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call my Review the Boston Review, intimating thereby that it contains in some sort Boston notions; and sure am I that in Boston shall I find for it the most sympathy and its best friends.
In conclusion, I merely add that, as this Review is the organ of no party, nobody but its Editor, and those of his friends who may contribute to its pages, must be at all implicated in its sins and heresies. It is a free Journal. It will be open to the discussion of all subjects of general and permanent interest, by any one who is able to express his thoughts - providing he has any — with spirit, in good temper, and in good taste.
Art. II. - CHRISTIANITY NOT AN ORIGINAL REVELATION
ITH JESUS, NOR A SYSTEM OF THEOLOGICAL DOCTRINES, PROPERLY SO CALLED.
CHRISTIANITY is generally, at least extensively, taken to be an original revelation, a set of moral and religious doctrines communicated to mankind for the first time by Jesus of Nazareth. Two controversies have thence arisen, which have not been without their effect on the faith and prosperity of the Church. The first has been among professed Christians themselves, and has had for its object to ascertain and settle the precise doctrines Jesus revealed. The other has sprung up in modern times between professed Christians and Unbelievers.
Unbelievers, raking together a modicum of erudition, have attempted, by an appeal to the records of antiquity, to show that all the doctrines and precepts contained in the New Testament were known in the world long before the time of Jesus. Some of the defenders of the faith have denied this, and set them
selves at work to find out the doctrine or the precept which was peculiar to Jesus, and of which there is no historical trace anterior to the Christian era. But in this, so far as I am informed, they have not succeeded. At one time they have claimed one doctrine, at other times another; now this moral precept and now that. Some have insisted upon it that the command to forgive or to love one's enemies is the original and peculiar revelation ; others have claimed the doctrine of the resurrection, or the immortality of the soul; and others, that of a future retribution; and others still, the doctrine of the ultimate holiness and happiness of all mankind. But none of these are peculiar to the Gospel. Plato, as well as Jesus, teaches the forgiveness of enemies; and all antiquity believed in a future life; and all the views which now obtain in regard to that life were prevalent long before Jesus lay in his manger-cradle. Indeed, if the truth of Christianity depended on the fact that it was an original revelation with Jesus, we should be obliged to give it up. Nothing is more evident to them who have investigated the subject, than that all the doctrines and precepts of the New Testament were known in the world at least many hundred years before the time of Jesus; and they who contend to the contrary do great disservice to the Christian cause, besides exposing themselves to a certain and even shameful defeat.
On the other hand, the controversy among professed Christians themselves, as to the precise doctrines Jesus taught, is very far from being ended, and does not seem likely to be brought very soon if ever to a satisfactory termination. Each party appeals to the Bible; but, little is done save to pit text against text and commentary against commentary. Each, according to its own reading, finds the Bible expressly in its own favor, and pointedly against its opponent; and each may fight on, and fight on, with no danger of exhausting its ammunition. For nearly two thousand years the wordy war has been waged, and for aught we can see it may be waged for two thousand years to come, VOL. I. NO. I.
without any prospect of peace or even of a temporary cessation of hostilities. The truth is, - and we may as well own it as not, - that it is very nearly if not quite impossible to settle definitely, to the satisfaction of all concerned, what are the precise doctrines taught or implied in the New Testament. The book itself is none of the clearest, and its language, on most occasions, is far from being definite. And then it was written long ago, amidst peculiar circumstances, by peculiar men, and in an idiom altogether different in its genius and complexion from ours. Its exact meaning, it appears to me, must forever remain a matter of doubt and dispute to the ablest philologists and the most experienced critics. Each interpreter, notwithstanding his most strenuous efforts to the contrary, will interpret it according to the peculiar cast and biases of his own mind; and as these vary in each interpreter, each must necessarily interpret it differently from the other.
Now it strikes me that both of these controversies are needless and uncalled for. Christianity, according to its usual interpretation, that is, as a particular set of moral and theological doctrines, is not an original revelation with Jesus, and when interpreted as it should be, it is not the revelation of any specific doctrines or dogmas at all.
All truth is immutable and eternal. There is no new truth; there is no old truth. Relatively to us, truth may indeed be new or old, but not in itself. It is from everlasting to everlasting, the same yesterday, to-day, and forever. It is not made, not created, but is, ever was, and ever will be. We
We may be ignorant of it; that is, it may be unrevealed to us; but it exists not the less, is the same, just as much the truth before as after we become acquainted with it. The time when, or the individual by whom it is made known do not affect it. The age in which it is first revealed can add nothing to its truthfulness, and the individual who first declares it can add nothing to its legitimate authority. The truth of Christianity can, then, in no way, be made to depend on the time when or the individual by whom it was first taught. Say it was taught thousands of years before Jesus, by nobody knows whom. What then?
What then? If true, it is not the less true on that account. If it be not true, the fact, that it was taught about eighteen hundred years ago by Jesus of Nazareth, cannot make it true. In order to determine whether it be true or not, it is needless to inquire when or by whom it was first taught. The teacher does not make the truth; he but teaches that which is as true without him as with him. Grant then to the unbeliever, that all the doctrines of the New Testament were known to the world long before the age of Jesus, you grant him nothing to the detriment of Christianity.
But in point of fact, the New Testament writers, and even the early fathers do not profess to regard Christianity as an original revelation with Jesus. Several of the early fathers stated expressly in their Apologies for Christianity, that it was no new religion; that they did not consider themselves as teaching any new faith or philosophy, but merely that which had been embraced by the sages, patriarchs, and philosophers of old. Paul, in his Epistle to the Galatians, assures us that he was teaching no new religion; “for the scriptures, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the Gospel unto Abraham.” And he contends earnestly that they who believe are justified with “faithful Abraham;" that is, as I interpret it, on the same ground, by the same faith or religion as that on or by which Abraham was justified. Jesus himself says to the Jews, “ Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it and was glad.” The Jews say unto him, “ Thou art not yet fifty years old; and hast thou seen Abraham ?” “Before Abraham was, I am,” was his reply. The New Testament writers all teach us, so far as they teach us any thing on this point, that the “ Lamb of God which taketh away sin,” was “the Lamb slain from the foundations of the world.” Indeed, had they not regarded the dextrises they rere tendig a katag to pretica*'; targti, ka e-tee, vi the least 3607* of propriety, bare bade the use et cof Pret:42 writings? Whenever they prezca or address themselves to the Jews, ites apceal to Jewish wntinzs, and undertake to prove from tbez żat what they were preaching was not only in tarmoar with, but actually contained in “ the law and the prophets." Paul, when he preaches to the Gentiles, quotes or refers to Gentile writings, apparently for the purpose of proving to them that he was but teaching what had already been taught by their own poets, wise men, and philosophers. Whence the propriety of this, if they were the teachers of a new, original, and peculiar revelation?
Now these considerations satisfy me that neither Jesus nor his Apostles ever pretended to teach a new religion, that they did not regard themselves as setting forth doctrines essentially different from those which had long been entertained, and perhaps widely diffused. They laid no claims to originality. They appeared to themselves to be but reviving the faith which had been from the beginning. They were reformers, but not innovators. And this has in reality been the uniform belief of the great majority of the Christian world. In ascertaining the doctrines of the Gospel, until quite lately, at least, the Christian world has considered the Old Testament of equal authority with the New.
But in the next place, I contend that Christianity, understanding it as Jesus and his Apostles seem to have understood it, is not a system of moral and religious doctrines. It was not the doctrines Jesus and the Apostles preached, as we usually understand the word doctrines, that produced the Christian Movement, the Christian Revolution; but the life they lived, the spirit and disposition they displayed. The doctrines they preached had been preached before, and by others, but without the effect Jesus and his Apostles produced. The simple preaching of those doctrines never could have revolutionized the world.