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Christianity did not fall—but no thanks to the Pope's anathe mas, nor to the doctrine of Verbal Inspiration.
About the same time a furious controversy arose among philologists concerning the purity of the sacred text. Assuming that the very letter of the Bible was the immediate, personal work of the Holy Spirit, and presuming that the Holy Spirit would be incapable of sanctioning grammatical blunders and idiomatic expressions, Christian scholars claimed that the New Testament afforded the most finished specimens of pure Athenian Greek. So with regard to the Old Testament, it was held that every vowel-point and accent of the Hebrew text was authentic and exact. These opinions were by some regarded as essential points of orthodoxy: on these mere questions of grammar was staked the authority of the Christian faith. But at last the Purists were constrained to yield, and to admit that the Greek of the New Testament was but a miserable dialect, as unlike the language of Thucydides and Xenophon as our low-life vernacular differs from the elegant English of Prescott or Macaulay. Corruptions were also discovered in the text of the Old Testament; and various indications made it evident that the elaboration of Hebrew manuscripts had never formed part of the office of the Holy Spirit. Still Christianity was not overthrown, although its zealous champions were discomfited and driven back from their unwarranted assumptions.
Again, more recently, Sir William Herschel, penetrating the awful depths of space, declared the existence of stars at such a distance from our system that their light, traveling at the rate of twelve millions of miles a minute, would require tens and hundreds of thousands of years to reach the eartha fact slightly militating against the chronology of the Old Testament, according to which, in its then received interpretation, the universe had not existed six thousand years. Then Geology began to urge its wonderful discoveries, proving that the earth must have existed unknown ages—that animals and plants had lived and died through immeasurable cycles of time--facts so plainly contradictory to the received interpretation of Genesis, that many, even of the most sanguine and liberal Christian scholars, trembled for the safety of their faith.
We are all familiar with the controversy to which these developments gave rise. The noise of the battle has not yet ceased. Looking over the field we see the partisans of the Old Interpretation occupying the same ground, and employing the same tactics, that cost them the victory in every previous battle. Again we see them dislodged from their assumed positions, as to what the Bible is, and what it teaches, and Infidelity triumphing over their discomfiture, and waiting to see the whole system of Christianity abandoned. Surely, that Christianity exists and flourishes to-day, is due to its own intrinsic truth and excellence, rather than to the needless, ill-devised, and oftentimes dishonorable expedients resorted to by its anxious supporters.
Be it understood, we allude here to those extreme positions to which one-sided theologians and scientific men have at various times repelled each other. We do not ignore that large body of Christian students of Nature and the Word of God, who recognize the mutual services of Science and Christianity. But here are, on the one hand, dabblers in Science, whose motives seem grossly infidel,--and, on the other hand, Christian men, whose motives may be very excellent, but whose methods are discreditable and damaging to the very cause which they profess to support. These are they who raise the dust and noise of conflict, who call themselves the Champions of Science, the Defenders of the Faith, who create between Science and Christianity a fictitious antagonism, who profess to represent the one side or the other in their controversial tactics, and who would link with their own fate that of the cause whose colors they assume. Thank God! both Science and Christianity pursue their ways independent of these machinations of their partisans. The Pope puts Galileo in a dungeon, but the world moves on.
The Astronomer demonstrates that the world moves, but Christianity endures.
When we consider, however, the mischief that this spirit of antagonism and partisanship has done the cause of truth ; when we consider the discredit that it has brought upon both Science and Christianity-making the one seem infidel and the other bigoted and irrational—the question naturally arises : Is all this unavoidable and necessary ?—may we not profit by these lessons of the past, and avoid their evils in the future? We know that many speak of the progress of truth, as if it were always by oscillations to extremes—as if, like a shuttle, it advanced by being hurled from side to side by violent opposing forces. But is this true ? Is there no such thing as dispassionate, steadily-advancing investigation ? Is it not true that on either extreme we find but half-truths, prejudices and extravagances, while the normal progress of Science and of Theology is due to the influence of wiselybalanced minds, who in a child-like spirit of inquiry have entered the vestibule of these grand departments of knowledge. To such minds there seems to be no ground for conflict between Science and the Word of God. The two are seen in their relation of mutual service-each sustaining and enforcing the other. “The works of God explained by a genuine science, and his word expounded by a just interpretation, not only cannot be at issue, but each, when rightly understood, must both harmonize with the other, and exhibit it to human view in a light more glorious and worthier its divine origin."*
If this plain, self-evident principle could be kept before the mind, there would be no distrust and fear of scientific inquiry on the part of the Church; it would rather be stimulated and encouraged. With provocation, retaliation would also cease. The spirit of controversy would die out. Science and the Bible would unite their agency to secure the welfare and high culture of mankind; while their magnificent harmonies would reveal, in new splendor, the power, and wisdom, and goodness of Jehovah.
It is from this stand-point that we would look upon the subject-in this calm, confident spirit, we would discuss it ; and we trust that the influence of such discussion, at the present juncture, may go far to counteract evil, and to subserve the interests of truth.
* “Science a Witness for the Bible,” by Rev. W. N. PENDLETOX, D. D.
The prophecy of the Cromarty philosopher is being fulfilled. The battle of the Evidences is being fought on the field of Physical Science. The same old questions are at issue. The same tactics are employed. Is the Bible infallible on all points of science, history, and metaphysics? If it is not, then Christianity must fall—is the illogical inference of Infidelity, as well as that of narrow-minded Faith ; and, trembling for his creed, the timid theologian shoulders the burden of proof thus palmed upon him, as if Christianity were staked on the result! But let us look for a moment at the true position and strength of the Church, and see if the loss of all things be involved in the answer to that inquiry.
The great fact on which the authority of Christianity is grounded, is the excellence of its morality, its consonance with right reason and feeling, and the perfect adaptation of its supernatural provisions and truths to man's spiritual wants. This is unquestionably true to the great mass of Christian believers, and, we think, also, to the majority of Christian scholars. Few men have time, patience, or ability to go through with the interminable amount of evidence from external sources.
In fact, few men ever penetrate deeply into more than one or two of the many departments of external evidence. A general survey suffices for the majority. The authenticity of the greater part of the canonical writings is proven, together with the general historic verity of their contents; and, taking other things for granted, and leaving moot-points alone, the mind accepts the external evidences of Christianity as, on the whole, confirmatory of its faith. But meanwhile the mind is not held in suspense--Christianity is not on probation. Its authority is already grounded on its self-evidenced truth and excellence. The utmost that external argument can do, is to confirm a faith already established upon rational ground, or to modify unessential opinions and prejudices.
The principal objections brought against Christianity in the last century, were from the provinces of the Speculative and Moral Reason. The traditional views of the Church underwent some modifications in consequence, but the controversy was, upon the whole, a triumph for Christianity. From that day, in the minds of the leaders of thought, the practical doctrines of Christianity have stood on the firm basis of rational belief. The Speculative and Moral Reason alike bear witness to their truth. Even Infidelity avows the faultlessness of their morality. Tom Paine, with all his objections to the external evidences of Christianity, confessed that the Bible contained the purest system of morals the world had ever seen.
Now, it is to be understood that the Church, in entering the arena to discuss the question of external evidences, does not abandon these internal proofs of the truth and authority of her faith. Nor is the character of the questions at issue such that discussion of them would be likely to disturb in the least the foundations of the Christian faith. Our opinions on many subjects may undergo alteration.
There are many purely scientific questions, which have always been considered as settled on biblical authority, and which, as settled points, have formed a part of the popular belief. Such are the stability of the earth, its age, the duration and method of the creation, the unity of races, the origin of species, the universality of the deluge, the origin of languages, and many others. And we might add a multitude of inferences that have been drawn by curious minds, from statements of the sacred records, and which have at various times been current in the popular mind : such as that women have one rib more than men, that serpents originally went on legs, that there was no death before sin, and no rainbow before the flood. Turning to the department of biblical criticism, we find there many things taken for granted by the popular mind, without appropriate evidence: namely, the perfect correctness of our translation of the Scriptures, the perfect integrity and authenticity of all the canonical books, and the infallibility of our constructive interpretation on all points of physics, history, and philosophy.
Now, all these questions, and all others like them, are, from their very nature, legitimate objects of inquiry for any