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DECEMBER, 1818. [No. 12. Vol. XVII.
(Continued from p. 706.)
HE remaining text, quoted by Mr. Wright on this part of the subject, is John vii. 28: " Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am." "This latter clause," says Mr. Wright, "is supposed to mean, ye are acquainted with my descent; ye know to what family I belong; or, ye know who is my Father. This sense of the phrase, Ye know whence I am,' derives support from 2 Sam. i. 13: David said unto the young man who told him, Whence art thou? and he answered, I am the son of a stranger, an Amalekite. The young man, it appears from his answer, understood the question, Whence art thou?' to mean, To what family dost thou belong; or, belong; or, Who is thy father?"-A cause must be desperate indeed which relies for support on such arguments as, in order to apply at all to the question in debate, must necessarily limit the most general expression that could be used to the most particular meaning that can be assigned to it. The phrase, "whence I am," does, indeed, signify, "my descent." But who will be bold enough to say that it means, "my father," rather than, my mother;" or, my immediate parents," rather than, my more distinguished ancestry?"
"The fifth argument is founded on the language used concerning Christ after his exaltation.
CHRIST, OBSERV. No. 204.
"2 Tim. ii. 8: Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead.' Acts xiii. 23: Of this man's seed, God, according to his promise, hath raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus.' Rom. i. 3: Which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh.' By the seed of David, it is most rational to understand a natural and legitimate descendant of David; and the writer of the above passages well knew that his countrymen traced descent in the male line only: consequently, he must know that such language would lead them to conclude that Christ had a descendant of David for his father."
The import of these passages has been already shewn to be incapable of determining the present question. Jesus was of the seed of David, in the male line as well as the female; in the male line legally, in the female naturally; and as both lines have been traced, and the manner of his conception and birth particularly recorded, what more can be required, in order to determine the sense of all the passages thus advanced?
Our author, indeed, argues further upon the expression, "The excording to the flesh." pression, according to the flesh," means according to natural generation; as, when the same writer said (Rom. ix. 3), My brethren and kinsmen according to the flesh,' he evidently meant those who were such by natural generation." But this, again, is an unauthorized limitation; for what is there in the phrase," according to the flesh," to determine whether the generation is natural or preternatural? 5 G
-Lastly, we have a comment on the text, Heb. ii. 7: "In all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren." "Would an advocate," says Mr. Wright, "for the miraculous conception use such terms, without adding something to remind the reader that Christ was conceived in a different way to other men?" I reply, He was made like unto his brethren in all things, however he came by that likeness, whether by natural or preternatural generation, or by any other means. The expres sion and its context strongly imply that the assumption of this nature was a condescension in him; but do not determine the manner in which, or the medium through which, he assumed it; and, besides, we might ask with as much pro priety, Would an advocate for the sinless perfection of Christ use such terms without adding something to remind the reader that Christ differed in that respect from other men? In fact, neither the miraculous conception, nor the sinless perfection of Jesus Christ, is affected by this text; which is well explained by our Fifteenth Article to refer only to "the truth of our nature," while other texts determine that he took upon him this nature miraculously, and that he took it without sin.
All this will, therefore, not serve the purpose of the author, so long as the first chapters of St. Matthew and St. Luke are allowed to form part of the sacred canon. Accordingly, to the separation of these from the volume of Scripture, he devotes his principal attention; and I must be allowed to say, that I have never before seen such flimsy reasoning, so gravely applied to the determination of a great question.
First, he argues, "That in some few instances, the Scriptures have been interpolated, will not be denied by well-informed Christians." The admission of well-informed Christians on this head will, I be
lieve, not be found to extend beyond a word, or a sentence, or a half sentence, and, therefore, cannot be cited in support of an argument which requires whole chapters to be interpolated.
Next, he urges, "Whole books which Protestants regard as uncanonical were received by the generality of Christians before the Reformation, and are still deemed canonical by the Church of Rome." But there is a broad line of distinction between all the apocryphal and all the canonical books in the Old Testament. The former are not found to exist in any copy of the Hebrew Scriptures. Will the author venture to adduce a similar argument for the difference he urges between the chapters he would exclude and the other chapters?
Thirdly, he contends, "There is good reason for supposing that the Gospel of Matthew, originally written in Hebrew, for the use of the Jewish Christians, once existed without the two first chapters; and it certainly would be as complete as the Gospel of Mark, if those chapters were omitted; nor is there any thing in the beginning of the third chapter which indicates a connexion with what precedes The same may be said of the Gospel of Luke. If we leave out the whole of the first and second chapters, except the introduction, contained in the first four verses,. the third chapter will naturally follow that introduction, and the Gospel will be complete."-It is one thing to say there is good reason, and another to bring such reason forward. Till the latter is done, no reasoner is entitled to either credit or refutation. But the assertion that there is nothing in the beginning of the third chapter of St. Matthew, which indicates a connexion with what precedes, is manifestly untrue: for it begins in the Greek with the connecting particle ds, and the relative raurals. What would the English reader
say to a history beginning with
To St. Luke's account of the matter the author, however, urges a still further objection. "Besides, as Luke professedly wrote on the authority of eye-witnesses, it is unreasonable to suppose he would begin with stating an event of which there could be no eye-witness." Here we have the same opinion repeated, which was so stoutly maintained and argued upon before; namely, that the Apostles wrote only as eye-witnesses, or upon the authority of those who were so, and not upon the credit of inspiration. Yet St. Luke wrote the history of the transfigura tion; and, if he had that from the testimony of the Apostles present, so might he this from that of the Virgin Mary; and in either case he was preserved from error by the promised superintendance of the Holy Ghost.
Then he adds: "It appears that some Jewish Christians, at least, never gave any credit to the
account of the miraculous conception." But, as he refers for the proof of this fact to Priestley's History of Early Opinions concerning Christ, I would also refer to the wellknown answer which that champion of Unitarianism received.
Our author next charges the disputed chapters in St. Matthew with misquotation and misinterpretation of several passages The from the Old Testament. first quotation which he states to be misapplied, is Isaiah vii. 14, of which an opinion has been given. With regard to the two next; namely, Hos. ii. 1, and Jer. xxxi, 15, it should be observed, that the events of Jewish history were, in many instances, types of the history of Christ; and that expressions, which in their primary sense apply properly to the former, are often still more directly descriptive of the latter, so as in that only to receive their entire and accurate fulfilment.
That this is the case in both the texts here quoted, will be obvious, I think, to the cousiderate reader; and I derive confidence to this interpretation of them from the turn thus given to In rethem by the Evangelist. spect to the last (Matt. ii. 23), it appears to be a reference to many passages in different prophets, where our Lord is described as a remote, obscure, and despised man, like the Nazarenes, out of whose city it had grown into a proverb that nothing good should come. "His visage was marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men. He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty in him, that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and we hid, as it were, our faces from him. He was despised, and we esteemed him not." (Isa. lii. 14; liii. 2, 3.) Nor is this mode of citing Scripture pecu. liar to this place. We find instances of it in John vii, 38; "He that
believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water:" and (James iv. 5), "Do ye think that the Scripture saith in vain, The Spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?" Hence, although the proper interpretation of this particular reference may not have been discovered, we have no right to infer that the explanation of it is undiscoverable, or the reference incorrect. Still less would it be reasonable to plead our own ignorance in proof of the ignorance of the Evangelist. If, however, applications of the prophecies, similar to the above, were peculiar to these two chapters, they might form a plausible ground in aid of other reasons for doubting the genuineness of the passages where such a peculiarity occurs. But, in fact, they pervade the whole of the New Testament; and all the charges in which the author has been so profuse of misquotation and false interpretation, might, on exactly the same grounds, be brought against the xxviith chap. ter of this Gospel, in the ninth and tenth verses of which a similar quotation occurs, as well as to the whole argument of St. Paul, in the latter half of his fourth chapter to the Galatians. The truth is, that accommodations of prophecy to events not within its precise scope and aim, to an extent far beyond any in the passages now under consideration, are of continual occurrence in undoubted Scripture.
Even if we were not able to give an explanation of these texts, so satisfactory as that above offered, modesty would seem to require that we should not immediately set down, as necessarily false, whatever we cannot prove to be true, especially when it concerns a passage, of which, to say the least, it cannot be demonstrated that it is not an integral part of the legacy bequeathed to us by an inspired Evangelist. One office of Christian humility is to distrust our
own judgment, and to believe that others may be right as well as ourselves.
The next objection to the genuineness of these chapters is expressed in these words: "The chapters in question contain not only an account of the miracle of the conception, but also of the star which brought the wise men from the East to Jerusalem, and of the vision of angels which appeared to the shepherds. These miracles, different from all the others recorded in the Gospel-history, had no discoverable connexion with the mission and work of Jesus, are never used afterwards as furnishing any proof of his being the Messiah, or as adding any sanction to his doctrine, or as in any way accrediting the Gospel. They seem to have been totally forgotten when Jesus entered on his ministry; which is in itself an unaccountable circumstance. So far as we can discover, they answered no important purpose; it follows, that they are highly questionable.”— Now surely it indicates some defect of humility, to argue, that what has no discovered connexion with the mission and work of Jesus, has no discoverable connexion with them, and that what has no discoverable connexion with them, has, therefore, no connexion at all. Yet this is the manner in which Mr. Wright reasons on the miraculous conception itself, as well as on the other miracles related in these chapters. "It answered no end that we can discover. It appears to have been altogether useless. It supposes God to have exerted his miraculous power in vain."
I admire the progressive impor tance of these three sentences. First, we cannot discover its use. Secondly, it appears to be of no use. Thirdly, it is of no use; and to believe it, therefore, supposes God to have acted in vain. This advance from a consequence, founded in our ignorance, to one
inherent in the nature of things, is bold, certainly, though illogi. cal. I trust, however, that I have sufficiently shewn, that this departure from the ordinary course of nature, was not useless; that, if true, it answered many purposes, being both proper and instructive; though we, probably, cannot discern all its propriety, and have not learned from it all the instruction that we might. But to come to the other miracles, in these disputed chapters, it will not be denied, that the cherubic song and the visit of the wise men, were separate testimonies to the truth of Jesus, which might have encou raged the faith of his mother during his infancy, besides proving beneficial to the strangers and the shepherds themselves. That is not useless, which was useful to many souls; nor can any miracles be said to be unconnected with the mission and the work of Jesus, which announced his humble birth and prepared many to believe in him. These miracles, moreover, have, apparently, all the use which can attach to the voice from Heaven, thrice given to Jesus during his ministry, and perhaps even to the preternatural darkness at his crucifixion. Besides, are we at liberty, thus, to criticize the miracles, recorded in Scripture, unless we can first confute the veracity of the reporter? What account can we give of the curse on the barren figtree; of our Lord's walking on the sea; of his appearance to his disciples when the doors were shut? What reason can we assign, why these miracles should be wrought, rather than others; or, after so many miracles, why any should be wrought at all? Let us fix our minds, steadily, to this question. Have we any sufficient evidence to determine whether the chapters, in which these things are written, are, or are not, an integral part of the narrative which the holy Evangelists have left for the instruction of the church of Christ? For upon
this depends the duty to receive, or the right to reject them.
Mr. Wright asks a number of questions respecting the Star in the East, and the policy of Herod's conduct, which, if they were ever so difficult to answer, would only shew that the former was beyond our philosophy, and the latter as capricious as it was tyrannical, but could not affect the truth of either. As to the objections taken to the chronology of Saint Luke, Mr. Wright himself, refers to Lardner's Credibility of the Gospel History, where the whole case is distinctly considered in all its bearings; and, as nothing can be added to what he has said, so upon a mind which will allow to competent evidence its due weight I have little doubt of the result.
There is, yet, one other difficulty that startles our author:-"John the Baptist declared, that he knew not the person who was to come after him as the Messiah, until the descent of the Spirit on Jesus at Jordan, (see John i. 31, 33.): but the chapters in question spake of John as the relative of Jesus; and suppose him to have been so sensible who he was, even before his birth, that at the interview of their mothers, he is said to have leaped in the womb. It is not likely, if all the accounts in the chapters we are examining were true, that John could have remained ignorant of Jesus until the time of his baptism; his parents would be likely to make him acquainted with circumstances so extraordinary." This perplexity, however, may be readily unravelled. Jesus spent the first thirty years of his life in Galilee; John, probably, in the hill-country of Judah. It is likely, therefore, that they never saw each other, till Jesus came to be baptized.
On the whole, then, I see no reason to accede to the following conclusion; every clause in which, indeed, I believe, to be unfounded. "We are brought to this dilemma, something must be given up; for