The Tyranny of the Expert

John 7:48.---' Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him?'

This is a specially interesting episode which only the Fourth Gospel has preserved for us. The chief priests had sent some of heir officers to find Jesus and bring Him before the Council. And these men had gone to do their work, but when they had listened to Jesus teaching in the Temple they fell under the spell of His personality. Silenced by emotions they could hardly analyze, they left Jesus as they had found Him, serene in the pursuit of His duty, and went back to the expectant Council with empty hands. When they were asked why they had not carried out their orders they gave this simple but significant answer: 'Never man so spake.' And then the priests uttered an extraordinary interesting reply: 'Are you even deceived, even you officers? What right have you to private opinion? Have any of the rulers and the Pharisees, whom you ought to obey, believed on Him?'

The priests seemed to imagine that they had given reason enough when they asked: 'Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him?' Implicitly they put themselves in a special class, possessing the sole right of judgment. There is a subtle contempt here for public opinion and the ordinary layman. They despised the simple unlettered mind of the masses; and, what is more, their question implies a belief that the common people have no right and no power to judge of spiritual things. Kind of sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Now, no matter what rulers or Pharisees may arrogantly claim for themselves, we believe in what we call the inalienable right of private judgment. In spiritual matters no man can judge for us. In the final issue Christianity is a personal equation, to be settled personally. Of course, there is such a thing as being open to light and suggestion. Rightly enough, we should give weight to those who have spent their life and thought in prayerful study. It would be foolish for a novice to question the ripe conclusions of a trained geologist; and similarly, in matters of scholarship and learning, it would be foolish for us to disregard the work of reverent thinkers. A wise man shows his wisdom by being open to impression and being willing to learn. And yet, behind all that, as a first principle, the big fact in Christianity is this inalienable right of private judgment. The one thing that makes a man a Christian is the decision of his individual heart for Christ. Thus, in the New Testament you will find how often Christ set Himself deliberately to deal with individuals, and demanded from them their private opinion of Himself and His claims. 'What think ye of Christ?'

It is, of course, this question of the right of private judgment which is one of the big issues confronting Institutional Churches as a whole today, of whatever denomination. I am not including all church affiliates---for there is always a remnant of believers guided by God. But mostly, and ideally, they/it does not deny the Bible to its members, but practically it does so, for it denies their right and power to interpret Scripture for themselves. The good member is expected to believe, without questioning, the specific interpretation which the doctors and rulers of his Church impose on passages of Scripture. 'Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in this; if not, then suppress it.' Now, to us, it does not matter an iota whether all the rulers and Pharisees in the world believed one thing, if we, in a sincere search for truth, were driven to believe the opposite. The ultimate court of appeal is 'my soul and my God.

It may be asked, do we not constantly depend upon authority in the ordinary conduct of our lives, and why not therefore in the supreme concerns of religion? The answer is that we do not accept authority, even in little matters, if it be doubtful; and, if doubtful, we do not examine, or failing to examine, we suffer by our negligence. And how much more, then, is it our duty to assure ourselves of the credentials of authority in those greatest matters affecting out eternal interests. I am disposed to think that undue deference to the authority of great names has done much mischief in repressing originality, meaning being creative with the Creator. The poet has truly said, 'My mind to me a kingdom is.' The submission of it to any other, however it may have the look of humility, is too often a base abdication.

Observe what is implied in denying the right of private judgment in matters of the spirit. This is implied---the very denial of the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of Christ's people. If we believe in the Savior's promise that the Holy Spirit will lead the devout heart into all truth, then claims of the others seem to us a subtle species of spiritual impertinence. Christ appeals to the individual human heart and the individual human mind. He at least believed, as with that depraved woman at the Well of Sychar, and with Zaccheaus, that a simple human heart is able to understand His claims, may close with Him without interference of a priestly office, and may find light enough by the Holy Spirit to live the devout life by faith.

But, further, in line with the Pharisees' question, there is what we may call "the fallacy of the big name." This is an age that believes in authorities, and loves to quote authorities---although it may not believe in authority. Some people are more apt to look at the truth of the thing itself. Surely we have heard people quote Shakespeare or Browning, as if that were an argument one could not possibly resist! There are a great many shams and half-truths which shelter under big names. Because the rulers have said a thing, must the people accept it?

Some things in modern life are aiding this process. One, in particular, is especially noticeable in our day. In this inquiring and scientific age, the bounds of knowledge are getting pushed farther and farther off, and it is daily becoming more impossible for any one man to master even a corner of truth. The acutest minds are forced to confine themselves to one or two branches of knowledge. Thus, in the various pursuits of the intellect, we are coming more and more into the hands of those whom we call "experts," who devote their whole time to one branch of enterprise. As a consequence, we ask these men just to give us the results of their study, as we have not the time---in this busy age---to consider the processes; and when the results are given us, we swallow them as if they were knowledge in tabloid form. Now, there is no one who knows the worth of our scholars, and values their enthusiasm and honesty, but will regard this as both natural and good. We have to thank God for a great succession of noble scholars who have lived 'laborous days,' and have given themselves and their means for the sake of truth. Are we not too dependent on the work of others? Are we not apt to take our conceptions of the world and life from those who are called the 'rulers' of thought and learning, and hide our own ignorance behind the cover of a few big names? For instance, who does not know the type of young man, with a burning desire to be thought modern, who says: "Few of your big scientists and thinkers believe in Christ!" Of course, it is not true to begin with; but it is typical of the mind which apes at being independent, and is yet utterly dependent on whatever side the big names happen to be. His question is: 'Have any of the rulers and leaders of thought believed in this Man?'

Now what does it matter whether any or all the leaders of thought believe or disbelieve in this Man? That is not a question that Paul would have dreamt of asking. What does it matter whether Darwin and Huxley be against religion, or Kelvin, or Sir Oliver Lodge be for it? We respect these men in the departments where they are supreme, but on matters of religion we are not going to be dominated by any other man's private belief. After all, religion is a thing of private experience, and is not dependent on the attestation of others. Many of those whose opinions we take as final may be excellent judges of science and knowledge in all their various branches, but may have neither the gifts nor the bent of mind to fit them to be judges of religion.

Few of us see the moral and spiritual danger that may be in such a state, where the majority of men are forced to do their thinking, and reach their conclusions, at second hand. It certainly does not make for that independence and assurance which made past religious life of the Church a praise and a glory, where men and women, strong only in their own deep experience, could say: 'I know, and am persuaded.' The Church is no longer bold as the apostles were bold, but a diffidence and hesitancy mark even the proclamation of the deepest doctrines of our faith. If our belief is real, if it means anything to us in our inner life, if our experience is at all like that of the apostles and martyrs, should this be?

It is a sad reflection that many men have hardly any religion at all, and most men have none of their own: for that which is the religion of their education and not of their judgment is the religion of another and not theirs.

Of other things which are popularly called religion, I have my opinion positive and negative. But religion to me is not opinion---it is certainty. I cannot govern my actions or guide my deepest convictions by probabilities. The laws which we are to obey and the obligations to obey them are part of my being of which I am as sure as that I am alive.

Most of all, the Pharisees' question has a subtle influence with weak men---that type of weakness which likes to be on the fashionable side, or cares to be accounted intellectual and superior. What a test to apply to Christ and His spiritual claims: whether these rulers, who had lost the very faculty for spiritual things, accounted Him worthy!---whether people of rank or name believe and serve Him!---whether the crowd is on His side or not! Had not men been found who would dare to hold unpopular opinions, then no man had dared to follow Christ. And in these latter days, when the world's supreme need, if it is to live at all, is to find a way back to Christ, no one is going to be of real service who will not dare to ask for himself what is the truth, and then let his heart, conscience and intellect guide him.

In Christ, timothy. Our Lord Comes