Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

vening, he becomes, on the instant, conscious that he has believed, and therefore he is saved. No wonder the rebound is great from terror to joy, when he exclaims, “My debt is paid, my soul is free, and I am justified.” “I the chief of sinners am, but Jesus died for me.” Hence, too, arises grateful love.

Nor is it wonderful that such an emotional convulsion parts him for ever from his past life, that it should prove purifying to a large extent; for it is generally inculcated, except by Calvinists, that wilful sin, after conversion, cancels his pardon, and places him again under the wrath and curse of God. There are, however, many instances of such relapse.

Leaving, then, on our right hand and on our left, these and other “short and easy” substitutes for the true method of cautious inquiry, we shall have, before reverting to it, to encounter another objection. It is urged that if we can only obtain a knowledge of Jesus by the slow, tedious, and uncertain method of historical inquiry, the poor and ignorant may well despair of doing so ; there is then no gospel for them, but only for the learned, or for the wealthy who have leisure to become so. “We," say they, "contend that the poor have a right to have the gospel preached to them, and affirm that they have in their hearts and consciences 'a verifying faculty’; they have, or by faith they may have, the witness within them. You insist on their becoming theologians, of the sort specified by Sir William Hamilton. Hear what he says: 'Christian, and more especially Protestant, theology

E

a

is little else than an applied philology and criticism, of which the basis is a profound knowledge of the languages and history of the ancient world. To be a competent divine is, in fact, to be a scholar.' Set the poor man thus on his way to Jesus, through 'the languages and history of the ancient world, and when would he reach him ? The task would be impossible. Such a course would be of uncertain result even for the learned, as historians themselves will bear witness. A recent Professor of History (Goldwin Smith) tells us,* Historical evidence is not a ground upon which religion can possibly rest.' And Mr. Froude, one of our greatest living historians, asks how we can talk of a science in history, in which we can only guess at the probable, instead of knowing the certain. In Short Studies on Great Subjects, p. 13, he says, 'Tacitus and Thucydides were perhaps the ablest men who ever gave themselves to writing history, the ablest and also the most incapable of conscious falsehood. Yet even now, after all these centuries, the truth of what they relate is called in question. Good reasons can be given to show that neither of them can be confidently trusted. If we doubt with these, whom are we to believe?' We cannot suspect historians of a bias against their own profession, therefore when they point out the inutility or untrustworthiness of history in general, we cannot but believe them, and we are therefore sure that God

* “ Rational Religion and the Rationalistic Objections of the Bampton Lectures for 1858,” p. 108.

[ocr errors]

never intended us to attain to the knowledge of Jesus Christ whom he has sent (which knowledge is eternal life) by the laborious and uncertain paths of historical research. Those who advocate this method of coming to Christ, calling such 'cautious inquiry''the key of knowledge,' do in effect shut up the kingdom of heaven against men : they enter not in themselves, and those who are entering they hinder.'”

There are persons who would hit us thus hard—for did we not begin the chapter by pointing out the uncertainties of history ?—and who would plead after the above fashion against inquiry, but to what end? Can they alter the truth that historical questions must be solved by the cautious methods of modern inquiry, or left unsolved? All past biography belongs more or less to this historical region, and how can that of Jesus be excluded ? No; if we cannot thus know the broad facts of his life, we cannot know them at all. Of the detail we may possibly know little or nothing, and perhaps, in what seems best established, we may have to be content with probability. The question is, What knowledge of Jesus is available for us, and how may we obtain it ? There are, presumably, great difficulties in the way of entire certainty respecting some important points, else why such diversities of opinion ? Well, what then? If we cannot get certainty, let us take the greatest probability, and if that is not worth much, let us confess our ignorance and then hold our

any rate, we can do better than to exclaim, ist, that it is absolutely necessary to salvation to

peace. At

know Jesus ; endly in the same breath), that we cannot know him by historical inquiry-attempting to reconcile the paradox by dignifying with the name of knowledge the blind traditional belief acquired in infancy, namely, because born in such and such a place, and of such and such parents. We hold it better to follow the advice of that other Jesus, a predecessor of the Nazarene, who quietly advises * to "Profess not the knowledge therefore that thou hast not.”

And as to the necessity laid on us (according to the Church) to know Jesus or perish eternally, if the knowledge is necessary, it will probably be found attainable by rational methods ; if not so attainable, this to us will be sufficient proof that no such necessity exists. But perhaps our evangelical friend would like to hear Professor Goldwin Smith speak to the same purpose, in the work quoted above, p. 107, "If he” (God) “has not given us conclusive evidence of any fact which we may imagine to be of vital importance to us, it must be because that fact is not of vital importance in his eyes."

We have seen, however, that there are conclusions in which all agree, so that we have already a standing ground, a base of operations.

Thus we know that Jesus of Nazareth was, if nothing more, a great and good man, a religious teacher, who, at Jerusalem, “suffered, under Pontius Pilate," the death of the cross, between the years 26 and 36.

(

* Ecclesiasticus iii. 25.

What he more precisely was, and whether he possessed qualities which must be deemed supernatural, and if so, to what order of beings he belongs, and how related to us, are questions to which, as the result of the inquiry before us, we hope to be able to give some sort of answer.

It is true, indeed, that many, even of the learned, have been baffled in their attempts to delineate truly the historical Jesus, and that we (being of the unlearned) cannot expect to succeed where they have failed; moreover, we can only inquire at second hand.

Why, then, do you presume to write on the question ? the reader may, not impertinently, ask.

We reply, that the learned have mostly written on this subject for their own class. Moreover, we have never met with a life of Jesus which has come near to satisfying us—the available materials not having been, as it seems to us, efficiently used. Perhaps, because first, the critics have often spent so much time and labour over comparatively trifling questions, that their books are dry reading for the general public, however useful their work may have been as pioneer work; and secondly, of those who have written for the English people, some have used the New Testament without sufficient discrimination, while others have gone to the other extreme, and, alleging the paucity of materials, have left too many unsolved enigmas.

Finally, we think a just judgment on the main questions at issue may be arrived at even by us, the

« ÎnapoiContinuați »