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The parallel commonly employed has been that of the relation between nature and natural science. The Bible is represented as containing all the materials of doctrine, as nature contains the facts which science collects and classifies. Theology is to bring general principles and mutual relations of truth to light from Scripture texts, as science discovers laws and connects orders of being in the world around us. The parallel, in this form at least, is a very misleading one. Most of us, I imagine, feel that in the current expression of it something is misstated, or has been left out. For example, the need for systematic theology is not uncommonly put thus :
“The Bible contains the truths which the theologian has to collect, authenticate, and exhibit in their relation to each other. . . . In no department of knowledge have men been satisfied with the possession of a mass of undigested facts, and the students of the Bible can as little be expected to be thus satisfied. There is a necessity, therefore, for the construction of systems of theology. God does not teach us systematic theology, but He gives us in the Bible the truth which, properly understood and arranged, constitutes the science of theology.”
The thing which jars upon one in these statements is the implication that Scripture, from the point of view of the theologian, is little more than a collection of texts, a mass of undigested facts; that it is without doctrinal coherence, or at least that its coherence is not relevant to the labours of the systematic divine ; finally, that the main function of dogmatic, so far as Scripture is concerned, is to draw out into logical order and philosophic sequence the truths which are given in God's Word without any such advantages. The definition is at once too narrow and too presumptuous. It is too narrow, for a believing theology has larger functions towards the statements of Scripture than merely to formulate them into dogina; it has wider ranges of development than those of logical synthesis or inferential construction. On the other hand, the definition is too presumptuous, and undertakes too much if it ignores the order and connection in which revealed truths and facts are delivered to us in the Bible itself if it assumes that they only become " profitable for doctrine” when they have been ranged into a dogmatic system. A very important view of Scripture in its relation to doctrine has in truth been overlooked in these definitions, and is too much forgotten in our theological studies. For, in the first place, the Canon is
made up of parts which have each a certain unity of their own, i.e. of the inspired utterances of God's chosen ones given to them “ at sundry times and in divers manners." These utterances are not so fragmentary in almost any case but that we can see the writer of them to have had a system of Divine things in his mind by which his statements cohere and become explicable ; while in not a few instances, especially among the New Testament writers,-notably, we might say, in the case of the apostle Paul,—these “ruling ideas” take the form of a clearly pronounced and vigorously enforced doctrinal systein. Plainly it is the duty of one branch at least of theological science to examine and elucidate with the utmost care the doctrinal ideas underlying each of the books, or groups of books, of which Scripture is composed, to mark the connection, the progressive import, the growing fulness of these thoughts, and thus to prepare the way for the construction of a system which is to work into itself the various phases of Biblical truth, with completeness, with impartiality, but, at the same time, with a due regard to the manner and order in which they arise in the course of revelation. For again, besides the doctrinal unity, more or less distinct, which pervades the work of each inspired writer—thus affording instances of system within the record itself, which must be invaluable to the systematic theologian, there is a larger unity (other than merely logical), of the entire Revelation as a historical unfolding of God's grace to mankind. This fruitful view of Revelation, to which attention has been so wholesomely recalled in our day, we owe mainly to the Reformers of the sixteenth century. We know how much it did in their hands for the life of theology as well as fur spiritual life in general. When, for instance, the Gospel came to be considered not merely as a new law, something to be believed and obeyed over and above the moral code of the Old Testament, but as the culminating discovery of God's grace reconciling men to Himself in Jesus Christ, evangelical theology, the theology of the Reformation, at once sprang to life, taking the place of the dry and arid expositions of the school-divinity. Now let this idea have full scope ; let this more “vivid, organic view of Holy Scripture and sacred history” prevail
, this perception that the thoughts of God concerning man's salvation, as communicated to us in the Bible,
“ form a whole which is composed of members organically related, and which has been the subject of an historical progress." Can it fail to have a transforming and quickening influence on our theology ? For one thing, the notion of Scripture as, in relation to doctrine, merely the rudis indigestaque moles from which the systematic theologian is to evoke order, must, thenceforth appear to us repugnant.
The too common habit of regarding all texts taken from any period, and wrenched out of their connection, as equally available for doctrinal proof must be discarded ; while on the other hand the theology which is truly and properly Biblical will take its due place as the fuller model after which systematic divinity is to interpret the teaching of its supreme standard. The word which I have just employed will remind you that the thing desiderated is, strictly speaking, the task, not of Dogmatic but of that which is technically called Biblical theology. But what I am interested to point out is, that our Dogmatic can no longer dispense with the thing itself. The task ought to be accomplished in some adequate fashion. And it must be confessed that Biblical theology in the sense now indicated has, among us at least, had scarcely any existence.
How the two departments might assist each other, a fact in the history of the natural sciences may help to illustrate. We state the fact as given in one of the charming chapters of the late Hugh Miller. Students of plant and animal life had long pursued with varying success their vocation of arranging and classifying the individuals and groups belonging to their respective domains, when, late in the history of human knowledge, there came, from another department, a brilliant corroboration of the correct, or the natural, system. It was the youngest of the sciences interpreting the oldest of the records. The researches of geology brought to light in the earth's strata the record of a succession in plant and animal-a record not graven by art or man's device—but Nature's own report of the order in which these had taken their place in the ranks of existence. This succession was found to proceed, speaking roughly and generally, from lower to higher; nay, in most of its details was found to run parallel with the orders into which the best of our naturalists were learning to arrange the living products of the
Testimony of the Rocks, pr. 4.6.
Dogmatic leans on Biblical Theology.
globe. In short, the classifying principle in the human mind, exercised upon the natural objects presently submitted to it, has been found to coincide, in its results, with the historic succession of the various orders and classes as these arose in the creation of animated being. The analogy is imperfect, as most analogies are, but not without its use and suggestiveness. The record of Revelation is not palæontological—it is not a record of fossil beliefs, or of an earlier doctrinal creation,-rather of those living principles of God's truth and grace which form the substance of our Gospel and the subject-matter of our theology. But the parallel lies here : that branch of theological science which traces the order and manner of the delivery of these principles to men in the course of Revelation must have a great deal to say to that other branch of it, which deals with the system of these revealed doctrines in their mutual relation and connection. Indeed, the lesson is double-sided. It is not only that our systematic theology, if it is to be progressive, must lean more on that which is properly Biblical,—and this, probably, is the lesson we need most in this country ;—but also, that Biblical theology, where it has been studied, has been too exclusively historical, and has not ministered, as it might have done, to the quickening and transforming of Dogmatic. In any case, if it be acknowledged (as it will be that this closer alliance of the Biblical with the Dogmatic is the desideratum of our present evangelical theology, the fact is a most relevant and significant comment upon our thesis of to-day : that life and progress can only be secured on the great Protestant line of a reinvigorated believing application of our theological forces to the Bible itself.
There are cheering signs that our Church and country are to share, yet more largely than they have done, in that revival of Theology which has marked the present as compared with the preceding century. We have shared in it already. The great stride which all the Scottish Churches made in spiritual life forty years ago has garnered some of its fruits more recently in such theological productions as those of Chalmers and Cunningham, of Bannerman and Buchanan, of Candlişh and Crawford, of Brown and Eadie, not to mention names among the living. But there are tokens that this regeneration is to spread more widely. Preparations for it have long been evident in the greatly increased enthusiasm manifest in our schools of divinity for the study of the sacred tongues, in the rise of a careful yet freer exegesis even in our pulpits, in such results of modern textual criticism as are now made accessible to all, e.g. in the Revised Version of the English New Testament, and even in the direction recently given to our thoughts in the more debatable and delicate region of historical criticism. Let that criticism continue to own thorough allegiance to faith; let it remain true to its chosen watchword, the “measuring of Scripture by Scripture ;" let its constructions of the genesis and order of Revelation be ruled supremely by the record itself and never by tradition, either orthodox or rationalistic; then it cannot fail to elucidate those “mutual relations of the various elements of the Canon” which are likely, when better understood, to prove so valuable an incitement and aid to our theology.
Not to prolong this rapid summary of the prospects of these sacred studies, let me remind you that they will converge on that which we are to pursue together. Systematic theology has her seat in the centre of the sacred and of all the sciences. A thousand preparatory lines of thought have been beating a path for your feet hither; myriads of saintly names rise in memory to beckon you on; many of the best books ever written are ready to light your studies in the sacred and highest of them all. And then there is that promise of “the anointing that teacheth.” Thus served and ministered, let our study be pursued as it ought, with an independence arising (as I have tried to show) at once from the rights of Faith and from the claims of Scripture. Served by criticism, yet resting upon that which criticism cannot shake, theology can afford calmly to contemplate its apparent fluctuations. Defended by apologetic,—an apologetic in our day at once broadened and simplified,—she yet learns not to rush to her walls at every panic, rather to expend energy on the cultivation of her own positive attainments.
“The truth within aye first take care to cherish,
Truths long besieged are apt of want to perish.”
Once more, remember that our study is also supreme and central as regards your future work. The truths which it undertakes to ground and harmonise are the substance of