Lecture II



Historical criticism is comparatively a modern science. For the introduction and establishment of this science we are undoubtedly mainly indebted to the Germans, who, to whatever extent they may have carried it into Rationalism in theology, or skepticism in the classics, have unquestionably laid down, among much that is false, the true principles that are to be applied to the writings of the ancients.

Niebuhr, in the Preface to his History of Rome, says: "The History of Rome was treated, during the first two centuries after the revival of letters, with the same prostration of the understanding and judgment to the written letter that had been handed down, and the same fearfulness of going beyond it, which prevailed in all the other branches of knowledge. If any one had pretended to examine into the credibility of the ancient writers, and the value of their testimony, an outcry would have been raised against such atrocious presumption. The object aimed at was, in spite of every thing like internal evidence, to combine what they related. At the utmost, one authority was made to give way in some particular instance to another; and this was done as mildly as possible, and without leading to any farther results. Here and there, indeed, a man of an independent mind, like Glareanus, broke through this fence; but inevitably a sentence of condemnation was forthwith pronounced against him. Besides, the persons who did so were not the most learned; and these bold attempts were not carried with consistency throughout. In this department, as in others, men of splendid abilities and the most copious learning conformed to the narrow spirit of their age."

Wolff had, indeed, applied a spirit of unsparing criticism to the writings of Homer; Bentley had continued the application of these principles; Glanvil, who has been termed by a modern critic " the first English writer who had thrown skepticism into a definite form,"* had applied these principles to the prevailing belief in his time in sorcery and witchcraft; Bayle carried them to almost universal skepticism; Niebuhr applied them to the Roman History.

Glanvil, in order to test the historical evidence'in regard to the miracles of the New Testament, proposed to make the trial on the belief in witchcraft in his time, as being contemporary, and as making it peculiarly easy to test the credibility of the supernatural; " for," said he, " things remote or long past are either not believed or forgotten; whereas, those being fresh and new, and attended with all the circumstances of credibility, it should be expected that they would have most success upon the obstinacy of unbelievers."f

The general grounds on which this criticism is founded are such as the following: That the witnesses for ancient facts lived in a remote and uncritical age; that they were not, when they lived, subjected to a crossexamination; that they have long since died and can not now be examined; that it was for the interest and attractiveness of their story to relate the marvelous, since most of their historic productions were recited in public, and none were allowed to contradict them; that * Biographie Universelle. f Lecky, Hist. of Rationalism, i., 138.

there were few contemporary historical documents with which they could be compared; that there was » love of the marvelous, and a prevailing belief in the supernatural, which was to be gratified; that time has effected changes in the public mind in most or all these respects; and that now, in a more critical age, and on the coolness of calm reflection, and with tests to separate the marvelous from the real, it is proper to apply to all ancient writings the principles of criticism suggested by the present advanced position of the world.

Time has made changes affecting historical testimony. All is not now believed that has been believed in former ages—nor should it be; all is not believed that is recorded—nor should it be. The world is less credulous than it once was; it is more disposed to examine what is proposed for belief; it has advantages which it once had not for this; it demands evidence which it did not once demand; it applies an unsparing criticism to what was once accredited as undoubted truth. It has learned that many false records have come down to us from the past; that there have been errors in transcribing ancient documents; that many of those documents have been corrupted by design, if an object was to be gained by it—if the glory of a nation or a hero was to be exalted, if the claims of a religion were to be established, if the interest of a party in the state, or in philosophy, was to be promoted; and it has learned that many of the documents which have come down to us from ancient times are forged documents; that there have been myths, legends, and fables wrought into history; that there have been fancied records of dynasties and heroes stretching back an almost illimitable number of years; that there have been details of unreal battles, of imaginary dynasties, and of fancied wonders; that there have been apocryphal histories and apocryphal. gospels.

Especially there has been a change on the whole subject of the supernatural. In the early ages of the world the relation of a supernatural event did nothing to impair the general credit of the history, and the record of such an event was received with as little skepticism as a statement in regard to the ordinary events of the world. It does not appear that the statements of Livy respecting the marvelous events attending the foundation of Rome and its early history impaired the general credit of his history, or lessened the public faith in his statements in regard to things occurring under the operation of natural causes. It may be presumed, on the contrary, that such statements of the marvelous commended his history to a stronger credence, as being in accordance with the common belief respecting the foundation of empires, and as indicating the special favor of the gods toward the nation—a nation started on a loftier career, and under better auspices, which could refer to special divine interpositions in its behalf; which could prove that even the gods were present when the foundations of its walls and of its Capitol were laid.

All this has passed away. An unsparing criticism has swept all those marvels from the early history of Rome, and in doing this, it demands that all the records of marvels in the early history of nations should be regarded as fabulous. To such an extent has the principle been carried, in fact, that the claim that " miracles" or marvels have occurred in any period of the history of the world is to be regarded as proof that the entire history, and all that is dependent on it, is false. Rcnan, in his " Life of Jesus" (p. 17), says of the Gospels: " Let the gospels be in part legendary: that is evident, since they are full of miracles and the supernatural;" that is, the fact that " miracles" and Ihe " supernatural" are recounted there is to be regarded as undoubted proof that they are in a great degree "legendary"—on the same level with the first portion of the history of Livy, or with the early records of Egypt.

So, again, in a passage apparently approved by the Westminster Review* as a just principle, he says, " It is an absolute rule of criticism not to admit into history any narrative of miraculous incidents. This is not the result of any metaphysical system; it is simply a fact of observation. No such facts have ever been established, and all alleged miracles resolve themselves into illusion and imposture. All miracles that may be made the subject of examination vanish away."

The demand is now—a demand which this age is to consider, for it affects every question about a revelation, and is vital in its bearings on Christianity—that this shall be regarded as a universal rule in history; or, that the claim that a miracle has been wrought shall at once set aside all the evidences adduced in favor of the truth of any historic record.

To nothing have the principles of a stem historical criticism been more rigorously applied than to the books of the New Testament. All that has been said about legends, and marvels, and interpolated manuscripts, and forged documents, and unknown authorships, has been said about those books. All that has been said about statements being contradictory to each other, or to independent contemporaneous statements; about witnesses as incompetent to give testimony, or as not cross-examined, or as long since dead; about the ability of a more advanced age of the world to judge of a record * Quoted in the Westminster Review, Oct., 18CG.

that has come down from the mists, and through the mists, of the past—all this' has been said of what is affirmed as fact in the New Testament. A more unsparing criticism has been employed because the events referred to are of a religious nature; and a portion of the scientific and historic world—a portion not small— is hastening to the conclusion, as a universal canon of criticism, that the fact that any pretended history records a " miracle" is full demonstration that the history is false.

The question suggested by these criticisms is a fair question; a question which men have a right to ask; a question which the believer in miracles may be held to answer. The value of evidence is affected by time. One age may be much more competent to examine the credibility of testimony than another. A subsequent generation may be much better qualified to examine such testimony than that in which the event was said to have occurred. It may be easier to ascertain the exact truth in regard to an event at a subsequent period than when it occurred, as the movements and positions of forces engaged in a battle can be best understood and explained when the smoke of the battle has cleared away. Statements apparently contradictory may be explained and reconciled; different accounts may be sifted and compared, and the result of all credible testimony may be combined in one. It is ever to be remembered that the historic statement of an event is what it is reported to be by all who witnessed it, and who have made a record in regard to it / not the statement of an individual. The historic statement in respect to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire is what it is reported to have been by the great multitude of authors and writers whom Mr. Gibbon had before him in composing his history. His task was to select, compare, reconcile, arrange, and combine into that one harmonious and magnificent history which he has given to mankind, all that was credible in that multitude of writers as bearing on the events of history, not to reproduce merely the statement of any one of those authors. The Scripture narrative of an event is what it is reported to have been by all the sacred writers, and the task of an expositor of the Bible is to compare, reconcile, arrange, and combine these also into one harmonious whole. The real narrative in regard to the life of the Redeemer is not what it is reported to be by Matthew, or Mark, or Luke, or John—it is the statement of all of th'em combined.

It is also a very pertinent question—a question which we may be held to answer—in what manner a religion, urging its claims now on the ground of the evidence on which Christianity advanced its claims, and on which it undoubtedly made its way in the world eighteen hundred years ago, would be met in this age—in this nineteenth century. Would it now, if the same evidences of its divine origin were urged, be received as a religion from God? Would it make its way in the world in this age as it did then ? Would the evidences of its miracles be received in this scientific and critical age as they were in that comparatively uncritical, unscientific, and credulous age—an age when men were disposed to believe in the marvelous, and when the belief in the supernatural interposition of the gods in human affairs was the common belief of men ? Was the evidence of the miracles ever thus subjected to such tests as they would be now, or as they ought to have been; would they convince men now as they did then ? If it be admitted that the religion was propagated and embraced then on evidence that seemed to be satisfactory to mankind, would it be embraced, and could it be propagated now, on the same evidence? Would not that evidence be subjected to a more rigid and just scrutiny, and would it not, therefore, be rejected ? If so, should it not be rejected now ?

" Let a thaumaturgist," says Renan,* " present himself to-morrow with testimony sufficiently important to merit our attention; let him announce that he is able, I will suppose, to raise the dead; what would be done ? A commission composed of physiologists, physicians, chemists, persons experienced in historical criticism, would be appointed. This commission would choose the corpse, make it certain that death was real, designate the hall in which the experiment should be made, and regulate the whole system of precautions necessary to leave no room for doubt. If, under such conditions, the resurrection should be performed, a probability almost equal to certainty would be attained. However, as an experiment ought always to be capable of being repeated, as one ought to be capable of doing again what one has done once, and as, in the matter of miracles, there can be no question of easy or difficult, the thaumaturgist would be invited to reproduce his marvelous acts under other circumstances, upon other bodies, in another medium. If the miracle succeeds each time, two things would be proven: first, that supernatural acts do come to pass in the world; second, that the power to perform them belongs or is delegated to certain persons. But who does not see that no miracle was ever performed under such conditions; that always hitherto the thaumaturgist has chosen the subject of the experiment, chosen the means, chosen the * Life of Jesus, p. 44, 45.

public; that, moreover, it is, in most cases, the people themselves who, from the undeniable need which they feel of seeing in great events and great men something divine, create the marvelous legends afterward."

It may be added, as illustrating this feeling, that the world is beginning to demand an altogether different class of evidences of Christianity from that which satisfied the generations that preceded us, and although the authors, some of them at least, who satisfied those generations of the truth of the Bible, have scarcely passed away, yet that Grotius de Veritate, and Paley's Evidences, and Lardner's Credibility, and Chalmers's Evidences of Christianity, are beginning to be regarded as books pertaining to the past—books that performed their work well enough in their own time, but which are soon to be reckoned with the obsolete defenses of Christianity in the times of Porphyry, Celsus, and Julian, or in the times of the British deists of the seventeenth century. Whatever might have been the value of that evidence, and that mode of argumentation, in a former age, and however such arguments may have convinced the world in former times, it is now held that we are not at liberty to demand that the same credit shall be given to the arguments in this age. " Let the thaumaturgist," Renan would say, " work over the miracle in our times in such a manner as to satisfy an age far different from that when the miracles were pretended to have been wrought."

It becomes, therefore, very important to inquire whether, on the alleged facts on which Christianity was first propagated, and which were regarded eighteen hundred years ago as sufficient evidence to prove that the religion was from God, and under which the religion actually spread over the world, it may be commend


ed to mankind now ? Or has time so rectified the judgment of mankind on the subject of testimony as to show that the evidence was valueless then, and should be regarded as valueless now, and that the religion was in fact propagated under a delusion ?

This is a fair question. This introduces the subject of this Lecture. It will be illustrated under two heads:

The general principles on the subject.

The application of those principles to the Christian testimony.

The general subject to be illustrated is, Evidence As


Evidence as bearing on things to be believed—which is its proper province—must pertain to subjects as mathematical, as legal, as scientific, as moral, as historical.

No one would pretend that on these subjects precisely the same kind of testimony would be demanded; no one would maintain that the evidence, to be satisfactory to the mind, must be precisely the same; no one would affirm that all would be equally affected by time, or that the same rules are to be applied in estimating their value.

In mathematics, time makes no change in the force and value of the evidence by which a proposition is established. If it be granted that shorter methods may be used, or that new methods of demonstration may be discovered, as the Algebraic process, or Logarithms, or Fluxions, or the Differential Calculus, yet these do not demonstrate that the former evidence was false, or unreliable as far as it' went, or that that for which it was employed as a demonstration was false. It must be— it can not be otherwise—that Euclid believed that in a right angled triangle the square of the hypothenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the two sides, on the same evidence on which we believe it, and the proof on which he relied, as far as it was proof, is as forcible now as it was then. Time does nothing to affect that evidence. It neither confirms nor impairs it. The evidence is to us precisely what it was to the human mind eighteen hundred years ago, and it will be the same to the end of the world. We believe it not because Euclid believed it, or because there is evidence that it was believed then, or because the truth of the proposition was propagated on the ground of the evidence then employed, but because the proof to our minds is precisely, neither more nor less, what it was to the first mind on which the truth of the "forty-seventh" proposition dawned. The proof can not be added to or diminished; and that proof will go down to the end of the world, whatever changes may occur in the laws of criticism, or in any advances which may be made in the capability of judging of evidence. Many new truths may be discovered and added to this, but time does not change the faith of mankind in this.

In legal matters, time does not necessarily or materially affect evidence. It affects the manner of arriving at it; the question as to what is legal testimony; the determination about the credibility of witnesses; the question how far interest in the case, or relationship to the parties, shall affect their credibility; the mode of examination, in open court or in secret; the credit due to the young, to those of feeble mind, or to those who may be partially insane; the competency of witnesses in general; but the evidence itself is not affected by time. The evidence that Titus killed Gaius in the time of Augustus, and that he was properly convicted and punished, is not modified by the lapse of eighteen hundred years, and by all the changes which have occurred in the world in that time. If the evidence then relied on established the fact so that, under the laws, Titus was justly punished, it establishes it now, so that it ought to go into history, and to be believed in all coming time; to become one of the cases of precedents establishing the principles on which justice is to be administered in every future age.

In scientific matters, the principles are the same. Testimony or evidence is not likely to be affected in any way on these subjects; for, in general, we do not believe the facts of science on the evidence of testimony. Although it is true that the mass of men credit the facts of science—in Astronomy, Geology, Chemistry, and in the kindred sciences—so far as they come before them at all for belief, on the ground of testimony, yet it is also true that these great truths and facts can be subjected to experiment and observation by any one that chooses. Galileo testified that there were moons appertaining to Jupiter. That he did so testify can be easily established by history; that there are moons revolving around the planet is a matter, however, not depending on the credibility of his testimony, or on the historical records of that time, but can be verified by any one by looking through a telescope.

Time sets aside, indeed, many things in science which were once assuredly believed. But it is not done because the testimony is doubtful; it is because the observations were not accurately made, or because there were false theories, or because better instruments, and a more varied and prolonged observation, have shown exactly what the facts were and are. But time, for example, has not affected the evidence in regard to the facts connected with the celebrated "Eclipse of Thales," on which so much has been written, and which has been the subject of. so much discussion among astronomers— neither the fact in regard to the effect of that eclipse as stated by Herodotus, or the fact that Thales predicted it. Herodotus says (book i., ch. lxxiv.) that there was a war between the Lydians and the Medes, and that, after various turns of fortune, " in the sixth year a conflict took place; and on the battle being joined, it happened that the day suddenly became night. And this change," says he, " Thales of Miletus had predicted to them, definitely naming the year in which the event took place. The Lydians and the Medes, when they saw day turned into night, ceased from fighting, and both sides were desirous of peace."*

Time, in regard to this event, has undoubtedly shown that the theory which Thales held in regard to astronomy was a false theory; that the prediction implied no very accurate knowledge of the heavens; that probably all his knowledge on the subject was derived from the observation of the periodical times when eclipses occur; and that probably also all that he predicted was the year when this eclipse would take place, not the hour, the day, nor even the month; but time has not set aside the evidence in regard to the fact. Thus time may establish the truth of a scientific event, but not the cause of it; the fact may be demonstrated by testimony to the end of the world, but the testimony does nothing to establish the causes of it. On this point, however, time may do this: while the testimony as to the fact is unaffected, it may do much to show what was, or was not the cause of the event. Time may show that what was regarded as miraculous and supernatural when it happened, took place in the ordinary operations of nature, and the " dim eclipse" which, at the * Whewel's History of the Inductive Sciences, vol. i., p. 509.

time of its occurrence, " with fear of change perplexed monarchs," may take its place among ordinary events, to be explained in accordance with ordinary and wellunderstood laws. The fact existed as recorded; time has changed the views of men in regard to the cause, and reduced it from a marvelous to an ordinary operation of nature. What armies would now be stayed in battle by an eclipse of the sun ? Of ancient facts now as reported to us in history, we give credit to the facts as reported; we explain them as we choose. The facts we admit. Here we pause. All in regard to the explanation is as much under our control as it was under the control of those who have reported the fafts to us.

In regard to moral subjects—to philosophy—the same remark is to be made. We receive the statement that certain opinions in morals, in philosophy, in religion were held; we embrace those opinions or not, as we choose; we explain and defend them in our own way. It-can not be denied, as a matter of historic verity, that Plato, in the Gorgias, argues in favor of the immortality of the soul. The fact that he at times seems to hold this is not to be set aside. But no one of us believes the doctrine because he thus testified to it, and no one believes it on the ground of the proof or evidence which he adduces in favor of it. Time holds on to the fact that such opinions were held; it sets aside, it may be, all the arguments on which the opinion was held, or reverses entirely the faith in the doctrine itself. That the schoolmen held certain opinions we do not doubt; that they were defended by great prolixity and by marvelous subtilty of argument, any one may have evidence of who chooses to look into the ponderous tomes that so calmly now repose in dust in the alcoves of our great libraries, like ancient knights incased in armor in old cathedrals; but who feels bound to believe their opinions ; who feels bound to make himself acquainted even with the terms of their logic—the weapons with which they dealt their heavy blows ?

There remains the question as to the bearing of these remarks on historic records—the records of facts pertaining to ancient times. This point will lead to a matter of much interest, and one which specially pertains to us, the question about the facts in regard to the miracles of the New Testament.

It is this kind of evidence which is mainly affected by time; this which leads into the whole region of historical criticism.

The manner in which this evidence is affected by time, and the reasons why there is occasion for the modern science of historical criticism, will be made plain by a few remarks.

The following things, then, are to be taken into the account in estimating the value of ancient historical testimony: (a) The imperfect observation in regard to the facts that are recorded. (b) The disposition for the marvelous in the early periods of history. (c) The character of the witnesses for competency, veracity, credibility, candor, honesty, freedom from selfish ends. {(t) National vanity; not a few histories being in fact designed to exalt the glory of one nation over its rivals. (e) The nature of the subject; for on some subjects men are much more honest and credible than on others. Such are, or may be, for example, the views which men have on the subject of religion, that no reliance almost could be placed on their testimony in regard to the facts that pertain to it. The narrative would be certain to be colored by the views entertained on the subject, and the largest allowance would be necessary in estimating the value of the historical record. (f) The voluntary corruption of records for national, private, or party purposes. (g) The slow accumulation of errors in the process of transcription of records—small at first, and few in number, yet unavoidably perpetuated and multiplied by time. (A) The number of false or apocryphal histories that may be written for various purposes, as the long imaginary histories of the dynasties of Egypt and India, or the apocryphal Gospels.

Time affects all these things; and the work of historical criticism when the world becomes sensible that these have accumulated, and that the true should be separated from the false, becomes a work so vast as to be properly dignified with the name of science. Nothing demands more learning, patience, acuteness, sagacity, candor, and impartiality than such a work, and he who, in history, contributes any thing to separate the true from the false, and to give the world a correct record of the past, is to be classed among the benefactors of mankind.

In looking at these things, and contemplating the uncertainties and the corruptions of history, it becomes a question whether any facts pertaining to the past can be placed on the same level with those which are occurring in our own time, and which come under our own observation, or the observation of our contemporaries; or whether all the alleged facts of ancient history are to be classed among myths and legends; or where,if there is true history, the region of legend ends and that of history begins; and if legend, myth, and fable reign at all in the past, what is the extent of the dominion ? Does it terminate with the legends of Livy ? Does it cease with the stories of the interventions of the gods in battle, and in the foundation of cities and empires ? Or does it embrace also the account of the Creation and Fall in Genesis; the record of the deluge; of the overthrow of Sodom; of the wonders of Egypt; of the wandering of the Hebrews in the desert; of the miracles of Gideon and Samson—the records of the Gospels, and of the acts of the apostles ?

Is there any thing that can be known of the past ?

There is a limit to skepticism in regard to the events of the past, as there is a limit to skepticism on all subjects. Valuable in its place, and valuable as an attribute of the human mind, yet there is a boundary which the Author of that mind has fixed, beyond which it is not allowed permanently to pass, and the world, sooner or later, works itself right on this subject, as it does on all others.

There are facts which historical criticism can not effect, and to which skepticism, even that of the most destructive nature, can not be applied. There are facts which Mr. Hume and Mr. Gibbon found in the past, and which Niebuhr found, and which are never henceforward to be called in question. The question in secular history is, what is their limit ? The great question in religion, a question which Strauss, and Renan, and Lepsius, and Bishop Colenso, and the authors of the " Essays and Reviews," and the writers in the Westminster Review, are endeavoring to help us to solve, is whether the proper limit will exclude the facts in the Life of Jesus, and the miracles of the Old and New Testaments ?

Let us now inquire for a moment what principles are to be applied to the solution of the historical question.

The world has settled down into a general view on the subject as to what is necessary to establish faith in an ancient fact, and when those things are found, the faith of the world is, from the constitution of the human mind, as firm as it is in well-established contemporaneous events—it may be said as firm as when an event occurs under our own eyes; for we no more doubt that Csesar fell hy the hands of assassins in the senate-house, or that Xerxes crossed the Hellespont, or that the Persians were defeated at Marathon and Salamis, than that Washington fought at Trenton, or that Lord Gornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, or that the tide of rebel invasion was turned back at Gettysburg, or that the rebel General Lee surrendered to General Grant.

Such things occur as entering into history, in such cases, as the following:

(a) When the witnesses are competent, and have a proper opportunity of observing the facts; that is, where the facts are the proper subject of testimony as facts, or as actual occurrences, and not as matters of fancy and opinion.

(b) When the witnesses concur in the general statement of the fact, though they may vary in the circumstances or details.

(c) When there is no motive for deception or imposture. We do not see, for example, that Tacitus had any motive for either, and hence almost no part of his narrative has ever been called in question.

(d) When the facts recorded are strongly against the religious faith of the narrator, or when he would wish that the facts were otherwise. It is this which gives such value to the statement of Mr. Hume that" England owes whatever of civil liberty it enjoys to the influence of the Puritans"—a fact which we are morally certain he would have wished to be otherwise, and which he would have kept back if he could have done it as an honest historian; and this it is, with other things, which . gives so great value to the " History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," for many of the facts recorded by Mr. Gibbon were undoubtedly such as a skeptic in religion would have wished to have been otherwise ; in respect to many of those stated, Mr. Gibbon could not but see that the world would regard them as furnishing proof that the religion was of Divine origin ; of many of those stated, therefore, it required all his great talents to explain them on the supposition that the religion was false. Yet he recorded them, without suppressing what was true, or interpolating what was false, or perverting what had occurred, leaving it to himself and to other skeptics to explain them as they could.

(e) When the facts referred to, and which are said to have occurred, furnish the most easy and natural explanation of the existing state of things, or go into existing events as the cause does into the effect, and are indispensable to the solution of what actually exists in the world. There are, undoubtedly, numerous things existing in the world—in the civilization, the arts, the laws, the religion—for which the alleged facts in history are the most natural explanation, and which are, in fact, indispensable to the explanation. The main facts which are said to have occurred in the life of Mohammed furnish the best explanation of the opinions, the laws, the customs, the religious belief of a hundred and sixty millions of the human family; nor can those opinions, laws, and customs be explained except on the supposition that those facts actually occurred.

(/) "When those facts are commemorated, and the knowledge of them is perpetuated by monuments, coins, medals, games, festivals, processions, and celebrations from age to age; when, without the supposition of those facts, all those things would be unmeaning, or would be wholly inexplicable. The annual observance of the fourth day of July in this country is founded on the Declaration of Independence, and can not be explained except on the belief of the facts as history states them. The division of the lands in England is founded on the fact that there was a " Doomsday Book," and that the lands were apportioned in accordance with that. The establishment of the Feudal System in England, the form of the government for ages, the tenure by which land is held, and the distinction of ranks, is founded on the fact that William the Norman was victorious at the battle of Hastings, and that the country was apportioned among his barons; nor can the laws in regard to real estate in England for eight hundred years be explained except on that supposition. The boundaries of the old thirteen states of the Union can be explained only on the supposition, which history states, that charters were granted to the colonies by the crown, fixing those boundaries—for there are no natural boundaries between Massachusetts and New Hampshire; between Connecticut and Massachusetts; between Pennsylvania and New York; between Virginia and North Carolina. The Tower of London can be explained only by a belief in the great facts of history as recorded in the books. What mean those standards taken in war, those old suits of armor, shields, and bows, and battle-axes, but that the nation once was as history represents it to have been ? How came they there ? Who invented them ? Who had power to persuade the nation that all these had been used in wars and conquests ? And what mean those blocks, made as if for beheading men, and those axes, unless it were true that Lord Russell, and Sir Walter Raleigh, and Algernon Sidney were actually beheaded ? Who placed them there ? Who has been able to persuade the nation that they represent bloody realities?

Thus facts come to us about which the world does not doubt; reports of ancient things which can not be explained except on the supposition that the main facts as alleged by history are true. So the fossil remains of the earth—the coal-beds—the extinct remains of races swept off in times far remote—preserved in enduring rocks, and laid far below the surface of the earth—are, like these old pieces of armor in the Tower of London, memorials of what the history of our world has been. The geologist, a laborious and most useful historian, is performing, by toil and sorrow, what the conductor through the Tower of London does in explaining the history of the past.

Things, therefore, may be, and are made true in regard to the past. No man has any more doubt that Caesar was assassinated than he has that Mr. Lincoln was.

It remains to consider the application of these principles to the particular subject of Christianity—the question whether time has so affected the evidence in regard to the facts on which Christianity is based as to render those facts unworthy of belief.

I have already remarked that a more unsparing criticism has been applied to the historic records of Christianity than to any other records pertaining to the past. All that has been alleged against any other history has been urged against the books of the New Testament; all the charges which have been elsewhere alleged of incompetency on the part of witnesses; of defective observation; of personal interest; of corrupted manuscripts ; of apocryphal writings ; of inconsistencies and contradictions; of uncertain authorship; of improbability in regard to the events; of mistakes and errors, have been and are alleged in regard to the Evangelists.

To the ordinary difficulties in regard to ancient records, there is, in reference to the New Testament, this additional difficulty, greatly augmented by the change in the views of the world on the subject of the supernatural and the marvelous, that the narrative requires us to believe in miracles—not merely that Jesus lived, and taught, and was a good man, and founded Christianity, as Strauss and Renan admit, but that he cast out devils; that he healed diseases by a word; that he raised the dead; that he raised himself from the grave and ascended to heaven—as the difficulty of believing the record of Livy in regard to the foundation of Rome would be greatly augmented if we were required to believe his legends about Romulus and Remus, or the miracle when a yawning chasm appeared in the city threatening its very existence, and the closing of the chasm by the self-sacrifice of the gallant Curtius throwing himself into it clad in full armor. No one can be required, it would be said, in this sharp, keen, searching, scientific age, to believe what men readily believed in the fabulous periods of history, when the belief in the supernatural prevailed every where; when eclipses were portents and prodigies; when, in ignorance of the laws of nature, it was believed that the heavenly bodies were moved by angels; that all atmospheric changes were effected by angels; that a special angel was assigned to every star and every element; when it was believed that comets were precursors of calamity, and that a special comet, ominous of evil, preceded the death of such men as Csesar or Constantine, or that such a comet appeared before the invasion of Greece by Xerxes, before the Peloponnesian War, before the civil wars of Caesar and Pompey, before the fall of Jerusalem, before the invasion of Attila, and before the coining of famine and pestilence.* A more relentless criticism by far has been applied to the New Testament than was applied by Wolff to the Iliad, or by Niebuhr to the History of Rome. And what strange, unhistorical theories are held in regard to the four Evangelists! Those Evangelists contain indeed fragments of truth. There is enough of truth in them to account for the origin of Christianity. But they are without order or arrangement. They are of uncertain date or authorship. They are to be rearranged and reconstructed. The portions added are to be eliminated; the deficiencies are to be made up by sagacity; the improbable parts are to be discarded; all that is miraculous is to be regarded as fabulous and legendary. The system of Christianity is a " myth," having for its basis a very uncertain personage, of sufficient reality to suggest the mythical actions ascribed to him, as in Strauss; or Jesus was a real personage, the real founder of Christianity, a young man of vast originality, of wonderful genius, slowly made conscious of his own powers, wrought up to enthusiasm unexpectedly to himself, to believe that he was to change and reform the world, and acting on the borders of insanity, as in the romance of Renan.

What, then, is to be believed ? What are the principles, as matters of history, which are to guide us ?

Christianity, as we shall see in a subsequent Lecture, has a history as marked and definite as any other; an origin, a development, a progress, an array of facts that belong to it alone. England has a history: its institutions ; its judicial arrangements; its trial by jury; its * Lecky, History of Rationalism, i., 289, 290.

writ of Habeas Corpus; its government by King, Lords, and Commons. Mohammedanism has a history. There is that which is real which has gone into the religion of Islam; which makes it what it is; that without the knowledge of which its facts can not be explained. So has Christianity.

The principles which are to be applied to this subject, as connected with the train of thought in this Lecture, must now be stated in few words.

(1.) The same principles of historical criticism must be applied to the books of the New Testament as to other books: no sharper, no more lax; no more severe, no more indulgent. No favor should be shown to them because they claim to be sacred books; nor should they be approached with any prejudice, or any suspicion, on that account. The question is not what the book is about; it is whether it is true. It is possible, in the nature of things', that a book may record correctly the account of the healing of a blind man, or the raising of a man from the dead; and, if such events have actually occurred, it is not to be assumed that a correct record can not be made of them, for such a record is as possible as the record of a battle or a record of travels. And, on the other hand, it should not be claimed that such a record, even when it describes the resurrection of the Redeemer from the grave, laying the foundation of the hope of immortal life for man, is to be exempt from the profane hands of criticism, or that a man is guilty of presumption, profaneness, or blasphemy who approaches such a record as he does the writings of Livy or Tacitus. Perhaps it should be said that the very importance of the subject, and the very sacredness of the subject, and the vastness of the interests at stake, should make the search into the genuineness and the accuracy of the narrative more keen and skeptical—as the claim of a title to a peerage or a vast estate would be examined more carefully than the title to the office of a justice of the peace or to a few acres of ground; or as one would examine more carefully the evidence that a ship was so constructed as to bear him safely across the ocean, than he would the capability of a skiff to sport with on a pond.

That there has been a delusion on this subject, on both sides, there can be no doubt. The facts that the books of the New Testament are regarded as sacred; that they pertain to religion; that faith in them has been for ages imbedded in the hearts of men; that the hopes of men are founded on them; that the consequences of finding that they are false would be terrible— leaving man without hope—darkening the world, dark enough at any rate, by the gloom of absolute despair— these facts, it can not be denied, have influenced many in regard to the manner in which they should approach those books. To them, too, it seems to be an act of profaneness—a crucifying again of the Lord of glory—to approach the account of the sufferings, the death, and the resurrection of the Redeemer with the same rules with which we approach the account of the plague in Athens by Thucydides, and to apply the same rules to the one which we apply to the others. Despite every effort to the contrary, we can not but have a different feeling, apart from any thing in the spirit and design of the men, toward Strauss and Renan, from what we have toward Wolff and Niebuhr; for we can hardly help feeling that they have profanely, like Uzzah, touched the ark of God. In the one case, we feel that no great interests are at stake, whether the narrative is true or false; in the other is involved all that is dear and sacred to the souls of men.

Yet the sacrifice must be made; the feeling that this is irreverence and profaneness must be overcome. Every man has a right to approach the most sacred records of the Bible with the same severe and stern rules of criticism with which the love of truth would impel him to approach any ancient records whatever. Nay, every man is bound to do it; for higher interests than any which are involved in an inquiry into the title to a peerage or an estate, or any involved in recorded facts in regard to the rise and fall of empires, are at stake. It is to be remarked, indeed, that it is not inconsistent with historical candor that a man should approach the records of the New Testament with the hope that they may be found to be true, just as a man may approach the examination of the evidence that the title to his farm is good, or of the news which he has received of the safety of a son that he had supposed was lost at sea, or as he may look on the evidence that his slandered wife is chaste, with the hope that the evidence will be found to be true. It is not, it can not be wrong in me to desire to find evidence that there is a God and a Savior ; that I am to exist forever; that a way of redemption has been provided for sinners; and that there is a world of glory and purity beyond the grave. Nor is such a desire incompatible with candor in the examination of the evidence; for the very greatness of the hope, and of the interests at stake, should, and naturally will, make the mind calm and candid.

(2.) The great facts of Christianity are indisputably established, and this has been done by the ordinary methods of historic evidence. Those facts have gone into history as all other ancient facts have done, and the history of the world can not be explained or understood without admitting their reality. The condition of the world as it is now has grown out of those facts, and that condition can no more be explained without the admission of the truth of those facts than the Constitution and laws of England can be explained without admitting the truth that Alfred reigned, or that William the Norman conquered at Hastings and divided the kingdom among his followers, or that from John great concessions were obtained by his barons at Runnymede.

The facts to which I now advert in regard to Christianity as established by evidence are such as the following : (a) That it had an origin far within the limits of well-established history. It has not always been upon the earth. There have been centuries—many centuries—in the history of the world in which it had no existence, and when no germ existed from which it could have been developed. We can go back to the times of which Berosus, Thucydides, Livy make mention, and we can be certain that it did not then, either in germ or in development, exist upon the earth. (b) The time when it appeared, or when it was originated, is also a matter of history. The disputed passage in Josephus, if that is genuine, demonstrates it. The undisputed passage in Tacitus proves it beyond a question. The fact that the time of its origin is not made a question with Celsus, Porphyry, or Julian, confirms this. The record of Mr. Gibbon puts the matter beyond all doubt. It was a. necessity in his historical purpose that he should trace the history of Christianity from its origin, and he has done it. (c) The main facts of the birth, the life, the character, and the death of the Founder of Christianity are matters of history. Strauss does not deny the reality of the existence of Jesus, though the things ascribed to him are " mythical;" Renan does not deny his existence, or the main facts of his history, though he has his own way of telling the story. The whole of his romance is founded on the admission of the main facts of his life. Jesus was an historical person. There is the most marked distinction between him and Mars, and Apollo, and Minerva; between him and King Arthur, and Lear. The fact of his having lived is as clearly established as that of Alexander; the fact of his death, and the manner of his death, as that of Caesar. (d) The fact that Christianity was propagated, or was spread through the world from small beginnings, is established by history. Its progress from land to land can be traced; the steps of its movement can be marked on a map from the time of its humble beginning till it mounted the throne of the Cassars. Nothing is more definite and certain in history than the facts about its origin, and its propagation in the world. Mr. Gibbon has traced it as clearly and as honestly as he has the career of his favorite Julian, and the facts have gone into the undisputed history of nations. (e) History has established the fact that the religion was propagated on the ground of the belief in the miracles which were alleged to have been wrought in attestation of its truth, and especially on the belief that its Author, having been put to death on a cross, rose again from the dead. Whatever may be the truth in regard to those miracles, and the fact of that resurrection, no one can doubt that these things were put forward; that the belief of them was made essential to the reception of the system; and that its propagation is to be explained on the ground that these things were believed to be true; and that it can not be explained on any other ground. No one, not Mr. Gibbon, or Renan, or Strauss, has attempted to explain the fact of the propagation of Christianity on the ground that no claim was set up in regard to the resurrection of Jesus, or on the ground that the claim thus set up was false. Assuredly the people of the Roman empire, when they embraced Christianity, did it in the belief that its Author had been raised from the dead, and the belief of this was vital to the reception and extension of the system. The religion could not have been propagated had it not been for this belief, and it is equally clear that the account of this could not have been inserted in the narrative respecting the founder of the system afterward; that is, if it should be supposed that the religion had been propagated without this belief, it would have been impossible to make this an article of faith afterward. How could it be inserted in the original records? How could men be made to believe that a doctrine never adverted to in the propagation of a system had been, in fact, the main thing in commending it to the world ? (f) Once more: These points are not affected materially by the questions whether miracles were wrought, or whether Jesus was actually raised from the dead. The point which I am making is, that the religion was propagated on the belief of those things, not on the ground of their truth. How far the fact that the world believed in the reality of the miracles, and that great multitudes of all classes abandoned their ancient systems of religion, and embraced Christianity as true, on that belief, proves that the miracles were real, is another point which it is proper to argue with an infidel in its proper place. But that is not the point now before us.

(3.) In looking at the question how far the evidence of ancient facts is affected by time, I adverted, under the general inquiry, to these circumstances—when the witnesses are competent, and have a proper opportunity of observing the facts; when there is no motive for deception or imposture; when the facts narrated are against the religious faith of the narrator; when the facts referred to furnish the most easy and natural explanation of existing things; and when these facts are commemorated and perpetuated by monuments, coins, medals, games, festivals, processions, and celebrations; that is, when they go into the very structure of society, and when it is no more easy to detach them from existing things than it was to detach the name of Phidias from the statue of Minerva without destroying the image. You can not explain the history of the world without the supposition that Caesar was put to death by the hand of assassins.

It remains only to apply this principle, in few words, to Christianity.

Suppose, then, it were not true that Caesar was put to death; suppose that the facts which I have adverted to in regard to Christianity, in its history, are false; what follows? What is to be done then? What is the proper work of the man who does not believe this ?

On the principles now laid down, we have the same confirmation of the main facts of the history of Christianity which we have of the death of Caesar, the life of Alfred, and the conquest of England by William the Norman, though on a wider scale, and affecting more deeply the course of history and the condition of the world; for, in the existing state of things on the earth, for one such thing that goes to establish those secular facts, and to make the supposition of their reality indispensable to the explanation of existing things, there are ten, at least, that go to confirm the truth of the main facts of the New Testament. Hard is the task of the skeptic who denies the reality of the death of Caesar in the senate-house, or of the existence of Alfred, or of the conquest of William the Norman; harder by far the task of the skeptic who denies the realities of the life and death of Jesus. For, in this case, he must suppose that all history, secular and sacred, has been corrupted and is unreliable; he must suppose that Christianity sprang up without any adequate cause, and at a time unknown; he must suppose that it made its way in the world on what was known to be falsehood ; he must suppose that men every where embraced the system manifestly against their own interests, and with nothing to satisfy them of its truth; he must leave unexplained the conduct of thousands of martyrs, many of them of no mean name in philosophy and in social rank; he must explain how it was that acute and subtle enemies, like Celsus, Porphyry, and Julian, did not make short work of the argument by denying the truth of the main facts of the Christian history; he must explain the origin of the numerous monuments in the world which have been reared on the supposition of the truth of the great facts of Christian history—the ancient temples whose ruins are scattered every where, the tombs and inscriptions in the Catacombs at Rome, the sculptures and paintings which have called forth the highest efforts of genius in the early and the mediaeval ages, and the books that have been written on the supposition that the religion had the origin ascribed to it in the New Testament; he must explain the observance of the first day of the week in so many lands, and for so many ages, in commemoration of the belief that Christ rose from the dead; he must explain the observance of the day which is supposed to commemorate the birth of the Redeemer, as one would have to explain the observance of the birthday of Washington, on the supposition that Washington was a " myth," and the observance of the fourth day of July on the supposition that what has been regarded as a history of the American Revolution was a romance; he must explain the ordinance kept up in memory of his death for nearly two thousand years on the supposition that the death of Christ never occurred on the cross at all; he must explain the honor and the homage done to the cross every where—as a standard in war, as a symbol of faith, as a charm or an amulet, as an ornament worn by beauty and piety, as reared on high to mark the place where God is worshiped, as an emblem of self-sacrifice, of love, of unsullied purity—the cross in itself more ignominious than the guillotine or the gibbet—for why should men do such things with a gibbet if all is imaginary ? —and he must explain all those coins, and medals, and memorials which crowd palaces, and cabinets, and churches, and private dwellings, and which are found beneath decayed and ruined cities, on the supposition that all these are based on falsehood, and that in all history there has been nothing to correspond to them or to suggest them. Can the fossil remains of the .Old World, the ferns in coal-beds, and the forms of fishes imbedded in the rocks, and the bones of mammoths, and the skeletons of the Ichthyosaurian and Plesiosaurian races, be explained on the supposition that such vegetables, and such land and marine monsters never lived ? Will the geologist who happens to be an infidel in religion allow us to urge this in regard to those apparent records of the former history of the world ? Will he then demand that all in history, in monuments, medals, tombs, inscriptions, customs, laws, sacred festivals, religious rites, that seem to be founded on the truth of the great facts of Christianity, shall be explained on the supposition that no such facts ever occurred ? that all this is myth, and fable, and delusion ?

Hard would be the task of the infidel if he were to undertake this. It was too much for Mr. Gibbon, and he therefore set himself to the work of showing how, on the admission of these main facts, the propagation of the religion could be explained on the supposition that it had not a divine origin; it was too much for Strauss, and he therefore set himself to the task of showing how, on the supposition that Jesus lived, the system of Christianity could be made to grow around a few central truths, representing in imagined action the ideas of deceivers and impostors; it was too much for Renan, who, admitting the main facts in the New Testament, and attributing to the founder of the system unequaled genius, and a power of which he became slowly conscious, accompanied with much self-delusion, attempted to show how he originated a system designed to overturn all existing systems, and a system that did accomplish it. Each and all of these things go to confirm the position which I have endeavored to establish in this Lecture, that time does not materially affect the evidence of the great facts of history; that what was properly believed at the time when the events occurred may be properly believed now; that if the historic records were lost, we could reproduce many of the leading events of the history of the world. In particular, if the New Testament were destroyed, we could reproduce, from other sources, the main facts pertaining to the life and death of the Founder of Christianity, on which the religion was propagated and received, and the great features of the system as it was first propounded to the world.

How far the principles laid down in this Lecture bear D

on the subject of miracles, and how far it is necessary to assume the correctness of the records of miraculous events in the New Testament, to explain the fact that the religion was propagated in the world, and has been continued to the nineteenth century, will be considered in the application of these principles in the subsequent Lectures.