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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XVI. Later Theology

§ 5. Changing Conceptions of the Bible

Now although the discovery of errors in Scripture, of pseudepigraphs in the Old Testament, of unfulfillable prophecies,—the asseveration of which occupied so prominent a place in the trial of Briggs,—of authors separated by centuries within the confines of the Pentateuch alone, of false ascriptions of late laws to the holy but dimming figure of Moses, have undoubtedly helped us to regard the Bible as primarily a product of human literary and religious genius, they have also gradually changed both the conception of the place of the Bible in our religion and of our religion itself. We find these changes emerging even in the pages of Briggs.

  • If a man use it [the Bible] as a means of grace, it is of small importance what he may think of its inspiration. If it bring him to the presence of the living God and give him a personal acquaintance with Jesus Christ, that is its main purpose.… They [the Scriptural errors] intimate that the authority of God and His gracious discipline transcend the highest possibilities of human speech or human writing, and that the religion of Jesus Christ is not only the religion of the Bible, but the religion of personal communion with the living God.
  • The beginning at least of the profound change in a man’s religion which comes about through the change in his religious authority is delicately portrayed by Professor William N. Clarke (1841–1912) of Colgate College. Professor Clarke’s theological books have been the most popular attempt of our period to preserve in systematic form the essentials of historic Christianity without inhospitality to modern science and criticism. In his Sixty Years with the Bible (1909) he writes:

  • I have described the change by saying that I passed on from using the Bible in the light of its statements to using it in the light of its principles. At first I said, The Scriptures limit me to this; later I said, The Scriptures open my way to this. As for the Bible, I am not bound to work all its statements into my system; nay, I am bound not to work them all in; for some of them are not congenial to the spirit of Jesus and some express truths in forms which cannot be of permanent validity.