Page images



mently attacked by Bishop Berkeley and others, as an atheist or little better, for remarking that “the attributes of the Deity wisdom, justice, &c.—are not to be regarded as the same with those human qualities which bear the same name, but are called so by resemblance and analogy only.*

The atonement, expiation, and redemption of Christ's death arose naturally enough from the ancient sacrificial ceremonies (now called types and figures of the great Christian sacrifice), and from the ancient mistaken and imperfect notions of the right object and use of punishment, and of the real nature of justice. The progress of knowledge and civilisation has gradually rendered these doctrines more and more difficult of comprehension and more indefensible, until in the present day they amount to a mere mass of words incapable of any explanation. In the twelfth century Peter Abelard, the celebrated and unfortunate lover of Eloisa, who presided over a theological school at Paris, wrote thus on the subject of the Atonement :-"Huw is it possible that God should be reconciled to man by the death of his Son, since in all reason he ought to be more incensed against man for the murder of his Son than for the violation of his precepts by the eating of a single apple ? If Adam's sin could not be expiated but by the death of Christ, what expiation could be made for the horrid crime of murdering Christ himself ? Could the death of an innocent Son be so pleasing to God that he would be reconciled to us men on the commission of it? Who does not see that it is cruel and unjust that any one should require the blood of the innocent? How much less could God be so pleased with such a thing as to be reconciled on account of it to the whole world.”

Dr. Joseph Milner, after relating these striking objections in his well-known Church History, does not venture to dispute their reasonableness, but condemns Abelard for his impious presumption. "To those who know how to reverence Divine Wisdom, and to submit to the express word of God,” says Dr. Milner, “such reasonings will appear unworthy of an answer."'+ And

See the notes to Whately's Logic. † Milner's History of the Church of Christ, vol. iii., p. 14,

[ocr errors]



Bernard, Abelard's great opponent, had no stronger arguments than this to offer; with all his learning, all his brilliant eloquence, the Abbot of Clairvaux could not explain the wisdom, propriety, and glory, or disprove the apparent cruelty, injustice, and inefficacy, of these doctrines by any human or rational argument, Abelard asks, “ Why so tedious and painful a mode of deliverance, since God could have effected it by a mere volition ? " Bernard answers, “Who affirms that the Almighty was limited to such a mode? But the efficacy of that method which he preferred to all other possible ones is surely demonstrable from that very preference. But no man knows, nor can know to the full, what precious benefits, what wisdom, what propriety, what glory, the unsearchable depths of this mystery contains within itself.” Bernard at last silenced Abelard (who professed to be obedient to the Roman Catholic Church, and who had good cause to fear for bis life) by proving that the doctrines of redemption and atone. ment by the blood of Christ had always been held by the church to be contained and taught in the New Testament. But neither the Catholic saint of the twelfth, nor the Protestant divine and historian of the eighteenth, century, could defend these fundamental doctrines of Christianity by any better arguments than the mere declaration of their own and the church's faith and confidence in them, and a denouncement of damnation against any further doubt or inquiry. And the clergy of the present day try to check the inconvenient questions of the inquisitive members of their flocks in the same manner : We must not pry too closely,” The ways of God are past finding out.” How much longer will reasonable men consent to be stifled with this orthodox gag? It forms “a short and easy,though some. what uncertain, method of silencing doubts; but unfortunately it can be, and is, made use of by Romanists, Mahommedans, and Hindoos, with equal effect, and equal justice.

[ocr errors]

cent. xii., chap. 2 (1847). Of course I don't mean to say that Dr. Milner makes no further remark on the subject, but that he produces no reasons against Abelard's heresy other than the authority of scripture and the church.



The Jewish belief of the unity of God is the great and honourable peculiarity of that people among the frivolons polytheisms of most other ancient nations, and will be seen to pervade every part of their scriptures; but if any one imagines that the modern, exalted, and elaborate ideas of God and of his attributes (remote though they be from reason) can be gathered from the Bible, and in particular from the Old Testament, he is very much mistaken. Much, no doubt, can be mystified or explained away by figurative interpretation, but enough will still remain to show us that the Jewish belief of the nature and of the actions of their God was drawn from, and agreed closely with, their own ignorance of Nature, their imperfect ideas of justice, and their barbarous customs and laws. Thus we find the author of the Pentateuch speaking of the physical phenomena around him in the ignorant language of his age. We find that barbarous customs and manners are permitted in those books in the name of God, that the moral doctrines contained in them are equally defective, and the judicial, political, and penal law in no way superior to what might be expected from a legislator of that dark and uncivilised period.

The writers of the Old Testament represent their God as fre. quently repenting, grieving, and changing his mind : thus, in the story of the Deluge, God “repented that he had made man, and it grieved him at the heart.And this word cannot be used here in a figurative sense-for what did God do in consequence of this repentance and grief? Did he turn the hearts of his erring crea. tares, or send a prophet to reform them? No; “ the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.” And so he drowned them all, man, woman, and child. But it is still more remarkable that he appears to have repente, of what he had done



when the destruction of the Flood was completed; for we read, Genesis, chap. viii., verse 21, “ And the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake, for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more everything living, as I have done.” However, although he bad found that human wickedness deserved some pity and consideration on account of the inherent evil of the human heart (his own manufacture), he does not seem to have thought of improving its nature previous to the fresh start of the race with Noah and his family, though we read in other places of his interfering to “harden" various hearts, which, we must suppose, were not sufficiently wicked for his temporary or eternal purposes.

We read in the 1st Samuel, chap. XV., verse 11, that the Lord said to Samuel, “ It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king,” and Samuel in his prophetic office told Saul that he would shortly be rejected and turned out; and with a singular incon. sistency the author represents Samuel as warning Saul not to expect mercy,

" For the Lord is not a man that he should lie and repent.” In the 2nd Samuel, last chapter, there is an account of a pestilential angel sent by God to destroy seventy thousand of the Israelites, as a punishment for their king's disobedience; and when the angel was about to introduce the disease into Jerusalem the Lord suddenly “ repented him” of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, “ It is enough, stay now tbine hand.”

In Exodus, chap. xxxii., God is enraged with the Israelites for worshipping a golden calf instead of himself; and he said to Moses, “ I have seen this people, and behold it is a stiff-necked people, now therefore let me alone that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them, and I will make of thee a great nation.” But Moses, in the most disinterested manner,

declined to take advantage of this handsome offer, and besought him to spare his people whom he had brought out of Egypt, and" to remember his oaths which he sware to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel,” and begs of him “turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people.” His entreaties and

[ocr errors]



remonstrances succeeded, and “the Lord repented of the en. which he thought to do against his people.” The Jewish Deity is constantly represented as a jealous and irascible being, and Moses as his cool adviser, teasing and coaxing him into good humour.

Is this bargaining, vacillating, bloodthirsty, and repenting Deity the same God whom we find described in our modern theological works as just, merciful, and all-wise? The very same, we are told by the Christians; but certainly now-a-days he is more decently and mysteriously clothed, revised, and corrected, The gradually-increasing taste and reason of ages have modified and improved his features. Indeed it is very evident, from a perusal of the Old Testament, that the Jewish faith improved by degrees from an almost anthropomorphous idea to a more spiritual conception of God, and that their doctrines and ceremonies became modified in a similar manner.

In the more ancient of the Jewish legends, commonly called the books of Moses, God is represented as walking and talking with some of his favoured servants. In the book of Exodus he accompanies the camp of the Israelites; and on one occasion he refuses to go with them any longer, but promised to send an angel instead. He makes coats of skins for Adam and Eve, who hear him " walking in the garden;" he instructs Noah in the art of ship-building, and sends birds with bread of heavenly baking for the sustenance of his prophet Elijah. Although he will not show his face to Moses, yet he favours him with a sight of his “back parts,”+ and speaks to him “face to face, as a man speaketh with his friend.” He also makes tables of stone, and writes upon them with his own finger.

We find the sacrificial atonements and ceremonies laid down in the Pentateuch with the minutest particulars, as proceeding from the very mouth of God; yet, in a later and more civilised age, we find a very different worship recommended, and the ceremonial law and its bloody atonements despised and depreciated.


[ocr errors][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »