While on this subject, we may notice a certain fantastical tone of depreciation of miracles as an evidence of Christianity, which is occasionally adopted even by some who do not deny the possibility or probability, or even the fact, of their occurrence. They affirm them to be of little moment, and represent them—with an exquisite affectation of metaphysical propriety—as totally incapable of convincing men of any moral truth; upon the ground that there is no natural relation between any displays of physical power and any such truth. Now without denying that the nature of the doctrine is a criterion, and must be taken into account in judging of the reality of any alleged miracle, we have but two things to reply to this: first, that, as Paley says in relation to the question whether any accumulation of testimony can establish a miraculous fact, we are content 'to try the theorem upon a simple case,' and affirm that man is so constituted that if he himself sees the blind restored to sight and the dead raised, under such circumstances as exclude all doubt of fraud on the part of others and all mistake on his own, he will uniformly associate authority with such displays of superhuman power; and, secondly, that the notion in question is in direct contravention of the language and spirit of Christ himself, who expressly suspends his claims to men's belief and the authority of his doctrine on the fact of his miracles. 'The works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me.' 'If ye believe not me, believe my works.' 'If I had not come among them, and done the works that none other man did, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin.'
We have enumerated some of the paradoxes which infidelity is required to believe; and the old-fashioned, open, intelligible infidelity of the last century accepted them, and rejected Christianity accordingly. That was a self-consistent, simple, Ingenuous thing, compared with those monstrous forms of credulous reason, incredulous faith, metaphysical mysticism, even Christian Pantheism—so many varieties of which have sprung out of the incubation of German rationalism and German philosophy upon the New Testament. The advocates of these systems, after adopting the most formidable of the above paradoxes of infidelity, and (notwithstanding the frequent boast of originality) depending mainly on the same objections, and defending them by the very same critical arguments*, delude themselves with the idea that they have but purified and embalmed Christianity; not aware that they have first made a mummy of it. They are so greedy of paradox, that they, in fact, aspire to be Christians and infidels at the same time. Proclaiming the miracles of Christianity to be illusions of imagination or mythical legends,—the inspiration of its records no other or greater than that of Homer's 'Iliad,' or even 'Aesop's Fables;'—rejecting the whole of that supernatural clement with which the only records which can tell us any thing about the matter are full; declaring its whole history so uncertain that the ratio of truth to error must be a vanishing fraction;—the advocates of these systems yet proceed to rant and rave—they are really the only words we know which can express our sense of their absurdity—in a most edifying vein about the divinity of Christianity, and to reveal to us its true glories. 'Christ,' says Strauss, 'is not an individual, but an idea; that is to say, humanity. In the human race behold the God-made-man! behold the child of the visible virgin and the invisible Father!—that is, of matter and of mind; behold the Saviour, the Redeemer, the Sinless One; behold him who dies, who is raised again, who mounts into the heavens I Believe in this Christ! In his death, his resurrection, man is justified before God!'+
* The main objection, both with the old and the new forms of infidelity, is, that against the miracles; the main argument with both, those which attempt to show their antecedent impossibility; and criticism directed against the credulity of the records which contain them. The principal difference is, that modern infidelity shrinks from the coarse imputation of fraud and imposture on the founders of Christianity; and prefers the theory of illusion or myth to that of deliberate fraud. But with this exception, which touches only the personal character of the founders of Christianity, the case remains the same. The same postulates and the same arguments are made to yield substantially the same conclusion. For, all that is supernatural in Christianity and all credibility in its records, vanish equally on either assumption. Nor is even the modern mode of interpreting many of the miracles (as illusions or legends) unknown to the older infidelity; only it more consistently felt that neither the one theory nor the other, could be trusted to alone. Velis et remis was its motto. + Such is Quinet's brief statement of Strauss's mystico-mythical Christiantity, founded on the Hegelian philosophy. For a fuller, we dare not say a more intelligible, account of it in Strauss's own words, and the metaphysical mysteries on which it depends, the reader may consult Dr. Beard's translation;—pp. 44, 45. of his Essay entitled 'Strauss, Hegel, and their Opinions. _
Whether it be the Rationalism of Paulus, or the Rationalism of Strauss—whether that which declares all that is supernatural in Christianity (forming the bulk of its history) to be illusion, or that which declares it myth,—the conclusions can be made out only by a system of interpretation which can be compared to nothing but the wildest dreams and allegorical systems of some of the early Fathers#; while the results themselves are either those elementary principles of ethics for which there was no need to invoke a revelation at all, or some mystico-metaphysical philosophy, expressed in language as unintelligible as the veriest gibberish of the Alexandrian Platonists. In fact, by such exegesis and by such philosophy, any thing may be made out of any thing; and the most fantastical data be compelled to yield equally fantastical conclusions. _
# Of the mode of accounting for the supernatural occurrences in the Scriptures by the illusion produced by mistaken natural phenomena, (perhaps the most stupidly jejune of all the theories ever projected by man), Quinet eloquently says, 'The pen which wrote the Provincial Letters would be necessary to lay bare the strange consequences of this theology. According to its conclusion, the tree of good and evil was nothing but a venomous plant, probably a manchineal tree, under which our first parents fell asleep. The shining face of Moses on the heights of Mount Sinai was the natural result of electricity; the vision of Zachariah was effected by the smoke of the chandeliers in the temple; the Magian kings, with their offerings of myrrh, of gold, and of incense, were three wandering merchants, who brought some glittering tinsel to the Child of Bethlehem; the star which went before them a servant bearing a flambeau; the angels in the scene of the temptation, a caravan traversing the desert, laden with provisions; the two angels in the tomb, clothed in white linen, an illusion caused by a linen garment; the Transfiguration, a storm.' Who would not sooner be an old-fashioned infidel than such a doting and maundering rationalist? _
But the first and most natural question to ask is obviously this: how any mortal can pretend to extract any thing certain, much more divine, from records, the great bulk of which he has reduced to pure frauds, illusions, or legends,—and the great bulk of the remainder to an absolute uncertainty of how little is true and how much false?* Surely it would need nothing less than a new revelation to reveal this sweeping restriction of the old; and we should then be left in an ecstasy of astonishment-first, that the whole significance of it should have been veiled in frauds, illusions, or fictions; secondly, that its true meaning should have been hidden from the world for eighteen hundred years after its divine promulgation; thirdly, that it should be revealed at last, either in results which needed no revelation to reveal them, or in the Egyptian darkness of the allegorieo-metaphysico-mystico-logico-transendental, 'formulae' of the most obscure and contentious philosophy ever devised by man; and lastly, that all this superfluous trouble is to give us, after all, only the mysteries of a most enigmatical philosophy: For of Hegel, in particular, we think it may with truth be said that the reader is seldom fortunate enough to know that he knows his meaning, or even to know that Hegel knew his own. _
* Daub naively enough declares that, if you except all that relates to angels, demons, and miracle, there is scarcely any mythology in the Gospel.' An exception which reminds one of the Irish prelate who, on reading 'Gulliver's Travels,' remarked that there were some things in that book which he could not think true. _
Whether, then, we regard the original compilers of the evangelic records as inventing all that Paulus or Strauss rejects, or sincerely believing their own delusions, or that their statements have been artfully corrupted or unconsciously disguised, till Christ and his Apostles are as effectually transformed and travestied as these dreamers are pleased to imagine, with what consistency can we believe any thing certain amidst so many acknowledged fictions inseparably incorporated with them? If A has told B truth once and falsehood fifty times, (wittingly or unwittingly,) what can induce B to believe that he has any reason to believe A in that only time in which he does believe him, unless he knows the same truth by evidence quite independent of A, and for which he is not indebted to him at all? Should we not, then, at once acknowledge the futility of attempting to educe any certain historic fact, however meagre, or any doctrine, whether intelligible or obscure, from documents nine tenths of which are to be rejected as a tissue of absurd fictions? Or why should we not fairly confess that, for aught we can tell, the whole is a fiction? For certainly, as to the amount of historic fact which these men affect to leave, it is obviously a matter of the most trivial importance whether we regard the whole Bible as absolute fiction or not. Whether an obscure Galilean teacher, who taught a moral system which may have been as good (we can never know from such corrupt documents that it was as good) as that of Confucius, or Zoroaster, ever lived or not; and whether we are to add another name to those who have enunciated the elementary truths of ethics, is really of very little moment. Upon their principles we can clearly know nothing about him except that he is the centre of a vast mass of fictions, the invisible nucleus of a huge conglomerate of myths. A thousand times more, therefore, do we respect those, as both more honest and more logical, who, on similar grounds, openly reject Christianity altogether; and regard the New Testament, and speak of it, exactly as they would of Homer's 'Iliad,' or Virgil's 'Aeneid.' Such men, consistently enough, trouble themselves not at all in ascertaining what residuum of truth, historical or critical, may remain in a book which certainly gives ten falsehoods for one truth, and welds both together in inextricable confusion. The German infidels, on the other hand, with infinite labour, and amidst infinite uncertainties, extract either truth 'as old as the creation,' and as universal as human reason,—or truth which, after being hidden from the world for eighteen hundred years in mythical obscurity, is unhappily lost again the moment it is discovered, in the infinitely deeper darkness of the philosophy of Hegel and Strauss; who in vain endeavour to gasp out, in articulate language, the still latent mystery of the Gospel! Hegel, in his last hours, is said to have said,—and if he did not say, he ought to have said,—'Alas! there is but one man in all Germany who understands my doctrine,—and he does not understand it!' And yet, by his account, Hegelianism and Christianity, 'in their highest results,' [language, as usual, felicitously obscure] 'are one.' Both, therefore, are, alas! now for ever lost.
That great problem—to account for the origin and establishment Of Christianity in the world, with a denial at the same time of its miraculous pretensions—a problem, the fair solution of which is obviously incumbent on infidelity—has necessitated the most gratuitous and even contradictory hypotheses, and may safely be said still to present as hard a knot as ever. The favourite hypothesis, recently, has been that of Strauss—frequently re-modified and re-adjusted indeed by himself—that Christianity is a myth, or collection of myths—that is, a conglomerate (as geologists would say) of a very slender portion of facts and truth, with an enormous accretion of undesigned fiction, fable, and superstitions; gradually framed and insensibly received, like the mythologies of Greece and Rome, or the ancient systems of Hindoo theology. It is true, indeed, that the particular critical arguments, the alleged historic discrepancies and so forth, on which this author founds his conclusion—are for the most part, not original; most of them having been insisted on before, both in Germany, and especially in our own country during the Deistical controversies of the preceding century. His idea of myths, however, may be supposed original; and he is very welcome to it. For of all the attempted solutions of the great problem, this will be hereafter regarded as, perhaps, the most untenable. Gibbon, in solving the same problem, and starting in fact from the same axioms,—for he too endeavoured to account for the intractable phenomenon—on natural causes alone,—assigned, as one cause, the reputation of working miracles, the reality of which he denied; but he was far too cautious to decide whether the original thunders of Christianity had pretended to work miracles, and had been enabled to cheat the world into the belief of them, or whether the world had been pleased universally to cheat itself into that belief. He was far too wise to tie himself to the proof that in the most enlightened period of the world's history—amidst the strongest contrarieties of national and religious feeling—amidst the bitterest bigotry of millions in behalf of what was old, and the bitterest contempt of millions of all that was new—amidst the opposing forces of ignorance and prejudice on the one hand and philosophy and scepticism on the other—amidst all the persecutions which attested and proved those hostile feelings on the part of the bulk of mankind—and above all, in the short space of thirty years (which is all that Dr. Stauss allows himself),—Christianity could be thus deposited, like the mythology of Greece and Rome! These, he knew, were very gradual and silent formations; originating in the midst of a remote antiquity and an unhistoric age, during the very infancy and barbarism of the races which adopted them, confined, be it remembered, to those races alone; and displaying, instead of the exquisite and symmetrical beauty of Christianity, those manifest signs of gradual accretion which were fairly to be expected; in the varieties of the deposited or irrupted substances—in the diffracted appearance of various parts—in the very weather stains, so to speak, which mark the whole mass.
That the prodigious aggregate of miracles which the New Testament asserts, would, if fabulous, pass unchallenged, elude all detection, and baffle all scepticism.—collect in the course of a few years energetic and zealous assertors of their reality, in the heart of every civilised and almost every barbarous community, and in the course of three centuries, change the face of the world and destroy every other myth which fairly came in contact with it,—who but Dr. Strauss can believe? Was there no Dr. Strauss in those days? None to question and detect, as the process went on, the utter baselessness of these legends? Was all the world doting—was even the persecuting world asleep? Were all mankind resolved on befooling themselves? Are men wont thus quietly to admit miraculous pretensions, whether they be prejudiced votaries of another system or sceptics as to all? No: whether we consider the age, the country, the men assigned for the origin of these myths, we see the futility of the theory. It does not account even for their invention, much less for their success. We see that if any mythology could in such an age have germinated at all, it must have been one very different from Christianity; whether we consider the sort of Messiah the Jews expected, or the hatred of all Jewish Messiahs, which the Gentiles could not but have felt. The Christ offered them so far from being welcome, was to the one a 'stumbling block' and to the other 'foolishness'; and yet he conquered the prejudices of both.
Let us suppose a parallel myth—if we may abuse the name. Let us suppose the son of some Canadian carpenter aspiring to be a moral teacher, but neither working nor pretending to work miracles; as much hated by his countrymen as Jesus Christ was hated by his, and both he and his countrymen as much hated by all the civilised world beside, as were Jesus Christ and the Jews: let us further suppose him forbidding his followers the use of all force in propagating his doctrine's, and then let us calculate the probability of an unnoticed and accidental deposit, in thirty short years, of a prodigious accumulation about these simple facts. of supernatural but universally accredited fables, these legends escaping detection or suspicion as they accumulated, and suddenly laying hold in a few years of myriads of votaries in all parts of both worlds, and in three centuries uprooting and destroying Christianity and all opposing systems! How long will it be before the Swedenborgian, or the Mormonite, or any such pretenders, will have similar success? Have there not been a thousand such, and has any one of them had the slightest chance against systems in possession,—against the strongly rooted prejudices of ignorance and the Argus-eyed investigations of scepticism? But all these were opposed to the pretensions of Christianity; nor can any one example of at all similar sudden success be alleged, except in the case of Mahomet; and to that the answer is brief. The history of Mahomet is the history of a conqueror—and his logic was the logic of the sword.
In spite of the theory of Strauss, therefore, not less than that of Gibbon, the old and ever recurring difficulty of giving a rational account of the origin and establishment of Christianity still presents itself for solution to the infidel, as it always has done, and, we venture to say, always will do. It is an insoluble phenomenon, except by the admission of the facts of the—New Testament. 'The miracles,' says Butler, 'are a satisfactory account of the events, of which no other satisfactory account can be given; nor any account at all, but what is imaginary merely and invented.'
In the meantime, the different theories of unbelief mutually refute one another; and we may plead the authority of one against the authority of another. Those who believe Strauss believe both the theory of imposture and the theory of illusion improbable; and those who believe in the theory of imposture believe the theory of myths improbable. And both parties, we are glad to think, are quite right in the judgment they form of one another.
But what must strike every one who reflects as the most surprising thing in Dr. Strauss, is, that with the postulatum with which he sets out, and which he modestly takes for granted as too evident to need proof, he should have thought it worth while to write two bulky volumes of minute criticism on the subject. A miracle he declares to be an absurdity, an contradiction, an impossibility. If we believed this, we should deem a very concise enthymene (after having proved that postulatum though) all that it was necessary to construct on the subject. A miracle cannot be true; ergo, Christianity, which in the only records by which we know anything about it, avows its absolute dependence upon miracles, must be false.
It is a modification of one or other of these monstrous forms of unbelieving belief and Christian infidelity, that Mr. Foxton, late of Oxford, has adopted in his 'Popular Christianity;' as perhaps also Mr. Froude in his 'Nemesis.' It is not very easy, indeed, to say what Mr. Foxton positively believes; having, like his German prototypes, a greater facility of telling what he does believe, and of wrapping up what he does believe in a most impregnable mysticism. He certainly rejects, however, all that which, when rejected a century ago, left, in the estimate of every one, an infidel in puris naturalibus. Like his German acquaintances, he accepts the infidel paradoxes—only, like them, he will still be a Christian. He believes, with Strauss, that a miracle is an impossibility and contradiction—'incredible per se.' As to the inspiration of Christ—he regards it as, in its nature, the same as that of Zoraster, Confucius, Mahomet, Plato, Luther, and Wickliffe—a curious assortment of 'heroic souls.'(Pp. 62, 63.) With a happy art of confusing the 'gifts of genius' no matter whether displayed in intellectual or moral power, and of forgetting that other men are not likely to overlook the difference, he complacently declares 'the wisdom of Solomon and the poetry of Isaiah the fruit of the same inspiration which is popularly attributed to Milton or Shakspeare, or even to the homely wisdom of Benjamin Franklin' (P. 72.) in the same pleasant confusion of mind, he thinks that the 'pens of Plato, of Paul and of Dante, the pencils of Raphael and of Claude, the Chisels of Canova and of Chantrey, no less than the voices of Knox of Wickliffe, and of Luther are ministering instruments, in different degrees, of the same spirit.' (P. 77.) He thinks that 'we find, both in the writers and the records of Scripture, every evidence of human infirmity that can possibly be conceived; and yet we are to believe that God himself specially inspired them with false philosophy, vicious logic, and bad grammar.'(P. 74.) He denies the originality both of the Christian ethic (which he says are a gross plagiarism from Plato) as also in great part of the system of Christian doctrine.* Nevertheless, it would be quite a mistake, it seems, to suppose that Mr. Foxton is no Christian! He is, on the contrary, of the very few who can tell us what Christianity really is; and who can separate the falsehoods and the myths which have so long disguised it. He even talks most spiritually and with an edifying onction. He tells us "God was," indeed, "in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself." And but little deduction need be made from the rapturous language of Paul, who tells us that "in him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (P. 65); I concede to Christ' (generous admission!) 'the highest inspiration hitherto granted to the prophets of God' (P. 143),—Mahomet, it appears, and Zoroaster and Confucius, having also statues in his truly Catholic Pantheon. 'The position of Christ,' he tells us in another place, is 'simply that of the foremost man in all the world,' though he 'soars far above "all principalities and powers"—above all philosophies hitherto known—above all creeds hitherto propagated in his name'—the true Christian doctrine, after having been hid from ages and generations, being reserved to be disclosed, we presume, by Mr. Foxton. His spiritualism, as usual with the whole school of our new Christian infidels, is, of course, exquisitely refined,—but, unhappily, very vague. He is full of talk of 'a deeep insight,'—of a 'faith not in dead histories, but living realities—a revelation to our innermost nature.' 'The true seer,' he says, 'looking deep into causes, carries in his heart the simple wisdom of God. The secret harmonies of Nature vibrate on his ear, and her fair proportions reveal themselves to his eye. He has a deep faith in the truth of God.' (P. 146.) 'The inspired man is one whose outward life derives all its radiance from the light within him. He walks through stony places by the light of his own soul, and stumbles not. No human motive is present to such a mind in its highest exultation—no love of praise—no desire of fame—no affection, no passion mingles with the divine afflatus, which passes over without ruffling the soul.' (P. 44.) And a great many fine phrases of the same kind, equally innocent of all meaning. _
* (Pp. 51—60.) We are hardly likely to yield to Mr. Foxton in our love of Plato, for whom we have expressed, and that very recently, (April, 1848,) no stinted admiration: and what we have there affirmed we are by no means disposed to retract,—that no ancient author has approached, in the expression of ethical truth, so near to the maxims and sometimes the very expressions, of the Gospel. Nevertheless, we as strongly affirm, that he who contrasts (whatever the occasional sublimity of expression) the faltering and often sceptical tone of Plato on religious subjects, with the uniformity and decision of the Evangelical system,—his dark notions in relation to God (candidly confessed) with the glorious recognition of Him in the Gospel as 'our Father,'—his utterly absurd application of his general principles of morals, in his most Utopian of all Republics, with the broad, plain social ethics of Christianity,—the tone of mournful familiarity (whatever his personal immunity) in which he too often speaks of the saddest pollutions that ever degraded humanity, with the spotless purity of the Christian rule of life,—the hesitating, speculative tone of the Master of the Academy with the decision and majesty of Him who 'spake with authority, and not as the Scribes,' whether Greek or Jewish.—the metaphysical and abstract character of Plato's reasonings with the severely practical character of Christ's,—the feebleness of the motives supplied by the abstractions of the one, and the intensity of those supplied by the other,—the adaptation of the one to the intelligent only, and the adaptation of the other to universal humanity,—the very manner of Plato, his gorgeous style, with the still more impressive simplicity of the Great Teacher,—must surely see in the contrast every indication, to say nothing of the utter gratuitousness (historically) of the contrary hypothesis, that the sublime ethics of the Gospel, whether we regard substance, or manner, or, tone, or style, are no plagiarism from Plato. As for the man who can hold such a notion, he must certainly be very ignorant either of Plate or of Christ. As the best apology for Mr. Foxton's offensive folly we may, perhaps, charitably hope that he is nearly ignorant of both.—Equally absurd is the attempt to identify the metaphysical dreams of Plato with the doctrinal system of the Gospel, though it is quite true, that long subsequent to Christ the Platonising Christians tried to accommodate the speculations of the sage they loved, to the doctrines of a still greater master. But Plato never extorted from his friends stronger eulogies than Christ has often extorted from his enemies.
It is amazing and amusing to see with what case Mr. Foxton decides points which have filled folios of controversy. 'In the teaching of Christ himself, there is not the slightest allusion to the modern evangelical notion of an atonement.' 'The diversities of "gifts" to which Paul alludes, Cor. i. 12. are nothing more than those different "gifts" which, in common parlance, we attribute to the various tempers and talents of men.' (P. 67.) 'It is, however, after all, absurd to suppose that the miracles of the Scriptures are subjects of actual belief; either to the vulgar or the learned.' (P. 104.) What an easy time of it must such an all-sufficient controvertist have!
He thinks it possible; too, that Christ, though nothing more than an ordinary man, may really have 'thought himself Divine,' without being liable to the charge of a visionary self-idolatry or of blasphemy,—as supposed by every body, Trinitarian or Unitarian, except Mr. Foxton. He accounts for it by the 'wild sublimity of human emotion, when the rapt spirit first feels the throbbings of the divine afflatus,' &c. &c. A singular afflatus which teaches a man to usurp the name and prerogatives of Deity, and a strange 'inspiration' which inspires him with so profound an ignorance of his own nature! This interpretation, we believe, is peculiarly Mr. Foxton's owe.
The way in which he disposes of the miracles, is essentially that of a vulgar, undiscriminating, unphilosophic mind. There have been, he tells us in effect, so many false miracles, superstitious stories of witches, conjurors, ghosts, hobgoblins, of cures by royal touch, and the like,—and therefore the Scripture miracles are false! Why, who denies that there have been plenty of false miracles? And there have been as many false religions. Is there, therefore, none true? The proper business in every such case is to examine fairly the evidence, and not to generalise after this absurd fashion. Otherwise we shall never believe any thing; for there is hardly one truth that has not its half score of audacious counterfeits.
Still he is amusingly perplexed, like all the rest of the infidel world, how to get rid of the miracles—whether on the principle of fraud, or fiction, or illusion. He thinks there would be 'a great accession to the ranks of reason and common sense by disproving the reality of the miracles, without damaging the veracity or honestly of the simple, earnest, and enthusiastic writers by whom they are recorded;' and complains of the coarse and undiscriminating criticism of most of the French and English Deists, who explain the miracles 'on the supposition of the grossest fraud acting on the grossest credulity.' But he soon finds that the materials for such a compromise are utterly intractable. He thinks that the German Rationalists have depended too much on some 'single hypothesis, which often proves to be insufficient to meet the great variety of conditions and circumstances with which the miracles have been handed down to us.' Very true; but what remedy? 'We find one German writer endeavouring to explain away the miracles on the mystical (mythical) theory; and another riding into the arena of controversy on the miserable hobby-horse of "clairvoyance" or "mesmerism"; each of these, and a host of others of the same class, rejecting whatever light is thrown on the question by all the theories together.' He therefore proposes, with great and gratuitous liberality, to heap all these theories together, and to take them as they are wanted; not withholding any of the wonders of modern science—even, as would seem, the possible knowledge of 'chloroform' (PP. 104.. 86, 87.)—from the propagators of Christianity!
But, alas! the phenomena are still intractable. The stubborn 'Book' will still baffle all such efforts to explain it away; it is willing to be rejected, if it so pleases men, but it guards itself from being thus made a fool of. For who can fail to see that neither all or any considerable part of the multifarious miracles of the New Testament can be explained by any such gratuitous extension of ingenious fancies; and that if they could be so explained, it would be still impossible to exculpate the men who need such explanations from the charge of perpetuating the grossest frauds! Yet this logical ostrich, who am digest all these stones, presumptuously declares a miracle an impossibility and the very notion of it a contradiction.* But enough of Mr. Foxton.
* Mr. Foxton denies that men, in Paley's 'single case in which he tries the general theorem,' would believe the miracle; but he finds it convenient to leave out the most significant circumstances on which Paley makes the validity of the testimony to depend, instead of stating them fairly in Paley's own words. Yet that the sceptics (if such there could be) must be the merest fraction of the species, Mr. Foxton himself immediately proceeds to prove by showing what is undeniably the case) that almost all mankind readily receive miraculous occurrences on far lower evidence than Paley's common sense would require them to demand. Surely he must be related to the Irishman who placed his ladder against the bough he was cutting off. I
There are no doubt some minds amongst us, whose power we admit, and whose perversion of power we lament, who have bewildered themselves by really deep meditation on inexplicable mysteries; who demand certainty where certainty is not given to man, or demand for truths which are established by sufficient evidence, other evidence than those truths will admit. We can even painfully sympathise in that ordeal of doubt which such powerful minds are peculiarly exposed—with their Titanic struggles against the still mightier power of Him who has said to the turbulent intellect of man, as well as to the stormy ocean 'Hitherto shalt thou come, but no farther,—and here shall thy proud waves be staid.' We cannot wish better to any such agitated mind than that it may listen to those potent and majestic words: 'Peace—be still!' uttered by the voice of Him who so suddenly hushed the billows of the Galilean lake.
But we are at the same time fully convinced that in our day there are thousands of youths who are falling into the same errors and perils from sheer vanity and affectation; who admire most what they least understand, and adopt all the obscurities and paradoxes they stumble upon, as a cheap path to a reputation for profundity; who awkwardly imitate the manner and retail the phrases of the writers they study; and, as usual, exaggerate to caricature their least agreeable eccentricities. We should think that some of these more powerful minds must be by this time ashamed of that ragged regiment of shallow thinkers, and obscure writers and talkers who at present infest our literature, and whose parrot-like repetition of their own stereotyped phraseology, mingled with some barbarous infusion of half Anglicised German, threatens to form as odious a cant as ever polluted the stream of thought or disfigured the purity of language. Happily it is not likely to be more than a passing fashion; but still it is a very unpleasant fashion while it lasts. As in Johnson's day, every young writer imitated as well as he could the ponderous diction and everlasting antitheses of the great dictator as in Byron's day, there were thousands to whom the world 'was a blank' at twenty or thereabouts, and of whose dark imaginings,' as Macaulay says, the waste was prodigious; so now there are hundreds of dilettanti pantheists', mystics and sceptics to whom everything is a 'sham,' an 'unreality'; Who tell us that the world stands in need of a great 'prophet,' a seer,' a 'true prophet', a large soul,' a god-like soul,'*—who shall dive into 'the depths of the human consciousness,' and whose 'utterances' shall rouse the human mind from the 'cheats and frauds' which have hitherto everywhere practised on its simplicity. The tell us, in relation to philosophy, religion, and especially in relation to Christianity, that all that has been believed by mankind has been believed only on 'empirical' grounds; and that the old answers to difficulties will do no longer. They shake their sage heads at such men as Clarke, Paley, Butler, and declare that such arguments as theirs will not satisfy them.,—We are glad to admit that all this vague pretension is now but rarely displayed with the scurrilous spirit of that elder unbelief against which the long series of British apologists for Christianity arose between 1700 and 1750; But there is often in it an arrogance as real, though not in so offensive a form. Sometimes the spirit of unbelief even assumes an air of sentimental regret at its own inconvenient profundity. Many a worthy youth tells us he almost wishes he could believe. He admires, of all things, the 'moral grandeur'—the 'ethical beauty' of many parts of Christianity; he condescends to patronize Jesus Christ, though he believes that the great mass of words and actions by which alone we know anything about him, are sheer fictions or legends; he believes—gratuitously enough in this instance, for he has no ground for it—that Jesus Christ was a very 'great man' worthy of comparison at least with Mahomet, Luther, Napoleon, and 'other heroes'; he even admits that happiness of a simple, child-like faith, in the puerilities of Christianity—it produces such content of mind! But alas! he cannot believe—his intellect is not satisfied—he has revolved the matter too profoundly to be thus taken in; he must, he supposes, (and our beardless philosopher sighs as he says it) bear the penalty of a too restless intellect, and a too speculative genius; he knows all the usual arguments which satisfied Pascal, Butler, Bacon, Leibnitz; but they will do no longer: more radical, more tremendous difficulties have suggested themselves, 'from the 'depths of philosophy,' and far different answers are required now!+
* Foxton's last chapter, passim, from some expressions one would almost imagine that our author himself aspired to be, if not the Messiah, at least the Elias, of this new dispensation. We fear, however, that this 'vox clamantis' would reverse the Baptist's proclamation, and would cry, 'The straight shall be made crooked. and the plain places rough.' + We fear that many young minds in our day are exposed to the danger of falling into one or other of the prevailing forms of unbelief, and especially into that of pantheistic mysticism—from rashly meditating in the cloudy regions of German philosophy—on difficulties which would seem beyond the limits of human reason, but which that philosophy too often promises to solve—with what success we may see from the rapid succession and impenetrable obscurities of its various systems. Alas! when will men learn that one of the highest achievements of philosophy is to know when it is vain to philosophise. When the obscure principles of these most uncouth philosophies, expressed, we verily believe, in the darkest language ever used by civilised man, are applied to the solution of the problems of theology and ethics, no wonder that the natural consequence, as well as just retribution, of such temerity is a plunge into tenfold night. Systems of German philosophy may perhaps be advantageously studied by those who are mature enough to study them; but that they have an incomparable power of intoxicating the intellect of the young aspirant to their mysteries, is, we think, undeniable. They are producing the effect just now in a multitude of our juveniles, who are beclouding themselves in the vain attempt to comprehend ill-translated fragments of ill-understood philosophies, (executed in a sort of Anglicised-German, or Germanised-English, we know not which to call it, but certainly neither German nor English,) from the perusal of which they carry away nothing but some very obscure terms, on which they themselves have superinduced a very vague meaning. These terms you in vain implore them to define; or, if they define them, they define them in terms which as much need definition. Heartily do we wish that Socrates would reappear amongst us, to exercise his accoucheur's art on these hapless Theaetetuses and Menos of our day! Many such youths might no doubt reply at first to the sarcastic Querist, (who might gently complain of a slight cloudiness in their speculations.) that the truths they uttered were too profound for ordinary reasoners. We may easily imagine how Socrates would have dealt with such assumptions. His reply would be rather more severe than that of Mackintosh to Coleridge in a somewhat similar case; namely, that if a notion cannot be made clear to persons who have spent the better part of their days in resolving the difficulties of metaphysics and philosophy, and who are conscious that they are not destitute of patience for the effort requisite to understand them, it may suggest a doubt whether the truth be not in the medium of communication rather than elsewhere; and, indeed, whether the philosopher be not aiming to communicate thoughts on subjects on which man can have no thoughts to communicate. Socrates would add, perhaps, that language was given us to express, not to conceal our thoughts; and that, if they cannot be communicated, invaluable as they doubtless are, we had better keep them to ourselves; one thing it is clear he would do,—he would insist on precise defintions. But in truth it may be more than surmised that the obscurities of which all complain, except those (and in our day they are not a few) to whom obscurity is a recommendation, result from suffering the intellect to speculate in realms forbidden to its access; into caverns of tremendous depth and darkness, with nothing better than our own rushlight. Surely we have reason to suspect as much when some learned professor, after muttering his logical incantations, and conjuring with his logical formulae, surprises you by saying, that he has disposed of the great mysteries of existence and the universe, and solved to your entire satisfaction, in his own curt way, the problems of the ABSOLUTE and the INFINITE! If the cardinal truths of philosophy and religion hitherto received are doomed to be imperilled by such speculations, one feels strongly inclined to pray with the old Homeric hero,—'that if they must perish, it may be at least in daylight.' We earnestly counsel the youthful reader to defer the study of German philosophy, at least till he has matured and disciplined his mind, and familiarised himself with the best models of what used to be our boast—English clearness of thought and expression. He will then learn to ask rigidly for definitions, and not rest satisfied with half-meanings—or no meaning. To the naturally venturous pertinacity of young metaphysicians, few would be disposed to be more indulgent than ourselves. From the time of Plato downwards—who tells us that no sooner do they 'taste' of dialectics than they are ready to dispute with every body—'sparing neither father nor mother, scarcely even the lower animals,' if they had but a voice to reply. They have always expected more from metaphysics than (except as a discipline) they will ever yield. He elsewhere, still more humorously describes the same trait. He compares then, to young dogs who are perpetually snapping at every thing about them:—Hoimai gar se ou lelethenai, hoti hoi meirakiskoi, hotan to proton logon geuontai, os paidia autois katachrontai, aei eis antilogian chromenoi kai mimoumenoi tous exelenchontas autoi allous elenchousi, chairontes osper skulakia te kai sparattein tous plesion aei. But we hope we shall not see our metaphysical 'puppies' amusing themselves—as so many 'old dogs' amongst neighbours (who ought to have known better) have done,—by tearing into tatters the sacred leaves of that volume, which contains what is better than all their philosophy.
This is easily said, and we know is often said, and loudly. But the justice with which it is said is another matter; for when we can get these cloudy objectors to put down, not their vague assertions of profound difficulties, uttered in the obscure language they love, but a precise statement of their objections, we find them either the very same with those which were quite as powerfully urged in the course of the deistical controversies of the last century (the case with far the greater part), or else such as are of similar character, and susceptible of similar answers. We say not that the answers were always satisfactory, nor are now inquiring whether any of them were so; we merely maintain that the objections in question are not the novelties they affect to be. We say this to obviate an advantage which the very vagueness of much modern opposition to Christianity would obtain, from the notion that some prodigious arguments have been discovered which the intellect of a Pascal or a Butler was not comprehensive enough to anticipate, and which no Clarke or Paley would have been logician enough to refute. We affirm, without hesitation, that when the new advocates of infidelity descend from their airy elevation, and state their objections in intelligible terms, they are found, for the most part, what we have represented them. When we read many of the speculations of German infidelity, we seem to be re-perusing many of our own authors of the last century. It is as if our neighbours had imported our manufactures; and, after re-packing them, in new forms and with some additions, had re-shipped and sent them back to us as new commodities. Hardly an instance of discrepancy is mentioned in the 'Wolfenbutted Fragments,' which will not be found in the pages of our own deists a century ago; and, as already hinted, of Dr. Strauss's elaborate strictures, the vast majority will be found in the same sources. In fact, though far from thinking it to our national credit, none but those who will dive a little deeper than most do into a happily forgotten portion of our literature, (which made noise enough in its day, and created very superfluous terrors for the fate of Christianity,) can have any idea of the extent to which the modern forms of unbelief in Germany—so far as founded on any positive grounds, whether of reason or of criticism,—are indebted to our English Deists. Tholuck, however, and others of his countrymen, seem thoroughly aware of it.
The objections to the truth of Christianity are directed either against the evidence itself; or that which it substantiates. Against the latter, as Bishop Butler says, unless the objections be truly such as prove contradictions in it, they are 'perfectly frivolous;' since we cannot be competent judges either as to what it is worthy of the Supreme Mind to reveal, or how far a portion of an imperfectly-developed system may harmonise with the whole; and, perhaps, on many points, we never can be competent judges, unless we can cease to be finite. The objections to the evidence itself are, as the same great author observes, 'well worthy of the fullest attention.' The a priori objection to miracles we have already briefly touched. If that objection be valid, it is vain to argue further; but if not, the remaining objections must be powerful enough to neutralise the entire mass of the evidence, and, in fact, to mount to a proof of contradictions; 'not on this or that minute point of historic detail,—but on such as shake the foundations of the whole edifice of evidence. It will not do to say, 'Here is a minute discrepancy in the history of Matthew or Luke as compared with that of 'Mark or John;' for, first, such discrepancies are often found, in other authors, to be apparent, and not real,—founded on our taking for granted that there is no circumstance unmentioned by two writers which, if known, would have been seen to harmonise their statements. We admit this possible reconciliation readily enough in the case of many seeming discrepancies of other historians; but it is a benefit which men are slow to admit in the case of the sacred narratives. There the objector is always apt to take it for granted that the discrepancy is real; though it may be easy to suppose a case (a possible case is quite sufficient for the purpose) which would neutralise the objection. Of this perverseness (we can call it by no other name) the examples are perpetual in the critical tortures which Strauss has subjected the sacred historians.*"—
It may be objected, perhaps, that the gratuitous supposition of some unmentioned fact—which, if mentioned, would harmonise the apparently counter-statements of two historians—cannot be admitted, and is, in fact, a surrender of the argument. But to say so, is only to betray an utter ignorance of what the argument is. If an objection be founded on the alleged absolute contradiction of two statements, it is quite sufficient to show any (not the real, but only a hypothetical and possible) medium of reconciling them; and the objection is, in all fairness, dissolved. And this would be felt by the honest logician, even if we did not know of any such instances in point of fact. We do know however, of many. Nothing is more common than to find, in the narration of two perfectly honest historians,—referring to the same events from different points of view, or for a different purpose,—the omission a fact which gives a seeming contrariety to their statements; a contrariety which the mention of the omitted fact by a third writer instantly clears up.+
* The reader may see some striking instances of his disposition to take the worse sense, in Beard's 'Voices of the Church.' Tholuck truly observes, too, in his strictures on Strauss, 'We know how frequently the loss of a few words in one ancient author would be sufficient to cast an inexplicable obscurity over another.' The same writer well observes, that there never was a historian who, if treated on the principles of criticism which his countryman has applied to the Evangelists, might not be proved a mere mytholographer ... 'It is plain', he says, 'that if absolute among historians'—and still more absolute apparent agreement—is necessary to assure us that we possess in their writings credible history, we must renounce all pretence to any such possession.' The translations from Quinet, Coquerel, and Tholuck are all, in different ways, well worth reading. The last truly says, 'Strauss came to the study of the Evangelical history with the forgone conclusion that "miracles are impossible;" and where an investigator brings with him an absolute conviction of the guilt of the accused to the examination of his case, we know how even the most innocent may be implicated and condemned out of his own mouth.' In fact, so strong and various are the proofs of truth and reality in the history of the New Testament, that none would ever have suspected the veracity of the writers, or tried to disprove it, except for the above forgone conclusion—'that miracles are impossible.' We also recommend to the reader an ingenious brochure included in the 'Voices of the Church, in reply to Strauss,' constructed on the same principle with Whately's admirable 'Historic Doubts,' namely; 'The Fallacy of the Mythical Theory of Dr. Strauss, illustrated from the History of Martin Luther, and from the actual Mohammedan Myths of the Life of Jesus.' What a subject for the same play of ingenuity would be Dean Swift! The date, and place of his birth disputed—whether he was an Englishman or an Irishman—his incomprehensible relations to Stella and Vanessa, utterly incomprehensible on any hypothesis—his alleged seduction of one of one, of both, of neither—his marriage with Stella affirmed, disputed, and still wholly unsettled—the numberless other incidents in his life full of contradiction and mystery—and, not least, the eccentricities and inconsistencies of his whole character and conduct! Why, with a thousandth part of Dr. Strauss's assumptions, it would be easy to reduce Swift to as fabulous a personage as his own Lemuel Gulliver. +Any apparent discrepancy with either themselves or profane historians is usually sufficient to satisfy Dr. Strauss. He is ever ready to conclude that the discrepancy is real, and that the profane historians are right. In adducing some striking instances of the minute accuracy of Luke, only revealed by obscure collateral evidence (historic or numismatic) discovered since, Tholuck remarks, 'What an outcry would have been made had not the specious appearance of error been thus obviated. Luke calls Gallio proconsul of Achaia: we should not have expected it, since though Achaia was originally to senatorial province. Tiberius had changed it into an imperial one, and the title of its governor, therefore, was procurator; now a passage in Suetonius informs us, that Claudius had restored the province to the senate.' The same Evangelist calls Sergius Paulus governor of Cyprus; yet we might have expected to find only a praetor, since Cyprus was an imperial province. In this case, again: says Tholuck, the correctness of the historian has been remarkable attested. Coins and later still a passage in Dion Cassius, have been found, giving proof that Augustus restored the province to the senate; and thus, as if to vindicate the Evangelist, the Roman historian adds, 'Thus, proconsuls began to be sent into that island also.' Trans. From Tholuck, pp. 21, 22. In the same manner coins have been found proving he is correct in some other once disputed instances. Is it not fair to suppose that many apparent discrepancies of the same order may be eventually removed by similar evidence?
Very forgetful of this have the advocates of infidelity usually been: nay, (as if they would make up in the number of objections what they want in weight,) they have frequently availed themselves not only of apparent contrarieties, but of mere incompleteness in the statements of two different writers, on which to found a charge of contradiction. Thus, if one writer says that a certain person was present at a given time or place, when another says that he and two more were there; or that one man was cured of blindness, when another says that two were,— such a thing is often alleged as a contradiction; whereas, in truth, it resents not even a difficulty—unless one historian be bound to say not only all that another says but just so much, and no more. Let such objections be what they will, unless they prove absolute contradictions in the narrative, they are as mere dust in the balance, compared with the stupendous mass and variety of that evidence which confirms the substantial truth of Christianity. And even if they establish real contradictions, they still amount, for reasons we are about to state, to dust in the balance, unless they establish contradictions not in immaterial but in vital points. The objections must be such as, if proved, leave the whole fabric of evidence in ruins. For, secondly, we are fully disposed to concede to the objector that there are, in the books of Scripture, not only apparent but real discrepancies,—a point which many of the advocates of Christianity are, indeed, reluctant to admit but which we think, no candid advocate will feel to be the less true. Nevertheless, even such an advocate of the Scriptures may justly contend that the very reasons which necessitate this admission of discrepancies also reduce them to such a limit that they do not affect, in the slightest degree, the substantial credibility of the sacred records; and, in our judgment, Christians have unwisely damaged their cause, and given a needless advantage to the infidel, by denying that any discrepancies exist, or by endeavouring to prove that they do not. The discrepancies to which we refer are just those which, in the course of the transcription of ancient books, divine or human, through many ages,—their constant transcription by different hands,—their translation into various languages,—may not only be expected to occur, but which must occur, unless there be a perpetual series of most minute and ludicrous miracles—certainly never promised, and as certainly never performed—to counteract all the effects of negligence and inadvertence, to guide the pen of every transcriber to infallible accuracy, and to prevent his ever deviating into any casual error! Such miraculous intervention, we need not say, has never been pleaded for by any apologist of Christianity; has certainly never been promised; and, if it had,—since we see, as a matter of fact, that the promise has never been fulfilled,—the whole of Christianity would fall to the ground. But then, from a large induction, we know that the limits within which discrepancies and errors from such causes will occur, must be very moderate; we know, from numberless examples of other writings, what the maximum is,—and that it leaves their substantial authenticity untouched and unimpeached. No one supposes the writings of Plato and Cicero, of Thucydides and Tacitus, of Bacon or Shakspeare, fundamentally vitiated by the like discrepancies, errors, and absurdities which time and inadvertence have occasioned.
The corruptions in the Scriptures from these causes are likely to be even less than in the case of any other writings; from their very structure,—the varied and reiterated forms in which all the great truths are expressed; from the greater veneration they inspired; the greater care with which they would be transcribed; the greater number of copies which would be diffused through the world,—and which, though that very circumstance would multiply the number of variations, would also afford, in their collation, the means of reciprocal correction;—a correction which we have seen applied in our day, with admirable success, to so many ancient writers, under a system of canons which have now raised this species of criticism to the rank of an inductive science. This criticism, applied to the Scriptures, has in many instances restored the true rending, and dissolved the objections which might have been founded on the uncorrected variations; and, as time rolls on, may lead, by yet fresh discoveries and more comprehensive recensions, to a yet further clarifying of the stream of Divine truth, till 'the river of the water of life' shall flow nearly in its original limpid purity. Within such limits as these, the most consistent advocate of Christianity not only must admit—not only may safely admit—the existence of discrepancies, but may do so even with advantage to his cause. he must admit them, since such variations must be the result of the manner in which the records have been transmitted, unless we suppose a supernatural intervention, neither promised by God nor pleaded for by man: he may safely admit them, because—from a general induction from the history of all literature—we see that, where copies of writings have been sufficiently multiplied, and sufficient motives for care have existed in the transcription, the limits of error are very narrow, and leave the substantial identity untouched: and he may admit them with advantage; for the admission is a reply to many objections rounded on the assumption that he must contend that there are no variations, when he need only contend that there are none that can be material.
But it may be said, 'May not we be permitted, while conceding the miraculous and other evidences of Christianity, and the general authority of the records which contain it, to go a step further, and to reject some things which seem palpably ill-reasoned, distasteful, inconsistent, or immoral?' 'Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.' For ourselves, we honestly confess we cannot see the logical consistency of such a position; any more than the reasonableness, after having admitted the preponderant evidence for the great truth of Theism, of excepting some phenomena as apparently at variance with the Divine perfections; and thus virtually adopting a Manichaean hypothesis. We must recollect that we know nothing of Christianity except from its records; and as these, once fairly ascertained to be authentic and genuine, are all, as regards their contents, supported precisely by the same miraculous and other evidence; as they bear upon them precisely the same internal marks of artlessness, truth, and sincerity; and, historically and in other respects, are inextricably interwoven with one another; we see not on what principles we can safely reject portions as improbable, distasteful, not quadrating with the dictates of reason;' our 'intuitional consciousness,' and what not. This assumed liberty, however is, as we apprehend, of the very essence of Rationalism; and it may be called the Manichaeism of interpretation. So long as the canonicity of any of the records, or any portion of them, or their true interpretation, is in dispute, we may fairly doubt; but that point once decided by honest criticism, to say we receive such and such portions, on account of the weight of the general evidence, and yet reject other portions, though sustained by the same evidence, because we think there is something unreasonable or revolting in their substance, is plainly to accept evidence only where it pleases us, and to reject it where it pleases us not. The only question fairly at issue must ever be whether the general evidence for Christianity will overbear the difficulty which we cannot separate from the truths. If it will not, we must reject it wholly; and if it will, we must receive it wholly. There is plainly no tenable position between absolute infidelity and absolute belief. And this is proved by the infinitely various and Protean character of Rationalism, and the perfectly indeterminate, but always arbitrary, limits it imposes on itself. It exists in all forms and degrees, from a moderation which accepts nearly the entire system of Christianity, and which certainly rejects nothing that can be said to constitute its distinctive truth, to an audacity of unbelief, which, professing still vaguely to reverence Christianity as 'something divine,' sponges out nine tenths of the whole; or, after reducing the mass of it to a caput mortuum of lies, fiction, and superstitions, retains only a few drops of fact and doctrine,—so few as certainly not to pay for the expenses of the critical distillation.*
* It may be as well to remark, that we have frequently observed a disposition to represent the very general abandonment of the theory of 'verbal inspiration' as a concession to Rationalism; as if it necessarily followed from admitting that inspiration is not verbal, that therefore an indeterminate portion of the substance or doctrine is purely human. It is plain, however, that this is no necessary consequence: an advocate of plenary inspiration may contend, that, though he does not believe that the very words of Scripture were dictated, yet that the thoughts were either so suggested, (if the matter was such as could be known only by revelation,) or so controlled, (if the matter were such as was previously known,) that (excluding errors introduced into the text since) the Scriptures as first composed were—what no book of man ever was, or can be, even in the plainest narrative of the simplest events—a perfectly accurate expression of truth. We enter not here, however, into the question whether such a view of inspiration is better or worse than another. We are simply anxious to correct a fallacy which has, judging from what we have recently read, operated rather extensively. Inspiration may be verbal, or the contrary; but, whether one or the other, he who takes the affirmative or negative of that question may still consistently contend that it may still be plenary. The question of the inspiration of the whole or the inspiration of a part, is widely different from that as to the suggestion of the words or the suggestion of the thoughts. But these questions we leave to professed theologians. We merely enter our protest against a prevailing fallacy.
Nor will the theory of what some call the 'intuitional consciousness avail us here. It is true, as they assert, that the constitution of human nature is such that, before its actual development, it has a capacity of developing to certain effects only,—just as the flower in the germ, as it expands to the sun, will have certain colours and a certain fragrance, and no other;—all which, indeed, though not very new or profound, is very important. But it is not so dear that it will give us any help on the present occasion. We have an original susceptibility of music, of beauty, of religion, it is said. Granted; but as the actual development of this susceptibility exhibits all the diversities between Handel's notions of harmony and those of an American Indian—between Raphael's notions of beauty and those of a Hottentot—between St. Paul's notions of a God and those of a New Zealander—it would appear that the education of this susceptibility is at least as important as the susceptibility itself, if not more so; for without the susceptibility itself, we should simply have no notion of music, beauty, or religion; and between such negation and that notion of all these which New Zealanders and Hottentots possess, not a few of our species would probably prefer the former. It is in vain then to tell us to look into the 'depths of our own nature' (as some vaguely say), and to judge thence what, in a professed revelation, is suitable to us, or worthy of our acceptance and rejection respectively. This criterion is, as we see by the utterly different judgments formed by different classes of Rationalists as to the how much they shall receive of the revelation they might generally admit, a very shifting one—a measure which has no linear unit; it is to employ, as mathematicians say, a variable as if it were a constant quantity; or, rather, it is to attempt to find the value of an unknown quantity by another equally unknown.
We cannot but judge, then, the principles of Rationalism to be logically untenable. And we do so, not merely or principally on account of the absurdity it involves,—that God has expressly supplemented human reason by a revelation containing an indeterminate but large portion of falsities, errors, and absurdities and which we are to commit to our little alembic, and distil as we may; not only from the absurdity of supposing that God has demanded our faith, for statements which are to be received only as they appear perfectly comprehensible by our reason;—or, in other words, only for what it is impossible that we should doubt or deny; not merely because the principle inevitably leaves man to construct the so-called revelation entirely for himself; so that what one man receives as genuine communication from heaven, another, from having a different development of 'his intuitional consciousness,' rejects as an absurdity too gross for human belief:—Not wholly, we say, nor even principally, for these reasons; but for the still stronger reason, that such a system of objections is an egregious trifling with that great complex mass of evidence which, as we have said, applies to the whole of Christianity or to none of it. As if to baffle the efforts of man consistently to disengage these elements of our belief, the whole are inextricably blended together. The supernatural element, especially, is so diffused through all the records, that it is more and more felt, at every step, to be impossible to obliterate it without obliterating the entire system in which it circulates. The stain, if stain it be, is far too deep for any scouring fluids of Rationalism to wash it out, without destroying the whole texture of our creed: and, in our judgment, the only consistent Rationalism is the Rationalism which rejects it all.
At whatever point the Rationalist we have attempted to describe may take his stand, we do not think it difficult to prove that his conduct is eminently irrational. If, for example, he be one of those moderate Rationalists who admit (as thousands do) the miraculous and other evidence of the supernatural origin of the Gospel, and therefore also admit such and such doctrines to be true,—what can he reply, if further asked what reason he can have for accepting these truths and rejecting others which are supported by the very same evidence? How can he be sure that the truths he receives are established by evidence which, to all appearance, equally authenticates the falsehoods he rejects? Surely, as already said, this is to reject and accept evidence as he pleases. If, on the other hand, he says that he receives the miracles only to authenticate what he knows very well without them, and believes true on the information of reason alone, why trouble miracles and revelation at all? Is not this, according to the old proverb to 'take a hatchet to break an egg'?*
* If such a man says that he rejects certain doctrines, not on rationalistic grounds, but because he denies the canonical authority, or the interpretation of portions of the records in which they are found, and is willing to abide by the issue if the evidence on those points—evidence with which the human mind is quite competent to deal,—we answer, that he is not the man with whom we are now arguing. The points in dispute will be determined by the honest use of history, criticism, and philology. But between such a man and one who rejects Christianity altogether, we can imagine no consistent position.
Nor can we disguise from ourselves, indeed, that consistency in the application of the essential principle of Rationalism would compel us to go a few steps further; for since, as Bishop Butler has shown, no greater difficulties (if so great) attach to the page of Revelation than to the volume of Nature itself,—especially those which are involved in that dread enigma, 'the origin of evil,' compared with which all other enigmas are trifles,—that abyss into which so many of the difficulties of all theology, natural and revealed, at last disembogue themselves,—we feel that the admission of the principle of Rationalism would ultimately drive us, not only to reject Christianity, but to reject Theism in all its forms, whether Monotheism, or Pantheism, and even positive or dogmatic Atheism itself. Nor could we stop, indeed, till we had arrived at that absolute pyrrhonism which consists, if such a thing be possible, in the negation of all belief,—even to the belief that we do not believe!
But though the objections to the reception of Christianity are numerous, and some insoluble, the question always returns, whether they over balance the mass of the evidence in its favour? nor is it to be forgotten that they are susceptible of indefinite alleviation as time rolls on; and with a few observations on this point we will close the present article.
A refinement of modern philosophy often leads our rationalist to speak depreciatingly, if not contemptuously, of what he calls a stereotyped revelation—revelation in a book. It ties down, he is fond of saying, the spirit to the letter; and limits the 'progress' and 'development' of the human mind in its 'free' pursuit of truth. The answer we should be disposed to make is, first, that if a book does contain truth, the sooner that truth is stereotyped the better; secondly, that if such book, like the book of Nature, or, as we deem, the book of Revelation, really contains truth, its study, so far from being incompatible with the spirit of free inquiry, will invite and repay continual efforts more completely to understand it. Though the great and fundamental truths contained in either volume will be obvious in proportion to their importance and necessity, there is no limit to be placed on the degree of accuracy with which the truths they severally contain may be deciphered, stated, adjusted—or even on the period in which fragments of new truth shall cease to be elicited. It is true indeed that theology cannot be said to admit of unlimited progress, in the same sense as chemistry—which may, for aught we know, treble or quadruple its present accumulations, vast as they are, both in bulk and importance. But, even in theology as deduced from the Scripture, minute fragments of new truth, or more exact adjustments of old truth, may be perpetually expected. Lastly, we shall reply, that the objection to a revelation's being consigned to a 'book' is singularly inapposite, considering that by the constitution of the world and of human nature, man, without books,—without the power of recording, transmitting, and perpetuating thought, of rendering it permanent and diffusive, ever is, ever has been, and ever must be little better than a savage; and therefore, if there was to be a revelation at all, it might fairly be expected that it would be communicated in this form; thus affording us one more analogy, in addition to the many which Butler has stated, and which may in time be multiplied without end, between 'Revealed Religion and the Constitution and Course of Nature.'
And this leads us to notice a saying of that comprehensive genius, which we do not recollect having seen quoted in connexion with recent controversies, but which is well worthy of being borne in mind, as teaching us to beware of hastily assuming that objections to Revelation, whether suggested by the progress of science, or from the supposed incongruity of its own contents, are unanswerable. We are not, he says, rashly to suppose that we have arrived at the true meaning of the whole of that book. 'It is not at all incredible that a book which has been so long in the possession of mankind, should contain many truths as yet undiscerned. For all the same phenomena and the same faculties of investigation, from which such great discoveries in natural knowledge have been made in the present and last age, were equally in the possession of mankind several thousand year's before.' These words are worthy of Butler: and as many illustrations of their truth have been supplied since his day, so many others may fairly be anticipated in the course of time. Several distinct species of argument for the truth of Christianity from the very structure and contents of the books containing it have been invented—of which Paley's 'Horae Paulinae' is a memorable example. The diligent collation of the text, too, has removed many difficulties; the diligent study of the original languages of ancient history, manners and customs, has cleared up many more; and by supplying proof of accuracy where error of falsehood had been charged, has supplied important additions to the evidence which substantiates the truth of Revelation. Against the alleged absurdity of the laws of Moses, again, such works as that of Micholis have disclosed much of that relative wisdom which aims not at the abstractedly best, but the best which a given condition of humanity, a given period of the world's history, and a given purpose could dictate. In pondering such difficulties as still remain in those laws, we may remember the answer of Solon to the question, whether he had given the Athenians the best laws; viz. that he had given them the best of which they were capable: or the judgment of the illustrious Montesquieu, who remarks, 'When Divine Wisdom said to the Jews, "I have given you precepts which are not good," this signifies that they had only a relative goodness: and this is the sponge which wipes out all the difficulties which are to be found in the laws of Moses.' This is a truth which we are persuaded a profound philosophy will understand the better the more deeply it is revolved; and only those legislative pedants will refuse weight to it, who would venturously propose to give New Zealanders and Hottentots, in the starkness of their savage ignorance, the complex forms of the British constitution. In similar manner, many of the old objections of our deistical writers have ceased to be heard of in our day, unless it be from the lips of the veriest sciolism; the objections, for instance, of that truly pedantic philosophy which once argued that ethical and religious truth are not given in the Scripture in a system such as a schoolman might have digested it into; as if the brief iteration and varied illustration of pregnant truth, intermingled with narrative, parable, and example, were not infinitely better adapted to the condition of the human intellect in general! For similar reasons, the old objection, that statements of Christian morality are given without the requisite limitations, and cannot be literally acted upon, has been long since abandoned as an absurdity. It is granted that a hundred folios could not contain the hundredth part of all the limitations of human actions, and all the possible cases of a contentious casuistry; and it is also granted that human nature is not so inept as to be incapable of interpreting and limiting for itself such rules as 'Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.'
In the same manner have many of the objections suggested at different periods by the progress of science been dissolved; and, amongst the rest, those alleged from the remote historic antiquity of certain nations on which infidels, like Volney and Voltaire, once so confidently relied. And it is worthy of remark, that some of the old objections of philosophers have disappeared by the aid of that very science—geology—which has led, as every new branch of science probably will, to new ones. Geology has, however, in our judgment, done at least as much already to remove difficulties as to occasion them; and it is not illogical, or perhaps unfair, to surmise that, we will only have patience, its own difficulties, as those of so many other branches of science, will be eventually solved. One thing is clear,—that, if the Bible be true and geology be true, that cannot be geologically true which is scripturally false, or vice versa; and we may therefore laugh at the polite compromise which is sometimes affected by learned professors of theology and geology respectively. All we demand of either—all that is needed—is, that they refrain from a too hasty conclusion of absolute contradictions between their respective sciences, and retain quiet remembrance of the imperfection of our present knowledge both of geology and, as Butler says, of the Bible. The recent interpretation of the commencement of Genesis—by which the first verse is simply supposed to affirm the original creation of all things, while the second immediately refers to the commencement of the human economy; passing by those prodigious cycles which geology demands, with a silence worthy of a true revelation, which does not pretend to gratify our curiosity as to the previous condition of our globe any more than our curiosity as to the history of other worlds—was first suggested by geology, though suspected and indeed anticipated by some of the early church Fathers. But it is now felt by multitudes to be the more reasonable interpretation,—the second verse certainly more naturally suggesting previous revolutions in the history of the earth than its then instant creation: and though we frankly concede that we have not yet seen any account of the whole first chapter of Genesis which quadrates with the doctrines of geology, it does not become us hastily to conclude that there can be none. If a further adjustment of those doctrines, and a more diligent investigation of the Scripture together, should hereafter suggest any possible harmony,—though not the true one but one ever so gratuitously assumed,—it will be sufficient to neutralise the objection. This, it will be observed, is in accordance with what has been already shown,—that wherever an objection is founded on an apparent contradiction between two statements, it is sufficient to show any possible way in which the statements may be reconciled, whether the true one or not. The objection, in that case, to the supposition that the facts are gratuitously assumed, though often urged, is, in reality, nothing to the purpose.* If it should ever be shown, for example, that supposing as many geological eras as the philosopher requires to have passed in the chasm between the first verse, which asserts the original dependence of all things on the fiat of the Creator, and the second, which is supposed to commence the human era, any imaginable condition of our system—at the close, so to speak, of a given geological period—would harmonise with a fair interpretation of the first chapter or Genesis, the objection will be neutralised.
* Some admirable remarks in relation to the answers we are bound to give to objections to revealed religion have been made by Leibnitz (in reply to Bayle) in the little tract prefixed to his Theodicee, entitled 'De la Conformite de la Foi avec la Raison.' He there shows that the utmost that can fairly be asked is, to prove that the affirmed truths involve no necessary contradiction.
We have little doubt in our own minds that the ultimately converging though, it may be, transiently discrepant conclusions of the sciences of philology, ethnology, and geology (in all of which we may rest assured great discoveries are yet to be made) will tend to harmonise with the ultimate results of a more thorough study of the records of the race as contained in the book of Revelation. Let us be permitted to imagine one example of such possible harmony. We think that the philologist may engage to make out, on the strictest principles of induction, from the tenacity with which all communities cling to their language, and the slow observed rate of change by which they alter; by which Anglo-Saxon, for example has become English*, Latin Italian, and ancient Greek modern (though these languages have been affected by every conceivable cause of variation and depravation); that it would require hundreds of thousands, nay millions, of years to account for the production, by known natural causes, of the vast multitude of totally distinct languages, and tens of thousands of dialects, which man now utters. On the other hand, the geologist is more and more persuaded of comparatively recent origin of the human race. What, then, is to harmonise these conflicting statements? Will it not be curious if it should turn out that nothing can possibly harmonise them but the statement of Genesis, that in order to prevent the natural tendency of the race to accumulate on one spot and facilitate their dispersion and destined occupancy of the globe, a preternatural intervention expedited the operation of the causes which would gradually have given birth to distinct languages? Of the probability of this intervention, some profound philologist have, on scientific grounds alone, expressed their conviction. But in all such matters, what we plead for is only—patience; we wish not to dogmatise; all we ask is, a philosophic abstinence from dogmatism. In relation to many difficulties, what is now a reasonable exercise of faith may one day be rewarded by a knowledge which on those particular points may terminate it. And, in such ways, it is surely conceivable that a great part of the objections against Revelation may, in time, disappear; and, though other objections may be the result of the progress of the other sciences or the origination of new, the solution of previous objections, together with the additions to the evidences of Christianity, external and internal, which the study of history and of the Scriptures may supply, and the still brighter light cast by the progress of Christianity and the fulfilment of its prophecies, may inspire increasing confidence that the new objections are also destined to yield to similar solvents. Meanwhile, such new difficulties, and those more awful and gigantic shadows which we have no reason to believe will ever be chased from the sacred page,—mysteries which probably could not be explained from the necessary limitation of our faculties, and are, at all events, submitted to us as a salutary discipline of our humility,—will continue to form that exercise of faith which is probably nearly equal in every age—and necessary in all ages, if we would be made 'little children,' qualified 'to enter the kingdom of God.'
+ It contains, let us recollect, (after all causes of changes, including a conquest, have been at work upon it,) a vast majority of the Saxon words spoken in the time of Alfred—nearly a thousand years ago!
In conclusion we may remark, that while many are proclaiming that Christianity is effete, and that, in the language of Mr. Proudhon (who complacently says it amidst the ignominious failure of a thousand social panaceas or his own age and country), it will certainly 'die out in about three hundred years;' and while many more proclaim that, as a religion of supernatural origin and supernatural evidence, it is already dying, if not dead; we must beg leave to remind them that, even if 'Christianity be false, as they allege, they are utterly forgetting the maxims of a cautious induction in saying that it will therefore cease to exert dominion over mankind. What proof is there of this? Whether true or false, it has already survived numberless revolutions of human opinions, and all sorts of changes and assaults. It is not confined, like other religions, to any one race—to any one clime—or any one form of political constitution. While it transmigrates freely from race to race, and clime to clime, its chief home; too, is still in the bosom of enterprise, wealth, science, and civilisation; and it is at this moment most powerful amongst the nations that have most of these. If not true, it has such an appearance of truth as to have satisfied many of the acutest and most powerful intellects of the species;—a Bacon, a Pascal, a Leibnitz, a Locke, a Newton, a Butler;—such an appearance of truth as to have enlisted in its support an immense army of genius and learning: genius and learning, not only in some sense professional, and often wrongfully represented as therefore interested, but much of both, strictly extra-professional; animated to its defence by nothing but a conviction of the force of the arguments by which its truth is sustained, and that 'hope full of immortality' which its promises have inspired. Under such circumstances it must appear equally rash and gratuitous to suppose, even if it be a delusion, that an institute, which has thus enlisted the sympathies of so many of the greatest minds of all races and of all ages—which is alone stable and progressive amidst instability and fluctuation,—will soon come to an end. Still more absurdly premature is it to raise a paean over its fall, upon every new attack upon it, when it has already survived so many. This, in fact, is a tone which, though every age renews it, should long since have been rebuked by the constant falsification of similar prophecies, from the time of Julian to the time of Bolingbroke, and from the time of Bolingbroke to the time of Strauss. As Addison, we think, humorously tells the Atheist, that he is hasty in his logic when he infers that if there be no God, immortality must be a delusion, since, if chance has actually found him a place in this bad world, it may, perchance, hereafter find him another place in a worse,—-so we say, that if Christianity be a delusion, since it is a delusion which has been proof against so much of bitter opposition, and has imposed upon such hosts of mighty intellects, these is nothing to show that it will not do so still, in spite of the efforts either of Proudhon or a Strauss. Such a tone was, perhaps, never so triumphant as during the heat of the Deistical controversy in our own country, and to which Butler alludes with so much characteristic but deeply satirical simplicity, in the preface to his great work:—'It is come,' says he, 'I know not how, to be taken for granted by many persons that Christianity is not so much a subject of inquiry, but that it is now at length discovered to be fictitious .... On the contrary, thus much at least will here be found, not taken for granted, but proved, that any reasonable man, who will thoroughly consider the matter, may be as much assured as he is of his own being, that it is not, however, so clear that there is nothing in it.' The Christian, we conceive, may now say the same to the Froudes, and Foxtons, and to much more formidable adversaries of the present day. Christianity, we doubt not, will still live, when they and their works, and the refutations of their works, are alike forgotten; and a new series of attacks and defences shall have occupied for a while (as so many others have done) the attention of the world. Christianity, like Rome, has had both the Gaul and Hannibal at her gates: But as the 'Eternal City' in the latter case calmly offered for sale, and sold, at an undepreciated price, the very ground on which the Carthaginian had fixed his camp, with equal calmness may Christianity imitate her example of magnanimity. She may feel assured that, as in so many past instances of premature triumph on the part of her enemies, the ground they occupy will one day be its own; that the very discoveries, apparently hostile, of science and philosophy, will be a great extent with the discoveries in chronology and history; and thus will it be, we are confident, (and to a certain extent has been already), with those in geology. That science has done much, not only to render the old theories of Atheism untenable and to familiarise the minds of men to the idea of miracles, by that of successive creations, but to confirm the Scriptural statement of the comparatively recent origin of our Race. Only the men of science and the men of theology must alike Guard against the besetting fallacy of their kind,—that of too hastily taking for granted that they already know the whole of their respective sciences, and of forgetting the declaration of the Apostle, equally true of all man's attainments, whether in one department of science or another,—'We know but in part, and we prophesy in part.'
Though Socrates perhaps expressed himself too absolutely when he said that 'he only knew nothing,' yet a tinge of the same spirit,—a deep conviction of the profound ignorance of the human mind, even at its best—has ever been a characteristic of the most comprehensive genius. It has been a topic on which it has been fond of mournfully dilating. It is thus with Socrates, with Plato, with Bacon (even amidst all his magnificent aspirations and bold predictions), with Newton, with Pascal, and especially with Butler, in whom, if in any, the sentiment is carried to excess. We need not say that it is seldom found in the writings of those modern speculators who rush, in the hardihood of their adventurous logic, on a solution of the problems of the Absolute and the Infinite, and resolve in delightfully brief demonstrations the mightiest problems of the universe—those great enigmas, from which true philosophy shrinks, not because it has never ventured to think of them, but because it has thought of them enough to know that it is in vain to attempt their solution. To know the limits of human philosophy is the 'better part' of all philosophy; and though the conviction of our ignorance is humiliating, it is, like every true conviction, salutary. Amidst this night of the soul, bright stars—far distant fountains of illumination—are wont to steal out, which shine not while the imagined Sun of reason is above the horizon! and it is in that night, as in the darkness of outward nature, that we gain our only true ideas of the illimitable dimensions of the universe, and of our true position in it.