« PreviousContinue »
Moreover, Christianity is complete and sufficient in itself without Judaism and its records. A man need not be made a Jew, in order to become a Christian. One might have the firmest possible faith in the divine origin of Christianity, and yet might deny the credibility of many parts of the Old Testament, and have little or no faith in the inspiration of Moses. The early Gentile converts, nay, many of the Fathers, knew little and thought little of the Old Testament; and the just estimation in which the Christian world now holds it, as the authentic record of God's earlier revelations, it attained only by slow degrees, and not in the whole church until the fourth or fifth century. Why, then, should the inquirer into the truth of Christianity be perplexed, against his will, by the entire argument in behalf of Judaism ? Or, why should objections to the earlier dispensation be suffered to hang about the later and clearer ? Far better is the course taken in the work before us. Let Christianity be set forth as based on the immutable grounds of historical testimony and undoubted miracle, and as authenticated by internal marks of divinity, which no imposture could counterfeit, and which no well disposed mind can mistake. There let the inquirer pause, if he will. Thus far, let all doubts be put at rest, as they easily may be. Then let Judaism, with its records, constitute a distinct and independent branch of inquiry ; for it opens not only a wider field, but a different mode of research, demands a different apparatus for investigation, and claims, if proved authentic, a different kind of reverence. A different kind, we say, not degree ; for whatever is divine must needs be perfect in its place and for its uses, and therefore demands the highest degree of reverence ; but we revere Judaism and its records with a simply objective regard, as the light of another world than ours; while Christianity is the central orb of our own system, the sun of our own souls.
The first course of Dr. Palfrey's Lectures occupies in the main the ground marked out by Paley, and retraced in part by most of the professed treatises on the Christian evidences. But the field, though covered by a host of writers,
a was by no means exhausted ; and these lectures constitute an original work, so far as in the nature of things originality can be affirmed of such a work. The arrangement is both comprehensive and compact. The leading heads of argument
are exhibited in the relative order in which they would naturally present themselves to a seeker after truth, and are made to bear upon each other with a constantly accumulating power. The first lecture, on the respective provinces and mutual relations of the internal and the external evidences of Christianity, is a treatise of very great value, and admirably adapted to rebuke the sneering tone which some assume, and to shape the vague ideas which many entertain, with regard to the validity of historical testimony in matters of faith. It is, in truth, intrinsically necessary, that religion should have a historical basis. We have no conclusive internal evidence of any thing out of the range of our own consciousness. The utmost that internal marks of credibility can do, out of the province of consciousness, is, to render a proposition probable by showing its consistency with previously ascertained truth, and thus to prepare the way for the presentation of historical evidence, or to confirm it when presented. But the truths of religion are, most of them, out of the range of consciousness. We can be conscious only of what
appertains to ourselves and to the present moment, while religious truth embraces all orders of beings and a past and future eternity. Concerning these beings and this eternity, we may, indeed, form plausible conjectures ; we may test such views as are proposed by our own notions of fitness and rectitude, and may feel ourselves strongly drawn towards certain opinions and repelled from others by their accordance or discrepancy with our own sentiments or characters. But this accordance is not demonstration, nor is this discrepancy disproof; for how know we, that we ourselves may not have fallen out of the harmony of the spiritual universe, so that, in fact, that which is the most widely at variance with our tone of feeling may be the truth? Is it said, that harmony with our intuitions is the unfailing criterion of truth? We reply, that it is impossible to distinguish our intuitions from the early and established results of education, reasoning, or prejudice. That this is the case is evident from the discrepancy between the alleged intuitions of persons differing as to nation, culture, or religion.
But we are told, that truth, being absolute and universal, cannot be safely received on human testimony, but only on that of the Absolute Being himself, with whose nature and attributes all truth is identical. This we grant.
are adequate witnesses to individual and local facts; and such facts, when they stand apart from the common course of nature, and transcend the established sphere of human agency, must needs be the expressions, signs, or indications of absolute truth. Herein lies the efficacy of miracles as a form of testimony. We do not contend that Matthew, or John, or Paul is a competent witness to absolute truth. But miracles, if they have occurred, are individual and local facts, and, as such, may be substantiated, like any other facts, by human testimony. They are facts, which, from their very defini
, tion, must have taken place aside from the usual course of events and beyond the power of man. They are, therefore, the voice, the testimony, of God; and whatever truth they imply, and whatever truth they attest, by taking place in immediate connexion with its promulgation, rests on the authority of God. We do not, then, when we urge the external evidences of Christianity, present the Apostles and Evangelists as witnesses to the truths which constitute the Christian religion ; — to these truths God is our only witness ; those great and holy men simply substantiate the miraculous facts, which are God's testimony.
Having shown the necessity and value of external testimony, and assigned to internal evidence its deservedly high, and yet subordinate, rank in the scale of Christian evidences, Dr. Palfrey proceeds to prove the a priori credibility of miracles, and the necessity and seasonableness of the Christian revelation. Under this last head, he has given us the most graphic and truthful picture that we remember to have seen of the intellectual and moral condition of mankind at the time of the Saviour's advent, enriched by numerous and peculiarly apt classical references and quotations. He then proves the authenticity of the four Gospels ; clears the Evangelists from the charges of imposture and enthusiasm ; estab
; lishes their trustworthiness as witnesses to the facts which they relate ; and exhibits the early and ample reception of their narratives, under circumstances of time, place, and antagonist belief and interest, which must have subjected their testimony to the most searching and skeptical scrutiny, as a phenomenon to be accounted for only by supposing them true and faithful witnesses.
The argument comprised in these eight lectures is close, logical, continuous. We miss no essential link. We de
tect no irrelevant matter. The whole could be reduced to a few simple syllogisms. There is no compend of the Christian evidences, which we should put so hopefully as we should this, into the hands of a candid and philosophical unbeliever ; and, could this course be published apart from the other two, somewhat simplified in style, and recast from the form of lectures into that of a compact treatise, with appropriate divisions and titles, it would become at once a highly popular work, — a text-book for schools and colleges,
a book for the many, which the many would read, and prize, and enjoy.
But admirably as the plan of the first of these courses is filled out, and its designs accomplished, the work, as it now is, will be chiefly sought for and valued on account of the second and third courses. The complete history of infidelity was, so far as we know, never written before. The materials here brought together were previously accessible only through the medium of a larger library than falls to the lot of many private individuals. The monuments of pagan hostility to our religion, few indeed and fragmentary, are widely scattered. The only avowed compend of Jewish antiChristian writings, which we have ever seen, is Wagenseil's " Tela Ignea Satanæ," which contains barely a few Rabbinical tracts, with a Latin version, and a verbose, pedantic, and almost interminable commentary. The period covered by Leland's “ View of English Deistical Writers ” includes most (though not all) of the distinguished names that have been arrayed in England against the Christian faith ; but this, though almost supplying the place of the writers themselves for all purposes of reference, is not a book to be read so much as to be consulted. The sneers and the sophisms of French unbelief are, indeed, hardly worth collecting, with a view to rebut or expose them, from those foulest of literary cloacæ, where they are fast rotting in oblivion ; but still the reign of irreligion in France covers so large a space on the map of the yet recent past, as to excite a reasonable curiosity respecting its sources and its agents. German infidelity, mystified, sublimated, and unlabelled, must, to be sure, be encountered by all, who, in the departments of philosophy, biblical criticism, and theology, would avail themselves of German learning ; but its Heaven-daring audacity and its pompous shallowness can be fully exposed only by the attempt to clothe its inflated, featureless, limbless form in plain Anglo-Saxon garments. By bringing together all these phases of unbelief in a succinct form, and giving us a comprehensive view of its history from the earliest times, Dr. Palfrey has rendered an eminent service to the cause of religion,
But what can the history of infidelity do for the cause of religion ? Much, every way, we reply. Christianity is proved, not by demonstrative, but by moral reasoning. Now demonstration is the only one-sided argument. In all departments of moral reasoning, there are two sides to every question,—there are arguments for, and objections against, every proposition. · Our conviction is determined by the preponderance of arguments over objections, or of objections over arguments; and the strength of our conviction depends on the degree of this preponderance. We receive with confidence a proposition, for which we find but few and slender positive arguments, if there be hardly a shadow of objection to it; for this very lack of objections is itself an argument. On the other hand, we receive with great doubt, or utterly reject, a proposition sustained by a great weight of positive argument, if the objections to it are numerous and difficult to be answered. With regard to Christianity, the positive argument in favor of its divine origin approaches as near to demonstration as moral reasoning can ; but the actual weight and worth of this argument depend upon the strength or weakness of the counter-argument. If infidelity can indeed make out a strong case, then does the array of argument on the Christian side, overpowering as it seems at first sight, furnish no adequate basis for belief. But if infidelity is shallow and sophistical, if it perpetually repeats itself, if it has conceded separately every point that the Christian claims, then do its weakness and inconsistency add much weight to the positive argument for Christianity. A synoptical view of the histor of unbelief is, therefore, essential to the fair, and, we add with gratitude, to the full exhibition of the Christian eviden
Infidelity gains nothing by the mustering of its forces. Bring them together, and they destroy each other.
Before we had read these Lectures of Dr. Palfrey, a friend, who is not much of a reasoner, told us that this work was greatly disfigured by constant references to former lectures, in such forms as the following : “ This question I
: treated at large in a former lecture," -- " These objections VOL. LVIII. - No. 122.