Clement of Alexandria, speaking of a saying ascribed to our Lord, writes:—
"In the first place, then, in the four Gospels handed down amongst us, we have not this saying; but in that which is according to the Egyptians." (Miscellanies, iii. ch. xiii.)
Tertullian writes thus:—
"Of the Apostles, therefore, John and Matthew first instil faith into us; whilst, of Apostolic men, Luke and Mark renew it afterwards. These all start with the same principles of the faith, so far as relates to the one only God the Creator, and His Christ, how that He was born of the Virgin, and came to fulfil the law and the prophets. Never mind if there does occur some variation in the order of their narratives, provided that there be agreement in the essential matter of the faith in which there is disagreement with Marcion." (Tertullian against Marcion, iv. c. ii.)
Such are the explicit declarations of these three writers respecting the number and authorship of the Four. I shall give at the conclusion of this section some of the references to be found in these writers to the first two or three chapters in each Gospel.
It is but very little to say that they quote the Four as frequently, and with as firm a belief in their being the Scriptures of God, as any modern divine. They quote them far more copiously, and reproduce the history contained in them far more fully than any modern divine whom I have ever read, who is not writing specifically on the Life of our Lord, or on some part of His teaching contained in the Gospels.
But I have now to consider the question, "To what time, previous to their own day, or rather to the time at which they wrote, does their testimony to such a matter as the general reception of the Four Gospels of necessity reach back?"
Clement wrote in Alexandria, Tertullian in Rome or Africa, Irenaeus in Gaul. They all flourished about A.D. 190. They all speak of the Gospels, not only as well known and received, but as being the only Gospels acknowledged and received by the Church. One of them uses very "uncritical" arguments to prove that the Gospels could only be four in number; but the very absurdity of his analogies is a witness to the universal tradition of his day. To what date before their time must this tradition reach, so that it must be relied upon as exhibiting the true state of things?
Now this tradition is not respecting a matter of opinion, but a matter of fact—the fact being no other than the reading of the Gospels or Memoirs of our Lord in the public service of the Church. The "Memoirs of our Lord," with other books, formed the Lectionary of the Church. So that every Christian, who attended the public assemblies for worship, must know whether he heard the Gospels read there or not.
Now any two men who lived successively to the age of sixty-five would be able to transmit irrefragable testimony, which would cover a hundred years, to the use of the Gospels in the lectionary of the Church.
During the last five years we have had a change in our Lectionary, which change only affects the rearrangement of the portions read each day out of the same Gospels, and every boy and girl of fifteen years old at the time would recognize the alteration when it took place. If it had occurred fifty years ago, any man or woman of sixty-five would perfectly remember the change. If it had occurred within the last hundred years, any person of sixty-five could bear testimony to the fact that, when he first began to be instructed in the nature of the Church Services he was told by his elders that up to a time which they could perfectly recollect certain selections from Scripture had been read in Church, but that at such a period during their lifetime a change had been brought about after certain public debates, and that it received such or such opposition and was not at once universally adopted, which change was the reading in public of the present selection. It is clear then, that if all public documents were destroyed, yet any two men, who could scarcely be called old men, would be able to transmit with perfect certainty the record of any change in the public reading of Scripture during the last one hundred years.
But, supposing that instead of a change in the mere selections from the Gospels, the very Gospels themselves had been changed, could such a thing have occurred unnoticed, and the memory of it be so absolutely forgotten that neither history nor tradition preserved the smallest hint of it at the end of a short century?
Now this, and far more than this, is what the author of "Supernatural Religion" asks his readers to believe throughout his whole work.
We have seen how, before the end of this century, no other authoritative memoirs of Christ were known by the Church, and these were known and recognized as so essential a part of the Christian system, that their very number as four, and only four, was supposed to be prefigured from the very beginning of the world.
Now Justin lived till the year 165 in this century. He was martyred when Irenaeus must have been twenty-five years old. Both Clement and Tertullian must have been born before his martyrdom, perhaps several years, and yet the author of "Supernatural Religion" would have us believe that the books of Christians which were accounted most sacred in the year 190, and used in that year as frequently, and with as firm a belief in their authenticity as they are by any Christians now, were unused by Justin Martyr, and that one of the four was absolutely unknown to him—in all probability forged after his time.
We are persistently told all this, too, in spite of the fact that he reproduces the account of the Birth, Teaching, Death, and Resurrection of Christ exactly as they are contained in the Four, without a single additional circumstance worth speaking of, making only such alterations as would be natural in the reproduction of such an account for those who were without the pale of the Church.
But even this is not the climax of the absurdity which we are told that, if we are reasonable persons, we must accept. It appears that the "Memoirs" which, we are told, Justin heard read every Sunday in the place of assembly in Rome or Ephesus which he frequented, was a Palestinian Gospel, which combined, in one narrative, the accounts of the Birth, Life, Death, and moral Teaching of Jesus, together with the peculiar doctrine and history now only to be found in the Fourth Gospel. Consequently this Gospel was not only far more valuable than any one of our present Evangelists, but, we might almost say, more worthy of preservation than all put together, for it combined the teaching of the four, and no doubt reconciled their seeming discrepancies, thus obviating one of the greatest difficulties connected with their authority and inspiration; a difficulty which, we learn from history, was felt from the first. And yet, within less than twenty years, this Gospel had been supplanted by four others so effectually that it was all but forgotten at the end of the century, and is referred to by the first ecclesiastical historian as one of many apocrypha valued only by a local Church, and has now perished so utterly that not one fragment of it can be proved to be authentic.
But enough of this absurdity.
Taking with us the patent fact, that before the end of the second century, and during the first half of the third, the Four Gospels were accepted by the Church generally, and quoted by every Christian writer as fully as they are at this moment, can there be the shadow of a doubt that when Justin wrote the account of our Lord's Birth, which I have given in page 22, he had before him the first and third Evangelists, and combined these two accounts in one narrative? Whether he does this consciously and of set purpose I leave to the author of "Supernatural Religion," but combine the two accounts he certainly does.
Again, when, in the accounts of the events preceding our Lord's Death, Justin notices that Jesus commanded the disciples to bring forth an ass and its foal (page 33), can any reasonable man doubt but that he owed this to St. Matthew, in whose Gospel alone it appears?
Or when, in the extract I have given in page 20, he notices that our Lord called the sons of Zebedee Boanerges, can there be any reasonable doubt that he derived this from St. Mark, the only Evangelist who records it, whose Gospel (in accordance with universal tradition), he there designates as the "Memoirs of Peter?"
Or again, when, in the extract I have given in page 34, he records that our Lord in His Agony sweat great drops [of blood], can there be a doubt but that he made use of St. Luke, especially since he mentions two or three other matters connected with our Lord's Death, only to be found in St. Luke? Or, again, why should we assume the extreme improbability of a defunct Gospel to account for all the references to, and reminiscences of, St. John's Gospel, which I have given in Sections VIII. and IX. of this work?
So far for Justin Martyr.
We will now turn to references in three or four other writers.
In the Epistle of Vienne and Lyons we find the following:—
"And thus was fulfilled the saying of our Lord: 'The time shall come in which every one that killeth you shall think that he offereth a service to God.'"
This seems like a reference to John xvi. 2. The words, with some very slight variation, are to be found there and not to be found elsewhere. The letter of the Churches was written about A.D. 178 "at the earliest," we are told by the author of "Supernatural Religion." Well, we will make him a present of a few years, and suppose that it was written ten or twelve years later, i.e. about A.D. 190. Now we find that Irenaeus had written his great work, "Against Heresies," before this date. Surely, then, the notion of the writer of "Supernatural Religion," that we are to suppose that this was taken from some lost Apocryphal Gospel when Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, had actually used a written Gospel which contains it, refutes itself.
We turn to Athenagoras.
We find in his work, "Plea (or Embassy) for the Christians" (ch. x.), the following:—
"But the Son of God is the Logos of the Father in idea and in operation, for after the pattern of Him and by Him were all things made, the Father and the Son being one [I and My Father are one], and the Son being in the Father, and the Father in the Son, in oneness and power of spirit," &c. (John xiv. 10.)
Again (ch. xii.):—
"Men who reckon the present life of very small worth indeed, and who are conducted to the future life by this one thing alone, that they know God and His Logos." [This is life eternal, that they may know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.]
Can the writer of "Supernatural Religion" be serious when he writes, "He nowhere identifies the Logos with Jesus?" Does the writer of "Supernatural Religion" seriously think that a Christian writer, living in 177, and presenting to the emperor a plea for Christians, would have any difficulty about identifying Jesus with that Son of God Whom he expressly states to be the Logos of God?
The following also are seeming quotations from the Synoptics in Athenagoras.
"What, then, are those precepts in which we are instructed? 'I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse, pray for them that persecute you, that ye may be sons of your Father which is in the heavens, who maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.'
"'For if ye love them which love you, and lend to them which lend to you, what reward shall ye have?'
"'For whosoever, He says, looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery already in his heart.'
"'For whosoever, says He, putteth away his wife and marrieth another, committeth adultery.'"
When we consider that in the time of Athenagoras, or very soon after, there were three authors living who spoke of the Gospels in the way we have shown, and quoted them in the way we shall now show, why assign these quotations to defunct Gospels of whose contents we are perfectly ignorant, when we have them substantially in Gospels which occupied the same place in the Church then as now?
NOTE ON SECTION XIX.
I have asserted that the three authors, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Irenaeus, all flourishing before the close of the second century, quote the four Gospels, if anything, more frequently than most modern Christian authors do. I append, in proof of this, some of the references in these authors to the first two or three chapters of our present Gospels.
"And Matthew, too, recognizing one and the same Jesus Christ, exhibiting his generation as a man from the Virgin ... says, 'The book of the generation of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham.' Then, that he might free our mind from suspicion regarding Joseph, he says, 'But the birth of Christ was on this wise: when His mother was espoused,'" &c. (iii. xvi.)
Then he proceeds to quote and remark upon the whole of the remainder of the chapter.
"Matthew again relates His generation as a man." For remainder, see page 128.
"For Joseph is shown to be the son of Joachim and Jeconiah, as also Matthew sets forth in his pedigree." (iii. 21, 9.)
"Born Emmanuel of the Virgin. To this effect they testify that before Joseph had come together with Mary, while she therefore remained in virginity, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost." (iii. 21, 4.)
"Then again Matthew, when speaking of the angel, says, 'The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in sleep.' (iii. 9, 2.)
"The angel said to him in sleep, 'Fear not to take to thee Mary, thy wife'" (and proceeding with several other verses of the same chapter). (iv. 23, l.)
"But Matthew says that the Magi, coming from the East, exclaimed, 'For we have seen His star in the East, and are come to worship Him.'" (iii. 9, 2.)
"And that having been led by the star unto the house of Jacob to Emmanuel, they showed, by those gifts which they offered, who it was that was worshipped; myrrh, because it was He who should die and be buried for the human race; gold, because He was a king," &c., &c. (iii. 9, 2)
"He, since He was Himself an infant, so arranging it that human infants should be martyrs, slain, according to the Scriptures, for the sake of Christ." (iii. 16, 4.)
"For Matthew the apostle ... declares that John, when preparing the way for Christ, said to them who were boasting of their relationship according to the flesh, &c., 'O generation of vipers, who hath shown you to flee from ... raise up children unto Abraham.' (iii. 9, 1.)
"As John the Baptist says, 'For God is able from these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.'" (iv. 7, 2.)
There are no less than six quotations or references to the ninth and tenth verses of this chapter, viz., iv. 24, 2; v. 34, 1; iv. 8, 3; iv. 36, 4; v. 17, 4.
"Now who this Lord is that brings such a day about, John the Baptist points out when he says of Christ, 'He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire, having His fan in His hand,'" &c. (iv. 4, 3.)
"Having a fan in His hands, and cleansing His floor, and gathering the wheat,'" &c. (iv. 33, 1.)
"Who gathers the wheat into His barn, but will burn up the chaff with fire unquenchable." (iv. 33, ll.)
"Then, speaking of His baptism, Matthew says, 'The heavens were opened, and He saw the Spirit of God,'" &c. (iii. 9, 3.)
"Wherefore Mark also says, 'The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God, as it is written in the prophets.'" (iii. 16, 3.)
"Yea, even the demons exclaimed, on beholding the Son, 'We know Thee who Thou art, the Holy One of God.'" (iv. 6, 6.)
Mark iv. 28.
"His Word, through whom the wood fructifies, and the fountains gush forth, and the earth gives 'first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.'" (iv. 18, 4.)
"Thus also does Luke, without respect of persons, deliver to us what he had learned from them, as he has himself testified, saying, 'Even as they delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word.'" (iii. 14, 2.)
Another reference to same in preface to Book iv.
"Luke, also, the follower and disciple of the Apostles, referring to Zacharias and Elizabeth, from whom, according to promise, John was born, says, 'And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless,'", &c. (iii. 10, 1.)
"And again, speaking of Zacharias, 'And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office,'" &c. (Ibid.)
"And then, speaking of John, he (the angel) says: 'For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord,'" &c. (Ibid.)
"In the spirit and power of Elias." (iii. 10, 6.)
"Truly it was by Him of whom Gabriel was the angel who also announced the glad tidings of His birth ... in the spirit and power of Elias." (iii. 11, 4.)
"But at that time the angel Gabriel was sent from God, who did also say to the Virgin, 'Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favour with God.'" (iii. 10, 2.)
"He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest," &c. (iii. 10, 2.)
"And Mary, exulting because of this, cried out; prophesying on behalf of the Church, 'My soul doth magnify the Lord.'" (iii. 10, 2.)
"And that the angel Gabriel said unto her, 'The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee,'" &c. (iii. 21, 4.)
"In accordance with this design Mary the Virgin is found obedient, saying, 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to Thy word.'" (iii. 22, 4.)
"As Elizabeth testified when fitted with the Holy Ghost, saying to Mary, 'Blessed art thou among women,'" &c. (iii. 21, 5.)
"Wherefore the prophets ... announced His Advent ... in freeing us from the hands of all that hate us, that is, from every spirit of wickedness, and causing us to serve Him in holiness and righteousness all our days.'" (iv. 20, 4.)
"Wherefore Simeon also, one of his descendants, carried fully out the rejoicing of the patriarch, and said, 'Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant,'" &c. (iv. 7, l.)
"And the angel in like manner announced tidings of great joy to the shepherds who were keeping watch by night." (iv. 7, 1.)
"Wherefore he adds, 'The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all which they had seen and heard.'" (iii. 10, 4.)
"And still further does Luke say in reference to the Lord, 'When the days of purification were accomplished they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him before the Lord.'" (iii. 10, 5.)
"They say also that Simeon, 'Who took Christ into his arms and gave thanks to God,'" &c. (i. 8, 4.)
"They assert also that by Anna, who is spoken of in the Gospel as a prophetess, and who after living seven years with her husband, passed all the rest of her life in widowhood till she saw the Saviour." (i. 8, 4.)
"The production, again, of the Duodecad of the aeons is indicated by the fact that the Lord was twelve years of age when He disputed with the teachers of the law," &c. (i. 3, 2.)
"Some passages, also, which occur in the Gospels receive from them a colouring of the same kind, as the answer which He gave His mother when He was twelve years old, 'Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?'" (i. 20, 2.)
"For because He knew that we should make a good use of our substance which we should possess by receiving it from another, He says, 'He that hath two coats let him impart to him that hath none, and he that hath meat let him do likewise.'" (iv. 30, 3.)
"For when He came to be baptized He had not yet completed His thirtieth year, but was beginning to be about thirty years of age; for thus Luke, who has mentioned His years, has expressed it." (ii. 22, 5.)
"[John] thus commenced his teaching in the Gospel, 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,'" &c. (iii. 11, 1.)
"He (St. John) expresses himself thus: 'In the beginning was the Word,'" &c. (i. 8, 5.)
"Thus saith the Scripture, 'By the word of the Lord were the heavens made,' &c. And again, 'All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made that was made.'" (i. 22, 1.)
"For he styles Him 'A light which shineth in darkness, and which was not comprehended by it.'" (i. 8, 5.)
"And that we may not have to ask 'Of what God was the Word made flesh?' He does Himself previously teach us, saying, 'There was a man sent from God whose name was John. The same came as a witness that he might bear witness of that Light. He was not that Light, but that he might testify of the Light.'" (iii. 11, 4.)
"While the Gospel affirms plainly that by the Word, which was in the beginning with God, all things were made, which Word, he says, was made flesh and dwelt among us." (iii. 11, 2.)
To John i. 14, "The Word was made flesh," the references are absolutely innumerable. Those I have given already will suffice.
"For this is the knowledge of salvation which was wanting to them, that of the Son of God, which John made known, saying, 'Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world. This is He of whom I said, After me cometh a Man Who was made before me, because He was prior to me.'" (iii. 10, 2.)
"By whom also Nathaniel, being taught, recognized Him; he to whom also the Lord bare witness that he was an Israelite indeed, in whom was no guile. The Israelite recognized his King, therefore did he cry out to Him, 'Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God. Thou art the King of Israel.'" (iii. 11, 6.)
"But that wine was better which the Word made from water, on the moment, and simply for the use of those who had been called to the marriage." (iii. 11, 5.)
"As also the Lord speaks in reference to Himself, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' He spake this, however, it is said, of the temple of His body." (v. 6, 2.)
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA.
"And in the gospel according to Matthew the genealogy which begins with Abraham is continued down to Mary, the mother of the Lord. 'For,' it is said, 'from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, and from David to the carrying away into Babylon," &c. (Miscellanies, i. 21.)
"For the fan is in the Lord's hand, by which the chaff due to the fire is separated from the wheat." (Instructor, i. 9.)
"Therefore He Himself, urging them on to salvation, cries, 'The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.'" (Exhortation to Heathen, ch. ix.)
"And because He brought all things to bear on the discipline of the soul, He said, 'Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.'" (Miscellanies, iv. 6.)
"For he also 'ate locusts and wild honey.'" [In St. Matthew the corresponding expression being 'His food was locusts and wild honey.'] (Instructor, ii. 11.)
"And to prove that this is true it is written in the Gospel by Luke as follows: 'And in the fifteenth year, in the reign of Tiberius Caesar, the word of the Lord came to John, the son of Zacharias.' And again, Jesus was coming to His baptism, being about thirty years old,' and so on." (Miscellanies, i. 21.)
There are at least twenty more references to the accounts of the preaching of St. John in the third of St. Matthew, first of St. Mark, and third of St. Luke, in Clement's writings, which I have not given simply because it is difficult to assign the quotation to a particular Evangelist, as the account is substantially the same in the three.
Luke xii. 16-20.
"Of this man's field (the rich fool) the Lord, in the Gospel, says that it was fertile, and afterwards, when he wished to lay by his fruits and was about to build greater barns," &c. (Miscellanies, iii. 6.)
Luke xiii. 32.
"Thus also in reference to Herod, 'Go tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils,'" &c. (Miscellanies, iv. 6.)
Luke xiv. 12, 13.
"He says accordingly, somewhere, 'When thou art called to a wedding recline not on the highest couch.' ... And elsewhere, 'When thou makest a dinner or a supper,' and again, 'But, when thou makest an entertainment, call the poor.'" (Instructor, ii. 1.)
Luke, xv. Parable of Prodigal Son.
"For it were not seemly that we, after the fashion of the rich man's son in the Gospel, should, as prodigals, abuse the Father's gifts." (Instructor, ii. ch. i.)
"You have then God's promise; you have His love: become partakers of His grace. And do not suppose the song of salvation to be new, as a vessel or a house is new; for ... in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (Exhortation to Heathen, ch. i.)
"For He has said, 'In the beginning the Word was in God, and the Word was God." (Instructor, viii.)
"Wherefore it (the law) was only temporary; but eternal grace and truth were by Jesus Christ. Mark the expressions of Scripture; of the law only is it is said 'was given;' but truth, being the grace of the Father, is the eternal work of the Word, and it is not said to be given, but to be by Jesus, without whom nothing was." (Instructor, i. 7.)
"The divine Instructor is trustworthy, adorned as He is with three of the fairest ornaments ... with authority of utterance, for He is God and Creator; for all things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made: and with benevolence, for He alone gave Himself a sacrifice for us, 'For the Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep.'" (John x. 11.) (Instructor, i. 11.)
"For the darkness, it is said, comprehendeth it not." (Instructor, ii. 10.)
"Having through righteousness attained to adoption, and therefore 'have received power to become the sons of God.'" (Miscellanies, iv. 6.)
"For of the prophets it is said, 'We have all received of His fulness,' that is, of Christ's." (Miscellanies, i. 17.)
"And John the apostle says, 'No man hath seen God at any time. The only begotten God,' [oldest reading,] 'who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him." (Miscellanies, v. 12.) John, iii.
"He that believeth not is, according to the utterance of the Saviour, condemned already." (Miscellanies, iv. 16.)
"Enslaved as you are to evil custom, and clinging to it voluntarily till your last breath, you are hurried to destruction; because light has come into the world, and men have loved the darkness rather than the light." (Exhortation to Heathen, 10.)
"'I must decrease,' said the prophet John." (Miscellanies, vi. II.)
"There is, first of all, Matthew, that most faithful chronicler of the Gospel, because the companion of the Lord; for no other reason in the world than to show us clearly the fleshy original of Christ, he thus begins, 'The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David the son of Abraham.'" (On the Flesh of Christ, ch. xxii.)
"It is, however, a fortunate circumstance that Matthew also, when tracing down the Lord's descent from Abraham to Mary, says, 'Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus." (On the Flesh of Christ, ch. xx.)
"You [the heretic] say that He was born through a virgin, not of a virgin, and in a womb, not of a womb; because the angel in the dream said to Joseph, 'That which is born in her is of the Holy Ghost.'" (Ibid. ch. xx.)
"For they therefore offered to the then infant Lord that frankincense, and myrrh, and gold, to be, as it were, the close of worldly sacrifice and glory, which Christ was about to do away." (On Idolatry, ch. ix.)
Mark i. 4.
"For, in that John used to preach 'baptism for the remission of sins,' the declaration was made with reference to a future remission." (On Baptism, x.)
Mark i. 24.
"This accordingly the devils also acknowledge Him to be: 'We know Thee Who Thou art, the Son of God.'" (Against Praxeas, ch. xxvi.)
Let the reader particularly remark this phrase. Tertullian quotes the last clauses differently from the reading in our present copies, "The Holy One of God." If such a quotation had occurred in Justin, the author of "Supernatural Religion" would have cited the phrase as a quotation from a lost Gospel, and asserted that the author had not even seen St. Mark.
"Elias was nothing else than John, who came 'in the power and spirit of Elias.'" (On Monogamy, ch. viii.)
"I recognize, too, the angel Gabriel as having been sent to a virgin; but when he is blessing her, it is 'among women.'" (On the Veiling of Virgins, ch. vi.)
"Will not the angel's announcement be subverted, that the Virgin should 'conceive in her womb and bring forth a son?' ... Therefore even Elizabeth must be silent, although she is carrying in her womb the prophetic babe, which was already conscious of his Lord, and is, moreover, filled with the Holy Ghost. For without reason does she say, 'And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?' If it was not as her son, but only as a stranger, that Mary carried Jesus in her womb, how is it she says, 'Blessed is the fruit of thy womb?'" (On the Flesh of Christ, ch. xxi.)
"Away, says he [he is now putting words into the mouth of the heretic], with that eternal plaguy taxing of Caesar, and the scanty inn, and the squalid swaddling clothes, and the hard stable. We do not care a jot for that multitude of the heavenly host which praised their Lord at night. Let the shepherds take better care of their flock ... Spare also the babe from circumcision, that He may escape the pains thereof; nor let Him be brought into the temple, lest He burden His parents with the expense of the offering; nor let Him be handed to Simeon, lest the old man be saddened at the point of death." (On the Flesh of Christ, ch. ii.)
"This He Himself, in those other gospels also, testifies Himself to have been from His very boyhood, saying, 'Wist ye not, says He, that I must be about my Father's business?'" (Against Praxeas, xxvi.)
"In conclusion, I will apply the Gospel as a supplementary testimony to the Old Testament ... it is therein plainly revealed by Whom He made all things. 'In the beginning was the Word,'—that is, the same beginning, of course, in which God made the heaven and the earth—'and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,'" &c. (Against Hermogenes, ch. xx.)
I give only one reference to the first few verses, as the number in Tertullian's writings is enormous.
"It is written, 'To them that believed on Him, gave He power to be called Sons of God.'" (On Prayer, ch. ii.)
"But by saying 'made,' he [St. Paul] not only confirmed the statement 'the Word was made flesh,' but he also asserted the reality," &c. (On the Flesh of Christ, ch. xx.)
"[He Jesus] inaugurates in water the first rudimentary displays of His power, when invited to the nuptials." (On Baptism, ch. ix.)
The twenty-first chapter of the "Discourse against Praxeas" is filled with citations from St. John. I will give a small part.
"He declared what was in the bosom of the Father alone; the Father did not divulge the secrets of His own bosom. For this is preceded by another statement: 'No man hath seen God at any time.' Then again, when He is designated by John as 'the Lamb of God.' ... This [divine relationship] Nathanael at once recognized in Him, even as Peter did on another occasion: 'Thou art the Son of God.' And He affirmed Himself that they were quite right in their convictions, for He answered Nathanael, 'Because I said I saw thee under the fig-tree, dost thou believe?' ... When He entered the temple He called it 'His Father's house,' [speaking] as the Son. In His address to Nicodemus He says, 'So God loved the world,' &c.... Moreover, when John the Baptist was asked what he happened [to know] of Jesus, he said, 'The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into His Hands. He that believeth,' &c. Whom, indeed, did He reveal to the woman of Samaria? Was it not 'the Messias which is called Christ?' ... He says, therefore, 'My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work,'" &c. &c. (Against Praxeas, ch. xxi.)
THE EVIDENCE FOR MIRACLES.
It does not come within the scope of this work to examine at any length the general subject of miracles. The assertion that miracles, such as those recorded in Scripture, are absolutely impossible, and so have never taken place, must be met by the counter assertion that they are possible, and have taken place. They are possible to the Supreme Being, and have taken place by His will or sufferance at certain perfectly historical periods; especially during the first century after the birth of Christ. When to this it is replied that miracles are violations of natural law or order, and that it is contrary to our highest idea of the Supreme Being to suppose that He should alter the existing order of things, we can only reply that it is in accordance with our highest idea of Him that He should do so; and we say that in making these assertions we are not unreasonable, but speak in accordance with natural science, philosophy, and history.
And, in order to prove this, we have only to draw attention to the inaccuracy which underlies the use of the term "law" by the author of "Supernatural Religion," and those who think as he does. The author of "Supernatural Religion" strives to bring odium on the miracles of the Gospel by calling them "violations of law," and by asserting that it is a false conception of the Supreme Being to suppose that He should have made an Universe with such elements of disorder within it that it should require such things as the violation, or even suspension, of laws to restore it to order, and that our highest and truest idea of God is that of One Who never can even so much as make Himself known except through the action of the immutable laws by which this visible state of things is governed.
Now what is a law? The laws with which in this discussion we are given to understand we have to do, are strictly speaking limitations—the limitations of forces or powers which, in conception at least, must themselves be prior to the limitations.
Take the most universal of all so-called "laws," the law of gravitation. The law of gravitation is the limitation imposed upon that mysterious force which appears to reside in all matter, that it should attract all other matter. This power of attraction is called gravitation; but instead of acting at random, as it were, it acts according to certain well-known rules which only are properly the "laws" of gravitation.
Now the very existence of our world depends upon the force of attraction being counteracted. If, from a certain moment, gravitation were to become the only force in the solar system, the earth would fall upon the surface of the sun, and be annihilated; but the earth continues in existence because of the action of another force—the projectile force—which so far counteracts the force of the sun's attraction, that the earth revolves around the sun instead of falling upon its surface. In this case the law of gravitation is not violated, or even suspended, but the force of gravitation is counteracted or modified by another force.
Again, the blood circulates through our bodies by means of another power or force counteracting the force of gravitation, and this is the vital power or force.
But why do we lift up our feet from the ground to go about some daily duty? Here comes another force—the force of will, which directs the action of some of the vital forces, but not that of others.
But, again, two courses of action are open to us, and we deliberately choose the one because we think that it is our duty, though it may entail danger or pain, or even death. Here is a still deeper force or power, the force of conscience—the moral power which is clearly the highest power within us, for it governs the very will, and sits in judgment upon the whole man, and acquits or condemns him according to its rule of right and wrong.
Here, then, are several gradations of power or force—any one of them as real as the others; each one making itself felt by counteracting and modifying the action of the one below it.
Now the question arises, is there any power or force clearly above the highest controlling power within us, i.e. above our conscience? We say that there is. There are some who on this point can reverently take up the words of our Great Master, "We speak that we do know." We believe, as firmly as we believe in our own existence, that this our conscience—the highest power within us—has been itself acted upon by a Higher Power still, a moral and spiritual Power, which has enlightened it, purified it, strengthened it, in fact renewed it.
Now, this purifying or enlightening of our moral powers has one remarkable effect. It makes those who have been acted upon by it to look up out of this present state of things for a more direct revelation of the character and designs of the Supreme Being. Minds who have experienced this action of a Superior Power upon them cannot possibly look upon the Supreme Being as revealing Himself merely by the laws of gravitation, or electricity, or natural selection. We look for, we desire a further and fuller Revelation of God, even though the Revelation may condemn us. We cannot rest without it. It is intolerable to those who have a sense of justice, for instance, to think that, whilst led by their sense of what is good and right, men execute imperfect justice, there is, after all, no Supreme Moral Governor Who will render to each individual in another life that just retribution which is assuredly not accorded to all in this life. [152:1]
Now this, I say, makes us desire a revelation of the Supreme Moral Governor which is assuredly not to be found in the laws which control mere physical forces. As Dr. Newman has somewhere said, men believe what they wish to believe, and assuredly we desire to believe that there is a supreme Moral Governor, and that He has not left us wholly in the dark respecting such things as the laws and sanctions of His moral government. But has He really revealed these? We look back through the ages, and our eyes are arrested by the figure of One Who, according to the author of "Supernatural Religion," taught a "sublime religion." His teaching "carried morality to the sublimest point attained, or even attainable, by humanity. The influence of His Spiritual Religion has been rendered doubly great by the unparalleled purity and elevation of His own character. He presented the rare spectacle of a life, so far as we can estimate it, uniformly noble and consistent with His own lofty principles, so that the 'imitation of Christ' has become almost the final word in the preaching of His Religion, and must continue to be one of the most powerful elements of its permanence." (Vol. ii. p. 487.)
It is quite clear from this testimony of an enemy to the Christian religion, as it appears in the Scriptures, that if the Supreme Moral Governor had desired to give to man a revelation of the principles and sanctions of His moral government, He could not have chosen a more fitting instrument. Such a character seems to have been made for the purpose. If He has not revealed God, no one has.
Now, who is this Man Whose figure stands thus prominent above His fellows?
We believe Him to be our Redeemer; but before He redeemed, He laid down the necessity of Redemption by making known to men the true nature of sin and righteousness, and the most just and inevitable Judgment of God. He revealed to us that there is One above us Who is to the whole race, and to every individual of the race, what our consciences are to ourselves—a Judge pronouncing a perfect judgment, because He perfectly knows the character of each man, perfectly observes and remembers his conduct, and, moreover, will mete out to each one a just and perfect retribution.
But still, how are we to know that He has authority to reveal to us such a thing as that God will judge the race and each member of it by a just judgment? Natural laws reveal to us no such judgment. Nature teaches us that if we transgress certain natural laws we shall be punished. But it teaches no certain judgement either in this life or in any future life which will overtake the transgression of moral laws. A man may defraud, oppress, and seduce, and yet live a prosperous life, and die a quiet, painless death.
How, then, are we to know that Jesus of Nazareth had authority to reveal that God will set all this right in a future state, and that He Himself will be the direct Agent in bringing the rectification about? How are we to know that what He says is true respecting a matter of such deep concern to ourselves, and yet so utterly unknown to mere physical nature, and so out of the reach of its powers? What proof have we of His Revelation, or that it is a Revelation? The answer is, that as what He revealed is above mere physical nature, so He attested it by the exhibition of power above physical nature—the exhibition of the direct power of God. He used miracles for this purpose; more particularly He staked the truth of His whole message on the miracle of His own Resurrection. [155:1] The Resurrection was to be the assurance of the perfection of both His Redemption and His Judgment.
Now, against all this it is persistently alleged that even if He had the power He could not have performed miracles, because miracles are violations of law, and the Lawgiver cannot violate even mere physical laws; but this specious fallacy is refuted by the simple assertion that He introduced a new power or force to counteract or modify others, which counteraction or modification of forces is no more than what is taking place in every part of the world at every moment.
Before proceeding further we will illustrate the foregoing by testing some assertions of the author of "Supernatural Religion."
"Man," he asserts, "is as much under the influence of gravitation as a stone is" (vol. i. p. 40). Well, a marble statue is a stone. Can a marble statue, after it is thrown down, rise up again of itself, and stand upon its feet?
"The law of gravitation suffers no alteration, whether it cause the fall of an apple or shape the orbit of a planet" (p. 40).
Of course the "law" suffers no alteration, but the force of gravitation suffers considerable modification if you catch the apple in your hand, or if the planet has an impulse given to it which compels it to career round the sun instead of falling upon his surface. Again (page 40):—
"The harmonious action of physical laws, and their adaptability to an infinite variety of forms, constitutes the perfection of that code which produces the order of nature. The mere superiority of man over lower forms of organic and inorganic matter does not lift him above physical laws, and the analogy of every grade in nature forbids the presumption that higher forms may exist which are exempt from their control."
The number of fallacies in this short passage is remarkable. In the first place laws never act, i.e. of themselves. They have to be administered. Forces or powers act under the restraint of laws. I think I am right in saying that all physical laws, as distinguished from forces, are limitations of force. No man can conceive of a law acting by itself. There is no such thing, for instance, as a "Reign of Law." A power acts or, if you please, reigns, according to a law, but laws of themselves can do nothing.
Again, the author says, "The mere superiority of man over lower forms of organic and inorganic matter does not lift him above physical laws."
Yes, it does, partially at least, for it enables him, in his sphere, to control the very forces whose action is limited by laws. The superiority of man is shown in his control of the powers of nature, and making them obey his will. All such inventions as the steam engine or the electric telegraph lift man above certain physical laws, by enabling him to control the forces with which those laws have to do.
Again, he writes: "The analogy of every grade in nature forbids the presumption that higher forms may exist which are exempt from their control." On the contrary, we assert that the analogy of every grade in nature encourages the presumption that higher forms may exist which can control these forces of nature far more directly and perfectly than we can.
To proceed. In page 41 we read:—
"If in animated beings we have the solitary instance of an efficient cause acting among the forces of nature, and possessing the power of initiation, this efficient cause produces no disturbance of physical law."
I cite this place, in order to draw attention to what I suppose must have struck the careful reader, which is the application of the term "solitary instance" to the action of animated beings amongst the forces of nature. If there had been but one animated being in existence, such an epithet might not have been out of place; but when one considers that the world teems with such beings, and that by their every movement they modify or counteract, in their own case at least, the mightiest of all nature's forces, and that no inconsiderable portion of the earth's surface owes its conformation to their action, we are astonished at finding all this characterized as the solitary instance of an efficient cause. But by a sentence at the bottom of this page we are enlightened as to the real reason for so strange a view of the place of vital powers in the universe. In the eyes of those who persist in, as far as possible, ignoring all laws except physical laws, even to the extent of endeavouring to prove that moral forces themselves are but mere developed forms of physical ones, all manifestations of powers other than those of electricity, gravitation, magnetism, and so forth are anomalous, and we have the very word "anomaly" applied to them. "The only anomaly," he writes, "is our ignorance of the nature of vital force. [158:1] But do we know much more of the physical?"
Men who thus concentrate their attention upon mere physical laws or phenomena, get to believe in no others. They are impatient of any things in the universe except what they can number, or measure, or weigh. They are in danger of regarding the Supreme Being Himself as an "anomaly." They certainly seem to do so, when they take every pains to show that the universe can get on perfectly well without His superintending presence and control.
Whatever odium, then, may be attached to the violation of a natural law, cannot be attached to the action of a superior force, making itself felt amongst lower grades of natural forces.
If it be rejoined that this superior force must act according to law, we answer, certainly, but according to what law? Not, of course, according to the law of the force which it counteracts, but according to the law under which itself acts.
The question of miracles, then, is a matter of evidence; but we all know what a power human beings have of accepting or rejecting evidence according as they look for it or are prejudiced against it.
If men concentrate their thought upon the lower forces of the universe, and explain the functions of life, and even such powers as affection, will, reason, and conscience, as if they were modifications of mere physical powers, and ignore a higher Will, and an all-controlling Mind, and a personal superintending Providence, what wonder if they are indisposed to receive any such direct manifestation of God as the Resurrection of Jesus, for the Resurrection of Jesus is the pledge of a righteous Judgment and Retribution which, however it takes place, will be the most astounding "anomaly" amidst the mere physical phenomena of the universe, whilst it will be the necessary completion of its moral order.
The proof of miracles is then, as I said, a matter of evidence. When Hume asserts that "a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature," we meet him with the counter-assertion that it is rather the new manifestation in this order of things of the oldest of powers, that which originally introduced life into a lifeless world.
When he says that "a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws," we say that science teaches us that there must have been epochs in the history of the world when new forces made their appearance on the scene, for it teaches us that the world was once incandescent, and so incapable of supporting any conceivable form of animal life, but that at a certain geological period life made its appearance.
Now, we believe that it is just as wonderful, and contrary to the experience of a lifeless world, that life should appear on that world, as that it is contrary to the experience of the present state of things, that a dead body should be raised.
When he asserts that a miraculous event is contrary to uniform experience, we can only reply that it is not contrary to the experience of the Evangelists, of St. Peter and St. Paul, and of the other Apostles and companions of the Lord; that it was not contrary to the experience of the multitudes who were miraculously fed, and of the multitudes who were miraculously healed. When it is replied to this, that we have insufficient evidence of the fact that these persons witnessed miracles, we rejoin that there is far greater evidence, both in quality and amount, for these miracles, especially for the crowning one, than there is for any fact of profane history; but, if there was twice the evidence that there is, its reception must depend upon the state of mind of the recipient himself.
If a man, whilst professing to believe in "a God under whose beneficent government we know that all that is consistent with wise and omnipotent law is prospered and brought to perfection," yet has got himself to believe that such a God cannot introduce into any part of the universe a new power or force, as for instance that He is bound not to introduce vital force into a lifeless world, or mental power into a reasonless world, or moral power into a world of free agents, but must leave these forces to work themselves out of non-existence;—if it man, I say, has got himself to believe in such a Being, he will not, of course, believe in any testimony to miracles as accrediting a Revelation from Him, and so he will do his best to get rid of them after the fashion in which we have seen the author of "Supernatural Religion" attempt to get rid of the testimony of Justin Martyr to the use of the Four Gospels in his day.
OBJECTIONS TO MIRACLES.
I will now briefly dispose of two or three of the collateral objections against miracles.
1. The author of "Supernatural Religion" makes much of the fact that the Scripture writers recognize that there may be, and have been, Satanic as well as Divine Miracles, and he argues that this destroys all the evidential value of a miracle. He writes:—
"Even taking the representation of miracles, therefore, which Divines themselves give, they are utterly incompetent to perform their contemplated functions. If they are super-human, they are not super-Satanic, and there is no sense in which they can be considered miraculously evidential of anything." (Vol. i. p. 25)
Now, this difficulty is the merest theoretical one,—a difficulty, as the saying is, on paper; and never can be a practical one to any sincere believer in the holiness of God and the reality of goodness. Take the miracle of miracles, the seal of all that is supernatural in our religion, the Resurrection of Christ. If there be a conflict now going on between God and Satan, can there be a doubt as to the side to which this miracle is to be assigned? It is given to prove the reality of a Redemption which all those who accept it know to be a Redemption from the power of Satan. It is given to confirm the sanctions of morality by the assurance of a judgment to come. If Satan had performed it, he would have been simply casting out himself. If this miracle of the Resurrection be granted, all else goes along with it, and the children of God are fortified against the influence, real or counterfeit, of any diabolical miracle whatsoever.
The miracles of the New Testament are not performed, as far as I can remember, in any single instance, to prove the truth of any one view of doctrinal Christianity as against another, but to evidence the reality of the Mission of the Divine Founder as the Son of God, and "the Son of God was manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil."
2. With respect to what are called ecclesiastical miracles, i.e. miracles performed after the Apostolic age, the author of "Supernatural Religion" recounts the notices of a considerable number, assumes that they are all false, and uses this assumed falsehood as a means of bringing odium on the accounts of the miracles of Christ.
More particularly he draws attention to certain miracles recorded in the works of St. Augustine, of one at least of which he (Augustine) declares he was an eye-witness.
Now, the difficulty raised upon these and similar accounts appears to me to be as purely theoretical as the one respecting Satanic miracles. If there be truth in the New Testament, it is evident that the Founder of Christianity not only worked miracles Himself, but gave power to His followers to do the same. When was this power of performing miracles withdrawn from the Church? Our Lord, when He gave the power, gave no intimation that it would ever be withdrawn, rather the contrary. However, even in Apostolic times, the performance of them seems to have become less frequent as the Church became a recognized power in the world. For instance, in the earlier Epistles of St. Paul the exercise of miraculous gifts seems to have been a recognized part of the Church's system, and in the later ones (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) they are scarcely noticed. [164:1] If we are to place any credence whatsoever in ecclesiastical history, the performance of miracles seems never to have ceased, though in later times very rare in comparison with what they must have been in the first age.
Now, if the miracles recorded by Augustine, or any of them, were true and real, the only inference is that the action of miraculous power continued in the Church to a far later date than some modern writers allow. If, on the contrary, they are false, then they take their place among hosts of other counterfeits of what is good and true. They no more go to prove the non-existence of the real miracles which they caricature, than any other counterfeit proves the non-existence of the thing of which it is the counterfeit. Nay, rather, the very fact that they are counterfeits proves the existence of that of which they are counterfeits. The Ecclesiastical miracles are clearly not independent miracles; true or false, they depend upon the miraculous powers of the early Church. If any of them are true, then these powers continued in the Church to a late date; if they are false accounts (whether wilfully or through mistake, makes no difference), their falsehood is one testimony out of many to the miraculous origin of the dispensation.
Those recorded by Augustine are in no sense evidential. Nothing came of them except the relief, real or supposed, granted to the sufferers. No message from God was supposed to be accredited by them. No attempt was made to spread the knowledge of them; indeed, so far from this, in one case at least, Augustine is "indignant at the apathy of the friends of one who had been miraculously cured of a cancer, that they allowed so great a miracle to be so little known." (Vol. ii. p. 171.) In every conceivable respect they stand in the greatest contrast to the Resurrection of Christ.
Each case of an Ecclesiastical miracle must be examined (if one cares to do so) apart, on its own merits. I can firmly believe in the reality of some, whilst the greater part are doubtful, and many are wicked impostures. These last, of course, give occasion to the enemy to disparage the whole system of which they are assumed to be a part, but they tell against Christianity only in the same sense in which all tolerated falsehood or evil in the Church obscures its witness to those eternal truths of which it is "the pillar and the ground."
Now, all this is equally applicable to Superstition generally in relation to the supernatural. As the counterfeit miracles of the later ages witness that there must have been true ones to account for the very existence of the counterfeit, so the universal existence of Superstition witnesses to the reality of those supernatural interpositions of which it is the distorted image. If Hume's doctrine be true, that a miracle, i.e. a supernatural interposition, is contrary to universal experience and so incredible—if from the first beginning of things there has been one continuous sequence of natural cause and effect, unbroken by the interposition of any superior power, how is it that mankind have ever formed a conception of a supernatural power? And yet the conception, in the shape of superstition at least, is absolutely universal. Tribes who have no idea of the existence of God, use charms and incantations to propitiate unseen powers.
Now, the distortion witnesses to the reality of that of which it is the distortion; the caricature to the existence of the feature caricatured. And so the universality of the existence of Superstition witnesses to the reality of these supernatural revelations and interpositions to which alone such a thing can be referred as its origin.
Another argument which the author of "Supernatural Religion" uses to discredit miracles, is the superstition of the Jews, especially in our Lord's time, and their readiness to believe any miraculous story. He seems to suppose that this superstition reached its extreme point in the age in which Christ lived, which he calls "the age of miracles." He also assumes that it was an age of strong religious feeling and excitement. He says:—
"During the whole life of Christ, and the early propagation of the religion, it must be borne in mind that they took place in an age, and among a people, which superstition had made so familiar with what were supposed to be preternatural events, that wonders awakened no emotion, or were speedily superseded by some new demand on the ever ready belief." (Vol. i. p. 98.)
He proceeds to devote above twenty pages to instances of the superstition and credulity of the Jews about the time of Christ. The contents of these pages would be amusing if they did not reveal such deep mental degradation in a race which Christians regard as sacred, because of God's dealings with their fathers.
Most readers, however, of these pages on the Demonology and Angelology of the Jews will, I think, be affected by them in a totally different way, and will draw a very different inference, from what the writer intends. The thoughtful reader will ask, "How could the Evangelical narratives be the outcome of such a hotbed of superstition as the author describes that time to have been?" It is quite impossible, it is incredible that the same natural cause, i.e. the prevalence of superstition, should have produced about the same time the Book of Enoch and the Gospel according to St. Matthew. And this is the more remarkable from the fact that the Gospels are in no sense more Sadducean than the Book of Enoch. The being and agency of good and evil spirits is as fully recognized in the inspired writings as in the Apocryphal, but with what a difference! I append in a note a part of the author's reproduction of the Book of Enoch, that the reader may see how necessary it is, on all principles of common sense, to look for some very different explanation of the origin of the Evangelical narratives than that given by the author of "Supernatural Religion." [168:1]
In the Evangelical narratives I need hardly say the angels are simply messengers, as their name imports, and absolutely nothing more. When one describes himself it is in the words, "I am Gabriel that stand in the presence of God, and am sent to speak unto thee and to show thee these glad tidings."
On the credulity of the Jews in our Lord's time, I repeat the author's remarks:—
"During the whole life of Christ, and the early propagation of the religion, it must be borne in mind that they took place in an age, and among a people, which superstition had made so familiar with what were supposed to be preternatural events, that wonders awakened no emotion, or were speedily superseded by some new demand on the ever-ready belief." (Vol. i. p. 98.)
Now, if the records of our Lord's life in the Gospels are not a tissue of falsehoods from beginning to end, this account of things is absolutely untrue. The miracles of Jesus awakened the greatest astonishment, betokening a time as unfamiliar with the actual performance of such things as our own.
For instance, after the first casting out of a devil recorded in St. Mark, it is said.—
"They were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority commandeth He even the unclean spirits, and they do obey Him." (Mark i. 29.)
In the next chapter, after the account of the healing of the sick of the palsy, it is said:—
"They were all amazed and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion." (ii. 12.)
Again (St. Luke v. 26), after the casting out of a devil: "They were all amazed." Again, Luke ix. 43 (also after the casting out of a devil), "They were all amazed at the mighty power of God." [170:1]
From the account in St. John, the miracle of the opening of the eyes of the man born blind seems to have excited unbounded astonishment:—
"Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind." "Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?" (John ix. 32, x. 21.)
But more than this. If there be any truth whatsoever in the Gospel narrative, the disciples themselves, instead of exhibiting anything approaching to the credulity with which the author of "Supernatural Religion" taxes the contemporaries of Christ, exhibited rather a spirit of unbelief. If they had transmitted to us "cunningly devised fables," they never would have recorded such instances of their own slowness of belief as is evinced by their conduct respecting the feeding of the four thousand following upon the feeding of the five thousand, when they ask the same question in the face of the same difficulty respecting the supply of food.
Above all, their slowness of belief in the Resurrection of Christ after their Master's direct assertion that He would rise again, is directly opposed to the idea suggested by the author of "Supernatural Religion," that they were ready to believe anything which seemed to favour His pretensions.
Now, it may be alleged that these instances of the slowness of belief on the part of our Lord's immediate followers, and the conduct of the multitudes who expressed such wonder at His miracles, are contrary to one another, but, they are not; for the astonishment of the multitudes did not arise from credulity in the least, but was the expression of that state of mind which must exist (no matter how carefully it is concealed), when some unlooked-for occurrence, totally inexplicable on any natural principles, presents itself. I cite it to show how utterly unfamiliar that age was with even the pretence of the exhibition of miraculous powers. If there be any substratum of truth whatsoever in the accounts of the slowness of belief on the part of the Apostles, it is a proof that our Lord's most familiar friends were anything but the superstitious persons which certain writers assume them to have been.
The question of Demoniacal Possession now demands a passing notice.
The author of "Supernatural Religion" ascribes all such phenomena to imposture or delusion; and, inasmuch as these supposed miracles of casting out of evil spirits are associated with other miracles of Christ in the same narrative, he uses the odium with which this class of miracles is in this day regarded, for the purpose of discrediting the miracles of healing and the Resurrection of Jesus.
I cannot help expressing my surprise at the difficulty which some writers, who desire fully and faithfully to uphold the supernatural, seem to have respecting Demoniacal Possession. The difficulty seems to me to be not in the action of evil spirits in this or in that way, but in their existence. And yet the whole analogy of nature, and the state of man in this world, would lead us to believe, not only in the objective existence of a world of spirits, but in the separation of their characters into good and evil.
Those who deny the fact of an actually existing spiritual world of angels, if they are Atheists, must believe that man is the highest rational existence in the universe; but this is absurd, for the intellect of man in plainly very circumscribed, and he is slowly discovering laws which account for the phenomena which he sees, which laws were operative for ages before he discovered them, and imply infinitely more intellect in their invention, so to speak, and imposition and nice adjustment with one another, than he shows in their mere discovery. A student, for instance, has a problem put before him, say upon the adjustments of the forces of the heavenly bodies. The solution, if it evinces intelligence in him, must evince more and older intelligence in the man who sets him the problem; but if the conditions of the problem truly represent the acts of certain forces and their compensations, can we possibly deny that there is an intellect infinitely above ours who calculated beforehand their compensations and adjustments. All the laws of the universe must be assumed to be, even if they are not believed to be, the work of a personal intellect absolutely infinite, whose operations cannot be confined to this world, for it gives laws to all bodies, no matter how distant. The same reasoning, then, which shows that there is an intelligent will, because it can solve a problem, necessitates an infinitely higher Intelligence which can order the motions of distant worlds by laws of which our highest calculative processes are perhaps very clumsy representations.
Those who, like the author of "Supernatural Religion," are good enough to admit (with limitations) the existence of a Supreme Being, and yet deny the existence of a spiritual world above ours, seem to me to act still more absurdly. For the whole analogy of the world of nature would lead as to infer that, as there is a descending scale of animated beings below man reaching down to the lowest forms of life, so there is an ascending scale above him, between him and God. The deniers of the existence of such beings as angels undertake to assert that there are no beings between ourselves and the Supreme Being, because nature (meaning by nature certain lower brute forces, such as gravitation and electricity), "knows nothing" of them.
The Scriptures, on the contrary, would lead us to believe that just as in the natural world there are gradations of beings between ourselves and the lowest forms of life, so in the spiritual world (and we belong to both worlds) there are gradations of beings between ourselves and God Who created all things.
The Scriptures would lead us to believe that these beings are intelligent free agents, and, as such, have had their time of probation—that some fell under their trial, and are now the enemies of God as wicked men are, and that others stood in the time of trial and continue the willing servants of God.
The Scriptures reveal that good angels act as good men do; they endeavour, as far as lies in their power, to confirm others in goodness and in the service of God; and that evil angels act as evil men act, they endeavour to seduce others and to involve them in their own condemnation.
The Scriptures say nothing to satisfy our curiosity about these beings, as Apocryphal books do. They simply describe the one as sent on errands of mercy, and the other as delighting in tempting men and inflicting pain. The mystery of the fall of some of these angels, and their consequent opposition to God, is no difficulty in itself. It is simply the oldest form of that which is to those who believe in the reality of the holiness and goodness of God the great problem of the universe—the origin and continuance of evil. It is simply the counterpart amongst a world of free agents above us of what takes place according to the [so-called] natural order of things amongst ourselves.
That evil angels can tempt the souls of men, and in some cases injure their bodies, is not a whit more difficult than that evil men can do the same under the government of a God who exerts so universal a providence as is described in the Bible, and allowed to some extent by the author of "Supernatural Religion."
I confess that I cannot understand the difficulty which some Christian writers evidently feel respecting the existence of such a thing as Demoniacal possession, whilst they seem to feel, or at least they express no difficulty, respecting Demoniacal temptation. Demoniacal possession is the infliction of a physical evil for which the man is not accountable, but demoniacal temptation is an attempt to deprive a man of that for the keeping of which he is accountable, viz. his own innocence. Demoniacal possession is a temporal evil. The yielding to demoniacal temptation may cast a man for ever out of the favour of God. And yet demoniacal temptation is perfectly analogous to human temptation. A human seducer has it in his power, if his suggestions are received, to corrupt innocence, render life miserable, undermine faith in God and in Christ, and destroy the hopes of eternity—and a diabolical seducer can do no more.
Again, the Scriptures seem to teach us that these wicked spirits are the authors of certain temporal evils, and I do not see that there is anything unreasonable in the fact, if it be granted, that there are spirits who exist independent of bodily frames—that these spirits are free agents, and have different characters, and act according to their characters, and also that, according to the laws (i.e. within the limitations) of their nature, they have power to act upon those below them in the scale of being, just as we can act upon creatures below us according to the limitations, i.e. the laws, of our nature. We are in our way able to inflict evil or to ward off evil from our fellow creatures, under the limitations, or laws which a higher Power has set over us; and the Scriptures teach us that there are other beings in the great spiritual kingdom of God who are able to do us good or mischief under the conditions which the same Supreme Power has imposed on their action. So that the one thing which the Scriptures reveal to us is, that there is a far vaster spiritual kingdom of God than the human race.
With respect to demoniacal possession, our difficulties arise from two things—from our utter ignorance of the nature and real causes of mental diseases, and from our ignorance of the way in which purely spiritual beings can act upon beings such as ourselves, who ordinarily receive impressions only through our bodily organs. We know not, for instance, how God Himself acts upon our spirits, and yet, if He cannot, He has less power over us than we have over one another.
Respecting the fact of God permitting such a thing as possession, there is no more real difficulty than is involved in His permitting such a thing as madness. The symptoms of possession seem generally to have resembled mania, and ascribing certain sorts of mania to evil spirits is only assigning one cause rather than another to a disease of whose nature we are profoundly ignorant. [178:1]
Again, if we take into consideration the fact that in not a few cases madness is produced by moral causes, by yielding to certain temptations, as, for instance, to drunkenness, there will be still less difficulty in believing that madness, arising from the action of an evil being, may be the punishment of yielding to the seductions of that evil being.
The miraculous cure of demoniacal possession presents, I need hardly say, less physical difficulty than any other cure performed by our Lord. Assuming the presence of an evil spiritual existence in the possessed person coming face to face with the most exalted spiritual Power and Goodness, the natural result is that the one quails before the other.
But, in truth, all the difficulties respecting possession arise not so much from our ignorance, as from our dogmatism. We assert the dogma, or at least we quietly assume the dogma, that there are no spiritual or intellectual beings between ourselves and God; or, if we shrink from an assertion which so nearly implies our own omniscience, we lay down that these superior beings, of whose laws we know nothing, can only act upon us in ways precisely similar to those on which we act upon one another.
Another objection which the author of "Supernatural Religion" urges against the credibility of our Lord's miracles, is that they were not performed before what he considers competent witnesses.
"Their occurrence [he writes] is limited to ages which were totally ignorant of physical laws." (Vol. i. p. 201.)
Again, he speaks of the age as one
"in which not only the grossest superstition and credulity prevailed, but in which there was such total ignorance of natural laws that men were incapable of judging of that reality [i.e. of miracles]." (P. 204.)
"The discussion of miracles, then, is not one regarding miracles actually performed within our own knowledge, but merely regarding miracles said to have been performed eighteen hundred years ago, the reality of which was not verified at the time by any scientific examination." (P. 208.)
From this we gather that the author of "Supernatural Religion" considers that the miracles of Christ should have been tested by scientific men; but we ask, By what scientific men? It is clear that if the testing was to have been satisfactory to those who think like the author of "Supernatural Religion," they must have been scientific men who approached the whole matter in a spirit of scepticism. Our Blessed Lord (I speak it with all reverence), if He cared to satisfy such men, should have delayed His coming to the present time, or should have called up out of the future, or created for this purpose, men who had doubts respecting the personality of God, who held Him to be fitly described as the Unknown and the Unknowable; who, to say the least, were in a state of suspense as to whether, if there be a Supreme Being, He can reveal Himself or make His will known. In fact, He must have called up, or created for the purpose, some individuals of a school of physicists which had no existence till 1,800 years after His time. For, if He had called into existence such witnesses as Sir Isaac Newton, or Sir Humphrey Davy, or Cuvier, or Faraday, they would have fallen down and worshipped.
But, in truth, such witnesses, whether believing or sceptical, would have found no place for their science, for the miracles of Christ were of such a kind that the most scientific doubter could have no more accounted for them than the most ignorant. The miracle of which, next to our Lord's own Resurrection, we have the fullest evidence, is that of the feeding of the 5,000; for it is recorded by each one of the four Evangelists. Now, if this miracle had been performed in the presence of the members of all the scientific societies now in existence, their knowledge of natural laws could have contributed nothing to its detection or explanation. They could have merely laid it down to trick or deception, just as any of the unscientific persons present could have done, and perhaps did. The miracle was performed in the open. Our Lord must have been on some elevated ground where His voice could have reached some considerable part of the multitude, and on which every act of His could be observed. More than a thousand loaves would have been necessary, requiring the assistance of, say a hundred men, to collect them and bring them from a distance. This, too, is not one of those miracles which can be explained by the convenient hypothesis of a "substratum of truth." It is either a direct exhibition of the creative power of God, or a fiction as unworthy of a moment's serious consideration as a story in the "Arabian Nights."
It is folly to imagine that such an act required scientific men to verify it. If the matter was either a reality, or presented that appearance of reality which the narrative implies, then the scientific person would have been stupefied, or in trembling and astonishment he would have fallen on his face like another opponent of the truth; or, may be, his very reason would have been shattered at the discovery that here before him was that very supernatural and divine Working in Whose existence he had been doing his best to persuade his fellow creatures to disbelieve.
The Scripture narratives, if they are not altogether devoid of truth, lead us to believe that our Lord performed His miracles in the face of three sects or parties of enemies, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians; each one rejecting His claims on grounds of its own. They were also performed in a populous city, of which all the rulers and the mass of the inhabitants were hostile to His pretensions. Such a place could never have been chosen as the scene of a miraculous event, known by those who promulgated it to have had no foundation in truth, and withal assumed to have been known throughout the city at the time, and to have been productive of a series of results, miraculous and ordinary, which were asserted to have commenced at the moment of its occurrence.
The writer of "Supernatural Religion" would disparage the accounts of our Lord's supernatural works and Resurrection, because such accounts are to be found only in the writings of "enthusiastic followers," not in those of indifferent persons; but the nature of the case almost excludes all other testimony: for the miracles of our Lord were wrought for an evidential purpose,—to convince the Jews especially that He was the Christ, the hope of their fathers, and, as such, was not only to be believed in, but to be obeyed and followed. The only sign of real true belief was that the man who professed to believe joined that society which was instituted for the purpose of propagating and keeping alive the truth of His Messiahship. If any one who professed to believe stopped short of joining this society, his testimony to miracles would have been valueless, for the miracles were wrought to convince him of the truth of a matter in which, if he believed, he was bound to profess his belief, and, if he did not, he laid himself open to the charge of not really believing the testimony.
Now, of course, the reader is aware that we have a signal proof of the validity of this argument in the well-known passage in Josephus which relates to our Lord. Josephus was the historian, and the only historian, of the period in which our Lord flourished. The eighteenth book of his "Antiquities of the Jews" covers the whole period of our Lord's life. If our Lord had merely attracted attention as a teacher of righteousness, which it is allowed on all hands that He did, it was likely that He would have been mentioned in this book along, with others whose teaching produced far less results. Mention appears to be made of Him in the following words:—
"Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for He was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to Him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned Him to the cross, those that loved Him at the first did not forsake Him; for He appeared to them alive again the third day; as the Divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning Him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from Him, are not extinct at this day."
Now, on external grounds there seems little doubt of the genuineness of this passage. It is in all copies of the historian's work, and is quoted in full by Eusebius, though not alluded to by fathers previous to his day. [183:1] If it is an interpolation, it must have been by the hand of a Christian; and yet it is absolutely inconceivable that any Christian should have noticed the Christian Church in such words as "the tribe of Christians, so named from Him, are not extinct at this day." It would have been absurd beyond measure to have described the Christians, so early as Justin's time even, as "not extinct," when they were filling the world with their doctrine, and their increase was a source of great perplexity and trouble to the Roman Government. It is just what a Jew of Josephus' time would have written who really believed that Jesus wrought miracles, but expected that nothing permanent would result from them.
And yet there can be no doubt but that the passage is open to this insurmountable objection, that if Josephus had written it he would have professed himself a Christian, or a man of incredible inconsistency. Setting aside the difficulty connected with the acknowledgment of Jesus as the Christ, inasmuch as this name was frequently given to Him by those who did not believe in Him, yet how could Josephus state that His Resurrection was predicted by the prophets of his nation, and continue in appearance an unbeliever?
But, whether genuine or not, this passage is decisive as to the impossibility of what is styled an independent testimony to our Lord: "He that is not with Me is against Me." The facts of our Lord's chief miracles and Resurrection were such, that the nearer men lived to the time the more impossible it would have been for them to have suspended their judgment.
So that, instead of having the witness of men who, by their prudent suspension of judgment, betrayed their lurking unbelief, we have the testimony of men who, by their surrender of themselves, soul and body, evinced their undoubting faith in a matter in which there could be really no middle opinion.
DATE OF TESTIMONY.
One point remains—the time to which the testimony to our Lord's miracles reaches back. Can it be reasonably said to reach to within fifty years of His Death, or to within twenty, or even nearer?
The author of "Supernatural Religion" asserts that it was not contemporaneous or anything like it. In fact, one might infer from his book that the miracles of Christ were not heard of till say a century, or three quarters of a century, after His time, for he says, "they were never heard of out of Palestine until long after the events are said to have occurred." [185:1] (P. 192.)
In such a case, "long after" is very indefinite. It may be a century, or three quarters of a century, or perhaps half a century. It cannot be less, for every generation contains a considerable number of persons whose memories reach back for forty or fifty years. In a place of 3,000 inhabitants, in which I am now writing, there are above fifty persons who can perfectly remember all that took place in 1830. There are some whose memories reach to twenty years earlier. Now let the reader try and imagine, if he can, the possibility of ascribing a number of remarkable acts—we will not say miraculous ones—to some one who died in 1830, and assuming also that these events were the basis of a society which had commenced with his death, and was now making way, and that the chief design of the society was to make known or keep up the memory of these events, and that there had been a literature written between the present time and the time of the said man's death, every line of which had been written on the assumption that the events in question were true, and yet these events had never really taken place. We must also suppose that the person upon whom these acts are attempted to be fastened was regarded with intense dislike by the great majority of his contemporaries, who did all they could to ruin him when alive, and blacken his memory after he had died, and who looked with especial dislike on the idea that he was supposed to have done the acts in question. Let the reader, I say, try and imagine all this, and he will see that, in the case of our Lord, the author's "long after" must be sixty or seventy years at the least; more likely a hundred.
Let us now summon another witness to the supernatural, whose testimony we promised to consider, and this shall be Clement of Rome—the earliest author to whom it has suited the purpose of the author of "Supernatural Religion" to refer.
If we are to rely upon the almost universal consent of ancient authors rather than the mere conjectures of modern critics, he is the person alluded to by St. Paul in the words, "With Clement also, and with other my fellow labourers, whose names are written in the book of life." (Phil. iv. 3.)
Of this man Eusebius writes:—
"In the twelfth year of the same reign (Domitian's), after Anecletus had been bishop of Rome twelve years, he was succeeded by Clement, whom the Apostle, in his Epistle to the Philippians, shows had been his fellow-labourer in these words: 'With Clement also and the rest of my fellow-labourers, whose names are in the book of life.' Of this Clement there is one Epistle extant, acknowledged as genuine, of considerable length and of great merit, which he wrote in the name of the Church at Rome, to that of Corinth, at the time when there was a dissension in the latter. This we know to have been publicly read for common benefit, in most of the Churches both in former times and in our own." (Eccles. Hist. B. III. xv. xvi.)
Origen confirms this. Clement of Alexandria reproduces several pages from his Epistle, calling him "The Apostle Clement," [187:1] and Irenaeus speaks of him as the companion of the Apostles:—
"This man, as he had seen the blessed Apostles and been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the Apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes." (Bk. III. ch. iii. 3)
Irenaeus, it is to be remembered, died at the end of the second century, and his birth is placed within the first quarter of it, so that, in all probability, he had known numbers of Christians who had conversed with Clement.
According to the author of "Supernatural Religion," the great mass of critics assign the Epistle of Clement to between the years A.D. 95-100.
In dealing with this Epistle I shall, for argument's sake, assume that Clement quoted from an earlier Gospel than any one of our present ones, and that the one he quoted might be the Gospel according to the Hebrews, and I shall ask the same question that I asked respecting Justin Martyr—What views of Christ's Person and work and doctrine did he derive from this Gospel of his?
The Epistle of Clement is one in which we should scarcely expect to find much reference to the Supernatural, for it is written throughout for the one practical purpose of healing the divisions in the Church of Corinth. These the writer ascribes to envy, and cites a number of Scripture examples of the evil effects of this disposition and the good effects of the contrary one. He adheres to this purpose throughout, and every word he writes bears more or less directly on his subject. Yet in this document, from which, by its design, the subject of the supernatural seems excluded, we have all the leading features of supernatural Christianity. We have the Father sending the Son (ch. xlii.); we have the Son coming of the seed of Jacob according to the Flesh (ch. xxxii.); we have the words, "Our Lord Jesus Christ, the sceptre of the Majesty of God, did not come in the pomp of pride and arrogance, although He might have done so, but in a lowly condition, as the Holy Spirit had declared regarding Him" (ch. xvi.); and at the end of the same we have:—
"If the Lord thus humbled Himself, what shall we do who have through Him come under the yoke of His grace?"
Clement describes Him in the words of the Epistle to the Hebrews as One—
"Who, being the brightness of His [God's] Majesty, is by so much greater than the angels as He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they." (Ch. xxxvi.)
We have Clement speaking continually of the Death of Jesus as taking place for the highest of supernatural purposes,—the reconciliation of all men to God. "Let us look," he writes, "steadfastly to the Blood of Christ, and see how precious that Blood is to God, which, having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance before the whole world." (Ch. vii.) Again, "And thus they made it manifest that Redemption should flow through the Blood of the Lord to all them that believe and hope in God." (Ch. xii.) Again, "On account of the love He bore us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His Blood for us by the will of God, His Flesh for our flesh, and His Soul for our souls." (Ch. xlix.) His sufferings are apparently said by Clement to be the sufferings of God. (Ch. ii.) But, above all, the statement of the truth of our Lord's Resurrection, and of ours through His, is as explicit as possible:—
"Let us consider, beloved, how the Lord continually proves to us that there shall be a future resurrection, of which He has rendered the Lord Jesus the first fruits by raising Him from the dead." (Ch. xxiv.)
"[The Apostles] having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the Word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was at hand." (Ch. xlii.)
When we look to Clement's theology, we find it to have been what would now be called, in the truest and best sense of the word, "Evangelical," thus:—
"We too, being called by His Will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which from the beginning Almighty God has justified all men." (Ch. xxxii.)
"All these the Great Creator and Lord of all has appointed to exist in peace and harmony; while He does good to all, but most abundantly to us who have fled for refuge to His compassion through Jesus Christ our Lord."
And he ends his Epistle with the following prayer:—
"May God, who seeth all things, and Who is the Ruler of all Spirits and the Lord of all Flesh—Who chose our Lord Jesus, and us through Him to be a peculiar people—grant to every soul that calleth upon His glorious and holy Name, faith, fear, peace, patience, long suffering, self-control, purity and sobriety, to the well pleasing of His Name through our High Priest and Protector Jesus Christ." (Ch. lviii.)
But with all this his Christianity seems to have been Ecclesiastical, in the technical sense of the word. He seems to have had a much clearer and firmer hold than Justin had of the truth that Christ instituted, not merely a philosophy or system of teaching, but a mystical body or visible Church, having its gradations of officers corresponding to the officers of the Jewish Ecclesiastical system, and its orderly arrangements of worship. (Ch. xl-xlii.)
Now this is the Christianity of a man who lived at least sixty or seventy years nearer to the fountain head of Christian truth than did Justin Martyr, whose witness to dogmatical or supernatural Christianity we have shown at some length.
It is also gathered out of a comparatively short book, not one sixth of the length of the writings of Justin, and composed solely for an undogmatic purpose.
His views of Christ and His work are precisely the same as those of Justin. By all rule of rationalistic analogy they ought to have been less "ecclesiastical," but in some respects they are more so.
Clement certainly seems to bring out more fully our Lord's Resurrection (taking into consideration, that is, the scope of his one remaining book and its brevity), and the Resurrection of Christ is the crowning miracle which stamps the whole dispensation as supernatural.
So far, then, as the Supernatural is concerned, it makes no difference whatsoever whether Clement used the Gospel according to St. Matthew or the Gospel according to the Hebrews. His Gospel, whatever it was, not only filled his heart with an intense and absorbing love of Christ, and a desire that all men should imitate Him, but it filled his mind with that view of the religion of Christ which we call supernatural and evangelical, but which the author of "Supernatural Religion" calls ecclesiastical.
The question now arises, not so much from whom, but when, did he receive this view of Christ and His system. I do not mean, of course, the more minute features, but the substance. To what period must his reminiscences as a Christian extend? What time must his experiences cover? Irenaeus, in the place I have quoted, speaks of him as the companion of Apostles, Clement of Alexandria as an Apostle, Eusebius and Origen as the fellow-labourer of St. Paul. Now, I will not at present insist upon the more than likelihood that such was the fact. I will, for argument's sake, assume that he was some other Clement; but, whoever he was, one thing respecting him is certain—that the knowledge of Christianity was not poured into him at the moment when he wrote his Epistle, nor did he receive it ten—twenty—thirty years before. St. Peter and St. Paul were martyred in A.D. 68; the rest of the Apostolic College were dispersed long before. This Epistle shows little or no trace of the peculiar Johannean teaching or tradition of the Apostle who survived all the others; so, unless he had received his Christian teaching some years before the Martyrdom of the two Apostles Peter and Paul, that is, some time before A.D. 68, probably many years, I do not see that there can have been the smallest ground even for the tradition of the very next generation after his own that he knew the Apostles. Such a tradition could not possibly have been connected with the name of a man who became a Christian late in the century.