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ON THE STUDY OF THE EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY

By BADEN POWELL, M.A., F.R.S., &c.

From the Book, Recent Inquiries in Theology, 1961, Boston, Walker, Wise & Company.  This is the third American Edition from the second London Edition of Essays and Reviews.

[Raw Optical Scan , missing most left pages through page 151.]

THE investigation of that important and extensive subject which includes what have been usually designated as 11 The Evidences of Revelation," has prescriptively occupied a considerable space in the field of theological literature, especially as cultivated in England. There is scarcely one, perhaps, of our more eminent divines, who has not, in a greater or less degree, distinguished himself in this department; and scarcely an aspirant for theological distinction who has not thought it one of the surest paths to that eminence, combining so many and varied motives of ambition, to come forward as a champion in this arena. At the present day, it might be supposed the discussion of such a subject, taken up as it has been successively in all its conceivable different bearings, must be nearly exhausted. It. must, however, be borne in mind that, unlike the essential doctrines of Christianity, "the same yesterday, to day, and forever," these external accessories constitute a subject which of necessity is perpetually taking somewhat, at least, of a new form with the successive phases ' of opinion and knowledge. And it thus becomes not an unsatisfactory nor unimportant object, from time to

EVEDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY. 107

time2 to review the condition in which the discussion stands, and to comment on the peculiar features which at any particular epoch it most prominently presents, as indicative of strength or weakness, of the advance and security of the cause, if, in accordance with the real progress of enlightenment, its advocates have had the wisdom to rescind what better informa, tion showed defective, and to substitute views in accordance with higher knowledge ; or, on the other hand, inevitable symptoms of weakness and inefficiency, if such salutary cautions have been neglected. To offer some general remarks of this kind on the existing state of these discussions will be the object of the present essay.,

Before proceeding to the main question, we may, however, properly premise a brief reflection on the spirit and temper in which it should be discussed. In writings on these subjects, it must be confessed, we too often find indications of a polemical acrimony on questioiis where a calm discussion of arguments would be more becoming, as well as more~ consistent with the proposed object; the too frequent assumption of the part of the special partisan and ingenious advocate, when the character to be sustained should be rather that of the unbiased judge ; too much of hasty and captious objection on the one hand, or of settled and inveterate prejudice on the other ; too strong a tendency not,fairly to appreciate, or even to keep out of sight, the broader features of the main question, in the eagerness to single out particular salient points for attack ; too ready a disposition to triumph in lesser details, rather than steadily to grasp more comprehensive principles, and leave minor difficulties to await their solution, or to regard this or

 

I

~h

108

STUDY OF n. M

that particular argument as if the entire credit of the cause were staked upon it.

And if, on the one side, there is often a just complaint, that objections are urged in a manner and tone offensive to religious feeling and conscientious prepossessions, which are, at least, entitled to respectful consideration: so, on the other, there is too often evinced a want of sympathy with the difficulties which many so seriously feel in admitting the alleged evidences,

and which many habitual believers do not appreciate, perhaps ~ecause they have never thought or inquired deeply on the subject; or, what is more, have believed it wrong and impious to do so.

Any appeal to argwment must imply perfect free

dom of conviction. It is a palpable absurdity to put

reasons before a man, and yet wish to compel him to

adopt them, or to anathematize him if he find them

unconvincing; to repudiate him as an unbeliever, be

cause he is careful to find satisfactory grounds for his

belief ; or to denounce him as a sceptic, because he is

scrupulous to discriminate the truth ; to assert that

his honest doubts evince a moral obliquity; in a word,

that lie is no judge of his own mind; while it is ob

viously implied that his instructor is so ; or, in other

words, is omniscient and infallib ' le. When serious

difficulties have been felt and acknowledged on any

important subject, and a writer undertakes the task

of endeavoring to obviate them, it is but a fair de

mand, that if the reader be one of those who do not

feel the difficulties, or do not need or appreciate any

further argument to enlighten or support his belief,

he should not cavil at the introduction of topics which

may be valuable to others, though needless or distaste

ful to himself. Such persons are in no way called

I

EVIDENCES OF CHRISTUMTY. 109

I

I

I I

I

upon to enter into the discussion ; but they are unfair if they accuse those who do so of agitating questions of whose existence they have been unconscious, and of unsettling men's minds because their own prepossessions have been long settled, and they do not perceive the difficulties of others, which it is the very aim of such discussion to remove.

Perhaps most of the various parties who have at all engaged in the discussion of these subjects are agreed in admitting a wide distinction between the influences' of feeling and those of reason, the impressions of conscience and the deductions of intellect, the dictations of moral and religious sense and the conclusions from evidence, in reference especially to the questions agitated as to the grounds of belief in divine revelation. Indeed, when we take into account the nature of the objects considered, the distinction is manifest and undeniable ; when a reference is made to matters of externalfact (insisted on as such), it is obvious that reason and intellect can alone be the properjudges of the evidence of such facts. When, on the other hand, the question may be as to points of moral or religious doctrine, it is equally clear, other and higher grounds of judgment and conviction must be appealed to.

In the questions now under consideration, both classes of arguments are usually involved. It is the .professed principle of at least a large section of those who discuss the subject, that the question is materially conne6ted with the truth and evidence of certain external alleged historical facts; while, again, all will admit that the most essential and vital portion of the inquiry refers to matters of a higher, of a more internal, moral, and spiritual kind.

 

1101 STUDY OF THE

But while this distinction is clearly implied, and even professedly acknowledged, by the disputants, it is worthy of careful remark, how extensively it is overlooked and kept out of sight in practice ; hoNr commonly, almost universally, we find writers and reasoners taking up the question, even with much ability and eloquence, and arguing it out sometimes on the one, sometimes on the other ground, forgetful of their own professions, and in a way often quite inconsistent with them.

Thus we continually find the professed advocates of an external revelation and historical evidence, nevertheless making their appeal to conscience and feeling, and decrying the exercise of reason, and charging those who find critical objections in the evidence with spiritual blindness and moral perversity; and, on the other hand, we observe the professed upholders of faith and internal conviction as the only so and basis of religion, nevertheless regarding the external facts as not less essential truth which it would be profane to question. It often seems to be rather the want of clear apprehension in the first instance of the distinct kind and character of such inquiries, when on the one side directed to the abstract question of evidence, and when on the other pointing to the practical o 1ject of addressing the. moral and religious feelings and affections', which causes so many writers on these subjects to betray an inconsistency between their proj~ssed purpose and their mode of carrying it out. They avow matter of fact inquiry, a question of the critical evidence for alleged events, yet they pursue it as if it were an appeal to moral sentim ents ; in which case it would be a virtue to assent, and a crime to

EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY. ill

deny: if it be the one, it should not be proposed as the other.

,1W~4kJU9,&9p~mon, language.

ings and discourses, to advise the believer, when obj e c til 0 ns" ` 'o"r al, cu ties arise, not to attempt to offer but railrei to

a precise answer oit6_ 'argue Me Intl

MMMI 6 w a Fin w 161i "Odght

Ject as o to be exempt from critical scrutiny, and,IT Teprded Jhdgment, in t ie spirit of humil

WIITI ~ Sat

t

ity and faith. This advice may e very Jus in re er

ence to practical impressions ; yet, if the question

be one (as is so much insisted on) of external facts,

it amounts to neither more nor less than a tacit sur

render of the claims of external evidence and bistori

cal reality. We are f WAnn®rlit. f.

such high questions rather with our affections than with our logic, and approach theni rather with good dispositions and right motives, and with a desire to find the doctrine true ; and thus sliall discover the, real assurance of its truth in obeying it : suggestions which, however good in a moral and practical sense, are surely inapplicable if it be made a question of facts.

If we were inquiring into historical evidence in any other case (suppose, e. g., of Ciesar's landing in Britain), it would be little to the purpose to be told that w ook at the case through our desires, rather than our reason; and exercise a believing , als"p" oAlt16n, rather than rashly scrutinize testimony by critical cav

ils. Those o speak thus, 23

,Jjq,~stion of relig _511

ious be ie m"f1a"cftt4`sMV tlie basis of all belie?_'Irlr'~Gi~ the

alleged evidence of facts to the influence of an internal persuasion: they virtually give up the evidential proof so strongly insisted on, and confess that the

 

11Z STUDY OF THE

whole is, after all, a mere matter of. feeling and sentiment, just as much as those to whose views they so greatly object as openly avowing the very same thing.

We find certain forms of expression commonly stereotyped among a very large class of divines, whenever a critical difficulty or a sceptical exception is urged, which are very significant as to the prevalent view of religious evidence. Their reply is always of this tenor: 11 These are not subjects on which you can e xpect demonstrative evidence: you must be satisfied to accept such general proof or probability as the nature of the question allows. You must not inquire too curiously into these things: it is sufficient that we have a general moral evidence of the doctrines. Exact critical discussion will always rake up difficulties; to which, perhaps, no satisfactory answer can be at once given. A precise sceptical caviller will always find new objections as soon as the first are refuted. It is in vain to seek to convince reason, unless the conscience and the will be first well disposed to accept the truth." Such is the constant language of orthodox theologians. What is it but a mere translation into other phraseology of the very assertions of the sceptical transcendentalist ?

Indeed, with many who take up these questions, they are almost avowedly placed on the ground of practical expediency rather than of abstract truth. Good and earnest men become alarmed for the dangerous consequences they think likely to result from certain speculations on these subjects ; and thence, in arguing against them, are led to assume a tone of superiority, as the guardians of virtue and censors of right, rather than as unprejudiced inquirers into

1 1 11 17171~"F717 17711'

EVIDENCES OF CIMISTIAMTY.

the matters of fact on which, nevertheless, they professedly make the case rest. And thus a disposition has been encouraged to regard any such question as one of right or wroV, rather than one of truth o? error; to treat all objections as profane ; and to discard exceptions unanswered as shocking and immoral.

If, indeed, the discussion were carried on upon the professed ground of spiritual impression and relig ions feeling, there would be a consistency in such a course; but, when evidential arguments are avowedly addressed to the intellect, it is especially preposterous to shift the ground, and charge the rejection of them on moral motives; while those who impute such bad motives fairly expose themselves to the retort, that their own belief may be dictated by other considera, tions than the love of truth.

Again: in such inquiries there is another material distinction very commonly lost sight of, the difference between discussing the truth of a conclusion, or opinion, and the inode or means of arriving at it; or the arguments by which it is supported. Either may clearly be impugned or upheld without implicating the other. We may have the best evidence, but draw it wrong conclusion from it; or we may support an incontestable truth by very fallacious arguments.

The present discussion is not intended to be of a controversial kind: it is purely contemplative and theoretical. It is rather directed to a calm and unprejudiced survey of the various opinions and arguments ~adduced, whatever may be their ulterior tendency, on these important questions; and. to the attempt to state, analyze, and estimate them, just as they may H

f

i

 

114 STUDY OF THE

seem really conducive to the high object professedly in view.

The idea of a positive external divine revelation 6f some kind has formed the very basis of all hitherto received systems of Christian belief. The Romanist, indeed, regards that revelation as of the nature of a standing oracle, accessible in the living voice of the Church ; which, being infallible, of course sufficiently accredits all the doctrines it announces, and constitutes them divine. A more modified view has preTailed among a considerable section of Anglican theologians, who ground their faith on the same principles of Church authority, divested of its divine and infallible character. Most Protestants, with more or less difference of meaning, profess to regard revelation as once for all announced, Iong since finally closed, permanently recorded, and accessible only in the written divine word contained in the Scriptures ; and the discussion with those outside the pale of belief has been entirely one as to the validity of those external marks and attestations by which the truth of the alleged fact of such communication of the Divine Will was held to be substantiated.

The scope and character of the various discussions raised on 11 the evidences of religion" have varied much in different ages ; following, of course, both the view adopted of revelation itself, the nature of the objections which for the time seemed most prominent, or most necessary to be combated, and stamped with the peculiar intellectual character and reasoning tone of the age to which they belonged.

The early apologists were rather defenders of the Christian cause generally; but, when they entered on evidential topics, naturally did so rather in accordance,

I

EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY.

with the prevalent modes of thought, than with what

I

would iiow be deemed a philosophic investigation of alleged facts and critical appreciation of testimony in support of them.

In subsequent ages, as the increasing claims of infallible Church authority gained ground, to discuss evidence became superfluous, and even dangerous and impious. Accordingly, of this branch of theological literature (unless in the most entire NibJection to ecclesiastical dictation) the Medimval Church presented hardl

. y any specimens.

It was not perhaps till the fifteenth century that any works, bearing the character of what are now called treatises on 11 the evidences,'! appeared ; and these were probably elicited by the sceptical spirit which had already begun to show itsolf, arising out of the subtilties of the schoolmen.*

But in modern timos, and under Protestant auspices, a greater disposition to follow up this kind of discussion has naturally been developed. The sterner genius of Protestantism required definition, argument, and proof, where the Ancient Church had been content to impress by the claims of authority, veneration, and prescription, and thus left the conception of truth to take the form of a mere impression of devotional feeling or exalted imagination.

Protestantism sought something more definite and substantial; and its demands were seconded and supported, more especially by the spirit of metaphysical reasoning which so widely extended itself in the seventeenth century, even into the domains of theology;

0 Several such treatises are enumerated and described by Eichhorn. See lWam's Lit. of Europe, L p. 190.

 

 

 

 

seem really conducive to the high object professedly in view.

The idea of a positive external divine revelation 6f some kind has formed the very basis of all hitherto received systems of Christian belief. The Romanist, indeed, regards that revelation as of the nature of a standing oracle, accessible in the living voice of the Church; which, being infallible, of course sufficiently accredits all the doctrines it announces, and constitutes them divine. A more modified view has prevailed among a ~onsidcrable section of Anglican theologians, who ground their faith on the same principles of Church authority, divested of its divine and infallible character. Most Protestants, with more or less difference of meaning, profess to regard revelation as once for all announced, long since finally closed, permanently recorded, and accessible only in the written divine word contained in the Scriptures ; and the discussion with those outside the pale of belief has been entirely one as to the validity of those external marks and attestations by which the truth of the alleged fact of such communication of the Divine Will was held to be substantiated.

The scope and character of the various discussions raised on 11 the evidences of reliZion " have varied much in different ages ; following, of course, both the view adopted of revelation itself, the nature of the objections which for the time seemed most prominent, -or most necessary to be combated, and stamped with the peculiar intellectual character and reasoning tone of the age to which they belonged.

The early apologists were rather defenders of the Christian cause generally; but, when they entered on

eidential topics, naturally did so rather in accordance,

vi

EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY. i15

with the prevalent modes of thought, than with what would now be deemed a philosophic investigation of alleged facts and critical appreciation of testimony in support of them.

In subsequent ages, as the increasing claims of infallible Church authority gained ground, to discuss evidence became superfluous, and even dangerous and impious. Accordingly, of this branch of theological literature (unless in the most entire Nibjection to ecclesiastical dictation) the Medicaval Church presented hardly any specimens.

It was not perhaps till the fifteenth century that any works, bearing the character of what are now called treatises on 11 the evidences,'.' appeared ; and these were probably elicited by the sceptical spirit which had already begun to show itself, arising out of the subtilties of the schoolmen.*

But in modern times, and under Protestant auspices, a greater disposition to follow up this kind of discussion has naturally been developed. The sterner genius of Protestantism required definition, argument, and proof, where the Ancient Church- had been content to impress by the claims of authority, veneration, and prescription, and thus left the conception of truth to take the form of a mere impression of devotional feeling or exalted imagination.

Protestantism sought something more definite and substantial; and its demands were seconded and supported, more especially by the spirit of metaphysical reasoning which so widely extended itself in the seventeenth century, even into the domains of theology;

* Several such treatises are enumerated and described by Eichhorn. See fWam's Lit. of Europe, i. p. 190.

 

 

 

 

 

116 STUDY OF THE

and divines, stirred up by the allegations of the Deists, -aimed at formal refutations of their objections, by drawing out the idea and the proofs of revelation into systematic propositions supported by logical arguments. In that and the subsequent period, the same general style of argument on these topics prevailed among the advocates of the Christian cause. The appeal was mainly to the miracles of the Gospels; and here, it was contended, we want merely the same testimony of eyowitnesses which would suffice to substantiate any ordinary matter of fact. Accordingly, the narratives were to be traced to writers at the time~ who were either themselves eyewitnesses, or recorded the testimony of those who were so ; and, the direct transmission of the evidence being thus established, everything was held to be demonstrated. If any antecedent question was raised, a brief reference to the Divine Omnipotence to work the miracles, and to the Divine Goodness to vouchsafe the revelation and confirrn i.t by such proofs, was all that could be required to silence sceptical cavils.

It is true, indeed, that some consideration of the internal evidence derived from the excellence of the doctrines and morality of the gospel was allowed to enter the discussion; but it formed only a subordinate branch of the evidences of Christianity. The main and essential point was always flie consideration of external facts, and the attestations of testimony offered in suppoit of them. Assuming Christianity to be essentially connected with certain outward and sensible events, the main thing to be inquired into and established was the historical evidence of those events, and the genuineness of the records of them. If this were satisfactorily made out, then it was considered

EVIDENCES OF CHRIMANITY. 11T

the object was accomplished. The external facts simply, substantiated, the intrinsic doctrines and declara, tions of the gospel must by necessary consequence be divine truths.

If we compare the general tone, character, and pretensions of those works, which, in our schools and colleges, have been regarded as the standard authorities on the subject of the 11 evidences," we must acknowledge a great change in the taste or opinions of the times, from the commencement of the last century to the present day ; which has led the student to turn from the erudite folios of Jackson and Stillingfleet, or the more condensed arguments of Clarke 11 On the Attributes," Grotius 11 De Veritate," and Leslie's 11 Method with the Deists," - the universal text-books of a past generation, - to the writings of Lardner and Paley; tho latter of whom, in the beginning of the present century, reigned supreme, the acknowledged champiou of revelation, and the head of a school to which numerous others, as Campbell, Watson, and Douglas, contributed their labors. But, more reeently, thoso authors have been in an eminent de gree superseded by a recurrence to the once compara, tively neglected resources furnished by Bishop Butler, of so muoh less formal, technical, and positive a kind, yet offering wider and more philosophical views of the subject ; still, bowover, confessedly not supplying altogether that comprehensive discussion wlijeh is adapted to the peculiar tone and character of thought,and existing state of knowledge in our own times.

The state of opinion and information in diff6rent ages is peculiarly shown in the tone and character of those discussions which have continually arisen affect

 

 

 

 

118 STUDY OF.THE

ing the grounds of religious belief. The particular ,species of difficulty, or objection in the reception of 'Christianity, and especially of its external manifestations, which have been found most formidable, have Varied -greatly in different ages according to the prevalent modes of thought and the character of the domiiiant 'philosophy. Thus the difficulties with respect to miraculous evidence in particular will necessarily be very differently viewed in different stages of philosophical and physical information. Difficulties in the idea of suspensions of natural laws, in former ages were not at all felt, canvassed, or thought of ; but, in later times, they have assumed a much deeper importance. In an earlier period of our theological literature, the critical investigation of the question of miracles was a point scarcely at all appreciated. The attacks of the Deists of the seventeenth and early part of the eighteenth century were almost wholly directed to ?ther points: but the speculations of Woolston, and, still more, the subsequent influence of the celebrated Essay of Hume, had the effect of directing the atteiition of divines more pointedly to the precise topic of miraculous evidence ; and to these causes was added the agitation of the question of the ecclesiastical iniracles, giving rise to the semi-sceptical discussions of Middleton, which called forth a more exact spirit of examination into such distinctions as were needed to preserve the miracles of the Gospels from the criticisms applied to those of the Church. This distinetion, in fact, involves a large part of the entire question ; and, towards marking it out effectually, various precautionary rules and principles were laid down by several writers. Thus Bishop Warburton suggested as a criterion the necessity of the miracles to the ends

I I

EVIDENCES OF CD311STIANITY.

I

of the dispensation ! * which lie conceived answered the demands of Middleton. Bi4iop Douglas made it the test, to connect miracles with inspiration in those who wrought them: this, he thought, would exclude the miracles of the Church.t

But it was long since perceived that the argument from necessity of miracles is, at best, a very hazardous one; since it implies the presumption of constituting ourselves judges of such necessity, and admits the fair objection, When were miracles more needed than at the present day to indicate the truth amid manifold error, or to propagate the faith ? And again: in the other case, How is the inspiration to be ascertained apart from the miracles? or, if it be, what is the use of the miracles? In fact, in proportion as external evidence,to Wts is made the profossed demand, it follows that we can only roctir to those grounds and

rules by wh1oh the Iiitellect always proceeds in the satlAotory invostigation of any questions of fact and eAdenoet especially those of physical phenomena.By an adheronce to those great principles on which ag knowlodgo in acquired; by a reference to the tized laws or behof, and our convictions of established order and analogy, - we ekimato the credibility of allapd events and the value of testimony, and weigh them more careftilly in proportion as the matter may appear of greater moment or difficulty.

In appreciating the evidence for any events of. a striking or wonderful kind, we must bear in mind the extreme difficulty which always occurs in eliciting the truth, dependent not on the uncertainty in the transmission of testimony, but, even in cases where

0 Div. Leg., ix. S. t Criterion, pp. 289, 241.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 120

STUDY OF THE

we were ourselves witnesses, on the enormous influence exerted by our prepossessions previous to the event, and by the momentary impressions consequent upon it. We look at all events through the medium of our prejudices; or, even where we may have no prepossessions, the more sudden and remarkable any occurrence may be, the more unprepared we are to judge of it accurately or to view it calmly. Our afterrepresentations, especially of any extraordinary and striking event, are always, at the best, mere recollections of our impressions, of ideas dictated by our emotions at the time, of surprise and astonishment which the suddenness and hurry of the occurrence did not allow us time to reduce to reason, or to correct by the sober standard of experience or philosophy.

Questions of this kind are often perplexed for want of due attention to the laws of human thought and belief, and of due distinction in ideas and terms. The proposition, 11 that an event may be so incredible, intrinsically, as to set aside any degree of testimony," in no way applies to or affects the honesty or veracity of that testimony, or the reality of the impressions on the minds of the witnesses, so far as it relates to the matter of sensiblefact simply. It merely means this: that, from the nature of our antecedent convictions, the probability of some kind of mistake or deception somewhere, though we know not where, is greater than' the probability of the event really happening in the way and from the causes assigned.

This, of course, turns on the general grounds of our antecedent convictions. the question agitated is not that of more testimony, of its value, or of its failures. It refers to those antecedent considerations which must govern our entire view of the subject, and which, being

dependent on higher-!Aws4 belief,,mu0tb61Par%*d00 to all attestation, or rather. belong to a province,, tinct from it. W-ho is alleged is a case of the s-uperni~,'~,,',~ ural; but no~lestimony can reach to 1he supernatuxal testimony son -apply only to apparent sensible facts-;,

Jwdmony can only prove an extraordinary and perhaps

able oow4trence or phenomenon. That it is supsnii1drd causes, is entirely, dependent on beHef and assumptions of the parties.

inaryL

day, any very extraord and

bet were'exhibited before'the eyes,6f well-informed individual, and

of imposture put out of the bet that it was fa GzplMn ; and 10 *oWkwt, for -due to some morded and ex

AtUre time receive its expl4t,,

of discovery.

'go,previlent conviction, that, at the pre*-,,

t'gdra" we not to be expected; and, conse-, marvels are commonly discredited.

provino the rule, it cannot be the pnwsl scepticism, - instances

V pwdeulw person and parties, Vm1% Andy believe in the occur_ even In our own times..

*A that this is only in connectioii-.V14h,'tenets, and restricted.to the covW,

0" they are attached-, Such mani Asa

COU16% we I;elieved to have a. reli 442

lglou* , gford to the votaries a strong confirAw belisf, or are r~garded as among tl~,e-%&

 

 

 

 

 

 

lief in theirs

7`7 77

122

STUDY OF THE

privileges vouchsafed to an earnest faith. Yet even such persons, almost as a matter of course, utterly discredit all such wonders alleged as occurring within the pale of any religion except their own;. while those of other communions as unhesitatingly reject the be

To take a single instance : we may refer to the alleged miraeulous " tongues " among the followers f the late Mr. Irving some years ago. It is not, and was not, a question of records or testimony, or fallibility of witnesses, or exaggerated' or fabulous narratives At the time the matter was closely scrutinized, and inquired into; and many perfectly unprejudiced, and even sceptical persons, t1temselves witnessed the effects and were fully convinced, -as, indeed, were most candid inquirers at the time,-that, after all reasonable or possible allowance for the influence of delusion or imposture, beyond all question, certain extraordinary manifestations did occur. But just as little as themere fact could be disputed, did any soberminded person, except those immediately interested, .Or influenced by peculiar views, for a moment believe those effects to be miraculous. Even granting that they could not be explained by any known form of pervoiis affection, or on the like physiological grounds

still that they were in some way to be ascribed to natural causes, as yet perhaps little understood wa what no one of ordinarily cultivated mind orldispas

EVIDENCES OF CHRISTUNITY. 123

stance tends to confirm by immense accumulation of ovidence, the grand truth of the universal order and constancy of natural causes as a primary law of belief; so strongly entertained and fixed in the mind of every Wy inductive inquirer, that he can hardly even conGdvo the ponibility of its failure. Yet we sometimes litaguage of a different kind. There are still dwell on the idea of Spinoza, and contend dle to object to miracles as violations of nat beause we know not the extent of nature ;

phenomena are, in fact, miracles, J61% npWrlos ; that we are surrounded by

ad on all sides encounter phe

,pWtivo scientific idea of the power of

philosophy, or the order of nature. The

of nature exist oiilX where our prese-bt

th e discover , ies oT-td--MrCM*

d, "Ale- i n""e'vitable progress

must, within a longer or shorter period,

*M woms most marvellous; and what is

'lad understood will become as familiarly

do edonoo of the future, as those points

it 6W senturlos ago were involved in equal

Wft, bia an now thoroughly understood.

hat of 11tow or like like instances are at all of the bbd or havo nay characteristics in common with

o; what is implied by the term 11 miracle ; "

Amirtad (4) mean something at variance with

law. There is not the slightest analogy

 

 

 

 

 

 

STUDY OF THE

1~etween an unknown or inexplicable, phenomenon and a supposed suspension of a known law: even an exceptional case of a known law is included in some larger law. A-rbitrary interposition is wholly different in kind: no argument from the one can apply to the other.

The enlarged critical and inductive study of the natural world- cannot but tend powerfully to evince the. inconceivableness of imagined interruptions of natural order or supposed suspensions of the laws of matter, and of that vast series of dependent causation w~ich constitutes the legitimate field for the investigation of science, whose constancy is the sole warrant for its generalizations, while it forms the substantial basis for the grand conclusions of natural theology. Such would be the grounds on which our convictions would be regulated as to marvellous events at the present day; such the rules which we should apply to the like cases narrated in ordinary history.

But though, perhaps, the more general admission, at the present day, of critical principles in the study of history, as well as the extension of physical knowledge, has done something to diffuse among the better informed class more enlightened notions on this subject, taken abstractedly ; yet thoy may be still much at a loss to apply such principles in all cases, and readily conceive that there are possible instances in which larg-e exceptions must be made.

The above remarks may be admitted in respect to events at the present day and those narrated in ordinary history; but it will be said, there may be and there are cases which are not like those of the present times nor of ordinary history.

Thus, if we attempt any uncompromising, rigid

EVIDENCES OF CIMISTIANITY. 125

scrutiny of the Christian miracles on the same grounds on which we should investigate any ordinary narrative of the supernatural or marvellous, we are stopped by the admonition, not to make an irreverent and profane intrusion into what ought to be held red, and exempt from such unhallowed criticism human reason.

Tot the champions of the evidences" of Christity have professedly rested the discussion of the mir

of the Now Testament on the ground of precise of witnesses; insisting on the historical cliarGospol records, and urging the investigaof the facts on the strict principles

would be applied to any other Om grounds, it would seem shwulous parts of those ,'4"doratious as those which In regwd to marvellous or sup events in general. Yet there ww1lihignese to concede the propriety of Sawaination, and a disposition to regard this As

- b history, prierally, our attention is often called to dw nr AA MA1-V1J1n11Q - nnil +11"r" IQ 5. Qa-a

rt, and in connection with those influences nobture which play so conspicuous a part in

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STUDY OF THE

many events. Thus it has been well remarked by Dean Milman: 11 History, to be true, must condescend to speak the language of legend. The belief of the times is part of the record of the times; and, though there may occur what may baffle its more calm and searching philosophy, it must not disdain that which was the primal, almost universal, motive of human life." *

Yet, in a more general point of view, when we consider the strict office of the critical historian, it is obvious that such cases are fair -subjects of analysis, conducted with the view of ascertaining their real relation to nature and fact.

From the general maxim, that all history is open to criticism as to its grounds of evidence, no professed history can be* exempt, without forfeiting its historical character ; -and,'in its contents, what is properly historical, is, on the same grounds, fairly to be distinguished from what may appear to be introduced on other authority and with other objects. Thus the general credit of an historical narrative does not exclude the distinct scrutiny into any statements of a supernatural kind which it may contain, nor supersede the careful estimation of the value of the testi, mony on which they rest, - the directness of its transmission from eyewitnesses, as well as the possibility of misconception of its tenor, or of our not being in possession of all the circumstances on which a correct judgment can be formed.

It must, however, be confessed, that the propriety, of such dispassionate examination is too little appreciated, or the fairness of weighing well the improb

* Latin Christianity, v01- L P. 388.

EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIAMTY. 12T

abilities on one side against possible 'openings to inisapprehension on the other.

The nature of the laws of all human belief, and tho broader grounds of probability and credibility of ovoms, have been too little investigated ; and the

,groat extent to which, all testimony must be modified by antecedent credibility as determined by such gen"Pal laws, too little commonly -understood to be readily lied or allowed.

orly, as before observed, there was no question ral credibility; btit, in later times, the most ,Spsm to anottino that interposition would be

0 It may be rendered probable -in Miraelop we for orlv the

and others all assume

of a very special nature, that improba be romovod, as in the case of authenticat adon. Locke* expressly contends that it is "traordinary nature of such an emergency an oxtraordinary interposition requisite,

W*111110.

dlvhw InterpoNition must be essentially Wls" wo Previouslu admit or believe with

must adOw mW14111ty of miracles ; but this, it is now deponds on tho tuiture and degree of his Theism, way vary throtigh many shades of opinion. It

FAny, book i. chap. xvi. 18.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

0 Lessons on Evidences, vii. § 5.

I STUDY OF THE

In advancing from the argument for miracles to argument from miracles, it should, in the first 408tance, be considered that the -evidential force ,of miracles (to whatever it may amount) is wholly relative to the apprehensions of the parties, addressed.

I Thus, in an evidential " point of view, it by no means follows, supposing we at this day were able to explain what in an ignorant age was regarded as a miracle, that therefore that event was not equally evidential to those immediately addressed. ColumWs's prediction of the eclipse to the native islanders -was as true an argument to then as if the event had really been supernatural.

it is a consideration adopted by some eminent divines, that, in the very language of the Gospels, the distinction is always kept up between mere "wonders " e

(T'paTa) and 11 miracles " or 11 signs " (anlAela) that is to say, the latter were occurrences not viewed am mere matters of wonder or astonishment, but rogarded as indications of other truths, specially adapted to convince those to whom they were addressed in their existing stage of enlightenment.

Archbishop Whately, besides dwelling on this dis~tinction, argues that 11 the apostles would not only not have been believed, but not even listened to, if they had not first roused men's attention by working, as we are told they did, special (remarkable) miracles." * (Acts xix. 11.)

Some have gone further, and have considered the application of miracles as little more than is expressed in the ancient proverb, Oav'paTa JWPOIT, -which is

EVIDENCES ~OF -0190TUNITY.

supposed to be nearly equivalent to the rebuke, An evil generation seeketh a sign," &c.* (Matt. xii. 38,,-)

Schleiermacher regards the miracles as only relatively or apparently such to the apprehensions of the age. By the Jews, we know such manifestations, especially the power of healing, were held to constitute the distinctive marks of the Messiah, according to the prophecies of their Scriptures. Signs of ali improper or irrelevant kind were refused; and evenn those which were granted were not necessarily nor universally conclusive. With some they were s'0 ; bu LI with the many the case was different. The Phaxise

set down the miracles of Christ to tae power of evi spirits; and in other cases no conviction t was pro_-~ duced, not even on the apostles.t Even Nicodemust notwithstanding his logical reasoning, was but halP.. convinced: while Jesus himself, especially to his disciples in private,* referred to his works as only sec-t ondary and subsidiary to the higher evidence of i I his character and doctrine § which was so conspie-k uous and convincing, even to his enemies, as to draw forth the admission, 11 Never man spake like this mail."

The later Jews adopted the strange legend of the 44 Sepher Toldeth Yelisu Book of the Generation of j"" "), wh1oh describes his miracles Substantially se In do Gospels, but says that he obtained his power by IddWg blumielf in the Temple, and possessing himself of the seoM Ineffable name, by virtue of vlich

sub wonder@ oould be wrought.11

aw Sol NPIsl Rev. I Wilson, 1852, p. 21.

J441" zl~ %, vi. 2 - 80. Matt. xii. 39.

jyj. 0. Lake xxiv. 21 - 2' John xiv. 11.

:J with writer, quoted iy Limborch (As Verit., pp. t2-166),

orodkiervat Adni non quis opera illa quie in Evangelio

 

 

 

 

 

 

132

STUDY OF THE

. All moral evidence must essentially have respect to the parties to be convinced. , Signs" might be adapted peculiarly to the state of moral or intellectual progress of one age, or one class of persons, and not be suited to that of others. With the contemporaries pf Christ and the apostles, it was not a question of testimony or credibility : it was not the mere occurrence of what they all regarded as a supernatural event, as such, but the particular character to be assigned to it, which was the point in question. And it is to the entire difference in the ideas, prepossession, modes, and grounds of belief in those times, that we may trace the reason why miracles, which would be incredible now, were not so in the age and under the circumstances in which they are stated to have occurred.

The force and function of all moral evidence is nullified and destroyed, if we seek fo apply that kind of argument which does not find a response in the previous views or impressions of the individual addressed. All evidential reasoning is essentially an adaptation to the conditions of mind and thought of the parties addressed, or it fails in its object. An evidential appeal, which in a long-past age was convincing as made to the state of knowledge in that age, might have not only no effect, but even an injurious tendency, if -urged in the present, and referring to what is at variance with existing scientific conceptions : iust as the arguments of the present age woul.

have been. unintelligible to a rmer.

narmntur a Jesu facta, esse negabant, sod quia iis se persuaderi non sunt passi ut Jesum crederent Mossiam." Celsus ascribed the Christian miracle. to magic (Origen cont. Cels., i. 38; ii. 9), as Julian did those of St. Paul. to superior knowledge of nature (Ap. Cyr., iii. 100). The general

I : : ficed b Tertullian An. 22. See also Dean Lyall.

arg- E, I

Propwdia, Prophetical 439; Neander, Hist. i 67.

T!, X`;~::

EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY. 133

I I

In his earlier views of miracles, Dr. J. H. Newman~* maintained (agreeing therein with Paulus and Rosen7 iniiller) that most of the Christian miracles could only be evidential at the time they were wrought, and are not so at present; a view in which a religious writer of a very different school, Athanase Coquerel,f seems to concur, alleging that they cah avail only in founding a faith, not in preserving it.

This was also the argument of several of the reformers; as Luther, Huss, and otherst have reasonably contemplated the miracles as a part of the peculiarities of the first outward manifestation and development of Christianity: like all other portions of the divine dispensations, specially adapted to the age and the condition of those to whom -they were immediately addressed; but restricted apparently to those ages, and, at any rate, not in the same form continued to subsequent times, when the application of them would be inappropriate.

The force of the appeal to miracles must ever be essentially dependent on the preconceptions of the parties addressed. Yet, even in an age or among a people entertaining an indiscriminate belief in the impornatural, the allegation of particular miracles as evidential may be altogether vain: the very extent of their belief may render it ineffective in furnishing prooh to authenticato the communications of any toiwiter as a divine message. The constant belief in the miraculous may neutralize all evidential distinclionss which it'may be attempted to deduce. Of. this we have a etriking instance on record, in the labo

X". /, 1,

/ 4

 

 

 

 

 

, I

1"'

136

STUDY OF THE

ridge, -than whom no writer has been more earnest in upholding and defending Christianity, even in its most orthodox form, -in speaking of its external attestations, impatiently exclaims, 11 Evidences of Christianity ! I am weary of the word. Make a man feel the want of it, . . . and you may safely trust it to its own evidence." *

But still further: Paley's well-known conclusion to the fifth book of his 11 Moral Philosophy," pronounced by Dr. Parr to be the finest prose passage in English literature ; more especially his final summing-up of the evidential argument in the words, 11 He alone dis

overq ve -, and no man can prove this point

[a future retribution], but the teacher who testifies by miracles that his doctrine comes from God," calls forth fromColeridge ail emphatic protest against the entire principle, as being at variance with that inoral election which he would make the essential basis of religious belief ; t to which- he adds, in another place, 11 The cordial admiration with which I peruge the preceding passage as a masterpiece of composition, would, could I convey it, serve as a measure of the vital importance I attach to the convictions which impelled me to animadvert on the same passage as doctrine."t

Some of the most strenuous assertors of mirac les

have been foremost to disclaiff the notion of their

being the sole certificate of divine communication, and

have maintained that the true force of the Christian

evidences lies in the, union and combination of the

external testimony of miracles with the internal ex-

cellence of the doctrine ; thus, in fact, practically

Aids to Reffeetion, L p. 883. t Ib., p. 278. t Ib., p. 888.

EVIDENCES OF CHJUS I TIANTrY. 137

making the latter the real test of the admissibilitylof I the former.

The necessity for such a combination of the evidence of miracles with the test of the doctrine inculcated, is' acknowledged in the Bible, both under the old and the new dispensations. We read of false prophets who might predict signs and wonders, which might

come to pass ; but this was to be of no avO if they lod their hearers 11 after other gods." *

Ill like manner, 11 if ail angel from heaven," preached any other gospel to the Galatians, they were to reject it; t and, even according to Christ's own admonitions, false Christs and. false prophets should show signs and wonders, such as might 11 deceive, if possible, the very elect." t

According to this view, the main ground of the PAinissibility of external attestations is the worthiness

of their object, - -the doctrine: its unworthiness will discredit even the most distinctly alleged apparent

miracles; and such worthiness or unworthiness appoals solely to our moral judgment.

No man has dwelt more forcibly on miraculous

evidence than Archbishop Whately ; yet, in relation to the character of Christ as conspiring with the extmal atte"tione of his mission, be strongly remarks (qwMng of som who would meribe to Christ an

sawathy doctrine, an equivocal mode of teaching),

'I U I could believe Jesud to have been guilty of such

mWerfugag I not only could not acknowledge

Mai as sent ftm God, but should reject hiln with the

t moral Indignation."

Lyall ontors largely into this important quah

t Gal. 1. 8. Matt. XXIV. 24.

Kingdom of Christ, Essay L J 12.

 

 

 

 

 

 

u8

STUDY OF THE

fication in his defence of the miraculous argument applying it in the most unreserved manner to the ecclesiastical miracles,* which lie rejects at once as having no connection with doctrine. We have also on record the remark of Dr. Johnson: "Why, sir, Hume, taking the proposition simply, is right; but the Christian revelation is not proved by miracles alone, but as connected with prophecies and with -the doctrines in confirmation of which miracles were wrought." t

This has, indeed, been the common argument of the most approved divines: it is that long ago urged by Dr. S. Clarke,t and recently supported by Dean Trench.§ Yet what is it but to acknowledge the right of an appeal, superior to that of all miracles, to our own moral tribunal, -to the principle, that 11 the human mind is competent to sit in moral and spiritual tribunal on a professed revelation ? " - in virtue of which, Prof. F. Newman, as well as many other inquirers, have come to so very opposite a condusion.

Again, it has been strongly urged by the last-named writer, if miracles are made the sole criterion, thon amid the various.difficulties attending the scrutiny of evidence and the detection of imposture, an advantage is clearly given to the shrewd sceptic over the simpleminded and well-disposed disciple, utterly fatal to the purity of faith. 11

The view of miraculous evidence which allows it to be taken only in connection with, and, in fact, in subserviency to, the moral and internal proof , derived

0 Pr?psBdia Prophetics., p. 441. t Boswell's Life, Hi. 169; ed. 1826. t Evidences of Natural and Revealed Reli ion, § Kiv.

§ Notes on Miracles, p. 27. 11 See Rases of Faith, p. 154.

EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY. 139

from the character of the doctrine, has been pushed V) a greater extent by the writer last named; who Rmks, What is the value of 11 faith at second-hand?" Ought any external testimony to overrule internal Conviction ? Ought any moral truth to be received in niere obedience to a,miracle of sense ? * and observes, that a miracle can only address itself to our external "Olises, and that internal and moral impressions must be deemed of a kind paramount to external and sensible.

If it be alleged that this internal sense may be

delusive, not less so, it is replied, may the external w5nses deceive us as to the world of sense and external evidence. The same author, however, expressly ILHOWS, that the claims of 11 the historical " and 11 the spiritual," the proofs -addressed to 11 reason " and to the 11 internal sense," may each be properly entertained in their respective provinces: the danger lies in confounding them, or mistaking the one-for the other.

Even in the estimation of external evidence, every

thing depends on our preliminary. moral convictions, and upon deciding, in the first instance, whether, on the one hand, we are 11 to abandon moral conviction at the bidding of a miracle" or on-Me other to-n.

i-onformity with inoral principles the soie est o o 6* evidenoom and of die doctrines of revelation.

In polut of fact, lie contends that the main actual

appeal of the apostles, especially of St. Paul, was not U) outward toodmony or logical argument, but to Ploirltuid asnurances; Chat, even when St. Paul does folor on it sort of evidential discussion, his reasoning "ry unlike what a Paley would have exacted

0 A" Phases of Faith, pp. 82, 108, 201, Ist ed.

 

 

140

STUDY OF THE

that all real evidence is of the spirit, which alone c an judge of spiritual things; that the apostles did not go about proclaiming an infaliible'~Ibook, but the convert was to be convinced by his own internal judgment, not called on to resign it to a systematized and dogmatic creed. And, altogether, the reasoning of the apostles (wherever they, enter upon the department of reasoning) was not according to our logic, but only in accordance with the knowledge and philosophy of the age.

Thus, in this fundamental assumption of internalevidence, some of the most orthodox writers are, in fact, in close agreement with those nominally of a very opposite school.

'41 the truth

It was the, argument of D6derlein, that of the doctrine does not depend on the miracles, -but we must first be convinced of the doctrine by its internal evidence."

De Wette and others, of the rationalists, expressly contend, that the real evidence of the divinity of any doctrine can only be its accordance with the dicta,*Us of this moral sense ; and this, Wegscheider further insists, was, in fact, the actual appeal of Christ in his teaching." ,

In a word, on this view it would follow, that all external attestation would seem superfluous if it concur with, or to be rejected if it oppose, these moral convictions.t Thus a considerable school have

Jesus ipse doetrinam quarn tradidit divinam esse professus est,quantuln divine elus indoles ab homine vere religioso proboque bene cognosei potest atque aijudicari.11 - We ' heii,der Joh. vii. V.

7e ,

NuU alia ratio et via . fd.. examinandi datur quam ut illa-

rum placita cum 118 u via natural! rectas rationis de Deo eju gue volun-

innotnerint 512~nter componat et ad norinam sine o=

ru supersti

tione ~oxaminetll - Wegacheider. Inatt. Theol. Chris. Dopm., § 11, p. 88.

f S~eh was the argument of the Chanoteristios, vol. I p. 834, ed. Mr.

EVIDENOW OF MMISTUNM. 141

been disposed to look to the intrinsic evidence only, and to accept the declarations of the gospel solely oii the ground of their intrinsic excellence, and accordance with our best and highest moral and religious convictions; a view which would approach very nearly to rejecting its peculiarities altogether.

Thus considerations of a very different nature are now introduced from those formerly entertained, and of a kind which affect the entire primary conception of 11 a revelation " and its authority, and not merely any alleged external attestation of its truth. Thus any discussion of the 11 evidences " at the present day must have a reference equally to the influence of the vorious syskms, whether of ancient precedent or of modern illilLination, which so widely and powerfully affect the state of opinion or belief.

In whatever light we regard the 11 evidences " of religion, to be of any effect, whether external or Intornal, they must always have a special reference to the peculiar capacity and apprehension of the party whke,V8ed. Points which may be seen to involve the Xmiatest difficulty to more profound inquirers are often such as do not oceasion the least perplexity to ordinary minds, but are allowed to pass without hesiMon. To them, all difficulties are smoothed down; 'di objoctions (if for a moment raised) are , at once vowerod by a few plausible, commonplace generali

Which, to their minds, are invested with- the of axiomatic truths, and to question which the y Id rogard as at'once idle and impious.

On tho othor hand, exceptions held forth as fatal oliallow caviller are seen by the more deeply

in all their actual littleness and fallacy. tho sake of all narties at the Dresent day,

i Ilk,

 

 

 

 

 

 

STUDY OF THE

especially those -who at least profess a disposition for pursuing the serious discussion' of, such momentous subjects, it becomes imperatively necessary that such views of it should be suggested as may be really suitable to better-informed minds, and may meet the increasing demands of an age pretending, at least, to greater enlightenment.

Those who have reflected most deeply on the nature of the argument from external evidence will', admit, that it would naturally possess very different de~ grees of force as addressed to different ages ; and, in a period of advanced physical knowledge, the reference to what was believed in past times, if at variance with principles now acknowledged, jould afford little ground of appeal; in fact, wouldJffamage the argument rather than assist it.

Even some of the older writers assign a much lower place to the evidence of miracles; contrasting it with the conviction of realfaith, as being merely a preparatory step to it. Thus an old divine observes, 11 Adducuntur- primum ratione exteri ad fidem, et quasi preaparantur ; . . . . signis ergo et miraculis via fidei per sensus et rationem sternitur." *

And here it should be especially noticed, as characteristic of the ideas of his age, that this writer classes the sensible evidence of miracles along with the convictions of reason, - the very opposite to the view which would now be adopted, indicative of the difference in physical conceptions, which connects miracles rather with faith as the

.y are seen to be inconceivable to reason.

These prevalent tendencies in the opinions -of the

* Melchior Canug, Loci. Theol., ix. 6, about 1540.

EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY. 143

onot but be regarded as connected with the hig admission of those broaderviews of physth and universal order in nature which have lowed out to higher contemplations, and point acknowledgment of an overruling and all-per8uprome Intelligence.

oing beyond these conclusions to the doc

on, we must recognize both the due

to decide on points properly belong.

$gvsager, and the independence of characterizes the disclosure

to the confession, grimation and the there things, and while in led to disown the 10 world of matter at va

h lispoluble unity of physical more ready to admit the higher "Hos In the invisible and spirit knowledge, while it asserts the In physical things, confirms that i we thus neither impugn the Y, nor allow them to in it fWds, and admit that what is may hold its place in a

did lwliit of view, it has been admitted 60 Inopt candid divines, that the appeal bovievor important in the early stages of Woomo less material in later times ;

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1,51TDY OF THE

'Others have even expressly pointed to 'this as the

ist, at -the

won why they have been Wit_drawn: whi

'Present, day, the most earnest a4vocates of evangelical 'faith admit that outward marvels are needless to spiritual conviction,, and triumph in the greater moral miracle of a converted and regenerate soul.

They' eq ' ho.,the declaration of ~t. Chryaostom, 94,1f

you are a believer as you ought to bei and love Christ A& you oughtto love him, you have no need of i

miracles ; for these are given to unbelievers."

all, the evidential argument.has but little actweight with the generality of believers. The high W,ral convictions, often referred to for internal evidonee, are, to say the least, probably really felt by ver

'y fiew",and the appeal made to miracles as proofs of revelation by still fewer. A totally different feeling actuates the many ; and the spirit of faith is acknowl.7 edged where there is little disposition to reasoil at all, ,pr where moral and philosophical considerations are 'Absolutely rejected on the highest relW'*o grounda, A" everything referred to the sovereig?~ower . 'of gr e

Ifatters of clear and positive fact, investigated on -~crltical grounds and supported by exact evidence, are properly matters of knowledge, not of faith. It is rather in points of less definite character tha~ any. exerel'se of faith can take place ; it is rather with matters

of religious beUf, belonging to a higher and less con Peivable class of I truths, with the my*rious things, of the unseen world, that faith )owns a'connection,. and

el -lap rlwror J &v eivat Xpi K4 Af~ T6V XPLO-rov Le

ovotv Maora~.

ity 84, ob Xpelay lXett rrot, as)gehotl - 7C&Ta ja*P j7rt' ~Xzfli to Jakew. To the same effect also S. Is idore: 1.1 Tune opp

*4bdum mirseWli credere, - nune ver6* cre0entem oportet

ochiscmv~ cited ia Hues, in defence of WickliM

EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY. 145

1

41ily associates itself with spiritual ideas, than mal ovidoiico or physical events: and it is adinittod, diat inimy points of important re tructloii, eveii convcycd under the form of In Mio histwices of doctrines inculcated loo,-aro inorc congenial to the spirit any Matioiim of historical events could

go advances, the more it has lodged ffiat Christianity, as od apart from connection

tual from the pbys pWlahlo contra With tho and inoro tho discoveries tiquIty of the huor spocios, and the " havo caused new

direct discrei)bmin takon for revealed truth"~, 0XINtIng 111onlillients to the

WM listerproted by science adior dedtictiotim of science IOV%41 events, which, though nients or pormanclit effects s lvss lt~gitiinately subject to 1s),sifivo science, and require a wid rocogiiition of the same princi11tiotico of' spiritual and of physical

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

146

STUDY OF THE

Thus far, our observations are general; but, at the present moment, some recent publications oil the subject seem to call for a few more detailed remarks. We have before observed, that the style and character of works on 11 the evidences " has, of necessity, varied in different ages. Those of Leslie and Grotius have, by common consent, been long since superseded by that of Paley. Paley was long the text-book at Cambridge: his work was never so extensively popular at Oxford; it has of late been entirely disused there. By the public at ldrge however once accepted, we do not hesitate to express our belief, that, before another quarter of a century has elapsed, it will be laid on the shelf with its predecessors: not that it is a work desiitute of high merit, -as is pre-eminently true also of those it superseded, and of others again anterior to them,-but they have all followed the irreversible destiny, that a work, suited to convince the public mind at any one patticular period, must be accommodated to the actual condition of knowledge, of opinion, and mode of thought, of that period. It is not a question of abstract excellence, but of relative adaptation.

Paley caught the prevalent tone of thought in his day. Public opinion has now taken a different turn; and, what is more important, the style and class of difficulties and objections honestly felt has become wholly different. New modes of speculation -new forms of scepticism-bave invaded the domain of that settled belief which a past age had been accustomed to rest on the Paleyan syllogism. Yet, among several works which have of late appeared on the subject, we recognize few which at all meet these requirements of existing opinion. Of some of the chief of these works, even appearing under the sanction of eminent

RVIDENCES 0 F CIMISTIANITY. 147

aro constrained to remark, that they are 1whind the age ; that, amid much learned ark on inattors of detail, those material h tho niodorn difficulties chiefly turn, "Hos advanced to meet them, are, for only Ignorod, and passed over with W notleo, but the entire school of .With infinitely varied shades of thomi tol~cs, and put forth powerful, as the case may to huprove the toile of ultim of reason with of fulth, aro all in oatogury 0~ W Pophis ,dangorous, hAdoloo, and

-K

of the

of him modern commentators 40 64, pomition of an advocate, not

1profor,sedly stand up on one side,

ow Vollosol oil the other to reply.

not tnith, but their client's case.

 

 

 

 

STUDY OF THE

The whole argument is one of special pleading. W may admire the ingenuity and confess the adroitnes with which favorable points are seized, unfavorableones dropped, evaded, or disguised ; but we do not find ourselves the more impressed with those high and sacred convictions of truth, which ought to ' result rather from the wary, careful, dispassionate summin97 up on both sides, which is the function of the impartial and inflexible- judge.

The one topic constantly insisted on as essential to the grounds of belief, considered as based on outward historical evidence, is that of the credibility of externalfacts as supported by testimony. This bas always formed the most material point in the reasonings of the evidential writers of former times, bower imperfectly and unsatisfactorily to existing modes of thought they treated it ; and to this point their more recent followers have still almost as 'exclusively directed their attention.

In the representations which they constantly make, we cannot but notice a strong apparent tendency and desire to uphold the more assertion of witnesses as the supreme evidence of fact, to the utter disparagement of all general grounds of reasoning, analogy, and antecedont credibility, by which that testimony may be modified or discredited. Yet we remark, that all the instances they adduce, when carefully examined, really tend to the very conclusion they are so anxious to set aside. Arguments of this kind are sometimes deduced from such cases as, e. g., the belief accorded on very slight ground of probability in all commercial trans actions dependent on the assumed credit and character of the negotiating parties ; from the conclusions acted upon in life-assurances, notwithstanding the

I

YVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY. 149

lusitability of life; and the like: in all omit moo no other real drift or tendency

We, histoad of disparage, the necessity matod conviction of permanent order

AH probability.

of in6approbension in this class of dito confusion between the

iird to human affairs and

gurd to physical facts. It

Vio inost surprising occurfly, and perhaps n(bi of real tostior a kind, which,

tultant cirnatural

of Intorven

evento In human

()It Plifficient testi nnry experience of slinply because we canwarlotion of human dispo or 1114, extent to which "111"Wilcom of which~ 1041KI) to guide Its. ,OW roluotoA applica, iawo or matter, or in

external attestations of Involviiig considerations It 1% not ono in which such to of thought as arise out of a inik hititory and moral argument w) doubt, and other kindred

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

150 STUDY OF THE

topics, with which the scholar and the moralist arT familiar, are of great and fundamental importance to-,, our general views of the whole subject of Christian evidence ; but the particular case of miracles, as such," is one specially bearing on purely physical contemplations, and on which no general moral principles, no common rules of evidence or logical technicalities, call enable us to form a correct judgment. It is not a question which can be decided by a few trite and commonplace generalities as to the moral government of the world and the belief in the Divine Omnipotence, or as to the validity of human testimony or the limits of human experience. It involves, and is essentially built upon, those grander conceptions of the order of nature, those comprehensive primary elements of all physical knowledge, those ultimate ideas of universal causation, which can only be familiar to those thoroughly versed in cosmical philosophy in its widest sense.

In an age of physical research like the present, all

highly cultivated minds and duly advanced intellects

have imbibed, more or less, the lessons of the induc-

tive philosophy, and have, at least in some measure,

learned to appreciate the grand foundation cone - eption

of univer sal law ; to recognize the impossibility even

of any two material atoms subsisting together without

a determinate relation; of any action of the one on

the other, whether of. equilibrium or of motion, with-

out reference to a physical cause ; of any modifica-

tion whatsoever in the existing conditions of material

agents, unless through the invariable operation of a

series of eternally impressed consequences, following

in some nee6ssary chain of orderly connection, how-

ever imperfectly known to us. So clear and indispu-

EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY. 151

d, has this great truth become, so deeply

It boon now admitted to be in the essential gwlblo things and of the external world, adopt it

lplo and guiding max m o all their In niost.w6rtby of remark, minds

do all p1lilosophical inquirers

lily Illj)tlolls, now well understood by "I pifflomophers, is but the type of

ovir-supitaining and self-evolving powers a all nature. Yet the difficulty of con

 

PAGE 152

STUDY OF THE

ceiving this truth in its simplest exemplification was formerly the chief hinderance to the acceptance of the solar system, from the prepossession of the peripatetic dogma, that there must be a constantly acting, moving force to keep it going. This very exploded chimera, however, by' a. singular infatuation, is now actually revived as the ground of argument for miraculous interposition by redoubtable champions, who, to evince their profound knowledge of mechanical pbilosophy, inform us that 11 the whole of nature is like a Mill, which cannot go on without the continual application of a moving power"!

Of these would be philosophers we find many anxiously dwelling on the topic, so undeniably just in itself, of the danger of incautious conclusions ; of the gross errors into which men fall by over hasty gen

eralizations. They recount with triumph the absurd mistakes into * c some even eminent philosop ers have fallen in prematurely denying what experience has since fully shown to be true, because in the then state of knowledge it seemed incredible.* They feel an elevating sense of superiority in putting down the arrogance of scientific pretensions, by alleging the short sighted dogmatism with w ' hich men of high repute in science have evinced a scepticism iu points of vulgar belief, in which, after all, the vulgar belief ~ has proved right. They even make a considerable display of reasoning on such cases; but we cannot say that those reasonings are particularly distinguished for

consistency, force, or originality. The philosopher (for example) denies the credibility of alleged events

EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY. 158

professedly in their nature at variance with all physical

analogy. These writers, in reply, affect to make a, 1401emn appeal to the bar of analogy, and support it by instances which precisely defeat their own concluo4on. Thus they advance the novel and profoundly

instructive story of an Indian who denied the existence of ice as at variance with experience; and still more from the contradiction, that, being solid, it could not float in water. In like manner, they dwell upon other equally interesting stories'of a butterfly, who,

from the experience of his ephemeral life in summer, denied that the leaves were ever brown or the ground covered with snow; of a child who watched a clock inade to strike only at noon, through many hours, and therefore concluded it could never strike ; of a person who had observed that fish are organized to swim, and therefore concluded. there could be no such animals as Ailing fish.

These, with a host of other equally recondite, novel, kartling, and conclusive instances, are urged in a tone of solemn wisdom, to prove what? That water is

converted into ice by a regular known law ; that it has a specific gravity less than water by some law at present but imperfectly understood; that, without violation of analogy, fins may be modified into wings; that it is part of the kreat law of climate, that, in winter leaves are brown, and the ground sometimes white ; that machinery may be made with actiow inwrinitting by laws as regalar as those of its more or(finary operation ; in a word, that the philosoplier who looks to an endless subordinating series of laws of mimccessively higher generality is inconsistent in den in events at variance with that subordination 1.

It is indeed curious to notice the elaborate multi

i

0 , 111~

STUDY OF THE

plidation of instances adduced by some of the writers referred to, all really tending to prove the subordination of facts to laws, clearly evinced as soon as the cases were well understood, though till then, often regarded in a sceptical spirit; while of that scepticism they furnish the real and true refutation in the principle of law ultimately established, under whatever primary appearance and semblance of marvellous discordance from all law. It would be beyond our limits to notice in detail such instances as are thus dwelt upon, and apparently regarded as of sovereign value and importance, to discredit philosophical generalization: such as the disbelief in the marvels recounted by Marco Polo ; of the miracle of the martyrs who spoke articulately after their tongues were cut out; the angel seen in the air by two thousand persons at Milan; the miraculous balls of fire on the spires at Plausac; Herodotus's story of the bird in the mouth of the crocodile ; narratives of the sea serpent, marvels of mesmerism and electro biology, all discredited formerly as fables; vaccination observed and attested by peasants, but denied and ridiculed by medical men.

These and the like cases are all urged as trium

phant proofs of what ? That some men have always

been found of unduly sceptical tendencies, and some

times of a rationally cautious turn; who have heard

strange, and perhaps exaggerat~d narratives, and have

maintained sometimes a wise, sometimes an unwise,

degree of reserve and caution in admitting them;

though they ha ve since proved in accordance with

natural causes.

Hallam and Rogers are cited as veritable witnesses to the truth of certain effects of mesmerism in their

EVIDENM OF CMUSTIAMTY. '155

day generally disbelieved, and for asserting which they were met with all but an imputation of "the lie direct." They admitted, however, that their assertion was founded on 11 experience so rare as to be had only once in a century; " but that experience has been since universally borne out by all who have candidly examined the question, and the apparantly isolated and marvellous cases have settled down into examples of broad and general laws, now fully justified by experience and analogy.

Physiological evidence is adduced (which we will suppose well substantiated) to show that the excision of the whole tongue does not take away the power of speech, though that of the extremity does so: hence the denial of the story from imperfect experience. So of other cases: the angel at Milan was the abrial reflection of an image o n a church ; the balls of fire at Plausae were electrical; the sea serpent was a basking shark or a stem of sea weed. A committee of the French Academy of Sciences, with Lavoisier at its head, after a grave investigation, pronounced the alleged fall of a6rolites to be a superstitious fable. It is, however, now substantiated, not as a miracle, but as a well known natural phenomenon. 'Instances of undue philosophical scepticism are unfortunately common; but they are the errors, not the correct processes, of inductive inquiry.

Granting all these instances, we merely ask, What do they prove, except the real and paramount domiiiion of the rule of law and order, of universal subordination of pyhsical causes, as the sole principle and criterion of proof and evidence in the region of physical and sensible truth? and nowhere morp emphatically than in the history of marvels and prodigies do we

 

 

 

 

 

0 British Association Address, 1858.

STUDY OF THE

find a verification of the truth, 11 Opinionum comm.enta delet dies, naturm judicia confirmat."

This, in fact, is the sole real result of all the profound parallelisms and Illustrative anecdotes so confidently but unconsciously adduced by these writers with an opposite design.

What is the real conclusion from the far famed

Historic Doubts " and the 11 Chronicles of Eenarf," but simply this, , there is a rational solution, a real conformity to analogy and experience, to whatever extent a partially informed inquirer might be led to reject the recounted apparent wondera on imperfect knowledge and from too hasty inference ? These delightful parodies on Scripture (if they prove anything) would simply prove that the Bible narrative is no more properly miraculous than the marvellous exploits of Napoleon I., or the paradoxical events of recent history.

Just a similar scepticism has been evinced by nearly

all the first physiologists of the day, who have joined

in rejecting the development theories of Lamarck and

the "Vestiges;" and, while they have strenuously

maintained successive creations, have denied and

deno unced the alleged production of organic life by

Messrs: Crosse and Weekes, and stoutly maintained

the impossibility of spontaneous generation, on the

alleged ground of contradiction to experience. Yet

it is now acknowledged under the high sanction of

the name of Owen,* that 11 creation " is only another

.name for our ignorance of I t I h I e m_6__de_ q7_5ro7_u_cT1 on

<2 it has been the unanswered and unanswerable argument of another reasoner, that new species must have, originated either out of their inorganic elements,

EVIDENCES OF MISTIANITY. 15T

or out of previously organized forms ; either development or spontaneous generation must be true; while a

work has now appeared by a naturalist of the most acknowledged authority, Mr. Darwin's masterly, volume on "The Origin of Species" by the law of natural selection," which now substantiates on undeniable grounds the very principle so long denounced by the first naturalists, the origination of new species by natural causes; a work which must

soon bring about an entire revolution of opinion in favor of the grand principle

of nature.

By parity of reason, it might just as well be ob

jected to Archbishop Whately's theory of civilization, we have only for a few centuries known anything of savages: how then can we pretend to infer that they

have never civilized themselves ? never, in all that enormous length of time which modern discovery has

now indisputably assigned to the existence of the Iminan race! This theory, however, is now introditeod as a comment on Paley in support of the credibility of revelation ; and an admirable argument no doubt it is, though perhaps many would apply it in

n sense somewhat different from that of the author. 11' the use of fire, the cultivatio;1 of the soil, and the like, were divine revelations, the most obvious infer411W.0 would be, that so likewise are printing and swain. If the boomerang was divinely communicated 61 savages ignorant of its principle, then surely the disclosure.of that principle in our time by the gyroNVOI)c was equally so. But no one denies revelation Ilk this sense,: the philosophy of the age does not dis

credit the inspiration of prophets and apostles, though It way sometimes believe it in poets, legislators', phi

of the self evolving powers

 

158

STUDY OF THE

losophers, and others gifted with high genius. At all events, the' revelation of civilization does not involve the question of external miracles, which is here the sole point in dispute. The main assertion of Paley is, that it is impossible to conceive a revelation given except by means of miracles. This is his primary axiom; but this is precisely the point which the modern turn of reasoning most calls in question, and rather adopts the belief that a revelation is then most credible, when it appeals least to violations of natural causes. Thus, if miracles were, in the estimation of a former age, among the chief supports of Christianity, they are at present among the main difficulties, and hinderances to its acceptance.

One of the first inductive philosophers of the age (Professor Faraday) has incurred the unlimited displeasure of these profound intellectualists, because be has urged that the mere contracted experience of the senses is liable to deception, and that we ought to be guided in our conclusions, and, in fact, can only correct the errors of the senses, by a careful recurrence to the consideration of natural laws and extended analogies.* In opposition to this heretical proposition, they f set in array the dictum of two great authorities of the Scottish school (Drs. Abercrombie and Chalmers), that, "on a certain amount of testimony, we might believe any statement, however improbable so that, if a number of respectable witnesses were to concur in asseverating that on a certain occasion they had seen two and two make five we should be bound to believe them!

1 0 Lecture cn Mental Education, 1864.

,t See Edinburgh Papers, 11 Testimony," &c., by R. Chambers, Esq., F. R S. E., &c.

EVIDENCES OF CHRISTUNITY. 159

This, perhaps it will be said, is an extreme, case. Lot us suppose

another: if a number of verae us

fl witnesses were to allege a real instance of witcheraft at the present day, there might, no doubt, be found some infatuated, persons who would believe it; but the strongest of such assertions to any educated man would but prove, either that the witnesses were cuniiingly imposed upon, or the wizard himself deluded. If the most numerous ship's company were all to asseverate that they had seen a mermaid, would any rational persons at the present day believe them

That they saw something which they believed to be a mermaid would be easily conceded. No amount of attestation of innumerable and honest witnesses would ever convince any one, versed in mathematical and mechanical science that a person had squared the circle or discovered perpetual motion. Antecedent credibility depends on antecedent knowledge and enlarged views of the connection and dependence of truths, and the value of any testimony will be modified or destroyed in different degrees to minds differently enlightened.

Testimoiiy~ after all, is but a second hand assurance it is but a blind guide: testimony can 4ail nothing against reason. The essential question of miracles stands quite apart from any consideration of testimony: the question would remain the same, if we had the evidence of our own senses to an alleged miracle that is, to an extraordinary or inexplicable fact. It is not the mere fact, but the cause or explw nation of it, which is the point at issue.

The case~, indeed, of the antecedent argument of miracles is very clear, however little some are inclined to perceive it. In nature and from nature, by science

,*/N _,"

 

160

STUDY OF THE

and by reason, we neither have no any evidence of a

can possibly have,

Deity working

, miracles: for that we must go out of nature and beyond reason. If we could have any such evidence from nature, it could only prove extraordinary"natural effects, which would .not be miracles in the old theological sense, as isolated, unrelated, and uncaused; whereas no physical fact can be conceived as unique, or without analogy and relation to others and to the whole system of natural .causes.

. To conclude: an alleged miracle can only be regarded in one of two ways, either (15 abstractedly as a physical event, and therefore to be investigated by reason and physical evidence, and referred to physical causes, possibly to known causes ; but, at all events, to some higher cause or law, if at present unknown : it then ceases to be supernatural, yet still might be app'ealed to in support of religious truth, especially as referring to the state of knowledge and apprehensions of the parties addressed in past ages. Or (2) as connected with religious doctrine, regarded in a sacred light, asserted on the authority of inspira, tion. In this case, it ceases to be capable of investiga, tion by reasDn, or to own its dominion. It is accepted on religious grounds, and can appeal only to the principle and influence of faith.

Thus miraculous narratives become invested with the character of articles of faith, if they be accepted in a less positive and certain light, or perhaps as inTolving more or less of the parabolic or mythic character ; or, at any rate, as received in connection with and for the sake of the doctrine inculcated.

I Some of the most strenuous advocates of the Christian 11 evidences " readily avow, indeed expressly con

1~

See, e.g., Butler's AnalOgY, part il. chap. 6.

K

EVIDENCES OF CHRISTLANITY. 161

tend , that the attestation of miracles is, after all, not irresistible ; and that in the very uncertainty which confessedly remains lies the 11 trial of faith," * which it is thus implied must really rest on some other independent moral conviction.

In the popular acceptation, it is clear the Gospell

miracles are always objects, not evidences of faith ; and when they are connected specially with doctrines, as

in several of the higher mysteries of the Christian faith, the sanctity Which invests the point of faith itself is extended to the external narrativein which it

is embodied; the reverence due to, the mystery renders the external events sacred from examination,, and shields them also within the pale of the sanctuary; the miracles are merged in the doctrines with which they are connected, and associated with the declarations of spiritual things which are, as such, exempt from those criticisms to which physical statements would be necessarily amenable.

But, even in a reasoning point of view, those who

insist most on the positive, external proofs allow that

moral evidence is distinguished from demonstrative, not only in that it admits of degrees, but more espe

cially in that the same moral argument is of different force to different minds : and the advocate of Christian evidence triumphs in the deknowledgment, that the strength of Christianity lies in the variety of its evidences, suited to all varieties of apprehension; and that, amid adilic diversities of conception, those who cannot appreciate some one class of proofs will always find some other satisfactory, is itself the crowning evidence.

 

162 EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY.

With a firm belief in constant supernatural interposition, the contemporaries of the apostles were as much blinded to the reception of the gospel, as, with .an opposite persuasion, others have been at a later period. Those who had access to living divine instruction were not superior to the prepossessions and ignorance of their times. There never existed an 11 infallible age " of exemption from doubt or prejudice ; and if, to later times, records, written in the characters of a long past epoch, are left to be deciphered by the advancing light of learning and science, the spirit of faith discovers continually increasing attestation of the divine authority of the truths they include.

The 11 reason of the hope that is in us " is not restricted to external signs, nor to any one kind of evidence, but consists of such assurance as may be most satisfactory to each earnest individual inquirer's own mind: and the true acceptance of the entire revealed manifestation of Christianity will be most worthily and satisfactorily based on that assurance of 11 faith," by which, the apostle affirms, 11 we stand " (2 Cor. ii. 24) ; and which, in accordance with his emphatic declaration, must rest, 11 not in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God " (I Cor. ii. 5).

 

 

 

   

 

 


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