It only remains to return to the seventh and eighth chapters, and to pass in review the reasons which will lead us to reject the conclusions therein expressed by our opponents.
These conclusions have no real bearing upon the question at issue. Our opponents can make out a strong case, so long as they confine themselves to maintaining that exaggeration has to a certain extent impaired the historic value of some of the Gospel records of the Resurrection. They have made out this much, but have they made out more? They have mistaken the question--which is this--"Did Jesus Christ die and rise from the dead?" And in the place of it they have raised another, namely, "Has there been any inaccuracy in the records of the time and manner of His reappearing?"
Our error has been that instead of demurring to the relevancy of the issue raised by our opponents, we have accepted it. We have thus placed ourselves in a false position, and have encouraged our opponents by doing so. We have undertaken to fight them upon ground of their own choosing. We have been discomfited; but instead of owning to our defeat, and beginning the battle anew from a fresh base of operations, we have declared that we have not been defeated; hence those lamentable and suicidal attempts at disingenuous reasoning which we have seen reason to condemn so strongly in the works of Dean Alford and others. How deplorable, how unchristian they are!
The moment that we take a truer ground, the conditions of the strife change. The same spirit of candid criticism which led us to reject the account of Matthew in toto, will make it easy for us to admit that those of Mark, Luke, and John, may not be so accurate as we could have wished, and yet to feel that our cause has sustained no injury. There are probably very few who would pin their faith to the fact that Julius Caesar fell exactly at the feet of Pompey's statue, or that he uttered the words "Et tu, Brute." Yet there are still fewer who would dispute the fact that Julius Caesar was assassinated by conspirators of whom Brutus and Cassius were among the leaders. As long as we can be sure that our Lord DIED AND ROSE FROM THE DEAD, we may leave it to our opponents to contend about the details of the manner in which each event took place.
We had thought that these details were known, and so thinking, we had a certain consolation in realising to ourselves the precise manner in which every incident occurred; yet on reflection we must feel that the desire to realise is of the essence of idolatry, which, not content with knowing that there is a God, will be satisfied with nothing if it has not an effigy of His face and figure. If it has not this it falls straight-way to the denial of God's existence, being unable to conceive how a Being should exist and yet be incapable of representation. We are as those who would fall down and worship the idol; our opponents, as those who upon the destruction of the idol would say that there was no God.
We have met sceptics hitherto by adhering to the opinions as to the necessity of accuracy which prevailed among our forefathers, and instead of saying, "You are right--we do NOT know all that we thought we did--nevertheless we know enough--we know the fact, though the manner of the fact be hidden," we have preferred to say, "You are mistaken, our severe outline, our hard-and-fast lines are all perfectly accurate, there is not a detail of our theories which we are not prepared to stand by." On this comes recrimination and mutual anger, and the strife grows hotter and hotter.
Let us now rather say to the unbeliever, "We do not deny the truth of much which you assert. We give up Matthew's account of the Resurrection; we may perhaps accept parts of those of Mark and Luke and John, but it is impossible to say which parts, unless those in which all three agree with one another; and this being so, it becomes wiser to regard all the accounts as early and precious memorials of the certainty felt by the Apostles that Christ died and rose again, but as having little historic value with regard to the time and manner of the Resurrection."
Once take this ground, and instead of demurring to the truth of many of the assertions of our opponents, demur to their relevancy, and the unbeliever will find the ground cut away from under his feet independently of the fact that the reasonableness of the concession, and the discovery that we are not fighting merely to maintain a position, will incline him to calmness and to the reconsideration of his own opinions--which will in itself be a great gain--he will soon perceive that we are really standing upon firm ground, from which no enemy can dislodge us. The discovery that we know less of the time and manner of our Lord's death and Resurrection than we thought we did, does not invalidate a single one of the irresistible arguments whereby we can establish the fact of His having died and risen again. The reader will now perhaps begin to perceive that the sad division between Christians and unbelievers has been one of those common cases in which both are right and both wrong; Christians being right in their chief assertion, and wrong in standing out for the accuracy of their details, while unbelievers are right in denying that our details are accurate, but wrong in drawing the inference that because certain facts have been inaccurately recorded, therefore certain others never happened at all. Both the errors are natural; it is high time, however, that upon both sides they should be recognised and avoided.
But as regards the demolition of the structure raised in the seventh and eighth chapters of this book, whereinsoever, that is to say, it seems to menace the more vital part of our faith, the ease with which this will effected may perhaps lead the reader to think that I have not fulfilled the promise made in the outset, and have failed to put the best possible case for our opponents. This supposition would be unjust; I have done the very best for them that I could. For it is plain that they can only take one of two positions, namely, EITHER that Christ really died upon the Cross but was never seen alive again afterwards at all, and that the stories of His having been so seen are purely mythical, OR, if they admit that He was seen alive after His Crucifixion, they must deny the completeness of the death; in other words, if they are to escape miracle, they must either deny the reappearances or the death.
Now in the commencement of this work I dealt with those who deny that our Lord rose from the dead, and as the exponent of those who take this view I selected Strauss, who is undoubtedly the ablest writer they have. Whether I shewed sufficient reason for thinking that his theory was unsound must remain for the decision of the reader, but I certainly believe that I succeeded in doing so. Perhaps the ablest of all the writers who have treated the facts given us in the Gospels from the Rationalistic point of view, is the author of an anonymous work called The Jesus of History (Williams and Norgate, 1866); but this writer (and it is a characteristic feature of the Rationalistic school to become vague precisely at this very point) leaves us entirely in doubt as to whether he accepts the reappearances of Christ or not, and his treatment of the facts connected both with the Crucifixion and Resurrection is less definite than that of any other part of the life of our Lord. He does not seem to see his own way clearly, and appears to consider that it must for ever remain a matter of doubt whether the Death of Christ or His reappearance is to be rejected.
It is evident that it was most desirable to examine BOTH sets of arguments, i.e., those against the Resurrection, and those against the completeness of the Death; I have therefore mainly drawn the opinions of those who deny the Death from the same pamphlet as that from which I drew the criticisms on Dean Alford's notes. I know of no other English work, indeed, in which whatever can be said against us upon this all-important head has been put forward, and was therefore compelled to draw from this source, or to invent the arguments for our opponents, which would have subjected me to the accusation of stating them in such way as should best suit my own purpose. The reader, however, must now feel that since there can be no other position taken but one or other of the two alluded to above, and since the one taken by Strauss has been shewn to be untenable, there remains nothing but to shew that the other is untenable also, whereupon it will follow that our Saviour did actually die, and did actually shew Himself subsequently alive; and this amounts to a demonstration of the miraculous character of the Resurrection. If, then, this one miracle be established, I think it unnecessary to defend the others, because I cannot think that any will attack them.
But, as has been seen already, Strauss admits that our Lord died upon the Cross, and denies the reality of the reappearances. It is not probable that Strauss would have taken refuge in the hallucination theory if he had felt that there was the remotest chance of successfully denying our Lord's death; for the difficulties of his present position are overwhelming, as was fully pointed out in the second, third, and fourth chapters of this work. I regret, however, to say that I can nowhere find any detailed account of the reasons which have led him to feel so positively about our Lord's Death. Such reasons must undoubtedly be at his command, or he would indisputably have referred the Resurrection to natural causes. Is it possible that he has thought it better to keep them to himself, as proving the Death of our Lord TOO convincingly? If so, the course which he has adopted is a cruel one.
We must endeavour, however, to dispense with Strauss's assistance, and will proceed to inquire what it is that those who deny the Death of our Lord, call upon us to reject.
I regret to pass so quickly over one great field of evidence which in justice to myself I must allude to, though I cannot dwell upon it, for in the outset I declared that I would confine myself to the historical evidence, and to this only. I refer to spiritual insight; to the testimony borne by the souls of living persons, who from personal experience KNOW that their Redeemer liveth, and that though worms destroy this body, yet in their flesh shall they see God. How many thousands are there in the world at this moment, who have known Christ as a personal friend and comforter, and who can testify to the work which He has wrought upon them! I cannot pass over such testimony as this in silence. I must assign it a foremost place in reviewing the reasons for holding that our hope is not in vain, but I may not dwell upon it, inasmuch as it would carry no weight with those for whom this work is designed, I mean with those to whom this precious experience of Christ has not yet been vouchsafed. Such persons require the external evidence to be made clear to demonstration before they will trust themselves to listen to the voices of hope or fear, and it is of no use appealing to the knowledge and hopes of others without making it clear upon what that knowledge and those hopes are grounded. Nevertheless, I may be allowed to point out that those who deny the Death and Resurrection of our Lord, call upon us to believe that an immense multitude of most truthful and estimable people are no less deceivers of their own selves and others, than Mohammedans, Jews and Buddhists are. How many do we not each of us know to whom Christ is the spiritual meat and drink of their whole lives. Yet our opponents call upon us to ignore all this, and to refer the emotions and elation of soul, which the love of Christ kindles in his true followers, to an inheritance of delusion and blunder. Truly a melancholy outlook.
Again, let a man travel over England, North, South, East, and West, and in his whole journey he shall hardly find a single spot from which he cannot see one or several churches. There is hardly a hamlet which is not also a centre for the celebration of our Redemption by the Death and Resurrection of Christ. Not one of these churches, say the Rationalists, not one of the clergymen who minister therein, not one single village school in all England, but must be regarded as a fountain of error, if not of deliberate falsehood. Look where they may, they cannot escape from the signs of a vital belief in the Resurrection. All these signs, they will tell us, are signs of superstition only; it is superstition which they celebrate and would confirm; they are founded upon fanaticism, or at the best upon sheer delusion; they poison the fountain heads of moral and intellectual well-being, by teaching men to set human experience on the one side, and to refer their conduct to the supposed will of a personal anthropomorphic God who was actually once a baby--who was born of one of his own creatures--and who is now locally and corporeally in Heaven, "of reasonable soul and HUMAN FLESH subsisting."
Thus do our opponents taunt us, but when we think not only of the present day, but of the nearly two thousand years during which Christianity has flourished, not in England only, but over all Europe, that is to say, over the quarter of the globe which is most civilised, and whose civilisation is in itself proof both of capacity to judge and of having judged rightly--what an awful admission do unbelievers require us to make, when they bid us think that all these ages and countries have gone astray to the imagining of a vain thing. All the self-sacrifice of the holiest men for sixty generations, all the wars that have been waged for the sake of Christ and His truth, all the money spent upon churches, clergy, monasteries and religious education, all the blood of martyrs, all the celibacy of priests and nuns, all the self-denying lives of those who are now ministers of the Gospel--according to the Rationalist, no part of all this devotion to the cause of Christ has had any justifiable base on actual fact. The bare contemplation of such a stupendous misapplication of self-sacrifice and energy, should be enough to prevent any one from ever smiling again to whose mind such a deplorable view was present: we wonder that our opponents do not shrink back appalled from the contemplation of a picture which they must regard as containing so much of sin, impudence and folly; yet it is to the contemplation of such a picture, and to a belief in its truthfulness to nature, that they would invite us; they cannot even see a clergyman without saying to themselves, "There goes one whose trade is the promotion of error; whose whole life is devoted to the upholding of the untrue." To them the sight of people flocking to a church must be as painful as it would be to us to see a congregation of Jews or Mohammedans: they ought to have no happiness in life so long as they believe that the vast majority of their fellow- countrymen are so lamentably deluded; yet they would call on us to join them, and half despise us upon our refusing to do so.
But upon this view also I may not dwell; it would have been easy and I think not unprofitable, had my aim been different, to have drawn an ampler picture of the heart-rending amount of falsehood, stupidity, cruelty and folly which must be referable to a belief in Christianity, if, as our opponents maintain, there is no solid ground for believing it; but my present purpose is to prove that there IS such ground, and having said enough to shew that I do not ignore the fields of evidence which lie beyond the purpose of my work, I will return to the Crucifixion and Resurrection.
What, then, let me ask of freethinkers, BECAME OF CHRIST EVENTUALLY? Several answers may be made to this question, BUT THERE IS NONE BUT THE ONE GIVEN IN SCRIPTURE WHICH WILL SET IT AT REST. Thus it has been said that Christ survived the Cross, lingered for a few weeks, and in the end succumbed to the injuries which He had sustained. On this there arises the question, did the Apostles know of His death? And if so, were they likely to mistake the reappearance of a dying man, so shattered and weak as He must have been, for the glory of an immortal being? We know that people can idealise a great deal, but they cannot idealise as much as this. The Apostles cannot have known of any death of Christ except His Death upon the Cross, and it is not credible that if He had died from the effects of the Crucifixion the Apostles should not have been aware of it. No one will pretend that they were, so it is needless to discuss this theory further.
It has also been said that our Lord, having seen the effect of His reappearance on the Apostles, considered that further converse with them would only weaken it; and that He may have therefore thought it wiser to withdraw Himself finally from them, and to leave His teaching in their hands, with the certainty that it would never henceforth be lost sight of; but this view is inconsistent with the character which even our adversaries themselves assign to our Saviour. The idea is one which might occur to a theorist sitting in his study, and enlightened by a knowledge of events, but it would not suggest itself to a leader in the heat of action.
Another supposition has been that our Lord on recovering consciousness after He had been left alone in the tomb, or perhaps even before Joseph had gone, may have been unable to realise to Himself the nature of the events that had befallen Him, and may have actually believed that He had been dead, and been miraculously restored to life; that He may yet have felt a natural fear of again falling into the hands of His enemies; and partly from this cause, and partly through awe at the miracle that He supposed had been worked upon Him, have only shewn Himself to His disciples hurriedly, in secret, and on rare occasions, spending the greater part of His time in some one or other of the secret places of resort, in which He had been wont to live apart from the Apostles before the Crucifixion.
I have known it urged that our Lord never said or even thought that He had risen from the dead, but shewed Himself alive secretly and fearfully, and bade His disciples follow Him to Galilee, where He might, and perhaps did, appear more openly, though still rarely and with caution; that the rarity and mystery of the reappearances would add to the impression of a miraculous resurrection which had instantly presented itself to the minds of the Apostles on seeing Christ alive; that this impression alone would prevent them from heeding facts which must have been obvious to any whose minds were not already unhinged by the knowledge that Christ was alive, and by the belief that He had been dead; and that they would be blinded by awe, which awe would be increased by the rarity of the reappearances- -a rarity that was in reality due, perhaps to fear, perhaps to self- delusion, perhaps to both, but which was none the less politic for not having been dictated by policy; finally that the report of Christ's having been seen alive reached the Chief Priests (or perhaps Joseph of Arimathaea), and that they determined at all hazards to nip the coming mischief in the bud; that they therefore watched their opportunity, and got rid of so probable a cause of disturbance by the knife of the assassin, or induced Him to depart by threats, which He did not venture to resist.
But if our Lord was secretly assassinated how could it have happened that the body should never have been found, and produced, when the Apostles began declaring publicly that Christ had risen? What could be easier than to bring it forward and settle the whole matter? It cannot be doubted that the body must have been looked for when the Apostles began publishing their story; we saw reason for believing this when we considered the account of the Resurrection given by St. Matthew. NOW THOSE THAT HIDE CAN FIND; and if the enemies of Christ had got rid of Him by foul play, they would know very well where to lay their hands upon that which would be the death blow to Christianity. If then Christ did not go away of His own accord, as feeling that His teaching would be better preserved by His absence, and if He did not die from wounds received upon the Cross, and if He was not assassinated secretly, what remains as the most reasonable view to be taken concerning His disappearance? Surely the one that WAS taken; the view which commended itself to those who were best able to judge--namely, THAT HE HAD ASCENDED BODILY INTO HEAVEN AND WAS SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD THE FATHER.
Where else could He be?
For that He disappeared, and disappeared finally, within six weeks of the Crucifixion must be considered certain; there is no one who will be bold enough even to hazard a conjecture that the appearance of Christ alluded to by St. Paul, as having been vouchsafed to him some years later, was that of the living Christ, who had chosen upon this one occasion to depart from the seclusion and secrecy which he had maintained hitherto. But if Christ was still living on earth, how was it possible that no human being should have the smallest clue to His whereabouts? If He was dead how is it that no one should have produced the body? Such a mysterious and total disappearance, even in the face of great jeopardy, has never yet been known, and can only be satisfactorily explained by adopting the belief which has prevailed for nearly the last two thousand years, and which will prevail more and more triumphantly so long as the world shall last-- the belief that Christ was restored to the glory which He had shared with the Father, as soon as ever He had given sufficient proofs of His being alive to ensure the devotion of His followers.
Before we can reject the supernatural solution of a mystery otherwise inexplicable, we should have some natural explanation which will meet the requirements of the case. A confession of ignorance is not enough here. WE are NOT ignorant; we KNOW that Christ died, inasmuch as we have the testimony of all the four Evangelists to this effect, the testimony of the Apostle Paul, and through him that of all the other Apostles; we have also the certainty that the centurion in charge of the soldiers at the Crucifixion would not have committed so grave a breach of discipline as the delivery of the body to Joseph and Nicodemus, unless he had felt quite sure that life was extinct; and finally we have the testimony of the Church for sixty generations, and that of myriads now living, whose experience assures them that Christ died and rose from the dead; in addition to this tremendous body of evidence we have also the story of the spear wound recorded in a Gospel which even our opponents believe to be from a Johannean source in its later chapters; and though, as has been already stated, this wound cannot be insisted upon as in itself sufficient to prove our Lord's death, yet it must assuredly be allowed its due weight in reviewing the evidence. The unbeliever cannot surely have considered how shallow are all the arguments which he can produce, in comparison with those that make against him. He cannot say that I have not done him justice, and I feel confident that when he reconsiders the matter in that spirit of humility without which he cannot hope to be guided to a true conclusion, he will feel sure that Strauss is right in believing that the death of our Lord cannot be seriously called in question.
But this being so, the reappearances, which we have seen to be established by the collapse of the hallucination theory, must be referred to supernatural or miraculous agency; that is to say, our Lord died and rose again on the third day, according to the Scriptures. Whereon His disappearance some six weeks later must be looked upon very differently from that of any ordinary person. If our Lord could have been shewn to have been a mere man, who had escaped death only by a hair's breadth, but still escaped it, perhaps some one of the theories for His disappearance, or some combination of them, or some other explanation which has not yet been thought of, might be held to be sufficient; but in the case of One who died and rose from the dead, there is no theory which will stand, except the one which it has been reserved for our own lawless and self-seeking times to question. Through the light of the Resurrection the Ascension is clearly seen.
My task is now completed. In an age when Rationalism has become recognised as the only basis upon which faith can rest securely, I have established the Christian faith upon a Rationalistic basis.
I have made no concession to Rationalism which did not place all the vital parts of Christianity in a far stronger position than they were in before, yet I have. conceded everything which a sincere Rationalist is likely to desire. I have cleared the ground for reconciliation. It only remains for the two contending parties to come forward and occupy it in peace jointly. May it be mine to see the day when all traces of disagreement have been long obliterated!
To the unbeliever I can say, "Never yet in any work upon the Christian side have your difficulties been so fully and fairly stated; never yet has orthodox disingenuousness been so unsparingly exposed." To the Christian I can say with no less justice, "Never yet have the true reasons for the discrepancies in the Gospels been so put forward as to enable us to look these discrepancies boldly in the face, and to thank God for having graciously allowed them to exist." I do not say this in any spirit of self-glorification. We are children of the hour, and creatures of our surroundings. As it has been given unto us, so will it be required at our hands, and we are at best unprofitable servants. Nevertheless I cannot refrain from expressing my gratitude at having been born in an age when Christianity and Rationalism are not only ceasing to appear antagonistic to one another, BUT HAVE EACH BECOME ESSENTIAL TO THE VERY EXISTENCE OF THE OTHER. May the reader feel this no less strongly than I do, and may he also feel that I have supplied the missing element which could alone cause them to combine. If he asks me what element I allude to, I answer Candour. This is the pilot that has taken us safely into the Fair Haven of universal brotherhood in Christ.
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