Images de page
PDF
ePub

fying the result of an arithmetical problem. You would no more take Colenso's “Pentateuch,” to your holiday retreat, to beguile the spare hours of a Christmas visit, or to read in the intervals of your joyous winter rambles, than you would take Colenso's “ Algebra." We should think that, for a book on religious matters, it is the mnost unpoetic ever written. The writer has absolutely no imagination. To the living truth of the grand story that is before him, he appears utterly insensible. The gloom that gathered around the brow of Sinai, would only vex him because it would put a stop to his land-measuring for the day; and when Moses appeared with the lingering glory on his brow, he would hasten to prepare a paper " on a novel kind of luminous atmosphere” for the Philosophical Transactions. We are tempted almost to believe the old story of the mathematician, who asked of Milton's Paradise Lost, “What does it prove?"

This intensely prosaic spirit has given form and tone to our author's ideas of inspiration. No doubt, he had been accustomed to take for granted the hardest, most literal dogma of the Divine dictation of Scripture. If the narrative is divine, he seems to assume every detail, every figure, must be literally correct. The supernatural influence nullifies the conditions of ordinary history. Not only with regard to moral and spiritual truth, but in the most trivial incident, the most casual enumeration, the record must be literally and infallibly true, inasmuch as the writer is not man but God; the human mind and pen being but His instrument. We are not ignorant of the fact that such a theory of inspiration, founded upon à priori reasons, and framed in sublime disregard of the pheDomena of Scripture, is not unknown in England; but this volume may well induce its re-consideration. For to the believer in such an inspiration, the first proved flaw in the history is fatal, not merely to the section in which it occurs, but to the whole. Here is a mistakesay in simple addition,—which we should pass by without remark in Herodotus, who calculations, as Mr. Rawlinson says, “seldom or never come right." But the Divine Being could never have made such an error. Therefore, the word is not from Him, its inspiration is gone, and with this the authenticity, trustworthiness, and value of the history.

It is possible that Dr. Colenso's lucubrations may do good service in leading English Christians to review their belief as to the method in which the Holy Spirit reveals the truth to man.

Had not the Bishop begun with a thoughtless bibliolatry he would not probably have ended with a puzzled disbelief. The question as to the truth of his date, and that concerning the validity of his conclusions, belong to quite different spheres of thought. We might admit the insolubility of his problems, without surrendering a rational belief in the veracity of the record. We do not expect of the

Scriptures that every calculation on the one hand shall have been in its original shape infallibly correct, and on the other shall have been preserved without mutilation or corruption through all ages down to the present time. Multitudes have beliered the sacred history without giving a thought to the intricacies of its genealogy, or to the correspondencies of its enumerations : and they would still believe, though every genealogy were inexplicable, and every census irreconcileable by us with all the rest. We are making bold, and perhaps needless, suppositions; for, to say the least, many of the discrepancies and impossibilities which Dr. Colenso strives to make out have no existence but in his own unimaginative brain. But, supposing the difficulty absolutely insurmountable, what then? We reply at once, that the history as a whole has become a living reality to us, not to be let go. The tale has interwoven itself into our spiritual being, on no irrational grounds, as we trust to be able to showand certainly with a closeness and power which mathematics did not give and which mathematics cannot take away. The lessons taught by Moses, of the creative might and the eternal Providence of JEHOVAH, are too vividly enstamped upon our souls to be erased by any criticism of minor and half-revealed details. God said, “Let there be light, and there was light:" the world was “very good;” but the Serpent entered and man fell, -in infinite mercy the great Father chose a people for himself. Abraham His servant was His friend ; through long vicissitudes and sore afflictions the Tribe of promise maintained their calling, and struggled to their destiny of greatness. He, whose way is in the sea and whose path is in the great waters, led His people, like a flock, by the hand of Moses and Aaron. The Lawgiver and the Priest together guided the chosen multitudes through the appointed years of mercy and miracle in the wilderness ; and the grand era of preparation was completed when the consecrated leader bade the mourning host farewell

, and retired to Nebo to die. These facts, with the multitude of subordinate details essential to the fulness of the history, have been the sustenance of the spiritual life of the Church for three thousand years; prophecy and psalm are full of them ; closely bound up them are the typical institutions and inspiring promises which through the ages heralded a brighter day; and when that day had dawned, so far from the ancient story losing any of its honour, its authority received a new sanction, its lustre an added splendour. The Son of God, in the most explicit terms, gives His authority to Moses : “I am not come to destroy the law, but to fulfil.”—“All things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses. concerning Me." Nay, He himself urges an argument curiously applicable to this very controversy, when He says, “If ye

believe not his writings, how shall ye believe My words?"

It is instructive to see how Dr. Colenso attempts to dispose of

with

our Lord's plain recognition of the Mosaic authority. The page in which he deals with this difficulty is indeed the saddest in the volume. We will quote it eutire, that if we do him any injustice the material for our correction may be at hand. After remarking, that at any rate our Saviour could only have recognised Moses as the author of certain parts of the Pentateuch; the last chapter of Deuteronomy, for instance, being evidently the work of another hand, and some other interpolations having probably been made, the Bishop adds :

** But, secondly, and more generally, it may be said that, in making use of such expressions, our Lord did but accommodate his words to the current popular language of the day, as when he speaks of God making his sun to rise

' (Matt. v. 45), or of the stars falling from Heaven' (Matt. xxiv. 29), or of Lazarus being carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom? (Luke xvi. 22), or of the woman with a 'spirit of infirmity,' whom 'Satan had bound eighteen years' (Luke xii. 16), without our being at all authorised in drawing from them scientific or psychological conclusions.

Lastly, it is perfectly consistent with the most entire and sincere belief in our Lord's Divinity, to hold, as many do, that when he vouchsafed to become a 'Son of Man,' he took our nature fully, and voluntarily entered into all the conditions of humanity, and among others, into that which makes our growth in all ordinary knowledge gradual and limited. We are told expressly, in Luke ii. 52, that Jesus increased in wisdom' as well as in “stature.' It is not supposed that, in His human nature, He was acquainted more than any educated Jew of the age, with the mysteries of all modern sciences ; nor with St. Luke's expressions before us, can it be seriously maintained that, as an infant or young child, He possessed a knowledge surpassing that of the most pious and learned adults of His nation, upon the subject of the authorship and age of the different portions of the Pentateuch. At what period, then, of His life on earth, is it to be supposed that He had granted to Him, as the Son of Man, supernaturally, full and accurate information on these points, so that He should be expected to speak about the Pentateuch in other terms than any other devout Jew of that day would have employed. Why should it be thought that He would speak with certain Dinine knowledge on this matter, more than upon other matters of ordinary science or history ?"

Now there is something painful in the attempt to argue out the points suggested in the last paragraph. We have only to remember that on the latest occasion on which our Lord appealed to the authority of Moses, He had risen from the dead, and thus attained all but the crowning glory of his Divine manhood. Was he even then liable to mistake? Or, at such a time would He so accommodate the dialect of heaven to human traditions and mistakes as to corroborate a false impression? There is irreverence in the very thought. But to speak quite coolly and logically, the question is one of probabilities. Dr. Colenso is mistaken, or the Son of MAN was wrong. The bishop, as above, has given ingenious reasons for adopting the latter alternative. But to the ear of Faith it is impossible but that such reasons should be presented in vain. Malo cum Platone errare is a saying as deep in its philosophy as it is

natural in its trust. Substitute cum Christo, and what becomes of our bishop's arithmetic ?

Nor do we wholly rest upon our Lord's isolated sayings, important and decisive as they are. These do but indicate what the whole Scripture system confirms. Take away the belief in Moses, and the harps of psalmists give an uncertain sound, the raptures of prophets and the arguments of apostles become alike purposeless

, the mistakes of Isaiah are as bewildering as those of the Epistle to the Hebrews; nay, the confusion reaches the celestial realm, and throws into jarring discord “ the song of Moses and of the Lamb.” The scheme of revealed truth is dislocated from beginning to end. Christianity is practically left without an historical basis ; for who can trust the narratives of the Bible any more? Intuition, the bishop will reply, is still left; and we have a Spirit to teach us

, such, for instance, as that which inspires votaries of Râm or “the Sikh gooroo." Well, we will not argue even on this topic, but only by the way remark that the question is again one of probabilities

, and ask, How can any man be so sure that it is the voice of God that speaks within him, as he may be, that the history accredited by the testimony of ages, by the triumphs of faith and holiness through every era of the church, and by the emphatic witness of the CHRIST is verily from heaven? To exchange the Sacred Word for the oracles of intuition would be to abandon the foundation on the rock, not for the shifting sand, but for the fleeting cloud !

It will be remembered that in these remarks we have been attempting not so much to confute Dr. Colenso's book as to show why Christians hold fast to their faith notwithstanding. For their persistency we think we have shown cause. Naturally and rightly, they refuse to surrender their Christianity because they are perplexed by the numerical statements of the record. They have, moreover, an irresistible feeling that in so living a history the sacred narrator must be right rather than his unpoetical critic. In vindicating this popular impression, we are not, in any oblique fashion, undervaluing such historical criticism as that which Niebuhr and Sir George Cornewall Lewis have applied to the legends of early Rome. The comparison has been made; and though for a moment it may impose upon superficial thinkers, a little study will show that there is a whole world of difference between the two cases. First, compare Livy with Moses : next, compare

Niebuhr with Colenso! This double contrast would be sufficient of itself; but then, again, it must be remembered that were the parallel ever so close between the Hebrew and the Roman apnals, the former come to us with divine confirmation. We are not at liberty to look at the mere substance of the record; and a discrepancy which in a secular narrative would bring the whole

story into doubt, must in the

sacred history be accepted as a phenomenon consistent with substantial accuracy.

We may, however, now go much further than this. Having satisfied ourselves that by such reasonings our faith in the Pentateuch is not to be overborne, we may look, more closely, and partly as a matter of curiosity, into the texture of the arguments themselves; and it is not long before we become perfectly easy as to the issue. We have made concessions, important for the sake of argument, but unnecessary to the main result. We will not indeed stake our faith in the Pentateuch upon our ability to solve its arithmetical problems; but if we could consent to do so, the worst that could happen would be a drawn battle between ourselves and our opponents. We are free to confess that our first reading of Bishop Colenso's book gave us the impression that there were a few discrepancies absolutely irreconcileable ; but a closer examination has convinced us that not one of his eighteen puzzles is a hopeless difficulty. This may seem a bold thing to say: to establish the assertion step by step, would require as large å book as Dr. Colengo's own; but before proceeding to note one or two illustrative cases we make two remarks.

The first is, that any possible solution is so far admissible, as to take away the right to reject the narrative on the ground of the difficulty. Our explanation may not be the correct one ; but if it shows that the fact is possible as stated, the objection from its impossibility falls to the ground. An illustration may be taken from the old question about our Lord's genealogy as contained in the two Evangelists. One way of reconciling Matthew with Luke, has been that the one gave Mary's descent, the other Joseph's; while another explanation which has found more favour with modern critics is that one is the kingly succession, reckoning by the heads of families, the other the natural genealogical line. It is probably impossible to decide which of these suppositions, or whether either of them, is correct; but the inference remains unaffected, that the genealogies are not irreconcileable. We apply a similar style of reasoning to the enumeration of the first-born (Colenso xiv). The historian states (Numbers iii. 43.), that "all the first-born males [by the number of names]....

from a month old and upward, of those that were numbered [of them), were twenty and two thousand two hundred and threescore and thirteen.” Our readers will see we have enclosed two phrases

in brackets

. These are omitted without notice by the Bishop, in consistency with his extremely loose and careless method of quoting the texts on which he animadverts.

as there were more than 600,000 males capable of bearing arms, the whole number of males must have been at least 900,000. Of this number, 22,273 were “first-borns," or one in forty-two.

Now,

« PrécédentContinuer »