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lished his third and concluding volume. In point of tone, as far as the imputation of unworthy motives to those whose views he controverts is concerned, it is an improvement on its predecessors; but here our praise must end. It is characterised throughout by the same one-sidedness as the two former volumes. While its author professes to occupy the judgmentseat of grave impartiality, his reasoning is that of the most thorough-going advocate. In his eyes every variation in the Sacred narrative is a contradiction; a probability, provided it be in his own favour, which is erected on another probability, and that again on a third, is an unquestionable fact, while the strongest probabilities on the other side are simply ignored ; and where facts are wanting, or obscure, his power to determine what they must have been out of his own subjective consciousness is inexhaustible. Of the capacity to weigh and balance evidence he seems to be utterly destitute ; of his one-sidedness in this respect his elaborate criticism of the Acts of the Apostles and of the history of our Lord's Passion, contained in his third volume, constitute the most singular example we have ever seen. His object is to prove that the Acts is a work written by an unknown writer, not earlier than the last thirty years of the second century; and that, with the exception of the account of S. Paul's voyage, and one or two other brief passages, it is utterly unhistorical-in fact, a romance written for the purpose of effecting a compromise between opposing parties in the Christian Church. It is impossible here to discuss an argument which is spread over several hundred pages; but to such an astounding position common sense puts in an objection in limine, to the important bearing of which on the case it is impossible that an impartial judge could avoid drawing the attention of the jury. It is this—if the book is, as you allege, a romance, and if its author has committed the number of stupid blunders which you charge him with, how has it come to pass that such a writer, at the end of the second century, has succeeded in composing an historical romance out of his own subjective consciousness, which enters into minute details of facts, the latest of which took place more than a century prior to the composition of his work; and yet that his numerous allusions to historical and geographical facts, manners and customs, and a number of other minute incidents, are not only in strict conformity with what we know to have been the case from other historical sources, but are constantly receiving additional confirmation, even in points otherwise doubtful, from the numerous discoveries made in
Intiquities at the Buch as our authoheory of i
antiquities at the present day ? Surely if the Acts of the Apostles is a work such as our author attempts to prove it to be, it requires to be shewn that the theory of its origin which he propounds is within the limits of the possible; yet we fail to find a single attempt to grapple with it. Again, in his criticism of the Passion, he has denied the historical foundation of every event recorded in the Gospels, except the bare fact of the Crucifixion itself. In pursuing this line of criticism, it seems never to have occurred to him that it amounts to a moral impossibility that a wholly fictitious narrative of events which lay at the foundation of the Christian Church, and which must have been intimately known to the original followers of Jesus, can have taken the place of the real history of the Crucifixion at any time during the period in question. Yet this writer who claims the merit of impartiality in his statement of the case never even alludes to this and a number of other moral impossibilities with which his theory is beset.
Another grave defect we must notice. His two former volumes have been subjected to serious criticism ; and inaccuracies and defects of reasoning, which even unbelievers admit to be such, have been pointed out; yet this third volume is written as if every position in his two former ones were beyond all question proved. The existence of at least two serious replies he simply ignores, although indications are not wanting that he has read one, if not both, of them. In his articles in the Fortnightly (his last production), the author professes to set forth the conditions of the Christian argument. No doubt the account he gives will be eagerly accepted by his unbelieving friends as a true statement of the Christian position. For their benefit therefore, as we believe it to be utterly unreal, we propose to point out to them what in the opinion of modern defenders of Christianity constitutes the essential parts of the Christian position; and we invite them, for the purpose of bringing the controversy between us within reasonable limits, to direct their assaults in future against the key and citadel of the Christian Faith instead of wasting their time and our own over a number of minor issues, under the full assurance that if they can capture the former, all the outworks will fall along with it; but, until they can do so, Christianity will remain intact in all its essential features as the religion of reasonable men. For brevity's sake, as it will be necessary frequently to refer to the author of Supernatural Religion, we shall designate him by the letters ‘S. R.'
I. Our author strongly objects to the conditions of the
Christian argument as laid down by Professor Westcott. We admit that the form in which two of them are stated is liable to exception. Yet, if we are to discuss the question whether Christianity has originated in the action of a superhuman power, or whether it be the mere result of the ordinary forces which energise in man, it is clear that we must assume the truth of certain principles as the starting point of our argument, which neither party has a right to call in question in its subsequent stages. What our assumption must be in this particular case is evident, viz. that we must take for granted the general truth of Theism; for unless a God exists, who is a moral being and not a blind force, all discussions, whether Christianity be or be not a Divine revelation, are simply futile. It is obvious that, if we have no evidence that a God exists who can reveal Himself to man, the question at issue between Christians and unbelievers is at once settled in favour of the latter. Again we will fully agree with ‘S. R.' to treat no assumption as valid, for the truth of which we are dependent on the testimony of the Bible alone. Now two of Professor Westcott's assumptions in the form in which he has stated them) fall under this second head, viz. the second, 'that man was made in the image of God,' and the third, 'that man has fallen.' But both these are unnecessary, because their place can be supplied by two facts, which we have ample means of verifying, quite independently of the testimony of Scripture, viz. first, that mankind, taken as a whole, are in a state of deep moral degradation; and, secondly, that it is in the highest degree desirable that they should be raised to a condition of greater moral elevation. The truth of these two propositions, which contain all that is really essential in those of Professor Wescott, can be disputed by no intelligent unbeliever.
It will doubtless be objected that, if the Christian argument involves the assumption that a God exists, who is also a moral being, it is founded on a plain petitio principii. We reply that it does so precisely in the same manner as the science of trigonometry pre-supposes the truth of that of geometry, and in no other. The latter science must be firmly established before we are in a proper position to enter on the study of the former. In a similar manner it is necessary that the principles of Theism should be firmly established on their own independent grounds before we can enter on the question whether Christianity be a Divine revelation. We draw attention to this, because nothing is more common among unbelievers than to urge objections against the Christian argument which are only valid on the assumption of the truth of the principles of Atheism, Pantheism, or Agnosticism. This course has been frequently adopted by ‘S. R.,' although in several places in his works he has expressed his belief in Theism. What is contended for is this : In our reasonings respecting the truth of Christianity, we have no right to begin to argue on the principles of Theism, and then when it suits our convenience, to fall back on the assumption of the truth of one of these alien systems; for if either of them affords an adequate account of the origin of the Universe, the question whether a particular system is or is not a Divine revelation is for ever settled in the negative. The whole discussion which ‘S. R.' has raised in his first article, therefore, belongs to an independent subject of investigation, and is improperly introduced into the present discussion.
But the Christian assumption is on other grounds abundantly defensible. Despite the metaphysical difficulties in which the idea of a God is said to be involved, the problem will present itself to the common sense of mankind as follows: A universe, full of adaptations, harmonies, and beauties in numbers surpassing the powers of the human mind fully to comprehend, unquestionably exists. Two alternatives respecting its origin alone are possible. Either it must have been the result of the action of a number of unintelligent forces, everlastingly struggling with their surroundings, or its adaptations, harmonies, and beauty must be due to the action of an intelligent Creator. When the question is thus broadly stated, there can be no doubt which side of the alternative will be embraced by the practical intellect of mankind. It will certainly infer the existence of a Being who, even if he does not correspond to the abstract conception of the Infinite, is yet incomprehensibly great and wise ; and when it balances the evidence for the existence of such a Being which is above referred to, against the objection (1) that our ideas of the Infinite, the Absolute, and the First Cause are mutually contradictory; or (2) that personality is inconsistent with infinity; or (3) that it is nothing better than anthropomorphism to infer the presence of intelligence in the construction of the universe from its adaptations, harmonies, and beauty,—all but a small minority of peculiarly constituted minds will pronounce the balance of evidence in favour of Theism to be simply overwhelming. This being so, the assumption with which the Christian argument starts is amply justified.
II. The question of the probability of a Revelation..S. R.' strongly objects, both in his work and in his first article, against any assumption on the part of the Christian advocate that a Revelation is antecedently probable. The view of the subject taken by Mr. Mill in his posthumous Essays states our position in a manner amply sufficient for all the requirements of the Christian argument. It may be briefly stated as follows:— The moral degradation of mankind is a palpable fact, which no amount of scepticism can question. If, therefore, a God exists who cares for man, the expectation of some further interposition in his favour is not irrational, and may so far be viewed as antecedently probable. Let ‘S. R.' prove that Mr. Mill's reasoning is invalid, and let him observe that it will be no answer to show that Mr. Mill has painted the condition of man in colours unduly dark. After every abatement has been made for this, the fact that mankind, taken as a whole, are in a condition of moral degradation remains beyond reasonable question ; and therefore, if a God exists who cares for man, the expectation of some interposition in his favour possesses the degree of antecedent probability which the argument requires.
III. The position which miracles occupy in the Christian argument.--'S. R.,' and a multitude of other writers on his side of the question, have taken it for granted that the sole claim of Christianity to be accepted as a Divine Revelation is its alleged miraculous attestation ; and that the only ground on which certain doctrines, which reason never could have discovered for itself, can be accepted, is a number of miracles, wrought for the express purpose of attesting their truth. If, therefore, miracles be the sole attestation of what ‘S. R.' calls 'such astounding propositions' as the Christian doctrines, we are justified in demanding a proof of their actual performance, such as will satisfy the technicalities of legal evidence.
The assumption of unbelievers that Christians rely solely on a miraculous attestation as the one great, if not the sole proof of the Divine origin of Christianity, however inaccurate it is, need not excite our surprise, for this line of reasoning has been adopted by no inconsiderable number of Christian advocates during the last century and the first half of the present. But the all important question, however, is not what are the views propounded by modern writers on this subject, but what were those entertained by the authors of the New Testament, and by those who first of all were convinced of the truth of Christianity. It is simply absurd for modern writers, however learned, to assign to miracles a place in the Christian argument that was not recognised by our Lord or His Apostles. As the limits of this article render the full discussion of this question impossible, we may refer the reader
VOL. VII.—NO. XIV.