HotFreeBooks.com
The Fair Haven
by Samuel Butler
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

What then could these facts have been?

Paul's conduct as a Jew was logical and consistent: he did what any seriously-minded man who had been strictly brought up would have done in his situation. Instead of half believing what he had been taught, he believed it wholly. Christianity was cutting at the root of what was in his day accepted as fundamental: it was therefore perfectly natural that he should set himself to attack it. There is nothing against him in this beyond the fact of his having done it, as far as we can see, with much cruelty. Yet though cruel, he was cruel from the best of motives—the stamping out of an error which was harmful to the service of God; and cruelty was not then what it is now: the age was not sensitive and the lot of all was harder. From the first he proved himself to be a man of great strength of character, and like many such, deeply convinced of the soundness of his opinions, and deeply impressed with the belief that nothing could be good which did not also commend itself as good to him. He tested the truth of his earlier convictions not by external standards, but by the internal standard of their own strength and purity—a fearful error which but for God's mercy towards him would have made him no less wicked than well-intentioned.

Even after having been convinced by a weight of evidence which no prejudice could resist, and after thus attaining to a higher conception of right and truth and goodness than was possible to him as a Jew, there remained not a few traces of the old character. Opposition beyond certain limits was a thing which to the end of his life he could not brook. It is not too much to say that he regarded the other Apostles—and was regarded by them—with suspicion and dislike; even if an angel from Heaven had preached any other doctrine than what Paul preached, the angel was to be accursed (Gal. i., 8), and it is not probable that he regarded his fellow Apostles as teaching the same doctrine as himself, or that he would have allowed them greater licence than an angel. It is plain from his undoubted Epistles to the Corinthians and Galatians that the other Apostles, no less than his converts, exceedingly well knew that he was not a man to be trifled with. If the arm of the law had been as much on his side after his conversion as before it, it would have gone hardly with dissenters; they would have been treated with politic tenderness the moment that they yielded, but woe betide them if they presumed on having any very decided opinions of their own.

On the other hand, his sagacity is beyond dispute; it is certain that his perception of what the Gentile converts could and could not bear was the main proximate cause of the spread of Christianity. He prevented it from becoming a mere Jewish sect, and it has been well said that but for him the Jews would now be Christians, and the Gentiles unbelievers. Who can doubt his tact and forbearance, where matters not essential were concerned? His strength in not yielding a fraction upon vital points was matched only by his suppleness and conciliatory bearing upon all others. To use his own words, he did indeed become "all things to all men" if by any means he could gain some, and the probability is that he pushed this principle to its extreme (see Acts xxi., 20-26).

Now when we see a man so strong and yet so yielding—the writer moreover of letters which shew an intellect at once very vigorous and very subtle (not to say more of them), and when we know that there was no amount of hardship, pain, and indignity, which he did not bear and count as gain in the service of Jesus Christ; when we also remember that he continued thus for all the known years of his life after his conversion, can we think that that conversion could have been the result of anything even approaching to caprice? Or again, is it likely that it could have been due to contact with the hallucinations of his despised and hated enemies? Paul the Christian appears to be the same sort of man in most respects as Paul the Jew, yet can we imagine Paul the Christian as being converted from Christianity to some other creed, by the infection of hallucinations? On the contrary, no man would more quickly have come to the bottom of them, and assigned them to diabolical agency. What then can that thing have been, which wrenched the strong and able man from all that had the greatest hold upon him, and fixed him for the rest of his life as the most self-sacrificing champion of Christianity? In answer to this question we might say, that it is of no great importance how the change was made, inasmuch as the fact of its having been made at all is sufficiently pregnant. Nevertheless it will be interesting to follow Strauss in his remarks upon the account given in the Acts, and I am bound to add that I think he has made out his case. Strange! that he should have failed to see that the evidences in support of the Resurrection are incalculably strengthened by his having done so. How short-sighted is mere ingenuity! And how weak and cowardly are they who shut their eyes to facts because they happen to come from an opponent!

Strauss, however, writes as follows:- "That we are not bound to the individual features of the account in the Acts is shewn by comparing it with the substance of the statement twice repeated in the language of Paul himself: for there we find that the author's own account is not accurate, and that he attributed no importance to a few variations more or less. Not only is it said on one occasion that the attendants stood dumb-foundered: on another that they fell with Paul to the ground; on one occasion that they heard the voice but saw no one; on another that they saw the light but did not hear the voice of him who spoke with Paul: but also the speech of Jesus himself, in the third repetition, gets the well known addition about "kicking against the pricks," to say nothing of the fact that the appointment to the Apostleship of the Gentiles, which according to the two earlier accounts was made partly by Ananias, partly on the occasion of a subsequent vision in the Temple at Jerusalem, is in this last account incorporated in the speech of Jesus. There is no occasion to derive the three accounts of this occurrence in the Acts from different sources, and even in this case one must suppose that the author of the Acts must have remarked and reconciled the discrepancies; that he did not do so, or rather that without following his own earlier narrative he repeated it in an arbitrary form, proves to us how careless the New Testament writers are about details of this kind, important as they are to one who strives after strict historical accuracy.

"But even if the author of the Acts had gone more accurately to work, still he was not an eye witness, scarcely even a writer who took the history from the narrative of an eye witness. Even if we consider the person who in different places comprehends himself and the Apostle Paul under the word 'we' or 'us' to have been the composer of the whole work, that person was not on the occasion of the occurrence before Damascus as yet in the company of the Apostle. Into this he did not enter until much later, in the Troad, on the Apostle's second missionary journey (Acts xvi., 10). But that hypothesis with regard to the author of the Acts of the Apostles is, moreover, as we have seen above, erroneous. He only worked up into different passages of his composition the memoranda of a temporary companion of the Apostle about the journeys performed in his company, and we are therefore not justified in considering the narrator to have been an eye witness in those passages and sections in which the 'we' is wanting. Now among these is found the very section in which appear the two accounts of his conversion which Paul gives, first, to the Jewish people in Jerusalem, secondly, to Agrippa and Festus in Caesarea. The last occasion on which the 'we' was found was xxi., 18, that of the visit of Paul to James, and it does not appear again until xxvii., 1, when the subject is the Apostle's embarkation for Italy. Nothing therefore compels us to assume that we have in the reports of these speeches the account of any one who had been a party to the hearing of them, and, in them, Paul's own narrative of the occurrences that took place on his conversion."

The belief in the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures having been long given up by all who have considered the awful consequences which it entails, the Bible records have been opened to modern criticism:- the result has been that their general accuracy is amply proved, while at the same time the writers must be admitted to have fallen in with the feelings and customs of their own times, and must accordingly be allowed to have been occasionally guilty of what would in our own age be called inaccuracies. There is no dependence to be placed on the verbal, or indeed the substantial, accuracy of any ancient speeches, except those which we know to have been reported verbatim, they were (as with the Herodotean and Thucydidean speeches) in most cases the invention of the historian himself, as being what seemed most appropriate to be said by one in the position of the speaker. Reporting was a rare art among the ancients, and was confined to a few great centres of intellectual activity; accuracy, moreover, was not held to be of the same importance as at the present day. Yet without accurate reporting a speech perishes as soon as it is uttered, except in so far as it lives in the actions of those who hear it. Even a hundred years ago the invention of speeches was considered a matter of course, as in the well-known case of Dr. Johnson, than whom none could be more conscientious, and—according to his lights—accurate. I may perhaps be pardoned for quoting the passage in full from Boswell, who gives it on the authority of Mr. John Nichols; the italics are mine. "He said that the Parliamentary debates were the only part of his writings which then gave him any compunction: BUT THAT AT THE TIME HE WROTE THEM HE HAD NO CONCEPTION THAT HE WAS IMPOSING UPON THE WORLD, THOUGH THEY WERE FREQUENTLY WRITTEN FROM VERY SLENDER MATERIALS, AND OFTEN FROM NONE AT ALL—THE MERE COINAGE OF HIS OWN IMAGINATION. HE never wrote any part of his works with equal velocity. (Boswell's Life of Johnson, chap. lxxxii.)

This is an extreme case, yet there can be no question about its truth. It is only one among the very many examples which could be adduced in order to shew that the appreciation of the value of accuracy is a thing of modern date only—a thing which we owe mainly to the chemical and mechanical sciences, wherein the inestimable difference between precision and inaccuracy became most speedily apparent. If the reader will pardon an apparent digression, I would remark that that sort of care is wanted on behalf of Christianity with which a cashier in a bank counts out the money that he tenders— counting it and recounting it as though he could never be sure enough before he allowed it to leave his hands. This caution would have saved the wasting of many lives, and the breaking of many hearts.

We, on the other hand, however reckless we may be ourselves, are in the habit of assuming that any historian whom we may have occasion to consult, and on whose testimony we would fain rely, must have himself weighed and re-weighed his words as the cashier his money; an error which arises from want of that sympathy which should make us bear constantly in mind what lights men had, under what influences they wrote, and what we should ourselves have done had we been so placed as they. But if any will maintain that though the general run of ancient speeches were, as those supposed to have been reported by Johnson, pure invention, yet that it is not likely that one reporting the words of Almighty God should have failed to feel the awful responsibility of his position, we can only answer that the writer of the Acts did most indisputably so fail, as is shewn by the various reports of those words which he has himself given: if he could in the innocency of his heart do this, and at one time report the Almighty as saying this, and at another that, as though, more or less, this or that were a matter of no moment, what certainty can we have concerning such a man that inaccuracy shall not elsewhere be found in him? None. He is a warped mirror which will distort every object that it reflects.

It follows, then, that from the Acts of the Apostles we have no data for arriving at any conclusion as to the manner of Paul's change of faith, nor the circumstances connected with it. To us the accounts there given should be simply non-existent; but this is not easy, for we have heard them too often and from too early an age to be able to escape their influence; yet we must assuredly ignore them if we are anxious to arrive at truth. We cannot let the story told in the Acts enter into any judgement which we may form concerning Paul's character. The desire to represent him as having been converted by miracle was very natural. He himself tells us that he saw visions, and received his apostleship by revelation—not necessarily at the time of, or immediately after, his conversion, but still at some period or other in his life; it would be the most natural thing in the world for the writer of the Acts to connect some version of one of these visions with the conversion itself: the dramatic effect would be heightened by making the change, while the change itself would be utterly unimportant in the eyes of such a writer; be this however as it may, we are only now concerned with the fact that we know nothing about Paul's conversion from the Acts of the Apostles, which should make us believe that that conversion was wrought in him by any other means, than by such an irresistible pressure of evidence as no sane person could withstand.

From the Apostle's own writings we can glean nothing about his conversion which would point in the direction of its having been sudden or miraculous. It is true that in the Epistle to the Galatians he says, "After it had pleased God to reveal his Son in me," but this expression does not preclude the supposition that his conversion may have been led up to by a gradual process, the culmination of which (if that) he alone regarded as miraculous. Thus we are forced to admit that we know nothing from any source concerning the manner and circumstances of St. Paul's change from Judaism to Christianity, and we can only conclude therefore that he changed because he found the weight of the evidence to be greater than he could resist. And this, as we have seen, is an exceedingly telling fact. The probability is, that coming much into contact with Christians through his persecution of them, and submitting them to the severest questioning, he found that they were in all respects sober plainspoken men, that their conviction was intense, their story coherent, and the doctrines which they had received simple and ennobling; that these results of many inquisitions were so unvarying that he found conviction stealing gradually upon him against his will; common honesty compelled him to inquire further; the answers pointed invariably in one direction only; until at length he found himself utterly unable to resist the weight of evidence which he had collected, and resolved, perhaps at the last suddenly, to yield himself a convert to Christianity.

Strauss says that, "in the presence of the believers in Jesus," the conviction that he was a false teacher—an impostor—"must have become every day more doubtful to him. They considered it not only publicly honourable to be as convinced of his Resurrection as they were of their own life—but they shewed also a state of mind, a quiet peace, a tranquil cheerfulness, even under suffering, which put to shame the restless and joyless zeal of their persecutor. Could HE have been a false teacher who had adherents such as these? Could that have been a false pretence which gave such rest and security? on the one hand, he saw the new sect, in spite of all persecutions, nay, in consequence of them, extending their influence wider and wider round them; on the other, as their persecutor, he felt that inward tranquillity growing less and less which he could observe in so many ways in the persecuted. We cannot therefore be surprised if in hours of inward despondency and unhappiness he put to himself the question, 'Who after all is right, thou, or the crucified Galilean about whom these men are so enthusiastic?' And when he had got as far as this, the result, with his bodily and mental characteristics, naturally followed in an ecstasy in which the very same Christ whom up to this time he had so passionately persecuted, appeared to him in all the glory of which his adherents spoke so much, shewed him the perversity and folly of his conduct, and called him to come over to his service."

The above comes simply to this, that Paul in his constant contact with Christians found that they had more to say for themselves than he could answer, and should, one would have thought, have suggested to Strauss what he supposes to have occurred to Paul, namely, that it was not likely that these men had made a mistake in thinking that they had seen Christ alive after his Crucifixion. There can be no doubt about Strauss's being right as to the Christian intensity of conviction, strenuousness of assertion, and readiness to suffer for the sake of their faith in Christ; and these are the main points with which we are concerned. We arrive therefore at the conclusion that the first Christians were sufficiently unanimous, coherent and undaunted to convince the foremost of their enemies. They were not so BEFORE the Crucifixion; they could not certainly have been made so by the Crucifixion alone; something beyond the Crucifixion must have occurred to give them such a moral ascendancy as should suffice to generate a revulsion of feeling in the mind of the persecuting Saul. Strauss asks us to believe that this missing something is to be found in the hallucinations of two or three men whose names have not been recorded and who have left no mark of their own. Is there any occasion for answer?

It is inconceivable that he who could write the Epistle to the Romans should not also have been as able as any man who ever lived to question the early believers as to their converse with Christ, and to report faithfully the substance of what they told him. That he knew the other Apostles, that he went up to Jerusalem to hold conferences with them, that he abode fifteen days with St. Peter—as he tells us, in order "to question him"—these things are certain. The Greek word ?st???sa? is a very suggestive one. It is so easy to make too much out of anything that I hardly dare to say how strongly the use of the verb ?st??e?? suggests to me "getting at the facts of the case," "questioning as to how things happened," yet such would be the most obvious meaning of the word from which our own "history" and "story" are derived. Fifteen days was time enough to give Paul the means of coming to an understanding with Peter as to what the value of Peter's story was, nor can we believe that Paul should not both receive and transmit perfectly all that he was then told. In fact, without supposing these men to be so utterly visionary that nothing durable could come out of them, there is no escape from holding that Peter was justified in firmly believing that he had seen Christ alive within a very few days of the Crucifixion, that he succeeded also in satisfying Paul that this belief was well-founded, and that in the account of Christ's reappearances, as given I. Cor. xv., we have a virtually verbatim report of what Paul heard from Peter and the other Apostles. Of course the possibility remains that Paul may have been too easily satisfied, and not have cross-examined Peter as closely as he might have done. But then Paul was converted BEFORE this interview; and this implies that he had already found a general consent among the Christians whom he had met with, that the story which he afterwards heard from Peter (or one to the same effect) was true. Whence then the unanimity of this belief? Strauss answers as before—from the hallucinations of an originally small minority. We can only again reply that for the reasons already given we find it quite impossible to agree with him.

[The quotation from Strauss given in this chapter will be found pp. 414, 415, 420, of the first volume of the English translation, published by Williams and Norgate, 1865. I believe that my brother intended to make a fresh translation from the original passages, but he never carried out his intention, and in his MS. the page of the English translation with the first and last words of each passage are alone given. I could hardly venture to undertake the responsibility of making a fresh translation myself, and have therefore adhered almost word for word to the published English translation—here and there, however, a trifling alteration was really irresistible on the scores alike of euphony and clearness.—W. B. O.]



CHAPTER IV—PAUL'S TESTIMONY CONSIDERED



Enough has perhaps been said to cause the reader to agree with the view of St. Paul's conversion taken above—that is to say, to make him regard the conversion as mainly, if not entirely, due to the weight of evidence afforded by the courage and consistency of the early Christians.

But, the change in Paul's mind being thus referred to causes which preclude all possibility of hallucination or ecstasy on his own part, it becomes unnecessary to discuss the attempts which have been made to explain away the miraculous character of the account given in the Acts. I believe that this account is founded upon fact, and that it is derived from some description furnished by St. Paul himself of the vision mentioned, I. Cor. xv., which again is very possibly the same as that of II. Cor. xii. For the purposes of the present investigation, however, the whole story must be set aside. At the same time it should be borne in mind, that any detraction from the historical accuracy of the writer of the Acts, is more than compensated for, by the additional weight given to the conversion of St. Paul, whom we are now able to regard as having been converted by evidence which was in itself overpowering, and which did not stand in need of any miraculous interference in order to confirm it.

It is important to observe that the testimony of Paul should carry more weight with those who are bent upon close critical investigation than that even of the Evangelists. St. Paul is one whom we know, and know well. No syllable of suspicion has ever been breathed, even in Germany, against the first four of the Epistles which have been generally assigned to him; friends and foes of Christianity are alike agreed to accept them as the genuine work of the Apostle. Few figures, therefore, in ancient history stand out more clearly revealed to us than that of St. Paul, whereas a thick veil of darkness hangs over that of each one of the Evangelists. Who St. Matthew was, and whether the gospel that we have is an original work, or a translation (as would appear from Papias, our highest authority), and how far it has been modified in translation, are things which we shall never know. The Gospels of St. Mark and St. Luke are involved in even greater obscurity. The authorship, date, and origin of the fourth Gospel have been, and are being, even more hotly contested than those of the other three, and all that can be affirmed with certainty concerning it is, that no trace of its existence can be found before the latter half of the second century, and that the spirit of the work itself is eminently anti-Judaistic, whereas St. John appears both from the Gospels and from St. Paul's Epistles to have been a pillar of Judaism.

With St. Paul all is changed: we not only know him better than we know nine-tenths of our own most eminent countrymen of the last century, but we feel a confidence in him which grows greater and greater the more we study his character. He combines to perfection the qualities that make a good witness—capacity and integrity: add to this that his conclusions were forced upon him. We therefore feel that, whereas from a scientific point of view, the Gospel narratives can only be considered as the testimony of early and sincere writers of whom we know little or nothing, yet that in the evidence of St. Paul we find the missing link which connects us securely with actual eye-witnesses and gives us a confidence in the general accuracy of the Gospels which they could never of themselves alone have imparted. We could indeed ill spare either the testimony of the Evangelists or that of St. Paul, but if we were obliged to content ourselves with one only, we should choose the Apostle.

Turning then to the evidence of St. Paul as derivable from I. Cor. xv. we find the following:

"Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received and wherein ye stand. By which also ye are saved if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures: and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures; and that He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater portion remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that He was seen of James; then of all the Apostles. And last of all He was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time."

In the first place we must notice Paul's assertion that the Gospel which he was then writing was identical with that which he had originally preached. We may assume that each of the appearances of Christ here mentioned had in Paul's mind a definite time and place, derived from the account which he had received and which probably led to his conversion; the words "that which I also received" surely imply "that which I also received IN THE FIRST INSTANCE": now we know from his own mouth (Gal. i., 16, 17) that AFTER his conversion he "conferred not with flesh and blood"—"neither," he continues, "went I up to Jerusalem to them which were Apostles before me, but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus: then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see (?st???sa?) Peter, and abode with him fifteen days, but others of the Apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother." Since, then, he must have heard SOME story concerning Christ's reappearances before his conversion and subsequent sojourn in Arabia, and since he had heard nothing from eye-witnesses until the time of his going up to Jerusalem three years later, it is probable that the account quoted above is the substance of what he found persisted in by the Christians whom he was persecuting at Damascus, and was at length compelled to believe. But this is very unimportant: it is more to the point to insist upon the fact that St. Paul must have received the account given I. Cor. xv., 3-8 within a very few years of the Crucifixion itself, and that it was subsequently confirmed to him by Peter, and probably by James and John, during his stay of fifteen days in Peter's house.

This account can have been nothing new even then, for it is plain that at the time of Paul's conversion the Christian Church had spread far: Paul speaks of RETURNING to Damascus, as though the writer of the Acts was right as regards the place of his conversion; but the fact of there having been a church in Damascus of sufficient importance for Paul to go thither to persecute it, involves the lapse of considerable time since the original promulgation of our Lord's Resurrection, and throws back the origin of the belief in that event to a time closely consequent upon the Crucifixion itself.

Now Paul informs us that he was told (we may assume by Peter and James) that Christ first reappeared WITHIN THREE DAYS OF THE CRUCIFIXION. There is no sufficient reason for doubting this; and one fact of weekly recurrence even to this day, affords it striking confirmation—I refer to the institution of Sunday as the Lord's day. We know that the observance of this day in commemoration of the Resurrection was a very early practice, nor is there anything which would seem to throw doubt upon the fact of the first "Sunday" having been also the Sunday of the Resurrection. Another confirmation of the early date assigned to the Resurrection by St. Paul, is to be found in the fact that every instinct would warn the Apostles AGAINST the third day as being dangerously early, and as opening a door for the denial of the completeness of the death. The fortieth day would far more naturally have been chosen.

Turning now from the question of the date of the first reappearance to what is told us of the reappearances themselves, we find that the earliest was vouchsafed to St. Peter, which is at first sight opposed to the Evangelistic records; but this is a discrepancy upon which no stress should be laid; St. Paul might well be aware that Mary Magdalene was the first to look upon her risen Lord, and yet have preferred to dwell upon the more widely known names of Peter and his fellow Apostles. The facts are probably these, that our Lord first shewed Himself to the women, but that Peter was the first of the Apostolic body to see Him; it was natural that if our Lord did not choose to show Himself to the Apostles without preparation, Peter should have been chosen as the one best fitted to prepare them: Peter probably collected the other Apostles, and then the Redeemer shewed Himself alive to all together. This is what we should gather from St. Paul's narrative; a narrative which it would seem arbitrary to set aside in the face of St. Paul's character, opportunities and antecedent prejudices against Christianity—in the face also of the unanimity of all the records we have, as well as of the fact that the Christian religion triumphed, and of the endless difficulties attendant on the hallucination theory.

We conclude therefore that Paul was satisfied by sufficient evidence that our Lord had appeared to Peter on the third day after the Crucifixion, nor can any reasonable doubt be thrown upon the other appearances of which he tells us. It is true that on the occasion of his visit to Peter he saw none other of the Apostles save James—but there is nothing to lead us to suppose that there was any want of unanimity among them: no trace of this has come down to us, and would surely have done so if it had existed. If any dependence at all is to be placed on the writers of the New Testament it did not exist. Stronger evidence than this unanimity it would be hard to find.

Another most noticeable feature is the fewness of the recorded appearances of Christ. They commenced according to Paul (and this is virtually according to Peter and James) immediately after the Crucifixion. Paul mentions only five appearances: this does not preclude the supposition that he knew of more, nor that the women who came to the sepulchre had also seen Him, but it does seem to imply that the reappearances were few in number, and that they continued only for a very short time. They were sufficient for their purpose: one of preparation to Peter—another to the Apostles—another to the outside world, and then one or two more—but still not more than enough to establish the fact beyond all possibility of dispute. The writer of the Acts tells us that Christ was seen for a space of forty days—presumably not every day, but from time to time. Now forty days is a mystical period, and one which may mean either more or less, within a week or two, than the precise time stated; it seems upon the whole most reasonable to conclude that the reappearances recorded by Paul, and some few others not recorded, extended over a period of one or two months after the Crucifixion, and that they then came to an end; for there can be no doubt that St. Paul conceived them as having ended with the appearance to the assembled Apostles mentioned I. Cor. xv., 7, and, though he does not say so expressly, there is that in the context which suggests their having been confined to a short space of time.

It is perfectly clear that St. Paul did not believe that any one had seen Christ in the interval between the last recorded appearance to the eleven, and the vision granted to himself. The words "and last of all he was seen also of me AS OF ONE BORN OUT OF DUE TIME" point strongly in the direction of a lapse of some years between the second appearance to the eleven and his own vision. This confirms and is confirmed by the writer of the Acts. St. Paul never could have used the words quoted above, if he had held that the appearances which he records had been spread over a space of years intervening between the Crucifixion and his own vision. Where would be the force of "born out of due time" unless the time of the previous appearances had long passed by? But if, at the time of St. Paul's conversion, it was already many years since the last occasion upon which Christ had been seen by his disciples, we find ourselves driven back to a time closely consequent upon the Crucifixion as the only possible date of the reappearances. But this is in itself sufficient condemnation of Strauss's theory: that theory requires considerable time for the development of a perfectly unanimous and harmonious belief in the hallucinations, while every particle of evidence which we can get points in the direction of the belief in the Resurrection having followed very closely upon the Crucifixion.

To repeat: had the reappearances been due to hallucination only, they would neither have been so few in number nor have come to an end so soon. When once the mind has begun to run riot in hallucination, it is prodigal of its own inventions. Favoured believers would have been constantly seeing Christ even up to the time of Paul's letter to the Corinthians, and the Apostle would have written that even then Christ was still occasionally seen of those who trusted in him, and served him faithfully. But we meet with nothing of the sort: we are told that Christ was seen a few times shortly after the Crucifixion, then AFTER A LAPSE OF SEVERAL YEARS (I am surely warranted in saying this) Paul himself saw Him—but no one in the interval, and no one afterwards. This is not the manner of the hallucinations of uneducated people. It is altogether too sober: the state of mind from which alone so baseless a delusion could spring, is one which never could have been contented with the results which were evidently all, or nearly all, that Paul knew of. St. Paul's words cannot be set aside without more cause than Strauss has shewn: instead of betraying a tendency towards exaggeration, they contain nothing whatever, with the exception of his own vision, that is not imperatively demanded in order to account for the rise and spread of Christianity.

Concerning that vision Strauss writes as follows:

"With regard to the appearance he (Paul) witnessed—he uses the same word (?f??) as with regard to the others: he places it in the same category with them only in the last place, as he names himself the last of the Apostles, but in exactly the same rank with the others. Thus much, therefore, Paul knew—or supposed—that the appearances which the elder disciples had seen soon after the Resurrection of Jesus had been of the same kind as that which had been, only later, vouchsafed to himself. Of what sort then was this?"

I confess that I am wholly unable to feel the force of the above. Strauss says that Paul's vision was ecstatic—subjective and not objective—that Paul thought he saw Christ, although he never really saw him. But, says Strauss, he uses the same word for his own vision and for the appearances to the earlier Apostles: it is plain therefore that he did not suppose the earlier Apostles to have seen Christ in the same sort of way in which they saw themselves and other people, but to have seen him as Paul himself did, i.e., by supernatural revelation.

But would it not be more fair to say that Paul's using the same word for all the appearances—his own vision included—implies that he considered this last to have been no less real than those vouchsafed earlier, though he may have been perfectly well aware that it was different in kind? The use of the same word for all the appearances is quite compatible with a belief in Paul's mind that the manner in which he saw Christ was different from that in which the Apostles had seen him: indeed, so long as he believed that he had seen Christ no less really than the others, one cannot see why he should have used any other word for his own vision than that which he had applied to the others: we should even expect that he would do so, and should be surprised at his having done otherwise. That Paul did believe in the reality of his own vision is indisputable, and his use of the word ?f?? was probably dictated by a desire to assert this belief in the strongest possible way, and to place his own vision in the same category with others, which were so universally known among Christians to have been material and objective, that there was no occasion to say so. Nevertheless there is that in Paul's words on which Strauss does not dwell, but which cannot be passed over without notice. Paul does not simply say, "and last of all he was seen also of me"—but he adds the words "as of one born out of due time."

It is impossible to say decisively that this addition implies that Paul recognised a difference in kind between the appearances, inasmuch as the words added may only refer to time—still they would explain the possible use of [?f??] in a somewhat different sense, and I cannot but think that they will suggest this possibility to the reader. They will make him feel, if he does not feel it without them, how strained a proceeding it is to bind Paul down to a rigorously identical meaning on every occasion on which the same word came from his pen, and to maintain that because he once uses it on the occasion of an appearance which he held to be vouchsafed by revelation, therefore, wherever else he uses it, he must have intended to refer to something seen by revelation: the words "as of one born out of due time" imply the utterly unlooked for and transcendent nature of the favour, and suggest, even though they do not compel, the inference that while the other Apostles had seen Christ in the common course of nature, as a visible tangible being before their waking eyes, he had himself seen Him not less truly, but still only by special and unlooked for revelation. If such thoughts were in his mind he would not probably have expressed them farther than by the touching words which he has added concerning his own vision. So much for the objection that the evidence of Paul concerning the earlier appearances is impaired by his having used the same word for them, and for the appearance to himself. It only remains therefore to review in brief the general bearings of Paul's testimony as given I. Cor. xv., 1-8.

Firstly, there is the early commencement of the reappearances: this is incompatible with hallucination, for the hallucination must be supposed to have occurred when most easy to refute, and when the spell of shame and fear was laid most heavily upon the Apostles. Strauss maintains that the appearances were unconsciously antedated by Peter; we can only say that the circumstances of the case, as entered into more fully above, render this very improbable; that if Peter told Paul that he saw Christ on the third day after the Crucifixion, he probably firmly believed that he did see Him; and that if he believed this, he was also probably right in so believing.

Secondly, there is the fact that the reappearances were few, and extended over a short time only. Had they been due to hallucination there would have been no limit either to their number or duration. Paul seems to have had no idea that there ever had been, or ever would be, successors to the five hundred brethren who saw Christ at one time. Some were fallen asleep—the rest would in time follow them. It is incredible that men should have so lost all count of fact, so debauched their perception of external objects, so steeped themselves in belief in dreams which had no foundation but in their own disordered brains, as to have turned the whole world after them by the sheer force of their conviction of the truth of their delusions, and yet that suddenly, within a few weeks from the commencement of this intoxication, they should have come to a dead stop and given no further sign of like extravagance. The hallucinations must have been so baseless, and would argue such an utter subordination of judgement to imagination, that instead of ceasing they must infallibly have ended in riot and disorganisation; the fact that they did cease (which cannot be denied) and that they were followed by no disorder, but by a solemn sober steadfastness of purpose, as of reasonable men in deadly earnest about a matter which had come to their knowledge, and which they held it vital for all to know—this fact alone would be sufficient to overthrow the hallucination theory. Such intemperance could never have begotten such temperance: from such a frame of mind as Strauss assigns to the Apostles no religion could have come which should satisfy the highest spiritual needs of the most civilised nations of the earth for nearly two thousand years.

When, therefore, we look at the want of faith of the Apostles before the Crucifixion, and to their subsequent intense devotion; at their unanimity at their general sobriety; at the fact that they succeeded in convincing the ablest of their enemies and ultimately the whole of Europe; at the undeviating consent of all the records we have; at the early date at which the reappearances commenced,—at their small number and short duration—things so foreign to the nature of hallucination; at the excellent opportunities which Paul had for knowing what he tells us; at the plain manner in which he tells it, and the more than proof which he gave of his own conviction of its truth; at the impossibility of accounting for the rise of Christianity without the reappearance of its Founder after His Crucifixion; when we look at all these things we shall admit that it is impossible to avoid the belief that after having died, Christ DID reappear to his disciples, and that in this fact we have the only intelligible explanation of the triumph of Christianity.



CHAPTER V—A CONSIDERATION OF CERTAIN ILL-JUDGED METHODS OF DEFENCE



The reader has now heard the utmost that can be said against the historic character of the Resurrection by the ablest of its impugners. I know of nothing in any of Strauss's works which can be considered as doing better justice to his opinions than the passages which I have quoted and, I trust, refuted. I have quoted fully, and have kept nothing in the background. If I had known of anything stronger against the Resurrection from any other source, I should certainly have produced it. I have answered in outline only, but I do not believe that I have passed any difficulty on one side.

What then does the reader think? Was the attack so dangerous, or the defence so far to seek? I believe he will agree with me that the combat was one of no great danger when it was once fairly entered upon. But the wonder, and, let me add, the disgrace, to English divines, is that the battle should have been shirked so long. What is it that has made the name of Strauss so terrible to the ears of English Churchmen? Surely nothing but the ominous silence which has been maintained concerning him in almost all quarters of our Church. For what can he say or do against the other miracles if he be powerless against the Resurrection? He can make sentences which sound plausible, but that is no great feat. Can he show that there is any a priori improbability whatever, in the fact of miracles having been wrought by one who died and rose from the dead? If a man did this it is a small thing that he should also walk upon the waves and command the winds. But if there is no a priori difficulty with regard to these miracles, there is certainly none other.

Let this, however, for the present pass, only let me beg of the reader to have patience while I follow out the plan which I have pursued up to the present point, and proceed to examine certain difficulties of another character. I propose to do so with the same unflinching examination as heretofore, concealing nothing that has been said, or that can be said; going out of my way to find arguments for opponents, if I do not think that they have put forward all that from their own point of view they might have done, and careless how many difficulties I may bring before the reader which may never yet have occurred to him, provided I feel that I can also shew him how little occasion there is to fear them.

I must, however, maintain two propositions, which may perhaps be unfamiliar to some of those who have not as yet given more than a conventional and superficial attention to the Scriptural records, but which will meet with ready assent from all whose studies have been deeper. Fain would I avoid paining even a single reader, but I am convinced that the arresting of infidelity depends mainly upon the general recognition of two broad facts. The first is this—that the Apostles, even after they had received the gift of the Holy Spirit were still fallible though holy men; the second—that there are certain passages in each of the Gospels as we now have them, which were not originally to be found therein, and others which, though genuine, are still not historic. This much of concession we must be prepared to make, and we shall find (as in the case of the conversion of St. Paul) that our position is indefinitely strengthened by doing so.

When shall we Christians learn that the truest ground is also the strongest? We may be sure that until we have done so we shall find a host of enemies who will say that truth is not ours. It is we who have created infidelity, and who are responsible for it. WE are the true infidels, for we have not sufficient faith in our own creed to believe that it will bear the removal of the incrustations of time and superstition. When men see our cowardice, what can they think but that we must know that we have cause to be afraid? We drive men into unbelief in spite of themselves, by our tenacious adherence to opinions which every unprejudiced person must see at a glance that we cannot rightfully defend, and then we pride ourselves upon our love for Christ and our hatred of His enemies. If Christ accepts this kind of love He is not such as He has declared Himself.

We mistake our love of our own immediate ease for the love of Christ, and our hatred of every opinion which is strange to us, for zeal against His enemies. If those to whom the unfamiliarity of an opinion or its inconvenience to themselves is a test of its hatefulness to Christ, had been born Jews, they would have crucified Him whom they imagine that they are now serving: if Turks, they would have massacred both Jew and Christian; if Papists at the time of the Reformation they would have persecuted Protestants: if Protestants, under Elizabeth, Papists. Truth is to them an accident of birth and training, and the Christian faith is in their eyes true because these accidents, as far as they are concerned, have decided in its favour. But such persons are not Christians. It is they who crucify Christ, who drive men from coming to Him whose every instinct would lead them to love and worship Him, but who are warned off by observing the crowd of sycophants and time-servers who presume to call Him Lord.

But to look at the matter from another point of view; when there is a long sustained contest between two bodies of capable and seriously disposed people, (and none can deny that many of our adversaries have been both one and the other), and when this contest shews no sign of healing, but rather widens from generation to generation, and each party accuses the other of disingenuousness, obstinacy and other like serious defects of mind—it may be certainly assumed that the truth lies wholly with neither side, but that each should make some concessions to the other. A third party sees this at a glance, and is amazed because neither of the disputants can perceive that his opponent must be possessed of some truths, in spite of his trying to defend other positions which are indefensible. Strange! that a thing which it seems so easy to avoid, should so seldom be avoided! Homer said well:

"Perish strife, both from among gods and men, And wrath which maketh even him that is considerate, cruel, Which getteth up in the heart of a man like smoke, And the taste thereof is sweeter than drops of honey."

But strife can never cease without concessions upon both sides. We agree to this readily in the abstract, but we seldom do so when any given concession is in question. We are all for concession in the general, but for none in the particular, as people who say that they will retrench when they are living beyond their income, but will not consent to any proposed retrenchment. Thus many shake their heads and say that it is impossible to live in the present age and not be aware of many difficulties in connection with the Christian religion; they have studied the question more deeply than perhaps the unbeliever imagines; and having said this much they give themselves credit for being wide-minded, liberal and above vulgar prejudices: but when pressed as to this or that particular difficulty, and asked to own that such and such an objection of the infidel's needs explanation, they will have none of it, and will in nine cases out of ten betray by their answers that they neither know nor want to know what the infidel means, but on the contrary that they are resolute to remain in ignorance. I know this kind of liberality exceedingly well, and have ever found it to harbour more selfishness, idleness, cowardice and stupidity than does open bigotry. The bigot is generally better than his expressed opinions, these people are invariably worse than theirs.

The above principle has been largely applied in the writings of so- called orthodox commentators, not unfrequently even by men who might have been assumed to be above condescending to such trickery. A great preface concerning candour, with a flourish of trumpets in the praise of truth, seems to have exhausted every atom of truth and candour from the work that follows it.

It will be said that I ought not to make use of language such as this without bringing forward examples. I shall therefore adduce them.

One of the most serious difficulties to the unbeliever is the inextricable confusion in which the accounts of the Resurrection have reached us: no one can reconcile these accounts with one another, not only in minute particulars, but in matters on which it is of the highest importance to come to a clear understanding. Thus, to omit all notice of many other discrepancies, the accounts of Mark, Luke, and John concur in stating that when the women came to the tomb of Jesus very early on the Sunday morning, they found it ALREADY EMPTY: the stone was gone when they came there, and, according to John, there was not even an angelic vision for some time afterwards. There is nothing in any of these three accounts to preclude the possibility of the stone's having been removed within an hour or two of the body's having been laid in the tomb.

But when we turn to Matthew we find all changed: we are told that the stone was gone NOT when the women came, but that on their arrival there was a great earthquake, and that an angel came down from Heaven, and rolled away the stone, AND SAT UPON IT, and that the guard who had been set over the tomb (of whom we hear nothing from any of the other evangelists) became as dead men while the angel addressed the women.

Now this is not one of those cases in which the supposition can be tolerated that all would be clear if the whole facts of the case were known to us. No additional facts can make it come about that the tomb should have been sealed and guarded, and yet NOT sealed and guarded; that the same women, at the same time and place, should have witnessed an earthquake, and yet NOT witnessed one; have found a stone already gone from a tomb, and yet NOT found it gone; have seen it rolled away, and NOT seen it, and so on; those who say that we should find no difficulty if we knew ALL the facts are still careful to abstain from any example (so far as I know) of the sort of additional facts which would serve their purpose. They cannot give one; any mind which is truly candid—white—not scrawled and scribbled over till no character is decipherable—will feel at once that the only question to be raised is, which is the more correct account of the Resurrection—Matthew's or those given by the other three Evangelists? How far is Matthew's account true, and how far is it exaggerated? For there must be either exaggeration or invention somewhere. It is inconceivable that the other writers should have known the story told by Matthew, and yet not only made no allusion to it, but introduced matter which flatly contradicts it, and it is also inconceivable that the story should be true, and yet that the other writers should not have known it.

This is how the difficulty stands—a difficulty which vanishes in a moment if it be rightly dealt with, but which, when treated after our unskilful English method, becomes capable of doing inconceivable mischief to the Christian religion. Let us see then what Dean Alford—a writer whose professions of candour and talk about the duty of unflinching examination leave nothing to be desired—has to say upon this point. I will first quote the passage in full from Matthew, and then give the Dean's note. I have drawn the greater part of the comments that will follow it from an anonymous pamphlet {2} upon the Resurrection, dated 1865, but without a publisher's name, so that I presume it must have been printed for private circulation only.

St. Matthew's account runs:-

"Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, saying, 'Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, "After three days I will rise again." Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night and steal him away and say unto the people, "He is risen from the dead:" so the last error shall be worse than the first.' Pilate said unto them, 'Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.' So they went and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone and setting a watch. In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, 'Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.' And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word. And as they went to tell his disciples, Jesus met them, saying, 'All hail.' And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him (cf. John xx., 16, 17). Then said Jesus unto them, 'Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.' Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done. And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, saying, 'Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him and secure you.' So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day."

Let us turn now to the Dean's note on Matt. xxvii., 62-66.

With regard to the setting of the watch and sealing of the stone, he tells us that the narrative following (i.e., the account of the guard and the earthquake) "has been much impugned and its historical accuracy very generally given up even by the best of the German commentators (Olshausen, Meyer; also De Wette, Hase, and others). The chief difficulties found in it seem to be: (1) How should the chief priests, &c., KNOW OF HIS HAVING SAID 'in three days I will rise again,' when the saying was hid even from His own disciples? The answer to this is easy. The MEANING of the saying may have been, and was hid from the disciples; BUT THE FACT OF ITS HAVING BEEN SAID could be no secret. Not to lay any stress on John ii., 19 (Jesus answered and said unto them, 'Destroy this temple and in three days I will build it up'), we have the direct prophecy of Matt. xii., 40 ('For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth): besides this there would be a rumour current, through the intercourse of the Apostles with others, that He had been in the habit of so saying. (From what source can Dean Alford know that our Lord WAS in the habit of so saying? What particle of authority is there for this alleged habit of our Lord?) As to the UNDERSTANDING of the words we must remember that HATRED IS KEENER SIGHTED THAN LOVE: that the RAISING OF LAZARUS would shew WHAT SORT OF A THING RISING FROM THE DEAD WAS TO BE; and the fulfilment of the Lord's announcement of his CRUCIFIXION would naturally lead them to look further to WHAT MORE he had announced. (2) How should the women who were solicitous about the REMOVAL of the stone not have been still more so about its being sealed and a guard set? The answer to this last has been given above—THEY WERE NOT AWARE OF THE CIRCUMSTANCE BECAUSE THE GUARD WAS NOT SET TILL THE EVENING BEFORE. There would be no need of the application before the APPROACH OF THE THIRD DAY— it is only made for a watch, [Greek text] (ver. 64), and it is not probable that the circumstance would transpire that night—certainly it seems not to have done so. (3) That Gamaliel was of the council, and if such a thing as this and its sequel (chap. xxviii., 11-15) had really happened, he need not have expressed himself doubtfully (Acts v., 39), but would have been certain that this was from God. But, first, it does not necessarily follow that EVERY MEMBER of the Sanhedrim was present, and applied to Pilate, or even had they done so, that all bore a part in the act of xxviii., 12" (the bribing of the guard to silence). "One who like Joseph had not consented to the deed before—and we may safely say that there were others such—would naturally withdraw himself from further proceedings against the person of Jesus. (4) Had this been so the three other Evangelists would not have passed over so important a testimony to the Resurrection. But surely we cannot argue in this way—for thus every important fact narrated by ONE EVANGELIST ALONE must be rejected, e.g. (which stands in much the same relation), THE SATISFACTION OF THOMAS—ANOTHER SUCH NARRATIONS. TILL WE KNOW MORE ABOUT THE CIRCUMSTANCES UNDER WHICH, AND THE SCOPE WITH WHICH, EACH GOSPEL WAS COMPILED, ALL A PRIORI ARGUMENTS OF THIS KIND ARE GOOD FOR NOTHING."

(The italics in the above, and throughout the notes quoted, are the Dean's, unless it is expressly stated otherwise.)

I will now proceed to consider this defence of Matthew's accuracy against the objections of the German commentators.

I. The German commentators maintain that the chief priests are not likely to have known of any prophecy of Christ's Resurrection when His own disciples had evidently heard of nothing to this effect. Dean Alford's answer amounts to this:-

1. They had heard the words but did not understand their meaning; hatred enabled the chief priests to see clearly what love did not reveal to the understanding of the Apostles. True, according to Matthew, Christ had said that as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so the Son of Man should be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth; but it would be only hatred which would suggest the interpretation of so obscure a prophecy: love would not be sufficiently keen-sighted to understand it.

But in the first place I would urge that if the Apostles had ever heard any words capable of suggesting the idea that Christ should rise, after they had already seen the raising of Lazarus, on whom corruption had begun its work, they MUST have expected the Resurrection. After having seen so stupendous a miracle, any one would expect anything which was even suggested by the One who had performed it. And, secondly, hatred is not keener sighted than love.

2. Dean Alford says that the raising of Lazarus would shew the chief priests what sort of a thing the Resurrection from the dead was to be, and that the fulfilment of Christ's prophecy concerning his Crucifixion would naturally lead them to look further to what else he had announced.

But, if the raising of Lazarus would shew the chief priests what sort of thing the Resurrection was to be, it would shew the Apostles also; and again if the fulfilment of the prophecy of the Crucifixion would lead the chief priests to look further to the fulfilment of the prophecy of the Resurrection, so would it lead the Apostles; this supposition of one set of men who can see everything, and of another with precisely the same opportunities and no less interest, who can see nothing, is vastly convenient upon the stage, but it is not supported by a reference to Nature; self-interest would have opened the eyes of the Apostles.

II. The German commentators ask how was it possible that the women who were solicitous about the removal of the stone, should not be still more so about "its being sealed and a guard set?" If the German commentators have asked their question in this shape, they have asked it badly, and Dean Alford's answer is sufficient: they might have asked, how the other three writers could all tell us that the stone was already gone when the women got there, and yet Matthew's story be true? and how Matthew's story could be true without the other writers having known it? and how the other writers could have introduced matter contradictory to it, if they had known it to be true?

III. The German commentators say that in the Acts of the Apostles we find Gamaliel expressing himself as doubtful whether or no Christianity was of God, whereas had he known the facts related by Matthew he could have had no doubt at all. He must have KNOWN that Christianity was of God.

Dean Alford answers that perhaps Gamaliel was not there. To which I would rejoin that though Gamaliel might have had no hand in the bribery, supposing it to have taken place, it is inconceivable that such a story should have not reached him; the matter could never have been kept so quiet but that it must have leaked out. Men are not so utterly bad or so utterly foolish as Dean Alford seems to imply; and whether Gamaliel was or was not present when the guard were bribed, he must have been equally aware of the fact before making the speech which is assigned to him in the Acts.

IV. The German commentators argue from the silence of the other Evangelists: Dean Alford replies by denying that this silence is any argument: but I would answer, that on a matter which the other three writers must have known to have been of such intense interest, their silence is a conclusive proof either of their ignorance or their indolence as historians. Dean Alford has well substantiated the independence of the four narratives, he has well proved that the writer of the fourth Gospel could never have seen the other Gospels, and yet he supposes that that writer either did not know the facts related by Matthew, or thought it unnecessary to allude to them. Neither of these suppositions is tenable: but there would nevertheless be a shadow of ground for Dean Alford to stand upon if the other Evangelists were simply silent: but why does he omit all notice of their introducing matter which is absolutely incompatible with Matthew's accuracy?

There is one other consideration which must suggest itself to the reader in connection with this story of the guard. It refers to the conduct of the chief priests and the soldiers themselves. The conduct assigned to the chief priests in bribing the guard to lie against one whom they must by this time have known to be under supernatural protection, is contrary to human nature. The chief priests (according to Matthew) knew that Christ had said he should rise: in spite of their being well aware that Christ had raised Lazarus from the dead but very recently they did not believe that he WOULD rise, but feared (so Matthew says) that the Apostles would steal the body and pretend a resurrection: up to this point we admit that the story, though very improbable, is still possible: but when we read of their bribing the guards to tell a lie under such circumstances as those which we are told had just occurred, we say that such conduct is impossible: men are too great cowards to be capable of it. The same applies to the soldiers: they would never dare to run counter to an agency which had nearly killed them with fright on that very selfsame morning. Let any man put himself in their position: let him remember that these soldiers were previously no enemies to Christ, nor, as far as we can judge, is it likely that they were a gang of double-dyed villains: but even if they were, they would not have dared to act as Matthew says they acted.

And now let us turn to another note of Dean Alford's.

Speaking of the independence of the four narratives (in his note on Matt. xxviii., 1-10) and referring to their "minor discrepancies," the Dean says SUPPOSING US TO BE ACQUAINTED WITH EVERY THING SAID AND DONE IN ITS ORDER AND EXACTNESS, WE SHOULD DOUBTLESS BE ABLE TO RECONCILE, OR ACCOUNT FOR, THE PRESENT FORMS OF THE NARRATIVES; but not having this key to the harmonising of them, all attempts to do so in minute particulars must be full of arbitrary assumptions, and carry no certainty with them: and I may remark that OF ALL HARMONIES those of the INCIDENTS OF THESE CHAPTERS are to me the MOST UNSATISFACTORY. Giving their compilers all credit for the best intentions, I confess they seem to me to WEAKEN instead of strengthening the evidence, which now rests (speaking merely OBJECTIVELY) on the unexceptionable testimony of three independent narrators, and one who besides was an eye witness of much that happened. If we are to compare the four and ask which is to be taken as most nearly reporting the EXACT words and incidents, on this there can, I think, be no doubt. On internal as well as external ground THAT OF JOHN takes the HIGHEST PLACE, but not of course to the exclusion of those parts of the narrative which he DOES NOT TOUCH."

Surely the above is a very extraordinary note. The difficulty of the irreconcilable differences between the four narratives is not met nor attempted to be met: the Dean seems to consider the attempt as hopeless: no one, according to him, has been as yet successful, neither can he see any prospect of succeeding better himself: the expedient therefore which he proposes is that the whole should be taken on trust; that it should be assumed that no discrepancy which could not be accounted for would be found, if the facts were known in the exact order in which they occurred. In other words, he leaves the difficulty where it was. Yet surely it is a very grave one. The same events are recorded by three writers (one being professedly an eye-witness, and the others independent writers), in a way which is virtually the same, in spite of some unimportant variations in the manner of telling it, while a fourth gives a totally different and irreconcilable account; the matter stands in such confusion at present that even Dean Alford admits that any attempt to reconcile the differences leaves them in worse confusion than ever; the ablest and most spiritually minded of the German commentators suggest a way of escape; nevertheless, according to the Dean we are not to profit by it, but shall avoid the difficulty better by a simpler process— the process of passing it over.

A man does well to be angry when he sees so solemn and momentous a subject treated thus. What is trifling if this is not trifling? What is disingenuousness if not this? It involves some trouble and apparent danger to admit that the same thing has happened to the Christian records which has happened to all others—i.e., that they have suffered—miraculously little, but still something—at the hands of time; people would have to familiarise themselves with new ideas, and this can seldom be done without a certain amount of wrangling, disturbance, and unsettling of comfortable ease: it is therefore by all means and at all risks to be avoided. Who can doubt that some such feeling as this was in Dean Alford's mind when the notes above criticised were written? Yet what are the means taken to avoid the recognition of obvious truth? They are disingenuous in the very highest degree. Can this prosper? Not if Christ is true.

What is the practical result? The loss of many souls who would gladly come to the Saviour, but who are frightened off by seeing the manner in which his case is defended. And what after all is the danger that would follow upon candour? None. Not one particle. Nevertheless, danger or no danger, we are bound to speak the truth. We have nothing to do with consequences and moral tendencies and risk to this or that fundamental principle of our belief, nor yet with the possibility of lurid lights being thrown here or there. What are these things to us? They are not our business or concern, but rest with the Being who has required of US that we should reverently, patiently, unostentatiously, yet resolutely, strive to find out what things are true and what false, and that we should give up all, rather than forsake our own convictions concerning the truth.

This is our plain and immediate duty, in pursuance of which we proceed to set aside the account of the Resurrection given in St. Matthew's Gospel. That account must be looked upon as the invention of some copyist, or possibly of the translator of the original work, at a time when men who had been eye-witnesses to the actual facts of the Resurrection were becoming scarce, and when it was felt that some more unmistakably miraculous account than that given in the other three Gospels would be a comfort and encouragement to succeeding generations. We, however, must now follow the example of "even the best" of the German commentators, and discard it as soon as possible. On having done this the whole difficulty of the confusion of the four accounts of the Resurrection vanishes like smoke, and we find ourselves with three independent writers whose differences are exactly those which we might expect, considering the time and circumstances in which they wrote, but which are still so trifling as to disturb no man's faith.



CHAPTER VI—MORE DISINGENUOUSNESS



[Here, perhaps, will be the fittest place for introducing a letter to my brother from a gentleman who is well known to the public, but who does not authorise me to give his name. I found this letter among my brother's papers, endorsed with the words "this must be attended to," but with nothing more. I imagine that my brother would have incorporated the substance of his correspondent's letter into this or the preceding chapter, but not venturing to do so myself, I have thought it best to give the letter and extract in full, and thus to let them speak for themselves.—W. B. O.]

June 15, 1868.

My dear Owen,

Your brother has told me what you are doing, and the general line of your argument. I am sorry that you should be doing it, for I need not tell you that I do not and cannot sympathise with the great and unexpected change in your opinions. You are the last man in the world from whom I should have expected such a change: but, as you well know, you are also the last man in the world whose sincerity in making it I should be inclined to question. May you find peace and happiness in whatever opinions you adopt, and let me trust also that you will never forget the lessons of toleration which you learnt as the disciple of what you will perhaps hardly pardon me for calling a freer and happier school of thought than the one to which you now believe yourself to belong.

Your brother tells me that you are ill; I need not say that I am sorry, and that I should not trouble you with any personal matter—I write solely in reference to the work which I hear that you have undertaken, and which I am given to understand consists mainly in the endeavour to conquer unbelief, by really entering into the difficulties felt by unbelievers. The scheme is a good one IF THOROUGHLY CARRIED OUT. We imagine that we stand in no danger from any such course as this, and should heartily welcome any book which tried to grapple with us, even though it were to compel us to admit a great deal more than I at present think it likely that even you can extort from us. Much more should we welcome a work which made people understand us better than they do; this would indeed confer a lasting benefit both upon them and us.

However, I know you wish to do your work thoroughly; I want, therefore, to make a trifling suggestion which you will take pro tanto: it is this:-Paley, in his third book, professes to give "a brief consideration of some popular objections," and begins Chap. I. with "The discrepancies between the several Gospels."

Now, I know you have a Paley, but I know also that you are ill, and that people who are ill like being saved from small exertions. I have, therefore, bought a second-hand Paley for a shilling, and have cut out the chapter to which I especially want to call your attention. Will you kindly read it through from beginning to end?

Is it fair? Is the statement of our objections anything like what we should put forward ourselves? And can you believe that Paley with his profoundly critical instinct, and really great knowledge of the New Testament, should not have been perfectly well aware that he was misrepresenting and ignoring the objections which he professed to be removing?

He must have known very well that the principle of confirmation by discrepancy is one of very limited application, and that it will not cover anything approaching to such wide divergencies as those which are presented to us in the Gospels. Besides, how CAN he talk about Matthew's object as he does, and yet omit all allusion to the wide and important differences between his account of the Resurrection, and those of Mark, Luke, and John? Very few know what those differences really are, in spite of their having the Bible always open to them. I suppose that Paley felt pretty sure that his readers would be aware of no difficulty unless he chose to put them up to it, and wisely declined to do so. Very prudent, but very (as it seems to me) wicked. Now don't do this yourself. If you are going to meet us, meet us fairly, and let us have our say. Don't pretend to let us have our say while taking good care that we get no chance of saying it. I know you won't.

However, will you point out Paley's unfairness in heading this part of his work "A brief consideration of some popular objections," and then proceeding to give a chapter on "the discrepancies between the several Gospels," without going into the details of any of those important discrepancies which can have been known to none better than himself? This is the only place, so far as I remember, in his whole book, where he even touches upon the discrepancies in the Gospels. Does he do so as a man who felt that they were unimportant and could be approached with safety, or as one who is determined to carry the reader's attention away from them, and fix it upon something else by a coup de main?

This chapter alone has always convinced me that Paley did not believe in his own book. No one could have rested satisfied with it for moment, if he felt that he was on really strong ground. Besides, how insufficient for their purpose are his examples of discrepancies which do not impair the credibility of the main fact recorded!

How would it have been if Lord Clarendon and three other historians had each told us that the Marquis of Argyll CAME TO LIFE AGAIN AFTER BEING BEHEADED, and then set to work to contradict each other hopelessly as to the manner of his reappearance? How if Burnet, Woodrow, and Heath had given an account which was not at all incompatible with a natural explanation of the whole matter, while Clarendon gave a circumstantial story in flat contradiction to all the others, and carefully excluded any but a supernatural explanation? Ought we to, or should we, allow the discrepancies to pass unchallenged? Not for an hour—if indeed we did not rather order the whole story out of court at once, as too wildly improbable to deserve a hearing.

You will, I know, see all this, and a great deal more, and will point it better than I can. Let me as an old friend entreat you not to pass this over, but to allow me to continue to think of you as I always have thought of you hitherto, namely, as the most impartial disputant in the world.—Yours, &c.

(Extract from Paley's "Evidences."—Part III., Chapter 1. "The Discrepancies between the Gospels.")

"I know not a more rash or unphilosophical conduct of the understanding, than to reject the substance of a story, by reason of some diversity in the circumstances with which it is related. The usual character of human testimony is substantial truth under circumstantial variety. This is what the daily experience of courts of justice teaches. When accounts of a transaction come from the mouths of different witnesses, it is seldom that it is not possible to pick out apparent or real inconsistencies between them. These inconsistencies are studiously displayed by an adverse pleader, but oftentimes with little impression upon the minds of the judges. On the contrary, close and minute agreement induces the suspicion of confederacy and fraud. When written histories touch upon the same scenes of action, the comparison almost always affords ground for a like reflection. Numerous and sometimes important variations present themselves; not seldom, also, absolute and final contradictions; yet neither one nor the other are deemed sufficient to shake the credibility of the main fact. The embassy of the Jews to deprecate the execution of Claudian's order to place his statue in their temple Philo places in harvest, Josephus in seed-time, both contemporary writers. No reader is led by this inconsistency to doubt whether such an embassy was sent, or whether such an order was given. Our own history supplies examples of the same kind. In the account of the Marquis of Argyll's death in the reign of Charles II., we have a very remarkable contradiction. Lord Clarendon relates that he was condemned to be hanged, which was performed the same day; on the contrary, Burnet, Woodrow, Heath, Echard, concur in stating that he was condemned upon the Saturday, and executed upon a Monday. {3} Was any reader of English history ever sceptic enough to raise from hence a question, whether the Marquis of Argyll was executed or not? Yet this ought to be left in uncertainty, according to the principles upon which the Christian religion has sometimes been attacked. Dr. Middleton contended that the different hours of the day assigned to the Crucifixion of Christ by John and the other Evangelists, did not admit of the reconcilement which learned men had proposed; and then concludes the discussion with this hard remark: 'We must be forced, with several of the critics, to leave the difficulty just as we found it, chargeable with all the consequences of manifest inconsistency.' {4} But what are these consequences? By no means the discrediting of the history as to the principal fact, by a repugnancy (even supposing that repugnancy not to be resolvable into different modes of computation) in the time of the day in which it is said to have taken place.

A great deal of the discrepancy observable in the Gospels arises from OMISSION; from a fact or a passage of Christ's life being noticed by one writer, which is unnoticed by another. Now, omission is at all times a very uncertain ground of objection. We perceive it not only in the comparison of different writers, but even in the same writer, when compared with himself. There are a great many particulars, and some of them of importance, mentioned by Josephus in his Antiquities, which as we should have supposed, ought to have been put down by him in their place in the Jewish Wars. {5} Suetonius, Tacitus, Dion Cassius have all three written of the reign of Tiberius. Each has mentioned many things omitted by the rest, {6} yet no objection is from thence taken to the respective credit of their histories. We have in our own times, if there were not something indecorous in the comparison, the life of an eminent person, written by three of his friends, in which there is very great variety in the incidents selected by them, some apparent, and perhaps some real, contradictions: yet without any impeachment of the substantial truth of their accounts, of the authenticity of the books, of the competent information or general fidelity of the writers.

But these discrepancies will be still more numerous, when men do not write histories, but MEMOIRS; which is perhaps the true name and proper description of our Gospels; that is, when they do not undertake, or ever meant to deliver, in order of time, a regular and complete account of ALL the things of importance which the person who is the subject of their history did or said; but only, out of many similar ones, to give such passages, or such actions and discourses, as offered themselves more immediately to their attention, came in the way of their enquiries, occurred to their recollection, or were suggested by their PARTICULAR DESIGN at the time of writing.

This particular design may appear sometimes, but not always, nor often. Thus I think that the particular design which St. Matthew had in view whilst he was writing the history of the Resurrection, was to attest the faithful performance of Christ's promise to his disciples to go before them into Galilee; because he alone, except Mark, who seems to have taken it from him, has recorded this promise, and he alone has confined his narrative to that single appearance to the disciples which fulfilled it. It was the preconcerted, the great and most public manifestation of our Lord's person. It was the thing which dwelt upon St. Matthew's mind, and he adapted his narrative to it. But, that there is nothing in St. Matthew's language which negatives other appearances, or which imports that this his appearance to his disciples in Galilee, in pursuance of his promise, was his first or only appearance, is made pretty evident by St. Mark's Gospel, which uses the same terms concerning the appearance in Galilee as St. Matthew uses, yet itself records two other appearances prior to this: 'Go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you' (xvi., 7). We might be apt to infer from these words, that this was the FIRST time they were to see him: at least, we might infer it with as much reason as we draw the inference from the same words in Matthew; yet the historian himself did not perceive that he was leading his readers to any such conclusion, for in the twelfth and two following verses of this chapter, he informs us of two appearances, which, by comparing the order of events, are shown to have been prior to the appearance in Galilee. 'He appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country: and they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them. Afterward He appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief, because they believed not them which had seen Him after He was risen.' Probably the same observation, concerning the PARTICULAR DESIGN which guided the historian, may be of use in comparing many other passages of the Gospels."

[My brother's work, which has been interrupted by the letter and extract just given, will now be continued. What follows should be considered as coming immediately after the preceding chapter.—W. B. O.]

But there is a much worse set of notes than those on the twenty- eighth chapter of St. Matthew, and so important is it that we should put an end to such a style of argument, and get into a manner which shall commend itself to sincere and able adversaries, that I shall not apologise for giving them in full here. They refer to the spear wound recorded in St. John's Gospel as having been inflicted upon the body of our Lord.

The passage in St. John's Gospel stands thus (John xix., 32-37)— "Then came the soldiers and brake the legs of the first and of the other which was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was dead already they brake not His legs: but one of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and we know that his record is true, and he knoweth that he saith true that ye might believe. For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, 'A bone of Him shall not be broken' and again another Scripture saith, 'They shall look on Him whom they pierced.'

In his note upon the thirty-fourth verse Dean Alford writes—"The lance must have penetrated deep, for the object was to ENSURE death." Now what warrant is there for either of these assertions? We are told that the soldiers saw that our Lord was dead already, and that for this reason they did not break his legs: if there had been any doubt about His being dead can we believe that they would have hesitated? There is ample proof of the completeness of the death in the fact that those whose business it was to assure themselves of its having taken place were so satisfied that they would be at no further trouble; what need to kill a dead man? If there had been any question as to the possibility of life remaining, it would not have been resolved by the thrust of the spear, but in a way which we must shudder to think of. It is most painful to have had to write the foregoing lines, but are they not called for when we see a man so well intentioned and so widely read as the late Dean Alford condescending to argument which must only weaken the strength of his cause in the eyes of those who have not yet been brought to know the blessings and comfort of Christianity? From the words of St. John no one can say whether the wound was a deep one, or why it was given— yet the Dean continues, "and see John xx., 27," thereby implying that the wound must have been large enough for Thomas to get his hand into it, because our Lord says, "reach hither thine hand and thrust it into my side." This is simply shocking. Words cannot be pressed in this way. Dean Alford then says that the spear was thrust "probably into the LEFT side on account of the position of the soldier" (no one can arrive at the position of the soldier, and no one would attempt to do so, unless actuated by a nervous anxiety to direct the spear into the heart of the Redeemer), "and of what followed" (the Dean here implies that the water must have come from the pericardium; yet in his next note we are led to infer that he rejects this supposition, inasmuch as the quantity of water would have been "so small as to have scarcely been observed"). Is this fair and manly argument, and can it have any other effect than to increase the scepticism of those who doubt?

Here this note ends. The next begins upon the words "blood and water."

"The spear," says the Dean, "perhaps pierced the pericardium or envelope of the heart" (but why introduce a "perhaps" when there is ample proof of the death without it?), "in which case a liquid answering to the description of water may have" (MAY have) "flowed with the blood, but the quantity would have been so small as scarcely to have been observed" (yet in the preceding note he has led us to suppose that he thinks the water "probably came from near the heart). "It is scarcely possible that the separation of the blood into placenta and serum should have taken place so soon, or that if it had, it should have been described by an observe as blood and water. It is more probable that the fact here so strongly testified was a consequence of the extreme exhaustion of the body of the Redeemer." (Now if this is the case, the spear-wound does not prove the death of Him on whom it was inflicted, and Dean Alford has weakened a strong case for nothing.) "The medical opinions on the subject are very various and by no means satisfactory." Satisfactory! What does Dean Alford mean by satisfactory? If the evidence does not go to prove that the spear-wound must have been necessarily fatal why not have said so at once, and have let the whole matter rest in the obscurity from which no human being can remove it. The wound may have been severe or may not have been severe, it may have been given in mere wanton mockery of the dead King of the Jews, for the indignity's sake: or it may have been the savage thrust of an implacable foe, who would rejoice at the mutilation of the dead body of his enemy: none can say of what nature it was, nor why it was given; but the object of its having been recorded is no mystery, for we are expressly told that it was in order to shew THAT PROPHECY WAS THUS FULFILLED: the Evangelist tells us so in the plainest language: he even goes farther, for he says that these things were DONE for this end (not only that they were RECORDED)—so that the primary motive of the Almighty in causing the soldier to be inspired with a desire to inflict the wound is thus graciously vouchsafed to us, and we have no reason to harrow our feelings by supposing that a deeper thrust was given than would suffice for the fulfilment of the prophecy. May we not then well rest thankful with the knowledge which the Holy Spirit has seen fit to impart to us, without causing the weak brother to offend by our special pleading?

The reader has now seen the two first of Dean Alford's notes upon this subject, and I trust he will feel that I have used no greater plainness, and spoken with no greater severity than the case not only justifies but demands. We can hardly suppose that the Dean himself is not firmly convinced that our Lord died upon the Cross, but there are millions who are not convinced, and whose conviction should be the nearest wish of every Christian heart. How deeply, therefore, should we not grieve at meeting with a style of argument from the pen of one of our foremost champions, which can have no effect but that of making the sceptic suspect that the evidences for the death of our Lord are felt, even by Christians, to be insufficient. For this is what it comes to.

Let us, however, go on to the note on John xix., 35, that is to say on St. John's emphatic assertion of the truth of what he is recording. The note stands thus, "This emphatic assertion of the fact seems rather to regard the whole incident than the mere outflowing of the blood and water. It was the object of John to shew that the Lord's body was a REAL BODY and UNDERWENT REAL DEATH. (This is not John's own account—supposing that John is the writer of the fourth Gospel—either of his own object in recording, or yet of the object of the wound's having been inflicted; his words, as we have seen above, run thus:- "and he that saw it bare record, and we know that his record is true; and he knoweth that he saith true that ye might believe. FOR THESE THINGS WERE DONE THAT THE SCRIPTURE SHOULD BE FULFILLED which saith 'a bone of him shall not be broken,' and, again, another Scripture saith, 'they shall look upon' him whom they pierced.'" Who shall dare to say that St. John had any other object than to show that the event which he relates had been long foreseen, and foretold by the words of the Almighty?) And both these were shewn by what took place, NOT SO MUCH BY THE PHENOMENON OF THE WATER AND BLOOD" (then here we have it admitted that so much disingenuousness has been resorted to for no advantage, inasmuch as the fact of the water and blood having flowed is not per se proof of a necessarily fatal wound) "as by the infliction of such a wound" (Such a wound! What can be the meaning of this? What has Dean Alford made clear about the wound? We know absolutely nothing about the severity or intention of the wound, and it is mere baseless conjecture and assumption to say that we do; neither do we know anything concerning its effect unless it be shewn that the issuing of the blood and water PROVE that death must have ensued, and this Dean Alford has just virtually admitted to be not shewn), after which, EVEN IF DEATH HAD NOT TAKEN PLACE BEFORE (this is intolerable), THERE COULD NOT BY ANY POSSIBILITY BE LIFE REMAINING." (The italics on this page are mine.)

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse