XIII. THE ARCH OF MOHAMMED.
What shall we call the Seventh Century? I say the demands of general
history direct us to call it the ARCH OF MOHAMMED. No one doubts that
Mohammed was a really existing human person, a native of Arabia; that,
although born of a lofty race, he became poor, and drove the camels of a
rich widow to the fairs of Syria, where he heard and witnessed the
quarrels of Jews, Christians, and Pagans; and that this set him upon the
project of devising a religion which should end all their quarrels in
unity of worship. No one doubts those well-known incidents of the history
of Mohammed; that he began, after his marriage with the rich
widow, and emancipation from poverty, to retire to a cave, and profess to
have visions of the Angel Gabriel, and to receive revelations which he
embodied in writing, as parts of the future Koran. That his first attempts
at assuming the character of Prophet were unsuccessful; and that he fled
to another part of the country, and instead of trying to bring over the
Jews addressed himself to the Pagan Arabs, by whom his cause was taken up
with enthusiasm—are also historical events respecting which there is no
I need not dwell more at length on the history of Mohammed. I remember to
have been asked more than once by doubters, 'Whether it be not as difficult
to account for the spread and existence of Mohammedanism as it is to
account for the spread and existence of Christianity?' I very readily
answer, "No." Because, while the religion of Christ is a religion of
meekness and love and self-denial, the religion of Mahommed is most
powerfully adapted to captivate the two great passions of the human mind:
the love of conquest, and the love of sensual enjoyment.
At one period in history it looked as if Mohammedan conquest would be
universal, but the Almighty Hand stayed it, and now Mohammedanism is a
declining religion, and a declining power in the world. But what said Mahommed of Christianity? Did he say it was only the old fable of
the sun in a new form? Nay; he proclaimed that God had sent three great
prophets into the world before himself: Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, the son
of Mary; that Jesus proclaimed "the Comforter" should come; and that he,
Mohammed, was the Comforter. It is not likely that there is a single Mohammedan in the world who doubts that Jesus lived on earth, and wrought
We must not forget the existence of the sect called Paulicians, in this
century. Although charged with the old Oriental errors included in Manichœism, it is clear they were Pauline Christians—Christians who
defended the purity of their views by appealing to the writings of St.
Paul. They were sufferers by persecution to such a degree that they began
to quit Armenia, and to take refuge in Europe. They were the predecessors
of the Bulgarians, Waldenses, Albigenses, Paterines, Hussites, and
Lollards. Gibbon clearly shows the "line of descent"—so to call it—of
pure and persecuted Christianity; and he was charged with mistake until Guizot went over all his authorities, and confirmed Gibbon's valuable
Following my own bent for connecting our chief inquiry as much as possible
with our dear old England, I would have preferred to call this seventh
century the ARCH OF VENERABLE BEDE. If
you, young men, were to make some
actual search for antiquarian proofs of the existence of the Christian
religion, you could scarcely fail to do what I have done—visit Jarrow, on
the banks of the Tyne. There are the crumbling remains of the monastery in
which Bede studied. In a room of the adjoining church they show you Bede's
chair, or what remains of it. There is no reason to doubt that the chair
was used by Bede, nor the tradition that he died a few moments after
quitting it, having pronounced the last words of his translation of St.
John's Gospel, and then having fallen on his knees and breathed out his
soul in prayer!
If, afterward, you were to visit the ancient castle of Durham, you might
see, what I have seen twice, a more remarkable curiosity than the chair of
Bede. What is it? say you. A large coffin, hewed out of the bole of an
oak, and standing on four oak wheels. That was the coffin of St. Cuthbert
at one time, and also of Bede his teacher; for they dug up the body of
Bede at Jarrow, and placed it beside the body of St. Cuthbert; and their
custom was, in those "dark ages," as they are justly called, to wheel that
coffin about in the petty battles of the Heptarchy, with the belief that
the sanctity of the persons to whom the bodies had belonged would
bring them victory! "Dark ages!" Was the darkness really greater than in our age? Men thank God for victory now, and
do not pretend to win it by any sanctity whatever, either of their own or
Again, I say, if you, young Englishmen, were disposed to make
actual search for antiquarian proofs of the existence of Christianity in
your own land, you might visit Whitby, on the east coast of Yorkshire, and
see the grand ruins of the abbey on that lofty rock, near the German
Ocean, and call to mind that they stand near the spot where the first
religious house in those parts was built by the Lady Hilda, the Saxon
princess, whose name is so familiar for her piety, prayer, and almsgiving,
to even the poorest along the neighbouring shores of Durham and Yorkshire,
to this day.
Lastly, if you were to travel north; as if you meant to reach
Scotland, keeping still by the German Ocean, long before you come to
Berwick-on-Tweed you would see in the sea a considerable islet, "The Holy
Isle," and Lindisfarne it is also called. On that isle you would see
the ruins of the monastery in which Cuthbert studied.
Now, what I want to impress on your minds is not the notion
that there is any sanctity or spiritual value in the objects you would
see. I am not a teacher of Popery, you know. But what I want
to impress upon your minds is this thoughtful conclusion: a man looking
upon that chair of Venerable Bede might as well deny that he sees a chair
at all; a man looking upon that grotesque coffin of Cuthbert, on its
wheels, might as well deny that there are either coffin or wheels before
his eyes; a man gazing upon those striking ruins on the rock of Whitby
might as well deny that there are any Abbey ruins there at all; and a man
looking on the "Holy Isle" off the coast of Northumberland might as well
deny that he sees it, or that it exists—as for a man to deny that Bede and
Cuthbert and Hilda existed, and that they believed in Jesus Christ's
existence and miracles, and death and resurrection, and taught that these
were facts, in the seventh century, on English soil.
The lives of Bede and Cuthbert and Hilda are a part of the
history and existence of the soil. One might as well doubt that the
soil itself existed as that the actors existed whose existence is so
indubitably attested. The body of Cuthbert, in its leaden coffin,
was dug up and reinterred but a few years ago; the mind of Bede exists, in
the Church History and other works of his that remain; and the spirit of
Hilda exists in the remembrance of her goodness.
Where, again, I ask, did the Christian religion come from?
How came Bede and Cuthbert and Hilda, and thousands besides in our own
land, and how came millions in other lands, to be believing, in the
seventh century, that Jesus of Nazareth lived on this earth, chose his
twelve apostles, taught His great doctrines, performed His miracles, was
crucified, and rose again from the dead? Are none of these facts?
Are they no more than so many items in the new fable fashioned upon the
old fable of the sun? Let us once more pursue our forward, or rather
backward, march, and see if we find the Christian religion in existence
upon that Arch of our Bridge of History which stands before the ARCH
OF MOHAMMED, or, as we would prefer to term
it, the ARCH OF VENERABLE BEDE.
XIV. THE ARCH OF AUGUSTINE.
What shall we call the Sixth Century? We will call it the ARCH
OF AUGUSTINE and the Christianisation of
England; for we will not be drawn into the current of general history this
time, but pursue our inquiry as closely as possible with historic
materials on English land. I need utter but few words to remind you
how the first Pope Gregory—for there have been many of them—before he was
Pope, saw the beautiful children of the Angles offered for slaves in the
market at Rome, and thought they should be called Angels; and how he
strove to get to England himself as a Christian missionary, but was
peremptorily recalled by the Pope of that time; and how the good man (for
the first Pope Gregory was a good man, a good Christian man, who
disclaimed universal lordship over the Church, and never dreamt of being
"infallible")—how the good man, when he became Pope, sent out Augustine,
with twenty monks and twenty priests, as missionaries to the Anglo-Saxons;
how Augustine and his companions landed on Thanet, and sent their message
to Ethelbert, the King of Kent; and how Ethelbert agreed to listen to the
preaching of Augustine.
Fancy the picture, as Venerable Bede presents it in his
history: The King, sitting under an oak, on a plain, surrounded with his
chiefs, and the procession approaching! First, one bearing aloft a
silver cross, then another with a picture of the Crucifixion on wood; then
Augustine, at the head of his monks, taller by the shoulders than any of
the rest of his company; and then the monks and priests chaunting.
Augustine preaches, another interprets, while the King listens. He
calls it "All very good" at the end, but intimates that he cannot change
his religion all at once. He did change his religion, however; but I
much doubt whether the preaching of Augustine caused the change. I
rather think it was the sweeter preaching he had at home from the lips of
Bertha, his young queen. She was the daughter of Charibert, the
King, or Duke, of Paris—for there was no kingdom of France then, such as
we understand by the name now—and she was a Christian.
More missionaries were sent over by the good Gregory—I would
rather that he was called Gregory the Good than "Gregory the Great," the
name he wears in history; and the men of Kent were immersed in baptism,
like their King; and the Christian missionaries, in the lapse of years,
visited all Angle-land, and our forefathers were baptized in the streams,
or at the font, and gradually adopted the profession of Christianity.
And our Anglo-Saxon ancestors ceased to worship the sun on Sunday, and the
moon on Monday, and Tuisco On Tuesday, and Woden on Wednesday, and
Thor—with the mighty hammer, the god of thunder—on Thursday, and Freya,
the wife of Woden, on Friday, and Seater on Saturday; and began to worship
We preserve the old idols' names in our days of the week.
How incongruous it is, when we think upon it! And yet people jeer
the good Quakers when they say First Day, Second Day, and so on, instead.
The Quaker custom is more rational than ours, nevertheless, if we really
be Christians. Perhaps we could not change the names if we were to
try; it is so very difficult to change either old customs or old names.
There is one thing we can do, however, whenever we use the old idols'
names to distinguish the days of the week. We can let it serve to
remind us of the rock from whence we were hewn, and the pit from whence we
were digged. We can let it serve to remind us that our old
forefathers were rude heathens; but God sent them the good news of Christ,
and gave them grace to receive the good news, and has preserved His holy
religion among us to the present day.
But, again I ask, where did Christianity come from? How
came Gregory the Good to be caring about heathen peoples getting a
knowledge of it, and to be zealously sending out missionaries to spread
it, in the sixth century? The mind of Gregory remains in such of his
writings as we have, and we cannot doubt that he believed in the veritable
existence of Jesus, and in the Gospel history. How came Gregory and
Augustine, and millions of people, to be believing, in the sixth century,
that Jesus of Nazareth really lived on earth, taught His doctrine of love
and forgiveness of injuries, and purity and self-denial, performed His
miracles, was crucified, and rose again from the dead? Were none of
these facts? Is what we call the History of our Saviour Jesus Christ
only a refashioning of the old fable about the sun? Let us again
step on, in our journey over this Bridge of History, and see if we find a
belief in Christianity held by the people who dwell on the arch preceding
the Arch of Augustine and the Christianisation of England.
XV. THE ARCH OF EARTHQUAKE.
What shall we call the Fifth Century? As I called the tenth century
the Arch of Darkness, I would call the Fifth Century the ARCH
OF EARTHQUAKE; for, of all the centuries that
have elapsed since the Christian Era commenced, it was the most signal for
invasion, revolution, tribulation, and change. Alaric the Goth
scowls upon us at the beginning of the century, but, at the end of its
first decade, has his strange burial in the bed of a river, so that where
he lies is not known to this day. Then the more dreadful Attila the
Hun glares upon us, and he fights the great battle of Chalons-sur-Marne—the
very Chalons on whose vast camp the retreat of the French army was
announced just before that contemptible snuff-out of Napoleon the Little
at Sedan! To Attila unnumbered hosts of Goths and Visigoths and
Franks and Saxons and Burgundians were opposed at Chalons, in the year
451, and they beat him. But he rushed down upon Italy and spoiled
its fair cities. Next he meant to sack Rome, had not the aged
bishop, St. Leo, persuaded him to accept large treasure and depart; but,
soon after, the "Eternal City," as we call it, was given up to fourteen
days' ruinous plunder by Genseric and his Vandals.
The Western Empire is, at length, broken up, in 476; and the
formation of what we call Modern Europe begins. Spain becomes a
kingdom under the Visigoths; part of France owns Clovis for king; Odoacer
and Theodoric are kings of Italy; our Saxon Heptarchy is founded; and the
Normans enter France.
Christianity itself, in this century, seems as much subject
to revolution as the political world. Arianism is at war with
orthodoxy, and often, for a time, tramples it down. Persecution and
mutual persecution were rife; the rival sects revelled in slaughter, as
they happened to be uppermost. The war of words was as prevalent as
bodily combat; for it was the age of Augustine and Pelagius, and of Jerome
and Cyril and Chrysostom. Still it is evident, from even the stormy
literature of the time, that "pure and undefiled" Christianity was not
Where did Christianity come from? we ask again. How
came Augustine and Pelagius to be debating about the doctrines Christ
taught if he never taught any? How came Jerome and Cyril to be
contending for what they believed to be the truths that Christ taught if
Christ never lived? Were the eloquent sermons of John, the
"golden-mouthed," or Chrysostom, founded on texts which Christ never
spoke? How came millions of men, amidst all the contention and
violence and sweeping change of that fifth century to be holding fast to
these facts: that Jesus of Nazareth had lived on this earth, chosen his
apostles, and preached his doctrines and performed his miracles, and been
crucified, and had risen again from the dead? How came all this
strong belief into men's minds in that fifth century? Was it all
misplaced? Did Jesus never live, preach, die, and live again on this
earth? Is what we call the Gospel History all founded on an old
fable about the sun? Let us again proceed on our march over this
Bridge of History. Shall we find Christianity in existence on the
arch before that which we have just called the Arch of Earthquake?
XVI. THE ARCH OF CONSTANTINE
What shall we call the Fourth Century? We can only call it by one
name, unfortunately—the ARCH OF CONSTANTINE
THE GREAT. A man might as well doubt
the existence of Constantinople as doubt the facts of the history of
Constantine. Yonder is the city still bearing his name: the city
into which he admitted temple or church for no worship but Christian
worship. A man might as well doubt the existence of the arch of
Constantine at Rome as doubt that the Emperor lived and reigned, in whose
honour it was erected and whose name it bears. A man might as well
doubt the existence of the coins of Constantine as to doubt the facts of
Young men who hear me, if you know of any one who has a good
collection of coins, ask for the coins of Constantine, and mark them well.
There are thousands of his bronze coins in existence; but it will be
better to see the gold and silver coins, which are not so numerous.
You will find that the earlier coins of Constantine have the pagan marks
upon them, like the coins of the Cæsars;
but, when you come to the later coins of Constantine, there is the
Christian cross—there is the labarum, or standard, which was borne
by Constantine's armies, with the cross and also the monogram of the word
"Christ" upon it.
"I suppose this Constantine, the first Roman emperor who
openly patronized Christianity, was a good man," says some one of my
I fear I must tell you, very plainly, you are under a
mistake, my friend. I must tell you that, although Constantine was a
clever man, a skilful general, and a sagacious statesman, he was a bad
man—for he murdered his wife, his eldest son, and his nephew; and it seems
that he would unhesitatingly have taken the heart's blood of man or woman
that dared to oppose his will.
"Then, how came this bad man to patronize Christianity?" you
ask. The answer is, for political purposes—"reasons of state," as we
"But, could the number of professing Christians be so great
at that time as to form a body of sufficient importance to attract the
notice of Constantine, and lead him to suppose he could strengthen himself
by patronizing them?" it may next be asked.
Let us enquire of history. We will not take the
enumeration from church historians. Their account might be
questioned, or be suspected of exaggeration. We will take the
account from the enemy's side, rather. Let us take it from the
sceptical Gibbon, from his splendid "Decline and Fall." He was an
acute and tasteful scholar, and a master of statistical investigation; and
he assures us that at the time when Constantine first extended his
"protecting" and patronizing hand towards Christianity—that is to say, in
the year 313—the population of the entire Roman empire was 120 millions,
and that the Christian population was about a twentieth part of the whole;
that is to say, there were six millions of professing Christians in the
world in the year 313.
"And how came Constantine to think of patronizing these six
millions of people?" it will be asked. Let us look at his
circumstances, and we shall soon be able to read his motives.
Constantine became emperor at York, the Roman capital of
England, on the death of his father Constantius Chlorus, who was one of
four ruling emperors. For Diocletian had invented a new form of
government: a government by four emperors, who should divide the
empire among them, but act unitedly. To Constantius Chlorus, Britain
and Gaul were assigned, as the fourth part of the empire, to be ruled by
him. At his death the Roman soldiers hailed his son Constantine as
his successor. But Constantine knew that none of the other emperors
liked him. Yet he was determined to hold imperial power. So he
set out from Britain, taking with him as many soldiers as could be spared
from the country, and marched through Gaul also, soon learning that he
would have to fight for it as he approached Italy.
He won a victory over the Emperor Maxentius; and some of the
Christian historians would have us believe he adopted Christianity because
he saw the sign of the cross in the air, and considered it the symbol and
promise of victory. But the true reasons why he began to patronize
Christianity were more worldly. He needed military strength.
The forces he had were not sufficient to cope with the larger armies of
the other emperors. Now, he reflected on the conduct of the few
Christian soldiers which were in his army. They were sober, honest,
brave, intrepid; and he wished he could have more such moral material to
work up into soldiers. Then, again, he learned, all the way he came
through Gaul, that, in spite of the cruellest persecution, the Christians
were increasing. He discerned that the support of such people
politically, and the union of their sons with his army, were very
desirable things to bring about.
The decree at Milan, in the year 313, proclaiming full
toleration for Christians, was his statesmanlike manoeuvre, and it
succeeded. He persuaded Licinius, one of the emperors, who had
married his daughter, to join him in this decree—though Licinius was not
in earnest in his support of it. Diocletian retired from actual
sovereignty, and Constantine was soon at war with the remaining emperor,
Maximian. The suicide of Maximian left Constantine and Licinius
masters of the empire. But a deadly war soon arose between them;
Licinius was killed; and Constantine became sole sovereign of the Roman
empire, and master of the destinies of 120 millions of people.
He now more openly and avowedly supported Christianity; but
although he held the imperial power twenty-four years after he issued that
first decree of toleration, he was not a baptized Christian till a few
days before his death. Yet, as he was believed to be on the
Christian side, even when he seemed to waver—and that was often—thousands
who cared nothing about religion in their hearts, affected to espouse it,
because it was the strongest side, so that there soon grew to be more
millions of professors—I did not say possessors—of Christ's
religion. Constantine's wily patronage of the Christian teachers
also did much to strengthen his power, while it tended to ruin the
Christian church spiritually. And the more decided he became in
uniting the religion with the state, the more he injured it.
It was, indeed, an evil day for Christianity when the crafty
Constantine took it under his protection. Would that it had ever
remained under the protection of God alone, whatever its professors might
have suffered! Christ said to the Roman governor, when crucifixion
was so near, "My kingdom is not of this world." O that his professed
followers had always kept the solemn saying in mind! The Church and
the State are unnatural companions. Tie Religion to the State
chariot, and it becomes defiled by being dragged through the mire of
expediency: make Religion co-rider with the State, in the chariot, and she
loses the spirit of the Cross, amidst the smiles of adulation and the
corruptions of human power and grandeur. The change in the outward
fortunes of Christianity, under Constantine and his successors, seemed to
render the solemn declaration of Christ a mockery. Under successive
emperors it grew grand, and when they encouraged the swelling pomp it grew
grander still. At length, under the Popes, as we have seen in our
journey over this Bridge of History, it became at once gorgeous and
cruelly intolerant and murderous.
We are living at a time when nearly every circle of society
in England is intent on the great question of the Union of Church and
State. I must declare myself a separatist. It is not that I
see nothing to love and nothing to admire in what we call our Established
Church of England. I know and love some of her pious ministers; I
honour her noble army of martyrs; I look with wonder and reverence at her
grand library of authors; I love many of her printed prayers; and I trust,
when I die, her sublime burial-service will be read at my humble funeral;
but I neither admire the wisdom nor honesty of her ritualistic sons; nor
do I admire the swelling style and titles of her chief officers, nor their
political employment. I never think of the speeches and votes of the
bishops in the House of Lords, but I call to mind the saying of an old
Lincolnshire farmer, Philip Skipworth, one of the most Radical tenants of
the first Earl of Yarborough. "Woe worth you, lord bishops!" he used
to exclaim; "I wish they would come out of the House of Lords, and be
oftener in the Lord's House!"
And as for the styles and titles of the "spiritual peers," as
they are called, where is the Scripture warrant for it all? That
Popes, all along, have had the impudence to wear the highest style and
title on their coins of the pagan priests of old Rome and call themselves
Pontifex Mazimus, one does not wonder; but where is the New
Testament warrant for describing an English Protestant Bishop as "The
Right Reverend Father in God, Samuel, by Divine permission, Lord Bishop of
Winchester," etc., etc.? Pray, in what chapter or verse of Matthew,
Mark, Luke, or John, do you read of "The Right Reverend Father in God,
Peter the Fisherman, by Divine permission, Lord Bishop of Rome, Primate of
all Italy," etc.? In what chapter and verse of Matthew, Mark, Luke,
or John, do you read of "The Most Reverend Father in God, Paul the
Tentmaker, by Divine permission, Lord Archbishop of Tarsus, Primate and
Metropolitan of all Judea," etc., etc.? In what chapter or verse of
Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, do you read of "The Very Reverend Father in
God, Matthew the Publican, Dean of Jerusalem, Canon of Jericho, and Rector
of Cesarea Philippi"?
My friends, in this our journey so far we have never found
real Christianity robed in worldly grandeur; but we have often found
it lowly and persecuted and suffering, and thus resembling its Divine
But let us keep our chief enquiry in mind. In the year
313, when Constantine began to patronise Christianity, is was not then
three hundred years old, according to the Christian belief—which was, that
its Founder did not leave the earth till the year 33. Now the time
of Constantine was a time of considerable civilization; and it could not
be much more difficult for the Romans to ascertain the truth of what was
stated to have occurred in Palestine in the year 33, that is to say, but
two hundred and eighty years before, than it would be for us to ascertain
what occurred in France or Spain two hundred and eighty years ago: that is
to say, in the reign of our Elizabeth, when the intercourse of Englishmen
with those countries was so great. We have no difficulty in
grappling the perfect reality of that period of history; and why should it
have been less possible for Romans to realize the verity of the Gospel
History but two hundred and eighty years after the crucifixion?
But we are bound to repeat our question, Where did
Christianity come from? How came six millions of people to be
professing it in the year 313? How came those books of Christian
authors—Lactantius, and Eusebius, and Athanasius, and Basil, and Gregory
Nazianzen, and Ambrose—that have come down to us, to be written in the
fourth century? How often we might have asked a similar question
respecting scores of writers, while standing on the preceding arches of
our Bridge, if the time would have permitted us! But were Eusebius,
and Lactantius, and Ambrose, and the rest, dreamers? Did Jesus of
Nazareth never really live on this earth—never teach his doctrines—never
perform his miracles—never die by crucifixion—never rise from the dead?
Was the mind of the subtle Constantine under complete delusion when he
presided over three hundred Christian bishops at the Council of Nice, in
325, and when he was baptized as a Christian in 337? Is the religion
we call Christianity simply a readaptation to human credulity of the old
fable of the sun? Let us again pursue our journey over the Bridge of
History, and see if we discover the existence of Christ's religion on the
arch before the Arch of Constantine.
XVII. THE ARCH OF PERSECUTION.
What shall we call the Third Century? We must call it the ARCH
OF PERSECUTION. Before Diocletian gave
up power, and retired to cultivate cabbages at Salona, he exercised his
mind in the more pernicious task of ordering a search to be made for all
Christian books, that they might be publicly burnt. If the books
were given up by professing Christians—for none else had them—at the
imperial demand, the persons who gave them up were put out of its pale by
the Christian Church of that time.
I want you to let that fact sink into your minds, and I want
you to keep it there, for we shall have to remember it when we come to the
keener points of our enquiry. To be more willing to part with life
itself than with the Gospels or Epistles was held to be the mark of an
earnest Christian in those days. The books were found, in numerous
instances, by the emperor's searchers; and those who withheld them were
Diocletian did greater evil still. He commanded
Christian places of worship to be closed or torn down; and then the
professors of the forbidden religion had to worship in caves and desolate
places, or by the sea-side, and often in darkness. And then their
enemies invented the malicious report that they met together for vicious
purposes. Just like the devil, you know! when he thrusts a good man
into a dark, dirty corner, he cries out, "That fellow has gone there for
concealment in his vicious indulgence!" But the busy instrument of
Satan, Diocletian, went further: he proceeded to take human life.
Eusebius collects the accounts of contemporary writers, and presents us
with their catalogues of the martyrdoms in Egypt, in Palestine, in Syria,
and Arabia, but more especially in the great cities of Alexandria, and
Antioch, and Nicomedia, and Cæarea.
Some of those accounts are very affecting; and often the Christian martyrs
met death with a heroism that appalled their persecutors. Maximian
and Galerius, whom Diocletian associated with himself in the government,
were as cruel as their patron.
Before Diocletian and his associates in imperial rule we have
Aurelian, Valerian, Gallus, Decius, Maximin, and Severus, who were all
persecutors of Christianity. They did not persecute at all times,
nor in every place; but after a little lull of the tempest it would break
forth again, and not only aged men, but feeble women, were swept away in
its fury. Indeed, the relation of the persecution undergone by the
Christian Church in the third century is often too painful to read.
Tender women, in some instances, were tortured several days, and put to
death by slow degrees, for the purpose of wringing from them a denial of
Christ; some, in their human weakness, were affrighted by the threats of
punishment and those cruel sights which they witnessed, and shrunk from
martyrdom, by apostasy; but hundreds triumphed and exulted in death, and
to the last attested their faith in Christ.
I ask once more, Where did Christianity come from? Was there
nothing in it worth suffering for? Did Jesus of Nazareth never exist? Was
he not alive, teaching in Jerusalem, in Galilee, in Samaria, and
performing his miracles, but 220 years before many of these martyrs
suffered? Was he never crucified at Jerusalem? Did he never rise from the
dead? Were all these martyrs suffering for their belief in a new fable
about the sun; and because the believers in the old fable hated them for
refashioning the fable? Let us again journey along our Bridge of History,
and see if we find at last the solution to our oft-repeated question.
XVIII. and XIX. THE ARCH OF THE
FATHERS; THE ARCH
OF THE APOSTLES.
We have now but two centuries remaining: the second and the first.
What shall we call these remaining arches of our Bridge of History?
I propose that we call the Second Century the ARCH OF THE
FATHERS, and the First Century the ARCH
OF THE APOSTLES.
I propose now that we take our steps more slowly, and very
circumspectly. If we miss the object of our search through haste,
our journey will have been spent in vain, and our time thrown away.
"The Arch of the Fathers—pray, who really were the Fathers of the Church,
as they are called?" some of you will ask. The reply is that they
were the believing writers on the facts of the Christian history, and the
teachers of its doctrines, from the time of the last of the Apostles to
about the seventh century. Some called Theophylact, who lived in the
tenth century, the last of the apostles; but after the time of the first
Pope Gregory,—Gregory the Good, as I have called him—you may consider the
catalogue closed. And of these, the Fathers who lived and wrote in
the second and third centuries are the most important to our enquiry.
You will see how important the memory of the Fathers is to us
when I rehearse to you the substance of a note on one of the pages of a
biography that you young Christian men should read—the Lives of the
Haldanes. The brothers Haldane were wealthy Scottish gentlemen, at
the beginning of the present century, who became evangelically pious, and
performed great and good service in the Christian world. The note I
refer to in that book relates how Dr. Buchanan was dining with a literary
party at the house of the father of Sir Ralph Abercrombie, the general who
died in Egypt, when a gentleman in the company put this question to them:
"If every copy of the New Testament had been destroyed at the end of the
Third Century,"—for it was then, you will remember, when Diocletian
was engaged in his nefarious attempt to extinguish the book—"whether it
could have been recovered again from the extracts made from it in the
works of the Fathers of the Second and Third Centuries?" The
question startled the company; but none could answer it. Two months
afterwards, Dr. Buchanan says he called an Sir David Dalrymple, or " Lord
Hales," as he was called, the Scotch judge; and he pointed to a table
covered with books and papers, and said, "Look at these! You
remember the strange question about the Fathers and the New Testament
which was put by one of the company at Mr. Abercrombie's, two months ago?"
Dr. Buchanan said he remembered it well. "That question roused my
curiosity," said Sir David Dalrymple, "and as I knew I possessed all the
extant Fathers of the second and third centuries, I commenced the search,
and, up to this present time, I have found the entire New Testament, all
but eleven verses!"
Now, do you see the immense importance to us, in our enquiry,
of a fact like that: that in the extant writings of the Fathers of
the Second and Third Centuries the entire New Testament, except eleven
verses, can be found in the form of quotations? Remember that we
have lost many of the works of the Fathers of those centuries, and think
the more of this important fact. What does it lead us to conclude?
That the Christians of those centuries valued the New Testament very
highly. Our Chillingworth says "the Bible is the religion of
Protestants;" but the New Testament was the religion of the early
Christian Church. They must have fed upon it as their daily and
hourly spiritual food; they must have quoted it in their prayers and
conversations, as well as in their letters, and sermons, and homilies, and
commentaries; it must have been very precious to them. Three of the
most eminent of the Fathers were living within the last quarter of the
second century—which will take us back to the year 175—a year that I want
specially to fix in your memories. The Fathers I mean are Tertullian,
Irenœus, and Clement of Alexandria.
Tertullian ascribes the Four Gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke,
and John. In his extant works he makes 2,500 references to the New
Testament. 700 of these are references to the Gospels, and 200 of
these again are to John's Gospel. He quotes from every chapter of
Matthew, Luke, and John. Irenœus
also attributes the Four Gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
In his extant works he makes 1,200 references to the New Testament.
400 of these are references to the Gospels, and 80 of these again are to
Clement of Alexandria also calls the Four Gospels by the
names of Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John—for that is the order in which he
places the Evangelists. He makes 320 references to the New Testament
in his extant works, which are few compared with those of Tertullian.
I said, just now, that I wished to impress the memory of the
year 175 on your minds, and I want now to begin to show you the reason of
it. Hitherto we have been keeping in view but one of the theories
devised by sceptical writers to account for the existence of the Christian
religion, while denying its truth; the " Sun Theory": that theory of Sir
William Drummond, and Godfrey Higgins, and Dupuis, and Volney, which was
popularised in London over forty years ago by the "Reverend" Robert
Taylor, or, as Henry Hunt styled him, "the Devil's Chaplain." Let us
now look at the more modern theory, which has destroyed the popularity of
the Sun Theory with many of the sceptics of our own time: the "Mythical
Theory" of Strauss and Renan; for although there is a great difference in
the spirit and manner of the German and French theorists, I think we may
well consider them together.
"LEBEN JESU": DR.
DAVID FRIEDRICH STRAUSS.
In the year 1834 a book was published at Berlin, by Dr. David
Friedrich Strauss, a young professor of the University of Tubingen, and,
of course, a professor of the Lutheran faith. His book is usually
known by a part of its German title: "Leben Jesu," or Life of Jesus; but
its complete title, "Das Leben Jesu bearbeitet," means,—"The Life of Jesus
critically worked at:" an odd title to give to a book. Only a very
few years ago, you know, the other "Life of Jesus"—the "Vie de Jesu" of M.
Renan, Professor of Oriental History in the great French Academy—was
issued. The theories of these writers—but chiefly, the "Leben Jesu"
of Strauss—may be truthfully said to have fascinated thousands of minds,
and to have led away troops of young earnest students and thinkers on the
continent, while they have also been detrimental to the faith of many in
our own country.
And what is maintained by the teachers of this "Mythical
Theory"? Do they say that no such person as Jesus of Nazareth
ever existed? Oh no! They could not commit themselves to such
rashness; for they are scholars in a high sense of the word. Renan
is understood to he a profound Oriental scholar; and the classical
attainments of Strauss are understood to be as great as his power of
analysis. I need scarcely say that men of such intellectual calibre
and acquirements know that they have no right to take up any ancient
volume which professes to be history, and cross out any personal name in
it that does not suit them, affirming that no such person ever existed.
They know they might just as well and wisely affirm that Julius Cæsar
never existed, or that Alexander the Great never existed, as that there
never was such a human person as Jesus of Nazareth in the world.
No: they agree that such a person existed, at the time when,
and in the country where, He is related, in the Gospels, to have existed.
They agree that He was born of poor parents; but that He had naturally a
large mind and a richly philanthropic heart: that He had a highly
religious mind, and had a strong belief in the ancient prophecy that the
Messiah—the Great Deliverer—should come and regenerate the world and
deliver it from error and evil: that He yearned over the sufferings of the
poor, Himself; and believed that His "Heavenly Father" would deliver the
world from the wrong He saw in it and deplored. And they agree that
He doated on this conception, and earnestly went forth proclaiming "The
Kingdom of Heaven—the Kingdom of God is at hand!" and that, at length, He
doated on this conception so deeply, and longed so fervently for its
realization, that He came to believe Himself to be this Messiah!
It was, simply, an instance of that common procedure of the
human mind wherein "the wish is father to the thought"—wherein we burn
with desire to see a fact accomplished, until we persuade ourselves it
is accomplished in ourselves! Jesus, it is affirmed, did
not arrive at this belief respecting Himself all at once; but by degrees.
During the course of His ministry, when He began to be regarded as a
prophet, and, therefore, as possessed of miraculous powers, persons
afflicted with various diseases were brought to Him that He might exercise
His curative skill upon them. Strauss and Renan alike deny that any
miracles were ever performed by Christ. There are no
miracles—there can be no miracles, they affirm. It is
"unscientific" to believe in miracles. God governs by fixed laws.
That is to say, He has fixed Himself: He can or will neither suspend nor
transcend His own laws. He is like a great mechanist who has formed
the universe as a splendid machine, and has wound it up, and left it to go
by itself. He cannot or will not interfere with it! The "Laws
of Nature" are fixed laws.
Perhaps some seeming cures were performed by Jesus of
Nazareth, thinks Strauss; some seeming cures of comparatively slight
disorders. The effect, perhaps, of what we now call mesmerism, or
animal magnetism. In some instances, perhaps, these seeming cures
were simply the effect of nervous sympathy on the part of the patient with
this Jesus, who was so loudly reported to be a great healer of disease, by
a touch, or by a word, or a look. The persons so considered to be
cured passed into obscurity, and nothing more was known of them. But
as mankind are naturally disposed to make a thing that is a little
marvellous still more marvellous by talking about it,—like the story of
the Three Black Crows,—so these seeming cures were magnified into real
Eventually this remarkable person was put to death.
Well, reasons Strauss, there is nothing wonderful about that.
Socrates was put to death. The truly great and good have been put to
death in all ages. There is no wonder that when a man rises up to
beard wickedness in high places he loses his life. If Jesus of
Nazareth would persevere in reprehending the hypocritical and powerful
Pharisees in the way that He did, there can be no wonder that they never
rested till they had His heart's blood.
And what about Christ's resurrection from the dead? Oh,
that is utterly incredible, according to Strauss and Renan. Christ
never rose from the dead, any more than we shall rise from the dead.
The fable of the resurrection arose from the simple credulity of a few
weak women and ignorant men who were fondly attached to this Jesus of
Nazareth. They loved their master, for He had shown them great love
and tenderness. They longed to see Him again; and, perhaps, in some
moments of self-exultant thought He had uttered those words attributed to
Him, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it
again!"—speaking of His own body; and so they were encouraged to expect
His resurrection. First, one enthusiastic woman imagined she had
seen Him again alive, and heard Him speak. Her story wrought on the
imagination of others, till they, as fully as herself, believed they had
also seen Him. And thus the women from Galilee and the disciples
persuaded one another till they grew into a fervid band of
Resurrection-Preachers, and persuaded thousands to believe in the
Resurrection as firmly as themselves. Nay, they continued to believe and
continued to preach, until many of them laid down their lives in
attestation of their belief in what they affirmed—that they had seen their
Master after He rose again from the dead.
"And is this," say you, "really the wonderful Mythical Theory
of Strauss?" It is, indeed; as wild as it seems for a man of such
famed logical power to have invented it. Summed up, it means this:
that the reason why upwards of 300 millions of human beings are now
numbered among the professors of Christianity, the reason why the highest
and wisest nations of the earth now profess this religion, and why
millions upon millions have professed it in past centuries, is solely
because a weak fanatical woman first imagined she saw Jesus in the garden
where his sepulchre was, and that He spoke to her, yet she never saw Him,
and he never spoke to her at all; and because the other women, her
companions, set on by her example, also took to imagining that they met
Christ, and He spoke to them, yet they never met Him; and He never spoke
to them at all; and because ten men, in a room with the doors shut, all
took to dreaming at the same time, with their eyes wide open, that the
same Jesus whom they knew, and who had been crucified and buried, stood
alive before them, and spake, and showed them the wounds in his hands and
side; and because, a week after, eleven men took to dreaming in a similar
way, and so on. A wild way of forming a theory, my friends, when you
remember what the Apostles suffered for their belief in Christ, and
preaching of Christ as the risen Saviour! Yet that is the meaning of
the famed "Mythical Theory" of Strauss.
The "Mythical Theory," it may be observed, receives a few
additions. When the "Messianic conception," as Strauss calls it (and
it is a favourite phrase of his), had fully taken possession of Christ's
disciples and their converts, they went on to imagine and set down to his
account many and marvellous deeds he had never dreamt of performing.
They reasoned, for instance, since he was really the Messiah, that he must
have fulfilled his types. Well, Moses and Elijah were types of
Christ, and they were related to have each fasted forty days and forty
nights. So they set it down that Christ did the like, not from the
spirit of falsehood, but from devout faith in the true Messiahship of
Jesus. He must have fulfilled his types! Thus the catalogue of
miracles grew, until it swelled to the size it now wears in our Gospels!
I want you now, if you please, to note well and fasten in
your minds one remarkable fact as connected with the date A.D. 175, which
I have already mentioned. It is this: that Strauss himself grants
what every real scholar in the world grants, whether sceptical or
Christian,—what Lord Bolingbroke, among our old English freethinkers,
grants,—as you may see in his "Letters on the Study of History,"—that
the Four Gospels of Matthew; Mark, Luke, and John, so called, were in the
possession of the Christian Church at least as early as that year.
That they were at that time in the Greek tongue, but that they contained
the same accounts of miracles, parables, journeys, and other transactions
and circumstances of the life of Jesus, as our Gospels contain at this
day; and that they were held by the Christian Church of that time to be
the authentic, the genuine, the veritable memoirs of their Master.
But, argues Strauss, no one knows who wrote these
Gospels; nobody knows where they were written, or when they
were written! Perhaps some of the disciples of this Jesus of
Nazareth wrote some short accounts of him; but they never could have
written books of the length and having the contents of our Gospels,
for they never saw the miracles there related, since those miracles never
were performed. They very likely wrote short accounts of a very
simple character, and others added more marvellous stories to these simple
accounts; and so the books grew larger by repeated additions, till the
books became of the bulk and nature that we see they have now. And,
insists Strauss, between the date A.D. 33, when this Jesus died, and A.D.
175, being 142 years, there is ample time for the formation of these
marvellous books, by successive accretions of the more marvellous; there
is ample time for the growth and expansion of the mythical element.
And you may see its growth, palpably, for yourself, asserts
Strauss, if you will only slightly exert your critical faculty; it is so
very evident in the so called Four Gospels. For instance, Jesus is
affirmed generally in the Gospels to have raised the dead. But in
the two earlier Gospels this is a very unimportant sort of act; he enters
a room where a maiden lies who had only just died, or was supposed to be
dead, takes her by the hand, and recalls her to life, or seems to do so.
When you get to the later-written Gospel called by the name of "Luke;"
Christ again is related to have raised the dead; but this time it is a
story of increased marvellousness: the widow's son of Nain had been dead
some time, for he was being borne on a bier to the place of burial, and
Christ recalls him to life. But how the mythical element has grown
when you come to the Gospel said to have been written and published by
John at the close of the first Christian century! Jesus now raises
to life Lazarus, a man who had not only been dead some time, but who had
been four days in the tomb, and whose body, according to his own sister's
account, must have been in a state of putrefaction! You may thus
trace out and detect for yourself the mythical, the legendary, the
fabulous character of a great part of the Four Gospels, declares Strauss;
and clearly satisfy yourself that they are unworthy of being received as a
body of historical truth or fact.
These are strong blows to strike at a weak Christian; strong
blows to strike at the faith of a good but not very intelligent or
well-informed man. Such a man is likely to regard a man of logic and
learning with a degree of awe. And if the man of logic and learning
tells him that he is cleaving for salvation to what is told him in a book
that is unworthy of his belief—for nobody knows who wrote the Four
Gospels, nobody knows where they were written, or when they
were written—the blows are very likely to be too strong for him.
These blows have knocked many a man down, to my certain knowledge: many a
man who has never got up again.
But now let us take courage, my friends, and dare the weight
of these blows. Let us examine for ourselves what the strong
assertions of Strauss are worth.
"Nobody knows who wrote the Gospels." What is the exact
meaning of Strauss? He cannot mean that they are anonymous
books—books written without any authors' names being attached to them,
because he and the world know that they are called the "Gospels of
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John." Then what does he mean? Is it
that, although the books are called by these names, we have no reason to
think that they are the right names? Why? Who produces
evidence that they are the wrong names? No one. Then why
should we deem them the wrong names? How do we judge, and how do we
believe, respecting the authorship of other ancient books: books written
as early, and even earlier than the Four Gospels? What is the
foundation for what we regard to be our true knowledge of the authorship
of other ancient books? how do we know that Cæsar
wrote the "Commentaries on the Gallic War"? How do we know that
Virgil wrote the "Eneid"? I purposely select two of the best known,
the most universally known, of ancient books. How do we know that Cæsar
and Virgil are the true names of the authors of these books? How do
we know? Because these are the names the books have borne ever since
they were heard of. They have never been called by any other names.
No sane person ever arose in the ancient time and said, "Cæsar
was not the name of the person who wrote the 'Commentaries on the Gallic
War'; the author's true name was so-and-so," any more than any sane man is
to be found now who says that. No sane person ever arose in the
ancient time and said, "Virgil is not the name of the poet who composed
the 'Eneid'; the author's true name was so-and-so," any more than any sane
man is to be found now who says that. Scholars would regard a man as
of unsound mind who asserted his belief that we did not know the true
names of these, or of the other Latin classics generally.
Then why am I not to regard the names as equally certain when
I turn to the Four Gospels? Just as I believe I am certain and sure
when I say that Cæsar and Virgil wrote
the "Commentaries" and the "Eneid," why am I not to feel equally certain
and sure when I say that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote the Gospels
that bear their names? These are the authors' names that the Gospels
have borne ever since they were heard of. They have never borne any
other names. No person ever arose in the ancient time and said,
"Matthew, surnamed Levi, was not the name of the man who wrote that
Gospel: the man's real name was so-and-so," any more than a sceptic dares
to arise now-a-days, and say, "Matthew write that book you call a
'Gospel'! no such thing: the name of the man who really did write that
book was so-and-so." No person ever arose in the ancient time and
said, "John, whose surname was Mark, was not the name of the man who wrote
that book you call a 'Gospel': the man's real name was so-and-so," any
more than a sceptic dares to arise now-a-days, and say, "Mark write that
book you call a 'Gospel'! no such thing: the real name of the writer of
that book was so-and-so."
Now, why am I not to regard myself as certain and sure in the
one case as in the other? I will suppose that I have an intelligent
and candid sceptic present, and I will put the case to him. What do
you think, I say to him, of the interrogatory parallel, or
duplicate question, I put before you? What do you think of its
fairness? Why am I not bound to believe as firmly in the one case as
in the other?
"Fairness," he will reply, "fairness? No sensible or
candid man can doubt the fairness of the parallel, or duplicate question,
you present to me. No doubt it is as fair on one side as on the
other. I cannot deny its fairness. But then you know well
enough that I do not believe in miracles, and so I do not believe the Four
Gospels to be real history. Nay, furthermore, I am free to tell you
that I do not believe your parallel, as you call it, to be worth anything
either on the one side or on the other. I tell you boldly that I do
not think I am bound to believe, absolutely, that Cæsar
wrote the 'Commentaries,' and Virgil wrote the 'Eneid,' if that be all the
evidence you can give. I may not think it worth the trouble to deny
either; but I certainly do not think I am bound to believe absolutely,
if that be all the evidence you can give. You say these are the
names by which these books have always been called ever since they were
heard of, and they have never been called by any other names. Well,
that is only very loose and lean evidence, in my judgment. Names may
be given to things without fact, and with only fancy to guide the givers.
"Now if you could give me circumstantial evidence of
the authorship of these books, I should be bound to receive it.
Circumstantial evidence carries with it full conviction to the minds of a
jury, when there is an utter absence of all positive and direct evidence.
A man is on his trial for the crime of murder. There is not a single
witness who can swear, 'I saw him murder the man.' There is not one
who can swear to witnessing the direct and actual commission of the
murder, or the striking of the blow that caused it. But the accused
was known to have a deep quarrel with the murdered man; was seen near to
the scene of the murder close upon the time when it must have been
committed; and the witnesses who saw him noted his disordered look and
manner, and soiled and torn dress. An instrument was found lying by
the murdered man; with that instrument the murder had evidently been
committed: that instrument was stamped with the initials of the accused;
and there are witnesses who swear they had often seen, it in his hands.
Furthermore, the clayey soil where the murdered man was found bore marks
of a struggle, and a frequent footmark was noticed in the clay. The
shoe of the accused fitted it exactly.
"This is what is termed 'circumstantial evidence,' and the
jury say 'guilty,' when it has all been clearly laid before them; and they
say it without hesitation. Now, can you give me circumstantial
evidence—clear and substantial evidence of that nature?" demands the
doubter. "You say Cæsar wrote the
'Commentaries on the Gallic War.' Now give me the circumstantial
"When did he begin to write them? You cannot tell me
the exact year of his age, or the year of Rome. Could you answer the
question in a looser and more general way? Did he begin to write the
Commentaries before he crossed the Rubicon? or was it soon after?
How old was he, and where was he living, when he finished the 2nd book,
'De Bello Gallico'? and how long afterwards did he finish the 5th book?
"You believe that Virgil wrote the 'Eneid.' Tell me
where he began to write it. Was it at Mantua, his birthplace?
Was it at Rome? Was it at Verona? or can you name some other city in
Italy, and assure me that there Virgil began to write the 'Eneid'?
How old was he, and where, exactly, was he living when he finished the
second book, the sixth, the tenth?"
The reply is that none of these questions can be answered.
Antiquity has not left us the means of answering them. Nor can such
questions be answered with exactness respecting any book of antiquity that
I am aware of. But if any one asks me for circumstantial evidence
respecting the authorship of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
I tell him that it can be given with a length and breadth and strength
that cannot be given for any other, even of the most highly-valued and
most celebrated works of antiquity. I now entreat your close and
wakeful attention to the circumstantial evidence for the authorship of the
Four Gospels, while I endeavour to rehearse it in your hearing, as briefly
and clearly as I can. I entreat you to give a11 your power of
attention to the enquiry. It is a most vital one, for time and
eternity, to you and me.
What is it, I ask again, that Strauss affirms? "Nobody
knows who wrote the Four Gospels nobody knows where they were written, or
when they were written." I say, again, that when Strauss affirms that
nobody knows who wrote the Gospels, he cannot mean that they are anonymous
books—books without authors' names; he knows that they are called the
Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Then what does he mean? I ask
again. Does he mean that, supposing they really are the right names, yet
the names are worthless, to us, for nobody knows who these people
were—they are mere men in the moon, there is no historical identity about
them, there is nothing on record to connect them with the history they
narrate, if it be a history? But if this be really what Strauss means, the
simple reply is—it is not true.
Nobody knows who Matthew was! no historical identity about
him! nothing on record to connect Matthew with the history that he
narrates! Let us see. He is called 'Matthew the publican.'
The τελωαι publicans, or under-tax-gatherers, were chiefly Jews, and their
countrymen did not like them to fill the office; it was held to be
derogatory to the character of one of the chosen people of Jehovah to
collect a tribute to be paid to their pagan conquerors; and they were
called "publicans and sinners." The office and duty of the publican
were, to be present at his place of business at such hours of the day as
were deemed proper, to receive the taxes—customs, or excise, as we should
say—on taxable articles. He had, of course, to keep a full and
correct account; he had to write down the name of the person who paid the
tax, the name of the residence of that person, the date of the payment,
the sum that was paid, the name of the taxed article, and its weight or
measure. And he had to present the full and correct account, and to
hand over the payment, either to some superior officer of the Roman
government, or to some person of rank who "farmed" the tax, as we say,
either under the emperor or the Roman senate.
Now, a person who had these business qualities was a very likely person
to write such a book as the Gospel called by his name. The Gospels are
not, any of them, the composition of a Macaulay, or a Froude, or a Gibbon,
a Hume, or a Robertson. They are not books of splendid rhetoric, of showy
ornament, or studied periods. They are very plainly written books; and
Matthew was a very likely person, we repeat, to write such a book as the
Gospel which is called by his name. Likely! why, he is called to be a
disciple; he is appointed one of the twelve apostles, and he makes a feast
at his own house for Christ and his disciples, when he is appointed to be
an apostle. Then, henceforth, he is with the Master. He sees the miracles
which he describes in his Gospel. He hears the parables and that sermon on
the mount which he reports for us, He can tell us, as an eye and ear
witness, of the wondrous compassion of the Son of man for the wretched and
the suffering, and of his healing power. He can relate to us, from
personal experience, with what love and kindness Jesus conducted himself
towards his disciples. He can assure us, from personal observation, of his
gentleness to the poor and lowly, and his unflinching reprobation of the
pride and hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. He can assure us how
they persecuted him to death, and how one of his own chosen disciples
betrayed him. He can describe the crucifixion and burial of Christ; and
can present us with such facts as came to his knowledge and eye-sight
respecting the resurrection of his Lord and Master.
Not know who Matthew was! No historical identity about him! Nothing to
connect him with the history he narrates! Why he is just the
historian we want; he is the very eye and ear witness we need. We do not
want a mere literary man, lodging in a two-pair back somewhere in
Jerusalem, and who steps out languidly now and then to gaze on the young "Prophet of Nazareth," through his eye-glass, amidst the crowds that shout
"Hosanna to the Son of David!" in the narrow streets of the sacred city. We want our information—if we are to depend on it—from an earnest man
who has companied with the Saviour, and felt the divine electricity of
union with him in heart and soul; the thrill of wonder and awe at his
miracles; the glow of love at his pity and goodness and gentleness. Matthew is the very man we want. Don't tell us that we know not who he
"But stop!" cries the objector; "remember, that supposing you have really
established the historical identity of Matthew, shown who he was, and his
personal connection with the history that he writes—'history,' as
you call it; remember that you cannot meet the two other challenges of
Strauss, as to where they were written, and when they were written. How
will you, or can you, meet these challenges with regard to Matthew? He
does not inform you, in any part of his Gospel, where he wrote it, or
he wrote it." Perfectly undeniable. But such is the case with thousands
of books. It is but rarely that the author himself, in his own
book—except it be simply a biography of himself—tells us where he wrote
the book, and when he wrote it; and it would have been an unusual and
strange act if Matthew had done this in his Gospel history. It is not in
Matthew's history of Jesus that we should look for such statements, any
more than we should look into Hume's History of England, or Rapin's, or
Henry's, or Macaulay's, or Froude's, for an account of the exact dates
when they commenced the writing, and when they finished it, and the name
of the place where they wrote.
But now I again solemnly challenge your thought and attention. Can any one
of you suppose that that earnest Christian Church which put persons out of
its pale when they gave up these Gospels to be burnt, at the demand of a
persecuting emperor—that the members of the early Christian Church who
quoted the New Testament in their
conversation, their prayers, their letters, their sermons, their
treatises, and lived upon what they believed to be the truths of the
book—that the Christian Church, whose writers quoted these books so often
that we can collect the whole New Testament, save eleven verses, from
those works of theirs that remain and were written in the second and third
centuries, kept no record where these their beloved books were written,
nor when. they were written? The supposition would be absurd.
We can seldom have contemporary evidence of the authorship of a book when
we go back to times long before our own. But when we have evidence close
upon the time of the existence of an author, and this is fortified by
evidence that thickens immediately after, we never think of doubting. In
matters of this sort this is evidence of the highest kind. Now this is
the kind of evidence we have for the authorship of Matthew's Gospel. The
Fathers who knew the Apostles or their companions, declare that Matthew
wrote this Gospel, wrote it at Jerusalem for the Christian Church there, a
large but poor church, and therefore wrote it in their native dialect;
and wrote it before the destruction of Jerusalem. Papias, the
disciple of John and companion of Polycarp; Irenœus, the disciple of
Polycarp; Origen, the disciple of Irenœus; and, after Origen,
Jerome, Cyril, Chrysostom, Augustine, and others combine to give us
That Matthew's Gospel was written at Jerusalem and for the Christian
Jews may be considered certain, because he so often refers to Jewish
customs, but never explains them; and so often quotes the Jewish
Scriptures, seeming to keep the instruction of the Jews before his mind as
his guiding thought. That Matthew's Gospel was written before the
destruction of Jerusalem is evident, because he perpetually writes as if
everything remained at Jerusalem as it was in Christ's lifetime. And
Matthew, in our 24th chapter, seems no more to have understood that his
Divine Master was prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem than did the
rest of the apostles but he must have understood it had he recorded the
prophecy after the destruction of Jerusalem, as clearly as we understand
Matthew's professional employment, as being that of one who "handled the
pen of the ready writer," would cause him to be looked to the earliest for
such a task as a Memoir of his Lord; and 'Memoirs' would seem to have
been the early title of our Gospels, for Justin Martyr speaks of them
frequently as 'Memoirs,' and only two or three times calls them Gospels. They seem to have soon lost the first title, for no one repeats it after
In concluding my observations on the First Evangelist, I think I shall be
borne out in my affirmation by those who hear me, when I say there is no
truth in the assertion of Strauss that no one knows who wrote the First
Gospel, no one knows who Matthew was, nobody knows when it was written, or
where it was written.