I now turn to some details. For, while the pride of man’s heart would have no God (at least, not one who should interfere with him or reveal Himself), he is very anxious really to get rid of One which besets him, which exposes his lusts and his pride, closes in his conscience on every side, and bars his will, and tells him that God does concern Himself in his thoughts, words, and actions, yea, though He do it in love. I turn, then, now to Mr. N.’s objections to scripture. In treating of objections made to the word of God, it is well to consider what is objected to.
I cannot here, of course, write a book on the positive evidences of Christianity. But no one is ignorant that there are such, and that the positive proofs of it—proofs such as no event, no system, no person on earth has for itself—have been detailed in the language of every civilized people. Now particular objections leave this all out of sight; yet, where anything has been largely, positively proved, the dwelling on the objections that may be raised, without estimating the positive proofs of the whole system, is a totally unsound mental process. It is a way of judging of the truth of anything which would be admitted in no other case whatever. I do not object to the examination of every difficulty in detail.
In the case of scripture, the positive proof is that of the divinity of the system as a whole. If the system at large is positively proved, a difficulty attached to it which I cannot solve is a demonstration, not of the falseness of the system, but of my incompetency to deal with the difficulty. In such a case, a sound minded man is content to say, “I do not know.” The historical facts and documents of Christianity are proved, with an evidence, such as no other universally believed event or acknowledged book has any evidence to be compared with, and if proved shew that it is divine. It has met with an opposition which made every document and fact to be scrutinized with a closeness which left only what was incontestable uncontested. This was to be expected, because it presented the claims of a holy God, to which the antagonist will of man never would submit. Hostile heathens, philosophical adversaries, heretical corrupters, foolish advocates, elaborate historians, voluminous commentators, every kind of author and character has been occupied with it from the time of its promulgation, and authenticated its history and its doctrines even when opposing them; and this in the presence of the hostility of religions divinely established or nationally and deeply enracinated on the one side, and sceptical scorn on the other. The books on which the smallest doubt could be cast, doubts were cast upon; and their authenticity made a subject of question as they are by objectors now.
The internal difficulties by which Mr. N. seeks to invalidate the inspiration of the New Testament, or at any rate the greater part of them, were noticed already in the second century and answered. The Jews were as desirous to prove Jesus was not the Messiah as Mr. N. could be now. In a word, we are on ground travelled over for eighteen centuries. Old infidelity dressed up in a new form, to be met by increasing light and increasing proofs, which God in His goodness affords, both internal and external.
The history of Christianity no one attempted to deny when any denial of it would have been of the smallest value. They hated it, opposed it, sought to destroy it by force, and to subvert it by argument and ridicule; but it was there to be hated. No man thought of denying that. The documents were reasoned against, and objections made to them; but they, and they only, were received, by friends and foes, as the authentic documents of the religion professed by Christians. This is beyond all question. The Jews exist to this day the living witnesses of the truth of this history. They possess the books of the Old Testament, which we do. Their state confirms the Christianity they deny. It is well known that the Talmudists15 confirm the history of Christ’s death, His flight into Egypt, and His miracles (though attributing them to sorcery He had learned when there, or, as some say, He wrought them by the means of God’s ineffable name, which He stole).
If we turn to the internal testimony, there is no book in existence to be compared to the New Testament scriptures. Nothing in the least degree approaches its simplicity, power, moral depth and moral purity, profound knowledge of God, adaptation of His love to the heart of man; none that displays God so much, brings Him forward so constantly, without ever committing itself by anything unworthy of Him; brings Him down so near man, and yet only more fully to shew Him always to be God; reveals Him in person, in doctrine, in precept, in His ways, in prophecy; and by Mr. N.’s own testimony, it alone has produced the sense of the sympathy of a pure and perfect God with the sincere worshipper. It has done more; it has manifested Him as the Friend of publicans and sinners—a way of which Mr. N. has no idea. For them (and how many are there!) he has no God; and yet He is never more evidently God than when we see Him thus.
If, with a God of law, the unclean leper must stand off from man as well as God, Jesus will touch the defiled one with a holy power that dispels the evil by which it cannot be contaminated, while perfect suited love is revealed in the act.
But, further, take in general the account given of this manifestation of God in flesh. There is a divine infinitude in the relationships revealed and developed. We can feel, if indeed we can discern God, that we are occupied with what is infinite. Yet he who speaks is so at home in what is infinite, that the expression of it is simple, as God is to Himself—as everything is to Him. There is no bombastical effort to elevate expressions to what one’s heart does not reach; no enlarged and laboured periods to unfold what remains secret and unknown after all, if indeed all be not in expression. What produces the inexpressible feeling is stated; but the statement has the simplicity of known ani perfect truth. When Paul would sometimes express his feelings as to it, you may see him labouring beyond the bounds of human language, to give vent to the thoughts of a heart which possesses what is too great for it to contain. Yet this is only feeling produced by it.
Take the revelation of the facts, and all is simple. Read the scene with the shepherds, when that great event is announced which brought in reconciliation and the bringing together of a fallen world and God by the incarnation. Can anything exceed its simplicity? Yet what thoughts are unfolded in a few words: “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, good will towards men!” What accomplishment of promises—what revelation of grace—what an untold and ineffable mystery—what a God is revealed in love! Men, angels, Israel, the world, are all concerned. Where is there a word that is not characteristic of simple divine revelation? where is there an epithet seeking to elevate what such working of the human mind can only lower? Read all through the New Testament: never will you find an epithet attached to the name of Jesus. He carries His own beauty: others may talk about it, express their feelings about it; it is very right; it has its just and holy place. But Jesus is to be the thing revealed, if it be a revelation, not the expression of man’s feelings about Him. What a testimony is this, that the Holy Ghost, and not Luke, or John, or Mark, or Matthew, was the real writer of these histories of Jesus! There is a divine stamp on the whole history, the not discerning of which proves, not the failure of the evidence, but the incompetency of him who is insensible to it to perceive that which is of God.
Again, take the whole body of scripture, a collection of books written by various persons during a period of fifteen hundred years—of about eight hundred, by Mr. N.’s admission. All these develop an immense system. The sacrifices of the old are far the fullest development of every moral truth contained in the great historical fact and doctrine of the new, yet comparatively without meaning, till that fact appeared and that doctrine developed its bearing—circumstances and histories, full of instruction for our present walk, which in themselves are simple histories of patriarchs or of Israel (the application of them being totally unknown to those who wrote)—a unity of design, a completeness of structure (yet written when the connection of the subsequent part with the former was impossible to be known to man), which proves the unity of the mind of the Being whose revealing power and controlling thought and knowledge run through it all from beginning to end.
It may be said that this is natural, where one people has been the scene of the development. But the fact is not so. This people rejected, and has been totally set aside by this development. The law in its own proper nature does not admit the gospel; and the gospel sets aside as a system in toto the law, and yet confirms it all as divine, as the law and the prophets all prove the gospel when it arrives.
The doctrine of the Church is brought out, of which there is no mention in the Old Testament whatever, yet it alone fills up the gap, and satisfies what these prophecies have revealed. Without it the world would have remained without any direct revealed association with God. This the revelation of the Church affords, for it is heavenly, which the world and Jewish government cannot be; yet these were to be set aside for a long while, and nothing earthly could fill up the gap.
It is revealed when the time is come and not before, because it sets aside the whole previous system of Jew and Gentile, a revelation which, if made before, would have destroyed all the authority of what existed. Yet it is necessary, when it does come, to the whole order of God’s ways, as revealed in the system it sets aside. Now it is alleged, there are difficulties in detail as to this vast and wonderful system, externally authenticated as nothing else in the world is, which has internally the impress of its divine authorship in its whole character, morals, doctrine, and structure. If I lose the effect of the positive evidence, I prove my incapacity of estimating the value of the revelation of God, instead of simply my incompetency to solve the objection, as is the case if I accept the whole thus proved, and avow I cannot explain the difficulty, supposing such to be the case; as a man who reasoned what the sun was from an eclipse, and could not see when it shone. Suppose some phenomenon in nature which I cannot explain. That there are such, and even monsters, every one knows. I find around me (Mr. N. will not deny it) proofs of divine operation, and of a constant law (which is the strongest proof of divine operation) and power—a vast universe bearing (as a whole and in the minutest part) the proof of the power of God as having created and as sustaining it. If it be indeed God, nothing can be hid from this power; the very proof it is His is its universality, infallibility, and constancy, and that what grasps the whole cannot let the minutest part escape its attentions. It is not an outward show. That man could produce in his little measure. Go search within: see the springs, the details. Man’s work is but the scene of a theatre, a fair show by dim light, and it is moved by what may fail at any moment. Follow God’s into detail. See all His works in scratinizing light. Does He fail anywhere? Has anything escaped Him? Nothing. How came the monster there then? Is there some Arimanes, some evil Demiurge, that has had at least his share in the work? One failure proves that God is not there! Such is logic—at least the logic of objections. I find some inexplicable phenomenon, some lusus naturae *** as it is called, some monstrous birth. It is a proof that there is no God, no perfect Creator and Sustainer of the universe! Is this sound reasoning with the proofs I have of it? No, the wise man, sure of the former by irrefragable proofs, says, I do not know why this is. He knows indeed, if taught of God, that evil is come in, and that sorrow and confusion is the fruit of it—evil which he does not attribute to God, save as permitting it externally for correction.
It is in vain to say, I can shew by the order of physical laws how it must have happened. Who made physical laws necessarily producing monstrosities? The sense that it is a monstrosity, moreover, is proof of the conscience of a universal order. Why then is a particular inexplicable difficulty adduced as an objection to revelation, and urged as a proof that the whole is false? There is but one reason. Revelation controls the passions, which creation does not. A judgment to come, sin, having to answer to God—these are what revelation treats of; and they are what man does not like. A God of providence he will have and reason about, because he wants Him, and he prides himself on having to say to the Almighty as he (man) likes to have to say to Him. But to be judged by Him, or even to own himself a sinner, and to be in so humble a condition as to be loved by Him and to need it—ah! that is another matter. The principle then on which the reasoning drawn from objections goes is a false and hollow one. Still, as they trouble the mind, I shall refer to them, without pretending to solve every difficulty that can be raised. That is merely a question of my competency, not of the truth of scripture. To judge of these we must advert to another principle which affects directly the whole force of any objection to any writing whatever, and that is the object of the writer. If my object is to shew the spirit and bearing of a course of action in which many isolated facts have the same moral force, I may neglect chronological order without anything being changed by it. If I were shewing the progress of an individual mind in them, chronological order would be everything. Again, if I am shewing that a person’s public life had a given aim or object, I select the facts proving it, and neglect a multitude of others, without which, as a personal history, it would be necessarily imperfect and disconnected; but it is not incomplete in the view in which I have written it. If I were shewing the filial piety of the same person, and the way he kept up the ties of family to the end, only such parts of his public life would be related as might shew, that, in spite of its importance and activity, this tie was always felt and acted on. And so on.
Take again, as an example, the Code Napoleon. Did I speak of it as a monument of his genius, I might select particular parts in which the bearing of law on society, an intuitive perception of just results in details, and the vast scope of design were manifest, and shew that these originated in his mind. Did another history seek to shew his power in employing instruments, it might shew the very same parts drawn up by men able in their vocation; and a caviller might find difficulty to reconcile the drawing up of all by these instruments with the originating mind which had set all agoing and directed it throughout. Were I shewing the progress of legislation in the world, I might allege these very same parts as the necessary consequence of the progress of society, and that they flowed as the evident consequences from the preceding steps in this process, as one idea leads on to another; and, in appearance, Napoleon’s originality would disappear. All these histories might be true—nay, we may suppose, absolutely true—yet impossible for one who had only these to reconcile them in everything, because he has not the additional elements and a knowledge, which would be really divine, of the whole order of man’s mind and history, which would be absolutely necessary to put them together. Is God’s history of His Son in the world less vast in conception, less multifarious in the relationships it speaks of, than Napoleon and a code of laws?
Take, again, a scriptural example: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear him.” If I quote this desiring to rest His claim to be heard on His being Son, in contrast, say, with Moses or Elias, I may quote it: “This is my beloved Son, hear him.” If I were shewing the delight of God in Him, I might quote the former part, leaving out “hear him.” If I refer to His Father’s perfect approbation of Him as a reason why He should be the expression of His mind, I should quote the whole passage. These different citations, instead of being contradictions or mistakes, are proofs of the intention with which the statement is quoted.
Now, if God gives us a history, He must have an object. He cannot write a history even of His blessed Son merely to amuse man with a history of true facts. Hence He will, in a revelation, give what may be quite disconnected as a history. Thus, if God be unfolding the character of Christ as Son of man, He will select what does reveal Him in that character, not what presents Him simply as Messiah come on earth among the Jews. Consequently, in selecting the facts, large gaps may be found in the history. The connection will be the character of Son of man and facts really connected together historically in moral consequence, which are not in mere chronological order.
So of other great principles developed in the history of Christ. Many facts may be common to different features of His character, or necessary to the whole history. Thus grace in every case will shine forth; but not perhaps in the same application. No one can, in fact, read the gospels, without seeing that Jesus is presented in different characters in them. Matthew gives us His connection with Israel in His coming; that is, with the promises made to Israel: hence the constant quotation of prophecy. In John He is God Himself come down from heaven. In the beginning He was with God, and was God. Then the Word was made flesh. There is no manger of Bethlehem here. His genealogy is divine, so far as there is any. The Abrahams, the Davids, and the Adams have no place here, save so far as Christ takes one among their posterity by being a man. The Jews are treated as rejecting Him in this character from the first. Luke has his point. The Son of Adam is at once on the scene, though His connection with the Jewish people be historically given. Mark gives us the gospel-service of Christ, and we have nothing before John Baptist’s ministry.
Now I say not that God has given a revelation, however truly I believe it; but that if God does give a revelation, He must have an object, and hence that the revelation must have a character suited to that object, or it would be imperfect and inefficient; the work would be that of an incompetent workman. The objection must lie, if valid, against such a work as pursues thus its object; for God must surely accomplish His purpose in this manner, if He does give revelation: and hence, to prove He has not, the objection must shew that the passage objected to is contrary to a purpose so pursued. God’s revelation will not seek the satisfaction of man’s curiosity in another way, nor to satisfy man at all (save so far as, in grace, not to turn him aside), but to instruct him. Did it do so, it would prove it was not God who wrote it.
15 These testimonies are of comparatively late date. They are in the Gemaras, not the Mishna; but this rather confirms the truth. If we receive the christian records, the Jews were forced to own notable undeniable miracles done before the eyes of the multitude. Comparatively speaking, contemporary hostile accounts are silent on the subject (I speak of Jewish doctors), and later ones do not dream of denying them, admit the facts, and attribute them to magic. Celsus (a heathen author, who lived some fifty years after St. John, as quoted by Origen) does not deny the miracles, but ascribes them also to magic. The Talmudists speak of instantaneous cures wrought by the name of Jesus. The passages are quoted by all the authors and commentators who have treated this subject at any length. Lightfoot is the usual book of reference for the English reader.