THE PRECEDING CHAPTER CONTINUED
"Let us now turn to Luke. His account runs as follows:-
"'Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. AND THEY FOUND THE STONE ROLLED AWAY FROM THE SEPULCHRE. AND THEY ENTERED IN, AND FOUND NOT THE BODY OF THE LORD JESUS. And it came to pass as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments, AND AS THEY WERE AFRAID, AND BOWED THEIR FACES TO THE EARTH, they said unto them, "WHY SEEK YE THE LIVING AMONG THE DEAD? He is not here, but is risen: REMEMBER HOW HE SPAKE UNTO YOU WHEN HE WAS YET IN GALILEE, saying, 'THE SON OF MAN MUST BE DELIVERED INTO THE HANDS OF SINFUL MEN AND BE CRUCIFIED, AND THE THIRD DAY RISE AGAIN." AND THEY REMEMBERED HIS WORDS, and returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest. It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them which told these things unto the Apostles. AND THEIR WORDS SEEMED UNTO THEM AS IDLE TALES, AND THEY BELIEVED THEM NOT. Then arose Peter, and went unto the sepulchre: and, stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.'
"When we compare this account with John's we are at once struck with the resemblances and the discrepancies. Luke and John indeed are both agreed that Christ was seen alive after the Crucifixion. Both agree that the tomb was found empty very early on the Sunday morning (i.e., within thirty-six hours of the deposition from the Cross), and neither writer affords us any clue whatever as to the time and manner of the removal of the body; but here the resemblances end; the angelic vision of Mary, seen AFTER Peter and John had departed from the tomb, and seen apparently by Mary alone, in Luke finds its way into the van of the narrative, and Peter is represented as having gone to the tomb, NOT IN CONSEQUENCE OF HAVING BEEN SIMPLY TOLD THAT THE BODY OF CHRIST WAS MISSING, BUT BECAUSE HE REFUSED TO BELIEVE THE MIRACULOUS STORY WHICH WAS TOLD HIM BY THE WOMEN. In the fourth Gospel we heard of no miraculous story being carried by Mary to Peter and John. The angels instead of being seen by one person only, as would have appeared from the fourth Gospel, are now seen BY MANY; and the women instead of being almost stolidly indifferent to the presence of supernatural beings, are afraid, and bow down their faces to the earth; instead of merely wanting to be informed why Mary was weeping, the angels speak with definite point, and as angels might be expected to speak; they allude, also, to past prophecy, which the women at once remember.
"Strange, that they should want reminding! And stranger still that a few verses lower down we should find the Apostles remembering no prophetic saying, but regarding the story of the women as mere idle tales. What shall we say? Are not these differences precisely similar to those which we are continually meeting with, when a case of exaggeration comes before us? Can we accept BOTH the stories? Is this one of those cases in which all would be made clear if we did but know ALL the facts, or is it rather one in which we can understand how easily the story given by the one writer might become distorted into the version of the other? Does it seem in any way improbable that within the forty years or so between the occurrences recorded by John and the writing of Luke's Gospel, the apparently trifling, yet truly most important, differences between the two writers should have been developed?
"No one will venture to say that the facts, upon the face of them, do not strongly suggest such an inference, and that, too, with no conscious fraud on the part of any of those through whose mouths the story must have passed. If the fourth Gospel be assigned to John (and if it is NOT assigned to John the difficulties on the Christian side become so great that the cause may be declared lost), his story is that of a principal actor and eye-witness; it bears every impress of truth and none of exaggeration upon any point which came under his own observation. Even when he tells of what Mary Magdalene said she saw, we see the myth in its earliest and crudest form; there is no attempt at circumstance in connection with it, and abundant reason for suspecting its supernatural character is given along with it; reason which to our minds is at any rate sufficient to make us doubt it, but which would naturally have no weight whatever with John after he had once seen Christ alive, or indeed with us if we had been in his place. It is not to be wondered at that in such times many a fresh bud should be grafted on to the original story; indeed it was simply inevitable that this should have been the case. No one would mean to deceive, but we know how, among uneducated and enthusiastic persons, the marvellous has an irresistible tendency to become more marvellous still; and, as far as we can gather, all the causes which bring this about were more actively at work shortly after the time of Christ's first reappearance than at any other time which can be readily called to mind. The main facts, as we derive them from the consent of BOTH writers, were simply these:- That the tomb of Christ was found unexpectedly empty on the Sunday morning; that this fact was reported to the Apostles; that Peter went into the tomb and saw the linen clothes laid by themselves; that Mary Magdalene said that she had seen angels; and that eventually Christ shewed himself undoubtedly alive. Both writers agree so far, but it is impossible to say that they agree farther.
"Some may say that it is of little moment whether the angels appeared first or last; whether they were seen by many or by one; whether, if seen only by one, that one had previously been insane; whether they spoke as angels might be expected to speak, i.e., to the point, and are shewn to have been recognised as angels by the fear which their appearance caused; or whether they caused no alarm, and said nothing which was in the least equal to the occasion. But most men will feel that the whole complexion of the story changes according to the answers which can be made to these very questions. Surely they will also begin to feel a strong suspicion that the story told by Luke is one which has not lost in the telling. How natural was it that the angelic vision should find its way into the foreground of the picture, and receive those little circumstantial details of which it appeared most to stand in need; how desirable also that the testimony of Mary should be corroborated by that of others who were with her, and out of whom no devils had been cast. The first Christians would not have been men and women at all unless they had felt thus; but they WERE men and women, and hence they acted after the fashion of their age and unconsciously exaggerated; the only wonder is that they did not exaggerate more, for we must remember that even though the Apostles themselves be supposed to have been more judicially unimpassioned and less liable to inaccuracy than we have reason to believe they were, yet that from the very earliest ages of the Church there would be some converts of an inferior stamp. No matter how small a society is, there will be bad in it as well as good--there was a Judas even in the twelve.
"But to speak less harshly, there must from the first have been some converts who would be capable of reporting incautiously; visions and dreams were vouchsafed to many, and not a few marvels may be referable to this source; there is no trusting an age in which men are liable to give a supernatural interpretation to an extraordinary dream, nor is there any end to what may come of it, if people begin seriously confounding their sleeping and waking impressions. In such times, then, Luke may have said with a clear conscience that he had carefully sifted the truth of what he wrote; but the world has not passed through the last two thousand years in vain, and we are bound to insist upon a higher standard of credibility. Luke would believe at once, and as a matter of course, things which we should as a matter of course reject; yet it is probable that he too had heard much that he rejected; he seems to have been dissatisfied with all the records with the existence of which he was aware; the account which he gives is possibly derived from some very early report; even if this report arose at Jerusalem, and within a week after the Crucifixion, it might well be very inaccurate, though apparently supported by excellent authority, so that there is no necessity for charging Luke with unusual credulity. No one can be expected to be greatly in advance of his surroundings; it is well for every one except himself if he should happen to be so, but no man is to be blamed if he is not; it is enough to save him if he is fairly up to the standard of his own times. 'Morality' is rather of the custom which IS, than of the custom which ought to be.
"Turning now to the account of Mark, we find the following:-
"'And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome had bought sweet spices that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning, the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves,
"Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?" And when they looked they saw that the stone was rolled away; for it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre they saw A YOUNG MAN sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, "Be not affrighted; ye seek Jesus of Nazareth which was crucified; he is risen; he is not here; behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there ye shall see him, as he said unto you." And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; FOR THEY TREMBLED AND WERE AMAZED, NEITHER SAID THEY ANY THING TO ANY MAN, FOR THEY WERE AFRAID. Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. And she went and told them that had been with him as they mourned and wept. And they, when they heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, BELIEVED NOT.'
"Here we have substantially the same version as that given by Luke; there is only one angel mentioned, but it may be said that it is possible that there may have been another who is not mentioned, inasmuch as he remained silent; the angelic vision, however, is again brought into the foreground of the story and the fear of the women is even more strongly insisted on than it was in Luke. The angel reminds the women that Christ had said that he should be seen by his Apostles in Galilee, of which saying we again find that the Apostles seem to have had no recollection. The linen clothes have quite dropped out of the story, and we can detect no trace of Peter and John's visit to the tomb, but it is remarkable that the women are represented as not having said anything about the presence of the angel immediately on their having seen him; and this fact, which might be in itself suspicious, is apologised for on the score of fear, notwithstanding that their silence was a direct violation of the command of the being whom they so greatly feared. We should have expected that if they had feared him so much they would have done as he told them, but here again everybody seems to act as in a dream or drama, in defiance of all the ordinary principles of human action.
"Throughout the preceding paragraph we have assumed that Mark intended his readers to understand that the young man seen in the tomb was an angel; but, after all, this is rather a bold assumption. On what grounds is it supported? Because Luke tells us that when the women reached the tomb they found TWO white angels within it, are we therefore to conclude that Mark, who wrote many years earlier, and as far as we can gather with much greater historical accuracy, must have meant an angel when he spoke of a 'young man'? Yet this can be the only reason, unless the young man's having worn a long white robe is considered as sufficient cause for believing him to have been an angel; and this, again, is rather a bold assumption. But if St. Mark meant no more than he said, and when he wrote of a 'young man' intended to convey the idea of a young man and of nothing more, what becomes of the angelic visions at the tomb of Christ? For St. Matthew's account is wholly untenable; St. Luke is a much later writer, who must have got all his materials second or third hand; and although we granted, and are inclined to believe, that the accounts of the visits of Mary Magdalene, and subsequently of Peter and John to the tomb, which are given in the fourth Gospel, are from a Johannean source, if we were asked our reasons for this belief, we should be very hard put to it to give them. Nevertheless we think it probable.
"But take it either way; if the account in the fourth Gospel is supposed to have been derived from the Apostle John, we have already seen that there is nothing miraculous about it, so far as it deals with what came under John's own observation; if, on the other hand, it is NOT authentic we are thrown back upon St. Mark as incomparably our best authority for the facts that occurred on the Sunday after the Crucifixion, and he tells us of nothing but a tomb found empty, with the exception that there was a young man in it who wore a long white dress and told the women to tell the Apostles to go to Galilee, where they should see Christ. On the strength of this we are asked to believe that the reappearance of Christ alive, after a hurried crucifixion, must have been due to supernatural causes, and supernatural causes only! It will be easily seen what a number of threads might be taken up at this point, and followed with not uninteresting results. For the sake, however, of brevity, we grant it as most probable that St. Mark meant the young man said to have been seen in the tomb, to be considered as an angel; but we must also express our conviction that this supposed angelic vision is a misplaced offshoot of the report that Mary Magdalene had seen angels in the tomb after Peter and John had left it.
"It is possible that Mark's account may be the most historic of all those that we have; but we incline to think otherwise, inasmuch as the angelic vision placed in the foreground by Mark and Luke, would not be likely to find its way into the background again, as it does in the fourth Gospel, unless in consequence of really authentic information; no unnecessary detraction from the miraculous element is conceivable as coming from the writer who has handed down to us the story of the raising of Lazarus, where we have, indeed, A REAL ACCOUNT OF A RESURRECTION, the continuity of the evidence being unbroken, and every link in the chain forged fast and strong, even to the unwrapping of the grave clothes from the body as it emerged from the sepulchre. Is it possible that the writer may have given the story of the raising of Lazarus (of which we find no trace except in the fourth Gospel), because he felt that in giving the Apostolic version with absolute or substantial accuracy, he was so weakening the miraculous element in connection with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ himself, that it became necessary to introduce an incontrovertible account of the resurrection of some other person, which should do, as it were, vicarious duty?
"Nevertheless there are some points on which all the three writers are agreed: we have the same substratum of facts, namely, THE TOMB FOUND ALREADY EMPTY WHEN THE WOMEN REACHED IT, a confused and contradictory report of an angel or angels seen within it, and the subsequent reappearance of Christ. Not one of the three writers affords us the slightest clue as to the time and manner of the removal of the body from the tomb; there is nothing in any of the narratives which is incompatible with its having been taken away on the very night of the Crucifixion itself.
"Is this a case in which the defenders of Christianity would clamour for ALL the facts, unless they exceedingly well knew that there was no chance of their getting them? ALL the facts, indeed--what tricks does our imagination play us! One would have thought that there were quite enough facts given as the matter stands to make the defenders of Christianity wish that there were not so many; and then for them to say that if we had more, those that we have would become less contradictory! What right have they to assume that if they had all the facts, the accounts of the Resurrection would cease to puzzle us, more than we have to say that if we had all the facts, we should find these accounts even more inexplicable than we do at present? Had WE argued thus we should have been accused of shameless impudence; of a desire to maintain any position in which we happened to find ourselves, and by which we made money, regardless of every common principle of truth or honour, or whatever else makes the difference between upright men and self-deceivers.
"It may be said by some that the discrepancies between the three accounts given above are discrepancies concerning details only, but that all three writers agree about the 'main fact.' We are continually hearing about this 'main fact,' but nobody is good enough to tell us precisely what fact is meant. Is the main fact the fact that Jesus Christ was crucified? Then no one denies it. We all admit that Jesus Christ was crucified. Or, is it that he was seen alive several times after the Crucifixion? This also we are not disposed to deny. We believe that there is a considerable preponderance of evidence in its favour. But if the 'main fact' turns out to be that Christ was crucified, DIED, and then came to life again, we admit that here too all the writers are agreed, but we cannot find with any certainty that one of them was present when Christ died or when his body was taken down from the Cross, or that there was any such examination of the body as would be absolutely necessary in order to prove that a man had been dead who was afterwards seen alive. If Christ reappeared alive, there is not only no tittle of evidence in support of his death which would be allowed for a moment in an English court of justice, but there is an overwhelming amount of evidence which points inexorably in the direction of his never having died. If he reappeared, there is no evidence of his having died. If he did not reappear, there is no evidence of his having risen from the dead.
"We are inclined, however, as has been said already, to believe that Jesus Christ really did reappear shortly after the Crucifixion, and that his reappearance, though due to natural causes, was conceived to be miraculous. We believe also that Mary fancied that she had seen angels in the tomb, and openly said that she had done so; who would doubt her when so far greater a marvel than this had been made palpably manifest to all? Who would care to inquire very particularly whether there were two angels or only one? Whether there were other women with Mary or whether she was quite alone? Who would compare notes about the exact moment of their appearing, and what strictly accurate account of their words could be expected in the ferment of such excitement and such ignorance? Any speech which sounded tolerably plausible would be accepted under the circumstances, and none will complain of Mark as having wilfully attempted to deceive, any more than he will of Luke: the amplification of the story was inevitable, and the very candour and innocence with which the writers leave loophole after loophole for escape from the miraculous, is alone sufficient proof of their sincerity; nevertheless, it is also proof that they were all more or less inaccurate; we can only say in their defence, that in the reappearance of Christ himself we find abundant palliation of their inaccuracy. Given one great miracle, proved with a sufficiency of evidence for the capacities and proclivities of the age, and the rest is easy. The groundwork of the after-structure of the other miracles is to be found in the fact that Christ was crucified, and was afterwards seen alive."
There is no occasion for me to examine St. Matthew's account of the Resurrection in company with the unhappy men whose views I have been endeavouring to represent above. For reasons which have already been sufficiently dwelt upon I freely own that I agree with them in rejecting it. I shall therefore admit that the story of the sealing of the tomb, and setting of the guard, the earthquake, the descent of the angel from Heaven, his rolling away the stone, sitting upon it, and addressing the women therefrom, is to be treated for all controversial purposes as though it had never been written. By this admission, I confess to complete ignorance of the time when the stone was removed from the mouth of the tomb, or the hour when the Redeemer rose. I should add that I agree with our opponents in believing that our Lord never foretold His Resurrection to the Apostles. But how little does it matter whether He foretold His Resurrection or not, and whether He rose at one hour or another. It is enough for me that he rose at all; for the rest I care not.
"Yet, see," our opponents will exclaim in answer, "what a mighty river has come from a little spring. We heard first of two men going into an empty tomb, finding two bundles of grave clothes, and departing. Then there comes a certain person, concerning whom we are elsewhere told a fact which leaves us with a very uncomfortable impression, and SHE sees, not two bundles of grave clothes, but two white angels, who ask a dreamy pointless question, and receive an appropriate answer. Then we find the time of this apparition shifted; it is placed in the front, not in the background, and is seen by many, instead of being vouchsafed to no one but to a weeping woman looking into the bottom of a tomb. The speech of the angels, also, becomes effective, and the linen clothes drop out of sight entirely, unless some faint trace of them is to be found in the 'long white garment' which Mark tells us was worn by the young man who was in the tomb when the women reached it. Finally, we have a guard set upon the tomb, and the stone which was rolled in front of it is sealed; the angel IS SEEN TO DESCEND FROM HEAVEN, to roll away the stone, and sit upon it, and there is a great earthquake. Oh! how things grow, how things grow! And, oh! how people believe!
"See by what easy stages the story has grown up from the smallest seed, as the mustard tree in the parable, and how the account given by Matthew changes the whole complexion of the events. And see how this account has been dwelt upon to the exclusion of the others by the great painters and sculptors from whom, consciously or unconsciously, our ideas of the Christian era are chiefly drawn. Yes. These men have been the most potent of theologians, for their theology has reached and touched most widely. We have mistaken their echo of the sound for the sound itself, and what was to them an aspiration, has, alas! been to us in the place of science and reality.
"Truly the ease with which the plainest inferences from the Gospel narratives have been overlooked is the best apology for those who have attributed unnatural blindness to the Apostles. If we are so blind, why not they also? A pertinent question, but one which raises more difficulties than it solves. The seeing of truth is as the finding of gold in far countries, where the shepherd has drunk of the stream and used it daily to cleanse the sweat of his brow, and recked little of the treasure which lay abundantly concealed therein, until one luckier than his fellows espies it, and the world comes flocking thither. So with truth; a little care, a little patience, a little sympathy, and the wonder is that it should have lain hidden even from the merest child, not that it should now be manifest.
"How early must it have been objected that there was no evidence that the tomb had not been tampered with (not by the Apostles, for they were scattered, and of him who laid the body in the tomb--Joseph of Arimathaea--we hear no more) and that the body had been delivered not to enemies, but friends; how natural that so desirable an addition to the completeness of the evidences in favour of a miraculous Resurrection should have been early and eagerly accepted. Would not twenty years of oral communication and Spanish or Italian excitability suffice for the rooting of such a story? Yet, as far as we can gather, the Gospel according to St. Matthew was even then unwritten. And who was Matthew? And what was his original Gospel?
"There is one part of his story, and one only, which will stand the test of criticism, and that is this:- That the saying that the disciples came by night and stole the body of Jesus away was current among the Jews, at the time when the Gospel which we now have appeared. Not that they did so--no one will believe this; but the allegation of the rumour (which would hardly have been ventured unless it would command assent as true) points in the direction of search having been made for the body of Jesus--and made in vain.
"We have now seen that there is no evidence worth the name, for any miracle in connection with the tomb of Christ. He probably reappeared alive, but not with any circumstances which we are justified in regarding as supernatural. We are therefore at length led to a consideration of the Crucifixion itself. Is there evidence for more than this--that Christ was crucified, was afterwards seen alive, and that this was regarded by his first followers as a sufficient proof of his having risen from the dead? This would account for the rise of Christianity, and for all the other miracles. Take the following passage from Gibbon:- 'The grave and learned Augustine, whose understanding scarcely admits the excuse of credulity, has attested the innumerable prodigies which were worked in Africa by the relics of St. Stephen, and this marvellous narrative is inserted in the elaborate work of "The City of God," which the Bishop designed as a solid and immortal proof of the truth of Christianity. Augustine solemnly declares that he had selected those miracles only which had been publicly certified by persons who were either the objects or the spectators of the powers of the martyr. Many prodigies were omitted or forgotten, and Hippo had been less favourably treated than the other cities of the province, yet the Bishop enumerates above seventy miracles, of which three were resurrections from the dead, within the limits of his own diocese. If we enlarge our view to all the dioceses and all the saints of the Christian world, it will not be easy to calculate the fables and errors which issued from this inexhaustible source. But we may surely be allowed to observe that a miracle in that age of superstition and credulity lost its name and its merits, since it could hardly be considered as a deviation from the established laws of Nature.'--(Gibbon's Decline and Fall, chap. xxviii., sec. 2).
"Who believes in the miracles, or who would dare to quote them? Yet on what better foundation do those of the New Testament rest? For the death of Christ there is no evidence at all. There is evidence that he was believed to have been dead (under circumstances where a misapprehension was singularly likely to arise), by men whose minds were altogether in a different clef to ours as regards the miraculous, and whom we cannot therefore fairly judge by any modern standard. We cannot judge THEM, but we are bound to weigh the facts which they relate, not in their balance, but in our own. It is not what might have seemed reasonably believable to them, but what is reasonably believable in our own more enlightened age which can be alone accepted sinlessly by ourselves. Men's modes of thought concerning facts change from age to age; but the facts change not at all, and it is of them that we are called to judge.
"We turn to the fourth Gospel, as that from which we shall derive the most accurate knowledge of the facts connected with the Crucifixion. Here we find that it was about twelve o'clock when Pilate brought out Christ for the last time; the dialogue that followed, the preparations for the Crucifixion, and the leading Christ outside the city to the place where the Crucifixion was to take place, could hardly have occupied less than an hour. By six o'clock (by consent of all writers) the body was entombed, so that the actual time during which Christ hung upon the cross was little more than four hours. Let us be thankful to hope that the time of suffering may have been so short--but say five hours, say six, say whatever the reader chooses, the Crucifixion was avowedly too hurried for death in an ordinary case to have ensued. The thieves had to be killed, as yet alive. Immediately before being taken down from the cross the body was delivered to friends. Within thirty-six hours afterwards the tomb in which it had been laid was discovered to have been opened; for how long it had been open we do not know, but a few hours later Christ was seen alive.
"Let it be remembered also that the fact of the body having been delivered to Joseph BEFORE the taking down from the cross, greatly enhanced the chance of an escape from death, inasmuch as the duties of the soldiers would have ended with the presentation of the order from Pilate. If any faint symptom of returning animation shewed itself in consequence of the mere change of position and the inevitable shock attendant upon being moved, the soldiers would not know it; their task was ended, and they would not be likely either to wish, or to be allowed, to have anything to do with the matter. Joseph appears to have been a rich man, and would be followed by attendants. Moreover, although we are told by Mark that Pilate sent for the centurion to inquire whether Christ was dead, yet the same writer also tells us that this centurion had already come to the conclusion that Christ was the Son of God, a statement which is supported by the accounts of Matthew and Luke; Mark is the only Evangelist who tells us that the centurion WAS sent for, but even granting that this was so, would not one who had already recognised Christ as the Son of God be inclined to give him every assistance in his power? He would be frightened, and anxious to get the body down from the cross as fast as possible. So long as Christ appeared to be dead, there would be no unnecessary obstacle thrown in the way of the delivery of the body to Joseph, by a centurion who believed that he had been helping to crucify the Son of God. Besides Joseph was rich, and rich people have many ways of getting their wishes attended to.
"We know of no one as assisting at the taking down or the removal of the body, except Joseph of Arimathaea, for the presence of Nicodemus, and indeed his existence, rests upon the slenderest evidence. None of the Apostles appear to have had anything to do with the deposition, nor yet the women who had come from Galilee, who are represented as seeing where the body was laid (and by Luke as seeing HOW it was laid), but do not seem to have come into close contact with the body.
"Would any modern jury of intelligent men believe under similar circumstances that the death had been actual and complete? Would they not regard--and ought they not to regard--reappearance as constituting ample proof that there had been no death? Most assuredly, unless Christ had had his head cut off, or had been seen to be burnt to ashes. Again, if unexceptionable medical testimony as to the completeness of the death had reached us, there would be no help for it; we should have to admit that something had happened which was at variance with all our experience of the course of nature; or again if his legs had been broken, or his feet pierced, we could say nothing; but what irreparable mischief is done to any vital function of the body by the mere act of crucifixion? The feet were not always, 'nor perhaps generally,' pierced (so Dean Alford tells us, quoting from Justin Martyr), nor is there a particle of evidence to shew that any exception was made in the present instance. A man who is crucified dies from sheer exhaustion, so that it cannot be deemed improbable that he might swoon away, and that every outward appearance of death might precede death by several hours.
"Are we to suppose that a handful of ignorant soldiers should be above error, when we remember that men have been left for dead, been laid out for burial and buried by their best friends--nay, that they have over and over again been pronounced dead by skilled physicians, when the facilities for knowing the truth were far greater, and when a mistake was much less likely to occur, than at the hurried Crucifixion of Jesus Christ? The soldiers would apply no polished mirror to the lips, nor make use of any of those tests which, under the circumstances, would be absolutely necessary before life could be pronounced to be extinct; they would see that the body was lifeless, inanimate, to all outward appearance like the few other dead bodies which they had probably observed closely; with this they would rest contented.
"It is true, they probably believed Christ to be dead at the time they handed over the body to his friends, and if we had heard nothing more of the matter we might assume that they were right; but the reappearance of Christ alive changes the whole complexion of the story. It is not very likely that the Roman soldiers would have been mistaken in believing him to be dead, unless the hurry of the whole affair, and the order from Pilate, had disposed them to carelessness, and to getting the matter done as fast as possible; but it is much less likely that a dead man should come to life again than that a mistake should have been made about his having being dead. The latter is an event which probably happens every week in one part of the world or another; the former has never yet been known.
"It is not probable that a man officially executed should escape death; but that a DEAD MAN should escape from it is more improbable still; in addition to the enormous preponderance of probability on the side of Christ's never having died which arises from this consideration alone, we are told many facts which greatly lessen the improbability of his having escaped death, inasmuch as the Crucifixion was hurried, and the body was immediately delivered to friends without the known destruction of any organic function, and while still hanging upon the cross.
"Joseph and Nicodemus (supposing that Nicodemus was indeed a party to the entombment) may be believed to have thought that Christ was dead when they received the body, but they could not refuse him their assistance when they found out their mistake, nor, again, could they forfeit their high position by allowing it to be known that they had restored the life of one who was so obnoxious to the authorities. They would be in a very difficult position, and would take the prudent course of backing out of the matter at the first moment that humanity would allow, of leaving the rest to chance, and of keeping their own counsel. It is noticeable that we never hear of them again; for there were no two people in the world better able to know whether the Resurrection was miraculous or not, and none who would be more deeply interested in favour of the miracle. They had been faithful when the Apostles themselves had failed, and if their faith had been so strong while everything pointed in the direction of the utter collapse of Christianity, what would it be, according to every natural impulse of self-approbation, when so transcendent a miracle as a resurrection had been worked almost upon their own premises, and upon one whose remains they had generously taken under their protection at a time when no others had ventured to shew them respect?
"We should have fancied that Mary would have run to Joseph and Nicodemus, not to the Apostles; that Joseph and Nicodemus would then have sent for the Apostles, or that, to say the least of it, we should have heard of these two persons as having been prominent members of the Church at Jerusalem; but here again the experience of the ordinary course of nature fails us, and we do not find another word or hint concerning them. This may be the result of accident, but if so, it is a very unfortunate accident, and we have already had a great deal too much of unfortunate accidents, and of truths which MAY be truths, but which are uncommonly like exaggeration. Stories are like people, whom we judge of in no small degree by the dress they wear, the company they keep, and that subtle indefinable something which we call their expression.
"Nevertheless, there arise the questions how far the spear wound recorded by the writer of the fourth Gospel must be regarded, firstly, as an actual occurrence, and, secondly, as having been necessarily fatal, for unless these things are shewn to be indisputable we have seen that the balance of probability lies greatly in favour of Christ's having escaped with life. If, however, it can be proved that it is a matter of certainty both that the wound was actually inflicted, and that death must have inevitably followed, then the death of Christ is proved. The Resurrection becomes supernatural; the Ascension forthwith ceases to be marvellous; the Miraculous Conception, the Temptation in the Wilderness, all the other miracles of Christ and his Apostles, become believable at once upon so signal a failure of human experience; human experience ceases to be a guide at all, inasmuch as it is found to fail on the very point where it has been always considered to be most firmly established--the remorselessness of the grip of death. But before we can consent to part with the firm ground on which we tread, in the confidence of which we live, move, and have our being--the trust in the established experience of countless ages--we must prove the infliction of the wound and its necessarily fatal character beyond all possibility of mistake. We cannot be expected to reject a natural solution of an event however mysterious, and to adopt a supernatural in its place, so long as there is any element of doubt upon the supernatural side.
"The natural solution of the origin of belief in the Resurrection lies very ready to our hands; once admit that Christ was crucified hurriedly, that there is no proof of the destruction of any organic function of the body, that the body itself was immediately delivered to friends, and that thirty-six hours afterwards Christ was seen alive, and it is impossible to understand how any human being can doubt what he ought to think. We must own also that once let Joseph have kept his own counsel (and he had a great stake to lose if he did NOT keep it), once let the Apostles believe that Christ's restoration to life was miraculous (and under the circumstances they would be sure to think so), and their reason would be so unsettled that in a very short time all the recognised and all the apocryphal miracles of Christ would pass current with them without a shadow of difficulty."
It will be observed that throughout both this and the preceding chapter I have been dealing with those of our opponents who, while admitting the reappearances of our Lord, ascribe them to natural causes only. I consider this position to be only second in importance to the one taken by Strauss, and as perhaps in some respects capable of being supported with an even greater outward appearance of probability. I therefore resolved to combat it, and as a preliminary to this, have taken care that it shall be stated in the clearest and most definite manner possible. But it is plain that those who accept the fact that our Lord reappeared after the Crucifixion differ hardly less widely from Strauss than they do from ourselves; it will therefore be expedient to shew how they maintain their ground against so formidable an antagonist. Let it be remembered that Strauss and his followers admit that THE DEATH of our Lord is proved, while those of our opponents who would deny this, nevertheless admit that we can establish THE REAPPEARANCES; it follows therefore that each of our most important propositions is admitted by one section or other of the enemy, and each section would probably be heartily glad to be able to deny what it admits. Can there be any doubt about the significance of this fact? Would not a little reflection be likely to suggest to the distracted host of our adversaries that each of its two halves is right, as FAR AS IT GOES, but that agreement will only be possible between them when each party has learnt that it is in possession of only half the truth, and has come to admit both the DEATH OF OUR LORD AND HIS RESURRECTION?
Returning, however, to the manner in which the section of our opponents with whom I am now dealing meet Strauss, they may be supposed to speak as follows:-
"Strauss believes that Christ died, and says (New Life of Jesus, Vol. I., p. 411) that 'the account of the Evangelists of the death of Jesus is clear, unanimous, and connected.' If this means that the Evangelists would certainly know whether Christ died or not, we demur to it at once. Strauss would himself admit that not one of the writers who have recorded the facts connected with the Crucifixion was an eyewitness of that event, and he must also be aware that the very utmost which any of these writers can have KNOWN, was THAT CHRIST WAS BELIEVED TO HAVE BEEN. DEAD. It is strange to see Strauss so suddenly struck with the clearness, unanimity, and connectedness of the Evangelists. In the very next sentence he goes on to say, 'Equally fragmentary, full of contradiction and obscurity, is all that they tell us of the opportunities of observing him which his adherents are supposed to have had after his resurrection.' Now, this seems very unfair, for, after all, the gospel writers are quite as unanimous in asserting the main fact that Christ reappeared, as they are in asserting that he died; they would seem to be just as 'clear, unanimous, and connected,' about the former event as the latter (for the accounts of the Crucifixion vary not a little), and they must have had infinitely better means of knowing whether Christ reappeared than whether he had actually died. There is not the same scope for variation in the bare assertion that a man died, as there is in the narration of his sayings and doings upon the several occasions of his reappearance. Besides, in support of the reappearances, we have the evidence of Paul, who, though not an eye- witness, was well acquainted with those who were; whereas no man can make more out of the facts recorded concerning the death of Jesus, than that he was believed to be dead under circumstances in which mistake might easily arise, that there is no reason to think that any organic function of the body had been destroyed at the time that it was delivered over to friends, and that none of those who testified to Christ's death appear to have verified their statement by personal inspection of the body. On these points the Evangelists do indeed appear to be 'clear, unanimous, and connected.'
"Later on Strauss is even more unsatisfactory, for on the page which follows the one above quoted from, he writes: 'Besides which, it is quite evident that this (the natural) view of the resurrection of Jesus, apart from the difficulties in which it is involved, does not even solve the problem which is here under consideration: the origin, that is, of the Christian Church by faith in the miraculous resurrection of the Messiah. It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of a sepulchre, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening, and indulgence, and who still, at last, yielded to his sufferings, could have given to the disciples the impression that he was a conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life, an impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry. Such a resuscitation could only have weakened the impression which he had made upon them in life and in death; at the most could only have given it an elegiac voice, but could by no possibility have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm, have elevated their reverence into worship.'
"Now, the fallacy in the above is obvious; it assumes that CHRIST was in such a state as to be compelled to creep about, weak and ill, &c., and ultimately to die from the effects of his sufferings; whereas there is not a word of evidence in support of all this. He may have been weak and ill when he forbade Mary to touch him, on the first occasion of his being seen alive; but it would be hard to prove even this, and on no subsequent occasion does he shew any sign of weakness. The supposition that he died of the effects of his sufferings is quite gratuitous; one would like to know where Strauss got it from. He MAY have done so, or he may have been assassinated by some one commissioned by the Jewish Sanhedrim, or he may have felt that his work was done, and that any further interference upon his part would only mar it, and therefore resolved upon withdrawing himself from Palestine for ever, or Joseph of Arimathaea may have feared the revolution which he saw approaching--or twenty things besides might account for Christ's final disappearance. The only thing, however, which we can say with any certainty is that he disappeared, and that there is no reason to believe that he died of his wounds. All over and above this is guesswork.
"Again, if Christ on reappearing had continued in daily intercourse with his disciples, it might have been impossible that they should not find out that he was in all respects like themselves. But he seems to have been careful to avoid seeing them much. Paul only mentions five reappearances, only one of which was to any considerable number of people. According also to the gospel writers, the reappearances were few; they were without preparation, and nothing seems to have been known of where he resided between each visit; this rarity and mysteriousness of the reappearances of Christ (whether dictated by fear of his enemies or by policy) would heighten their effect, and prevent the Apostles from knowing much more about their master than the simple fact that he was indisputably alive. They saw enough to assure them of this, but they did not see enough to prevent their being able to regard their master as a conqueror over death and the grave, even though it could be shewn (which certainly cannot be done) that he continued in infirm health, and ultimately died of his wounds.
"If the Apostles had been highly educated English or German Professors, it might be hard to believe them capable of making any mistake; but they were nothing of the kind; they were ignorant Eastern peasants, living in the very thick of every conceivable kind of delusive influence. Strauss himself supposes their minds to have been so weak and unhinged that they became easy victims to hallucination. But if this was the case, they would be liable to other kinds of credulity, and it seems strange that one who would bring them down so low, should be here so suddenly jealous for their intelligence. There is no reason to suppose that Christ WAS weak and ill after the first day or two, any more than there is for believing that he died of his wounds. This being so, is it not more simple and natural to believe that the Apostles were really misled by a solid substratum of strange events--a substratum which seems to be supported by all the evidence which we can get--than that the whole story of the appearances of Christ after the Crucifixion should be due to baseless dreams and fancies? At any rate, if the Apostles could be misled by hallucination, much more might they be misled by a natural reappearance, which looked not unlike a supernatural one.
"The belief in the miraculous character of the Resurrection is the central point of the whole Christian system. Let this be once believed, and considering the times, which, it must always be remembered, were in respect of credulity widely different from our own, considering the previous hopes and expectations of the Apostles, considering their education, Oriental modes of thought and speech, familiarity with the ideas of miracle and demonology, and unfamiliarity with the ideas of accuracy and science, and considering also the unquestionable beauty and wisdom of much which is recorded as having been taught by Christ, and the really remarkable circumstances of the case--we say, once let the Resurrection be believed to be miraculous, and the rest is clear; there is no further mystery about the origin of the Christian religion.
"So the matter has now come to this pass, that we are to jeopardise our faith in all human experience, if we are unable to see our way clearly out of a few words about a spear wound, recorded as having been inflicted in a distant country nearly two thousand years ago, by a writer concerning whom we are entirely ignorant, and whose connection with any eye-witness of the events which he records is a matter of pure conjecture. We will see about this hereafter; all that is necessary now is to make sure that we do not jeopardise it, if we DO see a way of escape, and this assuredly exists."
I will not pain either the reader or myself by a recapitulation of the arguments which have led our opponents as well as the Dean of Canterbury, and I may add, with due apology, myself, to conclude that nothing is known as to the severity or purpose of the spear wound. The case, therefore, of our adversaries will rest thus:- that there is not only no sufficient reason for believing that Christ died upon the cross, but that there are the strongest conceivable reasons for believing that He did not die; that the shortness of time during which He remained upon the cross, the immediate delivery of the body to friends, and, above all, the subsequent reappearance alive, are ample grounds for arriving at such a conclusion. They add further that it would seem a monstrous supposition to believe that a good and merciful God should have designed to redeem the world by the infliction of such awful misery upon His own Son, and yet determined to condemn every one who did not believe in this design, in spite of such a deficiency of evidence that disbelief would appear to be a moral obligation. No good God, they say, would have left a matter of such unutterable importance in a state of such miserable uncertainty, when the addition of a very small amount of testimony would have been sufficient to establish it.
In the two following chapters I shall show the futility and irrelevancy of the above reasoning--if, indeed, that can be called reasoning which is from first to last essentially unreasonable. Plausible as, in parts, it may have appeared, I have little doubt that the reader will have already detected the greater number of the fallacies which underlie it. But before I can allow myself to enter upon the welcome task of refutation, a few more words from our opponents will yet be necessary. However strongly I disapprove of their views, I trust they will admit that I have throughout expressed them as one who thoroughly understands them. I am convinced that the course I have taken is the only one which can lead to their being brought into the way of truth, and I mean to persevere in it until I have explained the views which they take concerning our Lord's Ascension, with no less clearness than I shewed forth their opinions concerning the Resurrection.
"In St. Matthew's Gospel," they will say, "we find no trace whatever of any story concerning the Ascension. The writer had either never heard anything about the matter at all, or did not consider it of sufficient importance to deserve notice.
"Dean Alford, indeed, maintains otherwise. In his notes on the words, 'And lo! I am with you always unto the end of the world,' he says, 'These words imply and set forth the Ascension'; it is true that he adds, 'the manner of which is not related by the Evangelist': but how do the words quoted, 'imply and set forth' the Ascension? They imply a belief that Christ's spirit would be present with his disciples to the end of time; but how do they set forth the fact that his body was seen by a number of people to rise into the air and actually to mount up far into the region of the clouds?
"The fact is simply this--and nobody can know it better than Dean Alford--that Matthew tells us nothing about the Ascension.
"The last verses of Mark's Gospel are admitted by Dean Alford himself to be not genuine, but even in these the subject is dismissed in a single verse, and although it is stated that Christ was received into Heaven, there is not a single word to imply that any one was supposed to have seen him actually on his way thither.
"The author of the fourth Gospel is also silent concerning the Ascension. There is not a word, nor hint, nor faintest trace of any knowledge of the fact, unless an allusion be detected in the words, 'What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascending where he was before?' (John vi., 62) in reference to which passage Dean Alford, in his note on Luke xxiv., 52, writes as follows:- 'And might not we have concluded from the wording of John vi., 62, that our Lord must have intended an ascension INSIGHT OF SOME OF THOSE TO WHOM HE SPOKE, and that the Evangelist GIVES THAT HINT, BY RECORDING THOSE WORDS WITHOUT COMMENT, THAT HE HAD SEEN IT?' That is to say, we are to conclude that the writer of the fourth Gospel actually SAW the Ascension, because he tells us that Christ uttered the words, 'What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascending where he was before?'
"But who WAS the author of the fourth Gospel? And what reason is there for thinking that that work is genuine? Let us make another extract from Dean Alford. In his prolegomena, chapter v., section 6, on the genuineness of the fourth Gospel, he writes:- 'Neither Papias, who carefully sought out all that Apostles and Apostolic men had related regarding the life of Christ; nor Polycarp, who was himself a disciple of the Apostle John; nor Barnabas, nor Clement of Rome, in their epistles; nor, lastly, Ignatius (in his genuine writings), makes any mention of, or allusion to, this gospel. SO THAT IN THE MOST ANCIENT CIRCLE OF ECCLESIASTICAL TESTIMONY, IT APPEARS TO BE UNKNOWN. OR NOT RECOGNISED.' We may add that there is no trace of its existence before the latter half of the second century, and that the internal evidence against its genuineness appears to be more and more conclusive the more it is examined.
"St. Paul, when enumerating the last appearances of his master, in a passage where the absence of any allusion to the Ascension is almost conclusive as to his never having heard a word about it, is also silent. In no part of his genuine writings does he give any sign of his having been aware that any story was in existence as to the manner in which Christ was received into Heaven.
"Where, then, does the story come from, if neither Matthew, Mark, John, nor Paul appear to have heard of it?
"It comes from a single verse in St. Luke's Gospel--written more than half a century after the supposed event, when few, or more probably none, of those who were supposed to have seen it were either living or within reach to contradict it. Luke writes (xxiv., 51), 'And it came to pass that while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into Heaven.' This is the only account of the Ascension given in any part of the Gospels which can be considered genuine. It gives Bethany as the place of the miracle, whereas, if Dean Alford is right in saying that the words of Matthew 'set forth' the Ascension, they set it forth as having taken place on a mountain in Galilee. But here, as elsewhere, all is haze and contradiction. Perhaps some Christian writers will maintain that it happened both at Bethany and in Galilee.
"In his subsequent work, written some sixty or seventy years after the Ascension, St. Luke gives us that more detailed account which is commonly present to the imagination of all men (thanks to the Italian painters), when the Ascension is alluded to. The details, it would seem, came to his knowledge after he had written his Gospel, and many a long year after Matthew and Mark and Paul had written. How he came by the additional details we do not know. Nobody seems to care to know. He must have had them revealed to him, or been told them by some one, and that some one, whoever he was, doubtless knew what he was saying, and all Europe at one time believed the story, and this is sufficient proof that mistake was impossible.
"It is indisputable that from the very earliest ages of the Church there existed a belief that Christ was at the right hand of God; but no one who professes to have seen him on his way thither has left a single word of record. It is easy to believe that the facts may have been revealed in a night vision, or communicated in one or other of the many ways in which extraordinary circumstances ARE communicated, during the years of oral communication and enthusiasm which elapsed between the supposed Ascension of Christ and the writing of Luke's second work. It is not surprising that a firm belief in Christ's having survived death should have arisen in consequence of the actual circumstances connected with the Crucifixion and entombment. Was it then strange that this should develop itself into the belief that he was now in Heaven, sitting at the right hand of God the Father? And finally was it strange that a circumstantial account of the manner in which he left this earth should be eagerly accepted?"
[In an appendix at the end of the book I have given the extracts from the Gospels which are necessary for a full comprehension of the preceding chapters.--W. B. O.]