Evaluation of Kuitert’s View of Scripture (continued)
In the November 1 issue I began a discussion of the crucial issue of organic inspiration as it relates to all the current discussion of the so-called “human element” or “human factor” in Holy Scripture. At the conclusion of my last editorial on this subject I set forth the several elements of organic inspiration, and I promised to elaborate on these and to point out their significance. To this task the present editorial is addressed.
In the first place, then, in studying the manner of the inspiration of Scripture we must be deeply aware of the fact that when we speak of inspiration and of the inspired Scriptures, we stand face to face with awonder. And no more than we can fathom any of the divine wonders, no more can we comprehend this wonder of inspiration. For the fact of the matter is that when we stand face to face with the wonder, we are confronted by the incomprehensible God! He is the God of the wonder! You can know Him, but always your knowledge is knowledge of the Incomprehensible One, knowledge of the God Who doeth wonders. When you and I are confronted by His works,—also His work of the inscripturated Word,—we may see those works, contemplate them, understand what they are, understand their meaning and even probe deeply into them and discover their riches; but always they remain beyond us, fathomless, uniquely works of God, incomparable, not works of a mere creature. Always there is that certain “Thus far, and no farther” about God and His works, the boundary beyond which we cannot and may not attempt to go. Always the words of the Dutch versification of Psalm 118 apply to any of the wonders of God:
Dit werk is door Gods alvermogen,
Door ‘s Heeren hand alleen geschied;
Het is een wonder in onz’ oogen;
Wij zien het, maar doorgronden ‘t niet.
And a wonder Scripture certainly is. Not only is revelation itself already a wonder. But add to this the fact that God causes His Word of Self-revelation to be communicated through the agency of mere, finite, imperfect (though holy) men, and through the medium of finite, limited, human, earthly language, in such a way that it is and remains His Word, and then you can begin to sense the mystery of this wonder somewhat. But the wonder is faith’s dearest child! And it requires exactly a boldness which is peculiar to faith to single out from among all the multitudinous writings of men this one book, the Bible, and to confess of it, without any reservation or limitation: “This is the Word of God written!”
The latter is precisely and emphatically the confession of faith! That faith does not require a prior investigation. It does not insist on comprehending. It does not first demand an explanation with respect to all the many questions which may arise in connection with the “how” of inspiration. Faith lays hold on the wonder! It believes! And it investigates and probes into the riches of what it believes always within the confines of its own nature as faith and always within the limits which are set by the very fact that what it believes is the divine wonder.
This, I say, we must bear in mind when we consider the various questions which arise in connection with the inspiration of Scripture. This does not mean whatsoever that questions may not be asked, and that answers may not be sought. Nor does it mean that our faith becomes a kind of “easy out,” a kind of skirt behind which we hide when we are faced by knotty theological problems, so that we irrationally seek refuge in a simplistic motto and refuse to seek and to formulate answers to any questions. But it does mean:
1. That we must be careful lest we begin to base our belief of the truth that Scripture is the Word-of-God-written upon our would-be solutions to our problems. Then we already have the cart before the horse. Then we are already on the road of rationalism (not, mind you, of rationality; faith is quite rational). And that road of rationalism is the road of unbelief, the road which ends inevitably in the denial of the infallibly inspired Word of God. For if my faith in this regard depends upon my ability to find a satisfactory answer to every question and every problem which may be raised in regard to this truth, and if then I cannot find a solution which in every way satisfies my puny mind, then my faith as to Scripture’s being exclusively the Word of God falls with my inability to find answers.
2. That we must be careful in our consideration of the various questions raised in connection with inspiration that by our answers to these questions we do notdestroy the problem, and thereby, at the same time, deny the wonder of Scripture’s being exclusively the Word of God. It is always a rather facile method to solve problems by destroying them. This is precisely what is done when, in seeking answers to these questions about inspiration, we conclude by saying after all that the Bible is the Word of God plus the word of man, or that the Bible is the product of two factors, a divine and a human. In that case, you have no problem to solve because you have destroyed the problem. But then, paradoxically, you have a worse problem, namely, that you have no Word of God any longer. For you have exactly denied the wonder!
3. That all our attempts to explain and to understand somewhat the meaning and the manner of inspiration must take place within the framework of the Scriptures themselves, must be guided and ruled by the instruction of the infallible Word itself. And this will mean that when we have finished our consideration of problems and questions, we will discover that the more we come into contact with and probe into the riches of this truth, the more our faith comes to stand directly before the wonder of a sovereign God. The end will be that we profess, on the one hand, in the language ofPsalm 118: “We see it, but we fathom it not!” And, on the other hand, the end will be that we exclaim: “Thou, O God, art the God of the wonder! How great was Thy ‘special care’ which Thou hadst for us and our salvation when Thou didst command Thy servants to commit Thy revealed Word to writing!” (Confession of Faith, Article 3)
In the second place, the concept of organic inspirationtakes into full account the fact that the Holy Spirit employed human instruments in the production of the Scriptures, and that these human instruments were not suppressed. The latter is a self-evident fact, which no one can deny and which no one wants to deny. In fact, it is one of the beauties of Scripture and its inspiration which shines forth from every page of Scripture. Of this the child of God does not have to be afraid in his contemplation of the truth of inspiration. This simply adds to the wonder and the beauty of the Scriptures.
Consider this for a moment.
The Holy Spirit employed many different human instruments in His wonderful work of inspiration. Some of these men we learn to know rather well from the pages of Scripture; others we know personally very little. Some of them we cannot even identify, so far they recede into the background in the writing of Scripture. To others we cannot even assign a definite date in history. Moreover, the Scriptures were written over a period of some 1500 years; they were produced in lands separated by hundreds and thousands of miles. Among the human instruments there were well-educated men, like Moses and Paul; there were also among them simple Galilean fishermen and farmers and peasants. They were inspired to speak and to write when they were guiding flocks, when they were in prisons, in palaces, in courts of great world-rulers. The Scriptures were written by men who apparently had no knowledge of one another and who had no knowledge of what others were writing and were going to write. In all the production of Scripture there was as little outward and mechanical unity as is imaginable. And yet there is the most beautiful inner harmony and unity and completeness conceivable.
But there is more to this wonder. That which belongs to the individuality of these writers comes to manifestation in Scripture. The sacred writers wrote in their own language, Hebrew or Greek, not Holland or French or English. They wrote from the point of view of their peculiar times and circumstances, not only in general and as far as the difference between the old and the new dispensations is concerned, but also in detail. This is true not only of historical books, but even of prophetical writings. The prophecy of Isaiah, for example, could only have been written in the particular setting of time and place and minute circumstances and historical events in which it was written. This is not mere speculation; it is Scripture’s own testimony, Isaiah 1:1: “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” Isaiah, moreover, could have been written only by an Isaiah. The same is very obviously evident in many of the psalms: their background and setting very obviously played a part in their contents. Further, variety is evident in the styles of the different writers. Paul does not write as does John; and Luke does not write as does Matthew.
It is very evident, therefore, that men spake, men wrote, men taught, men sang, men prophesied, men recorded facts and events, and that too, with all their individual peculiarities of character and talents, of time and place, of history and circumstances. This is included in the wonder of infallible inspiration, and yet so, mind you, that nevertheless, “this Word of God was not sent: nor delivered by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
One would have to be a blind fool to ignore this facet of Scripture. And Dr. Kuitert’s snide caricature was entirely beside the point when he said in the course of his lecture, “Inspiration does not mean that something drops out of the blue.” I do not believe that anyone wants that kind of inspiration, or has taught it, or that any exegete of note proceeds on the basis that this is the way Scripture came into being.
But for all this, we are not by any means left with the alternative that then Scripture- must be a product of combined factors, divine and human, and that it is a mixture of divine and human elements. This position exactly destroys the wonder of Scripture.
The wonder is not that God employed men, after all, without really employing them.
The wonder is not that God employed men so that the outcome was a mixture.
The wonder is that God caused His own Word, the exclusively divine and true and infallible Word, to be committed to writing through men; yet in such a-way that it remained exclusively His Word.
In the third place, the only way in which we can understand this at all is in the light of the old, tried and true, Reformed, Scriptural principle of sovereign predestination and sovereign grace. When one loses sight of this principle or willfully discards it, he is at loose ends as far as every aspect of the truth is concerned. This is true also of the truth of inspiration.
Must we conceive of inspiration as meaning that the Holy Spirit somehow simply discovered men, readymade men, who could properly serve as the instruments of inspiration? Not at all. Then, surely, the Spirit was limited by men and their fitness. Then, surely, the product of inspiration would have been partly divine and partly human.
Must we conceive of inspiration as meaning that the Holy Spirit merely used men? Not at all! For, in the first place, when you apply the predicate used to the Holy Spirit, that can never be understood in the same sense as when you apply the predicate used to any man. There is a vast difference, the difference between Creator and creature! And, in the second place, when the Holy Spirit “uses” anyone, the Spirit is in no senselimited by him whom He uses.
We must understand, instead, that Scripture is altogether a divine work.
This means, in the first place, that we begin with God’s counsel, and that too, in connection with His sovereign purpose of salvation with respect to His people in Christ Jesus. That “special care which He has for us and our salvation,” mentioned in Article 3 of the Belgic Confession, proceeds, remember from His eternal good pleasure. And all that is involved in that special care likewise proceeds from that same eternal good pleasure. This applies to Scripture itself: God sovereignly and from eternity conceived of the whole of Scripture. It also applies to the writing of the Scriptures: God sovereignly and from eternity conceived of and determined upon the special organs of Christ’s body, organs of inspiration; and He ordained all the details of their personality, character, talents, education, mode of thinking, style of writing, personal experiences, place in history, etc., in such a way that each one would be fit to serve his individual place in the writing of Scripture, and that too, in such a way that when he wrote, what he wrote would be God’s Word infallible.
Secondly, God realizes His own counsel. What He purposes He also executes. Hence, the Holy Spirit does not find writers of Scripture; He calls and forms these divinely ordained organs of inspiration in time. An Isaiah was born and grew up and was formed, both naturally and spiritually, down to the very minutest detail, in order that he might fulfill his peculiar task in the production of the prophecy of Isaiah. The same was true of all the human instruments.
Thirdly, even then God did not leave the writing of His Word; to men. By the same Spirit He continued to realize His own counsel, inspiring, moving, bearing, illumining, guiding these human instruments to write infallibly what would be exclusively His Word.
Hence, it is all of God, none of man!
And who is to say that this is impossible, that God cannot do this, that these human instruments in relation to the Sovereign Potter were not so much clay which He molded according to His own good pleasure? Who is to say that as the alone Sovereign One He is not able by His Holy Spirit so to use and to move holy men to speak and to write His own Word, and yet to do so in such a way that they speak and write quite in harmony with their own, God-given, individual natures and characters and times and circumstances? Is He not God?
We may, in this connection, draw a parallel between the work of salvation and the work of inspiration.
We confess that God’s grace is irresistible, or efficacious, and that all of the work of salvation is from beginning to end the work of sovereign, irresistible grace. What does this mean? When the Almighty regenerates, calls justifies, sanctifies, preserves, and glorifies one of His elect, can it ever happen that such a man is not regenerated, called, justified, sanctified, preserved, and glorified? That would be absolutely impossible! But does that work of grace ignore and suppress the fact that the elect saint is a man, a rational and moral creature? Does it make of him a stock and block, a puppet, an automaton? Not at all! What then? Must we say that salvation is a cooperative venture of God and man? Not at all; it is solely the work of God’s sovereign grace, not at all the work of man. When all the saints have been redeemed and glorified, then in the grand song of the redeemed which shall echo through the ages of eternity there will be not a single note ascribing anything of the work of salvation to man. That song will sing the praises of God alone. Why? Because the work of salvation was the work of the sovereign God alone. O yes, God saves men; and when He does so, He deals with them in harmony with their nature as men. He does not treat them as trees or animals or stones, but as men. He never intervenes essentially between their nature and their actions. But in the work of sovereign grace He with absolute sovereignty operates upon and in the heart and mind and will of elect men and accomplishes His purpose and His work in such a way that it is exclusively Hiswork and in such a way that all the credit, all the praise, must be exclusively His.
Thus it is, principally, with Scripture also, as I have outlined in the preceding.
Is this mysterious? Indeed! Is it ineffable? By all means! And exactly at the point where the Spirit of God touches the heart and mind and will of holy men in such a way that they infallibly write God’s Word, and yet write it as men, we come face to face with this ineffable mystery. How does that operation take place? What exactly takes place? Can you describe that work as such and explain its possibility? No, I cannot; and there is no need of this. All I need do is believe, and then stand in awe before the wondrous works of God.
But once more it becomes plain how important is the principle of sovereign predestination,—not as a dry, staid, isolated truth, but as a fundamental working principle in the entire structure of the truth.
And I believe that in the final analysis the reason for all the problems and all the lack of solutions with respect to Scripture with which the church is plagued today lies in the fact that the church has largely forsaken this principle of sovereign predestination.