Tuesday, 6 September 2011

A 19th century Anglican priest on the inspiration of the Bible

From a sermon preached in Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford by Rev. John Burgon on 25 November 1860:

"But I shall be rendering the younger men a far more important service if to-day I address my remarks to a different class of objectors altogether: that far larger body, I mean, who without at all desiring to impugn the Inspiration of GOD'S Oracles, yet make no secret of their belief that the Bible is full of inaccuracies and misstatements. These men ascribe a truly liberal amount of human infirmity to the Authors of the several Books of the Bible; — slips of memory, misconceptions, imperfect intelligence, partial illumination, and so forth; — and, under one or other of those heads, include whatever they are themselves disposed to reject....

To begin, then, — Is it, I would ask you, a reasonable anticipation that the narrative of one inspired by GOD would prove full of inconsistencies, misstatements, slips of memory: — or indeed, that it should contain any misstatements, any inaccuracies at all? What then is the difference between an inspired and an uninspired writing, — the Word of GOD and the Word of Man?...

Why then are difficulties of this, or of any kind, permitted in the Gospel at all? it may be asked. — I answer, — that they may prove instruments of probation to you and to me. The sensualist has his trials; and the ambitious man, his. The difficulties in Holy Scripture, — which are numerous, and diverse, and considerable, — are admirable tests of the moral, the spiritual, the intellectual temper of Man. Experience shews moreover that some of the minutest discrepancies of all, if they be but of a character almost hopeless, are more potent to create perplexity in minds of a certain constitution, than the gravest doubts which ever burthened the soul of Speculation....

I hear some one say, — It seems to trouble you very much that inspired writers should be thought capable of making mistakes; but it does not trouble me, — Very likely not. It does not trouble you, perhaps, to see stone after stone, buttress after buttress, foundation after foundation, removed from the walls of Zion, until the whole structure trembles and totters, and is pronounced insecure. Your boasted unconcern is very little to the purpose, unless we may also know how dear to you the safety of Zion is. But if you make indignant answer, — (as would to Heaven you may!) — that your care for GOD'S honour, your jealousy for God's oracles, is every whit as great as our own, — then we tell you that, on your wretched premises, men more logical than yourself will make shipwreck of their peace, and endanger their very souls. There is no stopping, — no knowing where to stop, — in this downward course. Once admit the principle of fallibility into the inspired Word, and the whole becomes a bruised and rotten reed. If St. Paul a little, why not St. Paul much? If Moses in some places, why not in many? You will doubt our LORD'S infallibility next!...

Do you mean to say then, (I shall be asked,) that you maintain the theory of Verbal Inspiration? — I answer, I refuse to accept any theory whatsoever. But I believe that the Bible is the Word of GOD — and I believe that GOD'S Word must be absolutely infallible. I shall therefore believe the Bible to be absolutely infallible, — until I am convinced of the contrary....

But if, instead of the "Theory of Verbal Inspiration," I am asked whether I believe the words of the Bible to be inspired, — I answer, To be sure I do, — every one of them: and every syllable likewise. Do not you?Where, — (if it be a fair question,) — Where do you, in your wisdom, stop? The book, you allow is inspired. How about the chapters? How about the verses? Do you stop at the verses, and not go on to the words? Or perhaps you enjoy a special tradition on this subject, and hold that Inspiration is a general, vague kind of thing, — here more, there less: strong, (to speak plainly,) where you make no objection to what is stated, — weak, when it runs counter to some fancy of your own. — O Sir, but this "general vague kind of thing" will not suffice to anchor the fainting soul upon, in the day of trouble, and in the hour of death! "Here more, there less," will not satisfy a parched and weary spirit, athirst for the water of Life, and craving the shadow of the great Rock. What security can you offer me, that the promise which has sustained me so long occurs in the "more," and not in the "less?" How am I to know that your Bible is my Bible: in other words, what proof is there that either of us possesses the Word of GOD, — the authentic utterance of GOD'S HOLY SPIRIT, — at all?...

No, Sirs! The Bible (be persuaded) is the very utterance of the Eternal; — as much GOD'S Word, as if high Heaven were open, and we heard GOD speaking to us with human voice. Every book of it, is inspired alike; and is inspired entirely. Inspiration is not a difference of degree, but of kind. The Apocryphal books are not one atom more inspired than Bacon's Essays. But the Bible, from the Alpha to the Omega of it, is filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit of GOD: the Books of it, and the sentences of it, and the words of it, and the syllables of it, — aye, and the very letters of it....

Physical Science therefore, (for the last time!) — all the other Sciences, — Moral Science not excepted, — are the handmaids of Theological Science: and Morality, to which we omitted before to assign an office, we have stationed somewhere beneath the footstool, which is before the Throne, of the Most High. — But this day's Sermon, — (and with these words I conclude, sorry to have felt obliged to detain you so long!) — this Day's Sermon has had for its object to remind you, that THE BIBLE is none other than the voice of Him that sitteth upon the Throne! Every Book of it, — every Chapter of it, — every Verse of it, — every word of it, — every syllable of it, — (where are we to stop?) — every letter of it — is the direct utterance of the Most High! — Πᾶσα γραφὴ θεόπνευστος. "Well spake the HOLY GHOST, by the mouth of" the many blessed Men who wrote it. — The Bible is none other than the Word of GOD: not some part of it, more, some part of it, less; but all alike, the utterance of Him who sitteth upon the Throne; — absolute, — faultless, — unerring, — supreme!"