Page images
PDF
EPUB

(Serm. vol. i. p. 88,) as explaining the more confirmed separation of clergy and laity in later times, and the incomplete influence which Christianity has exercised upon the institutions even of Christian countries.' (Serm. vol. iii. Pref. p. xiv.)

II. Strong as was his natural taste for History, it was to Theology that he looked as the highest sphere of his exertions, and as the province which most needed them. The chief object, which he here proposed to himself—in fact, the object which he conceived as the proper end of Theology itself—was the interpretation and application of the Scriptures. From the time of his early studies at Oxford, when he analyzed and commented on the Epistles of St. Paul, with Chrysostom's Homilies, down to the last year of his life, when he was endeavouring to set on foot a Rugby edition of them, under his own superintendence, he never lost sight of this design; and, scattered as are the notices of it in his Sermons, published and unpublished, there is enough to enable us to combine his principles into a distinct whole; and to conceive them, not in the polemical form, which in his later years they sometimes presented in their external aspect, but as the declaration of his positive views of the Scriptures themselves, wholly independent of any temporary controversy; and as the most complete reflex, not only of his capacities as an interpreter, but also, on the one hand, of his powers of historical discernment, on the other, of the reality of his religious feelings.

Impossible as it is to enter here into any detailed exposition of his views, it has been felt that the liveliest image of what he was in this department will be

given by presenting their main features, as they were impressed on the mind of the same earlier pupil and later friend, whose name has before occurred in these pages, and whose personal recollections of the sphere in which he most admired him, will probably convey a truer and more distinct conception than would be left by a representation of the same facts in general language, or from a more distant point of view.

MY DEAR STANLEY,

You ask me to describe Dr. Arnold as an Exegetical Divine: I feel myself altogether unequal to such a task; indeed, I have no other excuse for writing at all on such a subject, than the fact that I early appreciated his greatness as a Theologian, and for many years had the happiness of discussing frequently with him his general views on scientific Divinity. It was one of my earliest convictions respecting him, that, distinguished as he was in many departments of literature and practical philosophy, he was most distinguished as an interpreter of Scripture; and the lapse of years, and an intimate knowledge of his mind and character, have but confirmed this conviction. As an expounder of the word of God, Arnold always has seemed to me to be truly and emphatically great. I do not say this on account of the extent and importance of what he actually achieved in this department; for, unfortunately, he never gave himself up fully to it; he never worked at it, as the great business of his literary life. I shall ever deplore his not having done so; and I well remember how sharp was the struggle, when he had to choose between the interpretation of Scripture and the Roman History; and how the choice was determined, not by the consideration of what his peculiar talent was most calculated for performing successfully, but by regard to extrinsic

matters,—the prejudice of the clergy against him, the unripeness of England for a free and unfettered discussion of scriptural Exegesis, and the injury which he might be likely to do to his general usefulness. And, as I then did my utmost to determine his labours to the field of Theology, so now I must deeply regret the heavy loss, which I cannot but think that the cause of sound interpretation, and, as founded upon it, of doctrinal theology,-has sustained in England. The amount, then, of interpretation which he has published to the world, though not inconsiderable, is still small in respect of what there remained to be done by him ; but Arnold has furnished a method has established principles and rules for interpreting Scripture, which, with God's blessing, will be the guide of many a future labourer, and promise to produce fruit of inestimable value. In his writings the student will find a path opened before him-a manner of handling the word of God-a pointing out of the end to be held in view—and a light thrown on the road that leads to it, that will amply repay the deepest meditation on them, and will (if I may say so without presumption) furnish results full of the richest truth, and destined to exercise a commanding influence on the conduct and determination of religious controversy hereafter.

It must be carefully borne in mind, that there are two methods of reading Scripture, perfectly distinct in their objects and nature; the one is practical, the other scientific; the one aims at the edification of the reader, the other at the enlightenment of his understanding; the one seeks the religious truth of Scripture as bearing on the inquirer's heart and personal feelings, the other the right comprehension of the literary and intellectual portions of the Bible. That Arnold read and meditated on the word of God as a disciple of Christ for his soul's daily edification; that it was to him the word of life, the fountain of his deepest feelings, the rule of his life; that he dwelt in the humblest, most reverential, most prayerful study of its simplest truths, and under the abiding influence of their power, as they were assimilated into his spiritual being by faith; that Arnold felt and did all this, the whole tenor of his life and every page of your biography amply attest. Those, who were most intimate with him, will readily recall the mingled feelings of reverence and devotion with which he would, in his lonelier hours, repeat to himself such passages as the raising of Lazarus, or the description of the Judgment; nor will they easily forget the deep emotion, with which he was agitated, when, on a comparison having been made in his family circle, which seemed to place St. Paul above St. John, he burst into tears, and in his own earnest and loving tone, repeated one of the verses from St. John, and begged that the comparison might never again be made.

But I am here concerned with the other, and strictly intellectual, process; the scientific exposition of the Scriptures as a collection of ancient books, full of the mightiest intellectual truths; as the record of God's dealings with man; and the historical monument of the most wonderful facts in the history of the world. For the office of such an interpreter, Arnold possessed rare and eminent qualifications; learning, piety, judgment, historical tact, sagacity. The excellence of his method may be considered under two heads :-1. He had a very remarkable, I should rather say (if I might) wonderful discernment for the divine, as incorporated in the human element of Scripture; and the recognition of these two separate and most distinct elements, the careful separation of the two, so that each shall be subject to its own laws, and determined on its own principles,—was the foundation, the grand characteristic principle of his Exegesis. Our Lord's words, that we must “render to Cæsar the things which are Cæsar's, and to God the things which are God's," seemed to him to be of universal application, and nowhere more so, than in the interpretation of Scripture. And his object was not, according to the usual practice, to establish by its means certain religious truths, but to study its contents themselves—to end, in short, instead of beginning with doctrine. Indeed, doctrine, in the strict sense, doctrine as pure religious theory, such as it is exhibited in scientific articles and creeds, never was his object. Doctrine, in its practical and religious side, as bearing on religious feeling and character, not doctrine, in the sense of a direct disclosure of spiritual or material essences, as they are in themselves, was all that he endeavoured to find, and all that he believed could be found, in the teaching of Scripture.

First of all he approached the human side of the Bible in the same real historical spirit, with the same methods, rules, and principles, as he did Thucydides. He recognised in the writers of the Scriptures the use of a human instrument-language; and this he would ascertain and fix, as in any other authors, by the same philological rules. Further too, the Bible presents an assemblage of historical events, it announces an historical religion; and the historical element Arnold judged of historically by the established rules of history, substantiating the general veracity of Scripture even amidst occasional inaccuracies of detail, and proposing to himself, for his special end here, the reproduction, in the language and forms belonging to our own age, and therefore familiar to us, of the exact mode of thinking, feeling, and acting which prevailed in the days gone by

But was this all? Is the Bible but a common book, recording, indeed, more remarkable occurrences, but in itself possessed of no higher authority than a faithful and trustworthy historian like Thucydides ? Nothing could be farther from Dr. Arnold's feeling. In the Bible, he found and acknowledged an oracle of God--a positive and supernatural revelation made to man, an immediate inspiration of the Spirit. No conviction was more deeply seated in his nature; and this conviction placed an impassable gulph between him and all rationalizing divines. Only it is very important to observe how this fact, in respect of

« PreviousContinue »