Read CHAPTER V of Phases of Faith Passages from the History of My Creed, free online book, by Francis William Newman, on ReadCentral.com.

FAITH AT SECOND HAND FOUND TO BE VAIN.

I reckon my fifth period to begin from the time when I had totally abandoned the claim of “the Canon” of Scripture, however curtailed, to be received as the object of faith, as free from error, or as something raised above moral criticism; and looked out for some deeper foundation for my creed than any sacred Letter. But an entirely new inquiry had begun to engage me at intervals, viz., the essential logic of these investigations. Ought we in any case to receive moral truth in obedience to an apparent miracle of sense? or conversely, ought we ever to believe in sensible miracles because of their recommending some moral truth? I perceived that the endless jangling which goes on in detailed controversy, is inevitable, while the disputants are unawares at variance with one another, or themselves wavering, as to these pervading principles of evidence. I regard my fifth period to come to an end with the decision of this question. Nevertheless, many other important lines of inquiry were going forward simultaneously.

I found in the Bible itself, and even in the very same book, as in the Gospel of John, great uncertainty and inconsistency on this question. In one place, Jesus reproves the demand of a miracle, and blesses those who believe without miracles; in another, he requires that they will submit to his doctrine because of his miracles. Now, this is intelligible, if blind external obedience is the end of religion, and not Truth and inward Righteousness. An ambitious and unscrupulous Church, that desires, by fair means or foul, to make men bow down to her, may say, “Only believe; and all is right. The end being gained, Obedience to us, we do not care about your reasons.” But God cannot speak thus to man; and to a divine teacher we should peculiarly look for aid in getting clear views of the grounds of faith; because it is by a knowledge of these that we shall both be rooted on the true basis, and saved from the danger of false beliefs.

It, therefore, peculiarly vexed me to find so total a deficiency of clear and sound instruction in the New Testament, and eminently in the gospel of John, on so vital a question. The more I considered it, the more it appeared, as if Jesus were solely anxious to have people believe in Him, without caring on what grounds they believed, although that is obviously the main point. When to this was added the threat of “damnation” on those who did not believe, the case became far worse: for I felt that if such a threat were allowed to operate, I might become a Mohammedan or a Roman Catholic. Could I in any case rationally assign this as a ground for believing in Christ, “because I am frightened by his threats” ?

Farther thought showed me that a question of logic, such as I here had before me, was peculiarly one on which the propagator of a new religion could not be allowed to dictate; for if so, every false system could establish itself. Let Hindooism dictate our logic, let us submit to its tests of a divine revelation, and its mode of applying them, and we may, perhaps, at once find ourselves necessitated to “become little children” in a Brahminical school. Might not then this very thing account for the Bible not enlightening us on the topic? namely, since Logic, like Mathematics, belongs to the common intellect, Possibly so: but still, it cannot reconcile us to vacillations and contradictions in the Bible on so critical a point.

Gradually I saw that deeper and deeper difficulties lay at bottom. If Logic cannot be matter of authoritative revelation, so long as the nature of the human mind is what it is, if it appears, as a fact, that in the writings and speeches of the New Testament the logic is far from lucid, if we are to compare Logic with Mathematics and other sciences, which grew up with civilization and long time, we cannot doubt that the apostles imbibed the logic, like the astronomy, of their own day, with all its defects. Indeed, the same is otherwise plain. Paul’s reasonings are those of a Gamaliel, and often are indefensible by our logical notions. John, also (as I had been recently learning,) has a wonderful similarity to Philo. This being the case, it becomes of deep interest to us to know, if we are to accept results at second hand from Paul and John, what was the sort of evidence which convinced them? The moment this question is put, we see the essential defect to which we are exposed, in not being able to cross-examine them. Paul says that “Christ appeared to him:” elsewhere, that he has “received of the Lord” certain facts, concerning the Holy Supper: and that his Gospel was “given to him by revelation.” If any modern made such statements to us, and on this ground demanded our credence, it would be allowable, and indeed obligatory, to ask many questions of him. What does he mean by saying that he has had a “revelation?” Did he see a sight, or hear a sound? or was it an inward impression? and how does he distinguish it as divine? Until these questions are fully answered, we have no materials at all before us for deciding to accept his results: to believe him, merely because he is earnest and persuaded, would be judged to indicate the weakness of inexperience. How then can it be pretended that we have, or can possibly get, the means of assuring ourselves that the apostles held correct principles of evidence and applied them justly, when we are not able to interrogate them?

Farther, it appears that our experience of delusion forces us to enact a very severe test of supernatural revelation. No doubt, we can conceive that which is equivalent to a new sense opening to us; but then it must have verifications connecting it with the other senses. Thus, a particularly vivid sort of dream recurring with special marks, and communicating at once heavenly and earthly knowledge, of which the latter was otherwise verified, would probably be admitted as a valid sort of evidence: but so intense would be the interest and duty to have all unravelled and probed to the bottom, that we should think it impossible to verify the new sense too anxiously, and we should demand the fullest particulars of the divine transaction. On the contrary, it is undeniable that all such severity of research is rebuked in the Scriptures as unbelief. The deeply interesting process of receiving supernatural revelation. a revelation, not of moral principles, but of outward facts and events, supposed to be communicated in a mode wholly peculiar and unknown to common men, this process, which ought to be laid open and analyzed under the fullest light, if we are to believe the results at second hand, is always and avowedly shrouded in impenetrable darkness. There surely is something here, which denotes that it is dangerous to resign ourselves to the conclusions of the apostles, when their logical notions are so different from ours.

I farther inquired, what sort of miracle I could conceive, that would alter my opinion on a moral question. Hosea was divinely ordered to go and unite himself to an impure woman: could I possibly think that God ordered me to do so, if I heard a voice in the air commanding it? Should I not rather disbelieve my hearing, than disown my moral perceptions? If not, where am I to stop? I may practise all sorts of heathenism. A man who, in obedience to a voice in the air, kills his innocent wife or child, will either be called mad, and shut up for safety, or will be hanged as a desperate fanatic: do I dare to condemn this modern judgment of him? Would any conceivable miracle justify my slaying my wife? God forbid! It must be morally right, to believe moral rather than sensible perceptions. No outward impressions on the eye or ear can be so valid an assurance to me of God’s will, as my inward judgment. How amazing, then, that a Paul or a James could look on Abraham’s intention to slay his son, as indicating a praiseworthy faith! And yet not amazing: It does but show, that apostles in former days, like ourselves, scrutinized antiquity with different eyes from modern events. If Paul had been ordered by a supernatural voice to slay Peter, he would have attributed the voice to the devil, “the prince of the power of the air,” and would have despised it. He praises the faith of Abraham, but he certainly would never have imitated his conduct. Just so, the modern divines who laud Joseph’s piety towards Mary, would be very differently affected, if events and persons were transported to the present day.

But to return. Let it be granted that no sensible miracle could authorize me so to violate my moral perceptions as to slay (that is, to murder) my innocent wife. May it, nevertheless, authorize me to invade a neighbour country, slaughter the people and possess their cities, although, without such a miracle, the deed would be deeply criminal? It is impossible to say that here, more than in the former case, miracles can turn aside the common laws of morality. Neither, therefore, could they justify Joshua’s war of extermination on the Canaanites, nor that of Samuel on the Amalekites; nor the murder of misbelievers by Elijah and by Josiah. If we are shocked at the idea of God releasing Mohammed from the vulgar law of marriage, we must as little endure relaxation in the great laws of justice and mercy. Farther, if only a small immorality is concerned, shall we then say that a miracle may justify it? Could it authorise me to plait a whip of small cords, and flog a preferment-hunter out of the pulpit? or would it justify me in publicly calling the Queen and her ministers “a brood of vipers, who cannot escape the damnation of hell" Such questions go very deep into the heart of the Christian claims.

I had been accustomed to overbear objections of this sort by replying, that to allow of their being heard would amount to refusing leave to God to give commands to his creatures. For, it seems, if he did command, we, instead of obeying, should discuss whether the command was right and reasonable; and if we thought it otherwise, should conclude that God never gave it. The extirpation of the Canaanites is compared by divines to the execution of a criminal; and it is insisted, that if the voice of society may justify the executioner, much more may the voice of God But I now saw the analogy to be insufficient and unsound. Insufficient, because no executioner is justified in slaying those whom his conscience tells him to be innocent; and it is a barbarous morality alone, which pretends that he may make himself a passive tool of slaughter. But next, the analogy assumes, (what none of my very dictatorial and insolent critics make even the faintest effort to prove to be a fact,) that God, like man, speaks from without: that what we call Reason and Conscience is not his mode of commanding and revealing his will, but that words to strike the ear, or symbols displayed before the senses, are emphatically and exclusively “Revelation.” Besides all this, the command of slaughter to the Jews is not directed against the seven nations of Canaan only, as modern theologians often erroneously assert: it is a universal permission, of avaricious massacre and subjugation of “the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations,” Deut, x.

The thoughts which here fill but a few pages, occupied me a long while in working out; because I consciously, with caution more than with timidity, declined to follow them rapidly. They came as dark suspicions or as flashing possibilities; and were again laid aside for reconsideration, lest I should be carried into antagonism to my old creed. For it is clear that great error arises in religion, by the undue ardour of converts, who become bitter against the faith which they have left, and outrun in zeal their new associates. So also successive centuries oscillate too far on the right and on the left of truth. But so happy was my position, that I needed not to hurry: no practical duty forced me to rapid decision, and a suspense of judgment was not an unwholesome exercise. Meanwhile, I sometimes thought Christianity to be to me, like the great river Ganges to a Hindoo. Of its value he has daily experience: he has piously believed that its sources are in heaven, but of late the report has come to him, that it only flows from very high mountains of this earth. What is he to believe? He knows not exactly: he cares not much: in any case the river is the gift of God to him: its positive benefits cannot be affected by a theory concerning its source.

Such a comparison undoubtedly implies that he who uses it discerns for himself a moral excellence in Christianity, and submits to it only so far as this discernment commands. I had practically reached this point, long before I concluded my theoretical inquiries as to Christianity itself: but in the course of this fifth period numerous other overpowering considerations crowded upon me which I must proceed to state in outline.

All pious Christians feel, and all the New Testament proclaims, that Faith is a moral act and a test of the moral and spiritual that is within us; so that he who is without faith, (faithless, unfaithful, “infidel,”) is morally wanting and is cut off from God. To assent to a religious proposition solely in obedience to an outward miracle, would be Belief; but would not be Faith, any more than is scientific conviction. Bishop Butler and all his followers can insist with much force on this topic, when it suits them, and can quote most aptly from the New Testament to the same effect. They deduce, that a really overpowering miraculous proof would have destroyed the moral character of Faith: yet they do not see that the argument supersedes the authoritative force of outward miracles entirely. It had always appeared to me very strange in these divines, to insist on the stupendous character and convincing power of the Christian miracles, and then, in reply to the objection that they were not quite convincing, to say that the defect was purposely left “to try people’s Faith.” Faith in what? Not surely in the confessedly ill-proved miracle, but in the truth as discernible by the heart without aid of miracle.

I conceived of two men, Nathaniel and Demas, encountering a pretender to miracles, a Simon Magus of the scriptures. Nathaniel is guileless, sweet-hearted and of strong moral sense, but in worldly matters rather a simpleton. Demas is a sharp man, who gets on well in the world, quick of eye and shrewd of wit, hard-headed and not to be imposed upon by his fellows; but destitute of any high religious aspirations or deep moral insight. The juggleries of Simon are readily discerned by Demas, but thoroughly deceive poor Nathaniel: what then is the latter to do? To say that we are to receive true miracles and reject false ones, avails not, unless the mind is presumed to be capable of discriminating the one from the other. The wonders of Simon are as divine as the wonders of Jesus to a man, who, like Nathaniel, can account for neither by natural causes. If we enact the rule, that men are to “submit their understandings” to apparent prodigies, and that “revelation” is a thing of the outward senses, we alight on the unendurable absurdity, that Demas has faculties better fitted than those of Nathaniel for discriminating religious truth and error, and that Nathaniel, in obedience to eye and ear, which he knows to be very deceivable organs, is to abandon his moral perceptions.

Nor is the case altered, if instead of Simon in person, a huge thing called a Church is presented as a claimant of authority to Nathaniel. Suppose him to be a poor Spaniard, surrounded by false miracles, false erudition, and all the apparatus of reigning and unopposed Romanism. He cannot cope with the priests in cleverness, detect their juggleries, refute their historical falsehoods, disentangle their web of sophistry: but if he is truehearted, he may say: “You bid me not to keep faith with heretics: you defend murder, exile, imprisonment, fines, on men who will not submit their consciences to your authority: this I see to be wicked, though you ever so much pretend that God has taught it you.” So, also, if he be accosted by learned clergymen, who undertake to prove that Jesus wrought stupendous miracles, or by learned Moolahs who allege the same of Mohammed or of Menu, he is quite unable to deal with them on the grounds of physiology, physics, or history. In short, nothing can be plainer, than that the moral and spiritual sense is the only religious faculty of the poor man; and that as Christianity in its origin was preached to the poor, so it was to the inward senses that its first preachers appealed, as the supreme arbiters in the whole religious question. Is it not then absurd to say that in the act of conversion the convert is to trust his moral perception, and is ever afterwards to distrust it?

An incident had some years before come to my knowledge, which now seemed instructive. An educated, highly acute and thoughtful person, of very mature age, had become a convert to the Irving miracles, from an inability to distinguish them from those of the Pauline epistles; or to discern anything of falsity which would justify his rejecting them. But after several years he totally renounced them as a miserable delusion, because he found that a system of false doctrine was growing up and was propped by them. Here was a clear case of a man with all the advantages of modern education and science, who yet found the direct judgment of a professed miracle, that was acted before his senses, too arduous for him! He was led astray while he trusted his power to judge of miracle: he was brought right by trusting to his moral perceptions.

When we farther consider, that a knowledge of Natural Philosophy and Physiology not only does not belong to the poor, but comes later in time to mankind than a knowledge of morals; that a Miracle can only be judged of by Philosophy, that it is not easy even for philosophers to define what is a “miracle” that to discern “a deviation from the course of nature,” implies a previous certain knowledge of what the course of nature is, and that illiterate and early ages certainly have not this knowledge, and often have hardly even the idea, it becomes quite a monstrosity to imagine that sensible and external miracles constitute the necessary process and guarantee of divine revelation.

Besides, if an angel appeared to my senses, and wrought miracles, how would that assure me of his moral qualities? Such miracles might prove his power and his knowledge, but whether malignant or benign, would remain doubtful, until by purely moral evidence, which no miracles could give, the doubt should be solved. This is the old difficulty about diabolical wonders. The moderns cut the knot, by denying that any but God can possibly work real miracles. But to establish their principle, they make their definition and verification of a miracle so strict, as would have amazed the apostles; and after all, the difficulty recurs, that miraculous phenomena will never prove the goodness and veracity of God, if we do not know these qualities in Him without miracle. There is then a deeper and an earlier revelation of God, which sensible miracles can never give.

We cannot distinctly learn what was Paul’s full idea of a divine revelation; but I can feel no doubt that he conceived it to be, in great measure, an inward thing. Dreams and visions were not excluded from influence, and nacre or less affected his moral judgment; but he did not, consciously and on principle, beat down his conscience in submission to outward impressions. To do so, is indeed to destroy the moral character of Faith, and lay the axe to the root, not of Christian doctrine only, but of every possible spiritual system.

Meanwhile, new breaches were made in those citadels of my creed which had not yet surrendered.

One branch of the Christian Evidences concerns itself with the history and historical effects of the faith, and among Protestants the efficacy of the Bible to enlighten and convert has been very much pressed. The disputant, however, is apt to play “fast and loose.” He adduces the theory of Christianity when the history is unfavourable, and appeals to the history if the theory is impugned. In this way, just so much is picked out of the mass of facts as suits his argument, and the rest is quietly put aside.

I. In the theory of my early creed, (which was that of the New Testament, however convenient it may be for my critics to deride it as fanatical and not Christian,) cultivation of mind and erudition were classed with worldly things, which might be used where they pre-existed, (as riches and power may subserve higher ends,) but which were quite extraneous and unessential to the spiritual kingdom of Christ. A knowledge of the Bible was assumed to need only an honest heart and God’s Spirit, while science, history, and philosophy were regarded as doubtful and dangerous auxiliaries. But soon after the first reflux of my mind took place towards the Common Understanding, as a guide of life legitimately co-ordinate with Scripture, I was impressed with the consideration that Free Learning had acted on a great scale for the improvement of spiritual religion. I had been accustomed to believe that the Bible brought about the Protestant Reformation; and until my twenty-ninth year probably it had not occurred to me to question this. But I was first struck with the thought, that the Bible did not prevent the absurd iniquities of the Nicene and Post Nicene controversy, and that the Church, with the Bible in her hands, sank down into the gulf of Popery. How then was the Bible a sufficient explanation of her recovering out of Popery?

Even a superficial survey of the history shows, that the first improvement of spiritual doctrine in the tenth and eleventh centuries, came from a study of the moral works of Cicero and Boethius; a fact notorious in the common historians. The Latin moralists effected, what (strange to think!) the New Testament alone could not do.

In the fifteenth century, when Constantinople was taken by the Turks, learned Greeks were driven out to Italy and to other parts of the West, and the Roman Catholic world began to read the old Greek literature. All historians agree, that the enlightenment of mind hence arising was a prime mover of religious Reformation; and learned Protestants of Germany have even believed, that the overthrow of Popish error and establishment of purer truth would have been brought about more equably and profoundly, if Luther had never lived, and the passions of the vulgar had never been stimulated against the externals of Romanism.

At any rate, it gradually opened upon me, that the free cultivation of the understanding, which Latin and Greek literature had imparted to Europe and our freer public life, were chief causes of our religious superiority to Greek, Armenian, and Syrian Christians. As the Greeks in Constantinople under a centralized despotism retained no free intellect, and therefore the works of their fathers did their souls no good; so in Europe, just in proportion to the freedom of learning, has been the force of the result. In Spain and Italy the study of miscellaneous science and independent thought were nearly extinguished; in France and Austria they were crippled; in Protestant countries they have been freest. And then we impute all their effects to the Bible!

I at length saw how untenable is the argument drawn from the inward history of Christianity in favour of its superhuman origin. In fact: this religion cannot pretend to self-sustaining power. Hardly was it started on its course, when it began to be polluted by the heathenism and false philosophy around it. With the decline of national genius and civil culture it became more and more debased. So far from being able to uphold the existing morality of the best Pagan teachers, it became barbarized itself, and sank into deep superstition and manifold moral corruption. From ferocious men it learnt ferocity. When civil society began to coalesce into order, Christianity also turned for the better, and presently learned to use the wisdom, first of Romans, then of Greeks: such studies opened men’s eyes to new apprehensions of the Scripture and of its doctrine. By gradual and human means, Europe, like ancient Greece, grew up towards better political institutions; and Christianity improved with them, the Christianity of the more educated. Beyond Europe, where there have been no such institutions, there has been no Protestant Reformation: that is in the Greek, Armenian, Syrian, Coptic churches. Not unreasonably then do Franks in Turkey disown the title Nazarene, as denoting that Christianity which has not been purified by European laws and European learning. Christianity rises and sinks with political and literary influences: in so far, it does not differ from other religions.

The same applied to the origin and advance of Judaism. It began in polytheistic and idolatrous barbarism: it cleared into a hard monotheism, with much superstition adhering to it. This was farther improved by successive psalmists and prophets, until Judaism culminated. The Jewish faith was eminently grand and pure; but there is nothing in this history which we can adduce in proof of preternatural and miraculous agency.

II. The facts concerning the outward spread of Christianity have also been disguised by the party spirit of Christians, as though there were something essentially different in kind as to the mode in which it began and continued its conquests, from the corresponding history of other religions. But no such distinction can be made out. It is general to all religions to begin by moral means, and proceed farther by more worldly instruments.

Christianity had a great moral superiority over Roman paganism, in its humane doctrine of universal brotherhood, its unselfishness, its holiness; and thereby it attracted to itself (among other and baser materials) all the purest natures and most enthusiastic temperaments. Its first conquests were noble and admirable. But there is nothing superhuman or unusual in this. Mohammedism in the same way conquers those Pagan creeds which are morally inferior to it. The Seljuk and the Ottoman Turks were Pagans, but adopted the religion of Tartars and Persians whom they subjugated, because it was superior and was blended with a superior civilization; exactly as the German conquerors of the Western Empire of Rome adopted some form of Christianity.

But if it is true that the sword of Mohammed was the influence which subjected Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Persia to the religion of Islam, it is no less true that the Roman empire was finally conquered to Christianity by the sword. Before Constantine, Christians were but a small fraction of the empire. In the preceding century they had gone on deteriorating in good sense and most probably therefore in moral worth, and had made no such rapid progress in numbers as to imply that by the mere process of conversion they would ever Christianize the empire. That the conversion of Constantine, such as it was, (for he was baptized only just before death,) was dictated by mere worldly considerations, few modern Christians will deny. Yet a great fact is here implied; viz., that Christianity was adopted as a state-religion, because of the great political power accruing from the organization of the churches and the devotion of Christians to their ecclesiastical citizenship. Roman statesmen well knew that a hundred thousand Roman citizens devoted to the interests of Rome, could keep in subjection a population of ten millions who were destitute of any intense patriotism and had no central objects of attachment. The Christian church had shown its immense resisting power and its tenacious union, in the persecution by Galerius; and Constantine was discerning enough to see the vast political importance of winning over such a body; which, though but a small fraction of the whole empire, was the only party which could give coherence to that empire, the only one which had enthusiastic adherents in every province, the only one on whose resolute devotion it was possible for a partizan to rely securely. The bravery and faithful attachment of Christian regiments was a lesson not lost upon Constantine; and we may say, in some sense, that the Christian soldiers in his armies conquered the empire (that is, the imperial appointments) for Christianity. But Paganism subsisted, even in spite of imperial allurements, until at length the sword of Theodosius violently suppressed heathen worship. So also, it was the spear of Charlemagne which drove the Saxons to baptism, and decided the extirpation of Paganism from Teutonic Europe. There is nothing in all this to distinguish the outward history of Christianity from that of Mohammedism. Barbarous tribes, now and then, venerating the superiority of our knowledge, adopt our religion: so have Pagan nations in Africa voluntarily become Mussulmans. But neither we nor they can appeal to any case, where an old State-religion has yielded without warlike compulsion to the force of heavenly truth, “charm we never so wisely.” The whole influence which Christianity exerts over the world at large depends on the political history of modern Europe. The Christianity of Asia and Abyssinia is perhaps as pure and as respectable in this nineteenth century as it was in the fourth and fifth, yet no good or great deeds come forth out of it, of such a kind that Christian disputants dare to appeal to them with triumph. The politico-religious and very peculiar history of European Christendom has alone elevated the modern world; and as Gibbon remarks, this whole history has directly depended on the fate of the great battles of Tours between the Moors and the Franks. The defeat of Mohammedism by Christendom certainly has not been effected by spiritual weapons. The soldier and the statesman have done to the full as much as the priest to secure Europe for Christianity, and win a Christendom of which Christians can be proud. As for the Christendom of Asia, the apologists of Christianity simply ignore it. With these facts, how can it be pretended that the external history of Christianity points to an exclusively divine origin?

The author of the “Eclipse of Faith” has derided me for despatching in two paragraphs what occupied Gibbon’s whole fifteenth chapter; but this author, here as always, misrepresents me. Gibbon is exhibiting and developing the deep-seated causes of the spread of Christianity before Constantine, and he by no means exhausts the subject. I am comparing the ostensible and notorious facts concerning the outward conquest of Christianity with those of other religions. To account for the early growth of any religion, Christian, Mussulman, or Mormonite, is always difficult.

III. The moral advantages which we owe to Christianity have been exaggerated by the same party spirit, as if there were in them anything miraculous.

1. We are told that Christianity is the decisive influence which has raised womankind: this does not appear to be true. The old Roman matron was, relatively to her husband, morally as high as in modern Italy: nor is there any ground for supposing that modern women have advantage over the ancient in Spain and Portugal, where Germanic have been counteracted by Moorish influences. The relative position of the sexes in Homeric Greece exhibits nothing materially different from the present day. In Armenia and Syria perhaps Christianity has done the service of extinguishing polygamy: this is creditable, though nowise miraculous. Judaism also unlearnt polygamy, and made an unbidden improvement upon Moses. In short, only in countries where Germanic sentiment has taken root, do we see marks of any elevation of the female sex superior to that of Pagan antiquity; and as this elevation of the German woman in her deepest Paganism was already striking to Tacitus and his contemporaries, it is highly unreasonable to claim it as an achievement of Christianity.

In point of fact, Christian doctrine, as propounded by Paul, is not at all so honourable to woman as that which German soundness of heart has established. With Paul the sole reason for marriage is, that a man may gratify instinct without sin. He teaches, that but for this object it would be better not to marry. He wishes that all were in this respect as free as himself, and calls it a special gift of God. He does not encourage a man to desire a mutual soul intimately to share griefs and joys; one in whom the confiding heart can repose, whose smile shall reward and soften toil, whose voice shall beguile sorrow. He does not seem aware that the fascinations of woman refine and chasten society; that virtuous attachment has in it an element of respect, which abashes and purifies, and which shields the soul, even when marriage is deferred; nor yet, that the union of two persons who have no previous affection can seldom yield the highest fruits of matrimony, but often leads to the severest temptations. How should he have known all this? Courtship before marriage did not exist in the society open to him: hence he treats the propriety of giving away a maiden, as one in which her conscience, her likes and dislikes, are not concerned: 1 Cor. vi, 38. If the law leaves the parent “power over his own will” and imposes no “necessity” to give her away, Paul decidedly advises to keep her unmarried.

The author of the Apocalypse, a writer of the first century, who was received in the second as John the apostle, holds up a yet more degrading view of the matrimonial relation. In one of his visions he exhibits 144,000 chosen saints, perpetual attendants of “the Lamb,” and places the cardinal point of their sanctity in the fact, that “they were not defiled with women, but were virgins.” Marriage, therefore, is defilement! Protestant writers struggle in vain against this obvious meaning of the passage. Against all analogy of Scriptural metaphor, they gratuitously pretend that women mean idolatrous religions: namely, because in the Old Testament the Jewish Church is personified as a virgin betrothed to God, and an idol is spoken of as her paramour.

As a result of the apostolic doctrines, in the second, third, and following centuries, very gross views concerning the relation of the sexes prevailed, and have been everywhere transmitted where men’s morality is exclusively formed from the New Testament. The marriage service of the Church of England, which incorporates the Pauline doctrine is felt by English brides and bridegrooms to contain what is so offensive and degrading, that many clergymen mercifully make unlawful omissions. Paul had indeed expressly denounced prohibitions of marriage. In merely dissuading it, he gave advice, which, from his limited horizon and under his expectation of the speedy return of Christ, was sensible and good; but when this advice, with all its reasons, was made on oracle of eternal wisdom, it generated the monkish notions concerning womanhood. If the desire of a wife is a weakness, which the apostle would gladly have forbidden, only that he feared worse consequences, an enthusiastic youth cannot but infer that it is a higher state of perfection not to desire a wife, and therefore aspires to “the crown of virginity.” Here at once is full-grown monkery. Hence that debasement of the imagination, which is directed perpetually to the lowest, instead of the highest side of the female nature. Hence the disgusting admiration and invocation of Mary’s perpetual virginity. Hence the transcendental doctrine of her immaculate conception from Anne, the “grandmother of God.”

In the above my critics have represented me to say that Christianity has done nothing for women. I have not said so, but that what it has done has been exaggerated. I say: If the theory of Christianity is to take credit from the history of Christendom, it must also receive discredit. Taking in the whole system of nuns and celibates, and the doctrine which sustains it, the root of which is apostolic, I doubt whether any balance of credit remains over from this side of Christian history. I am well aware that the democratic doctrine of “the equality of souls” has a tendency to elevate women, and the poorer orders too; but this is not the whole of actual Christianity, which is a very heterogeneous mass.

2. Again: the modern doctrine, by aid of which West Indian slavery has been exterminated, is often put forward as Christian; but I had always discerned that it was not Biblical, and that, in respect to this great triumph, undue credit has been claimed for the fixed Biblical and authoritative doctrine. As I have been greatly misunderstood in my first edition, I am induced to expand this topic. Sir George Stephen, after describing the long struggle in England against the West Indian interest and other obstacles, says, that, for some time, “worst of all, we found the people, not actually against us, but apathetic, lethargic, incredulous, indifferent. It was then, and not till then, that we sounded the right note, and touched a chord that never ceased to vibrate. To uphold slavery was a crime against God! It was a NOVEL DOCTRINE, but it was a cry that was heard, for it would be heard. The national conscience was awakened to inquiry, and inquiry soon produced conviction.” Sir George justly calls the doctrine novel. As developed in the controversy, it laid down the general proposition, that men and women are not, and cannot be chattels; and that all human enactments which decree this are morally null and void, as sinning against the higher law of nature and of God. And the reason of this lies in the essential contrast of a moral personality and chattel. Criminals may deserve to be bound and scourged, but they do not cease to be persons, nor indeed do even the insane. Since every man is a person, he cannot be a piece of property, nor has an “owner” any just and moral claim to his services. Usage, so far from conferring this claim, increases the total amount of injustice; the longer an innocent man is forcibly kept in slavery, the greater the reparation to which he is entitled for the oppressive immorality. This doctrine I now believe to be irrefutable truth, but I disbelieved it while I thought the Scripture authoritative; because I found a very different doctrine there a doctrine which is the argumentative stronghold of the American slaveholder. Paul sent back the fugitive Onesimus to his master Philemon, with kind recommendations and apologies for the slave, and a tender charge to Philemon, that he would receive Onesimus as a brother in the Lord, since he had been converted by Paul in the interval; but this very recommendation, full of affection as it is, virtually recognizes the moral rights of Philemon to the services of his slave; and hinting that if Onesimus stole anything, Philemon should now forgive him, Paul shows perfect insensibility to the fact that the master who detains a slave in captivity against his will, is guilty himself of a continual theft. What says Mrs. Beecher Stowe’s Cassy to this? “Stealing! They who steal body and soul need not talk to us. Every one of these bills is stolen stolen from poor starving, sweating creatures.” Now Onesimus, in the very act of taking to flight, showed that he had been submitting to servitude against his will, and that the house of his owner had previously been a prison to him. To suppose that Philemon has a pecuniary interest in the return of Onesimus to work without wages, implies that the master habitually steals the slave’s earnings; but if he loses nothing by the flight, he has not been wronged by it. Such is the modern doctrine, developed out of the fundamental fact that persons are not chattels; but it is to me wonderful that it should be needful to prove to any one, that this is not the doctrine of the New Testament. Paul and Peter deliver excellent charges to masters in regard to the treatment of their slaves, but without any hint to them that there is an injustice in claiming them as slaves at all. That slavery, as a system, is essentially immoral, no Christian of those days seems to have suspected. Yet it existed in its worst forms under Rome. Whole gangs of slaves were mere tools of capitalists, and were numbered like cattle, with no moral relationship to the owner; young women of beautiful person were sold as articles of voluptuousness. Of course every such fact was looked upon by Christians as hateful and dreadful; yet, I say, it did not lead them to that moral condemnation of slavery, as such, which has won the most signal victory in modern times, and is destined, I trust, to win one far greater.

A friendly reviewer replies to this, that the apathy of the early Christians to the intrinsic iniquity of the slave system rose out of “their expectation of an immediate close of this world’s affairs. The only reason why Paul sanctioned contentment with his condition in the converted slave, was, that for so short a time it was not worth while for any man to change his state.” I agree to this; but it does not alter my fact: on the contrary, it confirms what I say, that the Biblical morality is not final truth. To account for an error surely is not to deny it.

Another writer has said on the above: “Let me suppose you animated to go as missionary to the East to preach this (Mr. Newman’s) spiritual system: would you, in addition to all this, publicly denounce the social and political evils under which the nations groan? If so, your spiritual projects would soon be perfectly understood, and summarily dealt with. It is vain to say, that, if commissioned by Heaven, and endowed with power of working miracles, you would do so; for you cannot tell under what limitations your commission would be given: it is pretty certain, that it would leave you to work a moral and spiritual system by moral and spiritual means, and not allow you to turn the world upside down, and mendaciously tell it that you came only to preach peace, while every syllable you uttered would be an incentive to sedition. Eclipse of Faith, .

This writer supposes that he is attacking me, when every line is an attack on Christ and Christianity. Have I pretended power of working miracles? Have I imagined or desired that miracle would shield me from persecution? Did Jesus not “publicly denounce the social and political evils” of Judaea? was he not “summarily dealt with”? Did he not know that his doctrine would send on earth “not peace, but a sword”? and was he mendacious in saying, “Peace I leave unto you?” or were the angels mendacious in proclaiming, “Peace on earth, goodwill among men”? Was not “every syllable that Jesus uttered” in the discourse of Matth. xxiii., “an incentive to sedition?” and does this writer judge it to be mendacity, that Jesus opened by advising to OBEY the very men, whom he proceeds to vilify at large as immoral, oppressive, hypocritical, blind, and destined to the damnation of hell? Or have I anywhere blamed the apostles because they did not exasperate wicked men by direct attacks? It is impossible to answer such a writer as this; for he elaborately misses to touch what I have said. On the other hand, it is rather too much to require me to defend Jesus from his assault.

Christian preachers did not escape the imputation of turning the world upside down, and at length, in some sense, effected what was imputed. It is matter of conjecture, whether any greater convulsion would have happened, if the apostles had done as the Quakers in America. No Quaker holds slaves: why not? Because the Quakers teach their members that it is an essential immorality. The slave-holding states are infinitely more alive and jealous to keep up their “peculiar institution,” than was the Roman government; yet the Quakers have caused no political convulsion. I confess, to me it seems, that if Paul, and John, and Peter, and James, had done as these Quakers, the imperial administration would have looked on it as a harmless eccentricity of the sect, and not as an incentive to sedition. But be this as it may, I did not say what else the apostles might have succeeded to enforce; I merely pointed out what it was that they actually taught, and that, as a fact, they did not declare slavery to be an immorality and the basest of thefts. If any one thinks their course was more wise, he may be right or wrong, but his opinion is in itself a concession of my fact.

As to the historical progress of Christian practice and doctrine on this subject, it is, as usual, mixed of good and evil. The humanity of good Pagan emperors softened the harshness of the laws of bondage, and manumission had always been extremely common amongst the Romans. Of course, the more humane religion of Christ acted still more powerfully in the same direction, especially in inculcating the propriety of freeing Christian slaves. This was creditable, but not peculiar, and is not a fact of such a nature as to add to the exclusive claims of Christianity. To every proselyting religion the sentiment is so natural, that no divine spirit is needed to originate and establish it. Mohammedans also have a conscience against enslaving Mohammedans, and generally bestow freedom on a slave as soon as he adopts their religion. But no zeal for human freedom has ever grown out of the purely biblical and ecclesiastical system, any more than out of the Mohammedan. In the middle ages, zeal for the liberation of serfs first rose in the breasts of the clergy, after the whole population had become nominally Christian. It was not men, but Christians, whom the clergy desired to make free: it is hard to say, that they thought Pagans to have any human rights at all, even to life. Nor is it correct to represent ecclesiastical influences as the sole agency which overthrew slavery and serfdom. The desire of the kings to raise up the chartered cities as a bridle to the barons, was that which chiefly made rustic slavery untenable in its coarsest form; for a “villain” who escaped into the free cities could not be recovered. In later times, the first public act against slavery came from republican France, in the madness of atheistic enthusiasm; when she declared black and white men to be equally free, and liberated the negroes of St. Domingo. In Britain, the battle of social freedom has been fought chiefly by that religious sect which rests least on the letter of Scripture. The bishops, and the more learned clergy, have consistently been apathetic to the duty of overthrowing the slave system. I was thus led to see, that here also the New Testament precepts must not be received by me as any final and authoritative law of morality. But I meet opposition in a quarter from which I had least expected it; from one who admits the imperfection of the morality actually attained by the apostles, but avows that Christianity, as a divine system, is not to be identified with apostolic doctrine, but with the doctrine ultimately developed in the Christian Church; moreover, the ecclesiastical doctrine concerning slavery he alleges to be truer than mine, I mean, truer than that which I have expounded as held by modern abolitionists. He approves of the principle of claiming freedom, not for men, but for Christians. He says: “That Christianity opened its arms at all to the servile class was enough; for in its embrace was the sure promise of emancipation.... Is it imputed as a disgrace, that Christianity put conversion before manumission, and brought them to God, ere it trusted them with themselves?... It created the simultaneous obligation to make the Pagan a convert, and the convert free.” ... “If our author had made his attack from the opposite side, and contended that its doctrines ‘proved too much’ against servitude, and assumed with too little qualification the capacity of each man for self-rule, we should have felt more hesitation in expressing our dissent.”

I feel unfeigned surprize at these sentiments from one whom I so highly esteem and admire; and considering that they were written at first anonymously, and perhaps under pressure of time, for a review, I hope it is not presumptuous in me to think it possible that they are hasty, and do not wholly express a deliberate and final judgment. I must think there is some misunderstanding; for I have made no high claims about capacity for self-rule, as if laws and penalties were to be done away. But the question is, shall human beings, who (as all of us) are imperfect, be controlled by public law, or by individual caprice? Was not my reviewer intending to advocate some form of serfdom which is compatible with legal rights, and recognizes the serf as a man; not slavery which pronounces him a chattel? Serfdom and apprenticeship we may perhaps leave to be reasoned down by economists and administrators; slavery proper is what I attacked as essentially immoral.

Returning then to the arguments, I reason against them as if I did not know their author. I have distinctly avowed, that the effort to liberate Christian slaves was creditable: I merely add, that in this respect Christianity is no better than Mohammedism. But is it really no moral fault, is it not a moral enormity, to deny that Pagans have human rights? “That Christianity opened its arms at all to the servile class, was enough.” Indeed! Then either unconverted men have no natural right to freedom, or Christians may withhold a natural right from them. Under the plea of “bringing them to God,” Christians are to deny by law, to every slave who refuses to be converted, the rights of husband and father, rights of persons, rights of property, rights over his own body. Thus manumission is a bribe to make hypocritical converts, and Christian superiority a plea for depriving men of their dearest rights. Is not freedom older than Christianity? Does the Christian recommend his religion to a Pagan by stealing his manhood and all that belongs to it? Truly, if only Christians have a right to personal freedom, what harm is there in hunting and catching Pagans to make slaves of them? And this was exactly the “development” of thought and doctrine in the Christian church. The same priests who taught that Christians have moral rights to their sinews and skin, to their wives and children, and to the fruit of their labour, which Pagans have not, consistently developed the same fundamental idea of Christian superiority into the lawfulness of making war upon the heathen, and reducing them to the state of domestic animals. If Christianity is to have credit from the former, it must also take the credit of the latter. If cumulative evidence of its divine origin is found in the fact, that Christendom has liberated Christian slaves, must we forget the cumulative evidence afforded by the assumed right of the Popes to carve out the countries of the heathen, and bestow them with their inhabitants on Christian powers? Both results flow logically out of the same assumption, and were developed by the same school.

But, I am told, a man must not be freed, until we have ascertained his capacity for self-rule! This is indeed a tyrannical assumption: vindicioe secundum servitutem. Men are not to have their human rights, until we think they will not abuse them! Prevention is to be used against the hitherto innocent and injured! The principle involves all that is arrogant, violent, and intrusive, in military tyranny and civil espionage. Self-rule? But abolitionists have no thought of exempting men from the penalties of common law, if they transgress the law; we only desire that all men shall be equally subjected to the law, and equally protected by it. It is truly a strange inference, that because a man is possibly deficient in virtue, therefore he shall not be subject to public law, but to private caprice: as if this were a school of virtue, and not eminently an occasion of vice. Truer far is Homer’s morality, who says, that a man loses half his virtue on the day he is made a slave. As to the pretence that slaves are not fit for freedom, those Englishmen who are old enough to remember the awful predictions which West Indian planters used to pour forth about the bloodshed and confusion which would ensue, if they were hindered by law from scourging black men and violating black women, might, I think, afford to despise the danger of enacting that men and women shall be treated as men and women, and not made tools of vice end victims of cruelty. If ever sudden emancipation ought to have produced violences and wrong from the emancipated, it was in Jamaica, where the oppression and ill-will was so great; yet the freed blacks have not in fifteen years inflicted on the whites as much lawless violence as they suffered themselves in six months of apprenticeship. It is the masters of slaves, not the slaves, who are deficient in self-rule; and slavery is doubly detestable, because it depraves the masters.

What degree of “worldly moderation and economical forethought” is needed by a practical statesman in effecting the liberation of slaves, it is no business of mine to discuss. I however feel assured, that no constitutional statesman, having to contend against the political votes of numerous and powerful slave-owners, who believe their fortunes to be at stake, will ever be found to undertake the task at all, against the enormous resistance of avarice and habit, unless religious teachers pierce the conscience of the nation by denouncing slavery as an essential wickedness. Even the petty West Indian interests a mere fraction of the English empire were too powerful, until this doctrine was taught. Mr. Canning in parliament spoke emphatically against slavery, but did not dare to bring in a bill against it. When such is English experience, I cannot but expect the same will prove true in America.

In replying to objectors, I have been carried beyond my narrative, and have written from my present point of view; I may therefore here complete this part of the argument, though by anticipation.

The New Testament has beautifully laid down Truth and Love as the culminating virtues of man; but it has imperfectly discerned that Love is impossible where Justice does not go first. Regarding this world as destined to be soon burnt up, it despaired of improving the foundations of society, and laid down the principle of Non-resistance, even to Injurious force, in terms so unlimited, as practically to throw its entire weight into the scale of tyranny. It recognises individuals who call themselves kings or magistrates (however tyrannical and usurping), as Powers ordained of God: it does not recognize nations as Communities ordained of God, or as having any power and authority whatsoever, as against pretentious individuals. To obey a king, is strenuously enforced; to resist a usurping king, in a patriotic cause, is not contemplated in the New Testament as under any circumstances an imaginable duty. Patriotism has no recognised existence in the Christian records. I am well aware of the cause of this; I do not say that it reflects any dishonour on the Christian apostles: I merely remark on it as a calamitous fact, and deduce that their precepts cannot and must not be made the sufficient rule of life, or they will still be (as they always have hitherto been) a mainstay of tyranny. The rights of Men and of Nations are wholly ignored in the New Testament, but the authority of Slave-owners and of Kings is very distinctly recorded for solemn religious sanction. If it had been wholly silent, no one could have appealed to its decision: but by consecrating mere Force, it has promoted Injustice, and in so far has made that Love impossible, which it desired to establish.

It is but one part of this great subject, that the apostles absolutely command a slave to give obedience to his master in nil things, “as to the Lord.” It is in vain to deny, that the most grasping of slave-owners asks nothing more of abolitionists than that they would all adopt Paul’s creed; viz., acknowledge the full authority of owners of slaves, tell them that they are responsible to God alone, and charge them to use their power righteously and mercifully.

3. LASTLY: it is a lamentable fact, that not only do superstitions about Witches, Ghosts, Devils, and Diabolical Miracles derive a strong support from the Bible, (and in fact have been exploded by nothing but the advance of physical philosophy,) but what is far worse, the Bible alone has nowhere sufficed to establish an enlightened religious toleration. This is at first seemingly unintelligible: for the apostles certainly would have been intensely shocked at the thought of punishing men, in body, purse, or station, for not being Christians or not being orthodox. Nevertheless, not only does the Old Testament justify bloody persecution, but the New teaches that God will visit men with fiery vengeance for holding an erroneous creed; that vengeance indeed is his, not ours; but that still the punishment is deserved. It would appear, that wherever this doctrine is held, possession of power for two or three generations inevitably converts men into persecutors; and in so far, we must lay the horrible desolations which Europe has suffered from bigotry, at the doors, not indeed of the Christian apostles themselves, but of that Bibliolatry which has converted their earliest records into a perfect and eternal law.

IV. “Prophecy” is generally regarded as a leading evidence of the divine origin of Christianity. But this also had proved itself to me a more and more mouldering prop, whether I leant on those which concerned Messiah, those of the New Testament, or the miscellaneous predictions of the Old Testament.

1. As to the Messianic prophecies, I began to be pressed with the difficulty of proving against the Jews that “Messiah was to suffer.” The Psalms generally adduced for this purpose can in no way be fixed on Messiah. The prophecy in the 9th chapter of Daniel looks specious in the authorized English version, but has evaporated in the Greek translation and is not acknowledged in the best German renderings. I still rested on the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, as alone fortifying me against the Rabbis: yet with an unpleasantly increasing perception that the system of “double interpretation” in which Christians indulge, is a playing fast and loose with prophecy, and is essentially dishonest No one dreams of a “second” sense until the primary sense proves false: all false prophecy may be thus screened. The three prophecies quoted (Acts xii 35) in proof of the resurrection of Jesus, are simply puerile, and deserve no reply. I felt there was something unsound in all this.

2. The prophecies of the New Testament are not many. First, we have that of Jesus in Matt xxiv. concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. It is marvellously exact, down to the capture of the city and miserable enslavement of the population; but at this point it becomes clearly and hopelessly false: namely, it declares, that “immediately after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, &c. &c., and then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven, and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect,” &c. This is a manifest description of the Great Day of Judgment: and the prophecy goes on to add: “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” When we thus find a prediction to break down suddenly in the middle, we have the well-known mark of its earlier part being written after the event: and it becomes unreasonable to doubt that the detailed annunciations of this 24th chapter of Matthew, were first composed very soon after the war of Titus, and never came from the lips of Jesus at all. Next: we have the prophecies of the Apocalypse. Not one of these can be interpreted certainly of any human affairs, except one in the 17th chapter, which the writer himself has explained to apply to the emperors of Rome: and that is proved false by the event. Farther, we have Paul’s prophecies concerning the apostacy of the Christian Church. These are very striking, as they indicate his deep insight into the moral tendencies of the community in which he moved. They are high testimonies to the prophetic soul of Paul; and as such, I cannot have any desire to weaken their force. But there is nothing in them that can establish the theory of supernaturalism, in the face of his great mistake as to the speedy return of Christ from heaven.

3. As for the Old Testament, if all its prophecies about Babylon and Tyre and Edom and Ishmael and the four Monarchies were both true and supernatural, what would this prove? That God had been pleased to reveal something of coming history to certain eminent men of Hebrew antiquity. That is all. We should receive this conclusion with an otiose faith. It could not order or authorize us to submit our souls and consciences to the obviously defective morality of the Mosaic system in which these prophets lived; and with Christianity it has nothing to do.

At the same time I had reached the conclusion that large deductions must be made from the credit of these old prophecies.

First, as to the Book of Daniel: the 11th chapter is closely historical down to Antiochus Épiphanes, after which it suddenly becomes false; and according to different modern expositors, leaps away to Mark Antony, or to Napoleon Buonaparte, or to the Papacy. Hence we have a prima facie presumption that the book was composed in the reign of that Antiochus; nor can it be proved to have existed earlier: nor is there in it one word of prophecy which can be shown to have been fulfilled in regard to any later era. Nay, the 7th chapter also is confuted by the event; for the great Day of Judgment has not followed upon the fourth Monarchy.

Next, as to the prophecies of the Pentateuch. They abound, as to the times which precede the century of Hezekiah; higher than which we cannot trace the Pentateuch. No prophecy of the Pentateuch can be proved to have been fulfilled, which had not been already fulfilled before Hezekiah’s day.

Thirdly, as to the prophecies which concern various nations, some of them are remarkably verified, as that against Babylon; others failed, as those of Ezekiel concerning Nebuchadnezzar’s wars against Tyre and Egypt. The fate predicted against Babylon was delayed for five centuries, so as to lose all moral meaning as a divine infliction on the haughty city. On the whole, it was clear to me, that it is a vain attempt to forge polemical weapons out of these old prophets, for the service of modern creeds.

V. My study of John’s gospel had not enabled me to sustain Dr. Arnold’s view, that it was an impregnable fortress of Christianity.

In discussing the Apocalypse, I had long before felt a doubt whether we ought not rather to assign that book to John the apostle in preference to the Gospel and Epistles: but this remained only as a doubt. The monotony also of the Gospel had often excited my wonder. But I was for the first time offended, on considering with a fresh mind an old fact, the great similarity of the style and phraseology in the third chapter, in the testimony of the Baptist, as well as in Christ’s address to Nicodemus, that of John’s own epistle. As the three first gospels have their family likeness, which enables us on hearing a text to know that it comes out of one of the three, though we perhaps know not which; so is it with the Gospel and Epistles of John. When a verse is read, we know that it is either from an epistle of John, or else from the Jesus of John; but often we cannot tell which. On contemplating the marked character of this phenomenon, I saw it infallibly to indicate that John has made both the Baptist and Jesus speak, as John himself would have spoken; and that we cannot trust the historical reality of the discourses in the fourth gospel.

That narrative introduces an entirely new phraseology, with a perpetual discoursing about the Father and the Son; of which there is barely the germ in Matthew: and herewith a new doctrine concerning the heaven-descended personality of Jesus. That the divinity of Christ cannot be proved from the three first gospels, was confessed by the early Church, and is proved by the labouring arguments of the modern Trinitarians. What then can be dearer, than that John has put into the mouth of Jesus the doctrines of half a century later, which he desired to recommend?

When this conclusion pressed itself first on my mind, the name of Strauss was only beginning to be known in England, and I did not read his great work until years after I had come to a final opinion on this whole subject. The contemptuous reprobation of Strauss in which it is fashionable for English writers to indulge, makes it a duty to express my high sense of the lucid force with which he unanswerably shows that the fourth gospel (whoever the author was) is no faithful exhibition of the discourses of Jesus. Before I had discerned this so vividly in all its parts, it had become quite certain to me that the secret colloquy with Nicodemus, and the splendid testimony of the Baptist to the Father and the Son, were wholly modelled out of John’s own imagination. And no sooner had I felt how severe was the shock to John’s general veracity, than a new and even graver difficulty rose upon me.

The stupendous and public event of Lazarus’s resurrection, the circumstantial cross-examination of the man born blind and healed by Jesus, made those two miracles, in Dr. Arnold’s view, grand and unassailable bulwarks of Christianity. The more I considered them, the mightier their superiority seemed to those of the other gospels. They were wrought at Jerusalem, under the eyes of the rulers, who did their utmost to detect them, and could not; but in frenzied despair, plotted to kill Lazarus. How different from the frequently vague and wholesale statements of the other gospels concerning events which happened where no enemy was watching to expose delusion! many of them in distant and uncertain localities.

But it became the more needful to ask; How was it that the other writers omitted to tell of such decisive exhibitions? Were they so dull in logic, as not to discern the superiority of these? Can they possibly have known of such miracles, wrought under the eyes of the Pharisees, and defying all their malice, and yet have told in preference other less convincing marvels? The question could not be long dwelt on, without eliciting the reply: “It is necessary to believe, at least until the contrary shall be proved, that the three first writers either had never heard of these two miracles, or disbelieved them.” Thus the account rests on the unsupported evidence of John, with a weighty presumption against its truth.

When, where, and in what circumstances did John write? It is agreed, that he wrote half a century after the events; when the other disciples were all dead; when Jerusalem was destroyed, her priests and learned men dispersed, her nationality dissolved, her coherence annihilated; he wrote in a tongue foreign to the Jews of Palestine, and for a foreign people, in a distant country, and in the bosom of an admiring and confiding church, which was likely to venerate him the more, the greater marvels he asserted concerning their Master. He told them miracles of firstrate magnitude, which no one before had recorded. Is it possible for me to receive them on his word, under circumstances so conducive to delusion, and without a single check to ensure his accuracy? Quite impossible; when I have already seen how little to be trusted is his report of the discourses and doctrine of Jesus.

But was it necessary to impute to John conscious and wilful deception? By no means absolutely necessary; as appeared by the following train of thought. John tells us that Jesus promised the Comforter, to bring to their memory things that concerned him; oh that one could have the satisfaction of cross-examining John on this subject! Let me suppose him put into the witness-box; and I will speak to him thus: “O aged Sir, we understand that you have two memories, a natural and a miraculous one: with the former you retain events as other men; with the latter you recall what had been totally forgotten. Be pleased to tell us now. Is it from your natural or from your supernatural memory that you derive your knowledge of the miracle wrought on Lazarus and the long discourses which you narrate?” If to this question John were frankly to reply, “It is solely from my supernatural memory, from the special action of the Comforter on my mind:” then should I discern that he was perfectly truehearted. Yet I should also see, that he was liable to mistake a reverie, a meditation, a day-dream, for a resuscitation of his memory by the Spirit. In short, a writer who believes such a doctrine, and does not think it requisite to warn us how much of his tale comes from his natural, and how much from his supernatural memory, forfeits all claim to be received as an historian, witnessing by the common senses to external fact. His work may have religious value, but it is that of a novel or romance, not of a history. It is therefore superfluous to name the many other difficulties in detail which it contains.

Thus was I flung back to the three first gospels, as, with all their defects, their genealogies, dreams, visions, devil-miracles, and prophecies written after the event, yet on the whole, more faithful as a picture of the true Jesus, than that which is exhibited in John.

And now my small root of supernaturalism clung the tighter to Paul, whose conversion still appeared to me a guarantee, that there was at least some nucleus of miracle in Christianity, although it had not pleased God to give us any very definite and trustworthy account. Clearly it was an error, to make miracles our foundation; but might we not hold them as a result? Doctrine must be our foundation; but perhaps we might believe the miracles for the sake of it. And in the epistles of Paul I thought I saw various indications that he took this view. The practical soundness of his eminently sober understanding had appeared to me the more signal, the more I discerned the atmosphere of erroneous philosophy which he necessarily breathed. But he also proved a broken reed, when I tried really to lean upon him as a main support.

1. The first thing that broke on me concerning Paul, was, that his moral sobriety of mind was no guarantee against his mistaking extravagances for miracle. This was manifest to me in his treatment of the gift of tongues.

So long ago as in 1830, when the Irving “miracles” commenced in Scotland, my particular attention had been turned to this subject, and the Irvingite exposition of the Pauline phenomena appeared to me so correct, that I was vehemently predisposed to believe the miraculous tongues. But my friend “the Irish clergyman” wrote me a full account of what he heard with his own ears; which was to the effect that none of the sounds, vowels or consonants, were foreign; that the strange words were moulded after the Latin grammar, ending in -abus, -obus, -ébat, -avi, &c., so as to denote poverty of invention rather than spiritual agency; and that there was no interpretation. The last point decided me, that any belief which I had in it must be for the present unpractical. Soon after, a friend of mine applied by letter for information as to the facts to a very acute and pious Scotchman, who had become a believer in these miracles. The first reply gave us no facts whatever, but was a declamatory exhortation to believe. The second was nothing but a lamentation over my friend’s unbelief, because he asked again for the facts. This showed me, that there was excitement and delusion: yet the general phenomena appeared so similar to those of the church of Corinth, that I supposed the persons must unawares have copied the exterior manifestations, if, after all, there was no reality at bottom.

Three years sufficed to explode these tongues; and from time to time I had an uneasy sense, how much discredit they cast on the Corinthian miracles. Meander’s discussion on the 2nd Chapter of the Acts first opened to me the certainty, that Luke (or the authority whom he followed) has exaggerated into a gift of languages what cannot have been essentially different from the Corinthian, and in short from the Irvingite, tongues. Thus Luke’s narrative has transformed into a splendid miracle, what in Paul is no miracle at all. It is true that Paul speaks of interpretation of tongues as possible, but without a hint that any verification was to be used. Besides, why should a Greek not speak Greek in an assembly of his own countrymen? Is it credible, that the Spirit should inspire one man to utter unintelligible sounds, and a second to interpret these, and then give the assembly endless trouble to find out whether the interpretation was pretence or reality, when the whole difficulty was gratuitous? We grant that there may be good reasons for what is paradoxical, but we need the stronger proof that it is a reality. Yet what in fact is there? and why should the gift of tongues in Corinth, as described by Paul, be treated with more respect than in Newman Street, London? I could find no other reply, than that Paul was too sober-minded: yet his own description of the tongues is that of a barbaric jargon, which makes the church appear as if it “were mad,” and which is only redeemed from contempt by miraculous interpretation. In the Acts we see that this phenomenon pervaded all the Churches; from the day of Pentecost onward it was looked on as the standard mark of “the descent of the Holy Spirit;” and in the conversion of Cornelius it was the justification of Peter for admitting uncircumcised Gentiles: yet not once is “interpretation” alluded to, except in Paul’s epistle. Paul could not go against the whole Church. He held a logic too much in common with the rest, to denounce the tongues as mere carnal excitement; but he does anxiously degrade them as of lowest spiritual value, and wholly prohibits them where there is “no interpreter.” To carry out this rule, would perhaps have suppressed them entirely.

This however showed me, that I could not rest on Paul’s practical wisdom, as securing him against speculative hallucinations in the matter of miracles; for indeed he says: “I thank my God, that I speak with tongues more than ye all.”

2. To another broad fact I had been astonishingly blind, though the truth of it flashed upon me as soon as I heard it named; that Paul shows total unconcern to the human history and earthly teaching of Jesus, never quoting his doctrine or any detail of his actions. The Christ with whom Paul held communion was a risen, ascended, exalted Lord, a heavenly being, who reigned over arch-angels, and was about to appear as Judge of the world: but of Jesus in the flesh Paul seems to know nothing beyond the bare fact that he did “humble himself” to become man, and “pleased not himself.” Even in the very critical controversy about meat and drink, Paul omits to quote Christ’s doctrine, “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth the man,” &c. He surely, therefore, must have been wholly and contentedly ignorant of the oral teachings of Jesus.

3. This threw a new light on the independent position of Paul. That he anxiously refused to learn from the other apostles, and “conferred not with flesh and blood,” not having received his gospel of many but by the revelation of Jesus Christ had seemed to me quite suitable to his high pretensions. Any novelties which might be in his doctrine, I had regarded as mere developments, growing out of the common stem, and guaranteed by the same Spirit. But I now saw that this independence invalidated his testimony. He may be to us a supernatural, but he certainly is not a natural, witness to the truth of Christ’s miracles and personality. It avails not to talk of the opportunities which he had of searching into the truth of the resurrection of Christ, for we see that he did not choose to avail himself of the common methods of investigation. He learned his gospel by an internal revelation. He even recounts the appearance of Christ to him, years after his ascension, as evidence co-ordinate to his appearance to Peter and to James, and to 500 brethren at onc Cor. xv. Again the thought is forced on us, how different was his logic from ours!

To see the full force of the last remark, we ought to conceive how many questions a Paley would have wished to ask of Paul; and how many details Paley himself, if he had had the sight, would have felt it his duty to impart to his readers. Had Paul ever seen Jesus when alive? How did he recognize the miraculous apparition to be the person whom Pilate had crucified? Did he see him as a man in a fleshly body, or as a glorified heavenly form? Was it in waking, or sleeping, and if the latter, how did he distinguish his divine vision from a common dream? Did he see only, or did he also handle? If it was a palpable man of flesh, how did he assure himself that it was a person risen from the dead, and not an ordinary living man?

Now as Paul is writing specially to convince the incredulous or to confirm the wavering, it is certain that he would have dwelt on these details, if he had thought them of value to the argument. As he wholly suppresses them, we must infer that he held them to be immaterial; and therefore that the evidence with which he was satisfied, in proof that a man was risen from the dead, was either totally different in kind from that which we should now exact, or exceedingly inferior in rigour. It appears, that he believed in the resurrection of Christ, first, on the ground of prophecy: secondly, (I feel it is not harsh or bold to add,) on very loose and wholly unsifted testimony. For since he does not afford to us the means of sifting and analyzing his testimony, he cannot have judged it our duty so to do; and therefore is not likely himself to have sifted very narrowly the testimony of others.

Conceive farther how a Paley would have dealt with so astounding a fact, so crushing an argument as the appearance of the risen Jesus to 500 brethren at once. How would he have extravagated and revelled in proof! How would he have worked the topic, that “this could have been no dream, no internal impression, no vain fancy, but a solid indubitable fact!” How he would have quoted his authorities, detailed their testimonies, and given their names and characters! Yet Paul dispatches the affair in one line, gives no details and no special declarations, and seems to see no greater weight in this decisive appearance, than in the vision to his single self. He expects us to take his very vague announcement of the 500 brethren as enough, and it does not seem to occur to him that his readers (if they need to be convinced) are entitled to expect fuller information. Thus if Paul does not intentionally supersede human testimony, he reduces it to its minimum of importance.

How can I believe at second hand, from the word of one whom I discern to hold so lax notions of evidence? Yet who of the Christian teachers was superior to Paul? He is regarded as almost the only educated man of the leaders. Of his activity of mind, his moral sobriety, his practical talents, his profound sincerity, his enthusiastic self-devotion, his spiritual insight, there is no question: but when his notions of evidence are infected with the errors of his age, what else can we expect of the eleven, and of the multitude?

4. Paul’s neglect of the earthly teaching of Jesus might in part be imputed to the nonexistence of written documents and the great difficulty of learning with certainty what he really had taught. This agreed perfectly well with what I already saw of the untrustworthiness of our gospels; but it opened a chasm between the doctrine of Jesus and that of Paul, and showed that Paulinism, however good in itself, is not assuredly to be identified with primitive Christianity. Moreover, it became clear, why James and Paul are so contrasted. James retains with little change the traditionary doctrine of the Jerusalem Christians; Paul has superadded or substituted a gospel of his own. This was, I believe, pointedly maintained 25 years ago by the author of “Not Paul, but Jesus;” a book which I have never read.

VII. I had now to ask, Where are the twelve men of whom Paley talks, as testifying to the resurrection of Christ? Paul cannot be quoted as a witness, but only as a believer. Of the twelve we do not even know the names, much less have we their testimony. Of James and Jude there are two epistles, but it is doubtful whether either of these is of the twelve apostles; and neither of them declare themselves eyewitnesses to Christ’s resurrection. In short, Peter and John are the only two. Of these however, Peter does not attest the bodily, but only the spiritual, resurrection of Jesus; for he says that Christ was “put to death in flesh, but made alive in spirit,” 1 Pet ii: yet if this verse had been lost, his opening address would have seduced me into the belief that Peter taught the bodily resurrection of Jesus. So dangerous is it to believe miracles, on the authority of words quoted from a man whom we cannot cross-examine! Thus, once more, John is left alone in his testimony; and how insufficient that is, has been said.

The question also arose, whether Peter’s testimony to the transfiguration (2 Pet. , was an important support. A first objection might be drawn from the sleep ascribed to the three disciples in the gospels; if the narrative were at all trustworthy. But a second and greater difficulty arises in the doubtful authenticity of the second Epistle of Peter.

Neander positively decides against that epistle. Among many reasons, the similarity of its second chapter to the Epistle of Jude is a cardinal fact. Jude is supposed to be original; yet his allusions show him to be post-apostolic. If so, the second Epistle of Peter is clearly spurious. Whether this was certain, I could not make up my mind: but it was manifest that where such doubts may be honestly entertained, no basis exists to found a belief of a great and significant miracle.

On the other hand, both the Transfiguration itself, and the fiery destruction of Heaven and Earth prophesied in the third chapter of this epistle, are open to objections so serious, as mythical imaginations, that the name of Peter will hardly guarantee them to those with whom the general evidence for the miracles in the gospels has thoroughly broken down.

On the whole, one thing only was clear concerning Peter’s faith; that he, like Paul, was satisfied with a kind of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus which fell exceedingly short of the demands of modern logic: and that it is absurd in us to believe, barely because they believed.