Isreal Smith Clare.

Library of Universal history and popular science ... (Volume 20) online

. (page 44 of 60)
Online LibraryIsreal Smith ClareLibrary of Universal history and popular science ... (Volume 20) → online text (page 44 of 60)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


passage occurs, which I must needs transfer to these pages, as contain-
ing the central point of the argument: " It may be asked how far we
can rely on the accounts we possess of our Lord's teaching on these
subjects. Now it is unnecessary for the general argument before us
to enter on those questions respecting the authenticity of the gospel
narratives, which ought to be regarded as settled by M. Kenan's prac-
tical surrender of the adverse case. Apart from all disputed points of
criticism, no one practically doubts that our Lord lived, and that he
died on the cross, in the most intense sense of filial relation to his
Father in heaven, and that he bore testimony to that Father's provi-
dence, love, and grace toward mankind. The Lord's Prayer affords
sufficient evidence upon these points. If the Sermon on the Mount
alone be added, the whole unseen world, of which the agnostic refuses to
know anything, stands unveiled before us. There you see revealed the
divine Father and Creator of all things, in personal relation to his
creatures, hearing their prayers, witnessing their actions, caring for
them and rewarding them. There you hear of a future judgment ad-
ministered by Christ himself, and of a heaven to be hereafter reveaeld,
in mhich those ivho live as the children of that Father, and ^vho suffer
in the cause and for the sake of Christ himself, will be abundantly
rewarded. If Jesus Christ preached that sermon, made those promises y
and taught that prayer, then any one who says that we know nothing
of God, or of a future life, or of an unseen world f says that he does not
believe in Jesus Christ"

Prof. Huxley has not one word to say upon this argument, though
the whole case is involved in it. Let us take as an example the illus-
tration he proceeds to give. " If," he says, " I venture to doubt^ that
the Duke of Wellington gave the command, 'Up, Guards, and at em!
at Waterloo, I do not think that even Dr. Wace would accuse me of
disbelieving the duke." Certainly not. But if Prof. Huxley were to
maintain that the pursuit of glory was the true motive of the soldier,
and that it was an illusion to suppose that simple devotion to duty
could be the supreme guide of military life, I should certainly charge
him with contradicting the duke's teaching and disregarding his
Authority and example. A hundred stories like that of ' Up, Guards,

33



368 BEACON LIGHTS OF SCIENCE.

and at 'em ! " might be doubted, or positively disproved, and it would
still remain a fact beyond all reasonable doubt that the Duke of
Wellington was essentially characterized by the sternest and most
devoted sense of duty, and that he had inculcated duty as the very
watchword of a soldier ; and even Prof. Huxley would not suggest
that Lord Tennyson's ode, which has embodied this characteristic in
immortal verse, was an unfounded poetical romance.

The main question at issue, in a word, is one which Prof. Huxley
has chosen to leave entirely on one side whether, namely, allowing
for the utmost uncertainty on other points of the criticism to which
he appeals, there is any reasonable doubt that the Lord's Prayer and the
Sermon on the Mount afford a true account of our Lord's essential belief
and cardinal teaching. If they do then I am not now contending that
they involve the whole of the Christian creed ; I am not arguing, as
Prof. Huxley would represent, that he ought for that reason alone to
be a Christian I simply represent that, as an agnostic, he must regard
those beliefs and that teaching as mistaken the result of an illusion,
to say the least. I am not going, therefore, to follow Prof. Huxley's
example and go down a steep place with the Gadareue swine into a sea
of uncertainties and possibilities, and stake the whole case of Christian
belief as against agnosticism upon one of the most difficult and mys-
terious naratives in the New Testament. I will state my position on
that question presently. But I am first and chiefly concerned to
point out that Prof. Huxley has skillfully evaded the very point and
edge of the argument he had to meet. Let him raise what difficulties
he pleases, with the help of his favorite critics, about the Gadarene
swine, or even about all the stories of demoniacs. He will find that
his critics and even critics more rationalistic than they fail him
when it conies to the Lord's Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount,
and, I will add, the story of the Passion. He will find, or rather he
must have found, that the very critics he relies upon recognize that in
the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord's Prayer, allowing for varia-
tions in form and order, the substance of our Lord's essential teaching
is preserved. On a point which, until Prof. Huxley shows cause to
the contrary, can hardly want argument, the judgment of the most
recent of his witnesses may suffice Prof. Reuss, of Strasburg. In
Prof. Huxley's article on the " Evolution of Theology " in the number
of this review for March, 1886, he says, " As Keuss appears to me to
be one of the most learned, acute, and fair-minded of those whose
works I have studied, I have made most use of the commentary and
dissertations in his splendid French edition of the Bible." What,
then, is the opinion of the critic for whom Prof. Huxley has this
regard ? In the volume of his work which treats of the first three Gos-
pels, Reuss says at page 191-192, " If anywhere the tradition which
has preserved to us the reminiscences of the life of Jesus upon earth
carries with it a certainty and the evidence of its fidelity, it is here " ;
and again: "In short, it must be acknowledged that the redactor, in
thus concentrating the substance of the moral teaching of the Lord,
has rendered a real service to the religious study of this portion of the
tradition, and the reserves which historical criticism has a right to
make with respect to the form will in no way diminish this advan-
tage." It will be observed that Prof. Reuss thinks, as many good
critics have thought, that the Sermon on the Mount combines various

34



'CHRISTIANITY AND AGNOSTICISM. 369

distinct utterances of our Lord, but he none the less recognizes that it
embodies an unquestionable account of the substance of our Lord's
teaching.

But it is surely superfluous to argue either this particular point, or
the main conclusion which I have founded on it. Can there be any
doubt whatever, in the mind of any reasonable man, that Jesus Christ
had beliefs respecting God which an agnostic alleges there is no suffi-
cient ground for ? We know something at all events of what his dis-
ciples taught; we have authentic original documents, unquestioned
by any of Prof. Huxley's authorities, as to what St. Paul taught and
believed, respecting his Master's teaching; and the central point of
this teaching is a direct assertion of knowledge and revelation as against
the very agnosticism from which Prof. Huxley manufactured that
designation. "As I passed by," said St. Paul at Athens, "I found an
altar with this inscription : 'To the unknown God.' Whom therefore ye
ignorantly or in agnosticism worship, Him I declare unto you." An
agnostic withholds his assent from this primary article of the Chris-
tian creed; and though Prof. Huxley, in spite of the lack of informa-
tion he alleges respecting early Christian teaching, knows enough on
the subject to have a firm belief " that the Nazarenes, say of the year
40," headed by James, would have stoned any one who propounded
the Nicene Creed to them, he will hardly contend that they denied
that article, or doubted that Jesus Christ believed it. Let us again
listen to the authority to whom Prof. Huxley himself refers. Keuss
says at page 4 of the work already quoted :

Historical literature in the primitive church attaches itself in the most immediate manner to the
reminiscences collected by the apostles and th'-ir friends, directly after their separation from their



Master. The need of such a return to the past arose naturally from the profound impression
which had been made upon them by the teaching, and still more by the individuality itself of
Jesus, and on which both their hopes for tfte future and their convictions were founded. ... It



, .

is in these facts, in this continuity of a tradition which could not but go back to the very morrow
of the tragic scene of Golgotha that we have a strong guarantee for its authenticity. . . . We
have direct historical proof that the thread of tradition was not interrupted. Not only does one
of our evangelists furnish this truth in formal terms (Luke i, 2) ; but in many other places besides
we perceive the idea, or the point of view, that all which the apostles know, think, and teach, is
at bottom and essentially a reminiscence a reflection of what they have seen and learned at an-
other time, a reproduction of lessons and impressions received.

Now let it be allowed for argument's sake that the belief and teach-
ing of the apostles are distinct from those of subsequent Christianty,
yet it is surely a mere paradox to maintain that they did not assert,
as taught by their Master, truths which an agnostic denies. They
certainly spoke, as Paul did, of the love of God; they certainly spoke,
as Paul did, of Jesus having been raised from the dead by God the
Father (Gal. i, 1); they certainly spoke, as Paul did, of Jesus Christ
returning to judge the world; they certainly spoke, as Paul did, of
"the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. xi, 81).
That they could have done this without Jesus Christ having taught
God's love, or having said that God was hia Father, or having declared
that he would judge the world, is a supposition which will certainly
be regarded by an overwhelming majority of reasonable men as a mere
paradox ; and I cannot conceive, until he says so, that Prof. Huxley
would maintain it. But if so, then all Prof. Huxley's argumenta-
tion about the Gadarene swine is mere irrelevance to the argument
he undertakes to answer. The Gospels might be obliterated as
evidence to-morrow, and it would remain indisputable that Jesus
Christ taught certain truths respecting God, and man's relation to
God from which an agnostic withholds his assent. If so, he does not

35



370 BEACON LIGHTS OF SCIENCE.

believe Jesus Christ's teaching; he is so far an unbeliever, and "unbe-
liever," Dr. Johnson says, is an equivalent of " infidel."

This consideration will indicate another irrelevance in Prof. Hux-
ley's argument. He asks for a definition of what a Christian is, before
he will allow that he can be justly called an infidel. But without
being able to give an accurate definition of a crayfish, which perhaps
only Prof. Huxley could do, I may be very well able to say that some
creatures are not crayfish ; and it is not necessary to frame a defini-
tion of a Christian in order to say confidently that a person who
does not believe the broad and unquestionable elements of Christ's
teachings and convictions is not a Christian. "Infidel" or "unbe-
liever" is of course, as Prof. Huxley says, a relative and not a positive
term. He makes a great deal of play out of what he seems to suppose
will be a very painful and surprising consideration to myself, that to
a Mohammedan I am an infidel. Of course I am; and I should never
expect a Mohammedan, if he were called upon, as I was, to argue be-
fore an assembly of his own fellow-believers, to call me anything else.
Prof. Huxley is good enough to imagine me in his company on a visit
to the Hazar Mosque at Cairo. When he entered that mosque with
out due credentials, he suspects that, had he understood Arabic, " dog
of an infidel " would have been by no means the most " unpleasant "
of the epithets showered upon him, before he could explain and apolo-
gize for the mistake. If, he says, "I had had the pleasure of Dr.
Wace's company on that occasion, the undiscriminative followers of
the Prophet would, I am afraid, have made no difference between us;
not even if they had known that he was the head of an orthodox
Christian seminary." Probably not; and I will add I should have
felt very little confidence in any attempts which Prof. Huxley might
have made, in the style of his present article, to protect me, by repu-
diating for himself the unplesant epithets which he deprecates. It
would, I suspect, have been of very little avail to attempt a subtle ex-
planation, to one of the learned mollahs of whom he speaks, that he
really did not mean to deny that there was one God, but only that he
did not know anything on the subject, and that he desired to avoid
expressing any opinion respecting the claims of Mohammed. It would
be plain to the learned mollah. that Prof. Huxley did not believe
either of the articles of the Mohammedan creed in other words
that, for all his fi'ie distinctions, he was at bottom a downright infi-
del, such as I confessed myself, and that there was an end of the mat-
ter. There is no fair way of avoiding the plain matter of fact in
either case. A Mohammedan believes and asserts that there is no
God but God, and that Mohammed is the prophet of God. I don't
believe Mohammed. In the plain, blunt, sensible phrase people used
to use on such subjects I believe he was a false prophet, and I am a
downright infidel about him. The Christian creed might almost be
summed up in the assertion that there is one, and but one God, and
that Jesus Christ is his prophet; and whoever denies that creed says
that he does not believe Jesus Christ, by whom it was undoubtedly
asserted. It is better to look facts in the face, especially from a scien-
tific point of view. Whether Prof. Huxley is justified in his denial of
that creed is a further question, which demands separate considera-
tion, but which was not, and is not now, at issue. All I say is that
his position involves that disbelief or infidelity, and that this is a re-

36



CHRISTIANITY AND AGNOSTICISM. 371

eponsibility which must be faced by agnosticism.

But I am forced to conclude that Prof. Huxley can not have taken
the pains to understand the point I raised, not only by the irrelevance
of his argument on these considerations, but by a misquotation which
the superior accuracy of a man of science ought to have rendered im-
possible. Twice over in the article he quotes me as saying that "it is,
and it ought to be, an unpleasant thing for a man to have to say
plainly that he does not believe in Jesus Christ." As he winds up
his attack upon my paper by bringing against this statement his
rather favorite charge of "immorality" and even "most profound
immorality " he was the more bound to accuracy in his quotation of
my words. But neither in the official report of the congress to which
he refers, nor in any report that I have seen, is this the statement
attributed to me. What I said, and what I meant to say, was that it
ought to be an unpleasant thing for a man to have to say plainly
" that he does not believe Jesus Christ." By inserting the little word
"in," Prof. Huxley has, by an unconscious ingenuity, shifted the im-
port of the statement. He goes on to denounce *' the pestilent doc-
trine on which all the churches have insisted, that honest disbelief in
their more or less astonishing creeds is a moral offense, indeed a sin of
the deepest dye."* His interpretation exhibits, in fact, the idea in
his own mind, which he has doubtless conveyed to his readers, that I
said it ought to be unpleasant to a man to have to say that he does
not believe in the Christian creed. I certainly think it ought, for
reasons I will mention ; but that is not what I said. I spoke, deliber-
ately, not of the Christian creed as a whole, but of Jesus Christ as a
person, and regarded as a witness to certain primary truths which an
agnostic will not acknowledge. It was a personal consideration to
which I appealed, and not a dogmatic one ; and I am sorry, for that
reason, that Prof. Huxley will not allow me to leave it in the reserve
with which I hoped it had been sufficiently indicated. I said that
" no criticism worth mentioning doubts the story of the Passion ; and
that story involves the most solemn attestation, again and again, of
truths of which an agnostic coolly says he knows nothing. An agnos-
ticism which knows nothing of the relation of man to God must not
only refuse belief to our Lord's most undoubted teaching, but must
deny the reality of the spiritual convictions in which he lived and
died. It must declare that his most intimate, most intense beliefs,
and his dying aspirations were an illusion. Is that supposition toler-
able?" I do not think this deserves to be called " a proposition of
the most profoundly immoral character." I think it ought to be
unpleasant, and I am sure it always will be unpleasant, for a man to
listen to the Saviour on the cross uttering such words as " Father, into
thy hands I commend my spirit," and to say that they are not to be
trusted as revealing a real relation between the Saviour and God. In
spite of all doubts as to the accuracy of the Gospels, Jesus Christ I
trust I may be forgiven, under the stress of controversy, for mention-
ing his sacred name in this too familiar manner is a tender and
sacred figure to all thoughtful minds, and it is, it ought to be, and it
always will be, a very painful thing, to say that he lived and died
under a mistake in respect to the words which were fiirst and last on
his lips. I think, as I have admitted, that it should be unpleasant for a

* Page 39.
37



372 BEACON LIGHTS OF SCIENCE.

man who has as much appreciation of Christianity, and of its work in
the world, as Prof. Huxley sometimes shows, to have to say that its
belief was founded on no objective reality. The unpleasantness, how-
ever, of denying one system of thought may be balanced by the pleas-
antness, as Prof. Huxley suggests, of asserting another and a better
one. But nothing, to all time, can do away with the unpleasantness,
not only of repudiating sympathy with the most sacred figure of
humanity in his deepest beliefs and feelings, but of pronouncing him
under an illusion in his last agony. If it be the truth, let it by all
means be said ; but if we are to talk of " immorality " in such matters,
I think there must be a lack of moral sensibility in any man who
could say it without pain.

The plain fact is that this misquotation would have been as impos-
sible as a good deal else of Prof. Huxley's argument, had he, in any
degree, appreciated the real strength of the hold which Christianity
has over men's hearts and minds. The strength of the Christian
Church, in spite of its faults, errors, and omissions, is not in its creed,
but in its Lord and Master. In spite of all the critics, the Gospels
have conveyed to the minds of millions of men a living image of
Christ. They see him there; they hear his voice; they listen, and
they believe him. It is not so much that they accept certain doc-
trines as taught by him, as that they accept him, himself, as their
Lord and their God. The sacred fire of trust in him descended upon
the apostles, and has from them been handed on from generation to
generation. It is with that living personal figure that agnosticism
has to deal ; and as long as the Gospels practically produce the effect
of making that figure a reality to human hearts, so long will the
Christian faith, and the Christian Church, in their main characteris-
tics, be vital and permanent forces in the world. Prof. Huxley tells
us, in a melancholy passage, that he can not define "the grand figure
of Jesus." Who shall dare to "define" it? But saints have both
written and lived an imitatio Christi, and men and women can feel
and know what they can not define. Prof. Huxley, it would seem,
would have us all wait coolly until we have solved all critical difficul-
ties, before acting on such a belief. " Because," he says, " we are
often obliged, by the pressure of events, to act on very bad evidence,
it does not follow that it is proper to act on such evidence when the
pressure is absent." Certainly not; but it is strange ignorance of
human nature for Prof. Huxley to imagine that there is no " pressure "
in this matter. It was a voice which understood the human heart
better which said, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy
laden, and I will give you rest"; and the attraction of that voice out-
weighs many a critical difficulty under the pressure of the burdens
and the sins of life.

Prof. Huxley, indeed, admits, in one sentence of his article, the
force of this influence on individuals.

(If he says) a man can find a friend, the hypostasis of all his hopes, the mirror of his ethical
ideal, in the pages of any, or of all, of the Gospels, let him live by faith in that ideal. Who shall,
or can, forbid him ? But let him not delude himself with the notion that his faith in evidence or
the objective reality of that in which he trusts. Such evidence is to be obtained only by the use
of the methods of science, as applied to history and to literature, and it amounts at present to
Tery little.

Well, a single man's belief in an ideal may be very little evidence of
its objective reality. But the conviction of millions of men, genera-
tion after generation, of the veracity of the four evangelical witnesses,

38



CHRISTIANITY AND AGNOSTICISM. 373

and of the human and divine reality of the figure they describe, has
at least something of the weight of the verdict of a jury. Securus
judicat orbis terrarum. Practically the figure of Christ lives. The
Gospels have created it; and it subsists as a personal fact in life,
alike among believers and unbelievers. Prof. Huxley himself, in
spite of all his skepticism, appears to have his own type of this char-
acter. The apologue of the woman taken in adultery might, he says,
" if internal evidence were an infallible guide, well be affirmed to be
atypical example of the teachings of Jesus." Internal evidence may
not be an infallible guide ; but it certainly carries great weight, and
no one has relied more upon it in these questions than the critics
whom Prof. Huxley quotes.

But as I should be sorry to imitate Prof. Huxley, on so momentous
a subject, by evading the arguments and facts he alleges, I will con-
sider the question of external evidence on which he dwells. I must
repeat that the argument of my paper is independent of this contro-
versy. The fact that our Lord taught and believed what agnostics
ignore is not dependent on the criticism of the four Gospels. In
addition to the general evidence to which I have alluded, there is a
further consideration which Prof. Huxley feels it necessary to men-
tion, but which he evades by an extraordinary inconsequence. He
alleges that the story of the Gadarene swine involves fabulous matter,
and that this discredits the trustworthiness of the whole Gospel
record. But he says :

At this point a very obvious objection arises and deserves fnll and candid consideration. It
may be said that critical skepticism carried to the length suggested ia historical Pyrrhonism ;
that if we are to altogether discredit an ancient or a modern historian because he has assumed
fabulous matter to be true, it will be as well to give np paying any attention to history. ... Of
course (he acknowledges) this is perfectly true. I am afraid there is no man alive whose witness
could be accepted, if the condition precedent were proof that he had never invented and promul-
gated a myth.

The question, then, which Prof. Huxley himself raises, and which
he had to answer, was this: Why is the general evidence of the
Gospels, on the main facts of our Lord's life and teaching, to be dis-
credited, even if it be true that they have invented or promulgated a
myth about the Gadarene swine ? What is his answer to that simple
and broad question ? Strange to say, absolutely none at all ! He
leaves this vital question without any answer, and goes back to the
Gadarene swine. The question he raises is whether the supposed
incredibility of the story of the Gadarene swine involves the general
untrustworthiness of the story of the Gospels; and his conclusion is
that it involves the incredibility of the story of the Gadarene swine.
A more complete evasion of his own question it would be difficult to
imagine. As Prof. Huxley almost challenges me to state what I think
of that story, I have only to say that I fully believe it, and moreover
that Prof. Huxley, in this very article, has removed the only consider-
tion which would have been a serious obstacle to my belief. If he
were prepared to say, on his high scientific authority, that the narra-
tive involves a contradiction of established scientific truth, I could



Online LibraryIsreal Smith ClareLibrary of Universal history and popular science ... (Volume 20) → online text (page 44 of 60)