Christianity is not a religion that need shrink from investigation. Christians need not tremble at every onset. Our religion is vital, because true; and we may place trust in the providence of God in history, which overrules human errors and struggles for the permanent good of men; and, extricating the human race from the follies of particular individuals, makes the antagonism of free discussion the means to conserve or to promote intellectual truth.
In concluding this sketch however it is proper to make a few remarks, as hints to theological students, in reference to the study of works of German theology. Many such works are translated, and many more exist in the original, which are of the highest value,(864) and are likely to be read, and indeed may justly be read, by all students of large cultivation. The works of Schleiermacher or Dorner in doctrine, of De Wette or Ewald in criticism, of Neander or Baur in history, are works of power as well as erudition, and contain a treasure-house of information and suggestion for those who know how to use them wisely, and separate the precious from the untrue. While I have endeavoured to present a fair history of the whole movement, I should feel inexpressible pain if these remarks were the means of leading unwary students to plunge unguardedly into the study of many parts of it. Its original connexion with the deist and ethical points of view, and the constant sense of living in an atmosphere of controversy, have impressed even some of the more orthodox writers with a few peculiarities, of which a student ought to be made aware:—for example, with a slight tendency to a kind of Christian pantheism; a disposition to reduce miracle to a minimum; and in the department of Christian doctrine to consider Christ's life as more important than his death, and to regard the atonement as an effect of the incarnation, instead of the incarnation being the means to the atonement.
If then a young student would avoid a chaos of belief, and pursue a healthy study of the German writers, there are two conditions which he ought to observe. First, care should be taken to understand the precise school of thought which his author represents, in order to be able to allow for the possibility of prepossession in him;—a remark true in reference to all literature, but especially important in that which marks a particular phase of controversy. Secondly, a student's duty to English society, and to the church of which he is a member—as also, I humbly venture to think, to his own soul—requires that he shall first listen thoughtfully to the vernacular theology of England. Let him learn the chief affirmative verities of the Christian faith before meddling with the negative side. Let him master the grand thoughts or solid erudition of Hooker and Pearson; of Bull, and Bingham, and Waterland; of Butler and Paley;—the seven most valuable writers probably in the English church;—and then reconsider his opinions by the light of foreign literature. Each one of us is on his intellectual as well as moral trial. None whom duty calls need be afraid to encounter it in God's strength, and with prayer to Christ for light and truth and love.
It remains to mark the influence produced by German theology on free thought in other countries. (43)
In the remainder of this lecture we shall carry on the history of free thought in France, from the point at which we left it(865) down to the present time. We shall find that the open attacks on Christianity of former times have ceased. There, as elsewhere, the present century has been constructive of belief in spiritual realities, not destructive; but the reconstruction has in some cases been so connected with an abnegation of revelation, that it merits some notice in a history of free thought.
The speculative thought in France during the present century has manifested itself chiefly under four forms:(866) (1) a sensational school, called in the early part of the century Ideology, in the latter Positivism: (2) a theological school, which has attempted to re-establish a ground for reposing on dogmatic authority: (3) a social philosophy, which has directed itself to the study of society and labour: and (4) the eclectic philosophy, created by German thought, which has sought to reconstruct truth on the basis of psychology. The chronological sequence of these schools connects itself with the political sequence of events, and has altered with their change. We must trace them briefly in succession, in order to understand their religious influence and tendencies. The first has tended directly to atheism, the second to superstition, the two last indirectly to pantheism.
When treating of Volney in a former lecture, we noticed the philosophy which took its rise amid the ruins caused by the revolution. Christianity was replaced by materialism, theism by atheism, ethics by selfishness. The philosophy of Cabanis, of Volney, and of De Tracy,(867) was founded so entirely on a physical view of human nature, that it could hardly aid in any way in instilling nobler conceptions. Society grew up without the belief of God or immortality; but in this very poverty the system met its downfall. The deep yearnings of the human heart craved satisfaction. The inextinguishable poetry of the soul yearned for the spiritual; the devotional instincts of human nature caught the first notes of that heavenly melody to which they were naturally fitted to be attuned.
Literature rather than religion was the source from which the mind of France began to imbibe the deep and spiritual conceptions which obliterated the materialism of the revolution. The spiritual tone of such a writer as Chateaubriand,(868) similar to that of the Romantic literature of Germany, awakened in France early in the century the conceptions of a world of spirit, of chivalrous honour, of immortal hope, of divine Providence; and led mankind to feel that there was something in them nobler than mere material organism; even a spirit that yearned for the world invisible. Chateaubriand showed,(869) in answer to the school of Voltaire, that Christianity was not merely suited to a rude age, but was the friend of art, of intellect, of improvement. The church as yet possessed only little influence. Beginning to revive under the fostering influence of Napoleon, who saw clearly the necessity of cultivating religion, its moral usefulness was lessened by falling under the suspicion of opposing the public liberty, when patronised by the government after the re-establishment of the monarchy.
The nobler conceptions just described, whether they arose from literature or from religion, gradually penetrated into the minds of thoughtful men; and, the ground being thus prepared, several rival systems of thought gradually sprang up in the fifteen years (1815-1830) of the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty. Accordingly, when the revolution of 1830 gave freedom to France, there was a universal activity of mind, and free thought assumed a bolder attitude; sceptical, if compared with the Christian standard, but embodying deep moral convictions, if compared with the unbelief of the last century. Among the definite schemes of philosophy, theoretical or practical, which were proposed for acceptance, the first which we shall notice was Socialism.(870)
It originated with St. Simon.(871) The stirring events of the great revolutionary era, together with the social philosophy of Rousseau which preceded it, had directed attention to the philosophy of social life. St. Simon had lived through this period, and early in the present century devoted himself to the study of schemes of social reform; and shortly before his death in 1825, announced his ideas as a new religion, a new Christianity. In the ferment which followed the revolution of 1830, the opinions of this dreamer became suddenly popular, and, enlisting around them some distinguished minds, forced themselves on the attention of the public during the two following years; and as the political schemes which resulted from them have left their mark on the theological literature of the time, they merit some attention.
St. Simonism offered itself as a system of religion, of philosophy, and of government, which should be the perfect cure of all the evils which existed. The source of these evils St. Simon conceived to be the want of social unity; individualism, selfishness, to be the cause of virtual anarchy. He considered that philosophy and religion had striven in vain to remedy the evil, because they had not made the spiritual to bear upon the material interests of mankind. This, which was the true remedy, he proposed to discover historically.
Borrowing the thought of the German philosophers, he sought it in the elements which are to operate on human nature in the progress of its development. The mode of development by which society advances to perfection he found in a supposed law, that society shows two great epochs, which in long cycles alternate,—the organic and the critical; the former, where the individual is obedient to the purpose of the society; the second, where the individual rises against it. He found two instances of them in the ancient and modern world respectively, viz. in the ancient pagan period and its disruption; and again in the Catholic centralization of the middle ages, and the disorganization which succeeded from the time of the Reformation to the French revolution. He considered himself to be raised up to announce the dawn of the third organic period, the world's millennium, a new epoch, and a new religion. It was to be the realisation of the fraternity, which the great moral teachers of the world had promised and prepared. This religion consisted in raising the industrial classes, by a scheme which it is irrelevant to our purpose to explain.
Contemporaneously with this socialist system was that of Fourier,(872) which, though presented more as a scheme of social amelioration, and less as a religion, implied the same abnegation of Christianity. Starting from an avowedly pantheistic view of philosophy, the author of it gradually passed through the sciences, until he arrived at man, and reached the study of human history and constitutions. Exaggerating the good elements of human nature, and ignoring the necessity for any other than a social power to amend the heart, he traced the source of evil to social competition, and proposed to rearrange society on the principle of substituting co-partnership for competition.(873) The two ideas accordingly which these speculations introduced were;—first, that European society was approaching a crisis, the peculiarity of which, as distinct from former ones, would be, that it would be an industrial revolution; and the industrial mind would obtain the mastery of the administration; and, secondly, that the accompaniment would be a new organization of industry on the principle of co-operation. We cannot track these schools into their ramifications(874) and their indirect expression in lighter literature,(875) nor notice the levelling system of communism or co-operative socialism which completed the cycle;(876) but it will be remembered, that when the revolution of 1848 ensued, the schemes for organization of labour were one of its peculiarities; the social republic of those who regarded the democracy as a means, mixed with the political republicans, who thought it to be an end.
It will be noticed that the schemes of these socialist philosophers, though analogous as political theories, in proposing organization of labour and consequent monopoly, to the English socialism of Owen before named, are unlike it in philosophical origin and religious tendency. In philosophical origin his system rests on sensation, theirs on feeling; his degrades human nature, theirs elevates it. His denounces priestcraft as imposture, and religion as obsolete; theirs, though identifying religion and industry, regards religion as the highest expression of humanity, the great goal to which nature is developing: his leads to deism or atheism, theirs to pantheism. Yet theirs is not less hurtful, for they reject with contempt the dogmatic teaching of revelation, though they appropriate the Christian virtues; like the German philosophy they resolve the Deity into a law, according to which the universe evolves.
One of the minds however which was trained in the school of St. Simon, viz. Comte,(877) has developed a system known by the name of Positivism, which in its effects is not merely thus negative, but amounts to positive and dogmatic unbelief. He showed traces of the school from which he sprang, both in considering politics to be the highest science, in regarding humanity as a progress, and in adducing individualism as the sole cause of social evil and anarchy. He commenced similarly by taking an estimate of the present state of knowledge, and seizing the law which presides over the progress of knowledge.(878) This law he stated as consisting of three stages, through which each science passes as it grows to perfection; the first, the theological or imaginative stage, wherein the mind inquires into final causes, and refers phenomena to special providence; the second, the metaphysical, wherein the idea of supernatural or personal causes being discarded, it seeks for abstract essences; the third, the positive, wherein it rests content with generalized facts, and does not ask for causes.(879) The first in its religious phase is theistic; the second pantheistic; the third atheistic. The perfection of science consists in reaching the third stage, wherein the knowledge is strictly generalized from sensation. Having thus seized the law which presides over intellectual development, and settled the limits of the human reason to be confined to phenomena, agreeing in this respect with the ideologists, and opposed to Cousin, he next offered a classification of the sciences, commencing with the simplest, and showing that, as the mind passes from the simple to the complex, the methods of investigation multiply; accompanying his account by a delineation of the steps in each case by which science attains perfection; and thus gradually ascending to the science of man(880) and society, to which the preliminary investigation had been the preface, designed to prepare the way for showing how the science of society may be similarly brought into the positive stage.
Such is the scheme of Comte. The very breadth of it possesses an attraction; and if viewed merely as a logic of the sciences, it may justly command attention. Many of the analyses which he supplies of the methods and history of science are masterly; and his generalisations, even when hasty, are fertile in suggestion. He was a most original and powerful thinker; scientific rather than artistic. But his philosophy, viewed as a whole, is a grand system of materialism which is silent about God, spirit, personal immortality; diametrically opposed to Christianity, in that it makes man's social duty higher than his individual, science the only revelation, demonstration the only authority, nature's laws the only providence, and obedience to them the only piety; and destroys Christianity by destroying the possibility of its proof. In later life this distinguished man, feeling the unutterable yearnings of the religious sentiment, and the necessity that his philosophy should afford satisfaction to them, invented the system of religion developed in his catechism;(881) in which, in a manner analogous to that employed by Feuerbach or St. Simon, he regarded the collective humanity as the true God, the proper object of worship and reverence; and marked out a church and a cult, the caricature of the Catholic church, in which the world's heroes should receive canonization. The probability of mental derangement palliates the absurdity of this system in the originator, but throws the burden of responsibility from the master upon those who are insane enough to adopt it.
We have traced two of the schools which flourished in the second quarter of this century. Another remains, which has incurred from opponents the charge of pantheism, viz. the idealist school, commonly called the Eclectic; (44) which was especially dominant in France, and in the university of Paris, during the rule of the Orleans dynasty. Viewed as a philosophy it is a very noble one. Implying, as its name denotes, an attempt to reap the harvest of the industry of all preceding schools of philosophy, it was the chief means of restoring intellectual and spiritual belief to France, and of creating the great movement of historical study which marks that period of French literature. Commencing with a reaction against the materialist and sensationalist school, it sought, by imitating the mode by which Reid had refuted the philosophical scepticism of Hume, to find a method for restoring belief in spiritual realities; and afterwards, when its chief leader Cousin(882) had been exiled to Germany, he brought back an acquaintance with the successive speculative schools which existed there.
The results of the preceding efforts are expressed in him. His system consisted in a psychological analysis of the human consciousness, which led him to believe, that spiritual truth is revealed to the reason, or intuitional and impersonal power, apart from the limitations of sense, or of the ordinary critical faculties; that the true, the beautiful, and the good, are perceived by it in their absolute, unlimited essence; and that the revelation of the infinite is the basis of all intellectual truth, of all moral obligation, and offers the clue to the criticism of religion, the solution of the problems of history, and the construction of a philosophy of the universe. Its chief effect on literature, the permanent contribution which it has made to human improvement, is to encourage the historic study of every branch of phenomena, and especially to exemplify it in the history of thought. Asserting that human society is a gradual progress of development and of improvement, it regards every age as manifesting some phase of truth, or of error, and contributing its portion of knowledge to the student. Humanity is regarded as a divine revelation: its social and intellectual changes as manifestations of the Eternal.
From this account, brief though it be, the relation will be evident which such a philosophy and the historic method of eclectic discovery would have towards religion.
As a system of psychology it is potent, as a means of reasserting the dignity of human nature against the material and selfish ethics of a preceding age, and of reconstructing the basis of ethics and natural religion: but as an ontology, it is in danger of unconscious pantheism; of identifying God with the universe, and regarding Him merely as a name to describe a process, instead of a person. As a philosophy of humanity, it identifies the natural revelation in history with the supernatural; finds in the psychological faculty of intuition, not merely the basis for, but the explanation of, the phenomenon of inspiration;(883) and in its view of religion is essentially antidogmatic, regarding religion as imperfect and progressive; the idea universal, the symbol transient; and allows the psychological truthfulness of all creeds; and regards Christianity as only the most refined species of them, as one of the transient forms that the religious sentiment has adopted, and as destined to give place to philosophy; beneficial to humanity, but not constituting it.
This philosophy therefore, though containing so many noble elements, ended in the view which we have already seen to exist in the Gnostic and German rationalism, that Christianity was not to be final, the one solitary and final religious utterance of God to man.(884)
The three schools illustrate the principal tendencies in which unbelief manifested itself in France previous to the establishment of the empire;(885) and show clearly the intimate relation of particular kinds of sceptical views to particular systems of metaphysical philosophy.(886)
In the latter years of Napoleon I. the struggle first commenced between the Voltairian party and the church; a middle course being taken by the eclectics. The constitutional tendency of this last school gave them the moral victory during the restoration, over the democratic tendency of the one and the reactionist of the other. After the revolution of 1830, the socialist struggle was superadded; which, when mixed with the old ideology, produced Positivism.
The catholic church had sought to restore faith in Christianity, partly by the establishment of Conferences,(887) lectures to reply to the systems now described; and partly by trying to satisfy the reason by establishing a rival philosophy, and stating philosophically the grounds of faith. (45) This philosophy, though noble in its aim, and taught by many pious minds, is visionary. It was based on the principle first evolved by Huet; the weakness of human reason, and the supposed necessity of submission to authority. In De Maistre, its founder, who carried out in philosophy what Chateaubriand did in literature, it was the suggestion of an abject submission to the papacy, as the living authority on earth; accompanied by a sceptical disbelief of the value of inductive science. It has expressed itself in different forms; but in all it has been an attempt to find a solution for difficulties by means of religion instead of philosophy; an attempt analogous to that in other lands, not merely to restrain the human reason in matters of religion, but to inculcate distrust of it; falling into the very error which Plato made his master describe, of those who, baffled in the search for truth, blame not their own unskilfulness, but reason itself; and pass the rest of their lives in contempt of it; and thus are deprived of the knowledge that they seek.
The history of thought in France, thus studied, exhibits a general resemblance to that of Germany in its forms and tendency. In both alike there has been a contest, between the school which seeks to absorb Christianity in philosophy, and that which extinguishes philosophy by Christianity. There is an absence indeed in France of the spiritual return to a living Christian faith, the union of science and piety, which is observable in the latter country. But within the sphere of natural religion, in reference to the belief in a spiritual world, an advance is perceptible, if the present condition of France be measured against that which was observable at the period when the philosophic unbelief of the last century predominated.
Since the re-establishment of the empire, some of the forms of philosophy which have been described have almost disappeared. The socialist philosophy has become extinct as a direct movement; the eclectic school has gradually passed from philosophy to literature; and the chief tendencies, so far as mere materialism does not, as in most reactions, extinguish thought, are toward a modification of eclecticism on the one hand, and to ultramontism on the other.(888)
The difference of this new eclecticism from the former kind seen in Cousin, lies in the fact that while that was chiefly derived from Schelling's philosophy, this is an offshoot from Hegel. The one considered that the mind, by its intuitions, can find absolute truth, and by the light of these absolute ideas can criticise history, and prejudge the end toward which society is moving. This denies the possibility of attaining absolute truth. All being is a state of flux: all knowledge is relative to its age. Philosophy expires in historical criticism; in the history of the soul of man under its various manifestations. It rests in what is; it judges only from fact. The absolute is displaced by the relative; being by becoming.(889) Though not positivism in its aspects, this system is so in its scientific results.(890)
The unbelief is critical, not aggressive. The grand idea of an historical progress, of tracing especially the historic growth of ideas, of culture, of the great unfolding of humanity, presides over religious speculations, and lends its fascinating power and its danger. The necessity is recognised for solving the nature of the religious consciousness, and satisfying its wants; but the remedy is sought in other means than in Christianity. While this is the condition of the philosophy just described, positivism, so far as it prevails, is wholly antichristian, and regards religion as the product of an unscientific age, for which a belief in nature's laws and science is a sufficient substitute. Christianity, though the ripest of religious forms, is only symbolical of a higher truth towards which humanity is tending.
We may select the name of a writer who stands pre-eminent in critical investigations connected with religion, as the best representative of the tone assumed in reference to the Christian faith by the most highly educated younger spirits of the French nation, of whose literature he is one of the brightest living ornaments,—Ernest Renan.(891) Exhibiting a mind of the rarest delicacy, and bearing traces of the collective cultivation which arises from detailed acquaintance with most varied branches of human culture, he has brought his vast acquaintance with the Semitic tongues to bear on the historical criticism of portions of the Hebrew literature; and has sketched with the hand of a master the great passages in the history of religion,—the symbolism of mythology; the monotheistic systems, Jewish, Christian, and Mahometan; the four chief phases of Christianity, the Catholic, the Protestant, the Socinian, the rationalist;(892) and has speculated on the future religious tendencies of the age, in essays, which those who feel most deeply pained with the views presented must acknowledge to be marked by rare power and freshness. Possessing a delicate appreciation of the past, and a cheerful confidence in the future; loving the advance of the knowledge of physical nature, yet protesting against the tendency to materialism; dreading the democracy of opinion, which threatens to suppress independence of inquiry by a power analogous to centralization in the state; the artist no less than the critic, imaginative as well as reflective, he may be studied as in all respects the contrast to the French philosopher of the last century, and as the type of the cultivated minds on whom Christianity has made its impression. His view of philosophy is the one recently explained: his view of religion and of Christianity, so far as we can gather it indirectly from his criticisms, seems to mark a belief in the religious sentiment as a subjective feeling, rather than in the reality of its external object of worship. Its objective side seems to him to be a symbolism, and Christian dogma to be an obsolete form of religious philosophy; inspiration a form of natural consciousness; and even its highest expression to be but the poetry, the art, of the imaginative faculties. There is audible at times an undertone of despondency, as the sigh of one who has searched for truth and not found it;(893) and who, in despair of discovering it on the intellectual side, has taken refuge in the moral. Religion, vain speculatively, is resolved by him into ethics. Faith expires in conscience; dogma in morality. And this interesting writer closes his speculations with the regret, that he feels himself isolated from those Christian saints whose characters he regards as the purest in the world.(894) Such may probably be regarded as the type of thought of the most educated thinkers of France; a feeling of partial belief, partial doubt; a keen appreciation of the beauty of the character of the great Founder of Christianity, and of the type of Christian morality, yet mixed with an entire distrust in the reality of all doctrines respecting the object of faith, from belief in which alone, as we contend, this morality is the product.
Doubts always suggest replies; and there are not wanting minds in the Protestant church of France (46) that fully appreciate the doubts of educated minds such as these, and try to meet them by a more persuasive method than that by which the Catholic school sought to meet the doubters of the earlier part of the century. By the improper concessions however which they have made to save the vital part of religion, they have themselves incurred the charge of sharing the rationalism of the country with whose literature they are acquainted. Assuming a position somewhat like Schleiermacher's, they are careful to distinguish between critical theology and doctrinal, and endeavour to propagate the latter rather than the former. Yet in the branch of doctrinal theology, it must be feared that they have either conceded some of the mysteries of Christianity as obsolete, or at least have improperly concealed them as likely to repel doubters. Though we must indeed be careful wisely to divide the word of life, and not to quench the quivering flame of faith by creating an unnecessary repugnance; yet, if Christianity be a supernatural revelation from God, our plain course is to present the truth as it is in Jesus, unmutilated in the mystery of its difficulties, and leave the result with God.
There is one feature however, in which these writers are a pattern worthy of imitation by all Christian apologists. They preach to doubters not Christian dogmas, but Christ. If the doubters can be brought to appreciate Christ; to meditate on his life; to think of him as one who tasted of human suffering, and knew the poignancy of human temptation; and whose heart of tender pity was ever open to the petition of the needy; they will first admire, then believe, then trust: and when they have learned to love him as a Man of pity, it is to be hoped that they may be brought, by the drawings of the Holy Spirit, to worship and adore him as a God of love. Beginning, not with history, but with feeling; starting with a religion based on the intuitive consciousness of needing Divine help; we may hope to prepare them for receiving the historic testimony which tells of the Divine plan for human redemption: leading them from the sense of sin to Him who saves from sin; from the inward to the outward; from Christ to Christianity; from Christian doctrine to the perfectness of Christian faith.
LECTURE VIII. FREE THOUGHT IN ENGLAND IN THE PRESENT CENTURY; SUMMARY OF THE COURSE OF LECTURES; INFERENCES IN REFERENCE TO PRESENT DANGERS AND DUTIES.
ECCLES. xii, 13.
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.
In the last lecture we brought the history of unbelief on the continent down to the present time. In this, the concluding one of the series, we shall complete the history of it in our own country or language during this century; and afterwards deduce the moral of our whole historical sketch, and suggest practical inferences.
In the account of unbelief in England, given in a previous lecture,(895) we hardly entered upon the present century, except so far as to observe the influence of the philosophy of the last on works of literature, such as those of Shelley; or on political speculations, such as those of Owen. Yet even here we were already made to feel the presence of the new influences, which have completely altered the tone of unbelief. Even Shelley's later works, though marked by the outbursts of bitter passion against religion, contain more of the spiritual perception which is the characteristic of present thought:(896) and the oblivion into which Owen's system soon fell, save as it has been resuscitated in moments of political disaffection, together with its failure to leave a permanent impression, like the socialist systems of France, arose from the circumstance that the one-sided survey of man's nature, on which it was based, could not deceive an age which was characterised by an increasing depth in its moral perceptions.
The unbelief of the present day differs from that of the last century in tone and character; and in many respects shares the traits already noticed in the modern intellectualism of Germany, and the eclecticism of France. It is not disgraced by ribaldry; hardly at all by political agitation against the religion which it disbelieves: it is marked by a show of fairness, and professes a wish not to ignore facts, nor to leave them unexplained. Conceding the existence of spiritual and religious elements in human nature, it admits that their subjective existence as facts of consciousness, no less than their objective expression in the history of religion, demands explanation, and cannot be hastily set aside, as was thought in the last century in France, by the vulgar theory that the one is factitious, and the other the result of priestly contrivance. The writers are men whose characters and lives forbid the idea that their unbelief is intended as an excuse for licentiousness. Denying revealed religion, they cling the more tenaciously to the moral instincts: their tone is one of earnestness; their inquiries are marked by a profound conviction of the possibility of finding truth: not content with destroying, their aim is to reconstruct. Their opinions are variously manifested. Some of them appear in treatises of philosophy; others insinuate themselves indirectly in literature: some of them relate to Christian doctrines; others to the criticism of scripture documents: but in all cases their authors either leave a residuum which they profess will satisfy the longings of human nature, or confess with deep pain that their conclusions are in direct conflict with human aspirations; and, instead of revelling in the ruin which they have made, deplore with a tone of sadness the impossibility of solving the great enigma.
It is clear that writers like these offer a wholly different appearance from those of the last century. The deeper appreciation manifested by them of the systems which they disbelieve, and the more delicate learning of which they are able to avail themselves, constitute features formerly lacking in the works of even the most serious-minded deists,(897) and require a difference in the spirit, if not in the mode, in which Christians must seek to refute them.
The solution of this remarkable phenomenon is to be found in the universal change which has passed over every department of mental activity in England in the present century. The peculiar feature of it may be described by the word spirituality, if that word be used to imply, in contrast to the utilitarian and materialist tendencies of the last century, the consciousness in ourselves, and appreciation in others, of the operation of the human spirit, its rights, its powers, and its effects. This conviction stimulates in one the vivid consciousness of duty and moral earnestness; in another it hallows human labour, and throws a blessedness around the struggles of industry; in another it kindles the inspiration of art, breaking up conventionalities of style, or expresses itself in poetry, in soliloquies on the inner feelings or in meditations on life, as a set of problems to be explained by the heart. Elsewhere it lifts the man of science above the grovelling idea that discoveries must be sought solely for the purpose of utility. Again, transferring its perception of the operation of spirit to the world of nature, it not unfrequently attributes a soul thereto, and induces a subtle pantheism. Sometimes too by a singular reaction it has a tendency, by the moral earnestness which it stimulates, to depress intellectual speculation, and to wear the appearance of fostering the utilitarianism which it combats.
Such is the central principle which characterises our literature, and which, through the diffusion of reading, has moulded the public judgment, and, operating in every department of educated thought, has even altered the form in which unbelief expresses itself.
Probably the successive steps of the growth of this subjective tendency in literature might admit of easy statement. The meditative school of poetry, which flourished early in the century(898) among a few refined minds at the English lakes; which loved to ponder mystically on nature or on the spiritual world, or to catch the thought excited in the mind by nature, and follow the series of thoughts which the law of mental association suggested,(899) was one means of creating a subjective and spiritual taste among the youth of the generation which succeeded.
Another cause was found in the philosophy which arose. The years following the general declaration of peace, while the public attention was directed to the political reforms which were consummated in the Reform act, were marked by the thorough investigation of the first principles of every branch of knowledge. Two minds of that period have, more than any other, affected the succeeding generation; the one a utilitarian philosopher, the other an intuitional.
Both alike carried out the system which Descartes and Bacon had inaugurated, of finding the standard of truth in the analysis of the powers of the human understanding. But Bentham criticised to destroy the past; Coleridge to rebuild it. The one asked, Is a doctrine true? The other asked, what men had meant by it who had thought it so?(900) The one overlooked the truth previously known; the other too boldly strove to rebuild it from his own consciousness, after surrendering the old proofs of it. The one, with the practical spirit of the Englishman, looked upon an opposing opinion only as an object suited for attack; the other, with a spirit caught from Germany, felt that there was some truth everywhere latent. But both were reformers; both stimulated the revolt against the cold spirit of the last century; both contributed to create, the one indirectly, the other intentionally, a subjective spirit by their psychological analysis.
Even movements which at first sight seem most alien to this spirit in character, have really been affected unconsciously by it.(901) The ecclesiastical reaction which sprang up about a quarter of a century ago, though seemingly most objective in its nature, witnessed not less than the very opposite, or rationalistic tendency, to the presence of this influence. For both alike were founded on the idea that religion lacked a philosophical groundwork: both sought a new ground of faith different from that of the last century; the one in those utterances of consciousness which created a reverence for historic tradition; the other in those intuitions which were supposed to rise above scripture and tradition, and to form the basis and measure of both.
The causes just named in literature and philosophy respectively, are some of those which have contributed to create or to foster the change in the character of the literature, and in the spirit of the age, which has produced the alteration of tone which exists in the modern sceptical literature.
In passing from these remarks on the peculiarly subjective tone of modern unbelief, and the literary influences which have produced the general change in the public taste, of which it is only one example, to an enumeration of the authors who have given expression to doubt, and of the specific forms of doubt now existing, we encounter a difficulty of classification.
The most obvious arrangement would be to place the writers in groups, according as they manifest a tendency toward atheism, pantheism, deism, or rationalism,(902) respectively; but the mode which more nearly accords with our general purpose would be to adopt a philosophical rather than a theological classification, and arrange them according to the variety in the tests of truth employed by them, and the sources from which their arguments start, rather than the conclusions at which they arrive. Perhaps the advantage of both plans will be in a great degree combined, if we classify them according to the branch of science, physical, mental, or critical, from which the doubts take their rise.
We shall commence with those writers who make sensation to be the last appeal in belief, or whose doubts arise either from the methods or the results of physical science. This class of opinions varies from positive disbelief of the supernatural, generated by the fixed belief in the stability of nature and disbelief of miraculous interference, to merely isolated objections suggested by the conflict between the discoveries of natural science and the statements of holy scripture.
The name which most fitly describes the extreme form of unbelief is Positivism.(903) This system of philosophy, already stated to have been invented by Comte, is silent about the existence of a Deity. It inculcates the belief in general laws, and acknowledges the order in Nature, which we are accustomed to regard as the result of mind; but declines to argue to the existence of a designing mind, where the evidence cannot be verified by proof referable to sensation. Nature's laws are in its view the only Providence; obedience to them the only piety. A few minds may be found, which not only accept the positive philosophy, but even receive the religion taught in the positivist catechism.(904) Unable to satisfy the longings of their heart by this system of Cosmism, they receive the extravagant idea of the worship of humanity, which Comte invented in his later days.
Such a creed cannot hold the masses. But Positivism in another shape, called Secularism,(905) is actively propagated among the lower orders. Replacing the sensuous philosophy and political antipathies of Owen, it is taught, unconnected with the political agitation which marked his views, as a philosophy of life, and a substitute for religion. It asserts three great principles:—first, that nature is the only subject of knowledge; the existence of a personal God being regarded as uncertain: secondly, that science is the only Providence: and thirdly, that the great business of man is, as the name, secularism, implies, to attend to the affairs of the present world, which is certain, rather than of a future, which is uncertain. Not content however with this negative position, the writers of this class, as was to be expected, have directed positive attacks against the special doctrines of Christianity, and regard the Bible to be the enemy of progress.(906)
It is impossible to estimate the extent to which these views are diffused. The statistics of the sale of secularist tracts would doubtless give an exaggerated idea of it. The high standard of morality advocated in them, so likely to attract rather than repel, the clear writing, and the agreement of the views with the experience afforded by the daily life of working men, give them power among the lower orders. The absorbing character of labour has a tendency, especially in an advanced state of civilization, to depress the sense of the supernatural in man, and fix his thoughts on the present world: and it is generally the sense of trouble alone which can lift men out of themselves, and recall to their remembrance the presence of a God on whom the sorrowing heart may lean for help.
Opinions derived from positivism, or at least from physical science, enter into other spheres of thought than those just named; and both affect writers who hardly touch upon the subject of religion; and create difficulties in the minds of Christians themselves, either in reference to prime doctrines of religion, or the particular teaching on physical questions implied in the sacred books.
The diffusion of the fundamental conception of the perpetuity of nature's laws, has a tendency to create in literature a mode of viewing the world alien to the providential view of the divine government implied in religion. The application of statistics in social philosophy for the discovery of the general laws which regulate society and create civilization, not unfrequently leaves an impression that man as well as matter depends upon fixed laws; which is irreconcileable with belief in human freedom or in divine interference, and sometimes causes religion to be regarded as a conservative force, which in its nature is alien to civilization.(907)
Nor is the danger confined to the various branches of secular literature: the views of even religious men are not unfrequently modified by it, or painful doubts are created where the head contradicts the heart. In proportion as phenomena are shown not to depend on chance, the misgiving is felt as to the reality of special providence and the value of prayer, in reference to temporal affairs. The sphere for confiding petitions is felt to be narrowed; and miracles, instead of becoming an evidence for religion, become a difficulty. Even where fundamental difficulties, such as these, do not sap the religious life, the belief that the inspiration of the sacred books guarantees the truth of the views of physical science, the cosmogony, physiology, ethnology, and chronology, contained therein, creates a further body of difficulties,(908) less fundamental but more painful, because founded on the apparent want of harmony of scripture with the progressive discoveries of natural science.
While these are the species of temptations to unbelief which appertain to one source of opinions, viz. that which relies upon sensation as the ultimate test of truth; doubts similar in character, though different in cause, manifest themselves in that portion of our literature which appeals for its proof to the faculty of insight, and which believes in mental sources of information which are independent of sensation. If the one tends towards atheism, or to a deism in which the world is viewed as a machine; the other tends towards pantheism or to naturalism, wherein no opportunity for interposition by miraculous revelation is retained, but the inner consciousness of man is regarded as able to create a religion. The former class of views belongs to minds accustomed to experimental science; this to those which are conversant with spiritual or aesthetic subjects: the former expresses itself in the region of science, and tempts men of thought; the latter expresses itself rather in the region of literature, and tempts men of sentiment.
One writer, a prince in the region of letters,(909) may be adduced, many of whose works imply, directly or indirectly, a mode of viewing the world and society contrary to that which is taught in Christianity. He is the highest type of the antagonist position which literature now assumes in reference to the Christian faith, and which finds some parallel in the contest which occurred in Julian's time, and at the Renaissance.
Though possessing too much originality to borrow consciously from the literature of Germany, yet it is easy to discover that the fire of his imagination has been kindled in contact with the marvellous insight of Goethe, the pathos of Jean Paul, and the faith in eternal truth which marked Jacobi. Their rival rather than disciple, he hails the philosophy of his own country as a first approximation to truth; but regards the German mind as having seen more deeply than any other of modern times into the mysteries of existence. Though not formal enough to throw his philosophy into a system, he has left an impress on the English literature of this century. In every branch of literature which he has surveyed, he has made it his mission to expose the hollow formalism, the cold materialism, which he considers that utilitarian philosophy had produced. "Self in the sense of selfishness, and God as the artificial property of a party;" these have been said to be the two faults which he sees in politics, in science, in law, in literature, in religion: and, to oppose this inrush of objective knowledge; to call man to a recognition of his better self, to the unaltering spiritual laws stamped in the structure of the human consciousness, and to God as the eternal, infinite Divinity, whose presence fills creation; this is the mission which he has striven to effect.
Yet can there be no doubt that the victory of this great truth is won at the sacrifice of others; and that in the general tone of his writings, and above all in his memoir of the doubter Sterling,(910) he occupies a position opposed to the particular forms of religious truth taught by Christianity, and one which a philosopher of tastes cognate to his own, Coleridge, forming himself under the psychological rather than the literary influence of German thought, strove to retain. In elevating the doctrine of the revelation in the soul, he regards as unnecessary the revelation in the book:(911) his teaching tends to inculcate a worship of earnestness, and to ignore all consideration of the object toward which the earnestness is directed. In asserting the reality of spiritual laws in the soul, he has implied the veracity of all religions, caring only for the subjective zeal of the believer, not for the objects of his belief.(912) In opposing the mechanical view of the universe, he is so overwhelmed with the mystery which belongs to it, that the soul recoils in the hopelessness of speculation, to rest content with work rather than belief. And his readers, attracted by his power of satire and depth of insight, expressed in a style full of force by reason of its peculiarity, return to their daily life after imbibing his teaching, excited to greater earnestness and faithfulness, but filled, it is to be feared, with a contempt for objective systems, for dogmatic truth, and for the Christian creed.(913)
In the master the strong and deep sense of personality and of freedom obliterates the tendency to absorb human individuality in the overpowering mystery of the universe; but this tendency is developed in the early works of an American writer,(914) who has drawn from some of the same sources as the author just described, but who also owes much directly to him. In him philosophy seems to degenerate into pantheism. Nature is a vast whole, in which we are parts, vibrations of a chord, radiations of the eternal light.(915) Starting from a unitarian point of view, Christianity appears to be resolved into natural religion; and the historic view of Christianity, and the habit of considering the revelation as something long ago given, are regarded as being at the bottom of the decay of religion. In his admiration of genius, he seems to imply an idolatry of mere intellect; and developes that tendency which has been always observable in pantheism to unite the worlds of good and evil, and teach that evil is "good in the making." The universe is God; evil and good are equally essential parts of it.
This peculiar tendency to narrow the barrier between the two worlds is observable, not merely in direct admissions of writers like the one just adduced, but lurks as a peculiar danger in the modern literature of fiction. The danger in fiction, as in all art, can arise only from the character of the subject portrayed, or the manner employed in producing the copy. In the present day the evil arises specially from the latter cause. The subjective spirit, causing a perception of the duty of exactness, has contributed to foster a realistic taste in art, which requires such minuteness of treatment, that a work of fiction so constructed, while preserving the freshness of nature, may violate moral perspective, and leave the impression that good and evil are inseparably intermixed in each character or in nature itself. The very photographic exactness of the modern novel copies the features without selection or discrimination, and presents each moral character as a mixed one, and makes evil pass into good, and good into evil. Though it is quite true that no character is unmixed, yet it ought not to be forgotten that the evil is present as a disease, the good as the normal state. If approached from the philosophical side, the presence of evil as well as its origin is inexplicable, save by the pantheistic hypothesis; if approached however from the moral, our own instincts tell us that it is diametrically opposed to good; and it is important to be on our guard against the influence of modern literature, which in any way implies the contrary.
We have hitherto exhibited the systems in the present day, which by their influence, direct or indirect, assume a position antagonistic to Christianity. Commencing with positivism, we explained the doubts which, being built on a sensationalist basis, reject the possibility of revelation; or, on an ideal, reject its necessity. We now proceed to describe the works written as direct attacks upon Christianity, founded indeed on an idealist basis, but in which the philosophy is in the main subordinate to the critical investigation. Marked by the improved tone which was before described, and enriched with the fruits of the researches of German theologians, they form at once the books which are likely to meet us in daily life; and equal those of past generations in subtlety and danger. We shall commence with those which are most openly infidel, and gradually pass onward to those which shade off almost into unitarianism, until we reach the critical difficulties which in the writings of avowedly Christian professors have given ground for the charge of rationalism.
The first writer to be named(916) is one who in two works, the one "a Comparison of the Intellectual Progress of Hebrews and Greeks in their religious development," the other on "the Origin of Christianity," has made a daring attempt, not to refute Christianity directly, but to grapple with the historic problem of the origin of revealed religions; and endeavoured to explain them by regular historic and psychical considerations. In making this attempt he has availed himself of the modern investigations into mythology, and the relation which it bears at once to the soul, to philosophy, and to religion. In the last century mythology was either derided in a Lucian-like spirit, or else regarded as the relic of primitive traditions. In the present these views have mostly disappeared; and the theories which exist in reference to it are chiefly two, in the one of which myths are explained by nature-worship, and sacred mysteries, and are regarded as parables descriptive of natural processes; in the other they are regarded as being connected with the origin of language, and the transfer of names from one object to another. (47) It is the former view which this writer has employed. Commencing with the Hebrew Cosmogony,(917) he traces the origin of the metaphysical notion of God(918) through personification and polytheism, up to theism; and next the origin of the moral notion of God,(919) regarding the notion of a fall to be a hypothesis to account for sin; and explains away the idea of mediation by the absurd theory of supposing it to be made up of the two notions, of emanation, and of a waning deity derived from the personification of natural processes.(920) Having thus used mythology, in the manner of Volney, to illustrate the rise of these conceptions among the Greeks and Hebrews respectively, he enters(921) upon the religious history of the Hebrew people, and attempts to show that the idea of the theocracy with temporary rewards suggested the two correlative ideas of temporary reverse, and eventual restoration; and thus, by the personification of the people's suffering, led to the idea of a suffering Messiah.(922) Discussing the complex Messianic conception, he tries to explain its origin by natural causes, by resolving it(923) into a combination of the different types of thought, presented in the earlier history. Approaching the subject of Christianity, he considers it to be one of the Jewish sects, a lawful continuation of the prophetic reforms;(924) therein anticipating the idea which he has developed in the second work above named, concerning the rise and progress of Christianity; in which he has adopted the views of the historical criticism of the school of Tuebingen. Regarding Christianity to be a reform of Judaism mixed with Greek dogmas,(925) he attributes to St. Paul, in contrast to the Jewish apostles, the idea of giving it universality; and to the early Roman church the idea of giving it unity;(926) illustrating by natural causes the gradual origin of the church,(927) and the pretended concretion of dogmas(928) by mixture with Alexandrian philosophy.
These works, too recondite to be popular, and too unsatisfactory to be dangerous, do not appear likely to affect largely the English inquirer; but the case is different with the work which next meets us by another author, "the Creed of Christendom,"(929) which, on account of its clearness of statement and variety of material, is the most dangerous work of unbelief of this age.
In the first part of the work the writer attacks the idea of inspiration,(930) with all modifications of the notion, as a gratuitous assumption; and tries to disprove it by recapitulating the controversy respecting the authorship of the Pentateuch, and the authority of the Old Testament canon,(931) as well as by the pretended non-fulfilment of the prophetic writings,(932) and the gradually progressive development of the Theism of the Jews.(933) Applying a similar process to the Gospels, he states the difficulties which attend the literary question of their origin(934) and fidelity of the narrative;(935) trying to show that the apostles differed from each other, and held views differing from those taught by the Saviour, as recorded in the first three Gospels.(936) Approaching the subject of the use of miracles as an evidence, he contends that they cannot prove a doctrine, and that their existence cannot be proved by documents.(937) In the examination of Christianity he holds only the humanity of Christ,(938) and regards Christianity not to be superhuman, but an eclecticism from the Jewish religion; a conception, not a revelation.(939) Successively attacking(940) the most sacred doctrines of our faith,—prayer, pardon, sin,—he is at last landed in the doubt of a future life, save so far as the intuitions seem to suggest it;(941) and in conclusion he contents himself with the religion which consists in obedience to the physical, moral, intellectual, and social laws; confessing however that the heart dictates to prayer and religion, but maintaining that the idea of general laws forbids the possibility of their reality.(942)
The next writer whom we must name,(943) has not rested content with a literary examination of existing religious forms, but has shown the consummation to which the modern criticism of religion leads. The work, "Thoughts in aid of Faith," that is, hints to advise those who have given up all other faith, is too characteristic of a certain type of thought to be omitted. It is an instance where the final result, to which philosophical investigation has conducted, bears a resemblance to that reached by Feuerbach in Germany.(944) In the treatment of the subject, the tenderness of human character has not disappeared; and belief in the teaching of religion is surrendered with painful sadness. Starting at first from the unitarian point of view, this writer has gradually advanced, by the aid of the modern philosophy, to the very pantheism at which philosophy stood in the early ages of oriental speculation. In a review of the historical and psychical(945) origin of religion and Christianity, the idea of a divine Being is regarded as merely the giving existence to an abstraction, the objectifying of the subjective; and Christianity, as the form in which the notion of a personal God necessarily clothes itself: so that the idea of God becomes a fiction created by the mind; Christianity a fiction created by the heart. Though an appreciation is shown of ancient forms of religion,(946) all are regarded as visionary; and, in looking forward to the future, philosophy affords no cheering hope: nothing remains, save the annihilation taught by the ancient Buddhists.(947)
The course of the history now brings before us two writers, who stand distinguished from the last group by their firm theism, and strong protest against pantheism in every form. One of them was an American;(948) the other an alumnus of this university.(949)
The life and work of the former, so far as they relate to our inquiries, may soon be told.(950) In early life a unitarian minister, he caught the spirit of intellectual inquiry and reconsideration which Channing had excited; and devoted himself with indefatigable industry to study the modern philosophy and criticism of Germany, until he became one of the most learned men of the American continent. In his own country his fearless and uncompromising denunciation of slavery, as well as of political and commercial hollowness, caused him to be viewed as a social reformer rather than a theological teacher. In ours he is viewed as a teacher of deism. The cause of his power is obvious. Feeling that his mission was not merely to pull down, but to build up, he spoke with the vigour of a dogmatist, not with the coldness of a critic. To a burning eloquence and native wit he united the picturesque power of the novelist or the artist. But his vigour of style was deformed by a power of sarcasm which often invested the most sacred subjects with caricature and vulgarity; a boundless malignity against supposed errors. How different is the tone of his satire from the delicate touches of the modern French critic(951) who was named in the last lecture! and yet, on the other hand, how changed from that of the infidel writers of the last century. Though he equals Paine in vulgarity, and Voltaire in sarcasm, his spirit and moral tone are higher. They wrote, actuated by a bitter spirit against the Christian religion, without earnestness, without religious aspirations, with the coldness of unbelievers: he, with the earnestness of a preacher touched with the deepest feelings; and though the Christian writer will shudder at his remarks as much as at theirs, yet he sees them modified by passages of pathetic sentiment, in which, in words unrivalled in sceptical literature, admiration is expressed of Christ, of Christianity, and of scripture.(952)
Such was the man as a teacher. What was his doctrine? He sought and found in the human faculties the test of truth, not dwelling, like Strauss, on their tendency to deceive; but, like Schelling, on their certitude. He placed the ground of religion on the emotional side of the soul, in the feeling of dependence;(953) and correctively, on the intellectual side, in the intuitions of God, the moral law, and immortal life.
Assuming, on the principle of spiritual supply and demand, that capacity proves object, (the natural realism which we attribute to the senses being thus applied to the intellectual instincts,) he regarded the intuitions to be real, and traced the mode in which reasoning and experience develope them into conceptions.(954) But, afraid of giving too anthropomorphic a form to his conception of deity, he fell almost into the abstract conception of the English deists; and in the notion of God's general providence, lost the fatherlike conception of the divine Being with which the human analogy invests Him. Few nobler attacks however on atheism,(955) or defences of the benevolent character of the divine Being,(956) exist, than those which he has supplied. But at this point the Christian must altogether part company with him; for he next proceeded to argue against the possibility of miracle or special providence; identifying inspiration(957) with the utterance of human genius, and regarding Christianity merely as the best exponent of man's moral nature; as one form of religion, but not the final one. The Bible, which as a collection of literary works, the religious literature of a Semitic people, he appreciated with enthusiastic admiration,(958) was degraded from its position of a final authoritative utterance of religious truth, and was regarded as the embodiment of the thoughts of spiritual men of old time who were striving after truth, and spoke according to the light which they possessed. The religion which he taught was called by him "the absolute religion." It was merely deism, built on a sounder basis, and spiritualized by contact with a truer philosophy.
The other writer(959) to whom allusion has been made, though superior to the one just described in refinement and acuteness, resembles him in possessing deep aspirations and serious research, and in standing apart from the unbelief of the last century, which manifested no loftiness of aim, nor earnest conviction. He stands forth too in a more interesting position, from the circumstance that his starting-point was not unitarianism, but the creed of our own church; and that he has given a psychological autobiography, a painful and thrilling self-portraiture;(960) in which he traces step by step his surrender of his early opinions, from the time of his first doubts, when he was a student in this university, to his fully developed deism.
The destructive side of his teaching is conveyed in the narrative of the "Phases" of his faith. Educated in the tenets of the more spiritual section of the church, he gradually began, as he has stated, to reconsider his opinions as his mind was awakened by study. The moral identity of Sabbath and Sunday; the practice of infant baptism; the connexion of a spiritual effect with what he considered to be a material cause implied in baptismal regeneration; the reasons for the superior efficacy of Christ's sacrifice over the Mosaic; the discovery of gradual development in scripture; these were the first thoughts that agitated him.(961) Unable to solve them to his satisfaction, he hesitated not to abandon, with noble and manly self-sacrifice, the friends that he held dear; and to wander forth from the established church, to seek a primitive Christianity elsewhere. Puzzled by the difficulty of the supposed mistake of the apostolic church, in expecting the sudden return of Christianity, he adopted the chiliastic hypothesis; and, unable to join in ministerial work in England, went as a missionary into the East.(962) On his return, alienated from the friends of his youth and from the new instructors with whom he had consorted, he sought truth in the solitude of his own heart; and was led to throw off Calvinism and adopt Unitarianism.(963) His fourth phase of faith led him, while clinging to Christianity, to renounce the religion of the Book. It consisted in an examination of many of the difficulties which criticism has discovered; from which he was unhappily led to conclude that the Bible was not free from error, nor above moral criticism;(964) believing nevertheless that the Bible was made for man, though not man for the Bible. The two concluding phases of his faith(965) consisted in appreciating the great law of progress which he considers to mark religion; and discovering that faith at second hand is vain, and that the historical truthfulness of Christianity is unimportant, the ideas embodied in it constituting its truth.(966)
In reading this painful record, we feel ourselves in contact with a mind cultivated in miscellaneous science and in the Semitic languages, disciplined as well as informed; which lays bare with transparent sincerity the history of the stages through which he has successively passed. Hitherto we have seen only the destructive side of his teaching; but he also strove to attain a definite dogma: his truth-searching spirit, touched by deep longings for the presence of God, could not rest in the blank of unbelief. The nature of this attempt is developed in a work on "the Soul,"(967) in which the author lays bare at once his psychology, his ethics, and his religion; which in substance are not unlike those of the writer last named. He lays the foundation of religion in the spiritual faculty, the sense of the infinite personality; showing the generation of the various complex feelings which make up religion—awe, wonder, admiration, reverence—as the attributes of this divine Personality successively discover themselves.(968) Holding strongly the doctrine of human freedom and the natural existence of a moral sense, he allows fully the existence of the consciousness of sin,(969) and the necessity of spiritual regeneration; asserting the belief in God's sympathy and communion with the soul, the efficacy of prayer, and the duty of encouraging holy aspirations.(970)
Few more suggestive, and in many respects few truer, specimens exist of the analysis of those facts of human nature which concern the basis of natural religion and of the spiritual life,(971) than that which he has offered in order to find a psychological basis for religion. The deep spiritual longing for communion with God, the belief in prayer and in moral renewal, are evidences of a creed which separate him utterly from the naturalism and pantheism before described, and place him almost on the frontier line between Christianity and deism.(972) And we may be permitted to express the belief, that philosophy could not have raised him to his present moral standard. His spirituality is due to the fragments of Christianity which he has retained in his system. It has been truly said, that the defenders of natural religion furtively kindle their torches by the light of revealed.
In the course of this sketch of contemporary unbelief, we have gradually advanced from the forms most alien to faith, till we have reached the threshold of the Christian church. The necessity for making the narrative complete compels us to pass within its limits, and to indicate, though it be by a brief notice and with a delicate hand, the forms of the movement of free thought therein which have given rise to the charge of rationalism. This movement of thought is separated from those just described, in that it loyally holds that God has revealed His will to man; but it varies from the general view of the church of Christ in reference to the extent and manner in which He has been pleased to reveal Himself; and, under the pressure of the difficulties, doctrinal or literary, which the progress of knowledge or of speculation has suggested, proposes to separate in the holy scripture, or in the immemorial teaching of the church, that which it regards to be the eternal element of revealed truth from that which it ventures to conceive to be temporary; the heavenly treasure from the earthen vessels in which it is contained. The literary parallel to this tendency is not to be found in the deism of the last century, but in some of the schools of free thought in Germany and France in the present. Like them it professes to be conservative of revelation, desiring to surrender a part in order to save the remainder.(973)
The movement is characterised by two forms; the one philosophical, the other critical. We shall indicate their general character, without specifying individual writings.(974)
It is perhaps to the influence of Coleridge, more than to that of any other single person, that the origin of this philosophical movement can be traced.(975) We have already(976) had occasion to mention the general design of his philosophy. At a time when the world was wishing to break with the past, in politics, in literature, and in religion, his spirit was conservative of older truth, while sympathetic with that which was new. In looking backwards, he sought to discover what mankind had meant by their beliefs; in looking around, he asked what were the elements which the present generation disapproved: and, wishing to eliminate the error of the past and appropriate the truth of the present, he looked inwards into the human heart, and thought that he perceived a faculty there which unveiled to man the eternal, absolute truth,—the true, the beautiful, and the good; which had been the object of search in all systems, the end for which all earnest spirits had ever yearned. This faculty, "the reason" or intuition, thus became the guide, by the light of which he was able to thread his way through the manifold systems of thought of past times.(977) Not content with applying it to other subjects, he carried it also into the domain of revealed religion. It was the engine by which he hoped to get a view of the truth which the ancient writers of holy scripture intended to convey. It would become the means of interpreting their thoughts, by raising the student to a perception of the same objects, similar in kind to that which they possessed. Their inspiration was regarded as only an elevated form of this faculty. When accordingly this method was applied by him to the study of Christianity, it did not lead him to pare down the supernatural by the cold interpretation of the older rationalism, but gave the explanation of the mysteries by raising men to a state where mysteries ceased to be such any longer. It did not pull down revelation to the level of the mind, but strove vainly(978) to raise the mind to a level with revelation.
If viewed in reference to cognate schools of Christian philosophy, it bears similitude in many respects to some of the schools of Germany. In the analysis offered of the human faculties, it has much akin to Kant: in the deep conviction that the highest truth is revealed to a faculty of faith, and in the undoubting belief in our own intuitions and the conviction of their reality, it resembles Jacobi and Schelling: in regarding the human reason to be the impersonal reason, the divinity in man, it resembles Schelling or Cousin. But it also has an element akin to the ancient Neo-Platonic philosophy of Alexandria.(979) This is seen both in the view taken of the organ of knowledge, and in the scheme of philosophy evolved by it. The intuitive reason, the divine faculty above described, which reveals eternal truth, is viewed as the divine Λόγος in man, as was taught by the Neo-Platonists.(980) Inspiration is the action of the same Λόγος. This branch of human intellect is absorbed in divinity: a divine teacher is considered to exist in the human mind.(981) And as the view of the faculty is parallel with the teaching of this ancient school, so the explanations suggested of divine mysteries(982) like the Trinity or Redemption are similar. These explanations are the mystical expressions of the thoughts apprehended by this faculty, when it strives to raise itself to oneness with the infinite object which it contemplates.
These remarks will explain the philosophical system taught by Coleridge, and will furnish the clue to interpret the form of theological thought which has originated from him. The parallel between his system and those with which it has now been compared, will be no less obvious in noticing the results of it. The system of Schleiermacher was the theological corollary from the theories of German philosophy above named; and the school of the Alexandrian fathers was the corresponding one which resulted from the Neo-Platonic.(983) We should therefore expect that, if the philosophy of Coleridge was a mixture of the two schools above described, the teaching of his disciples would combine the two theological schools which flowed from those systems. Attentive consideration of the philosophical side of the modern movement of free thought in English theology will confirm this anticipation, and show that its chief elements are a union of these two theological schools. The tendency to require that the human soul shall apprehend divine mysteries intellectually, as well as feel their saving power emotionally; the reduction of inspiration theologically, as well as psychologically, to an elevated but natural state(984) of the human consciousness; the inclination to regard the work of Christ as the office of the divine teacher to humanity, and human history as the longing for such a divine voice; the description of the work of Christ as a divine manifestation of a reconciliation which previously existed, instead of being the mode of effecting it; the tendency to view the death of Christ by the light of the incarnation, instead of regarding the incarnation by the light of the atonement, the death of Christ as the solution of the enigma of God becoming flesh;—these seem all to be corollaries from the philosophy of the Neo-Platonists, and find their parallel in the school of the Alexandrian fathers: they express too, though with some differences, which will be apparent by recalling the remarks in a preceding lecture,(985) the fundamental religious conceptions of Schleiermacher, to which we before had occasion to object as inverting the gospel scheme, and falling short of the dogmatic teaching of the revelation of God.
The causes and character of the philosophical movement of free thought in the church will now be clear. We stated that there had been also a critical tendency. A stricter analysis would probably subdivide the critical movement into two; viz. a philosophical form of it which examines facts,(986) and a literary one which examines documents.
This philosophical movement differs from the former, in that it neither approaches the subject of inquiry from a lofty speculative point of view, which is intended to furnish a solution of the mysteries of nature and revelation; nor seeks by means of the intuitive reason to penetrate beneath the doctrines of ancient teachers, and discover the absolute truth after which they were striving. It rather disbelieves in the possibility of the attainment of absolute truth by the human mind, and regards all truth to be relative to the age in which it was expressed.(987) Like the former movement it possesses a method; but one which is tentative and critical, not speculative; empirical, not a priori; founding its knowledge on history, not on philosophy. The mode of investigation is probably indirectly a result of the teaching of Hegel, as that which was before described was the result of the rival schools contemporary with him; but it is the adoption of Hegel's method, and not of his philosophy. In this respect it may be regarded as a critical tendency rather than a philosophical; but one which is critical of the truths and religious facts of revelation, and of its doctrinal teaching, and not merely of the documents which record it.
Hence, when applied to revealed religion, in examining the teaching of the scripture writers, it does not attempt, as the former school, to raise the mind to a level with that of the writers, in order to apprehend the eternal truth which was revealed alike to their intuition and to ours; but it throws itself into the circumstances of their age, so as to understand their meaning; and tests it by the altered conceptions which the progress of ages has given to the world. Thus the inquirer not only asks what the writers meant, but views the truth which they taught as relative to their own age; and regards the office of criticism to be, to discriminate in it that which is conceived to have been temporary and local, and that which applies to all time. This school thus resembles the last, in asking what the scripture writers meant in their own time, and what their meaning is to us; but it seeks the answer, by using the same methods for the investigation which would be applied in ordinary literature; not by abstract speculation, apart from literary study of actual documents. It makes the conceptions which civilization and history have created, to be the test for comparison, not the eternal truths of reason which are supposed to exist irrespective of civilization and history.
We may select one illustration. In surveying the doctrine of the atoning work of Christ, the former school seeks to apprehend the absolute meaning of the atonement as the manifestation of an act previously wrought out; and, starting with the notion of the divine teacher of humanity, the Λόγος of God in Christ teaching the world, and the Λόγος in the soul of man apprehending this teaching, it construes the atoning work of Christ from its didactic side, as teaching man concerning God's love by means of a majestic example of self-sacrifice. The second school treats the doctrine historically; and, when it has separated the apostolic teaching from all subsequent additions, compares this doctrine with the age in which it was expressed, in order to separate what it conceives to be the permanent from the temporary; and hence comes to view the atonement, apart from all the hallowed associations of propitiatory sacrifice which in the minds of the early converts were inseparably united with it. These ideas, which the doctrine of the church regards as integral portions of revealed verity, it considers to be the peculiarity of the age in which the revelation was communicated. The revealed doctrines are handled in the same manner as corresponding doctrines of philosophy.
The minuteness of this method, its disposition to seek for truth in the investigation of details rather than by approaching a subject from some general principle, connects it with the other form of the critical tendency above named, which employs itself in the literary criticism of the sacred records. The main object of this movement consists in examining the questions, first, of the origin of the canon, its grounds and contents; next, the authenticity and genuineness of the books; lastly, the credibility of their contents. It is plain that, however objectionable may be the conclusions arrived at on questions such as these, they are too recondite and literary in character to possess the same doctrinal and pastoral importance as those of the former kind; though the alarm which they may cause will often be greater, because the variation from ordinary belief is more easily apprehended by the mind, and, being a variation in fact, and not only in idea, cannot be concealed by any ambiguity in the use of theological terms, as may be the case in the former instances. Yet in the third of these three questions, this species of criticism may have a very intimate relation to practice; for it may so affect the rule of faith as to overthrow the standard on which we repose for the proof of revealed doctrines. In truth, in this branch it becomes identical with the critical method before described, save so far as that examined the credibility of doctrines, this of facts. But in spirit they are identical. It proceeds upon the assumption, that the same critical process is applicable in the investigation of the sacred history, as the former assumed in the investigation of the sacred philosophy. The attitude of both is independent: both teach that the sacred books are not to be approached with a preconceived definition of their character or meaning: prepossessions are not to bar the way to the exercise of criticism. The difference from the first method above described will be equally obvious. We may adopt the doctrine of inspiration as an illustration. The first view would approach the contents of scripture with a psychological theory of inspiration, as being a form of the intuition, which may furnish an instrument for eclecticism: the second and third would investigate the question empirically, and, declining on the one hand to accept the psychological definition just described, and on the other to approach Scripture with the preconceived notion of the nature of inspiration, as held by the Church, would seek to determine the notion of inspiration from the contents of scripture.(988)
The relation to holy scripture of the critical modes of inquiry will obviously be as intimate in reference to the standard of faith, as that of the philosophical in reference to doctrine. If the first of the three methods which we enumerated(989) overlays doctrine with philosophy; the second is in danger of subtracting from it integral elements of its system; and the third of disintegrating it by criticism, and introducing uncertainty with regard to the sacred books, which are the basis of doctrine. In questions relating to literary criticism, like those which are made the subject of investigation in the last-named method, it is impossible to lay down, so absolutely as in the two former cases, the tests to distinguish truth from error. The creeds are a practical gauge in the former instances which is partly wanting in the latter. The greater difficulty however which thus appertains to the latter, of placing the limits to which reverent criticism may extend without endangering faith, ought to generate the more solemn caution in its application.
We have dwelt long upon the modern forms of free thought which exist within the church of Christ, because they have a living interest for us. They meet us in life as well as in literature; and we must daily form our judgment upon their truth and falsehood. They are not indeed peculiar to one church, nor to one country;(990) but form the theological question which is presented to the Christian church in this age.