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EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY.
reason in the evidence adduced for the facts and doctrines he is called upon to believe. This evidence is of two kinds :-First, the historical and critical evidence on which rests the proof of the historical truth of the writings in the New Testament and the genuineness of the writings themselves. Secondly, moral evidence, on which rests the proof that those writings contain a revelation from God.
Historical and critical evidence is accessible only to the learned. To weigh it requires a habit of historical criticism, a knowledge of the ancient languages, and of the history, manners, and literature of the nations recorded in the Scriptures, attainable by few, while the researches of historians and philologists open every day a wider field of inquiry. The result of such investigations has indeed been condensed into popular works and adapted to general readers; but even these require, to be properly understood, a degree of education from which the great masses of the people must ever be debarred. Moral evidence, on the contrary, is accessible to all; and to most reflecting minds it will appear to carry with it much greater weight, and be infinitely more difficult to refute than the other. Aware of this fact, the enemies of Christianity have principally directed their attacks against the historical and critical evidences, and thereby led Christians themselves to dwell almost exclusively on the latter, to the comparative neglect of the moral proof. Historical evidence, again, is ne. cessarily weakened by the lapse of time, while the moral evidence gains from it additional force. To the immediate disciples of the Saviour, many principles which he promulgated, such, for instance, as religious tolerance and the equality of all men and races before God, must have appeared startling novelties, and been accepted only as matters of faith; to us who have seen them developed in the long course of ages, worked out by experience into the fundamental principles of modern civilization, they bring irrefragable evidence of the superhuman wisdom of Him who first declared them. Again, the accordance of the representation of the Divine character given in the Christian Scriptures, with that undoubted expression of God's will and attributes written in the laws of nature, is a moral proof of the strongest kind; but stronger still is that which appeals to the consciousness of every human being, and rests on the harmony between the wants and feelings and infirmities of our nature, and the revelation which professes to adapt itself to them. The ignorant peasant, as he hears amidst the cares and sorrows of his toilsome life the call," Come unto me, ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest," feels that the voice is of One who is touched with the feeling of his infirmitics, and he needs no
elaborate proof to convince him that the words are those of Divine love. The moral law of the Gospel bears the same incontestable evidence in its appeal to conscience, and to the practical fruits of obedience. The proof, indeed, gains an intensity in proportion to the knowledge and powers of reflection of the mind that contemplates it. For the more deeply we study human nature in the operation of our own minds and in the pages of history, the more striking will appear the adaptation of Christianity to its wants, to its position on earth, and to the laws of our being; the better shall we appreciate how Divine was the wisdom which in an age like that of Christ dictated the doctrines of the Gospel,―amidst universal corruption laid down the principles of the purest morality, -sprung from a nation of bigots, preached religious tolerance,nursed amidst the utmost rigidity of forms, declared that the Spirit alone giveth life; and through the clamour of contending sects of philosophers comprehended within its view the whole nature of man, overlooked no principle, violated no feeling, and whilst requiring that every thought be brought into obedience to Christ, made that obedience one and the same with the highest perfection of man's nature. Such proofs as these are indestructible as the law of God written in our hearts; they rest upon the testimony of reason and conscience, and against them the cavil of the critical disputant, the sneer of the scoffer, are levelled in vain.
But strikingly as these proofs appeal to the hearts and consciences of all, even the most unlearned, yet to estimate their full force, and to build upon them a consistent and comprehensive system of faith and practice, requires habits of reflection, and the close and thoughtful study of Scripture. We must have reflected on the constitution of our own minds, on the end and aim of our being, on the means required to attain them, and the obstacles which impede our progress, before we can estimate to its full extent how far Christianity is adapted to our position, supplies our wants, and, assists our efforts. Again, we must have carefully and thoughtfully studied Scripture to ascertain the principles it inculcates, and the motives to action it holds out, that we may be able to trace that accordance between the truths it reveals, and the truths already known to us by consciousness and experience, on which rests the proof of its divine origin.
It would be impossible for us within our narrow limits to attempt giving anything like a guide to the study of Scripture. We must content ourselves with a few suggestions as to the general method in which it should be conducted, and the spirit by which it should be animated, which, if they have no other utility, may serve to put our readers on their guard against
the narrow and sectarian methods too commonly pursued. The first step towards the useful study of the Bible as of any other book, is to set clearly before us the object for which we enter upon it. To take it up with a vague notion that we shall derive benefit from its perusal, or with a general intention of studying its contents, will lead to results equally vague and undetermined. Both our object and the method we mean to pursue, must be at the very outset clearly defined in our minds, in order to arrive at definite results. The two principal objects in all religious study of Scripture are-1st, to ascertain the intrinsic proofs of its authenticity as a revelation from God; 2ndly, when that authenticity is established, to ascertain what are the truths it reveals to us, which claim our belief and should regulate our practice.
The method to be pursued must, of course, differ in some respects, according as one or other of these is the immediate object of our study. One general and most important rule is, however, applicable to both cases, i.e., to seek throughout our study of Scripture for its general purport and spirit, as the only safe ground on which to rest our conclusions. "The letter killeth," said our Saviour, "but the spirit giveth life." The annals of religious controversy read us a bitter commentary on the truth of his words. It is scarcely stating the fact too broadly to say, that all the divisions by which the unity of the Church of Christ has been destroyed, and the bond of Christian brotherhood cast to the winds by the fierce hatred of theological opponents, have arisen from the subtle examination of the letter, to the neglect of the spirit of the Gospel. A very superficial glance at the history of controversy will bear out our assertion, and it is but too painfully confirmed by the sectarian disputes of the present day, which in almost every case turn upon the verbal interpretation of individual texts. Verbal criticism of this kind is very useful in throwing light upon obscure modes of expression, or in establishing by grammatical analysis the genuineness of any disputed passage; but it should never be made the ground of any important doctrine, unless we wish to expose our faith to all the chances of verbal error, which result from the very manner in which the Scriptures were written and transmitted to us.*
Another point to be remembered with regard to the New Testament is, that its authors wrote popularly, not scientifically.† They did not intend to build up a system of scientific theology,
* We refer our readers to the cautions already given in Chap. ix., on the Vagueness and Obscurity of Language.
† See Whately's Essays on some of the Difficulties in the Writings of St. Paul. Second Series. Essay iii., p. 126.
but to teach all classes of men the general relations existing between man and his Creator, and the principles and duties arising from them. In such writings it would be useless to look for the strict definition of terms, the careful use of them only in the sense included in the definition, and the logical arrangement of parts which belong to scientific works, and still more useless to interpret them by the rules of scientific analysis. We cannot give a better illustration of the danger of resting points of faith on the interpretation of particular passages, than the use the Church of Rome has made of the famous text-" Thy name is Peter, and on this rock will I build my Church." On this text Rome has again and again asserted the divine authority of the Pope as the representative of St. Peter, and Protestants, on the other hand, have expended much labour and ingenuity to prove that the grammatical construction of the sentence does not bear out her assumption. The momentous question of the spiritual freedom or servitude of the Christian world has thus been made to turn on a point of Greek grammar! Had these opponents of the Papal power turned from the letter of a single text to the spirit of the whole Gospel, they would have found in its irreconcilable opposition to the spirit of Papacy, a refutation of the Popish claims as complete and indisputable, as the verbal proof is weak and imperfect.
INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE.
The moral evidence, resting on the accordance of the general purport and spirit of the Gospel with the law written on our rational and moral nature, affords the only safe test for the interpretation of separate passages or the truth of particular doctrines. On this evidence rests, as we have already shown, the proof that a religion comes from God; it follows that if any interpretation be in contradiction with it, we must either renounce the test and with it the proof of our religion, or renounce the interpretation as an erroneous one. Thus, any interpretation of Scripture which requires our belief in propositions contrary to reason, or which impugns the justice and benevolence of God by imputing to Him the passions and the malignity which belong only to our conception of a demon, must be condemned as erroneous, since it stands in direct contradiction to the moral evidence of revelation, i.e., the acc dance of its declarations with the laws impressed on our minds, and with the attributes of the Creator as manifested in his works. We have no alternative in cases like this but to reject such doctrines as irreconcilable with our nature, or by excluding reason from the domain of religion, to sink the latter into a mere local superstition.
We must guard ourselves here against being supposed to mean -first, that we are to believe. only what we can understand; or,
INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE.
secondly, that there is nothing in Scripture but what unassisted reason might have discovered. The second of these assertions is refuted by the fact we have already stated, that there are many truths in the Gospel which only now, after a lapse of eighteen centuries, are beginning to be slowly apprehended, and practically applied to human life; and others, of a far higher order, which reason, though it might catch faint glimpses of them, could never have established as the beacon-lights of human faith and hope, without His mission, who, in revealing them, "brought life and immortality to light." Again, to say that we are to believe only what we can understand, were to substitute knowledge for faith, and to limit God's infinite truth to our finite comprehension. Such an assertion is contradicted by the experience of every hour, for of the things even that we see and handle, how many are there that we understand? We live in the midst of mysteries. Life and death,―our own minds,—our own bodies, the universe which surrounds us, the laws that govern us,- -are they not so many mysteries unfathomable as God himself? An enlightened and reasoning mind, aware of the narrow limits of our knowledge, and the infinitude of our ignorance, will be more inclined to believe than to disbelieve, and to say with Hamlet, to him who would explain all things, and reject what is inexplicable,—
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
It is the characteristic of unreasoning ignorance to be sceptical of everything which does not come within the limits of its narrow experience, as the barbarian king who refused to believe that water could be turned into solid ice, because he had never seen it. The reasoning mind demands only two conditions to its belief; first, that the fact be supported by trustworthy evidence; and, secondly, that it be not contrary to reason itself.* Such a mind may rationally believe in a well-attested miracle, because there is nothing contrary to reason in the supposition that the Author of Nature may, if he so wills it, suspend his ordinary laws, or bring into action others of which we are ignorant. But no evidence, though it were that of an angel from heaven, could make us believe that two and two make five, or that the whole is not equal to all its parts, because belief in such a proposition requires the abdication of reason, and with it all power of distinguishing between truth and falsehood. Hence it is, that the supporters of every absurd doctrine in religion, have naturally declaimed against the use of reason, and striven to debar it from *See Appendix B.