And now I have completed my review of the second subject to which I have given my attention in this Essay, the connexion existing between the intellectual acts of Assent and Inference, my first being the connexion of Assent with Apprehension; and as I closed my remarks upon Assent and Apprehension by applying the conclusions at which I had arrived to our belief in the Truths of Religion, so now I ought to speak of its Evidences, before quitting the consideration of the dependence of Assent upon Inference. I shall attempt to do so in this Chapter, not without much anxiety, lest I should injure so large, momentous, and sacred a subject by a necessarily cursory treatment.
I begin with expressing a sentiment, which is habitually in my thoughts, whenever they are turned to the subject of mental or moral science, and which I am as willing to apply here to the Evidences of Religion as it properly applies to Metaphysics or Ethics, viz. that in these provinces of inquiry egotism is true modesty. In religious inquiry each of us can speak only for himself, and for himself he has a right to speak. His own experiences are enough for himself, but he cannot speak for others: he cannot lay down the law; he can only bring his own experiences to the common stock of psychological facts. He knows what has satisfied and satisfies himself; if it satisfies him, it is likely to satisfy others; if, as he believes and is sure, it is true, it will approve itself to others also, for there is but one truth. And doubtless he does find in fact, that, allowing for the difference of minds and of modes of speech, what convinces him, does convince others also. There will be very many exceptions, but these will admit of explanation. Great numbers of men refuse to inquire at all; they put the subject of religion aside altogether; others are not serious enough to care about questions of truth and duty and to entertain them; and to numbers, from their temper of mind, or the absence of doubt, or a dormant intellect, it does not occur to inquire why or what they believe; many, though they tried, could not do so in any satisfactory way. This being the case, it causes no uneasiness to any one who honestly attempts to set down his own view of the Evidences of Religion, that at first sight he seems to be but one among many who are all in opposition to each other. But, however that may be, he brings together his reasons, and relies on them, because they are his own, and this is his primary evidence; and he has a second ground of evidence, in the testimony of those who agree with him. But his best evidence is the former, which is derived from his own thoughts; and it is that which the world has a right to demand of him; and therefore his true sobriety and modesty consists, not in claiming for his conclusions an acceptance or a scientific approval which is not to be found anywhere, but in stating what are personally his own grounds for his belief in Natural and Revealed Religion,—grounds which he holds to be so sufficient, that he thinks that others do hold them implicitly or in substance, or would hold them, if they inquired fairly, or will hold if they listen to him, or do not hold from impediments, invincible or not as it may be, into which he has no call to inquire. However, his own business is to speak for himself. He uses the words of the Samaritans to their countrywoman, when our Lord had remained with them for two days, “Now we believe, not for thy saying, for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.”
In these words it is declared both that the Gospel Revelation is divine, and that it carries with it the evidence of its divinity; and this is of course the matter of fact. However, these two attributes need not have been united; a revelation might have been really given, yet given without credentials. Our Supreme Master might have imparted to us truths which nature cannot teach us, without telling us that He had imparted them, as is actually the case now, as regards heathen countries, into which portions of revealed truth overflow and penetrate, without their populations knowing whence those truths came. But the very idea of Christianity in its profession and history, is something more than this; it is a “Revelatio revelata;” it is a definite message from God to man distinctly conveyed by His chosen instruments, and to be received as such a message; and therefore to be positively acknowledged, embraced, and maintained as true, on the ground of its being divine, not as true on intrinsic grounds, not as probably true, or partially true, but as absolutely certain knowledge, certain in a sense in which nothing else can be certain, because it comes from Him who neither can deceive nor be deceived.
And the whole tenor of Scripture from beginning to end is to this effect: the matter of revelation is not a mere collection of truths, not a philosophical view, not a religious sentiment or spirit, not a special morality,—poured out upon mankind as a stream might pour itself into the sea, mixing with the world’s thought, modifying, purifying, invigorating it;—but an authoritative teaching, which bears witness to itself and keeps itself together as one, in contrast to the assemblage of opinions on all sides of it, and speaks to all men, as being ever and everywhere one and the same, and claiming to be received intelligently, by all whom it addresses, as one doctrine, discipline, and devotion directly given from above. In consequence, the exhibition of credentials, that is, of evidence, that it is what it professes to be, is essential to Christianity, as it comes to us; for we are not left at liberty to pick and choose out of its contents according to our judgment, but must receive it all, as we find it, if we accept it at all. It is a religion in addition to the religion of nature; and as nature has an intrinsic claim upon us to be obeyed and used, so what is over and above nature, or supernatural, must also bring with it valid testimonials of its right to demand our homage.
Next, as to its relation to nature. As I have said, Christianity is simply an addition to it; it does not supersede or contradict it; it recognizes and depends on it, and that of necessity: for how possibly can it prove its claims except by an appeal to what men have already? be it ever so miraculous, it cannot dispense with nature; this would be to cut the ground from under it; for what would be the worth of evidences in favour of a revelation which denied the authority of that system of thought, and those courses of reasoning, out of which those evidences necessarily grew?
And in agreement with this obvious conclusion we find in Scripture our Lord and His Apostles always treating Christianity as the completion and supplement of Natural Religion, and of previous revelations; as when He says that the Father testified of Him; that not to know Him was not to know the Father; and as St. Paul at Athens appeals to the “Unknown God,” and says that “He that made the world” “now declareth to all men to do penance, because He hath appointed a day to judge the world by the man whom He hath appointed.” As then our Lord and His Apostles appeal to the God of nature, we must follow them in that appeal; and, to do this with the better effect, we must first inquire into the chief doctrines and the grounds of Natural Religion.
§ 1. Natural Religion.
By Religion I mean the knowledge of God, of His Will, and of our duties towards Him; and there are three main channels which Nature furnishes for our acquiring this knowledge, viz. our own minds, the voice of mankind, and the course of the world, that is, of human life and human affairs. The informations which these three convey to us teach us the Being and Attributes of God, our responsibility to Him, our dependence on Him, our prospect of reward or punishment, to be somehow brought about, according as we obey or disobey Him. And the most authoritative of these three means of knowledge, as being specially our own, is our own mind, whose informations give us the rule by which we test, interpret, and correct what is presented to us for belief, whether by the universal testimony of mankind, or by the history of society and of the world.
Our great internal teacher of religion is, as I have said in an earlier part of this Essay, our Conscience. Conscience is a personal guide, and I use it because I must use myself; I am as little able to think by any mind but my own as to breathe with another’s lungs. Conscience is nearer to me than any other means of knowledge. And as it is given to me, so also is it given to others; and being carried about by every individual in his own breast, and requiring nothing besides itself, it is thus adapted for the communication to each separately of that knowledge which is most momentous to him individually,—adapted for the use of all classes and conditions of men, for high and low, young and old, men and women, independently of books, of educated reasoning, of physical knowledge, or of philosophy. Conscience, too, teaches us, not only that God is, but what He is; it provides for the mind a real image of Him, as a medium of worship; it gives us a rule of right and wrong, as being His rule, and a code of moral duties. Moreover, it is so constituted that, if obeyed, it becomes clearer in its injunctions, and wider in their range, and corrects and completes the accidental feebleness of its initial teachings. Conscience, then, considered as our guide, is fully furnished for its office. I say all this without entering into the question how far external assistances are in all cases necessary to the action of the mind, because in fact man does not live in isolation, but is everywhere found as a member of society. I am not concerned here with abstract questions.
Now Conscience suggests to us many things about that Master, whom by means of it we perceive, but its most prominent teaching, and its cardinal and distinguishing truth, is that He is our Judge. In consequence, the special Attribute under which it brings Him before us, to which it subordinates all other Attributes, is that of justice—retributive justice. We learn from its informations to conceive of the Almighty, primarily, not as a God of Wisdom, of Knowledge, of Power, of Benevolence, but as a God of Judgment and Justice; as One, who not simply for the good of the offender, but as an end good in itself, and as a principle of government, ordains that the offender should suffer for his offence. If it tells us anything at all of the characteristics of the Divine Mind, it certainly tells us this; and, considering that our shortcomings are far more frequent and important than our fulfilment of the duties enjoined upon us, and that of this point we are fully aware ourselves, it follows that the aspect under which Almighty God is presented to us by Nature, is (to use a figure) of One who is angry with us, and threatens evil. Hence its effect is to burden and sadden the religious mind, and is in contrast with the enjoyment derivable from the exercise of the affections, and from the perception of beauty, whether in the material universe or in the creations of the intellect. This is that fearful antagonism brought out with such soul-piercing reality by Lucretius, when he speaks so dishonourably of what he considers the heavy yoke of religion, and the “æternas pœnas in morte timendum;” and, on the other hand, rejoices in his “Alma Venus,” “quæ rerum naturam sola gubernas.” And we may appeal to him for the fact, while we repudiate his view of it.
Such being the primâ facie aspect of religion which the teachings of Conscience bring before us individually, in the next place let us consider what are the doctrines, and what the influences of religion, as we find it embodied in those various rites and devotions which have taken root in the many races of mankind, since the beginning of history, and before history, all over the earth. Of these also Lucretius gives us a specimen; and they accord in form and complexion with that doctrine about duty and responsibility, which he so bitterly hates and loathes. It is scarcely necessary to insist, that wherever Religion exists in a popular shape, it has almost invariably worn its dark side outwards. It is founded in one way or other on the sense of sin; and without that vivid sense it would hardly have any precepts or any observances. Its many varieties all proclaim or imply that man is in a degraded, servile condition, and requires expiation, reconciliation, and some great change of nature. This is suggested to us in the many ways in which we are told of a realm of light and a realm of darkness, of an elect fold and a regenerate state. It is suggested in the almost ubiquitous and ever-recurring institution of a Priesthood; for wherever there is a priest, there is the notion of sin, pollution, and retribution, as, on the other hand, of intercession and mediation. Also, still more directly, is the notion of our guilt impressed upon us by the doctrine of future punishment, and that eternal, which is found in mythologies and creeds of such various parentage.
Of these distinct rites and doctrines embodying the severe side of Natural Religion, the most remarkable is that of atonement, that is, “a substitution of something offered, or some personal suffering, for a penalty which would otherwise be exacted;” most remarkable, I say, both from its close connexion with the notion of vicarious satisfaction, and, on the other hand, from its universality. “The practice of atonement,” says the author, whose definition of the word I have just given, “is remarkable for its antiquity and universality, proved by the earliest records that have come down to us of all nations, and by the testimony of ancient and modern travellers. In the oldest books of the Hebrew Scriptures, we have numerous instances of expiatory rites, where atonement is the prominent feature. At the earliest date, to which we can carry our inquiries by means of the heathen records, we meet with the same notion of atonement. If we pursue our inquiries through the accounts left us by the Greek and Roman writers of the barbarous nations with which they were acquainted, from India to Britain, we shall find the same notions and similar practices of atonement. From the most popular portion of our own literature, our narratives of voyages and travels, every one, probably, who reads at all will be able to find for himself abundant proof that the notion has been as permanent as it is universal. It shows itself among the various tribes of Africa, the islanders of the South Seas, and even that most peculiar race, the natives of Australia, either in the shape of some offering, or some mutilation of the person.”
These ceremonial acknowledgments, in so many distinct forms of worship, of the existing degradation of the human race, of course imply a brighter, as well as a threatening aspect of Natural Religion; for why should men adopt any rites of deprecation or of purification at all, unless they had some hope of attaining to a better condition than their present? Of this happier side of religion I will speak presently; here, however, a question of another kind occurs, viz. whether the notion of atonement can be admitted among the doctrines of Natural Religion,—I mean, on the ground that it is inconsistent with those teachings of Conscience, which I have recognized above, as the rule and corrective of every other information on the subject. If there is any truth brought home to us by conscience, it is this, that we are personally responsible for what we do, that we have no means of shifting our responsibility, and that dereliction of duty involves punishment; how, it may be asked, can acts of ours of any kind—how can even amendment of life—undo the past? And if even our own subsequent acts of obedience bring with them no promise of reversing what has once been committed, how can external rites, or the actions of another (as of a priest), be substitutes for that punishment which is the connatural fruit and intrinsic development of violation of the sense of duty? I think this objection avails as far as this, that amendment is no reparation, and that no ceremonies or penances can in themselves exercise any vicarious virtue in our behalf; and that, if they avail, they only avail in the intermediate season of probation; that in some way we must make them our own; and that, when the time comes, which conscience forebodes, of our being called to judgment, then, at least, we shall have to stand in and by ourselves, whatever we shall have by that time become, and must bear our own burden. But it is plain that in this final account, as it lies between us and our Master, He alone can decide how the past and the present will stand together who is our Creator and our Judge.
In thus making it a necessary point to adjust the religions of the world with the intimations of our conscience, I am suggesting the reason why I confine myself to such religions as have had their rise in barbarous times, and do not recognize the religion of what is called civilization, as having legitimately a part in the delineation of Natural Religion. It may at first sight seem strange, that, considering I have laid such stress upon the progressive nature of man, I should take my ideas of his religion from his initial, and not his final testimony about its doctrines; and it may be urged that the religion of civilized times is quite opposite in character to the rites and traditions of barbarians, and has nothing of that gloom and sternness, on which I have insisted as their characteristic. Thus the Greek Mythology was for the most part cheerful and graceful, and the new gods certainly more genial and indulgent than the old ones. And, in like manner, the religion of philosophy is more noble and more humane than those primitive conceptions which were sufficient for early kings and warriors. But my answer to this objection is obvious: the progress of which man’s nature is capable is a development, not a destruction of its original state; it must subserve the elements from which it proceeds, in order to be a true development and not a perversion.
And it does in fact subserve and complete that nature with which man is born. It is otherwise with the religion of so-called civilization; such religion does but contradict the religion of barbarism; and since this civilization itself is not a development of man’s whole nature, but mainly of the intellect, recognizing indeed the moral sense, but ignoring the conscience, no wonder that the religion in which it issues has no sympathy either with the hopes and fears of the awakened soul, or with those frightful presentiments which are expressed in the worship and traditions of the heathen. This artificial religion, then, has no place in the inquiry; first, because it comes of a one-sided progress of mind, and next, for the very reason that it contradicts informants which speak with greater authority than itself.
Now we come to the third natural informant on the subject of Religion; I mean the system and the course of the world. This established order of things, in which we find ourselves, if it has a Creator, must surely speak of His will in its broad outlines and its main issues. This principle being laid down as certain, when we come to apply it to things as they are, our first feeling is one of surprise and (I may say) of dismay, that His control of the world is so indirect, and His action so obscure. This is the first lesson that we gain from the course of human affairs. What strikes the mind so forcibly and so painfully is, His absence (if I may so speak) from His own world. It is a silence that speaks. It is as if others had got possession of His work. Why does not He, our Maker and Ruler, give us some immediate knowledge of Himself? Why does He not write His Moral Nature in large letters upon the face of history, and bring the blind, tumultuous rush of its events into a celestial, hierarchical order? Why does He not grant us in the structure of society at least so much of a revelation of Himself as the religions of the heathen attempt to supply? Why from the beginning of time has no one uniform steady light guided all families of the earth, and all individual men, how to please Him? Why is it possible without absurdity to deny His will, His attributes, His existence? Why does He not walk with us one by one, as He is said to have walked with His chosen men of old time? We both see and know each other; why, if we cannot have the sight of Him, have we not at least the knowledge? On the contrary, He is specially “a Hidden God;” and with our best efforts we can only glean from the surface of the world some faint and fragmentary views of Him. I see only a choice of alternatives in explanation of so critical a fact:—either there is no Creator, or He has disowned His creatures. Are then the dim shadows of His Presence in the affairs of men but a fancy of our own, or, on the other hand, has He hid His face and the light of His countenance, because we have in some special way dishonoured Him? My true informant, my burdened conscience, gives me at once the true answer to each of these antagonist questions:—it pronounces without any misgiving that God exists:—and it pronounces quite as surely that I am alienated from Him; that “His Hand is not shortened, but that our iniquities have divided between us and our God.” Thus it solves the world’s mystery, and sees in that mystery only a confirmation of its own original teaching.
Let us pass on to another great fact of experience, bearing on Religion, which confirms this testimony both of conscience and of the forms of worship which prevail among mankind;—I mean, the amount of suffering, bodily and mental, which is our portion in this life. Not only is the Creator far off, but some being of malignant nature seems, as I have said, to have got hold of us, and to be making us his sport. Let us say there are a thousand millions of men on the earth at this time; who can weigh and measure the aggregate of pain which this one generation has endured and will endure from birth to death? Then add to this all the pain which has fallen and will fall upon our race through centuries past and to come. Is there not then some great gulf fixed between us and the good God? Here again the testimony of the system of nature is more than corroborated by those popular traditions about the unseen state, which are found in mythologies and superstitions, ancient and modern; for those traditions speak, not only of present misery, but of pain and evil hereafter, and even without end. But this dreadful addition is not necessary for the conclusion which I am here wishing to draw. The real mystery is, not that evil should never have an end, but that it should ever have had a beginning. Even a universal restitution could not undo what had been, or account for evil being the necessary condition of good. How are we to explain it, the existence of God being taken for granted, except by saying that another will, besides His, has had a part in the disposition of His work, that there is an intractable quarrel, a chronic alienation, between God and man?
I have implied that the laws on which this world is governed do not go so far as to prove that evil will never die out of the creation; nevertheless, they look in that direction. No experience indeed of life can assure us about the future, but it can and does give us means of conjecturing what is likely to be; and those conjectures coincide with our natural forebodings. Experience enables us to ascertain the moral constitution of man, and thereby to presage his future from his present. It teaches us, first, that he is not sufficient for his own happiness, but is dependent upon the sensible objects which surround him, and that these he cannot take with him when he leaves the world; secondly, that disobedience to his sense of right is even by itself misery, and that he carries that misery about him, wherever he is, though no divine retribution followed upon it; and thirdly, that he cannot change his nature and his habits by wishing, but is simply himself, and will ever be himself and what he now is, wherever he is, as long as he continues to be,—or at least that pain has no natural tendency to make him other than he is, and that the longer he lives, the more difficult he is to change. How can we meet these not irrational anticipations, except by shutting our eyes, turning away from them, and saying that we have no call, no right, to think of them at present, or to make ourselves miserable about what is not certain, and may be not true?
Such is the severe aspect of Natural Religion: also it is the most prominent aspect, because the multitude of men follow their own likings and wills, and not the decisions of their sense of right and wrong. To them Religion is a mere yoke, as Lucretius describes it; not a satisfaction or refuge, but a terror and a superstition. However, I must not for an instant be supposed to mean, that this is its only, its chief, or its legitimate aspect. All Religion, so far as it is genuine, is a blessing, Natural as well as Revealed. I have insisted on its severe aspect in the first place, because, from the circumstances of human nature, though not by the fault of Religion, such is the shape in which we first encounter it. Its large and deep foundation is the sense of sin and guilt, and without this sense there is for man, as he is, no genuine religion. Otherwise, it is but counterfeit and hollow; and that is the reason why this so-called religion of civilization and philosophy is so great a mockery. However, true as this judgment is which I pass on philosophical religion, and troubled as are the existing relations between God and man, as both the voice of mankind and the facts of Divine Government testify, equally true are other general laws which govern those relations, and they speak another language, and compensate for what is stern in the teaching of nature, without tending to deny that sternness.
The first of these laws, relieving the aspect of Natural Religion, is the very fact that religious beliefs and institutions, of some kind or other, are of such general acceptance in all times and places. Why should men subject themselves to the tyranny which Lucretius denounces, unless they had either experience or hope of benefits to themselves by so doing? Though it be mere hope of benefits, that alone is a great alleviation of the gloom and misery which their religious rites presuppose or occasion; for thereby they have a prospect, more or less clear, of some happier state in reserve for them, or at least the chances of it. If they simply despaired of their fortunes, they would not care about religion. And hope of future good, as we know, sweetens all suffering.
Moreover, they have an earnest of that future in the real and recurring blessings of life, the enjoyment of the gifts of the earth, and of domestic affection and social intercourse, which is sufficient to touch and to subdue even the most guilty of men in his better moments, reminding him that he is not utterly cast off by Him whom nevertheless he is not given to know. Or, in the Apostle’s words, though the Creator once “suffered all nations to walk in their own ways,” still, “He left not Himself without testimony, doing good from heaven, giving rains and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”
Nor are these blessings of physical nature the only tokens in the Divine System, which in that heathen time, and indeed in every age, bring home to our experience the fact of a Good God, in spite of the tumult and confusion of the world. It is possible to give an interpretation to the course of things, by which every event or occurrence in its order becomes providential: and though that interpretation does not hold good unless the world is contemplated from a particular point of view, in one given aspect, and with certain inward experiences, and personal first principles and judgments, yet these may be fairly pronounced to be common conditions of human thought, that is, till they are wilfully or accidentally lost; and they issue in fact, in leading the great majority of men to recognize the Hand of unseen power, directing in mercy or in judgment the physical and moral system. In the prominent events of the world, past and contemporary, the fate, evil or happy, of great men, the rise and fall of states, popular revolutions, decisive battles, the migration of races, the replenishing of the earth, earthquakes and pestilences, critical discoveries and inventions, the history of philosophy, the advancement of knowledge, in these the spontaneous piety of the human mind discerns a Divine Supervision. Nay, there is a general feeling, originating directly in the workings of conscience, that a similar governance is extended over the persons of individuals, who thereby both fulfil the purposes and receive the just recompenses of an Omnipotent Providence. Good to the good, and evil to the evil, is instinctively felt to be, even from what we see, amid whatever obscurity and confusion, the universal rule of God’s dealings with us. Hence come the great proverbs, indigenous in both Christian and heathen nations, that punishment is sure, though slow, that murder will out, that treason never prospers, that pride will have a fall, that honesty is the best policy, and that curses fall on the heads of those who utter them. To the unsophisticated apprehension of the many, the successive passages of life, social or political, are so many miracles, if that is to be accounted miraculous which brings before them the immediate Divine Presence; and should it be objected that this is an illogical exercise of reason, I answer, that since it actually brings them to a right conclusion, and was intended to bring them to it, if logic finds fault with it, so much the worse for logic.
Again, prayer is essential to religion, and, where prayer is, there is a natural relief and solace in all trouble, great or ordinary: now prayer is not less general in mankind at large than is faith in Providence. It has ever been in use, both as a personal and as a social practice. Here again, if, in order to determine what the Religion of Nature is, we may justly have recourse to the spontaneous acts and proceedings of our race, as viewed on a large field, we may safely say that prayer, as well as hope, is a constituent of man’s religion. Nor is it a fair objection to this argument, to say that such prayers and rites as have obtained in various places and times, are in their character, object, and scope inconsistent with each other; because their contrarieties do not come into the idea of religion, as such, at all, and the very fact of their discordance destroys their right to be taken into account, so far as they are discordant; for what is not universal has no claim to be considered natural, right, or of divine origin. Thus we may determine prayer to be part of Natural Religion, from such instances of the usage as are supplied by the priests of Baal and by dancing Dervishes, without therefore including in our notions of prayer the frantic excesses of the one, or the artistic spinning of the other, or sanctioning their respective objects of belief, Baal or Mahomet.
As prayer is the voice of man to God, so Revelation is the voice of God to man. Accordingly, it is another alleviation of the darkness and distress which weigh upon the religions of the world, that in one way or other such religions are founded on some idea of express revelation, coming from the unseen agents whose anger they deprecate; nay, that the very rites and observances, by which they hope to gain the favour of these beings, are by these beings themselves communicated and appointed. The Religion of Nature is not a deduction of reason, or the joint, voluntary manifesto of a multitude meeting together and pledging themselves to each other, as men move resolutions now for some political or social purpose, but it is a tradition or an interposition vouchsafed to a people from above. To such an interposition men even ascribed their civil polity or citizenship, which did not originate in any plebiscite, but in dii minores or heroes, was inaugurated with portents or palladia, and protected and prospered by oracles and auguries. Here is an evidence, too, how congenial the notion of a revelation is to the human mind, so that the expectation of it may truly be considered an integral part of Natural Religion.
Among the observances imposed by these professed revelations, none is more remarkable, or more general, than the rite of sacrifice, in which guilt was removed or blessing gained by an offering, which availed instead of the merits of the offerer. This, too, as well as the notion of divine interpositions, may be considered almost an integral part of the Religion of Nature, and an alleviation of its gloom. But it does not stand by itself; I have already spoken of the doctrine of atonement, under which it falls, and which, if what is universal is natural, enters into the idea of religious service. And what the nature of man suggests, the providential system of the world sanctions by enforcing. It is the law, or the permission, given to our whole race, to use the Apostle’s words, to “bear one another’s burdens;” and this, as I said when on the subject of Atonement, is quite consistent with his antithesis that “every one must bear his own burden.” The final burden of responsibility when we are called to judgment is our own; but among the media by which we are prepared for that judgment are the exertions and pains taken in our behalf by others. On this vicarious principle, by which we appropriate to ourselves what others do for us, the whole structure of society is raised. Parents work and endure pain, that their children may prosper; children suffer for the sin of their parents, who have died before it bore fruit. “Delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi.” Sometimes it is a compulsory, sometimes a willing mediation. The punishment which is earned by the husband falls upon the wife; the benefits in which all classes partake are wrought out by the unhealthy or dangerous toil of the few. Soldiers endure wounds and death for those who sit at home; and ministers of state fall victims to their zeal for their countrymen, who do little else than criticize their actions. And so in some measure or way this law embraces all of us. We all suffer for each other, and gain by each other’s sufferings; for man never stands alone here, though he will stand by himself one day hereafter; but here he is a social being, and goes forward to his long home as one of a large company.
Butler, it need scarcely be said, is the great master of this doctrine, as it is brought out in the system of nature. In answer to the objection to the Christian doctrine of satisfaction, that it “represents God as indifferent whether He punishes the innocent or the guilty,” he observes that “the world is a constitution or system, whose parts have a mutual reference to each other; and that there is a scheme of things gradually carrying on, called the course of nature, to the carrying on of which God has appointed us, in various ways, to contribute. And in the daily course of natural providence, it is appointed that innocent people should suffer for the faults of the guilty. Finally, indeed and upon the whole, every one shall receive according to his personal deserts; but during the progress, and, for aught we know, even in order to the completion of this moral scheme, vicarious punishments may be fit, and absolutely necessary. We see in what variety of ways one person’s sufferings contribute to the relief of another; and being familiarized to it, men are not shocked with it. So the reason of their insisting on objections against the [doctrine of] satisfaction is, either that they do not consider God’s settled and uniform appointments as His appointments at all; or else they forget that vicarious punishment is a providential appointment of every day’s experience.” I will but add, that, since all human suffering is in its last resolution the punishment of sin, and punishment implies a Judge and a rule of justice, he who undergoes the punishment of another in his stead may be said in a certain sense to satisfy the claims of justice towards that other in his own person.
One concluding remark has to be made here. In all sacrifices it was specially required that the thing offered should be something rare, and unblemished; and in like manner in all atonements and all satisfactions, not only was the innocent taken for the guilty, but it was a point of special importance that the victim should be spotless, and the more manifest that spotlessness, the more efficacious was the sacrifice. This leads me to a last principle which I shall notice as proper to Natural Religion, and as lightening the prophecies of evil in which it is founded; I mean the doctrine of meritorious intercession. The man in the Gospel did but speak for the human race everywhere, when he said, “God heareth not sinners; but if a man be a worshipper of God, and doth His will, him He heareth.” Hence every religion has had its eminent devotees, exalted above the body of the people, mortified men, brought nearer to the Source of good by austerities, self-inflictions, and prayer, who have influence with Him, and extend a shelter and gain blessings for those who become their clients. A belief like this has been, of course, attended by numberless superstitions; but those superstitions vary with times and places, and the belief itself in the mediatorial power of the good and holy has been one and the same everywhere. Nor is this belief an idea of past times only or of heathen countries. It is one of the most natural visions of the young and innocent. And all of us, the more keenly we feel our own distance from holy persons, the more are we drawn near to them, as if forgetting that distance, and proud of them because they are so unlike ourselves, as being specimens of what our nature may be, and with some vague hope that we, their relations by blood, may profit in our own persons by their holiness.
Such, then, in outline is that system of natural beliefs and sentiments, which, though true and divine, is still possible to us independently of Revelation, and is the preparation for it; though in Christians themselves it cannot really be separated from their Christianity, and never is possessed in its higher forms in any people without some portion of those inward aids which Christianity imparts to us, and those endemic traditions which have their first origin in a paradisiacal illumination.
§ 2. Revealed Religion.
In determining, as above, the main features of Natural Religion, and distinguishing it from the religion of philosophy or civilization, I may be accused of having taken a course of my own, for which I have no sufficient warrant. Such an accusation does not give me much concern. Every one who thinks on these subjects takes a course of his own, though it will also happen to be the course which others take besides himself. The minds of many separately bear them forward in the same direction, and they are confirmed in it by each other. This I consider to be my own case; if I have mis-stated or omitted notorious facts in my account of Natural Religion, if I have contradicted or disregarded anything which He who speaks through my conscience has told us all directly from Heaven, then indeed I have acted unjustifiably and have something to unsay; but, if I have done no more than view the notorious facts of the case in the medium of my primary mental experiences, under the aspects which they spontaneously present to me, and with the aid of my best illative sense, I only do on one side of the question what those who think differently do on the other. As they start with one set of first principles, I start with another. I gave notice just now that I should offer my own witness in the matter in question; though of course it would not be worth while my offering it, unless what I felt myself agreed with what is felt by hundreds and thousands besides me, as I am sure it does, whatever be the measure, more or less, of their explicit recognition of it.
In thus speaking of Natural Religion as in one sense a matter of private judgment, and that with a view of proceeding from it to the proof of Christianity, I seem to give up the intention of demonstrating either. Certainly I do; not that I deny that demonstration is possible. Truth certainly, as such, rests upon grounds intrinsically and objectively and abstractedly demonstrative, but it does not follow from this that the arguments producible in its favour are unanswerable and irresistible. These latter epithets are relative, and bear upon matters of fact; arguments in themselves ought to do, what perhaps in the particular case they cannot do. The fact of revelation is in itself demonstrably true, but it is not therefore true irresistibly; else, how comes it to be resisted? There is a vast distance between what it is in itself, and what it is to us. Light is a quality of matter, as truth is of Christianity; but light is not recognized by the blind, and there are those who do not recognize truth, from the fault, not of truth, but of themselves. I cannot convert men, when I ask for assumptions which they refuse to grant to me; and without assumptions no one can prove anything about anything.
I am suspicious then of scientific demonstrations in a question of concrete fact, in a discussion between fallible men. However, let those demonstrate who have the gift; “unusquisque in suo sensu abundet.” For me, it is more congenial to my own judgment to attempt to prove Christianity in the same informal way in which I can prove for certain that I have been born into this world, and that I shall die out of it. It is pleasant to my own feelings to follow a theological writer, such as Amort, who has dedicated to the great Pope, Benedict XIV., what he calls “a new, modest, and easy way of demonstrating the Catholic Religion.” In this work he adopts the argument merely of the greater probability; I prefer to rely on that of an accumulation of various probabilities; but we both hold (that is, I hold with him), that from probabilities we may construct legitimate proof, sufficient for certitude. I follow him in holding, that, since a Good Providence watches over us, He blesses such means of argument as it has pleased Him to give us, in the nature of man and of the world, if we use them duly for those ends for which He has given them; and that, as in mathematics we are justified by the dictate of nature in withholding our assent from a conclusion of which we have not yet a strict logical demonstration, so by a like dictate we are not justified, in the case of concrete reasoning and especially of religious inquiry, in waiting till such logical demonstration is ours, but on the contrary are bound in conscience to seek truth and to look for certainty by modes of proof, which, when reduced to the shape of formal propositions, fail to satisfy the severe requisitions of science.
Here then at once is one momentous doctrine or principle, which enters into my own reasoning, and which another ignores, viz. the providence and intention of God; and of course there are other principles, explicit or implicit, which are in like circumstances. It is not wonderful then, that, while I can prove Christianity divine to my own satisfaction, I shall not be able to force it upon any one else. Multitudes indeed I ought to succeed in persuading of its truth without any force at all, because they and I start from the same principles, and what is a proof to me is a proof to them; but if any one starts from any other principles but ours, I have not the power to change his principles or the conclusion which he draws from them, any more than I can make a crooked man straight. Whether his mind will ever grow straight, whether I can do anything towards its becoming straight, whether he is not responsible, responsible to his Maker, for being mentally crooked, is another matter; still the fact remains, that, in any inquiry about things in the concrete, men differ from each other, not so much in the soundness of their reasoning as in the principles which govern its exercise, that those principles are of a personal character, that where there is no common measure of minds, there is no common measure of arguments, and that the validity of proof is determined, not by any scientific test, but by the illative sense.
Accordingly, instead of saying that the truths of Revelation depend on those of Natural Religion, it is more pertinent to say that belief in revealed truths depends on belief in natural. Belief is a state of mind; belief generates belief; states of mind correspond to each other; the habits of thought and the reasonings which lead us on to a higher state of belief than our present, are the very same which we already possess in connexion with the lower state. Those Jews became Christians in Apostolic times who were already what may be called crypto-Christians; and those Christians in this day remain Christian only in name, and (if it so happen) at length fall away, who are nothing deeper or better than men of the world, savants, literary men, or politicians.
That a special preparation of mind is required for each separate department of inquiry and discussion (excepting, of course, that of abstract science) is strongly insisted upon in well-known passages of the Nicomachean Ethics. Speaking of the variations which are found in the logical perfection of proof in various subject-matters, Aristotle says, “A well-educated man will expect exactness in every class of subjects, according as the nature of the thing admits; for it is much the same mistake to put up with a mathematician using probabilities, and to require demonstration of an orator. Each man judges skilfully in those things about which he is well-informed; it is of these, that he is a good judge; viz. he, in each subject-matter, is a judge, who is well-educated in that subject-matter, and he is in an absolute sense a judge, who is in all of them well-educated.” Again: “Young men come to be mathematicians and the like, but they cannot possess practical judgment; for this talent is employed upon individual facts, and these are learned only by experience; and a youth has not experience, for experience is only gained by a course of years. And so, again, it would appear that a boy may be a mathematician, but not a philosopher, or learned in physics, and for this reason,—because the one study deals with abstractions, while the other studies gain their principles from experience, and in the latter subjects youths do not give assent, but make assertions, but in the former they know what it is that they are handling.”
These words of a heathen philosopher, laying down broad principles about all knowledge, express a general rule, which in Scripture is applied authoritatively to the case of revealed knowledge in particular;—and that not once or twice only, but continually, as is notorious. For instance:—“I have understood,” says the Psalmist, “more than all my teachers, because Thy testimonies are my meditation.” And so our Lord: “He that hath ears, let him hear.” “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine.” And “He that is of God, heareth the words of God.” Thus too the Angels at the Nativity announce “Peace to men of good will.” And we read in the Acts of the Apostles of “Lydia, whose heart the Lord opened to attend to those things which were said by Paul.” And we are told on another occasion, that “as many as were ordained,” or disposed by God, “to life everlasting, believed.” And St. John tells us, “He that knoweth God, heareth us; he that is not of God, heareth us not; by this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.”
Relying then on these authorities, human and Divine, I have no scruple in beginning the review I shall take of Christianity by professing to consult for those only whose minds are properly prepared for it; and by being prepared, I mean to denote those who are imbued with the religious opinions and sentiments which I have identified with Natural Religion. I do not address myself to those, who in moral evil and physical see nothing more than imperfections of a parallel nature; who consider that the difference in gravity between the two is one of degree only, not of kind; that moral evil is merely the offspring of physical, and that as we remove the latter so we inevitably remove the former; that there is a progress of the human race which tends to the annihilation of moral evil; that knowledge is virtue, and vice is ignorance; that sin is a bugbear, not a reality; that the Creator does not punish except in the sense of correcting; that vengeance in Him would of necessity be vindictiveness; that all that we know of Him, be it much or little, is through the laws of nature; that miracles are impossible; that prayer to Him is a superstition; that the fear of Him is unmanly; that sorrow for sin is slavish and abject; that the only intelligible worship of Him is to act well our part in the world, and the only sensible repentance to do better in future; that if we do our duties in this life, we may take our chance for the next; and that it is of no use perplexing our minds about the future state, for it is all a matter of guess. These opinions characterize a civilized age; and if I say that I will not argue about Christianity with men who hold them, I do so, not as claiming any right to be impatient or peremptory with any one, but because it is plainly absurd to attempt to prove a second proposition to those who do not admit the first.
I assume then that the above system of opinion is simply false, inasmuch as it contradicts the primary teachings of nature in the human race, wherever a religion is found and its workings can be ascertained. I assume the Presence of God in our conscience, and the universal experience, as keen as our experience of bodily pain, of what we call a sense of sin or guilt. This sense of sin, as of something not only evil in itself, but an affront to the good God, is chiefly felt as regards one or other of three violations of His Law. He Himself is Sanctity, Truth, and Love; and the three offences against His Majesty are impurity, inveracity, and cruelty. All men are not distressed at these offences alike; but the piercing pain and sharp remorse which one or other inflicts upon the mind, till habituated to them, brings home to it the notion of what sin is, and is the vivid type and representative of its intrinsic hatefulness.
Starting from these elements, we may determine without difficulty the class of sentiments, intellectual and moral, which constitute the formal preparation for entering upon what are called the Evidences of Christianity. These Evidences, then, presuppose a belief and perception of the Divine Presence, a recognition of His attributes and an admiration of His Person viewed under them, a conviction of the worth of the soul and of the reality and momentousness of the unseen world, an understanding that, in proportion as we partake in our own persons of the attributes which we admire in Him, we are dear to Him, a consciousness on the contrary that we are far from partaking them, a consequent insight into our guilt and misery, an eager hope of reconciliation to Him, a desire to know and to love Him, and a sensitive looking-out in all that happens, whether in the course of nature or of human life, for tokens, if such there be, of His bestowing on us what we so greatly need. These are specimens of the state of mind for which I stipulate in those who would inquire into the truth of Christianity; and my warrant for so definite a stipulation lies in the teaching, as I have described it, of conscience and the moral sense, in the testimony of those religious rites which have ever prevailed in all parts of the world, and in the character and conduct of those who have commonly been selected by the popular instinct as the special favourites of Heaven.
I have appealed to the popular ideas on the subject of religion, and to the objects of popular admiration and praise, as illustrating my account of the preparation of mind which is necessary for the inquirer into Christianity. Here an obvious objection occurs, in noticing which I shall be advanced one step farther in the work which I have undertaken.
It may be urged, then, that no appeal will avail me, which is made to religions so notoriously immoral as those of paganism; nor indeed can it be made without an explanation. Certainly, as regards ethical teaching, various religions, which have been popular in the world, have not supplied any; and in the corrupt state in which they appear in history, they are little better than schools of imposture, cruelty, and impurity. Their objects of worship were immoral as well as false, and their founders and heroes have been in keeping with their gods. This is undeniable, but it does not destroy the use that may be made of their testimony. There is a better side of their teaching; purity has often been held in reverence, if not practised; ascetics have been in honour; hospitality has been a sacred duty; and dishonesty and injustice have been under a ban. Here then, as before, I take our natural perception of right and wrong as the standard for determining the characteristics of Natural Religion, and I use the religious rites and traditions which are actually found in the world, only so far as they agree with our moral sense.
This leads me to lay down the general principle, which I have all along implied:—that no religion is from God which contradicts our sense of right and wrong. Doubtless; but at the same time we ought to be quite sure that, in a particular case which is before us, we have satisfactorily ascertained what the dictates of our moral nature are, and that we apply them rightly, and whether the applying them or not comes into question at all. The precepts of a religion certainly may be absolutely immoral; a religion which simply commanded us to lie, or to have a community of wives, would ipso facto forfeit all claim to a divine origin. Jupiter and Neptune, as represented in the classical mythology, are evil spirits, and nothing can make them otherwise. And I should in like manner repudiate a theology which taught that men were created in order to be wicked and wretched.
I alluded just now to those who consider the doctrine of retributive punishment, or of divine vengeance, to be incompatible with the true religion; but I do not see how they can maintain their ground. In order to do so, they have first to prove that an act of vengeance must, as such, be a sin in our own instance; but even this is far from clear. Anger and indignation against cruelty and injustice, resentment of injuries, desire that the false, the ungrateful, and the depraved should meet with punishment, these, if not in themselves virtuous feelings, are at least not vicious; but, first from the certainty that, if habitual, it will run into excess and become sin, and next because the office of punishment has not been committed to us, and further because it is a feeling unsuitable to those who are themselves so laden with imperfection and guilt, therefore vengeance, in itself allowable, is forbidden to us. These exceptions do not hold in the case of a perfect being, and certainly not in the instance of the Supreme Judge. Moreover, we see that even men on earth have different duties, according to their personal qualifications and their positions in the community. The rule of morals is the same for all; and yet, notwithstanding, what is right in one is not necessarily right in another. What would be a crime in a private man to do, is a crime in a magistrate not to have done; still wider is the difference between man and his Maker. Nor must it be forgotten, that, as I have observed above, retributive justice is the very attribute under which God is primarily brought before us in the teachings of our natural conscience.
And further, we cannot determine the character of particular actions, till we have the whole case before us out of which they arise; unless, indeed, they are in themselves distinctively vicious. We all feel the force of the maxim, “Audi alteram partem.” It is difficult to trace the path and to determine the scope of Divine Providence. We read of a day when the Almighty will condescend to place His actions in their completeness before His creatures, and “will overcome when He is judged.” If, till then, we feel it to be a duty to suspend our judgment concerning certain of His actions or precepts, we do no more than what we do every day in the case of an earthly friend or enemy, whose conduct in some point requires explanation. It surely is not too much to expect of us that we should act with parallel caution, and be “memores conditionis nostræ” as regards the acts of our Creator. There is a poem of Parnell’s which strikingly brings home to us how differently the divine appointments will look in the light of day, from what they appear to be in our present twilight. An Angel, in disguise of a man, steals a golden cup, strangles an infant, and throws a guide into the stream, and then explains to his horrified companion, that acts which would be enormities in man, are in him, as God’s minister, deeds of merciful correction or of retribution.
Moreover, when we are about to pass judgment on the dealings of Providence with other men, we shall do well to consider first His dealings with ourselves. We cannot know about others, about ourselves we do know something; and we know that He has ever been good to us, and not severe. Is it not wise to argue from what we actually know to what we do not know? It may turn out in the day of account, that unforgiven souls, while charging His laws with injustice in the case of others, may be unable to find fault with His dealings severally towards themselves.
As to those various religions which, together with Christianity, teach the doctrine of eternal punishment, here again we ought, before we judge, to understand, not only the whole state of the case, but what is meant by the doctrine itself. Eternity, or endlessness, is in itself only a negative idea, though punishment is positive. Its fearful force, as added to punishment, lies in what it is not; it means no change of state, no annihilation, no restoration. But it cannot become a quality of punishment, any more than a man’s living seventy years is a quality of his mind, or enters into the idea of his virtues or talents. If punishment be attended by continuity, by a sense of duration and succession, by the mental presence of its past and its future, by a sustained power of realizing it, this must be because it is endless and something more; such inflictions are an addition to its endlessness, and do not necessarily belong to it because it is endless. As I have already said, the great mystery is, not that evil has no end, but that it had a beginning. But I submit the whole subject to the Theological School.
One of the most important effects of Natural Religion on the mind, in preparation for Revealed, is the anticipation which it creates, that a Revelation will be given. That earnest desire of it, which religious minds cherish, leads the way to the expectation of it. Those who know nothing of the wounds of the soul, are not led to deal with the question, or to consider its circumstances; but when our attention is roused, then the more steadily we dwell upon it, the more probable does it seem that a revelation has been or will be given to us. This presentiment is founded on our sense, on the one hand, of the infinite goodness of God, and, on the other, of our own extreme misery and need—two doctrines which are the primary constituents of Natural Religion. It is difficult to put a limit to the legitimate force of this antecedent probability. Some minds will feel it so powerfully, as to recognize in it almost a proof, without direct evidence, of the divinity of a religion claiming to be the true, supposing its history and doctrine are free from positive objection, and there be no rival religion with plausible claims of its own. Nor ought this trust in a presumption to seem preposterous to those who are so confident, on à priori grounds, that the moon is inhabited by rational beings, and that the course of nature is never crossed by miraculous agency. Any how, very little positive evidence seems to be necessary, when the mind is penetrated by the strong anticipation which I am supposing. It was this instinctive apprehension, as we may conjecture, which carried on Dionysius and Damaris at Athens to a belief in Christianity, though St. Paul did no miracle there, and only asserted the doctrines of the Divine Unity, the Resurrection, and the universal judgment, while, on the other hand, it had had no tendency to attach them to any of the mythological rites in which the place abounded.
Here my method of argument differs from that adopted by Paley in his Evidences of Christianity. This clearheaded and almost mathematical reasoner postulates, for his proof of its miracles, only thus much, that, under the circumstances of the case, a revelation is not improbable. He says, “We do not assume the attributes of the Deity, or the existence of a future state.” “It is not necessary for our purpose that these propositions (viz. that a future existence should be destined by God for His human creation, and that, being so destined, He should have acquainted them with it,) be capable of proof, or even that, by arguments drawn from the light of nature, they can be made out as probable; it is enough that we are able to say of them, that they are not so violently improbable, so contradictory to what we already believe of the divine power and character, that [they] ought to be rejected at first sight, and to be rejected by whatever strength or complication of evidence they be attested.” He has such confidence in the strength of the testimony which he can produce in favour of the Christian miracles, that he only asks to be allowed to bring it into court.
I confess to much suspicion of legal proceedings and legal arguments, when used in questions whether of history or of philosophy. Rules of court are dictated by what is expedient on the whole and in the long run; but they incur the risk of being unjust to the claims of particular cases. Why am I to begin with taking up a position not my own, and unclothing my mind of that large outfit of existing thoughts, principles, likings, desires, and hopes, which make me what I am? If I am asked to use Paley’s argument for my own conversion, I say plainly I do not want to be converted by a smart syllogism; if I am asked to convert others by it, I say plainly I do not care to overcome their reason without touching their hearts. I wish to deal, not with controversialists, but with inquirers.
I think Paley’s argument clear, clever, and powerful; and there is something which looks like charity in going out into the highways and hedges, and compelling men to come in; but in this matter some exertion on the part of the persons whom I am to convert is a condition of a true conversion. They who have no religious earnestness are at the mercy, day by day, of some new argument or fact, which may overtake them, in favour of one conclusion or the other. And how, after all, is a man better for Christianity, who has never felt the need of it or the desire? On the other hand, if he has longed for a revelation to enlighten him and to cleanse his heart, why may he not use, in his inquiries after it, that just and reasonable anticipation of its probability, which such longing has opened the way to his entertaining?
Men are too well inclined to sit at home, instead of stirring themselves to inquire whether a revelation has been given; they expect its evidences to come to them without their trouble; they act, not as suppliants, but as judges. Modes of argument such as Paley’s, encourage this state of mind; they allow men to forget that revelation is a boon, not a debt on the part of the Giver; they treat it as a mere historical phenomenon. If I was told that some great man, a foreigner, whom I did not know, had come into town, and was on his way to call on me, and to go over my house, I should send to ascertain the fact, and meanwhile should do my best to put my house into a condition to receive him. He would not be pleased if I left the matter to take its chance, and went on the maxim that seeing was believing. Like this is the conduct of those who resolve to treat the Almighty with dispassionateness, a judicial temper, clearheadedness, and candour. It is the way with some men, (surely not a good way,) to say, that without these lawyerlike qualifications conversion is immoral. It is their way, a miserable way, to pronounce that there is no religious love of truth where there is fear of error. On the contrary, I would maintain that the fear of error is simply necessary to the genuine love of truth. No inquiry comes to good which is not conducted under a deep sense of responsibility, and of the issues depending upon its determination. Even the ordinary matters of life are an exercise of conscientiousness; and where conscience is, fear must be. So much is this acknowledged just now, that there is almost an affectation, in popular literature, in the case of criticisms on the fine arts, on poetry, and music, of speaking about conscientiousness in writing, painting, or singing; and that earnestness and simplicity of mind, which makes men fear to go wrong in these minor matters, has surely a place in the most serious of all undertakings.
It is on these grounds that, in considering Christianity, I start with conditions different from Paley’s; not, however, as undervaluing the force and the serviceableness of his argument, but as preferring inquiry to disputation in a question about truth.
There is another point on which my basis of argument differs from Paley’s. He argues on the principle that the credentials, which ascertain for us a message from above, are necessarily in their nature miraculous; nor have I any thought of venturing to say otherwise. In fact, all professed revelations have been attended, in one shape or another, with the profession of miracles; and we know how direct and unequivocal are the miracles of both the Jewish Covenant and of our own. However, my object here is to assume as little as possible as regards facts, and to dwell only on what is patent and notorious; and therefore I will only insist on those coincidences and their cumulations, which, though not in themselves miraculous, do irresistibly force upon us, almost by the law of our nature, the presence of the extraordinary agency of Him whose being we already acknowledge. Though coincidences rise out of a combination of general laws, there is no law of those coincidences; they have a character of their own, and seem left by Providence in His own hands, as the channel by which, inscrutable to us, He may make known to us His will.
For instance, if I am a believer in a God of Truth and Avenger of dishonesty, and know for certain that a market-woman, after calling on Him to strike her dead if she had in her possession a piece of money not hers, did fall down dead on the spot, and that the money was found in her hand, how can I call this a blind coincidence, and not discern in it an act of Providence over and above its general laws? So, certainly, thought the inhabitants of an English town, when they erected a pillar as a record of such an event at the place where it occurred. And if a Pope excommunicates a great conqueror; and he, on hearing the threat, says to one of his friends, “Does he think the world has gone back a thousand years? does he suppose the arms will fall from the hands of my soldiers?” and within two years, on the retreat over the snows of Russia, as two contemporary historians relate, “famine and cold tore their arms from the grasp of the soldiers,” “they fell from the hands of the bravest and most robust,” and “destitute of the power of raising them from the ground, the soldiers left them in the snow;” is not this too, though no miracle, a coincidence so special, as rightly to be called a Divine judgment? So thinks Alison, who avows with religious honesty, that “there is something in these marvellous coincidences beyond the operation of chance, and which even a Protestant historian feels himself bound to mark for the observation of future years.” And so, too, of a cumulation of coincidences, separately less striking; when Spelman sets about establishing the fact of the ill-fortune which in a multitude of instances has followed upon acts of sacrilege, then, even though in many instances it has not followed, and in many instances he exaggerates, still there may be a large residuum of cases which cannot be properly resolved into the mere accident of concurrent causes, but must in reason be considered the warning voice of God. So, at least, thought Gibson, Bishop of London, when he wrote, “Many of the instances, and those too well-attested, are so terrible in the event, and in the circumstances so surprising, that no considering person can well pass them over.”
I think, then, that the circumstances under which a professed revelation comes to us, may be such as to impress both our reason and our imagination with a sense of its truth, even though no appeal be made to strictly miraculous intervention—in saying which I do not mean of course to imply that those circumstances, when traced back to their first origins, are not the outcome of such intervention, but that the miraculous intervention addresses us at this day in the guise of those circumstances; that is, of coincidences, which are indications, to the illative sense of those who believe in a Moral Governor, of His immediate Presence, especially to those who in addition hold with me the strong antecedent probability that, in His mercy, He will thus supernaturally present Himself to our apprehension.
Now as to the fact; has what is so probable in anticipation actually been granted to us, or have we still to look out for it? It is very plain, supposing it has been granted, which among all the religions of the world comes from God: and if it is not that, a revelation is not yet given, and we must look forward to the future. There is only one Religion in the world which tends to fulfil the aspirations, needs, and foreshadowings of natural faith and devotion. It may be said, perhaps, that, educated in Christianity, I merely judge of it by its own principles; but this is not the fact. For, in the first place, I have taken my idea of what a revelation must be, in good measure, from the actual religions of the world; and as to its ethics, the ideas with which I come to it are derived not simply from the Gospel, but prior to it from heathen moralists, whom Fathers of the Church and Ecclesiastical writers have imitated or sanctioned; and as to the intellectual position from which I have contemplated the subject, Aristotle has been my master. Besides, I do not here single out Christianity with reference simply to its particular doctrines or precepts, but for a reason which is on the surface of its history. It alone has a definite message addressed to all mankind. As far as I know, the religion of Mahomet has brought into the world no new doctrine whatever, except, indeed, that of its own divine origin; and the character of its teaching is too exact a reflection of the race, time, place, and climate in which it arose, to admit of its becoming universal. The same dependence on external circumstances is characteristic, so far as I know, of the religions of the far East; nor am I sure of any definite message from God to man which they convey and protect, though they may have sacred books. Christianity, on the other hand, is in its idea an announcement, a preaching; it is the depositary of truths beyond human discovery, momentous, practical, maintained one and the same in substance in every age from its first, and addressed to all mankind. And it has actually been embraced and is found in all parts of the world, in all climates, among all races, in all ranks of society, under every degree of civilization, from barbarism to the highest cultivation of mind. Coming to set right and to govern the world, it has ever been, as it ought to be, in conflict with large masses of men, with the civil power, with physical force, with adverse philosophies; it has had successes, it has had reverses; but it has had a grand history, and has effected great things, and is as vigorous in its age as in its youth. In all these respects it has a distinction in the world and a pre-eminence of its own; it has upon it primâ facie signs of divinity; I do not know what can be advanced by rival religions to match prerogatives so special; so that I feel myself justified in saying either Christianity is from God, or a revelation has not yet been given to us.
It will not surely be objected, as a point in favour of some of the Oriental religions, that they are older than Christianity by some centuries; yet, should it be so said, it must be recollected that Christianity is only the continuation and conclusion of what professes to be an earlier revelation, which may be traced back into prehistoric times, till it is lost in the darkness that hangs over them. As far as we know, there never was a time when that revelation was not,—a revelation continuous and systematic, with distinct representatives and an orderly succession. And this, I suppose, is far more than can be said for the religions of the East.
Here, then, I am brought to the consideration of the Hebrew nation and the Mosaic religion, as the first step in the direct evidence for Christianity.
The Jews are one of the few Oriental nations who are known in history as a people of progress, and their line of progress is the development of religious truth. In that their own line they stand by themselves among all the populations, not only of the East, but of the West. Their country may be called the classical home of the religious principle, as Greece is the home of intellectual power, and Rome that of political and practical wisdom. Theism is their life; it is emphatically their national religion, for they never were without it, and were made a people by means of it. This is a phenomenon singular and solitary in history, and must have a meaning. If there be a God and Providence, it must come from Him, whether immediately or indirectly; and the people themselves have ever maintained that it has been His direct work, and has been recognized by Him as such. We are apt to treat pretences to a divine mission or to supernatural powers as of frequent occurrence, and on that score to dismiss them from our thoughts; but we cannot so deal with Judaism. When mankind had universally denied the first lesson of their conscience by lapsing into polytheism, is it a thing of slight moment that there was just one exception to the rule, that there was just one people who, first by their rulers and priests, and afterwards by their own unanimous zeal, professed, as their distinguishing doctrine, the Divine Unity and Government of the world, and that, moreover, not only as a natural truth, but as revealed to them by that God Himself of whom they spoke,—who so embodied it in their national polity, that a Theocracy was the only name by which it could be called? It was a people founded and set up in Theism, kept together by Theism, and maintaining Theism for a period from first to last of 2000 years, till the dissolution of their body politic; and they have maintained it since in their state of exile and wandering for 2000 years more. They begin with the beginning of history, and the preaching of this august dogma begins with them. They are its witnesses and confessors, even to torture and death; on it and its revelation are moulded their laws and government; on this their politics, philosophy, and literature are founded; of this truth their poetry is the voice, pouring itself out in devotional compositions which Christianity, through all its many countries and ages, has been unable to rival; on this aboriginal truth, as time goes on, prophet after prophet bases his further revelations, with a sustained reference to a time when, according to the secret counsels of its Divine Object and Author, it is to receive completion and perfection,—till at length that time comes.
The last age of their history is as strange as their first. When that time of destined blessing came, which they had so accurately marked out, and were so carefully waiting for—a time which found them, in fact, more zealous for their Law, and for the dogma it enshrined, than they ever had been before—then, instead of any final favour coming on them from above, they fell under the power of their enemies, and were overthrown, their holy city razed to the ground, their polity destroyed, and the remnant of their people cast off to wander far and away through every land except their own, as we find them at this day; lasting on, century after century, not absorbed in other populations, not annihilated, as likely to last on, as unlikely to be restored, as far as outward appearances go, now as a thousand years ago. What nation has so grand, so romantic, so terrible a history? Does it not fulfil the idea of, what the nation calls itself, a chosen people, chosen for good and evil? Is it not an exhibition in a course of history of that primary declaration of conscience, as I have been determining it, “With the upright Thou shalt be upright, and with the froward Thou shalt be froward”? It must have a meaning, if there is a God. We know what was their witness of old time; what is their witness now?
Why, I say, was it that, after so memorable a career, when their sins and sufferings were now to come to an end, when they were looking out for a deliverance and a Deliverer, suddenly all was reversed for once and for all? They were the favoured servants of God, and yet a peculiar reproach and note of infamy is affixed to their name. It was their belief that His protection was unchangeable, and that their Law would last for ever;—it was their consolation to be taught by an uninterrupted tradition, that it could not die, except by changing into a new self, more wonderful than it was before;—it was their faithful expectation that a promised King was coming, the Messiah, who would extend the sway of Israel over all people;—it was a condition of their covenant, that, as a reward to Abraham, their first father, the day at length should dawn when the gates of their narrow land should open, and they should pour out for the conquest and occupation of the whole earth;—and, I repeat, when the day came, they did go forth, and they did spread into all lands, but as hopeless exiles, as eternal wanderers.
Are we to say that this failure is a proof that, after all, there was nothing providential in their history? For myself, I do not see how a second portent obliterates a first; and, in truth, their own testimony and their own sacred books carry us on towards a better solution of the difficulty. I have said they were in God’s favour under a covenant,—perhaps they did not fulfil the conditions of it. This indeed seems to be their own account of the matter, though it is not clear what their breach of engagement was. And that in some way they did sin, whatever their sin was, is corroborated by the well-known chapter in the Book of Deuteronomy, which so strikingly anticipates the nature of their punishment. That passage, translated into Greek as many as 350 years before the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, has on it the marks of a wonderful prophecy; but I am not now referring to it as such, but merely as an indication that the disappointment, which actually overtook them at the Christian era, was not necessarily out of keeping with the original divine purpose, or again with the old promise made to them, and their confident expectation of its fulfilment. Their national ruin, which came instead of aggrandizement, is described in that book, in spite of all promises, with an emphasis and minuteness which prove that it was contemplated long before, at least as a possible issue of the fortunes of Israel. Among other inflictions which should befall the guilty people, it was told them that they should fall down before their enemies, and should be scattered throughout all the kingdoms of the earth; that they never should have quiet in those nations, or have rest for the sole of their foot; that they were to have a fearful heart and languishing eyes, and a soul consumed with heaviness; that they were to suffer wrong, and to be crushed at all times, and to be astonished at the terror of their lot; that their sons and daughters were to be given to another people, and they were to look and to sicken all the day, and their life was ever to hang in doubt before them, and fear to haunt them day and night; that they should be a proverb and a by-word of all people among whom they were brought; and that curses were to come on them, and to be signs and wonders on them and their seed for ever. Such are some portions, and not the most terrible, of this extended anathema; and its partial accomplishment at an earlier date of their history was a warning to them, when the destined time drew near, that, however great the promises made to them might be, those promises were dependent on the terms of the covenant which stood between them and their Maker, and that, as they had turned to curses at that former time, so they might turn to curses again.
This grand drama, so impressed with the characters of supernatural agency, concerns us here only in its bearing upon the evidence for the divine origin of Christianity; and it is at this point that Christianity comes upon the historical scene. It is a notorious fact that it issued from the Jewish land and people; and, had it no other than this historical connexion with Judaism, it would have some share in the prestige of its original home. But it claims to be far more than this; it professes to be the actual completion of the Mosaic Law, the promised means of deliverance and triumph to the nation, which that nation itself, as I have said, has since considered to be, on account of some sin or other, withheld or forfeited. It professes to be, not the casual, but the legitimate offspring, heir, and successor of the Mosaic covenant, or rather to be Judaism itself, developed and transformed. Of course it has to prove its claim, as well as to prefer it; but if it succeeds in doing so, then all those tokens of the Divine Presence, which distinguish the Jewish history, at once belong to it, and are a portion of its credentials.
And at least the primâ facie view of its relations towards Judaism is in favour of these pretensions. It is an historical fact, that, at the very time that the Jews committed their unpardonable sin, whatever it was, and were driven out from their home to wander over the earth, their Christian brethren, born of the same stock, and equally citizens of Jerusalem, did also issue forth from the same home, but in order to subdue that same earth and make it their own; that is, they undertook the very work which, according to the promise, their nation actually was ordained to execute; and, with a method of their own indeed, and with a new end, and only slowly and painfully, but still really and thoroughly, they did it. And since that time the two children of the promise have ever been found together—of the promise forfeited and the promise fulfilled; and whereas the Christian has been in high place, so the Jew has been degraded and despised—the one has been “the head,” and the other “the tail;” so that, to go no farther, the fact that Christianity actually has done what Judaism was to have done, decides the controversy, by the logic of facts, in favour of Christianity. The prophecies announced that the Messiah was to come at a definite time and place; Christians point to Him as coming then and there, as announced; they are not met by any counter claim or rival claimant on the part of the Jews, only by their assertion that He did not come at all, though up to the event they had said He was then and there coming. Further, Christianity clears up the mystery which hangs over Judaism, accounting fully for the punishment of the people, by specifying their sin, their heinous sin. If, instead of hailing their own Messiah, they crucified Him, then the strange scourge which has pursued them after the deed, and the energetic wording of the curse before it, are explained by the very strangeness of their guilt;—or rather, their sin is their punishment; for in rejecting their Divine King, they ipso facto lost the living principle and tie of their nationality. Moreover, we see what led them into error; they thought a triumph and an empire were to be given to them at once, which were given indeed eventually, but by the slow and gradual growth of many centuries and a long warfare.
On the whole, then, I observe, on the one hand, that, Judaism having been the channel of religious traditions which are lost in the depth of their antiquity, of course it is a great point for Christianity to succeed in proving that it is the legitimate heir to that former religion. Nor is it, on the other, of less importance to the significance of those early traditions to be able to determine that they were not lost together with their original storehouse, but were transferred, on the failure of Judaism, to the custody of the Christian Church. And this apparent correspondence between the two is in itself a presumption for such correspondence being real. Next, I observe, that if the history of Judaism is so wonderful as to suggest the presence of some special divine agency in its appointments and fortunes, still more wonderful and divine is the history of Christianity; and again it is more wonderful still, that two such wonderful creations should span almost the whole course of ages, during which nations and states have been in existence, and should constitute a professed system of continued intercourse between earth and heaven from first to last amid all the vicissitudes of human affairs. This phenomenon again carries on its face, to those who believe in a God, the probability that it has that divine origin which it professes to have; and, (when viewed in the light of the strong presumption which I have insisted on, that in God’s mercy a revelation from Him will be granted to us, and of the contrast presented by other religions, no one of which professes to be a revelation direct, definite, and integral as this is,)—this phenomenon, I say, of cumulative marvels raises that probability, both for Judaism and Christianity, in religious minds, almost to a certainty.
If Christianity is connected with Judaism as closely as I have been supposing, then there have been, by means of the two, direct communications between man and his Maker from time immemorial down to this day—a great prerogative such, that it is nowhere else even claimed. No other religion but these two professes to be the organ of a formal revelation, certainly not of a revelation which is directed to the benefit of the whole human race. Here it is that Mahometanism fails, though it claims to carry on the line of revelation after Christianity; for it is the mere creed and rite of certain races, bringing with it, as such, no gifts to our nature, and is rather a reformation of local corruptions, and a return to the ceremonial worship of earlier times, than a new and larger revelation. And while Christianity was the heir to a dead religion, Mahometanism was little more than a rebellion against a living one. Moreover, though Mahomet professed to be the Paraclete, no one pretends that he occupies a place in the Christian Scriptures as prominent as that which the Messiah fills in the Jewish. To this especial prominence of the Messianic idea I shall now advert; that is, to the prophecies of the Old Scriptures, and to the argument which they furnish in favour of Christianity; and though I know that argument might be clearer and more exact than it is, and I do not pretend here to do much more than refer to the fact of its existence, still so far forth as we enter into it, will it strengthen our conviction of the claim to divinity both of the Religion which is the organ of those prophecies, and of the Religion which is their object.
Now that the Jewish Scriptures were in existence long before the Christian era, and were in the sole custody of the Jews, is undeniable; whatever then their Scriptures distinctly say of Christianity, if not attributable to chance or to happy conjecture, is prophetic. It is undeniable too, that the Jews gathered from those books that a great Personage was to be born of their stock, and to conquer the whole world and to become the instrument of extraordinary blessings to it; moreover, that he would make his appearance at a fixed date, and that, the very date when, as it turned out, our Lord did actually come. This is the great outline of the prediction, and if nothing more could be said about them than this, to prove as much as this is far from unimportant. And it is undeniable, I say, both that the Jewish Scriptures contain thus much, and that the Jews actually understood them as containing it.
First, then, as to what Scripture declares. From the book of Genesis we learn that the chosen people was set up in this one idea, viz. to be a blessing to the whole earth, and that, by means of one of their own race, a greater than their father Abraham. This was the meaning and drift of their being chosen. There is no room for mistake here; the divine purpose is stated from the first with the utmost precision. At the very time of Abraham’s call, he is told of it:—“I will make of thee a great nation, and in thee shall all tribes of the earth be blessed.” Thrice is this promise and purpose announced in Abraham’s history; and after Abraham’s time it is repeated to Isaac, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;” and after Isaac to Jacob, when a wanderer from his home, “In thee and in thy seed shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed.” And from Jacob the promise passes on to his son Judah, and that with an addition, viz. with a reference to the great Person who was to be the world-wide blessing, and to the date when He should come. Judah was the chosen son of Jacob, and his staff or sceptre, that is, his patriarchal authority, was to endure till a greater than Judah came, so that the loss of the sceptre, when it took place, was the sign of His near approach. “The sceptre,” says Jacob on his death-bed, “shall not be taken away from Judah, until He come for whom it is reserved,” or “who is to be sent,” “and He shall be the expectation of the nations.”
Such was the categorical prophecy, literal and unequivocal in its wording, direct and simple in its scope. One man, born of the chosen tribe, was the destined minister of blessing to the whole world; and the race, as represented by that tribe, was to lose its old self in gaining a new self in Him. Its destiny was sealed upon it in its beginning. An expectation was the measure of its life. It was created for a great end, and in that end it had its ending. Such were the initial communications made to the chosen people, and there they stopped;—as if the outline of promise, so sharply cut, had to be effectually imprinted on their minds, before more knowledge was given to them; as if, by the long interval of years which passed before the more varied prophecies in type and figure, after the manner of the East, were added, the original notices might stand out in the sight of all in their severe explicitness, as archetypal truths, and guides in interpreting whatever else was obscure in its wording or complex in its direction.
And in the second place it is quite clear that the Jews did thus understand their prophecies, and did expect their great Ruler, in the very age in which our Lord came, and in which they, on the other hand, were destroyed, losing their old self without gaining their new. Heathen historians shall speak for the fact. “A persuasion had possession of most of them,” says Tacitus, speaking of their resistance to the Romans, “that it was contained in the ancient books of the priests that at that very time the East should prevail, and that men who issued from Judea should obtain the empire. The common people, as is the way with human cupidity, having once interpreted in their own favour this grand destiny, were not even by their reverses brought round to the truth of facts.” And Suetonius extends the belief:—“The whole East was rife with an old and persistent belief, that at that time persons who issued from Judea, should possess the empire.” After the event of course the Jews drew back, and denied the correctness of their expectation, still they could not deny that the expectation had existed. Thus the Jew Josephus, who was of the Roman party, says that what encouraged them in the stand they made against the Romans was “an ambiguous oracle, found in their sacred writings, that at that date some one of them from that country should rule the world.” He can but pronounce that the oracle was ambiguous; he cannot state that they thought it so.
Now, considering that at that very time our Lord did appear as a teacher, and founded not merely a religion, but (what was then quite a new idea in the world) a system of religious warfare, an aggressive and militant body, a dominant Catholic Church, which aimed at the benefit of all nations by the spiritual conquest of all; and that this warfare, then begun by it, has gone on without cessation down to this day, and now is as living and real as ever it was; that that militant body has from the first filled the world, that it has had wonderful successes, that its successes have on the whole been of extreme benefit to the human race, that it has imparted an intelligent notion about the Supreme God to millions who would have lived and died in irreligion, that it has raised the tone of morality wherever it has come, has abolished great social anomalies and miseries, has elevated the female sex to its proper dignity, has protected the poorer classes, has destroyed slavery, encouraged literature and philosophy, and had a principal part in that civilization of human kind, which, with some evils still, has on the whole been productive of far greater good,—considering, I say, that all this began at the destined, expected, recognized season when the old prophecy said that in one Man, born of the tribe of Judah, all the tribes of the earth were to be blessed, I feel I have a right to say (and my line of argument does not lead me to say more), that it is at the very least a remarkable coincidence,—that is, one of those coincidences which, when they are accumulated, come close upon the idea of miracle, as being impossible without the Hand of God directly and immediately in them.
When we have got as far as this, we may go on a great deal farther. Announcements, which could not be put forward in the front of the argument, as being figurative, vague, or ambiguous, may be used validly and with great effect, when they have been interpreted for us, first by the prophetic outline, and still more by the historical object. It is a principle which applies to all matters on which we reason, that what is only a maze of facts, without order or drift prior to the explanation, may, when we once have that explanation, be located and adjusted with great facility in all its separate parts, as we know is the case as regards the motions of the heavenly bodies since the hypothesis of Newton. In like manner the event is the true key to prophecy, and reconciles conflicting and divergent descriptions by embodying them in one common representative. Thus it is that we learn how, as the prophecies said, the Messiah could both suffer, yet be victorious; His kingdom be Judaic in structure, yet evangelic in spirit; and His people the children of Abraham, yet “sinners of the Gentiles.” These seeming paradoxes, are only parallel and akin to those others which form so prominent a feature in the teaching of our Lord and His Apostles.
As to the Jews, since they lived before the event, it is not wonderful, that, though they were right in their general interpretation of Scripture as far as it went, they stopped short of the whole truth; nay, that even when their Messiah came, they could not recognize Him as the promised King as we recognize Him now;—for we have the experience of His history for nearly two thousand years, by which to interpret their Scriptures. We may partly understand their position towards those prophecies, by our own at present towards the Apocalypse. Who can deny the superhuman grandeur and impressiveness of that sacred book! yet, as a prophecy, though some outlines of the future are discernible, how differently it affects us from the predictions of Isaiah! either because it relates to undreamed-of events still to come, or because it has been fulfilled long ago in events which in their detail and circumstance have never become history. And the same remark applies doubtless to portions of the Messianic prophecies still; but, if their fulfilment has been thus gradual in time past, we must not be surprised though portions of them still await their slow but true accomplishment in the future.
When I implied that in some points of view Christianity has not answered the expectations of the old prophecies, of which it claims to be the fulfilment, I had in mind principally the contrast which is presented to us between the picture which they draw of the universality of the kingdom of the Messiah, and that partial development of it through the world, which is all the Christian Church can show; and again the contrast between the rest and peace which they said He was to introduce, and the Church’s actual history,—the conflicts of opinion which have raged within its pale, the violent acts and unworthy lives of many of its rulers, and the moral degradation of great masses of its people. I do not profess to meet these difficulties here, except by saying that the failure of Christianity in one respect in corresponding to those prophecies cannot destroy the force of its correspondence to them in others; just as we may allow that the portrait of a friend is a faulty likeness to him, and yet be quite sure that it is his portrait. What I shall actually attempt to show here is this,—that Christianity was quite aware from the first of its own prospective future, so unlike the expectations which the prophets would excite concerning it, and that it meets the difficulty thence arising by anticipation, by giving us its own predictions of what it was to be in historical fact, predictions which are at once explanatory comments upon the Jewish Scriptures, and direct evidences of its own prescience.
I think it observable then, that, though our Lord claims to be the Messiah, He shows so little of conscious dependence on the old Scriptures, or of anxiety to fulfil them; as if it became Him, who was the Lord of the Prophets, to take His own course, and to leave their utterances to adjust themselves to Him as they could, and not to be careful to accommodate Himself to them. The evangelists do indeed show some such natural zeal in His behalf, and thereby illustrate what I notice in Him by the contrast. They betray an earnestness to trace in His Person and history the accomplishment of prophecy, as when they discern it in His return from Egypt, in His life at Nazareth, in the gentleness and tenderness of His mode of teaching, and in the various minute occurrences of His passion; but He Himself goes straight forward on His way, of course claiming to be the Messiah of the Prophets, still not so much recurring to past prophecies, as uttering new ones, with an antithesis not unlike that which is so impressive in the Sermon on the Mount, when He first says, “It has been said by them of old time,” and then adds, “But I say unto you.” Another striking instance of this is seen in the Names under which He spoke of Himself, which have little or no foundation in any thing which was said of Him beforehand in the Jewish Scriptures. They speak of Him as Ruler, Prophet, King, Hope of Israel, Offspring of Judah, and Messiah; and His Evangelists and Disciples call Him Master, Lord, Prophet, Son of David, King of Israel, King of the Jews, and Messiah or Christ; but He Himself, though, I repeat, He acknowledges these titles as His own, especially that of the Christ, chooses as His special designations these two, Son of God and Son of Man, the latter of which is only once given Him in the Old Scriptures, and by which He corrects any narrow Judaic interpretation of them; while the former was never distinctly used of Him before He came, and seems first to have been announced to the world by the Angel Gabriel and St. John the Baptist. In those two Names, Son of God and Son of Man, declaratory of the two natures of Emmanuel, He separates Himself from the Jewish Dispensation, in which He was born, and inaugurates the New Covenant.
This is not an accident, and I shall now give some instances of it, that is, of what I may call the independent autocratic view which He takes of His own religion, into which the old Judaism was melting, and of the prophetic insight into its spirit and its future which that view involves. In quoting His own sayings from the Evangelists for this purpose, I assume (of which there is no reasonable doubt) that they wrote before any historical events had happened of a nature to cause them unconsciously to modify or to colour the language which their Master used.
1. First, then, the fact has been often insisted on as a bold conception, unheard of before, and worthy of divine origin, that He should even project a universal religion, and that to be effected by what may be called a propagandist movement from one centre. Hitherto it had been the received notion in the world, that each nation had its own gods. The Romans legislated upon that basis, and the Jews had held it from the first, holding of course also, that all gods but their own God were idols and demons. It is true that the Jews ought to have been taught by their prophecies what was in store for the world and for them, and that their first dispersion through the Empire centuries before Christ came, and the proselytes which they collected around them in every place, were a kind of comment on the prophecies larger than their own; but we see what was, in fact, when our Lord came, their expectation from those prophecies, in the passages which I have quoted above from the Roman historians of His day. But He from the first resisted those plausible, but mistaken interpretations of Scripture. In His cradle indeed He had been recognized by the Eastern sages as their king; the Angel announced that He was to reign over the house of Jacob; Nathanael, too, owned Him as the Messiah with a regal title; but He, on entering upon His work, interpreted these anticipations in His own way, and that not the way of Theudas and Judas of Galilee, who took the sword, and collected soldiers about them,—nor the way of the Tempter, who offered Him “all the kingdoms of the world.” In the words of the Evangelists, He began, not to fight, but “to preach;” and further, to “preach the kingdom of heaven,” saying, “The time is accomplished, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe the Gospel.” This is the significant title, “the kingdom of heaven,”—the more significant, when explained by the attendant precept of repentance and faith,—on which He founds the polity which He was establishing from first to last. One of His last sayings before He suffered was, “My kingdom is not of this world.” And His last words, before He left the earth, when His disciples asked Him about His kingdom, were that they, preachers as they were, and not soldiers, should “be His witnesses to the end of the earth,” should “preach to all nations, beginning with Jerusalem,” should “go into the world and preach the Gospel to every creature,” should “go and make disciples of all nations till the consummation of all things.”
The last Evangelist of the four is equally precise in recording the initial purpose with which our Lord began His ministry, viz. to create an empire, not by force, but by persuasion. “Light is come into the world; every one that doth evil, hateth the light, but he that doth truth, cometh to the light.” “Lift up your eyes, and see the countries, for they are white already to harvest.” “No man can come to Me, except the Father, who hath sent Me, draw him.” “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to Myself.”
Thus, while the Jews, relying on their Scriptures with great appearance of reason, looked for a deliverer who should conquer with the sword, we find that Christianity, from the first, not by an after-thought upon trial and experience, but as a fundamental truth, magisterially set right that mistake, transfiguring the old prophecies, and bringing to light, as St. Paul might say, “the mystery which had been hidden from ages and generations, but now was made manifest in His saints, the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you,” not simply over you, but in you, by faith and love, “the hope of glory.”
2. I have partly anticipated my next remark, which relates to the means by which the Christian enterprise was to be carried into effect. That preaching was to have a share in the victories of the Messiah was plain from Prophet and Psalmist; but then Charlemagne preached, and Mahomet preached, with an army to back them. The same Psalm which speaks of those “who preach good tidings,” speaks also of their King’s “foot being dipped in the blood of His enemies;” but what is so grandly original in Christianity is, that on its broad field of conflict its preachers were to be simply unarmed, and to suffer, but to prevail. If we were not so familiar with our Lord’s words, I think they would astonish us. “Behold, I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves.” This was to be their normal state, and so it was; and all the promises and directions given to them imply it. “Blessed are they that suffer persecution;” “blessed are ye when they revile you;” “the meek shall inherit the earth;” “resist not evil;” “you shall be hated of all men for My Name’s sake;” “a man’s enemies shall be they of his own household;” “he that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved.” What sort of encouragement was this for men who were to go about an immense work? Do men in this way send out their soldiers to battle, or their sons to India or Australia? The King of Israel hated Micaiah, because he always “prophesied of him evil.” “So persecuted they the Prophets that were before you,” says our Lord. Yes, and the Prophets failed; they were persecuted and they lost the battle. “Take, my brethren,” says St. James, “for an example of suffering evil, of labour and patience, the Prophets, who spake in the Name of the Lord.” They were “racked, mocked, stoned, cut asunder, they wandered about,—of whom the world was not worthy,” says St. Paul. What an argument to encourage them to aim at success by suffering, to put before them the precedent of those who suffered and who failed!
Yet the first preachers, our Lord’s immediate disciples, saw no difficulty in a prospect to human eyes so appalling, so hopeless. How connatural this strange, unreasoning, reckless courage was with their regenerate state is shown most signally in St. Paul, as having been a convert of later vocation. He was no personal associate of our Lord’s, yet how faithfully he echoes back our Lord’s language! His instrument of conversion is “the foolishness of preaching;” “the weak things of the earth confound the strong;” “we hunger and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no home;” “we are reviled and bless, we are persecuted, and blasphemed, and are made the refuse of this world, and the offscouring of all things.” Such is the intimate comprehension, on the part of one who had never seen our Lord on earth, and knew little from His original disciples of the genius of His teaching;—and considering that the prophecies, upon which he had lived from his birth, for the most part bear on their surface a contrary doctrine, and that the Jews of that day did commonly understand them in that contrary sense, we cannot deny that Christianity, in tracing out the method by which it was to prevail in the future, took its own, independent line, and, in assigning from the first a rule and a history to its propagation, a rule and a history which have been carried out to this day, rescues itself from the charge of but partially fulfilling those Jewish prophecies, by the assumption of a prophetical character of its own.
3. Now we come to a third point, in which the Divine Master explains, and in a certain sense corrects, the prophecies of the Old Covenant, by a more exact interpretation of them from Himself. I have granted that they seemed to say that His coming would issue in a period of peace and religiousness. “Behold,” says the Prophet, “a king shall reign in justice, and princes shall rule in judgment. The fool shall no more be called prince, neither shall the deceitful be called great. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard lie down with the kid. They shall not hurt nor kill in all My holy mountain, for the earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the covering waters of the sea.”
These words seem to predict a reversal of the consequences of the fall, and that reversal has not been granted to us, it is true; but let us consider how distinctly Christianity warns us against any such anticipation. While it is so forcibly laid down in the Gospels that the history of the kingdom of heaven begins in suffering and sanctity, it is as plainly said that it results in unfaithfulness and sin; that is to say, that, though there are at all times many holy, many religious men in it, and though sanctity, as at the beginning, is ever the life and the substance and the germinal seed of the Divine Kingdom, yet there will be many too, there will be more, who by their lives are a scandal and injury to it, not a defence. This again, is an astonishing announcement, and the more so when viewed in contrast with the precepts delivered by our Lord in His Sermon on the Mount, and His description to the Apostles of their weapons and their warfare. So perplexing to Christians was the fact when fulfilled, as it was in no long time on a large scale, that three of the early heresies more or less originated in obstinate, unchristian refusal to readmit to the privileges of the Gospel those who had fallen into sin. Yet our Lord’s words are express: He tells us that “Many are called, few are chosen;” in the parable of the Marriage Feast, the servants who are sent out gather together “all that they found, both bad and good;” the foolish virgins “had no oil in their vessels;” amid the good seed an enemy sows seed that is noxious or worthless; and “the kingdom is like to a net which gathered together all kind of fishes;” and “at the end of the world the Angels shall go forth, and shall separate the wicked from among the just.”
Moreover, He not only speaks of His religion as destined to possess a wide temporal power, such, that, as in the case of the Babylonian, “the birds of the air should dwell in its branches,” but He opens on us the prospect of ambition and rivalry in its leading members, when He warns His disciples against desiring the first places in His kingdom; nay, of grosser sins, in His description of the Ruler, who “began to strike his fellow-servants, and to eat and drink and be drunken,”—passages which have an awful significance, considering what kind of men have before now been His chosen representatives, and have sat in the chair of His Apostles.
If then it be objected that Christianity does not, as the old prophets seem to promise, abolish sin and irreligion within its pale, we may answer, not only that it did not engage to do so, but that actually in a prophetical spirit it warned its followers against the expectation of its so doing.
According to our Lord’s announcements before the event, Christianity was to prevail and to become a great empire, and to fill the earth; but it was to accomplish this destiny, not as other victorious powers had done, and as the Jews expected, by force of arms or by other means of this world, but by the novel expedient of sanctity and suffering. If some aspiring party of this day, the great Orleans family, or a branch of the Hohenzollern, wishing to found a kingdom, were to profess, as their only weapon, the practice of virtue, they would not startle us more than it startled a Jew eighteen hundred years ago, to be told that his glorious Messiah was not to fight, like Joshua or David, but simply to preach. It is indeed a thought so strange, both in its prediction and in its fulfilment, as urgently to suggest to us that some Divine Power went with him who conceived and proclaimed it. This is what I have been saying;—now I wish to consider the fact, which was predicted, in itself, without reference to its being the subject whether of a prediction or of a fulfilment; that is, the history of the rise and establishment of Christianity; and to inquire whether it is a history that admits of being resolved, by any philosophical ingenuity, into the ordinary operation of moral, social, or political causes.
As is well known, various writers have attempted to assign human causes in explanation of the phenomenon: Gibbon especially has mentioned five, viz. the zeal of Christians, inherited from the Jews, their doctrine of a future state, their claim to miraculous power, their virtues, and their ecclesiastical organization. Let us briefly consider them.
He thinks these five causes, when combined, will fairly account for the event; but he has not thought of accounting for their combination. If they are ever so available for his purpose, still that availableness arises out of their coincidence, and out of what does that coincidence arise? Until this is explained, nothing is explained, and the question had better have been let alone. These presumed causes are quite distinct from each other, and, I say, the wonder is, what made them come together. How came a multitude of Gentiles to be influenced with Jewish zeal? How came zealots to submit to a strict, ecclesiastical régime? What connexion has a secular régime with the immortality of the soul? Why should immortality, a philosophical doctrine, lead to belief in miracles, which is a superstition of the vulgar? What tendency had miracles and magic to make men austerely virtuous? Lastly, what power was there in a code of virtue, as calm and enlightened as that of Antoninus, to generate a zeal as fierce as that of Maccabæus? Wonderful events before now have apparently been nothing but coincidences, certainly; but they do not become less wonderful by cataloguing their constituent causes, unless we also show how these came to be constituent.
However, this by the way; the real question is this,—are these historical characteristics of Christianity, also in matter of fact, historical causes of Christianity? Has Gibbon given proof that they are? Has he brought evidence of their operation, or does he simply conjecture in his private judgment that they operated? Whether they were adapted to accomplish a certain work, is a matter of opinion; whether they did accomplish it is a question of fact. He ought to adduce instances of their efficiency before he has a right to say that they are efficient. And the second question is, what is this effect, of which they are to be considered as causes? It is no other than this, the conversion of bodies of men to the Christian faith. Let us keep this in view. We have to determine whether these five characteristics of Christianity were efficient causes of bodies of men becoming Christians? I think they neither did effect such conversions, nor were adapted to do so, and for these reasons:—
1. For first, as to zeal, by which Gibbon means party spirit, or esprit de corps; this doubtless is a motive principle when men are already members of a body, but does it operate in bringing them into it? The Jews were born in Judaism, they had a long and glorious history, and would naturally feel and show esprit de corps; but how did party spirit tend to transplant Jew or Gentile out of his own place into a new society, and that a society which as yet scarcely was formed in a society? Zeal, certainly, may be felt for a cause, or for a person; on this point I shall speak presently; but Gibbon’s idea of Christian zeal is nothing better than the old wine of Judaism decanted into new Christian bottles, and would be too flat a stimulant, even if it admitted of such a transference, to be taken as a cause of conversion to Christianity without definite evidence in proof of the fact. Christians had zeal for Christianity after they were converted, not before.
2. Next, as to the doctrine of a future state. Gibbon seems to mean by this doctrine the fear of hell; now certainly in this day there are persons converted from sin to a religious life, by vivid descriptions of the future punishment of the wicked; but then it must be recollected that such persons already believe in the doctrine thus urged upon them. On the contrary, give some Tract upon hell-fire to one of the wild boys in a large town, who has had no education, who has no faith; and, instead of being startled by it, he will laugh at it as something frightfully ridiculous. The belief in Styx and Tartarus was dying out of the world at the time that Christianity came in, as the parallel belief now seems to be dying out in all classes of our own society. The doctrine of eternal punishment does only anger the multitude of men in our large towns now, and make them blaspheme; why should it have had any other effect on the heathen populations in the age when our Lord came? Yet it was among those populations, that He and His made their way from the first. As to the hope of eternal life, that doubtless, as well as the fear of hell, was a most operative doctrine in the case of men who had been actually converted, of Christians brought before the magistrate, or writhing under torture, but the thought of eternal glory does not keep bad men from a bad life now, and why should it convert them then from their pleasant sins, to a heavy, mortified, joyless existence, to a life of ill-usage, fright, contempt, and desolation?
3. That the claim to miracles should have any wide influence in favour of Christianity among heathen populations, who had plenty of portents of their own, is an opinion in curious contrast with the objection against Christianity which has provoked an answer from Paley, viz. that “Christian miracles are not recited or appealed to, by early Christian writers themselves, so fully or so frequently as might have been expected.” Paley solves the difficulty as far as it is a fact, by observing, as I have suggested, that “it was their lot to contend with magical agency, against which the mere production of these facts was not sufficient for the convincing of their adversaries:” “I do not know,” he continues, “whether they themselves thought it quite decisive of the controversy.” A claim to miraculous power on the part of Christians, which was so unfrequent as to become now an objection to the fact of their possessing it, can hardly have been a principal cause of their success.
4. And how is it possible to imagine with Gibbon that what he calls the “sober and domestic virtues” of Christians, their “aversion to the luxury of the age,” their “chastity, temperance, and economy,” that these dull qualities were persuasives of a nature to win and melt the hard heathen heart, in spite too of the dreary prospect of the barathrum, the amphitheatre, and the stake? Did the Christian morality by its severe beauty make a convert of Gibbon himself? On the contrary, he bitterly says, “It was not in this world that the primitive Christians were desirous of making themselves either agreeable or useful.” “The virtue of the primitive Christians, like that of the first Romans, was very frequently guarded by poverty and ignorance.” “Their gloomy and austere aspect, their abhorrence of the common business and pleasures of life, and their frequent predictions of impending calamities, inspired the Pagans with the apprehension of some danger which would arise from the new sect.” Here we have not only Gibbon hating their moral and social bearing, but his heathen also. How then were those heathen overcome by the amiableness of that which they viewed with such disgust? We have here plain proof that the Christian character repelled the heathen; where is the evidence that it converted them?
5. Lastly, as to the ecclesiastical organization, this, doubtless, as time went on, was a special characteristic of the new religion; but how could it directly contribute to its extension? Of course it gave it strength, but it did not give it life. We are not born of bones and muscles. It is one thing to make conquests, another to consolidate an empire. It was before Constantine that Christians made their great conquests. Rules are for settled times, not for time of war. So much is this contrast felt in the Catholic Church now, that, as is well known, in heathen countries and in countries which have thrown off her yoke, she suspends her diocesan administration and her Canon Law, and puts her children under the extraordinary, extra-legal jurisdiction of Propaganda.
This is what I am led to say on Gibbon’s Five Causes. I do not deny that they might have operated now and then; Simon Magus came to Christianity in order to learn the craft of miracles, and Peregrinus from love of influence and power; but Christianity made its way, not by individual, but by broad, wholesale conversions, and the question is, how they originated?
It is very remarkable that it should not have occurred to a man of Gibbon’s sagacity to inquire, what account the Christians themselves gave of the matter. Would it not have been worth while for him to have let conjecture alone, and to have looked for facts instead? Why did he not try the hypothesis of faith, hope, and charity? Did he never hear of repentance towards God, and faith in Christ? Did he not recollect the many words of Apostles, Bishops, Apologists, Martyrs, all forming one testimony? No; such thoughts are close upon him, and close upon the truth; but he cannot sympathize with them, he cannot believe in them, he cannot even enter into them, because he needs the due formation of mind.Let us see whether the facts of the case do not come out clear and unequivocal, if we will but have the patience to endure them.
A Deliverer of the human race through the Jewish nation had been promised from time immemorial. The day came when He was to appear, and He was eagerly expected; moreover, One actually did make His appearance at that date in Palestine, and claimed to be He. He left the earth without apparently doing much for the object of His coming. But when He was gone, His disciples took upon themselves to go forth to preach to all parts of the earth with the object of preaching Him, and collecting converts in His Name. After a little while they are found wonderfully to have succeeded. Large bodies of men in various places are to be seen, professing to be His disciples, owning Him as their King, and continually swelling in number and penetrating into the populations of the Roman Empire; at length they convert the Empire itself. All this is historical fact. Now, we want to know the farther historical fact, viz. the cause of their conversion; in other words, what were the topics of that preaching which was so effective? If we believe what is told us by the preachers and their converts, the answer is plain. They “preached Christ;” they called on men to believe, hope, and place their affections, in that Deliverer who had come and gone; and the moral instrument by which they persuaded them to do so, was a description of the life, character, mission, and power of that Deliverer, a promise of His invisible Presence and Protection here, and of the Vision and Fruition of Him hereafter. From first to last to Christians, as to Abraham, He Himself is the centre and fulness of the dispensation. They, as Abraham, “see His day, and are glad.”
A temporal sovereign makes himself felt by means of his subordinate administrators, who bring his power and will to bear upon every individual of his subjects who personally know him not; the universal Deliverer, long expected, when He came, He too, instead of making and securing subjects by a visible graciousness or majesty, departs;—but is found, through His preachers, to have imprinted the Image or Idea of Himself in the minds of His subjects individually; and that Image, apprehended and worshipped in individual minds, becomes a principle of association, and a real bond of those subjects one with another, who are thus united to the body by being united to that Image; and moreover that Image, which is their moral life, when they have been already converted, is also the original instrument of their conversion. It is the Image of Him who fulfils the one great need of human nature, the Healer of its wounds, the Physician of the soul, this Image it is which both creates faith, and then rewards it.
When we recognize this central Image as the vivifying idea both of the Christian body and of individuals in it, then, certainly, we are able to take into account at least two of Gibbon’s causes, as having, in connexion with that idea, some influence both in making converts and in strengthening them to persevere. It was the Thought of Christ, not a corporate body or a doctrine, which inspired that zeal which the historian so poorly comprehends; and it was the Thought of Christ which gave a life to the promise of that eternity, which without Him would be, in any soul, nothing short of an intolerable burden.
Now a mental vision such as this, perhaps will be called cloudy, fanciful, unintelligible; that is, in other words, miraculous. I think it is so. How, without the Hand of God, could a new idea, one and the same, enter at once into myriads of men, women, and children of all ranks, especially the lower, and have power to wean them from their indulgences and sins, and to nerve them against the most cruel tortures, and to last in vigour as a sustaining influence for seven or eight generations, till it founded an extended polity, broke the obstinacy of the strongest and wisest government which the world has ever seen, and forced its way from its first caves and catacombs to the fulness of imperial power?
In considering this subject, I shall confine myself to the proof, as far as my limits allow, of two points,—first, that this Thought or Image of Christ was the principle of conversion and of fellowship; and next, that among the lower classes, who had no power, influence, reputation, or education, lay its principal success.
As to the vivifying idea, this is St. Paul’s account of it: “I make known to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you have received, and wherein you stand; by which also you are saved. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,” &c., &c. “I am the least of the Apostles; but, whether I or they, so we preached, and so you believed.” “It has pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” “We preach Christ crucified.” “I determined to know nothing among you, but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” “Your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, shall appear, then you also shall appear with Him in glory.” “I live, but now not I, but Christ liveth in me.”
St. Peter, who has been accounted the master of a separate school, says the same: “Jesus Christ, whom you have not seen, yet love; in whom you now believe, and shall rejoice.”
And St. John, who is sometimes accounted a third master in Christianity: “It hath not yet appeared what we shall be; but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like to Him, because we shall see Him as He is.”
That their disciples followed them in this sovereign devotion to an Invisible Lord, will appear as I proceed.
And next, as to the worldly position and character of His disciples, our Lord, in the well-known passage, returns thanks to His Heavenly Father “because,” He says, “Thou hast hid these things”—the mysteries of His kingdom—“from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones.” And, in accordance with this announcement, St. Paul says that “not many wise men according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble,” became Christians. He, indeed, is one of those few; so were others his contemporaries, and, as time went on, the number of these exceptions increased, so that converts were found, not a few, in the high places of the Empire, and in the schools of philosophy and learning; but still the rule held, that the great mass of Christians were to be found in those classes which were of no account in the world, whether on the score of rank or of education.
We all know this was the case with our Lord and His Apostles. It seems almost irreverent to speak of their temporal employments, when we are so simply accustomed to consider them in their spiritual associations; but it is profitable to remind ourselves that our Lord Himself was a sort of smith, and made ploughs and cattle-yokes. Four Apostles were fishermen, one a petty tax collector, two husbandmen, and another is said to have been a market gardener. When Peter and John were brought before the Council, they are spoken of as being, in a secular point of view, “illiterate men, and of the lower sort,” and thus they are spoken of in a later age by the Fathers.
That their converts were of the same rank as themselves, is reported, in their favour or to their discredit, by friends and enemies, for four centuries. “If a man be educated,” says Celsus in mockery, “let him keep clear of us Christians; we want no men of wisdom, no men of sense. We account all such as evil. No; but, if there be one who is inexperienced, or stupid, or untaught, or a fool, let him come with good heart.” “They are weavers,” he says elsewhere, “shoemakers, fullers, illiterate, clowns.” “Fools, low-born fellows,” says Trypho. “The greater part of you,” says Cæcilius, “are worn with want, cold, toil, and famine; men collected from the lowest dregs of the people; ignorant, credulous women;” “unpolished, boors, illiterate, ignorant even of the sordid arts of life; they do not understand even civil matters, how can they understand divine?” “They have left their tongs, mallets, and anvils, to preach about the things of heaven,” says Libanius. “They deceive women, servants, and slaves,” says Julian. The author of Philopatris speaks of them as “poor creatures, blocks, withered old fellows, men of downcast and pale visages.” As to their religion, it had the reputation popularly, according to various Fathers, of being an anile superstition, the discovery of old women, a joke, a madness, an infatuation, an absurdity, a fanaticism.
The Fathers themselves confirm these statements, so far as they relate to the insignificance and ignorance of their brethren. Athenagoras speaks of the virtue of their “ignorant men, mechanics, and old women.” “They are gathered,” says St. Jerome, “not from the Academy or Lyceum, but from the low populace.” “They are whitesmiths, servants, farm-labourers, woodmen, men of sordid trades, beggars,” says Theodoret. “We are engaged in the farm, in the market, at the baths, wine-shops, stables, and fairs; as seamen, as soldiers, as peasants, as dealers,” says Tertullian. How came such men to be converted? and, being converted, how came such men to overturn the world? Yet they went forth from the first, “conquering and to conquer.”
The first manifestation of their formidable numbers is made just about the time when St. Peter and St. Paul suffered martyrdom, and was the cause of a terrible persecution. We have the account of it in Tacitus. “Nero,” he says, “to put an end to the common talk [that Rome had been set on fire by his order], imputed it to others, visiting with a refinement of punishment those detestable criminals who went by the name of Christians. The author of that denomination was Christus, who had been executed in Tiberius’s time by the procurator, Pontius Pilate. The pestilent superstition, checked for a while, burst out again, not only throughout Judea, the first seat of the evil, but even throughout Rome, the centre both of confluence and outbreak of all that is atrocious and disgraceful from every quarter. First were arrested those who made no secret of their sect; and by this clue a vast multitude of others, convicted, not so much of firing the city, as of hatred to the human race. Mockery was added to death; clad in skins of beasts, they were torn to pieces by dogs; they were nailed up to crosses; they were made inflammable, so that, when day failed, they might serve as lights. Hence, guilty as they were, and deserving of exemplary punishment, they excited compassion, as being destroyed, not for the public welfare, but from the cruelty of one man.”
The two Apostles suffered, and a silence follows of a whole generation. At the end of thirty or forty years, Pliny, the friend of Trajan, as well as of Tacitus, is sent as that Emperor’s Proprætor into Bithynia, and is startled and perplexed by the number, influence, and pertinacity of the Christians whom he finds there, and in the neighbouring province of Pontus. He has the opportunity of being far more fair to them than his friend the historian. He writes to Trajan to know how he ought to deal with them, and I will quote some portions of his letter.
He says he does not know how to proceed with them, as their religion has not received toleration from the state. He never was present at any trial of them; he doubted whether the children among them, as well as grown people, ought to be accounted as culprits, whether recantation would set matters right, or whether they incurred punishment all the same; whether they were to be punished, merely because Christians, even though no definite crime was proved against them. His way had been to examine them, and put questions to them; if they confessed the charge, he gave them one or two chances, threatening them with punishment; then, if they persisted, he gave orders for their execution. “For,” he argues, “I felt no doubt that, whatever might be the character of their opinions, stubborn and inflexible obstinacy deserved punishment. Others there were of a like infatuation, whom, being citizens, I sent to Rome.”
Some satisfied him; they repeated after him an invocation to the gods, and offered wine and incense to the Emperor’s image, and in addition, cursed the name of Christ. “Accordingly,” he says, “I let them go; for I am told nothing can compel a real Christian to do any of these things.” There were others, too, who sacrificed; who had been Christians, some of them for as many as twenty years.
Then he is curious to know something more definite about them. “This, the informers told me, was the whole of their crime or mistake, that they were accustomed to assemble on a stated day before dawn, and to say together a hymn to Christ as a god, and to bind themselves by an oath [sacramento] (not to any crime, but on the contrary) to keep from theft, robbery, adultery, breach of promise, and making free with deposits. After this they used to separate, and then to meet again for a meal, which was social and harmless. However, they left even that off, after my Edict against their meeting.”
This information led him to put to the torture two maid-servants, “who were called ministers,” in order to find out what was true, what was false in it; but he says he could make out nothing, except a depraved and excessive superstition. This is what led him to consult the Emperor, “especially because of the number who were implicated in it; for these are, or are likely to be, many, of all ages, nay, of both sexes. For the contagion of this superstition has spread, not only in the cities, but about the villages and the open country.” He adds that already there was some improvement. “The almost forsaken temples begin to be filled again, and the sacred solemnities after a long intermission are revived. Victims, too, are again on sale, purchasers having been most rare to find.”
The salient points in this account are these, that, at the end of one generation from the Apostles, nay, almost in the lifetime of St. John, Christians had so widely spread in a large district of Asia, as nearly to suppress the Pagan religions there; that they were people of exemplary lives; that they had a name for invincible fidelity to their religion; that no threats or sufferings could make them deny it; and that their only tangible characteristic was the worship of our Lord.
This was at the beginning of the second century; not a great many years after, we have another account of the Christian body, from an anonymous Greek Christian, in a letter to a friend whom he was anxious to convert. It is far too long to quote, and difficult to compress; but a few sentences will show how strikingly it agrees with the account of the heathen Pliny, especially in two points,—first, in the numbers of the Christians, secondly, on devotion to our Lord as the vivifying principle of their association.
“Christians,” says the writer, “differ not from other men in country, or speech, or customs. They do not live in cities of their own, or speak in any peculiar dialect, or adopt any strange modes of living. They inhabit their native countries, but as sojourners; they take their part in all burdens, as if citizens, and in all sufferings, as if they were strangers. In foreign countries they recognize a home, and in every home they see a foreign country. They marry like other men, but do not disown their children. They obey the established laws, but they go beyond them in the tenor of their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all; they are not known, and they are condemned; they are poor, and make many rich; they are dishonoured, yet in dishonour they are glorified; they are slandered, and they are cleared; they are called names, and they bless. By the Jews they are assailed as aliens, by the Greeks they are persecuted, nor can they who hate them say why.
“Christians are in the world, as the soul in the body. The soul pervades the limbs of the body, and Christians the cities of the world. The flesh hates the soul, and wars against it, though suffering no wrong from it; and the world hates Christians. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and Christians love their enemies. Their tradition is not an earthly invention, nor is it a mortal thought which they so carefully guard, nor a dispensation of human mysteries which is committed to their charge; but God Himself, the Omnipotent and Invisible Creator, has from heaven established among men His Truth and His Word, the Holy and Incomprehensible, and has deeply fixed the same in their hearts; not, as might be expected, sending any servant, angel, or prince, or administrator of things earthly or heavenly, but the very Artificer and Demiurge of the Universe. Him God hath sent to man, not to inflict terror, but in clemency and gentleness, as a King sending a King who was His Son; He sent Him as God to men, to save them. He hated not, nor rejected us, nor remembered our guilt, but showed Himself long-suffering, and, in His own words, bore our sins. He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the just for the unjust. For what other thing, except His Righteousness, could cover our guilt? In whom was it possible for us, lawless sinners, to find justification, save in the Son of God alone? O sweet interchange! O heavenly workmanship past finding out! O benefits exceeding expectation! Sending, then, a Saviour, who is able to save those who of themselves are incapable of salvation, He has willed that we should regard Him as our Guardian, Father, Teacher, Counsellor, Physician; our Mind, Light, Honour, Glory, Strength, and Life.”
The writing from which I have been quoting is of the early part of the second century. Twenty or thirty years after it St. Justin Martyr speaks as strongly of the spread of the new Religion: “There is not any one race of men,” he says, “barbarian or Greek, nay, of those who live in waggons, or who are Nomads, or Shepherds in tents, among whom prayers and eucharists are not offered to the Father and Maker of the Universe, through the name of the crucified Jesus.”
Towards the end of the century, Clement:—“The word of our Master did not remain in Judea, as philosophy remained in Greece, but has been poured out over the whole world, persuading Greeks and Barbarians alike, race by race, village by village, every city, whole houses, and hearers one by one, nay, not a few of the philosophers themselves.”
And Tertullian, at the very close of it, could in his Apologia even proceed to threaten the Roman Government:—“We are a people of yesterday,” he says; “and yet we have filled every place belonging to you, cities, islands, castles, towns, assemblies, your very camp, your tribes, companies, palaces, senate, forum. We leave you your temples only. We can count your armies, and our numbers in a single province will be greater. In what war with you should we not be sufficient and ready, even though unequal in numbers, who so willingly are put to death, if it were not in this Religion of ours more lawful to be slain than to slay?”
Once more, let us hear the great Origen, in the early part of the next century:—“In all Greece and in all barbarous races within our world, there are tens of thousands who have left their national laws and customary gods for the law of Moses and the word of Jesus Christ; though to adhere to that law is to incur the hatred of idolaters, and the risk of death besides to have embraced that word. And considering how, in so few years, in spite of the attacks made on us, to the loss of life or property, and with no great store of teachers, the preaching of that word has found its way into every part of the world, so that Greek and barbarians, wise and unwise, adhere to the religion of Jesus, doubtless it is a work greater than any work of man.”
We need no proof to assure us that this steady and rapid growth of Christianity was a phenomenon which startled its contemporaries, as much as it excites the curiosity of philosophic historians now; and they too then had their own ways of accounting for it, different indeed from Gibbon’s, but quite as pertinent, though less elaborate. These were principally two, both leading them to persecute it,—the obstinacy of the Christians and their magical powers, of which the former was the explanation adopted by educated minds, and the latter chiefly by the populace.
As to the former, from first to last, men in power magisterially reprobate the senseless obstinacy of the members of the new sect, as their characteristic offence. Pliny, as we have seen, found it to be their only fault, but one sufficient to merit capital punishment. The Emperor Marcus seems to consider obstinacy the ultimate motive-cause to which their unnatural conduct was traceable. After speaking of the soul, as “ready, if it must now be separated from the body, to be extinguished, or dissolved, or to remain with it;” he adds, “but the readiness must come of its own judgment, not from simple perverseness, as in the case of Christians, but with considerateness, with gravity, and without theatrical effect, so as to be persuasive.” And Diocletian, in his Edict of persecution, professes it to be his “earnest aim to punish the depraved persistence of those most wicked men.”
As to the latter charge, their founder, it was said, had gained a knowledge of magic in Egypt, and had left behind him in his sacred books the secrets of the art. Suetonius himself speaks of them as “men of a magical superstition;” and Celsus accuses them of “incantations in the name of demons.” The officer who had custody of St. Perpetua, feared her escape from prison “by magical incantations.” When St. Tiburtius had walked barefoot on hot coals, his judge cried out that Christ had taught him magic. St. Anastasia was thrown into prison as dealing in poisons; the populace called out against St. Agnes, “Away with the witch! away with the sorceress!” When St. Bonosus and St. Maximilian bore the burning pitch without shrinking, Jews and heathen cried out, “Those wizards and sorcerers!” “What new delusion,” says the magistrate concerning St. Romanus, in the Hymn of Prudentius, “has brought in these sophists who deny the worship of the Gods? how doth this chief sorcerer mock us, stilled by his Thessalian charm to laugh at punishment?”
It is indeed difficult to enter into the feelings of irritation and fear, of contempt and amazement, which were excited, whether in the town populace or in the magistrates in the presence of conduct so novel, so unvarying, so absolutely beyond their comprehension. The very young and the very old, the child, the youth in the heyday of his passions, the sober man of middle age, maidens and mothers of families, boors and slaves as well as philosophers and nobles, solitary confessors and companies of men and women,—all these were seen equally to defy the powers of darkness to do their worst. In this strange encounter it became a point of honour with the Roman to break the determination of his victim, and it was the triumph of faith when his most savage expedients for that purpose were found to be in vain. The martyrs shrank from suffering like other men, but such natural shrinking was incommensurable with apostasy. No intensity of torture had any means of affecting what was a mental conviction; and the sovereign Thought in which they had lived was their adequate support and consolation in their death. To them the prospect of wounds and loss of limbs was not more terrible than it is to the combatant of this world. They faced the implements of torture as the soldier takes his post before the enemy’s battery. They cheered and ran forward to meet his attack, and as it were dared him, if he would, to destroy the numbers who kept closing up the foremost rank, as their comrades who had filled it fell. And when Rome at last found she had to deal with a host of Scævolas, then the proudest of earthly sovereignties, arrayed in the completeness of her material resources, humbled herself before a power which was founded on a mere sense of the unseen.
In the colloquy of the aged Ignatius, the disciple of the Apostles, with the Emperor Trajan, we have a sort of type of what went on for three, or rather four centuries. He was sent all the way from Antioch to Rome to be devoured by the beasts in the amphitheatre. As he travelled, he wrote letters to various Christian Churches, and among others to his Roman brethren, among whom he was to suffer. Let us see whether, as I have said, the Image of that Divine King, who had been promised from the beginning, was not the living principle of his obstinate resolve. The old man is almost fierce in his determination to be martyred. “May those beasts,” he says to his brethren, “be my gain, which are in readiness for me! I will provoke and coax them to devour me quickly, and not to be afraid of me, as they are of some whom they will not touch. Should they be unwilling, I will compel them. Bear with me; I know what is my gain. Now I begin to be a disciple. Of nothing of things visible or invisible am I ambitious, save to gain Christ. Whether it is fire or the cross, the assault of wild beasts, the wrenching of my bones, the crunching of my limbs, the crushing of my whole body, let the tortures of the devil all assail me, if I do but gain Christ Jesus.” Elsewhere in the same Epistle he says, “I write to you, still alive, but longing to die. My Love is crucified! I have no taste for perishable food. I long for God’s Bread, heavenly Bread, Bread of life, which is Flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I long for God’s draught, His Blood, which is Love without corruption, and Life for evermore.” It is said that, when he came into the presence of Trajan, the latter cried out, “Who are you, poor devil, who are so eager to transgress our rules?” “That is no name,” he answered, “for Theophorus.” “Who is Theophorus?” asked the Emperor. “He who bears Christ in his breast.” In the Apostle’s words, already cited, he had “Christ in him, the hope of glory.” All this may be called enthusiasm; but enthusiasm affords a much more adequate explanation of the confessorship of an old man, than do Gibbon’s five reasons.
Instances of the same ardent spirit, and of the living faith on which it was founded, are to be found wherever we open the Acta Martyrum. In the outbreak at Smyrna, in the middle of the second century, amid tortures which even moved the heathen bystanders to compassion, the sufferers were conspicuous for their serene calmness. “They made it evident to us all,” says the Epistle of the Church, “that in the midst of those sufferings they were absent from the body, or rather, that the Lord stood by them, and walked in the midst of them.”
At that time Polycarp, the familiar friend of St. John, and a contemporary of Ignatius, suffered in his extreme old age. When, before his sentence, the Proconsul bade him “swear by the fortunes of Cæsar, and have done with Christ,” his answer betrayed that intimate devotion to the self-same Idea, which had been the inward life of Ignatius. “Eighty and six years,” he answered, “have I been His servant, and He has never wronged me, but ever has preserved me; and how can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?” When they would have fastened him to the stake, he said, “Let alone; He who gives me to bear the fire, will give me also to stand firm upon the pyre without your nails.”
Christians felt it as an acceptable service to Him who loved them, to confess with courage and to suffer with dignity. In this chivalrous spirit, as it may be called, they met the words and deeds of their persecutors, as the children of men return bitterness for bitterness, and blow for blow. “What soldier,” says Minucius, with a reference to the invisible Presence of our Lord, “does not challenge danger more daringly under the eye of his commander?” In that same outbreak at Smyrna, when the Proconsul urged the young Germanicus to have mercy on himself and on his youth, to the astonishment of the populace he provoked a wild beast to fall upon him. In like manner, St. Justin tells us of Lucius, who, when he saw a Christian sent off to suffer, at once remonstrated sharply with the judge, and was sent off to execution with him; and then another presented himself, and was sent off also. When the Christians were thrown into prison, in the fierce persecution at Lyons, Vettius Epagathus, a youth of distinction who had given himself to an ascetic life, could not bear the sight of the sufferings of his brethren, and asked leave to plead their cause. The only answer he got was to be sent off the first to die. What the contemporary account sees in his conduct is, not that he was zealous for his brethren, though zealous he was, nor that he believed in miracles, though he doubtless did believe; but that he “was a gracious disciple of Christ, following the Lamb whithersoever He went.”
In that memorable persecution, when Blandina, a slave, was seized for confessorship, her mistress and her fellow-Christians dreaded lest, from her delicate make, she should give way under the torments; but she even tired out her tormentors. It was a refreshment and relief to her to cry out amid her pains, “I am a Christian.” They remanded her to prison, and then brought her out for fresh suffering a second day and a third. On the last day she saw a boy of fifteen brought into the amphitheatre for death; she feared for him, as others had feared for her; but he too went through his trial generously, and went to God before her. Her last sufferings were to be placed in the notorious red-hot chair, and then to be exposed in a net to a wild bull; they finished by cutting her throat. Sanctus, too, when the burning plates of brass were placed on his limbs, all through his torments did but say, “I am a Christian,” and stood erect and firm, “bathed and strengthened,” say his brethren who write the account, “in the heavenly well of living water which flows from the breast of Christ,” or, as they say elsewhere of all the martyrs, “refreshed with the joy of martyrdom, the hope of blessedness, love towards Christ, and the spirit of God the Father.” How clearly do we see all through this narrative what it was which nerved them for the combat! If they love their brethren, it is in the fellowship of their Lord; if they look for heaven, it is because He is the Light of it.
Epipodius, a youth of gentle nurture, when struck by the Prefect on the mouth, while blood flowed from it, cried out, “I confess that Jesus Christ is God, together with the Father and the Holy Ghost.” Symphorian, of Autun, also a youth, and of noble birth, when told to adore an idol, answered, “Give me leave, and I will hammer it to pieces.” When Leonidas, the father of the young Origen, was in prison for his faith, the boy, then seventeen, burned to share his martyrdom, and his mother had to hide his clothes to prevent him from executing his purpose. Afterwards he attended the confessors in prison, stood by them at the tribunal, and gave them the kiss of peace when they were led out to suffer, and this, in spite of being several times apprehended and put upon the rack. Also in Alexandria, the beautiful slave, Potamiæna, when about to be stripped in order to be thrown into the cauldron of hot pitch, said to the Prefect, “I pray you rather let me be dipped down slowly into it with my clothes on, and you shall see with what patience I am gifted by Him of whom you are ignorant, Jesus Christ.” When the populace in the same city had beaten out the aged Apollonia’s teeth, and lit a fire to burn her, unless she would blaspheme, she leaped into the fire herself, and so gained her crown. When Sixtus, Bishop of Rome, was led to martyrdom, his deacon, Laurence, followed him weeping and complaining, “O my father, whither goest thou without thy son?” And when his own turn came, three days afterwards, and he was put upon the gridiron, after a while he said to the Prefect, “Turn me; this side is done.” Whence came this tremendous spirit, scaring, nay, offending, the fastidious criticism of our delicate days? Does Gibbon think to sound the depths of the eternal ocean with the tape and measuring-rod of his merely literary philosophy?
When Barulas, a child of seven years old, was scourged to blood for repeating his catechism before the heathen judge—viz. “There is but one God, and Jesus Christ is true God”—his mother encouraged him to persevere, chiding him for asking for some drink. At Merida, a girl of noble family, of the age of twelve, presented herself before the tribunal, and overturned the idols. She was scourged and burned with torches; she neither shed a tear, nor showed other signs of suffering. When the fire reached her face, she opened her mouth to receive it, and was suffocated. At Cæsarea, a girl, under eighteen, went boldly to ask the prayers of some Christians who were in chains before the Prætorium. She was seized at once, and her sides torn open with the iron rakes, preserving the while a bright and joyous countenance. Peter, Dorotheus, Gorgonius, were boys of the imperial bedchamber; they were highly in favour with their masters, and were Christians. They too suffered dreadful torments, dying under them, without a shadow of wavering. Call such conduct madness, if you will, or magic: but do not mock us by ascribing it in such mere children to simple desire of immortality, or to any ecclesiastical organization.
When the persecution raged in Asia, a vast multitude of Christians presented themselves before the Proconsul, challenging him to proceed against them. “Poor wretches!” half in contempt and half in affright, he answered, “if you must die, cannot you find ropes or precipices for the purpose?” At Utica, a hundred and fifty Christians of both sexes and all ages were martyrs in one company. They are said to have been told to burn incense to an idol, or they should be thrown into a pit of burning lime; they without hesitation leapt into it. In Egypt a hundred and twenty confessors, after having sustained the loss of eyes or of feet, endured to linger out their lives in the mines of Palestine and Cilicia. In the last persecution, according to the testimony of the grave Eusebius, a contemporary, the slaughter of men, women, and children, went on by twenties, sixties, hundreds, till the instruments of execution were worn out, and the executioners could kill no more. Yet he tells us, as an eyewitness, that, as soon as any Christians were condemned, others ran from all parts, and surrounded the tribunals, confessing the faith, and joyfully receiving their condemnation, and singing songs of thanksgiving and triumph to the last.
* * *
Thus was the Roman power overcome. Thus did the Seed of Abraham, and the Expectation of the Gentiles, the meek Son of man, “take to Himself His great power and reign” in the hearts of His people, in the public theatre of the world. The mode in which the primeval prophecy was fulfilled is as marvellous, as the prophecy itself is clear and bold.
“So may all Thy enemies perish, O Lord; but let them that love Thee shine, as the sun shineth in his rising!”
* * *
I will add the memorable words of the two great Apologists of the period:—
“Your cruelty,” says Tertullian, “though each act be more refined than the last, doth profit you nothing. To our sect it is rather an inducement. We grow up in greater numbers, as often as you cut us down. The blood of the martyrs is their seed for the harvest.”
Origen even uses the language of prophecy. To the objection of Celsus that Christianity from its principles would, if let alone, open the whole empire to the irruption of the barbarians, and the utter ruin of civilization, he replies, “If all Romans are such as we, then too the barbarians will draw near to the Word of God, and will become the most observant of the Law. And every worship shall come to nought, and that of the Christians alone obtain the mastery, for the Word is continually gaining possession of more and more souls.”
One additional remark:—It was fitting that those mixed unlettered multitudes, who for three centuries had suffered and triumphed by virtue of the inward Vision of their Divine Lord, should be selected, as we know they were, in the fourth, to be the special champions of His Divinity and the victorious foes of its impugners, at a time when the civil power, which had found them too strong for its arms, attempted, by means of a portentous heresy in the high places of the Church, to rob them of that Truth which had all along been the principle of their strength.
I have been forestalling all along the thought with which I shall close these considerations on the subject of Christianity; and necessarily forestalling it, because, it properly comes first, though the course which my argument has taken has not allowed me to introduce it in its natural place. Revelation begins where Natural Religion fails. The Religion of Nature is a mere inchoation, and needs a complement,—it can have but one complement, and that very complement is Christianity.
Natural Religion is based upon the sense of sin; it recognizes the disease, but it cannot find, it does but look out for the remedy. That remedy, both for guilt and for moral impotence, is found in the central doctrine of Revelation, the Mediation of Christ. I need not go into a subject so familiar to all men in a Christian country.
Thus it is that Christianity is the fulfilment of the promise made to Abraham, and of the Mosaic revelations; this is how it has been able from the first to occupy the world and gain a hold on every class of human society to which its preachers reached; this is why the Roman power and the multitude of religions which it embraced could not stand against it; this is the secret of its sustained energy, and its never-flagging martyrdoms; this is how at present it is so mysteriously potent, in spite of the new and fearful adversaries which beset its path. It has with it that gift of staunching and healing the one deep wound of human nature, which avails more for its success than a full encyclopedia of scientific knowledge and a whole library of controversy, and therefore it must last while human nature lasts. It is a living truth which never can grow old.
Some persons speak of it as if it were a thing of history, with only indirect bearings upon modern times; I cannot allow that it is a mere historical religion. Certainly it has its foundations in past and glorious memories, but its power is in the present. It is no dreary matter of antiquarianism; we do not contemplate it in conclusions drawn from dumb documents and dead events, but by faith exercised in ever-living objects, and by the appropriation and use of ever-recurring gifts.
Our communion with it is in the unseen, not in the obsolete. At this very day its rites and ordinances are continually eliciting the active interposition of that Omnipotence in which the Religion long ago began. First and above all is the Holy Mass, in which He who once died for us upon the Cross, brings back and perpetuates, by His literal presence in it, that one and the same sacrifice which cannot be repeated. Next, there is the actual entrance of Himself, soul and body, and divinity, into the soul and body of every worshipper who comes to Him for the gift, a privilege more intimate than if we lived with Him during His long-past sojourn upon earth. And then, moreover, there is His personal abidance in our churches, raising earthly service into a foretaste of heaven. Such is the profession of Christianity, and, I repeat, its very divination of our needs is in itself a proof that it is really the supply of them.
Upon the doctrines which I have mentioned as central truths, others, as we all know, follow, which rule our personal conduct and course of life, and our social and civil relations. The promised Deliverer, the Expectation of the nations, has not done His work by halves. He has given us Saints and Angels for our protection. He has taught us how by our prayers and services to benefit our departed friends, and to keep up a memorial of ourselves when we are gone. He has created a visible hierarchy and a succession of sacraments, to be the channels of His mercies, and the Crucifix secures the thought of Him in every house and chamber. In all these ways He brings Himself before us. I am not here speaking of His gifts as gifts, but as memorials; not as what Christians know they convey, but in their visible character; and I say, that, as human nature itself is still in life and action as much as ever it was, so He too lives, to our imaginations, by His visible symbols, as if He were on earth, with a practical efficacy which even unbelievers cannot deny, to be the corrective of that nature, and its strength day by day, and that this power of perpetuating His Image, being altogether singular and special, and the prerogative of Him and Him alone, is a grand evidence how well He fulfils to this day that Sovereign Mission which, from the first beginning of the world’s history, has been in prophecy assigned to Him.
I cannot better illustrate this argument than by recurring to a deep thought on the subject of Christianity, which has before now attracted the notice of philosophers and preachers, as coming from the wonderful man who swayed the destinies of Europe in the first years of this century. It was an argument not unnatural in one who had that special passion for human glory, which has been the incentive of so many heroic careers and of so many mighty revolutions in the history of the world. In the solitude of his imprisonment, and in the view of death, he is said to have expressed himself to the following effect:—
“I have been accustomed to put before me the examples of Alexander and Cæsar, with the hope of rivalling their exploits, and living in the minds of men for ever. Yet, after all, in what sense does Cæsar, in what sense does Alexander live? Who knows or cares anything about them? At best, nothing but their names is known; for who among the multitude of men, who hear or who utter their names, really knows anything about their lives or their deeds, or attaches to those names any definite idea? Nay, even their names do but flit up and down the world like ghosts, mentioned only on particular occasions, or from accidental associations. Their chief home is the schoolroom; they have a foremost place in boys’ grammars and exercise-books; they are splendid examples for themes; they form writing-copies. So low is heroic Alexander fallen, so low is imperial Cæsar, ‘ut pueris placeant et declamatio fiant.’
“But, on the contrary” (he is reported to have continued), “there is just One Name in the whole world that lives; it is the Name of One who passed His years in obscurity, and who died a malefactor’s death. Eighteen hundred years have gone since that time, but still it has its hold upon the human mind. It has possessed the world, and it maintains possession. Amid the most varied nations, under the most diversified circumstances, in the most cultivated, in the rudest races and intellects, in all classes of society, the Owner of that great Name reigns. High and low, rich and poor, acknowledge Him. Millions of souls are conversing with Him, are venturing on His word, are looking for His presence. Palaces, sumptuous, innumerable, are raised to His honour; His image, as in the hour of his deepest humiliation, is triumphantly displayed in the proud city, in the open country, in the corners of streets, on the tops of mountains. It sanctifies the ancestral hall, the closet, and the bedchamber; it is the subject for the exercise of the highest genius in the imitative arts. It is worn next the heart in life; it is held before the failing eyes in death. Here, then, is One who is not a mere name, who is not a mere fiction, who is a reality. He is dead and gone, but still He lives,—lives as the living, energetic thought of successive generations, as the awful motive-power of a thousand great events. He has done without effort what others with lifelong struggles have not done. Can He be less than Divine? Who is He but the Creator Himself; who is sovereign over His own works, towards whom our eyes and hearts turn instinctively, because He is our Father and our God?”
Here I end my specimens, among the many which might be given, of the arguments adducible for Christianity. I have dwelt upon them, in order to show how I would apply the principles of this Essay to the proof of its divine origin. Christianity is addressed, both as regards its evidences and its contents, to minds which are in the normal condition of human nature, as believing in God and in a future judgment. Such minds it addresses both through the intellect and through the imagination; creating a certitude of its truth by arguments too various for enumeration, too personal and deep for words, too powerful and concurrent for refutation. Nor need reason come first and faith second (though this is the logical order), but one and the same teaching is in different aspects both object and proof, and elicits one complex act both of inference and of assent. It speaks to us one by one, and it is received by us one by one, as the counterpart, so to say, of ourselves, and is real as we are real.
In the sacred words of its Divine Author and Object concerning Himself, “I am the Good Shepherd, and I know mine, and Mine know Me. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them everlasting life, and they shall never perish; and no man shall pluck them out of My hand.”