« ÎnapoiContinuați »
and find with deep dismay all his efforts resulting in humiliating failure. How bitter the disappointment ! how poignant the anguish ! how overwhelming the confusion of the saint thus apparently convicted of imposture! Has he unconsciously committed some sin, rendering him unworthy of the spiritual gifts of his more pious predecessor ? Did not some of the disciples of Jesus fail to cast out devils, because they were deficient in fasting and prayer? He has prayed without ceasing, but, alas ! he is afflicted with a healthy appetite; it is but yesterday he dined with a wealthy convert, and satisfied his hunger whit several tempting dishes. His wounded conscience shudders at the enormity of his offence. He will partake in future of but a mouldy crust, and drink from a pitcher of stagnant water, that he may attain the spiritual refinement indispensable to the Christian thaumaturgist. The unhappy man adopts the most rigorous asceticism, but even when his body is reduced to a skeleton, and his mind is filled with the fantastic imagery of cerebral inanition, he still sees the sad and wistful eyes of the sick, waiting to be healed by miracles which return no more.
As the apostolic workers of miracles dropped off one by one, until the sole survivor of this illustrious band of saints and martyrs approached the close of his career, with what depth of interest must not the Christian community have regarded the man with whom was finally passing away the visible evidence of the divine origin of their religion ! and how profound the sensation throughout the Christian world, when it was publicly announced in all the churches that miracles had terminated with the life of the departed saint !
But, marvellous to relate, at the very time during which these sensational scenes may be supposed to have occurred, Christian literature carries on the wondrous tale of miracles as numerous, as continuous, and as startling as the mighty signs and wonders of the apostolic age; so that holders of the theory of the possession and subsequent deprivation of supernatural powers are driven to the conclusion that the Christian Church, instead of honestly publishing, artfully concealed the vicissitudes of miraculous experience, and cunningly devised a system of pious frauds to sustain the faith of the vulgar.
What, then, is the true position of miracles tested in the light of modern criticism?
(i.) Evangelical miracles reach us from an age of superstition and credulity, through anonymous and undated compilations, unattested by any evidence adequate to the verification of supernatural events in the past, which we find absolutely irreconcilable with our experience of the present.
(ii.) Miracles have no existence apart from the faith or credulity which assumes their authenticity as a foregone conclusion. They gradually disappear before expanding intelligence, and finally vanish when confronted by the scientific investigation of modern times.
(ii.) If primitive Christianity was founded on miracles, the power of working them was never withdrawn from the Church ; but miracles have no existence in the present, and are therefore equally apocryphal in
(iv.) The assumption of Protestantism that miracles
ceased with the apostolic age is a purely arbitrary compromise between superstition and rationalism ; and when modern miracles were rejected on the appeal to reason, it became merely a question of time as to the final surrender of all primitive signs and wonders.
The Messianic teaching of Jesus was originally restricted to the ideas borrowed from John—(i.) Repentance and Remission of sins; (ii.) the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
(i.) There was nothing novel to Hebrew ears in the first announcement, as it had been the theme of antecedent prophets; but Jesus introduced the innovation of personally forgiving sins. When a man was brought to him suffering from palsy, he said, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.' This announcement was made on merely human authority, for to his auditors, whether friends or foes, he was nothing more than man; and thus the precedent was unhappily established which invited the future priesthood of Christianity to usurp the power of absolution, and even traffic in human guilt. If Jesus could have foreseen the mediæval practice of selling the forgiveness of sins, he would have assuredly taught all men to make a direct appeal to his Father in heaven, for the pardon of their transgressions.
(ii.) As the Kingdom of Heaven was abruptly proclaimed by John without any definition of its meaning, he had obviously adopted a popular term expressive of the approaching advent of the Messiah. And when
Jesus first preached on the Kingdom of Heaven, the scope of his sermon did not exceed the design of publishing his own views on a subject with which his auditors were already familiar.
All Jews had heard of and hoped for the great social and political advantages awaiting them in futurity, and the multitude listened with pleasure to the views of a Lecturer who awakened their curiosity and interest by the impressive authority of his manner ; but if Jesus then believed that he himself was the promised Messiah of Judah, the momentous fact was carefully concealed from the multitude. The announcement of John had, in fact, been too abrupt and startling to admit of Jesus promptly accepting the rôle of Messiah ; and when the Baptist was cast into prison, he adopted the compromise of simply occupying the vacant ground, and beginning “to preach and say, Repent : for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.' The lapse of nearly nineteen centuries has disclosed to us that his views of the Kingdom were quite as visionary as national expectation of the throne of David.
When, however, Jesus had grasped the gravity of his position as the nominee of John the Baptist to the Messianic office, he naturally experienced doubt and perplexity in considering his future career.
His countrymen expected a king who, occupying with royal splendour the throne of David, would overwhelm their enemies with swift destruction, and permanently restore a temporal kingdom exceeding in majesty and power the glorious empire of Solomon. But temporal power is won and held by the sword; what affinity could therefore exist between the gentle consciousness of Jesus and