The Importance And Limitations Of The Historical Argument -- By: Albert Temple Swing

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 052:205 (Jan 1895)
Article: The Importance And Limitations Of The Historical Argument
Author: Albert Temple Swing


The Importance And Limitations Of The Historical Argument1

Prof. Albert Temple Swing

WHEN a man enters the realm of research, and of argumentation over the results of investigation, it is of vital importance that he hold the fundamental principles of knowledge with very great clearness. Facts and theories, the real and the ideal, without the right method, will accumulate in ever-increasing confusion. The more one seems to know, the less he actually possesses of true knowledge.

The historical instinct seeks to discover what has been in the past, and the manner of that being. What has been done and what has been thought; how it was done and how it was thought, are the questions which are ever arising. It is a search after reality as it has manifested itself to life and in life. The primal question is, What can be known? and the primary object of this paper is to emphasize the importance of distinguishing between that which belongs to the true record of history, and that which is only inferred from it; between facts, and theories as to facts; between science in its original and strict sense, and mere speculation, or science falsely so called.2 Human teaching can possess no inherent

authority. It is authoritative only as it presents truth, or reality, as it exists in the physical and spiritual worlds. So soon as a man’s facts are exhausted, so soon as he has drawn upon all the truth he has in his possession, his function as a teacher seat fro in God ceases, and he must hasten frankly to declare, as Paul did, I do not have this of the Lord; these are my own private inferences.

Now the truth is, that what we absolutely and definitely know of past reality is limited. The record is incomplete as to its extent, arid not absolutely correct in what it presents. It is only the human record of the real. It is the account of what has been seen and handled, so far as it has been preserved for us. For all practical purposes this kind of an account is abundantly adequate. It is not microscopic analysis which is demanded here. The world is wisely content if the general results have been obtained from honest witnesses. If further demands are made, they must be satisfied from other sources, if satisfied at all. Such is the nature of the historical record that we accept it as capable of furnishing genuine knowledge. The man. who becomes so extremely sceptical as to doubt the possibility of genuine history in the past has nothing behind him upon which he can build; and, in like manner, he can have nothing before him for his thought. His infidelity is practical insanity.

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