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and in The New Testament (if with one exception) may special be regarded as a compilation of strictly historical istics. documents, connected together by what might, at first sight, seem a wholly fortuitous conjunction. Not so, however. The narrative and historical mould in which the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles are cast, can only be regarded as a providential feature,1 differencing at once the authoritative instruments of the religion of Christ from those of all other systems. Whatever theory of biblical inspiration be adopted, mechanical or dynamical, it will hardly be maintained that the writings of the New Testament proceeded like the syllables of Mahomet from the pen of an archangel.11 It may be held, for example, without irreverence, that the letters of St. Paul would have been worth much less to us if they had not been called forth by the particular occasions which are evident in each. In them we
1 "Let us look to the great characteristic of our holy faith; that unlike all other assumed religions it is not a collection of mystic writings presenting to the view of man the scenes and the events of the invisible world in minute description, such as admits no test from experience and the course of the world; but consists in those very events which it narrates, and out of which it is evolved, and may be tracked continuously through more than three thousand years in the successive periods of its delivery to mankind; thus occupying a large field in the history of God's providence; and that wo have just the same ground for believing its truth as we have for believing any other matter of history equally authenticated by events."—Bp. Hampden, Memorials, p. 221.
'Mij oJx says Africanus finely (ap. Routh, Bell. Sacr., II. 229) Karliofuv fir xoaavnpi OfoovjSftar <rpuKpo\oyiav, Ira Ttj t'mXXayg T<5» ovopAruv Tt)v Xpiarov BaaiKdav (tal Upaaivrjv o~vvio-Ta>p,iv.
see the man himself dealing with men whom we can see likewise. It is the difference between a portrait that we recognize and a face which we have never seen, or, as a map of places familiar to us by the side of a chart of countries yet unknown. Such is our gain in holding in our hands the letters of the living man, and not cold abstract articles of religious profession. And if this be so with the ^*ture of
° 1 influence
Epistles, how much more with the life of Him, of th,e e*
1 ample of
"Who spake as never man spake :" in whose acts C1,rist
A i 1 and His
and words is centred still the faith of Christendom.1 Apostles. Those words, "the primal, indefeasible truths of Christianity," we have the promise, "shall never pass away." In the imitation of His life2 and spirit lie perennial springs of endless improvement and advance. "All true moral progress," it has been well said,3 " is made through admiration, and it is characteristic of our religion that it makes a greater use of example than any other system." "It cannot be too steadily borne in memory," says
1 It is strange that M. Corato, constantly ignoring Jesus Christ, recognizes Paul as the meeting-jx>int of Jew, Greek, and Roman. See Pol. Pos., III. 409. For some good remarks on the office of the Bible in prolonging the solidarity of the life of Christ, see Mr. Picton, New Theories, &c., pp. 161-5.
* See Milman, Latin Christianity, VI. 447. Hence perhaps (with all its shortcomings) the boundless popularity and influence of the 'Imitatio Christi.' No book has been so often reprinted, so often translated, or into so many languages.—lb., VI. 303. It is a remarkable fact that this volume was a favourite one with A. Comte towards the close of his life.—Littri, p. 586.
* By Professor Seeley, Lectures and Essays, p. 262. See also Hutton's Ebsaijs, I. 140.
another living writer,1 "that Christianity is Christ. So He taught; so His disciples after Him; not a law, not a theory, not a code of morals, not a system of casuistry, not even an elaborate theology. But they ceased not to teach and to preach Jesus Christ." "Jesus," writes Dr. Newman,2 "through His preachers imprinted the image or idea of Himself in the minds of His subjects ; it became a principle of association and their moral life. It was the instrument of their conversion." Thus (to quote yet one other author) " the Platonist exhorted men to imitate Grod; the Stoic to follow reason. It was reserved for Christianity to present to the world an ideal character which, through all the changes of eighteen centuries, has inspired the hearts of men with an impassioned love, has shown itself capable of acting on all ages, nations, temperaments and conditions, which has been not only the highest pattern of virtue, but the strongest incentive to its practice, and has exercised so deep an
1 The Bishop of Ely, Lect. on Christ's Influence on History, p. 17. So also Canon Liddon (Bampton Lect., p. 308). "Christianity, as a creed and as a life, depends absolutely upon the personal character of its founder." Coleridge, Aids to Reflection, p. 288, writes: "In the strictest sense of essential, this alone is the essential in Christianity, that the same spirit should be growing in us, which was in the fulness of all perfection in Christ Jesus." See also an eloquent passage in Farrar's Witness of History to Christ, p. 79.
1 Grammar of Assent, p. 460. An illustration of this sentiment may be found in the early use of the word KvpuiKot; e. g. Kvptaxov delirvov, Kvpiaitr) Ayia riptpa, Kvpiaxai ypa<pai, To Kvpiaxov, dominica solennia. p,r)K(Ti (7a/3j3nTi'foiT€f, dXXa Kara KvpiaKrjv £<b^k (avrtc, says Ignatius, ad Magnes., c. ix.
influence, that it may be truly said that the simple record of three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers and all the exhortations of moralists. This has, indeed, been the wellspring of whatever is best and purest in the Christian life. In the character and example of its Founder, Christianity has an enduring principle of regeneration."1
6 10. The form and character of the New Tes- Relation of
. . « . Scripture
tament records involve, indeed, the consideration of to the their relation to the earliest standards of doctrine.2
1 Lecky, Hist. Eur. Mor., II. 9, and see Hist. Hat., I. 337. Thus also Mr. Carlyle, Sartor Hesartut, p. 155. "If thou ask to what height man has carried it in this manner, look on our Divinest Symbol—on Jesus of Nazareth and his life and his biography, and what followed therefrom. Higher has the human thought not yet reached: this is Christianity and Christendom: a symbol of quite perennial, infinite character; whose significance will ever demand to be anew inquired into and anew made manifest." We need hardly point out the fallacy and evasion which is met with in some quarters, of admitting to the full the perfectness of Christ's moral character while suppressing its supernatural element.
3 On Creeds as a peculiarity of Christianity, see Leibnitz, Theodicee, Pref. sub init.: on their employment in practice, Neander, G. H., I. 420, who connects them with oral traditions. Dorner, Hist. Prot. Th., 1.12, remarks on the tacit growth of dogma. "In order to a development of the system of doctrine, there is no necessity for Councils nor for the formal fixing of the dogma by a positive Canon. The opposite is proved by the three first centuries of the Christian Church, in which, without oecumenical synods, the progress of dogma was as rapid as it was sure and constant. Never, however, was dogma created or constituted truth by the sanction of the Church in a juridical, canonical form: but on the contrary, because it had in its substance established itself in the common faith, there followed the declarative sanction." See also Dr. Newman's profound and just observations, Arians, c. I. § ii., and c. II. § i.; Waterland, Works, III. 254; and Dr. Pusey's note in Library of Fathers, Tertullian, p. 490.
They nowhere claim for themselves to be regarded as precise authoritative statements of articles of belief. That such existed in very early times, probably in the sub-apostolic age, seems now sufficiently established. The want of creeds must have been hardly felt in the lifetime of the Apostles, whether they be viewed as a sacred deposit, or tradition of Apostolic teaching, or as agglomerations of doctrinal expressions, the products of the earliest controversies. But the ultimate and coordinate authority of the written word remains beyond question; being proved by the custom of Scriptural citation found even in the Apostolical Fathers, though at first, as was natural, employed much more largely on the Old than upon the New Testament.1 From the first there would seem to have existed a body of traditional Apostolic doctrine, according with the tenor of Holy Scripture and forming the nucleus of later and more elaborate Creeds. We are concerned, however, only with the recognition by believers from Apostolic times of certain revealed truths, and of historical
1 Thus Clemens Romanus quotes profusely from the Old Testament, but rarely from the New (». e. from the words of Christ). See c. xiii. In the Second Epistle, however, the New Testament quotations are frequent, and apparently from Apocryphal Gospels. One reason for this practice may he found in the fact that the Gentile converts would commonly be ignorant of the Sacred writings, while, at the same time, their antiquity, authority, and testifying power would be strongly felt. Thus the Apostles proved both for Gentile and Jew out of the Old Testament, applying the evidence of prophecy by the Bide of direct testimony.