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(2.) The advocate of plenary inspiration, having obtained our assent to the authenticity of the Christian Scriptures, proceeds to show their truth. He reminds us that the depositions are no longer anonymous; and that the testimony having been duly signed, we may examine the character of the witnesses. We call them therefore before us. They are plain, plebeian, hard-handed men of toil, who have labored in the fields and olive-grounds of Judea, or held an oar on the Galilean Lake; who nevertheless have not been without the cottage and the home, the parent, wife and child; belonging, moreover, to a country having something to remember, and more to expect. Addressed by a solitary and houseless wanderer from Nazareth, won by some undefinable attraction that makes them think him a man of God, they follow him awhile, hoping for promotion, if he should prove, as they suspect, to be some great one. Daily this hope declines, but hourly the love increases. They hang upon his words; their passions sink abashed before his look; they blindly follow his steps, knowing nothing but that they will be the steps of mercy; they rebuke the blind beggar who cries; but he calls him groping to him, and sends him dazzled away; they go to help the cripple, and ere they reach him, at a word he leaps up in strength; they fly at the shriek of the maniac from the tombs, when lo! he lapses into silence, and sits at the feet of the Nazarene in the tears of a right and grateful mind. How can they leave him ? yet why precisely do they stay? If they depart, it is but to return with joy; and so they linger still, for they learn to trust him better than themselves. They go with him sorrowing; with occasional flashes of brilliant ambition, but with longer darkness between; with lowering hopes,
but deepening love; to the farewell meal; to the moonlight garden, its anguished solitude, its tranquil surrender to the multitude, making the seeming captive the real conqueror; a few of them to the trial; one, to the cross; the women, even to the sepulchre; and all, agitated and unbelieving, were recalled in breathless haste from their despair by the third day's tidings, the Lord has risen indeed! Thenceforth, they too are risen from the dead; the bandages as of the grave, drop from their souls; the spirit of God, which is the spirit of truth, comes to loose them and let go. Not higher did the Lord ascend to heaven which holds him now, than did they rise above the level of their former life. They understand it all, and can proclaim it; the things that were to come,—that dreadful cross, that third day, so darkly hidden from their eyes,—are shown them now; a thousand things which he had said unto them, rush, by the help of this new spirit, to their remembrance. And forth they go, to tell the things which they have seen and heard. They most of them perished, not without joy, in the attempt; but they did tell them, with a voice that could summon nations and ages to the audience; which things are this day sounded in our ears.
But I suppose we must endeavor to speak coolly of these venerable men, if we are to save them from being deprived of their manhood, and turned into the petrified images and empty vessels, of a physical or intellectual inspiration. Why will the extravagance of Churches compel us to freeze down our religion into logic, to prevent it blazing into an unsocial fanaticism? If, however, we must weigh the Apostles' claims with nice precision, we must say (at this stage of our inquiry we can only say) that they were honest personal witnesses of visible and audible facts; deserving therefore of all the reliance to which veracity, severely tested, is entitled. To every thing then which comes under the description of personal testimony, their demand on our confidence extends; their own impressions we believe to have been as they record. But their inferences, their arguments, their interpretations of ancient writings, their speculations on future events, however just and perfect in themselves, are no part of the report which they give in evidence, and cannot be established by appeal to their integrity;
Nor, in this limitation of testimony to its proper province, is there any thing in the slightest degree dishonourable to these chosen witnesses." "Is the judgment of the writers of the New Testament,” says Archdeacon Paley, "in interpreting passages of the Old, or, sometimes perhaps in receiving established interpretations, so connected either with their veracity, or with their means of information concerning what was passing in their own times; as that a critical mistake, even were it clearly made out, should overthrow their historical credit? Does it diminish it? Has it any thing to do with it?” We do not usually question the credit of a writer, by reason of an opinion he may have delivered upon subjects unconnected with his evidence; and even upon subjects connected with his account, or mixed with it in the same discourse or writing, we naturally separate facts from opinions, testimony from observation, narrative from argument."*Moreover, our dependence upon a faithful witness, besides being restricted to matters of fact, is measured by his
opportunities of observation; and it would be absurd to insist on his being heard with precisely equal belief, whether he relates, to the best of his knowledge, that which happened before he was born, or tells an occurrence that passed under his eyes. If this distinction be not well founded, then has personal contact with events no advantage; the stranger is on a foating with the observer; and all the defensive reasonings which theologians have thrown round Christianity, from the station which the Apostles occupied as eyewitnesses, are destitute of meaning; supported though they are by the sanction of the Apostles themselves, whose constant claim to belief, when they preached, was this only, and “we are witnesses of these things.” And if this distinction be well founded, there is just ground for discriminating between the different parts of an historian's narrative, and giving the highest place of credit to that which he had the best means of knowing: nor is it possible to admit the rule which I have heard laid down, that if we discover in an evangelist a single incorrect statement, the whole book must be repudiated, -selection being wholly out of the question. Of the birth of Christ, for example, St. Matthew was not a witness: of his ministry he was; and has the report of the latter no higher claim upon belief than the history of the fornrer,--seen as it was only in retrospect, at the distance of from thirty to sixty years, and through the colours of a subsequent life so great, so marvellous, so solemn? Hence, with relation to the initial chapters of the first and third Evangelists, while I leave them on an equality with the rest of the Gospels, in respect of authenticity, I place them in an inferior rank of credibility; especially since I find it impossible to reconcile them with each other. To justify
*Evidence of Christianity, part III., Chap. 2.
this opinion, I will point out two inconsistencies between them, one chronological, the other geographical. I have heard it affirmed that the
former of these difficulties was only apparent, and arose from the mistaken calculation of our Christian era, the commencement of whose year, 1, does not really strike as it ought, the hour of the nativity. Well then, we will throw this era aside for the moment, and employ another mode of reckoning, prevalent among the historians of those times, dating from the building of Rome. St. Luke tells us that in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, our Lord was about thirty years of age; this would assign the birth of Christ, at the earliest, to Jan. 1 of the year of Rome 751. According to St. Matthew, he was born full one year before the death of King Herod, whose massacre of the innocents included all under two years; the latest date that can be fixed for the death of Herod is Feb. or March, 751, so that the nativity falls, according to one evangelist, not later than 750, according to the other not earlier than 751. The geographical discrepancy between the two Evangelists has reference to the habitual residence of the Virgin Mary; St. Matthew supposes Bethlehem to have been Joseph's usual dwelling place; and nothing can be more evident than that, according to the account of St. Luke, Joseph was a total stranger at Bethlehem.” I quote the opinion of the Rev. Connop Thirlwall, a divine whose distinguished philological attainments have given him a European reputation, without at present raising him to that station in his own church, which would best suit his merits and her dignity.
The variance between two narratives is no sufficient reason for rejecting both, though it compels the disbelief of one. In the present instance, the probabilities appear to preponderate in favor of St. Luke's. And, returning from the particular case to the general rule, I conclude this topic by repeating, respecting the credibility” of any set of historical works, the remark formerly made respecting their 6 authenticity.” I protest against its being urged upon us as an indissoluble magnitude without fractional parts, incapable of increment or decrement, analysis or composition, which must be taken whole, or rejected whole; and I claim the right, till it can be shown not to belong to me, of reducing the recorded events of Scripture into classes, according to their degree of probability and their force of testimony. With this qualification, we maintain, with all other Christians, the ample credibility and the actual truth of the Gospel records, making no divorce between the natural and the miraculous, but taking both as
inseparably woven together into the texture of the same faithful narrative.
But this step in the argument, I am reminded, cannot be taken without another, which brings us directly to the intellectual infallibility of the Apostles. Among the primary and undisputed facts which they record from personal experience, are the miracles which they wrought; and miracles being an interposition of God, establish the divine authority of the performer; so that all the lessons and sentiments propounded by a person so endowed, must be received as immediate communications from the Unerring Spirit.
To this argument, if somewhat limited in the extent of its conclusion, I believe that most Unitarians would yield their assent. Certain it is that their best writers constantly reason from the miraculous acts, to the doctrinal inspiration of the first preachers of Christianity; and Dr. Priestly calls it
egregious trifling"* to question the soundness of the proof. Yet it is surely difficult to reconcile it with fact and scripture; and not less so to state it logically in words. In whatever form it is expressed, it rests upon a postulate which I hold to be false and irreligious; viz. that the supernatural is Divine, the natural not Divine; that God did the miracles, and since the creation has done nothing else; that Heaven gave a mission to those whom it thus endowed, and has given no mission to those who are otherwise endowed. culiar consecration of miracle is obtained by a precisely proportioned desecration of nature; it is out of a supposed contrast between the two, that the whole force of the impression arises. The imagination which overlooks and forgets all that is sacred in the common earth and sky, that gives itself over to the dream, that it is all dead mechanism-downright clockwork, wound up perhaps at creation, but running down of itself till doom; the heart that feels nothing divine in life, and nothing holy in man; that has lost, from Epicurean sloth and sickness of soul, the healthy faculty of spontaneous wonder, and worship ever fresh,-are the pupils most ripe for this tutelage. The Deity must be thrust from the universe, or else benumbed there, in order to concentrate his energies in the preternatural. The speculative convert to miracles, is the practical Atheist of nature.
I need not remind any reader of the Gospels, of the accordance of this view with the general temper of our Lord's mind. His miracles, surely, sprung from compassionate, not proselytizing impulses; had a practical, not a didactic air;
*Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion, Part II. Ch. ii. &I. Vol. VIII.-27.