The Gospels in the Second Century: An Examination of the Critical Part of a Work Entitled 'Supernatural Religion‪'‬

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It will be well to explain at once that the following work has been written at the request and is published at the cost of the Christian Evidence Society, and that it may therefore be classed under the head of Apologetics. I am aware that this will be a drawback to it in the eyes of some, and I confess that it is not altogether a recommendation in my own.

Ideally speaking, Apologetics ought to have no existence distinct from the general and unanimous search for truth, and in so far as they tend to put any other consideration, no matter how high or pure in itself, in the place of truth, they must needs stand aside from the path of science.

But, on the other hand, the question of true belief itself is immensely wide. It is impossible to approach what is merely a branch of a vast subject without some general conclusions already formed as to the whole. The mind cannot, if it would, become a sheet of blank paper on which the writing is inscribed by an external process alone. It must needs have its praejudicia— i.e. judgments formed on grounds extrinsic to the special matter of enquiry—of one sort or another. Accordingly we find that an absolutely and strictly impartial temper never has existed and never will. If it did, its verdict would still be false, because it would represent an incomplete or half-suppressed humanity. There is no question that touches, directly or indirectly, on the moral and spiritual nature of man that can be settled by the bare reason. A certain amount of sympathy is necessary in order to estimate the weight of the forces that are to be analysed: yet that very sympathy itself becomes an extraneous influence, and the perfect balance and adjustment of the reason is disturbed.

But though impartiality, in the strict sense, is not to be had, there is another condition that may be rightly demanded—resolute honesty. This I hope may be attained as well from one point of view as from another, at least that there is no very great antecedent reason to the contrary. In past generations indeed there was such a reason. Strongly negative views could only be expressed at considerable personal risk and loss. But now, public opinion is so tolerant, especially among the reading and thinking classes, that both parties are practically upon much the same footing. Indeed for bold and strong and less sensitive minds negative views will have an attraction and will find support that will go far to neutralise any counterbalancing disadvantage.

On either side the remedy for the effects of bias must be found in a rigorous and searching criticism. If misleading statements and unsound arguments are allowed to pass unchallenged the fault will not lie only with their author.

It will be hardly necessary for me to say that the Christian Evidence Society is not responsible for the contents of this work, except in so far as may be involved in the original request that I should write it. I undertook the task at first with some hesitation, and I could not have undertaken it at all without stipulating for entire freedom. The Society very kindly and liberally granted me this, and I am conscious of having to some extent availed myself of it. I have not always stayed to consider whether the opinions expressed were in exact accordance with those of the majority of Christians. It will be enough if they should find points of contact in some minds, and the tentative element in them will perhaps be the more indulgently judged now that the reconciliation of the different branches of knowledge and belief is being so anxiously sought for.

The instrument of the enquiry had to be fashioned as the enquiry itself went on, and I suspect that the consequences of this will be apparent in some inequality and incompleteness in the earlier portions. For instance, I am afraid that the textual analysis of the quotations in Justin may seem somewhat less satisfactory than that of those in the Clementine Homilies, though Justin's quotations are the more important of the two. Still I hope that the treatment of the first may be, for the scale of the book, sufficiently adequate. There seemed to be a certain advantage in presenting the results of the enquiry in the order in which it was conducted. If time and strength are allowed me, I hope to be able to carry several of the investigations that are begun in this book some stages further.

Religion & Spirituality
November 6
Library of Alexandria
The Library of Alexandria

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