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So long as men continue to think there will be no end of books on a subject so important as the doctrines of the Christian faith. The living truths of God can never be fully expounded. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are a source of religious teaching so inexhaustible that each new generation of biblical scholars discovers therein treasures of knowledge unnoticed by previous research. Other departments of study are also continually furnishing new contributions to the sum of human knowledge and throwing their suggestive side-lights on many portions of the Bible, so that we are not infrequently called upon to revise some of our former opinions and adjust them to the newly discovered facts. No old and permanent truth can ever suffer loss by the incoming of new light, but the weakness and unprofitableness of aged errors become thereby apparent. If the Bible is permitted to speak for itself, and its divers portions are studied in their proper historical connections and in the light of the contemporaneous religious literature of ancient peoples, it will be found to be a remarkably self-interpreting book, and to disclose a real progress in the knowledge of God among the Hebrew prophets and teachers. It is with no assumption of having discovered any remarkably new truths that we put forth this volume, but rather with a conviction that, amid the fresh and increasing light coming from many sources, the old abiding truths may be set forth in a somewhat new and more helpful manner. We are persuaded that the best method of expounding the great truths of the Christian religion is that which most accurately reproduces the teachings of the biblical writers and formulates them in the fullest light of the gospel of Jesus. This volume is such an attempt at a new expression of the things which are most commonly believed among us. No new or strange doctrines are here exploited; no old and well-attested truth is set aside; but certain doctrines of the Christian faith are here presented in a manner somewhat different from that which has long been prevalent. In no such case, however, has any fundamental truth been questioned; the only issue is one of interpretation, and on most questions of interpretation there is room for differences of opinion.
The days of theological controversy are happily well nigh past. There is manifest a growing disposition to subject all questions of doubtful disputation to rational criticism. It is generally conceded that many subjects, which involve biblical exegesis and doctrine, call for revision and restatement. In a volume of this scope and size one cannot reasonably expect all his readers to agree with him throughout. The author indulges no presumption of clearing up the "things hard to be understood” in Paul's epistles, of which the writer of 2 Pet. iii, 16, speaks; much less can he hope to explain all the mysteries of the other apostles, and the evangelists and the prophets. In offering the result of his own study of questions long under investigation and dispute in the Church, he takes pains to tell his readers in advance that some of the expositions of doctrine given in this book are submitted tentatively and with no little hesitation. On sundry questions of eschatology who can at the most do more than "see in a mirror, darkly”? There is a widespread feeling that the real teaching of our Lord and his apostles does not sustain many current popular notions of "times and seasons which the Father has set within his own authority.” There are abroad in the world many strange and crass conceptions of the coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead and the eternal judgment. On such topics as these which transcend the actual experiences of mankind and pertain to the invisible things of God, one should speak with modesty and reserve. Among the mysteries over which great and good men have differed in opinion through many generations there may generally be found a substance of truth of permanent value. It is coming to be recognized that even the biblical writers themselves differ in types of doctrine and in cast of thought, and it is very possible for interpreters of the apostles and prophets to misapprehend the exact import of their various figures of speech. It is possible for the most discreet students of Holy Writ sometimes to teach for revelations of God what are only the mistaken notions of men. There are probably but few men who have not inherited from the past a larger amount of human tradition and dogma than they are aware of.
We have long hesitated over employing the title of Dogmatics for a treatise which aims to avoid the dogmatic spirit and style so deservedly unpopular and offensive in the Christian world. It is proper, therefore, to observe that this word has no full or fair equivalent in the English language. In the literature of Christian theology it has long served as the definite scientific term for a systematic exposition of religious truth. Its conformity, moreover, to the scientific titles of the two companion volumes of this series is a special justification of our use of it. Our method is inductive and expository. Our habit is to abstain from a priori assumptions and to avoid unprofitable speculation, but always to study to ascertain the demonstrable truth of the biblical teaching. We keep in mind the fact of a progress in divine revelation, and therefore do not forget that the spirit and the ideas of the Old Testament have been largely superseded by the more perfect illumination of the teaching of Christ, who has fulfilled the law and the prophets. It will be seen that the method of this treatise is first to study the nature of man, his sinfulness and the possibilities of his future, as matters of observation and of biblical testimony. We next pass to the great central fact of the religious history of the world, the manifestation of Jesus Christ. This subject, by reason of its vital relation to all Christian thought, naturally occupies the central and largest place in our volume. The doctrine of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ follows as the Holy of holies among religious mysteries. Our method of treating this deepest problem of religion is historical rather than polemical, and aims to show how the everlasting Father has gradually revealed himself in many ways unto all men, but most remarkably through the fathers and prophets of Israel, and finally through his Son Jesus Christ. This method of procedure is quite the opposite of what is commonly followed in systems of theology. It studies visible man first and the invisible God last. It gives no space, except in occasional footnotes, to the old-time polemics. It ignores "plans" and "schemes" and "theories" of atonement. Even the doctrine of the Trinity finds but little more attention in this volume than it finds in the Scriptures. Our method provides no separate section for "eschatology," but simply connects the problems of the future with those facts of the present time to which they are logically and vitally related. This method, of course, will not please the confessional theologian; it may even much offend him. But we believe the great majority of unbiased readers will find it a more simple and excellent way. If it be not the best possible method, it may at least be worth one trial. If any one prefer, he can read our third part first, and our first part last. assume from the start that our readers are intelligent Christian believers, and can study man's nature and destiny without having first to be informed of the facts of Christ and the existence of God. We advise our readers to make much use of the carefully prepared indexes at the close of this volume, for different phases of the same subject are often treated in different connections, and numerous biblical texts contain doctrines related to several different topics.
In the main text of this volume we have rarely made a citation from any other source than the Scriptures. In occasional footnotes may be found some quotations and references adapted to confirm our views, or to direct the reader to a further study of the same topic. Hundreds of such references, however, at first designed for insertion in footnotes, have been omitted entirely, in order to keep the volume within a moderate size. A select bibliography is given as an appendix, sufficient to direct the special student in his further research. Without the help of the many contributions of the past, the present treatise could not have been written. The author also owes it to his esteemed colleagues, Professor C. M. Stuart, Professor D. A. Hayes, and Professor F. C. Eiselen, to make this public acknowledgment of their invaluable services by way of many helpful suggestions and in the reading of the proofs.
With this publication we complete the trilogy of our contributions to the study of biblical interpretation and doctrine which we began with the issue of Biblical Hermeneutics in 1883. The Biblical Apocalyptics followed in 1898. The numerous gratifying testimonials of welcome which the preceding volumes have received are deeply appreciated, and the hope is indulged that this concluding volume may be found as acceptable as its predecessors.
EVANSTON, FEBRUARY 22, 1907.