« AnteriorContinuar »
regard to the reality of the fact, the belief of the fact through all time, as far back as history reaches, surely will not be called in question by any one who admits the authority of Scripture as a trustworthy historical record. That God, at sundry times and in divers manners from the beginning, spake unto the fathers by the prophets; that this is a statement of Scripture which expresses the common conviction of the devout men of both the Old and New Testament; that each sacred writer, in referring to the other Scriptures, speaks of them in a style evincing the sincerity and firmness of his own belief, to say the least, that the Scriptures to which he appeals are the infallible Word of God, — are positions which no person that we ever heard of has pretended to dispute. All admit, we suppose, that, as the Scriptures stand, they plainly purport to be nothing less nor other than an unbroken series of the oracles of God, from the revelation to the first man to the appearance of the second, who is the Lord from heaven.
The testamentary Scriptures, moreover, give themselves out, not merely as being one species of direct revelation from God, but as being the only revelation of the kind which has ever been given to the world. The Scriptures recognize no other positive and authoritative declaration of the divine will and purposes to man, save their own. While they admit and teach that the human mind, left to itself, is not so utterly without light as not to be able to discern, if it would, the invisible things of God, even His eternal power and Godhead, manifested in the works of creation; while "they admit and teach that, those who have not the law as revealed by themselves, still show the work of the law written on their hearts and borne witness to by their consciences; and while they acknowledge the sufficiency of these lights, so far as is necessary to vindicate to natural conscience the divine justice in punishing all ungodliness and all unrighteousness of men, — they yet distinctly set themselves over against this light of nature, as being themselves another, altogether different, altogether higher, more direct and more explicit, revelation of divine truth to man, — at the same time affirming their own exclusive title to be considered as such a revelation. Thus much the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament indisputably claim for themselves; and that these claims have been admitted by some part of mankind in every age of the world, is as certain as that they have been put forth. It is a fact, therefore, standing prominently out in the history of our race, that there has been a series of communications, beginning from the earliest times, professing to come, and believed to have come, directly from God, which has ever been as a light that shineth in a dark place, and with a brightness gradually increasing until the dawn of that day which its first and feeblest glimmering foretold, and to whose influence alone it can be ascribed that the knowledge of the true and living God has at no time been utterly lost out of the world.1
Second point in the proposition : there is no rational way of accounting for what we know from history respecting the religious conditions of makind from the beginning, except by admitting these claims to be true and valid. Among the great facts of history, the most striking, as it must be confessed, on the whole, is this, — that through all the ages may be traced a strongly marked line of distinction, separating mankind, as to their religious notions, into two grand but very unequal divisions. All that belong to these divisions on both sides, however they may differ in other respects, wholly agree in the prevailing form, spirit, and tendency of their religions. In one, notions of the Divine Being, imperfect indeed, but, so far as they went, correct, and with time becoming eVer more fully developed, clearly defined and powerfully influential on human character, have prevailed from the first; while the mythological and polytheistic or pantheistic, all tending alike to deterioration and to issue in that total extinction of the religious sense, which seems to have been the actual result in some cases, have
1 Other religions, it is true, claim also to be founded on direct revelation. But it is not simply the claim, it is the perpetuity, and perpetual recognition of the claim, that constitutes the peculiarity of Scripture revelation. In the words of Pascal, who felt the force of this fact: "Nulle autre religion n'a la perpemitd." been uniformly the characteristic features of the other. As nations follow the fate of their religions, all the dead nations of the earth belonged to the latter division. The only surviving people of the past, — surviving in spite of their dispersion,— belong to the former. The nations that now virtually govern the world, confessedly owe all that distinguishes their condition from that of the other, feebler portions, to the influences, direct or indirect, of that Word which claims to be a revelation from God and from nothing else.
Now for the question. If that Word is not in fact what it claims to be; if that Word is itself but one form of development of natural reason and of the natural sense of religion belonging to the human creature, a very difficult problem presents itself,— a problem far more difficult to explain than any miraculous interposition of God to bring back an apostate race, created originally in His own image, to the knowledge of Himself. If man might be left to develop, his religion simply out of such notions as he had already implicitly within him; if in fact Judaism and Christianity .are but such a development in the natural order of things, what is to be said of the other and by far greater portion of mankind, whose religious history, by the confession of all, is neither more nor less than a history of man left to himself and to form his religion out of himself? Why should the constant law of the development of religious truth to consciousness, be in the one case progression, and the no less constant law in theother, be deterioration? Why should the clearing up of the human mind,'to better and more satisfying views of God and of His truth, be confined to one particular portion of mankind and forbidden to the other? Why should it be confined precisely to that portion which has always claimed to possess a revelation from the one and only true God, and be found wanting among that portion which have never, in the same sense, claimed any such thing? These questions cannot be fairly answered by deniers of revelation in the old, legitimate sense. Neither can the great facts upon the ground of which these questions are pnt, be denied or blinked. It has indeed been attempted to weaken their force, by appealing to the sublime views of God and of man's relations to God, arrived at by a few pagan philosophers, and latterly, to the grand speculations and lofty morality to be found in some of the so-called sacred books of the East. But frankly look at them. What, in good truth, have they ever effected? What have they done for the regeneration of human nature? What safe foundation have they pointed out for our most earnest aspirations? What have they done to clear up the problem of human existence and to justify our hopes with regard to a hereafter? What one sufficient and truly peace-bringing solution have they ever offered to the perplexing doubts of the sin-burdened conscience? But to supply just these wants is the very end of religion according to its true idea; and whatever may be said of other books, there is but one in which this end is made supreme, and in which the solution of these questions is aimed at from the beginning, and finally so completely realized to every need of human nature as to leave nothing to be desired.1
, Such being the difference between the religious knowledge embodied in the myths and speculations of ancient wisdom, and that which Scripture, without any parade of speculation, plainly reveals from the beginning; and such being the results of the teachings on both sides, namely, decided failure to check sin and renew humanity in the one case, and comparative success in the other, the question returns with new force: how to account for this difference on the supposition that the Scriptures are not really what they claim to be, but merely another form of the natural development of the religious consciousness of mankind? The instinct which impels us to seek a sufficient reason for every phenomenon, and which will not permit us to ascribe appearances differing in their whole manifestation to one and
1 Tome religion est vraie en quelquc point. Vraie, sinon comme peasee djvine. du moins commc pin-ec humaine. Kt Mmis Cu nippvrt. toute It igion est nnc revelation. Mais celle-la scula est la vmic qui, d'un cote', a po>e" toutcs les questions, et dc l'autre, a repondu a toutes. — VintL
the same cause, cannot be satisfied by such a supposition. In truth, the more we try to make a serious application of this theory to explain the religious history of mankind, the more we must be convinced of its utter incompetency. The further we go back with it, to where its application ought to be the easiest, the more palpably it fails us. Instead of. explaining anything, it embarrasses everything. In attempting to explain everything without a miracle, it involves everything in a more perplexing maze, in which we may grope in vain to find a possible beginning for that religion which alone, of all the systems that are called such, truly deserves the name. To put this religion, so evidently divine in all its teachings, so purifying in all its influences, so grand and glorious in its effects even as they appear here in time, into the same category with the dark, enigmatical and — as they eventually proved, whatever of truth they may have embodied at first—the superstitious and polluting mythologies of the nations, is so contrary to the first impressions that force themselves upon every reflecting mind, calmly looking at the facts, that it seems unaccountable how such a thing should ever have suggested itself to any serious inquirer after truth, or what motive could exist for it, except some invincible prejudice against the very idea of a positive religion. For ourselves, we have no doubt that it is indeed a prejudice of this sort, springing chiefly, though perhaps not always, from hatred to a positive religion, which lies at the bottom of all the attempts, in these modern times, to divest the religion of the Bible of its supernatural character, and to place it, so far as its origin is concerned, on the same level with the multitudinous human systems of belief. Where this prejudice cannot be supposed to arise from any special hostility to religion generally, we can only conceive of it as growing out of a strong d priori persuasion of the improbability or impossibility of a supernatural communication of divine truth to the human mind. And if we ask what can be the ground for such a persuasion, the fair answer must be, that it is that singular notion of freedom on the part'of man and necessity in God, the offspring of modern specula