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for that of an infallible Church. The office of reason was still the same, - to “hear and obey.” The time had not yet come for the assertion of the supreme authority of the voice of God in reason, conscience, and the soul. If Luther had attempted more, he might have effected less. He freed human reason from the heaviest burden he found laid upon it, and humanity gained by the change of authority. He did not originate the idea of the infallibility of the Bible, but he destroyed that of fathers, schoolmen, and popes.
Again, an infallible book cannot have the same power as an infallible Church. The infallible Church can decide every question which may ever arise. The infallible book can pronounce no opinion upon questions not under discussion at the time when it is written. Thus, on such subjects as spiritualism, abolitionism, pauperism, it is much easier to ascertain the opinion of Rome than that of Scripture. The Church undertakes to decide every political, social, and scientific question. The Bible does not. The Church's tyranny is ever present. Those who see any in the Bible must admit that it is comparatively obsolete. The rule of the Bible is far more limited than that of Rome.
A successful attack on any assumed authority weakens the prestige of all such assumption. No new tyranny can be as firmly rooted as the old. Thus, within three centuries after Luther, another great thinker for the German people, Lessing, said: “Luther benefited religion by attacking the infallibility of the authority which fettered him. Our truest Lutheranism is to attack the infallibility of the authority which fetters us.”
Theoretically, the difference between the infallible Church and the infallible book is not so great as might seem. Any infallible book must be interpreted. Our infallible book must be translated. Both translation and interpretation can be satisfactorily done only by those who give their lives to such studies. The people at large must look to the clergy to know what the infallible book really says. Thus the clergy of every sect must be the authorized interpreters of the Bible for that sect, and the authorized interpreters of an infallible book must be regarded as the representatives of infallibility. Thus an infallible book makes an infallible Church. A comparison VOL. LXXIII. 5TH S. VOL. XI. NO. I.
of the different sects and epochs of Protestantism would show that where the infallibility of the Bible has been most fully acknowledged, there ministers, merely in virtue of their office, have had the most power. Even Luther seems to have unconsciously taken his own interpretations of Scripture as infallible. Indeed, he says himself, “I know that I have a pope in my belly, and I think most other men have also.” *
Fortunately, our conclusions have been wiser than our premises. We have insisted on the right of every man to interpret for himself a most difficult book, three fourths of which is in a language of which very few know anything at all, and the remainder in a dialect whose subtilties often baffle the ablest investigator. We pass easily over the obstacles created by the pervading influence of wholly anomalous national ideas and historic circumstances. We are not impeded in the least by any variations of readings, renderings, or interpretations. We do not stop to decide among the two hundred and fifty various expositions of Galatians iii. 20. The whole science of exegesis has been reduced to one short, simple, and practical maxim. “ Never accept as the meaning of Scripture anything contrary to reason and conscience.” This is a safe way to escape being compelled by outward authority to believe anything unreasonable, but it is a very vicious method of interpretation. If the infallible book agrees with reason invariably, reason must itself be infallible and all-sufficient. Moreover, no one book can agree with all men's moral and religious ideas, for these ideas are never found in any two men alike, except to a very limited extent. Men differ among themselves so much, that some must differ from Scripture. What then ? What is to be done if Scripture and reason differ? Rome said, “Let the Church decide.” Protestantism must either force reason to agree with Scripture, or it must force Scripture to agree with reason. Here we come back to the old allegorical method.
6 When the literal sense does not suit you, take some other that will.” The allegorical method has been the refuge of reason, since it allows every man to make the Bible mean what he wants it to
* See Hallam, History of Literature, Vol. I. pp. 238 and 293 ; but see Vol. II.
mean. Without it, reason would have no defence from authority. Indeed, professed literalists, however they have enforced the letter against other men's reason, have been obliged to depart very often from the literal meaning themselves, and explain away so much, that the Bible has been like the Mormon prophet's compass, " which, when I had taken it into my hand, it did work whither I desired it to." Nothing but secret prevalence of allegorism can explain the fact that honest and sensible men have found Scripture authority for so many absurd and contradictory notions. For this allegorical method favors not the use, but the abuse, of reason. The habit of professing to believe words whose plain sense we consciously disregard, is clearly ruinous to both intellectual and moral integrity. What reason asks is honest, open freedom from the bondage of authority, not a license to cheat. It is better for reason to meet authority single-handed and single-hearted, than to be reduced into the corrupting alliance of allegory, the too frequent enemy of that truth in which alone is victory. It is not the Philistines, but Delilah, that Samson must fear. Moreover the rule of allegorism enervates and debases reason and conscience, and thus makes us willing slaves of authority, while the rigid and avowed tyranny of literalism forces all the strength and virtue of our nature to rebel. Allegorism corrupts reason, literalism challenges it; and never was there so great a victory for rationalism as when literalism, incarnate in Luther, triumphed over the allegorism on which Rome had built her Church.
It might be further shown, that every departure from the plain meaning of the writer of any part of Scripture is really a denial of his infallibility. All improvements on the literal sense must be made at the dictate either of our own reason and conscience, or of our creed, which is simply the embodied reason and conscience of our Church. It does not do to say we interpret Scripture by Scripture, and depart from the literal meaning of one writer to preserve the literal meaning of the whole Bible ; for differences and contradictions cannot exist in an infallible book, or if they can, they are only to be reconciled by the arbitration of reason or of the Church. Every step in spiritual or allegorical interpretation is an ad
mission of the supreme authority of individual inspiration or of ecclesiastical dogma. Thus we come to a dilemma familiar to the readers of the Christian Examiner, and which we cannot further discuss without exceeding all due limits,-“Reason or Rome, there is no middle ground.”
It might be further remarked, that even Luther was inconsistent in his literalism. He found it so hard to believe the doctrines of the Epistle of James and the Apocalypse, that he was obliged to declare these works spurious, and even leave the former one out of his translation of the New Testament. Indeed, his language concerning them has been called irreverent scoffing by those who forget that his violence was caused by the struggle between his obedience to conscience and his reverence for external authority, which he could not calmly disregard. He could not cease to look at the Pope as Christ, without thinking him the Antichrist. He could not give up the infallibility of St. James's doctrine of justification by works, without calling his Epistle “ an epistle of straw.” Of course, if we can believe any part of Scripture spurious which does not satisfy our reason, we make reason supreme, and Biblical infallibility a mere name.
Luther did, however, take the Bible, as much as any man could, as the sole infallible authority. It is often said that he thereby secured for reason all needed liberty, while he set up firm bounds against every excess of fanaticism. On this point a few facts may be cited. While in the Wartburg, he was called to decide on the lawfulness of the marriage of monks and nuns.
He at once consulted his Bible, but was sorely puzzled by finding nothing there about monks and nuns, except one passage, where it is said of the widows, whom he supposed to have been consecrated to celibacy, “ When they begin to wax wanton against Christ, then they will marry." This seemed a proof text against their marriage, and it cost him a sore struggle to make up his mind that it could not be followed. Again, he was satisfied that lending money on interest was contrary to the Bible, and that polygamy was not. He was obliged to excommunicate merchants for taking interest, and solemnly sanction the Landgrave of Hesse's bigamy. He says of the Trinity, “I have had temptations on this matter, but how oppose my own poor thoughts to the Word of
God.” He held the doctrine of Consubstantiation, because it followed the literal meaning of the texts, “ This is my body,” and “ Except ye eat my flesh, and drink my blood, ye have no life in you,” – though it was, as he publicly admitted, contrary to reason, — with such pertinacity, that he denounced the necessary alliance with those who held more rational views as unchristian and perilous both to body and soul. It was only on his death-bed that he admitted that he had gone too far in the matter of the Sacrament. He derived his metaphysics mainly from the texts, " Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” “He that committeth sin is the servant (or slave) of sin,” and “ Man is not justified by the works of the law," whereas every result of man's free will is a work of man.
Hence his only philosophical treatise is entitled, De Servo Arbitrio,-“ Of the Servitude of the Will." So his politics all lay in the words, “Give unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's,” and “ Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers, for the powers that be are ordained of God.” He was obliged to deny the right of resistance to the Emperor, though indeed the plans of resistance had but little success. When the peasants had revolted against the oppressive aristocracy, though they were Luther's fellow-Protestants, and though he admitted the justice of their demands, which have since all been granted, he found himself compelled to denounce their rebellion so violently, that, long afterwards, he dared not visit his dying father, for fear that the peasants might avenge their sufferings, in the war he had preached against them, by his blood. From this time forth, Luther's only hope was in the speedy coming of the millennium, and in that prayer of faith, through which he felt justified in believing that he had raised his wife and best friends from otherwise certain death.
Meantime his friends at Wittenberg advanced still further in the literal application of Scripture. They clamored for the abolition of all rites and customs not sanctioned by apostolic
“Even Luther himself, the author of the greatest of moral revolutions since Christianity, smiled at the idea that the earth should move around the sun, and said, * According to Holy Scripture, Joshua commanded the earth to stand still, and not the sun.'” – Rev. Henry Giles, in the Liverpool Controversy.