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            THE glimpse just given of the kind of teaching which underlies the letter of Scripture will now be followed by some examples of the directions laid down in Scripture for its interpretation, and also of the views of the best accredited authorities on the subject.

            The sources of Information whereby to determine this question are, mainly, these four: – (1) The Bible itself. (2) The consensus of recognised and qualified commentators. (3) The general usage in corresponding Scriptures. And (4) the intrinsic nature of the case as arising from the function of religion and discerned by the religious consciousness. It is proposed to say something on each of these heads.

            (1) To speak first of the Bible’s own account of itself. It would naturally be supposed, from the fact that there is controversy on the subject, that the Bible is either silent or obscure concerning it. Still more might it be supposed from the assumption of both orthodoxy and Agnosticism that the Bible insists unequivocally on being accepted literally and historically. But, so far from this being the case, it is not only not silent and not obscure, but it repeatedly and emphatically declares its real meaning to be interior, hidden, spiritual, and, therefore, neither literal, nor in the ordinary sense historical, and this in both Testaments.

            For it repeatedly insists – as a reference to the concordance under the various forms of the words, “understanding,” “wisdom,” and “knowledge” at once shows – on the necessity of a spirit of understanding in regard to itself, and the duty of making the acquisition of such a spirit a matter of prime concern, as the one means of satisfaction for man’s highest needs and aspirations; while it sternly denounces those who fail to

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seek it. And there is an express statement to the effect that the leaders of Israel read to the people the book of the law, “with an interpretation, and gave the sense and caused them to understand the reading” (Neh. VIII, 8; R.V., margin). All of which utterances would be superfluous and devoid of meaning if the letter represented the sense, and the meaning lay on the surface.

            Passing to the New Testament, we find Paul explicitly declaring of certain narratives in Genesis, apparently historical, that “these things are an allegory,” while by pronouncing as either “babes,” or as “having a veil upon their hearts,” those who accept them literally, he ascribes their conduct in so doing either to intellectual or to moral deficiency, besides dearly implying that the “veil” with which Moses is said to have covered his face, after receiving the law, was no other than the veil of symbol and allegory in which he wrapt its expression. He furthermore expressly admits that his own teaching was of two kinds, one – which he calls “wisdom” – for the spiritually mature, and the other – which he calls “milk” – for the spiritually immature. And he positively affirms that “the letter kills, and the spirit alone has life.”

            Similarly with Jesus. Not only does he teach in parables, reserving the interpretation for his own private circle of initiates, and withholding even from these certain knowledges on the ground that they were not yet sufficiently advanced in their perception of spiritual things to be able to receive them; but he frequently reminds his hearers that he is speaking with a mystical meaning, and to an interior faculty, by exclaiming, “He that hath ears to hear let him hear”; by reproaching for their dullness of apprehension those whom he describes as “having eyes, but seeing not, and ears, but hearing not”; and vehemently charging the official guardians of religion with having taken away the key of knowledge, and neither entering in themselves nor suffering others to enter. He further directly affirms that his kingdom is not of this the outer sensible world, but of the world within man. All these utterances are intelligible only on the supposition of an interior and

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hidden sense in Scripture, whose appeal is to an interior and spiritual faculty in man, and, therefore, to the soul as distinguished from the external reason. For, were the meaning literal and superficial, no special gift of understanding would be requisite for its apprehension.

            Were the Bible really and fully translated – a work which yet remains to be accomplished – the position here maintained would be found to receive unlimited reinforcement, proving it, beyond possibility of cavil, to have been written – at least, in a very great measure – precisely after the plan of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Holy War, in that it refers to principles, processes, and states relating to the soul, and – even where referring to actual persons, things, and events – using these only in order to illustrate spiritual verities.

            The following instance at once exemplifies this usage and affords a distinct affirmation of the principle contended for. Translating the names as well as the narrative, Joshua XV, 16-19 reads in this wise: “And the heart, well-disposed and sagacious [Caleb], said, whoso shall smite the ‘city,’ or system, of the letter [Kirjath-sepher] and take it, to him will I give my daughter, the rending of the veil [Achsah] to wife. And God’s good time [Othniel] took it, and received the rending of the veil for wife ... And she brought him as dowry the ‘springs, upper and nether,’ of the knowledges, spiritual and mental, which bring all blessings to their possessor. And, thenceforth, the place was no more called the city of the letter, but the Word [Debir],” in obvious token that not the letter, but the meaning veiled by the letter, and this alone, is held by the Bible to be the Word of God.

            These are facts which cause those who are aware of them to marvel by what process of reasoning the literalists, whether Orthodox or Agnostic, reconcile to their consciences their inveterate practice of insisting exclusively on the letter of Scripture, and, as is done by the latter, of vilifying and rejecting the Bible on the strength of the letter; or, as is done by the former, of denouncing as impious, and charging with “wresting Scripture from its obvious meaning,” those who, being mystics, seek to discern the spirit through the letter.

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            For these, the impiety plainly consists in the rejection of the Bible’s own account of itself, and the ascription to it of falsehood, fraud, and immorality, on the strength of the letter which it so emphatically repudiates.

            (2) Coming to our second source of information the body of recognised and qualified commentators, we find among those who regard Scripture as mystical rather than historical all the most intelligent Fathers, and the saints and seers, of the Church. Thus Origen, in his commentary on John, declares that while every passage of Scripture has a spiritual meaning, many passages have no other meaning, but that there is often a spiritual meaning under a literal fiction. And he adds that it can be only a narrow intelligence which does not see that Scripture relates events which could not have occurred as described. He also upbraids his antagonist, Celsus, for his want of candour in treating the story of the fall as if intended historically, and declares it unreasonable to deny to Moses the possession of truth under the veil of allegory, which it was the practice of all Eastern nations to employ.

            St. Gregory, in his commentary on the book of Kings, says of the entire letter of Scripture that it is “not only dead, but deadly.” St. Athanasius warns us that, were we to understand sacred writ according to the letter, we should fall into the most enormous blasphemies, as by ascribing cruelty and falsehood to the Deity – which is precisely what the Orthodoxists and Agnostics have done. “St. Dionysius, the Areopagite,” characterises the literal acceptance of Scripture as childishness; and this, as shown by Mosheim, was the view of all the Fathers of the second century. And such was the opinion also of the great Rabbinical commentators from Maimonides downwards, as well as of the later seers and scholars, Tauler, Eckart, Everard, Boehme, Swedenborg, and others. Says Dr. Everard, the learned and pious translator from the Arabic of the Hermetic book, The Divine Pymander, in his Gospel Treasury Opened (A.D. 1659): “I say there is not one word [of Scripture] true according to the letter. Yet I say that every word, every syllable, every letter, is true. But they are true as He intended them that

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spake them; they are true as God meant them, not as men will have them.”

            The late Cardinal Newman, too, relates in his Apologia how he himself had at one time been “carried away” by the idea suggested by the Fathers of a system of doctrine concealed beneath the Christian symbology, and differing, of course, widely from that in vogue. Here, one would have thought, had been vouchsafed the “kindly light” for which, in his famous hymn, the Cardinal sighed. For what nobler ambition could there be than to restore to Christendom the true religion of which its priests have robbed it? But, instead of following the “lead” thus vouchsafed, and summoning all his love and courage to the task of exploration and discovery, he turned his back on it, and, submitting himself to ecclesiastical authority, called – as in his Grammar of Assent – on others to join him in preferring intellectual suicide to the understanding of divine truth. Doing which, he became, indeed, a prince of the Church, but no inheritor, and therefore no dispenser, of divine knowledges.

            (3) No less potent is the argument from the usage in corresponding cases. The Hebrew Kabbala and Talmud – especially the former – are little else than interpretations of the mystical meaning of Scripture, themselves couched in mystical language, and no less requiring a key for their explication. The Therapeuts and Essenes – an order to which both Jesus and the Baptist are supposed to have belonged – expounded their Scriptures allegorically; as also did Philo and other learned and pious Jews the books of Moses. And scholars of the highest repute declare the same of the initiated of all lands in regard to their own sacred mysteries, the object of the method employed being to save them from profanation and loss through being divulged to the ignorant and vulgar. According to Pausanias, the wisdom of the Greeks had from the earliest times been wrapped up in allegories and enigmas – a statement fully borne out by the results of recent research in regard to their interpretation. Sallust gives a detailed account of the reasons for the practice. And Sanchoniathon and Proclus say of the Phoenicians and

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Egyptians respectively, that they veiled the great secrets of existence under figures and symbols; as also did the ancient schools of philosophers variously called Gnostics, Hermetists, Neo-Platonists, Alchemists, Rosicrucians, Masons, and others, whose subject was the perfectionment of man by means of his regeneration, and whose language – like that of all crafts – was technical, and therein symbolical and unintelligible, save to those who possessed the key to it. From all of which it surely follows that were the Bible to be indeed literal and historical, it would differ in both manner and kind from all other books of its class.



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