ž 2. Revealed Religion

{409} IN determining, as above, the main features of Natural Religion, and distinguishing it from the religion of philosophy or civilization, I may be accused of having taken a course of my own, for which I have no sufficient warrant. Such an accusation does not give me much concern. Every one who thinks on these subjects takes a course of his own, though it will also happen to be the course which others take besides himself. The minds of many separately bear them forward in the same direction, and they are confirmed in it by each other. This I consider to be my own case; if I have mis-stated or omitted notorious facts in my account of Natural Religion, if I have contradicted or disregarded anything which He who speaks through my conscience has told us all directly from Heaven, then indeed I have acted unjustifiably and have something to unsay; but, if I have done no more than view the notorious facts of the case in the medium of my primary mental experiences, under the aspects which they spontaneously present to me, and with the aid of my best illative sense, I only do on one side of the question what those who think differently do on the other. As they start with one {410} set of first principles, I start with another. I gave notice just now that I should offer my own witness in the matter in question; though of course it would not be worth while my offering it, unless what I felt myself agreed with what is felt by hundreds and thousands besides me, as I am sure it does, whatever be the measure, more or less, of their explicit recognition of it.

In thus speaking of Natural Religion as in one sense a matter of private judgment, and that with a view of proceeding from it to the proof of Christianity, I seem to give up the intention of demonstrating either. Certainly I do; not that I deny that demonstration is possible. Truth certainly, as such, rests upon grounds intrinsically and objectively and abstractedly demonstrative, but it does not follow from this that the arguments producible in its favour are unanswerable and irresistible. These latter epithets are relative, and bear upon matters of fact; arguments in themselves ought to do, what perhaps in the particular case they cannot do. The fact of revelation is in itself demonstrably true, but it is not therefore true irresistibly; else, how comes it to be resisted? There is a vast distance between what it is in itself, and what it is to us. Light is a quality of matter, as truth is of Christianity; but light is not recognized by the blind, and there are those who do not recognize truth, from the fault, not of truth, but of themselves. I cannot convert men, when I ask for assumptions which they refuse to grant to me; and without assumptions no one can prove anything about anything.

I am suspicious then of scientific demonstrations in a {411} question of concrete fact, in a discussion between fallible men. However, let those demonstrate who have the gift; "unusquisque in suo sensu abundet." For me, it is more congenial to my own judgment to attempt to prove Christianity in the same informal way in which I can prove for certain that I have been born into this world, and that I shall die out of it. It is pleasant to my own feelings to follow a theological writer, such as Amort, who has dedicated to the great Pope, Benedict XIV., what he calls "a new, modest, and easy way of demonstrating the Catholic Religion." In this work he adopts the argument merely of the greater probability [Note 1]; I prefer to rely on that of an accumulation of various probabilities; but we both hold (that is, I hold with him), that from probabilities we may construct legitimate proof, sufficient for certitude. I follow him in holding, that, since a Good {412} Providence watches over us, He blesses such means of argument as it has pleased Him to give us, in the nature of man and of the world, if we use them duly for those ends for which He has given them; and that, as in mathematics we are justified by the dictate of nature in withholding our assent from a conclusion of which we have not yet a strict logical demonstration, so by a like dictate we are not justified, in the case of concrete reasoning and especially of religious inquiry, in waiting till such logical demonstration is ours, but on the contrary are bound in conscience to seek truth and to look for certainty by modes of proof, which, when reduced to the shape of formal propositions, fail to satisfy the severe requisitions of science [Note 2].

Here then at once is one momentous doctrine or principle, which enters into my own reasoning, and which another ignores, viz. the providence and intention of God; and of course there are other principles, explicit or implicit, which are in like circumstances. It is not wonderful then, that, while I can prove Christianity {413} divine to my own satisfaction, I shall not be able to force it upon any one else. Multitudes indeed I ought to succeed in persuading of its truth without any force at all, because they and I start from the same principles, and what is a proof to me is a proof to them; but if any one starts from any other principles but ours, I have not the power to change his principles, or the conclusion which he draws from them, any more than I can make a crooked man straight. Whether his mind will ever grow straight, whether I can do anything towards its becoming straight, whether he is not responsible, responsible to his Maker, for being mentally crooked, is another matter; still the fact remains, that, in any inquiry about things in the concrete, men differ from each other, not so much in the soundness of their reasoning as in the principles which govern its exercise, that those principles are of a personal character, that where there is no common measure of minds, there is no common measure of arguments, and that the validity of proof is determined, not by any scientific test, but by the illative sense.

Accordingly, instead of saying that the truths of Revelation depend on those of Natural Religion, it is more pertinent to say that belief in revealed truths depends on belief in natural. Belief is a state of mind; belief generates belief; states of mind correspond to each other; the habits of thought and the reasonings which lead us on to a higher state of belief than our present, are the very same which we already possess in connexion with the lower state. Those Jews became Christians in Apostolic times who were already what {414} may be called crypto-Christians; and those Christians in this day remain Christian only in name, and (if it so happen) at length fall away, who are nothing deeper or better than men of the world, savants, literary men, or politicians.

That a special preparation of mind is required for each separate department of inquiry and discussion (excepting, of course, that of abstract science) is strongly insisted upon in well-known passages of the Nicomachean ethics. Speaking of the variations which are found in the logical perfection of proof in various subject-matters, Aristotle says, "A well-educated man will expect exactness in every class of subject, according as the nature of the thing admits; for it is much the same mistake to put up with a mathematician using probabilities, and to require demonstration of an orator. Each man judges skillfully in those things about which he is well-informed; it is of these that he is a good judge; viz. he, in each subject-matter, is a judge, who is well-educated in that subject-matter, and he is in an absolute sense a judge, who is in all of them well-educated." Again: "Young men come to be mathematicians and the like, but they cannot possess practical judgment; for this talent is employed upon individual facts, and these are learned only by experience; and a youth has not experience, for experience is only gained by a course of years. And so, again, it would appear that a boy may be a mathematician, but not a philosopher, or learned in physics, and for this reason,—because the one study deals with abstractions, while the other studies gain {415} their principles from experience, and in the latter subjects youths do not give assent, but make assertions, but in the former they know what it is that they are handling."

These words of a heathen philosopher, laying down broad principles about all knowledge, express a general rule, which in Scripture is applied authoritatively to the case of revealed knowledge in particular;—and that not once or twice only, but continually, as is notorious. For instance:—"I have understood," says the Psalmist, "more than all my teachers, because Thy testimonies are my meditation." And so our Lord: "He that hath ears, let him hear." "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine." And "He that is of God, heareth the words of God." Thus too the Angels at the Nativity announce "Peace to men of good will." And we read in the Acts of the Apostles of "Lydia, whose heart the Lord opened to attend to those things which were said by Paul." And we are told on another occasion, that "as many as were ordained," or disposed by God, "to life everlasting, believed." And St. John tells us, "He that knoweth God, heareth us; he that is not of God, heareth us not; by this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error."


Relying then on these authorities, human and Divine, I have no scruple in beginning the review I shall take of Christianity by professing to consult for those only whose minds are properly prepared for it; and by being {416} prepared, I mean to denote those who are imbued with the religious opinions and sentiments which I have identified with Natural Religion. I do not address myself to those, who in moral evil and physical see nothing more than imperfections of a parallel nature; who consider that the difference in gravity between the two is one of degree only, not of kind; that moral evil is merely the offspring of physical, and that as we remove the latter so we inevitably remove the former; that there is a progress of the human race which tends to the annihilation of moral evil; that knowledge is virtue, and vice is ignorance; that sin is a bugbear, not a reality; that the Creator does not punish except in the sense of correcting; that vengeance in Him would of necessity be vindictiveness; that all that we know of Him, be it much or little, is through the laws of nature; that miracles are impossible; that prayer to Him is a superstition; that the fear of Him is unmanly; that sorrow for sin is slavish and abject; that the only intelligible worship of Him is to act well our part in the world, and the only sensible repentance to do better in future; that if we do our duties in this life, we may take our chance for the next; and that it is of no use perplexing our minds about the future state, for it is all a matter of guess. These opinions characterize a civilized age; and if I say that I will not argue about Christianity with men who hold them, I do so, not as claiming any right to be impatient or peremptory with any one, but because it is plainly absurd to attempt to prove a second proposition to those who do not admit the first. {417}

I assume then that the above system of opinion is simply false, inasmuch as it contradicts the primary teachings of nature in the human race, wherever a religion is found and its workings can be ascertained. I assume the presence of God in our conscience, and the universal experience, as keen as our experience of bodily pain, of what we call a sense of sin or guilt. This sense of sin, as of something not only evil in itself, but an affront to the good God, is chiefly felt as regards one or other of three violations of His law. He Himself is Sanctity, Truth, and Love; and the three offences against His Majesty are impurity, inveracity, and cruelty. All men are not distressed at these offences alike; but the piercing pain and sharp remorse which one or other inflicts upon the mind, till habituated to them, brings home to it the notion of what sin is, and is the vivid type and representative of its intrinsic hatefulness.

Starting from these elements, we may determine without difficulty the class of sentiments, intellectual and moral, which constitute the formal preparation for entering upon what are called the Evidences of Christianity. These evidences, then, presuppose a belief and perception of the Divine Presence, a recognition of His attributes and an admiration of His Person viewed under them; a conviction of the worth of the soul and of the reality and momentousness of the unseen world, an understanding that, in proportion as we partake in our own persons of the attributes which we admire in Him, we are dear to Him; a consciousness on the contrary that we are far from exemplifying them, a consequent insight into our guilt and misery, an eager hope of reconciliation to Him, a {418} desire to know and to love Him, and a sensitive looking-out in all that happens, whether in the course of nature or of human life, for tokens, if such there be, of His bestowing on us what we so greatly need. These are specimens of the state of mind for which I stipulate in those who would inquire into the truth of Christianity; and my warrant for so definite a stipulation lies in the teaching, as I have described it, of conscience and the moral sense, in the testimony of those religious rites which have ever prevailed in all parts of the world, and in the character and conduct of those who have commonly been selected by the popular instinct as the special favourites of Heaven.


I have appealed to the popular ideas on the subject of religion, and to the objects of popular admiration and praise, as illustrating my account of the preparation of mind which is necessary for the inquirer into Christianity. Here an obvious objection occurs, in noticing which I shall be advanced one step farther in the work which I have undertaken.

It may be urged, then, that no appeal will avail me, which is made to religions so notoriously immoral as those of paganism; nor indeed can it be made without an explanation. Certainly, as regards ethical teaching, various religions, which have been popular in the world, have not supplied any; and in the corrupt state in which they appear in history, they are little better than schools of imposture, cruelty, and impurity. Their objects of worship were immoral as well as false, and their founders {419} and heroes have been in keeping with their gods. This is undeniable, but it does not destroy the use that may be made of their testimony. There is a better side of their teaching; purity has often been held in reverence, if not practised; ascetics have been in honour; hospitality has been a sacred duty; and dishonesty and injustice have been under a ban. Here then, as before, I take our natural perception of right and wrong as the standard for determining the characteristics of Natural Religion, and I use the religious rites and traditions which are actually found in the world, only so far as they agree with our moral sense.

This leads me to lay down the general principle, which I have all along implied:—that no religion is from God which contradicts our sense of right and wrong. Doubtless; but at the same time we ought to be quite sure that, in a particular case which is before us, we have satisfactorily ascertained what the dictates of our moral nature are, and that we apply them rightly, and whether the applying them or not comes into question at all. The precepts of a religion certainly may be absolutely immoral; a religion which simply commanded us to lie, or to have a community of wives, would ipso facto forfeit all claim to a divine origin. Jupiter and Neptune, as represented in the classical mythology, are evil spirits, and nothing can make them otherwise. And I should in like manner repudiate a theology which taught that men were created in order to be wicked and wretched.

I alluded just now to those who consider the doctrine of retributive punishment, or of divine vengeance, to be incompatible with the true religion; but I do not see {420} how they can maintain their ground. In order to do so, they have first to prove that an act of vengeance must, as such, be a sin in our own instance; but even this is far from clear. Anger and indignation against cruelty and injustice, resentment of injuries, desire that the false, the ungrateful, and the depraved should meet with punishment, these, if not in themselves virtuous feelings, are at least not vicious; but, first from the certainty that, if habitual, it will run into excess and become sin, and next because the office of punishment has not been committed to us, and further because it is a feeling unsuitable to those who are themselves so laden with imperfection and guilt, therefore vengeance, in itself allowable, is forbidden to us. These exceptions do not hold in the case of a perfect being, and certainly not in the instance of the Supreme Judge. Moreover, we see that even men on earth have different duties, according to their personal qualifications and their positions in the community. The rule of morals is the same for all; and yet, notwithstanding, what is right in one is not necessarily right in another. What would be a crime in a private man to do, is a crime in a magistrate not to have done: still wider is the difference between man and his Maker. Nor must it be forgotten, that, as I have observed above, retributive justice is the very attribute under which God is primarily brought before us in the teachings of our natural conscience.

And further, we cannot determine the character of particular actions, till we have the whole case before us out of which they arise; unless, indeed, they are in themselves distinctively vicious. We all feel the force {421} of the maxim, "Audi alteram partem." It is difficult to trace the path and to determine the scope of Divine Providence. We read of a day when the Almighty will condescend to place His actions in their completeness before His creatures, and "will overcome when He is judged." If, till then, we feel it to be a duty to suspend our judgment concerning certain of His actions or precepts, we do no more than what we do every day in the case of an earthly friend or enemy, whose conduct in some point requires explanation. It surely is not too much to expect of us that we should act with parallel caution, and be "memores conditionis nostrŠ" as regards the acts of our Creator. There is a poem of Parnell's which strikingly brings home to us how differently the divine appointments will look in the light of day, from what they appear to be in our present twilight. An Angel, in disguise of a man, steals a golden cup, strangles an infant, and throws a guide into the stream, and then explains to his horrified companion, that acts which would be enormities in man, are in him, as God's minister, deeds of merciful correction or of retribution.

Moreover, when we are about to pass judgment on the dealings of Providence with other men, we shall do well to consider first His dealings with ourselves. We cannot know about others, about ourselves we do know something; and we know that He has ever been good to us, and not severe. Is it not wise to argue from what we actually know to what we do not know? It may turn out in the day of account, that unforgiven souls, while charging His laws with injustice in the case of {422} others, may be unable to find fault with His dealings severally towards themselves.

As to those various religions which, together with Christianity, teach the doctrine of eternal punishment, here again we ought, before we judge, to understand, not only the whole state of the case, but what is meant by the doctrine itself. Eternity, or endlessness, is in itself mainly a negative idea, though the idea of suffering is positive. Its fearful force, as an element of future punishment, lies in what it excludes; it means never any change of state, no annihilation or restoration; but what, considered positively, it adds to suffering, we do not know. For what we know, the suffering of one moment may in itself have no bearing, or but a partial bearing, on the suffering of the next; and thus, as far as its intensity is concerned, it may vary with every lost soul. This may be so, unless we assume that the suffering is necessarily attended by a consciousness of duration and succession, by a present imagination of its past and its future, by a sustained power of realizing its continuity [Note 3]. As I have already said, the great mystery is, not that evil has no end, but that it had a beginning. But I submit the whole subject to the Theological School.


One of the most important effects of Natural Religion on the mind, in preparation for Revealed, is the anticipation {423} which it creates, that a Revelation will be given. That earnest desire of it, which religious minds cherish, leads the way to the expectation of it. Those who know nothing of the wounds of the soul, are not led to deal with the question, or to consider its circumstances; but when our attention is roused, then the more steadily we dwell upon it, the more probable does it seem that a revelation has been or will be given to us. This pre-sentiment is founded on our sense, on the one hand, of the infinite goodness of God, and, on the other, of our own extreme misery and need—two doctrines which are the primary constituents of Natural Religion. It is difficult to put a limit to the legitimate force of this antecedent probability. Some minds will feel it to be so powerful, as to recognize in it almost a proof, without direct evidence, of the divinity of a religion claiming to be the true, supposing its history and doctrine are free from positive objection, and there be no rival religion with plausible claims of its own. Nor ought this trust in a presumption to seem preposterous to those who are so confident, on Ó priori grounds, that the moon is inhabited by rational beings, and that the course of nature is never crossed by miraculous agency. Any how, very little positive evidence seems to be necessary, when the mind is penetrated by the strong anticipation which I am supposing. It was this instinctive apprehension, as we may conjecture, which carried on Dionysius and Damaris at Athens to a belief in Christianity, though St. Paul did no miracle there, and only asserted the doctrines of the Divine Unity, the Resurrection, and the universal judgment, while, on the other hand, it had had {424} no tendency to attach them to any of the mythological rites in which the place abounded.

Here my method of argument differs from that adopted by Paley in his Evidences of Christianity. This clear-headed and almost mathematical reasoner postulates, for his proof of its miracles, only thus much, that, under the circumstances of the case, a revelation is not improbable. He says, "We do not assume the attributes of the Deity, or the existence of a future state." "It is not necessary for our purpose that these propositions (viz. that a future existence should be destined by God for His human creation, and that, being so destined, He should have acquainted them with it,) be capable of proof, or even that, by arguments drawn from the light of nature, they can be made out as probable; it is enough that we are able to say of them, that they are not so violently improbable, so contradictory to what we already believe of the Divine power and character, that [they] ought to be rejected at first sight, and to be rejected by whatever strength or complication of evidence they be attested." He has such confidence in the strength of the testimony which he can produce in favour of the Christian miracles, that he only asks to be allowed to bring it into court.

I confess to much suspicion of legal proceedings and legal arguments, when used in questions whether of history or of philosophy. Rules of court are dictated by what is expedient on the whole and in the long run; but they incur the risk of being unjust to the claims of particular cases. Why am I to begin with taking up a position not my own, and unclothing my mind of that large outfit of existing thoughts, principles, likings, {425} desires, and hopes, which make me what I am? If I am asked to use Paley's argument for my own conversion, I say plainly I do not want to be converted by a smart syllogism [Note 4]; if I am asked to convert others by it, I say plainly I do not care to overcome their reason without touching their hearts. I wish to deal, not with controversialists, but with inquirers.

I think Paley's argument clear, clever, and powerful; and there is something which looks like charity in going out into the highways and hedges, and compelling men to come in; but in this matter some exertion on the part of the persons whom I am to convert is a condition of a true conversion. They who have no religious earnestness are at the mercy, day by day, of some new argument or fact, which may overtake them, in favour of one conclusion or the other. And how after all, is a man better for Christianity, who has never felt the need of it or the desire? On the other hand, if he has longed for a revelation to enlighten him and to cleanse his heart, why may he not use, in his inquiries after it, that just and reasonable anticipation of its probability, which such longing has opened the way to his entertaining?

Men are too well inclined to sit at home, instead of stirring themselves to inquire whether a revelation has been given; they expect its evidences to come to them without their trouble; they act, not as suppliants, but as judges [Note 5]. Modes of argument such as Paley's, encourage this state of mind; they allow men to forget that revelation is a boon, not a debt on the part of the {426} Giver; they treat it as a mere historical phenomenon. If I was told that some great man, a foreigner, whom I did not know, had come into town, and was on his way to call on me, and to go over my house, I should send to ascertain the fact, and meanwhile should do my best to put my house into a condition to receive him. He would not be pleased if I left the matter to take its chance, and went on the maxim that seeing was believing. Like this is the conduct of those who resolve to treat the Almighty with dispassionateness, a judicial temper, clearheadedness, and candour. It is the way with some men, (surely not a good way,) to say, that without these lawyerlike qualifications conversion is immoral. It is their way, a miserable way, to pronounce that there is no religious love of truth where there is fear of error. On the contrary, I would maintain that the fear of error is simply necessary to the genuine love of truth. No inquiry comes to good which is not conducted under a deep sense of responsibility, and of the issues depending upon its determination. Even the ordinary matters of life are an exercise of conscientiousness; and where conscience is, fear must be. So much is this acknowledged just now, that there is almost an affectation, in popular literature, in the case of criticisms on the fine arts, on poetry, and music, of insisting upon conscientiousness in writing, painting, or singing; and that earnestness and simplicity of mind, which makes men fear to go wrong in these minor matters, has surely a place in the most serious of all undertakings.

It is on these grounds that, in considering Christianity, {427} I start with conditions different from Paley's; not, however, as undervaluing the force and the serviceableness of his argument, but as preferring inquiry to disputation in a question about truth.


There is another point on which my basis of argument differs from Paley's. He argues on the principle that the credentials, which ascertain for us a message from above, are necessarily in their nature miraculous; nor have I any thought of venturing to say otherwise. In fact, all professed revelations have been attended, in one shape or another, with the profession of miracles; and we know how direct and unequivocal are the miracles of both the Jewish Covenant and of our own. However, my object here is to assume as little as possible as regards facts, and to dwell only on what is patent and notorious; and therefore I will only insist on those coincidences and their cumulations, which, though not in themselves miraculous, do irresistibly force upon us, almost by the law of our nature, the presence of the extraordinary agency of Him whose being we already acknowledge. Though coincidences rise out of a combination of general laws, there is no law of those coincidences [Note 6]; they have a character of their own, and seem left by Providence in His own hands, as the channel by which, inscrutable to us, He may make known to us His will.

For instance, if I am a believer in a God of Truth and Avenger of dishonesty, and know for certain that a {428} market-woman, after calling on Him to strike her dead if she had in her possession a piece of money not hers, did fall down dead on the spot, and that the money was found in her hand, how can I call this a blind coincidence, and not discern in it an act of Providence over and above its general laws? So, certainly, thought the inhabitants of an English town, when they erected a pillar as a record of such an event at the place where it occurred. And if a Pope excommunicates a great conqueror; and he, on hearing the threat, says to one of his friends, "Does he think the world has gone back a thousand years? does he suppose the arms will fall from the hands of my soldiers?" and within two years, on the retreat over the snows of Russia, as two contemporary historians relate, "famine and cold tore their arms from the grasp of the soldiers," "they fell from the hands of the bravest and most robust," and "destitute of the power of raising them from the ground, the soldiers left them in the snow;" is not this too, though no miracle, a coincidence so special, as rightly to be called a Divine judgment? So thinks Alison, who avows with religious honesty, that "there is something in these marvellous coincidences beyond the operation of chance, and which even a Protestant historian feels himself bound to mark for the observation of future years." [Note 7] And so, too, of a cumulation of coincidences, separately less striking; when Spelman sets about establishing the fact of the ill-fortune which in many instances has followed upon acts of sacrilege among us, then, even though in many instances it has not followed, and in many instances he {429} exaggerates, still there may be a large residuum of cases which cannot be properly resolved into the mere accident of concurrent causes, but must in reason be considered the warning voice of God. So, at least, thought Gibson, Bishop of London, when he wrote, "Many of the instances, and those too well-attested, are so terrible in the event, and in the circumstances so surprising, that no considering person can well pass them over."

I think, then, that the circumstances under which a professed revelation comes to us, may be such as to impress both our reason and our imagination with a sense of its truth, even though no appeal be made to strictly miraculous intervention—in saying which I do not mean of course to imply that those circumstances, when traced back to their first origins, are not the outcome of such intervention, but that the miraculous intervention addresses us at this day in the guise of those circumstances; that is, of coincidences, which are indications, to the illative sense of those who believe in a Moral Governor, of His immediate Presence, especially to those who in addition hold with me the strong antecedent probability that, in His mercy, He will thus supernaturally present Himself to our apprehension.


Now as to the fact; has what is so probable in anticipation actually been granted to us, or have we still to look out for it? It is very plain, supposing it has been granted, which among all the religions of the world comes from God: and if it is not that, a revelation {430} is not yet given, and we must look forward to the future. There is only one Religion in the world which tends to fulfil the aspirations, needs, and foreshadowings of natural faith and devotion. It may be said, perhaps, that, educated in Christianity, I merely judge of it by its own principles; but this is not the fact. For, in the first place, I have taken my idea of what a revelation must be, in good measure, from the actual religions of the world; and as to its ethics, the ideas with which I come to it are derived not simply from the Gospel, but prior to it from heathen moralists, whom Fathers of the Church and Ecclesiastical writers have imitated or sanctioned; and as to the intellectual position from which I have contemplated the subject, Aristotle has been my master. Besides, I do not here single out Christianity with reference simply to its particular doctrines or precepts, but for a reason which is on the surface of its history. It alone has a definite message addressed to all mankind. As far as I know, the religion of Mahomet has brought into the world no new doctrine whatever, except, indeed, that of its own divine origin; and the character of its teaching is too exact a reflection of the race, time, place, and climate in which it arose, to admit of its becoming universal. The same dependence on external circumstances is characteristic, so far as I know, of the religions of the far East; nor am I sure of any definite message from God to man which they convey and protect, though they may have sacred books. Christianity, on the other hand, is in its idea an announcement, a preaching; it is the depository of truths beyond human discovery, momentous, {431} practical, maintained one and the same in substance in every age from its first, and addressed to all mankind. And it has actually been embraced and is found in all parts of the world, in all climates, among all races, in all ranks of society, under every degree of civilization, from barbarism to the highest cultivation of mind. Coming to set right and to govern the world, it has ever been, as it ought to be, in conflict with large masses of men, with the civil power, with physical force, with adverse philosophies; it has had successes, it has had reverses; but it has had a grand history, and has effected great things, and is as vigorous in its age as in its youth. In all those respects it has a distinction in the world and a pre-eminence of its own; it has upon it primÔ facie signs of divinity; I do not know what can be advanced by rival religions to match prerogatives so special; so that I feel myself justified in saying either Christianity is from God, or a revelation has not yet been given to us.

It will not surely be objected, as a point in favour of some of the Oriental religions, that they are older than Christianity by some centuries; yet, should it be so said, it must be recollected that Christianity is only the continuation and conclusion of what professes to be an earlier revelation, which may be traced back into prehistoric times, till it is lost in the darkness that hangs over them. As far as we know, there never was a time when that revelation was not,—a revelation continuous and systematic, with distinct representatives and an orderly succession. And this, I suppose, is far more than can be said for the religions of the East. {432}


Here, then, I am brought to the consideration of the Hebrew nation and the Mosaic religion, as the first step in the direct evidence for Christianity.

The Jews are one of the few Oriental nations who are known in history as a people of progress, and their line of progress is the development of religious truth. In that their own line they stand by themselves among all the populations, not only of the East, but of the West. Their country may be called the classical home of the religious principle, as Greece is the home of intellectual power, and Rome that of political and practical wisdom. Theism is their life; it is emphatically their natural religion, for they never were without it, and were made a people by means of it. This is a phenomenon singular and solitary in history, and must have a meaning. If there be a God and Providence, it must come from Him, whether immediately or indirectly; and the people themselves have ever maintained that it has been His direct work, and has been recognized by Him as such. We are apt to treat pretences to a divine mission or to supernatural powers as of frequent occurrence, and on that score to dismiss them from our thoughts; but we cannot so deal with Judaism. When mankind had universally denied the first lesson of their conscience by lapsing into polytheism, is it a thing of slight moment that there was just one exception to the rule, that there was just one people who, first by their rulers and priests, and afterwards by their own unanimous zeal, professed, as their distinguishing doctrine, {433} the Divine Unity and Government of the world, and that, moreover, not only as a natural truth, but as revealed to them by that God Himself of whom they spoke,—who so embodied it in their national polity, that a Theocracy was the only name by which it could be called? It was a people founded and set up in Theism, kept together by Theism, and maintaining Theism for a period from first to last of 2000 years, till the dissolution of their body politic; and they have maintained it since in their state of exile and wandering for 2000 years more. They begin with the beginning of history, and the preaching of this august dogma begins with them. They are its witnesses and confessors, even to torture and death; on it and its revelation are moulded their laws and government; on this their politics, philosophy, and literature are founded; of this truth their poetry is the voice, pouring itself out in devotional compositions which Christianity, through all its many countries and ages, has been unable to rival; on this aboriginal truth, as time goes on, prophet after prophet bases his further revelations, with a sustained reference to a time when, according to the secret counsels of its Divine Object and Author, it is to receive completion and perfection,—till at length that time comes.

The last age of their history is as strange as their first. When that time of destined blessing came, which they had so accurately marked out, and were so carefully waiting for—a time which found them, in fact, more zealous for their Law, and for the dogma it enshrined, than they ever had been before—then, instead of any final favour coming on them from above, {434} they fell under the power of their enemies, and were overthrown, their holy city razed to the ground, their polity destroyed, and the remnant of their people cast off to wander far and away through every land except their own, as we find them at this day; lasting on, century after century, not absorbed in other populations, not annihilated, as likely to last on, as unlikely to be restored, as far as outward appearances go, now as a thousand years ago. What nation has so grand, so romantic, so terrible a history? Does it not fulfil the idea of, what the nation calls itself, a chosen people, chosen for good and evil? Is it not an exhibition in a course of history of that primary declaration of conscience, as I have been determining it, "With the upright Thou shalt be upright, and with the froward Thou shalt be froward"? It must have a meaning, if there is a God. We know what was their witness of old time; what is their witness now?

Why, I say, was it that, after so memorable a career, when their sins and sufferings were now to come to an end, when they were looking out for a deliverance and a Deliverer, suddenly all was reversed for once and for all? They were the favoured servants of God, and yet a peculiar reproach and note of infamy is affixed to their name. It was their belief that His protection was unchangeable, and that their Law would last for ever;—it was their consolation to be taught by an uninterrupted tradition, that it could not die, except by changing into a new self, more wonderful than it was before;—it was their faithful expectation that a promised King was coming, the Messiah, who would {435} extend the sway of Israel over all people;—it was a condition of their covenant, that, as a reward to Abraham, their first father, the day at length should dawn when the gates of their narrow land should open, and they should pour out for the conquest and occupation of the whole earth;—and, I repeat, when the day came, they did go forth, and they did spread into all lands, but as hopeless exiles, as eternal wanderers.

Are we to say that this failure is a proof that, after all, there was nothing providential in their history? For myself, I do not see how a second portent obliterates a first; and, in truth, their own testimony and their own sacred books carry us on towards a better solution of the difficulty. I have said they were in God's favour under a covenant,—perhaps they did not fulfil the conditions of it. This indeed seems to be their own account of the matter, though it is not clear what their breach of engagement was. And that in some way they did sin, whatever their sin was, is corroborated by the well-known chapter in the Book of Deuteronomy, which so strikingly anticipates the nature of their punishment. That passage, translated into Greek as many as 350 years before the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, has on it the marks of a wonderful prophecy; but I am not now referring to it as such, but merely as an indication that the disappointment, which actually overtook them at the Christian era, was not necessarily out of keeping with the original divine purpose, or again with the old promise made to them, and their confident expectation of its fulfilment. Their national ruin, which came instead of aggrandizement, is described in that book, in spite {436} of all promises, with an emphasis and minuteness which prove that it was contemplated long before, at least as a possible issue of the fortunes of Israel. Among other inflictions which should befall the guilty people, it was told them that they should fall down before their enemies, and should be scattered throughout all the kingdoms of the earth; that they never should have quiet in those nations, or have rest for the sole of their foot; that they were to have a fearful heart and languishing eyes, and a soul consumed with heaviness; that they were to suffer wrong, and to be crushed at all times, and to be astonished at the terror of their lot; that their sons and daughters were to be given to another people, and they were to look and to sicken all the day, and their life was ever to hang in doubt before them, and fear to haunt them day and night; that they should be a proverb and a by-word of all people among whom they were brought; and that curses were to come on them, and to be signs and wonders on them and their seed for ever. Such are some portions, and not the most terrible, of this extended anathema; and its partial accomplishment at an earlier date of their history was a warning to them, when the destined time drew near, that, however great the promises made to them might be, those promises were dependent on the terms of the covenant which stood between them and their Maker, and that, as they had turned to curses at that former time, so they might turn to curses again.

This grand drama, so impressed with the characters of supernatural agency, concerns us here only in its bearing upon the evidence for the divine origin of {437} Christianity; and it is at this point that Christianity comes upon the historical scene. It is a notorious fact that it issued from the Jewish land and people; and had it no other than this historical connexion with Judaism, it would have some share in the prestige of its original home. But it claims to be far more than this; it professes to be the actual completion of the Mosaic Law, the promised means of deliverance and triumph to the nation, which that nation itself, as I have said, has since considered to be, on account of some sin or other, withheld or forfeited. It professes to be, not the casual, but the legitimate offspring, heir, and successor of the Mosaic covenant, or rather to be Judaism itself, developed and transformed. Of course it has to prove its claim, as well as to prefer it; but if it succeeds in doing so, then all those tokens of the Divine Presence, which distinguish the Jewish history, at once belong to it, and are a portion of its credentials.

And at least the primÔ facie view of its relations towards Judaism is in favour of these pretensions. It is an historical fact, that, at the very time that the Jews committed their unpardonable sin, whatever it was, and were driven out from their home to wander over the earth, their Christian brethren, born of the same stock, and equally citizens of Jerusalem, did also issue forth from the same home, but in order to subdue that same earth and make it their own; that is, they undertook the very work which, according to the promise, their nation actually was ordained to execute; and, with a method of their own indeed, and with a new end, and {438} only slowly and painfully, but still really and thoroughly, they did it. And since that time the two children of the promise have ever been found together—of the promise forfeited and the promise fulfilled; and whereas the Christian has been in high place, so the Jew has been degraded and despised—the one has been "the head," and the other "the tail;" so that, to go no farther, the fact that Christianity actually has done what Judaism was to have done, decides the controversy, by the logic of facts, in favour of Christianity. The prophecies announced that the Messiah was to come at a definite time and place; Christians point to Him as coming then and there, as announced; they are not met by any counter claim or rival claimant on the part of the Jews, only by their assertion that He did not come at all, though up to the event they had said He was then and there coming. Further, Christianity clears up the mystery which hangs over Judaism, accounting fully for the punishment of the people, by specifying their sin, their heinous sin. If, instead of hailing their own Messiah, they crucified Him, then the strange scourge which has pursued them after the deed, and the energetic wording of the curse before it, are explained by the very strangeness of their guilt;—or rather, their sin is their punishment; for in rejecting their Divine King, they ipso facto lost the living principle and tie of their nationality. Moreover, we see what led them into error; they thought a triumph and an empire were to be given to them at once, which were given indeed eventually, but by the slow and gradual growth of many centuries and a long warfare. {439}

On the whole, then, I observe, on the one hand, that, Judaism having been the channel of religious traditions which are lost in the depth of their antiquity, of course it is a great point for Christianity to succeed in proving that it is the legitimate heir to that former religion. Nor is it, on the other, of less importance to the significance of those early traditions to be able to determine that they were not lost together with their original store-house, but were transferred, on the failure of Judaism, to the custody of the Christian Church. And this apparent correspondence between the two is in itself a presumption for such correspondence being real. Next, I observe, that if the history of Judaism is so wonderful as to suggest the presence of some special divine agency in its appointments and fortunes, still more wonderful and divine is the history of Christianity; and again it is more wonderful still, that two such wonderful creations should span almost the whole course of ages, during which nations and states have been in existence, and should constitute a professed system of continued intercourse between earth and heaven from first to last amid all the vicissitudes of human affairs. This phenomenon again carries on its face, to those who believe in a God, the probability that it has that divine origin which it professes to have; and, (when viewed in the light of the strong presumption which I have insisted on, that in God's mercy a revelation from Him will be granted to us, and of the contrast presented by other religions, no one of which professes to be a revelation direct, definite, and integral as this is,)—this phenomenon, I {440} say, of cumulative marvels raises that probability, both for Judaism and Christianity, in religious minds, almost to a certainty.


If Christianity is connected with Judaism as closely as I have been supposing, then there have been, by means of the two, direct communications between man and his Maker from time immemorial down to this day—a great prerogative such, that it is nowhere else even claimed. No other religion but these two professes to be the organ of a formal revelation, certainly not of a revelation which is directed to the benefit of the whole human race. Here it is that Mahometanism fails, though it claims to carry on the line of revelation after Christianity; for it is the mere creed and rite of certain races, bringing with it, as such, no gifts to our nature, and is rather a reformation of local corruptions, and a return to the ceremonial worship of earlier times, than a new and larger revelation. And while Christianity was the heir to a dead religion, Mahometanism was little more than a rebellion against a living one. Moreover, though Mahomet professed to be the Paraclete, no one pretends that he occupies a place in the Christian Scriptures as prominent as that which the Messiah fills in the Jewish. To this especial prominence of the Messianic idea I shall now advert; that is, to the prophecies of the Old Scriptures, and to the argument which they furnish in favour of Christianity; and though I know that argument might be clearer and more exact than it is, and I do not pretend here to {441} do much more than refer to the fact of its existence, still so far forth as we enter into it, will it strengthen our conviction of the claim to divinity both of the Religion which is the organ of those prophecies, and of the Religion which is their object.

Now that the Jewish Scriptures were in existence long before the Christian era, and were in the sole custody of the Jews, is undeniable; whatever then their Scriptures distinctly say of Christianity, if not attributable to chance or to happy conjecture, is prophetic. It is undeniable too, that the Jews gathered from those books, that a great Personage was to be born of their stock, and to conquer the whole world and to become the instrument of extraordinary blessings to it; moreover, that he would make his appearance at a fixed date, and that, the very date when, as it turned out, our Lord did actually come. This is the great outline of the prediction, and if nothing more could be said about them than this, to prove as much as this is far from unimportant. And it is undeniable, I say, both that the Jewish Scriptures contain thus much, and that the Jews actually understood them as containing it.

First, then, as to what Scripture declares. From the book of Genesis we learn that the chosen people was set up in this one idea, viz. to be a blessing to the whole earth, and that, by means of one of their own race, a greater than their father Abraham. This was the meaning and drift of their being chosen. There is no room for mistake here; the divine purpose is stated from the first with the utmost precision. At the very time of Abraham's call, he is told of it:—"I will make of thee {442} a great nation, and in thee shall all tribes of the earth be blessed." Thrice is this promise and purpose announced in Abraham's history; and after Abraham's time it is repeated to Isaac, "in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;" and after Isaac to Jacob, when a wanderer from his home, "In thee and in thy seed shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed." And from Jacob the promise passes on to his son Judah, and that with an addition, viz. with a reference to the great Person who was to be the world-wide blessing, and to the date when He should come. Judah was the chosen son of Jacob, and his staff or sceptre, that is, his patriarchal authority, was to endure till a greater than Judah came, so that the loss of the sceptre, when it took place, was the sign of his near approach. "The sceptre," says Jacob on his death-bed, "shall not be taken away from Judah, until He come for whom it is reserved," or "who is to be sent," "and He shall be the expectation of the nations." [Note 8] {443}

Such was the categorical prophecy, literal and unequivocal in its wording, direct and simple in its scope. One man, born of the chosen tribe, was the destined minister of blessing to the whole world; and the race, as represented by that tribe, was to lose its old self in gaining a new self in Him. Its destiny was sealed upon it in its beginning. An expectation was the measure of its life. It was created for a great end, and in that end it had its ending. Such were the initial communications made to the chosen people, and there they stopped;—as if the outline of promise, so sharply cut, had to be effectually imprinted on their minds, before more knowledge was given to them; as if, by the long interval of years which passed before the more varied prophecies in type and figure, after the manner of the East, were added, the original notices might stand out in the sight of all in their severe explicitness, as archetypal truths, and guides in interpreting whatever else was obscure in its wording or complex in its direction.

And in the second place it is quite clear that the Jews did thus understand their prophecies, and did expect their great Ruler, in the very age in which our Lord came, and in which they, on the other hand, were destroyed, losing their old self without gaining their new. Heathen historians shall speak for the fact. "A persuasion had possession of most of them," says Tacitus, speaking of their resistance to the Romans, "that it was contained in the ancient books of the priests, that at that very time the East should prevail, and that men who issued from Judea should obtain the {444} empire. The common people, as is the way with human cupidity, having once interpreted in their own favour this grand destiny, were not even by their reverses brought round to the truth of facts." And Suetonius extends the belief:—"The whole East was rife with an old and persistent belief, that at that time persons who issued from Judea, should possess the empire." After the event of course the Jews drew back, and denied the correctness of their expectation, still they could not deny that the expectation had existed. Thus the Jew Josephus, who was of the Roman party, says that what encouraged them in the stand they made against the Romans was "an ambiguous oracle, found in their sacred writings, that at that date some one of them from that country should rule the world." He can but pronounce that the oracle was ambiguous; he cannot state that they thought it so.

Now, considering that at that very time our Lord did appear as a teacher, and founded not merely a religion, but (what was then quite a new idea in the world) a system of religious warfare, an aggressive and militant body, a dominant Catholic Church, which aimed at the benefit of all nations by the spiritual conquest of all; and that this warfare, then begun by it, has gone on without cessation down to this day, and now is as living and real as ever it was; that that militant body has from the first filled the world, that it has had wonderful successes, that its successes have on the whole been of extreme benefit to the human race, that it has imparted an intelligent notion about the Supreme {445} God to millions who would have lived and died in irreligion, that it has raised the tone of morality wherever it has come, has abolished great social anomalies and miseries, has elevated the female sex to its proper dignity, has protected the poorer classes, has destroyed slavery, encouraged literature and philosophy, and had a principal part in that civilization of human kind, which, with some evils, has still on the whole been productive of far greater good,—considering, I say, that all this began at the destined, expected, recognized season when the old prophecy said that in one Man, born of the tribe of Judah, all the tribes of the earth were to be blessed,—I feel I have a right to say (and my line of argument does not lead me to say more), that it is at the very least a remarkable coincidence; that is, one of those coincidences which, when they are accumulated, come close upon the idea of miracle, as being impossible without the Hand of God directly and immediately in them.

When we have got as far as this, we may go on a great deal farther. Announcements, which could not be put forward in the front of the argument, as being figurative, vague, or ambiguous, may be used validly and with great effect, when they have been interpreted for us, first by the prophetic outline, and still more by the historical object. It is a principle which applies to all matters on which we reason, that what is only a maze of facts, without order or drift prior to the due explanation, may, when we once have that explanation, be located and adjusted with great facility in all its separate parts, as we know is the case as regards the {446} motions of the heavenly bodies since the hypothesis of Newton. In like manner the event is the true key to prophecy, and reconciles conflicting and divergent descriptions by embodying them in one common representative. Thus it is that we learn how, as the prophecies said, the Messiah could both suffer, yet be victorious; His kingdom be Judaic in structure, yet evangelic in spirit; and His people the children of Abraham, yet "sinners of the Gentiles." These seeming paradoxes, are only parallel and akin to those others which form so prominent a feature in the teaching of our Lord and His Apostles.

As to the Jews, since they lived before the event, it is not wonderful, that, though they were right in their general interpretation of Scripture as far as it went, they stopped short of the whole truth; nay, that even when their Messiah came, they could not recognize Him as the promised King as we recognize Him now;—for we have the experience of His history for nearly two thousand years, by which to interpret their Scriptures. We may partly understand their position towards those prophecies, by our own at present towards the Apocalypse. Who can deny the superhuman grandeur and impressiveness of that sacred book! yet, as a prophecy, though some outlines of the future are discernible, how differently it affects us from the predictions of Isaiah! either because it relates to undreamed-of events still to come, or because it has been fulfilled long ago in events which in their detail and circumstance have never become history. And the same remark applies doubtless to portions of the Messianic prophecies still; but, if their {447} fulfilment has been thus gradual in time past, we must not be surprised though portions of them still await their slow but true accomplishment in the future.

Section 2 continued

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1. "Scopus operis est, planiorem Protestantibus aperire viam ad veram Ecclesiam. C¨m enim hactenus Polemici nostri insudarint toti in demonstrandis siugulis Religionis CatholicŠ articulis, in id ego unum incumbo, ut hŠc tria evincam. Primo: Articulos fundamentales, Religionis CatholicŠ esse evidenter credibiliores oppositis, &c. &c. … Demonstratio autem hujus novŠ modestŠ, ac facilis viŠ, quÔ ex articulis fundamentalibus sol¨m probabilioribus adstruitur summa Religionis certitudo, hŠc est: Deus, c¨m sit sapiens ac providus, tenetur, Religionem Ó se revelatam reddere evidenter credibiliorem religionibus falsis. Imprudenter enim vellet, suam Religionem ab hominibus recipi, nisi eam redderet evidenter credibiliorem religionibus cŠteris. Ergo illa religio, quŠ est evidenter credibilior cŠteris, est ipsissima religio a Deo revelata, adeoque certissimŔ vera, seu demonstrata. Atqui, &c. … Motivum aggrediendi novam hanc, modestam, ac facilem viam illud prŠcipuum est, qu˛d observem, Protestantium plurimos post innumeros concertationum fluctus, in iis tandem consedisse syrtibus, ut credant, nullam dari religionem undequaque demonstratam, &c. ... Ratiociniis denique opponunt ratiocinia; prŠjudiciis prŠjudicia ex majoribus sua," &c.
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2. "Docet naturalis ratio, Deum, ex ipsÔ naturÔ bonitatis ac providentiŠ suŠ, si velit in mundo habere religionem puram, eamque instituere ac conservare usque in finem mundi, teneri ad eam religionem reddendam evidenter credibiliorem ac verisimiliorem cŠteris, &c. &c. ... Ex hoc sequitur ulterius; certitudinem moralem de verÔ EcclesiÔ elevari posse ad certitudinem metaphysicam, si homo advertat, certitudinem moralem absolutŔ fallibilem substare in materiÔ religionis circa ejus constitutiva fundamentalia speciali providentiŠ divinŠ, prŠservatrici ab omni errore ... Itaque homo semel ex serie historicÔ actorum perductus ad moralem certitudinem de auctore, fundatione, propagatione, et continuatione EcclesiŠ ChristianŠ, per reflexionem ad existentiam certissimam providentiŠ divinŠ in materiÔ religionis, Ó priori lumine naturŠ certitudine metaphysicÔ notam, eo ipso eadem infallibili certitudine intelliget, argumenta de auctore," &c.—Amort. Ethica Christiana, p. 252.
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3. "De hac damnatorum saltem hominum respiratione, nihil adhuc certi decretum est ab EcclesiÔ CatholicÔ: ut propterea non temerŔ, tanquam absurda, sit explodenda sanctissimorum Patrum hŠc opinio: quamvis Ó communi sensu Catholicorum hoc tempore sit aliena."—Petavius de Angelis, fin. Vide Note III.
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4. Vide supra, p. 302.
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5. Vide the author's Occasional Sermons, No. 5.
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6. Vide supra, p. 84.
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7. History, vol. viii.
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8. Before and apart from Christianity, the Samaritan Version reads, "donec veniat Pacificus, et ad ipsum congregabuntur populi." The Targum, "donec veniat Messias, cujus est regnum, et obedient populi." The Septuagint, "donec veniant quŠ reservata sunt illi" (or "donec veniat cui reservatum est"), "et ipse expectatio gentium." And so again the Vulgate, "donec veniat qui mittendus est, et ipse erit expectatio gentium."

The ingenious translation of some learned men ("donec venerit Juda Siluntem," i.e. "the tribe-sceptre shall not depart from Judah till Judah comes to Shiloh"), with the explanation that the tribe of Judah had the leadership in the war against the Canaanites, vide Judges i. 1, 2; xx. 18 (I. e. after Joshua's death), and that possibly, and for what we know, the tribe gave up that war-command at Shiloh, vide Joshua xviii. 1 (i.e. in Joshua's life-time), labours under three grave difficulties: 1. That the patriarchal sceptre is a temporary war-command. 2. That this command belonged to Judah at the very time that it belonged to Joshua. And 3. That it was finally lost to Judah (Joshua living), before it had been committed to Judah (Joshua dead).
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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