REASON AND FAITH; THEIR CLAIMS AND CONFLICTS.
[by Henry Rogers]
THE EDINBURGH REVIEW,
[Volume 90] No. CLXXXII. [Pages 293-356]
Art.I—1. Historic Doubts relative to Napoleon Buonaparte Eighth edition, pp. 60. 8vo. London. 2. The Nemesis of Faith. By J. A. Froude, M. A., Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford. 12mo. London: pp. 227. 3. Popular Christianity, its Transition State and Probable Development. By F. J. Foxton, B. A.; formerly of Pembroke College, Oxford, and Perpetual Curate of Stoke Prior and Docklow, Herefordshire. 12mo. London: pp. 226.
'Reason and Faith,' says one of our old divines, with the quaintness characteristic of his day, 'resemble the two sons of the patriarch; Reason is the firstborn, but Faith inherits the blessing. The image is ingenious, and the antithesis striking; but nevertheless the sentiment is far from just. It is hardly right to represent Faith as younger than reason: the fact undoubtedly being, that human creatures trust and believe, long before they reason or know. But the truth is, that both reason and Faith are coeval with the nature of man, and were designed to dwell in his heart together. In truth they are, and were, and, in such creatures as ourselves, must be, reciprocally complementary—neither can exclude the other. It is as impossible to exercise an acceptable faith without reason for so exercising it,—that is, without exercising reason while we exercise faith*,—as it is to apprehend by our reason, exclusive of faith, all the truths on which we are daily compelled to act, whether in relation to this world or the next. Neither is it right to represent either of them as failing of the promised heritage, except as both may fail alike, by perversion from their true end, and depravation of their genuine nature; for it to the faith of which the New Testament speaks so much, a peculiar blessing is promised, it is evident from the same volume that it is not a 'faith without reason' any more than a 'faith without works,' which is approved by the Author of Christianity. And this is sufficiently proved by the injunction 'to be ready to give a reason for the hope,'—and therefore for the faith,—'which is in us.'
* Let it be said that we are here playing upon an ambiguity in the word Reason;—considered in the first clause as an argument; and in the second, as the characteristic endowment of our species. The distinction between Reason and Reasoning (though most important) does not affect our statement; for though Reason may be exercised where there is no giving of reasons, there can be no giving of reasons without the exercise of Reason.
If, therefore, we were to imitate the quaintness of the old divine, on whose dictum we have been commenting, we should rather compare Reason and Faith to the two trusty spies, 'faithful amongst the 'faithless,' who confirmed each other's report of 'that good land which flowed with milk and honey,' and to both of whom the promise of a rich inheritance there was given,—and, in due time, amply redeemed. Or, rather, if we might be permitted to pursue the same vein a little further, and throw over our shoulders for a moment that mantle of allegory which none but Bunyan could wear long and successfully, we should represent Reason and Faith as twin-born beings,—the one, in form and features the image of manly beauty,—the other, of feminine grace and gentleness; but to each of whom, alas! was allotted a sad privation. While the bright eyes of Reason are full of piercing and restless intelligence, his ear is closed to sound; and while Faith has an ear of exquisite delicacy, on her sightless orbs, as she lifts them towards heaven, the sunbeam plays in vain. Hand in hand the brother and sister, in all mutual love, pursue their way, through a world on which, like ours, day breaks and night falls alternate; by day the eyes of Reason are the guide of Faith, and by night the ear of Faith is the guide of Reason. As is wont with those who labour under these privations respectively Reason is apt to be eager, impetuous, impatient of that instruction which his infirmity will not permit him readily to apprehend; while Faith, gentle and docile, is ever willing to listen to the voice by which alone truth and wisdom can effectually reach her.
It has been shown by Butler in the fourth and fifth chapters (Part I.) of his great work, that the entire constitution and condition of man, viewed in relation to the present world alone, and consequently all the analogies derived from that fact in relation to a future world, suggest the conclusion that we are here the subjects of a probation discipline, or in a course of education for another state of existence. But it has not, perhaps, been sufficiently insisted on, that if in the actual course of that education, of which enlightened obedience to the 'law of virtue,' as Butler expresses it, or, which is the same thing, to the dictates of supreme wisdom and goodness, is the great end, we give an unchecked ascendency to either Reason or Faith, we vitiate the whole process. The chief instrument by which that process is carried on is not Reason alone, or Faith alone, but their well-balanced and reciprocal interaction. It is a system of alternate checks and limitations, in which Reason does not supersede Faith, nor Faith encroach on Reason. But our meaning will be more evident when we have made one or two remarks on what are conceived to be their respective provinces. In the domain of Reason men generally include, 1st, what are called 'intuitions,' 2d, 'necessary deductions' from them; and 3d, deductions from their own direct 'experience; while in the domain of Faith are ranked all truths and propositions which are received, not without reasons indeed, but for reasons underived from the intrinsic evidence (whether intuitive or deductive, or from our own experience) of propositions themselves;—for reasons (such as credible testimony, for example,) extrinsic to the proper meaning and significance of such propositions: although such reasons, by accumulation and convergency, may be capable of subduing the force of any difficulties or improbabilities, which cannot be demonstrated to involve absolute contradictions.*
* Of the first kind of truths, or those received by intuition, we have examples in what are called 'self-evident axioms,' and 'fundamental laws' or 'conditions of thought,' which no wise man has ever attempted to prove. Of the second, we have examples in the whole fabric of mathematical science, reared from its basis of axioms and definitions, as well as in every other necessary deduction from admitted premises. The third virtually includes any conclusion in science based on direct experiment, or observation; though the belief of the truth even of Newton's system of the world, when received as Locke says he received and as the generality of men receive it,—without being able to follow the steps by which the great geometer proves his conclusions,—may be represented rather as an act of faith rather than an act of Reason; as much so as a belief in the truth of Christianity, founded on its historic and other evidences. The greater part of man's knowledge, indeed, even of science,—even the greater part of a scientific man's knowledge of science, based as it is on testimony alone (and which so often compels him to renounce to-day what he thought certain yesterday),—may be not unjustly considered as more allied to Faith than Reason. It may be said, perhaps, that the above classification of the truths received by Reason and Faith respectively is arbitrary; that even as to some of their alleged sources, they are not always clearly distinguishable; that the evidence of experience may in some sort be reduced to testimony,—that of sense, and testimony reduced to experience,—that of human veracity under given circumstances; both being founded upon the observed uniformity of certain phenomena under similar conditions. We admit the truth of this; and we admit it the more willingly, as it shows that so inextricably intertwined are the roots both of Reason and Faith in our nature, that no definitions that can be framed will completely separate them; none that will not involve many phenomena which may be said to fall under the dominion of one as much as the other. We have been content, for our practical purpose, without any too subtle refinement, to take the line of demarcation which is, perhaps, as obvious as any, and as generally recognised. Few would say that a generalised inference from direct experience was not matter of reason rather than of faith; though an act of faith is involved in the process; and few would not call confidence in testimony where probabilities were nearly balanced, by the name of faith rather than reason, though an act of reason is involved in that process. We are much more anxious to show their general involution with one another than the points of discrimination between them. _
In receiving important doctrines on the strength of such evidence, and in holding to them against the perplexities they involve, or, what is harder still, against the prejudices they oppose, every exercise of an intelligent faith will, on analysis, be found to consist; its only necessary limit will be proven contradictions in the propositions submitted to it; for, then, no evidence can justify belief, or even render it possible. But no other difficulties, however, great, will justify unbelief, where man has all that he can justly demand,—evidence such in its nature as he can deal with, and on which he is accustomed to act in his most important affairs in this world (thus admitting its validity), and such in amount as to render it more likely that the doctrines it substantiates are true, than, from mere ignorance of the mode in which these difficulties can be solved, he can infer them to be false. 'Probabilities,' says Bishop Bulter, 'are to us the very guide to life; and when the probabilities arise out of evidence which we are competent to pronounce, and the improbabilities merely from our surmises, where we have no evidence to deal with, and perhaps, from the limitation of our capacities, could not deal with it, if we had it, it is not difficult to see what course practical wisdom tells man he ought to pursue; and which he always does pursue, whatever difficulties beset him,—in all cases except one!
Such is the strict union—that mutual dependence of Reason and Faith—which would seem to be the great law under which the moral school in which we are being educated is conducted. This law is equally, or almost equally, its characteristic, Whether we regard man simply in his present condition, or in his present in relation to his future condition,—as an inhabitant only of this world, or a candidate for another; and to this law, by a series of analogies as striking as any of those which Butler has pointed out (and on which we heartily wish his comprehensive genius had expended a chapter or two), Christianity, in the demands it makes on both principles conjointly, is evidently adapted.
Men often speak, indeed, as if the exercise of faith was excluded from their condition as inhabitants of the present world. But it requires but a very slight consideration to show that the boasted prerogative of reason is here also that of a limited monarch; and that its attempts to make itself absolute can only end in its own dethronement, and, after successive revolutions, in all the anarchy of absolute pyrrhonism.
For in the intellectual and moral education of man, considered merely as a citizen of the present world, we see the constant and inseparable union of the two principles, and provision made for their perpetual exercise. He cannot advance a step, indeed without both. We see faith demanded not only amidst the dependence and ignorance in which childhood and youth are passed; not only in the whole process by which we acquire the imperfect knowledge which is to fit us for being men; but to the very last we may be truly said to believe far more than we know. 'Indeed,' said Butler, 'the unsatisfactory nature of the evidence with which we are obliged to take up in the daily course of life, is scarce to be expected.' Nay, in an intelligible sense, even the 'primary truths,' or 'first principles,' or 'fundamental laws of thought,' or 'self-evident maxims,' or 'intuitions,' or by whatever other names philosophers have been pleased to designate them, which, in a special sense, are the very province of reason, as contra-distinguished from 'reasoning' or logical deduction, may be said almost as truly to depend on faith as on reason for their reception.* For the only ground for believing them true is that man cannot help so believing them! The same may be said of that great fact, without which the whole world would be at a stand-still—a belief in the uniformity of the phenomena of external nature; that the same sun, for example, which rose yesterday and to-day, will rise again tomorrow. That this cannot be demonstrated, is admitted on all hands; and that it is not absolutely proved from experience is evident, both from the fact that the uniformity supposed is only accepted as partially and transiently true; the great bulk of mankind, even while they so confidently act upon that uniformity, rejecting the idea of its being an eternal uniformity. Every theist believes that the order of the universe once began to be; and every Christian and most other men, believe that it will also one day cease to be.
* Common language seems to indicate this: Since we call that disposition of mind which leads some men to deny the above fundamental truths (or affect to deny them), not by a word which indicates the opposite of reason, but the opposite of faith,—Scepticism, Unbelief, Incredulity. _
But perhaps the most striking example of the helplessness to which man is soon reduced if he relies upon his reason alone, is The spectacle of the issue of his investigations into that which one would imagine he must know most intimately, if he knows anything; and that is, his own nature—his own mind. There is something, to one who reflects long enough upon it, inexpressibly whimsical in the questions which the mind is for ever putting to itself respecting itself; and to which the said mind returns from its dark caverns only an echo. We are apt, when we speculate about the mind, to forget for the moment, that it is at once the querist and the oracle: and to regard it as something out of itself, like a mineral in the hands of the analytic chemist. We cannot fully enter into the absurdities of its condition, except by remembering that it is our own wise selves who so grotesquely bewilder us. The mind, on such occasions, takes itself (if we may so speak) into its own hands, turns itself about itself, listens to the echo of its own voice, and is obliged, after all, to lay itself down again with a very puzzled expression—and acknowledge that of its very self, itself knows little or nothing! 'I am material,' exclaims one of those whimsical beings, to whom the heaven-descended 'Know thyself' would seem to have been ironically addressed. 'No!—immaterial,' says another. 'I am both material and immaterial,' exclaims, perhaps, the very same mind at different times. 'Thought itself may be matter modified,' says one. 'Rather,' says another of the same perplexed species, 'matter is thought modified; for what you call matter is but a phenomenon.' But are independent and totally distinct substances, mysteriously, inexplicably conjoined,' says a third. 'How they are conjoined we know no more than the dead. Not so much, perhaps.' 'Do I ever cease to think,' says the mind to itself, 'even in sleep? Is not my essence thought?' 'You ought to know your own essence best,' all creation will reply. 'I am confident,' says one, 'that I never do cease to think,—not even in the soundest sleep.' 'You do, for a long time, every night of your life,' exclaims another, equally confident and equally ignorant. 'Where do I exist?' it goes on. 'Am I in the brain? Am I in the whole body? 'Am I anywhere? Am I nowhere?' 'I cannot have any local existence, for I know I am immaterial,' says one. 'I have a local existence, because I am material,' says another. 'I have a local existence, though I am not material,' says a third. 'Are my habitual actions voluntary,' it exclaims, 'however rapid they become; though I am unconscious of these volitions when they have attained a certain rapidity; or do I become a mere automaton as respects such actions? and therefore an automaton nine times out of ten, when I act at all?' To this query two opposite answers are given by different minds; and by others, perhaps wiser, none at all; while, often, opposite answers are given by the same mind at different times. In like manner has every action, every operation, every emotion of the mind been made the subject of endless doubt and disputation. Surely if, as Soame Jenyns imagined, the infirmities of man, and even graver evils, were permitted in order to afford amusement to superior intelligences, and make the angels laugh, few things could afford them better sport than the perplexities of this child of clay engaged in the study of himself. 'Alas,' exclaims at last the baffled spirit of this babe in intellect, as he surveys his shattered toys—his broken theories of metaphysics, 'I know that I am; but what I am—where I am—even how I act—not only what is my essence, but what even my mode of operation,—of all this I know nothing; and, boast of reason as I may, all that I think on these points is matter of opinion—or is matter of faith!' He resembles, in fact, nothing so much as a kitten first introduced to its own image in a mirror: she runs to the back of it, she leaps over it, she turns and twists, and jumps and frisks, in all directions, in the vain attempt to reach the fair illusion; and, at length, turns away in weariness from that incomprehensible enigma—the image of herself.
One would imagine—perhaps not untruly—that the Divine Creator had subjected us to these difficulties—and especially that incomprehensible trilemma,—that there is an union and interaction of two totally distinct substances, or that matter is but thought, or that thought is but matter,—one of which must be true, and all of which approach as near to the mutual contradictions as can well be conceived,—for the very purpose of rebuking the presumption of man, and of teaching him humility; that He had left these obscurities at the very threshold—nay, within the very mansion of the mind itself,—for the express purpose of deterring man from playing the dogmatising fool when he looked abroad. Yet, in spite of his raggedness and poverty at home, no sooner does man look out of his dusky dwelling, than, like Goldsmith's little Beau, who, in his garret up five pair of stairs, boasts of his friendship with lords, he is apt to assume airs of magnificence, and, glancing at the infinite through his little eye-glass, to affect an intimate acquaintance with the most respectable secrets of the universe!
It is undeniable, then, that the perplexities which uniformly puzzle man in the physical world, and even in the little world of his own mind, when he passes a certain limit, are just as unmanageable as those found in the moral constitution and government of the universe, or in the disclosures of the volume Revelation. In both we find abundance of inexplicable difficulties sometimes arising from our absolute ignorance, and perhaps quite as often from our partial knowledge. These difficulties are probably left on the pages of both volumes for some of the same reasons; many of them, it may be, because even the commentary of the Creator himself could not render them plain to finite understanding, though a necessary and salutary exercise of our humility may be involved in their reception; others, if not purely (which seems not probable) yet partly for the sake of exercising and training that humility, as an essential part of the education of a child; others, surmountable, indeed, in the progress of knowledge and by prolonged effort of the human intellect, may be designed to stimulate that intellect to strenuous action and healthy effort—as well as to supply, in their solution, as time rolls on, an ever-accumulating mass of proofs of the profundity of the wisdom which has so far anticipated all the wisdom of man; and of the divine origin of both the great books which he is privileged to study as a pupil, and even to illustrate as a commentator,—but the text of which he cannot alter.
But, for submitting to us many profound and insoluble problems, the second of the above reasons—the training of the intellect and heart of man to submission to the Supreme Intelligence alone be sufficient. For it; as is indicated by every thing in human nature, and by the representations of Scripture, which are in analogy with both, the present world is but the school of man in this the childhood of his being, to prepare him for the enjoyment of an immortal manhood in another, everything might be expected to be subordinated to this great end; and as the end of that education, can be no other than an enlightened obedience to God, the harmonious and concurrent exercise of reason and faith becomes absolutely necessary—not of reason to the exclusion of faith, for otherwise there would be no adequate test of man's docility and submission; nor of a faith that would assert itself, not only independent of reason, but in contradiction to it,—which would not be what God requires, and what alone can quadrate with that intelligent nature He has impressed on His offspring—a reasonable obedience. Implicit obedience, then, to the dictates of an all-perfect wisdom, exercised amidst many difficulties and perplexities, as so many tests of sincerity, and yet sustained by evidences which justify the conclusions which involve them, would seem to be the great object of man's moral education here; and to justify both the partial evidence addressed to his reason, and the abundant difficulties which it leaves to his faith. 'The evidence of religion,' says Butler, 'is fully sufficient for all the purposes of probation, how far soever it is from being satisfactory as to the purposes of curiosity, or any other: and, indeed, it answers the purposes of the former in several respects which it would not do if it were as over-bearing as is required.'* Or as Pascal beautifully puts it:—'There is light enough for those whose sincere wish is to see,—and darkness enough to confound those of an opposite disposition.'+
* Analogy, part 2. chap. viii. + Pensees. Faugere's edition, tom. ii. p. 151. The views here developed will be found an expansion of some brief hints at the close of the article on Pascal's 'Life and Genius' (Ed. Review, Jan. 1847), though our space then prevented us from more than touching these topics. We may add that we gladly take this opportunity of pointing the attention of our readers to a tract of Archbishop Whately's, entitled 'The example of children as proposed to Christians,' which his Grace, having been struck with a coincidence between some of the thoughts in the tract and those expressed in the 'Review,' did us the favour to transmit to us. Had we seen the tract before, we should have been glad to illustrate and confirm our own views by those of this highly gifted prelate. We earnestly recommend the tract in question (as well as the whole of the remarkable volume in which it is now incorporated, 'Essays on some of the Peculiarities of the Christian Religion') to the perusal of our readers, and at the same time venture to express our conviction (having been led by the circumstances above mentioned to a fuller acquaintance with his Grace's theological writings than we had previously possessed) that, though this lucid and eloquent writer may, for obvious reasons, be most widely known by his 'Logic and 'Rhetoric,' the time will come when his Theological works will be, if not more widely read, still more highly prized. To great powers of argument and illustration, and delightful transparency of diction and style, he adds a higher quality still—and a very rare quality it is—an evident and intense honesty of purpose, an absorbing desire to arrive at the exact truth, and to state it with perfect fairness and with the just limitations. Without pretending to agree with all that Archbishop Whately has written on the subject of theology (though be carries his readers with him as frequently as any writer with whom we are acquainted) we may remark that in relation to that whole class of subjects, to which the present essay has reference, we know of no writer of the present day whose contributions are more numerous or more valuable. The highly ingenious ironical brochure, entitled 'Historic Doubts relative to Napoleon Buonaparte;' the Essays above mentioned, 'On some of the Peculiarities of the Christian Religion;' those 'On some of the Dangers to Christian Faith,' and on the 'Errors of Romanism;' the work on the 'Kingdom of Christ,' not to mention others, are well worthy of universal perusal. They abound in views both original and just, stated with all the author's aptness of illustration and transparency of language. We may remark, too, that in many of his occasional sermons, he has incidentally added many most beautiful fragments to that ever accumulating mass of internal evidence which the Scriptures themselves supply in their very structure, and which is evolved by diligent investigation of the relation and coherence of one part of them with another. We are also rejoiced to see that a small and unpretending, but very powerful, little tract, by the same writer, entitled 'Introductory Lessons on Christian Evidences.' has passed through many editions, has been translated into most of the European languages, and, amongst the rest, very recently into German, with an appropriate preface, by professor Abeltzhauser, of the University of Dublin. It shows to demonstration that as much of the evidence of Christianity as is necessary for conviction may be made perfectly clear to the meanest capacity' and that, in spite of the assertions of Rome and of Oxford to the contrary, the apostolic injunction to every Christian to be ready to render a reason 'for the hope that is in him,'—somewhat better than that no reason of the Hindoo or the Hottentot, that he believes what he is told, without any reason except that he is told it,—is an injunction possible to obey. _
As He 'who spake as never man spake' is pleased often to illustrate the conduct of the Father of Spirits to his intelligent offspring by a reference to the conduct which flows from the relations of the human parent to his children, so the present subject admits of similar illustration. What God does with us in that process of moral education to which we have just adverted, is exactly what every wise parent endeavours to do with his children,—though by methods, as we may well judge, proportionably less perfect. Man too instinctively, or by reflection, adapts himself to the nature of his children; and seeing that only so far as it is justly trained can they be happy, makes the harmonious and concurrent development of their reason and their faith his object; he too endeavours to teach them that without which they cannot be happy,—obedience, but a reasonable obedience He gives them, in his general procedure and conduct, sufficient proof of his superior knowledge, superior wisdom, and unchanging love; and secure in the general effect of this, he leaves them to receive by faith many things which he cannot explain to them if he would, till they get older; many things which he can only partially explain; and others which he might more perfectly explain, but will not, partly as a test of their docility and partly to invite and necessitate the healthy and energetic exercise of their reason in finding out the explanation for themselves. Confiding in the same general effect of his procedure and conduct, he does not hesitate, when the foresight of their ultimate welfare justifies it, to draw still more largely on their faith, in acts of apparent harshness and severity. Time, he knows, will show, though perhaps not till his yearning heart has ceased to beat for their welfare, that all that all he did, he did in love. He knows, too, that if his lessons are taken aright, and his children become the good and happy men he wishes them to be, they will say, as they visit his sepulchre, and recall with sorrow the once unappreciated love which animated him,—and perhaps with a sorrow, deeper still, remember the transient resentments caused by a solitary severity: 'He was indeed a friend; he corrected us not for his pleasure, but for our profit; and what we once thought was caprice or passion, we now know was love.'
These analogies afford a true, though most imperfect, representation of the moral discipline to which Supreme Wisdom is subjecting us; and as we are accustomed to despair of any child with whom parental experience and authority go for nothing, unless he can fully understand the intrinsic reasons for every special act of duty which that experience and authority dictate; as we are sure that he who has not learned to obey when young will never, when of age, know how to govern either himself or others: so a singular conduct in all the children of dust towards the Father of Spirits justifies a still more gloomy augury; inasmuch as the difference between the knowledge of man and the ignorance of a child, absolutely vanishes, in comparison with that interval which must ever subsist between the knowledge of the Eternal and the ignorance of man.
The remarks that have been made are not uncalled for in the present day. For unfortunately, it is now easy to detect in many classes of minds a tendency to divorce Reason from Faith, or Faith from reason; and to proclaim that 'what God hath joined together' shall henceforth exist in alienation. We see this tendency manifested in relation both to Natural Theology, and to Revealed Religion. The old conflict between the claims of these two guiding principles of man (in no age wholly suppressed) is visibly renewed in our day. In relation to Christianity especially, there are large classes amongst us who press the claims of faith so far, that it would become, if they had their will, an utterly unreasonable faith; some of whom do not scruple to speak slightingly of the evidences which substantiate Christianity; to decry and depreciate the study of them; to pronounce that study unnecessary; and even in many cases to insinuate their insufficiency. They are loud in the mean time in extolling a faith which, as Whately truly observes, is no whit better than the faith of a heathen; who has no other or better reason to offer for his religion than that his father told him it was true! But this plainly is not the intelligent faith which, as we have seen, is everywhere inculcated and applauded in the Scriptures; it is not 'that faith by which Christianity, appealing In the midst of a multitude of such traditional religions, to palpable evidence addressed to man's senses and understandings (in a way no other religion ever did) everywhere destroyed the systems for which their votaries could only say that their fathers told them they were true. And yet this blind belief in such tradition, many advocates of Christianity would now enjoin us to imitate! It might have occurred to them, one would think, that, on their principles, Christianity never could have succeeded; for every mind must have been hopelessly pre-occupied against all examination of its claims. It is, indeed, incomparably better that a man should be a sincere Christian even by an utterly unreasoning and passive faith (if that be possible), than no Christian at all; but at the best, such a man is a possessor of the truth only by accident: he ought to have, and, if he be a sincere disciple of truth, will seek, some more solid grounds for holding it. But it is but too obvious, we fear, that the disposition to enjoin this obsequious mood of mind is prompted by a strong desire to revive the ancient empire of priestcraft and the pretensions of ecclesiastical despotism; to secure readmission to the human mind of extravagant and preposterous claims, which their advocates are sadly conscious rest on no solid foundation. They feel that reason is not with them, it must be against them: and reason therefore they are determined to exclude.
But the experience of the present 'developments' of Oxford teaching may serve to show us how infinitely perilous is this course; and how fearfully, both outraged reason and outraged faith will avenge the wrongs done them by their alienation and disjunction. Those results, indeed, we predicted in 1843; before a single leader of the Oxford school had gone over to Rome, and before any tendencies to the opposite extreme of Scepticism had manifested themselves. We then affirmed that, on the one hand, those who were contending for the corruptions of the fourth century could not possibly find footing there, but must inevitably seek their ultimate resting place in Rome—a prediction which has been too amply fulfilled; and that, on the other, the extravagant pretensions put forth on behalf of an uninquiring faith, and the desperate assertion that the 'evidence for Christianity' was no stronger than that for 'Church Principles,' must, by reaction, lead on to an outbreak of infidelity. That prophecy, too, has been to the letter accomplished. We then said,—
"We have seen it recently asserted by some of the Oxford school that there is as much reason for rejecting the most essential doctrines of Christianity—nay Christianity itself—as for rejecting their "church principles." That, in short, we have as much reason for being infidels as for rejecting the doctrine of Apostolical succession! What other effect such reasoning can have than that of compelling men to believe that there is nothing between infidelity and popery, and of urging them to make a selection between the two, we know not .... Indeed, we fully expect that, as a reaction of the present extravagancies, of the revival of obsolete superstition, we shall have ere long to fight over again the battle with a modified form of infidelity, as now with a modified form of popery. Thus, probably, for some time to come, will the human mind continue to oscillate between the extremes of error; but with a diminished are at each vibration; until truth shall at last prevail, and compel it to repose in the centre."*
* Oxford Tract School, Ed. Rev., April, 1843. _
The offensive displays of self-sufficiency and flippancy, of ignorance and presumption, found in the productions of the apostles of the new infidelity of Oxford, (of which we shall have a few words to say by-and-by) are the natural and instructive, though most painful, result of attempting to give predominance to one principle of our nature, where two or more are designed reciprocally to guard and check each other; and such results must ever follow such attempts. The excellence of man—so complexly constituted is his nature—must consist in the harmonious action and proper balance of all the constituents of that nature; the equilibrium he sighs for must be the result of the combined action of forces operating in different directions; of his reason, his faith, his appetites, his affections, his emotions; when these operate each in due proportion, then, and then only, can he be at rest. It may, indeed, transcend any calculus of man to estimate exactly the several elements in this complicated polygon of forces; but we are at least sure that, if any one principle be so developed as to supersede another, no safe equipoise will be attained. We all know familiarly enough that this is the case when the affections or the appetites are more powerful than the reason and the conscience, instead of being in subjection to them: but it is not less the case, though the result is not so palpable, when reason and faith either exclude one another, or trench on each other's domain; when one is pampered and the other starved.* Hence the perils attendant upon their attempted separation, and the ruin which results from their actual alienation and hostility. There is no depth of dreary superstition into which men may not sink in the one case, and no extravagance of ignorant presumption to which they may not soar in the other. It is only by the mutual and alternate action of these different forces that man can safely navigate his little bark through the narrow straits and by the dangerous rocks which impede his course; and if Faith spread not the sail to the breeze, or if Reason desert the helm, we are in equal peril. _
* It has been our lot to meet with disciples of the Oxford Tract School, who have, by a fatal indulgence of an appetite of belief; brought themselves to believe any mediaeval miracle, nay, any ghost story, without examination, saying, with a solemn face, 'It is better to believe that to reason.' They believe as they will to believe; and thus is reason avenged. Reason, similarly indulged, believes, with Mr. Foxton and Mr. Froude, that a miracle is even an impossibility; and this is the 'Nemesis' of faith. _
If it be said that this is a disconsolate and dreary doctrine; that man seeks and needs a simpler navigation than this troublesome and intricate course, by star and chart, compass and lead line; and that this responsibility, of ever
'Sounding on his dim and perilous way,'
is too grave for so feeble a nature; we answer that such is his actual condition. This is a plain matter of fact which cannot be denied. The various principles of his constitution, and his position in relation to the external world, obviously and absolutely subject him to this very responsibility throughout his whole course in this life. It is never remitted or abated: resolves are necessitated upon imperfect evidence; and action imperatively demanded amidst doubts and difficulties in which reason is not satisfied, and faith is required. To argue therefore, that God cannot have left man to such uncertainty, is to argue, as the pertinacious lawyer did, who, on seeing a man in the stocks, asked him what he was there for; and on being told, said, 'They cannot put you there for that.' 'But I am here,' was the laconic answer.
The analogy, then, of man's whole condition in this life might lead us to expect the same system of procedure throughout; that the evidence which substantiates religious truth, and claims religious action, would involve this responsibility as well as that which substantiates other kinds of truth, and demands other kinds of action. And after all, what else, in either case, could answer the purpose, if (as already said) this world be the school of training of man's moral nature? How else could the discipline of his faculties, the exercise of patience, humility, and fortitude, be secured? How, except amidst a state of things less than certainty—whether under the form of that passive faith which mimics the possession of absolute certainty, or absolute certainty itself—could man's nature be trained to combined self-reliance and self-distrust, circumspection and resolution, and, above all, to confidence in God? Man cannot be nursed and dandled into the manhood of his nature, by that unthinking faith which leaves no doubts to be felt, and no objections to be weighed; Nor can his docility ever be tested, if he is never called upon to believe any thing which it would not be an absurdity and contradiction to deny. This species of responsibility, then, not only cannot be dispensed with, but is absolutely necessary; and, consequently, however desirable it may appear that we should have furnished to us that short path to certainty which a pretended infallibility* promises to man, or that equally short path which leads to the same termination, by telling us that we are to believe nothing which we cannot demonstrate to be true, or which, a priori, we may presume to be false, must be a path which leads astray. In the one case, how can the 'reasonable service' which Scripture demands—the enlightened love and conscientious investigation of truth—its reception, not without doubts, but against doubts—how could all this co-exist with a faith which presents the whole sum of religion in the formulary, 'I am to believe without a doubt, and perform without hesitation. whatever my guide, Parson A. tells me?' Not that, even in that case (as has often been shown), the man would be relieved form the necessity of absolutely depending on the dreaded exercise of his private judgment; for he must at least have exercised it once for all (unless each man is to remit his religion wholly to the accident of his birth), and that on two of the most arduous of all questions: first, which of several churches, pretending to infallibility, is truly infallible? And next, whether the man may infallibly regard his worthy Parson A. as an infallible expounder of the infallibility. But, supposing this stupendous difficulty surmounted, though then, it is true, all may seem genuine faith, in reality there is none: where absolute infallibility is supposed to have been attained (even though erroneously), faith, in strict propriety—certainly that faith which is alone of any value as an instrument of man's moral training—which recognises and intelligently struggles with objections and difficulties—is impossible. Men may be said, in such case, to know, but can hardly be said to believe. Before Columbus had seen America, he believed in its existence; but when he had seen it, his faith became knowledge. Equally impossible, and for the same reason, is any place for faith on the opposite hypothesis; for if man is to believe nothing but what his reason can comprehend, and to act only upon evidence which amounts to certainly, the same paradox is true; for when there is no reason to doubt, there can be none to believe. Faith ever stands between conflicting probabilities; but her position is (if we may use the metaphor) the centre of gravity between them, and will be proportionally nearer the greater mass. _
* See Archbishop Whately's admirable discourse, entitled 'The Search after Infallibility, considered in reference to the Danger of Religious Errors arising within the Church, in the primitive as well as in all later Ages.' He here makes excellent use of the fruitful principle of Butler's great work, by showing that, however desirable, a priori, an infallible guide would seem to fallible man, God in fact has every where denied it; and that, in denying it in relation to religion, he has acted only as he always acts. _
In the mean time, that arduous responsibility which attaches to man, and which is obviated neither by an implicit faith in a human infallibility, nor an exclusive reference of that faith to cases in which reason is synonymous with demonstration, that is, to cases which leave no room for it, is at once relieved, and effectually relieved, by the maxim—the key-stone of all ethical truth—that only voluntary error condemns us;—that all we are really responsible for, is a faithful, honest, patient, investigation and weighing of evidence, as far as our abilities and opportunities admit, and a conscientious pursuit of what we honestly deem truth, wherever it may lead us. We concede that a really dispassionate and patient conduct in this respect is what man is too ready to assume he has practised,—and this fallacy cannot be too sedulously guarded against. But that guilty liability to selfdeception, does not militate against the truth of the representation now made. It is his duty to see that he does not abuse the maxim,—that he does not rashly acquiesce in any conclusion that he wishes to be true, or which he is too lazy to examine. If all possible diligence and honesty have been exerted in the search, the statement of Chillingworth, bold as it is, we should not hesitate to adopt, in all the rigour of his own language. It is to the effect, that if 'in him alone there were a confluence of all the errors which have befallen the sincere professors of Christianity, he should not be so much afraid of them, as to ask God's pardon for them;' absolutely involuntary error being justly regarded by him as blameless.
On the other hand, we firmly believe, from the natural relations of truth with the constitution of the mind of man, that, with the exception of a very few cases of obliquity of intellect, which may safely be left to the merciful interpretations and apologies of Him who created such intellects, those who thus honestly and industriously 'seek' shall 'find;'—not all truth, indeed, but enough to secure their safety; and that whatever remaining errors may infest and disfigure the truth they have attained, they shall not be imputed to them for sin. According to the image which apostolic eloquence has employed, the Baser materials which unavoidable haste, prejudice, and ignorance may have incorporated with the gold of the edifice, will be consumed by the fire which 'will try every man's work of what sort it is,' but he himself will be saved amidst those purifying flames. Like the bark which contained the Apostle and the fortunes of the Gospel, the frail vessel may go to pieces on the rocks, 'but by boat or plank' the voyager himself shall 'get safe to shore.'
It is amply sufficient, then, to lighten our responsibility, that we are answerable only for our honest endeavours to discover and to practise the truth; and, in fact, the responsibility is principally felt to be irksome, and man is so prompt by devices of his own, to release himself from it, not on account of any intrinsic difficulty which remains after the above limitations are admitted, but because he wishes to be exempt from that very necessity of patient and honest investigation. It is not so much the difficulty of finding, as the trouble of seeking the truth, from which he shrinks; a necessity, however, from which, as it is an essential instrument of his moral education and discipline, he can never be released.
If the previous representations be true, the conditions of that intelligent faith which God requires from his intelligent offspring, may be fairly inferred to be such as we have already stated;—that the evidence for the truths we are to believe shall be, first, such as our faculties are competent to appreciate, and against which, therefore, the mere negative argument arising from our ignorance of the true solution of such difficulties, as are, perhaps, insoluble because we are finite, can be no reply; and, secondly, such an amount of this evidence as shall fairly overbalance all the objections which we can appreciate. This is the condition to which God has obviously subjected us as inhabitants of this world; and it is on such evidence we are here perpetually acting. We now believe a thousand things we cannot fully comprehend. We may not see the intrinsic evidence of their truth, but their extrinsic evidence is sufficient to induce us unhesitatingly to believe, and to act upon them. When that evidence is sufficient in amount, we allow it to overbear all the individual difficulties and perplexities which hang round the truths to which it is applied, unless, indeed, such difficulties can be proved to involve absolute contradictions; for these, of course, no evidence can substantiate. For example, in a thousand cases, a certain combination of merely circumstantial evidence in favour of a certain judicial decision, is familiarly allowed to vanquish all apparent discrepancy on particular and subordinate points;—the want of concurrence in the evidence of the witnesses on such points shall not cause a shadow of a doubt as to the conclusion. For we feel that it is far more improbable that the conclusion should be untrue, than that the difficulty we cannot solve is truly incapable of a solution; and when the evidence reaches this point the objection no longer troubles us.
It is the same with historic investigations. There are ten thousand facts in history which no one doubts, though the narrators of them may materially vary in their version, and though some of the circumstances alleged may be in appearance inexplicable, but the last thing a man would think of doing, in such cases, would be to neglect the preponderant evidence on account of the residuum of insoluble objections. He does not, in short, allow his ignorance to control his knowledge, nor the evidence which he has not got to destroy what he has; and the less so, that experience has taught him that in many cases such apparent difficulties have been cleared up, in the course of time, and by the progress of knowledge, and proved to be contradictions in appearance only.
It is the same with the conclusions of natural philosophy, when well proved by experiment, however unaccountable for awhile may be the discrepancy with apparently opposing phenomena. No one disbelieves the Copernican theory now; though thousands did for awhile, on what they believed the irrefragable evidence of their senses. Now, let us only suppose the Copernican theory not to have been discovered by human reason, but made known by revelation, and its reception enjoined on faith, leaving the apparent inconsistency with the evidence of the senses just as it was. Thousands, no doubt, would have said, that no such evidence could justify them in disbelieving their own eyes, and that such an insoluble objection was sufficient to overturn the evidence. Yet we now see, in point of fact, that it is not only possible, but true, that the objection was apparent only, and admits of a complete solution. Thousands accordingly receive philosophy—this very philosophy—on testimony which apparently contradicts their senses, without even yet knowing more of it than if it were revealed from heaven. This gives too much reason to suspect, that in other and higher cases, the will has much to do with human scepticism. Nor do we well know what thousands who neglect religion on account of the alleged uncertainty of its evidence could reply, if God were to say to them,
'And yet on such evidence, and that far inferior in degree, you have never hesitated to act, when your own temporal interests were concerned. You never feared to commit the bark of your worldly fortunes to that fluctuating element. In many cases you believed on the testimony of others what seemed even to contradict your own senses. Why were you so much more scrupulous in relation to ME?'
The above examples are fair illustrations, we venture to think, of the conditions under which we are required to believe the far higher truths, attended no doubt with great difficulties, which are authenticated in the pages of the two volumes (Nature and Scripture) which God has put into our hands to study; of the conditions to which He subjects us in training us for a future state, and developing in us the twofold perfection involved in the words 'a reasonable faith.' If the considerations just urged were duly borne in mind, we cannot help thinking that they would afford (where any modesty remained) all answer to most of those forms of unbelief which, from time to time, rise up in the world, and not least in our own day. These are usually founded on one or more supposed insoluble objections, arising out of our ignorance. The probability that they are incapable of solution is rashly assumed, and made to overbear the far stronger probability arising from the positive and appreciable evidence which substantiates the truths involved in those difficulties: a course the more unreasonable inasmuch as—first, many such difficulties might be expected; and, secondly, in analogous cases, we see that many such difficulties have in time disappeared. On the other hand, it is, no doubt much more easy to insist on individual objections, which no man can effectually answer, than it is to appreciate at once the total effect of many lines of argument, and many sources of evidence, all bearing on one point. That difficulty was long ago beautifully stated by Butler*, in a passage well worthy of the reader's perusal; and as Pascal had observed before him, not only is it difficult, but impossible, for the human mind to retain the impression of a large combination of evidence, even if it could for a moment fully realise the collective effect of the whole. But it cannot do even this, any more than the eye can take in at once, in mass and detail, the objects of an extensive landscape. _
* 'The truth of our religion, like the truth of common matters, is to be judged of by all the evidence taken together. And, unless the whole series of things which may be alleged in this argument, and every particular thing in it, can reasonably be supposing to have been by accident (for here the stress of the argument of Christianity lies), then is the truth of it proved. . . . It is obvious how much advantage the nature of this evidence gives to those persons who attack Christianity, especially in conversation. For it is easy to show in a short and lively manner that such and such things are liable to objection, but impossible to show, in like manner, the united force of the whole argument in one view.'—Analogy, part II. chap. vii. _
Let us now be permitted briefly to apply the preceding principles to two of the greatest controversies which have exercised the minds of men; that which relates to the existence of God, and that which relates to the truth of Christianity; in both of which, if we mistake not, man's position is precisely similar—placed, that is, amidst evidence abundantly sufficient to justify his reasonable faith, and yet attended with difficulties abundantly sufficient to baffle an indocile reason.
Without entering into the many different sources of argument for the existence of a Supreme Intelligence, we shall only refer to that proof on which all theists, savage and civilised, in some form or other, rely—the traces of an 'eternal power and godhead' in the visible creation. The argument depends on a principle which, whatever may be its metaphysical history or origin, is one which man perpetually recognises, which every act of his own consciousness verifies, which he applies fearlessly to every phenomenon, known or unknown; and it is this,—That every effect has a cause (though he knows nothing of their connexion), and that effects which bear marks of design have a designing cause. This principle is so familiar that if he were to affect to doubt it in any practical case in human life, he would only be laughed at as a fool, or pitied as insane. The evidence, then, which substantiates the greatest and first of truths mainly depends on a principle perfectly familiar and perfectly recognised. Man can estimate the nature of that evidence; and the amount of it, in this instance, he sees to be as vast as the sum of created objects;—nay, far more, for it is as vast as the sum of their relations. So that if (as is apt to be the case) the difficulties of realising this tremendous truth are in proportion to the extent of knowledge and the powers of reflection, the evidence we can perfectly appreciate is cumulative in an equal or still higher proportion. Obvious as are the marks of design in each individual object, the sum of proof is not merely the sum of such indications, but that sum infinitely multiplied by the relations established and preserved amongst all these objects; by the adjustment which harmonises them all into one system, and impresses on all the parts of the universe a palpable order and subordination. While even in a single part of an organised being (as a hand or an eye) the traces of design are not to be mistaken, these are indefinitely multiplied by similar proofs of contrivance in the many individual organs of one such being—as of an entire animal or vegetable. These are yet to be multiplied by the harmonious relations which are established of mutual proportion and subserviency amongst all the organs of any one such being: And as many beings even of that one species or class as there are, so many multiples are there of the same proofs. Similar indications yield similar proofs of design in each individual part, and in the whole individual of all the individuals of every other class of beings; and this sum of proof is again to be multiplied by the proofs of design in the adjustment and mutual dependence and subordination of each of these classes of organised beings to every other, and to all; of the vegetable to the animal—-of the lower animal to the higher. Their magnitudes, numbers, physical force, faculties, functions, duration of life, rates of multiplication and development, sources of subsistence, must all have been determined in exact ratios, and could not transgress certain limits without involving the whole universe in confusion. This amazing sum of probabilities is yet to be further augmented by the fact that all these classes of organised substances are intimately related to those great elements of the material world in which they live, to which they are adapted, and which are adapted to them; that all of them are subject to the influence of certain mighty and subtle agencies which pervade all nature,—and which are of such tremendous potency that any chance error in their proportions of activity would be sufficient to destroy all, and which yet axe exquisitely balanced and inscrutably harmonised.
The proofs of design, arising from the relations thus maintained between all the parts, from the most minute to the most vast, of our own world, are still to be further multiplied by the inconceivably momentous relations subsisting between our own and other planets and their common centre; amidst whose sublime and solemn phenomena science has most clearly discovered that everything is accurately adjusted by geometrical precision of force and movement; where the chances of error are infinite, and the proofs of intelligence, therefore, equal. These proofs of design in each fragment of the universe, and in all combined, are continually further multiplied by every fresh discovery, whether in the minute or the vast—by the microscope or the telescope; for every fresh law that is discovered, being in harmony with all that has previously been discovered, not only yields its own proof of design, but infinitely more, by all the relations in which it stands to other laws: it yields, in fact, as many as there are adjustments which have been effected between itself and all besides. Each new proof of design, therefore, is not a solitary fact; but one which entering as another element into a most complex machinery, indefinitely multiplies the combinations, in any one of which chance might have gone astray. From this infinite array of proofs of design, it seems to man's reason, in ordinary moods, stark madness to account for the phenomena of the universe upon any other supposition than that which docs account, and can alone account, for them all,—the supposition of a Presiding Intelligence, illimitable alike in power and in wisdom.
The only difficulty is justly to appreciate such an argument to obtain a sufficiently vivid impression of such an accumulation of probabilities. This very difficulty, indeed, in some moods, may minister to a temporary doubt. For let us catch man in those moods,—perhaps after long meditation on the metaphysical grounds of human belief,—and he begins to doubt, with unusual modesty, whether the child of dust is warranted to conclude anything on a subject which loses itself in the infinite, and which so far transcends all his powers of apprehension; he begins half to doubt, with Hume, whether he can reason analogically from the petty specimens of human ingenuity to phenomena so vast and so unique; a misgiving which is strengthened by reflecting on all those to him incomprehensible inferences to which the admission of the argument leads him, and which seem almost to involve contradictions. Let him ponder for awhile the ideas involved in the notion of Selfsubsistence, Eternity, Creation; Power, Wisdom, and Knowledge, so unlimited as to embrace at once all things, and all their relations, actual and possible,—this 'unlimited' expanding into a dim apprehension of the 'infinite';—of infinitude of attributes, omnipresent in every point of space, and yet but one and not many infinitudes;—let him once humbly ponder such incomprehensible difficulties as these, and he will soon feel that though in the argument from design, there seemed but one vast scene of triumph for his reason, there is as large a scene of exertion left for his faith. That faith he ordinarily yields; he sees it is justified by those proofs of the great truth he can appreciate, and which he will not allow to be controlled by the difficulties his conscious feebleness cannot solve; and the rather, that he sees that if he does not accept that evidence, he has equally incomprehensible difficulties to encounter, and two or three stark contradictions into the bargain. His reason, therefore, triumphs in the proofs, and his faith triumphs over the difficulties.
It is the same with the doctrine of the Divine government of the world. In ordinary states of mind man counts it an absurdity to suppose that the Deity would have created a world to abandon it; that, having employed wisdom and power so vast in its construction, he would leave it to be the sport of chance. He feels that the intuitions of right and wrong; the voice of conscience; satisfaction in well-doing; remorse for crime; the present tendency, at least, of the laws of the universe,—all point to the same conclusion, while their imperfect fulfilment equally points to a future and more accurate adjustment. Yet let the man look exclusively for awhile on the opposite side of the tapestry; let him brood over any of the facts which seem at war with the above conclusion; on some signal triumph of baseness and malignity; on oppressed virtue, on triumphant vice; on 'the wicked spreading himself like a green bay tree;' and especially on the mournfull and inscrutable mystery of the 'Origin of Evil,' and he feels that 'clouds and darkness' envelope the administration of the Moral Governor, though 'justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne.' The evidences above mentioned for the last conclusion are direct and positive, and such as man can appreciate; the difficulties spring from his limited capacity, or imperfect glimpses of a very small segment of the universal plan. Nor are those difficulties less upon the opposite hypothesis: and they are there further burdened with two or three additional absurdities. The preponderant evidence, far from removing the difficulties, scarcely touches them,—yet it is felt to be sufficient to justify faith, though most abundant faith is required still.
Are the evidences, then, in behalf of Christianity less of a nature which man can appreciate? or can the difficulties involved in its reception be greater than in the preceding cases? If not, and if, moreover, while the evidence turns as before on principles with which we are familiar, the more formidable objections, as before, are such that we are not competent to decide upon their absolute insolubility, we see how man ought to act; that is, not to let his ignorance control his knowledge, but to let his reason accept the proofs which justify his faith, in accepting the difficulties. In no case is he, it appears, warranted to look for the certainty which shall exclude (whatever the triumphs of his reason) a gigantic exercise of his faith. Let us briefly consider a few of the evidences. And in order to give the statement a little novelty, we shall indicate the principal topics of evidence, not by enumerating what the advocate of Christianity believes in believing it to be true, but what the infidel must believe in believing it to be false. The a priori objection to Miracles we shall briefly touch afterwards.
First, then, in relation to the Miracles of the New Testament, whether they be supposed masterly frauds on men's senses committed at the time and by the parties supposed in the records, or fictions (designed or accidental) subsequently fabricated—but still, in either case, undeniably successful and triumphant beyond all else in the history whether of fraud or fiction—the infidel must believe as follows: On the first hypothesis, he must believe that a vast number of apparent miracles—involving the most astounding phenomena—such as the instant restoration of the sick, blind, deaf, and lame, and the resurrection of the dead—performed in open day, amidst multitudes of malignant enemies—imposed alike on all, and triumphed at once over the strongest prejudices and the deepest enmity:—those who received them and those who rejected them differing only in the certainly not very trifling particular—as to whether they came from heaven or from hell. He must believe that those who were thus successful in this extraordinary conspiracy against men's senses and against common sense, were Galilaean Jews, such as all history of the period represents them; ignorant, obscure, illiterate; and, above all, previously bigoted, like all their countrymen, to the very system, of which, together with all other religions on the earth, they modestly meditated the abrogation; he must believe that, appealing to these astounding frauds in the face both of Jews and Gentiles as an open evidence of the truth of a new revelation, and demanding on the strength of them that their countrymen should surrender a religion which they acknowledged to be divine, and that all other nations should abandon their scarcely less venerable systems of superstition, they rapidly succeeded in both these very probable adventures; and in a few years, though without arms, power, wealth, or science, were to an enormous extent victorious over all prejudice, philosophy, and persecution; and in three centuries took nearly undisputed possession, amongst many nations, of the temples of the ejected deities. He must farther believe that the original performers, in these prodigious frauds on the world, acted not only without any assignable motive, but against all assignable motive; that they maintained this uniform constancy in unprofitable falsehoods, not only together, but separately, in different countries, before different tribunals, under all sorts of examinations and cross-examinations, and in defiance of the gyves, the scourge, the axe, the cross, the stake; that these whom they persuaded to join their enterprise, persisted like themselves in the same obstinate belief of the same 'cunningly devised' frauds; and though they had many accomplices in their singular conspiracy, had the equally singular fortune to free themselves and their coadjutors flout all transient weakness towards their cause and treachery towards one another; and, lastly, that these men, having, amidst all their ignorance, originality enough to invent the most pure and sublime system of morality which the world has ever listened to, had, amidst all their conscious villany, the effrontery to preach it, and, which is more extraordinary, the inconsistency to practise it!* _
* So far as we have any knowledge from history, this must have been the case; and Gibbon fully admits and insists upon it. Indeed, no infidel hypothesis can afford to do without the virtues of the early Christians in accounting for the success of the falsehoods of Christianity. Hard alternatives of a wayward hypothesis! _
On the second of the above-mentioned hypothesis, that these miracles were either a congeries of deeply contrived fictions, or accidental myths, subsequently invented, the infidel must believe, on the former supposition, that, though even transient success in literary forgery, when there are any prejudices to resist, is among the rarest of occurrences; yet that these forgeries—the hazardous work of many minds, making the most outrageous pretensions, and necessarily challenging the opposition of Jew and Gentile were successful beyond all imagination, over the hearts of mankind; and have continued to impose, by an exquisite appearance of artless truth, and a most elaborate mosaic of feigned events artfully cemented into the ground of true history, on the acutest minds of different races and different ages; while, on the second supposition, he must believe that accident and chance have given to these legends their exquisite appearance of historic plausibility; and on either supposition, he must believe (what is still more wonderful) that the world, while the fictions were being published, and in the known absence of the facts they asserted to be true, suffered itself to be befooled into the belief of their truth, and out of its belief of all the systems it did previously believe to be true; and that it acted thus notwithstanding persecution from without, as well as prejudice front within; that strange to say the strictest historic investigation bring this compilation of fictions or myths-even by the admission of Strauss himself—within thirty or forty years of the very time in which all the alleged wonders they relate are said to have occurred; wonders which the perverse world knew it had not seen, but which it was determined to believe in spite of evidence, prejudice, and persecution! In addition to all this, the infidel must believe that the men who were engaged in the compilation of these monstrous fictions, chose them as the vehicle of the purest morality; and, though the most pernicious deceivers of mankind were yet the most scrupulous preachers of veracity and benevolence! Surely of him, who can receive all these paradoxes—and they form but a small part of what might be mentioned—we may say, 'O infidel, great is thy Faith!'
On the supposition that neither of these theories, whether of fraud or fiction, will account, if taken by itself, for the whole of the supernatural phenomena, which strew the pages of the New Testament, then the objector, who relies on both, must believe, in turn, both sets of the above paradoxes; and then, with still more reason than before, may we exclaim, 'O infidel, great is thy Faith!'
Again; he must believe that till those apparent coincidences, which seem to connect Prophecy with the facts of the origin and history of Christianity,—some, embracing events too vast for hazardous speculations and others, incidents too minute for it,—are purely fortuitous; that all the cases in which the event seems to tally with the prediction, are mere chance coincidences: and he must believe this, amongst other events, of two of the most unlikely to which human sagacity was likely to pledge itself, and yet which have as undeniably occurred, (and after the predictions) as they were a priori improbable and anomalous in the world's history; the one is that the Jews should exist as a distinct nation in the very bosom of all other nations, without extinction, and without amalgamation,—other nations and even races having so readily melted away under less than half the influence which have been at work upon them*; the other, and opposite paradox,—that a religion, propagated by ignorant, obscure, and penniless vagabonds, should diffuse itself amongst the most diverse nations in spite of all opposition,—it being the rarest of phenomena to find any religion which is capable of transcending the limits of race, clime, and the scene of its historic origin; a religion which, if transplanted, will not die, a religion which is more than a local or national growth of superstition! That such a religion as Christianity should so easily break these barriers, and though supposed to be cradled in ignorance, fanaticism, and fraud, should, without force of arms, and in the face of persecution, 'ride forth conquering and to conquer,' through a long career of victories, defying the power of kings and emptying the temples of deities,—who, but an infidel, has faith enough to believe?+
* The case of the Gipsies, often alleged as a parallel, is a ludicrous evasion of the argument. These few and scattered vagabonds, whose very safety has been obscurity and contempt, have never attracted towards them a thousandth part of the attention, or the hundred thousandth part of the cruelties, which have been directed against the Jews. Had it been otherwise, they would long since have melted away from every country in Europe. We repeat that the existence of a nation for 1800 years in the bosom of all nations, conquered and persecuted, yet never extinguished, and the propagation of a religion amongst different races without force, and even against it,—are both, so far as known, paradoxes in history. + 'They may say,' says Butler, 'that the conformity between the prophecies and the event is by accident; but there are many instances in which such conformity itself cannot be denied.' His whole remarks on the subject, and especially those on the impression to be derived from the multitude of apparent coincidences, in a long series of prophecies, some vast, some minute; and the improbability of their all being accidental are worthy of his comprehensive genius. It is on the effect of the whole, not on single coincidences, that the argument depends. _
Once more then; if, from the external evidences of this religion, we pass to those which the only records by which we know any thing of its nature and origin supplies, the infidel must believe, amongst other paradoxes, that it is probable that a knot of obscure and despised plebeians—regarded as the scum of a nation which was itself regarded as the scum of all other nations—originated the purest, most elevated, and most influential theory of ethics the world has ever seen; that a system of sublimest truth, expressed with unparalleled simplicity, sprang from ignorance; that precepts enjoining the most refined sanctity were inculcated by imposture; that the first injunctions to universal love broke from the lips of bigotry! He must further believe that these men exemplified the ideal perfection of that beautiful system in the most unique, original, and faultless picture of virtue ever conceived—a picture which has extorted the admiration even of those who could not believe it to be a portrait, and who have yet confessed themselves unable to account for it except as such.* He must believe, too, that these ignorant and fraudulent Galileans voluntarily aggravated the difficulty of their task, by exhibiting their proposed ideal, not by bare enumeration and description of qualities, but by the most arduous of all methods of representation—that of dramatic action; and, what is more, that they succeeded; that in that representation they undertook to make him act with sublime consistency in scenes of the most extraordinary character and the most touching pathos, and utter moral truth in the most exquisite fictions in which such truth was ever embodied; and that again they succeeded; that so ineffably rich in genius were these obscure wretches, that no less than four of them were found equal to this intellectual achievement; and while each has told many events, and given many traits which the others have omitted, that they have all performed their task in the same unique style of invention and the same unearthly tone of art; that one and all, while preserving each his own individuality, has, nevertheless, attained a certain majestic simplicity of style unlike any tiring else (not only in any writings of their own nation, their alleged sacred writings, and infinitely superior to any thing which their successors, Jews or Christians, though with the advantage of these models, could ever attain,) but, unlike any acknowledged human writings in the world, and possessing the singular property of being capable of ready transfusion, without the loss of a thought or a grace, into every language spoken by man: he must believe that these fabricators of fiction, in common with the many other contributors to the New Testament, most insanely added to the difficulty of their task by delivering the whole in fragments and in the most various kinds of composition,—in biography, history, travels, and familiar letters; incorporating and interfusing with the whole an amazing number of minute facts, historic allusions, and specific references to persons, places, and dates, as if for the very purpose of supplying posterity with the easy means of detecting their impositions: he must believe that, in spite of their thus encountering what Paley calls the 'danger of scattering names and circumstances in writings where nothing but truth can preserve consistency,' they so happy succeeded, that whole volumes have been employed pointing out their latent and often most recondite congruities; many of them lying so deep, and coming out after such comparison of various passages and collateral lights, that they could never have answered the purposes of fraud, even if the most prodigious genius for fraud had been equal to the fabrication; congruities which, in fact, were never suspected to exist till they were expressly elicited by the attacks of Infidelity, and were evidently never thought of by the writers; he must believe that they were profoundly sagacious enough to construct such a fabric of artful harmonies, and yet such simpletons as, by doing infinitely more than was necessary, to encounter infinite risks of detection, to no purpose; sagacious enough to out-do all that sagacity has ever done, as shown by the effects, and yet not sagacious enough to be merely specious: and finally, he must believe that these illiterate impostors had the art in all their various writings, which evidently proceed from different minds, to preserve the same inimitable marks of reality, truth, and nature in their narrations—the miraculous and the ordinary alike—and to assume and preserve, with infinite case, amidst their infinite impostures, the tone and air of undissembled earnestness.+ _
* To Christ alone, of all the characters ever portrayed to man, belongs that assemblage of qualities which equally attract love and veneration; to him alone belong in perfection those rare traits which the Roman historian, with affectionate flattery, attributes too absolutely to the merely mortal object of his eulogy: 'Nec illi, quod est rarissimum aut facilitas auctoritatem, aut severitas amorem, deminuit.' Still more beautiful is the Apostles description of superiority to all Human failings, with ineffable pity for human sorrows: 'He can be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, though without sin.' + Was there ever in truth a man who could read the appeals of Paul to his converts, and doubt either that the letters were real or that the man was in earnest? We scarcely venture to think it. _
If, on the other hand, he supposes that all the congruities of which we have spoken, were the effect not of fraudulent design, but of happy accident,—that they arranged themselves in spontaneous harmony—he must believe that chance has done what even the most prodigious powers of invention could not do. And lastly, he must believe that these same illiterate men, who were capable of so much, were also capable of projecting a system of doctrine singularly remote from all ordinary and previous speculation; of discerning the necessity of taking under their special patronage those passive virtues which man least loved, and found it must difficult to cultivate; and of exhibiting, in their preference of the spiritual to the ceremonial, and their treatment of many of the most delicate questions of practical ethics and casuistry, a justness and elevation of sentiment as alien as possible from the superstition and fanaticism of their predecessors who had corrupted the Law—and the superstition and fanaticism of their followers very soon corrupted the Gospel; and that they, and they alone, rose above the strong tendencies to the extravagances which had been so conspicuous during the past, and were soon to be as conspicuous in the future.—These and a thousand other paradoxes (arising out of the supposition that Christianity is the fraudulent or fictitious product of such an age, country, and, above all, such men as the problem limits us to), must the infidel receive, and receive all at once; and of him who can receive them we can but once more declare that so far 'from having no faith', he rather possesses the 'faith' which removes 'mountains!'—only it appears that his faith, like that of Rome or of Oxford, is a faith which excludes reason.
On the other hand, to him who accepts Christianity, none of these paradoxes present themselves. On the supposition of the truth of the miracles and the prophecies, he does not wonder at its origin or success: and as little does he wonder at all the literary and intellectual achievements of its early chroniclers—if their elevation of sentiment was from a divine source, and if the artless harmony, and reality of their narratives was the simple effect of the consistency of truth, and of transcription from the life.
Now, on the other hand, what are the chief objections which Reconcile the infidel to his enormous burden of paradoxes, and which appear to the Christian far less invincible than the paradoxes themselves? They are, especially with all modern infidelity, objections to the a priori improbability of the doctrines revealed, and of the miracles which sustain them. Now, here we come to the very distinction on which we have already insisted, and which is so much insisted on by Butler. The evidence which sustains Christianity is all such as man is competent to consider; and is precisely of the same nature as that which enters into his every-day calculations of probability; While the objections are founded entirely on our ignorance and presumption. They suppose that we know more of the modes of the divine administration—of what God may have permitted, of what is possible and impossible to the ultimate development of an imperfectly developed system, and its relations to the entire universe,—than we do or can know.* _
* The possible implications of Christianity with distant regions of the universe, and the dim hints which hints which Scripture seems to throw out as to such implication, are beautifully treated in the 4th, 5th, and 6th of Chalmer's 'Astronomical Discourses;' and we need not tell the read of Butler how much he insists upon similar considerations. _
Of these objections the most widely felt and the most specious, especially in our day, is the assumption that miracles are an impossibility+; and yet we will venture to say that there is none more truly unphilosophical. That miracles are improbable viewed in relation to the experience of the individual or of the mass of men, is granted; for if they were not, they would, as Paley says, be no miracles; an every-day miracle is none. But that they are either impossible or so improbable that, if they were wrought, no evidence could establish them, is another matter. The first allegation involves a curious limitation of omnipotence; and the second affirms in effect, that, if God were to work a miracle, it would be our duty to disbelieve him! _
+ It is, as we shall see, the avowed axiom of Strauss; he even acknowledges, that if it be not true, he would not think it worth while to discredit the history of the Evangelists; that is, the history must be discredited, because he has resolved that a miracle is an impossibility! _
We repeat our firm conviction that this a priori assumption against miracles is but a vulgar illusion of one of Bacon's idola tribus. So far from being disposed to admit the principle that a 'miracle is an impossibility,' we shall venture on what may seem to some a paradox, but which we are convinced is a truth,—that time will come, and is coming, when even those who shall object to the evidence which sustains the Christian miracles will acknowledge that philosophy requires them to admit that men have no ground whatever to dogmatise on the antecedent impossibility of miracles in general; and that not merely because if theists at all, they will see the absurdity of the assertion, while they admit that the present order of things had a beginning; and, if Christians at all, the equal absurdity of the assertion, while they admit that it will have an end;—not only because the geologist will have familiarised the world with the idea of successive interventions, and, in fact, distinct creative acts, having all the nature of miracles;—not only, we say, for these special reasons, but for a more general one. The true philosopher will see that, with his limited experience and that of all his contemporaries, he has no right to dogmatise about all that may have been permitted or will be permitted in the Divine administration of the universe; he will see that those who with one voice denied, about half a century ago, the existence of aerolites, and summarily dismissed all the alleged facts as a silly fable, because it contradicted their experience,—that those who refused to admit the Copernican theory because, as they said, it manifestly contradicted their experience,—that the schoolboy who refuses to admit the first law of motion because, as he says, it gives the lie to all his experience,—that the Oriental prince (whose scepticism Hume vainly attempts, on his principle, to meet) who denied the possibility of ice because it contradicted his experience,—and, in the same manner, that the men who, with Dr. Strauss, lay down the dictum that a miracle is impossible and a contradiction because it contradicts their experience,—have all been alike contravening the first principles of the modest philosophy of Bacon, and have fallen into one of the most ordinary illusions against which he has warned us namely, that that cannot be true which seems in contradiction to our own experience. We confidently predict that the day will come when the favourite argument of many so called philosopher in this matter will be felt to be the philosophy of the vulgar only; and that though many may, even then, deny that the testimony which supports the Scripture miracles is equal to the task, they will all alike abandon the axiom which supersedes the necessity of at all examining such evidence, by asserting that no evidence can establish them.