« PreviousContinue »
and talent, is said, in the Acts of the Apostles, to have at first shown a bitter hostility to the early Christian teachers; but, after some time, became convinced of the truth and divine origin of the new doctrines, and, believing himself to be personally inspired and appointed an apostle by God, devoted his life and energies to the cause of “ Christ and him crucified.” His fre, quent emphatic allusions to this formula of faith render it probable that he was particularly opposed to those Christians who believed that Christ himself was not really crucified, but a pbantom, or, according to another account, the traitor Judas. Disgusted with the narrow, exclusive bigotry of the Jewish faith, and captivated with the moral precepts of Jesus, and the doctrine of the resurrection of the body-deeply read in the Hebrew scriptures, and delighting in their imaginary hidden meanings – he easily persuaded bimself that he was expressly called to be an apostle and prophet by Jesus Christ himself. In bis Epistles he loses no opportunity of impressing on his readers that the gospel he preaches is delivered to him by the Holy Spirit, without any instruction from the original apostles, of whom he is quite independent, to whom he owes neither respect nor obedience, and, in fact, with whom, as appears from several passages, he was not on the most cordial terms. “For I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles” 2 Corinthians, chap. xi., verse 5, “ The gospel wbich was preached of me is not after man, for I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Cbrist. When it pleased God to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen, immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood, neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me. After tbree years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James, the Lord's brother” Galatians, chap. i., verses 11:18. who appeared to be somewhat, in conference added nothing to
But when Peter was come to Antioch I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed. The other Jews dissembled likewise with bim; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation" Galatians, chap. ii., verses 6-13.
THE GOLDEN RULE OLDER THAN CHRIST.
The account of Paul's miraculous conversion, blindness, and cure, may have partly arisen from religious ecstasy and a heated imagination, partly been feigned, as likely to give weight and authority to his preaching, and thus to increase the glory of God, and advance the cause of Christ; the original story probably being improved by frequent narrators with equally good intentions. In the allusions to his conversion in the Epistles, Paul himself mentions no supernatural incidents. Stories of this nature have abounded in every age of the church, even among Protestants. There is a very decided discrepancy between two accounts of this event contained in the Acts. In chap. ix., verse 7, it is
The men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.” In the discourse attributed to Paul in chap. xxii., verse 9, there is a direct contradiction of this, They that were with me saw indeed the light and were afraid, but they beard not the voice of him that spake to me.”
When Jesus appeared the world was ripe for change. Beginning to be sick of mythology and Judaism, but still clinging to many deep-rooted prejudices, and incapable of discovering or understanding the whole truth, it wanted supernatural authority for every great moral or social innovation. Absolute truthfulness, the foundation of all virtue (which is now scarcely understood), was then hardly considered among the virtues ; and expedient and benevolent falsehood was held to be allowable and praiseworthy. Who can blame Jesus for boldly assuming the authority of a prophet of God ? who will say that he did not confidently believe himself to be divinely inspired ?
When the hour has come, the man is never wanting. If Jesus had died in his infancy, the world would still have found what it then required—a new religious dispensation, Jesus did not preach such great novelties in morals as are generally attributed to bim. In Leviticus, chap. xix., verse 18, we read, “ Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself;” and in Exodus, chap. xxiii., verses 4,5, “ If thou meet thine enemy's ox going astray, bring it back to bim again, or the ass of him that hateth thee, thou shalt surely help with him.” The Greek sages had taught the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would be done by,” five hundred years before 78
MORAL PRECEPTS ARE NOT RARE.
Christ was born, but they had never succeeded in impressing the lesson upon the public mind, and the maxim will never be fully and consistently carried out until it is placed upon a rational and human basis. Many prepared the way for Jesus, and many after him have discovered new truths, and have thrown additional light on those which are taught in his preaching and character. His opinions were not free from the errors and superstitions of his time; great fault may be found with the overstrained humility and submission, and the eremitical tendency of some of the precepts attributed to him; but he was far in advance of the great majority of his cotemporaries, and consequently had a very limited success during his lifetime, lived neglected and despised, and died a martyr to the bigotry of his orthodox countrymen. As is the case with many other illustrious men, even of much later periods, we know but little of the true history of Jesus, but the brightness of his genius and virtue can still be discerned amid the murky, mythical clouds, which have for so many ages obscured and defiled his glory.
The most extravagant eulogies have been made upon the purity and sublimity of Christian morals, and the civilising influence they have exercised over a large portion of mankind. There does not appear to have been any lack of sublime moral precepts in every age and almost every nation. The value of moral precepts is in truth very small. The greatest difficulty experienced by the Christian missionaries in Ceylon is from the exalted morals which form the articles of belief of the Buddhists. Buddhism enjoins temperance, honesty, and benevolence, “ insists upon charity as the basis of worship, and calls on its followers to appease anger by gentleness, and overcome evil by good.* But the Cingalese are a degraded and immoral race. The Abyssinian Christians, who possess the Bible and are the representatives of one of the most ancient churches, are in no measure superior in morals and civilisation to the barbarous neighbouring Pagan and Mussulman nations. The present undoubted superiority of European nations,
* Sir J. Emerson Tennant : “Christianity in Ceylon," + Vide Sir W. C. Harris's “ Highlands of Abyssinia."
MORAL CHANGES NOT EFFECTED BY RELIGION.
though much overrated, cannot be justly attributed to the Christian religion, but to far different causes, of which the principal one is the superior energy and activity of the races of which they are composed. Were the Crusaders more virtuous than the Saracens ? Was it Christian morality that prompted those unjust, unprovoked wars, and useless bloodshed ? Were the Christian Spaniards more virtuous than the Moors wbom they expelled from Spain? Did Christian morality teach Catholics and Protestants to burn, hang, and torture heretics? Will any candid person assert that it was Christian morality that taught them gradually to abandon this practice ?
It may be observed, that the primitive Christians were in a manner a picked body of men-brave and honest men, who dared to avow their religious opinions when such a profession involved disgrace and sometimes danger; but it does not appear, in spite of the highly-coloured pictures of Christian historians, that they were, in any noticeable degree, more moral than their neighbonrs,
Improvements in science and art, general enlightenment, and a higher standard of morals, have ever proceeded together from causes totally unconnected with religion, which, in fact, never comes roughly in contact with the prejudices and customs of the majority. In the southern states of America the clergy defend the institution of negro slavery on Christian grounds, and with a plausible and most confident appeal to scripture testimony. There was a period when every priest and bishop would have blessed the Christian knight going forth to mortal combat in defence of his honour or in proof of his courage. At the end of the eighteenth century all serious defence of duelling on moral grounds was perhaps abandoned; yet the practice continued, and the plea of religious scruples would in general have been regarded as a dastardly shift. And in the present day duelling may be said to be virtually at an end, certainly not from any more powerful influence of religion over the English mind, but from the increased influence of reason.
Gradually and without any pretence of new revelation, the entire idea of justice has been altered in the civilised world. We no longer mete out the pain and horror of a punishment-we no longer hang, break on the wheel, or burn alive, according to the
OBSOLETE IDEA OF JUSTICE,
enormity of the offence; we no longer talk of expiating crime with torture. Crime can never be expiated; nothing can blot out the consequences of a sin. Punishment must in some way benefit society, or it becomes a folly, a revenge, and an injustice. But all religions are based on these ancient, imperceptibly-exploded notions of justice and the expiation of sins. In Christian doctrine, and in the New Testament, we are presented with the hideous picture of an Almighty Father compelled by his infinite justice to behold the cruel tortures and dying agonies of his Son, in exchange for the useless, but necessary and just, eternal punishment which the entire human race had incurred by their sins. The brutal and barbarous nature of this doctrine of the atonement ought to be sufficient, in these days, to condemn Chris. tianity to the fate of Paganism. The doctrine is not now so brutalising and demoralising as it might reasonably be expected to be, only because its real meaning and origin are not inquired into by modern Christians, all being smothered and obscured in that convenient phrase, a sacred mystery.”
CHAPTER THE ELEVENTH.
A TO NEMENT.
CHRISTIAN theologians have manfully defended the justice and wisdom of their God, as pourtrayed in the Bible and in what are usually called orthodox doctrines; and, when fairly puzzled by some inexplicable absurdity or outrageous barbarity, they have always a safe retreat from the field of argument by making use of the old accustomed phrases, "the ways of God are past finding out, inscrutable, incomprehensible," " we must not pry too closely,” &c., &c. Notwithstanding the frequent necessity which Christians experience of resorting to this miserable shift, they cannot make up their minds to abandon their abortive and hopeless endeavours. Dr. King, Archbishop of Dublin, was vehe