amidst whose sublime and solemn phenomena | cannot solve; and the rather, that he sees that if science has most clearly discovered that every- he does not accept the evidence, he has equally inthing is accurately adjusted by geometrical precis- comprehensible difficulties to encounter, and two or ion of force and movement; where the chances of three stark contradictions into the bargain. error are infinite, and the proofs of intelligence, reason, therefore, triumphs in the proofs and his therefore, equal. These proofs of design in each faith triumphs over the difficulties. fragment of the universe, and in all combined, are continually further multiplied by every fresh discovery, whether in the minute or the vast-by the microscope or the telescope; for every fresh law that is discovered, being in harmony with all that has previously been discovered, not only yields its own proofs of design, but infinitely more, by all the relations in which it stands to other laws: it yields, in fact, as many as there are adjustments which have been effected between itself and all besides. Each new proof of design, therefore, is not a solitary fact; but one which, entering as another element into a most complex machinery, indefinitely multiplies the combinations, in any one of which chance might have gone astray. From this infinite array of proofs of design it seems to man's reason, in ordinary moods, stark madness to account for the phenomena of the universe upon any other supposition than that which does account, | wicked spreading himself like a green bay tree;" and can alone account, for them all-the supposition of a Presiding Intelligence, illimitable alike in power and in wisdom.

The only difficulty is justly to appreciate such an argument to obtain a sufficiently vivid impression of such an accumulation of probabilities. This very difficulty, indeed, in some moods, may minister to a temporary doubt. For let us catch man in those moods—perhaps after long meditation on the metaphysical grounds of human belief-and he begins to doubt, with unusual modesty, whether the child of dust is warranted to conclude anything on a subject which loses itself in the infinite, and which so far transcends all his powers of apprehension; he begins half to doubt, with Hume, whether he can reason analogically from the petty specimens of human ingenuity to phenomena so vast and so unique; a misgiving which is strengthened by reflecting on all those to him incomprehensible inferences to which the admission of the argument leads him, and which seem almost to involve contradictions. Let him ponder for awhile the ideas involved in the notion of Self-subsistence, Eternity, Creation; of Power, Wisdom, and Knowledge, so unlimited as to embrace at once all things, and all their relations, actual and possible-this "unlimited" expanding into a dim apprehension of the "infinite";-of infinitude of attributes, omnipresent in every point of space, and yet but one and not many infinitudes;-let him once humbly ponder such incomprehensible difficulties as these, and he will soon feel that though in the argument from design, there seemed but one vast scene of triumph for his reason, there is as large a scene of exertion left for his faith. That faith he ordinarily yields; he sees it is justified by those proofs of the great truth he can appreciate, and which he will not allow to be controlled by the difficulties his conscious feebleness

It is the same with the doctrine of the Divine government of the world. In ordinary states of mind man counts it an absurdity to suppose that the Deity would have created a world to abandon it; that, having employed wisdom and power so vast in its construction, he would leave it to be the sport of chance. He feels that the intuitions of right and wrong; the voice of conscience; satisfaction in well-doing; remorse for crime; the present tendency, at least, of the laws of the universe,—all point to the same conclusion, while their imperfect fulfilment equally points to a future and more accurate adjustment. Yet let the man look exclusively for awhile on the opposite side of the tapestry; let him brood over any of the facts which seem at war with the above conclusion; on some signal triumph of baseness and malignity; on oppressed virtue, on triumphant vice; on "the

and especially on the mournful and inscrutable mystery of the "Origin of Evil," and he feels that "clouds and darkness" envelop the administration of the Moral Governor, though “justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne." The evidences above mentioned for the last conclusion are direct and positive, and such as man can appreciate; the difficulties spring from his limited capacity, or imperfect glimpses of a very small segment of the universal plan. Nor are those difficulties less upon the opposite hypothesis; and they are there further burdened with two or three additional absurdities. The preponderant evidence, far from removing the difficulties, scarcely touches them-yet it is felt to be sufficient to justify faith, though most abundant faith is required still.

Are the evidences, then, in behalf of Christianity less of a nature which man can appreciate? or can the difficulties involved in its reception be greater than in the preceding cases? If not, and if. moreover, while the evidence turns as before on principles with which we are familiar, the more formidable objections, as before, are such that we are not competent to decide upon their absolute insolubility, we see how man ought to act; that is. not to let his ignorance control his knowledge, but to let his reason accept the proofs which justify his faith, in accepting the difficulties. In no case is he, it appears, warranted to look for the certainty which shall exclude (whatever the triumphs of his reason) a gigantic exercise of his faith. Let us briefly consider a few of the evidences. order to give the statement a little novelty, we shall indicate the principal topics of evidence, not by enumerating what the advocate of Christianity believes in believing it to be true, but what the infidel must believe in believing it to be false. The à priori objection to Miracles we shall briefly touch afterwards.

And in

it, and, which is more extraordinary, the inconsistency to practise it !*

On the second of the above-mentioned hypotheses, that these miracles were either a congeries of deeply contrived fictions, or accidental myths, subsequently invented, the infidel must believe, on the former supposition, that, though even transient success in literary forgery, when there are any prejudices to resist, is among the rarest of occurrences; yet that these forgeries-the hazardous work of many minds, making the most outrageous pretensions, and necessarily challenging the opposition of Jew and Gentile, were successful, beyond

First, then, in relation to the Miracles of the New Testament, whether they be supposed masterly frauds on men's senses committed at the time and by the parties supposed in the records, or fictions (designed or accidental) subsequently fabricated but still, in either case, undeniably successful and triumphant beyond all else in the history whether of fraud or fiction-the infidel must believe as follows: On the first hypothesis, he must believe that a vast number of apparent miracles-involving the most astounding phenomena-such as the instant restoration of the sick, blind, deaf, and lame, and the resurrection of the dead-performed in open day, amidst multitudes of malignant enemies-all imagination, over the hearts of mankind; and imposed alike on all, and triumphed at once over have continued to impose, by an exquisite appearthe strongest prejudices and the deepest enmity ;- ance of artless truth, and a most elaborate mosaic those who received them and those who rejected of feigned events artfully cemented into the ground them differing only in the certainly not very trifling of true history, on the acutest minds of different particular as to whether they came from heaven races and different ages; while, on the second or from hell. He must believe that those who supposition, he must believe that accident and were thus successful in this extraordinary con- chance have given to these legends their exquisite spiracy against men's senses and against common appearance of historic plausibility; and on either sense, were Galilæan Jews, such as all history of supposition, he must believe (what is still more the period represents them; ignorant, obscure, wonderful) that the world, while the fictions were illiterate; and, above all, previously bigoted, like being published, and in the known absence of the all their countrymen, to the very system, of which, facts they asserted to be true, suffered itself to be together with all other religions on the earth, they befooled into the belief of their truth, and out of modestly meditated the abrogation; he must believe its belief of all the systems it did previously that, appealing to these astounding frauds in the believe to be true; and that it acted thus notwithface both of Jews and Gentiles as an open evidence standing persecution from without, as well as of the truth of a new revelation, and demanding prejudice from within; that, strange to say, the on the strength of them that their countrymen strictest historic investigations bring this compilashould surrender a religion which they acknowl- tion of fictions or myths-even by the admission edged to be divine, and that all other nations of Strauss himself-within thirty or forty years should abandon their scarcely less venerable sys- of the very time in which all the alleged wonders tems of superstition, they rapidly succeeded in they relate are said to have occurred; wonders both these very probable adventures; and in a few which the perverse world knew it had not seen, years, though without arms, power, wealth, or but which it was determined to believe in spite of science, were to an enormous extent victorious over evidence, prejudice, and persecution! In addition all prejudice, philosophy, and persecution; and in to all this, the infidel must believe that the men three centuries took nearly undisputed possession, who were engaged in the compilation of these amongst many nations, of the temples of the monstrous fictions, chose them as the vehicle of the ejected deities. He must further believe that the purest morality; and, though the most pernicious original performers, in these prodigious frauds on deceivers of mankind, were yet the most scrupulous the world, acted not only without any assignable preachers of veracity and benevolence! Surely motive, but against all assignable motive; that of him, who can receive all these paradoxes—and they maintained this uniform constancy in unprofit- they form but a small part of what might be able falsehoods, not only together, but separately, mentioned-we may say, "O infidel, great is thy in different countries, before different tribunals, under all sorts of examinations and cross-exam- On the supposition that neither of these theories, inations, and in defiance of the gyves, the scourge, whether of fraud or fiction, will account, if taken the axe, the cross, the stake; that those whom by itself for the whole of the supernatural phethey persuaded to join their enterprise, persisted | nomena, which strew the pages of the New Testalike themselves in the same obstinate belief of the same "cunningly devised" frauds; and though they had many accomplices in their singular conspiracy, had the equally singular fortune to free themselves and their coadjutors from all transient weakness towards their cause and treachery towards one another; and, lastly, that these men, having, *So far as we have any knowledge from history, this amidst all their ignorance, originality enough to must have been the case; and Gibbon fully admits and invent the most pure and sublime system of morality insists upon it. Indeed, no infidel hypothesis can afford which the world has ever listened to, had, amidst to do without the virtues of the early Christians in accounting for the success of the falsehoods of Christianity. all their conscious villany, the effrontery to preach | Hard alternatives of a wayward hypothesis!


ment, then the objector, who relies on both, must believe, in turn, both sets of the above paradoxes; and then, with still more reason than before, may we exclaim, "O infidel, great is thy faith!"

Again; he must believe that all those apparent coincidences, which seem to connect Prophecy with

the facts of the origin and history of Chris- simplicity, sprang from ignorance; that precepts tianity-some, embracing events too vast for hazardous speculations, and others, incidents too minute for it are purely fortuitous; that all the cases in which the event seems to tally with the prediction, are mere chance coincidences: and he must believe this, amongst other events, of two of the most unlikely to which human sagacity was likely to pledge itself, and yet which have as undeniably occurred, (and after the predictions,) as they were à priori improbable and anomalous in the world's history; the one is that the Jews should exist as a distinct nation in the very bosom of all other nations, without extinction and without amalgamation-other nations and even races having so readily melted away under less than half the influences which have been at work upon them ;* the other, an opposite paradox-that a religion, propagated by ignorant, obscure, and penniless vagabonds, should diffuse itself amongst the most diverse nations in spite of all opposition-it being the rarest of phenomena to find any religion which is capable of transcending the limits of race, clime, and the scene of its historic origin; a religion which, if transplanted, will not die; a religion which is more than a local or national growth of superstition! That such a religion as Christianity should so easily break these barriers, and though supposed to be cradled in ignorance, fanaticism, and fraud, should, without force of arms, and in the face of persecution, "ride forth conquering and to conquer," through a long career of victories, defying the power of kings and emptying the temples of deities—who, but an infidel, has faith enough to believe?†

Once more then; if, from the external evidences of this religion, we pass to those which the only records by which we know anything of its nature and origin supplies, the infidel must believe, amongst other paradoxes, that it is probable that a knot of obscure and despised plebeians regarded as the scum of a nation which was itself regarded as the scum of all other nations-originated the purest, most elevated, and most influential theory of ethics the world has ever seen; that a system of sublimest truth, expressed with unparalleled

*The case of the Gypsies, often alleged as a parallel, is a ludicrous evasion of the argument. These few and scattered vagabonds, whose very safety has been obscurity and contempt, have never attracted towards them a thousandth part of the attention, or the hundred thousandth part of the cruelties, which have been directed against the Jews. Had it been otherwise, they would long since have melted away from every country in Europe. We repeat that the existence of a nation for 1800 years in the bosom of all nations, conquered and persecuted, yet never extinguished, and the propagation of a religion amongst different races without force, and even against it-are both, so far as known, paradoxes in history.

+"They may say," says Butler, "that the conformity between the prophecies and the event is by accident; but there are many instances in which such conformity itself cannot be denied." His whole remarks on the subject, and especially those on the impression to be derived from the multitude of apparent coincidences, in a long series of prophecies, some vast, some minute; and the improbability of their all being accidental, are worthy of his comprehensive genius. It is on the effect of the whole, not on single coincidences, that the argument


enjoining the most refined sanctity were inculcated by imposture; that the first injunctions to universal love broke from the lips of bigotry! He must further believe that these men exemplified the ideal perfection of that beautiful system in the most unique, original, and faultless picture of virtue ever conceived-a picture which has extorted the admiration even of those who could not believe it to be a portrait, and who have yet confessed themselves unable to account for it except as such.* He must believe, too, that these ignorant and fraudulent Galilæans voluntarily aggravated the difficulty of their task, by exhibiting their proposed ideal, not by a bare enumeration and description of qualities, but by the most arduous of all methods of representation-that of dramatic action; and, what is more, that they succeeded; that in that representation they undertook to make him act with sublime consistency in scenes of the most extraordinary character and the most touching pathos, and utter moral truth in the most exquisite fictions in which such truth was ever embodied; and that again they succeeded; that so ineffably rich in genius were these obscure wretches, that no less than four of them were found equal to this intellectual achievement; and while each has told many events, and given many traits which the others have omitted, that they have all performed their task in the same unique style of invention, and the same unearthly tone of art; that one and all, while preserving each his own individuality, has, nevertheless, attained a certain majestic simplicity of style unlike anything else, (not only in any writings of their own nation, except their alleged sacred writings, and infinitely superior to anything which their successors, Jews or Christians, though with the advantage of these models, could ever attain,) but, unlike any acknowledged human writings in the world, and possessing the singular property of being capable of ready transfusion without the loss of a thought or a grace, into every language spoken by man: he must believe that these fabricators of fiction, in common with the many other contributors to the New Testament, most insanely added to the difficulty of their task by delivering the whole in fragments and in the most various kinds of composition-in biography, history, travels, and familiar letters; incorporating and interfusing with the whole an amazing number of minute facts, historic allusions, and specific references to persons, places, and dates, as if for the very purpose of supplying posterity with the easy means of detecting their impositions; he must believe that, in spite of their thus encountering what Paley calls the "danger of

*To Christ alone, of all the characters ever portrayed to man, belongs that assemblage of qualities which equally attract love and veneration; to him alone belong in perfection those rare traits which the Roman historian, with affectionate flattery, attributes too absolutely to the merely mortal object of his eulogy: "Nec illi, quod est rarissimum, aut facilitas auctoritatem, aut severitas amorem, deminuit." Still more beautiful is the Apostle's description of superiority to all human failings, with ineffable pity for human sorrows: "He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, though without sin."

On the other hand, to him who accepts Christianity, none of these paradoxes present themselves. On the supposition of the truth of the miracles and the prophecies, he does not wonder at its origin and success; and as little does he wonder at all the literary and intellectual achievements of its early chroniclers-if their elevation of sentiment was from a divine source, and if the artlessness, harmony, and reality of their narratives was the simple effect of the consistency of truth, and of transcription from the life.

scattering names and circumstances in writings declare that, so far from having no "faith," he where nothing but truth can preserve consistency," rather possesses the "faith" which removes “ mounthey so happily succeeded, that whole volumes tains!"-only it appears that his faith, like that of have been employed in pointing out their latent, Rome or of Oxford, is a faith which excludes reaand often most recondite congruities; many of son. them lying so deep, and coming out after such comparison of various passages and collateral lights, that they could never have answered the purposes of fraud, even if the most prodigious genius for fraud had been equal to the fabrication; congruities which, in fact, were never suspected to exist till they were expressly elicited by the attacks of infidelity, and were evidently never thought of by the writers; he must believe that they were profoundly sagacious enough to construct such a fabric of artful harmonies, and yet such simpletons as, by doing infinitely more than was neces- Now, on the other hand, what are the chief sary, to encounter infinite risks of detection to no objections which reconcile the infidel to his enorpurpose; sagacious enough to outdo all that sagac-mous burden of paradoxes, and which appear to ity has ever done, as shown by the effects, and yet the Christian far less invincible than the paradoxes not sagacious enough to be merely specious; and, themselves? They are, especially with all modfinally, he must believe that these illiterate impos-ern infidelity, objections to the à priori improbators had the art in all their various writings, which bility of the doctrines revealed, and of the miraevidently proceed from different minds, to preserve the same inimitable marks of reality, truth and nature in their narrations-the miraculous and the ordinary alike—and to assume and preserve, with infinite ease, amidst their infinite impostures, the tone and air of undissembled earnestness.*

cles which sustain them. Now, here we come to the very distinction on which we have already insisted, and which is so much insisted on by Butler. The evidence which sustains Christianity is all such as man is competent to consider; and is precisely of the same nature as that which enters into his every-day calculations of probability; while the objections are founded entirely on our ignorance and presumption. They suppose that we know more of the modes of the divine administration-of what God may have permitted, of what is possible and impossible, of the ultimate development of an imperfectly developed system, and of its relations to the entire universe-than we

If, on the other hand, he supposes that all the congruities of which we have spoken were the effect not of fraudulent design, but of happy accident-that they arranged themselves in spontaneous harmony-he must believe that chance has done what even the most prodigious powers of invention could not do. And, lastly, he must believe that these same illiterate men, who were capable of so much, were also capable of project-do or can know.* ing a system of doctrine singularly remote from all ordinary and previous speculation; of discerning the necessity of taking under their special patronage those passive virtues which man least loved, and found it most difficult to cultivate; and of exhibiting, in their preference of the spiritual to the ceremonial, and their treatment of many of the most delicate questions of practical ethics and casuistry, a justness and elevation of sentiment as alien as possible from the superstition and fanaticism of their predecessors who had corrupted the Law-and the superstition and fanaticism of their followers, who very soon corrupted the Gospel; and that they, and they alone, rose above the strong tendencies to the extravagances which had been so conspicuous during the past, and were soon to be as conspicuous in the future ;-these and a thousand other paradoxes (arising out of the supposition that Christianity is the fraudulent or fictitious product of such an age, country, and, above all, such men as the problem limits us to) must the infidel receive, and receive all at once; and of him who can receive them, we can but once more

Was there ever in truth a man who could read the appeals of Paul to his converts, and doubt either that the letters were real, or that the man was in earnest? We scarcely venture to think it.

Of these objections the most widely felt and the most specious, especially in our day, is the assumption that miracles are an impossibility;† and yet we will venture to say that there is none more truly unphilosophical. That miracles are improbable, viewed in relation to the experience of the individual or of the mass of men, is granted; for if they were not, they would, as Paley says, be no miracles; an every-day miracle is none. But that they are either impossible or so improbable that, if they were wrought, no evidence could establish them, is another matter. The first allegation involves a curious limitation of omnipotence; and the second affirms in effect, that, if God were to work a miracle, it would be our duty to disbelieve him!

We repeat our firm conviction that this à priori

*The possible implication of Christianity with distant regions of the universe, and the dim hints which Scripture seems to throw out as to such implication, are beautifully treated in the 4th, 5th, and 6th of Chalmer's "Astronomical Discourses;" and we need not tell the reader of Butler how much he insists upon similar considera


It is, as we shall see, the avowed axiom of Strauss ; he even acknowledges, that if it be not true, he would not think it worth while to discredit the history of the Evangelists; that is, the history must be discredited, because he has resolved that a miracle is an impossibility!

[ocr errors]

We have enumerated some of the paradoxes which infidelity is required to believe; and the old-fashioned, open, intelligible infidelity of the last century accepted them, and rejected Christiani

presumption against miracles is but a vulgar illu- | affectation of metaphysical propriety-as totally sion of one of Bacon's idola tribûs. So far from incapable of convincing men of any moral truth; being disposed to admit the principle that a “mir-upon the ground that there is no natural relation acle is an impossibility," we shall venture on what between any displays of physical power and any may seem to some a paradox, but which we are such truth. Now without denying that the nature convinced is a truth-that the time will come, and of the doctrine is a criterion, and must be taken is coming, when even those who shall object to the into account in judging of the reality of any alevidence which sustains the Christian miracles leged miracle, we have but two things to reply to will acknowledge that philosophy requires them to this: first, that, as Paley says in relation to the admit that men have no ground whatever to dog-question whether any accumulation of testimony matize on the antecedent impossibility of miracles can establish a miraculous fact, we are content in general; and that not merely because, if theists" to try the theorem upon a simple case," and at all, they will see the absurdity of this assertion, affirm that man is so constituted that if he himself while they admit that the present order of things sees the blind restored to sight and the dead raised, had a beginning; and, if Christians at all, the under such circumstances as exclude all doubt of equal absurdity of the assertion, while they admit fraud on the part of others and all mistake on his that it will have an end;-not only because the own, he will uniformly associate authority with geologist will have familiarized the world with the such displays of superhuman power; and, secondidea of successive interventions, and, in fact, dis-ly, that the notion in question is in direct contratinct creative acts, having all the nature of mira- vention of the language and spirit of Christ himcles; not only, we say, for these special reasons, self, who expressly suspends his claims to men's but for a more general one. The true philoso- belief and the authority of his doctrines on the fact pher will see that, with his limited experience and of his miracles. "The works that I do in my that of all his contemporaries, he has no right to Father's name, they bear witness of me." "If dogmatize about all that may have been permitted ye believe not me, believe my works." "If I or will be permitted in the Divine administration had not come among them, and done the works of the universe; he will see that those who with that none other man did, they had not had sin; one voice denied, about half a century ago, the ex- but now they have no cloak for their sin." istence of aerolites, and summarily dismissed all the alleged facts as a silly fable, because it contradicted their experience—that those who refused to admit the Copernican theory because, as they said, it manifestly contradicted their experience-ty accordingly. That was a self-consistent, simple, that the schoolboy who refuses to admit the first law of motion because, as he says, it gives the lie to all his experience-that the Oriental prince (whose scepticism Hume vainly attempts, on his principle, to meet) who denied the possibility of ice because it contradicted his experience-and, in the same manner, that the men who, with Dr. Strauss, lay down the dictum that a miracle is impossible and a contradiction because it contradicts their experience have all been alike contravening the first principles of the modest philosophy of Bacon, and have fallen into one of the most ordinary illusions against which he has warned us; namely, that that cannot be true which seems in contradiction to our own experience. We confi- so greedy of paradox, that they, in fact, aspire to dently predict that the day will come when the favorite argument of many a so-called philosopher in this matter will be felt to be the philosophy of the vulgar only; and that though many may, even then, deny that the testimony which supports the Scripture miracles is equal to the task, they will all alike abandon the axiom which supersedes the necessity of at all examining such evidence, by asserting that no evidence can establish them. While on this subject, we may notice a certain fantastical tone of depreciation of miracles as an evidence of Christianity, which is occasionally adopted even by some who do not deny the possibility or probability, or even the fact, of their Occurrence. They affirm them to be of little moment, and represent them-with an exquisite

ingenious thing, compared with those monstrous forms of credulous reason, incredulous faith, metaphysical mysticism, even Christian Pantheism-so many varieties of which have sprung out of the incubation of German rationalism and German philosophy upon the New Testament. The advocates of these systems, after adopting the most formidable of the above paradoxes of infidelity, and (notwithstanding the frequent boast of originality) depending mainly on the same objections, and defending them by the very same critical arguments,* delude themselves with the idea that they have but purified and embalmed Christianity; not aware that they have first made a mummy of it. They are

be Christians and infidels at the same time. Pro

*The main objection, both with the old and the new forms of infidelity, is that against the miracles; the main arguments with both, those which attempt to show their antecedent impossibility; and criticism directed against the credulity of the records which contain them. The principal difference is, that modern infidelity shrinks from founders of Christianity; and prefers the theory of illusion the coarse imputation of fraud and imposture on the or myth to that of deliberate fraud. But with this exception, which touches only the personal character of the founders of Christianity, the case remains the same. same postulates and the same arguments are made to yield substantially the same conclusion. For, all that is supernatural in Christianity and all credibility in its records, vanish equally on either assumption. Nor is even the modern mode of interpreting many of the miracles (as illusions or legends) unknown to the elder infidelity; only it more consistently felt that neither the one theory


nor the other could be trusted to alone. Velis et remis was its motto.

« VorigeDoorgaan »