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the possibility of the truth of each and every one of the various beliefs we have, without criticizing, noticed respecting Jesus, we are also under obligation to recognize the magnitude of the issues involved, and to confess that doubt on the main questions must be indeed misery—that suspension of judgment would be fatal to inward peace.
To say that a subject is important is to affirm that it is important to know the truth respecting it. This is now generally acknowledged. The age is passed in which men could be publicly asked to silence doubt in any other way than by resolute searching after truth. To stifle doubt is evidence of laziness, cowardice, or imbecility. To be apathetic regarding a matter of such grave import is a state of mind wholly indefensible; the trifler himself admits his folly. Those who state that the truth cannot be known, have assuredly no right to do so before they have tried to find it. For our own part, as regards the question of the importance of the subject, we are disposed to admit it, even if the result of inquiry be that no evidence of the supernatural is forthcoming in connection with the great Nazarene. In that case, to say nothing further of the moral benefit to be derived from studying the character and teaching of Jesus, it would still be a great work, in which each may be allowed to help according to his ability, to free the world from the terrible dogmas which cluster around the name of Jesus, some of which we have alluded to above. For if Jesus was, after all, a merely
natural man,-indeed, if there be no evidence amounting to a balance of probability for the miraculous, then these doctrines can no longer be sustained, and deserve to perish as colossal fictions, of which great will be the fall.
That the author of "Supernatural Religion," for example, came sincerely to just this negative conclusion, is evident to any one, not a bigot, who reads him. He believed himself able to enlighten others on the subject, and was therefore justified in attempting to do so. To dismiss his plea of duty as a mere pretext is worse than a breach of good manners; and to stigmatize him as guilty, because he gives the reasons for his honest convictions (however mistaken he may be), is to show that one has not apprehended one of the most elementary ethical truths.*
There is one aspect of the subject which does not, it seems to us, command the attention it deserves. That is, the moral obligation resting on men, and especially on teachers of religion, to refrain from affirming the truth of any disputed proposition, unless they possess evidence of its truth. We are often told that belief is free, that a man has a right to hold and express any opinions he chooses on religious topics. But his liberty of speech does not release him from the duty to refrain from affirming that to be true which he does not know to be true, at least when its truth is disputed.
* We were led to make these remarks on reading the following in reference to “Supernatural Religion : ”—“The guilt of one single murder, which shortens the span of one little life, seems trivial compared with the guilt of this prolonged effort, under the pretext of fulfilling the duty of religious inquiry, to reverse and annul the greatest gift of Divine goodness to a dark and sin-disordered world ; and, after the true Light has dawned, to shut up the present and all future generations of mankind in Stygian darkness for evermore. Supernatural Revelation; or, First Principles of Moral Theology,” by Rev. T. R. Birks, p. 17. We may, however, remind ourselves and readers that though the work from which we have obtained this verdict bears a recent date (1879), yet the author belongs to a former generation.
Thus, if a man had a right understanding of the moral obligation of veracity he would see that it would be wrong to say with Dr. Watts, without the prefix, “I believe ”—
“There is a dreadful hell
And everlasting pains,
In darkness, fire, and chains,"
unless he knew it to be true. It is not sufficient, for example, for him to point to a similar statement in any book of the Bible, as proof of its truth, unless he has previously proved that every statement in that book, or by its author, is true.
We do not condemn as guilty of untruthfulness those parents and ministers of religion who make such affirmations in good faith, even though they have not sought for evidence of the truth of the proposition affirmed, but we say they err through ignorance of what veracity requires of them, and that their act of thus seriously affirming a statement whose truth they have not verified, is, considered in itself, a wrong act Many ministers of religion need to have this doctrine of the supreme importance of truth and truthfulness, and what is involved therein, pressed home on them; they need, many of them, as they preach to others, to be preached to themselves, and to have their consciences, on this so often dormant side, stirred and awakened to sensitiveness.
HOW MAY WE OBTAIN KNOWLEDGE OF JESUS ?
SINCE it is important that each one of us, learned or unlearned, should come to the knowledge of the truth respecting Jesus, or since it is, at least, desirable to ascertain what we can know of him, we have next to ask—where may we get the satisfaction we require? How may we obtain knowledge of Jesus?
Certainly not from his own writings. Jesus did not write, or if even he wrote a few letters it is allowed nothing has been transmitted to us which we can depend on as having been written by him. But there are other celebrated names of antiquity, borne by men who likewise did not write-take, for instance, the famous one of Socrates, or the infamous one of Nero. How may we learn anything of them ? The probable reply will be—by consulting their biographers or historians, by reference to the pages respectively of Zenophon and Tacitus. True, and then you may know what Zenophon wrote of Socrates, and what Tacitus wrote of Nero. We desire, let us say, to form a just estimate of the character of Queen