Popular Science Monthly/Volume 35/July 1889/Christianity and Agnosticism
|CHRISTIANITY AND AGNOSTICISM.|
PRINCIPAL OF KING’S COLLEGE.
READERS who may be willing to look at this further reply on my part to Prof. Huxley need not be apprehensive of being entangled in any such obscure points of church history as those with which the professor has found it necessary to perplex them in support of his contentions; still less of being troubled with any personal explanations. The tone which Prof. Huxley has thought fit to adopt, not only toward myself, but toward English theologians in general, excuses me from taking further notice of any personal considerations in the matter. I endeavored to treat him with the respect due to his great scientific position, and he replies by sneering at "theologians who are mere counsel for creeds," saying that the serious question at issue "is whether theological men of science, or theological special pleaders, are to have the confidence of the general public," observing that Holland and Germany are "the only two countries in which, at the present time, professors of theology are to be found whose tenure of their posts does not depend upon the result to which their inquiries lead them," and thus insinuating that English theologians are debarred by selfish interests from candid inquiry. I shall presently have something to say on the grave misrepresentation of German theology which these insinuations involve; but for myself and for English theologians I shall not condescend to reply to them. I content myself with calling the reader's attention to the fact that, in this controversy, it is Prof. Huxley who finds it requisite for his argument to insinuate that his opponents are biased by sordid motives; and I shall for the future leave him and his sneers out of account, and simply consider his arguments for as much, or as little, as they may be worth. For a similar reason I shall confine myself as far as possible to the issue which I raised at the Church Congress, and for which I then made myself responsible. I do not care, nor would it be of any avail, to follow over the wide and sacred field of Christian evidences an antagonist who resorts to the imputation of mean motives, and who, as I shall show, will not face the witnesses to whom he himself appeals. The manner in which Prof. Huxley has met the particular issue he challenged will be a sufficient illustration to impartial minds of the value which is to be attached to any further assaults which he may make upon the Christian position.
Let me then briefly remind the reader of the simple question which is at issue between us. What I alleged was that "an agnosticism which knows nothing of the relation of man to God must not only refuse belief to our Lord's most undoubted teaching, but must deny the reality of the spiritual convictions in which he lived and died." As evidence of that teaching and of those convictions I appealed to three testimonies—the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord's Prayer, and the story of the Passion—and I urged that whatever critical opinion might be held respecting the origin and structure of the four Gospels, there could not be any reasonable doubt that those testimonies "afford a true account of our Lord's essential belief and cardinal teaching." In his original reply, instead of meeting this appeal to three specific testimonies. Prof. Huxley shifted the argument to the question of the general credibility of the Gospels, and appealed to "the main results of biblical criticism, as they are set forth in the works of Strauss, Baur, Reuss, and Volkmar." He referred to these supposed "results" in support of his assertion that we know "absolutely nothing" of the authorship or genuineness of the four Gospels, and he challenged my reference to Renan as a witness to the fact that criticism has established no such results. In answer, I quoted passage after passage from Renan and from Reuss showing that the results at which they had arrived were directly contradictory of Prof. Huxley's assertions. How does he meet this evidence? He simply says, in a foot-note, "For the present I must content myself with warning my readers against any reliance upon Dr. Wace's statements as to the results arrived at by modern criticism. They are as gravely as surprisingly erroneous." I might ask by what right Prof. Huxley thus presumes to pronounce, as it were ex cathedra, without adducing any evidence, that the statements of another writer are "surprisingly erroneous"? But I in my turn content myself with pointing ont that, if my quotations from Renan and Reuss had been incorrect, he could not only have said so, but could have produced the correct quotations. But he does not deny, as of course he can not, that Reuss, for example, really states, as the mature result of his investigations, what I quoted from him respecting St. Luke's Gospel, namely, that it was written by St. Luke and has reached us in its primitive form, and, further, that St. Luke used a book written by St. Mark, the disciple of St. Peter, and that this book in all probability comprised in its primitive form what we read in the present day from Mark i, 21, to xiii, 37. These are the results of modern criticism as stated by a biblical critic in whom Prof, Huxley expressed special confidence. It was not therefore my statements of the results of biblical criticism with which Prof. Huxley was confronted, but Reuss's statements; and, unless he can show that my quotation was a false one, he ought to have had the candor to acknowledge that Reuss, at least, is on these vital points dead against him. Instead of any such frank admission, he endeavors to explain away the force of his reference to Reuss. It may, he says, be well for him
But I beg to observe that Prof. Huxley did not appeal to Reuss's methods, but to Reuss's results. He said that noby M. Renan would sensibly affect "the main results of biblical criticism as they are set forth in the works of Strauss, Baur, Reuss, and Volkmar." I have given him the results as set forth by Reuss in Reuss's own words, and all he has to offer in reply is an ipse dixit in a foot-note and an evasion in the text of his article.
But, as I said, this general discussion respecting the authenticity and credibility of the Gospels was an evasion of my argument, which rested upon the specific testimony of the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord's Prayer, and the narrative of the Passion; and, accordingly, in his present rejoinder Prof. Huxley, with much protestation that he made no evasion, addressed himself to these three points. And what is his answer? I feel obliged to characterize it as another evasion, and in one particular an evasion of a flagrant kind. The main point of his argument is that from various circumstances, which I will presently notice more particularly, there is much reason to doubt whether the Sermon on the Mount was ever actually delivered in the form in which it is recorded in St. Matthew. He notices, for instance, the combined similarity and difference between St. Matthew's Sermon on the Mount and St. Luke's so-called "Sermon on the Plain" and then he adds:
It is a pity that Prof. Huxley seems as incapable of accuracy in his quotations of an opponent's words as in his references to the authorities to whom he appeals. I did not ask "whether there is any reasonable doubt that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Jesus of Nazareth," and I expressly observed, in the article to which Prof. Huxley is replying, that "Prof. Reuss thinks, as many good critics have thought, that the Sermon on the Mount combines various distinct utterances of our Lord." What I did ask, in words which Prof. Huxley quotes, and therefore had before his eyes, was "whether there is any reasonable doubt that the Lord's Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount afford a true account of our Lord's essential belief and cardinal teaching." That is an absolutely distinct question from the one which Prof. Huxley dissects, and a confusion of the two is peculiarly inexcusable in a person who holds that purely human view of the Gospel narratives which he represents. If a long report of a speech appears in the "Times" and a shortened report appears in the "Standard," every one knows that we are none the less made acquainted—perhaps made still better acquainted—with the essential purport and cardinal meaning of the speaker. On the supposition, similarly, that St. Matthew and St. Luke are simply giving two distinct accounts of the same address, with such omissions and variations of order as suited the purposes of their respective narratives, we are in at least as good a position for knowing what was the main burden of the address as if we had only one account, and perhaps in a better position, as we see what were the points which both reporters deemed essential. As Prof. Huxley himself observes, we have reports of speeches in ancient historians which are certainly not in the very words of the speakers; yet no one doubts that we know the main purport of the speeches of Pericles which Thucydides records.
This attempt, therefore, to answer my appeal to the substance of the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is a palpable evasion, and it is aggravated by the manner in which Prof. Huxley quotes a high German authority in support of his contention. I am much obliged to him for appealing to Holtzmann; for, though Holtzmann's own conclusions respecting the books of the New Testament seem to me often extravagantly skeptical and farfetched, and though. I can not, therefore, quite agree with Prof. Huxley that his "Lehrbuch" gives "a remarkably full and fair account of the present results of criticism," yet I agree that it gives on the whole a full and fair account of the course of criticism and of the opinions of its chief representatives. Instead, therefore, of imitating Prof. Huxley, and pronouncing an ipse dixit as to the state of criticism or the opinions of critics, I am very glad to be able to refer to a book of which the authority is recognized by him, and which will save both my readers and myself from embarking on the wide and waste ocean of the German criticism of the last fifty years. "Holtzmann, then," says Prof, Huxley in a note on page 489, "has no doubt that the Sermon on the Mount is a compilation, or, as he calls it in his recently published 'Lehrbuch' (p. 372), ' an artificial mosaic work.'" Now, let the reader attend to what Holtzmann really says in the passage referred to. His words are: "In the so-called Sermon on the Mount (Matt, v-vii) we find constructed, on the basis of a real discourse of fundamental significance, a skillfully articulated mosaic work." The phrase was not so long a one that Prof. Huxley need have omitted the important words by which those he quotes are qualified. Holtzmann recognizes, as will be seen, that a real discourse of fundamental significance underlies the Sermon on the Mount. That is enough for my purpose; for no reasonable person will suppose that the fundamental significance of the real discourse has been entirely obliterated, especially as the main purport of the sermon in St. Luke is of the same character. But Prof. Huxley must know perfectly well, as every one else does, that he would be maintaining a paradox, in which every critic of repute, to say nothing of every man of common sense, would be against him, if he were to maintain that the Sermon on the Mount does not give a substantially correct idea of our Lord's teaching. But to admit this is to admit my point, so he rides off on a side issue as to the question of the precise form in which the sermon was delivered,
I must, however, take some notice of Prof. Huxley's argument on this irrelevant issue, as it affords a striking illustration of that superior method of ratiocination in these matters on which he prides himself. I need not trouble the reader much on the questions he raises as to the relations of the first three Gospels. Any one who cares to see a full and thorough discussion of that difficult question, conducted with a complete knowledge of foreign criticism on the subject, and at the same time marked by the greatest lucidity and interest, may be referred to the admirable "Introduction to the New Testament," by Dr. Salmon, who, like Prof. Huxley, is a Fellow of the Royal Society, and who became eminent as one of the first mathematicians of Europe before he became similarly eminent as a theologian. I am content here to let Prof. Huxley's assumptions pass, as I am only concerned to illustrate the fallacious character of the reasoning he founds upon them. He tells us, then, that—
I have quoted every word of this passage because I am anxious for the reader to estimate the value of Prof. Huxley's own statement of his case. It is, as he says, the opinion of many critics of authority that a certain fixed tradition, written or oral, was used by the writers of the first three Gospels. In the first place, why this should prevent those three Gospels from being the work of "three independent writers" I am at a loss to conceive. If Mr. Froude, the late Prof. Brewer, and the late Mr. Green each use the Rolls Calendars of the reign of Henry VIII, I do not see that this abolishes their individuality. Any historian who describes the Peloponnesian War uses the memoirs of that war written by Thucydides; but Bishop Thirlwall and Mr. Grote were, I presume, independent writers. But to pass to a more important point, that which is assumed is that the alleged tradition, written or oral, was the groundwork of our first three Gospels, and it is, therefore, older than they are. Let it be granted, for the sake of argument. But how does this prove that the tradition in question is "the oldest," so that anything which was not in it is thereby discredited? It was, let us allow, an old tradition used by the writers of the first three Gospels. But how does this fact raise the slightest presumption against the probability that there were other traditions equally old which they might use with equal justification so far as their scope required? Prof. Huxley alleges, and I do not care to dispute the allegation, that the first three Gospels embody a certain record older than themselves. But by what right does he ask me to accept this as evidence, or as affording even the slightest presumption, that there was no other? Between his allegation in one sentence that the second Gospel "most closely represents the primitive groundwork of the three," and his allegation, in the next sentence but one, that "the second Gospel is the nearest extant representative of the oldest tradition," there is an absolute and palpable non sequitur. It is a mere juggle of phrases, and upon this juggle the whole of his subsequent argument on this point depends. St. Mark's Gospel may very well represent the oldest tradition relative to the common latter of the three, without, therefore, necessarily representing "the oldest tradition" in such a sense as to be a touchstone for all other reports of our Lord's life. Prof. Huxley must know very well that from the time of Schleiermacher many critics have believed in the existence of another document containing a collection of our Lord's discourses. Holtzmann concludes ("Lehrbuch," page 376) that "under all the circumstances the hypothesis of two sources offers the most probable solution of the synoptical problem"; and it is surely incredible that no old traditions of our Lord's teaching should have existed beyond those which are common to the three Gospels. St. Luke, in fact, in that preface which Prof. Huxley has no hesitation in. using for his own purposes, says that "many had taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us"; but Prof. Huxley asks us to assume that none of these records were old, and none trustworthy, but that particular one which furnishes a sort of skeleton to the first three Gospels. There is no evidence whatever, beyond Prof. Huxley's private judgment, for such an assumption. Nay, he himself tells us that, according to Holtzmann, it is at present a "burning question" among critics "whether the relatively primitive narration and the root of the other synoptic texts is contained in Matthew or in Mark." Yet while his own authority tells him that this is a burning question, he treats it as settled in favor of St. Mark, "beyond any rational doubt or dispute," and employs this assumption as sufficiently solid ground on which to rest his doubts of the genuineness of the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord's Prayer!
But let us pass to another point in Prof. Huxley's mode of argument. Let us grant, again for the sake of argument, his non sequitur that the second Gospel is the nearest extant representative of the oldest tradition. "How comes it," he asks, "that it contains neither the Sermon on the Mount nor the Lord's Prayer?" Well, that is a very interesting inquiry, which has, in point of fact, often been considered by Christian divines; and various answers are conceivable, equally reasonable and sufficient. If it was St. Mark's object to record our Lord's acts rather than his teaching, what right has Prof. Huxley, from his purely human point of view, to find fault with him? If, from a Christian point of view, St. Mark was inspired by a divine guidance to present the most vivid, brief, and effective sketch possible of our Lord's action as a Saviour, and for that purpose to leave to another writer the description of our Lord as a teacher, the phenomenon is not less satisfactorily explained. St. Mark, according to that tradition of the Church which Prof. Huxley believes to be quite worthless, but which his authority Holtzmann does not, was in great measure the mouth-piece of St. Peter. Now, St, Peter is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, in his address to Cornelius, as summing up our Lord's life in these words: "How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power, who went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him"; and this is very much the point of view represented in St. Mark's Gospel. When, in fact, Prof. Huxley asks, in answer to Holtzmann, who is again unfavorable to his views, "What conceivable motive could Mark have for omitting it?" the answers that arise are innumerable. Perhaps, as has been suggested, St. Mark was more concerned with acts than words; perhaps he wanted to be brief; perhaps he was writing for persons who wanted one kind of record and not another; and, above all, perhaps it was not so much a question of "omission" as of selection. It is really astonishing that this latter consideration never seems to cross the mind of Prof. Huxley and writers like him. The Gospels are among the briefest biographies in the world. I have sometimes thought that there is evidence of something superhuman about them in the mere fact that, while human biographers labor through volumes in order to give us some idea of their subject, every one of the Gospels, occupying no more than a chapter or two in length of an ordinary biography, nevertheless gives us an image of our Lord sufficiently vivid to have made him the living companion of all subsequent generations. But if "the gospel of Jesus Christ" was to be told within the compass of the sixteen chapters of St. Mark, some selection had to be made out of the mass of our Lord's words and deeds as recorded by the tradition of those "who from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word." The very greatness and effectiveness of these four Gospels consist in this wonderful power of selection, like that by which a great artist depicts a character and a figure in half a dozen touches; and Prof. Huxley may, perhaps, to put the matter on its lowest level, find out a conceivable motive for St. Mark's omissions when he can produce such an effective narrative as St. Mark's. As St. John says at the end of his Gospel, "There are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written." So St. John, like St. Mark, had to make his selection, and selection involves omission.
But, after all, I venture to ask whether anything can be more preposterous than this supposition that because a certain tradition is the oldest authority, therefore every other authority is discredited? Boswell writes a life of Johnson; therefore every record of Johnson's acts or words which is not in Boswell is to be suspected. Carlyle writes a life of Sterling first, and Archdeacon Hare writes one afterward; therefore nothing in the archdeacon's life is to be trusted which was not also in Carlyle's. What seems to me so astonishing about Prof. Huxley's articles is not the wildness of their conclusions, but the rottenness of their ratiocination. To take another instance:
I pass by the description of the Sermon on the Mount as a "collection of loosely connected utterances," though it is a kind of begging of a very important question. But supposing St. Luke to have been ignorant of the existence of St. Matthew's Gospel, how does this reflect on the genuineness of that book unless we know, as no one does, that St. Matthew's Gospel was written before St. Luke's, and sufficiently long before it to have become known to him? Or, if he did know it, where is the disrespect to its authority in his having given for his own purposes an abridgment of that which St. Matthew gave more fully? Prof. Huxley might almost seem dominated by the mechanical theory of inspiration which he denounces in his antagonists. He writes as if there were something absolutely sacred, neither to be altered nor added to, in the mere words of some old authority of which he conceives himself to be in possession. Dr. Abbott, with admirable labor, has had printed for him, in clear type, the words or bits of words which are common to the first three Gospels, and he seems immediately to adopt the anathema of the book of Revelation, and to proclaim to every man, evangelists and apostles included, "if any man shall add unto these things, . . . and if any man shall take away from the words" of this "common tradition" of Dr. Abbott, be shall be forthwith scientifically excommunicated. I venture to submit, as a mere matter of common sense, that if three persons used one document, it is the height of rashness to conclude that it contained nothing but what they all three quote; that it is not only possible but probable that, while certain parts were used by all, each may have used some parts as suitable to his own purpose which the others did not find suitable to theirs; and, lastly, that the fact of there having been one such document in existence is so far from being evidence that there were no others, that it even creates some presumption that there were. In short, I must beg leave to represent, not so much that Prof. Huxley's conclusions are wrong, but that there is absolutely no validity in the reasoning by which he endeavors to support them. It is not, in fact, reasoning at all, but mere presumption and guess-work, inconsistent, moreover, with all experience and common sense.
Of course, if Prof. Huxley's quibbles against the Sermon on the Mount go to pieces, so do his cavils at the authenticity of the Lord's Prayer; and, indeed, on these two points I venture to think that the case for which I was contending is carried by the mere fact that it seems necessary to Prof. Huxley's position to dispute them. If he can not maintain his ground without pushing his agnosticism to such a length as to deny the substantial genuineness of the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord's Prayer, I think he will be found to have allowed enough to satisfy reasonable men that his case must be a bad one. I shall not, therefore, waste more time on these points, as I must say something on his strange treatment of the third point in the evangelical records to which I referred, the story of the Passion. It is really difficult to take seriously what he says on this subject. He says:
Prof. Huxley is not quite sure what I mean by the story of the Passion, but supposes I mean the story of the resurrection! It is barely credible that he can have supposed anything of the kind; but by this gratuitous supposition he has again evaded the issue I proposed to him, and has shifted the argument to another topic which, however important in itself, is entirely irrelevant to the particular point in question. If he really supposed that when I said the Passion I meant the resurrection, it is only another proof of his incapacity for strict argument, at least on these subjects. I not only used the expression "the story of the Passion" but I explicitly stated in my reply to him for what purpose I appealed to it. I said that "that story involves the most solemn attestation, again and again, of truths of which an agnostic coolly says he knows nothing"; and I mentioned particularly our Lord's final utterance, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit," as conveying our Lord's attestation in his death agony to his relation to God as his Father. That exclamation is recorded by St. Luke; but let me remind the reader of what is recorded by St. Mark, upon whom Prof. Huxley mainly relies. There we have the account of the agony in Gethsemane and of our Lord's prayer to his Father; we have the solemn challenge of the high priest, "Art thou the Christ, the son of the Blessed?" and our Lord's reply, "I am; and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven," with his immediate condemnation, on the ground that in this statement he had spoken blasphemy. On the cross, moreover, St. Mark records his affecting appeal to his Father, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" All this solemn evidence Prof. Huxley puts aside with the mere passing observation that he has "no inclination to argue about the precise accuracy of every detail of that pathetic story of suffering and wrong." But these prayers and declarations of our Lord are not mere details; they are of the very essence of the story of the Passion; and, whether Prof. Huxley is inclined to argue about them or not, he will find that all serious people will be influenced by them to the end of time, unless they can be shown to be unhistorical.
At all events, by refusing to consider their import. Prof. Huxley has again, in the most flagrant manner, evaded my challenge. I not only mentioned specifically "the story of the Passion," but I explained what I meant by it; and Prof. Huxley asks us to believe that he does not understand what I referred to; he refuses to face that story; and he raises an irrelevant issue about the resurrection. It is irrelevant, because the point specifically at issue between us is not the truth of the Christian creed, but the meaning of agnosticism, and the responsibilities which agnosticism involves. I say that whether agnosticism be justifiable or not, it involves a denial of the beliefs in which Jesus lived and died. It would equally involve a denial of them had he never risen; and if Prof. Huxley really thinks, therefore, that a denial of the resurrection affects the evidence afforded by the Passion, he must be incapable of distinguishing between two successive and entirely distinct occurrences.
But the manner in which Prof. Huxley has treated this irrelevant issue deserves perhaps a few words, for it is another characteristic specimen of his mode of argument. I note, by the way, that, after referring to "the facts of the case as stated by the oldest extant narrative of them"—he means the story in St. Mark, though this is not a part of that common tradition of the three Gospels on which he relies; for, as he observes, the accounts in St, Matthew and St. Luke present marked variations from it—he adds:
We have, then, the important admission that Prof. Huxley has not a word to say against the historic credibility of the narrative in the fifteenth chapter of St. Mark, and accordingly he proceeds to quote its statements for the purpose of his argument. That argument, in brief, is that our Lord might very well have survived his crucifixion, have been removed still living to the tomb, have been taken out of it on the Friday or Saturday night by Joseph of Arimathea, and have recovered and found his way to Galilee. So much Prof. Huxley is prepared to believe, and he asks "on what grounds can a reasonable man be asked to believe any more?" But a prior question is on what grounds can a reasonable man be asked to believe as much as this? In the first place, if St. Mark's narrative is to be the basis of discussion, why does Prof. Huxley leave out of account the scourging, with the indication of weakness in our Lord's inability to bear his cross, and treat him as exposed to crucifixion in the condition simply of "temperate, strong men, such as the ordinary Galilean peasants were"? In the next place, I am informed by good medical authority that he is quite mistaken in saying that "no serious physical symptoms need at once arise from the wounds made by the nails in the hands and feet," and that, on the contrary, very grave symptoms would ordinarily arise in the course of no long time from such severe wounds, left to fester, with the nails in them, for six hours. In the third place. Prof. Huxley takes no account of the piercing of our Lord's side, and of the appearance of blood and water from the wound, which is solemnly attested by one witness. It is true that incident is not recorded by St. Mark; but Prof. Huxley must disprove the witness before he can leave it out of account. But, lastly, if Prof. Huxley's account of the matter be true, the first preaching of the church must have been founded on a deliberate fraud, of which some at least of our Lord's most intimate friends were guilty, or to which they were accessory; and I thought that supposition was practically out of account among reasonable men. Prof. Huxley argues as if he had only to deal with the further evidence of St. Paul. That, indeed, is evidence of a far more momentous nature than he recognizes; but it is by no means the most important. It is beyond question that the Christian society, from the earliest moment of its existence, believed in our Lord's resurrection. Baur frankly says that there is no doubt about the church having been founded on this belief, though he can not explain how the belief arose. If the resurrection be a fact, the belief is explained; but it is certainly not explained by the supposition of a fraud on the part of Joseph of Arimathea. As to Prof. Huxley's assertion that the accounts in the three Gospels are "hopelessly discrepant," it is easily made and as easily denied; but it is out of all reason that Prof. Huxley's bare assertion on such a point should outweigh the opinions of some of the most learned judges of evidence, who have thought no such thing. It would be absurd to attempt to discuss that momentous story as a side issue in a review. It is enough to have pointed out that Prof. Huxley discusses it without even taking into account the statements of the very narrative on which he relies. The manner in which he sets aside St. Paul is equally reckless:
"A vision!" The whole question is, what vision? How can Prof. Huxley be sure that no vision could be of such a nature as to justify a man in acting on it? If, as we are told, our Lord personally appeared to St. Paul, spoke to him, and gave him specific commands, was he to disbelieve his own eyes and ears, as well as his own conscience, and go up to Jerusalem to cross examine Peter and John and James? If the vision was a real one he was at once under orders, and had to obey our Lord's injunctions. It is, to say the least, rash if not presumptuous, for Prof. Huxley to declare that such a vision as St. Paul had would not have convinced him; and, at all events, the question is not disposed of by calling the spite of strong and even violent prejudices. This is not a witness to be put aside in Prof. Huxley's off-hand manner."a vision." Two things are certain about St, Paul. One is that he was in the confidence of the Pharisees, and was their trusted agent in persecuting the Christians; and the other is that he was afterward in the confidence of the apostles, and knew all their side of the case. He holds, therefore, the unique position of having had equal access to all that would be alleged on both sides; and the result is that, being fully acquainted with all that the Pharisees could urge against the resurrection, he nevertheless gave up his whole life to attesting its truth, and threw in his lot, at the cost of martyrdom, with those whom he had formerly persecuted. Prof. Huxley reminds us that he did all this in the full vigor of manhood, and in
But the strangest part of Prof. Huxley's article remains to be noticed; and, so far as the main point at issue between us is concerned, I need hardly have noticed anything else. He proceeds to a long and intricate discussion, quite needless, as I think, for his main object, respecting the relations between the Nazarenes, Ebionites, Jewish and Gentile Christians, first in the time of Justin Martyr and then of St. Paul. Into this discussion, in the course of which he makes assumptions which, as Holtzmann will tell him, are as much questioned by the German criticism on which he relies as by English theologians, it is unnecessary for me to follow him. The object of it is to establish a conclusion, which is all with which I am concerned. That conclusion is that "if the primitive Nazarenes of whom the Acts speak were orthodox Jews, what sort of probability can there be that Jesus was anything else?" But what more is necessary for the purpose of my argument? To say, indeed, that this a priori probability places us "in a position to form a safe judgment of the limits within which the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth must have been confined," is to beg a great question, for it assumes that our Lord could not have transcended those limits unless his disciples transcended them simultaneously with him. But if our Lord's beliefs were those of an orthodox Jew, we certainly know enough of them to be quite sure that they involved a denial of Prof. Huxley's agnosticism. An orthodox Jew certainly believed in God, and in his responsibility to God, and in a divine revelation and a divine law. It is, says Prof. Huxley, "extremely probable" that he appealed "to those noble conceptions of religion which constituted the pith and kernel of the teaching of the great prophets of his nation seven hundred years earlier." But, if so, his first principles involved the assertion of religious realities which an agnostic refuses to acknowledge. Prof. Huxley has, in fact, dragged his readers through this thorny question of Jewish and Gentile Christianity in order to establish, at the end of it, and, as it seems, quite unconsciously, an essential part of the very allegation which I originally made. I said that a person who "knows nothing" of God asserts the belief of Jesus of Nazareth to have been unfounded, repudiates his example, and denies his authority. Prof. Huxley, in order to answer this contention, offers to prove, with great elaboration, that Jesus was an orthodox Jew, and consequently that his belief did involve what an agnostic rejects. How much beyond these elementary truths Jesus taught is a further and a distinct question. What I was concerned to maintain is that a man can not be an agnostic with respect to even the elementary truths of religion without rejecting the example and authority of Jesus Christ; and Prof. Huxley, though he still endeavors to avoid facing the fact, has established it by a roundabout method of his own.
I suppose I must also reply to Prof. Huxley's further challenge respecting my belief in the story of the Gadarene swine, though the difficulty of which he makes so much seems to me too trivial to deserve serious notice. He says "there are two stories, one in 'Mark' and 'Luke,' and the other in 'Matthew.' In the former there is one possessed man, in the latter there are two," and he asks me which I believe? My answer is that I believe both, and that the supposition of there being any inconsistency between them can only arise on that mechanical view of inspiration from which Prof, Huxley seems unable to shake himself free. Certainly "the most unabashed of reconcilers can not well say that one man is the same as two, or two as one"; but no one need be abashed to say that the greater number includes the less, and that if two men met our Lord, one certainly did. If I go into the operating theatre of King's College Hospital, and see an eminent surgeon perform a new or rare operation on one or two patients, and if I tell a friend afterward that I saw the surgeon perform such and such an operation on a patient, will he feel in any perplexity if he meets another spectator half an hour afterward who says he saw the operation performed on two patients? All that I should have been thinking of was the nature of the operation, which is as well described by reference to one patient as to half a dozen; and similarly St. Mark and St. Luke may have thought that the only important point was the nature of the miracle itself, and not the number of possessed men who were the subjects of it. It is quite unnecessary, therefore, for me to consider all the elaborate dilemmas in which Prof. Huxley would entangle me respecting the relative authority of the first three Gospels. As two includes one, and as both witnesses are in my judgment equally to be trusted, I adopt the supposition which includes the statements of both. It is a pure assumption that inspiration requires verbal accuracy in the reporting of every detail, and an assumption quite inconsistent with our usual tests of truth. Just as no miracle has saved the texts of the Scriptures from corruption in secondary points, so no miracle has been wrought to exclude the ordinary variations of truthful reporters in the Gospel narratives. But a miracle, in my belief, has been wrought in inspiring four men to give, within the compass of their brief narratives, such a picture of the life and work and teaching, of the death and resurrection, of the Son of man as to illuminate all human existence for the future, and to enable men "to believe that Jesus is the Christ, and believing to have life through his name."
It is with different feelings from those which Prof. Huxley provokes that I turn for a while to Mrs. Humphrey Ward's article on "The New Reformation." Since he adopts that article as a sufficient confutation of mine, I feel obliged to notice it, though I am sorry to appear in any position of antagonism to its author. Apart from other considerations, I am under much obligation to Mrs. Ward for the valuable series of articles which she contributed to the "Dictionary of Christian Biography" under my editorship, upon the obscure but interesting history of the Goths in Spain. I trust that, in her account of the effect upon Robert Elsmere and Merriman of absorption in that barbarian scene, she is not describing her own experience and the source of her own aberrations. But I feel especially bound to treat her argument with consideration, and to waive any opposition which can be avoided. I am sorry that she, too, questions the possibility in this Country of "a scientific, that is to say, an unprejudiced, an unbiased study of theology, under present conditions," and I should have hoped that she would have had too much confidence in her colleagues in the important work to which I refer than to cast this slur upon them. Their labors have, in fact, been received with sufficient appreciation by German scholars of all schools to render their vindication unnecessary; and if Prof. Huxley can extend his study of German theological literature much beyond Zeller's "Vorträge" of "a quarter of a century ago," or Ritschl's writings of "nearly forty years ago," he will not find himself countenanced by church historians in Germany in his contempt for the recent contributions of English scholars to early church history. However, it is the more easy for me to waive all differences of this nature with Mrs. Ward, because it is unnecessary for me to look beyond her article for its own refutation. Her main contention, or that at least for which Prof. Huxley appeals to her, seems to be that it is a mistake to suppose that the rationalistic movement of Germany has been defeated in the sphere of New Testament criticism, and she selects more particularly for her protest a recent statement in the "Quarterly Review" that this criticism, and particularly the movement led by Baur, is "an attack which has failed." The Quarterly Reviewer may be left to take care of himself; but I would only ask what is the evidence which Mrs. Ward adduces to the contrary? It may be summed up in two words—a prophecy and a romance. She does not adduce any evidence that the Tübingen school, which is the one we are chiefly concerned with, did not fail to establish its specific contentions; on the contrary, she says that "history protested," and she goes on to prophesy the success of other speculations which arose from that protest, concluding with an imaginary sketch, like that with which "Robert Elsmere" ends, of a "new Reformation preparing. struggling into utterance and being, all around us. . . . It is close upon us—it is prepared by all the forces of history and mind—its rise sooner or later is inevitable." This is prophesy, but it is not argument; and a little attention to Mrs. Ward's own statements will exhibit a very different picture. The Christian representative in her dialogue exclaims:
A better statement could hardly be wanted of what is meant by an attack having failed, and now let the reader observe how Merriman in the dialogue meets it. Does he deny any of those allegations? Not one. "Very well," he says, "let us leave the matter there for the present. Suppose we go to the Old Testament"; and then he proceeds to dwell on the concessions made to the newest critical school of Germany by a few distinguished English divines at the last Church Congress. I must, indeed, dispute her representation of that rather one-sided debate as amounting to "a collapse of English orthodoxy," or as justifying her statement that "the Church of England practically gives its verdict" in favor, for instance, of the school which regards the Pentateuch or the Hexateuch as "the peculiar product of that Jewish religious movement which, beginning with Josiah, . . . yields its final fruits long after the exile." Not only has the Church of England given no such verdict, but German criticism has as yet given no such verdict. For example, in the introduction to the Old Testament by one of the first Hebrew scholars of Germany, Prof. Hermann Strack, contained in the valuable "Hand-book of the Theological Sciences," edited, with the assistance of several distinguished scholars, by Prof. Zöchler, I find, at page 215 of the third edition, published this year, the following brief summary of what, in Dr. Strack's opinion, is the result of the controversy so far:
In other words, it may be said that Dr. Strack regards it as established that "The Law of Moses" is a title of the same character as "The Psalms of David" the whole collection being denominated from its principal author. But he is convinced that the general conclusions of the prevalent school of Old Testament criticism, which involve an entire subversion of our present conceptions of Old Testament history, will not be maintained. In the face of this opinion, it does not seem presumptuous to express an apprehension that the younger school of Hebrew scholars in England, of whose concessions Mrs. Ward makes so much, have gone too far and too fast; and, at all events, it is clear from what Dr. Strack says—and I might quote also Delitzsch and Dillmann—that it is much too soon to assume that the school of whose conquests Mrs. Ward boasts is supreme. B\it, even supposing it were, what has this to do with the admitted and undoubted failures on the other side, in the field of New Testament criticism? If it be the fact, as Mrs. Ward does not deny, that not only Strauss's but Baur's theories and conclusions are now rejected; if it has been proved that Baur was entirely wrong in supposing the greater part of the New Testament books were late productions, written with a controversial purpose, what is the use of appealing to the alleged success of the German critics in another field? If Baur is confuted, he is confuted, and there is an end of his theories; though he may have been useful, as rash theorizers have often been, in stimulating investigation. In the same valuable hand-book of Dr. Zöchler's, already quoted, I find, under the "History of the Science of Introduction to the New Testament," the heading (page 15, vol. i, part 2), "Result of the controversy and end of the Tübingen school."
Such is the judgment of an authoritative German hand-book on the writer to whom, in Merriman's opinion, "we owe all that we really know at the present moment about the New Testament," as though the Christian thought and life of eighteen hundred years had produced no knowledge on that subject!
In fact, Mrs. Ward's comparison seems to me to point in exactly the opposite direction:
Remembering that the main movement of New Testament criticism in Germany dates not thirty, but more than fifty years back, and that thirty years ago Baur's school enjoyed the same applause in Germany as that of Wellhausen does now, does it not seem more in conformity with experience and with probability to anticipate that, as the Germans themselves, with longer experience, find they had been too hasty in following Baur, so with an equally long experience they may find they have been similarly too hasty in accepting Wellhausen? The fever of revolutionary criticism on the New Testament was at its height after thirty years, and the science has subsided into comparative health after twenty more. The fever of the revolutionary criticism of the Old Testament is now at its height, but the parallel suggests a similar return to a more sober and common-sense state of mind. The most famous name, in short, of German New Testament criticism is now associated with exploded theories; and we are asked to shut our eyes to this undoubted fact because Mrs. Ward prophesies a different fate for the name now most famous in Old Testament criticism. I prefer the evidence of established fact to that of romantic prophecy.
But these observations suggest another consideration, which has a very important bearing on that general disparagement of English theology and theologians which Prof. Huxley expresses so offensively, and which Mrs. Ward encourages. She and Prof. Huxley talk as if German theology were all rationalistic and English theology alone conservative. Prof. Huxley invites his readers to study in Mrs. Ward's article
and he appeals to
Well, passing over the insult to theologians in all other countries, what is the consequence of this freedom in Germany itself? Is it seen that all learned and distinguished theologians in that country are of the opinions of Prof. Huxley and Mrs. Ward? The quotations I have given will serve to illustrate the fact that the exact contrary is the case. If any one wants vigorous, learned, and satisfactory answers to Prof. Huxley and Mrs. Ward, Germany is the best place to which he can go for them. The professors and theologians of Germany who adhere substantially to the old Christian faith are at least as mimerons, as distinguished, as learned, as laborious, as those who adhere to skeptical opinions. What is, by general consent, the most valuable and comprehensive work on Christian theology and church history which the last two generations of German divines have produced? Herzog's "Real-Encyclopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche," of which the second edition, in eighteen large volumes, was completed about a year ago. But it is edited and written in harmony with the general belief of Protestant Christians. Who have done the chief exegetical work of the last two generations? On the rationalistic side, though not exclusively so, is the "Kurzgefasstes exegetisches Handbuch," in which, however, at the present time, Dillmann represents an opposition to the view of Wellhausen respecting the Pentateuch; but on the other side we have Meyer on the New Testament—almost the standard work on the subject—Keil and Delitzsch on the Old Testament and a great part of the New, Lange's immense "Bibelwerk," and the valuable "Kurzgefasster Kommentar" on the whole Scripture, including the Apocrypha, now in course of publication under the editorship of Profs. Strack and Zöckler. The Germans have more time for theoretical investigations than English theologians, who generally have a great deal of practical work to do; and German professors, in their numerous universities, in great measure live by them. But it was by German theologians that Baur was refuted; it is by German Hebraists like Strack that Wellhausen and Kuenen are now being best resisted. When Prof. Huxley and Mrs, Ward would leave an impression that, because German theological chairs are not shackled by articles like our own, therefore the best German thought and criticism is on the rationalistic side, they are conveying an entirely prejudiced representation of the facts. The effect of the German system is to make everything an open question; as though there were no such thing as a settled system of the spiritual universe, and no established facts in Christian history; and thus to enable any man of great ability with a skeptical turn to unsettle a generation and leave the edifice of belief to be built up again. But the edifice is built up again, and Germans take as large a part in rebuilding it as in undermining it. Because Prof. Huxley and Mrs. Ward can quote great German names on one side, let it not be forgotten that just as able German names can be quoted on the other side. Take, for instance, Harnack, to whom Mrs. Ward appeals, and whose "History of Dogmas" Prof. Huxley quotes. Harnack himself, in reviewing the history of his science, pays an honorable tribute to the late eminent divine, Thomasius, whose "History of Dogmas" has just been, republished after bis death, and who wrote in the devoutest spirit of the Lutheran communion. Of course, Harnack regards his point of view as narrow and unsatisfactory; but he adds that, "equally great are the valuable qualities of this work in particular, in regard of its exemplarily clear exposition, its eminent learning, and the author's living comprehension of religious problems" A man who studies the history of Christian theology in Harnack without reference to Thomasius will do no justice to his subject.
But, says Mrs. Ward, there is no real historical apprehension in the orthodox writers, whether of Germany or England, and the whole problem is one of "historical translation." Every statement, every apparent miracle, everything different from daily experience, must be translated into the language of that experience, or else we have not got real history. But this, it will be observed, under an ingenious disguise, is only the old method of assuming that nothing really miraculous can have happened, and that therefore everything which seems supernatural must be explained away into the natural. In other words, it is once more begging the whole question at issue. Mrs. Ward accuses orthodox writers of this fallacy; but it is really her own. Merriman is represented as saying that he learned from his Oxford teachers that
Mrs. Ward has entirely mistaken the point of view of Christian science. Certainly if any occurrence anywhere can be explained by natural causes, there is a strong presumption that it ought to be so explained; for, though a natural effect may be due in a given case to supernatural action, it is a fixed rule of philosophizing, according to Newton, that we should not assume unknown causes when known ones suffice. But the whole case of the Christian reasoner is that the records of the New Testament defy any attempt to explain them by natural causes. The German critics Hase, Strauss, Baur, Hausrath, Keim, all have made the attempt, and each, in the opinion of the others, and finally of Pfleiderer, has offered an insufficient solution of the problem. The case of the Christian is not that the evidence ought not to be explained naturally and translated into every-day experience, but that it can not be. But it is Mrs. Ward who assumes beforehand that simply because the "Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah" by that learned scholar and able writer. Dr. Edersheim, whose recent loss is so much to be deplored, does not "translate" all the Gospel narratives into natural occurrences, therefore it is essentially bad history. The story has been the same throughout. The whole German critical school, from the venerable Karl Hase—and, much as I differ from his conclusions, I can not mention without a tribute of respect and gratitude the name of that great scholar, the veteran of all these controversies, whose "Leben Jesu," published several years before Strauss was heard of, is still, perhaps, the most valuable book of reference on the subject—all, from that eminent man downward, have, by their own repeated confession, started from the assumption that the miraculous is impossible, and that the Gospels must, by some device or other, be so interpreted as to explain it away. "Affection" there is and ought to be in orthodox writers for venerable, profound, and consoling beliefs; but they start from no such invincible prejudice, and they are pledged by their principles to accept whatever interpretation may be really most consonant with the facts.
I have only one word to say, finally, in reply to Prof. Huxley. I am very glad to hear that he has always advocated the reading of the Bible and the diffusion of its study among the people; but I must say that he goes to work in a very strange way in order to promote this result. If he could succeed in persuading people that the Gospels are untrustworthy collections of legends, made by unknown authors, that St. Paul's epistles were the writings of "a strange man," who had no sound capacity for judging of evidence, or, with Mrs. Ward's friends, that the Pentateuch is a late forgery of Jewish scribes, I do not think the people at large would be likely to follow his well-meant exhortations. But I venture to remind him that the English Church has anticipated his anxiety in this matter. Three hundred years ago, by one of the greatest strokes of real government ever exhibited, the public reading of the whole Bible was imposed upon Englishmen; and by the public reading of the lessons on Sunday alone, the chief portions of the Bible, from first to last, have become stamped upon the minds of English-speaking people in a degree in which, as the Germans themselves acknowledge, they are far behind us. He has too much reason for his lament over the melancholy spectacle presented by the intestine quarrels of churchmen over matters of mere ceremonial. But when he argues from this that the clergy of our day "can have but little sympathy with the old evangelical doctrine of the 'open Bible,'" he might have remembered that our own generation of English divines has, by the labor of years, endeavored at all events, whether successfully or not, to place the most correct version possible of the Holy Scriptures in the hands of the English people. I agree with him most cordially in seeing in the wide diffusion and the unprejudiced study of that sacred volume the best security for "true religion and sound learning." It is in the open Bible of England, in the general familiarity of all classes of Englishmen and English-women with it, that the chief obstacle has been found to the spread of the fantastic critical theories by which he is fascinated; and, instead of Englishmen translating the Bible into the language of their natural experiences, it will in the future, as in the past, translate them and their experiences into a higher and a supernatural region.—Nineteenth Century.
- "In der sog. Bergpredigt, Mt. 5-7, gibt sich eine, auf Grund einer wirklichen Rede von fundamentaler Bedeutung sich erhebende, kunstreich gegliederte Mosaikarbeit."
- "Popular Science Monthly" for June, 1889, p. 169.
- "Popular Science Monthly" for June, 1889, p. 171.
- "Popular Science Monthly" for June, 1889, p. 184.
- See the preface to Riehm's "Handwörterbuch."