« ZurückWeiter »
had before been urged by Tindal, and have already received our attention," "This writer revived and amplified an objection, which I formerly mentioned as having been urged by some of the ancient opponents of the faith." It is a fact, that such forms of speech are very frequent, and that they thicken fast as the work draws to a close. But they occur by no fault of the author. On the other hand, they constitute to a reflecting believer one of the most pleasant features of the work; for they reveal the narrow compass, and the incessant repetition from age to age, of infidel arguments and objections. Indeed, the canon of infidelity was long since closed. Not a single new argument against Christianity has been brought forward for the last two hundred years; and very few new things have been said or written on that side since the days of the Emperor Julian. The French Encyclopædists originated nothing but ribaldry and buffoonery. Rationalistic Germany has done little more than to caricature the Gospels, by employing Hume's heartless, ungodly skepticism in their pseudo-interpretation. Paine simply copied from Voltaire gibes and scoffs, which Voltaire had raked together from ancient kennels both Jewish and Gentile. It is amazing, that, while so many ingenious minds have been employed against Christianity, they should have collected so scanty materials. The testimony against the gospel has been very much like that against its Author and Finisher, when "they sought many witnesses, but found none, till at last they found two witnesses, yet neither did their testimony agree." Indeed, a large part of the literature of infidelity is made up of individual idiosyncrasies,— of objections which grew out of some peculiar bias of the author's own mind, and could have no weight with any other mind. Unbelief has run in an exceedingly narrow cycle, and has been constantly returning upon itself. New books, in its refutation, have for many years been needless. The new infidel publications, that appear from time to time, only need, for their refutation, that we refer to the right page and chapter of works often as old as those of Justin and Origen.
On the other hand, the evidences of Christianity have been accumulating from age to age. Every department of science, every art, every new chapter of human experience, brings its separate contribution of argument or illustration. Geography, philosophy, natural history, psychology, have
all poured rich and still increasing light upon the Scriptures and their contents. Science has, in numerous instances, attained, in confirmation of revealed religion and its records, results, at which it cavilled in the outset. There are rich and productive veins of Christian evidence, which have just begun to be worked. The argument from the results of Christianity, from its influence on science, art, literature, and human happiness, it would take scores of volumes to write, and, in the rapid vicissitudes, and the unprecedented progress of society, no year now passes without presenting this argument in new aspects. But it has as yet received no systematic treatment, and lies a field fully white for the harvest, to reward the labors of the friends of truth. Judging from the past and the present, we may safely say, that the evidences of Christianity will be continually presented from new points of view, and with an exhaustless affluence of argument and illustration, till the arrival of that yet distant day, when universal faith will make formal proof superfluous.
The concessions of infidels, we next remark, give the Christian all that he claims. We question not that an edifying and useful treatise on the evidences of Christianity might be constructed by putting together those passages of infidel writers, in which they defend some portions of the system, while attacking others, and in which they contend for the validity of some modes of proof, while seeking to invalidate others. We know not any author who has written against Christianity, who has not granted some cardinal point in its favor, either as regards the genuineness of its records, the purity of its morals, the dignity of its Founder's character, or the credibility of some of its doctrines.
This consideration derives additional weight from the fact, that infidels, in general, have made their concessions with regard to those parts of Christianity or its evidences, to which they were respectively the most competent witnesses. Thus the early opposers of Christianity, both Jewish and Gentile, occupied a position eminently favorable to the exposure of error in the alleged facts of the gospel, or of forgery as to its records; and they unanimously admitted the genuineness of those records, and the authenticity of the evangelical narrative as a whole. All the early unbelievers referred to the writings of the Apostles and Evangelists, and cited them by name, just as we Christians do now; and they
have quoted passages various enough and long enough to establish beyond dispute the identity of the books in their hands with our present canonical books. We might extract, from what remains to us of the writings of the unbeliever Celsus alone, a pretty satisfactory compend of gospel history.* Most of these early unbelievers also admitted our Saviour's miracles as unquestionable facts. This, it will be remembered, was the case with our Saviour's most vehement personal enemies among the Jews of his own day. They did not deny that he cast out demons, but reproached him for casting them out through the aid of Beelzebub. The same ground was generally taken by the pagan adversaries of Christianity. They admitted the preternatural character of Christ's works; but maintained that he wrought them through magic arts acquired in Egypt. The Jews also, even down to the thirteenth century or later, while, of course, they denied the divine mission of Christ, universally admitted him to have been a great wonder-worker, but ascribed his miracles to magic. This is the story of the Talmuds, and we find it repeated in the Rabbinical writings, from century to century, under two different versions, the one, that he learned magic in Egypt, the other, that he stole the ineffable name of God from the corner-stone of the temple, and by means of it wrought divine works. Now, what more could the early adversaries of our religion have done for its defence, than to have left on record their clear, full admission of the leading supernatural facts in our Saviour's life? These facts it behooved them to deny, if they could, and to cast whatever discredit they could upon the books containing them. But they lived too near the times. They could not deny facts, which had engraven themselves so deeply upon the general mind. They could not gainsay records, the marks of whose genuineness were known and read of all men. They resorted, therefore, to that puerile hypothesis of magic, which in those superstitious
* Our theological readers will remember, that Celsus, Porphyry, and Julian are among the foremost witnesses cited in favor of Christianity and its records, in Lardner's "Credibility."
This statement, indeed, rests, for its authority, on the records whose genuineness is the point in discussion; but the Evangelists must certainly be allowed, on all hands, to be valid witnesses to reproaches and calumnies, which they quote with manifest mortification, and which, at an age when such charges could find easy credence, they had every worldly motive to suppress.
ages could find some credence, but which, in our days, only reveals the utter hollowness and absurdity of their unbelief.
Is it asked, What, then, were the chief objections of those early adversaries of Christianity? Many of them were based on the assumed truth of then existing religions, and, of course, have no weight now; for with modern skepticism, the question is not between Christianity and some other religion, but between Christianity and no religion. But many of the objections of early unbelievers were based on essential and immutable features of our religion, and on features, which now, so far from demanding apology, contribute the most largely to its defence and its honor. Things, which were to the Jews a stumbling-block and to the Greeks foolishness," are now on all hands acknowledged to be full of divine wisdom and beauty. Thus Celsus dwells much on the lowliness of our Saviour's birth, and on the circumstance, that the gospel addresses itself to the poor and humble, facts, which have so entirely revolutionized the opinions of all Christendom with regard to the accident of birth or outward rank, that no modern infidel would dare to cite them in disparagement of Christianity. The cross was perpetually cast in the teeth of the early Christians; but what Christian now would think of defending the cross, or of making an apology for the prayer, "Fac me cruce custodiri"? That, whereon the Man of Sorrows was hung in ignominy, from having been a grievous burden and reproach for ages to his church, has now become the proudest and most cherished of symbols, sparkles in the diadem of royalty and on the brow of beauty, and claims homage a hundred-fold for the old world's contempt and scorn. And, in this marvellous transfiguration, the cross is a type of numerous features of its own religion, which, in the early ages of the church, were shot at from every quiver, but which are now placed for ever beyond attack and above defence.
In modern times, unbelief has taken a different route. It has confined its objections, for the most part, to the records and the facts connected with Christianity, the evidences of which are buried in remote antiquity; while it has made the largest and most valuable concessions with regard to the practical working of the Christian system, its beneficial tendencies and results, its elevating and reforming influence upon society, points, of which the early unbelievers were
incompetent judges, but which sixteen or seventeen centuries of successful experiment have enabled modern infidels to decide satisfactorily. We know not where to look for more eloquent and discriminating testimony to the intrinsic worth and power of our religion, than we might quote from the writings of English and French infidels of the last two centuries. Rousseau, whose name, to almost every ear, is identified with infidelity, in some of his works professes the most enthusiastic veneration for the sacred writings, dilates upon the sanctity of the gospel code of morals, protests against the comparison of the writings of the ancient philosophers with the books of the New Testament, and with passionate eloquence exalts the character of Christ above every other ideal of excellence that man has ever beheld or imagined. He maintained, that the institutions of Christianity ought to be supported at public expense, as the bulwarks of society, and the sources of the most beneficent influence to all classes and conditions of men. The same sentiments, which Rousseau dressed up in the most glowing, moving rhetoric, we find set forth at great length, and with much explicitness of statement, by Woolston, Morgan, and other English infidels, — men who, with consummate inconsistency, first demonstrate, with great show of sincerity, that Christianity is useful and good, pure and true, in its doctrines and its precepts, and then attempt to persuade their readers that it is not a gift of God, and ought by all means to be despised and rejected.
Such are the concessions of infidels in favor of Christianity. "Their rock is not as our rock, even our enemies themselves being judges." The temple of our faith stands entire in strength and beauty, as those enemies testify, each with regard to the portion to which he is a competent witness. Those, who lived near the time when the cornerstone was laid, bear testimony to its depth and firmness; those, who have beheld the finished building (while they question the sufficiency of the foundation, which they must dig deep to see), own its proportions fair, its walls complete in grace and majesty, its altars chaste and venerable, its sanctuary pure and holy. Our adversaries, taken together, make good our cause. They furnish Christianity with a sufficient defence. We need only collect and arrange their admissions, nothing of our own is wanted to complete the pile of evidence.