« PreviousContinue »
view. Neither may have even so much as thought of the historical evidence, for the authenticity of the works studied by the one with the devoutness of an amateur ; of the writings studied by the other with the devoutness of a religionist. Both may be genuine and well-founded disciples of their respective schools notwithstanding. And thus it is that our Bible, our well argued and well authenticated Bible, has proved an instrument for the solid education of millions who are strangers to every external argument on which the authenticity of the whole and of all its parts is vindicated.
Of the outward credentials for the book they know nothing. They are the contents within the book, to which we stand indebted for all the faith, and that not a superstitious but an enlightened faith, that exists in Christendom. It is to the reading of the Bible that we owe this result—as put into the hands of children by the fathers of families; or circulated, under the auspices of its Church, among the people of a kingdom.
22. Before bringing this subject to a close, we would remark the verisimilitude that sits on the canonical scriptures, and constitutes a prima facie distinction between them, and all the other religious compositions of the age and country in which they were written—we mean their freedom from a certain legendary character, and a certain untasteful extravagance, that is more or less to be detected in the Apocrypha ; but which we think is most noticeable of all, when we make the transition from the Scriptures of the New Testament to the very earliest of the uncanonical writers on the side
of Christianity. Take for an example the epistle of Clement when he argues, or, at least, tries to illustrate the doctrine of a resurrection from the story of the phenix. No one but must have felt the utter incongruity of such a passage, if thrust into the middle of any argument whatever in the New Testament, on the subject of the resurrection. Conceive it, for example, subjoined to the xvth chapter of 1st Corinthians, or to the ivth chapter of the second epistle; and what a motley juxtaposition would have been produced by it. And the contrast is not confined to particular passages; for, throughout and in general character, there is an obvious and sustained dissimilaritya sense and a dignity and an appropriateness in the one; and in the other, save when there is a copious intermixture of scripture quotation, or when the devoted piety breaks forth into an elevation and an earnestness which overshadows all the accompaniments, there is an extravagance and a weakness and a fanciful style both of illustration and argument, which makes us feel that we have got into the hands of very illiterate or very unpractised authors.
23. Now, to understand how this should be, we must consider that Christianity is responsible only for its own proper work on the affections and the principles of those, over whom it hath obtained a practical ascendancy. By means of certain great truths which it impresses on the belief and understanding of man, it exerts an influence upon his heart and upon his history; and the supreme love of God, along with the love of his neighbour,
become the prevailing characteristics of him who before was a selfish and ungodly creature.
But while it thus revolutionizes the spiritual part, it may leave the natural economy of the taste and the intellect untouched. Abstracting from the moral change, it may no more alter the complexion of his mind, than it alters the complexion of his face; and just as the person and the features and habitudes of walk or gesture may remain what they were before, so also may the mental peculiarities of his constitution remain unaffected—even after Christianity, with all its subduing power over the will and the conduct, has been grafted upon the inner man.
24. It is a great mistake to imagine, that Christianity, by taking the full possession and power over a number of men, overbears all the complexional varieties of character which formerly obtained between them. If there be any foundation for supposing that there is a reality in national distinctions of character, a thing of which we ourselves have no doubt-then a Christian Irishman is just as distinguishable from a Christian Scotchman, as they were previous to the accession of this ingredient. And what is true of the national, is just as true of many of the natural distinctions between men. Christianity does not obliterate the variety of tastes and temperaments among men. In the New Testament this dramatic variety is exhibited, and a dramatic propriety is observed so that the zeal of Peter, the argumentative vehemence of Paul, the tenderness of John, all shine forth either in their history or their writ
ings—insomuch that if the whole earth were brought under a Christian economy, we are not therefore to imagine, that all the phases of humanity would thereby be assimilated into one monotonous uniformity of aspect; or that human society would not be enlivened by as great and as graphic a variety as before.
25. Now what is true of the constitutional differences which nature has established between one man and another, is just as true of the artificial differences which civilization and learning have established between one man or between one age and another. It is thus that in our more polished day, we look back to our ruder, yet not on that account our less religious forefathers; and marvel, both at what we should feel the offensive indecorum of their behaviour, and the offensive crudities of their authorship. A bishop, in the present day, stands in as much need of being put upon his guard against the heart-burnings and the jealousies of evil affection, as in the first ages of Christianity. Only then they carried the matter a little farther out; and so the apostle, in enumerating the incumbent gravities and proprieties of a bishop, had to say among other things that he must be “no striker."
The same principle will account for what to us appears a flagrant breach of all decency, which the Corinthians fell into, when assembled at the table of the Lord. And in short, we mistake the matter entirely, we misapprehend the proper fruit and function of Christianity, we are not distinguishing the things which differ—if we expect, that, because the religion of the gospel has taken
powerful hold of the consciences of men in a barbarous age, that therefore all the vestiges of barbarism are forthwith to be obliterated.
26. But our present concern is with the conceits and the crudities and the puerile extravagancies of an untasteful and unlettered age. Now it is no more the proper immediate effect of Christianity to teach men good taste, than it is to teach them good orthography. Every gross violation of morality will of course be abandoned by them; but, should they have occasion to be writers, there may still be the grossest violation of all the proprieties in belles lettres. If childishness and credulity and bad taste were their characteristics before the change, they might still remain their characteristics after it; and, without any imputation either on the worth of their principles, or on their competency as witnesses to the palpable facts that are transacted before their eyes—they might, if not kept in check by a supernatural power, fall into manifold errors both of false argument and of false illustration. Clement's bird of Arabia we hold to be a notable example of this; and when one compares, either with his epistle or with the works of any of the apostolic fathers, the compositions of the fishermen of Galilee; when one recognises the chaste and graceful propriety of the latter—how pertinent throughout, and as predominant in sense as in sacredness-how free of all that is irrelevant or absurd or inconsequential—-how unstained by any gratuitous fully or flight of extravagance-and yet how certain, that, if left to themselves, they would, like their immediate successors in the