John Henry Newman.

An essay in aid of a grammar of assent online

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to be called a Divine judgment ? So thinks Alison,
v.dio avov^^s with religious honesty, that "there is
something in these marvellous coincidences beyond
the operation of chance, and which even a Protestant
historian feels himself bound to mark for the obser-
vation of future 3-ears." ■^ And so, too, of a cumula-
tion of coincidences, separately less striking ; when
Spelman sets about establishing the fact of the ill-
fortune which in a multitude of instances has followed
upon acts of sacrilege, then, even though in many
instances it has not followed, and in many instances
he exaggerates, still there may be a large residuum
of cases which cannot be properly resolved into the
mere accident of concurrent causes, but must in rea-
son be considered the warning voice of God, So, at
least, thought Gibson, Bishop of London, when he
wrote, " INIany of the instances, and those too well-
attested, are so terrible in the event, and in the
circumstances so surprising, that no considering per-
son can well pass them over."

I think, then, that the circumstances under which
a professed revelation comes to us, may be such as

* Historj', vol. viii.

41 8 Religious Inferences.

to impress both our reason and our imagination with
a sense of its truth, even though no appeal be made
to strictly miraculous intervention — in saying which
I do not mean of course to imply that those circum-
stances, when traced back to their first origins, are
not the outcome of such intervention, but that the
miraculous intervention addresses us at this day in
the guise of those circumstances ; that is, of coinci-
dences, which are indications, to the illative sense of
those who believe in a God, of His immediate Pre-
sence, especially to those who in addition hold with
me the strong antecedent probability that, in His
mercy. He will thus supernaturally present Himself
to our apprehension.

Now as to the fact ; has what is so probable in
anticipation actually been granted to us, or have we
still to look out for it ? It is very plain, supposing it
has been granted, which among all the religions of the
world comes from God : and if it is not that, a reve-
lation is not yet given, and we must look forward to
the future. There is only one religion in the world
which tends to fulfil the aspirations, needs, and forc-
shadowings of natural faith and devotion. It may be
said, perhaps, that, educated in Christianity, I merely
judge of it by its own principles ; but this is not the
fact. For, in the first place, I have taken my idea of
what a revelation must be, in good measure, from the
actual religions of the world ; and as to its ethics, the
ideas with which I come to it are derived not simply
from the Gospel, but prior to it from heathen moral-
ists, whom Fathers of the Church and Ecclesiastical

Revealed Religion. 419

writers have imitated or sanctioned ; and as to the
intellectual position from which I have contemplated
the subject, Aristotle has been my master. Besides,
I do not here single out Christianity with reference
simply to its particular doctrines or precepts, but for
a reason which is on the surface of its history. It
alone has a definite message addressed to all man-
kind. As far as I know, the religion of Mahomet
has brought into the world no new doctrine what-
ever, except, indeed, that of its own divine origin ;
and the character of its teaching is too exact a reflec-
tion of the race, time, place, and climate in which it
arose, to admit of its becoming universal. The same
objection applies, so far as I know, to the religions
of the far East ; nor am I sure of any definite message
from God to man which they convey and protect,
though they may have sacred books. Christianity,
on the other hand, is in its idea an announcement, a
preaching; it is the depositary of truths beyond
human discovery, momentous, practical, maintained
one and the same in substance in every age from its
first, and addressed to all mankind. And it has actu-
ally been embraced and is found in all parts of the
world, in all climates, among all races, in all ranks of
society, under every degree of civilization, from bar-
barism to the highest cultivation of mind. Coming
to set right and to govern the world, it has ever been,
as it ought to be, in conflict with large masses of
men, with the civil power, with physical force, with
adverse philosophies ; it has had successes, it has had
reverses ; but it has had a grand history, and has
effected great things, and is as vigorous in its age as
in its youth. In all these respects it has a distinction

42 o Religious hiferences.

in the world and a pre-eminence of its own ; it has
upon it prima facie signs of divinity ; I do not know
what can be advanced by rival religions to match
prerogatives so special ; so that I feel myself justified
in saying either Christianity is from God, or a reve-
lation has not yet been given to us.

It will not surely be objected, as a point in favor
of some of the Oriental religions, that they are older
than Christianity by some centuries ; yet, should it
be so said, it must be recollected that Christianity is
only the continuation and conclusion of what pro-
fesses to be an earlier revelation, which may be
traced back into pre-historic times, till it is lost in
the darkness that hangs over them. As far as we
know, there never was a time when that revelation
was not, — a revelation continuous and systematic,
with distinct representatives and an orderly succes-
sion. And this, I suppose, is far more than can be
said for the religions of the East.

Here, then, I am brought to the consideration of
the Hebrew nation and the Mosaic religion, as the
first step in the direct evidence for Christianity.

The Jews are one of the few Oriental nations who
are known in history as a people of progress, and
their line is progress in religion. In that their own
line they stand by themselves among all the popula-
tions, not only of the East, but of the West. Their
country may be called the classical home of the reli-
gious principle, as Greece is the home of intellectual
power, and Rome that of pohtical and practical wis-
dom. Theism is their life ; it is emphatically their

Revealed Reliction. 421


national religion, for they never were without it, and
were made a people b}^ means of it. This is a pheno-
menon singular and solitary in history, and must have
a meaning. If there be a God and Providence, it
must come from Him, whether immediately or indi-
rectly ; and the people themselves have ever main-
tained that it has been Flis direct v/ork, and has been
recognized by Him as such. We are apt to treat
pretences to a divine mission or to supernatural
powers as of frequent occurrence, and on that score
to dismiss them from our thoughts ; but we cannot
so deal with Judaism. When mankind had univers-
ally denied the first lesson of their conscience by
lapsing into polytheism, is it a thing of slight moment
that there was just one exception to the rule, that
there was just one people who, by their rulers and
priests, and aftervv^ards by their own unanimous zeal,
professed, as their distinguishing doctrine, the Divine
Unity and Government of the world, and that, more-
over, not only as a natural truth, but as revealed to
them by that God Himself of whom they spoke, —
who so embodied it in their national polity, that a
Theocracy was the only name by which it could be
called ? It was a people founded and set up in The-
ism, kept together by Theism, and maintaining The-
ism for a period from first to last of 2000 years, till
the dissolution of their body politic ; and they have
maintained it since in their state of exile and wander-
ing for 2000 years more. The}- begin with the begin-
ning of history, and this august doctrine begins with
them. They are its witnesses and confessors, even
to torture and death ; on this truth and its revelation
are moulded their laws and government ; on this

422 Religions Inferences.

their politics, philosophy, and literature are founded ;
of this truth their poetry is the voice, pouring itself
out in devotional compositions which Christianity,
through all its many countries and ages, has been
unable to rival ; on this aboriginal truth, as time
goes on, prophet after prophet bases his further reve-
lations, with a sustained reference to a time when,
according to the secret counsels of its Divine Object
and Author, it is to receive completion and perfec-
tion, — till at length that time comes.

The last age of their history is as strange as their
first. When that time of destined blessing cahie,
which they had so accurately marked out, and were
so carefully waiting for — a time which found them,
in fact, more zealous for their Law, and for the dog-
ma it enshrined, than they ever had been before —
then, instead of any final favor coming on them
from above, they fell under the power of their ene-
mies, and were overthrown, their holy city razed to
the ground, their polity destroyed, and the remnant
of their people cast off to wander far and away
through every land except their own, as we find
them at this day ; lasting on, century after century,
not absorbed in other populations, not annihilated, as
likely to last on, as unlikely to be restored, as far as
outward appearances go, now as a thousand years
ago. What nation has so grand, so romantic, so ter-
rible a history ? Does it not fulfil the idea of, what
the nation calls itself, a chosen people, chosen for
good and evil? Is it not an exhibition in a course of
history of that primary declaration of conscience, as
I have been determining it, " With the upright Thou
shalt be upright, and with the froward Thou shalt be

Revealed Religion. 423

froward " ? It must have a meaning, if there is a
God. We know what was their witness of old time ;
what is their witness now ?

Why, then, was it that, after so memorable a career,
when their sins and sufferings were now to come to
an end, when they were looking out for a dehverance
and a Deliverer, suddenly all was reversed for once
and for all ? They were the favored servants of God,
and yet a peculiar reproach and note of infamy is
affixed to their name. It was their belief that His
protection was unchangeable, and that their Law
would last for ever ; — it was their consolation to be
taught by an uninterrupted tradition, that it could
not die, except by changing into a new self, more
wonderful than it was before ; — it was their faithful
expectation that a promised King was coming, the
Messiah, who would extend the sway of Israel over
all people ; — it was a condition of their covenant, that,
as a reward to Abraham, their first father, the day at
length should dawn when the gates of their narrow
land should open, and they should pour out for the
conquest and occupation of the whole earth ; — and, I
repeat, when the day came, the)^ did go forth, and
they did spread into all lands, but as hopeless exiles,
as eternal wanderers.

Are we to say that this failure is a proof, that, after
all, there was nothing providential in their history ?
For myself, I do not see how a second portent obli-
terates a first; and, in truth, their own testimony and
their own sacred books carry us on towards a better
solution of the difficulty. I have said they were in
God's favor under a covenant, — perhaps they did not
fulfil the conditions of it. This indeed seems to be

424 Religions Inferences.

their own account of the matter, though it is not
clear what their breach of engagement was. And
that in some way they did sin, whatever their sin
was, is corroborated by the well-known chapter
in the Book of Deuteronom}^, which so strikingly
anticipates the nature of their punishment. That
passage, translated into Greek as many as 350 years
before the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, has on it the
marks of a wonderful prophecy ; but I am not now
referring to it as such, but merely as an indication
that the disappointment, which actually overtook
them at the Christian era, was not necessarily out of
keeping with the original divine purpose, or again
with the old promise made to them, and their confi-
dent expectation of its fulfilment. Their national
ruin, which came instead of aggrandizement, is de-
scribed in that book with an emphasis and rninute-
ness which prove that it was contemplated long
before, at least as a possible issue of the fortunes of
Israel. Among other inflictions which should befall
the guilty people, it was told them that they should
fall down before their enemies, and should be scat-
tered throughout all the kingdoms of the earth ; that
they never should have quiet in those nations, or
have rest for the sole of their foot ; that they were
to have a fearful heart and languishing eyes, and a
soul consumed with heaviness ; that they were to
suffer wrong, and to be crushed at all times, and
to be astonished at the terror of their lot ; that their
sons and daughters were to be given to another
people, and they were to look and to sicken all the
day, and their life was ever to hang in doubt before
them, and fear to haunt them day and night; that

Revealed Religion. 425

they should be a proverb and a by-word of all peo-
ple among whom they were brought ; and that curses
were to come on them, and to be signs and wonders
on them and their seed for ever. Such are some
portions, and not the most terrible, of this extended
anathema ; and its partial accomplishment at an
earlier date of their history was a warning to them,
when the destined time drew near, that, however
great the promises made to them might be, those pro-
mises were dependent on the terms of the covenant
which stood between them and their Maker, and
that, as they had turned to curses at that former time,
so they might turn to curses again.

This grand drama, so impressed with the charac-
ters of supernatural agency, concerns us here only in
its bearing upon the evidence for the divine origin of
Christianity ; and it is at this point that Christianity
comes upon the historical scene. It is a notorious
fact that it issued from the Jewish land and people ;
and, had it no other than this historical connexion
with Judaism, it would have some share in the pres-
tige of its original home. But it claims to be far
more than this ; it professes to be the actual comple-
tion of the JNIosaic Law, the promised means of de-
liverance and triumph to the nation, which that
nation itself, as I have said, have since considered to
be on account of their sin withheld or forfeited. It
professes to be, not the casual, but the legitimate off-
spring, heir, and successor of the Mosaic covenant,
or rather to be Judaism itself, developed and trans-
formed. Of course it has to prove its claim, as well
as to prefer it ; but if it succeeds in doing so, then all
those tokens of the Divine Presence, which distin-

426 Religious Inferences.

guish the Jewish histor}^, at once belong to it, and
are a portion of its credentials.

And at least the prima facie view of its relations
towards Judaism is in favor of these pretensions. It
is an historical fact, that, at the very time that the
Jews committed their unpardonable sin, whatever it
was, and were driven out from their home to wander
over the earth, their Christian brethren, born of the
same stock, and equally citizens of Jerusalem, did also
issue forth from the same home, but in order to sub-
due that same earth and make it their owm ; that is,
they undertook the very work which, according to
the promise, their nation actually was ordained to
execute ; and, with a method of their own, and with
a new end, and only slowly and painfully, but still
really and thoroughly, they did it. And since that
time the two children of the promise have ever been
found together — of the promise forfeited and the pro-
mise fulfilled ; and whereas the Christian has been in
high place, so the Jew has been degraded and de-
spised — the one has been " the head," and the other
"the tail;" so that, to go no farther, the fact that
Christianity actually has done what Judaism was to
have done, decides the controversy, by the logic of
facts, in favor of Christianity. The prophecies an-
nounced that the Messiah was to come at a definite
time and place ; Christians point to Him as coming
then and there, as announced ; they are not met by
any counter claim or rival claimant on the part of the
Jews, only by their assertion that He did not come
at all, though up to the event they had said He was
then and there coming. Further, Christianity clears
up the mystery which hangs over Judaism, account-

Revealed Religion. ^27

ing- fully for the punishment of the people, by speci-
fying their sin, their heinous sin. If, instead of hail-
ing their INIessiah, they crucified Him, then the
strange scourge which has pursued them after the
deed, and the energetic wording of the curse before
it, are explained by the very strangeness of their
guilt ; — or rather, their sin is their punishment ; for
in rejecting their Divine King, they ipso facto lost the
living principle and tie of their nationality. More-
over, we see what led them into error ; they thought
a triumph and an empire were to be given to them
at once, which were to be the slow and gradual
growth of many centuries and a long warfare.

On the whole, then, I observe, that, Judaism having
been the channel of religious traditions which are
lost in the depth of their antiquity, of course it is a
great point for Christianity to succeed in proving
that it is the legitimate heir to that former religion.
Nor is it of less importance to the significance of
those early traditions to be able to determine that they
were not lost together with their original storehouse,
but were transferred, on the failure of Judaism, to the
custody of the Christian Church. And this apparent
correspondence between the two is in itself a pre-
sumption for the correspondence being real. Next,
I observe, that if the history of Judaism is so wonder-
ful as to suggest the presence of some special divine
agency in its appointments and fortunes, still more
wonderful and divine is the history of Christianity ;
and again it is more wonderful still, that two such
wonderful creations should span almost the whole
course of ages, during which nations and states have
been in existence, and should constitute a professed

428 Religious Inferences.

system of intercourse between earth and heaven from
first to last amid all the vicissitudes of human affairs.
This phenomenon again carries on its face, to those
who believe in a God, the probability that it has that
divine origin which it professes to have ; and (when
viewed in the light of the strong presumption which
I have insisted on, that in God's mercy a revelation
from Him will be granted to us, and of the contrast
presented by other religions, no one of which pro-
fesses to be a revelation direct, definite, and integral
as this is),— this phenomenon, I say, of cumulative
marvels raises that probability, both for Judaism and
Christianity, in religious minds, almost to a certainty.

If Christianit}^ is connected with Judaism as closely
as I have been supposing, then there have been, by
means of the two, direct communications between man
and his Maker from time immemorial down to this
day — a great prerogative such, that it is nowhere else
even claimed. No other religion but these two pro-
fesses to be the organ of a formal revelation, certainly
not of a revelation which is directed to the benefit of
the whole human race. Here it is that Mahometanism
fails, though it claims to carry on the line of revelation
after Christianity ; for it is the mere creed and rite
of certain races, bringing with it no gifts to our
nature as such, and is rather a reformation of local
corruptions, and a return to the ceremonial worship
of earher times, than a new and larger revelation.
And while Christianity was the heir to a dead reli-
gion, Mahometanism was little more than a rebellion
against a living one. Moreover, though Mahomet

Revealed Re/ii

professed to be the Paraclete, no one prst'ends that he ' X 'i

occupies a place in the Christian Scriptures as pro-KY"v N^X

minent as that which the Messiah fills in the Jewish.'

To this especial prominence of the Messianic idea I

shall now advert ; that is, to the prophecies of the

Old Scriptures, and the argument which they furnish

in favor of Christianity ; and though I know that

argument might be clearer and more exact than it is,

and I do not pretend here to do much more than refer

to the fact of its existence, still so far forth as we enter

into it, will it strengthen our conviction of the claim

to divinity both of the Religion which is the organ of

those prophecies, and of the Religion which is their


Now that the Jewish Scriptures were in existence
long before the Christian era, and were in the sole
custody of the Jews, is undeniable ; whatever then
their Scriptures distinctly say of Christianit)% if not
attributable to chance or to happy conjecture, is pro-
phetic. It is undeniable too, that the Jews gathered
from those books that a great Personage was to be
born of their stock, and to conquer the whole world
and to become the instrument of extraordinary bless-
ings to it ; moreover, that he would make his appear-
ance at a fixed date, and that, the very date when,
as it turned out, our Lord did actually come. This
is the great outline of the prediction, and if we arc
able to prove nothing else, to prove as much as this
is far from unimportant. And it is undeniable, I say,
both that the Jewish Scriptures contain thus much,
and that the Jews actually understood them as con-
taining it.

First, then, as to what Scripture declares. From

43 o Religio2LS Inferences.

the book of Genesis we learn that the chosen people
was set up in this one idea, viz. to be a blessing to
the whole earth, and that, by means of one of their
own race, " a greater than their father Abraham."
This was the meaning and drift of their being chosen.
There is no opening for mistake here ; the divine pur-
pose is stated from the first with the utmost precision.
At the very time of Abraham's call, he is told of it : —
" I will make of thee a great nation, and in thee shall
all tribes of the earth be blessed." Thrice is this
promise and purpose announced in Abraham's his-
tory; and after Abraham's time it is repeated to
Isaac, " In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth
be blessed ;" and after Isaac to Jacob, when a wanderer
from his home, " In thee and in thy seed shall all the
tribes of the earth be blessed." And from Jacob the
promise passes on to his son Judah, and that with an
addition, viz. with a reference to the great Person who
was to be the world-wide blessing, and to the date when
He should come. Judah was the chosen son of Jacob,
and his staff or sceptre, that is, his patriarchal autho-
rity, was to endure till a greater than Judah came, so
that the loss of the sceptre, when it took place, was
the sign of His near approach. " The sceptre," says
Jacob on his death-bed, " shall not be taken away
from Judah, until He come for whom it is reserved,"
or " who is to be sent," " and He shall be the expec-
tation of the nations." *

Such was the categorical prophecy, literal and

* The Samaritan Version reads, " donee veniat Pacificus, et ad ipsum
congregabuntur populi." The Targum, " donee veniat Messias, cujus
est regnum, et obedient populi." The Septuagint, " donee veniant
quae reservata sunt illi " (or " donee veniat eui reservatum est "), " et

Revealed Religion. 43 1

unequivocal in its wording-, direct and simple in its
scope. One man, born of the chosen tribe, was the
destined minister of blessing- to the whole world ;
and the race, as represented by that tribe, was to
lose its old self in gaining a new self in Him. Its
destiny was sealed upon it in its beginning. An
expectation was the measure of its life. It was
created for a great end, and in that end it had its
ending. Such were the initial communications made
to the chosen people, and there they stopped ; — as if
the outline of promise, so sharply cut, had to be
effectually imprinted on their minds, before more
knowledge was given to them ; as if, by the long
interval of years which passed before the more varied
prophecies in type and figure, after the manner of
the East, were added, the original notices might
stand out in the sight of all in their severe explicit-
ness, as archetypal truths, and guides in interpreting

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanAn essay in aid of a grammar of assent → online text (page 29 of 33)