Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

and deprive of its power? The Jews rejected Jesus, though they believed his miracles : could they have rejected him if they had morally sympathized with him ? and what more is wanting to prove that moral affinities, and not miracles, are the proper foundations of faith? If miracles were the only, or the convincing, evidences of a revelation, then neither the Jew nor the Heathen could have had any preponderating reason for embracing Christianity-for certain it is, that they regarded this miraculous power as in no way peculiar to either Jesus. or his apostles. This belief in the supernatural was universal at the time, and if this it was which accepted Christianity, and to which Christianity appealed as to a Judge—then it appealed to the lowest credulity, and was accepted only in common with the meanest superstitions. They who already believe in miracles of their own, will not of course accept a new religion merely because it too has miracles. Since this is a common quality, there must be something else to determine their preference and as Jew and Gentile both professed to have miracles of their own, Christianity, nothing distinguished in this respect, must have appealed to some other principle, and established itself on some other foundations of faith. It did appeal to other principles—to spiritual perception-to the attraction by which it drew human nature towards one who was its full and faultless representative, who provided for all its wants, and harmonized all its faculties, combining its various elements in the symmetry of a perfect mind. Whoever felt himself drawn towards that mind by the power of sympathy, had a foundation, and the only foundation, for faith. “No man can come unto me, except my Father who hath sent me draw him.”*

• “Many Christians," says Schleiermacher, (quoted by Ripley,) “ remain in the error of ascribing too great importance to what is merely external in the life and manifestation of Christ; whereas its importance properly consists in the fact, that the fullness of the Godhead dwelt in him ; that he came down from heaven in the sense which he early expressed, that he had no will but that of his Father; and as he afterwards said, that he had come to show the Father, and to make it possible for men to be taught of God. But so long as we seek the ground of faith in him in anything external, in the mode in which his earthly being began, in the miracles which accompanied his activity among men, or in outward things by which he was distinguished from other men, -we are not in the true way of believing, and are yet subject to many doubts, which we ought long since to have got over. For a true and living faith will say to itself, These things indeed are so, as related in the Holy Scriptures; but it might have been otherwise ; and this fact can establish no essential difference between Christ and other men. The redemption which he brings depends alone on the fact that the fullness of the Godhead dwelt in him; that he came down from above to reveal to us the divine will, and to receive us into communion with his Heavenly Father; that with the fullness of the Godhead in him was manifested the true and living image of the Eternal Being; and that he has shown us by what he was, and what was in him, the brightness of the divine glory. To look alone on this inward character, to cling to this union of the divine and human in him, to regard him as the true and exhaustless source of all the divine communications through grace to men,- this is the genuine, livin; faith."

What, then, is the true position and use of miracles in the scheme of revelation? They are not of any force as arguments for moral truths. There is no logic in this-Christ wrought a miracle, and therefore God is good—or, Christ wrought a miracle, and therefore his character is the perfection of human nature, and the model for our imitation-or, Christ wrought a miracle, and therefore the human soul is immortal-or, Christ wrought a miracle, and therefore man's true happiness consists in the subjugation of the animal, and the development of the spiritual, nature. All these propositions are true, but not one of them is proved by miracle, or capable of being so proved. They rest upon quite other evidence-and nothing would be more absurd than to adduce a miracle in proof of the goodness of God—or the happiness of virtue-or the meekness and majesty of Christ's example. Yet these are the very soul of Christianity-and therefore Christianity, as a system of moral truths, does not make its appeal to miracles, but to the moral nature of man. No moral truth can be proved by a miracle, for a miracle is only a physical fact-and a moral truth belongs to another class of subjects, whose evidence is to be found nowhere but in the human soul. If the main features of Christianity had not been made by divines and theologians to rest upon miracles-if they had been offered to faith on the ground of their inherent excellence, their own ample attractions for our spiritual nature, how readily, how universally, would they have been embraced by all who felt that they had echoes within the soul, and that Jesus was indeed the very ideal of humanity. Who would not be a Christian, if to be a Christian required faith only in such truths as these—that the holy Jesus was the human image of the mind of God, and that the universal Father is more perfect and more tender than his holy and gentle child, by as much as Deity transcends humanity—that the character of the Christ is God's aim and purpose for us all, the result at which He desires every individual to arrive through the discipline and sufferings of earth—and that immortality was impressed upon that mind—that its profound sympathy with the spirit of God, the surrender of its own immediate interests for the sake of the purposes and drift of Providence—the identification of self with the divine will—the constant manifestations of a style of thought and action drawn on a wider scale than that of the present life, and that placed him in harmony with better worlds—that these marked him out as a being whose nature was adjusted to more glorious scenes—whose soul was out of due proportion to its merely earthly and external lot, and whose appropriate home must be the pure heaven of God? Would any one refuse admission to these moral truths as they are given off to our souls from the pure life of Jesus, if he was permitted to receive them on their own evidence, and not required to arrive at them through a faith in miracles? The truths speak for themselves: they address themselves to our moral nature, and it is utterly inconceivable that a miracle can confer upon them any additional credibility. This is worthy of being seriously reflected upon. Can a miracle prove a moral truth? Is the human soul immortal because Christ worked a miracle? Is the example of Jesus seized upon by our deepest sympathies, and felt to be the ideal of humanity, because Christ worked a miracle? Do not these truths find an entrance to our hearts through an entirely different channel, the channel of our spiritual affinities? The common answer will be, that if Jesus who worked miracles asserted the immortality of the soul, it must be true. The flaw of the theory lies in this; that the miracles themselves require for their own proof, the authentication which the divine system, in connection with which they are found, gives to them. They cannot be established as independent facts, apart from that spiritual perfection which justifies and seems to require them. Besides, the proofs of the authenticity of historical records, on which these alleged facts must be believed, depend upon an enormous mass of acquired knowledge, and cannot possibly be the universal evidence of Christianity. The miracles of Christianity are so far from being independent external evidences of its truths, that the very reverse is the fact - it is the excellence of Christianity itself which gives credibility to its miracles. It is the religion which supports the miracles, and not the miracles the religion. We admit its supernatural origin because we feel that the religion itself is so divine, cut out so clear from the errors of man, that it must have been given off direct from God. But this is setting aside the miracles as evidences,—and making them find their own evidence in the spiritual glories of Christianity itself. Miracles are not proofs but things requiring to be proved—and whose best proof is the matchless beauty and truth of the system which countenances them. If Christianity as it appeals to our rational spiritual nature were less perfect than it is—no power could have attached credibility to its miracles,—they would have sunk it long since. It is the system, then, supports the miracles-not the miracles the system. We believe in its wonderful origin only because itself is so worthy of God. We do not say here are miracles —therefore we will accept the moral truths of the systembut we say here are grand truths, and they are so grand that we incline to assign to them a miraculous origin: the truths thus stand out, independent of the miracles, and whatever be their origin, since they thus recommend themselves to our nature, they ought to be no less dear to our hearts, no less binding upon conscience. This is one eminent advantage of this posture of miracles—it leaves Christianity to be judged of—not as a supernatural fact of history, with its evidences in the obscure past,—but as a moral truth of nature and the common human heart, with its evidences in the truths themselves. If miracles are the only proper foundations of faith, is it not manifest that this is to make the certain depend upon the uncertain? Are we not to be devoted to the character of Jesus until we are first convinced of the integrity and accuracy of certain historians who relate certain miracles? Is our moral sympathy to take no hold on Christ until this historical inquiry is first gone through and settled to our satisfaction? And if this critical examination ended doubtfully, would the moral features of Christianity change their aspects—and should our affections and the aspirations of Conscience find nothing in its great author still to venerate and love? The moral and spiritual lineaments of Christianity still speak for themselves—they require no external evidence--we are as favourably placed for judging of them, as John, or Mary, or Paul-but the miracles do not speak for themselves—they do not carry with them their own evidence—they rest upon testimony, and testimony at the best is nothing more than probable; to make them, therefore, the indispensable foundations of faith, is to make the uncertain support the certain. No man can be so sure that certain miracles were actually performed as he is sure that the moral image of Jesus, which he draws from the Gospel, is a model for humanity and worthy of all imitation. And if he draws this image, and loves this model, and sets it up as the ideal of Conscience, and beholds in its human harmonies the shadowed symmetry of the perfect mind of God, is he to be denied the name of Christian, only because he doubts whether, in the course of time, something more of the marvellous than belonged to the original facts may not have crept into the documents ?

We are far from regarding the Christian Miracles as doubtful. We are unable to account for Christianity without them. We see nothing in the circumstances of the age in which Jesus appeared capable of originating his character; nor can we explain the modifications which took place in the views of his disciples without the aid of these events; but if we held the miracles to be as doubtful as we now hold them to be true, whatever logicians may say, we should not be able to part with our

faith in Jesus,-his character would still appeal to our moral sentiments radiant with beauty, and impressed with immortality, -it would still win our love and bind our conscience,-to our spiritual nature he would still appear the very ideal of the soul, the perfect image of God, and the authoritative model for man. And is not this to have faith in Christianity? If it is not, we know not what is. Were we to define Christianity, we should say it is the moral image communicated to each mind by the character of Jesus, as delineated in the Gospels, and which moral image Conscience consents to take as its guide and model. Different minds will draw a different moral image from the historical sketch of Jesus contained in the Gospels; but he who takes that image, as his best idea of duty, and his best programme of Heaven, is a Christian. Nothing is wanting to constitute a Christian, except the internal acknowledgment that the character of Jesus affords us our best external aid to develop the ideas of duty and of faith. It is historically not doctrinally we receive him : but from the history each mind can be required only to take up those elements and moral features which enable it to form and body forth its ideal of perfection.

What was the purpose of the miracles of Jesus at the time they were performed ?

The miracles of Christ fixed the gaze of the people upon his character, and for that purpose their agency was most important. They were ensigns and proclamations summoning every eye in the direction of Jesus. They did not prove the truths he uttered, but they marked him out as one who was to be observed, and they rivetted attention upon all that he did and said. They were like that voice of God,—" This is my beloved son, hear ye him :" but all the spiritual good was to result from that character, to which the miracle was only the means of directing attention. Indeed it is not easy to conceive how one like Jesus, so meek in majesty, could have arrested public observation, and held it upon himself, had it not been for these proclamations to attend. The character of the Saviour would certainly in that age have attracted little notice, had he possessed only the ordinary means of manifesting it. It might have been lost to us, because in that age of men so little analogous to the Christ, there was none to observe its quiet beauty,—to penetrate its deeper sentiments,—to perceive its profound but gentle unison with the spirit of Providence,—to note and preserve for after generations the story of its divine beneficence.

The miracles, too, are illustrations of the moral greatness of Jesus. The grandeur and meekness of his character was manifested through them. It has been said, with a profound truth

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »