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Title: Reason and Faith; Their Claims and Conflicts - From The Edinburgh Review, October 1849, Volume 90, No. - CLXXXII. (Pages 293-356)
Author: Rogers, Henry, 1806-1877
Language: English
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[by Henry Rogers]


OCTOBER, 1849.

[Volume 90] No. CLXXXII. [Pages 293-356]

Art.I--1. Historic Doubts relative to Napoleon Buonaparte Eighth
edition, pp. 60. 8vo. London. 2. The Nemesis of Faith. By J. A. Froude,
M. A., Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford. 12mo. London: pp. 227. 3.
Popular Christianity, its Transition State and Probable Development. By
F. J. Foxton, B. A.; formerly of Pembroke College, Oxford, and Perpetual
Curate of Stoke Prior and Docklow, Herefordshire. 12mo. London: pp. 226.

'Reason and Faith,' says one of our old divines, with the quaintness
characteristic of his day, 'resemble the two sons of the patriarch;
Reason is the firstborn, but Faith inherits the blessing. The image is
ingenious, and the antithesis striking; but nevertheless the sentiment
is far from just. It is hardly right to represent Faith as younger
than reason: the fact undoubtedly being, that human creatures trust and
believe, long before they reason or know. But the truth is, that both
reason and Faith are coeval with the nature of man, and were designed to
dwell in his heart together. In truth they are, and were, and, in such
creatures as ourselves, must be, reciprocally complementary--neither
can exclude the other. It is as impossible to exercise an acceptable
faith without reason for so exercising it,--that is, without exercising
reason while we exercise faith*,--as it is to apprehend by our reason,
exclusive of faith, all the truths on which we are daily compelled to
act, whether in relation to this world or the next. Neither is it right
to represent either of them as failing of the promised heritage,
except as both may fail alike, by perversion from their true end, and
depravation of their genuine nature; for it to the faith of which the
New Testament speaks so much, a peculiar blessing is promised, it is
evident from the same volume that it is not a 'faith without reason' any
more than a 'faith without works,' which is approved by the Author of
Christianity. And this is sufficiently proved by the injunction 'to
be ready to give a reason for the hope,'--and therefore for the
faith,--'which is in us.'


* Let it be said that we are here playing upon an ambiguity in the
word Reason;--considered in the first clause as an argument; and in the
second, as the characteristic endowment of our species. The distinction
between Reason and Reasoning (though most important) does not affect our
statement; for though Reason may be exercised where there is no giving
of reasons, there can be no giving of reasons without the exercise of


If, therefore, we were to imitate the quaintness of the old divine, on
whose dictum we have been commenting, we should rather compare Reason
and Faith to the two trusty spies, 'faithful amongst the 'faithless,'
who confirmed each other's report of 'that good land which flowed with
milk and honey,' and to both of whom the promise of a rich inheritance
there was given,--and, in due time, amply redeemed. Or, rather, if we
might be permitted to pursue the same vein a little further, and throw
over our shoulders for a moment that mantle of allegory which none but
Bunyan could wear long and successfully, we should represent Reason and
Faith as twin-born beings,--the one, in form and features the image of
manly beauty,--the other, of feminine grace and gentleness; but to each
of whom, alas! was allotted a sad privation. While the bright eyes of
Reason are full of piercing and restless intelligence, his ear is closed
to sound; and while Faith has an ear of exquisite delicacy, on her
sightless orbs, as she lifts them towards heaven, the sunbeam plays in
vain. Hand in hand the brother and sister, in all mutual love, pursue
their way, through a world on which, like ours, day breaks and night
falls alternate; by day the eyes of Reason are the guide of Faith, and
by night the ear of Faith is the guide of Reason. As is wont with those
who labour under these privations respectively Reason is apt to be
eager, impetuous, impatient of that instruction which his infirmity will
not permit him readily to apprehend; while Faith, gentle and docile, is
ever willing to listen to the voice by which alone truth and wisdom can
effectually reach her.

It has been shown by Butler in the fourth and fifth chapters (Part I.)
of his great work, that the entire constitution and condition of man,
viewed in relation to the present world alone, and consequently all the
analogies derived from that fact in relation to a future world, suggest
the conclusion that we are here the subjects of a probation discipline,
or in a course of education for another state of existence. But it
has not, perhaps, been sufficiently insisted on, that if in the actual
course of that education, of which enlightened obedience to the 'law
of virtue,' as Butler expresses it, or, which is the same thing, to the
dictates of supreme wisdom and goodness, is the great end, we give an
unchecked ascendency to either Reason or Faith, we vitiate the whole
process. The chief instrument by which that process is carried on is
not Reason alone, or Faith alone, but their well-balanced and reciprocal
interaction. It is a system of alternate checks and limitations, in
which Reason does not supersede Faith, nor Faith encroach on Reason. But
our meaning will be more evident when we have made one or two remarks
on what are conceived to be their respective provinces. In the domain
of Reason men generally include, 1st, what are called 'intuitions,'
2d, 'necessary deductions' from them; and 3d, deductions from their own
direct 'experience; while in the domain of Faith are ranked all truths
and propositions which are received, not without reasons indeed, but
for reasons underived from the intrinsic evidence (whether intuitive or
deductive, or from our own experience) of propositions themselves;--for
reasons (such as credible testimony, for example,) extrinsic to the
proper meaning and significance of such propositions: although such
reasons, by accumulation and convergency, may be capable of subduing
the force of any difficulties or improbabilities, which cannot be
demonstrated to involve absolute contradictions.*


* Of the first kind of truths, or those received by intuition, we have
examples in what are called 'self-evident axioms,' and 'fundamental
laws' or 'conditions of thought,' which no wise man has ever attempted
to prove. Of the second, we have examples in the whole fabric of
mathematical science, reared from its basis of axioms and definitions,
as well as in every other necessary deduction from admitted premises.
The third virtually includes any conclusion in science based on direct
experiment, or observation; though the belief of the truth even of
Newton's system of the world, when received as Locke says he received
and as the generality of men receive it,--without being able to follow
the steps by which the great geometer proves his conclusions,--may be
represented rather as an act of faith rather than an act of Reason;
as much so as a belief in the truth of Christianity, founded on its
historic and other evidences. The greater part of man's knowledge,
indeed, even of science,--even the greater part of a scientific man's
knowledge of science, based as it is on testimony alone (and which
so often compels him to renounce to-day what he thought certain
yesterday),--may be not unjustly considered as more allied to Faith than
Reason. It may be said, perhaps, that the above classification of the
truths received by Reason and Faith respectively is arbitrary; that
even as to some of their alleged sources, they are not always clearly
distinguishable; that the evidence of experience may in some sort
be reduced to testimony,--that of sense, and testimony reduced to
experience,--that of human veracity under given circumstances; both
being founded upon the observed uniformity of certain phenomena under
similar conditions. We admit the truth of this; and we admit it the more
willingly, as it shows that so inextricably intertwined are the roots
both of Reason and Faith in our nature, that no definitions that can be
framed will completely separate them; none that will not involve many
phenomena which may be said to fall under the dominion of one as much as
the other. We have been content, for our practical purpose, without
any too subtle refinement, to take the line of demarcation which is,
perhaps, as obvious as any, and as generally recognised. Few would say
that a generalised inference from direct experience was not matter of
reason rather than of faith; though an act of faith is involved in
the process; and few would not call confidence in testimony where
probabilities were nearly balanced, by the name of faith rather than
reason, though an act of reason is involved in that process. We are much
more anxious to show their general involution with one another than the
points of discrimination between them.

In receiving important doctrines on the strength of such evidence, and
in holding to them against the perplexities they involve, or, what is
harder still, against the prejudices they oppose, every exercise of
an intelligent faith will, on analysis, be found to consist; its only
necessary limit will be proven contradictions in the propositions
submitted to it; for, then, no evidence can justify belief, or even
render it possible. But no other difficulties, however, great, will
justify unbelief, where man has all that he can justly demand,--evidence
such in its nature as he can deal with, and on which he is accustomed
to act in his most important affairs in this world (thus admitting
its validity), and such in amount as to render it more likely that the
doctrines it substantiates are true, than, from mere ignorance of the
mode in which these difficulties can be solved, he can infer them to be
false. 'Probabilities,' says Bishop Bulter, 'are to us the very guide
to life; and when the probabilities arise out of evidence which we
are competent to pronounce, and the improbabilities merely from our
surmises, where we have no evidence to deal with, and perhaps, from the
limitation of our capacities, could not deal with it, if we had it, it
is not difficult to see what course practical wisdom tells man he ought
to pursue; and which he always does pursue, whatever difficulties beset
him,--in all cases except one!

Such is the strict union--that mutual dependence of Reason and
Faith--which would seem to be the great law under which the moral school
in which we are being educated is conducted. This law is equally, or
almost equally, its characteristic, Whether we regard man simply in
his present condition, or in his present in relation to his future
condition,--as an inhabitant only of this world, or a candidate for
another; and to this law, by a series of analogies as striking as any
of those which Butler has pointed out (and on which we heartily wish his
comprehensive genius had expended a chapter or two), Christianity,
in the demands it makes on both principles conjointly, is evidently

Men often speak, indeed, as if the exercise of faith was excluded from
their condition as inhabitants of the present world. But it requires
but a very slight consideration to show that the boasted prerogative of
reason is here also that of a limited monarch; and that its attempts to
make itself absolute can only end in its own dethronement, and, after
successive revolutions, in all the anarchy of absolute pyrrhonism.

For in the intellectual and moral education of man, considered merely
as a citizen of the present world, we see the constant and inseparable
union of the two principles, and provision made for their perpetual
exercise. He cannot advance a step, indeed without both. We see faith
demanded not only amidst the dependence and ignorance in which childhood
and youth are passed; not only in the whole process by which we acquire
the imperfect knowledge which is to fit us for being men; but to
the very last we may be truly said to believe far more than we know.
'Indeed,' said Butler, 'the unsatisfactory nature of the evidence with
which we are obliged to take up in the daily course of life, is scarce
to be expected.' Nay, in an intelligible sense, even the 'primary
truths,' or 'first principles,' or 'fundamental laws of thought,' or
'self-evident maxims,' or 'intuitions,' or by whatever other names
philosophers have been pleased to designate them, which, in a special
sense, are the very province of reason, as contra-distinguished from
'reasoning' or logical deduction, may be said almost as truly to depend
on faith as on reason for their reception.* For the only ground for
believing them true is that man cannot help so believing them! The same
may be said of that great fact, without which the whole world would
be at a stand-still--a belief in the uniformity of the phenomena of
external nature; that the same sun, for example, which rose yesterday
and to-day, will rise again tomorrow. That this cannot be demonstrated,
is admitted on all hands; and that it is not absolutely proved from
experience is evident, both from the fact that the uniformity supposed
is only accepted as partially and transiently true; the great bulk
of mankind, even while they so confidently act upon that uniformity,
rejecting the idea of its being an eternal uniformity. Every theist
believes that the order of the universe once began to be; and every
Christian and most other men, believe that it will also one day cease to


* Common language seems to indicate this: Since we call that disposition
of mind which leads some men to deny the above fundamental truths (or
affect to deny them), not by a word which indicates the opposite of
reason, but the opposite of faith,--Scepticism, Unbelief, Incredulity.

But perhaps the most striking example of the helplessness to which man
is soon reduced if he relies upon his reason alone, is The spectacle
of the issue of his investigations into that which one would imagine he
must know most intimately, if he knows anything; and that is, his own
nature--his own mind. There is something, to one who reflects long
enough upon it, inexpressibly whimsical in the questions which the mind
is for ever putting to itself respecting itself; and to which the said
mind returns from its dark caverns only an echo. We are apt, when we
speculate about the mind, to forget for the moment, that it is at once
the querist and the oracle: and to regard it as something out of itself,
like a mineral in the hands of the analytic chemist. We cannot fully
enter into the absurdities of its condition, except by remembering that
it is our own wise selves who so grotesquely bewilder us. The mind, on
such occasions, takes itself (if we may so speak) into its own hands,
turns itself about itself, listens to the echo of its own voice, and
is obliged, after all, to lay itself down again with a very puzzled
expression--and acknowledge that of its very self, itself knows little
or nothing! 'I am material,' exclaims one of those whimsical beings,
to whom the heaven-descended 'Know thyself' would seem to have been
ironically addressed. 'No!--immaterial,' says another. 'I am both
material and immaterial,' exclaims, perhaps, the very same mind at
different times. 'Thought itself may be matter modified,' says one.
'Rather,' says another of the same perplexed species, 'matter is
thought modified; for what you call matter is but a phenomenon.' But are
independent and totally distinct substances, mysteriously, inexplicably
conjoined,' says a third. 'How they are conjoined we know no more than
the dead. Not so much, perhaps.' 'Do I ever cease to think,' says the
mind to itself, 'even in sleep? Is not my essence thought?' 'You
ought to know your own essence best,' all creation will reply. 'I am
confident,' says one, 'that I never do cease to think,--not even in the
soundest sleep.' 'You do, for a long time, every night of your life,'
exclaims another, equally confident and equally ignorant. 'Where do I
exist?' it goes on. 'Am I in the brain? Am I in the whole body? 'Am I
anywhere? Am I nowhere?' 'I cannot have any local existence, for I know
I am immaterial,' says one. 'I have a local existence, because I am
material,' says another. 'I have a local existence, though I am not
material,' says a third. 'Are my habitual actions voluntary,' it
exclaims, 'however rapid they become; though I am unconscious of these
volitions when they have attained a certain rapidity; or do I become a
mere automaton as respects such actions? and therefore an automaton nine
times out of ten, when I act at all?' To this query two opposite answers
are given by different minds; and by others, perhaps wiser, none at all;
while, often, opposite answers are given by the same mind at different
times. In like manner has every action, every operation, every emotion
of the mind been made the subject of endless doubt and disputation.
Surely if, as Soame Jenyns imagined, the infirmities of man, and even
graver evils, were permitted in order to afford amusement to superior
intelligences, and make the angels laugh, few things could afford them
better sport than the perplexities of this child of clay engaged in the
study of himself. 'Alas,' exclaims at last the baffled spirit of this
babe in intellect, as he surveys his shattered toys--his broken theories
of metaphysics, 'I know that I am; but what I am--where I am--even how
I act--not only what is my essence, but what even my mode of
operation,--of all this I know nothing; and, boast of reason as I may,
all that I think on these points is matter of opinion--or is matter
of faith!' He resembles, in fact, nothing so much as a kitten first
introduced to its own image in a mirror: she runs to the back of it,
she leaps over it, she turns and twists, and jumps and frisks, in all
directions, in the vain attempt to reach the fair illusion; and, at
length, turns away in weariness from that incomprehensible enigma--the
image of herself.

One would imagine--perhaps not untruly--that the Divine Creator had
subjected us to these difficulties--and especially that incomprehensible
trilemma,--that there is an union and interaction of two totally
distinct substances, or that matter is but thought, or that thought is
but matter,--one of which must be true, and all of which approach as
near to the mutual contradictions as can well be conceived,--for the
very purpose of rebuking the presumption of man, and of teaching him
humility; that He had left these obscurities at the very threshold--nay,
within the very mansion of the mind itself,--for the express purpose of
deterring man from playing the dogmatising fool when he looked abroad.
Yet, in spite of his raggedness and poverty at home, no sooner does man
look out of his dusky dwelling, than, like Goldsmith's little Beau,
who, in his garret up five pair of stairs, boasts of his friendship with
lords, he is apt to assume airs of magnificence, and, glancing at
the infinite through his little eye-glass, to affect an intimate
acquaintance with the most respectable secrets of the universe!

It is undeniable, then, that the perplexities which uniformly puzzle
man in the physical world, and even in the little world of his own mind,
when he passes a certain limit, are just as unmanageable as those found
in the moral constitution and government of the universe, or in the
disclosures of the volume Revelation. In both we find abundance of
inexplicable difficulties sometimes arising from our absolute
ignorance, and perhaps quite as often from our partial knowledge. These
difficulties are probably left on the pages of both volumes for some of
the same reasons; many of them, it may be, because even the commentary
of the Creator himself could not render them plain to finite
understanding, though a necessary and salutary exercise of our humility
may be involved in their reception; others, if not purely (which seems
not probable) yet partly for the sake of exercising and training that
humility, as an essential part of the education of a child; others,
surmountable, indeed, in the progress of knowledge and by prolonged
effort of the human intellect, may be designed to stimulate that
intellect to strenuous action and healthy effort--as well as to supply,
in their solution, as time rolls on, an ever-accumulating mass of proofs
of the profundity of the wisdom which has so far anticipated all the
wisdom of man; and of the divine origin of both the great books which
he is privileged to study as a pupil, and even to illustrate as a
commentator,--but the text of which he cannot alter.

But, for submitting to us many profound and insoluble problems, the
second of the above reasons--the training of the intellect and heart of
man to submission to the Supreme Intelligence alone be sufficient.
For it; as is indicated by every thing in human nature, and by the
representations of Scripture, which are in analogy with both, the
present world is but the school of man in this the childhood of his
being, to prepare him for the enjoyment of an immortal manhood in
another, everything might be expected to be subordinated to this
great end; and as the end of that education, can be no other than an
enlightened obedience to God, the harmonious and concurrent exercise
of reason and faith becomes absolutely necessary--not of reason to the
exclusion of faith, for otherwise there would be no adequate test of
man's docility and submission; nor of a faith that would assert itself,
not only independent of reason, but in contradiction to it,--which
would not be what God requires, and what alone can quadrate with that
intelligent nature He has impressed on His offspring--a reasonable
obedience. Implicit obedience, then, to the dictates of an all-perfect
wisdom, exercised amidst many difficulties and perplexities, as so many
tests of sincerity, and yet sustained by evidences which justify the
conclusions which involve them, would seem to be the great object of
man's moral education here; and to justify both the partial evidence
addressed to his reason, and the abundant difficulties which it leaves
to his faith. 'The evidence of religion,' says Butler, 'is fully
sufficient for all the purposes of probation, how far soever it is from
being satisfactory as to the purposes of curiosity, or any other: and,
indeed, it answers the purposes of the former in several respects which
it would not do if it were as over-bearing as is required.'* Or as
Pascal beautifully puts it:--'There is light enough for those whose
sincere wish is to see,--and darkness enough to confound those of an
opposite disposition.'+


* Analogy, part 2. chap. viii. + Pensees. Faugere's edition, tom. ii. p.
151. The views here developed will be found an expansion of some brief
hints at the close of the article on Pascal's 'Life and Genius' (Ed.
Review, Jan. 1847), though our space then prevented us from more than
touching these topics. We may add that we gladly take this opportunity
of pointing the attention of our readers to a tract of Archbishop
Whately's, entitled 'The example of children as proposed to Christians,'
which his Grace, having been struck with a coincidence between some of
the thoughts in the tract and those expressed in the 'Review,' did us
the favour to transmit to us. Had we seen the tract before, we should
have been glad to illustrate and confirm our own views by those of this
highly gifted prelate. We earnestly recommend the tract in question
(as well as the whole of the remarkable volume in which it is now
incorporated, 'Essays on some of the Peculiarities of the Christian
Religion') to the perusal of our readers, and at the same time venture
to express our conviction (having been led by the circumstances above
mentioned to a fuller acquaintance with his Grace's theological writings
than we had previously possessed) that, though this lucid and eloquent
writer may, for obvious reasons, be most widely known by his 'Logic and
'Rhetoric,' the time will come when his Theological works will be,
if not more widely read, still more highly prized. To great powers of
argument and illustration, and delightful transparency of diction and
style, he adds a higher quality still--and a very rare quality it is--an
evident and intense honesty of purpose, an absorbing desire to arrive at
the exact truth, and to state it with perfect fairness and with the
just limitations. Without pretending to agree with all that Archbishop
Whately has written on the subject of theology (though be carries
his readers with him as frequently as any writer with whom we are
acquainted) we may remark that in relation to that whole class of
subjects, to which the present essay has reference, we know of no
writer of the present day whose contributions are more numerous or more
valuable. The highly ingenious ironical brochure, entitled 'Historic
Doubts relative to Napoleon Buonaparte;' the Essays above mentioned, 'On
some of the Peculiarities of the Christian Religion;' those 'On some of
the Dangers to Christian Faith,' and on the 'Errors of Romanism;' the
work on the 'Kingdom of Christ,' not to mention others, are well worthy
of universal perusal. They abound in views both original and just,
stated with all the author's aptness of illustration and transparency of
language. We may remark, too, that in many of his occasional sermons,
he has incidentally added many most beautiful fragments to that ever
accumulating mass of internal evidence which the Scriptures themselves
supply in their very structure, and which is evolved by diligent
investigation of the relation and coherence of one part of them with
another. We are also rejoiced to see that a small and unpretending, but
very powerful, little tract, by the same writer, entitled 'Introductory
Lessons on Christian Evidences.' has passed through many editions, has
been translated into most of the European languages, and, amongst
the rest, very recently into German, with an appropriate preface,
by professor Abeltzhauser, of the University of Dublin. It shows
to demonstration that as much of the evidence of Christianity as is
necessary for conviction may be made perfectly clear to the meanest
capacity' and that, in spite of the assertions of Rome and of Oxford to
the contrary, the apostolic injunction to every Christian to be ready
to render a reason 'for the hope that is in him,'--somewhat better than
that no reason of the Hindoo or the Hottentot, that he believes what he
is told, without any reason except that he is told it,--is an injunction
possible to obey.

As He 'who spake as never man spake' is pleased often to illustrate
the conduct of the Father of Spirits to his intelligent offspring by
a reference to the conduct which flows from the relations of the
human parent to his children, so the present subject admits of similar
illustration. What God does with us in that process of moral education
to which we have just adverted, is exactly what every wise parent
endeavours to do with his children,--though by methods, as we may
well judge, proportionably less perfect. Man too instinctively, or by
reflection, adapts himself to the nature of his children; and seeing
that only so far as it is justly trained can they be happy, makes the
harmonious and concurrent development of their reason and their faith
his object; he too endeavours to teach them that without which they
cannot be happy,--obedience, but a reasonable obedience He gives them,
in his general procedure and conduct, sufficient proof of his superior
knowledge, superior wisdom, and unchanging love; and secure in the
general effect of this, he leaves them to receive by faith many things
which he cannot explain to them if he would, till they get older; many
things which he can only partially explain; and others which he might
more perfectly explain, but will not, partly as a test of their docility
and partly to invite and necessitate the healthy and energetic exercise
of their reason in finding out the explanation for themselves. Confiding
in the same general effect of his procedure and conduct, he does not
hesitate, when the foresight of their ultimate welfare justifies it, to
draw still more largely on their faith, in acts of apparent harshness
and severity. Time, he knows, will show, though perhaps not till his
yearning heart has ceased to beat for their welfare, that all that all
he did, he did in love. He knows, too, that if his lessons are taken
aright, and his children become the good and happy men he wishes them to
be, they will say, as they visit his sepulchre, and recall with sorrow
the once unappreciated love which animated him,--and perhaps with a
sorrow, deeper still, remember the transient resentments caused by a
solitary severity: 'He was indeed a friend; he corrected us not for his
pleasure, but for our profit; and what we once thought was caprice or
passion, we now know was love.'

These analogies afford a true, though most imperfect, representation of
the moral discipline to which Supreme Wisdom is subjecting us; and as we
are accustomed to despair of any child with whom parental experience and
authority go for nothing, unless he can fully understand the intrinsic
reasons for every special act of duty which that experience and
authority dictate; as we are sure that he who has not learned to obey
when young will never, when of age, know how to govern either himself
or others: so a singular conduct in all the children of dust towards the
Father of Spirits justifies a still more gloomy augury; inasmuch as the
difference between the knowledge of man and the ignorance of a child,
absolutely vanishes, in comparison with that interval which must ever
subsist between the knowledge of the Eternal and the ignorance of man.

The remarks that have been made are not uncalled for in the present day.
For unfortunately, it is now easy to detect in many classes of minds
a tendency to divorce Reason from Faith, or Faith from reason; and to
proclaim that 'what God hath joined together' shall henceforth exist in
alienation. We see this tendency manifested in relation both to Natural
Theology, and to Revealed Religion. The old conflict between the claims
of these two guiding principles of man (in no age wholly suppressed)
is visibly renewed in our day. In relation to Christianity especially,
there are large classes amongst us who press the claims of faith so far,
that it would become, if they had their will, an utterly unreasonable
faith; some of whom do not scruple to speak slightingly of the evidences
which substantiate Christianity; to decry and depreciate the study of
them; to pronounce that study unnecessary; and even in many cases
to insinuate their insufficiency. They are loud in the mean time in
extolling a faith which, as Whately truly observes, is no whit better
than the faith of a heathen; who has no other or better reason to offer
for his religion than that his father told him it was true! But
this plainly is not the intelligent faith which, as we have seen, is
everywhere inculcated and applauded in the Scriptures; it is not 'that
faith by which Christianity, appealing In the midst of a multitude of
such traditional religions, to palpable evidence addressed to man's
senses and understandings (in a way no other religion ever did)
everywhere destroyed the systems for which their votaries could only say
that their fathers told them they were true. And yet this blind belief
in such tradition, many advocates of Christianity would now enjoin us to
imitate! It might have occurred to them, one would think, that, on their
principles, Christianity never could have succeeded; for every mind must
have been hopelessly pre-occupied against all examination of its claims.
It is, indeed, incomparably better that a man should be a sincere
Christian even by an utterly unreasoning and passive faith (if that be
possible), than no Christian at all; but at the best, such a man is a
possessor of the truth only by accident: he ought to have, and, if he
be a sincere disciple of truth, will seek, some more solid grounds for
holding it. But it is but too obvious, we fear, that the disposition to
enjoin this obsequious mood of mind is prompted by a strong desire
to revive the ancient empire of priestcraft and the pretensions of
ecclesiastical despotism; to secure readmission to the human mind of
extravagant and preposterous claims, which their advocates are sadly
conscious rest on no solid foundation. They feel that reason is not with
them, it must be against them: and reason therefore they are determined
to exclude.

But the experience of the present 'developments' of Oxford teaching
may serve to show us how infinitely perilous is this course; and how
fearfully, both outraged reason and outraged faith will avenge the
wrongs done them by their alienation and disjunction. Those results,
indeed, we predicted in 1843; before a single leader of the Oxford
school had gone over to Rome, and before any tendencies to the opposite
extreme of Scepticism had manifested themselves. We then affirmed that,
on the one hand, those who were contending for the corruptions of
the fourth century could not possibly find footing there, but must
inevitably seek their ultimate resting place in Rome--a prediction which
has been too amply fulfilled; and that, on the other, the extravagant
pretensions put forth on behalf of an uninquiring faith, and the
desperate assertion that the 'evidence for Christianity' was no stronger
than that for 'Church Principles,' must, by reaction, lead on to an
outbreak of infidelity. That prophecy, too, has been to the letter
accomplished. We then said,--

"We have seen it recently asserted by some of the Oxford school that
there is as much reason for rejecting the most essential doctrines of
Christianity--nay Christianity itself--as for rejecting their "church
principles." That, in short, we have as much reason for being infidels
as for rejecting the doctrine of Apostolical succession! What other
effect such reasoning can have than that of compelling men to believe
that there is nothing between infidelity and popery, and of urging them
to make a selection between the two, we know not .... Indeed, we fully
expect that, as a reaction of the present extravagancies, of the revival
of obsolete superstition, we shall have ere long to fight over again the
battle with a modified form of infidelity, as now with a modified form
of popery. Thus, probably, for some time to come, will the human
mind continue to oscillate between the extremes of error; but with a
diminished are at each vibration; until truth shall at last prevail, and
compel it to repose in the centre."*


* Oxford Tract School, Ed. Rev., April, 1843. ____

The offensive displays of self-sufficiency and flippancy, of ignorance
and presumption, found in the productions of the apostles of the
new infidelity of Oxford, (of which we shall have a few words to say
by-and-by) are the natural and instructive, though most painful, result
of attempting to give predominance to one principle of our nature, where
two or more are designed reciprocally to guard and check each other; and
such results must ever follow such attempts. The excellence of man--so
complexly constituted is his nature--must consist in the harmonious
action and proper balance of all the constituents of that nature; the
equilibrium he sighs for must be the result of the combined action of
forces operating in different directions; of his reason, his faith, his
appetites, his affections, his emotions; when these operate each in
due proportion, then, and then only, can he be at rest. It may, indeed,
transcend any calculus of man to estimate exactly the several elements
in this complicated polygon of forces; but we are at least sure that,
if any one principle be so developed as to supersede another, no safe
equipoise will be attained. We all know familiarly enough that this is
the case when the affections or the appetites are more powerful than the
reason and the conscience, instead of being in subjection to them: but
it is not less the case, though the result is not so palpable, when
reason and faith either exclude one another, or trench on each other's
domain; when one is pampered and the other starved.* Hence the perils
attendant upon their attempted separation, and the ruin which results
from their actual alienation and hostility. There is no depth of
dreary superstition into which men may not sink in the one case, and no
extravagance of ignorant presumption to which they may not soar in the
other. It is only by the mutual and alternate action of these different
forces that man can safely navigate his little bark through the narrow
straits and by the dangerous rocks which impede his course; and if Faith
spread not the sail to the breeze, or if Reason desert the helm, we are
in equal peril.

* It has been our lot to meet with disciples of the Oxford Tract School,
who have, by a fatal indulgence of an appetite of belief; brought
themselves to believe any mediaeval miracle, nay, any ghost story,
without examination, saying, with a solemn face, 'It is better to
believe that to reason.' They believe as they will to believe; and thus
is reason avenged. Reason, similarly indulged, believes, with Mr. Foxton
and Mr. Froude, that a miracle is even an impossibility; and this is the
'Nemesis' of faith.

If it be said that this is a disconsolate and dreary doctrine; that man
seeks and needs a simpler navigation than this troublesome and intricate
course, by star and chart, compass and lead line; and that this
responsibility, of ever

'Sounding on his dim and perilous way,'

is too grave for so feeble a nature; we answer that such is his actual
condition. This is a plain matter of fact which cannot be denied. The
various principles of his constitution, and his position in relation to
the external world, obviously and absolutely subject him to this very
responsibility throughout his whole course in this life. It is never
remitted or abated: resolves are necessitated upon imperfect evidence;
and action imperatively demanded amidst doubts and difficulties in which
reason is not satisfied, and faith is required. To argue therefore,
that God cannot have left man to such uncertainty, is to argue, as the
pertinacious lawyer did, who, on seeing a man in the stocks, asked him
what he was there for; and on being told, said, 'They cannot put you
there for that.' 'But I am here,' was the laconic answer.

The analogy, then, of man's whole condition in this life might lead us
to expect the same system of procedure throughout; that the evidence
which substantiates religious truth, and claims religious action, would
involve this responsibility as well as that which substantiates other
kinds of truth, and demands other kinds of action. And after all, what
else, in either case, could answer the purpose, if (as already said)
this world be the school of training of man's moral nature? How else
could the discipline of his faculties, the exercise of patience,
humility, and fortitude, be secured? How, except amidst a state of
things less than certainty--whether under the form of that passive faith
which mimics the possession of absolute certainty, or absolute certainty
itself--could man's nature be trained to combined self-reliance and
self-distrust, circumspection and resolution, and, above all, to
confidence in God? Man cannot be nursed and dandled into the manhood of
his nature, by that unthinking faith which leaves no doubts to be felt,
and no objections to be weighed; Nor can his docility ever be tested,
if he is never called upon to believe any thing which it would not be
an absurdity and contradiction to deny. This species of responsibility,
then, not only cannot be dispensed with, but is absolutely necessary;
and, consequently, however desirable it may appear that we should
have furnished to us that short path to certainty which a pretended
infallibility* promises to man, or that equally short path which leads
to the same termination, by telling us that we are to believe nothing
which we cannot demonstrate to be true, or which, a priori, we may
presume to be false, must be a path which leads astray. In the one
case, how can the 'reasonable service' which Scripture demands--the
enlightened love and conscientious investigation of truth--its
reception, not without doubts, but against doubts--how could all this
co-exist with a faith which presents the whole sum of religion in
the formulary, 'I am to believe without a doubt, and perform without
hesitation. whatever my guide, Parson A. tells me?' Not that, even in
that case (as has often been shown), the man would be relieved form the
necessity of absolutely depending on the dreaded exercise of his private
judgment; for he must at least have exercised it once for all (unless
each man is to remit his religion wholly to the accident of his birth),
and that on two of the most arduous of all questions: first, which of
several churches, pretending to infallibility, is truly infallible? And
next, whether the man may infallibly regard his worthy Parson A. as
an infallible expounder of the infallibility. But, supposing this
stupendous difficulty surmounted, though then, it is true, all may seem
genuine faith, in reality there is none: where absolute infallibility
is supposed to have been attained (even though erroneously), faith, in
strict propriety--certainly that faith which is alone of any value as an
instrument of man's moral training--which recognises and intelligently
struggles with objections and difficulties--is impossible. Men may be
said, in such case, to know, but can hardly be said to believe. Before
Columbus had seen America, he believed in its existence; but when he
had seen it, his faith became knowledge. Equally impossible, and for the
same reason, is any place for faith on the opposite hypothesis; for if
man is to believe nothing but what his reason can comprehend, and to act
only upon evidence which amounts to certainly, the same paradox is true;
for when there is no reason to doubt, there can be none to believe.
Faith ever stands between conflicting probabilities; but her position
is (if we may use the metaphor) the centre of gravity between them, and
will be proportionally nearer the greater mass.

* See Archbishop Whately's admirable discourse, entitled 'The Search
after Infallibility, considered in reference to the Danger of Religious
Errors arising within the Church, in the primitive as well as in all
later Ages.' He here makes excellent use of the fruitful principle of
Butler's great work, by showing that, however desirable, a priori, an
infallible guide would seem to fallible man, God in fact has every where
denied it; and that, in denying it in relation to religion, he has acted
only as he always acts.

In the mean time, that arduous responsibility which attaches to man, and
which is obviated neither by an implicit faith in a human infallibility,
nor an exclusive reference of that faith to cases in which reason is
synonymous with demonstration, that is, to cases which leave no room
for it, is at once relieved, and effectually relieved, by the maxim--the
key-stone of all ethical truth--that only voluntary error condemns
us;--that all we are really responsible for, is a faithful, honest,
patient, investigation and weighing of evidence, as far as our abilities
and opportunities admit, and a conscientious pursuit of what we
honestly deem truth, wherever it may lead us. We concede that a really
dispassionate and patient conduct in this respect is what man is too
ready to assume he has practised,--and this fallacy cannot be too
sedulously guarded against. But that guilty liability to selfdeception,
does not militate against the truth of the representation now made. It
is his duty to see that he does not abuse the maxim,--that he does not
rashly acquiesce in any conclusion that he wishes to be true, or which
he is too lazy to examine. If all possible diligence and honesty have
been exerted in the search, the statement of Chillingworth, bold as
it is, we should not hesitate to adopt, in all the rigour of his own
language. It is to the effect, that if 'in him alone there were a
confluence of all the errors which have befallen the sincere professors
of Christianity, he should not be so much afraid of them, as to ask
God's pardon for them;' absolutely involuntary error being justly
regarded by him as blameless.

On the other hand, we firmly believe, from the natural relations of
truth with the constitution of the mind of man, that, with the exception
of a very few cases of obliquity of intellect, which may safely be left
to the merciful interpretations and apologies of Him who created such
intellects, those who thus honestly and industriously 'seek' shall
'find;'--not all truth, indeed, but enough to secure their safety; and
that whatever remaining errors may infest and disfigure the truth they
have attained, they shall not be imputed to them for sin. According to
the image which apostolic eloquence has employed, the Baser materials
which unavoidable haste, prejudice, and ignorance may have incorporated
with the gold of the edifice, will be consumed by the fire which 'will
try every man's work of what sort it is,' but he himself will be saved
amidst those purifying flames. Like the bark which contained the Apostle
and the fortunes of the Gospel, the frail vessel may go to pieces on
the rocks, 'but by boat or plank' the voyager himself shall 'get safe to

It is amply sufficient, then, to lighten our responsibility, that we are
answerable only for our honest endeavours to discover and to practise
the truth; and, in fact, the responsibility is principally felt to be
irksome, and man is so prompt by devices of his own, to release himself
from it, not on account of any intrinsic difficulty which remains after
the above limitations are admitted, but because he wishes to be exempt
from that very necessity of patient and honest investigation. It is not
so much the difficulty of finding, as the trouble of seeking the truth,
from which he shrinks; a necessity, however, from which, as it is an
essential instrument of his moral education and discipline, he can never
be released.

If the previous representations be true, the conditions of that
intelligent faith which God requires from his intelligent offspring,
may be fairly inferred to be such as we have already stated;--that the
evidence for the truths we are to believe shall be, first, such as our
faculties are competent to appreciate, and against which, therefore, the
mere negative argument arising from our ignorance of the true solution
of such difficulties, as are, perhaps, insoluble because we are finite,
can be no reply; and, secondly, such an amount of this evidence as shall
fairly overbalance all the objections which we can appreciate. This is
the condition to which God has obviously subjected us as inhabitants of
this world; and it is on such evidence we are here perpetually acting.
We now believe a thousand things we cannot fully comprehend. We may not
see the intrinsic evidence of their truth, but their extrinsic evidence
is sufficient to induce us unhesitatingly to believe, and to act
upon them. When that evidence is sufficient in amount, we allow it to
overbear all the individual difficulties and perplexities which
hang round the truths to which it is applied, unless, indeed, such
difficulties can be proved to involve absolute contradictions; for
these, of course, no evidence can substantiate. For example, in a
thousand cases, a certain combination of merely circumstantial evidence
in favour of a certain judicial decision, is familiarly allowed
to vanquish all apparent discrepancy on particular and subordinate
points;--the want of concurrence in the evidence of the witnesses on
such points shall not cause a shadow of a doubt as to the conclusion.
For we feel that it is far more improbable that the conclusion should be
untrue, than that the difficulty we cannot solve is truly incapable of
a solution; and when the evidence reaches this point the objection no
longer troubles us.

It is the same with historic investigations. There are ten thousand
facts in history which no one doubts, though the narrators of them may
materially vary in their version, and though some of the circumstances
alleged may be in appearance inexplicable, but the last thing a
man would think of doing, in such cases, would be to neglect the
preponderant evidence on account of the residuum of insoluble
objections. He does not, in short, allow his ignorance to control his
knowledge, nor the evidence which he has not got to destroy what he has;
and the less so, that experience has taught him that in many cases such
apparent difficulties have been cleared up, in the course of time,
and by the progress of knowledge, and proved to be contradictions in
appearance only.

It is the same with the conclusions of natural philosophy, when well
proved by experiment, however unaccountable for awhile may be the
discrepancy with apparently opposing phenomena. No one disbelieves the
Copernican theory now; though thousands did for awhile, on what they
believed the irrefragable evidence of their senses. Now, let us only
suppose the Copernican theory not to have been discovered by human
reason, but made known by revelation, and its reception enjoined on
faith, leaving the apparent inconsistency with the evidence of the
senses just as it was. Thousands, no doubt, would have said, that no
such evidence could justify them in disbelieving their own eyes,
and that such an insoluble objection was sufficient to overturn
the evidence. Yet we now see, in point of fact, that it is not only
possible, but true, that the objection was apparent only, and admits of
a complete solution. Thousands accordingly receive philosophy--this
very philosophy--on testimony which apparently contradicts their senses,
without even yet knowing more of it than if it were revealed from
heaven. This gives too much reason to suspect, that in other and higher
cases, the will has much to do with human scepticism. Nor do we well
know what thousands who neglect religion on account of the alleged
uncertainty of its evidence could reply, if God were to say to them,

'And yet on such evidence, and that far inferior in degree, you have
never hesitated to act, when your own temporal interests were concerned.
You never feared to commit the bark of your worldly fortunes to that
fluctuating element. In many cases you believed on the testimony of
others what seemed even to contradict your own senses. Why were you so
much more scrupulous in relation to ME?'

The above examples are fair illustrations, we venture to think, of the
conditions under which we are required to believe the far higher truths,
attended no doubt with great difficulties, which are authenticated in
the pages of the two volumes (Nature and Scripture) which God has put
into our hands to study; of the conditions to which He subjects us
in training us for a future state, and developing in us the twofold
perfection involved in the words 'a reasonable faith.' If the
considerations just urged were duly borne in mind, we cannot help
thinking that they would afford (where any modesty remained) all answer
to most of those forms of unbelief which, from time to time, rise up in
the world, and not least in our own day. These are usually founded on
one or more supposed insoluble objections, arising out of our ignorance.
The probability that they are incapable of solution is rashly assumed,
and made to overbear the far stronger probability arising from the
positive and appreciable evidence which substantiates the truths
involved in those difficulties: a course the more unreasonable inasmuch
as--first, many such difficulties might be expected; and, secondly,
in analogous cases, we see that many such difficulties have in time
disappeared. On the other hand, it is, no doubt much more easy to insist
on individual objections, which no man can effectually answer, than it
is to appreciate at once the total effect of many lines of argument, and
many sources of evidence, all bearing on one point. That difficulty was
long ago beautifully stated by Butler*, in a passage well worthy of the
reader's perusal; and as Pascal had observed before him, not only is it
difficult, but impossible, for the human mind to retain the impression
of a large combination of evidence, even if it could for a moment fully
realise the collective effect of the whole. But it cannot do even this,
any more than the eye can take in at once, in mass and detail, the
objects of an extensive landscape.

* 'The truth of our religion, like the truth of common matters, is to
be judged of by all the evidence taken together. And, unless the whole
series of things which may be alleged in this argument, and every
particular thing in it, can reasonably be supposing to have been by
accident (for here the stress of the argument of Christianity lies),
then is the truth of it proved. . . . It is obvious how much advantage
the nature of this evidence gives to those persons who attack
Christianity, especially in conversation. For it is easy to show in
a short and lively manner that such and such things are liable to
objection, but impossible to show, in like manner, the united force of
the whole argument in one view.'--Analogy, part II. chap. vii.

Let us now be permitted briefly to apply the preceding principles to
two of the greatest controversies which have exercised the minds of men;
that which relates to the existence of God, and that which relates to
the truth of Christianity; in both of which, if we mistake not, man's
position is precisely similar--placed, that is, amidst evidence
abundantly sufficient to justify his reasonable faith, and yet attended
with difficulties abundantly sufficient to baffle an indocile reason.

Without entering into the many different sources of argument for the
existence of a Supreme Intelligence, we shall only refer to that proof
on which all theists, savage and civilised, in some form or other,
rely--the traces of an 'eternal power and godhead' in the visible
creation. The argument depends on a principle which, whatever may be its
metaphysical history or origin, is one which man perpetually recognises,
which every act of his own consciousness verifies, which he applies
fearlessly to every phenomenon, known or unknown; and it is this,--That
every effect has a cause (though he knows nothing of their connexion),
and that effects which bear marks of design have a designing cause. This
principle is so familiar that if he were to affect to doubt it in any
practical case in human life, he would only be laughed at as a fool, or
pitied as insane. The evidence, then, which substantiates the greatest
and first of truths mainly depends on a principle perfectly familiar and
perfectly recognised. Man can estimate the nature of that evidence; and
the amount of it, in this instance, he sees to be as vast as the sum of
created objects;--nay, far more, for it is as vast as the sum of their
relations. So that if (as is apt to be the case) the difficulties of
realising this tremendous truth are in proportion to the extent of
knowledge and the powers of reflection, the evidence we can perfectly
appreciate is cumulative in an equal or still higher proportion. Obvious
as are the marks of design in each individual object, the sum of proof
is not merely the sum of such indications, but that sum infinitely
multiplied by the relations established and preserved amongst all these
objects; by the adjustment which harmonises them all into one system,
and impresses on all the parts of the universe a palpable order and
subordination. While even in a single part of an organised being (as a
hand or an eye) the traces of design are not to be mistaken, these are
indefinitely multiplied by similar proofs of contrivance in the
many individual organs of one such being--as of an entire animal or
vegetable. These are yet to be multiplied by the harmonious relations
which are established of mutual proportion and subserviency amongst all
the organs of any one such being: And as many beings even of that one
species or class as there are, so many multiples are there of the same
proofs. Similar indications yield similar proofs of design in each
individual part, and in the whole individual of all the individuals
of every other class of beings; and this sum of proof is again to
be multiplied by the proofs of design in the adjustment and mutual
dependence and subordination of each of these classes of organised
beings to every other, and to all; of the vegetable to the animal---of
the lower animal to the higher. Their magnitudes, numbers, physical
force, faculties, functions, duration of life, rates of multiplication
and development, sources of subsistence, must all have been determined
in exact ratios, and could not transgress certain limits without
involving the whole universe in confusion. This amazing sum of
probabilities is yet to be further augmented by the fact that all these
classes of organised substances are intimately related to those great
elements of the material world in which they live, to which they are
adapted, and which are adapted to them; that all of them are subject to
the influence of certain mighty and subtle agencies which pervade all
nature,--and which are of such tremendous potency that any chance error
in their proportions of activity would be sufficient to destroy all, and
which yet axe exquisitely balanced and inscrutably harmonised.

The proofs of design, arising from the relations thus maintained between
all the parts, from the most minute to the most vast, of our own world,
are still to be further multiplied by the inconceivably momentous
relations subsisting between our own and other planets and their common
centre; amidst whose sublime and solemn phenomena science has most
clearly discovered that everything is accurately adjusted by geometrical
precision of force and movement; where the chances of error are
infinite, and the proofs of intelligence, therefore, equal. These proofs
of design in each fragment of the universe, and in all combined, are
continually further multiplied by every fresh discovery, whether in the
minute or the vast--by the microscope or the telescope; for every fresh
law that is discovered, being in harmony with all that has previously
been discovered, not only yields its own proof of design, but infinitely
more, by all the relations in which it stands to other laws: it yields,
in fact, as many as there are adjustments which have been effected
between itself and all besides. Each new proof of design, therefore, is
not a solitary fact; but one which entering as another element into a
most complex machinery, indefinitely multiplies the combinations, in any
one of which chance might have gone astray. From this infinite array
of proofs of design, it seems to man's reason, in ordinary moods, stark
madness to account for the phenomena of the universe upon any other
supposition than that which docs account, and can alone account, for
them all,--the supposition of a Presiding Intelligence, illimitable
alike in power and in wisdom.

The only difficulty is justly to appreciate such an argument to obtain a
sufficiently vivid impression of such an accumulation of probabilities.
This very difficulty, indeed, in some moods, may minister to a temporary
doubt. For let us catch man in those moods,--perhaps after long
meditation on the metaphysical grounds of human belief,--and he begins
to doubt, with unusual modesty, whether the child of dust is warranted
to conclude anything on a subject which loses itself in the infinite,
and which so far transcends all his powers of apprehension; he begins
half to doubt, with Hume, whether he can reason analogically from the
petty specimens of human ingenuity to phenomena so vast and so unique;
a misgiving which is strengthened by reflecting on all those to him
incomprehensible inferences to which the admission of the argument leads
him, and which seem almost to involve contradictions. Let him ponder for
awhile the ideas involved in the notion of Selfsubsistence, Eternity,
Creation; Power, Wisdom, and Knowledge, so unlimited as to embrace at
once all things, and all their relations, actual and possible,--this
'unlimited' expanding into a dim apprehension of the 'infinite';--of
infinitude of attributes, omnipresent in every point of space, and
yet but one and not many infinitudes;--let him once humbly ponder such
incomprehensible difficulties as these, and he will soon feel that
though in the argument from design, there seemed but one vast scene of
triumph for his reason, there is as large a scene of exertion left for
his faith. That faith he ordinarily yields; he sees it is justified by
those proofs of the great truth he can appreciate, and which he will
not allow to be controlled by the difficulties his conscious feebleness
cannot solve; and the rather, that he sees that if he does not
accept that evidence, he has equally incomprehensible difficulties to
encounter, and two or three stark contradictions into the bargain. His
reason, therefore, triumphs in the proofs, and his faith triumphs over
the difficulties.

It is the same with the doctrine of the Divine government of the world.
In ordinary states of mind man counts it an absurdity to suppose
that the Deity would have created a world to abandon it; that, having
employed wisdom and power so vast in its construction, he would leave
it to be the sport of chance. He feels that the intuitions of right and
wrong; the voice of conscience; satisfaction in well-doing; remorse for
crime; the present tendency, at least, of the laws of the universe,--all
point to the same conclusion, while their imperfect fulfilment equally
points to a future and more accurate adjustment. Yet let the man look
exclusively for awhile on the opposite side of the tapestry; let him
brood over any of the facts which seem at war with the above conclusion;
on some signal triumph of baseness and malignity; on oppressed virtue,
on triumphant vice; on 'the wicked spreading himself like a green bay
tree;' and especially on the mournfull and inscrutable mystery of the
'Origin of Evil,' and he feels that 'clouds and darkness' envelope the
administration of the Moral Governor, though 'justice and judgment are
the habitation of his throne.' The evidences above mentioned for the
last conclusion are direct and positive, and such as man can appreciate;
the difficulties spring from his limited capacity, or imperfect
glimpses of a very small segment of the universal plan. Nor are those
difficulties less upon the opposite hypothesis: and they are there
further burdened with two or three additional absurdities. The
preponderant evidence, far from removing the difficulties, scarcely
touches them,--yet it is felt to be sufficient to justify faith, though
most abundant faith is required still.

Are the evidences, then, in behalf of Christianity less of a nature
which man can appreciate? or can the difficulties involved in its
reception be greater than in the preceding cases? If not, and if,
moreover, while the evidence turns as before on principles with which we
are familiar, the more formidable objections, as before, are such that
we are not competent to decide upon their absolute insolubility, we
see how man ought to act; that is, not to let his ignorance control his
knowledge, but to let his reason accept the proofs which justify his
faith, in accepting the difficulties. In no case is he, it appears,
warranted to look for the certainty which shall exclude (whatever the
triumphs of his reason) a gigantic exercise of his faith. Let us briefly
consider a few of the evidences. And in order to give the statement a
little novelty, we shall indicate the principal topics of evidence, not
by enumerating what the advocate of Christianity believes in believing
it to be true, but what the infidel must believe in believing it to
be false. The a priori objection to Miracles we shall briefly touch

First, then, in relation to the Miracles of the New Testament, whether
they be supposed masterly frauds on men's senses committed at the time
and by the parties supposed in the records, or fictions (designed
or accidental) subsequently fabricated--but still, in either case,
undeniably successful and triumphant beyond all else in the history
whether of fraud or fiction--the infidel must believe as follows: On
the first hypothesis, he must believe that a vast number of apparent
miracles--involving the most astounding phenomena--such as the instant
restoration of the sick, blind, deaf, and lame, and the resurrection
of the dead--performed in open day, amidst multitudes of malignant
enemies--imposed alike on all, and triumphed at once over the strongest
prejudices and the deepest enmity:--those who received them and those
who rejected them differing only in the certainly not very trifling
particular--as to whether they came from heaven or from hell. He
must believe that those who were thus successful in this extraordinary
conspiracy against men's senses and against common sense, were Galilaean
Jews, such as all history of the period represents them; ignorant,
obscure, illiterate; and, above all, previously bigoted, like all
their countrymen, to the very system, of which, together with all other
religions on the earth, they modestly meditated the abrogation; he must
believe that, appealing to these astounding frauds in the face both of
Jews and Gentiles as an open evidence of the truth of a new revelation,
and demanding on the strength of them that their countrymen should
surrender a religion which they acknowledged to be divine, and that all
other nations should abandon their scarcely less venerable systems
of superstition, they rapidly succeeded in both these very probable
adventures; and in a few years, though without arms, power, wealth,
or science, were to an enormous extent victorious over all prejudice,
philosophy, and persecution; and in three centuries took nearly
undisputed possession, amongst many nations, of the temples of the
ejected deities. He must farther believe that the original performers,
in these prodigious frauds on the world, acted not only without
any assignable motive, but against all assignable motive; that they
maintained this uniform constancy in unprofitable falsehoods, not only
together, but separately, in different countries, before different
tribunals, under all sorts of examinations and cross-examinations, and
in defiance of the gyves, the scourge, the axe, the cross, the stake;
that these whom they persuaded to join their enterprise, persisted like
themselves in the same obstinate belief of the same 'cunningly
devised' frauds; and though they had many accomplices in their singular
conspiracy, had the equally singular fortune to free themselves and
their coadjutors flout all transient weakness towards their cause and
treachery towards one another; and, lastly, that these men, having,
amidst all their ignorance, originality enough to invent the most pure
and sublime system of morality which the world has ever listened to,
had, amidst all their conscious villany, the effrontery to preach it,
and, which is more extraordinary, the inconsistency to practise it!*

* So far as we have any knowledge from history, this must have been the
case; and Gibbon fully admits and insists upon it. Indeed, no infidel
hypothesis can afford to do without the virtues of the early Christians
in accounting for the success of the falsehoods of Christianity. Hard
alternatives of a wayward hypothesis!

On the second of the above-mentioned hypothesis, that these miracles
were either a congeries of deeply contrived fictions, or accidental
myths, subsequently invented, the infidel must believe, on the former
supposition, that, though even transient success in literary forgery,
when there are any prejudices to resist, is among the rarest of
occurrences; yet that these forgeries--the hazardous work of many minds,
making the most outrageous pretensions, and necessarily challenging the
opposition of Jew and Gentile were successful beyond all imagination,
over the hearts of mankind; and have continued to impose, by an
exquisite appearance of artless truth, and a most elaborate mosaic of
feigned events artfully cemented into the ground of true history, on
the acutest minds of different races and different ages; while, on the
second supposition, he must believe that accident and chance have given
to these legends their exquisite appearance of historic plausibility;
and on either supposition, he must believe (what is still more
wonderful) that the world, while the fictions were being published, and
in the known absence of the facts they asserted to be true, suffered
itself to be befooled into the belief of their truth, and out of its
belief of all the systems it did previously believe to be true; and
that it acted thus notwithstanding persecution from without, as well
as prejudice front within; that strange to say the strictest historic
investigation bring this compilation of fictions or myths-even by the
admission of Strauss himself--within thirty or forty years of the very
time in which all the alleged wonders they relate are said to have
occurred; wonders which the perverse world knew it had not seen, but
which it was determined to believe in spite of evidence, prejudice, and
persecution! In addition to all this, the infidel must believe that the
men who were engaged in the compilation of these monstrous fictions,
chose them as the vehicle of the purest morality; and, though the most
pernicious deceivers of mankind were yet the most scrupulous preachers
of veracity and benevolence! Surely of him, who can receive all these
paradoxes--and they form but a small part of what might be mentioned--we
may say, 'O infidel, great is thy Faith!'

On the supposition that neither of these theories, whether of fraud
or fiction, will account, if taken by itself, for the whole of the
supernatural phenomena, which strew the pages of the New Testament, then
the objector, who relies on both, must believe, in turn, both sets of
the above paradoxes; and then, with still more reason than before, may
we exclaim, 'O infidel, great is thy Faith!'

Again; he must believe that till those apparent coincidences, which
seem to connect Prophecy with the facts of the origin and history
of Christianity,--some, embracing events too vast for hazardous
speculations and others, incidents too minute for it,--are purely
fortuitous; that all the cases in which the event seems to tally with
the prediction, are mere chance coincidences: and he must believe
this, amongst other events, of two of the most unlikely to which human
sagacity was likely to pledge itself, and yet which have as undeniably
occurred, (and after the predictions) as they were a priori improbable
and anomalous in the world's history; the one is that the Jews should
exist as a distinct nation in the very bosom of all other nations,
without extinction, and without amalgamation,--other nations and even
races having so readily melted away under less than half the
influence which have been at work upon them*; the other, and opposite
paradox,--that a religion, propagated by ignorant, obscure, and
penniless vagabonds, should diffuse itself amongst the most diverse
nations in spite of all opposition,--it being the rarest of phenomena to
find any religion which is capable of transcending the limits of race,
clime, and the scene of its historic origin; a religion which, if
transplanted, will not die, a religion which is more than a local or
national growth of superstition! That such a religion as Christianity
should so easily break these barriers, and though supposed to be cradled
in ignorance, fanaticism, and fraud, should, without force of arms,
and in the face of persecution, 'ride forth conquering and to conquer,'
through a long career of victories, defying the power of kings and
emptying the temples of deities,--who, but an infidel, has faith enough
to believe?+


* The case of the Gipsies, often alleged as a parallel, is a ludicrous
evasion of the argument. These few and scattered vagabonds, whose very
safety has been obscurity and contempt, have never attracted towards
them a thousandth part of the attention, or the hundred thousandth part
of the cruelties, which have been directed against the Jews. Had it been
otherwise, they would long since have melted away from every country in
Europe. We repeat that the existence of a nation for 1800 years in the
bosom of all nations, conquered and persecuted, yet never extinguished,
and the propagation of a religion amongst different races without force,
and even against it,--are both, so far as known, paradoxes in history.
+ 'They may say,' says Butler, 'that the conformity between the
prophecies and the event is by accident; but there are many instances in
which such conformity itself cannot be denied.' His whole remarks on the
subject, and especially those on the impression to be derived from the
multitude of apparent coincidences, in a long series of prophecies, some
vast, some minute; and the improbability of their all being accidental
are worthy of his comprehensive genius. It is on the effect of the
whole, not on single coincidences, that the argument depends.

Once more then; if, from the external evidences of this religion, we
pass to those which the only records by which we know any thing of its
nature and origin supplies, the infidel must believe, amongst other
paradoxes, that it is probable that a knot of obscure and despised
plebeians--regarded as the scum of a nation which was itself regarded as
the scum of all other nations--originated the purest, most elevated, and
most influential theory of ethics the world has ever seen; that a system
of sublimest truth, expressed with unparalleled simplicity, sprang
from ignorance; that precepts enjoining the most refined sanctity were
inculcated by imposture; that the first injunctions to universal love
broke from the lips of bigotry! He must further believe that these men
exemplified the ideal perfection of that beautiful system in the most
unique, original, and faultless picture of virtue ever conceived--a
picture which has extorted the admiration even of those who could not
believe it to be a portrait, and who have yet confessed themselves
unable to account for it except as such.* He must believe, too, that
these ignorant and fraudulent Galileans voluntarily aggravated the
difficulty of their task, by exhibiting their proposed ideal, not by
bare enumeration and description of qualities, but by the most arduous
of all methods of representation--that of dramatic action; and, what is
more, that they succeeded; that in that representation they undertook
to make him act with sublime consistency in scenes of the most
extraordinary character and the most touching pathos, and utter moral
truth in the most exquisite fictions in which such truth was ever
embodied; and that again they succeeded; that so ineffably rich in
genius were these obscure wretches, that no less than four of them were
found equal to this intellectual achievement; and while each has told
many events, and given many traits which the others have omitted, that
they have all performed their task in the same unique style of invention
and the same unearthly tone of art; that one and all, while preserving
each his own individuality, has, nevertheless, attained a certain
majestic simplicity of style unlike any tiring else (not only in
any writings of their own nation, their alleged sacred writings,
and infinitely superior to any thing which their successors, Jews
or Christians, though with the advantage of these models, could ever
attain,) but, unlike any acknowledged human writings in the world, and
possessing the singular property of being capable of ready transfusion,
without the loss of a thought or a grace, into every language spoken by
man: he must believe that these fabricators of fiction, in common with
the many other contributors to the New Testament, most insanely added to
the difficulty of their task by delivering the whole in fragments and in
the most various kinds of composition,--in biography, history, travels,
and familiar letters; incorporating and interfusing with the whole
an amazing number of minute facts, historic allusions, and specific
references to persons, places, and dates, as if for the very purpose of
supplying posterity with the easy means of detecting their impositions:
he must believe that, in spite of their thus encountering what Paley
calls the 'danger of scattering names and circumstances in writings
where nothing but truth can preserve consistency,' they so happy
succeeded, that whole volumes have been employed pointing out their
latent and often most recondite congruities; many of them lying so deep,
and coming out after such comparison of various passages and collateral
lights, that they could never have answered the purposes of fraud,
even if the most prodigious genius for fraud had been equal to the
fabrication; congruities which, in fact, were never suspected to exist
till they were expressly elicited by the attacks of Infidelity, and were
evidently never thought of by the writers; he must believe that they
were profoundly sagacious enough to construct such a fabric of artful
harmonies, and yet such simpletons as, by doing infinitely more than
was necessary, to encounter infinite risks of detection, to no purpose;
sagacious enough to out-do all that sagacity has ever done, as shown
by the effects, and yet not sagacious enough to be merely specious: and
finally, he must believe that these illiterate impostors had the art
in all their various writings, which evidently proceed from different
minds, to preserve the same inimitable marks of reality, truth, and
nature in their narrations--the miraculous and the ordinary alike--and
to assume and preserve, with infinite case, amidst their infinite
impostures, the tone and air of undissembled earnestness.+

* To Christ alone, of all the characters ever portrayed to man, belongs
that assemblage of qualities which equally attract love and veneration;
to him alone belong in perfection those rare traits which the Roman
historian, with affectionate flattery, attributes too absolutely to the
merely mortal object of his eulogy: 'Nec illi, quod est rarissimum aut
facilitas auctoritatem, aut severitas amorem, deminuit.' Still more
beautiful is the Apostles description of superiority to all Human
failings, with ineffable pity for human sorrows: 'He can be touched with
the feelings of our infirmities, though without sin.' + Was there ever
in truth a man who could read the appeals of Paul to his converts, and
doubt either that the letters were real or that the man was in earnest?
We scarcely venture to think it.

If, on the other hand, he supposes that all the congruities of which
we have spoken, were the effect not of fraudulent design, but of happy
accident,--that they arranged themselves in spontaneous harmony--he must
believe that chance has done what even the most prodigious powers of
invention could not do. And lastly, he must believe that these same
illiterate men, who were capable of so much, were also capable of
projecting a system of doctrine singularly remote from all ordinary and
previous speculation; of discerning the necessity of taking under their
special patronage those passive virtues which man least loved, and found
it must difficult to cultivate; and of exhibiting, in their preference
of the spiritual to the ceremonial, and their treatment of many of the
most delicate questions of practical ethics and casuistry, a justness
and elevation of sentiment as alien as possible from the superstition
and fanaticism of their predecessors who had corrupted the Law--and the
superstition and fanaticism of their followers very soon corrupted the
Gospel; and that they, and they alone, rose above the strong tendencies
to the extravagances which had been so conspicuous during the past,
and were soon to be as conspicuous in the future.--These and a thousand
other paradoxes (arising out of the supposition that Christianity is
the fraudulent or fictitious product of such an age, country, and, above
all, such men as the problem limits us to), must the infidel receive,
and receive all at once; and of him who can receive them we can but once
more declare that so far 'from having no faith', he rather possesses
the 'faith' which removes 'mountains!'--only it appears that his faith,
like that of Rome or of Oxford, is a faith which excludes reason.

On the other hand, to him who accepts Christianity, none of these
paradoxes present themselves. On the supposition of the truth of
the miracles and the prophecies, he does not wonder at its origin
or success: and as little does he wonder at all the literary and
intellectual achievements of its early chroniclers--if their elevation
of sentiment was from a divine source, and if the artless harmony, and
reality of their narratives was the simple effect of the consistency of
truth, and of transcription from the life.

Now, on the other hand, what are the chief objections which Reconcile
the infidel to his enormous burden of paradoxes, and which appear to the
Christian far less invincible than the paradoxes themselves? They
are, especially with all modern infidelity, objections to the a priori
improbability of the doctrines revealed, and of the miracles which
sustain them. Now, here we come to the very distinction on which we
have already insisted, and which is so much insisted on by Butler. The
evidence which sustains Christianity is all such as man is competent to
consider; and is precisely of the same nature as that which enters into
his every-day calculations of probability; While the objections are
founded entirely on our ignorance and presumption. They suppose that we
know more of the modes of the divine administration--of what God may
have permitted, of what is possible and impossible to the ultimate
development of an imperfectly developed system, and its relations to the
entire universe,--than we do or can know.*

* The possible implications of Christianity with distant regions of the
universe, and the dim hints which hints which Scripture seems to throw
out as to such implication, are beautifully treated in the 4th, 5th,
and 6th of Chalmer's 'Astronomical Discourses;' and we need not tell the
read of Butler how much he insists upon similar considerations.

Of these objections the most widely felt and the most specious,
especially in our day, is the assumption that miracles are an
impossibility+; and yet we will venture to say that there is none more
truly unphilosophical. That miracles are improbable viewed in relation
to the experience of the individual or of the mass of men, is granted;
for if they were not, they would, as Paley says, be no miracles; an
every-day miracle is none. But that they are either impossible or so
improbable that, if they were wrought, no evidence could establish them,
is another matter. The first allegation involves a curious limitation of
omnipotence; and the second affirms in effect, that, if God were to work
a miracle, it would be our duty to disbelieve him!

+ It is, as we shall see, the avowed axiom of Strauss; he even
acknowledges, that if it be not true, he would not think it worth while
to discredit the history of the Evangelists; that is, the history
must be discredited, because he has resolved that a miracle is an

We repeat our firm conviction that this a priori assumption against
miracles is but a vulgar illusion of one of Bacon's idola tribus. So
far from being disposed to admit the principle that a 'miracle is an
impossibility,' we shall venture on what may seem to some a paradox, but
which we are convinced is a truth,--that time will come, and is coming,
when even those who shall object to the evidence which sustains the
Christian miracles will acknowledge that philosophy requires them to
admit that men have no ground whatever to dogmatise on the antecedent
impossibility of miracles in general; and that not merely because if
theists at all, they will see the absurdity of the assertion, while
they admit that the present order of things had a beginning; and, if
Christians at all, the equal absurdity of the assertion, while they
admit that it will have an end;--not only because the geologist will
have familiarised the world with the idea of successive interventions,
and, in fact, distinct creative acts, having all the nature of
miracles;--not only, we say, for these special reasons, but for a
more general one. The true philosopher will see that, with his limited
experience and that of all his contemporaries, he has no right to
dogmatise about all that may have been permitted or will be permitted
in the Divine administration of the universe; he will see that those
who with one voice denied, about half a century ago, the existence of
aerolites, and summarily dismissed all the alleged facts as a silly
fable, because it contradicted their experience,--that those who refused
to admit the Copernican theory because, as they said, it manifestly
contradicted their experience,--that the schoolboy who refuses to admit
the first law of motion because, as he says, it gives the lie to all
his experience,--that the Oriental prince (whose scepticism Hume vainly
attempts, on his principle, to meet) who denied the possibility of ice
because it contradicted his experience,--and, in the same manner, that
the men who, with Dr. Strauss, lay down the dictum that a miracle
is impossible and a contradiction because it contradicts their
experience,--have all been alike contravening the first principles of
the modest philosophy of Bacon, and have fallen into one of the most
ordinary illusions against which he has warned us namely, that that
cannot be true which seems in contradiction to our own experience. We
confidently predict that the day will come when the favourite argument
of many so called philosopher in this matter will be felt to be the
philosophy of the vulgar only; and that though many may, even then, deny
that the testimony which supports the Scripture miracles is equal to
the task, they will all alike abandon the axiom which supersedes the
necessity of at all examining such evidence, by asserting that no
evidence can establish them.

While on this subject, we may notice a certain fantastical tone of
depreciation of miracles as an evidence of Christianity, which is
occasionally adopted even by some who do not deny the possibility or
probability, or even the fact, of their occurrence. They affirm them to
be of little moment, and represent them--with an exquisite affectation
of metaphysical propriety--as totally incapable of convincing men of any
moral truth; upon the ground that there is no natural relation between
any displays of physical power and any such truth. Now without denying
that the nature of the doctrine is a criterion, and must be taken into
account in judging of the reality of any alleged miracle, we have but
two things to reply to this: first, that, as Paley says in relation
to the question whether any accumulation of testimony can establish a
miraculous fact, we are content 'to try the theorem upon a simple case,'
and affirm that man is so constituted that if he himself sees the blind
restored to sight and the dead raised, under such circumstances as
exclude all doubt of fraud on the part of others and all mistake on
his own, he will uniformly associate authority with such displays of
superhuman power; and, secondly, that the notion in question is in
direct contravention of the language and spirit of Christ himself, who
expressly suspends his claims to men's belief and the authority of
his doctrine on the fact of his miracles. 'The works that I do in my
Father's name, they bear witness of me.' 'If ye believe not me, believe
my works.' 'If I had not come among them, and done the works that none
other man did, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for
their sin.'

We have enumerated some of the paradoxes which infidelity is required
to believe; and the old-fashioned, open, intelligible infidelity of the
last century accepted them, and rejected Christianity accordingly. That
was a self-consistent, simple, Ingenuous thing, compared with those
monstrous forms of credulous reason, incredulous faith, metaphysical
mysticism, even Christian Pantheism--so many varieties of which have
sprung out of the incubation of German rationalism and German philosophy
upon the New Testament. The advocates of these systems, after
adopting the most formidable of the above paradoxes of infidelity, and
(notwithstanding the frequent boast of originality) depending mainly
on the same objections, and defending them by the very same critical
arguments*, delude themselves with the idea that they have but purified
and embalmed Christianity; not aware that they have first made a mummy
of it. They are so greedy of paradox, that they, in fact, aspire to be
Christians and infidels at the same time. Proclaiming the miracles of
Christianity to be illusions of imagination or mythical legends,--the
inspiration of its records no other or greater than that of Homer's
'Iliad,' or even 'Aesop's Fables;'--rejecting the whole of that
supernatural clement with which the only records which can tell us
any thing about the matter are full; declaring its whole history
so uncertain that the ratio of truth to error must be a vanishing
fraction;--the advocates of these systems yet proceed to rant and
rave--they are really the only words we know which can express our
sense of their absurdity--in a most edifying vein about the divinity
of Christianity, and to reveal to us its true glories. 'Christ,' says
Strauss, 'is not an individual, but an idea; that is to say, humanity.
In the human race behold the God-made-man! behold the child of the
visible virgin and the invisible Father!--that is, of matter and of
mind; behold the Saviour, the Redeemer, the Sinless One; behold him who
dies, who is raised again, who mounts into the heavens I Believe in this
Christ! In his death, his resurrection, man is justified before God!'+


* The main objection, both with the old and the new forms of infidelity,
is, that against the miracles; the main argument with both, those which
attempt to show their antecedent impossibility; and criticism directed
against the credulity of the records which contain them. The principal
difference is, that modern infidelity shrinks from the coarse imputation
of fraud and imposture on the founders of Christianity; and prefers the
theory of illusion or myth to that of deliberate fraud. But with this
exception, which touches only the personal character of the founders
of Christianity, the case remains the same. The same postulates and the
same arguments are made to yield substantially the same conclusion.
For, all that is supernatural in Christianity and all credibility in
its records, vanish equally on either assumption. Nor is even the modern
mode of interpreting many of the miracles (as illusions or legends)
unknown to the older infidelity; only it more consistently felt that
neither the one theory nor the other, could be trusted to alone. Velis
et remis was its motto. + Such is Quinet's brief statement of Strauss's
mystico-mythical Christiantity, founded on the Hegelian philosophy.
For a fuller, we dare not say a more intelligible, account of it in
Strauss's own words, and the metaphysical mysteries on which it depends,
the reader may consult Dr. Beard's translation;--pp. 44, 45. of his
Essay entitled 'Strauss, Hegel, and their Opinions.

Whether it be the Rationalism of Paulus, or the Rationalism of
Strauss--whether that which declares all that is supernatural in
Christianity (forming the bulk of its history) to be illusion, or that
which declares it myth,--the conclusions can be made out only by a
system of interpretation which can be compared to nothing but the
wildest dreams and allegorical systems of some of the early Fathers#;
while the results themselves are either those elementary principles of
ethics for which there was no need to invoke a revelation at all,
or some mystico-metaphysical philosophy, expressed in language as
unintelligible as the veriest gibberish of the Alexandrian Platonists.
In fact, by such exegesis and by such philosophy, any thing may be made
out of any thing; and the most fantastical data be compelled to yield
equally fantastical conclusions.

# Of the mode of accounting for the supernatural occurrences in the
Scriptures by the illusion produced by mistaken natural phenomena,
(perhaps the most stupidly jejune of all the theories ever projected
by man), Quinet eloquently says, 'The pen which wrote the Provincial
Letters would be necessary to lay bare the strange consequences of this
theology. According to its conclusion, the tree of good and evil was
nothing but a venomous plant, probably a manchineal tree, under which
our first parents fell asleep. The shining face of Moses on the heights
of Mount Sinai was the natural result of electricity; the vision of
Zachariah was effected by the smoke of the chandeliers in the temple;
the Magian kings, with their offerings of myrrh, of gold, and of
incense, were three wandering merchants, who brought some glittering
tinsel to the Child of Bethlehem; the star which went before them a
servant bearing a flambeau; the angels in the scene of the temptation, a
caravan traversing the desert, laden with provisions; the two angels in
the tomb, clothed in white linen, an illusion caused by a linen garment;
the Transfiguration, a storm.' Who would not sooner be an old-fashioned
infidel than such a doting and maundering rationalist?

But the first and most natural question to ask is obviously this: how
any mortal can pretend to extract any thing certain, much more divine,
from records, the great bulk of which he has reduced to pure frauds,
illusions, or legends,--and the great bulk of the remainder to an
absolute uncertainty of how little is true and how much false?* Surely
it would need nothing less than a new revelation to reveal this sweeping
restriction of the old; and we should then be left in an ecstasy of
astonishment-first, that the whole significance of it should have
been veiled in frauds, illusions, or fictions; secondly, that its true
meaning should have been hidden from the world for eighteen hundred
years after its divine promulgation; thirdly, that it should be revealed
at last, either in results which needed no revelation to reveal them,
or in the Egyptian darkness of the
allegorieo-metaphysico-mystico-logico-transendental, 'formulae' of the
most obscure and contentious philosophy ever devised by man; and lastly,
that all this superfluous trouble is to give us, after all, only the
mysteries of a most enigmatical philosophy: For of Hegel, in particular,
we think it may with truth be said that the reader is seldom fortunate
enough to know that he knows his meaning, or even to know that Hegel
knew his own.

* Daub naively enough declares that, if you except all that relates
to angels, demons, and miracle, there is scarcely any mythology in the
Gospel.' An exception which reminds one of the Irish prelate who, on
reading 'Gulliver's Travels,' remarked that there were some things in
that book which he could not think true.

Whether, then, we regard the original compilers of the evangelic records
as inventing all that Paulus or Strauss rejects, or sincerely believing
their own delusions, or that their statements have been artfully
corrupted or unconsciously disguised, till Christ and his Apostles are
as effectually transformed and travestied as these dreamers are pleased
to imagine, with what consistency can we believe any thing certain
amidst so many acknowledged fictions inseparably incorporated with them?
If A has told B truth once and falsehood fifty times, (wittingly or
unwittingly,) what can induce B to believe that he has any reason to
believe A in that only time in which he does believe him, unless he
knows the same truth by evidence quite independent of A, and for
which he is not indebted to him at all? Should we not, then, at once
acknowledge the futility of attempting to educe any certain historic
fact, however meagre, or any doctrine, whether intelligible or obscure,
from documents nine tenths of which are to be rejected as a tissue of
absurd fictions? Or why should we not fairly confess that, for aught
we can tell, the whole is a fiction? For certainly, as to the amount of
historic fact which these men affect to leave, it is obviously a matter
of the most trivial importance whether we regard the whole Bible as
absolute fiction or not. Whether an obscure Galilean teacher, who taught
a moral system which may have been as good (we can never know from
such corrupt documents that it was as good) as that of Confucius, or
Zoroaster, ever lived or not; and whether we are to add another name to
those who have enunciated the elementary truths of ethics, is really of
very little moment. Upon their principles we can clearly know nothing
about him except that he is the centre of a vast mass of fictions, the
invisible nucleus of a huge conglomerate of myths. A thousand times
more, therefore, do we respect those, as both more honest and more
logical, who, on similar grounds, openly reject Christianity altogether;
and regard the New Testament, and speak of it, exactly as they would of
Homer's 'Iliad,' or Virgil's 'Aeneid.' Such men, consistently enough,
trouble themselves not at all in ascertaining what residuum of truth,
historical or critical, may remain in a book which certainly gives
ten falsehoods for one truth, and welds both together in inextricable
confusion. The German infidels, on the other hand, with infinite labour,
and amidst infinite uncertainties, extract either truth 'as old as the
creation,' and as universal as human reason,--or truth which, after
being hidden from the world for eighteen hundred years in mythical
obscurity, is unhappily lost again the moment it is discovered, in the
infinitely deeper darkness of the philosophy of Hegel and Strauss; who
in vain endeavour to gasp out, in articulate language, the still
latent mystery of the Gospel! Hegel, in his last hours, is said to have
said,--and if he did not say, he ought to have said,--'Alas! there is
but one man in all Germany who understands my doctrine,--and he does not
understand it!' And yet, by his account, Hegelianism and Christianity,
'in their highest results,' [language, as usual, felicitously obscure]
'are one.' Both, therefore, are, alas! now for ever lost.

That great problem--to account for the origin and establishment Of
Christianity in the world, with a denial at the same time of its
miraculous pretensions--a problem, the fair solution of which is
obviously incumbent on infidelity--has necessitated the most gratuitous
and even contradictory hypotheses, and may safely be said still to
present as hard a knot as ever. The favourite hypothesis, recently, has
been that of Strauss--frequently re-modified and re-adjusted indeed by
himself--that Christianity is a myth, or collection of myths--that is,
a conglomerate (as geologists would say) of a very slender portion
of facts and truth, with an enormous accretion of undesigned fiction,
fable, and superstitions; gradually framed and insensibly received, like
the mythologies of Greece and Rome, or the ancient systems of Hindoo
theology. It is true, indeed, that the particular critical arguments,
the alleged historic discrepancies and so forth, on which this author
founds his conclusion--are for the most part, not original; most of
them having been insisted on before, both in Germany, and especially
in our own country during the Deistical controversies of the preceding
century. His idea of myths, however, may be supposed original; and he
is very welcome to it. For of all the attempted solutions of the
great problem, this will be hereafter regarded as, perhaps, the most
untenable. Gibbon, in solving the same problem, and starting in fact
from the same axioms,--for he too endeavoured to account for the
intractable phenomenon--on natural causes alone,--assigned, as one
cause, the reputation of working miracles, the reality of which he
denied; but he was far too cautious to decide whether the original
thunders of Christianity had pretended to work miracles, and had been
enabled to cheat the world into the belief of them, or whether the world
had been pleased universally to cheat itself into that belief. He was
far too wise to tie himself to the proof that in the most enlightened
period of the world's history--amidst the strongest contrarieties
of national and religious feeling--amidst the bitterest bigotry of
millions in behalf of what was old, and the bitterest contempt of
millions of all that was new--amidst the opposing forces of ignorance
and prejudice on the one hand and philosophy and scepticism on the
other--amidst all the persecutions which attested and proved those
hostile feelings on the part of the bulk of mankind--and above all, in
the short space of thirty years (which is all that Dr. Stauss allows
himself),--Christianity could be thus deposited, like the mythology
of Greece and Rome! These, he knew, were very gradual and silent
formations; originating in the midst of a remote antiquity and an
unhistoric age, during the very infancy and barbarism of the races which
adopted them, confined, be it remembered, to those races alone;
and displaying, instead of the exquisite and symmetrical beauty of
Christianity, those manifest signs of gradual accretion which were
fairly to be expected; in the varieties of the deposited or irrupted
substances--in the diffracted appearance of various parts--in the very
weather stains, so to speak, which mark the whole mass.

That the prodigious aggregate of miracles which the New Testament
asserts, would, if fabulous, pass unchallenged, elude all detection, and
baffle all scepticism.--collect in the course of a few years energetic
and zealous assertors of their reality, in the heart of every civilised
and almost every barbarous community, and in the course of three
centuries, change the face of the world and destroy every other myth
which fairly came in contact with it,--who but Dr. Strauss can believe?
Was there no Dr. Strauss in those days? None to question and detect, as
the process went on, the utter baselessness of these legends? Was
all the world doting--was even the persecuting world asleep? Were all
mankind resolved on befooling themselves? Are men wont thus quietly to
admit miraculous pretensions, whether they be prejudiced votaries of
another system or sceptics as to all? No: whether we consider the age,
the country, the men assigned for the origin of these myths, we see the
futility of the theory. It does not account even for their invention,
much less for their success. We see that if any mythology could in such
an age have germinated at all, it must have been one very different from
Christianity; whether we consider the sort of Messiah the Jews expected,
or the hatred of all Jewish Messiahs, which the Gentiles could not but
have felt. The Christ offered them so far from being welcome, was to
the one a 'stumbling block' and to the other 'foolishness'; and yet he
conquered the prejudices of both.

Let us suppose a parallel myth--if we may abuse the name. Let us suppose
the son of some Canadian carpenter aspiring to be a moral teacher, but
neither working nor pretending to work miracles; as much hated by
his countrymen as Jesus Christ was hated by his, and both he and his
countrymen as much hated by all the civilised world beside, as were
Jesus Christ and the Jews: let us further suppose him forbidding his
followers the use of all force in propagating his doctrine's, and then
let us calculate the probability of an unnoticed and accidental deposit,
in thirty short years, of a prodigious accumulation about these simple
facts. of supernatural but universally accredited fables, these legends
escaping detection or suspicion as they accumulated, and suddenly laying
hold in a few years of myriads of votaries in all parts of both worlds,
and in three centuries uprooting and destroying Christianity and all
opposing systems! How long will it be before the Swedenborgian, or the
Mormonite, or any such pretenders, will have similar success? Have there
not been a thousand such, and has any one of them had the slightest
chance against systems in possession,--against the strongly rooted
prejudices of ignorance and the Argus-eyed investigations of scepticism?
But all these were opposed to the pretensions of Christianity; nor can
any one example of at all similar sudden success be alleged, except in
the case of Mahomet; and to that the answer is brief. The history of
Mahomet is the history of a conqueror--and his logic was the logic of
the sword.

In spite of the theory of Strauss, therefore, not less than that of
Gibbon, the old and ever recurring difficulty of giving a rational
account of the origin and establishment of Christianity still presents
itself for solution to the infidel, as it always has done, and, we
venture to say, always will do. It is an insoluble phenomenon, except by
the admission of the facts of the--New Testament. 'The miracles,' says
Butler, 'are a satisfactory account of the events, of which no other
satisfactory account can be given; nor any account at all, but what is
imaginary merely and invented.'

In the meantime, the different theories of unbelief mutually refute one
another; and we may plead the authority of one against the authority of
another. Those who believe Strauss believe both the theory of imposture
and the theory of illusion improbable; and those who believe in the
theory of imposture believe the theory of myths improbable. And both
parties, we are glad to think, are quite right in the judgment they form
of one another.

But what must strike every one who reflects as the most surprising thing
in Dr. Strauss, is, that with the postulatum with which he sets out,
and which he modestly takes for granted as too evident to need proof, he
should have thought it worth while to write two bulky volumes of minute
criticism on the subject. A miracle he declares to be an absurdity, an
contradiction, an impossibility. If we believed this, we should deem a
very concise enthymene (after having proved that postulatum though) all
that it was necessary to construct on the subject. A miracle cannot be
true; ergo, Christianity, which in the only records by which we know
anything about it, avows its absolute dependence upon miracles, must be

It is a modification of one or other of these monstrous forms of
unbelieving belief and Christian infidelity, that Mr. Foxton, late of
Oxford, has adopted in his 'Popular Christianity;' as perhaps also Mr.
Froude in his 'Nemesis.' It is not very easy, indeed, to say what
Mr. Foxton positively believes; having, like his German prototypes, a
greater facility of telling what he does believe, and of wrapping up
what he does believe in a most impregnable mysticism. He certainly
rejects, however, all that which, when rejected a century ago, left,
in the estimate of every one, an infidel in puris naturalibus. Like his
German acquaintances, he accepts the infidel paradoxes--only, like them,
he will still be a Christian. He believes, with Strauss, that a miracle
is an impossibility and contradiction--'incredible per se.' As to the
inspiration of Christ--he regards it as, in its nature, the same as that
of Zoraster, Confucius, Mahomet, Plato, Luther, and Wickliffe--a curious
assortment of 'heroic souls.'(Pp. 62, 63.) With a happy art of confusing
the 'gifts of genius' no matter whether displayed in intellectual or
moral power, and of forgetting that other men are not likely to overlook
the difference, he complacently declares 'the wisdom of Solomon and the
poetry of Isaiah the fruit of the same inspiration which is popularly
attributed to Milton or Shakspeare, or even to the homely wisdom of
Benjamin Franklin' (P. 72.) in the same pleasant confusion of mind, he
thinks that the 'pens of Plato, of Paul and of Dante, the pencils of
Raphael and of Claude, the Chisels of Canova and of Chantrey, no less
than the voices of Knox of Wickliffe, and of Luther are ministering
instruments, in different degrees, of the same spirit.' (P. 77.) He
thinks that 'we find, both in the writers and the records of Scripture,
every evidence of human infirmity that can possibly be conceived; and
yet we are to believe that God himself specially inspired them with
false philosophy, vicious logic, and bad grammar.'(P. 74.) He denies
the originality both of the Christian ethic (which he says are a gross
plagiarism from Plato) as also in great part of the system of Christian
doctrine.* Nevertheless, it would be quite a mistake, it seems, to
suppose that Mr. Foxton is no Christian! He is, on the contrary, of
the very few who can tell us what Christianity really is; and who can
separate the falsehoods and the myths which have so long disguised it.
He even talks most spiritually and with an edifying onction. He tells us
"God was," indeed, "in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself." And
but little deduction need be made from the rapturous language of Paul,
who tells us that "in him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily"
(P. 65); I concede to Christ' (generous admission!) 'the highest
inspiration hitherto granted to the prophets of God' (P. 143),--Mahomet,
it appears, and Zoroaster and Confucius, having also statues in his
truly Catholic Pantheon. 'The position of Christ,' he tells us in
another place, is 'simply that of the foremost man in all the world,'
though he 'soars far above "all principalities and powers"--above all
philosophies hitherto known--above all creeds hitherto propagated in his
name'--the true Christian doctrine, after having been hid from ages and
generations, being reserved to be disclosed, we presume, by Mr. Foxton.
His spiritualism, as usual with the whole school of our new Christian
infidels, is, of course, exquisitely refined,--but, unhappily, very
vague. He is full of talk of 'a deeep insight,'--of a 'faith not in dead
histories, but living realities--a revelation to our innermost nature.'
'The true seer,' he says, 'looking deep into causes, carries in his
heart the simple wisdom of God. The secret harmonies of Nature vibrate
on his ear, and her fair proportions reveal themselves to his eye. He
has a deep faith in the truth of God.' (P. 146.) 'The inspired man is
one whose outward life derives all its radiance from the light within
him. He walks through stony places by the light of his own soul, and
stumbles not. No human motive is present to such a mind in its highest
exultation--no love of praise--no desire of fame--no affection, no
passion mingles with the divine afflatus, which passes over without
ruffling the soul.' (P. 44.) And a great many fine phrases of the same
kind, equally innocent of all meaning.

* (Pp. 51--60.) We are hardly likely to yield to Mr. Foxton in our love
of Plato, for whom we have expressed, and that very recently, (April,
1848,) no stinted admiration: and what we have there affirmed we are by
no means disposed to retract,--that no ancient author has approached, in
the expression of ethical truth, so near to the maxims and sometimes the
very expressions, of the Gospel. Nevertheless, we as strongly affirm,
that he who contrasts (whatever the occasional sublimity of expression)
the faltering and often sceptical tone of Plato on religious subjects,
with the uniformity and decision of the Evangelical system,--his dark
notions in relation to God (candidly confessed) with the glorious
recognition of Him in the Gospel as 'our Father,'--his utterly absurd
application of his general principles of morals, in his most Utopian of
all Republics, with the broad, plain social ethics of Christianity,--the
tone of mournful familiarity (whatever his personal immunity) in
which he too often speaks of the saddest pollutions that ever degraded
humanity, with the spotless purity of the Christian rule of life,--the
hesitating, speculative tone of the Master of the Academy with the
decision and majesty of Him who 'spake with authority, and not as
the Scribes,' whether Greek or Jewish.--the metaphysical and abstract
character of Plato's reasonings with the severely practical character of
Christ's,--the feebleness of the motives supplied by the abstractions
of the one, and the intensity of those supplied by the other,--the
adaptation of the one to the intelligent only, and the adaptation of
the other to universal humanity,--the very manner of Plato, his
gorgeous style, with the still more impressive simplicity of the Great
Teacher,--must surely see in the contrast every indication, to say
nothing of the utter gratuitousness (historically) of the contrary
hypothesis, that the sublime ethics of the Gospel, whether we regard
substance, or manner, or, tone, or style, are no plagiarism from Plato.
As for the man who can hold such a notion, he must certainly be very
ignorant either of Plate or of Christ. As the best apology for Mr.
Foxton's offensive folly we may, perhaps, charitably hope that he is
nearly ignorant of both.--Equally absurd is the attempt to identify the
metaphysical dreams of Plato with the doctrinal system of the Gospel,
though it is quite true, that long subsequent to Christ the Platonising
Christians tried to accommodate the speculations of the sage they loved,
to the doctrines of a still greater master. But Plato never extorted
from his friends stronger eulogies than Christ has often extorted from
his enemies.


It is amazing and amusing to see with what case Mr. Foxton decides
points which have filled folios of controversy. 'In the teaching of
Christ himself, there is not the slightest allusion to the modern
evangelical notion of an atonement.' 'The diversities of "gifts" to
which Paul alludes, Cor. i. 12. are nothing more than those different
"gifts" which, in common parlance, we attribute to the various tempers
and talents of men.' (P. 67.) 'It is, however, after all, absurd to
suppose that the miracles of the Scriptures are subjects of actual
belief; either to the vulgar or the learned.' (P. 104.) What an easy
time of it must such an all-sufficient controvertist have!

He thinks it possible; too, that Christ, though nothing more than an
ordinary man, may really have 'thought himself Divine,' without being
liable to the charge of a visionary self-idolatry or of blasphemy,--as
supposed by every body, Trinitarian or Unitarian, except Mr. Foxton. He
accounts for it by the 'wild sublimity of human emotion, when the rapt
spirit first feels the throbbings of the divine afflatus,' &c. &c. A
singular afflatus which teaches a man to usurp the name and prerogatives
of Deity, and a strange 'inspiration' which inspires him with so
profound an ignorance of his own nature! This interpretation, we
believe, is peculiarly Mr. Foxton's owe.

The way in which he disposes of the miracles, is essentially that of a
vulgar, undiscriminating, unphilosophic mind. There have been, he tells
us in effect, so many false miracles, superstitious stories of witches,
conjurors, ghosts, hobgoblins, of cures by royal touch, and the
like,--and therefore the Scripture miracles are false! Why, who denies
that there have been plenty of false miracles? And there have been
as many false religions. Is there, therefore, none true? The proper
business in every such case is to examine fairly the evidence, and
not to generalise after this absurd fashion. Otherwise we shall never
believe any thing; for there is hardly one truth that has not its half
score of audacious counterfeits.

Still he is amusingly perplexed, like all the rest of the infidel world,
how to get rid of the miracles--whether on the principle of fraud, or
fiction, or illusion. He thinks there would be 'a great accession to
the ranks of reason and common sense by disproving the reality of the
miracles, without damaging the veracity or honestly of the simple,
earnest, and enthusiastic writers by whom they are recorded;' and
complains of the coarse and undiscriminating criticism of most of the
French and English Deists, who explain the miracles 'on the supposition
of the grossest fraud acting on the grossest credulity.' But he soon
finds that the materials for such a compromise are utterly intractable.
He thinks that the German Rationalists have depended too much on some
'single hypothesis, which often proves to be insufficient to meet the
great variety of conditions and circumstances with which the miracles
have been handed down to us.' Very true; but what remedy? 'We find one
German writer endeavouring to explain away the miracles on the mystical
(mythical) theory; and another riding into the arena of controversy
on the miserable hobby-horse of "clairvoyance" or "mesmerism"; each of
these, and a host of others of the same class, rejecting whatever light
is thrown on the question by all the theories together.' He therefore
proposes, with great and gratuitous liberality, to heap all these
theories together, and to take them as they are wanted; not withholding
any of the wonders of modern science--even, as would seem, the possible
knowledge of 'chloroform' (PP. 104.. 86, 87.)--from the propagators of

But, alas! the phenomena are still intractable. The stubborn 'Book' will
still baffle all such efforts to explain it away; it is willing to be
rejected, if it so pleases men, but it guards itself from being
thus made a fool of. For who can fail to see that neither all or any
considerable part of the multifarious miracles of the New Testament can
be explained by any such gratuitous extension of ingenious fancies;
and that if they could be so explained, it would be still impossible
to exculpate the men who need such explanations from the charge of
perpetuating the grossest frauds! Yet this logical ostrich, who
am digest all these stones, presumptuously declares a miracle an
impossibility and the very notion of it a contradiction.* But enough of
Mr. Foxton.


* Mr. Foxton denies that men, in Paley's 'single case in which he
tries the general theorem,' would believe the miracle; but he finds
it convenient to leave out the most significant circumstances on which
Paley makes the validity of the testimony to depend, instead of stating
them fairly in Paley's own words. Yet that the sceptics (if such there
could be) must be the merest fraction of the species, Mr. Foxton himself
immediately proceeds to prove by showing what is undeniably the case)
that almost all mankind readily receive miraculous occurrences on far
lower evidence than Paley's common sense would require them to demand.
Surely he must be related to the Irishman who placed his ladder against
the bough he was cutting off. I


There are no doubt some minds amongst us, whose power we admit, and
whose perversion of power we lament, who have bewildered themselves by
really deep meditation on inexplicable mysteries; who demand certainty
where certainty is not given to man, or demand for truths which are
established by sufficient evidence, other evidence than those truths
will admit. We can even painfully sympathise in that ordeal of doubt
which such powerful minds are peculiarly exposed--with their Titanic
struggles against the still mightier power of Him who has said to the
turbulent intellect of man, as well as to the stormy ocean 'Hitherto
shalt thou come, but no farther,--and here shall thy proud waves be
staid.' We cannot wish better to any such agitated mind than that it may
listen to those potent and majestic words: 'Peace--be still!' uttered
by the voice of Him who so suddenly hushed the billows of the Galilean

But we are at the same time fully convinced that in our day there are
thousands of youths who are falling into the same errors and perils
from sheer vanity and affectation; who admire most what they least
understand, and adopt all the obscurities and paradoxes they stumble
upon, as a cheap path to a reputation for profundity; who awkwardly
imitate the manner and retail the phrases of the writers they
study; and, as usual, exaggerate to caricature their least agreeable
eccentricities. We should think that some of these more powerful
minds must be by this time ashamed of that ragged regiment of shallow
thinkers, and obscure writers and talkers who at present infest our
literature, and whose parrot-like repetition of their own stereotyped
phraseology, mingled with some barbarous infusion of half Anglicised
German, threatens to form as odious a cant as ever polluted the stream
of thought or disfigured the purity of language. Happily it is not
likely to be more than a passing fashion; but still it is a very
unpleasant fashion while it lasts. As in Johnson's day, every
young writer imitated as well as he could the ponderous diction and
everlasting antitheses of the great dictator as in Byron's day, there
were thousands to whom the world 'was a blank' at twenty or thereabouts,
and of whose dark imaginings,' as Macaulay says, the waste was
prodigious; so now there are hundreds of dilettanti pantheists', mystics
and sceptics to whom everything is a 'sham,' an 'unreality'; Who tell
us that the world stands in need of a great 'prophet,' a seer,' a 'true
prophet', a large soul,' a god-like soul,'*--who shall dive into 'the
depths of the human consciousness,' and whose 'utterances' shall
rouse the human mind from the 'cheats and frauds' which have hitherto
everywhere practised on its simplicity. The tell us, in relation to
philosophy, religion, and especially in relation to Christianity,
that all that has been believed by mankind has been believed only on
'empirical' grounds; and that the old answers to difficulties will do
no longer. They shake their sage heads at such men as Clarke, Paley,
Butler, and declare that such arguments as theirs will not satisfy
them.,--We are glad to admit that all this vague pretension is now
but rarely displayed with the scurrilous spirit of that elder unbelief
against which the long series of British apologists for Christianity
arose between 1700 and 1750; But there is often in it an arrogance
as real, though not in so offensive a form. Sometimes the spirit
of unbelief even assumes an air of sentimental regret at its own
inconvenient profundity. Many a worthy youth tells us he almost wishes
he could believe. He admires, of all things, the 'moral grandeur'--the
'ethical beauty' of many parts of Christianity; he condescends to
patronize Jesus Christ, though he believes that the great mass of
words and actions by which alone we know anything about him, are sheer
fictions or legends; he believes--gratuitously enough in this instance,
for he has no ground for it--that Jesus Christ was a very 'great man'
worthy of comparison at least with Mahomet, Luther, Napoleon, and 'other
heroes'; he even admits that happiness of a simple, child-like faith, in
the puerilities of Christianity--it produces such content of mind! But
alas! he cannot believe--his intellect is not satisfied--he has revolved
the matter too profoundly to be thus taken in; he must, he supposes,
(and our beardless philosopher sighs as he says it) bear the penalty of
a too restless intellect, and a too speculative genius; he knows all
the usual arguments which satisfied Pascal, Butler, Bacon, Leibnitz; but
they will do no longer: more radical, more tremendous difficulties
have suggested themselves, 'from the 'depths of philosophy,' and far
different answers are required now!+


* Foxton's last chapter, passim, from some expressions one would almost
imagine that our author himself aspired to be, if not the Messiah, at
least the Elias, of this new dispensation. We fear, however, that this
'vox clamantis' would reverse the Baptist's proclamation, and would cry,
'The straight shall be made crooked. and the plain places rough.' +
We fear that many young minds in our day are exposed to the danger
of falling into one or other of the prevailing forms of unbelief, and
especially into that of pantheistic mysticism--from rashly meditating
in the cloudy regions of German philosophy--on difficulties which would
seem beyond the limits of human reason, but which that philosophy too
often promises to solve--with what success we may see from the rapid
succession and impenetrable obscurities of its various systems. Alas!
when will men learn that one of the highest achievements of philosophy
is to know when it is vain to philosophise. When the obscure principles
of these most uncouth philosophies, expressed, we verily believe, in the
darkest language ever used by civilised man, are applied to the solution
of the problems of theology and ethics, no wonder that the natural
consequence, as well as just retribution, of such temerity is a
plunge into tenfold night. Systems of German philosophy may perhaps be
advantageously studied by those who are mature enough to study them; but
that they have an incomparable power of intoxicating the intellect of
the young aspirant to their mysteries, is, we think, undeniable. They
are producing the effect just now in a multitude of our juveniles,
who are beclouding themselves in the vain attempt to comprehend
ill-translated fragments of ill-understood philosophies, (executed in a
sort of Anglicised-German, or Germanised-English, we know not which to
call it, but certainly neither German nor English,) from the perusal of
which they carry away nothing but some very obscure terms, on which they
themselves have superinduced a very vague meaning. These terms you in
vain implore them to define; or, if they define them, they define
them in terms which as much need definition. Heartily do we wish that
Socrates would reappear amongst us, to exercise his accoucheur's art on
these hapless Theaetetuses and Menos of our day! Many such youths might
no doubt reply at first to the sarcastic Querist, (who might gently
complain of a slight cloudiness in their speculations.) that the truths
they uttered were too profound for ordinary reasoners. We may easily
imagine how Socrates would have dealt with such assumptions. His reply
would be rather more severe than that of Mackintosh to Coleridge in a
somewhat similar case; namely, that if a notion cannot be made clear to
persons who have spent the better part of their days in resolving the
difficulties of metaphysics and philosophy, and who are conscious
that they are not destitute of patience for the effort requisite to
understand them, it may suggest a doubt whether the truth be not in the
medium of communication rather than elsewhere; and, indeed, whether the
philosopher be not aiming to communicate thoughts on subjects on which
man can have no thoughts to communicate. Socrates would add, perhaps,
that language was given us to express, not to conceal our thoughts; and
that, if they cannot be communicated, invaluable as they doubtless are,
we had better keep them to ourselves; one thing it is clear he would
do,--he would insist on precise defintions. But in truth it may be more
than surmised that the obscurities of which all complain, except
those (and in our day they are not a few) to whom obscurity is a
recommendation, result from suffering the intellect to speculate in
realms forbidden to its access; into caverns of tremendous depth and
darkness, with nothing better than our own rushlight. Surely we have
reason to suspect as much when some learned professor, after muttering
his logical incantations, and conjuring with his logical formulae,
surprises you by saying, that he has disposed of the great mysteries of
existence and the universe, and solved to your entire satisfaction, in
his own curt way, the problems of the ABSOLUTE and the INFINITE! If the
cardinal truths of philosophy and religion hitherto received are doomed
to be imperilled by such speculations, one feels strongly inclined to
pray with the old Homeric hero,--'that if they must perish, it may be
at least in daylight.' We earnestly counsel the youthful reader to
defer the study of German philosophy, at least till he has matured and
disciplined his mind, and familiarised himself with the best models of
what used to be our boast--English clearness of thought and expression.
He will then learn to ask rigidly for definitions, and not rest
satisfied with half-meanings--or no meaning. To the naturally venturous
pertinacity of young metaphysicians, few would be disposed to be more
indulgent than ourselves. From the time of Plato downwards--who tells
us that no sooner do they 'taste' of dialectics than they are ready to
dispute with every body--'sparing neither father nor mother, scarcely
even the lower animals,' if they had but a voice to reply. They have
always expected more from metaphysics than (except as a discipline) they
will ever yield. He elsewhere, still more humorously describes the same
trait. He compares then, to young dogs who are perpetually snapping
at every thing about them:--Hoimai gar se ou lelêthenai, hoti
hoi meirakiskoi, hotan to prôton logôn geuôntai, ôs paidia autois
katachrôntai, aei eis antilogian chrômenoi kai mimoumenoi tous
exelenchontas autoi allous elenchousi, chairontes ôsper skulakia te
kai sparattein tous plêsion aei. But we hope we shall not see our
metaphysical 'puppies' amusing themselves--as so many 'old dogs' amongst
neighbours (who ought to have known better) have done,--by tearing into
tatters the sacred leaves of that volume, which contains what is better
than all their philosophy.


This is easily said, and we know is often said, and loudly. But the
justice with which it is said is another matter; for when we can get
these cloudy objectors to put down, not their vague assertions of
profound difficulties, uttered in the obscure language they love, but a
precise statement of their objections, we find them either the very same
with those which were quite as powerfully urged in the course of the
deistical controversies of the last century (the case with far the
greater part), or else such as are of similar character, and
susceptible of similar answers. We say not that the answers were always
satisfactory, nor are now inquiring whether any of them were so; we
merely maintain that the objections in question are not the novelties
they affect to be. We say this to obviate an advantage which the very
vagueness of much modern opposition to Christianity would obtain, from
the notion that some prodigious arguments have been discovered which
the intellect of a Pascal or a Butler was not comprehensive enough to
anticipate, and which no Clarke or Paley would have been logician enough
to refute. We affirm, without hesitation, that when the new advocates of
infidelity descend from their airy elevation, and state their objections
in intelligible terms, they are found, for the most part, what we
have represented them. When we read many of the speculations of German
infidelity, we seem to be re-perusing many of our own authors of the
last century. It is as if our neighbours had imported our manufactures;
and, after re-packing them, in new forms and with some additions,
had re-shipped and sent them back to us as new commodities. Hardly an
instance of discrepancy is mentioned in the 'Wolfenbutted Fragments,'
which will not be found in the pages of our own deists a century ago;
and, as already hinted, of Dr. Strauss's elaborate strictures, the vast
majority will be found in the same sources. In fact, though far from
thinking it to our national credit, none but those who will dive a
little deeper than most do into a happily forgotten portion of our
literature, (which made noise enough in its day, and created very
superfluous terrors for the fate of Christianity,) can have any idea of
the extent to which the modern forms of unbelief in Germany--so far as
founded on any positive grounds, whether of reason or of criticism,--are
indebted to our English Deists. Tholuck, however, and others of his
countrymen, seem thoroughly aware of it.

The objections to the truth of Christianity are directed either against
the evidence itself; or that which it substantiates. Against the latter,
as Bishop Butler says, unless the objections be truly such as prove
contradictions in it, they are 'perfectly frivolous;' since we cannot be
competent judges either as to what it is worthy of the Supreme Mind
to reveal, or how far a portion of an imperfectly-developed system may
harmonise with the whole; and, perhaps, on many points, we never can be
competent judges, unless we can cease to be finite. The objections to
the evidence itself are, as the same great author observes, 'well worthy
of the fullest attention.' The a priori objection to miracles we have
already briefly touched. If that objection be valid, it is vain to argue
further; but if not, the remaining objections must be powerful enough to
neutralise the entire mass of the evidence, and, in fact, to mount to a
proof of contradictions; 'not on this or that minute point of historic
detail,--but on such as shake the foundations of the whole edifice of
evidence. It will not do to say, 'Here is a minute discrepancy in the
history of Matthew or Luke as compared with that of 'Mark or John;'
for, first, such discrepancies are often found, in other authors, to be
apparent, and not real,--founded on our taking for granted that there is
no circumstance unmentioned by two writers which, if known, would
have been seen to harmonise their statements. We admit this possible
reconciliation readily enough in the case of many seeming discrepancies
of other historians; but it is a benefit which men are slow to admit in
the case of the sacred narratives. There the objector is always apt to
take it for granted that the discrepancy is real; though it may be easy
to suppose a case (a possible case is quite sufficient for the purpose)
which would neutralise the objection. Of this perverseness (we can call
it by no other name) the examples are perpetual in the critical tortures
which Strauss has subjected the sacred historians.*"--

It may be objected, perhaps, that the gratuitous supposition of some
unmentioned fact--which, if mentioned, would harmonise the apparently
counter-statements of two historians--cannot be admitted, and is, in
fact, a surrender of the argument. But to say so, is only to betray an
utter ignorance of what the argument is. If an objection be founded
on the alleged absolute contradiction of two statements, it is quite
sufficient to show any (not the real, but only a hypothetical and
possible) medium of reconciling them; and the objection is, in all
fairness, dissolved. And this would be felt by the honest logician, even
if we did not know of any such instances in point of fact. We do know
however, of many. Nothing is more common than to find, in the narration
of two perfectly honest historians,--referring to the same events from
different points of view, or for a different purpose,--the omission
a fact which gives a seeming contrariety to their statements; a
contrariety which the mention of the omitted fact by a third writer
instantly clears up.+


* The reader may see some striking instances of his disposition to
take the worse sense, in Beard's 'Voices of the Church.' Tholuck truly
observes, too, in his strictures on Strauss, 'We know how frequently the
loss of a few words in one ancient author would be sufficient to cast
an inexplicable obscurity over another.' The same writer well observes,
that there never was a historian who, if treated on the principles of
criticism which his countryman has applied to the Evangelists, might
not be proved a mere mytholographer ... 'It is plain', he says, 'that
if absolute among historians'--and still more absolute apparent
agreement--is necessary to assure us that we possess in their writings
credible history, we must renounce all pretence to any such possession.'
The translations from Quinet, Coquerel, and Tholuck are all, in
different ways, well worth reading. The last truly says, 'Strauss came
to the study of the Evangelical history with the forgone conclusion that
"miracles are impossible;" and where an investigator brings with him an
absolute conviction of the guilt of the accused to the examination
of his case, we know how even the most innocent may be implicated and
condemned out of his own mouth.' In fact, so strong and various are the
proofs of truth and reality in the history of the New Testament, that
none would ever have suspected the veracity of the writers, or tried to
disprove it, except for the above forgone conclusion--'that miracles
are impossible.' We also recommend to the reader an ingenious brochure
included in the 'Voices of the Church, in reply to Strauss,' constructed
on the same principle with Whately's admirable 'Historic Doubts,'
namely; 'The Fallacy of the Mythical Theory of Dr. Strauss, illustrated
from the History of Martin Luther, and from the actual Mohammedan Myths
of the Life of Jesus.' What a subject for the same play of ingenuity
would be Dean Swift! The date, and place of his birth disputed--whether
he was an Englishman or an Irishman--his incomprehensible relations to
Stella and Vanessa, utterly incomprehensible on any hypothesis--his
alleged seduction of one of one, of both, of neither--his marriage with
Stella affirmed, disputed, and still wholly unsettled--the numberless
other incidents in his life full of contradiction and mystery--and, not
least, the eccentricities and inconsistencies of his whole character and
conduct! Why, with a thousandth part of Dr. Strauss's assumptions, it
would be easy to reduce Swift to as fabulous a personage as his own
Lemuel Gulliver. +Any apparent discrepancy with either themselves or
profane historians is usually sufficient to satisfy Dr. Strauss. He
is ever ready to conclude that the discrepancy is real, and that the
profane historians are right. In adducing some striking instances of the
minute accuracy of Luke, only revealed by obscure collateral evidence
(historic or numismatic) discovered since, Tholuck remarks, 'What an
outcry would have been made had not the specious appearance of error
been thus obviated. Luke calls Gallio proconsul of Achaia: we should
not have expected it, since though Achaia was originally to senatorial
province. Tiberius had changed it into an imperial one, and the title
of its governor, therefore, was procurator; now a passage in Suetonius
informs us, that Claudius had restored the province to the senate.' The
same Evangelist calls Sergius Paulus governor of Cyprus; yet we might
have expected to find only a praetor, since Cyprus was an imperial
province. In this case, again: says Tholuck, the correctness of the
historian has been remarkable attested. Coins and later still a passage
in Dion Cassius, have been found, giving proof that Augustus restored
the province to the senate; and thus, as if to vindicate the Evangelist,
the Roman historian adds, 'Thus, proconsuls began to be sent into that
island also.' Trans. From Tholuck, pp. 21, 22. In the same manner
coins have been found proving he is correct in some other once disputed
instances. Is it not fair to suppose that many apparent discrepancies of
the same order may be eventually removed by similar evidence?


Very forgetful of this have the advocates of infidelity usually been:
nay, (as if they would make up in the number of objections what they
want in weight,) they have frequently availed themselves not only of
apparent contrarieties, but of mere incompleteness in the statements
of two different writers, on which to found a charge of contradiction.
Thus, if one writer says that a certain person was present at a given
time or place, when another says that he and two more were there; or
that one man was cured of blindness, when another says that two were,--
such a thing is often alleged as a contradiction; whereas, in truth, it
resents not even a difficulty--unless one historian be bound to say
not only all that another says but just so much, and no more. Let such
objections be what they will, unless they prove absolute contradictions
in the narrative, they are as mere dust in the balance, compared with
the stupendous mass and variety of that evidence which confirms the
substantial truth of Christianity. And even if they establish real
contradictions, they still amount, for reasons we are about to state,
to dust in the balance, unless they establish contradictions not in
immaterial but in vital points. The objections must be such as, if
proved, leave the whole fabric of evidence in ruins. For, secondly, we
are fully disposed to concede to the objector that there are, in the
books of Scripture, not only apparent but real discrepancies,--a point
which many of the advocates of Christianity are, indeed, reluctant to
admit but which we think, no candid advocate will feel to be the less
true. Nevertheless, even such an advocate of the Scriptures may justly
contend that the very reasons which necessitate this admission of
discrepancies also reduce them to such a limit that they do not affect,
in the slightest degree, the substantial credibility of the sacred
records; and, in our judgment, Christians have unwisely damaged their
cause, and given a needless advantage to the infidel, by denying that
any discrepancies exist, or by endeavouring to prove that they do not.
The discrepancies to which we refer are just those which, in the course
of the transcription of ancient books, divine or human, through
many ages,--their constant transcription by different hands,--their
translation into various languages,--may not only be expected to occur,
but which must occur, unless there be a perpetual series of most minute
and ludicrous miracles--certainly never promised, and as certainly never
performed--to counteract all the effects of negligence and inadvertence,
to guide the pen of every transcriber to infallible accuracy, and
to prevent his ever deviating into any casual error! Such miraculous
intervention, we need not say, has never been pleaded for by any
apologist of Christianity; has certainly never been promised; and, if it
had,--since we see, as a matter of fact, that the promise has never been
fulfilled,--the whole of Christianity would fall to the ground. But
then, from a large induction, we know that the limits within which
discrepancies and errors from such causes will occur, must be very
moderate; we know, from numberless examples of other writings, what the
maximum is,--and that it leaves their substantial authenticity untouched
and unimpeached. No one supposes the writings of Plato and Cicero, of
Thucydides and Tacitus, of Bacon or Shakspeare, fundamentally vitiated
by the like discrepancies, errors, and absurdities which time and
inadvertence have occasioned.

The corruptions in the Scriptures from these causes are likely to
be even less than in the case of any other writings; from their very
structure,--the varied and reiterated forms in which all the great
truths are expressed; from the greater veneration they inspired; the
greater care with which they would be transcribed; the greater number
of copies which would be diffused through the world,--and which, though
that very circumstance would multiply the number of variations, would
also afford, in their collation, the means of reciprocal correction;--a
correction which we have seen applied in our day, with admirable
success, to so many ancient writers, under a system of canons which
have now raised this species of criticism to the rank of an inductive
science. This criticism, applied to the Scriptures, has in many
instances restored the true rending, and dissolved the objections which
might have been founded on the uncorrected variations; and, as time
rolls on, may lead, by yet fresh discoveries and more comprehensive
recensions, to a yet further clarifying of the stream of Divine truth,
till 'the river of the water of life' shall flow nearly in its original
limpid purity. Within such limits as these, the most consistent advocate
of Christianity not only must admit--not only may safely admit--the
existence of discrepancies, but may do so even with advantage to his
cause. he must admit them, since such variations must be the result of
the manner in which the records have been transmitted, unless we suppose
a supernatural intervention, neither promised by God nor pleaded for by
man: he may safely admit them, because--from a general induction from
the history of all literature--we see that, where copies of writings
have been sufficiently multiplied, and sufficient motives for care have
existed in the transcription, the limits of error are very narrow, and
leave the substantial identity untouched: and he may admit them with
advantage; for the admission is a reply to many objections rounded on
the assumption that he must contend that there are no variations, when
he need only contend that there are none that can be material.

But it may be said, 'May not we be permitted, while conceding the
miraculous and other evidences of Christianity, and the general
authority of the records which contain it, to go a step further, and
to reject some things which seem palpably ill-reasoned, distasteful,
inconsistent, or immoral?' 'Let every man be fully persuaded in his
own mind.' For ourselves, we honestly confess we cannot see the logical
consistency of such a position; any more than the reasonableness, after
having admitted the preponderant evidence for the great truth of Theism,
of excepting some phenomena as apparently at variance with the Divine
perfections; and thus virtually adopting a Manichaean hypothesis. We
must recollect that we know nothing of Christianity except from its
records; and as these, once fairly ascertained to be authentic and
genuine, are all, as regards their contents, supported precisely by the
same miraculous and other evidence; as they bear upon them precisely
the same internal marks of artlessness, truth, and sincerity; and,
historically and in other respects, are inextricably interwoven with one
another; we see not on what principles we can safely reject portions as
improbable, distasteful, not quadrating with the dictates of reason;'
our 'intuitional consciousness,' and what not. This assumed liberty,
however is, as we apprehend, of the very essence of Rationalism; and
it may be called the Manichaeism of interpretation. So long as the
canonicity of any of the records, or any portion of them, or their true
interpretation, is in dispute, we may fairly doubt; but that point once
decided by honest criticism, to say we receive such and such portions,
on account of the weight of the general evidence, and yet reject other
portions, though sustained by the same evidence, because we think there
is something unreasonable or revolting in their substance, is plainly
to accept evidence only where it pleases us, and to reject it where it
pleases us not. The only question fairly at issue must ever be whether
the general evidence for Christianity will overbear the difficulty which
we cannot separate from the truths. If it will not, we must reject it
wholly; and if it will, we must receive it wholly. There is plainly no
tenable position between absolute infidelity and absolute belief.
And this is proved by the infinitely various and Protean character of
Rationalism, and the perfectly indeterminate, but always arbitrary,
limits it imposes on itself. It exists in all forms and degrees, from a
moderation which accepts nearly the entire system of Christianity,
and which certainly rejects nothing that can be said to constitute its
distinctive truth, to an audacity of unbelief, which, professing still
vaguely to reverence Christianity as 'something divine,' sponges out
nine tenths of the whole; or, after reducing the mass of it to a caput
mortuum of lies, fiction, and superstitions, retains only a few drops of
fact and doctrine,--so few as certainly not to pay for the expenses of
the critical distillation.*


* It may be as well to remark, that we have frequently observed a
disposition to represent the very general abandonment of the theory
of 'verbal inspiration' as a concession to Rationalism; as if it
necessarily followed from admitting that inspiration is not verbal,
that therefore an indeterminate portion of the substance or doctrine
is purely human. It is plain, however, that this is no necessary
consequence: an advocate of plenary inspiration may contend, that,
though he does not believe that the very words of Scripture were
dictated, yet that the thoughts were either so suggested, (if the matter
was such as could be known only by revelation,) or so controlled, (if
the matter were such as was previously known,) that (excluding errors
introduced into the text since) the Scriptures as first composed
were--what no book of man ever was, or can be, even in the plainest
narrative of the simplest events--a perfectly accurate expression of
truth. We enter not here, however, into the question whether such a view
of inspiration is better or worse than another. We are simply anxious
to correct a fallacy which has, judging from what we have recently read,
operated rather extensively. Inspiration may be verbal, or the contrary;
but, whether one or the other, he who takes the affirmative or negative
of that question may still consistently contend that it may still be
plenary. The question of the inspiration of the whole or the inspiration
of a part, is widely different from that as to the suggestion of the
words or the suggestion of the thoughts. But these questions we leave to
professed theologians. We merely enter our protest against a prevailing


Nor will the theory of what some call the 'intuitional consciousness
avail us here. It is true, as they assert, that the constitution of
human nature is such that, before its actual development, it has a
capacity of developing to certain effects only,--just as the flower
in the germ, as it expands to the sun, will have certain colours and a
certain fragrance, and no other;--all which, indeed, though not very new
or profound, is very important. But it is not so dear that it will give
us any help on the present occasion. We have an original susceptibility
of music, of beauty, of religion, it is said. Granted; but as the actual
development of this susceptibility exhibits all the diversities between
Handel's notions of harmony and those of an American Indian--between
Raphael's notions of beauty and those of a Hottentot--between St. Paul's
notions of a God and those of a New Zealander--it would appear that
the education of this susceptibility is at least as important as the
susceptibility itself, if not more so; for without the susceptibility
itself, we should simply have no notion of music, beauty, or religion;
and between such negation and that notion of all these which New
Zealanders and Hottentots possess, not a few of our species would
probably prefer the former. It is in vain then to tell us to look into
the 'depths of our own nature' (as some vaguely say), and to judge
thence what, in a professed revelation, is suitable to us, or worthy of
our acceptance and rejection respectively. This criterion is, as we
see by the utterly different judgments formed by different classes of
Rationalists as to the how much they shall receive of the revelation
they might generally admit, a very shifting one--a measure which has no
linear unit; it is to employ, as mathematicians say, a variable as if it
were a constant quantity; or, rather, it is to attempt to find the value
of an unknown quantity by another equally unknown.

We cannot but judge, then, the principles of Rationalism to be logically
untenable. And we do so, not merely or principally on account of the
absurdity it involves,--that God has expressly supplemented human
reason by a revelation containing an indeterminate but large portion
of falsities, errors, and absurdities and which we are to commit to our
little alembic, and distil as we may; not only from the absurdity of
supposing that God has demanded our faith, for statements which are
to be received only as they appear perfectly comprehensible by our
reason;--or, in other words, only for what it is impossible that we
should doubt or deny; not merely because the principle inevitably leaves
man to construct the so-called revelation entirely for himself; so that
what one man receives as genuine communication from heaven, another,
from having a different development of 'his intuitional consciousness,'
rejects as an absurdity too gross for human belief:--Not wholly, we
say, nor even principally, for these reasons; but for the still stronger
reason, that such a system of objections is an egregious trifling with
that great complex mass of evidence which, as we have said, applies to
the whole of Christianity or to none of it. As if to baffle the efforts
of man consistently to disengage these elements of our belief, the whole
are inextricably blended together. The supernatural element, especially,
is so diffused through all the records, that it is more and more felt,
at every step, to be impossible to obliterate it without obliterating
the entire system in which it circulates. The stain, if stain it be,
is far too deep for any scouring fluids of Rationalism to wash it out,
without destroying the whole texture of our creed: and, in our judgment,
the only consistent Rationalism is the Rationalism which rejects it all.

At whatever point the Rationalist we have attempted to describe may take
his stand, we do not think it difficult to prove that his conduct is
eminently irrational. If, for example, he be one of those moderate
Rationalists who admit (as thousands do) the miraculous and other
evidence of the supernatural origin of the Gospel, and therefore also
admit such and such doctrines to be true,--what can he reply, if further
asked what reason he can have for accepting these truths and rejecting
others which are supported by the very same evidence? How can he be sure
that the truths he receives are established by evidence which, to all
appearance, equally authenticates the falsehoods he rejects? Surely, as
already said, this is to reject and accept evidence as he pleases.
If, on the other hand, he says that he receives the miracles only to
authenticate what he knows very well without them, and believes true on
the information of reason alone, why trouble miracles and revelation
at all? Is not this, according to the old proverb to 'take a hatchet to
break an egg'?*


* If such a man says that he rejects certain doctrines, not on
rationalistic grounds, but because he denies the canonical authority, or
the interpretation of portions of the records in which they are
found, and is willing to abide by the issue if the evidence on those
points--evidence with which the human mind is quite competent to
deal,--we answer, that he is not the man with whom we are now arguing.
The points in dispute will be determined by the honest use of history,
criticism, and philology. But between such a man and one who rejects
Christianity altogether, we can imagine no consistent position.


Nor can we disguise from ourselves, indeed, that consistency in the
application of the essential principle of Rationalism would compel us
to go a few steps further; for since, as Bishop Butler has shown, no
greater difficulties (if so great) attach to the page of Revelation than
to the volume of Nature itself,--especially those which are involved in
that dread enigma, 'the origin of evil,' compared with which all other
enigmas are trifles,--that abyss into which so many of the
difficulties of all theology, natural and revealed, at last disembogue
themselves,--we feel that the admission of the principle of Rationalism
would ultimately drive us, not only to reject Christianity, but to
reject Theism in all its forms, whether Monotheism, or Pantheism, and
even positive or dogmatic Atheism itself. Nor could we stop, indeed,
till we had arrived at that absolute pyrrhonism which consists, if such
a thing be possible, in the negation of all belief,--even to the belief
that we do not believe!

But though the objections to the reception of Christianity are numerous,
and some insoluble, the question always returns, whether they over
balance the mass of the evidence in its favour? nor is it to be
forgotten that they are susceptible of indefinite alleviation as time
rolls on; and with a few observations on this point we will close the
present article.

A refinement of modern philosophy often leads our rationalist to speak
depreciatingly, if not contemptuously, of what he calls a stereotyped
revelation--revelation in a book. It ties down, he is fond of saying,
the spirit to the letter; and limits the 'progress' and 'development' of
the human mind in its 'free' pursuit of truth. The answer we should
be disposed to make is, first, that if a book does contain truth, the
sooner that truth is stereotyped the better; secondly, that if such
book, like the book of Nature, or, as we deem, the book of Revelation,
really contains truth, its study, so far from being incompatible with
the spirit of free inquiry, will invite and repay continual efforts more
completely to understand it. Though the great and fundamental truths
contained in either volume will be obvious in proportion to their
importance and necessity, there is no limit to be placed on the
degree of accuracy with which the truths they severally contain may be
deciphered, stated, adjusted--or even on the period in which fragments
of new truth shall cease to be elicited. It is true indeed that theology
cannot be said to admit of unlimited progress, in the same sense as
chemistry--which may, for aught we know, treble or quadruple its
present accumulations, vast as they are, both in bulk and importance.
But, even in theology as deduced from the Scripture, minute fragments
of new truth, or more exact adjustments of old truth, may be perpetually
expected. Lastly, we shall reply, that the objection to a revelation's
being consigned to a 'book' is singularly inapposite, considering that
by the constitution of the world and of human nature, man, without
books,--without the power of recording, transmitting, and perpetuating
thought, of rendering it permanent and diffusive, ever is, ever has
been, and ever must be little better than a savage; and therefore, if
there was to be a revelation at all, it might fairly be expected that it
would be communicated in this form; thus affording us one more analogy,
in addition to the many which Butler has stated, and which may in
time be multiplied without end, between 'Revealed Religion and the
Constitution and Course of Nature.'

And this leads us to notice a saying of that comprehensive genius,
which we do not recollect having seen quoted in connexion with recent
controversies, but which is well worthy of being borne in mind, as
teaching us to beware of hastily assuming that objections to Revelation,
whether suggested by the progress of science, or from the supposed
incongruity of its own contents, are unanswerable. We are not, he says,
rashly to suppose that we have arrived at the true meaning of the whole
of that book. 'It is not at all incredible that a book which has been
so long in the possession of mankind, should contain many truths as
yet undiscerned. For all the same phenomena and the same faculties of
investigation, from which such great discoveries in natural knowledge
have been made in the present and last age, were equally in the
possession of mankind several thousand year's before.' These words are
worthy of Butler: and as many illustrations of their truth have been
supplied since his day, so many others may fairly be anticipated in the
course of time. Several distinct species of argument for the truth
of Christianity from the very structure and contents of the books
containing it have been invented--of which Paley's 'Horae Paulinae' is a
memorable example. The diligent collation of the text, too, has removed
many difficulties; the diligent study of the original languages of
ancient history, manners and customs, has cleared up many more; and by
supplying proof of accuracy where error of falsehood had been charged,
has supplied important additions to the evidence which substantiates the
truth of Revelation. Against the alleged absurdity of the laws of
Moses, again, such works as that of Micholis have disclosed much of that
relative wisdom which aims not at the abstractedly best, but the best
which a given condition of humanity, a given period of the world's
history, and a given purpose could dictate. In pondering such
difficulties as still remain in those laws, we may remember the answer
of Solon to the question, whether he had given the Athenians the best
laws; viz. that he had given them the best of which they were capable:
or the judgment of the illustrious Montesquieu, who remarks, 'When
Divine Wisdom said to the Jews, "I have given you precepts which are not
good," this signifies that they had only a relative goodness: and this
is the sponge which wipes out all the difficulties which are to be found
in the laws of Moses.' This is a truth which we are persuaded a profound
philosophy will understand the better the more deeply it is revolved;
and only those legislative pedants will refuse weight to it, who would
venturously propose to give New Zealanders and Hottentots, in the
starkness of their savage ignorance, the complex forms of the British
constitution. In similar manner, many of the old objections of our
deistical writers have ceased to be heard of in our day, unless it be
from the lips of the veriest sciolism; the objections, for instance,
of that truly pedantic philosophy which once argued that ethical and
religious truth are not given in the Scripture in a system such as a
schoolman might have digested it into; as if the brief iteration and
varied illustration of pregnant truth, intermingled with narrative,
parable, and example, were not infinitely better adapted to the
condition of the human intellect in general! For similar reasons, the
old objection, that statements of Christian morality are given without
the requisite limitations, and cannot be literally acted upon, has
been long since abandoned as an absurdity. It is granted that a hundred
folios could not contain the hundredth part of all the limitations of
human actions, and all the possible cases of a contentious casuistry;
and it is also granted that human nature is not so inept as to be
incapable of interpreting and limiting for itself such rules as
'Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.'

In the same manner have many of the objections suggested at different
periods by the progress of science been dissolved; and, amongst the
rest, those alleged from the remote historic antiquity of certain
nations on which infidels, like Volney and Voltaire, once so confidently
relied. And it is worthy of remark, that some of the old objections
of philosophers have disappeared by the aid of that very
science--geology--which has led, as every new branch of science probably
will, to new ones. Geology has, however, in our judgment, done at least
as much already to remove difficulties as to occasion them; and it is
not illogical, or perhaps unfair, to surmise that, we will only have
patience, its own difficulties, as those of so many other branches of
science, will be eventually solved. One thing is clear,--that, if the
Bible be true and geology be true, that cannot be geologically true
which is scripturally false, or vice versa; and we may therefore
laugh at the polite compromise which is sometimes affected by learned
professors of theology and geology respectively. All we demand of
either--all that is needed--is, that they refrain from a too hasty
conclusion of absolute contradictions between their respective sciences,
and retain quiet remembrance of the imperfection of our present
knowledge both of geology and, as Butler says, of the Bible. The recent
interpretation of the commencement of Genesis--by which the first verse
is simply supposed to affirm the original creation of all things, while
the second immediately refers to the commencement of the human economy;
passing by those prodigious cycles which geology demands, with a silence
worthy of a true revelation, which does not pretend to gratify our
curiosity as to the previous condition of our globe any more than our
curiosity as to the history of other worlds--was first suggested by
geology, though suspected and indeed anticipated by some of the
early church Fathers. But it is now felt by multitudes to be the more
reasonable interpretation,--the second verse certainly more naturally
suggesting previous revolutions in the history of the earth than its
then instant creation: and though we frankly concede that we have
not yet seen any account of the whole first chapter of Genesis which
quadrates with the doctrines of geology, it does not become us hastily
to conclude that there can be none. If a further adjustment of those
doctrines, and a more diligent investigation of the Scripture together,
should hereafter suggest any possible harmony,--though not the true
one but one ever so gratuitously assumed,--it will be sufficient to
neutralise the objection. This, it will be observed, is in accordance
with what has been already shown,--that wherever an objection is founded
on an apparent contradiction between two statements, it is sufficient to
show any possible way in which the statements may be reconciled, whether
the true one or not. The objection, in that case, to the supposition
that the facts are gratuitously assumed, though often urged, is, in
reality, nothing to the purpose.* If it should ever be shown, for
example, that supposing as many geological eras as the philosopher
requires to have passed in the chasm between the first verse, which
asserts the original dependence of all things on the fiat of the
Creator, and the second, which is supposed to commence the human era,
any imaginable condition of our system--at the close, so to speak, of a
given geological period--would harmonise with a fair interpretation of
the first chapter or Genesis, the objection will be neutralised.


* Some admirable remarks in relation to the answers we are bound to give
to objections to revealed religion have been made by Leibnitz (in reply
to Bayle) in the little tract prefixed to his Theodicee, entitled 'De
la Conformite de la Foi avec la Raison.' He there shows that the utmost
that can fairly be asked is, to prove that the affirmed truths involve
no necessary contradiction.


We have little doubt in our own minds that the ultimately converging
though, it may be, transiently discrepant conclusions of the sciences of
philology, ethnology, and geology (in all of which we may rest assured
great discoveries are yet to be made) will tend to harmonise with the
ultimate results of a more thorough study of the records of the race as
contained in the book of Revelation. Let us be permitted to imagine
one example of such possible harmony. We think that the philologist may
engage to make out, on the strictest principles of induction, from the
tenacity with which all communities cling to their language, and the
slow observed rate of change by which they alter; by which Anglo-Saxon,
for example has become English*, Latin Italian, and ancient Greek modern
(though these languages have been affected by every conceivable cause of
variation and depravation); that it would require hundreds of thousands,
nay millions, of years to account for the production, by known natural
causes, of the vast multitude of totally distinct languages, and tens
of thousands of dialects, which man now utters. On the other hand, the
geologist is more and more persuaded of comparatively recent origin
of the human race. What, then, is to harmonise these conflicting
statements? Will it not be curious if it should turn out that nothing
can possibly harmonise them but the statement of Genesis, that in order
to prevent the natural tendency of the race to accumulate on one spot
and facilitate their dispersion and destined occupancy of the globe, a
preternatural intervention expedited the operation of the causes
which would gradually have given birth to distinct languages? Of the
probability of this intervention, some profound philologist have, on
scientific grounds alone, expressed their conviction. But in all such
matters, what we plead for is only--patience; we wish not to dogmatise;
all we ask is, a philosophic abstinence from dogmatism. In relation to
many difficulties, what is now a reasonable exercise of faith may one
day be rewarded by a knowledge which on those particular points may
terminate it. And, in such ways, it is surely conceivable that a great
part of the objections against Revelation may, in time, disappear; and,
though other objections may be the result of the progress of the other
sciences or the origination of new, the solution of previous objections,
together with the additions to the evidences of Christianity, external
and internal, which the study of history and of the Scriptures
may supply, and the still brighter light cast by the progress of
Christianity and the fulfilment of its prophecies, may inspire
increasing confidence that the new objections are also destined to yield
to similar solvents. Meanwhile, such new difficulties, and those more
awful and gigantic shadows which we have no reason to believe will ever
be chased from the sacred page,--mysteries which probably could not be
explained from the necessary limitation of our faculties, and are,
at all events, submitted to us as a salutary discipline of our
humility,--will continue to form that exercise of faith which is
probably nearly equal in every age--and necessary in all ages, if we
would be made 'little children,' qualified 'to enter the kingdom of


+ It contains, let us recollect, (after all causes of changes, including
a conquest, have been at work upon it,) a vast majority of the Saxon
words spoken in the time of Alfred--nearly a thousand years ago!


In conclusion we may remark, that while many are proclaiming that
Christianity is effete, and that, in the language of Mr. Proudhon (who
complacently says it amidst the ignominious failure of a thousand social
panaceas or his own age and country), it will certainly 'die out in
about three hundred years;' and while many more proclaim that, as a
religion of supernatural origin and supernatural evidence, it is already
dying, if not dead; we must beg leave to remind them that, even if
'Christianity be false, as they allege, they are utterly forgetting the
maxims of a cautious induction in saying that it will therefore cease to
exert dominion over mankind. What proof is there of this? Whether
true or false, it has already survived numberless revolutions of human
opinions, and all sorts of changes and assaults. It is not confined,
like other religions, to any one race--to any one clime--or any one form
of political constitution. While it transmigrates freely from race to
race, and clime to clime, its chief home; too, is still in the bosom of
enterprise, wealth, science, and civilisation; and it is at this moment
most powerful amongst the nations that have most of these. If not true,
it has such an appearance of truth as to have satisfied many of the
acutest and most powerful intellects of the species;--a Bacon, a Pascal,
a Leibnitz, a Locke, a Newton, a Butler;--such an appearance of truth as
to have enlisted in its support an immense army of genius and learning:
genius and learning, not only in some sense professional, and often
wrongfully represented as therefore interested, but much of both,
strictly extra-professional; animated to its defence by nothing but
a conviction of the force of the arguments by which its truth is
sustained, and that 'hope full of immortality' which its promises have
inspired. Under such circumstances it must appear equally rash and
gratuitous to suppose, even if it be a delusion, that an institute,
which has thus enlisted the sympathies of so many of the greatest minds
of all races and of all ages--which is alone stable and progressive
amidst instability and fluctuation,--will soon come to an end. Still
more absurdly premature is it to raise a paean over its fall, upon every
new attack upon it, when it has already survived so many. This, in fact,
is a tone which, though every age renews it, should long since have been
rebuked by the constant falsification of similar prophecies, from
the time of Julian to the time of Bolingbroke, and from the time of
Bolingbroke to the time of Strauss. As Addison, we think, humorously
tells the Atheist, that he is hasty in his logic when he infers that if
there be no God, immortality must be a delusion, since, if chance
has actually found him a place in this bad world, it may, perchance,
hereafter find him another place in a worse,---so we say, that if
Christianity be a delusion, since it is a delusion which has been proof
against so much of bitter opposition, and has imposed upon such hosts
of mighty intellects, these is nothing to show that it will not do so
still, in spite of the efforts either of Proudhon or a Strauss. Such
a tone was, perhaps, never so triumphant as during the heat of the
Deistical controversy in our own country, and to which Butler alludes
with so much characteristic but deeply satirical simplicity, in the
preface to his great work:--'It is come,' says he, 'I know not how, to
be taken for granted by many persons that Christianity is not so much
a subject of inquiry, but that it is now at length discovered to be
fictitious .... On the contrary, thus much at least will here be found,
not taken for granted, but proved, that any reasonable man, who will
thoroughly consider the matter, may be as much assured as he is of his
own being, that it is not, however, so clear that there is nothing in
it.' The Christian, we conceive, may now say the same to the Froudes,
and Foxtons, and to much more formidable adversaries of the present day.
Christianity, we doubt not, will still live, when they and their works,
and the refutations of their works, are alike forgotten; and a new
series of attacks and defences shall have occupied for a while (as so
many others have done) the attention of the world. Christianity, like
Rome, has had both the Gaul and Hannibal at her gates: But as the
'Eternal City' in the latter case calmly offered for sale, and sold, at
an undepreciated price, the very ground on which the Carthaginian had
fixed his camp, with equal calmness may Christianity imitate her example
of magnanimity. She may feel assured that, as in so many past instances
of premature triumph on the part of her enemies, the ground they occupy
will one day be its own; that the very discoveries, apparently hostile,
of science and philosophy, will be a great extent with the discoveries
in chronology and history; and thus will it be, we are confident, (and
to a certain extent has been already), with those in geology. That
science has done much, not only to render the old theories of Atheism
untenable and to familiarise the minds of men to the idea of miracles,
by that of successive creations, but to confirm the Scriptural statement
of the comparatively recent origin of our Race. Only the men of science
and the men of theology must alike Guard against the besetting fallacy
of their kind,--that of too hastily taking for granted that they already
know the whole of their respective sciences, and of forgetting the
declaration of the Apostle, equally true of all man's attainments,
whether in one department of science or another,--'We know but in part,
and we prophesy in part.'

Though Socrates perhaps expressed himself too absolutely when he said
that 'he only knew nothing,' yet a tinge of the same spirit,--a deep
conviction of the profound ignorance of the human mind, even at its
best--has ever been a characteristic of the most comprehensive genius.
It has been a topic on which it has been fond of mournfully dilating.
It is thus with Socrates, with Plato, with Bacon (even amidst all his
magnificent aspirations and bold predictions), with Newton, with Pascal,
and especially with Butler, in whom, if in any, the sentiment is carried
to excess. We need not say that it is seldom found in the writings of
those modern speculators who rush, in the hardihood of their adventurous
logic, on a solution of the problems of the Absolute and the Infinite,
and resolve in delightfully brief demonstrations the mightiest problems
of the universe--those great enigmas, from which true philosophy
shrinks, not because it has never ventured to think of them, but because
it has thought of them enough to know that it is in vain to attempt
their solution. To know the limits of human philosophy is the 'better
part' of all philosophy; and though the conviction of our ignorance is
humiliating, it is, like every true conviction, salutary. Amidst
this night of the soul, bright stars--far distant fountains of
illumination--are wont to steal out, which shine not while the imagined
Sun of reason is above the horizon! and it is in that night, as in the
darkness of outward nature, that we gain our only true ideas of the
illimitable dimensions of the universe, and of our true position in it.

Meanwhile we conclude that God has created 'two great lights,'--the
greater light to rule man's busy day--and that is Reason, and the lesser
to rule his contemplative night--and that is Faith.

But faith itself shines only so long as she reflects some faint
Illumination from the brighter orb.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Reason and Faith; Their Claims and Conflicts - From The Edinburgh Review, October 1849, Volume 90, No. - CLXXXII. (Pages 293-356)" ***

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