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Chapter 6

MORE DISINGENUOUSNESS


[Here, perhaps, will be the fittest place for introducing a letter to my brother from a gentleman who is well known to the public, but who does not authorise me to give his name. I found this letter among my brother's papers, endorsed with the words "this must be attended to," but with nothing more. I imagine that my brother would have incorporated the substance of his correspondent's letter into this or the preceding chapter, but not venturing to do so myself, I have thought it best to give the letter and extract in full, and thus to let them speak for themselves.--W. B. O.]


June 15, 1868.

My dear Owen,

Your brother has told me what you are doing, and the general line of your argument. I am sorry that you should be doing it, for I need not tell you that I do not and cannot sympathise with the great and unexpected change in your opinions. You are the last man in the world from whom I should have expected such a change: but, as you well know, you are also the last man in the world whose sincerity in making it I should be inclined to question. May you find peace and happiness in whatever opinions you adopt, and let me trust also that you will never forget the lessons of toleration which you learnt as the disciple of what you will perhaps hardly pardon me for calling a freer and happier school of thought than the one to which you now believe yourself to belong.

Your brother tells me that you are ill; I need not say that I am sorry, and that I should not trouble you with any personal matter--I write solely in reference to the work which I hear that you have undertaken, and which I am given to understand consists mainly in the endeavour to conquer unbelief, by really entering into the difficulties felt by unbelievers. The scheme is a good one IF THOROUGHLY CARRIED OUT. We imagine that we stand in no danger from any such course as this, and should heartily welcome any book which tried to grapple with us, even though it were to compel us to admit a great deal more than I at present think it likely that even you can extort from us. Much more should we welcome a work which made people understand us better than they do; this would indeed confer a lasting benefit both upon them and us.

However, I know you wish to do your work thoroughly; I want, therefore, to make a trifling suggestion which you will take pro tanto: it is this:-Paley, in his third book, professes to give "a brief consideration of some popular objections," and begins Chap. I. with "The discrepancies between the several Gospels."

Now, I know you have a Paley, but I know also that you are ill, and that people who are ill like being saved from small exertions. I have, therefore, bought a second-hand Paley for a shilling, and have cut out the chapter to which I especially want to call your attention. Will you kindly read it through from beginning to end?

Is it fair? Is the statement of our objections anything like what we should put forward ourselves? And can you believe that Paley with his profoundly critical instinct, and really great knowledge of the New Testament, should not have been perfectly well aware that he was misrepresenting and ignoring the objections which he professed to be removing?

He must have known very well that the principle of confirmation by discrepancy is one of very limited application, and that it will not cover anything approaching to such wide divergencies as those which are presented to us in the Gospels. Besides, how CAN he talk about Matthew's object as he does, and yet omit all allusion to the wide and important differences between his account of the Resurrection, and those of Mark, Luke, and John? Very few know what those differences really are, in spite of their having the Bible always open to them. I suppose that Paley felt pretty sure that his readers would be aware of no difficulty unless he chose to put them up to it, and wisely declined to do so. Very prudent, but very (as it seems to me) wicked. Now don't do this yourself. If you are going to meet us, meet us fairly, and let us have our say. Don't pretend to let us have our say while taking good care that we get no chance of saying it. I know you won't.

However, will you point out Paley's unfairness in heading this part of his work "A brief consideration of some popular objections," and then proceeding to give a chapter on "the discrepancies between the several Gospels," without going into the details of any of those important discrepancies which can have been known to none better than himself? This is the only place, so far as I remember, in his whole book, where he even touches upon the discrepancies in the Gospels. Does he do so as a man who felt that they were unimportant and could be approached with safety, or as one who is determined to carry the reader's attention away from them, and fix it upon something else by a coup de main?

This chapter alone has always convinced me that Paley did not believe in his own book. No one could have rested satisfied with it for moment, if he felt that he was on really strong ground. Besides, how insufficient for their purpose are his examples of discrepancies which do not impair the credibility of the main fact recorded!

How would it have been if Lord Clarendon and three other historians had each told us that the Marquis of Argyll CAME TO LIFE AGAIN AFTER BEING BEHEADED, and then set to work to contradict each other hopelessly as to the manner of his reappearance? How if Burnet, Woodrow, and Heath had given an account which was not at all incompatible with a natural explanation of the whole matter, while Clarendon gave a circumstantial story in flat contradiction to all the others, and carefully excluded any but a supernatural explanation? Ought we to, or should we, allow the discrepancies to pass unchallenged? Not for an hour--if indeed we did not rather order the whole story out of court at once, as too wildly improbable to deserve a hearing.

You will, I know, see all this, and a great deal more, and will point it better than I can. Let me as an old friend entreat you not to pass this over, but to allow me to continue to think of you as I always have thought of you hitherto, namely, as the most impartial disputant in the world.--Yours, &c.


(Extract from Paley's "Evidences."--Part III., Chapter 1. "The Discrepancies between the Gospels.")


"I know not a more rash or unphilosophical conduct of the understanding, than to reject the substance of a story, by reason of some diversity in the circumstances with which it is related. The usual character of human testimony is substantial truth under circumstantial variety. This is what the daily experience of courts of justice teaches. When accounts of a transaction come from the mouths of different witnesses, it is seldom that it is not possible to pick out apparent or real inconsistencies between them. These inconsistencies are studiously displayed by an adverse pleader, but oftentimes with little impression upon the minds of the judges. On the contrary, close and minute agreement induces the suspicion of confederacy and fraud. When written histories touch upon the same scenes of action, the comparison almost always affords ground for a like reflection. Numerous and sometimes important variations present themselves; not seldom, also, absolute and final contradictions; yet neither one nor the other are deemed sufficient to shake the credibility of the main fact. The embassy of the Jews to deprecate the execution of Claudian's order to place his statue in their temple Philo places in harvest, Josephus in seed-time, both contemporary writers. No reader is led by this inconsistency to doubt whether such an embassy was sent, or whether such an order was given. Our own history supplies examples of the same kind. In the account of the Marquis of Argyll's death in the reign of Charles II., we have a very remarkable contradiction. Lord Clarendon relates that he was condemned to be hanged, which was performed the same day; on the contrary, Burnet, Woodrow, Heath, Echard, concur in stating that he was condemned upon the Saturday, and executed upon a Monday. {3} Was any reader of English history ever sceptic enough to raise from hence a question, whether the Marquis of Argyll was executed or not? Yet this ought to be left in uncertainty, according to the principles upon which the Christian religion has sometimes been attacked. Dr. Middleton contended that the different hours of the day assigned to the Crucifixion of Christ by John and the other Evangelists, did not admit of the reconcilement which learned men had proposed; and then concludes the discussion with this hard remark: 'We must be forced, with several of the critics, to leave the difficulty just as we found it, chargeable with all the consequences of manifest inconsistency.' {4} But what are these consequences? By no means the discrediting of the history as to the principal fact, by a repugnancy (even supposing that repugnancy not to be resolvable into different modes of computation) in the time of the day in which it is said to have taken place.

A great deal of the discrepancy observable in the Gospels arises from OMISSION; from a fact or a passage of Christ's life being noticed by one writer, which is unnoticed by another. Now, omission is at all times a very uncertain ground of objection. We perceive it not only in the comparison of different writers, but even in the same writer, when compared with himself. There are a great many particulars, and some of them of importance, mentioned by Josephus in his Antiquities, which as we should have supposed, ought to have been put down by him in their place in the Jewish Wars. {5} Suetonius, Tacitus, Dion Cassius have all three written of the reign of Tiberius. Each has mentioned many things omitted by the rest, {6} yet no objection is from thence taken to the respective credit of their histories. We have in our own times, if there were not something indecorous in the comparison, the life of an eminent person, written by three of his friends, in which there is very great variety in the incidents selected by them, some apparent, and perhaps some real, contradictions: yet without any impeachment of the substantial truth of their accounts, of the authenticity of the books, of the competent information or general fidelity of the writers.

But these discrepancies will be still more numerous, when men do not write histories, but MEMOIRS; which is perhaps the true name and proper description of our Gospels; that is, when they do not undertake, or ever meant to deliver, in order of time, a regular and complete account of ALL the things of importance which the person who is the subject of their history did or said; but only, out of many similar ones, to give such passages, or such actions and discourses, as offered themselves more immediately to their attention, came in the way of their enquiries, occurred to their recollection, or were suggested by their PARTICULAR DESIGN at the time of writing.

This particular design may appear sometimes, but not always, nor often. Thus I think that the particular design which St. Matthew had in view whilst he was writing the history of the Resurrection, was to attest the faithful performance of Christ's promise to his disciples to go before them into Galilee; because he alone, except Mark, who seems to have taken it from him, has recorded this promise, and he alone has confined his narrative to that single appearance to the disciples which fulfilled it. It was the preconcerted, the great and most public manifestation of our Lord's person. It was the thing which dwelt upon St. Matthew's mind, and he adapted his narrative to it. But, that there is nothing in St. Matthew's language which negatives other appearances, or which imports that this his appearance to his disciples in Galilee, in pursuance of his promise, was his first or only appearance, is made pretty evident by St. Mark's Gospel, which uses the same terms concerning the appearance in Galilee as St. Matthew uses, yet itself records two other appearances prior to this: 'Go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you' (xvi., 7). We might be apt to infer from these words, that this was the FIRST time they were to see him: at least, we might infer it with as much reason as we draw the inference from the same words in Matthew; yet the historian himself did not perceive that he was leading his readers to any such conclusion, for in the twelfth and two following verses of this chapter, he informs us of two appearances, which, by comparing the order of events, are shown to have been prior to the appearance in Galilee. 'He appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country: and they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them. Afterward He appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief, because they believed not them which had seen Him after He was risen.' Probably the same observation, concerning the PARTICULAR DESIGN which guided the historian, may be of use in comparing many other passages of the Gospels."

[My brother's work, which has been interrupted by the letter and extract just given, will now be continued. What follows should be considered as coming immediately after the preceding chapter.--W. B. O.]

But there is a much worse set of notes than those on the twenty- eighth chapter of St. Matthew, and so important is it that we should put an end to such a style of argument, and get into a manner which shall commend itself to sincere and able adversaries, that I shall not apologise for giving them in full here. They refer to the spear wound recorded in St. John's Gospel as having been inflicted upon the body of our Lord.

The passage in St. John's Gospel stands thus (John xix., 32-37)-- "Then came the soldiers and brake the legs of the first and of the other which was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was dead already they brake not His legs: but one of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and we know that his record is true, and he knoweth that he saith true that ye might believe. For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, 'A bone of Him shall not be broken' and again another Scripture saith, 'They shall look on Him whom they pierced.'

In his note upon the thirty-fourth verse Dean Alford writes--"The lance must have penetrated deep, for the object was to ENSURE death." Now what warrant is there for either of these assertions? We are told that the soldiers saw that our Lord was dead already, and that for this reason they did not break his legs: if there had been any doubt about His being dead can we believe that they would have hesitated? There is ample proof of the completeness of the death in the fact that those whose business it was to assure themselves of its having taken place were so satisfied that they would be at no further trouble; what need to kill a dead man? If there had been any question as to the possibility of life remaining, it would not have been resolved by the thrust of the spear, but in a way which we must shudder to think of. It is most painful to have had to write the foregoing lines, but are they not called for when we see a man so well intentioned and so widely read as the late Dean Alford condescending to argument which must only weaken the strength of his cause in the eyes of those who have not yet been brought to know the blessings and comfort of Christianity? From the words of St. John no one can say whether the wound was a deep one, or why it was given-- yet the Dean continues, "and see John xx., 27," thereby implying that the wound must have been large enough for Thomas to get his hand into it, because our Lord says, "reach hither thine hand and thrust it into my side." This is simply shocking. Words cannot be pressed in this way. Dean Alford then says that the spear was thrust "probably into the LEFT side on account of the position of the soldier" (no one can arrive at the position of the soldier, and no one would attempt to do so, unless actuated by a nervous anxiety to direct the spear into the heart of the Redeemer), "and of what followed" (the Dean here implies that the water must have come from the pericardium; yet in his next note we are led to infer that he rejects this supposition, inasmuch as the quantity of water would have been "so small as to have scarcely been observed"). Is this fair and manly argument, and can it have any other effect than to increase the scepticism of those who doubt?

Here this note ends. The next begins upon the words "blood and water."

"The spear," says the Dean, "perhaps pierced the pericardium or envelope of the heart" (but why introduce a "perhaps" when there is ample proof of the death without it?), "in which case a liquid answering to the description of water may have" (MAY have) "flowed with the blood, but the quantity would have been so small as scarcely to have been observed" (yet in the preceding note he has led us to suppose that he thinks the water "probably came from near the heart). "It is scarcely possible that the separation of the blood into placenta and serum should have taken place so soon, or that if it had, it should have been described by an observe as blood and water. It is more probable that the fact here so strongly testified was a consequence of the extreme exhaustion of the body of the Redeemer." (Now if this is the case, the spear-wound does not prove the death of Him on whom it was inflicted, and Dean Alford has weakened a strong case for nothing.) "The medical opinions on the subject are very various and by no means satisfactory." Satisfactory! What does Dean Alford mean by satisfactory? If the evidence does not go to prove that the spear-wound must have been necessarily fatal why not have said so at once, and have let the whole matter rest in the obscurity from which no human being can remove it. The wound may have been severe or may not have been severe, it may have been given in mere wanton mockery of the dead King of the Jews, for the indignity's sake: or it may have been the savage thrust of an implacable foe, who would rejoice at the mutilation of the dead body of his enemy: none can say of what nature it was, nor why it was given; but the object of its having been recorded is no mystery, for we are expressly told that it was in order to shew THAT PROPHECY WAS THUS FULFILLED: the Evangelist tells us so in the plainest language: he even goes farther, for he says that these things were DONE for this end (not only that they were RECORDED)--so that the primary motive of the Almighty in causing the soldier to be inspired with a desire to inflict the wound is thus graciously vouchsafed to us, and we have no reason to harrow our feelings by supposing that a deeper thrust was given than would suffice for the fulfilment of the prophecy. May we not then well rest thankful with the knowledge which the Holy Spirit has seen fit to impart to us, without causing the weak brother to offend by our special pleading?

The reader has now seen the two first of Dean Alford's notes upon this subject, and I trust he will feel that I have used no greater plainness, and spoken with no greater severity than the case not only justifies but demands. We can hardly suppose that the Dean himself is not firmly convinced that our Lord died upon the Cross, but there are millions who are not convinced, and whose conviction should be the nearest wish of every Christian heart. How deeply, therefore, should we not grieve at meeting with a style of argument from the pen of one of our foremost champions, which can have no effect but that of making the sceptic suspect that the evidences for the death of our Lord are felt, even by Christians, to be insufficient. For this is what it comes to.

Let us, however, go on to the note on John xix., 35, that is to say on St. John's emphatic assertion of the truth of what he is recording. The note stands thus, "This emphatic assertion of the fact seems rather to regard the whole incident than the mere outflowing of the blood and water. It was the object of John to shew that the Lord's body was a REAL BODY and UNDERWENT REAL DEATH. (This is not John's own account--supposing that John is the writer of the fourth Gospel--either of his own object in recording, or yet of the object of the wound's having been inflicted; his words, as we have seen above, run thus:- "and he that saw it bare record, and we know that his record is true; and he knoweth that he saith true that ye might believe. FOR THESE THINGS WERE DONE THAT THE SCRIPTURE SHOULD BE FULFILLED which saith 'a bone of him shall not be broken,' and, again, another Scripture saith, 'they shall look upon' him whom they pierced.'" Who shall dare to say that St. John had any other object than to show that the event which he relates had been long foreseen, and foretold by the words of the Almighty?) And both these were shewn by what took place, NOT SO MUCH BY THE PHENOMENON OF THE WATER AND BLOOD" (then here we have it admitted that so much disingenuousness has been resorted to for no advantage, inasmuch as the fact of the water and blood having flowed is not per se proof of a necessarily fatal wound) "as by the infliction of such a wound" (Such a wound! What can be the meaning of this? What has Dean Alford made clear about the wound? We know absolutely nothing about the severity or intention of the wound, and it is mere baseless conjecture and assumption to say that we do; neither do we know anything concerning its effect unless it be shewn that the issuing of the blood and water PROVE that death must have ensued, and this Dean Alford has just virtually admitted to be not shewn), after which, EVEN IF DEATH HAD NOT TAKEN PLACE BEFORE (this is intolerable), THERE COULD NOT BY ANY POSSIBILITY BE LIFE REMAINING." (The italics on this page are mine.)

With this climax of presumptuous assertion these disgraceful notes are ended. They have shewn clearly that the wound does not in itself prove the death: they shew no less clearly that the Dean does not consider that the death is proved beyond possibility of doubt WITHOUT the wound; what therefore should be the legitimate conclusion? Surely that we have no proof of the completeness of Christ's death upon the Cross--or in other words no proof of His having died at all! Couple this with the notes upon the Resurrection considered above, and we feel rather as though we were in the hands of some Jesuitical unbeliever, who was trying to undermine our faith in our most precious convictions under the guise of defending them, than in those of one whom it is almost impossible to suspect of such any design. What should we say if we had found Newton, Adam Smith or Darwin, arguing for their opinions thus? What should we think concerning any scientific cause which we found thus defended? We should exceedingly well know that it was lost. And yet our leading theologians are to be applauded and set in high places for condescending to such sharp practice as would be despised even by a disreputable attorney, as too transparently shallow to be of the smallest use to him.

After all that has been said either by Dean Alford or any one else, we know nothing more than what we are told by the Apostle, namely, that immediately before being taken down from the Cross our Lord's body was wounded more severely, or less severely, as the case may be, with the point of a spear, that from this wound there flowed something which to the eyes of the writer resembled blood and water, and that the whole was done in order that a well-known prophecy might be fulfilled. Yet his sentences in reference to this fact being ended, without his having added one iota to our knowledge upon the subject, the Dean gravely winds up by throwing a doubt upon the certainty of our Lord's death which was not felt by a single one of those upon the spot, and resting his clenching proof of its having taken place upon a wound, which he has just virtually admitted to have not been necessarily fatal. Nothing can be more deplorable either as morality or policy.

Yet the Dean is justified by the event. One would have thought he could have been guilty of nothing short of infatuation in hoping that the above notes would pass muster with any ordinarily intelligent person, but he knew that he might safely trust to the force of habit and prejudice in the minds of his readers, and his confidence has not been misplaced. Of all those engaged in the training of our young men for Holy Orders, of all our Bishops and clergy and tutors at colleges, whose very profession it is to be lovers of truth and candour, who are paid for being so, and who are mere shams and wolves in sheep's clothing if they are not ever on the look-out for falsehood, to make war upon it as the enemy of our souls--not one, NO, NOT A SINGLE ONE, so far as I know, has raised his voice in protest. If a man has not lost his power of weeping let him weep for this; if there is any who realises the crime of self-deception, as perhaps the most subtle and hideous of all forms of sin, let him lift up his voice and proclaim it now; for the times are not of peace, but of a sowing of wind for the reaping of whirlwinds, and of the calm that is the centre of the hurricane.

Either Christianity is the truth of truths--the one which should in this world overmaster all others in the thoughts of all men, and compared with which all other truths are insignificant except as grouping themselves around it--or it is at the best a mistake which should be set right as soon as possible. There is no middle course. Either Jesus Christ was the Son of God, or He was not. If He was, His great Father forbid that we should juggle in order to prove Him so--that we should higgle for an inch of wound more, or an inch less, and haggle for the root ??y in the Greek word e???e. Better admit that the death of Christ must be ever a matter of doubt, should so great a sacrifice be demanded of us, than go near to the handling of a lie in order to make assurance doubly sure. No truthful mind can doubt that the cause of Christ is far better served by exposing an insufficient argument than by silently passing it over, or else that the cause of Christ is one to be attacked and not defended.


Samuel Butler

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