Basil Manly and the Bible Doctrine of Inspiration

Basil Manly and the Bible Doctrine of Inspiration

Timothy George

[This essay will appear as the introduction to the reprint of Manly’s Bible Doctrine of Inspiration, the first volume in the projected series, the Library of Baptist Classics, forthcoming from Broadman Press.]

Basil Manly’s Bible Doctrine of Inspiration was written for one reason: to present a clear, comprehensive account of the historic Christian belief in the Bible as the divinely inspired Word of God. When the book was first published in 1888, it was acclaimed as “the best monograph on inspiration that has been produced by an American scholar.”[1] From England the famous British preacher, Alexander Maclaren, wrote to the author praising his lucid, well-considered treatment of such a vital topic and commending his “unflinching contention for the authority of the Bible, which so many of our would-be theological instructors now-a-days ignore.”[2]

Significantly, Manly did not call his book the “Baptist Doctrine of Inspiration.” It was the “Bible Doctrine” he sought to expound. Manly was loyal to his denomination, but on this issue he realized that Baptists stood shoulder to shoulder with all evangelical, Bible-believing Christians as champions of the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura, “Scripture alone.” For this reason his book appealed not only to Baptist believers in America but to earnest seekers throughout the Christian world.

All the same, Manly’s book did have a direct influence within his own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. Indeed, as we shall see, it was precipitated by a crisis within the very seminary Manly had helped to establish some thirty years before. In a sense, Manly spoke not only for himself in this book but also for the founders of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and, even more broadly, for the vast majority of Baptist folk, pastors and lay persons alike, who would have heartily agreed with Roger Williams when he declared that “every word, syllable and tittle in that Scripture or writing is the word, or immediate revealed will of God. “[3]

The Bible Doctrine of Inspiration is a classic exposition of this fundamental Baptist commitment to the authority of Holy Scripture. More than 100 years after its first publication, it remains a timely and powerful book. The topic with which it deals is still at the heart Baptist theology and church life today. For this reason we have chosen it as the inaugural volume in the Library of Baptist Classics. To place this important work in its proper context, we shall review the life and ministry of its author, examine the circumstances of its writing, and discuss its relevance for the life and faith of the church today.

Basil Manly, Jr. (1825-1892)

Basil Manly, Jr. was born on December 19, 1825 in Edge South Carolina. He came from a noble line of descent. His paternal grandfather, also named Basil, had served as a captain during American Revolution. His father, Basil Manly, Sr., was one of the leading Baptist ministers in the South.[4] When Basil, Jr. was still a nursing infant his father became pastor of the historic First Baptist Church of Charleston. When he was twelve the family moved to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. In 1840 Manly, Jr. enrolled as a student in this school where he excelled in all of his studies.

Under the godly influence of his parents, Manly, Jr. was brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. At age fourteen, while reading the biography of Jonathan Edwards, he came under deep personal conviction of sin.

I was brought to such a loathing of myself, for the ingratitude, and neglect, and meanness, as it seemed to me, of disregarding the Savior, and to such an admiration of holiness that I came deliberately and solemnly to the conclusion, that I would try to become a Christian.[5]

Manly publicly shared his experience in Christ with the Baptist congregation in Tuscaloosa, and was baptized the following week by his father in the Black Warrior River. “The afternoon was very agreeable for the purpose,” his father recalled, “the sun overshadowed, dry ground, scene tranquil, and multitudes of people present. I committed him to God, so far as belongs to me, wholly and unreservedly hoping the Lord may like him and use him for his glory.”[6]

In May, 1844, Manly was licensed to preach the gospel. Later that year he began his theological studies at the Newton Theological Institute in Massachusetts, the first seminary founded by Baptists in America. In the course of his studies at Newton the Baptist denomination, along with the entire country, became embroiled in a fierce debate over slavery and abolitionism. Two days after the Southern Baptist Convention was organized in Augusta, Georgia, Manly transferred to Princeton Theological Seminary. Here he completed his ministerial preparation under such notable teachers as Charles Hodge, Archibald Alexander, and Samuel Miller.

On May 17, 1847, Manly received his diploma indicating that he had successfully completed the required course of study. Two years later another Southerner, James P. Boyce, also enrolled at Princeton. He and Manly, together with John A. Broadus and William Williams, would be linked as partners in the founding of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Boyce, like Manly, drank deeply from the wells of his great Reformed teachers at Princeton. In two important respects Princeton became a model for the first Baptist seminary in the South: first, the commitment to historic Christian orthodoxy expressed in a confession of faith conscientiously subscribed by every member of the faculty; and, secondly, a desire to hold in balance academic excellence and genuine piety, to model the ideal of godly learning.[7]

Following his studies at Princeton, Manly was ordained to the gospel ministry and called to the Providence Baptist Church in Sumter County, Alabama. In September, 1850, Manly, only twenty-four years of age, moved to Richmond, Virginia to begin his pastoral labors at the First Baptist Church in that city. Four years later he resigned to become the founding principal of Richmond Female Institute. During these years he was involved in many activities which had a far-reaching impact on the life of the church: the establishment of Sunday Schools in local congregations, the publication (with his father) of the first Baptist hymnal, the distribution of the Scriptures, the promotion of missionary and benevolence programs, along with numerous writing, preaching, and evangelistic activities.[8] When Southern Seminary opened its doors in Greenville, South Carolina in October, 1859, Manly was one of the four founding faculty members. His official title was Professor of Biblical Introduction and Old Testament although he fulfilled many other roles as well in his long association with this institution. One of his first assignments had been to draft a confessional statement, the Abstract of Principles, it was called, for the new school. Boyce, in setting forth the plan for the Seminary, had stressed the importance of a solid theological foundation.

The doctrinal sentiments of the Faculty are of greater importance than the proper investment and expenditure of its funds; and the trusts devolved upon those who watch over its interests should in that respect, if in any, be sacredly guarded.[9]

Drawing upon earlier Baptist confessional standards such as the First (1644) and Second (1689) London Confessions, Manly proposed an Abstract of Principles which consisted of twenty articles of faith ranging from the Scriptures to the Last Judgment. These articles of faith were included in the Fundamental Laws of the Seminary. Every professor was expected to teach in accordance with and not contrary to these articles. Failure to do so would be considered grounds for his resignation or removal by the trustees.

Manly shared fully in the labors of the young seminary as it struggled to survive amidst the convulsions of the American Civil War, Reconstruction, denominational strife and economic duress. On one occasion the four original founders gathered at the Boyce home in Greenville to join in prayer and a deep seeking of the will of God. At the end of the day Broadus said, “Suppose we quietly agree that the seminary may die, but we will die first.”[10] All heads were silently bowed and the matter was decided

From the beginning Manly was greatly beloved by his students for his judicious and reverent handling of the Scriptures. For him the Bible was never merely a book of ancient history or great literature. He led his students to apply the meaning of the Biblical text to their own spiritual walk. John R. Sampey, who sat in Manly’s classes, described the approach of his mentor. “He knew how to unfold the deep spiritual content of the Psalms with rare delight and sympathy. Having himself been chastened by bereavement and affliction, he could put the student into closest sympathy with Job and Jeremiah and other suffering saints. He taught men reverence and resignation and faith.”[11]

Manly’s reverent approach to teaching the Bible reflected a disciplined life of devotion and prayer. The coinherence of piety and intellect was at the heart of his pedagogical method and made a lasting impression on his students. One of them later recalled the powerful impact of Manly’s classroom prayers.

It was the custom at the Seminary, then, as now, to spend a few moments in prayer before each lecture. We have forgotten a great many things in the lectures of Dr. Manly, but we shall carry the memory of his prayers through all eternity. Sometimes he seemed to forget his surroundings and quietly to soar aloft on the wings of prayer-and he carried his student hearers with him near to the throne. When prayer was done we all felt that after all the first and best thing was piety, and yet this very connection quickened our interest in the study of God’s Word. Not unfrequently, when the “amen” was said, we had to brush away the tears before we could see our notebooks. After an experience of many years in all sorts of meetings I can deliberately say that nowhere at any time have I felt heaven on earth so sweetly and so powerfully as in Dr. Manly’s lecture room.[12]

Manly’s tenure as a professor at Southern Seminary was interrupted by an eight-year stint (1871-1879) as President of Georgetown College in Georgetown, Kentucky. Manly had a measure of success in this post although the difficulty of imposing discipline on rowdy under-graduates (“If only I can manage to reduce to order the boisterous boys,” he lamented), and the never-ending task of raising enough funds to keep the institution afloat, took their toll.[13]

During his years as President of Georgetown, Manly remained vitally interested in the progress of Southern Seminary. In 1877 the Seminary was moved from Greenville to Louisville. Two years later Manly returned to the seminary to fill the position vacated by Crawford Howell Toy. We turn now to the circumstances which led to this decision as it had a direct bearing on the origin of Manly’s Bible Doctrine of Inspiration.

The Toy Controversy

One of the most painful episodes in the history of Southern Baptists was the controversy over Crawford H. Toy, who had joined the faculty of Southern Seminary in 1869. At that time, Toy’s commitment to the total truthfulness of Holy Scripture was explicitly stated in his impressive inaugural address: ‘The Bible, its real assertions being known, is in every iota of its substance absolutely and infallibly true.”[14] Over the years, however, Toy gradually moved away from this position as he came more and more under the influence of Darwinian evolutionism and the theory of Pentateuchal criticism advanced by the German scholars Kuenen and Wellhausen. Enamored by the heady theories of “progressive” scholarship, Toy came to deny that many of the events recorded in the Old Testament had actually occurred. Moreover, he also questioned the Christological implications of many messianic prophecies, including Genesis 49:10 which the New Testament (Rev. 5:5) specifically applies to Christ. In 1876 Boyce wrote Toy a “gentle remonstrance and earnest entreaty”‘ concerning his views on inspiration.[15] During the 1878-79 academic year, Toy’s teaching became a matter of concern to the seminary trustees, chaired at that time by the venerable Baptist leader J. B. Jeter. Boyce requested Toy to refrain from espousing his radical critical views in the classroom. The latter agreed, but found that he could not do so. In the spring of 1879 Toy, under considerable pressure, tendered his resignation acknowledging that it has become apparent to me that my views of inspiration differ considerably from those of the body of my brethren.”[16]

Broadus spoke for Boyce, the faculty, and the trustees (with the exception of two dissenting members) when he characterized the painful necessity of Toy’s removal from the seminary community: “Duty to the founders of the institution and to all who had given money for its support and endowment, duty to the Baptist churches from whom its students must come, required [Boyce] to see to it that such teaching should not continue.” Boyce took no joy in the departure of Toy. In a poignant scene at the railway station, Boyce em-braced Toy and, lifting his right arm, exclaimed: “Oh, Toy, I would freely give that arm to be cut off if you could be where you were five years ago, and stay there.”[17] Toy subsequently became a professor at Harvard University where he affiliated with the Unitarian church and embraced even more radically critical views on the inspiration and authority of the Bible.

At the time the Toy Controversy broke loose, Manly was serving as a member of the seminary’s Board of Trustees. He was an active participant in the negotiations which led to Toy’s resignation. Both the faculty and the Board felt that only Manly could fill the vacancy. No one else commanded sufficient respect, or possessed adequate scholarly acumen, to restore the damaged credibility of the seminary. With some apprehension, but sensing clearly the leading of divine providence, Manly accepted the new assignment hoping, as he said, “that this move will be my last one “[18]

It is important to note that Manly, no less than Boyce and Broadus, was grieved personally over the forced departure of Toy. There was never any thought of a personal vendetta or witch-hunt. Manly was deeply concerned for Toy’s spiritual welfare. He hoped that the shock of the experience might lead his brilliant friend and former student to realize “the extent to which he has drifted from the moorings of his own older position.” Regrettably, such was not to be the case. In 1881 Manly reflected on certain writings of Toy which had come to his attention. “I read them . . with professed sadness, and a despair of the return to truth for a man for whom I have so high a respect, and so sincere an affection. He has breathed an atmosphere of doubt, till it has become his ritual air, and is as firmly convinced of the speculations as others are of the most unequivocal realities.”[19] Still, on a personal level, the two men remained friends to the end. When Manly died in 1892, Toy wrote a moving eulogy for his former teacher whom he always held in high esteem.

What was at stake in the Toy Controversy was not merely the deviant views of a single professor but rather the theological integrity of the seminary itself. No one saw this more clearly than Manly who, after all, had originally drafted the Abstract of Principles, including the first article on the Scriptures:

The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God, and are the only sufficient, certain and authoritative rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience.

Toy believed that his views had not violated the confessional commitment of the seminary despite the wide variance between his teaching and that of his colleagues. However, with reference to the Abstract, Manly insisted:

This language must be understood in accordance with the well-known convictions and views of the founders of the Seminary, and of the Baptist denomination generally. While I am accustomed to insist on no theory of the manner in which inspiration was effected, I hold and teach the fact that the Scriptures are so inspired as to possess infallibility and divine authority.[20]

Doubtless, the departure of Toy contributed to the conservative reputation which Southern Seminary enjoyed within the denomination and beyond. Once on a trip for the seminary, Boyce heard about certain students from Crozier Theological School who were trying to dissuade young preachers from coming to Southern because of the “antediluvian theology taught at Louisville.” To which Boyce replied, “If my theology were not older than the days of Noah, it wouldn’t be worth teaching!”[21]

On October 1, 1888, just two months before he died, Boyce wrote to his colleague, Basil Manly, Jr. With an eye to the Toy controversy which was just beginning to subside, he said:

I greatly rejoice in the certain triumph of the truth. I feel that nothing but our own folly can prevent the success of the seminary. If we keep things orthodox and correct within and avoid injudicious compromises while we patiently submit and laboriously labor, we shall find continuous blessing. So much do I feel this that I look back on my life’s work without any apprehension of future disaster.[22]

The Bible Doctrine of Inspiration

On September 1, 1879, Manly delivered his introductory lecture as Professor of Old Testament at Southern Seminary. His topic was “When and How to Study the Bible.” Everyone was anxious to hear what the man elected to replace Toy would say in the highly charged atmosphere of the crisis which still loomed over the school.

Manly began by expressing renewed confidence and affection for the Seminary community. Even though “the years have tinged our locks with gray,” he urged his colleagues to march on together as “tried soldiers in the conflicts and successes that await us,” in the certain knowledge that the work in which they were engaged was not their own but God’s.

He then set forth his philosophy of theological education, the primary purpose of which was to provide “a practical knowledge of the Scriptures.”

Every school and department of the Seminary is mainly valuable as it promotes the elucidation of the Word of God, and practical application of its teachings. Nor do we fear being charged with Bibliolatry in giving the Bible the central, dominant place in our system and in our affections. From the doubt or denial of God’s book, the road is short to doubt or denial of God; and after that come the abyss where all knowledge is not only lost but scoffed at, except that which the brute might enjoy as well.[23]

In this same address he made clear that confidence in the centrality and total truthfulness of the Scriptures in no way lessened the importance of careful, exacting scholarship, including the mastery of the original Biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek. Hebrew, of course, was his own specialty and he referred to it as “the earliest tongue which God saw fit to consecrate, by using it for his written communication to man.” He concluded his lecture by asserting, “If we are to be mighty in God’s work, we must be mighty in God’s word.”[24]

Manly’s Bible Doctrine of Inspiration grew out of his seminary lectures on this topic. Because of the lingering suspicions from the Toy affair, it was necessary to issue a clear affirmation of the seminary’s position of this controverted subject. Manly also hoped to address the wider implications of the assault on the authority of Scripture which stemmed from the acceptance of higher critical theories throughout the Protestant world.

In the summer of 1881, Manly had studies in Germany under Franz Delitzeh at the University of Laipzig. He was well acquainted with the current trends in Biblical scholarship. He also knew that the dangers posed by destructive criticism of the Bible were not limited to his own fellowship. Among English Baptists Charles Haddon Spurgeon and others were seeking to stave off “the boiling mudshowers of modern heresy” which resulted in the Downgrade Controversy.[25] In 1890, two years after Manly’s book was published, Charles A. Briggs condemned “the dogma of verbal inspiration” in his inaugural lecture at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Although he was suspended from the ministry by the Presbyterian Church, he continued to teach at Union Seminary.

In the face of these developments, Manly drafted his Bible Doctrine of Inspiration as a deliberate restatement of the historic Protestant doctrine of Scripture. Without naming Toy, he reviewed the impact of the so-called “Higher Criticism” on biblical studies and made the following conclusion which has lost none of its relevance in the intervening century: “We have no need nor disposition to undervalue either the legitimate method or the fairly established results of modern critical research… a true “Higher Criticism” may be just as valuable as a false and misguided attempt at it may be dangerous and delusive.”

In December, 1886, Manly was assaulted and severely beaten by two robbers as he walked home from the seminary in the evening. For some time he was unable to meet his classes and the following summer was spent in convalescence in Coopers, North Carolina. During this time he completed the manuscript for The Bible Doctrine of Inspiration. The book was published by k C. Armstrong and Son of New York in April, 1888.

Taken as a whole the work is a classic defense of verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible which he defined thus: “It is that the Bible as a whole is the Word of God, so that in every part of Scripture there is both infallible truth and divine authority.” Manly divides his book into three parts in which he first carefully explains the doctrine, then offers proof for it, and then defends it against objections. Manly understood inspiration as that divine influence that secures the accurate transference of truth into human language by a speaker or writer in order to communicate the will and purpose of God to others.

Manly specifically refutes the dictation theory of inspiration and allows fully for both the divine and human element in the process of inspiration. “The Bible is God’s Word to man throughout; yet at the same time it is really and thoroughly man’s composition. . . . The Word is not of man as to its source, nor depending on man as to its authority. It is by and through man as its medium; yet not simply as its channel along which it runs, like water through a lifeless pipe, but through and by man as the agent voluntarily active and intelligent in its communication…. It is all by singular and accumulated evidence declared to be the Word of God; all written by man, all inspired by God.”

Manly’s Legacy Today

Basil Manly, Jr., died on January 31, 1892, in his 68th year. At his funeral, John A. Broadus remarked: “He was the most versatile man I ever met. I never saw him try to do anything that he did not do it well. The worth of such a man only God can measure.”[26] Manly’s legacy lives on today in the institutions he served, in the agencies he helped to establish, in the churches he strengthened, above all, perhaps, in the widening influence of the students he taught through whose ministries the gospel of Jesus Christ has been carried throughout the world. In 1933 the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention honored the memory of both Broadus and Manly by blending the first syllables of their names into “Broadman Press.”

The Bible Doctrine of Inspiration was Manly’s major literary contribution. At the time of its publication it was highly esteemed by leading evangelical scholars such as Benjamin -B. Warfield at Princeton and Charles Rufus Brown at Newton. Its purpose, as one historian has put it, “was to forestall any trend on the part of the younger generation of ministers towards the denial of the supernatural element in the Bible. It served as an able work in resolving the conflict that had clouded the minds of many truth-seeking Southern Baptist ministers.”[27]

In retrospect, we can see how the strong theological foundation laid by Manly and others served Southern Baptists well in the generation which followed them. In the first three decades of the twentieth century nearly every major Protestant denomination in America was wracked by the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy. Many theological seminaries founded by godly men to train young ministers in the truth of God’s Word succumbed to the alluring tenets of liberalism and the destructively critical study of the Bible. During this period Southern Baptists remained overwhelmingly committed to a high doctrine of Holy Scripture. This view, which Manly had summarized so ably, was set forth with clarity in 1900 by James M. Frost in a book dedicated “to the Baptists of the world in their contending for the faith once for all delivered to the saints”:

We accept the Scriptures as an all-sufficient and infallible rule of faith and practice, and insist upon the absolute inerrancy and sole authority of the Word of God. We recognize at this point no room for division, either of practice or belief, or even sentiment. More and more we must come to feel as the deepest and mightiest power of our conviction that a “thus saith the Lord” is the end of all controversy.[28]