Графични страници
PDF файл

expect. But that in this there is nothing more wonderful, nothing more requiring special intervention by inspiration, or otherwise, than in the case of Plato as compared with that of Socrates, is, we think, so clear to any one who meditates on the subject with an unprejudiced mind, and who knows how the torch of science and morality, when once lit, is passed on with ever-increasing brightness from generation to generation, that the point need not be further argued here.

It was, then, in view of the discussion of these questions, carried on with more or less success in his own country, since the publication of his first great work in the year 1831, and the interest awakened in the investigation of them, not only in the minds of professed theologians, but also of educated and enlightened laymen, that Strauss was induced to write the work of which Zeller's Essay gives a masterly sketch. The interest of which we speak has been evidenced not only in Catholic France and priest-ridden Italy, but also in orthodox England, by the appearance, in the first, of Renan's book; and in the last, of various works of more or less importance in point of extent, but all by men not only of calm judgment and considerable powers of thought, and deeply impressed with the importance, nay, the solemnity of the subjects on which they were engaged. Foremost among them stands Colenso, with his profound and elaborate volumes on the Pentateuch, each succeeding volume more profound and more elaborate than the last. Many other contributors also there have been towards the enlightenment of their generation, some of whom have risked reputation, social position, nay, even maintenance itself, as, indeed, was Colenso's case, in the cause of truth and the abolition of non-essential superstitious beliefs. Under this category may be placed the well-known writers of the “ Essays and Reviews ;” R. W. Mackay, author of the “Progress of the Intellect;" W.R. Greg, whose work on the “Creed of Christendom” is hardly so well known as, from its clear and powerful writing, it deserves to be; Miss H. Martineau and others, some of whom-as Mr. Voysey, of Healaugh, have had the courage to utter, even from their pulpits, truths which it is, perhaps, safe to say, have never been propounded from pulpits before. But especially is it worth while to observe that, on what may be called the aggressive side, these questions are discussed in a very different tone from that in which they were discussed a century ago.

Of the temper in which the action of this side is met by the defence, Bishops and Convocation, and so forth, the less for their sakes that is said the better; but no one, even of them, has ever dared to say that any one of their opponents is a scoffer, or not duly impressed with the seriousness of the matter in hand. Still less, as might perhaps have been said formerly, can any one of them be taunted with leading a life other, so far as appears, than one of the strictest morality, nay even, in some cases, of true piety and holiness, or as showing a temper (would that this were true of the champions of orthodoxy) incompatible with the Christian gifts of charity and love. Nor are there any, or but very few, who have not made some sacrifice, as was said before, on behalf of the truths which they now maintain. there not, among their opponents, some who have sacrificed what they once maintained, for the sake of material advantages, rank, wealth, and dignity, which they now enjoy ? Are there none who have tampered with truths of which they are well convinced, but which they now pass over with a tender and hesitating step, who write

But are

with a reserve more befitting the office than the opinions which they hold ? To mention these by name would be ungracious, but the names will occur to those who are acquainted with the history of the theological discussions of the last thirty years—nay, perhaps, even of the last five.

Apart, however, from vapid declamation and thunderous vituperation, of which there is certainly no lack-apart from puerile condemnation affecting to be official, but fortunately, under the protection of the constitutional action of courts of appeal, as unproductive of effect as it is charged with malice and an impotent wish to inflict worldly damage on a peccant brother for a conscientious expression of firmly-rooted belief — apart, we say, from

this, there is an argument or an allegation brought forward by the champion-defenders of the faith, which it may be well to notice here. They allege, then, that those, whom more we suppose for convenience sake than with any pretension to accuracy they class under the comprehensive terms of rationalists and neologists, do not deal fairly with these subjects. They say that these enemies of the faith apply one 'rule to sacred and another to profane history, and to facts as narrated in that history.* They maintain, and fairly, if they are speaking on profane and not on sacred inspiration principles, that the truth and substance of a history are not impugned by a few discrepancies in detail, a few self-contradictions, or the omission in contemporary writers of certain facts recorded in the history under consideration. They say that the general truth of the histories of Herodotus, Thucydides

* Even the Rev. J. W. Burgon says, Inspiration and Interpretation, “We desiderate nothing so much as searching inquiry." But, if the result of “searching inquiry” is hostile, what then ?

[ocr errors]

and Livy is admitted, though there is no question that that of Herodotus contains innumerable “myths”; though Thucydides assumes as facts all the traditions of the Trojan wars, and though Niebuhr has shown, even though the existence of Romulus be admitted, how much that is mythical, poetical, and merely legendary has grown and clustered, like a parasitical plant* around his name and those of the so-called kings. No “Rationalist” has ever disputed this. But, then, he urges that the moment he begins to treat “sacred” history as if it were “profane' in accordance with the demand, his orthodox opponent immediately turns round upon him with the injunction to take his shoes from off his feet, for the place whereon he stands is holy ground. Orthodoxy is a powerful thing, but still must be bound by the rules of logic. It cannot blow hot and cold at once, nor can we do at once two opposite things. Is it fair to tell us to examine and to treat sacred and inspired history as if it were profane, and then, having done so, if we bring out unwelcome results, to tell us that those must be wrong because they jar with a theory of their own already assumed ? In point of fact what we are required to do is the very thing that Strauss has done. He has treated sacred history as profane, and has subjected the Gospel history to exactly the same tests as he would have done any other. Having done so he has found, as might have been expected from the time at which, the circumstances under which, and the people among whom the Gospels took their rise, that there is much that is perfectly incredible, but that not all is so. If the orthodox party are satisfied with this result of the adoption of the advice they give, to treat sacred history as

* See Strauss's “New Life," § 100.

if it were profane, well and good ; we shall not quarrel with them on this account.

But it is, indeed, extraordinary that the champions of plenary inspiration, of the theory of “every chapter, every verse, every word, every letter,” cannot see with how much danger to the edifice which they so tenderly support this theory is fraught. Especially is this the case in dealing with uneducated thinkers, for such there are, and those who, in spite of clerical terrors, will draw their own inferences and conclusions. It appears to have been by the unanswerable questions of these rough and ready but extremely inconvenient logicians that Bishop Colenso* was induced to investigate the legends of the Pentateuch with a view of convincing the sceptical Zulu of that which, probably, it will be found far more difficult to impress upon the orthodox Englishman, and more especially Englishwoman, that, in order to be a Christian in the most sublime and exalted sense of the term, it is not necessary to believe in absurdities and impossibilities. For Colenso saw, no doubt, that the train of reasoning which would pass through the mind of his Zulu would be something like this. “You, my teacher, tell me that

• in order to be religious I must believe the whole of what is contained in this book which you call the Bible. I have read it, but I find many things in it, told of God, whom you preach to me as All-knowing, All-merciful, All-good, and All-wise, which appear to me to be utterly at variance with this character. I read of Him as doing many things which, being as they are cruel and outrageous, you, my


* While translating the story of the Flood, I have had a simpleminded, but intelligent native--one with the docility of a child, but the reasoning powers of mature age-look up and ask, “Is all that true? Do you really believe,” etc. Pref. to Part i., p. 9.

« ПредишнаНапред »