« PreviousContinue »
CAREER OF CHRISTIANITY.
The Christian religion was at first, as M. Guizot and Mr. Newman have termed it, an idea-its leading doctrines became gradually developed, sometimes they were only called into existence by some glaring and outrageous heresy. Of course, during its infant state, Christianity had but few superstitions as it had but few doctrines that were peculiarly its own, although it abolished none of the superstitious legends and fancies of the age with regard to witchcraft, necromancy, and demoniacal possession, all of them most malignant and dangerous in their moral tendency. The most absurd Christian superstitions became developed and established with the same authority as the simpler doctrines and ceremonies most generally retained in modern churches, and Protestant theologians have in vain attempted to demolish the Catholic dogmata and their saintly miracles without exposing the rottenness of the original foundations of the faith. Christianity was meek and humble in its original character, because it was poor and weak; its founders did not attempt to propagate it with the sword like Mahomet, because they would not have had the least chance of success. Silently and quietly it worked its way, until it had gained possession of the palace of Constantine. During ages of darkness and superstition the church increased in power, surrounded itself with pomp and wealth, and, by means of its fiery anathemas against all doubt and inquiry, by the assistance of the murderous piety of monarchs, and the general ignorance of the people, the Catholic Church for more than a thousand years kept possession of nearly all the learning of Europe, and did all in its power to check every novelty, whether of science or of belief. And, although not without some public exposure and reprobation, it fostered and cherished the principle that the end sanctifies the means. The gradual increase of knowledge and morality has led to a closer concealment and louder negation of this abominable doctrine, but it still flourishes in secret.
In spite of religion various superstitions became gradually objects of ridicule; witchcraft and necromancy, though long obstinately defended, vanished by degrees; the age of faith began to decline when the age of knowledge commenced, and science and infidelity have marched band in hand ever since the Reformation
PROGRESS OF TRUTH.
claimed for mankind the right of private judgment, and opened the road for every man's escape from the shackles of spiritual despotism. Protestantism is, in fact, the necessary intermediate state between slavery and unlimited freedom of opinion which might naturally be expected to exist for a time.
Although modern Protestantism has never pretended to miraculous powers, yet Protestant pious frauds have always abounded, and abound in the present day. It is a gross fraud to gloss over and conceal the infamous characters and obviously interested motives of many of the principal actors in the Reformation, in England particularly, as Protestant writers have done. Awful interpositions of Providence, exaggerated and fictitious accounts of death-bed scenes, both of believers and infidels, the lying reports of missionaries, and, in particular, the long evangelical speecbes they are so fond of putting into the mouths of their converts, are instances of Protestant pious frauds. Such are also some outrageous falsehoods and misrepresentations regarding Catholic doctrines and practice. But even these mitigated forms of pious fraud are falling into disrepute ; times are changed ; Romanist miracles, at least in England, have become very rare, and Protestant saints no longer boast openly of divine inspiration, or relate their conferences with God and the devil, as Luther did three centuries ago.
CHAPTER THE SIXTH.
THE EVIDENCES OF PROPHECY.
An immense amount of learning, labour, and ingenuity has been expended in interpreting the Bible Prophecies, in endeavouring to prove that the rise and fall of nations, the coming of Christ, with various circumstances of his life and death, and certain bistorical events of modern, and even of the present times, were foretold many centuries before their occurrence by the Jewish and Christien prophets. There are a great many conflicting interpretations among Protestants, wbile the Catholics disagree with them all, of that singular rhapsody, the Apocalypse ; its most mysterious passages have been applied in the most ingeniously circumstantial manner by different commentators so as to foretell the rise and progress of Mahommedanism, the Roman Papal power, and the French revolution. Many theologians in every age of the church bave even endeavoured to anticipate the fulfilment of some of the prophecies, and to warn the world of coming events; but the various periods appointed for the destruction of the world, the second advent and the last judgment, the favourite subjects of their lucubrations, have one after the other quietly passed away, learing the road clear for some new interpreter.
The application of the prophecies of the Old Testament to the life and death of Christ has not proved such an arduous and perplexing task, nor has it been a cause of controversy among Chris. tians. It cannot be a very difficult matter to interpret prophecies as fulfilled in certain events, the only narratives of which were written by men who were deeply interested, and who well knew the importance of this point, in making the historical fulfilment agree closely with the pretended prophecies. In the words of an able defender of Christianity, “ On comparing the principal predictions with the historical passages, and thus bringing the accounts of the prophets and evangelists together, it will be found that there is throughout an extraordinary correlation, that the
PROCESS OF APPLICATION.
latter becomes an echo of the former, and that the former specified nothing for the Messiah to suffer, which Christ himself did not suf
I will just add that the evangelists generally introduce the little incidents which are termed fulfilments of prophecy, such as Jesus's entrance into Jerusalem on an ass, the payment of thirty pieces of silver to Judas, and the purchase with them of the potter's field, the casting lots for the vesture, &c., with the remark that these things were done that the Scripture might be fulfilled,” or similar words, which sufficiently betray the cause of this “ extraordinary correlation.” Matthew, in the first chapter of his Gospel, quotes Micah, chap. V., verse 2, as a prediction of the birthplace of Jesus Christ : “But thou, Bethlehem Ephrata, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from old, from everlasting.” This is represented as being a most convincing case of prophecy, and also a proof of the divinity of Christ, although it is obvious from the context (which is carefully kept out of sight in all books on the Evidences), that it is totally irreconcileable with the person and life of Jesus, for in verse 5 we read, “ This man shall be the peace when the Assyrian shall come into our land ; and when he shall tread within our palaces, then we will raise against him seven shepherds and eight principal men. And they shall waste the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod in the entrances thereof. Thus shall he deliver us from the Assyrian, when he cometh into our land, and when he treadeth within our borders." These predictions evidently refer to an earthly king and to military chieftains, and were most effectually falsified, for no ruler in Israel ever arose from Bethlehem Ephrata to deliver the Jews from the Assyrian yoke,
The Christian interpreters of the Bible claim any part of it that suits them as prophetical, even though written without any such avowed intention: they pick out a bit of Deuteronomy, and add to it a little bit from the Psalms, and then perhaps a short
* " Letters on the Evidences and Doctrines of Christianity," by Dr. Olinthus Gregory.
PREDICTION AND EVENT IN ONE BOOK.
passage from Isaiah; they explain one part literally and another figuratively, while they silently reject the greater part of the context as inapplicable, or call it mysterious or unfulfilled; and in this manner they contrive to make out what appears to be a very strong case to any one who has made up his mind already, and who considers every doubt to be a temptation of the devil.
It is said that there was a general expectation of the advent of the Messiah about the time that Christ appeared, which the Jews had acquired from the study of the prophecies, and a comparison of them with the passing events of the day. Then what more likely opportunity could there be for a pretended Messiah to make his appearance, or for an enthusiastic and devout man, hurning to deliver himself of a more benevolent morality and more exalted ideas of religion than those possessed by his bigoted and sinful countrymen, to be filled with the glorious idea that he really was the promised Messiah ?
The book of Genesis, which contains the well-known promise to Hagar regarding Ishmael, “ that he should be the father of a great nation,” and “ that he should be a wild man, that his hand should be against every man,
every man's hand against him," also contains the account of Joseph being sold by his brethren to a tribe of Ishmaelites-80 that the habits of the Arabs were doubtless much the same then as they are now. Hence this remarkable prophecy, and to this category may be referred many others, which were obviously written after the event, such as those abont Cyrus and Babylon. On this point, observe the opening words of the 25th chapter of Jeremiah, “ The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah, king of Judah, that was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.” The anxiety of the writer, who proceeds to relate a prediction in plain terms of the seventy years' captivity in Babylon, to persuade bis readers by these dates that the prophecy was delivered before the event, is too clear to escape detection.
The pride of origin and of race, and the exclusive religion and customs of the Jews, have ever prevented them from making proselytes, or amalgamating to any extent with other nations.