in favor of the Book:
Fichte says of the Bible: ”This ancient and venerable record contains the profoundest and loftiest wisdom, and presents those results to which all philosophy must at last come.”
Renan says of the Gospel of Matthew: ”All things considered, it is the most important book in the world;” and of the Gospel of Luke, he says: ”It is the most beautiful book in the world.”
”In the Bible,” says Coleridge, ”there is more that finds me out than I have experienced in all other books put together. The words of the Bible find me at greater depths of my being, and whatever finds me brings with it an irresistible evidence of its having proceeded from the Holy Spirit.”
Prof. Huxley said of the Scriptures: ”By what other books could children be so humanized and made to feel that each figure in that vast historical procession fills, like themselves, but a momentary space in the interval between the two eternities and earns the blessings or the curses of all time according to its effort to do good and hate evil.”
The other standards offered are, 1st, other sacred books, like the Vedas, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, and 2nd, the Church, and 3rd, Reason.
Ist. All other books are weak in comparison with the Bible; and the great superiority of the Bible to these books being admitted by all who are likely to read this article, there is no need of arguing the point at length. A simple comparison of the lands where these other books are regarded as standard with the lands where the Bible is most believed in will convince the most skeptical.
2nd. The Church derives its authority from the teaching of the Scriptures. And the church using the term in its modern sense, to include all bodies of Christians-the church has ever taught the inspiration and authority of the Bible, although sometimes claiming the right to interpret it for the people. The meaning of the Scriptures, however, was ever the important thing. Ecclesiasticism has assumed to take charge of the Bible and to dole out its teaching to the people, but ecclesiasticism has never denied its authority. Often, as in the case of the Pharisees, the Scriptures were made ”of none effect,” but like those Pharisees, ecclesiasticism admitted them to be the highest authority. The result of withholding the Bible from the people and of filtering its teachings through ecclesiastical channels, are manifest in Spain and Italy.
3d. Shall we turn to reason? Then whose reason? Shall we seek to be guided by the reason of the wisest and best ? Who will select these for us ? Those most generally recognized as the wisest and best bow before the Bible. But reason can not avail us. The most it can do, in the most favorable conditions, is to save us from error, it cannot lead us to truth. The philosopher Kant, in his Critique of Pure Reason-the highest authority on the subject-says:
”The greatest and perhaps the sole use of all philosophy, of all pure reason is, after all, merely negative, since it serves not as an organon for the enlargement of knowledge, but as discipline for its delimitation, and instead of discovering truth, has only the modest merit of preventing error.”
Prof. Huxley, in the Nineteenth Century forr February, 1889, quotes and endorses this utterance of Kant.
John Ruskin (Val D’Arno, sec. 55), quotes and commends the following language of Thomas Carlyle:
”Perceptive reason is the handmaid of conscience, but not conscience hers. If you resolve to do right, you will do wisely; but resolve only to do wisely and you will never do right.”
In a letter to a friend, published in the London Christian, Herbert Spencer said:
”In my earliest years I constantly made the foolish supposition that conclusive proofs would change belief. But experience has long since dissipated my faith in man’s rationality.”
None of these men quoted can be charged with bias in favor of evangelical religion. They are the very ones to whom those who exalt reason as a standard naturally turn. It is manifest, therefore, that reason is not to be made a standard in religion. George Eliot has well said: ”When you get me a good man out of arguments, I will get you a good dinner by reading you the cookery book.”
The second ground for taking the Bible rather than other standards is that it alone is authoritative. It is the only one we are under obligation to accept. The Bible alone speaks ”with authority and not as the Scribes.” The Protestant rule of Faith as given by Dr. Robert Watts is as follows:
1. That the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, to the exclusion of the apocryphal books and tradition, contain all the extant word of God. 2. That they furnish the only infallible rule of faith and practice. 3. That the rule contained therein is complete, embracing all that man is to believe concerning God and all the duty that God requires of man.” (Faith and Inspiration, p. 86.)
All through the Bible its authority is asserted. Paul argues for the plenary inspiration of Genesis xxvi:4) when he writes to the Galatians (iii:i6) ”He saith not and to seeds as of many, but as of one and to thy seed, which is Christ.” Here the argument turns on the use of the singular rather than the plural. Jeremiah called ”the roll,” the ”Words of the Lord.” (xxxvi:6.) Jesus quoted Deuteronomy as infallible, and as settling the questions raised by Satan, saying in reply, ”It is written.” (Matt. iv:4, 7.) Our Lord affirmed the infallibility of the 82d Psalm by quoting from it (John x:35) and saying: ”The Scriptures can not be broken.” Indeed he argued the infallibility of the clause from the infallibility of the Scriptures containing it. These are but samples. Jesus and His apostles ever treated the Old Testament as fully inspired and hence of absolute and final authority on all questions treated of in its pages. Peter tells us (II Pet. i:2i): ”For no prophecy ever came by the will of man, but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Ghost.” (R. V.) And the apostles are put upon a par with the prophets (Eph. in :5). Paul claims inspiration for the words he writes (i Cor. ii-.4, 13) and he enjoins that his epistles be read to the churches as Scripture (Col. ii:i6). Peter calls the words of the apostles ”the commandment” of the Lord (II Pet. in :2), using the strongest Greek word in the vocabulary for authority - εγτολη And Jude exhorts us to ”contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints.” (v. 3, R. V.)
It is not that men were spiritually elevated above their fellows so that with a broader and clearer vision they could instruct their fellows in spiritual things. It is not that certain seed thoughts or basal principles were communicated to men, which were to be expanded and developed along with the spiritual life of the ages, changing as circumstances might require-so that what is a correct statement of doctrine in one age is incorrect in another. Truth is not a system of ”fluent and fluxions,” such as Newton discussed. Truth can not change. If two and two did not make four in the time of Abraham they do not make four now and never will make four, while if they do make four now, they always did and always will. No possible change of circumstances or development of mind can have the slightest effect on the truth. So the Bible is God’s Word to the world. His message to mankind, was delivered through chosen messengers, but delivered ”once for all.” It is not subject to addition or development or modification of any kind. It is the absolute and final authority in all questions of faith and morals. We are not bound to believe or do anything because Buddha, or Mahomet, or Shakespeare, or Goethe, or Spencer says so. While we are bound to believe and do whatever the Bible says we must. ”Thus saith the Lord” is an end of all controversy.
The third ground for taking the Bible rather than other standards is that it alone tells us what our souls need. ”Lord, to whom shall we go?” said the astonished Peter, ”thou hast the words of eternal life.” (John vi:68.) Dim and uncertain is the light of nature and of philosophy on the great questions of character and of destiny; so that Socrates, after thinking on these things as perhaps no other man has ever done, ”felt,” so his great disciple Plato tells us, ”the need of some ’sure word of God’ to guide us in the right way.” The Bible is not one of a class of books. It is unique in its theme, its power and its authority. All other books are feeble in comparison. Scientific books tell us of matter, of force, of heat, light and electricity. How feeble all this in comparison with such utterances as ”Let there be light,” ”I am the light of the world,” and ”All power hath been given unto me.” Books on political economy tell us of the laws of trade, of supply and demand, of how to develop the material resources of a country, and how to regulate taxation and the authority of officials. What are such things in comparison with the great themes of death, judgment to come and eternity?
Ruskin tells us of the pictures fading away on the stones of Venice and the crumbling walls of Florence. With a few touches the inspired penman gives us a picture of love and duty, and the story of Ruth and Naomi fades never away from our minds. Probably the best book besides the Bible is Shakespeare, and the best thing in Shakespeare is Hamlet. But is not the sorrow of a dreaming boy for his foully murdered father for that is Hamlet-trivial in comparison with the grand drama of Job, where God and the angels are spectators, and Satan wrestles with faith in the torn heart of the patriarch?
In other books we find such truths as men can spell out with their observations and experiments, and such as they can guess out with their philosophy, but in the Bible we have the revelation of God to us, and the opening of Heaven to our vision. Here we learn the remedy for sin. Here we are told how God can be just and the justifier of him that believeth. Here we find the ”words of eternal life.” There is but one way of salvation and the Bible alone tells us of that. Nothing else but the Gospel has ever changed a bad man into a good man, or ever can; while the Gospel has done this in multiplied thousands of instances. ”There is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved,” and to be saved is our supreme necessity. Outside the Bible we can learn of God’s power, of His wisdom, of His glory, but only here can we learn of His love and of His mercy. Only here can we learn that ”Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” Only here can we learn of Him, whom to know is life eternal. Only here can we find the ”sure word of God” for which Socrates sought, and lay hold on the hope which ”maketh not ashamed.”
To take any other standard is to follow the creature rather than the creator. It is to accept the thoughts of men as superior to the wisdom of God. It is to turn our backs upon the only light of the world and go out into that outer darkness that knows no morrow forever.
In the market place at Worms, I was profoundly impressed as I stood before the Great Luther monument. Surrounded by statues of his coadjutors, all fronting in the same direction, and rising on a pedestal in its colossal proportions, is the bronze statue of Luther. His right foot is firmly advanced; In his left hand he holds a Bible, on which his right hand rests clenched.
The artist has seized the moment when the hero stood facing the Diet of Worms to answer for himself. Looking into that calm upturned face I could almost hear from those parted lips the noble words: ”Here I stand; I can not do otherwise. God help me. Amen.” Answering to this statue, across the ocean in the land where the Bible has been widest open, there stands a companion statue. It is the monument of the Pilgrims at Plymouth. On a lofty pedestal is a colossal statue of faith pointing with one hand to the open Bible and with the other toward the open heaven.
Other standards are composed of men’s guesses, while in the Bible the great truths of God burn and glow with all the eloquence of heaven. And facing a gainsaying world it becomes us to plant ourselves squarely on God’s Word - for we can not do otherwise, God help us - and to point a sin-sick and guilt-blinded race to the ..open Bible and to the open heaven it reveals.