« ZurückWeiter »
ancient University, and in nearly every alcove in her library; while their philanthropy has surrounded their city with noble institutions for the relief of almost every infirmity of body, mind, and heart. Among those who have contributed to raise to so high an intellectual and moral standard the mercantile character of our metropolis, the ancestors and near kindred of Mr. Lowell, both on his father's and his mother's side, deserve, and have received from Mr. Everett, the most respectful and grateful notice. Thus surrounded by examples of talent and wealth consecrated to the public good, even while most deeply engrossed in business, Mr. Lowell neglected no worthy cause which he could aid, and shunned no trust or office, in which he could contribute to the general welfare. With an earnest thirst for knowledge, he combined a no less earnest desire for its diffusion; and a prominent item of his preparation for the extended plan of travel, in the prosecution of which he died, was the bequest of an ample portion of his property for the support of those courses of lectures which now bear his name. His testamentary directions were completed in a codicil to his will, written amidst the ruins of Thebes. These directions, with Mr. Everett's just and appropriate commentary upon them, we had marked for insertion; but find that they were quoted in a former number of this Journal, in a notice of Mr. Everett's Lecture,* an edition of which was published soon after its delivery. Referring our readers to that notice for the sketch of Mr. Lowell's life and plan, which we should otherwise have given here, we pass at once to Dr. Palfrey's Lectures.
We have, in these volumes, three courses of eight lectures each, delivered in three successive years, the first course comprising the "general scheme of the evidences of Christianity," and the second and third being a compend of the history of infidelity, a synopsis of Jewish, Pagan, and Deistical objections to Christianity. We have, also, in an Appendix to the first volume, Dr. Palfrey's valuable Dudleian Lecture on "The Theory and Uses of Natural Religion."
Dr. Palfrey's style of thought is eminently perspicuous. We never encounter in his writings those shadowy, half
* Vol. LI. pp 225, et seq.
formed, prematurely penned ideas, which in our times stand so often in the place of sound, sober thought. His language is carefully chosen, explicit, and in pure taste. His sentences are all full of meaning, and unencumbered by mere expletives. His only fault of style is a tendency to involved, indirect, circuitous phraseology, an over-fondness for parenthesis, a too free use, and too frequent repetition of qualifying words and phrases, the besetting sin of an accurate mind, which likes not to trust to the reader any one idea, without connecting with it, in the compass of the same sentence, all its needed modifications and abatements. This peculiarity, no doubt, makes Dr. Palfrey a less popular writer with the multitude than he might otherwise be; but the patient and diligent reader will find that he is making constant progress with his author, and that, when one of these complex sentences is mastered, he has taken a long step forward on solid ground, — has become fully possessed of some one entire and definite idea closely connected with the point under discussion.
The work before us is marked throughout by carefully matured thought, and by explicit, and guarded statement. Its reasoning, though close and acute, is never captious or sophistical, though profound, is always clear. As a compend of the evidences of Christianity, it takes precedence of all previous works in point of comprehensiveness and thoroughness, while in no respect is it inferior to any, except that one may miss in it the winning naïveté of Paley's style and manner, a grace in which he confessedly stands alone and unapproached.
Dr. Palfrey's reasoning is, throughout, severely just and accurate, equally shunning the opposite errors of unauthorized assumption on his own side, and of gratuitous concession to his opponents. This happy medium has rarely been attained. The error of many professed defenders of the faith has been, that they have assumed more than a skeptic is bound to grant, that they have taken their stand on a higher ground than their opponents, that they have begged some points in order to prove others. The result has been the production of wholesome homilies, of well-phrased panegyrics on Christianity, highly edifying to a believer, but worse than useless for their professed purpose, inasmuch as they leave upon an indifferent or hostile mind the impression,
that Christianity has not its basis in the common laws of belief, in those fundamental truths which no one questions. Christians have written as if it were gross sacrilege to uncover the foundations of their faith; they have been restrained by sincere religious awe from the minute, logical analysis of the elements of their belief; and their adversaries have mistaken their reverence for a lurking skepticism. But in the work before us, while a tone of deep religious reverence is sustained throughout, it is not suffered to interfere with the full and candid statement of difficulties and objections, with the exhibition of the entire field of controversy, with the surrender of all the vantage-ground often claimed on the score of hallowed associations. No appeal is made to the religious biases of education, — none to the odium which so generally attaches to infidelity.
Dr. Palfrey has no less happily shunned an error of the opposite bearing. Many writers on the evidences of Christianity have written as if they doubted the force of their own arguments and the validity of their own answers to objections. Difficulties, which they had seemingly disposed of, they have not suffered to lie still. Phantoms of doubt, which they had once laid, they have summoned up again. Indeed, the process in some works has seemed to be, the evoking of every spirit of unbelief, and the doing battle with all of them to the last, the curtain dropping in the midst of the grand mélée, with the scales of victory equipoised. Dr. Palfrey claims the right of trying each separate issue by itself, of regarding a point once proved as definitively settled, and an objection once refuted as put out of the combat. For instance, after proving that the Gospels, which we now have, are the undoubted writings of the men whose names they bear, he suffers no floating doubt of the authorship of these records to mingle with the discussion of their trustworthiness, but makes use of their genuineness, already demonstrated, as an available "stand-point" for farther reasoning. In like manner, too, when he has vindicated the Evangelists from the charge of imposture, and has made their honesty an established fact, he takes his position upon that fact in proving that they were well-informed and undeluded witnesses and historians. Now, this is the only true mode of reasoning; it is acknowledged as legitimate in every other department of inquiry; nothing that needs proof
could be proved without it. On all other subjects, men refuse to retrace steps once taken, and to yield ground once won; but they use, as they would axioms, propositions already demonstrated. Why, then, should the Christian apologist deem nothing proved, till he has proved every thing,no portion of the field his own, till he has conquered the whole of it? Why should he, unless for the mere show of arms, surrender any vantage-ground lawfully acquired? Hardly any other subject would bear to be thus treated; and nothing gives us so high an idea of the overflowing fulness and sufficiency of the Christian evidences, as the fact that they can present a fair front, and carry with them great weight of proof, when thus exhibited in detail and without mutual defence or corroboration.
Another prominent, and, as we believe, a unique excellence of Dr. Palfrey's work, consists in his confining the argument to Christianity considered as distinct from Judaism, instead of blending the two together, and intermingling the trains of reasoning appropriate to each respectively. Now, as to ourselves, we sincerely believe, as does our author, in the divine origin of the Mosaic economy. Nay, more, we plead guilty (notwithstanding the tendency of the times to sneer and cavil at the supernatural) to a belief in all the Scriptures, in ante- Abrahamic and post-Mosaic revelations, in a chain of miracle and prophecy reaching from the first to the second Adam. Our philosophy, if we have any, is in this matter the handmaid of our faith. On a priori grounds, we should not expect to find the Christian revelation, so vast, so full, so clear, occupying an isolated place, midway in the records of the past; but should look for some pre-announcement of the Anointed of God and the Regenerator of man, some fore-shining of the true and universal light. We should expect to see somewhere in the past the rude germ of a religious system so comprehensive and perfect, and to trace its gradual unfolding, its budding promise, from age to age. Had we not the Old Testament extant, we should cherish no doubt that there had been one, if not written with a human pen, yet engraven by miracle on the phenomena of nature, and by the divine spirit on the fleshly tablets of the heart. Yet, with this belief, so far are we from adducing the Old Testament to substantiate the New, that we reason back from the New to the Old, in order to
authenticate the latter on what seems to us the surest ground. The prophetical argument for the truth of Christianity we deem complete and sound; but it is better adapted to confirm than to create faith. It is not of a nature to be appreciated by ignorant or stubborn unbelief. The proofs of the antiquity, genuineness, and authenticity of the books of Old Testament, real and convincing as they are, are too archaic and recondite in their character, to be set forth with good effect in popular lectures or treatises; and yet the unbeliever justly demands these proofs, when arguments are drawn from the Old Testament in behalf of the religion of the New. If you allege a particular prediction as fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, it is not enough for you to demonstrate its application to him, and to him alone. You must also convince the skeptic, perhaps a man unversed in the laws of historical evidence, (which is a very different thing from convincing yourself,) that the words which you cite were written before the advent of Jesus.
Then, again, the internal objections and difficulties connected with the Old Testament are much more numerous and grave than those connected with the New. That this is the case, if not a primâ facie argument in favor of the Old Testament, is, at least, a fact, the absence of which would indicate a supposititious system, of modern creation, sustained by forged records. Were the steps to the authentication of the Old Testament obvious and easy, it could not be what it purports to be, namely, the record of an abrogated system, temporary and local in its character, based upon the exigencies of an age, of which it is the only surviving monument. Christianity and its records, on the other hand, purport to have had their birth in a well known age, on which the most enduring monuments of ancient literature and art reflect a flood of light, and among a people, whose national traits have been stereotyped for two thousand years, and whose condition then, and their fortunes ever since, are the subject of authentic history. Then, too, if Christianity be of divine origin, it was undoubtedly designed to be perpetual and universal; and we should therefore expect to find, that its divine Author had suffered to be connected with its records fewer things that could become obsolete, or unintelligible, or distasteful, than we might find in the records of a system equally divine, which the world was destined to outgrow.