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The Faith Of Christ
by [?]

I read a terrible letter in the newspaper this morning, a letter from a clergyman of high position, finding fault with a manifesto put out by certain other clergymen; the letter had a certain volubility about it, and the writer seemed to me to pull out rather adroitly one or two loose sticks in his opponents’ bundle, and to lay them vehemently about their backs. But, alas! the acrimony, the positiveness, the arrogance of it!

I do not know that I admired the manifesto very much myself; it was a timid and half-hearted document, but it was at least sympathetic and tender. The purport of it was to say that, just as historical criticism has shown that some of the Old Testament must be regarded as fabulous, so we must be prepared for a possible loss of certitude in some of the details of the New Testament. It is conceivable, for instance, that without sacrificing the least portion of the essential teaching of Christ, men may come to feel justified in a certain suspension of judgment with regard to some of the miraculous occurrences there related; may even grow to believe that an element of exaggeration is there, that element of exaggeration which is never absent from the writings of any age in which scientific historical methods had no existence. A suspension of judgment, say: because in the absence of any converging historical testimony to the events of the New Testament, it will never be possible either to affirm or to deny historically that the facts took place exactly as related; though, indeed, the probability of their having so occurred may seem to be diminished.

The controversialist, whose letter I read with bewilderment and pain, involved his real belief in ingenious sentences, so that one would think that he accepted the statements of the Old Testament, such as the account of the Creation and the Fall, the speaking of Balaam’s Ass, the swallowing of Jonah by the whale, as historical facts. He went on to say that the miraculous element of the New Testament is accredited by the Revelation of God, as though some definite revelation of truth had taken place at some time or other, which all rational men recognised. But the only objective process which has ever taken place is, that at certain Councils of the Church, certain books of Scripture were selected as essential documents, and the previous selection of the Old Testament books was confirmed. But would the controversialist say that these Councils were infallible? It must surely be clear to all rational people that the members of these Councils were merely doing their best, under the conditions that then prevailed, to select the books that seemed to them to contain the truth. It is impossible to believe that if the majority at these Councils had supposed that such an account as the account in Genesis of the Creation was mythological, they would thus have attested its literal truth. It never occurred to them to doubt it, because they did not understand the principle that, while a normal event can be accepted, if it is fairly well confirmed, an abnormal event requires a far greater amount of converging testimony to confirm it.

If only the clergy could realise that what ordinary laymen like myself want is a greater elasticity instead of an irrational certainty! if only instead of feebly trying to save the outworks, which are already in the hands of the enemy, they would man the walls of the central fortress! If only they would say plainly that a man could remain a convinced Christian, and yet not be bound to hold to the literal accuracy of the account of miraculous incidents recorded in the Bible, it would be a great relief.

I am myself in the position of thousands of other laymen. I am a sincere Christian; and yet I regard the Old Testament and the New Testament alike as the work of fallible men and of poetical minds. I regard the Old Testament as a noble collection of ancient writings, containing myths, chronicles, fables, poems, and dramas, the value of which consists in the intense faith in a personal God and Father with which it is penetrated.