"The author of the fourth Gospel is also silent concerning the Ascension. There is not a word, nor hint, nor faintest trace of any knowledge of the fact, unless an allusion be detected in the words, 'What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascending where he was before?' (John vi., 62) in reference to which passage Dean Alford, in his note on Luke xxiv., 52, writes as follows:- 'And might not we have concluded from the wording of John vi., 62, that our Lord must have intended an ascension INSIGHT OF SOME OF THOSE TO WHOM HE SPOKE, and that the Evangelist GIVES THAT HINT, BY RECORDING THOSE WORDS WITHOUT COMMENT, THAT HE HAD SEEN IT?' That is to say, we are to conclude that the writer of the fourth Gospel actually SAW the Ascension, because he tells us that Christ uttered the words, 'What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascending where he was before?'
"But who WAS the author of the fourth Gospel? And what reason is there for thinking that that work is genuine? Let us make another extract from Dean Alford. In his prolegomena, chapter v., section 6, on the genuineness of the fourth Gospel, he writes:- 'Neither Papias, who carefully sought out all that Apostles and Apostolic men had related regarding the life of Christ; nor Polycarp, who was himself a disciple of the Apostle John; nor Barnabas, nor Clement of Rome, in their epistles; nor, lastly, Ignatius (in his genuine writings), makes any mention of, or allusion to, this gospel. SO THAT IN THE MOST ANCIENT CIRCLE OF ECCLESIASTICAL TESTIMONY, IT APPEARS TO BE UNKNOWN. OR NOT RECOGNISED.' We may add that there is no trace of its existence before the latter half of the second century, and that the internal evidence against its genuineness appears to be more and more conclusive the more it is examined.
"St. Paul, when enumerating the last appearances of his master, in a passage where the absence of any allusion to the Ascension is almost conclusive as to his never having heard a word about it, is also silent. In no part of his genuine writings does he give any sign of his having been aware that any story was in existence as to the manner in which Christ was received into Heaven.
"Where, then, does the story come from, if neither Matthew, Mark, John, nor Paul appear to have heard of it?
"It comes from a single verse in St. Luke's Gospel—written more than half a century after the supposed event, when few, or more probably none, of those who were supposed to have seen it were either living or within reach to contradict it. Luke writes (xxiv., 51), 'And it came to pass that while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into Heaven.' This is the only account of the Ascension given in any part of the Gospels which can be considered genuine. It gives Bethany as the place of the miracle, whereas, if Dean Alford is right in saying that the words of Matthew 'set forth' the Ascension, they set it forth as having taken place on a mountain in Galilee. But here, as elsewhere, all is haze and contradiction. Perhaps some Christian writers will maintain that it happened both at Bethany and in Galilee.
"In his subsequent work, written some sixty or seventy years after the Ascension, St. Luke gives us that more detailed account which is commonly present to the imagination of all men (thanks to the Italian painters), when the Ascension is alluded to. The details, it would seem, came to his knowledge after he had written his Gospel, and many a long year after Matthew and Mark and Paul had written. How he came by the additional details we do not know. Nobody seems to care to know. He must have had them revealed to him, or been told them by some one, and that some one, whoever he was, doubtless knew what he was saying, and all Europe at one time believed the story, and this is sufficient proof that mistake was impossible.
"It is indisputable that from the very earliest ages of the Church there existed a belief that Christ was at the right hand of God; but no one who professes to have seen him on his way thither has left a single word of record. It is easy to believe that the facts may have been revealed in a night vision, or communicated in one or other of the many ways in which extraordinary circumstances ARE communicated, during the years of oral communication and enthusiasm which elapsed between the supposed Ascension of Christ and the writing of Luke's second work. It is not surprising that a firm belief in Christ's having survived death should have arisen in consequence of the actual circumstances connected with the Crucifixion and entombment. Was it then strange that this should develop itself into the belief that he was now in Heaven, sitting at the right hand of God the Father? And finally was it strange that a circumstantial account of the manner in which he left this earth should be eagerly accepted?"
[In an appendix at the end of the book I have given the extracts from the Gospels which are necessary for a full comprehension of the preceding chapters.—W. B. O.]
CHAPTER IX—THE CHRIST-IDEAL
I have completed a task painful to myself and the reader. Painful to myself inasmuch as I am humiliated upon remembering the power which arguments, so shallow and so easily to be refuted, once had upon me; painful to the reader, as everything must be painful which even appears to throw doubt upon the most sublime event that has happened in human history. How little does all that has been written above touch the real question at issue, yet, what self-discipline and mental training is required before we learn to distinguish the essential from the unessential.
Before, however, we come to close quarters with our opponents concerning the views put forward in the preceding chapters, it will be well to consider two questions of the gravest and most interesting character, questions which will probably have already occurred to the reader with such force as to demand immediate answer. They are these.
Firstly, what will be the consequences of admitting any considerable deviation from historical accuracy on the part of the sacred writers?
Secondly, how can it be conceivable that God should have permitted inaccuracy or obscurity in the evidence concerning the Divine commission of His Son?
If God so loved the World that He sent His only begotten Son into it to rescue those who believed in Him from destruction, how is it credible that He should not have so arranged matters as that all should find it easy to believe? If He wanted to save mankind and knew that the only way in which mankind could be saved was by believing certain facts, how can it be that the records of the facts should have been allowed to fall into confusion?
To both these questions I trust that the following answers may appear conclusive.
I. As regards the consequences which may be supposed to follow upon giving up any part of the sacred writings, no matter how seemingly unimportant, it is undoubtedly true that to many minds they have appeared too dangerous to be even contemplated. Thus through fear of some supposed unutterable consequences which would happen to the cause of truth if truth were spoken, people profess to believe in the genuineness of many passages in the Bible which are universally acknowledged by competent judges of every shade of theological opinion to be interpolations into the original text. To say nothing of the Old Testament, where many whole books are of disputed genuineness or authenticity, there are portions of the New which none will seriously defend;—for example, the last verses of St. Mark's Gospel,—containing, as they do, the sentence of damnation against all who do not believe—the second half of the third, and the whole of the fourth verse of the fifth chapter of St. John's Gospel, the story of the woman taken in adultery, and probably the whole of the last chapter of St. John's Gospel, not to mention the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and to the Ephesians, the Epistles of Peter and James, the famous verses as to the three witnesses in the First Epistle of St. John, and perhaps also the book of Revelation. These are passages and works about which there is either no doubt at all as to their not being genuine, or over which there hangs so much uncertainty that no dependence can be placed upon them.
But over and above these, there are not a few parts of each of the Gospels which, though of undisputed genuineness, cannot be accepted as historical; thus the account of the Resurrection given by St. Matthew, and parts of those by Luke and Mark, the cursing of the barren fig-tree, and the prophecies of His Resurrection ascribed to our Lord Himself, will not stand the tests of criticism which we are bound to apply to them if we are to exercise the right of private judgement; instead of handing ourselves over to a priesthood as the sole custodians and interpreters of the Bible. It has been said by some that the miracle of the penny found in the fish's mouth should be included in the above category, but it should be remembered that we have only the injunction of our Lord to St. Peter that he should catch the fish and the promise that he should find the penny in its mouth, but that we have no account of the sequel, it is therefore possible that in the event of St. Peter's faith having failed him he may have procured the money from some other source, and that thus the miracle, though undoubtedly intended, was never actually performed. How unnecessary therefore as well as presumptuous are the Rationalistic interpretations which have been put upon the event by certain German writers!
Now there are few, if any, who would be so illiberal as to wish for the exclusion from the sacred volume of all those books or passages which, though neither genuine nor perhaps edifying, have remained in the Canon of Scripture for many centuries. Any serious attempt to reconstruct the Canon would raise a theological storm which would not subside in this century. The work could never be done perfectly, and even if it could, it would have to be done at the expense of tearing all Christendom in pieces. The passages do little or no harm where they are, and have received the sanction of time; let them therefore by all means remain in their present position. But the question is still forced upon us whether the consequences of openly admitting the certain spuriousness of many passages, and the questionable nature of others as regards morality, genuineness and authenticity, should be feared as being likely to prejudice the main doctrines of Christianity.
The answer is very plain. He who has vouchsafed to us the Christian dispensation may be safely trusted to provide that no harm shall happen, either to it or to us, from an honest endeavour to attain the truth concerning it. What have we to do with consequences? These are in the hands of God. Our duty is to seek out the truth in prayer and humility, and when we believe that we have found it, to cleave to it through evil and good report; TO FAIL IN THIS IS TO FAIL IN FAITH; to fail in faith is to be an infidel. Those who suppose that it is wiser to gloss over this or that, and who consider it "injudicious" to announce the whole truth in connection with Christianity, should have learnt by this time that no admission which can by any possibility be required of them can be so perilous to the cause of Christ as the appearance of shirking investigation. It has already been insisted upon that cowardice is at the root of the infidelity which we see around us; the want of faith in the power of truth which exists in certain pious but timid hearts has begotten utter unbelief in the minds of all superficial investigators into Christian evidences. Such persons see that the defenders have something in the background, something which they would cling to although they are secretly aware that they cannot justly claim it. This is enough for many, and hence more harm is done by fear than could ever have been done by boldness. Boldness goes out into the fight, and if in the wrong gets slain, childless. Fear stays at home and is prolific of a brood of falsehoods.
It is immoral to regard consequences at all, where truth and justice are concerned; the being impregnated with this conviction to the inmost core of one's heart is an axiom of common honesty—one of the essential features which distinguish a good man from a bad one. Nevertheless, to make it plain that the consequences of outspoken truthfulness in connection with the scriptural writings would have no harmful effect whatever, but would, on the contrary, be of the utmost service as removing a stumbling-block from the way of many—let us for the moment suppose that very much more would have to be given up than can ever be demanded.
Suppose we were driven to admit that nothing in the life of our Lord can be certainly depended upon beyond the facts that He was begotten by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary; that He worked many miracles upon earth, and delivered St. Matthew's version of the sermon on the mount and most of the parables as we now have them; finally, that He was crucified, dead, and buried, that He rose again from the dead upon the third day, and ascended unto Heaven. Granting for the sake of argument that we could rely on no other facts, what would follow? Nothing which could in any way impair the living power of Christianity.
The essentials of Christianity, i.e., a belief in the Divinity of the Saviour and in His Resurrection and Ascension, have stood, and will stand, for ever against any attacks that can be made upon them, and these are probably the only facts in which belief has ever been absolutely necessary for salvation; the answer, therefore, to the question what ill consequences would arise from the open avowal of things which every student must know to be the fact concerning the biblical writings is that there would be none at all. The Christ- ideal which, after all, is the soul and spirit of Christianity would remain precisely where it was, while its recognition would be far more general, owing to the departure on the part of its apologists from certain lines of defence which are irreconcilable with the ideal itself.
II. Returning to the objection how it could be possible that God should have left the records of our Lord's history in such a vague and fragmentary condition, if it were really of such intense importance for the world to understand it and believe in it, we find ourselves face to face with a question of far greater importance and difficulty.
The old theory that God desired to test our faith, and that there would be no merit in believing if the evidence were such as to commend itself at once to our understanding, is one which need only be stated to be set aside. It is blasphemy against the goodness of God to suppose that He has thus laid as it were an ambuscade for man, and will only let him escape on condition of his consenting to violate one of the very most precious of God's own gifts. There is an ingenious cruelty about such conduct which it is revolting even to imagine. Indeed, the whole theory reduces our Heavenly Father to a level of wisdom and goodness far below our own; and this is sufficient answer to it.
But when, turning aside from the above, we try to adopt some other and more reasonable view, we naturally set ourselves to consider why the Almighty should have required belief in the Divinity of His Son from man. What is there in this belief on man's part which can be so grateful to God that He should make it a sine qua non for man's salvation? As regards Himself, how can it matter to Him what man should think of Him? Nay, it must be for man's own good that the belief is demanded.
And why? Surely we can see plainly that it is the beauty of the Christ-ideal which constitutes the working power of Christianity over the hearts and lives of men, leading them to that highest of all worships which consists in imitation. Now the sanction which is given to this ideal by belief in the Divinity of our Lord, raises it at once above all possibility of criticism. If it had not been so sanctioned it might have been considered open to improvement; one critic would have had this, and another that; comparison would have been made with ideals of purely human origin such as the Greek ideal, exemplified in the work of Phidias, and in later times with the mediaeval Italian ideal, as deducible from the best fifteenth and early sixteenth Italian painting and sculpture, the Madonnas of Bellini and Raphael, or the St. George of Donatello; or again with the ideal derivable from the works of our own Shakespeare, and there are some even now among those who deny the Divinity of Christ who will profess that each one of these ideals is more universal, more fitted for the spiritual food of a man, and indeed actually higher, than that presented by the life and death of our Saviour. But once let the Divine origin of this last ideal be admitted, and there can be no further uncertainty; hence the absolute necessity for belief in Christ's Divinity as closing the most important of all questions, Whereunto should a man endeavour to liken both himself and his children?
Seeing then that we have reasonable ground for thinking that belief in the Divinity of our Lord is mainly required of us in order to exalt our sense of the paramount importance of following and obeying the life and commands of Christ, it is natural also to suppose THAT WHATEVER MAY HAVE HAPPENED TO THE RECORDS OF THAT LIFE should have been ordained with a view to the enhancing of the preciousness of the ideal.
Now, the fragmentary character, and the partial obscurity—I might have almost written, the incomparable chiaroscuro—of the Evangelistic writings have added to the value of our Lord's character as an ideal, not only in the case of Christians, but as bringing the Christ-ideal within the reach and comprehension of an infinitely greater number of minds than it could ever otherwise have appealed to. It is true that those who are insensible to spiritual influences, and whose materialistic instinct leads them to deny everything which is not as clearly demonstrable by external evidence as a fact in chemistry, geography, or mathematics, will fail to find the hardness, definition, tightness, and, let me add, littleness of outline, in which their souls delight; they will find rather the gloom and gleam of Rembrandt, or the golden twilight of the Venetians, the losing and the finding, and the infinite liberty of shadow; and this they hate, inasmuch as it taxes their imagination, which is no less deficient than their power of sympathy; they would have all found, as in one of those laboured pictures wherein each form is as an inflated bladder and, has its own uncompromising outline remorselessly insisted upon.
Looking to the ideals of purely human creation which have come down to us from old times, do we find that the Theseus suffers because we are unable to realise to ourselves the precise features of the original? Or again do the works of John Bellini suffer because the hand of the painter was less dexterous than his intention pure? It is not what a man has actually put upon his canvas, but what he makes us feel that he felt, which makes the difference between good and bad in painting. Bellini's hand was cunning enough to make us feel what he intended, and did his utmost to realise; but he has not realised it, and the same hallowing effect which has been wrought upon the Theseus by decay (to the enlarging of its spiritual influence), has been wrought upon the work of Bellini by incapacity—the incapacity of the painter to utter perfectly the perfect thought which was within. The early Italian paintings have that stamp of individuality upon them which assures us that they are not only portraits, but as faithful portraits as the painter could make them, more than this we know not, but more is unnecessary.
Do we not detect an analogy to this in the records of the Evangelists? Do we not see the child-like unself-seeking work of earnest and loving hearts, whose innocence and simplicity more than atone for their many shortcomings, their distorted renderings, and their omissions? We can see THROUGH these things as through a glass darkly, or as one looking upon some ineffable masterpiece of Venetian portraiture by the fading light of an autumnal evening, when the beauty of the picture is enhanced a hundredfold by the gloom and mystery of dusk. We may indeed see less of the actual lineaments themselves, but the echo is ever more spiritually tuneful than the sound, and the echo we find within us. Our imagination is in closer communion with our longings than the hand of any painter.
Those who relish definition, and definition only, are indeed kept away from Christianity by the present condition of the records, but even if the life of our Lord had been so definitely rendered as to find a place in their system, would it have greatly served their souls? And would it not repel hundreds and thousands of others, who find in the suggestiveness of the sketch a completeness of satisfaction, which no photographic reproduction could have given? The above may be difficult to understand, but let me earnestly implore the reader to endeavour to master its import.
People misunderstand the aim and scope of religion. Religion is only intended to guide men in those matters upon which science is silent. God illumines us by science as with a mechanical draughtsman's plan; He illumines us in the Gospels as by the drawing of a great artist. We cannot build a "Great Eastern" from the drawings of the artist, but what poetical feeling, what true spiritual emotion was ever kindled by a mechanical drawing? How cold and dead were science unless supplemented by art and by religion! Not joined with them, for the merest touch of these things impairs scientific value—which depends essentially upon accuracy, and not upon any feeling for the beautiful and lovable. In like manner the merest touch of science chills the warmth of sentiment—the spiritual life. The mechanical drawing is spoiled by being made artistic, and the work of the artist by becoming mechanical. The aim of the one is to teach men how to construct, of the other how to feel.
For the due conservation therefore of both the essential requisites of human well-being—science, and religion—it is requisite that they be kept asunder and reserved for separate use at different times. Religion is the mistress of the arts, and every art which does not serve religion truly is doomed to perish as a lying and unprofitable servant. Science is external to religion, being a separate dispensation, a distinct revelation to mankind, whereby we are put into full present possession of more and more of God's modes of dealing with material things, according as we become more fitted to receive them through the apprehension of those modes which have been already laid open to us.
We ought not therefore to have expected scientific accuracy from the Gospel records—much less should we be required to believe that such accuracy exists. Does any great artist ever dream of aiming directly at imitation? He aims at representation—not at imitation. In order to attain true mastery here, he must spend years in learning how to see; and then no less time in learning how NOT to see. Finally, he learns how to translate. Take Turner for example. Who conveys so living an impression of the face of nature? Yet go up to his canvas and what does one find thereon? Imitation? Nay—blotches and daubs of paint; the combination of these daubs, each one in itself when taken alone absolutely untrue, forms an impression which is quite truthful. No combination of minute truths in a picture will give so faithful a representation of nature as a wisely arranged tissue of untruths.
Absolute reproduction is impossible even to the photograph. The work of a great artist is far more truthful than any photograph; but not even the greatest artist can convey to our minds the whole truth of nature; no human hand nor pigments can expound all that lies hidden in "Nature's infinite book of secrecy"; the utmost that can be done is to convey an impression, and if the impression is to be conveyed truthfully, the means must often be of the most unforeseen character. The old Pre-Raphaelites aimed at absolute reproduction. They were succeeded by a race of men who saw all that their predecessors had seen, but also something higher. The Van Eycks and Memling paved the way for painters who found their highest representatives in Rubens, Vandyke, and Rembrandt—the mightiest of them all. Giovanni Bellini, Carpaccio and Mantegna were succeeded by Titian, Giorgione, and Tintoretto; Perugino was succeeded by Raphael. It is everywhere the same story; a reverend but child-like worship of the letter, followed by a manful apprehension of the spirit, and, alas! in due time by an almost total disregard of the letter; then rant and cant and bombast, till the value of the letter is reasserted. In theology the early men are represented by the Evangelicals, the times of utter decadence by infidelity—the middle race of giants is yet to come, and will be found in those who, while seeing something far beyond either minute accuracy or minute inaccuracy, are yet fully alive both to the letter and to the spirit of the Gospels.
Again, do not the seeming wrongs which the greatest ideals of purely human origin have suffered at the hands of time, add to their value instead of detracting from it? Is it not probable that if we were to see the glorious fragments from the Parthenon, the Theseus and the Ilyssus, or even the Venus of Milo, in their original and unmutilated condition, we should find that they appealed to us much less forcibly than they do at present? All ideals gain by vagueness and lose by definition, inasmuch as more scope is left for the imagination of the beholder, who can thus fill in the missing detail according to his own spiritual needs. This is how it comes that nothing which is recent, whether animate or inanimate, can serve as an ideal unless it is adorned by more than common mystery and uncertainty. A new Cathedral is necessarily very ugly. There is too much found and too little lost. Much less could an absolutely perfect Being be of the highest value as an ideal, as long as He could be clearly seen, for it is impossible that He could be known as perfect by imperfect men, and His very perfections must perforce appear as blemishes to any but perfect critics. To give therefore an impression of perfection, to create an absolutely unsurpassable ideal, it became essential that the actual image of the original should become blurred and lost, whereon the beholder now supplies from his own imagination that which is TO HIM more perfect than the original, though objectively it must be infinitely less so.
It is probably to this cause that the incredulity of the Apostles during our Lord's life-time must be assigned. The ideal was too near them, and too far above their comprehension; for it must be always remembered that the convincing power of miracles in the days of the Apostles must have been greatly weakened by the current belief in their being events of no very unusual occurrence, and in the existence both of good and evil spirits who could take possession of men and compel them to do their bidding. A resurrection from the dead or a restoration of sight to the blind, must have seemed even less portentous to them, than an unusually skilful treatment of disease by a physician is to us. We can therefore understand how it happened that the faith of the Apostles was so little to be depended upon even up to the Crucifixion, inasmuch as the convincing power of miracles had been already, so to speak, exhausted, a fact which may perhaps explain the early withdrawal of the power to work them; we cannot indeed believe that it could have been so far weakened as to make the Apostles disregard the prophecies of their Master that He should rise from the dead, if He had ever uttered them, and we have already seen reason to think that these prophecies are the ex post facto handiwork of time; but the incredulity of the disciples, when seen through the light now thrown upon it, loses that wholly inexplicable character which it would otherwise bear.
But to return to the subject of the ideal presented by the life and death of our Lord. In the earliest days of the Church there can have been no want of the most complete and irrefragable evidence for the objective reality of the miracles, and especially of the Resurrection and Ascension. The character of Christ would also stand out revealed to all, with the most copious fulness of detail. The limits within which so sharply defined an ideal could be acceptable were narrow, but as the radius of Christian influence increased, so also would the vagueness and elasticity of the ideal; and as the elasticity of the ideal, so also the range of its influence.
A beneficent and truly marvellous provision for the greater complexity of man's spiritual needs was thus provided by a gradual loss of detail and gain of breadth. Enough evidence was given in the first instance to secure authoritative sanction for the ideal. During the first thirty or forty years after the death of our Lord no one could be in want of evidence, and the guilt of unbelief is therefore brought prominently forward. Then came the loss of detail which was necessary in order to secure the universal acceptability of the ideal; but the same causes which blurred the distinctness of the features, involved the inevitable blurring of no small portions of the external evidences whereby the Divine origin of the ideal was established. The primary external evidence became less and less capable of compelling instantaneous assent, according as it was less wanted, owing to the greater mass of secondary evidence, and to the growth of appreciation of the internal evidences, a growth which would be fostered by the growing adaptability of the ideal.
Some thirty or forty years, then, from the death of our Saviour the case would stand thus. The Christ-ideal would have become infinitely more vague, and hence infinitely more universal: but the causes which had thus added to its value would also have destroyed whatever primary evidence was superabundant, and the vagueness which had overspread the ideal would have extended itself in some measure over the evidences which had established its Divine origin.
But there would of course be limits to the gain caused by decay. Time came when there would be danger of too much vagueness in the ideal, and too little distinctness in the evidences. It became necessary therefore to provide against this danger.
PRECISELY AT THAT EPOCH THE GOSPELS MADE THEIR APPEARANCE. Not simultaneously, not in concert, and not in perfect harmony with each other, yet with the error distributed skilfully among them, as in a well-tuned instrument wherein each string is purposely something out of tune with every other. Their divergence of aim, and different authorship, secured the necessary breadth of effect when the accounts were viewed together; their universal recognition afforded the necessary permanency, and arrested further decay. If I may be pardoned for using another illustration, I would say that as the roundness of the stereoscopic image can only be attained by the combination of two distinct pictures, neither of them in perfect harmony with the other, so the highest possible conception of Christ, cannot otherwise be produced than through the discrepancies of the Gospels.
From the moment of the appearing of the Gospels, and, I should add, of the Epistles of St. Paul, the external evidences of Christianity became secured from further change; as they were then, so are they now, they can neither be added to nor subtracted from; they have lain as it were sleeping, till the time should come to awaken them. And the time is surely now, for there has arisen a very numerous and increasing class of persons, whose habits of mind unfit them for appreciating the value of vagueness, but who have each one of them a soul which may be lost or saved, and on whose behalf the evidences for the authority whereby the Christ-ideal is sanctioned, should be restored to something like their former sharpness. Christianity contains provision for all needs upon their arising. The work of restoration is easy. It demands this much only—the recognition that time has made incrustations upon some parts of the evidences, and that it has destroyed others; when this is admitted, it becomes easy, after a little practice, to detect the parts that have been added, and to remove them, the parts that are wanting, and to supply them. Only let this be done outside the pages of the Bible itself, and not to the disturbance of their present form and arrangement.
The above explanation of the causes for the obscurity which rests upon much of our Lord's life and teaching, may give us ground for hoping that some of those who have failed to feel the force of the external evidences hitherto, may yet be saved, provided they have fully recognised the Christ-ideal and endeavoured to imitate it, although irrespectively of any belief in its historical character.
It is reasonable to suppose that the duty of belief was so imperatively insisted upon, in order that the ideal might thus be exalted above controversy, and made more sacred in the eyes of men than it could have been if referable to a purely human source. May not, then, one who recognises the ideal as his summum bonum find grace although he knows not, or even cares not, how it should have come to be so? For even a sceptic who regarded the whole New Testament as a work of art, a poem, a pure fiction from beginning to end, and who revered it for its intrinsic beauty only, as though it were a picture or statue, even such a person might well find that it engendered in him an ideal of goodness and power and love and human sympathy, which could be derived from no other source. If, then, our blessed Lord so causes the sun of His righteousness to shine upon these men, shall we presume to say that He will not in another world restore them to that full communion with Himself which can only come from a belief in His Divinity?
We can understand that it should have been impossible to proclaim this in the earliest ages of the Church, inasmuch as no weakening of the sanctions of the ideal could be tolerated, but are we bound to extend the operation of the many passages condemnatory of unbelief to a time so remote as our own, and to circumstances so widely different from those under which they were uttered? Do we so extend the command not to eat things strangled or blood, or the assertion of St. Paul that the unmarried state is higher than the married? May we not therefore hope that certain kinds of unbelief have become less hateful in the sight of God inasmuch as they are less dangerous to the universal acceptance of our Lord as the one model for the imitation of all men? For, after all, it is not belief in the facts which constitutes the essence of Christianity, but rather the being so impregnated with love at the contemplation of Christ that imitation becomes almost instinctive; this it is which draws the hearts of men to God the Father, far more than any intellectual belief that God sent our Lord into the world, ordaining that he should be crucified and rise from the dead. Christianity is addressed rather to the infinite spirit of man than to his finite intelligence, and the believing in Christ through love is more precious in the sight of God than any loving through belief. May we not hope, then, that those whose love is great may in the end find acceptance, though their belief is small? We dare not answer this positively; but we know that there are times of transition in the clearness of the Christian evidences as in all else, and the treatment of those whose lot is cast in such times will surely not escape the consideration of our Heavenly Father.
But with reference to the many-sidedness of the Christ-ideal, as having been part of the design of God, and not attainable otherwise than as the creation of destruction—as coming out of the waste of time—it is clear that the perception of such a design could only be an offspring of modern thought; the conception of such an apparently self-frustrating scheme could only arise in minds which were familiar with the manner in which it is necessary "to hound nature in her wanderings" before her feints can be eluded, and her prevarications brought to book. A deep distrust of the over-obvious is wanted, before men can be brought to turn aside from objections which at the first blush appear to be very serious, and to take refuge in solutions which seem harder than the problems which they are intended to solve. What a shock must the discovery of the rotation of the earth have given to the moral sense of the age in which it was made. How it contradicted all human experience. How it must have outraged common sense. How it must have encouraged scepticism even about the most obvious truths of morality. No question could henceforth be considered settled; everything seemed to require reopening; for if man had once been deceived by Nature so entirely, if he had been so utterly led astray and deluded by the plausibility of her pretence that the earth was immovably fixed, what else, that seemed no less incontrovertible, might not prove no less false?
It is probable that the opposition to Galileo on the part of the Roman church was as much due to some such feelings as these, as to theological objections; the discovery was felt to unsettle not only the foundations of the earth, but those of every branch of human knowledge and polity, and hence to be an outrage upon morality itself. A man has no right to be very much in advance of other people; he is as a sheep, which may lead the mob, but must not stray forward a quarter of a mile in front of it; if he does this, he must be rounded up again, no matter how right may have been his direction. He has no right to be right, unless he can get a certain following to keep him company; the shock to morality and the encouragement to lawlessness do more harm than his discovery can atone for. Let him hold himself back till he can get one or two more to come with him. In like manner, had reflections as to the advantage gained by the Christ ideal in consequence of the inaccuracies and inconsistencies of the Gospels—reflections which must now occur to any one—been put forward a hundred years ago, they would have met justly with the severest condemnation. But now, even those to whom they may not have occurred already will have little difficulty in admitting their force.
But be this as it may, it is certain that the inability to understand how the sense of Christ in the souls of men could be strengthened by the loss of much knowledge of His character, and of the facts connected with His history, lies at the root of the error even of the Apostle St. Paul, who exclaims with his usual fervour, but with less than his usual wisdom, "Has Christ been divided?" (I. Cor. i., 13). "Yea," we may make answer, "He is divided and is yet divisible that all may share in Him." St. Paul himself had realised that it was the spiritual value of the Christ-ideal which was the purifier and refresher of our souls, inasmuch as he elsewhere declares that even though he had known Christ Himself after the flesh, he knew Him no more; the spiritual Christ, that is to say the spirit of Christ as recognisable by the spirits of men, was to him all in all. But he lived too near the days of our Lord for a full comprehension of the Christian scheme, and it is possible that had he known Christ after the flesh, his soul might have been less capable of recognising the spiritual essence, rather than more so. Have we here a faint glimmering of the motive of the Almighty in not having allowed the Gentile Apostle to see Christ after the flesh? We cannot say. But we may say this much with certainty, that had he been living now, St. Paul would have rejoiced at the many-sidedness of Christ, which he appears to have hardly recognised in his own life-time.
The apparently contradictory portraits of our Lord which we find in the Gospels—so long a stumbling-block to unbelievers—are now seen to be the very means which enable men of all ranks, and all shades of opinion, to accept Christ as their ideal; they are like the sea, which from having seemed the most impassable of all objects, turns out to be the greatest highway of communication. To the artisan, for instance, who may have long been out of work, or who may have suffered from the greed and selfishness of his employers, or again, to the farm labourer who has been discharged perhaps at the approach of winter, the parable of "the Labourers in the Vineyard" offers itself as a divinely sanctioned picture of the dealings of God with man; few but those who have mixed much with the less educated classes, can have any idea of the priceless comfort which this parable affords daily to those whose lot it has been to remain unemployed when their more fortunate brethren have been in full work. How many of the poor, again, are drawn to Christianity by the parable of Dives and Lazarus. How many a humble-minded Christian while reflecting upon the hardness of his lot, and tempted to cast a longing eye upon the luxuries which are at the command of his richer neighbours, is restrained from seriously coveting them, by remembering the awful fate of Dives, and the happy future which was in store for Lazarus. "Dives," they exclaim, "in his life-time possessed good things and in like manner Lazarus evil things, but now the one is comforted in the bosom of Abraham, and the other tormented in a lake of fire." They remember, also, that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of Heaven.
It has been said by some that the poor are thus encouraged to gloat over the future misery of the rich, and that many of the sayings ascribed to our Lord have an unhealthy influence over their minds. I remember to have thought so once myself, but I have seen reason to change my mind. Hope is given by these sayings to many whose lives would be otherwise very nearly hopeless, and though I fully grant that the parable of Dives and Lazarus can only afford comfort to the very poor, yet it is most certain that it DOES afford comfort to this numerous class, and helps to keep them contented with many things which they would not otherwise endure.
On the other hand, though the poor are first provided for, the rich are not left without their full share of consolation. Joseph of Arimathaea was rich, and modern criticism forbids us to believe that the parable of Dives and Lazarus was ever actually spoken by our Lord—at any rate not in its present form. Neither are the children of the rich forgotten; the son who repents at length of a course of extravagant or riotous living is encouraged to return to virtue, and to seek reconciliation with his father, by reflecting upon the parable of the Prodigal Son, wherein he will find an everlasting model for the conduct of all earthly fathers. I will say nothing of the parable of the Unjust Steward, for it is one of which the interpretation is most uncertain; nevertheless I am sure that it affords comfort to a very large number of persons.
Christ came not to the whole, but to those that were sick; he came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. Even our fallen sisters are remembered in the story of the woman taken in adultery, which reminds them that they can only be condemned justly by those who are without sin. It is to the poor, the weak, the ignorant and the infirm that Christianity appeals most strongly, and to whose needs it is most especially adapted—but these form by far the greater portion of mankind. "Blessed are they that mourn!" Whose sorrow is not assuaged by the mere sound of these words? Who again is not reassured by being reminded that our Heavenly Father feeds the sparrows and clothes the lilies of the field, and that if we will only seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness we need take no heed for the morrow what we shall eat, and what we shall drink, nor wherewithal we shall be clothed. God will provide these things for us if we are true Christians, whether we take heed concerning them or not. "I have been young and now am old," saith the Psalmist, "yet never saw I the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging their bread."
How infinitely nobler and more soul-satisfying is the ideal of the Christian saint with wasted limbs, and clothed in the garb of poverty—his upturned eyes piercing the very heavens in the ecstasy of a divine despair—than any of the fleshly ideals of gross human conception such as have already been alluded to. If a man does not feel this instinctively for himself, let him test it thus—whom does his heart of hearts tell him that his son will be most like God in resembling? The Theseus? The Discobolus? or the St. Peters and St. Pauls of Guido and Domenichino? Who can hesitate for a moment as to which ideal presents the higher development of human nature? And this I take it should suffice; the natural instinct which draws us to the Christ-ideal in preference to all others as soon as it has been once presented to us, is a sufficient guarantee of its being the one most tending to the general well-being of the world.
It only remains to return to the seventh and eighth chapters, and to pass in review the reasons which will lead us to reject the conclusions therein expressed by our opponents.
These conclusions have no real bearing upon the question at issue. Our opponents can make out a strong case, so long as they confine themselves to maintaining that exaggeration has to a certain extent impaired the historic value of some of the Gospel records of the Resurrection. They have made out this much, but have they made out more? They have mistaken the question—which is this—"Did Jesus Christ die and rise from the dead?" And in the place of it they have raised another, namely, "Has there been any inaccuracy in the records of the time and manner of His reappearing?"
Our error has been that instead of demurring to the relevancy of the issue raised by our opponents, we have accepted it. We have thus placed ourselves in a false position, and have encouraged our opponents by doing so. We have undertaken to fight them upon ground of their own choosing. We have been discomfited; but instead of owning to our defeat, and beginning the battle anew from a fresh base of operations, we have declared that we have not been defeated; hence those lamentable and suicidal attempts at disingenuous reasoning which we have seen reason to condemn so strongly in the works of Dean Alford and others. How deplorable, how unchristian they are!
The moment that we take a truer ground, the conditions of the strife change. The same spirit of candid criticism which led us to reject the account of Matthew in toto, will make it easy for us to admit that those of Mark, Luke, and John, may not be so accurate as we could have wished, and yet to feel that our cause has sustained no injury. There are probably very few who would pin their faith to the fact that Julius Caesar fell exactly at the feet of Pompey's statue, or that he uttered the words "Et tu, Brute." Yet there are still fewer who would dispute the fact that Julius Caesar was assassinated by conspirators of whom Brutus and Cassius were among the leaders. As long as we can be sure that our Lord DIED AND ROSE FROM THE DEAD, we may leave it to our opponents to contend about the details of the manner in which each event took place.
We had thought that these details were known, and so thinking, we had a certain consolation in realising to ourselves the precise manner in which every incident occurred; yet on reflection we must feel that the desire to realise is of the essence of idolatry, which, not content with knowing that there is a God, will be satisfied with nothing if it has not an effigy of His face and figure. If it has not this it falls straight-way to the denial of God's existence, being unable to conceive how a Being should exist and yet be incapable of representation. We are as those who would fall down and worship the idol; our opponents, as those who upon the destruction of the idol would say that there was no God.
We have met sceptics hitherto by adhering to the opinions as to the necessity of accuracy which prevailed among our forefathers, and instead of saying, "You are right—we do NOT know all that we thought we did—nevertheless we know enough—we know the fact, though the manner of the fact be hidden," we have preferred to say, "You are mistaken, our severe outline, our hard-and-fast lines are all perfectly accurate, there is not a detail of our theories which we are not prepared to stand by." On this comes recrimination and mutual anger, and the strife grows hotter and hotter.
Let us now rather say to the unbeliever, "We do not deny the truth of much which you assert. We give up Matthew's account of the Resurrection; we may perhaps accept parts of those of Mark and Luke and John, but it is impossible to say which parts, unless those in which all three agree with one another; and this being so, it becomes wiser to regard all the accounts as early and precious memorials of the certainty felt by the Apostles that Christ died and rose again, but as having little historic value with regard to the time and manner of the Resurrection."
Once take this ground, and instead of demurring to the truth of many of the assertions of our opponents, demur to their relevancy, and the unbeliever will find the ground cut away from under his feet independently of the fact that the reasonableness of the concession, and the discovery that we are not fighting merely to maintain a position, will incline him to calmness and to the reconsideration of his own opinions—which will in itself be a great gain—he will soon perceive that we are really standing upon firm ground, from which no enemy can dislodge us. The discovery that we know less of the time and manner of our Lord's death and Resurrection than we thought we did, does not invalidate a single one of the irresistible arguments whereby we can establish the fact of His having died and risen again. The reader will now perhaps begin to perceive that the sad division between Christians and unbelievers has been one of those common cases in which both are right and both wrong; Christians being right in their chief assertion, and wrong in standing out for the accuracy of their details, while unbelievers are right in denying that our details are accurate, but wrong in drawing the inference that because certain facts have been inaccurately recorded, therefore certain others never happened at all. Both the errors are natural; it is high time, however, that upon both sides they should be recognised and avoided.
But as regards the demolition of the structure raised in the seventh and eighth chapters of this book, whereinsoever, that is to say, it seems to menace the more vital part of our faith, the ease with which this will effected may perhaps lead the reader to think that I have not fulfilled the promise made in the outset, and have failed to put the best possible case for our opponents. This supposition would be unjust; I have done the very best for them that I could. For it is plain that they can only take one of two positions, namely, EITHER that Christ really died upon the Cross but was never seen alive again afterwards at all, and that the stories of His having been so seen are purely mythical, OR, if they admit that He was seen alive after His Crucifixion, they must deny the completeness of the death; in other words, if they are to escape miracle, they must either deny the reappearances or the death.
Now in the commencement of this work I dealt with those who deny that our Lord rose from the dead, and as the exponent of those who take this view I selected Strauss, who is undoubtedly the ablest writer they have. Whether I shewed sufficient reason for thinking that his theory was unsound must remain for the decision of the reader, but I certainly believe that I succeeded in doing so. Perhaps the ablest of all the writers who have treated the facts given us in the Gospels from the Rationalistic point of view, is the author of an anonymous work called The Jesus of History (Williams and Norgate, 1866); but this writer (and it is a characteristic feature of the Rationalistic school to become vague precisely at this very point) leaves us entirely in doubt as to whether he accepts the reappearances of Christ or not, and his treatment of the facts connected both with the Crucifixion and Resurrection is less definite than that of any other part of the life of our Lord. He does not seem to see his own way clearly, and appears to consider that it must for ever remain a matter of doubt whether the Death of Christ or His reappearance is to be rejected.
It is evident that it was most desirable to examine BOTH sets of arguments, i.e., those against the Resurrection, and those against the completeness of the Death; I have therefore mainly drawn the opinions of those who deny the Death from the same pamphlet as that from which I drew the criticisms on Dean Alford's notes. I know of no other English work, indeed, in which whatever can be said against us upon this all-important head has been put forward, and was therefore compelled to draw from this source, or to invent the arguments for our opponents, which would have subjected me to the accusation of stating them in such way as should best suit my own purpose. The reader, however, must now feel that since there can be no other position taken but one or other of the two alluded to above, and since the one taken by Strauss has been shewn to be untenable, there remains nothing but to shew that the other is untenable also, whereupon it will follow that our Saviour did actually die, and did actually shew Himself subsequently alive; and this amounts to a demonstration of the miraculous character of the Resurrection. If, then, this one miracle be established, I think it unnecessary to defend the others, because I cannot think that any will attack them.
But, as has been seen already, Strauss admits that our Lord died upon the Cross, and denies the reality of the reappearances. It is not probable that Strauss would have taken refuge in the hallucination theory if he had felt that there was the remotest chance of successfully denying our Lord's death; for the difficulties of his present position are overwhelming, as was fully pointed out in the second, third, and fourth chapters of this work. I regret, however, to say that I can nowhere find any detailed account of the reasons which have led him to feel so positively about our Lord's Death. Such reasons must undoubtedly be at his command, or he would indisputably have referred the Resurrection to natural causes. Is it possible that he has thought it better to keep them to himself, as proving the Death of our Lord TOO convincingly? If so, the course which he has adopted is a cruel one.
We must endeavour, however, to dispense with Strauss's assistance, and will proceed to inquire what it is that those who deny the Death of our Lord, call upon us to reject.
I regret to pass so quickly over one great field of evidence which in justice to myself I must allude to, though I cannot dwell upon it, for in the outset I declared that I would confine myself to the historical evidence, and to this only. I refer to spiritual insight; to the testimony borne by the souls of living persons, who from personal experience KNOW that their Redeemer liveth, and that though worms destroy this body, yet in their flesh shall they see God. How many thousands are there in the world at this moment, who have known Christ as a personal friend and comforter, and who can testify to the work which He has wrought upon them! I cannot pass over such testimony as this in silence. I must assign it a foremost place in reviewing the reasons for holding that our hope is not in vain, but I may not dwell upon it, inasmuch as it would carry no weight with those for whom this work is designed, I mean with those to whom this precious experience of Christ has not yet been vouchsafed. Such persons require the external evidence to be made clear to demonstration before they will trust themselves to listen to the voices of hope or fear, and it is of no use appealing to the knowledge and hopes of others without making it clear upon what that knowledge and those hopes are grounded. Nevertheless, I may be allowed to point out that those who deny the Death and Resurrection of our Lord, call upon us to believe that an immense multitude of most truthful and estimable people are no less deceivers of their own selves and others, than Mohammedans, Jews and Buddhists are. How many do we not each of us know to whom Christ is the spiritual meat and drink of their whole lives. Yet our opponents call upon us to ignore all this, and to refer the emotions and elation of soul, which the love of Christ kindles in his true followers, to an inheritance of delusion and blunder. Truly a melancholy outlook.
Again, let a man travel over England, North, South, East, and West, and in his whole journey he shall hardly find a single spot from which he cannot see one or several churches. There is hardly a hamlet which is not also a centre for the celebration of our Redemption by the Death and Resurrection of Christ. Not one of these churches, say the Rationalists, not one of the clergymen who minister therein, not one single village school in all England, but must be regarded as a fountain of error, if not of deliberate falsehood. Look where they may, they cannot escape from the signs of a vital belief in the Resurrection. All these signs, they will tell us, are signs of superstition only; it is superstition which they celebrate and would confirm; they are founded upon fanaticism, or at the best upon sheer delusion; they poison the fountain heads of moral and intellectual well-being, by teaching men to set human experience on the one side, and to refer their conduct to the supposed will of a personal anthropomorphic God who was actually once a baby—who was born of one of his own creatures—and who is now locally and corporeally in Heaven, "of reasonable soul and HUMAN FLESH subsisting."
Thus do our opponents taunt us, but when we think not only of the present day, but of the nearly two thousand years during which Christianity has flourished, not in England only, but over all Europe, that is to say, over the quarter of the globe which is most civilised, and whose civilisation is in itself proof both of capacity to judge and of having judged rightly—what an awful admission do unbelievers require us to make, when they bid us think that all these ages and countries have gone astray to the imagining of a vain thing. All the self-sacrifice of the holiest men for sixty generations, all the wars that have been waged for the sake of Christ and His truth, all the money spent upon churches, clergy, monasteries and religious education, all the blood of martyrs, all the celibacy of priests and nuns, all the self-denying lives of those who are now ministers of the Gospel—according to the Rationalist, no part of all this devotion to the cause of Christ has had any justifiable base on actual fact. The bare contemplation of such a stupendous misapplication of self-sacrifice and energy, should be enough to prevent any one from ever smiling again to whose mind such a deplorable view was present: we wonder that our opponents do not shrink back appalled from the contemplation of a picture which they must regard as containing so much of sin, impudence and folly; yet it is to the contemplation of such a picture, and to a belief in its truthfulness to nature, that they would invite us; they cannot even see a clergyman without saying to themselves, "There goes one whose trade is the promotion of error; whose whole life is devoted to the upholding of the untrue." To them the sight of people flocking to a church must be as painful as it would be to us to see a congregation of Jews or Mohammedans: they ought to have no happiness in life so long as they believe that the vast majority of their fellow- countrymen are so lamentably deluded; yet they would call on us to join them, and half despise us upon our refusing to do so.
But upon this view also I may not dwell; it would have been easy and I think not unprofitable, had my aim been different, to have drawn an ampler picture of the heart-rending amount of falsehood, stupidity, cruelty and folly which must be referable to a belief in Christianity, if, as our opponents maintain, there is no solid ground for believing it; but my present purpose is to prove that there IS such ground, and having said enough to shew that I do not ignore the fields of evidence which lie beyond the purpose of my work, I will return to the Crucifixion and Resurrection.
What, then, let me ask of freethinkers, BECAME OF CHRIST EVENTUALLY? Several answers may be made to this question, BUT THERE IS NONE BUT THE ONE GIVEN IN SCRIPTURE WHICH WILL SET IT AT REST. Thus it has been said that Christ survived the Cross, lingered for a few weeks, and in the end succumbed to the injuries which He had sustained. On this there arises the question, did the Apostles know of His death? And if so, were they likely to mistake the reappearance of a dying man, so shattered and weak as He must have been, for the glory of an immortal being? We know that people can idealise a great deal, but they cannot idealise as much as this. The Apostles cannot have known of any death of Christ except His Death upon the Cross, and it is not credible that if He had died from the effects of the Crucifixion the Apostles should not have been aware of it. No one will pretend that they were, so it is needless to discuss this theory further.
It has also been said that our Lord, having seen the effect of His reappearance on the Apostles, considered that further converse with them would only weaken it; and that He may have therefore thought it wiser to withdraw Himself finally from them, and to leave His teaching in their hands, with the certainty that it would never henceforth be lost sight of; but this view is inconsistent with the character which even our adversaries themselves assign to our Saviour. The idea is one which might occur to a theorist sitting in his study, and enlightened by a knowledge of events, but it would not suggest itself to a leader in the heat of action.
Another supposition has been that our Lord on recovering consciousness after He had been left alone in the tomb, or perhaps even before Joseph had gone, may have been unable to realise to Himself the nature of the events that had befallen Him, and may have actually believed that He had been dead, and been miraculously restored to life; that He may yet have felt a natural fear of again falling into the hands of His enemies; and partly from this cause, and partly through awe at the miracle that He supposed had been worked upon Him, have only shewn Himself to His disciples hurriedly, in secret, and on rare occasions, spending the greater part of His time in some one or other of the secret places of resort, in which He had been wont to live apart from the Apostles before the Crucifixion.
I have known it urged that our Lord never said or even thought that He had risen from the dead, but shewed Himself alive secretly and fearfully, and bade His disciples follow Him to Galilee, where He might, and perhaps did, appear more openly, though still rarely and with caution; that the rarity and mystery of the reappearances would add to the impression of a miraculous resurrection which had instantly presented itself to the minds of the Apostles on seeing Christ alive; that this impression alone would prevent them from heeding facts which must have been obvious to any whose minds were not already unhinged by the knowledge that Christ was alive, and by the belief that He had been dead; and that they would be blinded by awe, which awe would be increased by the rarity of the reappearances- -a rarity that was in reality due, perhaps to fear, perhaps to self- delusion, perhaps to both, but which was none the less politic for not having been dictated by policy; finally that the report of Christ's having been seen alive reached the Chief Priests (or perhaps Joseph of Arimathaea), and that they determined at all hazards to nip the coming mischief in the bud; that they therefore watched their opportunity, and got rid of so probable a cause of disturbance by the knife of the assassin, or induced Him to depart by threats, which He did not venture to resist.
But if our Lord was secretly assassinated how could it have happened that the body should never have been found, and produced, when the Apostles began declaring publicly that Christ had risen? What could be easier than to bring it forward and settle the whole matter? It cannot be doubted that the body must have been looked for when the Apostles began publishing their story; we saw reason for believing this when we considered the account of the Resurrection given by St. Matthew. NOW THOSE THAT HIDE CAN FIND; and if the enemies of Christ had got rid of Him by foul play, they would know very well where to lay their hands upon that which would be the death blow to Christianity. If then Christ did not go away of His own accord, as feeling that His teaching would be better preserved by His absence, and if He did not die from wounds received upon the Cross, and if He was not assassinated secretly, what remains as the most reasonable view to be taken concerning His disappearance? Surely the one that WAS taken; the view which commended itself to those who were best able to judge—namely, THAT HE HAD ASCENDED BODILY INTO HEAVEN AND WAS SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD THE FATHER.
Where else could He be?
For that He disappeared, and disappeared finally, within six weeks of the Crucifixion must be considered certain; there is no one who will be bold enough even to hazard a conjecture that the appearance of Christ alluded to by St. Paul, as having been vouchsafed to him some years later, was that of the living Christ, who had chosen upon this one occasion to depart from the seclusion and secrecy which he had maintained hitherto. But if Christ was still living on earth, how was it possible that no human being should have the smallest clue to His whereabouts? If He was dead how is it that no one should have produced the body? Such a mysterious and total disappearance, even in the face of great jeopardy, has never yet been known, and can only be satisfactorily explained by adopting the belief which has prevailed for nearly the last two thousand years, and which will prevail more and more triumphantly so long as the world shall last— the belief that Christ was restored to the glory which He had shared with the Father, as soon as ever He had given sufficient proofs of His being alive to ensure the devotion of His followers.
Before we can reject the supernatural solution of a mystery otherwise inexplicable, we should have some natural explanation which will meet the requirements of the case. A confession of ignorance is not enough here. WE are NOT ignorant; we KNOW that Christ died, inasmuch as we have the testimony of all the four Evangelists to this effect, the testimony of the Apostle Paul, and through him that of all the other Apostles; we have also the certainty that the centurion in charge of the soldiers at the Crucifixion would not have committed so grave a breach of discipline as the delivery of the body to Joseph and Nicodemus, unless he had felt quite sure that life was extinct; and finally we have the testimony of the Church for sixty generations, and that of myriads now living, whose experience assures them that Christ died and rose from the dead; in addition to this tremendous body of evidence we have also the story of the spear wound recorded in a Gospel which even our opponents believe to be from a Johannean source in its later chapters; and though, as has been already stated, this wound cannot be insisted upon as in itself sufficient to prove our Lord's death, yet it must assuredly be allowed its due weight in reviewing the evidence. The unbeliever cannot surely have considered how shallow are all the arguments which he can produce, in comparison with those that make against him. He cannot say that I have not done him justice, and I feel confident that when he reconsiders the matter in that spirit of humility without which he cannot hope to be guided to a true conclusion, he will feel sure that Strauss is right in believing that the death of our Lord cannot be seriously called in question.
But this being so, the reappearances, which we have seen to be established by the collapse of the hallucination theory, must be referred to supernatural or miraculous agency; that is to say, our Lord died and rose again on the third day, according to the Scriptures. Whereon His disappearance some six weeks later must be looked upon very differently from that of any ordinary person. If our Lord could have been shewn to have been a mere man, who had escaped death only by a hair's breadth, but still escaped it, perhaps some one of the theories for His disappearance, or some combination of them, or some other explanation which has not yet been thought of, might be held to be sufficient; but in the case of One who died and rose from the dead, there is no theory which will stand, except the one which it has been reserved for our own lawless and self-seeking times to question. Through the light of the Resurrection the Ascension is clearly seen.
My task is now completed. In an age when Rationalism has become recognised as the only basis upon which faith can rest securely, I have established the Christian faith upon a Rationalistic basis.
I have made no concession to Rationalism which did not place all the vital parts of Christianity in a far stronger position than they were in before, yet I have. conceded everything which a sincere Rationalist is likely to desire. I have cleared the ground for reconciliation. It only remains for the two contending parties to come forward and occupy it in peace jointly. May it be mine to see the day when all traces of disagreement have been long obliterated!
To the unbeliever I can say, "Never yet in any work upon the Christian side have your difficulties been so fully and fairly stated; never yet has orthodox disingenuousness been so unsparingly exposed." To the Christian I can say with no less justice, "Never yet have the true reasons for the discrepancies in the Gospels been so put forward as to enable us to look these discrepancies boldly in the face, and to thank God for having graciously allowed them to exist." I do not say this in any spirit of self-glorification. We are children of the hour, and creatures of our surroundings. As it has been given unto us, so will it be required at our hands, and we are at best unprofitable servants. Nevertheless I cannot refrain from expressing my gratitude at having been born in an age when Christianity and Rationalism are not only ceasing to appear antagonistic to one another, BUT HAVE EACH BECOME ESSENTIAL TO THE VERY EXISTENCE OF THE OTHER. May the reader feel this no less strongly than I do, and may he also feel that I have supplied the missing element which could alone cause them to combine. If he asks me what element I allude to, I answer Candour. This is the pilot that has taken us safely into the Fair Haven of universal brotherhood in Christ.
(John xix. 38-42)
And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews' preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.
(Luke xxiii. 50-56)
And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counsellor; and he was a good man, and a just: (the same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God. This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid. And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on. And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment.
(Mark xv. 42-47)
And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre. And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph beheld where he was laid.
(Matthew xxvii. 57-61)
When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple. He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth. And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed. And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre.
II—THE GUARD SET UPON THE TOMB (Peculiar to Matthew)
(Matthew xxvii. 62-66)
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.
III—VISIT OF MARY MAGDALENE, AND OTHERS, TO THE TOMB
(John xx. 1-13)
The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie. And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again unto their own home. But Mary stood without the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.
(Luke xxiv. 1-12)
Now upon the first day of the week very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: and as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. And they remembered his words, and returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest. It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not. Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.
(Mark xvi. 1-8)
And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But 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. And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they anything to any man; for they were afraid.
(Matthew xxviii. 1-8)
In the end of the sabbath, as it began to draw toward 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.
IV—APPEARANCE OF CHRIST TO MARY MAGDALENE AND OTHERS
(John xx. 14-18)
And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.
(Mark xvi. 9-11)
Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.
(Matthew xxvii. 9-10)
And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him. Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.
V—THE BRIBING OF THE GUARD (Peculiar to Matthew)
(Matthew xxviii. 11-15)
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.
VI—APPEARANCE TO CLEOPAS (AND JAMES?)
(Luke xxiv. 13-35)
And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were holden that they should not know him. And he said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad? And the one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days? And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people: And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him. But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to-day is the third day since these things were done. Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulchre; and when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, which said that he was alive, and certain of them which were with us went to the sepulchre, and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not. Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further. But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them. And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures? And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them, saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon. And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread.
(Mark xvi. 12-13)
After that 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.
VII—APPEARANCE TO THE APOSTLES (Twice in John)
(John xx. 19-29)
Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he shewed them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even, so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
[I have not quoted the twenty-first chapter of St. John's Gospel on account of its exceedingly doubtful genuineness.—W. B. O.]
(Luke xxiv. 36-49)
And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet. And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat? And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them. And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures. And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.