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own thoughts, and then gives them expression in correct and idiomatic English. If by such methods the author should miss the reputation of being deemed profound because only partially intelligible, he will secure the more unequivocal and lasting renown of being instructive and convincing, because he is luminous, precise, and logical.
In passing to investigations of a more general kind, the point to which we shall mainly direct the attention of our readers respects the estimate it behoves us to form of the spiritual condition of the pious and sincere amongst the Jews under the ancient dispensation. What amount of religious knowledge was it within their power to attain? In what way were the great questions that lie at the basis of all real religion, the questions relating to deliverance from guilt and moral impurity, capable of being answered so as to bring salvation to their souls as a blessing which they might personally enjoy? And what kind and degree of spiritual privilege was it possible for them to receive?
These are questions of profound interest in many respects; but they are also questions not very easily answered. If we would arrive at a satisfactory decision on the subject to which they relate, we must carefully avoid everything of the nature of a hasty and sweeping conclusion. A rash scepticism and an indiscriminating dogmatism must be equally shunned in our treatment of the subject. It is only by a comprehensive survey of all the evidence attainable, and a cautious induction from what is seen to be probable, that any well-grounded result can be reached by us in such a field of inquiry. It is necessary also that we should abstract as much as may be from the ideas we have gathered from the Christian Scriptures, lest we insensibly carry back thence to the Old Testament what does not belong to it, and by reading it in the light of a later revelation, ascribe to those by whom that revelation was altogether unknown, a degree of illumination which they did not possess, and which it was not possible for them to possess. It is not easy, indeed, to make this abstraction, and perhaps it is vain to expect that it can be made perfectly. As Foster has justly remarked, The mind has no power of imagination to place itself as in the predicament of suffering, or having suffered, an annihilation of its knowledge; it cannot feign itself in a process of putting out one bright fixed truth 'within it, and another, in order to conceive the state it would be in if they were extinguished; . . . a man cannot create to him'self a fictitious temporary consciousness of not knowing what he really does know. This, all must admit to be physically
* Essay on Popular Ignorance, p. 8.
Conditions of Enquiry.
impossible, for on the opposite hypothesis we should be conscious and yet not conscious of one and the same thing, at one and the same moment, which would be a contradiction in terms. Hence the difficulty of withdrawing the mind from the influence of knowledge already possessed, and the tendency so continually exhibited to reflect on others the light of our own minds, and to interpret their meaning by what we ourselves are thinking of. Still, though difficult, it is not absolutely impossible so to abstract the mind from what it knows as that, without ceasing to be conscious of such knowledge, it shall not allow it to influence materially its judgments in cases where such knowledge cannot be presupposed. The attempt, at any rate, must be made in every such case, if a sound and true judgment is to be formed; otherwise we shall be like the trader, who, in summing up the columns of his ledger, insensibly adds to the credit side something which should stand only on the debit side, and so falls into a mistake which must vitiate his whole reckoning.
But whilst we pursue our inquiries into Old Testament theology and religion with a continual watchfulness lest we interpolate the ancient records with ideas learned by us only from the New Testament, it is possible to carry the principle of such caution too far. Mr. Litton has, we think, done so in the following statement: 'The only way to arrive at just views respect'ing the degree of spiritual illumination enjoyed by the ancient believer at any given period, is to suppose that all the books ' of Scripture subsequent to that period had perished, and then to examine how much of Christianity we can fairly extract from the portion that is left.' (P. 54.) According to this canon, if we would ascertain the degree of spiritual illumination possessed by the Patriarchs, we must confine ourselves to the book of Genesis, with the addition, perhaps, of that of Job; if we would ascertain with what degree of illumination the Israelites entered Canaan, we must add to these the remaining books of the Pentateuch; and so on for subsequent stages of Israelitish history; always carefully avoiding the ascription to the men of any given age, of religious thoughts or feelings not formally enunciated in those books of Scripture which were written before or during their day. Now, to such a canon of interpretation, however specious it may at first appear, we can by no means subscribe. It appears to us to involve two assumptions, both of which we hold to be unfounded. In the first place, it assumes that the men of any given age knew nothing of religious truth but what we find recorded in the sacred books composed either before their age or during its lapse; in other words, that these books make known to us all that the men of the age in question knew
of religious truth. If this be not assumed, it follows that there might be a large body of religious knowledge influencing the minds and inspiring the hearts of the godly of which no complete statement is given in the writings anterior to their age or in those of their cotemporaries. But can such an assumption be conceded with safety? Is it safe in any case to determine the religious knowledge of the people of any age by what we may find written in their books? On this assumption we must suppose that the authors of these books meant to tell us all that their cotemporaries knew of religion; and we must also ignore the whole effect of traditionary teaching in sustaining the religious belief of the community. Now, surely, to do this in the case of such records as those of the Old Testament, and in the case of such a people as the Jews, is peculiarly unsafe. It would not be safe to do it in almost any case. Take the case of the ancient Greeks and Romans; should we arrive at a correct view of their actual everyday religious and ethical condition, by restricting their religious and moral knowledge to what we find formally stated in the writings of the Classics? or, would it be wise to maintain that, because some important religious truth is announced for the first time in the writings of a later writer, it was in his day for the first time brought before the minds of his countrymen? On the contrary, do we not know that at all times the higher and better truths of religion were taught by the traditionary lore of the Mysteries; and that those who sought to promulgate doctrines opposed to polytheism and the mythological vanities of the poets appealed to antiquity and tradition for the sanction of what they taught? Cicero, in arguing for the immortality of the soul, appeals to both the Mysteries and the 'consensio omnium gentium;'* and Augustine admits that when the Christians pointed the heathen to the evil effects which must flow from the scandalous conduct attributed to their gods, they were met by the reply: At enim non traduntur ista sacris Deorum sed fabulis poetarum;'t a reply which he does not attempt to invalidate by any denial of the fact affirmed, at least as respects the belief of antiquity. Or, to come nearer home: Would a correct and adequate estimate of the actual religious life of good people in this country, at any period during the last three centuries, be formed by the man who should ignore the whole effect of that hereditary traditional teaching which has been, during that period, continually diffusing its influence through the families of our land, and should confine himself to what he found recorded in books? And if, in such cases, it De Civ. Dei, ii. 7, 8.
* Vide Tusc. Qu. i. 23.
Chronological Development of Truth.
would not be safe to confine ourselves to documentary evidence, how much less so is it the case of the Jews? They were the inheritors of a body of religious teaching which had descended to them from the primitive ages, when men conversed with God. They received constantly and universally, as Josephus not unbecomingly boasts, that instruction from their priests in the higher truths of religion which, among the heathen, was confined to the initiated, and that but for a few days. And the records which we have concerning them are not in the shape of formal treatises on religious belief, nor do they contain anything like scientific histories of religious opinion, nor do they give us in any case a detailed confession of any individual or party. In respect of these points, they are wholly unsystematic and informal, and, with hardly an exception, proceed upon the assumption that religious knowledge is rather a thing already possessed by those for whom they were composed, than a thing which they were to be made the vehicle of communicating. Under such circumstances, it is, we think, wholly incompetent to assume that we can form a just estimate of the religious knowledge of the Jews, at any given period, by confining our attention to such of the Old Testament writings as were extant in their day. Where, in a series of writings, truths are enunciated, nowhere as new truths, but invariably as parts of a catholic faith which has at all times and by every one been held, there is no other way in which we can accurately ascertain what truths were believed at any given time, but by ascertaining, by an inductive process, from the entire series, what truths were at all times believed.
The second assumption which the canon laid down by Mr. Litton requires for its support, is, that the revelation of God's truth to mankind was progressive; in other words, that, in the earlier stages of His communications to men, He made known only elemental truths in the forms adapted to ignorant and feeble minds, and that, as his communications advanced, He gradually made known the deeper and more spiritual truths of His religion. Unless something of this sort be assumed, such a rule as Mr. Litton has laid down is useless; for if there was not progressive revelation, there can be no advantage in attempting a chronological development of theological truth. Now that religious truth was thus progressively made known to man is a favourite notion with many, and of late it has been the fashion, in certain quarters, to assert this as an undoubted and established fact. Some have even proposed to apply it to the writings of the Apostles; and one writer has gone so far as to pretend that we
* Cont. Ap., ii. 22.
may discover an advance towards greater maturity and depth in the later Epistles of Paul as compared with his earlier. A recent writer on Hermeneutics has instructed his readers to follow out this principle as the only one which will guide to a just interpretation of the theology of the Old Testament; and on all sides we find it asserted more or less confidently, that a chronological study of the Sacred Books is demanded, in order to discover and estimate aright the truths they unfold. It would be well if, instead of incessantly enunciating the necessity of this, some one would set himself to do it. We should then be better able to judge of the value of the prescription. Let a fair and full development be given of this alleged progressive revelation in its successive stages, and we shall then be prepared to admit the fact of its existence. Only let those who shall attempt it not indulge in the fallacy of a petitio principii; let them not first seek to determine the chronology of the Sacred Books by the supposed progressiveness of their revelations, and then prove that revelstion has been progressive from the chronology of the books. Meanwhile, we take leave to hint that the entire hypothesis is fallacious. It is with this, we suspect, as with the development hypothesis in nature. A competent authority has assured us, that zoologists of the school of Lamarck have ‘confounded gradation with progress.'t Because there is a morphological analogy between the more perfectly developed animals and those existing in a more rudimentary state, it has been hastily concluded by those speculators that existence was first manifested in its lowest forms, and that these gradually progressed or were developed into the higher. A pleasing enough theory; but one to which Nature most obstinately refuses to conform, placing barriers which are never passed between genus and genus, and beginning her productions with the more perfect organisms of a class. A similar fallacy has, as it appears to us, misled the theological theorists to whom we now refer. They have mistaken different degrees of clearness and fulness in the unfolding of Divine truth for a progressive discovery of that truth to men. Because Paul sometimes enunciates moral and spiritual principles more fully, or in sublimer language, or with greater distinctness than at other times, they hasten to the conclusion that the one is the mature and enlarged revelation, the
* 'It were much to be wished,' says Mr. Jowett, (vol. ii. p. 232,) that we could agree upon a chronological arrangement of the Old Testament, which would approach more nearly to the true order in which the books were written, than that in which they have been handed down to us.' Yes; this is much to be wished; but until it is accomplished we would submit that all attempts to unfold a progressive revelation in these books are premature and hopeless.
+ Miller, Old Red Sandstone, p. 74.