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practical theories were absolutely perfect; or whether beyond the circle of received truths there might not lie something broader, deeper, truer, and thus better deserving the acceptance of mankind.
Submissiveness, humility, obedience, produce if uncorrected, in politics a nation of slaves whose baseness becomes an incentive to tyranny; in religion, the consecration of falsehood, poperies, immaculate conceptions, winking images, and all else which is most preposterous. The spirit of inquiry if left to itself becomes in like manner a disease of uncertainty, and terminates in universal scepticism. It seems as if in a healthy order of things, to the willingness to believe there should be chained as its inseparable companion a jealousy of deception; and there is no lesson more important for serious persons to impress upon themselves than that each of these temperaments must learn to tolerate the other; faith accepting from reason the sanction of its service, and reason receiving in return the warm pulsations of life. The two principles exist together in the highest natures; and the man who in the best sense of the word is devout is also the most cautious to whom or to what he pays his devotion. Among the multitude, the units of which are each inadequate and incomplete, the elements are disproportionately mixed; some men are humble and devout, some are sceptical and inquiring; yet both are filling a place in the great intellectual economy; both contribute to make up the sum and proportion of qualities which are required to hold the balance even; and neither party is entitled to say to the other, 'stand by, I am holier than thou.'
And as it is with individuals so is it also with whole periods and cycles. For centuries together the believing spirit held undisputed sovereignty; and these were what are called 'ages of faith;' ages, that is, in which the highest business of the intellect was to pray rather than to investigate; when for every unusual phenomenon a supernatural cause was instinctively assumed;
when wonders were credible in proportion to their magnitude; and theologians, with easy command of belief, added miracle to miracle, and piled dogma upon dogma. Then the tide changed; a fresh era opened, which in the eyes of those who considered the old system the only right one, was the letting loose of the impersonated spirit of evil; when profane eyes were looking their idols in the face; when men were saying to the miraculous images 'you are but stone and wood,' and to the piece of bread 'you are but dust as I am dust;' and then the huge mediæval fabric crumbled down in ruin.
All forms of thought, all objects of devotion are made thus liable to perpetual revision, if only that belief shall not petrify into habit, but remain the reasonable conviction of a reasonable soul. The change of times and the change of conditions change also the appearance of things which in themselves are the same which they always were. Facts supposed once to be as fixed as the stars melt into fiction. A closer acquaintance with the phenomena of experience has revealed to us the action of forces before undreamt of working throughout nature with unerring uniformity; and to the mediæval stories of magic, witchcraft, or the miracles of saints we are thus placed in a new relation. The direct evidence on which such stories were received may remain unimpaired, but it no longer produces the same conviction; or even in ordinary human things where the evidence is lost-as in some of our own state trials, and we know only that it was such as brought conviction to the judges, juries, and parliaments-historians do not hesitate to call their verdicts into question, thinking it more likely that whole masses of men should have been led away by passion or fraud or cowardice than that this or that particular crime should have been committed. That we often go beyond our office and exaggerate the value of our criteria of truth may be possible enough; but it is no less certain that this is the tendency of modern
thought. Our own age like every age which has gone before it judges the value of testimony not by itself merely, but by the degree to which it corresponds with our own sense of the laws of probability; and we consider events probable or improbable by the habit of mind which is the result of our general knowledge and culture. To the Catholic of the middle ages a miracle was more likely than not; and when he was told that a miracle had been worked, he believed it as he would have believed had he been told that a shower of rain had fallen, or that a night frost had killed the buds upon the fruit trees. Nay, for the poor buds he would have preferred as a more likely agent than the frost the malice of Satan or the evil eye of a witch; and if two or more witnesses could have been found to swear that they had heard an old woman curse him, she would have been burnt for a sorceress. The man of science knows nothing of witches and sorcerers; when he can find a natural cause he refuses to entertain the possibility of the intervention of a cause beyond nature; and thus that very element of marvel which to the more superstitious temperament was an evidence of truth becomes to the better informed a cause of suspicion.
So it has been that throughout history, as between individuals among ourselves, we trace two habits of thought, one of which has given us churches, creeds, and the knowledge of God; the other has given us freedom and science, has pruned the luxuriance of imaginative reverence, and reminds piety of what it is too ready to forget-that God is truth. Yet essential as they are to one another, each keeps too absolutely to the circle of its own convictions, and but half able to recognize the merit of principles which are alien to its own, regards the other as its natural enemy.
To the warm and enthusiastic pietist the inquirer appears as a hater of God, an inveterate blasphemer of holy things, soiling with rude and insolent hands what ought only to be humbly adored. The saint when he has the power calls the sword to his aid, and in his zeal
for what he calls the honour of God makes war upon such people with steel and fire. The innovator on the other hand knowing that he is not that evil thing which his rival represents him as being, knowing that he too desires only truth-first suffers, suffers in rough times at stake and scaffold, suffers in our own later days in good name, in reputation, in worldly fortune; and as the whirligig of time brings round his turn of triumph, takes, in French revolutions and such other fits of madness, his own period of wild revenge. The service of truth is made to appear as one thing, the service of God as another; and in that fatal separation religion dishonours itself with unavailing enmity to what nevertheless it is compelled at last to accept in humiliation; and science welcoming the character which its adversary flings upon it turns away with answering hostility from doctrines without which its own highest achievements are but pyramids of ashes.
Is this antagonism a law of humanity? As mankind move upwards through the ascending circles of progress is it for ever to be with them as with the globe which they inhabit-of which one hemisphere is perpetually dark? Have the lessons of the Reformation been thrown away? Is knowledge always to advance under the ban of religion? Is faith never to cease to dread investigation? Is science chiefly to value each new discovery as a victory gained over its rival? Is the spiritual world to revolve eternally upon an axis of which the two poles are materialism and superstition, to be buried in their alternate occultations in periods of utter darkness, or lifted into an icy light where there is neither life nor warmth?
How it may be in the remote future it is idle to guess; for the present the signs are not hopeful; we are arrived visibly at one of those recurring times when the accounts are called in for audit; when the title-deeds are to be looked through, and established opinions again tested. It is a process which has been repeated more than once in the world's history; the last occasion
and greatest being the Reformation of the sixteenth century; and the experience of that matter might have satisfied the most timid that truth has nothing to fear; and that religion emerges out of such trials stronger and brighter than before. Yet Churchmen have not profited by the experience; the pulpits and the religious press ring again with the old shrieks of sacrilege: the machinery of the law courts is set creaking on its rusty hinges, and denunciation and anathema in the old style take the place of reasoning. It will not answer; and the worst danger to what is really true is the want of wisdom in its defenders. The language which we sometimes hear about these things seems to imply that while Christianity is indisputably true, it cannot stand nevertheless without bolt and shackle, as if the Author of our faith had left the evidence so weak that an honest investigation would fail to find it.
Inevitably the altered relation in which modern culture places the minds of all of us towards the supernatural will compel a reconsideration of the grounds on which the acceptance of miracles is required. If the English learned clergy had faith as a grain of mustard seed they would be the first to take possession of the field; they would look the difficulty in the face fearlessly and frankly, and we should not be tossing as we are now in an ocean of uncertainty, ignorant whether if things seem obscure to us the fault is with our intellects or our hearts.
It might have been that Providence anticipating the effect produced on dead testimony by time and change had raised religion into a higher sphere, and had appointed on earth a living and visible authority which could not errguided by the Holy Spirit into truth, and divinely sustained in the possession of it. Such a body the Roman Catholic Church conceives itself to be; but in breaking away from its communion Protestant Christians have declared their conviction that neither the Church of Rome, nor they themselves, nor any other body of men on earth are
exempt from a liability to error. It is no longer competent for the Anglican communion to say that a doctrine or a fact is true because it forms a part of their teaching, because it has come down to them from antiquity, and because to deny it is sin. Transubstantiation came down to the fathers of the Reformation from antiquity; it was received and insisted upon by the Catholic Church of Christendom; yet nevertheless it was flung out from among us as a lie and an offence. The theory of the Divine authority of the Church was abandoned in the act of Protestantism three centuries ago; it was the central principle of that great revolt that the establishment of particular opinions was guarantee for their truth; and it becomes thus our duty as well as our right to examine periodically our intellectual defences, to abandon positions which the alteration of time makes untenable, and to admit and invite into the service of the sanctuary the fullest light of advancing knowledge. Of all positions the most fatally suicidal for Protestants to occupy is the assumption which it is competent for Roman Catholics to hold, but not for them, that beliefs once sanctioned by the Church are sacred, and that to impugn them is not error but crime.
With a hope then that this reproach may be taken away from us; that in this most wealthily-endowed Church of England, where so many of the most gifted and most accomplished men among us are maintained in well-paid leisure to attend to such things, we may not be left any longer to grope our way in the dark, the present writer puts forward some few perplexities of which it would be well if English divinity contained a clearer solution than is found there. The laity, occupied in other matters, regard the clergy as the trustees of their spiritual interests; but inasmuch as the clergy tell them that the safety of their souls depends on the correctness of their opinions, they dare not close their eyes to the questions which are being asked in louder and ever louder tones; and they have a right to demand that they shall not
be left to their own unaided efforts to answer such questions. We go to our appointed teachers as to our physicians; we say to them' we feel pain here and here and here: we do not see our way, and we require you to help us.'
Most of these questions are not new they rose with the first beginnings of critical investigation; but the fact that they have been so many years before the world without being satisfactorily encountered makes the situation only the more serious. It is the more strange that as time passes on, and divine after divine is raised to honour and office for his theological services, we should find only when we turn to their writings that loud promises end in no performance; that the chief object which they set before themselves is to avoid difficult ground; and that the points on which we most cry out for satisfaction are passed over in silence, or are disposed of with ineffectual commonplaces.
With a temperament constitutionally religious, and with an instinctive sense of the futility of theological controversies, the English people have long kept the enemy at bay by passive repugnance. To the wellconditioned English layman the religion in which he has been educated is part of the law of the land; the truth of it is assumed in the first principles of his personal and social existence; and attacks on the credibility of his sacred books he has regarded with the same impatience and disdain with which he treats speculations on the rights of property or the common maxims of right and wrong. Thus, while the inspiration of the Bible has been a subject of discussion for a century in Germany, Holland, and France; while even in the desolate villages in the heart of Spain the priests find it necessary to placard the church walls with cautions against rationalism, England hitherto has escaped the trial; and it is only within the last few years that the note of speculation has compelled our deaf ears to listen. That it has come at last is less a matter of surprise than that it should have been
so long delayed; and though slow to move, it is likely that so serious a people will not now rest till they have settled the matter for themselves in some practical way. They are assured that if the truth be, as they are told, of vital moment-vital to all alike, wise and foolish, educated and uneducated-the road to it cannot lie through any very profound inquiries. They refuse to believe that every labourer or mechanic must balance arduous historical probabilities and come to a just conclusion, under pain of damnation. We are satisfied that these poor people are not placed in so cruel a dilemma. Either. these abstruse historical questions are open questions, and we are not obliged under those penalties to hold a definite opinion upon them, or else there must be some general principle accessible and easily intelligible, by which the details can be summarily disposed of.
We shall not be much mistaken perhaps if we say that the view of most educated English laymen at present is something of this kind. They are aware that many questions may be asked difficult or impossible to answer satisfactorily, about the creation of the world, the flood, and generally on the historical portion of the Old Testament; but they suppose that if the authority of the Gospel history can be well ascertained, the rest may and must be taken for granted. If it be true that of the miraculous birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord we have the evidence of two evangelists who were eye-witnesses of the facts which they relate, and of two others who wrote under the direction of or upon the authority of eye-witnesses, we can afford to dispense with merely curious inquiries. The subordinate parts of a divine economy which culminated in so stupendous a mystery, may well be as marvellous as itself; and it may be assumed, we think with no great want of charity, that those who doubt the truth of the Old Testament extend their incredulity to the New; that the point of their disbelief towards which they are trenching their way through the weak places in the
Pentateuch is the Gospel narrative itself. Whatever difficulty there may be in proving the ancient Hebrew books to be the work of the writers whose names they bear, no one would have cared to challenge their genuineness who was thoroughly convinced of the resurrection of our Lord. And the real object of these speculations lies open before us in the now notorious work of M. Renan, which is shooting through Europe with a rapidity which recalls the era of Luther.
To the question of the authenticity of the Gospels, therefore, the common sense of Englishmen has instinctively turned. If, as English commentators confidently tell us, the Gospel of St. Matthew, such as we now possess it, is undoubtedly the work of the publican who followed our Lord from the receipt of custom, and remained with him to be a witness of his ascension; if St. John's Gospel was written by the beloved disciple who lay on Jesus' breast at supper; if the others were indeed the composition of the companions of St. Peter and St. Paul; if in these four Gospels we have independent accounts of our Lord's life and passion, mutually confirming each other, and if it can be proved that they existed and were received as authentic in the first century of the Christian Church, a stronger man than M. Renan will fail to shake the hold of Christianity in England.
We put the question hypothetically, not as meaning to suggest that the fact is uncertain, but being as the matter is of infinite moment,being as it were the hinge on which our faith depends, we are forced beyond our office to trespass on ground which we leave usually to the professional theologians, and to tell them plainly that there are difficulties which it is their business to clear up, but to which, with worse than imprudence, they close their own eyes and deliberately endeavour to keep them from ours. Some of
these it is the object of this paper to point out, with an earnest hope that Dean Alford, or Dr. Ellicott, or some other competent clergyman, may earn our gratitude by telling us
what to think about them. Setting aside their duty to us, they will find frank dealing in the long run their wisest policy. The conservative theologians of England have carried silence to the point of indiscretion.
Looking then to the three first Gospels, usually called the Synoptical, we are encountered immediately with a remarkable common element which runs through them all-a resemblance too peculiar to be the result of accident, and impossible to reconcile with the theory that the writers were independent of each other. It is not that general similarity which we should expect in different accounts of the same scenes and events, but amidst many differences a broad vein of circumstantial identity extending both to substance and expression.
And the identity is of several kinds.
1. Although the three evangelists relate each of them some things peculiar to themselves, and although between them there are some striking divergencies, as for instance between the account of our Lord's miraculous birth in St. Matthew and St. Luke, and in the absence in St. Mark of any mention of the miraculous birth at all; nevertheless, the body of the story is essentially the same. Out of those words and actions-so many, that if all were related the world itself could not contain the books that should be written-the three evangelists select for the most part the same; the same parables, the same miracles, and more or less complete the same addresses. When the material from which to select was so abundant-how abundant we we have but to turn to the fourth evangelist to see-it is at least singular that three writers should have made so nearly the same choice.
2. But this is not all. Not only are the things related the same, but the language in which they are expressed is the same. Sometimes the resemblance is such as would have arisen had the evangelists been translating from a common document in another language. Sometimes, and most frequently, there is an absolute verbal identity; sen