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published within the last ten years—The Theatetus of Plato,
THE NATIONAL REVIEW.
ART. I.-BISHOP COLENSO ON THE PENTATEUCH.
The Pentateuch and Book of Joshua critically examined. By the
Right Rev. John William Colenso, D.D., Bishop of Natal.
Longinan and Co., 1862. Among the heroes who have done the greatest service to their race, it is hardly paradoxical to assert, that the thanks of the world are chiefly due to those who have most boldly ventured to differ from it. If the evils of obstinacy be placed in the scale against the perils of innovation, it needs but little study of history to show that the former have been far the more pernicious of the two. Since, on most questions, the verdict of the world is as likely to be wrong as to be right, and since on almost every question that is open to doubt we, as Englishmen and Christians, are persuaded that the majority of mankind are in the wrong, it follows that great benefactors must generally be great innovators, and that in most disputed points the primai facie presumption ought to be in favour of change. Doubtless, in practical matters, conservatism has merits of its own. But it is in intellectual questions that the world is most prone to obstinacy; and it is in these questions that obstinacy is sure to be most fatal. Rashness may lead to error, but prejudice cannot possibly lead to truth. "Ever regard your friend,” said the old proverb, “as a man who may one day be your enemy;" Ever support your opinions—so we may safely amend the maxim-as judgments which you may one day have to impugn.
The domain of theology supplies a striking proof of the truth of these assertions. It is impossible to deny that scriptural criticism in the last few years has received far more from the enemies than from the friends of a rigorous theological con
No. XXXI. JANUARY 1863.
servatism. Whether orthodox views be true or not, it is not orthodox divinity which has brought about the vast progress that has been lately made in the knowledge of Sacred Writ. So it has been from the earliest ages of the faith. St. Paul was more than suspected of heresy when he offered the Gospel to the Gentiles. All the superstition and tyranny of which the church has been guilty has been due to its conservative champions; every step of progress has been first trodden by one who refused its yoke. It surely is more than a chance coincidence that the first known commentary on Scripture, the first extant canon of the sacred books, even the first virtual assertion of their inspiration, are all from the hands of heretics. A Protestant church should deal but little in anathema, which remembers that the first protest for freedom of private judgment came from the heretic Luther. In modern times, the task of " searching the Scriptures” has been preëminently the work of writers who have bowed with some reservation to their authority. “The Bible as it is, and its interpretation as it was!" Such, if we may parody a modern party watchword, is the rallying cry of too much English divinity. It is a maxim from which little light can spring, and in which all superstition may lie hid. In the stir and tumult of critical controversy, amid the harvests of fresh knowledge that are springing up in Germany and England, in face of the patience, zeal, and courage of the pioneers of theological labour, a large party of our churchmen claim ostentatiously, like the faded constitutionalists of France, to have forgotten nothing and learnt nothing. And yet action is so much better than inaction, progress than inertia, that knowledge is cheaply purchased at the risk of some rash caprice. Let men have freedom of inquiry, of speech, and of thought, and leave the consequences to the future. The first article in the creed of every friend of intellectual progress should be, that conservatism in intellectual questions is the head and front of error.
It must needs be that offences come in the march of theological belief. Chiefly, however, because it will in the end be serviceable to the cause of peace, we must welcome the publication of Bishop Colenso's book. The mass of Englishmen of the middle class, though they care little for the refinements of controversy, care a great deal for the authority of a bishop. Heresy under episcopal sanction is a species of heresy which men will readily pardon in themselves, and easily accept in others. The infallibility of the historical details of Scripture is a dogma under the yoke of which generation after generation of Englishmen have groaned, and which it requires but a few bold leaders
to enable them to shake off. To advance in the path of veritable unbelief, to battle with what seem the injunctions of religion, to push liberty in the face of all that tradition renders venerable, - this is what men must now learn to do, and what they need help in doing. The arm that wields but a lawn sleeve carries a strong weapon for the consciences of timid men. A bishop sets out at once with two advantages. He is sure to obtain a hearing, and he is sure to be fairly heard. Ordinary men have said the same things before to an indifferent public: the step which the bishop took last year has long ago been taken by most educated men. But no voice had yet been heard from the seat of the elders to reassure the timid and the wavering, and critics might criticise in vain. Græcia capta ferum victorem cepit: the pagan casuist has started the English reformation of belief. When the time is ripe for a great movement, it needs but a trifle to give the first feeble impulse; the energy that has been accumulating through years of enforced conformity, and the progressive tendencies of the age, will be enough to do the rest.
We spoke of the English reformation. The surrender of scriptural infallibility will come, to many minds, as a shock no less tremendous in its issues than that which came from the surrender of the infallibility of the church. And yet our generation will have to bear it as surely as the years advance. Delay it by thunders of Convocation, impede it by the persecution of its over-restive champions, fetter it with legal restraints, -the waves of the sea can as well be stopped as the tide of advancing thought. It began to flow on the Continent soon after the great Reformation ; and in Germany its strength has long carried all before it. From the days of Grotius to our own, there has been a series of liberal thinkers, of acute reasoners, of patient workers, who have left but little for Englishmen to do but to follow in their steps. Michaelis, Eichhorn, Rosenmüller, Gesenius, De Wette, Tuch, Bunsen, Ewald,—these are the men who have raised Old Testament exegesis to the position which it holds at present; and with these there can be matched among our own divines but the solitary name of Lightfoot. When the long peace brought in renewed intercourse with the Continent, and such writers as Schulz and De Wette became more known to Englishmen, the criticism of the sacred records first took root in this country. On a firmer basis than that of last century, and with finer and keener tools, the work was begun and carried on. Forty years ago there was hardly a book of critical theology in England which deserved the name. Year by year more has been known, and more has still been sought. A better acquaintance with the Bible is a fit preliminary to a freer use of it. It may be that we are ready now; that the authority which an age of ignorance possibly found necessary, and which has been long rejected by the most earnest and laborious students, may at last be removed from all. Yet orthodoxy seems disposed to treat the forward step of the Bishop of Natal with as loud a peal of execration as that which rang from the cloisters of the monastery of Tours, when the unflinching Bishop of Lyons, a good nine centuries ago, lent all his wicked influence to the appalling but successful blasphemy, that the sacred penmen, in composing their inspired treatises, had not invariably adhered to the ordinary rules of grammar.
The question that the students of Scripture have for some time put to themselves and to one another is, Has the time come for speaking out? It is our belief that it has. It becomes more and more impossible every day to screen a conviction of the mistakes contained in the Bible by a general profession of reverence for its majesty and beauty. We are not speaking of what we do not know, when we assert that a general liberty to profess such views as those of the Bishop of Natal would be hailed with delight by numbers of halfhypocritical students,-clergymen and laymen alike, - who at present are contented to wait and see their liberation coming, and are afraid to raise a hand to seize it. The Essays and Reviews, with all their faults of rudeness and rashness, did this great service-that they raised the public from its slumber.
As an instance of progress hardly less remarkable than that of Bishop Colenso, we may take a writer whom he frequently quotes on the reactionary side of the debated questions. Seven years ago Dr. Kalisch published his Commentary on Exodus; and with considerable ingenuity, and apparent candour, he defended the authority of the text, and refuted the objections of adversaries. Three years later Genesis appeared; and in the preface appears this remarkable passage: “ The conviction of the surpassing importance of the book has strengthened us to face the numerous difficulties of a conscientious interpretation.” In other words, the author had made up his mind to speak out. And the difference in value between the two Commentaries is such as might have been expected from the change.
The most curious feature of the book before us is the naïveté with which the bishop sets out on his errand of convincing the public of its folly : “Go to,” he seems to say ; "I
” will change the theology of my country.” But it is the good fortune of a writer in his position that his very faults will be