Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Spurgeon on Biblical hermeneutics

The following is taken from Spurgeon's daily devotional, Morning and Evening:

“Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures.”
— Luke 24:45
He whom we viewed last evening as opening Scripture, we here perceive opening the understanding. In the first work he has many fellow-labourers, but in the second he stands alone; many can bring the Scriptures to the mind, but the Lord alone can prepare the mind to receive the Scriptures. Our Lord Jesus differs from all other teachers; they reach the ear, but he instructs the heart; they deal with the outward letter, but he imparts an inward taste for the truth, by which we perceive its savour and spirit. The most unlearned of men become ripe scholars in the school of grace when the Lord Jesus by his Holy Spirit unfolds the mysteries of the kingdom to them, and grants the divine anointing by which they are enabled to behold the invisible. Happy are we if we have had our understandings cleared and strengthened by the Master! How many men of profound learning are ignorant of eternal things! They know the killing letter of revelation, but its killing spirit they cannot discern; they have a veil upon their hearts which the eyes of carnal reason cannot penetrate. Such was our case a little time ago; we who now see were once utterly blind; truth was to us as beauty in the dark, a thing unnoticed and neglected. Had it not been for the love of Jesus we should have remained to this moment in utter ignorance, for without his gracious opening of our understanding, we could no more have attained to spiritual knowledge than an infant can climb the Pyramids, or an ostrich fly up to the stars. Jesus’ College is the only one in which God’s truth can be really learned; other schools may teach us what is to be believed, but Christ’s alone can show us how to believe it. Let us sit at the feet of Jesus, and by earnest prayer call in his blessed aid that our dull wits may grow brighter, and our feeble understandings may receive heavenly things.[*]
Can anyone identify with this? I think I can, as I tried to articulate here (in response to a statement by James Kugel). For another interesting and important statement on theological hermeneutics, check out the one by Thomas à Kempis.

[*] Spurgeon, C. H. (2006). Morning and evening : Daily readings (Complete and unabridged; New modern edition.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.

3 comments:

timothya3 said...

Hi, You have said in a previous posting - your response to Krugel's critique - that, I quote: ' I feel that I've been situated in such a way that the narrative world of the text and my own confused horizon seem to fuse, such that I find my own situation inexplicably illuminated by that which I read.' Unquote.
This sounds very much to me like the romantic placing of oneself in the text and the therapeutic response, therein. This is the phenomenon of bibliotherapy and is a common reaction in all sorts of literature , as you maybe were hinting at. This reader response of yours is not to be confused with the being taken up of one's humanity, in Christ and finding oneself partaking of God, by communion of his Spirit.
As far as the Spurgeon quote goes, this has the danger of maybe raising our expectations of the text so high that we can become even fearful of approaching the text of the Bible. The English Dept. at Liverpool University, has a Reader Magazine online specializing in such merging of horizons as you describe it.

Phil Sumpter said...

Hi timonthya3, thanks for your feedback, I really do appreciate it.

I've not come across the term "bibliotherapy" before but I see what you are getting at. I suppose that is a danger when reading the Bible that we subordinate it to our own needs. However, I'm not sure the statement of mine which you quote necessarily means that, it's pretty vague as it stands ... When I say illuminated, that doesn't have to be therapeutic, it can be painful too, and often is (i.e. judgement). It can give one direction in life that is challenging to one's comfortable status quo and not affirming of it. However, it can also be a source of joy which gives hope. But then that is a type of "therapy" which seems to be congruent with the gospel.

Perhaps I go too far when I ascribe this to the action of the Spirit. I'm fascinated by your statement that genuine theological exegesis involves one's humanity being taken up in Christ, such that we can partake in God. I'd be grateful if you could unpack that.

- Re: Spurgeon: interesting thought about fear. Perhaps. I think it ought to at least raise our expectations about what could happen and create an air of hopeful supplication

timothya3 said...

Hi Phil, Briefly, as George Hunsinger has put it (so I must be onto something, ha!), it is not so much we read, but that we are read by the text. This is the subsitutionary and representative character of the humanity of our Lord who gracefully bears upon us and who, generously for us, confesses us to his Father for us, even in the text, or because of his confessing of his Self in the text, for us. For that is the job of the Lord, to make us leave the 'I' behind, and follow the one who lived and died, such that in him is our very past present and future.
What I am contrasting this with, is the way of reading where we put ourselves in the way of the text, instead of the humanity of our lord, acting vicariously and representatively in our reading, such that by his Spirit , and by his uniting of himself with us and our selves (humanity), he can represent us , flawlessly, to the Father.
I am just a little discerning on this matter having tried, awkwardly to essay write, reader approaches, in my piece,
http://www.opensourcetheology.net/node/66 some of which I would probably re-word, the piece being some years old now. I am quite influenced by Thomas Torrance and James Torrance, as once I get to know their lexicon or terms of use, I find it hard to gain a control of understanding of terms in others whom i may only dip into. So the end-game for me, is not theological knowledge per se, or the scoring of points, but the knowledge that one is taken up into Communion by the Spirit, not even to be empowered, whatever that means, but simply to know that we can partake of his Love which is His Communion of his Son with us, so that we know more fully that we are his adopted children. To me if theology does not point in this doxological direction then the Gospel can suffer reduction to what appears to be like just black and white dots of letters on a page, even if i risk overstatement.