FAITH AT SECOND HAND FOUND TO BE VAIN.
I reckon my fifth period to begin from the time when I had totally abandoned the claim of “the Canon” of Scripture, however curtailed, to be received as the object of faith, as free from error, or as something raised above moral criticism; and looked out for some deeper foundation for my creed than any sacred Letter. But an entirely new inquiry had begun to engage me at intervals, viz., the essential logic of these investigations. Ought we in any case to receive moral truth in obedience to an apparent miracle of sense? or conversely, ought we ever to believe in sensible miracles because of their recommending some moral truth? I perceived that the endless jangling which goes on in detailed controversy, is inevitable, while the disputants are unawares at variance with one another, or themselves wavering, as to these pervading principles of evidence.—I regard my fifth period to come to an end with the decision of this question. Nevertheless, many other important lines of inquiry were going forward simultaneously.
I found in the Bible itself,—and even in the very same book, as in the Gospel of John,—great uncertainty and inconsistency on this question. In one place, Jesus reproves the demand of a miracle, and blesses those who believe without miracles; in another, he requires that they will submit to his doctrine because of his miracles. Now, this is intelligible, if blind external obedience is the end of religion, and not Truth and inward Righteousness. An ambitious and unscrupulous Church, that desires, by fair means or foul, to make men bow down to her, may say, “Only believe; and all is right. The end being gained,—Obedience to us,—we do not care about your reasons.” But God cannot speak thus to man; and to a divine teacher we should peculiarly look for aid in getting clear views of the grounds of faith; because it is by a knowledge of these that we shall both be rooted on the true basis, and saved from the danger of false beliefs.
It, therefore, peculiarly vexed me to find so total a deficiency of clear and sound instruction in the New Testament, and eminently in the gospel of John, on so vital a question. The more I considered it, the more it appeared, as if Jesus were solely anxious to have people believe in Him, without caring on what grounds they believed, although that is obviously the main point. When to this was added the threat of “damnation” on those who did not believe, the case became far worse: for I felt that if such a threat were allowed to operate, I might become a Mohammedan or a Roman Catholic. Could I in any case rationally assign this as a ground for believing in Christ,—“because I am frightened by his threats”—?