CREDIBILITY OF THE SCRIPTURES.
Grotius: De Veritate Religionis Christianae; Translated by Clarke. Neander: Life of Christ. Christlieb: Modern Doubt, Lectures VLVIII. Paley: Evidences of Christianity. Ebrard: Gospel History, Pt. II. Div. i. Norton: Internal Evidences of Christianity. Edersheim: Life of Jesus. Ellicott: Life of Christ. Blunt: Coincidences of O. T. and N. T. Lardner: Credibility of N. T. Robinson: Harmony of the Gospels. Gardiner: Harmony of the Gospels. Wieseler: Synopsis of the Gospels. Greswell: Dissertations on the Harmony of the Gospels. Rawlinson: Historical Evidences. Lange: Life of Christ. Eeim: Life of Jesus of Nazareth. Weiss: Theology of the New Testament. Strauss: Life of Jesus. Streat: Seeming Contradictions in Scripture, London, 1654.
The proofs of the credibility of the New Testament are the following: 1. The excellence of the doctrines taught in it. The ethics of the New Testament is greatly superior to that of Greece and Rome in elevation and spirituality. Had the early Christians possessed gunpowder, the steam engine, and the telegraph, while no others had them, their superiority in science would be undisputed. They possessed a doctrine of morals as much superior to that of paganism, as modern inventions are to ancient. The moral character produced by New Testament Christianity is higher than than that produced by other religions. The Vedas, the Koran, and the still better writings of Plato and Aristotle, do not transform human nature as do the Scriptures.
Among the doctrines of Christianity is that of endless suffering for sin. If the apostles testified falsely, and the New Testament is merely their fiction, they were liable according to their own statement to eternal perdition. At the same time, great temporal suffering was the consequence of teaching the gospel. If they were deceivers, they suffered for their deception in this life, and were to suffer eternally in the next. A falsehood under such circumstances is improbable; for there was nothing to gain by it, either here or hereafter.
2. The character of Jesus Christ is an argument for the credibility of the New Testament. lle is implicated in these writings in such a manner that if they are false, he is an impostor. Whatever be the kind of the falsehood, it cleaves to him. If the writings were forged designedly, he was an accomplice. If they are erroneous by reason of ignorance and superstition, he shares in this ignorance and superstition. But he claims all knowledge upon the subjects discussed in the New Testament. In this lies the absurdity of Renan's portraiture of Christ. According to Kenan, Christ was self-deluded and superstitious and yet the ideal man.
3. The effects of the New Testament in the history of the world are an argument for its credibility. Christendom proves the truth of Christianity. That the best part of human history rests upon a falsehood, is incredible. The rale, "By their fruits ye shall know them," applies here. As grapes cannot be gathered from a thorn bush, so the philosophy, the poetry, the science, the art, the morality, and the civilization of the Christian in distinction from the heathen world could not have sprung from imposture and delusion. The Koran has not produced such effects in human history, nor have the Vedas. The Koran did not make its way by its intrinsic moral force, but by the sword. If it had been left like the New Testament to its own unassisted qualities, it would not have made converts beyond the family of Mohammed. The spread of Mormonism is an illustration. There is no sword to force it into sway, and therefore it remains a small local sect in Utah. Christianity, though greatly helped, does not depend upon earthly victory at critical points in its history. Had Charles Martel been defeated by the Saracens at Poitiers, this would not have annihilated the Christian religion; any more than the ten persecutions did.
4. The miracles of the Kew Testament prove the credibility of its doctrines. This supposes that the truthfulness of the miracle has previously been established. If it be conceded that Jesus Christ really did raise Lazarus from the dead by bis own power, he iuust have had creative power. This evinces him to have been a divine being; and if divine, of course a being of absolute truth. If it be conceded that the apostles of Christ did really perform miracles by the power of Jesus Christ imparted to them, then they must have been in communication with him, and his credibility attaches to them as his agents and instruments. For it is incredible that miraculous power should originally belong to an evil being, though it may be delegated to him. The intuitive judgment is expressed in John 9:16, 33; 10 : 21, "Can a devil open the eyes of the blind? How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? If this man were not of God, he could do nothing [miraculous]." A miracle therefore, if an actual historical fact, is a proof of the divine origin of the truths attested by it.
The historical reality of a miracle is proved in the same manner that any historical event is proved; namely, by human testimony. Testimony is another man's memory. We trust our own memory as we trust our own senses, because memory is a remembered sensation, or consciousness. If therefore another person is honest and possesses as good senses as ourselves, there is no more reason for disbelieving his remembered sensations than for disbelieving our own. We prove that miracles were wrought by Christ and Ins apostles, by the testimony, or remembered experience of honest men, not of inspired men. This is to be carefully noticed. The resurrection of Lazarus is established by the same kind of evidence as that by which the assassination of Julius Caesar is proved; namely, that of capable and truthful eye-witnesses. Inspiration is not brought in to strengthen the testimony, in one case any more than in the other. It is the common human testimony, such as is accepted in a court of law, that is relied upon to establish the historical reality of a miracle. Those Jews who saw Lazarus come forth from the tomb, and those Jews who afterwards saw him alive, were none of them inspired men at the time when the miracle was performed. A few of them were afterwards inspired, but this inspiration added nothing to their honesty, or to their capacity as witnesses; for inspiration is not sanctification.
The argument from miracles is therefore no argument in a circle. We do not prove that certain miracles were performed because certain inspired men saw them, and then proceed to prove that these men were inspired because they wrought miracles. But we prove that certain miracles \«ere performed, because certain truthful men saw them, and then proceed to prove that some of the truthful men were also inspired men. And among the proofs of their inspiration, is the fact that they were empowered by God to work miracles in attestation of their inspiration but not of their honesty.
That they were honest witnesses is all that the apostles claim for themselves, when they give their testimony to miracles. They say nothing in this connection about their inspiration. St. Peter affirms: "We have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known to you the power and coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty," 2 Pet. 1:16. St. Paul does the same. "I delivered unto you, how that Christ died for our sins; and that he was bnried, and that he rose again the third day; and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve; after that he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; after that he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also," 1 Cor. 15:3-8. Inspiration is not requisite in order to honesty. The "five hundred brethren" who saw Christ after his resurrection are to be regarded as capable and upright witnesses, unless the contrary can be proved. Their veracity alone is sufficient to prove the fact that he who was crucified on mount Calvary before thousands of spectators was alive again npon the earth.1
And here it is important to observe, that the number of eye-witnesses to the gospel miracles is not to be estimated by the number of Christ's personal friends and disciples. The Jewish people generally, of that generation, were spectators of those miraculous events that accompanied the public life of Jesus Christ in Palestine, and virtually acknowledged that they were. Because the apostles in the very beginning of their preaching, and ever afterwards, boldly assert that the Jews themselves saw these miraculous evgnts. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, addressing the "men of Israel," describes Jesus of Nazareth as "a man approved of God among you, by miracles and wonders and signs which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves know," Acts 2:22. This appeal to the whole mass of the Jewish population of that day for the truth of Christ's miracles, was not contradicted by the Jews; as it unquestionably would have been, had these miracles been the invention of a few followers of Christ. Such a bold and unblushing summoning of a whole nation as witnesses of what had never happened among them, would have been immediately repelled with scorn, and its falsehood exposed; and such a contradiction and exposure of the narratives of the first preachers of Christianity by the Jews generally, on the very spot where
'See South: On Christ's resurrection. Sermons, III. 91. Also Christlieb's summing up of the ten appearances of Christ after bit resurrection. Modern Doubt, Lecture VII
the miracles were asserted to have taken place, would have been a fatal obstacle to their spread among other peoples. The Jews had every motive to flatly contradict the assertion of St. Peter, that Christ's miracles had been wrought in the midst of the Jewish people, and that the Jewish people knew that they had. But they did not contradict it. The Gospel narratives continued to be repeated among the Jews, and were believed more and more widely, because no one of that generation denied that the events had occurred. It was reserved for a later generation to do this. Silence gives consent. The Jewish people of that generation, by making no objection to the testimony of the apostles, commit themselves to it. They involuntarily fall into the number of eye-witnesses for the Gospel miracles.
The force of an indirect national testimony is very great; in some respects even greater than the direct testimony of an individual. The following remarks of Channing (Evidences of Christianity), respecting the testimony of a printed book compared with that of its author will apply here. "A book may be a better witness than its author. Suppose that a man claiming to be an eye-witness should relate to me the events of the three memorable days of July, in which the last revolution of France was achieved; suppose, next, that a book, a history of that revolution, published and received as true in France, should be sent to me from that country. Which is the best evidence of the facts? I say, the last. A single witness may deceive; but that a writer should publish in France the history of a revolution that never occurred there, or which differed from the true one, is in the highest degree improbable; and that such a history should obtain currency, that it should not instantly be branded as a lie, is utterly impossible. A history received by a people as true, not only gives us the testimony of the writer, but the testimony of the nation among whom it obtains credit. It is a concentration of thousands of voices, of many thousands of witnesses. I say, then, that the writings of the first teachers of Christianity, received as they were by the multitudes of Christians in their own times and in those that immediately followed, are the testimony of that multitude, as well as of the writers. Thousands nearest to the events join in bearing testimony to the Christian miracles."
While however the testimony for a miracle is the same in kind with that for any common historical event, it is stronger in degree. The world believes that Julius Caesar was assassinated by Brutus in the Capitol, on the testimony of those who saw the deed as recorded by contemporary and succeeding historians. The credibility of this event is not disputed. But it would be possible to dispute it. Had there been any strong motive for so doing, such as obtains with some men in the instance of the Christian religion, it would have been disputed. The evidence for the assassination of Julius Caesar is historical, not mathematical. It is assailable. And yet it goes into history, and is uersally accepted as a fact of history.
The evidence for the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ is yet stronger, by reason of what may be denominated a monumental testimony added to the personal. Besides the testimony of those who saw these events and the record of it in the writings of the New Testament, and the few references to the death of Christ by others like Josephus and Tacitus, there is the fact of an institution like the Christian Church with its sacraments and worship, which greatly strengthens the testimony of the personal witnesses. If the assassination of Julius Caesar had been commemorated down to the present time by a society formed in his honor, and bearing his name, the proof of his assassination would have been strengthened just so much more as this is fitted to strengthen testimony.
Now comparing the facts connected with Christianity with the facts of secular history, we see that the former have a superiority over the latter, in respect to this kind of evidence. No event in secular history is so mnch supported by monumental evidence, as is the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. It is literally the centre of human history. Everything groups around it. The epoch anno domini from which everything is dated, Sunday with its public worship, the Church organization, the sacrament of the Supper, the feasts and fasts of Christendom, all imply the actual historical existence of Jesus Christ as he is described in the Gospels, and generally the truth of the New Testament.
It is here that one of the differences between Christianity and infidelity is apparent. Infidelity does not embody itself in institutions, and therefore has no monumental evidence. No great organization is founded upon its principles; and it is not incorporated into the structure of human society. It not only builds no churches, but it builds no hospitals. Doing nothing towards the religious welfare of man, it does nothing even for his physical wellbeing. It is not found in heathenism. It lives only in the midst of Christendom; upon which it feeds as the canker-worm does upon the vegetation which it destroys.
The miracles of the New Testament being thus supported, first, by a human testimony as strong at least as that by which the best established facts of secular history are supported, and, secondly, by an additional evidence from institutions and monuments, become a proof of the credibility of the doctrines of Christianit}'. For these doctrines were promulgated in connection with these miracles; so that if it be true that no one but God could have wrought the miracles, no one but God could have promulgated the doctrines.
The principal theories antagonistic to the credibility of the New Testament are the following: 1. The four Gospels are the productions of impostors, who designedly attempted to deceive. Celsus took this position. He conceded the authenticity of the gospels, but denied their credibility. They were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but with the intention to palm off miracles as real events. Reimarus, the author of the Wolfenbiittel Fragments, adopted this view.
Generally speaking, this form of infidelity has not prevailed among learned skeptics. It is current mostly among the uneducated opponents of Christianity. It is the infidelity of the masses, so far as the masses have been infidel. It is true that this view appears somewhat among the English deists and French atheists of the 18th century. But these cannot be classed with the erudite skeptics of the present century. This is evinced by the estimate which the skepticism of this age puts upon them. Baur would not think of referring to the Philosophical Dictionary of Voltaire, as authority for his own positions. Strauss would not strengthen his statements, by such Biblical criticism as that of Toland and Collins. This species of attack, which charges downright imposture upon the Founder of Christianity and forgery and deception upon his apostles, may therefore be disregarded in the general estimate of skepticism. It does not influence the educated unbeliever. It works among the illiterate. The chorus in Burns's "Jolly Beggars" gives voice to it:
"A fig for those by law protected!
Liberty's a glorious feast!
Courts for cowards were erected,
Churches built to please the priest."
2. A second and more plausible theory antagonistic to the credibility of the New Testament is the so-called mythical theory. This does not charge intentional deception, and downright imposture, upon Christ and his apostles, but would account for the narratives and teachings of the Gospels, by the unconscious and gradual self-deception of superstitious and enthusiastic men. The biography of Christ as related by the four evangelists, according to this theory, resembles that of a Roman Catholic saint as related in the Acta Sanctorum. A devout monk dies, and one hundred years after his death the traditions respecting him are recorded by some enthusiastic admirer. Some striking events in his life are magnified into wonders. Some uncommon acts of piety and devotion are exaggerated into miracles. The biographer is not a cool and calculating deceiver, but he is self-deceived. He accepts the mass of historical matter that has floated down to him, and in common with his fellow monks and religionists gives it a blind credence. In this way a legend is related as actual history. There is a kernel of truth and fact in it. There was such a monk, and some of the events related actually occurred. But there is also much that is not historical, and must be thrown out by the critic.
A myth differs from a legend, as a nation differs from a community. It is a national legend. This unconscious process of exaggeration which goes on in a monastery and a communit)' of monks, goes on upon a large scale in a nation, and through a whole people or race. The early history of Rome illustrates this. The narratives respecting the founding of Rome, the early accounts of Romulus and Xuma, the descriptions of the battles and combats between Romans and Sabines, Horatii and Curiatii, were the slow formation of ages and periods when the imagination was active, and traditions were not scrutinized. There is a basis of truth, but all is not veritable history. What is true of Rome is true of Greece, of Egypt, of India. Each has its mythical age.
The same is true of Christianity, according to the theory which we are considering. At its first beginning, there was an individual named Jesus Christ, of marked traits and of remarkable life. But the admiration and affection of adherents gradually exaggerated these traits and life into the supernatural, the miraculous, and finally the Divine. While no deliberate and intentional deception is to be charged either upon the principal personage, or his adherents, any more than in the instance of the Roman myth or the mediaeval legend, a full historical credibility can no more be conceded to the one than to the others.
The objections to the mythical theory of the origin of Christianity are the following: 1. The character, claims, and teachings of Jesus Christ, as represented in the New Testament, contradict the national feeling of the Jews at the time of the Advent and ever since. But it is of the nature of a myth, to be in entire harmony with the spirit of the people among whom it arises. The national legends of early Rome do not offend and affront the Roman pride, but favor it. The mythical stories connected with king Arthur and the knights of the Round Table harmonize with the temper and spirit of the early Britons. The myth always aggrandizes the nation itself, and the heroes of the nation, because it is a spontaneous outgrowth of the national imagination.
But the character, and claims, and doctrines of Jesus Christ were an utter offence to the feeling of the people among whom he was born, and by whom he was crucified. He was the farthest possible from a national hero, or a popular idol. The Jewish imagination, if employed in the construction of exaggerated accounts of a Jewish Messiah, would not have selected Jesus the Nazarene. The Jewish Messiah, according to the common national feeling at the time, would not have been the son of a Nazarene (" shall Christ come out of Galilee," John 7: 41, 52; 1: 46), nor would he have been born in a stable.
It is therefore impossible to account for the character and teachings of Christ, by the theory of mythical development. He could not have been the merely natural outgrowth of Judaism, as Judaism was in the beginning of the first century, any more than Shakespeare could have been the outgrowth of the Pictish period in English history. The utter contrariety between the New Testament and the carnal Judaism, between the spirit of Christ and that of the unspiritual people of whom he was born, is fatal to the mythical theory.
If it be said that the biography of Christ in the Gospels is not a national product, but that of a few individuals of a nation, and therefore this answer does not apply to the case, the reply is, that these few individuals were Jews, and thoroughly imbued with the views and traditions of their people, and of the time in which they lived. They were expecting a temporal prince in the Jewish Messiah, and it required three years of personal instruction by Christ, and finally the inspiration at Pentecost, to disabuse them of their error. If therefore this biography was the work of their own imagination, either in part or wholly, it would inevitably have had the national characteristics. An earthly reign and an earthly splendor would have been attributed to their hero.1 Neither can the person of Christ be explained as the natural product of human development generally. Says Neander (Life of Christ, 4, Ed. Bohn), "the image of perfection presented in Jesus of Xazareth stands in manifold contradiction to the tendencies of humanity in that period; no one of them, no combination of them, could account for it." "Christianity," says Channing (Evidences of Christianity), "was not the growth of any of the circumstances, principles, or feelings of the age in which it appeared. In truth, one of the great distinctions of the gospel is that it did not grow. The conception which filled the mind of Jesus, of a religion more spiritual, generous, comprehensive, and unworldly than Judaism, and destined to take its place, was not of gradual formation. We detect no signs of it, and no efforts to realize it, before his time; nor is there an appearance of its having been gradually matured by Jesus himself. Christianity was delivered from the first in its full proportions, in a style of singular freedom and boldness, and without a mark of pain
1 Edersheim (Life of Jesus, III i.) observes that the temptation of Christ, in the Gospels, is not found in the Rabbinical representation of the Messiah.
ful elaboration. This suddenness with which this religion broke forth, this maturity of the system at the very moment of its birth, this absence of gradual development, seems to me a strong mark of its Divine original." 1
2. Secondly, the mythical period in the history of a people is in the beginning, not at the close of its career. No myths were originated respecting Roman demigods and heroes in the days of the Empire. When a people have reached their culminating point and begin to decline, the national imagination is not active in producing exaggerated accounts of either men or events. This period is the day of criticism and skepticism, when the myths that were produced in the childhood of the nation are sifted, doubted, and rejected.
What now was the case with Judea at the time of the Advent? The nation was drawing near its downfall. It was virtually a part of the Roman Empire, though the sceptre had not formally and actually departed from Judah. Everything was effete. The morning freshness of the early faith was entirely dried up. The Jewish people, excepting a small minority represented by Simeon and Anna who were "waiting for the consolation of Israel," were either hypocritical formalists like the Pharisees, or skeptical disbelievers like the Sadducees. More than this, they were under the iron heel of that powerful despotism which had subjugated the world, and all national hope and aspiration was dead within them. This consequently was no time for the play of that innocent and unquestioning fancy by which the myth and the ballad are invented. To suppose that a body of legendary narrative and teaching could spring up in such surroundings as these, would be like supposing that
1 While this remark of Charming disconnects the New Testament too much from the Old, and separates Christianity too ruaoh from the spiritual Judaism that prepared for it, it is nevertheless correct in regard to the originality of Christ's doctrines, and is the more significant as it comes from one who denied his deity.
the most delicate forms of poetry—those of Keats and Tennyson for example—could have originated in a community of miners or day laborers. When Shakespeare makes Hector quote Aristotle, it is an anachronism that may be pardoned, because there is no anachronism in the human nature which he depicts. But when men are represented by the theorist as inventing the most fanciful and childlike forms of literature, in the wearied and skeptical old age of a nation; when the time of the Cassars is selected as the period for the upspringing of a series of myths and legends, this is an anachronism that admits of no excuse or justification. Arnold speaks in amazement of Strauss's "idea of men's writing mythic history between the time of Livy and Tacitus, and of St. Paul mistaking such for realities!" Stanley: Life of Arnold, II. 51.
3. The mythical theory supposes superstition, and a propensity to believe in the wondrous and superhuman. But the Jews were never at any time specially liable to this charge. Their rigorous monotheism was unfavorable to legends and fictions respecting the deity, and his operations. The Jews at the time of the Advent were, on the whole, disinclined to believe in the miraculous. This is proved by the fact, that they endeavored to explain away the reality of Christ's miracles by attributing them to sorcery and a league with Satan: "This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils," Matt. 12 : 24. The account of the man born blind whose sight Christ restored, betrays great unwillingness to believe that this miracle had actually been performed. "Is this your son that was born blind; how then doth he now see? What did he unto thee? How opened he thine eyes?" All that portion of the Jewish people who were Sadducean in their opinions, certainly, were not inclined to superstition but to skepticism. "Though Christ had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him," John 12 : 37.
4. The myth is polytheistic, not monotheistic. It describes the adventures and actions of a multitude of divinities among themselves. A single deity affords no play for the imagination. As Guizot remarks (Meditations, 1st. Series, 192), "the God of the Bible has no biography, neither has he any personal adventures." The Babylonian and Assyrian legends respecting the creation, fall, and deluge, differ wholly from the Biblical narratives of which they are the corruption, by the introduction of many gods. They also differ in being sensual, in parts. See the narrative of the amours of Istar (Venus) and Izdubar (Nimrod), in Sayce-Smith's Genesis, Ch. XIV.
This fact must be considered, in settling the important question respecting the use of earlier materials by an inspired writer. When it i9 acknowledged that Moses used ancient traditions and documents in composing the first part of Genesis, the vital question is, Whether he used sacred or secular traditions, ecclesiastical or national; whether he employed documents derived from the line of Seth and the antediluvian church—the "sons of God," as they are denominated in Gen. 6: 2—or whether he worked over those which have come down in the annals of Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt. In the former case, the document is an integral part of the primitive revelation to Adam and the patriarchal church. It is monotheistic and free from error. In the latter case, the document is a part of ethnic religion, and is vitiated like all ethnic religion by polytheistic and pantheistic fables.
If it be said that the national legend is sanctified and freed from its false and corrupting elements, before it is incorporated by the inspired writer into his work, the reply, in the first place, is, that little or nothing would be left in this case. The pantheism, polytheism, and sensuality, are so thoroughly wrought into the fabric of the myth that they could be extirpated only by the annihilation of the whole thing. But, secondly, the antagonism between Infinite Holiness and human impurity is too great to permit of such borrowing on the part of God. In the Old Testament, the chosen people are forbidden, under the severest penalties, to make any use whatever of the religious rites and ceremonies of the idolaters around them. Is it probable that the Holy Spirit would have contradicted his own teachings, and employed the idolatrous myths of Babylon and Nineveh in constructing revealed religion? When the Israelites had made a golden calf, and had attempted to introduce an idolatrous cultus, Moses was commanded not merely to break the idol in pieces, but to pulverize it, and mingling it with water compel the people to drink it down. Gen. 32: 20. This vehement and abhorrent temper of the Bible towards idolatry in all its forms, is utterly inconsistent with the supposition that the Holy Spirit would permit his inspired organs to depend, in the least, upon the fables of an idolatrous mythology for their instruction. The sanctification of polytheistic myths for the service of monotheism, and their adoption into revelation, would be like the alleged consecration of heathen statues of Jupiter and Apollo by the Romish church, and their conversion into statues of St. Peter and St. Paul.
But while there is this amount and kind of evidence for the credibility of the New Testament, it must be noticed that it can produce only a historical faith. It cannot produce saving faith; that higher species of confidence which accompanies salvation.1 The scripture applies here, "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned," 1 Cor. 2: 14. In accordance with this statement, the Westminster confession (I. v.), after asserting that "we may be moved to a high and reverent esteem of scripture, by the testimony of the church, the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the
1 On the distinction between historic faith (fides humana), and saving faith (fides diviaa), see Dorner: Christian Doctrine, I 98-113.
parts, and the scope of the whole," adds that " our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the word in our hearts." Similarly, Calvin (Inst. I. viii. 13) remarks that "the scripture will be effectual to produce the saving knowledge of God, only where the certainty of it shall be founded on the internal persuasion of the Holy Spirit. Those persons betray great folly who wish it to be demonstrated to infidels that the scripture is the word of God, which cannot be known without faith."
The reasons for this are the following: 1. Christianity is moral and historical truth, not axiomatic and mathematical. Consequently it demands the assent of faith, in distinction from assent to a self-evident proposition. Its founder said, "Repent ye and believe the gospel," Mark 1:15. This command implies that Christianity can be disbelieved. Axiomatic or self-evident truth cannot be disbelieved, and neither can it be believed. Geometry is not a matter of faith. It is improper to say that we believe that the whole is equal to the sum of its parts, or that two and two make four. We perceive these truths, but do not believe them. They do not rest Mpon testimony, and are not accepted on account of testimony, like historical truth.
The assent of faith is therefore different from the assent of intuitive perception. "We do not intuitively perceive that Christ rose from the dead, or that the Logos was born of a virgin, any more than we do that Alfred the Great was king of England. Intuitive knowledge is direct perception either by the senses, or by the reason. There is no possibility of doubting a sensuous impression, or a mathematical intuition. Each is self-evident. But for moral and historical truth, there is not the certainty of self-evidence but of probability, more or less. Consequently, in history and in morals, there are degrees of certainty, but not in mathematics. In moral and historical truth, there is a sufficient reason for believing the truth or the fact, though not such a reason as renders disbelief impossible. We may therefore doubt or disbelieve in regard to religious truth, because, while it is credible by reason of testimony and other kinds of evidence, it is not self-evident like an axiom or a physical sensation. Faith is reasonable, in case there are more reasons for believing than for disbelieving. It is not necessary that there should be such evidence as overwhelms all objections and renders them absurd, in order to evince the rationality of faith. The preponderance of evidence justifies the act of faith, and condemns that of unbelief. A criminal is sentenced to death in a court of justice, not by reason of an absolute demonstration that admits of no possibility of the contrary, but by reason of a preponderance of testimony which conceivably might be erroneous.
2. The belief of Christian truth is voluntary; the perception of mathematical truth is involuntary. A man "yields" to the evidence for moral and historical truth, which implies the possibility of resisting it. His will, that is, his inclination, coincides with his understanding in the act of faith. But a man assents to geometrical axioms without any concurrence of his will. This is the act of the understanding alone. He does not yield to evidence, but is compelled by it. "Moral truths," says Ullmann (Sinlessness of Christ, 50), "do not force themselves upon our mind with the indubitable certainty of sensible objects, or with the incontrovertible evidence of mathematical demonstration. Their reception into the mind is to some extent an act of self-determination." Faith therefore has a voluntary element in it. The doctrine of the Divine existence, for example, is not assented to passively and necessarily from the mere mechanic structure of the intellect as the axioms of geometry are, but actively and freely. Axioms are not matters of proof; the Divine existence is. The individual believes in the existence of God, partly because he inclines to believe it, and not because it is absolutely impossible to resist the evidence for it, and to sophisticate himself into the disbelief of it. He yields to the proof presented for the doctrine. "A man's creed," says Byron (Life, IV. 225), "does not depend upon himself; who can say, 'I will believe this, that, or the other ?'" But this depends upon the amount of evidence in the case. A man cannot say that he will believe Gulliver's travels; because there is not sufficient probability in them, and testimony for them. But he can say that he will believe Caesar's Commentaries, because there is sufficient probability and testimony to warrant this decision. At the same time, there is not such a degree of evidence for the truth of Caesar's Commentaries as to render disbelief impossible.
3. Faith being an act of the understanding and will in synthesis carries the whole man with it. Scientific assent being an act of the understanding alone carries only a part of the man; the head not the heart. Faith consequently affects the character, but axiomatic intuition does not.
4. The belief of Christian truth is an object of command; assent to self-evident truth is not. This follows from the fact that faith is voluntary. A command is addressed to the will. "Believe in Christ," is consistent language. "Believe Euclid," is absurd.
5. The belief of Christian truth is rewardable, perception of mathematical truth is not. The former is a virtue; the latter is not.
For these reasons it is impossible to produce by the historical and moral arguments for the truth of Christianity, such a conviction as is absolutely invincible to the objections of the skeptic, and what are still stronger, the doubts of a worldly and unspiritual mind. The human heart and will has such a part in the act of belief in the gospel, that any opposing bias in it is fatal to absolute mental certainty.
Saving faith is far more certain than historical faith. It is a mental certainty that is produced by the Holy Spirit. He originates an immediate consciousness of the truth of the gospel; and wherever there is immediate consciousness, doubt is impossible. Saving faith implies a personal feeling of the truth in the heart; historical faith is destitute of feeling. This makes the former far more certain than the latter, and less assailable by counter arguments. When an inward sense and experience of the truth of the gospel is produced by the Divine Spirit in a human soul, as great a mental certainty exists in this instance as in those of sensuous impressions and axiomatic intuitions. A dying believer who is immediately conscious of the love of God in Christ Jesus, is as certain in regard to this great fact as he is that fire pains the flesh, or that two and two make four. When St. Paul said, "I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come; nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8: 38, 39), he was as sure of this as he was of his own existence. And this, because of his immediate consciousness of the redeeming love of God.1
The credibility of the Old Testament is proved by the New Testament. Christ and his Apostles refer to it as divine revelation. John 5 : 39, "Search the scriptures." Luke 24:27, 44, " Beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. All things written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, must be fulfilled concerning me." Rom. 1 : 2, "The gospel of God was promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures." 2 Tim. 3 :16, "All scripture is given by inspiration." 1 Pet. 1 : 10-12, 2 Pet. 1 : 20, 21, "Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."
By the term "Scriptures" is meant that collection of writings known as the sacred books of the Jewish people.
1 On the subject of Christian certainty, in distinction from natural certainty, see the thoughtful treatise of Frank.
They are referred to by Christ and his apostles, as the source of information respecting religion generally, and all matters pertaining to human salvation. It is clear that they received them as authoritative, and a final arbiter upon such subjects. But this implies the credibility of the Old Testament, if Christ and his apostles were not deceived in their opinion and judgment. That the reference of Christ, when he speaks of "the Scriptures," is to a well-known collection of inspired writings, is proved by Matt. 5 :17. "Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy but to fulfil." Our Lord here affirms that his mission will realize all that is promised in the Old Testament revelation. This revelation he denotes by the common Jewish designation: the Law and the Prophets, i.e. the Pentateuch and Prophetico-Historical books. There is the same reference to a collection of writings in John 7:19, 22, 23.' "Did not Moses give you the law? Moses gave unto you circumcision. A man receiveth circumcision on the sabbath day, that the law of Moses should not be broken." Here, the ceremonial law is more particularly meant, and this law is not taught in one book, or part of a book, of the Pentateuch, but runs through Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. In Luke 2 :22, Mary was purified "according to the law of Moses." Moses is represented by Christ as "giving" law in these books. In like manner, in Acts 15 : 21, the word Moses denotes a collection of sacred writings. "Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day." The Jewish congregations at the time of the Advent had the Pentateuch read to them by a reader, as both Jewish and Christian congregations now do, believing that it had the inspired authority of Moses. In the walk to Emmaus with two of his disciples, Christ " beginning at Moses and all the prophets, expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself," Luke 24 : 27. He recapitulated and explained all the Messianic promises in the Old Testament; beginning with the "Seed of the woman" in Genesis, and ending with the "Messenger of the covenant" in Malachi. In Mark 12:26, Christ refers to the miracle of the burning bush as an actual fact, and denominates the book of Exodus in which the account of it is contained, "the book of Moses." In Matt. 22:32, Christ quotes Jehovah's words to Moses from the burning bush—making a second reference to this miracle. If it is objected, that Christ only accommodated himself to the ancient Jewish opinion that Moses was the author of the book of Exodus without believing or endorsing it, the reply is, that Christ is arguing to prove to the Sadducees that the resurrection of the body is a fact. Now unless Jehovah actually spoke to Moses those words, and Moses recorded them without error, so that Christ is correct in calling Exodus "the book of Moses," his argument fails. If Jehovah did not speak the words, Christ did not prove his point. If Jehovah did speak them but Moses did not record them, he did not prove it; because he refers to Moses as his authority. And if Jehovah did speak the words, but Moses did not record them infallibly, Christ's argument though having some validity would not be marked by infallibility. There may have been some error in the narrative. That Christ refers to a well-known collection, is also proved by his quotation from the Old Testament in Matt. 23 : 35. "Upon you shall come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias " (Barachias is wanting in Luke 11: 51, and in Here our Lord mentions an event in Genesis and in Chronicles (2 Ch. 24: 21, 22); the first and almost last book of the canon. Between these two events, he speaks of a series of righteous men whose blood was spilled in martyrdom. Who can doubt that he had in mind the entire Old Testament, which contains the account of these martyred servants of Jehovah. The reference to the murder of Zacharias proves that Chronicles belonged to the canon, in Christ's opinion. To say that Christ accommodates himself to the popular view without adopting it himself, contradicts the connection of thought. Christ is announcing the judgment of God upon the Pharisees. This would be an idle threat if there were no such series of martyrs, and no true account of them in the Old Testament scriptures. In Matt. 12 : 39, Christ cites the miracle of Jonah as one which he believed, and his hearers also. But Jonah is comparatively a secondary book in the canon, and the miracle therein recorded more difficult to believe than most. According to Luke 4 :17-21, Christ read and commented on the 61st chapter of Isaiah. This shows that he did not regard the later prophecies of Isaiah as spurious.
That the writings now received by the Christian church as the Old Testament canon were the same as those to which Christ and his apostles refer, is proved by the following arguments:
1. They are the same which were translated into Greek by the Seventy, 285 b.c. For two centuries preceding the Advent, they had been received among the Greekspeaking Jews as the inspired volume. As a collection, they were called "the Scriptures." It is objected, that in the Septuagint version the apocryphal books are found. But they did not belong to it originally. That they constituted no part of the work of the Seventy, is proved by the fact that Philo and Josephus do not mention them, though Sirach, one of the best of the apocryphal authors, wrote about 237 B.c.; that Christ and his apostles never quote from them, though they quote from the Septuagint version of the Old Testament; that some of the manuscripts of the Septuagint version do not contain the apocrypha; and that the Palestinian Jews never regarded the apocrypha as canonical. The explanation of their presence in some of the manuscripts of the Septuagint is, that the Egyptian or Alexandrian Jews had a higher estimate of the apocrypha than the Palestine Jews had, and appended them to the Old Testament canon; as, at a later date, some other apocryphal writings were appended to manuscripts of the New Testament, and obtained some currency in the Patristic church. The Sinaitic manuscript, for example, contains the Epistle of Barnabas and the Pastor of Hermas; and the Alexandrine contains the first Epistle of Clement of Rome and the apocryphal psalms attributed to Solomon. Such uncanonical compositions were occasionally copied into the manuscripts of the New Testament, by those who highly esteemed them, and in this manner gradually acquired some authority. By being appended to the canonical Old Testament, the authority of the apocrypha increased, until finally it was declared to be canonical and inspired, by the council of Trent. The Patristic church, however, was not agreed concerning the apocrypha, and never adopted it in general council. Jerome (Prologus Galeatus) asserts that Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus do not belong to the canon. Melito, Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory Nazianzen, Athanasius, Amphilochius, and Epiphanius give lists that do not include the apocrypha. Clement of Alexandria and Irenffius placed it on an equality with the canonical books. The North African fathers took this view in the council of Hippo (393), and in the 3rd council of Carthage (397). These small local councils included the apocrypha "inter scripturas canonicas." That the apocrypha is canonical and inspired, is a Romish, not a Patristic decision. The Reformers rejected the Romish opinion, and denied the inspiration and canonicity of the apocrypha.
2. They are the same writings which Philo and Josephus recognize as the Jewish Scriptures. Philo, in the first century, cites from most of them. Josephus (Contra Apionem, I. 8) states that the Jews have "twenty-two books which are justly believed to be divine." It is not certain from the passage, which is somewhat obscure, whether Josephus included Chronicles, Ezra, Esther and Nehemiah; though the probability is that he did. The fact that these are contained in the Septuagint version would favor this.
3. The Targums go to show that the books received by the Christian church as the Old Testament canon are the same as those received by the Jews. That of Onkelos is a Chaldee translation of the Pentateuch. Onkelos wrote about the time of the Advent; others say in the 2nd century. The Targum of Jonathan contains in Chaldee, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah and the Minor Prophets.
4. The Samaritan Pentateuch supports the genuineness of the Old Testament Pentateuch. The Samaritans received it from the ten tribes, in all probability, and the ten tribes must have had it at the time of their separation from Judah, B. c. 975; for they would not subsequently have taken it from Judah.
5. The great care with which their sacred books were preserved by the Jews, makes it highly probable that the books now received as the inspired canon of the Old Testament are the same as those received by Ezra and Nehemiah. The Pentateuch by the command of Moses was deposited with the sacred things of the tabernacle, and provision was made for its public reading from time to time. Deut. 31 : 9-13. Josephus in his autobiography says that Titus gave him leave to take from the "ruins of his country" what he wished. He asked for the liberty of his own family, and the "holy books" of his people; which were granted to him.
6. The language evinces the genuineness of the received Old Testament canon. All the varieties of Hebrew, from the early forms in Genesis and Job to the later in the Chaldee of Ezra and Nehemiah, are found in it.
7. The discoveries in the antiquities of Assyria, Babylonia, and Egypt support the genuineness of the Old Testament.
8. The agreement in doctrine between the Old Testament and the New supports the genuineness of the former. The same general system of justice and mercy; law and gospel; sin and redemption runs through both. "It is mere assertion, that fatherhood, filiation, and brotherhood are unrevealed in the Old covenant; the truth is, they are revealed, but in a limited and mediate typical manner. It is an equally vague assertion to affirm that the God of the New Testament is not an indignant God, full of majesty and power, and that Christians ceased in every sense to be servants." Nitzsch: Christian Doctrine, § 63.