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By the conception of Christ as the eternal equation of the finite and the infinite, one obtains a clear notion of the grandeur of the mystery of mediation. He is not merely the regenerator of man, He is the peacemaker between man and man, man and all nature, and man and God; the link between man and man, and man and nature, and man and God.
THE EVIDENCE FOR THE INCARNATION
SALADIN. I must think
That the religions which I nam'd can be
Distinguish'd, e'en to raiment, drink and food.
Are not all built alike on history,
LESSING'S NATHAN THE WISE.
Private Judgment the basis of Certainty-Man accepts some truths by
conviction, other truths on anthority-Historical evidence always disputable-evidence of an historical religion especially so—The evidence of miracles unsatisfactory- Prophecy no evidence to the divinity of Christ-Scriptural evidence weak-1. Scripture lays no claim to inspiration—2. It is full of inaccuracies—3. And of discrepancies—4. Un. certainty of authorship-Difficulty of proving from Scripture the Divinity of Christ—The weakness of Protestantism-The authority of the Church— The evidence of our own Nature—The legitimate position of the Bible.
S I have shewn in a former chapter, Certainty is based
on Private Judgment; that is, man's reason is the measure of truth to himself. He is satisfied of the truth of a proposition only when it has been demonstrated to him, and that demonstration has taken hold of and convinced his reason.
But there are truths which are not absolutely certain, and which man accepts on authority, which he admits as probable, though unable to verify them. Thus, the untravelled and unscientific man believes that there is such a continent as Africa, that the earth revolves around the sun and upon its own axis, that the comets move in parabolas. But the certainty to him is not absolute, for it is not based on his own power of verification; it is comparative certainty only.
Thus man believes in truths of two kinds, in those of absolute certainty through direct conviction, and in those of comparative certainty through conviction of the trustworthiness of the authority which propounds them.
If man refused to believe those truths which were not made evident to his reason, he could not live among his fellows, nor could he make the slightest progress in civilization.
There may be, indeed there must be, truths which he cannot verify, and to deny these because of this impossibility of verification is to enclose hiniself within an orbit as narrow as that of the brute.
At the same time, everything propounded on authority is not to be received, but must be weighed in the balance of private judgment, which thus becomes once more the ultimate criterium of the trustworthiness of authority.
Historical facts are, by their nature, removed from the possibility of verification, and in estimating them we have to bring the critical faculty, or reason, into play. Historical statements can never therefore be demonstrated to be absolutely true or to be absolutely false. The utmost that can be said of them is that the balance of probability is for, or against, their veracity.
This doctrine applies necessarily to those historical statements which form the backbone of a traditional religion; and it applies to them with special force, for out of religious dogmas duties spring, which weave themselves around us, and govern more or less our whole lives.
The dogma of the Incarnation is one which, if true, is entirely removed from the possibility of verification; it was removed entirely from the possibility of verification when Jesus Christ stood among His apostles. For to verify is to bring within the compass of the mind, and grasp in all its bearings, some dogma which is propounded. But, inasmuch as the human mind cannot embrace the Divinity, the relative cannot estimate the Absolute without ceasing to be relative; it would be impossible therefore for any man to predicate of Jesus Christ that He was God, however great may have been the miracles He performed, and however sublime may have been His ethical teaching.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau has observed that “the facts of the life of Socrates, of which nobody doubts, are much less satisfactorily proved than are those of Jesus, which are so widely disputed.” For what reason ? Because the admission of the facts of the life of Socrates does not entail any obligation on the conscience, whereas those of Jesus are of the greatest consequence; they are the foundation of a religion and of an ethical code. Consequently it is of importance to know on what evidence the doctrine of the Incarnation reposes.
The evidence must be either in our own nature, or it must be authoritative: that is to say, we may be convinced because this dogma completely satisfies the wants of our spiritual being, and seems to us to be the only solution to the difficulties besetting the elaboration of our own individuality and the development of society, or because the authority on which we receive it is so strong that it is unassailable.
The only authority that is unassailable is that of God Himself. Do we receive testimony to this dogma direct from God? The answer depends entirely on whether we accept the dogma of the Incarnation or not. Was Jesus God? If He were, His word carries its guarantee with it. If He were not, it is worth nothing as evidence.
How are we to know that He was God? The usual answer given to this is—by the miracles He wrought.
But to this answer two objections arise. How can a miracle prove Him to be God? and, what sufficient evidence have we that He really wrought miracles ?
If God had designed to work a miracle, it may justly be argued, He would certainly have given, or suffered to be acquired, a preliminary knowledge of the laws on which the miraculous derogation would take effect. But man, even now, knows so little of the world, that he is at all moments arrested by facts in disaccord with those laws which he does know, facts which are only explained by laborious study, and a more profound exploration of the nature of things. Moreover, a miracle which took place at a certain place, at a certain time, and which was to serve all humanity, must have been subjected to several or some witnesses. But the testimony of men, of history, of tradition, is never infallible; and the guarantee to us of the fact of the miracle is a fallible guarantee after all.
The knowledge indispensable for proving the reality of a miracle was wanting to the men of the time when Christ came; and the human witnesses might always be mistaken, or err involuntarily, or wilfully pervert the truth to suit their own ends. We
therefore assert that we cannot philosophically affirm that there is anything in the world, or in ourselves, which supposes the eventuality of a miracle called to prove a religious dogma.
The miracles performed by Christ are brought forward