REVELATION AND MODERN THEOLOGY.*
THE former works of Mr. Row have been mainly apologetic, and had a direct reference to the culture, the criticism, and the science of our time. They are remarkable for careful and accurate workmanship, for clear and vigorous thought, and for the singular freshness of the points of view from which Mr. Row regarded the conflict between the Christian and the non- Christian forces. He was led in those volumes to lay stress only on the fundamental and indispensable elements of the Christian faith. In the present work, Mr. Row presents to us this fundamental conception of the Christian faith, not in relation to the anti-Christian systems of thought, but in relation to the systems and creeds built upon this foundation, by many centuries of inference and argument. He regards this great and cumbrous system as a serious danger to the existence of Christianity, and a great hindrance to its progress. He discards the accretions of " modern theology," and insists on claiming the authority of revelation for those facts and doctrines alone which are contained in the deeds, words, and person of our Lord, as these are contained in the Gospels, and illustrated and explained in the Epistles. To Mr. Row, the Old Testament is valuable only in its historical relation to the coming of Christ, and as a record of the gradual process of revelation. The true revelation of God is contained in the person, life, and teaching of Jesus Christ. He is the true revelation of the moral attributes of God. In a series of instructive chapters, Mr. Row sets forth his conception of the revelation made to us by Jesus Christ. The announcement of the erection of the kingdom of God, the explanation of the nature of that kingdom, and of the claims of Christ to be its king, the perfection of Christ, his example, and the message of redemption, are the themes discussed in successive chapters of this book.
We are in entire sympathy with the position assumed by Mr. Row, so long as we look at the conflict which is going on between Christianity and non-Christianity. It is right and reasonable • &rotation and Modern Theology ContraAed ; or, the Simpihi'v of the Apostolic Go•Pel DrrannArotod. l y t e -. C. A. How, M.A., Probead.try of St. Paul's. London : Frol.rick Norgate.
to take to the battle-field only those things which are indis- pensable; everything which can be dispensed with is an encum- brance and a disadvantage. To lay it down as a principle of conduct that people ought to live in their homes, as they are
constrained to live during an active campaign, is not reasonable. This is, in effect, what Mr. Row has done. He has been able to move lightly, and to make skilful attacks, and to take up imitable- points of defence, by having regard only to those elements of Christianity which are essential and fundamental; and the advantages have been so great, that he is inclined to discard all that he has found unnecessary in the field of battle. But in our
homes we have a right to set forth the heir-looms of our faith,.
to draw out and unfold the wealth of our cherished possessions, and to display the greatness of our hopes and the altitude of our aspirations. The position which is best for the defence of the faith is far from being the most convenient, or moat fit for unfolding the thought and life of Christianity. Methods of war are good for a time of war, but not good for times of peace. In like manner, the method of apologetic is goal for apologetic. It has its own presuppositions, its own way of procedure, and its own goal to attain. It seems to us that Mr. Row has not kept this elementary dis-
tinction sufficiently in view. For he has applied his apologetic method to the science of dogmatic, and has failed in consequence. We are at one with him, while he is
setting forth the simplicity of the Apostolic Gospel, and ex- pounding the New Testament conception of the Kingdom of God. We regard many chapters in the book as of a very high order indeed. We agree also with those chapters in which he combats the argument of the late Dean Mansel. In short, we' are not inclined to differ from the positive and expository parts of his volume.
On the other hand, it is obvious that whoso accepts the facts of the New Testament regarding the life, work, and teaching of Jesus Christ, has in them a doctrine, a worship, and a life. To. draw these out in detailed and scientific order, to bring to clear consciousness the presuppositions, the doctrines, and the im- plications of these facts, is at once the duty and the privilege of all who accept them. Science is the record of man's under- standing of the world, or of himself, his reading of the facts and laws of the universe, gathered from the facts themselves Theology, Christian theology at least, is man's interpretatiom of the facts of supernatural revelation, as these are in the Scrip- tures. In both cases, we get the facts in their concrete order and actual relations, and in both cases we have to make our own- interpretation of them. In neither case is the interpretation final at any stage of the process to which science has yet arrived.. Our highest science is as yet only an approximation to the facts, our best theology is also only approximative as yet. But in both cases the most stringent criticism which can be applied to- science and to philosophy is supplied by the facts with which
each is concerned. There is no finality in either case, and our- interpretation of the facts, their order and relations, must be to change and revision, as our experience widens, and our knowledge grows more definite.
While Mr. Row has approached in some measure to this view,.
which we regard as the right view to take in this relation, it. appears to us that even he has not been able to free himself from the view which regards revelation as a means of communi- cating abstract truth which otherwise would be unknown to man.
His distinction between revelation and theology is based on some such conception, and the whole discussion regarding the fallible nature of theology proceeds on that presupposition..
To make our meaning clear, we quote the paragraph which sets forth Mr. Row's conception of revelation:—
" The word' Revelation' is usually restricted to denote that know- ledge of God which we obtain from some other source than the use of our ordinary faculties. But this limitation of its meaning is obviously inaccurate, for as we possess no faculties which enable us to penetrate into the secrets of the Infinite, we can possess no knowledge of God but from such revelations of himself as he is pleased to impart. Consequently, all our knowledge of God must be derived from revelation. The idea, therefore, which in popular language is intended to be conveyed by the term 'Revelation' weak) be more accurately expressed by Supernatural Revelation,' by which I mean a disclosure of each truths as our natural faculties are- unable to discover, or can only do so imperfectly. This being so, it is important to determine in what way such knowledge of God can be communicated. There are only two possible ways in which it can be imparted, viz., first, by an objective, and secondly, by a subjec- tive revelation. An objective revelation consists of facts which are manifestations of the divine energies ; as such, they must constitute revelations of the divine character and purpose, in the same manner as the actions of a man are revelations of his character and purpose. Alinbjective revelation consists of troth directly communicated to the mind of an individuaL" (pp. 18-19.) Ih subsequent paragraphs, Mr. Row gives what he regards as instances of both kinds of revelation. The created uni'erse is a -natural objective revelation of God, and the authoritative de- clarations of conscience afford an instance of a natural subjective revelation. The life, work, and teaching of our Lord constitute the objective revelation of Christianity, and are mainly con- tained in the Gospels. " The remaining books of the New Testa- ment contain the results of a number of subjective revelations, made to different individuals, and intended to be supplementary to its great objective revelation, and to be explanatory of its meaning." This paragraph is the main thesis of Mr. Row's hook. The distinction drawn between objective and subjective a'evelation is really the principle which determines the relation of the Old Testament to the New, of the other books of the New Testament to the Gospels, and of theology to revelation, as these relations are conceived by Mr. Row and set forth in this volume.
Is this a real and valid distinction ? Can there be " a dis- closure of such truths as our natural faculties are unable to -discover, or can only do so imperfectly "? We question the possibility of what Mr. Row calls subjective revelation, and we regard it as a survival of the old way of looking at revelation as a series of dogmatic statements, to be received on external authority,—dogmas which have no relation to the ordinary faculties of man. Our real knowledge has been won through the exercise of our ordinary faculties, on the facts presented to is in the external world and in our inner experience. The facts are given in their concrete order and relation, and science and philosophy consist in our interpretation of the facts. It is no otherwise in revelation. In this sphere also we have to do with facts, and the relations of these facts. God does not reveal ready-made dogmas ; he reveals himself, in deeds of mercy or of judgment, in words which reflect his character and modes of action ; and out of these revealing deeds of re- demption, done in actual human history, we have to fashion our dogmas and construct our theology. The facts of revela- tion have the same relation to theology which the facts of nature have to science. If this be so, then the distinction which Mr. Row has drawn between objective and subjective revelation falls to the ground, as also does the greater part of -the polemic which he has directed against modern theology. Modern theology, like modern science, is true and trustworthy, in so far as it truly represents and interprets the facts of revela- tion, and the only valid way of criticism with regard to one or the other is simply to bring them to the test of the facts, and to show that the reading of the facts is inadequate.
This is the task which Mr. Row ought to have set to himself. He has really done something very different. He has con- ducted a polemic against the use of the abstract deductive method in theology, a method which is passing into disuse day by day. In fact, the title " Modern Theology " is a misnomer. It ought to be " Ancient " or "Media3val Theology," traces of which survive even in the pages of Mr. Row's latest book. Theology was once abstract and deductive, based on a priori conceptions. But all other sciences were so too, at a former period, as is well known to every student of the history of science and of philosophy. To a large extent science has overcome the fatal tendency; and we make bold to say that theology has overcome it too. The distinctive glory of modern theology lies here,—that it has got face to face with
the facts. In theology, as well as in science, men have learned to work according to scientific method, and in many depart- ments theology can show an advance as great as any of the !natural or physical sciences is able to do. Exegesis has made a vast stride ; Introduction is rapidly assuming an exact form ; and Biblical Theology has won for itself a high position among objective sciences, while the learning which helps theology, as' for example, knowledge of Oriental languages and history, has made more progress for the last half-century than during all previous time. It is only fair to say that Mr. Row, almost in express terms, admits all this. His controversy is not with these more recent sciences of theology, but with the ancient method, and with the conclusions reached by that method. We submit, however, that in a matter so important Mr. Row ought to have been more clear and definite in his statement of the issue. We would ask him to consider anew his conception of revelation, and fairly to face the question whether there is any historical instance of what he has called "subjective revela- tion ;" and whether there has been a revelation of God to man in any other way than by a direct personal manifestation of himself to man P