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No. I, VI I
AMERICAN BIBLICAL REPOSITORY,
JANUARY, 18 58.
DR. ARNOLD'S THEOLOGICAL OPINIONS.
BT REV. BENJAMIN TAFFAN, JB.
The late Dr. Thomas Arnold, of Rugby, was no professed Theological teacher. For nine years only of his life was he a parochial minister: and then much of his time was given to instructing a limited number of boys, who were under his charge. When he went from Lalcham to Rugby, assuming the headship of one of England's great public schools, of course a great pressure of care and labor came upon him. He preached in the school-chapel every Sabbath afternoon: but his discourses were very short, usually written after the morning service. He interested himself in a variety of things: the general subject of education; political affairs; questions of reform, both civil and ecclesiastical. He studied history with great enthusiasm; published an edition of Thucydides, with notes and dissertations; wrote at length upon the early Roman history; and a year before his death received the appointment of Regius Professor of History at Oxford, and gave his first course of lectures.
But his earnest mind found time, nevertheless, for much
Vol. XV. No. 57. 1
thought upon theological subjects. They were the subjects which really interested him more than any others. He wrote upon them not a little. His discourses at Rugby, short and hasty as they were, embodied results to which he had not come in a moment; and many of them strike one who reads them now, as eminently fresh and suggcslive. The prefaces and appendixes to some of his volumes develop certain of his ideas more elaborately. He wrote some special dissertations upon points of great theological interest. As his mind, so his pen, was more or less constantly active in this direction.
Conceded by all to be one of the most remarkable men of his time, his theological opinions are certainly worthy of notice. We always like to know the thoughts of such a mind as his — so earnest, so independent, so indignantly casting aside all trick and artifice; at the same time so reverential towards God, so full of love to Christ, of goodwill to man. He has been denied to be, in the strict sense of the word, a profound thinker; to have the large roundabout sense, which the greatest men have had. This, perhaps, would be the general verdict in regard to him. But it is not profound thinkers only that instruct us. Men of quick vision sometimes help our slower sight. Men of intense moral earnestness sometimes kindle our minds. It is well to learn how truth appears to them, as well as to men of the more speculative cast. Dr. Arnold would doubt1 less, in some cases, have arrived at sounder results, if he had engaged in more thorough research. The power of nice metaphysical analysis would sometimes have been of great service to him. As a Biblical scholar, it is to be regretted that he had no knowledge of the Hebrew. Yet he made up for this by a knowledge of the Greek, far surpassing that of most Biblical scholars in this country. His great fondness for Aristotle ought to have-made him, one would think, a closer logician. It is plain that his strong, practical understanding was invigorated by communion with Aristotle and Thueydides (his favorite authors,) among the Greeks, and with Niebuhr among the Germans. It is precisely by this strong, practical understanding that he attracts us as a writer— or by this, rather, pervaded always, as it always is, by his earnest love of truth and goodness. How much of the interest we feel in him as a writer, is borrowed from that which we feel in him as a man, it would, perhaps, be impossible to say. Every one who has gone through Stanley's biography of him, confesses to an attraction to the man, such as he almost never felt to any other. Still there is a vigor of thought in his pages, a transparent excellence of spirit and aim, and a general truthfulness of view, giving them no little independent value.
We give his views on some leading points.
Inspiration of the Scriptures.
In the Christian Examiner for September, 1856, pp. 260, 261, allusion is made to Dr. Arnold's opinions on this point, with one or two somewhat startling quotations from his writings. But if it should be inferred that he would have adopted the statements of that Article, or statements anywhere approximating those, great injustice wojild be done him. He attaches, indeed, the highest importance to the Scriptures, considered simply as human compositions. "Without assuming anything as to their divine inspiration," he maintains, "our Christian faith is reasonable ; — not merely the facts of our Lord's miracles and resurrection, but Christian faith in all its fulness — the whole dispensation of the Spirit, the revelation.of the redemption of man, and of the Divine Persons who are its authors — of all that Christian faith and hope and love can need."1 But this position of itself necessitates a higher. "Having now the full record of our Lord's teaching, we find that he everywhere refers to the Old Testament as the Word of God The amazing fact that God should come into the world, and be in the world, cannot by possibility stand alone; it hallows as it were the whole period of the world's existence, from the beginning to the end, placing all time and every place in
1 Sermons on the Christian Life, Course, etc., p. 394.
relation to God; it disposes us at once to receive the fact of the special call of the people of Israel; it gives, I had almost said, an a priori reason why there must have been in earlier times some shadows, at least, or images, to represent dimly to former generations that great thing which they were not actually to witness; it leads us to believe that there must have been some prophetic voices to announce the future coming of the Lord, or else the very Stones must have cried out."1 Speaking of the epistles of "the blessed St. Paul," Dr. Arnold represents him as having "the spirit of God so abundantly, that never, we may suppose, did any
mere human being enjoy a larger share of it Are
not his writings to be most truly called inspired? Can we doubt, that, in what he has told us of things not seen, or not seen as yet, — of Him who pre-existed in the form of God, before he was manifested in the form of man, — of that great day when we shall rise incorruptible, and meet our Lord in the air, and be joined to him forever, — can any reasonable mind doubt, that in speaking of these things he spoke what he had heard from God; that to refuse to believe his testimony is really to disbelieve God? "*
These citations show the general spirit of Dr. Arnold's views of the Bible. His uniform treatment of it is reverent. He finds in it. what the Church has always found. He will not have his " faith in God" and his " hope of eternal life" "depend on the accuracy of a date, or of some minute historical particular."8 He calls it "an unwarranted interpretation of the term inspiration, to suppose that it is equivalent to a communication of the divine perfections."1 He thinks that Paul " expected that the world would come to an end in the generation then existing."-' But he believes also that "the scriptural narratives, are not only about divine things, but are themselves divinely framed and superintended; that "in whatever points errors may be discern
1 Sermons on the Christian Life, Course, etc., pp. 393, 3'JG.
ible in Scripture, we shall find either that they are of a kind wholly unconnected with the revelation of what God has done for us, and of what we are to do towards Him;
or if there be anything else which seems inconsistent
with inspiration, in the sense in which we really may and do apply it to the Scriptures, namely, that they are a perfect guide and rule in all matters concerning our relations with God, then we shall find that God has made some special provision for the case, to remove what it might otherwise have had of difficulty." He makes in one place the remark, which the Examiner quotes. "I acknowledge that the Scriptures do not claim this inspiration for themselves :" yet in the next breath he says that if they did we should have " no right to tax them with having advanced a pretension proved to be unfounded; "i and in other places, as previous quotations show, he seems to assert that they do. "Any accurate, precise, and sharply defined theory of inspiration," one of his former pupils says, "to the best of my knowledge Arnold had not."- For all practical purposes, however, the statement just given comes very near it. Another of somewhat different character is given in these words: "Inspiration does not raise a man above his own time, nor make him, even in respect to that which he utters when inspired, perfect in goodness and wisdom: but it so overrules his language that it shall contain a meaning more than his own mind was conscious of, and thus give to it a character of divinity, and a power of perpetual application."3
This remark may serve to introduce a view of his system. But we may well regret that he did not live to develop it more completely, and that any circumstances should have induced him, while he did live, to employ his pen upon Roman history, rather than upon that.
1 Sermons on ttic Christian Life, Course, etc., pp. 102, 399.
2 Life and Correspondence, p. 135.
3 Sermons on Interpretation of Scripture, p. 141, Eng. ed.
4 See Life and Correspondence, p. 133.