But weaken our confidence in the gospels; let them be regarded as a jumble of traditions, partly true and partly false, then the chief effect of the Christian religion is, to raise our hopes only to sink us the deeper in despair; to increase our fears, without shewing us definitely our danger, or teaching us how to escape it; our life on earth is equally unfitted for sensual pleasure and for spiritual enjoyment; and beyond the grave we have only just light enough to make the darkness visible. With the mere mockery of a revelation which is then left us, there are but two classes of men who can be satisfied with life as it now exists,—namely, those whose desires and aspirations never go beyond the physical comforts of the external world, and the proud, cold, self-sufficient thinkers, whose chief pleasure it is to despise the weaknesses of their fellow-creatures, and think themselves above them.
Entertaining such views, I confess I can never read, or listen to a critique on the sacred writings, and especially on the gospels, without deep feeling. If indifference as to the result be an essential qualification for a good investigator of the Scriptures, then I must give up all hope of ever being one. To the result I cannot be indifferent if I would, for there are all my hopes. Who would be expected to be indifferent, if the object of the investigation on which he is obliged to enter were to ascertain whether his father were a cheat, or his son a thief, or his wife false?
"But we must have a zeal for science; we must let truth work its way; we must be willing that every falsehood, and every mistake, however long and lovingly cherished, should be torn from our embrace."
Very true, so we must; but does a proper regard for science, a proper love of truth, a proper hatred of error, require the sacrifice of every humanizing and ennobling feeling? Is man, or is he required to be, all intellect and no heart? To honour the mind, must we crucify the soul? Is he the only anatomist who can lay bare to his knife the body of a beloved sister, with the same indifference with which he would hack upon the carcass of an unknown culprit just snatched from its dishonoured grave? I believe no such thing; and while Christ is to me more than father or mother, more than wife or child, or my own life even, I do not believe that sound philosophy requires me to see that holy Gospel, which contains all that I know of him, treated by an irreverent critic as the greedy swine would treat a beautiful field of growing corn. Nor do I believe that an irreverent, ungodly critic is the man to do justice to the gospels, or tell the truth about them fairly, in any sense. He may investigate their language, and examine their history, and give correctly the results of his verbal criticism; but the real substance of the gospels is far above, out of his sight; we can have no sympathy with Christ; he can have no conception of the motives which influenced the apostles; he can have no idea of the feelings which animated the sacred writers; he is a total stranger to the whole soul of that which he criticizes. When a man who has never seen, can accurately describe colours, or one who has never had the sense of hearing, can give a good account of sounds, or a horse with iron-shod hoofs can play tunes on a church-organ, then I will not refuse to believe that an ungodly critic can write a reliable book on the New Testament. It is only the very lowest part of the work that such a critic can perform; and when he comes to the higher criticism, the interior life of the Word, he is wholly out of his sphere. How can a man with no poetry in his soul, review a poem? How can a man with no mathematics, properly estimate a treatise on fluxions? How can one destitute of the first principles of taste, be a critic in the fine arts? And how can a man wholly irreligious, be a fit judge of the most religious of all books? Let the gospels be estimated according to their real worth, and the writers upon them according to their real worth, and then justice will be done on both sides. We will refuse no help, and we will repel no truth, though it come from the most ungodly; but we will not idolize intellect which has no heart, nor allow profane hands to filch from us our choicest treasures.
There is a decided tendency in our times to award peculiar consideration and deference to profane writers on sacred subjects. If an author with the spirit and principles and talent of Voltaire, were to write a life of Christ, or a commentary on the gospels, or especially an introduction to the Old Testament, it would be just in accordance with the spirit of the age to study and quote such works with more profound respect than is awarded to the writings of Luther, or Calvin, or Bengel, or any other writer who loves and venerates the Word of God. This whole tendency is most particularly to be despised or deplored.
A.T. Last updated 14.11.2005