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THE EVIDENCES OF THE GENUINENESS OF THE GOSPELS, BY
ANDREWS NORTON. Vol. I. Boston, 1837.
Reviewed by M. Stuart, Prof. Sac. Lit. in the Theol. Seminary, Andover.
The volume, which bears the title given above, is certainly a production of no ordinary stamp, and is a phenomenon in our literary hemisphere which ought to excite much interest. Our country has hitherto been very sparing of contributions to the stock of sacred literature; at least of such as are the fruit of long and intense study, and the result of a widely extended knowledge of antiquities either sacred or profane. We have so few men who can afford to bury themselves for a long time in the closets of libraries, and so few libraries that have closets well stocked with books ; withal we are so intent upon the practical business of life-on making our fortunes, or building up a mere temporary and popular fame, or grasping at officethat we grow impatient under protracted years of effort in the acquisition of individual knowledge, and seldom endeavour to accomplish what the riper scholars of Europe are every day labouring to accomplish. And what is very discouraging to the few, who can surmount the usual obstacles, resist all temptations to acquire a mere short-lived celebrity, and consent to plough and Sow with the certain apprehension that they must Vol. XI. No. 30.
wait for the harvest until some future period which may not arrive before it is too late for them to witness its gathering in, what indeed has hitherto almost paralyzed every attempt among us at long protracted and severe literary effort, is, that when any thing of this nature has been executed, it has rarely if ever met with such success as to encourage new adventurers in the same or the like undertakings. If a book does not either entertain the mass of our public, or show them how to become richer or more thrifty in their business, or is not indispensable as a professional work, the publishers may regard themselves as unusually fortunate, in case they get off without solid loss from an edition of 750 or at most 1000 copies. This is true of almost any thoroughly literary work which can be named.
It were easy to support these allegations by appeal to particular facts; but the detail of them would be an ungrateful labour, and lead me, moreover, quite away from the execution of the more pleasant task which I have now undertaken to perform. If any reader is so sensitive to the honour of the literary character of those who dwell this side of the Atlantic, as to look with suspicion on such statements as I have made, and to call them in question, let him make trial at the office of even the most intelligent and liberal of our publishers, and see what the result of his inquiries about the publication of a work of deep and recondite literature will be. Nor can he justly blame the publishers. How can they afford to print what the American public will not patronize? And how can they be responsible for the pursuits and the taste of all their countrymen ? Mr. Norton is one of the
among us, who are placed in circumstances of literary ease and comfort. Not constrained to pursue the daily duties of an office, which he once held in the University of Cambridge, in order to provide for himself and his family, he seems to have relinquished them for the sake of a higher object—to devote himself without reserve to the pursuit of sacred literature in some of its most interesting and important branches. The work before us is the fruit of the leisure thus šecured ; and surely it bears testimony that this leisure-time has been very busily employed.
The author tells us, in his preface, that he began this work in 1819, and that he was then so much in error respecting the inquiries to which it would lead him, that he believed it might be accomplished in six months. Every tyro in literature who afterwards makes any considerable advancés, can at a later day
sympathize with such a feeling as this. He remembers the time, when he wondered that such men as have taken the lead in sacred literature or theology, should have occupied so many years in doing what seemed to bim to be feasible in the course of a few weeks, or at most of a few months. How often is the diligent scholar reminded, that the mount of science is like that of natural vision; the higher you ascend, the wider the prospect is extended. Even when we reach the summit, it is only to see that the prospect is boundless in every direction.
Mr. Norton, it seems, has been busied some eighteen years with his undertaking, instead of six months; although this is not to be understood of his first volume only which is now published, but also of two more which are yet to appear. The public cannot complain of the author, by alleging in this case that he is hasty in his performance, seeing that the “nonum prematur in annum" has been doubled in the present instance But the book in question gives evidence enough that it has not been lying idly by, during the greater part of these eighteen years. The investigations which it developes could never have been made without much time and severe labour.
It seems to have been the general persuasion of the English and American public, since the publication of the great work of Lardner on the Evidences of Christianity, and that of Paley, that little or nothing more remained to be done, in regard to the literary and archaeological part of this undertaking. Lardner seemed to have exhausted all the store houses of ancient Jewish, Heathen, or Christian testimonies to the existence and genuineness of the New Testament books; and Paley, who has added little indeed to the archaeological part of this undertaking, has thrown the whole substance into such a compact, tangible, intelligible form, employed such skill and address in his reasoning, and so admirably adapted the whole to popular ends, at least for the instruction of the greater part of the well-informed community, that there did not seem to be any call for further effort in regard to this part of Christian Apologetics. In addition to this it should also be remarked, that within the last half century very few infidel works have appeared in the English language, which had any claim to literary pretensions, or which needed any refutation from a knowledge of antiquity. They have been little else than a repetition of the stale criticisms and jeers of Voltaire, La Mettrie, Paine, and a few others of the like class; and whatever show of argument has been exhibited, it has been mostly of the a priori kind, either assuming that the attributes of God are utterly inconsistent with the doctrines and narratives of the Bible, or else that we are equally destitute of evidence both in respect to the being and attributes of God and the truth of the Scriptures.
After all the learning and ability, however, that Lardner and Paley have shewn in England in relation to the subject before us, or Schmidt, Kleuker, or Less have exbibited on the Continent of Europe, there has sprung up, within the last generation, a new reason for further effort, such as Mr. Norton has made. Novus seclôrum incipit ordo; but in a very different sense, no doubt, from that which the poet meant to convey. Semler
, Eckermann, Eichhorn, Paulus, Gabler, Henke, and many others of the like stamp, in Germany, have, in one way and another, assailed the general and settled belief of the Christian church at large, in respect to the genuineness and authenticity of the New Testament Scriptures, from quarters that were unexpected, and in a manner which for a while was perplexing and somewhat disheartening to the most strenuous defenders of the older and long established sentiments of Christians in general.
Neology in Germany has indeed had, for a while, apparently a prosperous run and propitious gales. The time was, and for more than one decemium too, when there was not more than one solitary magazine in all Germany, of any great literary pretensions, which maintained both the genuineness and the authenticity of the sacred books. This was the highly respectable Magazin of Storr, Flatt, and others, at Tübingen. Now and then a solitary voice was heard, in defence of the Old Testament or of the New, like that of Jahn, or in some respects
of Hug, and of a few writers of smaller treatises. How greatly are those times changed ! A predominant party in literature are plainly rising up, at present, who believe and maintain for substance the long established doctrines of the Christian churches in relation to these topics. Another day, I fully believe a better one, is dawning once more on the churches of the Continent.
Widely diffused as German literature is beginning to be in this country and in England, it is unwise, indeed it is impossible, for us to remain idle spectators of the great contest which has been and still is going on. If those who believe in and wish to defend either the genuineness, or the authenticity, or both, of the Old Testament and the New, choose to slumber on their
post, and let neological views have their course without any effort to check or regulate them, they may be assured that in the end this country will see a revolution not unlike, in many respects, to that in Germany. There is no small part of our community, after all that we say and may justly say about the prevalence of Christian faith among us, who would be glad of an opportunity fairly to escape from the obligation which the Bible imposes upon their consciences. They have been so educated, however, that they cannot do this by embracing at once, and in their revolting and blasphemous forms, the sentiments of a Paine, a Godwin, a Taylor (of London), or of a much more insignificant class still-an Owen, a Fanny Wright, or an Abner Kneeland. The gulf is too wide, deep, and foul, to be inviting to them. But if some writer like Eichhorn should rise
up among us, who to all the charms of genius and taste should add a widely diffused knowledge of classical and sacred learning, and who should attack the genuineness of the sacred writings on grounds of archaeological history and criticism ; in a word, if any one should by his talents and learning contribute to make the cause of skepticism respectable among the well informed classes of society ; I doubt not that sooner or later we should have a large neological party in our country. I ask every sober and enlightened man, who is well acquainted with the state of feeling among men of the world, whether irreligion, or skepticism, if once made respectable by an appearance of learned investigation and great talents, would not be gratefully accepted by many, in order to get rid of the burden that now lies on their consciences, in consequence of their education, or of the influence of the circles of friends in which they now move.
For my own part, I cannot doubt of this. Of course I cannot doubt the expediency of preparing for the great contest which must ensue, if once the views of Neologists shall become
I would not anticipate these, and diffuse them prematurely. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. It is not good policy, rather, I would say, it is not sound prudence, to fill the ears of the community with reports of danger coming upon the cause of truth, which is new, unexpected, and of a highly threatening character. A general need not proclaim in glowing language to his army, on the eve of contest,
with whom they are to combat, and thus send them into the field half-conquered before the
power of the enemy
current among us.