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A Doubter's Doubts About Science and Religion 9: The Irrationalism of Infidelity.

By Robert Anderson


      "CHRIST is still left" is the solace Mill would offer us as we survey the wreck which rationalism makes of Faith. To that life he appeals as supplying a "standard of excellence and a model for imitation." "Who among His disciples," he demands, " was capable of inventing the sayings ascribed to Jesus, or of imagining the character revealed in the Gospels ?" Do not such words as these suggest that if Christianity would waive its transcendental claims and make terms with unbelief, the record of that life might afford the basis for a universal religion, a really "Catholic" faith?

      But who and what was this "Jesus" of the Rationalist, whose life is to be our model? The answer to this simple question will expose the fallacy of the whole position. The Christ of the Gospels was the Son of God, who worked miracles without number, and who claimed with the utmost definiteness and solemnity that His words were in the strictest sense a Divine revelation. But as regards His miracles, the Rationalist tells us that His biographers were deceived; and as for His teaching they mis-understood and perverted it. But if they blundered thus in matters as to which ordinary intelligence and care would have made error or mistake impossible, how can we repose any trust whatever in their records? What materials have we from which to construct a life of Christ at all?

      And if we decide that these Scriptures are not authentic, and that Christ was merely human, the Sermon on the Mount sinks to the level of a homily which Matthew framed on the traditions of his Master's words. And as for the Fourth Gospel, having regard to the time when it was written, and to the fact that the Synoptics know nothing of its distinctive teaching, we must acknowledge that for such chapters as those which purport to record "the most sacred of all sacred words," spoken on the eve of the Crucifixion, we are mainly indebted to the piety and genius of "the beloved disciple." The modern Jew, moreover, cannot be far astray when he insists that Paul was the real founder of the Christian system. His was " the boldest enterprise" as Dr. Harnack declares, for he ventured on it "without being able to appeal to a single word of his Master's." If men would but use their brains, they would see that once we drift away from the anchorage of the old beliefs, nothing can save us from being drawn into the rapids which end in sheer agnosticism. This does not prove the truth of Christianity, but it exposes the untenableness of the infidel position.

      These infidel books habitually assume that, if we refuse their nostrums, superstition is our only refuge. This is quite in keeping with the amazing conceit which characterises them. Wisdom was born with the Agnostics! They have monopolised the meagre stock of intelligence which the evolutionary process has as yet produced for the guidance of the race! But there are Christians in the world who have quite as much sense as they have, who detest superstition as much as they do, and who have far more experience in detecting fallacies and exposing frauds. And if such men are Christians it is not because they are too stupid to become infidels.

      For faith is not superstition ; and in presence of a Divine revelation unbelief betokens mental obliquity, if not moral degradation. Thoughtless people are betrayed into supposing that there is something very clever in " not believing." But in this life the formula " I don't believe" more often betokens dull-wittedness than shrewdness. It is the refrain of the stupidest man upon the jury. A mere negation of belief, moreover, is seldom possible; it generally implies belief in the alternative to what we reject. The sceptic may hesitate, in order to examine the credentia of a revelation. But no one who has a settled creed ever hesitates at all. And the Atheist has such a creed; he believes that there is no God. If we do not believe a man to be honest, we usually believe him to be a fraud. If we refuse the testimony of witnesses about matters that are too plain and simple to allow of mere misapprehension or honest mistake, we must hold them to be impostors and rogues. And nothing less than this is implied in the position held by men like Herbert Spencer and Leslie Stephen.

      But the infidel will deny that he impugns the integrity of the Apostles and Evangelists; he only questions their intelligence. He asks us to believe that they were so weak and credulous that their testimony to the miracles, for example, must be rejected. But the miracles were not rare incidences of dark-room seances; they were public events which occurred day by day, and usually in the presence of hostile critics. No person of ordinary intelligence, therefore, could have been mistaken as to the facts. What then do we know of the men on whose evidence we accept them? Their writings have been translated into every known language. They hold a unique place in the classic literature of the world, and the sublime morality and piety which pervade them command universal admiration. Certain it is therefore that if the New Testament is to be accounted for on natural principles, its authors must have been marvellously gifted, both intellectually and morally. And yet these are the men whose testimony is to be flung aside with contempt when they give a detailed description of events which happened in open day before their eyes. To talk of offering them a fool's pardon is absurd. If their narratives be false, we must give up all confidence in human nature, and write them down as an abnormally clever gang of abnormally profane impostors and hypocrites. But this alternative is more untenable than the other. It is absolutely certain that the men of the New Testament were neither scoundrels nor fools.

      And no more than this is needed to undermine the infidel position. It is not necessary to prove that the Gospels are a Divine revelation; it will suffice to show that they are credible records; and this much is guaranteed to us by the character of the men who wrote them. As a test case let us take the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, recorded in all the four Gospels. I begin with the First. And I will not speak of the writer as " Saint" Matthew, the Apostle of Christ, but of Matthew the ex-tax-collector. Such a man, we may be sure, was at least as shrewd and as suspicious as any of the infidels who with amazing conceit dispose of his testimony. He records that on a certain day, in a "desert place," be assisted in distributing bread and fish to a vast multitude that gathered to hear the Lord's teaching-there were five thousand men "besides women and children"; that the supply was five loaves and two fishes; that "they did all eat and were filled, and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full." And this is confirmed by the writer of the Fourth Gospel, who also took part in the distribution of the food, and who gives details which prove the accuracy with which he remembered what occurred. If we assume that the other Evangelists were not present, their narratives become incidentally important as showing that the miracle was matter of common knowledge and discussion among the disciples.

      Miracles of another kind the infidel gets rid of to his own satisfaction by taking each in detail and appealing to what we know of the infirmity of human testimony, or the effects of hysteria and the power of mind or will over the body. But this miracle is one of many that cannot possibly be accounted for on natural principles. And mistake or illusion was no less impossible. That the "narrative arose out of a parable" is the nonsense of sham sceptics and real fools.' For the witnesses were admittedly neither idiots nor rogues, but men of the highest intelligence and probity. And this being so the facts are established, and the only question open is, What explanation can be given of them? What explanation is possible save that Divine power was in operation?

      The infidel therefore, so far from being the philosopher he pretends to be, is the blind dupe of prejudice. And this is in effect the defence pleaded for Voltaire by his latest English apologist. To him we are told, l'infame, "if it meant Christianity at all, meant that which was taught in Rome in the eighteenth century, and not by the Sea of Galilee in the first" ; "it meant the religion which lit the fires of Smithfield and prompted the tortures of the Inquisition." In a word, Voltaire was ignorant of the distincthm between Christianity and what is called "the Christian religion." Not strange, perhaps, in the case of an eighteenth century Frenchman, but inexcusable in the case of cultured Englishmen of our own times. For the distinction is clear upon the open page of Scripture and of history. How indeed can it be missed by any one who has read the story of the martyrs? For the martyrs were the representatives and champions of Christianity: "the Christian religion" it was that tortured and murdered them. But this is a digression.

      While the aggressive infidel has no special claim to consideration, the honest-minded sceptic is entitled to respect and sympathy. And never was the path of the truth-seeker more beset with difficulties For the development of the rival apostasies of the last days, so plainly revealed in Scnpture, goes on apace On the one side there is a national lapse toward the errors and superstitions from which we supposed the Reformation had for ever delivered us, and on the other there is an abandonment of the great truths to which the Reformation owed its power.

      These apostasies moreover are well organised under zealous and able leaders. And while their discordant cries are ever in our ears, "truth is fallen in the street." In the National Church the great Evangelical party has effaced itself, and fallen into line behind the champions of the pagan superstitions of "the Christian religion." And though in the "Free" churches, as in the Establishment, there are great numbers of true and earnest men who refuse to bow the knee to any Baal, the only corporate testimony ever heard is "the gospel of humanity," which, as Scripture warns us, will lead at last to the worship of the Antichrist. We are pestered by the nostrums of "feather-headed enthusiasts who take the first will-o'-the-wisp for a safe guide, and patch up a new religion out of scraps and tatters of half-understood science," or of quasi-Christian ministers who are busy" framing systems of morality apart from the ancient creeds" and "trying to evolve a satisfactory creed out of theosophical moonshine."

      In the past, superstition and rationalism were the open enemies of the faith, but now they are entrenched within the citadel, and half the churches and chapels in the land are places to be shunned. Organised Christianity is becoming an organised apostasy, and the time seems drawing near when practical expression must be given to the cry, "To your tents, 0 Israel ! " "The very Church of God which ought to be the appeaser of God is the provoker of God." These words seem as apt to-day as when they were written fifteen centuries ago.

      I will here avail myself of the language of a great commentator and divine, Dean Alford of Canterbury. After speaking of the apostasy of "the Jewish Church" beginning with the worship of " the golden calf," he proceeds as follows :- "Strikingly parallel with this runs the history of the Christian Church. Not long after the Apostolic times, the golden calves of idolatry were set up by the Church of Rome. What the effect of the captivity was to the Jews, that of the Reformation has been to Christendom. The first evil spirit has been cast out. But by the growth of hypocrisy, secularity, and rationalism the house has become empty, swept and garnished: swept and garnished by the decencies of civilisation and the discoveries of secular knowledge, but empty of living and earnest faith. And he must read prophecy but ill who does not see under all these seeming improvements the preparation for the final development of the man of sin, the great repossession, when idolatry and the seven [other more wicked spirits] shall bring the outward frame of so-called Christendom to a fearful end."

      (Footnote - 1 Greek Test. Coin., Matt. xii. 43-45. Alford is not speaking here of the Spiritual Church, the Body of Christ, of which Christ Himself is at once the Builder and the Head (Matt. xvi. x8 ; Eph. i. 22, 23), but of the Professing Church on earth, the administration of which was entrusted to men. The one ends in glory, the other in apostasy and judgment. The religion of Christendom confounds the one with the other; and it also confounds the Church with "the kingdom of heaven," the "keys" of which were committed to the Apostle of the Cir-cumcision. The following weighty words relating to the Church on earth are quoted from Canon T. D. Bernard's Progress of Doctrine (The Bampton Lecture, 1864) :- "How fair was the morning of the Church! how swift its progress! what expectations it would have been natural to form of the future history which had begun so well! Doubtless they were formed in many a sanguine heart: but they were clouded soon. . "While the Apostles wrote, the actual state and the visible tendencies of things showed too plainly what Church history would be; and at the same time, prophetic intimations made the prospect still more dark. . . "I know not how any man, in closing the Epistles, could expect to find the subsequent history of the Church essentially different from what it is. In those writings we seem, as it were, not to witness some passing storms which clear the air, but to feel the whole atmosphere charged with the elements of future tempest and death. . "The fact which I observe is not merely that these indications of the future are in the Epistles, but that they increase as we approach the close, and after the doctrines of the Gospel have been fully wrought out, and the fulness of personal salvation and the ideal character of the Church have been placed in the clearest light, the shadows gather and deepen on the external hi.story. The last words of St. Paul in the Second Epistle to Timothy, and those of St. Peter in his Second Epistle, with the Epistles of St. John and St. Jude, breathe the language of a time in which the tendencies of that history had distinctly shown them.. selves; and in this respect these writings form a prelude and a passage to the Apocalypse."

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