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   Chapter 12 THAT THE JEWISH RELIGION IS PROBABLY TRUE.

The Truth of Christianity By William Harry Turton Characters: 28478

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Only two subjects remain to be discussed.

(A.) The Existence of Angels.

No difficulty here, nor as to their influence.

(B.) The Character of God.

The Jewish idea of God often thought to be defective.

(1.) Its partiality; but any revelation must be more or less partial.

(2.) Its human element; we must, however, use analogies of some kind when speaking of God, and human analogies are the least inappropriate.

(3.) Its moral defects; since God is shown as approving of wicked men, ordering wicked deeds, and sanctioning wicked customs; but these difficulties are not so great as they seem.

(4.) Its general excellence. On the other hand, the Jews firmly believed in Monotheism, and had the highest mental and moral conception of God; so that their God was the true God, the God of Natural Religion.

(C.) Conclusion.

Four further arguments; the Jewish Religion is probably true.

We have been considering in the previous chapters several strong arguments in favour of the Jewish Religion; and before concluding we must of course notice any adverse arguments which we have not already dealt with. The only two of any importance refer to the Existence of Angels, and the Character ascribed to God; so we will consider these first, and then conclude with some general remarks.

(A.) The Existence of Angels.

Now the Old Testament always takes for granted the existence and influence of angels, yet at the present day this is often thought to be a difficulty. But as to the mere existence of angels, there is no difficulty whatever. For the whole analogy of nature would teach us that since there are numerous beings in the scale of life below man, so there would be some beings above man-that is to say, between him and the Supreme Being. And this is rendered still more probable when we reflect on the small intervals there are in the descending scale, and the immense interval there would be in the ascending scale if man were the next highest being in the universe to God.

And that these higher beings should be entirely spiritual, i.e., without material bodies, and therefore beyond scientific discovery, is not improbable. Indeed, considering that man's superiority to lower beings lies in this very fact of his having a partly spiritual nature, the idea that higher beings may be entirely spiritual is even probable. And though it is difficult for us to imagine how angels can see, or hear without a material body, it is really no more difficult than imagining how we can do it with a body. Take for instance the case of seeing. Neither the eye nor the brain sees, they are mere collections of molecules of matter, and how can a molecule see anything? It is the man himself, the personal being, who in some mysterious way sees by means of both eyes and brain; and for all we know he might see just as well without them. And the same applies in other cases.

Then that angels should have as great, if not greater, intellectual and moral faculties than man seems certain; otherwise they would not be higher beings at all. And this necessitates their having free will, with the option of choosing good or evil. And that, like men, some should choose one, and some the other, seems equally probable. Hence the existence of both good and evil angels presents no difficulty. And that the good angels should have a leader, or captain (called in the Old Testament, Michael), and that the evil angels should have one too (called Satan) is only what we should expect.

Next, as to their influence. Now that good angels should wish to influence men for good, and might occasionally be employed by God for that purpose, scarcely seems improbable. While, on the other hand, that evil angels should wish to act, as evil men act, in tempting others to do wrong, is again only what we should expect. And that God should allow them to do so is no harder to believe than that He should allow evil men to do the same.

It may still be objected however that we have no actual evidence as to the influence of angels at the present day. But this is at least doubtful. For what evidence could we expect to have? We could not expect to have any physical sensation, or anything capable of scientific investigation, for angels, if they exist at all, are spiritual beings. If, then, they were to influence man, say, by tempting him to do evil, all we could know would be the sudden presence of some evil thought in our minds, without, as far as we could judge, any previous cause for it. And who will assert that this is an unknown experience? Yet if it is known, does it not constitute all the proof we could expect of the action of an evil spirit? And of course the same applies to good spirits. There is thus no difficulty as to the existence, and influence of angels.

(B.) The Character of God.

We pass on now to the Character ascribed to God in the Old Testament, first considering its difficulties, under the three heads of its partiality, its human element, and its moral defects; and then what can be said on the other side as to its general excellence.

(1.) Its partiality.

The objection here is that God is the just God of all mankind, and it is therefore incredible that He should have selected a single nation like the Jews to be His special favourites, more particularly as His alleged attempt to make them a holy people proved such a hopeless failure. While it is further urged that the very fact of the Jews believing Jehovah to be their special God shows that they regarded Him as a mere national God, bearing the same relation to themselves as the gods of other nations did to them.

But, as said in Chapter VI., any revelation implies a certain partiality to the men or nation to whom it is given; though it is not on that account incredible. And there is certainly no reason why the Jews should not have been the nation chosen, and some slight reason why they should; for their ancestor Abraham was not selected without a cause. He did, partly at least, deserve it, since, judging by the only accounts we have, he showed the most perfect obedience to God in his willingness to sacrifice Isaac. It must also be remembered that God's so-called partiality to the Jews did not imply any indulgence to them in the sense of overlooking their faults. On the contrary, He is represented all along as blaming and punishing them, just as much as other nations, for their sins.

Next, as to God's purpose in regard to the Jews having been a failure. This is only partly true. No doubt they were, on the whole, a sinful nation; but they were not worse than, or even so bad as, the nations around them; it was only the fact of their being the chosen race that made their sins so serious. They had free will, just as men have now; and if they chose to misuse their freedom and act wrong, that was not God's fault.

Moreover, the Jewish nation was not selected merely for its own sake, but for the sake of all mankind; as is expressly stated at the very commencement, 'In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.'[150] Thus God did not select the Jews, and reject other nations; but He selected the Jews in order that through them He might bless other nations. The religious welfare of the whole world was God's purpose from the beginning; and the Jews were merely the means chosen for bringing it about. And to a great extent the purpose has been fulfilled; for however sinful the nation may have been, they preserved and handed on God's revelation, and the Old Testament remains, and will always remain, as a permanent and priceless treasure of religion.

[150] Gen. 12. 3.

The last part of the objection may be dismissed at once. For if the Jews regarded Jehovah as their special God, it was merely because He had specially selected them to be His people. He must therefore have had a power of choice, and might, if He pleased, have selected some other nation, so He could not have been a mere national God, but the God of all nations with power to select among them. And this is distinctly asserted by many of the writers.[151]

[151] E.g., Exod. 19. 5; Deut. 32. 8; 2 Chron. 20. 6; Isa. 37. 16.

We conclude, then, that God's so-called partiality to the Jews does not, when carefully considered, form a great difficulty. To put it shortly, if a revelation is given at all, some individuals must be selected to receive it; if it is given gradually (and God's methods in nature are always those of gradual development) these men would probably belong to a single nation; and if one nation had to be selected, there is no reason why the Jews should not have been the one chosen. While, if they were selected for the purpose of handing on God's revelation to the world at large, the purpose has been completely successful.

(2.) Its human element.

The next difficulty, is that the Jewish idea of God was thoroughly human, the Deity being represented as a great Man, with human form, feelings, attributes, and imperfections. Thus He has hands and arms, eyes and ears; He is at times glad or sorry, angry or jealous; He moves about from place to place; and sometimes repents of what He has done, thus showing, it is urged, a want of foresight, on His part. And all this is plainly inconsistent with the character of the immaterial, omnipresent, omniscient God of Nature. The answer to this objection is twofold.

In the first place, we must of necessity use analogies of some kind when speaking of God, and human analogies are not only the easiest to understand, but are also the least inappropriate, since, as we have shown, man resembles God in that he is a personal and moral being. Therefore likening God to man is not so degrading as likening Him to mere natural forces. Such expressions, then, must always be considered as descriptions drawn from human analogies, which must not be pressed literally.

While, secondly, it is plain that the Jewish writers themselves so understood them, for they elsewhere describe the Deity in the most exalted language, as will be shown later on. And this is strongly confirmed by the remarkable fact that the Jews, unlike other ancient nations, had no material idol or representation of their God. Inside both the tabernacle and the temple there was the holy of holies with the mercy seat, but no one sat on it. An empty throne was all that the shrine contained. Their Jehovah was essentially an invisible God, who could not be represented by any human or other form; and this alone seems a sufficient answer to the present objection.

(3.) Its moral defects.

Lastly as to the supposed moral defects in God's Character. The three most important are that God is frequently represented as approving of wicked men, as ordering wicked deeds, and even in His own laws as sanctioning wicked customs. We will consider these points in turn.

And first as to God's approving of wicked men; that is, of men who committed the greatest crimes, such as Jacob and David. This is easily answered, since approving of a man does not mean approving of everything he does. The case of David affords a convincing example of this; for though he is represented as a man after God's own heart, yet we are told that God was so extremely displeased with one of his acts that He punished him for it severely, in causing his child to die. In the same way no one supposes that God approved of Jacob because of his treachery, but in spite of it; and even in his treachery, he was only carrying out (and with apparent reluctance) the orders of his mother.[152] Moreover, in estimating a man's character, his education and surroundings have always to be taken into account. And if the conduct of one man living in an immoral age is far better than that of his contemporaries, he may be worthy of praise, though similar conduct at the present day might not deserve it.

[152] Gen. 27. 8-13.

And if it be asked what there was in the character of these men, and many others, to counterbalance their obvious crimes, the answer is plain; it was their intense belief in the spiritual world. The existence of One Supreme God, and their personal responsibility to Him, were realities to them all through life; so, in spite of many faults, they still deserved to be praised.

Next as to God's ordering wicked deeds. In all cases of this kind it is important to distinguish between a man's personal acts, and his official ones. At the present day the judge who condemns a criminal, and the executioner who hangs him are not looked upon as murderers. And the same principle applies universally. Now in the Old Testament the Jews are represented as living under the immediate rule of God. Therefore when a man, or body of men, had to be punished for their crimes, He commanded some prophet or king, or perhaps the whole people, to carry out the sentence. And of course, if they failed to do so they were blamed, just as we should blame a hangman at the present day who failed to do his duty. Thus, in the case of destroying the Canaanites, which is the instance most often objected to, the people were told, in the plainest terms, that they were only acting as God's ministers, and that if they became as bad as the Canaanites, who were a horribly polluted race, God would have them destroyed as well.[153]

[153] E.g., Lev. 18. 21-28; Deut. 9. 5.

A more serious objection is that God is occasionally represented as if He Himself caused men to do wrong, such as His hardening Pharaoh's heart.[154] But, as we shall see later on, the Bible often speaks of everything that occurs, whether good or evil, as being, in a certain sense, God's doing. And since the writer asserts more than once that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, there can be little doubt that he intended the two expressions to mean the same. Indeed the whole narrative represents Pharaoh as extremely obstinate in the matter, refusing to listen even to his own people.[155]

[154] E.g., Exod. 14. 4.

[155] Exod. 8. 15, 32; 9. 34; 10. 3, 7.

Thirdly, as to God's sanctioning wicked customs. The most important is that of human sacrifice; but it is very doubtful whether the passages relied on do sanction this custom;[156] since it is clearly laid down elsewhere that the firstbor

n of men are never to be sacrificed, but are always to be redeemed.[157] Moreover human sacrifices among other nations are strongly condemned, in one passage Jehovah expressly saying that they were not to be offered to Him.[158] It is, however, further urged that we have two actual instances of such sacrifices in regard to Isaac and Jephthah.[159] But Jephthah had evidently no idea when he made his vow that it would involve the sacrifice of his daughter; and there is nothing to show that it was in any way acceptable to God.

[156] Exod. 22. 29, 30; Lev. 27. 28, 29.

[157] Exod. 13. 13; 34. 20; Num. 18. 15.

[158] Deut. 12. 31.

[159] Gen. 22; Judg. 11. 39.

In the case of Isaac we have the one instance in which God did order a human sacrifice; but then He specially intervened to prevent the order from being carried out. And the whole affair, the command and the counter-command, must of course be taken together. It was required to test Abraham's faith to the utmost, therefore as he most valued his son, he was told to offer him. And since children were then universally regarded as property, and at the absolute disposal of their parents, human sacrifices being by no means uncommon, the command, however distressing to his heart, would have formed no difficulty to his conscience. But when his faith was found equal to the trial, God intervened, as He had of course intended doing all along, to prevent Isaac from being actually slain.

With regard to the other practices, such as slavery, and polygamy, it is undisputed that they were recognised by the Jewish laws; but none of them were instituted by these laws. The Pentateuch neither commands them, nor commends them; it merely mentions them, and, as a rule, to guard against their abuse. Take, for instance, the case of slavery. The custom was, and had been for ages, universal. All that the laws did was to recognise its existence and to provide certain safeguards; making kidnapping, for instance, a capital offence, and in some cases ordering the release of slaves every seventh year.[160]

[160] Exod. 21. 2, 16; Lev. 25. 41.

On the other hand, many worse customs existed at the time which the Jewish laws did absolutely forbid;[161] and they also introduced a code of morals, summed up in the Decalogue, of such permanent value that it has been practically accepted by the civilised world. While the highest of all virtues, that of doing good to one's enemies, which was scarcely known among other nations, is positively enjoined in the Pentateuch.[162]

[161] E.g., Lev. 18-20.

[162] Exod. 23. 4-5.

(4.) Its general excellence.

Having now discussed at some length the alleged difficulties in God's character, it is only fair to see what can be said on the other side. And much indeed may be said; for the Jewish conception of the Deity, when considered as a whole, and apart from these special difficulties, was one of the noblest ever formed by man.

To begin with, the Jews firmly believed in Monotheism, or the existence of One Supreme God. This was the essence of their religion. It is stamped on the first page of Genesis; it is implied in the Decalogue; it occurs all through the historical books; and it is emphasised in the Psalms and Prophets; in fact they were never without it. And in this respect the Jews stood alone among the surrounding nations. Some others, it is true, believed in a god who was more or less Supreme; but they always associated with him a number of lesser deities which really turned their religion into Polytheism. With the Jews it was not so. Their Jehovah had neither rivals nor assistants. There were no inferior gods, still less goddesses. He was the one and only God; and as for the so-called gods of other nations, they either did not believe in their existence, or thought them utterly contemptible, and even ridiculed the idea of their having the slightest power.[163] And it may be added, this is a subject on which the Jews have become the teachers of the world, for both the great monotheistic Religions of the present day, Christianity and Mohammedanism, have been derived from them.

[163] Deut. 4. 39; 1 Kings 18. 27; 2 Kings 19. 15-18; Ps. 115. 4-8.

Moreover, the great problem of the Existence of Evil never led the Jews, as it did some other nations, into Dualism, or the belief in an independent Evil Power. Difficult as the problem was, the Jews never hesitated in their belief that there was but One Supreme God, and that everything that existed, whether good or evil, existed by His permission, and was in a certain sense His doing.[164] And they gave to Him the very highest attributes.

[164] Isa. 45. 7; Prov. 16. 4; Amos 3. 6.

They described Him as Omnipotent; the Creator, Preserver, and Possessor of all things, the Cause of all nature, the Sustainer of all life, Almighty in power, and for Whom nothing is too hard.[165]

[165] Gen. 1. 1; Neh. 9. 6; Gen. 14. 22; Amos 5. 8; Job 12. 10; 1 Chron. 29. 11; Jer. 32. 17.

They described Him as Omniscient; infinite in understanding, wonderful in counsel, perfect in knowledge, declaring the end from the beginning, knowing and foreknowing even the thoughts of men.[166]

[166] Ps. 147. 5; Isa. 28. 29; Job 37. 16; Isa. 46. 10; Ezek. 11. 5. Ps. 139. 2.

They described Him as Omnipresent; filling Heaven and earth, though contained by neither, existing everywhere, and from Whom escape is impossible.[167]

[167] Jer. 23. 24; 1 Kings 8. 27; Prov. 15. 3; Ps. 139. 7.

They described Him as Eternal; the Eternal God, the Everlasting God, God from everlasting to everlasting, Whose years are unsearchable, the First and the Last.[168]

[168] Deut. 33. 27; Gen. 21. 33; Ps. 90. 2; Job 36. 26; Isa. 48. 12.

They described Him as Unchangeable; the same at all times, ruling nature by fixed laws, and with Whom a change of purpose is impossible.[169]

[169] Mal. 3. 6; Ps. 148. 6; Num. 23. 19.

And lastly, they described Him as in His true nature Unknowable; a hidden God, far above human understanding.[170] This will be enough to show the lofty mental conception which the Jews formed of the Deity.

[170] Isa. 45. 15; Job 11. 7.

Now for their moral conception. They believed their God to be not only infinite in power and wisdom, but, what is more remarkable, they ascribed to Him the highest moral character. He was not only a beneficent God, Whose blessings were unnumbered, but He was also a righteous God. His very Name was Holy, and His hatred of evil is emphasised all through to such an extent that at times it forms a difficulty, as in the case of the Canaanites. Thus the goodness they ascribed to God was a combination of beneficence and righteousness very similar to what we discussed in Chapter V.

Moreover, in this respect the God of the Jews was a striking contrast to the gods of other nations. We have only to compare Jehovah with Moloch and Baal, or with the Egyptian gods, Ptah and Ra, or with the classical gods, Jupiter and Saturn, and the superiority of the Jewish conception of the Deity is beyond dispute. In particular it may be mentioned that among other nations, even the god they worshipped as Supreme always had a female companion. Thus we have Baal and Astaroth, Osiris and Isis, Jupiter and Juno, and many others. It is needless to point out how easily such an idea led to immorality being mixed up with religion, a vice from which the Jews were absolutely free. Indeed, few things are more remarkable, even with this remarkable people, than that in the innermost shrine of their temple, in the ark just below the mercy-seat, there was a code of moral laws, the Ten Commandments. This was the very centre of their religion, their greatest treasure; and they believed them to have been written by God Himself.

Nor can it be said that this high conception of the Deity was confined to the later period of Jewish history. For the above texts have been purposely selected from all through the Old Testament, and even Abraham, the remote ancestor of the Jews, seems to have looked upon it as self-evident that Jehovah, the Judge of all the earth, should do right.[171] No wonder, then, believing in such a perfect Being as this, the Jews, in contrast with most other nations, thought that their first and great commandment was to love God rather than to fear Him, that they were each individually responsible to Him for their conduct, and that every sin was a sin against God, Who was a Searcher of hearts, and the impartial Judge of all men.[172] So much, then, for the Jewish conception of the Deity when considered as a whole and apart from special difficulties.

[171] Gen. 18. 25.

[172] Deut. 6. 5; Eccles. 12. 14; Gen. 39. 9; 1 Chron. 28. 9; Job 34. 19.

And from this it follows that the Jewish God, Jehovah, was the true God, the God of Natural Religion, the Being Who is All-Powerful, All-Wise, and All-Good. Yet strange to say the Jews were not a more advanced nation than those around them. On the contrary, in the arts both of peace and war they were vastly inferior to the great nations of antiquity, but in their conception of the Deity they were vastly superior; or, as it has been otherwise expressed, they were men in religion, though children in everything else. And this appears to many to be a strong argument in favour of their religion. For unless it had been revealed to them, it is not likely that the Jews alone among ancient nations would have had such a true conception of the Deity. And unless they were in some special sense God's people, it is not likely that they alone would have worshipped Him.

(C.) Conclusion.

Before concluding this chapter, we must notice four arguments of a more general character; all of which are undisputed, and all of which are distinctly in favour of the Jewish Religion. The first is that the Jews are all descended from one man, Abraham. They have always maintained this themselves, and there seems no reason to doubt it. Yet it is very remarkable. There are now about sixteen hundred million persons in the world, and if there were at the time of Abraham (say) one million men (i.e., males), each of these would, on an average, have 1,600 descendants now.[173] But the Jews now number, not 1,600, but over 12,000,000. This extraordinary posterity would be strange in any case, but is doubly so, considering that it was foretold. It was part of the great promise made to Abraham, for his great faith, that his seed should be as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea-shore for multitude.[174]

[173] I.e., descendants in the male line; descendants through daughters are of course not counted.

[174] Gen. 22. 17.

The second is that the Jews are anyhow a unique nation. For centuries, though scattered throughout the world, they have been held together by their religion. And according to the Bible, their religion was given them for this very purpose, it was to make them a peculiar people, unlike everyone else.[175] If then it was, as far as it went, the true religion, revealed by God, the fact is explicable; but if it was nothing better than other ancient and false religions, it is hopelessly inexplicable.

[175] Deut. 14. 2; 26. 18.

The third is that the early history of the Jews, either real or supposed, has exerted a greater and more beneficial influence on the world for the last thousand years, than that of all the great nations of antiquity put together. Millions of men have been helped to resist sin by the Psalms of David, and the stories of Elijah, Daniel, etc., over whom the histories of Egypt and Assyria, Greece, and Rome, have had no influence whatever. And the effect of the Religion being thus unique, makes it probable that its cause was unique also; in other words, that it was Divinely revealed.

The fourth is that the Jews themselves always prophesied that their God, Jehovah, would one day be universally acknowledged.[176] And (however strange we may think it) this has actually been the case; and the God of this small and insignificant tribe-the God of Israel-is now worshipped by millions and millions of men (Christians) of every race, language, and country, throughout the civilised world. These are facts that need explanation, and the Truth of the Jewish Religion seems alone able to explain them.

[176] E.g., Ps. 22. 27; 86. 9; Isa. 11. 9; Zeph. 2. 11.

In conclusion, we will just sum up the arguments in these chapters. We have shown that there are strong reasons for thinking that the account of the Creation was Divinely revealed; that the origin of the Jewish religion was confirmed by miracles; and that its history was confirmed both by miracles and prophecies. And it should be noticed, each of these arguments is independent of the others. So the evidence is all cumulative and far more than sufficient to outweigh the improbability of the religion, due to its apparent partiality, which is the most important argument on the opposite side. Moreover, we know so little as to why man was created, or what future, God intended for him, that it is not easy to say whether the religion is really so improbable after all. On the other hand, the evidence in its favour is plain, direct, and unmistakable. And we therefore decide that the Jewish Religion is probably true.

PART III.

THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION.

CHAP. XIII. THAT THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION IS CREDIBLE.

" XIV. THAT THE FOUR GOSPELS ARE GENUINE FROM EXTERNAL TESTIMONY.

" XV. THAT THE GOSPELS ARE GENUINE FROM INTERNAL EVIDENCE.

" XVI. THAT THE GOSPELS ARE GENUINE FROM THE EVIDENCE OF THE ACTS.

" XVII. THAT THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST IS PROBABLY TRUE.

" XVIII. THAT THE FAILURE OF OTHER EXPLANATIONS INCREASES THIS PROBABILITY.

" XIX. THAT THE OTHER NEW TESTAMENT MIRACLES ARE PROBABLY TRUE.

" XX. THAT THE JEWISH PROPHECIES CONFIRM THE TRUTH OF CHRISTIANITY.

" XXI. THAT THE CHARACTER OF CHRIST CONFIRMS THE TRUTH OF CHRISTIANITY.

" XXII. THAT THE HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY CONFIRMS ITS TRUTH.

" XXIII. THAT ON THE WHOLE THE OTHER EVIDENCE SUPPORTS THIS CONCLUSION.

" XXIV. THAT THE THREE CREEDS ARE DEDUCIBLE FROM THE NEW TESTAMENT.

" XXV. THAT THE TRUTH OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION IS EXTREMELY PROBABLE.

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