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Illustrations Of Mr. Gladstone’s Controversial Methods
by [?]

[1891]

The series of essays, in defence of the historical accuracy of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, contributed by Mr. Gladstone to “Good Words,” having been revised and enlarged by their author, appeared last year as a separate volume, under the somewhat defiant title of “The Impregnable Rock of Holy Scripture.”

The last of these Essays, entitled “Conclusion,” contains an attack, or rather several attacks, couched in language which certainly does not err upon the side of moderation or of courtesy, upon statements and opinions of mine. One of these assaults is a deliberately devised attempt, not merely to rouse the theological prejudices ingrained in the majority of Mr. Gladstone’s readers, but to hold me up as a person who has endeavoured to besmirch the personal character of the object of their veneration. For Mr. Gladstone asserts that I have undertaken to try “the character of our Lord” (p. 268); and he tells the many who are, as I think unfortunately, predisposed to place implicit credit in his assertions, that it has been reserved for me to discover that Jesus “was no better than a law-breaker and an evil-doer!” (p. 269).

It was extremely easy for me to prove, as I did in the pages of this Review last December, that, under the most favourable interpretation, this amazing declaration must be ascribed to extreme confusion of thought. And, by bringing an abundance of good-will to the consideration of the subject, I have now convinced myself that it is right for me to admit that a person of Mr. Gladstone’s intellectual acuteness really did mistake the reprobation of the course of conduct ascribed to Jesus, in a story of which I expressly say I do not believe a word, for an attack on his character and a declaration that he was “no better than a law-breaker, and an evil-doer.” At any rate, so far as I can see, this is what Mr. Gladstone wished to be believed when he wrote the following passage:–

I must, however, in passing, make the confession that I did not state with accuracy, as I ought to have done, the precise form of the accusation. I treated it as an imputation on the action of our Lord; he replies that it is only an imputation on the narrative of three evangelists respecting Him. The difference, from his point of view, is probably material, and I therefore regret that I overlooked it.[107]

Considering the gravity of the error which is here admitted, the fashion of the withdrawal appears more singular than admirable. From my “point of view”–not from Mr. Gladstone’s apparently–the little discrepancy between the facts and Mr. Gladstone’s carefully offensive travesty of them is “probably” (only “probably”) material. However, as Mr. Gladstone concludes with an official expression of regret for his error, it is my business to return an equally official expression of gratitude for the attenuated reparation with which I am favoured.

Having cleared this specimen of Mr. Gladstone’s controversial method out of the way, I may proceed to the next assault, that on a passage in an article on Agnosticism (“Nineteenth Century,” February 1889), published two years ago. I there said, in referring to the Gadarene story, “Everything I know of law and justice convinces me that the wanton destruction of other people’s property is a misdemeanour of evil example.” On this, Mr. Gladstone, continuing his candid and urbane observations, remarks (“Impregnable Rock,” p. 273) that, “Exercising his rapid judgment on the text,” and “not inquiring what anybody else had known or said about it,” I had missed a point in support of that “accusation against our Lord” which he has now been constrained to admit I never made.

The “point” in question is that “Gadara was a city of Greeks rather than of Jews, from whence it might be inferred that to keep swine was innocent and lawful.” I conceive that I have abundantly proved that Gadara answered exactly to the description here given of it; and I shall show, by and by, that Mr. Gladstone has used language which, to my mind, involves the admission that the authorities of the city were not Jews. But I have also taken a good deal of pains to show that the question thus raised is of no importance in relation to the main issue.[108] If Gadara was, as I maintain it was, a city of the Decapolis, Hellenistic in constitution and containing a predominantly Gentile population, my case is superabundantly fortified. On the other hand, if the hypothesis that Gadara was under Jewish government, which Mr. Gladstone seems sometimes to defend and sometimes to give up, were accepted, my case would be nowise weakened. At any rate, Gadara was not included within the jurisdiction of the tetrach of Galilee; if it had been, the Galileans who crossed over the lake to Gadara had no official status; and they had no more civil right to punish law-breakers than any other strangers.