Robert Williams Dale.

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Jesus of Nazareth ; try to understand His character and
purposes. Here you will find the root and foundation of
Christianity. This is the first primitive gospel." Surely we
have here an easier approach to Christianity than that which
requires, as a preliminary step, a full and implicit assent to
all the doctrines of the Epistles.



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824 THE OONOREQATIONALIST.

II.

There is another and more important way in which the
present age is turning to the life and person of Jesus Christ.
It is coming to look more and more in this direction for the
chief grounds of faith in the Christian religion. Not only is
the gospel narrative searched for the discovery of the elemen-
tary ideas of Christianity, it is also considered to contain the
foundation of faith in the truth of Christianity. Jesus Christ
Himself is taken as the chief evidence for Christianity. The
most popular and characteristic English book on the side of
unbelief which our age has seen is that entitled '' Supernatural
Religion," the principal aim of which is to dissolve the por-
trait of our Lord in the four Gospels, by discrediting the ele-
ments out of which that portrait is formed. On the other
hand, the wisest writers in defence of Christianity find their
strongest arguments in the life and character of Jesus. Now
it is not a little disappointing to find Dr. Weiss laboriously
opposing this method of studying the evidences of Christi-
anity, which is accepted on both sides as the one of most
supreme importance. No doubt there is force and point in
some of the statements which he lays down. Thus in the
preface to his "Life of Christ," he says, **I cannot assume
that the question as to how far the details in the tradition
regarding the earthly life of Jesus may or may not be
credible, touches religious belief in Christ's person and work."
This statement opens up a very important question. The
phraseology of it is skilfully and carefully guarded. It i&
most important that the world should know that the truth of
Christianity does not depend on the absolute, literal accuracy
of every minute point in the four Gospel narratives. We need
not comprehend the behaviour of the Gadarene swine in order
to believe in Jesus Christ. If by ** details " Dr. Weiss means
accidental minutiae of the narrative, few of us will be disposed
to dispute what he says. For the question is not whether or
no the details are all correctly reported, but whether, in the
event of some of them being proved to be incorrectly nar-
rated, we should there and then abandon our whole Christian
faith. Surely no man in his senses would venture to hang
his creed on such a feeble thread. Christian belief stands on
a very broad basis, and it would no more collapse because one



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DR. WEISS ON CHRISTUNITY IN CHRIST. 825

or more of the points of the Gospel narrative should prove to
be mistaken than the great Pyramid would fall if a few of its
innumerable stones were removed, But the peculiarity of
Dr. Weiss's position is hinted at by the expression, "religious
belief* in the sentence which I have quoted above. For his
subsequent explanations show that this "religious belief" is
considered to be independent of historical evidence, and to be
founded on subjective spiritual experience. Here we come to
the peculiar views which are so confusing and disappointing.

Dr. Weiss states that " the fundamental facts in Christ's
gospel can neither be contested nor established from the facts
of the life of Jesus." These facts, he holds, are spiritual facts
of expiation and atonement. They are known to us by the
teachings of the apostles. These are not contained in the
Gospel narratives ; consequently, the question of the authen-
ticity of those narratives does not affect them. Thus we are
carried right away from a Christianity of history and visible
transactions to one of theological doctrine and pure spiri-
tual experience. That there is this element in Christianity,
most of us will not only admit, but maintain. Without it
the facts would lose their deepest significance. The point at
issue is not whether the doctrines and spiritual experiences
exist ; it is whether they constitute the gospel independently
of the history. For my part, the doctrine of Christianity and
the spirit of it are incarnate in the Gospel narratives, and
those narratives are both the best embodiment and the surest
foundation for belief in the spiritual and intellectual side of
Christianity. If this view is to be regarded as erroneous,
where are we to look for the foundation of our Christian
faith?

Dr. Weiss admits, indeed, that the apostles bear witness to
certain historical facts. But he is careful to add, " only they
are not facts which can be reached or established by a scientific
method, but facts which must be laid hold of in faith, and
which must accredit themselves to religious experience." Now
it may be that no bare scientific method will suffice to esta-
blish the truth of the Gospel narratives. Thus the fact of
the resurrection of Christ is as well attested as that of the
assassination of Julius Caesar, and yot there are men who
refuse to believe in the former event, while they never ques-



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826 THE OONaREOATIONALIST.

tion the latter. It is necessary that a spiritual consideration
of the superhuman character and \7ork of Christ should
prepare us for the admission of that which is quite beyond
ordinary human experience in order that prejudices which
might otherwise shut our minds against the historical evi-
dence should be removed. But while spiritual experience
may thus clear adverse prepossessions out of the way of his-
torical evidence, it cannot be allowed to take the place of that
evidence. To permit it to do so will be to open the flood-
gates for the wildest delusions. It will come to this — some
will accept their spiritual experience as valid evidence, and
will give to it a meaning as best suits their own peculiar
idiosyncrasy; and others, not possessing the requisite spiritual
experience and not recognizing the worth of it, will see no
solid ground on which to build a Christian faith.

Is it the case that our Christian faith is independent of his-
torical evidence ? Even supposing it were so in the days of
the apostles, it does not follow that it should be now ; and this
for two reasons — first, because the scientific temper of our
own age is very different from the mood of mind in the first
century, so that persuasions which might have moved that
century might not touch the nineteenth century ; and
secondly, because we have no apostles with their mighty
inspiration to overwhelm the multitude of their hearers, but
only more or less gifted ordinary Christian teachers. No
doubt, in our own day, many are convinced of the truth of
Christianity without giving a thought to its historical evi-
dences. The earnest mission preacher can bring unbelievers
to faith in Christ solely by means of spiritual, moral, and
emotional influences, and his persuasion may be so practical
and affectionate that the truth of what he says will be uncon-
sciously accepted. Then, no doubt, subsequently the good
effects of faith will come in as a justification for its ex-
istence. But this will be in the case of those whose unbelief
is due rather to worldly living than to pure intellectual scep-
ticism. In the case of the latter class, we cannot dispense
with solid historical facts.

Did the apostles dispense with these facts ? Did they make
all their evidence rest upon subjective spiritual experience ?
I maintain that any such picture of apostolic preaching is



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DR. WEISS ON CHRISTUNnY IN CHRIST. 827

totally erroneous. On the contrary, the first Christian
preachers appealed to plain facts of history. On the day
of Pentecost, Peter and his companions appeared as witnesses
to these facts. Their claim to be heard was not a mys-
terious, unproven Divine commission. It was just that they
had seen and heard the great facts of the gospel. It may
be observed in passing that this point of personal testimony
to the events of the life of Christ was felt to be the one
essential in the choice of an apostle to fill the vacant place
of Judas. St. Paul pursued a more argumentative method
of preaching. But he based his reasoning on a funda-
mental fact. With him, as with the other apostles, the resur-
rection of Jesus Christ was the first ground for belief.
Wherever he went he preached the resurrection ; and if this
fact was disputed — as it was at Corinth — he did not point to
spiritual experience, he called witnesses to prove his case.

We are not in the position of those who heard the first pro-
clamation of the gospel. There are no witnesses to the life
of Christ living in our midst. We have to reach across the
ages for testimony to the great facts on which our religion is
based. On the other hand, we have a gain which more than
compensates for the loss of spiritual contact with original
witnesses. For those very ages which intervene between us
* and the time of our Lord are themselves witnesses to the
power of His gospel. The history of Christianity, if only in
the fact that it has survived the corruption of priests and the
dogmatism of theologians, is to us a powerful evidence of its
superhuman vitality. Still we cannot dispense with the
original historical evidence. The question for those who
reject Christianity is. How will they account for the Christ of
the Gospels ? Leaving out of notice the subject of the authen-
ticity and genuineness of those Gospels, and taking them in
themselves, how is the marvellous portrait which they contain
to be accounted for? Whatever men may say about the
origin of the documents does not touch the essential charac-
teristics of them. What the unbeliever has to face is certain
imique records. Whether they tell of fact or of fable, of his-
tory, legend, or myth, here they are, and they must be
explained. They give us brief outlines of a portrait which is
so supremely lovely and majestic as to have won the devotion



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828 THE CONGREGATIONALIST.

of prince and peasant^ of learned and simple, in all ages, in
every clime. What consummate artists could have conceived
so original and superb an ideal ? Shall we best explain the
work by saying that the artists worked without a model ; or,
which comes to much the same thing, that they used a model
which was practically little better than a lay figure, and
idealized it till they produced their picture of the Divine Man.
In that case all that strikes us as so superbly exalted in the
Christ of the Gospels must have been in the Evangelists
themselves, for it is an essential condition of art that the
artist cftn only create out of the stuff of his own experience.
Thus we are landed in the paradox that, in order to escape
belief in one historical Christ, we must accept a number of
obscure Christs, or perhaps a vaguely diffused Christ repre-
senting the Zeitgeist of the first century. Think of such a
spirit of the age in the debased first century ! Think of it of
emanating from such a people as that which Josephus has
made known to us in his graphic picture of the bitter fanatics
at the siege of Jerusalem ! Yet some such alternative must
be facad by those who reject the historical Christ. To the
historical Christ of the Gospels, then, we go back for solid
commanding evidence of the truth of Christianity. It is a
supreme mistake to turn from this great standing proof of
our religion to doctrines of redemption and sensations of spi-
ritual experience, though these are all of vast importance in
their place. Not only do the facts of the Gospel narrative
command our faith, they touch our emotions. That very-
spiritual feeling which Dr. Weiss desires us to regard as a
condition of believing in the doctrines of redemption will
grow out of our contemplation of the wonderful life better
than out of any consideration of plans of salvation. The per-
sonal influence of Christ, felt through the vision of Him in
the Gospels, will give us the ground for faith in Him, and
best win that faith as an act of enthusiastic devotion out of
which we may go on to study the doctrines of Christianity, as
did the early Christians when they began by hearing the
preaching of Christ and Him crucified, and only came latei*
to consider theological doctrines in epistles addressed to
churches of men and woman already established in the
Christian faith. w. f. adenby.



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829



THE WHIRLING AND HOWLING DERVISHES AT
CONSTANTINOPLE.

Approaching Constantinople from the sea the panorama is,
of its kind, one of the finest in the world. Dome and minaret
and tower rise on each side of the Golden Horn, gay with
many colours, and sharply defined against the sky — a very
city of palaces. Setting foot in its streets, the charm is soon
dispelled, for squalor and poverty, smells and filth, gloomy
streets and tumbledown houses, produce an effect not soon
forgotten.

Arriving early on a cold rainy morning in March, 1883,
after the usual shouting and bustle of landing, we were
deposited on the quay of the Custom House, where there
was no shelter, and our baggage was opened for examination
on the wet, muddy stones. " Backsheesh " was openly de-
manded by the officials, and when they were satisfied, the
portmanteaus were passed on with alacrity. It is not a
question of whether there are excisable articles amongst
your luggage, but of how much you will give — the examination
being a mere form. Two sturdy porters with small saddles
on their shoulders slung our baggage on their backs, and set
off through by-ways and a perfect labyrinth of corkscrew
streets, arriving at the hotel almost as soon as we did.
Managing to squeeze ourselves into a small rickety fly, drawn
by two horses, we started through streets so narrow that we
could sometimes have touched both walls as we sat, over
pavement so broken that it seemed every moment about to
tear off the wheels or turn over the vehicle. The ascent
to the Grande Eue from the quay must be about 400 feet,
and the distance IJ miles, and we were heartily glad to
arrive in, safety at the Hotel Byzance, and to find our rooms
ready.

Only a few main thoroughfares are passable for wheeled
vehicles, and even a wheelbarrow can hardly be used. We
saw, one day, eight men carrying a huge barrel of cement,
•slung from a pole on their shoulders, and even the fire-engines
axe carried in the same way. Fires are very frequent, and
amongst the wooden houses are most destructive. There



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830 THE CONGREGATIONALIST.

are two towers in the highest parts of Pera and Stamboul,
more than 300 feet high, where watch is kept night and day,
and whence the alarm is given and signals displayed to direct
the firemen where to carry help. These men, clad only in
a thin cotton shirt and short trousers, with arms and chest
bare, and without shoes or stockings, carry the engine through
the streets. We met them three times in four days, hurrying
along, hot, bespattered, and weary, followed by a crowd such
as few cities could furnish at a moment's notice — Greeks,
Turks, Bussians, Jews, Circassians, Arabs, Nubians, each in
their distinctive dress, made " kin " by the " one touch of
nature," curiosity.

We climbed one of the fire-towers, and were rewarded by
a magnificent view. The city with its mosques and monu-
ments lay at our feet, divided by the Golden Horn and linked
together by two bridges. Shipping of all nationalities crowded
the harbour, the quaint lateen sails and the deep russet of
the canvas giving special features of outline and colour.
Lovely gardens clothe the shores of the Bosphorus as far as
the eye can reach, studded with villages and villas belonging
to wealthy merchants. In the distance, the mountains white
with fresh snow glowed in the sunset, against a sky of deepest
blue. Close to the base of the tower we noticed a cluster of
small domes, like ant-hills, covering an acre or more. This
was the roof of the bazaars through which we had just
sauntered. They are far more extensive than those of Cairo,
but not nearly so picturesque, nor are the people so thoroughly
Eastern. Like the Cairene merchants, those of Stamboul
always ask about twice as much for an article as they expect
to get, and the process of bargaining for any trifle costs more
in time and patience than it is worth.

Learning that Wednesday was the day to see the Whirling
Dervishes, we made our way to their mosque, and found
admission to the place allotted to spectators. A space about
25 feet in diameter is railed oflf, and floored with parquetrie
worn smooth by the feet of the performers.

Twelve men, most of them young, took part in the cere-
mony ; and when we entered they were seated motionless on
the floor, while in a gallery over our heads a wheezing flute
and a tom-tom kept up a discordant and feeble tune. With



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HOWLING DERVISHES AT CONSTANTINOPLE. 881

folded arms and closed eyes the dervishes sat, lost, as it
seemed, in meditation. Suddenly a voice joined the instru-
ments above and commenced a wailing chant. As the first
words sounded through the building the men rose to their
feet, and began a slow march round in single file within the
railing. They wore long robes of bright green, trailing on
the ground, almost concealing their bare feet, and sugar-loaf
hats of brown felt. Over the mat where the chief priest had
been seated was inscribed the sacred name ''Allah;" and as
each man approached he bowed low beneath it, turning to
bow again, with bands crossed on his breast, when he had
passed — each thus seeming to bow to the man who followed
him. This lasted for about ten minutes, and then, at a
change in the singing above, the dervishes stepped into the
middle of the floor, and, throwing off their black cloaks, began
slowly to spin round, each on his axis, and all revolving
round a central dancer. They turned on the toe and heel
of one foot, using the other to push themselves round. Their
arms were extended, with the palm of one hand upward and
the other drooping. Gradually the pace increased, till nine
men were whirling round so fast that their long skirts stood
out like the fibres of a twirling mop. The chant in the
gallery still went on, and so long as we remained the dervishes
maintained their speed. All was most decorous and solemn,
imd their half-closed eyes gave to the fac^ of the petformers
a look of absorbed meditation, as they silently revolved.

It is thought that this ceremony is a survival and adapta-
tion of a very ancient heathen rite, originally expressive of
the motion of the planets,* and is one of the many instances
in which some fragment of an extinct religion becomes
interwoven with that which supersedes it. The sun worship
and fire worship of the East lives again in the gyrations of
these devotees of Islam ; and it is not a little curious that a
religion so bitterly opposed to idolatry in every form should
have absorbed and adapted in this and other instances
fragments of heathen rites which survive in no other way.

Taking one of the steamers which ply on the Bosphorus
we landed on the Asiatic side at Scutari, and made our way

* See the subject treated more fully in ** Heth and Moab," by C. R.
Conder, R.E., pp. 66, 290.



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832 THE CONGREGATIONALIST.

to the convent of the Howling Dervishes. The service had
commenced, and we were conducted to a small gallery exactly
above the principal performers. The convent-mosque is
about 40 feet square, low-roofed and bare. Prayer-carpets
were spread on part of the floor, and on these about half a
dozen men were sitting, muttering at intervals sentences
from the Koran. Standing near them in rows were about
eighteen boys and girls, who feebly imitated the actions of the
men on whom we looked down from the gallery. About
twenty-five to thirty young men stood shoulder to shoulder,
like a solid wall, most of them wearing only their ordmary
dress as merchants, tradesmen, porters, &c., while a few
adopted a white cotton cap, the others being bareheaded.
They were reciting, in time but not in tune, in a low, harsh
key, the words of their ritual — the ninety-nine attributes of
God, each of which is repeated ninety-nine times. Keeping
time with the words they swayed en masse, first on one
foot, then on the other, then backwards till they almost bent
double, then forwards till their heads nearly swept the floor ;
sideways, backwards, forwards, faster and further they swung
and bent, a solid moving mass, their voices growing each
moment louder and harsher, till the leader, who stood in the
centre of the line (having kept count of the number of repeti-
tions, I suppose), changed the note and the words, and they
went on more gently for a little while, gradually working
themselves up to louder cries and more vigorous swaying.
Never for a moment did they pause or sease during the hour
we remained, and some of them appeared on the verge of
fainting or epilepsy. Their hot breath and steaming perspi-
ration rose to the gallery, and made our bird's-eye view
anything but sweet. They pulled oflf, or rather struggled
out of, all outside garments, without leaving the rank or
stopping their exertions, the deacons taking charge of coats
and cloaks. The sight was distressing, if not disgusting,
and the men seemed wrought upon almost to frenzy.*

-^ Is there not the germ of this same fanaticism in the excitement to
which the Salvation Army endeavour to work themselves up — an excite-
ment which seems, to a quiet on-looker, to take its rise not in truth
uttered nor in stimulating teaching, but in a determined effort on the
part of the leaders to produce, by reiteration of a few words in tones of
increasing vehemence, accompanied by gestures which gather force from



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DEBYISHES AT CONBTAKTINOPLE. 838

At certain seasons of the year they meet and scourge them-
selves till the blood flows, lacerate themselves with swords,
kiss red-hot metal, and use other tortures to mortify the flesh ;
and we were told by one who had seen it that the spectacle
was revolting in the extreme. When the howling had lasted
three-quarters of an hour, and was still going on, an old priest
rose from his prayer-carpet and, attended by the deacons,
went to the further side of the mosque where was a small
apse, facing Mecca, and began to open various little bundles
of linen which persons in the building had brought and laid
there. Prom each he took a snow-white muslin shirt, on
which he breathed, uttering some words; and having tied
a knot in the sleeve he replaced it in its wrapper. These
garments would be carried away to the sick by those who
had brought them in the hope that, like the " handkerchiefs
and aprons " taken from Paul, they might bring healing to
the sufferers. Two decanters of water were also breathed
into and the stoppers carefully replaced, with similar intent.

While this was going on, twelve or fourteen girls and boys,
some of them attended by liveried servants, laid themselves
down on the floor on their faces, side by side, and the old
priest, steadying himself by the hand of an assistant, walked
on the prostrate bodies of the children, thrice, from end to
end of the row. One little lame girl about three years old
cried bitterly, as if his tread hurt her ; the others did not
appear to be the worse for it, and from their eagerness in
pressing forward to kiss the priest's hand as they rose and
went to join their friends, they evidently felt that his walking
upon them had conferred a favour. Some of them looked ill,
and perhaps hoped to gain heaUng from the ordeal.

On the steamer, as we returned to Fera, was one of the

the numbers who simultaneouBly employ them, a state of mind in which
persons shall be lifted above the ordinary and commonplace, and shaU
do and say that which in cooler moments would have been impossible.

An intelligent Sheikh quoted in The Timet says that the dervishes
hold the unity of God, and are constantly proclaimmg Allah, and it is
by dint of proclaiming Him that their minds reach that pitch of extreme
zeal, or fanaticism as some may call it. It is thought that while a beUever
utters the name of God he can do nothing for which he will have to give
an account ; hence the law ordains that it should be pronounced as fre-
quently as possible.

VOL. xin. 67



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834 THB OORaBEOATIONALIST.



Online LibraryRobert Williams DaleThe Congregationalist → online text (page 86 of 110)