That Christianity is, as a matter of fact, a successful and a living religion, in a degree absolutely without parallel in any other religion, is the point from which its assailants have now to start. They have also to take account of the circumstance, to the recognition of which the whole course of modern thought and inquiry has brought us, that it has been successful, not by virtue merely of any outward and accidental favouring circumstances, but of its intrinsic power and of principles which are inseparable from its substance. This being the condition of the question, those who deny its claim to a direct Divine origin have to frame their theory of it so as to account, on principles supposed to be common to it and other religions, not merely for its rise and its conquests, but for those broad and startling differences which separate it, in character and in effects, from all other known religions. They have to show how that which is instinct with never-dying truth sprang out of what was false and mistaken, if not corrupt; how that which alone has revealed God to man’s conscience had no other origin than what in other instances has led men through enthusiasm and imposture to a barren or a mischievous superstition.
Such an attempt is the work before us—a work destined, probably, both from its ability and power and from its faults, to be for modern France what the work of Strauss was for Germany, the standard expression of an unbelief which shrinks with genuine distaste from the coarse and negative irreligion of older infidelity, and which is too refined, too profound and sympathetic in its views of human nature, to be insensible to those numberless points in which as a fact Christianity has given expression to the best and highest thoughts that man can have. Strauss, to account for what we see, imagined an idea, or a set of ideas, gradually worked out into the shape of a history, of which scarcely anything can be taken as real matter of fact, except the bare existence of the person who was clothed in the process of time with the attributes created by the idealising legend. Such a view is too vague and indistinct to satisfy