The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 37
In drawing this Lecture to a close, I would briefly allude to the chief objection against the Gospels. There are very many; but that which seems to be the favourite one at this time is that a miracle is an impossibility, and that these Four Gospels, containing so much of miracle, are of necessity untrue. This is the argu- page 23 ment adopted by a late writer, who, while assailing the Faith, that which is held in the utmost reverence by very many, has not the courage to place his name upon his title-page. Christian writers have boldly met this new assailant, He has been shown, by Professor Lightfoot, especially, amongst other grave errors, to have utterly misunderstood the intention of one Christian writer whom he has largely quoted; and, when his work required an exact knowledge of the Greek language, to have made a mistake in translating the words of another, in a most important passage, which even a school-boy should not have made.
This argument—the impossibility of miracles—is no new one, but was long ago brought forward by Hume. In its present shape it is—"The Order of Nature is so unvaried and invariable that miracles cannot be. Or it is most improbable that there could have been any. This is absolutely or almost proved by the advanced Science of the day. If there be miracles, Science must be blotted out. Those who believe in miracles are opposed to Science." It is strange indeed that an assertion should be made so rashly. Newton, Faraday, Herschel, believed in the Four Gospels; and their names are not unknown to Science. It is still stranger that this ground should be taken, because Science teaches the very opposite:—that the Order of Nature has not been always unvaried, but that there has been constant change, constant interference. The bone-covered, ground-feeding Fish of the Old Red Sandstone die out, to be succeeded by the Fish of the Coal Strata—fish of a very different form and manner of life. Then suddenly appear the Flying Reptiles of the Oolite; then the huge Mammals; and then Man. Many speak, indeed, as if these differing forms have been all evolved from their predecessors in page 24 due order, but they have not advanced one proof to establish this assertion. They can only show variety occurring in some particular form of life. They cannot show any change of one species into another. To use the word of Genesis i., the "kind," whether of animal or of vegetable, is unchanged. But if one kind appears, and another succeeds, there must have been some One who hath filled with new life the blank which would otherwise have been left. Change of the Order of Nature from an outside force is not improbable—is not impossible. There has been such change.
But I firmly hold that we can see proof that there is not any unvariable Order of Nature in our very midst. In 1818 the cholera, that most terrible disease, which had been always known in India, became epidemic. It then left India, slowly and steadily advancing over Asia, Europe, and America. I well remember, when it appeared in London in 1849, that Mr. Glaisher, of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, in a letter to The Times, mentioned the appearing of a bluish-coloured mist amongst the trees of the Park as an accompaniment of the attacks. It was also then said that a magnet at St. Petersburgh, which usually supported 80 lbs., became weaker as the cholera increased; that it lost all its strength at the worst of the disease; that it recovered gradually its power as the cholera abated. Yet there was no intensely marked change in the world—no especial cause in 1818—to invite the cholera to desert its old haunts. Things then were pretty much as they had been before, when all suddenly there is a dread, mysterious impulse given to Death. If, then, the Order of Nature is unvaried, cholera should not have left India, but have remained there alway. It must not, too, be forgotten that previous to one visit of the cholera appeared the strange, hitherto unknown, potato page 25 disease, which, between 1847-1850, destroyed two million lives in Ireland. Yet here again all the surroundings of Irish life remained the same as before, when all suddenly appeared this new vegetable death. To those who believe that God ruleth and ordereth the world there is no difficulty in these things. He can interfere when and how He wills. The difficulty is with those who deny the constant presence of this overruling. They must, on their theory that Nature is unchanging, explain this change. Here is no orderly working of an old force, but a new force is introduced. But if Nature is not unchanging, the favourite objection to a miracle is gone.
The late Dean Mansel has well written that while some have taken occasion from the advancement of Science to deny the possibility of miracles, this advance tends rather to prove their probability, inasmuch as it shows how utterly impossible it is now, with all of present skill or experience, to do what Jesus Christ did day by day;—that there is no agent which can repeat, in our times, with all our wonder-working powers, such wonders as these, as when a Man standing at the tomb of one who had been dead four days speaks the few words only, "Lazarus, come forth;"—and he that was dead came forth.
Yet if some have found difficulties in the Gospels, and, as I have said, profess themselves unable to believe because of the difficulty, many of these difficulties afford a very sure proof of the truth of the Gospels. Whence, it may be asked, came the sponge used at the crucifixion of Jesus? What possible reason can be given for the soldiers having it at that time? Or why, again, should the soldier who gave the sponge to Jesus have understood, and have joined in the mocking cry, "Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to take Him down?"page 26
Or why, again, should Jesus have been pierced after that the Centurion, convinced by the words, "It is finished," and by the earthquake, had said, "Truly this was the Son of God?" Yet all these difficulties are at once removed if we suppose that the women had brought the sponge, the vinegar, and the stem of hyssop, with the vain hope of giving some relief to the Sufferer; and that, when they see the willingness of the Centurion that His thirst shall be quenched, they at once proffer what they had brought;—or if we suppose that it was a Jewish recruit in the Roman band who gave the sponge to Jesus, in obedience to the orders of the Centurion, but cannot help uttering his inward conviction of the imposture of the Nazarene, and mocking Him with the by standing Pharisees;—and, further, that this man, when his comrades are breaking the legs of the crucified thieves, in an ungovernable rage, and without orders, thrusts his spear into the Saviour's side. I say that a late writer, inventing the detail of the history, would not have inserted these difficulties, or if he had, carefully would he have given some hint of the true explanation. But here the difficulty is stated without any thought that there is a difficulty. Nor was there any, in truth, to the writer, who knew all the details of the matter, and who simply described what had happened. The difficulty exists only for us because of our ignorance of these details. So, again, no impostor would have inserted the apparent impossibility that the Disciples did not recognise Jesus after His Resurrection, when He had been separated from them for two days only, without some attempt at explanation. But hero all is simply given. We are left to conjecture why it was that there was no recognition, because, perchance, of the utter confusion of their minds; the breaking up of all their long-cherished expectations at His crucifixion; or espe- page 27 cially because of the changed, restful expression of the Lord's face, which once had been "marred more than any man;" and of the peace now visible in One Who erst was "the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief."
I have thus sought to put before you the reasons which have convinced me of the Reasonableness of our faith in the Four Gospels—Reasonableness, I say, for the Christian is not to believe with a blind, unreasoning faith, but should be able to give an answer for the Hope that is in him. We are to love God with all our mind, as well as with all our strength. I have endeavoured to show that the Gospels were written at the time and by the writers named; that we have followed no cunningly-devised fable.
Then, although some may say that miracles are impossible, or improbable, they have been wrought; and our Faith, which rests upon the constant interference of God's will, is surely based.
I confess that the difficulty with me has always been to understand the position of the objector. No one doubted of these Gospels at the very time when, if they had been false, doubt must have arisen. He, living so long after the events therein narrated, would still have us to believe that Books, containing the loving, merciful invitation to all who were in sorrow to find rest in the grace of Jesus, came from a Jew, who firmly believed in the salvation only of those who held his shibboleth, in an age of fierce disquiet at the Roman yoke:—or that men could have discovered such a doctrine as that which Jesus taught, in an age which allowed so much unholiness of doctrine: or have imagined, or perchance have taken from the life of Krishna (of whom it is said by his worshippers none but a God could have been so sinful) such an One as Jesus; so holy, and yet so page 28 merciful to sinners; so pure, in the midst of all temptation; so zealous, when day by day His steps were dogged by envy; so patient, notwithstanding three years of neglect; so pitiful, in all the agonies of the Cross; so mighty, and yet so quiet in the exercise of that might. Man could not, by himself, have pictured such a Saviour. The life of Jesus Christ of Nazareth stamps these Gospels, wherein that Life is written, as True. And as we reverently and lovingly read there of His love, and—as He hath taught us to do—seek of His Spirit that we may be guided into all Truth, are we drawn the closer unto Him. We find the Peace which He hath promised. We look onward with a new hope to the day when we shall see Him as He is. We have now no shadow of doubt. If there be this or that in the Gospels which we cannot explain, it disturbs not our Faith one whit. We but wait for the fulfilment of the promise, when we shall understand all, for we shall be "filled with all the fulness of God." We are doing the Lord's will, and we "Know the Doctrine that it is of God."