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second century, when the hope of Christ's return was dying out, and people were saying: "Where is the promise of his coming? For, since the fathers fell asleep, all things remain as they were from the beginning." Evidently, it was already quite a while "since the fathers fell asleep." But the letter is very serviceable as showing some good man at work to heal the breach between Peter and Paul, and make them seem as much alike as possible.
But the New Testament book which addresses itself par excellence to this task is the book of Acts. From the same hand as the Third Gospel, it enables us to see how little critical was the temper of the most critical of the New Testament writers. Read the introduction to Luke, and you will see that, "inasmuch as many had taken in hand to write the life of Jesus, this writer proposes to write something more accurate. And yet in Luke he puts the ascension of Jesus on the day of his resurrection; and, in Acts, without explanation or apology, forty days after. It is a most interesting book, so full of brave adventures that it has been called "the Christian Odyssey." Reading it carefully, you will notice that in one place the person changes from the third to the first; and we read "we" did so and so. In that "we" passage we have apparently our only contemporaneous historical document in the New Testament. But, as a whole, the book is a deliberate perversion of the apostolic history. The book appeared obedient to an impulse to make up the difference between Peter and Paul, to smooth over the scandal of their opposing theories and aims. But either Paul did not know his own mind and his own experience, or we have no faithful representation of him in the Acts of the Apostles. Both he and Peter are made over there: Peter is Paulinized, and Paul is Petrinized. Paul is about as narrow as Peter, and Peter almost or quite as broad as Paul. But, however cautiously the book is to be taken as a history of the time of the apostles, it is invaluable as an illustration of the methods by which the Church consolidated herself in the last decades of the second century, and stopped the mouths of heretics and schismatics.
And now, if I remember rightly, I have spoken deliberately or incidentally of every book in the New Testament except the last, as they are commonly arranged, the Apocalypse, or "Revelation of Saint John the Divine." This formerly was the impregnable fort of John, from which the authenticity of the Fourth Gospel was battered down. At least, it was pretty generally agreed, by all those who were at all disposed to see things as they are, that John, "the beloved disciple," could not have written both the Gospel and the Apocalyse; but some held fast by the former, and some by the latter. The problem was beset with many difficulties, and still is; but there are those who think they have been satisfactorily resolved by the discovery that the basis of the composition is a Jewish Apocalypse of 69 A.D., made over by Christian editors to suit their ideas and purposes in the course of the next fifty years.
It is an interesting fact that the great German critic Harnack, who had, as it were, given bonds to accept no such theory, was convinced of its soundness by his own pupil, Vischer. "The proffered solution came upon me," he writes, as the egg of Columbus." Once done, nothing could be more simple and self-evident. Dr. Martineau has accepted this solution with almost hilarious joy. "How strange," he says, "that we should ever have thought it possible for a personal attendant on the ministry of Jesus to write or edit a book in which Jesus leads the war-march and treads the wine-press of the wrath of God till the deluge of blood rises to the horses' bits!"
Some of you will remember that I questioned Professor Toy upon this point last Sunday evening, and that he spoke of the result as still in doubt; but afterward, in private conversation, I found that his inclination to the new theory was unmistakable. Whenever, wherever, and by whomsoever the Apocalypse was written, it is most unchristian in its spirit. As for its predictions, they refer to an immediate future, and embody the superstitious fancy of the time, that the Emperor Nero was not dead, and that he was coming
back to reign a second time. From first to last many pious souls have found great satisfaction in identifying their political and religious enemies with "the Scarlet Woman and "the False Prophet" and "the Beast." It will be long before the book furnishes no entertainment of this sort. "Bray a fool in a mortar with a pestle, yet will not his foolishness depart from him."
The Higher Criticism of the New Testament has encountered some of its most serious problems in the processes which determined the formation of the New Testament Canon, the list of New Testament books as we now have them. These processes were of long duration. Not until the sixth century was there universal agreement on this list of books to the exclusion of all others. At first the Old Testament was the only sacred scripture of the Christian Church. Gradually, the New Testament books came to enjoy an equal reverence with those of the Old Testament; and, finally, the Old Testament books were forced into a secondary rank.
It is a very interesting fact that the first New Testament of which we have any knowledge was in heretical keeping,— that of the Gnostic Marcion, whose list of books comprised some ten of Paul's Epistles and a single Gospel, evidently our Luke, but with a difference, making it even more Pauline than is our version. The first orthodox collection (that of Justin Martyr, 147-160 A.D.) was very different from Marcion's. It omitted all of Paul's Epistles, and had three Gospels (our Synoptics, probably), and possibly the fourth, but with no idea of its being John's. But, as we say the devil must not have all the good tunes, so the Church said the heretics must not have all the good books or even so many as Paul's Epistles, more or less. Thereupon it laid claim to these and the four Gospels, and, in order to make this conjunction less awkward, took the book of Acts, and. set it between them as the interpreter of their mutual relations. The so-called Catholic Epistles of James, John, and Peter took their several places in the New Testament, obedient to the same impulse.
In short, whenever, wherever, and by whomsoever the New Testament books were written, the principle of natural selection which determined on those we now have as the fittest to survive was the practical necessity of the growing Church to meet and combat certain developments of thought, Gnosticism and Montanism pre-eminently, that were threatening her very life. But the growing Church had no geographical or political unity; and throughout the third century, and fourth and fifth, the decisions here and there as to what books constituted the New Testament varied through a considerable range. Even when all that we now have were included, there were others which were given up with great reluctance. Not until 495 A.D. did a papal edict decide upon those we now have, and no others. But not all the local churches conformed at once to this decision.
Here is the true story of the making of a book of which the majority of Christian people still speak as if it were written by God's own hand, and given out at the beginning of our Christian history. It was four hundred and fifty years in the making, and there is not the ghost of a suspicion anywhere discoverable that the process of manufacture had any superhuman oversight or inspiration. The incongruity between these facts (which every scholar knows, and every clergyman whose education is not shamefully imperfect) and the claims made for the New Testament everywhere in orthodox circles is a scandal of such proportions that the worst scandals of our politics are altogether sweet and lovely in comparison.
The Higher Criticism of the Old Testament explains the evolution of a national religion from a miserable fetichism to the worship of one universal God. The Higher Criticism of the New Testament gives us another evolution,— the evolution of Jesus as an ideal conception, beginning with the pure humanity of the Synoptic Gospels and ascending by degrees through the earlier and later Epistles of Saint Paul until it reaches its climax in the Fourth Gospel, where, as the Eternal Logos, though infinitely more than man, he is
not yet identical or commensurate with God. It is to invert all the methods of interpretation which we use elsewhere, to hesitate for a moment to accept the obvious conclusion which these premises involve. But you will find apologists who, while conceding the evolution, as they must, insist that it was an evolution of the Church's progressive appreciation of the true nature of Jesus; some say, of progressive revelation. Miserable subterfuges these (the last a monstrous one), by which men endeavor to evade the truth that in the New Testament we have the earlier stages of that irrational deification of the human Jesus which culminated at Nicæa in 325 A.D. If there is one constructive achievement of New Testament criticism that is more obvious than any other, it is the pure humanity of Jesus, the natural and inevitable relation of his thought and work to the time and place which made the circumstantial setting of his life and death.
But the grand achievement of the Higher Criticism is not a separate synthesis of Old Testament and New: it is a synthesis including both in its majestic sweep. There is no break in the development from the fetichism of the early Hebrews to the filial and fraternal heart on which the loved disciple leaned. And the development is as strictly human as that of any child from its first infant feebleness to the maturity of all its powers. Human, but not therefore any less divine; for there is nothing without God. And why endeavor to make it appear otherwise than so? Why stretch out the hands to save "the sifted sediment of a residuum" when a cup of blessing, full to overflowing, is so near? There is a kind of atheism in the endeavor to save some special aspect of the world to God, as if all things and persons and events were not the channels of his boundless grace.
"Henceforth my heart shall sigh no more
God's love and blessing, then and there,