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With a Preface and Notes by James Murdock, D. D. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1841. pp. 528.
BEFORE the publication of the American edition of this work, we had seen the review of Mr. Milman's History, in Fraser's Magazine. The estimate formed of it by that authority may be learned from the following extracts: “We were about” says the reviewer,“ to give a specimen of the most obvious feature of this imitation—the adoption of Gibbon's peculiar style; but on turning over the volumes, the difficulty was how to select from that which is continuous and all-pervading. Every page of the book rings with Gibbon's sounding periods. But this is no excellence. Hardly bearable in that writer's own volumes, in the imitation this artificial and turgid style becomes unspeakably fatiguing. A degree of admiring wonder, excited at first by the singular success of the parody, soon changes into tedium and disgust. Worse, however, far worse, than the mere style, is the adoption of Gibbon's spirit. The prebendary of Westminster thinks and feels with the deceased infidel. Their sympathies and partialities are the same, modified only by Mr. Milman's professional obligations, in the single point of external Christianity; such modification, however, being too slight to render his work even tolerable to the mind of a sincere believer in the word of God.”
Again : “ Drawing his historical outlines from Gibbon, he still needed some writer or writers of less notorious infidelity, to furnish him with theological criticisms which might appropriately coalesce with Gibbon's sketches of men and events. In the German rationalist all this is found. Here are a few passages, which evince how apt a scholar Mr. Milman has proved himself in this new school of disguised infidelity.” After giving several passages from the History relating to the character and work of Christ, the reviewer adds, “We have copied these passages with a disgust amounting almost to horror. The open blasphemies of our English infidels were less revolting than the patronising air, the philosophical tone' with which the prebendary of Westminster describes Him who is none else than the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.' We declare that we find a difficulty even in alluding to this subject. An open blasphemer may be dealt with, but how are we to speak of one who praises Him who holdeth the stars in his right hand,' in just such language as might be applied to Aristotle or Plato ?”
After another series of extracts, it is said, “Nothing can be plainer than the drift of all these passages. They are totally irreconcilable with a belief that the Bible is a divine revelation. Inspired writers would not have deluded us by descriptions which were untrue; the Holy Spirit, dictating plain and distinct accounts of actual transactions, would not have given us as facts what were merely appearances.
. . . If the Bible be not the very word of God, and entirely and absolutely true, then is it a matter of slight importance what its real place and meaning is. It must be either inspired, and therefore authoritative; or else a fiction and a forgery, and therefore to be rejected. Mr. Milman's book, therefore, by casting, as it does, a doubt on the first branch of the alternative, and refusing full credence to the word of God, is essentially an infidel production.”
In the conclusion of the review the writer asks, “Why is Mr. Milman still a clergyman of the Church of England ? The answer throws us back upon the innate imperfection of all human institutions. Mr. Milman, it appears to us, ought not to contaminate the church with his presence, and his evil example. But his conscience is the only court to which we can appeal. He is too well practised in the arts of controversy, and has too much at stake, both in rank and in revenue, to commit himself to the extent of an open offence against the laws of the church. In all the disgusting passages which we have quoted in the preceding pages, we are not aware of a single sentence involving the writer in the charge of heresy. We gather, legitimately and fairly gather, from them all, that he is deeply tinged with the scepticism of the German rationalists; but all this may be made perceptible enough, without a single positive attack upon revelation, or one avowal of heretical opinions. Hence, as we have already said, so long as Mr. Milman can quiet his conscience, so long may he continue to thrive on the endowments of the church, while he inflicts upon her the deepest injuries. Nor, when we speak of his conscience do we profess to entertain any hopes from this quarter. The rationalists of Germany are for the most part professors in the colleges and ministers in the churches founded by Luther and Melancthon, by Calvin and Beza. Liberal ideas' in religion are ever accompanied by • liberal ideas' in matters of honour and integrity. Perfect uprightness is a rare thing in this world; and seldom indeed found, except in connection with genuine Bible Christianity."
In a contemporary American journal,* there is a notice of this work, from which we extract the following passages. After quoting the author's declaration, that instead of dwelling on the internal feuds and divisions in the Christian community, and the variations in doctrine and discipline, he proposed to direct his attention to the effects of Christianity on the social and political condition of man, his American critic says, “From the first announcement of this plan, it has struck us as a design of great value to the cause of Christian knowledge; and from the character of the author, as well as from several favourable notices and reviews of his work which have appeared in the British periodicals, we were prepared to welcome its appearance from the American press. It is brought out by Harper and Brothers in good style, and the Preface and Notes by Dr. Murdock, though not voluminous, add not a little to the historical value of the work. We have read a large portion of it, and must gratefully acknowledge that our raised expectations have been fully answered. The learning and indefatigable industry of the author are worthy of the highest praise; and his style, though sometimes obscure, is often glowing and splendid, in keeping with his reputation as a poet, as well as a historian.”
« His remarks on the Life of Jesus,' [by Strauss, as well as on the nearly contemporary work of Dr. H. Weisse, are placed in several appendices and notes, and contain a valuable though perhaps not a sufficiently thorough refutation of the mystical theory of these German writers. In this relation his vindication of the Divinity of the Saviour is by no means an unimportant part of his work. And, as a whole, we regard this history as justly entitled to the high character of a standard work. It is not in all respects as we could wish. The author in his liberality to German writers, to whom he acknowledges his indebtedness, has allowed himself to be influenced in some degree by the sceptical tendency of their philosophy. But as a history, his work is generally impartial and candid, as well as learned and amply supported by the best authorities.”
Dr. Murdock gives his recommendation, without even the slight qualification which the Repository thought it necessary to add. “This work,” he says “ bears a genuine
American Biblical Repository, conducted hy Absalom Peters, D.D., and Selah B. Treat. January, 1842. VOL. XIV.-NO. II.
historical character. Indeed, it is a pretty full Ecclesiastical History, although, as we have before observed, one of a peculiar character. It details all those facts in ecclesiastical history which the author supposed would be generally interesting in a secular point of view; and, by the splendour of its style, and the fulness and accuracy of its statements, it is well adapted to afford both pleasure and profit. At the same time, its religious tendency is salutary ; it is a safe book for all to read. The divine origin of Christianity, and the authority of the holy scriptures, are every where maintained. Indeed, a large part of the book,--all that relates to the history of Jesus Christ and his apostles—seems to have been written chiefly for the purpose of rescuing this portion of sacred history from the exceptions of infidels and the perversions of rationalists. In addition to this fundamental point, the book distinctly maintains the divine mission of Christ, his equality with the Father, and his ability to save all who believe in and obey him; also, the reality and necessity of the new birth; the future judgment, and the retributions of the world to come. These and other Christian doctrines are not, indeed, kept continually before the reader's mind, and urged upon him with the zeal of a religious teacher, but they are distinctly recognized as taught by Christ and his apostles, and as being essential and vital principles of the Christian religion. This book, therefore, though not professing to teach articles of faith, or to inculcate piety, is a safe book for all classes of readers; and, while it is an appropriate work for the use of statesmen, philanthropists, and literary men, it deserves a place in most of our social and circulating libraries, and in all those of our higher literary institutions."*
Here then is a book which an English journal of high authority, condemns as “essentially an infidel production"; pronounces its author guilty of contaminating the Church of England with his presence, and of violating the obligations of "honour and integrity,” in continuing to thrive upon its endowments; recommended by American clergymen " as justly entitled to the high character of a standard work”; its religious tendency declared to be salutary, and the book pronounced safe for all classes of readers. It is very obvious either that the English reviewer is guilty of the grossest injustice, or that 'liberal ideas in religion' have made deplorable progress among American critics.
* Proface, p. vii.
These contradictory judgments excited in us a curiosity to see a work which presents such different aspects to different eyes.
We have accordingly read it through with a good deal of attention, and though we think the English reviewer does Mr. Milman injustice, we are far less surprised at the severity of his condemnation, than we are to find such a book endorsed by American clergymen professing orthodoxy.
It is not an easy matter to present a fair estimate of this work. To those of our readers who are familiar with the recent theological works of Germany, we should convey a tolerably correct idea of its character, by saying it is a German work written by an English clergyman. But as German works differ very much among themselves, or as they have what is characteristic of them as a class, in very different degrees, we must be more explicit in our description. There is then in this work a disposition to represent Christianity as a development, as being the result of predisposing causes, the progress of the human mind under the influence of the spirit of the age, and assuming in each successive age, as of necessity, the form imposed upon it by the operation of causes within the sphere of nature. This is considered philosophical. Every thing is traced psychologically. Judaism was what it was in the time of Christ, because it had been in contact with Zoroastrianism in the East; Christianity was what it was in the beginning, because it sprang from Judaism; the Christianity of the third and fourth centuries was the necessary result of the Orientalism, Platonism, &c, &c., by which its character was determined. This disposition, when carried to an extreme, is not only infidelity but fatalism. Christianity not only arose without any interference on the part of God, but every change for the better or worse, was a necessary change. Nothing is to be praised and nothing blamed. Every thing is the unfolding of a principle or Spirit which the atheist leaves without a name, and the pantheist calls God.
Mr. Milman, though his work is pervaded by the disposition to account for every thing by natural causes, does not go to the length of his German models. He distinctly admits that there is something supernatural in the origin of Christianity. “I strongly protest,” he says "against the opinion, that the origin of the [Christian] religion can be attributed, according to a theory adopted by many foreign writers, to the gradual and spontaneous development of the human mind. Christ is as much before his own age, as his