Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

valural an inaccuracy. But there is scarcely a work of this school without some such hypothesis. I confess that I am constantly astonished at the elaborate conclusions which are drawn from trifling discrepancies or inaccuracies in those writers, from whom is exacted a precision of language, a minute and unerring knowledge of facts incident to, but by no means forming constituent parts of, their narrative, which is altogether inconsistent with the want of respect in other cases shown to their authority. The Evangelists must have been either entirely inspired, or inspired as to the material parts of their history, or altogether uninspired. In the latter, and indeed in the more moderate view of the second case, they would have a right to the ordinary latitude of honest narrators; they would, we may safely say, be read, as other historians of their inartificial and popular character always are ; and so read, it would be impossible, I conceive, not to be surprised and convinced of their authenticity, by their general accordance with all the circumstances of their age, country and personal character.

APPENDIX III.

INFLUENCE OF THE MORE IMAGINATIVE INCIDENTS OF THE EARLY EVANGELIC HISTORY

ON THE PROPAGATION AND MAINTENANCE OF THE RELIGION.

A CURIOUS fact occurs to those who trace the progress of religious opinion, not merely in the popular theology, but in the works of those, chiefly foreign writers, who indulge in bolder speculations on these subjects. Many of these are men of the profoundest learning, and, it would be the worst insolence of uncharitableness to doubt, with the most sincere and ardent aspirations after Iruth. The fact is this : - Certain parts of the eyangelic history, the angelic appearances, the revelations of the Deity addressed to the senses of man (

(the Angelo-phaniai and Theophaniai, as they have been called,) – with some, though not with all this class of writers, every thing miraculous appears totally inconsistent with historic truth. These incidents, being irreconcilable with our actual experience, and rendered suspicious by a multitude of later fictions, which are rejected in the mass by most Protestant Christians, cannot accord with the more subtle and fastidious intelligence of the present times. Some writers go so far as to assert that it is impossible that an inquiring and reasoning age should receive these supernatural facts as historical verities. But if we look back we find that precisely these same parts of the sacred narrative were dearest to the believers of a more imaginative age; and they are still dwelt upon by the general mass of Christians, with that kind of ardent faith, which refuses to break its old alliance with the imagination. It was by this very supernatural agency, if I may so speak, that the doctrines, the sentiments, the moral and religious influence of Christianity, were implanted in the mind, on the first promulgation of the Gospel, and the reverential feeling thus excited,. most powerfully contributed to maintain the efficacy of the religion for at least seventeen centuries. That which is now to many incredible, not merely commanded the belief, but made the purely moral and spiritual part of Christianity, to which few of these writers now refuse their assent, credible.

An argument which appears to me of considerable weight arises out of these considerations. Admit, as even the rationalist and mythic interpreters seem to do, though in vague and metaphysical terms, the divine interposition, or at least the pre-arrangement, and effective though remote agency of the Deity, in the introduction of Christianity into the world. These passages in general

are not the vital and essential truths of Christianity, but the vehicle by which these truths were communicated; a kind of language by which opinions were conveyed, and sentiments infused, and the general belief in Christianity implanted, confirmed, and strengthened. As we cannot but suppose that the state of the world, as well during, as subsequent to the introduction of Christianity, the comparative rebarbarisation of the human race, the long centuries in which mankind was governed by imagination, rather than by severe reason, were witbin the design, or at least the foreknowledge, of all-seeing Providence; so from the fact that this mode of communication with mankind was for so long a period so effective, we may not unreasonably infer its original adoption by Divine Wisdom. This language of poetic incident, and, if I may so speak, of imagery, interwoven as it was with the popular belief, infused into the hymns, the services, the ceremonial of the church, embodied in material representation by painting or sculpture, was the vernacular tongue of Christianity, universally intelligible, and responded to by the human heart, throughout these many centuries. Revelation thus spoke the language, not merely of its own, but of succeeding times; because its design was the perpetuation as well as the first propagation of the Christian religion.

Whether then these were actual appearances or impressions produced on the mind of those who witnessed them, is of slight importance. In either case they are real bistorical facts; they partake of poetry in their form, and, in a certain sense, in their groundwork, but they are imaginative, not fictitious; true, as relating that which appeared to the minds of the relators exactly as it did appear (1). Poetry, meaning by poetry such an imaginative form, and not merely the form, but the subject-matter of the narrative, as, for instance, in the first chapters of St. Matthew and St. Luke, was the appropriate and perhaps necessary intelligible dialect; the vehicle for the more important truths of the Gospel to later generations. The incidents therefore were so ordered, that they should thus live in the thoughts of men; the revelation itself was so

; adjusted and arranged in order that it might insure its continued existence throughout this period (2). Could, it may be inquired, a purely, rational or metaphysical creed have survived for any length of time during such stages of human civilisation ?

I am aware that this may be considered as carrying out what is called accommodation to an unprecedented extent; and that the whole system of what is called accommodalion is looked upon with great jealousy. It is supposed to compromise, as it were, the truth of the Deity, or at least of the revelation ; a deception, it is said, or at least an illusion, is practised upon the belicf of man.

I cannot assent to this view.

From the necessity of the case there must be some departure from the pure and essential spirituality of the Deity, in order to communicate with the human race, - some kind of condescension from the infinite and inconceivable state of Godhead, to become cognisable, or to enter into any kind of relation with material and dimly-mental man. All this is in fact accommodation; and the

(1) This, of course, does not apply to facts ry herself, or from those of other contem. which must bave been either listorical events or poraries, it would be expected that these remote direct fictions, such as the resurrection of Jesus. incidents would be related with the greatest inThe re-appearance of an actual and well known distinctness, without mutual connection or chrobodily form, cannot be refined into one of those nological arrangement, and different incidents airy and unsubstantial appearances which may be preserved by different Evangelists. This is be presented to, or may exist solely through, the precisely the case; the very marvellousness of imaginative faculty. I would strictly maintain the few circumstances thus preserved accounts in this important distinction.

some degree for their preservation, and at the (2) By all those who consider the knowledge same time for the kind of dimness and poetic of these circumstances to have reached the Evan- character with which they are clothed. They are gelists (by whatever notion of inspiration they too slight and wanting in particularity to give may be guaranteed) through the ordinary sources the idea of invention : they seem like a few scatof inforination, from tbe reminiscences of Ma- iered sragincnls preserved from oral tradition.

[ocr errors][merged small]

adaptation of any appropriate means of addressing, for his benefit, man in any peculiar state of intelligence, is but the wise contrivance, the indispensable condition, wbich renders that communication either possible, or at least effective to its manifest end. Religion is one great system of accommodation to tlie wants, to the moral and spiritual advancement, of mankind; and I cannot but think that as it has so efficaciously adapted itself to one state of the human mind, so it will to that mind during all its progress; and it is of all things the most remarkable in Christianity, that it has, as it were, its proper mode of addressing with effect every age and every conceivable state of man. Even if (though I conceive it impossible) the imagination should entirely wither from the human soul, and a severer faith enter into an exclusive alliance with pure reason, Christianity would still have its moral perfection, its rational promise of immortality-its approximation to the one pure, spiritual, incomprehensible Deity, to satisfy that reason, and to infuse those sentiments of dependence, of gratitude, of love to God, without which buman society must fall to ruin, and the human mind, in humiliating desperation, suspend all its noble activity, and care not to put forth its sublime and eternal energies.

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

CHAPTER III.

COMMENCEMENT OF THE PURLIC LIFE OF JESUS.

Period to

character.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Jerusalem.

NEARLY thirty years had passed away, since the birth in Bethlesumption hem, during which period there is but one incident recorded, which of public could direct the public attention to the Son of Mary (1). All religious

Jews made their periodical visits to the capital at the three great festivals, especially at the Passover. The more pious women, though exempt by the law from regular attendance, usually accompanied their husbands or kindred. It is probable that, at the age of lwelve, the children, who were then said to have assumed the rank of “Sons of the Law,” and were considered responsible for their obedience lo civil and religious instilutes of the nation, were first permitted to appear with their parents in the metropolis, to be present, and, as it were, to be initiated in the religious ceremonies (2). Ac

cordingly, at this age, Jesus went up with his parents at the festival Visit to to Jerusalem (3); but on their return, after the customary residence

of seven days, they had advanced a whole day's journey without discovering that the youth was not to be found in the whole caravan, or long train of pilgrims, which probably comprised almost all the religious inhabitants of the populous northern provinces. In the ulmost anxiety they relurned to Jerusalem, and, after three days (4), found him in one of the chambers, within the precincts of the temple, set apart for public instruction. In these schools, the wisest and most respected of the rabbis, or leachers, were accustomed to hold their siltings, which were open to all who were desirous of knowledge. Jesus was seated, as the scholars usually were; and at his familiarity with the law, and the depth and subtilty of his questions, the learned men were in the utmost astonishment : the phrase may, perhaps, bear the stronger sense—they were “in an ecstasy of admiration.” This incident is strictly in accordance with Jewish usage. The more promising youths were encouraged to the early development and display of their acquaintance with the Sacred Writings, and the institutes of the country. Josephus, the historian, relates, that in his early youth, he was an object of wonder for

[ocr errors]

2

(1) There is no likelihood that the extant apo. in England, in our Christmas carols, and in this cryphal Gospel of the Infancy contains any tra- forın are disseminated among our cottages. ditional truth. This work, in my opinion, was (2) Lightfoot. Wetstein, in loc. “A child was evidently coinposed with a controversial design, free from presenting himself in the temple at the to refute the sects which asserted that Jesus was three feasts, until (according to the school of no more than an ordinary child, and that the Hillel) he was able, his father taking him by the divine nature descended upon him at his baptisın. hand, to go up with him into the mount of the Hence his childhood is represented as fertile in temple.” Lightfoot, x. 71. miracles as his manhood; miracles which are (3) Luke, ii. 41. 52. certainly puerile enough for that age. But it is a (4) According to Grotius, they had advanced curions proof of the vitality of popular legends, one day's journey towards Galilee, returned the that many of these stories are still current, even second, and found him the third : in loc.

#

[merged small][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

his precocious knowledge, with the Wise Men, who took delight
in examining and developing his proficiency in the subtler ques-
tions of the law. Whether the impression of the transcendent pro-
mise of Jesus was as deep and lasting as it was vivid, we have no
information; for without reluctance, with no more than a brief and
mysterious intimation that public instruction was the business im-
posed upon him by his Father, he relurned with his parents to his
remote and undistinguished home. The Law, in this, as in all such
cases, harmonising with the eternal instincts of nature, had placed
the relation of child and parent on the simplest and soundest prin-
ciples. The authority of the parent was unlimited, while his power
of inflicting punishment on the person, or injuring the fortunes of
the child by disinheritance, was controlled; and while the child, on
the one hand, was bound to obedience by the strongest sanctions,
on the other the duty of maintaining and instructing his offspring
was as rigidly enforced upon the father. The youth then returned
to the usual subjection to his parents; and, for nearly eighteen years
longer, we have no knowledge that Jesus was distinguished among
the inhabitants of Nazareth, except by his exemplary piety, and
by his engaging demeanour and conduct, which acquired him the
general good-will. The law, as some suppose, prescribed Ine period
of thirty years for the assumption of the most important functions ;
and it was not till he had arrived at this age, that Jesus again
emerged from his obscurity (1); nor does it appear improbable that
John had previously commenced his public career at the same pe-
riod in his life.

During these thirty years, most important revolutions had taken Political
place in the public administration of affairs in Judæa; and a deep tions dur-
and sullen change had been slowly working in the popular mind. ing the
The stirring events which had rapidly succeeded each other, were period.
such as no doubt might entirely obliterate any transient impressions
made by the marvellous circumstances which attended the birth of
Jesus, if indeed they had obtained greater publicity than we are
inclined to suppose. As the period approach, in which the new
Teacher was to publish his mild and benignant faith, the nation,
wounded in their pride, galled by oppression, infuriated by the
promulgation of fierce and turbulent doctrines more congenial to
their temper, became less and less fit to receive any but a warlike
and conquering Messiah. The reign of Archelaus, or rather the Reign of
interregnum, while he awaited the ratification of his kingly powers
from Rome, bad commenced with a bloody tumult, in which the
royal soldiery had altempted to repress the insurrectionary spirit
of the populace. The passover had been interrupted— an unpre-

Revoli.

[ocr errors]

Archelaus

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

(1) Or entering on his thirtieth year. Ac- mencer! was included in the calculation. Light-
cording to the Jewish mode of computation, the foot.
year, the week, or the day which had com-

« PreviousContinue »