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   Chapter 23 THAT ON THE WHOLE THE OTHER EVIDENCE SUPPORTS THIS CONCLUSION.

The Truth of Christianity By William Harry Turton Characters: 32868

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Additional arguments for and against Christianity.

(A.) Christianity and Prayer.

Its universality. There are, however, three difficulties:

(1.) Scientific difficulty; said to be incredible, as interfering with the course of nature.

(2.) Moral difficulty; said to be wrong, as inconsistent with the power, wisdom, and goodness of God.

(3.) Practical difficulty; said to be useless, as shown by observation; but none of these can be maintained.

(B.) Christianity and Human Nature.

It is adapted to human nature; for it meets to a great extent the inherent cravings of mankind, especially in regard to sorrow and sin, death and eternity. The objection as to selfishness.

(C.) Christianity and other Religions.

Their comparative study; the Krishna myth; the Horus myth. Conclusion.

We propose in this chapter to consider some of the remaining arguments for and against Christianity. Fortunately, there are only three of anything like sufficient importance to affect the general conclusion. These arise from the relation of Christianity to prayer, to human nature, and to other religions; and we will examine each in turn.

We need not discuss mere Bible difficulties, as they are called; for though some of these are fatal to the theory of Verbal Inspiration, or that every word of the Bible is true; this is now held by scarcely anyone. And if the Book is as trustworthy a record of the facts it relates, as an ordinary History of England, that is amply sufficient to prove Christianity.

Nor, on the other hand, need we discuss further evidence in favour of the Bible. But as we considered what it says about the creation of the world, we may just notice in passing what it says about its end. There will be a great noise, the elements will be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth, and all it contains will be burned up.[457] Everyone now admits that this is true, for our planet will, sooner or later, fall into the sun, when all these results will follow. But (apart from Revelation) how could the writer have known it? There is nothing in the present aspect of the earth to suggest that it will one day be burned up, and considering the amount of water it contains, the idea might well seem incredible. We pass on now to the subject of Prayer.

[457] 2 Peter 3. 10.

(A.) Christianity and Prayer.

Now the Christian, in common with most other religions, asserts the value of prayer not only for obtaining what are called spiritual blessings, but also as a means of influencing natural events. Yet prayer with such an object is said by many to be scientifically incredible, morally wrong, and practically useless. So we will first glance at the universality of the custom, and then consider these difficulties.

Now, prayer of some kind is, and always has been, the universal rule in almost every religion. It is found wherever mankind is found. No one can point to its inventor, no one can point to a time when men did not pray. Missionaries have not to teach their converts to pray, but merely to Whom to pray. In short, prayer of some kind seems universal, just as man's sense of right and wrong is universal, though each is capable of being trained and perfected. Nor is it in any way like an animal's cry of pain when hurt, which, though universal, means nothing; for this of course resembles a man's cry of pain, and has no connection with prayer whatever.

If, then, prayer is a delusion, it is to say the least a very remarkable one, especially as in most ancient religions prayer was made to false gods who could not answer it; yet in spite of every failure, the belief in prayer has always remained. Men have always preferred to think that the failure was due to their own unworthiness, rather than give up the belief in a God Who answers prayer. And this universality of the custom is a strong argument in its favour; for it seems most unlikely that God should have implanted in mankind a universal habit of asking if He never intended to answer. We pass on now to the difficulties.

(1.) Scientific difficulty.

In the first place, it is said that answers to prayer are scientifically incredible, since they would involve God's interfering with the course of nature, or, in popular language, working miracles. The most probable explanation is, that they are only a particular class of superhuman coincidences (Chapter VII.). According to this theory, God, knowing beforehand that the prayer would be offered, arranged beforehand to answer it. Thus the prayer was not a direct cause of the event which fulfilled it, but it may still have been an indirect cause. For had the man not prayed, God, foreknowing this, might not have arranged for the event to have happened.

And the same is true even when the prayer is made after the event. Suppose, for instance, a man heard of the loss of a ship in which his son was travelling, and prayed for his safety. That safety, as far as the shipwreck was concerned, must have been decided before the father prayed. Yet, as everything was foreknown to God, his subsequent prayer might not have been useless; since, if God had not known that the father would have prayed, He might not have brought about the son's safety.

Of course, it may be said that this is making the cause come after the effect, and is therefore absurd. No doubt it would be so if merely physical forces were involved; but when we are dealing with personal beings, able to foresee and act accordingly, there is nothing impossible in a cause happening after what was in a certain sense its effect. For instance, my going for a holiday next week may be the cause of my working hard this; though, strictly speaking, it is my foreknowledge of the intended holiday, that leads to my working hard. So in the case before us. It is God's foreknowledge that the prayer will be offered, that leads Him to answer it; but for all practical purposes this is the same as if the prayer itself did so.

Therefore this theory does not detract from the value and importance of prayer any more than God's foreknowledge in other respects makes human conduct of no importance. In every case God foreknows the result, not in spite of, but because He also foreknows, the man's conduct on which it depends. While if we admit what is called God's Immanence in nature, and that everything that occurs is due to the present and immediate action of His Will (Chapter VII.), it greatly lessens any remaining difficulty there may be in regard to prayer.

From this it is plain that answers to prayer may, without losing their value, be regarded as superhuman coincidences; and, if so, they do not involve any interference with the ordinary course of nature, and all scientific difficulties are at an end.

(2.) Moral difficulty.

In the next place, prayer is said to be morally wrong, since it is inconsistent with each of the three great attributes of God. It is inconsistent with His Power, by implying that He is partly under the control of men; with His Wisdom, by implying that He has to be informed of what we want; and with His Goodness, by implying that He cannot be trusted to act for the best, without our interference.

But with regard to God's Power, no one who prays supposes that God is under the control of his prayers, but merely that He may freely choose to be influenced by them. Insignificant as man is in comparison with his Maker, we have already shown that God takes an interest in his welfare. And admitting this, there is nothing improbable in His being influenced by a man's prayer. Nor is this in any way trying to persuade Him to change His Will, since as everything was foreknown to God, the prayer with all it involved, may have been part of His Will from all eternity. Nor does it reflect on His Wisdom, for no one who prays supposes that prayer is for the information of God, but merely that it is the way in which He wishes us to show our trust in Him.

And then, as to God's Goodness. As a matter of fact, God does not wait for us to pray before sending most of His blessings; but a few of them are said to be conditional on our praying. And this is quite consistent with perfect goodness. Human analogy seems decisive on the point. A father may know what his child wants, may be quite willing to supply that want, and may yet choose to wait till the child asks him. And why? Simply because supplying his wants is not the whole object the father has in view. He also wishes to train the child's character; to teach him to rely upon and trust his father, and to develop his confidence and gratitude. And all this would be unattainable if the father supplied his wants as a machine would do; in which case the child might perhaps forget that his father was not a machine.

Now, for all we know, precisely the same may be the case with regard to prayer. God may wish not only to supply man's wants, but also to train and develop his character. Indeed, as shown in Chapter V., the existence of evil seems to force us to this very conclusion. And if so, it is out of the question to say that His not giving some blessings till they are asked for is inconsistent with perfect goodness. It may be a very proof of that goodness. For, as already said, God's goodness does not consist of simple beneficence, but also of righteousness. And, as a general rule, it certainly seems right that those who believe in God, and take the trouble to ask for His blessings, should be the ones to receive them.

And here we may notice another moral difficulty, which is sometimes felt in regard to prayers for others. They are said to be unjust, since one man's success would often mean another's failure. Suppose, for instance, a man is going in for a competitive examination, say a scholarship or a clerkship; and a friend of his prays that he may get it. Of course in most cases this will not affect the issue; but all who believe in the power of prayer must admit that in some cases it will. Yet is not this hard on the next competitor, who loses the scholarship in consequence?

It certainly seems so. But it is only part of a more general difficulty. For suppose the man's friend instead of praying for him, sent him some money to enable him to have a tutor. Is not this equally hard on the other man? Yet no one will say that his having the tutor could not affect the result; or that his friend acted unfairly in sending him the money. So in regard to prayer. Indeed of all ways of helping a friend, praying for him seems the fairest; since it is appealing to a Being, Who we know will always act fairly; and will not grant the petition, unless it is just and right to do so. The objection, then, that prayer is morally wrong cannot be maintained from any point of view.

It is, however, only fair to add that a certain class of prayers would be wrong. We have no right to pray for miracles, e.g., for water to run uphill, or for a dead man to come to life again; though we have a right to pray for any ordinary event, such as rain or recovery from sickness. The reason for this distinction is obvious. A miracle is, in popular language, something contrary to the order of nature; and as the order of nature is merely the Will of Him who ordered nature, it would be contrary to God's Will. And we must not ask God to act contrary to what we believe to be His Will.

Of course it may be said that to pray for rain, when otherwise it would not have rained, really involves a miracle. But here everything depends on the words when otherwise it would not have rained. If we knew this for certain, it would be wrong to pray for rain (just as it would be wrong for the father to pray for his son's safety after hearing that he had been drowned) not knowing it for certain, it is not wrong. Therefore as we do know for certain that water will not run uphill without a miracle, it is always wrong to pray for that. In the same way we may pray for fruitful crops, because it is plainly God's Will that mankind should be nourished; but we may not pray to be able to live without food, since this is plainly not God's Will. No doubt, in the Bible, miracles were sometimes prayed for, but only by persons who acted under special Divine Guidance; and this affords no argument for our doing so.

(3.) Practical difficulty.

Lastly, it is said, even admitting that prayers might be answered, yet we have abundant evidence that they never are; so that prayer at the present day is useless. But several points have to be noticed here; for no one asserts that all prayers are answered. Various conditions have to be fulfilled. A person, for instance, must not only believe in God, and in His power and willingness to answer prayers; but the answer must be of such a kind that it would be right to pray for it. Moreover, he must be trying to lead such a life as God wishes him to lead; and also be honestly exerting himself to gain the required end, for prayer cannot be looked upon as a substitute for work.

And this prevents our deciding the question by experiment, as is sometimes urged. Why not, it is said, settle the question once for all by a test case? But this is impossible, since in the vast majority of cases we cannot say whether the above conditions are fulfilled or not; and even if we could, it would still be impracticable. For prayer is the earnest entreaty that God would grant something we earnestly desire; and if used as an experiment, it ceases to be genuine prayer altogether.

But it is further urged that though we cannot decide by experiment we can by observation. The facts, however, can be explained on either theory. Suppose, for instance, an epidemic breaks out, and prayer is at once made that it may cease; but instead of ceasing, it continues for a week, and kills a hundred persons. How do we know that but for the prayers it might not have continued for a month and killed a thousand? And the same argument applies in other cases.

Against these various objections we must remember that an immense number of men of many ages and countries, and of undoubted honesty and intelligence have asserted that their prayers have been answered; and the cumulative value of this evidence is very great. While, to those who possess it, the conviction that certain events happened, not accidentally, as we might say, but in answer to some prayer, is absolutely convincing.

None of these difficulties, then, can be maintained. There is nothing incredible in prayers being answered, they are not wrong, and many of those who ought to know best (i.e., those who pray) assert that they are not useless.

(B.) Christianity and Human Nature.

The next subject we have to consider is a very important one, the adaptation of Christianity to human nature. To begin with, it is undeniable that Christianity appeals very strongly to some, at least, among every class of men. The poor value it as much as the rich, the ignorant as much as the learned; children can partly understand it, and philosophers can do no more. And this is not only the case at the present time, but it has been so among all the changing conditions of society for eighteen centuries.

Now, when we inquire into the reason of this powerful hold which Christianity has on so many men, we find it is because it meets certain inherent cravings of human nature. Some of these, such as man's belief in prayer, and his sense of responsibility, are of course satisfied by any form of Theism. So also is his idea of justice, which requires virtue and vice to be suitably rewarded hereafter, since they are not here. But man's nature has many other cravings besides these; yet Christianity seems to satisfy it everywhere.

We will consider four points in detail and select Sorrow and Sin, Death and Eternity. The first three, and possibly the fourth, all have to be faced; they are the common heritage of all mankind. And while Rationalism does not help us to face any of them, and Natural Religion leaves much in uncertainty, Christianity meets the needs of mankind throughout, or at all events far better than any other religion.

And first, as to Sorrow. It is indisputable that in this life man has to bear a great deal of sorrow and suffering; and it is also indisputable that when in sorrow he longs for someone who can both sympathise with him, and help him. An impersonal God can, of course, do neither; indeed, we might as well go for comfort to the force

of gravity. And though a personal God can help us, we do not feel sure that He can sympathise with us. On the other hand, fellow-men can sympathise, but they cannot always help. In Christ alone we have a Being Who entirely satisfies human nature; for being Man, He can sympathise with human sorrow, and being God, He can alleviate it. So here Christianity supplies a universal want Of course, the doctrine of the Incarnation also satisfies mankind in other respects, especially in presenting him with a worthy Being for his affections, and with a perfect Example; but these points have been already noticed in Chapter XIII.

Next, as to Sin. Here again the facts are practically undisputed. Man's sense of sin is universal, so also is his belief in the justice of God; and therefore in all ages man has longed for some means of appeasing the Deity. The widespread custom of sacrifice is a conclusive proof of this. Yet, wherever Christianity has been accepted, such sacrifices have been abandoned. It is scarcely necessary to point out the reason for this. The Christian doctrine of the Atonement entirely satisfies these cravings of mankind. It admits the fact of sin; it provides a sufficient Sacrifice for sin, which man could never provide for himself, and it thus assures him of complete forgiveness. Yet, as shown in Chapter XIII., it does all this without in any way lessening the guilt of sin, or allowing man to sin on with impunity; for it makes repentance an essential condition of forgiveness.

Moreover, Christianity proves that sin is not a necessity in human nature; for it alone of all religions can point to One Who, though tempted as we are, was yet without sin. And Christ's temptations were probably greater than any that we can have. For it is only when a man resists a temptation that he feels its full force, just as only those trees that were not blown down, felt the full force of the gale. Therefore Christ alone, because He was sinless, can have felt the full force of every temptation. And Christians assert, and they surely ought to know best, that this example of Christ is a strong help in enabling them to resist temptation.

Next, as to Death. Here again the facts are undisputed. Few persons like to contemplate their own death, yet it is the one event to which we may look forward with certainty. But is there a life after death? Most men long for it, and most religions have tried to satisfy this longing in one way or another, but only with partial success. The higher nature of man revolts against any mere material or sensual heaven, while a purely spiritual heaven does not satisfy him either; for a man longs to know that he will be able to recognise again those whom he has loved on earth. This is indeed one of our deepest, strongest, and most universal longings (who is there that has not felt it?), yet there must always be some doubt as to recognising a spirit.

And here again the Christian doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body alone satisfies the cravings of mankind; for all doubt is now at an end. The risen body will define and localise man's spirit then, just as the natural body does now; and though there will be a great change, it will not prevent recognition. Even the Apostles, though unprepared for it, and though themselves unaware of what a risen body was like, were soon able to recognise Christ after His Resurrection.

There is, of course, the well-known difficulty as to the period of life of the risen body. A man, it is said, would only be recognised by his grandfather, if he remained a child; and by his grandson, if he were an old man. But the difficulty is not so great as it seems; for in this life a man who has not seen his son, since he was a child, may not be able to recognise him in later years, in the sense of knowing him by sight. But he may be immensely pleased to meet him again, and live near him, especially if in the meanwhile the son had done well, and been a credit to his father. Moreover, the risen body will show us, for the first time, what a man really is, when his accidental surroundings, such as wealth or poverty, have been removed; and his character is at length perfected. And perhaps we shall then see that all that is best in the various states in which he has lived here-the affection of childhood, the activity of boyhood, and the mature judgment of manhood-will be combined in the risen body.

And though it is somewhat tantalising not to know more about this future life, very possibly we are not told more, because we should not be able to understand it if we were. Even in this world it is doubtful if a savage or a young child could understand the intellectual life of a civilised man, however carefully it might be explained to him; and practically certain that an ape could not. And for all we know our own future life may be as far beyond our present understanding. It is the Great Surprise in store for us all. But however much we may be changed, our personal identity will still remain, I shall be I, and you will be you, with much the same characters as we have at present. This is the important point, and of this we may be quite sure.

Lastly, as to Eternity. Christianity, it is true, can say little here, but that little is full of hope. It opens up boundless possibilities, far more than any other religion. For by the Incarnation human nature has been united to the Divine, and thus raised to a position second only to that of God Himself. No destiny, then, that can be imagined is too great for man. Created in the image of the Triune God, with a supernatural freedom of choice; his nature united to God's by the Incarnation; his sins forgiven through the Atonement; his body purified and spiritualised at its Resurrection-surely the end of all this cannot be any mere monotonous existence, but rather one of ceaseless joy and activity. Heaven has been called the last act in God's drama of the universe. And considering the magnitude of the previous acts-the formation of the solar system, the development of organic life, etc.-we should expect this last act to be on a scale equally vast and magnificent, and as far above anything we can imagine as the life of a butterfly is above the imagination of a chrysalis.

Now the conclusion to be drawn from all this is quite plain. Christianity is so adapted to man's nature that it probably came from the Author of man's nature; just as if a complicated key fits a complicated lock, it was probably made by the same locksmith. And since Christianity is meant for all mankind, and the vast majority of men have neither time nor ability to examine its proofs, the fact of its thus appealing direct to human nature is certainly a strong argument in its favour.

But we must now consider an objection. It is, that Christianity is really a selfish religion, looking only for future rewards, and teaching men to follow virtue, not for virtue's sake, but solely with a view to their own advantage. But this is an entire mistake, though a very common one. The Christian's motive, in trying to lead such a life as God wishes him to lead, is simply love. He has, as already said, an overwhelming sense of God's love to him. And though, doubtless, leading a good life will bring with it some future reward, yet this is not the true motive for leading it. Compare the case of a young child trying to please his parents simply because he loves them. It would be unjust to call this selfishness, though it may be quite true that the parents will do much for the child later on in life, which they would not have done had the child never shown them any affection.

Nor, to take another example, is it selfishness for a young man to put aside a certain amount of his earnings for his old age, when he will be unable to work, though it will certainly be to his own advantage. Selfishness is having regard to one's self, at the expense of other people. But this does not apply to a Christian striving after his own salvation. The Great Ambition, as it is called, is one which all may entertain, all may work for, and all may realise.

Still, it may be asked, is not the hope of future reward meant to influence men at all? No doubt it is to some extent. But what then? Hope is undoubtedly a powerful motive in human nature, and therefore Christianity, by partly appealing to this motive, does but show how fully adapted it is to human nature. It provides the highest motive of love for those able to appreciate it; the lower motive of hope of future reward for the many who would not be reached by the former; and we may add, the still lower motive of fear of future punishment for those who could not be otherwise influenced. This objection, then, as to selfishness is quite untenable.

(C.) Christianity and other Religions.

We have lastly to consider the relation in which Christianity stands to other religions; since an argument against Christianity is often drawn from their comparative study. In far more ancient religions, it is alleged, we find similar doctrines to those of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, and the Resurrection; and this is fatal to the claim of Christianity to be the one and only true Religion.

But as to the doctrine of the Trinity, it is really unique. Some other religions, it is true, had a group of three gods; but this was merely a form of Polytheism. And though these gods were often addressed by the same titles, there does not appear to have been anything resembling the Christian idea of the Triune God.

Next, as to the Incarnation. This is said to resemble similar doctrines of other ancient religions, more especially the incarnation of Krishna. For though he was not (as is sometimes asserted) born of a virgin, being the eighth son of his parents;[458] he is yet believed to have been in some sense an incarnation of the supreme god Vishnu. And he is recorded to have worked various miracles similar to those of Christ, and to have claimed an equally absolute devotion from his followers. Most scholars, however, now place these legends some centuries later than the Christian era; and considering the early spread of Christianity in India, and the similarity in name between Krishna and Christ, they may be only distorted versions of the Gospel story.

[458] Tisdall, Christianity and Other Faiths, 1912, p. 89.

But even were they earlier than Christianity, it seems impossible for them to have influenced it. For not only is India many hundreds of miles from Palestine, but there is also a great moral difficulty. Since the miracles and occasional lofty teaching of Krishna are associated all along with a most immoral character. In the Gospels, on the other hand, they occur among suitable surroundings, and form perfect parts of a perfect whole. A single example will illustrate this difference. On one occasion, Krishna is related to have healed a deformed woman, very similar to the story in Luke 13. But it is added he made her beautiful as well as whole, and subsequently spent the night with her in immorality. Few will contend that this was the origin of the Gospel story; and it is but one instance out of many.[459]

[459] Transactions of Victoria Institute, vol. xxi., p. 169.

Any resemblance, then, there may be between the Incarnation of Krishna and that of Christ cannot be due to Christianity having borrowed from the other religion. A far better explanation is to be found in the fact that man has almost always believed that God takes an interest in his welfare. And this inherent belief has naturally led him to imagine an incarnation, since this was the most fitting method by which God could make Himself known to man. And then this supposed incarnation was of course attended by various miracles of healing, somewhat similar to those of Christ, though often mixed up with immoral ideas, from which the Christian doctrine is entirely free.

Next, as to the Atonement, especially the position of Christ, as the Mediator between God and man. This also is said to resemble far older legends, such as the Horus myth of ancient Egypt. The leading idea here seems to have been that Horus was the only son of the supreme God Osiris, and came on earth long ago, before the time of man. He was always looked upon as the champion of right against wrong, and nothing but lofty and noble actions are ascribed to him. With regard to mankind, he became their deliverer and justifier. The soul after death was supposed to pass through a sort of Purgatory; where various dangers were overcome by the help of Horus; and finally, when judged before Osiris, he interceded for the faithful soul and ensured its salvation. And what makes the resemblance to Christianity all the more striking are the titles ascribed to Horus; such as the Only Begotten Son of the Father, the Word of the Father, the Justifier of the Righteous, and the Eternal King. But the titles of Horus are very numerous, and very contradictory; therefore, while some of them bear such a striking resemblance to those of Christ, others do not; and many of them are also applied to the other gods.[460]

[460] Transactions of Victoria Institute, vol. xii., p. 52.

But still the position of Horus, as a mediator between God and man, undoubtedly resembles that of Christ. But what is the cause of this similarity? Not surely that the Christian doctrine was founded on that of Horus. As in the previous case, there is another and far better solution. For what was the origin of the Egyptian doctrine itself? It was simply this. The ancient Egyptians firmly believed in the justice of God; the immortality of man; his responsibility, involving a future judgment; and his sinfulness, which naturally made him long for some mediator with the just Judge he would have to face hereafter. Given these four ideas-and they all belong to Natural Religion-and Horus was merely an imaginary being, who was thought to satisfy them. Hence, if these ideas are true, and if Christianity is the true religion, which really does satisfy them, that Horus should to some extent resemble Christ seems inevitable. Thus the Horus myth only proves how deeply rooted in the human mind is the idea of a mediator between God and man.

Lastly, as to the doctrine of the Resurrection, more especially that of Christ. Numerous analogies have been suggested for this, but none of them are at all satisfactory. Thus the Egyptian god Osiris is recorded as doing a great deal after his death; but he is only supposed to have done this by living on in the spirit, and there is no hint that his body was restored to life, in the sense in which Christ's was; and the same may be said in other cases.[461] While the way in which the educated Athenians (who must have known a good deal about heathen religions) treated St. Paul, when he proclaimed the Resurrection of Christ, shows how absolutely novel they considered the doctrine.[462]

[461] Tisdall, Christianity and Other Faiths, 1912, p. 153.

[462] Acts 17. 19, 32; 26. 8.

We must also remember that the Christian doctrines of the Incarnation, the Atonement, and the Resurrection, were not slowly evolved, but were essential features in Christianity from the very first. They are all strongly insisted on by St. Paul. And this alone seems fatal to the idea of their having been derived from the myths of India, Egypt, and elsewhere.

On the whole, then, it is evident that the comparative study of religions, instead of being against Christianity, is distinctly in its favour; for it shows, as nothing but a comparative study could show, its striking superiority. Human nature is always the same, and in so far as other religions have satisfied human nature, they have resembled Christianity. On the other hand, Christianity differs from them in being free from their various absurdities and contradictions, as well as from their tendency to degenerate; and having instead a moral character of admitted excellence, and powerful evidence by which to establish its actual truth. In short, other religions are human; and therefore, as man is a mixture of good and evil, they contain some good (what we now call Natural Religion) and some evil. But Christianity is superhuman; and therefore contains all the good they do, with much more besides, and with none of their evil. This completes a brief examination of the more important additional arguments for and against Christianity.

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