The Bible has been received by the church of Christ from the first ages as the Word of God, the great fountain of truth. As such it has been the object of wider, deeper, more earnest, and more assiduous meditation and study than any other book whatever; yea, even more than all other books combined. Thousands upon thousands of works have been written, to unfold its truths and apply them to the hearts of men. The amount of Biblical literature during the four centuries since the Reformation is prodigious. The labor of a lifetime would not suffice for a bare perusal, much less for a careful study of all its manifold varieties, in criticism, history, doctrine, ethics and; practical applications to the religious life. It has been translated into more than two hundred languages, and circulated in many millions of copies; and hence has arisen a still further amount of critical labor and learned industry altogether unique in the history of the world.
This immense accumulation of Biblical literature, whatever its source may be, may supply a skeptical spirit with large quantities of material for casting doubt and suspicion on the divine message. Man touches nothing that he does not defile. The gift of revelation to a fallen world implies that men are prone to go astray, and lose themselves in the thick mists, of religious error. The world was full of Gentile idolatry when the Gospel appeared. Its presence brought light into the thick darkness; but it did not seal up the sources of delusion in the human heart. The course of divine truth, in every age, has been a constant warfare, and not a triumphal progress. In that way the interpretation of the Bible has had a checkered course. Much precious truth has been unfolded; but no slight amount of human error, in various and divergent forms, has mingled with these expositions. The stream, however pure its source, has become turbid in its progress, and stained by the soil from the river-bed in which it had to flow.
It is easy to dwell on the human side of the literature of the Bible until the real excellency of the Word of God is quite obscured from view. The trifling of mere verbal critics; and grammarians, the strife of interpreters, the dreams of mystics, the subtleties of schoolmen, the confusing influence of the mental process in ten thousands of minds of different ages, countries and modes of thought more often than not indicates; a departure from the fundamental principle of approach to the Bible as the Word of God and in no sense the word of man. It is not a mixture of the divine and human, but it is purely divine; from beginning to ends a divine book. We do not deny thereby the secondary authors, but affirm that they were organically and completely inspired to write for God, His Word. That Word is the product of the one divine mind of Him who in His eternal council conceived of the whole of Scripture as a living organism. In that same council He determined all the authors of Holy Scripture with regard to their personality, character, talents;, education, mode of thinking, style of writing, personal experience and historical circumstances so as to fit authors each in his own place, in the organism of Scripture. The Holy Spirit prepared these authors and inspired, moved, illuminated and guided them to write infallibly the divine Word with its one purpose—the glory of God, and one great message in the organic whole—the revelation of God in Christ, His Son.
The Scripture, therefore, is one. It has one divine author; one purpose; one message. As such it is truly inspired, bearing everywhere the impress of its divine author. It is pure, for God is pure, and Holy, for God is Holy. It is marked by unity, for “known unto God are all His; works from the beginning.” It is consistent and complete, for “the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, even the deep things of God.” It is an harmonious whole for its author is the Spirit to whom all things are revealed and whose messages are of no private interpretation, but a consistent revelation of good things to come.
In that unity, however, there is diversity. Its thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and twenty-seven in the New are the work of some forty different writers. The whole is collected; into one volume whose composition is spread over the long interval of fifteen hundred years. It is not, however, the variety of a mechanical instrument that pervades the Bible, but the diversity of a living organism growing out of a common principle—the revelation of God in Christ. This unity of thought, purpose and message in the diversified organic whole is referred to as the Analogy of Scripture. The subordination, correlation, and cooperation of all parts to the general effect of the organic whole form the contents of this analogy.
The importance of maintaining that principle as the fundamental approach to the Bible, as the Word of God, becomes evident to every Christian student of the Bible when he realizes how often it is denied or forgotten in the exposition of Scripture. There are fundamentally two errors which are more or less prevalent. Rationalism, on the one hand, undermines the authority of God’s Word; either by rejecting it as an external revelation or by accepting it and making human reason the sole arbiter of its meaning. Traditionalism, on the other, makes the Scripture only a (Standard parallel with the living tradition of the Church. Both, though in opposite ways, take from the Bible its dignity, deny the analogy of Scripture and sever it from its connection with the Holy Spirit as the supreme instrument of His operation in things spiritual forever.
Extreme rationalism finds its expression in the so-called Historical School of Higher Criticism. To them the Scriptures are simply an historical record, and at times even less; mere mythology, perhaps, registering the gradual development of the world’s religious instinct. Evolution governs all things in the Spiritual as well as the physical domain; and the Old and New Testaments; only mark the stages through which the spiritual faculties of earlier races had passed. The ever developing reason of man must make their doctrine—lies in all ages made it—the starting point for further evolutions; the end of which is not yet. This theory forever vacillating between Theism and Atheism, has; no place save among the enemies of the Christian faith, for it denies the Word as divine revelation in which unity and harmony prevail and is soon lost in maze of human reason which it exalts to sit as Judge over the Word of God.
Traditionalism, which finds its zenith in the hierarchy of Rome, accepts the two elements: Scripture and the oral tradition of the church. This necessarily requires as its final judge an infallible regulative authority in the church itself and once again loses the principle of the one divine Word sufficient unto all salvation.
To a greater or lesser degree all heresy is guilty of the same practice of refusing to acknowledge the analogy of Scripture as it seeks to maintain itself on the basis of only a portion of the whole; which part is again warped to suit its purpose. Dr. Bavinck expresses this thought most succinctly in his great work on Reformed Dogmatics when he affirms: “It is a distinguishing mark of many sects, that they proceed from a small part of Scripture and for the rest leave it severely alone!” We, who maintain the historic Reformed position in respect to the sovereignty of God over all His creatures, are well aware of this denial of the analogy of Scripture among our erring brethren of the Christian Reformed Church. Upon the dictum of the highest ecclesiastical authority of that body and upon the basis of a few apparent proof texts, they attempt to maintain and defend the theory of a common grace. When confronted with the current teaching of the unity of Scripture, they assume the unreasonable and naive position of a dualism in that revealed unity. Under the cloak of a pious humility, they must necessarily maintain that the Bible contradicts itself, and receive as truth the speech of the Church as; the final authority.
It is essential, therefore, for those who would maintain the integrity of the Scriptures to understand the importance of the Analogy of Scripture. That the Scripture is centrally the Revelation of God: in Christ must always be remembered. It is an organic whole, from which it follows that it may not be treated as a mere collection of writings without relation to one another and perhaps in mutual conflict. The writings of the prophets, the apostles and evangelists are together the vehicle for the one Word of God, the revelation of Jesus. Christ is everywhere and yet Christ is nowhere. He is in the Gospels but not apart from the Old Testament prophets, or exclusive of the Revelation of St. John. Only all together do we get the complete Christ. We must, therefore, ever seek the unity in the diversified whole and only by applying the analogy of the whole shall we determine what is the particular Word of God at any certain place. Only then do we realize that there is development, but no discrepancy. There are partial contrasts, adding life to the whole by the diversity of the parts, but no contradiction. There is a manifest and undeniable harmony of thought, tone and doctrine which animates and pervades the whole.
As a principle for use by the sincere student of Scripture, the Analogy is indispensable and has always been regarded as such. From the earliest Church Fathers down through the ages the Christian theologian has recognized this principle as fundamental. We limit ourselves to but three quotations to substantiate this fact. The first is by Thomas. Hartwell Horne in his “Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures.” He writes thus: “The sense of any prophecy is not to be determined by an abstract consideration of the passage itself, but by taking it in conjunction with other portions of Scripture relating to the subject, ‘comparing things spiritual with spiritual rule’, which though it be especially applicable to the prophetic writing, is also of general importance in the exposition of the Sacred Volume.”2 In the same manner Dr. Bavinck declared: “Not on the basis of a few separate texts, but on that of the Bible in its entirety a dogma must be built; it must evolve organically out of principles which are everywhere present in Scripture.”3 And finally, the noted Dutch theologian, Dr. A. Kuyper affirms: “If hermeneutics (which is the science of interpretation) deposits rules for exegesis that proceed from the presupposition that each book stands aphoristically by itself and that therefore we can only apply the analogy of Scripture to the writings of the same author, for example those of Paul and John, then she would abandon thereby, in principle, the unity of Scripture, consider that unity something contingent even when it is not contradicted by the results of exegesis and deny in fact that one and the same higher consciousness speaks through all these Scriptures together to the Church of Christ.”4
There must be, therefore, the perpetual reference to the universal harmony of Scriptural truth as given by the one inspiring Spirit. This analogy of Scripture must govern the interpretation of the divine Word as being a gradual development of one harmonious truth. That analogy is not and cannot be based upon a few proof texts, but must be the result of exegesis of extensive passages throughout Scripture so that we may come to the perfect and complete revelation of God in Christ. Dogmatics and exegesis must not and may not dominate our interpretation of Scripture, but must be dominated by Scripture. Scripture must interpret itself or remain uninterpreted.
Following this principle, we walk in the footsteps of the earliest defenders of the sovereignty of God. Both Augustine and Calvin, when confronted by the heretics who presented the apparent contradiction, of God’s Word with itself, took refuge in the Analogy of Scripture. When faced, for example, with such passages as: “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who would have all men to be saved, and come to knowledge of the truth,” which according to their opponents plainly teach that God wills that all men shall be saved and is merciful to all men, they replied that it cannot be interpreted by itself. They replied, according to the analogy of Scripture, that God is in the heavens and doeth all His good pleasure. Hence, this passage will have to be interpreted; in such wise that it agrees with the other, viz. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and show mercy to whom I will show mercy.5
By the same proper use of the Analogy of Scripture, the Church today may defend itself through the unity of the divine Word and revelation against all heresy and unfold its organic beauty. And thus, as someone has said: “by due attention to these principles, and with humble supplication to the throne of grace for a blessing on his labours, the diligent searcher after Scripture truth may confidently hope for success. The design of every portion of Holy Writ, its harmony with the rest, and the divine perfection of the whole, will more and more fully be displayed and thus will he be led, with increasing veneration and gratitude, to adore Him, to whom every sacred book bears witness, and every divine dispensation led the way; even Him who is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.”6