The Early Date and Consequent Truthfulness of the Four Gospels.
This Lecture, delivered in the School-room of St. John's Church, was written with the desire to give, in short compass, some of the Historical proofs of the early existence of the Four Gospels, and therefore of their truthfulness. If their truthfulness be proved, then were miracles wrought, notwithstanding any assertions respecting the improbability or impossibility of a miracle from a supposed unvarying order of nature. Seekers after truth should especially notice the argument from the early publication of St. Paul's Epistles, p. 18.
A. Stock.page break
The Four Gospels.
The task before me is a pleasant and yet an arduous one. I wish to show in short compass why it is that the Christian Church accepts the Four Gospels as part of the Word of God; and that it is right in so accepting them. It is a task from which any one, who holds that these Books are inspired, might well shrink, lest he should fail in convincing others that his own belief is well grounded; not as the marsh light, only a snare to the weary traveller, but as the light from some well-built lighthouse, shining bright alway in the darkness, pointing out the haven where the mariner would be. He might well fear, too, lest by some mistake of his, others who think not with him, might be the rather confirmed in their unbelief.
The Christian Church holds, then, that these Books are the very foundation of The Faith. If they are false; if they are but the fond imaginings of some one or other, magnifying a faint, far off mythical story; if they are not truly written by men of God, and of men inspired of God to write; then are we left in almost darkness—our Christianity is well-nigh gone—we of this day have scarce anything to tell of Jesus that is worthy of acceptance in comparison with this loss—we must walk on sadly as those who are unknown and uncared for, wanderers in a wilderness without a guide.page 6
This result is well put by one who has always endeavoured to prove that the Gospels are false. He sees clearly the result of his labour, and then shrinks from it terror-stricken. The late Dr. Strauss writes:—"The loss of faith in Providence is, in fact, one of the most deeply-felt deprivations which are connected with the giving up of the Christian beliefs of the Church. In the enormous machine of the Universe—amidst the incessant whirl and hiss of its iron—toothed wheels—amidst the deafening crash of its ponderous stamps and hammers—in the midst of this whole terrible commotion, man, a helpless and defenceless creature, finds himself placed, not secure for a moment, that, on an imprudent motion on his part a wheel may not seize and rend him, or a hammer crush him to powder. This sense of abandonment is at first something awful." The writer has well understood the matter at issue. Nowhere more plainly than in The Four Gospels do we learn of the Providence of God. The coming of the Lord is proof that God careth for the world. And thus He speaks:—"Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these. If then God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, how much more will He clothe you? * * * Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they.*
If, then, our Gospels are not what we profess them to be, there is no longer any such comforting sense of page 7 God's providence tenable—we must live aided by our own power only. They are but human compositions, and of little value—pleasant, perchance, to read, but not speaking with any authority.
* See remarks below on J. Martyr's quotations from The Gospels.
Our first step will, clearly, be to ascertain what these Books say of themselves upon this point.
1. St. Matthew's Gospel,* said to have been written by a constant follower of the Lord Jesus, describes the Jewish Temple as standing in all its magnificence, unscathed yet by the Roman fire and sword. In the 23rd chapter Jesus saith, "Behold your House is left" unto you desolate. "The Disciples, understanding well His meaning, call His attention, as if in utter astonishment, to the buildings of the Temple, to the strength of the walls, as if such a ruin could not be. St. Mark, in his account, is still more particular." Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings "are here," is his version of the words of the Disciples. St. Luke, in the corresponding chapter, in his Gospel, makes the Lord to foretell accurately the coming destruction of the city. We know that Jerusalem was taken A.D. 70. Thus these three Gospels claim to have been written before that event. There is not a single word to tell of the desolation of the city, and of the consequent fulfilment of our Lord's words, as, we feel sure, would have been the case had they been written by man only, and after the city's overthrow. An event of such importance to a Jew, could not then have been by any page 8 possibility altogether ignored. Some mention would have been made by him of the bravery of the Jews in the war; of the fierce determination of the Romans, and of their success. He most certainly would have spoken of the noble stand of his people against all the might of their foes, thus casting, in their utter ruin, a light upon the darkness by this remembrance of their courage. The belief of the Christian Church is that these Scriptures are not mere human compositions; that the narrators of facts which themselves witnessed, or of which they could have been informed by eyewitnesses, were always directed of God what to write. But if these Gospels are not inspired, and of late date, then most certainly a Jewish writer would not have passed by the destruction of Jerusalem, or have lost the opportunity of magnifying his nation from the very magnitude of her distress.
2. St. John, who was, as St. Matthew, a constant follower of Jesus, writes his Gospel at Ephesus nearly at the close of the first century. Eusebius tells that the Bishops of Asia brought to him the Three Gospels; that he declared them to be Scripture; and that he wrote his own Gospel to supplement the omissions of the other Evangelists, and to oppose the Gnostic heresy of the day. Generally speaking, he rather narrates what Jesus said than what He did. But St. John most distinctly asserts that he saw what he describes. When the dead body of Jesus is pierced he writes, "Forthwith there came out blood and water;"—and he continues, He that saw it bare record, and his record is true, and he knoweth that he saith true." Again, appealing to his known character amongst the Ephesians, he writes in the last chapter, "This is the disciple which" testifieth of these things, and wrote these things, and "we know that his testimony is true."page 9
3. In the Acts of the Apostles, which Book was often considered to be but a continuation of St. Luke's Gospel, the writer places himself in the midst of his narrative. He writes of things which had passed before him. It is especially noteworthy that St. Paul, in his defence before King Agrippa and the Roman Governor Felix (Acts xxvi. 26) appeals to this publicity of the Christian history. "The King knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that these things were not hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner."
The belief of the Church is, as I have said, that these Gospels are God-inspired, that they therefore are true;—that three of them were written early in the first century, and narrate truly facts which were well known. It is not necessary to our present object to prove carefully that they are God-inspired. It is quite sufficient to show that they were written in the very life-time of many who had witnessed the miracles of Jesus; who had shared in the events narrated; who could easily therefore have disproved any falsehood, if there had been any. The whole story is thus of miracle, and it is but a very little step onward to hold that the writers share in this miraculous energy; that they wrote not what they chose to write, but as men directed of God to write. We believe that we have this double security. But it is enough for the establishment of our faith to show that these Books were published in the midst of those who themselves were well acquainted with what was written. No after narrator could write, without inspiration, as the Evangelists have written.
Thus the three first Gospels claim to have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem. St. John claims to have written his Gospel as an eye-witness of what he describes. We have now to search why it is page 10 that these Three Gospels are ascribed to St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke;—why they are believed to have been written at an early date;—and to see whether St. John's claim is just, and not that of a forger, writing thus to gain an appearance of truthfulness for his manufacture.
* St. Matthew's Gospel was written in Greek by the Apostle. The word in The Lord's Prayer for "daily" was, Origen writes, formed by St. Matthew. Probably he wrote another edition in Hebrew.
We have, as testing points of the times at which the Gospels appeared, in the Books themselves many points of agreement with what is narrated by other writers.
1. St. Matthew tells that Herod, disappointed in his expectation that the Magi would conduct him to the King of the Jews, gives orders that the young male children at Bethlehem should be slain. Josephus tells how ruthlessly he committed greater cruelty than this—that he swept away every opposer to his rule, not hesitating to slay his wife and child because of some fancied treachery.
2. We find in the Gospels a curious and complicated Government Herod is King of Judea. We read of Roman Governors ruling in part of the land, while members of Herod's family reign in another part. In the very midst of this double Government there is a Jewish Government with very large powers of administration, and, stranger still, having authority to collect tribute for the Temple service. This tribute is that referred to when the fish is caught by St. Peter to pay the sum required for himself and Jesus. (St. Matthew xvii. 24.) But, strange as this admixture of ruling powers may seem, we know from Josephus that while the Romans were the real rulers in the land, they permitted these Jewish forms of Government to exist, taking only away the power of life and death.page 11
3. St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke, call the Lake of Galilee by various names, as the Sea, the Sea of Galilee, the Lake of Gennesaret, the Lake. And these titles are used indifferently. But St. John calls the Lake the Sea of Tiberias—a title which is used by him only. Now, we know that the titles used by the three first Evangelists were in common use before the Roman war; but afterwards, as the City of Tiberias had been spared by the Romans when they destroyed the other cities of Galilee, and had grown quickly into great importance, the Lake was called by the title which St. John uses. Had, then, the three first Evangelists used St. John's title, or he theirs, all would have been wrong; a very grave mistake would have been committed. But late writers could not have been so exact, or so truthful, in a point apparently of so little consequence.
4. Again, from Josephus we know of the bitter contempt in which the Samaritans were held by the Jews. We read in these Gospels the words of envy and hatred spoken by the Pharisees against Jesus—" Say "we not well that Thou art a Samaritan?" St. John records that when Jesus, sitting by the well of Sychar, asks the woman who had come to draw water to relieve His thirst, He is answered, not rudely, but in utter astonishment that He could condescend to ask, "How is" it that Thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which "am a woman of Samaria?"
5. One other instance only would I give. When St. Luke narrates the circumstances that led to the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem, he writes—"There went out a decree from Cæsar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was Governor of Syria." It is well known that he was Governor some ten years afterwards, and page 12 those who would disprove the authority of the Gospels caught eagerly at this discrepancy. Here, at least, was a manifest mistake—a mistake quite sufficient to prove the untruthfulness of the Gospel. Many explanations of the difficulty have been given. One of these is satisfactory enough; that the taxing was ordered by Augustus, and the census for the taxing was at once made; but, Herod dying, the tax was not collected until Cyrenius was Governor. The true explanation is, as was discovered by Zumpt, that Cyrenius was twice Governor. St. Luke, whether the word taxing refers to the census or to the collection of the tax, was, after all, exactly right.
Many other instances could be given of similar import. They can easily be found in such books as Paley's Evidences, or Home's Introduction to the Scriptures.
I believe that we might fairly enough rest the matter here. There is in these exact narrations sure proof of truthfulness, the more valuable because found in unimportant matters, just in those places where any forger would not have been so exact; or if he had, by giving like detail, sought to throw an air of reality about his imposture, he would most certainly have been readily detected in some misstatement. This exactness could not have been in a late writer, writing in the second century, unless he were inspired of God to write. And this claim for inspiration is utterly disallowed by those who object to the faith of the Christian Church concerning the Gospels. I would yet add that if there be this thorough exactness in places which can be tested, surely the same truthful, exact writer may be trusted when he is speaking of matter which cannot be thus inquired into. We may believe him still, even if his narrative involve a miracle. He is still narrating, as exactly as before, what was done miraculously.page 13
This, then, is our second point. The Gospels themselves contain many proofs that they were written in the first century.
We have next to inquire for external evidence of this early date for their publication.
1. The most eminent of the present school of opposers of Christianity, in Germany and in France, confess that many of the Epistles of St. Paul were undoubtedly written by him. M. Rènan (I allude to him as his name is familiar to the most of us), in his Life of St. Paul, thus summarises St. Paul's Epistles:—1. Those which are indisputable and undisputed. 2. Those which are certainly authentic, notwithstanding some objections. 8. Those probably authentic. 4. One, a doubtful Epistle. 5. Those that are falsely ascribed to St. Paul. In the first class he places the Epistle to the Romans, the two to the Corinthians, and that to the Galatians. Thus, four of the Epistles of St. Paul are confessedly, to use M. Rènan's words, undisputed and indisputable. No one would dream of objecting to these Epistles that they were not written by him. It is further certain that St. Paul was put to death at Rome, when Nero was Emperor, about A.D. 68. But this can be proved from these Epistles:—That Christianity was firmly established in the Imperial City of Rome;—that it was as thoroughly established at Corinth, another centre of that day;—that this had occurred in about twenty-five years after the death of Jesus;—and that the facts of Christianity were thoroughly accepted as true by very many in the Roman Empire at that early date. Even then supposing for an instant that our Gospels were written later than we assert, still the page 14 main facts given in those Gospels had already won their way. I would quote a well-known passage to remind you of the particularity of the facts to be gathered from St. Paul's Epistles. "I," he writes to the Corinthians, "delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures. And that He was seen of Cephas, then of the Twelve. After that He was seen of about five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that he was seen of James, then of all the Apostles." Thus the Death and the Resurrection of Jesus are here established. But if He hath thus lived, Who was dead, then is our Faith not vain; then were the Apostles not false witnesses of God, when they testified of God that He raised up Christ. I cannot, I confess, see how this argument can be shaken. If these Epistles of St, Paul are true, then is our Faith true. Then are the Gospels true, for they but give fuller accounts of what St, Paul has summarised. Let men object as they ever have objected, as they ever will object, they cannot disprove that in a very few years after the public condemnation of Jesus, at the sentence of a Roman tribunal, the assertion that He had risen from the dead was firmly believed by very many:—and that a very large number of them could have disproved the story had it been untrue. The thing was not done in a corner.
Amongst these, the evidences of our Faith, St. Paul's Epistles, acknowledged to be his by men who would rather have proved them to be falsely written, and based, as they evidently are, upon a widely spread acceptance of Christian doctrine, occupy the first place. They could not have been thus written had there not page 15 been this spread of Christianity. And this is the especial point we are insisting upon, the early spread of Christianity, while the facts upon which Christianity rests had but lately occurred: and that the Gospels are but the early records of these facts.
2. We pass on to later writers; and from out the number of names that could be given of Christians who mention the Gospels I purpose to select two only, partly because of the well-known character of these two, and of the value, therefore, of their testimony. I mean Justin Martyr and Irenæus.
Justin, surnamed Martyr, as having suffered death for his faith, was born A.D. 90 at Sichem, in Samaria, in the very land in which Christ preached. He was converted to Christianity A.D. 138. Of his writings, the two Apologies for Christianity, and his Dialogue with Trypho, are still extant. In the Dialogue he tells that he had carefully studied the then prevalent forms of Heathen Philosophy, and had at last embraced Christianity as the only safe philosophy. Justin teaches that Christ was miraculously conceived, and born of a Virgin in Bethlehem, in the time of Cyrenius; that He lived for thirty years an ordinary life, being regarded as a carpenter and a carpenter's son; that He was baptized of John in Jordan, when the Holy Ghost descended upon Him like a dove; that He was tempted of Satan in the wilderness; that He established the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper; that He was crucified under Pontius Pilate; that He rose again from the dead on Sunday; that He will come again to judge the world. He records many of the sayings of Christ; quotes His prophecies; and mentions His miracles.
In the Dialogue he thus bears witness to the spread of Christianity:—"There is no race of men * * * * among whom prayers and thanksgivings are not offered page 16 up to the Father and Maker of the Universe in the name of the Crucified Jesus." He tells that new converts were continually added to the Church through the admiration excited by the virtuous practices and enduring constancy of the Christians.
But, further, Justin was acquainted with our Gospels. His exact words on this matter are—" The Apostles, in "the Memoirs written by them, which are called Gospels." And of these Memoirs he says that two were written by Apostles, and two by companions of the Apostles; that these Memoirs, or the writings of the Prophets (writings acknowledged by all Christians to be part of the Word of God), were read in the assemblies of the Christians every Sunday. Sometimes he quotes from these Memoirs exactly. Sometimes his quotations are given somewhat carelessly. Sometimes he only alludes to passages in them. But in what he was doing there was no especial need for exact quotation. He was not writing for Christians, but for the enemies of the Christian Faith. He is desirous to give them an outline of Christianity, and his purpose would be as well served by this general reference as if he had given the very words of writings which were not valued by others than Christians. But if he does not refer to our present Gospels—which are read in our churches, just as these Memoirs were read—there were then, at that day, some other Scriptures giving exactly the same account of the Gospel facts as do the Gospels, which were held in highest esteem by the Church, and which yet have, in some most unaccountable way, vanished utterly; while these spurious Gospels of ours have, in some most unaccountable way, occupied the very position of the old writings, which are lost. Those who say that Justin did not use our Gospels only create a difficulty which is insurmountable. We have only, to get rid of the page 17 difficulty which they have professed to find, to surmise that Justin, when he quotes inexactly, is quoting from memory; and that he has done what every writer is likely to do when he does not think it necessary for his purpose to put down the very words of Scripture. I have found, when correcting my first manuscript, that in quoting from the Sermon on the Mount, familiar as that Scripture is, I have done much the same thing. I have purposely left the error uncorrected, as an illustration of my meaning; and I do not think that I am likely to be charged with not accepting the Gospel of St. Matthew as the writing of the Apostle.
The second writer that I would select is Irenœus, made Bishop of Lyons A.D. 177. He wrote many books, of which his work against Heresies remains to this day. Irenæus declares that in his youth he had been well acquainted with Polycarp, who is known to have been the disciple and intimate friend of St. John. Thus his testimony is especially valuable, not only as coming from a learned man, from one who has written largely upon Christianity, and the heresies that had so early arisen in the Church, but as reaching through Polycarp so far backward. In his writings he then repeatedly mentions the Four Gospels. He ascribes them to St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, St. John. And as if to make the matter the more certain, he gives many fanciful reasons why these Were four in number only. In short, testimony more explicit there could not be to the writings of the Evangelists;—to the estimation in which they were held;—to the dates at which they were written. It is difficult, indeed, to imagine how any one can gravely urge that the Gospels were not written until the beginning or the middle of the second century, when Irenæus, so competent a witness, directly asserts the very contrary.page 18
This, then, is our third point. Early Christian writers have quoted the Gospels. And of those the testimony of Justin Martyr and Irenœus is especially valuable.
Other proofs of the early existence of the Gospels are found,—
1. That Tatian, about A.D. 170, wrote a book in which he endeavours to harmonise the various accounts of the Lord's actions given in the Gospels. This work is called a Diatessaron: literally a work concerning the Four. But clearly such a work would not have been attempted had not the Four Gospels been generally received and valued by Christians. It is again certain that Tatian used our Gospels, for a Greek manuscript in the British Museum has a note in which a different reading is supported by the authority of Tatian.
2. The same argument applies to the Syrian version of the Scriptures, called The Peshito, that is the Literal Version, which in the opinion of learned men was made very early in the second century. A version implies, of very necessity, that the books translated have already become famous. The difficulty for an objector would be to show how books, arising as he would have it the Gospels have arisen, could in about twenty years have won such acceptance as to require that a version should be made of them into another language from that in which they were originally written.
3. Another curious proof has been lately discovered, that of the Muratorian Canon, or List of the Books of Scripture, found by Muratori at Milan, in the Ambrosian Library. It had been brought thither from a convent in Pavia by Columbanus, an Irish monk. The compiler of the Canon has fixed its date when he page 19 thus speaks of another book as written "just lately in our times, when Pius was Bishop of Rome." This was A.D. 150, and thus the Canon cannot be later than that date. That such a list should have been made shows, as did The Peshito, that the books thus catalogued had been long held in highest esteem. The beginning of the Canon is imperfect. It commences, "In the third place St. Luke." Then St. John, the Acts, and all the other books of the New Testament are named except the Hebrews and one of St. John's Epistles.
4. From the early adversaries of the Faith, as witnesses for its truth, I would select Celsus, an Epicurean Philosopher, who wrote against Christianity at the middle of the second century. He mentions that the Gospels existed in three forms. He accepts all the prominent facts of the Gospel History, but endeavours from the facts themselves to overthrow the Christian Faith. In no one instance does he cast any discredit upon the narrative. But if, as it is said, the Gospels were but of recent date, so learned and acute a writer would at once have seized upon the late date as the very proof that the professed history could not be true.
It never seems, indeed, to have been imagined in the early days of Christianity that the Gospels were of late origin, when the truth of the case could have been so readily discovered. It has remained for modern criticism, in the face of all evidence against the supposition, to make this assertion. The objectors believe that they have discovered this or that insuperable difficulty—that this Gospel cannot be reconciled with that—this statement with that statement. I read but a short while ago an elaborate magazine article on the Gospel of St. John, in which the writer thus persuaded himself of its late date. But as I read the thought page 20 again and again occurred to me, "How very easily St. "John would have cleared this matter." In truth, most of the objections against the Gospels would be readily removed could we but ask the writers how these things were so; or if we were in possession of every possible detail, of all the surroundings, in each case.
Other arguments are to be found,—
1. From the numerous sects which arose very early in the Christian Church. David, in the 70th Psalm, writes—" Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee." And many an illustration of this truth is to be found in the history of the Christian Church. Justin Martyr tells how he and many others were won to embrace the Faith by noticing the holiness of life of the Christians, and their patient endurance of persecution. Again, men began soon to tamper with God's truth, and to add to it their own fancies. Jesus had said that the enemy would quickly sow tares amongst the wheat. And quickly thus appeared the Gnostic heresy. These Gnostics were many in number, and multiform in tenets. They agreed only in hating the truth. But the truth has gained largely by their error. Except for these heresies we should not have had the clear, distinct, unanswerable testimony of Irenæus in favour of the Gospels. Again, these heresies prove the incorruptness of the Gospels. All, whether Christian or Heretic, appeal to them to establish their own views; and so we are sure that the Gospels could not have been altered in any way. Had any wished to alter a Gospel to suit their peculiar views, the alteration would have been at once detected and refused by the rest.
2. The manuscripts of the Gospels were very rapidly page 21 multiplied. It would very soon have been manifestly impossible for any one to have altered every one of the manuscripts in existence. All the manuscripts are the same, wherever they are found. They still give the same truths without any change. There are variations in the readings of these manuscripts, but these variations are chiefly in unimportant matters. The Faith is never in any way injured by any variation. From any manuscript, let it be one that is most corrupt, could be learnt the way of Salvation.
3. But after all the argument that seems to be the most weighty is from a common-sense view of the matter. The Gospels exist. We have the very same Four Gospels as had the Christian Church of the time of Irenæus. No one has yet dared to dispute that. Even if it be said that they first appeared in the middle of the second century, they have remained unchanged from that time. But why should they have been written at that particular time? It would be an utter absurdity for any one seriously to assert that Jesus Christ did not live during the Governorship of Pontius Pilate. Christian apologists appeal to the accounts of his Governorship kept at Rome. We are as certain of His life and death, at that time, as we are of the life and death, say, of Julius Cæsar at a certain period of Roman history. Had not, then, our Gospels been written at the time when we say that they were written, what possible motive would there have been for any one afterwards to have written such books? Good men, loving the Lord Jesus, would not have penned such falsehoods. Evil men would not have cared to do it. Or even if such a thing had been done from some strange, undiscoverable motive, how could they, bad men as they must have been on this supposition, and writing falsely, have gained for their falsehood, so quickly, so universal an page 22 acceptance? How, if they had been written, say, about A.D. 120, could the writers have persuaded Justin Martyr, Irenæus, Celsus, Tatian, to have believed as they did concerning them? I often judge that this common-sense view of the question is but too much lost sight of. Christian defenders of the Faith have laboriously followed objectors into every detail of their objections, without sufficiently attending to this broad view of the whole question;—a method of reply which has this especial advantage, that it needs nothing but common sense to understand it. The youngest child can at once see how utterly impossible it would have been for a late writer to have persuaded the whole Christian Church that his writings, utterly unknown before to the Church, had yet been written by St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, or St. John. The Christian, the heathen objector to Christianity, would at once have exposed the cheat. Any one can understand that no one would have dreamt of so manifest an impossibility. The instant reply would have been, "If Jesus, as you say in these writings, did such wonders, how is it that no one has heard of these things till now? So great a marvel could not have been so strangely hidden. Such a thing could not have been done in a corner. Such a thing could not have been hidden in a corner until now."
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."