Essays on "Supernatural Religion"
by J. B. Lightfoot
This republication of Essays which were written several years ago has no reference to any present controversies. Its justification is the fact that strangers and friends in England and America alike had urged me from time to time to gather them together, that they might be had in a more convenient form, believing that they contained some elements of permanent value which deserved to be rescued from the past numbers of a Review not easily procurable, and thus rendered more accessible to students. I had long resisted these solicitations for reasons which I shall explain presently; but a few months ago, when I was prostrated by sickness and my life was hanging on a slender thread, it became necessary to give a final answer to the advice tendered to me. This volume is the result. The kind offices of my chaplain the Rev. J.R. Harmer, who undertook the troublesome task of verifying the references, correcting the press, and adding the indices, when I was far too ill to attend to such matters myself, have enabled me to bring it out sooner than I had hoped.
When I first took up the book entitled 'Supernatural Religion,' I felt, whether rightly or wrongly, that its criticisms were too loose and pretentious, and too full of errors, to produce any permanent effect; and for the most part attacks of this kind on the records of the Divine Life are best left alone. But I found that a cruel and unjustifiable assault was made on a very dear friend to whom I was attached by the most sacred personal and theological ties; and that the book which contained this attack was from causes which need not be specified obtaining a notoriety unforeseen by me. Thus I was forced to break silence; and, as I advanced with my work, I seemed to see that, though undertaken to redress a personal injustice, it might be made subservient to the wider interests of the truth.
Paper succeeded upon paper, and I had hoped ultimately to cover the whole ground, so far as regards the testimony of the first two centuries to the New Testament Scriptures. But my time was not my own, as I was necessarily interrupted by other literary and professional duties which claimed the first place; and meanwhile I was transferred to another and more arduous sphere of practical work, being thus obliged to postpone indefinitely my intention of giving something like completeness to the work.
In republishing these papers then, the only course open to me, in justice to my adversary as well as to myself, was to reprint them in succession word for word as they appeared, correcting obvious misprints; though in many cases my argument might have been strengthened considerably. Recently discovered documents for instance have established the certainty of the main conclusions respecting Tatian's _Diatessaron_, to which the criticism of the available evidence had led me. Again I have since treated the Ignatian question more fully elsewhere, and satisfied myself on points about which I had expressed indecision in these Essays. On the other hand on one or two minor questions I might have used less confident language.
What shocked me in the book was not the extravagance of the opinions or the divergence from my own views; though I cannot pretend to be indifferent about the veracity of the records which profess to reveal Him, whom I believe to be not only the very Truth, but the very Life. I have often learnt very much even from extreme critics, and have freely acknowledged my obligations; but here was a writer who (to judge from his method) seemed to me, and not to me only [Footnote: See Salmon's _Introduction to the New Testament_ p. 9.], where it was a question of weighing probabilities, as is the case in most historical investigations, to choose invariably that alternative, even though the least probable, which would enable him to score a point against his adversary. For the rest I disclaim any personal bias, as against any personal opponent. The author of 'Supernatural Religion,' as distinct from the work, is a mere blank to me. I do not even know his name, nor have I attempted to discover it. Whether he is living or dead, I know not. He preferred to write anonymously, and so far as I am concerned, I am glad that it was so; though, speaking for myself, I prefer taking the responsibility of my opinions and statements on important subjects.
In several instances the author either vouchsafed an answer to my criticisms, or altered the form of his statements in a subsequent edition. In all such cases references are scrupulously given in this volume to his later utterances. In most cases my assailant had the last word. He is welcome to it. I am quite willing that careful and impartial critics shall read my statements and his side by side, and judge between us. It is my sole desire, in great things and in small, to be found [Greek: sunergos tÍ alÍtheia].
BOURNEMOUTH, _May_ 2, 1889.
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