3. We now proceed to an examination of the conditions under which a revelation may be recorded
, or otherwise made known by the person who has received it
. Here we see at once that, for all practical purposes, the method of communication must be words
; for it is not necessary to take into account such visual representations as might be made to the eye by painting or otherwise. Words may be oral, or written. As the latter are more likely to be well weighed and definite than the former, and are, moreover, better calculated to hand down a truth from age to age, we shall confine our attention to them, although what we have to say is, in a great degree, applicable to spoken words also. We start with the supposition that God has already made known to some particular person, as perfectly as He has thought fit, and, it may be, as perfectly as the nature of the subject admitted, or the capability of the person to whom the communication has been made would allow, some truth which is to be recorded for the benefit of the present, and future generations. The question we have to answer is, -- how this may be most effectually accomplished.
It is obvious that, in the case of a revelation, made by words, the words might be recorded exactly as they were delivered. The words which God is said to have spoken on Mount Sinai, and to have written afterwards, on two tables of stone, may serve as an exemplification of our meaning. In this case God is described as writing them with His own hand: but they might have been written, with equal truthfulness, by any of those who had heard them. If future generations had convincing evidence that they possessed a faithful record of what God said, and the meaning of the words had not changed during the lapse of time, the revelation would be as perfect to them as it was to the original recipients. So, too, if God, instead of speaking the words of the ten commandments, had, in some way which should authenticate the reality of the revelation, called up in the mind of Moses the ideas corresponding to the words, and he had faithfully written them down; those words would convey as full a revelation to those who read them, as that which Moses himself had experienced. Both these would be verbal revelations in the strict sense of the word. They would be, in fact, the very words of God Himself. If any book, professing to be a revelation from God, could be proved to be entirely of this description, there would be little or no room for discussion about it. The only things which could give rise to dispute would be such as attach to the interpretation of all records. Questions might be asked as to the exact meaning of the words, and inquiries might be raised as to whether they retained the same meaning which they had when they were originally written down: but any dispute which might arise on these points would be confined within very narrow limits, and would moreover be of such a character, as could not be avoided, unless God were to make a revelation afresh in every age, and we may add, perhaps, to every individual, -- a supposition which would be contrary to analogy, and in the highest degree improbable. Thus far there is no practical difficulty.
Is it, however, necessary to the idea of a recorded revelation that the exact words, neither more nor less, as spoken by God, or as expressing ideas which He has called up in the mind of the person to whom He has revealed Himself, should be written down? A recorded revelation, we must remember, is designed chiefly for the benefit of future generations, and it may therefore very properly leave out much which was only of passing interest. God might have revealed many things to Abraham, which were highly important for him to know, but in which we may have no interest. We can easily see then that, in any record which God might authorize, such things would very probably be omitted. Thus far again there is no practical difficulty.
To proceed a step further. Is there any reason to expect that, in a record of a revelation, the original words, either as spoken by God, or as expressive of the ideas which He had called up in the mind of the recipient, might be in any decree altered? -- and, would every alteration necessarily make the record less a revelation from God than it was before? These are questions which we shall endeavour to answer.
It may be observed, in the first place, that the same train of thought which applies to an original revelation from God, applies also, in its main points, to the record of it. Both in the one case, and the other, it appears reasonable to expect that God would not, to a greater extent than was absolutely necessary, transcend or interfere with those natural powers in man which He had Himself implanted. As the giving of a revelation would, as already shewn, be conformed in a great degree to the usual conditions under which knowledge is imparted, so also, it seems reasonable to expect that the record of a revelation would as far as possible be conformed to the usual conditions under which knowledge is recorded.
In looking at the conditions under which a revelation must be recorded, it is obvious that the difference of languages, which prevails in this world, presents an insuperable obstacle to an exact record of words being continued. It may indeed be alleged that God could cause a revelation to be recorded, in its exact words, in each distinct language. We hardly think however that such a view as this will be seriously entertained by any one. Not to mention how completely contrary this would be to what analogy would lead us to expect, we may observe that, as languages are continually undergoing changes, such a method of recording must be continually renewed; and, moreover, as language does not convey precisely the same ideas to any two individuals, it would be almost needful that a separate record, or rather a separate revelation, should be made for each person. Such views as these require only to be stated to shew that they are untenable; but, if they are untenable, it is plain that the continuance of an exact record of words cannot be expected.
But may it not be expected that, at least, one exact record would be made of any revelation which God might think fit to give, and that this would afford the best guarantee which could be had for future truthfulness? In answering this question it is very important to draw a distinction. The words of the record may be exactly such words as God approves of, although they may not be the precise words in which the original revelation was made. In some particular instances God might determine that the precise words of the revelation should be used, while in others He might think fit that it should be otherwise. In either case the record would be a true one, and each method of recording might have its own peculiar advantages. Under some circumstances it might be desirable that not the slightest deviation from the precise mode of expression which God had communicated should be made; while under others, the human view -- by which we here mean the view of the particular person to whom the revelation is made -- might be recorded, and add to it a force which could hardly be had in any other way. So long as the record is such as God approves of, every requisite to a true record is complied with. If a minister of state were commissioned to make a communication to a foreign court, he might write down the whole or a part of it in his own words, and, if his own court approved of the words, contained in the writing, the object in view would be answered. We can even understand that, in some respects, the communication might gain force by this mode of proceeding. The [Greek text] of the writer would be manifested, and carry with it a certain degree of weight. There would be the weight which attached to the document as emanating from the government, and there might be an additional weight from the character of the person who had been entrusted to write, and, perhaps, carry out, in some degree, the requirements of, the dispatch. In the case of a recorded revelation, it appears then probable that God would permit those feelings and powers which He has implanted in man, and which exert such a strong influence on others, to do their work, subject, however, to His own control and guidance. In this way there would be a Divine and a human aspect of the record; a Divine and a human power in it. All of it would be the truth of God, and it would be presented to us in a manner peculiarly adapted to our condition, and likely to ensure our acceptance of it. At the very least such a method of recording would be exactly consistent with truthfulness.
We may go a step further, and say that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to conceive any circumstances under which the record should not bear a human aspect. If the views propounded in the former part of these |Thoughts,| with regard to the conditions under which a revelation must be made, and especially with respect to anthropomorphic views of God, be correct, a revelation must assume, in some measure, a human aspect. But if the human aspect must exist in the presentation, it must also in the record. The only question which is really open to discussion is, whether there should be the same human aspect in the record, as in the original revelation; in other words, whether it may be expected that God would always present that particular human aspect in the original revelation which He considered best adapted for the record. For the reasons already assigned it does not seem probable that this would be the case.
It must be remembered, moreover, that in the case of a revelation, made at different times, and to different persons, either the character of each individual writer must be manifested in the record, or some other character, alien perhaps to that of the writer, and certainly not equally adapted to that of all the readers, must be adopted. Which method of record appears the most probable, and the most calculated to promote the object of a revelation -- namely, to instruct and influence mankind -- it does not appear very difficult to determine. It seems, then, that a variety of style may be expected in the records written by different persons of the revelations which they have received. As has been before observed, all that is essential to the truthfulness of the record is that God should approve of it.
A question may possibly arise here as to the precise manner in which the words may be so recorded, as to convey a true account of God's revelation. In endeavouring to supply an answer, it should be remembered, in the first place, that in the ordinary affairs of life no great difficulty occurs with regard to the transmission of a message. If the person who has been selected to convey it, has sufficient intelligence to understand it, and is, moreover, desirous to deliver it faithfully, he is, in most cases, able either to speak, or write it, in his own words, in such a manner as to convey the right meaning to others. So, too, with regard to a revelation; if the person to whom it has been made rightly apprehends it, and endeavours to record it honestly, the probability is great that the record which he makes will be a true one. If, too, we are prepared, in accordance with the common belief in all ages, to admit that God can, and at times does, exercise a control over the minds of men, it is reasonable to believe that He would do this, when the object was to furnish a correct record for the benefit of future ages. This control might be exercised either consciously, or unconsciously to the writer. All that would be needful for the truthfulness of the record is, that it should be exercised in some way.