Infinite Diversity, yet Marvellous Unity, in the Bible


We possess in the Bible a collection of books separated from each other by hundreds of years, written by men in every variety of rank and position, and addressed to a nation under every circumstance of prosperity and adversity. Now a single Eastern emir is called out of an idolatrous world to preserve alive the knowledge of the One True God; now a lawgiver is selected to deliver in the wilderness to a perverse nation of slaves and fugitives a moral code of unequalled majesty; now prophets and kings speak to that nation, in its purity or its apostasy, in the zenith of its splendour or on the eve of its desolation; now priests or captives console its melancholy exile or inspirit its feeble resuscitation; now a little band of unlearned and ignorant men record the words and life of its Divine and rejected Messiah; now a converted Pharisee preaches that new gospel with an intense wisdom and fire; now a Galilean fisherman closes the Book of Revelation with words of perfect beauty and visions of unutterable love. In one small volume there is an epitome of all the best and highest and most sacred truths which God has revealed to man; and these truths are deep as the heart of man, and varied as his life. Yet all this infinite diversity is--like the diversity of nature--merged in a yet more marvellous unity. Kings, warriors, prophets, historians, poets, exiles, shepherds, gatherers of sycamore fruit, fishermen, tax gatherers--“we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.” Whether we read the passionate pleadings of an afflicted Chaldean noble, or the rhythmic utterances of a great Mesopotamian sorcerer--whether it be the cynical confessions of a sated worldling, or the pathetic cry of a guilty and repentant king--whether it be the exultant thanksgiving for some splendid deliverance, or the impassioned denunciation of some intolerable wrong--whether it be the stately music of some gorgeous vision, or the brief letter of an aged prisoner recommending the forgiveness of an unprofitable slave--we feel that there reigns, throughout, a Divine coherency, an unbroken unity; we feel that the long history is also a symbol and a prophecy; that each writer was but the instrument, often the wholly unconscious instrument, of purposes loftier than his own, and the utterer of language often deeper than he himself could understand; we feel that in the Old Testament the New is pre-figured, in the New the Old fulfilled. From beginning to end we recognize the truth that, though God is in all history, never had any nation a history so significant as that of this nation; none have ever known as these knew, or taught as these teach, the holiness of God and the majesty of man. (Archdeacon Farrar.)

The Bible is essentially an unsystematic book; nothing like order or arrangement is attempted in it. The classification, adjustment, accommodation, systematization of its doctrines and precepts, the methodizing of them into creeds or codes of duty, is not even aimed at.

The precept and the doctrine are thrown out just as the occasion for them offers. (Dean Goulburn.)

There is between the construction of the Bible and that of nature a singular analogy. There is the same apparent want of order and adjustment, and the same deep harmony, running through the whole. The Bible contains a system of theology; but it contains it as the heavens contain the system of astronomy. Its truths lie there in no logical order. They appear at first like a map of the apparent motions of the planets, whose paths seem to cross each other in all directions; but you have only to find the true centre, and the orbs of truth take their places, and circle around it like the stars of heaven. And the efforts of thought, the struggles of intellect, that have been called forth for the adjustment of this system, have done more for the human mind than its efforts in any other science. Its questions have stirred, not the minds of philosophers alone, but every meditative human soul. So the Bible contains a system of ethics; but it is as the earth contains a system of geology; and long might the eye of the listless or unscientific reader rest upon its pages without discovering that the system was there--just as men trod the earth for near six thousand years without discovering that its surface was a regular structure, with its strata arranged in an assignable order. (Mark Hopkins, D. D.)