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II. Norton's INTERNAL EVIDENCES OF THE GENUINENESS OF
THE GOSPELS. In this elegantly printed volume, Prof. Norton refutes the main theory of Strauss's Life of Jesus, in few words, but with obvious success. The comparison instituted between the methods adopted by Strauss, for throwing discredit on the evangelical narrative, and equally justifiable methods which might be adopted for casting suspicion on the narrative of Julius Cæsar's death, is very apposite and forcible; see pp. 71-84. Prof. Norton's criticisms on the style of the whole Straussian school are eminently just. No man loved a transparent and accurate phrase more than he, and no man was more disgusted with mere verbiage, and unmeaning mysticism.
The moral effect of the Straussian discussions with regard to the claims of the Redeemer, is deeply injurious. “If one were to submit to hear the character and conduct of his most intimate friend canvassed and questioned at great length, in the manner in which Strauss discusses the history of our Lord, he might find it difficult to feel for him the same confidence and respect as before.” This judicious remark of Prof. Norton, p. 102, is worthy of being often pondered, and it applies to many other discussions than those relating to the history of our Saviour on earth. Any style of reasoning which brings any religious truth into grave question, is attended with moral perils.
In this volume, Prof. Norton derives much lucid proof of the truth of the Gospels from their internal structure. No jurist, accustomed to weigh the minutest probabilities for and against a record, can read the arguments detailed in this volume, without a confirmed faith in the evangelical narrative. Mr. Norton repeats a remark which he has elsewhere made with much force, that, “if we prove the genuineness of the Gospels, we prove the truth of Christianity; but, on the other hand, to disprove the genuineness of the Gospels, were that possible, [and of course he believes it impossible,] would not be to advance a step toward disproving its truth,” p. 98. If the Gospels were not written by the men to whom they are ascribed, they may yet be true in their essential teachings. There is satisfactory evidence that “Luke's narrative” is authentic, even if it should be proved, as it cannot be, that Luke never wrote it. “In order to disprove the truth, or, in other words, the miraculous origin, of our religion, it is necessary to show that all those facts in the history of the world which imply its miraculous origin as their cause, never existed, or that none other sufficient solution may be given of their existence," p. 99.
It would be wrong to accuse Prof. Norton of denying the supernatural
1 Internal Evidence of the Genuineness of the Gospels. Part I. Remarks on Christianity and the Gospels, with particular reference to Strauss's Life of Jesus. Part II. Portions of an unfinished work. By Andrews Norton. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. 1855. 8vo. pp. 309.
character of the Gospels. He says: “ Whatever they may discover of human incapacity or imperfection, appears in intimate union with conceptions which I do not say that the minds of their uninstructed writers could not have attained, but which no human mind could have attained without being supernaturally enlightened by God, - conceptions of religion and duty, of all that is most sublime in character, views of God and man, of life and immortality, far transcending all which mere human philosophy has revealed.”
See also pp. 145, 156. Still, Prof. Norton's views of the strict inspiration of the Gospels are far beneath the true standard, and he holds the Gospels in higher estimation than the Epistles. The celebrated passage, 2 Tim. 3: 16, “ All Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” etc., he interprets thus : “ The spirit of God is breathed into every book,” that is, of the Old Testament; "and the only purpose of the apostle was to assert generally, what no Christian will deny, that a religious spirit pervades the books of the Old Testament.” pp. 16, 17. Such inadequate views of the Inspiration of the Bible lessen the value of all arguments for its Genuineness; for, if the Bible admit as many errors on religious themes as Prof. Norton ascribes to it, who shall tell what these errors are, and how shall we determine whether its miracles were wrought in confirmation of what we believe to be true, or in confirmation of what we believe to be false? The value of miraculous attestations in favor of the Bible is so far diminished, as we admit that doctrines fairly taught in that Book are unworthy of belief.
Mr. Norton's theory of the atonement affects, and is affected by, his interpretation of some momentous words in the Gospels. He translates Matt. 27: 46 and Mark 15: 34, “ My God! my God! why hast thou left [not forsaken] me?” These are the first words of the twenty-second Psalm. The quotation of these words would bring the whole Psalm to the remembrance of the Jews around the cross. These Jews applied the words to David, whom they believed to be the illustrious type of the Messiah. If then David was left to suffer, the sufferings of Christ do not prove him to be an object of God's displeasure. If the type of the Messiah was “left,” and still remained a favorite of Heaven, so Jesus may be “ left,” and still remain a favorite of Heaven, the true Messianic archetype ; pp. 289—292. But can we believe that these words have a meaning so cool, argumentative, diplomatic ? Is not such an explanation of them at variance with the spirit of the scene described, and with the religious feelings which the scene yet awakens, and will always awaken, in our hearts ? Such inept and frigid interpretations materially diminish the value of Prof. Norton's philological works.
III. SHELDON ON SIN AND REDEMPTION.1 The author of this volume was once President of Waterville College, Maine. For several years he has been known as a clear and forcible writer, a vigorous and independent thinker. Some of his views are peculiar to himself; and those which are coincident with the standard of others, have evidently been wrought out by his own mind. It is to be regretted that he has not been more familiar with the Edwardean School of divines, and that a more careful study of their treatises has not saved him from certain errors which are made prominent in this volume. We do not deny that his discourses evince much talent, keen discrimination, strong thought ; but they indicate that he has overlooked various important principles, and has therefore stumbled into various grave errors. We have no time to specify all of them, but will merely allude to a few.
In a note appended to the first sermon, and designed to furnish a proof of the being of God, Dr. Sheldon denies that matter has “any proper
substantial being,” that it is “the subject of sensible qualities.” He affirms, matter is “that which is without not only any self, but also any actual subject. It is a mere objective appearance in space, a collection of particles with similar properties.” pp. 32, 33 ; see, likewise, 326—329. We know it to be an historical fact, that this idealism, as applied to matter, has resulted in a like idealism as applied to mind. Dr. Sheldon reasons thus : “ Now as matter is thus a mere appearance, without any subject of its own, it seems a warranted inference that it has, in itself, no independent ground of existence ; and therefore must have had a Creator”; p. 34. Many divines have reasoned in a similar method, and have supposed that by denying the substantial existence of matter, they might exalt the Mind which made it. But other philosophers have inferred that, as physical things have no substantial being, so mind has none ; and, as the earth is a mere appearance, so the spirit is a mere seeming; and thus the very process of reasoning which was designed to prove the existence of God, has been applied to the disproof of that existence. Dr. Sheldon's note involves a denial of one of the fundamental laws of human belief ; so it appears to us; and this rejection of a first principle must logically result, as it has heretofore resulted, in conclusions hostile to religion. Doubtless the aim of Dr. Sheldon, in his denial of a familiar axiom, is a good one; so was Bishop Berkeley's.
Some of our author's anthropological theories are, in our opinion, inaccurate. He speaks of the power of free will ” as “the faculty of determining our actions, and so forming our character. This constitutes the ex
in man, or that by which he gives being and direction to his
1 Sin and Redemption: a Series of Sermons, to which is added an Oration on Moral Freedom. By D. N. Sheldon, D. D., Pastor of the Elm Strect Baptist Church in Bath, Mainc. New York: Sheldon, Lamport and Blakeman. Boston: Gould and Lincoln. Chicago: S. C. Griggs and Co. 1856. pp. 332. 12mo.
actions,” p. 45. Is not this a less definite account of the will than is given by President Edwards, when he says that will is the power of choosing? Is not Dr. Sheldon's language consistent with the theory, that will is merely the power of executive volition ? He subsequently distinguishes from the will, " the power of exercising certain affections," as “love to God,” “ love and piety towards other persons,” p. 47. But does not all holy love to God, all holy love to man, all piety involve a preference, a choice, an act of will ? It is one of the best peculiarities of Edwards, that he ascribes preference, as distinct from natural affection, to the will.
“ Sure I am,” says Dr. Sheldon, “ that there is not a hint in the Bible, Old Testament or New, that Adam had a single natural power or endowment which his descendants do not have. Nor is there a single intimation that he was in any respect, a finer and nobler specimen of his race than any other person who has lived since,” p. 50. The writer of these sentences does not mean to assert, however, that "human nature now, before the beginning of moral action,” is “as undamaged as the human nature of Adam before he sinned.” On this subject, our author says, that “no one will be over-confident," p. 144. “ If any choose to maintain the existence, in the posterity of Adam, of an originally disordered constitution, while yet they allow that in this constitution there is nothing of the nature of sin; this is & point concerning which we neither affirm nor deny anything. We refrain from any positive assertion, because our inquiries have thus far furnished no positive evidence,” p. 124, see also pp. 125, 120—123. Our author supposes, then, that “the powers given to Adam are essentially the powers conferred on all other men,” p. 51, and does not deny, nor deem himself authorized to deny, that the posterity of Adam possess “a nature disturbed in the relation of its parts to one another and not having the harmony and proportion” belonging “to the original nature of our first parents,” p. 120. If, therefore, Dr. Sheldon does not presume to decide, whether the descendants of Adam begin life with such an altered deteriorated nature or not,” how can he presume to decide whether they have in any sense lost the divine image or not? He aflirms positively that “the sin of Adam did not destroy his human nature and faculties, which were the image of God within him,” p. 51; and that “the human nature in which [Adam] was created, remained, though no longer undamaged, since he, by his defection, had damaged it, had impaired its harmony," p. 52. If Adam's posterity have a nature disordered, damaged, as Adam's own nature became, is this injured nature as much in the image of God as was the nature of Adam before he sinned? Is there not a contradiction between the assertion on the one hand, “of the equal creation of all men in the divine likeness,” so that men now living need, they deserve by their very nature, all the respect and consideration, which any possessor of this nature has ever needed and preserved,” p. 53, and the assertion, on the other hand, that, perhaps, for aught we know, the nature of all Adam's posterity has been damaged before their own voluntary act? We cannot agree with Dr. Sheldon in maintaining that the image of God consists merely in the possession of faculties and
sensibilities among themselves; and that, while in the former respect the divine likeness has been retained, in the latter respect it has been lost. Often also the phrase “image of God,” is used in a third sense, and denotes the holy preference which Adam once freely put forth, and which none but the regenerate put forth now. It seems to us that Dr. Sheldon presses the phrase into a narrower compass than prevailing usage justifies, and makes affirmations which are true secundum quid, as if they were true simpliciter.
If it may be the fact, that the posterity of Adam have a damaged nature, p. 121, then it may be the fact that they receive this nature in consequence of his apostasy. If it may be right for God to introduce Adam's descendants into the world with “ the harmony” of their institution disturbed, then it may be right for him to do so on account of their ancestor's rebellion. As Dr. Sheldon will not deny the protasis, we see not how he can deny the apodosis in these sentences. He does contend, however, that the origin of men's sin can not be traced back to Adam, p. 112, and he interprets Rom. 5: 19, as not teaching that our sins were occasioned by Adam's fall in any way, but merely as teaching “ the universal fact that sin follows transgression,” “ that Adam and Eve sinned, and spiritual death, condemnation followed in consequence of their sin. So their descendants have sinned, and spiritual death has followed their sin. So it will be hereafter," p. 104. Dr. Sheldon is thus obliged to give a forced interpretation of the Bible, and of history. And what are his reasons for denying that our sins may be traced back to Adam's fall? His main reason is, that such a theory makes the disobedience of Adam necessitate the sinfulness of all his posterity,” p. 107. He rejects the theory, because the relation of Adam to his offspring “is not that of one who by his own act determines, in a necessary way, the acts and the moral state of all the rest,” p. 109. “Adam has exerted no irresistibly determining influence;" we see no BLIND mechanism or natural necessity," in our sin, p. 110; see also pp. 111, 116, 125. Sins do not “pass by natural descent from generation to generation,” p. 118, are not propagated, p. 119. It is rather singular, that a divine so acute as Dr. Sheldon, should not recognize the distinction between the doctrine that our sinfulness is occasioned by the fall of Adam in such a way as leaves our wills entirely free, and the doctrine that our sins are caused by his fall, in such a way as to force, necessitate, irresistibly compel us to do wrong. From the absurd notion that our sin is made fatally inevitable by Adam's apostasy, Dr. Sheldon has allowed the pendulum to swing over to the other extreme, that our sin cannot be traced back in any sense to the occasioning influence of Adam's disobedience.
We regret, as well as wonder, that this perspicacious author has not adopted the true theory on this subject, for he sometimes admits “the existence of influences external to the will and back of its act, which have some tendency to lead to acts of sin.” p. 116. He says :
Every generation that has lived on earth, since the first, has been influenced by those which preceded it, and has, again, sent forward an influence to those coming after. In this way, the influence of Adam and Eve, if it has not (as, perVol. XIII. No. 50.